- Rough Draft
- *No Site Warnings Apply
- Alternate Universe
Ned allowed the quiet of the godswood envelope him after he finished his communion with the heart tree. He had returned to the place where he had left Ice and took up the greatsword once again to finish cleaning it and just permit his newly awakened senses to adjust to the world around him. It was a comfort to learn his territory in a different fashion. It gave him a feeling of purpose to imprint all that he could from a place he knew to be safe. Here was the heart of his territory, from which he would begin expanding as he learned until he knew all of the North.
It was an extraordinary thing to know so much more about the world suddenly. Things that had always been so steady and certain were now new and strange again. The sound of the leaves continued to carry the voices of his gods even if he could not actively hear the words distinctly. The pool beside him was no longer a stagnant reflection but instead a complex world he could get trapped in if he let himself focus too hard on it. All the strange little movements and smells so enticing and unfamiliar. The smell of loam and decaying leaves was soothing in its familiarity even if it was stronger and more complex than had had ever realized.
He allowed himself to slowly expand his focus outward, taking in all that he could, and testing his limits. His attention settled on his children, who were gathered in the kitchen arguing over names for their wolf pups. The steady sound of their heartbeats pulsed in his own breast and he allowed peace to settle on him, content to listen to their happy chatter.
It was in this manner that his lady wife found him a few moments later when she came to deliver her grim news. He had heard her approach and tracked her heartbeat, he took note of the sudden uptick when she entered the greenwood. The strange reaction made him wonder if Catelyn was still uneasy, here in his place of worship, even after all these years. He had done everything he could to provide her some measure of comfort in Winterfell, even built her a small Sept so that she might worship the Seven as was the southern way. It saddened him to think she was not adjusted still. It did not bode well for the conversation to come.
That conversation was put on hold while they trade their usual niceties until she finally gave him her news that Jon Arryn had died and Ned was overwhelmed with sorrow for the loss of his mentor. Truly Jon had been more of a father to him and the thought that he would not have the man to back him when his awakening as a Sentinel came to light was devastating. The branches of the weirwood sway gently and murmured their condolences for his loss.
The tight place in his chest where he still felt his guide resting warmed slightly and he knew that he will have all the support he needed to get through this recent grief. The spirit gently imparts to him the means to sort through all of the information his surrounding are feeding him. The tangy smell of sorrow and the subtle cinnamon of concern from Catelyn and the drumming beat of anxiety in her heart.
“Will you go to your sister? I imagine she could use the comfort right now.” The idea of his wife or children leaving his territory set Ned on edge, but he did not want to deny his family the right to mourn as they needed, he was nevertheless relieved when Catelyn declined.
“No, I’m afraid that is not the only news I bring. The King is riding to Winterfell to seek you out.” Catelyn explained. Ned was not sure how to react to that. His first reaction was a pleasure at the thought of seeing his king again after so long. If anyone would understand his grief at losing his foster father, it would be Robert, who had been there with him. The pleasure lasted but a moment though and was quickly followed by dismay. He has not had time to adjust to the changes. He hasn’t even had time to tell those around him about what has happened. This is most unfortunate timing on Robert’s part.
With Robert would come all of the political issues and frivolous concerns of court life. The prejudices of the southern kingdoms did not normally concern Ned, it rarely had any impact this far above the neck, but having so many southerners here would make dealing with it unavoidable. Also was the very real concern that most if not all of those people would be followers of the Faith of the Seven. The Faith barely tolerated followers of the old gods and had openly spoken against the idea of Sentinels. They believed that such enhancements placed an individual above their station and out of the light of the Seven.
“It will be good for you to see him, I’m sure. I am happy for that.” But there was a stutter in her heartbeat and a quality to her voice that told him she lied. A strange notion, why would she not be happy to see the king when she did not yet know of his circumstance?
“What troubles you, my lady? I feel as though you are not pleased with this, will you not speak of your concerns with me?” he coaxed.
“There are rumors in the castle of an ill omen. I know you do not hold with such things my lord and I did not want to bother you with it, but it has indeed made me uneasy.” At her pronouncement the leaves above them begin to rattle anew, the rustle quickly building to a fierce hissing that startles Catelyn to her feet, and Ned was subjected to her scent becoming acrid with he assumes to be fear. Not something he relished knowing and he quickly stood as well to reassure her.
“There is no need for fear Catelyn. Nothing in these woods would ever hurt you.” Ned looked up at the still agitated chatter of the forest before continuing. “The gods are not pleased with this news. I’m not ready yet to face the King and his Southern Court.”
“Whatever is that supposed to mean my lord?” Catelyn squeezed his hand and the cinnamon of her concern became more prevalent again even as her heart continued to race.
“I came to the woods to pray for guidance and the gods have answered me. You know I am not a superstitious man, but I need to be ready for what is to come. Something is going on beyond the wall and the Gods agree that I must have a way to keep the North safe.” He kept hold of her hand even as she tried to draw away and looked her directly in the eyes as he continued. “I know this is hard to believe Cat, but I have granted a great gift. I will become the first Sentinel of the North in a thousand years.
“But I am going to need time to adjust to the things that are happening to me. I must learn to control these abilities and to get a feel for my lands and people. With the king comes his court and the ridiculous politics of the south. I don’t have time to waste on such things when there are more pressing matters at hand. Damn the man, how am I even going to feed the lot of them?” Ned huffed in frustration and let go of Catelyn’s hand to rub at the bridge of his nose.
Catelyn was obviously stunned by his pronouncement. And for the first time, he recognized that these skills were not always going to be a comfort or satisfying aid. She smelled of fear again, with an undercurrent of burnt sage. Perhaps anger, but an unpleasant emotion whatever it was, and knowing that his wife was displeased and possibly afraid of him cut to his very soul. He had known this would be hard, his wife was not of the North and did not hold with their beliefs, but he had not expected her to fear him.
Ned pushed through his discomfort at her distress. This changed nothing, his decision had been made and there was no turning back now. “I know that the Faith of the Seven often decried the legends of Sentinels, and I apologize if you have been made uncomfortable, but this a great boon to our house. These abilities will aid me in protecting my people from whatever it is that threatens us from beyond the Wall.”
“Those are legends Ned, not truth, they were told to worry people into fearing those of the North in ancient times. To make them seem impossible to defeat when the kingdoms were separate. This is madness.” Catelyn pleaded. Her heartbeat raced as she paced in front of him. He noticed that her eyes would flicker to the face carved into the heart tree, where it stuttered on the fresh sap weeping from its eyes before jerking away again. Her sent spiked unpleasantly again and her avoidance of the tree made him think she was afraid the very site of it would force her to believe what he was telling her.
“It’s not madness my lady. You knew when you married me that I followed the old gods, and I have made every exception to accommodate your faith, even though I do not share it. I would hope that you would grant me the same courtesy.
“I ask that you think about which path ahead means more to you now. The faith of the south that tells you that what I have become is wrong, and would have you condemn me. Or will you pick the love we share and the needs of our people?” Ned moved away from her at his pronouncement and regretfully nodded towards the keep. “Perhaps you should retire to check on the children. After you have seen them you might go to your Sept and say your own prayers. I cannot give you the answers to the questions you will need to answer. I love you dearly, that will not change, I only ask for your acceptance.”
As Catelyn turned to leave Ned’s shoulders sagged with the weight of how things had gone wrong so quickly. Beside him a form slowly took shape until his Direwolf appeared. The almost solid spirit pressed its snout to his jaw in a surprisingly firm touch. Comfort for the hardships that were only just beginning no doubt. He slung an arm across the beast’s great shoulders and was pleased when he didn’t just pass through them. “What I would not give for some good news”
At his words, Ned was shown a short flash of a vision. In the distant snows to the north his brother Benjen riding away from Castle Black. He carried with him several satchels and was trailing behind a smudge of shadow that Ned could not see clearly. This quick glimpse of what he hoped was currently happening was something to make his heart lighter If Benjen was on his way here then perhaps he would not be alone in this situation after all. Surely it could not be a coincidence that his brother was traveling to Winterfell now. There must have been some incident to alert him that he was needed here. He hoped his brother would be able to help him sort out this whole mess. Even if he didn’t have any insights to offer, Ned knew he would at the very least provide the support he would desperately need soon enough.
With his head still full of worries and his heart heavy with the troubling situation with his lady wife, Ned headed out of the godswood and back to the keep and his waiting duties. He would face each issue as it came for there was no time to dwell even now. There was much to do and the Stark moto was more relevant than ever before in his lifetime. Winter is coming.