So this was the visitor that Lady Lyessa had told him about. The man was lean, gray-eyed and dark haired. All in all, he could have passed as a Northerner if it wasn't for his height and the force behind his eyes. The man stood seven feet tall, and his eyes revealed a powerful will that was almost tangible.
"Welcome to Winterfell. would you care to come inside and eat?" It was important to establish the guest right, especially with a man so physically imposing and besides, it was time for supper.
Eldacar looked confused, "I have only just arrived, would it not be better for me to discuss with you the reason why I came?"
Was this man refusing the guest right? Ned's question was soon answered when the man's guard, Rodrick, began whispering in Eldacar's ear.
Eldacar looked worried, "Lord Stark, I apologize, I meant no offense nor disrespect, I, where I am from, we assume the guest right, without need for ceremony. I would be honored to break bread with you."
Ned gestured for Eldacar to follow him into the hall. "Tell me, you say you are a king. Yet, you wear no crown and you came alone, you understand my wariness, do you not?"
"I understand it. I am a stranger to your home, to your land and I come bearing tall tales," a laugh was heard from Rodrick.
Eldacar continued, "My crown was lost to me along with my throne. I come without guards because I knew not that I would indeed find land. It would be dishonourable to take my men with me on a journey from which there was no certain return. That and they were needed back home, my cousin now controls the most powerful realm in Endor, and threatens to wage war against my home."
Ned nodded, "But you came here for what little hope there was? Even if it meant abandoning your people?"
Eldacar looked uncomfortable, but Ned said, "This is a discussion for a later time. We have arrived."
Ned introduced his family, all except Jon. Catelyn had insisted that if this man was indeed royalty, the 'bastard' would offend him.
Throughout the meal, the children were polite, except for Arya who kept looking at Jon.
Evidently, Eldacar noticed. "Lord Stark, who is the young man sitting at that low table, the one who resembles you?"
"He is my," he grimaced, "natural son."
Eldacar's eyes shone. "Why doesn't he sit here? Arya clearly believes he belongs here."
And so do I, thought Ned.
Ned glanced at Catelyn and Eldacar nodded in understanding.
Then Eldacar spoke to Catelyn, "My Lady, why don't you allow Jon to sit with us here? After all, he is not the one who broke his vows to you. Nor does he willingly offend you? Why should a son be punished for the sins of the father?"
"The boy is a sign of my husband's weakness and a potential threat for my grandchildren to inherit."
Eldacar's eyes gleamed, "Lady Catelyn, I am told your Tully family words are Family, Duty, Honor. While keeping the boy here is a sign against Lord Stark's honor, he is protecting his family, a duty all fathers. If he protects his natural son so, how much more will he protect his trueborn sons? If you were Jon, would you see your father abandon you, when he could afford you a great protection and good life, if not his lands?"
Catelyn glanced downwards, "I see your point. It is clear you are not offended by his presence, that was the reason I had him sit away from us, we would not like to offend royalty. Still, my husband won't tell me the name of the boy's mother."
Ned looked at once pained, ashamed, and glad. "Catelyn, I have told you, I cannot tell you his mother's name. I want to but," he looked down, "I cannot."
Before this could start an argument, Eldacar suggested, "Perhaps another time, the children are watching you."
Both nodded, and Ned signalled Jon to come sit.
When Jon came, Ghost in tow, Catelyn was about to admonish him for bringing the direwolf to the high table, only for Eldacar to ask in wonder, "How is it that you have managed to tame such a great wolf?"
Jon shrugged, unsure of how to answer. "He listens to me, always has."
Eldacar leaned forward to pet the direwolf. Jon was quick to warn as Ghost bared his teeth, "He doesn't listen to strangers!"
But Eldacar murmured in a strange language and Ghost allowed himself to be petted.
As they started in wonder, Eldacar spoke, "Lord Stark, in my land we may not have tamed wolves, but we do have ways of communicating with them."
Hearing that, Bran began inquiring, "You can talk to animals? Can you teach me? What do they say?"
Eldacar laughed, "No, young Bran, I cannot talk to them, I can only pass on my intent. Sindarin is a language almost all beasts understand, though they cannot speak it. I could teach you Sindarin, but sadly I fear I do not have the time to do so. Soon I must go back home and help my people."
Bran looked down, and Ned heard Eldacar whisper conspiratorially, "but I can teach you a few words before I go."
Bran beamed at that and began to eagerly talk to Arya.
Jon spoke up, "Lord Eldacar, thank you for convincing Lady Catelyn. But why did you ask for me to join you at the high table?"
"I do not believe that you should be hidden because of another's actions. You live your life, not your father's, you can chose to be remembered as a person of your own actions, or you can be remembered because of what others have done. Tell me, what do you wish to make of yourself?"
Jon glanced at Ned, "I had thought to join the Night's Watch."
Ned was agape, "Jon, do you really want to go to the Wall? It is a hard life and one more difficult for a boy."
Eldacar interrupted, "Forgive me, I am not familiar with the Night's Watch, what is it?"
Ned answered, "The Night's Watch is a sworn brotherhood to protect the Seven Kingdoms from the dangers in the far north. They serve on the Wall."
He saw Eldacar's questioning look, "The Wall stands seven hundred feet high and stretches three hundred miles across. The brother's of the Night's Watch swear to not take a wife, hold lands, father children, or gain any glory."
He turned to Jon, "Why do you want to become a brother of the Night's Watch?"
"I am a bastard. I have no future. I have no lands to gain, no one to wed, nor do I see the chance for glory."
Eldacar spoke, "Lord Stark, Jon, if I may? I have a suggestion. As you know, I need help to take back my home. Let Jon squire for me or be my ward. If those of the Seven Kingdoms will help me take back Gondor, I will need someone familiar with your ways. In Middle Earth, we don't go by family names, merely our names. If anything, we go by our father's name. I am Eldacar, son of Valacar. Jon would be Jon, son of Eddard, if you agree to it."
"Eldacar, let Jon and I sleep on it. Tomorrow we may have an answer for you. For now, tell me of your land and I shall tell you of ours."
When Jon left, Eldacar's guard followed him, discussing life as natural-born sons and how Eldacar was beginning to change their lives.
They spoke into the late hours of the night. Eldacar spoke of how Castamir had taken the throne with excuse of Eldacar being a 'half-breed.' Eddard spoke of Robert's Rebellion and the Mad King. Eldacar described the fall Arnor, and how the Witch-King of Angmar rose to power. In turn, Ned detailed the Greyjoy rebellion and how Theon Greyjoy was his ward and hostage.
They moved on to how an alliance between the two realms would be beneficial. "Lord Stark, Gondor is smaller than the Seven Kingdoms by far, but it possesses knowledge and craftsmanship beyond what the Seven Kingdoms can do. We may not be able to match the skill of your 'Bran the Builder,' but we can certainly come near. The tower of Orthanc is made of nigh unbreakable stone and reaches near five hundred feet in height."
Ned countered, "There are few enough construction projects going on here. We have little need for construction."
"Rodrick tells me that Moat Cailin was once an impregnable fortress, but has now fallen into disrepair, would you not wish to rebuild it? He also says that the Kingsroad has fallen into disrepair, my people could help restore it."
It would indeed help, perhaps increase Northern trade. The North was known for being one of the poorest kingdoms, especially relative to its size. "That may indeed be useful."
"A quick question, Lord Stark, Rodrick tells me that winter and summer last for years, can you confirm this? I know the seasons to last three months, not years."
"Months? Winter only lasts for three months where you come from? How can this be? The seasons have always lasted for years on end."
"I know not. In Middle Earth they have always lasted for months."
Ned thought, "Perhaps people will be inclined to travel to your land during the winter years. It would be less mouths for us to feed, and revenue for you through taxes on inns."
Eldacar grinned, "I can see that being beneficial to us both."
Ned yawned, "Excuse me, Eldacar, it is late now, and King Robert shall arrive tomorrow."