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The Winter Lioness

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Five days. That was the entire time that the royal cortege remained in Winterfell after the wedding. It didn't seem like much, but was enough for Marei to realize one thing, nobody  care about her in the north, at all. Neither the lords, nor the servants, nor her own husband seemed to want to acknowledge their existence as long as it was not necessary. Indifference soon became a familiar feeling and she did not like it. She was not used to people ignoring her, to her presence being unwanted.

Eddard Stark, although always appropriate with her, had no more time or interest for her than she had for weeds growing on the walls of his castle. Perhaps even less, apparently the plants were bad for the stone.

During each and every day that the visit lasted, the King required all his time and attention and her new husband was more than willing to provide it.

They spent every hour of the day and many of the night in company, gathered in the private rooms of Lord Stark or hunting in the company of other men. She couldn't even imagine spending so much time with a person and not getting tired of it, but Stark did his duty as a devoted servant without complaints. Even with pleasure. If not for its effectiveness on the wedding night she would have begun to consider that her husband could have interests that she might not satisfy.

However, the other northern lords were more than happy to begin returning to their respective homes once the courtesy visit was completed. Away from the hustle and bustle, the protocols and, above all, the Lannister.

At fourth day Marei thought she could kill someone if she had to eat wild boar meat for another night.

She spent those days with the only people who welcomed her company, her mother and her ladies in waiting, getting acquainted with the ladies of the northern houses.

Lady Donella Hornwood was a quiet woman, entered in years, who had been kind to her but not especially talkative. Lord Mormont had been widowed two years ago and didn’t attended the wedding but had sent two of his nieces and presumptive heiresses, Dacey and Alysanne. They were almost her age she but found them too intimidating to try to make friends. Leona Manderly, the wife of Lord Hederly's heir, a sympathetic but terribly talkative woman, recommended having a child as soon as possible.

“Children give so much joy” she had said, and for the love and pride with which spoke of her own it was hard not to believe it.

Her mother had agreed. That she should have a child soon, not that they were a joy like no other, Lady Genna had barely been able to avoid laughing at that.

“And Lord Stark is a man of proven manhood. They say he conceived little Lord Robb on his wedding night, maybe another child is already on the way” and had patted her on the belly.

She avoided answering because thought that she could have vomited if she had. Marei tried to think as little as possible about the late Lady Catelyn but her presence, although discreet, was everywhere in that castle.

She had not even been able to pray in the small sept of Winterfell the morning after the wedding, just as Olira had recommended her to do. Lord Stark had build it for his first wife and Marei thinked that the faces of the Father and the Mother seemed judicious, as if they believed her unworthy. She had not dared to return there. The chambers of the lady that she now occupied had been hers and, even with her things carefully removed, she felt they could never be of her property. The servants looked at her with a mixture of condescension and sorrow, as if they thought she would never match their old lady. She hated it, she hated everyone and everything.

Despite the sincere advice of Lady Manderly and her mother's anxious suggestions, she also didn't have many opportunities to try to get with child. Her lord husband had not visited her since the wedding night.

And, on the fifth day of nightmare, her new maiden woke her up to say goodbye to the last guests. To her family. Everyone would leave Winterfell and the North that same day after breaking the fast and return to the South, to the west and the beaches of Roca Casterly. She also hated them a little even when she tried not to feel that way.

The woman, whose name was Lara, helped her dress and comb her hair. On the Rock she had half a dozen maids to do these mundane tasks. They would all return west that day too. There was no money for such nonsense in the North, although she had already imagined it. It had not been hard for them to find new employers.

Lady Genna was no less stoic than a stone statue, as usual in her, and Tion and Walder were immediately distracted by breakfast sausages and porridge and proceeded to ignore her. Only Lyonel dared to break the illusion of normality with his bad mood. Not even the promise of riding with his uncle's knights when they left managed to get half a smile from him.

"Stop frowning," they mother ordered, making the boy sulk even more. At that time she remembered that, even if only for a few more years, he still a child. Her child.

"Mama, can I go on the horse too?" Walder asked innocently. He had received his first pony only a few moons before and was ecstatic.

“No, you are too small” and the child did not even think of replicating.

"Then I'll go with Mare," he announced, grabbing an apple fragment from a little dish.

Marei's knife squeaked against the porcelain of the plate. Her mother and she shared a brief look of concern. She had not stopped to think that Tion and Walder could be too young to understand that, after marrying, their sister would not return home with them.

“Wader …” began in a soft voice “my love, I'm not going with you.”

“Why?” asked the little boy, with a confused expression.

She opened her mouth, but no words came out of it. Didn't know how to explain it, how to tell it in a way they could understand.

“Because she got married” Lyonel replied uraciously.

"Yes, why does that matter?" Tion was no more satisfied than Walder.

"Well, that's it, period, stupid!" Exclaimed his older brother from the other side of the table.

“Lyonel!” their mother bellowed. “Do not insult your brother again!” taking a moment to regain calm, she continued. “Your sister is a married woman, which means she is now part of Lord Stark's family. She will stay here to take care of the castle and have her own children.”

And the conversation ended. If any of them wanted to replicate something did not dare to do it. As soon as they emptied their plates their mother expelled them from the table and they ran away, more than happy not to be victims of more screaming.

During the minutes that the maids will take to pick up the table Marei and Lady Genna remained silent. When the woman left her mother reached her hand, the young woman was surprised. She held it tightly between her owns, looking at an indefinite point of a tapestry with tight lips.

"Listen," she said finally, in a surprisingly soft voice, "you are no longer a child. You are a married woman, with the responsibilities that entails and I know you will fulfill all of them. But, and listen well to me, if Stark mistreats you, if he despises you or if he touches only one of your hairs I want you to write to me.” Her gaze was intense, one of her hands was now on Marei's cheek. “Write me and I promise that I will come for you and burn this castle to the ground.”

“Mother…”

"Shut up," she ordered, though her tone was kind. “Promise it. Promise me that you will write to me immediately if you need me.”

“I promise” she answered confused.

Lady Genna turned away then, all the intensity of the moment disappeared. The woman had recovered her cold mask of calm, but after that moment of sincerity Marei could see through her. The slight tension around the mouth, the stiffness of the back.

She wanted to tell her something reassuring, but didn't know how to do it without insulting her or looking like a fool so she shut up.

The moment she had feared came. Gathered in Winterfell great yard, while the servants prepared the last things, she had to say goodbye to her family.

Her uncle, dry as always, spoke a few words about family and duty that Marei was not interested in and barely heard. Her father could say little to comfort her, sadly they had never been very close and, even if she tried with all her might, she couldn't remember more than half a dozen conversations between the two. Even so, he seemed sorry to say goodbye. It was more than anything.

Tyrion, who had spent the entire trip locked in the Winterfell library, seemed in a good mood. He commented that if she got bored he would be delighted to receive handwritten copies of some strange volumes.

"Goodbye, cousin," she said, kneeling so she could hug him. He corresponded with equal enthusiasm.

“Goodbye cousin. I will get bored without you.”

Lyonel, though reluctantly, hugged her, squeezing her with a little more force when tried to walk away. And he even let her planted a kiss on his cheek, which was cleaned immediately. Tion and Walder cried, the eldest trying to hide the tears and control the trembling lip, the smallest crying with all his might, bellowing and releasing large tears. They held on to their skirts until septa Olira came to take them.

Her mother, to her surprise, hugged her tightly, not caring that they were in plain sight.

“Don't forget, my girl,” she said in her ear “that you are a lioness. And don't let them forget it either.”

At some point she must also say goodbye to the king, like everyone else, but did not remember well when. Nor did she remember placing herself next to Lord Stark. Her gaze was still lost in the sea of red and gold banners.

Her mother's carriage carried the shutters closed she could imagine her brothers screaming inside. Lyonel was very close, riding his bay horse. Looking out the windows of another carriage, with any sense of forgotten property, were her friends. Jeyne's nose was very flushed, as if she had been crying, and Myranda dressed completely in black as if she were in mourning, she had always been given to drama. Lyra had the tiniest of smiles planted on her lips although her eyes were sad. Just before they crossed the doors the four said goodbye one last time waving their hand and Marei could not help but correspond to the gesture.

And then they disappeared and wanted to cry but when she closed her eyes, to prevent the tears from falling, she felt her mother's hands on hers. She decided then that she would not shed tears, she was a lioness and would not forget it.

After the wedding and the guests disappeared Marei discovered one thing, she had nothing to do.

In Casterly Rock she was never unoccupied. She went from classes with her septa to sewing meetings, then teas with her aunt, more lessons with her mother, talks with Tyrion, afternoons taking care of her brothers or cheering on Lyonel in his sword training, small escapes with her friends trying to run away of her duties… There will always be something that occupied her, that filled her mind and her time. In Winterfell she had nothing.

Her only official task was to prepare menus for meals and seating arrangements, her husband had the particular habit of eating with one of his vassals every day but he chose which one. And it wasn't even really a job. One of the kitchen servants brought her menus every day and she never found any fault with them.

She also realized that Eddard Stark's disinterest in her was not due to the king claiming his full attention, he really didn't care. On their first moon as husband and wife he visited her chambers once. He was kind as on the wedding night, without causing any pain, and left her alone as soon as they had finished their duty. Marei, who who had always wondered if the experience of the marital bed would be something horrible but necessary or if it was the passionate adventure that the books that her septa had forbidden her to read, she was disappointed. It was more like what her mother had said. Duty and discomfort. The rest of the time he rarely saw him except during meals, but even at that time his attention was always on other things.
Suddenly, for the first time in her entire life, she encountered all the time in the world and nothing to spend it on.

Also for the first time she found a lifeguard in the books. The written word had never been of her special interest, if she should not study something for hrt lessons she was not interested, but found that it was better than being alone with her own thoughts. The castle maester, a man named Luwin, responded kindly to her requests for reading material and provided the necessary volumes. The history of the North, northern deeds, northern songs, family trees of the northern houses since the time of the First Men, Marei knew that she must know her new land if she wanted to have any hope of finding her place in that cold and strange site.

She also found herself sewing more than he had in her entire life. The rolls of cloth she had brought with her became dresses that followed the simplest fashion of the women around her. She also sewed for Lord Stark and as did not receive any complaints about it, she continued to do so, he used one of her creations, a simple gray doublet with wolves facing each other on the chest and she considered it a victory. Their children also received gifts, small matching suits for the heir, miniature dresses for the girl. At the last moment she decided that she should also do something for the bastard that her husband treated favorably and made imitations of those of his father and brother.

She had seen the children many times from afar, but had only interacted with them on one occasion, during her first week at the castle. Vayon Poole, the steward, had guided her through all the important places of the castle, including the nursery. The three were there, in the care of a septa, a nurse, and an old storyteller who reportedly only responded to the name of Old Nan.

She had done the appropriate thing and asked about the children, the nurse and the septa responded adequately, the old woman continued weaving without paying the slightest attention. The heir stopped his game just enough to confirm that there was nothing interesting in her before returning to his wooden figures, the bastard remained still and silent throughout the exchange and the girl threw a rag doll at her, accepted her gratefully when she returned it and threw it again with a mischievous laugh.

For her the worst were the nights. Marei hadn't spent a single night in her life alone, there was always a maid, a nanny or a friend with her.

She felt lonely, very lonely. More than in all her life. She had always known what everyone expected of her, what her role was, her place, in Winterfell she didn't have one or know how to find it.

“My lady.” She could always expect the most perfect education from Maester Luwin. He came from the Vale, something that had surprised her. Those who needed to get rid of a son in the Vale of Arryn used to send them to the Faith, not to the Citadel.

His tower was always messy, with piles of books that had made his cousin Tyrion shiver with pleasure, piles of messy papers and squatters she didn't even begin to understand. It also had a strange smell of herbs and ointments. She was always surprised by that organized chaos, no matter how many times witnessed it. If she knew anything about her uncle, wast that he would never allow such a disaster from any of his servants, but she had silenced her opinion. She had begun to shut up many things.

The man did not hesitate for a moment, knowing well the reason for her visit. She searched through some papers and took out a roll of pristine white parchment that she handed immediately. The scarlet wax stamp was intact as usual but she couldn't help considering that they could have read its contents. It wasn't that they found anything strange on it.

Even if Marei were carrying out some conspiracy, which was not, they will find nothing in her correspondence. Her mother was too smart to send any information compromised by an insecure means. She would bribe a servant or manage to infiltrate someone trustworthy in the castle, someone discreet and disposable.

With the letter already in her hands she said goodbye to the maester with a nod and left immediately. She never read what they sent to her where they could see her. The fear of collapsing in front of any of those people who already considered her too weak, foolish and childish was very real.

The only one in which she could afford to place the slightest confidence was Lara. Not because she thought the woman respected or liked her, simply because she needed it. She needed someone to talk to, someone to trust even if only a little, and she was the only one within her reach.

She had realized that she had never served a high lady. Was not noble or especially educated. She had told her that both her father and her husband had been merchants, both of whom had died during the rebellion. The only family the woman had left was a small daughter who sometimes played with Lady Sansa.

"Letter?" She asked, when she returned to her chambers. She rarely showed great consideration for the proper way of addressing her mistress and commented, asked and explained when she wanted and without hesitation. It would not have lasted long in the Rock.

"Yes."

She broke the seal carefully, unrolling the paper between her fingers. The first part was written in the elegant and flowery handwriting of her mother, she knew that the letter came from her and not from one of her uncles or Lyra because only the Lannister women used the lioness stamped on the wax, she used to do it too. It was a short and concise message, asking her about her health and reporting the latest events in the West.

Lyonel had written a piece even smaller than his mother's. He mentioned his training, the practices and that they were thinking of sending him as squire of cousin Jaime. She was sure he would love it. Tion extended for more than half a page with its ramblings in large and unequal letter. He quickly jumped from one subject to another, which made it difficult for her to follow the thread of what he was telling but also made her want to laugh. The last piece of paper was dedicated to a large and colorful drawing of a horse with extra legs over Walder's hand.

"He is talented" Lara commented, peering over her shoulder.

"Yes, very much." After reading, she kept the letter in a small box with the many others that had been sent to her since she was married. She felt her eyes burn and her throat clenched, unmistakable signs that she was just moments away from crying. She closed the box and put it out of sight. She would write an answer at another moment.

The letters that arrived from home, as punctual as could, was the only thing that didn't seem icy and lonely in that place. A small window to her family, the sun, the laughter and the beaches. But that little relief never lasted too long before it vanished.

 

Marei had been married just over three moons when they received terrible news. The first letter reached her and not her lord husband, from Lord Crakehall. It was not what she expected to see the seal of the wild pig. She did not find one of Lyra's usual messages on the scroll, spreading over pages and pages with Jeyne's nonsense and the adventures they were having in her absence. They always hurt, but it was a pain she craved. She would never have imagined that Lannisport had been attacked.

With her heart pounding hard inside her chest and the letter clenched in a fist she went to her husband's rooms.

It was the first time she was in them, as simple and bleak as himself, and he seemed surprised to see her invade his office. She herself would have been surprised at her boldness of not carrying important news in her hands.

"You have to read this"

Lord Eddard's frown deepened as he observed the words, his eyes dark and far, far away. She wondered if he remembered what had lived in the Rebellion. She had witnessed that same expression on the faces of her uncles and cousin.

A mere week later they received the King's letter ordering his old friend to gather the troops. Balon Greyjoy had called himself king, it was an offense that could not be left unpunished.

"Dark wings, dark words," he said simply. He had gathered many of his advisors and Marei was also between them for the first time, but there was nothing to celebrate in that little victory. "We are going to the war"

Marei was not a stranger to war. She was old enough to remember Robert's rebellion. Her family may have remained neutral during most of the conflict but that does not mean that they had been isolated. They received letters, the peasants migrated terrified to Casterly Rock, fearing they would be killed if they stayed in their homes ... She remembered hearing her uncles discuss hiding on the balcony of her mother's rooms. Everyone was scared. She had been too, even without fully understanding what was happening.

And now, only a few years later, they were pushed back to it. But things were different now, because her lord husband would not remain on the sidelines until he was assured of victory as her uncle had done.

She shouldn't be surprised that he called his banners immediately.

More knights than those who had attended the wedding gathered between the castle walls, large and bearded men, many older than her husband, although that did not seem to stun or make him less worthy of respect and obedience.

Marei had attended some meetings, sitting quietly between the maester and Rodrik Cassel. No one consulted her and she did not interrupt.

On that occasion there were no women to turn to, no one to offer advice. All were in their own homes, preparing for the inevitable war, and their mother was even further.

Only five moons after their marriage Eddard Stark got on his warhorse and left. She couldn't force herself to feel sorry for him, even when heard little Sansa, just a baby, call for her father screaming. She was too small to understand that it could be the last time she saw her father, the boys may not understand it either.

His face was solemn when Marei wished him good luck.

"I will pray for you," she promises, although doubts the efficacy of the gods in such a situation.

"I ask you, my lady, to take care of my children in my absence"

Marei looks at the kids, undoubtedly confused, who wait with their caregivers and nod slowly.

He does not turn around once but she still remains in the courtyard of the fortress until the wolf banners disappear from sight. Then she turns to return to the castle, has duties to fulfill.

"Take the children inside" orders the babysitters when she passes by.

Sansa continues to cry despite the ineffective attempts of her brother Robb to stop the tears. Despite the promise she has just made, finds no strength to try to comfort the little girl.

 

The weeks pass slowly. They don't receive too much news, only short and sporadic letters that ensure the safety of Lord Stark. Even more irregularly, she has news of her home and clings to them with all her might. Know that despite the attack on the ports of Lannisport Casterly Rock remains undefeated and its inhabitants safe reassures her.

The tasks inside the castle continue with some normality, they are so far from the coast that it seems impossible that the Greyjoys pose any threat, the only difference is that they find more work than before.

Her new situation forces her to take a step forward. Checking account books with Maester Luwin, looking for what they can save on, should be even more frugal in war; visiting the stables and the armory in the company of Rodrik Cassel; eating, as her husband did, each day with one of his subjects and listens to their concerns. Almost without realizing it she was becoming the Lady of Winterfell.

She was only beginning to find her feet in the castle when she wakes up one night throwing up everything in her stomach. Lara was almost immediately by her side, not a little disgusted by her half-digested dinner.

"It's not the first time I've seen it and it won't be the last," she says.

The woman accompanies her away from the puddle, calls someone to clean it and brings her tea in just a few minutes. Despite all her shortcomings Marei cannot complain about the efficiency of her maid.

"Better?" She asks, crouching beside her, watching her as she sips her mint tea.

"Yes," she says, even though her stomach continues to reveal.

It's a lie. The days after she finds herself getting worse, eating heartlessly and throwing up almost everything later. Little do the teas and tisanes that give to her.

"It's over," says the woman a few days later. She sounds like an angry mother but Mare was  so tired and hungry that she cannot find the strength to be outraged by her tone. “You have to go to the maester”

She finds few reasons to argue because she is obviously not improving. Let the old man examine, puncture and harass her with questions. Despite not having thought about it, he is not surprised when he announces that he is simply pregnant. It seems that her lord husband is determined to plant his seed before leaving for battle because she is sure that the child was conceived only the day before his departure.

"I knew it," says Lara, with a haughty expression.

"It is better to wait," Luwin advises, "it is still too soon. At this stage there is still danger of loss ”

He prescribes some remedies for her nausea, eating well and resting. Marei complies with everything willingly because she knows well that a lot depends on the child she expects. She doesn't want to think about it, but if Eddard Stark dies in the war she isn't sure that they want to keep her as regent of his son. She is not northern, she hardly knows anything about them and they are just starting to listen to her. If she does not have that baby and is becomes a widow, they could return her to the Rock, to wait until her uncle could find another husband for her, certainly not as good as the Lord of Winterfell.

But despite her efforts, little changes. She finds no strength to keep almost no food inside. Luwin was concerned that she was thinner on her second pregnancy moon than before conceiving.

"We must take action," he says, when he confines her in bed despite her protests. “If we do not remedy your disease you could lose the child. Some women even die of dehydration. ”

She doesn't want to think about what would happen if her life was in danger for the child too. They assure her that they are not yet at that point, they can still save the child.

They confine her to her rooms as a punished girl and make her drink more than she thinks she can bear without urinating. Taking broths, porridge and soft fruits every few hours as if it were a helpless creature. She still feels dizzy almost all the time and the most unexpected of odors can cause her stomach to launch an unexpected attack, but at least she can keep almost everything she eats where she should be.

When it is confirmed that she is not losing more weight, Luwin lets her start receiving visits on her chambers, although he still does not let her get up.

Lara combed her hair in a tight braid and wraped her in a heavy dressing gown to hide her white nightgown before allowing Mordane to pass, she updates her on children. Robb is old enough to start his lessons with the maester and he assures her that they will start soon although he is now busier than ever. Sansa, seems, is becoming a great conversationalist although they have to watch her at all moment to avoid trying to climb into dangerous places.

Sir Rodrick appears later, with messages from the blacksmith and questions about grain reserves. The man, who has magnificent sideburns, as white as snow, stands at the door, noised a little and turned red when he sees her lying on the bed. Marei arches an eyebrow, looking down at her robe tied with a large bow around the neck. Even her hands are covered by cloth and Luwin is sitting by the fireplace, but the knight still doubts before entering.

Just when her stomach begins to swell the nausea begins to disappear and feels that little by little begins to regain control of its own body and its life. She had never imagined being able to miss the icy air of the north, but everything is better than being locked up.

"Happy?" Lara asks, holding her elbow in case the forces failed her. They are located on the covered bridge that connects the armory and the great tower; she has just spent ten minutes arguing with the blacksmith about the iron orders before her maiden crawled her to continue their walk.

“I would be more if you didn't treat me like a child of breast.” She pretends not to see how she rolls her eyes.

“Well, if you are so good, I leave you. I have many things to do,” she said, although both knew that would go gossip with the castle cook.

Marei stayed a while longer on the bridge. In the early morning a light snowfall had fallen and the yard was covered with a layer of impolute and fluffy snow. A group of stable boys had begun an improvised snowball fight, although after a few races what they threw was more mud than snow. She could not understand the fun of throwing balls of iced water but the boys laughed out loud, with red faces and disheveled hair.

She noticed a small gray lump in a corner of the courtyard. Even in the distance was not difficult to recognize the figure of thin members and long face. Despite his scarce four name days Jon Snow had always seemed like a miniature replica of his father, too serious and too quiet for such a small child. Also a little thin and weakly for his age, but with good health and good character. Marei had never seen him scream or demand. She doesn't really think have heard him speak more than three times.

The young woman looked around the yard, trying to find the nanny of the boy, but except for the squires and a couple of guards by the entrance was empty.

She didn't know much about children, something she was thinking about more and more now that she was waiting for her own, but she was sure it was not smart to leave one so small without vigilance.

She descended her path down the spiral staircase of the great tower, when went out into the yard the boy was still where she had glimpsed him. Sitting in a corner, leaning towards the floor. She feared he was crying, she had no experience comforting young children, but when approached she discovered that he was playing with the snow.

Marei peeked over his shoulder, trying not to interrupt him, but he noticed his presence almost immediately. He looked at her with gray eyes like stone on a face that seemed too adult to belong to such a small creature.

He watched her for a moment before returning to his game without saying a word.

Was piling up and compacting the snow between his tiny hands to try to build something, although the technique was somewhat awkward and the result irregular. She recognized a wall halfway between a circle and a pentagon and a flat rounded tower in the center. He was clearly halfway to building a castle.

"Is it Winterfell?" she asked, crouching beside him. The bump of her belly was still small but in that position she noticed it more than usual. It was a strange feeling. Still wasn't sure what to think about it.

He replied with only a small nod.

"Where is your brother?" asked again, as the boy raised the stables. She had rarely seen him without Robb nearby. He shrugged. "And your babysitter?" insisted.

"Sansa" he replied.

Marei frowned, hoping the boy would elaborate his answer, but seemed unwilling to do so.

"Can I help you?" The boy shrugged again.

She dropped into the snow, her thighs began to ache from squatting, and began to build the second wall while he lifted a mountain near where the main tower should be.

She had built many castles like that on the beaches of Casterly Rock and, although the feeling of snow was completely different from that of sand, the ability had not disappeared. After a few minutes the boy was giving her orders.

Her butt and hands were cold and surely the boy too, his cheeks were red from the cold, as was his little nose. However, until the work was finished he showed no intention of returning to the warm interior of the castle. With a certain parsimony he nail a dry twisted twig in the center of the false godswood.

Marei watched the tiny white castle. Despite obvious structural problems, the pit looked more like a sinkhole and they had failed to get any of the bridges to hold, it was a surprisingly good replica. It was clear that the boy knew his ancestral home very well.

"How pretty" she praised, without getting any response. "Did the cat eat your tongue?"

Without a word, the boy jumped up and, turning on his heel, marched back to the castle. Marei followed him, shaking the snow from the wet and stiff cloak.

He was surprisingly fast for someone who barely got up from a meter. They went through corridors unknown for her on the ground floors of the castle, going up and then down the convoluted stairs. They passed near the kitchens, just as her nose told her, but quickly walked away through a passageway that she was sure only the servants used. As the boy had come to know all those shortcuts it was a mystery.

They finally took a path that was familiar to her.

The boy ran out the last steps to the nursery, opening the door just a little to slip like a lizard.

"Where on the name of the Mother were you?" Septa Mordane's voice was high and annoying.

Marei stood in the doorway to listen to the woman.

“I don't have time to run after you, kid. The next time you run away I will whip you ”

The only time she had been hit was ten years old, it was not a pleasant memory. She had pulled Cersei's hair for making Tyrion cry. Her mother rarely had the patience to deal with these trivialities and Olira preferred to put them to copy texts or memorize sentences. Her uncle was not so forgiving, luckily her rarely had time for her, or even remembered her existence.

"An interesting consideration about your time" she interrupted. “Especially since Lady Sansa is too small for lessons. Unless you are teaching Lord Robb to embroider, in which case I have not been informed. ”

The woman looked at her in horror, releasing the boy’s arm as if it had burned her. On the other corner of the room was a very nervous maid who looked at both and then step back, closer to the wall. With her gray dress she could almost have melted.

"My lady," her voice was sweet to the impasse "I didn't know you planned to visit us."

"It was not planned. You said something about your time,” she insisted.

“Well, Lady sansa was very irritable. The poor girl misses her father and… ”the excuses kept coming in line. If there was something to be admired about the septs, it was thair ability to speak without saying anything at all.

"Lady Sansa has two nannies and a nurse, besides you, of course" interrupted. “I am sure that among four adult women you can take care of a little girl without problems. If not, I think that a change of personnel would have to be rethought. ”

“My lady, we all adore Sansa. We were just worried about her. ”

“I am aware of that, Septa. Also that you were Lady Catelyn's personal choice and I respect her wishes regarding who will educate her daughter, but" she continued" if you threaten to put a hand on any of Lord Stark's children again, it will be the last time you have a hand”.

The woman's complexion acquired a slight greenish hue. She gasped uselessly, looking at her as if she didn't believe what had just heard. Jon, who hadn't moved a bit during their exchange, looked at them confused.

"Where is Lord Robb?"

"With the maester, giving a lesson of ..." she replied automatically.

"Just him?" The children did practically everything together, from eating to sleeping.

"Lady Catelyn ..."

"It's not Lady Catelyn who asks you." She can't hide her irritation. The woman closed her mouth. “I may intend to respect Lady Catelyn's wishes regarding her children, but Jon Snow is not one of her kids. From now on he will attend his lessons with Lord Robb, everyone.” Then she turned to the boy. “Go for the Old Nan, she will give you something hot to snack on, you're going to get sick. You, accompany him. ” The maid's eyes were wide open. She nodded anxiously, ready to disappear from that place.

The boy ran away, suddenly animated at the prospect of sweets. Surely he would find the old woman curled up in a chair next to the kitchen ovens, knitting endless blankets. The girl followed him, her head so low that her chin almost touched the chest.

Marei left the room immediately heading to the tower of Maester Luwin, leaving the very nervous Septa Mordane in the nursery. It was the narrowest and steepest of the castle, for now in old age he managed to reach all it’s plants, even the upper one in which were raised the crows, in a few years he might have problems.

"Maester" in the center of a long work table was a large map, from the Wall to the Neck. Each fortress marked with a tiny note.

"My lady" the man seemed surprised to see her "I'm afraid I have no more correspondence for you."

Robb, who had to kneel on a bench to see the map, looked at her cautiously. Lara had informed her of the tantrum he had thrown with one of the babysitters. He was expectant, cautious about what she would do. He looked away when saw that she had no intention of doing so.

“That is not why I come. From today both sons of Lord Stark will receive the same lessons, together ”

He raised his gray and bushy eyebrows in questioning expression, but didn't question her.

"Of course, my lady."

"Will they be regular now, maester?"

He looked at Robb's slate board, in which there was only a poorly made scribble of what vaguely reminded of the word STARK.

"That is my intention"

"That's fine. They are old enough. I don't interrupt you anymore. ”

She left the tower with a deep sense of victory in her chest. For the first time since had arrived, she knew her role. She was the Lady of Winterfell.