Fandom: A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones
Characters/Pairings: Catelyn, Ned, Jon; Catelyn/Ned; mentions of others
Word count: 1,650 words
Warnings/Spoilers: No warnings, but this does subscribe quite heavily to the R+L=J theory.
Summary: For the asoiafkinkmeme prompt The years have gone by and Cat tentatively broaches the subject of Jon's mother, the other woman again. Ned, looking at their children and their loving marriage, gives in.
She was not in her chambers or any of the children’s, nor in the Great Hall, nor indeed anywhere to be found in the whole keep. He checks the sept, the kitchens, even the armoury, but his lady wife is nowhere to be seen. Concerned, he finds the maester in the midst of a lesson with Sansa and Arya and asks him if he knows of his lady’s whereabouts.
“I believe she went to the godswood, my lord,” Luwin replies.
“The godswood?” Ned echoes. “Was she looking for me?”
“I do not think so, my lord. I told her you were in your solar/chambers.”
Ned is surprised – Catelyn avoids the godswood whenever she can, saying she feels uncomfortable there as a southerner among the gods of the north, even now. He thanks the maester and leaves the girls to their studies, ruffling Arya’s hair as he goes.
His mind is reeling as he steps into the keep’s main courtyard, flooded with concern for his lady wife, and he treads the path to the godswood with practised but hurried steps.
He approaches the heart tree with carefully, spying the figure kneeling before it. His pace slows and he breathes a sigh of relief, then notices how hunches over she is, how unlike his lady wife she looks, even from behind. He steps closer, and can see the shudders that wrack her body, the hand she raises to wipe away her tears.
“Cat?” he hazards softly, jumping guiltily when she starts at the sound, and stands. “My lady, is ought amiss?”
There is a moment’s pause before she replies. “I am fine, my lord, thank you,” she says, not turning around.
Unconvinced, he steps toward her, and touches her shoulder gently.
She pulls away. “I am fine,” she repeats, but still she keeps her back to him.
Disheartened, he lets his hand fall to his side. “We both know that is not true,” he replies. “What is wrong? Is it the girls? The boys?”
She lets out a hollow laugh and he instantly realises his mistake, for though they have three children, there are two boys in Old Nan’s nursery, and one that is hers.
“The boys?” she echoes bitterly. “Yes, I should say that it is.”
“My lady, I am sorry, I should not have-”
“No, you should not.” She cuts him off sharply, forcing him to swallow his words, and he frowns at her shortness. He knows it is a sore subject with her, but she has never reacted thus before, in all the years of their marriage.
“Catelyn,” he tries again. “What is the matter?”
She laughs again, that short, hollow, bitter laugh that cuts into his heart like ice, and finally turns to face him.
“You’ve already said it,” she says sharply. “The matter is the boys – or, rather, the boy – your boy, your child who haunts my son’s footsteps and is the very image of his father, while my son – your trueborn son – looks no more like he belongs in the north than a blood orange! The matter is the mother of your bastard son who you love so much to have brought her child here, while you forbid your own wife from even knowing the name of she who claims your heart!”
Her voice breaks and there are tears in her eyes once more as she finishes, and turns away from him again. Once again he reaches out to touch her shoulder, and once again she shakes him off.
“Don’t, please,” she whispers, and he curls his fingers into his palm as another tear falls down her face.
It is her ‘please’ that gets him, that causes him to exhale slowly, offer a silent prayer up to the old gods, and steps in front of her.
“Then I will tell you the truth,” he says softly. “Jon is not my son.”
She stares at him as if he has just sprouted horns, or gone mad – or both. He thinks guiltily he ought to have given her the truth gently, rather than hitting her with it full one, but it is done now, and he cannot unsay the words.
“Not your son?” she repeats incredulously. “But of course he is your son – who else would he be?”
He can see she is no longer angry, at least for the moment, merely stunned, so he takes her hand and sits with her before the heart tree. “I have said I will tell you the truth,” he says, clasping her hands tight in his, “and that I will do. But I need your promise that you will not breathe a word of this to anyone.”
She nods numbly, still shocked by his sudden declaration. “I swear it.”
“Jon is not my son,” Ned repeats firmly. “He is my blood, but he is not my son, bastard or otherwise.”
“Then who?” Catelyn asks. “He looks just like you-”
“My sister, Lyanna. She bore him, and as she lay dying she made me promise I would protect her son.”
He pauses to let her take this in, and from the crease in her brow he can tell she is piecing together the red.
“And the father is…” She looks at him in question, though she has a fairly good idea who it might be.”
Ned nods. “Rhaegar Targaryen.”
Without even knowing she had been holding her breath, Catelyn exhales deeply. With the knowledge that Jon is not her husband’s son sinking into her mind, it feels as if a vast weight is being lifted from her shoulders, and she can breathe more easily. Ned feels her relax and tightens his grip on her hands in relief, and is content to sit in silence until she is eventually ready to speak.
“Why did you not tell me?” she asks softly, her eyes downcast.
He runs his thumbs over the backs of her hands. “I barely knew you,” he replies gently. “You were a stranger to me, as I was to you. I did not know if I could…” He trails off, seeing the flash of hurt in her eyes, and brings her hand up to his lips in apology.
She nods slowly, but keeps her eyes downcast. It hurts to think he could not trust her, but she does understand. For all that she had been promised to his brother so long, when the news came of Brandon’s death and that she was to wed Eddard instead, they were indeed strangers to one another.
“But all those years since? You could not tell me then? Gods be good Ned, you forbade me to even ask about it!”
Now it is Ned that cannot meet her eyes. “I know, my lady, I am sorry,” he says quietly. “It had been so long, I thought it would be better that you thought what you did, than know I had lied to you for so long…” He bites his lip unconsciously. “I did not want you to hate me more than you already did.”
Catelyn’s heart falls, and she kneels before him, taking his hands back in her own. “Oh Ned, I could never hate you – I love you too much for that.” He meets her earnest gaze and the sorrow in his own eyes lessens.
“And so you claimed Jon as your own,” Catelyn continues eventually. “But why? Why not claim he was Brandon’s?”
Ned flinches at his brother’s name, and now it is Catelyn’s turn to feel guilty and squeeze his hand in apology. He smiles a wry, sad smile. “I could not do that to Brandon. I know that he would want Lyanna’s boy safe, and I know he had enough… dalliances…” He casts a quick look at Catelyn, the woman who would have been his philandering brother’s wife. “But I still would not dishonour him like that. It was my duty to take care of, not his, and I would not have the dead plagued with the stain of disgrace.”
As Catelyn watches, he husband seems to double in authority and stature, every inch the dutiful Lord of Winterfell, and her heart swells with pride. “So instead you took Lyanna’s dishonour as your own.”
He nods numbly, then changes him mind and shakes his head. “No, not her dishonour. I cannot think that of her, or Jon, or even of Rhaegar. She loved him, like she did not love Robert, and he married her.”
“Married?” Catelyn cannot believe her ears. “But he was wed to Elia Martell!”
“Aye,” he replies. “But it is not unheard of for a Targaryen to take two wives – think of Aegon the Conqueror.”
“Rhaenys and Visenya,” Cat says, remembering her childhood lessons. “Then Jon Snow is really Jon Targaryen.”
“And the true heir to the Seven Kingdoms, aye,” Ned finishes sadly. “That is why no one can know.”
Catelyn meets his gaze. “I swear it,” she says solemnly, trying not to think of another Aegon and Rhaenys Targaryen, murdered before their mother’s eyes, and Ned looks at her gratefully. Then he stands and offers her his hand, which she accepts with a smile, her warmest yet.
They walk back to the keep arm in arm, conversation turning to the running of Winterfell, and the boys’ lessons (both boys, not just Robb, now they do not avoid the subject of the ‘bastard’), and the Greatjon Umber’s deafening bellow, simply enjoying the new ease they find with one another, until they reach the courtyard and Ser Rodrick Cassel approaches with great purpose.
Catelyn squeezes Ned’s arm. “Go,” she says with a smile. “I will see you later.”
He gives her one of his own, rare smiles in return, and kisses her hand in farewell, but he is not gone two paces before her call of his name brings him back. She steps up on tiptoes and kisses his cheek, then whispers so none other can hear.