3 Truth Hurts
I sat in my tent trying to nap but sleep refused to come. I was too on edge; the war was making me nervous. It wasn't so much that I was scared we'd lose, I had a feeling this would work out for us in the end, I was just tense from sitting through planning meetings with batty old men all day. I wanted an afternoon of peace but unfortunately I couldn't even take a nap.
Then Catelyn came in and distracted me from my feeble attempts at rest. "Catelyn, I thought you were leaving today." I stood up and approached her, getting sidetracked by the things lying out on my table and pausing a few paces in front of her.
"I'm going in the morning, I just wanted to speak with you first, Amina," she said.
"I want you to know I've always considered you part of this family. I practically raised you after all."
"Of course, I know that." I wondered where this was going. Catelyn loved all her children, me included, but she didn't typically go about telling us these things unless she had a point to make. I picked up a chain of flowers and remembered that last afternoon in the woods outside Winterfell with Jon. I began a long braid and added the flowers in.
"You're to marry Robb as soon as the war is over. It would've been sooner but as you know there were many complications." I nodded, still not knowing where this was leading. "I'm aware you don't love him."
I was completely caught off guard and I just stood there for a second gaping at her, the flowers and braid entirely forgotten. "I-" She held up a hand to silence me.
"Don't even bother denying it. I'm well aware of the many things that go on in my household." She stepped towards me and resumed the braiding. "I myself am proof that even someone who didn't love the man they were to marry can make things work. Over the years I grew to love Ned and I do not doubt that you can grow to love Robb in the same way."
"But things are different with me. If you really know everything that goes on behind closed doors then you'd know that."
"Of course I do, but don't think your situation is anything special. Everyone has a first love. When I was young there was only one man I wanted to marry, and I know you've heard how that ended. But Ned and I raised five beautiful children, not to mention you. I love my family with all my heart. You'll understand one day, no matter how you feel now."
I didn't know what to say. We stood in silence as she finished my braid and secured it with a leather tie. She touched my arm and looked at me. "Amina, you are going to make an amazing queen. I could've changed my mind about having you marry Robb but you'll be good for him. You truly were meant to rule. You are determined and smarter than anyone gives you credit for. And you're kind, something kings and queens these days take for granted. People will listen to you, not only that but people will like you."
"I think I'll make an excellent queen," I said quietly.
"The best these seven kingdoms have seen in quite a long time," Catelyn said.
"And without Robb I'll never get there will I?" It wasn't really meant to be a question because I knew it was true. No matter how kind I was, how perfectly made to be queen I was, there was no way people would accept a Targaryen ruler any other way.
"You know what lies in your heart, only you can know that. But I can see what you're meant for. You have a choice, everyone does, and I just hope you know how to make the right one. It's not often about your happiness; it's about everyone else's." She kissed me on the cheek before moving towards the entrance to my tent. "Robb doesn't need to know we had this talk."
"Are you feeling better?" Robb asked stepping into my tent.
"What?" I asked looking up from the black ribbon I was twirling aimlessly in my fingers.
"You missed dinner; my mother said you weren't feeling well." He walked towards me. I secured the ribbon around the leather tie already on my braid.
"Oh! Yes, it was um, just a headache," I said. I didn't want him to get too worried about me; he might try to send me back to Winterfell. I wasn't even sick anyways, a least not in a physical way.
"I'm sure there's something I could do to make you feel better," he murmured kissing my neck. I tilted my head back and sighed softly. He ran his hand over my shoulder and down my arm brushing past my long hair along the way. He tugged softly on the end of my braid and I felt him smile against my neck. I put a hand on his chest and pushed him back a little.
"I'm really not in the mood," I told him. He gave me this pitiful look and I laughed. "Really? You think you can just look at me like that and I'll melt in your hand?"
"That's the idea," he said a little smile playing on his face.
"Not tonight." I gave him a little push and he fell back onto one of my chaises.
"Well it was worth a try, I guess." He pulled my arm so I had to sit next to him. I sighed and lay down, I hadn't really relaxed in a while and just laying here was nice. I put my head on his chest and I closed my eyes, Robb's heartbeat was steadily lulling me to sleep. Robb kissed my cheek lightly. For a moment I didn't have to say anything, didn't have to worry about pretenses or even about the war. I could worry in a minute for now I just wanted to take a deep breath. "Amina?" He asked breaking my serenity. I mumbled a response. "What happened?"
"What do you mean?" I asked hoping that if I didn't move he'd let whatever was on his mind go.
"When we were little we were best friends, you, me, Jon and eventually Theon." I looked up at him. His face was tense like he was thinking really hard.
He cut me off, sitting up and taking me with him. "No, I'm not stupid I know something's changed between us. I can see it in your eyes. You used joke about how our wedding would be the grandest spectacle the Seven Kingdoms had ever seen, it was the only thing you every really got excited about like that. Sansa was usually the one making a big deal about every formal dinner or visitor that came to Winterfell."
"Sansa and I were polar opposites," I said more to myself than to Robb. I hardly even noticed I'd used past tense, she wasn't gone yet. "We still are."
"Did I do something? What made you stop caring about us? I know you never felt the same way about me as I did about you, but we were friends. We used to tell each other everything. Remember the day when Ned finally told you the whole story about where you came from and you were so confused and upset that you ran straight to my room crying? If I ever did something to hurt you I'm so sorry." He hand cupped my face so I really had no choice but to look into his eyes. I did remember all of that, we were best friends but something did change he was right. It just wasn't him.
"No, you never did anything. You're wonderful, really. It's just I'm in…" I stopped and shook my head.
"What is it?" He asked.
"I'm worried about being queen," I said thinking quickly. He gave me a look I couldn't decipher.
"It's just a lot of responsibility; it wasn't really something I was expecting." I tried to sound as heartfelt as I could.
"But you're always so confident and you're a great leader. After you got past the initial shock of finding out your background you embraced it, I always thought you secretly wanted to be queen."
"Well I did, and I still do but…I just wasn't expecting it would ever happen I guess." That was true enough. Even through all my great plans I came up with of how I would be queen of the Seven Kingdoms I never actually believed it would happen.
"Why didn't you tell me?" Robb asked.
"Like you said, I act tough. Doesn't mean I can't be a bit insecure. It's silly." I looked away. I was good at this game, pretending to be the scared girl to prevent a messy situation.
"It's not silly. It's perfectly normal." He kissed my lips softly and then held me tightly. I rested my head against his shoulder, this time not feeling the slightest bit relaxed. I wonder what he'd say if he knew the real story. That I was in love with someone else, that never once in my life had I been afraid of embracing my birthright. Maybe I wasn't normal. But if this is what normal felt like – being trapped like an animal, knowing no matter what you say or do your future is set in stone – I didn't want to be normal anyways.
Long after Robb was called away I lay in my bed staring up not really seeing the color of the tent above me. I tugged the black ribbon out of my hair and began twisting it around my fingers again; it was considerably shorter now than it had been when Jon and I used to use to pass messages on to each other.
I remember picking it up off the ground in the woods after the carriages that took him away from me had gone. It had been ripped and the end was fraying. I remember being more concerned at the time with how it had been torn, and looking for a dull tool that could've done it, than actually thinking what the torn ribbon meant. He had taken something to remember me by, a torn piece of worn black ribbon. No one would know what it meant except for him.
I wondered if he still had it. Maybe he'd lost it, or thrown it away. But maybe he'd take it out and twist it around his finger, like I was doing right now, and remember all the time we'd spent together. He could be holding his half of the ribbon at this very moment. Not that I could ever possibly know but I liked to believe it, it made me feel like I could still be connected to him even when he was thousands of miles away.
No matter how many steps our paths veered away from each other's now, I had to believe that one day they'd end up together again. I'd never been quite as attached to the gods as the Starks were but I believed in fate, I'd walk down my path until I ended up where I wanted. But make no mistake, if I needed to, I wouldn't hesitate to make my own way. I always had been one to leave the beaten path and wonder in the trees.