He had been watching her. For the past three moons now he had been silently watching her, a shadow and whisper within the vast gods-wood trees of the immense castle. Silent, tucked, and hidden beneath the trunk of the mighty heart tree. Ever vigilant. Ever observant. Always watching with his intense grey eyes... The vibrant redness of the leaves giving him both sanctuary and respite. Red like her hair...He had always fancied the color red. In a world full of grays, blacks, and lifelessness, red was salvation, a promise of new beginnings. She was promise itself with her vibrant cascade of fire and curls, eyes of crystalline sky, and a smile honey-sweet.
His people had always revered the scarlet hue, say that it is the color of the lucky ones. Even more, its wearer to have been personally touched by the gods, to have been "kissed by fire." Although he had never been particularly religious, he believed and adhered to the signs and superstitions. As a wildling and son of the wily King-Beyond-the-Wall, Mance Rayder, Jon Snow could not help but listen with an attentive ear. Savage, yes, but he was no fool.
At ten and two, Jon Snow's name was already legend. At ten and nine, the stories traveled far and wide throughout the realm. From the cannibalistic Thenns of the lush Frostfang Valley, who retell and divulge the stories over roasting fires of human meat, to the hedonistic Dornes of the southern summer kingdoms, lost within the throes of passion and orgasmic bliss on immense beds of silk and color. Always spoken in whispers and hushed tones. Out of fear or reverence, who knew? Perhaps it was one in the same. The results never changed.
Jon Snow, Mance Rayder's heir. The White Wolf of the North. The Ghost in the Darkness. The Devil's Son. It was all warranted, one supposed. The legends and the myths. Was it not oft said that one mystifies what is unknown and feared? As a wildling prince, he was both on all accounts. The wildlings were renown for their fierceness, that much was true. Stories of their ferocity was both a point of contention and yielded begrudging respect.
A ghost of a smile briefly flashed across his face and then, just as suddenly, it was gone. As descendants of The First Men, the wildlings would never be passive kneelers, weak and ineffectual. Not if Jon had the final say. No, the wildlings fought back. Already, at ten and nine, Jon knew war and warfare. Ninety-eight times he and fellow clansmen raided fellow wildling tribes and northern lords' keeps, he at the head of these raiding parties at the behest of his father. Everyone a success and victory, further cementing his invincibility and notoriety.
It was so simple, the pillaging and raiding. He scouted the villages and keeps, routing out all weaknesses; acclimating and familiarizing himself to all the hidden passageways and unused corridors. Always keeping to the shadows, always silent. Jon was grateful to Tormund Giantsbane, his second-in-command. While Jon was sullen and severe, with his long northern face and piercing grey eyes (the eyes of a wolf, they would say) Tormund was loud, boisterous and pugnacious. Always ready for a fight, never mind the reason or offense. They had been like brothers since time immemorial--the Wolf and the Wild Man. Their friendship forever cemented by blood, sweat, and tears. Two halves of a whole...
A twig snapped nearby, faint but telling. Tormund. A moment later, the large wildling was by Jon's side--always by his side. One of the few constants in an ever-changing world. Jon smiled fully then, a treasure to behold. It seemed like every woman in the village--young and old--would hold their breaths in anticipation for one of his smiles, especially if directed towards them. A loud, collective sigh escaping their lips, girlish giggles quickly ensuing. He was a pretty man, that Jon Snow.
Almost too damned pretty. With his midnight curls, full lips, and teeth of gleaming ivory, his face was a contradiction: both classic and cold. Many a time, Tormund would jape about his comeliness, snickering over fermented goat's milk (a drink of choice Jon loathed, the pungent odor nauseating his stomach) that had he been born a girl, he would have been stolen many times over. Jon would not reply, he hardly ever did one Tormund got into his moods. He would only stare off into the distance, grey searching, but focusing on nothing. The flickering of the flames turning his eyes an unnatural light. The wolf's gaze..
As prince of the wildings and a man fully grown, it was expectant that he take a woman soon. By the tie he reached a full score in age, to be exact. Only six moon's turns from now. That was hardly a conundrum, taking a woman. The village was in no demand of them. And they all made no secret that they wanted him. When they offered, Jon readily supped, taking only what they provided and being ever considerate with their emotions. He knew how to be clear, though. His intentions were never mistaken or lost in translation. Although his body and bed were both warm and willing--ever ready to be sated and satisfied--his heart was his own.
It was not that Jon was an overly proud man, believing that no woman was worthy of being his wife, it was only that there was no woman he felt a connection to. No woman that shared his equally wild heart and spirited nature. Until now...
"Everyone in the castle is asleep," Tormund whispered quietly. His glacial blue eyes watching his prince and friend like a sentinel. Jon nodded in response, his grey eyes once again focusing on nothing, his thoughts churning. A plan slowly manifesting out of obscurity. It had been completely accidental. He had not meant for any of this to happen. Had not meant to fall in love...
He had taken a small group of men from his village on a hunting party. Although game was plentiful north of the Wall, something had driven Jon away from his mother's ancestral lands and into the land of the Wolves--the Starks. After three days of successful hunting, Jon and his party were to return to the village when he had gotten separated from the rest of the men. Knowing how to survive on his own since youth, Jon was not worried. He had an abundance of meat to keep him fed and it was still the summer months. Winter had not yet come.
He was both confident and prepared, for Mance had taught him well on the usefulness of survival and stealth. As a wildling, darkness was your one true companion. You rested during the day and moved in the cover of darkness. Never stay still. Jon lived by this teaching. It had served him well, taught him how to survive. He knew what to do. And he was ready.
Until he saw her...until his equilibrium had been knocked completely off kilter.
He had heard the voices first. They were close, perhaps no more than a few feet away. Knowing the odds were not in his favor, Jon hid behind a cove of trees, crouching and waiting. An unsheathed blade by his side, should the occasion arise. As they slowly emerged from the forest, Jon counted four of them. Four kneelers on horseback. Jon silently cursed to himself and sheathed the blade. A wildling could successfully fend against four soldiers (it has been done before), but no wildling was ever successful against those mounted beasts. In earlier wildling history, complete villages had been decimated by soldiers on horseback. No wildling stood a chance. So Jon waited, silently hidden away behind the dense underbrush and tree limbs. He had been wrong, though. They weren't soldiers at all, only passing lordlings on an afternoon stroll. Also, they were not all men, Jon was quick to observe. There was a woman among their midst.
She had been singing quietly to herself, periodically her traveling companions would join in, their voices a harmonious unit. Yet, it was her voice that gave Jon pause and held in rapt attention. His breath hitched slightly, his body unknowingly straining towards the dulcet sounds. Seven hells...
Soft and honey-sweet, Jon had never heard the like. Sure, there had been songs. The men (and some women) would often congregate around various campfires and exchange bawdy tales of wife-stealing and bead sport. Jon never joined in, though. He would just observe in that quiet, attentive way he was prone to.
However, there was something otherworldly beautiful about her voice. Almost familiar...and Jon wanted to be completely consumed by it. Whatever it was that captured and enthralled him. At that precise moment, he felt like he was drowning, slowly suffocating by the wind and tide, and yet he wanted no resuscitation or salvation. At that moment, all he knew was her.
As the quartet slowly passed by Jon's hidden alcove, the young woman (a girl, Jon immediately corrected himself. She was a girl of middle teenage years) slowly raised her head and Jon was a man lost. He had seen beautiful women before back in the wildling village. There had been Rowena that time two years past, with her wheat-gold hair and emerald eyes, and then Ygritte, who although was no beauty, more than compensated for her plainness with her devotion and ferocity. There had been countless others throughout the years, each one bestowing a fond memory. Yet here, now, after viewing the material beauty before him, they were all left wanting.
"The hour wanes, Sansa." Her companion gently reprimanded. "We need to return to the keep." He was tall with dark auburn locks and light azure eyes. He was handsome, Jon begrudgingly conceded, his lip curled slightly. Who was this whelp? Jon wondered, as the party disappeared into the gods wood. Was he her husband? Her intended? A lover, perhaps? An uncomfortable clenching settled in his gut. That would make matters more complicated...
A small laugh erupted from the beauty beside him and Jon's heart constricted. Gods.
" And here I thought my brother was my champion, willing to protect me form the oncoming night and its terrors." They rode the remainder of the way in relative silence, past the gate and into the keep. All unassuming and none the wiser. As Jon slowly raised to his feet, he continued to stare after them. He could not breathe. Could not think. "Sansa..."Had he really said her name aloud? It was like warm honey on his tongue. Sansa.
Later that night, Jon met up with his hunting party. Yet, only Tormund knew something was amiss. Of course he would. Nothing ever escaped his notice. There were bound to be questions.
So from across a kindling fire, while the rest of his companions slept on, Jon retold everything--of Sansa, of this unexpected and deep yearning to seized and overwhelmed him, of his desire to steal the she-wolf from her lair and claim her as his own. Once finished, Tormund remained silent, watchful and contemplating. Finally, a loud bark of laughter erupted from him, slicing through the silent tranquility of the warm summer night.
"I'll be damned," he chuckled, shaking his head in complete disbelief and wonder. "The White Wolf is in love. With a kneeler, to boot." Jon took a moment, absorbing his friend's words. Loyal Tormund, whose insight and wisdom was oft frightening with its validity.
"Are you with me?" Jon asked quietly, stark grey eyes meeting twinkling blue. This was it, the moment of truth. Jon knew what Tormund would be risking. And if they were caught...
"You know I am," came the quiet reply, all mirth and humor gone, quickly fading with the night. Jon released a tense, tired breath of air that he did not know he had been holding. No more words were spoken, for there was nothing left to say. That had been three moons ago. Three moons of watching, waiting and hoping. Three moons of wanting and burning...
"That's good. Make sure everyone is prepared. We move at twilight." Tormund nodded and returned to the forest, leaving Jon once again alone with his thoughts.
"Sansa," he whispered into the waning night air. His thoughts once again returning to the flame-haired siren that haunted his dreams and consumed his thoughts. How was it possible to fall in love so completely, so irrevocably at just a single glance? A passing moment? Was this what that early wildling king of long ago felt when he gazed upon his lady bride before he stole her?
Once more facing the window of her solar, Jon waited. His heart swelling with hope and love. A ghost of a smile once again grazing his lips.