TRIGGER WARNING: Not-so-consensual sex (Stockholm-y vibes). Also huge age difference and stuff. And a smidge of suicidal thoughts.
<h1><river>lady catelyn bracken</river></h1>
<h2>16 years old. The Palomino. riverlands. vita sidorkina.</h2>
<h3>Ashley. 28. est. boleyn#6020.</h3>
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<div class="gensmall">A cluster of stars palely glowed above us, between the silhouettes of long thin leaves</div>
Everything of import in your life happens at night, beginning with your birth. It is the first clear night after weeks of rain, and your mother’s cries echo through the halls of Stone Hedge. The labor is a long one, longer than either of the sisters who came before you. Your father takes this as certainty that she will birth a boy this time, the strength of him an obvious explanation for your mother’s pain. But you were not a boy. Instead you are a disappointment, the third daughter and living proof of your mother’s failure to produce a son. It is in the weeks following your birth that Lord Jonos first brought Hendry to foster at Stone Hedge. He and your half-brother Harry are the closest things he will ever have to heirs.
<br><br>In childhood you are mild-mannered, perhaps at times even meek. It is the curse of being born third daughter of five. Better for you to remain unnoticed than to throw the disappointment in your father’s face at every turn. Barbara is brash and headstrong, everything you are not. But she is able to be. The firstborn, she is your father’s best chance at securing an advantageous manage. There was still hope in her birth that sons may follow, and Lord Jonos dotes on her most of all. You know that he cares for you in his own way, but a part of you yearns for the affection she receives from him. Thus you do your best to be a well-tempered, virtuous daughter, working hard to excel in your studies so that you might make him proud.
<br><br>If it is Barbara you are least like, it is in Jayne you find a kindred spirit. Born second, she too knows the bitter sting of being a disappointment. Like you she seeks to gain approval by being the perfect lady, seen but not heard. When she is heard it is in song, her melodic voice a joy to listen. She does not sing often, however, the attention of anyone but family reddening her cheeks and causing her to falter. It is a shame, for everyone should hear the beauty in her voice. You wish that you could capture it somehow, but there is no way to paint sound. Instead when you put brush to canvas you seek to paint how you feel.
<br><br>There is no appreciation for such abstractions, however, and your paintings elicit frowns rather than praise. Panic overcomes you at the thought that you might be most despised by your father, so instead you return to painting scenes of nature. It bores you, however, so you find ways to represent the people you care for and your emotions even while still using a style that depicts the images true to form. Your sister Jayne becomes the nightingale, chosen for it’s beautiful song. Barbed wire fences are painted in place of your eldest sister, both a representation of her name and her prickly nature. You paint storms when your little sister Bess throws one of her tantrums, emulating her eldest sister in her bid for your father’s attention. Pretty babbling brooks take the place of little Alysanne, for she is constantly on the move and talking up a storm, the baby of the family and doted upon by all.
<br><br>Three horse have graced your canvases - the red stallion of your House to represent your father as Lord. Those are the paintings he seems to enjoy most, and the day he hung one in his study your chest swelled with pride. A palomino filly is your depiction of yourself - the only fair haired Bracken child, save for your half brother Harry, who is not a Bracken by name. The two of you take after your respective mothers, while your sisters share your father’s dark brown locks. The third as also a stallion, this one a dark bay. He only appears in paintings depicting the darkness of light, always illuminated by moonlight, for that is when he comes to you. Always under the cloak of night.
<div class="gensmall">A paradise whose skies were the color of hell flames
It is never possible to be truly alone in a family of so many. That does not, however, mean that you do not know what it means to be lonely. Barbara and Bess vie to be the center of attention at all times, while beautiful, sweet Jayne with her pretty voice seems to attract it without even trying. But you move through the world unnoticed. Silent and simple-looking in your youth. Barbara makes fun of you for your weird paintings and your shyness. How can you put into words that it is not shyness you feel, but a fear of being disliked. Unwanted. Some days it is better to be unnoticed than to bear the brunt of disdain.
<br><br>However your eldest sister sees this fear in you and preys on its weakness. On one particular evening when you were hardly past your eleventh nameday Barbara had you so flustered that you spill your wine. You must have looked something like a deer caught unawares when your cousin Hendry jumped up to assist you. Light eyes met dark, a desperate appreciation for his kindness in your gaze. Your father’s words startled you, however, and you turned to face him as he ordered you away from the table, declaring you finished with your meal. It broke your heart just a little to know that you had displeased him and you hurried away from the table, head hung in shame.
<br><Br>It was too early to retire to your chambers, though, so you headed out of doors instead. The sky was clear and you stared up at the stars, a cool breeze rustling your hair. Hendry’s voice behind you was a surprise - why had he followed you? Your chest felt heavy wondering whether he was here to berate you as well, but such words never came. Instead he shared more wine with you, poking fun at Barbara and staring at you in a way that made you feel as if there was no one else in the world. At eleven you could only liken it to the way your father looked at Barbara - he was, after all, eleven years your senior. But there was something else in his gaze that you couldn’t place. Regardless, you had gotten your first glimpse of what it might be to garner affection, and you wanted more.
<br><br>After that night you found yourself constantly glancing in Hendry’s direction, seeking his approval in everything that you did. His eyes were on you constantly, and the attention left a fluttering feeling in your stomach, though he did not approach you again - at least not publicly. Instead he visited your bedchambers late one night, not long after the incident with the wine. Hendry’s presence in such a private space made you feel nervous at first, but he came bearing wine and you did not want to insult such a gift; after all he could easily have gone to Barbara or Jayne. He chose you
. The next time he visited Hendry was bold enough to kiss you, an act that left you frozen at first. No man had ever kissed you before, and Hendry had been as much a brother to you as Harry was. But he seemed to enjoy giving you such affections, so you allowed it, placing a hand on his forearm as he kissed you to let him know it was okay.
<br><br>You learned to kiss back rather quickly, desirous to do whatever you could to please him. Each visit brought something more; kisses turned to chaste touches, then not so chaste ones, his hands finding their way beneath the skirts of your nightdress. This you were less comfortable with, but suddenly you no longer knew how to stop it. Would he be angry with you for saying no? Certainly his visits would stop, and that was not what you desired. It was the first time anyone had paid you any mind, and you did not want it to end so soon. Instead you found your way to the Sept after the first time he touched you, praying to the Maiden that he would leave your maidenhead intact. Surely these touches would be enough? But that prayer went unanswered. On the following evening he came to your chambers again, and as you kissed him you felt the hunger he had for you and you knew that this time would be different.
<br><Br>Tears stained your cheeks as he thrust himself into you, but you did your best not to cry out from the pain. Hendry seemed so pleased after and was gentle with you. You know he didn’t mean for it to hurt - he cared for you. And with all the affection he gave could you not offer him this one thing in return? You tried to be brave during his subsequent visits, and eventually the pain of the act faded away. Even felt pleasurable. Was this why he so enjoyed it? Slowly his touch became fire on your skin, and each night you grew anxious wondering whether he would visit again. By day you remained silent, however, knowing you had sinned in the eyes of the Seven. What wrath would your father bring upon you if he learned what you had done? As your affection for Hendry grew, so did you fear of your father’s disappointment. It was better this way, coming together only in the darkness of night.
<div class="gensmall">See you constantly and obsessively in my conscious mind during my daymares and insomnias</div>
There has never been anyone but Hendry for you. It was not so much a choice, as something thrust upon you as the object of his affections. At eleven you did not know what your future held, instead seeking attention from the only source who seemed to be providing it. But that desire for his approval swiftly turned into something akin to love - or at least it was the only kind of love you had ever known, for you had nothing to compare it to. Hendry said you loved him, so this must be what love was. You know that you yearn for his affection, and when it is directed elsewhere you feel empty inside. Broken, as if you are suddenly no longer good enough for the man who has crept into your bedchambers almost every evening for the past five years. His presence has been such a constant that you no longer know how to function without it, and you are quite certain that if he were taken from you - or vice versa - you would surely die.
<br><Br>Death is what it feels like when his betrothal to the Lady Lenora Lychester is announced. For years he brushed off your father’s suggestion of a betrothal to Barbara, and you had always expected that when you were old enough he would ask for your hand instead. Not because you had any desire to be Lady Bracken ahead of your sister, but rather because a life without Hendry does not seem imaginable. Surely this is some sick joke. He will convince your father that this match is not the right one. Will ask for you as his bride instead. You reassure yourself every day until the Lady Lenora arrives.
Chestnut locks frame her beautiful face and you almost burst into tears to hear Hendry call her beautiful
and to see him kiss her hand. It feels as if something is clawing at your insides - the talon of House Lychester, surely. But you force a small curtsey anyhow, never meeting her gaze. Forcing yourself not to watch as Hendry states he will show her to her chambers. A flower wilting as if without water or sunlight - the light only Hendry is capable of giving. He swears he is not taken with her, and you claim to believe him, but everytime you see her you die a little more inside.
<br><br>On the eve of his wedding Hendry visits you, swears nothing will change. That he would still have you every night. That he loved you. Like a sweet little fool you believed him, and for one night you were able to forget. But you awoke to an empty bed, the cold creeping in. You felt physically ill in the Sept watching them exchange vows. Retired early from the dinner feast. Only painting soothed you, though not for long. New scenes emerged. The talons of an eagle clawing at a palomino mare. Ripping her flesh. You’ve never used so much red, not even in paintings of the Red Stallion of House Bracken. Tears stream down your face as you finish it, only to toss it in the flames. It is a painting that should never be seen.
<br><Br>For six months you weep each night your bed remains empty, knowing that Hendry is with his wife. Kissing her, hands like fire on her skin instead of yours. Death would be less cruel a fate, but then you would be without him forever and you are not strong enough to make such a choice. You crave his presence and approval more than ever before, and are only truly happy on the nights he returns to you. It is in those moments that you are reminded of why you wish to live, and each morning when you wake you pray to the Mother for mercy and that your father will never send you away to wed. You would sooner great the Stranger than leave Hendry and Stone Hedge.
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