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A Stark Farewell

By Riri Goei

Drama / Fantasy

Chapter 1

Catelyn’s soul left her body long before the knife even touched her throat.

A piece of it left when the arrows planted themselves on Robb’s back. A little more vanished when Lothar Frey coldheartedly butchered Talisa and her unborn baby – Catelyn’s would-be grandson. More disappeared when Robb would not heed her order to flee. And her heart ached dully when her son crawled to his wife, his expression full of pain, while Walder Frey and his men watched and laughed.

Suddenly, Robb was seven years old again, a mere child, with bright curly hair and even brighter eyes. He was not yet the King in the North; he was not even Lord of Winterfell. He was simply a boy, and he would run up to Catelyn, give her a hug, a peck on the cheek, and show her his newest toys or latest achievements in his lessons. Catelyn was reminded once again of how far they had gone from home. How long they had been in this journey to revenge; to freedom, to justice. How long they had not been a family, at least a proper one. Tonight, more than anything, she wished with all her heart that all of this was just a nightmare. That she was not really in Walder Frey’s Riverland castle, but that she was in Winterfell. That she would wake up any time soon and find Ned sleeping beside her, the children fast asleep on their chambers, with Robb and Rickon safely tucked in bed, Sansa and Arya dreaming sweetly, and Bran in his bed, uncrippled and unafraid. She even would not mind Jon. No; she would not mind waking up and having to look at the bastard’s face for one more day. For surely, anything is better than this nightmare. Anything is better than seeing your own son dying in front of you, and knowing that the end of your life is near.

She pleaded; holding onto Frey’s young wife’s hair, she pleaded with the old scum with all her might. Spare him, please spare him. Please spare my son, my dear son, my one and only Robb. There must be another way. There must be.

For one long moment, Walder Frey stared into her eyes. She could not hold the tears back. Her eyes stung. Her cheeks were damp with tears. Her throat had clenched shut, and her entire body trembled. For a moment, she dared herself to hope. Frey had, after all, known her and her father. They were never in the best of terms, but surely the old man would have some mercy still within him. They were his guests; they were under his guest right. To break the sacred pact was to break the laws of all the gods and men. Was Walder Frey that low of a man to let his guests die in his own castle? Her uncle was married to one of his daughters. Surely this made them family somehow, and surely he would reconsider slaughtering his own family. So Catelyn pleaded some more with her eyes. Please, she screamed inside. Spare him. That is all I wish for. She was even ready to bargain her own life with Robb’s. Anything to safe her son.

So when Walder Frey uttered the words, “I’ll find another”, Catelyn’s heart burst into a million pieces.

Her heart broke when Robb stood up, looked at her straight in the eye, and said, “Mother.” She wanted, more than anything, to hold him and hide him from the world. He was her little boy; he had always been her little boy.

When Roose Bolton drew himself close to Robb, whispered the poisonous words, and rooted his dagger deep in Robb’s heart, what was left of Catelyn’s soul left her body completely.

She did not even realize what she did next. She screamed with all her might, a bloodcurdling, heartbroken scream, her entire body flooded with anguish, pain, and misery. The young girl’s dead body crumpled underneath her feet, but she was not aware of her anymore. She was not aware of anything. All there was now was darkness and numbness.

So when the knife slit her throat, she did not even feel the pain. She had died a long moment ago, and she had plunged into the darkness before her body gave away.

***

There was nothing but darkness at first. It was quiet and eerily cold. She could not feel anything. Only darkness and numbness. Those two always seemed to belong together in Catelyn’s world.

Then the light appeared. Yellowish lights, the glare of fire on stone. There was blood on the floor. Hot, sticky, and crimson blood. A blackened dagger lied a few feet away from the pool of blood.

Then, there were the bodies.

It took Catelyn a while to realize that she was staring at her own body.

There she was, lying dead on the floor of Walder Frey’s hall, her throat still bleeding, her eyes wide open, staring at the empty ceiling. Her last expression was that of grief, and grief was all she felt now.

She clutched her mouth in horror. She turned around and found Robb’s body, faithfully lying next to Talisa’s, their corpses surrounded by blood. Catelyn started to sob. She did not know if she could still cry after she was dead, but she could still feel the hot tears stinging the back of her eyes.

She was still desperately sobbing when she drifted upwards. She did not realize herself passing through the castle’s roofs. She was not aware of herself drifting higher and higher into the skies. When she dared open her eyes again, she found herself floating high above the sky, higher even than the moon, staring down at the entire land of Westeros.

Her eyes found Riverrun first. Her childhood home, the one place where she used to feel the safest. What would become of it, now that Edmure was rotting in the dungeons and Brynden a wanted fugitive? Walder Frey would probably claim it, the selfish and evil scum that he was. Catelyn’s heart ached imagining her haven tainted by someone like Frey. She would rather watch the castle crumble to dust than let it fall to his rotten hands.

She found Winterfell next. Her second home, her home for the last seventeen years, the majestic and grim castle surrounded by thick inches of snow. It had been burnt to the ground, and it hurt her again to see the castle reduced to ashes. There was the court in which her children used to play. There were her family’s rooms, her family’s chambers. There were the stables where Arya used to feed the horses; the stone walls that Bran used to climb; the archery field where Robb and Bran would practice. There was the banquet hall, last used to serve the King and his comrades. There was the godswood, with its red-leaved heart tree and serene pool. Maester Luwin’s frail, empty shell of a body lied against the tree trunk, his eyes staring at the vast emptiness before him. Oh, Maester, Catelyn thought. He had been her most trusted advisor, the one she turned to for advice in times of distress. Now he, too, was gone. All the good men die too fast.

Underneath the smoking ruins were the sacred crypt of the Starks, where Rickard, Brandon, Lyanna and all the other noble Starks rested. She was filled with regret, for surely Ned’s, Robb’s, and her bodies could never rest in the crypt. They would never be reunited with their ancestors. What would become of them then? What would they do to their corpses? Catelyn did not want to find out. They would treat their bodies cruelly, these barbaric men. Frey’s men had no respect for the Northern army, and they would jump at every chance they had to humiliate the Starks. She simply did not need to know.

She gave Winterfell one last, long look. She knew she’d have to say goodbye to this place. She no longer belonged here. It was now nothing but ashes, ruins of the glorious fortress it once was. Nevertheless, it had served as her home well for so many years. It was hard for her to part with it. She placed a hand on the stone walls, slowly kissed it, and turned her back on it. This would be the last time she landed her eyes on the walls of Winterfell.

She focused her mind to what mattered most now – her children. Her remaining children who were alive. She needed to know where they were.

She thought of Sansa first. Her dearest daughter, her sweet, beautiful Sansa. She raced south and found herself in King’s Landing, in the King’s castle, inside a chamber that must be Sansa’s. Catelyn frowned in disgust. The last time she was in King’s Landing, she had seen and kissed her husband for the last time. She resented this place with all her might. She resented everyone that roamed inside this castle. Joffrey, the devil-incarnate of a king; Cersei, the bitch that was not worthy of being Catelyn’s queen; Tyrion, the imp with the devilish smirk on his face; and most importantly, Tywin Lannister, the mastermind behind these cruel schemes. She wished with all her heart that she could strangle them all with her bare hands. But what could she do now? She could only drift around aimlessly.

There was a raggedly doll on the table next to her bed. Sansa, who claimed that she had stopped playing with dolls when she was nine. Ned gave her that doll. Now it must serve her as a painful reminder that she was fatherless.

She found Sansa by the closed window, staring out blankly at the bustling city. Her eyes were red and puffy, her tears falling freely like a waterfall down her cheeks. She must not yet be informed of her and Robb’s deaths, yet she was crying over them. She must have sensed that something was wrong. Or she was simply missing them. Soon she would learn that she was also motherless. That she was an orphan, completely alone in this dangerous world. Separated from everyone she loved.

Catelyn’s heart broke then; Sansa, her dearest, oldest daughter. How much pain had she endure, how much heartbreak. She had lost so many in so short a time. Now she was to marry the imp, a man she barely knew, let alone love. This was all a plan in Cersei and Tywin’s cunning game. How would they embarrass her and Tyrion in this game? How would they use the couple? Yet she surprisingly was grateful that it was Tyrion she was marrying, not Joffrey. At least Tyrion would never beat her or treat her as if she was nothing but his personal toy. Tyrion had always had a degree of respect and affection for Sansa. Catelyn saw kindness in the imp’s heart, despite everything they had been through. She knew that at least Tyrion would try to protect her.

But Sansa was still hurting and humiliated from her wedding. She was the newest ridicule in this damned city. Catelyn could not stand watching her daughter cry. How could a girl of barely fourteen handle so much pain in her life? Catelyn was proud of her strong and resilient daughter. She wished Sansa would have strength left in her to carry on. That she would not give up, not yet. She prayed to the gods that life would treat Sansa more kindly in the future. She prayed for her safety, for her happiness. She held her daughter’s hands in hers, wishing that she could feel her presence there. But she could not. She simply could not. Catelyn kissed Sansa’s cheek and whispered her goodbye in her ears.

Arya came next. Her brave and fierce girl. She was shocked to find that she was not in King’s Landing as she thought she was. She was even more aghast when she found out that Arya had been so close to her. They had almost been reunited. Had Arya come half a day sooner, they would have met again. She would be able to hug her baby girl once more. Then again, if Arya was there, surely she would have been killed as well. She thanked the gods that at least her youngest daughter could still live. Although Catelyn feared for her life, being in the mercy of Sandor Clegane, she knew that Arya was a fighter. She would survive. She would be all right. She would grow up strong to be a warrior. And one day, she would be reunited with her brothers and sister.

Arya was lying unconscious in the Hound’s embrace. Her beautiful hair had been cut short to resemble a boy’s. Her face was covered with dirt. Her temple was slightly bleeding. Catelyn brushed her fingers at Arya’s cheek, kissed her, and said her farewells.

Little Rickon came next. She was more than relieved and joyous to find that her sons were still alive. Rickon was waddling along the road with Osha, the wildling they had enslaved on the outskirts of Winterfell. Catelyn had never entirely trusted the wildling, but from the looks of it, she must be taking good care of Rickon. She held him close to her when the boy shivered in the cold; she built a fire and covered him with a raggedy old cloak as he slept. From the way Osha guarded over Rickon, Catelyn was sure that she would do her best to keep him safe, even if she had to risk her life.

Rickon was barely five; he should have had a clean and warm bed, with a warm supper and warm clothes. He should have his mother and father tucking him into bed, reading him bedtime stories and showering him with hugs and kisses. He had lost his parents much earlier than his siblings. He had not had much time to be with his parents, to learn what it meant to have a warm and loving family around him. And now he was living in the streets with a wildling slave to look after him. Catelyn wished she could see him grow; to watch him grow taller and stronger, witness him transforming into a man like she did with Robb. Rickon; he would do her proud. One day, he would be a fine, brave young man. He would miss his mother, but he would understand. Catelyn hugged her baby boy and kissed him goodbye.

Then there was Bran. Her sweet, young Bran. He was also alive, curling in a tower in the middle of nowhere. He was in the company of strangers, a boy and a girl. Hodor was with him. Catelyn learned of what her son could do, of his powerful gift. She cried at the sight of him. He had grown so much since the last time she saw him, she could barely recognize him. He was much taller; his eyebrows had thickened, and his hair was longer. His babyish features were starting to form into that of a man’s. Bran had always had that look of wisdom. He was smart and brave, and he would no doubt grow into a very important man. She worried for him and his journey north, but she knew that he was in good company. The Reed siblings would die for him, she was sure of that now. And Hodor would protect him with all his might. It pained her to think of Bran’s cripple. Yet she knew that he would endure. He was a Stark, after all, and Starks were strong men.

She ran her hand through her son’s matted brown hair and kissed him for the last time.

She thought that was all; that her business was finished, that she was ready for what was coming next. But she was pulled away even farther north, and she was surprised to find herself staring at the Wall.

Instantly, she knew why she was here. She wished she did not have to come here, but an invisible force had taken her here, and she knew that there was something left she had to do.

Jon Snow was lying fast asleep in his bed, his face and body wounded. His wild, curly hair had grown much longer than the last time she had seen him. His beard had grown as well. He was a man now. For the hundredth time in her life, Catelyn was bitterly reminded of how much he looked like Ned. He was his son after all. Never hers, but always his.

There were times in her life when Catelyn wished that Jon was dead. When she saw the child playing outside, she would wish that some horrible beast would charge on him and tear him to pieces; or an accident would occur in the castle, or he would catch some sickness he could not cure from. Once, at dinner, she even wished that he would choke on his soup and lie dead on the floor within the next minute. When Bran fell off that tower, Catelyn wickedly wished that it was Jon instead of Bran. Let it be the bastard in place of her dear son.

Every time she gazed upon Jon, her heart broke all over again. There was the living proof of Ned’s disloyalty, her disgrace in flesh and blood. He was always a quiet child, a polite and somber child. He rarely caused any trouble in the household, always knowing his place, always knowing how to keep his silence and please his father. Catelyn knew that he was never in the wrong. That it was never his mistake, that she should never even blame him. It was never his fault. Yet it was harder than she thought to forgive him, let alone love him. The way Ned always loved and cared for him as he did the trueborn children she gave him pained her even more.

Yet, as she stood by Jon’s bed, she was filled with a bizarre sensation deep within her. She saw, for the first time, of how brave and strong he was. He was just a boy, yet he had been through so much. He was in pain now, Catelyn could sense it. He was in love, yet his duties kept him from his heart’s desire. She could sense that Jon’s affections were pure and innocent. She felt how strongly he loved her, this wild, fiery-haired wildling with beautiful green eyes. You know nothing, Jon Snow. Those words kept running through the bastard’s head as he slept through the night.

Almost instantly, Catelyn felt a deep sympathy for Jon. She remembered everything she had ever done to him; all the cruel words, the cold looks, the harsh treatments and punishments. She was filled with remorse and disgust towards herself. She was reminded, by the same invisible force that pulled her here, that Jon had always been loyal to the Starks. That he was always a loving brother to her children; that he would kill to protect his family, even herself. That despite everything she had done to him, he still respected her and would unquestioningly keep her safe from any harm. He knew of her resentment towards him, yet he still cared for her. What more could she ask from him? What more could he do to prove himself worthy of her affections?

She wanted to call out to him then. She wanted to look at him in the eye and beg for his forgiveness. Forgive me, she wanted to say to him, for making your entire life a living hell. She wanted to talk to him for one last time, to tell him that she should have treated him better, that she should have been kinder, more sympathetic towards him. That she should have called him “son.” That he should have been Jon Stark instead. For he had not lacked the qualities of a true Stark; he only lacked half the bloodline.

Suddenly, Catelyn felt something lifted off her shoulders. A heavy burden, seventeen years’ worth of hatred and anger. Her spirit felt light as air, and she had never felt this free for too long a time. A laugh of joy escaped her lips. She gazed down at the boy, and for the first time, she felt not even the slightest bit of bitterness towards him. She was free of her chains of grudge, and it was the best thing that had happened to her. She had prayed to the gods for years to be freed from these bonds of hatred, and finally, her prayers were heard.

Slowly, carefully, Catelyn brushed a tangle of dark hair off Jon’s face. He stirred and frowned in his deep slumber. He murmured the wildling girl’s name. She must be the only thing in his mind right now. Catelyn pitied him, more than anything. She wished the wildling survived. She wished both of them survived, and that they could run off to a hidden place to live together happily. After all he had been through, Jon deserved some happiness. He deserved a life, and with this wildling Catelyn was sure they could build a happy life together. She prayed one more time to the gods to let the two of them survive this war. Let them build a house somewhere in the woods, away from all the killing and torturing. Away from the war. Away from all the chaos and destruction. Let them know nothing but love and gratitude and joy and peace. Let them live. Please.

For the first time, Lady Catelyn Stark planted a kiss on Jon Snow’s forehead. “Farewell, Jon Snow,” she bade him. “I wish you nothing but happiness.”

She cried then. Tears welled up in her eyes. She started to sob uncontrollably again. She covered her face with her hands. She did not know what happened to her next. She could feel the wind rustling around her. She could hear her children’s direwolves, scattered around Westeros, howl in unison into the night.

It was a long moment before the hand placed itself on Catelyn’s shoulder. Warm, familiar arms wrapped themselves around Catelyn’s frail body. Someone kissed her temple and gently uncovered her face. She dared not look, but she already knew who it was. She controlled her sobbing and took a deep breath before turning around.

Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell was exactly as she had remembered him before she left King’s Landing. He was tall and handsome and confident, his blue eyes sparkling, his smile warm. He was unscathed, whole and intact. There was nothing but affection in his eyes.

Catelyn was reminded of their wedding day so many years ago. Before he draped his cloak over her, she had noticed how deep and beautiful Ned’s eyes were. They were ones of kindness, of peace and love. She knew then that she had chosen the right husband. Now, more than eighteen years later, in the afterlife, she was reminded of how much she loved her husband.

He took her hands. She rested her head on his chest, like she used to many a night. More figures appeared around her, hugging her, warming her, comforting her. Robb and Talisa were by her and Ned’s side, embracing each other. Her father was somewhere close by, watching the reunion with a smile. Brandon and Lyanna, Ned’s brother and sister, stood by their father Rickard, arm in arm. Even Jory was there, faithfully standing next to his Lord. Summer, Sansa’s direwolf, nuzzled herself on Catelyn’s feet.

Catelyn knew that she could feel no more contempt than this. Her children would be all right; they would survive. They would be taken care of. She was finally free of a grudge she had behold for years. And now she was finally reunited with her most beloved people. For the first time in what seemed like centuries, Catelyn was finally, truly happy.

“Are you ready, my love?” Ned asked her.

She turned her eyes upon him. There were stars in his eyes. “Always,” she said.

She gave Westeros and the world she knew one last, long look. She prayed to the gods for each and every one of her children. Sansa, Arya, Brandon, Rickon, and Jon. She knew that she would watch over them, and that the journey ahead for them were still long. She would have to say goodbye now, but she would be reunited with all of them again soon. She promised.

She whispered her farewells to Westeros and to the world. Then she took Ned’s hand, and they walked into the light, together as one.

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