I have no idea what's happening. One moment, I was resting while watching over my children when I noticed the guards quickly moving about the castle. Some of the guards are also forming around the yard, effectively increasing our security.
Something's happening. Something dire enough that it caused quite an alarm but not enough to move the non-combatants inside the castle. Not enough to inform me.
Nevertheless, I'm still the Lady of Winterfell. I have a right to know what's happening in my own home.
"Torkhen!" I called out to one of the house guards near me.
"Yes, My lady?" Torkhen replied quickly.
"What's happening? I saw your commander talking with Brynden a while ago, so don't you lie to me." I said with a subtle glare.
"Never, My Lady!" Torkhen reacted emphatically before adopting a sheepish expression. "I really don't know what's happening, My Lady. All I know is we should guard you and the young lords and lady while trying to keep all of you in the yard. Orders came from Lord Stark, My Lady."
Rickard? What did he do now?"
The day came and went without me seeing Rickard, Brynden, or anyone else who knew what was happening. All I could gather from the servants and guards milling about was several servants were apprehended.
The children and I were about to finish our breakfast when Rickard finally showed himself.
I can immediately see all the signs that he hadn't taken a wink of sleep through the night. The dark circle under his eyes, messed up hair, and coiled up muscles, all the signs are there.
"" Good morning, father!"" The children greeted with differing intensities.
I wouldn't be able to 'talk' with my dear husband openly while the kids are still here, so there's only one thing to do. I called over one of the servants.
"Bring the children to their lessons after they finish their meal." I instructed.
"Bring them to Old Nan if she's available. If not, just let them play again in the yard." Rickard interjected, causing me to frown.
"They have sums and history with Maester Walys." I countered.
Rickard sat at the table and requested roasted beef, bread, and soup before answering my silent question.
"Maester Walys would be unable in the foreseeable future..." He answered with a subtle stare, effectively telling me that we would talk about it later. "You and I should free up some time to teach the children until a new Maester from the Citadel arrives, or I find a new teacher."
What? What happened to Walys? Did the old rat finally croak? Rickard would at least inform me of that if the talks between the servants didn't reach me first. It most likely has something to do with the commotion yesterday.
"Let me finish eating. We'll talk at the solar." Rickard added.
It didn't take long before the children finished eating before leaving with the servant but not before saying their goodbyes.
Rickard also finished quickly, practically inhaling the food, a testament to how hungry he must've been—probably working through the night. After he finished his meal, he stood up, gave me a look, and walked towards his solar. I followed right behind him.
As we approach the solar, I can see a guard standing just right outside the door—something I haven't seen before. Why would he need this guard right here on top of the ones at both ends of the hall?
The inside of the room is also a mess like a storm passed through. Parchments, paper, and some books or journals were strewn about the room. However, despite all the chaos, two items seemingly escaped all of it.
A rolled-up parchment and two sheets of white paper held together by some kind of metal were left alone at the center of Rickard's table.
"I think I waited long enough. I'm owed an explanation." I asserted as soon as we sat down.
Rickard's face somehow turned more exhausted hearing what I said. He reached for the white paper and gave it to me.
"Read it." He said when he saw my confused expression.
Without further question, I read the first page. All I saw was a list of names and an action. Thinking about it for a few more times, I finally arrived at the only possible conclusion.
"Spies?" I asked. "That's what got you so worked up? You're a great lord of Westeros. Did you expect that the south would leave you out of their games, especially when you're dabbling in it?"
"That's not what made me worried..." Rickard answered while running his hands through his face. "Read the last part of the next page."
His tone made me a little wary, but I followed his instruction nonetheless. The name surprised me, but it really shouldn't have. Maester Walys.
"Is this true?" I practically begged.
Rickard looked at me with softness rarely anyone saw. These are the moments that remind me that even if we don't love each other the way we should, this thing we have is still a close friendship, at the very least—a partnership. It's a shame that the momentary warmth can't overcome the overwhelming terror and simmering rage.
"After three hours with Arnolf, I can confirm everything written in that paper and a lot more not in there."
Before I knew what that damned rat did to me, I would've said that nobody should suffer even an hour with Arnolf considering he's a Bolton bastard. The blood of the Red Kings flows strong with Arnolf. All the skills come naturally in him but without all the treacherous tendencies considering he's been working for the Starks for over thirty years.
But that's neither here nor there. What's important is that fucking bastard grey rat is slowly killing me. Using poison like the southerner he is. He's even the cause why Rickard and I can't have any more babes, and I'm feeling so weak all the time.
"Where did you get these?" I asked just barely above a whisper, but Rickard heard nonetheless based on his shocked expression. "Don't look at me like that. You wouldn't have these many names without someone giving this to you. So who is it?"
I can see Rickard battling with himself if he should tell me, but it looks like he decided to be smart for once.
"A man arrived yesterday. He brought three gold bars. The purest Walys had ever seen..." That certainly surprised me. No matter what I think of that backstabbing Maester, I can't deny that he's smart. One of the most intelligent people I have ever met. "It turns out that Shirou, that's the man's name, used it to get a meeting with me. That list you're holding..." He reached for the rolled-up parchment and showed me what was inside. "and this map is a show of how competent he and his group are. They wanted to work for me."
"There's something more. I have known you since we're kids ourselves. You wouldn't hesitate for something as trivial as that."
"Shirou and possibly everyone in his group is a Maegi. Shirou, at the very least, can use Magic. Magic that I haven't heard of before..." Rickard turned his head and stared at Ice which was mounted at the wall. "I have heard many things. Greensight and Wargs here in the North. Dragons and Valyrian steel from the Valyrians. Water magic from the Rhoynar. Qharteen Warlocks. Shadowbinders from Asshai. Immortal Sorcerers of Yiti. I have an idea what all of these magics could do. But none of them could make another Ice out of thin air."
I would've been more skeptical of his claims if I didn't know how practical he is. He wouldn't believe such outrageous things if he didn't see it himself.
"What did you do?"
"I asked him to return today..." He answered. "I want you to be there went I meet with them."
"Of course." I immediately answered with a smile. I can't say that the prospect of seeing real magic hasn't piqued my curiosity.
"Oh. Before I forget, he claimed that he could create something better than Valyrian steel."
It was just after we finished eating our lunch when a guard announced that a group arrived, and Brynden Cassell was escorting them to the receiving hall.
Rickard and I quickly made our way through the receiving hall but not before fixing ourselves up to make us look more presentable. A simple burden of nobility.
When we entered the room, we saw a small group of seven sitting around one of the tables in the room. Brynden must have been spooked by the show of magic yesterday since I can see twenty guards lined around the room. A little excessive if you tell me.
One thing I noticed, though, was that six out of seven in the group were women—the most beautiful group of women I have ever seen. Even the Targaryens don't have this kind of otherworldly beauty. The man, who should be named Shirou, is also quite attractive.
"Lord Stark..." Shirou stood up and greeted Rickard, but without the fearful respect most show to a Great Lord. The women didn't even bother to stand up. "and you must be Lady Stark."
From the corner of my vision, I could see Rickard eying the women still sitting down but without any lust, which I would understand. No, he's looking at them with a calculating eye.
"Brynden. Leave us..." Rickard ordered, but it looks like Brynden wanted to argue otherwise. "This would be a simple negotiation."
Brynden ordered the guards out, although a little hesitantly. The guards themselves are also reluctant to leave for a different lesson based on how they are looking at the women. It didn't take long for the guards to leave the room.
"It looks like you didn't get much sleep, Lord Stark." Shirou said with a small smile as soon as the door closed.
Rickard ignored the slight jab and continued toward the Lord's table. I sat down right beside him.
"Like I said yesterday, you already know us. It's only fair for everyone to introduce themselves."
The first one to stand up is someone who could be easily mistaken as a Targaryen because of her silver hair. But instead of having purple-colored eyes, she has blood-red eyes. The fact that she carried herself like a noble didn't help the comparison.
"Greetings Lord and Lady Stark. My name is Illyasiviel von Einzbern." She introduced herself with a perfect curtsey.
The next one also has a Targaryen characteristic, the purple-colored eyes but a little darker. However, her hair is the same color and shade as her hair.
"I'm Sakura Matou, My lord, My lady." She greeted with a deep bow. A greeting rarely seen in Westeros.
Sakura is immediately followed by a woman who holds herself like a mix between a Lannister and a Mormont, as strange as that sound. She has raven black hair and emerald blue eyes.
"Rin Tohsaka." Well, that's borderline rude. She's lucky she's in the North.
The next one is someone who I would consider the oddest of the group. Her purplish-pink hair looks like it could reach the ground. The most peculiar thing, however, was the ornate cloth covering her eyes. But even with that thing covering her eyes, I could still feel her eyes on me.
"Medusa." She said with a slight bow.
The first thing I noticed with the next woman was the coat made up of high-quality silk covering every part of her body except for her head. She has purplish-blue hair and blue eyes. She would be what one would typically imagine when thinking of a rich sorceress.
"Lord Stark, Lady Stark. It's a pleasure to meet you. I'm Medea of Colchis." Colchis? I never heard of a place named Colchis. Maybe from the far east.
An overwhelming presence flooded the room as soon as the woman with Lannister-like characteristics stood up. There's only one thing I could think of to describe her, a warrior king.
"My name is Artoria Pendragon. Lord and Lady Stark." She respectfully introduced herself, but it felt like I should be the one bowing instead.
"Now that we know who you all are, I suggest we start quickly..." Rickard said, trying to take over the conversation, but I could hear a slight tremor in his voice. "what do you want?"
Shirou made eye contact with Rin before answering.
"Simple Lord Stark. Gold and gems..." He answered with a slight smile. "If we could help people along the way, that would be just a bonus."
I'll explain why they went to Rickard Stark in the next chapter, but the 'Gold and Gems' should clue you in why.
This chapter is mostly a filler chapter to introduce the girls, so sorry.