Word Count: 924
Prompt: Ned/Catelyn, picture of a pile of snowballs
Catelyn despairs at the summer snows. It reminds her of the threat of winter, causes dread to seize her heart that the long summer will soon end, and the next winter will not be as mild and brief as she had been assured her first in the north had been. She had not found it so - the snow had fallen thick and heavy and constant, and she had clung to the hearths shivering, wrapped in furs that were stained by soot by the end of the eve as though she were a kitchen wench and not the lady of Winterfell. The fall of snow puts ice in her bones, and she bundles her cloak tightly and watches the grey, flat sky with impassive eyes.
Her children are a different matter; they are northern children, born with the ghost of winter whispering through their veins, and the soft powder that blankets their world in white brings pink to their cheeks and giddiness to their eyes. They spill out into the courtyard bundled in their fur cloaks and leather gloves, Robb and Jon Snow rushing ahead to fling themselves into a snow drift, Arya struggling to keep up, calling after them with a yelp of indignation. Sansa waits patiently for Bran, his little hand clasped in her own as though he were her own child, and the sight brings a flicker of a smile to Catelyn’s face. The snows are not deep, but Bran is tiny still, and he sinks in to his thighs.
Catelyn stays in the arch of the doorway, the warmth of the castle to her back, a promising beckon though her eyes remain watchful on her children. Her eyes linger only briefly on Robb and Jon Snow, beginning to build a snowman, before they flicker away conflicted, to land on Arya instead, insisting on helping though the base is larger than her already, and on Sansa, who is trying to teach Bran how to make a figure in the snow by waving his arms and legs. The littlest Stark is so bundled in layers of clothing that he can hardly move his limbs, and the best he can create is a crude circle.
She follows along the wall of the courtyard, running her hand along the warm stone, feeling the heat of the hot springs beneath her gloved touch. From the armoury, Ned appears, and he crosses the yard with his hood thrown back, his pace leisurely. Much like his children, the cold and snow seems to only revitalize him, make Winterfell all the more home. “My lady,” he greets her with a smile, the ice crunching beneath his boots as he approaches. “I did not expect to see you here.”
If she were to answer truthfully, Catelyn would rather be in the warmth of her own chambers, dry and comfortable, and she shifts uncomfortably on her feet, already aching from the bitterness of the air. “Maester Luwin found it a fool’s task to try and finish their lessons for today,” she replies, nodding towards the children at play, and Ned chuckles, watching as the snowman is abandoned and a snowball fight begins between Robb, Jon Snow, and Arya, the tightly packed bundles whizzing as quickly – though far less accurately – as an arrow.
“It is the first snow of the year,” he allows.
“And hopefully the last,” she says feverishly, hoping that a mere wish could make it so. Ned smiles at her, and she can practically see the disagreement lingering on his lips; but wisely, he does not argue, knowing that they will forever be at an impasse in that regard.
She is caught off guard when the snowball hits her square in the stomach; she lets out a huff of surprise, her fingers instinctively going to touch the wet spot on her gown as the snow slides down her front. When she raises her gaze, it is to meet three sets of terrified eyes, frozen in fright at their misdeed, though no culprit steps forward to admit their guilt. (From the way that Arya scuffles her feet, and looks to and fro for a path of escape, Catelyn is not truly in need of an admission.)
Catelyn opens her mouth, ready to scold for carelessness, and all three look sheepishly to the ground now, aware of the well-earned lecture that is forthcoming. But she cuts off even before she begins when she hears Ned snort in laughter next to her, his hand coming up to his mouth to try and disguise the sound as a cough. He tilts his head down, but he is unable to hide the quirking up of the corners of his lips into one of his rare smiles.
She glares at him, exasperated, and her indignation only seems to fuel his laughter, as she furiously wipes the remaining flakes from her skirts. “Do you find something amusing, my lord?” she demands
“Not at all,” Ned replies, and it is one of the only times Catelyn can ever recall his needing to try to compose his face into an expression of solemnity. His eyes gleam at her, and he cannot seem to quite fight back the remnants of his smile, as warming as the sun breaking through the bleakness of the low-hanging clouds. She is glad to see it, whatever its cause.
With another huff of displeasure, she bends down to gather snow in her palms, packing it awkwardly together, and by the time she releases her poorly formed weapon, Ned’s laughter rings through the courtyard.