[ooc: Several months before the polio epidemic...]
"Aaarrrgh! I'll NEVER get it right!" seven-year-old Syndra growled as she poked at the offending stitches with her needle. She sat on a small stool by the hearth with her sewing on her lap. Her mother was rocking idly in the rocking chair nearby doing her own stitching. Her brother Gavrin was sprawled on the floor in front of the fire, deep in concentration over a picture he was drawing with a charcoal stick.
The little girl sighed in frustration. It wasn't fair. Mama's needlework was so perfect. Why was her own always such a mess?
Gavrin looked up from the floor with a sympathetic grin - which also revealed a smudge of charcoal on his nose.
"Bring it to me, my precious," said Lady Morna with a smile. "Let me see what I can show you."
She held out a long, shapely hand to her daughter.
Syndra picked up her work and brought it over to show her mother. "See, it keeps tangling," she explained as she flipped the linen over to look at the back. "The thread gets in a big knot, then it breaks when I try to pull it out." The little girl leaned on the arm of the rocking chair, her long hair spilling over her mother's arm as Morna examined her work.
"You are being careless with your notes on the reverse," said her mother. "Look, Syndra." She turned her own embroidery over. It was very nearly as neat on the rear as it was on the front.
Syndra ran a small finger over the fine stitches. Her mother did indeed do beautiful work.
"That is what you should be trying to do. Now, if I unpick this green thread here, you could try the leaf of that flower again. And if you promise to be careful and not sew your stitches jaggedly, you may choose a new thread from these silks that Ser Corryn brought for me last time he came."
Syndra's eyes sparkled at the prospect of being allowed to pick through the treasures Ser Corryn sometimes brought to brighten her mother's needlework. She watched carefully as Morna miraculously unwound her knotted thread and started her back on the right path.
"Mama, can you show me that leaf-stitch again? You know, the one where you can make a whole leaf in two stitches?" she begged.
Her mother laughed and then set the stitch so that the leaf showed, long and silky.
"Now you try," she suggested, and then looked over what Gavrin was so laboriously drawing. "What's that, Gavrin? Your father on a warhorse?"
Gavrin nodded. "The legs are awfully difficult," he explained. "Getting them to go the right way, you know."
Lady Morna laughed. "And is that a request to run down to the stable and see real horses for comparison?" she asked.
Syndra glanced up at Gavrin, then returned her concentration to the leaf. Up and down in the same hole, leave a loop, up again at the point, catch the loop, back down in the same hole. Syndra carefully pulled the thread tight, anticipation written on her face.
Suddenly, she squealed and hopped up and down. "I did it, Mama! I did it!" she cried excitedly. She thrust the needlework at her mother to see, but yanked it back before Morna had a chance to look. "I'm gonna do more! I'm gonna do a whole *tree*!" She skipped back to her stool happily.
"Well," said Lady Morna with a smile, "start with a small branch. You will need chain stitch for the bark, you know, and that takes a good while longer if you are to be neat. But yes, by the time Papa comes to take us home, you should have a tree ready to show him."
A cloud seemed to cross her face, and she said, almost so quietly that the children could not hear, "If not an entire forest."
Gavrin looked at his mother and then at Syndra, troubled.
Syndra had seen that cloud increasingly often as her father's stints of duty at Winterfell grew longer. He had explained that as he grew more experienced, Lord Stark had given him more responsibility. It was a great honor, he had told Syndra the last time he was home.
Lady Morna had merely smiled tightly at that. Syndra knew that her mother would rather have Godfrey by her side than a week's ride away, honor or not. She hated loneliness. The only other lady in residence was Lady Celia, and she treated all the Hardys except Lord Oswain with contempt. Mama did seem to enjoy the River Wolf's visits. She laughed and talked with him long after her children were tucked into bed, their heads spinning with tales of his adventures on the White Knife and beyond. But he was a trader and traders needed to trade. He didn't come around nearly as often as Syndra would've liked.
Syndra hated seeing her mother grow cloudy and tried to dispel it. "Surely Papa will come home before the baby arrives," she said optimistically, with a glance at her mother's growing belly.
"He promised," said Lady Morna, a little bleakly. Then she tried to smile. "And he will try to keep his promise. But my Syndra knows that he has his honour too, which he has given to Lord Stark. And if Lord Stark needs him at Winterfell then ... we must manage alone. And we shall, won't we, Syndra? Because I'll have you and my Gavrin to look after me."
Gavrin looked up with a grin. "Of course, Mother!"
Syndra nodded enthusiatically. "Yes, I'll help! 'Cause I'm gonna be a mama someday, too, so I should learn," she said proudly. "Mama, can I hold the babe first? 'Cause I'm gonna be a mama?" She shot Gavrin a not-so-surreptitious glance of one-upsmanship.
Gavrin rolled his eyes and grinned.
"Yes you can, dearest," said her mother, "And you can help me with this new baby like you already help me with Trey. And while I am away from you, when the baby is being born, you'll look after Trey for me, won't you? And Gavrin?"
"I don't need looking after!" said Gavrin proudly. "I'm a man."
Lady Morna smiled, a secret womanly smile. "Sometimes, Gavrin, it's the men who need looking after most of all."
Syndra nodded haughtily at Gavrin and smiled her best imitation of the secret womanly smile. Hers came out a little smug, however.
She looked back at her mother and noticed that Morna's current project, a Hardy sigil she was sewing onto one of Ser Godfrey's jerkins, emphasized the point. "Like the Tallhart tradition, right, Mama?" she said as she pointed at the jerkin. "Does Gavrin know that one?"
"Do you Gavrin?" asked Lady Morna.
Gavrin looked as though he would have liked to have announced proudly that of course he did. But instead he hesitated and then shook his head with his usual incurable honesty.
"No, Mother. What is it?"
"Tell him, Syndra," said Lady Morna, smiling as she set the stitch.
Syndra's pride showed through at being allowed to tell the hallowed tale, and she told it with the voice of legend. "It's long been said, passed down from mother to daughter in Mama's family through the ages, that a sigil has great power if it's sewn properly. 'A sigil stitched by a woman who loves the warrior will protect him when he wears it into battle,'" she quoted.
She looked to her mother for confirmation, then added, "That's why Mama always stitches Papa's sigils herself. And yours, too."
"Oh!" said Gavrin, his eyes wide. "Synnie - will you sew one for my new best tunic then?" He thought about this. "A little one for the sleeve, perhaps. And Mother can sew the big one to go over my heart."
"I can try, but it won't be as good as Mama's," she answered, then turned to her mother. "Mama, does the protection still work if I'm not a woman yet?"
"Leave two stitches unsewn until your flowering," said her mother. "It will be powerful before then, if made with true love, but the real power will come on its completion."
Syndra nodded, considering this. She examined her leaf more closely, turning the fabric to see different angles. "Y'know... if I turn it so the leaf goes this way, I might be able to make it be one of the leaves on the sigil..." she mused, almost to herself.
Her mother smiled.
"And when it is completed," she said, "your Father will be delighted to wear it."