Frosted lips parted, and the boy gave his last breath.
He had strung up the child first. He had wanted them to watch him die. Slowly, drop by drop.
Innocence was hard to destroy, but once it was defeated, it made for quite a sight.
His body went limp, swinging in the winter cold. The blood in his veins slowly congealed. His heart became a stone.
The rest of the hanging men swiveled mournfully before the Watch. Before the damned Lord Commander.
The one who had risen from his grave.
Some would say only his shape had risen, and his soul was still sleeping underground. For his eyes were black orbs, devoid of light and warmth and laughter. He gazed upon the traitors with indifference, worse than indifference; a kind of prehistoric humor, the mirth of the old gods.
The world of the living had cast him into the cold abyss, and the world of the dead had spat him back up. He was wanted nowhere. A true bastard, if there ever was one.
He turned towards his cowardly Brothers who kept their heads cradled in their chests.
“My Watch is ended.”
He left a shadow in their hearts as he marched into the drafts of snow, followed by his Ghost.
But there was also sweet relief.
They had not been cut down. They had been spared.
Because Jon Snow was out for blood.
And blood he begat.
Some men believed they were invincible and threw caution at the wind.
He did not have to sneak into Winterfell. There was no need for clever subterfuge. He was as ghostly as his direwolf. He ambled carelessly along the battlements, his steps leaving no sound in his wake. He stared into the sentinels’ absent eyes, he unsheathed the hilts at their waists, and the Bolton men felt and saw nothing.
When he cut their throats, one by one, they fell into his arms like sowed oats.
The castle was asleep, no one gave the warning signal. No one saw when thirty men were grazed from the face of the earth.
Jon knelt in the black pool of blood and washed his face, smearing bloodied thumbs over his eyes, trying to pour the life back into him.
He left the meat to Ghost.
(Oh, he had looked into the abyss. He had looked for hours, days, and centuries. Before he had been returned to the living, he had sucked on death's teats, he had licked her cunt dry. When he had woken, Lady Melisandre lay dead on the floor in his place, her body stormed.)
He fed on the allies next. The Karstarks and the Umbers, gathered under Lord Bolton’s false roof, plotting to hack the North into pieces and sell it to the Lannisters.
Not that Jon cared about that anymore.
There was only the ancestral calling left; tooth for tooth and eye for eye.
Perhaps a kitchen wench or a stable boy screamed, but the sounds were muffled, hopeless. Too small to end the agony.
In one night, he killed half the host. He razed the garrison and decimated the faithless Houses of the North.
There was no exhaustion. No quenching. The thirst went on and on, with every cursed breath he took. His bones did not feel weary as he slashed and mangled and chopped and carved, because his murders were abstract; he was merely reaping.
(The Night's King. He had been a Lord Commander once. The thirteenth to his name. A dreadful number, a destiny without escape.
He had listened to the famished song of ice for too long. He had started singing it too. Until, buried deep within the veils of winter, he had spied a maiden sleeping with her eyes open. She had bright stars for eyes and when she took him inside her, she showed him how warm it was to be cold.
And thereafter, no one could stop him and her. Until Brandon the Breaker. But where was he now?)
Theon saw the shadow crawl across the wall.
It was the flicker of candlelight, nothing more. His frightened mind was creating monsters, when there were plenty to go around. He blinked once, to wash away the ugly sight, and when he opened his eyes again, Ramsay’s head was rolling across the wooden floor.
The old Reek inside of him crawled down on his hands and knees and cried at the horror.
“You have a new master now.” There was no malice in that voice, no victory. It was almost soft. Familiar.
He was white and spectral as freshly fallen snow.
Sansa Stark awoke to the smell of pungent blood. In the first moments, she was deliriously happy. Moon blood meant she had not yet given Ramsay a dreadful son. She slipped her hand between her thighs, to feel the happy blessing of waste. But the sheets were dry on her legs. She opened her eyes and looked down at herself.
There was no blood. Just the acrid, overwhelming smell of it.
She walked barefoot to the small window and sank her fingers between the iron latticework. She could hardly see the world outside - just as Ramsay had wanted. But even if she had been able to see, there was nothing there.
Winterfell was a warm, red bath.
The snow was pink, like flayed skin.
What had happened in the night? Was this a dream?
Had Ramsay killed them all? Why? Had he received bad news? Did that mean someone was coming to save her? Was Stannis at the gates?
Or was it just a game? Was Ramsay climbing up the tower steps to finish her off too? Had he grown bored with everyone and everything? There had always been madness in him.
Sansa fumbled with her woolen dress to reach the secret pocket at her breast. She took out the small key she had managed to pilfer from her gaolers. How much harm could she do with its blunt edge?
The door burst open before she could find out.
It was Theon, his face haggard and yet ignited with a strange, sickly light.
“He – he wants to see you.”
She released a disappointed breath and clenched the key between her fingers.
Perhaps today would be the day when she finally risked her life for freedom.
The Great Hall was eerily quiet. The whispers were clipped and terrified. Sansa pulled the cloak over her shoulders and looked down at her feet. This must be why she missed the fact that the men around her were scarce and the few that still breathed looked like swollen moths whose wings had been scorched by fire.
She weaved through them with no regard, her mind too preoccupied with Ramsay. If he had indulged in so many killings last night, he must be in a good mood. She shuddered with horror.
What would he do to her?
The first thing she saw, strangely, was the spike. Suppose she should have noticed the head attached to it, but years of being forced to look at dismembered corpses had taught her to notice only the instruments.
His face was puffy and fat in death. Ridiculous, almost. Could this be the man who had tarnished her soul? The man who had ravaged her body?
She would have laughed.
His father’s head also stood on a spike next to his. Two turgid-looking twins.
Sister. Whose sister? What is that voice? Who is calling me?
“Winter has come.”
There he stood on the dais, a black shroud of death. His eyes were the onyx of dragons, his hair a wiry mass of curls, his smile a familiar memory, but twisted, corrupted into nothingness.
Sansa collapses on her knees. The floor was still slick with blood.
He found her chamber at the top of a tower.
Little Sansa was sleeping.
Only she was not so little anymore.
The girl he once knew had seemingly vanished, replaced with a changeling in the night.
Still, he recognized the dormant fire in her hair, the pleasing oval of her naïve face. The grace of a weeping dove.
She had been summer in all its festering glory, now she was a faded winter.
She had never been kind to him, but she had never been cruel either. She had been perfectly empty, like a blank piece of parchment.
Somehow, that was worse than hatred or love.
His sweet-smelling half-sister. Not so sweet-smelling now. He used to listen to Arya disparage her. He used to nod his head and smile. He used to think "there goes the little lady, practicing at being queen". Porcelain beauty.
Look at her now.
Her skin had been broken in places. His trained eye could see the bruises that a wicked hand had gifted her. He could also see the dark circles under her eyes, the gauntness of her features, the tears on her lips, the liquid fear running through her veins.
For a brief, eclipsing moment, his fingers itched.
He was dead now. There were no vows to keep, no promises, no duties.
The world was his. The North was his. Winterfell was his. And the broken dove was his.
What to do with her?