"My Lord, your son wishes to speak with you."
"Send him in Martyn."
Rickard Stark sat back in his seat and watched as his son of eight name-days walked into his solar. While showing nothing on his face, Rickard looked at his son and could easily tell he was nervous about whatever was on his mind. This immediately made Rickard nervous in turn, as whenever Brandon was afraid to tell him something, it usually meant a headache that he would have to deal with. The time Brandon wasted a few good pounds of oranges squeezing them into a bowl to make half a cup full of something called "orange juice" came to mind.
"What did you do this time, boy? Out with it, you have that look about you." Rickard said, hoping to get this over with quickly.
"I didn't do anything Father! I swear! Cregan is lying, it wasn't me! I actually wanted to talk to you about something else. You see, I had this idea about a really easy way for us to make more coin and expand trade…"
"Stop right there son. You know why we have to be careful about new trade ideas. If we put money into any of this, and it doesn't work, will you be able to tell the smallfolk that that is the reason why their families are starving?" Rickard interrupted.
"That's just the thing Father. My idea isn't going to cost us anything but a little time and manpower, and since Wintertown is full of small-folk enjoying our patronage while not doing anything productive, we could put some of them to work for a few hours a day."
"Oh? And just what is this magical good that we can harvest in winter? We can't dig any mines right now, if that's what you are thinking Bran, the ground is frozen solid. There's not much worth mining that we aren't mining already anyways." Rickard said sceptically.
"We are not going to dig in the ground, Father, we are going to dig in the snow. You have been to the Stepstones and the South, you know how hot it can get down there. Imagine how much sweaty Lords in their big castles with few windows would be willing to pay to have ice chips in their wine glass? We can cut out blocks of ice from the ponds around Winterfell, as well as the White Knife, and store it in crates filled with sawdust and straw. Then when winter ends, and the Manderly's send out their ships to trade fur, wool, and coin for seeds for crops, they can fill the empty space of their ships with the ice. If it doesn't sell, we don't really lose anything but some time."
Rickard sat back and thought for a moment, it sounded absolutely crazy to him at first but the more he thought about it, the more he could see it working. He could well remember the oppressive heat of the Stepstones, and how the many Dornish Lords laughed about how refreshingly cool it was. The Lords of the South and the Magisters of Essos probably would pay good gold for blocks of ice in the heat of the summer. There were only two problems with the plan however, though they weren't insurmountable.
"That's not the worst idea I have heard of, boy." Rickard responded, tapping his chin in thought. "It might just work. The first problem I see with it however, is the workers. Asking men to go out and work in the snow in the dead of winter is hard enough, asking them to cut blocks of ice out of frozen water is even worse. They will get wet, and freeze, and I can see a good portion of the men either losing hands or feet, or falling to the Winter Chill."
"I thought of that Father. We have a good deal of different pelts and furs around here, and we can make some gloves and jackets out of beaver, otter, and seal skin to protect against the wet and the cold. If we build small wooden huts that can be put together on the ice, we can put a small brick fireplace in it, providing a place for the men to warm up. We have plenty of people staying in Wintertown, so we can rotate them out, every man only working for an hour or two before spending an hour warming up in the huts."
It wasn't a bad solution, to Rickard's mind. His son was right in that there were plenty of men in the town with no work to do, and keeping them busy would keep them out of getting in fights in the taverns. He could have the men go out and build these huts in central locations, while the women worked on sowing the clothing from the necessary pelts and furs. From there it would be easy to harvest the ice, and he could be assured that the small-folk wouldn't be in too much risk from the cold.
"I agree Bran. I will order the men to start building the huts, and the women to start making the needed clothes. The only problem left however, is one you are going to help me with. It has been an easy winter, the roads are still passable, and it will be many moons before the End of Winter storms begin, so me and you are going to travel to the Manderly's and get them on board with the idea. The travel will be good for you, toughen you up; you spend enough time in your books as it is, and it will give you experience negotiating with other Lords. Make no mistake, I am proud of you son. Old Gods willing, this idea just might work." Stated Rickard, smiling softly at the boy.
Brandon was looking back at him with a wide-eyed look caught between scared and excited that made him have to keep himself from laughing. His son was so very smart, smarter than he ever was, but the boy was an open book to him. He would have to work on teaching him to control his emotions and facial expressions later. For now, it was the only advantage he had in keeping his wild pup in line.
"And don't think I forgot about whatever it is you supposedly didn't do, that Cregan never told me about it." Rickard added, given his son a stern look. At least the boy had the grace to look sheepish, he mused.
Lyarra Stark was not in a good mood. She was not happy at all, no, she was angry.
"How could you ever think this is a good idea Rickard!? He is eight name-days! Eight! It is the dead of winter! I don't care how easy a winter has been, you and I both know that that can be even more dangerous! A storm could blow through without any warning, you could run into band after band of bandits preying on the roads, hoping to get some coin or even the barest scrap of food! Not to mention the many different beasts that will be out searching for their next meal! What in the name of the Old Gods possessed you to think this was a good idea!?" Lyarra had started in a forceful whisper, but by the time her tirade had finished she was practically screaming.
"Now, now, dear. It's not as bad as you think. I will be taking a hundred of the guards with us, and we will bring plenty of extra food. We will have more than enough men to deal with any groups of bandits, and I know of no beast that would willingly attack such a large group of men. With some extra food with us, we will be able to wait out any storm in our tents, and you know as well as I do that the worst storms are always at the beginning of Winter. It will be good for him, my love. He will be able to see more of the North that he will rule one day, as well hopefully make some connections with the Manderlys. They are one of our most important bannermen after all." Rickard said quietly, taking both of her hands in his to help calm her down.
"Alright my Lord, you seem to have thought of everything," Lyarra sighed. "But I do want you to know this. If anything bad happens to my son while on this trip, and I mean anything, you will be sleeping in the stables until the Long Night comes again." With a glare that caused Rickard to gulp involuntarily, Lyarra spun around and swept out of the room. It was time to go see how her son was doing.
Lyarra heard coming from inside the room, as she knocked on the door to her son's chambers.
She walked in, seeing her son packing up some of his things into his bag so that he would be ready to leave with his father the next morning. She would have to speak with some of the servants, and have them check her son's packing. After all, her little wolf may be smart enough to speak three different languages before his eighth name-day, but he also happened to be one of the most forgetful people Lyarra had ever met. Lyarra swore that if it wasn't so cold outside, her son would forget to put on clothes in the morning.
"Are you ready to go to White Harbour, Bran?" She asked, sitting down on his bed.
"I am, Mother. It should be really fun, I get to see the ocean! And go on an adventure! I can't wait to finally get out of the castle for a while!" Brandon said, gesturing wildly with his arms as he threw another pair of breeches into his rucksack.
"I am glad that you are excited then, my little wolf. I, on the other hand, am going to miss you so very much." Lyarra said, pulling her son into a hug.
"I'll miss you too, Mother! Don't worry, I'll get you something nice at White Harbour. Oh, and Ned too! I'll get him something, what do you think he'd like?" Bran asked, jumping up and down.
"Oh Bran, he is two. He will love whatever you get for him simply because you are his big brother. Now, run along and go take a bath. You will be on the road for a few weeks to get to White Harbour, and you won't have any chance to bathe before then. After your bath, get some sleep. I will see you in the morning when we break our fast, and you and your father will leave immediately after." Lyarra told him.
"Ok, I love you Mother." Brandon said, walking out of the door.
"I love you too, my little wolf."
The road to White Harbor really wasn't that bad, I mused, riding my pony down the path. The road itself was nothing more than a pathway through the woods, it would be more accurately described as a hiking path, but it was what passed as roads around here. That was something I was definitely going to change once things got better. The Romans managed to cover an entire continent in roads, I was pretty sure I could manage half of one. I would literally kill for a radio, however. There was nothing to do while traveling other than talk to father, or one of the guards, or count how many trees had fallen in the road that we had to move out of the way. I ended spending most of my time thinking, both about my life now and the differences from what I liked to call, the "Modern World," and the plans I had to make the North better than it currently is.
One thing I noticed about being reborn is that it really wasn't that hard to pretend to be a kid. Fact was, I felt like a kid. I had all of my memories from my past life, in graphic detail even, but the simple fact was that my brain itself is an eight year-old's brain. If you study biology, or even just went to a high school science class, you would know that there are major differences between the brains of an eight year-old and an adult. I had trouble controlling my emotions whenever they were particularly strong, and said emotions would jump out at me out of nowhere. I would get irrationally excited at the idea of playing with a blunted sword, and there is nothing more embarrassing than throwing a temper tantrum over not getting dessert, knowing how childish it is, and still not being able to stop yourself.
I really hoped this ice trade business took off, as I had finally decided on how I was going to begin introducing new crops and industry. Once some of the gold from the ice trade came back, I would convince Father to let me have some of it. I would use that gold to buy seeds, livestock, and even horses from places like Braavos, Ibb, and even the colonies near Sothoryos. White Harbor regularly traded with Braavos already, and there were occasional trips to both Ibb and the Summer Islands. All it would take is to convince some merchants to get the things I want from Braavos and Ibb, and get another to stop at a Sothoryos colony when they go to the Summer Islands. Then I would use one of the empty farms around Winterfell (there was one I was thinking of specifically that was right next to a strong flowing stream) and I can grow all the crops there. I could use the stream to set up my own forge with an open hearth furnace, all powered by water wheels. I could then use the relatively cheap bronze to make farming equipment so that me and just a few men could farm all the stuff I wanted.
By using bronze for parts of the seed drill, the reaper, and the thresher, I could greatly reduce the cost to make these machines, even less than the open hearth furnace would. Sure, I would still need to use steel for the plows if I wanted to have the same margin of efficiency that they are supposed to have, but substituting what parts I can for bronze will still help. After all, copper and tin practically grew on trees with how abundant it was in the hills and mountains around Winterfell. I could then make other products from the crops I grew, vodka, whiskey, beer, even sugar from beets. The options would be nearly endless, and the only limiting factor would be by what grew in the North, and what didn't.
It had been two days over a week since we had left Winterfell, and there was about a week left in our trip to White Harbor. We had just set up camp for the night, we were nestled up against the bottom of a cliff, giving us good protection from the wind which would help keep the heat from the fire from escaping. For some reason however, I could not sleep. I tossed and turned in my bedroll, constantly trying to rearrange it into a more comfortable position, and miserably failing. Whoever set up my tent is my new worst enemy, as the idiot put it right on top of a big old root. It was digging into my back, and it was fucking annoying. Giving up, I got up and walked out of the tent, heading towards the fire. It had burned a ways down, leaving mostly red coals. I threw some more wood on it from the pile, and began looking around. I could see the guard that was supposed to be on night watch, Robar I think his name was, sleeping up against a tree at the edge of camp. I snorted, if there was some actual danger right now we would have been fucked. Shrugging my shoulders, I decided to take advantage of the guard's nap to go exploring in the woods around here. At night. Alone.
Like I said earlier, adult memories, child's reasoning skills.
The North really was a beautiful country. I mean, the only time I ever saw landscape like this in my old life was on the Discovery Channel. I had climbed around to the top of the cliff that our camp had been nestled against, with the light of a full moon overhead I could see nearly as well as I could in daylight, and the sight was gorgeous. There were rolling hills, all covered in rich green forests, with a blanket of white snow over it like the lightest layer of frosting on a cake. There were rivers and streams crisscrossing the whole thing, and just a few mountains jutting up into the sky in the distance...And it was all mine. I would rule all of this one day. That was a hell of thought, and it made me light headed for a moment. Shaking it off, I turned around to go back down to the camp, and froze.
Right in front of the path to get back down, there was standing a massive grizzly bear. I mean fucking massive. That cursed bear thing from "Brave" would have nothing on this guy. I would have shit my pants if I wasn't clenching so hard.
I was shaking, my palms were sweaty. I had turned around barely a second ago and it had already felt like I had been having a stare off with this bear for hours. The bear sat back on his haunches, lifting his front paws and head into the air, towering close to ten feet above the ground. The bear roared, and it was probably the loudest sound I had ever heard in this life. I wish I could say I held my ground bravely, but that would be a lie. I was eight. I screamed my fucking head off, tried to scramble backwards only to trip on a root and fall on my ass. Which was a good thing, in hindsight, as there was a rather tall cliff not that far behind me.
The grizzly thudded back down onto its front paws, and shuffled slowly closer to me. I was panicking, my whole body was trembling, and I can just remember thinking that I didn't want it to end like this, I didn't want to leave my family behind, again. With that thought came an icy rage that helped me reclaim control of my own body, and I stood back up on my feet. I looked that bear dead in the eye, gathered all of my courage, and spoke.
"I don't care who you think you fucking are, Smokey the Bear or Blue from the Jungle Book, I am not dying today. This shit is not ending like this. So you best just turn around, and go find a breakfast somewhere else, cause it ain't gonna be!" I said defiantly, clenching my fists so hard that I broke the skin on my palms.
The bear cocked its head to the side, staring at me intently. I refused to back down, so I glared back. That was when it happened. One moment, I am staring a bear in the eye, confident I would be dying soon, and the next thing I know I am staring at myself. Everything is confusing, I have two lines of thought running through my head, and only one of them is in English. The other is not a language at all, but a series of images, smells, tastes, and feelings that paints a rather jumbled and blurry picture. I gripped my head, closing my eyes shut, and that's when I realized. My eyes were closed but I could still see. I was looking at myself through the eyes of the bear. I gasped, and suddenly I was seeing through my own eyes again, the jumble of thoughts and sensations disappearing.
"Holy motherfucking shit, did I just warg? Like, did I just warg you? Is that cool with you, cause I really hope it is, I didn't mean to do that but it was really fucking cool and it would be fucking awesome to do it again." I rambled, still cradling my head and dealing with a rather killer headache from what was apparently me doing fucking magic. The bear had gotten rather close, so close that I could just reach out and touch him. So I did, giving him a good scratch behind the ears because bears are basically massive dogs, and all good doggos love a scratch behind the ears.
"What do you say boy, I mean, it will look a little weird having a Stark with a bear for a pet, and I was always hoping to find myself a direwolf, but you are really fucking awesome too. So, wanna come with me?" I asked the bear, holding a hand in front of its nose, the way you would when meeting a new dog.
The bear looked up at me with a good deal of intelligence behind its eyes. The legends say that the bond between warg and animal is incredibly strong, and very strange. With both warg and animal taking attributes of the other. I didn't know what bear-like qualities I might have gained, but I did know that no regular bear should have that level of smarts hiding in its head. The bear huffed, before licking my palm and then leaning its head into my hand. I laughed, and then hopped up on to his back.
"Come on, let's head down the hill and I can show you to my father. I suppose you will need a name, can't just keep calling you bear. How does Yogi sound to you? You like that? Good me too...damn, why couldn't you have been a direwolf?"
Rickard leapt up out of his sleeping roll, the roar of some massive creature echoing over the forest. He quickly grabbed his sword, the ancestral greatsword of his house Ice, threw on his furs and rushed out of his tent. He could see other men scrambling out of their tents, but he paid them no mind, making his way directly to his son's tent. He burst through the flap, and found the tent empty, the bedroll was cold showing that Brandon hadn't been in his bed for a long while. Rickard cursed, that damn boy was always getting into trouble. He ran back out of the tent, making a beeline for his horse. He had seen the path leading up to the top of the cliff, and he knew how his son liked to enjoy the view from the tallest points of Winterfell, it was no stretch to guess where Bran had gone.
"Quickly men, arm yourselves and grab your horses. Brandon is not in his tent, and if I know the boy as well as I think, he will be on top of the cliff. The same direction that roar came from." Rickard grimly ordered, already having his horse saddled.
The men started scrambling with even greater urgency. They all knew and loved Lord Brandon, with his clever mind, sharp wit, and crazy antics, and none wished to see him hurt. Within a few minutes they had a good twenty men, fully armed and mounted, and they were charging up the path to the top of the cliff. Rickard was leading the way, urging his horse up the steep path hoping that he made it time to save his son. He had to.
As Rickard rounded a turn in the path, the hill started leveling off, and as he looked up ahead he saw a sight that had him stopping in his tracks. Digging his heels into the side of his horse, and pulling hard on the reigns he called out to his men to stop.
"HOLD! HOLD MEN!" He yelled back, before facing forwards once again.
Up ahead, calmly walking down the path, was the largest fucking bear Rickard had ever seen. It had to weigh a thousand pounds, and was over three meters long, standing close to six feet tall on all four legs. More amazingly, nestled on its back right behind the front legs, was his son Brandon, grinning ear to ear like a cat that stole a fish.
"What in the hells do you think you are doing boy!?" Rickard roared. "Get off that beast and come over here before it tears you to shreds!"
"Don't worry Father! I am fine! Yogi here wouldn't hurt me, would you boy?" Brandon cooed, his son literally cooed in the monster's ear, and the thing nodded.
Rickard was flabbergasted. He didn't know what to say. Here was son, riding on the back of what was most likely the fucking largest bear he had ever seen, and the bear was acting as docile as an old pony. Rickard ran a hand down his face, letting a deep breath.
"Well alright son, mind telling me the story of how exactly you managed to tame that particular beast?" Rickard asked, he knew there was going to be some crazy story here.
"Well, I couldn't really sleep you see, so I decided that I was going to go for a walk, and I ended up climbing up the hill to the top of the cliff because I thought it would be a great view, and it was! It really was! And then I was gonna turn around and come back down, but when I turned, there he was! This big old fella, and he roared at me all angry like, and I yelled back cause I wasn't gonna be scared by a stupid old bear! So he charged at me, and I jumped on his head and bit his ear, and then he stopped attacking, and now he's my new best friend. I named him Yogi." Brandon nodded, his face solemn, as if he hadn't just fed me the biggest crock of shit I have seen my entire life.
"I...I don't even know what to say to that Bran. Just, fine, whatever. If you want to keep the bear, you can keep the bear. But it sleeps outside of the camp, away from the horses, and if it hurts a single person, smallfolk or not, I will put it down. Am I clear?" Rickard bit out. He wasn't really angry at his son, no he was just worried, both for his son and himself. If his son had been killed here he would never have forgiven himself. He didn't believe his son's story about the bear at all, but he had his suspicions about how it really happened. Such things were not unheard of in the North, after all. Jon Umber was only a bit older than Bran himself and his squirrel companion was well known to everyone. That was a bit different creature than a bear, but he was sure the same principle applied. The thing that truly worried him was his wife.
She was going to kick his fucking ass all over the castle the moment she saw that bear.
White Harbor was a beautiful city, and one I was incredibly glad to have gotten to see. The walls were made of clean white stone, towering over the city, and one could see the walls of New Castle rising even higher on the hill at the end of the city. People were lining the streets, to get a good look at the Lord Stark and his Heir, though a good portion were there simply because there was nothing better to do, it was winter after all. They met up with Lord Wyman Manderly, who had come out to meet them at the gates of the city. He had flinched so hard when he first caught sight of Yogi that I was sure he was going to fall off his horse.
That would have been fucking hilarious. Unfortunately, he managed to stay in the saddle.
"Lord Stark, Lord Brandon!" Exclaimed Wyman boisterously. "We are honored to have you in our halls! Come, I will show you to your rooms in the castle so that you may freshen up, and I could lead you Lord Brandon to some empty stables where you can put that magnificent animal. However did you manage to tame it? That must be an incredible story, and one I look forward to hearing at dinner. My father sends his apologies for not meeting you in person. He is much too old to be coming outside in this cold, I am afraid."
"Think nothing of it, Ser Wyman. Your father, Lord Weston, was getting old when I was first born, I do not hold it against him. Lead the way, good Ser, I would like to bathe, and I am sure Brandon would as well, before we join you for the feast tonight. We can speak of the reason we came here then, it is no issue, just a small business proposal." Rickard said, waving off Ser Wyman's concerns.
"Then come my Lords, this way!" Ser Wyman said, leading the way towards the castle.
Getting a bath for the first time in weeks is a glorious feeling. The warm water was heavenly on my aching muscles and back, and I could feel the grime and dried sweat washing off of me. It didn't take long for the clear water to become a ghastly murky color, but the feeling of freshness when I got out just could not be beat. I put on some breeches and a tunic a servant had left out for me, throwing my furs on over that. Tying it all together with a thick leather belt, and I was out the door headed towards the Great Hall for the feast.
A servant showed me through the door, and I could see my father sitting with Lords Wyman and Weston up at the high table, with a seat open to my Father's right for me. I made my way up confidently, keeping my head held high the way Mother always taught me.
"Lord Weston, thank you for your hospitality. And it is good to see you again, Ser Wyman." I said, as I made it to the table and took my seat.
"Think nothing of it, Lord Brandon, we are happy to have you! Now, your father was saying that you both came all of this way to give us a business proposal, and I find myself curious about exactly what business would bring you all the way here in winter. I had asked him myself, but he told me it was your idea, and that it was best to let you explain." Lord Weston said in a surprisingly strong voice for his advanced age.
I was caught off guard, turning a wide-eyed look to my father, who returned it with a small smirk. The smug bastard. I'll get you back for this, just you wait.
"Well you see, Lord Weston, I had an idea. As you know, there really is no industry that the North can really conduct in the winter, and all efforts of summer must be put to use to survive winter. So I thought to myself, what do we have that the south doesn't. What do we have that costs us nothing to make, but that the south would pay good gold for? What I came up with is simple. Winterfell will harvest blocks of ice from its surrounding ponds and rivers, and store those blocks in wooden crates stuffed with sawdust and straw. We will store the crates in empty buildings and barns, and come spring we will have them sent down here to White Harbor. When your men go out to buy seed for the coming planting season, they can fill their holds with the crates of ice, and see how much the south is willing to spend on it." I said confidently.
Lord Weston leaned back in his chair, taking the time to think it over. Finally, he leaned forward in his seat, and addressed me again.
"Aye, it is a good plan my Lord. I can see it working. I am not sure how much they will be willing to spend, but seeing how hot it is in Dorne, and that people who live there have probably never seen ice before in their lives, I could see it selling. I'm not going to get my hopes up, and neither should you, but there is definite merit in the idea. How should we split the cost?"
"In thirds. House Stark will take two thirds of the profit, with House Manderly taking one third. After all, we will be the ones gathering the ice and shipping it to you. Your people are all already going to be going on these trade missions anyway, and your ships are never full when leaving at the end of winter. We are simply giving you something extra to trade." I said, with a small smile on my face.
Lord Weston stared at me for a moment, before smiling back.
"You have a deal my Lord." He said, putting his hand forward. I shook it, feeling elated. Finally, my plans were starting.
We had stayed in White Harbor for a few weeks, spending time with the Manderly's and meeting their various vassals who had trickled through New Castle. Lord Locke was not a particularly inspiring person, I still can't even remember his name, though Lord Wyman's daughter apparently noticed him very well, judging by how red her face was when they first met. I spent most of my time exploring the city, trying to feel out the different merchants and see if I couldn't make some contacts while I was here. In the end, it went about as well as you think an eight year old kid trying to get business contacts would go, I got nowhere. Oh well, the Manderly's seem optimistic about the ice trade, and I am sure that they can get me in touch with the needed merchants to get the next stage of my plan off the ground.
We came around the corner of the road, and there was Winterfell. It was a massive, beautiful gray castle, with direwolf gargoyles lining the tops of the towers, and it looked both menacing and beautiful with a layer of fresh white snow on top of it. I could see the gates had been opened for us, which wasn't surprising as if the gates were closed on Father, the Lord of the castle, that would be quite the fuck up. We all came trotting into the castle, the men and Father riding regally on their horses, while I ambled in behind riding on top of Yogi. The bear was ridiculously lazy, and never moved any faster than he needed to.
I climbed off of Yogi's back, stretching out my limbs and heard a distressing amount of pops coming from my back for an eight year-old's body. I pulled a bag off of the saddle, the one with gifts for my mother and brother, and turned towards them with a big smile on my face. My mother was staring at me, or more aptly at Yogi, with a pale white face and a look of utter horror. Realizing exactly what she was thinking, there was only one thing left for me to say.
"Don't worry Mother! Father said I could keep him!" I exclaimed with a big grin, shooting a smug look at my father who's face had lost every last ounce of color. Serves that bastard right.
AN: Here's the second chapter, let me know what you think!