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Honor is Not a Victory March

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Pale and unmoving, the wolf girl on the bed does not look like much. She is skinny, except where she had been carrying the child low on her hips, with the flesh and muscles of her arms and legs a thin film of skin that wrap and twist around her bones. Her lips are chapped, with her once famed brown hair limp and frizzing out of the curls the maid tried to give her, and the circles under her eyes match those of the men who’d gone to war for Lyanna Stark. In her bed of blood soaked sheets that smell like rot and rust, Rhaegar’s dead wolf-whore is a child.

This is the girl that ruined a country, Oberyn thinks. The face that uprooted a dynasty.

The baby, Jon, she’d said before she’d taken her last breath, eyes almost closed and voice shattered around the efforts taken to stay alive with her brother still miles away, hardly stirs from his bundle of blankets as Oberyn Martell makes his way down the stairs of the Tower of Joy and back towards his Sand Steed. It is almost as if the babe knows his mother is dead and there is no reason to remain in the ill place of his birth. The hot Dornish sun burns bright against his skin and Oberyn covers the babe’s face, brown curls and gray eyes, nothing of the Silver Prince within his own son, and swing his legs over the saddle without jostling the infant. His guards, ten less than the thirty he’d come here with, sport dozens of cuts and bruises. One of the men, a Sand, is holding the wet nurse around the waist tightly. She has a soft cloth wrapped around her mouth to keep her from screaming out; they need her for the journey. Some of the men will not last the journey back to Sunspear, the wounds inflicted by Arthur Dayne and the rest of the Kingsguard a death sentence even after their own bodies lay exposed to the sun for Ned Stark to find.

As he rides away, ears tuned for the sound of distant horses in case the Northman was closer than their intelligence has told them, he almost feels pity for the wolf lord whose last image of his beloved sister will be her corpse. Twisted visions of Elia dance behind his eyes as he rides, with blood on her legs, face turned towards her daughter’s corpse, the little girl gone from a Princess into a needlepoint pillow. One of her hands lay outstretched across the marble floor, fingers pointed towards a babe no longer recognizable with a flattened head. Undeterred, Oberyn kicks his horse’s flanks and rides on, the wind and the sand hitting him in the face, and he doesn’t look back.

 

 

Doran looks older than his years with his hair mussed and his lips tight with anger and grief. He has let the lions bed down in King's Landing among their gold and furs, laughing around his family’s defeat. Oberyn hates him, hates his pacifism and his weakness, and he sees his good sister, Mellario, eye her husband who is sitting on his cushioned chair with a contempt she’s never shown before. The wet-nurse, Wylla, shushes the babe in her arms, all the while she kneels down to let seven-year old Arianne look at him with the fascinated innocence of a child.

“Where is his mother?” Doran asks, and his voice is full of poison aimed at his brother, rather than the true culprits. He hasn’t glanced at the child once since Oberyn arrived, instead his eyes never leave Oberyn’s, and his fist clutches their sister’s last letter. Oberyn quickly swallows his own anger, remembering the words sweet Elia wrote. Lyanna’s child will be legitimate...married her...three heads...not the child’s fault...I’m sure Aegon will love a brother. Even in her shame, his sister handled the prince’s folly with grace and poise, stuck in that cesspit of a city with a husband gone mad by prophecy and lust, and a King whose sanity had been consumed by wildfire.

“Dead,” Oberyn answers. He pours himself a glass of wine and gulps it down, bittersweet in his throat, and then pours himself another. He gestures for Wyalla to sit down and she looks at him nervously, still wary of his intentions for her mistress’ child. Despite himself, he admires her loyalty, and knows he won’t part the girl from the babe as long as she wants to remain with Jon.

“Did you kill her?” Mellario asks before her husband can, and Oberyn thinks her tone sounds like she hopes it’s true. His good sister knows the value of revenge more than his brother. Her dark curls are pinned to the top of her head, yet some fall to obscure her dark eyes, while her fingers tap against the armrest of her husband’s throne.

“No,” Oberyn answers, “she was dying before I got there. Childbed fever.” The room goes silent, but Oberyn knows that all of them are thinking the same. So much for Rhaegar’s intentions. He swirls his wine around his glass and continues, “Though I would have had no problem doing so.”

Doran explodes then, starling the child who cries for the first time that day. His brother stands, legs shaking as he stalks towards his younger brother. “We are being watched. The Lannisters and the Baratheons expect revenge. And you, what, steal this child? You would have murdered that woman? Do you want our house razed to the ground?”

Oberyn stumbles back, wine dripping on the floor, as his brother finally lashes out, fist connecting with Oberyn’s cheekbone. He sets the glass down on the round table behind him where the decanter rests, and spits out blood from where one of his teeth scraped against his gum. “Eddard Stark knows nothing of the child. All he knows is that his sister has died. My actions mean naught to him.”

“Then what do you intend to do with him?” Doran asks, and this time his voice is laced with fear. Perhaps, Oberyn thinks, my brother believes I will harm the babe. Throw him out a window and watch as his skull caves in, like our nephew’s.

“That throne should have been Elia’s,” Oberyn says, and he makes sure to lace his words with all of his hate and anger. “Rhaegar denied her what was hers by right. Now her killers sit behind that throne, Cersei Lannister wears the jewels that our sister should have worn, and you sit here, doing nothing. That throne is not theirs, it is ours.”

“No,” Doran says. “That throne is his.” For the first time, he looks at the child. In the days that it had taken Oberyn to get from the Tower of Joy to Sunspear, Jon has barely stirred. He is nothing like Arianne as a babe, or Quentyn, or even Aegon, who’d screamed to bursting for the tiniest reasons. Oberyn has slept with the child close at night, made sure that the sun did not burn his pale Northern skin, and helped the nurse bathe him in the rivers and streams they’d encountered. Here, in Oberyn’s home, the child looks out of place, white skin a beacon against the deep red silk blanket that had replaced the dirt encrusted wolf blanket his mother had wrapped him in.

“Yes,” he answers. “It is. And one day, they will know that. And a Martell will be beside him.” This child is a wolf’s get, and Oberyn intends for his teeth to stain themselves with the blood of the lions. He looks to his niece, still playing with Jon’s tiny fist, and Doran looks as well, understanding finally in his gaze. “As it should have been,” he continues.

“The usurper is chasing the last of Aerys’ children,” Doran says with a sigh, and Oberyn thinks about seven year old Viserys and the sister that had just been born to him, sailing away from Dragonstone. “He intends their deaths. He wants no contesters for the Iron Throne.”

“There is no reason for him to think that my son is a threat,” Oberyn says, as he goes to take the boy out of Wylla’s arms. The wet nurse bites her lips, still nervous. “After all, not even Dorne places bastards on thrones.”

The boy’s nose crinkles, and he shifts, seeking the warmth of Oberyn’s chest, and his grey eyes stare, quiet and solemn. Mellario laughs, high and brittle, but Doran is silent. No doubt his mind is racing, weighing the possibilities, the advantages, and the risks. After what seems like hours, his brother nods his consent, and Oberyn smiles, triumphant.  

 

 

The light streams in through the open window, piercing Jon’s eyelids like one of his sisters’ spears, and he groans, grabbing the pillow next to his head to bury his face in. His mouth tastes of sour grapes and the remnants of a long night, and the heat in the room caused him to kick his red bedsheets away from him at some point in his sleep. His arm shifts, searching, but the redheaded girl who’d been there last night is gone, slipping away as silent as a snake.

“Little brother,” a voice extremely close to him says abruptly. It startles him, and he sits up, all of his muscles protesting, to see his older sister Tyene smirking at him from the end of the bed. It’s a large bed, big enough that four people can sleep there comfortably, and lengthier than he is tall. She’s crossed legged, her spear balanced on her lap, her natural blonde hair darkened to an inky shade. Like Jon, she’s the only one of Oberyn’s children to take more after her mother than her father, though unlike Jon, she’s fully aware of who her mother is. She dodges the pillow he throws at her and continues, “It’s nearly noon. Father’s been waiting for you for over an hour.”

“For what?” Jon asks. His voice is raspy, and he’s not sure if it's from the drinking, or from last night’s activities. The servant girl had nearly wrestled him to the bed. “Were we supposed to train today?”

Jon’s better with a sword than any of his sisters, who took to spears and other weapons like a duck to water, similar to their father. He was lucky for a bastard child, even in Dorne, since his father had made sure that his education and training was never lacking. Jon can ride, read and speak several languages, and fight amongst the greatest warriors in Dorne with the type of skill that a child of Oberyn Martell, the Red Viper, felt pride in. He knows how to joust, although he finds it boring, and he’s better at diplomacy than any of his sisters, who prefer to use weapons over words.

You’re not ,” she says, in the sing-song tone of voice that Jon hates. She only uses it when she wants to annoy him, the only boy in the pit of vipers since his cousins Quentyn and Trystane are fostered. She pokes his foot with her toe and continues, “Uncle Doran and Oberyn want you to meet them in the throne room. For some sort of talk.”

Jon slides out of bed, uncaring that he’s naked in front of his sister. It’s nothing she hasn’t seen before, all of them had often swam around at the Water Gardens with no regards to propriety or modesty. It’s easier, as a bastard, even a royal one. Arianne would never have gotten away with it, not under the strict watch of her father Prince Doran, especially after her mother left, but Oberyn doesn’t care who his children scandalize.

He picks up the pair of pants from last night, sniffing it to be sure it's not covered in anything unpleasant, and tugs them on. “Why didn’t you wake me up an hour ago then?” Tyene just shrugs, pretending she’s unaware of how pissed Uncle Doran probably is right now. She’s done this before, not just with Jon, but with every one of her sisters as well. For a Septa’s child, there’s nothing innocent about her.

Jon scowls at her, pushing his black curls away from his eyes. They’re a mess, he thinks as he looks in the mirror on his nightstand, but that’s nothing new. He pours himself a glass of water, drinking it quickly to get rid of the dryness in his throat.

“Some help you are, big sister,” he says, and he tugs her spear away from her lap to throw out his open window before he leaves. She curses, running out the door after him, in order to get to the training grounds that were directly below his window before Nymeria, Obara, or Sarella can see that she lost her weapon to their younger brother.

His not-quite-stepmother, Ellaria, is sprawled out on one of the chaise lounges when Jon gets to the meeting room, eating grapes and eying Jon’s father and Uncle Doran with amusement from her perch. She holds out her arms to Jon when he comes in, inviting him to sit by her. Although she is only his father’s paramour, and not Jon’s mother-by-law, she’s been there since before he can remember and has never treated him any differently than her own four daughters. For years he’d believed that she was his mother, before his sister Obara, at the time twenty and raging at the world in ways she’d never grown out of, had broken him of that illusion.

“Why should we send someone to King’s Landing to attend a funeral for Jon Arryn?” Oberyn asks, picking up a piece of cheese and eating it. Uncle Doran scowls at his brother from his wheelchair, and if he’d had more of a temper, Jon imagines he’d throw his arms up into the air. Neither of them acknowledge Jon slinking in late, almost as if they’d expected it. “What business is it of ours?”

They probably did, Jon thinks, and that’s why they told Tyene, rather than wake him up themselves. Tyene never delivered a message right away.

He sits down on the edge of the chaise and Ellaria sits up, smoothing his wayward curls away from his face. Across the room, Arianne smirks at him, rolling her eyes towards their fathers, and bites a piece of white cheese. She is his only cousin that remains in the palace. Since he’d become a man, she’d alternated between distance from him, awkward in ways they’d never been when he’d been a child and she’d helped him learn to read, and times when she shadows him, always armed with scornful looks towards the tavern or servant girls and boys he beds.

Jon picks an olive up from the bowl on the table, and listens to his father and uncle, feeling no need to interrupt them. No one else is in the room, and the guards posted outside are probably too busy being bored to pay much attention to the argument, especially since disagreements between the two Dornish princes were as common as the sun rising. “How long have they been at it this time?” he asks Ellaria, leaning back to let her attempt to arrange his hair into something nice.

“All morning,” she says with a laugh in her voice. She finds it amusing, he knows, and always has. His sisters are the same, all of them seeming to just be waiting for their father to snap one day, maybe even become a kinslayer. Obara and Nymeria make no secret of the fact that they thought their uncle a fop, who’d let murders and rapists run free and live their lives while he sat among his flowers and twiddled his thumbs. Ellaria’s daughters, Loreza and Dorea, are too young to care, barely old enough to understand what happened to Aunt Elia, but Elia and Obella eye their uncle with the same scornful gaze that their older sisters do lately, their blood screaming to avenge their long-dead aunt and cousins.

“—diplomacy is something that you will never understand. I should have made you stay in the Free Cities,” Uncle Doran is saying when Jon tunes them in again.

“Yet you did not,” Oberyn says, and he spreads his arms out, sweeping them towards the window. “And still, you sit here.”

“It is not time yet,” Doran says. It is never time, with his uncle. Not time to strike against the Lannisters, the fat King, or the Mountain. First came alliances, then came support and plots, but Jon, like his family, has grown weary of his uncle’s secretive nature.

“The Hand is dead?” he asks, deciding to interrupt before this meeting ended up in another circular debate. “Will you try for a Dornish man on the small council, Uncle?”

Doran eyes him with pride, or as much pride as Doran shows in anyone, even when he denies this. “King Robert is already on his way up North. No doubt he means to make Eddard Stark his Hand. However, it would endear Dorne if we send someone.” He turns to his brother, directing his statement to Oberyn who throws a grape up into the air, catching it with his mouth. “We need to keep any suspicions away from us.”

Jon’s gut sinks, and he hopes, no, he prays to the Seven he doesn’t even believe in, that his uncle does not try to send him to the capitol. He doubts the Lannisters would be overjoyed at the bastard son of Oberyn Martell as the emissary for Dorne, given how the rest of the seven kingdoms treated them as if they were less than dirt. He’s been outside of Dorne before, last year he’d unhorsed Loras Tyrell in a joust set up in the Reach, and he’s travelled to some of the Free Cities with his father a couple of times, but he’s never been farther north than Highgarden. Ellaria throws an arm around his shoulder, a comfort, like she senses his sudden change of mood.

Oberyn, too, looks like he is thinking the same thoughts as his son, because his face darkens. A purple olive bursts under his fingers, and he sits up straight, shoulders tense. “Who do you intend to send?” The air in the room has grown tense, words unspoken, and Jon is reminded of the times his uncle would place him on his knee and teach him the intricacies of how to run a Kingdom he shared only with Arianne, while his father would lean against the doorway with his arms crossed.

Arianne shifts as well, her silk blue dress skirting across the floor as she rises, almost hovering between her father and uncle. Doran smirks, for the first time in Jon’s memory appearing similar to Oberyn, and waves his hand towards the window , and not Jon. Although it's far, Jon’s vision is good enough from his place near the balcony, that he can see one of the Blackmont sons, the older one, not the squire boy Perros, watching his sisters, Elia and Tyene, dance with spears and lances around the yard, leather and armour tight around their bodies.

Something flashes across Oberyn’s face for a moment, before it settles on relief, but Jon thinks it was almost like disappointment. His father’s changed since the last time he went off to the Free Cities, darker and harsher than he’d been when Jon was a child. “What is he going to do there, wipe the new Hand’s arse?”

Arianne moves away, leaving the brothers to argue, and Jon wonders exactly why his presence there is required. This is not the first time this has happened; there have been many moments he’s been summoned to meetings that he, as a bastard son, really has no reason to be in. Uncle Doran includes him more than he included his own daughter, to her ire. Jon still sports the scar from the time when he was fifteen and she’d thrown a book at him while she’d been raging in her cups. The pages of the heavy volume of Targaryen history had cut deep, somehow as sharp as a knife, leaving a gash that cut from his left eyebrow to the corner of his eye. Nevertheless, even though he is too often in this room, he usually isn’t needed for anything important.

He dips a bit of the flat bread laid out on the table in front of him into some chickpea paste, and winces where the redhead from last night had gripped his bicep too hard, flexes with the movement. Arianne’s eyebrow rises, and she sits down, right on top of him, jostling the water in the glass. “Was your bedmate trying to suck out your blood last night, Jon?” She’s referring to the large, dark bruise on his neck, the size of a chestnut, nestled in the hollow of his throat.  

“I was probably the best dinner she’d had in a long time,” he says, and shifts as Ellaria moves away, vacating the chaise, in order to wrap her arms around his father. “And you?”

His cousin has two hickeys, smaller and not as glaringly obvious across her dark skin, doting the right side of her neck. Her shoulders are bare, with the sleeves of her dress wrapping around her biceps, and another hickey peaks out from beneath the blue on her right arm. He wonders if it was Ser Gerold Dayne this time, or another. She laughs and runs her hand through his hair, placing her head on his shoulder, black curls brushing against the bruise on his neck, as she says, “The best he’s ever had.”

“— Enough!” Uncle Doran says, tone harsh. Jon watches as he grips the wheels of his chair, rolling away from his father and the meeting together. All of them know that this means that Doran won’t bend, truly taking to heart their words: Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken.

“He’ll see sense one day,” Ellaria says after his uncle is out of earshot, and she smooths her hands up and down Oberyn’s arms, relaxing the tensed muscles. “Just wait.”

Jon’s father is not the most patient man in the world. More often lately, he spends his nights pacing up and down the hallways like a caged tiger, his desire to avenge his sister only tempered by the love he bears his children. On occasion, Jon has been woken up in the middle of the night, handed a sword, and he and his father train for hours, steel against spear clashing into the late hours of the morning. When he’d been a child, Oberyn would lift him up on his Sand Steed and they’d ride for days, never stopping in any of the noble houses, until they were at the edge of Dorne where they’d camp, and Oberyn would stare, pointing out the direction of King’s Landing, or how far it would be to arrive in the North. The sun would shine upon their skin, and Jon’s would burn, a few days red, then fair again. Under the moonlight, cuddled next to his father, Oberyn would tell him stories of when he was young, playing with his sister Elia in Sunspear.

“I am tired of waiting,” Oberyn answers, and he goes back to collapse in the same silk cushioned chair he’d been sprawled in before. His arms are around Ellaria’s waist, and she places her head on his shoulder, her fingers dancing up and down his arm. “I’ve done my waiting.”

Despite his black mood, Oberyn smiles at Jon and Arianne, and he says, “Why don’t you join your sisters, Jon?” It’s a thin excuse to get them to leave, so that Oberyn and Ellaria can work out their tension with flesh and moans.

Jon already plans on joining Elia for a ride today, since his mood’s solemn from being in the Water Gardens for days, and he gently pushes his cousin away. Arianne can ride just as well as any of them, but she’s never been skilled with a weapon made from steel. She fights with words, her attacks sweet poison dripping from her lips. She pouts, but doesn’t protest, rising as well. She picks at one last grape before she leaves without a backwards glance. Ellaria and Oberyn are already ignoring them, lost in their passion, and her hand is traveling to places Jon never wants to see, so he follows his cousin out quickly, but heads off in the opposite direction. As he makes his way down the stairs to the training yard, he wonders again just why his uncle and father desired him in that meeting.

 

 

The prince is a prat, Robb Stark thinks. A right royal prat with a golden rod shoved so deep up his arse, he doesn’t know how properly work his legs during a fight, and yet blames Robb for being better than him in the training yard. He strains against Theon Greyjoy’s hold, cursing and spitting at the smirking blonde, trying to rip himself away so that he can pound that expression off of Prince Joffrey’s face.

“Let it go, Robb,” Theon says, and he wrestles him away. His boots skid across the dirt, deep groves left behind where he tries to dig his heels in. When they are far enough away from the Prince, Theon releases him.

Robb moves away from him, shoving his friend a bit backwards, and says, “He needs to learn to hold his tongue.” He gazes out the window, towards the training yard. The sun is starting to set, and with it there is a small fall of snow, dusting the ground like dust. Torches are lit all around the turrets and ramparts, and in the halls, casting shadows against the stones walls, staving off the draft within Winterfell just a bit with their heat. The leathers that both Robb and Theon are wearing keep them from feeling the biting chill of night, and Robb leans his right arm against the windowsill. Jory Cassel and Ser Rodrick are trying to coax Joffrey, as well as the rest of the knights of the King’s retinue that are out in the yard, back in for dinner. Even though Catelyn and Ned had only prepared for one feast, the King insisted on elaborate meals every night while he regales them all with tales of his glory days.

He finds the man slovenly and boring, but he never says this. The King is, after all, his father’s closest childhood friend. He doesn’t like the Queen anymore than her husband, pale and blonde and cold in her beauty, eying his sister Sansa as if she is a rare diamond. He wants them all gone and away from his castle, and most of all, he wishes they’d never come.

Since when they leave, his father will as well, and Robb will be handed the running of the castle. He doesn’t know he if he is ready; in fact, he knows he’s not. Theon is right, he can’t just punch the Crown Prince, no matter if the prat had insulted his dead aunt or not.

“It’s not worth it,” Theon says, coming up behind him. “Come on, wash the dirt from your face, or else your lady mother will give you something to really rage about.”

Robb sighs, but heeds his advice. Last time that he’d tried to go to dinner with mud and sweat from training, his mother gave an earful he’d never forget—and that was only when it had been him and his four siblings, Theon, and his mother and father. Catelyn Stark considered proprietary and doing things right to be of the utmost importance.

Theon bumps his shoulder against Robb’s, and continues, “Maybe tonight, we’ll find you a girl. Make a man out of you.” He knows his face is burning, he can feel it, and he swallows around the lump in his throat, remembering the last time Theon had attempted to bring him to a whorehouse. Faced with a buxom brunette with spiral curls, naked and willing, he’d left the room, half-hard and embarrassed, unable to dishonor her. Robb Stark might not have gotten his father’s looks, but he’d gotten his sense of honor.

It takes him longer to change then it should, because he walks slower to his room then necessary in an effort to avoid looking at the royal family any sooner than he must. His room is the largest, except for his mother and father’s, in the castle, given that he is the heir. The bed is large, high from the ground, and laden with wolf furs and down pillows. There is a bear pelt across the floor, and Grey Wind and Ghost are cuddled upon it, both direwolf pups fast asleep. Out of all of the direwolves that they’d found a month ago, these two were the closest, never leaving each other’s sides. He figures that it must be their close raising, since the white direwolf has no human to give him singular care, and instead is being raised next to his greyer, larger brother.

Robb leans down and rubs their heads, behind their ears and across the top, their fur tickling his hand. Then he goes to the water bowl next to the fireplace, and he wets the rag folded there, before he rubs it across his face. He doesn’t bother using a mirror, practiced at being able to clean around his nose and cheekbones, his chin and behind his ears, without needing to see it. The he tosses off his furs, and slowly changes into appropriate dinner clothes. He looks at the pups, and Ghost’s eyes are now open, red eyes watching him unflinchingly.

“Want to bite his hand off for me?” Robb asks, not entirely joking. He pictures the Queen’s scream, and the blood spurting from missing fingers on Joffrey’s hand. He is not normally so vindictive, but the thought of his sister’s betrothal to the prince has caused his irritation to fester. Ghost sniffles, and snuggles closer to Grey Wind, closing his eyes as if to say “you do it.”

Robb groans as he leaves the room and heads towards the feast. Around him, servants smile and continue their work, distant pleasantries exchanged between them, as he gets closer to the great hall. Dozens of voice congregate together loudly, drowned out almost to white noise, and he cannot really pick up any distinct conversation. At one of the lower tables, his Uncle Benjen sits, laughing and drinking ale with some of the knights of the North. There is a man near the wall, playing an instrument, and another sitting next to him, singing a ribald song that Robb barely hears.

The high table is laden with roasted meats, boar and beef, and several beef-and-bacon pies. There are oatcakes, with clotted cream, and a couple of honey chickens half consumed in front of the King. Tankards of strong ale are in front of the Lords and older women, and a venison pie is three-quarters of the way finished in front of his younger brother, Bran, who is listening to one of Jaime Lannister’s tales about the Kingsguard with fascination. Rickon is sitting across from their mother, who scowls at Robb as he sits down across from their father. He’ll hear words about his lateness later, when all of the royal family has retired.

He reaches for the last slice of venison pie, and some roasted onions and parsnips, before tearing at the brown loaf of bread closest to him. Sansa is too prim to roll her eyes next to him, but Arya steals a parsnip from his plate with her eating knife, smirking at him. A few seats away, Theon Greyjoy is entertaining one of the serving girls on his lap, laughing with his head thrown back. His hand is buried in her thick, black curls, her pale skin illuminated by the glow of the torch behind her. Robb swallows, and looks away when Theon kisses her, curls a shadowy curtain down her back.

His father is talking to the King, but he’s tense. His shoulders are drawn back, and his expression is closed off, mouth tight. Robb tunes his siblings chatter out so that he can listen.

“—there is no reason to be afraid of the Dornish,” the King is saying, his face red, sweat pouring down his forehead, almost as if the effort of eating was too much for his voluminous girth to handle. “What is Prince Doran going to possibly do? Roll over my feet?”

The source of Ned Stark’s tension becomes apparent at that. Robb didn’t know why, but any mention of the southernmost kingdom in Westeros placed the Lord of Winterfell on edge. Most of the time, Robb figures that it’s because his Aunt Lyanna had died there, surrounded by the corpses of King Aerys’ Kingsguard, her murder left unexplained and unsolved. Rhaegar Targaryen had already died, but King Robert nonetheless accused him of the murder, saying that the Silver Prince had plotted to keep his love from him even beyond the grave. Robb didn’t know whether or not his father believed that, but he did know that his father thought it a mistake to underestimate the Dornish need for vengeance over the deaths of Princess Elia, Princess Rhaenys, and Prince Aegon. He’d advised the King to keep them at arm’s length several times within the few days since the company arrived.

Tyrion Lannister snorts around his shank of beef, and says, “I’d not underestimate the Red Viper, or any of his bastard children. I heard a rumor his son is almost as good with a blade as Arthur Dayne was, and twice as hot-tempered. He killed some trespassers on the palace grounds last year, without pause. I wouldn’t want to be on the business end of that sword.”

Robb hasn’t heard that story, but then again, he’s never met a Dornish man either. The country is so far removed from the North it might as well be Meereen, and he’s never been south of the Riverlands. The King guffaws and waves his hand dismissively, but Catelyn Stark is just as tense as her husband, who’s remained silent. Her red hair, almost the same shade as Robb’s own curls, is done up in the Southern style tonight, a fashion he hasn’t seen his mother use since he was a boy. She’d become used to the North, had embraced it even. Tonight, though, she’s showcasing her roots, perhaps in an effort to stave off Cersei Lannister’s snide remarks.

The Queen disagrees with her brother. “What does the King have to fear from a bastard child of a snake? If they try anything, Jaime will cut them down before they even enter the city gates.” Her food has barely been touched on her plate, but this is no surprise. She’s been almost starving herself since she’d arrived, their food apparently not good enough for her delicate constitution. Robb can count on one hand the types of food he’s seen her eat. “Besides,” she continues, “Prince Doran has been nothing but peaceful since Robert took the throne.”

“Of course, sweet sister,” Tyrion Lannister says, though his tone is anything but sincere. There is contempt between them that’s palatable in the air, and it makes being around them both fascinating and irritating. Robb cannot imagine hating Sansa or Arya that way. “But how long until this peaceful snake sheds its skin?”

“Enough of this nonsense,” the King says, interrupting the storm brewing between the Lannister siblings. The King turns to look at Robb, who startles slightly from his intense stare. “Tell me, boy, how’s your sword arm? Ned tells me you’ve got skill.”

His father relaxes as he answers, boasting about his swing and his speed, even giving him a smile or two. Catelyn breathes deep, in and out, and then turns to fuss over Arya’s antics. The conversation dulls around them, the candles burning down almost to the quick before the meal is done, dessert consumed and ale giving the men around ruddy cheeks. Robb’s light-headed, and he stumbles away from his seat, bowing to the King and Queen as he leaves. As he makes his way back to his room, full and ready to collapse, he thinks about Dorne and pictures himself fighting a bastard boy, steel upon steel, honor against revenge, underneath a burning red sun.

 

 

Jon is picking between oranges, figs, and pomegranates that are piled high in the fruit bowl, watching the sunset in a sky of purple and pink, when his father tells him that Westeros is being ruled by an incestuous bastard. The serving boy, tall and muscular with short red curls, almost chokes on the fig he’s eating, as the Red Viper of Dorne stalk towards his bastard son, silver sword gleaming under the candlelight flickering from the gold filigree wall holders.

“Leave,” Oberyn says to the boy, reaching down and pushing his long legs off of Jon’s lap. The boy sputters, a bit startled, mouth half-open rather unattractively, since his fruit is only half-chewed. Jon looks away, and smiles a bit at Oberyn’s barely concealed wince. His father continues, “These matters are important, and I need to speak to my son. Alone .”

The boy—whose name Jon felt a bit bad he couldn’t remember considering they’ve slept together more than once now—hesitates, but it only takes one more fierce glare from the Red Viper before he’s skittering off, no doubt to tell others about the new King of Westeros. Jon leans back against the chaise, and crosses his arms behind his hair. Water droplets from his earlier swim drip onto the bare skin of his arm, and some are still trailing down his collarbone and across his chest. He’s wearing loose, billowy silk pants that cinch around his waist, tapering out around his thighs, a deep red that the serving boy had seemed to adore.

“So the Queen decided she didn’t want to be under his royal fatness? Was it with her twin, or her younger brother?” Jon asks, as his father sits down across from him. Oberyn spreads his legs apart, and his fingers clench at his knees.

The air is cool, but the day had been humid, nearly saturating him in sweat, and yet his father is dressed in long, leather pants. His scabbard is strapped around his waist, and his sword had retreated inward when he’d sat down. A breeze ruffles Jon’s hair, and the smell of the lilies and orchids from the garden waft up, thick and floral, as he sits and waits, his father unnervingly silent after his grand entrance. His Uncle Doran had not been saddened when the news had arrived that King Robert had died—from a boar of all creatures, how ironic, killed by kin—and Jon’s father had seemed almost too pleased. He’d ruffled Jon’s hair, and had danced with Ellaria around the meeting room, whispering in her ear, and tossing apples in the air. Now, only a few days after, his mood has turned, and there are bits of blood under his nail beds.

“Her twin,” Oberyn says, finally, and he leans back against the chair, obscuring the design of snakes twisting their tails together. “Jaime. Or so Eddard Stark claimed. Before he lost his head.”

Well, that was unfortunate. Jon had never met a Northerner, but his Uncle Doran had spoken of Eddard Stark with respect, the few times he’d mentioned him when Jon was learning about the great houses of Westeros. Although his sister, Lyanna Stark, had been the girl that Rhaegar Targaryen preferred, enough to cause a war, Uncle Doran respected the Stark’s hold on their honor. Oberyn was a different matter; he wasn’t scornful, has never spoken a bad word about Eddard Stark or how he ran his region, but nor did he care for Lord Stark’s concept of honor in anyway, considering it to be folly.  

“Well,” Jon says, and he leans forward to grab a knife to cut open a pomegranate, “how many people did he tell?” He assumes that Eddard Stark informed various lords, otherwise, why would the boy King have bothered to part his head from his body?

“Everyone,” Oberyn replies, before he also leans forward and grabs an orange, beginning to peel it with his sharp fingernails. “He believed that Stannis Baratheon is the rightful king. And then, Stannis sent ravens out to all the high lords in Westeros. Scarcely an hour after we received this news, a raven arrived with the news that his younger brother, Renly, has declared himself King.” He parts a slice of orange from the rest of the fruit, popping it into his mouth, while Jon picks out seeds with his index and middle finger. “Your Uncle believes that we should wait, and consider our options.” This was said almost with a growl, and Oberyn’s eyes are dark as he gazes at his son.

“Our options?” Jon asks, juice dripping from his fingers. The sun has set now, and the stars in the sky glitter, the moon half covered by a cloud that portended future rainfall. “Are we going to waste men to fight for these clashing Kings?”

Or are we to sit and wait, Jon thinks, but the question doesn’t need to be said. Somewhere, Arianne must be having the same conversation with Uncle Doran, and he wonders if she would advize succession. Why should Dorne continue to bend to Westeros? He disagrees, realizing of course that trade is vital to the stability of the land, but that doesn’t mean he wants to send men to fight over a twisted metal chair that almost no Dornish man cares about, except whether their spit would stain the blades.

“Perhaps,” Oberyn says, and this time his tone is dark , laced with something that Jon can’t identify. “For now, we wait. As always.” His hand has returned to his scabbard, tight around the hilt of his blade. His knuckles are almost swan white, a stark contrast to his brown skin, and his eyes never leave Jon’s, his expression a sculpted mask. Jon picks at more seeds, but the juice is bitter on his tongue, and the dying light from the candles makes the balcony seem like a cave, trapped underneath the silken canopy. An owl hoots from somewhere, perhaps a lemon tree, and the whispers of servants pulling down the covers of his bed, fill his hearing, yet the air is suddenly, inexplicably cold, and he can’t shake the feeling that there is something here that he doesn’t want to know.

The servants are gone, and his father’s orange peel left in pieces on the table, when Oberyn finally stands some time later. His eyes are closed, and he looks older than he ever has, since his features have always been younger than his years. After a few long, uncomfortable moments, he sighs, and glides over, his grip on his sword slackened. Jon doesn’t move when his father bends down to kiss his forehead, then covers his naked shoulders with a thin silk sheet, before his father leaves. He sits there, until the last embers in the candleholders have burned to black dust, and wonders about a boy-King laughing on a rusted throne.

 

 

Robb wants to go home. He wants to sit by the fireplace, with his mother and his father, and listen to Sansa scold Arya for ruining her needlepoint, while Bran asks for tales from Old Nan about beyond the wall, and Rickon sleeps curled up next to Shaggydog. He wants to watch the summer snows fall from foggy windows, feel the castle draft creep into his bones, and curl up next to his siblings, or Theon, on the nights when the air outside is frigid, with Grey Wind and Ghost furred weights at the end of the bed.

Most of all, though, he just wants his father to be able to come home. That’s impossible now, since Lord Eddard Stark’s head is up on a pike rotting, with crows picking at his eyes, while the bastard pretender sits upon his cursed throne, a golden crown perched on his idiotic head. Robb’s got his own crown now, given to him by the Lords and the bannerman of the North, and he feels the heavy weight of it upon his shoulders, his brow, every fiber of his body. It’s gnawing at him, the long days filled with strategies and battle plans, fighting and death and sore muscles, while his nights are left dreamless, eyes wide upon to gaze upon the roof of a temporary base, or the fabric of a tent. Just yesterday, he was a boy, and now he’s been given a sword, an army, then a crown, and told he needs to be a King.

“Sending Lady Catelyn to treat with Renly Baratheon is not enough,” Lord Karstark says, his voice deep and his beard slick with the juices of the roasted venison the High Lords consumed for dinner. Ghost and Grey Wind are asleep under the table, their heads resting on his scuffed leather boots, and Robb gazes out the window to see his army camped out among the Riverlands. He hasn’t been here since he was a babe, with unfocused eyes and no memory to grasp the smell of the dew on the grass, or the laughter of the men and women. “What if he doesn’t listen to any of our overtures of friendship?”

The Reach is necessary, Robb knows this, but it's too close to the Stormlands, and Robb has no quarrel with Stannis Baratheon. He doesn’t want to lose any men uselessly fighting Stannis’ army. His father considered him the rightful King, yet Renly seemed to be the one more likely to consider an alliance with them. Robb’s concern was King’s Landing, and the Lannisters, and how to get his sister Sansa out of the den of lions and back into his mother’s arms. Nonetheless, his mother is on her way there now, hopefully to return with gold, provisions, and allies.

“Then we’ll find other allies,” Lady Mormont says, tearing at her bread and mopping up the rest of her meal from her trenchard. “The Reach isn’t the only southern region.”

Lord Umber laughs, and spit and gristle fly out of his mouth. “Are you joking? It’s the largest region down here in these gods forsaken lands. If we have to fight everyone in the Reach, it will be months, and thousands of deaths and losses, before we get to King’s Landing. Who else is in the South? The Dornish?” His tone is biting, and he throws his knife onto the table. “They're not going to help.”

A few bannerman pound their fists upon the table in agreement, and a couple more shout about snakes and holes, hiding and dishonor, as well as taunts about women’s weapons. Robb wishes that he could bury his face into the palms of his hands, but he’s a King now, and that’s a luxury he can’t indulge. Their voices are a cacophony of drum beats in his head, and his forehead pounds in time with their heckling and arguments. “ Enough! ” he shouts, rising from the table, his hands flat upon the wood. Grey Wind picks his head up, and he begins to growl, while Ghost’s fur seems to be standing to attention. “My mother will either succeed, or she will fail. We’ll get the Reach, no matter what occurs.”

To his right, Theon smirks, and looks at the gathered crowd with an almost gleeful look of expectation. At times, he seems to view Robb’s new station almost like a game. Only at times, when they can both forget about the blood on their blades, and it appears to be a game in the woods outside Winterfell, with wooden swords and false names. Now shouldn’t be one of those times, and so Robb glares at him, daring him to open his mouth.

“The Tyrells are one of the richest houses, and they’ve chosen to ally with Renly Baratheon,” he says, and his tone is even, hardly a trace of the swirl of emotions at war inside him right now. “They want their daughter on a throne. They want power. I do not care about the South,” he continues, and some of the lords look out the window to gaze upon their southern lands. Father, forgive me, he thinks, but doesn’t stop the words coming out of his mouth, “so if I have too, then I will help him take the Iron Throne.”

It’s a solid plan, he knows, but his insides twist and turn, and it feels like steel is embedded within his gut. Many of them men nod, but Lord Karstark is still frowning, and Lady Mormont is shaking her head.

“Do you have anything to say, Lord Karstark?” he asks, because a good liege lord takes under advisement the suggestions and concerns of his men.  

“Renly Baratheon is going to be engaged in battle with his brother soon,” Lord Karstark says. “No matter what he agrees to or not. How much help he’s going to be, that remains to be seen.”

“Exactly,” Lady Mormont says, and she leans in, placing her elbows on the table. She’s across from Robb, and a few seats down from Lord Karstark. “You can all say what you like about Dorne. It would be wise to offer them friendship.”

“After Rhaegar Targaryen slighted Princess Elia for Lyanna Stark? How much help are they willing to give?” Lord Umber argues, his face red. “No, we can’t trust them.”

The debate lasts long into the night, and Robb feels like they are nowhere closer now, than when they began, to any sort of consensus. He thinks about his father’s tired eyes, his weary sighs every time a raven came bearing bad news, and understands his solemn moods better now. They leave off, with the possibility of Dorne as an ally left as a last resource if, and only if, Renly Baratheon and the Tyrells will be of no help, to appease those who distrust the Dornish. Robb and Theon walk back to the room that’s been made into the King’s chambers, and Ghost races ahead of them, with Grey Wind hot on his tail. As he walks up the long, winding staircase, the full moon shining bright throw the tiny windows carved into the stone every ten steps, his mind runs through every contingency it can, in case he does need to call upon these southern strangers for aid.

 

 

The water in the claw-footed tub is steaming and the heat does wonders to sooth Jon’s sore muscles. His sister, Tyene, had not held back today in the training yard, angry about being kept out of the secrets and whispers of their father and uncle that had been occurring more and more since Eddard Stark’s murder. There are several bruises on his arms and legs from where she’d hit him with her lance, but she’s nursing a cut on her left arm right now, jagged and rough, from his own blade. She’d waved him off when he’d tried to apologize, telling him that even though she was his sister, that should not hold him back.

“You never know who your enemy is, Jon,” her voice whispers in his mind. “Even your family could be.”

Given how cloistered and oppressive the Water Gardens have seemed lately, Jon almost doesn’t blame her for being so suspicious. Quentyn and Trystane are still being fostered, with no signs of coming back, and the older Sand Snakes, sans Sarella who’s been gone for months, are confined to the training yards, and the palace grounds. Elia hasn’t even been able to ride out to the coves and bays lately, so Jon has spent days with his younger sister grooming the horses in the stables in order to make her smile. Yes, Tyene has a right to be wary of the secrets, but she’d know what their Uncle Doran and their father plan soon enough.

“I hear you’re to go North,” a soft voice says from behind him. He opens his eyes to see Arianne walk into the room, the edge of her long blue dress skimming the puddles left behind when Jon climbed in. She sits on the edge, and smiles at him, fingers dancing ripples in the water. “To offer our aid to King Robb Stark.”

“Yes,” he says, and leans his head back against the rim of the tub. “That is what Uncle Doran and Father want.” It’s the first overt action that Uncle Doran’s taken against the Iron Throne, and Jon wonders at the benefit of offering their army to the Northmen. They’d declared their own country independent, but unless there was trade, what could the two countries have to bind this alliance? Despite his misgivings, however, Jon could think of one reason to make the Young Wolf King Dorne’s friend.

Robb Stark wants the Lannisters off the throne, Jon thinks, and he’s winning all his battles. Father has made it no secret how he longs for the Mountain’s head. He would sit among the squids on the Iron Islands, if he thought they might gift him blood.

“They’re right,” she says, and Jon’s head lifts up with surprise. He very rarely hears his cousin consider anything her father does to be right. She flicks some droplets towards his face, and continues, “The North wants to get rid of the Lannisters. Why should we not ally with them? They have a large army.”

She plays with one of her loose, black curls with the hand that’s not splashing about in his bath, and smiles at coyly at the startled servant girl whose arrived holding a glass of wine. Arianne crooks her finger at the girl, who shuffles over, shoes squeaking in the puddles, and takes the drink from her, then waves her away. This is not the first time that the staff have seen Arianne is his bath chambers, but he knows it can’t be any less startling whenever it occurs. Even in Dorne, there are some things people don’t do; his cousin’s tendencies to play with his hair, sit on his lap, and talk to him while he bathes is a quirk he’s come to terms with.

She takes a long sip from the glass of red, and it leaves a stain on her lips that looks like blood. “Who is going with you? Father can’t intend to send you alone.”

“Daemon Sand,” Jon says, and her expression turns, left over contempt from her affair with his father’s bastard squire—or the rumors that she’d shared the same bed with a boy who her own uncle had enjoyed—twisting her mouth into a knife. “Father might convince Uncle to let one of my sisters accompany me,” he continues, though he knows that’s unlikely. Uncle Doran doesn’t trust Obara or Tyene outside of Dorne as far as he could throw them, and Nymeria is unlikely to leave their side. “A few of my guard, maybe a lord’s son or two.”

That’s also unlikely, given that he’s leaving in only a few days. Uncle Doran’s spies placed Robb Stark somewhere in the Riverlands now, but with the man fighting a war, he could move at any time. If Jon is going to catch up to him, he needs to leave soon, and he needs to travel fast. A trading vessel going up to the Crag, and from there Jon would travel over land, with only the hope that he’s going the right way. When he asked why his Uncle did not just send a raven to Stark before he arrived, he was told that would be too much of a risk in case the missive fell into enemy hands.

Arianne hums and nods, and gets up from the side of the tub. She walks around to kneel behind him, and he turns slightly so that he can see her. She’s balanced on her knees and her face is close enough that, if she were anyone else, Jon would brush his lips against hers and taste the wine meant for him. “You should dress warm,” she says, her breath hot and mixing with the steam still emanating from his bath, “even in the Riverlands, I hear it’s cold.”  

“Not something I’m looking forward too,” he replies, and almost shudders at the thought of thick, heavy fur around his neck, brushing and itching against his skin. He twists in the bath, so that his stomach is flat on the bottom of the tub. There are bubbles on the top of the water from the scented oils that smell like myrrh and lemons his servants laced the water with, too soothe his muscles or work out his skin, he’s not quite sure, so neither he, nor his cousin, can see past the very surface of the water. He laughs, bitter to his own ears, and continues, “I’m going to winter.”

“Don’t let the wolves bite too much,” she teases, before she draws back. Her playful expression is gone, and suddenly she is still and, though she’s not much taller than his younger sister Elia, she seems tall under the glow of the hanging candle lamp, her cotton dress curved around her body, emphasizing the regal way she holds herself. She is proud, and fierce, and every inch a Princess , and he suddenly remembers that, should she will it, even her own cousins could dangle at the end of her mercy. “Remember, Jon,” she continues, and it's so unnerving that he doesn’t dare break their stare, “that you have fangs as well.”

She leaves, just as abruptly as she came, taking his wine glass with her. Jon places his forehead on his forearms that are hanging over the side of the tub, and groans. Bloody women, he thinks, though not with any real censure, one of these days my sisters or my cousin may be my death. He sits there for a few moments, before the maid from before comes back in, with a new drink in her hand, that he downs within seconds, before he rises in order to prepare for bed. Tomorrow is going to be a long day, since Oberyn intends on letting the Sand Snakes know of their plans. In bed, nestled among his dozen small throw pillows, Jon winces as he imagines Tyene’s displeasure, and Elia’s pouts on the day he sails away.

Chapter Text

Renly Baratheon is dead, and it’s likely that the Tyrells will ally themselves with the Lannisters, but his mother is on her way back, and the Kingslayer is his prisoner. Robb Stark feels like the gods are playing games with him, bending and twisting his battle victories and his diplomatic plans so that they can never meet. Theon is tossing bits of sheep to Grey Wind, who is sitting on his haunches in front of the fire, while his friend is stretched out on a log opposite of him. Ghost stands in front of him, staring at the trees, and doesn’t seem to want to be moved, even with the promise of fresh meat. The sun is shining for the first time in weeks, and Robb is sitting on another log, knees up and boots planted against the wood, with the breeze rifling through his hair.

“Don’t look so sullen,” Theon says suddenly, which makes Robb turn and look at him, eyebrow raised. “You’re winning the war. You’ve got Jaime Lannister locked up like a rabid dog in a kennel, you’ve won all your battles. What are you looking like death warmed over for? It’s unnatural, on your face.”

Robb does admit that he’s starting to resemble his father; more and more, he looks into the mirror and he sees his father’s eyes in his own tired blue gaze, his father’s burdens stretched into frowns formed around the corners of his mouth, far removed from the laughter and smiles that use to be more natural. Nevertheless, he throws a crumpled up bit of parchment paper—more endless farming disputes—at the Ironborn, and smirks when it hits his friend hard in the face.

“We’ll fight,” Theon continues, waving away the ball of paper from where it landed on his lap, “and we’ll win.”

Theon is always more confident in their victories then Robb is. His men are capable, and loyal, and strong, but the Lannisters are cunning, and now with the potential of the Tyrell’s forces,  the lions’ claws will be trickier to get around. Some of his advisors want him to barter Jaime Lannister, at least for his sisters, but many of them prefer that their prisoner stay where he is—filthy, defeated, and chained. Robb still needs to get to King’s Landing, which means he needs to burn ships and supplies if he has any chance of getting into the city.

“Yes,” he finally says in agreement, because anything less that a victory means that everything is for nothing. The deaths of Northmen far from home, his father’s murder, his sister’s entrapment in the capitol. His mother’s pain. He won’t let it be for nothing. Robb swallows, and looks back towards the trees, and then his eyes widen. There is something moving in the distance, something fast, and it's coming closer. Behind him, Ghost has begun to growl and is looking outward in the distance.

“What the fu—” Theon says, when the door suddenly slams, and Robb turns back to look at the ends of Ghost’s white tail as he disappears around the tents surrounding him. There are a few high-pitched screams, and some crashes, left in the direwolf’s wake. Robb’s boots slam onto the dirt, kicking up sticks and stones, and he shouts for his companion to stop as he runs after him. Behind him, Grey Wind and Theon are running, slower, but no less determined to see what’s happening.

He fights his way past a few bemused looking servants and bannerman, before he’s at the edge of the encampment. He’s greeted to the sight of dozens of his men huddled close together, watching the figures getting closer and closer. He moves around them, and spots Ghost sitting on his haunches, looking for all the world like he’s expecting a treat.

Lord Karstark grabs his arm, in an attempt to push Robb behind him. “Your Grace, let me see who they are.”

Robb waves him off, because he is not a coward. He crosses his arms, and waits, till the figures become clearer. They are horses, swift and fast, carrying a dozen or so men, accompanied by banners of yellow and orange, with a sun and spear sigil. Dorne , Robb thinks, and his eyes widen in surprise. His men gumble as the figures get closer.

“Bloody snakes. What do they want?” or something similar is what Robb picks up the most from them.

After what seems like ages, the Dornish are clustered in front of the hastily wooden wall that was built to serve as a gate. Although it's currently open—as usually men are stationed behind it to make sure no one can sneak attack them—the groups stays outside the door. In front of him, Ghost’s paws claw into the ground, then out, and in again. He looks like he is about to start running, and Robb thinks he should grab him before he mauls one of these Southerners. He bends, about to grab the direwolf’s collar, when one of the men jumps off his horse, and Ghost is gone , in the blink of an eye

The gate guards are gripping their swords hard, and they look torn between leaping away from the gigantic wolf, and preventing the man from stepping onto the keep’s grounds. When Ghost jumps, so do they, retreating back towards the gate, but the man stands still, and doesn’t flinch. A few of his own companions are gripping their lances and spears, in preparation to throw, and Robb starts forward, ignoring his men’s entreaties for him to come back. Grey Wind walks sedately next to him, unperturbed by his brother’s actions.

He expects Ghost to attack, and for blood to be spilled on the ground, because the direwolf lands with a crash on top of the man. There’s a shout, but it’s not terror, nor is it pain. It’s surprise. Robb stops at the gate, unable to believe his eyes, at the sight of Ghost licking the man he’d tossed to the ground with his weight.

“What the fuck? Seriously, Jon, now you’re going to get loving from a wolf?” he hears one of the men ask. Ghost has never taken to anyone before, has kept his distance from everyone that’s not a Stark, or Theon, and usually growls or shows his fangs when any of his bannermen try to get close enough to pet him. Affection from him is rare , and now he’s giving it to some stranger.

“Least he’s warm,” the man on the ground replies, almost completely shrouded by Ghost’s white fur. Robb thinks he can see black curls peeking out, but nothing else. “It’s freezing up here. I’m surprised there are any Northmen left, because I was beginning to expect their balls turned to ice and they couldn’t use them anymore.”

“They probably learned to fuck without them,” mutters the brown skinned, brunette man on the horse closest to Robb, and he looks utterly miserable. They’re all ill-dressed for the weather, wearing wool instead of furs, and pants that barely look thick enough to serve as a table rag. “Get up, Jon, one of them has come to greet us.”

Robb’s guards bristle behind him at the disrespect, but Robb motions to them to stand their ground. These men do not know him, even though he wears the sigil of the House Stark, at all times. Still, he’s annoyed. He is not their King, though he is still Warden of the North, and this man should still show him respect. He glares at him, and grips his sword, ready to fight if need be. There are only ten, not twelve, men here, and Robb’s entire army is at his back.

With a bark, Ghost is off of the man, moving away to stand next to Grey Wind. Robb blinks, and his tongue feels heavy, as the man laughs, attempting to fix his wayward black curls. He’s pale , paler than Robb even, and handsome. He’s about an inch or two taller than him, lean but well-muscled, and his eyes are deep and gray, his full mouth drawn into an impish grin. There is white fur in his hair, and on his clothes, and the top button of his wool shirt has come undone under Ghost’s manhandling.

He looks like a Northmen, Robb thinks. Seven hells, he looks like he could be my cousin . Distant, perhaps, because his hair is too dark, and his eyes a shade too different, but there’s a resemblance, somewhat, to Robb’s Northern kin.

The rest of the Dornish have relieved their steeds of the burden of their weight, many of them tall and lithe, with dark curls and brown skin. They stand close to the black-haired man, their hands tight on their weapons, although the steel is at rest. Robb knows if he looks back at his own men, their grip mirrors the Southerners. He clears his throat and steps forward, just a one or two, closer to the man, and says, “I’m King Robb Stark of the North and Lord of Winterfell. You’re come onto my land without invitation.”

If anything, the man seems to be growing more amused, because his grin gets wider, and his gray eyes sparkle. With the sunlight hitting him, they appear slightly purple. Robb swallows, then continues, “Who are you, and what is your purpose here?”  

The man’s hair falls elegantly when he bows. “Your Grace, my name is Jon Sand, only son of Prince Oberyn Martell of Dorne.”

Oh, Robb thinks, this is a surprise.

“This is Daemon Sand,” Jon Sand continues, gesturing to the surly brunette, while his own men are muttering to themselves, again. Jon lists off the rest of his companions, but their names blur together, a Yronwood, a Blackmond, a few more Sands. “My Uncle Doran and my father have sent me here to offer you an alliance.”

“They sent no word,” Robb says, and then curses inwardly, because their word was rather obviously in front of him. Jon seems to think so, too, because one of his eyebrows lifts up. Robb clears his throat again, and tries to salvage the situation. “How do I know that the offer is real? House Martell has been no friend to the North.”

And just how the Dornish got past Robb’s men camped out all up and down the Riverlands is a mystery. Were there men with their throats slit out there, all so these men could keep their arrival a secret? Lord Karstark is standing next to him now, with Lord Umber on the other side of Robb. Both me would gleefully run Oberyn Martell’s son through, and feel no remorse.

Jon’s grey eyes flash darkly, and his tone is low, almost hateful, when he replies, “More of a friend to the North than we are to the Lannisters.”

Robb nods, remembering Elia Martell and her children, and Lady Mormont’s own suggestion that the Dornish could be of use. “You’ll understand if I’m a bit wary,” he tells Jon, who nods. “We’ll have to discuss terms, and I must also discuss this with my men. Your men will need to wait outside the encampment for now.”

“My men?” Jon asks, and Robb hears Theon sputter almost the same a few feet away. “Just my men?”

Robb nods, and ignores the queer looks from his men, because even he’s not quite sure what he’s doing. “You’re the son of a Prince. I will not make you bed down out here.” There’s really no tradition of housing royalty or nobility offering aid that’s not been verified, or trusted, yet in your own encampment, even legitimate ones, and Jon knows this as well. That look of amusement is back, and he bows again, ignoring Daemon Sand’s protests that he should not sleep with wolves at his back unguarded. As if to mock the sullen man, Ghost goes up to Jon again, rubbing the top of his head against Jon’s hand in a demand for pets.

“You must be tired,” he continues, and resists the urge to scratch the back of his neck. It’s burning , and the black-haired man is smirking at him. “You’ve travelled a long way.” Great, Robb thinks, now I sound like an idiot child. There is something about this man that’s throwing him off guard. Perhaps its Ghost, who seems like to follow the Southerner to his guest bed.

“The ship was pleasant enough,” Jon says, with a shrug, He’s loose and relaxed, and his hand has never once gripped his weapon, though Robb suspects that he could draw it quicker than a whip. “The frost, though, I could do without.” Robb will make sure to order someone to bring up thicker clothes for him. “Do you have any mangoes?” Jon asks.

Robb blinks, and says, “I’m sorry?” What the seven hells is a mango?

Jon laughs. “I suppose not. I’d kill for one right about now though.” Jon bows again, and says excuse me, before he turns to his men, who gather in a group around him. They’re speaking in whispers, some gesture towards Robb, and others just stand there and glare. Robb has always heard that the Dornish are an odd people, barbaric and uncivilized. They do not, however, seem like the stories of smelly lemon suckers, but rather, just strangely dressed, overprotective men.

After he turns and instructs Smalljon Umber to tell a servant to prepare a tent for Jon, Theon comes to stand next to him. His friend is gripping his bow, and even though it’s pointed down, it’s knocked in case he needs to fire. The expression on his face is one of incredulity.

“What are you doing?” he whispers, looking towards the Dornish with suspicion. “Leave him out here.”

“It’s my decision,” Robb tells him. The wind is blowing hard around them, picking up bits of dirt, and leftover crumbs of the guards’ lunch. Jon’s curls are strewn about his face, once again wayward. “No arguments.”

Lord Karstark, who for once in his life seems to be in agreement with Theon, looks ready to burst, his face as red as an apple.

The Dornishmen are removing stuff from their horses, probably to set up camp outside of the gate, not willing to leave their commander too far from them. Jon turns back and comes to stand in front of Robb, his hand threaded in Ghost’s fur. The direwolf is content, as his eyes are closed, and his tail is wagging; it’s like he’s come home . Robb has seen that look on Grey Wind’s face, or Summer’s with Bran, and so on.

Ghost trusts this man, Robb thinks, and he cannot fathom, then, that this man means to harm him, or their plans. In Jon’s left hand is a letter, sealed with the emblem of House Martell. “Should I follow you?” he asks, looking at Robb.

“Oh,” Robb says, and motions for the returning Smalljon Umber to come over. “Show Jon where he’ll be staying,” Robb instructs, “when she comes back.” His men’s faces are red, and angry, and damn near mutinous. Tonight will be long, if he’s to convince them to be open to negotiation with the Dornish.

Smalljon nods, but he’s not anymore pleased. His gaze is harsh when he turns it on Jon. “This way, my—” he starts to say to Jon, but falters, not sure how to address him. Jon is a bastard, but he’s still the son of Prince Oberyn, and in Dorne, the rules are different than in the rest of Westeros. Robb wonders if that means the Dornish consider him Prince Jon, despite his birth?

The Southerner waves it off, and says, “Just call me Jon. Or Lord Sand, if you want.” It's said with a grin, but his teeth are bared, and the expression is mocking, daring any of the Northern men around him to say anything about his birth. Theon opens his mouth, no doubt to rise to the unspoken challenge, but Robb steps on his foot, not even a bit discreet, to silence him.

“I will co—” Robb starts to say, but stops, correcting himself. “I’ll send men for you later tonight. We’ll discuss this further.”

Jon nods, and starts to move, before Smalljon has even regained his bearings. Ghost follows, which makes Jon stop for a moment to look at the direwolf with perplextion, before he shrugs and continues. His strides are long, and he moves around the gathered men as if he takes no notice of their white knuckles and glinting steel. Smalljon groans, and if Robb wasn’t his King, he’d probably be muttering some unpleasant words about him right now, since he gave him the task of catering to a man who arrives without ceremony. Theon is looking after Ghost with betrayal, and not a small amount of confusion, before he turns back to Robb and says, “What the fuck?”

“Not now,” he answers, face burning. He sighs and motions to his angry men, telling them to gather in the meeting room, because now they have more treaties and plans to discuss, and something tells him that this new alliance is not going to come cheap.

 

 

The King of the North is pretty, Jon thinks, as he sinks onto the narrow bed, groaning as his sore back hits the mattress. Awkward, and young— too young for this, but pretty. His red curls shine like a halo around his head when the sun hits it, and his blue eyes are the first splash of vibrant color Jon has seen up in the North.  

The tent he’s given is small, the size of a water closet if he’s being generous and, although there is a fire stoked in the center, it smells of dust and mothballs. There are holes in the bed sheets and curtains, suspicious stains in the furs, and a shape over in the corner that might be a dead rat left rotting for a long time, since not even the direwolf curled up next to him goes near it. Somehow, he knows Robb didn’t mean give him a room made for dogs when the King had demanded he bed inside an officer’s tent.

It made no difference. He’d been sleeping on the ground using rocks as pillows and foraging for food that none of the men could make taste decent for the last few weeks and, before that, in a vessel that seemed like it was going to founder every time a strong burst of wind created some ripples. Uncomfortable had been his second name lately, so at least the bed was warm. Travelers used to come and talk when he was a child about the beauty of summer snows, but the longing in Jon’s heart for home was rooted strong, and wasn’t letting go.

He shut his eyes, and puts his arms around the strange wolf who’d followed him up here. There’d been another one, standing next to the King, large and grey and fierce. Ghost, Jon thinks, opening his eyes for a brief moment to look at the white fur, your name is Ghost. He doesn’t know how he knows it, and recognizes, vaguely, that he shouldn’t, but the name comes to him anyway and stays there; a deep, inner knowledge, almost like he’d know it all his life. The wolf’s fur is soft and it smells like grass and earth, so Jon turns over to curve around the animal’s body, burying his face in Ghost’s warmth.

He misses his sisters, and his father, and Ellaria. He misses the way the sun set in Dorne and the colors of the sky. He longs for the way the hot air would feel like a gift when the rain came down. He even misses Arianne, his strange cousin who’d given him words of warning, but hadn’t spoken a word when he’d left. She’d just stood there, dark and remote, and stared, watching him ride off to go to the boat that would take him, and his companions, to a harbour in the Riverlands. Elia raged and cried, and swore up and down, but in the end, she’d waved him off, handing him a bag of candied almonds before he’d sailed. Obara and Nymeria, distant as always, merely nodded, while Tyene glared and told him he’d better come back or she’d knock his head off herself.

He hadn’t said goodbye to his three youngest sisters, left in the Water Gardens with Uncle Doran and Ellaria. The knife his father gave him, sharp and cruel and probably doused in some ill-mannered concoction bought in the Free Cities, was in a scabbard and strapped to one of his thighs. Thankfully, the letter he’d sworn not to open was not waterlogged and soggy.

“Give that to Robb Stark. If he agrees to our alliance,” Father said, smoothing back Jon’s curls to study his face. They’d never looked less like each other in those moments. Jon with his pale skin, dressed in a long-sleeved tunic to mask him as a sailor’s boy,  and Oberyn, with his golden yellow silk vest, and his brown, dark eyes.

“Who is my mother?” Jon wanted to ask, but instead all he’d done was hug his father goodbye, and promise his younger sister he’d be home soon. He remembers the look on his father’s face, satisfied and concerned, picturing it before he succumbs to exhaustion.

He doesn’t know how long he’s been asleep, but a quiet knock on one of the posts holding the tent up, and the even more quiet growl coming from Ghost, draws him out of his dream of pale, twisting limbs, red curls, and laughter. He groans, and reaches upwards for one of the forgotten pillows, hoping to block out the noise. The wolf shuffles on the bed, leaving Jon’s head to flop onto the mattress.

“Seven hells,” Jon says, as the growling and the knocking grow more insistent. “I’m coming. Keep your pants on.” He looks at his reflection in the bowl of water that’s sitting on the chipped, wooden night table, and sees that his curls have bits of dirt and dust from the room. He cups the water in his hands and runs it through his hair, in an attempt to wash the grime away. There’s no washcloth, so he uses his sleeve to wipe away streaks on his face, then looks at his reflection again. It’s not perfect, but it's the best he can do.

The knocking stopped, briefly, after he spoke, but it's started up again, and now it's more like pounding. The force of it is rattling the tent, threatening to collapse it, and Ghost is snarling, fangs out.  “Easy, boy,” Jon whispers, moving past him to open the flap. “Don’t bite anyone.”

“Yes?” he asks, and his tone comes out more harsh than he means it too. He sounds almost as wolfish as the actual wolf in the room, even to his own ears. The man on the other side doesn’t look startled though. He’s got curls, blondish-brown, and blue eyes, with a face that Jon thinks looks a bit like some sort of sea creature. He recognizes him, though, from the gate, standing a few feet away from King Robb earlier and glaring at Jon harder with every word he’d said.

Jon was used to glares though; he’s seen worse then some Northman with a bow and arrow who thought he had balls. He’d grown up with the Red Viper, whose glares would turn a man to quivers where he’d stood, and had seen slavers, gladiators, Dothraki, and sell swords in the Free Cities. These men and their contempt for his birth were nothing compared to that.

“It’s dinner,” the man says, “you’re to eat with us.” His own tone implies that he’d prefer that Jon eat with rats, rather than in the same room as his King.

Ghost comes up to stand next to Jon, and he’s staring at the man, who looks at the wolf quizzically. He’s not used to this, Jon thinks, because a flash of hurt enters the man’s eyes, before it's gone. The wolf abandoned his master for a stranger, and now he glares at someone who was probably a friend. He wasn’t sure how he’d managed to bewitch a wolf, but Tyene always said his face could charm the venom out of a cobra, so this wasn’t as surprising as it should be.

“Should I change?” Jon asks, a bit mockingly. He gestures to his unwashed clothes, which still smell like river water and mud. “Or will your King and your Lords be more receptive to me like this?” He’s aware he shouldn’t bait any of the Northmen but, in truth, there was something unexplainable about this man that bothers him enough that all diplomacy lessons seem distant memories.

“Is it a custom in Dorne to have dinner dressed in bog stink?” the man asks with a sneer.

Jon laughs bitterly. “It’s a custom in Dorne to introduce yourself before you insult someone. I suppose in the North, though, the ice must have frozen all your manners.”

The man’s sneer grows deeper, and he crosses his arms when he says, “Theon Greyjoy, only trueborn son and heir of Balon Greyjoy, Lord of the Iron Islands.”

So he’s an actual sea creature then, Jon thinks, but says, “Eddard Stark’s hostage, you mean?” He remembers the Greyjoy Rebellion, although he’d been young. Uncle Doran and his father sat back and watched, offering no help, even when King Robert asked for it. The Dornish would never get there fast enough, was the excuse. It wouldn’t have mattered much, because the rebellion was still crushed and the islands subjugated. It served as a lesson on the will of Robert Baratheon to keep the Seven Kingdoms as seven .  

Greyjoy steps forward, a deep desire to attack written all over his face, before he stops, inches from Jon. He’s wound up tight, shoulders rigid, and his breathing is harsh. He’s biting his lip and, if he’d had a weapon right now, Jon knows it would be drawn.

“His ward,” Greyjoy says, and it's clear it takes effort for him not to say something more, something harsher.
Jon smirks. “Of course,” he says, and opens the flap wider, looking out into the camp with men milling about, and then back towards the dark room that only has one candle burned down almost to the quick. “Well then, are you going to stand there and watch me change, or should I meet you? It’s a small enough camp, I can most likely find my own way.”

If given a couple of hours, he’d be able to do so. It’s not much of a fortified base, and the guards posted around, while competent seeming, can be taken unawares due to the woods and trees surrounding the camp.  

Greyjoy backs up a few steps. “I’ll wait. I don’t get my rocks off watching a man get changed.” There’s a slight there, a dig at Jon, and he supposes it’s not shocking that whispers about Jon Sand, the son of the lascivious Oberyn Martell, is an apple that doesn’t fall far from the tree reached the North. It’s no matter what these people thought of him, however, as he’s not here to be liked.

“Don’t worry,” Jon  says, and he smirks, deliberately running his eyes up and down Greyjoy’s body. He’s built well, if nothing else. “I wouldn’t fuck you even if I had tentacles.” With that statement, and the half-angry, half disgusted look on Greyjoy’s face, he closes the door. With a heavy, tired sigh he begins to rifle through his bag in a futile attempt to find something warm , and appropriate for dinner in his array of Dornish attire.

Unbidden, his cousin’s warning pricks at him as he changes, not bothered by Ghost’s red eyes watching him. Don’t let the wolves bite too much, she’d teased. Remember, you have fangs as well. Don’t worry, Arianne, he thinks as he checks on more time to make sure his hair looks neat, and goes to meet Greyjoy, there’s nothing I can’t handle here.

 

 

Robb feels like his head is being split in half by Ice, by the time dinner is done. There is to be no rest, however, because talks between the delegation of Dornish and his own are still to come, and with the glares being thrown at Jon Sand, seated at the very end of the table, all night, the meeting won’t be pleasant. A few of his men were brought in as well, much to the chagrin of Robb’s men, and Daemon Sand had enough dirty looks to rival half of the Northmen. Next to the Northmen, however, Jon Sand looks even more as if he’s one of Robb’s own men, pale and dark-haired, and he wonders if the man’s mother had been of the North.

“Watch your back with that one when I’m gone,” Theon whispers as the servants clear away the plates of leftover turnips, cabbage, and water fowl.

Theon doesn’t say anymore, just glares down the table to where Jon is laughing at something one of the Dornish presumably said. This isn’t the first warning Robb has gotten about Jon, or his companions, that night. Several of his men took it upon themselves to talk about all kinds of rumors: that the son of Oberyn Martell used women’s weapons in battle, that he sleeps with girls, boys, and all manner of creatures, and, most absurd of all, that he’s meant to marry his one of his own sisters .

“He’s here for an alliance,” Robb answers, with all of the frustration of the long night clear is his tone. “I highly doubt he’s going to be fucking the stable boys and poisoning my ale.”

With that said, Robb stands up and puts his hands on the table, widening his stance. Grey Wind’s ears perk up at the movement and the direwolf lifts his head up from the floor where he’s been staring at Ghost all night under the table, farther away from him than he’s ever been in his life. “My Lords,” Robb says, looking to Lord Karstark, Lord Umber, Lady Mormont, and Lord Bolton, “I trust your bellies are full.” He looks to Jon, so far down the table that he might as well be sitting in another hall, and motions for the Dornish man to come closer before he continues, “Now that we’ve broken bread together, we can discuss an alliance.”

Jon and Daemon Sand move closer, and Robb motions to Lord Umber, who’s sitting directly across from him, to move down a bit towards one of the vacant seats. Umber scowls, but keeps his words to himself as he moves. Jon sits, but Daemon doesn’t bother, and instead stands over his commander with his arms crossed.

Robb clears his throat, and has to fight the urge to look away from Jon who’s staring at him, a shadow of a grin on his lips. “What are Prince Doran and Prince Oberyn offering?”

Jon pulls out a rolled up piece of parchment from a black, leather satchel that’s attached at his hip. He’s dressed in a loose fitting, cotton shirt that’s open at the neck and Robb can see the goose pimples that scatter over his collarbone and places where his shirt doesn’t fully cover his shoulders. His lips are chapped, and his body is tight, like he’s forcing himself not to give away how cold he is. Ghost’s head is just visible behind Jon, a little bit too close to Daemon Sand for the man’s comfort, because his eyes flick to the direwolf every few seconds, and his hand is reaching for the sword that wasn’t allowed to accompany him in the hall.

“Our army, and our ships, should you have need of them,” he says, pushing the document across the table towards him.

It’s not the same document as before, the one he’d been holding when he arrived, it's thinner, and there are no fold marks indicating that it had been curved in on itself. Robb looks at him, taking in the number of men and ships, the signatures of Doran and Oberyn Martell, and motions for the others to read it. They do, and then sit back, contemplative looks on their faces, and Lady Mormont looks satisfied as she looks at Jon.

“The Martell’s have never offered aid before,” Robb says, eyes resting steady on Jon’s face, “for them to offer it now, they must want something in return. No one’s help comes free.”

Jon shrugs and leans back, nonchalant, with his head too close to hitting Daemon Sand’s chest and resting there. “My Uncle requests a marriage. Between one of your sisters, and Trystane Martell, his second son.” Jon’s teeth scrape against his bottom lip, while Robb nods. When they get Sansa away from the Lannisters, she’d be free to marry, and his mother couldn’t object to a marriage between her oldest daughter and the heir to one of the oldest houses in Westeros.

Jon continues, “Dorne and the North have never traded over much. We have a lot of food, and other materials, to offer your country.” Robb nods, again, and this time his men look pleased as well. More trade, especially for a country intent on seceding, was a boon, especially with winter coming.  

“And what else?” Robb asks, aware, without knowing why, that there’s more to this. Jon grins then, sharp and dark, and he leans towards Jon now, placing his arms on the table, hands folded together.

“When you march on King’s Landing, we request that you keep Gregor Clegane alive, to be given Dornish justice, for the death of Elia Martell, and her children.”

“Agreed,” Robb says, before anyone can protest. He does not care what manner of death the Mountain comes to, or who deals it out. He already has Jaime Lannister locked up, and he’s a more valuable prisoner to Tywin Lannister than a brainless, violent lackey. Gregor Clegane deserves the fate that is coming to him.

“Then we have an agreement?” Jon asks, but his tone implies that he knows Robb will agree. Everyone will agree, despite their distrust, because the Tyrells have allied with the Lannisters, and the North needs allies. With Theon traveling to the Iron Islands tomorrow to request the aid of his father’s ships, Robb believes they can burn supply ships to King’s Landing quite easily, and march, as well as sail, into the city. He would take back his sisters, and get revenge for the murder of his father.

“We do,” he replies, and grabs the quill that’s resting in a bottle of ink on the table, signing the document. Next to him, Theon sighs, but doesn’t protest, and Lady Mormont quickly signs her name on the document as well. It’s passes along the table, and while some of his men appear as though they’d rather be eaten by a bear than accept help from Dorne, they still sign. When it's done, Jon smirks, and rolls it back up with a flourish, tying it with a yellow ribbon, before he hands it to his companion.

“Perfect,” he says, and his smirk only widens as he continues to stare at Robb. The redhead knows his face must be red—he can feel it burning—and he hopes people chalk it up to the heat coming from the fire.

Robb clears his throat, again , but before he can say anything, Lord Karstark, who’s been holding back something all night, interrupts, “Why did Prince Doran send you, and not his own trueborn son?” Robb closes his eyes, and wishes for the floor to swallow him, or for a disease to take Lord Karstark’s tongue, at the dark look that flashes across Jon’s face. He’s older than I am, Robb thinks, shouldn’t he know not to fuck up diplomatic relations right after we’ve made them? He opens his eyes and glares at his kinsman, while Daemon Sand steps forward, eyes murderous. Jon holds out his hand to stay him.

“Prince Quentyn is being fostered, as well as Prince Trystane,” Jon says, his tone sharp, like a knife. “The Reach is being watched, as well. The Lannisters are suspicious, and travel is hard. For either of them to travel, without an official reason, north, and pass Lannister men, well, it doesn’t look good.” The implication that Lord Karstark is a fool not to see this himself is clear to everyone at the table, their looks half bashful, half angry. “A bastard son is not as suspicious.”

“Of course,” Robb says quickly, before Lord Karstark can reply, “Is there anything more for tonight?”

He prays to the Old Gods, as well as the Seven, that there isn’t. The room feels hot, and suffocating, and his skin is tingling every time Jon looks at him.

“Not for tonight, no,” Jon says. Robb nods, and says that they can adjourn. His men quickly get up, muttering amongst themselves, as they file out of the hall. Jon stands, slow and lazy, and stretches, every inch of his body tight as a bowstring. Daemon Sand rolls his eyes behind him. Robb swallows, and looks to Theon, who is lingering by the door. He gestures for Theon to go ahead and, although his friend is reluctant, he complies. Seeing this, Jon motions for his own companion to do the same.

Left alone for the first time, although Theon and Daemon Sand are no doubt listening at the door, Robb scratches the back of his burning neck as Jon stares at him, waiting for him to say something first. He’s not sure why he’s kept Jon back, rather than just let him go on his way. Ghost and Grey Wind move towards each other, nuzzling and licking, and then they curl up, heads on their paws, gazing at the two men.

“Was your room—” he begins to say, words lost on his tongue, “— comfortable?”

Jon shrugs, and says, “Comfortable enough.”

Robb swallows past the hard lump in his throat, and, rather stupidly, says, “I apologize for Lord Karstark. My men m—”

“Don’t say they meant no offense,” Jon says, holding up his hand. Robb closes his mouth, words forgotten. The brunette looks tired, dark circles under his eyes, and resigned. “I expected offense. It’s no matter. Your men can think what they like of me. I’m not here to gain their favor.”

No, Robb thinks, just mine. Despite everything, the tension between his men and Jon, Robb knows with certainty that he’s doing the right thing. He trusts this man, though he barely knows him. It is foolish, and ill-thought, but he knows in his heart that Jon is meant to be here, with him, to help take King’s Landing.

Robb moves forward, until he’s only a few inches from Jon. He can see every individual eyelash, and the way each strand of hair curls into one another. “Still,” he says, “I apologize anyway. My men should not have been so forward with their opinions.”

Jon licks his lips, once, then twice. Robb looks away from his face, and sees that up close the goose pimples have multiplied. The man needs a vest, to warm him more. “ You are open to an alliance, and that’s all that’s important.”

“Can I trust you?” Robb asks, aloud, even though he already does; even though he knows that Jon would lie if the Martell’s plan on stabbing him in the back. A part of him wants to hear Jon say it though. Needs to hear Jon say it.

“Our goals are aligned,” Jon says, with another smirk, “so yes, you can trust us. As much as you can ever trust anyone.”

There’s a warning there, unspoken, and Robb’s brow furrows. Was Jon implying something about his own men?  “Men of the North have always been loyal,” he says, and for the first time his tone is hard when speaking to Jon.

Jon’s lips twist, wryly, and he shrugs, finally stepping away. “Of course. Until they’re not.” Then, he bows, bent at the waist, curls sweeping in front of his face, before he continues, “May I take my leave, King Robb? I’m still quite tired. Unless you’d like to see me down to my tent?”

Robb swallows, his face burning, and he shakes his head. “Ye—I mean, no—yes,” he says, shaking his head. “You can go—to your chambers, not back to Do—” he sputters, then cuts himself off. Jon’s eyes are sparkling with amusement as he straightens. Seven hells, Robb thinks, just strike me down here and now. “You can go,” he finishes saying, finally.

Jon nods, and goes, but throws a couple of glances back to Robb as he leaves, Ghost following him. Once he’s gone, Robb groans and places his head in his hands. He’s never felt like more of an idiot before. For a few moments, he’s alone, cursing his existence, before Theon asks from the doorway if they can leave now. Sighing, Robb nods, and follows his friend back towards his own tent, hoping that he will think no more of a Dornish man with black curls and laughing eyes tonight.  

 

 

The sun is shining bright over the treetops the next morning, for the second day in a row. Jon smiles and takes in the sight of the singing birds flying through the trees as he walks out of the tent, putting his arms above his head and stretching. A few Northerners look at him, some with curiosity, others with disdain, but he shoots the same sly smile at each other of them, and walks, humming a Dornish tavern song.

He spots Greyjoy, who scowls at him, coming out of one of the larger tents. Just to be a dick, Jon waves. The Ironborn is dressed in silver armor, and there are bags and supplies in piles outside of his tent. Last night, when he couldn’t sleep, Jon had walked around the camp—it was too easy to slip past the two guards that had been outside his own tent—and overheard the plan to get the help of the Iron Islands. Jon wishes the man luck, and doesn’t pity him having to deal with Balon Greyjoy, even if he is the man’s son.

He hasn’t been summoned, so he can’t talk to King Robb again, but Jon’s got his uncle’s letter stuffed in the pocket of his dark, leather pants. There’d been clothes waiting for him that morning, thicker and heavier than his own. The shirt is dark gray, as well as the furred cloak, and it is doing wonders to stave off the cold. The direwolf is by his side, still, running on ahead of him, only to stop, claws digging into the earth, and look back to make sure he was still following. Jon laughs at Ghost’s antics and wonders, not for the first time since yesterday, what he’d done to win this animal’s affection.

“You’re a strange one,” he says to the direwolf, when he pads back towards him. The look the wolf gives him makes it clear that Jon is the strange one here, and that he’s walking too slow to keep up. Ghost’s nose pushes at his hand, and then he sprints, running towards the gate. “Oh,” he calls out, “is that how you want to play it?”

Jon takes off after him, skirting around Northerners carrying bundles and weapons, baskets full of fruit and vegetables, pots full of oatmeal and porridge, and a few women washing clothes. The wind ruffles his curls, and he feels alive for the first time since he’d stepped off the ship, the green landscape of the Riverlands almost fading into the lush, floral gardens of his home, or the sand dunes of the Dornish beaches, as he runs, his vision a blur.

His heart is beating like an axe against his ribs, his lungs gasping for air, by the time he reaches the place where his men have set up camp. They look at him queerly, their commander bent over, half-laughing and half-wheezing, and then at the wolf, who’s stealing fish from Daemon’s breakfast bowl. His father’s squire frowns, and tries to clutch his food close, but he’s clearly intimidated by the gigantic wolf whose fangs are the size of Daemon’s fingers.

“Seven hells,” one of the men, Edric Sand, a bastard son of some Yronwood or other, says. His hair is long, tied back with thin braids, and darker than Jon’s. He’s got a couple of scars on his face from a tavern brawl with the father of a girl he’d mistaken as a whore. He stands a couple of feet away from Ghost, with a look that’s both contemplative, and wary.

This is the first time that most of his companions are really looking at the wolf up close, and Jon can feel the men’s uneasiness around Ghost. “Is that beast in love with you, or what, Jon?” Edrics continues. “Why is it here?”

“I’m irresistible,” Jon says, shrugging. He sits down, grabbing a piece of bread and tearing it in half. “Anything happen during the night?”

“Nothing but more rain,” Lewyn Blackmont says. He’s sitting across the cooking fire to where Jon has plopped, and is looking darkly at the still damp grass. His nose is pointy, and his lips thin, and when his face is drawn into anything other than a smile, Jon has always thought he resembled a hornet. “I’m bloody tired of being wet.”

Jon had barely been bothered by the rain last night, because it hadn’t started up until after he’d got back to his tent, but his men, who’d slept under the open sky, look ready to mount a rebellion against the gods.

“Shut it, Blackmont,” Daemon says. He’s more loyal, or more sycophantic really, to House Martell, than the rest of the men. “We’re here for Prince Doran and House Martell. Not to be comfortable.” He tosses his bowl, with the remnants of stolen fish scraps, onto the ground.

Edric laughs, and slings his arm around Jon’s shoulders, running his hands through Jon’s hair. “Everyone but Jon here. How was it, sleeping with a roof again? Fuck anyone last night?”

Jon scowls at him, and runs his fingers through them, futilely trying to fix them without a mirror. “No,” he answers, to their disappointment. He thinks about the King, with his red curls, and his blushing face, and sighs. There are freckles on his face, Jon thinks, I wonder how many he has?

“And what about this King in the North?” another Sand, whose name he can never remember, asks. He’s got dark blonde hair, the only one among them to have this shade, and dark eyes and he’s leaning up against the side of a tree, sharpening one end of his two-headed lance. “What do you make of him? Was this fucking journey worth it?”

“It better be,” Aron Sand says. He’s small and weedy looking, with barely any muscles. “I think I might lose a few toes to frostbite.”

While Lewyn tells him it's not possible to lose any limb when there’s no snow, Jon ignores them and answers, “He’s young. Bit stuttery, but willing enough to listen to us. His lords dislike us being here, but he’s ignoring them, for now.”

He doesn’t tell them about the way the firelight from the candles in the dining tent made his curls seem like flames themselves, or even the way he’d stood close, apologizing as if he was the one to offend Jon. As if his honor, or virtue, or something else, mattered at all to the King in the North.

“Should we worry about them? Think they’ll sway his mind?” Edric asks, and he reaches to grab a bit of the bread that Jon left.

“Not sure. They gave him this power,” Jon says. He rubs his fingers along his thighs, and bites his lips. The King seemed to be in control last night, among the dissenting lords. He’d gotten them to sign, with barely any argument. At least, not in Jon’s hearing. “Still, he was raised to be a Lord of Winterfell, which means he was raised to be their liege lord. And the Northmen are said to take their oaths seriously.” He picks off a bit of bread, chewing it slowly, before he continues, “He needs our ships. Even a widling wouldn’t turn us away, with the aid we’re offering.”

“We don’t have to leave yet, do we?” the blonde haired Sand asks. “We just got here. I think we deserve a couple of days rest.”

Daemon rolls his eyes, and throws a bit of grass at the blonde. “We’ve got to tell Prince Doran that the alliance is signed. You know we can’t send a raven.”

“And the longer we stay here,” Jon says, “the more dangerous it becomes.”

Although their clothes are still influenced by Dorne, the men, who’d been trained as warriors since they were cutting their milk teeth, refrain from wrapping their hair in the tell-tale clothes of many Dornish fighters and guards. All of the guards in the estates of House Martell wore the same distinctive blue scarves curved around their heads, although Jon, like his father, never bothered with any type of silken adornment. Elia had always teased it was because Jon loved his curls too much to see them flattened. Most of them look Dornish, as well, with their olive skin and dark hair. Considering how few of their country men traveled from Dorne, except on trading business, since the last war, the longer they stayed in the Riverlands, the more suspicions their actions might arouse.

“We should leave tonight,” he announces, before he stands up. “I’ll request an audience with the King, discuss how our alliance might go, then we’ll head back home.”

And I’ll give him Uncle Doran’s letter, Jon thinks, whatever it’s supposed to be.

He tells the men to begin packing up as he leaves, which they do, despite the scowling from a few of them who were of a like mind to blonde Sand. On his way back to the camp, Ghost walking at a much more sedate pace this time, he sees Greyjoy riding out, and King Robb standing at the gates, watching his foster brother leave. When he spots Jon, coming back from the woods, he smiles, for a brief second, before his face smooths out.

“You’re outside of the encampment,” he says, looking Jon over. It seems like he’s studying the clothes Jon is wearing, which makes Jon wonder if they’d been left on his orders.

“Was I not supposed to leave?” Jon asks. He smirks when the King blushes that lovely shade of red again. “Am I a prisoner, Your Grace?”

“No, of course not,” King Robb says, fast and with wide eyes. “It was just—I sent a messenger for you this morning, and you were gone.”

Oh, Jon thinks in realization. That must have seemed grand, to all of the Northerners, when it probably looked like the Dornish had made their alliance and run off like thieves in the night. “I’m still here. I had to talk to my companions. We’ll be traveling home tonight.”

King Robb’s eyes widen, and he steps forward. He opens his mouth, once, then twice, and whatever he’s about to say, he’s having a hard time saying it. Jon waits, as patiently as he can, under the glare of several of the Northern lords, who are muttering amongst themselves from where they, too, had been standing and watching Greyjoy leave. They’re dressed in armour, and chainmail, on the edge of battle even when there is none, and several of them have their hands resting on their weapons.

“Jon Sand,” he says, finally . He’s biting his bottom lip, and Jon’s eyebrow raises, as he waits, a second, then ten more. The King swallows, and seems to gather his bearings, because he continues, “Your men can leave, tonight, if they desire. My men will escort them out.” With dawning realization, Jon’s stomach drops. “You’re going to stay. You’re Prince Doran’s nephew, and as long as you’re here, he will honor his pledge.”

Jon steps back, and several of the Northerners step forward. He wishes, at that moment, that he hadn’t been stupid, since he’d left his weapons back with his men—not that it would really bode well for their alliance if he fought his way out. Still, he hadn’t wanted to go into the encampment with them and be seen as a threat. Son of a bitch, he thinks, and stares at the King through new eyes. He’s not going to protest, or say that they’d come here to offer their allegiance freely. He knows how these matters work.

Laughing, with a sardonic twist to his mouth, he says “Well, Your Grace, I guess I am your prisoner after all.”

Chapter Text

“The Dornish will take offense, Your Grace, if we keep Jon Sand here,” Lord Bolton says to him, a few hours after Jon returns to his tent, placidly and still smirking, and the remaining Dornish have left. They’d hashed out a few minor details about the alliance, and Jon had written a letter to his uncle and father that he was staying of his own free will. Now, Robb and some of the higher lords are sitting in the dining tent looking over the copy of their new treaty.

“Let them,” Lady Mormont says, with a shrug. She’d been the most receptive to the idea of Jon Sand staying in the encampment with them. It makes sense, even with an alliance. When Robb had suggested it this morning, before Theon left, most of his lords had been in agreement with him. After all, when they’d made their bargain with the Freys, they’d taken some of them into their army alongside the Northerners; Lord Walder’s sons were both insurance, and a gesture of good faith. It stood to reason that Jon Sand would be as well. “They’ve offered their bed, now they’ve got to lie in it.”

“They’ve offered us aid,” Lord Bolton says, “and after what happened to Princess Elia, and her children in King’s Landing under the Mad King, I doubt the Red Viper will take this well.”

Robb purses his lips, but says nothing. From all accounts, Prince Doran is a calmer man, who thinks with his head first. The letter that Robb had given to the Dornish assured the Martell’s that no harm would come to Jon while he is with them. Still, he thinks, what happens if you accidently get the man killed? His father will be out for your blood.

“Someone should keep an eye on the boy,” Lord Umber says, as his fingers stroke through his beard. “He should be kept close. Better to see if we can truly trust them or not.”

“Close?” Lord Karstark huffs. Robb sits back, and watches as his face turns red. “I don’t trust him. Keep him far. Hell, throw him next to Lannister!”

Robb’s not entirely sure what exactly about Jon Sand seems to grate on Lord Karstark, whether it was the fact that he was Dornish , who many in the North viewed with inherent suspicion, or if it's the unabashed way Jon acts, equal parts respectful, and scornful. Whatever it is, it needs to stop, if they are going to work with him, and with Jon here indefinitely for now, he is not going to have his men at war with themselves over this issue.

“He’ll stay close,” Robb says, and strokes along the top of Grey Wind’s head. The direwolf is content, his head on Robb’s lap, and half asleep. “He’s not a prisoner; he’s a guest of some importance. It’s an insult to keep him in a tent near the prisoners, and we can not treat him like a hostage.” Lord Karstark opens his mouth, no doubt to protest, but Robb silences him by holding up his hand. “Theon’s tent is now vacant. Jon will be given that.”

Theon’s tent is setup between Lady Mormont’s, and Lady Umber’s, and somewhat across from where Robb’s larger, more elaborate tent as the highest member of the army is pitched. Despite the fact that Theon had technically still been a hostage, even if he’d never been treated as one, Robb had made it clear that his friend would never be treated as anything less than a Northerner. Jon’s current lodgings are too close to where Lannister is being kept, and too squalid for the son of a Prince. Robb can’t justify keeping Jon here, and then keeping him in poor conditions if he ever meets Doran and Oberyn Martell face-to-face.

And he’ll be closer to you, a voice whispers in his head, sounding suspiciously like Theon whenever he’d tried to convince Robb to join him down at the brothel, you can talk to him, and see him, whenever you want.

Lady Mormont looks satisfied. She’s not suspicious of Jon’s motives at all, in fact she even seems to like him. She’d escorted him back to his tent, joking about how she needed to get him a sword to test his skills against her daughter. Lord Bolton looks contemplative and remote, as he always does, while Lord Glover is just nodding. Then, both Lord Karstark and Lord Umber answer at the same time.

“Your Grace, that tent is too—”

“Good, that keeps him in view of m—”

“My Lords,” Robb says, his voice raised slightly in order to be heard. “It's been decided. Lord Umber, go find some of your finest men. They’ll stand outside Jon’s tent at night.” That will placate Lord Karstark, and keep Jon out of harm’s way as well. Although the Kingslayer is heavily guarded, there’s still the chance that he can escape, and Robb doesn’t need Jon getting caught in the crossfire. “Is there anything else?”

Lady Mormont looks almost nervous for a minute, before she says, “We should have him sit on the war council. Dorne is our ally, now, and until they send another representative—if they do—then he should have a place. He’ll need to know strategies, he knows Dorne and their ships better than we do. He’s too valuable, to not allow him to sit here.”

Lord Karstark doesn’t contain his disdain for that idea. “We’ll just let the snakes know everything then, will we?”

Robb purses his lips, again, and considers the ramifications. If he gives Jon a seat on the war council, then he’s in a perfect position to betray them if Dorne feels so inclined. The brunette’s own words from last night prick at him, and had kept him up half the night. Disloyalty from any Northerner is almost unbelievable, or rather, it had been. The Boltons had not always been loyal, and there was still some bad blood, after all. Despite this, Robb trusts Lord Bolton to act in his interests, and Dorne’s interests were clear.

“Lady Mormont is right,” he says, and ignores the aghast expression on Lord Karstark’s face. Lord Umber doesn’t look overjoyed, none of the lords do, but they also aren’t protesting. “He’ll be given a place, but it will be limited. He will know what he needs too, and attend when matters of Dorne come up, for now. If the Dornish prove to be true to this alliance, then we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

After asking if there were any more concerns or suggestions, Robb adjourns the meeting, and begins to walk towards Jon’s tent. Grey Wind is running ahead of him, eager to see Ghost. Last night was the first night they’d slept apart, and the direwolf had been almost as restless as Robb.

When he gets there, he knocks, because it's polite, and even kings need to have manners. He waits, until he hears Jon say come in, and opens the flap. Grey Wind runs in ahead of him, and Ghost is immediately up from where he’d been relaxing on a bearskin rug to tackle him, licking and playfully nipping at one another. Jon is leaning back in his chair, his boots up on the post on the small, oak desk that Theon had insisted be in his tent. There’s some paper in front of him, and an ink well, with the quill in his hand. A dish with the remains of some chicken, garnished with raisins and turnip greens, rests in front of him. He’s smiling at the direwolves antics, and Robb stands there, anxiously waiting for Jon to acknowledge him.

He expects anger, or confusion. He’s kept Jon from going home, and given him no warning, even though it had been necessary. Instead, when Jon turns his gaze upon Robb, the smile stays.

“Can I help you, Your Grace?” Jon says, putting the pen down, and stretching to place his hands behind his head. Robb bites his lip, and studies the tent. All of Theon’s things are gone, his clothes, his weapons, but the smell of whatever whore had been in here the night before still lingers; sweat, and cum, and the yeasty tinge of ale that’s probably staining the bedsheets.

“Is the tent alright?” he asks, stepping a bit closer. He wonders if he should sit down, but the only place to do so is on the bed. So he places his hands behind his back, instead, with his feet apart, and looks at Jon directly, though he desperately wishes that he could focus on anything else, because he can feel the back of his neck getting red, again .

Jon nods. “It’s fine. Bigger than I expected,” he says, but when he looks at the bedsheets his nose wrinkles a bit. “Don’t really want to know what went on there, though.”

He’ s still dressed in the warmer clothes, grey and furred, which Robb had sent to him. Since he was of a size with Jon, who was only a scant inch or two taller, he’d sent some of his own clothes, since he had more than enough, and it was easier than scouring the entire camp.

“I will see what I can do about changing them tomorrow,” he says, then asks, abruptly, “May I sit?”

Jon laughs before he says, “You’re the King, you can do what you like, Your Grace” His boots slide down off the table, knocking onto the bag that one of his companions, Daemon Sand, had brought him before they’d ridden off. The boy had been scowling, and muttering in a voice louder than he probably intended, about wolf tricks. Robb had ignored it, and instead had wished him well on his journey.

Robb swallows, and sits gingerly down on the edge of the mattress. Grey Wind and Ghost stop their roughhousing, and turn to look at the two men, before they mutually huff, and curl up on the bearskin rug. “You don’t have to call me Your Grace,” Robb says, running his hands through his hair. “Just Robb. Or Lord Stark, I guess, if you’d prefer.”

“You’re not a lord,” Jon replies. He’s not, but he still feels like he should be. His father would never have approved of this, running around with a crown on his head and calling himself King. The Starks had bent the knee ages ago, and oaths were sacred. “ Your Grace ,” He says it with a grin, and a tone that suggests to Robb that it's meant to be a challenge, a taunt.

“I can command you, then, to call me Robb,” he says, and his eyes widen, his pulse jumping a bit, at his own words. That look of amusement—almost approval, this time, though he might be fooling himself—is back, though, and it makes the grey in Jon’s eyes brighten.

“You could,” he says, the corners of his mouth stretching into a smirk, “but will I listen? Is there a quota of listening to King’s demands in the North?”

Robb swallows, while his face flushes. He’s flirting, Robb muses, maybe. He could just be acting like this to be an ass. Theon had complained about his manners last night, when he’d been in his cups. Yet with the way Jon is looking at him, heavy lidded, and how every few seconds his tongue darts out to lick his bottom lip, Robb is leaning more towards the former.

Seven hells, he thinks, as he stares at Jon, not breaking their gaze. He’s not sure what to do. He came in here to tell Jon about the council’s decisions, and he’d expected anger. He could have faced anger, because he was a King, and a commander, and this was strategy. Flirting wasn’t strategy, and especially not flirting with a man.

A pretty man, his mind whispers. An extremely pretty man. Another voice, that sounds a bit like his mother, reminds him of his fiancee, and that this man is the son of a Prince. He can’t afford to have a dalliance with him.

He looks down, at Jon’s scuffed up boots, and then back up. “No,” he says, finally, “all commands must be followed when a King says them.”

He doesn’t mean it as an invitation, but still, he believes it comes out that way. Jon’s face doesn’t change. He’s from Dorne, and he’s the son of a lecherous Prince at that. He’d grown up with eight bastard siblings, and most of them from different mothers. He probably had more experience than Theon, even, when it comes to flirting, or if someone is interested or not.

Could be he’s also fucking with you, another voice says, since you’re keeping him here, against what he wanted.

“Very well then,” Jon answers, standing up suddenly. He’s a few inches from Robb, and the heat between their bodies isn’t helping the rush of blood in his veins. Robb bends his neck, to look up at him. “You still have not answered if you need me for anything.”

Robb looks at the letter on the table, a quick glance, then back to Jon. “It's been decided that you will sit on the council, on occasion, for matters concerning Dorne, or anything that you and your countrymen might need to know.” Jon nods, the expression on his face smoothing out into a mask. Robb wonders what he’s thinking, as he continues, “There will also be a guard outside your tent at night. For your protection, as well as a precaution. This is a new alliance, and we can’t take any changes.”

“Understood,” Jon answers, right before he runs his fingers across the bed post, “anything else?”

Robb watches the pale fingers rub up, then down, the up again, over the wood. “Your letter,” he asks, “who is it for?”

Jon’s expression falls at that, as his brow furrows, and his mouth twists into a frown. “My sister, Elia. She wasn’t expecting me to be gone from home, this long. I owe her an apology, I can’t take our trip with her across the beach next month.” He steps back, and crosses his arms across his chest, expression now inquisitive. “Will you be searching my letters, as well?”

Robb sighs, and wishes he didn’t have to say yes. He knows, more than anything, that if he was allowed to write to Arya, or Sansa, that he wouldn’t care to have someone stand over his shoulder as he does so. Still, Lord Karstark will insist, and Robb himself can’t take the chance. Even if Jon means it unintentionally, there are things he can’t allow to be leaked to anyone.

“Yes,” he says, his hands going out like he’s about to reach for Jon, before he stops himself. “I’m sorry.” It’s a poor statement, he knows, despite the sentiment behind it.

“Anything else?” Jon asks. His mood has turned, now, and the good-natured atmosphere in the tent has withered. Robb scratches the back of his neck, then tells the brunette that there isn’t.

“Well then, Your Grace,” Jon says, sitting back down in the chair and picking up the quill again, “I’ll see you tomorrow, then, I’m sure. I must get back to my letter.”

Robb’s stomach falls at the sound of the title on Jon’s lips. He nods, snapping his fingers to Grey Wind, in an indication that they’re leaving. The direwolf growls, reluctant to leave his brother, before he gets up, and follows him out of the tent. The sun has set completely, and the moon is full, with a few guards and soldiers milling about with ales in their hands and ribald songs on their lips. In the distance, cicadas are singing, and fireflies blink in the sky. He greets a few men as he crosses the grass to his own tent, large and decorated with the direwolf sigil of House Stark. His bed has been pulled down, but there is a stack of letters and missives on his own desk. Restless, once again, he sits down and begins to read through them, readying himself for another long night.



 

Jon sighs and collapses onto the bed. The sheets have been newly changed, just as King Robb promised they would be. His shoulder is aching, from where Dacey Mormont got a good knock at it earlier, after asking to see how he could fight, and he desperately wishes for a bath. His hair is gritty with sweat, and dirt, and the furs against his skin feel itchy. There’s some food for him, chicken again, but he doesn’t feel like getting up from the mattress to move towards it.

He closes his eyes, and thinks about the past few days. It’s been three, and nothing has really happened. There’s chatter in the camp, there’s hunting, and King Robb makes sure to visit him everyday, and ask if he’s alright. He’s stood at the opening of Jon’s tent every time, nervous now to come any closer. He’s not sure if it’s because of the letters, or because of the flirting. Either way, it pricks at him, and he misses the sight of the redhead’s blushes, and the attempts at conversation from before.

It’s lonely here. Dacey Mormont has been welcoming, as well as some of the others, who have resigned themselves to his presence, and he’s enjoyed learning new Northern tactics of fighting, but being the only Dornish man surrounded by Northerners is isolating. He misses his sisters, and they way he’d wake up to Tyene attempting to fuck with him, or Elia’s pleas to go riding. He misses Ellaria, and he even misses walking in on her and his father in awkward positions.

The bed dips, a familiar sensation that tells Jon that Ghost has jumped up onto it. Although the direwolf occasionally left his side, either to play with his brother or hunt, he’s been a constant companion since Jon arrived. It’s gotten to the point now that Jon reaches out for him when he wakes up, expecting him to be curled up somewhere nearby, and looks around for him before he goes anyway.

“You know,” Jon says, “I’m going to miss you, Ghost, when I leave. It’s a shame I can’t keep you.” The direwolf isn’t his, after all, even if the animal has decided he’d rather be around him than his actual master. Then there was the matter of his thick coat of white fur; the Northerners might be saying that winter is coming, but even in a Dornish winter, that coat might still boil the animal alive. Jon wasn’t sure; he’d been too young, during the last winter, to really remember it, beyond drinking a lot of hot teas, and staying indoors more. He couldn’t remember the cold, or the snow, that Obara and Tyene swore occurred.

There was only one clear memory he had of that winter. It was cold enough for the lake by the Water Gardens to freeze over, and his father held his hands so they could walk across it, test how sturdy it was, to the sounds of Ellaria telling them they would both regret it. They hadn’t fallen in, but the ice cracked, and Jon could remember his heart racing, while his father picked him up in his arms and carried him back to shore, laughing and ruffling his hair.

Ghost makes a noise through his nose that sounds like a huff, and when Jon opens his eyes, the direwolf is staring at him, as if to say that Jon isn’t leaving him behind. His stomach rumbles, a loud noise that breaks the silence of his tent, and he’s about to get up in order to consume the no doubt bland chicken, when the knock occurs.

He’s early, Jon thinks, because beyond servants, who already brought his dinner here, and the guards in the morning, no one visits him but the King.

“Come in,” he says, sitting up. He could stay stretched out—he can feel the way his tunic has ridden up his stomach, because the cold air is ticking his skin—and see if he can return the pretty blush to King Robb’s face, but he’d rather look at him as he enters.

The King is dressed in just a brown over-tunic, with a tunic that’s a deeper chestnut color underneath, and black breeches. His hair is a bit damp, due to the rain outside, and his hands are clasped behind his back as he comes in. As always, Grey Wind is in front of him, and Ghost immediately jumps down to affectionately attack his brother.

“Am I disturbing you?” Robb asks, while his feet shuffle along the ground as he stands in place.

“No. I’m doing nothing of importance, Your Grace,” he answers, with a shrug. He gets up off the bed, deliberately stretching, and watches from underneath his eyelashes as the redhead’s adam’s apple jumps as he swallows. He stands in front of the bed, and leans back against it, arms placed behind him on to the mattress.

“I was wondering if perhaps you’d like to—” the King says, then stops himself. He’s done this often, as if everything he says he needs to think about twice, or three times, before it comes out right. It’s only with Jon, however. Around his men, he’s calm, commanding, and confident. His orders are followed, and his mind works fast, from what Jon has gathered in his short time in the camp, and the observations he’s made. Once he’s gathered his bearings, the King continues, “— would you like to have a drink tonight? I’d invite you out for a hunt or something, but we can’t really leave the camp.”

Jon blinks, thrown off guard a bit. It’s not that he didn’t expect that the King would offer a hunt, or something for Jon to do, at any point. They’re close in age, and he knows that he at least intrigues the other man, if nothing else. He’s caught the man staring at him a few times, and the blushes can’t mean anything else. Jon has been getting this reaction since he’d begun puberty, from women and men, and been told that he was a pretty child since before he could even remember. It’s not surprising, really, even if the King doesn’t seem inclined to do anything about it.

As much as you’d like him too, his mind whispers. Normally, Jon wouldn’t be shy about making the first move, but he can’t fuck up this alliance. He can flirt, and he can tease, and see how this plays out, but kiss the man? Proposition him? No, it was best to leave that alone.

He doesn’t realize how lost in his thoughts he is, until the King clears his throat and says, “Or we could do something else?”

The redhead looks down, then kicks at the ground, before he looks back up. His eyes are wide, and blue, and the fire in the center of the tent highlights the shades of red in his hair, and the freckles on his face.

Jon is tired, and wants to drink wine until he passes out, but he still says, “I wouldn’t mind a game of cyvasse . I haven’t had anyone to play with since I left home.”

At home, Arianne usually plays the game from Volantis with him, and sometimes his younger sisters, Dorea and Obella. The youngest, Loreza, is just learning how to strategize when she plays and often, she sits and watches as Jon soundly thrashes his two sisters. When it comes to his cousin, more often than not, though, she bests him.

King Robb’s brow furrows, but he steps closer, and stands close to the bed, an indication that Jon’s suggestion is acceptable. As Jon goes to the bag of stuff his companions left him, searching for the game that he’d brought with him for times of boredom, the King says, “I’ve never actually played. You’ll have to teach me.”

Jon looks up from where his head is bent to search his bag. There is a bunch of clothes that are ill-fitting for the weather, the empty bag of candied almonds from Elia, and a bunch of drawings from his younger sister Dorea, of the Water Gardens, and the beach. At the bottom of the bag, packed away in a smaller, silk purse are the pieces, as well as the portable cyvasse table.

“You can sit down, Your Grace,” he says, waving his hand towards the bed, since there’s only one chair in the room, and he’s not going to do this on the floor. If the direwolves get it into their minds to roughhouse some more, although they are currently lounging near the desk, they’d likely knock over any progress in the game.

The King’s face is red, but he sits down, a bit stiff, and facing towards the desk. Jon tosses the pieces to him, which he catches, and then goes over and sets down the table. He crosses his legs as he sits across from the other man, and explains the ten different pieces, as well as the rules.

“It took my sister, Obella, about five rounds before she could remember any of the rules,” he says, as he sets up the pieces. The King doesn’t look confused, his eyes are bright, and he’s been nodding and humming attentively. Jon knows that the strategy of it all should be easy for him to pick up on, given what he’s overheard about the redheads war tactics. He sits up straight, after he adjusts the pieces across from him, and teases, “You’ll pick it about in about three, maybe?”

At that, the King shifts, relaxing. The challenge is clearly getting to him, because he’s staring at Jon confidently, and almost arrogantly, he replies “I’ll beat you in the first round.”

He doesn’t win the first round, or the second, but the rules of the game come quickly, and naturally to him. The sun has long set by the middle of the third round, and their second glasses of wine are empty in their laps, Jon’s dinner long forgotten. The direwolves knocked down the chair, after they’d woken up from their lap, and have left to go hunting.

“Who taught you to play?” King Robb asks, scrutinizing his dragon piece. His face is flushed, this time from drink, and his curls are mussed from the few times he’s run his fingers through them. Jon thinks he might win this round, and feels a bit of pleasure at the idea that his prediction was right.

“My father,” Jon says, rubbing at his collarbone. He’s unlaced a bit of his over-tunic, and the one under it feels too tight. He longs to take it off, despite the cold air outside. It’s hot in here, with the fire, and the heat coming from Robb’s proximity. He bites his lip, dragging it between his teeth, before he continues, “I was seven, maybe eight, and he brought back this set with him from the Free Cities. He’d been gone about a year, that time, and he brought back my sister, Nymeria, with him, as well. She was around ten name days, or so, I think.”

“You have a lot of sisters, right?” Robb asks, moving one of his pieces. Jon looks down, and frowns. He’s trapped. His mind runs through all the possible moves he can make in order to get out of the predicament that his opponent has put him in, and it's a minute or two before he replies.

“Eight,” he says, before he reaches over to pour himself a glass of wine. “Obara is the oldest. My father took her from her mother before I was born. Nymeria’s the daughter of some Eastern noblewoman, who died in battle.” He lifts the decanter, an asking gesture towards the redhead. Robb nods, and as Jon pours, he continues to speak, “Tyene is the daughter of a septa. Father took her in when she was around—” he bits his lip, trying to remember.

Robb sips his wine, listening patiently. He’s a good listener, and when he’s in his cups, he talks . In the time they’ve been playing the game, Jon heard a lot more about Theon Greyjoy and archery then he really wants too, but he enjoys listening to the stories about Robb’s siblings, especially Arya, who reminds him of his own sisters.

“—two name days. Sarella, she was born in the Summer Islands.” Jon moves one of his pieces before he continues, “Then there’s my younger sisters, the daughters of my father’s paramour, Ellaria. Elia, Obella, Dorea, and Loreza.”

Robb countermoves, and Jon knows for certain that he’s going to lose. “So many. Did you mind being the only boy around?”

Jon shrugs, “Sometimes. I have a lot of sisters.” He laughs, as he thinks about Obara. “Some of them are better warriors then I am, though. And who knows,” he says, taking a sip of his wine, “I’ve probably got a brother or two, floating around. My father doesn’t know how to keep his cock in his breeches, after all.”  

Abruptly, Robb laughs, and then moves his final piece, winning the game. He smiles, and Jon swallows a bit around his dry tongue at the way it lights up the redhead’s eyes.

He reaches over, and begins to gather the pieces, at the same time that Robb does, and they freeze as their hands bump against one another. Jon blinks, still as a predator waiting in the wings for its prey, and looks at the freckles that dot the other man’s face, and the different shades of blue in his eyes. Robb’s lips twist, but he hasn’t moved. Jon’s heart thumps, once, then twice, fast, and erratic.

“And your mother?” Robb asks, breaking the silence with a whisper. His breath brushes over Jon’s eyelashes, and his fingers curl, creating space between their hands. “Who was she?”

Jon licks his lips, and the redhead follows the motion with his eyes. “I don’t know,” he admits, though this fact doesn’t bother him quite as much as it used too. Or so he tells himself. “My father’s never told me.”

He sighs, and leans back, gathering some of the pieces as he does so. Robb is still for a moment, suspended there, and then he begins to fiddle with the dragon piece left in front of him.

“Do you want to play another?” Robb asks, at the same time that Jon says he’s tired. The redhead nods, and although he looks a bit downcast, the ease that the wine gave him has disappeared. He stands, a bit awkward. He’s not swaying, he hasn’t drunk enough for that, but he’s been sitting for so long, that his muscles are probably protesting. Jon does the same, and his leg twinges.

Ghost and Grey Wind walk in, blood staining their fur from a fresh kill, and Robb moves to pet their heads. He turns back, then says, “We’re going to be moving out in a couple of days. Towards the Westerlands.” Jon nods at him, and waits, because he knows there’s more. “In the morning, I want you in the Council.”

“Of course,” he answers, even though this is the first time he’s been told he should be there. Lord Karstark still looks at him suspiciously, and curses whenever he’s near.

“If you’d like to send anything to your family,” Robb says, lingering by the door. Grey Wind licks Ghost’s nose, before he trots off. “You’re welcome to do so.”

Jon smiles, and replies, “Thank you,” and then, teasingly, “Your Grace.” A flash of annoyance flits through Robb’s eyes— he actually rolls them —before he nods, and tells Jon goodnight.

Two days later, Jon stands outside as his tent is packed, and his things put away. He doesn’t even flinch when an arm goes around his shoulder, since he could hear footsteps behind him, and he looks to see Dacey Mormont grinning at him. The lady from Bear Island has taken to him, and he enjoys her company. She’s a good warrior, almost on parr with the Sand Snakes, and an easy going woman. Jon hadn’t expected to see women in the army when he’d come up to the Riverlands, but many things about the King in the North have surprised him.

“For your sister?” she asks, indicating the parchment he has rolled up in his hands.

He shakes his head, and tells her its for his uncle, before he hands it to her, telling her that she can give it to the King if she wants. She takes it, then slings her arm off his shoulder. They stand there, bantering back and forth for a few minutes, while the soldiers, and servants, and even the whores, sling bags over their shoulders, along with weaponry. The King’s tent is already down, and packed away, among the first to be dealt with.

Jon watches as bags are thrown into wagons, rain drops sliding down his forehead, and over his lips. Next to him, Smalljon Umber comes up to stand on his other side, at the same time that a large retinue of heavily armed soldiers on both horse, and foot, walk past. In the middle, there’s a chained, blonde haired prisoner. It’s clear that he’s been in desperate need of a bath for a long time. As he passes, his eyes catch Jon’s, and the brunette studies him curiously.

“The Kingslayer,” Dacey says, with a scowl. “Stay away from him, Jon.”

He looks to her, a bit offended. “You can’t possibly think I’d let a Lannister free.” His family’s hatred of the Lannister’s is no secret. He looks to the man again, and wonders what he thought, when the bodies of his aunt and cousins were laid out, bloody and ruined, in front of him and his family. At his father’s orders.

Smalljon Umber snorts, and says, “No. It's just precautions. Can’t be too careful with him.” He’s got his hand on the handle of his sword, and he’s glaring in the direction of the prisoner. “He’s tried to kill a few of our guards before.”

Yes, Jon thinks, precautions. Everything's precautions. Robb does not like to leave things to chance. He hasn’t been able to leave his tent since the first night, since the guards seemed to have multiplied. At least, in secret he hasn’t, because he’s free to come and go as he pleases, if someone accompanies him.

“I can’t imagine if we had to send you back in a box,” Dacey says, looking to Jon, “or how your father would take that, if the Kingslayer was the cause. Not well, I’d expect.”

His father would march to King’s Landing, and get himself killed in the process, because all he would see is the blood of more family, the crimes of more Lannisters. Not even Uncle Doran would be able to temper Oberyn, at that point.

“No,” he agrees, after the prisoner is out of sight. “He wouldn’t.”

He sighs, and follows Dacey and Smalljon Umber to the horses. It’s the same horse he’d rode in here on, a large, black mare he calls Shadow. She’s already been harnessed, and Jon heaves himself up on her, glad to be moving and away from this place. They’re going further south, and he only hopes that the weather will bit less wet, and less frigid, the further south they move. Dacey and Smalljon get up onto their steeds as well, and Jon tightens his legs around his mount, urging her forward. The rain falls down harder, a soggy goodbye, as they ride towards the Westerlands.



 

A couple of weeks after they leave their last camp, Robb’s army has sacked Ashemark, the seat of House Marbrand. He’s lost a few men, but the Lannisters have lost several more, and so he walks through their new camp that night, and smiles at the revelry of the men who obtained no injuries, after the new prisoners were secured. Grinning men pass ale around in tankards, while whores sit on their laps, and there is gambling, and singing, and dancing around fires.

Robb smiles, as he watches them, and thinks about his recent victory. The more castles and keeps he captures in the Westerlands, the more he can draw Tywin Lannister’s forces here. It’s risky, but Robb knows he can not linger with his army long here. In a couple of days, they need to move on. He thinks the Crag, while a bit of a distance, is a good next place to hit.

He moves deeper into the camp, and see Smalljon Umber, Dacey Mormont, and Jon Sand gathered with a bunch of soldiers around a large fire. There’s ale in their hands, and Ghost is asleep curled up next to the Dornish man’s feet. His face is bloody, white fur interspersed with hues of pink, and brown, and red. There’s a cut across Jon’s forehead, for some reason, even though he had not fought in the battle with them. Robb would have preferred it, if he had, because he’s strong, and capable, and all men counted, in this war, but Lord Bolton had pointed out the folly of Jon dying in battle, when they’d forced him to stay.

He and Jon have continued to talk at night, when they can. For the past few nights, they’d been tied up with the battle plans, but Robb enjoys their talks. It’s different than Theon, who he loves, but who he knows so well there’s nothing new to hear from him. Jon’s stories of Dorne are fascinating, and vibrant, and they bring a smile to his face that Robb wants to keep there. A few times, he’s challenged him to a spar, and gotten soundly beat because Jon is better with a sword then him, he will admit. But he’s won more of their cyvasse games then Jon has, despite being new to it.

“I’m just better at strategy then you,” Robb told him, the last game they had. Jon’s eyebrow lifted, and he smirked, but he hadn’t denied it.

Tonight, Jon is laughing, and listening to a bard tell a traveling tale. Dacey Mormont is sitting next to him, nursing a mug of ale, and Smalljon Umber is heckling, when Robb comes over. There’s a plate in Jon’s hands, of a pale cake that Robb thinks might be lemon cakes. Sansa’s favorite, he remembers, and wonders about his sister, trapped in King’s Landing.

“Where did those come from?” he asks, and sits down on Jon’s other side. Jon looks away from the bard, with wide eyes, before he smirks.

“The kitchens. Why not enjoy them?” Jon takes a bite of the cake, before he continues, “I haven’t had a good lemon cake since I left home.”

Robb, without ceremony, steals a bit of the cake, and tosses it into his mouth. A burst of acid, and then sweetness, hits his tongue. He hasn’t had anything that tastes this good in ages. He ignores Jon’s putout look, and teasingly says, “Is our cooking not good enough for you? What do you eat down in Dorne?”

“Not as much chicken and rabbit,” Jon answers, his tone sarcastic, while he guards his plate as Robb attempts to steal another piece. “We like variety, in our meals.”

“You could always eat dirt,” Dacey says, playfully slapping the back of Jon’s head. He scowls at her, his hand coming up fast to fix his curls, and Robb takes the opportunity to steal the rest of the lemon cake.

“Thieves,” Jon mutters, before he tosses the empty plate to the ground, and picks up his ale. Smalljon Umber is immersed in listening to the bard, and barely pays them any attention.

Their legs are pressed close together, and Robb is hyper aware of the fact that he only needs to move a scant inch and his hand will be on Jon’s thigh. One of the soldiers offers him an ale, with a respectful “Your Grace,” and an awed look in his eyes, which Robb gratefully accepts. Behind the bard, a man with an instrument is playing with the strings, tuning it.

“Shouldn’t you be planning another attack, Your Grace ?” Jon asks, saying his title mockingly. One day, Robb will get him to stop that, since he knows that Jon is just doing it to get to him. Still, it would be nice, to hear his own name come out of Jon’s mouth.

“In the morning,” he answers, “So don’t get too drunk.” If this were Theon, he’d warn him not to pick up too many whores, maybe quip something about diseases and sores. Before he’d met Jon, he’d heard about how Oberyn Martell’s son’s sexual appetites were not much different than his father’s—Theon had even mentioned rumors about a tryst with his own cousin—but he hasn’t seen Jon with anyone since he’d arrived. Given that they’d been spending a lot of time together, he’s reasonably sure Jon’s not been sneaking off with anyone.

You don’t want him to sleep with anyone, a voice in his head whispers.

“Hah!” Smalljon says, joining the conversation. “Like these weak ales will get any of us fuzzy-headed.”

“Speak for yourself,” Jon answers, and takes a sip of his own ale. The Dornish can drink, but they prefer wine to ale, and Smalljon is built like an ox, big and tall, while Jon is leaner. There’s a flush to his cheeks, and his eyes are a bit hazy, and Robb wonders how long they’ve been at it.

The music starts, as the instrument is strung, and a group of women sitting around the fire get up, and begin to dance. Some of the soldiers get up as well, and join them. Smalljon laughs, offering his hand to Dacey Mormont. Were this any other highborn lady, he might have been scorned, since ladies did not normally join in such spontaneous, campfire dancing. His younger sister, Sansa, would not have, though Arya, if she’d cared for dancing, might have.

Dacey makes a play of turning him down, but he heaves her up by the hand, and leads her around the fire. Jon laughs, clapping his hands, as the two men watch them crash into other dancers, unconcerned with rhythm. Robb laughs as well, because it's nice to see them happy, even if it’s only for a night. It’s been too long since any of them had anything to really be joyous of.

“Are you going to dance, Your Grace?” Jon asks. Robb watches as his tongue darts out, to lick a few droplets of ale off of his mouth, tracing the lines of his pouty lips.

“No,” he says, before he adds, “it’s Robb, Jon.” He likes dancing well enough, and he’s good at it—Alys Karstark, as well as other highborn ladies, never complained—but he has no desire to move along to the beat with any of the women dancing. There’s a woman with black curls, dancing with a redhaired, a few feet away from them. Robb briefly entertains the fantasy of grabbing Jon’s hands, and lifting him up, spinning him around the way that the soldier is spinning around his black-haired companion. Jon’s a man, however, and even as a King, there are some things that Robb can’t do.

“What is dancing like, in Dorne?” Robb asks. Dorne is a part of Westeros, but like the North and their customs based off the First Men, many of the Dornish ways remain traditionally Rhoynish, their culture from before they’d bent the knee to the Targaryens. Their line of succession ran different than anywhere else in the realm, and although bastards in the North are not treated as scornfully as in the South, the Dornish scarce seem to care about birth at all, or so it seems. Their lands, their food, even the way they experienced winter; it was unfamiliar, and foreign, and sometimes he felt like Jon came from a different world altogether.

“Much like this,” Jon says, inclining his head towards the dancers. He hasn’t moved away, and they’re sitting closer than they ever have. If Jon gets deeper in drink, Robb thinks that perhaps he might pass out, and his head would hit Robb’s shoulder. “A few other types of dances. Not as stiff as the ones in the capital, I don’t believe. People hold each other close, make sure their hips touch.”

Jon smiles, and his tone goes low, sultry, when he continues, “Partners should feel the movement of each other’s bodies. A dance is like a fight, Your Grace, and you need to anticipate how your partner will move, or else it fails. Chest to chest, hip to hip, it's a truer form of dancing.”

“Robb,” the redhead says, again, a bit breathless. His heart is beating hard, almost as if he’s dancing, and not sitting on a log drinking ale. The music is pounding a beat inside his head, and it's blocking out the sounds and sights of the rest of the camp. The dancers almost fade from view, as he stares at Jon, who is downing the rest of the mug. A few locks of his hair have fallen into his eyes, and he stares back at Robb, as he finishes.

Do men and men dance together, in Dorne? The question is on the tip of his tongue, and the desire to know if Dorne is that different, is burning in his mind. Yet, how can it really be? Although the rumors about Oberyn Martell are not really rumors, but fact, that doesn’t mean much. Everyone in Westeros knows that Renly Baratheon loves what the Seven consider the wrong side of the sheets, and he’s still a high lord, yet no one sees anything indiscreet in the Stormlands.

He opens his mouth, and he doesn’t know if it's to be bold, and ask Jon the question in his mind, or if it's to say that they should retreat, go back to his tent, and talk, in some place where he can hear the brunette with nothing blocking him.

Before he can say anything, Dacey Mormont and Smalljon return, with red cheeks and happy faces. They sit down, with mugs of ale in their hands, produced from someplace that Robb needs to find because his own mug is empty, and he suddenly feels the need to get completely and utterly smashed. He asks Smalljon where it is, and offers to get Jon one, at the same time that Dacey asks the brunette to dance.

“I would love another,” Jon answers to Robb, before he turns to Dacey and holds out his hand. Robb weaves his way through the crowd, and almost gets hit a few time as women are spun, but makes his way to where barrels of ale are sitting, and pours himself, then Jon, a mug. The crowd is thick, and lively, and all around the campfire is burning, meat is being roasted on spits, and his soldiers are living their lives.

In the morning, Robb will call a meeting of his bannermen, to discuss further plans and attacks. In the morning, his soldiers will return to being soldiers, fighting and battling for their country, and their King. Tonight, though, he thinks, as he makes his way back to Jon—who’s doing something complicated with his hips as he dances with Dacey— right now, I can be a boy again. Just for tonight.



 

The sun is out, bright and shining, the next day. There are bodies piled, near the castle itself; a few of the men Northerners, but most of them Lannister men, casualties of the battle. They’ll all to be given burials, even the enemy, because King Robb refuses to leave men out to rot. Jon’s head is pounding as he makes his way to the large tent where a table has been set up for the war council.

Lord Umber, as well as his son, both nod at him when he walks in, and sits down at the end of the table. Robb is there, dressed in full armour, the clothes making him look more in control, more commanding. Lady Mormont sits next to Jon, and she passes him a glass of water.

“To get rid of the ringing in your head,” she says, with a smirk. He looked at himself in the mirror this morning, and he knows he’s not a pleasant sight at the moment. He’d slept maybe two, three hours, and it shows. His hair is a bit rumpled, and he’s lucky that his clothes are not on backwards. He can’t even imagine what he smells like, either, with the sweat of several days travel, as well as last night’s revelry, plastered on his skin.

They should really bring along more baths, he thinks, as he sips the water. After the last man, Lord Glover, slips in, Robb stands up, to call the meeting to order. There’s a map set up on the table, as well as several wooden and metal pieces, placed in various spots.

This isn’t the first time he’s sat on King Robb’s War Council, even if he hadn’t been allowed to fight. He’d been present at a few of the meeting already, at King Robb’s behest, and he’s seen the lightning way King Robb’s mind moves. He admires it, and the more he sees him, the more he understands the Northerners desire to place a boy of eighteen name days on a throne. Uncle Doran has a strategic mind, and he never lets everyone in on all his secrets, but he’s calm, and patient, whereas King Robb works quickly, taking opportunities when they present themselves, yet always with a great amount of thought to how they’ll play out. There’s something refreshing in that.

“We will take the Crag next,” King Robb says, pointing to where it is on the map. “It’s gate is going to be a problem, so we’ll have to batter it down.”

Jon chews on his bottom lip, and looks to King Robb at the same time that Lord Glover says, “We’ll be vulnerable to their arches.”

“I know,” King Robb says, leaning forward, palms planted on the table. He looks up, a brief second where their eyes connect, before he looks to all the other men, and women, in the room. “That’s why we attack them at night.”

Well, Jon thinks, that’s new. Attacking at night is unheard of; it’s like attacking a guest in your home, one that has partaken of your bread and salt. They expect that they are safe, and secure, and that the law, and the gods, will protect them in their vulnerability. It’s deplorable, to many, but Jon sees it for the clever tactic that it is. With the element of surprise on their hands, the Northerners have the advantage. It’s a plan that his own father would approve of.  

The meeting continues, with it being decided that the camp will move, a few miles away, and men will stay behind to watch the prisoners, especially Jaime Lannister. They discuss where a few independant forces should be sent, or if they should be sent. Dorne’s aid is not requested, yet, and Jon wonders if his companions have even gotten home yet. It's only been a few weeks, after all, and sailing from the Riverlands to Dorne takes time.

When the meeting is done, King Robb comes up to stand next to him, as he watches soldiers stumble around in a daze, hungover from drink and women. “You will come with me to the Crag,” the redhead says, face smooth and remote; a perfect royal mask, when he gives commands. “I’m sorry, for dragging you about all over the realm.”

Jon shakes his head, and replies, “It’s too be expected, Your Grace.” The other man shoots him a narrow-eyed look. “Besides, my father has dragged me around the Free Cities. A few places in Westeros are nothing compared to that.”

Robb nods, before he angles his body so that he’s looking directly at Jon. “Your uncle, what would he say about my methods?”

“Does it matter?” Jon asks, a bit confused. Robb doesn’t seem like the type to feel shame in his tactics. Yet, he can’t understand any other reason that Robb would care. Eddard Stark had been a man of honor, a man who always did the right thing, according to the law, and he’d lost his head for it. His son might be doing things a bit underhanded, but that didn’t matter, what matters is that they worked.

“I have made an alliance with your country,” the other man answers, “so I need to know if they will back me, in my decisions.”

“They will back you, as much as it suits them,” Jon says, trying to think of what to answer. His Uncle Doran is more underhanded than he likes to let on, even if he plays nice with the Lannisters, Jon knows there are plans and spies, that Doran Martell proclaims to not have. And Oberyn Martell has never been lauded as an honorable man. Everyone in Westeros knows just who, and what, his father is. “As long as your goals align with theirs, you have nothing to worry about.”

Robb looks at him, and his face is almost sad, when he says, “What if a day comes when they don’t?” Commanders lose men in armies to disagreements all the time, is what is left unsaid. Robb’s blue eyes look at him unflinching, and Jon knows what he’s not asking.

Will you betray me, like you warned me men would? How fast would your family turn on me, if you leave?

Jon’s only know him for a few weeks. He shouldn’t feel a twist in his gut, or a prick at his conscience, at the idea of leaving the King in the dust. He might not be legitimate, but he’s been raised to consider what is best for his family. His Uncle and his father burned to avenge the death of Elia Martell, he knew that, but could Robb give them that?

“No matter what,” he says, breaking the silence, “my family will get their revenge. As long as you oppose the Lannisters, and keep to your end, you can expect help from them.”

“Of course,” Robb answers. They stand, quietly watching birds fly across the blue sky, for a few minutes, and Jon wonders what the other man is thinking. Is he thinking of his home, the different trees, and the different sky, as Jon often did? His sisters? Or his mother, who still hadn’t arrived back from the disbanding of Renly Baratheon’s army.

“My brother, Bran,” Robb says, abruptly, “he loved to climb things. Before his accident.” His blue eyes are turned towards the castle which, while not tall , is still an impressive structure. Jon thinks of Dorea, his sister who likes to climb trees and swing from their branches, and how sad she’d be if she couldn’t.

“My Uncle Doran,” he says, “gout screwed up his legs. He can’t walk,” he glances to Robb, and then back at the sky, “like your brother Bran. He’s got a chair, it's wheeled, and it helps him get around. So he’s not stuck in bed.”

Robb’s brow furrows, but Jon cuts him off before he can speak. “I can write to him. Ask him, if one can be made for your brother. As part of our arrangements.”

It takes a moment, or two, before Robb answers, with a smile. “He’d like that.”

Jon makes a noise that serves as an affirmation, before he says, “I think I might go lie down, if we’re not heading out yet. Still knackered from last night.” He takes a deep breath, taking in the scent of leftover spilled blood, and the mixture of plants and flowers surrounding them. “If that’s alright with you, Robb?”

Robb smiles, a flash of satisfaction in his eyes as the name spills from Jon’s lips. “Go right ahead.”

Jon walks away, and makes his way back to his tent. This bed is different from the one before, smaller and less comfortable, but he doesn’t care much. Ghost is curled up on the edge of it, too lazy to rise with Jon, and he swings his arms around the direwolf’s middle as he crawls onto the mattress, pressing his face into the pillow. His last thought before sleep claims him is about how much Robb deserves a break.

Chapter Text

The sun is shining as Robb makes his way around the camp, stopping to talk and joke with some of his men as he does so. It’s a new spot, with parts of it still being set up, and Robb is dressed in his armor as he looks around. He stops, and smiles, when he sees Jon sitting on a log, deep in thought with a letter in front of him. It’s been a few days, and Robb has barely been able to speak to him more than a couple of times since the initial siege of the Crag.

He stands there for a few moments, watching Jon’s quill move across the parchment. The sun is hitting his black curls, highlighting it almost dark brown , and Ghost is resting next to him, head on top of Jon’s boot. He’s straddling the log, one leg swung over it and obscured from Robb’s view, while the other moves almost restlessly, displacing the direwolf’s head every few seconds. Each time, Ghost shoots him a look of annoyance, but doesn’t bother to move. Although Theon had half-raised Ghost along with Robb since the day the direwolf pups had been found—he’d even given him his name—it's now second nature to see Jon with Ghost by his side. It’s as if they have always been together, and Robb can’t even imagine trying to separate the two.

Almost as much as I can’t imagine Grey Wind without his brother, he thinks, contemplatively.

He shakes himself out of those depressing thoughts, and makes his way over. “Jon,” he says, when he gets there. The brunette turns, tearing his eyes away from his letter, as he approaches.

Jon smiles, and puts his quill down into the ink jar, before he says, “Your Grace.”

“Robb,” Robb answers, raising one eyebrow. “You called me it the other day. Surely I’ve earned the use of my actual name from you, by now?”

Jon laughs as he stands, rolling the parchment up in his hands as he does so. “At certain times.”

Robb looks away from him for a second, to study their new camp. There’s rolling green hills, as far as the eye can see, as well as a few trees. It’s a pretty spot, with a watchtower in the distance, and he’s made sure to place a few of his guards and best bowmen up there. “Is your tent set up?” he asks.

“Yes,” Jon answers, with a shrug. Robb doesn’t blame him for wanting to be out in the sun. It’s a warm day, and he feels a bit trapped in his armor, a cage of steel that is hot and muggy, causing sweat to bead underneath his tunic. Jon is not dressed in armor, although he’s still dressed in a cloak. Not for the first time, Robb wonders about Dorne, and living in a place where the sight of snow is rare. Jon looks around, too, before he continues, “It’s next to yours, I believe. This time. Was that your doing?”

Robb laughs, and looks to Jon. The sight of the teasing smirk on his face is no surprise, rather, it's become a bit of a goal for Robb, to make the other man smirk in amusement. “Not this time, I’m afraid. My bannerman must be conspiring against me. Are you going to tell your father that?” he asks, gesturing to the letter. His mind flashes back to another letter he’d received recently from Oberyn Martell, threatening death if any harm comes to his son while he is at their camp. Given everything that happened to Elia Martell, Robb can’t blame the man for being worried. Still, he’d kept that raven a secret from his bannerman since he didn’t need them stirring up the new alliance.

Jon nods, and purses his lips, fixing his face into a serious expression when he answers, “Oh yes. Dear Uncle Doran, and Father. The King in the North has once again made camp. As usual,” he gestures towards the grass, and then to the sky, “it's outside, surrounded by dirt. My tent has been placed close to his,” his tongue darts out to lick his bottom lip, and there’s a wicked glint in his eyes before he says, “I think he means to use me for unsavory purposes. If you love me—”

Robb steps forward, eyes wide, to grab the letter, but Jon moves back swiftly, laughing, his arm around his stomach. “—then you will rescue me from this frigid cold.”

Robb steps forward, arm outstretched, not sure if he wants to tackle Jon, and wrestle the letter out of his hands, tickle him like he would Arya, or Sansa, or Bran, and hear him laugh, or if he should reach up, and sweep the curls that shadow Jon’s eyes out of his face.

Robb raises his eyebrows, and pouts. “I don’t think Ghost will care for it, if you leave this—what did you say?—frigid cold.” Ghost lifts his head up and snorts, and he knows that the direwolf is one-hundred percent in agreement with him. Jon looks at him, and mutters a quick traitor, before he hands the letter he’d been writing to Robb.

“My uncle will not refuse to help your brother,” he says. His smile is small, but its compassionate, and Robb swallows as he reaches out to take it. He thinks about Bran, who will never be able to walk again, but maybe now he’ll be able to move .

“Thank you,” he says, and there’s only an inch or two between them now. He smiles, “It’s been a while. If you’re not busy, perhaps tonight, we could play a game of cyv —” he starts to ask, before the sound of his name, in a familiar voice he hasn’t heard in too long, interrupts them.

He turns, and sees his mother standing behind him. She’s smiling softly, and dressed in a long, blue cloak with her red hair in a braid—the hue that’s just a little bit lighter than his—and there is a tall, short haired woman in armor next to her. “Mother,” he says, and the relief he feels seeing her, knowing that she’s arrived safe, and unharmed, fills his entire body, and it breaks out into a smile. He rushes forward, and wraps his arms around her, holding her close. He’s taller than her, and bigger now, but as he hugs her, he feels like a child again, for a minute or two, warm and at home .

As he pulls away, he turns to look at Jon, and sees his mother also glance at him, curious. He smiles as he says, “Mother, this is Jon Sand, Prince Oberyn Martell’s son.” He puts his hand on his mother’s back, moving forward. Her eyes have widened, and she’s staring at Jon with a look that Robb can’t quite decipher. There’s shock there, and no small amount of it, but also something else—something stronger. “He’s here as an emissary. Dorne has offered us an alliance, against the Lannisters, should we have need of it.”

Jon shuffles a bit in place, clearly uncomfortable with the way that Robb’s mother is looking at him, before he bends at the waist, and says, “Lady Stark.”

Catelyn swallows, and it's a moment or two before she answers, with a small movement of her head. “Jon...Sand.”

The back of Robb’s neck itches, and he feels like something is crawling under his skin, as he studies the way his mother is scrutinizing Jon; and there’s no doubt that she is scrutinizing him. Her eyes are sweeping across Jon’s face, taking time to study him. She doesn’t look displeased, or disgusted, so Robb does not think it's because Jon is the illegitimate child of Oberyn Martell, although his mother, like many Southerners, holds a deeper distaste for bastards then either the Northerners, or the Dornish, do.

Shit, Robb thinks, his heartbeat hammering in his chest, and if it could, the organ might burst its way out of his body and up through his armor. What if Mother knows, what if she can see it, my feelings for him? She was the one to broker the deal with the Freys, which promised him to one of Walder Frey’s daughters, and she was a devout believer in the Seven. The Old Gods, the weirwood trees his father had prayed to, their rules were not so strict. Customs were based on tradition, not law, in the North, but his mother, as much as she had embraced her marriage country, was still a Southerner in many ways.

Nothing has happened, he thinks, but it's followed by the realization that nothing merely means not yet. Jon bites his lip, and looks as if he desperately wants to be anywhere else but here.

Finally, after an eternity, Catelyn smiles and says, “Forgive me, Jon. Its rare, to see a man from—Dorne—so far from home. Your family must miss you.” Ghost comes up, to stand next to Jon, as she finishes her statement, and for a minute, or two, Robb thinks that the direwolf is staking a claim . Catelyn looks to the direwolf, and her eyebrows go up, for a second, and then she goes back to staring at Jon’s face.

“Yes, Lady Stark,” he replies, and Robb watches as his hand clenches into a fist, tight around the fabric of his breeches. “It’s to be expected though, we offered our help.” He glances to Robb before he continues, “I’ll see you at the meeting later. My Lady,” he inclines his head towards Robb’s mother, and then nods at Robb. “Your Grace.”

They stand there for a few minutes, and watch as Jon walks away. His mother looks at Robb with a queer expression as they turn; it’s half a smile, and half sadness. His mother’s armored companion is still standing where she has been the entire time, at attention, and stone-faced. They turn, and begin to walk, moving away from the busy hustle and bustle of the camp.

“I missed you,” he says, and his arm sweeps out before it falls, an almost aborted attempt to embrace his mother again.

“Yes,” she answers, “You look positively forlorn.” She looks around at the camp, and there is approval in her eyes as she takes it all in.

“You surprised me, is all,” he replies. The force of his mother’s companions boots crunch leaves on the ground behind them, as they walk. “I didn’t think I’d see you today.”

He hasn’t been sure where his mother even was, after Renly Baratheon died, and with the way the camp is moving around, he’d been worried if she was going to find them or not. His mother is cleverer than he gave her credit for, in his more anxious moments, however.

She looks to him, with a curious expression on her face. “How long has Jon Sand been here, Robb?”

His brow furrows, and his feet slow as he circles around to look at her. He stands there, not sure what to say. His mother should know about the alliance, of course, but he knows, instinctively, that her query has nothing to do with Dorne’s help.

“Two months or so,” he answers, staring at her. He presses his lips firmly together, before he says, “He’s been helpful, Mother. And I’ve taken every precaution.” Perhaps she believes that he is blind to the risks his alliance with Dorne brings.

“Of course,” she says, and her face looks sad , for a moment. It’s the same expression she’d had when Arya was sick with the pox as a child, or those long days and nights of waiting for Bran to wake up. It’s there, and then it's gone, and when Robb blinks, her expression has smoothed out. “You two look close.”

Robb nods, humming. “He’s—he’s a good friend.” His mother’s eyebrows raise, and Robb resists the urge to swallow. He can’t shake the feeling that his mother knows , that she can tell, and he has the urge to run and hide, which he hasn’t had around his mother since he was ten and hid from spankings in the Godswood.

“And he’s Oberyn Martell’s son?” she asks, with an odd lilt to her voice. Confused, Robb nods, because he knows that’s how he introduced him, and his mother is not usually the type to forget details about family names or children. “Has he said who his mother is?”

It’s an odd question, for his mother to ask. No one else has been very interested, besides Robb, in learning who Jon’s mother is. It didn’t really matter, after all, to most of the Northerners. Jon was here because of who his father was, not whoever his mother had been. Still, she’s looking at him expectantly.

“He doesn’t know,” he says. Her mouth twists, and Robb oddly thinks it looks like triumph and disdain, as it forms into a frown. “Does that matter?”

“Hmmmm?” she says, and she looks distant now, and contemplative. Although the thought twists his belly as he has it, razor sharp, he wonders if his mother thinks that Jon, a motherless child, is not good enough for him to even be friends with. He brushes it aside, because he can’t—he doesn’t— believe that his mother has those kind of thoughts. She’d never discouraged his friendship with Theon, even if she’d distrusted his family name. “No,” she says finally, after a long pause where they stand, awkward and tense, “it doesn’t.”

“I’ll see you at the meeting?” he says, the desire to escape suddenly all he can feel. She nods, lost in her own thoughts, and the expression on her face has become livid now. He nods to his mother’s unknown companion as he passes, who bows respectfully, and he leaves her, to go set up the meeting for tonight. He’s a coward, he knows, to run away from his mother even though she’s just arrived, but he can’t shake the crawling feeling under his skin, that his mother knows all of the romantic (and dirty, his mind whispers), fantasies that play out in his head around Jon.



 

His bannermen are sitting around, and the moon is up in the sky, when the ground beneath Robb’s feet becomes unsteady, and quakes where he stands, with a crown on his head. His mother’s face is white, and it's like she’s hearing about Father’s death all over again, while around the table people sit in various states of anger, or shock, or both. Jon’s at the end of the table, but Robb avoids his gaze, his fingers gripping the table so hard he thinks it might shatter. A part of him wishes it would, but even more of him wishes that the table under his assault right now would shift, and become Theon Greyjoy’s face.

“This can not be true,” he says, as if denying it will make the words disappear. His best friend—how could he? The words cannot even register in his own mind, he can’t picture it, or see it. He feels numb, and he stares at Lord Bolton who sits at the end of the table, his cold eyes giving nothing away.

I’m winning, he wants to say, I’m winning this war. I’ve got the Kingslayer as my prisoner. Now this, he thinks, asking himself what more the gods can take?

“We’ve had ravens from White Harbor, Barrowtown, and the Dreadfort,” Lord Bolton says, and raises his eyebrows. “I’m afraid it is true.”

Lord Karstark growls, and his face is red with anger. “Shouldn’t have expected any different from the spawn of ‘ King’ Balon Greyjoy. Your father should have cast the boy to the dogs.” Out of the corner of his eyes, Robb sees a few of his men, including Lady Mormont, nodding in agreement.

“Why?” he asks, looking at the map of Westeros on the table. “Why would Theon—”

“Because the Greyjoy’s are treasonous whores,” Lord Bolton answers, before words, and thoughts, before even comprehension, can finish forming.

“Aye,” Lord Umber says, and there’s a loud bang, and the table shakes, as he thumps his fist against the wood.

“My brothers?” he asks, because even if Theon has stolen his castle, surely he wouldn’t have hurt his brothers? Theon had been the one to find Bran, broken and unconscious, and had vowed revenge against the Lannisters with him. He’d been there when they were born, held them when they cried.

“We’ve heard nothing of them,” Bolton answers. Robb wishes he’d never sent Theon to the Iron Islands. He wants to scream, he wants to upend the table, he wants to march back home and drag Theon out of Winterfell by his hair, but he’s a King and wishes don’t come true, and neither do desires.

His mother sighs heavily, behind him, right before Bolton tells them that Rodrik Cassel, a man that’s been loyal to their family since before he was born, is dead. Silence falls, for a moment or two.

Robb looks down, his mouth open, but no words come out. Lord Karstark, however, has plenty of words. “Never trust a Greyjoy! They’ve all been just waiting, stewing on their stinking island.”

His mother said something similar, when he’d told her he was sending Theon to his father, but Robb waved it off, because Theon was not a Greyjoy, not really. Not the boy who’d slept next to him on the nights when winter froze the skin from their bones, or the one who cajoled him to join him in the brothels. Not the boy who’d held Ghost as a pup and helped feed him, or held him back from smashing in Joffrey’s face.

She’s right, he thinks, as the realization dawns that this is not a dream. His bannerman are nodding, and making loud noises of agreement. He looks to Jon, whose gaze lingers on him. He’s silent, a foreigner sitting among Northerner matters, but his eyes are sympathetic, and Robb knows that he, at least, understands.

Bolton’s eyes flick to his mother, then back to Robb. He crumples up the letter in his hand, before he says, “I must go North at once.” He pushes away from the table, walking around the protesting lords. Even Jon’s eyes widen, before Lord Bolton stands in front of him, blocking his way.

“There is still a war to win, Your Grace,” he says.

“How can I call myself King if I can’t hold my own castle?” Robb says, and it's almost a yell. Father never raised his voice, never, but the anger that’s now churning inside him wants to erupt. He looks down, and is not shocked to see that he’s standing next to Jon.

Was this what you warned me about, he wants to ask, but knows that’s folly. A King should always expect betrayal. The Mad King thought the men who’d given him oaths were loyal, and he’d been stabbed in the back for it. He looks back up, before he continues, “How can I ask men to follow me if I can’t—”

“Now wait a minute,” Lord Umber says, interrupting him, “we’ll never abandon you, Your Grace.”

“Let us deal with it,” Lady Mormont says, her voice dark, and her right fist is gripping the hilt of her sword tight. Within moments, every bannerman in the room has offered to take a contingent of men and go North.

His mother walks up to him, her face desperate. “Let me go and talk to Theon.” Robb wants to laugh because so far, the only ones who haven’t offered to deal personally with his former friend, while Robb sits here languishing on his arse, are the gods, and Jon.

“There will be no talk,” he says, voice tight and angry. “He will die for this.” There’s no disagreement with that, of course, though Robb hardly expected that there would be.

“Theon holds the castle with a skeleton crew,” Lord Bolton says, and Robb looks to him. “Let me send word to my bastard at the Dreadfort. He can raise and retake Winterfell before the new moon. We have the Lannisters on the run. If you march all the way back North now, you lose what you gained.”

He loses Sansa, and Arya, and the chance to avenge his father’s murder. He loses the North.

“My boy would be honored to bring you Prince Theon’s head,” Lord Bolton continues.

He can’t afford to send any of his bannerman, he needs them for the battles down here. The Martell’s can’t help with this, their value lay in their ships, and in the secrecy of their alliance. Beyond that, Jon’s family were simply too far, and this was not their fight.

“Tell your son that Bran and Rickon’s safety is paramount,” Robb says, because his brothers are innocent, and because if something happens to them, and if he dies, what will happen to all the North’s gained? It’s cold, and pragmatic, but it's an undisputable fact. “And Theon,” he continues, the words coming out animalistic, as if Grey Wind and Ghost are inside his vocal cords, “I want him brought to me alive. I want to look him in the eye and ask him why.”

He breathes in, once, then twice. He snarls as he says, “And then I’ll take his head myself.”

The candles flicker, and the bannermen file out. His mother stands there, uncertain, but Robb can’t look at her right now. If he does, he’ll cry. If he does, he’ll have to be strong. He purses his lips, and tells her that he’ll visit her later. His mother is strong, and capable, and probably breaking inside, but she doesn’t let that show on her face. She nods, and leaves. When everyone is gone, Robb picks up a decanter of wine, and wonders if he should bother with a glass.



 

Jon looks up from the book he’s reading, some tome on the old Kings in the North, when the flap of his tent is pushed up and Robb stumbles in, eyes bright and hazy. His curls are messy, as if he’s been running his fingers through them in frustration, which Jon figures he has, and he stares at him, silent and searching for a minute.

“Robb,” he says, shutting his book and placing it down on the bed. This new tent is a bit smaller, since the one he’d been occupying before’s been given to Lady Stark, but the bed is a much easier place to sit than a wooden chair. There’s a few candles still burning, but most of the flames have flickered out, they’ve been burning so long. Jon is cross-legged, and there’s a glass of wine in his lap, but he’s nowhere near as far gone as Robb is.

He has a right to be, Jon thinks, remembering the betrayed anger and grief on the other man’s face.

Robb steps forward into his tent, and stands close to the bed, lingering for a minute. Jon shifts, patting the spot next to him, and Robb collapses, laying back for a second, before he pushes up with his elbows so that he’s sitting. His hands are shaking, whether from drink or from stress, Jon doesn’t know, and up close, his eyes are rimmed red.

“Most Kings,” Robb says, as he clenches his fist into the comforter, “They’re taught how to be Kings. They grow up as Princes, learn about their realms, and how to deal with lords, and smallfolk, and priests, and all manner of things.” Jon nods, and thinks about his own education, and how it had been the same as his cousins, even though he wasn’t a Prince, not really. “I didn’t grow up a Prince. My father was the Lord of Winterfell, and his father before him, for centuries. And now—” Robb swallows, shoulders shaking, and Jon reaches out and places his hand on them. “—I have lost my ancestor’s castle, the seat of my family.” He laughs, bitter and broken.

“No man’s ever taught to deal with a situation such as this,” Jon says, and makes sure that he doesn’t look away from Robb’s face. “Not even a King.”

“I have to take off his head,” he whispers, the words almost lost over the roar of wind outside. “My own friend’s head. I’ve seen my father behead traitors, and deserters. I’ve killed men in battle.” Robb closes his eyes, as his entire body shudders. “Yet the thought of what I must do, how much he deserves it, I—”

“You still love him,” Jon says. Uncle Doran still talked of Prince Rhaegar with fondness, sometimes, before he remembered the slights to his sister Elia. “His actions now, that’s not the past. Those memories aren’t going to go away overnight.”

He shifts, and impulsively, without thought, grabs Robb’s hand. Robb looks to him, and his eyes are glistening with tears that he’s probably been holding back all night. “It’s alright,” Jon whispers, as he squeezes the hand in his gently, “whatever you’re feeling, it’s alright. Feel it.”

There’s a hitch, and then a moan, before Robb’s head flops down, bringing both of his hands, including the one Jon is still holding, to his face. He doesn’t let go, as the tears fall, wet and smooth, down Robb’s chin, over his neck, then around Jon’s wrist, as he sobs. Jon’s not a stranger to tears, his sister Dorea cries at the sight of a dead animal, and so he reaches out, and holds the other man closer. At some point, Robb shifts, and his head moves onto Jon’s shoulder, and even though they’re sitting, it feels like he’s holding the redhead up.

Eventually, his shoulders stop shaking, and his voice comes out, hoarse and low when he says, “He betrayed me.”

“Yes,” Jon answers, because what else can he say? He’d warned Robb about this, himself, though it had not been about Greyjoy in specific. Commanders, and Kings, and all manner of noble men, they should expect betrayal, especially in war. He’d seen Robb then as a green boy, one who’d been lucky, but didn’t know the harsh reality of what he was getting into. Since then, he’d come to realize he’d been wrong, because Robb Stark was smarter, and more capable, than most people Jon has met.

“My father would not have felt this way,” Robb said, pulling away. There’s tear tracks on his cheeks, and his eyes are sore, and puffy. “He’d have done his duty, and would not have even considered thinking twice.”

“You’re not your father.”

Robb’s breath is hot, and sour from the wine he’s consumed, and Jon can feel it brush against his lips, and his cheeks, before it ghosts over his eyelashes. The redhead’s blue eyes are clear, the burst of emotion washing away the intoxication of drink, and he stares back at Jon, eyes fixating on his lips. Jon swallows, and thinks of a million reasons that he doesn’t care about why he can’t do what he wants to do.

“No,” Robb answers, “I’m not.” A moment, then another, before Jon thinks fuck it, and moves at the same time that the redhead does, and then they’re kissing. It’s rough, and fast, and Robb tastes like salt, and sweet, acidic wine, and there’s a bit of teeth that scrape against his bottom lip, before he pulls away.

Robb’s mouth is open, his eyes wide, and Jon drinks in the sight of his flushed face, before he says, “Not tonight.”

The redhead looks confused, and his eyebrow raises. “What?”

“Not tonight ,” Jon whispers, “Not right now.”

He pulls back, and reaches up to fix his hair. His own face is red, he knows, because he can feel the heat on his cheeks, and on his neck. He hasn’t felt this much for someone since he was thirteen and chasing Allyria Sand around the Water Gardens. She’d been the daughter of a scullery maid, impish and bright, and she’d taken him next to a lemon tree. They had three weeks together, and then it fizzled.

Jon doesn’t know what he feels for the man beside him, but he knows that he wants him, more than he wanted Allyria Sand, or anyone else who's come after her. He wants to see him smile, and laugh, and watch him fight, and command his men. He wants to help him win this war. He wants to kiss the other man, and show him things he’s never done before, never heard of before, and the crushed look on Robb’s face almost makes him regret his words.

“You’ve had a fucked up day,” he says, “and this—” he gestures between the both of them, “—it's not going to help tonight.”

“I want this,” Robb says, but his mouth has lost its severe frown, and loosened.

“I know,” Jon says, because that’s not something he doubts. Robb’s promised, and while that might mean nothing to Jon, it means something to the other man, even if he’s never met his betrothed. Still, to kiss Jon, when men loving men is rarely acceptable in public outside of Dorne, and certainly not for royalty , then the other man has no qualms about what he wants. “Just not tonight.”

“You’re right,” the other man says, although his breath is still coming out in harsh gasps, and he’s still staring as if he wants to move closer. He’s seeking oblivion, right now, but he’ll regret it in the morning. “I can—I can go.”

“You don’t have to,” Jon says, even though the King spending the night in his tent would look suspicious, and cause worry in the morning. The idea of leaving him alone, however, leaves Jon a bit uneasy. “If you don’t want to.”

Robb laughs, and says, “I don’t, but I should.”  He lingers, a minute, then five, then ten. Only one or two candles are still burning, though they’re on their last dying sparks, when he leaves, walking steady, and no trace of burdens and cares that he’s carrying, or the news of today, in his bearing. Jon moans, and collapses against his pillow, looking around his empty tent (it occurs to him then, that Ghost is strangely absent), and wishes that neither of them had to be alone right now.

 

 

 

The next morning, Robb wakes up with a mouth that tastes like it’s been stuffed with smallclothes, and a pounding headache. He groans, and lifts himself out of bed, without opening his eyes. He’s not overly familiar with the feeling of being hungover, but he knows if he looks too quickly, the light will make his headache worse. He feels alongside the small table next to his bed, and hopes there’s a glass of water. His hand makes contact, and he drinks it slowly, relishing the way it gets rid of the remnants of last night.

When he opens his eyes, Grey Wind is sitting in front of the bed, staring at him. The morning has not made the revelation of Theon’s actions any easier, but his bannermen are right. He has an army to run. He needs to think about his sisters, and King’s Landing, so as much as he hates it, Winterfell must be taken back by other hands. “I’m sorry, Father,” he whispers, even though his father is not there, and can’t hear him.

He summons a servant, and breaks his fast, before his squire helps him get dressed. The sun is high in the sky when he makes his way out, opening the tent. He glances at Jon’s tent, next to his, lingering for a minute or two before he marches towards the meeting tent.  

He thinks he should feel awkward, or horrified, but he doesn’t. He feels the same as he had last night, when he threw all caution to the wind and kissed Jon. Why shouldn’t he have something that he wanted, for once? His father married for duty, and found love, and perhaps he might find that with one of the Frey’s one day, but it hardly mattered right now. All his life, Robb followed his father’s example, and never took anything that he desired for himself.

Now, he’s been stolen from, and while he knows it's not the best of motivations, the knowledge of it snapped the control he’d been holding on to around Jon since he’d come.

Later on that morning, after he has Alton Lannister thrown into a cell and placed under guard by Torrhen Karstark, he looks at the map on table, and sighs. Cersei Lannister has rejected his terms, although he’d known she would. She was an iron bitch, and not one inch of her was going to accept giving up his sister. He dreads having to tell this to his mother, after the news from yesterday, but it’s not a secret he can keep from her.  

Lord Bolton lingers, long after the rest of the men have left, and Robb wonders if this is news about the plan to have his bastard son deal with Theon Greyjoy. Before the other man can say anything, Robb sees Jon making his way to the meeting tent, Ghost, as ever, present by his side. Seeing him, Robb’s earlier confidence shifts, and he bit his lip, as his stomach flips.

“Your Grace,” Jon says, inclining his head. He narrows his eyes as he looks at Lord Bolton, “Beg your pardon, can I have a moment?”

“Of course,” Robb says, schooling his features so that he doesn’t smile. Lord Bolton excuses himself, and walks away, but not before Ghost growls, low in his throat, at the retreating man.

“How are you?” Jon asks, his hand coming up to rub at the back of his neck. His clothes are a bit rumpled, like he’d put them on while still asleep.

Robb huffs, and before he realizes it, he says, “How am I?” He looks down, and his hands clench into fists. “The man I called my best friend is holding my brothers hostage, and the Lannisters have denied my peace terms. I am no closer to getting my sisters out of King’s Landing, and now, I don’t know what is happening to my brothers. My mother has locked herself in her own tent, and I’ve lost a dozen or so men in the last siege. We’re running out of supplies to care for the wounded, the men are getting restless, and I don’t know if I should march south or north.” He stops, suddenly, and takes a deep breath of air, and even though there’s more he wants to stay, he forces himself not to. He rolls up the parchment in his hand, and moves a few steps around the table.

Although Jon doesn’t look shocked, or even upset at the outburst, Robb interrupts him before he can say anything. “Forgive me. You’re being kind. I have no right to—”

Jon holds up his hand, coming inside so that he’s not lingering where others can hear them, and says, “Yes you do. You’re a King, who’s stuck in a war, and all around you are things you can’t help, and can’t control. You’re allowed to let go of your feelings.”

Robb sighs. “That’s not the kind of King I want to be.” He wants to protect his people, make them happy, win them back their lands and their freedom, and give them something to live for.

“Having human emotions doesn’t make you a bad King,” Jon replies. He puts his hand down on the table, his fingers darting back and forth across the map. Despite himself, Robb smiles, but it falls as they both look at the map on the table.

“You’re heading to the Crag soon, to negotiate a surrender?” Jon suddenly says, half-asking, half-stating. The question startles Robb, a bit, even though he knows that Jon likely wouldn’t say anything about the night before with the risk of being overheard by any of his men.

Then again, he’s never had a problem flirting with me before in front of others, Robb thinks. However, Robb reminds himself, although in Dorne it is looked upon more tolerably than in other parts of Westeros, Jon is still an envoy for an alliance on new, and shaky, grounds. He’d have more tact.

Still, Robb couldn’t shake the sudden worry that last night happened because Jon felt sorry for him, the King whose castle was stolen by his own best friend.

“I am,” Robb says, glancing down at the map. Jon’s middle finger is tracing circles around a spot that marked where Dorne is. “It shouldn’t take that long.”

They both know he means more that there shouldn’t be a battle, after the first time, and that surrender of the castle, and arms, would ideally be quick. However, there is always the possibility that the inhabitants would choose to stand their ground, and that meant that Robb had to go prepared to the Crag.

“Will I be staying here?” Jon asks. Robb looks up, and stares into his eyes, and wishes that he could take the brunette with him, but there’s no valid reason for him too. And after Theon’s betrayal, he doesn’t want to alienate Lord Karstark and his distrust of foreigners anymore right now. He needs the North’s support if he’s going to take back his castle.

“Yes.” Robb replies, before he puts his own hand down on the map. “Smalljon will be staying as well, if you need—company.”

Jon raises an eyebrow, and that look of amusement is back. Abruptly, Robb wonders if he is an amusement to the brunette, something to pass his time with while he is forced to stay by the Northerners sides. The rumors he’d heard about Oberyn Martell’s son back at Winterfell, a lifetime ago, and the whispers from Theon Greyjoy, and a few other soldiers and bannermen, say that both Oberyn Martell, and his son, enjoy sexual flights of fancy.

What if he doesn’t feel the same, Robb thinks. There is a lot of risk, in this, and how much more can he really risk? He can’t, if it’s nothing for Jon, if maybe it's just an amusement. Flirting a bit, having fun, but once something happens, pushing him away.

“I’m sure I’ll survive, for a few days,” Jon says, and when he says it, he doesn’t look amused, but tired, and serious. “And afterwards? What then?”

He wants to march North, still. Most of him wants to look Theon in the eye, in the place where they were raised, and ask him why. Robb never treated Theon as anything less than his brother, even though the other boy was a hostage. His father took care of him, sheltered him, taught him to fight and how to be a man, and never once did Robb think that Theon harbored ill-feelings about them.

And he’d never been that power hungry.

“We’ll move on to other areas. I’m going to leave the Mormonts in charge, here, so that I know we’re not losing what we gain. I need people I can trust. I have always been able to rely on the Mormonts.” His voice is tight, as he says it, and he’s conscience of the fact that every bit of hurt that he feels is bleeding through his words.

“Yes,” Jon says, nodding in agreement. “They’re loyal.”

“Until they aren’t?” Robb says, repeating one of the first things that the brunette said to him.

Jon smiles, sadly, and shakes his head. “I doubt you’ll have to worry about them. Dacey would fall on her own sword first.”

I thought the same about Theon, Robb thinks.

He stares, without seeing, past Jon’s face, towards the right wall of the tent. When he looks back again, Jon is closer to him, almost as close as they were last night. He swallows, and his eyes dart, a tiny bit frantic, towards the soldiers outside, but no one is paying them any attention at all. It’s not any more unusual then any of their interactions have been so far, after all. At least, not to anyone else.

“Don’t die at the Crag,” Jon says, abrupt, and a bit admonishing. “Watch your back, and carry a weapon into the negotiation room with you.” In surprise, Robb’s brow raises. He wants to answer, say something else about precautions, but he stays silent because Jon isn’t smirking, or smiling, or laughing. He’s looking at him with something indescribable in his eyes.

“I don’t regret what happened last night,” he continues, even though it’s again abrupt, and direct. Robb’s mouth opens, a fraction, and his lips tingle, as if he can still feel the kiss. “If you don’t, then when you come back, we can do it again. And more, obviously.”

For a few moments, Robb says nothing. A bird singing in the distance answers Jon first, and then a soldier screaming for his boil to get fixed. His face grows hot, and it's spreading through his skin and into his stomach. His entire body feels like it's on fire. “Yes,” he says, finally, and there’s no turning back from this. “I would.”




 

Two nights after Robb leaves, Jon startles, and turns around, with a pivot of his feet, as a voice suddenly says, “May I speak with you?”

Lady Stark is hovering at the edge of his tent. Her sworn shield, Brienne of Tarth, stands behind her, at attention with her hand resting on the pommel of her weapon. Both of them wear stony expressions, though not identical. The blonde woman’s is dutiful, and alert, while Lady Stark’s is hard, her eyes searching his face.

He resists the urge to cross his arms defensively, and instead stands up straighter. The heat from the candles on the table next to him is a brief respite against the cold outside, and there is an empty plate next to it, with leftover crumbs of a hard, yellow cheese and brown bread.

He clears his throat, and tries to remember that he’s addressing not just a noble lady, but a Queen Mother. She is also a woman who’s just learned her sons are hostages in their own home, a gentle voice that sounds nothing like anyone he knows, reminds him. The hair on the back of his neck, however, is standing up, as if every nerve is on edge and shooting like lightning up through the strands. He’s tense, and uncomfortable, under her scrutinizing, the same way he’s been since he met her.

“If you desire, Lady Stark,” he says, finally, though he wants nothing more than to run. She nods, and turns to Brienne of Tarth, indicating that the woman should wait outside, before she steps in, letting the blue tent flap fall shut behind her. Her eyes dart around the room, taking in the bed that’s mildly comfortable, and the table, before they linger on Ghost. The direwolf is curled up with his head on his paws, and he pants at her, as she moves closer.

They’re standing a foot or two apart, before she finally speaks. “Why have the Martells sent you ?” There’s a pointedness to her words when she says it, and despite himself, Jon bristles. She’s a Southerner, he knows, from the Riverlands, and its known throughout the realm that they look down upon bastards more than anywhere else in the Riverlands.

So, with a snap to his own tone, he asks a question of his own, rather than give her an answer, “Have you come to warn me away from your son?” It’s less than respectful, and in that moment, Jon’s never felt more like his father; hot-headed and stubborn, and too prideful to back down, even to the point of alienation.

Her eyebrows raise up, and shock flutters across her face. “No,” she says, after a minute, “if you mean him no harm, of course.”

Jon relaxes, but only minutely. She’s still staring at him with that indecipherable look in her eyes, and if she’s going to say something, he’d prefer she lay it out in the open. The Northerners, at least, make no secret about their feelings. Lord Karstark hates him, and shows it plainly.

“I will never harm your son,” he says, and if nothing else said between them is true this, at least, is. “Nor will my family. We’ve offered our allegiance because our goals align. Your son wants to attack King’s Landing, and your family has reason to hate the Lannisters. So does mine.”

She smiles then, but it’s not kind, or compassionate. It’s bitter. “That does not answer my question.” She steps forward, closer, and then gestures to the chair, “May I sit?”

No, he wants to say, but instead tells her that she can. She’s proper as she sits, graceful even, more than any of his sisters are. Tyene falls into the chair as if she’s a gift to it, while Obara and Nymeria slump heavily. Elia only sits in saddles, when she can, and his youngest sisters refuse to sit even for meals. No, Lady Stark glides into a room, and shows her nobility and breeding with every move she makes.

He sits, as well, on the edge of the bed. Ghost is watching them, not on edge, but alert. His muscles are tense.

They sit there in tense silence for a few minutes, while he looks everywhere but at her. His eyes turn, instead, to the rip in the tent on the south side, or the stain on the roof, the empty plate and the spider crawling across it, and the grass underneath their feet. He can feel her eyes on him, and his skin tingles, buzzing with a type of awareness he’s never felt before. He bites his lip, harder than he intended, and the taste of metal is bitter against his tongue.

“I’m not here to insult you, Jon,” she says, finally. He looks up, but her expression hasn’t changed. Her red hair shines, like a halo, from the firelight. Just like her son’s, he thinks. “Just to get a feel for who you are. My son’s friends have betrayed him, after all. He does not always choose them well.”

You’re new, her eyes say, even though she doesn’t. You’re a stranger, he knows she’s thinking. In the back of his mind, he knows he’s lived a charmed life in Dorne, where people are seen as equals and their own merits are what place them in esteem. Beneath that, the biased part of him shouts the words she’s not saying. You’re a bastard.

Instead of saying any of this, however, he nods. He reminds himself that he’s the nephew of Prince Doran, as well as the son of Prince Oberyn, and that this woman is the mother of a man he respects, and admires, and even cares for more than anyone outside of his own family.

“I understand, Lady Stark,” he tells her. She nods, as well, and her hands are clasped tight. Brown freckles stand out like paint spots on her pale hands. “But tell me, please,” he continues, and he’s not sure where it's coming from, other than the inkling that it's there due to the look in her eyes, “am I going to be distrusted around your son because I am a foreigner, or because I’m a bastard?”

Even he has to admit he has a reputation, and not all of it is false. Bastards are known to be greedy, though Jon never felt like he was overly so. He’s content with what he has. What he is, though, that bastards are known for is prone to vice. If Lady Stark is even half as keen as her son, and if the rumors of his preferences have reached North, she’ll warn him away from her son. Even if they haven’t, however, the inclination for Southerners to view bastard children inherently with suspicion and scorn will still be there.

She stares at him, unflinching. “No,” she says, much to his surprise. “You might be shocked to hear this, but I don’t care how you were born.” He blinks, once, then twice, then a few more times. She smiles, then, and for the first time, there’s actual amusement there. “If you were my husband’s son, it would be a different matter. You’re not.”

Jon takes a deep breath, over the staccato beating of his heart. For once, it feels hot, and he can feel sweat beading on the back of his neck. “Forgive me, Lady Stark,” he says, “Most Southerners do not even acknowledge their bastards. And the Northerners, well, they might raise them in their homes, but they do not truly see them.”

He’s met bastard children from all over Westeros, arriving in Dorne to seek life in the Free Cities. They leave in shoddy vessels that might sell them into slavery, or dump them off in a stinking harbor somewhere. They do so for a life that sees them as people and not as Snows, or Waters, or Rivers, or any of the dozen other myriad “names” there serve for bastard children. He’s played games with them, and shared drink, and each time, he’s happier to be Dornish.

She raises an eyebrow. “And in Dorne?” There’s curiosity in her voice, and Jon knows she’s truly listening. For whatever reason, he can’t fathom, but she’s not making any attempts to rise.

“I met a girl once, from the Reach,” he says, and remembers Rosalie, with her orange hair, and her deep brown eyes, “she was the bastard daughter of one of the Tyrells, I can’t remember who.” She’d was fast, and smarter than half the people he’d met in his life. “I also knew a boy, from the North. Rodrick.” He’d had dark brown hair, and a thick beard, but a feral smile. “Also a bastard. All of us had that in common, at least.”

She nods, again, an indication she’s still listening. There’s a perplexed expression on her face, now, but also contemplation. “So, we sat together, in a tavern,” he continues, and his fingers pick at the fabric covering his knees, then at the threads of his bedsheets, “and we talked about our lives, as people deep in their cups tend to do. Rodrick said he was running away from a cold, boring life of death on The Wall, the only place a bastard can truly find glory in the North. He left, a few days later, to go to Pentos. Rosalie stayed, for a few weeks.”

An amazing few weeks. He thought the bite marks and scratches would never disappear. He shifts, and suppresses the memory, because it’s been too long since he’s had relief, and now is really not the time for his body to remember that.

A thread comes off, in his hands. “Before she left, she told me she’d grown up in the house of a wheat farmer. They’d taken her in, after her highborn father’s wife gave them money to take Rosalie off their hands. She grew up, secure in who she was, but she wanted something more, in her life, than to be a wheat farmer. So she decided to go to Braavos.”

Lady Stark purses her lips, before she asks, “What do a Snow and a Rivers tell me about Dorne?”

Jon smiles, sharply, but it falls off his face as instantly as it came. “Everything. Rodrick was raised in the castle of his family, but he was never their family. He was the outcast, the byblow of a few minutes, and though he grew up with a warm fire, and tailored clothes, and food in his belly, he hated himself, and who he was. He saw no honor in his life, no glory. Bastards, he said, could never be anything in the North. So he joined a band of sellswords. Honorless men, who fight for money, and not glory.” Jon sighs, and leans back. “Rosalie grew up with rats in the cupboards, and fingers worked down to the bone when half the product she’d produced would be sold to nobility, and more of it gone and sold. Her meals were scarce, and luxuries little. But she was never made to think she could be other than what she was. She knew who she was. And what she was, of course, was nothing much. She’s an actress, now, and a rather good one.”

“In Dorne, I was raised by my father, and his paramour. I grew up with my sisters, and my cousins, and yes, I lived in luxury. Many natural children of the highborn there are. And if I was good at something, I was promoted. I’m a good swordsman, and I’m honored for it.” He licks at the healing wound on his lip. “I’m a poor harp player. My sister threw it out the window, and since then, I’ve been banned from ever trying again unless I make their ears fall off their heads to run and hide.”

He laughs, and so does she, though it doesn’t last. The look is back on her face, but a little less sharp. It should be less unnerving, but it’s not. All of Jon’s muscles are still tense, even now.

“Does that satisfy you, Lady Stark?” he asks.

“Yes,” she says, and stands up. He stands as well, and inclines his head. “Goodnight.”

He repeats the same, and the breath that comes out when she leaves sounds like he’s been holding it in for a hundred years. He doesn’t know what it is, but he vows to avoid Robb’s mother as much as he can, if at all possible, because he feels bare, a child, laid open and analyzed under a scalpel knife, from just that small talk.

“Well, boy,” he says to Ghost, tongue wagging, “do you think I can make myself scarce around her?”

The wolf, predictably, doesn’t answer.

Chapter Text

“I’m not going far,” Robb says to the soldiers that followed him out of the camp. “I’m just going to look at the water over the ridge. I need to think for a while.” The men look uneasy, no doubt wondering if they should let their king wander off by himself in enemy territory, but it's been two days since they’ve come back from the Crag. The negotiations went smoothly, no one was stuck by an arrow outside of the gate, and Robb left the Mormonts in charge of the keep in his stead.

Eventually, they consent, and Robb grips his sword as he makes his way through the woods towards the water. A few bunnies and squirrels skitter pass him, chirping and picking up acorns and bits of food as they run. He closes his eyes as he walks, breathing in the smell of the salt water and the air, crisp and fresh, while he thinks of the night before.

When he’d arrived back at the camp, tired and dirty and in desperate need of a bath, he’d arrived to news that the Ironborn were still in his castle, and the new prison pen for Alton Lannister had still not been built. He ate dinner with his mother, but it had been awkward; there were a few prayer wheels in her tent, and her sworn sword, Brienne, stood outside so that they wouldn’t be disturbed. Several times over their cold chicken he thought his mother was about to say something, and yet she never did.

She’s hiding something, Robb thinks, but she won’t tell me what. It wasn’t like his mother to be secretive. Even when she’d gone to King’s Landing to tell his father about her suspicions concerning the Lannisters, she’d made sure to tell him. It was strange, to have his mother hold something back from him. Strange and concerning, since he could not fathom what could be so dire that she couldn’t bear to speak of it.

Jon is leaning up against a tree, cutting an apple skin away in strips, when he arrives. The sight of the water, vast and blue, spans out around him and makes him look like a tapestry hanging up in a great hall. The wind is slight, but enough to ruffle his black curls around his face, and he’s tapping his foot against the ground. Robb wonders if it's with impatience, and feels almost guilty that he hopes it is.

“It took you long enough,” Jon says, when he looks up from his fruit. “I was beginning to think you’d changed your mind.” He doesn’t sound nervous, not really, but Robb gets the feeling that Jon was more anxious about this meeting then he let on.

“You only suggested this last night,” Robb says, and reaches up to rub his neck. “I had to think of an excuse to get away from my men.” He steps closer and bites his lip. “I’m a King. It’s hard for me to find a spare minute to myself.”

Jon is wearing an overtunic in the Northern style, but his pants are the same ones that he’d arrived in when they first met. Black, and loose, and probably the type of tailoring a Dornishman thinks is appropriate for the cold, but really isn’t going to do much. If he’s cold, however, he doesn’t let on. Instead, he slices off a piece of apple and hands it to Robb.

Robb takes it tentatively, not sure what to do. He knows what he wants and he knows why Jon asked him to come here. The brunette made it abundantly clear the day before he left for the Crag. His smirk, and his nod, and the slip of paper he’d pressed into Robb’s fist the night before when he’d come back couldn’t have made it less obvious. Still, Robb feels a flutter in his belly that’s both anticipation and terror. What if I mess up, he thinks, or what if I’m the worst he’s ever had? Would Jon be able to tell he’s a virgin?

For the first time, Robb wishes he’d taken Theon’s advice and gone and gotten the deed over with in a brothel, if just so that he’d know what he was doing. He opens his mouth, not sure what to say, and then closes it again. Jon smiles, softly, and steps forward, holding out his hand. Slowly, Robb takes it and lets himself be drawn in closer.

“We don’t have to do anything here,” Jon says. “If you don’t want to.” His eyelashes are long, and sweep over his cheeks, creating shadows through the thin sunlight streaming through the tops of the trees.

Robb swallows, and replies, “I do want this.” There is no waver in his voice, nothing that indicates how nervous he is, because if there’s one thing he’s sure of, after days negotiating at the Crag, it's how much he wants this. He’d missed Jon. He missed the way the brunette smirked, and laughed, and the talks they had. Somehow, in a short amount of time, the other man integrated himself in Robb’s life as if he’d always been there; as if he was always meant to be there.

Before Jon can say anything else, Robb steps forward, pressing his lips against Jon’s. It’s different, this time. The taste of wine is gone, and instead, there’s just softness. He squeezes Jon’s hand in his, and the brunette shuffles closer, his other arm coming around Robb’s waist. Robb reaches up, and twists a curl around his finger, as they stand there, lips sliding against one another and the sound of gulls and crashing waves surrounding them.

Jon steps back, face flushed, and Robb pants a bit, taking in a deep breath. Then they’re both kissing again, and this time it’s faster, harder, more hurried. Jon’s hands are everywhere, and Robb feels his tunic loosen as the laces are undone with skilled practice. When Jon goes to remove it, it slides over his shoulders, and Robb feels the wind brush against his skin. After Jon’s own tunic is gone, Robb grabs him around the waist, sliding his fingers over the goosepimples that erupt over his back, his chest, and his arms.

“Sure this isn’t too cold out here for you?” he teases, and gets a nip on his bottom lip as a response. The rest of their clothes are gone before he knows it, and there’s going to be a bruise on his collarbone tomorrow, but then Jon is reaching down, into the pocket of his discarded pants, and handing a small vial of something to him.

It’s awkward, and he fumbles once or twice, but Jon is patient. They laid down their cloaks on the ground so dirt won’t coat their skins, mouths never leaving one another. His forearms hit tree roots every time one of them moves, and the faster they move, the more they shift up and down over the ground, displacing the fabric. There’s a twig stuck in Jon’s curls, and Robb’s knees ache from the force of their movements, as well as the ground, but that doesn’t matter when he swallows the sounds the brunette is making with his lips.

After, his breathing harsh, but his body loose and sated in ways that he’s never felt before, he flips over, laying on his back to look at the sky. Jon laughs and traces circles around his stomach, kissing his ear lobe. “You going to die on me, King in the North?” he asks, his voice raspy, and breathless.

Robb laughs, as he sees one of Jon’s hands attempting to grab the cloaks under them so that he can burrow his naked body like a cocoon. “Are you sure I haven’t killed you?” he teases back. “Taking off your clothes in the cold?” He leans up, and kisses the brunette softly, once, then twice. He thinks he could fall asleep here, relaxed, curled up around the other man with the sound of the waves as a lullaby.

“I think we’ll both survive,” Jon says, before he sits up. There’s not just one stick in his curls, but two, and a few leaves as well. Robb laughs harder at Jon’s disgruntled expression, while the brunette picks out the foliage with a curse accompanying each offending item. Robb sits up as well, and leans over to get their discarded clothes. The sun is beginning to set, and he knows he’s been more than an hour. The men are probably looking for him.

“We should head back,” he says, tossing Jon his pants. The apple from earlier, now brown and dirty, rolls pathetically down a slight incline in the ground. “They’ll send out a search party soon.”

“Hmmm,” Jon says in agreement, “You should get dressed quicker than. I don’t think they deserve to see you naked.” Robb throws a sock at him, laughing at the other man’s sputtering when it gets in his mouth. Robb stretches, groaning around the new aches and pains in his arms and shoulders, but he relishes it. These are not from the toil and hardship of battle, after all, but something much better.

“Nor you,” he says, smiling. Jon’s shirt is still half-laced, and there are a few scratches on his pale skin from where Robb was a little rough, and a bruise forming above his right nipple. He looks completely and utterly debauched, and Robb feels a bit of pleasure at the knowledge that he’d done this.

“Am I walking back with you?” Jon says, as he laces up his shirt. His curls are a wreck, and probably won’t be tamed until they’ve come into contact with a comb.

“Why not?” Robb asks. Jon’s been allowed to roam free for weeks now, considering that all of his letters to his family have been nothing but news about his days, or talks about their alliance. The Northerners, too, have begun to enjoy having the Dornishman among them. He’s fun, and compassionate, and shares their sense of humor, and their ribald enjoyment of sparing. He and Smalljon Umber have grown close, and even Karstark’s son, Torrhen, has engaged in a drinking contest with Jon. “You were walking, we met up at the water. The men won’t question.”

Jon smirks, and stands up, then flicks down the collar of Robb’s tunic. “Only because this ,” he says, fingers pinching the leather, “covers this .” He gestures to the bruise on Robb’s collarbone.

Jon neatens his hair as best he can, as they make their way back to where Robb left the men. When they get there, the men are standing around, looking a bit bored, and half-asleep under the sun. They straighten when he and Jon approach, and then they are off, making their way back to the camp.

Somehow, though Robb is not sure how, the conversation on the way back turns to the Freys.

“So you’ve never even met her?” Jon asks, looking at Robb underneath his eyelashes. His skin is pale, and unflushed, and there is no trace left to indicate to anyone what they’d done. “This girl you traded yourself to for a bridge?”

“An important bridge,” Robb points out, though the thought of his fiancee pricks at him. He’s never met her, doesn’t even know her name. Admittedly, he doesn’t even want her, although he knows his duty, and he will do what he must. He will do as he promised. He grips the handle of his sword harder as they walk.

“Yes,” Jon says, “So you’ve said. A bridge all the same.” Robb wonders if Jon will understand the need to marry the Frey girl, given that his own father is a Prince who refuses to marry for any political advantage. It’s almost unheard of, but Oberyn Martell is not known for being traditional. Jon’s Uncle Doran, as well, was strange, and married outside of Westeros. Still, he knows that most of the Dornish houses do practice political marriages, and Jon had brokered a marriage between his cousin and Robb’s sister.

Why does his tone sound like that then? Melancholy and bitter? One day, Robb thinks, I will have to wake up to her , and I don’t even know what color her hair is. It won’t be black, he believes, even if it is, and the color of her eyes won’t be gray, even if they are.

“It is the way of things,” Robb finally answers, frowning, but the words are a bit pitiful. His mother and father married for duty and grew to love one another, but how can he love his Frey bride when his heart is roped on a teether to another? He shoots a look at Jon under his eyelashes, and sees that he’s looking at the ground as he walks.

“Before they killed my father,” he continues, “I still thought I could march south and rescue him in time, but only if I crossed that bridge.”

Jon nods, and says, “The Northerners loved your father. My own family, they believed him to be a decent man. Honorable to a fault, but a good lord.”

Robb looks to him as he replies, “He was the best man I’d ever met.” He shakes his head, before he continues, “I know children always think that about their fathers—”

Jon laughs. “Oh, believe me, they don’t.” There’s a look on his face, soft and sad, and searching, and Robb can’t quite pin it. Every time Jon’s spoken of his own father, it had been with love and respect, and Robb can’t help the confusion that stems from Jon’s statement.

Robb looks away, and out towards the horizon. “He once told me that being a lord is like being a father. Except you have thousands of children.” He shakes his head. He’d never pictured that he would be the father to even more “children” than his own father. “And you worry about all of them.” Like where they will march next, and how many will die. “The farmers plowing the fields are yours to protect.” The thought that the Ironborn might be raping the farmers’ wives, or making sport of their children pops insidiously into his head.

He swallows, and looks at Jon, who’s staring at him, unblinking, before he continues, “The scullery maids scrubbing the floors, yours. The soldiers marching into battle. He told me he woke with fear in the morning, and went to bed with fear in the night.” He shakes his head, remembering his childhood self, the boy who’d never believed that his father could be anything but courageous, honorable, and strong. Ned Stark was the man who Robb had inspired to be. “I didn’t believe him. I asked him, ‘how can a man be brave if he’s afraid?’”

He takes a deep breath, and looks straight into Jon’s eyes as he says, “‘That is the only time a man can be brave,’ he told me.”

They continue to walk, and the men are at least twenty-feet back. Robb knows they can hear, if they want to, but he doesn’t care. In this moment, it feels like he and Jon are alone again.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t meet him,” Jon says, “But I promise you, your father’s death will be avenged.” He stops, and looks at the men, and then to Robb. “You will get the justice you deserve.”

Robb nods. “I think he would have liked you.”

Jon laughs, and then continues to walk, as he says, “Oh, I don’t know about that.” He shoots a look at Robb under his eyelashes, and the redhead feels heat flood his cheeks. “Still, he sounds like a good man. I can’t imagine Tywin Lannister cares about the women scrubbing his floors. I don’t think my Uncle Doran even knows most of their names.”

“My father didn’t care about gold or glory,” Robb says. It never struck him, before, the idea that his father was unique, an uncommonly kind and caring lord. “Nor do I. I don’t care if they sing songs about me.”

Jon nods. “No, but they will. They’ll praise your name, or they will curse you. And your father, and your mother, and all of your family name, they’ll become tales that children hear when they can’t sleep at night. In the North, they’ll speak of bravery, and victory, and of a wolf that tore the skin from lions. In the South, they’ll name you rebel, traitor, and a number of more vile names, and weave your deeds into songs of warning.” They both stop, and Robb turns to face him.

“All I want is to go home,” he says, even though he knows how right Jon is. Sansa loved those songs, he thinks, and the tales of valor and beautiful knights. “I want the men following me to go home.” Jon smiles sadly, understandingly. “But we’ll never be safe until the Lannisters are defeated.” He thinks about Elia Martell, and her children, and pictures Sansa, her broken and bleeding body with her head smashed in, and her body stabbed sixty times. “And because I want my justice.”

Jon nods. “Chopping off Joffrey’s head, that will be a good start.”

Robb turns when he hears a horse neigh, loud and angry, behind him. There’s a lull in the sounds of the wind and the forest, just the stamp of hooves on the ground, as the man approaches them, and Robb feels a sinking in his gut.

“Your Grace,” the man says, as Robb moves forward. “The Kingslayer— he escaped in the night.”

The gods despise me, he thinks, as he stares at the man, and phantomly feels the ground give underneath his feet. Finally, a single word makes its way past the tightening of his throat. “How?”

The man looks down, and this time, he feels more urgency, as he asks, again, “How?”



 

Jon secures his bag onto Shadow’s back, making sure that the reigns and the saddle are perfect, as the sunlight streams through the trees. A few feet away from him, Robb is silent, making sure that his own horse is ready to travel. It’s been several days since Jaime Lannister killed his cousin, Alton, and managed to escape Robb’s men. Despite the forty or so men that were sent after him, the man has so far proven elusive, and Catelyn Stark’s sworn shield, Brienne of Tarth, has made it her mission to find and retrieve the Kingslayer.

“Wish I was joining you,” Smalljon says. He’s dressed down , in just a tunic and leather breeches, and has been complaining about the heat all morning. Jon thinks the man is nuts and wonders if the cold up north does something to the Northerners’ brains that they think this weather, wet and soggy and chilled, is hot . “Harrenhal is going to have a lot more action than waiting around here.”

“You’re welcome to take my place,” Jon jokes, with no intentions of letting Smalljon do so. He looks to Robb, who’s deep in conversation with Lord Bolton. Next to him, Ghost is staring at them as well, and growling. For a wolf that’s usually quiet, it’s unsettling. He doesn’t like the man, and neither does Jon. There’s something about him, with his beady eyes and rat like expressions, that sits uneasily. Even if Jon’s not nearly as trusted as a Northerner, after Greyjoy, he’d prefer to make sure Robb is safe himself if he can. It helped that most of the Northerners warmed up to him, once they’d seen that he had no intentions of fucking them, or King Robb, over.

They might not be too happy if they know I’m sleeping with their King, Jon thinks, but waves it off even as he’s thinking it. What they didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them, and as long as Robb wanted to continue, then they would. The night before, after Robb left Jon’s tent to go back to his own, he’d sat there, tired and sore, and thought about how he’d never felt so much for one person so fast. There was something about the redhead that Jon couldn’t shake. Maybe it was his intelligence, or his compassion, or the way he treats his men.

“Yes,” Smalljon jokes back, “I’m sure my bearded scruff will be much easier for King Robb to look at than your pretty face.”

“You’re not that bad looking,” Jon replies, with a smirk, before he dodges the apple that the man throws at him. “I’m sure a bear would love to have you.”

“I’ll have you know that many Northern beauties are vying for my attention,” the Smalljon says, and twists his lips into a mock pout. Jon wonders if he means Dacey Mormont, who’s been at the Crag for weeks now. Smalljon has been pining, and has dragged Jon drinking several times since she left.

“They must not have high standards.” As he says it, Jon sees Lady Stark making her way to a white horse that’s still unsaddled. He ties Shadow’s reigns to a post as he watches her. She’s frowning, as she has been since the day he met her. He’s avoided her since their talk, uneasy with the way her eyes stared at him, but the camp is only so big, and with his closeness to Robb, he’s seen her at meals and meetings discussing their plans. Every time, she’s looked at him the same way, curious and searching, with something else that he can’t name.

Today, she looks sad, and nervous, and angry all at once, and he feels a jolt of pity shoot through him as he looks at her. She’s not the only woman at camp, but she’s the only one that’s not a fighting woman, or a whore, and she’s stuck waiting on news of her sons, and watching Robb ride out to battle, with the knowledge that he might not come back. Jon pictures Ellaria, remembering each time Oberyn left without her, and the look on her face as she wondered if he was going to come back.

“I’ll meet up with you,” he says, abruptly, to Smalljon. “Can’t leave without letting you gaze upon what you’re losing.” His friend sputters, but he ignores him, as he weaves his way past horses eating grass, and men grumbling as they saddle them.

There’s a lump in his throat as he gets closer, and he contemplates turning back once or twice as he walks. His father hadn’t raised him to be a coward, however, so he steels himself and continues.

“Lady Stark,” he says, when he gets there, and bows quickly when she turns to look at him, “do you need any help with that?” He gestures to the reigns, which he supposes she probably knows how to do herself, yet she’s been staring at the back of the horse a bit lost for several minutes.

She doesn’t smile, as she looks at him, once again with that same considering expression. It’s not unpleasant really; he’s seen much worse looks levelled at him before, and he’s used to them. Men, and women, in the Free Cities looked upon his pale skin and dark hair, and they lusted, despite the sword that his father held to their throats, or, when he’d gotten older, the one Jon had held to their nether regions. The slave trade was high in many parts they visited, and he’d learned to be keen to which looks were those of appreciation, and which were those of appropriation.

There were also the looks that some of the other Westerosi nobility who’d come to visit his Uncle Doran in Dorne gave him and his sisters. When And those people were inside of Dorne, their disgust and distaste for the status of bastards there—even the status of female heirs, Jon thinks, picturing Arianne—was not subtly hidden. Whatever look that Catelyn Stark keeps giving him, however, it’s not that one.

I’ll not give up her son, he thinks, while he waits for her to reply. Not until he wants me too.

“Thank you, Jon,” she says, finally, and there’s almost a hint of a smile on her lips. “Usually, I would do it myself. I find myself lost in thought this morning.” Jon nods, and begins to prepare her horse, a mare who whinnies but holds up her legs easily enough when he presses down to make sure she’s clean and ready to march.

“You’re good at that,” Lady Stark says, after a few minutes. She’s standing with her hands clasped together, and her blue dress just reaches the ground, narrowly avoiding the mud formed from this morning’s light rain shower. “Did your—father teach you?”

Jon glances at her from underneath his eyelashes, as he gets to his knees to scrap out one of the mare’s hooves. There’s no stable out in a camp, and the men who grew and lived as stable hands are busy preparing other horses. Even though Lady Stark’s mare has already been brushed, and cleaned, whoever had done so did it poorly.

“No,” he answers, before he frowns, and gets up from the ground. “He taught me to ride, but not to care for a horse. That was my sister, Elia.” Jon smiles, briefly, as he thinks of her, with her long braid whipping behind her as she rides, fast as the waves crashing against the beach. “She loves horses more than anything else. Her mother despairs of it.”

Lady Catelyn’s eyes soften, as she says, “She sounds a bit like my Arya. She hates needlework and sewing. It’s taken all my efforts to make her a proper lady.”

“I’ve heard,” Jon says, pushing down a laugh. Robb talks about his sisters frequently, during their times together, and Jon thinks that Arya sounds brilliant. The little girl who plays with swords, and arrows, and loves to ride. If she’d been born in Dorne, no one would have forced her to sit back and crochet. Ellaria might shake her head at how often Elia sleeps among the horses, but she never discourages her. “I think she and my sister would like one another.”

“Perhaps,” a familiar, masculine voice says suddenly, and Jon looks to see Robb and Grey Wind making their way over, his horse trailing behind him, “when this war is over, Arya can be fostered there. For a time.”

Lady Stark’s face falls, at her son’s statement, and Jon thinks if she could, she’d hold on to her daughters tight and never let them go the second she gets them back. “Would you take them from me so soon?” she demands, with a bit of a bite to her tone that Jon’s never heard before in the war council meetings. This is a mother talking to her son, suddenly, and not a woman deferring to her King.

“Of course not, Mother,” Robb says, as he ties his horse to the post. The sun is shining around his hair, and the red turns gold under the light, creating the illusion of a crown upon his head. “Arya cannot stay in Winterfell forever, however. One day, she will be married, and I’d like to make her happy before I make her miserable.” Even more than his own marriage to a Frey, Robb hates that his sister must marry one as well.

Lady Catelyn says nothing, for a moment. No words of comfort that her daughter might find happiness with a Frey, like most mothers would say, pretending that their children’s lives were going to turn out lovely. She’s not delusional, she’s fully aware that both her daughter, and her son, are not happy with the arrangement. Whether or not she hopes they can be, one day, Jon doesn’t know, but for a strange moment, he’s thankful that he’s a bastard, and not likely to be made to marry.

Finally, she sighs, and takes the reigns of her mare from Jon’s hand. “First, we must get her and Sansa back. Then we’ll see what happens.”

Robb nods, but the expression on his face is not happy. Jon hasn’t seen him smile in days. At least, not outside of their nights together, sweaty and quiet, with hands pressed against mouths and smothered in pillows so that no one hears. Then his mouth shifts, and he’s looking at his mother softly, asking, “Are you sure you don’t want to ride in a wheelhouse mother? It’s going to be a long journey.”

“I rode all around the realm without one,” Catelyn says, and she looks as fierce as her son as she speaks, straight-backed and proud. “I’ll ride to Harrenhal among your men.” She turns to Jon, and surprisingly, a smile spreads across her face. “Jon, will you help me up?”

Startled, but hoping it doesn’t show on his face, he nods, and does so. She’s slim, and light, and swings her leg around easily, with practiced skill. Not as good as Elia, or even any of the Sand Snakes, but it's clear she’s no stranger to riding. She tells them she shall meet them on the way out, and maneuvers her mare around the men, towards where Lord Karstark is standing, sullen and angry. He’s not been the same since his son died at the hands of the Kingslayer. Jon vows to keep an eye on him, as well, although he doesn’t think the man will betray Robb. He’s too loyal, even if he’s angry, and seems to think that every decision Robb makes is leading them to doom.

“I think my mother’s warming up to you,” Robb says, making it clear that he isn’t ignorant to the strangeness between Catelyn and Jon. The redhead smiles at him, moving closer, and with his mother gone, the direwolves have begun their usual greeting ritual, this time running around the horses’ legs. It’s a testament to how often the animals have been around the wolves that they doesn’t spook.

“Slowly,” Jon agrees. “By my next nameday, she might even love me.” His nineteenth nameday passed a few weeks ago, so that gave her about a year to warm up to him. After Greyjoy, he thinks, she can’t be blamed if she never trusts anyone around her son again.

Robb smiles, and reaches out to straighten his overtunic. Jon isn’t wearing a cloak, and regrets it, but this morning he’d been rushed, half-asleep and cursing, as the tent was dismantled. “It’s going to be a shame,” Robb says, removing his hand, as his smile grows impish, “when you’re all covered up in furs that I won’t even be able to tell if you’re a person underneath.”

Jon laughs. “Maybe I’ll acclimate, the more time I spend with you. Some of your Northerner blood could rub off on me and make me numb to the cold.” Harrenhal is farther north than he’s ever been before, and he wonders if they’ll be trekking through dozens of feet of snow to get to its gates. He’s going to wrap himself in all his furs, though, as a precautionary measure.  

“I don’t think that’s what’s going to rub off on you,” Robb says, with a faint blush to his face. It’s amazing, how he can still blush, and beyond endearing. His voice is low, as he says it, conscious of the men around them.

“Your Grace,” Jon says, smirking, “what are you implying?”

“I’m implying nothing at all,” Robb replies. He reaches down to pet Ghost, who’s bumping his head against the redhead, demanding attention. The closer that Jon and Robb have gotten, the more content the direwolves seem. It’s almost like Jon can hear it, in the back of his mind, or sense it with some instinct he didn’t know he had. “There’s not much sand where we’re going.”

“A shame,” Jon says, thinking back to the day overlooking the water, before Lannister’s escape, “I’ll miss it. It was almost like being home again.” The sound of the gulls, the roar of the waves, and the swell of the water, even if it was murkier, and darker, than any in Dorne, made him long for the heat of the Dornish sun, and the feel of the beach between his toes.

“Will you visit Dorne with me,” Jon asks, wistfully, “when this war is over?”  Most likely, Robb will be in the North, with his faceless and nameless Frey bride, wrapped in furs with a hearth fire going, while the snows stormed heavy outside.

Robb steps closer, his hand an inch or two from Jon’s own. “Yes. One day. Will I have to drag you up North with me, or will you come willingly? I’ll let you bitch and complain all you like, with your weak Southern skin.”

Jon scowls, and resists the urge to poke his tongue out, like a child. “I can handle it,” Jon says, because really, with furs, how much worse can it be really?

“Of course you can,” Robb says teasingly. “If you’d been born in the North, your name would have been Snow. So, it would be an embarrassment if you couldn’t handle it.”

Jon rolls his eyes, and they begin to walk back towards where he’s left Shadow. Ghost and Grey Wind race off, probably to hunt down some rabbits or squirrels before they leave. As they weave back around men and horses, Jon tells Robb about his latest letter from his Uncle Doran, and the plans for Bran’s wheeled chair, and catches Lord Bolton out of the corner of his eye, fastening parchment to a raven’s leg. He frowns, and wonders what it’s about, but when Robb smiles with delight, he resolves to try to put it out of his mind. At least, he thinks, until we reach Harrenhal, and then I’ll look into it. It would be more difficult, on the road, when sometimes tents wouldn’t even be put up to sleep under, to look into the man’s doings, after all. Still, if Lord Bolton is doing anything suspect, Robb should know.



 

The ride to Harrenhal is long, and hard. They lost one or two men, deserters, and when they’d been recaptured, Robb made an example of them. He remembered his father’s words as he took their heads with a heavy heart and squared shoulders. The rest of the company continued to travel, bedding down when they could, taking comfort in taverns and ale songs, with dreams of glory and honor on their lips as they marched to the uncertainty of Harrenhal, and the thought of battle.

The news changed the farther north they traveled, and rumors floated. Stannis Baratheon was defeated at the Blackwater, the Tyrells joined the Lannisters, and Margaery Tyrell is going to marry Joffrey. With that news, Robb isn’t sure if he should feel slighted on his sister’s behalf, cast aside for another, but he can admit that he feels no small amount of relief. Sansa is still in King’s Landing, but at least she is not going to be made to marry a madman.

Grey Wind and Ghost disappeared sometime into the third week, running faster ahead of them all. Robb knows they’re alright, even though his mother despairs at the lack of the direwolves near him and Jon. Both his mother, and Jon, look as tired as the rest of the men, and with each bit of news concerning Winterfell, and the Ironborns, his mother loses a bit more color in her face. Jon’s taken to riding near her, quietly, with barely any words spoken between them, and Robb knows it's because he’s wondering if one of these days his mother might fall off her horse. She barely sleeps, and hardly eats, but Robb has seen her endure and weather far more with her never-ending strength. Still, it puts his mind at ease, to see his lover’s concern.

The Kingslayer has not been recaptured, and with each passing day, the dark thought grows that he never will be. If he isn’t, Tywin will have his strongest fighter back, along with the men and resources of the Tyrells. With the loss of the possibility of the Ironborns, Robb’s men seem a paltry number in comparison. He needs all of them, if he has a hope of winning this war.

Robb slides off his horse, and ties him to a tree, as the company makes camp for the night. His mother’s tent is being put up, as well as his own, and a few of the other lords. Most of the men, however, will sleep under the stars and sky like they have been during the past month. Jon is helping his mother off her own horse, as he makes his way to join them. He yawns, and resists the urge to place his head on the brunette’s shoulder, so that he might fall asleep. If his mother has gotten no sleep, he has had even less, except for the scant couple of hours he makes himself sleep in order that he doesn’t make a dangerous mistake.

“Thank you, Jon,” his mother is saying as he gets there. She’s smiling at him, and Robb feels relief that the strange looks she’d been given him have ceased. If she suspected anything between them, then it is gone, and she seems to be enjoying the company of the brunette. She’s even watched him spar with some of the men in their downtime, and has commented a few times at how good with a sword he is.

A few feet away from them, Lord Umber bows as he gets off his own horse, and tells Robb that his men have hunted down a stag for supper tonight. Robb nods, and tells him that the men will be meeting tonight, after dinner, sparing a few minutes to discuss other matters, before he joins his mother and Jon.

“— father threw the man off the balcony, and he landed in the fountain,” Jon’s saying, while his mother frowns, as she always seems to do whenever Oberyn Martell is brought up. Robb does not know why, but the more his mother seems to warm to the Dornish man, the more she seems to hate his father. He hasn’t seen that look in her eyes form for anyone since Cersei Lannister. “Tyene was upset she couldn’t do it herself.”

“And this man was your Valyrian tutor?” his mother asks. She smiles when he’s finally in their eyesight, and he wraps his arms around her quickly, before he pulls away. Jon is nodding, and biting his lip, giving Robb the brief, inappropriate thought about how long it's been since he was able to bite those lips.

“Your father made you learn Valyrian?” Robb asks, furrowing his brow. His own father had taught him how to be a lord, and the laws and customs of the land, but never anything beyond Westeros. Robb knows that Dorne does trade with the Free Cities, but so does King’s Landing, and not many lords bothered to learn that tongue since the Targaryens.

Jon nods, and they move forward a bit, Robb in between the two of them. His arms feel awkward with the urge to wrap themselves around both his mother, and his lover, so that he can hold them close and never let them go. It’s been days, really, since he’s had a moment alone with them, and tomorrow they’ll reach Harrenhal. They have no idea what they’ll see there, whether the Northern prisoners will be allowed to go free, or whether they will have to fight their way out. As always before battle, Robb feels guilty with the knowledge that he may die, and the mess he’ll be leaving in Bran’s hands. His brother, crippled and trapped in his own castle, left to the untender mercy of the Ironborns, and Theon Greyjoy.

“My Aunt Mellario was from the Free Cities,” Jon answers, shrugging one shoulder. “Uncle Doran also considered it to be important to know the language of those you do business with. So that you might be able to tell when they’re going to cheat you. All of my cousins learned the language, too.”

“Did your sisters learn it as well?” Robb asks, and tries to picture any of the women Jon’s described sitting, bored, while an old, balding man tries to teach them courtesies.

“None of them ever wanted to learn,” Jon says, running his fingers through his curls. It's a mess, again, because the snow had started to fall this morning, and had just let up. He’s bundled in a thick fur, much thicker than anyone else. It dwarfs him, almost, and makes him seem small, but he looks more Northern than ever, and Robb wonders again where his mother was from. “Father was not going to force them.”

His mother makes a noise at that, somewhere between a hum and a scoff. Robb looks to her, pleading with her not to say something ill about Oberyn Martell, because the last time she did, Jon sulked for a full night, and it hadn’t been pretty.

“Father never had much success trying to force Arya out of my sword lessons,” Robb muses, and thinks that forcing girls to do anything leads to many headaches for fathers. Even Sansa, his proper sister, could get her own way when she wanted more often than not. “Most times, she’d beat Bran, and once even Theon at archery.” His throat burns as he says Theon’s name, but no matter what the man is doing now, he’s a part of Robb’s childhood that he can’t erase.

“Your father didn’t have the heart to keep her from it,” his mother says in agreement. “With Bran so much younger than you, I suppose he thought it companionship, to encourage your sister to join you.” His mother, despite giving father five children, had despaired before Bran came that she’d ever give Ned another boy, and Robb knows that she sometimes still felt the sting of not giving Robb a brother closer to his own age to grow with.

Before either he or Jon can answer, Lord Karstark moves forward. His face resembles a stone wall, as it has done since his son’s death, and he looks at Jon with distaste. Lord Bolton stands next to him, and both men bow, acknowledging them all. “Your Grace,” Lord Bolton says, “will all the men be preparing to ride out tomorrow?”

“Not all of them, but a good number,” Robb tells them, before he looks to Jon. He’ll be bringing him along this time, since most of the men trust him, and he’s a good fighter. “I’ll say more tonight, when the lords are gathered after dinner.”

His mother excuses herself, as the lords leave, telling them she needs to rest before dinner. It’s their first time alone, in a long time, but the men are pitching tents, and there’s no chance that they can get away. Nor should they, in case of an attack. They’ve made their way here secretly, but there is always the possibility of being spotted in a group as large as theirs. He’s made sure to tell the men not to drink too much tonight, since he needs them all alert and aware. It’s a poor thing to have to do, on the night before a potential battle, when some of them may die, but he’d rather they be able to fight.

He spots Lord Umber and a few other men setting up a spit to roast the deer on, as Jon asks if he wants company while he checks the camp. He agrees, and they make small talk, as the day turns to night, and the smell of roasting meat begins to permeate the camp. Most of the men seem hale enough, a few with a mug of ale in their hands, but not too much else. As they make their way back towards Lord Umber, a couple of hours later, the skin of the venison is crackling, and the juice dripping down onto the fire, while his mother stands talking to Lord Umber and nursing her own mug of ale in her hands.

“How are you not dying in that, Sand?” Lord Umber asks, with a grin of amusement as he takes in Jon’s furs. The snow has died down, and though there is a chill in the air, the fire is large and warm. The skin on Umber’s face is pink from the heat permeating off of it. Jon rolls his eyes, and quips back something about cold-blood and snakes.

“Hah,” Lord Umber replies, with a full belly laugh, “you Southerners wouldn’t know cold if it crept into your halls at night and stole your women from you.” One of them men pass two plates with meat and roasted vegetables they’d gathered to the both of them, as well as some ale. They stand closer to Catelyn, who begs off the meat but takes some of the vegetables, and get drawn into a strange conversation about a fight to the death between an elk and a giant sea serpent.

The stars are out, bright and shining, when the music starts up. Over his mug of ale, Jon looks at him from underneath his eyelashes as the singer croons some love song about a Southern woman and her knight. His lips purse into a pout as he drinks, and Robb swallows, feeling hot from more than just the fire. He shuffles away from his mother, and drinks his own ale, staring back at the brunette.

“Are your Dornish songs like this one, boy?” Lord Umber asks, shooting a look of distaste at the singer. The song is slow, and circular, and filled with fanciful visions of golden knights and demure ladies. The North had it’s share of the like, but more of them were dark, or ribald, sometimes even the two combined, and many of the women in those songs were anything but demure.

“Some of them,” Jon answers, bringing his mug down from his lips. His tongue darts out to catch stray droplets, and Robb’s eyes unwillingly follow. “This one is a bit tame compared to a Dornish song. Not as much pleasure as we like to hear about. My father’s paramour prefers our darker love songs.”

“Darker? Go on and sing one then,” Lord Umber says, voice rising a bit into a shout to be heard over the sound of the instruments. The man singing shoots him a glare, but Lord Umber is over and lifting him from his log before he can get out the next note, and the calling Jon over, challenging him to entertain them more than the “lousy pissant I’m holding.” Jon laughs, and downs his ale, before he makes his way over.

Robb and his mother follow, and he feels a bit eager to hear Jon sing. His own voice is pleasant enough, but he rarely feels the need to sing, although he enjoys hearing others. There is something, however, about hearing Jon’s voice wrap around the words of a melody that sends a shiver down his spine.

Jon sits, and looks at him over the fire, where sparks jumping from it illuminate, then cast shadows, over his face. The men with their instruments begin to play, and it's a minute or so before Jon sings, voice low and husky.

And this heart knows how to caress ,” Jon sings, looking straight at Robb. He swallows, and feels almost as if they were the only two surrounding this fire, with the moon above them, its light shining down approval on them. His face flushes as Jon continues to sing, and he can see some of the camp women sigh with their heads in their hands. “ Like the snake gliding alongside the beach. If I fall in, I’ll break your heart— ” Jon looks down, for a second, before he looks up again, his voice a bit louder, a bit stronger, as the song goes on. “— and from grief I’ll make you die .”

Robb’s eyebrows raise, as the dark tone of the song washes over the camp, seeming to sober them. He sees his mother shoot him a look out of the corner of his eye, but he’s too far gone in listening to try to place it. “ I made a cage and I made it out of love, with my skill I made it. You are the cage, rose of love, I am the snake, if I can enter.

Robb pulls his eyes away from Jon, and looks at Lord Umber, who looks shocked, and pleased, and is nodding his head along. When he turns back to the brunette, his eyes are still locked on Robb, never once wavering, the final words whispered almost like a promise. “ I tie it to you and love ties you to the place where your heart beats. It doesn’t matter, beautiful— ” Jon smiles, briefly, for a second, “— if you are consuming yourself, provided it is for love .”

Several women cheer as he finishes the song, while the men clap or pound their mugs against the nearest surface. Lord Umber is smiling, and hefts Jon up from the log, saying something about songs and the Dornish that Robb can’t quite hear. Jon looks to him, and Robb smiles, raising his mug. They stare at each other for a few moments, before a cough from his mother breaks the moment. She’s looking at the both of them with that odd look again, and he turns away from the sight to engage her in conversation before they incriminate themselves.

The next morning, as Robb takes in the massacre left behind at Harrenhal, with Lord Bolton and Lord Karstark standing back, he thinks about Jon’s song, and pictures the cage. Darkly, for just a moment, he wants to throw the Lannisters and everyone they love into a cage, and trap it in the bottom of the sea. Jon bends down, as one man sputters, and they pick him up to bring along, thoughts already running through Robb’s head about what to do next. When Lord Bolton tells them that his brothers are dead, and his grandfather, too, he feels like he’s outside of himself, watching his mother as she cries. He’s somewhere else, when he wraps his arms around her, holding her tight to him, rocking her like she used to do for him, and feels numb, and disconnected, and wishes, for the first time, that life was a song.

Chapter Text

The company, not even two days camped, begins to make their way to Riverrun the next morning. Jon prepares his horse, and watches Lord Bolton tie yet another piece of parchment to another raven. Ghost has met back up with them, and he and his brother are watching the man through slitted eyes, with their mouths open and their teeth bared, though they stay where they are by Jon’s feet. After the raven flies away, the man catches his eye, and Jon inclines his head, before he turns back to brush Shadow’s mane.

Not for the first time since the journey north began, he wishes that Smalljon, or Dacey, or seven hells, even fucking Daemon Sand, was along for the trip so that he could have somebody to share his suspicions with. He can’t bring them up to Robb, not yet, not without proof, and he doesn’t think the direwolves distrust of the man counts for much. Lady Stark wouldn’t be a good place to turn, she trusts the Northern lords who were sworn to her husband, much more than she trusts any Southerner, and since her father died, and the news of her sons’ murders, she’s been heartsick. A wheelhouse is being prepared for her, to make the journey to Riverrun, but beyond her son, there’s no one there to comfort her.

Not many to comfort Robb, either. He hasn’t cried yet, Jon knows, because he hasn’t slept, and neither has the King. His face is blank, eerily so, and when it's not, his eyes flash with a hatred for Theon Greyjoy that hadn’t been there before. Jon thinks Robb could stab a sword through the man’s heart and not feel anything, if they came upon him on the road.

Grey Wind whines, his longing to go to Robb clear, but the redhead told him to stay put near his brother while the camp prepares to make its way North.

“It’s alright,” Jon says, bending down to pet the direwolf’s head, and burying his hand in his grey fur. “We’ll march north, and you’ll take a bite out of everyone who’s ever hurt him.” It’s not much of a thing to say for soothing, but tender words aren’t necessary. Grey Wind snuffles, and huffs, and digs his paws into the earth.

When Jon gets up, he rummages around in his bag, looking for his ink well and parchment. He’s almost out of ink, there’s some feathers missing from the quill, and the parchment left is crinkled and torn from being shoved into his pack. He scribbles a note to his father, telling him that they’re making their way up north for a funeral, and he knows that his father will understand. He’s only heard back once, since he’s been here, outside of his sister Elia, and that was from Arianne. He scribbles a quick note to her, too, tearing the parchment in half, and then rolls up it up, tying it with the ribbon left from the bag of almonds Elia gave him.

It’s not surprising, since his presence with the Northerners is a secret, that he’s not heard from his family. Yet he feels the sudden urge to go home, wrap his sisters in a hug, and torment Tyene. If not for Robb, he’d even enjoy trying to steal her conquests away from her again. He misses them all, even Obara, the most distant of his siblings. And he misses his father, and Ellaria, and longs to see them, to hear them, to know that they are alive and untouched.

He looks to Robb, who is deep in conversation with Lord Karstark, and sighs. He refuses to go to Lord Bolton to send the letter, and Lady Catelyn is not an option to turn to right now. Lord Umber is somewhere, packing up his own horse, so Jon goes to look for him, ordering the wolves to stay put.

He finds him cursing out the Ironborns among a group of angry Northerners, who are gripping their swords with white knuckles, and murderous intent in their eyes. If not for the war, and Hoster Tully’s funeral, these men would already be on their way to Winterfell to avenge their late Princes.

“Lord Umber,” Jon says, making his way around the men, to hold out the letters to the bearded lord, who nods and accepts them. The men are not looking at him or the letters suspiciously, which is a small relief Jon didn’t know he needed to feel, but he wouldn’t blame them if they were. The sound of thunder echoes in the distance. Jon sees lightning light up the overcast sky, and closes his eyes heavily at the thought of yet more rain.

At least it's not snow, he thinks, as he makes his way back to his horse. Shadow is tied to a tree behind a tent that is still up and waiting to be taken down, and her head pokes out from the side of it, but the rest of her is hidden from view by the fabric, and the trees that circle it. Jon stops, when he sees Robb standing by the horse, one hand stroking her, while the other rubs the top of Grey Wind’s head. Ghost is flat on his belly by the redhead’s feet, and looking up at him with his red, fathomless eyes.

“Another letter’s come,” Robb says, looking to Jon. His eyes are circled with dark shadows, and bloodshot from lack of sleep. No tears though, those are buried, and refuse to come out as long as he needs to be strong in front of his men. Jon wishes they could run away, if just for a moment, so he can hold him and let him cry, like he had before. “The Frey’s are demanding a wedding. In the middle of the war.” His voice comes out like he’s trying to force himself to speak around glass.

Jon steps closer, and clears his throat. “Are you going to give it to them?” He’s about a foot from Robb now, and he can see the blood in the beds of his fingernails, and the bruises on his knuckles. He’s punched something, hard, recently. Jon reaches up, and grabs his hand, where he is stroking Shadow’s back a bit too roughly. He’s shaking, yet somehow grips Jon’s hand back strong enough to hurt.

“I have to,” Robb whispers, after a few minutes. “Now—after Bran, and Rickon, I can’t—” He swallows, and looks to Jon, eyes angry, and grief stricken, but there’s emotion there, at least. “I need an heir.”

He’s right. With his brothers gone, the only ones left to inherit if Robb dies is Sansa or Arya, stuck in King’s Landing and under the Lannister’s control. If they kill them, or harm them, or do anything else to them, what Robb has gained will all be for naught. Still, Jon finds it a bit funny, the sudden urge Walder Frey has to marry his daughter off to the King in the North, when the letter stating Bran and Rickon dead just reached them, and no one asks a commander of an army to take time away from their battles to lay in the bridal bed.

Yet he doesn’t say anything, because Robb will not hear it right now. He squeezes the redhead’s hand in his own, instead, and says, “You will win this war.” It’s not a promise he can make, of course, because he’s neither a god, nor a King, and nothing he says will change what’s going to come. The words, however, feel better on his tongue as he says them, then the dark thoughts creeping in his mind.

A small sound like a huff comes from Robb, and the next thing Jon knows, he’s being kissed, hard and rough and desperate. Hidden as they are, there’s still the chance that someone can move around what blocks them from view, and spot them. The taste of salt hits his lips, and the other man’s body shakes, and then shudders, before he pulls away. He reaches up and rubs the few tears he shed from his face, and blinks back the rest pooling up in his eyes.

“I need you to ride by my mother,” Robb says, stepping back from him, “because she needs to be around someone, and you’re the only one I trust to—comfort her, I guess.”

“And what about your comfort?” Jon asks, looking up as a raven flies past, heading north . His brow furrows, and his mind, unwittingly, flashes back to Bolton. Within seconds, two more are flying south.

“I’m a King,” Robb answers, and there’s a bitter twist to the title, “my comfort can wait. I have to lead my men now.”

It’s a lonely life, Jon thinks, to be a King. Lonely, and bitter, and sad. Why would one ever want it? Stannis Baratheon, Joffrey Lannister (or Baratheon, or Waters), and fucking Balon Greyjoy all fighting like dogs with a bone over the power it gives them, but they think nothing of the grief, or the weariness, and the weight of responsibility pressing like a mountain top upon a good King’s shoulders.

Jon opens his mouth, but Robb comes forward to kiss him once more, slow this time, and fleeting. “Don’t,” the redhead says as he pulls away, “Not now. We have to head out.” He pulls away, gripping his sword tight in his hand, and walks away with Grey Wind behind him. Jon closes his eyes, breathing in deep, and feels the ghost of Robb’s lips against his own. Next to him, Ghost whines, looking forlornly towards where his brother disappeared.

“Come on, boy,” Jon says, grabbing the reigns that tether Shadow, and quickly undoing them. When he gets to the wheelhouse, curtains drawn and door locked, he sees Lady Catelyn standing outside, face pale and eyes bloodshot. She’s straight-backed, and tall, and every hint the strong, noble lady she was born to be, even in the face of all this horror. She’s holding a torch in her hands, and the light from the fire hits her hair, making the hue seem more like her son’s than ever. Kissed by fire, the both of them, and refusing to be burned by it.

Lord Bolton is standing near her, and as he gets closer, he hears the man tell her that he’s riding out in another direction. Under King Robb’s orders, of course, but Jon curses inwardly.

“When will you be leaving us?” Catelyn asks, and there is a hint of something in her voice, that’s almost like relief. Despite his seeming loyalty, Jon knows there are some in the camp who find it hard to stomach the flayed man reputation of the Boltons.

“A couple of days before we reach Riverrun,” Lord Bolton says, then stops, when they both spot Jon. He grips his sword unconsciously as he makes his way over, bowing his head, and greeting them both. Lord Bolton’s expression is tight, and unhappy, while Lady Catelyn looks at him with grief in her eyes, but, inexplicably, relief on her face.

“Jon,” Lady Catelyn says, “does my son not have need of you?” He relates Robb’s orders to her, and watches Lord Bolton walk away after he excuses himself through slitted eyelids. He’ll have to act fast, then, before the man leaves. How, he doesn’t know, since it’s not likely that Bolton will leave incriminating letters lying around if he is writing to Robb’s enemies.

Jon helps Lady Catelyn into her wheelhouse, and rides along, trying, and failing, to think of a way to find out what Bolton is hiding.



 

A week and a half later, Jon crouches behind a tree stump, and hopes that his head isn’t peaking out, looking every so often towards where Lord Bolton’s tent is for the night. Ghost is crouched by him, but the direwolf’s size gives him away, and for once Jon finds himself wishing for snow, because then at least his white fur would blend. It wouldn’t be the first time, however, that Ghost is seen without him, so there’s nothing that suspicious about the direwolf.

He can see Lord Bolton’s shadow through the light from the fires burning in his tent, and around the camp. He’s bent over a desk, or a pallet, and he’s writing again. Jon swallows, and thinks about how stupid he’s about to be, and what his sisters will say at his funeral if he gets himself killed doing this.

“No turning back now,” he says, aloud, and looks to Ghost. “You know what to do, boy.” In his mind, there’s a rumble, or something like it, of agreement, and in an instant, the direwolf growls, teeth bared and bloody from an earlier kill. The wolf moves forward and howls , loud and deep, a threatening melody. Around them, the horses spook, unused to the sound, and some of the men cry out. A dog that’s sleeping near Lord Bolton’s tent, one of his own perhaps, leaps up, and barks, running towards the opening of the tent. Some distance away, another howl joins in, and the commotion only increases.

“What the bloody hell?” Lord Bolton mutters, as he makes his way out of the tent, the dog nipping and yapping at his heels. Jon waits, for a minute, before he’s certain the man is gone, then he’s inside the tent. It’s almost bare, the only thing in there a pallet with furs, and a few torches, along with an oil lamp burning near a writing board, placed on the ground near the pallet. Jon smiles when he sees the parchment, yellow and freshly inked, unfolded on the wood.

He looks back, but the commotion is still going strong, and he can see the shadow of men running about trying to put out fires caused by spooked animals. He reaches out and holds the lamp towards the paper. He’s not surprised to see it addressed to Tywin Lannister, but there’s a bubble of anger in his gut at the words he reads.

Robb Stark is heading for Riverrun, and has agreed to the wedding between himself, and a daughter of Walder Frey. The plan for the Young Wolf’s removal is moving forth swiftly, and unhindered.

Someone screams, loudly, and there’s a crash outside. The blood is rushing around in Jon’s head, and he grips the parchment, and the lamp tight. When he turns around, he doesn’t even have a second to register, before his breath is knocked out of him, and the lamp falls from his grip as he crashes to his knees. The glass shatters on impact, and the oil and fire burn , searing his flesh, as it breaks, and tears flood his eyes while he grits his teeth.

“You really shouldn’t have come in here,” Bolton says, looking down at him like he’s a naughty child caught stealing sweets from the kitchens. Jon glares at him through the pain, and grips the piece of paper tighter in his uninjured hand. “Still, I suppose this is a good opportunity to get rid of you.”

Bolton swings his sword, but Jon reacts quicker, kicking out his legs from underneath him. He lands with a curse, while Jon scrambles up, ignoring the pain in his hand, and grabbing his own sword, blocking the swing from the other blade. Careful to keep a grip on the letter with a couple of fingers, he makes a grab for the writing block, and aims it towards Bolton’s face.

Bolton curses, and groans, then steps back, grip loosening just a little on the sword. Jon springs forward, jabbing towards the man’s wrist, slashing a few times, but Bolton swings out with his fist, and he fails to duck in time.

“You know,” Bolton says, as Jon blocks the next swing of his sword, “you’ve only incriminated yourself by picking up that letter. Once you’re dead, I’ll tell King Robb that you were the traitor, and his alliance with Dorne will be ended.” They’re both breathing heavy, and the wolves are still howling.

“You think he’ll believe you?” Jon asks, feinting to the left. He whirls around and blocks the man’s sword, then slashes him across the shoulder. “All my letters are read before they leave camp.”

“Oh,” Bolton says, looking falsely contrite, “were they? Well, I suppose it wouldn’t be too difficult for a Dornish snake to sneak out a few letters, would it?”

Jon grits his teeth and curses inwardly, because he really should have told someone he was doing this, even bloody Lord fucking Karstark. If he dies, then his family is fucked, and so is Robb. His hand is burning, and so are his lungs, and he thinks one of his ribs might be cracked. The cut on his head is bleeding profusely, and he tastes iron on his tongue, covering his lips, and impeding his vision.

There’s a crash, and the tent opens, as Grey Wind rushes in, snarling, to leap on the other man, teeth mauling his leg. Behind him, Ghost is snarling, and Jon takes the opportunity to rush forward, using the hilt of his sword to knock Bolton out. It takes one hit, then another, and he thinks he hears his name, as the world spins around him, and the ground starts to float, before he’s satisfied the man is unconscious as Bolton’s screams stop. He sways, stepping back, and trips, but doesn’t hit the ground. My father, he thinks, a bit laughably, would be ashamed right now. The son of Oberyn Martell, almost taken out by a lowlife Northerner. The arms around him tighten, keeping him from sliding to the dirt.

“Jon?” he hears, and it sounds like a man, a familiar man, before his vision goes black.



 

Lord Bolton’s head lops off, and blood spurts out, while surrounding him, Lord Karstark, Lord Umber, and his mother look on in approval. Robb chokes back a gasp, pushing down the rush of bile building up in his stomach, screaming to rush out his throat. His sword is drenched in red, and it feels heavier in his hands than it ever has. The grounds of Riverrun, his mother’s childhood home, soak in the liquid like a sieve, drinking it into the dirt.

Come here for one funeral, only to make another, he thinks, as he backs away. He’ll send Bolton’s body back to the Dreadfort, of course. He can’t even think about all of the plans ruined, all of his secrets leaked to the Lannisters right now. The betrayal of trust stings deep, but not as deep as Theon Greyjoy; no, this was much less personal, and yet more damaging.

“How many of the Frey soldiers have you clapped in irons and thrown in a cell?” Robb asks his mother’s uncle, Brynden Tully. The letter to the Freys breaking off the engagement has already been sent out, and although he’d like to march to the Twins and demand justice, he’s short on both the men and the time to do it. Walder Frey will have to wait for now.

“Two hundred or so, who didn’t run quick enough,” the Blackfish answers. Lord Karstark moves from his position near the door to join the conversation. His face is red, as usual, but for once he looks less angry, and more somber. “The men will be hard to replace.”

Robb sighs, and thinks about his army, split up and stationed along various points in the Riverlands and the Westerlands. A raven had been sent out the night before, calling Lady Mormont back from the Crag, and he hopes that any remaining men she, and the other lords, have left in the North will be enough to take back his castle. Bolton’s bastard son, Ramsey, is there, and Robb can’t help but think that the longer he leaves his castle alone, the worse the situation will become.

“I know,” he says. It seemed a lifetime ago, when they’d arrived and demanded a Maester for Jon, a few days unconscious and still not woken up. Robb can’t shake the sight of the brunette’s blood drenched face, or the way Grey Wind tore into Lord Bolton’s leg, crippling him for life. The little he had left of it.

“What of the Dornishmen?” Lord Karstark says, with a surprisingly level tone. “No doubt the Lannister’s already know about them. How many men will they offer?” Robb shakes his head.

“I don’t know. I have to send a raven.” He’s never communicated with Doran or Oberyn Martell directly, and he can’t shake the thought that Jon might never wake up. He walks forward, as the rain begins to fall down, washing away the spatter of blood from his face and clothes. His mother is standing by the door, hands clasped, and staring at the head left on the ground.

“Have you spoken to the Maester, Mother?” he asks, because she’s been there for the past couple of days after the funeral ended, looking after Jon, and weaving prayer wheels, almost as diligently as she once had Bran.

“He responded this morning,” she says, a bit listlessly. Robb can’t blame her, because he feels like he’s drowning himself, and the only thing keeping him afloat is the thought that one day, he’ll get his justice. One day, his men will have their freedom. One day. “The Maester believes he will wake up soon.”

“Good,” Robb says, not even fighting the relief in his voice. Lord Umber looks relieved as well, and Robb remembers collapsing under the weight of Jon’s body as he made his way out of the tent, and the bearded man taking him, while others secured Lord Bolton. The howls of the direwolves, deep and angry and panicked, haven’t left his mind.

He turns to the Blackfish and Lord Karstark ordering them to gather the men. There is much that they need to discuss. He entangles his arm around his mother’s as they make their way to the dining hall, where the servants have prepared platters of baked trout with vegetables and lemons imported from Dorne. Already, his Uncle Edmure is sitting there, picking at a bit of fish, while Lord Glover glares at him over the stack of missives and letters in front of him.

“Your Grace,” Lord Glover says, inclining his head as they enter. He holds up a small strip of white parchment, and Robb can see the sigil depicting a sun and spear through the paper, illuminated by candle light from the hanging chandeliers. “Give this to the lad when he wakes up.” It’s already been opened and read, and Robb knows that he could look at it himself, but he pockets it instead. He sits down at the head of the table, ignoring the food, and his mother sits down next to him on the right, while Lord Karstark and Lord Umber sit on the left.

“The Freys are our enemies,” Robb says, though they already all know this. “The Lannisters know our movements. But we will not pull back. We will not bow down. We will show them what Northerners are capable of. We will not back down. Winter is still coming for them.”

Gestures and words of agreement echo all around the table, and out of the corner of his eye, Robb sees his mother’s expression turn to one of pride.

“We will need more men,” Alysane Mormont, who stayed with him rather than with her family at the Crag, says. “If we have any hope of beating Tywin Lannister.” She says it as if they were not all aware.

“It’s time that Doran Martell makes good on this alliance,” Robb says, and all of the men around the table nod. “A raven will be sent to him, asking for aid. If he refuses to give it—” Robb swallows past the hard lump in his throat, stomach flipping unpleasantly. “—and I do not think he will, he will remember that his nephew has been with us.” No one around the table, not even Lord Karstark, looks happy at the idea of using Jon as a bargaining chip, though it will be done if necessary. “We will also offer my sister, Arya Stark, in a marriage alliance to strengthen ties.” He’s trading her, again, though at least this time it’s not for a bridge. At least it’s in a place he believes she can be happy.

“And our next move?” Lord Umber asks. Robb takes in a deep breath, and outlines his plans to them. He sees some of them look skeptical, and his Uncle Edmure is looking off into the distance, but they all nod in agreement. His mother is picking at the food on her plate, and there is a deep look of worry on her face that Robb imagines might never leave. Everywhere they turn, there are more enemies, crawling out at them like wrights and grumpkins from Old Nan’s tales.

“Are there other concerns?” he asks, once everyone’s cups are empty, and the sun has set to moonlight in the sky outside the windows. Lord Umber looks troubled, but he nods his head in affirmation.

“There is the matter of your heir, Your Grace.”

Robb closes his eyes, and resists the urge to groan. It’s an important matter, he knows this, but the thought of brokering another betrothal right now, after all that’s happened, leaves him cold. It can’t be put off for long, not with the war, but it doesn’t need to be dealt with tonight .

“We’ll discuss that another day, Lord Umber,” he says, using the same tone as his father whenever he made it clear to his children that he meant business and they were to wash their face and stand up straight as told.

After the meeting is adjourned and the lords file out, Robb follows his mother to the sickroom where Jon is laying unconscious on the bed. His breathing is steady, and his chest is rising and falling normally, but there’s a bandage wrapped around the hand that lost several layers of skin, and the white pillow is stained brown with old blood. Robb wonders if the stitches on his head need to be changed. His mother sits down on the chair next to the bed, where a half-finished prayer wheel is placed, and grabs it.

Not for the first time, Robb wishes for the familiarity of the weirwood, so that he could pray to the Old Gods of his ancestors, for his family, for his kingdom, for the ones he loves. Down here, down south among the Seven, he feels lost in a sea of uncertainty and treachery. He stands, hovering by the bed, not sure if he should sit, or if he should go. Underneath Jon’s eyelids, Robb thinks he sees movement, but after a few moments, the brunette still fails to open his eyes.

“I love you,” he wants to say, but doesn’t, because his mother is here, and because he can’t . “You’re an idiot,” he thinks about telling the sleeping man, but what use would that be when he’s not awake to remember it. Instead, he looks about the room, to where Ghost is sleeping in the corner by the fire, and the table filled with poultices and vials of medicine.

His hand goes to touch his pocket where the letter from the Martell’s rests, though it burns a weight in the leather. His mother looks to him, with questions in her eyes, and shaking hands. In a moment, he’s around the bed and beside her, kneeling down and kissing her forehead.

“We will all be together again, Mother,” he whispers, as he pulls back. There are tears on her face. “You, and me, and Sansa and Arya. I promise.” He will burn the entire capital to the ground if he has too.

There’s no other chair, and Robb doesn’t want to leave, so he sits on the edge of Jon’s bed, hand outstretched in such a way that it looks like he’s just placed it there, but near enough to feel like he’s holding Jon’s. They talk about Winterfell, nostalgic and longing for home, until the Maester comes in, and shoos him out by telling him that a king should not be so long in a sickroom.

As he makes his way to his room, large and ornate with torches lined around the wall and a large four-poster bed, with a mattress big enough to fit five men, he pulls out the strip of paper from his pocket. He bits his lip as he reads it, and rubs his hand over his eyes, before he goes to his desk, collapsing in front of the map of Westeros. His eyes are burning, and his head pounding, by the time he falls asleep, forehead flat against the desk.



 

The sharp, acrid scent of medicinal herbs floods his senses as Jon blinks, the light from the open window streaming in and making him groan. It’s sharp, and he reflectively closes his eyes again, but can’t manage to move his arms to cover his face with anything. He’s flat on his back somewhere, but it's soft, and he doesn't think it's the ground. He clenches his fist, and feels soft sheets and padding underneath him.

“Seven hells,” he manages to say, the words coming out more as a croak than a voice, “someone close the curtains.” His head is pounding, and his fist throbs as he releases the bed, with a brief, sharp prick left behind as he flexes his fingers.

“You haven’t seen sunlight for days,” a voice replies. “Wake up, lazy, and look out the window.”

He moans, sounding a bit like a child when they’ve been told they can’t have any sweets, and his eyelids open up in a narrow slit. It’s blurry, and he can only vaguely make out shapes, but the sun isn’t piercing him yet, so he takes a moment before he fully opens his eyes. He looks to the window first, which is to his right, and he can see the sky, blue and clear for the first time in ages, and trees for miles. Green tall trees, with nests of birds and swaying leaves.

His breaths in, his nose scrunching at the overwhelming odor of medicine, and then looks to his left where Robb is sitting. His left cheek is red, and there are imprints there that indicate that he’s just recently woken up himself, and the circles under his eyes have grown darker. Yet there’s a smile on his face that’s teasing, and relieved, and soft all at once. There’s no one else in the room. The Maester who no doubt left all the vials of medicine and bandages is absent, but there are prayer wheels scattered about the tables near his bed, and hanging above him.

He lifts himself up on his elbows and asks, “Where are we?” He remembers his sword, loose in his grip, and the guttural sound of Bolton’s screams amidst the feral growls of a direwolf. That was outside.

“Riverrun.” They’d been a day or two, at most, from the castle, before. Carefully, Robb moves forward and lifts up the pillows, placing them flat against the wall. Jon leans his head back, relaxing the slight trembling coming from muscles lain useless for days.

“How long have I been here?” he asks, though he doesn’t care much, not really. He doesn’t know what happened to Bolton, but given that he’s in a well-furnished room, and not a prison cell, odds are Jon’s plan succeeded.

“Five days,” Robb answers, and he’s frowning now. His eyes are dark, and concerned, and his fingers reach up, abortively, to run through his hair, or scratch at his neck, or any of the other myriad gestures he does when he’s out of sorts.

Jon’s eyebrows raise. He’s been unconscious a week? “Well,” he says, coughing a bit even though his throat is not sore. “That’s—a while.”

Robb looks incredulous, and he opens his mouth a few times, as if he’s trying to think of words to say. Jon wonders if he’s searching for a more diplomatic way of telling him he’s a fool, because the motions he’s going through are similar to his sisters when he’s done something reckless.

“I thought you were going to die.” The words come out soft, and a pang tugs on his heart as he looks at the expression on Robb’s face. It’s raw, and visceral, and grief stricken, and Jon wonders how long one person can live in a mourner’s house. “You opened your eyes, four days ago, but you didn’t respond to anyone, and this is the first time you’ve talked.” The redhead takes a deep breath, and there’s a rattling sound to it, as if his lungs and heart and ribcage are beating him up inside. “The Maester said you might never wake up. That if you did—that maybe you wouldn’t be you , anymore, or remember you , or things that have happened.” Robb swings his arm towards all of the prayer wheels scattered about the room. “My mother’s been sat here for days, and I’ve been dealing with the mess that Bolton’s left behind. The men are restless, and angry, and I’ve lost a good number of men, and all this time you’ve been here, dying, and there was nothing I could do.”

He breaks off into a sound that’s half a bitter laugh, but more of a sob. Jon bites his bottom lip, and stares in wonder at the emotion pouring out. He looks so young in this moment, a boy with no grip of control, and not a King, in command of thousands of soldiers. Robb closes his eyes for a moment, as both of them breathe into the silence, and then whispers, “You’re an idiot, and I hate you.”

Jon lets out a hmph , and smiles. “No, you don’t.”

“No, I don’t.”

They sit there, for a long time, as Robb tells him about Hoster Tully’s funeral, Bolton’s execution, new strategies and battle plans, the broken off engagement with the nameless Frey (a burst of a kind of vindictive pleasure hits Jon with that), and Catelyn Stark’s bedside vigil. He’s surprised, a bit, because even though he knows that she’s warmed to him in their travels, he would never expected a high lady of a Northern castle, the mother of a King, to sit beside a foreign Dornishman all that time.

“I plan to offer your uncle a marriage alliance with whoever he chooses and Arya,” Robb says, his fingers tracing circles across the comforter on the bed. It’s a wonder, really, that they’ve been left alone this long. It has to have been an hour, at least, since he’s woken.

“She’ll love it in my country,” Jon says, and although he’s never met the girl, he knows deep in his bones the truth of his own words. “We respect women who desire to protect themselves, and fight for their beliefs.”

“I know.” All of a sudden, Robb looks nervous. “There was a raven from your father a few days ago.” Jon nods, and feels a pang at the thought that he might have died, far from his family and his home. It’s there only a moment, because the way the sun is hitting Robb’s red curls makes him remember why he’d done what he did. “He’s making his way from Dorne as an—honored guest —to attend the marriage ceremony of Joffrey and Margaery Tyrell.” Terror strikes him, because Bolton had known too much, and who knew what he’d told the Lannisters. His father could be going to King’s Landing to be thrown into a cell. “He wants you to meet with him near the mountains along The Goldroad.”

Jon smiles, but it fades as quickly as it came. “Will I be allowed to meet with him?” He’s not a prisoner, of course, but given all the betrayals, the North’s already virulent precautions have probably picked up like a winter storm.

The redhead’s mouth twists. “If you’re strong enough.”

Jon laughs. “I’ll be strong enough.” He licks his dry lips, and reaches forward, suddenly mindful of the fact that they are alone, and in a castle with a proper bed. The bandage on his hand—thankfully not his sword hand—doesn’t matter, nor the ringing in his head. He kisses the redhead, who’s still for a moment, before he responds with enthusiasm, all of the turbulence of the past week being pushed into their embrace.

“Jon,” he says, as they break apart for air. There’s desire on his face, but reluctance too. “We shouldn’t. You’re injured.”

Jon rolls his eyes, and contorts his expression so that it conveys how much he does not care. He’d once fucked a boy with orange braids while nursing a broken leg when he was fifteen, so a knock on the head and a singed hand isn’t that much more of a detriment.

“Get on with it, Your Grace,” he says, pulling the man forward, and pressing a kiss along a pulse point in his neck. “Before the Maester wants to come in.” He presses another butterfly kiss on the redhead’s adam’s apple, and the fine red hairs of his beard tickle Jon’s lip. “I hope you locked the door.”

He hadn’t, but it was a simple matter to rectify, and after a few moments lost in the feel of one another, neither of them cared much who might come knocking at the door.


 

The sun is set by the time Robb opens his eyes, his arm numb from where Jon’s head has been resting on it for several hours. They are wrapped in the sheets, and their clothes are in a disorganized pile on the floor. Only one candle’s fire is still burning, and the weak light cast shadows on Jon’s pale skin and black curls. They are spread out in a mess around his head, over Robb’s forearm, and the white pillow. Robb’s other arm is wrapped around Jon’s waist, and the brunette is curled in slightly, his nose scrunched up in a cute manner.

Robb sighs, and takes a moment to look at the man next to him. Love on the wrong sides of the sheet, a voice whispers to him, and it sounds a bit like his mother, but more like an old septon. He does not worship those gods, though, and while the old gods might not cast favor upon them, they did not condemn it either.

What will happen though, Robb wonders, when I need to marry? His wife, of course, can not be expected to abide her husband stepping out on her with another man . Women, women were expected, though Robb would never dishonor his wife that way, but not men. And Jon was not just a man; he was the one Robb loved.

“You will learn to love her,” his mother had said when she’d betrothed him to a Frey. “Love is learned. It’s made every day, through hardships and laughter. Together.” That was the love his mother and father had, but it was not the love that it was rumored his father had shared with Ashara Dayne, before his Uncle Brandon and Grandfather Rickon were murdered by the Mad King.

Or, if one listened to dark whispers, the love Rhaegar Targaryen felt for Robb’s aunt, Lyanna. Was that the type of love he felt? Fast, and all-consuming, and selfish? The type of love where he’d cast off his duties, his honor, and his responsibilities just to see his beloved smile? Rhaegar crowned Lyanna Stark the Queen of Love and Beauty with blue winter roses, in front of his own wife . And the realm had burned for it.

No, Robb thinks, even as he reaches out to brush a curl away from Jon’s eyes. I can not do that. I have to let him go, one day. His stomach twists and burns at the thought, because he can’t imagine a life without the other man now. The reality of that just recently too close.

He’s going to go meet his father, Robb reminds himself, and maybe he won’t come back. He doesn’t need to stay here anymore. I could send a hundred guards, to make sure he returns to me, but what then? What would that show to the Martells?

He couldn’t afford to alienate anymore allies. The Dornish are rumored to have almost as many man as the North could muster, and more important, they have ships. He needs that, if he had any hope to win this war.

A soft huff echoes in his ear, and the arms around his own waist tighten. “Stop thinking so loudly,” Jon says, voice tinged with sleep. “Or you’ll wake the whole castle.” His eyes are still closed, and Robb muses that he’s only half-aware, as the brunette’s head shuffles closer, seeking warmth from the redhead.

“Jon,” he asks, feeling bold in the darkness of the sickroom, “do you love me?” If he says no, then Robb can do it. He can give him up. It would be easy then, to sever it before it goes any further. If he says yes—

“Hmmmm?” is the reply, and he waits, heart beating hammer strikes in his chest. “Stupid question.” Robb closes his eyes, and his lungs feel like they’ve been snapped in half, somehow.

“‘Course I do.”

His eyes flash open, and he looks to the dozing man. His breathing is evening out, returning to slumber. And Robb still feels like his is gone.  

I’ve laid my crown of winter roses in a viper’s pit, he thinks, and knows, then, beyond a shadow of a doubt, as selfish and as dishonorable as it is, that he can’t give him up.

“Come back to me,” he whispers, close to Jon’s ear. He doesn’t respond, lost in dreams. Carefully, Robb extracts his arm from Jon, moving to gather his clothes and put them on as silently as he can. It’s late, and a King cannot be out of his own chambers all night. He blows out the candle as he leaves, glaring at the untouched bottles of medicinal herbs (because that meant the Maester left Jon unchecked for hours , even if that worked to their benefit), and opens the door, walking as stealthily as he can down the corridor and up the winding stairs to his own rooms. The men standing watch nod at him, and bow, and he hopes that his hair is orderly enough. He tugs at the collar of his overtunic, which feels like a noose, when the door closes, and then curls up next to Grey Wind and Ghost on the bear skin rug on the floor.



 

His mother insists on riding with Jon, and a few other men, to meet Prince Oberyn in the mountains. Robb protests, because there’s no reason she should go, and he doesn’t understand her desire to do so.

“This is an alliance not just between the North and Dorne,” she told him, looking fierce and harsh and prideful. “This is between Stark and Martell. And a Stark should be there to speak with them.” Her tone leaves no room for argument. As her King, Robb can order her to stay, and she would be able to do nothing. As her son, he knows she’s right, and he cannot go himself.

A week later, Shadow and his mother’s horse are being prepared to leave by several young, spotty faced stable boys. Robb lingers in the doorway, watching Jon feed his mare apples by hand, and get in the boys’ way. His mother is making sure that everything is packed and ready to go, and the men riding with them are sharpening their swords, and prepping their bows, in case they run into trouble on the road. They’re all dressed like common knights, so that no Lannister will see the contingent of Stark men, and his mother has wrapped her long, red hair in a scarf. It does little, for those that know her, to mask who she is, but it’s better than nothing.

“Has your father let you know,” Robb asks, clearing his throat, “exactly where you are to meet?” Oberyn’s first letter specified a general location, but little else. Two more ravens came after the first.

Jon nods, pursing his lips. “He has. My sisters remain at home. Ellaria is with him.” His tone is worried, and Robb knows it's because he doesn’t know how much he’ll be able to convince his father to avoid King’s Landing. Ravens had been sent to Dorne, and by now Doran Martell should be aware of Bolton’s actions, but for a man as reckless as the Red Viper of Dorne, that meant little.

Jon smiles a bit, as he turns to look to Robb. “Don’t worry so much,” he says, regardless of how hypocritical it is. Jon’s been stressing out for days, sullen and brooding. “We’ll be fine. I’ll watch over your mother. And myself.”

“Look how well you’ve done that so far,” Robb says, with a bit of annoyance creeping into his tone. The skin of his hand is pink and rough, but healing, and the cut on his head is faint now, almost disappeared into a scar. “Aren’t you glad the Maester didn’t have to shave some of your beloved hair?”

Jon glares at him, and pouts. The thought of his curly hair cut, or shaved, clearly sits uneasy with him. Robb feels the urge to laugh, buried underneath the need to fret.  “You should be glad, as well,” Jon says, voice pitched low, so that the stable boys intent on calming his mother’s skittish horse can’t hear. “You love my hair.”

This is true, of course. Robb would regret the loss of those curls, and the way they feel in his hands when he pulls at them, or the way they frame Jon’s face.

“I’ll love it more if it comes back with your head still attached to your neck,” Robb says. They haven’t talked about it, the fact that Jon might not come back. If his father goes to King’s Landing, Jon will insist on going with him, though Oberyn Martell might have brain cells enough to realize that to be a horrible idea. If his father goes home to Dorne, then Jon might go with him, and command men to fight for Robb. But he’ll be in a Dornish camp, among Dornish men, and no longer by Robb’s side. Either way, Robb believes, he won’t return.

Jon bites his lip, worrying it with his teeth. “One day,” he says, voice low and wistful, “I’ll take you to Dorne. We’ll pick grapes off the vines in the vineyards and drink red wine. It will stain your lips. You’ll taste Dornish food. I’m not sure if you can handle hot peppers, they’re a bit—” his voice takes on a wicked lilt, “—spicier than you’ve had before. But you’ll try, even if there’s tears in your eyes, and I’ll laugh watching you insist you’re okay. Then, we’ll ride out to the beach, and swim in the cold water, and watch the waves crash against the sand and the sun disappear into the moon.” Jon smirks, before he says, “It will be so hot to you, you might even insist on trying to walk around with no clothes.”

Jon’s still dressed in a fur cloak, and Riverrun has been pleasantly warm their entire stay. It’s strange, but then again, his mother had taken a while to adapt to the cold in the North.

Robb nods, and pictures it, as clearly as he can. Then he whispers back, “And after that, you’ll come back North with me. I’ll show you Winterfell, the crypts and the weirwood trees in the godswood. Watch you walk among them, shivering under a hundred furs, with Ghost by your side, white against the snow. It will be deep, taller than your knees, and you’ll pout and complain of cold. And I’ll laugh—” because he’ll throw a snowball at Jon, just like he used to do with his siblings, “—and—” he stops, because Winterfell is not exotic. It’s steadfast, and hard, and brutal as the North, but warm, and welcoming, and honest. “—and I’ll finally be home.”

Jon nods, an affirmation of their childish dreams. “Yes,” he says, “You will. You’ll make it home.”

A shout from one of the stable hands breaks their spell, and they turn to see one of them on the ground, glaring at his mother’s horse. Jon rolls his eyes, and so does Robb, before they both go over to wrestle the reins away from them. The horse calms for them, and they put the saddle on, to the wide-eyed awe of the lads, and then they’re moving away from the stables, towards where his mother is standing in wait.

After Jon gets up on his horse, and they whisper goodbye, Robb turns to his mother. “Are you sure about this? You can stay here.” He’d prefer her not to be running around the realm when it’s under this much strife. The Lannisters are stronger than ever with the Tyrells.

“I am,” she says, her tone firm. There’s a hardness there, and a sense of expectation, though he’s not sure what for. There are many things, these days, he’s not sure about. “Goodbye Robb.” She reaches out, and he hugs her tight, and kisses her forehead, then she does the same. “I love you.”

He stands back, heart in his throat, as they ride away. When they are gone from view, he squares his shoulders, and turns to his Uncle Brynden, and his Uncle Edmure, as well as his bannermen, and orders them to the dining hall. There is more war to plan for.

Chapter Text

The ride to the meeting place that his father had set up isn’t hard, but it’s long and tedious. Their group of six, traveling as commoners and without banners, has taken to sleeping in inns whenever they can, because the rain is pouring down upon their heads most nights. Jon almost envies Lady Stark, because the scarves and the cloaks she wears to keep her face hidden, are keeping her relatively dry, as well. As dry as one can be, at least, when the clouds are filled to bursting and throwing a tantrum morning and night.

Somewhere, in the surrounding creeks and forests, Ghost is out hunting, mouth eager for the taste of game. He’s not that far, however, and even though Jon can’t tell how he, inexplicably, knows this, it's a comfort to know the direwolf is close by.

The inn that they’re staying in for the night is old, and smells a bit like dirt and mold. It’s not the nicest of places, and Lady Stark’s nose wrinkled when she first stepped inside, but the lentil stew has a rich, earthy flavor to it and a pleasant heat against their tongues. The innkeeper, a balding man with moles the size of grapes on his neck, is friendly. His daughter, a girl that smiled at Jon with crooked teeth, and plays with her straight, russet colored braid as she walks with a sway in her hips to serve them, is even friendly . Lady Stark glares at her frostily whenever she comes by, and if she didn’t have better manners, Jon figures she’d have grabbed the bowl of rye bread out of the girl’s hands.

Cley Cerwyn, the son of some minor lord in the North, looks at the girl through his thin eyelashes. She is making no attempt to hide the fact that her falling down dress is aimed at the Dornishman. Cley has thin, stringy brown hair, and a long face that resembles, on its best days, a donkey; his ears stick out, his nose is lumpy, and his skin is pallid. In camp, the boy could just pay the whores following them, but on the road, he’s had far worse luck, and it's put him in a foul mood.

Still, he’s the only one amongst them close to their own age. Jon spends many nights with Lady Stark, because Robb asked him to protect her and make sure she’s alright, but the guards that came with them are at least fifteen name days older than Jon. All of them are quiet, sullen, and brooding. It’s not much company, really, and he finds himself longing to go back to Riverrun, so that he can hold Robb at night, or watch the triumphant gleam in his eye whenever he beats Jon in cyvasse .

“Does she think she’s better than me?” Cley mutters around a bite of turnip. “I’m the son of a lord .”

Jon rolls his eyes, and next to him, eating her stew with a strained expression, he sees Lady Stark do the same. Jon picks up his spoon, and takes a bite of his stew so that he doesn’t have to answer. He runs the fingernails of his other hand across the table top, scratching the wood. It strings, and the skin is still pink and raw there, but the muscles are getting stronger, even though at the end of a long day of riding it hurts like he’s being burned all over again.

“Stuff it,” Harrold, one of Lady Stark’s guards from the Riverlands, says, reaching over to cuff the boy on the back of the head. He’s large, and muscular, and Jon wonders if he can wrestle moose with his arms, because his biceps are nearly the size of Jon’s head. “You're in the presence of Lady Stark, lad, you best start acting like it.”

Cley shoots a disgruntled look back at the man, but begrudgingly apologizes. Lady Stark nods, but Jon can see by the downward twist in the left corner of her mouth that she’s not quick to forgive the boy. Meanwhile, the girl passes by the table again, and smiles at Jon, a quick movement of her lips, before she moves away carrying a tray laden with cheese and bread to three men sitting by the large hearth fire.

Before the boy can receive a lecture on proper etiquette, Jon says, “You don’t have time for that, anyway. It’s your night to keep watch.” Even with his mood, Cley takes his duties seriously, which is a good mark for him. He’s a decent enough swordsman, a better archer, and a good man to take care of the horses, but when he’s on watch, he’ll stand there like a statue without blinking if he needs too.

“She could still smile at me,” the boy responds, sullen, before he falls silent, digging his spoon into his soup aggressively. Harrold, Merryn, and Yohn, the men from the Riverlands shoot him a look of scorn, but refrain from saying anything. Lady Stark breathes in deep, though Jon doesn’t hear it, rather, he feels it with the slight shift of her arm against his, squished in tight as they are in rickety chairs around the table.

She’s been on edge the entire journey. It’s to be expected, but there are times when her eyes go dark, and distant, and Jon wonders what demons she’s locked into in her mind. Her sons? Her daughters? Her husband, perhaps, or her father, or the million other myriad foul happenstances that have taken her life and wrenched it apart. Sometimes, though, she stands close to him, and looks at him with that deep, searching gaze again, and abortive attempts at talk that stop before they start.

The group sits in silence for a long time, though the high-pitched merriment of the other patrons provides a sort of static background that Jon finds familiar. Dorne was often the same way, with the servants in the castle providing a sort of musical draw the same way that the sea did; distant, quiet, and comforting. He wonders, briefly, if it's the same way for Robb in the North. Did the sound of snow relax his tense muscles, or the laughter created by Northern voices?

The sound of buzzing by his ear breaks him from his thoughts, and he waves his hand at the irritating fly the same time that Cley speaks again, “Is it true that your father poisons anyone that displeases him?” The men sitting around the table freeze, and so does Jon, his hand poised up in the air like a mute mummer. Harrald’s mouth is half-open, and Yohn looks like he’s three steps away from slapping Cley across the face. Lady Stark’s face takes on a pinched expression, mouth tight and eyes narrow.

Jon feels a laugh bubbling in his throat, at the sheer oddness of the lad’s statement. “Do you think everything you hear is true? If so, I’m sad to tell you this, but— “ he pitches his voice low as he continues, “— my father does not only poison anyone that displeases him, but also those that please him. The deserts in Dorne are littered with the corpses of people who got on the wrong side of the Red Viper.”

Lady Stark’s brow furrows, and she looks at him with muddled confusion, but Jon is focused on the dawning horror that is spreading over Cley’s face. He looks like he wants to run, all of a sudden, and the spark of pettiness in Jon that caused this feels like a sated wolf.

Jon smiles, then says, “Cheer up, lad,” before he breaks into a laugh so hard that tears prick at the corners of his eyes. Lady Stark humphs , and the Riverlands men stare at him, unimpressed. “My father is not a man to cross, but he’s not going to poison your drink. He won’t even notice you.” Cley’s not a looker, so his father’s not even going to notice him purely on aesthetic value. Oberyn Martell is nothing if not a bit shallow, and expensive, in his tastes. “You must not take everything you hear to heart.”

The Northerners, for the most part, seem less like to bend to slander, or tall tales, but Jon has heard various head-scratching statements from them that leaves him a bit dumbfounded. He didn’t know where he’d supposedly gained skills with a sword that could beat the legendary Arthur Dayne, but he wishes someone would tell him, so he could go and get them. Fighting Tyene in the training ring, or Obara, or Nymeria, would have been a breeze. Fighting this war, Jon thinks, his mood turning melancholy, would be a lot easier.

“Yes,” Lady Stark says suddenly, and there’s a hitch in her voice, “or do you believe my husband Eddard Stark to be a traitor who falsely accused King Joffrey of being the baseborn child of the Lannister siblings?” It’s a strange non sequitur, and there’s a twist in his stomach as the uneasiness of her sharp mood turning statement falls on them all. He doesn’t know whether it’s in defense, or out of spite, that she makes her statement, but his fist clenches—painfully—on his knee all the same.

Chastised, the boy looks down. “Of course not, Lady Stark.”

“Then finish your dinner in silence,” she says, every inch the imperious Northern lady she embodies with all of her careful grace. Her shoulders are straight, and she’s sitting stiff in her chair, but Jon thinks, in that moment, he’s never seen her more in her element, commanding respect and power with minimal effort. She reminds him then of Robb, albeit a harder, more scornful version of Robb.

“What do they say of my husband in Dorne, Jon?” she asks, as she reaches to take a piece of bread. Her fingers delicately tear into it, reforming it into bite sized pieces. One by one, she begins to eat those pieces, until there is nothing remaining.

“Not much,” Jon admits, because the smallfolk of Dorne do not care about Northern lords, anymore than the smallfolk of the North care about Dorne. There is no use for winter snows in the desert, fighting off the heatstroke of the sun and searching for an oasis in the sand, or wading into the sea, fighting the tide so that it doesn’t pull you under. Anymore, he supposes, than there is use for silk smallclothes in the burning cold of endless frost. “The servants prefer to hear gossip about their own leaders, or those closer to us. Sometimes, there is gossip about the Free Cities. Who’s killed who, who’s cheated who.” Most of the time, there is just waiting. Waiting, and stewing in anger.

“My father thought that Lord Eddard was a fine leader of his people,” he continues. It was about the only thing worth valuing in the man for Oberyn Martell. “Though he deplored his sense of honor, I’ll not lie to you.” Her eyes flash, dark and angry, for a second, but she nods to show that she appreciates the honesty. The Riverlands men are gripping their dinner knives, and the serving girl walks by, hovering for a second, before she leaves, grabbing his empty bowl of food quickly, but leaving the rest.  “My Uncle Doran never said a bad word about him.”

Jon reaches out and grips his ale, drinking it down. It’s bitter, and hoppy, and kind of sour. “There were never many rumors about him that I can say.”

Lady Stark’s face is something he can’t read, and he can’t tell if she’s disappointed, or sad, or angry. There is a lot he can’t tell with her, even when they are smiling and relaxing together. Ellaria could be secretive, and manipulative, but he always knew what she was feeling. Everyone in her family did, even if no one else could. Lady Stark’s face is not expressionless, and still, it's as if he’s trying to decipher Dothraki speech.

The conversation ends there and, after a while, the serving girl comes back to pick up the rest of their empty bowls. Lady Stark and the Riverlands men excuse themselves, going up to the rooms they’re renting out, while Cley shoots one last sulking look at the girl, before he goes outside to take his shift on watch.

He closes his eyes, and lets the cacophony of voices still in the inn blanket him. Come alone, his father’s last missive had said, if you can. If not, we must speak alone. He could admit to the worry that gnawed at him due to the tone of his father’s words, even though he knows the importance of keeping Dorne’s actions secret. He’d kept his family’s actions close to his chest all his life. Still, what was so vital right now, that none of Robb’s men could know? The Northern King had promised them the Mountain, if captured, and with their actions exposed to the Lannisters, there was nothing left that Jon could conceive of to keep secret.

Don’t be naive, a voice whispers in his head, and it sounds like Arianne. There are always secrets one should keep.

Even from their loves, Jon inwardly questions. The Arianne-voice doesn’t reply, but he knows the answer anyway. He sighs, and opens his eyes to see the girl standing in front of him, her dress pushed down a little further and exposing the tops of her white, heavy breasts. She’s got freckles scattered about her collarbones, and across her button nose, and she’s smiling at him, sultry and sweet at the same time.

“Yes?” he asks, in a tone that lies and says he doesn’t know what she wants. Her dress is old, and tight, and fights her well, emphasizing her hips. She smells like lavender perfume, heavy of it, like she’d upended the bottle on herself before she’d approached.

She bites her lip. “I was just wonderin’— well— if there was anything else you’d like , ser?” His eyebrows raise a bit, though not at her forwardness. Rather, at the term of address, before he remembers he’s outfitted himself as knight, and their cover story is that they are escort to a Southern lady on her way back home during these dangerous times. The scarf which Lady Stark wears they say is to mark the disfigurement given to her by rabid soldiers.

Her eyes are wide, and guileless, and if this were a few months ago, Jon would take her upstairs and get down on his knees before her, make her feel better than she ever would again. But her russet curls are just this side of too dark, and her eyes are brown, not blue. His lips quirk into something that’s not a smile, but pity and contrition all at once.

“No,” he says. Her face falls. “The food was excellent, though. Did your mother make it?”

The question doesn’t placate her, but she shows pride when she nods in affirmation, and they spend a minute or two discussing her mother’s beef stew before she moves away to take care of more patrons, shooting one last forlorn look to him.

He drains his mug of dismal ale, and then gets up from his chair, walking past the patrons to the dark, narrow alcove that serves as a staircase to the rooms. His legs feel tired and heavy as he climbs, and his hand burns from the amount of strain he’s placed on it today. He opens the door to a paltry room, and tosses his overtunic onto the lumpy bed, before he sits down on the edge of it, and places his head in his hands.



 

Uncle Edmure does not have the brains the gods gave a rock, Robb thinks as he watches the man leave the room, the expression on his face clearly relaying the fact that he still thought he was right . A stone mill. What use did Robb have for that? A stone mill, and dead men.

“Has there been a raven back from Prince Doran yet?” Robb asks, turning his back to the Blackfish and staring out the window. The sky is clear, the sun is out, but he feels like the endless rain of the Riverlands is still pouring down on his head, mocking him.

“Not yet, Your Grace,” the Blackfish replies. Robb purses his lips. It’s been weeks since his mother and Jon left, and there’s been no news from them, or about them. There’s a constant worry in the back of his mind now, that they’ve been set on upon the road by brigands, or men working for the Lannisters. His nights are filled with thoughts of his dead brothers, his missing sisters—his father’s head on a spike.

I should have sent them with more men, Robb thinks, even though Jon’s plan to keep the company small and simple made sense. Since it was beyond a doubt that the Lannisters knew the allegiances of Dorne, keeping themselves from prying eyes is more imperative now than it was before.

“And the Lannister boys? Where are they being held?” Robb asks. They’re young, and probably scared. Just like Sansa and Arya. The Blackfish tells him they are being kept in a relatively comfortable room, heavily guarded, but not in a cell. He nods, and orders that they remain well-fed. After his uncle leaves, Robb retreats away from the window and sits down heavily in one of the wooden chairs around the long table.

What, he asks himself, do I tell Prince Doran about losing the Mountain? Although Jon’s said his uncle is a diplomatic man, careful and pragmatic, Robb can’t help but think that the Dornish ruler will not take well to the Northerners losing the one man that’s most important to him.

The even more pressing concern, however, was how to tell Jon. Before he’d left, Robb told Jon of his plans to draw the Mountain into the west, and he knew that Jon was hoping that the Mountain’s capture would keep his father from going to King’s Landing. With the mad dog on his way back to the capitol, there was no way Oberyn Martell would not go there, if just for the opportunity for revenge.

“My father is hot-headed,” Jon had said to him, the corner of his mouth uplifted. “He gives into impulse, and thinks later, when things have either gone his way or gone south.”

Robb sighs, and leaves the room, bypassing some of the guards standing at the door. A few of them follow him, as his personal protection detail, and he makes small talk with them as he walks out of the castle and makes his way to Riverrun’s godswood.It’s not in use, of course, since the men of the Riverlands have not worshipped the Old Gods in centuries. Still, no one had ever dared cut the trees down and use them for building wood, and even though they and flowers serve as a garden, a resting place for the weary, or for pleasure, it comforted Robb to walk through it, breathing in the scent of the tall redwoods and elms, as well as the smell of stream water.

After a while, he sits down, and rests in front of the weirwood tree with the sad face. For the first time, he notices that it’s branches intertwine together in a parody of a lover’s embrace. The leaves are mostly green, but he sees some reds and browns lost among the confusion of foliage. There’s a bird resting on one of the branches, fat and red, and a large bee hive on another. His men stand back, gripping their weapons, and not saying a word. They turn their backs, instead, an effort to give him privacy.

The air around him buzzes with life, wild and uncontained. The wind through the leaves makes it seem like the old gods are singing to him; a lullaby, or a prayer, or a curse, he isn’t sure, but the melody of it is familiar. The holes in the bark of the weirwood spot it like a hundred eyes.

Closing his eyes, Robb prays, harder than he ever has before. He prays for his father’s soul, and the retrieval of his father’s body so that he can be taken back to his rightful resting place. He prays for the recapture of his home and its restoration. He prays for justice against Joffrey, against the Lannisters, against the Mountain, and even against Theon Greyjoy. He asks for his sisters’ retrieval and happiness. He pictures them happy, and safe. Sansa stitching with her needles and dancing a song, while Arya swings around a place filled with exotic flowers, parrying a thin sword named Needle against an imaginary lance. He prays that his mother live a long life, and that his brothers’ souls are content. He thinks of his lords, his soldiers, the smallfolk in Winterfell, and the fallen of his army. Finally, he prays for Jon.

He prays to keep him. One selfish desire among the rest, creeping into the back of his thoughts and sticking hold like a root wrapped into the ground.

The sun is setting by the time he leaves, and as he makes his way back to Riverrun, Grey Wind joins him. His fur is stained, and he’s limping a little. His prey had apparently fought back valiantly. The direwolf nudges his nose against Robb’s hand, whining low in his throat, and Robb comforts himself by stroking his fingers through fur.

When he gets back, he eats dinner in the dining hall with some of the men, and then leaves to immerse himself in the hot bath the servants have drawn him. His head rests against the wooden raised edge of the tub, and his eyes stare at the ceiling, counting the candles in the hanging lamps, and the spiderwebs on the rafters. Grey Wind’s snout is by where Robb’s feet lift out of the water, and his tongue is licking up stray water droplets.

“Well,” Robb says, to the wolf, since there’s no one else around. “What should I do now?” He looks to where the map of Westeros is laid out on a long, wooden table, held in place by books, and scattered with pieces serving as strategic points. His eyes catch the figure serving as Winterfell, and he feels a long, deep pang at the thought of his home.

It hits him like a sword in the gut, and he jerks up, splashing water against the floor and onto a displeased Grey Wind’ face. The direwolf whines in annoyance, and moves away to curl up in a corner pointedly away from the water. Robb stands up, grabbing a towel and a robe, then makes his way over to the map. He ignores the water saturating his hair, and the suds still clinging to his arms and calves. Instead, he stands and stares and thinks, eyes focused on the figure posing as Casterly Rock.

He needs to take their home.


 

 

Ellaria greets Jon with an embrace and a bag of dried, candied mangoes. He feels tears prick at his eyes as he holds her close, burying his face in her long, dark hair as he used to in childhood. They are almost of a height with one another, as Jon has never been very tall for a man, and when he pulls back to look into her dark eyes, he sees tears in her eyes as well. She’s not usually a woman prone to crying or sad smiles, and it hits him how much she might have missed him.

His father stands back, looking at the guards surrounding Lady Stark suspiciously. There is a frown on his face, but as he comes forward, his expression shifts to one of tender and affectionate regard as he embraces his son as well. He frowns, again, when he pulls back and sees the burn on Jon’s hand, and his eyes flash as they land on Lady Stark. As propriety demands, he bows to her, addressing her with the title befitting her station, and Ellaria follows. Lady Stark curtsies, addressing him as Prince Oberyn, but there’s a biting note to her voice as she says it.

The inn that they are meeting at is small, barely more than six rooms or so. Whoever owns it has been cleared out, but there is food on the table when they come in. Pomegranates and lemons, and the baked chickpea balls that Jon loves, along with wine and the sweet honey and nut layered pastry dessert that is Elia’s favorite. He feels a pang at the thought of his favorite sister, and the reminder that it will be a long time before he sees her again.

Lady Stark follows him inside, sitting down primly, her hands folded in her lap. Her men have been left outside, and the doors and windows have been firmly shut. As much as Oberyn Martell preferred to leave her outside, as well, her firm insistence that she would not leave Jon, and as a Stark emissary had a right to be in the room, caused the unhappy Dornish man to concede.

“You look so pale,” Ellaria says, breaking the silence that’s shrouding the room like a dark cloak. “The Northern sun is bleaching you out.” It’s a joke, considering the Dornish sun has never done much to give him color either. Marble, people called him, but now, he supposes, he might resemble ice.

The ice snake, he thinks, with a rueful twist to his lip, or the ice wolf. Ghost is near, he can feel, though he’s relieved for now that he doesn’t have to explain his companion to his family yet.

“Perhaps it agrees with him better ,” Lady Stark suddenly says. Her face is smooth, expressionless, but her eyes are looking upon Ellaria and Oberyn, as well as the food, with so much distaste that Jon wonders if she believes his family to be the Lannisters. Ellaria looks to her with a tight smile, and Oberyn’s fist clenches around his eating knife.

“Lady Stark,” Jon says, even though he’s not sure what to do about the tension, “you should eat.” He feels foolish as he says it. “The journey’s been long. I cannot take you back to King Robb looking like a waif.”

His father frowns, and so does Lady Stark. She does, however, pick up one of the chickpea balls to eat, looking at it with a briefly furrowed brow. These ones are not heavily spiced, not like home, so they’ll be much better for her palette then the ones cooked with spicy peppers, cumin, and coriander.

“You’re returning to St— King Robb’s camp?” his father asks, lips pursed in something like disapproval. Jon blinks, and swallows around the bit of food stuck in his throat.

“That depends,” he replies, slowly, testing his words, “are you still going to King’s Landing?” Ellaria shuts her eyes, for a second, then opens them again with a heavy sigh. Her hand drifts across the table, then stops before it grips his father’s. Jon looks to Lady Stark, taking in the stiffness to her muscles. She, too, is staring at Oberyn with expectation.

“We’re expected there,” Oberyn says, nonchalantly, as if he’s not expected there now so he can be greeted with chains and a black cell. Jon’s eyebrows raise, not in shock, because this is typical of his father, but in annoyance. “What kind of message would it show to them, if we do not show up? A cowardly one. Besides, Doran is contemplating using your time there to his advantage if he needs to. Say that Stark had you as a hostage. The Martell’s were forced.” His father’s expression is strained, no doubt remembering when the Martell’s were forced to deal with Elia as a hostage.  

“Father,” he says, leaning over the table, “if you go there and they don’t believe Uncle Doran, the Lannisters will execute you.” He thinks, then, of Eddard Stark, a man he’s never seen, true, but he can picture his head on a spike clearly, dripping blood onto the ramparts and festering in the sun. Joffrey Waters will do the same to Oberyn, and he might even make it a show. The proud Dornish, stewing in their anger over their lost Princess Elia, now with a butchered Prince Oberyn. The treasonous Dornish, brought low, again.

His father smiles darkly. “They will try,” he says, waving his hand dismissively. Jon feels the urge to shout with frustration bubbling up inside him, but presses it down. Throwing a tantrum like a boy of six namedays would serve him nothing. “They cannot, however, execute nobility without a trial.” His voice takes on an angry undertone, and Jon can hear the unspoken again as clearly as he can hear Lady Stark’s breathing. “If they slap me in their irons and throw me into their cells—” he holds up his hand, as both Jon and Ellaria open their mouths to protest. His not-quite-stepmother is just as unhappy with this folly. “—I will demand a trial by combat.”

Jon stares at him, incredulously. “A trial by combat ?” he says, and there’s a harried note to his voice as his emotions threaten to break free. “Are you insane?” it comes out almost like a hiss, as if he were actually a snake. “The Mountain will crush you.”

Oberyn shakes his head. “He will not.” He’s sure and certain, and there’s nothing in his voice that indicates Jon will turn him from this path. His father is more stubborn then all of the Sand Snakes put together. “The gods will give me retribution for Elia.”

Lady Stark leans forward, and says, “Did you and your family not make an alliance with my son, King Robb, that stipulated terms about the Mountain? You will get your justice.” She is looking at him with empathy, an expression that sits almost queer on her face when aimed towards Oberyn.

“We did,” Oberyn says, and he leans back in his chair, placing himself as far away from her as he can sitting around a table. “Your son, however, has not delivered. He may never deliver. I would be a fool to not take the opportunity that I have been given now. I’ve waited many years for this, and I will not be denied my vengeance. Tell me, Lady Stark, would you not do the same?”

She is silent, and takes a long sip of her wine, and it’s obvious that she cannot refute his father’s words. Jon feels a headache building up behind his eyes, and he looks to Ellaria for help. She shakes her head, and it's clear that she has tried, and failed, to talk Oberyn out of this many times.

“So, what?” he asks, and there’s a bit of sullenness to his voice now. “Is this meeting a preparatory goodbye? In case your head gets torn off? The Lannisters might not even call upon the Mountain to fight. The Kingslayer is back with them, now, what if he fights you?” After all, why wouldn’t Joffrey and Cersei Lannister, as well as Tywin, call upon their golden warrior to fight one of their enemies? Jon runs his hands through his hair, for once not caring how messed up the curls will become.

“I will kill him, as well,” Oberyn says, though Jon can hear the irritation in his voice at the thought that he would not personally get to kill the Mountain. His expression shifts, however, and softens as he continues, “I will not tell you goodbye. The gods will not take me, for my cause is the only cause they will back.”

Jon wants to laugh at the audacity of it all. Eddard Stark’s cause had been just, and honorable, and the Old Gods had done nothing to keep his head from parting with his shoulders. Robb’s cause was just, but still, his brothers had been taken from him, and he’d been faced with betrayal on all sides. The gods, Jon decided darkly, did not care about whose cause was just. Only who would give them the most amusement.

His food lay forgotten on his plate, barely touched. Around him, everyone else’s food was in the same state. In the minutes they’ve been here, Lady Stark has grown tenser with each breath, and Jon sees her hands tighten around each other, turning her knuckles pale and stark white, against the angry red blush.

Jon purses his lips, and his head moves involuntarily in a nod, but it's not affirmation. It’s emotion, and frustration. “Then I will not tell you goodbye either.” He takes a deep breath. “For I will come with you.”

Lady Stark turns to him quickly, face filled with distress. Oberyn sits up, quickly, and shakes his head, denial on the tip of his tongue. Ellaria lets out a moan, and reaches forward to grab his hand.

“You will not,” Oberyn says, and for the first time since their meal began, there is something other than cockiness in his voice. “You will either accompany Daemon Sand back home, or you will return to King Robb. But you will not step one toe into King’s Landing until there’s an army at your back, do you hear me?” There’s fear in his voice, and grief as well. And anger. So much anger.

“I am your son” Jon says stubbornly. There is a noise from Lady Stark, but he ignores it. “If my sisters were here they would do the same.” Tyene would probably tie herself to Oberyn, if it came to it.

“No.” His father’s voice is hard as he answers. “I forbid it.”

“I’m a man, you cannot forbi—” he starts to say, when Ellaria stands up, kicking back her chair with a sudden thud. It crashes to the floor, and the hand that is gripping his pulls him up.

“Come,” she says, “and let us all calm down. Speak more about this—” she says, looking at him almost desperate, and then at his father with a pointed expression, “—later.” She starts to pull him away from the table, and Jon tries to plant his feet on the ground. He’s stronger than her, after years of sword training, but the pleading look she sends him makes him break. He follows her out the door, and leaves his father, angry and annoyed, with Lady Stark, equally as displeased, behind.



 

Fuck the Seven, Robb thinks, and fuck the Lannisters too, right in their golden arses.

“Are you sure?” he asks Lady Mormont, who arrived that morning from the Crag. “This is not another false rumor?” He hopes it is. He does not want to think about his beautiful, song loving sister, who dreamed of knights and valor and true love, caged like this.

“It is no rumor, Your Grace,” she says, and there is anger in her voice. “Tyrion Lannister is Sansa’s husband, now.”

Robb wants to scream, but doesn’t. Instead, stamping tight on his anger, he says, “Thank you, Lady Mormont. I swear, by the Old Gods and the New, the Lannisters will pay for this.” When he gets to King’s Landing, he will drag the imp to the Great Sept of Baelor and force him to renounce the marriage, with a sword at his throat and a direwolf at his back. His sister will be free.

“This complicates matters more, Your Grace,” Lord Karstark says. He’s sitting next to Lord Umber, with Lady Mormont on his right side. Around the table, several other lords nod their heads in agreement. “The matter of your succession has become more vital now than before. Sansa Stark is your oldest sister. If you die in battle—”

“If I die in battle, then Tyrion Lannister gets Winterfell.” Robb rubs his eyes. “And becomes a King.” None of the Northerners would follow him, of course, so his new dynasty would end with him. Their kingdom would fall back into the hands of the South.

For eight-thousand years my family ruled as Kings in the North, Robb thinks. A much longer dynasty than the Targaryens, and the Baratheons, or anyone else beside. Torrhen Stark bent the knee to a dragon, but now the dragons are gone.

Forgive me, Jon, he whispers to himself, though he knows, more than anyone, Jon will understand.

“No wolf,” he says, voice hard and tight and angry, “will ever bow to a lion. We will begin thinking of a suitable marriage alliance for me.” He takes a deep breath, wishing for something to wash away the bitterness, and before any of the men can suggest their daughters quite yet, he continues, “I would also like parchment, as well as a quill and ink. All of you here will be my witnesses. My sister, Sansa Lannister— “ the name is foul on his tongue,  “— will not inherit Winterfell, by royal decree.” It’s a betrayal, far more than he has ever done before, and it rips into him as he does it. I cannot let the Lannisters get a foothold in the North, he reminds himself, I cannot.

The men, and one woman, surrounding him look resigned as he signs the writ. Arya Stark is, for now, his heir, until such time as he produces his own son. If only, Robb thinks, my father had other sons. It’s not that he doesn’t think Arya could be a good Queen, although she’d chafe at the power and responsibility, all of the restrictions. No, if his father had other sons, then he would not have to disavow Sansa in this way.

He melts down the candle wax, and presses his seal against it. Then he makes several copies, and distributes them amongst the quiet lords, keeping one for himself. He sighs, and feels his anger rattling against his ribcage, the desire to wrest and tear something apart demanding to be sated. He feels like a wolf, now, more than ever before. When he takes Casterly Rock from them, he will tear down the walls, and burn the castle to ashes.

“What other news is there?” he asks, tone weary.

Lord Umber looks troubled, as he replies, “The North has sent some rather odd news.” He explains about the missive, and Robb feels a ridiculous laugh in the back of his throat. Snarks and grumpkins and dead men walking? What fantastical ravings is this world coming to. “It’s signed by your uncle, Benjen Stark. They request aid to deal with the wildlings trying to come past the Wall.”

“What,” Lady Mormont says, a bit sarcastically, and in disbelief, “not with the creatures out of our remote past?”

Robb sighs, and prays to the old gods for forgiveness. “We cannot spare any of our men to the Wall.” I’m sorry, Uncle, he thinks. I’m sorry, Father. For the first time in the history of his family, a Stark will deny aid to the Wall. “Our attack against Casterly Rock will need all of our men. Tywin Lannister’s army is larger than ours. The Dornish will come to our aid—” he tells them, reminding them of the raven from Prince Doran that had come not two days past, “but we can spare no one. The Night’s Watch will have to deal with the wildlings on their own.”

Maybe if some of them break free, they’ll raid the Dreadfort and kill Bolton’s bastard. It’s a fantasy, of course, and one that feels a bit like a cheat. Not for the first time, he wonders where Theon Greyjoy is. Did the Bolton bastard kill him? Or does he have him prisoner? Or did he escape, and is even now running back to the Iron Islands? One day, Robb knows, he’ll bring war to the Iron Islands as well.

Lord Karstark tells him that Asha Greyjoy’s ships have left Pyke, going where, they don’t know yet, but they can only assume it is to raid Northern shores. Mutterings about krakens and whores take over the council for brief moments. Then, before anyone else can speak, a soldier comes, and kneels, bending down on one knee with a quick, “Your Grace,” and says he has urgent news.

“What news?” Robb asks, in frustration. What more could go wrong in one day?

The soldier looks up, and his eyes are wide, wider than coins. “Your Grace,” he says, winded, and it's clear he ran up here. “Sandor Clegane is at the gates,” the men all get to their feet, faces thunderous, “with your sister, Arya Stark.”

Robb swears, for the rest of his life, that his heart stopped beating for a moment or two. He rushes out of the room, feet as swift as Grey Wind’s, and down the stairs of the castle, almost tripping once or twice in his haste. Loudly, his boots hit stone behind him, as everyone else follows. Men bow as he passes on his way to the gate, and he makes his way up the gate’s walls, because it's not been opened yet.

Arya, his heart sings, my little sister. What if it’s not her, he doubts, what if this is a trick? Anticipation sits low in his gut.

“Robb!” a young, familiar voice cries, as he leans over the ramparts to look down at their visitors. A man with a heavily burned face, and thin hair, brutish and tall. Next to him, a girl with short dark hair, and a wolf’s grin, looking more like a more beautiful version of their father, dressed as she is in boy’s clothes. She’s taller, shape that of a budding woman’s, but it’s her . “Robb!” Her voice is high, and joyful, and quickly he orders the men to open the gates, turning around to rush back down.

She jumps into his arms when his feet hit dirt, and he grasps her close to him, clinging to her. His eyes are burning, and for once, he lets the tears flow, lost in her dirty hair. She needs a bath, and a change of clothes, and warm food. It’s her, though, and her body is shaking as she holds him, both of them muttering each other’s names, as if the second they stopped, they’d lose one another again.

“Arya,” he whispers, in her ear. “Thank the gods.”



 

Jon and Ellaria wander around the inn for a few minutes, and she strokes his arm in an effort to sooth him, comfort him again as she did when he was a boy. He’d always been quick to anger, like his father. The walls are cracking, and there are numerous holes in the floorboards. The inn is a rat trap, really, but it’s out of the way. It would have been too risky, after all, to meet on the road.

“What happened to your hand?” she asks, taking his burned hand in hers. She rubs her fingers gently over the pink skin. He looks down, and bites his lip.

“An oil lamp,” he says, then tells her about Bolton. She’s proud of him, for fighting, though she scolds him for the reckless nature of his plan.

“Do not be too angry with your father,” she says, after they have gone up and down each room. They could go outside, he supposes, but there’s a constant, repetitive thudding against the roof that indicates rain. “He is not doing this to hurt any of us.”

“He is a fool,” Jon says, a growl building up in the back of his throat. It’s feral, and savage. “He’s going to get himself killed. Why can he not wait? If he’s so insistent that I will not enter King’s Landing without an army, then why can’t he enter with the same army? Either way, he will get his justice.”

Ellaria turns to him, and strokes a hand down his cheek. She’s smiling sadly. “It’s different for you.”

“How?” They start walking back towards the main room where they left Oberyn and Catelyn.

“That is something that your father needs to tell you. Himself,” she says, and she seems uneasy. Whatever it is, it's weighing on her. For the first time, Jon notices the faint trembling of her hands, and the dark circles under her eyes. His not-quite-stepmother has always looked impeccable, and now she looks tired.

“Did you like the Northerners?” Ellaria asks, stepping back from him, as she changes the subject, evading all of the questions Jon wants to ask. He closes his eyes, and wonders if this is about his mother. Robb’s remarked, when they were both sore and sated after sex, several times how very Northern Jon appears. What it is, though, his elusive mother would not bar him from joining his family in King’s Landing.

Nothing made sense anymore. Not since he’d left the Water Gardens.

In the background, Jon hears his father say, “Perhaps your son should have returned mine. He’s lucky he didn’t make an enemy out of us—”

Lady Stark interrupts him, and Jon shoots a look of concern at the door as they pass it by, “How can you say that after all—” Her voice fades when Jon and Ellaria’s steps speed up, moving farther away.

“They were interesting,” Jon replies. It’s an understatement. They’d felt familiar, and strange, and comforting all at once. He’d enjoyed them, and it felt almost natural to fight alongside them.

They go up and down the inn one more time, and Jon tells her about the direwolves.  

As they make their way back, Jon’s ears perk up at the sound of the loud voices inside the room. He can’t quite make out the words this time, he’s too far away still, but he can make out the sound of anger in Lady Stark’s voice. He looks to Ellaria, who looks shocked, and dismayed, her hearing better than his, and he lets go of her arm, moving quicker back to the door.

“Jon,” she says, but he ignores her.

“— you stole a child! You took him from the corpse of his mother and away from his rightful family,” Lady Stark screams, much to Jon’s confusion. He hovers near the door, unsure what is going on, and Ellaria comes to stand next to him, gripping his arm, asking to go outside.

She hates the rain, Jon thinks, and doesn’t move.

His father isn’t answering, and Lady Stark continues, “Admit it, viper , that you wanted to use him for your petty, twisted revenge, An innocent bab— "

“Enough!” his father says, abruptly. He sounds angry and defeated in a way that Jon has never heard before. “Yes, I did what you say. I took Lyanna Stark’s son, and I kept him from your husband. But I love that child. I raised him, I fed him, I taught him.” Jon’s heart stops, leaping up into his throat, and every muscle in his body seizes.

Lady Catelyn laughs, as Jon suddenly feels as if he’s made out of ice. Him, he thinks, numbly. He moves closer, one step, then two, but the door seems like an obstacle. A wall. He takes a deep breath, steeling himself, while Ellaria makes a sound like a groan behind him.

“Yes, you raised him,” Lady Stark says, spiteful and full of hate . “To be your pawn. All so you could have power over the Iron Throne. Don’t try to deny it. Who were you planning to give him to? Your niece?”

Arianne? Did she— did she know— what did she know? Whatever this is, it can’t be real. It’s another boy, someone else. Another boy. It’s not him.

Crack! The sound reverberates like a bang against the walls, shaking the weak foundation of the inn. Jon moves, and opens the door. The table has been throw into the wall, the entire room in disarray. One lone lemon rolls underneath the bar, and the pomegranates are scattered everywhere, one underneath Lady Stark’s boot. Red gushes underneath the heel, like blood.

“Does that matter? I still love him. That throne belongs to my family,” he hears his father say, “and it is Jon’s birthright, given to him by the cheating, polygamous dragonwhore that was Rhaegar Targay— "

“What?” Jon hears, and doesn’t know who said it, for a second or two. Then it registers that the voice, small and childlike, is his . “What are you talking about?” He barely recognizes himself, or the fast beating of his heart, the breath lodged in his throat like a boulder.

Lady Stark looks angry, a wolf, not a meek fish, and his father— his father—

His father is not his father.

“Jon,” someone says, and he doesn’t care who. Blood rushes in his ears, and he stumbles back, closing his eyes. Rhaegar Targaryen. Lyanna Stark. Throne. The words echo in his head, over and over.

“You lied to me,” he says, tone low. There’s a stabbing in his gut, twisting and turning. Lyanna Stark. Stark—

Absurdly, Jon laughs. Robb Stark. He’s been fucking his own cousin . He’s in love with his own cousin.

Well, why not, he thinks darkly, as things begin to dawn on him. He glares at his father—no, not his father—and Lady Stark, who’d known this whole time who he was, and never said anything, and then Ellaria, who has walked around him, attempting to touch him. Why not, he muses, after all, they might have had me marry a woman I thought was my cousin.

Lady Stark was right, of course, how else would they ensure their blood on their throne? He grips his sword tight, clenching his fist, and feeling the cold steel dig imprints into his skin. The pain grounds him.

“All of my life is a lie.” Ellaria looks shattered, and there are tears in her eyes, and Oberyn—he looks contrite, and shocked, and a million other things that Jon can’t give a damn about. Lady Stark moves forward, but he holds up his hand.

“Don’t,” he says. It doesn’t come out like an order, or a command, or as imperious as Robb sounds when he’s being the King of the North. It just comes out broken. “Don’t.”

He leaves to the sounds of his name, and doesn’t bother to acknowledge the men outside. Shadow is still saddled, and he lifts himself up, kicking her flanks desperately. He needs to be away, anywhere but here. She runs, neighing, and he doesn’t close his eyes until the clouded, rainy sun is gone from the sky, and Ghost is running alongside them.

Chapter Text

Jon’s eyes are burning from fatigue by the time he and Shadow finally stop. It’s been about an hour, or two, but the horse has been running hard and she’s tiring. It’s not far enough away, not nearly enough, but he won’t run her ragged. The sun has gone down, and the moon is a half sliver in the sky. The canopy from the trees surrounding him block out most of the moonlight, and so he walks carefully around the rocks and sticks that line the ground. Ghost is only a few steps ahead, silent and swift, alert and ready to see if anyone is around.

There’s no tears in his eyes. No screaming in his mind. Nothing but this bone deep numb feeling, icing over his insides until they’re as frozen as the White Walkers from the Northerner’s stories. His father is not his father. He supposes it’s not that much of a shock really. He’s never looked much like his family, after all.

But, I’m a bastard child, he reminds himself, so it wasn’t that unusual. I just always assumed I looked like my lady mother, whoever she was. Robb told him Lady Lyanna was said to look like his sister Arya, and that she beautiful. So beautiful that Rhaegar Targaryen rode past his wife, Elia Martell, during the tourney at Harrenhal and crowned Robb’s aunt as the Queen of Love and Beauty.

He stops, as suddenly pain shoots through his chest, tight and grasping, like a fist squeezing at his heart. He breathes in, but air is like an elusive ghost. Frantically, he reaches out for a tree to steady himself, keeping as hard a grip on Shadow’s reigns as he can. His ribcage feels like it’s on fire, and his stomach is jumping up and down, hard and fast. Bile is rushing up from it, thick and heavy in his throat, making it even harder to catch his breath. His eyes are still burning, so he screws them shut.

Ghost whines. He breathes in, and fire twists up through his lungs.

Ghost growls. He can’t catch his breath, seven hells.

A touch against his hand, and he jumps back, then trips over a branch. Shadow spooks, and darts a few steps. He twists his ankle on some kind of root, cursing, as he tries to reach for the horse, and Ghost is growling louder now.

“Seven hells,” Jon hears, before the horse whines. Within seconds, there are sounds of a struggle, and he looks up to see a tall, dark-skinned man grabbing the horse’s reins.

Father, he thinks, but no, it’s not Oberyn Martell. It’s fucking Daemon Sand, he sees, as the man steps closer. His fat—no, Oberyn’s squire is scowling at him, but that’s nothing new, really. It’s a permanent fixture on his face. The man has the reins of his own horse in his other hand, and he quickly ties both of the animals to a tree before they run off again.

“How’d you follow me?” Jon asks, voice tired and breathless. He gets to his knees and pushes himself off the ground, then wipes the dirt off his hands. The taste of iron hits his tongue, and when he darts out to lick his lips, there’s the sting of a fresh cut.

“I didn’t,” Daemon said, looking at him from underneath his eyelashes as he makes sure the horses are calm. “I was nearby. Your father wanted to make sure that no one was skulking about, so he sent out scouts.”

“So now you’re skulking about?” Jon retorts. He leans back against a tree, placing his head firm against the wood, and takes tiny, deep breaths. He closes his eyes, and then opens them again to stare at the dark leaves above him. “He’s not my father.”

The words are as hollow as promises. As hollow as the base of the tree he’s leaning against probably is. His lungs are still burning, and he wonders, incredulously, if this is what drowning feels like. Numb at first, the initial moment of being caught in the riptide, dragged under, not sure what’s happening. Then the panic, the drive to force yourself out, as the mind processes the danger, the tenuous grip on life. Did letting go mean peace? Did drowning while your burning lungs fill up until they burst mean that everything would just disappear?

He looks to Daemon, and there’s no expression of shock on his face. No raised eyebrows, no denial. “You knew,” he says, voice laced with accusation and betrayal. Ghost growls, glaring at the man, and stands in front of Jon protectively. “Did everyone?” He doesn’t know what he’ll do if the man says yes. The idea that everyone is just complicit in this fucking lie, mocking him behind his back, never truly his friend, sits uneasily in his head.

“No,” Daemon says. He sighs heavily, and though he doesn’t step closer, he’s looking at Jon as softly as his features will allow him to. “Most of your sisters don’t, far as I’ve gathered. Doran, obviously, knows. Arianne. She’s who—well, she didn’t tell me. I overheard an argument between her and the Princes. I don’t know if about any of the other lords.”

It’s clear, though, that he wouldn’t be shocked if more people outside of the Martell’s knew. Neither would Jon.

“They’d need more people to know,” Jon says, testing the words on his tongue like he’s treading water. “Some. If they believe they have a chance of putting me on that throne.” Me, he thinks, and Arianne. This was why Uncle Doran included him in his lessons, and not the Sand Snakes. It hadn’t been favoritism, or their disinterest. He’d been grooming him.

Daemon shrugs. “Probably. Still, it’ll be people they trust obviously.”

“So, not the Yronwoods, then,” Jon says, and it almost feels like a joke as he says it. Almost . A squirrel attempts to run past, and quick as a flash Ghost catches it, ripping and tearing it apart. Jon looks away, and stares out towards the thick formation of trees. The horses shuffle, nervous around the large wolf.

Daemon laughs. “Your father wouldn’t trust them if he could throw them all the way to Meeren. The Day—”

“He’s not my father,” Jon says. Daemon stops, and looks at him slowly, blinking as if he can’t comprehend it, even though he said he knew. “Rhaegar Targaryen is my father.” Lyanna Stark is my mother, Jon thinks, so it seems I’m a Northerner after all.

Daemon shrugs. “Yes, Targaryen is in your blood, true enough. Prince Oberyn raised you, though. He’s still your father.”

Jon’s mouth twists into a scowl, “Quentyn’s been with the Yronwood’s longer than he was at the Martell’s. Does that make the Yronwood’s his family?”

“He might consider them so,” Daemon says, though his tone is disparaging, because the thought of anyone outside of a Yronwood considering that house as family is too much for either of them to stomach. “Your family loves you.”

“They’re using me,” Jon says, and he spits the statement like a vile curse. His kicks his heel, thunking against the back of the tree trunk. “They want me to marry my cousin and take the throne. I don’t want the fucking throne.” It was full of death, and blood, and bones, and the twisted remains of thousands of innocents. Stannis Baratheon could keep it, if he won it, for Jon didn’t want to sit in it.

He wants the beach, and the Water Gardens. He wants the North, and to freeze in the snow, and to see white snow flakes melt in Robb’s red hair. He wants this war to end.

He wants this all to be some terrible fever dream.

“Robb Stark is my cousin,” he whispers, which causes an expression of deep distaste and offense to form on Daemon’s face.

“A fine one to have as a cousin, him,” Daemon mutters, and moves forward, a step or two, but no further. He’s eyeing Ghost warily. “Keeping a man as a hostage when he offers a peaceful alliance.”

Jon rolls his eyes. “You know why he did that.”

“Doesn’t mean I have to like it,” Daemon says, and doesn’t say or him , but Jon hears it anyway. They stand in silence for a few minutes, listening to the high sound of the cicadas, and the wind through the trees, rustling the leaves and branches. The sound of animals scurrying to their homes.

“You should go back,” Daemon says, and Jon glares at him. He holds his hands up, palms flat and straight. “Jon, if you don’t, you’ll regret it. You’re not going to get answers if you run off to the gods only know where. What are you planning on doing?”

He hadn’t been planning anything. He’d just ridden. Even now, he wants to ride, as far as he can, as fast as he can. Ride back to Riverrun, perhaps, and hold Robb.

His cousin.

People marry cousins all the time, he thinks, as his gut twists, and it's not like we’re getting married. Gods, the Targaryens wed brother and sister. That they were cousins didn’t matter, not really.

But it might to Robb, he knows, and his innards feel like they’re being stretched on the rack.

He remains stubbornly silent, and doesn’t bother to give Daemon a reply, since the man already knows the answer.

Daemon sighs. “Well, if you’re not going to ride back tonight, come on then. Camp’s that way.” He gestures south, and then goes to undo the reins. Within seconds, he walks over cautiously, tiptoeing around Ghost to hand him Shadow. “Just don’t go sprinting off in the night. I’ll chain you if I have too.”

“You wouldn’t dare,” Jon says, as he grabs the reins, and follows Daemon back to where he’s laid out a bedroll. He’s got another, thankfully, because he’s always been pretentious enough to carry two, just in case one gets dirty. Neither of them say much more that night, but long after Daemon’s snores join the sounds in the woods, Jon looks up and watches the silver stars, while the oblivion of sleep eludes him.



 

It’s mid-afternoon the next day when Jon gets back to the inn. The Riverlands men look at him with disgruntled expressions as he rides in, cursing and muttering under their breath. He nods at them, but doesn’t say anything as he wonders how Lady Stark explained his flight to them. Daemon had ridden with him until he reached the edge of the forest, and Jon knows it was because a part of the man didn’t believe that he wouldn’t just run off again.

“Stay there, boy,” Jon orders Ghost. He swings off his horse, and the direwolf huffs, annoyed, but lays down, resting his head on his paws. Jon gazes at him for a few minutes, remembering Robb’s explanation of how they’d been found. Five for all of the Stark children, and another. The runt of the litter, silent and oddly colored, who’d wandered away as if he was seeking someone out.

Me, Jon thinks, he was looking for me.

Ellaria and Lady Stark are nowhere in sight as he makes his way into the main room of the inn. It’s been cleaned up, all of the food gone and the items that were misplaced put right again. There is a plate of oatcakes and a bowl of fruit preserves on one of the tables, and other plates still there with crumbs and dirty knives. Jon stands in the doorway, lingering, as he watches Oberyn pace back and forth, alternating between gripping his sword, and rubbing his hands. His back is turned to Jon, and he keeps looking out the window every few seconds.

Jon stands there for a few moments, looking at him. He can’t see Oberyn’s face, but his clothes are rumpled, and there’s a slump to his shoulders that isn’t usually there. His knuckles are bloody, and there’s a crack in the wall that wasn’t there before.

“Why did you do it?” Jon asks. He doesn’t need to ask why Oberyn lied to him. No, he understands that. “Why did you take me from Lyanna Stark?”  

Oberyn turns, the floor creaking loudly under his boots, and his father’s eyes are exhausted, with circles underlining them. His hair’s a mess, matted from sweat at his hairline. There’s a bruise forming on his right cheek. He stares at Jon, and moves forward, as Jon steps back. Oberyn freezes, his hand at his side, and they stand there for a few minutes.

“Answer me,” he whispers, voice hard, eyes never leaving his father’s face. He can’t help but think of him that way, still. The man who told him tales of Nymeria the Warrior Queen when he couldn’t sleep at night. The one who taught him to wield a sword, and ruffled his hair, throwing him in the air when he was a babe. “Why did you do it? What was the purpose?” He swallows, blinking back tears. “Why not just leave me to die with my mother?”

Oberyn’s brow furrows, and he looks at him with eyes full of guilt and remorse. He’s still though, oddly still, for a man always moving. He shakes his head, his breath harsh yet slow.

“Sit down, Jon,” Oberyn says, moving to the table with the food set out. Jon wonders who cooked it. He hasn’t seen the owners of the inn, and figures that his father gave them coin to disappear for a few days. The older man sits, his hands placed on the table in front of him. Jon goes over slowly, eyeing him, and sits opposite, crossing his arms around his stomach.

“My sister, Elia,” Oberyn begins to say, pushing the plate of oatcakes towards Jon, who ignores it. “She loved Rhaegar Targaryen,” he continues, and though his voice is steady, his eyes are blazing with anger, “and she paid the price for it. She denied him nothing. Gave him children, gave up her home to go to King’s Landing, where she was ostracized and ignored.” Jon nods. He has heard this before, of course. He always pictured Elia Martell with long, dark hair and sad eyes, staring forlornly at a silver man in armor, riding away from her.

Oberyn breathes in, hesitant, for a moment. “Rhaegar Targaryen was a man obsessed. I do not know towards what, for Elia never said. But it drove him to seek out—other companionship. I do not know if he loved Lyanna Stark, nor do I care. He took her, and he hid away with her for months, while the realm went to war, and my sister and her children were stuck with his accursed father, suffering and humiliated. Elia sent a letter to us once, begging us not to go to war over the slight to her. She approved, or so she said. Because of this, Doran was content to sit back, and do nothing.”

Jon looks down at the table, tearing his eyes away from the shine in Oberyn’s own. He did not know how to handle that, so he blankly stares at the chips in the wood instead.

“The Tower of Joy belonged to the Dayne’s. Doran knew during the entire rebellion that Lyanna was there. After Elia died, I went there.” He stopped, and took a deep breath in. Jon did not need his father to explain why. The flash of anger, even after all these years, that slithers into his voice as he says it is enough. “She was protected by three Kinguard. Arthur Dayne, Gerold Hightower, and Oswell Whent. All I could think was, why are you not protecting Elia? Rhaenys and Aegon? The Silver Prince was not content with one wife, of course, he needed two . I had the men to outmatch even their skills, and we were victorious. We acted fast, because I knew that Lord Eddard Stark was on his way to reclaim his sister. It was dishonorable, but I am not a man of honor.”

Jon tries to picture it, the lone tower in the middle of the Dornish desert. Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning, dead on the sand while his mother screamed from within. He saw her, with long, dark hair full of curls and grey eyes. Had she known her brother was coming? He pictured Eddard Stark, with dark hair and a long face, like his, cradling his sister’s dead body.

“You were small, and a few days old. Wylla, your wet-nurse,” Oberyn continues, and Jon looks up, startled. He’d been young, not past three name days, when she left to nurse other babes, but he remembered her smile and the way she’d called him “little princeling.” Sometimes, he’d wondered if she was his mother, but it had been the wishful thinking of a child. He was too pale to have been hers. “I picked you up from your cradle, and held you in my arms, and your mother begged me to spare your life. She could hardly move, and there was naught much left to the fabled she-wolf. The fever burned through her quickly. When I held you, you looked at me, and I saw Aegon. Your brother, with his skull smashed in, his eyes forever blank.”

Jon thinks for a moment about his brother, a babe at the breast, gone before he’d ever spoken a word. And his sister, they say she’d cried for her cat. He can’t picture them. All he sees is Elia Sand, Tyene, Obara, and all the rest.

“I could have left you there,” Oberyn says, and it's a confession. There is guilt, in his voice, as he says it. “Lord Stark would have raised you well. I was angry, however, and impetuous, and I saw in you the chance for revenge. Elia insisted that you were trueborn, and as a trueborn that throne was yours. Yours, and also Arianne’s.”

“So I raised you for it. But—I couldn’t tell you. So many times, over the years, as you left childhood behind and started becoming a man, I thought, this is the day that he will know. Then you’d call me father, and—I couldn’t.” The admission makes him sound powerless. His shoulders are slumped, and Jon swallows as he looks into Oberyn’s tearful gaze. “You are my son, more than you will ever be his , now.”

It’s little comfort.

Jon wants to scream, to throw Oberyn’s guilt back into his face. For a moment, he entertains the thought of telling him to go to the lowest of the seven hells, but his tongue is tied together into a complicated knot, and he digs his fingers into his side, controlling the instinctive wince the action forms. He doesn’t know what to say, or what to do. He wishes he’d never found out.

They sit there, silent, for a few minutes. The jam has congealed on the table, ignored and forgotten, and Jon can feel his stomach twisting and turning itself from hunger, but he cannot eat. Finally, he speaks, grey eyes meeting brown. “What if I refuse this throne? Will I still be your son then?”

“Yes.” It’s said quickly, decisively, and for a moment, Jon feels relief. It fades, just as quickly, because he knows that Doran will never let that happen, not after how far he’s come, hiding a Targaryen child. Numbness sets in, as he thinks about Viserys and Daenerys Targaryen, the beggar royals wandering around the Free Cities, hunted by Robert Baratheon. Daenerys is driving a hole in the inner workings of Slaver’s Bay, crucifying masters and freeing slaves. Rumors are she has dragons, though Jon finds that a bit absurd. He wonders if his aunt would welcome him, or have him killed.

“Are you still planning to go to King’s Landing?” Jon asks, and he desperately wants Oberyn to say no. His father, however, says nothing. Jon laughs, bitter, as he gets up, and walks away, leaving the him there. He knocks, quietly, on the doors of the inn rooms, and waits, hearing nothing.

Ghost follows him eagerly as he walks out.



 

He finds her in a rundown sept, staring at the images of the Seven on her knees. He’s never felt comfortable in septs, though he’d been raised to mouth pious fealty to the Seven Gods, as any noble house in the South was meant to do. He didn’t believe in gods, really, or destiny, but as he stands there, hesitating in the doorway, he stares at the image of the Mother, and wonders, for a moment, if Lyanna Stark influenced the reunion of her son with his wolf family.

It’s absurd, and he banishes the notion from his mind, as he makes his way to Lady Stark. The room smells cloying, thick with incense and ash and the wax of candles. She knows he’s here. The sound of his boots against the floor is loud, and Ghost is prowling, sniffing around the room and the altar. She doesn’t look at him, though, and so he waits as she prays.

She’s quiet when she gets up. As she turns to look at him, her eyes are sad and compassionate. This time, her searching gaze is comforting, as she traces over his face. Her hand moves, as if she wants to connect with him, but she doesn’t.

“He wondered often who you took after,” she said, after a long silence, and he doesn’t have to ask who she meant. It is excruciating, the anxiety that wells up inside him as he stands in front of her. “Rhaegar, with his silver hair and his purple eyes. Or his sister.”

“He’d have been proud of you, if he’d met you,” she tells him, giving him a sad smile.

“Did he know where I was?” he asks, and feels a bit of anger at the thought that his uncle never tried to take him back, never tried to contact him. Even the threat of Robert Baratheon shouldn’t have kept him away, right?  

She holds out her hand in invitation. He takes it. Her hands are rough with more callous than he expects. The bumps and imperfections in her skin speak of the hardships she’s endured.

“He suspected,” she says, voice soft as her smile, “but there was no way to be sure. And he could do nothing on suspicion alone. Many bastard children were born during the war. For Oberyn Martell to have one, well, that was not unusual. Just your name. A Northern name.” Her voices trails off, and her eyes are distant. “Perhaps Lyanna named you before she died.”

It was a small thing to go on. Yet Lady Stark confronted his father about it as soon as they’d been left alone. What if they’d been wrong?

“There has to be more to it than that,” he says, and means it. She squeezes his hand in her own, and Ghost walks over to them, staring up.

“We received a raven, once. No signature, but it said what he was looking for was in Dorne, and close to family.” Her expression tightens, and anger enters into her voice. “We have no family in Dorne. It didn’t take long for Ned to believe that meant the Martell’s. Elia’s family.”

“That’s still not much to go on,” he tells her. She sighs.

“No, it’s not, and I admit, I did not put much stock in Ned’s suspicions while he was alive.” She sounds contrite, and ashamed, for not believing her husband. “And then I saw you next to my son. With Ghost. You look so much like Ned. And I knew.” Her voice is hard, now, and even though she is a Tully by birth, she is not far from a wolf as she speaks. “I knew that he’d been right all along, and you’d be stolen from us. Your rightful family.”

Her hand comes up, then, letting go of his, to trace the lines of his face. He stands there, and thinks about Winterfell as Robb described it, but he can’t picture it. He sees wood, stones, trees, an endless blue sky, and nothing else. There’s a void there, and all he can think about is snowflakes melting in Robb’s red hair.

“What would he have done?” he asks, once she pulls away. “If he had found me?” Lady Stark’s face falls, and she doesn’t answer. She doesn’t know, he thinks, and Ned Stark probably didn’t know either. He’d been an abstract, a nephew that might exist. He supposes he’d still have been raised a bastard, perhaps Ned Stark’s older brother’s son. There were rumors in Dorne that Ashara Dayne’s stillborn child was Brandon Stark’s. He could have been passed off as a twin, he supposes, but then, Ned Stark would have needed the compliance of the Dayne’s, and they wouldn’t have given it without reason. Maybe his uncle would have even raised him as his own son. Then, he and Robb would have grown up as brothers, not the cousins they were.

He represses a shudder at the thought. He’s seen too much, felt too much, now, to think about Robb that way. Ghost nuzzles him, bumping his nose against his hand, in a gesture he supposes meant comfort.

She moves away, looking back at him, as she goes to sit. He follows her, gripping his knees hard as he sits. His family, she claims, but still he cannot think of her as Aunt Catelyn. He looks to the statues of the Seven, with their serene faces, utterly nonplussed and unconcerned about the lives torn apart in the realm.

“What will you do now?” she asks, after a long silence. Jon looks to her, her face pale and freckled and so like her son’s. He wonders what Bran and Rickon looked like. Did they have hair and eyes like him, or more like Robb? Or Sansa and Arya. Did they look like their mother, or like his own? He thinks about them, in the capitol, surrounded by people who’d torn his family apart.

Both his families.

He looks down, at his hands. They are as pale as snow, he notes.

“I don’t know,” he replies, the realization hitting him that, truly, he knows nothing. Nothing at all. “What am I supposed to do? Fight for the throne?” He spits the word out, bitter and hateful. It tastes like ashes on his tongue.

Daenerys can have it, he thinks, if she ever comes here. Or Stannis Baratheon, since he wants it so much. So does Arianne, he reminds himself a few seconds later, or at least, so do Doran and Oberyn. So did Elia, and Rhaegar, and perhaps even his mother. Did Lyanna want it for him during her last few moments?

“I don’t think you’ll get very far, if you do,” she says, and it’s true. Robb’s army is running across the Riverlands and Westerlands, and still nothing. Tywin’s got the backing of the Reach. “There’s too many Kings and too little thrones these days. Best to wait, if you’re going to contemplate that.”

He doesn’t know if Robb would fight for him. He believes Stannis to be the rightful claimant of the Iron Throne, Jon knows.

I’d be very far from him, he muses, if I was in King’s Landing, and Robb ruled from the North.

“I don’t want it,” he tells her, rubbing his fingers up and down his thighs, pressing into his leg.

“What do you want, Jon?” she asks. He laughs brokenly, because Princes and Kings and bastard boys hidden away in Dorne do not get what they want. He wants home, and to swim in the ocean, with the sun burning his back, and to watch the way Robb’s hair shines underneath its glare. He wants his sisters, and he wants them to be his sisters. He wants to go to the North, and see snow piled high upon the walls of Winterfell, and see his mother’s burial place.

“Home,” he answers. “We should head back to Robb.”

She smiles, then nods. They both rise, with Ghost walking ahead of them, while the Seven watch their departure from the altar, stony and silent. It’s raining, again, as they make their way back to the inn, and its almost like the heavens are weeping for them.


 

Oberyn departs the next morning with Ellaria at his side. She hugs Jon tight to her, burying her face in his hair, and he clings back, desperate, a child again, searching for some semblance of identity. He’d told them the night before that he needed space, to think, and figure out what he wanted to do. They’d reluctantly agreed, when he says he’s heading back North, and not home.

Lady Stark stands still, her lips thin, and her eyes burning fire towards the Martell Prince. Oberyn, for his part, doesn’t say anything to her, keeping his distance. He stands a foot or two away from Jon, and doesn’t move to hug him as they say goodbyes. Ellaria shoots them both a look of disappointment, and so Jon moves forward, not thinking. He hugs his father, short and abrupt, and then moves away as far as he can. Oberyn looks down, and tells him that they’ll speak when he comes home.

Jon nods, and doesn’t say that one, or both, of them might never make it home. The lie is too raw, right now, and so he doesn’t tell his father he loves him, or that he’ll miss him. He doesn’t even tell him to be careful, or beg him to stay, because it’s no use. The desire to join him in King’s Landing is gone, replaced by a hollow pit, and although the needling voice in the back of his head tells him that he should say a proper goodbye, he doesn’t.

It takes a while for their horses to fade from view, and then Jon turns to Lady Stark. Their men have saddled their own horses and are ready to move on. They know nothing of what occurred, and it’s going to be kept that way, although they keep shooting him and Lady Stark glances whenever they think neither are looking to them.

“I’ll be back soon,” he tells her. Her brow furrows, her mouth twists, and then she opens her mouth to protest, but he’s already gone, moving off towards the edge of the forest. Ghost stays behind, and so does Shadow, so that she knows he’s coming back.

Daemon Sand looks as sullen and displeased as ever when Jon meets up with him. His hair is soaked from the rain, sticking to his head like a sodden rat, and he’s kicking the dirt in impatience. “Finally,” he mutters, once Jon is in earshot. “I was beginning to wonder if you’d just fucked off. Again.”

Jon reaches into his pocket, and hands him the three letters he’d written last night. He has no ravens, otherwise he’d have sent them himself, but Daemon and his father do. Daemon isn’t pleased about being the messenger boy, but he’s still sworn to the Martell family, and for him that meant Jon.

“Who are they all for?” the other man asks, taking them from Jon.

“Arianne, Doran, and my father,” Jon answers, because it doesn’t matter if Daemon knows anything. He won’t read them, and even if he did, it’s not like he won’t find out their contents in some other way. He’s a snake, the epitome of what outsiders say about Dornish men, and he’s prone to slithering into other people’s business. Arianne is better off, Jon thinks, not being able to marry him.

Daemon’s brow furrows, and he asks, “Why didn’t you just say these things to Oberyn before he left?” He holds up the one addressed to Oberyn, and eyes Jon like he thinks his time in the North has caused his mind to collapse.

Jon doesn’t answer, nor does he even bother to say goodbye. He turns and heads back to Lady Stark, leaving the disgruntled squire behind him, muttering and cursing. He thinks about the words on the paper, the ones he could have said last night, but he hadn’t been able to. He’d laid awake all night, looking at the ceiling, and listened to nothing.

Get Sansa and Arya Stark out of King’s Landing , he asked his father, if you can. Smuggle them out, if you have to, but get them out of there. They are my cousins, and innocent . Oberyn did not hurt innocent girls, and vehemently disliked those who did so. The Lannisters were not welcoming hosts. Everyone knew that. Get them out, and I will forgive you. Get them out, and I will listen to you . He didn’t know if he meant it, last night, but he’d written it anyway. His words were brief, and numb, and a thousand miles away from his anger.

His words to Arianne were much different. Filled with anger, and tension, and questions. Cousin , he’d called her, even though it was false. Cousin, I know. No elaboration, but there hadn’t needed to be. I need not tell you how angry I am. My entire life is a lie. When I come home, if I come home from this gods forsaken war, I do not know what I will say or do. For now, I demand answers. I’m told you know that your father meant us to marry. The servants hadn’t been far off, with their twitterings and their rumors. What do you want?

He pictures her in a bride-cloak, and even though it’s strange, he can’t help but wonder, for a minute or two, why not? He’d never thought about marrying. Never cared for it before, but, even now, it’s not like he can marry Robb.

He’d written to her about the Iron Throne, and the future that’s still out of sight. I do not know if I will ever want that throne, so I will not promise you that. I will, however, promise you that I will never interfere with your birthright, nor seek to undermine you in any way. It is your choice, cousin, and I leave that up to you.

He wouldn’t even need to tell anyone the truth if they married. It would be unusual, for her to marry a bastard, but he knew that cousin marriage happened, even if it wasn’t the norm. Oberyn could “legitimize” him, as his only son, and the Martells, as strange as they were to the other houses in the realm, could keep themselves removed from the politics of the realm. Stung, of course, still, by the actions of the Targaryens, and seeking to isolate themselves further from the Seven Kingdoms.

His letter to Doran had been the worst, and the shortest. Prince Doran , he’d addressed it, along with all his titles and claims. I will not be a pawn. If you do not want anything exposed, I suggest you keep to the promises you’ve made . He hadn’t even signed it, because he knew his father’s brother would not be such a fool as to think anyone else wrote those words.

The men are annoyed when he gets back, and Lady Stark shoots him a concerned look as he helps her onto her horse. He gets onto Shadow without a word, and still says nothing as they ride out. If he’s quieter, on their journey back to Riverrun, then no one says anything, and if he keeps to himself, they don’t try to push or pry. They leave him be, and keep to themselves as well.

Robb is waiting for them, dressed as a King, when they get back to Riverrun, with his bannerman around him. He’s smiling, and Grey Wind bounds up to tackle Ghost, as they ride in. There’s a girl standing next to him, with short dark hair, a few shades lighter than his own, and grey eyes. She’s bouncing on the heels of her feet. Lady Stark makes a noise of disbelief, then joy, as she jumps off her horse. She and the girl rush towards each other, and there are tears, when Jon sees his cousin Arya for the first time.

She looks like me, he thinks, and smiles as she introduces herself. Robb stands back, face full of  joy towards his mother and his sister, and when he looks to Jon, his eyes are bright and blue. He hugs him, too, and his grip is tight, but when he pulls away, their eyes don’t meet. Jon’s skin tingles, and he stands there, tense, caged by all the secrets he doesn’t know if he should say.

“You came back,” Robb says later on, after Arya and Lady Catelyn have retired to bed, and the bannerman dispersed. His voice hitches, and he’s looking at his hands, rather than Jon. “I didn’t know if you would.” He licks his lips, and plays with the glass of wine resting on his thighs.

“I did,” Jon says, and then takes a deep breath. He opens his mouth, ready to tell him, because he needs to, doesn’t he? He steels himself, imaging the look of horror, of disgust, on Robb’s face. “Robb I—” Robb looks at him with wide eyes, suddenly, and they look almost panicked. Jon wonders if he’s placing his own panic into the redhead’s gaze. Robb opens his mouth, but Jon holds up his hand, and although he thinks the words, “I’m your cousin,” they don’t come out.

“I’ll always come back,” he says, like a craven, and even though it's true, it sounds almost like a curse. Robb breaks their gaze, and nods, drinking down his wine, before they both get up. They linger outside Jon’s door, but only he goes in that night, gripping the furs and pillows tight, a poor substitute of human contact.

When he gets up the next morning, Arya Stark is arguing with her mother in the dining hall, waving a thin sword about in her hands, and Robb is smiling, as he slips in to sit next to him. He eats poached eggs, and a rasher of bacon, and watches the family that could have been his.

Chapter Text

Robb steps back away from the slashing wooden sword and sees Arya smirk out of the corner of his eyes. It’s been a few days since his mother and Jon got back from their meeting with Oberyn Martell, and Arya has taken to following the Dornishman around, both fascinated by him and suspicious of him. It makes sense, given her experiences on the road—what little she’s revealed—that she doesn’t fully trust him. Her fascination, however, with his sword abilities and the rumors she’s heard about Dorne, is both amusing and endearing to Robb.

“Pay attention,” Jon says, stepping back and holding his sword out again. “Don’t let her distract you.” Even while he speaks, Jon is smirking over towards where Arya is swinging her legs on the balcony, holding Needle in her hands. She’s waiting to train, too, and Robb is loath to think about his mother walking in and seeing Jon training her. Thankfully, she’s been holed up with her Uncle Bynden lately, though for what Robb doesn’t know. A part of him wonders if he should be worried, but even though he’s a King now it still feels wrong to demand his mother tell him everything that’s going on.

I’m letting her distract me?” Robb asks, and swings forward. Jon isn’t even looking, but he still blocks it, and then attacks. They spar for a few more minutes to the sounds of Arya’s hollering and encouragements. In this moment, it’s almost like nothing has changed between them.

It’s true that Robb has been distracted since Jon came back. The guilt concerning the marriage proposal has been eating away at him, and he hasn’t gotten up the courage to tell Jon yet. He hadn’t even told his mother for fear that she’ll tell the brunette. Jon, too, has been distracted lately. Every night he’s disappeared and comes back late enough that Robb can’t catch him, and in the mornings he disappears as well. Robb worries his lip with his teeth and moves forward with a stabbing motion, wondering if he’d done something.

What if he’s getting bored with me, Robb wonders. He knows it's ridiculous, given that Jon returned with his mother even though Oberyn Martell is still making his way to King’s Landing, but he can’t help but think it. There is also the worry about just why Jon returned when his father is apparently off to get himself arrested. He’d said it was because his father forbid him to come, but the redhead couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something more to it.  

Maybe he kn—

No, he tells himself, jumping back to avoid a swing at his stomach, don’t think about that. He bits his lip hard and thrusts forward, the wooden swords clashing against one another.

Suddenly, he falls to the floor with Jon’s wooden sword against his neck, both of them panting and red-faced. Jon is a few inches from him, closer than he’s been in days, and Robb feels the urge to reach up and tangle his hands in disheveled curls as his eyes trace pouty lips and long eyelashes. They stare at each other, Jon’s tongue coming out to lick a bit of sweat off the top of his mouth, and Robb narrows his eyes.

Arya makes a humph sound at the same time that Jon says, “Do you yield?”

Robb takes a deep breath, and nods. The brunette tosses his wooden sword away and it skitters across the ground to land somewhere near a door, before he holds out his hands. Robb takes it, brushing his fingers against the callouses on the other man’s palm. He grins at the little, barely noticeable hitch before he gets up off the floor.

“My turn,” Arya says, jumping down and holding Needle out in a fighting position. She’s got her legs spread apart in a style that she refers to as “water dancing,” though Robb thinks it looks a bit frivolous. She’s grinning at them both, but there’s something dark and almost unnerving in her eyes. It’s been there since she got back, and no matter what he does, Robb can’t get her to talk about anything beyond the journey being “hard.”

“Well, little wolf,” Jon says with a smile, “are you ready?” He dodges as she parries, and runs over to retrieve his sword. She chases after him, and Robb laughs. The sight of them together reminds him of himself when he used to chase Theon around the yard, the ward older and more experienced than him, back when he was a mere child of seven name days.

Robb swallows around the sudden lump in his throat, and stands back, watching his sister and Jon spar. She’s better than expected for a girl her age, and better than Bran had been. He watches them, black curls swaying with the wind, and short brown hair falling forward with every movement his sister makes. Their grey eyes flash with amusement, then they both steel themselves with razor sharp focus, and it’s clear that Jon is actively trying to teach her and not just indulge her.

They look like brother and sister, Robb thinks, taking in their long faces. His sister grew during her time away; she’s taller now, and prettier, her face aging into the loveliness that their father promised was there. “My sister,” he told them often, “Arya takes after my sister.” Robb bites his lip and looks away to where, similarly, Smalljon Umber is sparring with his Uncle Edmure and thrashing him soundly.

“What are they doing?” a voice asks from behind him. Robb’s muscles seize, for a moment or two, and he turns around to see his mother frowning in the direction of Jon and Arya. Her red hair is pulled back in a long braid, and she’s wearing a light blue dress that is nonetheless made in the Northern fashion. “Arya!”

His sister glances over, as well as Jon who makes to stop at the sight of Catelyn Stark, but Arya is having none of that. With a war cry, she runs full tilt at him, and he has to jump back before he’s nicked with the blade. “Beg pardon, Lady Stark,” Jon calls out, avoiding Arya’s swings, “but it looks like I have to defend myself.”

Robb chuckles, which makes his mother shoot him a glare of disapproval. “It’s just fun, Mother.”

Catelyn frowns deeper, lines pulling at the corner of her mouth. “You shouldn’t encourage her. She needs to learn to be a lady, now more than ever.”

Robb shoots her his own look then. Annoyance bubbles up as he gazes between his sister, who looks happier and healthier than she has since she’d come home, to his worried mother. “Knowing how to defend herself is what got her home,” he points out. “The Mormont women are some of the best in my army.”

“A fact I’m perfectly aware of,” his mother replies. She twists a bit of her skirt in her fist, eyes widening as Jon’s wooden blade touches Arya’s shoulder. “Still, she’s getting married now. Men in the South are not as receptive to their women taking up arms.”

Robb thinks about Brienne of Tarth, his mother’s sworn shield, who is in the capital right now with Jaime Lannister. Her raven from a few days ago specified that Sansa was safe, if not happy, and she’d gotten close to the Kingslayer enough that she thinks she can use him to try to get closer to his sister. Robb is a bit concerned about trusting her—mostly because he knows nothing about her beyond the oath she’d apparently sworn to his mother—but if he can get Sansa out of King’s Landing with Brienne’s help, then he’ll shower her with honors and a place in his guard as a reward.

Still, he’d heard the epithets concerning her. “Brienne the Beauty,” the men had said, and they were from the North where women were raised to be colder and stronger, to slit their own throats if necessary. The wildlings were a threat that each woman of the North was suckled with from cradle stories, and there were many who’d fought tooth and nail to avoid being stolen by them.

“She’s going to Dorne,” Robb says, crossing his arms around his chest. “Jon’s sisters were encouraged to fight.” The brunette is prouder of their accomplishments than he is of his own, though he never downplays how dangerous his sisters are.

“What Oberyn Martell encourages his daughters to do is different than the rest of the country,” Catelyn says, with a sneer on her face. She nearly spit out the name of Jon’s father. It is clear that meeting him did nothing to temper her attitude towards him.

“This is true,” Robb concedes, even though he doesn’t know much about Dorne personally, other than what Jon has described. Still, he’s heard stories about Ashara Dayne, Princess Elia’s closest friend, and knows that she was not known to fight, nor was Jon’s cousin Arianne Martell, who people whispered was rather loose with her affections. “Arya will be marrying into their family. How different can Jon be from his cousins?”

Catelyn nods, face tight, before she says, “How different, indeed?”

They watch as Arya tosses Needle to the side to tackle Jon into the dirt. Jon umphs and catches the girl around the waist as they go down, rolling around on the ground, as Arya yells, “victory is mine.” The sunlight hits them as they wrestle and laugh, making their grey eyes shine, and Robb bites his lip, again, as he watches them both.



 

His mother and Jon have been back a week and a half by the time Robb can no longer put off another war council. He’s been weighing the merits of his plan for weeks now, thinking of the pros and the cons, the losses and the gains, and he knows he has to set it before all of the lords in his army. The Mormonts arrived the night before from the Crag, and the Glovers, the Umbers, the Karstarks, and a few representatives from other houses in the North are there, along with his Uncle Brynden and Uncle Edmure. They enjoy a dinner of roasted trout and root vegetables, three or four large kidney pies with peas and onions, and loafs of brown bread, before the meeting is called.

Jon is sitting across from him, and the candlelight is playing with shadows across his face. Next to Jon is Arya’s vacant seat from earlier, though she’s been sent off now by their mother to her disappointment. Lord Karstark is three seats away from Jon, with Lord Umber on the other side of him, and Lady Mormont sits to Jon’s other side. To the left of Robb, his mother stares down at her plate, only half-eaten, and Uncle Brynden and Uncle Edmure are next to him on the right. There’s a pile of parchment in front of Lord Karstark, missives from all over, and Robb can almost feel the growing headache before anyone speaks.

“House Manderly have put their daughter, Wylla, forward as a potential match for your marriage prospects, Your Grace,” Lord Karstark says, and Robb tries to avoid Jon’s eyes. The brunette’s mouth is open a little, and he’s staring at him hard enough that Robb can feel it, even if he’s not seeing it. His mother, too, looks stunned and shocked, and perhaps a bit hurt that Robb hadn’t included her in a decision as big as this. Lord Karstark continues, “My daughter, Alys, as well, is smart and capable. She’s beautiful, and poised, and she’d be a solid match for you now that her former betrothed has passed.”

Robb nods at that, and doesn’t say anything. He remembers Alys as a girl with a missing tooth who stepped on his foot whenever they danced and spilled milk on his tunic. Granted, he hadn’t seen her since he was eight name days old, but he still remembers Theon and himself being chased by the girl around the woods, while she threw snowballs at them. He’s never met Wylla Manderly, but he’s heard that she’s a stubborn girl and like to give Lord Manderly a heart attack before she gives him a great-grandson.

“Why not someone from the South?” Jon says, with a biting tone to his voice. A few heads turn to look in his direction, and so does Robb. The brunette is picking at his plate with his eating knife, scraping the tip against it, and although there’s no expression on his face, his eyes are narrow as they look to Robb. “You already have the backing of the North, Your Grace —” his tone dips slightly, when he says it, and Robb resists the urge to scratch at his neck. “—you should make some alliances with the South.”

“We’ve already got Dorne,” Lady Mormont points out, looking at Jon with a furrowed brow. “Your cousin, Prince Trystane, and Princess Arya.”

Lord Umber nods, and Lord Karstark glares at Jon. “You and your family haven’t forgotten about that have you, boy?” Lord Karstark asks, crumpling up one of the missives in his hand.

Jon inclines his head. “Of course not. That’s only one region, though. We can only give you so much.” Jon looks directly into Robb’s eyes as he says his last statement, and Robb feels suddenly like he’s being suffocated under furs when his eyes meet the brunette’s. There’s anger there, true, and Robb knows it’s because he kept it secret. His mother shifts next to him, her hands folded together.

“The issue of my heir is important,” Robb says. It’s a justification meant for Jon, because it’s not something that needs to be clarified to anyone in the room. His mother stiffens as he says it and Robb knows she’s thinking about Bran and Rickon. “It’s not something that can wait. Arya is my heir, for now, but I need a son.” There’s nothing in his own voice, he knows, that shows how much he needs the brunette to understand this. No matter how much he wishes it weren’t true, a King must leave behind a living dynasty. All this fighting and death and war and rot would be for nothing if the North lost everything in a scant few years.

Jon opens his mouth to say something else, but Catelyn interrupts him, saying, “Yes, it is. There is, however, a war to be won, as well.” She shoots Jon a look of warning after, the one Robb’s seen hundreds of times whenever Bran would climb the walls of Winterfell, or Arya would skip lessons.  

“Right to the most important issue, my Lady,” Lord Umber says, leaning forward with his great broad arms taking up a third of the area around him. “Where are we marching next? We’ve taken much of the Westerlands, are we moving towards King’s Landing?” Everyone turns to look at Robb intently. Under the weight of their stares and expectations, he resists the urge to close his own eyes.

“No,” he says, and a few of the men begin to protest. Lord Glover actually stands up, and Lady Mormont is shaking her head. Lord Karstark pounds his fist on the table, ignoring Jon’s displeased expression that’s been turned on the lord of Karhold, and Uncle Edmure is rolling his eyes. Robb holds up his hand, and his mouth curls into a snarl. “Enough! Are you babes on the breast right now? Or are you grown warriors with blood on your blades and whiskers on your chin?”

The men aren’t contrite, but they quiet themselves. Robb glares at them, making sure that he looks at each and every one, as he continues, “We don’t have the numbers to take the capitol. King Stannis tried, and he failed. Now the gods only know what he’s doing.” There’s a general air of agreement as he brings up the failed Battle of the Blackwater. “The loss of the Freys hit us hard. With a portion of the men taking back Winterfell, and a few others I’ve sent to the Wall to answer their plea for help, we’re three-fourths of what we were.”

“What, then, are we going to do?” Lady Mormont asks. Her hair is shot through with grey, and it strikes Robb in that moment how many years she’s spent in service to his family. How many years all of them have. Lord Glover is completely bald, and Lord Karstark a whitebeard, while Lord Umber has lines on his face that seemed to have been there since the days of the First Men.

“We’re going to take Casterly Rock,” Robb says. Dozens of expressions shift into disbelief, while others look almost offended. Lord Karstark looks like he swallowed a fishbone, his face is so red, and Jon’s looking at him with an expression that clearly relates ‘are you nuts?’

Lord Umber echoes that sentiment. “That is folly. We’ll never take it. No one has ever taken Casterly Rock.”

Lady Mormont nods her head. “They will decimate our army. No, better to make our way to the capitol.”

Robb holds up his hand, again, and straightens his shoulders, standing taller. “Jaime Lannister is in the capitol. The Tyrells and their army are in the capitol. The Mountain’s forces are heading back to the castle as we speak—” Jon looks down at this, and Robb doesn’t blame him. The news of Oberyn Martell’s not shocking arrest and subsequent challenge of the Mountain is still raw. “Everyone of strength is in the capitol. They don’t have the men they should guarding the Rock.”

Robb takes a deep breath. “We have to strike them where they are vulnerable. That is Casterly Rock.”

“Aye, they’re vulnerable,” Lord Umber says, with a stroke of his beard, “but how do you propose we take that fortress?”

Robb smiles darkly. “With ships. With many ships.” He looks to Jon whose expression is one of dawning realization. “I think it’s time your uncle honored our arrangement, don’t you?” It’s harsh, and jarring, and there’s a small element of guilt as he says it. Doran’s brother is in the hands of the Lannisters—Jon’s father —and here he is demanding that they send their men and their fleet to help him, rather than their Prince. It was too much, he knew, but it didn’t matter.

“My Uncle plans on telling the Lannisters you’ve held me hostage,” Jon says, ignoring the mutters and dark glares that are thrown his way. Robb’s mother sighs, and sits back. “In order to get my father out of the black cells.”

“What a fucking snake,” Lord Karstark mutters, and for once Jon doesn’t shoot him a dirty look. He’s looking at Robb with an expression he’s never seen before; a mixture of hurt, and grief, and bone-deep longing, all tied together with something else. Something unnameable.

“I’ll make sure he helps you,” Jon says, with a harshness to his voice that Robb’s never heard before. “What is your plan once we’ve taken the Rock?”

Robb lets out a breath of relief, despite the tension still floating in the air. The tension between his bannerman and him, between his bannerman and Jon. The tension in his head, and the tension that his risky plan is causing. And underneath all that, the tension in Jon who’s rubbing his hand across his thigh in that troubled gesture of his, and gripping his dinner knife hard enough to break it.

This is for the best, he tells himself, as he continues to lay out his plans. Everything is for the best.



 

Jon takes off his overtunic as Robb closes the door behind him. His room in Riverrun is in a different wing than the King, whose been given the lord’s chambers, but the guards are used to the two of them spending time together at night. The cyvasse board is set up on a table with oak chairs on either side of it, covered by cushions with designs of fish, and there is a fire going in the hearth. It’s not a small room, in fact, he thinks it might have been a ward’s room at some point, because there are still books of learning in the trunk.

He tosses the tunic on the bed and goes to pour himself a glass of wine. It’s weak, nothing like Dornish red, but he sips it anyway, and ignores Robb for a second or two. His heartbeat is moving fast, one, then two , then one again, and he feels the desperate urge to throw the glass into the fire and watch it burn.

Instead, he bites his lip, and says, “So, you’re looking for a wife.” It’s a statement, not a question. “How interesting, since in a week and a half, you’ve never mentioned it.”

Robb sighs deeply and Jon knows that if he looks back, the other man will be rubbing his neck, or pacing, or doing something . Jon stills himself, allowing the movement of his hands to bring the cup to his lips to sip again, and the wine hits his stomach like poison. There’s a shuffling sound, fabric rustling against fabric. Robb’s sat down on the bed.

“You know I have to marry,” Robb says, and Jon feels his mouth twist, unbidden, into a smirk.

“Of course,” he says, taking a sip again. It’s metallic, almost, and he wonders if it’s gone bad. Or maybe it’s just the bitterness inside me, he thinks, hitting my tastebuds and tainting everything. “You could have mentioned. But you lied.”

More rustling, and then Robb is gripping his arm to turn him around. Jon looks away, as Robb says, “I didn’t lie . I just didn’t mention it.”

Jon feels the laugh rip through him like a blade. “Because that’s so much different.” I’m your father, he hears, but nothing about his mother. I’m your uncle, I’m your father. On and on it went, like a litany of theater verse in his head or a song being played on a broken harp.

Robb moves his hand up so that the grip becomes a caress. It sends goosebumps up his arm and he tightens his grip on the glass of wine. “This doesn’t change anything. I was engaged before.”

“I don’t care that you’re getting married,” Jon says, and the wine spills slightly onto the floor as he moves his hand. “You have to. I understand. This isn’t about that.”

“Then what is it about?” Robb says, his eyes wide. He moves away and stands back so that he can look straight to him. “You’ve been avoiding me for days! I haven’t seen you once outside of sparring sessions or dinner until tonight, and you’re going to act like I’m the only one who’s screwing up?”

Jon purses his lips, drawing in the bottom of his mouth, before he bites down—hard. Blood wells up and mixes iron with the metallic sourness of the white wine. It doesn’t matter, Jon tells himself, like he’s been telling himself every night since he saw Robb again.

“The man who raised me went and got himself arrested,” Jon says, instead, and it's true that it's been bothering him more than he wants to admit.

“I know,” Robb says, and his face is soft. Softer than Jon deserves, really. “So let me help.” Like you helped me, his blue eyes are saying, and Jon feels like his lungs are going to collapse. He gropes behind him, knocking the edge of the glass against wood, before he puts it down.

“You can’t,” Jon whispers. How many freckles are on Robb’s face, Jon wonders, looking to the redhead. How many shades of red in his hair and how many hues of blue in his eyes. They look nothing alike.

He doesn’t have to know, Jon thinks. But Lady Catelyn knows. Lady Catelyn, who’s been kind and caring and oh so helpful telling him everything about his uncle, Ned Stark, the man he never got to meet, and telling him to call her Aunt Catelyn if he wants. But he can’t. He can’t force those syllables around his tongue in that order. He can barely even think it.

He moves forward, and grips the back of Robb’s neck, hard and desperate. Their lips meet, their teeth clashing for a second, before they control it, moving against one another naturally. The redhead shifts, his arms moving forward to come around Jon’s waist, rucking his shirt up and out of his pants. One hand goes under, tracing circles across the flesh of his back.

Jon pulls back, unlacing Robb’s overtunic. The other man kicks off his boots at the same time, and there’s hands in hair, and there’s clothes thrown about, until Jon’s standing there in just his shirt, and Robb’s is undone. He’s pale, and flushed, and every cut and injury he had since the last time they did this is healed now into a pink scar, or gone completely.

Robb moves forward and they kiss again. The redhead’s hands are buried in his hair, tugging and pulling at his curls. There’s a whimper, but who from Jon doesn’t know. He presses closer, and closes his eyes against the string and the burn.

His face is wet.

Robb pulls back, concerned, but Jon cuts him off before he says anything, kissing him again and shoving him towards the bed. It doesn’t matter, he tells himself, and his hands shake as they press the other man onto the mattress. He kisses a trail down his neck, feeling the scratch of beard against his neck.

Robb’s hands are up, and tugging. They’re tugging him away , and Jon whimpers, closing his burning eyes. When he opens them again, he can see through the blur three teardrops on the other man’s pale neck.

‘We shouldn’t do this,” Robb says, and it's the same tone of voice as the night Jon turned him down after Greyjoy’s betrayal. The redhead sits up, displacing Jon a bit, though he’s still holding him around the waist. “Not right now.”

“Yes, we should,” Jon says, and tries to bend forward. Robb holds him back, looking at him softly. It’s maddening, because all he wants to do is forget. For a few moments. Just forget. “Please,” he says, pathetic and lost and desperate.

“No,” Robb says, voice firm. Jon’s breath hitches in his throat. “Not like this.”

Jon groans and moves away, throwing himself down on the mattress. The ceiling is full of dust and spiderwebs and he thinks he can see a rat tail up there. He can’t look at Robb. The churning in his gut is stronger and he blinks rapidly, trying to push back the tears. The mattress shifts.

“Your father will be fine,” Robb says, and Jon laughs, once again unbidden, and once again bitter. The mattress is hard against the back of his head. “The Old Gods and the New know that his cause is just. He will not die.”

Jon makes a sound that’s half a laugh, and half a sob. It’s almost beyond belief the amount of tears, considering he hasn’t cried much since he was ten and fell off the balcony. His chest is on fire, his lungs, and his eyes. He’s being consumed by the flames. Not a true Targaryen at all, he thinks, even as he says, “He’s done plenty wrong enough to warrant justice against him .”

“What do you mean?”

He doesn’t need to know, Jon reminds himself, even as he moves, never once looking to Robb. It’s like someone else is inside him, in that moment, as he goes to the floor. He pulls out his bag of belongings and opens it. Clothes are thrown over his shoulder, along with knickknacks and a dagger that Tyene gave to him. It lands somewhere with a thud. Then his hand closes around the crumpled and opened letter at the bottom of the bag.

“Read this,” he says, as he gets up, staring straight at the wall. Robb’s fingers brush against his, and Jon fights back a shiver, as the man takes the letter from him.

It doesn’t matter, he thinks again, even as he pictures Robb’s face in his mind, the anger, and the disgust. He waits a few moments, knowing that the redhead reads fast, before he says, “I guess he thought you should know before me.” He pictures the words, perhaps one day we will share more family in common. “It’s not his way, usually—” Jon continues, as he hears Robb make a sound of disbelief, and denial, “—most of the time, he prefers to sit back and wait. Doesn’t tell people much.”

“You’re my—”

“Cousin?” Jon says, as if it's really a question. Robb makes a noise that sounds like strangulation, and Jon feels it hit him like a hammer. “Yes. Apparently so.”

“I don’t understand,” Robb says, and there is a near hysterical tone to his voice. “Jon—what?” Jon hears his legs slide against the blanket, and then his feet hit the floor. “Look at me, what is going on?” It’s a demand, with a note of urgency to it.

Jon doesn’t look at him. “My father only told me a few weeks ago.”

Robb’s hand grips his bicep hard, and then grey eyes are meeting blue. Robb’s hair is mussed much more than it was earlier, and the letter is tight in his fist.

“How the hell did your father meet my Aunt Lyanna?” Jon’s eyebrows fly up, at that, though he supposes that it's an understandable leap. Doran hadn’t specified in his letter whose son Jon was. All he’d written was that they were family. “She was missing for years.”

“He met her because of Elia,” Jon says, “but he’s not my father.” Robb’s brow furrows and he opens his mouth, but Jon continues before he can say anything else. “My father was Rhaegar Targaryen, apparently.”

There’s silence, for a few minutes. Jon feels like he’s suffocating, and Robb doesn’t look much better. He’s staring at Jon as if he’s never seen him before, as if he’s a stranger. He opens his mouth a few times, but no words come out, and Jon wishes he could know what the redhead was thinking, just like he can with Ghost.

But he can’t. He can only understand the loosening and tightening movements of Robb’s fingers around his arm.

“You said—” Robb stops, then, and looks to the floor, before he looks back up. “—you said a few weeks .”

Jon nods, and closes his eyes. It doesn’t matter, he thinks, again, but the words are weak and he knows, deep in the pit of his soul, that it does matter. It matters to Robb, of course it does. The first person that he’d been with is his own cousin .

Even as he thinks it, he says, “It doesn’t matter. Cousins marry sometimes, and the Targaryen’s even marri—”

“I’m not a Targaryen,” Robb says, raising his voice and backing away. “How long were you going to lie about this?”

“I didn’t lie,” Jon says, angry once again, at his father, at his uncle, at his birth mother, and fucking Rhaegar Targaryen and all the lives the Silver Prince ruined. “I just didn’t say,” he continues, parroting Robb’s early words, and he knows it's a mistake as soon as it's done. Robb’s face falls, and grows cold, and his eyes are hurt and very much like ice.   

He pushes down his anger. “Let’s just talk about this calmly,” he suggests, futilely. Robb is already picking up his clothes from the floor, throwing them on hastily. “Could you please just listen?”

“No.” The tone is near freezing as he says it. “No, I don’t think I will. Not tonight.” His tunic is thrown over his head, and then he throws the letter towards Jon’s feet. It lands a few inches away, and flutters open, the words dark and mocking. Then, Robb’s overtunic is back on, and he doesn’t bother lacing it. He goes to the door, his back rigid and tight. There’s a moment or two, where he pauses.

“I need to think,” he says, and there’s nothing in his voice. Not even the type of rage and grief he has when he speaks of Greyjoy. “And I need to do that alone.” Then he’s gone, the door opening and shutting with nary a sound. A few minutes later, his knees drawn up against his chest, Jon watches the wine glass burning in the flames of the hearth that leap and spark upwards, and the shards glinting on the floor. In the distance, two wolves howl, long and deep.


 

“I thought Dornishmen are supposed to be charming,” Arya says, sitting down in front of Jon. It’s mid-evening, just before dinner, and the sky is a mix of reds and blues and purples as the sun sets. He’s twisting and turning blades of grass in his hands, and doesn’t look at her. She reaches over anyway, poking his knee. “You’re so sullen. Do you know that?”

Jon sighs, and meets his cousin’s eyes with his. “Do you want something, little wolf?” Usually, he enjoys the girl’s company, but it's been three days of stone-faced silence. Three days of looking at Robb not looking at him during meals. Three days of feeling like his heart is being torn from his chest. Three days of that—and three days of no news about his father.

“Is my intended,” she says, spitting out the word with a scowl, “as sullen as you? If so, Dorne will be awfully dull. I might have to stick him with the pointy end,” she holds up Needle, the sword she’s always carrying around with her, “and that will make him less broody.” She looks to Jon with expectation in her eyes.

Jon blinks and picks at another blade of grass, twisting it in his hands.

Arya sighs, impatient. “You and Ghost really are meant to be. Silent as the grave.”

Jon’s brow furrows, and he can’t help but ask, “What do you mean?” Tellingly, of course, the white direwolf is laying next to him, as quiet and downcast as him. He and Grey Wind have been near their respective masters and not roughhousing as they usually do ever since the fight.

Arya shrugs. “Robb and Theon found six direwolves. Five of them were for us. Nymeria is—out there, somewhere.” The girl sweeps her hands out towards the sky. “But Ghost was waiting for someone. He’s bonded to you,” she says, poking him again, “so I figure that makes you family, right?”

Jon nods, and looks to the direwolf. How had he and Robb not seen it? Ghost’s red eyes look at him, and Jon feels the wolf’s amusement . He moves on his belly closer to Jon’s cousin, and she pets the top of his head.

“You related to the Karstarks or something?”

Jon shudders, noticeably, at the thought. “Wouldn’t there be more wolves around then?” he says, pointing out the number of Karstarks in Robb’s army. He tries not to think about Alys Karstark and how the girl might be Robb’s wife soon.

Arya nods. “That’s true.” She thinks for a moment, before she says, “Did my grandfather Rickard have a bastard daughter and she’s your mother?”

Jon shakes his head. Arya grows silent, eerily so in that way of hers, before she says, “How are you related then?”

“I’m your Aunt Lyanna’s son,” he says, with a sigh. Maybe the more times he says it, the more it will seem true. Arya’s expression takes on a look of confusion, and Jon knows she’s running the story through her head. The tale spread throughout the realm at the Usurper’s behest. The kidnap, the rape, and the mysterious death of Lyanna Stark in a lost corner of Dorne somewhere.

“Did my aunt escape Rhaegar or something?” she finally asks. “Did she fight him off and then meet your father?” Jon almost wishes it were true. He wants Rhaegar Targaryen to have been an abductor. He wants it because he knows if that were true, then with Arya’s pretty little question about a runaway wolf maid meeting a Prince of Dorne in a land full of hot sand and blue waves, his father would be his father.

“No,” he tells her, “I’m his son.” She nods, a look of deep consideration on her face. Jon wonders if she’s playing out the scenarios in her mind, coming up with all possible solutions.

“Do you want me to stab someone for you?” she asks, suddenly, completely and utterly serious. She grips Needle tight in her hands, and her knuckles go blush red around her milk pale skin. Just like his do.

Jon smirks in wry amusement. “No, little wolf,” he says, reaching forward and ruffling her hair. Her hand comes up to shoo him away. “No stabbing necessary.”

“You’re a wolf too,” she says, then she smirks as well. “Not a big one though. More like a mid-wolf.”

“A mid-wolf?” Jon asks, and for the first time in days, he smiles. “This mid-wolf still beats you with a wooden sword.” She scowls, digging her hand into the dirt, and throws a clump of it at him.

“Are you and Robb going to make up?” she asks, suddenly. She’s frowning now, worrying her lip between her teeth. Jon suddenly wonders if it’s a family habit. He does it, Robb does it, and so does Arya. Does Sansa? Did Ned Stark and Lyanna do so as well? He would never see Bran and Rickon, and he feels a twinge in his heart at the thought of the boy cousins he’ll never know. “You two being mad at each other is almost as bad as the spats Theon and Robb got into, and with that , there would be punches thrown.”

Jon closes his eyes. “I don’t know,” he admits to her, and her face falls. Elia’s face never fell this much, he thinks, suddenly, feeling a pang for his little sister with her dark curls and even darker eyes. “That depends on,” he takes a deep breath, “many things.”

“I’m not a child, you know,” she says, with a scowl on her face, “you can tell me things. You don’t have to be a lone wolf.” Her voice gets lower, as she continues, “Father told me they die. Mother and Sansa, and Robb and me, we’re all a pack. You’re a part of it now, too. We’ve got to stick together.”

It’s sweet sentiment, he thinks, and he tells her much the same.

She shakes her head. “You know nothing, Jon.” She gets up and shakes dirt off her skirt, holding her hand out to him. He takes it, her palm calloused in ways that most young girl’s—even his younger sisters—aren’t, and lifts himself up.

“Mother sent me out here to look for you,” she says, before she begins to tug him towards the castle. “There’s another war council. Think you can leave the door open a bit for me to listen in?”

Jon rolls his eyes and gives her no promises.  


 

Robb looks to him as he opens the door, interrupting a long rant from Lord Karstark. The bearded white-haired Northman glares at him, as per usual, before he goes back to ranting the battle plan concerning Casterly Rock. Lady Mormont shifts over for him to sit down next to her, and Lady Catelyn looks at him with concern, her eyes questioning. Jon looks at the table, at the plates with the remnants of dinner in front of him, and he feels a pang of hunger in his stomach that he resolutely pushes away.

“—before that bastard King’s wedding is done,” Lord Karstark finishes. Jon raises his eyebrow, taking a brief moment to wonder what he missed. Lady Mormont reaches over the table and goes for a platter of turnips and greens still sitting by Lord Glover and shoves it over towards Jon, mouthing for him to eat.

“A raven would be faster,” Lord Umber says, and it's an agreement to something. Robb grips the tables, his knuckles white, and it's clear that whatever Jon walked in on, it’s a circular argument. He looks to the door, which is firmly closed, and wonders if Arya has her ear against it, trying to listen in.

“No one disputes this,” Robb says, eyes narrow. There are dark circles underneath them, and he looks wan with fatigue. “A raven can be intercepted, however, and this matter is too delicate to entrust to something that faulty.”

“A rider to Dorne will take weeks,” Lord Karstark says. A jolt runs through Jon, and he looks up from the turnip he was about to spear with his dining knife. The lords around him share mutual looks of concern. “They would have to get to a port, first, and then to the ship. It will be over a month before we can attack. The wretch will be married by then, and Tywin might—”

Jon interrupts him, and says, “Why would he put the Tyrell army at the Rock? He doesn’t need to. No one’s ever attacked it before. His power is in King’s Landing right now.”

The glare Lord Karstark turns on him would be effective, if looks could turn someone to ash. Lady Catelyn nods in agreement and says, “Jon’s right. He will not remove the army from the capitol. The time doesn’t matter. What matters is the numbers. This large of an army, moving through the south.”

“We’ve done it before,” Robb says, “and we’ve got positions in much of the Riverlands and the Westerlands. Most of my army is still there. The men with us now will not be so large a number.”

“If we get attacked it will be harder to fight back, then, Your Grace,” Lady Mormont points out. Jon feels a pang of worry and looks to Robb, who looks away as soon as their eyes meet. The brunette bites his lip, and he can feel the hunger in his stomach start to fade, a phantom sensation lost.

“It’s a risk we’ll have to take,” Robb says, and outlines plans for the contingencies of attacks on the road. The lords are still not happy, but Jon so rarely sees any of these men happy he wonders if they can even move their lips into a smile.

“Who will go to Dorne to deliver Prince Doran our message?” Lady Mormont asks, leaning forward. Her fur cloak brushes against Jon’s arm.

“I can,” he says, without thought. “It’s my home.” The word is sour on his tongue and he ignores the look that Lady Catelyn shoots him. “My Uncle will listen to me.” He owes me, Jon thinks, and leaves it unsaid.

“No,” Robb says, firm and hard. For the first time that night, he looks to Jon. Jon swallows around his dry tongue as he meets those blue eyes. “With your fa—” there’s a barely noticeable trip over the word, “—ther’s arrest people could be looking for you now. I can’t risk it. It will be someone else.”

Jon opens his mouth to argue, but Robb silences him with an icy glare. Lady Catelyn eyes them both with concern. “Any other suggestions?” Robb asks, turning to look at the other people surrounding the table.

There are a few more, but Jon doesn’t hear them over the rushing in his head. Robb doesn’t want him gone, he thinks, even while he knows that Robb’s point is valid. If he was recognized, it did risk Robb’s plan falling apart before it ever began. Everything hinged on taking the Rock. Still, Jon has hardly been around much of Westeros before. No Lannister man knows what he looks like, of that he’s sure.

After a few more issues, the council is adjourned, and the men file out. Jon ignores the dirty look that Lord Karstark shoots him and gets up, thinking about the woods and riding Shadow to the river. “Not you, Jon,” Robb says, suddenly, and Jon turns to look at him. Lady Catelyn lingers, looking between the two of them, Robb with his gaze on the table, and Jon with his fidgeting feet. He wonders if she’ll demand to know what’s going on.

She doesn’t. Instead, she purses her lips and leaves, her skirts flying in a swoop around her feet.

No words are said between the two of them, as Jon waits for Robb to speak, and the voices outside disappear till all he can hear are the hoots of owls. After a torturously long time, the redhead finally looks up.

“Did your fa—did Prince Oberyn tell you how you ended up in Dorne?” Robb asks, and it throws him for a loop. He didn’t know what he expected. Anger, or recrimination, but not this. There’s sadness in Robb’s eyes. Sadness and longing and frustration and determination, for what Jon doesn’t know, but there’s no anger. “Mother tells me that he didn’t explain anything to her.”

Jon wonders if Lady Catelyn also told Robb how she nearly took Oberyn’s head off with a dining knife right before he and Ellaria rode out.

“He took me from the Tower of Joy,” Jon says, and contemplates how much he should say. He’s angry, yes, but he knows beyond anything that Robb needs Dorne right now. If he tells the redhead everything, the fury that Lady Catelyn houses might take root inside her son as well. All of the betrayals he’s faced lately, how would one more slight against his family, his beloved father who found his sister and no baby, or his long-dead aunt, go over? “My mother was dying of childbed fever. The tower belonged to House Dayne and Ashara Dayne was a friend of Elia Martell’s.”

It’s enough, Jon thinks, because Robb nods. The tension in the room is so thick that Jon can feel it on the back of his neck, his back, in his hands, and every nerve ending in his body it seems. Robb’s fingers dance across the table, back and forth, a restless circular motion.

Finally, Robb speaks. “This,” he motions towards Jon, before he closes his eyes. He’s breathing deeply, now, and there’s a tremble in his hand, in his arms, and a slight shaking of his shoulders. His other hand grips the edge of the table tightly. “What we’re doing—we can’t. Not anymore.”

In that moment, Jon swears he feels his heart stop. Every beat goes out, stops its rhythm, like the falling note of a song. The meagre dinner he managed to eat flips in his stomach and he pushes down the hot sensation of it coming up through his throat. His nerves freeze and his blood turns cold, and it’s like his body is at war as he stands there in the dining hall of Riverrun, the castle where Robb was born, and can’t move anything. Not even a muscle to speak.

Robb’s voice is wobbly, and tight, as he continues, “You’re my cousin and I can—I can’t denounce the Lannisters for their actions, then turn around and make love to my cousin. A man that might have been raised as my brother if my father had found you. I can’t.” He’s pleading, and his eyes are shiny, and Jon wants to go over and hold him, or shake him. Anything.

But there’s nothing. He stares, with thoughts racing through his head. I can’t give you a child, he wants to scream. I’m a man. I’m only your cousin, people marry their cousins all the time. The gods do not condemn that. A million thoughts rush through his head, and none of them land on his tongue.

Robb closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, then whispers, “Say something, please.”

The petty part of Jon wants to lash out. He pictures himself saying, “Is that a command, Your Grace,” and seeing the look of anger and hurt on the redhead’s face. But he doesn’t.

“I love you,” he says, instead, and feels the remains of his heart shatter like ice. Robb bites his lip, still shaking, and the plates are rattling now, and his freckles are wet on his face, and Jon is still standing there, pathetic and weak. He takes in his own deep breath, hard enough that it feels like it’s constricting his ribcage under his muscles, and whispers, “Shouldn’t that mean something?”

Robb comes forward then, with a shove at the table, and shaking hands. He doesn’t touch him though, he just stands there, on the precipice between going and staying. “It does,” he replies, with a sad smile, “I love you, too. But I’m a King. I don’t get to have what I want.”

“So you could justify it when I wasn’t your cousin but not now?” Jon says, the hurt and grief beginning to build up the more he looks at the other man’s distress. “No one even knows. No one knows about us,” he says, with the knowledge that no one was ever going to know about them. Robb shudders. “And no one knows that we’re kin. No one but you and me, and your family. No one else has to know.”

“Jon, please underst—” Robb steps forward, arm up like he wants to reach out and comfort him, or hug him. Maybe kiss him, one last time, before he breaks it off. Jon’s never gone through this before, he didn’t know how much it would feel like he was dying.

“I understand,” he says, and he does. He doesn’t want to, but he gets it. He’s been raised to be a King, unknowingly, he knows that leaders have to make sacrifices. For the good of their people. What good is this to them though? “I understand that I love you and you love me. I understand that you’re a King, and that means hard choices. What I don’t understand is how throwing us away is going to do anything for your dynasty when no one—” his voice hitches, “—knows.”

“This won’t be kept a secret forever,” Robb says. “Sooner or later, it's going to come out.” He backs away, then, and straightens his shoulders as much as he can with their trembling. His eyes are dry, now, but there are still tear tracks on his face.

“I won’t change my mind,” he says, and there’s no ice or hardness in his tone. Just weariness.

Jon closes his eyes, and nods. “May I go now, Your Grace?” he says, and feels nothing when Robb looks stricken at the title. The redhead nods, however, and then Jon is gone, his legs taking him as fast as they can to the stables. Servants and guards shoot him disgruntled looks as he bumps into them. The air feels stale and suffocating even out in the open as he saddles up Shadow, and the vast expanse of the darkness with the half-sliver of moon covered by clouds looks as ill as he feels. His chest burns as he lifts himself up, his legs numb like limp noodles, and then he bends over, not moving an inch, burying his face in his hands and the horse’s hair.

Chapter Text

“The Martell’s forces are going to sail into the Sunset Sea. They will lay in wait there and up along the rocks and passes for anyone who attempts to leave by the sea,” Robb tells his bannerman sitting in the dining hall, moving pieces with the long, metal prong in his hand onto the map. “It will be a siege from all sides. The Lannisters won’t have anywhere to go.” The air in the room smells soothing and earthy from the firewood burning in the hearth and the ale in front of them.

“We’re not going to try to starve them out are we?” Lord Umber asks. He’s frowning as he looks at the map and there are lines that seem like cracking folds in parchment across his forehead. The war has aged him, as it’s aged them all. Robb feels like he has lived years longer than he has; years longer than his father even.

His mother is sitting next to him at the head of the table, while Lord Karstark sits directly to his left and Lady Mormont is on his right. Her daughters are standing behind her, hands on their weapons and serious expressions on their faces. None of them can be called beauties but there’s a sereness to their plain, beige looks that Robb finds comforting. Behind Lord Umber is his son, Smalljon, with his beard grown longer and fuller since the first time Robb saw the bear of a man. Jon is sitting farther down the table, an expression of almost boredom on his face, but he’s been studiously avoiding Robb’s gaze since the meeting began.

Given that Robb’s eyes have been traveling every so often to him, unwittingly, it stings, but he understands. It’s been a week but the pain of breaking things off feels as fresh as if it just happened.

“No,” Robb says, “I’m sure they’ll have more supplies than us. We need to attack straight off.” With the Dornishmen, his army is now double what it was. It would have been better to have more, but unless the Tyrells turn on the Lannisters, this is what he has.

“We’ll lose a lot of men,” Lord Karstark points out. “Our attacks at night are no longer a surprise. They will be expecting it.”

Robb raises an eyebrow. “Will they? I doubt Tywin expects us to attack the Rock. No, he’ll expect us to attack the capitol.” In some ways, Oberyn Martell’s arrest is a blessing. There’s been news that the Lannisters are arming the bay by the capitol, expecting ships no doubt, and his trial by combat is awaiting the Mountain’s arrival. It’s even pushed back the royal wedding, because the bastard pretender on the throne believes that the Martell Prince’s death will bring his marriage good fortune.

The entire trial is a farce, and there are dark circles underneath Jon’s eyes that can’t just be from what happened between them.

Robb bites his lip, worrying the flesh between his teeth, and wonders how his lo—his cousin, can worry so much about the man who lied to him his entire life. There’s an anger towards the man inside him right now that’s almost savage , as he thinks about his father’s face whenever Aunt LyAlyx was mentioned. Grief stricken and forlorn and that odd look of lost longing.

The council keeps discussing some of their plans. Robb ignores the look of anger on his Uncle Edmure’s face as he tells him that he will stay behind with his mother and sister, and gives command of Edmure’s troops to his Uncle Brynden. After the disaster with the stone mill he doesn't trust his uncle leading a dinner menu, let alone something as vital as an attack on Casterly Rock. Lord Umber will lead an attack from the east, while Lord Karstark will take the west. Robb and his men, along with Lady Mormont, will come around from the north, until the rock is encircled on all sides.

“Your Grace,” a thin, hawk-faced young man says as he comes in, bowing and holding out a piece of parchment. “News from Winterfell.”

No one says anything as Robb motions the man forward. Every nerve feels like it's on fire, and his heart is beating so fast he wonders if it can leap out of his chest. His breath is caught in his throat and he can feel everyone’s eyes on him as he takes the parchment from the man. His mother looks to him with wide, worried eyes and he barely controls the shaking of his hands as he reads the letter.

It’s a bittersweet relief that washes over him as he takes in the words. When he’s done, he hands the letter to his mother, before he turns to address his bannermen. “Winterfell is once again ours. Bolton’s bastard has been taken prisoner and is on his way here for justice. Most of the Ironborn remaining in the castle have been executed.”

A great cheer goes up through the hall. Several of the men pound their fists on the table and a few begin to chant “The King in the North.” Robb looks to his mother whose expression is a mix of relief and sadness; relief that their rightful home was back in their possession and grief that so few of them remained. Winterfell, burnt and broken as it was, would never be the same as the castle that Robb remembered making sheet forts in his room alongside Sansa and Arya and Bran and Theon Greyjoy, or wrestling Rickon into the bath. His father would never again walk those halls.

When he pulls his gaze away from his mother, his eyes catch Jon’s. The brunette is smiling at the chant, but his eyes are distant. Before Robb can wonder what Jon is contemplating, though, Lord Umber asks, “What about Theon Greyjoy? Has the traitor been killed or captured?”

Robb frowns, feeling a twist of rage and sadness in his gut as he replies, “He was not there. Gone before our men swarmed the gates.” The letter also said that nothing remained of his brothers’ burned bodies.

“We should prepare a feast in celebration,” Lady Catelyn says, her voice low but diplomatic. There is only a hint of relief as she speaks, scarcely a trace of anything else. Robb looks to her, watching his mother’s fingers pick at her sleeves. “For tomorrow night, or the day after. Before the men march out.”

Robb nods and speaks his agreement. He calls the meeting to a halt for the night. The news of his home’s recapture calls for a slight deviation from his plans. He needs to think of loyal men he can trust to bring his mother and sister north, back to their home, and spare some men to rebuild it as well. There is a sense of urgency in his gut that he can’t explain, a gnawing feeling pricking away inside him, that the castle must not be left unattended.

There must always be a Stark in Winterfell, he thinks with his father’s voice. The men and women in the hall file out until it is only him and his mother left. He turns to look at her, her face wan and tired. There are more lines there now, around her eyes and mouth, and her vibrant red hair has specks of grey, evidence of the years and grief she’s been through.

“Mother,” he says, and then he is in her arms, clutching her tight and close. He breathes in the lavender and rosewood scent of her hair, as she clings back to him, murmuring in his ear. Words of home. Words of love. Words of grief.

“We must go tell your sister,” she says, after they break away. There are tear tracks on her face. They discuss plans for his mother and sister’s journey home as they leave the dining hall, looking for the most wayward of all the Starks.

They find Arya outside behind the castle. Her hair is pulled back into a messy half ponytail, still short and just growing out from the boyish cut she’d given herself in order to travel without notice. She is balancing on her feet like a dancer, dressed in breeches and a long tunic, pointing Needle at the air and twirling around, parrying and thrusting. She does this often now, too often, for Robb’s comfort. His little sister is changed. Harder, and colder, and he thinks, deadlier as well. His mother notices as well, although she tries to force Arya into dresses and sewing lessons still, as if that will turn back the tide of the woman that her daughter is becoming.

“Arya,” his mother says, waving her over. She pouts but the expression changes to one of joy and relief and triumph as their mother relates the news. She jumps up and throws her arms around Robb’s neck as he catches her, hugging his little sister, all the while the sword is still in her hand, though miraculously it never once comes near him as she embraces him. She hugs their mother next, though she gives him Needle before doing so. He holds the thin blade in his hands, feeling the weight and balance, remembering the commission he’d given for it before she left for the capitol.

I only meant for her to be able to defend herself against pickpockets and rapers, Robb thinks, remembering the worry he’d felt when Father told him that his sisters were going south. Sansa wouldn’t have accepted the blade, proper and in love with tales of knights and glory and valor as she was, but Arya’s eyes sparkled with glee. Studying the sharpness of the weapon, he wonders if she’s killed with it.  

“As soon as your brother leaves for battle,” his mother is saying when he breaks away from his thoughts, “we will go to Winterfell.”

Arya frowns and pulls back, a look of indignation on her face. “I’m not going with you?” she says to Robb, for all the world like she’s just been cheating at a game of cards. His mother’s eyebrows shoot up almost to her forehead, an aghast expression flooding her features.

“Of course you are not, young lady!” With his mother’s statement, his sister crosses her arms over her chest. She’s not looking at Catelyn, but rather at him, her eyes deep and dark and imploring.

“I can fight,” she insists, pointing to the sword he’s still holding. “You know I can.”

Robb wants to laugh. “Yes, you can fight. But these are soldiers and warriors and knights with armor and experience and blood on their hands. You’re going with Mother, Arya. I will not have you with my army. It’s no place for a lady.”

“Jon’s sisters fight,” Arya says with a glare in her eyes that’s a challenge for him to prove her wrong. “He’s told me. He says they’re better than he is. Well—he didn’t say that, exactly , but I could tell.”

Robb shakes his head. “I don’t care what Jon’s sisters do. They are not my sisters.” They’re not even his , something petty inside reminds him. Twisting the knife into his heart a bit deeper, the reminder that Jon’s his cousin. “You are my sister. Not only that, but you are my heir. If something happens to me—” Both his mother and Arya turn to him then, mutual expressions of horror and protest on their face, “—then you will be Queen in the North. I need you safe.” Unlike Bran and Rickon, he thinks, but Greyjoy is gone. Fled like the craven that Robb had never believed him to be.

I will send a hundred men with them, he thinks, and request some from Dorne, if I have to. After all, she’ll be kin to them, soon enough. The betrothal with the Martell’s sits uneasily with him now, but he can’t back out. He won’t back out, despite the knowledge he now has about the patience and manipulation and cunning of Jon’s foster family. Honor demanded it, and by his honor, he would keep it. More than that, though, was the fact that the war demanded it.

“Arya,” his mother says, getting to her knees so that she can look her youngest daughter in the eyes. Arya is no longer the eleven year old girl who left Winterfell, but she’s barely taller than before. “We have our home back. We can finally go home .”

“It’s not home yet,” Arya says, looking down. “Not until they’ve paid for what they’ve done. Not until father’s ghost rests, and Bran’s, and Rickon’s. Then it will be home.”

She shrugs off their mother’s attempt to embrace her once more, and leaves, grabbing the sword from Robb’s hand as she goes. Robb turns to his mother who is gazing after her daughter with a heartbroken, crestfallen look on her face.

“Leave it be, Mother,” he says, moving forward a step or two. “She just needs time, is all.” A lie, and they both know it, but the words are a false comfort. She nods, mouth tight, and they both watch Arya run towards the castle, dark hair fluttering in the wind behind her. She’d always looked the most like Eddard Stark.

Well, before Jon, with his dark grey eyes and darker hair.

“Did you know?” Robb says, suddenly, to his mother. He’s been holding back the words for weeks now, barely able to think of the man he’d kissed and held and loved as his cousin, let alone talk to anyone about it. It’s strange to think about, now of all times, with his sister’s anger and his home’s retrieval. Strange and ill-fitting, just as strange and ill-fitting as the situation is. “About Jon? Did Father?”

She doesn’t nod, but she doesn’t shake her head, either. As she explains about his father’s suspicions, the way he would hoard news concerning the Martells and collect bits of information about Oberyn Martell’s bastard son. The near obsession that his father had with the idea that the boy was his sister’s son, ungrounded and insubstantial as it was. That his father had turned out to be right and would never know sends a surge of anger through him and, for a moment or two, he hates the Martells.

“What should we do?” Robb says, when she is finally done speaking, telling him all about their visit with Oberyn Martell before the man left for King’s Landing. “The Martell’s want him on the throne. Once we’ve taken the Rock, you know they will demand it.”

Catelyn nods, troubled and contemplative. “They will. They’ve waited all these years. Hiding. Keeping their ears to the ground and their noses clean. Pretending to be loyal citizens to the crown, bending the knee, all the while plotting in secret. They will never accept Stannis Baratheon on the Iron Throne. Not as long as Jon lives.”

Father believed Stannis Baratheon to be the rightful King of Westeros, Robb thinks, but he’d already betrayed his father. He was King himself now, breaking the North away and making the Starks rulers of their own country again. And his father had never truly met his nephew. What would he have done if he’d ever held the boy in his arms? Looked into his eyes?

Despite his thoughts, though, Robb knows that his father would never have put his nephew on a throne that cost their family so much blood and pain and bitterness.

“They are giving me an army,” he says, with a sigh. “Arya is betrothed to their Prince. I’ve given them oaths and sworn them promises. Will I be called an oathbreaker as well as a traitor? What would you do?”

He looks to her, watching her expression as carefully as he can. Her eyes narrow, her eyebrows draw close together, and her mouth tightens. “Stannis Baratheon is the King by right of conquest,” she says, after a while, “and in truth I care not what happens to that wretched chair in the South. When we get Sansa out, let them die and bleed over it. Let no more of our family be bothered by it.”

Robb nods, and opens his mouth, but then she continues to speak, “Family. Duty. Honor. Those are my family’s words.”

“Yes,” he answers, mouth tight. The wind ruffles his hair and blows the edges of his mother’s skirt around her, reminding him of a statue of the Mother he’d seen in the sept of Riverrun.

“Jon is our family,” she says, clasping her hands tight together. “He might not have been raised with us in his rightful home, but he is your blood. The blood of your father and all the Starks. The blood of the Kings of Winter. Family sticks together and honors each other above all else. Even—” she takes a deep breath, “our grievances. If he wants the throne of his father’s ancestors, then fight for him. Build a relationship between two great kingdoms in Westeros and the both of you can make the realms prosper. Do not do it for oaths sworn to the Martells or for revenge. Do it for family.”

She smiles and takes his hand. “Forget whatever words have passed between the two of you.” He raises his eyebrows, every inch of his body tense. She looks at him knowingly. “You two have scarce been in the same room since we’ve come back, when before you were always together. I do not know what passed between you—” His muscles relax a little as she says this. “—or whose fault it was. The two of you need each other now, more than ever, for better or worse, in this war. Let this fight end, before it festers.”

He won’t speak to me, he wants to tell her, but in truth, Robb doesn’t know how to speak to him either without wanting to—

No, he thinks, killing the thought before it comes. You have to be strong now. As strong as your father. So he nods instead and asks, “Do you think he would be a good King?” It is an almost childish statement. By rights the heir to the throne was the King. Goodness need not factor into it. If Joffrey had been trueborn, Robb might be home in Winterfell right now, the acting Lord of Winterfell perhaps, or maybe his father would have come home, no reason to be a traitor to the crown. Bran and Rickon would still be alive.

His mother smiles sadly and, in answer to the direction his thoughts are in, says, “I do not know. But he will be better than any Lannisters’ spawn.”

After that, they remain silent and lost in thought as he loops his arm through hers to walk back to the castle. Her words, however, do little to soothe the growing conflict within his head and heart.




 

Two days later, Riverrun’s dining hall is stuffed fuller than it has been in the years since Catelyn and Lysa Tully donned the marriage cloaks of the Houses of Stark and Arryn. Lords and their sons are scattered around the dining hall, with candles lit all around, illuminating the direwolf banners hanging on the walls next to Riverrun’s own. Long, thin tables are placed around the room and each has golden plates filled with food piled high. Brown bread shaped like fishes or wolves, roasted carrots and turnips with onions and peas, bowls of apricots and apples and pears, roasted vension and fowls of various sorts, and trout based in lemon and garlic mix with the smell of melting candle wax and burning fires to create a potent mixture. In front of everyone are glasses of golden wine or strong ale, and Robb feels a bit lightheaded from the four mugs of ale he’s drunk since the feast began.

Lady Catelyn, for the first time in a long time, has a flush to her face indicating, if not happiness, then contentment. Her hair is done in the Northern style, as well as her dress, and her plate of food is half-eaten already. Robb smiles as he looks at his mother, who’s been spending half the feast either talking to him or Lord Umber, or scolding Arya who’s been shouting down the table to speak to Jon.

“Be a lady,” is the mantra Lady Catelyn has been saying tonight. Lord Karstark is to Robb’s left, along with Lord Glover, and his mother is on his right, with Arya next to her. Across from him is Lord Umber, then on the big bear of a man’s right is the equally big bear of a woman, Maege Mormont. Dacey Mormont is next to her, and next to Dacey are various different bannermen, along with Smalljon Umber, and Jon.

Robb looks to him, feeling a sting of jealousy as the brunette smiles playfully at a redheaded serving girl that is refilling his wine glass. Her curls are long and pulled back from her face with a gold colored headband, and she’s comely, in a plain sort of way, with a long mouth and wide-eyes. Jon is leaning back against the table, his food sitting forgotten in front of him, and his face turned towards her as she bends down to whisper something in his ear, her lips brushing up against black curls.  Robb scowls as he watches her place her hand on Jon’s arm.

“—rumors of flying dragon beasts, can you be—Your Grace?” Lord Karstark says, pulling Robb away from the end of the table. He blinks, then looks to the Lord of Karhold, whose white brows furrowed over his eyes make his face appear almost like a fur cloak.

“I’m sorry, Lord Karstark,” he says, putting his full attention onto his bannerman, though out of the corner of his eye he sees his mother shoot him a concerned look. Since the talk between them on the hill, she’s been watching both him and Jon as attentively as a mother wolf, waiting for the ice to break between them. But beyond a congratulations at the safe retrieval of his castle, Jon has avoided Robb. It’s almost like he’s disappeared into the walls, elusive and distant. Robb shakes the thought away and continues, “Repeat that, please? I’m afraid the clamour in the hall has dulled my hearing a little tonight.”

“The exiled Targaryen across the water in Essos,” Lord Karstark says, and Robb raises an eyebrow. His father had mentioned the two Targaryens across the water once or twice, in passing, and he knows that Viserys Targaryen is dead, but as far as he understands, the youngest and only (he reminds himself that she’s not the only Targaryen) is somewhere in Essos conquering cities and not bothering with Westeros. Lord Karstark’s sudden mention of her seems strange and out of place, but given how linked his family seems to be with dragons these days, perhaps the gods are mocking him.

“Daenerys Targaryen? What about her?” he says, spearing a carrot roasted with honey and taking a bite. The sweetness of the root vegetable bursts across his tongue.

Lord Glover looks up from the shank of venison he is devouring with enthusiasm to say, “There are rumors she’s got dragons with her. It’s all nonsense. The dragons have been gone for hundreds of years. She’s probably carting around some large lizards and the smallfolk over in the East are easily fooled into thinking they’re more than they are.”

Robb nods, thinking that Lord Glover is probably right. Yet, considering Grey Wind, the direwolf happily pulling apart his dinner on the floor by Robb’s feet, and the rest of the direwolves, things beyond the realm of possibility have been happening all over in the last few years. “There are no direwolves south of the wall,” he remembers his father had said, the day that Robb and Theon rode past the party that joined Lord Eddard Stark for the deserter’s beheading. He, as well, had been saying strange tales about White Walkers.

“And why can’t she have dragons?” his sister says, leaning over their mother to stare challengingly at his bannerman. His mother frowns at her with disapproval, but Robb has to contain his smile at his sister’s audacity. “Not everyone in Essos is stupid—dragons are supposed to have wings . What lizard has wings?”

Lord Glover frowns, but he looks as if he’s contemplating Arya’s question. Lord Karstark and Robb’s mother, though, are glaring at her. Catelyn hisses her name in warning, but as usual, his youngest sister ignores their mother’s censure.

Lord Umber laughs, heartily. “The girl’s got you there, Glover.”

“What does it matter,” Lady Mormont says, waving her hand in the air so wide it causes several people to shoot looks of displeasure at her. Jon and the redhead, still hovering and not doing her duty of serving the guests at the feast, break away from their discussion to glance at the woman of Bear Island with confusion. Grey eyes meet his own blue ones, for a second or two, before the brunette breaks their gaze, and Lady Mormont continues, “If she stays in the East, dragons or no, she’s not our problem. Let her get rid of the slavery over there or whatever it is she’s doing. Barbaric practice. Good for her, if she wants to put all the Masters to the sword.”

“And if she comes west?” Lady Catelyn says, and the look she gives Robb makes it clear that she wants him to think deeply about the possibility of Jon’s aunt coming to Westeros. He looks at her, remembering their conversation, and then looks to Jon, avoiding letting his gaze land on the tumble of red hair swaying near the brunette as much as he can. “What should we do then?”

“She and Baratheon can fight it out,” Lord Umber grumbles, pounding his fist against the table. “Once we get our justice, the South isn’t our problem either.”

“I doubt she’ll see it that way,” Robb says, with a frown. He shares a concerned look with his mother. “The Beggar Prince kept calling himself King of the Seven Kingdoms. His sister might have the same notions. She could bring more war.”

“All the more reason see if Tywin Lannister shits gold and get his bastard grandson off the Iron Throne,” Lord Glover says, picking at the gristle of his meat. “We don’t need a war on three fronts. Baratheon’s been ignoring us, so far, but he won’t keep doing that once the Lannisters are off the throne.”

“And who will they fight for?” Lord Karstark asks, shooting a pointed glare towards Jon. The brunette is rising from the table, to Smalljon’s loud protests that the “night has just begun” and is leaving the hall. Robb looks around for the redheaded serving girl, but she’s nowhere in sight. His eyes narrow, searching through the hosts of men eating their dinner and drinking their ale, standing around and sharing small talk, and servants bustling about. Lord Karstark snorts, and continues, “Doran Martell’s sister was married to Rhaegar Targaryen. Could be he wants them on the throne. What will we do then, Your Grace?”

Robb reaches up to grip the table under his hands, fingers curling against the wood. “Lord Karstark, this is speculation about a war that might never come. It’s useless to consider plans for it. We should focus on Casterly Rock, because that’s where our war is.”

“Yes,” his mother says, leaning forward and breaking through the conversation before it can go any further, “and may all the gods grant you success. Tell me, Lord Karstark, is it true that your daughter wants to continue her betrothal into House Hornwood? To Beren Tallhart, this time?”

“Aye,” Lord Karstark says, turning to his mother, “she’s insisting that she wants to be Lady Hornwood.” It’s clear that he’s displeased, and Robb remembers his suggestion that his daughter could be Queen in the North, since her former marriage contract had been broken with the death of her fiance.

“All this talk of marriage,” Smalljon says, sliding into the vacant seat next to Robb. He hadn’t noticed that his neighbor had even moved. The other man is nursing an ale in his hand and there are flecks of food caught in his beard. “Doesn’t it ever get tedious?” Despite his words, the man’s gaze is fixed on Dacey Mormont, who is paying him no attention at all.

“Yes,” Robb says, with a bit more force and truth behind the statement then he really should. Thankfully, no one seems to be listening to him or his friend. Lord Glover has removed himself from his place to go converse with a group of men, and Lady Mormont is regaling his sister with some tale about Bear Island.

Smalljon’s eyebrows nearly disappear into his thick hair at the answer, before a grin sweeps across his face. “You should find yourself some company tonight, Your Grace,” the man suggests, looking towards a few of the comelier looking women. “I’ve got my eye on that one,” he says, pointing to a girl with dark hair and a generously curved figure. From the side, she looks remarkably like Dacey Mormont. “She’s been giving me the look all night. You should have no trouble finding someone.”

“Hmmm,” Robb answers, noncommittally, his mind preoccupied with thoughts of Jon and the servant girl and his eyes fixed on the door. Where were they and what were they doing? Were his pale fingers tangled in her red curls? Was he down on his knees in front of her, making her gasp in pleasure, or was she more forward? She’d seemed forward enough when she was all but throwing herself on the brunette’s lap in the hall. “I’ll pass.” It stings, briefly, to say, as the equally concerned and scandalized look on his friend’s face reminds him of Theon Greyjoy.

“You alright, Your Grace?” Smalljon asks, which makes him finally take his eyes away from the door. “You’ve been—well, not yourself, these past few days.”

Robb shoots him a look that he hopes portrays how ludicrous that statement seems given everything that’s happened in the last few weeks. The heir to House Umber only nods, completely nonplussed by his King’s indignation. By his feet, he feels Grey Wind begin to rise, and hears a huff or two, as the large direwolf glides out from under the table, shaking himself awake and giving his master a forlorn look; it seems as if the wolf is attempting to ask him where Ghost is, or whether or not this feast is going to be over soon.

“I’m good,” he says, instead. A lie, and they both know it, but there’s nothing else to say. Robb cannot tell anyone about Jon, both his heritage or their actions, nor does he want to unburden himself with some random woman. “Impatient to go, I suppose.”

Behind him, Grey Wind lets out a sound of agreement, causing Smalljon to laugh. “Our blades will taste Lannister blood, soon enough. You’ll be the first King in history to conquer the Rock! I can hear the bards singing songs about it already.”

Unwittingly, his mind flashes back to the conversation he and Jon had about honor and glory. They’d been so happy that morning, before the Kingslayer escaped, and it seems now with that escape every other aspect of their relationship was doomed from the start.

Break yourself out of this, Robb thinks to himself, a bit savage and more than a little angry, for you sound like a weeping child.

“—mayhaps it will even overtake the Rains of Castamere, Your Grace,” Smalljon is saying, and Robb didn’t even realize he’d tuned the man out. The servants are coming in with platters of desserts; golden cakes drizzled with honey and lemon glaze, tarts with berries or apples doused in cinnamon and nutmeg, and candied nuts of all assortments. Smalljon eagerly digs into a tart the second a brunette serving boy places the dish down in front of him.

Robb ignores the sweetmeats in front of him. His gaze is fixed on the door where the Maester is coming in, clutching a letter in his hands with an expression that spoke of ill-news. The men in the hall continue to chatter as the man with the chain forged from the Citadel makes his way past them to the high table. To Robb.

“Your Grace,” he says, with a bow. He’s an old man, with a crown of white fuzz on his head and eyes that sink into his face. “News from King’s Landing.”

Lord Karstark and Catelyn Stark stop talking, and Smalljon pulls his gaze away from the buxom serving woman that resembles Dacey Mormont. Robb takes the letter, and reads the words, and feels cold and sick, stomach churning, as the image painted in ink on the parchment bleeds into his brain.




 

Jon’s head is swimming a bit and his tongue tastes heavily of the bitter aftertaste of wine. The serving girl, Alyx, is holding his hand loosely in her own, stroking her fingers across his skin. He follows her, steps a bit clumsy, and mind a bit cloudy. He doesn’t remember much of what they’d talked about after the fourth or fifth glass of wine. He barely even recalls leaving the hall, though he thinks Smalljon protested.

He does remember her come hither smile from across the room at the beginning of the feast, and the now familiar pangs of sorrow and grief every time he looks at Robb. Her come-ons are a distraction, an almost pleasant one, a reminder of before he’d ever met his cousin. Before he’d left home.

So here he is, bumping into walls as she leads him back up to his own room. Given that she’s a servant in the castle, it doesn’t seem that strange that the twists and turns towards his chambers are so natural to her. He presses her softly against the door when they get there, kissing her lightly, tasting wine on her own lips—though maybe it is from his own breath—and he fumbles once, then twice, with the door, before they are inside.

He pulls away from her when they get in. She’s tall, and shapely, with large breasts and hips, and long legs. Ghost is curled up on the rug and he looks up, his snout moving into a sniff of seeming disdain when he catches sight of her. The wolf’s red eyes catch his as he passes, as if to ask “really?”

He begins to undo the laces of his jerkin, which suddenly feels hot and oppressive despite the chill in the air. He catches sight of his reflection in the bowl of water left on the nightstand next to his bed. He’s flushed, and the curls near his hairline seem sweat damp. He wrinkles his nose, and pulls off his jerkin, letting it fall to the floor. The thin tunic underneath is sticking to his skin.

“My Lord,” Alyx says, and he spins around on his heels, head protesting, to see her fiddling with her hair and standing there looking shy and coy. He’d told her to call him Jon, he remembers, though she’d refused him. He’d forgotten she was here. She moves closer, until she’s in front of him, reaching up to kiss him again, but this time, he pulls back, his stomach churning, though he doesn’t think it's from the wine.

She frowns, and then steps back. “Are you—are we?”

She can’t say it, although she can indicate it without words easily enough. The way she looks at him from underneath her eyelashes, runs her tongue over her bottom lip, and juts out her hips. Brief flashes of their conversation floods back to him in that moment. She’d asked about Dorne and the ocean and asked him what it was like to swim in water so big and vast.

“Terrifying,” he’d admitted to her, “your life is always placed at the mercy of the elements. One riptide, one strong wave, and you could be gone. There’s nothing more—wondrous.”

They’d said more, but for the life of him, Jon can’t remember what. He steps closer to her, feeling like he’s walking on a rope that’s been lashed tight around beams just like in a mummer’s show. The tightrope, he thinks, that’s what it’s called. His father and him saw it several times in the Free Cities, and each time he’d felt a childlike wonder at the trust the performer was putting between his body and that thin thread. All of that control, all of that poise, and it was used for entertainment for the poor.

Tonight, Jon feels like his feet are balanced only on their toes, and he is hovering between safety and uncertainty. Though, if he is honest with himself, he’s been feeling like that ever since Robb had told him they needed to stop.

It would be easy, he thinks, to fill up this gaping hole with her smiling mouth and laughing eyes. Her pale, freckled skin and long legs. She’s offering it, looking at him with expectation, but he hesitates, because— she’s not right.

“Alyx,” he says, and it's a small consolation that this time he can at least remember a simple name, “I’m not—” he breaks off, unsure. Her expression falls, downtrodden, and so he moves forward without thinking.

She nods, and says, “I understand, My Lord.” But she doesn’t make to leave, instead, she hovers. She’s paler than Robb, with less freckles and darker hair, a russet shade that looks less red without the glare of candlelight. Jon feels like screaming, for a minute, as the rush of blood to his head causes him to look away from her green eyes.

Everything, it seems, comes back to Robb. It is a curse, now, and it is grating at him, to be so fixated on a man who doesn’t—who refuses—to have him anymore. There is a prickling of guilt, though whether it’s for Alyx, or towards Robb, he’s not sure. Outside of the hall and alone in the room with only a disapproving direwolf for company, the easy way he’d flirted with her before is gone.

He takes a deep breath, and holds onto the nightstand behind him to keep himself upright. “I’m sorry, Alyx,” he says, and he truly is. “I—” have someone, he almost says, but his mouth won’t form around the words. It doesn’t matter, though.

She smiles sadly. “You don’t have to say anything, my Lord. She’s a lucky woman.”

Jon almost laughs. It’s an odd statement, and for some reason it makes him think of Rhaegar Targaryen, and the two women he expected to live together calling him “husband.” It isn’t so different from a paramour, yet it still feels far removed from the concept, as vast as the space between Dorne and the North.

If he were truly still with Robb, he thinks, the prick of guilt widening into a wound, then he would be far from lucky while I sit here kissing another. He looks to Ghost, and the pointed way those red eyes meet his speaks volumes of what the wolf feels.

“Thank you, Alyx” he says, because he can’t think of anything else to say to fill the awkward silence. Arianne and Tyene would both laugh to see him now, heartsick and fumbling at a conversation with a servant girl.

The sudden knock against the door sounds almost as loud as a battering ram hammering against a gate. Both Alyx and Jon jump, and he regrets the action as immediately as it happens, though Ghost remains unphased. He stumbles over, passing her where she stands, and wrenches open the door.

Grey eyes catch blue, which widen at first, then narrow as they trail past him to Alyx. Then the look changes, as Robb removes his gaze from her, and looks to Jon again. Jon feels a sudden, and inexplicable, feeling of trepidation as he looks to Robb. The redhead is clutching a letter in his hand, hard and tight, and there is an unreadable expression on his face, but it's far from happy.

“Jon,” he says, and then pointedly looks to the girl, ordering her to leave.

Jon hears, though he doesn’t see with his eyes pinned on Robb, the girl curtsey and mutter, “Your Grace,” as she leaves, head down and feet moving as fast as they can. Jon steps back, in order to let Robb, and Grey Wind standing next to him, eyes sad, in. The wolf nuzzles his hand on the way in, and Robb hovers in the doorway for a moment or two, before he enters.

“What is it?” he means to say, but instead, in a fast jumble, he hears himself say, “Nothing happened with her. She was just—nothing happened.”

Robb blinks at him, frozen and torn. Jon steps forward, and maybe it's the drink getting to his head and clouding his judgement, or maybe it's his fool heart, but he kind of wants to plead with Robb to talk. He’s been avoiding him, avoiding this, for so long now, because he didn’t know if he could stay strong in his own anger and own hurt if face-to-face with him on his own.

“Jon,” Robb says again, and this time, he can hear a level of sympathy in his voice. Though what for, he doesn’t know. “We received a letter from King’s Landing. From Brienne of Tarth.”

The dizziness fades, and though his stomach keeps flipping, it's no longer from drink. Knowledge sets in and Robb doesn’t need to say it.

Throat tight, words coming out more as a croak than a human voice, he says, “He lost.”

Lost, as if he’d lost a castle. As if he’d lost a coat, or a shoe, or a sword. Lost—what a word to use for the snuffing out of someone’s life. Oberyn Martell lost his trial by combat and lost his life, and his daughters and his son—for Jon is his son, for better or worse, no matter who’s seed sired him—and his love lost him. But that is false. There is no loss. He’s been stolen, Jon thinks, because death steals. It takes, and takes, and the Stranger seems then like the most selfish of all Seven Gods, hoarding dreams and hopes and anger and regret and poison into whatever abyss dead souls went to.

Oberyn had described the loss of Elia Martell as a hole in his heart. An ache in his soul. Jon doesn’t feel that. No, he feels numb. As if he’d been doused completely in an ice bath, as if he is sitting and freezing in the fabled ice cells of the Wall. He feels outside himself, as he holds his hand out in silent demand for the letter. Robb hesitates, but Jon just stares, hard and patient, until the redhead gives him the piece of parchment.

Bile rushes up as he reads the words, and he turns away, clutching his stomach, body heaving. When it's over, he pulls away, to find Robb there, with the bowl of water from the nightstand and a washcloth at the ready.

Gregor Clegane, the rapist and murderer, killed the Prince of Dorne by poking his eyes out, fingers stabbing down all the way into his brain. The spectators and judges had turned away from it, but there were a few who’d looked on in frozen fascination. Brienne wrote of the blood and the screams. She wrote of Ellaria’s face, and her heartbreak. Jon shudders, thinking of his father’s lover stuck in that horrid city with his father’s butchered corpse, surrounded by jackals and vultures. She’d probably been arrested, too, he thinks and worry rushes up for her and her fate.

“I want that creature dead,” he says, taking the washcloth. He wipes his face and his hair. “I want to see him ripped apart. I want his eyes speared on a spike.” The words are cold and matter-of-fact, as if he’s speaking merely of the sun setting over the Dornish mountains.

“He’s already dead,” Robb says, and Jon knows that, too. Brienne wrote it. It’s not enough, though. So very far from enough.

“Yes,” he says. “But I wasn’t there.” He doesn’t need to say anymore, he knows, because Robb understands. The redhead nods, and steps closer, as if to embrace him. Then there’s another knock, and Lady Catelyn’s voice at the door. Robb looks to him, silently asking him for permission.

Jon nods, clutching the letter tight in his hand, tearing into it with his fingernails. They pierce his skin as well, and the sting that emanates from the small punctures is a pinprick, he muses, compared to what happened to Oberyn Martell.

The door opens, and then Lady Catelyn is standing in front of him with an expression of understanding and fierce, deep anger on his behalf. Arya as well. His little wolf cousin is standing next to her mother, her dark eyes looking to him. Without words, Lady Catelyn steps forward, and then he’s in her arms. Her hand is running over his hair, and he’s not sure what to do with his arms, but slowly, they come up around her.

“We will kill them all,” Robb says, and then his arms join Lady Catelyn’s, and Arya’s as well, as they all stand there, clutched in an embrace of numb grief and anger and bitter hate. “For my father, and yours, and my brothers, and everyone else they’ve harmed. We will kill them all.”



 

The next morning, the sun is shining high in the sky, bright and blue with nary a cloud. His mother’s loose red hair waves in the wind as Robb looks back to see her, worried and proud at the same time. Arya stands next to her, a bit sullen and brooding, uncomfortable in her dress. She’d been tired this morning, they all had, since none of them slept much.

His horse huffs, impatient to be moving since he’s been saddled, and the men are murmuring around him. Jon is silent, next to him astride his own horse already. Robb looks to him, and then kicks at his horse, trotting him forward a few steps.

He takes a deep breath as he turns to face his men. They stare at him, a mixture of armors and hair colors and builds. Scattered around the realm, more of his men sit in wait, preparing for their most pivotal battle.

“My Lords,” he begins, and then looks to the Mormonts, “and my Ladies, you have all fought well and true. Your loyalty is honorable and I’ve been proud to fight beside you. This war has been long and hard and we’ve suffered many losses. Many betrayals. Today, though, today we will go to serve our enemy some of their own. This has never been done before, but I know that there is no better army than this army to achieve what we are about to embark on.”

“The North remembers!” he says, voice rising into a scream. One by one, everyone begins to raise their swords, their voices loud in echo. The words wash over them all, becoming a chant. Even Jon, who’s not uttered a word since before Robb’s mother came the night before, holds his sword above his head, lips moving.

“The North remembers!” everyone says, in unison, and Robb prays to both the Old Gods and the New that they will not fail.

Chapter Text

Jon stares sullenly into the mug of ale Dacey Mormont hands him. It’s been a few days since they left Riverrun, and the company has made camp near some mountains by the Golden Tooth for the night. Tents are set up, but most of the men will be sleeping under the sky tonight. The woman from Bear Island kicks lightly at his leg, and he grunts, shooting her a glare, as he moves over on the log he’s sitting on.

“That face doesn’t suit you,” she says, sipping her own ale. Her hair is loose and flowing down her back in waves, but there are two thin braids running around the side of her head, connecting in the back. She’s dressed down in a tunic and breeches, which is flecked with mud and stained with something dark on her right leg, but her scabbard is still on.

“What face?” he asks her, watching the froth at the top of the ale bubble and pop. The air around him smells of spruce and fir, and smoke from the fires. There are men in various states of sobriety, along with various states of dress and, as usual, whores from nearby that joined the party on their way. He looks to Dacey, and frowns deeper. “This has always been my face.”

Usually, people tell him it’s a nice face.

“Not usually this—” she gestures to his face and pauses, searching for words, “—well, this.”

Jon raises an eyebrow. “Eloquent,” he tells her, in a tone that even he knows is deadpan. He looks over to a group of soldiers. Two of them, young and scarred and bearded, are wrestling shirtless on the ground while the men surrounding them cheer with raised fists and coin in hand. He swallows as he listens to their cheers, and looks at the spray of blood across the grass from a particularly nasty punch given to the smaller one’s nose from the bigger man straddling him.

He tears his eyes away and focuses on his drink, as she says, “Brooding, yes, you’re that, but this is just downright depressing.”

“My father was just murdered,” he mutters, eyes downcast. When he looks up again, she is wearing a look of chagrin, and no small measure of embarrassment.

“I don’t think he would have wanted you to mope about it,” she says, somewhat harshly, as was her way. “At least, not with the things I’ve heard of him.” She takes a deep gulp of her ale. He cradles his in between his palms.

“No,” he replies, with a sigh. “He’d have wanted blood. Or a party, depending on how he died. If he’d died of disease, then he would have called for celebrations.” Jon remembers his father’s views of his own funeral from when Jon was a little boy. Cups overflowing with wine and dancers and songs. Nothing like the cold, lasting wakes most favored.

He doesn’t say anything else, but Dacey doesn’t let that deter her.

“Well, then,” she says, before she takes a deep gulp of her drink, finishing it off, “honor him that way.” Jon has never seen a woman quite like her when it came to draining a full tankard in under two minutes, with nary a belch or a messy mouth to show for it.

Her words, however, cause him to smile, darkly, for the first time in days. “I plan to.”

They sit in silence for a few minutes, before she says, “You’ve been avoiding the King.”

Jon bites the corner of his cheek and gives her an annoyed look. “Who says he’s not the one avoiding me?”

She rolls her brown eyes and leans back. “Fine, you’ve been avoiding each other. The point is, why?”

Jon shrugs, and looks away so that he doesn’t have to look her in the eye. “We’ve been busy.” It’s a poor lie, but it’s not like he can tell her the truth. That every time he looks at Robb now he feels more and more adrift, or that he wishes he’d never come here. He can’t tell her about the lack of sleep, picturing his father’s death in the darkness of the nighttime hours. Or the need to talk to the only man in this camp who truly understood him, without the ability to do so, and the way it tears him up inside.

He can’t look at Robb anymore, without feeling like he’s a lost, bitter stranger in his own body.

“You were busy before,” she points out. He resists the urge to scowl at her childishly.

“My cousin, Trystane, wrote to say that he is looking forward to meeting his betrothed,” he says, changing the subject. He doesn’t fail to notice the way she rolls her eyes again. When she reaches over to swipe the mug of unconsumed ale from his hands, he doesn’t protest, either. Instead, he continues, “He certainly won’t be disappointed.” Jon’s lips quirk up into a half-smile as he thinks of Arya, wild and reckless and intelligent. And dangerous.

She will fit in well in Dorne.

Quick as a whip, Dacey brings the subject back towards Robb. “You miss your home,” she points out, before she cradles her chin in the palm of her hand, placing her elbows on her knees. Despite the way that pose usually makes one slump, her shoulders are still rigid and straight. Given that she towers several inches above Jon, her imposing bearing is no surprise. “Is it his refusal to let you go home that’s making you skirt around him? You came back here, Jon.”

“I’d be away from this bloody cold,” he mutters, half-heartedly. A part of him is stinging from Robb’s refusal, but not because he is away from home. He still can’t quite make himself face up to the idea of looking Doran Martell in the eyes, now. No, it was Robb’s own denial towards why he’d refused Jon’s plan. “Smalljon is probably sweating his innards out, with all those furs and that beard. He’ll be as miserable as a pig driving a wheelhouse.”

Jon’s Northern friend voiced his displeasure about going to Dorne to anyone who’d heard him for a full week before he left. Within anyone’s earshot, the bulky man complained about the fabled spice of the food, the heat, the drink, and the sand. He complained about the creatures he’d heard bed down in the landscape of the region, and voiced uneasiness at the thought of vipers’ bites. Jon was convinced the vipers he meant were of a more feminine form then the long, slithering snakes.

“The King was right,” she replies, taking a deep sip of her commandeered ale. Jon watches her throat muscles move as she swallows, rather than look towards the cries of the fighting men nearby. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees a tanned-skinned man on his knees with blood dripping from his eyelashes. “It was too dangerous for you. Smalljon’s not ideal, but he’s a damn sight better than you getting taken by the Lannister cunts and carved up to be sent home in a box.”

While she has an extremely valid point, and he knows that, logically, Robb’s decision was based off of that, he still knows , deep in his soul, that none of that was the first reason he’d been denied. The very fact that Robb sent the son and heir of one of his more prominent liege lords was also dangerous, in it’s own way. Course, his argument that sending a noble ensured that he could not simply be turned away from Dornish shores was sound, if a bit naive. Jon holds no doubts that if Doran Martell really wants to, he can make this alliance with the North disappear as fast as it had come to light, without ever breaking his word. Such are the games and the ploys of Dorne’s old, placid Prince.

Before he can reply, however, a young, pock-faced pageboy is in front of them, panting hard and grasping his knees. He inclines his head, addressing them, before he tells them, desperate and alarmed, that the King requests their presence in his tent. Sharing a look of concern, Jon and Dacey hoist themselves off the log and make their way to where the tent of grey and white is erected. Several of the lords and soldiers of higher rank are huddled inside, some standing, others sitting. Next to Lady Mormont is an empty seat, which Dacey takes, and to Robb’s right, another is set aside for him. Brow furrowed, lips turned down into a frown, Jon sits down.

Robb’s shoulders are straight and tense. His jaw is set stubbornly, and there is a dark gleam in his blue eyes that Jon only ever sees when the news he’d receives is bleak. Despite this, however, there is a slight uptick to the corners of his mouth, as if he is fighting a smile, or some other type of affirmation. His hands are clasped in front of him, his sword across his lap, and a letter spread out in front of him, its inky black words like a beacon to the eyes of everyone there.

Across from Jon, Lord Karstark can not contain the look of pleasure that is overtaking his weathered features, nor can his fellow lords, Glover and Umber. They know more than the rest of them gathered. Around him, the men seem to be in conflicting states of curiosity and anxiety. Jon and Dacey gaze at each other from across the table, their mutually raised eyebrows a symbol of the shared confusion between them.

For a few more excruciatingly curious minutes, Robb says nothing. He’s lost in thought, and Jon watches his fingers alternatively clench and unclench around one another. A few times, his blue eyes move back to the letter, darting across the words, drinking them in. Jon wishes his arm, covered as it is by a long grey cloak, wasn’t blocking his view from being able to decipher more than a couple of words.

Abruptly, Robb straightens his shoulders even more, and says,“The bastard, Joffrey Waters, is dead.”

Jon freezes, gazing at Robb, whose eyes meet his. The dark blue gaze is sparkling with vindictive pleasure, now, and if he’d been looking into a mirror, Jon knows his own eyes would look the same. A smile breaks out across his face, unbidden, as he waits and hopes that the vicious prick didn’t die from knocking his head against a doorframe, or something equally foolish and lacking pain.

After, as rumor has it, parading Oberyn Martell’s mutilated body throughout the streets of King’s Landing, before Joffrey Waters hacked off his head and put it up on a spike to rot, Jon desires for nothing more, in this moment, then to hear that the incestuous git of the Lannisters suffered .

Instantly, people chant and cheer in reaction to the news. Some stamp their feet, others pound their fists and clap their hands. Some raise their swords, crying “victory to the King of the North! The gods are with us!” A wide smile, like the slash of a blade, splits across Dacey’s face, sharpening her cheeks like the view of a meat cleaver from the side, and she turns to place her hand on her mother’s shoulder in joy.

Robb allows this for a few moments, looking around at his bannermen, before his blue eyes meet Jon’s gaze again. The candlelight casts shadows across his face, but his red curls are fluffed about his forehead like a burnished crown. When Robb looks away, he holds up his hand to calm the men.

“The Hand of the King, Tywin Lannister,” he spits out the name like the very syllables are poison, “has declared Tommen Waters, the Queen’s second bastard son, as the rightful—” a mocking laugh goes across the room, traveling from mouth to mouth, “—King of the Seven Kingdoms. Well, I say that Tywin Lannister is a false Hand, to a false King, and that the misfortune of his first false King will surely fall on the rest of his cursed house.” Enthusiastic agreement echoes around the tent. Jon knows little of Tommen, other than the whispers of his more gentle nature and love of cats. He feels a brief stab of pity towards the boy and the unfortunate reality of the family he was born into.

He will be nothing more than a puppet King, his grandfather the one to tug and pull on the strings of his title.

Cley Cerwyn, who is sitting several feet away from Jon, leans forward before he asks, “How was it that Waters died?” Several others nod, including Jon, whose need to know the circumstances is almost eclipsing his pleasure at the end result.

Robb’s answering smile is dark, and triumphant. “Poisoned at his wedding,” he says, and Jon thinks about the divine irony of that, given the plans the lions had for a different red wedding. “Brienne reports that his face was as purple as lavender when he died.” Smug smiles flit across the faces of those listening. “Tyrion Lannister has been arrested for his murder.”

At that statement, Jon frowns. He hears some men mutter about imps and kinslayers, but although he does not know the most detested member of the Lannister family, there is something—strange—about this piece of news. Beyond that, of course, was something far more pressing.

“What news of your sister, Your Grace?” Jon says, voicing the concern in his thoughts. Robb’s answering look shows that he, too, feels infinitely more worry about Sansa Stark. Dozens of eyes, greys and browns and blues and greens, fixate on the King, waiting for the news of one of their own, despite the name she is forced to bear.

He wishes he could know the fate that has befallen Ellaria, but no one would think to send word of her here. He hopes that she lives, and he hopes that she is safe, just as much as he hopes that no harm has come to the cousin he’s never met.

“There is none,” he whispers, and now, Jon knows why the King’s eyes are dark, and tainted. The unknown nature of just what is happening to Sansa, or even where she is, is no doubt eating away at Robb. She could be dead. She could be rotting away in a black cell next to her husband. She could be locked up in a room in the Red Keep, kept alive for her value as a war hostage, to use as currency at a later date. The possibilities were endless.

“I have sent word to Brienne of Tarth,” Robb continues. Catelyn’s sworn sword’s closeness to the Kingslayer has garnered her much knowledge about the inner workings of the court, and by extension, Robb as well. “I will know what is happening to my sister.” His words are steel, yet with a touch of icy fire in his tone.

The men speak back and forth for several minutes. A few, more reckless lords, younger and not as bright with their brains as they are skilled with a sword, suggest smuggling Sansa out. Jon resists the urge to roll his eyes, because that would have been done already if it could have been conceivably pulled off. But, with Brienne of Tarth known to Jaime Lannister as a friend to the Starks—by which, Jon still wonders how she hadn’t , inexplicably, been thrown into a cell herself, which makes the darker part of him wonder about betrayal, and he’d cautioned Robb about how much to trust her words—the only one in the capitol, she is no doubt watched when it came to any potential interactions she had with Sansa.

His own entreaty to smuggle his cousin out of the city fell to dust before it even began, and the reminder of his attempt sends a pang of sadness, because of its harsh connection with his father’s murder.

After a while, either weary of listening to the lords argue, or exhausted and concerned about the letter, Robb calls the meeting to order to announce one last matter.

“My Uncle Benjen has been chosen as the 99th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch after the death of Lord Commander Mormont,” he says. Several men of an age with Benjen Stark cheer, and mutter about sending congratulations to the man. Jon wonders how rewarding the post can be up in the frozen hell that is the Wall, surrounded by ice, ice, and more ice, with the occasional smattering of people. In Dorne, men of the Night’s Watch perplex many. It is no mystery as to why a raper, or a murderer, be sent to freeze their balls off in the North, far from civilization to make something out of their wretched lives, but those who choose it willingly? Did enough of them even join to make something of the rest of the poor lot stuck there?

He remembers his father’s mocking words about the men of the Wall. “Pricks who can’t raise their pricks,” he used to say, while Elia would laugh, clutching her stomach, and Obara would mime cutting off a man’s cock with her blade. If there is one thing Oberyn Martell couldn’t fathom, it was a life of voluntary celibacy.

“He’s further written that Stannis Baratheon has taken his host north of the Wall, to deal with the problem of the wildlings,” Robb continues. His face turns contemplative and, Jon thinks, a bit guilty if the way his mouth turns down, and the sad look in his eyes, is any indication. “I hope my uncle finds success and honor in his command.”

“To the Lord Commander,” the men say, in union, lifting up their hands, that are formed into fists. Jon, too, performs the gesture, but his mind is wandering, thoughts turned away from Benjen Stark and towards Sansa Stark, and Ellaria Sand.

The Lannisters will hurt no more of my family, he thinks, and suddenly, he feels impatient to break Casterly Rock’s walls to the ground. He wishes, fancifully, that dragons still lived, so that he could fly past the miles and miles still to march, and watch as rock and stone and piles of gold burned and melted into the sea.

The moon is bone white in the dark sky when he makes his way to the small tent erected for him. Though he’d prefer to sleep on the ground, given the hassle it is to carry too many tents with this large an army, neither Robb, nor Lady Catelyn, would hear of it. The space is empty, and the pallet cold, as he lies down upon it, blanket pulled up to his chin to stave off the chill in the air, and Ghost curls up by his feet. His eyes stare, unseeingly, at the grey fabric above his head, all while he continues to fantasize about dragon fire.

 

 

 

The next day, Jon wakes up to the feel of a wet tongue licking up and down the elbow of his arm. He squints open one eye to glare at the direwolf, who doesn’t even bother to look guilty, and instead continues his efforts of cleaning his human companion.

“You’re worse than a dog,” Jon mutters, moving his elbow away from Ghost’s tongue. The direwolf, however, is not deterred, and instead slithers forward on the bed. “Have I become your breakfast? Go hunt something.”

The pitiful look Ghost shoots him absolutely does not make him feel guilty.

The sounds of men packing up in preparation to move onwards hits him.There are calls for breakfast, which has become a meagre slop of, if lucky, watery oatmeal. On those days when the company is not so lucky, breakfast, lunch, and dinner become a watery type of cabbage “stew,” that is merely a head of cabbage boiled into regret and despair, with a hint of salt and pepper. Hunting, when it can be done, is not enough to fill an entire army’s belly, and what grain they have is split between the men and the horses.

Robb’s insistence that neither he, nor any other noble in his army, will indulge in roasted meats when the smallfolk of his army can not has done him much to gain favor in the eyes of his common army, but little to stop the grumblings of the likes of Lord Umber or Lord Karstark.

Swinging his legs around to sit up, Jon clenches his eyes shut from the morning glare, and dresses with eyes half-closed, while Ghost curls up on the cot, overtaking it completely.

“You’re going to have to move once they clear up this tent,” he tells the wolf, who only lifts one eyelid in a look that tells Jon everything he needs to know about the fucks the direwolf gives about that. Jon grins at him, then picks up the letter he received from Arianne a few nights before. It’s the third or fourth she’s sent him, since that night at the inn.

Cousin , she still calls him, either because she doesn’t want to say too much in case of interceptors, or because she still feels the sentiment, Father has relayed to me that my brother Quentyn has been tasked with a matter of utmost importance, though he refuses to elaborate on what. The little he’s revealed makes it clear that my brother’s task is meant for the betterment of our family. Your sisters, Obara and Nymeria, are being kept close in order for my father to keep a watchful eye on them. Sarella is still outside of the Water Gardens and Sunspear, but he has sent scouts looking for her. He fears Obara’s temper, and believes that she might attempt to storm the gates of King’s Landing herself in order to avenge Uncle Oberyn’s death. Nymeria is more level-headed, but she and I have often talked late into the night on matters concerning you and your intentions.

You have written before that you do not desire our family’s goal for you. Yet, now, matters are different. The Lannisters have taken more from our family, and they will continue to take. How long do you think it will be, before the people that you are close to now, the Starks, come to harm at the lions’ hands? That family is a disease that must be drawn out of power like a viper’s venom is drawn out of a wound. Whatever anger you hold now, I know that you still have affection and love for your family. Therefore, I ask you again, what are your intentions?

Her signature was simple, just her name, not even any titles, as befit correspondence between family. Relations between him and Doran are silent, limited in scope to what amounts to business transactions between two allied parties, rather than family. If a part of Jon, the more childish part that remembers the man teaching him as a child, is stung, then it's buried underneath the growing resentment he feels towards him, even in the midst of his anger over his father’s murder.

He shoots a look towards the direwolf and says, “What do you think about going to Dorne when this is over, huh? Shave off all that fur, you’ll be right at home, for a little bit.” If only to see his sisters. If only to honor his father’s memory. If only to talk more freely with Arianne.

A few minutes later, fully dressed, Jon reaches over and pets the wolf’s head before he heads out. The sun is bright and shining in a clear blue sky, with nary a cloud in sight, and there are birds nestled in the trees singing pretty, lilting tweets. A few soldiers pass by him as he walks, taking a moment or two to stop and exchange pleasantries. Jon waves away the bowl of slop that one of the camp women offers to him, ignoring the grumble in his stomach for now, and then stops in front of the guards stationed in front of the grey and white tent.

Robb’s typical guards are named Roger and Arnof. Roger’s tall, and a barrel-chested man with a scar that slashes up his right cheek from the corner of his eye to the bottom of his chin, while Arnof is smaller, still broad, but more compact, with hair that’s gone to salt-and-pepper despite his young face. Spotting him, both of them smile, half-surprised, and half-happy.

“Jon,” Arnof says, as soon as he is close enough to be heard, “are you here to see His Grace?” They’d been used to his daily visits before, and most of the time, they’d learned not to question why. How much they knew, Jon isn’t aware of, but since neither of them are stupid, he figures they could know about as much as Jon and Robb when it came to their activities. Their loyalty, however, is not in question. Roger’s sister was a cook at Winterfell, a former whore who’d fallen on hard times with three children to feed, that Ned Stark had given a job to after his son had found her crying in Wintertown. Then there is Arnof, whose life had been saved in battle early on during the rebellion by Robb himself.

It had been weeks since he’d seen them, so their surprise doesn’t shock him. Jon smiles, and tells him yes, then Roger knocks, waiting for the answering response. When Robb answers, the guard says, “Jon Sand to see you, Your Grace.”

The redhead’s answering response is hurried, and before the guards can open up the flap, the King is there himself. His hair is in disarray, curls matted to his forehead from water he’d probably splashed on it this morning, and he is still in the process of getting dressed. Underneath the open buttons of his tunic, Jon could see slight red hairs and pale, freckled skin. His blue eyes are impossibly wide as he stares at Jon.

“Come in,” Robb says, a bit hesitant, before he steps back in order to let Jon in. As Jon makes his way inside, he sees Robb gesture to the guards to move a bit further away from the tent, in order so that they’re not overheard.

Jon stands a bit awkwardly in the middle of the tent. It’s not as elaborate as the first few tents that Robb stayed in during the initial campaign south. It’s sparse in its simplicity; there is a simple cot with blankets and furs, a wooden table that is light and easy to carry that serves as a work desk, and a chair or two. There are a few candles scattered about, and Robb’s cloak is on the ground near the cot, along with Grey Wind who, like his brother, seems to be fit only for laziness this morning.

The giant wolf, darker and bigger and more powerfully built than his white brother, whines at Jon as he stands there with his arms crossed over his chest awkwardly. Robb, too, stands stiffly, his arms hanging at his sides and his fists clenching and unclenching. Both of them, simultaneously, look away; Robb to his left to stare at the wall of the curtain, and Jon downwards, looking at the dirt underneath the bottom of his scuffed boots.

Biting his lip, Jon looks up again, just as Robb starts to speak, “Is there something that I can help you—”

“Has word come from Smalljon Umber whether or not he’s reached—” Jon says, at the same time. Breaking off, a blush rises to Robb’s face, highlighting his freckles prettily, and Jon purses his lips, feeling a hard, immovable lump in his throat.

Robb clears his throat. “Nothing yet. I suspect that they should be about half-way, if they were able to find a ship fast enough. Any word from your un—from Prince Doran?” The redhead moves over to the desk, where his overtunic is hanging bent over the edge, the starched leather a bit muddy from rainfall and dirt. Jon’s own overtunic is weathered and in desperate need of a wash, which makes the leather feel a bit constricting, like a vice around the upper half of his body. He tugs at the collar in an attempt to loosen it.

As he pulls on one of his boots, Jon notices that Robb’s socks are brown in most places, though the original white can still be seen in spots. “No,” Jon answers, moving his hand from his collar to scratch at his neck, tugging on curls that seem to be sticking together, gritty and rough underneath his fingers. “Arianne wrote. If she knows anything about the fleet, she didn’t say. Just that my cousin Quentyn is doing something important for his father.”

Robb looks up. His curls are getting longer, so that they fall to about the middle of his forehead now when he bends down, since barber’s on the road are difficult to come by. His beard, as well, thicker and fuller than Jon’s sparser facial hair, but groomed neatly.

“You’ve been writing to her more often lately,” he remarks. There is a hint of something that seems a lot like jealousy in his voice. His overtunic is still unlaced, as he stands up, running a hand through his hair in a sad attempt to neaten it when a brush is not available. “Anything important?” Though his tone is attempting disinterest, his blue eyes bore into Jon’s with a steady and unbreaking gaze.

Jon looks down. “Nothing of note—yet.” He shrugs, as if he and the Princess of Dorne write of things as simple as lemon trees and the waves rocking against the sands and rock cliffs on the coast.

Grey’s Wind’s back lifts up, butt in the air, with his tail stiff, as his paws come out in front of him to stretch. He growls, and nips, then comes closer to Jon, butting his head against his hip. Robb watches it all, looking at him with a hint of suspicion. It’s unsettling to see that look in the redhead’s eyes, and so Jon focuses instead on crouching down in front of Ghost’s brother to stroke across his snout, then behind his ears.

“I see,” Robb says after a long silence where only the wolf communicates anything of worth; a series of the types of growls and whines only a forlorn puppy can give. “Forgive me, Jon, but why are you really here? It’s not to talk about your cousin, or ask about Jon Umber.”

“Why couldn’t it be?” Jon asks, honesty buried under indignation. “He’s my friend.” Grey Wind sits on his haunches in front of him and gives him a slightly patronizing stare. Traitor, Jon thinks, using his nails to scratch lightly behind the direwolf’s left ear.

“Yes,” Robb says in agreement, moving forward, “but you could have asked that in the war council last night. You wanted to speak to me alone. Yet you haven’t gone near me in weeks.” There’s no hiding the bitterness in Robb’s voice, at that.

Jon scowls, looking up at him from behind his own overly-long curls. “Whose fault is that?”

Robb’s right eyebrow lifts up, and he responds with more than a hint of anger, “Are you saying it’s my fault that you’ve been acting like an Ice Prince?”

Jon almost knees Grey Wind in the face with how fast he stands. “An Ice Prince?” He moves closer, until they are standing almost a few inches apart. “Did you expect us just to be fine? For me to just forget everything that happened?” Everything I feel about you, Jon doesn’t say.

Robb’s eyes flash. “It’s not easy for me, either, you know. You’re the one who—” Robb starts to say, before he looks away, cutting himself off. It’s on the tip of Jon’s tongue to ask him to continue, but the other man speaks before he can let out an indignant slur of words. “If you came here to fight, now’s not really the time,” Robb continues.

Jon feels a pang of regret, because he hadn’t. The flash of anger that came over him feels foreign. Though he’s always had a hot-headed temper—one time he’d almost killed two men who’d tried to make off with Dorea’s favorite pearl necklace, and there was the time he’d threatened to throw Daemon Sand into a pit of vipers if he broke Arianne’s heart—the ferocity and abruptness of the emotion took him off guard.

Jon closes his eyes for a second, before he opens them. This close to the redhead, he can see the deep, dark circles underneath his eyes like caverns carved into mountains, and behind the other man, he can see the fully made cot, so pristine perfect it's more like it hadn’t been used rather than pulled up. He watches as Robb swallows, adam’s apple bobbing with the motion, and it seems to hit both of them at the same time that they are standing close enough to kiss.

Jon steps back before Robb does, until there is five feet at least between them. The sound of Grey Wind sighing breaks the silence, and then Robb says, “I don’t want to keep doing this—this distance. I can’t—” He looks away, his chest moving up and down, nostrils flaring. “—lose anyone else.” The pang of regret grows into a pit of regret, as Jon thinks about Sansa Stark, and Robb’s murdered brothers. “We were friends before.”

Jon smiles and thinks, we were never friends. There’d been too much attraction there from the beginning between the two of them for friendship. Looking at him, red curls and freckles and blue eyes, tired and sad and strong, Jon knows that his feelings will never lessen. Yet, the past few weeks without him have been like someone took out his ribcage and decided to play artist with them, so that they could reveal the inner workings of his heart.

So, instead, Jon nods and agrees. The awkward tension from before, tight and strung like a bow, is still there, but Jon is tired. The news of Joffrey’s death has only put more wood onto the fires of his anger towards the Lannisters, and holding on to anger at Robb just feels exhausting, now.

Grey Wind moves over to stand between them, shooting them both looks, before he flops onto his side, then rolls over onto his belly, paws aloft in the air with expectation. Robb and Jon laugh, then smile at one another, as the direwolf pouts at them with his eyes for their lack of proper petting.

As he bends down to give the direwolf more attention, Robb joining him, Jon says, “You know, I’ve never had a pet before.” Ghost doesn’t count, because Ghost is not a pet. He is a companion, something more, even, and always there in the back of Jon’s mind.  

“Neither have I,” Robb admits, a bit sheepish. “Well, I had a tank of fish once that Uncle Edmure sent for my sixth nameday. They—ahthey lasted a week.”

“Dog fur makes Ellaria sneeze more than she breathes,” Jon says, laughing as he remembers her red face and scrunched nose near Lord Dayne’s small, long haired mop dog. “And Father couldn’t bear to have a cat near him. Obella asked for one for her fourth nameday. I’d never seen him so—” Jon pauses, attempting to think of words to describe the way Oberyn’s face had fallen, and the light in his eyes dimmed. “—sad. But, the Water Gardens is the one place in Dorne where there are no stray cats. Not a one. The servants make sure of that.”

“And you? Did you want a pet?” Robb asks, leaning back so that he is resting his weight on his knees and sitting on his ankles.

Jon shakes his head. “Tyene’s menagerie of exotic snakes were enough ‘pets’ for me.”

Before Robb can reply, the tent flap abruptly opens, and Jon twists his head to see Roger standing there with his hand half-blocking his sight, and a panicked face. The sound of a commotion outside startles Jon out of the comforting nostalgia his foray into childhood memories brought. “Pardon me, Your Grace, but, well—”

Arnof bursts in, hand on his sword. “The Ironborn are here. Asha Greyjoy’s waving a white flag.”


 

Asha Greyjoy is not so much waving a white flag as she is gripping the pole in her hand and thrusting it into the air like a sword, the white cloth attached to it swiping through the air every which way her wrist twists as she moves. Robb stands, tense and firm, with two feet planted and his hand on his sword, surrounded by armed men and a heart full of fury.

She doesn’t look like much, Robb notices. Theon had been young when he’d been taken as a ward, but he recalled his sister well-enough to name her plain, and he’d had the right of it. She’s not a beauty. Her blondish-brown hair is of middling length, and there is nothing striking to her features. She is stocky and strong-looking, dressed in armor, and as her eyes catch his, they are filled with amusement. Coming to rest in front of him, she bows, just low enough to be respectful.

“Your Grace,” she says, in the same accent that Theon never quite managed to lose, even after years in the North. “When one comes under the banner of truce, one doesn’t usually see a host of iron to greet them.”

“An Ironborn knows much about the intricacies of a truce?” Robb asks sarcastically. With any other woman, even Cersei Lannister—though perhaps he’s playing himself false,—he’d have remembered his manners. But Asha Greyjoy’s instantaneous jibe puts him on edge. “What is it you want, Greyjoy?” He looks at the men following her. They are all seemingly unarmed, but he is not naive enough to believe they don’t have weapons stashed under their tunics and smallclothes. It is a piddling group of about fifty or so, but he suspects there are more hiding back wherever she’s left her ships anchored.

“To talk terms, of course,” she says, smirking. “What else would I be here for, King Robb.”

“Your brother killed my brothers,” he says, growling and stepping forward. He’s never felt less like a King then in this moment. She has the same hair color as Theon, if not the same looks, and for a moment, he imagines it’s his traitorous friend in front of him. His fist clenches around his sword, which she doesn’t fail to notice, though no trace of concern fills her features. “Your countrymen are raiding my kingdom and you want to talk peace?”

“I do,” she says, “because you’re a reasonable man. Steeped in—” She purses her lips, and shrugs one shoulder. “—honor. And there’s no doubt you need the men.”

“You cannot think we’d ally with you traitorous fucks,” Lord Glover says. He’s standing to Robb’s right, and though the redhead can not see him, he can picture his furious face just from the pitch of his voice. His lands had taken the brunt of the Ironborn’s reaving. All around him, bannerman make angry noises of agreement, and someone shouts for him to cut off the kraken’s head.

Robb looks to his left, at Jon, whose hand is steady on his own sword, eyes boring into Asha Greyjoy in wait for her to make one move towards attack. The brunette catches his gaze right before he looks back to Greyjoy.

“I have men enough,” he says. “So, give me one good reason not to throw you into a pen and leave you to rot.” His army, hundreds strong here, are more than a match for her group of pillagers and plunderers. Perhaps he’ll even send some up to Uncle Benjen, since the gods know the Wall needs help.

His father’s voice reminds him how dishonorable attacking those under a banner of truce is. An affront to the gods. Robb pushes it down.

“You could,” she says, though her face is tight with what looks like anger, and even a hint of guilt. The emotion sits oddly on her, as if it's something she’s not used to, and so it's more like a plaster on top of an unfinished statue. Whatever reason it's there, however, is not specified, and the fleeting emotion is gone as quick as it came. “You won’t. You might despise us, but you won’t forsake all the rights of law and honor. That much I’ve been told about you.”

“If you have nothing to offer me,” Robb says, feeling more like Grey Wind then himself, with the way a savage kind of anger is racing through him, “then go back to your ships, and hope that my army doesn’t reach them before you get back.”

He looks at her dismissively, waiting for her to leave. She doesn’t. She stands there, smirking, as infuriating as her brother. “You’re attacking Casterly Rock,” she says, and Robb can’t help the widening of his eyes. He hears men shift behind him from the sound of cloaks flapping and leather boots screeching. “Don’t look so shocked. You’ve taken most of the Westerlands, what else is next. You’ll need more men for it.”

“Not yours,” Robb replies stubbornly. The Ironborn would never be allies to anyone living but themselves.

Asha shrugs, again. “You’ve already got Dorne,” she says, her eyes flickering to Jon, trailing up and down with a widening smirk. He’s wearing the sigil of the Martell’s on his cloak, since there’s no need for secrecy anymore. Robb glares at her, when their eyes meet again. “All the North is yours, the Riverlands as well, except for the Freys, who the Lannisters hold.  The Vale’s yet to declare for anyone, but Lysa Arryn’s a mad bitch, everyone knows.” Robb shifts at the mention of his unresponsive aunt. “The Reach is beyond your reach, so who’s left? The wildlings, maybe? Good luck with that.”

“Why does he need more men?” Jon asks, stepping forward. “You know something?”

“Since Tywin Lannister’s dead—”

Chaos ensues at that, and Robb stares at her, lost and incredulous. Her eyebrows rise, before her mouth settles into an ever permanent smirk as she watches the men scrambling around her. Jon makes a sort of strangled noise next to him, and Robb’s shock is all that’s holding him back from echoing that. Lord Umber asks how, while Lord Karstark curses the gods that denied him prime Lannister blood, and Lady Mormont is making loud, and rapid, spitting noises.   

Not for a second fazed by a crowd of unsettled, armed Northmen, Greyjoy continues, “And Tyrion Lannister’s disappeared off the edge of the world—”

Robb’s stomach drops and the ground shakes under his feet. His sister, his sweet sister Sansa, where is she? Was she with him? Her husband? How did he escape?

“—though, I wager you haven’t heard. Behind the times, you lot, camping out here in the woods.”

Robb grips his sword tight, feeling the indentations deepen in his palms. “If this is true, then attacking the Rock becomes easier.” Many fighting men will follow various Lannisters to the capitol for the funeral of both their bastard King, and his tyrant grandfather.

“Right now,” Greyjoy concedes, “but with an army this large? You’re traveling slow. Who's to say Cersei Lannister doesn’t get it into her head to put more men around the Rock? By rights, isn’t it hers now? Since the Imp’s a wanted kinslayer, after all.”

There’s a reluctant murmur of agreement, and even Robb can see the truth in that. Cersei Lannister is a mad, paranoid woman with a stick of entitlement so far up her arse he’s surprised her eyes aren’t splinters. Since the Kingslayer can’t inherit, the Rock, by all rights, might go to her, though it's just as likely it would fall to the hands of one of Tywin’s brothers.

It’s just as likely she’ll keep the army in King’s Landing. Tommen is young; too young to be a commander, and far too young to really rule anything. She’s the one holding the power now.

“Why offer peace? Your people never have before,” Robb says, remembering his father’s absence during the rebellion years before. Victory against the Iron Islands had been hard-won, and casualties mourned.

“Self-preservation,” she replies, balancing on the back of her heels. “I’m not naive enough to think that if you win this war you’ll leave us alone. The Iron Islands can’t take that kind of attack.” It’s said begrudgingly, with no small amount of stinging pride.

Robb nods and mockingly says, “So you come bearing gifts of news and advice. Any other gifts?”

She steps closer, almost as close as a lover, and Robb’s muscles tense. “What if I told you that your br—”

“TRAITOR!” Lord Umber yells, running forward with his sword raised. Robb has just a split second to see Asha Greyjoy close her eyes with an exasperated sigh, before his eyes are drawn to Lord Umber’s movements, and the figure now standing several feet away from him.

Theon. Robb freezes, looking at the man, thinner than he’s ever been, with a thick beard that seems to be graying, and scars on his face that hadn’t been there before.

Theon fucking Greyjoy. Alive.

Blood rushes to his head, and before he knows it, he’s moving around Asha Greyjoy, and faster than Lord Umber. He hears shouts distantly, sees some of the Ironborn step forward with their hands raised but doesn’t register it, and then his knuckles are throbbing hard.

Greyjoy is on the ground, and Robb’s leg comes out to kick him in the stomach. “ Umph ” the traitor says, dirt on his face, as Robb’s foot connects again, this time to his jaw, snapping it upward. Then he bends down, drawing back his fist, and it comes down once, then twice, across Theon’s face.

“My brothers—” he says in between hits, his eyes stinging and blurry. “I’ll kill you—” he grabs the man’s shoulders with one hand, then rears back to hit him harder, “—you were my friend.”

“I trusted you,” he says, right before his arm is gripped tightly. He twists, digging his knee into Theon’s stomach as he does so, and almost punches Asha Greyjoy as well. She’d brought him here, on his lands, and came here for a truce. She is just as bad as him.

He struggles with her for a minute, the man underneath him conscious but submissively prone, groaning all the while, and Lord Umber’s blade is at the woman’s neck threateningly. She pays it no mind, and digs her long fingernails into the skin of Robb’s arm through his tunic.

“My brother didn’t kill your brothers,” she says, words coming out rapidly. “They’re alive.”

Lord Umber’s sword doesn’t waver, but Robb’s arm slackens, then drops. His eyes fall to the battered man underneath him. Red blood is caking his hair, and there’s a tooth in a mouth full of several broken and missing teeth, that looks loose.

Robb blinks, vision swimming. “Is this true,” he demands, one hand still on Theon’s shoulder. His grip tightens desperately. “Is this true?”

All Theon Greyjoy, the man who was once his best friend does, is nod.

Chapter Text

Later on that night after Theon, with purple bruises scattered about his face like a colorful quilt, had been placed in a pen heavily guarded, and Asha Greyjoy who’d been given a tent with more guards, were secured, Robb and his bannerman stand scattered around a table, hands clasped with serious expressions. Tents had been hastily re-erected, while the lower born soldiers grumbled about sleeping near the mountains where bears and lions roamed once again, and a few parties sent out to hunt for something more substantial than gruel, while others sent to watch the river where the Ironborn were docked.

“I say we send them back to the stinking depths where they spawned from,” Lord Glover says, his face a mask of deep seated anger. Around him, several lords, as well as the Mormont women, nod. Each of them are those whose holdfasts are often raided and hit heavily by the Ironborn, especially in the recent past.

His tent is crowded near to bursting with men that want to weigh in their opinions about Asha Greyjoy’s proposal. None of them differed in their own perspective, with each of them coming to the consensus that the Ironborn are fuckers who can not be trusted as far as one can throw them with all of their armor on. Robb can feel a headache coming on behind his eyes, sharp and piercing, and he looks to Jon, standing next to him, as Lord Glover continues his cautionary advice.

“—never trust a squid,” Lady Mormont is agreeing when Robb tunes into their debate again. “Bear Island has always known the perfidy of the Ironborn. She will stab us in the back the second we’re not useful to her.”

Jon steps forward from where he is standing a few inches behind Robb and stares at all of the fermenting men and women around the table. “She’s already told us why she’s here,” he says, and his voice is the only once not laced with anger. Given that the Dornish have not been attacked by the Ironborn in any great number in over a century, due to their own fleet, the level-headedness with which he begins to speak is not shocking. Robb’s brow furrows as he looks to the brunette. “There’s no reason to disbelieve her.” Jon shrugs his shoulders, and his right cheek is puffed out in a way that suggests he might be chewing his gums, before he continues, “People will do a lot to stay alive. Is she trustworthy? No. But she’s not going to turn on us, either.”

Lord Karstark glowers at Jon. “Easy enough for you to say,” he spits out, lips quivering and jaw clenched, “when you’re not the one whose home has been destroyed by her family.”

“And sometimes you must bed down with the enemy,” Jon replies to him, meeting his angry gaze straight on, face impassive. Robb looks around the tent of angry Northernmen to see some of them begrudgingly agreeing with Jon’s words. He bites his own lip as he considers them himself.

Balon Greyjoy has proven to be a backstabbing, dishonorable leech of a man, and Robb knows that he would be a fool to think that he, or indeed most of the Ironborn, will ally themselves with the North. The Ironborn’s aims are too ambitious, their ways to barbaric and vile, for him to think that peace can be made. Still, there is an element of the child when he thinks of Theon, his former friend, even after everything. It is hard to let go of a friend; even harder to let go of a man that he would have called brother, recalling Theon’s desire to be truly part of House Stark.

He is also keenly aware that Asha Greyjoy made a valid point. He could use her ships, he thinks, as he plays with the edge of the table, fingernails scraping at the wood. Jon and Lord Karstark’s disagreement becomes a distant echo in his ears as he thinks of all the advantages this could bring. Now that the Lannisters know about his alliance with the Martells, any hope of taking the capitol by surprise with ships under Dornish banners is beyond his grasp. Ships could be disguised as merchant vessels, of course, but how many? The Ironborn are known raiders. Duplicity and activity from them will not surprise anyone, as there is always be an element of expectation when it came to the worshippers of the Drowned God.

This might be the stupidest action you take in this war, Robb thinks, right before he holds out his hand, palm straight and flat, to silence the men around him. Within seconds, the last of them falls silent, looking to him with expectation in their eyes.

“I will think on this during the night,” he says scratching at his beard with his right hand, “and in the morning, when we have broken our fast and considered our options, then we will decide. For now, it's late, and the moon has long since replaced the sun in the sky. I bid you all a good night, my lords and my ladies.”

The men reluctantly start to file out, and Robb knows that some of them are going to consume their rage in glasses of wine, for jugs of the liquid would always be carted around in war campaigns, and camp fire whispers. Robb lingers, and so does Jon, both of them watching the company leave.

“You can’t trust her,” Jon says, picking up a dirk with a carved wolf’s head on its handle, and flipping it in his hands.

Robb raises an eyebrow, watching the movements of pale fingers. “Weren’t you the one who was just arguing we should join with them?” He knows he can’t trust them, of course. He will never be able to bring himself too, no matter how many ties he potentially creates. Yet, Jon’s voice is laced with concern, and Robb cannot brush it off.

“That’s the smart option,” Jon replies with a nod. “And I will stand by that. With them, you have the advantage, and this is something you already know.” Robb nods in response. Jon take a deep breath, hesitant with regards to whatever is about to come next. “You can’t let your feelings for Theon Greyjoy cloud your judgement.”

Robb turns around on his heels to stare at him. “My judgement is perfectly clear,” he snaps with annoyance.

“Is it?”

Combined with their fight earlier that day, Jon’s words do little to sooth his headache, or his rapidly fluctuating emotions caused by the events of the last few hours. His fingers twitch, so he brings his hand up to his hair, pulling and tugging on the thick curls near his ear.

“My brothers are missing because of him,” Robb counters. The revelation of his brothers’ survival had brought a brief lift of joy to his heart, before the reality that they were lost and gone in the North with either no, or few, companions hit him. His brothers, children still, traveling through the snows and mountains and forests of the North. And none had seen them. A young boy half wild with wolf’s blood and another, crippled and proud, would be hard to miss or mistake. “He stole my castle! He betrayed me.”

“He did,” Jon says as he steps closer, grabbing one of the hands that Robb was waving in the air without conscious effort. “Yet for years you loved him. As I loved my father and love my family still.”

“That is different,” Robb insists, hand slack in Jon’s grip. “They—” He breaks himself off, at a loss for words.  

“The sentiment is the same. Love makes fools of us all. Even the smartest and most honorable man alive will do terrible things for those he cares for most.”

Robb steps forward, and the hand not caught in the brunette’s sways limply. “I know what he did,” he insists, even as he remembers riding away from the last execution he saw his father perform, chasing after a laughing Theon and finding six direwolf puppies in the woods. Theon had not looked like an Ironborn then, dressed in clothes that Sansa and his mother had mended themselves, and thick furs that puffed out around his shoulders. “I will do what needs to be done.”

I will kill him, Robb thinks, for the murder of the miller’s sons and his betrayal. I will act as my lord father would have done. He takes a deep breath, steeling himself for the action before it's even begun. His hand squeezes Jon’s, and his fingers trace the callouses left from swords and spears and a thousand other instruments. They are standing only an inch or two apart.

Jon smiles sadly, but before he can say anything, a deep voice announces from outside the tent, “Your Grace, Lady Asha Greyjoy is requesting to speak with you.” Seconds after, before Robb gets a chance to reply, she is striding in, lifting up the flap with one hand, while his guards trail uncertainly behind her, hands wavering back and forth with indecision towards their weapons.

Robb sighs and glares at the smirking woman whose hands are on her cocked hips. “You were told to stay in your tent. Where are the guards I posted?”

She strides over to the only chair in the room and props her feet up on the desk as she sits. “Still there I expect. Should have posted them all around the tent.” She places a knife on the table, though where she’d hidden it, Robb could not fathom, and he’d had her searched thoroughly.  “I might need a new one, as well. Rather chilly out tonight. Colder than a septa’s tits.”

“I could provide you with a pen for your comfort,” Robb says, fantasizing about bringing a sword down upon this woman’s neck. He looks to Jon and his frown and glower towards her, more fierce than any he’d ever shot at Karstark to the redhead’s surprise, shows that his thoughts are not much different.

“That wouldn’t be very honorable of you,” she replies as she grabs a pear from a bowl on the table and picks at it with her fingernails. She shoots a smirk at Jon. “Are you staying pretty boy or can I talk to your King alone?”   

Jon’s glare only gets stronger. Robb grabs his arm and shakes his head. “It’s fine. Just—I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” Jon stays stationary, eyes flitting back and forth between Robb and Greyjoy, before he reluctantly leaves. Her eyes follow him as he leaves, traveling up and down, before she turns back to gazing at Robb. He doesn’t fail to notice her eyes trailing up and down him, as well.

He waves his hand to Roger and Arnolf, dismissing them, but he knows that they are lingering close, ready to spring into action. It's more than a bit foolish, he knows, but he has to trust that there is something in the realm that the Ironborn won’t violate, and he hopes it's the traditions of the white banner of truce.

Robb sighs, again, and shoots a glower of his own upon the infuriating sister of his former best friend. Her blonde hair is hanging loose about her face and her boots are full of mud and grass, bits of the dirt falling onto the wooden table. He makes his face as impassive as he can, but inwardly, he continues to scowl.

“Making allies doesn’t usually happen when one ignores orders and barges into the King’s tent,” he says. There is something about this woman that irks him, not the least because he sees something or Arya in her, if only her boldness, and too much of Theon, as well.

She shrugs. “Won’t happen if I allow your men to sway you either.” She says it as if she has the right to have any influence in his life, audacious and proud. Ned Stark said many times that the Ironborn are a insolent lot with traditions that came from the darkest corners of the soul.

“So confident I’ll ally with you?” Robb says as he crosses his arms around his chest. His sword, resting across his hip, bumps his leg lightly as he moves to loom near her in an attempt to intimidate. She provides no reaction. “Your kin and mine hold no good blood between us.”

Again, she shrugs. “My father and uncles are worse than I. Why not help me keep my birthright? I will pose no threat to you. If, after my father dies, any of my uncles or another lord gets the Salt Throne, do not think that they won’t attack you and yours again.”

“You’ve said yourself that I will not allow that to happen,” he replies. “You hold no advantage over me.”

“Yet you pretend you have not made up your mind already,” she says staring at him with an unblinking, unsettling gaze. “But I know you have.”

Robb reaches over her legs, pushing them off his table as he does so which makes them thud loudly on the dirt, and grabs a pitcher filled with watered-down Dornish Red. Then he grabs two glasses, remembering the courtesy lessons he endured alongside Sansa as he offers one to Greyjoy. After he hands it to her, he picks the knife up off the table, rubbing the pads of his fingers over the worn and chipped handle. It is dull and poorly made, not fit for a nobleborn, and he wonders who she’d stolen it from.

Taking a sip of his wine, he tells her, “Do not pretend that you know me. I am not the child your brother knew.” It’s just as much the truth as it is a lie. Robb still feels like a child the most during the night hours when he remembers the horrors that have fallen upon his family. He feels like a child when the nightmares come, the memories of blood and guts and bone and organs, of reds and browns and blackness spread out across fields of green and white. The sound of the clang and clash of steel, creating a reverberating song; or the crumbling of stones against the breaking of castle walls, a boom and a crack as thunder upon the ground. The man who stands on the battlefield is not a child, swayed by pretty deeds of valour, but the mind caught in sleep remembers wide-eyed ignorance sitting by the fireside in Winterfell.

She sips her own wine, and deflects instead, as she says, “My brother is an ass no doubt. But he did not kill your brothers.” For the first time since she arrived, she looks at him with complete seriousness, the smirk falling from her face like water.

“He killed two other boys in their place,” Robb says firmly. There is no excuse for Theon’s actions, whatever she has come to say to defend her brother. Now, it is clear this is her intention. There is something to admire in that, at least, if nothing else, and so he doesn’t glare at her or let anything smug or negative enter into his voice. “Justice demands he die.”

“Your men have killed boys and girls and puppies alike in this bloody war,” she says, voice cracking in anger. She leans forward, her elbows on her knees, and he steps back, a few drops of wine falling upon the grass underneath his feet. Red upon green. “Do they deserve to die for it?”

“This is a war,” he says and allows nothing to come to his face that would indicate her words affected him. “People die in war.”

“And my father waged a war against your people,” she counters. “Look at it that way. Those boys were a casualty of war.”  

Robb smirks darkly. “You have a lot of nerve.” He sips his wine again, fingers tight upon the base of the glass. “Raiding and reaving and the iron price code you live by is not war. It is barbarism.”

“One man’s barbarism is another man’s way of life. The South says the same of your people. That you’re just as uncivilized as me and mine.” She leans back, pushing her feet out, until she’s slumped in the chair as if she isn’t in the tent of an enemy, but resting instead in her own keep. Her blondish-brown hair fans out over the top of the chair, fine but ragged. In her hands, she holds the wine loose upon her left knee.  

Suddenly weary, he wishes for nothing more than to end this game for the night. He looks to her. “Tell me, Lady Greyjoy,” he says using the proper term of address, “if I take your brother’s head, how keen are you to still fight by my side? How can I trust you to hold your oath?”

She stares at him, eyes dark and bleak. “I want what’s mine,” she replies, “and if I have to walk over the corpses of all my family to get it, even Theon—” Her voice cracks almost imperceptible as she says her brother’s name and it's clear to Robb that though she says it, whether or not she truly means it is unknown even to her.  “—I will. But to do that, I need to be alive. I told you already, Your Grace , this is self-preservation. As motivation goes, there’s nothing stronger to hold someone to their oath.”

Heavily, Robb sighs, and dismisses her. This time, she provides no quip or sneer or smirk as she goes. A few minutes later, he follows her out of his tent, but turns off into a different direction, Roger and Arnof are armed and guarding him as he strides through the darkness, broken at times by dim candlelights or brighter bonfires, making his way through his large camp.




 

Grey Wind’s head is on his paws as he stares into the pen that serves as Theon Greyjoy’s prison, with Ghost nowhere in sight. It is a bit strange, since the direwolf was reared half by the hand of the Ironborn alongside his larger, greyer brother, but Robb barely takes note of it. The fifteen guards around the pen are decked out in full armor, with swords and axes and all manner of weaponry provided. Some of them jeer taunts at the man in the pen, who ignores them. His knees are up and tucked underneath his chin, his arms wrapped around his calves, and his hands are shaking slightly. Whether it's from cold or nerves or anger, Robb doesn’t know, and really shouldn’t care.

It’s a cold night, though Robb isn’t affected all that much by it. Temperatures in the North are regularly blistering, causing cracks in the skin, and peeling of the lips. He is at home in the cold, his blood as adapted to it as a black bear or a moose. Or a wolf, he thinks, glancing to Grey Wind, who picks up his head, and then himself to follow Robb.

He stops in front of one of the guards, a tall, heavy man with thick ropes of muscle and a veteran of fifty battles. Robb nods towards the prisoner. “I would speak with him,” he says and puts every inch of authority he can in his voice. Do not show your feelings, he thinks to himself, as the man obeys, unlocking the pen. Grey Wind by his side, Robb enters and stares at his former friend.

He’s dressed poorly, with no furs or thick protective clothing. His face, under his beard and bruises, is red with frost, and there are tremors in his arms and legs. Nothing is provided to him in the pen, except for a plate with a moldy apple, hard bread, and a glass of brown water. If Robb’s bannermen had their way, Theon Greyjoy would not even have had that.  

“You look like shit,” Robb says with a sneer. Theon looks up from the ground. “Hard few months?” It’s asked bitingly. Anger and betrayal churns in his gut as he stands there. Grey Wind must sense it, for the wolf growls, low and menacing, as he has never done before in front of Theon.

Theon doesn’t answer. He’s staring at Robb with wide-eyes full of guilt and sadness. It only makes Robb want to bruise them shut. The man huddled on the ground looks nothing like the laughing boy who drank with whores on his lap and hated peaches so much he threw them out open windows to get them away.

“Why did you do it?” Robb asks, trying to suppress the anger and betrayal and hurt from his voice. It cracks through, though, with every word he can hear his voice wavering. “I trusted you. I believed in you. I defended you from every man here who said you’d betray me.” His voice rose with every word, so he took a deep breath, hands balled into fists.

“I loved you as my own brother,” he says, voice cracking into a whisper. He’s standing a few feet away from Theon. Smoke from campfires is trailing grey ribbons into the sky, dimly lit by the red flames and sparks, and the guards are staring at them in preparation for if they’re needed. The air is thick with the fumes and the smell of burning wood.

Robb barely hears the words that come out of Theon’s mouth as he says, “I’m sorry.” Grey Wind growls in response, nails digging into the ground, and Theon scoots away from the wolf, afraid of the great beast for the first time since he drew a blade on them before Robb convinced his father to let them live.

“You’re sorry?” Robb parrots back, and it comes out a bit hysterical. He clenches his jaw and stiffens, locking his muscles so that they don’t move. He can’t afford to show how much this is killing him. Weakness does not befit a Stark, nor a King. Not in manners such as these. Despite this, his hands shake. “Will sorry rebuild Winterfell? Will sorry comfort my brothers? Will it give life to the miller’s sons?” He steps forward at the same moment that Grey Wind does, the wolf’s reactions driven by his human companion. “Answer me!”

Abruptly, Theon pushes himself up off the ground, sitting up on his knees. Behind him, Robb hears the sound of heavy boots on earth as the guards move forward, perceiving threat. Robb turns to them, waving them off, before he turns back to Theon. His hands are clasped together, and he’s looking upon Robb with desperation. This is nothing like the strong, unrepentant Ironborn the man had once claimed he’d be when he returned to be Lord of the Iron Islands.

“I know that you will never forgive me,” he says, voice wobbly and hands shaking. There are tears in his eyes. It's a strange sight. One that Robb’s never seen before, and it takes him aback. “I don’t deserve it. Take my head. Take my life. You should. I deserve nothing less. I betrayed you, and it is my greatest sin.”

He pictures himself leaving the man in front of him to his misery. He pictures himself punching him again, hearing the satisfying crack of bone against skin. He pictures taking off his head, saying the words as his father would have done, and watching blood spurt onto his blade and the earth. His racing mind does little to calm him, and though he is still, he feels every ounce of his desperation in his lungs and throat. His breathing is harsh and stuttered.

Stepping forward, he stares harshly down upon Theon. “What kind of man betrays his friend?” Robb demands, nearly screaming. Theon flinches away a few inches, dirt coming up from the toe of his boots.

“Not a man,” the Ironborn answers, voice low and almost a whisper. Robb rears forward and almost hits him, but then Grey Wind, who’s been growling with his fur standing on end, lays down between them. Robb lets his hand fall limply as both of them look to the wolf.

“No,” he says weary and worn, falling back to a distance. It matches the distance between them now. Once, it had been easy to talk with this man. Once, he’d never have been at a loss for words in front of him. Often, he’d imagined confronting the one who had betrayed him, who’d killed his brothers. He imagined it would be easy, to drag from him the truth and let it lay down into the dust and ashes. He told himself he would feel no regret to take his head.

The gods continue to mock me, he thinks, with tears pricking at the corner of his eyes. It would have been easy, yes, if the burnt boys over Winterfell had truly been Bran and Rickon. The revelation sits sour in his stomach, and Asha Greyjoy’s words whisper in his ear.

Jon is right, he thinks, and sighs inwardly. Theon is still trembling, and there seems to be no stop to it, plagued by whatever demons rest in his mind now. There are scars on his neck and on his fingers. He looks, altogether, a much different man. He’d been with the Bolton bastard for a while, Robb knew, though he would not ask what occurred. Let that be his punishment, he thinks darkly. Let that be the punishment for the boy who once, at sixteen name days, asked to marry Sansa Stark. Robb remembers his father looked towards Theon with grey eyes full of rejection, and that night Robb had carried him home from the tavern three sheets to the wind. He’d wanted to be one of them, once.

Robb sits down, crossing his legs, with a heavy sigh. Eye level with him now, he asks again, “Why did you do it? If you feel ashamed as you say you do, tell me why, for I need to know.”

As he waits, Grey Wind shuffles on his belly and rests his head on his lap comfortingly. After a long time, as the full moon drifts from shining light to dim illumination as it's covered by clouds, Theon speaks.

“I went back to Pyke,” he begins, then stops, brow furrowed, making his bruised eyes more prominent. He clears his throat. “I went back to Pyke and I didn’t belong. I was too—Northern.” He smiles bitterly at Robb who doesn’t react. “Too Stark, according to my father. And I tried, I did. I gave him your offer, but he wasn’t hearing it. The iron price, he said, and he took off my necklace and destroyed it. I was soft. Weak. Bowing at your heels. Asha, too, she thought I was weak. The Ironborn cared no more for me than the Northerners did, in the end.”

Theon shudders. “So I thought, I’ll prove who I am. I’ll prove I belong. If I do what he wants—then I’ll belong.” Out comes a broken laugh, and Robb feels like every inch of his own body is tensed and ready for something he can’t quite name. “I was going to warn you of my father’s intentions. Wrote the letter. Wrote the words. First of a lot of bad things I did was burn that letter. Cause in the end—I was no more Ironborn anymore than I was a Stark.”

His eyes are glassy as finishes. “I know it doesn’t erase what I’ve done. I know you won’t forgive me. That’s only right, because there’s no excuse for what I’ve done. I might not have been a Stark, but you were my brother, more than any of Balon Greyjoy’s sons. My only consolation is that I saw you, before I die, so that you know that Bran and Rickon are alive.”

Grey Wind turns his head with a huff, looking to Theon with impenetrable eyes. The hot, burning anger that has been consuming him since the man’s betrayal drains from Robb. He will not forgive him, he cannot, and a part of him still does not understand, because he knows that despite it all, he would never do what Theon has done. He supposes, then, that he is stronger, and Theon is weaker than he ever believed, but it's a shallow justification, even to himself. The truth is far more complex. He’ll never begin to know why, and he knows that neither will Theon.

I can’t forget it, he thinks, but I can move past it. I need to.

So, he casts it aside instead. In the morning, he will decide this man’s fate. In the morning, he will do as his father would have done. Tonight, though, for a few moments, he wants to pretend.

“Your sister’s got bigger balls than you,” he says, and if it's not as jokingly as he might have before, it's still said with a bit of humor lacing his words. “Doesn’t she know not to insult Kings with swords?”

Theon laughs, showing all of his broken teeth. “Asha doesn’t give a shit. She’s about as subtle as an axe, that one.” he smiles, then, and there’s a hint of fondness there, “At least, when it comes to a fight. She’ll fuck with your head, if she can, so watch out for that.”

Robb raises an eyebrow. “Do you think I’ll take her up on her offer?”

Theon shrugs. “You could do worse than her for what it’s worth.” That his word is not worth much now goes without saying, so Robb doesn’t point it out.

They speak for a few minutes, about nothing of meaning, and about things that hold more meaning than anything Theon might hear again. Robb tells him about Arya, for even though Theon has committed treason against a man he swore to be King, and betrayed the family that reared him, he cared about her as well. That Sansa is still lost is a heavy weight over the night, and neither mention Bran and Rickon. Robb knows if he speaks their names all the anger will come rushing back and the wolf’s blood running through his veins needs a break.

Though Theon is now sitting down, having falling from his knees after Robb spoke of Asha, he is still far from close. When he reaches to scratch a now sleeping Grey Wind behind the ear, he keeps an eye on the ever watchful guards, who are no doubt judging in their heads Robb’s actions. When he’s done, he sits back, and smiles sadly.

“I guess Ghost is still hanging around the Dornish bastard,” he says, and there is jealousy interlacing every word. There’s still bitterness for that, at least. It had seemed like all of his salt and grit had bled from him.

Robb opens his mouth, forgetting for a moment the enmity between them now, as he says, “He’s my—” cousin, he almost says, an attempt to explain the direwolf’s bond with Jon. “—friend.”

Theon’s smile is brittle. “Someone ought to be. All those kissasses out there, probably pushing all their daughters and their granddaughters on you, and maybe their mothers, as well. Have you gotten it wet yet, at least?”

Despite himself, Robb feels his face and the back of his neck grow hot. He closes his eyes and opens them to see Theon grinning with true emotion.

“You did,” he says nearly crowing. “Finally. I feared you had a frozen cock. Who was she? How were her tits?”

Flat, Robb thinks, and doesn’t say. Once, he might have told Theon. Instead, he shakes his head and rises. Grey Wolf huff’s in annoyance at losing his lap pillow and Theon’s grin fades, the brief spark of amusement fading from his eyes, abruptly remembering.

“It’s late,” he says, in lieu of goodbye, or anything else. Pretending has stopped and the word resounds hollowly in his ears. Theon nods, silent again. His shaking hands have stopped, though, and he seems calmer now. The moon’s light is still clouded when he leaves him there, Grey Wind following at his heels.

He falls into a troubled sleep that night. When he dreams, it's of Winterfell, dark and filled with smoke from the hearths burning steady to keep the warmth. The sound of the wind flies past the windows and walls, shrill and fast, and he sees his father standing in his childhood bedroom, with his head bleeding a river of blood and tucked underneath his right arm. At his feet, his great Valyrian sword Ice is laid to rest. Robb opens his mouth to scream, but no words comes out, and his father melts into his mother, clutching her stomach in desperation, the bodies of his siblings cold corpses in front of her; Sansa, a blood red smile slashed across her throat, and Arya, her eyes gone, while Bran’s are pecked out, blood spattered through his hair. Rickon, his littlest brother, is pierced like a deer with feathered arrows. Robb steps forward, useless in his horror, and the ground quakes underneath his feet, wooden panels falling down, down into the depths, and as he falls, he thinks he sees Jon, running towards him, before he—

Wakes up with a gasp.




 

In the morning, dressed in full armor with direwolves molded into his greaves, Robb calls together another war council after breaking his fast with bland porridge and brown bread that’s gritty upon his tongue. Asha Greyjoy stands next to him on his left, disarmed and smirking, heedless of the glares and glowers shot her way from Northernmen who hold their axes and swords like lovers. Fifteen heavily armed, tall guards stand behind her, ready to subdue if necessary. To his right, Jon is glaring at her through the black fringe of his curls, and he looks as tired as Robb feels.

“We cannot trust the Ironborn!” Lord Glover says, face twisted with hatred.

They will not love me for this, Robb thinks, but they do not have to love me. Only obey me. It’s a vastly different notion than his father ever taught.

Lord Karstark echoes Lord Glover. “She will betray us as surely as her pocky-whore fucker brother.”

Next to Robb, Greyjoy rolls her eyes. “Like you’ve never fucked a few pocky women yourself. I reckon you came out of one.”

Before Lord Karstark can reply, Robb slams his fist down onto the table. It wobbles from the force, glasses shuddering and clinking. “Enough!” He looks to each and everyone of his bannermen individually. Lady Mormont is holding a knife in her hands, Lord Glover has a mace on his lap, and Lord Umber has two axes.

Gritting his teeth, he stares at the white-bearded dissenter. “Are you questioning my decisions, Lord Karstark?” Robb asks, voice full of steel. “If you are thinking about betraying me, my Lord, I assure you, that someone’s head can find its way to the block.”

Though the lord’s eyes are dark and angry, he shakes his head. “Of course not, Your Grace.”  The words come out like a chastised child’s would.

The corner of Robb’s mouth twitches up. “Good,” he says, then repeats, “We will join with the Ironborn for this fight. I have accepted Lady Greyjoy’s alliance only for her and for her men. Any Ironborn not under Lady Greyjoy’s leadership is subject to the full extent of the law and you can do with them what you wish. This, she and I have agreed.” Begrudgingly, of course. But given the greater concession Robb had granted her, she’d reconciled herself to it fast enough. “Furthermore, while her men are raiding the Crownlands, distracting the Lannisters, she will remain here. Under guard. No letters will be allowed to her. No weapons will be allowed to her. She remains as insurance.”

Lord Umber speaks up then. “And if they tell the Lannisters our plans? What then?”

“My men already know where you’re going,” Greyjoy points out with a sneer to Lord Umber, “so whether or not I’m here, that’s not going to change. You’re right, they could sell out to the Lannisters. But they love me, and will do as I say.  But, if you kill me, they will. If I don’t come within an appointed time, they have orders to sail out, so don’t get any ideas.”

Robb knew this already, but his bannermen are quick to begin arguing again. When he slams his hand down this time, it’s with the threat that the next man who speaks out will get five lashes. Next to him, Jon glances with brief surprise, that fades into respect, as those around quiet themselves.

“One last thing,” he says, knowing that his next words will prove even more unfavorable to all present. “The Night’s Watch, as we know, is sorely understaffed and desperate for fighting men. Uncle Benjen can’t defend with the forces he has. Fifty men will go up to the Wall when we set out towards the Rock.” He takes a deep breath. “And they will be escorting Theon Greyjoy to take the black.”

It’s only the phantom shadow of the sting of a whip that keeps words from their tongues. Jon closes his eyes, but there is no hint of surprise or shock or anger on his face. Just resignation. The lords, however, are livid in their silence. Standing there, stiffly staring everyone down, Robb feels as if this is the hardest decision he’s yet made, and curses the day those around him decided to make him a King.

Chapter Text

Jon stares at the large oak tree in the middle of the forest feeling a bit foolish. For months he’d watched the Northerners pray to trees like this when there was no weirwood available, but kneeling here now, the dirt and mud soaking into his breeches the longer he stays down, he doesn’t know where, or how, to begin. The grass around him is overgrown, interspersed with sticks and downed logs from storms that have been raging through the land for a fortnight. Random woodland animals zip past, skirting around him, and he wonders with amusement if they can smell Ghost or Grey Wind lingering on him.

“There’s nothing here,” Jon mutters to himself, acutely aware that in this simple forest he still feels nothing more than he has ever felt the few times he’s been in a Sept. Dacey Mormont pointed him to this tree, but staring at it, words tripped up in his brain and on his tongue, he feels like a child lost in the dark. “Is there?” The question goes unanswered except for the sound of the wind rushing through the leaves of the trees surrounding him.

He blinks and wonders if Lyanna Stark ever sat in front of a weirwood tree and felt absolutely sure that there was nothing out there—nothing to hear her prayer. He’s not quite sure how to pray. He’d watched Tyene do it, once or twice, and attended services on the Holy Days with his family as was required for all Martells, but he’d never quite believed in the Seven Gods. At least, not enough to think that they listened or cared about what he wanted or thought or did.

Perhaps the Old Gods will listen, he’d thought, in the dark hours of the night when the memories of his last meeting with his father hit him and the bottom of the wine bottle was to shallow to replace the guilt inside that hollow pit in his soul with something other than regret.

He swallows, looking away from the tree, to gaze into the forest. The trees seem to go on for miles, and he knows he’d ridden a good ways away from camp before he’d tied Shadow to a tree in this part of the forest. There is nothing particularly special about it, only that he can no longer hear the sounds of the camp; the men keeping in shape with sparring, the arguments that Asha Greyjoy seems to incite wherever she goes in the camp, or the calls for food. It is private and secluded. He’d thought, naively, that its isolation would make this easier.

He takes a deep breath, feeling his chest constrict a bit with the force of it, his stomach clenching, before he says, “Gods—” He stops, frowning, before he tries again, “Old Gods,” he continues, his voice cracking and he pointedly doesn’t look at the tree, pretending that he’s in his childhood bedroom in the Water Gardens mimicking voices for bedtime stories, “I don’t—” know if any of you are real , he thinks, but out loud he says, “I know I’m not—”

Crack !

Jon turns, fast as a whip, to see Ghost approaching him. Usually, the large direwolf is so quiet one could hardly tell he’s there. He is an efficient hunter, not as strong as his brother, but faster, more apt to sneak up on prey. The fact that he is announcing his arrival makes Jon smile fondly at his companion. The wolf stalks over to him, paw swiping out to catch a chipmunk sprinting in the opposite direction. The animal’s neck is swiftly broken, and Ghost lets its limp body fall, sitting down on his belly to eat his prize.

“Enjoying that?” Jon remarks, not expecting an answer. Ghost is particular about not being interrupted while eating. The time Torrhen Karstark nearly lost a hand to the wolf’s fangs for trying to scratch behind the wolf’s ears while he was enjoying a duck was testament to that fact.

Jon frowns and turns back to the tree. Another man lost because of the Lannisters. Steeling himself, he studies the bends and breaks in the deep brown wood. The tree is tall and wide, nearly three times wider than Jon stands, and the leaves are brilliant hues of reds and browns and yellows. There’s a deep grove high above his head that looks like an axe abortively stopped trying to chop the tree down at one point, and a few of its branches are broken, but the canopy of the leaves is shading him from the glare of the sun.

Taking another deep breath, this time feeling it in his ribcage, he tunes out the world. He remembers the first time he’d entered a Sept with his Aunt Mellario—on the surface, she’d converted from the religion of her fire god, R’hllor, and worshipped the Seven Gods, but she’d been just as wide-eyed and lost as he was when it came time for the rituals—and says, “I’m not one of you. I’m not from the North and I don’t know your names, or if you even have names. You’ve got no reason to listen to me. I’ve got no business talking to you.” He bites his lip, dragging his tongue over it, tasting salt. “My father—the one who raised me, not the other one—he believed in the Gods. Didn’t care about praying though. He wasn’t—he didn’t make any sacrifices or show any piety. He was just a man.”

Oberyn Martell’s greatest attempts at piety were when he’d fucked a septa in her own house of worship and nine months later a screaming, golden haired little girl entered the realm. Still, the act of conception was probably longer than Jon had even been in a sept when he’d not been dragged to it. He closes his eyes, the image of the tree replaced by the blackness of the unseeing realm.

Death is black, too, he thinks, black and dark, but nothing. The thought of that make his stomach churn, threatening to upend the breakfast of brown bread and salty porridge he’d consumed this morning. Behind him, Ghost whines, signalling the end of his lunch. Within seconds, Jon feels his nose bump against the bend in his right arm, as the direwolf comes to sit next to him.

He buries his hand in Ghost’s fur, gripping it desperately. “Robb says talking to you helps sometimes. Dacey says—well, she says that the Olds Gods don’t give a fuck about all the rules and rituals and laws in holy texts—just what’s in a man’s heart. Well, I’ve got anger in my heart. And hatred.” He opens his eyes to glare at the tree. “I wanted Joffrey Waters to suffer and I wanted to see it. I didn’t. But he was dead, so I thought, that’s fine. That’s enough.” He takes a deep breath. “But I need to see someone suffer. I need to see someone pay. For everything they have done and everyone they have hurt. My mother, Lyanna Stark. My uncle, Eddard Stark.”

He cannot see their faces, but he imagines them as he speaks, standing over him. The wraiths of his long-past relations are almost like an incorporeal cloak of shadows, bleak and desolate and full of grief. He brings up the face of his father, handsome and weathered, with dark, laughing eyes that could turn from joy to cruelty in less time than it took for a viper to strike. “My father, Oberyn Martell,” he prays, now, and thinks, if there is something after we leave this life, let them be happy. Let them be content. Let them know the warmth and the arms of their loved ones again. “His sister, Elia Martell, and my half-siblings, Aegon and Rhaenys. My cousins, Sansa and Arya Stark, and Bran and Rickon Stark.”

Faces, known and unknown, flash through his mind like a dream, the list of names becoming a ledger of the wronged. “My aunt, Catelyn Stark. My— Robb Stark. The King in the North. Every Northerner who has lost someone to the Lannisters. For Ellaria Sand, and all of my sisters,” he says, reciting all eight of their names, bringing to mind their dark curls and darker eyes. Elia with her horses. Tyene with her tricks and lies and bottles of poisons. Obara with her cache of weapons and Nymeria with her impassive face and smooth tongue. Sarella, the sister he hasn’t seen in years, surrounded by tomes. Obella and Dorea and Loreza, laughing in the fountains of the Water Gardens, begging him for sweetmeats. “Keep those who are living safe, and one day, keep them happy. Those who are gone—” he cuts himself off, unable to comprehend how to continue on that train of thought. His eyes burn and he squeezes them shut, feeling a tear drop or two drift down his cheeks.

He tightens his mouth and grits his teeth, digging his nails into his palm before he says, “And for myself. If any of the gods are just, I ask you that I may be granted vengeance for us all, and that I may see it.” Despite himself, Jon smiles before he continues, “If you grant me this, I will live and I will die serving the King your people have chosen. This I swear.” A gust of wind blows by him, ruffling his hair. “I know. I would have anyway. I love him.” A pang shoots through him. “But I swear, that whatever duty that you might ask of me, I will do. I will—”

His tongue feels numb, all of a sudden, and his throat tight. He shakes his head and tears his gaze away from the tree. There’s nothing, he thinks, the feeling of foolishness rushing back.

Nothing at all.

He strokes Ghost once, then twice, before he rises from his knees. The fabric of his breeches are stained deep with brown mud. The direwolf whines, looking at him with sharp, red eyes. Jon smiles sadly.

“Come on boy,” he says, turning away from the tree. “Let’s head back.”

As he makes his way back towards Shadow, who is contenting himself with eating the foliage surrounding him, a long, thin, black and red garter snake slithers past his boots, sleek and beautiful. Ghost’s paws thump against the earth as he attempts to pounce, but the legless creature is too fast for him, making his escape under a large rock. Jon laughs at the wolf’s disgruntled expression, and in the background, the wind begins to pick up, a long siren song within the leaves and branches of a forest in the south.




 

“Stop your whining,” Asha Greyjoy is saying as Robb makes his way over to the scuffle, led by his guard Arnolf. “I drank three more tankards of ale than you. You’re a lightweight and you lost to a girl. Best own up to it, before I make your balls shrink even more by challenging you to a contest of arms.”

“You’re not allowed any weapons.” The man across from her, with a straggly red beard and four missing front teeth, says. She slams her elbow down on the table, rolling up her sleeve with her palm out.

“I don’t need any weapons.” The look on her face is both confident and cocky. Robb resists the urge to roll his eyes as he gets closer, hand on the pommel of his sword. Theon warned him of his sister’s nature right before he set out for the Night’s Watch almost two weeks ago. Robb had not even allowed him to stay another night in the encampment after his announcement, not with the dark looks on his liege lords’ faces.

“Bi—” the man begins to say but stops as Robb comes to rest in front of them. The other man swallows hard, adam’s apple bobbing, before he gets up, bowing to Robb and giving him the proper form of address. Looks of chagrin and guilt flood the faces of the soldiers around him. On the table, there is a large stack of coin in front of Asha Greyjoy, with a pitiful and paltry collection in front of her opponent.

The Ironborn makes no move to rise. The sun is bright and shining in a pure blue sky today with nary a cloud in sight, but it does little to make the dull color of her hair any brighter. Robb stares at her.

After a while, resigned to the fact that she will not move, he says, “Threatening my men will only increase your guard.” As he says it, he glares at her supposed guard, ten men who look down at the ground in shame. Most of them are Glover’s men, but it seems their hatred of the Ironborn is not enough to stop Greyjoy from enjoying herself in her prison camp.

Or maybe they are hoping she pisses someone off, he thinks darkly.

“That threatened by me?” she says with a smirk. “You’ve already got me watched by these ones,” she points to the ten guards, all of whom are heavily muscled, “day and night. You really need more?”

“It’s for everyone’s safety,” he says pointedly, “including yours .” In response, she shrugs, leaning back against the makeshift crate table they’d been using as a game surface. A minute passes, and in the silence, Robb dismisses the other man, promising himself that he would take up the issue of their gambling, as well as their goading of Greyjoy, with Lord Glover later. It wouldn’t do for the men to cause rivalries between themselves over lost coin or for a fever to be stirred up even more against the woman’s presence in the camp.

“Where’s your shadow?” she asks suddenly, her eyebrows raised and a smirk on her lips as she pointedly looks behind him. “Not the wolf—the pretty one with the curls.”

Reluctantly, her question makes him wonder where Jon is as well. For the past two weeks, they have been steadily coming back to a sort of friendship between themselves, even playing cyvasse again at night when neither of them could sleep. It’s been nice, something that’d he missed, though the distance between them is still there in the palpable tension during the times when they could not look at each other long.

Earlier, Dacey Mormont told him that she’d seen Jon ride out towards the forest this morning. It’s past mid-day and he’s yet to come back. Despite himself, even though he knows the other man is more than capable of taking care of himself, Robb worries.

So, he scowls at her in response.

She laughs. “Don’t make that face,” she says as she scrunches up her features in a mockery of him. “You’re very pretty, too.” To cement her statement, she blatantly leers at him and a few of the men cough to hide their laughter. Taking note of their faces, he shoots them a fierce glare, before he levels it on her.

“Up,” he says firmly. She rolls her eyes, spreading her arms out in a gesture of faux surrender as she rises.

“Theon described you as less sullen,” she says, moving closer to him, until she is standing only an inch or two away. He tenses, hand tightening on the sword he’s not let go of during their interaction, and the men surrounding them tense as well, motioning towards their weapons. Her voice drops to a whisper as she continues, so low that only he can hear. “You having trouble in the bedroom? The tw—”

“Enough,” he says, cutting her off as his heart starts to beat faster. He motions to the guards to escort her back to the tent she’s been given. It’s close enough to him that if she attempted escape he’d be able to get to the situation fast, but far enough that if she managed to get a weapon, he’d been warned in case she came to slit his throat. His own guard has been doubled. Precautions he’d conceded to for his lords.

Two guards flank her on either side, hands coming up to grip her arms. As they leave, she turns back to look at him, eyes flashing, smirk wide and amused. Robb sighs and thinks, not for the first time, that this alliance better be worth the headache she brings.

“What did she do now?” a voice from behind him asks. Robb turns to see Jon leading Shadow back into the camp. There is dirt on his breeches and a streak of mud on his right cheek.

Robb shakes his head. “Where were you?” he asks instead. The sun highlights the dark curls, lightening the black strands. As he talks, he thinks that he needs to increase the guards around Greyjoy, his mind whispering to him of how dangerous she is.

Jon shrugs. “Communing with nature.” He offers no more explanation. They begin to walk to the outcropping where the horses are kept. The amount of hay his army had budgeted for concerning the upkeep of their steeds was decreasing, and Robb worries that he might have to send men out to local farms to barter for a little more feed. He’s reluctant to do so, given their closeness to Lannister territory. Many of his men might hold the castles, now, but the smallfolk’s loyalties are in question.

Make it to the Ashemark, he thinks, let us make it to the Ashemark.

His men, as well, are getting thinner, bones beginning to be prominent on those men who didn’t have much spare flesh to begin with, their muscles whittled into ropes of steel under their skin. Hunger has made them lean, as the provisions are rationed more and more.

“Mother has written,” he tells Jon as they walk. “A letter for you as well. It’s in my tent.”

Jon smiles and asks, “And Arya?” In the weeks that they’d stayed at Riverrun, Jon and Arya had gotten along tremendously. Robb had even been a little surprised at the strength of the connection between the two, given that his sister had been slow to trust before her experiences in the South, let alone afterwards.

“No letters,” he says, “She’s still angry and giving me the cold shoulder.” She’d given him a hug as he left, told him she loved him and he her, but there’d been anger in her eyes born from his forbidding her to fight. “Mother tells me that the reconstruction of Winterfell is going well,” he continues, though he’d already been aware of this from the reports of his own men. Still, his mother had been Lady of Winterfell far longer than he had been King in the North and the running of the castle had been hers for many years. She retained much measure of the running of its rebuilding in his absence. “If all goes well, within the next couple of months, she and Arya should be on their way home.”

He thinks of Sansa. The thought of his sister has kept him awake many nights since he learned of the dwarf’s disappearance. He hopes she’s safe, but a larger part of him can’t help but believe that she’s not. She’d been through all seven hells already, no doubt, in the cesspool that is King’s Landing. Not for the first time, he feels anger that he could not lop Joffrey Water’s head off himself. Then his thoughts turn to Bran and Rickon, and the scouts he’d sent out around the North, looking for them. The summer snows would have gotten heavy, by now, and two young boys in the North sent a flame of worry through him. Images of black skin bitter from frost and bone-thin frames molded by starvation fills his mind.  

“Your mother will be happy,” Jon says though they both know that Lady Catelyn will be haunted by the ghosts of those who are gone, just as much as they themselves now are. The wind blows twenty feet from where the horses are stationed, making waves of the leaves falling off the trees, and a stray, red leaf catches in one of Jon’s curls.

Robb reaches out to brush it away. They both freeze as his fingers brush through black hair, the leaf falling to the ground next to the redhead’s feet. A few horses neigh and a couple more shake themselves of mud and dirt while the two men stand there unmoving. Jon bites his lip but doesn’t look away as Robb’s hand drifts away from his hair. After a minute or two, he steps back, clearing his throat.

“You should settle her,” he says motioning to Shadow who looks increasingly displeased at standing there when she could be in the pen playing with her companions.

“Right,” Jon replies as he looks down. “You should go—” He pauses for a few seconds. “—deal with something kingly.”

Robb nods, and then leaves in search of Lord Glover. His men still need to be punished appropriately, before there’s blood littering the grass that has nothing to do with the Lannisters.




 

Two-and-a-half weeks later, after a small feast of roast chicken, as well as a couple of lambs cooked on a spit above an open fire, and baked carrots and parsnips with sweet onions in the castle at Ashford, Robb sighs. The servants are being kept away, so that there is no information that could potentially be leaked to the Lannisters. Normally, Robb wouldn’t enter a keep as his army marches, but the need for food outweighs the precautions. He gives Asha Greyjoy her own room in the keep complete with twenty-five guards watching her, and picks a room that’s adjacent to Jon’s. It’s not the lord’s chamber, but it's warm and spacious with a four-poster bed and space for Grey Wind, so it will serve. They are in his temporary chambers, the moon shining a sliver of night through the open window, and the earthy taste of warm tea is on his taste buds, the air fragrant with cinnamon and cloves, when Arnolf hands Jon a letter from Dorne.

“What does it say?” he asks as Jon’s smile turns into a puzzled frown. He looks over the words, but they are in a script and language that he can’t recognize. High Valyrian, he thinks, perhaps, or something else. Remnants of the Rhoynish culture before the Andal invasion into Dorne remains strong, perhaps their language did as well, though Jon had never mentioned anything of the like. Now that Jon’s letters are no longer being read, it seemed the Dornish preferred to write their messages in words that could not be easily understood for most in Westeros.

“It’s from Doran,” he answers. Robb nods and waits for him to continue. Arnolf stands awkwardly a few feet away from them, boots shuffling across the wood floor, while Grey Wind and Ghost lick each other’s faces in the corner. “He requests that we meet a couple of ships from the fleet to discuss the battle about a hundred miles up north along the coast from Casterly Rock.”

Jon’s back is leaning against the intricately carved wooden chair, a brown cushion laced around it to provide comfort. His legs are outstretched and his bare toes are inches from Robb’s thigh, the redhead sitting on a duvet of red velvet placed close to the fire. A half-done game of cyvasse lies in front of them, Robb already three moves from winning.  

“Us? Me and you?” Robb asks as his brow furrows. “Is your uncle coming with the fleet?” If so, he wonders if he can keep his anger at the Dornish Prince in check long enough to play the diplomat and King of the North. Though he’s come to terms with the fact that Jon, at least, has seemed to let go of his anger towards most of the Martells, neither of them have been willingly to give Doran leeway for his own actions. It’s almost absurd, this fury at a man Robb’s never met, but there’s also a bit of comfort in knowing that he, too, has wolf’s blood in him that rises when someone he loves has been hurt.

“Doubtful,” Jon answers and shakes his head, curls flying this way and that. “He doesn’t specify the us. So, take as many as we can. He also doesn't specify when the fleet is meeting us, though they sailed out about two weeks ago. Either they, or us, will have to wait a couple of days at the meeting spot.”

Robb sighs at the thought of camping out in wait for a few days when they could be better spent marching towards the Rock, but Jon insists that Prince Doran Martell wouldn’t have requested it if it isn’t important.

“We’ll take a contingent of fifty men with us,” he says, his mind flickering through plans for the detour they would now have to take. He could take his own unit that he’d prepared to march on the Rock with him, but he’s reluctant to bring that big of a force with him off-track to the west. No, he’d rather take a smaller force that will move quicker and lighter. He’ll leave Dacey Mormont in charge. She’s capable and holds the respect of most of the men in his army, as well as the lords.

She also wouldn’t take any flack from Asha Greyjoy. Robb worries at the thought of leaving her unattended. He contemplates bringing her with him, but on the road, there’s more of a chance that she’ll decide she doesn’t want their alliance and flee. No, it would be best to leave her here, he thinks.

“This better be worth it,” Robb continues before he leans over and moves his piece. Someone clears his throat and he looks to see Arnolf still standing there awkwardly. Robb smiles.

“You can go back to your post, Arnolf.” Robb’s smile widens into a grin as he turns to look to Jon. “Unless you want to stay and watch me soundly thrash him.”

Jon scowls at the same time that the guard shakes his head, leaving with a sigh of relief.

“You don’t win every time,” Jon says in protest, mouth forming into a pout.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time,” Robb says crowing. “I think the last time you won was eight moons ago or so. The student surpassed the teacher.” Jon rolls his eyes and counters his move, but it does little to help him prolong the game.

Mood lightening, Jon playfully retorts, “Maybe I just let you win.” Robb moves right after he says this, winning the game.

Eyebrows raised, he says sarcastically, “You were saying?” He blinks as Jon throws the pillow he’d been using as a tea cup rest on his lap towards his face, the soft feather-down a gentle smack against his nose and forehead. It flops onto the floor next to him as it falls. He reaches down to grab it, careful not to knock the hot tea that he’s been cradling between his thighs onto his breeches.

Before he can, however, a loud knock interrupts the beginnings of their childish antics. Roger pops his head into the room at Robb’s answering response. “Begging your pardon, Your Grace,” the guard says, his face blush-red, “but—ummm—Lady Greyjoy is out here demanding an audience.”

“I’m bored,” Robb hears the woman say through the open door. Roger’s face gets even redder.

“She’s being very insistent,” he mutters with embarrassment.

Jon scowls and leans over to look out into the hallway through narrow eyes. “Can’t she find some guard to fuck for entertainment?” he says in a rather unchivalrous tone. Despite the manners he’s been taught, Robb can’t help but agree, for a second, before he remembers he’d hand-picked the guards least likely to fuck a highborn lady just for a thrill and bragging rites, because he didn’t need her turning his men.

“Let her in,” he says with a sigh, ignoring the disgruntled look Jon turns on him.  

A grimace flashes across his face as she enters, her long strides with heavy boots causing the wooden floor to creak. “You have a true talent for ruining my night,” he tells her. Jon nods his agreement. She doesn’t acknowledge either of them, but instead looks around the room, her nose wrinkling at the tea set out on the desk alongside honey cakes. She picks up one of the pastries, but ignores the beverage.

“Well, this is awfully domestic,” she says as she makes her way over to them, plopping onto the empty chair that is next to Jon. “A bit disappointing, actually.”

“You could always leave,” Jon tells her. He scoots his chair over a few inches as he regards her with a look that seems as if he’s studying a leech meant to bleed illness out of him. “I’m sure you know how to entertain yourself. Long nights on ships and all.”

“Already did that,” she parries back, “three times.” Robb’s face heats up at the same time that Jon actually chuckles with amusement, the scowl on his face lessening.

“Can’t go for a fourth?” he says, the bite in his tone softening into banter. Robb looks at him with wide-eyes and hopes that Jon isn’t about to start becoming partial to Theon’s infuriating sister.

“That could be the reason I’m here,” she replies her gaze falling wickedly on the both of them. Before Robb can protest, she continues, “Or, I really could just be dreadfully bored. I’ve been locked up on land for weeks . Now, I’m all for containing one’s enemy,” she says pointedly looking to Robb now, “but, there comes a time when one has to admit I’ve been on my best behavior, no?”

She has, admittedly, been on her best behavior, though what that really means is that she’s stopped getting into drinking contests with angry Northerners and cheating them out of their coin. She’s still unbelievably rude, snappish, curt, and aggressive, and she’s done little to endear herself to any of the lords her people have pillaged.

Robb answers her with a curt nod. She takes a bite of the honey cake before she says, “Then I should be allowed some fun. I’m not a hostile enemy, after all.” Robb resists the urge to point out that any Ironborn, no matter how they’d come, would always be a hostile enemy. Jon gives him a look that seems to imply that he should indulge her, if only to get her to shut up.

“What do you have in mind?” he mutters miserably.

She looks to the board and then turns to Jon. “Well, you suck at this game.” A look of offense floods his features. She turns to Robb. “So, I’ll play you.”

In response, he calls for someone to fetch them something stronger than tea.

An hour later, Jon’s sitting next to Robb on the duvet, their thighs pressed against one another. Both of them smell of wine, and the heat from the fire has combined with the flush the intoxicating drink gives when consumed in large quantities. Greyjoys legs are crossed underneath one another on Jon’s vacated chair, a mug of ale (her fifth) in her lap. They haven’t said much, which makes Robb a bit more comfortable, and it's almost, if he squints and looks only at her hair, like being with Theon again.

She loses, but not by much.




 

Three days later, the men making their way to the beach meeting spot are packed and ready to go. Jon watches Robb survey everyone’s weapons and horses, along with their cart of provisions. He’s spent a lot of time rushing about in a hurry to make food and drink preparations for the rest of the army’s march, as well as last minute battle plans. Arnolf and Roger are standing next to him, as well as several of his new guards whose names Jon has yet to learn, and fixing saddles on every mount. Fifty or so horses would be a lot, true, but Robb wants to make for the meeting spot with as much haste as he can possibly afford, so that he can return to the war.

Jon kneels down, balancing his weight with his lower back, and holds out a stick for Ghost and Grey Wind to chase after. The thought of seeing Doran again sits uneasily with him, so he’s using the direwolves as a distraction against their imminent leave from the castle at Asheford.

“You alright?” Dacey Mormont asks as she comes up alongside him. He looks to her through his fringe of curls and nods, pitching the stick. The wolves take off. If she knows it’s a lie, she lets it go. She smiles and holds out her hand, which he takes to stand in an upright position. Both of them watch the direwolves fight over the thrown stick.

“I think I’m going to miss you Sand,” she says with a smile. She ruffles his hair and he steps back, fighting to fix the mess. “Be careful out there, you hear?”

Jon rolls his eyes but smiles good-naturedly back at her. “I’m always careful.”

She scoffs in response. “Careful of your hair, aye. I’ll give you that. Your life, mind, well—” She waves her arm around her in a gesture that symbolizes the lack of care she believes Jon takes with his life.

“Are you much better?” he retorts, referring to the numerous times he’s seen her make risky moves while sparring. He can not even imagine how she is in an actual battle, though so far she’s remained unharmed. He shoots a look at the healed burn on his hand.

“Infinitely.” A lock of her dark hair catches in the ruby necklace she’s been wearing around her neck since Smalljon Umber left for Dorne. He’s arrived there safely, Jon knows. Not just because of the ships that Dorne is sailing at this very moment, and not just because Robb has read the missive aloud at council meetings, while everybody laughed at the man’s complaints regarding the heat but his praise concerning the women (to Dacey’s displeasure, given her frown), but because Arianne has informed him of the “beastly man Father’s been hosting for your Northern kin.”

“Think any of your sisters will battle with us?” Dacey asks, reaching down to lift his saddle from where he’s left it on the ground. Shadow, a few feet away from him, is looking at the basket of apples behind him hungrily. “I’d love to meet them.”

Love to spar with them, Jon thinks as he shrugs. “Doubtful.” He doesn’t tell her that Doran has been keeping a close eye on them. “Though, you’ll never miss Obara if she’s there. Just look for the one with the unhappy expression stabbing a mountain of people with a spear.” His sister is even more sullen than Dacey’s been claiming he is.

The woman from Bear Island laughs and promises to make a note of it. Together, they bring both the saddle and the basket of apples to Shadow. The mare happily munches on three, the slobber from her mouth making Jon grimace, while Dacey helps prepare her for her ride. A bump against his leg signals that Ghost or Grey Wind have returned from their play, and he looks down to see the white direwolf’s muzzle in the bucket of apples. When his snout emerges, the fruit is half-eaten, tumbling to the dirt. Shadow huffs in annoyance, and huffs again when the white direwolf’s grey brother mimics him.

“Wolves eat fruit?” Dacey asks with a puzzled expression.

Jon shrugs. “Seems so.” He’s seen Ghost eat berries off of shrubs before, so his actions don’t seem that strange, though given the wolf’s predatory nature, rummaging for prey that can’t run is almost laughable. “Perhaps they just like the sweetness.”

“Grey Wind’s always been strange,” Robb says as he makes his way over to them. Jon smiles at him, watching the sunlight catch in his red curls. Both of them had employed the use of the castle’s barber the day before, and Robb was looking rather handsome and noble in full armor, his beard groomed and his curls shorter, out of his eyes. “I saw him try to eat Sansa’s smallclothes once.”

Grey Wind looks up from his dessert with a sheepish expression. All three of them laugh. Their revelry is broken with a sudden shout coming from farther away, a woman’s scream, not afraid, but enraged, guttural and fierce. Soon after, a man shouts, and distantly, others call out “fuck her up!”

Robb and Jon share a mutual look, before they both make their way to the gate of the castle where a large crowd has gathered with eager, bloodthirsty expressions. A thud indicates that someone has either fallen or been tackled, and a few more thuds ensue after that. The man from earlier shouts, “stay the fuck down, bitch!” A few seconds later, a loud masculine yell follows.

Robb shouts, “What is going on here? I demand this stop at once!” The crowd’s faces’ pale, their expressions turning towards shame at the sight of their angry King. They part for him, though Jon can’t help but shoulder many of them deliberately as he makes his way to the middle of the circle.

Greyjoy and the man she’s fighting take no heed of the King in the North’s presence. She’s straddling him with her thighs wrapped around his neck, face tinged blue from lack of oxygen. His feet are kicking out, attempting to wrestle her away, while her elbow jabs forward, smashing his nose.

Robb’s guards, mindful of their King, circle around, before they move forward to intervene. Seconds later, Jon does so as well, as two of the guards drag the Ironborn woman off of her victim. The man, coughing and sputtering, shoots up, and regardless of the guards, steps forward to continue the fight before Jon retrains him.

“Fuck you!” Asha Greyjoy shouts as she is lifted from the ground, feet kicking. Robb scowls at her, hand on his sword. A third guard moves forward as she nearly escapes the hold of the other two with her squirming and punching.

“Go suck a cock!” the man Jon is holding replies. Jon rolls his eyes at the lackluster retort, but given that the guy’s fighting a hostage under Robb’s protection mere feet away from the man himself, the brunette doesn’t credit him with much in the way of brains. He’s got small, squinty eyes underneath the bruises and a large, bulbous nose like the elephants Jon’s seen in the Free Cities, with a receding hairline turning grey underneath the muddy brown.

Proving Jon right, the man starts forward again. Muscles tightening, he grips the man around the waist in a vice hold, dragging him back. As fists go flying, he skillfully avoids them through years of practice wrestling Loreza into the bath. He looks to where the three guards are dragging Greyjoy, spitting and cursing, back as well. Robb’s expression is as fierce as wildfire as Jon dodges the elbow that comes dangerously close to his right cheekbone.

“Gods, man, stop it before you get twenty lashes and a night in the stocks,” he whispers though he would mourn not at all if that ends up the man’s fate. The man attempts to stamp on his foot. Irritation flaring, his leg sweeps out to kick, hard, at the back of the man’s knees, while the other one twists around his ankle. The man falls, and then Jon is on his back, pinning him to the ground. When he looks up, Greyjoy is slack in the guards’ hold. She has a bruise developing over her right eye and her mouth is still bleeding.

“Get off me, Dornish bastard-whore,” the man protests through a mouth full of dirt. Placing his right hand steady on the man’s shoulder blades, Jon slams his face into the ground with his left in response. Thankfully, the knock seems to silence him after.

“Now,” Robb demands, his harsh tone at odds with his stiff expression, though his blue eyes are flashing with anger, “I ask again. What is the meaning of this?”

No one answers. The crowd can not meet their King’s eyes. They look at their boots or their hands or the sky above them. A few of them are pushed out of the way as Dacey Mormont barges into the sight of the scuffle. Behind her is Lord Glover, whose expression is not nearly shamed enough considering a good three-fourths of the men here are his, if the clenched fist sigil stitched on their clothes is anything to go by.

“She started it,” the man underneath Jon claims. Greyjoy rolls her eyes.

“And I can damn well finish it,” she replies. Though she’s limp and submissive now, Jon knows better than to think she’s docile. Robb, too, knows this and so when he turns to look at her, his grip is tight on his sword.

“Why did you start it, Lady Greyjoy?” the King asks.

Before she can answer, Lord Glover deems it his place to respond for her. “Because she’s a fucking kraken. Treacherous breed, the lot of them.”

Robb throws him a furious look. “Is your name Lady Greyjoy?” The Northern lord shakes his head. “I thought not. Don’t speak out of turn again, Lord Glover, and don’t think that I do not know you’ve been encouraging your men to stir up trouble lately.”

This is true enough. While Lord Umber and others resigned themselves after a few weeks to Asha Greyjoy’s existence within the company—as well as Theon Greyjoy’s departure to the Wall—Glover’s been glowering and glaring every night at dinner since they arrived at the castle and he’s been forced to endure looking at her eat. It makes no secret of the resentment the situation with the Ironborns creates. Arnolf and Roger were quick to report the remarks and whispers some of the Glover soldiers made about the types of things they’d like to do to Greyjoy to “put her in her place.” Some of the suggestions had caused Robb to turn green and Jon’s stomach to turn at their twisted imagery.

Robb turns to Greyjoy and repeats his question. She rolls her eyes. “The prick insinuated that you were weak for beheading my brother. Now, I don’t care if he calls you weak,” she says, shrugging, though Jon feels furious at her words and viscously places pressure with his knees against the man’s back. The cretin groans. “I do, however, care that he referred to my brother as a squid-spawned, cockless vermin who is better off on a pike. Have to defend the honor of my family,” she continues while throwing a smirk at Robb. The cut across her lip stretches harshly against her pale face as she does so. “I’m sure you understand.”

Robb’s shoulders are straight and tense as he signals a few guards to step forward, then tells Jon to let the man up. The brunette complies reluctantly and grins darkly at the look of hatred the other man shoots him. The guards take him firmly by the arm.

“Ten lashes,” Robb says, “and a few nights in the cells here at Asheford.” He steps forward and looks pointedly around him, eyes lingering on Lord Glover. “And if I hear that any of you have stepped out of line again, it will be worse. Understood?”

Everyone involved mutters their agreement, even Lord Glover. Jon takes in the redhead’s tightly clenched fists and barely contained anger, and he wonders if it was the fight with Greyjoy, the flouting of the King’s authority, or the slights towards Theon Greyjoy and himself that is making the punishment harsher than it might otherwise have been.

Probably the fight, Jon thinks though secretly he almost hopes for the latter, but Robb’s not one to bleed a man’s back because of insults. He has too much honor for that.  

As the man is taken away, Robb turns back to the three guards and one woman. He motions for them to release her, then says, “Pack your things. Follow her to her room, lads. You’re coming with us.”

Jon’s eyebrows raise in surprise and a hint of unease fills him. Asha bows mockingly then follows the guards. He moves forward once she’s out of sight, stepping close to Robb.

“You sure about that?” he asks. Robb looks to him, eyes still flinty. “She might have instigated the fight so as not to be left here.” He wouldn’t put it past her. In the few weeks he’s known her—and seven hells, but he’d even come to enjoy bantering with her, to Robb’s displeasure—he’s gathered enough about her to know she’s smart. Smarter than half the people Jon’s ever met, and twice as manipulative and cunning. Whatever skipped her brother went straight to her in their mother’s womb.

“Maybe,” Robb agrees in a tone that suggests there isn’t much maybe to it. “But I can’t trust her here. I can’t trust my lords with her life. This—alliance—with the Ironborns, it stands on a tether. Any fatal injury that comes to her, it could derail our plans in a moment.” He shakes his head. “No, I have to keep an eye on her. There’s too much at stake now.”

Our plans rest in the hands of pirates, Jon thinks with sardonic amusement. We’re fucked.




 

Almost two weeks—and the sight of Asha Greyjoy fucking a tavern wench with red curls on a kitchen counter—later, Robb and his men make camp a mile south of the coast where they are to meet the Dornish. The scout that he’d sent out as soon as they arrived returns, an hour later, with news of the empty beach and blue waves with no sails in sight. Robb sighs and waves him away as Jon comes to stand next to him. The air around them smells faintly of salt and, above them, a few gulls let out cries and swoop in the air.

“How fast are your ships?” he asks Jon. The brunette chews at his bottom lip, tongue darting out to lick at the pellets of rain coming from the heavy clouds and gray sky.

“Depends on when they left,” Jon answers. “He said it was already gone, but Doran could have sent the ship out after we got the message. Or he could have hired another vessel to keep out of sight. That’s what he did for me.”

You were a secret,” Robb points out, but the brunette has a point. The banners will be raised on warships, but only if they want to signal to someone their arrival. Everything lies on their secrecy. Dornish ships, too, have a distinctive make to those with keen enough eyes to spot the difference from other vessels. “What kind would he hire?”

Jon shrugs. “I honestly couldn’t tell you.”  

They wait for two days huddled in tents from the downpour of the rain. Robb and Jon share, though they’ve got separate cots, and Roger and Arnolf huddle close to the tent’s entrance as well. Lying awake with worry gnawing at his gut, Robb looks across the small tent through the darkness at the sweep of black eyelashes and the gentle rise and fall of the brunette’s chest. Next to him, Grey Wind’s head is a heavy weight against his thigh, while Ghost cuddles up against Jon’s thigh.

The rest of the fifty men are divided up in four tents, while armed guards watch Asha, who has been nothing but pleasant the entire trip. It's unsettling, so he keeps watching her and waiting for the other shoe to drop. She knows this, as well, and has taken to smiling at him teasingly whenever their eyes meet.  

Finally, the morning of the third day arrives with the sun rising in a blue, clear sky and a rider bearing a banner of a gold spear piercing a red sun on an orange spear. Jon grins as the tall, handsome man with shoulder-length black hair gets off his steed and embraces him, ruffling his curls.

“Jon,” the almost familiar-looking man says, “I see the cold outside of Dorne’s been treating you well. As pale as ever.”

“Is that a bit of sunburn on your nose, Edric?” Jon replies. Robb sees absolutely nothing at all on the man’s nose except dark freckles.

Embrace breaking, the man bows to Robb. “Your Grace, my name is Edric Sand. I’ve come to escort you, Jon, and whoever else to the beach.” The man is bouncing on the balls of his feet as he says it, almost like an eager puppy. Robb recalls him, now, as one of Jon’s companions from almost a year ago.

He motions to Roger and Arnolf, as well as ten other men, to follow them. No horses are saddled, so Edric Sand walks them to their meeting spot, chatting with Jon about various things including viper hunting, along the way. Robb looks at them through narrow eyes, feeling the anticipation low in his gut. He’s got a few daggers stashed, one in the waistband of his breeches, and two more in his boots. His men, as well, are similarly armed, because even though the Dornish are their allies, that doesn’t negate ambush on the road.

The sun shines brilliant colors upon the distant blue water, creating a painting of vibrance, as Robb and the others make their way down the jagged outcrop of rocks to get to the beach. Squinting, he sees a few faint outlines in the distance. People, he thinks, counting as he walks. Ten, maybe, or a little less. There are sails in the distance, as well, and a small row boat stationary in the sand, gentle waves dragging back and forth alongside its bottom.

As he gets closer to them, his heart beat begins to beat faster. Stomach in his throat and palms sweating, he moves faster, and so does Jon, towards four women and one man standing away from five others on the sand.

Chapter Text

Jon’s heart feels like it is about the take a flying leap out of his chest as he and Robb run towards the people on the beach. Behind him, he can hear Edric Sand laugh, but he doesn’t care. The shouts of concern that the guards give also goes unheeded. A few feet away, with the smell of salt water thick and familiar clouding his senses, he stops and stares, feeling as if the sight of them is an illusion. A dream, perhaps, and he is back in the tent with the rain pouring down above them. Next to him, Robb does the same.

“Well,” one of the women says, “are you going to say something?”

Spell broken, both of the men laugh with relief and joy at the sight of the four women, and a young man, on the beach with five guards behind them. Robb continues to stand in shock for a second as the young, tall redheaded girl with the beautiful face looks at him in awe, before they are both moving towards one another, clutching each other in desperation. Jon looks to him for a second, watching Robb lift his sister up from the ground, then he looks back towards the beach. Tyene stands there, her hair longer, reaching almost to her shoulders, and blonde again. There is a smirk on her face. Next to her, though—

Jon feels tears form in his own eyes. Elia, his little sister, stands there, taller yet just as beautiful as her older sister. Her dark, thick spiral curls are hidden by a bright yellow veil of silk, with one single curl poking out like a corkscrew above her left eye. She is still small, a good five inches shorter than him, and thin, dressed in her warmer riding breeches and tunic rather than any of the dresses she owns. She has tears in her eyes as their gazes find one another.

“Jon!” she says with delight in her voice. He answers with the same amount in his own.

“I thought I’d never see you again,” he hears Sansa say, but Robb’s reply goes unheard as he moves forward to clutch his own little sister. She giggles, leaping into his arms like a babe of five years old, and he holds her tight to him.

“What are you doing here?” he asks with both happiness and concern in his voice. “Why did Doran allow you to come?” He pulls back to look at her face.

She shakes her head. “It’s been too long. I thought I’d never see you again.” She doesn’t elaborate any further, just buries her face in his hair.

“He didn’t,” Tyene, his older sister says, moving forward to embrace him and Elia. There is a smirk on her face as she does so. “This one,” she pointedly looks at their blushing sister. “And that one,” she waves over towards where their cousin, Trystane, is hanging back, “snuck onto the ship right before we left. I’m sure Arianne was pissed that she didn’t think to do so as well.”

Jon chuckles, hugging the girls both tight again. Elia’s own tears are wet against his cheek, mixing with his, but he cannot bring himself to care. The guards slip away in that moment. Even Robb and Sansa, sharing a similar embrace, slip away from him. They smell like home. Like spice and almonds and rosewater and salt. Then, he lets Elia go to embrace his youngest cousin. The boy, four years younger than Jon, has grown taller since he’d last seen him, his black hair thicker and his youthful face growing into its promised handsomeness. He takes more after his mother, like Arianne does, then his father.

“Hello, cousin,” the boy says with a wide grin on his face. Jon steps back with a grin of his own, reaching up to ruffle Trystane’s hair.

“And you?” Jon asks. “Why did you sneak onto the ship to come here?” The wind picks up speed, threading through all of their hair. Elia has to reach up to keep the veil from flying off her head. Behind them, stronger waves crash upon the shore, in and out.

“I can’t just have missed you?” Trystane answers with a fake frown. Then, he shrugs, and looks to Sansa and Robb. Jon’s eyes follow. They are still hugging, and the sight of the two redheaded siblings makes his heart warm. His cousin continues, “I wanted to meet my betrothed. Since Father ordered us to take Sansa home, with the King’s permission, of course, I thought I could get the measure of her sister, Arya.”

Jon laughs. “You’ll like her,” he tells him. He smirks teasingly. “She’ll keep you in your place.” Trystane’s eyes widen as he continues, “She’s a fierce little thing. Don’t anger her and I’m sure you two will have a happy marriage. If not, well, you might find yourself with a wolf in your bed and bloody fangs around your throat.”

“Jon!” Elia protests laughingly at the sight of their cousin’s faint expression. Tyene laughs with amusement, one arm going to wrap around her stomach. Trystane scowls, but then begins to laugh himself, and for a few minutes it feels like Jon is back in the Water Gardens or Sunspear again.

“Oh!” Elia says, looking down with wide eyes at the sight of the white direwolf nudging her leg with his snout. Tyene’s hand flies to a dagger, but Jon’s arm is out in a flash, stopping her. Trystane steps back a few feet, keeping a wary eye on Ghost, and the guards step forward, weapons in hand.

“Don’t!” Jon orders, crouching down and holding out his hand for Ghost to come to him. “He’s safe. He won’t hurt you.” The wolf comes and licks his palm, then looks to Elia and Tyene with imploring eyes, sensing the love Jon holds for them. In the back of his mind, Jon can feel the curiosity his companion holds, though he knows if the guards were to come at him with a weapon, fangs and claws will be beared in mere moments. In the distance, Grey Wind darts back and forth among the waves and Sansa and Robb watch him laughingly.

He hadn’t even seen the two wolves follow them down from the cliff.  

“Daemon said you had a wolf, now,” Tyene mutters as she puts her weapon away. She eyes Ghost with curiosity of her own. “Thought that was nonsense.” The wolf moves forward and sniffs her leg, deeming her worthy, before he moves to Elia. Jon’s horse-loving sister smiles with slight fear, and crouches down as well, holding out her hand. She receives a lick and an invitation to rub his white-furred head.

“You can get closer, Trystane,” Jon tells his cousin who looks to him as if he’s nuts and decided to tell them he is renouncing wine and sex to become a septon. Not wanting to look like a coward, his cousin slowly comes over.

“If I die,” he says with a hint of annoyance, “I’m going to haunt you, Jon.” Despite this, the wolf quickly deems him suitable as well, and then he is off to join his brother in the waves.  

Trystane is shaking slightly as he moves closer to Jon once Ghost is gone, but Elia and Tyene quickly cast off their fear, even going so far as to smile at the two wolves antics, though the blonde’s eyes are more suspicious than their more innocent sister. Although Elia is only two years younger than Jon, Ellaria saw fit to keep her from some of the more dangerous aspects of Oberyn Martell’s life than the older children had been afforded. A pang shoots through Jon as he looks at his sisters, wondering if they, like him, feel lost and hollow every time they think of their father.

A frown flits across his face with the thought, sadness overtaking the joy of reuniting with some of his family, and he closes his eyes as he asks, “Ellaria? What of her? Is she—” Dead, he doesn’t ask. In prison, he means to say, though the words stop on his tongue. Tyene looks to him with hard eyes.

“Home,” she says, “and in mourning. She was released a few weeks ago.” A sneer forms on her face. “The Lannisters felt that as a bastard paramour she would be no threat to them.” Jon nods.

“And the younger girls?” Loreza wasn’t even ten name days yet.

Elia smiles sadly at him. “They miss Father. But their sadness lifts from them among themselves and the orphans in the Water Gardens. They are young and they are strong.”

She moves forward to link her arm with Jon’s, placing her head on his shoulder. “And so are we,” she says. Tyene nods, but her eyes are filled with fury and the desire for vengeance. The same look that Jon sees when he looks in the mirror. He nods curtly to her and then places his head on top of his younger sister’s, the comfort of having her near battling with the grief and call for blood inside his soul, as his eyes flicker to Sansa Stark and Robb, their own reunion full of joy and sorrow as well.




 

Robb’s entire body shudders from the tidal wave of emotions rushing through him, as he holds his sister tight, clutching her with a strength he wasn’t even aware he possesses. She’s safe, he thinks, eyes burning, tears running rampant and uncaring down his cheeks. She’s safe and whole and home and alive.  Her hands clutch his shoulders, her legs lifted off the floor. She’s dressed in Dornish clothes that cinch at the waist and taper down at the chest, but she’s also wearing a deep gray cloak with silver direwolf pin holding it closed. Her hood had fallen back as she ran to him. Her hair smells sweet and fragrant and she’s tall, now, almost of a height with him, body lean and slender and bird-fragile, but there is strength, too, in her grip.

“We were supposed to make straight for Riverrun, originally,” she whispers close to his ear. Her cheek is pressed against his and he doesn’t want to let her go. Never wants to let her go. “But I insisted to Prince Doran that I needed to see you. His daughter convinced him of it for me.”

“How did you arrive in Dorne?” he asks, voice wobbly and so far from royal that he feels nothing less than a child in this moment. A child who’s just returned home. “We’ve had news of the Imp—” He swallows. “—I thought—” So many horrible things.

“Tyene Sand,” she says as he puts her down on the ground, arms protesting from the effort of holding her up. Still, he doesn’t release her. Her eyes travel towards Jon and two of the other woman, nodding towards the blonde one. “She disguised herself as a septa. She met with me for the first time outside the godswood where I would pray, and then we’d meet every night in the Sept. I told Tyrion Lannister that I was praying for the King to his own gods.” She smiles and it's dark, darker than he’s ever seen on her face. “I prayed, alright, but for your victory, and their destruction. Brienne of Tarth helped Tyene and my handmaiden, Shae—” Sansa looks to the final woman standing silently behind them. She is dressed in a loose dress that covers almost none of her olive skinned shoulders. She’s pretty, and thin, with dark hair. “They helped Tyene smuggle me out the night that Tyrion Lannister escaped. Brienne stayed behind to continue to report for you, and we sailed to Dorne disguised as Silent Sisters.”

He kisses her forehead with relief as she continues, “I was so confused why she was helping me. She didn’t even tell me who she was until we were halfway to Dorne. She just called herself a friend. Then, she told me her father, Prince Oberyn, asked her to do this before he died at the request of his son.”

A lump forms in Robb’s throat and he, too, looks to Jon who looks happier than he’s ever seen him. Gratitude floods through him, and such affection for both him, and for Sansa, that he feels like anger and grief might never again affect him.

The feeling dissipates as he remembers King’s Landing and how long his sister had been forced to remain there. “I am so sorry, sweet sister,” he says in a choked voice. His hand trembles with guilt as he strokes her cheek. She shakes her head, eyes sad but filled with understanding.

“You have a war to win,” she says, smile wobbling, “You couldn’t risk everything to trade back one sister. I was alive, that is what matters.” Her eyes, though, are filled with unspoken horrors and her words do little to alleviate his guilt.  “Even if it was only to keep you in check. There is nothing to forgive.” Then her smiles drops and tears glisten in her blue eyes. “Forgive me, brother. Father—” She cuts herself off, taking a minute to compose herself. Both of them are shaking like leaves. “It’s my fault. The Queen, she—”

“It’s on them,” Robb says in a voice firm. “You were a child. It is on them and the gods will see to it that they all pay.”

“Yes,” she agrees in a tone filled with hatred so strong it takes him aback. “They will pay.”

They are silent for a few seconds, before he says guiltily, “But King’s Landing, I—”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” she interrupts, shaking her head. “Not this moment. Let us not taint today with anymore talk of those vile people. Let us just be Robb and Sansa again.” A look full of grief makes her expression crumble. “Two of the last three of the Stark children.”

At her words, it hits him that she doesn’t know. Robb clutches her close, shaking his head. He’d informed his mother straight away as soon as Theon told him the truth about Bran and Rickon, but his sweet sister still lives in ignorance. A joyful smile splits her face as he tells her, and she laughs with tears in her mouth. Then, in the next instant, Grey Wind is there nuzzling Sansa, who cries harder and clutches him around the neck, placing kisses everywhere she can reach. A pang shoots through Robb as he remembers Lady’s fate.

He looks over to Jon and his family, Tyene and the unnamed boy and girl. Ghost is over there, introducing himself. Robb looks to Sansa as she is rising, Grey Wind making for the water. He bites his lip and tries to think of a way to explain to her that she has more family than what they thought, but for now, it's not necessary.

For now, she is here, and that is all that matters.

“I never thought I’d be here,” she admits as they watch Grey Wind play with Ghost who’d come rushing over to join the grey direwolf. “I never thought to see you again. I feared—” She pauses and it's clear the next words are ones she doesn't want to admit to thinking. “I feared you would lose, though I prayed you would win.”

He smiles at her and tells her that she is here now and he will never let anything happen to her again. A look of skepticism flashes across her face before it is gone. The sight of it, though, sends another burst of guilt through him. He asks her about Dorne, hoping that at least she’d gotten some measure of comfort there.

She sighs. “Dorne is beautiful and colorful and the food is—” Sansa grimaces. “—interesting. It’s like a song and everything I believed the South to be. But all I wanted was to go home. To see you and Mother again. To see the North and the snow. To feel the cold wind against my skin.”

Robb hugs her again. They stand there, basking in the warmth of being near family, safe and whole in body, if not in mind. They are both changed and neither of them could know the truth of the horrors either has endured, but for today, at least, they can watch the sun paint a pretty picture across the ocean and two great wolves shake their fur in the spray.




 

After about twenty minutes, Robb comes over with his and Sansa Stark’s arms linked together. They are both smiling, and Jon watches as his sisters and cousin dip into practiced bows and courtesies as the King in the North draws near. “Your Grace,” all three say in unison.

As she comes up, Tyene’s eyes are drawn to Robb’s red curls, and she shoots Jon a knowing smirk. In response, he rolls his eyes, while Robb tells his family that the formalities are unnecessary.

“We are k to be kin, after all,” Robb says, nodding at each of them. Sansa motions for the unfamiliar woman to come over, as well. She bows to Robb and introduces herself as Shae, and Robb thanks her for taking care of his sister in King’s Landing.

Robb turns to Tyene with a smile. “Lady Tyene,” he addresses her, and it is to her visible surprise. “I must thank you for returning my sister to me. If there is any service that you would ask of me, tell me, and I will do it.”

Her face smooths back into a mask as she replies, “That is unnecessary. It was my pleasure to rescue Lady Sansa.” Jon wonders just how many guards and spies his sister had to poision to ensure that his cousin left the city alive. That , at least, would have been to her pleasure.

Robb nods and then turns to Elia and Trystane. “And you are?”

Elia smiles as she introduces herself, telling Robb, “My brother’s written much about you.” Jon feels his face grow hot and hopes that those around chalk it up to the sun. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Sansa Stark eyeing him with curiosity.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Robb says and kisses her hand.

Jon’s dark-haired cousin comes forward, face calm but eyes full of nervousness. “I am Prince Trystane Nymeros Martell, Your Grace, youngest son of Prince Doran Nymeros Martell.”

“Well met, Prince Trystane,” Robb says studying his youngest sister’s betrothed with narrow, searching eyes. “I wish you and my sister, Princess Arya Stark, much happiness in the days to come. Sansa tells me you are bound for Riverrun?”

Trystane nods, expression a bit green as he eyes the giant sword slung around Robb’s hip. “Yes, Your Grace—” Robb’s eyebrows raise pointedly and Elia elbows Trystane. “I mean, King Robb—” Tyene sighs loudly and Jon rolls his eyes. “With your permission, I would like to meet my betrothed.”

You didn’t need permission to come here, Jon thinks in amusement. His cousin’s fear of Robb strikes him as absurd, though perhaps that is because he knows for all his hardness, Robb’s nature is inherently compassionate.

Robb tells him that he has it, and then motions for his sister to come forward. “Jon,” he says with a smile, “meet my sister, Sansa. Sansa, this is Jon Sand. He’s been my companion since our alliance with Dorne was struck.”

Sansa curtsies for him and calls him “my Lord,” though he is not and never will be a lord. Sansa, from what he’d gathered about her from the Starks, had always been very proper about addressing everyone by their place in society. Her manner, though he did not know her, strikes him as a change that King’s Landing spawned.

Not knowing what to do to greet his cousin, he nods back awkwardly, then, remembering courtesy, bows and calls her, “my Lady.” She holds herself differently than Arya, with less wildness, though no less steel. She is strong, he thinks, to survive intact in King’s Landing and thrive.

They chat for a few minutes, the wind sweeping through their hair and the direwolves yipping. Behind Robb, the Northern guards eye the Dornish guards with wariness. Then, Edric Sand comes over and slings his arm around Jon’s shoulder in order to announce that he, and many others on the beach, are famished.

“Come,” Robb says in response, though his mouth is tight. “I would have my sister with me tonight, and I’m sure Jon would as well. You are all welcome to join us back at camp.”

Everyone nods, and sensing movement, the direwolves race on ahead, shaking water at the crowd of humans as they do so. The Dornish guards are still holding their weapons in case of attack, but everyone else—including Sansa’s handmaiden—laugh, and follow the animals back up along the rocky cliff to the camp.




 

Later on that night, after Elia and Sansa have been given a tent of their own, the Northern guards and Asha Greyjoy being crowded into another tent, and Trystane has gone off to play cyvasse with both girls and Robb, Jon and Tyene meet in the tent he shares with the redhead. She’s got a bag in front of her that one of the guards went back to the ship to retrieve, provisions for both her and Elia and Sansa, as well as Trystane, and the sounds of the camp fade into white noise as he pours them both a glass of wine.

“Are you going with Sansa Stark, Trystane, and Elia to Riverrun?” he asks, turning around to face her and hand her the glass of wine. As she takes it, she pulls out a bushel of grapes from the bag, pouring it into a bowl that she retrieves as well. Setting it down on the ground next to his cot, she then downs half the glass of the sour, strong wine.

“Of course not,” she finally replies. “Someone’s got to look after your ass.”

“I can watch my own ass,” he protests with rolled eyes and pointedly looks to his sister as he sips his wine. There’s only one candle lit, so the tent is dim, but the colors of her yellow, Dornish dress with daggers strapped to her waist—and no doubt around her legs—still give off a slight glow.

“No, little brother,” she says, moving around the room and looking it over critically for weak spots. The sound of the moniker gives him a brief pang of sadness and so he looks away, studying the shadows of people cast by camp fires against the tent fabric. She continues to speak, “You have always been stubborn and bullheaded. No doubt you have been reckless in Stark’s army, just as you are at home.”

“You say this as if you and Obara are not just as reckless as me,” he reminds her. One of the shadows looks feminine and he wonders if it is Asha Greyjoy. “Or Elia,” he continues with a sardonic laugh, “I can’t believe you allowed her to come into a war zone.”

“She can take care of herself,” Tyene says harshly, but then her tone changes to one of reluctance. “I did not know she and Trystane were on the ship until we were too late to turn back. They hide themselves well. Even from me.” He hears rustling, then more, louder rustling, before the tent goes quiet. His fingers clench around the handle of his wine glass and he takes a deep breath, one, then two, in time with the beating of his heart.

He turns back to face her. “Did you know?” Jon asks her. She is sprawled out on the cot with her legs crossed at the ankles and her hands on her lap. “About me?”

“No,” she admits, then a reluctant smile flits across her face, “but Sarella might have. You know how she likes to go through Uncle Doran and Father’s solars. Obara and Nymeria, they knew. Elia—she didn’t, obviously, until her mother told her. She was not pleased. Went and stomped on Uncle Doran’s foot.” Jon’s stomach twists and he looks up in surprise. Elia’s actions towards him were the same as always. It had not seemed like she knew he was not her brother by blood.

Relief hits him, for a moment or two. Not everyone, then, had lied to him. He wonders, though, how long Obara and Nymeria had been aware. Was that why Obara had never been as close to him as the others? Nymeria, she was affectionate enough, but she preferred politics when she could get them, and they had little or less in common outside of the sparing yard.

“And the girls?”

“Blissfully ignorant,” she says with a shrug, “Or so I assume. Can’t have the information floating around little ears. They’ll meet big ears.”

Yes, Jon thinks, children do tend to talk. I would have talked, probably, if I’d known as a child.

He looks to the tent flap again and sees that a tall silhouette has joined the feminine form. Their arms are intertwined and struggling in a wrestling constant. Most definitely Asha, then. He feels relief about this, because although he trusts the Northern men with his life and with Robb’s, his sister is a beautiful girl with Dornish lust, and though he’d never begrudge her pleasure, the Northern attitudes towards bastards still lends him pause.

“You look so sullen,” she says, and no doubt there is a grimace on her face. “Is it the Northern fare? I’ll probably be begging for something with spice the longer I stay. Still, if you’re fucking the King, I would have thought you’d be less uptight. Truly, you need—”

“We’re not,” he interrupts her as he runs the hand not holding his wine through his hair. “Fucking.” He takes a deep sip of the wine, though it's not a vintage he cares much for.

“Pardon?” she says with deep surprise. “He’s just your type. I would have thought you’d be climbing him like a tree.” She pauses for a second, then says in a wicked tone. “Well, if you’re not, I”m up—”

“Touch him and I’ll make sure you go home,” Jon says as he spins around on his heels. A few drops of wine spill on the ground. There’s no look of shock or concern on her face. Just the smirk that tells him she’s having fun goading him.

“Do you have actual feelings for someone?” she asks, though she already knows the answer to her own question. Tyene has always been able to get secrets out of him without even a word spoken from his mouth. “”You two will have an interesting marriage.”

“Robb and I can’t get married,” he tells her with deep confusion. Last he looked, nowhere in any realm known to man allowed those of the same sex to bond in a marriage union. Not to mention the other matters, of which she was perfectly aware of.

She waves her hand dismissively. “Not him. Though I thought you said you weren’t with him?” He scowls at her. “Fine, keep your secret. I meant Arianne, Jon. With her feelings for—” His sister’s mouth twists. “Well, you know, and the gods are the only beings who can comprehend that , and yours for your wolf-King, there’s going to be a lot of wandering beds.”

When she’s done, she reaches into the pocket of her gown, and throws a rolled up piece of parchment to him with a smirk. As Jon unrolls it, she says, “Arianne’s asking King Robb to ‘legitimize’ you as a Martell, if you want it,” she explains, popping a grape into her mouth. She reaches into her pouch and dumps a bunch of candied almonds and cashews into the bowl alongside the grapes she deposited, as well as dried mangoes and apricots.

Meanwhile, Jon screws up his face, puzzled, as he reads his cousin's words.

“According to Father I am a—”

“A trueborn Targaryen? Yes, but your name’s still Sand.” It’s left unspoken that the Princess of Dorne cannot marry a bastard, no matter that Dornish attitude is different than the rest of Westeros. It’s why their father had never married Ellaria, and part of the reason that Arianne and Daemon Sand could never go further than they did. “And Robb Stark’s not our King, either, but Arianne figures one King is as good as another, since the Lannister bastard isn’t likely to do it.” Tyene shrugs. “I think she’s getting a bit impatient waiting for you to make up your mind. Either she’ll have the Iron Throne with you or she’ll have Dorne. She wants power and you’ll give it to her. But you need one name or the other, not Sand.”

“Why are you handing it to me and not him?” Jon asks with a raised eyebrow.

“You should get some say over it,” she says, though Jon knows there’s more to it that she won’t reveal unless she’s ready.

“Not going to push me to take the throne?” he says as he sits down next to her.

She glares at him. “I didn’t think I’d need to,” she says harshly, and her nostrils flare with anger. She clenches her fists and looks him dead in the eye. “Our father was murdered there. Our family, both the Martells and, yes, Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, are gone because of that throne and you’re just going to let it stay in the hands of the murderers?”

“No,” he says firmly through gritted teeth. The air has turned sour quickly, though this is not unusual when it comes to interactions between him and Tyene. She is as mercurial as the tide, and truth was, at times he’s not much better. “Cersei and Jaime Lannister will die for their crimes. That doesn’t mean I want the same throne that, yes, killed our family. Why should I sit and rule over memories of blood?” His hands clench around the letter from Arianne.

“Because it’s yours,” she says in a low tone that, if people weren’t within hearing distance, would have been a shout. “Your birthright! And you’d be a better King than all the ones vying to sit their asses on that pointy chair.”

“I don’t want to talk about this tonight,” he tells her, closing his eyes at the incoming headache. “I just want to be with my family.” Her words sit uneasily with him, bringing flashes of his last moments with his father. Guilt and grief surges through him, threatening to crack the little control he’s been holding on his emotions.

She snarls, but acquiesces. Perhaps she is tired as well. Before they leave the tent to join Elia, though, she gives him one final, parting shot that serves as a viper’s strike. “You can’t run forever, Jon. If not for yourself, then for Father.”




 

Robb hadn’t wanted to be parted from his sister so soon after seeing her again, but plans needed to be dealt with concerning the twenty Dornish that were going to ride with their party, while the rest sailed on to Riverrun. Jon had also requested to talk alone with his sister, Tyene, and given that Robb is reluctant to have them wander out of sight of the camp, giving them privacy for a little while isn’t too much of a hardship.

Later on though, after soundly losing games of cyvasse to both his sister, Sansa, and Jon’s sister Elia, he links his arm with his younger sister and holds her close as they make their way to his tent. Jon’s remained behind, no doubt to spend more time with his family, and for the time they’d all spent together in the tent, it almost reminded Robb of home—albeit a foreign home where Tyene Sand’s dress rode up on her thighs, fingers playing with skin, and Trystane Martell looked at him nervously all night (and what he’s seen of the boy so far makes him wonder how the lad will handle Arya ), but Jon was smiling and laughing, and Sansa was safe with him.

The sentiment is there, even if some of the figures were new. If it’s strange to think of some of them as kin, and the anger at the Martell’s is still there, then at least he knows they truly love Jon, if nothing else.

“We have so little time,” Sansa says, interrupting his musings. “I wish I could stay longer.” She’s playing with the ends of her hair. There’s two thin braids wrapped around her head, intersecting in the back, and he’s reminded of their mother.

“I know,” he replies with a sad smile. He doesn’t tell her that they will see each other again. She’s seen too much to be comforted by false platitudes meant to obscure the harsh reality of war. He stops and turns to her, eyes full of love and concern and sadness, even through the joy of their reunion. “You will see Mother, though, and Arya. And if you don’t want to, you will never have to step foot out of the North again.”

“Not even for marriage?” she asks with hope in her voice. She’s changed so much, Robb thinks. Before she’d left home, she couldn’t wait to marry Joffrey. A fist squeezes his heart tight as he imagines the suffering she’s been through to turn her songs to funeral dirges.

Robb shakes his head. “Not even for that.” They begin to move again, entering into the tent. He lights a few candles as they get in, offering her his cot to sit down and rest, which she takes gladly. She’s looking about the small area with a considering expression.

“I don’t need much,” he tells her. He knows that were Joffrey Baratheon in his position, the puffed-up prick would have hauled a tent the size of a house with him wherever he went.

She smiles. “Less to move. Better for the army.” A frown flits over her face. “Shouldn’t there be more guards around a King? Do you have a Kingsguard?” Worry fills her tone. “How have you been?”

“Coping,” he tells her. “It’s hard—but I’ve been handling it. I never thought to be this.”

“No,” she says with a smile. “None of us thought to be where we are.” She looks down as Robb goes over to the pitcher of half-empty wine. He pours her a glass and hands it to her, though when she sips it, a grimace twists her nose and mouth. “I wish we’d never left home.”

“We can’t go back,” he says. There were many nights when he, too, had wished the same. If Father had never accepted King Robert’s demand to be Hand of the King, then all of them now would be safe in Winterfell. There’d be no crown of heavy steel on his head; no invisible scars across his sisters souls. His brothers wouldn’t be lost. The gods, though, had not seen fit to give mankind the ability to change that which ails them, and so he’d cast aside those childish wishes. “All we can do is keep going.”

She nods. “For Father,” she says. She lifts her glass to sip the wine again. He lifts one of the empty glasses left next to the pitcher.

“For Father,” he repeats. He doesn’t ask her what happened to her in the capitol. She will tell someone in time, if she wants, and not a second before, though he burns to know which demons and monsters he needs to kill. Instead, they talk about happier things; childhood memories, times during the past few years where the sadness seemed to lift for a few seconds, and things that might come. He tells her about Uncle Benjen, and Mother, and Arya, and she tells him about Margaery Tyrell, one of the few women in King’s Landing that is kind. She’s married to Tommen Waters, now, but Robb tells himself he’ll make sure the woman comes to no harm once his army is ready to take King’s Landing.

“Ghost seems to like Lo—I mean, Jon Sand,” she says suddenly, and there is confusion as to how she is to address Prince Trystane’s cousin in her tone. Robb had never thought about it. To him, Jon had always been Jon. His family name, or lack thereof, had never entered the equation. But Sansa, always mindful of etiquette and propriety, is clearly at a loss.

“Yes,” he says, “he knew Jon was coming before we did. Sensed it.” He thinks for a moment how to address the topic he knows he should breech before Arya spills the news about their new cousin.

“Oh,” she says, “how—odd.” Behind her eyes, though, Robb sees her mind working, picking through the small bits and pieces she knows. Arya had figured it out on her own, and Sansa was just as smart as Arya. Left unsaid, he knew it wouldn’t take long for her to question why direwolves meant only for Stark blood had taken to a Martell.

Rather than keep her waiting, her takes her hands in his as he explains the story. She’s shocked, clearly, though he doesn’t know if she, too, feels anger at the situation, but in the end she nods her head in acceptance. “Well, I was thinking he was rather pale for a Martell. Will he be visiting Winterfell after the war? If all goes well.”

“I don’t know,” Robb tells her truthfully and doesn’t say I hope so. He goes over to sit down next to her on the cot.

“Mother and Arya? How are they? I can’t even imagine what happened to Arya,” Sansa says, her face twisting into an expression of concern and guilt.

“Mother has taken it upon herself to see to the rebuilding of Winterfell, as well as taking over the running of the lands in my absence, for now. Arya is—” He pauses because he doesn’t know quite how to describe Arya now. She’s different, too, like Sansa, but more brutal about it than her. Both have grown colder, but Arya’s veins of ice run hot with bloodlust. “Arya.” He tells her, and it's rather pathetic. All of them, however, will have to relearn each other and find new and different ways to live together.

“She would be,” Sansa says with a small smile and it even reaches her eyes, though they are still tainted with sadness. Robb wonders if that taint will always be there now, behind everything, even anger.

In response, he squeezes her hand in his. The tent flap opens as Grey Wind makes his way in, going over first to sniff at a bowl on the ground, before he comes over to lay his head on Sansa’s lap. Her smile is sad but her eyes are warm as she runs her fingers through his fur.

“I was deeply saddened to hear about Lady,” Robb tells her. “Another crime of theirs.”

Sansa nods. “She was an innocent. They do not care, though, if one is innocent or guilty. At least, though, her brothers are still here. Nymeria—I don’t know what happened to her.”

“Arya says she released her into the wild.” He thinks of the dreams then, the ones he has where it seems like he is Grey Wind. He wonders if Sansa had ever had them. Arya talked of the great, wild direwolf that used to be hers with a pack of wolves, and Nymeria as the leader. She didn’t explicitly tell him she’d seen it in a dream, but she sounded so sure of it that it couldn’t be a fantasy. He swallows and wonders if Bran, Rickon, or even Jon, have the same dreams.

It unsettles him, and so he moves on to a different topic after Sansa makes a noise of acknowledgment. “Sansa,” he says slowly because what he is about to ask is necessary, but difficult. “Was your marriage to Tyrion Lannister—” She looks up with wide-eyes and a small noise. He looks away from her, staring straight at the other cot. “Was it consummated?” It comes out a bit strangled because the thought of his sister forced to be with the Imp sends a surge of nausea through him.

When he looks back, her entire body has gone rigid. Her hands are clasped in her lap, her mouth set in a straight line, and her eyes are chips of ice. “Lord Tyrion never touched me,” she answers and this, at least, is a small bit of relief. “He was courteous and mindful of my—age,” she says but Robb thinks there is something else underlying it. “He was not like Joffrey would have been.” It’s almost a praise, except for the coldness with which she says it.

He clears his throat awkwardly. “There should be no impediment to an annulment, then.” She looks at him with hope in her eyes. “I will write to a septon in the Riverlands for advice on how to go about it. But you will be free and able to cast off the name Lannister sister.” Even as he says it, though, he wonders if a regular septon will have no power to grant the breaking of the marriage since it was done by the High Septon in King’s Landing. Though his mother had taught all her children how to pray to the Seven Gods, passages of the holy texts, and the names of the seven faces, in truth, Robb remembers little.

There is also the problem of not knowing whether Tyrion Lannister is even dead or alive. He knows well the state of poor women who can not remarry or gain a widow’s pension when their husband’s fate is unknown.

“Good,” Sansa whispers, then she rises from the cot. “It is getting late.” It’s true. The moon had already been long in the sky when they’d left the other tent. “I will head to bed. Goodnight, Robb.” She squeezes his hand again, before she drops it, as he tells her goodnight as well.

Before she turns to go, however, she stares down at him with blazing eyes. “Show them, Robb,” she says in a voice that is both a plea and a threat. “Show them how wolves kill their enemies. Rip them apart.” The darkness in her voice sends a shiver down his spine, and he vows that he will kill those who have shown his little sister the wretchedness of the world.

He gets up to embrace her. He’s hugged her more today than he had in the six months before they parted. “I promise.”

Later on that night, Robb is frowning at the bowl of assorted food near Jon’s cot when the brunette comes back. He looks to Jon, who is flushed and even sweating a bit if the shine of his pale skin is anything to go by. He opens his mouth to ask him how his sisters are, but instead, he says, “What are those leathery looking orange things next to the grapes?”

Jon laughs and comes over, popping one of the brighter orange ones in his mouth. Two different hues, two different foods, Robb suspects, though the fact that they can apparently be chewed is a revelation. “Dried mangoes and apricots,” he answers. He holds one out to Robb who takes it tentatively. Mango. Jon had mentioned that before, so long ago. He studies it for a second before he places it in his mouth.

A burst of sweetness against his tongue and he lets out an involuntary moan. Jon chuckles. “Like it?”

“Where are they from?” he asks. Winterfell sometimes imports fruit from Dorne, lemons and oranges and other goods that can’t be grown in their colder climate. None had ever imported this.

“The Free Cities,” Jon replies. “Ellaria adores them. Father made sure to import tons of the stuff every year for her nameday. Whole mangoes to make chutney, dried mangoes, mango puree and mango pulp. The cooks at the Water Gardens learned how to make this drink from Essos with yogurt and spices out of the pulp. It’s amazing.”

Robb smiles, and then yawns, tiredness washing over him. Jon, too, yawns, and they both sigh in unison. For once, Robb’s dreams are filled with happy memories as he shuts his eyes. No visions of blood on battlefields or horrors to come. No images of bloody prey torn by sharp teeth, guts and innards spilled out across the ground, mouth full with the taste of flesh. Just him, and his family, back in the hall that served for feasting, smiling and laughing again.




 

The next morning is full of tears and the sadness of parting. Elia is loudly insisting to all who hear that she can stay and fight, but Jon and Tyene are firmly allowing none of that, even as they hold her close. Robb is reminded of Arya as the curly-haired girl rolls her eyes. Trystane bows to him, formal and stiff, but hugs his cousins before he drags Elia away towards the row boat.

Sansa’s eyes are glistening with unshed tears and he knows so are his. Tears are more abundant than coins these days, it seems. “I love you,” he tells her, hugging her tight.

“I love you, too,” she says. They don’t part until more than a minute has passed. She curtsies a goodbye to Tyene, who nods back at her, before she turns to Jon.

“It was nice to meet you,”she tells him. Her blue eyes seem to be studying all of his features. Next to her, both Ghost and Grey Wind have come up to bump against her hands. She pets them as she says, “I hope to know you better one day.”

Jon bows back. “You as well, Lady Sansa.”

They linger on the beach, watching the boat get smaller and smaller, the people on it becoming miniscule, until they can no longer see it. Even then, after Tyene and Edric Sand have left to go settle their horses along with the Dornish left behind, neither Robb nor Jon move until the ship itself has set sail.   

Chapter Text

It had been a long, hard few weeks march towards Casterly Rock. The addition of the Dornish made Robb’s men restless and wary, causing a divide between the two groups. During the day, the army splits themselves in two, the Dornish marching in the back and talking in whispers with accents and a few words scattered into their drawling speech that the Northerners barely understand, even though the language of the Rhoynar is long dead in Dorne. At night, the Northerners build their fires, but deliberately take off their cloaks and bask in the slight chill in the air, while the Dornish shoot them glares from underneath their lashes, scarves blowing in the wind.

It’s annoying Jon, who the Northerners had taken to relatively quickly, all things considering, and Jon’s annoyance ensured that Robb didn’t have a moment’s peace about it. Then there was the problem that he—as the leader of this army—knew was a much more dangerous one. If the two groups couldn’t even stand to march next to one another, how was he going to get them to fight together? Given that Asha Greyjoy is a thorn in the side of all the Northerners, the tense feeling of being constantly on edge settled in Robb’s muscles like a corded rope hung from a tree.

“—everything is so bland,” Tyene Sand’s sharp voice says, breaking Robb out of his thoughts. She is riding a few paces away from him, her brother on Shadow in between them, but her legs are bare despite the cold, as well as her midriff. She’s been responsible for more than a few drunken fights since her arrival, and the wicked glint in her eyes shows that she knows it. “I would kill for something with a little spice. How you’ve stood it for so long, little brother, is beyond me.” She shoots a look at Robb, curling her tongue over her top lip as she says it, then glances to her brother.

Jon glares at his sister. “You could have stayed home,” he replies in the mullish tone that all siblings use when annoyed with each other. “Then you would have had plenty of spice.”

An odd thing to fight about, Robb thinks, as they continue to squabble about heat and fire. The continual glances that Tyene shoots at him throughout their argument causes goosebumps to rise on his skin and he shifts uncomfortably in his saddle, acutely aware that the woman’s been deliberately letting her skirts ride up her smooth thighs around him for weeks now.

It’s unsettling, though no more unsettling than the quick camaraderie she and Asha Greyjoy seem to have struck up. Though the Ironborn and the Dornish hold no love for each other, it seems the two women recognized a kindred spirit the second they met, and Robb wonders if that spirit has anything to do with being a pain in his arse. After the sixth man he had to put on latrine duty for being caught sneaking into the Dornish woman’s tent, he’s about ready to plead with Jon to sleep in  said tent with his sister.

He pointedly looks ahead in an effort to distract himself, the pain behind his eyes growing sharper. The mountains stretch on ahead for miles, as if there is no end to them, though Robb knows, sooner or later, they will make it to Lannisport, and Casterly Rock. The terrain is treacherous, with rocks higher than most of the horses can manage, and natural passes through the dense trees are sparse and narrow. More times than not, the men and horses have been forced to walk side by side, rather than ride together, in order to ensure that no one falls off a cliff’s edge. Even when they go deeper into the mountains, risking being seen by smallfolk who made their homes among the heights, the men remained on guard against bears and mountain lions in the night.

He wonders how far the Dornish fleet is from shore, and if the part of his army meant to meet with him has made it to the small river that separates a small stretch of land next to Lannisport and Casterly Rock yet. As the days pass, his plan for Casterly Rock seems more and more like the fanciful dream of a child, though he does not offer his doubts to anyone, not even Jon.

“The both of you can drown in your heat,” Robb hears Asha Greyjoy say. Despite himself, he shoots her a look. Though she is not an experienced rider, she holds herself on top of her horse with no fear, commanding the beast in the same way she commands everything. She is rolling her eyes in amusement at the two siblings. “Give me a bit of smoke any day. Thick and raspy, with just the right among of salt.” The look on her face makes Robb wonder if she’s talking about the smoked fish that Theon use to wax poetic about as a child, or something else.

Oh, he thinks, realization dawning, and almost chides himself, before he waves away the sudden embarrassment that has taken hold of him in the form of red cheeks. He sees Jon smile at him out of the corner of his eye and he can’t help but scowl at him. “What?” he asks, almost sullenly. Behind him, he can hear the now distinctive sound of Edric Sand snickering, which causes the corner of his mouth to pull downward. Edric Sand is the only Dornish man who seems to insist that he must ingratiate himself with his host—or rather, with Jon, as whenever Jon isn’t with his sister, or Robb, he can be found with the tall, loud-spoken man.

“You’re about as red as the mountains of Dorne right now,” Jon says, a smirk playing across his lips.

“It’s hot,” he lies weakly, and pulls at his collar. No one around them, especially not Jon, nor Arnolf and Roger on his left, believes it, though thankfully, his loyal Northern men hold their tongues. The same can not be said of Tyene Sand.

“Hot?” she says. “If this is hot to you, Your Grace, I truly pity you. You’ve never known true heat.” Her expression belies her words. There is a double meaning there, hidden behind the smile that’s as fake as the crowned Lannister bastard’s name, and a challenge in her eyes.

“Leave him, Tyene,” Edric Sand says, bringing his horse up between Robb and Jon. The redhead shoots him a glance through narrowed eyelids. “He’s from a land where people chip away ice for coin! Our heat would make their economy melt.”

Tyene, and even Robb’s own guards, laugh, but Jon just rolls his eyes while Robb scowls. There’s been a feeling of irritation since this morning, a type of mounting itch that he can’t seem to shake. Perhaps it’s the proximity to which they are marching towards Casterly Rock. Everything is hinging on this battle. His rule, his people’s future, his family’s future—

It’s a nebulous notion that Robb can take the Rock, a place that has never been conquered by a military force in recorded history.

“If you think I can’t handle the heat, my lady,” Robb says finally, turning to look to Tyene. As he does so, his eyes meet Jon’s for a brief moment. “Then I invite you north when winter comes.” It’s almost a threat, but more like a suggestion, because Robb remembers despite everything that Tyene is Jon’s sister, as well as the woman who got Sansa out of King’s Landing.

“Let’s just get through the Rock first,” Jon interrupts as Tyene opens her mouth to respond. The brunette shoots a glare at his sister. “Then we can worry about the seasons.”



 

That night, after they’ve made camp. Jon sits and watches the men wander about the grounds, trying in vain to come up with an appropriate way to get back at his sister for her antics earlier. If they’d been at home, it would be different, for there Jon knows that the men and women both of them have fun with are nothing more than distractions. Robb is different, and his sister knows it. He bites his lip, trying to think of something—anything—but all he can fathom is talking to her.

His inner younger brother downright cringes in horror at the thought. And after a few minutes, his fruitless musing is broken up by the sound of a heavy, overly dramatic sigh behind him.

“By all the gods,” Edric says with an expression of despair as he plops down next to Jon, “what I wouldn’t give for some roasted snake on a stick with peppers and onions right now.” He gives the plate of boiled hog in front of him a forlorn sniff.

Jon rolls his eyes. “Is that all you can think of? Food?”

“What else am I supposed to reminisce about from home in front of the Northerners?” Edric points out, smiling widely at one bearded man about fifty feet away glaring at him under thick, red eyebrows. “The sand? The nettles? The scorpions? Oh! I know, the goats and their herders and the miles upon miles of desert and no water that we have to pass through to get to the other six kingdoms! That will make the giant monkey over there—” He gestures to the glaring man, “—jealous of our land for sure.”

Before Edric can go on listing all the things about Dorne he doesn’t care for, Jon asks, “Why do you need to make him jealous?”

Edric shrugs and picks up a piece of pork with two fingers. “It’s either that or punch some of them in the face. And between you and me,” he says, “I don’t fancy a night in the stocks here. I’m not as popular as you are, you know?”

Jon furrows his eyebrows and looks at his friend. “What does that mean?”

Edric gives him a patient, long-suffering look. “I’m not blind, Jon. You’ve been getting some, or you were.” A look of sympathy passes over the man’s handsome face. “I know it’s not from big red over there—” Another wide sweeping gesture at the bearded man, whose glare is getting darker and more dangerous the more flamboyant Edric acts, “—so it’s got to be from the royal red. Though, I guess there could be a multitude of redheads in the Northern army, but, given the tension that not even Tyene’s smolders are cutting between the two of you, I’m going to be a betting man and say three thrusts claims a crown.”

Jon groans and remembers Daemon Sand’s easy ability to suss out the truth of things when it came to Robb Stark. “Am I just incapable of keeping a secret?” He grows cold at the thought of half the Northern army knowing. Although they’re fond of him, he doesn’t think they’d be too fond of their King getting his leg over with another man.

“No,” Edric answers a little too fast. His face crumples a little. “Just a bit obvious about who you love is all. At least, to those who know you.”

Jon sighs. “Just—be quiet about it, will you? Nothing’s happening anymore.” Despite himself, he still chokes on the words as he says it. So much so, that the look of sympathy flashes back across Edric’s face and his friend’s arm comes up around his shoulders, holding him close for a second or two.

“His loss,” Edric says, and before his brain apparently connects with his mouth he says, “If you want, I can prime big red over there for you.” Jon startles, pulling away from his miscreant of a friend and attempts to wrestle him to the ground as the other man yells, “Hey! You there!” Several people look over as the same time that Jon tries to smack Edric in the mouth. “Yes, you!” He’s gotten the bearded man’s attention. “Have you ever tried Dornish snake? No? Well, I thi—” Edric stops, groaning, as Jon’s elbow connects right above his groin. A few people chuckle.

“Sorry about him” Jon says triumphantly, ignoring the other man’s red face. “Was dropped out of a tree as a babe. Never been right since. Don’t worry, it’s not contagious.”

“That explains a lot,” he hears the bearded man say, before the redheaded behemoth comes over and swipes the plate of boiled pork from where Edric left it. “I’ll be taking this.” And with that, the man saunters off, going to join a group of four Northerners gathered around a fire.

“Fucking seven hells, Jon” Edric says, voice rattling. “When you aren’t getting any, you make sure no one is.”

Jon laughs and gets up, then offers the other man a hand. “Talk about the sunflowers,” he tells him. “I know you can talk about that for hours. Isn’t that what you call that servant girl you fuck from Salt Shore?”

“If we were in Dorne,” Edric mutters sullenly, “I’d throw you into the Brimstone.” Despite his words, however, he perks up. “She’s got lovely teats, big as milk jugs. That will make them jealous, alright.” As they make their way towards Jon and Robb’s shared tent, the other man continues to muse about his lady love, his voice getting more and more whimsical as they go.

His sister is waiting for him in the tent after the two men part. Sprawled out on his cot with her legs spread apart in an obscene gesture that Jon knows isn’t an accident, she rolls her eyes in seeming disappointment when she sees him. “Oh,” she says with an exaggerated pout. “Just you.”  

“When are you going to stop this?” he asks, voice tired and annoyed. He goes over and shoves her legs together, then shoves her feet out of the way so he can sit down. “It’s bordering pathetic now, sis.”

She rolls her eyes and straightens her rumpled clothes as she sits up. “Don’t be a priss about it,” she replies. She pats him on the cheek. “It’s just fun.”

Your idea of fun often ends up fucking things up,” Jon reminds her. She purses her lips and blinks her eyes with a little incline of her head.

“You use to love fucking things up.”

Jon swallows. She’s right, though it seems so long ago despite being little over a year, that this was true. Closing his eyes now, he struggles at first to bring up the memory of the boy he used to be. He’d thought he was a man then. The delusions of grandeur he supposes all boys feel, even those raised with steel in their hands.

“Everything is riding on this battle,” he replies. “If we can’t fight as a team—” He doesn’t just mean him and Tyene, but everyone in this bloody camp. “—then the Lannister’s will pick us off like flies.”

Tyene looks at him, her eyes suddenly bright and intense. “And how does your wolf-King intend to scale the Rock? Or has he failed to hear the rumors that the cliff face is taller than even the Wall?”
“He knows.” Jon reaches over her to the small, propped wooden stand where a jar of water is placed. He pours some into a small cup and downs it, ignoring her glare or the way her fingers are dancing over her small, sharp daggers.

“Is he going to enlighten the rest of us?” she asks, with every ounce of frustration that she’ll let show at being kept from the King’s plans laced in the clip and bite of her words. “Or just you, little brother?” A rumble comes up deep from her throat. “He’s worse than Uncle Doran.”

“He’s cautious,” Jon says with a shrug. It infuriates his sister to know so little. The eldest daughters of Oberyn Martell always prided themselves on knowing more than the guards and servants in the Water Gardens or Sunspear. More, even, than Areo Hotah, Doran’s bodyguard and closest confidante. “He’ll reveal it when he feels it's needed.”

“We’ll be neck deep in Lannister guts when that happens,” she mutters, dropping back with a roll of her eyes. She rubs her back and shoulders into the mattress of the cot, though the comfort of it leaves a lot to be desired. Despite this, she lets out a long, low groan.

She shifts when he lays down next to her, his arms above his head. The top of the tent is faded with dirt and wear from the many campaigns it's been dragged through, and there are clear areas where the stitching to repair holes was done indelicately. Outside, the telltale sounds of raindrops are beginning to hit the fabric.

He turns his head to look at his sister. Her eyes are dark and deep and brown. As children, they’d used to look at each other and joke that their mothers must have been sisters. One a pure, innocent maiden, the Septa, and the other a whore, the darker, more dangerous version. They’d been told back then that all of Oberyn Martell’s children shared one trait: his eyes. Even now, Jon still wonders what that meant.

“You know,” he says, and he lets a small smirk flick across his face. Her brow furrows suspiciously before he continues, “If you’re really looking for fun, Asha Greyjoy would be more than happy to oblige.”

He laughs as she throws the pillow in his face with the protest that she “abhorred the taste of seafood for dessert.”



 

Five days later, Robb glares over his mug of ale at the men. He’s sitting on a log watching them continue to enjoy themselves in separate groups, with separate songs and separate talks. He clenches his fists tighter around the tankard as he spies Tyene leaning over, exposing her breasts to the tops of her nipples, towards an intoxicated boy of around seventeen name days. Her eyes, dark and dangerous, meet his over the firelight with a challenge in their depths. He swallows and tears his gaze away from that only to spot Asha Greyjoy with a large pile of coin and jewels in front of her as she trounces a few Dornish at dice.

“I don’t know which one I want to strangle more,” Robb moans, dramatic and false, since there is no way he would hit a woman outside of enemy combat, and despite their irritating manner, neither Tyene nor Asha are enemies. “Jon’s sister for flashing her skin every five seconds and making my men lose their wits or Asha Greyjoy for opening her mouth and reminding them I’m making them go to bed with the Drowned God.”

He looks back to where Tyene had been, but she’s since retreated, the boy passed out with a face full of mud and grass. Her tracks her, though, as she slinks her way with purposeful movements towards her brother. He’s sitting next to Edric Sand.

Arnolf nods in response and doesn’t move to place a comforting hand on his King’s shoulder. “Women,” he says with a headshake that makes his hair fly about. “Forces of nature, they are. And we men must wrestle with it, no matter if we fuck them or not.”

Robb shoots him a look of suspicion. “I don’t want to fuck either of them.”

Arnolf shoots him an incredulous look. “Of course not, Your Grace,” he says. “That thought never crossed my mind.” His eyes drift over towards where Jon and his sister seem to be wrestling with—of all things!—a stuffed snake toy. Robb wonders where in the Seven Kingdoms it came from in the moments when he’s not concocting a way to duck out of the camp and breathe free air. “Still,” Arnolf clears his throat and looks down before he continues, “if I can be so bold—” Robb gives him a nod. “—you should try to make your peace with the Lady Sand. For Jon’s sake.”

Robb stares at him as if a new head had suddenly sprouted from his neck to merge with his old one. “Am I at war with her?” A panicked thought races through him. “Has Jon said something?”

Arnolf shakes his head, suddenly demure. “No, Your Grace. Just a guard sees things and knows things and—well—best to keep the family on your side, is all.”

Robb swallows, feeling a bit queasy and not from the three mugs of ale he’d consumed that night. “I think that’s enough words, Arnolf.” His guard nods, looking a bit relieved now that his peace has been said, but every muscle in the redhead’s body is locked tight, and his grip on the wine glass causes imprints in his palms.

“Yes, Your Grace.”

They sit in silence for a few minutes. Robb watches one of his men, a young, bearded redhead from the Umber clan break away from his group and walk towards Jon and his companions. Edric Sand stares up at the man with a curious expression, his eyebrows almost disappearing into his hairline the longer the man talks and sways. Jon and Tyene’s expressions shift into one of suppressed laughter as Sand becomes more and more confused. Robb spies Tyene’s hands gripping the stuffed snake tight, squishing it into an almost unrecognizable shape.

He rises and makes his way over to them with the wind in his hair. As he gets closer, he hears Sand say, “— mate, nothing about your beard. It was your head hair that I said had lice.”

“Is that so?” the man, Rickard, demands. Sand nods enthusiastically, while Jon raises his hand to his face and Tyene watches with a smirk on her’s. “Well,” the man continues, nearly shouting now even as he slurs his words. “I contest you to a challenge! See who can hold their liq—lice!”

The words make no sense, but Edric Storm jumps to his feet anyway, pumping his fists in the air in agreement. Rickard slings his arm around Edric’s shoulders in a move that comes unnaturally to the Northerner, while several Dornish break off from their own group to cheer on Edric. Robb stands next to Jon as a wide circle forms close by to watch the two men.

“Is that what it takes to get them to get along? A drinking contest,” he says as he looks to Jon. His hair is tousled by the wind, curls falling in front of his eyes, and he is stripped down to just his tunic. The front of it is soaked from a mug of spilled ale.

“The most ancient bonding pastime,” Jon says with a shrug and a smile. “Losing your wits alongside other men and waking up covered in pig shit.”  He plucks at his wet shirt, pulling it away from his skin with a grimace.

“Or the drink,” Tyene says. Her own clothes are dry and form fitting, emphasizing the strong lines of her body and the confident way she holds herself. “Your hair’s been intimately acquainted with the way wine cleans for ages, little brother.”

Jon rolls his eyes and Robb shoots her a look. She refers to him often as “little brother” and he wonders if that was her way of staking her claim on Jon. He looks to her face for any hint of the sentiment, but her eyes are drawn away from him, towards the circle, her fingers dancing circles across her thighs.

“Surprised anything comes into contact with that hair,” Asha Greyjoy says, plopping down next to Tyene. Her eyes are sparkling and a bit hazy, but her movements are steady, and there is no hint of slurring. She’s got her sleeves rolled up to her elbows and a new purse full of coins. “The way he coddles it. Like a newborn babe.”

Tyene laughs. “Your love affair with your hair will be known across the Seven Kingdoms soon. Across the sea, the Dothraki will say, ‘Jon Sand loves his hair. It is known.’” She backs away as the brunette tries to swat at her, her shoulder almost coming into contact with Asha’s.

Jon scowls. “You know nothing.” Robb laughs and looks briefly to the group. Edric Sand has three empty tankards in front of him and is downing a fourth. Rickard’s on his fifth but leaning dangerously close to the mud. The crowd is starting to shout, clapping their hands and pounding their feet.

“Don’t worry Jon,” he tells him as he looks to him again. Despite his tone, the brunette looks at him from under narrow eyelids, his eyelashes creating a fan of shadows over his pale cheeks. “Theon Greyjoy, at least, paid more attention to whores than you do your hair. That’s one bit of dedication that outmatches your own.”

Asha Greyjoy laughs, clutching her belly, and nods her agreement, while Tyene reaches over to ruffle Jon’s curls. He bats her away and rolls his eyes. “Let’s see who’s laughing when you wake up with pink hair one day, sis,” he mutters, then finishes the rest of his drink. Behind them, Robb hears Arnolf and Roger attempting to stifle their own laughter, the guards doing their best to remain stern and watchful in case of attack.

Nothing has happened on their journey so far. None of the sentries he’s posted have ever come back with warnings, and they are frequently changed each morning to ensure that they remain standing. The closer to the Rock they get, the more Robb feels the pounding in his chest signaling caution. Even now, the sound of the men’s shouts is making him both content and uneasy, the contradictory emotions bouncing back and forth as he glances to the men.

After a few minutes of silence, Asha Greyjoy challenges Tyene Sand to a sparring match. The Dornish girl smirks and retorts that she will have the Ironborn on her back in three minutes flat. Both of them retreat, moving to an area that isn’t filled with drinking soldiers to see which one of them is better.

“Are you going to tell anyone your plans to attack the Rock soon?” Jon asks with a casual tone once they are out of earshot. Robb furrows his brow and nods his head. The brunette already knows most of it, having helped him through many a long night to come up with strategies and contingencies for the pitfalls.

“The day before we get there,” he tells him. “Can’t risk word getting out to anyone.” He trusts the men here with his life, but the Boltons’ betrayal, as well as Theon’s, have made him even more wary about letting anything slip.

Jon hums in agreement. “Have you heard anything from your mother or sisters?” It had been a good amount of time since Sansa left, taking Elia and Trystane along with her. With any luck, they’d made it to Riverrun already, but ravens in these mountains were scarce and news even more so. Robb shakes his head.

“I expect we’ll hear nothing until after the battle,” he admits. It galls him, after so much time of not knowing what was happening to Sansa, but there is little else he can do about it. The gods have not made it any easier to men to send or receive news since the time of the First Men. Yet patience, he is finding, is coming less and less naturally to him.

If there is little to no news about his family, then it is more than made up for in news about King’s Landing that the mountain smallfolk would impart during the rare times Robb sent a couple of men to villages for supplies. The new High Sparrow and the Faith Militant was formed around him are making some uneasy, but more are praising his strict preachings against sin and vice, and the way he is handling the excesses of the capitol and the nobles. It sits ill with Robb himself, as well as the Northern men around him that keep the Old Gods, because even in the North there are some that keep to the Seven. If influence spread beyond the Crownlands, then there might well be another battle to contend with.

He looks to Jon who is staring at his sister and Asha Greyjoy and almost asks, “What will you do about that if we win?” The words never make it past the tip of his tongue, instead he swallows them and says, “We’ll be together again one day. I promise.” He’d said those very words to his mother once, bu back then, they’d felt more like a certainty. Jon knows as well as him that the comfort they provide is little and fleeting.

Will the people accept him, he wonders. For the first time, he allows himself to contemplate it. His cousin on the throne, the son of the smallfolk’s beloved Silver Prince. It is said even the nobles had loved Prince Rhaegar Targaryen. Sorrow and sympathy for Princess Elia Martell and her two babes is widespread, even in the North, despite the ill feelings towards Dornish. Jon was raised by the Dornish, but he is still the blood of the dragon and Robert Baratheon had plunged the kingdoms into debt. The Lannisters rule is even more despised.

He swallows hard. He pictures his cousin with a crown on his head, his curls wrapping around the gold band and obscuring rubies, while a dark-skinned woman that looks a bit like Tyene or Elia, with long dark curls and dark eyes stands next to him, people shouting their name in the throne room. The Iron Throne looms dark and ugly and threatening behind them, the lanterns burning bright around the hall.

The man covered in ale and rolling his eyes at his sister doesn’t seem like a King.

Neither did I, he reminds himself.  To his left, Edric Sand shouts, “I win!” and breaks him out of his musings. Meanwhile, in the distance, the direwolves howl.



 

That night, Robb rubs his eyes before he begins to unlace his jerkin. Other noble men employ squires to do this, but Robb’s prior one had been a Frey, and he’d not bothered to employ a new one since the aborted betrayal. In any case, he’d rather not take any young boys on the campaign if he could, though he knew that to be a false hope, and dressing himself is not new. During the trips with his father he’d take to explore the North, or just to hunt, none of them had ever brought servants or squires to dress them. Though it is common practice, Lord Eddard Stark had felt there were some things all men should know how to do for themselves.

Jon is still out with the men, joining in with a euphoric Edric Sand and a bunch of rowdy drunks in ear-splitting renditions of “The Dornishman’s Wife.” A few minutes later, the curtain opens and he looks to it, expecting it to be the brunette.

“How did you get in here?” he asks, muscles seizing where he sits as he takes in the sight of Tyene Sand entering unannounced. She’s dressed differently than before, in a short, silk gown that barely covers past her upper thighs, and leaves her shoulders unadorned. “Arnolf and Roger—”

“Are fine,” she says as she comes in. She’s walking slowly, in that slithering way he’s noticed she employs when she wants to entice the men. He swallows. “They’ll be out of it for an hour or so, but nothing damaging.”

Heat from the candles feels like an inferno against the exposed skin of his collarbone and wrists. She’s a small woman, smaller than Sansa or his mother. Yet there’s something so threatening about her that it sets him on edge even with the knowledge that she’d been instrumental in saving Sansa.

He watches her as she moves over towards her brother’s cot, fingers brushing over the fabric of the furs. Little movements, he notices, not able to take his eyes away. She looks at him from underneath her eyelashes in the same manner her brother has many times before.

“Is there something you want, my lady?” he asks, resisting the urge to reach up and scratch the back of his neck. She says nothing, only continues to move about, the loose ends of her gown sliding against her olive skin as she does. “You could have waited to be announced. They would have been more than happy to let you in.” She spins a little, shrugs one shoulder, and turns her head to look to him. “Or do you just enjoy drugging others that much?”

As she spins back around she answers with a smile on her face, “There is something that gets my blood pumping about that.” The movement causes the gown to slip slightly, the fabric only being held up by the curve of her bosom. She looks down with a look of mock contrition. “Oh!” Then she smirks and moves closer to him. He shifts back on his cot, heart hammering in his chest and throat tight.

“In Dorne,” she says as she stops in front of him, three of four inches away. Sitting down, he’s almost of a height with her. She moves one hand across her stomach in a motion that reminds him of a snake moving through the grass. “They say my cousin Arianne has the loveliest teats in the entire kingdom.” He grits his teeth and looks to the far side of the tent as her fingers begin to inch closer to her own breasts, but the proximity of her body to his own makes him look back to her almost instantly.

One step closer and his fingers clench. “My brother loves red hair.” She pauses for a second, head cocked. He swallows and looks to the opening of the tent. Any minute Jon could come in. “And small breasts on a woman,” she tells him, as if it is some dirty fetish he was unaware of. “My cousin’s hair is dark and her lovely teats are big as melons.”

His stomach moves up and down, breath coming harsher. She’s now an inch away from him. Her hot breath is on his face and she’s closer to him than she’s ever been. Absurdly, Theon Greyjoy’s voice drifts through his mind, bringing him back to the other man’s repetitive boasts that all women who desire to be bedded smell like perfumed gardens.

She does not smell like scented soaps. She smells like spice and sweat, just as much as any of the men here. His can feel his pulse jumping alongside his neck and every strand of his hair stands to attention.

“What do you like on a woman?” she asks and in a flash she moves to straddle him, legs coming around either side of him. Her lips are centimeters from him and his arms fly up, gripping her around the waist.

She lands with an “ oomph ” on the ground between the two cots. His breath is coming out harshly and irritation floods through him now, the caution from before suppressed.

“Not you,” he says, standing up and looking down to her sprawled form.

She cricks her neck and rises to balance on her elbows. A smirk stretches like a half-moon blade across her face. The sight of it sparks a new flood of irritation in him. “You’re extremely lucky you’ve got to have an arranged match,” she says, “if you can’t even get over my brother enough to fuck me .”

He ignores the taunt and scowls. “You’re not that special.” Again, he is reminded of Theon, who would have looked at him as if his brain had fallen out of his ears for that statement.

She laughs, high and passionately. “Half the men in this camp would spread me wide and beg me to call out their names,” she tells him in a low, sultry voice, but there are no tricks. No eyelashes fluttering, no hand movements, and no move to touch him again. “The other half would offer me flowers first.”

She inches her head back in a gesture that is meant to signal nonchalance. He doesn’t match her. There is nothing flippant about this. All of his muscles are coiled like a whip that hasn’t been unleashed yet; tense and ready to spring.

She continues, “The truth is, wolf-boy, that you’re a bloody fool.” Indignation rises, both at the lack of respect in her address and in her insult. He opens his mouth but she cuts him off, “You lock yourself in your tents and your castle rooms while your men enjoy the company of whores or wax poetry about their lady loves. You martyr yourself with your frigid air and empty bed, your right hand the only action you’re seeing.” The infuriating smirk widens. “All because you can’t get over yourself enough to accept the fact that you enjoy fucking your poor little Aunt Lyanna’s son.”

A growl like Grey Wind’s rises in his throat. “You know nothing about it,” he replies through gritted teeth. Darkly, he pictures pressing a blade against her neck to silence her. His anger comes to him like the wolf dreams that occur more and more frequently as of late; dark and troubling and as comforting as an old friend. It should unsettle him, but the emotion helps to suppress the hard truths she says.

Within seconds, she’s sprung herself from her loose pose and onto her feet, surging forward. The action makes him think that for the first time since he’s met her, he is witnessing her truly angry. Her hand grips her side and he notices the imprint of a knife strapped around her hips underneath her gown. There is a snarl on her lips.

Undeterred, he looks down to her with narrow eyes. There is a stalemate here, after all, that he knows rationally even in the midst of his anger. Neither of them will dare harm the other.

“I know my idiot brother loves you,” she says tauntingly. He grits his teeth harder. “Though I fail to see why. You’re making him forget his duty to his family. Our revenge. You’ve made him weak .” She spits out the word and a nerve in his jaw twitches. “Pining for you! It’s sickening.” She gives him a once over. “When all you’re doing is whining in your head about ‘cousin this’ or ‘cousin that.’” His palms feel sharp as needle. Sharp and wet. “Man up, Your Grace . Cousins have been fucking and fighting and marrying since before the Rhoyne or the Andals came across the Narrow Sea and they will be long after we’re dust.”

She steps back and an expression of disgusted pity fills her face. “Him being your cousin isn’t what’s holding you back. It’s cause you’re scared.”

She’s gone before the impact of her words hits and he freezes. Distantly, he can hear a drunken man slur something about her dress, but it falls numbly. She’s wrong, he thinks, but the thought is faint. Her taunts about Arianne Martell, her scorn over her brother, all of it is causing a storm inside his head, making him dizzy, as if he’s standing on soft snow and about to sink seven feet deep within the frost.

I’m not scared, he tells himself, moving to the tent to check on the guards. They are propped up against one another, Arnolf’s head resting on Roger’s shoulder. Roger is snoring. Robb controls his breathing, steadying it as he moves away from them.

She’s wrong, he reminds himself as he lays down in bed, furs left unsheathed. The sun rises hours later, sleep eluding him, his body tossing and turning, mind preoccupied with thoughts and concerns about the battle. As he rises, eyes heavy and stinging, he looks to the empty, undone cot.

Chapter Text

The trees are thick and clustered together, the red and brown leaves creating a canopy that hides them well from anyone with sight good enough to warn of the army approaching. The full moon is just rising, the men restless with the anticipation of blood and battle filling their veins. Robb Stark stands at the head of the army who are positioned in an ordered line behind him. His eyes are focused in the distance, with one hand buried in Grey Wind’s fur. The great, grey direwolf is on his left, growling and snarling, feeling his master’s cold rage burning, while Ghost is on his right, the white direwolf as quiet as ever.

“Anything yet?” Lord Umber asks, coming up alongside him. He is dressed in boiled leather armor, and his hand remains steady on his sword. “Does anyone see a bloody raven at all?” The great, hulking man looks to the other lords surrounding Robb, all of them equally dour and impatient. The plan sits ill with most of them, though the redhead knows that none will dare question their King. Even while they wait here, in the sea the ships creep up upon the Rock, set to fight that night no matter what happens.

“No,” Robb answers. Two days since Jon and his sister, along with Dacey Mormont, left. Two days and the time it takes to reach their destination, and every single second of those two days he feels as if all of his nerves will snap from worry.

Jon knows what he’s doing. So does his sister. So does Dacey, he reminds himself often. They are fighters. They will be fine. Despite that, Grey Wind grows more and more restless under the onslaught of his master’s emotions and his wolf-brother’s withdrawn mood, the white direwolf refusing to hunt or play.

“This is all wildling piss!” the Greatjon says with a voice that is nearly a shout. Robb glares at him and grits his teeth.

“Do you want to bring the smallfolk down upon us?” he snaps. “If so, I suggest that you speak a little louder.”

The Greatjon doesn’t look down in chastisement but he does close his mouth, expression disgruntled, and glares out towards the direction of Casterly Rock. He moves away to stand next to Lord Glover. After a few minutes, with the sound of owls hooting in the distance, Robb once again stares outwards into the darkness, tightening and twisting soft fur around his fingers. Though he desires silence, his army’s curiosity is getting the better of them, and Roger comes to stand next to him. His posture is rigid and respectful, yet it is clear that he, too, has words that he feels need to be spoken.

“Yes, Roger?” Robb inquires after a few moments of silence.

“How are we going to know when to be ready to make the advance, Your Grace?” he asks. Robb looks away for a moment, glancing around, and sees Asha Greyjoy standing far off to the side of the rest of the line. Many balked at her presence, but she, too, is granted a weapon, for what else can he do with her? If she means to betray him, she will regardless of where she is.

He shakes the thoughts of Greyjoy away, and swallows, mind going to more important matters. As he does so, Jon’s voice comes to him, telling him, “ It will work, Robb. I know it will. ” The brunette’s suggestion should have seemed like folly,or the ravings of a madman, yet Robb, too, had the dreams and couldn’t help but share the brunette’s faith.

Recalling the last tension-fueled couple of weeks where no matter what Robb said or did, he could not bring himself to confront the words that Tyene Sand harshly derided him with, his mind flashes back to the night before he sent Jon out. The direwolves had stood, claws digging into the ground, their eyes as fathomless and eerie as a night in the godswood at Winterfell, and neither let out nary a sound as Jon joked, “ Don’t worry, you two. ” As if their lives were not standing on tetherhooks, “You’ll feast on lions soon enough .”

“When it is time,” Robb tells him, and looks down to Ghost, the ever silent white wolf. “We will know.”



 

“What was your business here again, Sisters?” a pock-faced guard with washed out blonde hair asks the two women garbed in the rough, homespun habits of septas. The man looks suspiciously at Jon, decked out in the garb of a knight of the Westerlands, but refuses to demean the two holy women who stand next to him with the same glances.

“To spread the word of the Seven,” the tall septa says hurriedly. Jon cringes as she moves her arms while she talks, emphasizing the ill-fitting way the fabric stretches across her broad shoulders.

“A noble goal, to be sure,” another guard says. This one is more seasoned, with lines on top of lines across his face and thick jowls. He narrows his already squinty eyes. “The lands here have been faithful to the Seven for ages. Would your work not make more sense in heathen lands, Sisters?”

The shorter, sweet-faced septa steps forward then, a pleasingly demure smile on her face, visible even as she looks to the ground.  “The gods do will that the heathens of Westeros renounce their false gods. And that we messengers do so deliver the light to those in need.” She glances up for a second, before a red blush fills her cheeks, and she looks down meekly again. “Me and my holy sister are prepared to face the winter winds of the North. We come seeking only food and shelter for the night, as the Lannisters have been known for, before we make our way to the harbor, good Ser.”

“Of course, Sisters,” the older guard is quick to reassure her, though the late Tywin Lannister had given no more fealty to the gods than a rabbit, The guard then turns to look to Jon. “And your—friend?”

“A most devout escort,” the girl answers. Jon looks at him impassively, giving a short, abrupt nod. His grip tightens on his sword, intending to show the guards surrounding them that no harm will fall to the two women while under his care. Though they are reluctant to let in an armed knight, the older guard signals to the pock-faced one to let the three of them pass.

“Rooms will be made up for you if you desire,” he tells them.

“That will not be necessary,” the girl responds, “The stables will be warm and comfortable enough, I wager.”

Jon opens his mouth and protests, “We’ve been travelling for days, Sister. I insist that you rest in the castle tonight, free of brigands and thieves.”

“Your man is right,” the pock-faced guard says insistently, eager to seem generous now that they’ve been admitted into the grounds of Casterly Rock.  “Take comfort while you can. The gods will not begrudge you that.”

Both women nod. “You have our thanks, Ser.” The shorter woman turns to him. “And you, dear friend, will you take rooms in the castle tonight?”

Jon shakes his head and gives a sheepish half-smile. “The stables will do well enough for me, I think.” The guard nods in agreement, eyeing the weapon. It is clear that he doesn’t want it to appear that septas on a holy mission would be in need of iron protection within the castle. Though the Lannister reputation would not be marred by two septas guarded by their own knight, this one clearly knows about the influx of faithful across the country.

About an hour later, Jon waits, looking up at the large castle from the window in the stables. Casterly Rock is as beautiful as they say. Carved from the hill itself, with glittering towers and columns, the brunette has never seen a structure so massive, not even in the red mountains of his homelands. There is something cold, though, about its loveliness, in the dark. The white stone seems unfeeling and the structure lifeless; there are no curtains of silk billowing in the windows from where he can see, or canopies with hanging fruits kept alive by seawater diluted of salt and poisons.

He doesn’t doubt, however, that were he to see the Rock in the light of day, the sunrise would glitter off of gold in the windows and on the doors, hanging from the ramparts and lion statues that decorate the towers and walls.

He looks to the horses and snorts. They are covered in finery, decked out with threads of golden ribbons in their manes and jewels braided into their tails. “What a farce,” he mutters. He grits his teeth as he waits, gazing at the moon in the sky, the bright fullness of its shadow illuminating the ground. “If only you could see this Father.”

“I think he’d rather burn it,” a low, harsh voice says behind him. He spins on his heel, hand going to his weapon reflectively, but his sister is already out of the septa’s dress. Next to her, Dacey Mormont struggles to remove her own, her arms twisted, before she gives one great heave and the garment falls into unmucked hay.

“Don’t know how those women stand it,” the Northern woman mutters. “Felt like I was walking through a thicket of thorns wearing that.”

Tyene shrugs. “You get used to it.” She turns to look at Jon. “Do you remember the way back?” The Rock is large, and this only one of many stables the keep holds. He wonders if the hour wait was more because they’d gone to the wrong one—or two —before they stumbled upon him.

“Of course.” He moves for the door, Tyene and Dacey following swiftly behind. Silently, he inches his head around the post, eyeing the left and then the right. It remains clear. Keeping to the shadows, they move, their feet so light and fast they make no sound as they go. Even Dacey, for all her Northern bluster, moves like a snake tonight. He stops, once, at the sight of a passed out drunk, but before they know it, they are crouching behind a thick column of stone, eyeing the three guards posted around the gates.

“Shouldn’t we find a raven?” Dacey whispers, grabbing onto the back of his shoulder.

Jon jerks his head. “No.” He takes a deep breath, heart beating fast, and ignores the look of concern Tyene shoots him. “Don’t worry. I know what I’m doing.”

I hope, he thinks. Before either of them can speak again, he silences his mind as best he can, moving past all the nerves and stress and fear and worry that create a river in his head of pure human and searches out. He howls, silently, through the dark, waiting for the answering call.

He doesn’t so much feel a connection as he becomes the connection. Everything melts away and he is standing in wait, dirt underneath his paws and blood singing, thrilled for the anticipation of the hunt. The kill. His louder pack brother is next to his human companion, the redhead that smells of family and home. In the trees, he can hear the rustling of squirrels and birds, small creatures of fragile bones and juicy meat. He wants to sink his teeth into them, settle his rumbling belly.

His human companion promises greater prey. The one that smells like his is here, inside, though his flesh is far away. The wolf shifts as the rumbling in his tummy grows louder, and he opens his mouth, eyes upwards towards the great, shining light in the sky and—

Howls . He can hear people shift behind him, their heartbeats quicken, and their muscles tense. The dirt underneath his paws give way and the wolf runs.

“Jon!” Tyene is hissing as the brunette breaks away. His breath is coming out in pants, his elbows caught in her hands. She and Dacey are propping him up. “What the fuck was that? Your eyes! They were—” For the first time in a long time, he hears fear in her voice. Dacey’s hands are shaking against his back. “They were white .”

He doesn’t answer her. “Look at the guards,” he says. They look at him with concern and surprise and a little bit of terror , but their faces quickly change, settling into determination for battle, as they watch the gate. The guards are restless, shuffling around, as one man hurries to them at a run. Two split off and join him, leaving the gate, and in the distance, Jon hears the sounds of water crashing against the Rock and men calling out.

It worked, he thinks, and pride and elation mix with his own terror. It worked .

He doesn’t get much time to collect himself. After a few minutes, the three look to each other, the sounds of activity fading into the distance towards the other side of the Rock. Towards the sea. The two guards left are young—too young, Jon thinks, to be out here—and scared. Jon and Dacey creep along the columns, but soon enough, the gate is open and they are spotted. Before the guards can shout, they are down, and Jon moves to open the gates.

“They’ll be here soon.” Dacey says. Another thunderous crash echoes her words. Tyene moves over and grabs them both, ducking through a door. It’s a storage room, or something of the like, stocked with bread and meats.

“What are y—” The man in the room doesn’t get to finish before Tyene’s got her dagger out. A trickling river of blood follows the body to the floor.

“We’ll wait here.” she says and jerks her head at her brother. “Watch the gates. Anyone comes over,” she smirks darkly, before continuing, “kill them.”



 

“Don’t attack anyone not holding a sword,” Robb had commanded to his men. All had nodded, respectful of their King’s wishes, but the redhead knew that in the heat of battle, when the blood rises to a man’s head, their urges became darker. More primal. “If I see anyone trying to touch a woman, a child, any unarmed citizen of Lannisport, you will die.” He’d glared at them, fist around his sword, pointing it outward. “Men, if you see that, its your duty to stop it.”

Northerners are honorable men, he thinks, as his sword meets the hammer from a butcher who’d run outside his home at the sight of the army making its way through the port town. Robb’s legs are burning from the uphill march, fast-paced and making good time. In two moves, the butcher is a well-meaning corpse.

The archers move on ahead of him and shoot down three more well-meaning villagers. Robb shudders at the sound of high-pitched screaming coming from the homes and shops on the street. It's a brutal cacophony of sound mixed with the booming and crashing of the Dornish ships in the sea cutting their way on to the shore. The air already smells like blood and metal and the salt water. It’s rancid almost, combined with the rest, and he grits his teeth as he moves around the body on the ground.

“Stay inside your homes,” he shouts in the loudest voice he can manage. It fails to overshadow the thumping of his heart. “And you will not be harmed. We have no quarrel with you.” He nods to Roger, who nods to a few other men. They set off running, shields in front of them as they go to deliver the message further upwards through the town.

“Monsters!” he hears someone shout. He looks to a woman in a doorway to his right, her hair unkempt and ragged under her sleeping cap. Her eyes are focused on the downed body, her arms wrapped around her shuddering middle. “Curse you to all to the Seven Hells!” A little girl, about five or six namedays, appears behind her. There are tears trailing down her cheeks as she tries to get her mother to come inside with a hand tugging on the woman’s arm.

“We’ve already been there,” someone tells her. Robb doesn’t care who. He steels himself, eyes turning from the sight, and moves on.

The night hours fade into a place that seem without time. As they make they way up, every few paces, one person or other thinks to try their luck. He losses a man or two of his own from those fast enough to get through his archers, but more blood that stains the stones beneath their feet, running through the cracks, is that of smallfolk. Sweat pours down from his forehead, over his eyelashes, and down his neck, and all of his muscles are screaming. He’s tired, but the battle keeps him going.

The sun is just peaking out from behind the silhouette of the castle, shining red and gold, when he sees a small body. A boy. His neck is bent at an odd angle, and collapsed next to him is a great sword. The steel is bigger than the child’s entire body.

Robb swallows and looks away, nausea bubbling in his gut from a mixture of exhaustion, activity, and the smell of death surrounding him. His army turns away from the corpse, choosing instead to focus on the open gate.

There are swords clashing as they make their way inside, some men from the sea apparently having caught wind of the naval forces meant for distraction.

He spots several Dornish fighting, dancing around with clattering steel and fabrics.

They must have come up from the shore, Robb thinks and worry courses through him. They were supposed to stay down. Still, he counts more Dornish colors than Lannister gold as his eyes quickly scan the grounds.

There is red, red everywhere, and somewhere—

Ghost runs out and leaps, fangs bared, and jumps to dig his teeth into a man about to stab Tyene Sand in the back. She is drenched in blood, her hair sticky and clinging to her skin, weapons stained. She looks at the wolf and the screaming, wretched man he’d savaged, before she is gone, jumping up to wrap her legs in a choke hold around the neck of a man fighting Dacey Mormont.

He doesn’t have anymore time to look before a man dressed in Lannister colors is rushing at him with sharp steel, and his army runs past, shouting, “The King in the North!”

Grey Wind howls, deep and chilling and wrathful, in time with them.



 

Someone, and Jon doesn't know who, had broken the chains of the gate to keep it open for the Northern army’s arrival. Jon ducks, grabbing onto the loose chain, and wraps it around his assailant's knees, pulling it with as much force as he can muster.

The man groans as he falls, knees bending with an audible crack , and weakly tries to stab back at Jon. Jon meets the blade with his own, twisting his wrist so that the other sword comes undone in the man’s grip and flies off into the fray.

Another dead.

There is blood soaking his eyelashes and running down from his hair. He’s lost count of the dead and how many of those his own blade felled. His mouth is dry and metallic. It feels like his heart has been dislodged from its place in his chest and it’s settling as a lump in his throat.

His arm protests whenever his lifts his sword up. It screams and screams and screams.

Jon ignores it.

More men run past him. Stark men, he thinks, catching sight of their armor.

He grins, then throws a small dagger Tyene gifted to him earlier at a blonde enemy rushing at one of the Northerners.

The man falls, face first, with a scream, the tip of the blade lodged in the stem of his neck.

Someone else rushes him and he blocks them. Time collapses. It's reduced to the movement of his arms and his feet and his heartbeat. His eyes are blurry with blood and sweat.

His opponent falls, his neck almost completely severed from his head. It’s hanging by a thin piece of skin and muscles, red and pink and white.

His head swims as he jumps over the body.

People are screaming words, but for the life of him he can’t figure out what they are. Prayers or curses, entreaties or speeches, it doesn’t matter. He looks around for a flash of red hair, but picking up one shade of red in a sea of it proves an impossible task.

He’s making his way inwards into the thick of the battle, away from where he and Tyene and Dacey got separated some time ago. There’s nothing organized about this. Men and women are moving this way and that, lost in combats that seem detached into their own little worlds.

The smell of blood, thick as boiling fish sauce gone bad, clogs his nose as he breathes.

He strikes with his sword. Another body down, then a second, and a third. Twisting around to slice at a new opponent, he spots Asha Greyjoy on top of a man, slamming the butt of a sword into his forehead. There is a wild, savage grin on her face, streaked with mud and blood, as she does so.

Clang! The metal sings.

Clash! It screams.

Jon’s ears ring under the onslaught. A small boy, no older than a page just become a squire, weakly tries to stab him with a sword the size of a letter opener. He doesn’t think as he blocks it, nor when he cuts the child down.

More red. There’s nothing pale about his hands anymore, he thinks as he looks at them. His stomach flips.

“Devan!” someone shouts. A man, twice Jon’s size with muscles on top of muscles, bares down on him.

The man is strong and fights like the Warrior is possessing him as he attacks. Jon braces his feet on the slippery stones, ducking the blade as he bends at the waist and brings his own up to meet it. As he comes up, he sees the swift flick of an arrow embedding itself into one of his countrymen.

He barely has time to look up at the battlements where some men have run and regrouped, aiming their arrows at the invading army, before he has to parry back at the next blow.

His head rings. His shoulder feels out of place.

He grits his teeth and groans as he lifts up his sword again. Something jabs at his shoulder. For one, wild second, he thinks that a blade has pierced through armor and skin and muscle but no—the blood’s not enough for that. He looks to his right.  

Not a blade, but a man. There’s two of them now and he moves backwards. The edge of his foot hits something and as he ducks to avoid the blade, he sees a bucket of water.

Please be salt water, he prays as he grabs it, lifting it up as high as he can manage.

“Fucking hell!” one of them screams as the other brings his arms up to his eyes. Jon only has a moment or two. He breathes out heavily and moves forward. As he brings one of them down, though, the edge of his boot catches and slides, precariously, on the mix of water and blood on the stone.

His knees don’t snap , but it seems like they should have, as he falls to them. The other man comes forward, mouth moving with words Jon doesn’t hear.

His eyes screw shut despite his best efforts as his muscles stretch taut from the pain that radiates throughout every inch of him.  

“Die!” he hears, and wonders what death will be like. I’m sorry, Father, he thinks, trying to lift up his sword but it’s useless. I’m sorry, sis, he thinks, and hopes that she’s alive. Then, I’m sorry, Robb. He tries to conjure their images, tries to get up, but his eyes are still shut, and then—

Thud.

He opens his eyes.

First, he sees the golden light of Casterly Rock as the sun glints. Then, on his knees with blood clouding his vision and his head swimming, Jon thinks he has never seen a more beautiful sight then the tall, olive skinned Edric Sand and fucking Daemon Sand, stabbing the man with straw blonde hair in front of him.

“You fuckers,” he says, laughing as he spits out a glob of blood welling in his mouth.

“Way to be grateful, Jon,” Edric says. He offers his hand and lifts Jon up, helping him stand still as his knees knock together, legs shaking. Daemon comes over and lifts Jon’s right arm, swinging it around his shoulder.  

“Tyene?” he asks as he looks to the battle. They’re safe, for now. Men are fighting around them, but his two friends half-drag him out of the line of fire.

Edric shakes his head, black hair hitting Jon in the face as he does so. “Haven’t seen her.”

“Robb?” he says next, glancing around as best he can.

Edric smirks. “Last I saw him, your Love in the North was doing fine. That wolf of his is fierce and it’s like he’s become the beast. Nothing was touching him.”  

“Now’s not the time for this,” Daemon reminds Edric. He’s huffing, but that could be from the efforts of the fighting and carrying Jon, or just being himself.

Jon laughs with relief and pride. He opens his mouth to reply—

Flick! His starts with surprise, forehead scrunching, at the arrow embedded in the ground near Daemon’s foot. Daemon shakes him loose as he steps back, head turning rapidly back and forth as he looks.

Swish! Edric’s eyes widen. Jon lifts his arms up, instinctively trying to catch him. There’s blood coming out of his friend’s mouth that wasn’t there before. Out of the corner of his eye, Jon catches sight of feathers sticking up like an absurd hair adornment near Edric’s ear.

He barely feels the impact when  it rips through his back. He turns his neck. He, too, has feathers. His face scrunches in bewilderment and he hears, “Jon!”

What’s one more scar, he wonders, rather absurdly. Edric is slumped in his arms. His armor is hard and cold underneath Jon’s cheek.

He hears no heartbeat.

Something wet and shaped like a nose touches the back of his neck. He tries to reach for it, but its getting harder and harder.

Ghost, he thinks, before he surrenders to the darkness.



 

The end of the battle came quickly.

When Robb spots the archers and their arrows up on the battlements, he signals to his own to counterattack. As they do so, more of their own arrows aim true, hitting their enemies swift and sure. He looks to the Lannister archers, who are leaning with their waists bent over the battlements. It appears, at least to Robb, that it's done so not for aim, but for balance as they prop themselves up with the stone. Exhaustion is settling over them like a dark cloud. He sees some men slumped but still breathing against the walls, waving weakly, both Lannisters and his own.  

Soon afterwards, he is inside the castle, men letting go of their arms with hate in their eyes and exhaustion in their bodies. Robb’s own army cheers, the thrill of the victory and the battle chasing away the tiredness of their muscles. The dead are outside and inside the castle; in piles of disjointed limbs painted red and brown or in lines fallen upon stone in no logical order. Gold and grey, lions and wolves and suns scattered about, with more besides. Many of them rest with their innards separated from their bodies. Food for the mouths of hungry direwolves.

So many sons, he thinks, as he stands there. He’s got a cut on his left side near his hip and a massive headache. He looks around and sees a body, curved in a way no male ever manages, behind him. And daughters, he shudders as he moves to close her eyes. She’s got short, dark hair and darker skin than he’s ever seen.

“Lady Mormont,” he says as the Smalljon moves towards him with Dacey Mormont. Her brown hair is more rust than dirt in that moment. “I grieve with you.” A few men lift Maege Mormont’s body from outside the doors of the castle, bringing it inside the hall. They place her down three or four bodies away from Arnolf.

Soon, they will both make their way back to the North to be buried in the lands of their ancestors.

Bodies, alive and groaning, some screaming, others crying, are set up in rows inside the hall stretching all the way to the stairs that lead to the apartments where the Lannisters live. Robb sees several golden heads being led by guards down the stairs and he can hear, faintly, the rattling and clinking of chains. The captured barely send the injured a glance.

Camp nurses, though not many, are bent and kneeling over the injured soldiers. Robb sees the brunette Volantene girl he’s conversed with a few time stitching up a wound on Tyene Sand’s bicep. A few more women from inside the castle, septas and midwives and any that know even a sliver of medicine, work to attend them as well. Those uninjured stand guard.

He moves, looking at each of the injured, worry a constant companion as he takes in their features. Next to Asha Greyjoy, who is waving away a harried looking septa, the Greatjon is frowning with a shallow wound stretching from his shoulder to his belly. Lord Umber looks with disgruntlement at Robb as he stops in front of them.

“My lord,” he tells him and grins weakly. “Glad to see you are well.”

The Greatjon huffs. “And yourself, Your Grace, though well,” the large man frowns and says, “I am not.” He glares at the Ironborn woman next to him. “This one saved my life!” he exclaims as he waves his arm towards Asha Greyjoy. “A squid. I’ll bear the shame of this to the end of mine own days.”

Robb laughs and bids him rest, nodding at Asha as well. Eyes heavy and muscles protesting, he moves on.

Every face he passes is either unfamiliar or known to him, but none, in truth, are the one he seeks. The worry builds into panic the further the longer he takes in the injured, the more faces of those standing tall and healthy he sees, and the closer he gets to where the dead are being placed. Every few seconds someone carries in a new corpse.

Heart in his throat, he steps closer, looking down—

“Get out of the way!” an unfamiliar, feminine voice shouts. He looks up to see a slender woman, tall for her sex, dressed in Dornish battle armor with a long, brunette braid. There is a whip strapped around her waist, and she, along with a man he recognizes, are carrying in a slumped body.

The body in between Daemon Sand and the woman has his head down. Underneath the blood sticking together the black strands, though, Robb sees curls. Without thinking, he moves, coming to rest in front of the woman and trying to take Jon’s body from her.

“Is he breathing?” he asks. She eyes him with scorn.

“Yes,” she replies. Robb can hear the ragged sounds coming from Jon now and he can’t help himself as he extracts the brunette man from the woman and Daemon Sand. They glare at him, but Daemon Sand is clearly exhausted, and the woman thinks better of protesting against the King. “But he won’t be if he doesn’t get help.”

Jon is limp and unmoving. His eyes are shut, but underneath the blood on his face he is white . So very white, like a ghost. White against red, Robb thinks as a shudder wracks through his body, how very Targaryen. Even Jon’s lips are white.

Only the wheezing breaths he’s taking indicate that life still remains.

Robb plants his feet firmly on the ground as he yells, “Someone get the bloody Maester! Why haven’t you? Get him, now!”

They stand there, dumb and deaf and unmoving.

“Now!” he yells. Someone jumps and runs towards where the prisoners have been taken. Robb doesn’t bother to keep looking at him. His eyes burn as he purses his lips, never letting go of the weakly breathing body in his arms. The arrow is still there.

He wants to burn it. “Don’t you fucking die, you moron,” he tells him. “I swear, if you die, I will—”

Tell you I love you, he thinks. Tell you I’m sorry. A million things he hadn’t said or done and Tyene Sand is right. He is scared—scared of this.

The woman puts a hand on his shoulder. “Go,” she tells him. She has familiar eyes, though he’s not sure why, and they are softer now. He shudders, ribs pressing against his chest, and his lungs burn. “I will stay with my brother. You have to tend to your men and your victory.”

Robb shakes his head. “No,” he says in refusal. “No, I will not. They can manage.” If Jon dies, he wants to be with him. As he couldn’t be for his father.

Something bats at his arm. He looks and sees Ghost. The beast’s red eyes look haunted and mournful.

“A King does not have the luxury of tending to the wounded personally,” she tells him. “I will find you if you are needed. Go.”   

Robb growls and snaps, “If he dies, I will—” He doesn’t finish the threat. Burn it to the ground? Throw bodies from the sides and watch them drown in the sea? Make parades of Lannister corpses? His father would be ashamed of him. “Just make sure the Maester does all he can. Tell him that. Make it clear.”

“Of course,” she tells him in a voice as dark and as filled with anger and grief as the one threatening to topple him inside.

She pushes him and, numbly, filled with reluctance, he heeds her words. As he moves away, a Dornish man carries in Edric Sand and lays him down in the spot for the dead.



 

King Robb Stark hasn’t slept in almost two days. His head pounds, his eyes burn, and worry and grief are like an ever present stab wound in every part of his being. It’s hard, at times, to keep the anger from his voice, especially now as he takes in the line of Lannister prisoners standing in front of him in the great hall of Casterly Rock. They are being guarded by his own equally angry, grief-stricken men. The hall itself smells like sweet lavender and the comforting, earthy aroma of tea leaves. It does little, however, to chase away the scent of decay outside.

Many have lost brothers here, he knows. Even more have lost friends.

Robb’s own father once told him that there is no greater curse than loving during war time. That to mourn one you love during times of violence is a deeper grief, more vivid and pervasive than if one dies of age or disease. The ever present knowledge of its occurrence, the swift shock when it occurs. One should not love during war, Robb thought at the time.

Lord Stark had smiled sadly at the statue of Lyanna Stark. “One can not help but to love, my son” he’d said.

Upstairs, in a room that belongs to some Lannister or other, the Maester tends to Jon. Both Sand girls are with him and Robb doesn’t doubt that their eyes are ever watchful for treachery. In the great hall, however, the lords can not go and stand with the sons that are wounded. The Greatjon is propped by his own son, while Lady Dacey Mormont stands tall and straight-backed, her grief holding her through, next to them. Lord Glover and Lord Cerwyn are here, as well as Asha Greyjoy, and Lord Karstark. They stand behind him as the guards bring forth those gathered closest related to the Queen Regent in King’s Landing.

“Your castle has fallen,” he tells them. There is Genna Lannister, a woman with a fat, square figure and a broad, smooth face filled with lines. Her golden hair remains untainted by white. Next to her, on her left, is her small, reedy husband, Emmon Frey. To the right of her is Dorna Lannister and her daughter, Janei, the wife and daughter of the current Hand, Kevan Lannister. Both are pretty, and thin, and glaring with hatred in their eyes. From Lannisport, Reginald Lannister has been escorted by his men into the castle.

There is Jeyne Darry, the wife of the dead Ser Cleos Frey, and her son Tywin, a boy younger than Robb. His brother, Willem, has been his prisoner since they’d taken the Ashemark. Walder Frey, the youngest, spits on the ground, his older brother Ser Lyonel standing next to him. Lyonel’s wife, Melesa Crakehall, has her eyes closed and seems to be praying.

“You have been defeated. I have given command of Casterly Rock over to my loyal bannerman, Lord Glover,” Robb continues. Genna Lannister laughs scornfully in response.

“You will never hold it,” she tells him. Out of all present, only she truly shows no fear. The sister of Tywin Lannister indeed, Robb thinks.

Though he knows many of his men are burning to reply to her, they say nothing. This is the King’s show now. “Many thought I could never take it,” he replies to her. He says it smugly and with pride. Briefly, a smirk dances across his face. “Yet I have. I will give you a choice,” he tells the gathered Lannisters. “You will either cooperate and do as I tell you, give us no rebellion, and you will be released, under guard of course, to your own rooms. The women, I mean,” he says, almost as if its an afterthought. “One of you will then be sent with an armed escort to King’s Landing to present Queen Cersei Lannister and her son with my terms for their surrender.”

Genna Lannister laughs again, voice shrill and as piercing as a dagger. Robb continues on and pays her no mind. “For the men, if you cooperate, you will be sent to the Night’s Watch to live out the rest of your days performing honorable deeds for the realm. It’s a task many of you have never performed.” With luck, his Uncle Benjen will have plenty of men for his own war. Robb regrets that he cannot help more. “Those who refuse or incite rebellion will meet my blade.” He stares them all down. Anger meeting anger. “It is your choice. The same one given to your soldiers. Choose wisely.”

He signals to the guards to take them back to the cells beneath the keep. As they move, chains clattering together, the gathered lords and ladies chant, “The King in the North! The King in the North! The King in the North!”

The Lannisters cringe as they disappear.

“Lady Mormont,” Robb says as he turns to look at his bannermen. “Have the kitchen servants make a meal. Our men are hungry. Prepare plenty of broth and send others to gather what herbs the nurses need.” He turns then to Lord Glover. “Make sure the fires stay burning.” As he moves forward he puts a hand on the Greatjon’s shoulder. “Get some rest, my friend.” The Greatjon snorts in response.

Asha Greyjoy looks at him from underneath her hair fringe as he stops in front of her. Her face is impassive, for once. It sits oddly on her. “You fought well today,” he tells her and the words do not come out nearly as hard as he might have thought. “You have my thanks and my gratitude.”

She snorts, too. “For what that’s worth.” Shaking her head, she says, “Just keep up your end of the bargain, Your Grace, and I’ll keep up mine.” It’s not said with sarcasm. She is looking at him with sympathy.

He turns around, then, to see Tyene and Nymeria Sand standing there with somber faces. Between them, they have a strong grip on the arms of the Maester.

Ghost isn’t howling, he thinks, as he stares at them. If Jon is dead even Ghost would make a sound. A sound like Summer made when Bran fell. A sound that even those across the Narrow Sea will be sure to hear. Jon isn’t dead, he reassures himself again, moving towards the two women.

Despite his assurances to himself, Robb’s heart drops.

Chapter Text

He is cold, colder than he has ever been, and shaking. He cannot stop the clattering of his teeth and tries to wrap his arms around himself, rub warmth into his icy flesh, but they do not obey him. There is a candle on the windowsill, smoke drifting in puffs around the flickering flame. He is standing in a tower, his hand bouncing on the polished wood of an empty crib. The four posts are carved with dragons climbing up the sides, while at the top, wolves are curled up in wait. In the distance, the red mountains stretch on far beyond what his eyes can see, and underneath his feet there is sand.

This is no wolf dream, he thinks, though he doesn’t know why. As he regards the strange room, his voice catches in his throat as he turns. For he can see his father, dressed in copper armor with no eyes left in his face. The man smiles at him, but makes no move for an embrace. Instead, he looks down to frown at a bed drenched in blood, with a sword stained red propped up at the end.

“Father,” he tries to say and steps forward, but the room is gone. He is underneath warm earth and surrounded by vast space. Pillars of granite line the way. As he moves, lower and lower down the stairs, he can hear voices that remind him of home, growing fainter as he goes. He looks to his left and to his right. Everywhere, tall and looming and dark, there are statues of men with direwolves at their feet, swords on their laps, and crowns on their heads. They regard him with stony expressions, their eyes full of disregard.

He walks to a tomb that is not finished, upturned onto its side with the lid broken in pieces upon the earth. He crouches and reaches out to trace the lettering carved into one of its sides. Jon , it says, but somehow, through the darkness, a stream of red and orange sunlight bursts through the dark earth, erasing the name. He looks back to the statues again, and knows he has not yet earned this place. They dismiss him with their cold eyes, and when he looks back, the tomb is on fire, the flames rushing over his scarred hand, but he is unharmed.

There is nothing here for me, he thinks, and as he turns to go back he hears a voice. There is a boy in front of him, but he is not a boy at all. Instead, he is a raven with three eyes that seems to see him clearer than he’s ever been seen before. The crypt is gone and there is nothing but snow underneath his feet, falling on his head, and covering his clothes.

“Fly,” the raven says again in a boy’s voice. At his command, they both take flight, though he knows not how he follows the bird, other than his legs wrapped around something strong and his hands gripping something smooth. He cannot see as he moves, up and up, back into the earth, before he stops at a grave. The tomb is dark and stone, but the still woman is not. She is flesh and blood, with the same eyes as him, and a tumble of long, black curls. A single tear, red as blood, runs down her cheek.

“Promise me,” she whispers. She is not speaking to him but rather the snake draped around her shoulders. It is a viper, but not like any he recalls seeing before. It has wings. As it slithers from her shoulders, it seems to grow bigger and bigger, and opens its mouth to breathe, hot and strong. He screws his eyes shut.

When he opens them again, he is in a long hall. There is a throne in front of him, sharp and wreathed together by dozens of swords, large and foreboding. He does not go near it. If he could feel his own heart beat, he’s certain it would be pounding, but he feels nothing. Even the cold and the shaking is gone, and seems to have become trapped in blue ice enclosing the throne like a funeral shroud. After he blinks, two men appear to flank it. They are familiar, though he has never seen them in his life, he knows who they are. The man on the right is tall and lean, with long, silver hair. Rhaegar Targaryen’s purple eyes are full of sadness as they regard him, making him shift underneath the weight of his gaze. On the left is a man with a long, stern face and his brown hair is shot through with gray, lighter than his eyes. The grey is so dark it is almost black. Eddard Stark’s eyes do not make him nervous, though, for they are filled with pride.

Together, the men seem to speak, but he can not make out the words, for they are silent. He turns from them, ashamed, and sees another. She is small and indescribably beautiful. Her long, blue overcoat sets off her pale skin and there is snow doting her long, silver hair. She is reaching out to touch him.

“Who are you?” she asks. He opens his mouth to tell her he doesn’t know, but before he can reply, a dark shadow sweeps up around him, and settles in.




 

Casterly Rock should have been named Casterly Maze, Robb thinks as he finds himself, once again, lost. There are simply too many twists and turns, too many stairs, and too much open space. He’s already gotten lost three times trying to find his way back to the rooms he’s claimed for himself—ones which, he’d been told, used to belong to Tyrion Lannister—and he knows his bannermen are not having any easier a time of it. The nurses and healers have taken to staying in the wing full of rooms set up for the injured and waiting until the servants bring them supplies and medicines.

Soon he would have to do something about the bodies of the dead piled up in the hall by the entrance. Even now, more and more of the injured succumb to their wounds, and there is often dozens of red eyes and torn clothes among those Robb passes in his wanderings. The envoy he’s sent to King’s Landing to inform Cersei Lannister about his terms had left the day before, but the uncertainty about how long he’s going to need to remain at the Rock is pricking at him.

Almost as much as the funeral arrangements. No more than two or three boats can be spared to send bodies home to the North and the Riverlands, as well as Dorne. Many of the fallen soldiers will never lay beneath the earth of their homelands again. Lord Umber is outspoken against burying any Northern men near the Rock, raging against the land as cursed ground. Many are in agreement with him.

Yet their concerns can not stop the crawl of time. The bloating of the bodies, the whiteness of the skin, and the scent surrounding the Rock and permeating everywhere. Soon, all manner of foul things will turn the stones in the hall thick with degregated remains, and where death bleeds, pestilence follows.

As a King, he can’t allow that. He stops as he comes to a wall, thick with stone and filled with paintings of golden-haired Lannisters and breathes in deep.

“Fuck,” he mutters, right before he shoves his fist through the fabric and painted canvas of a particularly arrogant looking bald-man. A laugh that isn’t really a laugh bubbles up in his chest and he collapses back against the wall, leaning his head against the stones as he shakes. “Fuck,” he whispers again.  

Unseeing, he clenches his left hand into a fist, while the knuckles of his right begin to sting. Wet from blood, he brings his right hand up to his face, unclenching it and running it down his face. He coughs and before he knows it, his shaking grows as he slides down the wall to wrap his arms around his knees.

Alone, for the first time, he stops choking down the tears that have been threatening to drown him from the inside. His eyes burn and his lips go dry as he cries harder than he’s allowed himself to since the death of his father. Cries for his family, for the soldiers that have lost their lives, for the boy who he’d been. His body trembles even when there are no more tears to fall, as he mourns for those still to pass from this world.

He does not know how long he sits, consumed with guilt and grief, but when he looks up from his knees, eyes dry and body still, he meets the solemn gaze of Nymeria Sand. Her lips are drawn into a small, sad smile and as he moves to rise, she holds out her palm. Then, she slides down to sit next to him on the ground.

“He is resting,” she says before Robb can ask. In these past few days, he has come to learn one thing about Nymeria Sand, and that is that she is a deft hand at parceling out the innermost thoughts of a man before he can even conceive them. “The Maester gave him some dreamwine less my brother reopen his wounds from trying to leave bed too soon.”

Robb hadn’t been there when the brunette woke up the night before from the strong fever that had almost brought him to death’s door due to infection. If not for Tyene’s knowledge of herbs and poisons, the redhead did not think that the Maester would have been able to do much from the rapid way the sickness seemed to spread through Jon. When it had finally broken, Robb was with his bannerman, as he often was these days, laying down rules for the running of the Rock, penning missives, and talking strategies about their next move. Even now, he’d soon have to move to see off the new prisoners being sent to the Night’s Watch.

“He was asking for you,” she tells him with a shrug of one shoulder. In her right hand, she plucks at the strings of a leather bracelet wrapped around her wrist. It’s simply made, as if by a child, for no expert’s hands would have made something so unadorned for a lady of a noble house, even a bastard born. At least, not in Dorne, from what he’s come to understand. Braided together in a design that resembles snakes, it takes up an inch or two of Nymeria’s left arm.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t be there,” he replies. He frowns and drags his bottom lip into his mouth with his teeth. “Did you tell him about Edric Sand?”

“He knew,” she replies solemnly. “Has the body been burned yet?” Jon’s friend is not one of the men on the short list of those who’d sail back to Dorne.

“My men have a—” Robb closes his mouth to think of how to word the sheer disgust and anger that had twisted the faces of the bearded Northmen. “Well, they take issue with the burnings. Our people return our bodies to the earth and have for thousands of years. It’s been done that way since the days of the First Men.” In the North, great tombs for noble houses littered the lands and cemeteries line the outskirts of villages. There are even barrows, hills of underground tombs left over from the First Men, still being uncovered more and more in the forests, mountains, and hills of the landscapes.

He knows the few Riverlander lords that fell in the battle will be returned to the river, as his own grandfather had been, in a ceremonial boat. There will be painted stones placed upon unseeing eyes, before the body is consumed by a flaming arrow. Yet, he knows little, in truth nothing, about the ways of the Dornish. Is burning Edric’s body a desecration to Nymeria, like the burning of the Northerners bodies will be to his bannermen?

His dry lips straighten out into a thin line before he asks, “Dorne worships the Seven, do they not?”

She looks at him with an expression of sardonic amusement that reminds him of Jon when they’d first met. “Yes.” She says it slowly. Then she shrugs again. “Except for the Orphans of the Greenblood. They still worship the gods of the Rhoynar. Mother Rhoyne and King Crab and the Old Man of the River.”

She says the names of the foreign gods with the attitude of a child who’s reading from a tome of fantastical tales. Ignoring this, he urgently asks, “Are the funeral rites the same?”

Jon is fine, Robb thinks, before she answers, but for three days he’d not been. For three days, the Stranger, or perhaps the Old Gods of the hereafter, had hovered above him. Three days and Robb had not cried, but neither had he really breathed. It had been as if a sword had carved his chest open during the battle, ripped out his heart, and sewn back up his skin to leave behind nothing but a hollow, gaping hole.

“I suppose,” she says finally. She appears a bit confused, unsure of what to say. She collects herself quickly, though, and continues, “I’ve never been to a funeral outside of Dorne. At least in Westeros.” She says it almost as an afterthought, and a brief smirk flicks across her face from whatever she is remembering. “My sister, Sarella, would know more, but none have seen her in many moons.” She cocks her head to study him with curiosity. “What do you know of funerals in the South, Your Grace?”

“My mother is of the Seven. Born of the Riverlands.”

She nods. “In Dorne,” she begins, plucking at the bracelet again, “those in mourning rip their garments as soon as they hear the news of one’s passing. They do not remove these same garments all through the viewing, as the stones are placed upon the eyes and the prayers are said, until after the body is interred. Or burned,” she says with a shrug, “depending on preference. When that is done, the mourner throws off their clothes of sorrow and dons a garment of white and a painted black mask to attend a festival celebrating the life of the deceased.”

Robb’s eyebrows furrow at this as he tries to picture it. She smiles at him, eyes soft, before she continues, “Seven foods and drinks are consumed. Water to remind us what sustained us. Milk as the first nourishment we ever receive. Wine to remind us of our pleasures. Pomegranates or apples for the seeds are symbols of new births to come. Salted meat is the bitterness of grief and bread is the staple of life.”

She stops. “And the seventh?” he asks. Edric Sand will never have this, he thinks.

She laughs, her head thrown back and her hair, loose and frazzled, brushing the stones. “The food the deceased most favored in life.”

For a moment, Robb laughs too, for he pictures unwillingly eating brussel sprouts at his father’s funeral, before his mood grows dark again. “What is Jon’s?” He’s seen him eat many foods, but their relationship had been born during war and little pleasures like indulgences of fine foods are uncommon during campaigns.

She meets his eyes with a soft look. “You will have years to find out.”




 

“I’m perfectly capable of feeding myself,” Jon protests to Nymeria. She rolls her eyes, her braid hitting him in the chin as she moves forward to push him back into the pillow. The other patients, mostly Dornish, who are awake watch them with amusement. Tyene sits with her legs propped up on the bed, feet resting on his knees. She, at least, does not care about injury. The warm weight of his beastly companion, too, rests atop where his feet are placed. “I got shot in the back. I did not have my hands chopped off.”

The room, once Cersei Lannister’s (and Jon loves the irony of the lion bitch’s childhood lodgings being turned into a sickbay and tainted with bile and puss and shit stains of the ill), is much more elaborate than even Arianne’s rooms back in Sunspear. There is gold everywhere. It adorns the walls and the windows, the bed where Jon is lying—there is some guilt as he feels the soft featherdown of the mattress against his sore muscles and bones while others lay in stiff cots— and the nightstands. There are crystal ornaments and a chandelier dangling with rubies and sapphires. Great murals are strewn about the walls and the door of lions; some are pitted in fights, mouths locked tight onto each other’s necks; while others sit atop horseback and in their four giant paws lances for jousts are clasped; still, more are in resting repose, mother lionesses with their cubs nestled beside them and lions roaring from atop mountain cliffs.

“I can’t wait to get out of here,” he mutters as he glares at one of the lion paintings.

“Maybe if you didn’t injure yourself so much then you wouldn’t be suffering in here,” Nymeria says stiffly, dipping a spoon into the bowl of chicken broth. She holds it up and commands, “Eat.”

He pouts and stares sullenly, but acquiesces to her demand. “You’re acting like it’s my fault. We were in battle ! So were you.” Tyene rolls her eyes and tosses a small knife in the air. It spins and she catches it by the hilt as it comes down.

“You should have watched your back better,” Nymeria chastises. He knows it’s not truly said from anger, though, but concern. He doesn’t remember her finding them, but Daemon had told him she’d been distraught at the sight of his body being dragged towards the castle.

His jaw clenches at the thought of Edric, remembering the blood and the fall of his body. He takes another bite and pushes back the memory.

“You,” he says, turning to look to Tyene accusingly. “You didn’t tell me Nymeria was here.” A pang of sadness hits at the thought of his oldest sister still in Sunspear. Though he and Obara are not close, the idea that Doran so lacks trust in her that he’d denied her this battle angers him.

Tyene shrugs. “Didn’t I?” She smiles innocently , then it widens into a smirk. “We flipped a coin over who was coming ashore. I won.”

Nymeria had told a different story. “It made more sense for her to come to you,” she’d said the night before. “I am the better strategist. The navy needed me more than they needed her.”

From the end of the bed, Ghost huffs and looks up. The direwolf’s three day vigil had made him weary and he blinks at the siblings as if to say, “You’re quarreling now ?”

“You know,” his sister says in a needling tone, “for someone people claim is such a superior swordsman, Nymeria is right. You get injured often.”

Jon scowls and waves his arm in protest. He hits the spoon as Nymeria lifts it, but pays no mind to her fierce glare. “Even the Sword of the Morning was laid up a time or two!”

Grabbing the spoon from the floor, his sister wipes it off and stabs it viciously into the broth. A few drops splash onto the sheets. “I’m sure Arthur Dayne was less of a whining baby about it, too. Edric Dayne, as well, when he takes up the name.” Nymeria stabs the spoon at him. “Now eat!”

“Isn’t the current Sword of the Morning called Bleakstar?” a voice asks. Jon looks to Asha Greyjoy who is standing with her feet spread apart and her arms crossed. “Or Darkcomet? You Dornish have such odd names.” She grabs an empty chair from a stack of chairs piled up near a wall and drags it over.

Tyene mutters with disdain, “As if Crow’s Eye is any better.” Then she shrugs. “Gerold Dayne is a sadistic cretin. We do not speak of him.” Her disregard for the current Sword of the Morning shows in that she doesn’t even correct Asha’s misnaming of his moniker, Darkstar. If Tyene Sand slept with everyone she hated, though, Jon thinks with some amusement, then there are several men in the realm that can claim to know what she looks like in naught but her skin.

“Why are you here?” Jon asks the Ironborn woman. She’s not come before, but it sends a flare of irritation through him to think he’s seen her before Robb. Dacey and Smalljon had been by early, expressions solemn, but gladdened to see him awake. He mourned with Dacey to learn of the passing of her mother.

Still, even though he knows the redhead busy with council matters, he cannot help the hurt his absence gives. He understands it on a logical level. However, the emotional part of him wants to see him. It’s not doubt, he tells himself, that the redhead was saddened by his injuries, but more that he needs to see the other man is well.

“You’re in a cheery mood, pretty boy,” she replies undaunted. With absolutely no caution, she reaches over and scratches Ghost behind the ear. The direwolf opens one eye to observe her, but seems to deem her actions acceptable. Jon looks to him with surprise. The direwolf rarely lets anyone outside of Jon’s family touch him.

Even Tyene’s eyebrows are up, though whether that is from Asha’s petting or her visit in general, Jon’s not sure. Nymeria’s eyes are set to perpetually rolling as she mutters under her breath curses in all the languages she knows and forces more food down his throat.

“I’ve got an stiched up arrow wound,” he points out. “Hardly the cause for cheer.”

Not to mention the many friends that will never see another dawn, a sad voice reminds him. Unwittingly, his mind flashes to Edric again, and this time he allows the pang of sadness to hit him. He’d known him since the boy had been sent to the Water Gardens at seven years old, pulled away from the desert trading caravans by his Yronwood father and sent to be the companion of Oberyn Martell’s only son. A “peace” offering since the young Edric had been an unruly sort, prone to fights with fists and outbursts, but he’d amused Jon fiercely, and for that the Yronwood’s slight towards their old enemy had born unexpected fruit.

“Suppose not,” she agrees. “You’re alive, though. For what that’s worth. Well,” she says and lifts her eyes to the ceiling, pretending to think. “I guess it stops The Young Wolf from sulking and mourning. So there’s that. He’d not be much help with my islands that way.” She brings her eyes back to him. “So make sure you stay breathing, aye, pretty boy?”

Despite himself, he finds his mood lifting. “So you came to make sure I breathe? I’m flattered, truly, my lady, but my heart belongs to another.” She scowls at him and kicks at the bed, before she leaves without so much as a goodbye to any of them.

“Unpleasant woman,” Nymeria says as she shoves another spoonful of increasingly cold broth into his mouth. “I could enjoy her.”



 

Robb sits back, the wooden chair skidding against the stone floor lightly, and puts down the quill on top of the ink pot. A letter to his Uncle Benjen informing him about the nine hundred men on their way to the wall lays, penned and sealed, in a stack of other letters still to be sent. One to his mother, two others to his sisters, more to several lords and ladies of the realm, even King Stannis Baratheon. By now, of course, everyone across the realm will have heard about his taking of the Rock. How accurate the tales are is a mystery, for rumor travels faster than ravens.

He knows one thing, though, and that is that sooner or later Cersei Lannister will send men back to Casterly Rock to retake it. His position is tenuous. Taking it was a feat that many had thought impossible, keeping it might prove to be harder. And, sooner or later, he has to march on King’s Landing.

“Is that everything, Your Grace?” Lord Umber asks with a gesture to the parchment still laying open addressed to Prince Doran.  

Robb nods curtly and, once Lord Umber is gone, sighs heavily and yawns. He feels like it's been days since he’s had a minute alone. The night before, three prisoners escaped from the dungeons only to be caught by his men. Their heads line spikes in front of the cells enow, for the redhead knows that playing soft with lions will do no good.

“The wolf will not yield to a lion’s roar,” he’d told the furious Genna Lannister. One of the men had been her husband. “Do not test me, my lady, or your head will decorate the castle gates when your brother comes.”

Since then, he’d had to deal with two loyal and sycophantic Lannister servants attempting to put poison in the milk of the poppy the nurses used for the wounded’s pain, as well as one of his own men attempting to get inside a cage with one of the ferocious lions kept in cages inside the Rock. The fool had tried to wrestle it. The pieces left of his body, his innards and shoulders, were subsequently burned alongside the Dornish dead as soon as twenty of Robb’s men managed to subdue the beast.

“I hate this place,” Robb mutters and glares at the egg dish in front of him. Half the realm starving, but the Lannisters of the Rock eat well. The cooks he’d brought along with him had been schooled by one of the more ill-treated Rock cooks to put together a slightly spicy, thick yellow sauce which covered the egg and a thick slice of ham. A large slice of thick, white bread of fine grains serves as a tool to sop up the liquid. It is delicious, but he finds he’d rather eat oats and turnips.

Grey Wind makes a noise as he comes up next to the desk, imploring Robb with his large eyes for the meat just out of the wolf’s reach. Robb doesn’t hesitate as he pushes the dish over to him. “Finish it,” he says. The pit in his stomach twinges with pain, but he knows it's not from hunger.

He brushes his fingers against the wood of the desk, scraping at it with his nails. Then, he bites his cheek, eyes straying to the door. With a sigh, he steels himself and gets up, walking over to the door to open it. Before he reaches it, however, a loud knock echoes throughout the room.

Robb swings open the door just as Roger is opening his mouth to announce who’s visiting. His guard’s eyes are red and lined with dark circles. He, too, has been having trouble sleeping lately. Next to him, Arnolf’s replacement, Theo, is looking at him nervously. In between them is Jon. Whole and alive and as pale as a ghost.

“What are you doing out of bed?” Robb demands with panic in his voice. “You might reopen something.” He steps forward to grab Jon and bring him back to the room he’s been in. As he does so, Jon glares at him and waves his right hand impatiently.

“I’m fine,” he says as he moves forward. His breathing is heavy. Robb knows from the Maeser and Nymeria that Jon had been lucky the arrow hadn’t pierced anything vital. Roger opens his mouth, for what Robb never finds out, because he silences the man with a look and closes the door.

As he turns to look back at Jon, the brunette is leaning against the bed. It’s large, much larger than one would imagine Tyrion Lannister might have need of, and covered in thick, red and gold comforters. Underneath, there are silk sheets. That, however, is the extent of the gold in this room. Elsewhere, there are stacks of books and ink wells and pens with at least a dozen or so tallow candles.

“You should be resting,” Robb says, gentler this time, as he moves forward. “Please.” There is sweat beading Jon’s brow, dampening the curls at his hairline, and a sheen to his collarbone. Robb worries that the fever which almost carried him off might be back.

“I’m tired of that room,” Jon mutters irritably. “People are either fussing or snoring or wishing me well. It’s exhausting.” The brunette wraps his right arm around his waist and waves Robb away as he tries to help him. In his left hand, he is clutching a crumpled up piece of parchment that he tosses onto the desk.

“You’re sick,” Robb says stubbornly. He can be as mullish as the other man if only that means he will go back to bed . “You need to rest.”

Jon rolls his eyes. “The fever’s gone. My wounds are healing. Most of the pain is from bruises and those are no threat to my life.” The way he winces and his face twists as he moves his shoulders in a nonchalantly shrug, though, shows how much truth is in his statement.

In the corner, Grey Wind growls, scratching at the lion pelt he’s curled up on. Inside Robb, a burst of anger grows. “You almost died,” he says. The words come out a lot harsher than he means them to, for the brunette’s eyes grow wide. “Your sisters were crying. Tyene was crying. I started—I had—” Robb chokes and looks away, vision blurring. “Just—I need you to take it easy.” Fists clenched, his nails are pressing indents into his palm, but he doesn’t care. He doesn’t care that he’s shaking or that he can hear the desperation in his own voice. In the haze of his anger, he almost doesn’t care that there is relief, too, at seeing Jon alive and sullen and sulking, right in front of him. That fades, though, as quick as it comes.

Wolf’s blood, he thinks. Or perhaps my guilt and my grief.

Grey eyes are softer when he looks back. “I am ,” Jon says. “I just—” He breaks off and he looks away, too. “I missed you.” It’s said so softly that Robb barely hears it.

He steps closer and reaches out to take Jon’s hand. The brunette looks down as he laces their fingers together. His skin is cold and clammy, despite the heat of the Rock, but he is only wearing a thin, white shirt and loose pants. He is also mending, so it’s no surprise to Robb that there are goosebumps all over him. He squeezes the fingers clasped with his own as gently as he can.

“I’m sorry I didn’t visit,” he whispers. Jon’s jaw clenches.

“It’s fine,” he says. “Lots of things to do. Lions to hang.”

Trembling, Robb lifts their hands up. There’s a lump in his throat and he, too, is sweating now. There are a million thoughts running through his head. The past few days he’d come up with so many imaginary scenarios about this moment it was almost as if he’d been writing a mummer’s show in his head whenever he’d had a few minutes of silence to process. What he would say if Jon lived? What he would do? A thousand and one different words to say; some as flowery as the love songs about Florian and Jonquil, while others as stumbling as a greenboy. Words that melted away now.

Instead, he brings the other man’s hand to his lips and kisses his knuckles. Jon freezes, and Robb’s stomach clenches as he looks into wide, grey eyes. They’re suspicious, he thinks, and why wouldn't they be? Neither of them say anything, the room still and silent, blocked off from the rest of the world for a little while.

When he presses his lips to Jon’s, the flesh there is dry and cracked and tastes like salt. The brunette doesn’t respond at first, and worry makes him almost pull back, for perhaps the other man’s feelings have faded. It’s been so long. Then, there is pressure, a response, and Jon is pulling him closer. They stand there for a moment or two, gentle and soft, before it’s broken.

Breathlessly, Jon asks, “Haven’t we done this before?” There is caution lacing the words and the brunette is stiff, alert and in wait for whatever comes next. The words Robb wishes to take as a jest are betrayed by the way the brunette looks at him.

“Seems I need the fear of losing you to admit what I feel,” Robb admits shamefully. His cheeks are heated, whether from their proximity or his words, he d knows not. Father would never have been so craven, he thinks. Jon bites his lip, swollen and pale with a bit of red beading up in the middle.

Robb’s heart thumps. Then, Jon nods and looks away. “Do I deserve that? What happens the next time there’s a stumbling block? I don’t want to do this—” The brunette sighs and looks back to him. Robb swallows and forces himself to keep eye contact even though he can feel his heart ramming against his chest. “—dance, back and forth and on and on. Because I’m telling you right now, Robb Stark, that if you’re serious, that’s it. Done.”

His heart stops and he opens his mouth to protest, but he doesn’t know what to say and the other man is not done. “I’ll not love another. So you’re going to be stuck with me.”

Oh, Robb thinks, as realization dawns. “From this day, until my last day, I’m yours,” he replies. The tiniest hint of a blush builds on Jon’s pale cheeks. Robb smiles at the sight.

“Well, that’s a bit dramatic,” the brunette jokes. Robb rolls his eyes before he kisses him again. They stay locked in the embrace, little more than the press of lips and the gentle caress of fingers, for several minutes. “I love you, too,” Jon says as they break apart.  

As quick as lightning, Jon begins to tug him towards the bed. Robb tugs on his hand and stops them, halting the brunette’s movements.

“No,” Robb protests and Jon frowns at him. “You’re injured.”

“Injured. Not three sheets to the wind,” the brunette replies, He smirks wickedly and looks down to where Robb’s pants are uncomfortably tight. “As lovely as that would be, however, after months without, I was kind of just hoping to lay there.” A sheepish expression falls across his face. “My back, admittedly, might sting a little.”

Robb shoots him a look that he hopes portrays how unsurprising that is, before he allows himself to be drawn to the bed. Jon’s head comes to rest on his shoulder, while his arm comes around the brunette’s waist. They sit there for a couple of hours talking and kissing as the candle flames flicker, casting shadows along the wall, then getting dimmer and dimmer.

At one point, Robb asks how Jon knew that Ghost would howl. The brunette hides his face into his collarbone as he says, “I—had a dream.” He’s silent for a few minutes, steeling himself for whatever he’s going to say. “A voice was talking to me. Who or what, I know not. But, when I woke up, asleep in the woods with the dawn breaking out around me—” The night he didn’t come back, Robb thinks. The night of his confrontation with Tyene. “Well, I knew .”

“Do you think I’m mad?” Jon asks nervously after his confession. In response, Robb kisses him again, stroking his arm.

“I have them, too,” he whispers. “I think you know that.”

After that, there is discussion of council matters. Jon is miffed that he didn’t get to participate in putting Lannisters in dungeons and that he missed the sight of Robb threatening them. The redhead promises him more valuable Lannisters once they make it to King’s Landing, but the brunette continues to pout.

There is still caution that is palatable every time they kiss. Robb knows it will be there for a while. Their kisses are tentative, more questioning and less passionate. After a while, Jon reaches up and plays with the strings of his jerkin, wrapping them around one of his fingers as he unlaces them a little.

“I’m going to propose that Nymeria stay on my small council,” Robb tells him. He stretches his left arm above his head and his fingers hit the wooden headboard. “She’s extremely intelligent. Men tell me she devised much of the naval tactics for the battle. And she can be a representative of our alliance with Dorne.”

“Am I not good enough anymore?” Jon teases, though a smile of pleasure flits across his face.

Robb laughs. “You’re more than good enough. I would have more voices from the Riverlands other than my Uncle Brynden if my Uncle Edmure wasn’t such a--” Robb purses his lips tight as he tries to come up with something other than calling the man a foolish milksop.

“Sot?” Jon suggests innocently. Robb mock glares at him.

Abruptly, the mood shifts, then, as Jon sighs and looks to the ceiling. “I have to show you something,” he says. He sits up, and Robb’s arm falls away from him onto the mattress. Confused, Robb sits up as well, watching as Jon runs his fingers through his hair, messing up the curls.

“Jon?” he asks nervously. Anxiety hits him and for a brief moment he wonders if the brunette’s been holding back some other grievous injury or fever.

Jon asks him to go to the desk instead and retrieve the crumpled up parchment that had been left there. The redhead hadn’t thought about it once since Jon entered. After the brunette tells him to read it, Robb does so with a furrowed brow and a clenched jaw.

“Legitimization?” he says. He comes back over and sits down, bending one leg under the other. “As a Martell?” With trepidation, he continues “Or a Targaryen?”

Jon shrugs. “Technically, I’m already a legitimate Targaryen. Though, how well the Faith is going to accept Rhaegar’s two marriages is questionable.” Robb nods with agreement. Doubt will be the most positive reaction to those already inclined to a negative response. Holding the paper tight in his hands, Robb feels as if all of his nerves are on fire from the words on the page.

Jon kisses him and for a second, Robb relaxes. He goes tense again as soon as Jon speaks, though he knows the truth of his words. “Arianne’s getting impatient. I don’t blame her, really. My cousin’s been fighting for this her whole life. And she deserves it.”

“What is legitimizing you as a Martell going to do?” Robb says, fingernails digging into the rough parchment. “That won’t get her the throne.”

“No,” Jon agrees. “She’s leaving that up to me. Throne or Dorne, it doesn’t matter to her. What matters is that she unquestionably rules.”

Robb nods. Given Nymeria and Tyene’s dispositions, he imagines Arianne as a woman who would wield power well. He doesn’t know her, though. The thought of this unknown woman on the Iron Throne does nothing for him. His father believed that throne Stannis’ by rights.

Yet Jon, he knows. Men like him, they trust him, and he’s a good fight. He can wield power, but there is so much less desire to do so in him than in most men. And so Robb knows he needs to ask what he’s been reluctant to for months. “What do you want?”

Jon smiles. “You,” he replies. Then he shrugs. “I’m not going to be able to have just that though. And I’m not going to take up the name Martell.”

Robb raises an eyebrow. There are things he is not telling me, Robb thinks with some sadness but more reluctant acceptance. This is all coming so suddenly. He wonders, why now?

“I don’t think your cousin will be happy about that,” he points out instead of pushing the issue.

“I’m going to marry her,” Jon says. It stings, but there is little either of them can do. Robb’s bannermen are already nattering on about his own marriage prospects once again. Marriages are safer, as well, though he knows it's not fair to his future wife or to Arianne, but men who are married will perpetuate their blood and help the continuation of their house. It’s safer that way. “I promised her I would. That I will not break. But I will not marry her under the name Martell.”

He doesn’t say it, but no clarification is needed.

Jon continues. As he does so, his hand runs through his hair rougher and rougher. The curls are messier than Robb’s ever seen them. “Everyone already knows Dorne is your ally. Even if we lose, what is Doran going to say now? That he didn’t help take Casterly Rock? There is no point keeping the secret any longer.” Jon rubs the back of his neck. “I think it’s time.”

Robb grits his teeth. Jon’s been so adamant about not accepting his birth father for so long now that to hear him say they should proclaim it is making Robb’s head spin. Dreadful consequences flash through his head. Dragonspawn . Mad . Evil. So many ugly words associated with Jon’s blood. The North, even, will not take this well. The son of one of their beloved daughters—a son she had with a man that the realm proclaims to have kidnapped her?—raised in Dorne. There will be anger, Robb knows, and nothing that comes from this revelation at first will be good.

Even more, the lickspittles and power-hungry nobles aiming to ride the train of a name, while others would curse him and vow death. Coming on their knees with words of fealty spewing from their lips while lies hide behind their eyes, greed in their grasping hands, and treachery in their bones.

“You’ll make yourself a target,” Robb says, swallowing the lump in his throat. Even though there will be disbelief, anyone claiming to be a Targaryen will still be better than the Lannisters to some. Tommen Waters is a boy and influenced too much by his mother who has made herself little friends and many enemies. Viserys Targaryen could have sailed across the sea with the Dothraki horde he’d gathered before he died and Robb knows there would have been lords that flocked to his banners, chafing under Lannister rule.

And any threat to their rule would not be left breathing for long if they had anything to say about it.

With no trace of fear or regret, Jon smiles grimly. “Good,” he says. “I want them to be afraid. I want them to wonder and twist themselves into knots over this. I want to take the throne out from under them, break the blades off of it, and shove the rusted metal into Cersei Lannister’s heart. And I want them to know that the one who does it is doing it in the name of a house they believed extinct.”

He grabs Robb’s hand.

The redhead’s jaw clenches. I just got you back, he thinks, but doesn’t dare say the words. Nothing has happened yet. Both of them can still die, Jon’s injuries have proven that twice over. And this time Robb means to hold onto them as long as he can.

“And the throne?” he whispers. It’s in the South, he doesn’t say. It’s far from me, he thinks. “What about it?”

Jon shrugs. “It can burn for all I care. Arianne doesn’t care if she has the throne or Dorne. She prefers Dorne, but she’ll take the throne if offered. I don’t want it.” Jon swallows. “I’m never going to want it. I don’t want to be a King. I don’t want to live and rule in a city where too many of my family have died.”

“You might have to.” Robb squeezes the hand in his hard, feeling delicate bones underneath calloused skin. He doesn’t want to leave this room.

Jon sighs. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. First, we have prove I even have a claim to the throne.”

This is what he wants, Robb thinks with misgivings. Accept it.

So, in response to that relevant point, Robb sighs, too, and looks forlornly at the pillows, then to the ink and quills and parchment on the desk. “Well,” he says as he gets up to grab supplies, “we better contact your cousin then. This is going to take some time. Because if anyone is going to believe it we need infallible proof.”

Chapter Text

The heat in the room is almost unbearable, as the steam from the water and the fireplace smoke creates a potent, heady air. Jon’s hair is damp even without submerging himself in the bathwater, and he knows that should he look in the mirror his face is likely to be red. Robb’s hair is completely soaked and flat on his head, the curls water-heavy, and his eyes are closed. There are beads of water running down his skin from his hairline; over his lips like a lover’s caress, then down his chin and the apple of his throat, in between his pectorals and down until they reach the water’s edge. Bubbles from the soaps that Tyene provided obscure the rest of him from view, but Jon’s eyes can’t help but follow as the bubbles shift back and forth across the surface of the water to brush against Robb’s pale, freckled skin.

His sweat-slicked skin is slippery against the cup of tea he holds in his hand, balancing it on his knees as he sits at the edge of the gold-gilded tub. The tea itself is medicinal, laced with a bitter plant that’s not as strong or sedative as milk of the poppy, but the earthy flavor of it causes his nose to wrinkle as he forces himself to down it in order to sooth the aches that linger in his healing wounds.  Even still, he winces as he moves and, beside him, Robb frowns as he opens his eyes.

“You should rest,” he says with concern. “You’re looking tired.”

“And whose fault is that?” Jon teases. He moves to get up, circling the tub until he is kneeling behind Robb, his chin resting on freckled shoulders.

Robb smirks at him as he tilts his forehead up. Wet strands of hair tickle against Jon’s skin. “I seem to recall an eager participant.”

Jon laughs even as he darts his tongue out to trace around Robb’s damp skin, before he trails butterfly kisses to his ear. “I wasn’t talking about that,” he whispers. “I was talking about all of that.” He gestures over to the desk where a stack of letters is piled up, some open, others sealed from recent writing. Tomorrow, they will be given to riders and sent out. After killing all the ravens in Lannisport, and almost all of them inside the Rock, most of the missives are delivered personally. Still, the one or two ravens left alive are heavily guarded to ensure that no servant can inform the Lannisters of the taking of the Rock before the envoy arrives at King’s Landing.

He wraps his arms to hang loosely around Robb’s neck as the redhead tilts back towards him. His fingers catch on sparse, red wisps of hair as he continues, “I’m happy to hear from Arya and your mother, but I was rather less enthused about the letter from the new maester about a feud over a cow in Wintertown.”

The letter from Benjen Stark though—no, Jon shudders, and cuts himself off before he thinks about it. The words of warning and tales of creatures from children’s nightmares are beyond the realms of possibility.

Are they? He asks himself this even after he promises not to dwell on it. His dreams of late are full of feverish visions, not like the wolf dreams of before, but more stark. Ice the only color in a vast expanse of darkness, and horrible creatures of blue standing amongst corpses of decaying human skin and the bones of giant beasts. As the days pass, the dreams grow darker and colder. Occasionally, Jon sees bright sparks of fire streaking through the fields of white and black.

And sometimes, a voice, calling to him. A boy’s voice.

The edges of his yellow nightshirt are damp as he flicks his fingers through the water, creating waves. “Lady Brienne’s news was, I admit, more thrilling,” he continues, shaking the bleak recollections away. He nervously licks his top lip, tasting salt, as well as the lavender and rose water marinating in the bathwater. “If the Queen Mother really is imprisoned by the Faith, that means negotiations will be in the hands of the boy and his uncle. We shall get more out of them than the madwoman.”

“Yes,” Robb says, catching his hand as he ripples the water. “If Queen Margaery has been locked up as well, and Loras, I doubt the Tyrells are going to take it lying down. Especially if Brienne is right—” And that was mere speculation, though the woman’s closeness to the Kingslayer made her privy to more information than most spies. “—We might be able to hope for the pull of their support for the Lannisters.”

Jon frowns. “Their daughter is Queen. They will never turn.”

Robb shakes his head. “No,” he agrees. “They will want her to keep her crown. But Tommen is a child. Easily manipulated. If they can rid themselves of Cersei Lannister and Kevan Lannister then they can install more of their own in the small council. That will please them greatly. They’ve always wanted more power and influence, even under the dragons. And with Margaery imprisoned they have all the reasons for turning on the Queen Mother.”

Robb frowns, then. “I will have to send a few men back to the Riverlands, though. Fucking Freys. Should have burnt the Twins to the ground.” The audacity that the weasel-faced house shows by attacking villages under Riverrun protection galls Robb.

Jon squeezes his hand. “There is still time for that.”

Robb moans a sound of agreement and closes his eyes. In the heat of the room, with the smell of soap and the slick of wet skin, Jon feels faint and fanciful. He lets go of the redhead’s hand, nuzzling behind his ear. Then, he begins to sing, an old Dornish song over a century old. “Welcome, oh mother —” Robb makes a sound of surprise, but Jon shushes him with a well-placed finger. Blue eyes stare at him, never breaking the gaze as Jon continues to sing and move. “— who is never bent nor broken.”

He pictures King’s Landing as he sings a lament given voice only in taverns and caravans, far from lord’s halls and keeps. “ For all our ruin, you are not in bondage. Oh, but our red mountains are crossed by brigands, as we lay abed with dragons. ” He kisses Robb’s ear before he continues, the words coming back to him, the silence of the large room and the lion decorations scattered around turning the foes of old into a beast of four legs, a lustrous mane, and sharp claws. “ Oh mother, you are welcome here, ” he repeats three times, “ But dragons, fly back home.

He closes his eyes, his head now firmly in that soft, warm place of contentment he feels with only a scant few souls. “ Nymeria is sailing over the Narrow Sea, with ten thousand ships and lovely, armored maidens. Oh, they are ours, not strange or foreign, but dragons, see, we will not bow. ” He sighs as he repeats the second verse, his voice trailing off faintly as he finishes, “ For our summer has come .”  

There is silence for a few minutes. The type of silence that comes over a person like a blanket, warm and comforting. “One day, I will sing to you,” Robb says with a blush on his cheeks. “Though, I confess I have no skill for keeping a tune.”

Jon smiles anyway. “One day our countrymen will sing of fleeing lions,” he tells him. “I doubt it will matter if your voice is pleasant to the ear.” He dips his hand underneath the water, smirking at the tiny, almost soundless gasp Robb lets out. “It will be pleasant to me, nonetheless.”

Robb groans.

Later, after the water has gone cold and Jon’s nightclothes are dry, Robb looks at him softly. They are stretched out on a large, cushioned divan, with Jon’s feet placed in Robb’s lap. His loose pants are shucked up to his mid-calves as Robb’s fingers trace idle patterns into his skin.

“I have something for you,” Robb says as he brushes wisps of curls away from Jon’s face. Jon furrows his eyebrows with confusion, then pouts as the redhead rises, towel wrapped tight around his waist, and moves towards the desk where, indeed, there is a box of wood placed amidst the letters they’d been reading earlier. Jon has paid no mind to it, figuring that the box was one of Tyrion Lannister’s many possessions.

“When did you have time to get me a gift?” Jon asks. He leans back, careful not to place too much pressure on his back, and watches the stretch and pull of Robb’s muscles.

Jon freezes as Robb turns around. In his hands is a cornet band of worked iron, inlaid with large, round rubies across the entire crown. Surrounding the rubies are diamonds, small and bright, and there is even a gold-trim border, the metal catching the candlelight and appearing similar to sunlight. “Robb?” he says faintly as the redhead moves.

“I had this made.” There is a blush on Robb’s cheeks, though whether that is from awkwardness or the heat, Jon doesn’t know. “Well, some of it was Mother’s idea,” the redhead admits. Jon swallows around the lump in his throat and barely comprehends the situation as the other man holds out the crown to him as he continues, “If you’re going to take the Targaryen name—well, I figured, you might as well present yourself as the Crown Prince, you know?”

“I don’t want that throne,” he reminds the other man. The more he says it, though, rather than becoming firmer, it feels fainter, as if he’s caught in a tide he will never be able to control. As he reaches out to touch the crown, brushing the pads of his fingers across the cool material, he looks at his own reflection. His long face, his grey eyes and curly, black hair. Has there ever been a man that looked less like the blood of a dragon, he asks himself, as he remembers the woman from his fever dream.

“I know,” Robb says with a sad expression. Then, he lifts the crown up, placing it upon Jon’s head. It slides over his curls, finding a home around the twists and spirals of his hair. He’d always figured crowns to be dreadfully heavy things. Robb’s own crown of iron spikes and a direwolf emblem appeared uncomfortable and burdensome, but this one seemed impossibly light.

Robb clears his throat. “You look—”

“Foolish?” Jon interrupts, feeling oddly shy.

Robb shakes his head. “Noble.”

Jon smirks, despite the heat radiating up his own face and the back of his neck now. “Traditionally, these are meant to be given to a King’s wife.”

Robb shrugs. “Traditionally.” He crouches, balancing on the balls of his feet, and kisses him long and slow. “My wife will have another crown.”


 

After Jon’s fallen asleep on the divan, Robb covers him with a blanket and goes to flip through the letters, awake and alert despite the lateness of the hour. Ghost and Grey Wind are curled up next to Jon, giant living furnaces providing so much fur and body heat the blanket is almost unnecessary. Robb smiles at him softly as he shuffles through the parchment, watching the steady rise and fall of his chest, before he focuses on the letters.

He frowns as he scrutinizes the yet unsealed letter to the Westerlings, offering a betrothal between their daughter, Jeyne, and his Uncle Edmure. As the future Lord Paramount of the Riverlands, it is a better match than they could ever hope for from Tywin Lannister, but a spark of doubt still weighs on him.

His self-reflection is broken by the quiet knock on the door and Rogers announcement of a visitor. He shoots a glance over towards the divan, but Jon is still fast asleep. As he tells Roger to let her in, he moves the open letters until they are hiding under a few scrolls. Most of them are about dragons. For a lion, Robb thinks, the Imp is a man of strange interests.

Asha Greyjoy smirks as she enters, her hands loose on her hips, but there is a look of worry in her eyes that even she can’t hide. Without even the time to spare for courtesies, she walks over to him and says, “My father is dead and my cunt-fuck of a piss-drinking uncle, Euron, has stolen the salt throne from me.”

Robb blinks. Then, he blinks again and clears his throat. At a loss for words, he opens his mouth several times to think of something to say, but all that comes out in the end is, “Well, that’s unfortunate.”

He hopes Balon’s death was painful.

She stares at him with a deadpan expression on her face. “No shit. For the both of us.”

He hates to admit it (and probably won’t out loud), but she is right. With Euron Greyjoy controlling most of the Iron Fleet, if the man decides to ally with their enemies or even just to raid the coasts of Westeros, his war has just gotten a lot harder. He looks into the candle flame and tries not to groan in front of her, but the wood digs hard into his palms from where he is clenching his fists against the edge of the desk and there is a steady tap, tap, tap sound in the room caused by his bouncing foot.

“We have to oust him,” she continues, leaning over with her knife in her hands. She runs her fingertips along the blade, up and down, and doesn’t blink. "That throne belongs to me.”

“Has the Iron Islands ever followed a woman before?” Robb asks. He’s pretty sure the answer is no, and also equally sure that he doesn’t care whether or not it has. Every island can sink in the sea and join their Drowned God for all he cares.

She glares at him. “No,” she says, “but we have a deal. And right now, I’m the ally you want on your side.” She shoots a sideways glance at the still sleeping Jon with a smirk on her face. Though he portrays no outward emotion, Robb feels nervousness sparking at every nerve in his body. Ghost looks up from his place on the bed to look at them through tired, lazy red eyes before he settles back down with nary a huff or a sigh.

“Perhaps,” Robb agrees, “but I can’t fully trust you either. If I help you get that throne—”

“Which you’ve already agreed to.”

“—then what guarantee do I have that you won’t turn back on my shores?” he continues as if she hadn’t interrupted.

She leans back and a slow, wicked smirk slashes across her face like a knife in the night. “None,” she says slowly. “For the moment. I have a proposal that will change that.” She tosses her knife into the air where it spins, then she catches it by the tip of its sharp blade. She points the handle towards him.

“And that is?” he asks.

“We get married.”

The words are said so nonchalantly that it takes almost a minute before Robb’s brain catches up to the concept. He freezes, staring at her as if it was not Asha Greyjoy, Theon’s sister and successful reaver of the seas, in front of him but the Great Other, or another of the grumpkins and snarks from Old Nan’s tales. “I’m sorry?” he manages to sputter out.

She rolls her eyes. “You,” she says as she points the handle to him again. “Me.” She points to herself. “Married.” She waves the knife back and forth between them. “It’s a permanent alliance tie between the Kingdom of the North and the Iron Islands. If we have children, they will be raised in both cultures, and we both have a stable dynasty. And it can’t be broken. It’s the perfect solution.”

“How?” he asks with disbelief, choosing not to point out the folly of some of her statements. The history of the Targaryens alone shows that marriage alliances are not the perfect solution to shaky trust. His stomach roils and he shoots a cautious look towards Jon. He’s still asleep, his face buried in the pillow now.

She shoots a look to Jon, too. “I’m fairly certain that not many women will let you keep lover boy over there,” she says. “Women tend to balk at marrying men with such—” She smacks her lips together. “—strange perversions.” She leans back with her arms across her chest. “Now me? I don’t give a fuck. You can screw whoever you want. Men. Women. Whores. Goats. Fine. I’ll do the same, of course. Once there’s a kid or two. Can’t have anyone questioning the legitimacy.”

“So,” she continues as his mind runs through her words. Despite the absurdity of her proposal, he can’t help but consider it as she outlines her thoughts. “That’s benefit one and two. You keep the new Stark dynasty going, thereby securing your throne. And your lover. Benefit three, an alliance between the greatest fleet in Westeros and the North. The South won’t be able to challenge you. Three benefits for you . And for me, of course, you secure my throne. As much as it pains me to even need to suggest this—” Her mouth twists. “My uncle has me by the shorthairs. With this, well, everyone’s happy.”

“Except my bannermen,” Robb points out. They’d be furious. Their King marrying a kraken ? “They want me to marry a Northern woman.”

“You’re the King,” she says with a dismissive wave. “And you need to make your country secure. They’ll come to realize that. And you’ve got three siblings not promised. Make your Northern marriages with them.”

“You make it sound as if I’ve already agreed.” He rubs the back of his neck. It’s not hot in the room, but the hair there is damp nonetheless. He feels unsteady. If he wasn’t sitting down, he’s fairly sure he’d have lost his footing by now. He thanks all the gods, both the old and the new, for the chair in this moment. This woman unsettles him—has always unsettled him—but there is temptation in her proposal. Temptation—and truth.

The North cannot stand completely on its own, he knows. Westeros has been too intertwined for three hundred years. And with winter coming they’d need help with provisions for when the snows got too deep. The South will be affected, but it is the North who will be hit the hardest.

“You have,” she tells him. Then, she lifts herself off the chair with a lazy motion and winks at him before she leaves. He stares after her, mind still reeling, and then hears the distinctive sound of a throat clearing.

When he looks over, Jon is sitting up, eyes red and sleep-heavy, hair in disarray. “Well,” the brunette says with a wry twist of his lips. “That was interesting.”


 

“We should ride at once to King’s Landing,” Lord Umber says. His hair has grown longer in the time since he’d first crowned Robb as King in the North. It reaches his shoulders now, pulled back in the severe Northern fashion Eddard Stark had favored, and shot through with more white than brown now.

“The Lannister armies will be moving across the Crownlands into the West,” Nymeria Sand retorts, leaning over the table to run her fingers over the map. “The two armies will just clash in the middle. We would lose too many men.”

“We have been here for a month already,” Lord Karstark says. The deep glares he shoots around the great hall of Casterly Rock, gilded with gold and decorations just like most of the castle, shows his displeasure at this fact. The glare he shoots her is even deeper. “It is too risky for our King to stay here for long.”

Dacey Mormont sits to the right of Lord Karstark, her hair pulled back in a single braid. Her shoulders are straight and, as Robb looks to her, she leans over slightly to consider the map, following the trace of Nymeria’s fingers. The talking becomes background noise as Robb looks to his bannermen and allies, all of them espousing different courses to take. Lord Glover, with the recent news of the Lord Commander of the Night Watch’s allowance of the wildlings into the North—even going so far as giving them lands to settle in the Gift—has been raring to go back North. Smalljon Umber, too, is filled with restless, nervous energy, as the Last Hearth has frequently known the raids of the folk beyond the Wall for centuries.

Across from Lady Mormont, Asha Greyjoy looks almost bored, but Robb can see the way her eyes, too, follow Nymeria. Out of the corner of his eyes, Robb catches Jon nodding along with his sister’s words before he says, “You’re right, Lord Karstark.” The addressed lord almost jumps back with surprise, then turns wide eyes on the brunette Dornish man. Even Robb raises an eyebrow as he turns to look fully to Jon.

His hair has been pulled back a little into two braids that connect in the back of his head. They are thin, allowing several curls to gather in front of his face, shadowing his eyes, as he moves a statue of a ship over the map. “That is why we do not go over land. We go over sea.”

Immediately, the room explodes with bannermen providing protests.

“We do not have enough ships for the entire army!”

“Stannis’ forces were crushed at sea!”

“We are no navy!”

The best of them is Smalljon’s protest that it will only work when they grow gills and learn to breathe beneath the waves, even while Robb grows increasingly irritated at his men’s lack of respect for the war council meeting. Though Northerners are not known for their orderly meetings, the way the entire room crashes into noise that erases the protests in his hearing of those except who sit closest to Robb is downright disgraceful.

“Enough!” Robb says, raising his voice and rising from his seat. He turns a glare upon each and every one of his men. “If you can not give your opinions and advice in a calm manner then I suggest you leave the room and collect yourselves before you come back into the presence of your King!”

The room quiets down. Some of the lords look chastised and embarrassed, but more look begrudging. Robb feels his stomach flip and he knows that he is not looking forward to the next, crucial moments. Underneath the table, Jon’s foot comes to tap his own in a gesture of solidarity.

“Now,” Robb says in a low whisper, “Lady Greyjoy is going to speak. And you will all listen.” He sends a stern glare around the room and catches as Grey Wind moves to stalk around the table. The direwolf’s hackles are raised and he sees several men shift nervously. The Greatjon’s hand goes to his missing finger as he eyes the creature.

As usual, Asha eyes the surrounding people around her with an air of disregard. “I’m sure all of you have heard that my father is dead.”

Robb can see how much it physically pains some of the men to keep their comments to themselves. Next to him, Jon snorts quietly.

She continues on, “My Uncle Euron’s been declared King by the kingsmoot and is set to build a thousand ships, from what I hear. You all know of him.” Robb doesn’t even need to look at his men to see the mood has turned. He knows that all of them are worried at the thought of Euron Greyjoy, a villain and raper and murderer—a kinslayer, some say—with the power of a throne behind him. It does not sit well with any of them.

“My Uncle Rodrik Harlaw ensures me that he will stand behind my claim,” she tells them. “With his help, as well as the ships I already command, there will be two hundred ships, more even, under my command.”

Dacey Mormont holds out her hand to interrupt then. “Pardon me, my Lady,” she says as politely as she can. “What does any of this have to do with the North?” Or the war, is left unspoken.

Robb sighs and nods to Asha that he will take over. She smirks and leans back in her chair with the air of someone attending a particularly thrilling mummer’s show.

He grits his teeth and steels himself. He feels like he is heading into battle, charging head on into an army ten-thousand strong with only a dull sword and his mettle. “In exchange for ships from the Iron Islands that will provide the North, alongside the Martell ships from our alliance, a navy to get us to King’s Landing, the Lady Greyjoy and myself have agreed to join our houses.”

Disbelief freezes everyone in place for a moment or two. Then, despite the threats, the room once again erupts.

First comes Lady Mormont, calmer and more placid than the rest. “Theon Greyjoy is at the Wall. The lady has no other siblings. Your sister Arya is promised. Who?” Despite her words, it's clear that she knows.

The Greatjon spits out his own words. “Your father would turn over in his cold grave. Dishonor! Dishonor on your house! On your name! I never thought I would live to see the day that Lord Eddard Stark’s son—” The man spits on the floor. “—would contemplate such an action.”

Lord Karstark’s face is as red as a cherry. “This is an insult. You’d scorn our Northern daughters for this ?”

“It’s an alliance,” Nymeria Sand says over the shouts. “As lords, you should know their value.”

The Smalljon shakes his head. “If you want ships then marry someone else.” He looks at the two Sand siblings in the room. “Their cousin’s a Princess, isn’t she? Marry her! Promise Princess Arya to someone else. At least the Martell’s aren’t going to raid and reave our homes. They’re not cunts.”

Asha leans threateningly across the table. “What the fuck are you imp—”

Grey Wind’s growls have become louder, almost overshadowing the protests. Some of the lords quiet themselves as the wolf gets closer with bared teeth. Some, but not all.

“Your ancestors would be ashamed,” Lord Karstark says. “The gods will curse you for this.”

Robb’s blood boils at the same time that Jon shoots to his feet. Everything blurs. There is a savage noise and a flash of grey fur, which gives way to a strangled curse and a spray of red across the table. In a moment of deja vu, Robb sees Lord Karstark clutching his hand and many lords backing away from the angry wolf. Then—

Crack !

Nymeria Sand has a hand on the arm of her angry brother and her bullwhip uncurled across the table. Every muscle in the room tenses from the sound and they all look to her.

“I’ve seen orphan children of vagabonds and whores comport themselves better than you,” she tells them as she sits down. She drags Jon with her as she does so, then, she waves to Robb. “The floor is yours, Your Grace .”

He inclines his head towards her with gratitude. “Lady Sand.” Then he turns a harsh glare onto his bannermen and subjects. “You, all of you, made me King. I did not ask for it. I did not take it with blood or with dragonfire. I did not come into your homes, your towns, your ports, or your forests and fields, and demand it at the point of a blade in the night. You gave it to me.” He grits his teeth and tightens his jaw. “This station is not an easy one. It is a road that none of you have ever walked. A road my father never walked. Neither did his father, or his, or dozens of lords of Winterfell before him since the King Who Knelt.”

“I do not intend to be another such as him,” Robb says with steel and iron and anger behind his tone. Some men nod their heads. “The North will never be a vassal to the South again. Not while I live. Not while my children and their children and their children’s children live. This I promised you and this I hold.”

He nods at Asha Greyjoy who is looking at him with something akin to respect in her eyes. “Lady Asha is not a Northerner.” Then he waves towards the Sand siblings. “Prince Trystane is not a Northerner. Aye, these are facts truer than the air we breathe. And I, a Northern King, am half a Tully. As Southern a house as any. Yet, I am a Stark as well. The blood of a dynasty older than the dragons. Older than the stags and the lions and all the Southern kings combined. Why, then, do I seek to make an alliance with more Southerners?”

His voice grows solemn. “Because the North cannot stand alone. When the snows come and the winter freezes the skin from our very bones, what then? When it kills our crops and our livestock, takes the lives of babes born only minutes before, what then? When our water has to be harvested with fire and pickaxes, when our wine grows sour, when our wheat disappears? I ask you, what then? What of our kingdom, our legacy that we have fought and died and given our lives for? It becomes dust.”

All around him, anger is draining from their faces. Anger, yes, though not the distrust, but they are looking at him now with respect and fear and contemplation. Some, like Dacey, look away to hide the tears in their eyes at the memory of their fallen loved ones. As he speaks, he pictures his father, lean and somber with a long face, standing there among the lords. Gazing at his son, a man with burdens beyond expectation, with pride in his steel grey eyes.

Lord Karstark has wrapped a handkerchief around his bleeding fingers, but he is sitting there, straight-backed and civil. “Aye,” Robb hears the man say and several others echo this.

“Right now, the Westerlands are under our command, but we can not hold power here for long,” Robb says. “ Not without alliances. I’ve offered my Uncle Edmure to the Westerlings in marriage to their daughter in return for their support. With your permission, I will offer more sons and more daughters. The more lords we turn away from the Lannisters, the more support they lose. It’s part of the game, my lords, and this game I intend to win.”

“I know you do not want this,” Robb tells them. His heart clenches. “No more than I desire this.” Asha smirks at him. “This is a necessity, however. An alliance with the Iron Islands through me and an alliance with Dorne through Arya.” He looks to Jon for a second. “They’ll give us enough ships to sail near King’s Landing. We’ll embark at the ports near the city. Then, we will take it. Afterwards, when we have rooted out the poison from the capitol and received justice for my father, we will go home and live in peace.”

There are so many more matters, he knows. The matter of Jon and the Princess Arianne and the Iron Throne. None of the lords yet know about that or the plans to restore the house of the dragonlords. The matter of Daenerys Targaryen, far across the sea with those rumored dragons and a lust for her birthright. The matter of the phantoms in the night Uncle Benjen wrote about—that Theon, too, had wrote about—and if that is true, then there are greater things to worry about. They are not matters for now, however. The lords have had enough shocks for one day.

“And what of the Tyrells? They, too, have a large fleet. No doubt many of their ships will be at the ports,” Lord Glover points out. “Not to mention their arms in the capitol.” No more is said about his marriage, though Robb knows the men will never be happy about it.

“We should send another raven to your Aunt Lysa in the Vale,” Lord Karstark suggests.

Lord Umber snorts at that. “We’d better luck getting help from the wildlings than Lysa Arryn.”

Robb agrees. “We cannot rely on support from the Vale. Besides, how many ships can they offer? No, I have another idea.” He looks to Jon and Nymeria. There is no surprise on Jon’s face, for he knows what’s coming, but Nymeria looks at him with curiosity. “Your father was good friends with Willas Tyrell, wasn’t he?”

“Aye. Best friends,” Nymeria answers. “Why?”

He picks up the stick that has been resting on the table and places it near the wooden carving of a rose placed on the map. Slowly, he moves the rose towards the wood carving of a sun and spear. “Because I intend to see how far that friendship extends for the future lord of Highgarden now that his sister is imprisoned. Do you think Tyene is up for a trip to the Reach? I hear they love septas.”

Nymeria smirks. “Always, Your Grace.”


 

That night, Jon stands outside with the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks and cliffs that form Casterly Rock with the moon shining light off the water. It’s a balmy night, and he wonders how the Northern men around him can stand to be in their furs and ceremonial, warrior dress in weather like this. The air smells like salt and flowers from the godswood of Casterly Rock, the Stonetree. The wood itself is small. Barely big enough to contain the dozens of Northerners and Ironborn huddled around its twisted, dead looking trees. Whatever worship of the Old Gods the First Men might have done here, the decay and despair surrounding them is a testament to forgotten practices long-since buried.

It’s an ill place for a wedding, Jon thinks, and shifts uncomfortably. Robb stands next to him, expression blank. His hands, though, are shaking, the only proof that there are nerves and doubts going on in his pretty redhaired head.

The weirwood tree, the first Jon’s ever seen, is twisted, too. It’s white, yes, and there is a terrible face with a grimacing mouth and the appearance of fangs carved into it. It sends shivers down his spine. A cheerless tree for a cheerless wedding.

It could be worse, he tells himself, Robb could be marrying Alys Karstark.

There’s a handsome Ironborn directly across from them with a dark scowl on his face. It’s a match for the looks of every Northerner, who appear more like they are attending a funeral and not a wedding. They are holding their torches of fire in tight, unrelenting grips with frowns on their faces. The Ironborn man, Quarel or something, Jon’s not entirely sure, is holding a bowl of salt water taken from the sea with a tight, white-knuckled grip.

Jon breathes and moves so that he is standing only an inch from Robb. “Are you sure you have to do this now?”

“She thinks its best before her uncle tries to marry her off to some lord of the Iron Islands,” Robb tells him. The redhead’s jaw twitches. “Apparently that’s been done to women there before.”

Jon raises an eyebrow. “And you?” Robb looks to him underneath red eyelashes.

“Before I change my mind about this,” he replies.

As Jon moves away, Quarel places the bowl of salt water down next to the weirwood tree and moves away. Minutes pass by, though no one grows any more relaxed, before Asha Greyjoy, and Quarel, too, are both in the clearing. The handsome Ironborn is holding her arm with gentleness as he leads her in.

She’s not wearing a gown, though Jon hadn’t expected it of her. Robb is standing there with tense muscles and, while his eyes are focused on her, it seems to Jon as if he’s far away from here at the moment. Jon wishes he could be as well, but the smell of the salt sea and the smoke from the torches is grounding him, and the bride’s movements as they walk to the tree sends a punch through him with every step.

She is not a pretty bride, Jon thinks. It’s true, for none will ever call Asha Greyjoy a beauty. But she is a strong one.

“Who comes before the Old Gods this night?” Lord Umber, the officiator, asks.

Jon looks away from Asha Greyjoy and straight into Robb’s blue eyes. He swallows, barely hearing Quarel stammeringly reply, “Asha, of the House Greyjoy, comes here to be wed. A woman grown and flowered, trueborn and noble. She comes to beg the blessing of the—” The next word is almost spat out. “—Gods. Who comes to claim her?”

Robb smiles at him sadly, then looks away, stepping forward. Jon swallows and feels tears prickle at his eyes. He looks down and scolds himself for his weakness while Robb says, “Robb, of House Stark, King of the North and Lord of Winterfell. Who gives her?”

Quarel answers, “Qarl—” Oh, Jon thinks, that’s it. “—who was sworn to her father, Balon Greyjoy, King of the Iron Islands.”

Lord Umber clears his throat. “Lady Asha, do you take this man?”

“I take this man,” she replies. Then, she takes the bowl of salt water and drenches it over both bride and groom’s head.

And with that, and a stiff embrace, the wedding is finished. It is the fastest wedding Jon’s ever seen and, if the couple had been happier and if it hadn’t been Robb standing there, Jon thinks he might have found beauty in its simplicity. As it is, he feels hollow, and doesn’t look forward to the next wedding between them all.

A stab of guilt at the thought of Arianne hits him, but he knows she no more loves him as a lover should then he does her. Too bad Daemon can not give her what she seeks, he muses.

Perhaps the gods should have made me a girl, he thinks as he follows the wedding company back to the Rock where a feast has been prepared. A Visenya for my father, a sister to my brother Aegon and sister Rhaenys. How poetic it would have been. Perhaps I could have married Robb, then.

The thought leaves as quickly as it comes, though. Hidden by their cloaks as they move in the front of the procession, Jon feels Robb’s shaking hand touch his for a brief moment.

It calms him as they sit down. There are plates of roasted fish. Pike and flounder, as well as cod and tilapia. Some are basted in lemon, others in herbs; some are burnt until black with spices that make the tongue tingle and the mouth sweat. There are vegetables piled high and sweetmeats with nuts and honey. Roasted lamb and venison, and casks of wine and ale. The mood, still somber, lightens into song and revelry as the drinks work their magic.

Jon’s head feels light as Tyene leans over to whisper to him, “Are you good, little brother?” Robb is sitting next to him, his plate of food barely eaten, but deep in conversation with Asha about something Jon can’t make out.

“I don’t have much of a choice, do I, sis?” he replies as he takes a deep sip of wine. She ruffles his hair.

“I think you’ve been hit with too much of that famed Stark honor, little brother,” she tells him. Still, she shrugs all the same as she pops a bit of pastry into her mouth. “We could always poison her once a brat is born.”

Jon laughs and shakes his head. “I thought you liked her?” It’s a tease, since he knows fondness has never stopped Tyene before. She’d killed the man who took her virginity in a duel over Sarella’s honor when she was seventeen.

“Not as much as I love you,” she tells him. She shrugs. “If you ever need it.”

He won’t, he knows that. Despite the ill-feeling and the anger that is sitting in him, he knows it can never be him sitting there with Robb. If not Asha, there would have been another, and she’s done him no wrong. He can kill all the Lannisters he finds, kill an enemy in battle, kill a vile brigand in a bar brawl that insults his family or means them harm, but unless she plots to murder Robb in his sleep, Jon knows the Ironborn woman remains safe.

And Robb would never forgive the dishonor.

The room quiets down as Smalljon stands, swaying on his feet. His arm comes out to steady himself against the table and he lifts a mug of ale into the air. Drops splash across the table and onto a few guests. “The bedding!” Several people take up his call, adding in bawdy jokes and leers.

“My husband and I have discussed the bedding,” Asha says with a smirk as she stands. The look Robb shoots her is indication that they decidedly have not. “And we’ve agreed that there is to be none. Well, except for those people who will supervise of our choosing.” She turns to smirk at Jon. “So, I’ll allow his friend, Jon, to divest me of my clothing and help me to our wedding chambers, while Nymeria has volunteered to do the same for King Robb.”

There are the customary grumblings that always follow when a bedding is denied, but Jon feels his eyebrows raise as realization sets in. He meets her eyes with a smirk of his own and lifts his glass of wine to her. Robb is stiff next to her and Jon thinks that he looks like a spooked deer.

Nymeria stands up with a smile and a flourish and offers her hand to Robb. He takes it stiffly. Then, to cheers and whistles, she pulls him from his seat and unlaces his scabbard. “Come on, Your Grace,” she announces. “I’ll take care of you.”

Someone hoots and hollers. There is banging on the table. Nymeria skims her hand along the waistband of Robb’s pants and his face has never been redder to Jon’s knowledge.

Jon stands and he, too, sways as he walks. Asha Greyjoy comes closer to him, holding her hands out, and as he moves to begin unlacing her, she whispers in his ear, “I hope you can get it up for a girl, too, pretty boy.”

As her shirt comes over her head and the four of them move towards the door, guests following with a clap that sounds like a drum beat march, he tells her, “My Lady, I have never had a problem with that.”

“Good,” she says, as some of the guests disperse, the four of them alone in the hallway where Robb’s chambers are, except for Roger and Theo. “Because we both know that he’ll need all the help he can get.”

Both guards look the other way as Nymeria leaves, with the sight of Robb standing in just his smallclothes, his bare chest a match for Asha’s behind her. Jon doesn’t look down as the door closes behind the three of them. Jon pulls away from her and holds his hand out to Robb, who takes it nervously. As he kisses him, the tense nerves that have been following the redhead around all day, fade away and begin to relax, and Jon feels small, rough hands start to help him out of his own clothes.

“You good?” he asks Robb as he bites his left earlobe. Asha’s hands are tracing patterns across both their hipbones, back and forth.

“Shut up and keep kissing me,” Robb answers with a growl.

In the morning, Jon shifts and laces one leg around Robb’s, tangling the two of them up in the sheets. Light drifts through cracks in the curtain and he buries his face into the pillow with a groan to escape it. On the other side of Robb, he hears Asha groan, too, and feels her arm come across the both of them, presumably to grab a pillow of her own.

Robb sighs. “Now I have to deal with two lazy arses,” the redhead says sleepily as he untangles both of them away from him. Jon opens one eye and glares at him, at the same time he sees Asha make a rude gesture. The sheet isn’t even covering her. There are scratches on her torso, as well as a large hickey above her right breast that either of them could have put there.

Robb pulls the pillow away from her. “Come on,” he says in that commanding tone he uses when he’s feeling particularly kingly. “Your ship has to sail soon.”

She scowls and doesn’t move. “You know,” she says in a conversational tone that’s borderline unfriendly, “You better hope you’re a one strike hits the gold man when it comes to getting a woman with child, mate.”

She cracks her neck as she sits up, and Jon closes his eyes again. “After all,” she continues. He feels the bed shift underneath him as she rises. “It’s a long and hard journey to Meereen.”

Chapter Text

Robb’s stomach churns as the boat rocks with the strong waves. Groaning, he heaves himself up from the cot in his cabin, sweat running down his face and his neck, over his collarbone and across his chest, as he moves as quickly as he can to the chamber pot. As soon as he is kneeling on the salt-roughened floor, the contents of his pickled fish dinner congeal into the bottom of the tin pot, mixing with urine into a sickly color that he has to turn away from lest he be sick again. He sits back onto his ankles as soon as his stomach settles, moaning and pushing away sweaty strands of hair sticking to his forehead.

“Are you going to make it?” a sleepy voice asks from the comfort of bed sheets and a stuffed mattress. Robb screws his eyes shut, though he wants to glare at Jon. Jon and his familiarity with boats and their roughshod movements and his ironclad stomach in the face of their dangers. In reply, however, all he does is groan. He doesn’t trust himself to speak, too fearful that the moment he opens his mouth nothing but bile and stomach lining will emerge.

There is a shuffling sound, then creaking, as Jon comes to kneel beside him. His calloused hand that, despite years of training and war, is still somehow soft strokes through his sweaty hair. The brunette places his chin on Robb’s right shoulder, while his other hand comes to stroke the naked skin of the redhead’s back. “You’ll get used to it. We’ve only been sailing—what?—two weeks? By the time we reach Dorne, well, I expect you’ll be a pro at never missing the pot.”

Robb weakly shoves him as the brunette sniggers. “Jerk,” he mutters half-heartedly. His head pounds as he leans back on his elbows, a futile effort, it seems, to stop the spinning. Even once his head calms there will still be the crash of the waves, the speed of the travel, and the pull of the ocean tossing and turning them about like they’re just vegetables cut up and thrown into a boiling soup. Man, he thinks, is not meant to travel by sea. Fuck Asha and Theon, as well as all the Ironborn and their Drowned God. Fuck him, most of all, with a rusty anchor.

Jon’s hand slips into his. “You’re not the only one miserable.” Robb opens his eyes to see the brunette jerk his head towards the corner where, sure enough, both Grey Wind and Ghost curl up together with matted fur and downtrodden expressions of torment. “I think I can hear your fellow Northerners losing their innards, too.”

The Northerners that have come along with Robb and Jon on their journey to Dorne are bedding down besides most of the crewmembers. Since Robb’s king, he’s awarded greater luxuries. Jon, by virtue of being his close companion, as well as the supposed bastard of Prince Oberyn Martell, is as well; they’ve both been given a private cabin. It’s not much—actually, it’s barely bigger than a closet, with the bed pushed up against a wall that’s got watermarks and chips all over the wood, and a small dresser shoved up next to the chamber pot. The direwolves have been staying indoors, and the strong smell of the salt sea and refuse is making both their heads spin with constant exposure. It often causes both men to seek fresh air and less rancid company above deck.

“I don’t know how she does it,” Robb says, tucking his head underneath Jon’s. The brunette’s arms come up and wrap themselves around him as he leans back with most of his weight. Their legs intertwine and the embrace briefly helps to ground him before the next jolting wave sends the ship bouncing and his stomach threatens to roil. “All those months at sea. And pregnant!”

His wife is many things and most of those things are nothing to brag about, but weak she is not. Five months into carrying his child and hopefully on her way back from Meereen. By the time he finally meets the kid—and he’s hoping it won’t be too long—they’ll have hair poking out of silver fins from the amount of time they’ve spent on land.

After she’d gone, Robb used to wonder if she’d send her missives by squid or by gull, and there’d been nothing but surprise when the first arrived by courier aboard a rough-hewn ship four months ago. I will never love her, he thinks, this wife of mine, but she is a woman deserving of respect. There are many full-grown men who’d flee at the first sign of dragons approaching, and she sails onward to them.

“Asha’s Ironborn,” Jon replies with a hint of casual dismissal. “They’ve got barnacles as bones and salt as blood. Let’s see her handle the desert.”

He doesn’t say, “let’s see you handle the desert,” but he doesn’t have to. Robb knows that the heat, grit, and conditions of Dorne are something that he can’t fathom. Truthfully, he’s wondering just how long it will take before he is walking around naked, as Jon’s joked so many times before. Only the mantra that sounds much like Catelyn Stark that parading bare flesh is unfitting for a king keeps him from thinking it a plausible future reality.

“Or the dragons,” Jon continues, almost as an afterthought. Robb wonders if that is more because he’s wondering how he’s going to handle the dragons. By now, most of the Northerners of noble birth have heard who Jon is, by word-of-mouth from those who’d attended the meet the day before leaving the Rock, and most have handled it—well, as well as can be expected given the stories about Rhaegar and Lyanna, not to mention the kidnapping of a Northern child by Oberyn Martell—but other than that, they’ve managed to keep his status relatively under wraps. The Lannisters in the capital (denning there with their claws in marble floors) are not pounding down the doors and screaming through the fields for the head of a dragonspawn, nor are there wide-eyes of awe and bent knees full of oblations from peasants as they move through the countryside.

Least, not for Jon, and Robb still cannot get used to that for all that it’s been a couple of years with this war-forged crown upon his head.

“How much longer?” Robb asks, changing the subject. “How much longer on this wretched vessel till we reach dry land?”

Jon sighs. “I don’t know. A couple of days?”

Wearily, Robb groans again and wishes that he could command the sea to calm or the shore to appear. Aloud, he says, “You know nothing, Jon Sand.” Then, he closes his eyes and waits for the next bout of seasickness to rear its ugly head.




 

His children will be made of winter and winter is hard and strong. The sea, though—the sea is something else. It’s turbulent, its dangers hidden underneath murk and the charming sounds of a dolphin trill in the distance, or the beauty of a structure full to the brim with vivid coral and various colorful fish. Four weeks into the journey, Robb stares to the water, its color gone from a dark storm to a clearer, bright blue-green, the sand on the bottom visible beneath the waves, the closer they sail to the coast of Dorne. He’d thought once that the sea must be a terrible thing to produce men as hard and vicious as the Ironborn, but in this moment, he believes ocean-begotten men are beautiful. Beautiful and deadly, just as they are vipers waiting in the reefs and crags and dips.

One such viper approaches him and rips him from his musings with a well-placed comment. “My family will be waiting on the shore. Not Uncle Doran, though. Do not be offended, King Robb. It’s nearly impossible to wheel the chair onto the sand.” With those words, Nymeria Sand reminds the redheaded winter king to be nervous. He reaches up to fix his constricting collar, throat tight, and then runs his hands through his wind-ruffled curls.

She’s dressed down. Or dressed up, Robb contemplates. He, in his boiled leather armor and the jerkin underneath, is roasting like a suckling pig. The sun beats hot upon freckled flesh, and the Northern men smell unpleasantly like sweat and the bitter odor emanating from creases of unwashed flesh. Still, though, they refuse the lighter, silkier tunics and loose pants of the Dornish, content with their pride and their honor. The Smalljon, though, takes the offered clothes with a hearty thanks, moaning to anyone who’ll listen that “the last trip was scorching ! I’d wear a fucking skirt if it gave my balls some relief.”

Nymeria wears a dress that ends at her mid thighs, displaying the power of her strong legs. It’s gold and light, the cotton brushing against the impression of her breasts and hips, skirting over her form like a lover. A thick leather belt wraps around her waist, crisscrossing upwards over the sides of the gown and across her collarbone, and she’s got a thick, coiled whip strapped to her side.

King Robb Stark of Winterfell feels distinctly out-of-place next to her.

She smiles, but it is not warm or friendly. In the short time that he’s known her, he’s come to realize that everything is strategy to her. Whereas Tyene is both covert and blunt, and Jon is just open, Nymeria is more of a mystery than both her siblings combined. He’s not sure where he stands with her, and that unsettles him. Moreover, he’s not sure where he wants to stand with her. He watches as she caresses the thick handle of the whip lovingly with her right hand. “My sister, Elia, writes that your lands are lovely acres of fluff. She’s also having a lovely time messing with poor Trystane’s head alongside your sister, Arya. If we’re not careful, my youngest cousin might be cuckolded.”

If she means the words as a joke, they do not sound as such. Robb swallows and tries not to panic at the thought. Nymeria makes note of this, but continues to speak all the same. “And your wife? How does she fare?”

Robb shrugs. As he does so, the leather sticks uncomfortably to his skin, and a squelching sound follows. Rivers of sweat run down from his brow, his lips taste of salt and burn due to cracks, and he’s never wished to feel the sea more than he does now, if only to be clean.

“She writes much and more, and little to nothing. Much on the abysmal price of fish and the goods she’s pillaged, and little about the babe or the Dragon Queen,” he answers with a grim cast to his mouth. He thinks he’s probably never looked more Northern, more foreign, to this woman than he does with dreary words echoing forth on the bow of an ornate Dornish ship.

Nymeria nods contemplatively. “Mayhaps that is for the best. No news is good news.” Or dead news, neither of them says. He recalls, too, the days that rumors about Daenerys Targaryen seemed little more than fantasies of a downtrodden people crushed under the yoke of the Lannisters. She’d been dead news, then, and it seems odd to think of her with such hopeful ideas, this daughter of a house that caused his own such much pain.

Robb lets his eyes flit to Jon, who drinks and laughs fifty-feet away with Smalljon. Around them, Northerners grumble and grimace in their own discomfort, and watch with envious eyes at the easy camaraderie the two un-perspiring men share. Jon’s wearing a sleeveless overcoat of cotton and silk, gold as his sister’s, with a lining of brown at the edges of the opening and, underneath, and even thinner and brighter silk shirt. His breeches are dark chestnut, thicker than the loose cotton pants the other Dornish don, but airy enough to breath, and his curls, longer now than they’d been the day they met, are pulled back from his face by tiny braids.

He nods in answer, and doesn’t speak. She takes it as the dismissal it is and walks with that rolling gait that comes naturally only to those who’ve spent time of their youth on ships, back towards her brother. Jon smiles to her as bright as the sun. Robb looks away and back to the water, and wishes they could sail past the Dornish shores.

The next afternoon, Robb leaves his wobbling sea legs behind and stands on solid, unmoving ground once more. In the distance, he sees a whole retinue of Dornish guards and flags bearing the sigil of House Martell. There’s fifty, he counts, or more, but, sure enough, he spots no litter or a man with the bearing of prince. Instead, several women stand in wait under the shade of a gigantic erect canopy of bright orange. He squints in an attempt to make out their faces.

Do not think this a slight, he reminds himself. He eyes Nymeria, who walks next to him with nary a smile on her face from the return to her home. Jon, though, has an expression of half-relief and half-terror on his pale features, and Robb wishes he could reach out to him. Nevertheless, he must come to his Southern allies as a King of Winter, not as a friend.

His own guards and Northern men follow him as they trod their way up the beach, and he can hear their audible displeasure, buried as it is under the heat and their own breath. He believes they must make a curious spectacle to the Dornish, dressed in their rough and heavy garments, their beards thick and gritted with salt, and their eyes pure ice. In contrast, the Dornish themselves seem insubstantial in their silks and stubble, some with heads bare, others with scarves that hide their hair, but Robb’s seen them fight with a fierce skill unmatched by most. He knows better than to think the small greeting party does not have a dozen tricks up their nonexistent sleeves.  

The women’s faces become clearer as he approaches. One woman, the eldest, with spiral curls of dark brown stares with a wide, trembling smile on her face and tears in her black eyes. She’s not looking at Robb, though, or any of the Northerners. Her gaze fixes unerringly upon Jon. Ellaria, Robb thinks, without need for clarification. His own mother’s given him such a look before. Relief and grief and happiness all become one. All six women are adorned in silks of gold, though one, who stands to the side, the eldest after Ellaria, has her hands clasped firmly upon a tall spear and her hair pulled back severely. She’s got the bearing of a man twice her size, and the harsh expression of a shrewd foe. He figures that she can be no one but Obara, the eldest and most distant of the Sand girls.

Three young girls stand next to Ellaria. On her right side, there is a child of perhaps eight or nine years, with short, boyish curls sticking up around her face, frizzed and wild, and freckles on the bridge of her nose. Her skin is light brown, and she smiles with gap-teeth. She’s got a hold on the hand of a taller, thinner girl, older, too, by a couple of years, with straight black hair that falls down to waist, and a newborn scar on the tip of her round chin, a grin dissecting her plain face. On Ellaria’s left side is a girl blooming to womanhood, with sharp hips and full breasts, of an age with Sansa, her hair as curly as Tyene’s, and as dark as Jon’s. She, too, is smiling with joy.

Obella, Dorea, and Loreza, Robb remembers, but it is not the three sisters that his gaze lingers on. It is the woman who stands next to the youngest girl. There is a circlet of gold and rubies upon her brow, her hair a mass of spiral curls, and her bearing as regal as any woman Robb’s seen. Princess Arianne, Jon’s cousin, and Robb’s equal—

Robb’s rival. She comes forward and greets them with all propriety, curtsies low, her large bosom nearly spilling out the top of her ruffled gown and, when she straightens, he notes that she is small. Small, but not delicate, and certainly not fragile. He kisses her hand and bows, and all the while, a haughty smile never falls from her face, nor the impish gleam from her eyes.

Manners performed, and introductions given, all six Dornish women proceed to look to Jon and Nymeria. Without ceremony, but a sob, Ellaria clutches her skirts in one fist, and rushes to the two siblings, clutching them close and tight. Jon grips her, too, hard and desperate, and buries his face and his words in her neck with Nymeria plastered to his side, one of her arms around the woman’s waist. Several of the Northerners look away to give the three some semblance of privacy, while others watch with gaped-mouths.

They do not care that we have come, Robb realizes, and the dark expressions on his men’s face single that they have noticed it, too. This is a reunion, nothing less, and the courtesies given to Robb Stark are as thin as breeze upon the beach.

When Ellaria pulls away, then hides her face in a loose bit of cloth to shield her tears, the two youngest girls tackle their brother, three bodies tumbling laughingly into the sand. Jon playfully wrestles them, ruffles their curls, and teases their growth. Robb smiles as Loreza solemnly informs Jon that her hair’s been cut due to “the icky lice,” while Dorea asks him if he’s seen reindeer. Obella shoves them away, and jumps to wrap herself like a barnacle around her brother, who umphs and mockingly pretends to drop her due to weight. Obara steps forward more sedately, and clasps her arm with her sister’s, then nods curtly to Jon, who frowns and lowers his eyes, before he nods back. This sends a spark of anger up Robb’s spine, but the next greeting sends that coasting over the edge.

Princess Arianne hugs Nymeria first, but it is Jon she truly sees. Robb feels a large amount of ill-placed resentment and unease bubble in his stomach and in his chest as he watches her smile turn sweet and seductive and Jon’s gray eyes trace his cousin’s—no, his betrothed —form. There is nothing to be jealous of, Robb tells himself, looking to the pair, but the surge of possessiveness that shoots through him feels primal, and he knows the wolf is in him in that moment.

Grey Wind and Ghost have lingered on the beach, routing out crabs and other critters from the sand, but they emerge as soon as the hugs are done to make their large, unearthly presences known. The Dornish guards stiffen, instantly on edge, their hands tight around their weapons, while all the Sand sisters stare with large eyes to the whitest wolf they’ve ever seen. Ghost introduces himself first with a sniff to all of the women, his snout remaining upon Arianne for a long moment, before he gives an affectionate lick to Ellaria, who laughs and pets him bravely.

She’s met him before, Robb knows, and so she is not afraid. At their mother’s actions, the Sand sisters all reach out to caress his fur. Grey Wind does not approach, but neither does he growl, choosing instead to look to the Dornish women with wary eyes. He’s panting from the heat, and Robb begins to think that Jon’s idea of shaving them had more merit than he gave it credit for, and resolves to find shears to do so as soon as the moment strikes.

In a whirlwind of activity, as hazy as any Robb’s ever had, the Northerner’s shuffle awkwardly into the shade. If there is indignation that the princess is here to greet them, instead of the ruling head, than the winter men are wide to keep it to themselves. Robb follows Jon and Ellaria, whose arm intertwines with her paramour’s adopted son, and can’t help but wonder if the tiny bits of sand are shifting so much beneath his feet that it bleeds into his head.

He notices, as he thanks the cool cover of the canopy in his mind, five or six round tables, stocked with cutlery and glasses, as well as jugs of wine. To the side, there are several plates lined up on a thin table, all covered by wrought silver for freshness. Servants, too, dressed in poor quality cotton, but just as light and just as yellow, wait in the wings. He wonders if there are daggers under their clothes, as his party sits down, Robb and Jon and Nymeria placed among the Princess Arianne in the middle of the layout.

They speak to him, at times, but their attention is drawn to Jon, and though Arianne’s been surely taught the value of diplomacy and small talk, she, too, is fixated on Jon. Robb wishes he could blame them, wishes even that he could feel the slight, but he knows the draw better than anyone here. Moreover, it's been a long time for them, a long time filled with death and despair. House Martell has suffered wounds as well, no stranger to them, similar in its injuries to House Stark.

When the meal begins, there is strong tea with honey and milk and long, crispy pastries rolled in cinnamon. In tiny cups next to it, there’s a thick, dark colored dip with a luxurious taste that Jon informs him is called chocolate. Robb’s never tasted it's like before, and vows to establish trade between their two countries if just for this. The soup served to them next is spicy and chilled, red as a flame, with chunks of peppers and onions, cuts of cucumber, and a smattering of roasted almonds. The Northerners taste it with wary beginnings, never having encountered a cold soup, but quickly consume the meal, along with the flat bread alongside it, with zeal. Afterwards, servants place plates of smoked meats and hard, pungent cheese on each of the tables; lamb and mutton and pork, but there are others, too, more foreign. Pink fish called salmon, chewy eel, and snake, which Robb tastes, but quickly dispatches to an eager Grey Wind when no one is looking.

“They do produce a fine bounty,” he hears one of his own men whisper, and hopes the words are portents for an auspicious start. From the beginning of the meeting to the end, King Robb Stark, kinsman to Jon Sand, reluctant ally to the rest, hears everything and nothing, words lost in a sea of nerves and a flurry of fog he’s not felt since his first battle. Later on, he will not remember what he said, or the first impression he’ll have made on his lover’s family, but he’ll remember Jon’s smiles, and Arianne’s taunting eyes.




 

Dorne looks the same, Jon thinks. Somehow, inexplicably, he’d almost been expecting it to have changed. For the sky to be less red as the sun sets, for the sand to be less dry, or the air less spicy and hot. But everything’s the same. The children still run naked through the springs in the water gardens, laughter and playful cries on their tongues. The halls nearest the kitchens still smell like roasting lamb and baking vegetables, the acrid aroma of coffee and the earthy scent of tea still drift from room to room. His sisters are still fighting each other in the yard, though now they’ve got a foolish Northerner or two to put onto their back.

Ellaria walks ahead of him, no longer dressed in mourning clothes, as the required year is up, though Jon notices there is a noticeable rip at her collar. Her dark hair is in ringlets falling down her back, a contrast to the silken yellow of her gown, and she’s got one arm wrapped around Robb as she leads him around their home.

“Jon used to run naked through that solar,” Ellaria says. Jon feels his face go red as Robb turns to him with a smirk and a raised eyebrow.

“Ellaria!” he half-whines and half-sighs. Parental embarrassment is not something he’d ever thought he’d suffer, but she’s doing her best to make sure that the redheaded king knows every single one of his childhood misdeeds.

“Is there a place you didn’t run naked through?” Robb asks playfully, twisting his head around to look to Jon as they move. He’s less pale and green now, since they’ve been standing on land for several hours. “Planky Town and Sunspear, the beach and the desert. Even the Yronwood’s keep. You’ve got an exhibitionist streak, Sand?”

Jon furrows his eyebrows and narrows his eyes. “Are you saying you don’t know?” he whispers, moving to stand barely an inch from Robb’s ear, then slows down so he’s following them again. If Ellaria’s heard, she doesn’t care, as she makes them go left to wind the corner towards Jon’s room.

On opposite sides of the door, two Dornish guards stand in wait. They’re older now, with more gray in their hair, but they smile to see him. One man, Art, is a Sandy Dornishmen that was once a guard for House Dayne; he’d been with Jon since he’d been a babe in arms, though, and so Jon embraces him happily. His other guard, younger, with more muscles and a darker complexion, is Perros, and he shakes Jon’s hand in welcome. Both men bow respectfully to Robb, but raise their eyebrows suggestively to the brunette when Robb’s attention is drawn by Ellaria, who brings him inside the room, knowing Jon’s proclivities and tastes well.

“Should I invest in cotton for my ears, Jon?” Perros teases.

Jon smirks, the right corner of his mouth curling upwards. “Are you going to be guarding me at night, too?” They don’t, usually, since any who dare enter Sunspear or the Water Gardens with intent to harm House Martell don’t go for the bastards first.

Art nods. “Prince Doran’s orders. On account of all the foreigners.” He says the word with a curl to his lip, typical of Dornish confronted by outsiders. Jon wonders if they know about him, then decides he’d rather not know.

Coming home is hard enough. Emotions swirl around in his gut wherever he steps. With every breath he takes, he can feel pieces of nostalgia and sorrow chip away at his conscious, memories threatening to overwhelm him. He plasters on a smile and a happy face, truly elated to see his sisters, even Obara, but he’s aware of the hole around them where once Oberyn Martell had been.

And Arianne, too. Seeing her is different now. She is no longer just his cousin, but a woman he’s meant to bed. Having her standing near Robb on the beach, it unsettled him, made him wary and nervous and tired, all at once, and there’s a flash of guilt, as well, though towards who , Robb or Arianne or both, he’s not quite sure.

He shifts and spreads his legs wider, feet apart and flat on the ground, and says, “You’ve more cause to be worried for them.” He gestures to Ghost who stands in wait, all four paws together, as well as Grey Wind. “I’ve got quite valiant protectors.”

Both Art and Perros swallow nervously, adam’s apples bobbing. Ellaria’s seen fit to warn no one of the direwolves, it seems, and it’s not a surprise. She’s always one to revel in people’s shock and discomfort when it suits her, and it suits her often. The two guards, some of the finest and bravest Jon’s met, nevertheless step back when they come face to face with a creature that, to them, is only out of myth and legend and tales of men with fangs for teeth and fingers crafted out of bone.

Behind the wolves, several Northern men in sweltering boiled leather stand at attention. At the forefront, Theo and Roger, eye their Dornish counterparts with suspicion and ill regard, clearly believing themselves superior guards. In response, Perros and Art puff up their shoulders and chests, standing taller, and Jon wonders if he’s about to see a childish game of rock-parchment-sword occur concerning who’s more apt to keep watch.

“Once you’re settled, Prince Doran asks to see you and His Grace,” Perros informs him stiffly. He’s never been comfortable around Prince Doran, though whether that’s because he finds the man a spineless leader, or is just uncomfortable at the sight of weak legs, Jon know nots.

Nor does he care. He stands there for a moment, paralyzed, as he thinks about his so-called uncle. Prince Doran Martell, the man behind the curtain, and the one pulling all their strings.

Ellaria, it seems, has heard, for she stops Robb in the middle of a statement about the beauty of the family portrait hanging just above the bed. “I think we should give Jon a moment, Your Grace,” she tells him with all the polite distance of a court lady. She smiles polite, too, but it doesn’t fool Robb. The redhead shoots him a look of deep concern as they leave, continuing their tour in the room down the hall where Jon poorly learned how to play the harp.

Both direwolves and Northerners follow, the men clearly ill at ease with the thought of leaving their king in the hands of the “Dornish snakes,” and leave Jon alone. He steps cautiously into his childhood room, then Perros and Art swing the door shut, and there is unnerving silence. The place he’d spent years in. It’s also the same. Nothing out-of-place and everything exactly where he left it.

There’s a stuffed snake toy in the middle of his bed, a gift from Sarella for his fourth nameday. It’s missing a chunk of stuffing from a rip by its tail, created by teeth, and the flicking tongue long lost. Books are stacked high on the nightstand, weapons piled haphazardly in the left corner near the door, and clothes strewn on the divan near the balcony with its blowing red curtains. It smells of dust and stale air, and the first hints of jasmine and rose outside, and he’s never felt more out-of-place. He’s home—

But he’s not.

He moves and traces his fingers over the memories. The pads of his thumb catch on smooth wood, his palm caresses silk bed coverings, and his nails scratch at the stiff bindings of books. Everything is old and everything is foreign, his but not his, all the same, and he wonders if there has ever been a more contradictory man.

This is mine, he thinks, and then shakes his head. No, this belonged to a man who thought himself Jon Sand, and I am no longer just him.

He feels the weight of time press into his bones, the heaviness of knowledge interspersed with the ashes of an old life, and each slow, cautious step feels as if he’s walking through fire. He thinks of his sisters and their love, their happiness, and Ellaria’s embrace, and it feels as distant as the Wall in that moment. Happiness is fleeting, he knows, and peace is, too.

It’s in the quiet that he thinks of words his father had once told him, a long time ago, when Jon had been innocent and asked about death. “Not a day goes by that I do not think of Elia,” Oberyn had said, voice heavy with sadness and taunt with memory. “And you think the days after are the worse. The wound is still fresh and bleeding. You can feel the itching deep down as it tries to mend. But it is the after that it festers. The moments where you think of nothing but your dinner that night or your lover in your bed, those are the moments where it creeps back, for no reason at all, and those are the moments that are the worst.” A small, sad smile spread across Oberyn Martell’s face and tears clung to his dark eyes, and Jon had regretted his own foolish question. “That is when you truly understand that death never dies.”

However, the strange thing about death and grief is this: No one ever suffers it the same.

With the surety of one who feels as if grief is naught but a scar to cover the damage, but the slightest memory can cause the bearer to weep. And the memories in this room, times when Oberyn would rock him to sleep after he’d awoken from nightmares, serves to break an invisible dam. Hot tears spill from his eyes and whimpers from his mouth, vulnerable as a child as he rocks with his own arms wrapped around weak knees. When he rises, minutes or hours later, he knows not, his eyes are red and his hair a mess, but he goes to greet Doran with purpose is his gait and resolve in his mind.



 

He goes to Prince Doran Martell angry, and Robb joins him, full of distrust. They meet him on the balcony, the Dornishman in his customary spot, chair angled towards the gardens to watch the orphans play in the springs. In lieu of a proper bow, Doran Martell places his hand over his heart and inclines his head as Robb is introduced, but Robb’s blue eyes never leave the other man’s as he returns the gesture, bowing at the waist. Jon, too, bows, but it's done out of habit, out of expectation, and it leaves pangs of hollowness in his soul.

“Sit, Your Grace. Jon,” Prince Doran invites, and he waves his hand to the table that’s been set with slices of blood oranges and bowls of pomegranate seeds. Deep, vivid red wine is already full to the brim in glasses patterned and etched with spears and suns. “Tell me, how goes our alliance plans with Daenerys Targaryen?”

Straight to business. If it's at odds with his usual manner of pleasantries and mincing of words, Jon’s not bothered. Every second he spends here, he wants to flee, and Robb Stark, ever the wolf-blooded born man he is, seems to be feeling every ounce of Stark hatred that one can fathom looking to Doran Martell. Jon watches his eyes narrow, his mouth curl, and his fingers flex towards his sword. The reminder that this man was party to the kidnapping of his cousin is not far from the edges of Robb’s mind.

In this moment, listening to Robb’s tense reply, he wonders how House Martell and House Stark can ever truly find common ground. The wonder festers mere minutes later, while Jon’s fingers are stained with the red bloom of pomegranate juice, and Robb’s mouth twists from the tartness of the orange, as Doran turns to study his falsely acknowledged “nephew.”

“—my men to be stationed outside Jon’s room, as well,” Robb is saying when Doran utters the words that leave Jon cold.

“Lyanna Stark’s ghost lingers around you, now.” Behind Doran, Areo Hotah, his personal guard from Norvos, stands tense and at the ready. Robb tenses, too, fingers limply holding a slice of orange that he then drops with a soft squish against his gold plate. Jon lets his gaze flicker to the redhead for a moment, and takes in the narrow eyes and the threat of a snarl.

Eyes focus everywhere. Areo Hotah’s eyes trained on Robb, Robb’s on Doran, and Doran’s—

His dark, old eyes pierce Jon’s. The brunette steels himself, a reminder that though they share no blood, he is still the son of the Red Viper, and he refuses to be cow in the face of a man many saw as the lesser brother. Even more, he’ll not be torn down by a man who once wiped his snotty nose and changed his soiled small clothes. “You’ve changed.”

Perhaps it is the way his hands do not grasp at the redheaded serving girl, or that his lips are not promising sweet nights to one of the guards. Doran seems changed, too. If there is guilt in Doran, than he does not show it. Neither does he show triumph or gall, nor anger and scorn. Rather, he shows indifference, and that stings worse than anything.

“Better hers than Rhaegar’s.” The words are bitter, as rancid as year-old meat, and as acidic as a full pitcher of lemon juice. “Or would you prefer I remind you of that man?”

Doran smiles, then, polite and placating, which makes Jon want to rage and tear apart his chair until there is nothing left but wreckage for the man to sit upon. “You remind me of my brother.”

Robb looks two seconds away from hurling himself over the table, or perhaps growling in the same artistically savage way that Grey Wind does. His fingers clench into his thighs, creasing the leather of his breeches, and his jaw ticks. Jon lets his own hand drift and grabs the tense fingers, uncurling them, and rubs soothing motions against the redhead’s skin.

Then, Doran turns to Robb, and with all the upmost respect one affords to royalty, he says, “Forgive me, Your Grace, would you mind giving my nephew and I a moment alone? It’s been a long time.”

“I don’t think—” Robb begins to say reluctantly, and harshly, but Jon interrupts, “Yes, uncle , there is much we need to discuss.” He throws a pleading glance to the redhead, silently asking him what words cannot say, and Robb grits his teeth, before he nods and leaves with tense muscles. Jon takes a moment to wonder if his sisters will enjoy the pleasure of sparring through Robb’s anger down in the tiltyard.

Jon bites his lip harsh enough to draw blood once the two men are alone. Just them—and Areo Hotah. “I am no one's ghost,” Jon informs Doran with a throat tight from the effort of controlling his anger. “Nor am I one’s pawn. I will do what I want, not what you want.”

Doran nods, then, his fingers play with the handle of a delicate glass and he says, “You must marry Arianne soon. Before Daenerys Targaryen arrives.”

A bitter smirk flits across Jon’s face. “Afraid that Quentyn didn’t quite manage to charm her? I would be, too. He’s awfully dull.”

If Doran is surprised that Jon knows where his eldest son is, he doesn’t show it. He’s probably fully aware that Arianne’s informed him of much that’s meant to be kept secret. Jon had made it clear that if they are to work then secrets must never be held between the two of them. She’d readily agreed, though he knows that her true feelings will always be a mystery, even to herself.

Consequently, Jon is the most well informed Dornish man both inside and outside of Dorne. Arianne’s spies, formerly including Daemon Sand, relay to her all information and plots withheld from her, and she takes the time to parcel through her father’s furtive words and underhanded dealings with the poise and accuracy of a well-bred politician. In the last few months alone, both of them have learned many things, and Jon thinks his cousin never more ready to rule than she is right now.

Emotionlessly, Doran nods. “Targaryens have certain appetites. She might share in the inclinations of her predecessors and I would see that root ripped out, once and for all.” Jon does not bother to point out that he is not her brother, and that Targaryen madness seems to have skipped the both of them. Of course, he’s not certain of that, neither about her, who he’s never met and only heard awed whispers about, or himself, but one doesn’t play a game of cyvasse and throw damaging secrets on to the board.

Jon shrugs and leans back, allowing his boot-clad feet to lift up, sand clinging to the soles, onto the soft cushion of Robb’s empty chair. “We’ll decide when we marry,” he says, and spreads his arms out over the side of his chair. “And no one else.”

He doesn’t need to emphasize the hidden meanings behind his actions or words. He knows that Doran is fully aware Jon is done letting the man control him.

His uncle is tense, now, his right hand curled into a fist on top of the table, the fingers on the wine glass tighter around the handle. Subtle actions, but clear ones. As silent as the grave, Areo Hotah’s dark eyes focus on Jon as if he is a threat.

Good, Jon thinks, even amidst the childish sorrow that clings to his heart. Anger is stronger and harder, it remakes a man into something better. Oberyn Martell knew this. Robb Stark knows this and so, too, does Jon. Many and more great men of bygone ages built their dreams from rage and the roars of vengeance, and Jon figures he’s never been more Targaryen than he is in this moment.

They gather their thoughts and plans in a long, lingering moment, both men speechlessly contemplating how to proceed. No doubt, Doran didn’t expect Jon to come brittle and unbending, but neither did Jon expect this apathy. Imagining a moment and living it are a harsh juxtaposition, and Jon’s life seems to remain a series of them. Cries and laughs echo up from the garden full of greenery and bright flowers, fresh with the scent of a fading fall, and it's as beautiful as any a sight he’s ever seen. Brown limbs and olive faces hop about, white garments thick with dirt and water, and everything is like a sunset.

The further north one goes the paler the people become; they’re as bleached as snow on the white-capped mountains and twice as hard. Jon pictures Lady Catelyn in a stone hall, wrapped in a gown of regal fur, and a man, stern of face and dark of hair besides her. At their feet, six northern children play. An image that never bore fruit, but a fleeting thought nonetheless. Would I have still loved you then, Robb? he asks himself. How many sins can two men commit? How many forbidden embraces?

He’ll never know. What might have been is not, and Jon is as much a child of sand and sun as he is the blood of the wolf. More besides, even.

“I will do what I must for Dorne, Prince Doran,” he finally says, back straight and face smooth as a marble idol, “and nothing less.”

“And if I commanded you to set Robb Stark aside?” Doran asks, as rigid and unmoving as Jon.

The brunette foundling of Oberyn Martell smirks again. “Is that what is truly best for Dorne?”

Both men sit back, silent in their acknowledgment of both their stalemate and their estrangement.

No matter how many babes I have with Arianne, Jon thinks, I can never again see this man as my kin. Father and Eddard Stark are dead. Rhaegar lost before I took my first breath and you, Mother, I stole from this world. Perhaps I still need someone to blame and Doran has drawn the wrong reed.

 

 

That night, he slips past Perros and Art, well trained in the art of subterfuge when stalking the halls of the familiar Water Gardens. He makes his way to Robb’s chambers, nods to Theo and Roger, both men yawning and half-asleep on their feet, and then crawls underneath the covers with the redhead. The other man doesn’t wake, but shifts in his sleep nonetheless, the covers pushed aside to give Jon room. He nestles into strong arms, his head rests on a sharp, freckled shoulder, and he falls into the deep abyss of sleep within moments.

In the night, he looks through eyes not his own, and sees a face he knows. Plain and simple, with a straight nose and dark hair, the olive skin melts as he opens his mouth as wide as a cavern and breathes , and Quentyn Martell becomes nothing but charred bones to return home. With a gasp, Jon wakes, his mouth still full of the taste of brimstone, and knows that this time his dreams were not of Ghost. He’s traveled across seas and skies, and his limbs shake with tremors as violent as the earth when it roars.

He reaches out with one trembling hand to wake a lightly snoring Robb from his own slumber. With a tired push, and then a grumble, Robb sits up and asks, “What is it?”

Two pairs of eyes wide in the dark, bloodshot and weary, they look to each other as Jon says, “They’re coming.”

He doesn’t need to clarify. Robb nods, and then clutches him close, his chin on top of black curls, and they sit in the darkness, their thoughts miles away, to picture a ship carrying the Dragon Queen.

Chapter Text

Daenerys Targaryen’s coming, with ships and dragons and a horde of Dothraki screamers. Jon’s her last living relative, but as he stands on the balcony in wait, he can’t help but feel a twinge of vague loathing towards the breathing reminder of Rhaegar Targaryen. It’s sad, he knows, but Tyene’s got one leg propped inward towards her belly as she balances on the metal framework railing next to him, and her blonde hair sways in the dying summer winds.

“Do you think one will respond to you?” Tyene asks suddenly, breaking Jon from his thoughts and the tranquil silence. He looks to her out of the corner of his eye, his right eyebrow rising.

“What do you mean?” he asks. Absurdly, he pictures one of the men from the Dothraki horde, or one of the Golden Company rumored to accompany Daenerys Targaryen, and them “responding” to him by way of blade and arrows. Given Tyene’s rather morbid sense of fun and valor, the notion that the same floats through her mind is not far off.

“The dragons,” she replies. Casually, she tosses the knife in her hand, point side up, into the air. It loops high in circles, and comes down with the sharp edge towards her palm. Deftly, she manages to move her hand fast enough that she catches it by the hilt. “The Targaryens were dragon riders. Said to have special bonds with their dragons, right? She can’t control all of them.”  

Jon runs a hand through his newly shortened curls. The edges just reach his chin, and the lack of hair, grown long in the years he’s been away from Dorne, feels strange to him. So, too, does the lack of beard, morning stubble just beginning to prick out from his paler, more sensitive skin.

He’s grown unused to the sun, though he’d longed for the heat, but after two weeks home, he dreams of fur and fires and the soft flesh of Robb, the thick fur of Grey Wind and Ghost, and the smell of snow in the air. Here, the smell of the sea, salt and brine, and incense of myrrh, the roasting of nuts and legumes in the kitchens, fills his nostrils. They’re the scents of his childhood, but increasingly, he wonders if they are still the scents of his home.

“Do I want one?” he ponders aloud, mostly to himself, and little to her. He’s already got Ghost, a connection with his mother. With his cousins, and the uncle he’ll never know, but a man who never stopped believing him alive. More importantly, though, a connection with Robb . Still, there’s a part of him, the young and childish part that used to play mock games in the sand with his sisters regarding the Targaryens’ attempts to conquer Dorne, who can’t help but dream of the sky, the feeling of flying. Would he soar, he wonders, like a raven, or would he feel as if he’s in a freefall, an endless drop, on and on, that never seems to end?

Tyene smiles sharply. A dagger’s smile, bitter and a touch mad, and there’s so much of their father in her. “They’d be handy for the killing of Lannisters.”

“True enough,” Jon agrees, “but so will a blade. Cleaner, too, and much closer. Or do you not want to see the dying light in a man’s eyes?”

Oberyn Martell killed in a number of ways, but Robb believed a man who passed the sentence should swing the sword. Dragon fire seems impersonal, the act of killing taking from one’s own hands and conscious, and placed, by proxy, in the claws of another.

Does one feel guilt, Jon contemplates, if one’s hands are not stained with blood? He finds these thoughts keeping him up at night, alone except for the times he joins Robb in the chambers set aside for him. Those, and musings on the future.

Pretty soon, he reflects with a wry tone in his own mind, I’ll be as idle as a maester, caught with pen and ink philosophizing rather than doing. He stretches his arms above his head, fingers reaching towards the ceiling, and pops the muscles in his shoulders and upper back. As he does so, activity begins to bustle in the courtyard, men milling out in heavy armor and straight lines.

Jon shakes his head with a small smile, and looks for a particular shade of red in a sea of swarming colors, all merged into one silver wave of steel and iron.

“The satisfaction of knowing they’re dead is good enough,” Tyene utters darkly, in a low tone that’s almost a whisper. If the wind had howled, the words might have smothered, and it seems fitting, given her propensity of poison, for her statement to disappear into the air.

Jon, though, smiles, and it is with dark thoughts as well. His loathing towards the reminder of his maker fades, as thoughts of revenge flicker into being again, and suddenly, the coming of his aunt seems a boon.

There are more important matters, Jon thinks with a sigh, or nothing will matter. Theon Greyjoy’s words begin to echo in his head as the sound of Robb Stark’s voice shouting commands drifts from below.

As the men begin to war with each other, performing feats of vigor and stamina that should be impossible in such constricting armor and oppressive heat, Tyene looks away from Jon to watch the proceedings with a glint in her eyes. Jon, too, looks to them, biting his bottom lip and tasting salt from the sweat that dampens the curls at his hairline, drifts over his nose, and catches on the chapped skin of his mouth.

Men shout battle cries in voices hoarse from screams and time, while boys drown their hopes and fears in jubilant bouts of swearing and laughter. Jon watches with solemn eyes, his eyes drifting away from the crowd, to land ever again on Robb. The red hues of his hair shine under the light of the strong, Dornish sun, and appear bronzed. We are creatures of blood and grit and brittle bone, Jon realizes as he watches Robb command the ragtag group, the very picture of a king. Perhaps the gods did fashion us for love, Jon muses, as the poets say. Perhaps not. We might have done that for ourselves, to shed a bit of summer’s light amidst winter’s darkness.

As if the gods are reacting to him, simultaneously, Robb looks up, and their eyes catch, while a calloused, small hand grips his arm, as quick and deadly as a snake striking from the bushes. Jon’s eyes move past Robb, to his left, and he meets the eyes of the eldest Sand Snake, Obara.

“Sister,” he greets, though she’s always been the most distant of his family, and less likely to regard him as her brother in truth. “To what do I owe this honor?”

She stares at him with a look that appears both blank and assessing. Her dark eyes narrow, her mouth purses, and she is both the least attractive of the Sand Snakes—though by no means uncomely, for the sisters are all beautiful—and the most intimidating. She’d gained broad shoulders and a muscular build from their father, or perhaps her mother, Jon knows not, and eyes that seem to view everyone with a predatory gaze. She is an eye-catcher, though, her stance and bearing gifting her the ability to turn heads wherever she goes.

Her dark hair is pulled back in her usual severe style. Her shoulders are squared, her feet set apart, and her muscles tense. She’s dressed in leather, armed with a spear in her right hand, and her jaw clenches before she answers, “The Targaryen woman will be arriving soon.”

The news of Quentyn’s death is fresh, and still a stinging wound to the Martell’s, whose loses at the hands of Targaryen politics are numerous. Even Oberyn Martell, father to a Targaryen son who should have been little more than a bastard, lost his life because of them, to some extent. Responsible though the Lannisters may be, it can’t be denied that sentiment in favor of the Targaryens is slim, especially now. It’s a rare show of restraint, even in relative privacy, for Obara to refer to Princess Daenerys as “the Targaryen woman” and not some more vile moniker.

As Obara looks to him with dark, lidded eyes, Jon believes she sees in him nothing more than dragon blood and flame. “Aye,” he agrees in the way of the Northerners, “she is. Along with an army.” He adds this as if to dissuade any notions Obara’s forming, though he’s reasonably certain Arianne, or Doran himself, has cautioned the more hot-headed of his sisters against any action. They need Daenerys, after all, though Jon is under no illusions that they’d quickly do away with her in an underhanded manner if it benefits them.

Only Jon’s reluctance to take the throne stops them. Held between two enemies, the dragons and the lions, the snakes prefer winged scales to piercing claws, and Daenerys has made much of her supposed claim to the throne.

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Tyene slide off the railing, smooth as the slide of a sword out of a scabbard, and skitter off, leaving them alone.

They stand there for several tense minutes, each as quiet as a stone. Jon continues to watch the soldiers train, watch as exhaustion sets in, the sun high and hot at its peak in the day, and Obara stares seemingly out into nothing.

“—lily-livered cunt,” Jon hears abruptly from below, and then—

“Puss-eating arse licker!”

Two burly, Northern men have begun a round of fisticuffs, and Robb’s face grows tight and angry as he marches away from his place showing three young boys a proper stance to go deal with the situation. Somehow, for some reason unknown to him, the spectacle of the two men spurs Jon to say, “Did you always know? That I wasn’t your real brother?”

Obara spares him nary a glance. One shoulder, the right, comes up in a shrug, as casual as if he’d just asked whether she was finding the weather pleasant. “I might have,” she finally says after moments that seem to crawl. “Might not have. What does it matter?”

Jon raises an eyebrow, and gives her a scathing look. Unbidden, memories of childhood rear their head. A boy, barely toddling, running after his sister with a wooden spear and a stuffed snake toy, begging her to train with him only to be ignored. A young man, cocky, mocking her, just to get a reaction, only to find none. “It matters.”

Her eyes close, and there is a shift of a movement, barely more than a twitch, but it seems as if all the tension in her body doubles. “I knew,” she confesses. Jon nods, his lips tight, and he trains his eyes to the clouds in the sky, nothing more than wisps against blue. He’s gotten his answer, and it’s as he’d suspected.

Then, to his surprise, she continues, “And if you think I gave a fuck, well, then, you’d be right. I did give a fuck. Why should you be alive, why should I call you brother, when Aegon and Rhaenys were dead?”

The words are spoken in a dead tone, as nonchalant as she is when she swats a fly with the palm of her hand at the dinner table.

His stomach twists, and the lump in his throat grows. He wants nothing more than to be the fighting men in the courtyard, either the lug knocked out with a bump the size of a mountain on his brow, or the one being soundly beaten round the ear by the Smalljon. “It must have stung that Fa—that Oberyn made you.”

“Yes,” she whispers. Jon nods, and begins to move away, no longer able to bear the intensity, the weight of this. All his imaginings, and he’s a craven when it comes. He doesn’t get too far before she’s grabbing him, again, this time around the elbow with a firm, hard grip. Her fingers dig indentations into his flesh.

“But you are my brother,” she says in a firm, hard tone. It’s her normal tone, the one she uses to threaten, to bitch about life, and to converse with babes running around the Water Gardens. It’s like sandpaper, scratchy and rough, and somehow, not different for words she’s never uttered before in her life. “I’ve seen you grow. I watched Father coddle you and train you and love you. And for that I will make sure you live. I will make sure you get what you are owed, and you will be a part of my family.”

With these words, her touch disappears. With one final statement, alluding to the future and that “the time will be soon,” so, too, does she, leaving Jon just as confused as he’s ever been, the encounter a hammering echo in his head.



 

Robb’s been in Dorne for three weeks when he finally meets Prince Doran, and later on he’ll say beyond a shadow of a doubt he wishes he’d never come face-to-face with this man. Dusk sets pretty colors outside, and the long, sheer gold curtains wave in the light breeze, while the fresh scents of the evening mix with a preparation of lamb, cucumber sauce with dill, and almonds on the table in front of them.

“A good roast, don’t you agree, Your Grace?” Prince Doran says in the light tone of one speaking pleasantries. But, underneath, there’s an undercurrent of the inevitable, the words trapped behind the veneer of civility this dinner pretends.

Still, Robb’s been raised with manners, and Catelyn Stark would cringe to think her son a rude guest under a prince’s own roof. Even one who she’s expressed her own wishes to “upend an entire vat of boiling oil over his kidnapping head!”

Things said after three cups of wine ought not to be repeated, though, and never in the company of the intended target. So, he bites back the retort stinging in his throat, clears it, and replies, “Yes. Your cooks do you credit. It’s rare to find lamb so seasoned in the North.”

Even as he says this, he coughs, for the seasoning is too hot, marinated with some various assortment of chilies (so Jon calls them) that seem to have sprung from the Seven Hell’s themselves, and more besides; garlic, and onion, and a sharp, tangy flavor that Robb can’t place. Quickly, he grabs at the oblong glass of a thick, cream-like drink in front of him, and takes a generous sip of it, though it is lukewarm and sour. It serves to soothe his burning tongue, nonetheless.

Prince Doran nods back with a hint of a smile. It’s a trickster sort of smile, one that conceals the true feelings of the performer. Robb knows his type, has dined with them before, but never has he needed to impress them. Or, not needed, per say, but wanted to.

Gods curse this entire family, he thinks darkly. He’s never been so at war with himself. A serving woman with long, red hair comes to refill his glass, and as the tips of her curls touch the table, she whispers, “You should dip the meat in the sauce, Your Grace.”

Robb picks up the glass again, and acknowledges her advice with a slight nod, at the same time that he addresses Prince Doran, “You must come north sometime, and sample our fare. We are, after all, allies, and about to become goodkin.”

The smile sharpens, and then Prince Doran lifts his glass as well, a gesture of cheer, though it’s held aloft too long, and too stationary, before he brings it forward. “We are indeed,” he agrees. A moment’s pause, a sip of drink, and a bite of meat in sauce, from both of them, before the man continues, “I wonder, King Robb, whether you mean the marriage of your sister to my youngest son, who by all accounts is charmed with her, shall we say, fiery personality, or your relationship with my nephew?”

“My father’s nephew,” Robb corrects before he has time to consider thought. His grip tightens around his fork in his right hand, and the table under his left.

Rather than abashment, Doran nods, again. “Yes,” he says simply, “your cousin.”

If he means to parade the sin of incest under Robb’s nose, he’ll have to try a lot harder than that. His own reluctance and shame seems far away and long ago, as if a thousand winters had come and gone. Quick as a dagger in the night, Robb quips back, “And cousin to the woman he’s about to marry. Or so it’s been claimed, of course. Though, I do recall the Martells have Targaryen blood.”

“Distantly. Far more distant than your own relation with Jon.”

Robb shrugs, and spears a piece of meat with a jerky movement, lifting it up and inspecting it. Juice runs down the eating fork, dripping, until it reaches his fingers. “It’s not as if the Targaryen’s feel much compunction when it comes to those sorts of activities.”

He makes a show of chewing the piece of lamb, exaggerating the gnashing of his teeth. If he seems an uncouth barbarian, then he means to be, though always just under the surface. Doran, it appears, likes to keep things under the surface, and if he will not come out bluntly and say it, then Robb will. “You want me to break things off with him.”

“Surely your wife does not condone you having a lover,” Doran agrees with an air of pleasantness. Robb cannot see his hands, they’re hidden underneath the table, his own dinner seemingly abandoned, but he believes they’re clenched around fabric or handlebars. “Most kingdoms do not have our Dornish understanding.”

He’s making it sound as if Jon is a great burden, Robb thinks, to me, my wife, and my family. As if he’s a shame to keep hidden, and that I’d be desirous of his removal from my life. After all his machinations, his manipulations, and the pulling and pushing of the two of us like pawns on a chess board, this is what he’s come to at last? One last desperate move.

Robb smiles, his teeth bared like a wolf, and says, “Actually, she finds the thought of two men rather endearing.”

A barely hidden grimace, then the reply, “Quite. Well, she is a Greyjoy.” He pronounces the name as if a live octopus is clutching at his vocal cords while the vowels and consonants leave his lips. “You are fortunate.”

“Yes,” Robb agrees, though the thought of those words ever leaving his mouth with regards to Asha Greyjoy makes him slightly nauseous, even now. “I am. And Arianne’s led us to believe she’s not adverse to the idea either.”

To a certain extent, Robb concedes, though only to himself since he’ll not give this man an inch. Given Arianne’s own lovers, and the fact that the two were reared together, the Dornish princess was more like not adverse to the desire for power, and considers their relationship a “necessary evil.” Still, it’s better than a wife calling up the High Septon and having them imprisoned for the sin of sodomy, as Robb could have reasonably expected of any number of the Frey girls.

“My daughter is a princess. She deserves much and more from her marriage,” Doran says, and this time there is noticeable bite in his tone. A flicker of a grin comes across Robb’s own face, triumphant at the knowledge that he’s getting under the man’s skin.

They both take large, long bites of their dinner, the food growing cold as the air drops, and the moon rises high in a dark sky. The servants’ white clothes stand out against the night as they rush to keep the candle lanterns well-flamed.

“And she will have it.” Though he knows he shouldn’t, and his mother’s screaming at him from somewhere in Winterfell, his irritation with the way this dinner’s progressed, even with his own naive need to foster good relations with this pompous arse, has made him callous and brazen. “And get to keep her own lovers, as well. Though, as I understand, that is not frowned upon at all in Dorne. In the North, well, her openness would get her cast out of her keep as a harlot.”

Robb bows his head as if chagrined. “Though I mean no offense to the princess, of course. Merely pointing out the difference of culture. Our words sometimes trap us unintentionally, and muddy the best potential alliances under their sting.”

Under thin skin, wrinkled with age and the stress of years, Robb notices Doran’s jaw clenching. Robb imagines the Dornishman’s teeth digging holes into his gum, and that he’s feeling that particular sting.

“How—” the man stops, his throat moving as he swallows, “right you are, Your Grace.” A moment or two, then he finishes the food left on his plate. “Wylla, come, clear this away. I believe our business is concluded for the night.”

Robb nods, and rises with a bow, and a final parting word, “Yes, it is most definitely concluded.”



 

Grey Wind and Ghost sleep apart these days, and when Robb comes into his chambers, his fingers angrily in the process of unlacing his Dornish style leather vest, hot even with sleeveless attire, they look up from separate spots of the bed chamber. Close enough to be within a hair’s breadth, but far enough that their body heat doesn’t entrap them, despite their shorn fur, and threaten to strangle them in their sleep.  

They growl a tired, weary greeting, before their heads return to the floor.

On the bed, a large four-poster with silk sheets that are so thin they might as well be a handkerchief of lace, Jon lays, asleep, clad in nothing but sleep pants. His hair is a mess of curls around his face and on the pillow, while his right hand forms a fist around the edge of the sheets. One leg is off the side of the bed, uncovered, the other crooked towards his stomach. Robb smiles softly, anger receding, and moves closer to the bed, stripping his shirt and discarding it quickly as he moves.

The bed dips as he crawls into it, his arms coming to rests around Jon’s waist without conscious thought. There’s a discarded glass of half-full Dornish red on the dresser, alongside a fuller glass, as well as a bushel of grapes and a block of cheese. Robb sighs with a head that feels foggy and full, and buries his face in the soft skin of Jon’s neck. There’s a slight tinge of sweat there, droplet’s resting among the curls, and Robb amuses himself with thoughts of Jon frolicking in the summer snows of Winterfell, throwing snowballs at Sansa and Arya and Bran and Rickon.

His fingers drift, tracing shadows and shapes across Jon’s collarbone. He paints a slithering snake down his breast bone, and dances a wolf prowling above his ribcage, before he settles on the shape of winds around his belly button. Jon shifts, and snuffles a small sound into the pillow, edging closer, until his back presses firmly against Robb’s front.

“I was having a good dream,” Jon mutters, but Robb can hear the smile in his tone. “You were on your knees, and there was cream, and strawberries.” He shifts, turning in Robb’s arms, and then their lips meet in a soft, fleeting kiss. “It was quite wicked for a king.”

“I think kings take the prize when it comes to wickedness,” Robb jokes, pressing butterfly kisses down Jon’s jaw, and tracing his adam’s apple with his tongue. Stubble pricks against his lips. “Didn’t Maegor the Cruel have eight wives?”

“Not all at the same time,” Jon says, but then his breath hitches as Robb shimmies over his body, his knee pressing against the vee between the brunette’s legs. “And I doubt you’d be so vile as to earn yourself a nickname such as ‘the Cruel.’”

Robb laughs. “You’re right. I’m much too preoccupied to burn people alive and chop of my lover’s heads.” A lascivious smirk forms on his lips. “I’d much rather you have your pretty head, since I’d like you on your knees tonight.”

He’s not usually so bold in bed. The commander on the battlefield, and in front of his men, disappears under Jon’s experience and skill, but tonight he wants to feel the brunette is his , just his. Tomorrow, tomorrow reality need set in, but in this room, with these silk sheets being kicked onto the floor with the heels of their shifting legs, he pretends it's just the two of them.

Jon’s mouth curls, his eyebrow raises, and then he deftly slithers down, down, and down, until heat and wet and the slide of tongue causes white spots in the darkness of closed eyes, and the thoughts and rage of earlier to drown until they’re nothing but dust.

Afterwards, clad in nothing but smallclothes, Robb stands at the balcony, and stares at the moon, while Jon washes off with the small basin of water on the nightstand. He tosses the object in his hands lightly back-and-forth, feels the smooth leather across his calloused skin, and breathes in the lingering warmth in the air. Even as summer dies, the air here still feels dry, and Robb thinks he’s never seen a place so untouched by frost.

In scant moments, Jon joins him, a robe hanging off his shoulders in a mockery of covering, and nothing else. The fabric dips open as Robb turns around, back to the moon, and he watches the play of lantern light against pale skin and shadow.

“The next banner you wave is going to have a lot of black,” Robb says, seemingly out of nowhere if Jon’s confused look is any indication, and then the redhead looks to the sigil in his hand. A white direwolf with blood red eyes, and a pair of wings a silhouette, an unearthly creature, behind. Sansa’s work, a wedding present for her long-lost cousin, and, as he rubs his fingers across the leather, he pictures it on shields, on flags and weapons, he pictures it on scabbards and cloaks, flying over the seven kingdoms of Westeros—even his own.

Jon smiles, his eyes crinkling at the corners. “It was always my color.”

Robb smiles, too, but sadly. “Yes, I suppose so.”

Jon’s arms come around his waist, and then he whispers something that no man’s ever dared say to another man even within Dornish shores.  

Later, with Ghost and Grey Wind beside them, they walk out into the gardens, towards a large cluster of orange trees. They’re not tall, or imposing, and there are no faces with which to watch, but the blood red hue of Ghost’s eyes shines with the light of the fires the two men hold, and Grey Wind stalks around the area with a snarl on his face. It’s almost as if the Old Gods are within them, and Robb takes a moment to imagine he’s one with the direwolf, nothing but pack and blood and sleep to care for.

Men make rules by which to live by, Robb reflects, as Jon scopes out the area, and it is the wolves who are truly free. Free to love, free to mate, free to marry and hold and be whoever they desire. I care not if these words are wind, if these vows must be cast aside, if our actions be discarded and judged by the Gods, the Old and the New, so long as I can have him for the rest of our lives.

He squeezes Jon’s hand in his. The moon is a half-sliver in the sky, the sound of the water breaking into soft waves as the wind ruffles their hair a musical accompaniment to the atmosphere. There are orange peels under his heels, discarded by orphans and playing children, and the crunch of dying leaves, not a speck of snow or a weirwood in sight, but, as Jon removes his thin cloak, aesthetic silk more than functional covering, and places it around Robb’s shoulders, whispering words only husbands and wives ever dare say, and Robb does the same, the Northern born son feels a sense of belonging, as if, maybe, the Gods approve.

They kiss, and as they pull away, the redhead hands the sigil stuffed in his pocket to the brunette. Then, in his mind, and on his tongue, too, Robb names the man in his arms. “Jon Stark.”



 

Jon wakes in the morning with a bastard name, looks out his window, past the gardens of green, to the water and the beach, and sighs. That night, he’ll lay his head upon the same pillow he’s slept with for years, with two trueborn names, both his to claim, and though neither feel right, they’ll be his forevermore.

Robb lets out a light snore when Jon moves from the bed, tosses the sheets towards the redhead, and goes to fill a glass with water flavored by lemon. His mouth tastes rank with the aftereffects of too much drink, and sleep, too, so as he washes that away, swirling the liquid in its glass, he leans his elbows against the bannister, and spots the orphans already quick at play in the garden. It’s not yet the letting of dawn, but children wait naught for nature.

He can’t see the waves of the narrow sea from here, just the faintest outline of blue, but he imagines them crashing against the shore with force and rage. He imagines ships on the horizon, imagines the guests shocked and appalled, then imagines reaching down to gather the sand in his hands, and letting the particles, bit by bit, fall back onto the earth. There’s been no news of the Dragon Queen since the month before, but then, finding a raven on a ship must be an interesting endeavor.

“Why not use a seagull instead?” he’d once joked, not even a little bit seriously, to Asha Greyjoy. She’s given him a scathing look, tossed back the rest of her ale, and spread her breeches-clad legs as wide as they’d go.

“Cause they’re not around till you’re almost on land. Do no good to signal arrival when any good sentry is meant to see you,” she answered, as if he were a dunderhead. Jon supposes it only fitting now, as he hears the cries of a gull in the distance, but he’d been so used to Asha talking ribald jokes and silly jokes like mother’s milk, he’d not known she could be serious.

“Jon Sand,” he says to himself, as he finishes the glass of lemon water. “Jon Sand.”

“Jon Stark,” he hears, right before strong arms wrap around his waist. “Though, I admit, three names will be a bit of a mouthful. You reckon you’ll have more names than your entire line by the end of this night? Jon Sand Stark, Prince of Dorne, The White Wolf, Prince Consort of the Most Royal King in the N—”

Jon playfully swats him. “Shush you.”

There’s a bustle of activity behind them. The door opens, the sound of footsteps against the sandstone floor, and Robb’s arms fall from his waist as the redhead comes to stand on the balcony next to him. He’s fully dressed, breeches and jerkin and all, almost like he’d just come visiting, though most of the castle servants know better than that. Jon Sand, Oberyn Martell’s bastard son, never had a redhead in his room he’s not knocked boots with.

“Good morning, sir, and Your Grace, as well,” Andrey Sand, a bastard son of such-and-such, or maybe not a Sand at all, says as he comes to set plates up on the small, round table in front of the balcony. “Will you be wanting to break your fast now or after the hairdresser and tailor comes?”

“The tailor?” Jon asks with confusion. He doesn’t remember employing a tailor. He’s got more clothes in this room then he’s had in the last few years, so he’s reasonably sure he wouldn’t commission any.

And Arianne was taking care of the wedding cloaks.

The man who might-or-might-not-be Andrey says, “For your wedding attire, sir.”

Jon shares a look with Robb that is half a series of rapid blinks, and mostly frowns. “My wedding attire?” he repeats, just for good measure.

Andrey frowns with confusion, too. “Yes, sir, your wedding attire. Today is your wedding day.”

Jon levels him with a deadpan, straight look. “I’m aware.” It’s not as if he couldn’t be, since guests have been arriving from all over Dorne for a week, and there’s even been an invitation sent to Lady Catelyn Stark, who’d politely declined on account of the timing. Jon secretly thinks it was more for restraint than anything else, but still, the effort had been made. “I’ve got clothes. Even bastards have fancy clothes.”

Andrey, and another servant, a girl with long, curly red hair Jon thinks he might have tumbled a time or two, can’t control their feelings of scandal. Andrey’s eyebrows disappear into his hairline, while the girl’s tremble as she fixes the bed. “No one is implying otherwise, sir,” she says, “but this is a royal wedding. Efforts have to be made.”

Jon scowls, and goes to answer, but Robb steps forward. “Of course,” the redheaded man answers in a soothing tone. “That is obvious. Jon was simply confused, since he believed all the wedding arrangements to be taken care of already.”

“They were,” a voice, familiar as night and day, says from the doorway. She doesn’t wait to be announced, but she never has, and she’s already dressed in a long, silk shift of gold. Underclothes, obviously, but fancier than half the dresses in King’s Landing, and no doubt costing more than all the smallfolk wear in a year. “When I knew your measurements. You’ve gotten quite a bit bigger, cousin, in the years you’ve been away.”

“Bigger? Are you calling me fat?” Jon replies, misunderstanding. Vainly, he looks down with slight concern, since he’s still a young man. Was Stark blood prone to fat? He shoots a glance at Robb’s stomach, but the man is as tight and fit as ever.

Robb rolls his eyes, as does Arianne. “Muscles, cousin. You’ve got more muscles. They’ll stretch the lining of the tunic, so the tailor has to adjust the clothes.”

Jon’s scowl widens. “And the hairdresser?”

Arianne’s presents him with the most incredulous look since Daemon Sand encountered a drunk calling Arthur Dayne the “Stiffer in the Morning.” “Do you honestly think,” she says with just a hint of contempt, “I’m going to let you stand next to me with your hair as unkempt as a rat dog’s?”

Robb snorts into the tea that Andrey’s provided him. It’s warm, steam rising, with the scent of cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom. On the table, there’s a dish of honey being placed down, alongside Northern-style thick cream scones the kitchens have learned to bake for the King in the North, and strawberries and candied lemon slices. Alongside this, scrambled eggs with cubes of cheese and herbs, and a thick, savory oatmeal of onion and garlic. Arianne sits, legs crossed primly, and delicately takes a fork, and Jon’s plate, with no hint of shame.

Jon rolls his eyes, and motions for Andrey to bring another plate, then grabs a scone and begins to slice it in half. “My hair is fine, thank you,” he says sullenly. Sure, it’s a bit too short now, which means the curls turn towards his face, or whichever way they please, and they’ll not be easily held back, but he’s capable of fixing it himself.

“And it will be perfect under Alliyne’s hands,” Arianne replies. She takes a sip of tea, small, like a mouse, and then sends a smile Robb’s way. It’s not a warm smile, nothing like she used to give Jon as a child, or those she still gives to the younger girls, especially Elia, and so a prickle of warning nags him. “Don’t you agree, Your Grace ?”

Andrey sets down a plate, then steps away, leaving the balcony. Smart, Jon thinks, to retreat before the shit hits the ceiling.

“Verily,” Robb replies. He’s not had much interaction with Arianne, though whether that’s of his own accord, or hers, Jon’s not sure. Jon’s fingers tighten around the spoon he uses to mix honey into his tea, and he bites his bottom lip. “Though I’m inclined to think he looks fine at most times.”

Arianne smiles wider, sharp teeth and a wicked gleam in her eye. “Well, Northerners aren’t known for their love of fine attire.”

Jon grits his teeth, but Robb replies lightly, unphased, used to barbs from the Dornish by now, though always behind his back, “Depends on your definition of fine.”

His cousin laughs a tinkling laugh, and Jon’s more than a little surprised. It’s her delighted laugh. The one she has when suitors gift her with fine things, only for her to spurn them, or when she gets extra sweets at dinner. “Yes, Your Grace,” she agrees, and takes a small bite of her scone which she cuts into a triangle shaped piece. “And no one will ever describe my cousin as less than comely. Even in your grim Northern ware.”

Jon, raised by Oberyn Martell, whose skills with words were legendary in Westeros and Essos, and a seducer of many men and women before Robb, can’t quite figure the underplay of words between his two cousins. It’s there, that he parcels out quite well, but whether they are getting along or planning to stab each other in the eye with dining forks tonight, he’s not certain.

That is, until Arianne quips, “And will we be expecting you this evening, Your Grace?” Instantly, Jon is reminded of the night with Asha, and the next few nights after that, and he can’t help but grin around the rim of his teacup. His cousin’s long, slim fingers polished with gold, trace the rim of her own cup in a suggestive manner.

Robb’s face has a hint of red. “I—I don’t—”

“Yes,” Jon answers for him, and that is that. They finish their breakfast talking about mere pleasantries; the weather, the price of wheat at the market, the wars to come. Arianne takes her leave as soon as the last morsel of oatmeal is gone, and then Robb does, too, to dress himself, leaving Jon to wait, anxiously, for the appearance butchers to arrive.



 

The Yronwoods sit five rows behind the Martell family in the large Sept that hosts Dornish noble weddings, and Jon can see the distaste in their eyes from the small door on the right side leading into the great room as they eye his family. Prince Doran sits at the head, dressed in a fine vestment of gold, with jewels of state pinned onto his silk jerkin, and bands of leather and diamonds around his wrist.

Of the Martells, true and bastard born, only Sarella and Trystane remain absent.

Next to Doran, Obara stands straight, dressed in gold, a shining sun necklace the only adornment she wears. Tyene’s, by contrast, has small stones wrapping around the delicate braids of her blonde hair, blue and green, and her dress is slightly more yellow, cut with a low bosom that dips into the valley between her breasts. Nymeria sits in the middle between them, her hair braided, but unadorned, and a dress of bronze with a collar of snakeskin leather.

Loreza, who sits next to Dorea, Obella, and Elia, all four dressed identically with flowers in their braided hair, and gold gowns, sticks her tongue out in their direction. One of the Yronwood men with a particularly beaky nose scowls, and it pulls his skin down towards a resemblance of a leathery bat. In the fourth row, the Daynes sit, and Jon takes notice of how tall Edric Dayne is getting. It’s been years, but the boy is growing into a tall, strapping young man. Then there are the other great Dornish families; Allyrion and Blackmont, Fowler and Jordayne, Toland and Vaith and Wyl, and so on. The wedding of their princess the largest turnout of Dornish men under one roof since Elia Martell married Rhaegar Targaryen in King’s Landing.

The Northerners sit in rows on the other side, King Robb Stark directly across from Prince Doran. Most of them are dressed in leather, with plain tunics, and brown pants, but those of standing sit with their banners perched on the pews behind them. Smalljon Umber and Dacey Mormont, the representatives from the Manderlys, and several others. Jon takes little notice of them, focusing instead on Robb Stark, whose wolf emblem has been sewn into the stitching of his tunic so that it appears his sleeves are nothing but a prowling wolf pack against a stark white background. His hair curls across his forehead, and he’s looking straight to the canopy set at the head of the room with a half-frown. He, too, takes little notice of the people around him, though he greets people politely with bows as they come to pay their respects to the King in the North.

The Sept is home to seven statues of the gods, who stand tall and erect at the front of the great room. The Mother, with her compassionate face, and the Father with his stern eyes. The Stranger is hooded and mysterious, the maiden carries a flower-crown, while the Warrior holds a two-bladed spear, and the Crone is bent over a large cauldron. Yet, true to the pride of the Dornish, their heritage shines from the rafters. The ceiling is gilded in gold, with pictures of Nymeria’s conquest, thousands of ships painted on the walls with waves, and the Rhoynar coming across the Narrow Sea. Shapes that resemble gods of old fade into the clouds of the background, indistinguishable to any but those who know, and the round pillars that wrap around the circular room brings to mind the architectural renderings of the olden days.

Today, it smells like myrtle and myrrh, jasmine and lilies and roses, and all the guests hold middling sized seashells filled with sand in their hands.

A soft hand on his elbow tears him away from the sight of the crowd, and the lets the curtain in the doorway fall as he turns to look to Ellaria. She, like her daughters, is dressed in a shade of gold, but as a standin for the groom’s mother, she’s got a red cloak pinned to the shoulder knots of her gown. On the back, a dragon stands aloft on his back legs, ready to take flight. It’s not quite the Targaryen sigil, no, that one is for him to wear, but it's close enough, politically, for a baseborn woman never married to Oberyn Martell.

She looks stunning, however, and he tells her as much.

“And you look very handsome, my darling,” she replies. Her hands come up to smooth his collar. Unlike his family, his colors are red and black, the colors of the Targaryens. A red tunic, and a black vest, alongside black, silk pants with red embroidered lining. He feels nothing less than a fraud stand-ing here in this mummer’s costume, and he wishes, then, for his childhood ignorance. Back when he thought he’d marry for love, if he ever bothered, in a bastard’s ceremony, with less pomp and circumstance than a blind mouse looking for cheese.

Then, she pushes one of the tiny braids holding his hair out of his eyes, away from his forehead. There are rubies threaded into the black locks. “You look—” A sad smile, then she continues, “you stand like your father .”

Jon chokes back sudden tears, not wanting to ruin the careful lining of kohl the girl spent ten minutes drawing around his eyes. He feels the tears in the pit of his stomach, the lump in his throat, and in every fiber of his soul. Without words, as the harp music begins to play, a Dornish custom lending fun to usually more austere Westerosi weddings, she loops her arm around his, and they walk the winding hallway to the entrance at the south end of the great room.

As is Dornish custom, the house over gender, Arianne stands in wait for him under the canopy, an old Rhoynar adornment that the Dornish refuse to relinquish. Ordinarily, the Targareyn lineage would trump hers, but Jon argued that it was, at this point, still a line in exile, and so gave her the seat of power in their relationship. It’s not just a gesture for his cousin, but a show to the Dornish; that Jon does not mean to be his father. Theirs will never be a marriage like Elia Martell’s and Rhaegar Targaryen’s.

And so, Ellaria, as his mother in so many ways, walks with him down the altar. Crowds of people he’s known since he was a babe, all who loved or reviled him as Jon Sand, now throw his namesake onto him as he passes, a gesture of good luck. Daemon Sand as, oddly, his closest Dornish friend, stands in the groom’s corner with a silver platter, in the place of the gift giver, and the Septon holds the holy text in his hand.

Jon looks to Robb first. There’s a small smile on his face, sad, but resigned. Then, he looks to Arianne.

She looks a vision. She’s wearing strappy, heeled shoes with gold lining that give her small height a few extra inches, and lets the fanned waves of her white damask gown wrap around her legs like a coned conch shell. There are trails of yellow decorating lace flowers into the gown, which is cut to just above the tops of her generous breasts, and her long mantilla, that flows to just past her waist, is sheer, patterned lace. There is an overlay of silk weaved with pearls like raindrops, and the comb that lifts the veil slightly at the back of her head gives the illusion of a crown. A ruby circlet of gold lay dipping down into the middle of her forehead, and her hair falls in soft ringlets around her beautiful face.

Her maiden’s cloak looks almost a farce, with Dornish colors, against the beauty of her dress. There’s a large smile on her face as he joins her, their hands wrapping together, and the Septon begins the ceremony in the usual Westerosi words and customs.

He’s careful not to look away from her, as they begin. Ellaria comes forward, and removes the cloak from Arianne’s shoulders, holding it carefully in her hands. Jon removes his own, and wraps it around his cousin. The red looks even stranger.

Married twice, Jon thinks with a small amount of trepidation, perhaps, if the words can even be seen as such. Polygamy, he reflects wryly, what an odd habit to share with the Dragon Prince.

Then, he nods to Ellaria, and in a deviation, she wraps the Martell cloak around his shoulders. The Septon pauses, there are a few gasps in the crowd, a few grumbles, but both Jon and Arianne continue through the shocked fervor. “With this kiss I pledge my love.”

Then, more vows, and the last words of Westerosi practice from the Septon, “one flesh, one heart, one soul, now and forever.”

He steps away, and Daemon Sand comes forward, then bends his knees and holds the platter of gift assortments aloft. Out of the corner of his eye, Jon catches a few Northerners look to each other, no doubt uncertain as to the proceedings. This, though, is completely Dorne’s own.

Arianne, the bride, picks up the first gift. “I offer you this bulb of garlic, my husband, in hopes that our union will heal you of all previous and future ills.”

Jon takes a bite of the peeled garlic, the heat of the flavor in its raw state sending a zing of shock across his tongue. Then, he picks up the second item. “I offer you this spoon of saffron, my wife, though I hope our union brings you joy, I know that our parting be bitter.”

She takes the red herb, and then comes the third. Together, they pick up the two halves of the pomegranate, and scooping out the seeds, the juice staining their hands red, they say, “We consume the seeds of this pomegranate, as a reminder of the life that we shall live together.”

Fourth— “This olive symbolizes the many tears of union brings, my husband, through sickness and in health, may our lives be blessed.”

Fifth— “With this egg stands my hopes for us, that we might propagate the longevity of our line, and our descendants do us proud.”

The sixth is ginger, consumed together again, hot and fiery in their mouths, once again in its most raw state. “The passion of our love, and our marriage bed,” and then, without words, they wash it down with the seventh offering—a full glass of sweet, Dornish wine, their arms linked together, and the liquid staining their lips red.

The people stand as they begin to make their way down the aisle, the Septon calling out, “Princess Arianne Nymeros Martell-Targaryen, and Prince Jon Nymeros Martell-Targaryen, the First of their Names, Future Rulers of Dorne.”

With Arianne’s grip tight around his fingers, Jon forces himself not to gaze at Robb, forces himself to breath past the cage in his throat, and thinks, Holy fucking seven hells , as, for the first time, men and women bow as he walks by.

Chapter Text

Robb eyes the horde of Dothraki men warily. Although there’s only five or six in front of him, the rest still on the ships that lay anchored just off the coast of the “poison water,” their very presence is still intimidating. These are Princess Daenerys’ personal guard, and they have their hands firm on curved weapons, their braids and muscles a clear threat even as they stand still as the grave.

“You’d think we were planning to murder her,” Tyene mutters next to him. He’s not sure why she’s been keeping close to him for the last hour, ever since the ship carrying the Targaryen woman and her companions came ashore, but he’s almost grateful to Jon’s sister now. Her constant whining threats and barbs are keeping him from his own violent thoughts.

Nymeria and Obara had escorted the Targaryen Princess, along with Prince Doran and Princess Arianne, inside the keep, but the silver-haired woman greeted Robb long enough for him to gather that despite her seeming serenity, she wasn’t completely at ease with the situation. Her “Lord Stark” had made his Northerners bristle like angry bears, but there was nothing to do.

Asha rolls her eyes at his other side. She’s got their son in her arms, small and red-faced and wrinkly, sprigs of wispy red curls jutting from the top of his tiny head. Torrhen, she told him when she handed the lad over, the second her feet touched the dry sand as it turned away from damp. “This one is your Stark heir,” she’d reiterated, giving the babe the fondest look he’d seen her give anyone, “next one is a Greyjoy.”

No more had been said between the two of them. It was not, after all, a reunion between loving husband and wife. For a brief moment, Robb remembers his Mother and Father, the way they’d embrace after a long absence, the way his mother cried a river of tears when his father came back, whole and alive, from the Greyjoy Rebellion. He’d never imagined this as his life.  And so, if the Dothraki find anything strange about the business-like interaction of the King and Queen of the North and the Iron Islands, they give no indication.

“No,” Asha says, her arms bouncing the sleeping babe slightly, “but we might murder him .”

Her chin jutted towards the true source of Robb’s discomfort. Standing with his eyes trained on the walls of the Dornish keep, not tall but not as small as Robb remembered him from years past, is Tyrion Lannister. The dwarf had naught been heard from since the murder of his father, Tywin Lannister, and Robb is uncomfortably reminded that this lion is goodkin. He stares to the smaller man, this supposedly wise and learned Hand of the Queen, and feels hatred grow. He’s not seen a Lannister since the Kingslayer was his prisoner, and he’d rather not see one now, turncloak or not.
Yet, he reminds himself, if they wanted the alliance with Jon’s aunt, then they needed to accept her retinue of savages, sellswords, and former enemies. This is who a King gets in bed with, he thinks, those he’d rather not even see. This is the legacy left to me, and that I leave to my son.  

“We won’t do anything without provocation,” Robb says, turning away from the sight of the blonde-haired man and to Asha. “Surely you’ve informed her of that?”

Asha rolls her eyes, then hands him the baby. Instinctually, his arms go away from his scabbard to catch the small body before it falls. “I’ve said it,” Asha says, “but do you think that matters? Jon’s existence is provocation enough for her.”

In the distance, a dragon roars as if in agreement. The Northern guards surrounding Robb shudder and wince, and he barely suppresses a reaction of his own. A king cannot show fear. At his feet, Grey Wind lifts his head up and growls , fur standing on end. One of the Dothraki looks to the wolf, leans close to the man at his side, and then both are eying the beast with trepidation in their eyes, the same type the Northerners hold towards the winged beasts flying in the sky.

A few feet away, Tyrion paces. The man’s said nothing beyond the usual pleasantries and ceremony, either reluctant to face Robb or too worried for his Queen to care. Robb believes it to be both, for the man is too sly and cunning to not consider every angle.

Finally, after another twenty minutes of silent standoff, Tyrion seems to shake his head and come to a decision. He starts across the sand, small booted feet leaving imprints, the golden hand pin attached to his jerkin catching the light of the sun. As he gets closer, Robb sees a bead of sweat at his temple, but then the man is bowing, a sweeping gesture, until his scarred face almost makes impact with the ground.

“A Lannister and a Stark on the same side,” Tyrion says as he comes up, with a tone as dry as white wine, “truly, the gods must be laughing.”

Robb jerks his chin as some semblance of nod in response. The last time he’d seen this man, he’d believed him responsible for the catspaw’s attempt on Bran’s life. He knows better now, but the bad blood between them has not yet run dry. His family’s visit was the beginning of the end for the Starks. With no kinder an inflection than he’d use for a common thief, he replies, “The gods have nothing to do with this.”

Tyrion smiles, but it is not compassionate. Nor, though, is it the smile that of a shark. It is bitter and sharp, the type of smile a man gives when he’s stuck between a rock and a hard place. “And yet, here you are. A King, as your ancestors were, and with a new cousin besides. Some priests would say that your story is the very threads gods weave.”

The salt sea smells strong in the light, and the light breeze gives a pleasant chill to the day, colder now than when the Stark company arrived, but still too warm for most of their tastes. It ruffles the braids of the Dothraki, flings at the curls of his own head, and that of his son, and pricks up the thinning hair of the man in front of him.

Robb thinks of his Aunt Lyanna, dead before her time. He thinks of his father’s bones and his mother’s grief, his sisters’ pain and his brothers’ wanderings. He thinks of Jon. “If our stories are the ones that please the Seven Gods to tell, then I do not want them interfering in my life.”

Tyrion nods. “That is why they are gods. They do not need permission to interfere in our lives.” He looks to Robb with a scrutinizing expression, and there is something underneath it. An inkling shoots through Robb that Lannister knows more than he’s letting on, and the urge to demand secrets is as strong as the urge to make his sister a happy widow.

He thinks he should ask, perhaps thank the man for not dishonoring her, but there are no words he wants to say to him, and he cannot get past the anger. His mother would, Sansa, too, but whatever propriety or custom childhood bred in him is nothing but a memory now.

In the distance, he spies the ships at anchor, the wings of the three large dragons no doubt casting shadows. He fights the desire to retreat inside the castle.  

I should be with him , he thinks.

A voice, not his own but familiar, like his father, responds: He needs to do this on his own.

He gives another tight nod to the man in front of him, looks to Tyene whose eyes are trained towards the east, where Jon’s rooms are located, and then to Asha, whose body is seemingly loose, though he knows from experience that her muscles are as taut as a bowstring and ready to spring into action.

“Well,” he replies with a sharp and brittle smile of his own, “we are only men. What do we know of the gods?”

With that statement, he dismisses the smaller man, and then secures his son closer to his chest, the feel of the small body curled protectively against his armor the reminder of why he’s here. He steps back closer to Tyene and Asha, and then trains his eyes on the gate, waiting for the signal to return.




 

Arianne leaves reluctantly, with one deep, mocking curtsey and a pained smile, pushing her father’s wheeled chair across the solar and out towards Doran’s own quarters. In the doorway, Daenerys Targaryen stands stiff, alone except for a thin, beautiful woman behind her who announces a list of titles as long as the length of the room, and stares piercingly at Jon.

He nods, bows, and says, “Your Grace.” He’s wearing Martell colors, choosing to state that his ties are first and foremost to Dorne. Arianne cautioned that as a mistake, but he’d paid her no heed. If Daenerys desires to murder him, she’ll not do it in this room, and whatever colors he wears will make no difference to her. This woman has ripped apart Slaver’s Bay and built it back up, so he knows she’s not afraid to stand her ground, and figures she even knows how to bide her time.

She smiles, but it is not kind. She’s beautiful, too, with the long silver hair sung about in songs pulled back in Dothraki conqueror braids, a clear signal to all those who knew the meaning. She’s got jewels and beads and a dress of myrish silk and lace, a deep red that offsets her pale, ivory skin. Her eyes, dark purple, portray no warmth, and he sees no family resemblance between the two of them.

He assumes that neither does she. She steps forward, a slight incline of her head, and says, “Prince Jon Martell,” the address proper as the husband of a Princess, but nothing else. After a moment or two, Ghost comes out from underneath the table, and eyes the space between the two with red eyes. Her eyes are drawn to the direwolf and her right eyebrow rises, but if she feels fear, she is careful not to show it. Behind her, the other woman shifts uncomfortably, but doesn’t speak.

He swallows and invites her to sit. On the table, there is a bushel of grapes, and red wine, with white cheese dotted with chilis and flat, crisp bread. She takes a bit of food delicately between thumb and forefinger after she sits, stately and poised, her legs crossed elegantly. There’s a stiffness to this meeting. It’s unlike that of a diplomat, when the playby of manipulations and careful intentions causes the conversation to flow, or a happy meeting of long-lost relatives. Jon is conscious that as he sits here, if she believes their claim, then he is the living embodiment of failure for her. The impediment standing in the way of her goals.

I am not a gift for her , he thinks, his fingers rolling a grape in his hands. She is not a gift for me.

When he’d imagined this meeting, he’d imagined it easier . He’d no conception of how truly hard it would be. How words would prove as elusive as hearing the name of his mother during his childhood.

 When she pops the last grape on the bushel in her mouth, the silence finally breaks. “Lord Stark’s wife tells me much about you. More than Prince Quentyn Martell offered.”

Her face is as cool as marble, expression offering nothing. There’s no hint of her intentions or meaning in her eyes, the lines of her mouth, or even the way she tilts her head. She’s practiced at this, much more than he is. He reminds himself, as his left hand tightens around the fabric at his knee, that he is the son of the Red Viper and a snake strikes where one does not see.

His solar is open to the view of the beach, where Robb waits, and the curtains blow in the wind. Behind him, there’s a mural painting, himself and all his sisters, along with Oberyn Martell, and Ellaria, too, a happy family once. Her eyes look to him and nothing else. She’s waiting to see him falter, perhaps, to reveal this all a farce.

Bluntly, because he’s sick and tired of disguised meanings, Jon runs a hand through his hair and says, “Your Grace, I didn’t ask you here to claim I’m the rightful of the Iron Throne. It can burn to ashes for all I care. If you want it, it's yours, and I’ll happily provide you service to take what you came for. I want one thing out of you. Help.”

A smile then, and a flicker to the fresco behind him, and he realizes that she has been careful to not appear studious. She has taken in everything in this room, all their measure, and him, too, and she leans back in her chair, relaxed and poised. “You’ll pardon me, Prince Jon, if I fail to take your words at face value. On your very shores, I was greeted by a usurper calling himself King of the North—” He grips his knee to the point of pain. “—and an army behind him. I doubt he’s here to bend the knee, though he rightfully should, and if I punish him and the whole of the North for their crimes, tell me, what will you want then?”

She’s threatening this as if it’s some light matter. As if coming Aegon the Conqueror reborn will cement her hold on the throne. Jon shakes his head and pushes the anger down. He will not cave to her. “Revenge.”

The smile widens, and this, too, is not kind. Her scribe, or announcer, whoever her companion is, shifts, hands clasped at her bosom. She’s been silent so far, and he thinks she’ll remain silent, but he notices her eyes follow Ghost’s trail around the room warily. The direwolf growls, again, and stalks forward towards Daenerys. The standing woman flinches, but the direwolf stops just short of catching at the blonde’s hand. To her credit, the woman does not flinch at his fangs, but she is not the Dragon Queen for nothing.

A tinkling laugh, but it's not a laugh really. A sound that’s meant to unsettle, he thinks, or maybe it's nerves. This woman unbalances him, and not for the first time, he’s glad he did not grow up Rhaegar Targaryen’s son.

“He’s your cousin,” she says. It’s whispered as if the fact is something Jon’s ignorant of. “Lyanna Stark’s son. They say my brother Rhaegar loved her so much that thousands died for it. Our entire dynasty toppled by one scorned suitor. The dynasty Lord Stark’s ancestors swore allegiance to—in perpetuity.” The words are a clipped whisper, and if there’s any doubt to her meaning, Jon can’t conceive of it.

Jon does, however, wonder what she’s thinking. He ponders the secrets hidden beneath those purple eyes. Is she looking at his face and wondering if it looks like Lyanna’s? If such a face was worth the death of babes and children and hardships across the narrow sea? Does she blame him for the sins of his mother?

She’s given no indication that she even believes them. Has not confronted him, has not said, “so you claim to be my nephew.” It is as if she’s already sure, but of what, Jon’s not certain.

He straightens until his back is ramrod straight and says, “With all due respect, Your Grace , allegiances all over are broken when one’s father burns a man alive and forces his son to watch. I rather doubt you’d take kindly to it if it happened to you.”

His grandfather, he realizes, and his other grandfather, too, in a mad dance of flames and screams and pain. Charred skin, and horrified onlookers, and the notion occurs to him that neither he nor this woman deserve a throne. Theirs is a legacy of disease and macabre, and their blood shakes hands with the Stranger.

But a bargain is a bargain, and there’s more at stake. She nods, smile disappearing, and for the first time, the steel fades and her expression saddens. “That was a horrible deed. I apologize for the pain my father caused Lord Stark’s family. I am not like him.”

He nods, and then says, “I am not Rhaegar.” He does not know why he feels the need to specify this, only that it is there. “I will not stand in your way.”

His hand shifts, away from his knee, and to the band at his waist where a letter lay tucked, parchment scratching against his skin.

She leans forward, an inch or two, not close but not far. She is no longer poised, the reminder of her father’s mad deeds seeming to shake her. She has come to a country that holds no fond memories of her name.

Outside, in the distance, a roar sounds, and Jon thinks he’s heard it before. It’s terrifying, and exhilarating, and Ghost’s eyes shoot to the window, as a tingle shivers up his spine, and he, too, looks to the window. A low growl sounds in response, and Jon wonders if Ghost is answering someone, for its deeper, more calculated.

When he looks back, Daenerys is studying him with that unnerving look once again. Her hands are curled on the table, her back straight, and she is again poised. “Let me tell you something, Prince Jon. I find this entire situation amusing. When Prince Quentyn Martell first came to me and claimed I had living family, I believed it a cruel joke. Then a farce. I pictured throwing you to my dragons. Then more came. Lady Stark, and her offer. I thought, ‘why should I not meet this man? I will be able to tell his true intentions.’”

She shakes her head, and there is that smile again. It’s sarcastic, and her tone is, as well, as she continues, “I see you here, and you look nothing like me. Nothing like Rhaegar or Viserys. I ask myself, ‘why should I mistrust him? The smallfolk won’t believe him.’ Your image does not play the part, you see, and my looks have always singled me out.”

She looks down, her fingers curling and uncurling. Then, she stands, a smooth movement that betrays her upbringing, and motions for him to follow. Silently, he does, and they move towards the balcony. They look out to the distance, the beach a vision of a desert of pebbled white from the height they stand, the water a blue sky behind it. Northerners and Dothraki and the Second Sons all mix together on the beach, alongside Ironborn and Dornish guards, a kaleidoscope of colors. Truly, the gods had never seen such an odd sight before.

And that was without even taking into account the dragons. Jon’s hands drift to the railing, and his gaze follows the green-scaled dragon as it swoops over the water, powerful wings slicing through the air, and then drift to the white one, then the black. As she speaks, his gaze returns to the green. “I have an army who believe in me. People that love me. They’ve crossed the poison water for me and done all I’ve asked of them. You don’t. You’ve made no name for yourself. Gathered no glory. Most of Westeros believes you to be a bastard son of a dead traitor. The army you belong to is yours because of familial ties, nothing more loyal than that.”

He swallows hard. No , he thinks. I have Robb. I have my sisters, and Smalljon Umber, Daemon fucking Sand, and Dorne, and the Starks. We have the backing of the Tyrells, too, and the benefit of being born on this shore. I gained their love and admiration through my own feats. He doesn’t say these words, however, and continues to let her speak. There will be time for him later, he knows, and for now he’ll let the woman have her due.

She turns to him, and stands, stiff and regal. “You claim you have no desire for the Iron Throne.”

I don’t , he thinks, and nods in response. His hair brushes against his neck, and the wind drifts past them, blowing the black strands over his eyes. It doesn’t seem to touch her, though, not a single hair moves, and she stands as still as the pillars of the keep.

“That you and your wife, a schemer I’ve heard tale, will be content here in Dorne and you will swear allegiance to me. That Dorne will remain part of Westeros,” she says, a clipped tone and pursed lips.  

A boon Arianne had been reluctant to grant. “If your cousin can declare himself King in the North and return to the old ways, why shouldn’t we do the same?” she asks him nightly, her eyes brimming with ambition and anger.

“Because we’ll lose,” he tells her and knows it’s true, without knowing why. Or, perhaps, it is the reluctance to be King. He sees how it gnaws like a dog with a bone at Robb, heartsick and weary as it makes the redhead. He does not desire that type of life.

Daenerys’s voice brings him back to the moment. “I do not trust you. Tell me, nephew , does that make me a fool or wise?”

Jon has no real answers for her. He does not know her. He’s not Doran, who could come up with something cunning to say. Once, he’d thought himself slyer than he was, believed he could mold himself into the perfect Dornishman and project it onto the world. Once, he’d been as cautious and suspicious as the woman before him.

The part of him that’s still childish screams that he shouldn’t give anything away. But another part, deeper, tells him that the way to winning Daenerys Targaryen over is through one simple thing: the pure, unvarnished truth.

“Neither,” he tells her after a minute of silence. She raises her eyebrows. “You are only who you want to be. You’re feeling only how you want to feel. You name me nephew, but don’t reveal whether you think I am or not. That’s fine. Time will reveal us as either honest fools or liars.” He steps away from the balcony. “I know I’m asking a lot from you. I’m asking you to trust in a stranger. And you’re here. You could have come ashore at Dragonstone. You have the army for it.”

He bows, and turns to leave with one final comment, “I think you need to ask yourself why that is.”

A sound behind him, either anger at his words or anger at his clear dismissal, a breach of all protocol when dealing with the highborn, and then he nods to the other woman. “Here,” he tells her, and reaches down to pull out the letter. “You should give this to your Queen. The words concern us all.”

“Of course, my lord,” she says, taking the parchment with smooth, small hands. Nothing more to say, and the urge to bolt strong, Jon strides out of the room, his boots a thud, thud, thud against the floor.



 

The night before they set out for the North, Robb hands his son to Jon. The brunette is tired and sore, sweat sticking to him after a long day of riding with Elia. “He wants his uncle,” he says with a smile. Torrhen, capable of sitting now, smiles a gummy smile, curls as springy as Robb’s and Jon’s. The little boy reaches with a chubby fist for the black locks. He’ll stay here, with Ellaria and Arianne, for he’s too young yet to set sail for Winterfell.

Asha refuses to stay in Dorne. “My brother’s fighting these so-called dead men up there,” she reminds them whenever any poor unfortunate thinks to chastise her. “I’ll not do less than him.”

Despite Daenerys’ initial desire to besiege King’s Landing, the letter from Theon Greyjoy concerning “spooks and grumpkins”, as well as her own warnings and portents from her life back in Essos, convinces the Dragon Queen that something needs to be done, if just a cursory glance beyond the Wall. “After all,” he’d told her the night she’d come to him, three days after her arrival, “You can’t be Queen of the Dead Men.”

He’s not sure how much he believes Theon Greyjoy. Not sure how much he wants to. But there’s the letter from Benjen Stark as well, and the wildings coming further into the Northern lands. The rumors, too, from farmers and smallfolk that live close to the Wall, scared and seeking shelter in the bosom of Winterfell.

The red woman, too, Jon thinks with a shudder. She’d shown up the week before, with eyes that brim with passion and intensity, and prophecies dripping from her lips.  She gives both Jon and Daenerys an ill-feeling, the first they’ve shared in these tension fraught months.  

“Does he?” Jon asks and bounces the little boy on his knee. He’s got grey eyes, so dark they’re almost brown. A happy giggle, and Robb sits down across from them with a smile. Underneath the table, Ghost and Grey Wind are curled up and fast asleep. “Or are you just sidling up to me till you have someone prettier to look at? Aunt Sansa? Aunt Arya?”

Robb laughs. “Arya will probably drop him on his head.”

Jon laughs, too. “She did write that she’s sending along a sword.”

They get letters from Winterfell often. Not just Robb, but Jon as well. Lady Stark—Aunt Catelyn—writes to him about the rooms she’s set up for him. About the feast she thinks about. There’d been unenthusiastic congratulations for his marriage, but he expects little else. Ned Stark’s wife is known to nurse her grudges deep. Sansa, once or twice, with questions regarding his interests and whether or not he’d prefer a wolf or a dragon cloak.

She’d been ecstatic about the annulment of her marriage. Robb, too, and Jon wishes they could have seen her face the day the news came. He knows Robb longs to embrace her.

It is Arya, though, that Jon gets news from the most. She talks a lot about a blacksmith boy who ended up in Winterfell several months past. He’s her friend, Gendry, who means to follow them into battle up in the North. He’s a bastard , she wrote, King Robert’s bastard. Don’t be letting anyone know that I said that, you hear? Not even Robb.

Trystane writes that he and Arya are getting along, and Jon thinks with pity that his poor cousin really has no true idea of women. I’m glad , he writes back nonetheless, our families deserve peace and stability when this is done .

Robb reaches out and takes Jon’s free hand in his. His hand is calloused, the skin of his palm roughened from the hours of rigorous training he’s been putting his men through. Preparing just as hard as the Dothraki, intermingling with them, despite the distrust and suspicion, at the orders of their leaders. Daenerys, too, is thawing, and Jon remembers the first time she’d taken him to see the dragons.

Rhaegal, the green one who’d caught his eye, coming close. His breath was hot and stale, like smoke fire on wood in the forest, and his eyes were like looking into the abyss, but Jon reached out his hand, unafraid. The scales were softer than he expected, smooth as he ran his hand down them, with tiny gaps between them that threatened to cut if he moved wrong.

“I didn’t think that an army as large as this would be trailing us when I brought you home,” Robb whispers. The words are so faint it’s almost like it’s still a shameful secret, as if he’s the green boy from the day they met who couldn’t accept his feelings. Fingers caress fingers, intertwine with them, and then knuckles are kissed. “I hope it's still there for you to see.”

I hope we’re still here for me to see it , Jon thinks, but doesn’t say. Inside, he’s a mess of chaos. War makes corpses of them all, and he’s eerily conscious sitting here that one day they’ll all be dust and bones, the stories that sages will tell if there are still sages to tell it, even the baby sucking on a tiny fist in his arms. We’ll pass into myths and legends. Become like the Children of the Forest and Nymeria’s Thousand Ships. One day little boys will pick up wooden swords and pretend to be Robb Stark, King in the North and girls will name their kittens Daenerys.  

“It will be,” Jon tells him, leaning closer to kiss him, slow and deep. The fire crackles in the hearth behind them, the nights colder than he’s ever felt in Dorne. The words aren’t a lie, but they don’t quite feel like the truth either. His nights are haunted by fire and blood, haunting eyes carved into the bark of trees with gruesome faces, and bodies of blue. He sees Robb, crying, red hair tainted white in the snow. Daenerys, too, and both their hands grasp a sword of fire as icicles fall from the wrought iron door of a gate. He shudders, and Robb holds him closer, until they’re one person, cleaved together, and no more words pass between them.




 

Ellaria reaches up to wipe the hot tears from the corner of her eyes. The sight of the army is long gone, the banners of suns and spears, dragons and direwolves and krakens a faraway memory. Dorne seems smaller now, without the tents and shouts of thousands of men and women, and the sands empty. If not for the chill in the air, it’s almost as if nothing has changed. She imagines Oberyn coming up behind her, wrapping her in his arms, lips whispering all the dirty thoughts his mind produces.

But Oberyn will never wrap her in his arms again. His bones remain in King’s Landing, and his children— her children—march off to an unknown future. Obara gone, and Nymeria and Tyene, too, not to mention Jon. She tightens her grip around the soft, silk blanket of crimson red in her hands, and traces her finger over the etchings of snakes and wolves playing in a garden full of roses.

“They should be heading for King’s Landing,” Arianne says next to her. Her tone is critical, as it’s been since Jon revealed to them the King in the North’s intentions to put aside their war with the Lannisters.

“It’s just for now,” Jon told them. Arianne had raged, and not silently, and entreated him to remember Oberyn and Elia, his brother and sister, and Ned Stark. All those lost to Lannister hands.

“Do they no longer deserve death in your eyes?” she’d spat at him, wrenching arms out of his grasp. “Have you become so weak?”

They’d parted with anger, but Ellaria sees the worry in her eyes. The fear that Jon may never return. She watches as Arianne’s small hands, long-fingered and beautiful, drift to her stomach, flat against the railing. Her dark eyes look to the horizon.

“They will,” Ellaria whispers. She’s more certain of these words than she’s ever been. Oberyn’s vengeance had consumed him, and Prince Doran’s did, too. She hopes that Arianne’s does not, for the small girl who used to drag Jon and Elia around for sweets did not deserve to have her dreams ripped apart. She remembers Catelyn Stark, the anger in her eyes and the sneer on her face, and pictures Lyanna with Jon’s curls and dark eyes. Her teeth grit as she thinks of Princess Elia.

Beds of blood and roses and pain , she thinks, and for the first time in a long time, she prays. Let my daughters live happy lives. Let them grow free and strong and know nothing of suffering. Let the son of my heart live, let his children grow . She prays for Arianne, and Trystane, and the Starks, for she sees the way Robb looks at Jon.

The sun passes into a splash of color as dusk falls, and Elia joins them on the balcony, the son of Robb Stark curled around her hip, Loreza, Obella, and Dorea trailing behind her. The six Dornish women stand a silent vigil, minds adrift, until the moon rises full in the sky, and Ellaria imagines she can hear the hiss of snakes, the screeching roar of dragons, and the resounding howl of direwolves call out to it, a haunting epithet marked for future songs.