When they found her she’d been locked away, dressed in nothing but thin, filthy, nightdress. The room was cold and empty minus the bed and furs covering it. She’d been in a corner-- not quite cowering but seemingly preparing for someone to attack her by the time he’d arrived. Despite the amused looks on the Vikings faces as they lowered their own weapons she held hers at the ready- a bloodied piece of almost sharp wood she had pried from her headboard and now clenched tightly in her fist. The blood from her hands had run in small rivers down her wrist to her elbow and had already begun to dry, the rust colored rivulets a stark contrast against her pale skin.
King Ivar and the others certainly hadn’t intended to find her, they never really expected to find people locked away, but he’d been going through some of the rooms with a few of his men and.. there she was. Practically waiting to be found. He had been one room over when they’d broken through her door at first, she’d started screaming as his men had entered the room and he had gone to find out what the commotion was about. The click of his crutch on the stone echoing loudly as he entered the now silent room.
“What’s your name?” He’d asked sharply, but she either hadn’t understood him or was refusing to answer. Trying again in what he thought may be her language, tone clipped as the word slipped from his lips, he asked her, “Name?”
After a brief moment of hesitation she’d finally responded. “Sansa,” she’d said quietly, eyes to the floor while a mess of fiery red tresses hung down to hide her face. Between the dirty strands he could see the heavy bags beneath her eyes, almost purple against her fair skin. “The Lady here?” But he got no response despite what he was sure had been the right words, perhaps his tone had been a little too amused. This was how they treated their nobility, a woman at that, but they were somehow still the heathens. He did question the possibility that she had done something wrong and that's why she'd been locked away, left to be found by whoever was left standing.
Settling on to the crutch tucked under his arm he looked her over curiously. As he went to approach her the movement seemed to set her off, she came at him quickly but it was all too easy to stop her. She was soft, worn down from whatever she’d endured in this cage of a room, and he knocked her to the side with the hand not tightly gripping his crutch for balance. He hadn’t intended to hurt her, but she had tried to stab him and he wouldn't bother feeling guilty for swatting her away. It only seemed fair enough. As she hit the ground the blanket slipped away and he could see the angry tips of thick welts along her shoulders, disappearing beneath the thin and bloodied material trying to cover her. When a few of his men stepped forward he shook his head, a sharp ‘no’ cutting through the silence.
One of the men that had found her stepped forward, eyeing the seemingly wild girl splayed on the ground, “King Ivar... what do you want to do with her?” It was a good question and he searched for an answer, considering the things he’d heard in their days leading up to the attack on Winterfell. He knew the Lord had a wife, but they assumed like the others before him they would send her away, off to her family to be protected until the heathen threat had gone. This turn of events had left him with a new realm of possible scenarios to agonize over.
Ivar chewed the inside his cheeks for a moment, eyeing the girl on the ground while she watched him through the safety of her hair. They appraised each other in a loaded silence, each trying to gauge just how much trouble the other might be. When the King found nothing but defeat and sadness in her eyes he tore his own away, looking past her to the ragged and bloody bed once more. “Take her to my tent at the camp, keep her safe,” he said quietly, turning on the man after a moment to give him a serious look. “Give her your cloak and don’t let her out of your sight. Go.” Turning away from the confused looks he received he left the room, moving on to the next one. No one would be bold enough to question his motives in the moment, the whispering would be saved for their campfire circles.
Back at the camp Ivar rounded up a few of the thralls he’d collected along their journey- the war the Saxons were waging amongst each other had made their last couple of raids easy and they’d been blessed with several bountiful ones that season already. It made selecting the girls to tend to his guest easy, though he did choose them each for specific reasons. Two had come from within the Earl’s home of the first kingdom they’d attacked upon their arrival and had been tending to him since. The third had come from the village before they’d reached Winterfell, if there really was a language barrier he’d hoped she would be the one to overcome it.
Inside of his tent she sat beside the bed, back pressed against the edge of it as she stared at the furs beneath her feet. Taking a seat at the table a good ways away from her he waved a hand at the man at the doorway, sending him out. Pointing at the girl he’d found nearest to her city he motioned her over to Sansa, she would relate to her the most, maybe know who she was, the other two he directed to the wash basin. One went off to fetch the water while the other gathered the supplies they would need to clean her up.
Looking back to Sansa and the thrall he watched the low-born girl whispering to her, trying to coax her up, but the so-called Lady wasn’t budging. What did she think was happening? She needed to bathe, to eat, they needed answers from her— who would be looking for her, who would pay for her. Ivar slammed a fist down on the table causing the pitcher and glasses to rattle from the motion and the two women to jump. The whispering became more urgent as they fought over untying the strings to her dressing gown. As the thrall returned with the first bucket of water and filled the basin Sansa finally looked up, looking from the basin, to Ivar and back to the girl kneeling in front of her. She murmured something to the slave and the girl gave her a sheepish look before crossing the room to Ivar. “Your majesty, sir...” the thrall struggled with what to say, considering her words carefully, “she’s... she’s shy, she says she doesn’t want you to see her.” Her hands motion lightly in front of her own body, cheeks flushing pink as she relayed the message.
A strangled laugh worked its way out and he shook his head, teeth clenching as he forced a smile. “Tell her to get in the fuckin’ tub or this is the last polite thing I will do. Remind her that the only people that care she is a Lady are...” he motioned around the room as both girls watched him speak, “not here. Not me. Her favors are running out.” When the thrall hesitated he'd smack the table again and she'd hurry back across the room. He was still unsure why he was so concerned with her well-being, but something was telling him he had to be. If only she would listen a little better, it would be much easier.
Ivar watched as the thrall got the other girl to her feet, shushing the protests she was whimpering out and trying to wipe the rapidly falling tears from her face. The slave girls' reassurances were falling on deaf ears, she just kept repeating the same phrase, ”he’s nice, he’s nice,” and wiping at eyes that wouldn’t stop weeping. Leading her across the room as the other two girls finished putting the bath together, the thrall paused, a hand on the other girl's back as she urged her forward, looking back to the king to see if he saw what she did. The bloodstains that scattered the back of her gown varied in color and size, from shoulder to knee, welts and lacerations still peeked from her collar. “I know,” was all he said on it, nodding at her to continue despite the girls sobbing. If it was as bad as he presumed the bath would be good for her, they’d clean her up, then bring someone in to treat it in the morning.
It would take all three of the girls to get the gown off of her as she struggled, one of the girls going to leave to wash it. Ivar stopped her, beckoning her over to take it from her hands. He’d just begun to unfold it when he’d caught sight of her bare skin as the remaining girls helped her into the tub. His lip curled back in disgust and he looked from her to the thrall, away from the painful sight of Sansa's back. “Find her a new one, something suitable to travel in,” it had been worse than he’d thought, they weren’t old, not all of them. Most were fresh, some had split in the centers of bursts of overlapping bites from whatever they had taken to her and there was no mistaking the carefully carved characters in her skin for the normally hand printed letters he had seen himself in the Christians texts. “Who?” He demanded, leaning forward in his seat as he waited expectantly for an answer.
The thrall that had gotten Sansa to the tub knelt down beside it with her now, wiping at the girl's face once more as her own eyes watered. “He wants to know who did this to you...” she whispered, reaching into the tub to pull one of the girl’s hands off her shoulders and into her own. While the King had lashed out a time or two since she’d been with them, she hadn’t seen him act out with downright cruelty, not like what was displayed on the girls back. Maybe a swat at her ass when he was drunk and a compliment in poor taste, a bit of yelling when something was done wrong, the ruthless treatment of the Christian men, but never cruel with her or the other girls.
A distressed whimper left Sansa’s lip and she leaned on to the edge of the tub, “He was supposed to be my husband,” she whispered, squeezing the thrall’s hand tightly in hers, “he was supposed to be a Lord.” From across the room Ivar could see the reaction to his guests’ words and his brow furrowed as he waited to be filled in."But all he was, was.. was a filthy bastard." She'd practically spit the word out, showing a bit of the fight she'd had when they'd first entered the room.
“It was the Lord there,” the slave girl repeated, looking past Sansa to the King again, “His name was Bolton. Ramsay Bolton.. I knew of him before..” she shook her head, trailing off, that didn’t matter now. Focusing back on Sansa she picked up a rag, joining the other girl in tending to the woman. "He was always a bastard," she'd murmur, earning a small smile from the lady.
Ivar stayed quiet, processing the information before collecting his crutch and rising from his chair. Disappearing out of the tent he tasked the man currently stationed at the entrance with finding out if the offender was alive or dead and a few follow up instructions for either outcome. It didn’t matter that she was a Lady, not really, that didn’t guarantee anyone would pay for her, but as he took his seat back at the table and watched the bathing with a morbid curiosity he considered why he was invested. The absolute and utter cruelty behind it all? The time that was put into it? He couldn’t be sure, not quite yet. Not until he saw the man— whether it be alive or dead with his head on a spike. They’d certainly need something to leave behind for the others to find.
As the thralls started on her hair he snapped his fingers at them for their attention, watching as they paused on the knots they were working at. “Do something with it when you get her out, we’ll leave tomorrow,” he’d intended to find her people at first, bargain with them for a reward, but now he was not sure that it would be worth it— for himself or Sansa. The slave girls shared a look between each other— they had observed the customs over their few days of being around the Vikings, they knew that braids were only meant for shield maidens preparing for battle and those that were married. Did The King have a plan?
“Where are we going?” Sansa whispered from the safety of the tub to the thrall’s, arms wrapping tightly around her chest once more. “To Kattegat,” one whispered back to her, “he is the King there…” they had all glanced back at him at the mention of it and he attempted to return their stares with a soft smile, though his eyes were still narrowed and dark. A chill ran down her spine despite the warm water and she looked away, thankful to see the missing thrall returning with what looked like a fresh dress.
As the girls were finishing up with Sansa in the tub there was a commotion outside of the tent and Ivar had to wave a hand at the thrall’s to get them to keep moving. “Get her out of there, take her to the bed, get her dressed and finish up,” he snapped, hoisting himself up from his position in the chair and herding them to the back of the tent as they dried off his guest. In a mix of eagerness to see her attacker and a bit of desire to humor her earlier request that he not watch he turned away from them, only glancing back once to make sure they’d dressed her before calling out to the people outside. Off the table he grabbed a fairly large knife, clenching the handle tightly while they brought in his newest visitor. This one seemed to be struggling more than the other, he’d expected him to be a better sport.
At the sight of Ramsay Bolton in the flesh Ivar couldn’t help but sneer, he’d seen the man fighting, spotted him across the field before he’d retreated to his little castle. In comparison to the beginning of his day he looked as though he were from a different life— blood matted his hair to the sides of his head, an eye had swollen shut and he’d been stripped to almost nothing; no sword to save him, no armor to protect him, no tunic to cover him. He had been tough, but not smart enough to get away and Ivar intended to make him regret all the wrong decisions he’d made.
“Put him on the ground, I want to see his back,” the King instructed and the two men that had brought him flattened him to the ground. One held his hands while the other held his feet, the prisoner cursing to himself as he refused to look at any of them. With another glance over his shoulder at Sansa and the thrall’s he turned back to Ramsay, tossing the crutch aside and using the table to lower himself to the ground, knife still firmly in hand as he focused back on the task at hand. On his stomach Ivar crawled the distance between himself and Ramsay, knife conveniently held between his teeth as he did, bringing himself face to face with the so-called Lord as the girls stopped their braiding to watch him. A wicked smile twisted his lips as he poked at the man's swollen cheek with the sharp tip of his knife, barely eliciting a squeal from him. “This is on behalf of the Lady,” he told the room, the tip of the knife poking a cheek once more, drawing a fat dab of blood this time as the two men locked eyes. With his free hand he grasped a handful of the offending man's hair, turning his head and pressing a cheek against the ground so he had no choice but to look at Sansa in the bed. One of the thrall’s was trying not to watch, fingers working quickly as she began to braid back the bulk of Sansa’s fine hair, but even she couldn’t help but peek.
Sansa was crying again, though even she wasn’t sure as to why. Her face was numb, brain simultaneously overwhelmed with emotions and void of them as she tried to decide how she felt. Ramsay had been no prize-- the time leading up to their marriage had been just as bad if not worse… and of course he deserved to die. Or whatever it was that was happening before her, but who was this King? It was enough to assume they were the Vikings she’d heard about, there’d been plenty of shouting about it when they’d arrived... but why take care of her? All the men in her life so far had used her for something, hadn’t they? He’d be expecting something in return, she knew that much. The idea alone made her tremble and in return a thrall draped her in furs as they all watched the display, mistaking her fear for a chill.
On the ground Ivar had moved his body away from the man’s face, making sure he had a clear view of the girls in the bed as he set to work. From the base of his neck to the far edge of each shoulder he drug the blade down and across the man’s back, a thick line of blood bubbling up from each sect of split skin as the knife punctured it. Then, from the same starting point as the others, he carved out a line right along the spine to form a large Teiwaz rune. It seemed only fitting, all things considered.
Silent for the most part since he’d been brought into the tent Ramsay was trying to restrain himself, but there’d be no fooling his captors. Despite his already battered appearance his one almost good eye had squeezed tightly shut and he was clenching his jaw so hard it was turning the unbruised parts of his pale face a deep shade of crimson, when he wasn’t holding his breath he was sucking in shaky breaths. Ivar had expected a bit more dramatics from him, he found men that consistently chose women as their victims were never quite as tough as they seemed. Reaching to the man’s face he pried the good eye open and miraculously it stayed while the other seemed to leak an endless stream of bloody tears.
Unsatisfied with the reaction he was getting the king stuck the tip of the knife into the man’s side, giving it a sharp twist as he did so to draw the perfect squeal out of his victim. One of the girls on the bed— he wasn't sure which— sucked in a sharp breath, another stifled a shriek. Their reactions seemed to snap something in the man beneath his blade and he struggled against the men restraining him despite their superior size and strength, cursing at them as he did so.
That was more like it…
Once Ivar had his fill— long after there was no more usable canvas left— he’d had the man taken away. While there wasn’t much left of Ramsay, there’d be less before the night was over as his wounds steadily leaked blood. He’d sent the two men away with explicit instructions on what came next for his work of art. They wouldn’t outright kill him just yet, suffering seemed appropriate, should he make it to the morning they would kill him and do something to set him on display for whoever came upon the castle next. Deciding just what would be the difficult part. For now they would keep an eye on him, try to keep him awake and miserable if they could.
With just himself and the girls left in the tent he turned to them from his spot on the floor, bloody knife still tight in his grip. “One of you come here, clean me up,” he ordered, dragging himself back to the chair at the table. After he was seated he wiped the blade on his sleeve and tossed it onto the table, looking at the remaining girls on the bed but never breaking focus from Sansa’s horrified expression he sighed, his own expression neutral. While he’d gotten carried away, that hadn’t been quite the reaction he’d hoped to get from her. He finally looked away as the thrall set a large bowl of water on the table and helped him strip his top layers away. After draping the clothing across another chair she began to wipe down his bloodied face as he rinsed his hands and arms before leaning forward in the chair so she could move on to his neck and decorated shoulders.
Being exposed to brutality was not new for Sansa, certainly. If the man only knew the extent of what she’d seen and endured maybe they would better understand each other, but she wasn’t sure she could share those details with him- or anyone. Not yet. Instead she watched from the current safety of the bed as he was tended to, enjoying the change of roles for a brief moment before the nervousness set in. The girls had finished up on her hair but the two he hadn’t summoned remained on the bed with her, smoothing out the baby hairs along her crown and adjusting the soft dress they’d found for her. It had come out of a chest taken from the first Earl’s home, something they’d taken out of one of the ladie’s rooms that had been left behind. It was soft, colored a deep purple and would only be suitable for the night. In the morning they would have to bring her a new one and find her a cloak if she stood any chance of holding up against the wind on the water when they set sail. It had been refreshing to be in something other than what she had been, but she was unsure if it was a sign of what was to come or not.
Finally free of the blood and sweat that had coated his skin the thrall brought Ivar something to dry his face before clearing the mess away. Taking the crutch under his arm once more he rose from the chair, waving the remaining girls away from the bed as he made his way over and took a seat on the edge, back to Sansa as he laid down the crutch and began on the braces secured to his legs. One of the girls had lingered, moving towards him to offer help with the contraptions, but he shot her a dark look- she blew out all the candles but the one beside him and left the two alone instead.
With the others gone a silence fell over the room, the only sounds filling it the quiet grunts escaping Ivar as he worked the braces off and the muffled noises of the celebration happening around them. The day had been easy enough, the pain no better and no worse than usual, and he silently thanked The Gods for that. He was still unsure why he’d brought the girl back with him, why he intended to take her back to Kattegat, but he felt as though they knew something about it as well and thanked them for her too. There were other places she could have stayed, with the thrall’s or in a tent of her own even, but something told him she wouldn’t be safe. Her status and state when they found her marked her as an easy target, he knew that. He knew better than that. If anything were to happen to her he would feel responsible, having taken her out of one situation only to bring her into a worse one.
Braces discarded to the side he let out a heavy sigh, happy to be out of them despite the sense of normalcy they brought him on a daily basis. It had been easy enough to get out of them that night, The Gods must have been listening to him. Though while he wasn’t expecting anything out of their night together, Sansa seemed to be convinced he did as she scooted herself to the far edge of the bed. With his pants still on he folded back the furs covering his side of the bed and lifted his legs in, one by one, before laying the furs over them and settling back against the pillows. Patting the spot next to him he cleared his throat, “It is okay…” he whispered, “you are safe. He can not hurt you anymore,” he had made sure of that.
Sansa had flinched at his words, but looked over at him nonetheless. “What will you do with him?” The question was quiet, murmured down at the bed as she couldn’t bring herself to look her apparent savior in the eyes just yet.
Raising a questioning brow at her he patted the spot again before holding out a hand to her, waiting for her to take it and come closer to him before answering her question. He folded back a few of the furs for her to climb underneath, making sure to keep his own legs carefully swaddled -- whether for Sansa or himself, he was unsure. She took his hand, closing the space between them before pulling her hand back to her own lap. While she let him cover her she stayed upright, not sitting back against the pillows just yet as she watched each motion of his hand. When she finally met his eyes he began to speak, “We will put his head on a spike, left out front for the next men to find. To let them know what happened there. It is almost what he deserves…” though simultaneously too good for him at the same time. What he had done to her was uncalled for, no matter the imagined crime he was sure the man had justified it with -- because certainly there had to be a reason for something so cruel.
The silence was back, Sansa had broken their eye contact and focused on the fur in her lap, fingers running through it for a moment. Finally looking up at him she sighed, steeling herself and setting her face to keep the tears that threatened to spill again from coming out, “You should feed him to his dogs,” she told him, voice cracking as she settled back against the pillows beside him and leaned into his chest. Ivar wrapped his arm around her, pulling her closer as she tucked into the nook that was formed. “That’s what he deserves,” she muttered, turning her face into his shoulder as the tears finally broke though.
He settled his cheek against the top of her head and sighed, eyes slipping close in the comfort of the moment. This is all he had really wanted out of the night, the closeness. Of all people he understood her desire to not be seen, the feelings of being disfigured, and for that he wanted to protect her. There'd be nothing more than a bit of cuddling that night, he had no intentions of scaring her or hurting her like all the rest.
“Then that’s what he’ll get…”