“When you are a man grown, Sweet One, and all of the clans are at your feet, what kind of woman would you want at your side?”
Jon’s mother, Lyanna, ran a hand through his ebony curls, lustrous and thick, so similar to her own. The rains had come finally, bringing a deluge. Jon was at her side--as always--seated and tucked beneath the furs.
These were the times Lyanna loved best, with her son, beautiful and wild. He was a growing boy, her Jon, and soon--too soon--he would become adverse to such moments like these. Already, he pulled faces when she kissed his cheek and brow.. Sure, there would be another babe, her belly already rounding with new life within, yet ‘twas not the same. He would not be just hers any longer.
Jon frowned, perplexed. It was a funny question, a strange one, and young Jon Snow was not quite sure what to make of it. Besides, he was six-years-old-turning-seven and Mance Rayder’s heir, the Prince of the Wildlings.
What did the wolf pup want with silly little girls?
He made a face, causing Lyanna to laugh as she leaned over to kiss his furrowed brow. Her son was a handsome boy to be true, and even now, so soon, Lyanna could see it. Tall and lean with eyes of an oncoming storm and strong, Northern features, the Wolf Prince would make a fine husband for any Wildling girl.
He was a serious boy, too. Much too serious with his cobalt eyes and severe face.
Mance’s doing, Lyanna thought fondly, her hand lowering to gently cup the small, burgeoning bump. She was four moons gone, now.
‘‘A blessing from the gods,’’ the elders proclaimed. Mance was ecstatic, of course, yet solicitous, treating her as though she were of the finest porcelain. Although Lyanna was grateful to her husband and loved him all the more, sometimes her wolf vexed her.
She was a she-wolf, his mate, and queen; her blood ran cold, laden with ice and iron.
She did not break.
Lyanna wanted Jon to be happy, to find his mate and find some semblance of stability and balance. Jon was his father’s son--ice--hard, acrid and unyielding. Lyanna, however, encapsulated fire, warm, vivacious, and consuming. Two halves of the same whole.
“You are getting bigger, my son. Soon, the girls will come running after, like snarling wolves on the hunt. You will make some lucky girl a fine husband. Yet, you must not be so careless, for all that glitters is not gold and a pretty face does not always conceal a gentle heart. Be patient and choose wisely.”
Jon did not like these talks, they were always so serious, too soon. Why couldn’t he run free, become a dedicated bachelor like his uncle, Ardwyn, who fucked a new woman like he changed clothes? Alone, rakish and unencumbered.
Why be tethered at all?
Such talks were for another time. Another place. And Jon had a lifetime.
Yet, unbeknownst to Jon, this would be the last meaningful conversation he would have with his mother before a coughing malady took her away.
The princeling shrugged, a noncommittal gesture. It was a dangerous thing to love, to fall in love. Love was the death of duty, and although but a babe in the woods and a neophyte, Jon knew as much. Love was a fickle thing, turned strong men malleable and soft, brittle. A man could not afford to be weak, too many eyes watching.
Too many enemies.
Nay, ‘twas better to cast off such ridiculous notions, to wax and feel such idiotic dreams. And yet…
Jon secretly hoped, hoped for a love as encompassing and primal as the one his mother and father emulated and exemplified. He was ashamed to harbor such dreams, but he had wanted it all the same. Burned for it with a raw and blistering heat.
For what would he give to hold a son of his own in his arms one day? A wife to share both his hearth and bed?
He did not dare divulge to his mother his dreams, such traitorous thoughts they were. Nor did promulgate that, for the past twelve moons now, he’s had the same recurring dream, of a shrouded, unknown entity, high above in a stone keep. No doubt, a lord’s daughter. A kneeler.
Jon cannot see her, for she is obscured, covered in shadows and silhouettes. He can only see her hair, luxuriant and rich, remiding Jon of liquid fire. Kissed by fire...a sign among his people of immense luck. Yet, a kneeler. ‘Twas a cruel jape the gods would play on him. What would a crow have with a dove, or the moon with the sun?
“A warrior princess, “Jon decided then, immediately watching the embers within the hearth flicker and dance.
‘In my dreams, she has red hair, blazing like a thousand suns. Molten, burning and radiant.’
“Give me a warrior princess, someone strong and fierce, like you, Mama. Not some willowy creature who sits in a tower brushing her hair and waiting for some knight to save her. I have no use for princesses and helpless maids.”
Lyanna laughed again, a sweet and mellifluous sound. “My silly Wolf. You don’t choose who you love. They choose you.”
Sansa heard it first from Muirgayne. A hunting party. Jon and his men were going hunting, to celebrate the summer solstice and rains. She had been captive amongst the Wildlings for almost two moons now. Two moons of constant supervision, of watchful and leering gazes.
While Tormund had been mostly kind, treating her with a cool and formal courtesy, others, more resentful and affronted by her presence, treated her as though she were an interloper, a pestilence to be eradicated post haste. Cold eyes. Angry eyes. Lustful and angry, simultaneously. To what extent did it end? How long was she to remain friendless in a hostile and alien environment?
While none of the Wildlings dared to come near her, fearful of incurring Jon’s wrath, Sansa was not at all pacified. She had seen how Rattleshirt and Orell had looked on her, others too. Jon had looked at her, despite his quick, furtive glances. They were all a pack of feral hounds eyeing a plump lamb. She was not safe; the sooner she left, the safer she’d be.
“In the middle of the summer solstice, the best hunters go out to hunt. If the gods are good, we will feast for moons on meat.”
Muirgayne was excited, she was expecting again, and the village had experienced many lean years, due to the lack of rain. Hunting meant meat, which meant supplies and provisions. Which meant…
A sudden thrill jolted through Sansa, though she quickly quelled it. Her mind began to assemble and disset. In the two months she had been living with the Wildlings, she had become an avid observer and student. Two moons was a short time, but long enough to make a difference. She knew the Wildlings, studied them. All she needed was a means to escape.
‘Too soon. You’re not ready.’ That quiet, grating voice emerged from her subconscious. Sansa hated that voice, hated its rationality and logic, so much so that she had tried to bury and suppress it.
It was her conscious, that still, quiet and temperate voice. It disclosed the truth and forced Sansa to face it--whether she wanted to or not.
‘Could you leave here? Run away from this? From him?’
Sansa shut her eyes tightly, and the voice faded away into obscurity. She had faced enough hard truths for today.
Jon had left her in relative peace since that fateful day in the tents. He was true to his word and had not touched her, treating her akin to a stranger and staying out of her way. The only time Sansa had been aware of his closeness was during those quiet moments, when she was alone.
A few times, Sansa would catch him watching her, his gaze both cold and scalding, as he’d quickly look away. Once, while by the riverbend, Sansa had looked up by the furs she had been tasked to wash to see his reflection standing over her. He had a bow in his hand, menacing and feral, yet Sansa had not feared him. He could loosen a thousand arrows, blackening the evening sky, and she would neither tremble or quake. She was done fearing men.
“I did not give you leave to go.”
As for the past moon, Sansa was at the riverbend. This time however, it was at her own leisure. Although Sansa was a captive, she was bestowed relative freedom and allowed to traverse the village, provided she asked for leave. Jon knew this. So why was he starting with her now?
Muirgayne had given her consent readily, sending Tormund quelling glare when it looked as though he were about to object.
“The Kneeler has more freedom than I!” he groused, dodging his wife’s deft hands. His she-bear was a fierce thing, the pregnancy making her temperamental. This excited Tormund greatly, her spiritedness usually resulting in a fierce coupling.
Sansa stiffened, immediately angered. You are Sansa Stark of Winterfell, Lord Eddard Stark’s daughter. Remember who you are. You will not break for the likes of him.
She swallowed thickly.
“Muirgayne gave me leave.” She hoped--prayed, even--that this would be the end of it, that he would grow bored of her and saunter off to gods know where. Alas, the contemptible fool was still here, still watching her with those cold, cruel, cinereal eyes. The gods must loathe her, truly.
“Muirgayne gave you leave, not I.” He was righteous now, superior, a smug smile etched across his face. The Wolf Prince in all his entitled glory. Bastard.
Sansa’s thoughts were riotous, a churning caldron of anger She knew what this was, this coursing and seeping. Anger. Immediately, Sansa thought on her aunt, Elaynna, dead before her time.
So many assumed that it was Arya who inherited Elaynna’s wrath, that it was Arya who was the tempestuous storm. Yet, they were wrong. The cursed wolf’s blood was as potent and as efficacious as ever. And Sansa could feel it manifest and surge through her whenever provoked.
She remained obstinately quiet, refusing to look on him, to adhere to all temptation. She’d be damned to the Seven Pits of Hell first. His bow and quiver were at his side, relaxed and flaccid.
How easy would it be, though , that agitated, treacherous voice lingered. How easy would it be to take his bow and loosen an arrow? To pierce both bone and marrow with its aciculated tips?
Sansa’s heart clenched, an unexpected and acute thrum. Gods. The man may be an arrogant fuck, but the though of an arrow piercing his flesh caused her much disquiet. Gods, but what was wrong with her?
Robb was right, Sansa thought disgustedly. She did have a gentle heart. She was not built to survive a world as harsh and cruel as this.
Annoyed, Sansa turned her head, refusing him. She’d gladly look at Rattleshirt and suffer his lecherous glances than look on the beautiful wolf in all his resplendence standing too closely to her. Who cares if he had eyes of an incoming tempest? He was dangerous, if not to her person, than to her own self-preservation and equanimity.
Old Nan was right about the Wildlings; they were dangerous, as dangerous and as magical as the Great Others of the Lands of Always Winter. Not only able to take your person, but indwell and commandeer your very soul.
He was smirking, Sansa could tell, obviously exulting in her discomfort. It did not matter, she resolved. She would not acquiesce to his child’s games. Jon looked over her, taking his time, appraising and luxuriating. Not for the first time acknowledging her beauty. One would be an absolute fool not to see the obvious. It only heightened when angered.
Already, Tormund had made many japes concerning Jon’s reaction to her. His obsession of her was growing, and yet the she-wolf was unaware of her power, to Jon’s consternation and annoyance. Many a night, since her arrival two moons ago, Jon has lain abed, taking himself in hand, thinking on her.
He wished he could hate her, pretend she did not exist, reduce her to that of something insignificant and inconsequential, yet, Jon knew it would be an impossible task. He could not point out exactly when it happened or how, but Sansa Stark had become a part of him, had buried himself so deeply within him that she was but an extension. He did not know any longer where he ended and she began.
He let out a sardonic chuckle. He had become the very thing he had loathed and feared, a fool. You gods damned, Northern Fool.
Aye, mayhap he was his father’s son, in truth.
The things we do for love.
Love. A fool’s dream, a mere phantasm. While Jon’s heart percolated and hemorrhaged love for the red wolf, it was unrequited. All that the Stark girl felt when she looked on him was disgust, loathing and fear. As though he were something to be endured.
You hate me, despise me, and yet I can’t stop wanting you. You starve me, deplete me, and I am somehow sated by your mere presence. What wouldn’t I give for your love? To feel the warmth of your smile? See me! Raise your eyes and want me. Give me your love, your desires, your lust. Give me all the chances, for all that I am is yours. You have all of me.
It was foolish to want, to be covetous of that which he could not have, but Jon wanted it all the more. He was a stupid boy who never listened. When would he ever learn?
In the distance, a mother doe emerged from the thicket, her fawn just behind, its spindly legs unsure and fluctuant. Sansa’s heart constricted. Jon was a hunter and all mean was welcome. But gods! Surely he would not be so calloused that he’d--
She heard rustling at her side and quickly turned her head. Jon was standing at her side, bow arm stretched and taught, ready. The obsidian-tipped arrows glinted in the sunlight, beautiful and terrible, simultaneously. This was him the true Jon Snow, the White Wolf of the North.
And Sansa absolutely despised him at that moment.
To think I could ever possibly love you!
“You can’t!” The words came suddenly, unbidden, but Sansa was not sorry for them. She had been on hunts before; she had even participated in them, much to Catelyn Stark’s ire. She knew death and watched clear-eyed and dispassionate as the arrow loosened, perforating the unfortunate quarry’s flesh. She knew how to conceal herself, how to mask her emotions and harden her heart to the anguished cries. Yet, this seemed unfair. Cruel, even.
“I can and I will.” It was all too much, too soon. Sansa stood up quickly, barring Jon’s view, defiant and unyielding. He would not dare.
“Move, Sansa. Now!” Jon growled, his eyes never wavering from the animals. They would be good meat and feed many. Mercy be damned.
Jon’s eyes snapped to hers, pupils dilated and blown wide with incredulity and anger. Was she truly taking him to task?
Sansa remained rooted to her spot, as proud and magnificent as the Wall. Even in her obstinance, she was beautiful. Jon cursed.
“I won’t tell you again.” Jon could feel his arm tighten, a dull and numbing ache.
“And I still will not yield. Are you truly so brave a man to kill a defenseless animal and her babe? Aye, a brave one you are. Not at all a savage.”
That hurt, that word. A keen and aciculated throb. If she were to fell him with but a single blow, then she would have all the needed arsenal in her possession.
‘You are nothing but a savage!’
Jon closed his eyes tightly, and took a steadying breath to calm himself. Sansa was lucky; had it been any other, there would have been a reckoning. The last man so careless with his tongue lost it.
“Have care, girl. I am not one of your father’s men and I am not beholden to your laws. Tread carefully.”
Still, Sansa remained unshakeable and resolute.
“I. Will not. Move.” The words were succinct, terse.
Jon was nonplussed, oscillating between admiration and abhorrence. What would it say for him to marvel on her obdurateness, to be mystified by her convictions? He was succumbing to her influence and she was not even aware of her agency over him. Unbidden, the memories of Jon’s childhood conversation with his mother were conjured.
‘When you are a man grown and all the clans kneel at your feet, what kind of woman would you want at your side?’
He still had the bow, the arrow constricted and ready. All he had to do was shoot over her head; a simple means to put away this foolishness. It would take all but a few seconds--and his entangling with her would be over. His people would eat.
And Sansa would have yet another reason to hate him. Fuck this.
Jon lowered his bow, acquiescing. She could demand him to geld himself with a dulled knife and he would do so gladly, wearing his castrated parts about his neck as a badge of honor.
Sansa released a breath that she did not know she had been holding. She blinked. What in the seven hells just happen? Was this an impasse? A stalemate? She did not quite know. The Wolf Prince was a continuous enigma she could not unravel.
“Thank you.” The words felt alien, wooden on her tongue. She was not sure who was more surprised, she or the Wildling.
His eyes unnerved her, winter gray and piercingly cold. Yet, there was a flicker of acknowledgement and respect. He nodded then, an imperceptible act, just a brief incline of his chin. A small glimpse of humanity. And then, just as quickly, it was gone and he was stone again.
Cool marble, beautiful and resolute.
A sudden, tense silence engulfed the plain, filling Sansa with unease. Something was wrong. The doe and her fawn had gone, fleeing back into the thicket. Jon Snow stilled, his bow arm raised, poised and ready.
“Get behind me, Sansa. Now. ”
“I don’t understand--”
“Don’t ask questions. Just do as I say. Please. ”
The urgency in her voice unnerved her, never in the two months she had spoken with him had he ever begged.
Sansa turned around, quickly, suddenly fearful. And what she saw made her blood congeal.
There, standing across the riverbend, stood a shadowcat, larger than any she had ever seen. Its almond eyes, staring transfixed upon them, burned a blazing amber. Without breaking its gaze, the beast raised its massive head and emitted a blood-curdling howl that rattled Sansa to her very marrow. She screamed.
Sansa did not have time to process what was happening at the moment before she felt the wind being sucked from her, her mouth opening to scream again, only to take in air and dirt. Jon had pushed her behind him, albeit, roughly to the ground, positioning himself between her and the goliath.
“Don’t move, Sansa. For all the gods, do not move!”
For once, Sansa obeyed.
Jon moved solicitously, his eyes never wavering as he slowly stepped forward, further shielding her from the cat. The animal hissed, growling, its curved fangs glinting.
“It’s going to attack,” Sansa whispered, her voice constricted. Oh gods, but she didn’t want to die. Not yet, not this way. Nor did she want Jon to.
Jon said nothing, only raising his bow in anticipation. No matter what happened this day, one of them--either man or beast--would not live to see on the morrow.
Then, without warning, the creature lunged, a black shadow. Jon loosened the arrow, yet it was ineffective, the obsidian tip grazing its fur. Although extinct south of the Wall, Sansa knew shadowcats, of their savagery. Able to detect blood six miles away, they were relentless hunters with insatiable appetites. Worse, they were indiscriminate predators with a love of human flesh.
Although large, Sansa could see that it was an adolescent, emaciated and starving, no doubt the paucity of game inciting its desperation. No matter Jon’s prowess and alacrity, Sansa knew that not even he was a match for the beast. This would be a fight to the death; worse, once abetted, a shadow cat would not cease until it was dead. If wounded, its anger would only arouse it further.
It was akin to her darkest phantasms when the animal locked its jaws onto Jon’s arm in an unremitting grip. Jon cursed as the predator entangled itself around his body, and dug its claws into his back. The situation was dire, for as a hunter, he knew the power of a shadowcat’s hind quarters.
Yet, despite the combined trepidation and excruciating pain, all Jon could think on was Sansa. He couldn’t see her. Gods,but what if she were injured somehow in the melee? No amount of contrition would ever atone for his guilt.
Locked in a struggle for life or death, both man and beast tumbled to the ground. The cat was on its back, but its teeth were clamped onto Jon’s shoulder in a vice-like grip. Somehow, in the fruckus, Jon dropped his hunting dagger, a serrated, single-edged blade of antler bone and bronze. Jon never took it off his person. If he had it in his possession then the creature would be easily dispatched.
Using one leg to pin the animal’s hindquarters to the ground, Jon tried suppressing the creature with nearby shoots and stems. Although effective in stunning the cat, the rods were feculent and weak, easily breaking.
Out of the corner of his eye, a curtain of liquid flame. For a suspended moment, it looked like a walking inferno, balletic and fluid. Then, a flash of silver. Jon heard the panther beneath him emit a terrible squawk as the pressure in his shoulder inflamed.
Hearing a high-pitched scream, Jon saw Sansa raise his hunting dagger into the air and thrust it deeply into the beast’s throat. The shadowcat spasmed, its body paroxysmic before stilling. Immediately, the pressure left Jon’s shoulder, the pain, though excruciating, reduced to a staccato throb. Sansa stood over him, a striking alloy of fire and ice.
Although dishevelled with her auburn hair unbound and riotous, her cerulean eyes were anguished. In that precise moment, she was not Sansa, but was something else entirely. No longer was she a porcelain doll, a fine and delicate thing to be handled, but something stronger. A virago, an avenging angel from legends of old.
He had never beheld anything so ethereal and beautiful.
“Jon? Jon! Are you all right? Are you in great pain?”
She was touching him then, deft fingers running through his ebony locks, and Jon luxuriate in the feel of her. Suddenly, they were not alone as a group of wildlings surrounded Jon, lifting him upon a makeshift cot to return him to Mance and the healers.
“Sansa..." Jon coughed, holding her gaze, not wanting to leave her, yet all the while committing her to memory.
Sansa didn't respond, but only continued to stare after him. Her indigo eyes huge and unreadable, her hair a mane of crimson fire.