with sunlight in her hair
He always thought love was the Maiden's domain, but that was before a girl – barefoot, baseborn, lovely in roughspun – taught him otherwise. On their first morning together in the little cottage by the sea where there was no fire because there were no servants (because it was all theirs, a place only for them) Tysha told him that the truest kind of love is fate, and fate is spun and cast between the fingers of the Crone. Lantern held high, she knots one lover to the next with nimble fingers, a tie none can break but the Stranger himself and a logic none but she can fathom. The Crone bound them fast, Tysha said, and held onto him with arms and legs and strong little fingers to prove it.
In all her wisdom (or perhaps in spite of it) the Crone marked no difference between a crofter's orphaned daughter and a Lannister of Casterly Rock. There was no garland of summer flowers for them, no golden lion on a bride's cloak to drape Tysha's shoulders. Only a string red as blood that had been drawing them close and closer, only a dull pain beneath the ribs that ached at every separation (even if it was only so that Tyrion could collect firewood and Tysha could draw water from the well.)
When first he saw her at the crossroads she was all scraped knees and wide eyes rolling in fear, but somehow the sight of her filled him with the greatest relief he had ever known. He hadn't known a person could do that – make him feel finally just where he ought to be and just who he was. In the poorly neglected sept on the headland near the cottage, he knelt to light a candle to the Crone. A token of thanks for seven blessed days and for the joy in the knowledge that there would be more. He thanked every god in turn for the time that stretched ahead of them like a vast sea, immeasurable as only a child could see it. The Crone had brought them together and they would not be parted, he thought, but that was before he learned what the hands of men could do.
Now he recalls bright coins and a bloody sheet, red as whatever ran between them, whatever left them both wounded in the breaking. He wonders how it is that when he remembers Tysha, there is something like the ghost of a tug on a phantom thread.
when the sun has set, no candle
The first time he bit into a sweet summer peach from Highgarden it tasted of Loras' mouth and the flesh glistened wet under dappled sunlight as the juice coated their linked fingers. The first time he kissed Loras, he tasted the sea and the coppery gleam of fear, and sweet summer peaches from Highgarden. Sometimes his mouth still waters at the memory of their youth – pretending to ignore one another as they trained in the yard of Storm's End and meeting later in forgotten rooms with thick walls made for holding secrets. It had seemed like a gift from the gods then, the perfect miracle of having found one another.
There would be wives for both of them, and heirs too if the gods were good, but Renly could not doubt that the Crone had made them for each other. They were tied fast and all the rest were merely strung along to appease the eyes of the realm – the girls Loras played at making love to, and beautiful Margaery who understood and said nothing, who never had any wish to tamper with a link she could never hope to undo. (He loved her most for that – they both did.) All he had ever wanted was to make Loras laugh in an alcove of the library with one of the more obscene illuminations open on their knees and their bodies touching at shoulder and hip, knee and ankle, close as two trees with the roots grown together.
He was meant to be the storm and Loras the flower, yet in moments of truest passion he could not help but feel like a small, new thing flying apart in the wind, shaken by something great and unseen. They were both so young still – the knights of summer – and yet there was a war to win and a kingdom to rule, his brother's shoes to fill. But sometimes Renly Baratheon who would be king wanted only to be pieces in the hands of this boy.
Perhaps the Crone knew his heart as she knows the hearts of all men, and perhaps the Stranger allowed his shade to stop a moment in the tent where he died to see his wish made real. Loras Tyrell bent over his corpse, soft hair falling like a veil around both their faces and his bright cloak stained with blood. The salt that mingled on their lips tasted almost like the sea.
of ice and fire
Lyanna Stark had a face that seemed carved of ice, but her heart pulsed with the fire of the wolfblood. She was never made to live within the walls of a castle or even the stays of a corset, and she vowed that she was not for any man, either. The daughter of her father's steward said, The Crone in her wisdom has a match for us all. You'll see, she'd said, but Lyanna only laughed and spun away, and the girl's words became so much wind in her ears as she raced through the snow-covered pines of the Wolfswood. The Crone had no dominion over her, and no business at all in the North where they kept to the old ways. As Lyanna bathed in the steaming pools of the Godswood beneath the heart tree's spreading leaves, she would not believe that the gods she loved so well had made her merely to be some man's wife.
She was wise beyond her years, and in the end Lyanna Stark was right: she found a man to love beneath the black walls of Harrenhal in the year of the false spring, but she would never be his wife. At twilight on the second day she lay perfectly still in the grass as Rhaegar Targaryen pulled the helm from her head and a tumult of dark hair fell about her shoulders. She glared up at him with narrowed eyes and had to keep from baring her teeth, from cursing him in an almost-growl. He offered a hand to help her up and said she had ridden well, and then he gave her back the sword he had knocked from her hands just moments before.
She did not know she loved him until they lay together for the first time. Her blood sang in her veins as his flesh burned against her hands, her thighs, her open mouth, and under that she felt his blood crackling like wildfire. She had said she was for no man, yet she could not deny that this man was for her. Afterward they lay fighting for breath, limbs heavy with desire and covered in each other's sweat, and the smear of blood on the sheet was as red as the leaves of a heart tree. As red as a single thread that held her fast like nothing else could – not the walls of Winterfell or the clasp of a bride's cloak, or even the shrill cry of her son as she lay dying.
to lose one's heart to beauty
It was not her face that was King Robb's undoing, nor the witch's blood come down from her mother, as men would later say. It was only grief, for the most part, and the need to be touched. She could not bear to see him with his bandaged arm and teeth gritted against the pain, his fist crumpling the letter and smoothing it out again as he blinked back tears. She did not know whether to stay and comfort him or to leave him with his ghosts, and as she hovered in the doorway it must have been something in her that made him speak. She does not remember the words now, but she sat and listened and tried to think what one ought to say to a fatherless boy who was learning to be a man, to fight a war, to win a kingdom. A boy whose brothers were dead, who had no one but men around him and was worlds away from home. There was no Godswood at the Crag, and no heart tree, so she put a warm hand on his and when he wept she kissed his brow like a mother might.
When she was small her great-grandmother had pricked her little finger with a needle and let fall one drop of blood into a candle's shivering flame. She cried, but the old woman said that she was meant for great deeds, and when her mother pressed the crone said, Great joy and great sorrow both. She said, She shall be the bride of death, and blood will be her bride's gift. After that Jeyne never saw her again. Cradling the head of a man who was almost a stranger, she gathered the strength to look into the blue eyes she knew to be her fate. He had been coming to her all this time, she realized, like dark wings and heavy words, like a loosed arrow she was meant to meet. He was a Stark, she remembered, inevitable as winter.
It was so easy to bend her lips to his and tangle a hand in his auburn hair. It was because of the old woman, she told herself, only a prophecy coming to light and solidifying in the air around them. It was the old woman above too, the Crone proffering her lantern to light their way to one another, to the end that awaited them. She could do nothing in the hands of fate. Jeyne Westerling fell readily into the arms of the King in the North, and he clung to her like a boy of six and ten as she reveled in the pleasure of being held, needed. She waited for what would come, for a moment of joy before the snap of a cut thread.
together, as we were born
For them it was never a journey – they had come into the world with all they would ever want, knowing that their fate walked beside them and that home meant only each other. Yet somehow, Jaime found, it could not have been more impossible to grasp the happiness that had never been more than an arm's length away. When he kissed Cersei he tasted lavender and mint, and sometimes, underneath, the bile that had burned in his throat the day Lord Tywin discovered Tyrion's marriage to the little crofter's girl. Nothing could be worse than this, he'd thought, yet the length of Cersei's body flush with his and the remembered snap of his father's voice made him think twice. Somehow the gifts bestowed by blood – Casterly Rock jutting from the coast and his twin's body, her breath hot in his ear – these things that were his birthrights, were to be denied him.
When Tywin Lannister decreed that his son would leave the Rock for Crakehall, Jaime vowed to make this life his own. He would be a lion in truth and not some cowering rabbit – he imagined himself and Cersei hand in hand on a ship bound for the free cities, the breeze pulling soft fingers through their golden curls. In the dark of the sleeping castle he had stolen servants' garb, two loaves of bread and a sack of apples, then gone to saddle the horses. When he woke Cersei she let her heavy head roll against his shoulder as he whispered in her ear, and she followed him willingly into the night. They were barely out of the postern gate when his sister reined up and said, If I leave now, how am I to be the queen? She was so beautiful in the moonlight, her tousled hair and eyes blinking up at him as though she was only just waking. Her perfect mouth that was a mirror of his own opened to say, Jaime, I'm to be the queen.
All his life he had thought the only differences between them were a handful of parts that fit neatly together, but in that moment he felt the breath leave his body with the force of one thing becoming two. He watched Cersei turn her horse and retreat into the shadows of the inner yard, and wondered what it would be like to spend every night alone, as he must needs do at Crakehall. When they shared a bed he would twine strands of both their hair around and around his fingers as she slept – he let the reins fall to teach his fingers what emptiness was like.
He would always be tied to Cersei in a way he was to no one else – he would hear her words before she spoke them, would turn to meet her gaze in the shivering second before her eyes flicked toward his. He would know it if ever something was amiss, and he would come to her before she called. Back in his bedchamber Jaime sprawled in the window seat and tried to imagine what Cersei was thinking, wondering if in her dreams she was already Queen Cersei of the Seven Kingdoms and no longer simply us. She would be another man's wife, bear another man's children, and what would that make him? The other half, the discarded piece – the trailing end of a thread. It made his stomach twist and his fists clench, but he could not bring himself to want to be anyone else. She is me and I am her, he thought, and we will walk this earth together until the Stranger takes us. For Jaime, it would always be us.
sweet, and gone too soon
Once he thought she was Brandon's. He had believed the same of Winterfell, of the children she gave him, even of the country it was left him to rule. All this was meant for a better man and a braver one, not for Eddard, second son of House Stark. For the first months of their marriage – years, even – there was duty in every touch, and he always gave her the chance to refuse him, to deny him entry to the bedchamber they would come to share. It was only later that he saw he had been wrong – he found that truth in the faces of his children, in the way Cat would come to him below a canopy of scarlet leaves, how she bared her pale body to him there in the chill of autumn. (He would think of that later in a dank cell, the red of her hair and the red of the leaves, a cry in her throat that sounded like his name.) It was then, between the splayed roots of the heart tree, that he began to tell her all there was to tell of the North. With one finger he drew the shape of the land against the soft skin of her belly where he knew, inexplicably but without a doubt, that his seed was beginning to quicken. When he was done she turned his hand over and traced the path of the Trident on his palm, dropping a tentative kiss at the place she had been born. It was the last kiss of its kind ever to pass from one of them to the other – after that there was no uncertainty. Before the year was out Sansa was born, laid first in Cat's arms, then in his.
Just as she paid little heed to the old gods, Ned gave next to none to her Seven. She might tell him of the places of her girlhood, but never of the prayers she still offered up in the sept he had built her. What did it matter to him if she asked the Warrior to protect him and the Smith to give him strength? And he knew nothing of the Crone with her lantern, her red string of fate. Yet as he bid her goodbye there was a tranquility about him, a level calm in his gray eyes that spoke of the truest kind of faith, even if it was not exactly her own.
She had always known that winter would come one day, and when it did she turned her gaze inward to a heart carved of wet earth and laced with rivers, fragrant as the spring. The raven that had brought word of her husband's death took wing once more, black against a leaden sky, and Catelyn closed her eyes. Ned would wait for her – in death the thread of fate does not break, only becomes a path from this world to the next. One day she would follow it back to him – not now, but in a small while – and she would find him smiling, arms spread to receive her.