He had hated having to raise his voice to her. But he’d had to stop her in her tracks, make her not want to ask questions again, make her afraid. She could never ask him about Jon again.
It had taken all of his strength to do it.
He’d strode from her rooms, his heart clutching with regret, and hating himself with such a fury that only one thing could begin to ease him.
And so Ned sat in the shadow of the bony fingers of the heart tree and breathed deep of the damp, slow-moving air. It was early morning, but the dawn was yet to fully break and there was still a frost whitening the blood red leaves above his head. He thought of Catelyn, back inside the castle, fragile and alone in her rooms, cut adrift from her homeland and her family and now thinking that she had angered him beyond all sense. And then he thought of Jon Snow and his boy Robb stirring in their cradles. A prince and a high lord’s firstborn, yet one of them would never know his heritage. Robb would have everything, while Jon would live the life of a bastard.
But he would live and that would be enough. There could be no price on that, even if the cost to Ned was great.
He closed his eyes and sighed.
Above his head the weirwood creaked as the first rays of sun began to warm it. “Let them grow up close as brothers, with only love between them,” he begged the Gods. “And let my lady wife find it in her heart to forgive me.”
A breath of wind blew through the leaves and Ned lifted his head and looked long at the heart tree, hoping that his pleas had been heard.