Chapter 1: The Springs
Alayne watched the girl’s shoulders, the way the left one leant slightly back so that her hand was at her belt while the other held on to the short reins of the mule. Even when riding the sure-footed creature, Mya Stone carried herself with an air of confidence no bastard should have a right to show. Alayne admired her, wanted to be like her, as sure as the animal under her of the road that lay ahead. Mya knew who she was; she had only one name to live up to, and a bastard’s name at that. Alayne was only just getting to know herself.
The two girls continued to descend the stone road from the Maiden’s Tower, listening to the soft clangor of buckets hanging off the pack mules and the tapping of hooves against stone. The chill of the wind cascaded off their cheeks, but a sharp right turn in the road sent it the other way. It was one of Mya’s chores to go down to the springs in the valley and retrieve fresh water for the kitchens and baths up in the tower. Alayne often joined her on these trips, taking the opportunity to see the country from outside stonewalls and observe different people in the Vale going about their daily businesses.
The people didn’t look at her the way they once looked at Sansa. Most of the villagers barely glanced at her unless they recognized her to be the Lord Protector’s bastard daughter. Though she did provoke some men into winks and smiles and catcalls, they were wont to frighten her. Sansa had resisted Mya’s offer to take her down to the springs at first, for her own private fear of being recognized for someone she wasn’t supposed to be. Alayne told her that it was best the Lord Protector’s daughter not be seen doing a servant’s work. Mya insisted that the Lord Protectors daughter would never be seen, and dressed Alayne in a washerwoman’s garb, hoping to repel any unwanted attention.
Having laughed at the notion of herself wearing such clothing in comparison to her usual fine dresses, Alayne reminded herself that she was just a bastard after all, and that no one would care to take a second glance at a washerwoman. By this day, she was seventeen and well accustomed to the feel of the rough spun cotton dresses under her palms. In fact, she loved it more than any other disguise she’d ever worn. Being able to peer into the lives of the common folk without attracting much attention was the closest she would be to invisibility, and Mya had been the one to show her the way.
Having finally descended into the valley, Alayne caught sight of a number of women gathered at the springs, scrubbing clothes and filling buckets with water, their hands red with cold. Alayne always felt pity for the women who had to do the laundry, their hands eroded by their hard work. On occasion she’d slip some coin into their pockets when they weren’t looking, taking some comfort in knowing they’d be glad to find it there later. Her father had enough lying around not to take notice.
Mya stopped a few yards away from the spring and Alayne followed suit, tying their mules to a small stone post near a patch of grass. Taking a bucket in either hand, Alayne followed Mya to the springs. Tall and clear, the water cascaded against the rocks from the Mountains of the Moon, sparkling in the sunlight and partially concealing a shallow cave. Alayne got a hold of her footing near the stream, the stones wet and slippery beneath her boots. Reaching her hand out to touch a small trickle of water, she watched as it ran down across her palm, clean and fresh. She couldn’t help but cup her hands in the icy liquid and bring them up to her mouth, quenching her thirst and savoring the feel of the cold water running down into her body.
The sound of a bucket hitting a puddle snapped her out of her reverie. “Quit your splashing around now, Bora,” Mya called from across the stream, “we’ve got buckets to fill.” Because her washerwoman’s garb wasn’t enough, Mya had to call Alayne by a different name whenever they frequented the springs, taking a special liking to calling her Bora, meaning snow. Many a serving woman would question her parentage, attempting to make conversation while working, but Alayne tried to avoid them as best she could, and Mya helped by convincing them she was mute.
Lifting one of the large pails at her feet, Alayne set it upon a stone under the stream, and waited for it to fill. She rested her left hand on the rim of the bucket, lightly touching the water as it fell with her fingers, thinking about how the women boiled it after bringing them up to the tower. Her eyes wandered to the darkness behind the shallow waterfall, imagining all of the different creatures that would take shelter there in a storm. She reached out again, this time with her left hand, her right still holding onto the bucket. She moved her hand into the falling water, past the wall of cold ice, and felt another touching her back.
Catching herself before she screamed, the hand clenched around her wrist and pulled so she was elbow length into the spring, getting wet around the hem of her dress.
“Don’t scream,” said a voice. A man’s voice. He was hooded under a black cloak, camouflaging perfectly in the cave. “Actually, don’t say anything at all, mute. I’ve seen you coming down here with the bastard girl. Do you not tire of the lies, Sansa?”
Her blood ran cold in her veins. A thousand questions ran through her mind, but she could only think of getting away from this stranger. She glanced back at Mya carrying a heavy pail filled with water back to the mules, as if she had no other care in the world. His fingers clenched around her wrist. She wanted nothing but to scream out to Mya for help, but she knew that would attract too much unwanted attention, and this man already had her in his iron grasp.
“Don’t be afraid,” he said. She stared at the falling water, trying to make out his face past the ripples. Her heart was pounding in her chest. “You know me. You and me are leaving by the Bloody Gate tonight after the feast. Be ready,” he rasped, pulling her so close she could taste cold water on her lips, be brave.
Chapter 2: Petyr
The Lord Protector Petyr Baelish had scheduled a feast for the peasants and lesser lords and ladies of the Vale that night, as he did every so often to hearten the people and earn their love and respect. Alayne, his natural daughter, was expected to be only the most generous and pleasant host one would ever hope for. She was also expected to be beautiful, or at least so she thought when she saw the stunning dark green satin dress he sent to her.
Long and elegant, the dress was much too rich for a girl of her status, and yet just revealing enough for a girl of her age. Holding it up in the fading light, she examined the neckline of the dress; it expressed a garniture of golden lace embroidered into the fabric, drawing the eye downwards towards the wearer’s chest. The lace was embroidered along the hem of the skirts as well, and the sleeves were buttoned at the wrists.
Changing out of her housedress she suddenly became all too eager to try the dress on. Something in the way it felt to wear a dress this beautiful made Alayne feel nostalgic, as if she remembered herself being something more than a bastard girl. A girl with a head full of stories and songs. Dressing like a princess made her feel like one, but she could not let herself remember. Sometimes Alayne imagined that her father knew it would remind her of things better left forgotten, but she pushed those thoughts away, thinking instead that it was out of kindness that he sent her such lavish gifts.
She had only just begun lacing the front of the tight bodice when there was a knock at her door.
“Daughter, may I enter?” asked Petyr Baelish.
She hurriedly tugged the final bow of the yellow lace before her bosom. “Yes, father,” she said, and with that he entered her chambers.
“My, my, “ said he, eyes bright, “you look quite the vision in that dress.” He stood a few paces away from her, hands behind his back and face smiling. Alayne blushed and grinned back at him. “It is the most beautiful dress you’ve given me yet, father, thank you.” He closed the gap between them, and reached out a hand to touch a brown lock of hair near her collar.
“Will you keep it down tonight? It’s much more flattering to your neckline,” he suggested. She turned from his touch, making as if to look into her full-length mirror. “If it so pleases you, father,” she said, taking a brush to her long, chestnut hair. The brown of her hair against the dark green of her dress was a pleasing sight; it reminded her of a childhood deep into the summer.
“It does. I’m sure you will make for a memorable hostess tonight,” he said, “you never know who may be there to see you or… set their sights on you.”
She knew all too well what he meant by that. Her father had been trying to set a good enough match for her since she was fourteen, and yet, despite all of the suitors who attempted to court her, none seemed esteemed enough or powerful enough to please her father. Not even Harry the Heir’s claim to the Vale could take her away from him.
Casually marking his movements through the reflection, she saw him taking slow steps towards her bed where she had spread out an array of her clothing. Her heart began to race, but she did well to hide it. She’d forgotten for a moment that she was to be whisked away tonight by a complete stranger who appeared to her in a waterfall. Be ready, he had told her, and so she had left some clothes out to be taken with her if this stranger were to succeed in rescuing her. She noticed Petyr pick up one her chemises. “And what’s this?” he asked.
She looked over her shoulder. “My chemise, father.” A look of annoyance flickered across his face and he put it down. “I mean what’s all this?” he waved his hands over the clothes. “Your maids have been getting too comfortable, I see.”
“It’s not their fault, father. I left those out,” she said, looking down and feeling the fabric of her dress. “I just wanted to give some of my old dresses away, that’s all. They no longer fit me.”
“Yes, you have grown quite a bit,” he eyed her through the mirror. “Ever the generous lady you are, capturing the people’s hearts by giving back to them what you can,” he walked back towards the door. “The feast will begin soon, darling. Be prompt, and remember your lines,” he said with a wink, and walked out.
Savoring this moment to herself, she strode towards the chamber door and shut it softly. She felt stupid for not remembering to gather her clothes before her father had entered, having been too distracted by the dress to remember. Pulling out a leather bag from her dresser, she stacked in as many clothes as she would need, neatly folded. Though she did not have much faith in this potential escape, she knew she needed to take precautions. After all, she never did know who might be there to see her.
Chapter 3: A Dance
The next knock on her door came a few minutes after Petyr had left. She went to the door and pushed it open, half expecting to see him again. It was Maddy.
“M’lady, his lordship is refusing to join the feast. We’ve tried every…”
“Say no more,” said Alayne. She whisked past the girl, emerald skirts sashaying behind her. Convincing the young Robert Arryn to be sociable had become something of a chore for Alayne. It had come to be that she was the only one who could rouse him, if anyone could at all.
Arriving at the door of his chambers, she turned the iron ring and pushed it open, slipping inside. She saw him standing before a tall window, one hand behind his back, the other holding the framework. At eleven years old, his frame was as small and fragile as that of an eight year old’s; his ailment had severely slowed down his growth.
Alayne took care to make her steps be heard so as not to frighten him. “Sweetrobin,” she said when she knew he’d heard her approaching. The setting sun in the west illuminated his forlorn face. “Don’t bother,” he started. She hesitated, but regained herself. She tried a different approach. “Robert, as Lord of the Eyrie, you must show your people you care,” she said, “how else will they respect you if they don’t get a chance to see how strong you’ve become.” He loved to be told how strong he was. “Besides, I need an escort,” she finished.
He turned from the small diamond-shaped panes of the window. “This whole thing’s become too embarrassing,” he began, “I am not respected, I am pitied.” Looks like he’s caught on. Alyane couldn’t help but pity him. He was no longer the small child obsessed with tales of the Winged Knight. She placed a hand on his shoulder. “Locking yourself up in your room won’t prove anything to them, you must show them, Robert. Here,” she placed her hand on his face and touched his lips with hers. “I promise there’ll be mushroom soup and venison and lemoncakes,” she soothed, “now, let’s go before your stepfather comes up.”
Petyr did instill a fright upon Sweetrobin. So much so that he made no more objections and took Alayne’s hand when she offered it.
As they walked down some steps to the main hall, hand in hand, he began complaining about the music being too loud and giving him headaches, and that he was too embarrassed to dance. Alayne tried to tune him out, replying with a nod or shake of her head, a squeeze of her hand. Her mind was somewhere else entirely.
Knowing tonight may be her final night in the Vale, she intended on making the most of it. The clatter of dishes being served could be heard even some distance away from the main entrance, the vibrations of drums felt through their feet. It grew louder the closer they got to the main hall, the entrance decorated with thick velvet curtains swept to the side, it’s large wooden doors held ajar. Two soldiers stood watch on either side.
Alayne felt a nervous thrill run through her. She was late and being escorted by the Lord of the Vale, not to mention she was absolutely stunning in her new dress. She was certain all eyes would be upon them as they entered. The clangor or dishes, loud laughter and conversations in the hall, and rhythm of the music drew her forward. She did not hesitate to make sure Sweetrobin was comfortable but swept into the hall.
It was as she expected. Almost every pair of eyes was set towards them. She became uncomfortably aware of how low the neckline of her dress was. The music did not cease to play, however, and she and Sweetrobin made their way to his seat.
Petyr Baelish was seated upon a plush chair towards the center of a long table at the end of the hall. He leant on the arm of his chair, his fingers still under his chin. He was staring at Alayne, a coy smile playing on his lips as on old man talked and swung around a leg of chicken beside him. The food was overflowing on the table, each and every steady glass filled with wine. The seat to his right was vacant: Robert’s seat. She walked the boy to his place at the table, placed a kiss upon his cheek and Petyr’s and set out to find Mya or Myranda.
The sun had set and it was officially dark outside. Nothing but darkness seeped through the tall, stain-glassed windows adorning the hall. It’ll be hard to travel in that darkness, but even harder for others to find me. Candles were lined against the walls on every side and upon every table; giant circular mirrors hung everywhere, reflecting the candlelight and giving the room a warm orange hue. The servants were weaving in and out in every direction. This is the most crowded I’ve ever seen this place, she thought as she struggled to find a familiar face. She wondered if her rescuer was there, watching her every move. She wondered who he was, that she should know him like he said.
There you are. Mya was standing near some tapestries, arms crossed, discussing something with Ser Lothor Brune, a long time admirer of hers. She suddenly slowed her pace, not wanting to intrude upon them. She turned and scanned the room, looking for Myranda. From the corner of her eye she noticed Petyr was constantly aware of her. How will I ever leave without his knowing? He watches me like a hawk, she thought in slight despair. She didn’t let it show.
Then there was a change of pace in the hall completely. Everything started moving at once, people stirring in every direction away from something. She realized all too soon they were opening up a space in the center of the hall, pushing tables to the side. A dancing space.
He appeared before her as if from nowhere. “Will my lady have this dance?” said Harry. Alayne could do nothing but oblige. The drums were beating loudly, flutes clear and beautiful. The singer seemed to be absent, but Alayne didn’t mind. She was not very fond of the last singer that had graced their halls.
Harry pulled her towards the floor, already filled with men and women twirling and dancing. Her hand was in his, and she pulled him slightly back to her. She got as close as she could to his ear to make sure he heard her over all the noise. “I’m not very schooled in the dances of the Vale,” she admitted.
“Not to worry, my dear,” he said, handsome as ever. He was tall too, but not too tall to tower over her. “You need only imagine you were an eagle, like our sigil!” he exclaimed with a smile. He outstretched his arms, but not so far as to hit someone, and started dancing with his feet elegantly. He did resemble an eagle when brought his arms before him in semi circles. It was a strange dance, but she loved it all the same. He looked like he could fly.
“Like this?” she asked, trying to mimic his stance. He laughed and bought down her arms slightly. “It’s a bit more modest on the woman’s part. Besides, you’re more of a little bird than an eagle,” he chided.
That’s when it came to her. Little bird, he had called her in the fading green light. The vaguely familiar voice, his rasp. Be brave is what he had told her once, long ago. He was her rescuer and he was somewhere in the room she was in right at that moment as she twirled her jade skirts around Harry the Heir.