Hi Guys and Gals and all the peoples who don't identify as guy or gal :D
Hope you're doing fantastic and staying safe and healthy out there :D
Here's another, shorter, chapter!
Thank you to Darkwolf76, my lovely, lovely inspiring friend who always takes time out of her busy life to give a lady some advice ;) If I were you, I'd pop over to her profile because she has some awesome stories to tell!
Please review and lemme know what you think! :D
Chapter 37: Lost Daughter
In coming years, Sylvia would not remember the exact words that had formed the horrific news that her daughter was missing.
She had been sleeping when her attending ladies rose and answered a series of loud knocks to the chamber door. She blinked the sleep from her eyes as voices exchanged words with silent urgency, and a moment later, her ladies returned and told her Lady Stark and Lord Edmure needed a word. Wrapped up in a dressing gown, Sylvia emerged into the adjoining solar, and found her good-mother, her brother, and a handful of northern guards awaiting her.
Suddenly, she felt very exposed, wondering briefly what was so pressing that it required her meeting with them, wearing only her underthings and a robe.
"There's been a report," Lady Catelyn began, her voice gentle and her eyes holding all the gentleness and sorrow of a grieving grandmother. "Written by Bran's hand, that a maidservant was noticed missing from Winterfell. The girl called Elane." Sylvia's brows drew together in confusion at the name, her concern mounting higher. "It was then that the nursery was investigated, and there they found the cradle empty."
Her heart danced in her chest like a drum, and suddenly she felt dizzy. She wanted to shake her head, to deny the story that Catelyn had painted, but she halted. The last time she'd denied such a claim, Robb made the maester give her a potion to make her sleep. And when she woke, she found that her father had died, and Robb had been telling the truth.
She turned her head, a fragile smile coming to her lips. In later years, she would think of how much like a mad woman she looked then, and would smile emptily before drinking a long gulp of wine. "Well, where has she gone?" she asked.
Edmure and his sister exchanged a look, and Sylvia's gut started squirming, her chest starting to feel tight. Finally, the lady spoke again, her voice firm, but honest. "We do not know. His Grace is aware of the situation and there have been riders send in every direction…" Sylvia heard nothing more, her body dumped into ice water, heart fallen out of her breast, plummeting into a dark cavern that went past the floor, past the foundations of Riverrun, and into the depths of the cold earth.
Since leaving Winterfell, Sylvia had thought of the child, thought of how dearly she missed her and how badly she wanted to be with her again. But she hadn't thought of her little face because at the time, there had been no need. Minisa's face was imprinted into her mother's mind, every shape and slope, every dimple and every lash. Her beautiful, perfect little face was the only thing that swam before her vision.
Her face, coming so clearly into her mind, with burning, aching clarity that left her breathless.
Then hands were on her, tight and cold around her arms, her feet dragging limply on the floor before a cushioned seat was under her.
"My lords! Leave, the queen is unwell!" She heard a woman call, the room blurring into a dark, swirling colours as the men were ushered out.
Sylvia felt oddly suspended, floating in the air like a feather or a snowflake, but when she fell, she knew that the fall would end in a crash, shattering her on the floor. It would hurt, it would leave her too stunned to move, but when she did, her pain would flare to life as though waiting.
Her mind flooded with a thousand thoughts, and suddenly, from the obscurity of avoidance and guilt, one thought emerged and silenced all the others. The letter…the note she'd sent to her mother before the march set out, before the spark caught and the flames started. True, she had not told her mother much, but she had pledged her support to Robb and that had been enough.
Elane was gone. Mini was gone.
Gods above, it's my fault, it's my fault, my fault, myfaultmyfaultmyfault—
Suddenly, Lady Catelyn was kneeling before her, her hands curling around hers, squeezing tight. Sylvia could see her mouth moving, but she could not hear her voice. Sylvia could feel her chest rising and falling, too fast to bring enough air in and suddenly she could not breathe. Never before had she felt something so sharp, something that made her body act this way, like it was dying. For this had to be what death felt like—cold and horrible, feeling as though you were suspended by a thin wire, dangling you above an endless, black abyss.
"…Breathe! Sylvia," Catelyn called through the haze of panic, her voice slowly coming back into focus. Sylvia clung to it, hoping it would lead her out of this darkness. Her chest still heaved up and down, rapid and frightened. "Slow your breathing or you will faint." She did not know when her hands moved, but she became aware of how tight she was gripping the hands that wound around her own. "That's it, breathe." Her good-mother's face was softer than she had seen it in some time, and her heart ached.
Sylvia felt strangled, she wanted to speak, to breathe, but the breath was stuck in her throat. "Ooh, c-Catelyn." She squeaked, quiet as a mouse. Catelyn's mouth parted and then pressed back together, her eyes full of the kind of empathy only a mother could feel. Somehow, that made the strangled feeling disappear, and made a lump rise in her throat. "I-I c-c-can't…I can't…" Catelyn's face began to blur, her fine features swirling together, a blend of her pale skin, her blue eyes and auburn hair.
"You can." The older woman replied. "You have to."
"M-my child, th-they took m-m—" the words were beaten to her lips by a sob. "Ooh, my baby. My baby..."
"I know." Catelyn's voice was soft and gentle, knowing all too well the pain, the way a heart was suddenly wretched from one's body when their child's life was threatened. She had felt the same, four times before. "I know. But we will win her back. Robb will make sure of it."
Brandon Stark marched into the Red Keep's throne room when Rhaegar stole his sister. A war had been waged, in part by the Starks to win her back, and avenge the murder of Brandon and his father. Robb had risked everything to win his father and sisters back, and had ignited a war in the process. She had little doubt that to win back his own daughter, her son would water the fields with blood, and Lannister dead. He would rip apart Jaime Lannister with his own teeth if it would return the babe to safety. Robb was a wolf, and before long, the world would know it.
Sylvia's eyes overflowed then, tears pouring down her cheeks, sobs shaking her entire body. Catelyn pulled her close, tucking the younger woman's face against her chest.
"All will be well, Sylvia." Catelyn murmured into her hair, her own eyes pricking with tears. "All will be well. I swear it. We will get Mini back. We will get her back." Her voice broke at the last word, the lump in her throat refusing to be denied any longer. "Hush, dear girl. You must be strong, you must. For Mini. Hush..."
A horrible, strangled noise came from Sylvia, high pitched whimpers, babbles that Catelyn could not understand, until one very clear sentence emerged from her good daughter's sobs.
"…I should never have left her…"
In the wake of his rage, Robb found his hands could not stop shaking. Even now, sat before the fire, hands clasped tight together, he could feel the tremor shaking up his wrist and into his fingers.
The words still echoed in his ears, grim and horrible, tearing his heart apart each time he remembered them. Mini was gone, missing from her cradle, spirited away from Winterfell, and no one knew where she could be.
He felt uneasy, filled to the brim with nervous energy, a wolf who needed to run, to hunt, to strike and know satisfaction. But he was in Riverrun, thousands of miles from her, and by the time he returned home, any trace of his girl would have been long washed away by time. Futile, agonizing rage bubbled in his gut, and Robb clenched his eyes shut.
It had taken all his control to give his orders, a strange calmness overtaking his voice as the lords from the largest northern houses crowded around the table. He had to see it as a king would, not a father. To a king, this was a blow, a massive one at that. His heir was taken, stolen from her cradle.
But once they left, nothing stopped him—not a whisper from an uncertain lord nor a well meaning friend—from tearing through the room, shattering maps and glass on the floor.
It was a blur, and by the time he was done, a magnificent mess surrounded him.
This war was new, still. His fledgling rebellion still only standing on the shaky legs of infancy, but already, so much had been lost. So much taken. Already, he felt so far away from Winterfell, and the man he had been within it's walls. A father, a husband, a brother, a son. Capable, strong. Sure.
Now a king, above all. And a failure.
His father, gone. His sisters, captive. His wife, a stranger. His daughter, missing.
The pain in Robb's chest flared with intensity, migrating outward, towards his throat, building and building and building there until he released a strangled scream between his clenched jaws.
He could not bear to think of her in a stranger's arms, in the clutches of an enemy and yet that was all his mind could conjure, here in the silence of his solar. His little girl had always felt fragile as a baby bird to him, all delicate limbs and soft skin, but she was a northerner, through and through. Strong and hearty, her skin thick against the biting cold of the north. But she had always had her mother and father there to protect her, and then Grey Wind as the months went on. Little Minisa had never, not once, been in true danger. Rage bubbled hot in his gut to think of the one who'd taken her.
The messenger had not only told of Mini's disappearance, but of Elane's as well, his wife's handmaid, the woman she had entrusted Mini's care to. When he first heard it, a wave, however small in the face of his growing terror, had come for the handmaid. For surely she was a victim just as much as his little girl. Still, she had not protected his child, and for that, she would not receive kindness from him whenever she returned.
But then, someone, he didn't remember who, had suggested that it had been the maid herself who took the child from her cradle. It was not unheard of, they said. A childless woman becoming jealous and stealing away her mistresses' child. Or of a trusted servant being discovered as an enemy.
Robb's mind felt clustered, disorganized. He did not know what to make of Elane's disappearance anymore, if he should curse her existence or lament her misfortune. Truthfully, he had not heart for either, because his child was missing and all he could think of was the ways she might be being mistreated.
Was she cold? Was she hurt? Was she bleeding? Was she crying? Was someone screaming at her? Was she out under the open sky, or was she shut away in a little hut?
Tears burned his eyes, but they would not fall, not yet, because his rage was warring with the grief that threatened to destroy him. And in part, that was why Robb Stark could not rise from his seat and cross the castle to find his wife. If he saw her, the rage in him would fizzle into nothing and overcome him. He could not face her. Mini's face was her face. Her hair, was Sylvia's. Her eyes were Sylvia's, though his wife always liked to say she had his eyes.
But then, like some sort of divine joke, Sylvia's voice rose from beyond the barrier of the door, and then she burst through them, a beautiful, furious mess of blue fabric and black hair.
For a long moment, they only looked at each other, and though she looked like she'd barged in with the clear intent of saying something, her words left her the moment she had laid eyes on him. Robb felt much the same way; all thought left him at the sight of her, her beautiful eyes red with tears, dulled by a grief so deep he was gript his senses in the most terrible way.
She had been crying before she came to him, weeping for the loss they shared. Suddenly all he wanted was to collapse into her, to press himself close until the space in their hearts did not seem so empty, until their little Mini was returned to their waiting arms.
A noise drew their eyes to the door behind her, and all Robb caught sight of was a dark head of hair before Sylvia bellowed, "GET OUT!" and the head made a hasty retreat.
The spell broken, she turned her eyes back to him, a fresh shine reflecting back at him.
"She's gone." She whispered. "She's-she's just—" her voice rose with disbelief, her head shaking in denial. "How can she just be gone?!" Robb had never seen her so unhinged, not even when her father died, not even after her attack. She was wild, her hair unbound and falling down her back, her nightgown falling down her shoulders. She was wild, she was wounded, and he had to be stronger.
His response was automatic, diplomatic and calm as a king relaying vital information to his generals. "I've ordered four hundred men to scour all four directions leading out of Winterfell."
Sylvia could not stand how he looked at her then, as though she were just another woman lamenting for her missing child, not his wife, not the mother of his own lost child. A stranger. As though he were trying to distance himself, to remove himself from this pain, away from her own. It wasn't fair. How could he stop all feeling when she felt like she was bursting at the seams? How could he be calm when she was falling apart, piece by perfectly constructed piece? It wasn't fair!
"Someone took her. Someone, someone betrayed us." She murmured, mind racing. "When I find out who, I'll split them in two with my bare hands." Her voice was a low hiss, but Robb could hear her.
"There are reports that your handmaid is missing as well." Robb spoke, again in that same, level voice. But Sylvia could hear the ice, the sharp undertone that spoke volumes to her. She stopped, her blood freezing in her veins as the unthinkable implication became clear.
"Are you suggesting Elane had something to do with it?" Robb was quiet and Sylvia was flooded with an emotion so potent, it frightened her. "Are you saying this is my fault?!" the notion was not hard to imagine. Elane was her handmaid, the one she had entrusted with her daughter. But no, it couldn't be. Elane was her friend. She would not, could not have stolen away her baby. No, he was mad. Mad and cruel.
Robb sighed, sharp and irritated. "I am saying the handmaid is gone from Winterfell. Our daughter is..." even with his kingly armour of diplomacy and reason, Robb could not utter the words.
It was not the assurance Sylvia needed, and already exhausted by her grief and fear, anger and rage were far easier to understand, especially when Robb provided a target.
"If I had been there, no one would have dared touch her." She seethed, her voice trembling. Robb sighed once more, but this time his head bowed. If, he thought, what a useless word. He had thought the same when their unborn babe was ripped away from them, but this time the pain was different, sharper, deeper. His little girl, the babe he had held in his arms countless times, who he dreamed of everyday since parting with her, had vanished from her warm, safe cradle. "She should have—she should have been with me. She would have been safe." For a moment, Robb let his wife's words wash over him with a far away sense of recognition, but the next cold, shaking utterance chilled him to the bone, because gone was the wobbling voice of barely held back sorrow, and in it's place was cold fury . "You made me leave her. You made me leave her, alone."
The room went still after that, a long moment drawn out in silence, the air warring with the glacial rage of Sylvia and the growing inferno of Robb's.
"You, who decided to throw us all into this stupid war!"
"They killed my father and a dozen other men—good northern men!" Robb roared back, rising to his feet faster than he'd ever moved.
"You think once all your noble bloody bannermen are home again, battered by countless losses, they will feel relieved? One agony paid for with a thousand others?!"
"How dare you." The young king growled, advancing on her, and out of instinct, Sylvia staggered back. But if she were afraid, she did not show it. "My own father killed by your brother, and you stand there and reduce it to nothing."
"Our child is missing!" She screeched, her voice echoing through the room, and, he was sure, down the corridors. Warily, Robb cast his eyes to the door. "Our baby is gone from her cradle, her whereabouts unknown, taken by someone with ill intent, because we dared march south against the most powerful family in Westeros." Sylvia spoke in a rush, her voice lower but no less frenzied.
Robb's heart broke once more, Mini's round little face coming to mind. He shook his head. "We will get her back." He resolved, hating how vulnerability cracked under the sure tone he'd used. "There were no tracks, they can't have gotten far on foot. The handmaid is small, the cold will slow her movements." He reasoned carefully, ignoring the intruding thought that reminded him hounds can loose a scent when one walked through a flowing stream, and that handmaids can go far if they had good reason to.
"Stop saying it was Elane. It could not have—she wouldn't. Never." She bit out, a lump rising in her throat. "We don't know anything, s-she could have been accosted by whoever has taken Mini."
But Robb turned back to her, only regarded her with those eyes—eyes that had no heart for assurance, no patience for pity. "Elane was your wedding gift." He turned away, then. Each time he looked at her, he saw his daughter, and that was more painful than anything he had ever known. "Given to you by the Imp, sent all the way from Casterly Rock. You told me yourself, she was a maid to a highborn woman at the Rock. Who else would have had opportunity to take her, Sylvia? Who else would have reason to?"
Sylvia's mind was a whirlwind of thoughts, past moments she'd spent with Elane, all the kind words exchanged, the silent moments, times she'd relied on her advice, the countless times she'd called Elane her friend. She thought of the wildling, the woman she distrusted so, but even then, her rational mind did not accept her as culprit. The wild woman's smell alone would not let her slip out of the castle undetected, never mind the direwolves lurking about. The wolves had never growled at Elane, not once. The thought that had once brought her assurance, now only brought a weight to her chest, pulling her deep beneath the waves of fear and doubt.
The wolves had never needed to be wary of her, what if she had used that to her advantage? Elane had been Tyrion's gift to her. He'd even said she needed a proper companion, one who knew the warmth of the summer sun.
Sylvia couldn't breathe.
It was her fault. All her fault.
"W-we should have been mindful. Tywin Lannister has murdered children in their beds, before." If Mini met that fate, Sylvia would not hesitate to follow her into the next life.
"They will not harm a hair on her head," he snarled. "Not if they want to sleep peacefully at night, not if they do not want to fear the day I come knocking at their gates." He would make his vengeance for his father look soft in comparison to what he would do if they hurt his daughter.
"I-I thought," a strangled breath cut her off. "I thought—just a little note, a little one, I-I…one sent out of courtesy." Robb stilled, and slowly, he turned to look at her, watching as she crumbled. "She's my mother. B-but if…if Elane was contacted after, and sh-she…she told her we were leaving Minisa in Winterfell…"
In all of his life, Robb had never felt more hollow than he did then, realization washing over him with little thought towards their true weight. She trembled, her whole body, from the top to the toe, even her breath coming in uneven quivering. He found it strange that anger did not rise up within him, overtaking him with such violence that he lashed out. Perhaps it was sheer exhaustion, perhaps shock, or just a potent mix of both that resulted in this vast feeling of emptiness.
Anger at her would come, he knew, but not tonight.
Mini was gone, and she had contacted the fucking queen. Later, he would ask when, ask why she'd sent it at all, ask what she said, and he would doubt each answer she gave him. But not tonight.
A part of him wanted to see her weep, to let this fear and pain go uncomforted. And yet Robb's feet carried him across the room, his arms pulled her to his chest, his fingers curled in her hair, and his lips pressed against her forehead.
She had betrayed him. His wife. His Syl.
A new kind of pain formed then, the lines between hurt and anger so finely blurred together that they were one. An enemy's blows were easily shaken off, for one expects them. This was worse, so much worse because he loved the one who betrayed him. Sylvia had gone behind his back, sending secret messages to her mother, lying to his face for months.
He had received worse things from worse people, but this…this left a deep wound, one he did not think would ever heal correctly. But he loved her still. She was his wife, she would always be his wife, and always Mini's mother.
Slowly, Sylvia's arms wound around his back, squeezing him tight, and damn it all, it felt good. To hold and be held back by his wife. Tomorrow, there would be less tears. Tomorrow, they would talk about it briefly, and then turn all thought back their missing heir and the summit with Renly.
Tomorrow would be time for practicality, tomorrow would be for kings and queens, planning their next moves.
Tonight was for them, Robb and Sylvia, weeping into each other's arms, weak for one broken moment.
"Robb," he heard her whimper against his chest, feeling the warmth of her tears seep through the material of his shirt. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so, so, so sorry, Robb. Please say you forgive me." But Robb did not reply, he only held her tighter.
Not gonna lie, this was a hard one. I myself don't have children yet, but I do have nieces I've helped raise and would die for or kill for without hesitation, so that's where some of this inspiration comes from.
A lot of the feelings Sylvia has is driven by guilt-the letter, leaving her child when she didn't even really want to, leaving her with Elane and doubt casted on Elane etc-her guilt manifested itself into anger at Robb, cause in her mind if Robb hadn't done X Y and Z, she wouldn't have had to write to Cersei and leave her baby, and therefore it's his fault. Grief and fear do really awful things to people and make them do really ugly things to the ones closest to them, and this was that.
I also wanna make clear, things are not forgiven with Robb and Sylvia, things are rocky, but in the face of intolerable pain and heartbreak, you're gonna take comfort where you can. Also, Robb still does love his wife, and he still doesn't understand the full story of what she did and needs comfort himself, so that's why the ending occurred the way it did.
Also, want a HUGE shout out to Darkwolf76 for helping me figure out Catelyn's part in all this misery, because at the end of the day, Catelyn's a nurturing woman, Mini is her grandbaby and Sylvia is someone she's loved and nurtured and is there for her when she really really needs it.