The knives had intrigued him. He’d grown up, of course, with Old Nan’s stories about the ancient Boltons, clad in the skins of Starks in battle, coupling with Others, lurking in the Night Fort. And while he was a man grown and far too old to put credence in a nursemaid’s silly tales, he had to admit that there was a decided menace about his bannerman, something just slightly wrong, and it was far too subtle, just like Bolton himself, for Robb to work out why exactly he was so troubled by the other man’s quiet way of speaking and his cold, dead stare. And when he’d walked by the tent, spying Roose Bolton with a whetstone, matter-of-factly sharpening a blade, it had given him pause.
Their eyes had met over the sparks and Bolton had barely acknowledged him, just a barely whispered “Your Grace” as he went on with his business.
He’d thought that it was the end of his childish fascination.
A few nights later, he’d had cause to admire another of Bolton’s blades, apparently Valyrian steel, and in the back of his mind, he’d wondered how such a house had gotten its hands on it.
“That one is very old,” Bolton says, as Robb turns it over in his hands, peering into its reflection, features broken and jagged in the glasslike blackness.
“A fine blade,” he says, almost hating himself for the admiration in his tone. Still, it was best to keep on the good side of a man like Bolton. It would not do to raise the slightest annoyance, and despite the fact that he had proven loyal, there was something mocking, something insinuating in his tone and his gaze when he conversed with Robb. Robb was sensitive of course, being the boy king, and pulls himself taller, tamping down his voice. But he still feels quite unmanned when their fingers brushed as he hands his bannerman the weapon. And he curses himself when his hand slips and it clatters to the ground. The knife is undamaged, but he still fears Bolton’s anger.
Robb is surprised when he only smiles, brushing off the dirt and laying it aside.
“I am sorry, Lord Bolton.” He is contrite, proper, courtly. Just as his father would have been.
“Do not trouble yourself, Your Grace. It is merely earth.” Lord Bolton brushes the steel, cleaning it, and sets it down with a sense of finality on the table between them. “It has seen worse.” With that, a ghost of a smile plays about his lips, and Robb meets his eyes. They are serenely blank, and his expression calculating.
Robb notices then, despite the small table between them, how close they are, uncomfortably, uncustomarily close. While he is used to such quarters on the march, the proximity of his this man both intrigues and disturbs him, and he thinks again of the stories, tales of Boltons skinning Starks, and a smile also ghosts about his lips.
“Your Grace is amused.”
Robb laughs slightly, although he does not drop his guard. It would be far too perilous to do so.
Bolton is toying with the hilt of the knife, and Robb, thinking to test him, slides his hand over Bolton’s. While the older man does not react or shy away, he stares balefully at his king, so much so that Robb’s face begins to burn, and he wants more than anything to withdraw his hand, to look away, to run with his tail between his legs from the Bolton tent. But he cannot, will not, and so he remains, locked in a test of wills.
When he speaks, his voice sounds dry, almost boyish, and he cringes inside, hating himself. “Are you loyal to your king, Lord Bolton?”
The other man nods imperceptibly, just a slight inclination of the head, hardly deferential. Roose Bolton is not one to bow and scrape like some of the lesser lords.
It annoys Robb, and he pulls his hand away, but Bolton grasps his wrist, splaying it and his fingers on the table. His hands are not cold, as Robb had expected, but warm and rather rough, more accustomed to swinging a sword or saddling a horse than a gentleman’s idleness. His breath comes sharp as Bolton’s thumb presses against the vein in his wrist, checking it, pushing against the pulse that, despite all of his efforts, quickens at the touch, at the predatory look in his eyes as he restrains Robb, barely, with just a slight pressure.
And Robb watches mesmerized as Bolton turns over his hand, baring the vein, the vulnerable white flesh, tracing along the blue rope just below the skin with the edge of his blade. When he presses it down, bending the skin, Robb’s breath dies in his throat, and when he releases it again, teasingly, he relaxes, eyes closing.
“You’re just a boy,” Bolton murmurs, seemingly forgetting himself, his voice hard and without the usual learned courtesies. “Nothing but a young pup, aren’t you?”
Robb’s cheeks burn at this, and he is disgusted now, disgusted with himself for allowing this, for feeling such humiliation, and disgusted with Roose Bolton and his queer soft voice, his insinuating looks, and his almost blasphemous, intimate touch.
When Robb doesn’t answer, he presses the blade again, allowing it to pierce the skin, and they both watch as the blood starts, slowly dribbling across his wrist, onto the old wood. As the silence grows, he pushes it deeper, causing the flow to increase, until his hand is streaked scarlet, Robb’s equally stained.
“Please,” Robb says, finally. It’s rather not the pain that causes him to finally break; it’s more the shame.
“Your Grace?” Bolton looks as though he wants to laugh. He daubs at the blood absentmindedly, pressing the same thumb over the wound, staunching the flow as his fingers stroke the open palm. With that, Robb jerks away, clutching himself.
He stumbles from the tent then, not caring who sees, and he swears that he hears mocking laughter at his back.
The next day, their eyes meet in camp, over breakfast, Robb’s face hard, jaw set. Bolton’s face was blank, a perfect mask.
It didn’t happen, Robb thinks to himself, fingers pressing the wound that he’d been gifted with. Bolton of course, notices, and turns to hide his smile.