It took Lady Laura a few moments to realize that the icy wind had stopped blowing and that for the first time in years, it had started to snow. Winter was finally here. The small white snowflakes melted when they touched her outstretched palm, but they clung to the heavy fabric of her dress and her hair, almost making her feel young and carefree again. But those days were long gone.
They said that after a long summer comes and even longer winter. Laura knew, could feel it in her bones, in the chill in the air, that they had been right. She would not live to see spring again. She wouldn’t never see leaves on trees again. All she would know until the end of her days would be winter, cold, death. War.
Caprica, her small town had managed to remain almost unscathed. When the Young Wolf had called his banners to him, Laura had barely had any men to send. The few who had departed flying her colors, had never returned. They were either slain on the battle field or had met their end during the Red Wedding. The mere thought of that slaughter still made her shiver.
She had been asked to attend as well. The bride had been named after her house after all and once she had been rather well acquainted with the Tully’s. She had already started preparing for the journey, had packed the gown she had planned to wear, black and white with red details, the colors of her house, when the ship had come to her town.
Before the bay had frozen, it had come, a lone ship from the Iron Islands and Laura had known they were lost. The only men they had had to defend their walls were too grey to remember how to hold a sword or too green to have been taught how to and her walls were not strong enough to be a defense on their own. There had been no hope at all.
But she was a lady of the North and she would not yield without a fight. She had lived for one and fifty years, she had survived the Mad King’s reign unlike her mother, sisters and in the end her father, had seen Robert Baratheon’s uprising, had seen him claim the Iron Throne and had sworn her fealty to him. She had done all of that without ever taking a husband or bringing any heirs into this twisted world.
To her surprise there had been no siege. She had been lucky enough to have never have had to deal with Ironborn men before, but she had heard tales of their ruthlessness. Theon Greyjoy had betrayed the family who had cared for him for years and had butchered two young children and set their heads on spikes. She had expected them to barge into her town, rape the women, kill all the remaining men and possibly take her as a hostage, but she was most likely to be raped and killed as well. It was what Ironborn did, especially since she held no real value.
“Milady,” a soft voice said behind her and Laura turned around, snow falling from her hair and shoulders. Tory stood before her, wrapped in a heavy fur cloak. The Braavosi girl had never known a winter, not having lived in Westeros for more than five years, and the cold affected her more than anyone else. “The admiral wishes to see you, if it pleases you, milady.”
It did not please her. She had been the lady of the castle. The town, the people had been hers and now she had been forced to relinquish that power to a man she barely knew. He claimed they were sharing it, but she knew how men thought and what they feelings were towards her sex. They never respected a woman in a position of power. And yet, there was something different about the admiral, something that pulled her to him, against her wishes.
The admiral was the man who had been in command of the ship and had simply walked through her town, his crew in tow and had entered her castle without spilling a single drop of blood. She had offered him no resistance and he had given her no reason too. As long as he didn’t threaten the safety of her people, Laura would not give him any cause to.
Admiral William Adama of house Adama, a small insignificant house on the Iron Islands had left the Kraken’s fleet, not desiring to be part of it anymore after Theon Greyjoy had named himself Prince of Winterfell and Balon Greyjoy had fallen to his death. Adama had anticipated a power struggle between his people and had fled before he and his crew could become a cost a paid in blood.
Sanctuary. He had come to her looking for sanctuary.
He wanted no quarrel with her or her people, but he wasn’t leaving either. Laura had straightened her back, clenched her jaw and courteously invited him to stay in Caprica until the war was over or until spring came, both of which she doubted would ever happen. The Ironborn had settled into her town, mixing with her people, but never harming them.
They even helped bring in the last harvest before winter finally set in. There had been marriages between Adama’s men and her widows and maidens. She had even been told there were pregnancies. She wouldn’t have thought it possible women of the North and Ironborn men, but it was and it worked. The only relationship that was still very fragile was the one between her and William Adama.
The admiral was polite and treated her with as much respect as he could muster, but Laura had trouble adjusting to the fact of sharing he reign. She had permitted it to happen, but she was not used to being ruled by anyone other than her father. And she did not like to submit herself to someone she didn’t know or trust yet even if the admiral seemed reasonably respectful.
She swept into the room, the heavy red wool of her dress dragging over the dark stones as Tory closed the door behind her and left her alone with the Ironborn. Adama stood in front of the hearth, his hand clasped behind his back. His eyes following her every move as she approached him, the heels of her shoes clacking against the stone and the crackling of the fire the only sounds in the room.
“Admiral,” she greeted him without curtseying. She refused to bow before someone who wasn’t a lord, a lady, a queen or king. And she would not bow before a mere sailor. William Adama was a rough looking man with clear blue eyes that could speak volumes and more than once she had caught herself staring at them, trying to read the blue orbs.
“M’lady,” he replied. For his rather rugged appearance and his sailor life, he must have been raised by a lord. No lowborn would say m’lady. Only the highborn said that.
“Were you out without a cloak, m’lady?” Adama asked, concern lacing his voice. Laura merely raised an eyebrow as she seated herself near the fire, the snow quickly melting leaving dark spots in the red fabric and her hair slightly damp. Was it not obvious that she hadn’t been wearing a cloak from the snow that had decorated her dress?
“It is none of your concern what I wear or do not wear, admiral,” she said harshly.
“I have no wish to see you ill, m’lady,” he said softly as he seated himself as well, his startling blue eyes never leaving her face. Laura fought the urge to snap that she hadn’t given him leave to sit as she remembered that he had two hundred men and she a mere twenty and all of them unable to fight.
“A little snow won’t make me ill,” she replied coolly. And it won’t make whatever I am suffering from any worse she added in her head. And sadly Maester Cottle did not know what her illness was, nor did he have cure for it.
It had started one day when she had been washing herself and she had felt a hard lump in her breast that had not been there before and Laura had known that it was something evil. The Maester had concurred. He had examined her, leeched her, given her every potion that he knew off that might shrink the lump or deal with the draining feeling she had been experiencing of late, but none of it worked.
Lately she had started taking an extract from the leaves of the weirwood which considerably lessened to pain and the exhaustion she felt at the end of each day, but had as a side-effect dreams of snakes and death. Of green lands and a never ending summer. Of the Old Gods and dragons. More than once she had woken up sweating, screaming. But Maester Cottle found that it would be best if she continued taking the extract.
“I suppose it won’t, you being a lady of the North,” Adama said and averted his gaze and instead stared at the fire. She had never seen him in the Godswood, she had never heard him pray to the Seven or to the Drowned God and now she was wondered if her believed in the Lord of Light. The way he intently stared at the flames as if he could see something in them like the red priests she had only heard about. Maybe he was a godless man, which made him all the more dangerous.
“Why did you summon me here, admiral?” Laura asked slowly, running a hand through her hair, untangling some of the knots that the wind had gotten into it. She rarely did her in the Southern fashion and she almost never put her hair up or braided. She liked to let it loose and unruly. She loved the way it felt when the wind moved through it. Or the way it looked in the sunlight.
“I did not summon you. If it appeared otherwise, then I apologize.” He sounded regretful. But his voice always had a calming effect on her, even if she hadn’t wanted to admit that to herself yet. In all honesty he hadn’t summoned her, but Laura didn’t feel like making it easy for him. And yet she had stopped getting a feeling of satisfaction when the lines on his face deepened whenever she scorned him.
“Ramsay Snow holds Winterfell,” Adama said with a bitter tone to his voice. Laura knew that he shouldn’t be called Snow anymore, but a man who had a flayed man as his sigil deserved no other name. “Stannis Baratheon is marching towards him, planning to take the castle. Lord Commander Snow has let wildlings settle on our side of the Wall while the Others come closer to the Wall every day. Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons are said to be out of control. The Lannisters are tearing themselves apart and the Greyjoys aren’t faring much better.”
“Your point?” Laura said through clenched teeth. She knew how bad the situation in and out of Westeros was. But when it was said flat out like this, it seemed utterly hopeless.
“How did you survive? You are but a lone lady with a small town.” Laura snarled at his words but remained quiet. “You do not fly the colors of any of the well-known families, you have no protection. And yet the Bastard Boys, the Mountain, all of the terrors that have passed through these lands have somehow missed you.”
“They didn’t miss me. You saw my people. Women and children. Old men and boys. All the men of fighting age are gone and dead. And maybe it is because I have not aligned myself with any of the families that I have survived. Maybe they made the same mistake you make. They don’t see me as a threat. I am just an old woman with a few people in her town.”
“Do you think you’re a threat?” Laura narrowed her eyes, wondering where in Seven Hells Adama was trying to guide this conversation, but there was no animosity in the admiral’s eyes, just curiosity. She shrugged, feeling her anger ebb away.
“I think men underestimate me. I may not be wealthy or beautiful, but I do have enough food to get my people through a long winter, even with your men here, while the supplies of men like Ramsay Snow or Stannis or even Jon Snow will not last that long.” She had carefully started stocking up her cellars from the first moment of spring and hadn’t stopped until the last moment of autumn. Winter always came, no matter how long the summer.
“Does that make you a threat?” Adama inquired calmly. Laura pursed her lips and thought of all the things both men and women had said to her during her life. How suitors had passed on a marriage because of her stubborn attitude. And those who had seen her as a challenge, Laura had refused, not wanting to be some sort of wild trophy horse to be broken in.
She had never held a sword, but her father her taught her how to use a dagger to defend herself should the need arise. Laura didn’t feel the need divulge the small fact that she had considered slashing Adama’s throat more than once when he had just taken up residence in her castle. But the honor her father had installed in her during her upbringing had prevented her from doing so.
“No, that makes me strong and a survivor. Two qualities men fear in women,” she said slowly, wondering if it would get a reaction from the burly admiral. In the warm light his rugged appearance made him almost look handsome and not for the first time she wondered if maybe the man had some Braavosi blood in him. There was something foreign about and something that wasn’t natural to someone from the Iron Islands.
“I’ve always admired that in a woman,” Adama confessed and Laura felt her lips curl up into a smile. He would admire that.
“Then you must love me,” she countered dryly with a smile, the thought of why she was flirting with him briefly crossing her mind before she banished it and focused on the sound of his low chuckle filling the room. She had never heard him chuckle before. She had barely seen him smile.
“I wouldn’t call it love, but admiration is a good word for my feelings towards you.” His words momentarily stunned her. No man had ever openly admitted that to her and Laura felt an unfamiliar, warm feeling settle in her stomach and she felt a blush creep up on her cheeks. She hadn’t blushed since she was a little girl.
“I always assumed you didn’t like me,” she said, raising her chin to seem slightly defiant. She didn’t want to seem as if she had suddenly lost her steely resolve just because of a few kind words.
“I didn’t at first. I thought you were arrogant and a little naïve and perhaps cold and distant, but now that I’d like think I’ve gotten to know you a little better and I know the battles you’ve fought, you still fight. They may not have been fought with iron and blood, but they were battles all the same. I think you have more courage than any of my men.”
“And I think that you are trying to flatter me,” Laura said, but couldn’t hide her blush anymore or her widening smile. She didn’t know if it were his eyes or his voice or the small smirk that played on his lips or perhaps the way the fire made his hair seem wavier and thicker than before, but Laura was overcome with a sudden urge to reach out and touch him. She even found herself wondering what his lips would feel like against hers.
“I only said what I have observed and it is truth. In my eyes anyway.” He looked at her sideways, a little tilt to his head and just for a moment he didn’t look like the Ironborn sailor she thought he was, but like a man she could trust and admire. Laura shook her head and the moment was gone.
“Was the only reason you wanted to speak with me to flatter me or was there an actual purpose to this conversation?” she asked, trying to change to the subject to something relatively safe and get rid of the redness of her cheeks that had undoubtedly spread to her collarbone.
“I have been here for quite some time and I just wanted to get to know you better. I wanted to see if you could smile.” Laura felt a hint of embarrassment as she remembered how coldly she had treated him. How she had avoided him as much as possible because she didn’t want to be faced with the fact that maybe, just maybe William Adama was a decent man which he had turned out to be. She was still free. Her people were still free. She could have been put in a dark cell, broken and bruised, left to eating rats to survive.
“And now that you have seen me smile?”
“I find you to be enchanting, charming. Beautiful.” The last word was nothing more than whisper, but Laura heard it and thought that her heart skipped a beat. Through the years she had lovers much to the dismay of her mother and father, but none of them had ever called her beautiful and meant it. They said it to please her, thought it would make her fall in love with them. But Adama didn’t seem to want anything from her other than respect.
“You’re not used to compliments, are you?”
“I’m not used to compliments that don’t serve a higher purpose. Men usually want my land or what’s between my legs, usually both, when they pay me compliments.” Laura cringed at her slight crude way of putting things, but it only elicited another chuckle from the admiral.
“You are not like any of the women I have ever come across in my life,” Adama said and Laura knew that it was meant to be a compliment. Another one. She ran her hands over the fur trimming of her dress, not sure how to respond to him. She wasn’t used to this kind of brutal honesty, least of all from a man.
“And you are not like any of the men I’ve had to deal with,” she finally said, looking down at her hands. They looked deadly pale on top of the rich red of her dress. She tensed when one of Adama’s large hands came into her line of vision and he tentatively placed it over her much smaller hand, taking it in his. His skin was warm and rough. Comforting. Laura looked up and met his eyes.
“I am glad that I came here,” he admitted with a small smile that warmed Laura’s heart more than the fire in the hearth ever could. She took a shaky breath and then slowly covered his hand with her own, tangling their fingers. Maybe they had just started something that couldn’t be stopped and maybe it was a dangerous game that she shouldn’t get involved in. But she meant it with all her heart when she gave her reply.