As the sun set, the blue haze of day made way for an orange gold that resembled the wintry hearths in the castle. Flocks of birds flew through the fire-kissed sky as if in a beautiful dance. Torches blew in the evening wind while the gathered crowd’s murmurs clashed with the sounds of the birds making way for the coming darkness. Everywhere Arya looked in the godswood people stood, chattering, no doubt wondering why they were called together the night before the council.
Years on Skagos hardened Rickon to what was about to happen. He stood with The Crowl of Deepdown, the man who protected him in Skagos. Arya found it tragic how her youngest brother was numbed to violence yet a child in all the other aspects of his life. In some respects he reminded her of herself.
When Bran ordered no children were to be let into the godswood this night, Rickon argued until he was red in the face. Bran reluctantly allowed him to come.
Tormund stood club in hand, Val, a vision in white, had her dragon bone knife in hand, while Lady Mormont and her daughters had their dirks hanging ready on their waists. Everywhere she looked she came across a sea of faces, all wondering why Stark guards were on horses holding torches amidst the gathered crowd. In the middle, remained an aisle kept free of people. It ran from the entrance of the godswood to the Heart Tree where Arya currently stood next to her uncle and Lem.
Anguy and his men on the roof of the Guest House looked like silhouettes against the darkening sky. Arya could make out arrows in their quivers across their shoulders and bows in their hands. Bran had given them weirwood arrows.
By the entrance to the godswood, Jon was ahorse. Longclaw hung proudly at his waist. He and Sigorn Thenn were speaking to two giants standing on either side of the Guest House’s arches - no one went in or out of the godswood without going past them. In their hands, each had a club, though they were really just logs tied with boulders on the ends. Whatever they were no one would survive their impact. Arya looked at the two men covered as they were in shaggy pelts of fur. They had long arms and shorter legs, squished in faces and square teeth that she glimpsed whenever they spoke. Old Nan used to say giants wore huge boots but these two had horned feet that clearly needed no shoes.
Old Nan also used to say giants mixed their porridge with blood and could eat bulls whole. Looking at them, Arya didn't doubt they could eat a bull whole but didn’t believe they ate blood in their porridge. Wun Wun was a vegetarian.
A herald silenced the crowd. In came Lord Howland Reed, Meera and the three Children of the Forest. The Children each had dragon glass daggers. Snowylocks carried five bowls. The bottom bowl which was the only one Arya could see properly had a dozen faces on it carved like the Heart Tree - the faces were just as gnarled as the one behind her, not at all like Aunt Lyanna’s laughing tree in the Wolfswood; Arya and Jon’s laughing tree now. Black Knife and Ash each carried wineskins with them. Ash also carried a horn. Meera carried a spear - more for support than attack really. She was flanked by two of Nymeria’s growing pups. The mother of wolves.
The crowd whispered while they walked down the aisle. As the Children made their way past the giants, Arya thought of how Old Nan used to say this land originally belonged to the old races: the giants and the Children. All were gathered here today. New and old. The children of the Rhoynar, the First Men, the Andals, the giants, the Children and the Crannogmen.
Next came Bran in the company of the direwolves. Summer walked ahead of Bran’s horse with Nymeria, Ghost and Shaggy. Two of the four pups trailed behind. Arya saw the Sand Snakes crane their heads to get a better look.
Jon rode behind him. Their faces were as severe as those of their ancestors in the crypts. Across Bran’s chest was a crossguard that held Winter’s Justice in a special scabbard behind his back. Those behind him would see most of the sword with the scabbard covering only the lower part. It wasn’t practical to keep the sword in that scabbard forever - it would be left to the elements. But on this occasion, the small scabbard would make it easier for Bran upon his horse to draw it on the downstroke.
Rickon made his way to the Heart Tree. He stood on one side of her while Jon’s horse stopped by her other side. Uncle Brynden and Lem moved to stand by Bran’s sides.
In front of her, Bran’s front was guarded by the grown wolves. He raised a fist. The waiting crowd quieted. Arya could see the red and grey ripples of her father’s sword reflected off the torch light. The sword was a more manageable size now.
The orange of earlier had made way for a darkening velvet sky and the tall shadows created by the sunset were swallowed by the darkness. It was just as well. Wolves were creatures of the night. The stars, the moon and the torches blowing in the crisp cold breeze were the only sources of light now.
The crowd waited for Lord Brandon Stark to speak. The man on the horse was lord before he was her little brother. That was made clear by the argument they had when she begged him to let her do what was coming. She wanted to save sweet, kind Bran from the darkness that comes with something like this. But he had seen things she couldn’t imagine. He was Lord of Winterfell and he would do his duty. It was the way of their people for thousands of years. He was Bran, the Winged Wolf. To let her do his duty would be to confirm to others that he was what they thought of him. Bran the Broken. The man that commanded the gathered crowd with just a raised fist was no broken man at all.
In a loud voice he began.
“You are wondering why I have gathered you here tonight. The Great Northern Council does not begin until the morrow.” Her brother paused to look at each face in front of him.
“Tomorrow we set forth our vision for the New North. During the course of this council we will no doubt debate. You will set your grievances and your needs before House Stark and we will listen and answer to the best of our ability.” She could tell he stopped to smile. His shoulders relaxed.
“But before that, we will have a wedding. The first of many foundation stones of our new era.”
The crowd began murmuring again. Arya kept her eyes on the Ryswells. Rodrik Ryswell, head of House Ryswell was flanked by knights whose shields were painted with the golden horse of his personal arms. His sons Rickard, Roose and Roger stood near him. Each one had their own version of the Ryswell sigil emblazoned on their surcoats. And with them stood their sister. As always she had her hair tied up in a widow’s knot, dressed in black to remind all she was still mourning her husband. All these years later. Perhaps she truly was mourning him.
“Whose wedding is it then?” someone shouted from the back. Arya couldn’t see them.
Bran turned back to his siblings, motioning them to move to the sides so he could take his place at the front of the Heart Tree to witness the ceremony.
They did. Arya could see her brother’s face better from this position. He had his lord face on. Not at all the boy who would jape with her in their father’s solar. The darkness touched all of them in their years apart turning them into what they became. Bran told her Maester Luwin used to call their ancestors in the crypts hard men for a hard time. That’s what war made them as well.
Opposite her, across the aisle, stood the Greatjon, Harrion Karstark, Lord Davos, Alys Thenn, the Manderlys, Ned, and Allyria Dayne and the Sand Snakes, who were no doubt keen to see why no children were allowed here this night. Loreza was absent, no doubt with Branda, Sarra and any other Dornish person not here.
“We are gathered here today to witness the marriage of Robett Glover to Lady Marna Forrester.” Bran declared proudly. The Forresters of the Wolfswood were vassals of the Glovers, they were no doubt happy with the match. Her father Theomore Forrester was the widower of Lady Vivian Dustin, sister to Willam.
“And who did you consult when you made this decision?” Lady Dustin demanded, stepping forward to stand in the middle of the aisle and looking up at Lord Stark. Her brothers moved to surround her.
“The bride herself.”
“I am the head of House Dustin. As my husband’s only living niece, I mean to declare her heir to Barrowton. Her marriage is mine to organise.”
“As Lord Dustin’s widow you are free to name an heir of your choice but until you officially name Lady Marna your heir, it is her father who decides who she marries. Lord Theomore has consented.”
“I declare her my heir now. In front of all these witnesses. From this moment on, you must consult me and I do not approve of this match.”
Bran smiled a measured, lord’s smile. He laid the trap for her and she fell in. She thought until meant she could oppose it once she declared the girl her heir.
“That does not change the fact that Lord Forrester approved the match before you proclaimed her your heir...though I am pleased with your choice of heir,” Lord Brandon drawled, barely hiding the smirk that belonged to Bran. A smug look found its way onto Arya’s face as well.
“My sister will marry Robett Glover. That is that,” Ronnel Forrester reiterated, gruffly. His father was to walk the bride down the aisle.
The woman’s nostrils flared as he said that. Her jaws clenched and her hands balled into fists. But there was nothing more she could do. Lady Marna’s father had approved.
“Robett Glover,” Bran beckoned.
Robett came out behind the Heart Tree in the company of his brother, cloak around his shoulders. When he stood by the side of the Heart Tree, Arya saw his new arms. It was the silver fist of House Glover quartered with the white ironwood tree and black sword of House Forrester and the crowned crossed longaxes of House Dustin. Arya noticed how Lady Dustin’s eyes widened when she saw the heraldry.
How Beth managed to sort out cloaks in half a day was beyond Arya. When they were children, Beth, like Sansa and Jeyne, was way better at sewing than Arya. But it was something else entirely to design a new sigil and then sew it in a cloak within a few hours. Her friend smiled when her eyes met Arya’s. She was clearly proud of her work.
The bride and her father made their way down the aisle. The bride was pretty, Arya noticed. Her groom stood to Bran’s side. From on top of his horse, Bran looked as strong as any man there.
“Who comes?” Robett Glover began. As he continued, Arya tried to spot Anguy on his roof.
Lord Theomore answered. “Marna of House Forrester comes here to be wed. A woman grown …” as the bride’s father said the words, Arya watched Lady Dustin. The scowl on her face reflected the hatred that surged through Arya herself.
“Me,” said Robett. “Robbett of House Glover, heir to Deepwood Motte. I claim her. Who gives her?”
“Theomore of House Forrester, her father.” Lord Theomore turned to his daughter. “Lady Marna, will you take this man?”
“I take this man,” she said with a smile at her new husband.
Robett and Marna joined hands to kneel before the Heart Tree, bowing their heads in prayer.
When they stood, Robett undid her cloak to fasten upon her shoulders the cloak that combined their heritage.
Robett carried his wife off as custom dictated but not very far. They stopped before they reached the giants at the entrance and took their place among the crowd for the next phase of the night. People started whispering when the new Glovers didn’t leave the godswood. Custom demanded that the guests follow the bride and groom. Since they stayed there, the guests had to as well.
“Arya Stark,” Lord Brandon called out. Everyone’s eyes turned to her.
“Step forward,” her brother motioned to his side, so she could face the crowd. She did.
“Are you aware that no one can lie in front of a Heart Tree?”
Her brother nodded. “And what is it that you wish to bring before us?”
Arya surveyed the sea of faces. She looked at Jon with his hand to Longclaw’s hilt where he stood by the Ryswells. She looked at the giants with their clubs in hand, she looked up at where Anguy stood but she couldn’t see, and at the children with their wineskins and odd shaped bowls.
“You all knew my mother and father,” she started. “When the Lannisters arrested my father, many of you marched south with my brother. Your king, Robb. When my father was killed you waged war with Robb. My mother followed you south, no doubt accompanying you with her advice and her prayers. Then, in a boon amidst the war, the Lannisters returned my father’s bones to my mother in my grandfather’s castle. Riverrun.”
Arya noticed realisation dawn on Barbery Dustin’s face.
“Lord Umber told me that my mother sent my father’s bones north with Hallis Mollen, a member of our household guard. In his company were the Silent Sisters as well as three of my father’s other men: Jacks, Shadd and Quent. My uncle, Brynden Tully, confirmed the same as did my uncle’s steward at Riverrun, Utherydes Wayn.” Arya produced the raven scroll from Riverrun that confirmed the same.
“Harrion Karstark.” Bran called out. “Can you read the scroll for us?”
In his gruff northern voice, the Lord of Karhold read the contents of the letter, confirming Arya’s words.
Her brother invited her to continue.
“I have visited my father in the crypts and I have heard all about how his bones were returned to Winterfell by Lady Barbrey Dustin. His bones were returned. But the men and the women who accompanied them were never seen again. When I visited Barrow Hall, Lady Dustin said that her men found a dying Hal Mollen as he made his way with father’s bones through the swamp.”
“That they did,” the Lady of Barrowton interrupted, stepping forward. “What do you mean to say, girl?”
“I mean to say that I do not believe your account.”
The Ryswells marched forward to stand beside their sister. Their father and his knights joined them.
“What is the meaning of this?” Rodrik Ryswell demanded as his knights put their hands on the hilts of their swords.
Jon drew Longclaw holding it against Lord Ryswell’s throat. Anguy and his men shot arrows that landed at the feet of the Ryswell men, sparking a panic in the godswood. Her uncle stood in front of her. Lem by his side.
Bran raised his hand again, instantly quetening the crowd including the growling direwolves. He spoke to Jon with his eyes asking him to remove his sword from the man’s throat. Jon complied.
The Stark guards in the crowd, Tormund, Val and their men and the Mormonts then lined the ends of the aisle standing between the Ryswells, Dustin men and the crowd on either side. Their command from Bran was to keep the peace, whatever happened in the centre.
“Lady Arya, why do you not believe Lady Dustin’s words?”
Arya stepped forward from behind her uncle, sending him an appreciative smile as she did so.
“She was wringing her hands while I asked my questions, her eyes flitted side to side and she licked her lips in nervousness. I was not asking her a difficult question, merely what happened to the man who accompanied my father’s bones.”
“Do you have any evidence to support your suspicion?” Lord Brandon asked.
Lady Dustin merely scowled at her, confident that Arya’s answer would exonerate her.
“No,” Arya whispered.
“I do not appreciate being slandered,” Lady Dustin fumed. “I returned Lord Eddard’s bones to Winterfell. I let Stannis’ men into this castle before that. Lady Arya here means to accuse me without reason for the crimes of Roose and Ramsay Bolton.” The woman turned away from Arya and to the crowd.
“Aye, I swore fealty to the Iron Throne when King Robb died. Our king was dead, our men were dead and winter was coming. I did what I did to save my people. That is no crime. We have spent the last five years-”
“I hear Stannis Baratheon was fond of a saying,” Lord Bran interrupted her. “ A good act does not wash out the bad, nor a bad act the good. Each should have its own reward.”
“You have our thanks for returning our father’s bones to Winterfell.” Her brother nodded, dismissing Arya from where she stood. She went back to stand next to Meera, stroking one of the pups as a means to ground herself.
Lady Dustin sneered, pleased in Arya’s embarrassment.
Bran turned to a man dressed in the Dustin colours. “Beron,” Lord Stark called out.
The man stepped forward. He was a large man with a weathered face, a scar ran down one of his cheeks.
“What do you do for a living?” Lord Stark questioned.
“I am the serjeant of House Dustin.”
“And what does that role comprise of?”
“I command Lady Dustin’s household guard.”
“And how long have you been in this position?”
“Twelve years, my lord.”
Bran nodded. “You have heard Lady Arya Stark’s accusation.”
“Yes, my lord.”
“Arya Stark accuses Lady Dustin of having a hand in the killings of the Silent Sisters and the Stark men sent forward with Lord Eddard Stark’s bones. Do you have anything to say to this?”
The man gulped, looking once at Lady Dustin, who sported a blank face, though Arya could see a sheen of sweat. Nymeria growled, stepping forward.
“Nymeria.” Lord Stark reprimanded. The she-wolf sat on her haunches, still baring her teeth, not taking her eyes off the man.
The man gulped again. “I know that Lady Catelyn Stark sent Lord Eddard’s bones north and that when the road was closed off by the ironborn’s capture of Moat Cailin Lady Dustin had men watching the swamps and waiting for the bones to emerge.”
The man gulped again before he was encouraged by Nymeria to speak. It’s funny what men will admit to when faced with an angry wolf. Not as angry as me though.
“Lady Dustin said she wanted to feed the bones to her dogs.”
Barbery Dustin’s jaw clenched, she was about to open her mouth when Lord Stark responded to her. “Lady Dustin, you will have your opportunity to speak. Let the witness finish.”
“How do you know this?” he asked the man.
“I...I-” Nymeria growled to help him along, this time joined by Shaggy. Arya turned to see Rickon glowering at the man, no doubt willing to rip him, and Dustin, and all the Ryswells apart himself. Perhaps we should do it together, Arya thought darkly. Bran can punish us later. But this was Bran’s moment. She would withhold her anger for now.
Instead, she reached out to Rickon, placed her hand on his shoulder and whispered, “Bran knows what he’s doing, let him.” They were easy words but hard upon her tongue and harder still on her heart. She wanted to rage.
She noticed the Sand Snakes look at them with understanding in their eyes. Uncle Brynden told her how they had to be locked up after their father’s death to stop them seeking vengeance themselves.
“Continue, please,” Lord Stark requested.
“I came to Winterfell with Lady Dustin for the marriage of Ramsay Bolton and Lady A-, well the girl they presented as Lady Arya... I accompanied her to the crypts with Theon Greyjoy. She spoke of how the northmen feared The Dreadfort, but loved the Starks. She included Whor-...Hothar Umber and the Hornwood men in that number who were present here for the wedding but loved the Starks..”
“She said she was not one of that number-”
“Is that a crime?” Lady Dustin chastised.
Bran silenced her with a look.
“Continue Beron,” he prompted.
“Lady Dustin spoke about her anger at her husband’s bones not being returned when Lord Stark brought back Lady Lyanna’s bones from Dorne.”
Arya saw Jon’s own jaws clench at the mention of the mother he never knew.
“Lady Dustin wanted to prevent Lord Stark’s bones from resting next to his sister in the same way her husband’s were not interred at Barrow Hall.”
Arya couldn’t prevent herself. “Why didn’t she go and collect her husband’s bones then? I’m sure someone could help her find the place. Why try and feed my father’s bones to the dogs? He didn’t kill her husband!”
Her uncle pulled her back, while Lem put a hand over Rickon’s shoulder.
“I did return your father’s bones, you ungrateful girl.”
“Without his men. It’s not too far a conclusion to reach that you would have killed those men to prevent my father's bones from returning.”
“And yet your father lies next to his kin,” Lady Dustin said smugly.
“Lord Brandon!” her father bellowed. “Is this what we are to expect of you? Accusations without grounds being levelled against your most loyal bannermen.”
“Most loyal my arse!” Arya shouted.
“Jon Umber,” Lord Stark called out again. The Greatjon stepped forward.
“Howland Reed, Roger Ryswell, Davos Seaworth,” Bran added. Each man stepped forward though Roger Ryswell had to be called forward twice. He moved when Jon removed Longclaw from his scabbard and Anguy, or one of his men, shot an arrow right past his ear. It flew past Bran and lodged itself in the Heart Tree.
“Is there any man here who will deny the truthfulness of Jon Umber and Howland Reed?” Bran asked.
“Lord Reed is your good-father,” Lady Dustin chided. “He will say whatever you want him-.”
Her father silenced her.
“That is why I have asked Lord Davos Seaworth to step forward. He has no connection to the North.”
“He is Jon’s man.”
“That’s why Roger Ryswell has been called forward as well. Your own brother.”
“I will need one more witness,” Bran declared.
Before anyone else could move, Nymeria Sand stepped forward, shrugging her shoulders. “I have no connection to the North and have never met a Stark before. I will stand witness, though I’m not sure to what.”
Bran beckoned the Children forward.
“No man may lie in front of a Heart Tree, or so it is said. Today we will see it’s truth. Those with the power of green sight may see events of the past and the present through the weirwood,” the Winged Wolf explained.
“I was born with the gift of greensight. Our witnesses here, bar Lord Howland, were not. But with the aid of the weirwood paste,” Bran pointed to the thick red liquid being poured out of the wineskins into the bowls,”...and the help of the Children, they will be able to see the truth, or falsehood, of what Lady Arya and Beron have said. We will then judge accordingly. If Lady Arya has slandered Lady Dustin. There is a punishment for that too.”
“You can-“ Rickon was about to shout, before she covered his mouth.
Tyene tried to pull her sister back, no doubt worried what the paste consisted of. Her sister told her to return to her place in the crowd. A Dornish knight, Ser Andrey Dalt, Arya recalled, pulled her back.
Arya watched as each witness drank the paste. First they scrunched their faces as if it was the most bitter of drinks before gulping it down as if it was the sweetest.
The Children of the Forest then guided them to the Heart Tree, placing their hands upon the white bark. Each witness's eyes closed at once as if they were called elsewhere at the same time.
All Arya could hear was her own breathing. The godswood was silent as everyone watched and waited with baited breath. None more so than Lady Dustin.
Then after what felt like hours the witnesses opened their eyes.
“You traitor” The Greatjon shouted. “Ned Stark did you no wrong! Willam went south with his liege and died in battle!”
“What did you see?” Bran asked Lord Davos.
“The lady ordering her men to kill any Stark men who come through the swamps of The Neck with Lord Stark’s bones.”
“ He will be food for my dogs ,” Nymeria confirmed.
“Lord Howland?” Bran prompted.
“We also saw the moment Dustin men fell upon Hallis Mollen and his men. They did not spare even the Silent Sisters.”
“She only returned the bones to buy favour when she saw what King Jon did to the Bolton men. She spoke of her fear when he was told of how House Ryswell and House Dustin ran to support the Boltons.”
“She said hating the Boltons did not mean loving the Starks.”
“Roger Ryswell?” With four witnesses saying the same thing there was little he could say so he pulled out a dagger, holding it to Lord Howland’s neck. The fool.
His father took his prompt and pulled out his own, Roose Ryswell did the same as did their knights. A sorry standoff.
Jon took Roose Ryswell’s swordhand. Lem and two Stark men fell upon their men while the wolves each joined the fracas. Arya jumped in too, killing two Ryswell men with Needle before a Dustin hit her on the head, Needle fell out of her reach. She got dressed in such a rush she left her daggers in Jon’s rooms, and then she spent the rest of the day in the kitchens. She only managed to pick up Needle before she began leading people to the godswood. Stupid.
Jon was battling two other men far from her. Wun Wun had just killed Lord Ryswell with a club that removed his entire chest. Tormund and the free folk were holding the crowd back. Arya was on the floor with nowhere to move, all around her people were fighting.
The man raised his sword. She refused to close her eyes. Valar Morghulis.
Just as he was about to bring it down on her, Arya saw a sword stick out of his throat. When it was pulled out he fell forward. Arya spun out of the way. Behind where the man stood was Elia Sand,with a bloodied sword. She extended her hand out to Arya pulling her up before joining the fray herself. Arya grabbed Needle and the two of them stood back to back.
Someone blew a horn. The sound was so loud they all paused, raising their hands to their ears. Bran’s hand was in a raised fist again. Ash held the horn and Uncle Brynden stood with a sword in front of his nephew’s horse. The direwolves immediately stopped at the sound of the horn and moved to Bran’s side.
The Ryswell and Dustin men were surrounded. In the standoff, an arrow flew past Arya and lodged itself between Roger Ryswell’s eyebrows. He fell back upon the weirwood, letting Lord Howland go. Black Knife fell upon him slitting his throat and feeding the blood to the Heart Tree. The first sacrifice to a Heart Tree in Winterfell for...Arya didn’t know. Her lifetime at least.
Roose Ryswell was holding his stump, stifling a scream. There was a dagger to his throat. Rickon.
When did he move and where did he get the dagger? Arya saw the Crowl of Deepdown in Skagos looking proudly at his one-time ward. The man’s scabbard was empty of its dagger. Arya moved to where her brother stood. “Rickon,” she chided. “Give me the dagger.”
“No! He was going to hurt Jon!”
Dustin men lay dead among a number of Ryswell knights.The chestless body of Rodrik Ryswell was at their feet.
Roose Ryswell either unaware of her presence or uncaring, threw his head back, pushing Rickon to the floor, he turned round to remove a small knife from his boot with his good hand before Arya brought down Needle upon him. Killing him at once.
She picked Rickon up, taking the dagger out of his hand. “Are you alright?”
She pulled her brother to her crying.
Jon had just noticed her, covered in blood. He jumped off his horse, trying to find her wounds in front of the silent godswood. “Where? Where are you injured?!”
“It’s not my blood, Jon.”
“Enough!” Lord Stark commanded the crowd. And just like that swords and daggers were lowered.
It was only then that Arya noticed Rickard Ryswell holding a dagger to his own sister’s throat. He threw her in front of the direwolves and bent his knee.
“Lord Stark, I am your man. From this day until my last day. I had no involvement in my sister's crimes nor did I or will I raise a sword against you.”
“No wonder Father found you weak,” the woman snapped, spitting in her brother’s face. “Your father lies there dead. As do your two brothers. What a pathetic excuse of a man you are.”
“Lady Barbrey Dustin. You are judged to be guilty of the murders of Hallis Mollen, and the Winterfell guards, Jacks, Shadd and Quent as well as the three Silent Sisters that accompanied them. Do you have any final words?” Lord Stark asked.
Manic laughter fought its way up the vile woman’s throat. “The Southron bitch’s spawn will bring the end of you all. Mark my words!” she said to the gathered Northerners. And when she looked at Bran she spat at his feet. “There are my words to you.”
He reached for Winter’s Justice, and brought it down to take the life of the once proud woman.
Meera grabbed Arya’s arm then. “The child kicked!” she said with a teary whimper. “I believe I’m carrying another hungry wolf.”
“Just don’t name him Theon,” Arya joked. They shared a smile in this most macabre time. Throughout everything that happened the two pups in front of her didn’t move away from Meera once.
Just as they did with Roger Ryswell, the Children of the Forest nourished the Heart Tree with the lifeblood of Barbrey Dustin, her father Rodrik and her brother Roose.
The Skagosi and the free folk watched the scene with approval. They were still tied to the culture of the First Men. The rest of the northmen watched with ambivalence. No horror was on anyone’s face. Not even the Sand Snakes. In fact Nymeria and Elia Sand had smirks on their faces.
Rickard Ryswell was still on his knees, head bent.
He swore his fealty to Bran who accepted it, declaring him, as the last of the Ryswells the Lord of the Rills. “You may bury your family at home.”
“Let me be clear,” Lord Stark said to the gathered crowd. “Lady Dustin did not die for siding with the Boltons. She did not even die for her intention to feed Lord Stark’s bones to her dogs. Even if she did, I’m not sure that would warrant her death. She died because she killed men of the North for no legitimate reason. Know this: so long as there is a Stark in Winterfell, treachery will never be allowed to go unpunished nor loyalty unrewarded.”
He then ordered the Ryswell and Dustin men arrested. He would judge them later.
“Robett Glover and Lady Marna, step forward,” the Lord of Winterfell ordered.
Robett and his wife walked forward.
“Everyone here heard Lady Dustin name Lady Marna heir to Barrowton. From this day forward I name you Lady Marna Dustin and you, my lord, Lord Robett Glover of Barrowton.”
Robett Glover swore his allegiance to House Stark, swearing that he would remain a Stark man until the end of his days. His wife did the same.
Bran turned to the crowd. “Now we have removed the weeds that poisoned our soil, tomorrow we’ll plant the seeds of our dream of spring.”
The crowd cheered Stark! Stark! Stark! Stark!
Bran cantered out of the godswood followed by Uncle Brynden and the Stark guards. Arya asked Jon to go with him. For all the bravery he showed he was still their little brother.
“Make sure he is alright,” she said.
Jon looked at her for a long time, no doubt, trying to debate her before he nodded. He took Rickon with him.
As the crowd began to slowly walk out of the godswood, Arya found Elia Sand.
“Thank you. You saved my life.”
Arya bit her lip. “Why would you risk your life for me?”
Elia Sand smiled. “You are not much different from us. You were seeking vengeance for those you loved.”
“I sought justice.”
“Must they be different things?” Nymeria asked.
“We’ve heard and seen the North remembers,” Tyene added. “So does Dorne. We have more in common than you know.”