Westeros, The North, Winterfell
Lord Rickard Stark, the Lord of Winterfell, looked half awake. He wore faded grey that had once been black, and a light cloak of black fur that seemed to puddle around his booted feet as he sat atop an overturned barrel. His face looked dark, anxious. "Lyle asked me for permission to go with you." There was a prolonged silence, as if the man expected a response from his daughter. Instead he watched her pop open another small barrel among near countless in the store room under the Maester's Tower, and then he watched her make yet another mark on the ledger with her quill. "If I send him, he will not be a spy of mine."
forced even Vittoria to lower the ledger, and turn her head. "A spy of yours?" Her lips were smiling as she turned back to the leather spined ledger, her quill twitching as she made more marks on the page. "Varly will be your spy, not Lyle."
"Varly?" Her Lord Father chuckled. He sounded amused at very thought of a guard such as Varly being his spy. But Varly wasn't merely a man-at-arms, he was a man who'd grown up in the South. A man who'd set out north as a boy after escaping with his life after attempting to hunt the King's woods for the King's deer. "Varly is a huntsman, not a spy."
"You don't know the difference."
"Aye," Lord Rickard lips may have been still, but his smile showed in his eyes. "That's the truth. Is your Prince husband even awake?"
Sunlight hadn't yet begun to show itself when Vittoria Stark slipped out of bed and dressed, nor when she walked across the yard for the Maester's Tower itself. Maester Donnis had been asleep, muttering, playfully, something about "good riddance" to the girl who always woke him up before the sun even as she stood over his bed until he rose to meet the new day. Now Donnis was on the other side of the store, checking another of her lists against the contents in the storehouse.
She was counting seeds in her hand when her father's question came to her. Between the counting and recollecting the night before, her mind decided a silence was a better answer for her father than the honest answer. Part of her still felt aflame, and other parts were just now beginning to have feeling again. Even dressing the dark, she knew there were bruises under her fur and skirts. "He was asleep when I left him," Was the answer she finally gave, smiling at her father.
Her father seemed less than content by the answer. "And this Lyle business?"
"I think..." three and twenty, four and twenty, five and twenty...
"Lyle will do what Lyle does." ...six and twenty, seven and twenty.
Another mark on her ledger, and her attentions were turned fully to the man she might never see again. She'd missed her mother and father, even her brothers, when she spent years in the South. And there was always something temporary about her return to Winterfell.
But that didn't make her heart any less sad when she turned to watch the Lord of Winterfell, who never followed her around before this morning. He's spending the time he has left.
Lord Rickard kept the newly wedded couple up late, telling stories of his times traveling as a youth, stories of meeting Wildlings in the field. Even the story of going beyond the Wall simply because Lord Karstark had teased him because his daughter had been beyond the Wall numerous times, but never him. What did Lord Rickard report to finding? "Snow and ice and little damned else."
By the time Lord Rickard was finally ready to let them go, Prince Viserys all but picked her up and ran out of the Great Hall.
"But he asked permission."
Yes, after I told him to.
She shrugged, "He's a good Stark. Even he knows when he must seek the permission of his overlord."
"That's an awfully big step for that boy."
She grinned, closing the small barrel and snapping the ledger shot, quill laid within. "Even Lyle can take big steps, Father."
Of Lord Stark's children, favor had been shown to all of them equally. But there was no denying in the eldest Lord Brodrick that their Lord Father saw the heir he deserved. Just as there was no denying their mother, Lady Alayne of House Arryn, hadn't always approved of her only daughter. Lyle was always the closest to Lady Alayne, either because he was the baby or because he reminded her so much of her own family. Benjen, the second son, had always been right in line with Brodrick and their Lord Father.
But Benjen had been gone for two years, their last word from him recent enough to calm any fears danger had happened across the missing wolf. "I should go ensure he's awake and not drunk," when her father stood, she knew there was more coming. But the command that came...that even she didn't see coming. "Bring your husband something to break his fast with. You'll serve him well, even if he is a bloody Targaryen."
It was awkward, and the moment was over just as quickly as it'd begun, her Lord Father's steps echoing off the stone stairs as he left.
"I can have someone take a meal to the Prince, Lady Vittoria?"
The Maester of Winterfell was barely older than she was, his chain of medium length and not having a single repeated link. The one time she'd seen Maester Donnis drunk, he'd confessed his fear that she didn't see him 'as a real Maester.' So she'd rattled his chain a bit, literally, and alleviated his fears. Or tried. Donnis never seemed comfortable with her presence. Like Benjen around their father; always trying to measure up, certain they never would.
"It's a kind offer, Donnis, but my father is only trying to give me advice on how to be a good wife. He's always prized wives that serve out of habit." Thier Lady mother had been strong willed and independent, too. A willpower and independent streak that would still, from time to time, show itself. They were traits Lord Rickard had tried to break her of, and largely succeeded in...until he realized he liked his lady wife much more when she spoke to him. It'd taken time, but the two of them had finally found a balance.
"Last evening I overheard your father tell you to never let your Prince forget you're a Stark of Winterfell. Now he's telling you to serve him in bed."
Vittoria cringed. "Just a meal, Donnis, and believe me when I say you're best not trying to overhear everything my Lord Father says." She said it sweetly, even if it was a warning. The young Maester nodded in the shadows of the warehouse, two lone lamps hung near the low ceiling their only light. "Remember to keep up the account of what's where. Anything in a red canvas bag is what I found Beyond the Wall; mostly seeds to variants we don't find south of the Wall anymore. Give that winter wheat to Clydus, and...I suppose that's it."
"Remember the letter, m'Lady. I'll finish down here."
I thought you might
, Donnis liked his time alone. There wasn't a better day for the young Maester than a day spent by himself checking off or making lists. "Thank you Donnis."
In the kitchens, Willa the old cooks woman teased her endlessly. So did Hurly, and Pat, and Lem. All she did was butter the warm bread and drizzle it with honey. Lem fetched the mint tea, Willa scooped out the black berry preserves for the warm bread, even if Vittoria herself applied to the bread. Hurly handled the rashers of bacon and the boiled egg. She even cut the wedge of cheese herself.
Although none of that was as laborous as bringing it to the Prince. Even given the wooden platter, lugging the meal up stairs and down stairs, across a yard, up more stairs, up more stairs, around a corner, and down a corridor until she reached her own bedchambers...her arms were sore. So were shoulders. And here she thought everything that could be sore, had already been sore.
Daylight came into the room in tendrils of golden light spreading in orange and red across the stone floor that was ever warm to barefeet, and with sunlight she hadn't been surprised at all if she'd found Prince Viserys still asleep and hogging the furs and pillows that had been her own for all her life. It was downright strange walking into her bedchamber, and finding a man in her bed.
Let alone her husband.
But he wasn't asleep. He was dressing; trousers on, seated upon the wooden chest at the foot of her bed, pulling on boots. "Something to break your fast, my Prince?" There was an edge to the way title came out of her pink lips; more tease than formal address. "I'll set it on the bed for you." She was even careful as she set it down, not wanting something to tip or spill. She'd lugged the platter far too long a ways to have it all fall off now.
Her right hand brushed hair behind her shoulder when she leaned down and stole a taste of his lips, before darting off to a stack of books. There were two chests still open near the fireplace, mostly filled with books. There wasn't enough room, and she was being forced to pick and choose which volumes went South with her, and which stayed in Winterfell. "I've finished nearly everything, we should be able to head out today, if you want, or wait until tomorrow. I just have to find Bollobar's Accounting of Healing." Her sigh came light and airy, even as she darted back near her bed, certain she'd find it, Bollobar's green skinned book there.
But she never got that far. Halfway across a bed chamber she had crossed countless times before, something stopped her. Something grabbed
her. At first, a gasp near as loud as a shout came out of her, from the shock of it. Then something else, half squeak, half pain. The way Prince Viserys had reached out and grabbed her had surprised her, but the way he lifted her off her feet and planted her hindequarters onto his lap was a mix. A mix of pain and soreness and excitement that settled into a frustrated excitement: she wanted to move. She wanted to find all her beloved books before it was too late. She wanted to do half a hundred things this morning alone. She even wanted to steal some of that bread and honey of his.
But that required moving. And even after attempting to break free once, then twice...it amazed her how strong he was. With his arms locked around her midsection like a steel lock, she knew there was no use. She tried to reason with him, saying she had to find her book. She tried to appeal to his hunger, stating his food would be getting cold. She even tried to bargain with him, the details of the bargaining kept to hushed secrets that only made him smirk. She even called out for Snow, but the white Direwolf only perked an ear...before going back to her nap. "Traitor," was all Vittoria had said to the beast.
In the end, it still got her nowhere. It wasn't until she started breathing slowly, until she started to relax her body and accept her fate that those arms loosened a bit. But by then...she didn't want to get up. Instead, she turned around; resting her knees on either side of him, straddling him, her lower body on him, her upper body leaned away from him, straight up in the air, arms crossed over her chest and a cold Stark look in her eyes.
"Why hello. I believe you've mistaken me for your shirt."
The laugh that broke from the Prince’s lips contained within it an array of emotions. For one, he was simply laughing at her, the stern northern demeanor turned to something utterly amusing after their closeness of the days and nights before. But there was a melody of happiness to it that went beyond that, an expression of pure joy at the way things were. Viserys had never really understood weddings, he had been to plenty and enjoyed most, but that was simply a matter of good dining and company, he’d never grasped why they were such a moot point for nobility, and particularly those swearing their vows. It had taken his own wedding for him to understand, even if it hadn’t been the grand southern affair he’d been taught to expect from youth. The actual act of their binding had come into new light when he considered it with the emotion he felt for her, and had suddenly been more thankful than ever that he had been granted the ability to follow his heart, and not a political scheme. Then afterwards, for the first time he had really enjoyed the company of her family. While it may have been a stretch to say they had fully accepted him, drinking and feasting with the Northerners, then listening to Lord Starks many tales, even if there probably was a bit of deliberate delay about that, had granted him a glimpse at a side to family life he had never known. Finally, by the time of the bedding, she was finally his, truly, and it had made everything right.
Even her scampering around had been beautiful in its own way, to watch the amazing mind of his wife at work, and for the first few moments after she placed down the tray, he had almost been content to simply watch her. Almost
His grab had been forceful, if not hard, mindful of the many marks of his love he had undoubtedly left across her, but once she was within his grasp, there was no escape, and he had almost laughed at her efforts to break free, not in the harsh laugh of victory, but how she managed to make everything so horrendously attractive, at then she had ended with that terribly fierce Stark glare and it had broken the dam holding back his joy.
“Oh if only, I mean, I’d wear you outside, but I think that might cause problems with family and climate,” He returned the coldness of her expression with a continued smirk, his arms momentarily squeezing her, just above her hips. It was playful rather than powerful, in contrast to similar grips he had held her in only hours before, but even still, the spark in his deep purple eyes was hardly gone.
“I also don’t quite remember any of my shirts looking as attractive on me, but I wouldn’t know much about that, as an admirer, what would you say?” His smirked pushed out further, the teasing tone to his voice intensifying, nearly once again become a laugh, the honey to his voice making it clear there was no derision, only love.
It was strange for Vittoria Stark; the feeling of her body pressing against another body tightly. It was strange to be touching another person so much. Stranger still that it would be Prince Viserys, instead of a Dustin more interested in the width of her hips for child bearing than any other part of her; excepting maybe her bust.
Uncoiling her arms over her chest and snaking them around Viserys’ shoulders prompted in her a long moment of silence as she hugged her new husband tightly, until she finally broke the embrace and leaned back, resting her weight on his legs as she looked at him with close inspection. “As an admirer? I would say there isn’t a better look for you.”
Her head nodded firmly, reaffirming her own opinion on the matter even as her body slipped off and away from the Targaryen. “As your wife, however,” Her knees bent quickly near the side of her bed, snatching up the linen shirt he’d been wearing last night before pulling it off and tossing it on the very spot she picked it up from. “I say put on a shirt, it’s snowing outside.”
Vittoria tried to hide her grin as she tossed the shirt at him, even if she was certain she’d failed. But it was a grin that was quickly gone when the unpleasant business came back to the forefront of her mind. Unpleasantness she pushed aside as a little smile was forced back to her lips, and she sat on the bed next to his meal; stealing a piece of bacon and nibbling on it even as her eyes returned to him.
“Promise me I won’t lose you to royal responsibilities.” It came from nowhere, or it might seem. In truth, it came from her heart, her deepest fears. “When winter comes, the pack survives and the lone wolf dies. We are a pack of two...promise me you won’t turn me into a lone wolf once we go South.”
“Excuse my Southern sensibilities, but from what I know about wolves, the largest male eats first,” Viserys smiled, before taking a piece of the bread she had prepared, or at least brought to him as the case may be, for himself. Taking one bite before slipping the shirt on over his head, covering his toned but scarred torso as she spoke to him. His smile shrunk slightly as he began to reply to her on a more serious note, although it remained just as warm, taking her hand in his as he did so.
“I could point to the vows I have just sworn, or to the fact that I have travelled up a continent for you, but instead, the thought of leaving you alone chills me, to the point that even if I could, doing such a thing would rob me of sleep for the rest of my days. Once we return I may have other responsibilities, other duties, but none are more important to me than those I have towards you.” In his mind, he meant a duty to cherish, protect and love, but without really thinking, his spare hand moved, resting on her stomach.
“Besides, who do you think I would rather spend time with, some bratty nephew or this beautiful Northern creature who has decided to love me for whatever reason.” His smile widened again in humor, although the statement was genuine, leaning forwards to kiss her once on the cheek.
It was like standing atop the Frostfangs, peering down into the vast grey-white expanse of the world. That’s what it felt like to have Viserys Targaryen saying sweet things, instinctively moving his hand to her stomach. To a girl with a mind always filled with curiosities and problems to solve, not songs and dreams, the primal desire to want
to give this man children...was so strange and foreign it was exactly like standing on the edge of a world unfamiliar and unknown.
Literally, figuratively. But he made her feel safe as the walls of Winterfell, and she trusted him...even if she didn’t trust anything else. Finally that tiny, forced, smile returned to her lips after his peck upon her cheek. A kiss she responded to by...putting the remains of her piece of bacon into his mouth.
“The King has proclaimed an invasion of Dorne.” Distracting him with the forced piece of bacon, her left hand had snuck into a pocket hidden somewhere in her dress, pulling out and holding up the broken royal seal of the letter the King had sent to all Wardens. “It’s to my father. Daeron also congratulated him on his daughter joining House Targaryen.”
She was grinning again, now, even if she didn’t realize it. “I had to stop him from burning the letter.” Not that Viserys would laugh at that like she did. Not that he’d hear anything but “Daeron” and “Dorne” and “Invasion.”
Later Viserys would find himself thanking it was her who had passed the news onto him, that wonderful grinning that he could feel no real hostility for, defeated the desire within him to challenge and fight that which was so destructive to his most carefully laid plans. His hand holding her’s tightened, gone the careful embrace he had held her with, although his hand at her middle remained just as tender, registering more in his mind that it was her he was holding, not simply something to unleash his rage against. In the next moment, his hand relaxed, but both moved to his knees, turning his head from her to regard the snows of the North visible through the small windows.
His mind raced south to a nephew who had not listened to years of advice, and to the grave of a brother he had failed, to seven kingdoms he had could not protect from the ravages of war. A few moments later he let go of a breath he did not realise he was holding, at the same time has hand once more reached for her’s, seeking out the comfort of her companionship, rather than shunning it. It took several more intakes of air before his sudden despair turned to his usual determination, for the winds of defeat to fan his inner fire. Once more her looked up, locking eyes with her. As much as he was a man of reason, in these moments one could read the Prince through his eyes, and now they burned more fiercely than the doom itself.
“Then I would say goodbye to Winterfell, for we cannot wait until tomorrow.”
Instead of grip his hand, Vittoria slipped out of it, and off the edge of the bed. She didn’t speak, nor did she look at him. The lone daughter to Lord Rickard Stark removed the morning meal from the bed, placing it next to the wash basin before returning to the bed. Climbing onto it, walking on her knees behind his seated upon the edge body, and wrapping his chest up tightly in her arms, her body pressed to his back, her mouth a whisper from his ear.
“Today, then.” Her tone had changed; gone the humor and worry. What replaced it sounded wicked, and private. Even as her grin changed into something suggestive. “But not until you’ve found a way to release some of that frustration and passion that’s become anger and regret before my very eyes. After all, we can’t start on the Kingsroad until it’s at least a bit painful for me to ride a horse, now can we?”