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now for wrath, now for ruin

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“Riders from the marshes,” her brother muttered, ducking beneath the beam at the entrance. Lyanna glanced over her shoulder at him, a nod of understanding already making her head bob. The horse gave a soft, tired whinny, kicking one leg out. “How fares our sweet girl?” Brandon knelt at her side, safely away from the hooves.

“She’s doing well. A fighter.” There is not very much they can do for her. Lyanna carefully shifted her weight from one leg to the other. Her right had fallen asleep, becoming a pincushion for the million tiny needles pressing into her flesh.

“Ours lives are not our own.” She didn’t want to think about her father’s words, which of course brought them to the forefront of her mind. It was not a comfortable thought. Neither was it comforting; her fingers gripped the wax body of the short, fat candle burning away. The stench of tallow filled her nostrils. It gave off a shallow sort of light, good enough for making certain she did not sit in a pool of blood, but not enough for her to see beyond a few steps.

“Even so, father, there are other men who can fight. Why must you go?” He’d stared at her with that cutting glare of his; it was not as though he’d never told her before about the whys. Nevertheless, he took her hand in his and pressed something in her palm before pushing her fingers to curl around it. The smooth, cold surface left her with only one guess.

“They are waiting for me.” He had given her nothing else beside a small peck to the crown of her head, bending slightly at the waist to better reach her. He’d left after, going off with Brandon and Ned. Her brothers had both returned. They’d brought back the fine, agile mare her father used to ride. She’d been bred by some nameless, lineless stallion from the Wall.

The mare neighed, this time struggling against the spasms. She reached out to path her side gently. “That’s a good girl. Only a little longer.” Uncertain whether her encouragement counted for anything, she nevertheless continued. “You’re such a strong girl.”

Her father’s horse. Hot, bitter tears stung her eyes. Her saddle empty, her master gone. He riderless horse. He had not promised to return. And she could not have asked for such. But even so, could he not have at the very least attempted to keep the could until he’d reached home? To die in his own bed? Where she could ensure a gentler passing.

“I am so sorry, Lya.” Her brother’s whisper startled her. She’d almost forgotten his presence.

But he’d gone among his men, sword in hand. How could she fault that in him anymore than she could in his sons. “I care not for apologies.”

Her brother kept his silence. Brandon was still melancholy. Father had been favoured by the gods, five sons would ensure some manner or continuity or another. Her eyes peeled away from the man to the horse. “I can see the head.”

In truth it was less that than a gently curved, painful looking protrusion. She hoped it was the head. That was the most difficult part. A skull great in size could prolong the animal’s exertion. There were those who knew better than her what needed to be done, and considering she would be more in the way than of help. Lifting the foul smelling candle, she called to one of the boys.

Brandon seemed to appreciate that, for his hand moved to the small of her back, pushing her towards the entrance. Unlike him she did not have to bow. Whoever had thought it would be a bright idea to lower the beams so much must have been tremendously small.

“The lords of the marshes have brought many men?” The question left her lips as a way to lift the tension.    

“Not nearly enough to hold the hordes off much longer. But that is to be expected.” Even the young boys had been taken from their homes. The grand army, comprised of every man able to bear arms, had been nearly decimated. There were no crops and their ships had met with fell fate at the hands of the Ironborn. “It seems we have to bow our heads yet again.”

It was the nature of necessity. Lyanna frowned nevertheless. “You do not mean to send Ned, do you?” She loved all of her brothers, but Ned was the least suited to the matter; put him in charge of an army and he would lead a wonderful charge. Give him rein over negotiations and a disaster was bound to crop up. He was too honest by half and need might not be a powerful enough incentive for him.

Daughters were different though. Inevitably, they would have to live though many a compromise, very like a monarch. Her lips lifted in an inviting smile. “Brandon, send me instead. I daresay I bow prettier than Ned.”

“To the Kingdoms? I think not.”

“Why not? Their king is mad, after all. If Ned goes, he will not quite manage to satisfy out diplomatic needs. Benjen is too proud. And the other two are much too young. I am a girl, Brandon. He shan’t see me as a threat. In fact, let him believe he has some power over us.” They needed the men, if the madman would spare them. But if not, it was easier to engage sellswords in the kingdoms. The richer milieu could not fail to attract them.   

Brandon considered her. “I shan’t be able to protect you if you are so far away.”

“Far be it from me to seek out danger.” They were just Andals, after all. They’d fled countless times before the harsh winters could settle in. “Aside from which, I would sooner fear a Wildling than I would an Andal. I am much too savage to tempt any of those lily-livered lords into matrimony.” A marriage might have solved some of their troubles though.

“I will think upon it.” She’d won. Lyanna nodded gently nonetheless, keeping her knowledge to herself. Brandon had to know that time was running out. If travel were simpler, if the Neck hadn’t shattered, if the Others did not prey upon their vulnerability. If, if, if. So many of them. Alas, the situation was what it was. The Andals with their desire of expansion would likely fall for the ruse. Which was just as well, considering they’d be sent on their way, and leave gladly, by the end of it.

Caught between the ever covetous Seven Kingdoms, the raiding Ironborn and the encroaching White Walkers, the North could not stand alone. Serving one master or another was a necessity if one did not wish to perish. And as soon as the lost urgency, the game could change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bennard clung to her skirts, small face hidden in the many folds, head bent, tears hot. Lyanna knew not the words to comfort him. What did one say to a child whose beloved father would not return no matter the rivers wrung from his eyes? Instead she settled upon stroking his soft head of hair, the unyielding blackness of it unlike the softer, earthy tones of her own. They shared eyes though. In any doubt would be nurtured, that ought to quash it. “Hush now.” She knelt to his level to better pick him up in arms. “The gods may call a man to them when they choose, for they know the timing of such things.” Yet it was a very trying thing.

Being the unexpected gift of a tumultuous union, Bennard had settled more for his father than mere legacy. Lyanna pressed a kiss to his forehead, trying to sooth his pain even as her own grew in her breast. He was but a babe. In the years to come, his memory of Rickard Stark would dwindle until there was naught left of it. Even the best of brothers would struggle to fill that gaping wound. “Let us find Ellard, shall we? Where could he be?”

“With mother.” Expected that, she considered. Lady Margaret was ever in company with her eldest child and poor Ellard suffered all the more for it. A boy at that age ought not to carry the heavy burdens of his mother. Exhaling gently, Lyanna carried her own burden to the lady’s chambers, allowing herself a small knock before she entered.

Lady Margaret, predictably, was abed. Her mourning garb undisturbed  upon the bed, she lay in her shift, her son slumbering at her side. Her eyes though, made strange by the lack of light, shone a bright, mad green. Like wildfire. Had father not said that such a passionate gaze was ever after a man’s heart? She shuddered inwardly and bowed her head for the moment. Let the woman take it as she would. 

“Why do you disturb me?” Margaret demanded. She was not that much older than herself. Neither was she come a maiden to her marriage. In truth, that had been suitable. Lady Margaret had been wife to some other man just as her gather had been husband to another woman. Yet she’d still been young by a count. Her first husband had died on the field of battle, never gracing her with as much as a child. But then he’d been away fighting. She knew enough of what was between men and women to know distance would not aid in the producing of a child.

“Your son cries.” She’d never taken to Bennard as she did to Ellard. It was more than preference.

“I see him in good hands. Mine are full.” Trampling her desire to bristle with the firm press of her heel, Lyanna clutched her brother tighter. His mother had two good hands yet not a lick of sense. What could the poor boy have done to fall so from her grace?

“A child needs his mother.” She recalled her own. Lyanna had not been so small when she’d died that no memory lingered. What a marked difference. Too long had she been without kind company that she considered it not out of the ordinary that a woman would refuse her own child refuge. Margaret was shaking her head, claiming weariness.

What would become of her poor brother when she had left? The worry wormed its way within her heart as she left in a flurry of skirts, the air cracking with her unspoken resentment. Bennard had long since tensed in her grasp. His tears were dry, s small mercy, but might be he did not have it in himself to cry long. Boys rarely did.

“Think of it no more,” she said to the boy, taking him in her chamber. “Your lady mother is tired, and grieves as we all do. Come lie in my bed.” He must have seen his mother’s own had had enough place for him. She was uncertain whether her offer could staunch the bleeding. But Bennard obeyed, allowing her to place him beneath the furs. She climbed in as well, tucking him into her side. She could sit with him until sleep claimed him and then she might ask the servants to bring the mending up.

Bennard made no complaint to his words. To think a heart grew so blunt to the blows of such cruelty that he remained serene in the face of it was horrifying. She wanted to hold him all the more, give to him what his mother would not. And yet she would leave when all preparations were in place. She would leave him to the tender mercies of his lady mother and the well-meaning but superficial attentions of her good-sister who grew big with her own babe and hadn’t the strength to mind another’s. 

Her brother meantime responded to her warmth by seeking even more of it. Her heart broke for him. She’d not considered much beyond her own grief and plans for the future. She had been, in other words, remiss in her duties. “There now, sleep by me.” But the child did not close his eyes. Instead he stared up at her, guileless gaze holding something like remorse. Tentatively she reached out to cup his cheek.

“Why does mother hate me?” Were her heart undecided over what path to take regarding the issue, it certainly found its place then. To see such suffering and yet be wholly unable to end it was more than a body could bear. What answer could she give? Dare she lie and tell him his mother loved him when she proved time and again that she did not? “Am I a bad son?”

As a general rule Bennard did not speak much. Ellard had babbled since the day he was born, it seemed, brash and brimming with unspent energy, more than a touch of wolf’s blood in him, while his brother, soft beneath the quiet enveloping him, guarded so much more than simple mischief. “Of course not. If I ever have a son, I hope he is like you.”

He lowered his gaze, small hands reaching out to clutch the stiff cloth of her garment. “I wish you were my mother.” Oftentimes she wished she were as well. Then might be she could do something to ease his pain. His all too clear, all too burdensome pain. He was too young to feel the sting of such rejection. “Then I could go with you.”

“Go with me?” she echoed, trying her hardest to keep the tears from her eyes. He was the youngest son, much too young to be taken on such a venture. And yet, unlike Ned whose too-serious nature had been minted in heroic battle-blood, Bennard had no such comforts. How much trouble could one boy be? He was quiet and obedient, made little fuss and demanded little attention. He should be spoiled with it, now that he had no father.

There were some eleven years between them. She might have easily been his mother. Yet the gods had placed him in the keeping of Lady Margaret. Lady Margaret who now found herself under the thumb of her good-daughter or was it the other way around. She made her decision. “I will speak to Brandon.” Sons were given away to foster all the time and their aunt Branda had married in the kingdoms. Surely she would take Bennard in.  She hoped Brandon would listen.

Childrearing was the province of women as surely as war was the province of men. Yet Lyanna had no child of her own. How would she know what was best for this babe so trustingly leaning into her? “Indeed, I shall. And if he agrees, I will take you with me.”

Unexpectedly, with quick movements, Bennard threw himself at her, wrapping small arms about her neck. He gave her a sweet, little kiss as, trembling lightly as though he could not contain his joy. He settled after, carefully arranging the furs and placed his head upon the pillows. Only after did he close his eyes, one hand clinging to her, the other clutching at the furs.

He fell asleep sometime later, face set in a frown, lips puckered slightly. She was reminded of his first days, when she’d held him at her own breast, though she had naught to give him. The wetnurse had been more than adequate. Difficult to believe he and that small lump of quivering, mewling flesh were one and the same. And yet it was not. As she mused upon such matters, she found it within herself to regret her father’s untimely demise for one reason more. He had never found a match for her. It was to be expected as difficult times were coming and her being yet young, he had decided to count his options before he made a choice. Still, her eyes clung to her brother’s face, to think she might hold a sweet babe of her own flesh someday soon; she regretted the absence of a husband who might aid in such an endeavour.    

For herself, Lyanna gently pried his finger loose from her and set the hand near his head upon the pillow. She climbed out of bed with all the stealth she possessed and made her way to the door, opening it gently, so as to avoid its screech of protest. On the other side, an old servant woman was scrubbing the floor of the hall. She paused in her task as her eyes fell upon her. “Nora, leave that for a moment.” Nora climbed to her feet and dusted the raised hems of her skirts. No amount of that would rid the cloth of its stains, however.

Choosing to keep silent upon that matter, Lyanna simply set about giving the needed instructions. The servant woman , bound as she was to do as told, left her task to perform the other and she returned to her chamber. Bennard slumbered still; she hoped his dreams at least were sweet.

Before long another one of the servants brought within a basket filled with tunics and such. Her needle and thread were upon the small desk. Or rather the thread she used most. There was not much of it left. Thankfully though Brandon had taken to blue tunics and she had enough of the blue thread to safely see him through.

She pulled out the first of the garments, inspecting it. It was not the black most suited to hiding away blood, but she perceived it was neither Brandon’s. Such dour garments, without a shred of personal touch, could only be Ned’s. That and Benjen was still only just above her height, which made the tunic much too large for him. A soft smile touched her lips. Ned would likely appreciate her neat stitching, although she was almost temped to sew it with some other colour if only to distinguish him somehow. She relinquished the idea with an almost inaudible sigh.

Her work was mostly quiet, repetitious and entirely mind-numbing. She could relax with such a task in hand and did not even have to worry about being pestered for one thing or another as long as she had the garments to work on. She carried on until the old chipped bell started ringing. It had been there for most of her life and even the uneven, tremulous sounds it produced brought the comfort of the known.

The ringing of the bell woke Bennard up. She heard the short intake of breath and them the whoosh of the furs being thrown. She could practically feel his fear exploding in bursts. “Sister!”

“I am here, Bennard.” The boy sat up, eyes frantically searching for her in the dim chamber. He found her without further words leaving her lips and she gave him a smile for his efforts. “The bell rings and it is time for our meal.” She put the garment she’d been working on away and climbed to her feet, walking to the bed. “Up we get.”

Bennard held his arms out, a silent plea to be picked up. She could not deny that small mercy and did as any sister would, lifting him to her. His legs wrapped around her middle just as she secured him. Her brother was not particularly large; aside from Brandon, who for some reason resembled a giant, none of her brothers were particularly large. Or at least she could not say with Ellard and Bennard as they were not enough grown for such prediction.

Bringing them both near the small bench holding a ewer with cooled water she allowed Bennard to wash his face with a cloth and then let him wash her own. Their cleansing was interrupted by a knock upon the door. Lyanna called out that they would be down soon enough, thinking it might be one of her brothers. Yet the knocking continued.

With Bennard still attached to her hip, she flung the door open. Mag, Barbrey’s bondswoman, stood there, her face ashen. “The babe is come.” It was a whisper. “I beg of you, my lady. She has need of another woman.”

She had assisted Margaret, of course, with Bennard. But he had been a swift delivery, she’d understood from the midwife. “There is no other woman.” That was true. The midwife who had aided her step-mother had died some years past and her apprentice had gone with her. What that left them with was their own wits and instinct. For a moment she considered guiding her towards Lady Margaret’s chambers. The look in the woman’s eyes stopped her.

“Here,” she said, ”take Bennard to Ned.” She passed the burden onto the servant woman and stepped into the hallway. “Bennard, I shall see you when Lady Barbrey no longer has need of me.” Her brother nodded, ever compliant.

And she wasted no more time, instead heading for the chambers which had been appointed to Barbrey upon her arrival. She entered to the sight of a frightened woman, sitting up in bed. She ought to have been lying upon her back. “Good-sister, I have come to sit you.”

She’d never liked this one. Brandon did. Nevertheless, in her pain Barbrey was not that different from all other women. There was some kinship in that. “I should rather you come to rid me of this child. I want him out.”

“We have a ways to go until that time,” she kept her voice gentle. Walking to the woman’s bedside, she pushed her back. “You must lie down now and I shall see to you.” Would that there were a midwife still. The lady of the keep ought to know about delivering a child, at the very least the most rudimentary notions. And in that she had been well educated.

The door opened. “I have brought water,” Mag’s voice rang out.

 “”Many thanjks,” she spoke over Barbrey’s panting. “Now help your mistress out of her garments and have her sit beneath the furs. She would not go so far as to disrobe the woman herself. Luckily, she would have another task to fill her time. The door to the chamber opened a second time.

“What is this I hear?” her brother demanded, frightening Mag and sending his poor wife to shrieking, as was expected. The birthing chamber was no place for a man. Even one as stout as her brother.

Marshalling her strength, Lyanna commanded him away. “If you would not see my wrath, step out, brother.” To make certain he would listen she took him by the arm. Had he truly mean to oppose her he easily could have. Instead, Brandon followed her lead. “The babe is come, is all,” she told him soothingly, “and your lady wife had need of me. It is not a matter to concern you.”

“My wife. My babe. My concern,” he put it to her succinctly.

“I mean dear brother that she is beyond your help. Your part is done for the time being. This is a matter women would keep amongst themselves.” The worry in him exploded silently. “She is a hale, strong woman. You have no cause to fear.”

“This is childbed,” Brandon pointed out, eyes narrowing in an unforgiving glare. “You can make me no promise.”

“Very true.” It was futile to point out that the gods decided who to take and who to spare. “But you have my word that I will do my best.” Her brother had no other option than to allow her back into the chamber.

Barbrey had been deposited under the furs. Her forehead was bathed in sweat and she sipped upon some wine which had been brought to her at some unknown point. She allowed the woman that small pleasure although she herself knew she would not be eating or drinking much in such a situation.  With much of everything in place, she busied herself with checking the state of her good-sister to the best of her abilities. Granted, she could aid more in human labour than she could in that of a mare.

 “You ought to be pleased, good-sister,” she said after a heavy moment of silence, hoping to lift the mood, “not many husbands would rush to their wives’ chamber in such haste.”

“He is merely anxious to hold him son,” the wife scoffed. “I know Brandon. If he would take any pride, than it must be in his son, and if he should worry, it is for the lack of a son. As all men do.” She gave such words no heed. Pain loosened lips.

“You too shall be glad to hold your child, I think.” That proved to be the correct approach. Barbrey softened even as she nodded, even as her lips spoke of her anxiety to have the babe out of her womb. Such had the gods decreed, that woman shall bring forth her children in great pain. Or not so great, according to some. As to that, Lyanna could but keep to her own task.

 

 

 


 

 

 

“One wishes there were some manner of succour.” The words, spoken loud in the overwhelming silence of the chamber, distracted Rhaegar from the line upon which his eyes rested. He considered not answering. After all, he and Elia were not much in charity. But then he thought it might be rather cruel of him to pick upon a woman in her condition. Thus he lifted his head to pin her with a stare, at the very least letting her know he did not appreciate the disturbance.

“Might be you would be better served by a seat on the balcony,” he suggested quietly. Her colour rose at his words. Rhaegar ignored that. Instead he settled for leaning back against his seat. By and large, he found Elia a most amusing companion. It just so happened that from time to time he grew frustrated with her manner, as she did with his, he reckoned. Too late for regret, he told himself as he suppressed a sigh.  

“But the night is cold.” She might have as well complained of the dark while the sconces were lit. “I could not possibly go as I am.” He looked her over, trying to gauge her meaning. In truth he understood her unspoken request, yet was not about to accommodate her. But she moved about as he searched for a reply and sat herself upon the chair at his side, peering over his arm at the book in his lap.

“Then you had best remain by me.” Thwarting her plan elicited a small smile from him. Elia pouted but did not complain, taking the route of gentle pressure. She leaned her head against his shoulder, one hand neatly beneath her chin, fingers curling ever so gently.

Silence stretched out between them. He could still fell the subtle movements of her breathing. He was used to such moments, when no one spoke one word, where there was not a sound, where he would be left to ponder the path not taken. His mother would often use such a method. He continued reading, stopping upon some word or another whose form he did not quite recognise. It was all truly interesting, however, and he could not fault the man who’d committed all that to paper. Elia’s breath fanned, warm against his skin.

Predictably enough the woman did not last long in such circumstances. She moved away with a soft snort. “Is that book so very interesting?” The question lingered. Rhaegar had no pleasing answer to that; he chose to simply stare at her. “You need not look so. It puts me to blush.” He much doubted anything he did could.

“I did not mean to cause you discomfort.” That brought a grin to her face. She nodded, almost as though she felt slightly mollified at having chided him. Having foreseen the reaction he remained pleased with his capacity of prediction and touched his hand to hers affectionately.

“You do not.” The amusement dispersed. “Your father, however, does. This cannot go on forever.” He watched her blink slowly. Her hand reached down to the subtle bulge wherein rested all hope for the continuation of their relationship. “My brother will not wait forever.”

Dorne was ever strange in its customs. Elia had given him a daughter. For her brother to push for another union seemed so very strange. “And what have you written to your brother that he should change his view so upon the matter?”

“Nothing at all.” She glanced away from him, her eyes stuck upon the chamber’s door. He pressed no further, not truly interested in the answer. Whatever she wrote to her brother, whatever Doran decided, Elia would be stuck in King’s Landing until she’d birthed this second child. If that come about. “I would never encourage him to put barriers between us, you know.” He nodded. There would be no more reading for the time being. He put his book away, settling his attention upon the woman, more specifically upon her eyes. There was a storm brewing there.

“You need not worry over such matters,” he said, keeping his voice low. “Best not to give attention to unpleasant things. It is not good for the babe.” He wondered how his father would react to another granddaughter. The issue was the madman was unlikely to accept his decision so easily without a son for him trot out. And, of course, a son was imperiously necessary. Might be Elia would give him a son. That was out of his hands.

“I wish I did not have to.” And he wished she were more understanding in the matter. Nonetheless, he kept his silence and allowed her to go on. “But I must think about the children, mustn’t I? His Majesty is being unreasonable.”

“There we are in agreement. But my hands are tied at this precise moment. His Majesty will come around in his own time.” One hoped in a timely manner as well. Although, if he did not, Rhaegar might have to press him all the harder. “You have only to trust.” He wished the pregnancy were more advanced. At least then she would find her comfort beneath furs and leave him to his books.

“There are times when trust is stretched too thin. But I still trust.” Too much of that had landed her in precisely the trouble they inhabited together.

“That is because your heart is so open.” He’d framed it as praise, but had not meant it as such. She believed her own nonsense and that was might be saddest of all. His indulgence would come to an end at some point, of course, and he hoped she would not take it too hard. But it would not be that difficult to understand if that were the case. One did not recover easily from such upheaval.

Something in him stirred. Guilt, might be. Some remnant of that boy from long ago, hugging his weeping mother. Rhaegar pushed the discomfort to the back of his mind. Regrets had a time and place; that was not it.  

“You always know the words to say. I wonder where you’ve got that glib tongue of yours from.”

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

“Out of the question.” Lyanna flinched. “King’s Landing is no place for a babe. You said it yourself.” It occurred to her that Winterfell might be the worse place for a child, for Bennard specifically.

“Can you promise me he will not be left to his mother’s care? That you shall look after him? I know not what ails the woman, but she is not capable of seeing to his needs. He is our brother after all.” Brandon scowled. He did not much enjoy her displays, she knew. But sometimes it was best to speak when the opportunity arose. “Think upon it. He may be a boy, but he is still but a child. I could very well make a more profound impression upon those lords with a child in my arms.”         

“Even so, dearest sister, this journey is not for Bennard to undertake. And Barbrey will take care of the children here.” She held back from pointing out that Barbrey had a new child of her own to care for. “I know you mean well, but I will not accommodate you in this.” She wanted to argue, to plead further her brother’s care, but before her was not her kin any longer.

“If that is your decision.” She bowed her head though she made it clear she found fault with his reasoning. “I shall speak to Bennard, if you would allow it. Explain to him. Unless you should like to do it.”

“You will not place me in that trap, Lyanna. You will speak to Bennard for it was you who made him the promise.” A pity. She had hoped some tears would work towards changing his perspective. Acquiescing, Lyanna relinquished her plan. There would be other chances. “Off with you, then. I’ve a new daughter to enjoy and you sleep to catch.”