- Rough Draft
- *No Site Warnings Apply
- Alternate Universe
The past few days had been something of a trial for Ned Stark. He had made a routine of sorts. He would spend the early morning hours in the greenwood centering himself and practicing with his guide, expanding his senses and learning the ways of the sentinels, before going on to his duties as lord and Warden of the North. Most of the understanding of the gifts came in dreams, but he had found that using that knowledge took practice and dedication, similar to learning the sword. Which made sense when he considered it that way because was this, not a martial craft, a new weapon to aid in the defense of his territory?
The explanations to the people of Winterfell and to those of his bannermen that he could be certain of had been a slow and daunting task. The biggest irritation had been providing proof to those important enough to demand it. He did not particularly enjoy putting on a show like he was in a mummer’s farce. It would have perhaps been an easier endeavor had Garth, His Direwolf guide, been willing to reveal himself, but the wolf would not cooperate. He supposed it was just as well, the old gods could only know how people would react to the great beast when they were so nervous just around the children’s pups.
The most irritating thing about the tale spreading across the north was that the other lords were taking it as a sign that the North should become its own kingdom once again. It was a dangerous rumor to be taking hold when the southern king was even now on his way to Winterfell. Ned was doing everything he could in order to squash the dissenters. Now was not the time, if it ever would be, and he had no intention of betraying his friend and king.
His personal life was not going particularly well either. Catelyn was still hesitant in his company, and though he continued to make overtures of peace with his lady wife, her standoffishness was hurtful. He did not understand how she could put aside all the years of commitment that they had built together, that she could not accept that he was still the man she had grown to love and had born children for. These gifts would undoubtedly change him, but he had hoped to have her by his side and adapt with him as it happened. He hoped that she would soften with time, but it was a waning hope the longer she avoided him.
Outside of the walls of Winterfell Benjen Stark approached his family’s keep at a steady pace. The trip had been clear and the weather had held surprising warmth for the season. The nights had been plagued with strange dreams and impressions of secrets he was not yet able to discern. Benjen had only on a few occasions caught a glimpse of his ghostly companion once he was on the road, but he could always sense it nearby. He had made good time but he did not want to wait any longer to see his brother and discover what he knew of the situation.
It was his hope that answers awaited him in Winterfell. He loved his brother dearly, but if he knew nothing of what had happened this would be a difficult conversation. Ned had never been a man prone to fanciful stories or superstitions. There was a good chance that he would think Ben had gone mad out in the frozen lands beyond the wall unless he had had his own epiphany. The time on the road had given Benjen time to formulate plans for both events but it did not help to settle his nerves when he finally spotted Ned waiting for him at the gate.
He was inclined to think the complete lack of surprise on Ned’s somber face at seeing him was a good indication that his brother was in fact aware of the strange circumstances he found himself in. The Lord Commander had ordered no raven be sent ahead since they did not want the message to end up in the wrong hands, and had not wanted to alarm the keep with no explanation as to why Benjen was returning so suddenly. So the fact that Ned was already at the gate and unsurprised meant he had to have another way of knowing.
Benjen was greatly pleased to swing down from his horse to be immediately embraced by Ned’s strong arms. It had been too long since they had been in each other’s company and it was difficult to find the time to write with any kind of frequency. The physical contact seemed to ease a great deal of the tension from Ben’s shoulders. This at least was still the same, even if else was uncertain.
Time and circumstance had not always been kind to the sibling’s relationship, but they were both Stark men and the North held such bonds close. The loss of the rest of their family to such tragic circumstances made those bonds unbreakable. Never would they allow others to stand between them, not even when they disagreed. Today would probably test that, but it was something they would face together.
It was with that silent understanding that Ben Fallowed after Ned without complaint when he asked him to accompany him to the Godswood before freshening up.
They stopped at the crypts to pay their respects before anything else and then made their way into the godswood. The moment they stepped into the mossy shade of the greenwoods they could feel an immediate difference. The scent of leaves and earth seemed to be welcoming and the leaves shifted in a breeze that beckoned them forward. When they reached the Weirwood at the center of the godswood a gentle murmur began. Ned had become accustomed to the strange greeting but never grew tired of it. This connection to the land fed into his desire to defend all the corners of the North. Wherever the faces of the Weirwood watched were deemed his domain to protect. He turned to Benjen to determine his reaction and was pleased to see that although he looked startled, he in no way looked alarmed.
Once they had settled before the heart tree Ned took a moment to compose himself. He had known Ben was on his way, but to have him here in person brought a certain reality to those visions. It was a strange experience indeed. They had so much to discuss, he had so much to tell his brother, but first, he needed to know what Benjen already knew. Where to even begin to unravel this mess had Ned stumped for several moments.
Benjen was the first to break the silence to Ned’s relief. “Tell me what has happened here and I will tell you what has brought me to Winterfell.”
It was an easy enough instruction to follow. So Ned explained about having his prayers answered by the old gods. That it had happened right here at the very spot they now sat. He detailed everything he had learned from dreams and the strange intuitive communion he sometimes shared while meditating in the time since it all happened. “I have already shared the news with a few people. I told only those I thought I could trust, but it did not take long for the rumors to spread. Now I fear far more people know than I am comfortable with. It has made me work harder to make sure that I get control of my abilities as fast as possible.”
“Well, my experience hasn’t been quite so interesting, I admit. I left for my ranging on what seems the same day you had your vision. I woke from a fugue outside the Oath Grove and heard a wolf’s call. The trees behaved as oddly as they do now. It was strange enough that I went back to speak with Maester Aemon. From there we convinced the Lord Commander that it was possible I had heard the call of the Sentinel. We decided it would be best if I sought you out. I haven’t experience the same changes you have, but I think I will now that we’ve spoken.
“I have also brought you all of the books that were in Castle Black’s library that Maester Aemon thought would be appropriate.” Benjen tapped the pack he had brought with him in explanation. “Aemon asks that you return anything we find unhelpful or at least let him know what we’re keeping.”
Ned gratefully accepted the boon. The books would undoubtedly come in handy and he was grateful for any help he could get. They discussed a few other things for a bit, comparing notes on their experiences when Ben tentatively brought up the ghost that he had been seeing. After he described his wolf he finished by stating, “He’s been with me since all of this started. I find I’m rather attached to him now.”
“He’s a spirit but not a ghost. I have my own as well. I’ve named him Garth, he seems to like it well enough. They’re guides sent by the Old Gods to help with the changes and to aid in knowing what is needed. It also indicates pretty clearly that the gods mean for you to join me as a Sentinel. Perhaps you must ask it of them as I did, or possibly you simply have to be here for it to begin.” Ned pondered. As soon as he finished speaking his Direwolf appeared beside the heart tree. This time he was accompanied by a smaller gray wolf that seemed less solid than the great black beast.
“Well, I suppose it never hurts to ask,” Benjen said as he stared in astonishment at the two spirits that were watching them intently. He rose confidently to his feet, and standing at attention addressed the carved face of the heart tree. “I formally request to become a Sentinel and give aid to my brother in protecting the North.” His voice staid steady and sure even as his hands shook as they waited for a response.
The grey wolf grew more solid as he moved closer to Benjen and with a solemn nod of its large head it touched his hand with its nose and disappeared. Ned stood back and waited for his brother to adjust to the sudden influx of information he knew he was getting. After a pause, he turned to his own companion and touched Garth’s jaw with grateful fingers before the Great beast departed as well. Above them, the heart tree rustled its pleasure at acquiring a new guardian and expanding its protection.
Eventually, Benjen came back to himself and asked to go inside. It was getting dark and the cold wind had picked up as they stood in the godswood, but neither man was inclined to hurry as they made their way to the keep. Whatever had happened, the awakening of Benjen’s senses had made the bond between brothers stronger. There was now an awareness that not been present before. It was a relief to know that no matter what they would not be torn apart by this.
“You’ll have to name your guide now that everything is official. Try not to make it as embarrassing as the name you gave your dog as a youth.” Ned teased as they walked past the crypts.
“You cannot hold the silliness of childhood against me Ned!” Benjen complained, but the accompanying shove was playful and without malice.
When they had made it into the courtyard a great cry went up from several young voices and the men found themselves besieged by Ned’s children. Sansa was dignified and gracious in her welcome, but young Arya and little Rickon were especially enthusiastic in their greetings. While the little ones clamored for attention the older boys and Bran stood back a bit and acknowledged their father and uncle with as much dignity as they could muster. They were all quite pleased when it came to their turn to be embraced, however, even the older boys. When the greetings had finished and the children ran off to some new game or chore Benjen finally took note of the Direwolf puppies gamboling about their feet in ecstatic play.
“What is the meaning of this then? Surely you would have mentioned to me if the children had heard the calling as well?” Ben tried not to sound accusing as he turned to his brother for an explanation.
“I would have!” Ned chuckled, taking no offense. “No, these beasts are quite real. We found them as we came back from executing the deserter from the Wall. Their mother was slain by a stag and the pups were a perfect reflection of my own brood. It was actually that very event that sent me to pray for aid that day.”
“A Direwolf so far south? I have not heard of one on this side of the wall since before in our lifetime. That’s quite concerning” Benjen murmured. His face grew tense as he contemplated the second part of the story. “You say their mother was killed by a stag, even I can see how that would spur the castle into a fit of superstition Ned. Given how things have turned out we can hardly ignore it, no matter your usual stance on omens.”
“I have not ignored it. Truthfully the children’s pups had already started to allay fears, but my coming in the Sentinel gifts has had a bigger impact on such rumors. Sadly, not in the way you would think I’m sure. I forgot to mention in all our summaries the other news I had to tell.” Ned rubbed at the bridge of his nose before continuing. “The kings and his entourage are already on their way to Winterfell. Jon Arryn has died and Robert began his journey when he sent his raven to dispatch the news.”
“This is grim news indeed. The southern court is not going to react well to either of us coming into the gifts. Aemon had mentioned the trouble we would face with the Faith and the other kingdoms before I left, but I had figured we would at least have time to deal with them at a much later date.” Benjen sighed heavily before clasping his brother firmly on the shoulder. “It will keep till tomorrow at least. For now take me to Maester Luwin, so that we can give him these books and have him send a Raven to Castle Black so that Aemon does not kill either of us for not following instructions on their keeping. “