A Dance with Dragons provided new information regarding Ashara Dayne, including the fact that according to Ser Barristan she gave birth to a stillborn daughter, and “shortly after” threw herself from a tower in Starfall, driven mad with grief. It’s probable that Barristan was not a personal witness to the birth (which must have happened in the course of the war, given her death shortly after at the war’s end) or the death (since that was at Starfall while Barristan was at King’s Landing), but was operating on such information he had received from others. So it’s possible that the report of a daughter could be entirely wrong.
Assuming it is not wrong, however, we have this other piece of information from Barristan: that her death may also have been “for the man who had dishonored her at Harrenhal as well,” and that he wondered that if he had won at the tourney at Harrenhal, would ” she have looked to [him] instead of Stark?” Clearly, Barristan believes it was a Stark that was the father of her child, and the obvious conclusion is that he’s referring to Eddard Stark…
Or is it so obvious? Because in this novel, we also learn of the proclivities of Brandon Stark, a man who had the “wolf blood” in him, making him quite a different kind of man from his brother. Lady Barbrey Dustin reveals that she was lover to Brandon in her youth, and that he was a man who was used to taking what he wanted, and the he loved the sight of “blood on his sword” (both literally and figuratively). Consider that Brandon was taller and handsomer than Eddard, that he was the best sword and lance of the brothers (SSM), that he wasn’t so shy that he needed to send someone to speak to Ashara and ask her to dance with him.
The common tale is that Eddard loved Ashara, and that she loved him. Even Edric repeats it, as that’s how it’s told in Starfall. But one could conceive a situation where Ashara dances with Eddard… and decides his older brother seems much more interesting, and Brandon—being the sort of man he was—ends up going to bed with her. Some have cried foul at this idea, that Brandon would never do such a thing to Eddard, but what has he done to Eddard? He attempted to help him with Ashara, and she simply seemed more interested in him than in Ned (according to this view). Unless one wants to remove all agency from Ashara, so that she’s helpless to make a choice that Eddard doesn’t permit, the possibility has to exist.
There’s no firm proof of this theory. But there is one thing that might be indicative: Barristan never seems to think of Eddard Stark in a negative way—indeed, he goes out of his way to defend him when Daenerys sees him only as one of Robert’s “dogs”— whereas he thinks of this “Stark” who “dishonored” Ashara, the woman he loved with all his heart, with an apparent unhappiness. Can that be reconciled? It seems unlikely, though not impossible. The evidence against? Everyone seems sure that Ashara and Eddard had a tryst, and some believe that led to his bastard son. But against that, one might note that if Brandon did sleep with her and get her with child, it was at a rather sensitive point in time, with his betrothal to Catelyn in place and his marriage not far from commencing. Could it be that Eddard took the blame for the idle gossipers, to avoid an embarrassment for the Starks and Tullys? One can imagine that that would fall within his character, while Barristan and some others within the royal circles—where Ashara had been a lady-in-waiting—might have known the truth of it.
In the end, there are no firm facts to determine the question one way or another, or even whether Ashara really did have a stillborn daughter. However, Barristan’s choice of words leaves open the possibility that Brandon Stark, not Eddard Stark, was the father of this alleged child.