The imposing gates separated allowing the procession to enter in a jumble of horseflesh, scowling men, and billowing ahead of them, the pungent odors of long days on the road.
Ned plugged his nose only to have his hand slapped down by Brandon.
“Manners, Ned,” Brandon chided. “You can’t judge a man by his stench.”
“Oh, but I can.”
Brandon only shook his head and stood taller, if that were possible. The three Stark brothers formed the usual line of greeting, all the while watchful. Wondering what this unexpected visit would bring.
Their father strode across the courtyard, in full finery. Waved a hand in welcome.
Ned frowned. Perhaps this visit was not as unexpected as he’d thought.
The procession of soldiers had settled to either side of the yard, making way for their leader. But, he wasn’t alone. Alongside him rode a boy about Ned’s age.
As the two approached, their father called out, “Lord Arryn, you arrive earlier than planned and with a child in tow. Are you not here to foster our Ned?”
“Of course, of course,” the man countered, slipping from his horse. “This is young Baratheon. Seems I am to have two charges under my care. Now, where’s this pup of yours?”
His stomach in knots, Ned fired a glance at his brothers. They showed no sign of shock. So this was it then. He was being fostered out. Would be taken from Winterfell. From all he knew.
How could he bare it? Still, he would. They did call him the Quiet Wolf, after all. Ned chewed on the flesh of his bottom lip and remained silent. He stepped forward, dividing himself from his brothers in a way that felt significant.
“’Tis me…I…” he stammered, then cleared both his throat and his nerves. “I am Ned Stark, my lord.”