“Can I have a lemon cake?” little Eddard questioned, tugging on her sleeve. Lyanna looked down at the boy, shifting Steff from one knee to the other. He’d already had three. “Mother, I want more lemon cake.”
“It will spoil your appetite, sweet,” she warned, reaching out nevertheless and picking out a smaller piece from the platter. “This is the last one, Ned, do you hear?” He nodded and reached for her hand. “Promise me, Ned.” The boy sucked in his lower lip, fingers curling around her knee as his hand fell back down. “One small promise, Ned, and after we eat, I shall see if Septa Romilda might allow a few more pieces. Aye?”
“I promise.” The very way in which he saw fit to respond very nearly prompted a smile upon her face. She cut it off in time.
“I shall trust you then.” She placed the lemon cake in his awaiting hand. “Play with your soldiers for a little bit, sweet.” The child happily munched on his lemon cake and ambled back to the collection of whittled figurines. Gazing back towards Steffon, she pressed a kiss to his cheek and shifted him yet again. “Before long you’ll be playing war with your brother too. And I shall have no more babes to coddle.”
“And that is truly a problem which keeps you up at night?” Robert’s voice reached her eras. Lyanna jumped, jostling Steff. “Easy now, my good lady; I have not come to bother you.” Robert walked past her, reaching his youngest son. He picked Steffon up and threw him in the air. Having expected such a treat, the child let out a squeal and flailed his arms energetically.
Laughing at the clear enjoyment derived from such play, Lyanna climbed to her feet. “Rile him up, my lord, and you shall be left to put him to bed yourself.” Robert shook his head but did not stop what he was doing. In fact, he threw Steff even higher, his care growing with that.
“Nothing wrong with a bit of spirit,” he defended, bringing the child to rest against his shoulder. Steff clapped his hands around Robert’s shoulder and pushed, mayhap trying to climb or some such endeavour.
After the boy settled some, Robert returned him to her arms and approached the older brother who had been up until that point regarding the trio with undisguised interest. Lyanna balanced Steff against her hip and rocked his gently. “What did you do, Steff.”
“Fly,” the child giggled, hiding his face away from sight. His fingers curled around the collar of her kirtle. “Fly,” Steffon repeated, slightly damp lips brushing against her as he squirmed. “Mama. Fly.”
“Indeed.” She watched Robert engage with the older boy. There was absolutely nothing wrong with a little bit of spirit. The babe she was holding began fussing, asking to be placed on his feet.
As soon as she released him, he ran to his brother, trying to climb on his back. Robert, who’d always found the boys’ romps amusing, let out a chuckle. Ned was busy pushing Steffon back, his shoves, if not gently applied, than at the very least he was not being brutal. Which suited her just fine. “And what has brought you to us on this fine day, my lord?”
“Only the desire to speak to you, my lady,” he answered, his words not half as sarcastic as they might have been. He stood, leaving the children to their play. Leading her aside, he placed a hand on her shoulder and leaned slightly in. “Where is your son?”
Her son was Jon. Despite all boys very much being her sons, Robert always referred to Jon specifically as her son. “I would not know. As per your advice, I’ve allowed him his freedom to pursue his own interests.”
“His freedom, you say.” Steffon squealed, interrupting their conversation. Obliged to look in on the two, Lyanna wagged her finger at Ned who caught his brother before the first had the chance to fall to the ground. “See that his freedom does not carry him too far away. I appears His Majesty has invited an old friend in our midst and I would speak to the boy on a certain matter.”
“Robert, an old friend signifies little to me. If you would have something of me, best just to tell me.” She offered a smile and, this time, lead him further away, out the door and into the hallway. “ Come, let us not discuss this before the children. Turning to look open her shoulder she addressed her boys. “Ned, have a care for your brother while mother and father talk, aye?” Her son answered in the affirmative. “Well, let us have it then.”
“Jon Connington is bringing his brood over.” He dragged his fingers through his hair. “Those coffers aren’t going to refill themselves.”
“And Lord Connington has a knack for rubbing coins together to bring other coins into being. Is that it?” Robert nodded. “And I presume Lord Connington has heard about this brilliant scheme.” Robert shook his head. Well that was not very surprising. “I see. What exactly would you have of me on this account?”
“You are the Lady of Storm’s End. As such, you are well within your right to pursue a further acquaintance with the man’s wife.” Come to think of it, her and Lady Ashara had a few things in common. Lyanna declined to smile the smile that threatened to emerge. “You would be doing it for Jon’s sake.”
And his. And hers. And any of her childrens’. “I was not about to refuse. When do you reckon she will be arriving?”
“I could not pinpoint the exact moment. Methinks ‘tis soon though.” Lyanna nodded along, stepping back as the sound of footsteps speared through the relative silence that had dominated before. She gazed over Robert’s shoulder just in time to see a servant disappearing from sight.
“We are understood then. You may return to those matters which need your attention husband. I fear leaving the boys on their own for more than I have already.”
“Ever the careful mother.” But other than that, quite possibly due to a lack of alcohol imbibed, he was tolerable enough for once. And willing to be off just as soon as he was done. “I shall see you later.”
Lyanna returned to the familiar embrace of the nursery where Ned was showing his little brother how a tourney proceeded to grip the attention of an audience. She had returned in time to see the brothers bonding over knights and horses. And no sooner than the exactly right moment for in the next few heartbeats the chamber was breeched by an invading army formed of a pair of twins and a clucking septa.
“My lady, I regretfully inform you our expedition will have to extend over a longer period of time. The flowers need more care.” She grinned at the contrite look on the twins’ face, not doubting for a moment their shenanigans had slowed the process somewhat.
“Still, there had been some progress made.” The septa nodded and presented her with samples of needlework. The stitches were straight, neat, orderly. It was certainly better than anything she had managed in her youth. Although it had to be said she’d been fonder of riding through the fields. “This looks very nice. A bit more work and the two of you shall have woven a magnificent tapestry we can hang on the wall.”
Jocelyn smiled, while Mylenda glanced at the floor. The first of the two broke away from the septa and took Lyanna by the hand. “If we do that, can we learn how to wield a sword as well?”
She felt her eyes grow wide. “Sword wielding? What brought this on?”
The septa coughed gently, pushing Mylenda towards her as well. “I believe I shall see to the boys.” Lyanna nodded.
Patting the available chair next to her, she allowed both girls to share the seat as she shifted in her own. “I am listening.” She smiled encouragingly, hoping they were at ease enough to disclose the full tale.
“Cousin Arya said needlework is stupid,” Jocelyn offered, shyly glancing at her. “And she said it helps nothing. And that we were not going to gain anything out of it.”
“Has she?” Mylenda nodded. “And what did you do?”
“She called cousin Arya stupid.” Mylenda pursed her lips, as though chiding her sister. “Cousin Sansa agreed and laughed. And then cousin Arya tried to grab her sister’s needle.”
“Jocelyn, that is not nice. You may tell your cousin in pleasant terms you disagree.” Jocelyn glanced away. “What do you believe then of needlework.”
“It’s not stupid” Mylenda put in.
“But swords are interesting too.” It was a fair enough point. “And you always say we should try the food on our plate before we decide we do not like it.”
“I do not want to try that. Swords cut.” That was also a fair point.
“They do. Have I ever told you the story about that time Benjen and I got hold of our father’s hunting knives?” Jocelyn shook her head and leaned in, interest playing open on her face. Mylenda, as ever, retained a generous dose of coolness. “It goes something like this, we were about your age and we’d grown very, very bored. Father had gone riding and we, left with only Nan to watch us, naturally evaded her. To our great joy, we found a pair of knives. And we decided we should train with them.”
“Did he cut you?” Jocelyn demanded, her lower lip jutting out.
“Aye. And I cut him too.” She laughed softly. “The both of us were part of it, sweetling. Knives do cut.” Mylenda was looking at her hands, presumably trying to imagine what that would feel like. “Falls hurt as well. What do we do when we fall though?”
“Get up.” This time they replied in unison.
“This is no different. Jos, if you wish, I shall talk to your uncle and have you take lessons with your cousin. Myl, you may attend. Mayhap you will change your mind. Does that sound good?” One nodded, the other shrugged and that was answer enough for Lyanna.
She sighed and nodded back. “That settles matters then. Be off with you, see if you can advance Steff’s understanding of horses and knights and tourneys.” That in turn determined a grimace from Ned who dragged his soldiers and knights closer. Not that he need have, the sisters were more interested in the dolls set aside for their convenience.
The septa returned to her side, occupying the newly evacuated seat. “She was being rather disruptive, my lady, and Jocelyn was more than correct in her set down. Even if the method suffered somewhat under the aspect of eloquence.”
“I already know what your view of sword wielding is. But if we do not allow it now, we may well wake one day with the same problem on our hands.” Although, to be entirely fair, Ned had not interdicted his daughter very much. And her good-sister, in equal measure, had regarded the peculiarities with calmness, as far as she could tell. “I trust no one was harmed.”
“No one beside Lady Sansa, but that one can manage on her own.” Lyanna shrugged.
Her brother made no secret of his belief that his daughter was a lot like his sister. For herself, Lyanna refrained from pointing out that he would not wish for his daughter to be anything like her. In fact, the farthest thing she was from Lyanna, the better. “Poor Lady Sansa. The very worst scenario is that Jocelyn will grow to love wielding a sword as much as does holding a needle. At best, their interest will wane and that will be that.”
“That aside, I’ve a task for you. I heard Lady Connington is to be brought to court.”
“You’ve heard right, my lady.”
“She is bringing her children, I’d heard. Could you, mayhap, take a bit of an interest in the daughter, do you think? Might be her septa would be willing to engage in conversation.”
“One supposes one has to start at some point.”