Chapter 1 - 297 A.C.
It was sleeting in the Wolfswood.
A low, mournful frozen mist wasn't so much falling from the sky as merely slowly gliding downward to soak the mosses and lichen clinging to the rocks and braken of the forest floor and dust the needles of the evergreens with a persistent frost. By midday it would turn into a heavy, aggressive, cold rain but at that moment it was merely an icy drizzle that was assaulting the cloaks of the five figures moving methodically through the underbrush. None of them paid the weather much attention though, for what was a little sleet to a Northerner?
"Bloody, damn annoying," Fat Tom muttered in aggravation.
Lyarra Snow bit her tongue as she exchanged a look with Robb through the spindly branches of a stunted hawthorn shrub. There were times when being a bastard was a blessing and they usually came when being a woman was a curse. In this case, Lady Stark wouldn't allow either of her daughters out in such foul weather for such a flimsy reason as checking over the traps that Bran was being taught to set. Lyarra was not her daughter, however and Lord Stark thought it a fine thing that Lyarra wished to go with her elder and younger brothers while Robb taught Bran about the traditions of their people.
"Brandon taught me to set traps much the same way and your Uncle Benjen afterward." Lord Stark had smiled, before his storm-gray eyes grew mournful with the thought of his murdered siblings. "Your Aunt Lyanna went as well. I see no harm in you doing the same, Lyarra. My grandmother was a Flint, from the mountains and she's the one who taught Brandon."
Lyanna Stark was entirely too much of a specter in Lyarra's life for her to want to dwell on her aunt. She knew her resemblance to the girl whose kidnapping and rape at the hands of Prince Rhaegar had toppled a dynasty and left her own family in bloody and burnt tatters was… exceptional. Everyone in Winterfell who'd been alive in the days that Lyanna Stark had been a wild presence in the castle said so but Lyanna had never cared for the comparisons. Her aunt had been a Stark, through and through, and Lyarra would never have that honor. Not to mention the fact that it wasn't hard to connect her beloved aunt's death with the pained looks her father gave her; it certainly wasn't her mother he was seeing in his bastard's face. Everyone always said that, it mattered not who Ned Stark's illicit love had been because she hadn't contributed anything to her daughter's makeup.
"Watch your step, Tom!" Robb called out over his shoulder after casting her a blue-eyed wink.
Without fail, Fat Tom promptly came to attention at the concerned call from his liege lord's heir. It mattered not that the concern was for him; it was an automatic response. It was also an unfortunate one given that the man's bulk and the slick rocks they were all walking across meant that fast movements were unwise. Fat Tom's weight shifted and there was nothing he could do to prevent his feet sliding out from underneath him. The guard fell to the damp, chill ground in a great clattering of chainmail, boiled leather and the jangling of his mail coif.
"Are you alright?" Bran called out, concerned, from where he stood by Mad Garth.
Mad Garth was one of Winterfell's younger guards. He'd only just reached at nine-and-ten years and his face was still fresh and youthful beneath the gray ringmail of his coif. He was a quiet, serious young man who had two younger sisters in the laundry, whose care was entirely his own due to a fire at his parents' cottage in Wintertown. Given that he talked little, barley smiled and seemed the furthest thing from mad of any man she'd seen, Lyarra couldn't help but be curious about how he had come by the name.
"You found it!" Lyarra grinned, her breath puffing in the air.
Bran gave her a bright smile in response and nodded as he lifted his prize into the air. It was a large hare, its fur a patchy grayish-brown but its size considerable. Lyarra happily noted that rabbit stew would likely be on the menu in short order and it was a favorite of Rickon's. Perhaps it would convince the baby of the Stark Clan to have a little pity on them at dinner this evening. For the last three days Rickon had been so ornery about eating his vegetables that, by the time they'd passed the toddler from lap to lap around the family to get him to eat his share, all of his siblings' dinner had grown cold.
"Well done, Bran!" Robb worked his way out of the bushes and helped Fat Tom to his feet, careful of the line of animals hanging over his own shoulder as he helped Fat Tom up.
Their combined traps had left them with a very nice haul. Lyarra had brought in a red fox and several fat squirrels with her traps, not to mention three marmots. Robb however, had exceeded them both and was carrying home two silver foxes, three hares, and a ptarmigan.
Not that Lyarra was too surprised by this. The rule was that you had to make your own traps and Bran was only just learning how to construct them. Lyarra didn't have the time or easy access to the Wolfswood to devote herself to tracking and study where to set her snares most effectively. Robb, on the other hand, had the most freedom once his responsibilities had been discharged, though that in and of itself ate up most of his time.
"I'll trade you the red fox and a new pair of gloves for your fox pelts." Lyarra offered after she and Robb had properly made over Bran's triumph at catching such a large hare with one of his first snares. They turned back to where Ilys, another guard, waited with their horses perhaps a quarter mile away, where the underbrush wasn't so thick.
Her brother shot her a look and Lyarra smiled hopefully in his direction, summoning up the expression specifically because he'd been complaining that she never smiled anymore again earlier that morning. Robb bit his lip and looked down at the red fox she was carrying and at the silver-tipped, luxuriant, black fur of his own catch. Undoubtedly he was thinking that he didn't need to emphasize his own Tully coloring by wearing anything with red fox fur on it but Robb's mother had recently gifted him a fine new cloak as it was and the red fox's hide could be gifted to Lady Stark as a thank you and one she would definitely appreciate.
"I've gloves enough." Robb replied and Lyarra rolled her eyes.
Robb Stark lost his gloves constantly. She, the servants, Lady Stark, and their siblings were always finding his gloves left in some room in the castle and returning them to him. Every few months he ended up wearing odd, mismatched pairs because he'd creatively misplaced too many. Robb always needed more gloves and Lyarra made sure her expression said that they both knew this as clearly as possible.
"Really." Robb narrowed his eyes back at her before grinning. "I'll trade them both for the red fox and that falcon carving you've got sitting on your table, waiting to be painted."
Lyarra blinked and then narrowed her eyes. Robb grinned back at her openly. Finally she huffed out a breath and answered.
"Fine but I'm not painting it." She relented. "It would take too long and painted it's worth more than two fox pelts."
"I've three more matching pelts in my room." Robb replied, looking hopeful. "For them, I want it painted."
"Deal." Lyarra quickly accepted, eagerly thinking of making herself a new cloak with the fox furs laid richly over the shoulders.
She had the heavy black wool for it and she had plainer furs to line its length with. Winter had to be coming soon after a summer that had lasted pretty much the length of her life, and Lyarra wanted to be ready for it. Not to mention the fact that Lyarra's current daily use cloak was one she'd had for quite a while, merely lengthened by the addition of a thick strip of fabric and more rabbit fur across the bottom. There was nothing wrong with that cloak of course, but Lady Stark had sewn new cloaks for all of her children and Lyarra had reached the age where the Lady of Winterfell could justify no longer having her maids sew any clothing her her husband's bastard.
"Your father is a good man and will see you as well married as can be expected." Lady Stark's words, spoken to her on her twelfth birthday, had not left Lyarra's mind since the cold conversation had frosted its way across Lady Stark's solar. "However, you are a bastard. Neither a firstborn son nor a lord will wed you and you will not be expected to run a large household, nor should you be so above your station as to wish for one. You needs must learn to measure, cut and sew your own dresses and balance a household budget frugally. Coddling you now will only make your tasks harder, Lyarra."
"Is this where you come to look for rocks to color paint with?"
"What?" Bran spoke up at that point, jarring Lyarra from her thoughts and turning her focus to explaining.
"Oh, yes, Bran. I don't look for rocks though, at least not usually. There are a lot of plants and different kinds of earth and clay around the dry riverbed that I use to make my paints. I crush chalk for white paint if I can't get good white clay but I get the chalk from White Harbor. There are no deposits of chalk near Winterfell."
Bran's interest in painting, carving or drawing was limited. His interest in almost everything else was very developed and Lyarra had no problem indulging her well-read younger brother by answering his questions about how she made her paints. She appreciated Winterfell's library as well, and it had been a safe haven to her many times over the years when visiting bannermen forced Lyarra out of the Great Hall, lest her existence embarrass Lady Stark more than usual or her bastardy offend their guests.
The discussion of paints held Bran's attention all the way back to the horses, where Bran's love for his pony and riding overtook his need to know everything there was to know. Robb had become occupied discussing how guard rotations were managed with Fat Tom and Lyarra was almost relieved to hear the servant who met them at the stables tell Bran and Robb that their mother wished to speak with them. There were hours of daylight left and if she started painting that falcon now, then she wouldn't have to waste her candle allotment on it later.
Lyarra's room was in the family wing, down a side corridor and just a little removed from her father's trueborn children. It was a good room though, large and well-lit by windows overlooking the courtyard. Northern light poured in from them, illuminating the landscape of the airy space.
The room was rectangular with three large windows across one long wall, the lone door in one short wall and a large fireplace set opposite the well-fitted windows with their thick curtains and heavy shutters inside and out. A single large bed had begun its life with a large slab-like headboard and four thick, unornamented, square pillars supporting its heavy canopy. It was a simple bed no longer, though it had become a rather eccentric one thanks to the purely random way that its four posts had been covered in elaborate carvings in ever increasing skill.
All people practiced carpentry but it was a skill especially prized in the North. Lyarra had begun whittling when she was little, simply because her father did it and whatever Robb was being taught by Lord Stark, Lyarra wanted to learn too. Robb had many responsibilities and a lack of interest in artistic past times. Lyarra though had loved to draw from the first moment a slate and stick of charcoal had been pressed into her hands by Maester Luwin and the old maester had been quick to notice and cultivate her skill. With only a certain amount of parchment allotted to Lyarra for her studies and her pleasure, Lyarra had soon started hoarding it and using it with great care. It was only natural that she shift to a material that was far more readily available and far cheaper in the North, like wood.
As such, the longer of the two tables lined up beneath the windows of her quarters featured tightly sealed jars of paint, powdered pigment in jars of its own, bottles of water, oil and other solvents and impeccably clean brushes standing bristles-up in a tall wooden cup carved to look like a tower half-tumbled down. Neat stacks and rolls of parchment were held in place by a small army of wood carvings.
Looking out of place amidst the deleterious of an industrious life was a sturdy white glazed pitcher filled with snowdrops, blue moss-creepers, star ferns and other flowers. Lyarra had to smile at it, as she recognized her father's handiwork. Ned Stark might have been too busy to see his natural born child today but he'd made time to let her know he was still thinking of her.
The carvings ran the gamut from practical and complete (a range of polished and oiled bowls and spoons waiting to make their way down to the kitchen), to fanciful and unfinished. Robb's falcon was the later. Carved from pale ash as tall as a man's arm from elbow to fingertips, the fierce bird appeared to be perched on a little spire of rock with its wings mantled over its head against the rain. Lyarra had been particularly proud of that piece, because you could almost see its feathers ruffling in the wind and she'd included tiny little globes in the carving that she would paint as water beaded on its feathers.
There were two large cloths presses pushed against the wall furthest from the door and next to a large screen. Lyarra had carved the lid of her chest with a direwolf bringing down a stag. The deep polish on the dark wood of the chest made the knotwork and sinuous shapes and designs on the chest's corners and sides stand out hauntingly. The other chest was made of a warm, red-gold maple and Lyarra had carved as sleeping lioness into its lid; it had been the first time she'd gifted someone outside her family with any of her carvings. Theon, though there longer, had been gifted with the second: an ironwood cracken the size of a walnut that she knew he carried with him as a good luck charm.
Lyarra wasn't surprised that the temporary "guest" in her quarters who'd long become permanent wasn't present. Theon was caught between ward and hostage, so he lacked responsibilities of any kind and was usually left to his own devices. The Greyjoy heir would have likely gone out trapping with them but Lyarra knew he confined to his quarters as punishment and would be for two days yet. She resolved to get her hands on an extra portion of whatever would be served as desert at dinner, and sneak it to Theon at the first opportunity. It was the least that she could do, as Theon's punishment had been earned for Lyarra's sake.
Lyarra supposed that, in another life, she might have disliked the cocky squid. He had many qualities she didn't like; he was mocking, his morals were often variable depending on what the situation got him and he was sly in a way Lyarra had been raised to dislike. Just as Lyarra had spent most of her life inseparable from Robb however, she'd found herself falling into a friendship with Theon as well. Yes, it had started because she'd hit him hard enough with her wooden sword to put his wrist in a splint and sling only a few weeks after the Ironborn came to Winterfell but it had settled into something better since, as had Theon in general in Lyarra's opinion.
Greyjoy was not only Robb's best friend, barring Lyarra but Theon served to give Robb some much needed levity in life. Likewise, Robb grounded Theon by giving him loyalty and responsibility and an assurance of home and safety when his life was otherwise certain to be forfeit if his father stepped out of line. Lyarra wasn't sure that she necessarily gave Theon anything but she certainly didn't take anything away from him. Perhaps, she supposed, she offered him a sister and a view of her sex he wouldn't have otherwise had. He had grown up amidst salt wives who were not better than slaves and wouldn't have imagined otherwise as the Ironborn raised their sons and daughters apart.
Lyarra tended too much towards introspection and melancholy according to most of her family but Theon had been with the family since before she turned seven. She didn't feel the need to analyze his place deeply. If she was family but no Stark, why not Theon? After all, if Robb had taken one of the guardsmen from House Forrester to task for speaking disrespectfully about his bastard sister, it would create a situation their Lord Father would have had to handle that could spiral out of control and into resentment amongst one of their bannermen.
If Theon beat the shit out of the human spittle that had been telling everyone in the training yard about how bastard women were easier than whores and twice as gullible when it came to lies of love between the sheets then it was just an incident that called for an apology and punishment. Their father didn't have to find out the reason why the scuffle had taken place. Robb could tell Lord Forrester the full of it, leaving the man embarrassed but also indebted to his Lord's heir for not shaming him publicly for his men's poor discipline. With saved face came greater loyalty and a chance to remind everyone that Robb looked like a Tully but was definitely a Stark. He would tolerate no disrespect but he'd deal with it fairly, honorably and practically.
Lyarra knew that she had Theon's influence to thank for the latter. Theon could be hot-headed but he was a man grown now. Having spent most of his life in a position that was luxurious, kind but constantly tinged with the danger of Ice falling on his neck should his father revolt again had taught the Ironborn to look at situations realistically. If Robb's oath to personally intervene to save Theon hadn't earned the fosterling's eternal loyalty, then his plan to do it by having Theon symbolically renounce his name so that the Greyjoy heir was still "killed" by Lord Stark to fulfill his own oath to King Robert, had done so.
Lyarra shook her head to drive the memories away and blew out a breath. She walked past the small bookshelf that held the few books that stayed in her room and reached out to retrieve the more comfortable of the room's two seats. The other was a small stool and Lyarra grinned as she moved the better chair under her "desk" and positioned the stool in front of the smaller table. That table was covered with several sewing and yarn baskets, neatly hemmed and folded muslin pattern pieces for gowns, stays and jars of beads, amongst other things. Pride of place was an abstract wooden box that Lyarra had just carved by cutting away excess wood and polishing a burl she split and hollowed out to form an oddly shaped, organically rounded, box. The box contained the necessary knives, gouges, polishing materials and punches needed to make beads from bone, stone, or any other material that was handy.
Lyarra had gotten the first two layers of paint on the falcon carving, sealing the wood and establishing the base colors she'd shade away from, when the door to her quarters opened with a rapid series of knuckle-raps that was more a staccato warning of an entrance to come than a request for permission.
Arya Stark stumbled into the room in a flurry of mud-stained skirts and mussed, rapidly unraveling dark braids all topped with a scowl angry enough to grace the muzzle of a real direwolf. Then, with a sound halfway between a snarl and a curse Arya shouldn't have ever heard, let alone repeated, the spindly little girl threw herself down upon the bed, mussing the covers and sending furs in every direction but not quite knocking them upon the floor.
"I hate Septa Mordane! Will you please come back to our lessons?" Arya whined and Lyarra felt a stab of guilt for having escaped the Septa and left her baby sister to the woman's non-existent mercies.
"Lady Stark and the Septa both agreed that, as a bastard, I do not need the finer skills a real lady would have use of and that my time is better spent in lessons with Maester Luwin and refining the skills I already have," Lyarra replied instead, feeling it her duty to try and keep her sister from unintentionally stirring up trouble with her mother.
Arya was her staunchest defender and the youngest of Lord Stark's trueborn daughters had proven the only one to truly argue with her mother over Lyarra's nature and place in their family. Inevitably, Arya ended up punished for it when the little wolf-girl lost her temper and accused her mother of being unfair. Far worse was when she had finally grown old enough and perceptive enough to have once accused Lady Stark of being jealous because Lyarra's mother was someone their father chose. Lyarra had never felt more guilty than she had while watching Arya's face turn red as she stubbornly held herself from crying, as their grim looking father took his youngest daughter over his knee for having disrespected her mother so.
"That's stupid; you're a better lady than anyone." Arya, staunchly loyal to the last, snorted in derision.
"I try." Lyarra felt her lips turn up in a little smile.
Because she did. Her sparring in the mornings with Robb aside, Lyarra did work hard to be a lady and set a good example for her sisters. She could do nothing to reverse the stain of her bastardy or change the way that the world viewed her and the hostility it heaped on her head. What she could do was refuse to live down to their expectations and instead seek to prove every backwards notion about what bastards were like wrong. Lyarra Snow would never hold the Stark name but she was determined not to dishonor her Stark blood.
"You should be having singing lessons; you're a lot better than Sansa and I sound awful," Arya complained, rolling over to look at Lyarra with gray eyes only a couple of shades lighter than her own nearly-black gaze. "You make people cry, Lyarra."
"That's not necessarily a sign of talent." Lyarra shook her head and Arya huffed, shaking out her tangled, straight dark hair. "Sansa's a very good singer and she's doing well on the harp."
"You should be learning the harp. You really liked it!" Arya shot back and Lyarra clamped down on that old hurt as fast as she could.
She was sure it was Lady Catelyn who had pushed her father into discontinuing her harp lessons. Septa Mordane had required all but a direct order to begin teaching her but even she'd had to admit that Lyarra had shown promise. Then, after she'd made her first and only performance in the Great Hall, the lessons had been brought to a quick halt. Lyarra had thought it would be enough that she'd waited until most of the household left after dinner and only the family and some of the guards and kitchen staff - always the last to dine - were left but she'd been wrong. Apparently the very public approval of the bastard's talent had infuriated the Lady completely. Or rather, that was the only explanation Lyarra could think of for the fact that her father forbade both any more lessons on the harp or Lyarra singing in public like that again.
"I really like carving too, and now I have more time for it." Lyarra replied, and then smiled. "Besides, the carving makes me money."
"You're getting so good people are asking about you in Wintertown." Arya nodded, humming in agreement and perking up. "Do you think father would let me start trapping with Bran? Robb could teach me too and I could sell the skins and use the extra money to buy a sword of my own!"
"It would take a very long time to earn a sword from trapping." Lyarra said and felt obligated by honesty and caution to add, "I don't think Lady Stark would allow it either, Arya. She only really agreed to it with Bran because it's tradition and it keeps him from climbing so much."
"Lords hunt, smallfolk trap," Arya muttered, her scowl coming back again.
"Lady Stark didn't say that," Lyarra countered.
Lady Catelyn might think it but Lyarra knew the woman had spent too long in the North to say something like that openly. She might have brought her Seven Gods with her and half her ladies were from the Riverlands but Lady Stark wasn't foolish. She'd never openly disdained a single tradition in her acquired kingdom, even if she didn't practice them herself.
"No, but her sister did. Aunt Lysa's last letter was awful." Arya complained and Lyarra groaned.
"Arya, do not read your mother's mail!"
"Or at least don't get caught at it!" A cheerful voice with a Westerlands outfit said from the door. Lyarra looked over and found it open as the other occupant of the chamber entered, shutting the door soundlessly behind her. "I have a hot blackberry pasty if you can tell me what was in it."
"Gwyn," Lyarra sighed.
"I only spy on kin for kin," Arya said firmly and paused, looking longingly at the basket hooked on the blonde girl's arm. "But I can tell you where Jeyne Poole keeps the love letters she writes herself and pretends are from that beau she invented."
"Deal!" Lady Gwyn Parren announced. She peeled back the layer of clean canvas beneath the embroidery in the basket to produce a steaming, golden brown folded pastry with star shaped slits gleaming with bubbling, black-purple goodness.
It was very much like Lyarra's father to foster the daughter of a modest but brave knight. Ser Galen Parren was the son of a Lord's third son in the Westerlands and he'd fought bravely during the Greyjoy Rebellion. He had done so with an honor that was very distinct amongst some of Lord Tywin's other knights. He'd been one of the few of the Lannisport Guard to survive the sacking of that city and he had gone on to become the second-in-command of the city guard when the rebellion was over. When Ser Galen died and his wife followed shortly thereafter, his daughter was left with only a very modest dowry and no family to guide her. Rather than leave her to be forgotten and victimized, Lord Stark had told the great-aunt who'd written on Gwyn's behalf to send her to foster at Winterfell.
"Do you have enough for Theon and Robb?" Lyarra wanted to know.
"I dropped Theon's off on the way here but had to use Robb's to bribe the guard. It was Daffyd and you know he doesn't care how large your eyes get or how you pout unless there's something in it for him," Gwyn replied with a hint of admiration for the guard. She handed Lyarra one without prompting or haggling and earned a half-hearted glare from Arya as she wolfed down her own treat. "I told him and he said he didn't mind."
"Isn't he in lessons with Maester Luwin?" Lyarra frowned, thinking of her brother's schedule.
"Maester Luwin got ravens from King's Landing and Highgarden." Gwyn replied. "Robb was excused from lessons early but told to practice his figures by inventorying the armory for tomorrow's lesson."
"Will Maester Luwin give us lessons later?" Arya butted in again, looking hopeful.
"No." Gwyn looked positively wilted with relief as she nibbled daintily on her own snack, having pulled the stool over by the fire with only a brief glare in the direction of the chair Lyarra had claimed. "We're both free of the maester for the day and all of his books."
Arya hooted in amusement and sat up, intent on going to tackle Robb in the training yard and demand a lesson while everyone was busy. Lyarra considered it but decided she'd do better to keep painting the falcon until she had to wash up and change out of the slightly worn and rough clothes she was still wearing from hunting lost snares with her brothers. Gwyn stayed, both because it was her room and because she'd have to change for supper as well. She was wearing the simpler, draber, poorer clothing that she wore when she was in the kitchens.
Lyarra might have been taught all of the basics of running a household, and Maester Luwin was making sure that she could handle scaling up her lessons to any size of keep - even one so large as Winterfell - at her father's insistence, but Lady Stark wasn't going to allow Lyarra any household responsibilities. In her mind it would just be a foothold Lyarra used to try and usurp something that wasn't hers; though how she was supposed to do that when she was a Snow and a woman besides she had no idea. The result was still the same; Lyarra had Ned Stark's blood in her veins but less to do than even a fostered girl from a modest family who Lady Catelyn didn't even like.
Lady Gwyn had arrived at Winterfell not quite three years before as a girl of ten. She'd been strangely jumpy and standoffish at first, which had prompted Lady Catelyn to indulge her motherly impulses. Unfortunately it became clear very quickly that, for all that she wasn't rich or powerful, the daughter of the Westerlands in their midst still had pride. Becoming Lady Stark's project or her pet, rankled and Gwyn quickly proved to have a sharp tongue and a habit of seeing weakness to strike out at quickly.
Even if her sharp tongue had been turned on Lady Stark, Lyarra hadn't liked the younger girl at first. She'd seen twelve years when the small blonde girl arrived with her honey-tan (that had faded) and light, bright, golden hair. Where Lyarra had only just started growing into her long, angular, face and her skinny body began to blossom into a slender grace, Gwyn had been immediately pretty in much the same way Sansa was growing into. Her face was heart-shaped, with sloping cheekbones, a small, pert nose very different from Lyarra's lupine beauty and huge dark blue eyes that appeared guileless rather than stormy. Where Lyarra's hair was tangled, nearly-black curls, hers was easily braided golden waves. Her lips were a sculpted rosebud rather than a natural pout.
Lyarra had felt awkward and very much a bastard in the face of the girl's razor sharp courtesies and sarcasm. She'd felt it was unfair that her Lord father's wife intended to pass the punishment around, as it were, by exiling the fosterling to Lyarra's only newly allowed private room. Yes, Lady Stark said it was because they couldn't leave a highborn girl alone in the guest wing where only Theon had quarters but Lyarra knew it was because she was uncomfortable around Gwyn and Gwyn was Southron enough that she had to feel insulted to be put into a room with the family's bastard.
Gwyn had confessed later, after their friendship was established, that her initial kindness had been entirely to spite Lady Catelyn. By that point it didn't matter. Lyarra had always been of age with Robb and was only just beginning to grow into being a woman and her determination to act like a real lady and prove Lady Catelyn wrong (barring learning to use a sword but that was just an essential skill Lyarra wasn't giving up) had still fit her awkwardly. Sansa was too young then, to be of any help and Lady Catelyn had already begun to drive a wedge between them by using Sansa's dreams of songs and knights and a Southron marriage as leverage. So Gwyn was the first other girl her age Lyarra ever really had contact with. They grew to know each other through doing up each others' stays and talking long into the night in their shared bed, while Gwyn slowly grew into a feeling of safety in Winterfell. It was probably not a perfect foundation for a friendship but it was as sturdy as the roots of Winterfell's great Ironwood trees.
"If you need help with your lessons, you know that I'm here." Lyarra offered and Gwyn waved a hand at her, turning back to Arya to quiz her on the location of Jeyne Poole's secrets.
Shifting in her seat in a fruitless effort to get comfortable, Lyarra firmly stayed out of it. She loved Gwyn like Robb loved Theon but she wanted no part in some of the things that Gwyn got up to. The Westerlands girl had a mean streak if riled, and - unlike Arya - she wasn't likely to confront you in a direct fashion. Lyarra disapproved of her penchant for petty revenge but had learned to accept it. If Gwyn could deal with her silences and brooding without harassing her, Lyarra felt that letting Gwyn get back at the steward's daughter for spreading those foul old rumors that Septa Mordane had started was the least she could do.
"Did you get hurt?" Arya demanded and Lyarra looked up from where she was mixing paints on the glazed palette on her left side.
"No, I'm just sore." Lyarra made a face and pressed a hand low on her stomach, then pointed at her own back. "It's been bothering me since yesterday morning. I think I strained myself in the yard with Robb and then riding made it worse."
"Were you wrestling with him?" Arya asked, then sagely advised. "Don't wrestle with Robb, he's too strong. At least not unless you intend to bite."
"I'm too old to bite and so are you." Lyarra snorted.
"I wasn't talking about me. Rickon didn't want to wash up last night and Mother told Robb to handle it," Arya replied. Gwyn snickered from where she was now sitting by the fireplace with an embroidery hoop.
"I know," Gwyn drawled. "Robb showed me the marks and asked me if I thought he could pass the scars off to his future wife as having bravely fought off a wild animal."
"I hope you said yes." Lyarra huffed.
"Of course I did." Gwyn grinned. "I didn't want to lie."
Arya was left whooping with laughter while even Lyarra gave in to giggling with the other two girls. She still thought to save half her pasty for Robb, wrapping it in a handkerchief. Later, when Gwyn was washing up for supper and Arya had been sent back to the nursery to do the same, she snuck into her brother's room and left it on his bedside table. Halfway through dinner however, the ache in Lyarra's belly had turned to a nauseous twisting and her back was a steady throb of low-slung pain. She asked to be excused, and her father granted it with a kiss to her forehead and a concerned expression as Lyarra went back to change and put herself to bed early.
Four hours later Lyarra was awoken from her nap by the sound of the other girl cursing as she was unable to reach the laces on her stays because of how Lyarra had tied them.
"Sorry, Lady Stark found out that Robb and Sansa skipped dance lessons this afternoon." Gwyn apologized sheepishly in the light of her single candle as she shivered in front of the fire in her smallclothes. "She wanted to speak to your Father and Septa Mordane had gone to bed, so I had to provide the music. You slept right through me getting my guitar."
Gwyn's guitar lived in its hardened leather case on hooks mounted securely to the wall; it had pride of place next to a painting Lyarra had done on a single glass-smooth board of her father and all of her siblings. Just as she was absent from the tapestry of the Stark family that hung in Lady Stark's solar that Septa Mordane had turned into a lesson and Lyarra had had to help stitch the borders on years before, Lyarra had omitted her father's lady wife from her painting. It was a pettiness she usually tried to rise above but Gwyn had a habit of bringing out the worst in Lyarra and then encouraging it. Lady Stark hated the painting but Ned Stark had asked that she give it to him, for his Solar, when she wed.
"I know that I can't keep my children with me forever but it will be a comfort to see them every day regardless," he had said.
Lyarra sat up with a groan that quickly morphed into a yelp of alarm.
"What is it?" Gwyn's question wasn't nearly as important as Lyarra's mortification and outrage at the situation.
"I'm wet!" She tried to express her embarrassment as she leapt up from the furs, feeling even more humiliated when she felt the dampness that had been gathered across her buttocks begin to run down the inside of her thighs.
"Your moon's blood?" Gwyn asked eagerly and held her candle aloft, revealing a dark red stain all across the back and streaked across the front of Lyarra's nightshift. "Ha! That'll show that dried up old hag, Mordane!"
Lyarra might have said something, anything, about getting back at Mordane for suggesting that Lyarra would never bleed because the true Gods would likely strike her barren for being a living sin. Unfortunately, she was distracted. Lyarra Snow reached forward with both hands to peel back the sheets, quilts and furs on the bed to see the damage she'd wrought to the linens. Her left wrist promptly protested the movement with a wave of pain as intense as if Gwyn had taken the piece sandstone that she used to polish stone beads smooth and rubbed it over the inside of her wrist.
Lyarra automatically clutched at her left wrist with her right. Gwyn had put the candle down to go grab some of the clean rags they'd been hoarding for when their moon's blood came and Lyarra staggered over, trying to hold her legs together so she didn't drip on anything, to see how she'd managed to make the situation worse with an unexplained injury. What she saw there pulled a shocked gasp from her throat.
There, on her left wrist, inked in brilliant colors as indelible as death's pallor and or the bleached and hidden bones in the crypts, was an image painted by the hands of the Gods.
"You're Marked." Gwyn whispered and Lyarra could only swallow and stare at her friend with wide eyes as her fate was decided in a room that smelled of blood and wild flowers.