I set out for New Barrel just three days after our fight, packing in a rush, leaving my duties of the household to Lady Catelyn, afraid Robb might change his mind any minute.
Fortunately, he did not; he even escorted me and my two guards to the seaside for 3-days ride from Winterfell and made me swore on everything that's dear to me that I'll not get hurt and write every day once we get to New Barrel. We spent the two nights in two different inns on the way making love and talking into the dawn before riding all day, trying to make the most of the little time we had left to spend alone.
He was anxious to let me go but knew he had to accept my decision to go if he wanted to keep me by his side; a thought he had struggled with until the very last moment. Before he had helped me on the boat he kissed me so hard, held me so close like he thought he was seeing me for the last time and honestly, I understood; I felt like that every time he left for the frontlines.
- I'll come back to you, Robb, have a little faith in the Gods - I whispered to him as he held me. - They have brought you home to me every time - I tried to smile at him through my tears before he kissed me for the last time.
I watched his figure getting smaller and smaller as we parted from the North to sail south, thinking that it may have really been a bad idea to go, dangerous, stupid, but my doubts soon faded like my tears.
The two men, Lord Jon Dustin of Barrowton and Lord Martin Ryswell of the Rills were the two lordlings (who happened to be cousins) Robb had chosen to keep me safe were pleasant company; both of them attentive to the extremes, making sure I was eating enough and getting plenty of fresh air on our way, keeping away anyone who tried to approach me. They told stories to me about their fathers and grandfather who had fought alongside with Lord Eddard in the Rebellion and many other legends of the North; about the Children of the Forest, the White Walkers and the building of the Wall, stories that were less known in the Reach, but were told almost like history by the northerners.
The voyage was quite long and uncomfortable, but still much better and safer than on horseback or in a carriage through the war. We docked after 10 days at sea in Old Oak and rode for 5 more with our escorts to High Garden, where my father has been transported to in the meantime, so the best maesters could treat him. He was feeling better by the time I got there, his fever lowered and his mood improved significantly in the coming days from my presence.
I didn’t tell Robb, but my father and I, we shared a special connection. My mother was always very condescending, very protective, treating us like little children while my father always lifted me up, treated me as equal, gave me the opportunity to become more than “just” a lady. We read books together, had discussions about politics and affairs of a house, he took me hunting and to some of his diplomatic journeys to other houses to see how they worked, how they lived. In hindsight, I know he was grooming me to become his heir, I was his eldest and he did not have any sons, it was only natural he wanted to give me a base to start from so I wouldn't be completely dependent on the man I would marry one day.
I was grateful for that and I loved him so deeply that I had crossed half of Westeros risking getting caught in the war to come to him. He knew what my arrival meant, what I had to do to get here and he was thankful for every minute we spent together.
He asked mostly about the war, a topic I didn't know much about, only what Robb had told or wrote to me directly. I tried to keep my distance from the matters of the war so I could keep a cool (or maybe cooler) head when Robb was gone. He understood, but I knew his uselessness bothered him, he was a knight, after all, even before he had wed my mother, his job was on the battlefield, on the tourneys, not lying in bed for weeks.
- How is he treating you? - he asked abruptly one night when I was reading to him about Torrhen Stark, the last King in the North before my husband. His fever was running a bit higher then, he was half asleep, otherwise, he never would have asked it, thinking it was none of his business anymore. But he had a soft spot in his heart for me and when his guard failed, the questions must have slipped. - Are you with child yet?
The words got stuck in the back of my throat as I reached for his forehead gently. I took a deep breath.
- Not yet, but he treats me like any king should his queen, Papa. He loves me.
- What's love to do with marriage, El, is he there to protect you? Does he give you everything you need?
- Yes, yes, Papa - I said with a smile. - He is honorable, he is a good husband, Nana made me the luckiest lady in the world when she chose him for me, you don't have to worry about me.
- Why did he let you come here then? Sail here, alone? - he furrowed his brows frustrated. He thought Robb didn't care about me enough to come with me.
- He had no other choice - I assured him. - No man could keep me from my Papa, not even the bloody King in the North - I grinned at him and he smiled a little in response. He fell silent for a minute while I put down my book and tucked him in.
- Are you not cold up there? - he questioned, his hooded eyes resting on me as I stroked his greying hair out of his face, chuckling at the question.
- Not anymore - I answered, thinking about how my bed felt colder here than in Winterfell without my husband's body beside me. - Now rest, Papa, tomorrow we will continue with the story - I promised, kissing his forehead before I left for my room letting him sleep.
I was still thinking about my father's doubts when I sat down beside my desk in my room grabbing a piece of paper to start writing my daily letter to Robb. My grandmother kept asking the same questions as Papa did and pressuring me to return to Winterfell as soon as possible, afraid my absence would weaken my marriage, but if anything, it had been strengthened by the distance and the time spent apart.
Robb had told me he loved me before I left, he had shown me too in his own ways, but the letters we exchanged had revealed a different side of him, that he had hidden from me while I was by his side.
I received a raven from him every few days and I sent mine with a short message every day as I promised. I wrote to him about my days, how my father was doing, what my family has been up to while I was in Winterfell; described the gardens, begging him to promise me that he will walk the paths with me someday, the seeds I acquired at the markets that I wanted to grow in the Glass Gardens at home. I also asked about how he and the family were doing too, if I could take anything home for them and he answered everything in detail, telling me about the matters of the household, the visits he got from his bannermen, how the war was proceeding, what Jon had been up to. He wrote more to me in his letters than he ever said to me in person, which was surprising and a bit strange at first, but like my father's, Robb's guards must have been slipping too. His feelings slid onto the pages, the words almost uncharacteristically emotional and honest.
“You are barely gone, but I find myself waiting eagerly every morning to read your letter over breakfast, proof that you are well and thinking about us.”
I write this letter to you after midnight, so forgive me if this makes no sense at all. I just couldn’t sleep and now I know how you must have felt when I was the one who went away for so long. I wish you would be here, my love, sleeping soundly in my arms, your chest rising and falling pushing against mine with each breath, your little sounds helping me fall back asleep.”
“Even Grey Wind misses you, he sleeps next to your side of the bed now instead of mine and often I find him at the heart tree curled up where you used to pray with him.”
“I couldn’t sleep last night, I kept turning in our cold bed haunted by my doubts without you there to chase them away. I miss your touch, my love, the way your fingers run through my hair soothing me, how your lips on mine make me forget everything, I miss the comfort of your body against mine, the way only a husband can miss his wife.”
“Jon asked about you in his last letter, and Mother and Sansa worry all the time about your safe return. I can’t blame them, I wish you were here already, by my side, safe and sound in Winterfell.”
“It’s been snowing heavily in the past days, I hope it will die down by the time you reach the North again, I wouldn’t want you to ride in this weather.”
His writing was crisp and orderly, but his words made me cry and laugh, blush and worry depending on the day. I reread my favorites every night before bed to help me sleep, imagining him laying right next to me.
I missed him more than I could have anticipated. I never thought how my heart could ache reading the various endearments he addressed me as, the way he expressed his deepest feelings like never before and I soon found myself itching to sail back home.
So, a moon and a half after my arrival to Highgarden, when my father was on his feet again, feeling better and better with each day and I started to get annoyed by Grandmother’s crooning about me losing my power over my husband, I decided it came time for me to return to the North.
Though I was not looking forward to the ride and the days spent on the sea, I couldn’t wait to set foot in Winterfell again to find out if the person who’s words kept me company in Highgarden would be the same as the one welcoming me at home.
I sent my last letter to him from an inn on the King’s Road, just a day away from Winterfell when both I and my companions were tortured and in agony from the journey behind us. The next day a group of Stark bannermen rode to escort us on the rest of the way, with plenty of food and rested horses to get us to Winterfell as quickly as possible.
My heart beat faster as I crossed the gates into the courtyard in the early afternoon that day, but this time it was nothing like the last; I felt excited, relieved and happy to be finally home, my eyes searching for Robb, to finally lock eyes with him, his cloak billowing behind him as he strutted across the yard with Grey Wind in his heel, a wolfish smile on his face I rarely saw before. He pulled my sore body from the saddle straight into his arms without regard to anyone else around us as he kissed me, greedy and thirsty for my lips and I smiled and kissed him back at the same time with my hands around his neck, on his cheek, breathless but never happier. We parted slowly and I couldn’t help chuckling as he leaned in for a few more quick pecks.
- I’m sorry - he muttered in response, a bit embarrassed by his own enthusiasm, but I hushed him gently.
- No need to apologize, my love - I caressed his stubbly cheek, letting myself get lost in his eyes, his eyes that shined with emotion, so many things all at once that words cannot summarize, but I saw his relief, his joy, the tenderness he only wrote with before.
- I missed you so much - he smoothed a strand of hair out of my face, kissing my forehead. - I never missed anyone quite like this - he whispered almost shyly into my hair, still holding me close.
- Me neither - I shook my head at him, kissing the corner of his mouth. - I never thought I would miss the cold and the howling of wolfs at night - I ran my hand over Grey Wind’s fur who would have easily toppled me over as he rubbed himself against me affectionately if it wasn’t for Robb’s hands holding me steady -, miss your arms around me, holding you in mine - I hugged his neck tightly and he squeezed me closer once more before he let me go so I could greet the rest of the family.
Sansa hugged me tight as her mother commented on my tanned face with a smile. Arya kept a distance but even she said that she was glad I made it home in one piece.
- I brought all of you gifts - I announced proudly. - Poor Lord Jon and Lord Martin had to help carry them, for which I am most grateful for - I bowed my head to my guards who I grew kind of fond of during our journey together. - I hope you enjoyed Highgarden as much as I did your company, gentlemen.
- They brought you home safely and for that, I am more than grateful for - Robb put his hand on Martin’s shoulder. - Please, join us for dinner this night so I can reward the both of you for your service.
Both men accepted and thanked Robb for his words before taking their leave to reunite with their families and we went inside, so I could get a bath and change my clothes.
Once I was clean I joined Robb in his study, blushing a little remembering the things that happened there the last time I visited him.
- Elynna - he called my name softly when he saw me. - Shouldn’t you be in bed, resting? You must be tired.
- I plan to go to bed in a few hours, but now I want to spend some time with you, our family.
He smiled wide before he motioned over to his work.
- Can I finish these and join you in a bit? Perhaps for a walk in the Glass Gardens?
- Sounds lovely, but I just want to give you the gift I brought - I drifted closer to him, walking around his desk. - It will take only a minute, I promise.
- Then where is it? - he smirked at me. - There’s nothing in your hands, my love - he pointed out and he was not wrong.
- It’s not an actual present, but it is a gift - I teased him, arriving at his side, making him look up to me. He leaned back and sneaked his hands up to my waist, pulling me closer.
- Well, what I think you may be thinking of will take a while longer than a minute, but I’m willing to let that go - he licked his lips, exactly like a wolf about to eat me alive.
- Well, it’s not that… - I smiled at him, blushing slightly. - But it’s something that will make you very, very happy, I believe - I lead his right hand over to my belly, just about to where my navel is.
- Will it? - he asked breathlessly, not knowing what I was trying to imply. I looked at him for a long moment, waiting for him to try and guess it, but he stayed silent, watching me expectantly.
- I’m with child - I finally said, watching his face as he fully realized the meaning of the words, first looking shocked and confused then he smiled, gasping.
- Are you sure? - he choked out shakily.
- I was supposed to… flower more than three weeks ago and I started to feel quite sick in the mornings a week before I started for home. Maester Lomys confirmed it just a few days before we rode for Old Oak - I explained with a soft smile playing on my lips, stroking his curly hair as he leaned his head against my stomach, pulling me closer.
I wanted to tell him so badly since the moment I had known, but I didn’t want him to learn it from a letter, I selfishly wanted to see his face as he realized that his legacy was going to be safe that I’ll give him an heir finally. From the moment Maester Lomys smiled at me and said the words I wanted to shout it from the rooftops for all Westeros to know that we were finally about to become a real family. I couldn’t wait to hold them in my arms like I was holding their father right now.
I felt him shudder under my touch before he straightened up, tears falling down his cheeks, trying to wipe them away with the back of his hand without use. He took a deep breath and smiled at me, ear to ear.
- How far along can you be? - he asked on his tremulous voice, sniffling as I kept playing with his stresses, fighting my own tears.
- Around two moons, may have… conceived right on this table - I chuckled and he laughed at me, his eyes crinkling at the corners, his lips unable to stop smiling.
- I can’t believe it - he sighed, shaking his head. - I…
He sighed again, excited and positively shaking from nervousness in my arms.
- Are you happy, my love? - I asked.
- Yes - he nodded, standing up. - Yes, how could I not be? - he kissed me passionately on the lips.
- I was afraid… - I started to answer but quickly decided against it, not wanting to ruin the moment.
- What were you afraid of, my love? - he asked gently taking hold of my face so I would look up at him.
- It’s nothing, my love, doesn’t matter now - I averted my gaze, kissing him once more, trying to backpedal, but it was too late, his smile faded away as he realized what I was trying to ask.
- You were afraid I would think of Roslin - he half asked, half stated. - About what happened to her, happening to you.
I sighed, leaning my head against his chest. I regretted having said anything at all.
- Yes - I whispered into his shirt apologetically.
It was common knowledge that Robb’s first marriage was a tragedy in every aspect, my Grandmother didn’t try to hide it from me. Robb was betrothed to Roslin Frey whom he had no choice but wed to be able to cross the Twins when he first marched for King’s Landing to dethrone the Lannisters and their bastard. He took Roslin as his wife and she fell pregnant shortly after, they rumored with a son. Robb was halfway through Westeros when he got the news: his wife had miscarried and fell ill, making Robb turn back to the Twins only to hold her in his arms as she drew her last breath, cursing the Young Wolf of the North.
At least that is what people said. The alliance with the Frey fell apart shortly after, causing a major setback in Robb’s revolt as he had to first subdue his late allies before he could go on destroying his enemies, who had plenty of time to recuperate in the meanwhile.
He didn’t pull away like I have expected him to, he kept his hands on me as he spoke, only his voice became a bit distant.
- I was worried to marry a second time because of her, afraid the same thing would happen, but… - he trailed off, his hand fiddling with my hair nervously. He bit in his lower lip nervously.
- I talked about it with Jon a lot since then and he said to me that these things happen so we could learn from them, through them and I learned my lesson, Elynna - he glanced at me then back on the floor, ashamed. - I mistreated my wife, I married her out of duty and then abandoned her, using her family to get what I wanted. My wife died when she miscarried with my child and they betrayed me in a second - he said, his voice going weak. He took a deep, shaking breath. - For a long time I thought it was the way of the Gods to punish me for my greed, for my arrogance and maybe it was, but now I can see clearly - he looked me in the eye finally, his irises deep like the sea, swirling with raw regret. - They only tortured me so I would not repeat those mistakes with you and I intend not to. I couldn’t bear losing you - he whispered, his lips trembling, brows furrowed in despair. - I may not have respected and loved Roslin as much as I should have, but I love you more than my life and I will never let what happened to her, happen to you - he took my hand and pulled it to his mouth kissing the back of it, keeping his lips against me for a long time before I cupped his cheek and tilted his head toward me.
- Look at me, Robb - I asked him quietly, my heart heavy with guilt that I brought it up. - I’m not sure why I asked, I just... I’m sorry.
- No - he shook his head slightly. - I should have told you a long time ago - he sighed, his thumb brushing over mine. - I just… I felt so ashamed of it, I didn’t want to scare you away, it was all my fault and I wouldn't want you to think that that's something that I would do to you too.
I watched him as he turned away again, watching the fire crackling behind me in the open fireplace as he struggled to gather his composure again.
- Why would I think that? - I chided him softly, running my hand up his arm comfortingly. - You shouldn’t be ashamed of this, not with me - I kissed his cheek gently, his stubble stinging my lips. - For all this, all that ever happened to you, may it be good or bad, makes you the person you are today; the man I love more than anything - I smiled at him and he returned it. - I don’t care what the Gods think of you, Old or New, you have already proven to me Robb Stark, that you are a good man, a good husband and soon a father to all the little princes and princesses that we are about to give the North - I said with a grin and he chuckled, his smile wide and bright again. - Your only concern should be praying to the Gods that they bless us with a healthy son - I pulled his hand against my belly once again and he ran his hand against my flat stomach tenderly.
- Or daughter… - he murmured, kissing my forehead. - To think that I’ll be a father soon - he chuckled, shaking his head in disbelief and I joined in.
- It’ll take a while, but yes, the North will finally have an heir - I assured him, hugging him quickly, the familiar heat of his body lulling me already, reminding me how much I really missed him. - Should we go, tell the others?
I felt relieved that he finally knew and that he was so happy, but most of all, I felt the pressure that had been crushing me in the past months lift a little; I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to conceive and I knew that Robb was also anxious to secure the alliance and his kingdom with an offspring at last. At that moment it didn’t matter that the hard part was yet to come, that so many things could go wrong during a pregnancy and even more during childbirth or with a newborn, we only thought about how happy we will be once the babe arrives.
- What should we name them? - Robb asked as we were laying in bed, still naked after our lovemaking. I was on my back and he was laying sideways on my left pressing against me, his lips on my neck and his left resting on my stomach. He was still beaming like when his mother had nearly jumped into his arms hearing the news just a few hours ago. Sansa and Arya were literally squealing in joy, both instantly trying to guess the baby’s gender and wondering what they must teach their future niece or nephew. Robb sent a raven with a short announcement to Jon too.
- Well, I would think it’s obvious that if it’s a prince we will name him after your father, Ned or Eddard. I would prefer Ned, but since we are talking about your heir I think you should have the last word - I shrugged. I had plenty of time to contemplate this issue on the ship on my way home. He lifted his head from my collarbone and smiled down at me. I reached up and tucked a curly strand of auburn hair behind his ear.
- Well, in our family we like to give the heir his own name, the second or third boy can have my father’s or my brothers’ names, but I’ll consider Ned for the firstborn too - he said seriously. - How about Barden or Elden? I thought of Eadric too… - he lists a few from the top of his head.
- Have you been thinking about this before? - I asked furrowing my brows suspiciously.
- You thought only ladies think about their babe’s names? - he smirks. - As King, I had to plan on this too, that I’ll eventually have a son to take my place, my crown.
- I see, my king - I smiled as he leaned in to kiss me. - How about the girls, do you have names prepared for our daughters too?
- Just a pair - he replied, chuckling. - Eanna, similar to yours; Rhiannon or simply Rhiann, but I don’t really mind as long as they have your beauty - he kissed the tip of my shoulder softly. - Those teal eyes and high cheekbones, tiny pink lips and this silken brown hair - he ran his fingers into it as he said the words. - They would have any lord at their feet.
- Any king, you mean? - I teased taking hold of his chin, guiding him to kiss me on the lips.
- Oh, wait… Maybe it’s better if they turn out like Arya did, boyish and as Stark as they can get, so I get to keep them here longer until they get beautiful like her and get stolen away by some king - he groaned playfully biting on my lower lip.
- You are so mean - I swatted his arm and he just grinned that wolfish grin that’s infectious.
- I may be, but we have to admit, however they will turn out, they will be perfect - he said in a bit more serious tone. - I can’t wait to see them run around the castle and fill these walls with laughter - he smoothed his hand back down to my belly where our baby was growing, his eyes following its trail. - And I swear to you that I’ll be around to see them grow up.