Daenerys Dayne was a wisp of a girl, not much taller than Sansa or even Arya, who was all of six and practically still in her swaddling clothes. As far as Jon Snow could tell, the only discernible thing about Daenerys was her silver-blonde hair. And her big, violet eyes.
Other than that, he didn’t get all the fuss about her arrival to Winterfell. She was accompanied by her mother, Lady Ashara Dayne, and Lady Ashara’s husband, a lord from a lesser Dornish house. Lady Ashara was beautiful, Jon could grudgingly admit, but her husband seemed a simpering fool with his wispy, ash-colored hair and weak chin, and Jon disliked him on sight.
He disliked Daenerys, too, though he hadn’t spoken one word to her yet. Robb was already smitten with his betrothed, the small Dornish girl who was to become his wife. Not for years yet, but Lord Eddard Stark had thought it best to foster Daenerys as his ward at Winterfell, where she would gradually come to know her betrothed while learning how to be a proper Northern lady and the perfect wife for the heir of Winterfell.
Which would never be Jon, not that he was like to forget that anytime soon. He was younger than Robb, only by a matter of months, but he was base-born, allegedly sired on some common woman by Lord Stark. Jon was largely ignorant on the details as his father refused to discuss it; he only knew that Lord Stark had felt honor-bound to bring his bastard son to Winterfell and raise him alongside his trueborn children.
As Lord Stark made the introductions between his ward and his children, Daenerys didn’t speak. She curtsied dutifully, offering each sibling a timid smile. Not even her betrothed got so much as a hello in greeting, so Jon didn’t feel quite so slighted when she barely looked at him, her purple eyes sweeping over him before darting away just as quickly. Then, she huddled close to her mother’s side as everyone who’d gathered in the courtyard to welcome the Daynes dispersed. They would reconvene in the Great Hall for a feast later that night, where Jon would be relegated to a table far away from the true Starks, as he always was during these big feasts.
Sullen and sour-faced, Jon turned to follow his siblings to the Great Keep, when Robb fell in beside him. His smile was sly as he nudged his half-brother in the ribs.
“What do you think? Pretty, isn’t she?” he whispered, staring at the back of Daenerys’ head and her long silver hair.
Jon shrugged. “I guess. Kind of strange-looking, don’t you think?”
Robb snorted and gave him a playful shove. “You’re just jealous.” He said it jokingly, like he always did. Still, something dark and ugly stirred inside Jon. With a scowl, he shoved Robb back.
With a chortle, Robb stuck his tongue out and trotted away, close on the heels of his stupid betrothed.
Jon and Robb slashed at each other with their wooden sparring swords, dancing around the courtyard. Their training concluded for the day, Ser Rodrik Cassel had dismissed them moments ago before retreating to the armory and leaving them to do what boys would do. Jon was dirty and sweaty, and his body ached everywhere, but he refused to yield before Robb did.
They raced to the Great Keep, laughing and half-heartedly jabbing at each other, dodging servants and guards. Inside, Robb leapt up a couple of steps and turned around. He came to an abrupt halt, his attention drawn elsewhere. Jon craned his neck to follow Robb’s gaze and fought a frown at the sight of Daenerys. She listened patiently as Septa Mordane spoke briskly and quietly to her, Sansa, and Arya, who stared wistfully at her brothers at play. Daenerys’ purple eyes kept darting over to the boys as well, though she nodded politely when prompted by Septa Mordane.
Robb puffed out his chest and pointed his sword at Jon. “Halt where you are! I’m Ser Ryam Redwayne!” he crowed, even as he panted for air.
Similarly winded from their exercises, Jon rolled his eyes at his brother’s obvious ploy for Daenerys’ attention and whacked his sword with his own. “No, more like you’re Florian the Fool.”
Robb’s face colored almost as red as his auburn hair, and he huffed, slapping his wooden sword against Jon’s. They beat their sticks together with a couple more forceful clacks before Robb knocked Jon’s sword aside, hard. The force jolted Jon’s wrist and arm, but he managed to maintain his grip. “How dare you insult the great Aemon the Dragonknight!” Robb declared dramatically.
“If you’re the Dragonknight, then I’m the Lord of Winterfell!” Jon shot back, ducking around Robb’s reach and starting up the steps, but Robb dropped his arm, all humor gone from his expression.
“You can’t be Lord of Winterfell,” he said matter-of-factly. His words seemed to ring through the Great Keep. “You’re a Snow. My mother said you can never be Lord of Winterfell.”
Blood rushed through Jon’s ears, and his face burned hot with humiliation. Of course, he knew that. He’d always known that, but Robb had never said it out loud to him, had never acknowledged the fact of Jon's bastard birth before. Jon couldn’t bring himself to look at the girls to see if they’d heard Robb’s admonishment.
“I know. It’s just a game,” Jon muttered, his tongue and face stiff. Robb relaxed, a smile returning to his face. He was oblivious to Jon’s distress and resumed his fighting stance, sword raised.
“Come on. Race you to the top!”
Then he took off, disappearing up the stairs. Reluctantly, Jon followed his brother, as he always did.
Sometimes, Jon liked to brush the horses in the stables. It was thoughtless, methodical work not much different from cleaning his weapons, just as Lord Stark and Ser Rodrik had taught him to do. But unlike swords, the horses responded when he stroked their flanks and brushed their manes, nickering softly in pleasure. Elsewhere in the stables, Hodor chattered mindlessly, just a soft refrain of his own name, as he shoveled horse dung and stacked bales of hay.
It was calming to Jon. A temporary escape from the constant activity and demands of castle life.
“That one’s my favorite.”
Jon jumped at the soft, sweet voice, whirling around to find Daenerys standing at the entrance of the horse’s stall. She was draped in a cloak made of wolf hide; underneath, she wore a lavender gown and boots. Her silver hair was braided over her shoulder.
He looked back at the white palfrey he was brushing then scowled at her, feeling oddly defensive at being discovered in the stables. “He’s not yours.”
“She’s a girl,” Daenerys corrected, stepping closer. Jon glanced between the horse’s legs and blushed when he found the evidence of her claim—or, rather, the lack thereof. “I know she’s not mine. I don’t mean to claim her. I just think she’s the prettiest one in the stable.”
“Horses aren’t pretty,” he said, exasperated. “It doesn’t matter what they look like. It’s about what they can do.”
Daenerys’ mouth turned down into a small frown as she moved beside him to pet the mare’s flank. Her silver tail flicked. “I guess I wouldn’t know about that. No one will let me ride her. They only let me on the ponies because they’re small, and even then I can only ride them within the castle walls. Back home I was allowed to ride beyond the castle.”
Jon stared at her as she talked. In the year that she’d been at Winterfell, they’d never spoken so many words to each other before. She mostly kept company with Sansa and Arya, and occasionally Robb when Lord Stark and Lady Stark encouraged them to converse. Jon purposely kept his distance—what would he have to say to her, anyway?—and she didn’t seek him out, either.
Her eyes were really quite striking. Like amethysts.
“Well…perhaps I can take you,” he offered boldly, before he could think better of it. She turned her wide eyes on him, and more words came tumbling out of his fool mouth. “I could take you out riding beyond the castle. They let Robb and I go on hunts sometimes. We know the woods well. Do you have trousers? Gowns aren’t really good for riding.”
Her face brightened. It struck him then how sad she always looked. “I have one pair, but Septa Mordane always chastises me when I try to wear them and makes me change.”
“She does the same to Arya,” he said, and she smiled at that. He found himself smiling in return, but then she pursed her lips into a thoughtful frown, her forehead scrunching.
“Why does everyone call you Snow?”
Jon went rigid, his smile slipping away. He looked away from her, staring hard at the silver mane of the horse. “They call me that because I’m not a Stark.”
“But you’re Robb’s brother, aren’t you?”
His face turned warm, and he turned his glare on her. “Half-brother. I have a different mother. Which means I’m a bastard.”
“Oh. I know what a bastard is,” she said, shrugging. “In Dorne, they call them Sand. It’s not a big deal where I'm from, but my mother always told me the rest of the kingdom was different. It’s not common for noble families to take in their bastard children, is it? Do you know who your mother is?”
“You ask too many questions,” he snapped at her, his hands shaking. She fell quiet, and Jon turned away. “It’s none of your business, anyway.”
He stormed out of the stables, leaving Daenerys and her stupid questions behind.
Dany hid a yawn behind her hand, attempting to appear interested in Maester Luwin’s daily lesson. Judging by the keen expressions on Jon’s and Robb’s faces, the material was far more fascinating to them than to her. Today they were learning about Robert’s Rebellion and the roles the different houses had played in the War of the Usurper. It was a topic Dany was quite familiar with; growing up, she’d heard many tales about the deaths of her kinsmen at the hands of King Robert’s men.
The death of her uncle, Ser Arthur Dayne, had been particularly painful for her mother. Dany had no illusions about why she’d been fostered as Lord Stark’s ward, why she’d been promised to the future Lord of Winterfell; no doubt, it had everything to do with Lord Stark’s guilt over having been the one to slay Ser Arthur in battle.
“Many houses had turned on House Targaryen, though some stayed loyal during the war. Including—” Maester Luwin hesitated as he glanced at Dany, likely afraid of upsetting her. She was never afraid of the truth, however; she merely folded her hands on the table and smiled sweetly at him. He returned it, briefly, and cleared his throat. “House Dayne stayed loyal to King Aerys. As you know, Ser Arthur Dayne, your mother’s brother, was in King Aerys’ Kingsguard. He was considered a highly skilled fighter. But he was chivalrous, as well. A true knight. And he was a close friend of Prince Rhaegar.”
Solemnly, Dany nodded. “My mother loved my uncle dearly.”
Again, Maester Luwin shifted uncomfortably. Eager to participate in the discussion, Robb recited, “Ser Arthur was the Sword of the Morning and wielded the greatsword, Dawn. It’s said to have been made from a falling star.”
“My mother still has it. Lord Stark returned it to her after he defeated my uncle in battle at the Tower of Joy,” Dany said. Unsure how to reply, Robb fell quiet, his mouth pulling into a rueful grimace. Maester Luwin turned a page in his dusty old book, as if to move on, but Jon spoke up.
“Our father killed Ser Arthur because he’d helped Prince Rhaegar kidnap our aunt.”
Dany’s face turned red as she looked at him from the other side of the table, but she tried to keep her voice even and indifferent when she responded. “My uncle would never kidnap a woman, nor would he help anyone else do so. He was honorable and valiant. Prince Rhaegar and Lyanna Stark were in love, my mother told me—”
“Your mother is wrong,” Jon said simply, and Maester Luwin sucked in a sharp inhale in warning. “The war started because Rhaegar stole Lyanna from her betrothed, King Robert. Our lord father was devastated when she died.”
“You’re wrong,” Dany retorted in defense of her mother, inexplicably angry. She wasn’t sure how he always managed to do this, why only Jon seemed to irritate her so. It was like he made a point of getting under her skin. She’d always known he’d disliked her; she just never understood why. “Did your father actually tell you my uncle had taken Lyanna? Or that Prince Rhaegar had, for that matter? Did he tell you how Lyanna died, or that Ser Arthur had hurt her in any way?”
Jon opened his mouth but had no answer. His brow furrowed in thought. “Well...no, but Father never talks about his sister. It’s too painful for him.”
“Then how can you say for sure what happened?” she huffed. Jon scowled at her. Maester Luwin coughed and rapped his knuckles on the table.
“We should get back to our lesson,” he said lightly. “Lord Stark wouldn’t be very happy to hear that his sons were squabbling with his ward.”
“I wasn’t squabbling with her,” Robb said hastily, giving Dany a reassuring smile.
“I wasn’t squabbling,” Jon said petulantly. He was a boy of two-and-ten, but Dany thought he sulked more than his younger brother Bran did.
“Be that as it may, House Dayne has sworn fealty to King Robert and House Baratheon, thanks in part to Lord Stark’s efforts to restore amenity between Winterfell and Starfall.”
“Do you think House Dayne was loyal to House Targaryen because they’re related?” Robb asked suddenly, looking to Dany. “They have similar features, don’t they? Like the purple eyes.”
Maester Luwin shook his head. “Common misconception, but no. The Daynes are an old house; they were here before the Targaryens. Not everyone who looks Valyrian is Targaryen, and neither does every Targaryen look Valyrian."
“Just like not every Stark looks like a Stark,” Jon said quietly. Robb blinked and looked at him.
“What does that mean?”
Jon didn’t meet his brother’s eyes when he shrugged. “Nothing. Only that...you take after your mother. You have the Tully look.”
Uncharacteristically, Robb scowled. “So? What are you trying to say? Maybe you look like your mother, too, but you just wouldn’t know it, now would you?”
Jon blushed, and Maester Luwin sighed grievously. Dany blanched as she looked between the two brothers, her stomach clenching in discomfort. She’d never seen them argue before. Robb was normally so jovial, he could make a jest out of anything. And Jon always looked at him with such blatant admiration in his eyes. She couldn’t stand it, even if she was upset with Jon.
She blurted the first thing that came into her head. “Maester Luwin, can we learn more about Valyria? And Essos, too. I’d love to know more about Essos. What’s it like? We hardly hear anything about the people there. It must be like a whole other world,” she said with false brightness, staring across the table at Maester Luwin. “I know dragons are thought to be extinct, but do you think it’s possible there could still be some in Essos, perhaps?”
Maester Luwin stroked his chin in thought. “Of course, I wouldn’t say anything’s impossible, but I think it’s highly unlikely they still exist. There haven’t been any documented sightings in over a century now,” he said before launching into what his studies at the Citadel and his readings had taught him on dragons and Old Valyria and Essos.
As he continued his lecture, Jon and Robb fell into brooding silence, avoiding eye contact with each other. Sighing to herself, Dany settled into her chair to give Maester Luwin her full attention.
Dany stared at the entrance of the crypts uneasily. “Are you sure it’s…allowed?” Safe, is what she wanted to ask, but then Robb would think she was scared, and she wanted him to think her brave.
And believing in ghosts was just silly. Something only children did.
His smile was reassuring. “Of course. Father goes down there all the time to visit his family’s tombs. Sometimes he takes us down to pay our respects.” He handed her her own lantern to hold and offered his arm. She took it, and he grinned. “Don’t be afraid. I’ll be with you.”
“I’m not afraid,” she objected stubbornly. She liked Robb, she did. He would be her husband one day. He was handsome, and kind, and funny. But sometimes...sometimes he talked to her as if he were talking to Arya or Bran, like she was a child, and he was only just barely older than her. It was rather irritating. She huffed as he guided her down the narrow, spiraling steps. “Only, I’m not family, not yet, so perhaps your father wouldn’t like me down here.”
“You will be one day,” Robb insisted, holding his lantern ahead of him to see the stone steps. “You are. My mother already thinks of you as one of her own daughters. She might like you better than Arya, actually.”
“Oh, don’t say that,” Dany pleaded, frowning at the thought. Arya fit in better with the boys, certainly, and Lady Catelyn often seemed exasperated by her youngest daughter’s dirty clothes and scraped knees. But Dany knew she would be heartbroken if anyone dared suggest her mother loved anyone more than her, even in jest. She'd been in Winterfell three years now, and while she missed her father and her siblings, she missed her mother the most.
Robb chuckled, the sound carrying down the long crypt that stretched before them. The light from their lanterns only reached so far before the darkness swallowed it. Stone statues rose on either side of them, ominous and threatening with their rusted swords and unnaturally blank faces. Dany’s heart climbed into her throat, and she tightened her hold on Robb, who swung his lantern arrogantly as he led her farther into the crypt.
As if oblivious to her anxiety, he began to rattle off the history of his long-dead ancestors as they passed each statue. She nodded, trying to appear as if she was interested, but fear crept up her spine, making it hard to listen when she was alert to every single noise she heard in the shadows. Only rats, Robb tried to assure her. She tried to believe him.
Until she heard a faint moan. “What was that?” she demanded, swinging her light around into the darkness and finding nothing.
“What was what?” Robb asked with a frown.
“It sounded like…” A ghost, she thought but chastised herself silently. “A person.”
“I didn’t hear it.”
Another moan—louder now. Dany gasped and whirled around, holding her lantern out in front of her as if it could shield her. “There! I heard it again!”
“Strange.” Robb’s frown deepened, and he peered into the darkness. To her dismay, he seemed as disturbed by the sound as she was.
The wailing came once more, a haunting sound full of pain and dark things that sent a chill through her. It grew closer, closer still, until it seemed to be right on top of them.
“Robb!” Dany cried, huddling close to his side. He clutched tightly at her hand.
Suddenly, a shadowed figure lunged at them from between two stone pillars. Dany shrieked in terror, getting a glimpse of the white-faced ghoul in the glow of her lantern before she dropped it to cover her face
Then she heard laughter. Great gales of laughter. Dany’s peeked through her fingers to find Robb bent over in hysterics. And the white-faced ghoul—now that she was really looking at him, she could see it wasn’t a demon at all. Just a boy. With curly black hair and flour streaked over his face.
“It’s only Jon,” Robb wheezed between laughs. Straightening, he gave his brother a good-natured shove. “Well played.”
Dany’s temper flared, her face blooming red-hot with embarrassment and anger. They had tricked her. And now they were laughing at her!
“Jon Snow, you—you—” She couldn’t think of a word strong enough to curse him. Instead, she stepped toward him and hit him. Or tried to, at least, a half-closed fist to his shoulder. It was enough to startle him, his laughter abruptly dying in his throat. “Others take you, Jon Snow! Others take you both!”
With that, she snatched up her lantern and spun on her heel to race for the stairs, catching the dumbstruck look on both their faces as she went. Then Robb’s triumphant shout followed her down the crypt.
“Did you hear that, Jon? She's sounding like a true Northerner now!”
He found her in the godswood, sitting on a rock by the black pool of water under the heart tree, her knees pulled to her chest. Her silver hair was loose and wavy, almost white against the dark cloak she wore over her shoulders.
Jon let out a breath, screwing up his courage before he approached her. He wasn’t scared of her—but she’d been rather angry in the crypts. He wasn’t sure how she was going to receive him now. What if she was crying? The thought made him feel sick to his stomach. Damn Robb for making him do this. It’d only been a joke, one he and Robb used to pull on their younger siblings all the time.
A twig snapped under his boot, and he froze when she looked over her shoulder at him.
No tears. Only the nastiest glare he’d ever been on the receiving end of. Nastier than the time he’d accidentally gotten mud on Sansa’s new dress. For some reason, that glare made this easier. Much more preferable to tears.
“What do you want?” she demanded.
He shuffled his boots uneasily, folding his arms over his chest. “Robb told me I should apologize.” And, because he was reluctant to completely admit defeat, he added, “He thought it was funny, but I’m sorry you didn’t. He also wanted me to tell you that he had nothing to do with it.” Jon rolled his eyes.
Daenerys continued to scowl at him. After a moment, she gave a very unladylike snort. “You looked better with your face covered in flour.” Sticking her nose up, she turned again to the pool.
Strangely enough, Jon grinned. He swiped a hand through his hair, certain some of the flour still clung to his temples and eyebrows. He’d hastily tried to scrub it off at the forge before setting off to find her, splashing his face from one of the buckets of water Mikken used to temper his weapons.
Jon stepped closer to her side. “Your punch could use some work.”
She shot him another sharp look, tipping her head back to see his face. “Pardon?”
“You’ve never hit anyone before, have you? Your stance was all wrong. And you need to close your first. Here, stand up. I’ll show you.”
“Like you promised to show me how to ride the horse?” she reminded him.
He rolled his eyes upward, despite the pinch of guilt in his chest. He was surprised she still remembered that. “I’ll show you that, too, I swear it. Another time. Sparring will be a quicker lesson.”
With a huff, Daenerys clambered to her feet, stubbornly crossing her arms over her chest as she faced him. He pressed his lips together to fight a smile but failed. “You can’t hit me standing like that.”
“Maybe I don’t want to hit you.”
“You definitely want to hit me,” he told her, and her nostrils flared. He gestured for her hands. “Come on. You should know how to defend yourself, at least.”
This time, she was the one to roll her eyes, even as she dropped her arms to her sides. Jon took up a fighting stance, his hands fisted and raised in front of his face, feet spread. “Like this.” Half-heartedly, she mirrored his posture, but it was all wrong. With a sigh, he reached out and curled her fingers into her palms, tucking them under her thumbs. Then he lifted them high in front of her face. “There. You don’t want to break a finger. And you have to protect your face.”
“Really, Jon, who am I ever going to need to protect myself from?” she argued, but he ignored her, kicking at her foot to widen her stance. She made an indignant sound.
Satisfied, he stepped back. “Throw your fist across your body. Not straight out. You’ll get more force that way. Use your whole body.” He demonstrated for her, her violet eyes watching as he jabbed across his body. “Got it?”
“Yes,” she said impatiently.
Jon held up his hand, palm facing her. “All right, then. Hit my hand.”
With an exasperated sigh, Daenerys struck at his palm, but there was no strength in it, no anger, not like before in the crypts. He shot her a dubious look, and her cheeks colored pink. “Harder than that. What are you doing, swatting a bug?”
Her mouth pinched, Daenerys reared back and punched his hand, this time with more force. He smiled. “Better. Now hit me like you mean it.”
She struck him, again and again, until his palm was smarting and her face had flushed from the exertion. She paused to catch her breath, and he shook out his hand. “Good. Now if you ever encounter a ghost in the crypts, you can fight back.”
She rolled her eyes again, reminding him so much of Arya. “Don’t be absurd. You can’t hit a ghost.”
He laughed. “Aye, guess that’s true. But you can hit any idiot who might play as one.”
She thinned her lips at that. He was sure she was biting back a reluctant smile. Blowing out her breath, Daenerys raised her fists. “Let me try again.”
Her eyes were bright with excitement now, like she was actually enjoying herself. It would’ve been impossible not to indulge her, so Jon held up both his palms and instructed her as she jabbed at his hands in alternating fashion, slow to start, then fast, praising her, correcting when needed, just as Ser Rodrik did with him and Robb.
Until she got a little too excited and missed his hand, her little finger ricocheting off his thumb. Her fist connected with his chin before she could pull back, and she gasped in horror, immediately clapping her hands over her mouth.
It didn’t hurt, not really. Except his bottom teeth had nicked the inside of his lip, and he could taste blood. He grimaced as he touched his lip, tonguing the tender welt.
“Jon,” she said despondently, her voice muffled.
He managed a smile. “It’s fine. At least, now you can tell Robb you got your revenge for the crypts.”
He said it in jest, but she looked genuinely contrite, lowering her hands. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean…” She trailed off and reached for his mouth. He flinched out of reflex, and she hesitated at his reaction before pressing her fingers to his bottom lip. Jon went utterly still at her touch, her soft fingertips trailing over his lip. His pulse quickened as his groin tightened unexpectedly. Shame immediately washed over him.
No one had ever touched him so tenderly before.
Daenerys looked startled when he abruptly pulled away from her, turning his body so she couldn’t see his erection. “It’s fine. I’m fine,” he said gruffly, unable to look at her any longer. What would his brother think if he knew that Jon had reacted so lustfully, so lasciviously, toward his betrothed? It was unacceptable. Despicable.
She shouldn’t have touched him. Southron girls were different from Northern girls, he reminded himself. Especially the Dornish. They were too free, took too many liberties. It wasn’t his fault.
“I have to—I have a lesson with Ser Rodrik,” he lied. “I’m sorry, again, about the crypts.” Without waiting for a reply, he hurried out of the godswood.
With a whoop of excitement, Robb raced his destrier ahead of Dany and Jon, disappearing over the hill in a spray of grass and dirt from the horse’s hooves. Dany squeezed her knees against the white palfrey’s sides, encouraging it into a gallop, but even then she knew overtaking Robb was hopeless.
Still, she laughed, her hair whipping in the cool wind that kissed her face. Her palfrey crested the hill and went down the other side. Robb was even farther ahead, leading his destrier over a stream and toward the wolfswood that loomed ahead. Once she reached the stream, she slowed her mount to a canter, steering the palfrey to a spot where she could drink from the trickling water. Curiously, Dany looked behind her. Jon had slowed as well, leading his black destrier up to the stream to water the great steed alongside her.
Dany arched an eyebrow at him. “You don’t have to watch over me, you know. Your father’s men can keep an eye on me just as well,” she said, watching Jory and a couple other household guards ride over the hill. They always hung back to give the Stark boys and Dany a chance to ride without much supervision, though they were never far. She had a feeling the guards were more for her benefit than either Robb’s or Jon’s.
Jon made a face. “What makes you think I’m hanging back because of you?” he asked. She rolled her eyes.
“I know that destrier can run a lot faster than this palfrey.” Still, Dany leaned forward to lovingly stroke the silky mane of the white palfrey. Silver, she liked to call the filly, at least to herself; Dany wasn’t very partial to the palfrey's actual name, Snowflake. “Robb would probably appreciate a real race.”
Jon scoffed out a laugh. “Robb appreciates competition only when he’s like to win.”
Dany cocked her head, biting at her lip. “Do you know many people who enjoy losing?” she asked, and he rolled his eyes upward. Despite herself, she smiled. His dark hair was wild and wind-ravaged, made curlier by the ride, and his cheeks and nose were red from the chilled air. His nose always turned red on these rides, she’d noticed. It was rather endearing, not that she'd ever tell him that.
Jory and his men were almost upon them, though they proceeded at a leisurely trot. Robb was long gone. Dany turned in his direction, squinting into the distance, then back at Jon. “You’re so sure you could outride Robb, are you?”
He glanced at her, turning his black destrier her way. “I didn’t say that,” he said evasively, eyes flicking ahead of them. She smiled again, lifting her eyebrows.
“You didn’t not say it,” she pointed out. Pulling on her palfrey’s reins, she pointed Silver in the direction Robb had gone. “I’m not so sure you could beat him—especially if you can’t even beat me.”
With that, she kicked her heels into her palfrey’s sides, sending Silver splashing through the shallow stream before she lunged into a gallop on the other side. Behind her, Dany heard Jon’s curse as he followed suit, and she laughed, leaning low over her mount.
It didn’t take Jon long to catch up to her, but he didn’t overtake her, his destrier racing neck and neck with her slower palfrey. She didn’t even care that he was purposely keeping pace with her, refusing to push ahead. She laughed, relishing the grace and power of the horse between her legs, the wind on her face. She felt free, something she knew so little of in her time at Winterfell.
When she looked over at Jon, he turned his head toward her. The knot in his brow eased, and he flashed her a grin.
It was a rare and beautiful sight, making her heart trip in her rib cage. As frustrating as he could be sometimes, Dany felt a swell of gratitude for him, for fulfilling his promise. Robb might have been the one to convince his father to let her out of the castle for rides, but she knew it was Jon who’d fed the idea to his brother.
Finally, they caught up to Robb, who waited at the edge of the wolfswood. Before they reached him, Jon pulled his destrier back, letting Dany beat him.
“About time,” Robb said as she slowed to a stop beside him. “I almost thought to set up camp and wait for you two.”
“Jon wanted to show me how much he enjoyed losing,” she laughed, twisting in her saddle to fix him with a mocking glare. “You might think it’s chivalrous to let a lady win, but it’s actually rather patronizing.”
He feigned a puzzled look. “‘Patronizing’? Is this a Dornish word? I’m afraid I’m too simple for such large words, my lady.”
“Oh, you’re so irritating!” She huffed and turned away, her mouth split in a laughing grin. It faded when she caught the frown on Robb’s face, his suspicious gaze shifting from her to linger on Jon. Rattled, she took a deep breath and pushed her palfrey past Robb into the forest.
“I hope you two aren’t planning on killing any rabbits today,” she called over her shoulder. “Sansa almost cried the last time you brought some home and told her she had to skin them for supper.”
Impatient, Jon fidgeted under the weight of his leather gambeson and heavy fur cloak as he gazed at the gates of Winterfell. The watchers on the turrets called down, and men swung the inner gate open to allow the carriage passage.
Robb nudged Jon with his elbow, shooting him an anxious smile before he sobered his expression and lifted his chin high to greet his betrothed. Once again, they were all lined up to welcome Daenerys back to Winterfell. She’d been away at Starfall to visit with her ailing father. When he’d taken ill, they hadn’t been sure he’d survive, so Daenerys had been permitted to return home and spend time with him. Miraculously, her father had recovered, and after more than half a year away, she had returned.
A groom opened the carriage door and reached a hand inside to help her to the ground. Jon tried to remain indifferent to her return, but his eyes watched hawkishly, awaiting a glimpse of her. When she emerged, he clenched his teeth shut to keep his jaw from coming unhinged.
Seven months were nothing in the grand scheme of a person’s life, he supposed, but they seemed to have made all the difference on her. Daenerys had grown taller, her figure filling out her long-sleeved gown in a way it hadn’t before. She’d blossomed in Starfall, her silver-blonde hair glowing as if infused with sunlight. Even her pale skin was sun-kissed. She was 16, a woman grown now, and it showed.
When she smiled, Jon bit his tongue inadvertently, grimacing at the pain that lanced through his mouth.
First, she greeted Lord Stark and Lady Stark with a curtsy, until Lady Stark embraced her in a hug, lovingly kissing her forehead.
“I hope your father and mother are faring well,” she told her ward with such affection, the sound made Jon’s throat tighten with envy. Daenerys’ voice was too soft for Jon to make out her response. She turned to Robb next, who greeted her with the kind of smile all the maidens swooned over. After she curtsied, Robb reached for her hand, clasping her fingers in his as he lifted them to his mouth for a kiss.
“You look well, Lady Daenerys. Your return has been much anticipated.”
Daenerys dropped her eyes, her pale lashes fluttering against her pink cheeks. “Thank you, my lord. I’m very pleased to be back in Winterfell. I have…” Her eyes glanced down the line of Stark children waiting to greet her, lingering on Jon a second too long before returning to Robb. “I have missed you all.”
Next, she moved in front of Jon and curtsied. He swallowed, curling his hands into fists at his back, then bowed stiffly to her. “Welcome back, my lady.” His voice was gruff, hoarse.
He didn’t understand immediately when she held her hand out to him and looked up into her face with surprise. She merely waited, her eyes twinkling with amusement. She was teasing him, he realized with a start. He risked a glance at Robb then Lady Stark, who watched him disapprovingly. Before the moment could stretch on too long, Jon took Daenerys' hand in his and placed a quick, close-lipped kiss on the back as Robb had done.
She drew her hand away and smiled at him. He felt dumbfounded by the sight. Somehow, she was more beautiful than he remembered. “You look...different,” she noted curiously, glancing between him and Robb. Her eyes narrowed on Jon. “You grew a beard.”
Self-consciously, he rubbed at his jaw, which was covered by whiskers. After she’d left, he hadn’t bothered shaving it, eager to see what the once-faint dusting of facial hair would grow into. “Aye,” he said stupidly. Robb chuckled and slapped a hand on his shoulder.
“Don’t be offended, Lady Daenerys. Jon's never met a girl he liked better than his own hair. I don't think he'd let the barber near him even for the king.”
Embarrassed, Jon shot his brother a quelling look but crooked his mouth in a tight rictus of a smile. He flicked his gaze back to Daenerys. “Forgive me. I’d figured Robb had primped enough for the both of us.”
Which was true. Robb had been equally scruffy in Daenerys’ absence but had gotten his auburn locks shorn short and his beard shaved only earlier that morning.
If Robb was insulted by Jon’s words, he didn’t show it. Instead he shot Daenerys a wide grin. She only shook her head, smiling faintly, before she carried on to Sansa and Arya, who abandoned all decorum to engulf her in happy hugs.
“You move very well, my lord,” Dany told Robb as he led her around the Great Hall. He smiled at her.
“Only because my partner is an exceptional dancer herself,” he said, earning a wry smile in return.
“We did learn from the same tutor, so I suppose it makes sense.”
Robb laughed and twirled her around, his hand firm on her back to keep her upright and steady. And close, but not too close it would scandalize the guests gathered in the Great Hall. Winterfell was hosting a few of the great Northern houses for a meeting of the bannermen. In honor of their visit, Lord Stark had thrown a big feast to welcome them and feed their voracious appetites.
Dany had only been back in Winterfell a few weeks. Since her return, Robb had become more forward in his courting of her. Which was to be expected, she supposed. They had both reached the age of majority. A wedding would be expected soon.
The thought shouldn’t fill her with as much anxiety as it did. Robb was kind and honorable, and he would be the Lord of Winterfell someday. House Stark was an ancient house, long revered by the people of Westeros. She was a lucky woman.
Unbidden, her eyes swept around the hall until she found Jon beyond Robb’s shoulder. There, at a table far away from the family table, watching her and Robb dance. Her breath caught in her throat.
His face was dark, the skin between his brow pinched in displeasure. She supposed he always looked like that. As long as she’d known him, he’d always been a sullen boy, only truly given to fits of happiness when he was with Robb or Arya, or when he had a sword in hand, leading a dance in the courtyard as steel and metal rang around him.
And even, sometimes, with her.
When he was with her, he seemed to fluctuate between the two extremes. It was as exciting as it was infuriating, and she despised how unbalanced he made her feel. Yet, she craved it. Craved his presence. Craved his hard-won smiles and laughter, craved the sharp looks and words he gave her, heated by resentment...and something else, something she assumed not even he understood, or rather, something he wouldn’t admit to himself.
Sometimes, she wasn’t even sure she understood it.
It was wrong. It didn’t make any sense, what she felt for him. Not when she was promised to Robb. But when she’d been in Starfall, she’d missed Jon most of all. Her thoughts had often turned to him, particularly when she was alone at night, in bed. She thought about how he teased her, how he challenged her. How gallant he looked astride his horse. How rough his hands were, and how surprisingly soft his lips.
She wished he’d dance with her, at least once, but she knew he’d never cut in. He wasn’t allowed to, not under Lady Catelyn’s watchful gaze. Regardless, he was too honorable to interfere, even for one dance. Not with Robb around.
Dany drew in a deep breath and expelled it quietly. Aware of Jon’s heavy gaze on her, she directed her eyes back to Robb and smiled at him, more brightly than necessary. And, perhaps, more sweetly, more coyly, too. Despite what the Northerners no doubt assumed of her Dornish heritage, she wasn't a wanton by nature, though she was guilty of lustful thoughts, she supposed. Still, she didn't typically flirt with Robb; it seemed unnecessary, given their betrothal. She'd never felt the need to ensnare him with any feminine artifice. Even so, she'd learned how to play the game at Starfall and the handful of times she'd been at Sunspear, and right now, emboldened by a chalice or two of wine and Jon's stormy gaze, she felt like playing.
She stroked her hand over Robb's shoulder, from his neck outward, letting her fingers just graze the skin of his throat above his collar. She let her eyelids droop before lifting her gaze to his. His throat constricted with an imperceptible swallow, but he maintained his faint, strained smile. “So, tell me, my lord—”
“Oh, please, call me Robb. We’ve known each other since we were children.”
She laughed lightly. “Then none of this Lady Daenerys nonsense, I beg you.”
He grinned, moving her backward with the music, careful not to step on her gown or feet. “I suppose that’s only fair. Daenerys.”
She smiled, though it didn’t quite reach her eyes. She fought the urge to look over his shoulder again. “So tell me. You’ve gotten taller and—” she squeezed his shoulder, “stronger while I was away. Is it owed to the dancing or Ser Rodrik’s vigorous training?”
Pleased with her compliment, Robb laughed. His arms tightened around her, pulling her that much closer. He'd gotten bold, as well. “I’ll wager my lord father and lady mother deserve a good bit of the credit, but I think all my tutors are responsible in some way or another.”
Her smile widened. “How very diplomatic of you. You’ll make a good Lord of Winterfell some day.”
Movement in the corner of her eye caught her attention, and she glanced over Robb’s shoulder. Jon brought his tankard to his mouth and quaffed a healthy gulp of his ale. Then, abruptly, he stood and shoved away from the table before stalking off.
She felt the cramp of disappointment in her stomach as she watched his retreat, until the doors of the Great Hall closed on his heels and took him completely from her sight.
Huddled under his cloak, Jon stood sentinel in the turret on the wall. He squinted into the darkness that stretched out beyond the gates of Winterfell, his breath misting in the air. He took another swig of his ale to empty it then leaned over the edge of the turret. The ground was far below, a light dusting of white on the ground. Snow fell around him, fat, fluffy flakes that clung to his cloak and his sleeves.
Drunk and angry, he dangled his tankard over the side before he let it slip from his fingers. The sound of it shattering against the hard ground was satisfying, only barely mollifying his sour mood.
A sound came from behind him, and he froze, holding his breath to listen carefully. It sounded like someone coming up the steps to the top of the turret where he was, someone light of foot and trying not to be heard.
A soft, feminine curse came next, and Jon spun around as Daenerys stumbled on the top step, just barely catching herself from falling to her knees. She straightened with a hiccuping laugh.
“Guess I had more wine than I thought.” She spoke in hushed tones, and his eyes widened as she approached him.
“Bloody hell, what are you doing up here? How did you find me?” he demanded, his heart rate picking up just at the sight of her. Why had she left the feast? Last he’d seen her, she was in Robb’s arms, laughing prettily while he no doubt tried to charm her smallclothes off.
Daenerys shrugged, pulling her cloak tighter around her shoulders. “You always come up here to brood,” she said, her lips pulling into a mocking pout. Naturally, he scowled at her.
“I do not.” He flexed his jaw before conceding her point. “Not always, anyway. Sometimes I go to the godswood or the stables.”
She laughed and sidled up beside him. He stiffened, fighting the urge to step back. Or pull her closer, gods help him. He didn’t understand what she was doing here. His brain was foggy from the ale. And from her perfumed scent, something floral and womanly that filled his nostrils and lungs.
“What are you doing up here?” he asked again, curling his hands at his sides. She looked too bloody tempting right now, her hair as bright as moonlight, her cheeks flushed and pink lips puffy, her bosom on display in her low-cut gown as her cloak slipped off her shoulders. It was an effort not to stare.
She puffed out a breath, watching the air crystallize before her. She tugged at her cloak again. “You left the feast so abruptly, I only wanted to make sure you were all right.”
“I’m fine,” he asserted, and she squinted doubtfully at him. “What?”
“Then why are you here ?”
He huffed. “I needed some air. Those feasts get so bloody stuffy.”
She laughed. “And you get so foul-mouthed when you’ve been drinking. Bloody this, bloody that.”
Jon swallowed. The crude word on such a sweet, delicate mouth was all wrong. Wicked. Even so, it amused him. He had to press his lips together to stop a smile. “You really shouldn’t be wandering the grounds alone out here, not when everyone’s in the hall.”
“Are you saying Winterfell is unsafe?” she asked with wide, unblinking eyes. He rolled his own.
“You’re in the safest place you’ll ever be in the North. But still. Anything can happen in the dark.”
At that, Daenerys hummed in the back of her throat, not breaking eye contact. When she smiled, slow and secretive, he grew hot under his collar. “That’s true, I suppose,” she said softly, then her smile morphed into a grin. “Don’t worry about me, Jon. After all, someone taught me how to take care of myself.”
With that, she took up a fighting stance, her fists raised before her. Bewildered, he watched her as she lightly jabbed his bicep and chest, before he burst out laughing. “Seven hells, you really are drunk, aren’t you?” he accused, grabbing her hands to stop her.
“No more than you, I bet,” she said, stepping closer. He clamped his mouth shut, going still as she invaded his space. For some reason, he couldn’t bring himself to let go of her hands.
“Daenerys,” he started, but she interrupted.
“Call me Dany. Please. That’s what my family calls me.”
He blew out a breath. “I’m not your family,” he said fiercely. She looked stricken, and he instantly regretted his harshness. He tried to temper his tone. “Not yet, anyway.” Not till you marry Robb. But he couldn’t bring himself to say those words. They tasted vile on his tongue.
But the sadness still haunted her expression. She dropped her gaze and swallowed. “I...think of you as my family. Sometimes...sometimes more than the others.” When she lifted her violet eyes to his again, imploring, his breath stuck in his chest, his sternum tightening. Inadvertently, he squeezed her hands in his.
“Don’t,” he said thickly. “Don’t look at me that way, Dany.” He shook his head. “I’m not Robb.”
She made an incredulous sound. “You think I don’t know that? Of course, I do. I’m aware of that every day I’m here. I wish—” She broke off and heaved a watery sigh. She pushed closer, forcing him to release her hands and grab her by her shoulders to halt her forward movement. Still, he didn’t push her back like he should have. Instead, he held her there, and she fisted her fingers in the front of his cloak.
“I guess it doesn’t matter what I wish. I can’t change anything,” she whispered, her eyes fixed somewhere below his chin. She spoke so softly, he wasn’t entirely sure she was still talking to him. “I’ll do my duty. Follow the path laid out for me, as decided by everyone but me. Be the good daughter and the dutiful wife. A proper Northern lady. But…”
Daenerys trailed off, lost in thought, and her teeth sawed at the pink flesh of her bottom lip. He watched the motion, mesmerized, feeling hotter than he had a moment ago. The air was suddenly stifling and steamy, their breaths hot between them.
Releasing her lip, she tipped her chin up. “Kiss me.”
Blood rushed into his ears, making him dizzy. His voice sounded distant when he spoke. “What?”
She tugged at his cloak. She stood so close to him, her slippered feet brushed the toes of his boots. “I want you to be my first kiss. If nothing else. Please, Jon. Kiss me.”
“Dany—no. No, I can’t. I can’t do that to Robb,” he said, panic constricting his throat. Suddenly, it was hard to catch his breath.
“It’s only a kiss. Boys kiss girls who aren’t to be their wives all the time. I hear the soldiers and the grooms laughing about it, like it’s all some game. It means nothing to them. It’s the same back home. It doesn’t have to mean anything, if you don’t want it to. I only...I only want this one thing for myself. I want this one decision to be mine.”
Her parted lips trembled in the cool air, her eyes big and bright as they peered up at him. He felt paralyzed with indecision and guilt. And lust, so much of it. He wanted her, Others take him. He’d always wanted her. It wasn’t fair, it wasn’t bloody fair that Robb got to have her.
It was a petulant thought, something Jon knew deep in his heart...yet, greedily, selfishly, he seized on it. Robb would have everything of her in only a matter of years: her maidenhead, her love, her children. What did a kiss matter?
Daenerys’ face was so close to his, he could taste the wine on her breath. Could taste her lips before he’d even touched them. His throat dry, Jon swallowed, trying to wet it. When he licked his lips, her eyes darkened at the peek of his tongue, eyelids drooping hungrily. His groin tightened, growing heavy and hot.
Struggling with himself, Jon dipped his head to hers, slowly, oh so slowly. Daenerys lifted her mouth, her rosebud lips puckered. Petrified, he grazed his lips against hers then held his mouth still. Her little puffs of breaths were quick and hot on his face. She made a quiet sound, her plump bottom lip sliding between his lips.
Awkwardly, their mouths pressed together, close-lipped with uncertainty. Eyes closed, she breathed out a laugh. “I don’t—I don’t know what I’m doing,” she whispered. Her soft lips moved against his, and he drew in a juddering breath.
“Me neither,” he admitted. He felt her smile more than he saw it. Daringly, Daenerys parted her lips to fit them around his. He could taste the inside of her lip, the wet, tender skin there. His grip tightened on her shoulders, drawing her against his body.
He felt the tip of her tongue next, a tentative entreaty on his upper lip to enter. Head swimming, Jon opened his own mouth to mimic her, his tongue touching to hers. Her gasp was sweet and musical, making him tremble as an answering groan rattled through his chest. Their tongues brushed together, stroking and retreating experimentally before growing bolder, dipping into the other’s mouth.
Daenerys was shaking against him so badly, he wrapped his arms around her to hold her close. His mind was so overrun by arousal, he didn’t even care that his erection was pressed against her belly, that she could feel it, that she would know just how much he wanted her. All he cared about was the taste of her, the wet silk of her tongue in his mouth, the firm press of her breasts to his chest, the way her hands clutched so desperately at him.
It was his, all of it, this moment, if only this moment. She was his.
Sneaking away from Septa Mordane was nearly impossible as she’d become practically military in her oversight of the girls, especially after Arya’s one-too-many escapes. Normally, Dany was rather dutiful in obeying Septa Mordane’s lessons. She sewed, she sang, she played the harp, she learned the proper etiquette for every occasion. But, lately, she was sick of it all. Mostly, she was heartsick for Jon.
Fortunately, her longing for him manifested in a general malaise, and she was able to convincingly fake a stomach ailment that excused her from Septa Mordane’s sewing lesson. After she offered her profuse apologies, Dany slipped from the room, all the while dodging Arya’s mournful gaze. She forced herself to not run down the halls of the Great Keep, keeping a measured pace. Once outside, however, she broke into a brisk walk, peeking over her shoulder and ducking her face to avoid detection on her way to the First Keep.
The drum tower had stood abandoned for centuries, the lichyard surrounding it and the gargoyle statues above giving the keep an ominous feeling. No one dared venture inside it now, not even Bran who used to climb all over the towers until a nasty fall a couple years prior had broken his arm and grounded him—permanently, if Lady Catelyn had anything to say about it. These days, Dany supposed only she and Jon were foolish enough to enter the keep. As she pushed open the door and loped up the winding steps inside, she prayed Jon was still waiting for her as they’d planned.
At the top, however, she found it empty. Her stomach sank; the nausea from before didn’t feel so false now. “Jon?” she called, surveying the dark and dusty interior of the keep. Stone had crumbled, but the walls and ceiling still stood. Cobwebs clung to abandoned furniture and empty shelves.
He must have been held up in his lessons with Ser Rodrik, she assured herself. Still, she was crestfallen.
Turning to the steps, Dany gasped when someone grabbed her from behind. A quiet voice shushed her, and strong arms pulled her against a firm, solid chest. Instantly, she relaxed.
“Why were you hiding? Why didn’t you reveal yourself when I called your name?”
Jon shook his head, his nose and mouth pressed at her neck. “You just looked so pretty in the light of the window, your cheeks red from the cold, your hair wild from your dash here. It seemed a pity to disturb the scene.”
Her heart fluttering at his sweet words, she twisted in his arms to face him. “I didn’t know you were a poet,” she teased, staying close to him. He smelled of sweat and dirt, leather and oil. It was a heady aroma that only intensified her hunger for him.
With a gruff, self-derisive laugh, Jon shook his head. “Hardly. You just make it easy to find the words.” He spoke softly, one hand resting on her hip. The other came up to touch her face, his thumb tracing the shape of her brow.
Dany tipped her face upward. “Enough wooing. Kiss me already.”
His throat convulsed, and he licked his lips. Even in his hesitation, she saw his pupils thicken with desire. Ever patient, she waited, closing her eyes when he finally complied. His lips missed the mark, however; instead, he pressed gentle kisses to her forehead, her cheek, her nose, her chin. She whimpered, both pleased and frustrated with his dalliance. Only then did his mouth find hers. He kissed her lips open and stroked his tongue inside.
Boldly, she met him with her own tongue, trembling at the scrape of his beard on her skin, at the wanton thrust of his tongue. She loved the taste of him, the uncertain yet needy way he kissed her, the way his breath quickened and his fingers tightened on her, betraying just how ravenous he was for her. She loved that he didn’t know what to do anymore than she did, and she loved learning with him. She’d been his first, just as he’d been hers.
“Jon,” she murmured against his mouth, rubbing her nose on his. He grunted, trying to deepen the kiss. But there was an unbearable ache in her breasts and between her thighs, a wetness spreading along the crotch of her smallclothes. “Jon, let’s lie down.”
He went still against her, opening his eyes. They’d only ever kissed before, hands kept at more respectable areas of the body. But she longed for the weight and pressure of his hand on her breast or between her legs, something, anything.
Blowing out an unsteady breath, Jon looked around the keep. There was nothing but the floor and chairs, so he pulled his cloak off his shoulders and spread it out, holding her hand as she sat down before he settled beside her. She didn’t wait for his move this time, grabbing his face to pull him into another kiss. She held tight as she lay back, Jon’s arms bracketing either side of her to ease their descent, until she was stretched out underneath him.
Their tongues tangled together again, growing more frantic. He bit at her lips, his breathing ragged. Dany panted and squirmed with the discomfort of her growing arousal, foiled by his hesitation to go further.
But no, of course he wouldn’t make the first move. He was too good, too honorable, too consumed with doing the right thing. He’d deny himself any happiness or pleasure, even when offered up freely.
Dany lifted his hand and placed it on her breast, feeling his body jolt when she wriggled his hand under the bodice of her gown and her shift to palm her bare breast.
“Dany,” he ground out, the sound tight with astonishment and disbelief. Her face burned as she pulled the neckline of her bodice down over her other breast, the nipple constricting in the cool air. As she encouraged his hand to knead her breast, she watched his face raptly. Shock and lust darkened his eyes, slackening his jaw.
Soon, he needed no assistance from her at all, eagerly playing with her breast, drawing his calloused thumb over her nipple. The pink bud tightened even more. She let out a shaky breath, the sound grating into a guttural moan when he boldly took her other breast in his mouth, soothing the sensitive peak with his tongue. At her gasp, he froze, waiting, until she arched toward him in encouragement. He sucked until her nipple was tight and wet inside his mouth, her skin prickling all over with gooseflesh.
She said his name, straining as she reached down and tugged her skirts upward. Releasing her breast, he craned his head to watch what she was doing then reached down to help her, pulling the hem up to her hips. She guided his hand underneath the bothersome layers, guiding him between her thighs, pushing his fingers through the slit of her smallclothes.
At the first touch of his fingers on her feminine flesh, she keened, shaking beneath him. Jon’s breathing grew labored, his pants loud and rough as he touched her slick folds reverently, tracing the outer lips then the inner ones until she was sopping wet. “Please,” she gasped, thrashing her head side to side. She felt empty and hollow, not sure herself what she wanted. Pressing his hand against the swollen apex of her cunt, Dany bucked upward with a cry.
With a throaty groan, Jon turned his face to hers and seized her mouth in a desperate kiss, his teeth biting and scraping as his tongue thrust against hers, his fingers rubbing the spot she held him to. She was so wet and swollen, a string pulled taut; it was no time at all before she snapped, pleasure and light cascading through her body. She cried into his mouth, and Jon swallowed every sound as she quaked against his hand.
Sitting up on his elbow, Jon continued to move his fingers between her legs. Her flesh was too sensitive, every nerve ending alight with fire, and her thighs closed reflexively to stop him. Understanding, he gently pulled his hand away. His fingers were glistening as he rubbed his thumb over the tips in awe. The musk of her cunt was pungent, though he didn't seem bothered by it. Embarrassed, she turned her face toward him, burying it in his shoulder.
Her brain was hazy, her limbs lethargic, but she rolled into him and brought her hands to his trousers, clumsy fingers tugging at his laces. He grabbed her wrists to stop her, breathing hard. Pressing his forehead to her hair, he shook his head. “Don’t,” he rasped, though she could feel the hard length of him through his trousers. “You shouldn’t.”
“I want to. I want to make you feel good.”
But he resisted, gently pushing her hands away. “It’s...I'll make a mess. We shouldn’t.” She could hear him blushing, his words laced with chagrin. Taking a deep breath, Dany nodded and cuddled up to him, tucking her face into the crook of his neck. Jon righted her skirts as best he could in his prone position before he settled down with her. His hand stroking her hair was the last thing she remembered before she dozed off.
They were growing reckless, meeting in the First Keep several times a week. But she couldn’t stay away from him, couldn’t deny herself the mind-drugging effects his touch had on her, the pleasure that rent her body with the gentle press of his fingers between her legs, or, more excitingly, his tongue. He seemed to love that most of all, feasting on her as if he’d discovered the most bountiful banquet in her cunt until she was wild and crying with pleasure.
He let her touch him as well, giving in to the insistent pawing of her hands at his cock, letting her pull his beautiful, thick shaft from his trousers to explore with her fingers and her mouth.
It wasn’t enough, though, the urgent fumblings and pettings in the secrecy of the tower. She could sense the encroaching threat of her marriage to Robb, the eventual dissolution of whatever this was with Jon. She couldn’t bear the thought. It made her even more brash and foolhardy, desperate to cling to her time with him, to savor as many of these intimate moments as she could.
He lay on top of her now, his mouth working hungrily at her neck. He normally eased up, conscious of leaving any evidence of their encounters, but he seemed to be of the same mind as her today, his hands pulling her gown down and tearing seams in the process to bare her breasts. Dany struggled out of the sleeves and her shift until her torso was naked, the gown at her waist. The rough fabric of his tunic teased her tender nipples, and, kissing down her chest, he took each breast in his mouth, sucking them into stiff, pink peaks.
She gasped, sliding her hands under his shirt to flatten them along his sinewy back. “Jon,” she whimpered. “Please. Now.”
He dragged his swollen lips up to her ear, his breath hot and moist, making her tremble. “What do you want me to give you? Mouth? Or fingers?”
His honeyed words, roughened by his Northern burr and with the strain of his need for her, made her quiver, her cunt leaking and ready for him. Hiking her knees up, she wrapped her legs around him and squeezed his hips between her thighs. “I need—I need more than that, Jon. I can’t wait.”
He’d been unconsciously rutting against her, his hips juddering into hers through the layers of his trousers and her skirts. He stopped abruptly, lifting his head to meet her eyes in question. “More?”
“Yes.” She cupped his cheek, pressing her hips up to his. “It should be you. Take it. I’m yours. You’re mine.”
His face contorted with pain, her words plainly torturing him. He gave a vigorous shake of his head and dropped his forehead to her shoulder with an ugly groan. “No. No. I can’t. Gods help me. I can’t do that, Dany. Not to Robb.”
Tears stung her eyes suddenly, spilling over to trickle down her temples. “This—this isn’t about him. It’s about you and me. My...my maidenhead should be mine to give. And I want to give it to you. I want to be yours. I—I love you, Jon. You. No one else.”
His breath was shredded when he blew it out on her neck. She could feel him trembling in her arms. After a long, torturous moment, he lifted his head again. “You love me?” he croaked. His eyes were shiny. She nodded, sucking her lip into her mouth to hold back the tears. With a groan, he kissed her, lips opening hers, teeth clacking together, his tongue in her mouth. She returned the kiss just as fiercely.
His hand fumbled between their bodies, hastily unlacing the front of his trousers. She tried to assist him, but her hands were shaking just as badly as his. When he pulled his cock out of his smallclothes, he broke the kiss to catch his breath.
“This is mad,” he said weakly. A last-ditch effort to stop the trajectory of their doom. “It's too dangerous. What if—what if I get you with child?”
Her fingers stroked his beard, the delicate shells of his ears, his silken hair. She wanted him too much; she was beyond rational thought. “Can...can you stop yourself? Or…” Her face turned red, which was silly, considering their current state. “You can spill on my thigh...or the floor…” She bit down on her lip as he considered her words, the conflict obvious in the depths of his eyes. Finally, he nodded.
“Aye...I’ll stop...I can stop before.”
She felt the blunt tip of his cock prodding between the slit of her smallclothes, slipping between her wet folds as he pressed forward. Then he was splitting her open, sinking inside her. Dany grunted, the pain sharp, her walls clamping around him in resistance. Jon blanched, halting his forward thrust. “Gods. Are you all right?”
Squeezing her eyes shut, she nodded. She held him close and canted her hips toward his, opening her legs wider in an attempt to make room for him. “Yes. I’ll be fine. Keep going.”
She took deep breaths as he pushed into her, his thick length stretching her open. It hurt more than she was expecting. Her lady mother had warned her it wouldn’t be pleasant. At the time, she’d been preparing her daughter for what she thought would be her wedding night. The memory now made Dany want to laugh. She couldn’t understand why any woman would willingly lie with a man if pain like this were the outcome...yet, she thought she was beginning to understand better. Her body was wet, as if to ease his breach of her sex, and despite the pain, she thrilled at the thick slide of his cock inside her, the gentle, jerky push and pull of him as he tried to seat himself in her cunt. Once he was buried to the hilt, the pain wasn’t any less, not really, but even so, she felt deliciously and wholly full.
“Jon,” she gasped, taking shaky breaths against his cheek. He was just as unsteady, his muscles jumping with strain.
“Dany...you…” He broke off in a groan when she rippled around him, moving her hips under him out of an instinctive need for him to do the same. Jon followed her lead and thrust into her, a gentle rocking of his hips, his cock barely moving inside her.
Gradually, the pain eased, the burn of her walls stretched around his girth lessening, until she was panting, desperate for him to scratch some itch deep inside her. She bucked underneath him, clawing, scoring her nails across his back. He arched on top of her, head rearing back as he released a guttural noise into the rafters of the keep.
And then he was rutting into her with abandon, his cock plunging in and out of her until she was moaning and squealing like some stuck sow.
Suddenly, Jon gasped and notched his hips to hers, his face dropping to her shoulder. Dany felt the pulse of his cock that signaled his crisis, the hot flood of his seed inside her cunt that normally dampened her hand or her tongue.
“Dany—gods, Dany, I’m sorry, I can’t,” he grunted, still thrusting, still in the throes of his pleasure.
She was delirious too, wrapping her legs around him to hold him close. Though her own release had been stymied, she was oddly sated, her cunt tightening around his cock as if to milk his seed from him. Yes, she thought, wildly, desperately. Yes, let me grow big with his child. Give me a little girl with curly black hair, or a boy with his kind eyes. Nearly manic with the fervent wish, she held on to him.
Until Jon’s trembling subsided, and he began to groan miserably into her neck. “Oh, gods, Dany...What have I done? What have I done?”
Just as quickly, her own ecstasy dissipated, doused with the cold reality of his words. She bit her tongue and gazed at the ceiling overhead while he bemoaned his mistake, until her neck grew damp with his tears. Her own eyes became wet once again.
Eventually, they untangled their limbs and sat up. Hands shaking, Jon tried to wipe up with his cloak the spillover of his seed and the pink blood from her torn maidenhead, as if it could erase the damage done, but they both knew it was futile. He slumped against the wall, his knees pulled up. Dany clung to his side, her head on his shoulder. She didn’t bother to pull up her dress, her bare breasts resting on his arm.
“I’m so sorry, Dany,” he said hoarsely, staring at the floor. His following words were blunt. "I fucked up."
She shook her head. “You didn’t do anything I didn’t want you to.”
“You might be with child. My child. A bastard child.” He let out a ragged breath. “Gods help us both. What have I done? And to my own brother? I’m everything they’ve ever accused me of. Treacherous, wanton, fucking rotten to the core.”
She grabbed his arm, hugging him close. “You’re not. You’re not, Jon. You’re good. And kind.” He snorted with disgust. For some reason, the sound brought fresh tears to her eyes. “Stop it! It’s my fault as much as it is yours. I did this, too. Robb can't blame you alone.”
Jon winced, his mouth contorting in a sneer. He lifted his hands to drag them down his face. “They’ll send me to the Wall now.”
Alarm shot through her, and she pulled back to look at him. “The Wall? But—that’s where castoffs and criminals go.”
“They’ll send me for cuckolding the future Lord of Winterfell, my own kin. Surely, that’s a crime.”
“That’s absurd! The Wall is for, for real criminals. Like murderers and thieves and, and rapists. Your own family wouldn’t—”
He gave her a dark look, stealing the words from her mouth. “No, Jon. No. You’re not...you didn’t rape me. I won’t let them say that about you!” She shook his arm, trying to get him to listen. “Besides, you could be worrying for nothing. Surely...surely, one can’t get pregnant the first time, right?” she asked. Jon shrugged, helpless. She swiped at her eyes, determined. “Then...the Others can take them. We’ll run away, you and I.”
“Dany, don’t,” he said in warning.
But she seized on the idea. “We can go to Essos. They won't follow us there. You’d liked to go, wouldn’t you? To explore a different world? I would. We can go together. Live together, free to love each other.”
He stared at her, his eyes sad and distant. When her eyes watered hopelessly, he pressed his lips together and cupped her cheek. “All right. Essos,” he said quietly. “If...if you're with child. We’ll go. Just you and I. Get away from this all. Be a family.” His smile was tight. He spoke as if he didn’t believe it, as if he only meant to placate her, but she clung to his words.
“Promise me, Jon.”
“Aye. I promise you, Dany.” His thumb swept back and forth over her cheekbone, his eyes fixed on her as if memorizing her face. Dany surged forward to take his mouth in a kiss, sealing the promise with their lips.
They were supposed to stay away from each other. That time in the First Keep was meant to be the last; he’d sworn it, and she’d agreed, albeit reluctantly.
He really shouldn’t have been surprised to find her sneaking into his chambers in the middle of the night. Jon stirred when she slipped into his bed, sliding under the layer of furs. Her toes were like ice, making him hiss when they came into contact with his.
“You shouldn’t be here,” he told her, though contrary to his words, his hand came to rest on her waist. Her eyes looked wide-awake in the light of the candle she’d placed on the table beside his bed.
“Couldn’t sleep,” she murmured, wriggling close to press against him. “Missed you.”
He swallowed, closing his eyes as he rested his chin on top of her head. Gods be good, but after a couple weeks abstaining from her, it felt good to hold her again. “Anyone could catch you in here.”
“No one’s awake. I’ll leave soon, I promise. Just...let me hold you for a bit.”
He almost laughed. Why would she leave when he couldn’t even muster the will to send her away? Why was he so weak when it came to her? How was he ever going to be able to let her go when the time inevitably arrived?
His stomach twisted at the thought, and he wrapped his arm around her protectively. He’d have to watch her marry Robb someday. He wouldn’t be able to stomach it. But what could he do? Where could he go?
“Dany,” he said suddenly, his throat tight. She hummed in question, her breaths loud in the cocoon of his body around hers, under the fur. “What if...what if we didn’t wait to go to Essos?” His heart began to pound at his daring.
She tipped her head back to find his gaze. “You mean, you want to run away now?”
Jon swallowed. “I don’t know,” he hedged, mind racing. “I just...I can’t give you up. I don’t know what to do. I won’t be able to stay here and watch you—with him—I can’t—”
Daenerys grabbed his face, and the words died in his throat. “All right, Jon,” she said, soothing him with gentle kisses to his lips. His hand spasmed on her waist, fingers digging into her back through the silky fabric of her bed gown. He caught her lips in a kiss, deepening it to suck on her tongue with a desperate urgency that left him shaking. Daenerys made a sound of surprise but gave in instantly, kissing him, winding her fingers through his loose curls. Her knee came up around his waist, hiking her gown up to her hips. He could feel the heat of her through his tunic. She must not sleep with smallclothes on; the realization made his thickening cock even harder.
With a groan, Jon broke the kiss and pushed the covers away, rolling her onto her back. His hands grappled with the hem of her bed gown, pushing it up to her breasts, then over them. Daenerys lifted her arms and shoulders so he could pull it over her head, her silver-gold hair slipping through the collar.
For the first time, she was fully naked beneath him. In his bed.
It was a bad idea. A very bad idea.
Yet, he found himself scrambling out of his own tunic when she pawed at it. Jon sat up to throw the covers aside entirely, then sat on his haunches as he silently admired her. All her beautiful, feminine curves were limned in the candlelight, her skin deliciously supple-looking. The pebbled tips of her breasts were dusky rose, awaiting the first tease of his tongue. But the silver thatch of hair at the triangle of her thighs was much more enticing at the moment, and he parted her legs to find the trove in between. She was flushed and slick already, the gloss of her nectar shiny on her nether lips.
He set on her like a wolf on prey, his tongue parting her and dipping inside. She gasped and clutched at him, her whines of pleasure spurring him on as he lapped at her sweet cunt. Her delicate flesh quivered when he took her swollen bud between his lips, sucking gently, tonguing it deftly until she was writhing and shaking.
Her cries were too loud, and he had to abandon his task even as her climax was upon her. Jon pressed his hand to her mouth, silencing her panting moans. He pressed his head to her temple and waited till she quieted down, though her breathing remained ragged. Confident he could finally move his hand, Jon settled between her parted legs.
“You’ll have to be quiet, love,” he whispered in her ear. Daenerys nodded, her fingers scraping down his back to cup his arse. At her encouragement, he braced his arms around her and angled his hips until the blunt head of his cock found her entrance. Slowly, he pushed inside her. Her soft flesh gave way, her thighs cradling his hips. She muffled her gasp on his shoulder, biting down, and he sighed as he sank into her hot, wet cunt.
Then he was fucking her, quick and hard, unable to find a steady rhythm with the way her walls clutched at him. He had to cover her mouth again, gritting his own teeth against his primal urge to throw his head back and roar as he pounded into her. He only hoped she’d been right about the castle being asleep, that there were no guards wandering the halls, as there was nothing to be done about the loud slap of flesh on flesh or the wet sounds of his cock moving inside her.
It was over too soon. When he came, Jon buried his cock inside her and spilled his seed at her womb. It was foolish and careless, but the haze of sex was potent, and the promise of running away with her a temporary balm for his fears.
They would leave this place, together. Free of the restrictions of the North, free of the limitations of his bastard birth, she could be his, completely.
Jon was pulled from his sleep by his chamber door slamming open. It hit the stone wall so hard, the wood actually splintered. Heart racing wildly, he shot up in bed and gaped at the shadowy figure stalking toward him. Only when hands seized the front of his shirt did he glimpse the enraged face of his father. Panicked, Jon glanced to his left, to the spot in his bed Daenerys had occupied of late, but it was empty. He vaguely recalled her waking him before she slipped away and only had a brief moment of relief before his father spoke.
“Did you do it?” he demanded, shaking Jon by his fisted shirt when he didn’t get an immediate reply. “Answer me! Did you do it?”
Jon’s heart sank like a stone to the pit of his stomach. Even half-asleep, he understood: His father knew.
When Jon opened his mouth to answer, no words in his defense were forthcoming. Ashamed, he averted his eyes. It was answer enough. Ned growled out a curse and shoved Jon away from him, stepping back. “How could you do this to your family? To your brother?”
Jon licked his dry lips. “I never meant to hurt Robb. I swear, Father.” He ran a shaky hand over his face, his eyes still sticking with sleep. Ned exhaled a loud, tremulous breath, shaking his head, but before he could respond, someone else appeared in the open door.
Lady Stark. Out of reflex, Jon grabbed at the coverlets over his lap, bracing himself.
Her hair looked wild, glowing like fire in the torchlight behind her. She clutched at the front of her bedrobe and looked between him and Ned. “Well? Did he confess?” she asked, her voice whip-sharp.
Ned shot Jon a grave look. “In so many words. Aye.”
Catelyn strode to Ned’s side. “I told you. I warned you this would happen. The moment you brought him here. I warned you he would betray Robb like this! It’s in his nature, Ned! And you brought him into our home! Let him live among our children! This—this selfish bastard child!”
Jon flinched, sick climbing up his throat, and he turned his gaze down. The weight of his self-hatred felt as if it were suffocating him.
Angrily, Ned turned on Catelyn. “Quiet! I won’t have you speaking ill of him! He’s still just that, a child, Cat, they make mistakes—”
“He’s a man grown, Ned!” Catelyn shrieked, her hands gesturing wildly at Jon, her jabbing finger accusatory. “He’s treacherous and wicked. What else of Robb’s will he try to take? He can’t stay here! You must know that!”
“Enough!” Ned roared. “Get out! I will thank you to let me handle my son!”
Her face red, Catelyn shot Jon one last mutinous glare before pivoting on her heel and storming out. Jon didn’t dare move in the silence that followed till Ned blew out a breath. As he sank down on the edge of the bed, he didn’t speak or look at Jon, his head dropping into his hands.
“This is my fault,” he murmured, as if he were speaking to himself. “Perhaps she was right from the start. Perhaps I never should have brought you back here. But what else could I have done? I couldn’t just leave you—”
With every word his father spoke, Jon felt his heart being flayed open. Tears stung his eyes as he listened to Ned give voice to every fear Jon had ever harbored. But he held the tears back, swallowing convulsively until the urge passed, until his eyes were dry.
“It’s not your fault,” Jon said flatly. “It’s like she said. I’m selfish. Wicked. It was always in my blood. It was only a matter of time, wasn’t it?”
Ned raked his fingers through his loose hair. “Jon…” he trailed off helplessly, his voice thick with emotion. He dropped his hands to his knees and stared at his open palms, as if they held the answer. “You’re my blood. But Robb is—he's my firstborn.” His fingers flexed, then he turned his hands to spread them over his knees. Still not looking at Jon, Ned spoke quietly. “You can’t stay here. Catelyn will never allow it, not now. And once Robb finds out…”
Robb didn’t know yet, Jon realized with a start. It lit a small flame of hope in his chest before Ned’s next words smothered it.
“I think...perhaps the best solution is for you to go. To the Wall. Your Uncle Benjen is there. He can...look after you. Perhaps better than I ever could.” Ned stared vacantly ahead of him. “You’ll be safer there.”
Of course. He’d known it would come to this, hadn’t he? Dazed, Jon nodded. “Aye. That’s...that’s probably for the best.”
He jolted at the sound of his name coming from Daenerys’ lips, his eyes darting to the door. He heard her bare feet slapping on stone before she stumbled into view, gasping. “Jon.” Her face blanched at the sight of Ned, then crumbled. Her cheeks were wet with tears, and she moaned. “No.”
Ned stood up straight. “Daenerys, you shouldn’t be here. Go back to your room.”
Septa Mordane appeared, short of breath. “I’m sorry, Lord Stark, I tried to stop her—” She grabbed Daenerys’ arm, but Daenerys jerked out of her grasp.
“No! Don’t touch me! This is your fault, you evil wench!” Daenerys yelled. Septa Mordane flinched away at the bite of her words, her cheeks turning an angry, mottled red.
“Don’t speak to her like that,” Ned snapped. “This is your fault as much as anyone’s.”
“Yes! It’s my fault!” Dany turned to him to plead. “You can’t blame Jon! He never—he didn’t even want to touch me. I made him!”
“Dany,” Jon interjected harshly, alarmed and bewildered.
Her large eyes darted to him then back to Ned. “I made him do it. It was all me. I—I seduced him. I laid with him, many times.” Septa Mordane gasped in outrage, and Dany lifted her chin high, defiant. “It’s what you always feared, isn’t it? What you always thought: the wanton Dornish whore who would besmirch your sons' precious honor. Isn’t that what you expected?”
“I expected you to honor your betrothed, to honor your family,” Ned said coolly.
Dany glowered at him. “Honor? What do you know of honor? You bedded another woman while your own wife waited for your return, pregnant with your child. You killed my uncle, and then you forced my mother to give up her eldest daughter to you, to make amends, to soothe your conscience.”
Ned looked stricken. Jon closed his eyes, holding his breath.
“That’s not...there are things you can’t understand, Daenerys,” Ned said quietly, his voice tightly laced.
“I do. I understand some things. I understand you have no right to judge your son, not after what you've done.”
“Daenerys, enough of this." Ned sounded older than his years. “What’s done is done. You will marry Robb, if he can forgive your transgressions. And Jon will go to the Wall.”
That took the wind out of her sails. She turned her wide eyes on Jon. He met her gaze but said nothing. “The Wall? No—you can’t!”
“That’s a death sentence, you know it is! How can you be so cruel?”
Ned's poise fractured once again. “Get her out of here," he told Septa Mordane, then turned back to Daenerys. "And If I hear so much as another word from you, so help me, I’ll make sure this gods-damned wedding takes place tomorrow, even if I have to drag you before the heart tree myself!”
Dany struggled against Septa Mordane’s arms, which had locked around her torso. She begged and pleaded with all of them even as she was dragged back to her own chambers. Jon was too ashamed to look at her, to witness what he’d reduced her to. Ned shut the door, tremors passing through his arm as he turned to Jon. Distress and weariness lined his face, his voice softer than before.
“I suggest packing your trunk now. We’ll leave at first light, before the others awake. I will spare you the shame of having to tell your siblings what you've done.” He paused, his eyes sad as he took Jon in. “For what it’s worth...I’m sorry, Jon. I’m sorry I failed you.”
Anger flickered inside him, a brief raging of spite and resentment, but it died a futile death, swallowed by the gaping maw of his guilt. Lips pressed together, Jon gave a curt nod. “I’m sorry I failed you, too, Father.”
Dany waited till the guard turned his back before she made her dash across the rampart. She stayed low, her hood pulled over her silver hair so as not to catch anyone’s eye. Mercifully, the moon was waning, a mere crescent in the inky sky, but even so, her silver hair would be a beacon in the pitch-black of night.
She ducked under the cover of the nearest turret, stopping to catch her breath. She’d made sure to count the guards earlier in the night. There weren’t enough on watch to fill every turret, doubtless an unnecessary precaution in times of peace. From her chamber window she’d made note of which turrets were empty. Then, once the castle was asleep, Dany had grabbed her canvas sack containing only a few meager belongings—her coin purse and a rope from the stables, as well as some hard cheese, bread, and a skin of water she’d squirreled away from the kitchens—slung it around her shoulders, pulled on her cloak, and made her escape.
Jon had been gone for a week, gone before she could even say farewell. She’d cried herself to sleep that night of their discovery, certain she’d at least get to see him off to the Wall. But no, of course honor would have Lord Stark send him away before the castle could wake and learn what happened, to witness the bastard son being banished by his own father for defiling his ward. Dany just thought it despicable and cowardly to send Jon away under the cover of night, denying his siblings the chance to say goodbye.
For days after Jon’s departure, Septa Mordane wouldn’t let Dany out of her chambers. She'd been locked inside her room to think about what she'd done and repent for her sins. Perhaps it was a small blessing, as she didn't have to face Robb or the other Stark children, didn't have to discover what they thought of her now. Still, Dany hated the septa, more than Ned, more than Catelyn. It was Septa Mordane’s fault Jon was gone. Somehow, she’d realized Dany hadn't had her blood for the month; perhaps one of her handmaids had been instructed to keep the septa abreast of Dany's moon blood. That was the only explanation Dany could surmise for why Septa Mordane had been waiting for her outside her empty chambers on the last night she'd visited Jon.
When she’d been interrogated by Ned and Catelyn, after Septa Mordane had dragged Dany before the lord and his wife, waking them from their slumber, Dany had foolishly thought that if she confessed, they’d have to do the honorable thing and let her marry Jon. To do right by their child, the one surely growing in her womb at that very moment. But the Starks were a more ruthless bunch than she'd realized, and she'd all but sentenced Jon to death on the Wall with her naive hopes and illusions.
Crouched in the turret, Dany pressed her palm to her flat belly. She couldn’t stay here in Winterfell and suffer the judgments of these people, the loathing of the Starks. She wouldn’t let her child be raised the way Jon had been, in this cold, unforgiving place.
She thought to go to him at the Wall, but they’d surely turn her away and send her back to Winterfell. She could go home to Starfall, she knew. Bastards weren’t treated the same there as they were elsewhere in the Seven Kingdoms, and Dany knew her parents would love her child regardless of his or her parentage. Still, she couldn't bear to have let them down, to suffer their disappointment the rest of her life.
No, she would go to Essos, she decided. She'd procure a horse from Winter Town and make her way to White Harbor. Hopefully, she’d be far enough away before Lord Stark sent his men out to hunt her down. She’d pay for passage to Essos, Braavos most likely. It was the closest Free City. Before she set sail, she’d send a raven to Jon at the Wall. Come find me in Braavos, and we can raise our child together, just as we’d planned.
He’d come for her. He’d come for their child, she knew he would.
Taking a deep breath, Dany scouted the wall again to ensure no guards had seen her. Then she pulled her sack off and unraveled the heavy rope inside. Shakily, she looped one end around a battlement and knotted it as securely as she could. Hiding her sack beneath her cloak again, she climbed onto her belly atop the parapet, heart in her throat, rope gripped in her hands. Her booted feet gripped the wall between her legs to steady herself. It took her a few minutes to work up the courage to continue over the side. She gave a few sharp tugs on the rope to see that it held, then, wrapping it around one hand, she gripped the battlement in her other hand and twisted her body to hang her legs over the side.
Her boots slipped on the stone wall, and she gasped as she slid down the side, losing her grip on the battlement. Quickly, she grabbed at the rope with her free hand and held it tightly, dangling against the wall, high above the ground.
Her palms burned from the scrape of the rope, her arms shaking with the effort to hold herself. Sweat was making her hands slick, trickling down the small of her back. She let the rope slip between her hands an inch at a time, ever so slowly lowering herself toward the ground. She gritted her teeth against the shredding of her flesh, her palms turning raw and bloody as the rope tore off layers of skin, and notched the toes of her boots on jagged stones to slow her descent.
After what felt like hours, she reached the end of her tether and risked a glance down to survey her progress. To her dismay, she saw how much distance remained between her and the ground. The rope only reached so far. She’d taken the longest one she could find, and still it wasn’t enough. She’d have to drop the rest of the way.
It could mean death. It could mean a shattered leg or two. It could mean she’d never make it to Essos. It could mean she'd never see Jon again.
But she had to try. For herself. For him. For the baby.
Closing her eyes, Dany took a deep breath.
And then she let go.