Bran watched the rising sun send the darkness of night to rest. The morning dawned gold and warm, a hint of the spring to come. A new day with new possibilities, and a fresh page in a book yet to be written.
As he watched the sun rise over the battlements of his home, he remembered another morning, long ago. A day that dawned clear and cold, with a crispness that hinted at the end of summer. It was certainly the end of the first summer of his life.
He rode out with his father and brothers and the men of Winterfell that day. A boy of seven out to watch his father deliver the king’s justice. He remembered sitting on his pony, trying to sit as tall as Robb and Jon on their destriers. He tried to mimic their stances, pretending he was an old hand at justice just like them. He remembered his father on his horse, still and solemn.
And when the man’s time came,
Bran could not take his eyes off the blood. The snows around the stump drank it eagerly, reddening as he watched.
Afterwards, his father took him aside. With Bran on a small pony, his father looked like a giant on his warhorse. He asked Bran if he knew why his father had to be the one to take the man’s head. As always, his father kindly explained things.
“ The blood of the First Men still flows in the veins of the Starks, and we hold to the belief that the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword. If you would take a man’s life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you cannot bear to do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die…one day, Bran, justice will fall to you. When that day comes, you must take no pleasure in the task, but neither must you look away. A ruler who hides behind paid executioners soon forgets what death is.”
When Arya told him of her suspicions she told him, “ I’m not here to ask you for permission to do what I want. I’m only asking you to confirm whether or not she killed Hal, Quent, Shadd and Jacks.” She’d marched into Father’s solar as angry as a bull. When he saw the truth of the matter he felt like there was a battle inside him, between Bran Stark the boy and Brandon Stark the lord. Bran the boy loved Hal Mollen. Hal went riding with them the day they found Osha...well the day Osha found them. Hal was insistent they go with guards and was always kind to Bran. Quent, Shadd and Jacks used to play swords with him whenever Ser Rodrik was busy with the older boys. Bran the boy wanted to give into Arya’s anger. But Lord Brandon had a duty to see justice done and Father had warned him, you must take no pleasure in the task. So he could not. He had to afford even that vile woman a trial. The people had to see justice done.
Having it done the old way showed the new among his people that the blood of the First Men still flowed through his veins, kneeler or not. And for the Children, the sacrifice served as an offering for the success of his Great Council.
It hurt him to have to put Arya in the position he did, questioning her in front of everyone and pointing out her lack of evidence. But Brandon the Lord had a duty to show his commitment was to justice, even if the accuser was his sister. He could tell she didn’t hold any malice toward him. She sent Jon after him.
After he left, Jon found him and took him to the hot springs under the Guest House. They soaked in the warm waters not as prince and lord but as brothers. That first time he witnessed an execution, it was Jon who warned him to keep his pony in hand to prevent it from being startled. He would have fallen off his horse if it wasn’t for that warning. One of the horses reared and had to be restrained from bolting.
Last night, after another first, when it came to executions, it was Jon who sat beside him, telling him he did well and that Father would have been proud of him. When they were children, Jon was always self-sacrificing, especially when it came to Bran. He’d give him his fish when they went fishing, the day they found the direwolves he discounted himself so the rest of them could be happy. And last night, he simply faded into the background to allow Bran to do his duty, never upstaging him.
Even today, he insisted Bran sit on the seat of the Kings of Winter, because it was his council. It took lots of coaxing from Bran to get Jon to accept the seat for the duration of the council.
And when they were done, he helped him dress. Bran felt helpless when unable to pull his breeches on the whole way. Jon simply bent down and helped him, without a word. Then he took him to the empty godswood to clean their swords just as Father used to do.
When Bran began to cry because he couldn’t do even that alone, Jon comforted him. “You are not broken Bran,” he said firmly, “you are just unable to use one part of your body. There’s so much else you’re able to do that none of us can. Look at me,” he demanded, when Bran failed to raise his gaze from his broken legs, “We’re a family. All of us. If there’s anything you can’t do, we’re here to help you do it. I’m here, so is Arya, Rickon, your uncle, Osha, Lord Howland...Meera.” Jon smiled when he said Meera’s name. “She might be ready to have your pup any moment now Bran, but I know a fierce woman who’ll do anything for you when I see one.” His big brother clasped his shoulder. “We’re a pack Bran. Don’t let the one thing you can’t do make you feel less than anyone else.” Bran had never loved Jon more than in that moment.
While Meera was out, Osha brought him food before dawn and helped him dress. All these years later, she called him little lord. Even now, when he was supposed to be Lord Brandon Stark. She tied up the laces of his breeches and clasped his cloak together before placing him on his wheeled chair. She was still strong.
“I have to go, little lord, ” she said when she was done. She was looking at him like a proud mother, as Mother might have looked at me on a day like this, he thought. “Where shall I put your chair?”
“By the window.” Now as then, he still liked to watch life go past from a seat at the window.
A long time ago, Bran the Prince, hosted the harvest feast. He remembered watching the guests tilt against the quintains, knights duel against one another while the two Walders reminded him he couldn’t do what they could. This time Lord Brandon Stark, sat in the room that once belonged to his parents, and watched his people, thinking on his brother’s words. He might have wanted to be something else, but this is who he was. And those people in the courtyard had travelled to Winterfell to hear what he had to say, legs or none.
He saw Arya and Jon walk through the courtyard, sending bashful smiles to one another as their fingers brushed. He knew they got married last night. Jon told him they would. Bran thought about how they, like him, would have to become something neither of them wanted. The Children had told him as much. But he also knew despite how much they might bristle against it, they’d answer the call of duty. It’s what father raised them all to do.
It’s what Robb had done at the same age Bran was now. Before him, Father did his duty by his sister though the truth of who Jon’s mother remained a barrier between him and Mother. Mother also always did her duty, even when it took her far from him and Rickon. And Sansa, Sansa was learning to do the same now.
His memories were interrupted when Meera came in. Even as big as she was, she was the most beautiful woman in the world to him. Sometimes when he saw the way Jon looks at Arya, he wonders whether this - what he feels when he looks at the girl he fell in love with when he was eight - is what Jon feels for her. If it is, he understands his brother completely.
Wordlessly, Meera clasped a brooch upon his cloak. A silver snarling direwolf, reminiscent of one Father used to wear. It was a gift from Arya.
Bran looked at his wife as she did so, wondering how he came to deserve her. Why would Meera Reed, the beautiful girl who hunted with a spear and net, choose him?
“Oh stop it!” she scowled when she saw him looking. “I know what you’re doing, Brandon Stark.” She rose up to put one hand behind her back, all while wagging the forefinger of the other hand at him.
When she finally sat down on the window seat opposite him, keeping her legs apart to give her bump somewhere to settle, she continued chastising him. “Everyone in this castle saw what you did last night. Before this day is over, all anyone will ever call you again is Brandon the Rebuilder. The man who brought the North together.” She raised her head to look at him, holding his gaze. “And I’m proud to be your wife.”
Bran felt like crying. He was always quick to cry as a child.
“I’m not doing this alone,” he murmured.
“No one has ever done great things alone,” she reassured him. “For all people talk about Bran the Builder, I assure you there were many more people who believed in his dream, but this is your dream. Everyone else just helped you along the way. But you don’t need me to tell you that,” she chided. “I’m sure you can see that for yourself.”
Bran cried for true then. Even now when she was swollen with his babe, he still felt like the broken boy who imagined she’d never want him.
“Cry if you must,” she said, wiping his tears with her thumbs. “Out there you might have to be Lord Brandon Stark, Lord of Winterfell… the terrifying Winged Wolf,” she rolled her eyes as she said that.
“But in here, you’re just Bran. My husband, my friend,” she took his hands and put them on her belly, “and father to the hungriest, wildest wolves ever.”
“Wolves?” he asked her, eyebrows raised.
“No child would kick me in two places at once Bran. If you thought Rickon was wild, wait for these two to arrive. They squeeze my bladder like a toy!” she complained. “I’ve been to piss five times already this morning!”
When she saw his startled face, Twins! , she knew what he was thinking. “I know they’re twins, Ash told me,” she said, repositioning herself to make space for her stomach.
As he held his wife, happy beyond measure, he thought of Bloodraven who wanted to use his children, who wanted to keep them in a cave and use them for the power in their blood: the blood of the First Men and the Crannogmen, skin changers and greenseers.
As he bent down to kiss the wild wolves inside his wife’s stomach he basked in the knowledge that he denied the man the opportunity to use his children just as he had used him. He denied Bloodraven the opportunity to hurt Arya and he gave his children an opportunity to live a life without being anyone’s tools. He still did not understand why the man feared or hated Arya so much.
What he did know was that no one would hurt his family. He promised himself as much. And as Meera pulled him up for a kiss, his two wolves kicked. He deepened the kiss, moving his hand up her leg toward her thigh.
“Much as I’d love to Bran,” she whispered against his lips, breath heavy with wanting, “We have to go eat with your family, and then I have to go and piss again if you want me to sit through your entire council. Although I beg you, for the love you bear me, wrap it up quickly before I have to piss myself in there.”
She always knew how to make him laugh.
“Fine,” he agreed, kissing her once again. This time she returned his kiss and wrapped her arms around him. When he pulled away, “I love you,” he told her.
“I’d hope so,” she replied, smirking at him. “Otherwise I’ve been lugging these two babes of yours for nothing.”
She rolled his chair to the head of the table in Father’s solar where his family already were. Osha was forcing Rickon to eat something other than just bacon and bread, Arya and Jon were still brushing fingers against each other, lost in each other, as if they were a new couple, although he supposes they are now, Lord Howland spoke with Uncle Brynden, and Meera winked at him when he looked at her.“This is your day,” she whispered as she leant over to him, “I am proud to be your wife and they’re all proud of you too.”
When he looked over to them, he realised they were looking at him, with smiles on their faces. He looked at Uncle Brynden and his constantly encouraging advice, at Lord Howland Reed who travelled leagues to get to him in the cave, at Jon who has always been a stalwart for him, at Rickon to whom he was the stalwart. He looked at Osha who thought him special even when he was a child, and at Arya in her new cloak, who scrunched her face and stuck her tongue out at him when she saw how wistful he looked.
He realised then that he didn’t mind being helped by his family so much. Father said the pack survives. I’m not a lone wolf, he thought happily. Bran Stark had a role to play. It just so happened that his did not require his legs. He sat on the shoulders of giants. His parents, the Kings of Winter, his brother Robb, Sansa who sent him provisions, Old Nan who read stories to a boy whose head was filled with dreams, Maester Luwin and Ser Rodrik who taught him to be a lord, Hodor the gentle giant who travelled to death’s door for him, and even Bloodraven, the man who’d see the world burn for his family. All of them brought him here, he thought with tears in his eyes once more.
This is my legacy . My family and my people, waiting for me in the Hall.