Actions

Work Header

The Maid in the Castle

Work Text:

Petyr tells her many things, for a man so careful of his words.

He says: If you want something, you should keep it hidden so that no one can use it against you. Better yet, want nothing.

He says: Make yourself invaluable, but don’t ask for gratefulness, for that breeds contempt.

He says: All men – and all women – have weaknesses which can be exploited.

He says: Watch me and learn.

She does.

*~*

When Lord Baelish is not in Eyrie (which is often), instead weaving his plots elsewhere, conspiring for ever more, more power, more resources, more allies and more dead enemies (though he prefers incapacitated, incapacitated enemy can yet be of use), Alayne finds herself fretful and sleepless, wandering the modest rooms of the keep in grim anticipation of bad news. She makes faces at herself in mirrors, mocking the ease with which emotion shows on her features, schooling them into expressions of what she does not feel. She knew way back how to smile falsely and to keep her mouth and brow still when laughter threatened to burst out; now she teaches herself how to show all other emotions and how to withhold them.

There is little for her to do in his absence but pass the time. She reads, no longer complaining of boring battles and lists, as any written word is better than being left alone with her thoughts. She weaves, though not much, for though the frost remains outside, it is not much warm inside, and her fingers soon grow stiff and clumsy. She plays with Robert, on the rare occasions when he feels strong enough to leave his bed.

She dreams tiring nightmares of flights and captures, and, rarely, no less tiring dreams of kisses and caresses. Her dream lovers have kind eyes and gentle lips, and sometimes, waking from their embraces, Sansa curiously touches herself, breasts and labia, until she shudders under her covers. She feels shame after; the Septa told her it was children’s game, to please oneself thus, and Alayne nears her sixteenth – no, seventeenth – name day. Her moon days are regular now, like her mother once told her they would come to be, and she is to be wedded to Harry the Heir. Petyr is impatient to see her wedded, lest Robert die too soon, making Harry grow too prideful, desiring of someone’s true-born daughter.

Alayne would not be disappointed were he to do so. She danced with the Young Falcon and took walks with him like Lord Baelish told her to, and Harrold was pleasant enough, but she shivered to think of marrying him, or anyone else.

*~*

The nights grow longer and colder before Petyr returns from his last journey. Alayne sees him from afar and walks to the gate to greet him as he dismounts. The smile he gives her then is wide; his eyes smile together with his mouth, and she smiles as well, part pleasure and part apprehension. Out in the open air it is too cold to exchange kisses, but she reads the expectation in his lingering gaze. The thought of the kisses he made her give him before makes her stomach flutter.

“Did you miss me, Alayne?” he asks her as they walk up the stairs, a servant in tow, awaiting commands.

She gives the dutiful answer without hesitation. “So has Robert,” she lies. “He asks me about his Lord Protector.” Petyr does not flinch, but she feels, or possibly expects, his displeasure. He prefers not to be reminded of Robert when he need not think of his charge.

“Does he, now. I am certain you find ways to distract him.”

Alayne wonders if this is her dismissal, but when they reach a chamber of his he sends the servant off to fetch a plate of food and a cup of warmed wine, and tells her to stay. She guesses that her comment soured his mood when he makes no movement to touch her, instead sitting on a chair. A thought crosses her mind of the inappropriateness of her being alone with him in his rooms, but it’s a Sansa Stark thought, and she stifles it. He looks tired, without his usual energy.

“How is our Lord Robert?” he inquires after a moment, stapling his fingers. She know he must have been getting maester’s reports while away, but wants her opinion all the same.

“Not much change,” she tells him. “The cold seems to do him little harm, but he lacks appetite.”

“Then force-feed him. Bribe him, if need be. So long as he lives, you are a good enough match for the boy.”

She sighs. “I’m doing all I can to help him,” she insists. “Maester says he needs a change of climate.”

Petyr bristles. “So do we all, but roads are not safe, nor are any lands he might go to. I don’t have little boys ready to pretend to be him if he should get lost in a melee.” He does not add, “like your sister,” but Sansa hears it none the less. Alayne does not care one way or the other. It is more difficult to be Alayne around him than around any others. The looks he gives her are not for Alayne.

A silence falls then, making her uncomfortably aware of his gaze, and of her clothing. The simple dress does nothing for her colouring, just as it should, but the little vanity she has left makes her wish she could wear ought else.

“Do you want to see the gifts I brought you?” he asks at last.

There’s fabric enough for two dresses there, and a pair of earrings with green stones that she is sure she must not wear where anyone may see. These gifts could feel parental, but they don’t.

“Do you like them?”

She does. He makes her put on the earrings and stares at her for a while, his fingers brushing her hair away from her face, lingering on her cheek. She feels herself blush and turns her gaze away.

He lays out more offerings then: dye for her hair and a few books for her to pass the time. He waives her thanks, claiming that these are practically worthless now, but Alayne knows better than to believe that. The dye looks different from the previous kind, and she remarks on it; Petyr merely nods and this is her dismissal. Going, she takes one book with her. He does not tell her to kiss him, but she know that she is expected to do that before taking her leave of him. She kisses his cheek, rough with stubble, and Petyr claims Sansa’s mouth for just a brief second before letting her go.

*~*

When Petyr was gone, she could go on being Alayne for weeks. She missed Sansa’s name day without a thought and barely remembered about her siblings and parents. Being a bastard child was an armour better than anything Sansa Stark possessed, and she wove this identity around herself, closing herself inside it, hiding so completely that she could not tell at times where playacting ended and being began. That’s what he asked of her: to be Alayne, whom Sansa’s enemies would not seek out to harm. Alayne was not no one, but she mattered far less than Sansa Stark, even should she be heir to her father’s castles, even should she be betrothed to Harry the Heir.

But Alayne was other things as well: she could be bold, like bastards are bold. Alayne knew how to lie well, and when to tell a truth. Alayne didn’t dream of silly things, for she was born just before winter began. Alayne was strong. Sometimes she thought being Alayne forever would be for the best; she would forget Winterfell and King’s Landing, where Alayne had never set foot.

On Petyr’s orders, she readies Lord Robert to sup with them. The child has grown meeker these days, less inclined to petulant outbursts, scared himself of the fits they would bring about. The change does nothing to becalm Alayne, as the respite is temporary. Robert’s illness is clearly progressing, whether naturally or due to all the sweetmilk he’d drunk.

She walks the little lord down the stairs carefully, and the boy manages not to stumble. She tries to take heart in that, but he clings onto her too strongly, betraying his fear of the stepfather he despises. She tried to make the boy less anxious, but to little avail. A part of her, truthfully, enjoyed the dread he felt, for it reminded her of Joffrey’s face as he struggled for his last breaths. The spoilt child has all the potential to be a little monster; yet he is her cousin, and only a little boy. To think him doomed to early grave made her uneasy.

And should he fail to die in time, Petyr will kill him to secure my rights. That thought is worse for how torn it makes her feel. She never knew herself to have so much selfishness.

They make it to the hall, where the table is set for five: Lord Baelish has brought company, an old man and a younger woman. She looks at them appraisingly: the man seems to be an old soldier, or a hedge knight, while the woman can only be his daughter. They introduce themselves as ser Mander Karlyle, and his only daughter, lady Marya. The clothes on the man are tattered but clean, while the daughter is dressed richly, too richly almost, with a low-cut bodice accentuating her full bosom; her hair is dark brown and wavy, combed up. She is no beauty, but handsome enough to have a knight or two asking her for garters, in a time of peace. They make their greetings, bowing before Lord Robert, before the old man turns to Alayne to try and make conversation.

“Your father, Lord Baelish, has been kind enough to offer us a few days’ respite here in Lord Robert’s name,” the man says, by way of explanation. “It is our pleasure to meet our kind host’s daughter. He never mentioned how beautiful you were when warning us of your wit.”

The flattery is cheap, but Alayne has heard cheaper. She smiles and allows the lord to pour her water for her. She is seated between him and Petyr, with Robert given the honorary seat at the top of the table. “My Lord Father pays little heed to women’s beauty, not even his daughter’s, in the aftermath of the tragic death of my stepmother,” she says in a pleasant enough tone, so that the insult is not immediately apparent. Lady Marya hears it well enough, judging by her blush.

She need not look to Lord Baelish to know he caught her meaning. His hand brushes against her leg and her breath hitches, but she cannot tell if he is warning her or approving of her boldness.

The guests bring tidings, doubtless known to Petyr, but new to Alayne. They speak of Wildlings camping south of the Wall and of King Stannis’s garrisons sheltering them, as well as of dire battles fought with the northern enemy. The tales are grim and fantastical, but Lord Protector seems none too disturbed. Lord Robert listens with growing fascination, though, and when the maester comes to take him away, Robert first refuses to go, and when the Lord Protector scolds him, tries to demand to have Alayne accompany him.

“Surely our Lord is old enough to go without a minder,” Petyr says calmly. For a second Alayne is convinced that Robert will go into hysterics, but the moment passes, and Robert allows himself to be taken away. As soon as that happens, Petyr turns back to ser Karlyle.

“What do you think?” he asks. The man shakes his head.

“Not much. I will need to examine him in detail and in different times of day. If I may be permitted to do so tomorrow…” he trails off. His daughter nods.

“There’s little one can tell without hearing his heart and breath. I would have his nights’ waste brought to us as well.”

Alayne blinks and scowls. Petyr sighs.

“What do you say, my daughter ? Would our lord suffer to be examined?”

“I cannot be certain. Maybe if I was with him to calm him down,” she offers, dubiously.

She hopes that he would, for if he does not, Petyr would likely not restrain from having one or two men hold him down for the new maester – for ser Mander, who apparently knows some maesters’ wisdom – to conduct his tests. Which may well make the examination pointless, especially since she is not sure how many more fits Robert will survive.

Alayne only half-listens to the conversation afterwards, making gestures of agreement when appropriate. She has some spiced wine when Petyr offers, and the warmth of it spreads through her enjoyably. She is suddenly tired, though she could not say what of, the company, the apprehension, the effort of remembering herself. She would excuse herself, but Petyr’s foot touches hers, and his hand brushes against her thigh every now and then, and so he clearly would be none too pleased for her to run away discourteously. She feels excited against herself, curious to see what he’ll do. She only now notices that he shaved himself since she saw him this morning. It surprises her: the weather is hardly one for abhorring any additional protection from the cold, but she appreciates it all the same. Smooth cheeks feel better to kiss.

The maester (she sees now that he looks a maester, not a warrior after all – it was the young woman’s appearance that fooled her, for maesters are not supposed to take wives or raise children) finally has enough. He asks for Petyr’s leave, and follows the dismissal with a question if Alayne would not be too tired as well.

“Mind your own daughter, good ser, and I’ll mind mine,” Petyr replies, with a hint of reproach. Alayne tenses at the sharpness.

This brings an end to the evening. Ser Mander does take lady Marya with him when he leaves, though the look she throws Lord Baelish is nothing if not shameless. Alayne feels herself blush again, this time in anger.

*~*

Later that evening, before she goes to bed, he has her sit with him on a bed, her skirts gathered around her as he plays with a lock of her hair. She feels more relaxed than she should, alone with him and his intent staring. It may be the wine. He pulls at the hair, lightly, just to draw her attention.

“You did not dye them,” he admonishes her. “Our guests may have noticed the roots.” His fingers stroke the skin on her head, making her shiver. She should move, bat his hand away. She leans closer.

“The woman couldn’t notice if my hair was half-black, half-red, so intent was she on having your attention, my lord.”

“Indeed.” Petyr smiles at her, openly focusing on her bodice now.

“As was the knight. Does he presume to make you marry her, in your mourning period?”

Lord Baelish laughs, a melodious sound.

“She’s the only coin he owns, her and the healing skills he supposedly has. He would have me bed her, Alayne, to court my favour. He knows his place.”

“Will you?” she asks, surprising herself.

“Why of course not.”

She feels strangely pleased. The memory of her aunt’s cries of pleasure comes to her unbidden and she feels nausea, though this woman certainly wouldn’t be as shameless. Aunt Lysa was much disturbed by grief and drink. No lady acted like that, not even a poor one like Marya. Why, even serving girls, from what she’d observed, exercised more restraint and modesty.

“Was she not to your liking then?” she continues her questioning, curiosity getting the better of her. Petyr’s mouth twitches.

“There is pleasure to be had from lying with most any woman, Alayne. A pleasure much base and simple, and that is not to be scorned. I make good profit being a supplier of that pleasure. But I am not a man of simple pleasures.”

There is something threatening in the way he says it. Alayne shivers.

“And then there is the pleasure of taking what you want, of claiming all you deserve.”

She is suddenly reminded of the Fingers. A dreary place, drearier even then her North. She finds his hand and touches it, partly to reassure herself. He smiles.

“Of course a lady does not take, she receives and gives, my dear Alayne,” he finally says. It’s stumbling, words meant not for his daughter. But she is not Alayne anymore, since she can tell that he sees Sansa Stark again, despite the name he says.

“My lord,” she protests meekly, before opening her mouth to his. He is not impatient with her this time, allowing her time to readjust to the closeness. His one hand strokes her side, while the other is on her nape, pressing gently. She relaxes into the touch she is by now familiar with, whimpering low in her throat when his thumb grazes her earlobe.

“I’m told there’s pleasure also in being taken, my dear. Surrendering and opening.” His breath tickles her ear and she feels her chest heaving with shallow breaths, rising and falling in rapid succession. She arches a little, instinctively, moving her bosom closer to him, only to feel fear lest he should notice. She feels slick between her legs and tense inside, as though anticipating his hands to move elsewhere, or to direct her movements.

“Enough,” he says before another whimper rises inside her, retreating a step. “Don’t let me keep you up so late past your bedtime, Alayne. You have duties to attend tomorrow, don’t you.”

“I do, Lord Baelish.”

She lies in her chamber later that night, imagining how it would have felt to have him touch her so sensitive breasts, ashamed of the thoughts, still feeling her heartbeat all the way down inside her smallclothes.

*~*

The few times he’d made her so bothered, she felt too embarrassed the following morning, and he would seemingly foresee, allowing her some solitude, or else leaving the castle altogether for weeks at a time. She is all the more surprised to awaken early the next morning to the sound of pages rustling and the sight of Lord Baelish, sitting in a chair by her bed.

The images from her dreams assault her and she blushes furiously. He’d asked my permission to enter my snow castle, and now he no longer asks one into my bedchamber, she thinks.

“Would you break your fast with me, Alayne?” he asks, as though never seeing her discomfiture.

“It would be my pleasure,” she replies politely. “I should get dressed and washed first, however.”

“There’ll be time enough for that later,” he says, dismissively.

She breaks her fast on boiled eggs and oatmeal with raisins, which Petyr brought especially for her. The food tastes better than when Lord Baelish is not in residence – the cook grows less diligent then. Petyr has only a modest piece of bread and cheese, but he watches her eat with an unreadable face.

“The man you met yesterday has some success in aiding the sick by manners different from maesters’,” he tells her, as she scrapes the bowl with her spoon. “He has already told me that at present, further leeching would do our little lord more harm than good, and for once I’m inclined to agree. He will need to examine Robert further to arrange a… regimen for him.”

Alayne starts.

“Don’t worry, no more medicines. Ser Karlyle claims to have much success by arranging what food and spices a person should consume. He assures me that one man’s food can be another’s poison. He would have you recall if any food ever made Robert sick, and write down for him everything he eats.”

“Of course. What of the examination?”

“Whenever you see fit.”

“In a few hours, then. It would not do to agitate him before dinner.”

She half-expects him to leave then and allow her to finish her meal alone, but he merely returns to his papers, from time to time noting something down. When she is done, he looks up at her, the blankets arranged carefully around her. The room is not cold, but neither is it very warm.

“Forgive me my lord, but I must take your leave now,” she says, in a small voice. Petyr smiles. She wonders how much sleep he could have got, to be so alert already, washed and shaved and engrossed in work, already having spoken with ser Karlyle.

“Forgiveness granted,” he tells her, cheerfully. “I’ll wait for you to call me when you’re ready to have your hair dyed.”

She is proud of herself for not stopping in her tracks then, as the idea of him – of anyone – thus invading her privacy hits her square in the stomach. Slowly, she untangles the sheets and steps out of her bed, careful not to let too much of her leg show. He does not pretend not to be watching her: his eyes take her in head to toe, and she wishes the shift she wears was even thicker and larger, the better to hide the swell of her smallish budding breasts, so that it wouldn’t hug her hips quite so snugly. He makes her feel naked, and the memory of his kisses does little to assuage her embarrassment.

The very act of passing water with a person (with him) present right outside the door in her room suddenly appears too much for her. It is only after a few minutes, when she hears him close the door behind him, that she manages to do anything else but splash water on her cheeks.

Alayne washes swiftly in the cold water, soaping her armpits and private parts, then drying herself up with a scratchy linen cloth. She has goosebumps all over her skin and she shakes visibly when she puts the nightshirt on to go back to her room and get some clothing to change into, as well as to take the dye: she has no intention of receiving help with her hair, even if the dye is different from the ones she is used to. She would rather risk Petyr’s glare.

Her plan never comes to fruition though, because Petyr is still there, in her room. He has had someone bring over buckets of hot water, which accounts for the sound of the door.

He gets to his feet.

“I’ve laid out some clothes for you. For now it is probably best if you stay in your nightshift.”

Her goosebumps now have less to do with cold as he follows her into the small washroom, carrying the bucket. She is uncomfortably aware of her clothing once more, as she is of him having rummaged through her wardrobe and chosen everything down to the smallclothes for her to put on later.

“Thank you, my lord,” she says, her voice not quite as steady as she wishes it to be.

He uses a smaller bowl to wet her hair as she leans forward over a larger one. The water Petyr brought is pleasantly hot, and after a moment she stops shivering, allowing herself to enjoy the sensation, and at the same time, unable to distract herself from the situation.

He has her bending over, one hand on the small of her neck, the other massaging her scalp to make sure all of her hair is ready for the application of the colouring. The last time the dye almost burned her skin and she winces as he begins lathering, but this type is apparently better, since she feels nothing else but his touch. He manages to be gentle, stroking small circles into her skin. This should not, perhaps, be unexpected – he has used his charm and his body to maintain Aunt Lysa’s favour, he has kept the company of women selling their bodies. The thought is surprisingly attractive.

Lord Baelish had Dontos killed in front of her, he pushed her aunt to her death, he had Marillion tortured and killed, and she should be afraid of him, his ruthlessness and the interest he has in her.

All this he’s done to keep her safe – for himself.

Alayne finds his smell to be pleasant. She sighs as Petyr continues to stroke her hair well beyond there ceases to be any need for it. His leg presses against hers, and as she moves a little to catch her balance she suddenly brushes against a shape she is quick to recognize as his cock.

She manages to refrain from turning away reflexively; instead, it is him who draws in a sharp breath as his fingers clench in her hair, almost but not quite pulling. She wishes for a bold remark, but none comes to her while blood pools in her lower stomach, pushing down, as though her own lady parts were a flower blooming.

He brushes against her again, and this time it is, it must be, purposeful. She leans back experimentally, allowing him an easier angle. She lies to herself that she does it not to anger him, but it is first and foremost curiosity and the sudden power she feels in making his control slip, if only a little.

Petyr tugs at her hair a little more, forcing her to straighten up, pushing her against the brim of the bowl, his leg insinuating itself between her knees. She makes a noise of protest.

“Not that ready, are you,” he says, slowly letting go of her hair, and moving her around to face him. “That was a truly foolish bluff.” He is smiling at her, all politeness and charm, no trace of the glance she’s just had at the man who had pushed Lysa Tully out of the Moon Door.

She shudders and he embraces her.

“Now, there’s no need for any of that,” he says. “Don’t you know I have your best interests at heart, Alayne?”

She draws back and wills herself to look at him. “You have your own interests at heart, my lord.”

He is far from offended, naturally. “But you are my interests, aren’t you,” he replies by way of agreement. “Don’t offer what you are not ready to give. There will be time, yet.”

His last words sound decisive. Alayne nods slowly, gazing to her left, away from him.

“Doesn’t our agreement warrant a kiss?”

He starts by kissing her closed lips, quite tenderly, and she relaxes, he’s shown her that there’s no danger in this. Her eyes flutter open when his tongue begs entry into her mouth, but he is not pushing deep, only encouraging her to touch hers against his. He never mentioned anything about the pleasure of being invited to take, of convincing someone to open up, but she can guess the rest herself.

*~*

Ser Karlyle’s examination of Lord Robert takes place in the afternoon, after the boy’s had his nap. Alayne’s hair is dull brown again, but luckily, the man is too preoccupied with Robert to notice Alayne much at all.

That said, his handling of Sweetrobin is nothing short of extraordinary. His voice is soothing as he tells Robert a story of his own boyhood, most likely imagined, and for once there is no protesting or fighting. He is well skilled in evoking trust, Alayne thinks, and mistrusts him on principle.

“This was a sight to behold,” she tells the man when he is finished and they exit the chamber, leaving the boy in a servant’s company. “It’s all too easy to overexcite him, and easier still to anger.”

“I’ve dealt with worse,” the man replies politely, stopping before a doorway.

“Will you be able to make a pronouncement now?” she inquires, curiously. He shakes his head.

“Give some advice that should help to make boy more comfortable and healthier, yes, but there’s no obvious cause for the fits.”

“What could cause fits, then?”

He gives her a look not at all unkind. “Come sit with me in the dining chamber. This is a longer tale, and I’ve not had my dinner yet.”

They sup on vegetable broth and ser Karlyle tells her what he has learned of diseases of the brain. “Sometimes there’s a bump on the head,” he says, “that shows a former injury; or the heart betrays a malfunction in the blood, which in time kills the patient. There can be swelling under the bone or a tumour anywhere in the body. A good way to check is to touch the points here, and there” he says, pointing to her armpits and under the jaw. “When these are swollen, it means some liquid is gathering in the body, causing disease.”

Alayne nods. “This is what the leeches help for.”

He shakes his head with such vehemence she almost expects him to spit at the floor contemptuously, as Northmen did. “Blood is only one of the liquids. If it is not blood that overflows, spilling it only worsens the patient’s state.”

He tells her this and much more before the afternoon passes and Alayne returns to her own tasks.
*~*

Lord Baelish calls on her two days later, inviting himself into her chamber late in the evening. She is abed already, reading one of the books he’d brought her before sleep, and the sight of him makes her blush, for the books is not of the entirely innocent kind, with suggestive illuminations and tales of unseemly behaviour tucked in between altogether wholesome ones. She puts it away nervously, hoping he’d not had a chance to look inside it.

“I’m riding away again tomorrow,” he informs her from the doorway. “At first light,” he adds, as aforethought.

“So soon?” she replies, for the most part genuinely discontented to hear of him leaving.

“There’s no time to waste. History’s wheel is turning as we speak, and as any wheel, needs greasing.”

She nods, disheartened. “Be sure to return to us safely, my lord,” she says, politely.

“Is that all the farewell I’m to receive?”

She hesitates. “I’ll miss you, Lord Baelish.”

He sits on her chair, opposite the bed, and leans close enough to breathe into her ear.

“Will Alayne miss me… or will Sansa?”

This sends a shock through her body, the forbidden name passing his lips. In a way it feels naughtier than the book she’s been reading, a secret they are in on together.

“You know, my lord,” she says, meekly.

It crosses her mind now that he might have been waiting for her to seek him out, which she didn’t, too preoccupied with Robert’s new diet, too embarrassed by the way she’d behaved when he dyed her hair.

“Where will you be going?” she asks, to keep the conversation more than from any hope that he may share his plans with her. He tells her more than she needs to know as it is.

“Far, and for long.”

She flinches.

“If anything ill should befall me – and never fear, I’m much counting that it shan’t – there’s plans made for your safety. My people will know what to do.”

Sansa shakes her head. There never was a doubt in her mind that he would have plans for beyond his death. “I will await your return, my lord.”

“Is there aught you would have me bring you when I return?” he asks, smiling again. A fatherly question. A return to the role.

“A postponement of my nuptials to Harry,” she says quietly, almost saying ‘Joffrey’ by mistake.

Lord Baelish seems not well pleased with her. “Your marriage will take place when it must. Not any sooner, but no later.”

She nods. He reaches out for her book and snatches it from the bed.

“How is your reading going? Learned anything yet?” The tone tells her that he knows of the drawings, or even gave it to her for their very reason. She sees him secretly pleased with the thought of her embarrassment and excitement. Openly pleased with her knowing he knows.

“Should I not kiss you farewell, my lord?” she replies, changing the subject instead.

And it is Sansa kissing him then, noticing the mint on his breath, paying for her safety. He lets the book alone and moves to sit next to her on the bed, smiling against her mouth, cradling her cheek with one hand, stroking the sensitive skin where the jaw begins.

“My clever girl,” he says proudly. “Is there aught else that you would have me bring you, then?”

Alayne shakes her head and he makes to touch her again, trailing small kisses down her throat, tracing her side with his palm. She cannot stop a small sound rising in her throat or the heartbeat pounding in her chest. Thoughts swarm her head, conflicting ideas, the sensations, the inappropriateness, the shame of his earlier chastisement. I should not lead him on, she thinks.

She takes his hand and pushes it down to the swell of her breast, covered by the thick nightshift. He cups it softly, never breaking his kissing of her neck, drawing a circle around her nipple, then stroking just the tip with delicate fingers.

She makes a sound again, now breathing shallowly, excited by her own daring almost as much as by the tingling sensations travelling down her spine to her centre.

“I’ll think of you touching yourself with this sigh on your lips. Such a clever, thoughtful girl you are, to offer me this gift.”

His voice in her ear makes her breath hitch again, and he kisses the lobe before withdrawing.

She sleeps but little that night, only managing to nap when the eastern sky brightens with the promise of dawn.

*~*

She writes letters to her fiancé, not too often, but once a moon’s turn. They are polite and conventional. She writes him what she is studying and how she looks forward to their union.

He writes her back, in large, unpretty hand, of his men training for the war, of his plentiful crops, and of the sons he hopes to give her. She bristles at his choice of phrase and condemns his calligraphy, but finds nothing more serious to criticise him for, only his boyhood, naivety, only that he has a bastard and that she doesn’t want to marry him.

She imagines him kissing her mouth as sloppily as he kissed her hand, moving against her with the little grace he showed dancing. His face is broad and honest. She can’t imagine him appreciating the pretence, her real connexions, her previous marriage.

At least I am trueborn, she thinks, not for the first time less than happy of just how high her station is.

If she was a daughter of a lesser house, she would never have been involved in the royals’ mayhems. She would have married some ser and been widowed by him more like than not, but still she would not be the last surviving person of her blood. She has no one left but lord Robert, her sickly cousin, and lord Baelish, who is not her father, not her uncle, not her nothing.

*~*

Weeks, then months go by and Lord Protector does not return.

Karlyle and his daughter make their own hasty departure on his heels, only a few days later, but not before ser Karlyle catches Alayne in the library and gives her two packets of herbs: one for the boy, to strengthen his blood, and one for her, to use “in a time of need”.

In winter, moon tea is a precious commodity; she blushes and thanks him. Even though a maid, Alayne knows that should she not need it, she will be able to sell it easily.

Although absent, Lord Petyr returns in her thoughts often enough; she cannot pass by his chambers or by the library without being reminded. Washing her hair, rare though it is in the biting cold, makes her remember the warmth of his breath on her nape; when she touches herself in the comfort of her warm bed, she hears the words he said. He has insinuated himself into her head with such ease.

There are other concerns as well, though; although she is not by any means in charge of the keep’s supplies, she puts the knowledge gained from Petyr’s books to use by following the ledgers. Before long she can tell how much wood, flour, butter, eggs and meat they are using up, how much each servant is paid, how much young Lord Arryn is owed and how much he owes. She would have imagined one can only have debts or debtors, but in fact, it is not so, and with time, she begins to understand at least the most basic of rules.

The first raven from Lord Protector arrives after seven weeks, and it is addressed to Lord Arryn, with only a postscript for her, expressing hope that her health remains good, and that she remembers her lord father as fondly as he does her.

She has no means of replying, but from thence, nigh a day goes by that she does not visit the rookery. There’s other correspondence, for sure – from some of Lord Robert’s bannermen, begging assistance, or, when she is lucky, bringing the little tidings they know. Some days she visits the ravens hopeful, on others fearful, expecting the worst.

After a while, a second missive comes, where Lord Baelish asks that Robert, from his name day forward, attend to his lordly duties and pass King’s justice for the common folk’s grievances. With a maester and Alayne present, to calm him and watch over him, and with wise counsel from attending lords, Lord Robert will personally disclaim the lie of his infirmness, he writes. He makes no more mention of Alayne, nor addresses her, nor promises swift return this time.

Alayne would welcome the change, but she is too busy fearing the disaster this idea must surely be. Allowed reign, Robert is almost as sure to overtax and overexcite himself as he is to pass most grievous injustice. The burden of seeing that it doesn’t come to pass – that no one is harmed, and last of all, Robin’s reign – feels all the heavier when she thinks how bad it must be for Petyr to allow this. The lords of the Vale must be much unhappy with them to demand more proof or Robin’s fitness for the future rule.

*~*

Alayne hardly gets any sleep the night before Robert’s first judgments, tossing and turning with unpronounced dread. She tries to touch herself, Petyr’s words rising unbidden in her memory, her own fingers a mere echo of his touch on her breast, but she cannot come and neither does sleep. In the morning she sees the reflection of her pale visage and bloodshot eyes in a piece of metal and almost doesn’t recognize herself. Her hair needs dyeing again.

When Robert hears the grievances, she sits on his right, the counsellor on his left. The day starts easy enough, with hedge disputes, and demands for blood money, and recompense for lost cattle. Robin has wits enough to listen to the ser Waerick’s advice and although not all petitioners walk away sated, all walk with King’s justice, not a boy’s who remembers his mother’s milk. Alayne is genuinely proud of him and barely contains herself from clutching onto his hand, to show him her praise. The smallfolk need not see them embracing. Rumours have been born of smaller deeds. And rumours they must quench, not start new ones.

That evening Robert eats a leg of a chicken with more appetite than he’s had in weeks, but he throws up half of his meal afterwards.

“Excitement,” the maester pronounces, and orders the boy to bed.

Alayne washes in a bowl of cold water and takes another book with her to read in bed. It’s the only one she has not touched yet – a Targaryen chronicle which she left for the last because she expects it to be most to her liking. She devours them all, the tales of valour and love from old, and even the ones of knights and battles – more often than not, there’s love as well as greed behind the wars, though love itself may be a form of greed.

The tales retold first are the oldest, from Valyria perhaps. A prince named Maegerys killed his brother for jealousy of their older sister. They lived as man and wife for two years before the sister, Daeria, discovered the truth. She gave him poison in wine, and when he was dead, she drank from his cup. The illustration showed the three siblings embracing, limbs entangled, silvery hair and golden limbs. When she was younger, the story would have made her cry.

Alayne blushes to remember that Targaryens oft took more than one spouse, her imagination supplying visions of stroking and kissing, growing frantic and heated. More frequently than not it was two queens to one king. She thinks of innocent games she played with Jeyne when no one saw, in godswood and in chambers at night. They tried what it was like to kiss; she wonders if the queens amused one another thusly, or if the king slept one night with one, and next the other. The picture seems to answer her questions.

The book brushes against her chest and she feels her nipples tighten in response. She has not touched herself much recently, having grown shy after Petyr’s comment, but now she almost gasps.

She blows the candle and dives under the covers, her fingers finding her breasts through the fabric of her nightshift. She strokes them for a while, allowing herself to remember the way his touch made her feel, the trembling and the heat. Underneath her eyelids she sees the image of the married siblings, only to forget it and remember his fingers in her hair. Her hand slips under smallclothes and between her legs, where hairs cover her slit. She is usually silent as a mouse, but now she gives an experimental gasp. The sound is deafening in the quiet of her room, and her heart skips a bit, but she finds that the utterance brings her closer to the peak of her pleasure.

He would have liked it. He would have responded with a hitch of breath of his own, she imagines, if his fingers were where hers are. She knows Lord Baelish wants to feel her there, men want to feel women there, and she can see why; her own skin is pleasant to the touch, wet and hot, silky despite the tiny ridges and bumps, a little like the inside of the mouth. She wonders if this is what kissing is about, imagining the inside of the other lips.

Her breathing quickened, she presses harder, remembering the pressure of his slender body against her back, closing her eyes tight, clenching her jaw unconsciously, until the pleasure spreads in waves and she shudders, her pussy pulsing like a second heart.

She falls asleep minutes later.

*~*

On the morrow, Alayne wakes to slickness between her legs, but it is not the wetness of her pleasure, only her moon’s blood, luckily scarce enough that it never managed to stain her sheets or shift, only little drops on smallclothes, which she gives her maid to wash. There’s no meting out justice planned for the day, and for that she is grateful. Usually she would attend Robert’s lessons, from ones she studies with him, like geography and arithmetics, to those she already knows well, such as heraldry and manners, however, today she decides to stay abed and rest. She feels groggy and slightly feverish.

If Robin thinks I’m really sick, he won’t even bother me all day. The little lord has been trained by his mother to fear illness disproportionately.

She breaks her fast in bed on oatcakes with apple and goat’s milk, with one sweet soft-boiled egg. The maid brings her a skin with hot water to warm her back, and Alayne sighs with pleasure when it takes away the dull aches. Afterwards, Robert’s maester sends her some problems to work on and she does so, until her head grows heavy and she naps.

She wakes suddenly, grudgingly, when someone – Lettie – shakes her arm.

“Lady Alayne, there’s a messenger,” the girl says, breathlessly.

“When?”

“I only now heard it, but he might have arrived in the morning,” the girl replies, fearfully.

“Get me a dress.”

She washes briskly in a basin, not even mindful of the cold, and shrugs the shifts and dresses on, allowing Lettie to tie and button what needs to be buttoned and tied. She can barely contain her excitement.

“Is he from the north? From the south?”

The girl has no idea, and could not care less; Alayne realizes she probably couldn’t tell the Wall from Dorne, never having stuck her nose out of the Vale, not her nor her forefathers for generations. The roads are unsafe for those unaccompanied by knights, and only such farmers as have naught to lose ever travel away from their smallholdings, the heavy tools with which they tend the land being their only possessions.

She makes for the audience hall in haste, all thought of illness forgotten. There’s news.

Or more than news. Once she descends the stairs, almost breathless, she finds the hall crawling with men and women, lords and ladies of the Vale, all gathered in front of the lord’s seat, where Petyr Baelish is sitting.

It takes her a second to comprehend the sight of him. My maid is an idiot, she thinks first, but as soon as that thought formulates, another follows, or he told her not to let me know, in order to surprise me.

Alayne has no time to worry about her garments, which are presentable, but far from her best, only to try to calm herself. Her hand flies to check her hair for any tendrils escaping the simple knot on her nape.

“I’d been told you were taken to bed, Alayne,” Petyr says, standing up politely. “Lords, Ladies, most of you know my natural daughter, Alayne Stone.”

Alayne courtesies, blushing. “I only… didn’t know we had company, Lord Father. We never had words of your arrival… with so many distinguished guests.”

“That’s ravens for you, half of the time they find the rookery, half of the time they find someone’s pot.” He says that less to her than to his guests, but Alayne doubts the truth of his unspoken assertion. He never sent words of his arrival, for some reason she cannot divine. The guests begin their own introductions; most of them she knows, but some she’d only ever heard of.

“I apologise for my disruption,” Alayne says when they finish, and begs her leave, feeling Petyr’s eyes on her back as she goes. On her way she stops by the kitchens, to see what the cook is preparing; a dozen or so servants have been gathered from everywhere to assist her, as she runs around, shouting orders and checking the meats’ tenderness. For all her shouting, the middle-aged matron looks supremely happy. Alayne manages to get for herself a helping of broth with what looks like a bit of chicken meat, and leaves the hot, steaming room, feeling the beginnings of a headache.

She retires to her room and sups there, thinking intently. The news must be huge if it warrants a meeting of all Robert’s bannermen; it explains as well the orders from before. If Robert was seen the previous day serving justice, his being absent today may well be due to tiredness, and Petyr doubtlessly didn’t want to deal with the child as well during the council.

She changes cloths between her legs (the smell of blood is sickly sweet and hangs in the room, but she daren’t open a window for the biting cold) and returns to bed, slipping under covers fully clothed. She never notices when she falls asleep again.

*~*

When she wakes up it’s dark outside, only a single candle lit in her room, throwing shadows upon walls. She is not much surprised to find him sitting in a chair by her bed.

“Is your stomach any better?” he asks, in a concerned voice, and Alayne is grateful for the darkness hiding her embarrassment. She nods; most of the pain is gone. For a moment she is almost certain he will say something immensely inappropriate about her aunt – or mother – but he holds his quiet.

“Will you be staying?” she asks, in a voice raspy from sleep.

“Not for long. But I do not plan to be away for long, this time. My plans are in motion, and we’ve got your wedding to look after, haven’t we.”

She grimaces, unhappy to be reminded. “What of my… widowhood.”

“Unfortunately not yet resolved, but all in good time. If worst comes to worst, I’ll get a holy man less holy than most to pronounce your marriage annulled.” He seems none too worried.

“Don’t you need a High Septon for that?”

“Not any more. The faith has a new order of things, much to our benefit.”

She sits up then and Petyr hands her a pillow to place behind her back, before lighting two more candles.

“Would you hear news?” he asks, sitting down in the legs of the bed. She nods, enthusiastically.

“There’s been much change whilst you were here. Aegon Targaryen has landed and taken Storms’ End. The Tarly and Lannister host must march against them now, and while the Riverlands are secured, their harvests have been at best pitiful.”

Alayne nods. She remembers the harvest’s importance.

“And King Robert’s follies have cost the kingdom so much that few will be willing to lend the Crown now, not even if Casterly Rock guarantees the debt. Not without Lord Tywin or at least Lord Kevan to press the waxen seal. And do you know what that means?”

“They’ll want your grain.”

“The Vale is the most fertile land, and untouched by fighting. But it will be your grain they’ll beg. Yours by marriage.”

And they will pay, with gold and steel and jewels, and send their children to be my maids and pages, to guarantee the debt. And when there’s no more grain left to sell…

“They will die,” she says aloud. “Not even the Vale can feed the kingdom.”

“Thousands and thousands will die,” he agrees. “From hunger, cold and from fighting over the little resources they’ll have. The wiser lords have already sent some of their children beyond the Narrow Sea, to be fostered by relatives.”

She feels a knot forming in her throat.

“That dragon queen may well be wiser than they give her credit for. Her nephew, Aegon, will have exhausted his strength by the time she arrives in glory. If he is even alive by then, although with Dorne’s support, his chances don’t look that grim.”

Alayne (finally) asks him explanation about Aegon, and he goes on to tell her of the prince’s miraculous reappearance. He doesn’t seem half-happy, possibly never having considered another Targaryen in his plans.

“And how did you fare here, my lady?”

“I studied with Robert and spent much time taking care of the lord’s health.”

“You are ever so dutiful,” he says, mockingly. Alayne bristles.

“Unlike you, my lord, who sent us so few words to comfort us.”

“Would you have been comforted to hear from me?”

She gives him his kiss then, to stop his teasing as much as from curious eagerness. He leans towards her, but keeps the embrace chaste.

“I would have been comforted to know you kept me in your thoughts, my lord,” she says, retreating. He smiles at that.

“Would you care to know how I thought of you?”

She blushes, remembering her own thoughts, and he strokes her hair away from her face.

“You will be expected at dinner tomorrow, Alayne. I hope you should feel better by then.”

“Certainly.”

He kisses the inside of her wrist before leaving her to her dreams, his lips lingering just a moment over her pulse point, tip of his tongue darting ever so briefly to taste the salt of her skin.

*~*

She wakes early the following morning, when it is still dark outside, and lies in bed, staring straight ahead into space, focusing on objects she cannot see, yet knows to be there. Darkness feels reassuring somehow, the castle quiet as though empty. She can imagine being alone in the vast confines of the cold walls, surviving the winter on a solitary fire and the contents of the pantry, cooking for herself and washing herself, never seeing another soul, before long either forgetting the tongue in her mouth, or conversing with herself queerly. She would emerge in the spring a woman eerily old. The war would surely be over by then, and she would reclaim her home far north, to live out her days forgotten.

But this is folly. Her Winterfell, both loved and hated, is burnt to ground by either ironmen or the Bastard of Bolton, a cruel and hateful youth. There’s no going back there, at least not yet, though Petyr has promised her the restoration of her title to the North.

And Lord Baelish would not forget her, for better or worse; his attention on her, eerily inherited, is genuine and unwavering. He (had?) asked for his reward to be Harrenhal, where my mother’s mother had been a girl. He had made his plans from the first with me in mind, even before I paid him any attention.

However much she thinks of him now, though, she can’t quite grasp his intentions. She knew what her erstwhile saviours wanted, what song they were part of, the dark one who scared her with his temper and would have broken her neck with provocation and then wept for her, and the one who was a drunken fool, tempted to touch her but fearful and weak. She has but contempt for them both, dead and immaterial while she grows stronger.

But where she thinks the Hound must have been too much stricken by her youth and ser Dontos too craven, Petyr is neither, and yet for all his bold caresses and words, he never makes to take his pleasure of her.

She is not so silly as to judge that as chivalry; more probably, he is dealing with her as a man might with a wild animal. Not so much taming her, much like one wouldn’t tame a direwolf, but instead stealing into her thoughts, so she’ll roll over and offer the white of her neck.

At the same time, she imagines that he must take a pleasure from withholding, denying himself what he has the power to possess, possessing without taking, owning without wielding.

She cannot help but imagine submitting to his hands and opening her legs like he doesn’t ask her.

*~*

The dinner is nothing short of awesome, though pale in comparison to King’s Landing’s meals. The pantry surely suffers for the burden and suddenly she finds herself counting the costs of every dish. Alayne notices that no animals are allowed in the dining hall, and servants take care not to let anyone’s crumblings to go to waste. She would venture that the leavings will feed the servants for a week, and what is not fit for them will go to the pigsty. The Lord Protector may breed golden dragons like others do rabbits, but only frugality keeps those dragons tamed.

She is seated to Petyr’s left, but he pays her no mind, too busy chatting with this or that guest, discussing nothing more important than someone’s child’s teething, or the birthing of lambs. Alayne does not remember the skill of such polite conversation in which Sansa exceeded; no one would expect a bastard daughter to be well-versed in such matters, so she hardly speaks at all, only interjecting once or twice with her own good wishes.

Instead, she observes Lord Baelish as he builds friendships with men who believe themselves his betters, flattering them without ever sounding false or servile, planting in them ideas they will soon consider their own, convincing them of his usefulness, his gratefulness, his docility and his wit.

Her reverie is broken when some lady touches her shoulder, startling her. She introduces herself quickly, but Alayne never catches her name in the noise of the feast.

“I’ve yet to congratulate you on your marriage, lady Alayne,” she announces, smiling politely. “Harrold is such a handsome young men, and gallant. You must be very happy.”

Alayne sets down her cup of water and nods. “My lord father is most considerate of me, to have made a match so felicitous.”

“You sound a proper lady, much educated. Forgive a woman’s curiosity, but who was your lady mother?”

Alayne stumbles on words, remembering the lies. “She… my…” she croaks out, before being rescued by Petyr.

“Have you no shame, Amaely? Quit this interrogation.”

“It’s just how hurt I am that you never mentioned your daughter… or her mother… to me.”

“I am sure you keep your own indiscretions from me, my lady, if only to spare me pain.”

She giggles then, swatting his arm playfully, and Alayne grabs her cup forcefully, lest she spill the water. They speak some more, but the words escape her, and she excuses herself momentarily.

She splashes cold water on her face, hoping to get the blush to cease. She changes the linens in her smallclothes, and when she opens the door to leave, Lord Petyr pushes her back in and steps inside behind her.

“Why such an angry face, Alayne?” he asks, a smile playing around his lips.

“The memory of my aunt-“ she replies, only for him to laugh curtly, cruelly.

“The memory of your aunt is only sweet – to either you or me – now she’s cold and rotten. Did I tell you that they found her? She was untouched, nary a sign of her fall. I kept you from the burial not to disturb you.” Despite his shortness, so mocked by ladies of the court in King’s Landing, he looks quite handsome in his long dark cloak, lean and roguish, and she is a little distracted by noticing.

“Don’t tell me so,” she whispers. “I’m so very sorry for… what the singer did to her.”

He strokes her cheek then, approvingly. “And me, so saddened by her death, cannot think of marrying for years to come.”

“Unless so it happens that an advantageous match is proposed.”

She leans towards him, inviting a kiss, reassuring herself of his desire, and he follows her lead, pressing his body against her. He runs his fingers down her side, eliciting a gasp when he traces his palm down her hip to the thigh, even though his touch is barely perceptible through the layers of her clothing. “They’ll miss us,” she murmurs, and breaks away, bold, confident he will come to her chambers later, to continue.

Back in her seat, she refreshes herself with lemon water and plays with a slice of chicken breast in oranges, before the dinner draws towards the close and she may excuse herself.

*~*

He has her waiting in vain until the hour grows quite late. In the end she washes and slips into her nightshirt, lest he suspect her of some undue eagerness, and take it to mean his advantage. She’s come to understand Petyr won’t abstain from insisting on her marriage to Harrold Hardyng; the Vale is too valuable for that, and Robert too frail and unpredictable. Yet, she will not stand his masquerade of parenthood, and cannot abide the uncertainty of his vague plans.

Alayne almost loses hope in his arrival by the time he scratches her door, awaiting her quiet admission before entering. She’d been reading the Targaryen chronicles, partly in amusement, partly with curiosity renewed by the tales of their reappearance. She might be able to use knowledge of the dynasty before long.

“My lady,” he greets her warmly. “Was the feast to your satisfaction?”

“It was not my satisfaction that mattered, I am sure,” she counters, putting the book away.

“Not at all, yet still I inquire,” he replies, taking his seat.

“I would have liked it more if I had known the reasons for the gathering. Or when my marriage is to take place. Or what it is that comes once I am married.”

“You ask me about so many things. The last one… wouldn’t your lady mother have told you?”

She blushes. “I mean what you intend with the marriage… and succession.”

“Why, only gods know what is to pass.”

She feels frustrated almost to the point of crying, her face, despite her efforts, betraying her anger. If she were Arya, she would have struck him then; instead, she feels tears welling, a painful knot in her throat.

“You would mock me in my predicament, my lord.”

He looks at her curiously, as though intent on judging whether she is acting to manipulate him or genuinely distraught; she cannot tell if he decides her distress to be true or merely ceases to care, but his face changes and he leans towards her.

“You have naught to fear, my dear Sansa,” he says, and kisses the corner of her mouth. “The boy you are to marry is no monster, nor will you need to stay his wife forever, only until spring. Give him a son, so you may take possession of the Vale after his death, and with two of the old kingdoms, you’ll have your choice of husbands among the grandest lords… or from the lesser ones, whoever you shall choose.”

He strokes her stomach with round movements, and she relaxes to his embrace.

“I’ll never have a choice,” she protests, but he shushes her.

“You’ll see, I’ll make it so you have your choice.”

She means to disagree (how is that her choice?), but he silences her with another kiss, this time more insistent. She opens her mouth under his and puts a hand on his chest; he hesitates, as if expecting her to push him away, but she splays her fingers and strokes the rich fabric of his vest.

“About my last question…” she says, as boldly as she dare.

“Yes, my lady?”

“My mother may have been remiss.” She lies, of course, but he seems to appreciate her frivolity, a hand moving underneath the covers and then under her shift to stroke her knee.

“Well then, the book I gave you… is sure to help with all you need to know.”

She must be blushing, and yet does not desist; as though of their own accord, her legs move just a tad further apart, and she licks her lips before asking, “What is it, my lord?”

“The Young Falcon is not the most unknowledgeable of them, if gossip is to be believed, so he should know his part in marital duties… and pleasing him should hardly be difficult for a maid as beautiful and graceful as you.” He punctuates his speech with strokes along her thigh, and she must stop herself from squirming so that his hand would move to where she feels herself growing and pounding with unforeseen intensity. “It behoves a lady to know how to seek her own pleasure with her husband, though… and there I may be of some help, should you ask assistance of me.”

She gasps when he withdraws, and clutches onto his hand, her heart beating loud and fast in her chest. “No,” she says, her tongue almost stunned in her mouth.

“No?” he repeats, a little dazed as well. She shakes her head.

“Please, no. Don’t stop.”

He pulls her in his lap then and kisses deep, his hand cupping her almost aching breast, the shape of her nipple clearly visible through the cloth. She closes her eyes.

“What shouldn’t I stop?” Petyr asks, half-breathless himself.

“This,” she gasps out, between her loud and shallow breaths. She feels so very wet and tingling, pleasure overriding any compulsion to maintain her modesty. “Touching me.”

His fingers push into her smallclothes and caress her, at first gingerly, then with rising assurance, the slickness of her blood impossible to tell apart from the slickness of her arousal. Her legs are thrown wide apart now, the cloth of her shift bundled up; she grasps at his thigh with her right hand, her left placed on her stomach, as he never ceases his rhythmic stroking. There’s heat and pressure in her ears, and she buckles, trying to move with him, and never quite succeeding.

After a long while, Sansa hears herself gasp, none-too-loudly, and the hand still cupping her breast moves to stroke it in rhythm with the pressure of the fingers of his other, now quick and certain, and finally she all but cries out in pleasure, as quietly as she can, yet undeniably. She feels herself shaking all over, her legs twitching, and he withdraws a short moment later, when the touch of his fingers is almost painful.

She lets him kiss her some more, her heart steadying slowly, before moving to touch his breeches. He shakes his head.

“Perhaps the next time?” she asks. Relief mixes with curiosity and something almost like regret. He pushes her off his knees, and rearranges her shift and covers, careful not to touch them with the hand stained with her blood.

He must like having her in his debt, she decides.

“Perhaps,” he says and kisses her goodnight.

*~*

He only has a moment to spare her on the morrow, but on the next day he visits her at bedtime again and makes her come with his hand once more, kissing her ear and calling her sweet names, none of which sounds as sweet as ‘Sansa’. The next day she would seek him out, but he leaves before noon, promising to return in a fortnight, with fabrics for her wedding gown and more news.

Before long, Lady Anya Waynwood descends on her, with a myriad questions and demands, watching her every step, judging her table manners and questioning her knowledge of court etiquette, requesting to be permitted to examine Alayne’s health and asking about her moon blood flow and history of death in childbirth in family. Sansa must keep her answers to a minimum, lest she stumble on a detail: she feels less able to lie and retain her cover as Alayne, now that what is done is done.

“Are you a maid, Alayne?” Lady Anya asks her, and Alayne is, though far from shy, while Sansa is not in all but the actual deed: he had been careful not to touch her maidenhead. She answers with a crimson blush and a look from under eyelashes.

“Of course.” She is offended to be asked. Lady Anya sniffs but says nothing. Not a mother to Harrold, she still feels responsible for the boy’s marital happiness, she claims loudly, and Sansa wonders if there is more to it, if Lady Anya feels jealous of the boy’s freedom and affections. If she were quick to dismiss the despoiled maids he got with children, if she would gladly keep him to herself.

Sansa is half-grateful for the distraction these things afford her. Lady Anya, when not hounding her down, teaches her about the Waynwoods and Hardyngs and the families of the Vale of Arryn, some of which knowledge sounds none-too-encouraging: the House of Hardyng is tied by marriage to the Freys, as are Waynwoods. Fortunately, the connection seems not much revered by the Lady of Ironoaks. Sansa can barely contain her anger whenever the name of Frey passes her ears.

The first week passes uneventfully, and by the second, Sansa grows so restless she can barely sleep. Sewing, instead of calming her, as it was wont to, now causes her mind to drift towards the coming wintry months.

Before leaving, Petyr left her some more books for reading; she went over them as soon as he was gone, hoping for a private message, but if there was one, it was in their content. One of them, although without illustrations, contains passages of shameless love poetry, lascivious enough to cause Sansa to hide the book; another is a treatise on the history of the Free Cities, and the remaining ones hold religious or moral teachings. She tries a few pages from Good Advice for Young Wives, only to be equal parts amused and annoyed by the suggestions.

Another week passes, where Sansa’s impatience begins to let itself be known; she has no interest in spending time with Robert and snaps at servants, driving her maid to tears. When Lord Baelish finally returns, after seventeen days, she is almost ready to be angry at him, and only his smile to see her and his gift of gowns dispel her fury before it is spent. He dines alone with Lady Waynwood, though, and when she comes to his workplace in the evening, he is frowning, grim and focused.

“Is aught the matter, my lord?” she inquires from the door.

“Nothing you need to worry about. Come sit with me, my lady.” He bids her to rest in his lap, and his smell is familiar and pleasant. She shivers when his lips touch her neck.

He reads to her a letter he intends to send to King’s Landing, where temporary governance of the Tyrells is too busy scheming against the Martells to see that with the Others in the North and the Targaryens in the south, the war is already turned around, with hunger and cold much more dangerous foes than any hostile House. He informs her of Kevan Lannister’s death, and criticises her smile, for without a reasonable Hand, many more must die in the upcoming months. And though Lord Baelish thrives on chaos, as he likes to claim, too much death is bad for business.

“I will be married,” she tells him after a while. “Lady Anya is quite vague about Harrold’s plans for later.”

Petyr smiles against her skin. “She wouldn’t know. But he will leave for the fighting, wherever it will be happening at the time. He’s quite keen on proving his manhood. With two bastards already, he’s said to one of his companions that he’s pretty sure he can get a legitimate one inside your pretty belly in three weeks, and then he’ll be off to get his honourable death.”

He leaves out how she must needs be pregnant when he dies, and how he cannot die but after Robert’s passing. She had expected Sweetrobin to have more time.

“Is this troubling you, my lady?” he asks, kissing her neck again, and she nods.

“It does. But I can handle myself.”

She reciprocates his kisses, the stubble on his cheeks scratching her a little, and he makes no protest when she turns around to straddle his lap, or when she moves against him, stroking him through his clothes, or when her hand unties his breeches and slips inside.

“My pretty… Sansa…” he murmurs as she slides her fingers along his cock, awkwardly and hesitantly. There’s little space for movement and she is sure she must be scratching him with her dry fingers, but if he minds, he doesn’t give her indication, only using his hand to cover hers and guide her gently.

She sniffs his semen afterwards, the smell oddly familiar and strange at the same time. His kisses are breathless and she smiles triumphantly all through his reciprocation.

*~*

The cold is deep to the bone, and Sansa finds herself longing for the warmth of Winterfell, which – although placed in the North – had all the conveniences promising warmth in winter, unlike the small castles in the Vale. Outside, she wears kidskin gloves at all times, and sometimes even indoors, and yet her fingers turn blue.

The day of Harry Hardyng’s arrival is all bustle and hurry, leaving no time for fretting. She runs a thousand errands and then pretties herself up for the formal meeting. She wears a gown in dark brown, silver earrings, her hair in a modest net, with tendrils left down to accentuate her neck. Lord Baelish greets formally his daughter’s betrothed, and they converse politely before dinner is served, and after dinner, the desserts, nuts, cheeses and wines and meads.

“My lady Alayne, I cannot wait for the morrow, when we’ll be joined in holy matrimony, in the eyes of the gods as we already are in my heart,” Harrold tells her as they say goodnight under their wardens’ watchful eyes; she is fairly sure the line is rehearsed, but she can appreciate the effort. She courtesies and lets him kiss her hand, before leaving for her bedchamber.

Lord Protector joins her soon after; there’s a little wine on his breath when he kisses her lips.

“Had I not known how much you’ve protested this union, I never would have guessed you’re less than overjoyed to be Young Falcon’s bride,” he tells her with an ugly smile.

“Would you have me act any less convincingly?” she replies, surprised with her own annoyance. “Should I spare your feelings, unlike you do mine?”

There’s pleasure in being angry, a sudden freedom.

“Feelings have nought to do with my concern. I fear for your commitment-“

“You doubt me. You think me a foolish child.” She paces back and forth, avoiding his face with her eyes.

“I do not think you a child.”

“Only when convenient.”

He grabs her arm and turns her to face him; she tears herself away, furiously. “I’m not my aunt for you to do with as you will. I’m as much a Stark as I am Tully. I do not fear winter and I certainly don’t fear you,” she spits out, taking a step back.

“My lady,” he tries to interject, but she shakes her head, not finished yet.

“This is the game of thrones. Wanting me is a weakness, my lord, so you pretend not to want me and give me to the Hardyngs. But you cannot help what I know.”

She is breathing almost as heavily as she is wont to when he touches her, her blood rushing freely through her, an exhilaration of a fight. She remembers the day she threw snow down his shirt and he was so overcome as to kiss her, unsure as he was of his reception.

He kisses her again now, and she feels strong like a direwolf, strongest in these cold days. She kisses him back, feeling the slenderness of him through their clothing, comparing it already to the stockiness of the boy she is to marry, comparing the calmness she has now to the fearfulness of her previous wedding and bedding.

“Tyrion Lannister is dead,” he says, sliding a hand under her gown to stroke her thigh.

“That’s good,” she replies, and helps him untie her straps.

They take the gown, the shift and the smallclothes off of her, in hurried movements. He seems more urgent than usual, as though she was to reassure him, for once. He places kisses on her breasts and sucks the nipples, at first gently, then less so, his fingers stroking her buttocks.

He touches her mound and slips his fingers between her thighs, seemingly surprised to find her rather dry, but none too worried; still almost completely dressed, he traces kisses down her belly, then up her thighs, spreading her legs wide open and lifting one of them to kiss the underside of her knee. It takes a moment for the sensation to change from curious to pleasing, and another before she begins to squirm under his lips and tongue.

She finds the change from his usual wordiness disquieting; she has grown to expect the caress of his words with those of his fingers. He’s made her shiver with his urgings and promises, pushed her over with the sound of his voice then complimenting, then offending her. This time he makes no comments about her eagerness, or of the quickness of her desire, does not describe to her his pleasure in stroking her cunt. He is intent and focused, and in his silence Sansa finds herself focusing on the sounds she makes, her own breathing and the rustle of the sheets, and the gasps he elicits when he finally kisses her pussy.

She’d imagined this as a gentle and pure thing, from the pictures, but it is anything but; she buckles and squirms, held in place by his hands on her thighs, opened up and teased until the pleasure is white under her eyelids and she peaks, almost uncomfortable in wetness. She tastes herself on his lips.

He undresses and places her fingers, slick with her own wetness, on his cock; she makes a quick work of it, but he stops her before the end, and instead rubs himself against her belly, spilling his seed on her skin.

He holds her after, sniffing at her hair, warm against her back until she falls asleep.

*~*

The ceremony seems brief to her, mayhaps by comparison with Joffrey’s wedding. She remembers that event much more clearly than she does her own previous nuptials, through which she must have gone in half-daze, drunk with fear. She has no fear now, not of the man she marries, nor of the marital bed. As soon as the ceremony is over, Lord Petyr is nowhere to be seen; the bedding is brief, leaving both her and her new husband still dressed for the most part, and when she is left alone with Harry, he looks at her almost shyly. She finds it hard to believe he fathered a bastard, much less two, so young and naïve he seems to her.

“There is one thing I must ask of you,” she says, before removing his unbuttoned shirt; the body underneath is smooth and toned, pleasing to look at, but she finds herself indifferent.

“What is it, my lady?” he asks, his cock bulging underneath his clothes, and she smiles at him from underneath her lashes.

“It would not do for me to abandon my little cousin in his sickness. I’d ask your permission to remain by his side, temporarily.”

Harry nods, though unhappily. He will be gone to court to seek Targaryen favour soon anyway, and would have me minded by his kin, but refusing me would make him seem unchivalrous.

“My lady, is it necessary?” he asks, his arousal abating. She runs her fingertips over his chest.

“Just to my peace. Just for now.”

He concedes then, and they seal the agreement with a kiss. She guides his hands to her breasts, imagining other hands, another, fresher breath. She is wet when he enters her, but not for his touch, and it is not to him that she is grateful for the diminished pain she feels when he takes her maidenhead. His seed mixes with her blood on the sheets before long and finally he falls on his back by her side, breathing deeply. He mutters something she doesn’t hear.

When sleep claims him, she tiptoes out of bed into the privy to wash herself, and to drink the brew she’d left there. The glass shows that her hair’s in disarray, but not much has been changed otherwise.

She counts to twenty, only twenty left, and goes back to bed.

 

EPILOGUE

Alayne brings a dark-haired boy into the world nine months later. The baby is smallish even for a newborn, but Harrold takes the time to write to her of his joy, and some weeks later manages to make a brief visit to the Vale, to hold his heir in his arms during the naming ceremony. His lady wife is pale and tired despite the months having passed from the birthing, but shows him the boy proudly. Lady Waynwood sends her regards, incapable as she is to attend the naming, since age and weather prohibit her travel; she hadn’t even come to attend Robert Arryn’s funeral, some weeks prior. Alayne has enough help, though, with all the nurses and maids brought for her comfort from far away by Lord Baelish.

She is widowed a year later, after Young Falcon falls in the last battle against the White Walkers, and within nine months Alayne is revealed to be Sansa, and bestowed the rights to Winterfell from the Dragon Queen Daenerys, betrothed to her own nephew and pregnant. Her hand in marriage is then promised to Lord Baelish, who protected her life with such bravery amidst the war terrors, and whose assistance to the realm as Lord Protector of the Vale after Robert’s untimely death, and in Harrold Hardyng’s absence, has been immeasurable. He retains his Harrenhal seat, and the marriage he makes with the daughter of the Starks unites more land than any other House but the Martells can boast of.