Your name is Ranulf, but they call you Wulf. You do not find the name particularly endearing, but it remains with you, and has done for summers and tens of summers.
You appreciate what you have: your family, your beautiful lady wife who loves you dearly, or did, and your elegant daughter, the picture of grace and fickle hearts, and your son, too, for all his naiveté and egoism: you understand what it is like to be young and reckless, though you can’t quite remember what it is not to feel the weight of responsibility bearing down on your shoulders. You fear that your family may even resent you for this, on mornings where you are breaking your fast with them only to be called away, to attend to some pressing matter in the keep. Your lady wife is disillusioned, you know, but you respect her enough that you do not pretend she can compete with your land for your love. Your peasants are starving, their men decimated in war, your lands are dying, but your family flourishes. Is it so wrong of you to choose the path you have chosen?
You do not think so.
In truth, you were never truly ready to be a lord. You were born just like everyone else, squalling and angry, and you were groomed for lordship from birth, but you never wanted to be some lordling, to tend the north as was and is your duty. You did not care for politics because like your son you were young and foolish, once, and you learned the hard way what it is to be a lord. He will have to learn too, you feel, but for now it is your duty and yours alone. You loved to fence and to fight, to joust, to enter tournaments; you were skilled at war games when you were younger, and it made you arrogant, for a time. Then your lord father passed; you were ten and seven and the keeper of the north – you were not ready for responsibility. You still had tournaments to win, maidens to woo, why should you have to give up this life to sit a chair and listen to the complaints of peasants and drunkards, whom would spit the minute you turned your back?
But you sat your cold, hard chair and you listened to your peasants and your drunkards, because, you grew to realise, they were your peasants and your drunkards, and if you were not to listen to them, who would? You realised your lord father cared little and less for his commoners, that people were dying every day in your lands and your lord father, like you, would much rather be feasting or whoring or hosting noble guests than attending to the whims of the people who spent their lives slaving away in the fields or shoeing your horses or baking your bread. You realised that they mattered, these peasants, and for all their coarseness they were honest, they spoke to you as they would speak to anyone else – albeit you had to ask them to first, and often you saw them shooting sideways glances at your knights, as though they were afraid you would have their tongues cut out for having spoken the simple truth, for telling you that they were suffering. This mortified you.
You were groomed for ruling, and you were groomed for war. Fighting excited you, did it not? And ruling bored you. Except when it came to real ruling, real war, you would take peacetime over wartime, always. Ruling you can do, because you know your people, and you see their suffering every day: you need to rebuild your lands, because you will be the first to be struck if the wildlings get beyond the barrier. And for all your love of warfare, it is not so satisfying to really kill a man, nor is it exciting to watch your people die around you, to lose one of the friends you have known since birth to the bite of steel to the throat, the blood spraying like a fountain all over you, hot and furious. You do not want more war, you do not want the wildlings to return, but it seems inevitable – and where is King Hornebolt when you send him pleas for aid? King Hornebolt is in the south, as kings are wont to be.
When you rebelled with Aeron, you thought you were doing the right thing. Dunham was mad, the land in tatters; your people were living and dying in the dark. You think now that perhaps even at seven and thirty you were foolish, but you did what you thought was best, what you thought was right, as you have always done, and foolishly always will do. You followed Aeron Hornebolt into battle against the Mad King because you believed his taking the throne would make the lives of your people better. But six summers have passed, and the North is still a wasteland. Your calls for aid do not fall on quite deaf ears, but you feel those ears may have selective hearing. Your people still live and die in the dark.