Once, she dreamed of flying high over the slate roof of the Maidenvault, the sweet voices of Baelor’s sisters rising in lament from behind its heavy doors.
"Do you know their song, Sansa?" Bran asked. He was so thin and pale, with dark feathers in his hair and the bones of his skull plain under his skin.
"I know it," she answered.
The moon was fat and bright above them. Thin clouds floated lazily across the night sky, and the wind was cold on her face. Cold enough to freeze her tears to her lashes before they could fall.
Daena, Rhaena, and Elaena sang not for their brother, their king. Nor did they sing for the Hand who slew him, the would-be king. They sang instead for the royal pyre that awaited Baelor the Blessed. Baelor the Befuddled. For the fires they had longed to kindle with their own hands. They sang until their voices pierced the very walls that imprisoned them still, filling her heart with bitterness and dread.
"It's so sad. Can you feel it, Sansa?" Bran said, his voice hardly louder than a whisper.
He turned so that he flew through the air with his back to the ground so far below. With one hand he reached out, but she cringed away when his white flesh brushed hers. Winter had rooted itself deep within him.
"I don't need to feel it," she told him. "I know their song."
She knew it as well as her own. Daena the Defiant, who birthed a rebellion. Pious Rhaena, who lived only for the Seven. And Elaena, who would one day take her life back for her own.
Bran reached for her again. Sansa turned her head and pretended not to see.
"Can you stay with me a while longer? It's been so long, and I grow so tired."
Without looking at him, she nodded. His hand found hers, warmer now against her own chilled skin. He urged her up and up, until their outstretched hands nearly touched the moon. Those high, clear voices chased them, giving voice to words they couldn't find for each other.
She didn't know how long they flew - only that her skin had turned to ice long since - but soon the walls of the city were rushing up to meet them. Their hair and clothes and feathers whipped in the wind, whipped into a maelstrom that blotted out the sky and the city and the fires that lined the Street of the Sisters and raced up Aegon's High Hill.
Sansa clutched at Bran as they fell. His bones ground against each other under her grip, but he didn't cry out. Not even when he lay broken in the square before the Great Sept.
She sang then, and cupped her hand over his cheek like she had done when he was newly born. Her voice, so thin and reedy in the cold night, rose to join the Targaryens' lament. The heat of the fires melted the tears frozen to her lashes, until they streamed down her face and pooled upon the stones. They washed away the dirt and the blood, and swept the feathers from Bran's hair, and rose to cover his face. She breathed them in, tasting the salt on her tongue and in her throat.
"It's all right," Bran told her, his voice a soft whisper in her head, stinging between her eyes. "I'm not so tired, now. You can rest for a while, Sansa. You don't have to sing for me."
"But I want to!" she cried, the tears coming faster and faster. Soon they would cover her completely. She clawed at Bran's shirt, holding tight so the torrent couldn't sweep him away. "You can't go, not now! You can't!"
The water was over her head now and still rising. Below her, Bran's face looked plump and smooth, his skin pink and new. He looked so peaceful, as though he was only resting for a moment. As though he would soon spring to his feet and go scampering up a drain or swinging from a rafter.
His shirt slipped from her fingers and he floated away. Down into the deep she hadn't realized yawned below them. She plunged down after him. Twice, three times, she brushed the fabric of his shirt but he kept drifting further from her with every stroke. Her lungs burned. Her ears popped. And still she dove.
After an eternity, her hands struck stone. The shock of the impact raced up her arms and she cried out, the sound sucked away by the rushing water. She hit at it, again and again, until it crumbled. Sansa pushed the stone out of the way and pulled herself through the hole, until she lay gasping on a rough floor. The smells of dirt and damp filled her nose.
"What are you doing here?"
Sansa blinked, willing her eyes to adjust to the gloom. "I know not," she said. "Please don't hurt me. I only want to find my brother."
"You have no brothers," the voice said, and giggled.
"I do have brothers! I have four: Robb and Jon and Bran and Rickon!"
The giggling grew louder, shriller. "No brothers! You're all alone, Sansa, just as you wished!"
"I never wished that! Not really! Oh, why are you doing this? Who are you?"
She pushed herself up off the floor and stumbled forward in the direction of the voice. A shadow darker than the gloom rose up before her, but her hands waved through empty air.
"A lost boy and nothing more."
"Who were you, then? Surely you've some sort of a name!"
"Just another of the lost and lonely boys who gather at your side, Sansa Stark, nothing more, nothing more."
Sansa lunged forward, her hands closing on empty air as she reached for the shadow. She kept pushing forward and it kept slipping further away. Slipping just beyond her grasp. As Bran had.
As everything had.
"What do you want from me?" she shrieked. "I have nothing left to give!"
"A song, he says, and nothing more," came the reply. "Sing but a song, nothing more, nothing more."
A fierce blast of heat and light slammed into her. It knocked the breath from her lungs and the sight from her eyes. She fell to her knees in the dirt and covered her head, certain that flames would engulf her. But none did. The heat abated, and when she opened her eyes there was a huge roaring wall of flame filling her field of vision. Within it, black shapes danced and whirled, but the fire burned as cold as winter. As cold as Bran's hand.
Sansa stepped toward it. Her skin prickled where the flames touched. Her wet hair froze as she moved further into the fire.
All around her the black shapes writhed. Here, they took on the form of women gathered around a body torn almost in half; there, sharks flitted in and around a heavily laden ship, plucking sailors from the waves. She saw soldiers screaming upon a bloody field, and a woman laboring to bring forth a multitude of children with skin scaled like a serpent's and as red as the sun.
She started to run. She called for Bran, for Arya. For her mother and father. For Robb and Jon and even little Rickon. But everywhere she turned there were more of the black shapes twisting in the cold flames. Horrors, all.
The sting between her eyes grew sharper, and her hand came away bloody when she touched it. She cried out in fear and stumbled over nothing. As she fell, the shadows rose up above her, two larger than all the others. Hulking monsters, whose arms crashed down upon each other with heavy blows. The flames shrank from them as the fight raged on. Sansa cowered below, weeping from fear, heavy crystalline tears that fell around her like ice.
Pain pierced her head, from the spot between her eyes and down into her jaw and neck. "Stop it!" she cried. "Stop this!"
The smaller of the two shapes paused for the briefest of moments and turned toward her. Where its face should have been was a roiling mass of cold blue flame and inky black shadows.
"Why are you doing this? Let me go!" she begged. "You must let me pass!"
It made no response, but turned back to its foe and renewed its attack with new vigor. Sansa struggled to her feet, pushing the icy strands of her hair out of her face. There was no aid here, but there was no danger either. She would not linger.
She turned away, determined as she had not yet been to find her escape from this nightmare. Bran was lost, whatever her heart tried to tell her. There was nothing to hold her here any longer.
But wherever she turned, the shadows loomed over her. At her feet, the icy tears crunched and small sparks of orange and blue struck and died.
"A song, he says!" came the voice again.
A song. For what? She had given a song once before, and in return was left with nothing.
"Will you give him nothing more, nothing more?"
Sansa kept walking, keeping her eyes straight ahead. There was no rescue for her; there never was.
The sparks that flared at her feet grew brighter and streaked upward to surround the shadows locked in combat. The larger of the two reared up, growing larger with every spark that rose to join it until it dwarfed its opponent, which shrank back when the sparks erupted into flame again. This time, Sansa felt the heat of them burning against her skin and hair. The ice began to melt, and water swirled about her feet once more.
A song spilled from her mouth before she could stop it. As sweet and light as a summer rain, she sang. And with each note, she walked faster, until she was running through the water, then atop it. She sang to the flames that licked the sky, and the two shadows that rolled within them. Rain—or blood—rolled down her face; she could taste it, metallic and salty on her lips.
She took a giant leap forward and gained the sky, the wind propelling her upward once again. Dark feathers covered her arms and scratched at her scalp. The song trilled sweetly from her mouth, drowning out the crash of the fight roiling below her. She swooped and circled, longing for Bran's ghostly chill beside her.
The smaller of the shadows grew darker as she flew, until it burned so black that it extinguished the flames that crackled around it. Everywhere it struck, ice flew, blue and cold. It would not relent, pressing harder and faster, until its opponent began to reel away, turning pale and brittle.
Sansa sang louder, pouring all her energy into it, forgetting to breathe, to move. The flames sprang up at her and she cried out in shock. She plummeted down, just as she had above the Maidenvault. Here there was no stony ground to shatter upon, only the fire, which licked at her hair and clothes and feathers.
There was a great roar as the pale shadow fell and cracked, thick wet red showing beneath the ash.
Sansa would have gone on singing, but the heat of the flames stole her voice. Steam rose where her tears dripped into the fire. Would she never learn? Whatever little she had to give, the world would take it from her and leave behind only pain and fear.
She hoped her tears would rise again in a great torrent, to put out the fire and sweep her away again, but they dried as quickly as they came. She was suspended in the hot flames, feeling her skin prickle and tighten and erupt into blisters as she burned.
"Nothing more," she whispered, her mouth as dry as sand, her blood beginning to boil. She wanted nothing more, just the cool respite of death at last. She had no brothers, no sister, no family. Even her name was forsaken.
"Let me go," she cried with the last of her voice.
But the shadow rose up over her once more, as black as the darkest corners of Winterfell's crypts. The cool blue flame she had glimpsed where its face should have been washed over her. It choked out the greedy fire that would have devoured her whole. Wrapped around her like a cloak, pressed against her lips like a lover's kiss.
"Don't leave me," she called when it began to retreat. "Don't leave me here!"
You're the one doing the leaving, it rumbled.
"But how? I don't know how!"
Just fly, little bird, it said. Icy shards rained down on her, turning to cool rain as they neared the heat that still surrounded her.
She shook her singed feathers sadly. "How can I when I've forgotten how already? I hardly know my own name from one day to the next."
Then remember, you stupid girl. They take nothing from you that you do not freely give.
They did, though. All of them. She had freely given nothing, not a single thing. All had been taken from her.
Then you must take back what is yours.
Alayne woke with a start. Her skin was hot and tight from the heat of the fire in the hearth, and Randa's snoring body at her side. She crawled from the bed and went to the window, where the wind stole in with icy fingers.
The moon was fat and bright, with thin clouds floating lazily across the night sky. She breathed on a pane of glass, then swirled her finger through the cloud of condensation that gathered. Sansa, she wrote, before wiping it away with the palm of her hand.
I am Sansa Stark, of Winterfell, she reminded herself. I have not lost that, at least.
As the moon slipped behind one of the clouds, she saw something moving at the edge of the yard, in the deep shadows below the guardhouse. Her heart kicked in her chest as she strained to make it out. Black shadow moved upon black, and she could no more tell what stirred there than she could know what passed in the world beyond the Vale.
But when the cloud had drifted past, and the moonlight spilled over everything, she saw the sprawled figures of two guards, in ever-spreading pools where the snow melted and steam rose.
She scanned the yard again. Whoever had done this would still be moving toward the tower, though clinging to what shadows there were amidst the bright snow. There! A man, stepping away from the well, striding over a snowdrift as though it were no higher than an anthill. His gait was uneven, though from the terrain or something else she could not tell.
As if he felt her eyes upon him, he paused and turned his face up toward the tower where she stood. He could not see her, she knew; there was not light enough within to make her visible. But she could see him, that black ruin of his face beneath his heavy hood.
Sansa pressed her hand against the glass. The chill sent shivers up the back of her neck and down her arms.
"Take back what is yours," she whispered.