“Hide!” He hissed as he tucked into a corner to dodge a few passing guards.
Aileen Harrison winced as her eyes darted across the corridor to the slim resources at her disposal. Eventually, her eyes fell on a curtain and with nothing else available, she ducked behind it and prayed the guards' eyes didn’t fall on her for more than a few seconds otherwise her presence might become obvious.
She squeezed her soft green eyes shut and listened to the heavy boots falling hard like the pounds against her chest as she held her breath and prayed to both the old gods and the new.
This had been the first time any actual authority had even caught sight of her since the bastard of Winterfell had begun sneaking her into the castle for food.
Jon Snow had found her when they were both nine-years-old and he had given her what no one else could: he gave her a home. A place where she could count on three meals a day, a place to sleep when the cold winds of the North kept her up on those long and lonely nights, and better yet he gave her a friend.
She finally had someone to talk to that wasn’t one of her mother’s friends or one of the clients the women had forced her to take.
It was someone who truly cared.
Now it was all going to be thrown away when she was thrown in the dungeons with her hands cut off.
However, by some blessing the gods had granted her, the guards passed this time and the curtain was flung back so the young Jon Snow was staring at her with terror clenching his eyes.
“We have to go,” he gasped, and before she could even respond he grabbed her hand and dragged her down the corridor.
“How are we supposed to get out?” She breathed. “Your father is going to have guards surrounding the castle if Maester Luwin told him about me.”
“Well, pray that he hasn’t and if he does- I don’t know but I might have a plan,” Jon huffed, not daring to meet her curious gaze for fear of just how bad the plan could turn out.
“Could this plan put me in any more danger?” Aileen wondered.
“Not likely,” Jon shrugged, hoping that was a benefit and not another worry they needed to consider.
“Right then, might as well jump straight into the fire and hope it doesn’t burn,” Aileen sighed. Her eyes widened briefly as she remembered the last time she had heard that phrase before she hung her head. “My mum always used to say that,” she murmured and Jon froze.
He turned to her with a deep breath and grabbed her shoulders. “One day you’ll find out what happened to her,” he swore, his tone breathless and urgent as he spared a few glances around them to ensure they weren’t being watched while he spoke. “I promise you.”
“I hope so,” Aileen nodded, a ghost of a smile gracing her lips as she looked just
past Jon rather than finding the courage in herself to meet his gaze. “But for now we have to make sure my hands don’t get cut off.”
Jon smirked and nodded, grabbing her hand once more and running to the end of the hall. Once there, he skidded to a stop and turned to Aileen once more. “Do you trust me?” He asked, his brown eyes somehow fraught with concern that she may say no even after he had taken care of and supported her for three years.
“Of course,” Aileen breathed, shrugging as though that was as obvious as each breath she drew.
Jon smiled faintly before sucking in a sharp breath and turning to the chamber door to Aileen’s right. “Okay, this is going to be a risk but it may very well pay out in the end if he isn’t too far gone.”
“Who isn’t too far gone?” Aileen wondered, furrowing her eyebrows and frowning at Jon.
However, before he could respond, they heard the distant shouts of the guards who were combing the castle for her as they spoke drawing closer, and without further explanation, Jon opened the chamber door and shoved her inside unceremoniously.
In the bedchamber, there was a young boy who appeared to be just a bit older than her sitting on his bed and reading.
He looked up and his large blue eyes shined as he blinked strangle at her and tilted his head as though he were trying to dissect just who she was just by appearances.
Aileen smirked as she stared at him. Of all the places she could be pushed into and desperately seeking shelter from, a place with a pretty boy on the bed reading was far from the worst of them.
Jon bolted inside after her, leaving the door open a small crack so he could keep an eye on the guards before he spun around.
“Robb,” Jon gasped, his chest heaving from all the running he and Aileen had been doing.
“What- What are you doing?” Robb frowned, his eyes darting between the pair. “Who the hell is this?!” He exclaimed, waving his hand towards Aileen.
Aileen winced as she shifted awkwardly on her feet. Her fingers were shaky as they came up to gently comb through the ends of her matty brown hair and for the first time she realized how poor she must appear to the others in the castle.
She had barely bothered to comb through her hair or give it any kind of attention since her mother had vanished and she had been left out on the streets, therefore it had become a large ball of brown hair with knots and mats too thick for a simple comb to fix. At this rate, she knew she’d have to get most of the long hair chopped off if she were ever going to salvage the rat’s nest.
Her face, which was simple porcelain shoved out onto the cold hard streets of Winterfell bore several bruises and cuts which still had yet to heal, as well as dirt smudged across her face as baths and running water, were often not a luxury she could afford.
Unless she snuck in somewhere or managed to get enough time in the Winterfell castle without being caught, self cleanliness often took a backseat for the chance to eat that day.
Her clothes by far were the worst of it. She hadn’t been able to afford new clothes since Jon Snow helped her run from the whorehouse, so she had about three changes of clothes that still fit her and hadn’t been too damaged to wear by tears. They too could not afford the luxury of good washes often so they usually appeared ratty and dirty- the clear appearance of a street urchin.
Finally, she hardly ever wore shoes because she had not purchased new ones since she was nine-years-old and at twelve they had begun to pinch and seriously hurt her feet, so her feet were often covered in the mud and dirt of the world outside.
She hardly looked like a girl who should be running amock in the home of the great Starks of Winterfell and if she was honest with herself, someone should have caught her sneaking into the castle long ago.
“She needed food,” Jon sighed. “She has nobody else and we have more than enough food to keep her alive.”
“That is not our job, Snow!” Robb barked. “You’ve heard father. The law is the law and sometimes it may seem unfair but without it we wouldn’t be able to keep things as good as they are.”
“But they are not good,” Aileen murmured with a small frown as she stared down at her dirty pale feet.
“What?” Robb frowned, turning his head to her so fast she worried for a split second it may hurt.
Aileen took a deep breath and willed the courage within herself to meet the gaze of the little lord.
“You’re Robb Stark right?” Aileen clarified. “The heir to Winterfell?”
“Yes, and as such it’s my job to turn the pair of you in,” Robb said stiffly, placing his finger inside his book to mark his page and beginning to climb out of bed.
“Why?” Aileen wondered and Robb faltered.
“Why do you have to turn me in?” She asked innocently.
“Well, because you were stealing food from us,” Robb shrugged as though that were obvious. “That’s against the law.”
“Was I, though?” Aileen implored. “Jon, did I steal your entire dinner?” She asked, turning to the bastard in question.
“Hardly,” Jon scoffed. “You probably stole the exact amount leftover that would inevitably be fed to the animals.”
Aileen turned to Robb with a raised brow and practically dared him to contradict her.
“Still,” Robb huffed. “It is our food to do with as we please. It is not yours to take whenever you fancy.”
“If you’re the lords of Winterfell then should it not be apart of your duty as the upper class to feed and help the lowest? To keep us alive and help us if you are able?” Aileen wondered. “I did not steal any precious jewels or gowns, just what I needed to stay alive. Do you really think it is alright for me to have my hand cut off for that?”
Robb frowned and seemed sincerely confused as he thought on her words. “But father-.”
“Forget your father for a moment. Forget the law and what your schoolings are trying to tell you to do and just focus on what you think is right,” Aileen insisted. “Do you think helping me is right?”
Robb took a shaky breath and moved back from her as his mind spun. Ned Stark had been pounding lessons of how to lead Winterfell in his mind since he had been seven. Now, at fourteen some stranger was telling him that there was another way and it seemed entirely impossible. However, a small piece of him- the devil on his shoulder, said he should listen to her and try to search within his heart for what he wanted to do.
He closed his eyes and sighed softly as he fought past what he had learned to what he knew.
When his eyes flickered open a moment later, he looked vulnerable and scared. Like he had regressed into the little boy he had once been before his father began teaching him the cold harshness of the laws they had to enforce.
He opened his mouth to speak, but before he could tell them what he had decided, there was a heavy pounding on the door and Aileen jumped a mile in fear.
“Milord, your father has instructed us to search your room along with all others. There is a thief running through the castle walls and she must be caught,” a guard’s heavy voice called out.
The trio inside the room shared equal looks of frozen terror until it was Robb who broke the silence.
“Get under the bed,” he breathed.
Aileen glanced to Jon as though uncertain if she should listen to him and Jon gave her a quick nod.
With that, she darted under Robb’s bed and without further hesitation, Robb called the guards inside.