The halls of Winterfell were near icy with the cold, the North still tight in the grip of winter. The snow fell thick and the air had a bite to it when the dragons arrived. They bore the conqueror of Westeros, the Dragon King Aegon Targaryen.
It was here that he met with Winterfell's icy lord, Torrhen Stark, and speculation was ripe that the King in the North would not be so foolish as to fight the Dragons, and Winterfell would escape the fate of the desecrated Harrenhall. They said he would bend the knee, and already singers wrote songs of the complete conquest by the Targaryen siblings, of Torrhen’s bent knee and the united Seven Kingdoms. But these songs were not meant to be written. For when King Aegon and his sisters arrived back in their new capitol, it was proclaimed that the North would be a kingdom of its own, to rule in tandem and aligned with the South. Nobody knew what had been said, in those icy halls of Winterfell, that had made Aegon come to this agreement; the Starks had never been known for their oracular skills, but had always been practical and straightforward. They were not the cold icemen the stories would have it said, and perhaps Aegon saw that. Perhaps he saw the wisdom in an alliance with the King of Winter. But, as said, nobody but Aegon and Torrhen would know, and both had been dead for centuries.
As such, the Seven Kingdoms never were, and instead established were the Southern Kingdom and Northern Kingdom. While the discussion that took place in Winterfell between Wolf and Dragon would forever remain a mystery, some of the alliance’s terms became clear over time. The North and South bound themselves tightly and intrinsically together over the following years; many young Targaryens were sent north to wed there, and the children of Winterfell were married to Southern houses, with the except of every oldest son. The stories said that Torrhen Stark wanted the future kings and queens of his kingdom to be of the North, and of the North alone; this seemed unlikely, but still the oldest sons of his descendents were never married to a Southern lass, in all the years since the treaty was written.
By the time King Rickard Stark was crowned in the same Winterfell hall his forefather had negotiated with dragons in, the treaty was well established. Rickard had married a Northern lass, but his sisters had all made Southern matches, and his younger brother had wed a beautiful Targaryen with hair as silver as the snow. Rickard knew this would be the fate of his children, and as, one-by-one, they arrived – Brandon, Eddard, Lyanna and Benjen – Rickard thought it strangely sad that the lives of his young babes had been dictated centuries before they had arrived to live them.
Brandon was to wed the North, as was the tradition for the oldest sons. By the time he had reached his twentieth nameday, he had grown into a handsome man, tall and charming with the Stark looks that he shared with his father and siblings.
Sat on the Iron Throne was King Aerys II Targaryen, wed to his sister-wife Rhaella and father of two sons, the Crown Prince Rhaegar and young Viserys. Rhaegar had two heirs of his own by a Martell bride, and rumours stretched even as far as the Winter Halls that the Queen carried another baby, another heir to the Southern kingdom.
Rickard's three younger children posed more of a problem than his crown prince Brandon. It was important to have them all wed, and they were all to make Southern matches, should the South have available lords and ladies of a similar age to his princes and princesses. Eddard was now a grown man of eighteen years, tall as his brother but quieter, more solemn, more like the Ice Prince the Southern Kingdom whispered about. He was a skilled warrior, and performed all his duties as well as a second son should, and more. Rickard thought he would make any Southern woman happy, if he were less restrained, freer with his handsome smile and warm heart. He was very much like Rickard, thought the King of Winter, in both the good ways and the bad. His match was the most pressing, Rickard knew – Lyanna was of marriageable age, but at fourteen years there was no rush, and indeed it was advisable to wait, while Benjen was only just ten and a long way off taking a bride. Eddard was more than old enough, and as a Winter Prince, more than eligible for any of the Southern houses.
There was no Targaryen girl for him to wed, but Rickard knew several women of marriageable ages in the great houses – Casterly Rock boasted a daughter whose golden beauty was sung of even above the Neck, of a similar age to Eddard, but Rickard was suspicious of Tywin Lannister’s ambition, and it was said that the girl was much like as her father. House Dayne had the lady Ashara, who was said to be beautiful and sweet, and there were several girls of Dorne who warranted attention. Lord Hoster Tully had not one but two eligible daughters, and it was here that Rickard’s interest was piqued. A Stark had not wed a Tully, so far as Rickard could remember, and a tie with the Riverlands would be no bad thing. Hoster was a good man, and kind, Rickard thought, trying to recall the last time he had seen the Lord of Riverrun. He did not venture into the Southern Kingdom much, not anymore, and rarely did any Southerner work up the courage to venture into the lands of winter.
And this was how Eddard Stark found himself travelling to the Southern Kingdom to treaty with the Tullys. His father had sent Brandon with him, after Brandon had pleaded to act as chaperone to his little brother. When Eddard had asked him why, Brandon had smiled that toothy, charming smile, and told him, “I can’t miss seeing you woo a girl, Ned. The image doesn’t come easily to me, oddly enough.” In response, Eddard punched him on the arm.
Brandon had travelled to the Southern Kingdom a few times, occasionally with their father when he was young, but as the King stopped journeying as much and Brandon got older, he began to take more of these trips without him. Eddard had joined him once or twice, but neither son was particularly well versed with the Southern Kingdom outside what they were taught in lessons. They were men of the North, and it was the North they knew.
Despite this, both princes had to admit that Riverrun was a sight to see. So used to the ice and snow and cold of Winterfell, both were a little stumped to see the greenery of the Riverlands, the running water that gave the castle its name and the rolling hills. There was no snow in sight, something neither man thought they would ever get used to, and both quickly grew hot in their riding clothes. They joked to one another that weather that seemed unbearably warm to them was probably as cold to the people of the Riverlands as a freezing Northern day was to the Starks, and Brandon questioned the ability of either of the Tully girls to survive in the far North.
“Do trouts like the cold?” Brandon asked, as Riverrun grew larger on the horizon. “Wolves don’t like the hot, but does it work both ways?”
Ned glanced at his brother, busy concentrating on his riding. “The wolves will suffer the heat, and the trout will endure the cold, if that is what Father wishes,”
“You truly are a romantic, Eddard,” Brandon said with a tsk, before putting on an affected voice. “‘I am Prince Eddard Stark, heir to the Northern Kingdom, and I fuck whoever my father wishes me to!’”
“Brandon!” Ned said sharply. His brother was too loose with his tongue, and spoke in ways a crown prince should not. Brandon only laughed.
“Do try to smile more, little brother!” he teased, “You can be quite handsome when you wish it.”
“What does being handsome have to do with anything?” Ned huffed. He had grown up in the shadow of his brother, who was the firstborn son and the better looking son and the more charming son. All Ned had that Brandon did not was his duty, and that was what he was here for.
“Everyone knows that girls down South love a handsome knight!” Brandon exclaimed. “One that will sweep them off their feet and kiss them senseless and have songs sung about him,”
“Sounds like you,” Ned said, his face tight, and out of the corner of his eye he saw Brandon look at him, amused.
“Could be you, too,” Brandon said with a shrug and Ned scoffed. “Oh,Neeeeeed—”
“Oh, shut up, Bran!” Ned said with a laugh, “Watch your horse.”
“Is that any way to speak to the future King in the North? The heir to Torrhen Stark himself?”
Ned laughed again. “Slay a dragon, and we’ll see if you’re Torrhen reborn.”
“He didn’t slay a dragon. Henegotiatedwith one. An altogether different, and much more difficult, feat.” Brandon said primly. “And, besides, there’re no dragons left.”
It was true that the Targaryens' beasts had died out years ago, but that did not mean the dragons were gone.
“You’re wrong, brother,” Eddard said. “One sits on the Iron Throne, after all,”
Brandon laughed. “And I suppose Rhaegar Targaryen is a match for the beasts of old?”
Brandon had a bit of a sore spot regarding the Southern Kingdom’s crown prince, not only because they were both firstborn heirs of a similar age and therefore natural enemies, but Rhaegar had beaten Brandon in a tourney some years ago. Every time it was mentioned, Ned made a point of reminding his brother that Rhaegar was much older, and much better trained, than Brandon had been at the time, but the older Stark boy’s bitterness did not abate.
“What if you like one of the Tully sisters?” Ned asked, quickly changing topic. “Would you take her north? Make a crown princess of her?”
“I doubt it,” Brandon said with a chuckle. “In all my visits down South, I’ve never found a high-born Southern girl to my liking. The whores, yes—”
“—but the ladies, not so much. Besides, my future wife is the North, isn’t it? And there are plenty of marriageable girls at home to consider. House Stark will be making enough Southern matches as it is.”
This certainly was true. There was some resentment, Eddard knew, that so many Stark children were sent to the Southern Kingdom when Northern matches could be made. The wedding of the oldest son to the North was more than Torrhen Stark’s wish – it was to placate the houses sworn to the King in the North, the promise of making their daughters Queens.
By now the brothers Brandon and Eddard were close enough to Riverrun to see the smoke rising from its chimneys, the distant hustle and bustle of the yard and hear the whinnying of their horses. The castle looked alive, and both knew the cry had long gone up of riders in the distance. Eddard felt a weight settle in his stomach. His father wished a Riverlands match and Eddard would give it to him, but the idea that he was going to meet his soon-to-be wife in mere moments made him nervous.
The family was gathered in the courtyard as the Stark riders rode in, direwolf banners flying high. The four Tullys were instantly recognizable by the red in their hair. The princes dismounted and approached the lord of the castle, Hoster Tully – he was a tall man, though not as tall as either Stark, with grey shot through his auburn hair and eyes as blue as his castle’s river. He lowered to his knee as the princes came near; so to did his children and his household. Eddard allowed Brandon to bid the lord of Riverrun to rise again, and to say his greetings before introducing his brother. It was Brandon’s place to do so, as heir to the Winter Throne and representative of House Stark.
Lord Tully wasted no time in introducing his son, Edmure, a young boy of eight or nine years, his father’s image. Then stepped forward the two girls – Catelyn and Lysa Tully. Eddard watched them both carefully as they dropped into curtseys. Both were pretty girls, with long hair of red and Tully blue eyes, but Lysa was a smaller girl, younger, and somewhat plainer of face, while her sister was taller, and undeniably beautiful. Lysa could barely look either prince in the eye, choosing instead to watch her feet, but Catelyn did not hesitate meeting Eddard’s gaze, her smile appropriately demure, and later, once Eddard had been shown to his chambers, it was the older Tully girl he thought on.
Brandon appeared in his doorway almost as soon as the servants had left it. “What did you make of them, Ned?”
Eddard looked over at him from where he stood by the window, watching the river flow. “They seem a nice family.”
“Notthat, you ass!” Brandon exclaimed, stepping in and shutting the door behind him. “The girls! I liked the look of that Catelyn, myself. Big tits and wide hips!”
Eddard did not even bother to harangue him about his words, instead choosing to roll his eyes and turn away.
“The little one seemed a bit too nervous, and she’s not as pretty either. Can’t imagine her liking Winterfell. Well? Comeon, Ned! Speak!”
“They seem like a nice family,” Ned repeated, ignoring Brandon’s groan. “And I should like to get to know them before I make my mind up.”
“I don’t believe you, Ned,” Brandon scoffed, studying his brother’s face. “I think you like the older one, too. Not that I could tell, really, you looked at them both like you look at your horse.”
“What’s wrong with wanting to have a conversation with them before I write to Father?” Eddard asked with annoyance, but Brandon did not seem to be listening.
“Maybe I should take your idea,” he was musing, “And take the older one back to Winterfell. I wouldn’t mind waking up beside that for the rest of my life,”
“What happened to wedding the North?” was Eddard's indignant response. It was peculiar, but the way his brother spoke about Catelyn Tully angered him. She, and her sister, were both highborn girls worthy of a good match, and the way Brandon talked about her made his skin crawl.
Brandon seemed to pick up on Ned’s irritation, and grinned widely. “Oh, little pup, I’m just joking. Father sent us here with you in mind, and I would have you come to a conclusion yourself.”
Brandon stepped forward and clapped a hand down on Eddard’s shoulder, smiling warmly. “Just don’t take too long, or this heat will melt the ice in our veins!”