11 What is home?
I was jarred awake and opened my eyes to see Aylward standing over me. "Aylward!" I snapped. "How many times have I told you not to wake me up?"
"Your grace, I apologize, but there has been news from Winterfell."
"News?" I asked. I sat up and slid out of bed reluctantly. "What sort of news?"
"Theon has burned down Winterfell."
"What?" I gasped. "Why would he-?"
"Why has Theon done anything he has done in the past few months?"
I rubbed my eyes and tried not to think too much about him. "What else?"
"No one knows where the boys are. There is a chance they escaped, of course."
"No there isn't," I said quietly. "Didn't you see the bodies? Two little children's bodies hanging above Winterfell burned to a crisp. They're dead."
"It could have been-"
"Who else?" I asked. I waited for him to answer but he was quiet and I shook my head. "Exactly."
"You should tell them the truth. Catelyn has a right to know, Robb too."
"I can't, Aylward. I cannot look at Catelyn and watch a little bit more of the light fade out of her eyes. She's my mother, I have to protect her."
"It's crueler to let her have hope in an outcome that is impossible."
"I did not ask your opinion," I said quietly. "Leave me, I can find my own way out of my room." He looked at me for a moment before nodding slowly and walking away. I dressed slowly; I wasn't in any hurry to face Robb or Catelyn.
When I finally went downstairs I found them almost immediately. They were talking in hushed voices and I tried to back away but Catelyn noticed me. "Amina," she called. She motioned me over. She looked incredibly tired; it was obvious she was sleeping even less than I was.
"Have you heard?" Robb asked.
"That Theon has officially lost the last of his sanity? Yes, Aylward informed me this morning." My tone was bitter both towards my lost best friend and my current guard, but neither of the Starks appeared to notice.
"Amina, tell me, was there any sign of the boys while you were in Winterfell?" Catelyn asked.
"I never saw them," I lied.
"What about your soldier? He went in with you did he not?"
"He stayed near the gates while I talked to Theon."
"What did Theon have to say?" She asked.
"I don't-It's hard to remember much. That day and the trip back are blurry. If he had said anything about the boys I'm sure I would have made him give them to me. Maybe they escaped. I doubt that Theon would want to tell me that he'd lost them." I was doing the exact opposite of what Aylward had suggested. "Was there any other news?"
"Word came from Riverrun as well," Robb said. "The Lord of Riverrun has died."
"Grandfather?" My family unit was oddly constructed and mostly confined to Winterfell except for the Tullys. It had been a long time since Catelyn's father had visited Winterfell, but he had always adored me and brought me gifts every time he came to visit. He had told me when I was very little that I had better call him grandfather because he wasn't having some tiny little future Lady of Winterfell calling him by his proper title.
"We're leaving for Riverrun later today for his funeral," Robb told me.
I nodded. "I'll pack my things." I squeezed Catelyn's hand and kissed Robb's cheek before returning quickly to my room.
I was in the woods. Bran was there with a bow and arrow and he was staring intently up at the trees where a crow was sitting. "Don't think too much, Bran," Jon said. I glanced and saw him beside me.
"Relax your bow arm," Robb said from the other side.
"Don't forget to breathe," I added. Bran let the arrow fly and missed the crow. The three of us onlookers laughed.
"Which one of you was a marksman at ten?" Ned called.
"Ami was!" Jon said shoving me playfully. We laughed again. Suddenly I realized I was laughing alone and I looked around to see that Robb and Jon had disappeared leaving me with Bran. "This is a dream isn't it?" I asked. It had taken a moment for me to remember I wasn't back at Winterfell, that I'd probably never be back at Winterfell again.
"Yes, I'm dreaming," Bran said. I found his choice of pronoun odd but let it slide; this was a dream after all.
"I went to Winterfell to look for you and Rickon." I shook my head. "I can't believe Theon would do something so horrible."
"He's changed," Bran said nodding.
"I miss you. We all do." I began to feel myself fade away and Bran watched me curiously until I was gone. I woke up slowly. Much more easily than yesterday when Aylward had shaken me, something I was getting quite tired of waking up to. I got up, dressed and went to fetch Myst. We had already been traveling for a day but we still had more ground to cover.
"You know you have handmaidens for a reason," Aylward said.
"I left them in Harrenhal," I told him. "I can take care of myself for a week without exploding I believe."
"You are quite different from a normal queen," he mused.
"And how many queens have you known?" I asked.
"Oh just Margery, though I expect Cersei is much the same. Probably Stannis's queen too, the poor broad."
"Selyse is ill, she is a special case. Though I guess you are probably right about Cersei and Margery being your typical sort of queen."
"Did you tell them about Bran and Rickon?" He asked, abruptly changing the subject.
"I lied," I said. "Before you lecture me about how I shouldn't give them false hope-"
"You did the right thing," he said.
"Telling them the truth, especially after Catelyn heard about her father, would have crushed them. I do not condone lying typically but I understand why you chose to keep this particular thing from them."
"I had a dream about Bran."
"A dream or a projection?" He asked.
"Catelyn said she didn't think there was a way for me to communicate with anyone other than Daenerys."
"Maybe you weren't the one initiating the communication."
"You think he's alive?"
"You tell me."
"He said something in the dream that struck me as a little odd. When I asked if it was a dream he answered that he was dreaming, not that I was."
"Maybe he didn't realize that he was actually talking to you."
"But I saw his body, he can't be alive."
"You saw a body. You said yourself; it was burned to a crisp, impossible to distinguish. That body could have belonged to anyone."
"Now who's the one spreading the hope?"
Later that afternoon when we stopped for a rest I noticed Catelyn sitting and weaving something. I pulled Myst to the side and motioned to one of the men to tie her to a tree. "I've seen those before but you've never told me what they were."
"Prayer wheels, they are made by a mother to protect her children. I hung one in your room when you were in that phase of running off for days at a time. You always came back unharmed."
"And when Bran fell from the window," I remembered.
"He lived through that," she said. "I'm sure you don't remember but when you were very little one of the boys came down with the pox. I made one of these then and sat by his bedside all night while he coughed and cried until dawn. We weren't sure if he would live and I made a wheel then."
I shook my head. "I don't remember. Which boy was it?"
"Jon," she answered.
"Oh," I murmured. It was odd to talk about Jon when I hadn't seen him in such a long time, not in the real world at least.
"When Ned brought him home I was so angry. I prayed to the Gods that they would take this boy away so I would never have to look at him again and think about what Ned had done. And then he came down with the pox. I knew I was horrible for ever having wished something like that on a poor innocent boy. I prayed and prayed for the Gods to save him. I promised that if he survived I would love him as much as I did Robb and you. I even said I would tell Eddard to just change his name to Stark and get it over with, or at least call him Winterfell like you." She shook her head.
"You never kept that promise," I whispered.
"No, I didn't. Everything, all of this, is my punishment for wishing harm on that boy so many years ago. I couldn't love him despite that everyone else in our family did."
"This isn't your fault," I told her.
"I was able to love you despite where you come from but I couldn't love Jon. I'm not sure which is worse, that I was so quick to love the daughter of the mad king or that I couldn't love a motherless boy."
"I wanted Ned to send him away when he turned sixteen. When you and Robb were supposed to visit the estates of our banner men someone was supposed to escort Jon to the wall."
"You were going to send him away, just like that? Without even giving us the chance to say goodbye?"
"I know about what happened the night before you left. I caught Theon in the hall coming down from Jon's room and made him tell me what was going on. It would have been better for you if I gone through with sending him North, it would have been less painful for the both of you."
"You knew, all this time?"
"Of course I did. I told you I knew more about what went on in my home than you thought."
"And you let it happen anyway?"
"There wasn't any stopping it. I had to let it happen."
I found Robb sharpening his sword away from the rest of the group and walked over to join him. I glanced around and grabbed one of the smaller men's swords. "Spar with me," I told Robb.
"I'm not really in the mood, Amina."
"I know, that's precisely why you need to. Come on, take your stance." He hesitated so I grabbed his arm and pulled him into position like he was a toy figure. I took a step back and assumed my own stance. "Are you going to just stand there?" I asked. When he didn't make a move towards me I pushed the blade against his chest. "Are you really going to let me win just like that? Where's that competitive sprit?"
He knocked my sword away from him quickly and I grinned. He lunged for me and I blocked quickly and pushed towards him. I preferred to play offense. He took a few steps back and when he wobbled I went to knock his sword out of his hand but he moved suddenly towards me and I lost grip of my own sword. He held his against my neck and smiled. "I win."
"Very clever, making me think you'd lost your balance. I should have known better than to fall for that one. I came up with it." He lowered his sword.
"It was the only way you could ever beat Jon."
"And now it seems I can't even beat you," I said.
"You didn't try too hard to win."
I hit his shoulder lightly. "You aren't supposed to know that." He dropped his sword to the ground and wrapped one of his arms around my waist. "I love you, even if you don't let me win." As I said it I knew that I meant it, maybe Catelyn had been right.
"I love you too." He kissed me and I leaned into him without even thinking about it.
I pulled back and grinned. "So do we have a knife throwing contest next, or should we shoot arrows?"
"I'll let you choose."
"Knives then, I know I'll win that."
That was how Catelyn found us later that evening throwing my blades into a makeshift target. Robb had decent aim but I could throw blindfolded, I was a much better thrower than a sword fighter. "Reliving your childhood are we?" Catelyn asked as she walked over.
"Well we needed to do something to keep busy," I told her. I wanted to add that if this we were reliving our childhood we would have the rest of the family with us, just like we used to.
"The two of you missed supper," she informed me. "I had Aylward save you a plate."
"We'll be done in a moment. Only two more knives left," I said rolling mine between my hands.
"Alright, I'll see you in the morning," he hugged both of us before leaving.
"Where were we?" Robb asked.
"I was beating you."
"We might as well call it now; I'm obviously not winning tonight."
"Oh fine, I'll spare you the embarrassment of actually losing." We went to the target and gathered all my daggers and I slid them back into their various homes: six in my pack, eight strapped to my saddle bag, two in each boot and one in the band around my wrist.
"You are quite armed for a Lady. You know we have guards and soldiers for that."
"I prefer to not rely on others for my protection. I'm quite attached to my life; I'd rather I was the one to defend it." He walked me back to my tent and we stopped outside.
"Goodnight, my Queen."
I made a face. "You don't have to call me that."
He smiled and kissed me. "Goodnight, Amina."
He started to walk away but I grabbed his arm. "You don't have to leave, we are married after all." He hesitated and I tugged him into the tent. "Come on, it's cold out here and I'm exhausted." I didn't even bother changing; I just fell into bed and let Robb wrap me in his arms. I had forgotten how comfortable he was, it was like I had rediscovered something that had once been my favorite thing but I'd long since forgotten about it. For a moment I could close my eyes and pretend I was home. I drifted to sleep without saying another word.