Word Count: 1200
Prompt: Five people that Brandon Stark should have loved, and one he actually did.
He is a bit surprised that he is her first; she had followed so proudly, so recklessly into the godswood, unlaced his breeches with a hand that had seemed practiced. But she swallows a whimper in the back of her throat when he thrusts into her, and when it is done, her maiden’s blood is wet on them both.
Barbrey has a sharp wit and sharper nails, and there is something wild about her that he likes. But there is something of her that is still innocent and wide-eyed, like every other maiden he’s lain with. He hears it in her voice when they lie in a tangle of limbs and she tells him, “You don’t have to marry her. You could tell your father that you refuse her.”
He drapes an arm around her and does not tell her that yes, he does have to, that he will. He does not tell her that he would not give up his inheritance for her. He’s been called many things in his life, but cruel is not one of them; he does not intend to start now by telling her the places she fits and does not fit in his future.
He is mostly lying when he tells Barbrey that he dreads wedding Catelyn Tully, trying to appease her souring temper. The girl in the Riverlands that his father has chosen is pretty and young and bright-eyed, and Hoster Tully promises that she is just as honorable and dutiful as their house words proclaim. Brandon imagines she will make an utterly appropriate lady of Winterfell.
His sister laughs when he tells her this, and wonders when he began considering ‘appropriate’ a virtue.
Brandon sees Catelyn tend to her little brother as a mother would, and tries to imagine her caring for their children much the same way in Winterfell. She will be a fine mother, he thinks, and yet he cannot quite imagine her, sweet and southron, as his wife.
He can see why his father selected her, could count her virtues on his fingers. He is fond of her even when she pulls back from him flustered and pink-cheeked in the godswood, caught between duty and desire, and does not even quite mind when this time, he does not win out.
She is polished as porcelain, a true lady, and he wishes for something a bit rougher around the edges.
Ashara Dayne is said to be the most beautiful woman in the Seven Kingdoms, and when Brandon sees her for the first time, he believes it. She smiles sweetly and curtsies gracefully but beneath that he can sense that she believes it, as well – that she is used to psalms being sung of her loveliness, to declarations of love from lust-struck men.
It makes it more difficult, at first – sweet words are his best honed weapon in the game of courting – but he finds that he appreciates that she does not seek false flattery, that he need not lie. “Be honest,” is what she tells him, and it is a new challenge to embrace.
But beneath the high, almost haughty tilt of her chin, there is something dangerously fragile that nearly frightens him. He feels it when they lie abed together, skin to skin, and thinks perhaps it is the fluttering of her heart, beating as a baby bird against his cheek.
“Do you love me? Tell me true,” she asks, and Brandon hesitates, unsure what would cause her to shatter. He is a northman, and he could never truly love something that he must handle with so much care.
Brandon is more dissimilar from Ned than any of his other siblings, and sometimes he wonders if Ned’s time in the Eyrie made him forget how to be a Stark. Ned has always been the most serious, most tamed and quiet of them all, and sometimes Brandon wants to take him by the shoulders and shake him, roar that they are Starks and wolves’ blood and wildness runs through their veins.
Brandon had not yet reached his second year when Ned was born, and he does not remember a world without him in it. It was different, in their youth, he vaguely remembers. Yet when they are brought together from the different places they have been sent, Brandon finds that they meet nearly as strangers, that he has started to seal the place in the heart that his brother should go. They stand in uncomfortable silence, and Brandon wonders how he should ever begin to bridge the spaces between them.
He storms from the table when Lyanna’s betrothal to Robert Baratheon is announced. He knows it is childish and unfair, but his first thought is that he will lose his sister in the same manner that he lost his brother.
The Seven Kingdoms holds its breath and waits for the old Mad King to die and for his son to take his place and salve the wounds. Men speak of his valor, his nobility, his wisdom; women sigh at his beauty, at the sweet notes his elegant fingers draw from the harp. The prince serves as a promise for a brighter, kinder future to come, and he carries the crushing weight of the world’s expectations as though it were no burden at all.
Brandon does not trust him, nor his goodness or honor, for a moment.
Sometimes he wonders if he’s the only one to see it, if he is the only one not enamored. But those rare times that Brandon is able to speak to the prince, there are glimpses, brief as he sees them, of something darker in his beautiful eyes, something foreboding. There are mutterings that are quickly smothered, prophecy, fate, doom, and Brandon begins to suspect that the court is in love with nothing more than a mirage, a feverish wish. It is strange to be the only one with open eyes.
After all, he reminds himself grimly, the Mad King did not start that way.
His sister is twelve, no longer a child but not quite a woman (and certainly, Brandon knows, she shall never be a proper lady, and he is glad of it). She lies next to him beneath the heart tree, their fingers linked and their dark hair tangled together, both of them uncharacteristically still. Their father would be shocked to see it, Brandon thinks.
“I wish we could stay here always,” she murmurs, squeezing his fingers, and he knows she does not mean here beneath the tree, but here in Winterfell, in the North. She tilts her head to look at him. “If I were unhappy,” she says, “you would come for me, wouldn’t you?”
He thinks of Robert Baratheon, of Lyanna’s recently announced betrothal. He thinks how gladly he would stay there forever with her, if life were simple, and squeezes back. “I will always come for you,” he promises.
The words echo in his mind when the word comes, years later, that Lyanna has been taken, and he turns his horse from Riverrun, to ride to King’s Landing. Brandon has been called many things in his life, but oathbreaker is not one; he does not intend to start now.