He didn't know what to do. That was irony writ large that was. He had commanded thousands of men in battle, he had routed Lannister armies like chaff on the wind and now he was reduced to sitting in the Godswood and thinking up mad desperate plan after mad desperate plan, only to abandon each one as impossible.
How had he gotten here? How had he gone from that cold, hard floor in Walder Frey's banqueting chamber, feeling the life drain out of him from the various quarrels in him before the blade of Roose fucking Bolton had ended it all, to all the way back to Winterfell, before his father had gone South and died in the maze of corruption that was King's Landing. How had it happened? Why had it happened?
It had taken a day to convince himself that he wasn't dreaming, that this wasn't some last mad fever-delerium before his death. That Father, and Bran and Rickon and Mother weren't dead and Sansa a prisoner, that Arya wasn't missing and that Jon wasn't lost to the Wall. And as for Theon…
He scrubbed his hands through his hair roughly and forced himself to think. He had worked out that the date was about two months before the news had come of the death of Jon Arryn. There was still time to change things, if that was what he was there to do. He couldn't imagine any other reason for whatever had happened to happen. And he had wasted ten days of precious time, one of which had been spent on the wall, trying to sense Grey Wind.
The problem was that he couldn't think of any way to warn Father. Well, any way of warning Father that wouldn't lead to him being confined under the tender mercies of Maester Luwin for a head injury that might explain his evident insanity in claiming to have been sent back from the future. Somehow 'You're going to have your head cut off by the violent little shit who thinks that he's the son of King Robert, but who instead is the son of the Queen's incestuous relationship with her own brother' wouldn't go down very well.
Very well then – a hint perhaps? Something about warning Jon Arryn that he was about to be poisoned, probably by the Lannisters? But what proof could he give, other than a tale that would make him seem insane? He didn't know what he should do. If this was a military problem then he could think it over and come up with a solution in an instant. But it was not. This was politics – and he hated politics. It was his one weakness.
He looked at the Heart Tree. Why did he keep coming here? He had tried praying, to no avail. If the Old Gods spoke to him then he did not hear them. The books were next to useless, speaking of rumour and folk tales and old sayings. He could sense something in them though, hints left by men dead centuries ago. Tales of magic. Luwin would scorn them, but what else but magic could have brought him back? Old Nan's tales had been no better, not really. Tales that had been told and retold down over the centuries had weakened them, drained the truth out of them. But again there were hints here and there. The Children of the Forest. The Others. Tales of dread and awe. Once they must have been words to hear and learn from. Now they were little more than empty ramblings.
Robb stood and walked to the Heart Tree. He knew, somehow, that it was important. He could feel it. Someone, something, had brought him back. Something linked to the Heart Tree and the Old Gods. Something with power. And power needed strength. Not strength of arm, but strength of will perhaps. Belief. He needed to believe. Was that it? He knelt before the tree and then placed a hand on the bark. Who are you, he thought desperately, why have you done this? How can I persuade my family that I am not mad, that I have seen the future and how terrible it is? How can I protect my family from the storm that is coming. How can I protect the North?
Nothing happened and he faltered for a moment. And then he stopped and sent out his appeal again, from the bottom of his heart, with everything he could summon. Help me. I don't know what to do. Help me.
The bark seemed to warm and then chill and then warm again under his hand and then something seemed to chime faintly deep within him, something that made him shiver for an instant. He closed his eyes and concentrated. I feel you. Who are you? What must I do? Tell me, please! I have to save Father! I have to protect the North!
The chiming seemed to arc upwards and he felt warm for a moment. For a dizzying instant he felt like a spark blown upwards from a fire. What was happening to him? Something seemed to be calling his name from the farthest possible distance, a thin sound right on the edge of his hearing. Who are you? Tell me how I can warn Father! Tell me what to do! Why was I sent back from the moment of my death?
And then a hand fell on his shoulder. He opened his eyes hurriedly and looked into the concerned face of his father. "Warn me about what Robb? And what's this about your death?" He sounded horrified.
He thought desperately. That chiming was still resonating somewhere within him, less strongly now but it was still there. He had to keep it, he had to find out what had happened to him. The Heart Tree was important, he knew that now. "Father," he said thickly, trying to make his mind work properly. He felt as if he was trying to do something impossibly difficult by instinct. "I must talk with the Old Gods. Something is trying… trying to talk to me."
His father peered at him and then hissed in surprise. "Your eyes – there is red in them."
Robb blinked and almost lost the chiming. No. No, he had to do this. He concentrated hard again. I am a Stark of Winterfell, he thought desperately, The blood of the First Men flows in my veins. Speak to me!
Father's grip tightened and Robb could sense his worry, his panic. "Robb…"
"I must do this! I have to know! I need to know why I was sent back!" The chiming was stronger now, almost in time with the thundering of blood in his chest, vibrating within him.
"You're trembling… Robb, what's happening to you?" Father sounded out of his mind with worry now.
Show him. Robb didn't know where the voice came from or who said the words. Instead he reached out with his free hand and took his father's hand in a grip of iron. "Help me Father."
And then blackness fell.