"Okay everyone, you have your five dragons, so you are free to purchase anything you would like from anywhere in the market! Remember, we are also using our mathematical skills and see how many things you can purchase for five dragons and count your change! Remember, everything is under five, so you can get one thing or multiple!"
The teacher was shouting over the heads of the group of thirty or so primary schoolers, trying to keep track and ensure none wandered off beyond the little holiday market. They had all walked over from the school, would buy whatever their gifts were, and then they would go have hot chocolate or cider with cookies, make holiday cards, and then go see a pageant talking about the Long Winter from a very long time ago.
Lyanna did not think these things were all that fun. She liked not being in school, especially since her dumb cousin was with her and Eddy was notorious for trying to rip her braids out or play tricks on her since he was the oldest. She had complained of this argument once to her father, who simply said Eddy was older than her by only two months so it wasn't much of an argument. "Besides, his father is only older than me by like six months, so it doesn't matter." Or at least, that's what he told her.
She clutched her five dragon bill in her hand, wandering from booth to booth, taking in all the various objects. Some of her classmates had zeroed in on the flashy objects for themselves, forgetting this was supposed to be for their parents or siblings or other family members. She was not sure what she should get for anyone. Her family was so big, there were way too many people for just five dragons.
Eddy had already used up his money, wandering over holding a bag with five friggie magnets in the shape of wolves. "I'm done," he announced. He showed her. "See? One for Mama and Dad, Grandma Cat, Auntie Arya, Uncle Bran, and Auntie Sansa."
Her nose wrinkled, irritated. "You forgot my daddy!"
"He's not my real uncle, Grandma Cat said so yesterday."
"Take it back, he is too!"
Her cousin held firm, shaking his auburn head. "Nuh-uh, that's not what Grandma Cat said. She says that he's a bastard and you have no momma, so you don't get presents."
Her teeth grit and she felt the familiar boil of anger when she heard things said like that to her. They always made fun of her because she only had a Daddy and not a Mama. Grandma Cat was also a mean bitch, that was what Auntie Arya said, so of course she would be mean and say those things, but she was so angry that Eddy would say them back! Eddy never made fun of her for not having a mama!
Hot tears gathered in the corners of her gray eyes and she growled, like her direwolf, and jumped at Eddy, knocking him backwards into one of the holiday tree decorations. "You take it back!"
"No, it's true!" He shook his hands at her. "Get off me!"
"Lyanna Snow!" the teacher yelped. She pulled her off, hauling her clear from the ground. "My gods, what has gotten into you! Stop that this instant!"
She swung her fists out; Auntie Arya always told her to punch first and ask questions later. Even though Daddy said to use her words...until she had to punch them. So, she used her words, she shouted at Eddy and now it was time to punch. "He said I don't have a Momma and I don't get presents," she cried. She tried not to cry; crying was for babies.
It just hurt. They all said things like that sometimes. Except she didn't like it, not now of all places. She marched off with the teacher, who sat her on a bench by the front door, ordering her to stay there until they were done and then she could buy her presents. "And you will apologize to Eddy. I know he is your cousin, but it is wrong to fight. I will have to call your father too."
Go ahead, she glowered, shooting the teacher a dark stormy glare. She kicked her feet on the bench, ignoring Eddy's gloating. Other kids gave her strange looks. They all were weird to her. They were mostly stupid, and they didn't understand how she lived her life. They thought she was weird. She had bright red hair-- kissed by fire-- like her mother. Her eyes were gray like her dad. They said she was a carrot-head. They made fun of her freckles. They laughed at her because she couldn't wear her hair in the braids like the other girls did-- Daddy tried but he was terrible at braiding hair.
Most of the time she just wanted to stay at home with her wolf. He was technically Daddy's wolf, but Ghost was a part of their family, he was like her brother and he protected her. Like Grey Wind was for Eddy. Stupid Eddy. She kicked her boot heel on the ground again. All the other kids lived in Winter Town and Eddy lived up at the big house at Winterfell Castle. Her family were the Starks and they were very rich and very famous. She wasn't rich or famous. Daddy lived far out, close to the edge of the castle and he said they were mostly closer to the free folk that way.
"Your mother was one of them, so you are also one of them," he told her all the time. "And they adopted me like one too."
She sniffed, wiping at her nose, which was running after she'd blinked back her tears. Crying was for babies and she was not a baby. She was a wildling, a free folk, and she could shoot an arrow and snowshoe in the forest and she even could ride on a direwolf. When Daddy wasn't looking of course.
There was nothing in this dumb holiday shop he would want anyway. She didn't know why she even asked him for the five dragons for the day's trip, but he gave it to her that morning, after he found the slip of paper in her backpack that said they were going there. He'd seemed a little sad but hadn't said anything when she simply told him she forgot. She hadn't forgot. She just didn't want him to know. It was always them. Just them. All the other kids would buy stuff for all their family. She just had Daddy. And Auntie Arya and the rest, but maybe not even now, not after what Eddy said.
What could Daddy even want for the holidays?
It was a celebration of some battle that happened so long ago she did not even know when or what year. Some stupid story. They gave each other presents under a tree. A fat man would come and put them, he rode a sled with reindeer and if you were good you got presents. If you were bad, he would put coal. She was good this year and she was always good, so she always got presents, but not as many as all the others in her family. Not as many as Eddy. Then again, Uncle Robb was rich.
She sighed hard. She needed to get Daddy something good. Something really special. Nothing that was five dragons. Maybe Santa-- he was the one that brought the presents-- could bring her Daddy something else. Something really special. Something that no one else could get him. Not even her.
"Are you alright?"
The soft voice of a woman beside her had her lifting her head. She smiled politely. You were always supposed to eb nice to strangers even if you weren't supposed to talk to them. "I'm okay. I'm in trouble."
The woman who asked her if she was okay was very pretty. Lyanna admired her braids; there was no way Daddy could do that sort of braiding, it was so complicated and long. Also, her hair was silver! It resembled the color of the moon after it first snowed. She blinked at it, almost wanting to touch, but that would be rude. She looked at the lady again, jumping slightly in her seat-- her eyes were purple!
"Oh wow, your eyes are really pretty," she blurted out.
The woman blinked, surprised. "Oh, well thank you. I do love your hair. It looks like fire."
"I'm kissed by fire."
"What a lovely thing to say. You know my favorite animal are dragons, I even have a few."
"Dragons!" Lyanna yelped. That couldn't be, all the dragons had died! She frowned, her little brows wrinkling, wondering what the trick was. "Oh?"
The woman grinned and pulled the sleeve of her shirt up, showing the three dragons she had tattooed on her wrist. They were so cool! "Yes, sort of." She sat beside her on the bench. "Here sweetling." She handed her a tissue she removed from her bag. "For your nose."
She felt instant relief when she wiped at her nose with the tissue, sighing and wrinkling it up in her hand and graciously accepting another. "Thank you."
"Can I ask what you did to get on the bench?"
"I pushed my cousin. He said stupid things."
"Oh, well maybe he deserved it but pushing is never right." The lady smiled again. Her smile was also very pretty. Her whole face kind of lit up like the twinkle lights all through the store. "But maybe he was sorry he said them."
"He said I have no momma, so I don't get presents."
The lady immediately wrapped her arm over her shoulders. It probably wasn't right, because she was a stranger, but Lyanna felt very glad to have her there. She looked up at the lady, whose bright purple eyes had turned softer, her smooth forehead furrowed. "Well," she whispered, leaning in so it was just the two of them in the conversation. Like they were the only two in the world. "My mother died when I was very young. I got presents when I was little. So, I think you will be fine."
"Did your daddy get you presents?" She thought of her daddy. He would get her some, but the rest all came from Santa. "Because mine does. He can't braid hair. Did yours braid your hair?"
The lady touched her hair. "Oh no, I did this, but no my daddy died too." She smiled wider, no longer looking sad. "My brother was like my daddy. He got me presents and he braided my hair. It sounds like your daddy is trying. That's a good thing."
"Oh good." She looked at the bag at the lady's feet. Inside she had some cookies and a few of the dragon ornaments that were all over one of the trees. "Do you like cookies?"
"Oh yes, I actually made these."
"Can I have one?" The lady seemed surprised, but nodded, reaching into the bag and removing the container. She offered her them. They were also shaped like dragons! Lyanna giggled. "Dragons are your favorite!"
"Yes, they are," she chuckled. She tapped the wolf necklace that Lyanna wore. "And you like wolves."
"I have one."
"And what is your other charm there?"
Lyanna tugged on the wolf charm and showed her the other one, proud of it. "It's a bow, like bow and arrow, my mother was an archer, she was very good." She sighed, looking down at her feet. "But she died when I was little. I don't know her."
"Yeah, I get that." The lady lightly touched her hair, smiling softly again. "But it seems like your dad is doing a good job. You're happy and healthy and even if he can't braid hair, he must love you."
"I guess. I think he's sad." She blurted it out, unsure why she thought that. Maybe it was because Auntie Arya said so a lot of time. That he was sad. He needed to smile more. Get a girl, she told him the other day. Uncle Tormund said that too. Always told him that he had to get a wife. It would make him happy. Even if for like an hour. Whatever that was supposed to mean, how could you get a wife for an hour? She shook her head. "But he sometimes always is sad anyway. He is a vet...vet...veternarian. He likes to help animals and people."
"Sounds like he's a good guy as well as a good dad." The lady handed her another cookie. "Here, for the rest of your time out. I have to go, unfortunately, but it was very nice to meet you."
"My name is Lyanna." She wanted to keep talking to this lady with the silver hair, purple eyes, and the dragons on her wrist. Who made really good chocolate-chip cookies in the shape of dragons. She frowned. "Where are you going?"
The lady shrugged her bag over her shoulder. "I'm actually on my way down to Kingsland, the capital. I live in Essos but was visiting for a bit. The North is so pretty this time of year."
"What do you do there?" Essos was very far away.
"I help people," the woman said. That could mean a lot of things., Lyanna thought, frowning. The woman chuckled. "I hope you have a better day Lyanna and try not to hit anymore people. Even annoying cousins."
She giggled. "Okay fine." She waved, watching the pretty lady walk away. She was wearing all black. That was her Daddy's favorite color. She waited a minute and looked down at the dragon bill still in her hand. She stuffed it into her pocket and bounced in place. She knew exactly what she was going to get her Daddy that year. Or actually, what Santa was going to get.
A new wife!
Daddy hadn't said anything to her the entire drive home from school. He looked really tired; she wasn't sure why; he went to sleep after she did. Or so she thought. He was always awake before her. Either way, he was the bestest Daddy ever. He didn’t pick her up from school like some Daddies did, because he had to work. He always made her dinner though and he would tuck her into bed and read her a story and when she had bad dreams she could go crawl in his bed and he would hold her if she cried. Then he would take her back to her room and check under her bed and in her closet and make sure all the monsters were gone.
He sometimes got angry when she did something bad, but he never yelled. He only yelled at Uncle Tormund. Uncle Tormund lived with them and helped her. He knew her mother, they used to be in the same job. Sometimes she thought Uncle Tormund was really her uncle, because he was also kissed by fire. Except his hair was much brighter red and he had a big bushy beard too. He swore a lot and when he did, that’s when Daddy would yell at him.
She heard the sound in Daddy’s voice. He wasn’t mad at her, but he seemed sad. He’s always sad. She looked up at him, standing in the mudroom behind the kitchen. He took her coat from her and hung it up on the hook, passing her back her backpack. She had to write a few sentences about how it was not nice to hit people. “Eddy was saying bad things,” she mumbled.
“Eddy doesn’t understand. That’s not a reason to hit him.”
“But Auntie Arya…”
“No, you do not use what she said as an excuse, it still isn’t right,” he said, firm. He opened the door to let her into the kitchen. Ghost, Daddy’s big direwolf who was also her direwolf too, pushed against her, quiet as always, and she wrinkled her fingers into his neck, walking with him to the living room. It was a big living room with a huge fireplace and their holiday tree was in the corner, with all her handmade ornaments.
She dropped her backpack by the couch and kept walking. She didn’t want to be there. She rushed to her room, skipping steps including the top one that squeaked the loudest in the old house. Her room was the biggest and it had slanted ceilings which Daddy had painted to look like the nighttime sky. Uncle Bran was an artist and he had painted one wall with forests and wolves howling and snow falling all the time. She jumped into her big bed, with its blue canopy and buried her face into one of her pillows, tears flooding her vision again.
Ghost followed, jumping onto the bed with her. She sniffed, crying into his big neck. He licked her face, cleaning off her tears. “You’re the only one who gets it Ghost,” she mumbled to him. Ghost didn’t have a mother either. His mother also died when he was a little pup.
Daddy knocked on her door. She sniffed some more, wiping at her eyes with her pillowcase. He came inside anyway, holding something in his hand. He sat on the edge of her bed and reached over for her with his free hand. She crawled into his lap, hugging him. He kissed her cheek, whispering. “I know you were upset. I’ll talk to Uncle Robb about Eddy, but Eddy doesn’t understand. He has a mother and a father. He didn’t mean what he said, I’m sure of it.”
She hiccupped. “Did Uncle Robb say mean things to you too? When you were small?”
Daddy chuckled. “Your Uncle Robb was pretty mean to me too when we were little, but not on purpose. Just like Eddy. Once he understood, he was not mean anymore.” He paused, reaching to stroke lightly at one of her red curls. “You don’t usually get upset about your mother. Was it because it was the holidays?”
She nodded quickly. “Everyone got stuff and I didn’t know what to get you…and Eddy said I didn’t get presents. Because I didn’t have a mother.”
“You do have a mother,” Daddy said. He was firm again. That way he always was when he meant something very important. He folded his fingers together and pressed his fist against her heart, his eyes widening. He had the same gray eyes as her. “Your mother is right there. Always. That’s where she is. She’s with you everywhere you go. Do you understand?”
Not really. She thought about Uncle Robb and Aunt Talisa. They always hugged and kissed and then there was Auntie Arya and Uncle Gendry. She frowned a little. “Did you love Momma?” she whispered. It was weird to call her that. She never got to tell her that word in real life. It seemed like her mother was always someone who was there, but not really.
He smiled, that sad little smile he got sometimes. He turned over what was in his hand. It was a small framed picture. She leaned over to look at it closer, smiling and taking it when he offered it to her. “I did love her,” he said. He pointed to the picture. “This was not long after we first met. She took me to the Wall and made me climb it with her. We got to the top and Uncle Tormund took our picture.”
Her mother had bright red hair and a big smile, but she didn’t have her eyes. Her mother had bright green eyes. She was laughing in the picture. “Do you miss her?” she asked, wondering if maybe that was why he didn’t have a new wife. Or get her a new mother.
Daddy thought for a minute and nodded. “Yeah, I miss her because I wish she was here for you.” He seemed liked there was more to say, but he didn’t. He stroked her hair, twirling one of her curls. “I always have a piece of her though Lyanna. Because of you.”
She didn’t say anything else about her mother. Uncle Tormund was talking once and she overheard; she liked to listen in on what the adults said because they always said a lot more when kids weren’t around, even though she knew it was rude to eavesdrop. Uncle Tormund said once that her daddy and her mommy weren’t going to stay married for very long and that was why daddy was always so sad. You both were from two different worlds Crow; it was never supposed to last. Daddy hadn’t liked that. Told Tormund to shut it and never speak of it again.
She looked at the picture of her mother again. Other than her hair and her freckles, she really didn’t look a lot like her. Uncle Robb said that she looked like her grandmother, Lyanna Stark. It was why Daddy named her that. Because that was his mother’s name and he never knew her. She crawled over to her bedside table and set the picture, next to the one that Auntie Arya put there of the two of them with Ghost and Ghost’s sister Nymeria. “I can keep this,” she stated.
“Of course. I was meaning to give it to you when you were a bit older, but I think you need it now,” Daddy explained. He reached for her again and she crawled back into his arms, hugging tight around his neck. He squeezed her close, whispering into her ear. “I love you Lyanna. More than anything.”
“More than the moon,” she said.
“And more than the sun.”
“And more than all the stars,” they said at the same time. He tweaked her nose and she giggled. He ran his hand back over her hair, serious again, even if he was still smiling. “You better get back downstairs and write out why hitting people is wrong. Okay?”
She nodded, reluctantly climbing off her bed. “Fine.” They walked down the stairs, him following after her. She thought of the five dragons still in the pocket of her coat. “Daddy?”
“Yes?” He set her backpack on the kitchen table, removing her folder and pencil pouch.
“What do you want for the holidays? I didn’t get you anything at the store.” And she missed out on the rest of the fun stuff like the cookies and cider. Although…her eyes widened when he removed the cookie the nice lady gave her in the store, still in a napkin. She grabbed for it, before he could ask what it was. “My dragon cookie!”
“Yeah. I got it at the store.” She bit into it, smiling as the chocolate chips melted on her tongue. It was really good. That lady is good at making cookies. She looked up at him again. “So, what do you want?”
“I just want you Lyanna. You don’t have to get me anything else. You’re all I want in the world.” He came around the big wooden table, wrapping his arm over her shoulders, squeezing lightly. A kiss dropped to her forehead. “Nothing else in the world can compare to you. So, you’re all I want and you’re the best present ever. Now.” He set the paper and pencil in front of her, ruffling her hair. “Write down why you shouldn’t hit people and I’ll look at it when you’re done.” He walked across the big kitchen to the sink, starting to put away and wash up their dishes from that morning. “Get started!”
I think he’s lying. There was no way that Daddy didn’t want something else in the world. She smiled and picked up her pencil, starting to write, but even as she wrote out her assignment, she kept thinking of what else. She kept thinking of what she would write when she asked Santa for the wife. Because Daddy clearly needed one. Especially when he started muttering about how Tormund made the biggest messes and he always had to clean them up. The wife could help with that!
Lyanna hummed to herself, scribbling out excuses she didn’t believe in about not hitting people, but she could only think of the pretty lady in the store. The pretty lady that made her think that Daddy needed a wife. He’d be so happy with her.
“What’s got you smiling like that?”
“Nothing,” she chirped. “Nothing at all Daddy!”
That night Lyanna finished with her assignment, ate her dinner with Daddy and Tormund, and pretended she didn’t want to hang out with them—she liked to sit and listen to them talk about stuff while she drew pictures or read or played with Ghost—instead she rushed to her room and grabbed all her markers, pencils, and other supplies. She sat at her desk, swept the other art projects in progress to the side and pulled a piece of white paper to her instead.
She tapped her marker on her lips, thinking of what to write. She addressed her letter to Santa and then began to think. Well, the new wife had to have hair like snow. She began to write, muttering to herself. “And eyes like jewels,” she said. She switched colors here and there, when it might make the word stand out more. She even drew a little ring next to the word ‘jewels.’ Her spelling might be wrong, but Santa should know what she meant.
“And she has to like animals and help people,” she continued. This was obvious, because Daddy was a doctor for pets and he always helped people when he could. It was also a sign that someone was nice. That was what Auntie Sansa told her once. If you helped people you were nice. “And she has to like the color black.” That was Daddy’s favorite color. She frowned. “And red.”
Red was a given of course, because Lyanna had red hair. So, if you did not like red then you must not like her hair color, duh. She swung her feet back and forth, excited as her letter took shape. “And someone who is short because Daddy is short too,” she said. She thought of the lady in the store. That lady was really short. Like an elf! She grinned. “And has a good heart.”
That was something she heard Daddy say once. Arya was making fun of him for not going on something called dates. He’d said that he would only go out with someone with a good heart..
Obviously, the wife needed to like and want kids, because she was a kid and she wanted to have a brother or a sister one day. The wife had to like cookies. Lyanna pondered for another moment. “She has to smell nice,” she decided. What smelled nice? She liked the smell of lemons and flowers and the stuff you smelled at springtime.
“Sunshine! Smell like sunshine and…” Her heart fell a little in her chest. She looked at the picture of her mother, the one that Daddy left for her. It was sad that she didn’t have a mother. Eddy didn’t get it, Daddy said. Eddy wouldn’t understand what it was like. No one really did. Daddy did, because he didn’t have a mom or even a dad. Tormund didn’t have a mom or dad either. There was also the lady in the store. She was so nice. She didn’t have a mother she said.
That settled it then. Santa had to bring a mother who didn’t know what it was like either. She had to know what it was like to not have a family. “Because we can be her family,” she whispered, almost done. She also liked wolves and dragons and stuff. So, the wife should be able to ride a dragon, because dragons were cool. Daddy said that a long time ago the dragonriders were the fiercest and the bravest of all the people in the world. The wife needed to be like that.
Once she was done, she wrote her name, carefully in big block letters. She took a deep breath and nodded, replacing her markers in the box. “This is perfect,” she announced. She folded the letter and placed it into an envelope she made out of construction paper and taped together. She wrote ‘SANTA’ on it in big letters and carried it downstairs. She intended to put it in her backpack and when she walked by a mailbox tomorrow near school, she would put it in the box.
Although…she nibbled her lower lip. There was only two more weeks until the Feast of Seven holidays and that was when Santa brought the toys, that night and then the next morning everyone opened them. “I need to go now.” She walked down the hall and into the living room, where Tormund was watching TV.
He yelled at something on the screen, muttering about stupid referees and saying mean things about their mother. She probably shouldn’t have heard it or should repeat it. Lyanna climbed up beside him. “Can you take me to the mailbox?” she asked.
“What for Little Crow?”
Tormund always called her Little Crow even though she looked nothing like a crow. He said it was because her father was Crow. Used to be King Crow then became Dr. Crow. Sometimes Lord Crow. She really didn’t get it. She supposed it had to do with when her daddy used to be in the army or something and yes, his big uniform was all black and he looked kind of like a crow, but she always figured he was more like a wolf. Tormund was strange.
She poked him in the rib, bringing his attention back to her and from the TV. “I need to send this.” She held up the envelope.
“Oh, well I know him.” He took the letter from her and got up from the couch, walking to his big coat hanging on the hooks with the rest of them. He placed it in the pocket and patted it, before he swung her up under her arms and smacked a kiss to her cheeks. She giggled; his beard was much scratchier than her Daddy’s. “I’ll take it to him tomorrow, don’t you worry. Now, ain’t it your bedtime? Where’s your Crow father?”
Daddy emerged from his study. He was wearing his glasses and had a bunch of thin books under his arms. She knew he read from them to learn all about the new ways of fixing dogs and cats. “Right here.”
“Watchoo’ reading Daddy?” she asked.
“New medicines for treating viruses in dogs, pretty boring stuff.” He glanced at his phone, wincing. “Ah…I’ve got to go. The wolf at the sanctuary is in labor.” He grinned down at her. “Means she’s going to have pups! I have to go help and make sure they’re okay. You going to be alright if Tormund tucks you in tonight?”
She nodded, beaming up at her Daddy. He took her from Tormund and kissed her cheek. She looped her arms around his neck. “Yes Daddy, go help the wolf. Can I have one of the pups?”
“You already have a wolf.”
“Yes, but Ghost is so big.”
Ghost stuck his head under his paw, lying in the middle of the hallway, waiting on her. He always knew when it was her bedtime. Daddy chuckled and kissed her again. “Not right now, but maybe one day. We’ll get a real dog, not a wolf. Now, go on, I’ll check on you when I get back, okay?”
“Okay, love you to the moon.”
“And the sun and all the stars,” he finished, grabbing his coat and car keys. He blew her a kiss. “Love you Lyanna.”
Lyanna waited until she watched his Jeep rumble down the snowy drive before she rocketed off up the stairs and to her room, hurriedly changing into her pajamas and brushing her teeth. Tormund never had to remind her. She always looked at his teeth and she never complained about brushing hers. Eddy always complained. Then again, Eddy was stupid.
She jumped into her bed, Ghost coming to join her. Tormund read her a couple stories and turned out the light. There was just one little light she kept on; she was not afraid of the dark, she just didn’t like when it was so hard to see. It was rotating images on her ceiling of wolves and bears and moose. She liked it.
One of the windows came right to the side of her bed and she peered out, bundled up in her blankets and Ghost at her side. The moon was full, glowing on all the treetops and snow around their house. They lived so far away sometimes she could see stars that no one else in town could see. The top of the old castle peeked over the pine trees and she smiled wide up at the moon. “I wish for this year to get a new mom,” she whispered, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath. “And a wife for Daddy. So, he can be happy.”
Ghost nuzzled into her side, leaning against her, heavy and warm. Her eyes fluttered shut, lulled to sleep by the hum of the rotating nightlight and the breathing of the wolf beside her. That night her dreams were filled with a woman with silver hair and purple eyes, who smiled and laughed and smelled like sunshine.