If there was one thing her mockingbird had not counted on, it was the wings on the horizon; the screams of dragonsong; the white hair of a Targaryen queen atop a beast with murder in its eyes.
Tyrells fled and Petyr Baelish simply...disappeared again. Smallfolk and minor nobles alike, left behind by all their lord and ladies, knelt in terror before Queen Daenerys. For now, at least, they submitted.
Amongst the crowds, a hood shrouding her weary face, Alayne Stone bent the knee as well. For these were once to have been her people, when she'd still been Sansa. Her head told her to run, for the sake of her position as a piece in this complicated game, but her heart still had a spark of curiosity left. That spark did not want to leave King's Landing to strangers. Winterfell was gone. This was her home, surely.
It was not so awkward now, for they all walked the halls like ghosts. Alayne merely melted into the crowd.
Little blood had been spilt, yet the city smelled more of the Targaryen words than it had even after Blackwater. Fire, blood, shit, rot, and winter. Chill made its way even down here, where there was no snow or bare ground to be blanketed in it.
Alayne carried a plate of bread from the feast table back to the kitchen, unnoticed by all those of consequence. Just a little bird, not even chirping.
"Here, don't take that away."
Alayne turned quickly, mouth a perfect circle. Somehow she had not noticed before how small the dragon queen was. In her foreign gown, standing no more than three handsbreadth from Alayne, she seemed only a child. Those violet eyes were aged but the small pink mouth was that of a girl's even while pressed in a straight serious line.
"Do you not speak common?" the queen asked again, not harshly.
Alayne shook her head and then nodded. "I beg your pardon, your grace." She offered the platter of bread.
Daenerys cocked her head and took a sesame roll. "You're not afraid of me like the others."
Unsure what was expected of her, Alayne took no chances and tried not to stammer. "I—I'm sorry, your grace. Your dragons are indeed terrifying. I did not mean to offend."
"But not I, their mother and rider?" A queer amusement crossed Daenerys' young face.
There were far worse things than a death by fire, but Alayne could not say so aloud. A conqueror was not as terrifying as a rightful heir or a crafty spider. She caught herself still staring and shook her head. "I do not believe that you would let them ravage your new home...and new people."
The queen's mouth twisted, but she said only, "What is your name?"
"Alayne Stone, your grace."
"I wish to speak to you tomorrow. You are no flattering fool, Alayne."
She walked away then, like a queen who cared not for the responses of subjects. A contradiction, so it would seem.
Alayne wondered why she had spoken and not kept to the cautious silence that had been her wont for years now. Fingers trembling, she carried the bread tray to its destination and then prayed to her father's gods as she had not done in too long. Life, that fleeting gift which she still found precious—today she had endangered it.
That night she dreamt of running through the forest, paws silent over the brush, all the powers of life and death in her strong jaws. Far better than the nightmares she'd grown used to, but she woke with the taste of blood in her mouth. It wasn't her own, this time. The taste remained even as she brushed through the brown hair she now wore as her own.
To be a wolf would not be wise and so she put the dream away in her locked box of memories when the queen called for her.
She did not hold court in the throne room as Alayne had expected. Instead, Daenerys' handmaiden with the foreign lilt to her words directed her to the royal chambers.
However it had looked under the Baratheon and Lannister reigns, Alayne did not know. As of now, it was all black and red, soft silky fabrics covering every cushion and ledge. It must have been the eastern influence, though Alayne had never studied those lands, that made it seem strange. And the queen herself, lounging on a chaise in a plum gown, looked just as imposing as if she'd been sitting on the Iron Throne.
Yet not so. For certainly Joffrey, Cersei, even Margaery, had never looked this soft.
"People hate me." Daenerys sipped at a cup of wine, full eyes watching Alayne as no one ever had.
The door closed behind her and she stood still, hands loosely clasped at her waist. It had not been a question, the queen's words. She held her tongue this time.
"If I'm to live here for the rest of my life, to reinstate the Targaryen dynasty, I cannot be so hated. You must understand this, even though you are no great lady of court."
Shaking her head slowly, Alayne bit the inside of her lip and swallowed, old pain and confusion mixing in her voice when she at last spoke. "Do you wish me to help the people not hate you, your grace?"
Daenerys laughed. "No, not that. Do not look so scared, Alayne. Sit."
As always, she did what she was told.
"I want to know what the smallfolk say," the queen told her. "For no one listens to them, so they say what they will. I would know that. Will you speak?"
No, Alayne had never been around another ruler with such softness. She told Daenerys all she knew, and her heart beat fast at how many words she let loose. All the months of silence had taught her how to speak only to herself. Now she let the words free. Now they flew to listening ears, and Daenerys nodded and did not strike her.
When she'd spent all her voice, however, and the dragon queen had taken time to digest the words, she was dismissed to her duties. A man who looked and spoke as if he'd come from the North escorted her from the chambers. That was odd, but Alayne had stuck her neck out far enough. "Thank you," she said, and gave him a courtesy.
Then she stood alone in the hall, invisible once again. Dragons did not kill wolves when they saw only sheep's clothing. The woman who had once been Sansa was still safe.
After a deep breath, she turned to leave the royal apartments, but she'd only gone three steps before she stumbled over someone she didn't see. A little squeak escaped her and it took a couple fumbling grasps at the wall to keep herself from falling.
"Seven hells!" the man she'd ran into cursed in a gravelly voice.
Alayne stopped short, eyes wide as the moon, hands frozen in sudden fear.
Tyrion Lannister, a full beard scarcely hiding his unique face, glanced up at her.
"I beg your pardon," she whispered, praying to the old gods that he did not recognize her.
That was too much to expect of a husband, so it seemed. "Sansa?"
It was all gone wrong again, and she felt once again surrounded by hunting beasts. All the old fear made her throat too tight to breathe, her fingernails digging into her palms to keep them from trembling. Thoughts raced, but all of them were the same. Run. I can still run. Sansa didn't answer him, only turned in a whirl of skirts to flee.
A familiar small hand grabbed hers before she could go. "Sansa!" His voice was still rough, an order to stay.
"I'm not," she tried to say, looking back at him with begging in her eyes. She was taller than she had been the last time they met, towering over him, but he was a Lannister and she was a traitor fugitive and without anyone in the world. Her game was ended if she could not escape again. There was no Dontos nor even Petyr this time to save her. "I'm Alayne Stone, I'm no one. Please, ser, let me go." Her fingers twisted in his grip and she took a step back.
Half a dozen emotions cycled through his mismatched eyes before he spoke again. Sansa saw confusion there, bitterness, weariness, and anger too, but those were only the ones she could name. He still frightened her, the husband they'd once forced on her.
In the end he only said, "You changed your hair."
Sansa's heart was in her throat and she wanted to hide. Maybe Tyrion saw that, maybe that was why he finally let go. Whatever his motivation, she did not feel bad in pulling away and running. Her feet were her wings, or maybe they were paws, and she ran until solitude enveloped her. They were all gone before she could stop: the queen who had paid her too much attention, the man who had recognized her—was he with the dragon queen? Was that where he'd gone after he disappeared from everyone's knowledge? Sansa didn't know. She'd never known.
This time, she did not run to Alayne's room, but to the godswood. It still thrived in King's Landing, and only once she could kneel in the soft dirt and look into the bleeding eyes of the heart tree could she breathe again. There was no place in the world for Sansa Stark or Alayne Stone. She'd been a foolish little bird again to think so. She'd forgotten who she had to be. And she was tired, so tired. There was nothing so heavy as the weight of her own self. A single bitter tear fell down her cheek as she remembered everything she'd tried to forget. So heavy.
Make me a wolf, she prayed. Let me escape at last. I can't be myself anymore. Please. You have not answered any prayers before but you gave me the wolf dream last night. Make it real. Let me run free.
She was used to repeating words, over and over. She was used to getting no answer. The red leaves rubbed together like old papers, like fire, and that was an answer she did not understand. Sansa prayed to be set free from this game of thrones. Prayed, prayed, and prayed again. Only the rustling of leaves came as a reply.
The sun began to set, the shadows painted the forest floor, and her hair became a dark curtain as she bent over her knees and spoke soundlessly to the weirwood.
No god spoke to her now. Sansa raised her head and swallowed her unshed tears, but did not respond.
"Gods be damned, girl, when will you learn that you need not always run from me?" Tyrion's voice was more tired than hers, words spoken with only old and bitter emotion behind them. "I'll not betray you to the queen, if that's what you fear."
What Sansa feared...were there enough words to hold all that? She turned, and while kneeling she could meet Tyrion's gaze across the godswood without looking either down or up. "No one can know who I am. Not the queen...not anyone."
He gave a short laugh. "I think I, out of anyone, understand that."
Sansa met his eyes and said nothing. She felt...nothing.
The godswood held only broken fugitives and unspoken vows, and as Sansa held her silence Tyrion's face became pained, looking at her with more than curiosity. She didn't like that look; she never had.
"Why did you do it?" Tyrion's voice sounded like stone rubbing against stone, his eyes seeming small and dark. "Why did you not tell me you were poisoning the king? I would have helped you, damn it, but instead I had to defend your treachery in front of laughing mobs. Damn you, why did you do it?"
Perhaps she should have expected such an accusation, but it was far easier to think only of her own grievances. What little pride she had left kept her from fearing the anger in his words, and somehow—somehow—she didn't think he would kill her, no matter if he hated her. "I didn't." Sansa swallowed, steeling herself against the hate in those eyes. "I didn't kill him. I didn't know. Lord Baelish took me away before any of it happened and I didn't have a choice." His lips twitched and she lifted her chin a little, refusing to fear this at least.
Tyrion snorted and rested a hand against a tree, digging fingers into the bark. "Littlefinger," he said in disgust. "He would leave me to my fate, of course. Sooner than you would, I'll bet. I terrified you but I never did see murder in your eyes."
Sansa's heart throbbed painfully in her throat. She rose to her feet, hands clasping tightly in her dark skirt. "Was that a fault of mine?" Her words came out jagged, wavering. "Was my fear so stupid? All I wanted was a knight. Not a husband, not...not anything but protection. I thought you were good, once, but you married me. I was afraid and you—" The words choked in her throat and she bit them down, bit the inside of her lip till it bled, warm and bitter. Her eyes stung as if she'd been cutting onions, and the fear was back again, the fear and the hurt.
"I swore I wouldn't touch you," he said, angry at someone, his knuckles white where he gripped the tree trunk. "I never wanted you, Sansa. I didn't want you afraid either, but you wouldn't listen. I promised you protection and you looked at me like I was the bloody Mountain."
"No," Sansa whispered, and then louder, "No." One step forward and then she held still, hands still in desperate fists at her side. "You can't say that, you can't lie like that. You didn't protect me. You wanted me to love you."
His face was crimson, whether with anger or something else she couldn't tell anymore. What was left of his lips made a tight line and he didn't respond.
They'd all wanted her to love them. Joffrey, the Hound, Petyr, and even Tyrion. "I listened to that." Even if you didn't, she could not say aloud. "And it frightened me."
The look on his face only tightened until he seemed pained and could not hold her gaze.
Sansa was a maid of sixteen now and she had more to fear than unwanted love, yet memories could still turn her into a girl. Her hands trembled. She had not meant to speak and yet she had. The words that came out next sounded foreign, as if she had not said them, as if no one had heard them. "Fear did not hurt me. It did not kill me. My mother cast fear aside...and I had to weep for her." He had not come to comfort her then. Not then, not ever. Perhaps she might have loved him if he had...it would not have been true love, but it would have been something.
"I forgot that you were but a girl," Tyrion said. There was no accusation in his words, but there was self-loathing.
The raw wounds of their hearts became tension in the godswood. A tear escaped Sansa's struggling hold and dripped down her cheek, then another and another.
Tyrion turned his hands into fists and walked away. No glance back, no words of farewell.
With a little gulp that sounded more pathetic than anything, Sansa swallowed a sob and turned back to the trees. Her streaming tears could not be stopped now. She was truly alone with no more than the gods, and she couldn't bear to leave.
Night fell and Sansa stayed, body shaking, eyes turning red and swollen. She prayed because she knew of naught else to do.
A rustling in the trees roused her from her own emotions, and there was no time for terror before the direwolf pushed her to the ground. There was only time for half a scream before she recognized the wolf. Warm wet licking cleaned the tears from her cheeks. "Nymeria," she sobbed, and clung to the unexpected companion.
The gods had answered her prayers at last.
She forgot Tyrion, the dragon queen, her own loneliness. Nymeria's warm fur cradled her and she didn't even mind the smell of blood, burying her face in the direwolf's neck. The animal licked her face clean and then curled around her, and she'd never felt so safe. Sansa cried until she had no tears and felt clean.