The inn the ladies stop at smells of burnt bacon and piss. Inside, it looks even worse than outside; the yellowed coat of paint is starting to chip off the walls, revealing the naked stones beneath, and the floor is dirty with muddy footprints. The small wooden tables are packed with people; men, women and children alike, all travellers briefly resting before resuming their journeys either north or south. For Myranda Royce and Alayne Stone, it is the former.
“Are you feeling nervous, my lady? Uneasy?” Myranda whispers, gently grabbing Alayne’s gloved hand.
The girl twirls and meets her gaze. “No, thank you. You?”
Myranda shakes her head. “I’m just tired. I can’t wait to finally lay my arse on a featherbed…like the ones we had at the Eyrie.”
“I’m tired too,” Alayne says, rubbing her eye. “How long till we’re done travelling?”
“Don’t you tell me that you’re starting to become impatient,” Myranda says, smirking. “The North is still too remote for us to start dreaming about the end of our journey.”
Alayne sighs and does not say anything. She looks about, gazing at the multitude of people who are too focused on their food to notice them, and then turns towards Myranda again. “I’m hungry. Are you? We should look for a table.”
That’s the most sensible thing she’s said ever since we left the Vale, Myranda thinks to herself. “Oh,” she groans, rubbing her belly through her wool cloak, “I feel like I could eat a sheep all by myself. All right, let’s eat, shall we?”
After asking for a room for two, Myranda and Alayne sit down at a table. The two ladies remove their gloves and set them aside. Myranda tries to get the attention of a serving boy, a lad with sturdy shoulders and a pointy nose, but she waves her hand to no avail.
“My legs hurt,” Alayne groans, caressing her knees through her black cloak. “I’m tired of travelling. Do we really have to go that far up North?”
“My lady, you know as well as me that there is no other place for us to go,” Myranda replies. “We can’t stop here at the Fingers. Lord Baelish assured us that we’ll be safe in the North. It wouldn’t be wise to ignore his advice, especially not at a time like this.”
“His request, you mean.”
“Yes, my lady. His request.” The serving lad finally looks in their direction, and it is not in Myranda’s interest to discuss some silly matter of words now. “Now, hush. Let’s get some food.”
“What can I get you, m’ladies?” the lad asks after reaching their table, his hands behind him and a grin stretching from ear to ear. Now that he is close, he looks even more appealing to the eye. “If I were you, I’d wanna try the egg pie.”
“Is it good?” Myranda asks, biting her lip.
“It’s exquisite,” the lad replies. Myranda can already feel her cheeks flush, but then his black eyes drift from her to Alayne. “A slice of egg pie for you as well, m’lady?”
“Yes, thank you,” Alayne replies, eyes downcast. “And a cup of water, please.”
“Water?” The serving lad scoffs. “Forgive me, m’lady, but water doesn’t make the body burn like wine does. We have the sweetest wine you’ll ever drink here.”
“Lady Alayne has plain taste,” Myranda says, her eyes boring into his. “I’d like some wine—but only if you’ll give it to me.”
“M’lady, ‘course I will.” He smirks, and Myranda feels her belly flutter, but then he turns towards Alayne again. “Are you sure you don’t wanna try some wine too, m’lady?”
Myranda notices the slight flush on Alayne’s cheeks. “I think I could try some,” she says gracefully, “thank you.”
The lad shoots Alayne one last provoking smile and then turns on his heel to take his leave.
“He’s not that pretty,” Myranda observes, looking at Alayne out of the corner of her eye.
Alayne shrugs. “I thought you liked him. He stared at you the whole time.”
Is she making fun of me? “Don’t be silly. He was staring at you.”
“I don’t think so,” Alayne says, looking at her with wide blue eyes. “Whenever we walk into a room, every man looks at you.”
Myranda scoffs, but does not reply…not yet. Instead, she takes her own eyes on a journey across every face in the inn. No matter how hard she looks, though, no pair of eyes seems to be meeting hers, for every man’s and boy’s attention is utterly for the maid sitting next to her. It is always like this, with Alayne. She steals everybody’s breath away, with her high cheekbones and wavy brown hair meeting in braids at the back of her head. And her eyes…as blue as the sky when it does not rain. But she never notices, does she? No, she only blushes gracefully from time to time, but she never pays attention to anyone’s lingering looks on her face or on her breasts scarcely visible under thick layers of clothing she wraps her frail body in.
For the rest of the supper, Myranda guzzles her egg pie and washes it all down with two goblets of wine, while Alayne eats slowly, meticulously, her lashes fluttering every time her delicate lips curl around her fork. Even when she drinks, she does it with the poise of a highborn lady. How can a bastard manage to be so graceful at every occasion?
Once they finish eating their meal, the two climb the stairs that lead to the sleeping rooms and Myranda shoots a lingering look at the serving lad as she passes, getting a grin in return.
Their room is not big, but it is spacious enough for two ladies travelling with one saddlebag each. It is scarcely furnished, with one chair, a small hearth and a wooden tub. There is only one featherbed, though, large enough for two, but still one.
“We’ll have to share it,” Alayne says beckoning at the bed, as if she had read Myranda’s mind.
“Yes, my lady, we will,” Myranda replies, curling her lips in a smile. “Like friends…or even sisters.”
Alayne lifts her gaze and smiles at her. “Would you mind?” she asks pulling out a glass phial from her bag. “Will you help me with my hair tonight?”
Myranda takes the phial from Alayne’s hand and examines it. It is short but wide and filled with a dark brown liquid as smooth-looking as oil. “What is this?”
“It is for my hair,” Alayne replies, unfastening her cloak. “I’ll need to get in the tub for you to apply that.”
Alayne quickly strips herself to her smallclothes, unbraids her dark locks and carefully gets in the filled tub, lest her feet slip. Myranda waits for her to settle in the water, then she opens the phial and pours a few drops of the mixture onto her damp scalp.
“What is it for, anyway?” she asks.
“Lady Lysa gave it to me after I got to the Vale,” Alayne replies.
“What for? It looks like hair dye.”
“Of course it’s not,” Alayne chuckles softly. “Lady Lysa feared my hair might fall after all that travelling with my father, so she gave it to me. She used it herself.”
“Oh. And why do you still use it?”
Alayne shrugs. “It feels nice. And I like the smell.”
“Well, my lady, I agree with you on that part.” Myranda massages Alayne’s scalp with one hand and with the other she brings the phial to her nose and sniffs. It smells like black tea and walnuts. “I like the smell as well.”
After Alayne’s bath, Myranda washes her hands inside the water to rub away the brown spots from her skin and prepares for bed. She closes the shutters of the small window above the bed and then sinks down, finally stretching her sore limbs. Then she buries herself under the thick covers, soaking her cold body in the warmth that they provide. The weak fire burning in the hearth is the only source of light, and she sees Alayne tuck herself under the heavy covers next to her, her loose dark hair shining clean as if it had been coated with wax.
“Do you really think we’ll be safe at the Wall?”
“Of course,” Myranda answers. “Your Lord Father would never send us where we could be in danger.”
“I’ve heard that they’re all men up there. There is not even a single woman.”
“So? Even better, no?” Myranda laughs maliciously, but Alayne nervously chews on her lower lip and blushes.
“I don’t know. Who will take care of us?”
“Alayne, we’re not children.” Myranda scoffs. “Anyway, your father said the Lord Commander will protect us. He’s Lord Snow, the bastard of Winterfell.” A bastard, just like you, Alayne. “I’ve heard that he’s brave and valiant…and quite handsome, even.”
Alayne frowns. “Have we ever met him?”
“Of course not, silly.” Myranda turns on her back, facing the ceiling. “But we talked about him once, remember?”
“I’m afraid I don’t,” Alayne replies, her voice as faint as the firelight around them.
“It’s all right, my lady,” Myranda whispers before placing a goodnight kiss on Alayne’s head. “Only a few more weeks of travelling and we’ll get there.” She turns onto the other side and falls asleep with a light taste of black tea and walnuts on her lips.
“He won’t die.” The Red Woman paces restlessly around the room, her blood red skirts fluttering behind her as she moves.
“Can you do it?” Davos asks.
The Red Woman nods. “He will live. The Lord of Light’s plan for Jon Snow is not over yet.”
“What do you mean?” Edd Tollett asks with a furrowed brow. To someone who has never seen what the red priestess is capable of, Davos thinks, her words must sound like utter nonsense straight out of a mummer’s farce.
Davos cuts him off. “She knows what she’s doing.” His eyes then flicker up to the Red Woman’s face. “What can we do for you?”
“I need scissors,” she replies, walking slowly towards Jon’s lifeless body, her eyes firmly set on his still, icy face. “A clean cloth, some water and a brazier. I need fire.”
Tormund Giantsbane looks at Davos with confusion in his eyes, and when Davos nods at him, his hesitation fades.
“We’ll get everything you need,” he says, stroking his red beard.
“Aye,” Edd Tollett joins him. Then, he looks around. “This is a cell. Everything we need should be here already.”
Tormund steps closer to the red priestess. “What will happen to him if he comes back?”
“After I revive him,” the Red Woman utters, her words as solemn as her pale face, “he might not be the same as he was. He might wake…different.”
“How?” Davos asks. He has heard about people being brought back changed, but he had never wondered what this could imply for Jon until now.
The Red Woman brushes Jon’s black hair with a finger, her eyes as ardent as the now lit brazier near her. “There’s no way to find out until he comes back.”
This bloody woman and her bloody secrets, Davos thinks. The Red Woman washes her hands in a basin brought to her by Edd, and then drops a clean cloth inside it. Her face an impenetrable mask, she washes Jon’s wounded chest, cleansing it of his own spilled blood. All the men in the room observe her from a corner, Davos included, holding their breath as though they feared disturbing her. Only Ghost dares stand near the red priestess, his ears jerked up and his hackles raised in alarm. Once Jon’s wounds are clean, she washes her hands again and picks up the scissors. Carefully, meticulously, she cuts some of his curls and lightly trims his beard, then walks over to the brazier and throws the hairs into the fire. The flame flares when she does, and for a moment Davos swears he sees the ruby she wears on her neck come alive in a red glow as bright as the fire.
The Red Woman starts praying, yet Davos’ eyes follow Ghost. The direwolf stands even closer to her, dangerously closer, and bares his teeth at her. Even though she does not divert her attention from Jon’s body, worry starts spreading in Davos’ gut. He silently prays that the wolf backs down lest he interfere, but he does not. Instead, he keeps showing his fangs in a terrifying snarl that sends a shiver down Davos’ spine.
“Ghost,” Davos hears himself mutter, but steps back when the direwolf’s eyes set on him, shining in a dreadful red. He gulps and struggles to stay still when he feels himself quaking with fear. Keep calm, he tells himself, he’d never hurt you.
The direwolf reaches him in a single lope, baring fangs as sharp as swords. Davos staggers back and Tormund swiftly catches him before he falls.
“Something’s wrong with him,” Tormund mutters, and it is a hint of fear that Davos hears in his voice.
“He won’t hurt us,” Davos says, almost trying to convince himself. For a moment he fights to steel himself to appear bigger than he really is, then he lowers himself at the beast’s level and whispers, “If you bother her, Jon won’t come back.”
Ghost holds his gaze for a moment. A long moment. Crimson eyes as bright as fire bore into Davos’, and his teeth are still bared, but then his whole body slackens as if he had understood him. Davos heaves a deep, shuddering sigh, and accepts the glare the wolf shoots at him with a fierceness that seems more human than beastly.
Ghost unexpectedly pads closer to Davos and sits at his feet, his eyes firmly set on Lady Melisandre, who looks as if she has not heard a thing. Being in his proximity does not fail to stir some uneasiness in Davos, but as long as the wolf sits here calmly, he will bear it.
His hands balled up in fists at his sides, Tormund breathes heavily, impatiently, and Davos exchanges silent looks with him more often than not. While the Red Woman is still working her magic, they hear a clamour coming from outside. “I’ll go see what it is,” the wildling mutters, “at least something’s happening outside this fucking room.”
Before Davos can grab his arm to prevent him from going, the wildling reaches the door in two quick steps and leaves.
Edd’s concerned eyes fly to Ghost, who is observing his master’s dead body, then flicker to Davos’ face. “Do you think it’ll work?”
Davos gulps. Suddenly, he does not feel as sure anymore. “I’ve seen her do many things,” he whispers. “I think it will.” Perhaps we should all pray to whatever God she believes in, too.
The Red Woman’s chanting is nothing new to Davos’ ears, but for reasons unknown to him, as her mumbled, foreign words get lost in the stifling cold air of the cell, he feels as though it is the first time. Her prayers are an incomprehensible succession of words that age back to the time of Old Valyria, when dragons roamed the sky and even wolves had to humbly bow their heads before them.
What will happen tonight? Will he be reborn as a dragon or as a wolf?
As her muttered chanting continues, the door opens and Tormund appears. Davos studies his features, even more hardened than before, but fails to understand what must trouble him so.
“What’s happening outside?” Davos asks when Tormund stands next to him.
Tormund shifts his weight to lean closer to his ear. “Two maids have just arrived from the South. Two ladies.”
“Two ladies?” What could ever bring two unaccompanied ladies to the ends of the world?
Tormund nods. “They were looking for the Lord Commander. Might have to tell them they came too late.”
Not yet, a stubborn voice whispers inside Davos’ mind. Not yet. He’ll live.
As though he had understood their brief exchange, Ghost jumps to all fours and lopes towards the closed door. On his hind legs, as tall as a man, the wolf starts scrabbling at the door, raking its thick wood.
What bloody thing has got into this wolf?
“We must throw him out,” Edd Tollett murmurs, shaking Davos’ arm. “Look at her.”
Slowly, Davos lifts his eyes to gaze at Lady Melisandre. Her eyes are squeezed shut and her face is contorted in a painful expression that screams for silence.
“Let him out,” Davos tells Edd, “he won’t hurt you. But don’t let him to the courtyard.” At first Edd looks weary, but then he obeys. Once the door is open, the erratic direwolf bounds out of the cell and disappears into the corridor. Edd shoots one last frown at Davos from over his shoulder and then reluctantly leaves after the wolf.
The red priestess falls into silence. She lays her hands on Jon’s bare chest and presses, her nails softly digging in his skin. She closes her eyes, then opens them, then closes them again. Her long, dark copper hair shines like a river of rubies as it catches the light of the brazier, but when her eyes open for the last time and Jon still lies lifeless, Davos sees nothing in them but one thing, the one he had dreaded to see: failure.
He parts his lips to speak, but words die on his tongue before he can even utter them. Lady Melisandre walks away from Jon’s body, her eyes downcast in defeat.
Davos eventually speaks before he can restrain himself. “Where are you going?” he hears himself say once the Red Woman makes for the door.
She turns around, her gaze an icy blade. “I did all that I could do.”
Without any further word, she disappears, her burgundy skirts fluttering behind her the last thing Davos sees.
Is it over, then?
He gazes at Tormund. “I was sure she’d make it. I was sure!”
“He was betrayed,” the wildling says, “betrayed and murdered. There’s no way back from that. Ever.”
The last word hits Davos as hard as a sword. Resigned, the wildling gives Jon’s body one last look and then departs, defeatedly dragging himself out of the cell.
It is just him and Jon now, or rather, what remains of Jon. He gathers the nerve to walk over to the table his body rests on and observes him in hopes of catching even the slightest sign of movement. Jon, though, does not move, and only keeps sleeping the longest and darkest of slumbers.
It is over, then. Ser Davos glances at Jon one last time. He slowly reaches the door, deep gouges left by Ghost’s claws, and his hand almost grabs the doorknob when he hears a sudden gasp and whips around, Jon’s wide eyes staring into his.
A sudden cold spreads in the cell and wraps itself around Davos, seizing him hard and tightly. Jon’s gasps continue, his chest jerks up and down, and Davos feels his knees failing him. He does not believe his eyes. His stomach flips. His heart thunders in his ears, almost breaking through his ribcage. He stands frozen, incapable of speaking or moving.
Finally, he manages to shake the shock off and rushes to Jon. He removes the heavy cloak he is wearing and makes to wrap it around him, trying to contain his violent shuddering, but Jon suddenly grabs his throat.
Jon’s fingers are wrapped around his neck. Davos does not understand. The hand, his neck, the—his head hits the floor. Pain takes over him. Jon straddles him, teeth bared in a ghastly snarl.
Jon is naked, bur he does not care. All that grips Davos now is a fear so paralysing that it sucks all the air from his lungs. “J-Jon!” he yells, stuttering, but Jon’s teeth are dangerously close to his throat and his eyes are darker than a pit. Please.
The two struggle. Davos fights, tries to push Jon off him, but his arms are not strong enough, and not even begging helps. They roll on the floor, muscular limbs clashing against frail ones, knocking over the lit brazier Melisandre had lit with a clang. The firelight splashes Jon’s features in a ghastly orange, twisting them into a wolfish horror.
Guttural sounds spill out of Jon’s throat. His fingers tighten their grasp around Davos’ neck, nails digging in his flesh like merciless claws. Davos tries to breathe, but he fails. The world blurs, his senses start leaving him. Jon makes other sounds, other growls. They do not make sense, nothing does. All Davos can do is shut his eyes and pray that all of it ends soon.
Jon opens his mouth, his warm breath washing over him. “GHOST!” he yells, squeezing Davos’ throat. “GHOST! DEAD! DEAD!”
What? “N-no,” Davos tries to yell back, his voice a strangled wheeze, “Ghost is not dead. He’s out there.”
The door swings open. Davos turns his aching neck and sees Tormund. Please.
“Jon! Jon Snow! Leave him!” the wildling screams, grabbing Jon’s shoulders and shoving him away. Finally, Jon’s weight is gone, and Davos’ shaking hand reaches his throat, caressing the skin Jon had clawed at. He coughs, rolls on one hip, tries to catch his breath. Edd appears, understands, shuts the door. Jon keeps screaming, yelling, insensate words and plain growls alike, and when Davos scrambles to his feet he is glad both Tormund and Edd are holding Jon back.
“This is that witch’s doing. We should hang her!” Edd yells.
“No!” Davos yells back, and the two look at him in disbelief, Jon still struggling to escape from their grip.
“He almost killed you!” Tormund screams.
“Aye, but he didn’t.” Davos erases the distance between him and Jon with slow, careful steps. He is completely naked and still bares his teeth like a beast, yet not even a hint of shame or sense seems to be crossing his brain. What did she do to you?
“Jon,” Davos says calmly, holding out a hand before him, “it’s all right, you’re fine. Do you know where you are?”
Jon’s lips tremble. He shuts his eyes, inhales deeply and bares his teeth again. “DEAD! I WAS DEAD!”
“Aye, you were,” Davos says, “but now you’re alive. You were brought back. Do you understand me?”
The soft tone of Davos’ voice seems to be soothing him. Jon stops struggling, only glares at him and nods furiously.
“Good.” If he understands, it must mean that it’s still him. “Ghost, your wolf, is not dead. We just let him out for a while. If you get dressed, you can go see him.”
At the mention of the direwolf’s name, a feral rage washes over Jon again. “GHOST! DEAD!” He starts shaking convulsively and angry tears spill from his eyes. He struggles to speak and sobs, shudders, fury painted all over his face. “I was dead. They—they killed me!”
He remembers. “You’re here now. You’re alive.”
Jon escapes from Edd’s grip and hits him in the face. Davos staggers back, scared, as screams overlap. Jon almost reaches the door before Tormund manages to grab his arms and hold them behind his back, restraining him. “WHERE ARE THEY? I WANT TO KILL THEM!”
“You will,” Davos says, hand held out between him and Jon again. “They will be hung for treason soon.”
“I WANT TO KILL THEM NOW!”
“ENOUGH!” Tormund yells in Jon’s ear, making him flinch. It seems to work. His glare remains, but at least no more screams and curses leave his mouth.
Davos gazes at Edd. “Are you hurt?”
“I might end up with a black eye,” the man replies, rubbing half of his face. “I’ve been worse.”
Then, Davos looks at Jon. “You must calm down, Jon. We’ll explain everything to you. But please, calm down.”
Jon opens his mouth to speak, or perhaps to growl again, then his eyes drop to Davos’ neck and he freezes in realisation, eyes wide as if hit by a sudden light. He lowers his gaze and stands there, naked, Tormund seizing both of his arms lest he lash out again.
What in the seven hells happened to you? Davos wonders. We’ll explain everything to you, yes…but how?