"Bless me Septon, for I have sinned. It has been ten days since my last confession..."
There is a pause and then the slow creak of wood before the kindly Septon lifts his countenance to squint through the fine lattice at his confessor. A lady. Young, dressed in white as is the custom of maids still. The soft white wool around her neck belies her pedigree, her station in life.
"Yes, my child. This is the part where you start to confess your sin," he says gently and is sure to keep his voice low.
"Yes," she says now, as if snapping out of a daydream. "Yes, of course." She takes a steadying breath. "I took something."
"A pin," she eventually supplies, her voice soft and sweet. "A pin of a Mockingbird."
~ • ~ • ~
She had been walking, she explains, through the small woods near her home when she had found it. It had been a nothing day, a warmer than usual day. A perfectly fine day to walk with Miss Mordane instead of taking the carriage. One must make the most of sunny moments up in the North.
(Of course, the Septon agrees. He seems very understanding.)
She, Child of Winterfell and wholly used to making small demands and having them met... She, the Little Woman of Winterfell, darling of her father and brothers, should chance upon a glinting brooch in the snow during this walk and think nothing of it when she decides to claim it as her own. It had not yet tarnished, and with a bit of polish from her glove, it shines again like new, its tiny emerald eye winking in the sun. Miss Mordane doesn't see. Sansa can be careful like that.
Later, she decides she should keep it very safe and pin it to her dress, underneath her layers of wool. It is far too pretty a brooch to be left cold on her dresser. She will keep her ears peeled for news of anyone missing such a pin and return it to its owner, of course. For Sansa Stark is not a thief.
Today, she pins the brooch to her dress when she hears it. A sigh in her room, even though there is no one there. Except there is someone there, or at least she can feel it. She feels the presence watching her from the corner of the room and even though she stares and stares, there is nothing and no one there.
~ • ~ • ~
Tiny things. Almost silly, really.
That same sigh, almost of relief or pleasure, whenever she is alone in her room and picks up her brooch.
That sense of being... well... watched.
Sometimes, she wakes to find herself exhausted as if she never slept. One time, she had woken to find her nightclothes worn back to front.
She would carry on in the day, even with that constant Presence waiting in her room. There was little point telling anyone her secrets. Little Woman of Winterfell... She is the Lady now, ever since Mother and Arya and Rickon died of the fever. And even though Miss Mordane fusses over her like she were still a little girl, Sansa knows she is a woman fully grown and if her father wills it, he could sell her maidenhead to the highest bidder tomorrow — to a man of pedigree and honour who would sew their Houses and Fortunes together. (Love would be a happy coincidence, not a requisite. See? She is not a foolish little girl.)
But who would want to marry a silly lass who babbles about a quiet Other sigh every time she should wear a pretty brooch? So she tells no one (except her Septon.)
But then there was that morning, between waking and sleeping, when she thought she saw a man sitting in her chair.
~ • ~ • ~
("Why do you not remove your stolen brooch?"
"I like it. Next to my heart. I like it there."
"Even when it might bring on this Presence that you speak of?"
"I like it there.")
~ • ~ • ~
"Bless me Septon, for I have sinned. It has been three days since my last confession..."
"I had a dream."
"There is nothing sinful in dreaming."
"That is not the confession."
~ • ~ • ~
She is walking through the little woodland again. It is a shortcut to the village and on this very rare day, Miss Mordane is so unwell, she cannot leave her room. And so Sansa slips away.
She thought she had allowed enough daylight for the walk and her return, but then the sun starts to sink at an alarming speed. And then dusk is upon her even when she decides she had better abandon her illicit excursion and return home. The briers catch at her dress and somehow she has forgotten her thick coat, though she strangely feels no cold. More and more the briers and branches reach and tear at the thick white silk, and in the falling light she starts to feel the woods close in.
She quickens her step now, and at first she sees the turrets that always guide her home but then the sun drops and she is lost. Instead, she stumbles and when she falls on the mossy ground (not quite blanketed with fresh snow for the thick forest cover overhead), she feels it — a creeping vine. And then another. And another.
Until at last they encircle her wrists, her ankles, faster and higher they creep and she does not know why, but she does not, she cannot scream. She opens her mouth and wills it. She tells herself to unclench her jaw, to open her throat... The vines thicken, and now they crawl up her legs, wrapping and climbing ever faster, twisting as they do underneath her clothes, her layers (even, she confides now in a low voice, the other layers)... She senses, more than knows, that they want her maidenhead and then at last she screams—
—Only to wake in her bed. Her clothes are rucked up high above her waist, she is cold from sweat and tears and she waits with ragged breaths for Miss Mordane to come running. She had screamed into the room, she was sure of it. Her throat is still hoarse from the effort.
But nothing. And Sansa looks down to find her legs, her arms still wrapped, still imprisoned by these vines that start from her wooden bed and now wend their way even higher... She watches the fattest one twist around her leg and thicken and thicken... and then it is a serpent with green-gray eyes and a forked tongue. Its cold, slippery head is reared and they stare at each other for a full and terrible moment. She knows what it wants now, this lecherous reptile. But before it can lunge at her sex... before she can gather air to scream anew—
"It was only a dream," she explains to the Septon. "I awoke — properly this time, and the vines, the snake were not there."
"Were you afraid?"
"No, Father... I was aroused. This is my confession."
~ • ~ • ~
The Starks pay little heed to old wives’ tales. There is always superstition among the small folk, of course; indeed, Old Nan used to be full of it when she was alive. The stories she used to tell to spook the young’uns like Bran and later, Rickon. And although they would bravely scoff at Old Nan stories as they grew, they all loved it in their hearts, the boys. Even Arya. White Walkers beyond the Wall, dragons and children of the forest, wicked sprites and seductive spirits that lay with humans against their will...
Sansa’s mother, at least, used to believe the last. She had prayed to the Maiden often, beseeching Her to guard her daughters’ virtue and innocence. When the fevers had claimed Lady Stark at last, Miss Mordane had taken it upon herself to safeguard her lady’s eldest living daughter through the power of prayer.
(“But what if it is all a figment of my mind, Father?” Lady Sansa asks, the blue of her eyes piercing the Septon even with the lattice screen in between. “Can the Maiden guard my thoughts?”
He murmurs about the power of the Seven. It sounds hollow even to his own ears.)
This time, she is walking amidst the vines once more except she does not run. She feels the same icy terror but her every movement is sluggish and delayed, the turrets of Winterfell growing further and dimmer with each faltering step until she succumbs, until she is down on the mossy ground that is cool on her back, but not cold. The vines, they twist and curl, they wend their ways as before. One eventually snakes a tendril through. It threads itself in her underthings, brushes its spindly arm along her virginal seam, and then suddenly the cool air greets her: she is laid bare.
“What happened?” the Septon asks. The question is quietly put but holds a note of expectancy.
“Nothing,” she replies. “I awoke. I was in my room once more.”
The Septon huffs quietly. Sansa does not miss it.
“But the sheets were bloodied,” she continues softly. “The cuts on my feet… they soiled the sheets. And my nightclothes… I was told to explain the state of my dress, but I could not.”
~ • ~ • ~
She walks in her sleep! Sansa heard Miss Mordane tell her father.
He orders his guards to stand outside her door. It does not matter whether it is a creeping weed or a skulking warden: Sansa is prisoner either way.
But it is settled, there is no arguing: the Lady of Winterfell will have a sentinel by her door every night. If she should take another midnight wander, they are to call on Miss Mordane and she will hurry in and settle Sansa as if the latter were a toddling child suffering night terrors.
“Did that work?” asks the Septon today and he barely makes out the twist of his confessor’s lips through the gaps in the lattice.
“I was found wandering alone at dawn, near the mouth of the woodland.” There is a quiet pause and he waits before she continues. “My room is at the very top of the South turret. Like a princess of my childhood dreams and books. So you can understand the distress upon the discovery of my whereabouts.”
There is a considered pause before the Septon finally answers with, “This still does not sound like sin.”
“It was a freezing cold morning. The coldest we have had in a moon, they said. And yet I was wearing my thinnest, palest nightgown and little else.” She leans towards the lattice now. “There was little else,” she says again. And then again, “There was nothing else.”
“Is that your confession, child?”
“My immodesty, yes.”
~ • ~ • ~
The dreams are starting to blend one into another. Some nights, she dreams of nothing. Some nights are thick with creeping vines and serpents with green-gray eyes that glow. Some days, she thinks she catches a glimpse of that Well Dressed Man in her room. She feels him first and foremost, and she likes to pretend he is not there. She pretties herself in the mirror, she takes her time to wear her brooch; to slowly slide the pin against her breast even as she feels the slide of his gaze caress her neck. When she turns, he is gone. And yet she feels him watching her still.
He watches her everywhere now.
Her days and nights seep into one another. Dusk is when Day and Night join as lovers, when the two realms meet in her mind, when the stranger things happen. When the natural and supernatural fuse in a circle and she can no longer tell fact from fiction. There is a reason most of her nightmares are set at dusk, she thinks.
In the real dusk, she will feel him in the dining hall, an ambiguous notion of him and always from the corner of her eye. He will wear a half-smile (or so she imagines), as if they share a most delicious secret. It is just the sense of him, the latency of him. It is not at all like he were a ghost; she never thinks, He was once alive and now he is not.
But sometimes, the dreams are dark and full of terror.
They have not found her wandering the woods for a time. Her feet have healed, her bed is no longer soiled with twigs and earth, with blood and leaves and dirt. Her nightclothes remain whole, untouched, un-torn. The guards finally dwindle from six to four to one. Miss Mordane moves out of Sansa’s room and back to her own.
If Sansa dreams, if she sleeps fitfully, it is still reported to her father in hushed tones, though nothing has yet happened that should warrant a visit from the maester. Talk of the asylum was brought up once and it incurred such ire from Lord Eddard Stark that the matter was never raised again.
And then last night, two hours after midnight, Lady Sansa sat up in her bed and screamed.
“They could not get in,” she recalls, her voice airy and light in that dreamy way she falls into whenever she summons a memory. “They said I screamed with the fullness of terror, without ever drawing breath. But the keys would not turn, not a single copy — and they held the original too. It sits on a string around Miss Mordane’s neck, as if she were my gaoler.” Sansa smiles weakly now.
“When they found me at last… when the door was flung open as if by a gust of wind (they said) and they all fell in like a loose pack of playing cards… They say they found me sitting bolt upright and staring at the corner of my bed. I do not remember most of this, you understand. I only repeat what I have been told.”
“What do you remember?”
“Only that I was staring at the corner of my bed, like they said. There was an imprint there, as if someone had settled for a time. As if someone had sat and watched me through the night.”
~ • ~ • ~
They leave nothing to chance now. They change her room to one even higher and further from the woods. There are now eight guards and Miss Mordane makes camp in her room at night, every night. They do not share a bed, but her new room is now large enough to house another cot and it is there that Miss Mordane slumbers now.
Every toss and turn stirs that good woman who continues to serve as her governess, her nurse, her gaoler and mother. “Sansa?” she would hear the sleepy voice call out.
“I am fine,” Lady Sansa would reply flatly, reduced to the pettiness and resentment of the very child she is treated as.
So it is a strange thing indeed when the glowing appears. When the one floating green orb splits and becomes two. When the two turn to stare at Sansa, when they start to watch her. When the tinge of them, the glow outside of the glow starts to smoulder and change, to almost resemble a face.
Sansa watches as this moves towards her, as she lies so very still in bed and yet her eyes refuse to shut, her mouth refuses to call out even though her mind shrieks like the wind.
Miss Mordane is still asleep.
A zephyr blows through the room. Every window is shut tight to keep out winter’s bite but the breeze builds to a gust that blows until it howls. And with it, a rasp of a voice. A low incantation.
She feels something bearing down on her now. A weight, a force that sits firm on her chest, that pins her arms so she cannot move them. And still her watcher sleeps! Sansa struggles even as she knows in her heart of hearts that her fight is futile.
And then she hears him.
Sansa. A sigh that fills her ears, her room, that rides the howl of the wind, the sibilant of her name blending into the unnatural shriek of this strange rushing air. Her hair whips about her face now, her nightclothes billow and flap violently like a flag caught in a storm. And still she cannot speak, she cannot move. But she feels the weight of him bear down, feels as he collects himself. As the glow of his eyes, his face coalesce with the disembodied darkness lying atop the length of her frail and human frame.
He does not touch her, and yet he does. She feels his presence on her and in her. There is no easy way to explain. But he is everywhere. In every way.
And something slips into her now, even amidst the unrelenting gale, even as her hair dances like a demon, as her nightclothes gather around her neck, as her heavy furs and bedclothes are blown to the farthest ends of her room… She feels a dark swelling enter within and fill her, every cavity imbued with a most satisfying fullness. And with this fullness, a most wanton, a most lubricious desire that ebbs and flows. That pulses, each throb more voluptuous than the last, each pendulum swing as if impelling her body toward a goal she cannot see. She feels a yearning. A craving for a need to be met. An impatience she cannot easily explain.
He laughs. His shadow lies prone, pressed against her length for length. So weightless and yet immovable. His formless face stares into her own and sees right through to her soul. You are perfection, he murmurs in the wind, and she feels her hair move as if he combs through it. She closes her eyes then and moans. And it is the first time she hears her throat open. The sound of her voice thickened by pleasure haunts her in the dark.
“Please…” she hears herself plead and does not know what she asks for, only that she has to ask. “Please…” she begs again, for she knows he has the answer even if she does not understand the question.
She waits, her toes straining toward the posts of the bed, every limb drawn tight as if stretched on a rack, her womb, her sex trembling with such anticipation. Full, and yet not full enough…
When she breaks, when she is finally set free, when she feels the weight of him lift, she twists and writhes, her mouth falling open as she calls out sounds, not words. Her cries are wanton and wrong.
And it is only then that Miss Mordane wakes. She tells it later and many times to a very few. Over and over. Miss Mordane must say it, for she can scarce believe it herself. And yet the sight of it makes her hair stand on end to this very day.
Sansa only remembers arching off the bed, pleasure flexing her body into a bridge.
Miss Mordane remembers the same. Only that Sansa’s body was arched in unnatural contortion, seven feet in the air.
~ • ~ • ~
It is hushed. There are murmurs now of Incubus. A demon has fallen in love with her, they say. No, say others. Demons do not love. They are incapable of it, only seeking their own ends. But like all creatures, they seek to recreate a likeness of themselves.
A demon seeks to mate with our Lady.
The maester is summoned. And then another. And then ten. Every night, a sentry stands guard outside her door and in the morning, the maesters will charge in and inspect her maidenhead.
And she is intact. She remains intact. But her feet are cut anew, her sheets are sodden with leaves and soil and branches.
And in her sex, there remains a very swollen sort of feeling.
~ • ~ • ~
It is a testament to her deep and abiding maternal love, to her courage and mulish stubbornness that Miss Mordane insists on staying closer to Sansa’s side. Now more than ever.
There is a constant retinue that attends her every need in the day. The Lady of Winterfell continues to want for nothing except that which is prized most of all: privacy, trust, freedom, and blessed solitude.
In the beginning, Winterfell had been built as a formidable fortress. It is now her bastille.
And Miss Mordane, she keeps vigil in the night now. Her cot is all but abandoned; her sole ambition is to watch over her precious, beautiful charge while she sleeps.
It is foolishness, and Sansa feels a growing unease. For the harder they strive, the more they irk and tempt him. She feels his mockery, his green eyes burning into the back of her neck, his patience swelling the room as he bides his time, as he idly chooses the moment to make fools of them all.
Miss Mordane sits in the armchair by Sansa’s bed as has been her custom these ten long days. Sansa is not accustomed to sleeping under the gaze of another; it is a most unnatural thing, its chief result a series of broken sleeps for both the observer and observed.
So it takes very little for Sansa to stir awake suddenly when she senses a change in the room. She opens her eyes to find her old nurse-mother rising to her feet.
“Miss Mordane?” Sansa’s voice is hushed but it is resounding in the silence. And yet the older woman does not seem to hear.
“Miss Mordane!” she hisses, but then it is clear that her watcher has turned the somnambulist now; Miss Mordane’s eyes are opened and yet unseeing, and Sansa watches as she manoeuvres herself around the furniture in the room, as she unlatches the door and takes herself outside. The guards outside her room do not interrogate her nurse. Indeed, they do not seem to be there at all.
The door closes behind her, as if shut by a gust of wind.
And before she can call out, before she can ask in a tremulous voice, she sees him. Her visitor, her spectre, her phantom, her spook. Her daydream and her most profound nightmare.
Sansa… Again the sibilant sound as the winds kick up, as the leaves, the twigs and dirt and dust swirl round, as it builds once more to a gale, a howl. And he comes to her now, more material than ever before. He calls her name and she watches the syllables puff in the winter air. She smells mint on his breath before his mouth reaches her, before he tastes her and she tastes him.
Do you feel me? he asks within her head and she nods.
I have waited, she tells him through her thoughts and loathes the admission, desperate though she is.
His kiss deepens and with every shared breath, he takes form, the sinews on his arms more defined, the symmetry of his eyes, his nose, his cheekbones coming into sharp relief against the moonlight. He is handsome and not so very old, not as old as she had feared he would be. Silver hairs glance off the sides of his head, and his clever mouth is framed by a well cut beard. Sansa marvels that she can feel his hairs against her face now. He is her Well Dressed Man come to life, even if he is still largely formless. She presses herself into him and meets the hardness of his frame. A man, and in her bedroom! And without a chaperone.
But I have always been here, he reminds her, smiling into her hair.
The winds whip up her gown, her hair is loosened and free and they dance again like a head of serpents. And still he cups her face and drinks of her, their tongues and hands now frenzied and keen as they seek to explore the other. The winds, the gale deafen and buffet, and just as her spectre takes his shape and form, she feels herself grow light, her essence start to detach as she floats and clings to him, as both she and her beloved shadow meld one with the other.
They are hammering on her door. She can hear them now, though distantly. Urgent cries, pandemonium as guards and no doubt Miss Mordane and perhaps her father and brothers too, as each of them claw at her door, as they implore her to keep safe, as they shout and cry with desperation, as they try and fail to force their way in and whisk her away once more to a dungeon new.
Sansa no longer knows nor cares. For once again, she feels him seep within her every secret crevice, filling her with such erotic and indulgent sensations that she groans hard and low, her pleasure turning her feral, her eyes growing wild as she scrabbles for relief, as she scratches and seeks, her sex throbbing and wanting and waiting. She begs. Not in so many words, but in groans and sighs until at last she feels herself turn to liquid, as her long low moan fills the room, as it is met with his own surrender, his preternatural growl, his deepest groan of satisfaction shaking the bed, rattling the wood of her dresser, her perfumes tinkling in the tremor, the unrelenting shriek of wind a thin disguise for their mutual satiation.
They pour in — guards, nurse, father, brothers all, the door finally collapsing under their collective weight for them only to find the winds abated, the Lady of Winterfell standing alone in her room, the streaming moonlight rendering her nightclothes translucent. Her eyes are blank and unseeing.
The Maester is summoned at once, but Sansa cannot remember a whit. Her body is bruised, handprints marking her hips, her thighs, her breasts and back… and yet her maidenhead is found to be intact.
And now the household is truly afraid.
~ • ~ • ~
"Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It has been forty days since my last confession…"
The sun is sinking low and it casts long shadows in the Sept, the longest of which barely brushes the feet of her ever watching Miss Mordane as she sits on her pew and patiently waits. The Sept is surrounded by her father’s guards, but here at least is a moment’s relative solitude and reprieve.
Elsewhere in the land, word had spread of the Incubus and the town hunts for his blood. Their torches of fear and hate dot the eventide and it looks almost pretty from the hilltop where the Sept sits.
Sansa returns her gaze to the lattice, barely making out the face of her Septon in the ebbing light.
“What is it, my child."
“I am with child.”
The confession box is an upright coffin where sins are laid to rest, its narrow recess confining and oppressive — a natural inducement for general discomfort and great spiritual unease. But now, and at her words, the air materially stills as if the box has turned to a crypt. Time stops, the firmament holds its breath and there is a curious absence of sound. The Septon's eyes dart to the lattice screen but the Lady Sansa has drawn her hood down low, hiding her blue eyes if not her confession.
It takes a moment for him to peel away, to pass through the wooden panelling behind him, to disappear like a vapour seeping into the hidden chamber behind the confession box.
In another heartbeat he does not have, he feels her materialise by his side, her eyes glowing an iridescent blue.
They stare ahead through the opaque panelled wall as if it were mere glass, at the shells of themselves still sitting primly side by side in that cramp confessional box, her head still bowed low as if in contrition, his own aquiline profile inclined towards her as if listening. The great show for Miss Mordane, her twelve armed soldiers, and her ceaseless, fruitless prayers to the Maiden.
He hears Sansa's quiet, mocking laugh beside him and knows her thoughts as if they are his own. Because they are now. They are two spirits knitted as one. And now they are to be three.
Is it true? he asks her now, and his consuming obsession, his dark and beautiful spirit turns to him and smile.
It is true, she husks. I am with child. And even as she whispers this last confession, he can see her transformation, her figure taking shape, his own spirit reciprocating as he turns to something almost resembling flesh.
It is enough. He pulls her to him suddenly and kisses down her body, his sharp teeth grazing her skin, his eyes glowing green and exultant. He feels the swell of belly under his hand, feels a glide like a serpent moving under her porcelain skin and he hisses his pride and possession. She laughs again, utterly delighted as she pulls him back to standing and kisses him deeply.
Did you like my confession today? Her voice is one of studied innocence, but he knows her well. He knows her better. She is his creature after all.
And in reply, he touches their child borne of shadows, his fingers branding her flesh underneath which their creature lies. Proof. Real. Mine.
You do not always like my stories, she goes on to say, her smile tinged with a challenge.
They do not always resemble my recollection of events, he smirks. But then, you do so delight in... bending your reality to suit your whim, he purrs as he strokes her jaw. Still. You should not lie to your Septon, Lady Sansa. He tuts.
She seems not to care a whit as she takes a seductress’s stance, as she steps boldly between his legs and presses herself against his desire.
What had he wrought! But he does not complain. Far from it. For she haunts him, you see. Just as he haunts her.
Will you come to me? he demands, though he words it like a prayer.
To the woods, you mean? Her dress is mere gossamer and hides nothing from him, her hair is loose and dancing like fire though the air is still as the dead. Yes, she teases. I do believe it is my turn.
I will wait, he promises, fading now as she does. My second self, my heart, my sweetling.