Word count: 3,435
asoiafkinkmeme prompt: 'Ned/Cat - Hades and Persephone'
Notes: Several AU factors to make this work - I think you can figure it out as you go along. :) The biggest one is assuming there is never a betrothal between Catelyn and Brandon. I couldn't resist this prompt as I was a huge Greek mythology nerd in middle/high school, and it was fun bending both the myth and some factors of the ASOIAF universe to make the story fit while trying to keep everyone in character. :)
She most often finds peace in the glass gardens – small as they are, they are the only place that she finds anything green and growing. If Catelyn closes her eyes and breathes through her nose, it is almost as though she is again home in the Riverlands, beautiful and green, the grass thick and soft as a feather bed, the trees swaying in the warm summer breeze and the water that rushes along smooth stones cool and sweet to drink. It is everything southron and alive, and it is all that she has known in her life, all that she has ever wanted to know.
She had liked to read by the river, her back braced against an old weirwood thicker than the full stretch of her arms, and while of course she had known even then that there was a war, before the moment the soldiers had appeared, it had raged leagues away. It had been hard to imagine the world burning when she sat in the shade with grass stains on her dress, her bare feet digging into the earth and flower petals falling from her hair. She had liked to weave the stems through her brightly colored braids, narcissuses and wild daisies that grew in the godswood, and had done so for her sister as well when she asked sweetly.
But Lysa is a thousand leagues away, in another world, and Catelyn is mistress now of darker and colder things, of a place where few flowers grow, where she feels foolish weaving them in her hair when everything around her is grey and cold.
She had never seen a northman before the day Robert Baratheon’s army rode up to the gates of Riverrun on dark, thundering horses, but she had certainly heard of them, heard horrible things of them and the land they inhabit. The Neck has long served as the great divide of Westeros, since the Wall fell long before her birth: what kept living from dead, the day from the night, the summer from the eternal winter. Her uncle used to love to tease the Tully children with tales of the half-living creatures in the north, with their black hands and piercing, other-worldly blue eyes. The dead walk there, he would tell them, voice low and gravelly, and the rotting lords sit on thrones made of the bones of their children. He would grab an ankle at that, and Catelyn would always try to never scream when he grabbed at her (but could never quite manage, even if she did dissolve into laughter afterwards). It had been half a game back then, a spooky story to share, but something she only half-believed – certainly nothing she had dwelt upon.
The Blackfish’s favorite stories had always been of the Starks of Winterfell, the rulers of a land that no one would want; callous, cruel killers who rejoiced in murdering innocent southroners to add to their army of walking corpses. Gods pray they keep to their ice castle, the Blackfish would warn ominously, for who could defeat soldiers who cannot be killed?
Is it any surprise, she wonders, that she had wept in the carriage all the way to Winterfell, her uncle’s stories and her father’s protests echoing in her ears? An honor, Robert Baratheon, the king-to-be, had told her father, his beautiful eyes that had once danced so merrily now shining coldly. Your daughter will be the lady of the largest domain in Westeros. It is a match more than worthy of your house.
Hoster Tully had bristled at the suggestion, at the thought of sending his eldest and best-loved child to a land so cruel and dangerous. And yet it had been more order than suggestion, so that he had merely clasped her hand through the window of the carriage, unwilling to deny a man who might one day wear a crown. Instead, he had reassured her that the war would soon be over and she would be returned home, and that she would not be forgotten, not for a moment in their thoughts and prayers.
In the north, Catelyn feels quite forgotten.
Winterfell is as desolate and grey as in her uncle’s stories, and she does not belong with her red hair and her blue dresses. The dead walk alongside the living, and neither seems to know which they are, and so she speaks to none of them, visions of black hands and blue eyes paralyzing her. She burrows beneath the furs in her chambers – they are well-furnished and comfortable and the air and her bath water is the warmest in this cold castle, in this cold land – and she dreams of the blooming Riverlands. The visions are so vivid behind her eyelids, the bright greens and blues and reds and yellows, all color and all life, that when she awakens and rushes to her window, she could weep to see nothing but grey and white, slush and snow and dead and dying things.
And yet as bitter as it is to wake, she prefers the sweet dreams to the nightmares, of cold dead hands closing around her throat, so that she wakes screaming with the furs tangled around her legs, trapping her and tripping her as she tries to pull from the bed. She does not call for a maid but builds a fire herself and sits by the light, and is grateful for another living thing to keep her company.
But her strict confinement, one of her own making, cannot last forever, and she emerges from her solitude a mere fortnight before somber and serious Lord Eddard Stark, ruler of the north, takes her to wife in the godswood of Winterfell. She had always thought to be wed in a sept, under the eyes of the Seven where she had been born and blessed, but in this strange land where the line between life and death is so blurred, gods both strange and cruel are worshipped instead. It snows, the day she marries, and she is told it does so often even in the summer this side of the Neck, and the flakes melt in her hair and wither the narcissus flower she had plucked in a whim and tucked behind her ear. It is just so, she supposes – nothing with a still beating heart could live in such a land without fading away, and she thinks it will only be a matter of time before she follows suit and dies.
And yet for the stories of horrors she has heard of Lord Eddard himself, the ruler of this desolate wasteland, she finds that he is not unkind as she expected, as her uncle’s stories promised he would be. He rules his realm of monsters and men with a firm hand, but a just one - all men must die, he tells her, and he stands as silent watcher to the cycle of life, immune to the tales southroners may spin of how he pulls innocents to their death. He does not, Catelyn thinks, he merely holds the balance in check when they instinctively, frantically pull back and away. He is firm and holds to justice and honor to a fault, but he is not callous or cruel, nor indifferent to the sufferings of those who join their realm – merely unwilling to alter the course of what must be done.
All men must die.
She finds that the creatures that so frightened her upon her arrival to the north seem equally afraid when she walks the halls, and draw back when she approaches, silently pulling back into the shadows so that all she can hear are the echo of her own footsteps off the stone walls. “You are the lady here,” her husband – Ned, the few who still speak here call him – tells her. “They are bound to obey you as they are me.”
You are the lady here, she thinks, and there is a power to that that she reaches out to grasp, to cling to as one might cling to a rock in a storm. She does not understand this place, these people, but she is their lady now and so it shall be for them all to come to an accordance. She breathes in the air of the glass gardens, the sweet smell of the flowers so different from the staleness of the air just outside this tiny solitude, and for a moment she is able to forget the dank greyness that is now her domain, her kingdom.
Her father writes her, and his letters become more erratic and strange as time passes, as the war stretches on and her husband prepares to rejoin his closest friend, a southron calling himself a king fighting for a northern princess. The first are soothing, full of comforts and promises of rescue, but soon they devolve into warnings and superstition that seem more and more absurd the longer she remains in the north.
Do not lie with him, bar your door at night, he will freeze you from the inside out, he warns when he learns that she has been wed. But she is alone here, and a marriage must be consummated, and Ned’s hands are so gentle on her skin, cautious and reverent. His fingers are rough-skinned from the hilts of swords, but careful as they slide along the curve of her spine, and his touch and lips make her burn rather than freeze. He tells her that she is beautiful with a hand caught in her hair, and for a moment she feels at ease that she is so different in coloring than the northerners around her, all dark-haired and dark-eyed. It hurts when he takes her maidenhead, and yet the apologetic press of his lips to her forehead feels genuine, and she feels a bit less forgotten, in that brief moment. And in the morning, when she wakes, she is still alive, still breathing, still warm in the comfort of her chambers with a body heavy next to her own.
She begins to think that perhaps Robert Baratheon is right, and that it is not such a poor match. She had been nearly eighteen when the war had come to the Riverlands, and there had been a number of potential suitors who made appeals to her father, and she is not such a naïve maid that she does not know how cruelly a husband may treat his wife. The north is indeed a great domain, the largest in all Westeros, and she is lady of it, however strange and unsettling it may be. To those he rules over, Eddard Stark is a cool, hard, stern man, but he treats her with sweet courtesy, and seems fond of her southron manner that so sets her apart from the other cool, hard figures of the north.
Do not eat what they offer, no morsel of food may pass your lips, an even stranger note from the lord of the Riverlands implores, it is the food of the dead and to eat it is to be forever damned. You would never be able to come home.
Does he mean me to starve? she wonders, and even if she were so self-sacrificing, as much of a martyr as such a thing would require, soon after her husband leaves to return to war, she realizes that she has missed her moon’s blood and her belly begins to swell with child so that such a thing is out of the question. She throws her father’s note into the fire, and draws a special delight from the pomegranate fruit that grows from the sole group of small trees in the glass gardens, the taste as fresh and familiar as the ones from home, and she peels back the skin of them to get at the tart seeds. The few living - servants and squires, the maester, the blacksmith and master at arms – leave her to her leisure, and at times, when she is locked away, she begins to feel the lady indeed.
She spends hours in the gardens, and despite the oddity of her father’s words, his paranoia and bitterness at a match made without his consent, she still wishes for the soft, thick grass between her toes, the rush of the rivers at her back. Her husband may be solemn-faced and still near a stranger to her, but he had been the most familiar part of Winterfell; with him gone she finds the constant darkness and snow, the heavy hang of the grey skies and the slow, dragging movements of the dead who do not yet realize what they are nearly impossible to bear.
Her son is born, and he is beautiful and as red-haired as she, with living southron blood pulsing through his tiny veins. He does not belong here, she thinks when she strolls through the gardens with her babe on her hip. I do not belong here. She sits with Robb upon her lap beside the small tree bearing the pomegranate fruit, and she tells him about the beauty of the Riverlands as though it were a thing he could understand.
The war ends, and her father does not come for her.
She is not surprised, and it is a tumble of relief and crushing sorrow all at once. She longs for her home, for the colors she has nearly forgotten in the face of such a muted palate, and yet she is wed and a mother and to leave that behind would mean a poor future for her indeed. The war is over, and Robert Baratheon and Eddard Stark stand on the victorious side, and so it is certain that she will remain Lady Stark – there is no one for her father to appeal to now, and she is uncertain whether she should be glad of it or not, switching between peace and melancholy as the snow falls and stops and falls again.
The relief fades when her husband returns, and any happiness at seeing him returned is crushed at seeing the bastard son in his train, as dark-haired as any northerner, as any dead thing she encounters. The child is of the north, as her husband is of the north, and she and Robb are of the south and such coldness and bleakness could never, ever be their place. This child belongs in a way she never could, amusing southron diversion that she is, like a little kept pet; the thought of such enrages her, and hurts her, too, when she remembers the fleeting hope she had felt before her husband had left – that perhaps she would never belong to this land, but she could, in time, belong with this man.
Soon, even the sweet pomegranates lose their taste to her, and she wonders if her father was right all along, if it is the food of the damned and now she is lost, and now she is dead inside and out. For Robb alone she eats, and she returns to her chamber with him tight in her arms, to protect him from the inevitable. All men must die, Ned had told her once, but like any good southroner Catelyn would fight him tooth and nail, for not her own life but for their son’s.
She finds there is little need to fight. Ned comes to her one night, and though Robb coos his delight at the sight of his father, Catelyn keeps her eyes studiously downcast, on the embroidery in her lap. For spite she had refused to stitch the direwolf of Stark, but nor could she bring herself to stitch the trout of Tully, and so she found herself stitching roses in bloom – reds and pinks and yellows, as though putting them to fabric could bring them into being.
For several painful moments, they sit in silence, and she feels his eyes on her face until finally, reluctantly, she looks up, pursing her lips against the surge of emotion at the concern on his face. It is more, she thinks, than he would show for a mere diversion or amusement.
“Catelyn,” he begins softly, and it hurts worse to hear her name upon his lips, she is so often ‘my lady’ and ‘the lady of Winterfell,’ all proprieties, all things she is not sure how to be. “I know you are unhappy.” He reaches out and touches her embroidery, his hand large and rough next to her own, slim and pale. She says nothing as he studies the design, traces the petal of a flower, and exhales through his nose before looking back up at her with those serious grey eyes. “I would not keep you here against your will,” he tells her. “I told you long ago that you were not to be a prisoner here. If you wish to return to the Riverlands, I will escort you there.”
She does not feel the rush of joy she expected at his words, but instead a bitter rush of jealousy, of anger, of protectiveness as she thinks of the black-haired babe that served as a threat to her son’s inheritance. “You would put me aside,” she accuses, wondering of the mother of his other child, if she will be the next lady of the dead and damned. Perhaps she is a lady of northern stock; perhaps she is better suited to such a role than Catelyn could ever hope to be.
For his part, Ned looks surprised at the suggestion. “No,” he answers. “But we have a son. With an heir, a husband and wife need not live together. If you are happier there, there you shall go, and I shall remain here.” She starts when he reaches out, brushes a strand of hair off her forehead, tracing it to behind her ear. “I will confess I would rather live with my wife,” he says, his voice low, and she remembers how the deep gravel in his voice had frightened her so terribly the first time she had heard it, and yet how it settles in her chest now. “I would like for you to stay. But I cannot watch you waste away from unhappiness.”
She swallows hard against the lump in her throat, her eyes darting to the window, to a world swallowed in the darkness – even nights in the Riverlands had not seemed quite as black. “I miss my father,” she admits, her voice cracking, and she remembers her tears in the carriage, the flood of them as she had crossed the Neck for the first time and thought herself never to return. “My uncle, and sister, and little Edmure, he must be grown so tall by now. And I miss the grass, and the sun, and the warm air and flowers and colors, most of all.” She stops short of telling him how terribly she hates the darkness and the cold, the snow and the grey, how desolate she finds this land that is his home and is part of Robb, too, for all that he has her southron blood. Such a thing would offend, she knows, and hurt, and she does not wish to hurt.
He brushes a tear off her cheek with a callused thumb, and she blinks viciously against more that threaten to fall, willing them to keep at bay. “Aye,” he agrees. “It is a place that is in your blood when you are born, the north and those who inhabit it. You are from a different place entirely. I confess I forget that sometimes.”
“I should like to return to the Riverlands for a time,” she says finally, keeping her voice firm. “I…I do not wish to live apart always, but…if for perhaps part of the year, the coldest moons, I could take Robb there…the sunshine would do us both well, my lord.”
He rises, and when he squeezes her hand, she squeezes back, and feels her heart release a bit of the cold anger she had harbored against him since he had returned with another woman’s child. Time, she thinks, time and the sight of the sun would do the rest, would salve the wound and soothe away the ice that had gripped her, would keep her from becoming one of those half-dead creatures that wanders the halls. It would keep her alive, she thinks, and perhaps it would even bring her to love.
“Perhaps it would,” he agrees, and Catelyn smiles tentatively, raises their locked fingers to press a kiss to his knuckle, surprising herself with the gesture of affection.
That night she dreams of the Riverlands, and the dreams are sweet indeed.