“Alayne? Come to the window, little dove.”
It is a cool command carried up on the wind. Mother doesn’t like to yell. There is no one in the lush glade besides Ser Gregor, who is always markedly silent. Despite being two hundred feet above, Alayne hears the words clearly.
She drops her book on the cushion beside her, not caring which way it falls, as she doesn’t want to keep Mother waiting. Besides, she read the book two dozen times; it was old tales of knights, and it was just as tattered as the other books on her high shelf. Alayne knows each of their heroic deeds and she feels her heart flutter as she fantasizes of a knight just as chivalrous for her own, tall and fair and gallant, who would climb up the tower and kiss her hand sweetly before carrying her away to a new life in a castle with endless grounds she could explore.
But Mother says such a life is impossible for her. Mother sneers at the covers of her books and huffs in irritation if she catches a verse or two of her songs. She would never marry, Mother said, a knight would never take her away to see more of the world. Any man or woman who ever found her, all except Mother, would seek to hurt her.
They would only want you for your magic, Mother told her again and again since she was old enough to understand. They would use you and bite you and break you for a single strand of your golden hair.
Alayne doesn’t know how much she believes of that. They are all so kind and well-intentioned in the stories and the songs, the people of the world outside her tower, and everything she sees from her window is lovely. The grass, the flowers, the stars. Especially the stars.
Besides, Mother uses her magic and she never harms her. Mother loves her.
Alayne peeks into the stove where a hot olive loaf is baking for the special dinner she prepared for Mother and rushes to the window. She loops her hair over the pulley and tugs.
Mother is slightly disheveled from the journey and her arms are laden with baskets. Most of the contents are food and other provisions, Alayne knows, but the rest would be gifts for her. Oils and soaps, books and paints, linen and silk and thread for dresses. There would be more baskets below to retrieve after dinner; she would lower her hair and Ser Gregor would tie the ends to the remaining baskets until they were through. Usually she was unbearably curious to look at her new things as soon as Mother returned, but today she barely spares the packages a second glance. Today, she would finally ask for her heart’s desire.
"Try this," Mother says, after smoothing her hands over her skirts and her hair. She holds a wine red fruit in her hand, broken into crescent pieces, the red seeds within glistening like the rubies in Mother's necklace. The dark red juice drips through mother's fingers.
Dutifully Alayne picks a piece of the strange fruit from Mother’s hand. She is bringing it to her mouth when Mother stops her with a mirthless chuckle.
"No, eat the seeds only."
Alayne does as Mother commands, though the seeds are slippery and some fall to the floor. She is pleased at the tartness of them, surprised at hard crunch in the center.
"Now you will be with me forever," Mother smiles.
Later they sit by the fire, Mother in the great chair and Alayne on the low stool at her feet. Dinner was a quiet affair— Mother was tired and didn’t want to talk much after inquiring as to how Alayne was faring here at the top of the tower for the weeks she was away. The same, Alayne responded. It was the only acceptable answer, and it was true.
Now Alayne looks at her mother’s reflection in the mirror, noting the serene expression on her face as she hums sweetly. This is the only time mother looks like this, as she smooths the pearl hairbrush down Alayne's hair. The hairbrush was expensive, Mother told her, but Alayne's precious hair deserves only the best.
Mother's golden hair is loose tonight, though it is darker than hers and doesn’t shine nearly as bright. Alayne is careful not to comment on Mother’s appearance in any way, she doesn’t want to disturb Mothers calm mood, doesn’t want to invite those sneers and sharp comments she sometimes doesn’t understand. She doesn’t know why Mother reacts that way if Alayne compliments her dress or her eyes— she is so beautiful, with her plush lips and sharp cheekbones. In quiet moments like this in front of the mirror, Alayne likes to look for similarities between them. They both have their golden hair—except for the red streak in Alayne’s— and when she was sixteen she started to lose some of the roundness in her face and her cheekbones had come in, like Mother’s. There were differences too. Her eyes are blue like the sliver of sky she can see from her tower window, and Mother’s are deep green like the blades of grass so far below. She wonders what they would feel like between her toes.
Mother is in such a good mood, a mischievous and indulgent part of her whispers. Alayne imagines this would be the voice of her naughty friend who always encourages Alayne’s worst ideas.
"Mother, my nineteenth nameday is coming," she begins tentatively.
"Hmmph," goes Mother, not exactly a displeased sound. "I will be away again." Her sharp eyes meet hers in the mirror for a moment and seem to find quite a bit there, for her hand pulls and her words come quick. "Don't be upset, don't say you've forgotten—"
"No, I’m not upset." Mother's trips were often and long. From ten years old Alayne would count the days Mother was gone and found that she only spent three or four months with her through the year.
It upset her when she was younger, especially since Qyburn used to replace Mother as her keeper. She didn’t like Qyburn— he never wanted to play or talk and he smelled strange. She hated his hands on her hair at the end of each night, his hungry eyes that would double in size as he smoothed oil in her hair and checked it for tangles. When she was a child she asked Mother if Qyburn was her father and she laughed and said no. Alayne was relieved. Qyburn was a medical man and Mother’s trusted friend, Mother said, the only person Mother would trust with her care.
Now Alayne finds she doesn’t mind Mother’s long absences. The thought sends a spike of guilt through her, but perhaps that’s just a part of growing up. Alayne quite enjoys her own company, and she is always on edge when Mother is home. She stopped counting the days that Mother was gone when she was fifteen.
Alayne takes a breath and then the plunge. "I thought... perhaps... I could come with you?"
In the mirror, Mother's eyes harden and Alayne pushes forward before she can reject her already. “I wouldn’t leave your sight for a moment, I promise. Ser Gregor could come with us and he would protect me. I only want to see the stars, Mother.”
“What stars? You can see the stars from your window.”
The words hurt Alayne but she ignores that. She talked about the stars for years but she knows Mother doesn’t pay attention to her mumbling, as she calls it.
Alayne waves her hand above them to the mural she painted of the magnificent sight. “Every year they light up the night sky, on my nameday. I can’t help but feel like they are meant for me.”
Mother smiles tightly. “How self-absorbed.”
The pang in Alayne’s chest is sharper this time. She didn’t mean it to sound self-absorbed, she was only pointing out a pattern. She knows she is wrong—those pretty floating lights have nothing to do with little Alayne Stone, a nobody—but she wants to see them. Stars are constant and small and they don’t move in front of her eyes, while these stars float in the prettiest way every year. She knows they’re different. How could she know what they mean, what they are, if she never sees them?
Alayne turns in her seat to face her mother. Mother sighs as the brush slips from her grasp at the sudden movement.
“I want to see them, Mother. I need to know what they are. Please… it could be my nameday present…. for the next five namedays! I swear, I won’t ask for anything more.”
“You can’t leave the tower. Haven’t I made that clear?”
“Yes, but I thought if—”
Did you think? Did you think at all? Why would I let you leave our safe home, why would I release you to the dangerous world?”
Alayne smiles to reassure her mother but it feels wrong on her face, shaky and afraid. “But if I was with you—”
“You still don’t understand. You think I’m being overbearing, controlling, a strict and foolish mother. You don’t believe it’s dangerous out there.”
Alayne’s mouth opens and then closes. Her mother is right. She doesn’t.
“Look at Ser Gregor, look what the world has done to him.” Mother’s gaze slips to the black window as if she can actually see him through the night. Her hands tighten in her hair. “I’ve never let you see him without his helmet. Just another way your foolish mother tried to protect you.”
Mother chuckles but the sound is dark. “His face is black and blue as he rots. His eyes are lopsided and red and they will haunt you. If you ever ask me to leave this tower again, I will take your foolish books away from you and make you look at Ser Gregor’s face instead.”
Her stomach turns at Mother’s words—they can’t be true, can they? She is only trying to scare her, like she always tries to scare her, so she won’t leave her tower.
“Your books lie about the world,” Mother says. “His face tells the truth.”
“Then give me books that tell the truth,” Alayne snaps before she can stop herself. She feels guilt and the slight prickle of fear as she looks at Mother’s pursed lips.
Her hands are quick, fisting in Alayne’s hair before she even sees them move. “Look at this,” Mother hisses, pulling the red strands into Alayne’s face, yanking so hard her eyes water and her scalp smarts. “They tried to steal it. They won’t hesitate to cut off more of you.”
“Stop that,” Alayne whispers, not liking the images her words conjure, dark images of imagined greedy men with knives.
“It frightens you? Good.” Mother yanks on the red hair looped over her fist one more time for good measure, jerking Alayne’s head with her. “You will never leave this tower.”
Mother’s forbidding words ring in Alayne’s head even when the brush in Mother’s hand resumes its soft motions. “You’ve interrupted our little ritual… sing for me.”
There’s only one song Mother likes to hear from her, and it isn’t any of her fanciful romantic ones.
Alayne sings, her sadness only lending a sweetness to her voice. The glow starts at the roots of her hair and spreads slowly, lighting up the room as it travels through her impossibly long hair that lays spread around them. But nothing shines brighter than Mother’s face as her skin smooths and shines with health, her eyes sparkling.
“Bring back what once was mine,” Alayne finishes the song, and Mother heaves a great sigh of satisfaction.
“Don’t be glum, little dove.” Mother is glowing, a small smile quirking up the corners of her mouth. Her eyes have left Alayne and rest on her own reflection in the mirror. "Mother knows best."
I do what I want, so here we are. I hope you liked it! Leave a comment!
follow me on tumblr for photo sets related to the story :) @missfaber
Chapter 2: when will my life begin?
TW for blood and mention of r*pe (literally just the use of the word, nothing happens.)
The glade is a secret wonder hidden behind a wall of ivy. It’s unreasonable for the middle of such a hot summer in Dorne, to see leaves so rich and green, the surfaces so shiny as if they were dipped in wax. If Jon wasn’t panting from the chase, and still not sure he lost the palace guards, he would have found it odd. The only thing even remotely similar he’s seen in Dorne is the palace he’s just escaped—a lush oasis, rife with flowers as large as his fist in full bloom, right in the middle of the dry summer heat.
All that work and I lost the crown, Jon curses himself as he moves through the ivy. It wasn’t his best idea, to break into the Martell palace and steal the prince’s crown, but he was desperate. A year of honest work in Dorne hasn’t earned him a tenth of what that crown would bring. When he had reunited with Alliser and the others, it felt like a sign.
He knew them from childhood, from the orphanage they’d all grown up in. He had been just a boy when they left, but he remembered the unruly and unhappy young men they’d been. As grown men they only seemed to have gotten worse, full of a festering anger Jon was used to seeing in poor old men. But they were familiar faces, and capable with swords besides. Alliser, Othell, and Bowen had encouraged him, and Jon didn’t need much persuading if he was being honest. He needed that money, and he was running out of time.
Not to mention Olly. Jon feels a twinge of guilt when he thinks of the boy, and though he wouldn’t call himself a praying man he sends out a hope that Olly wasn’t captured, for him to be alright. His share of the money from the crown would have changed his life; he never would have known what it meant to struggle like Jon had. They only knew each other a short while but Jon grew close to the boy and felt responsible for him. Though it wasn’t something he had thought on consciously, he thinks he might have looked after Olly after parting from the rest, if he’d let him.
The wall of ivy finally relents and Jon feasts his eyes on the prettiest slice of land he’s ever seen. Paradise, he thinks, except paradise would be with Uncle Benjen and Ghost and a Northern chill biting at his cheeks.
This is pretty close, though. The colors in the flowers and the trees are so vibrant they hurt his eyes. In the center of the glade is a tall tower.
Jon’s brow furrows as he takes it all in, using the moment to catch his breath. He knows this area well, and a story or a memory is nagging at him, begging to be considered. The Tower of Joy, it tells him, but that makes no sense. Yes, there is a tower before him and the Tower of Joy should be here, but it also should be in an unremarkable desert, not a secret oasis. The Tower of Joy is plain stone and mortar, not covered in moss and flowers and—
A figure moves beyond the tower and Jon ducks into shadow.
A man, a knight, Jon can tell by the armor—and this is no Dornish knight either. His armor is heavy and grey-black and the man himself is the size of two men.
Jon sinks back into the protective wall of ivy, having made up his mind to leave.
But if it is the Tower of Joy, what of the treasure at the top?
Ah, there it is— the story he can’t ignore, the treasure within the impenetrable tower. Jon rakes a hand over his beard. It’s just a story. There is probably no truth to it. But the guards are probably still out there beyond the wall of ivy, looking for him. And this is just one knight.
The thought of Uncle Benjen steels his resolve. Jon has done more for less. Much, much less.
He keeps his eye on the massive knight as he scans the tower for a mode of entrance. He only sees the window.
Mother stayed for a week this time, longer than her last few visits. When she left it was with promises to bring back fine silk for new dresses and crate of lemons for lemon cakes. Alayne almost felt guilty at the generous promise, at how hard Mother was trying. But then she remembered how Mother’s hands felt fisted in her hair, pulling and pulling.
You’ll never leave this tower, never leave me, never leave, never leave—
Alayne wakes from her nightmare with a gasp. She dreamed those words leaving Ser Gregor’s rotting mouth.
She spends the morning in the kitchen, making blackberry bread as slow as she can. She knew she won’t eat it—the blackberries are too sweet and her appetite is gone lately—but it’s something to do. She is sick with indecision. Mother left six days ago, and if she wants to see the stars, she should leave, right?
Except she doesn’t know where she’s going. Except Ser Gregor still stands in the meadow. He is the first thing she checks for when she looks out her window every morning, and she isn’t sure if it’s relief or dismay she feels when she sees him.
She cuts the bread when it’s cooled and picks at her slice until the sun is high in the sky. She isn’t normally so listless and she feels a stab of shame. You are an ungrateful girl, Alayne Stone. She should make a decision and deal with the consequences, either way. Stay or go, she needs to get back to being herself.
But who will I be if I stay? Mother’s dutiful daughter, yes, but never her own person. A girl who reads of adventures instead of having them.
A crash in the neighboring room has jumping to her feet, her chair falling behind her. Without thinking she grabs a frying pan off the stovetop.
Heart ringing in her ears, Alayne toes to the main room, the one with the fireplace and the mirror and Mother’s great chair and her stool and the pearl hairbrush. And the window.
A man stands in the center of it. A man. Alayne stares at him, trying to blink away the vision. But he doesn’t vanish. There he stands, solid as she, dark haired and not as tall as she would have imagined men to be, with his back to her.
Men will rape you, that’s what Mother said. Men have fangs they like to bite women with. Some women can use what’s between their legs as a weapon, and some can only be hurt by it. A girl as simple as you… even without your hair, little dove, men would only want to hurt you.
Alayne looks at her frying pan and swallows on a dry throat. She should have taken a knife. She is a stupid, stupid girl.
When the fear fades a bit, the thought nearly makes her laugh. And what would I, mother’s little dove, do with a knife, exactly? Kill a man?
Before she can lose her resolve, before he can turn around and attack her, Alayne stalks up to him silently and hits him with the frying pan as hard as she can.
The blood is what shocks her. It is what sends her spiraling.
She didn’t expect that much, she didn’t know a head could hold so much blood. She sinks to her knees instantly, shocked at the pool of it already forming on the floor, spreading slowly. She fists his collar, surprised at the dampness of it in her hands. She raises his head, forcing herself to look at what she did, and nearly gags.
Only a few seconds pass but it feels like the longest passage of time in Alayne’s life. She wraps her hair around his head and sings as quickly as she dares.
When she sees his face, handsome and unruined, she can’t help but break into a torrent of relieved tears.
After, the first thing she does is wash the blood from her body and the stained parts of her hair. Her favorite dress, the blue one that matches her eyes exactly, is ruined now. The bloodstains could be washed easily but Alayne doesn’t think she could wear it again. She dons the purple one instead—she doesn’t like that one as much.
He is unconscious on the floor where she left him. Alayne presses a hand to her head at her foolishness—what if he’d woken while she was off washing? It would have all been for nothing.
So, as much as she hates to, she drags him to the post and binds his hands before she scrubs the floor.
Now she sits on the high rafters, waiting for him to wake. She feels safer up here; in the shadows, he might not see her. He could wake up and walk off if he chooses to. A part of her hopes he does just that. A part of her hopes he doesn’t.
He doesn’t have fangs—she already checked. His teeth are nice and white and even.
When he stirs awake he only looks around him, dazed. He struggles with his bound hands. Alayne makes up her mind.
The tower is dark and not the dusty, bare and forgotten mess he expected. It’s filled with tasteful furniture and stuffed with personal items like books and bottles. The walls were covered in murals. A home, he has a moment to think, except this home doesn’t have a door, before the world goes black.
Now his head is pounding as he slowly returns to consciousness. He feels the chafe of rope around his wrists. A soft voice speaks to him out of the darkness.
“I’m not afraid,” the voice says, and it is so tentative and sweet and so unlike what Jon expected to hear when he woke up bound that he can’t help but smile. Perhaps it is his inner voice bolstering him, he decides, but then he hears it again.
“Have you come for my hair?”
The question is so nonsensical that Jon just about makes up his mind that he is dreaming, but then his eyes sharpen and snag on a stream of gold sitting in a pool of sunlight from the window. This must be the treasure they spoke of.
“My gods…” His eyes follow the stream of gold that winds everywhere, paths that crisscross all over the large room and even into the domed ceiling. A much smaller river of red cuts through here and there. “Is that all… hair? It can’t be…”
“You didn’t know?” The sweet voice is laced through with shock. “You didn’t come for it?”
The question puzzles him no less the second time. The hair is impossibly long and quite pretty, but despite the color he is after real gold. “I mean no offense, but… what would I want with hair?”
He hears a huff. Relief? Frustration?
“I think I believe you.”
“Will you come down?” Jon can tell the voice is coming from above, but he can’t pinpoint an exact place. He is still groggy and the ceiling is a black web of shadows.
“Not yet.” He hears a sharp inhale of breath. “First, I want to know why you came here. If it’s not for my hair… if you haven’t come to hurt me… not that—I won’t let you hurt me.”
Jon isn’t sure whether to chuckle at the girl’s bravado or frown at such a ready assumption. Then again, he is a man strange to her who broke into what appears to be her home.
So he decides to be sincere. “I didn’t come to hurt you. I didn’t know anyone lived here.”
“So why have you come?”
It occurs to Jon that the phrasing itself is odd—why have you come, not why are you here, as if the tower could only be a destination.
“I needed somewhere to hide.” Jon frowns, struggling with how much information to give. “I thought I recognized this tower and decided to search it for treasure. It’s just an old story, that there’s treasure hidden at the Tower of Joy.”
Long moments pass before she speaks again. “How did you get past Ser Gregor?”
“A name too pleasant for him.”
“He’s my protector,” she says defensively. “You didn’t… kill him, did you? I would have heard sounds of a fight…”
Protector? A tower without a door, a sweet-seeming girl within… he seems more like her imprisoner. Jon remembers the moment he decided to slip past the knight rather than fight him. It was unlike Jon to shy away from a fair fight, even an unfair fight, if fighting was the honorable thing to do. But the wind had struck past the knight and Jon caught a whiff. He almost gagged and went with his gut; this wasn’t a fight he’d partake in. There was something unnatural about that smell—it was sick and decay.
“I didn’t fight him,” is all he says.
“Then how did you get past him?”
“Look, I answered all your questions. I’m very sorry to have disturbed your day, I really am. You can come down and untie me or stay up there if you like. I’ll get out of these ropes—” His hands were already halfway there. “And I’ll be on my way.”
That surprises him. He looks up at the dark ceiling, trying to find the shape of a girl.
“The stories are true. This is the Tower of Joy and there is a hidden treasure.”
Jon shifts, measuring her words for truth. “Why would you tell me that when I was leaving?”
“Because I need to know how you got past Ser Gregor.”
Desperation laces her voice and Jon listens to his gut once more. I was right, that knight won’t let her leave. “Are you trying to get past him?”
It’s a loaded question and he is a stranger; she has no reason to tell the truth, to trust him. Except I can get her out of here, he thinks, seeing the comfortable room in a new light. A pretty prison, but a prison nonetheless.
“Yes,” she confesses, and Jon has already made up his mind.
“I’ll help you escape.”
“That’s not all I want,” she admits after a moment.
Jon releases an incredulous chuckle. His hands are almost free. “Of course not.”
“I want you to take me past Ser Gregor and show me the way to… a place I wish to go. Then escort me back here. Ser Gregor can’t know I’ve left.”
“Look at the topmost painting get above the fireplace. Have you seen those stars before?”
Jon obeys, to satisfy his curiosity more than anything. The painting is an excellent rendition of the lanterns released on Sansa Stark’s nameday. “The lanterns they release for the lost Northern princess?”
“Lanterns…” The word is a weighted breath. “Not stars. Where do they release them?”
“Winterfell, King’s Landing, Sunspear—”
“Not Sunspear. Which of the others is closest?”
“King’s Landing.” His hands are free. Jon raises them slowly in front of him, palms out, to show her he means no harm. He gets to his feet and peers at the ceiling. “What do you want from me?”
“What’s your name?”
Jon is more confused than ever. “Jon Snow.”
“Take me to see the lanterns in King’s Landing, Jon Snow, and bring me back here. Then I’ll give you the tower’s treasure.”
It’s a month to King’s Landing and a month back—but two months is nothing if he’ll have the money in his hands to help Uncle Benjen at the end of it.
He has everything to gain and nothing to lose—besides, he wants to help the girl.
Still. He has to be sure.
“You saw me get past the knight. You know I can hold up my end. How do I know there’s a treasure waiting for me at the end of this road?”
“You’ll just have to trust me.”
Jon shakes his head. Sweet as she seems, he doesn’t know her. “Or I can try to look for it myself.”
“How long can you do that before Ser Gregor notices you’re here?” He can hear the smirk in her voice. “I know every stone in this tower. I know where it’s hidden, and the only way you’ll leave here with treasure is with my help.”
Jon opens his mouth but the words die in his throat when he hears a soft thud. A bare foot emerges from the shadows, stepping with an obvious hesitance, leading the rest of her into the light.
She is pale and tall and so pretty, the force of it stealing his breath for a moment. The gold hair around the room is hers, a halo on her head. The red streak intrigues him. Her eyes are bluer than any he’s ever seen.
“I want you to help me.” The voice he’s been hearing emerges from that pink, rosebud mouth. “But I’ll do it myself if I have to”
He makes the vow. “I’ll help you.”
“Good.” She smiles, a cheeky dimple puncturing her cheek. “I’m afraid you didn’t have much of a choice.”
“No… there’s only one way down.”
Chapter 3: look at the grass, the dirt, just like I dreamed they’d be!
It takes some persuading to get Jon Snow to agree to climb down with her hair. He shakes his head and plants his feet firmly while glaring out of the window as if she is the one disrupting their plans.
“Ser Gregor will turn back in a few minutes,” Alayne reminds him, frustrated. Ser Gregor disappeared to the opposite end of the glade, to the other side where there were no windows, where they could not see. They are taking a gamble, leaving now. But there is no other way. She had considered waiting for cover of darkness but Ser Gregor is even more vigilant during the night, often posting himself at the very base of the tower. This would be so much easier if he did human things like eat or sleep. But he doesn’t—he does nothing but watch, and if he didn’t like to walk the edges of the glade during the day Alayne suspects he might just stand still as a statue, with his eyes trained on her window, for every minute of every day. It is easy to see why Mother chose him as her guard. They have to leave now, while Ser Gregor is on the opposite end of the glade. This is their best chance.
Alayne throws her hair over the metal loop, making sure she got it all. It spills out of the window and down the side of the tower. She stands paralyzed as she waits for the clambering noise sure to come, Ser Gregor rushing over from wherever he disappeared to, to stop her before she even leaves. When no sound comes, Alayne reaches for her hair with shaking hands. Her heart is beating hard and fast but she fixes Jon Snow with a resolute look.
Jon is staring at where her hair is looped over the pulley, a small frown on his face. “Won’t it hurt you?”
“This?” His concern surprises her but she doesn’t have time to process it. “No. I’ve done it before—this is how Mother comes up— grab on, we can talk about this later.”
“I’ll climb down,” he says again, and Alayne groans. So far, men were more frustrating than anything else.
“He’ll see you!”
“I climbed up fine, didn’t I?” Jon protests, eyes hot. She’s never seen a man’s eyes up close before, eyes so dark and full of so much.
Alayne huffs, both at him and at the little flip her stomach does, before fisting his collar and pulling him out with her. She has a single moment to thank the gods that he’s smart enough to grab onto her hair before she’s falling.
Her stomach is whipped like a storm and she’s never felt wind on her face like this before. Her skirts blow into her face and block her vision for a moment.
She grabs onto her hair, gasping, using her arms to stay afloat, curling into a ball in midair. She is inches from the ground. She stares down at it, green and solid and close, suddenly terrified.
“I have you.” His voice is warm at her ear, his hands under her elbows. “Remember the knight. We have to move.”
Alayne swallows her fear and falls.
The grass is surprisingly pliant and soft, the blades poking her bare feet as Jon prods her into a run. Dirt and mud squish between her toes and Alayne stifles a giggle, all her fear gone. She relishes every hard breath as they fly across the glade to the wall of ivy. Once they’re safely hidden behind it, Jon wordlessly turns her around to face the tower, bats her hands away and starts reeling her hair in like a spool of rope. Alayne watches him in shock. Her hair flies through his fists, which move so fast they are a blur, and lands in a large pile beside them, until there is no more of it in the glade.
Jon is panting when he’s finished but he doesn’t pause for even a moment. “Grab some,” he commands, before bending and doing the same. They carry as much of her hair as they can, in front of their chests like barrels, as they run through the ivy and into the plain beyond.
Alayne has never run like this, hasn’t done any running at all except to flit between rooms in her tower, and her lungs feel much too small and very hot as she tries to meet Jon’s punishing pace. But she doesn’t stop or complain, knowing she will feel better the farther she is from Ser Gregor’s detection.
She stops when Jon does. Only when she is standing still does she become aware of the sweat on her brow, on her whole face and even dampening her clothes at her chest and her back. The sun beats down on them and there is next to no breeze here. But she can’t stop the smile that tugs at her mouth.
The brilliant smile on her face would steal the breath from his body if he had any left. But then she speaks and those two words make his chest ache.
“I’m free,” she says again, and Jon wonders if she knows her eyes are wet with tears. “For the first time, I’m completely free.”
She looks so happy so Jon makes an effort to return her smile, but he doesn’t need a mirror to know it looks bad. He never was good at looking happy when he wasn’t. But it doesn’t matter, she isn’t paying him no mind—her blue eyes turn this way and that with wonder, as if they’re standing in the Water Gardens or top of the Wall, instead of in the shadow of a plain building on the side of the Prince’s Pass. His mind returns to the horrid stench of Ser Gregor and the way she avoided his gaze when he asked her if she was going to put on shoes before they leave.
The memory turns his attention to her feet. He frowns. They are black with mud. He bends low and looks up at her. “May I?”
She looks bewildered. “May you what?”
“You’ll need shoes, but I want to see if you need a maester too.” Not that I have the slightest idea where to find a maester or the coin to pay one if I did.
She doesn’t object when he wraps a hand around her ankle and he feels her weight when she places a hand on his shoulder to steady herself. “What’s a maester?”
So she’s never seen a Maester either? But she looks to be the picture of health. He is confused but he decides to give her an answer instead of another question. “A medical man.”
“Oh, no. I don’t like those.” The dread in her voice causes him to look up, finding her biting her lip and looking off with a darkness in her eyes. He purses his lips. He doesn’t like that.
“Besides,” she says, meeting his eyes now with a deliberately lifted tone. “I don’t need one.”
He returns his attention to her feet and decides this is true. They are dirty and he is sure they will swell from her exertions, but they seem fine beyond that. He springs to his feet.
“We need to take care of that,” Jon says, gesturing to her hair. “And get some supplies for the road—”
“What do you mean, take care of my hair?”
“Well, we can’t drag it behind us the whole time, can we?”
Her eyes widen and she takes several quick steps back from him. “You can’t cut it.”
“I—I didn’t mean to.” Those blue eyes filled with fear unsettle him. “I meant braid it or something like that.”
Jon chuckles, although her question reinforces how little she seems to know of the world. He hasn’t seen innocence like that in a while, if ever, and it drives a protective instinct within him, though it saddens him as well.
“I’ll show you.”
Jon takes her to Pathlight, the sunnily named little orphanage off the Prince’s Path. Besides Uncle Benjen’s cottage in the North, the orphanage is the one place in the world he is always welcome at. Despite their meager resources, Lady Crane always has a hot meal for him.
The journey takes most of the day and by the end of it he can see her limping a bit, despite her poor attempts to hide it. Jon frowns at the waning daylight—they would have no time to buy her shoes today, all the markets would be closing soon. He touches the light purse in his pocket. A good pair of shoes would cost him nearly all of it, but he didn’t think twice when she admitted she didn’t have any. He still wouldn’t, though he might have to fashion something for her to get her through the night.
As they approach the orphanage Jon feels a stab of doubt. Although the orphanage had been his home in boyhood he feels a sense of disconnect, a raising of his defenses as if preparing for rejection. He wonders if he is imposing by bringing a guest. But Lady Crane is a kind and generous matron and she doesn’t disappoint now. Jon feels shame at his doubts when Lady Crane welcomes them with open arms, though her eyes boggle at Alayne’s mane.
In the courtyard, Jon smiles as he watches the little orphan girls skip happily around Alayne’s hair. She sits primly on a wooden stool, her back straight as the girls work, the smile never falling from her face. She has been entertaining the girls—and him, he has to admit—with stories upon stories of knights and dragons and adventures. The setting sun casts Alayne’s hair in an orange glow, causing it all to glow fire-red instead of that single streak. Jon decides he quite likes the image.
Lady Crane sat with him for a while, bringing him and Alayne a hot dinner, telling him of the orphanage’s news and stories, inquiring graciously after Uncle Benjen. Jon told her nothing of his true state, unwilling to add to her burdens. She was a busy woman and couldn’t stay with him for long, but she promised him a bed for the night and Jon ceased his protests when he thought of Alayne’s tired feet.
Night falls in earnest by the time the girls are done with the braid, which is now thicker than Alayne’s waist. Though the orphanage’s small garden is meager the girls plucked flowers from it and placed them in Alayne’s hair. Alayne springs up from her stool and the braid hangs past her knees. She twists this way and that, getting glimpses of the girls’ creation and squealing happily.
“Come to the looking glass,” one of the girls tugs on her hands, and Alayne beams at him before vanishing into the walls of the orphanage.
“She’s a strange girl.” Lady Crane has returned, bringing with her glasses of water. “However did your paths cross?”
“I believe she was a prisoner.” Jon downs half the glass to soothe his suddenly dry throat. “I stumbled across her and… well, it seemed that way. She hasn’t told me much about it. She was being guarded by a man she seemed afraid of, who she wanted to escape.”
“You’re a good man, Jon Snow.”
Her praise irks him, especially when he realizes how he just recounted the story, painting himself as some noble hero. “She’s paying me,” he quickly adds. “I’m taking her to King’s Landing, that’s where she wants to go. She’s paying me.”
Lady Crane looks at him like she can see right through him—he imagines it’s the knowing way mothers look at their children. She is the only mother he’s ever known, anyhow.
“It’s still a good thing you did, freeing an imprisoned girl. Especially when someone could be after her, wanting her back.” She wags a finger at him, another maternal gesture. “Could be more trouble than it’s worth.”
Jon doubts that. She’s worth quite a bit of trouble. “I’ll be careful.”
“Good,” Lady Crane says, before leaving him once more to see to her many children.
When Alayne returns she is grinning from ear to ear. She doesn’t sit beside him but hovers in front of him, bouncing from foot to foot, her energy apparently inexhaustible. “What a splendid idea, Jon! It’s wonderful! It will be so much easier to travel like this!”
Her joy stirs something within him, but he quickly pushes it down. Distractions. “Is it too heavy?”
“Not any heavier than it was before.” She sits beside him and sips at one of the glasses of water Lady Crane left behind. “How long is it to King’s Landing?”
“A month, if we’re quick.”
“My nameday is in forty days. So we’ll get there in time to see the star—lanterns?”
“Yes—wait.” Jon does the counting in his head. “Your nameday is the same as Sansa Stark’s?”
“Yes.” Alayne smiles again, as if proud of this fact. “I always thought the stars were connected to me. Now I know it’s because my nameday is the same as this lost princess’s… can you tell me more about her?”
“There isn’t much to know...” But Jon quickly starts to tell the tale when her face falls. “She was taken from her crib when she was a babe. The King and Queen in the North send out the lanterns every year on her nameday. Some say they mourn her that way, others say they hope she’ll see them and return. King Robert sends up the lanterns too because he’s King Eddard’s friend….”
Jon trails off when the crease between her brows deepens. She looks confused, and possibly embarrassed, and he thinks he knows why. “You don’t know what I’m talking about?”
Her cheeks redden. “No.”
“That’s okay,” Jon says quickly, wanting to soothe her. “You can ask me, and I’ll tell you as much as I know. I don’t know much, but…”
Now he is embarrassed. But Alayne is smiling again and the feeling goes away. “Thank you, Jon.”
Jon jerks his head away from that brilliant blue gaze. “King Robert is king of Westeros, the six kingdoms, Dorne is one of those kingdoms.”
“And King Eddard…” She speaks the name slowly. “He’s King in the North?”
“That name, it’s familiar to me…”
“Maybe you’ve read about him, in one of your books.”
Alayne scoffs. “I doubt it. None of my books touch anything that’s happened this century.”
Jon is struggling to think of an answer, or rather pushing down his many questions, when she stifles a yawn. He gets to his feet. “Off to bed.”
Lady Crane shows them to their rooms and Jon finds himself relieved that they are side-by-side. He sleeps like the dead that night, replaying Alayne’s soft “Goodnight, Jon” like a sweet lullaby.
Sooo geography and travel details and such will be fudged a bit to get our traveling companions where they need to go. (Or where I need them to go!) Bad weather, bed shortages at inns, it's all fair play! But yeah please forgive any mistakes on Westeros geography.
Thank you all for your amazing responses to the story!
Chapter 4: look at the world, so close, and I'm halfway to it!
In the morning there are soft boots outside Alayne’s door.
Jon. Though she was cranky and upset just a moment before, now she smiles as she takes the boots into her room.
When she woke up there were a few panicked moments when she didn’t see her familiar painted ceiling above her, before the events of the day before came rushing back. She rose slowly, finding her back and shoulders quite sore. She hadn’t been able to sleep on her back as she usually did, unable to move the stiff thick braid to the side. Her sleep was hardly restful and when she left the bed her feet stung and ached with each step.
There was a pitcher of hot water by the door and she used it to sluice her body though it annoyed her to pull back on her sweaty dress. But she hadn’t thought to bring along clothes—the small satchel she carried had only a few bottles of oil for her hair, a comb, and her mother’s purse. She thinks of her hair now, how she will wash it on the journey when it’s all braided up, then decides to worry about it later. All she’s done her whole life was worry about her hair—now there are boots on her feet and an adventure awaiting.
When she leaves the room, her feet encased in the unfamiliar feeling of leather, she can hear the sounds of the orphanage waking. Though she intended to walk the path she to the courtyard, now she reconsiders, not sure if she can brave the orphanage on her own. She knocks on Jon’s door instead.
When he opens the door her eyes instantly fall to the sliver of skin revealed by his open shirt. The skin is sun-kissed and smooth and taught, the separation of muscle so unlike her own body. Her cheeks feel hot for a reason she can’t quite understand and she pulls her gaze to his face.
Jon is staring at her with eyes that seem darker than they were the night before. “Good morning, my lady,” he says in a voice thicker and raspier than it already was.
Alayne can’t help a laugh which she tries to smother behind her palm, but Jon does not look pleased at her teasing. “That’s what you are,” he protests, frowning now, and Alayne thinks she can see a glimpse of what he’d looked like as a pouty little boy.
“Thank you for these.” She smiles and kicks her feet at him so he can see the shoes on her feet.
He looks down and the corner of his mouth quirks up. “Lady Crane. She must have sent for them last night.”
“Oh!” Alayne turns away from the door. “I must thank her right away.”
“Wait.” She feels Jon’s hand around her elbow, grasping firmly for a moment before letting go. “Are you wearing those alone?”
She frowns. “What do you mean?”
“I thought so. Come in, I think I still have some hot water left…”
Jon settles her onto his bed and brings a basin and a pitcher from the corner of the room and sinks to his knees before her. He pulls off her boots and pours the lukewarm water over her feet. She opens her mouth to tell him she already washed but decides against it. It feels nice.
When he’s used all the water in the pitcher he rummages in his knapsack and returns with a small spool of soft fabric, which he wraps like bandages around her feet and ties off securely. “There. That will feel a lot better when you walk today.”
Alayne stands to test his claim. “Thank you! That does feel better.”
She watches him walk around the room, pulling on his vest and his belt and finally his own boots. “Will we still be going to the market?”
“We might.” He sounded uncertain. “Is there something you need?”
“Eventually, I will need something else to wear.”
Jon’s eyes rake over her form and her stomach flips. “Yes, that dress is much too thick for Dorne in summer, and King’s Landing for that matter.” He clears his throat, hovering by the door uncertainly, and Alayne joins him. But he doesn’t open the door.
He is frowning, staring at her but not at her, sort of through her, the way Mother did, and Alayne knows something is wrong. “What is it?”
Jon clears his throat and squares his shoulders, as if making up his mind, and his cheeks are a bit rosy above his beard when he speaks in a gruff, barely audible tone. “I don’t have enough money for clothes.”
Was that all? Alayne never possessed a single coin in her life, yet Jon seems embarrassed to admit this to her. “I have money,” she offers, hoping that will assuage his worries.
He looks at her doubtfully and Alayne is proud of her quick thinking in the tower. She pulls the coin purse from her satchel and pries it open so Jon can have a look.
His eyes widen. “Gods! Is that from the treasure?”
It isn’t—it was stolen from her mother’s private stores, the ones she thought Alayne didn’t know about. Mother was quite clever at hiding things, but she underestimated Alayne’s curiosity and the amount of free time she had on her hands. She had found the stash of money long ago—though she had no use for it until now— and all the secret places Mother stowed away caskets of wine. Mother didn’t want Alayne to drink.
“Yes,” she answers Jon. He doesn’t need to know all that.
But he looks even more uncomfortable, if that’s possible. “Did you bring that for the journey?”
"Yes—why do you look like you’re about to be sick?”
The pinched look on his face relaxes and he meets her eyes sheepishly, letting out a short huff. “It’s impolite to use your money. You’re a lady.”
The second time she hears it is no different—Alayne can’t help the shocked laugh that escapes her. Mother has called me naught but a stupid little girl for so long.
“A lady? Like a lady in a song, or a highborn lady? Because I’m neither, Jon. I’m just a girl.”
There’s a strange look in his eye, like maybe she amuses him, or maybe he doesn’t agree. But whatever it is, he doesn’t elaborate.
“Then I will give this—” He pulls out a small coin purse from his pocket. “To Lady Crane. For the shoes.”
“She’s very kind. How do you know her?”
“I’ve known her since I was a boy,” he says, and opens the door before she can ask anything further.
“Wait!” Alayne reaches into her own purse and gives him a few coins. “They’re my shoes. Give this to Lady Crane as payment.”
Jon stares at his palm where the coins glitter in the weak morning light. “These are four gold dragons,” he tells her, sounding stunned.
“Is that not enough?”
“It’s much more than enough… are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure.”
Jon stares at her for so long, until she is as confused as he looks. “What? Quit looking at me, Jon Snow, it feels strange.”
“I’m sorry— this will do a lot of good, for the children.” His voice is thick and he isn’t looking at her anymore, looking at the ground instead. “Thank you.”
Alayne shrugs. “I’m glad,” she says, and whisks past him before he can stare at her like that again, making her stomach feel all funny.
As if the money wasn’t enough, Alayne had strong-armed her way into the orphanage’s kitchen and baked some sort of savory egg pies with peas and onions in industrial quantities, delighting everyone as they broke their fast. Jon held onto the money until they were leaving, knowing Lady Crane wouldn’t leave him to eat in peace if he did otherwise. He was right—after her disbelief faded, Lady Crane struggled to hold in her tears before squeezing the life out of both him and Alayne. “It was just a pair of boots!”
Alayne grasped Lady Crane’s hands, seeming to be comfortable with this outpour of emotion—unlike Jon. “And the bed and the food! And the braid,” she added, as if that explained everything, and Lady Crane had met his gaze with her incredulous one before crying out and pressing kisses to Alayne’s cheeks.
Jon understood how she felt—four gold dragons was many times more than what he normally held in his pockets, and probably more than the prince gave Lady Crane to spend on the orphanage in a whole year.
The sun is high in the sky by the time they set out on the road. “Tell me how we’ll reach King’s Landing, Jon Snow,” Alayne asks him, skipping ahead of him only to backtrack. Jon keeps a vigilant eye but the road is empty for now.
“This road here is called the Prince’s Pass,” he tells her. “From here we go to the Kingsroad. That takes us straight to King’s Landing.”
She seems to mull over his words and gives him an approving smile. “That’s easier than I thought.”
“Won’t be easy. We’ll have to stay off the Kingsroad while we’re still in Dorne.” Jon swallows, uneasy with the lie he feels he has to tell. “There’s bandits and it wouldn’t be safe.”
Alayne nods. “I expected worse than bandits. Mother told me it would be so much worse.”
“What did she say?”
“She said a lot of things…” Alayne’s step slows and Jon regrets the question, despite his unbearable curiosity—he can see the light draining from her as she ponders whatever it was her mother said. “Mainly that people would seek to hurt me.”
“She wasn’t wrong. The world can be a harsh place.”
“It’s nice too,” she protests, defensive. Of what, my lady? This cruel world that’s seen you imprisoned your whole life? You are too good for it.
“Look at Lady Crane, those orphan girls, the flowers… they’re all very sweet.”
“You’re right,” Jon agrees, holding in a chuckle so as not to incense her further.
“There’s much more sweetness in the world I’d like to see.” Alayne has returned to skipping ahead of him. Jon finds himself wishing they were somewhere besides the dry Prince’s Pass, with nothing interesting for miles. He wishes he had something worthy to show her.
“Like what?” he prompts her.
“I’d like to see the ocean, and a castle, and dragonflies.”
“We’ll see all those things. I can’t promise dragonflies, but the rest… once we get past the Prince’s Pass it will be more interesting.”
“Wait…” Her skipping stops and she looks worried again. “Did you say the Prince’s Pass? Does it go through Sunspear, the Dornish palace?”
Gods, no. If they went within a hundred yards of that place, the only companion Alayne would have would be his head on a spike. Jon shakes his head.
“Good.” She stares at her hands, wrung in front of her. “Mother works there, as a handmaiden. That’s why I have to avoid it.”
Jon thinks he knows the answer, but he decides to ask anyway. She’s the one who mentioned her, after all. “And she can’t know you left?”
“That’s why we’re going to King’s Landing…” Her face falls and Jon quickly adds. “I was on my way north anyway.”
“Not spending any more time in Dorne?”
“Well, don’t forget you have to bring me back.”
“You have to earn your reward,” she says, giving him a smile touched by something mischievous, and no one is more surprised than he when she pulls another grin from him.
But the light moment fades as Alayne seems to slip deeper and deeper into darker thoughts. Her step slows and she seems not to see the road ahead of her.
She nods, but he isn’t reassured. Her eyes are still unfocused. “It’s just… if Mother knew I left...”
She trails off and Jon takes it upon himself to keep her talking. He wants to know more about this strange matriarch, this strange arrangement.
“Is she the one who placed Ser Gregor there to…” Jon swallows his real thoughts on the man. “Protect you?”
“Yes. She doesn’t want anyone finding me in the tower, anyone hurting me… oh gods, if she knew where I was, if she knew, if she knew…”
Her bottom lip is quivering. She is squeezing her hands together so tightly he fears she will hurt herself.
“Hey.” He considers placing a hand on hers but he doesn’t want to scare her. “Hey, look at me.”
She brings her stormy eyes to meet his, and the sadness there just about breaks his heart. “You’re not doing anything wrong,” he says to her, gently but with all the conviction in his body.
“Mother would disagree,” she objects quietly. “She knows best.”
“She doesn’t,” Jon protests, and gets a sharp glare in return. “I don’t mean to speak ill of your mother. But it isn’t natural to stay kept in one place, the way she’s kept you.”
“There are reasons,” she says, and her lovely face looks haunted. “Things you don’t know.”
Jon sighs, pushing down the dozen protests that jump to his lips. What does he know, anyway? He’s only met the girl a day before.
“Then she won’t find out,” he says instead, and Alayne seems satisfied with that.
I know the bare feet is one of the most charming parts of Tangled, but I'm sorry I couldn't do it, it's just so impractical! Same reason I moved up the braid.. Besides I think Jon would never let her walk around like that- he'd give her his own boots before letting her go on a whole journey barefoot.
Leave a comment!
Chapter 5: look at it all, so big, do I even dare?
“This is the first time I’ve left my tower.”
The confession is carried on a whisper, so delicate Jon would not have heard it at all if it wasn’t so quiet, or if he wasn’t listening so intently. They are lying on the hard ground with their backs to each other. Jon hadn’t imagined Alayne would accept this sleeping arrangement, but the closest inn wasn’t for at least ten miles. “I can handle some dirt, Jon Snow,” she’d teased him before plopping unceremoniously to the ground. “Or is that not what ladies do?”
This is the first time I’ve left my tower.
Jon already knows this, of course he does, he isn’t dim. The curious way she looked at everything, that horrendous knight guarding her, the fact that she didn’t own a pair of shoes…
Still it shocks him to hear it. He tries to imagine spending his whole life in a room and finds he can’t.
“How long have you wanted to leave?”
It’s so long before she answers that Jon thinks she may have fallen asleep. “As long as I can remember.”
Jon stares into the dark. She’s just as good as admitted that she’s been a prisoner. The thought makes him grit his teeth. Or perhaps it is her attitude towards it, the way she speaks of her mother, as if she was right to imprison her.
As if she can read his thoughts, she sighs. “But there are good reasons why I had to stay.”
He is unable to keep the incredulity or the irritation from his voice. “And you can’t tell me what they are? Does that protect me?”
“No,” she answers quietly. “It protects me.”
“That’s fine then.”
He hears her rustle and moves the same, finding her facing him now. She is ethereal in the moonlight, pale with glittering eyes and all that shimmering hair. Her eyes are wide with surprise or questions of some sort. After a short glance, Jon decides to stay on his back, looking up at the inky sky instead of her.
“Mother leaves often. She has to, for work, but—”
“How often does she leave you?”
When Alayne doesn’t answer, he tries another question. “How long will she be gone this time?”
“Two months past my nameday, she said.”
Jon frowns. That was more than three months, much too long to leave a girl alone, especially one as delicate as her. Though she got the best of him, he thinks with a bit of admiration, so perhaps she can fend for herself. The thought sours when he remembers her “protector”, Ser Gregor, the memory of him made even worse by the realization that the putrid knight was her only company for months at a time.
“She trusts me.” Alayne’s voice wavers and Jon wonders if she’s trying to convince him or herself. “This would break her heart. I’m a terrible daughter.”
“You’re not,” the response comes swift. “I told you, it’s not natural.”
Another rustle and this time when he glances at her he finds her propped up on one elbow, glaring at him. Laying like that, her breasts are pushed together and heaving with her breath over the neckline of her dress.
“You think you know everything, Jon Snow.”
“I don’t.” Jon swallows as he tears his eyes away.
“That’s right, about this, you don’t. You know nothing.”
“How old are you?”
The question surprises him more than it does her, he’ll bet. She’s tall and the fine angles of her face are womanly, but he knows she’s still a girl, and that glance he’d stolen of her just a moment past is eating at him. Soon she will trade her dress for a Dornish one and he knows what those dresses look like. She could be fifteen, for all he knows, and if so he will simply have to keep his eyes averted and think of her like a little sister until his sick perversion goes away.
“It’s my nineteenth nameday coming,” she tells him, but it’s no great relief to Jon. Still too young. He is twenty eight and that makes nine years between them. Most men wouldn’t care—Jon has seen men with thirty and forty years on their wives or their whores, but men like that disgust him.
“How old are you?” she asks in that bright and curious way of hers, her anger with him forgotten. She has no wicked thoughts driving her question, he knows, and the knowledge only makes him feel worse.
“Near thirty,” he mutters darkly, and closes his eyes with a wish for sleep to take him.
It gets worse when they find a well the next day. Jon is excited to drink, but finds the water in the pail he pulls up muddy and certainly suspicious. But wells are scarce in this part of Dorne, so he takes advantage. When he retrieves the pail of water he finds Alayne sitting on the ground where he left her—there was a steep decline she was afraid of slipping on, and Jon agreed it was better if she stayed put. It is a past noon on a true Dornish summer day and her cheeks sport high spots of color, her skin covered in a slick sheen of sweat. “It’s so hot,” she gripes, fanning herself.
“Use this to cool down. I’ll find you something to drink soon.”
They haven’t had any water or anything to eat that day. Jon doesn’t mind, he’s gone without for far longer but he worries for Alayne. She doesn’t complain and she might just drop beside him.
“Don’t drink that,” he makes sure to clarify. “You’ll get sick.”
Alayne is already sinking her hands into the pail. The water is somewhere between clear and murky but she doesn’t seem to mind, pressing her damp hands to her face and her neck and her chest again and again. She closes her eyes and throws her head back and releases a delicious sigh, and Jon feels the stirring of want in his gut.
“Jon.” His name from her lips with her head still thrown back and her eyes closed does things to his body. He swallows. “If I ask you to pour this bucket over me, will you do it?”
Jon grits his teeth against the image of what she’s asking, panic overcoming him as he ponders how to deny her. “You’ll ruin your dress,” he says, his voice weak and pathetic to his ears.
“It’s already ruined.”
He looks around, checking if it is safe to leave her. I already left her to fetch the water; she’ll be fine. All he knows is that he has to get out of there. “You will feel better if you wash. I’ll be by the well, call for me when you’re done.” He speaks much too quickly and leaves before she can say anything.
By the well he strips down to his smallclothes and washes his own body, the cool water giving him relief, though it’s another kind of relief he aches for. Jon pulls his breeches back on quick as he can, not wanting to get caught in his obviously dented smallclothes. He paces instead until he hears her gentle call of his name.
“Let’s go,” he barks as soon as he returns, keeping his eyes averted from her completely for the first few minutes of their walk.
Throats dry and tired from the heat, they don’t talk much for the rest of the day. Occasionally Jon can hear Alayne’s labored breaths beside him, and he slows his pace and inquires after her. But she bites her lip each time and gives him short answers—fine! I’m okay! Her accompanying smiles are always genuine and bright but they don’t stave off his worry completely.
“Soon,” he promises her. “We’ll come to a small village with an inn.” He hears her relieved sigh when it finally comes into view.
Relief turns into delight as they enter the narrow streets. Alayne seems to forget her fatigue and hunger as she absorbs everything around her with wide eyes, but Jon doesn’t forget. He buys apples from the first fruit cart he sees and fills his skin with drinking water, passing both to Alayne, slaking his thirst after she has.
They move at a slow pace through the village. Jon lets her follow whatever interests her, only giving her direction if they wander too far from the path to the inn. In an open courtyard a few women sing as they launder their clothes, and Alayne stops. “What a lovely song!” And she keeps him in the square until the singing and the laundry is through, humming along beside him. Jon finds he doesn’t mind.
In the inn they buy their dinner and sit in a secluded table in the corner. He doesn’t like the looks men have been casting at Alayne’s back. She is already unusually pretty, and her braid of gold and red and flowers commands attention. So Jon takes the seat where he can keep an eye on the large room and its door.
When Jon orders a tankard of ale, Alayne stills completely. She looks at the amber liquid with inscrutable eyes. Confused, Jon asks, “What is it? Can’t I drink?”
She rolls her eyes. “Of course you can.”
“Do you want some?”
Her eyes widen in shock, but her voice is all excitement. “Can I?”
Jon frowns. Her mother’s restrictions and manipulations run deep; the opinion he is forming of her is becoming less pleasant by the hour. “You don’t need my permission,” he tells her gently. “Or anyone’s.”
Alayne shoots him a sharp look but says nothing. Jon sighs and passes her his tankard.
“I’d like my own,” she protests.
“Try it first.”
Alayne’s bristling falls away as she brings the cup to her lips, her eyes widening to a near impossible degree. She takes a sip. A moment later she is coughing, the tankard nearly slipping from her grip from the force of it. Laughing, Jon leans over the table and claps her on the back, taking the ale with him as he returns to his seat.
“That’s awful!” she sputters. “Is it just me?”
“No, the Dornish aren’t known for their ale. But their wine...” Jon waves to the serving girl and a moment later a glass of wine is placed before her.
She takes a few tentative sips before peeking up at him from beneath her lids. “Better.”
With food and drink inside her she becomes talkative again. Jon listens to every word. She tells him about of the white shell paints her mother bought her once—they cost a lot of coin apparently, as her mother never ceased to remind her, and Jon stifles his anger towards her once again—but he is much more interested in her descriptions of forests and magical creatures she painted. When she describes a castle made of grey stone with rounded turrets and a white tree with red leaves, Jon finds his brows coming together.
“That sounds like Winterfell,” he tells her.
She looks as though his statement both confused her and explained something to her. She chews on her lip for a moment and Jon watches the enchanting movement.
“I’ve never been there, of course. I saw it… in a dream,” she confesses, cheeks red. “But Mother was very angry when she saw it, and I didn’t understand why. She made me paint over it. Maybe she doesn’t like Winterfell.”
That doesn’t make sense to Jon, but he doesn’t press when Alayne moves on to describing some of her favorite stories. She loses herself in the romance and excitement, talking animatedly with her hands, and Jon feels a twinge of tenderness as he watches her. Immediately his face heats, although Alayne is preoccupied with her tale and can’t know his thoughts. It is just the ale, he decides, and takes another swig.
He notices she hasn’t touched her wine in a while. Jon points his chin at it. “Don’t you like it?”
“It’s my first cup of wine. Don’t rush me.”
Of course it was. Jon was already considering staying in the rooms of the inn that night, but now he’s sure he will. He doesn’t want her out in the dark the first time she’s drunk.
“I only meant you can have something else,” he tells her. “Whatever you like.”
“There will be time for that.” She gives him a sweet smile. “There will be time for everything.”
Alayne likes talking to Jon. He is quiet but it’s the pleasant sort, comfortable and reassuring. His face isn’t the most expressive but she’s used to far worse from Mother, whose inscrutable expressions are dangerous. Whenever she pauses or stops he makes a thoughtful comment or asks a question, and off she goes again. He can’t possibly want to know about your paintings and baked goods, your boring life in the tower. But Jon watches her with keen interest and somehow she knows he does want to hear it, all of it.
The wine is very sweet and warm as it goes down her throat. As she comes closer to the bottom of the glass, she savors each sip. The flavor coats her tongue. Suddenly she feels thirsty from wine and talking and starts to stand, surprised when her legs shake and the world spins around her.
“Slow…” Jon’s hand is suddenly at her elbow. She looks up and finds that he’s moved around the table and stands by her side.
“I want water,” she explains.
Jon waves his hand and a moment later a glass magically appears. She suckles at the cool liquid gratefully.
“Do you feel tired?”
There is a pleasant but dizzying buzz in her head. Her feet ache in the strange boots. They hurt the whole day but she didn’t want to tell Jon. “Maybe.”
“We’ll sleep here tonight.”
Alayne is vaguely aware of him talking to a person or two and then they ascend steps. She stumbles but there is a firm wall behind her and under her arms—Jon, a voice within her says—and she relaxes despite the newness and unfamiliarity of climbing steps. “I never did this before,” she whispers to Jon, delighted with the forbidden nature of everything she’s done, and not just tonight.
“Drink? I know, you’ve said.” His voice is bemused but patient and she feels it rumble in his chest behind her. She likes that.
“No. Climb steps.” What’s some wine and some steps compared to leaving your tower? Instead of feeling guilty or sad over betraying Mother, she giggles. You’re quite the adventurer now, Alayne Stone!
“Oh,” he answers, and now his voice is sad. She doesn’t like that as much.
“What’s making you brood now?” They walk and she realizes they’ve reached the top of the steps. She feels confident enough to turn and look at him, and sure enough his mouth is downturned.
He stares at her with those dark eyes. Alayne feels dizzier looking into them. They’re endless, just like the night sky. Finally he speaks. “It’s not right.”
The words confuse her, but then her back is turned to him again and they’ve resumed walking. She opens her mouth to ask him a question only to realize she’s forgotten it.
Suddenly they’re in a room and her attention hones in on the bed. Alayne stretches out on top of it and groans at the pleasant sensation. She closes her eyes and the last thing she feels is something pulling at her feet before dreams take her.
Chapter 6: to keep you safe and sound, dear
She is running through the forest at the speed she is only capable of in her dreams. It’s inhuman and unbelievable and she’s flying. The trees are thinning and the air seems to get oppressively warmer with each bound and leap. She doesn’t like it at all, she yearns for the coolness of home, but something spurns her on. What is it? Who are you running to? Perhaps she is being chased, the part of her that is Alayne realizes, suddenly waking. Perhaps it is Mother chasing her.
She wakes with a gasp.
Mother isn’t chasing me, she chants, begging her racing heart to still. Mother doesn’t know I’ve left! Mother isn’t chasing me. Mother isn’t chasing me.
They’re just silly dreams, and she had them in the tower too. Her wild imagination combined with her yearning to see the outside world resulted in these dreams. It was better than painting and better than reading stories—it felt like she was there. She reminds herself how long she’s been having the dreams—her whole life—and that it meant nothing she was having one now, no matter how real it felt. Mother isn’t chasing me.
Once the panic has abated she registers the throbbing in her head and groans. An answering grunt and rustle from somewhere in the room makes her shoot up in bed, eyes straining to pierce the dim light. She shivers all over—the pain in her head from the quick movement wants to split her head in half. “Is someone there?”
Another rustle and the scrape of something heavy on the floor. A weapon? Alayne shimmies to the end of the bed and squeals when something warm and moving brushes her leg. This time she thinks she registers the sensation. “Jon?”
“Go back to sleep,” he mumbles, and all the tension in her body evaporates.
He is asleep on the floor, she realizes, the room of the inn so narrow that there is barely enough room for him between the bed and the wall. She prods him with her toe.
“Jon? Jon, you can take the bed.”
She tries a few more times and when he refuses to answer her, deep in the throes of sleep, Alayne shrugs and settles back into bed.
The next time she wakes light is streaming in through the window. It is too harsh and she immediately burrows her face into the hard, starchy pillow. It was the sound of the door and the smell of something warm and spicy that woke her, and she groans happily. “Is that for me?”
“It is.” Eyes still closed, she feels Jon’s weight descend on the bed beside her. “How’s your head?”
“Hurts. Is that normal?” Mother drank all the time, buckets of wine a day it seemed, yet she never complained of head pains.
“Aye. Especially for your first time.”
She peers up at him through heavy eyelids, surprised to see his hair loose around his face. The curls are more luscious than she would have expected them to look, hidden in that bun he wears, although she likes that too. He is framed by the sun and he looks prettier than she ever thought a man who wasn’t a fair knight from a song would look. Without thinking she reaches up and brushes her fingers through the ends of the curls. Jon jerks back as if she’d stung him.
“Sorry,” she mumbles, quickly tucking her hand back to her side. “I like your hair.”
He chuckles, and Alayne is grateful the awkward moment is forgotten. “The boys used to tease me for how much I cared for my hair. Would never let anyone cut it.”
“I can relate,” she says cheekily, and grins when she successfully pulls a laugh from him.
“Here.” He holds the source of the smell to her, a dry-looking savory pie. But to Alayne it looks delicious. “It’s not great, but it’s the best they have.”
“I’m sure it’s fine.”
He seems relieved. “Good. Food will help your head. We can have more if you want before we leave.”
She sits up in bed and eats the pie in a few large bites. When she starts licking her fingers Jon bolts up from the bed and moves for the door, only a couple steps away in the tiny room.
“There’s hot water there.” He points to the corner of the room. “I’ll be right outside the door.”
“You will? I can meet you downstairs.”
He scratches at his beard without meeting her eyes. “That’s alright. I’ll wait.”
She opens her mouth to ask him to explain, but he meets her eyes then and shoots her a smile, then leaves without saying anything else.
Alayne stays still in bed for a moment, trying to work out his behavior. She hears the rowdy laughter of men passing outside the door and it gives her an explanation; he is trying to protect her, to stand guard at her door. Like Ser Gregor. The thought makes her prickle. She isn’t a helpless girl who needs to be guarded. Still, she can’t help admit she is being unfair to Jon. She hasn’t known him long but she can already tell he is nothing like Ser Gregor—not that she ever spoke to the man. He thought there might be danger, but he wasn’t trying to scare me. That is the difference.
When they leave the village it is with a full water skin and Jon’s knapsack full of hard rolls and apples. Jon insists on carrying it all—“that head of hair is heavy enough.”
“And how would you know?”
But Jon rolls his eyes at her and moves ahead. Alayne smiles a private smile to herself. She likes teasing him.
“We’ll pass by a market tomorrow or the day after, depending how fast we move. A large market. You’ll be able to get a dress, whatever you need.”
The thought of getting out of the thick, sweat-soaked fabric sounds like heaven. “Thank the gods.”
Jon looks at her hesitantly. “We can get horses, too. If you like.”
Her heart nearly stops in her chest. She clasps her hands together. “Horses?”
He grins. “Aye. If you want to use your coin on them.”
“I told you, it’s ours.”
But Jon doesn’t answer that, keeping his eyes trained on the ground. But Alayne won’t have it. Jon may be taciturn by nature but they have weeks of travelling ahead of them and Alayne has no intention of doing it in silence.
“Have you ever seen them? The lanterns?”
She tries to think of a following question, opens her mouth and finds the questions piling in her mind. Is it everything I want it to be? Is it worth risking everything?
He glances at her, and seems to read it all in two seconds. “It’s a good dream to have.”
Alayne releases a happy sigh. “I can’t help but wonder. I know you’re right, but I think about Mother, I think about the things she’d say to me… ‘Alayne Stone, this tower is the only place you’ll be safe.’”
Jon is quiet for a minute. “Is that your name? Stone?”
Jon frowns, the line between his brows deepening. “You’re, uh… well, a bastard, then, like me.”
Alayne stills, her body going cold all over. “Why would you say that? What do you know?”
“Stone is the bastard name of the Vale…. Bastards are named according to where they’re born. Snow, like me, is a bastard born in the North. Sand, for Dorne… Stone, for the Vale.”
Alayne feels her face go red with embarrassment. Suddenly she wants to hide from him. She doesn’t know what’s more unsettling—that Jon has to explain to her what she is or that she’s a bastard in the first place. She always assumed she had the name because it was her mother’s—not because she was a bastard. She thought they were the only two Stones in the world. Now Jon was telling her the name meant nothing, that there were thousands of them out there. Now Jon was telling her that her father was a man who impregnated a woman and left her—bastard, it was an ugly word that hearkened ugly actions, and all her fantasies of the noble man her father might be vanished into thin air.
“But I’ve never been to the Vale,” she says, when she realizes she’s been quiet too long.
“Maybe you don’t remember,” Jon says gently, and she shakes her head still.
“No. I’ve never been to the Vale. I was born in my tower, Mother said.”
Perhaps she lied, a niggling voice says in her mind, a voice that sounds like Jon. But Jon doesn’t speak those words. Instead he asks, “Is her name Stone too? Your mother?”
“Then perhaps she named you Stone as well, to keep you close to her.”
Yes— that was why. Suddenly she feels like she can breathe again. She wants to thank him, but she doesn’t know why. He’s done nothing but upset me with this Vale business, but then he fixed it, too. Besides, Jon was telling her the truth instead of lies. He always told her the truth, and yes, that is why she wants to thank him.
The truth could be ugly, but Alayne prefers it to pretty lies.
“Thank you. For telling me the truth about things, always.”
Jon doesn’t answer. He moves ahead at a brisk pace.
“Jon, did you hear—”
A gasp tears the words from her throat. A large hand grips her neck, an arm winds around her stomach and pulls her back against something solid. A man, a man has her in his grip, she can feel his breath move through him. Alayne looks around wildly for Jon, but he is nowhere in sight.
“I seen you flashing your coin at the inn,” the man hisses.
“Shut your mouth or I’ll shut it for you!”
Alayne kicks and flails her arms but the man squeezes harder, lifting her by the neck. He squeezes and squeezes and black spots dance across her vision.
With a snap the pressure releases. She falls to the ground, releasing a strangled cry as her hands and knees absorb the shock of the impact. She lifts her head and sees Jon, his great sword unsheathed, grunting as he fights the man who held her by the throat.
Ruffians and thugs, Mother’s voice crashes through her mind. Alayne scrambles to her feet, watching with bated breath as Jon backs the man into a tree. A moment later Jon has his sword positioned to take his life. But a glint from the man’s side catches her eye—and Jon’s too, a moment too late, as Jon shifts to avoid the hidden blade and loses his advantage, the man pushing Jon to the ground and pressing the heel of one great boot to his chest. He reaches for his sword.
Alayne gasps. “Stop!”
She pulls her coin purse from her satchel and waves it in the air like bait. “This is what you want, right? Right?”
The man snarls, refusing to answer her, but his attention is all on her instead of Jon. Alayne gulps and throws the purse as far as she can.
“Stupid whore!” He gives Jon a good kick before running off in the direction of the purse. Alayne runs to Jon and helps him sit up, wincing as he clutches his chest.
“Alright? Are you alright?” His eyes are wild and darker than ever as he looks over her, his lip pulled into a snarl that is more animal than man. His fingertips brush her throat like caresses, searching.
“I’m fine! Are you?”
“You didn’t… have to do that,” Jon pants. “My fault… Now you’ve lost all your—”
“But I didn’t,” she whispers, irrationally afraid the man is still near and would hear her reveal her trickery. “It’s full of rocks.”
Jon blinks at her. “What?”
Alayne pulls the true purse out from its hidden pocket at her breast.
“Clever girl,” he grins, his eyes wide now with something like pride.
“Mother told me men would try to steal from me.”
His face falls and Alayne tries to cheer him. “I won’t be able to do that when I change into my new dress,” she says cheekily.
“That’s alright.” He pushes himself to his feet and Alayne grips his arm, trying to help him, though he pushes none of his weight on her. “I won’t let anyone hurt you.”
Her life has been filled with people trying to protect her but those words from him make her heart warm. “Let’s hurry,” she says. “He’ll realize eventually.”
“I’ll kill him if he follows,” he says, staring at her throat again, and Alayne swallows. In that moment she believes him.
Jon gains speed and agility the further they move away, his pants receding into something resembling normal breath. Eventually he slows and comes to a full stop. “Let me look at you.”
Alayne lets him examine her neck. His frown makes his full lips disappear. The murder in his eyes is frightening until they meet her own.
“I’m sorry,” he says.
“I wasn’t quick enough.” His hand is still on her throat—no, it is resting on her collarbone, with a pressure lighter than a flower petal.
“You saved me.”
“You saved yourself,” he objects. “And me.”
Alayne smiles at him and says the thought that’s been blooming in her mind since that morning. “You’re like a knight from a song.”
The tenderness in his eyes dies like a flame snuffed out. “I’m nothing like a knight.”
He moves away before her mind can form a proper objection. Alayne watches him carefully for the rest of the day, wondering if he is suffering from any wounds he is concealing. But what if he is? Would you do anything about it? Alayne bites her lip and ponders the answer to that question—although she thinks she already knows. Because instead of confiding in him—instead of telling him, trusting him—she waits until Jon is sound asleep in the dirt beside her and hides behind a boulder and sings quietly to herself, with the ends of her glowing braid pressed to her bruised throat.
Chapter 7: and with every passing hour
Yeah, I just wanted Sansa to have a lemon popsicle, and Jon is a savage who bites into popsicles, enjoy
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
In the market Alayne is a whirling dervish, spinning from tent to cart. Everything catches her interest—cloths and buttons and all manner of wares, the shadowcats weaving through the streets, the sweaty merchants who yell instead of talk, the live chickens in cages. She moves so fast that Jon starts to feel anxious he’ll lose track of her and he asks her not to wander. “I won’t leave you behind,” she replies with a cheeky grin, and Jon feels weak in the knees.
They buy ripe plums to eat as they walk, a water skin for Alayne, and a spool of fabric similar to what he’s been using to bind his feet and hers beneath their boots—though Alayne gives him an odd look when he explains it’s good for bandages too. She says “thank you” for everything even though it’s her coin she’s spending and every time she does, his chest hurts.
He buys a new tunic and averts his eyes when she pauses to purchase smallclothes. “Myrish lace, he will love,” the merchant woman says to Alayne, winking, and Jon’s face flames.
She pauses for an inordinate amount of time in front of a lemon cart, and Jon studies her, then decides to approach the vendor. “I’ll have two.”
He brings her back the block of frozen lemon juice. She eyes it curiously and licks her lips.
“Like this.” Jon bites into his own, enjoying the coolness on his tongue. Alayne copies him and her eyes roll back in her head. She finishes hers in less than a minute and Jon purchases another.
“Thank you!” She savors this one, taking smaller bites. “Does King’s Landing have lemons too?”
She beams. “Lemon cakes are my favorite. I’d like to have some on my nameday…” She shakes her head, looking down at her feet. “What am I saying? I’ll be watching the lanterns.”
His confusion must show on his face because she quickly adds, “That’s my present. It’s good enough that I shouldn’t want anything else for, oh, another five years.”
“You’ll have lemon cakes too,” Jon says without thinking, trying to suppress the well of annoyance that rises within him every time she says something that reminds him of her damned mother.
She blushes and nudges his shoulder with her own. “Is that going to be your nameday present to me, Jon?”
He can’t help the answering smile. This sweet girl and her teasing. “Aye.”
She giggles and moves ahead, licking the lemon juice from her fingers as she walks, and Jon adjusts his britches when she isn’t looking.
At the dress shop the merchant takes a fancy to Alayne, fawning over her blue eyes, her milky white skin, her slim waist, and most of all her long golden hair and the peculiar fire-red streak. She brings her a wide selection of her best dresses and showers her with compliments. Jon would be irritated at her obvious sales tricks but Alayne is glowing from the praise. Besides, he can’t object to anything the woman is saying. It’s all true.
Alayne holds up the fine dresses—to Jon, they look like gowns fit for princesses—to her form and admires her reflection in the huge, ornate looking glass. But she places each one down and eventually shakes her head when she’s had her fun. “We’re traveling, you see,” she tells the saleswoman.
“Not a problem!” She disappears into a cabinet and gives Alayne a new selection. Alayne selects a few and pays for them, thanks the merchant warmly, and gestures to the door.
“Don’t you want to wear one out? It’s too hot for that!”
“I’ll wait until I wash first.”
“Not to worry! There’s another room in there, private, you can wash!” The saleswoman ushers Alayne inside before turning back to Jon with a knowing look. “Would you like to join your wife?”
Alayne has already closed the door and—thankfully—hasn’t heard. “I’m fine here,” he tells the saleswoman, more gruffly than he intended.
He whittles away the minutes avoiding the merchant’s merry gaze, trying to find a place to rest his eyes and failing. He skips from the dresses to the skirts and lacy underthings, and lets out a relieved breath when Alayne returns to the room, only when he looks at her it feels like he has no breath in his body.
The dress is of a tissue-thin material, a shadow over her splendid form. The pale-blue cloth bunches at her shoulders and falls to her waist in two triangles that leave much skin exposed between them. At her waist and to her feet there is fine embroidery of leaves and life-like flowers in faded greens and pale pinks. She turns and Jon follows the fine line of her leg through the high slit of the dress. Her back is nearly bare.
“Oh, you are stunning,” the merchant gushes, the words stolen from Jon’s mind, Jon whose mouth has suddenly gone dry. This is the fashion in Dorne and Jon knows it, has seen hundreds of women in dresses just like this and even more revealing, yet it’s like he’s never seen a woman in a dress before.
He drags his gaze back to Alayne’s face to find her staring at him—perhaps expectantly. She bites her lip. Jon searches his mind for an appropriate phrase that won’t reveal the way she affects him when his eyes land on her neck.
“Your bruises. They’re gone.”
Her gaze falls to her feet and for a moment Jon thinks she looks disappointed. Then she looks at him and shrugs. “I told you it was nothing.”
The dresses are so light that Jon can twist them into little bundles which he stows in his knapsack. Alayne offers to carry it, but he denies her, again. “Do you think me weak or something?” She isn’t weak—she pulled up a grown woman on a pulley up two hundred feet for years.
But he only shakes his head and lets out a small chuckle, although this time she didn’t mean to tease him, she meant to communicate genuine anger. Her skin feels hot and bristly ever since they left the dress shop, and not because so much more of it is exposed to the sun. She wants something from Jon she hasn’t figured out yet, something he didn’t give her… a reaction. I wanted him to like my dress. But that’s silly. So she needles him until they reach the stables, and the sight of the magnificent beasts makes her forget about him for a while.
The horses enchant her from afar, reminding her of heroes and knights and fair maidens from the stories she loves. As she grows closer to a white one she starts to feel a bit frightened. But Jon is encouraging without pressuring her. “They won’t hurt you. But you don’t have to.”
Why does he have to be so damn nice, she grumbles inwardly, reaching out a hesitant hand to the horse’s quivering nostril. It feels so strange, warm and alive under her palm, and she releases a startled laugh when the horse snickers.
“I think I can do it,” she tells Jon, despite the slight thrum of trepidation in her heart.
“If you’re sure. We can leave. We can walk.”
The merchant enthusiastically offers to help her mount, his hand moving to the small of her back, but Jon glares at him and he takes a step back. Jon holds out a hand to her, asking a question with his eyes before the words leave his lips. “My lady?”
She doesn’t want to laugh at him now. She only nods and slides her hand into his.
She thinks she has held his hand before—surely they did, perhaps at the orphanage, or when they were drinking at the inn. But this feels like the first time. She feels the warmth of his large hand enveloping hers, the callouses on his palm and fingers, the pressure as he squeezes her hand tighter. She swallows and looks away from where they’re joined, following his low murmur of instruction. She raises her leg and places her foot in the strange loop of leather, her dress sliding up, and yelps when he lets go of her hand, losing her balance for a moment. But both of Jon’s hands grasp her waist then and raise her to the saddle, and she grabs on to help him by pulling herself up, swinging her other leg around like he tells her to.
Her legs feel strange, spread like this with the hard leather of the saddle between them, and it isn’t exactly comfortable. She tells herself will probably get accustomed to it.
Jon mounts his own black horse and Alayne has to stop herself from staring. He looks born to ride, manly and majestic. He bridles up to her and guides her horse from the market, and Alayne’s attention shifts to his instructions of how to ride properly, how to command her horse.
Her thoughts for the rest of the day become consumed with this as the horse seems intent to disobey her as much as possible. Jon is gentle and patient but Alayne becomes more frustrated with each hour, though she bites her tongue. This horse is taking me to see the lanterns! I have to stay focused on my dream.
It was hard to let go of her once she was atop the horse. Jon’s hands clenched around empty air as if they missed the feel of her waist in them. He wanted to climb on after her and ride north, with her body between him and the reins. He wanted to build her a cottage among snow and ask her to be his.
The fantasy lasted all of two seconds yet Jon was angry with himself as he swallowed it down, for entertaining it for even a moment. Jon wasn’t a fanciful man and he wasn’t one to get caught up in dreams, but a few days with her and his head was in the clouds like a little boy. She is paying you. He was her escort and her guide and nothing more.
He was angry already and the men looking at her made it worse. It seemed like every man close enough to see her was staring at her, staring as her hitched dress exposed more of the creamy skin of her legs, still staring even after she adjusted it. Jon’s swordhand twitched to claw their eyes out for looking. You have no right, he berated himself. No right to want to shield her from the eyes of other men, no right to look at her yourself. Still he climbed onto the closest horse quick as he was able and sidled up to her, reaching over to grip one of her reins—a petty display, but he was not above it.
Alayne struggles with riding. As usual she doesn’t complain but Jon can see it clear as day. She often shifts too far to the side and his heart lurches with her, his arm darting out to keep her atop the horse, his hand burning for minutes after the contact. Overenthusiastic and determined, she digs her heel in too sharply and the horse darts forward. But Jon never lets her wander too far, often gripping her reins himself, and by the end of the day he has been leading her horse for hours.
Even in the waning light Jon can see the pinched expression on Alayne’s face. He wonders if it’s irritation she’s holding in, or something more serious. She looks as if she might be holding back tears. Without thinking, Jon urges their horses to a stop.
Alayne looks at him quizzically. “We’re stopping?”
“For the night.”
She looks up at the sky. “It’s early.”
He shrugs. “We’ll be moving more quickly now.”
Her shoulders sag with what must be relief, judging by the expression on her face. She immediately swings one leg over the saddle then hovers, gripping the saddle tightly, trying to turn her head to look behind her. Her braid swings backwards and nearly drags her with it.
Jon dismounts with ease and is beside her, behind her, in a flash. He looks up, mouth suddenly dry, at her round ass hovering above his face.
“I can do this,” she says in a light voice, oblivious to his torment.
He jerks his traitorous gaze to the ground and takes a step back. “You can,” he encourages her, his voice a tad more hoarse than he’d like but otherwise normal to his ears.
She takes a deep breath and jumps. She lands on her feet and wobbles like a fawn, worse when she starts to walk. His feet involuntarily push him forward, his hands rising of their own accord to catch her if she falls.
“I’m fine,” she says, polite and distant and a bit terse. “Excuse me.”
When she disappears beyond a palm tree Jon decides to chalk up her behavior to an urgent need to answer nature’s call. When she returns as her normal self, Jon decides he was right.
“Were you singing?”
Her face blanches, her eyes shifting in a way he is not used to from her. “Um… I was… did you hear the words?”
Jon shrugs. He didn’t think anything when he asked the question, but now her obvious discomfort is affecting him. “No. I liked it.”
Her cheeks pink and a small smile steals over her face. Jon ducks his head to hide his own blush. Blushing like a maid. He shakes his head at himself, digging into his knapsack for some of their wares from the market for their supper to occupy his hands and his mind. He reminds himself, for the hundredth time that day, that she is paying him to escort her to King’s Landing. That’s her dream, not you.
I know Sansa's behavior is a bit confusing towards the end, don't worry it gets explained next chapter.
Leave a commenttttt!
Chapter 8: there’s a child behind it, dreaming
Can you see me reaching to make the Tangled soundtrack lyrics fit as chapter titles? It's getting harder and harder. I regret committing to this decision
In the morning Jon wakes with supple warmth in his arms. Half dead to the world he winds his arms around it, and when he burrows his nose into something thick and smooth he jerks awake.
Alayne is in his arms, fast asleep. Jon stifles a groan as he pulls away from her, unwinding his arms carefully from around her body. Each sweet moan and mutter she releases in her sleep as he jostles her goes straight to his groin. When he is finally, regrettably free, he walks to away to relative secrecy, and—he stops. Will you really take yourself in hand when she lies a few feet away, you degenerate? He sighs and decides he will not.
When Alayne wakes, Jon watches her stretch her arms over her head and then rubs the sleep out of her eyes. She catches him looking and smiles—soft, it is too early for the teasing grins of afternoon—and tenderness blooms in his chest.
They have broken their fasts and prepared the horses. At his question, Alayne grimaces. “I suppose…”
Jon takes her hand to help her mount. They return to the road, the reins of Alayne’s horse in his hands once more, and for a few hours they share pleasant conversation and a bit of cheese and bread from his knapsack when his stomach starts to growl. Then Alayne grows quiet, her questions about King’s Landing fading away. Jon does not mind silence, but hers worries him. When she releases a sound that sounds like a whimper Jon brings both their horses to a stop.
“Are you alright?”
Her bottom lip is sucked into her mouth. She doesn’t look at him. “Can you help me down?”
Jon complies in an instant. He reaches up to grasp her waist and pulls her down as carefully as he can. “Are you alright?” He asks again.
She nods, biting her lip again, and pulls away from him. Her gait is odd, her legs wobbling, and after a few steps of her bowlegged walk she starts to sway.
Jon is at her side in an instant, his arms catching her before she can fall. She slumps against him; Jon holds her tighter.
She winces and he frees her, suddenly worried he is hurting her. “What’s wrong?”
Her hands clutch his arm to steady herself, but her eyes slide away from him. “It’s nothing…”
“It looks like something.”
“Oh, alright…. my, uh, legs… hurt, from riding. Is that normal?”
“Oh…” Concern floods him; he wants to smack a hand to his forehead for his oversight. “Of course… you’re meant to wear trousers when riding, to protect you from the saddle. I’m sorry, I didn’t think.”
“It’s alright. I’ll—”
“Here.” He does not mean to interrupt her but an idea occurs to him. He pulls out the spool of white cloth from his knapsack. “This should work. Until we find you some riding trousers, that is.”
“Alright...” And she drops down and pulls her dress up to her knees.
Jon stares, rooted in place, looking at the soft lines of her calves. She cannot mean she wants him to do it, can she? But then she looks at him questioningly, innocently, and asks, “Jon?”
He sinks to his knees before her. His eyes are level with her knees, unblemished and perfect as the rest of her. She did not spend her childhood falling into mischief, collecting marks. He feels a stab of guilt for the thought when he remembers, a second later, that she had spent her childhood imprisoned in a room. But all those thoughts fly from his head when she bunches the material in her hands drags it up farther.
Her thighs are exposed to his gaze. The hem of her dress lays atop the juncture of her legs, and Jon feels dizzy as he tries not to think about what is between them. She opens her legs and the material—thankfully—falls between them, obscuring her from his gaze. Jon swallows. She trusts you. He would not be a man who’d betray that trust.
Jon can see the red, irritated skin and focuses on that. He inhales sharply before he lets himself touch her. The feel of the smooth, hot skin in his hand sends shivers through his body. He jerks his hands back and retrieves the cloth and a glass jar from his knapsack, scooping a bit of the salve with his fingers.
She looks at the his hands suspiciously. “What is that?”
“It will help heal you,” he explains.
“Alright,” she says, tone wary.
Jon goes slowly, aware of her narrowed eyes, and smooths two fingers over her thigh.
“Ooooh,” she moans, closing her eyes and pulling her shoulders up to her chin. “That feels good.”
Seven hells. Jon feels his teeth clash together at the sounds she releases while his hands are on her splayed legs. He feels her relax into his touch, opening her legs wider and shifting forward—just a bit. Jon stubbornly keeps his eyes and hands on his work, not letting them stray, no matter how badly he wants to.
Too soon, he retracts his hands from her. “I’ve never felt anything like that,” she says, and Jon’s throat goes dry. What was it she felt, that she had never felt before? Could it be something because of, towards, him—
“That green balm, it was so—cold, and that felt nice, but it stung, too.”
“Then it’s working.”
“Healing always felt like nothing,” she muses, curiously, as he starts to unspool the white fabric and cuts a strip with his dagger.
She winces when he wraps the fabric around her thigh, and Jon goes as gently as he can. Only when he has securely knotted the second strip around her does he allow himself to look at her.
She holds his gaze for a moment, eyes open and so blue, lips parted. She does not cover her legs. He does not speak.
The tip of her tongue pokes out to wet her bottom lip. “Thank you.”
Jon can’t quite find the right words to answer. “Don’t… I did nothing.”
"That’s not true.”
Somehow, he knows she isn’t talking about the salve or the wrappings on her thighs. She is too generous, the way she’s looking at him—like he carries the world on his shoulders, for her. I’d do it. He’d do anything she asked. He’d do anything she’d let him.
It is easy, returning Alayne to the horse. If she feels any pain still she doesn’t speak of it. Jon vows to watch her more closely, to keep her from reaching such a state again.
As the sun sets around them, a morose expression takes over her face. “Are you in pain?”
“No. I am terrible at this.” She huffs and gestures at the horse under her. “And I was so excited to ride…”
Jon tries to comfort her. “It took me years to become good at riding.”
Alayne turns to him and Jon is glad to find the morose expression gone. “Who taught you?”
Time slows as Jon wrestles with the decision of how much to tell. Once he was an honorable man, a little down on his luck, but he stuck to his principles and he never needed much to survive. Now he is a thief and a liar, and Uncle Benjen is the reason, and he is who she asked about.
Jon sighs. The question she asked is simple so he decides to answer it as simply. “My uncle.”
“Oh! Tell me about him.”
Jon stifles a sigh. She doesn’t mean anything by it. She doesn’t know. He doesn’t want to talk about Uncle Benjen. He doesn’t want to feel guilty, or useless, or immoral. He doesn’t want to worry about him, more than he already does. But Alayne doesn’t know any of that. Her eyes are wide with a pleasant curiosity he is used to seeing there, and now it’s directed at him. He is used to being a private man… but Alayne has been honest and forthcoming with him. He supposes he should return her trust.
“He’s… a good man.” Although Jon is willing to talk about his uncle he is surprised to find he has no idea what to say, where to start. “A fisherman who lives up north. I didn’t know him until I was almost a man myself. That’s when he taught me how to ride a horse.”
“Why didn’t you know him til you were a man?”
Jon shrugs. “I didn’t know about him.”
“How old were you when you met him?”
“Did he come to live with you and your family here in Dorne?”
“Ah—no.” Jon takes a deep breath and plunges forward with the tale. “I grew up in the orphanage. Didn’t know I had any living family until Uncle Benjen found me.”
“Oh, Jon… ah!”
She tried to reach over—to comfort him somehow, Jon guesses, judging by the sweet concern in her voice—and almost slipped. Luckily Jon has both their horses’ reins in his hands and her horse is very close to his, and he is able to catch her arm before she falls all the way. He nudges their horses into a stop as she rights herself, grumbling with a bit more force than necessary, “Careful.”
But she is undeterred. The moment she’s balanced on her saddle she looks at him with tears in her eyes. “Why didn’t he come looking for you til you were seventeen?”
Jon realizes she is tearing and angry on his behalf, and he clears his throat and scratches at his face, unused to such attentions. “He was looking,” he explains. “But White Harbor’s a long way from Dorne.”
“Oh… He didn’t know where you were.” Her eyes soften but grow no less shiny. “What a sad fate… to look and look and not know where your child is…”
Jon thinks to correct her, to remind her it’s his uncle they’re speaking of, and he isn’t his child. But he doesn’t do it. It wouldn’t be right.
When he looks at Alayne there is sorrow and care in her eyes. “You didn’t have any family for that long? You didn’t know your mother or your father?”
“It wasn’t bad,” Jon quickly corrects, eager to dispel that look in her eyes. “Lady Crane was family, and the boys… we called ourselves brothers.”
“Lady Crane is wonderful,” Alayne agrees quietly, then she bites her lip, worrying it and looking at him underneath her lashes as if she has more she isn’t sure she should say.
Jon scratches his beard as he looks away from her. “Sorry I didn’t tell you about it… when we were there.”
“I understand,” she says, and it isn’t just a platitude; Jon is surprised at the sincerity behind it. “We all have our secrets.”
Jon frowns. “I wouldn’t call it a secret.”
She makes a noncommittal noise and gives him a placid smile, one he hasn’t seen yet on her face. She is humoring him, he realizes. Before he can decide what he’s going to say about that, she deters him with another question. “Did you go to live with him after that?”
“Aye.” Jon’s lips quirk up at the memory. He had been so sullen, so full of confusion and anger at this uncle who had never cared about him before, and yet he was also afraid of losing him—that he’d wake up and Uncle Benjen will have disappeared just as quickly as he’d entered his life.
“You can sulk all you like, son,” Uncle Benjen had said—he liked calling him that, right from the start— son. “But now that I found you, I’m not letting you go. I’m taking care of you. You know why?”
Jon had refused to answer, angry at the way his words were making him feel, and only crossed his arms tighter across his chest.
“Because we’re family,” Uncle Benjen had answered, as if it was really that simple.
“You’re not my family!” Jon had spat, hating the tears burning his eyes. “You weren’t there, and that means you’re not my family!”
Jon had been too young and too full of confusion to recognize the flash of pain that had crossed over his uncle’s face at his harsh words. But Uncle Benjen was magnanimous and understanding even then. He had placed a hand on his shoulder and crouched so that they were at the same level—Uncle Benjen was a tall man and Jon wasn’t done growing yet.
“Family isn’t who you’re born with,” he had said, peering into his eyes. “It’s who you’re willing to die for.”
He finds Alayne looking at him with a knowing smile. “You were happy to go with him,” she says, not a question.
This time Jon can’t manage an answer around the lump in his throat. He simply nods.
Chapter 9: all those years living in a blur
Dry, too dry and thirsty. The thirst is unbearable, a rough stone in her mouth instead of a tongue, scraping the roof of her mouth and finding no relief when exposed to the arid air. This isn’t right, any of it. I shouldn’t be here. But she has to be here. She has to keep running.
Please, Mother, I’m sorry, I’m sorry Mother I had to pleasedon’thurtmeplease—
The rest of her feels unbearably sick while the part that is Alayne is just… confused. Mother wouldn’t hurt her. Mother loves her. She was safe with Mother—
You’re not safe, the rest of her says, a thread of noises in her mind she shouldn’t be able to recognize as words. And yet she does. And you’re not Alayne. You’re me.
Alayne feels dizzy, sick as the rest of her is from the heat and from revulsion, because those words don’t make sense, none of this makes any sense—
Don’t worry about that, the rest of her thinks. Kindness and ferocity and home. I’m coming. I’m coming. I’m coming—
They talk about Uncle Benjen a bit more over the days following Jon’s first disclosure. It’s clear to Alayne that Jon loves his uncle, but is unwilling to talk about him. He’s a bit private, she realizes, with walls built up around him— a bit like Mother in that way. But unlike Mother he doesn’t get angry when she asks questions, and she tries to do it gently and not too often. She doesn’t want to bother him, but… Jon always listens so well when she talks about her life and the things she likes, and she wants to return the kindness. So she asks about light and happy things, and she learns about snow and cold in the north, that Uncle Benjen taught Jon how to hunt and use a sword too, and about the time he almost drowned in the freezing waters off the harbor.
Alayne doesn’t ask where Uncle Benjen is now. She has a terrible, sinking feeling in her stomach that he’s dead. Jon looks a bit pained when he speaks of him and he keeps his tales to years past. He has been living in Dorne recently and that wouldn’t make sense, if he loved living in his uncle’s cottage in White Harbor so much. So Alayne silently mourns a man she never knew and doesn’t push Jon to tell her.
She wishes she could take away Jon’s pain—she doesn’t know what it’s like to watch a family member die but imagines it to be excruciating—yet she also feels a bitter twist of envy in her chest. She hates that feeling. It blooms when Jon looks off into the distance with a brightness in his eyes as he recounts something his uncle did, at the pleasant lilt in his voice when he says his name. Alayne doesn’t feel that way when she thinks of Mother. Her chest tightens, her breath shortens, and she is barraged with a torrent of bad feelings—confusion, resentment, guilt. It shouldn’t be that way if she truly loves Mother, the way Jon loves his uncle Benjen.
Alayne asks him for the words of songs and he recites them in a monotone, ears flaming with embarrassment as if he actually was singing. But it’s worth it when she picks up the words—quickly, she has a keen memory— and recites them back to him in her lovely voice. He never cared much for singing before but hearing Alayne sing is different. Soon the sound of her singing becomes the sweetest sound to his ears.
“My other self is true, fair warrior of the dew, for we are… oh, how does it go again, Jon?”
He is tending to the horses while she draws water from the well—crystal clear drinking water, Jon was sure to check its safety himself before allowing Alayne to touch it. She has been demanding to take on more of the physically demanding tasks on their journey, and although it feels natural to insist on doing everything himself, it’s easier to give in to the stubborn girl. He is surprised by the breadth of her capabilities and her strength, although he supposes he shouldn’t have been. As she frequently reminds him, she pulled heavy baskets and a grown woman up a pulley of her own hair for years. Jon barely conceals his distaste whenever she speaks of it.
“Jon? How does the rest of the song go?”
This is an added benefit to her singing, one he appreciates privately; by hearing her voice he is reassured of her safety whenever she isn’t in front of him.
He clears his throat and gives her the rest of the words. “For we are bound to part, me and you.”
“Oh, what a lovely song. Sad, but lovely…” She trails off then begins the song anew.
When Jon joins her, he finds her laying on her back, two full skins of water beside her. Her face is turned up to the sky, her lips moving as she sings. Her eyes are closed. The setting sun bathes her in warm colors.
For once, he gives in, acting on instinct—he drops to the ground and moves to lay beside her. He pillows his head on her braid which lays stretched out beside her and closes his eyes. When he opens them, he finds her turned to him, beholding him with twinkling blue eyes.
“Are you comfortable?” he asks after a few moments of them looking at each other silently, a fluttering roiling in his stomach.
“Not very,” she admits. “I’m not used to the braid.”
Besides the weight of the braid which she constantly carries, he feels now how uncomfortable it is to lay on it. Though it feels like how he imagines the finest silk feels, it’s thick and hard, the least comfortable of pillows. He wonders how she’s able to sleep on it every night.
“It’s not very comfortable,” he vocalizes his thoughts.
“No.” It’s a short response, unlike her. Her eyes have dropped from his. Jon wonders what she’s thinking.
“But you’ve never considered…”
He doesn’t say it; he remembers how defensive she was in the beginning when she thought he wanted cutting her hair.
A line appears between her brows. Jon worries he’s managed to upset her.
“I can’t cut it,” she finally says. Her eyes spear him then. “Comfort isn’t always the most important thing.”
She isn’t talking about her hair; that much he knows. He is curious, enticed, and perhaps a bit afraid.
“What’s so important here?” His hand comes up to rest behind his head, tracing the tight silk of her braid lightly with his fingertips. He wonders if she can feel his touch, with hair so long.
“I can’t tell you.”
Jon doesn’t push her. He remembers what she said after her confession days past, that her privacy protects her. What does she need protection from? His mind goes wild with possibilities.
He hates her shuttered expression and tries to bring her joy, however small, however brief. “I think I heard a waterfall, when I was tending the horses. Let’s find it?”
Her eyes light up, and the world feels right again.
When Jon suggests the excursion, Alayne agrees readily—anything to postpone returning to the road. She eyes the horses as she passes, grateful for any minute she isn’t atop hers as she’s decided that she absolutely hates riding.
The waterfall proves elusive. This is one of the most lush parts of Dorne, Jon tells her, because they’re getting nearer to the river, and she feels both excited and disturbed, as the landscape reminds her of the oasis surrounding her tower.
So they walk through bushes and fruit trees, looking for the waterfall, following the sound of running water that Alayne struggles to hear. Jon tells her that Dorne is known for its rife citrus trees, and Alayne thinks of the frozen lemon pops in the market with wistfulness.
He encourages her to pick fruit for their dinner, and Alayne crooks her arm and fills the space with several perfectly round oranges. Jon chuckles when he sees what she’s done and unstraps his knapsack from around his body so she can fill that instead. Alayne bends low to gather little berries, staining her fingers violet. She looks up and spots Jon at a nearby bush, crouching like her, and when he shifts on his haunches she sees the tiny red berries, the skin stretched taught, like little droplets of blood.
Alarm shoots through her. She smells the berries with a nose that isn’t hers, a nose that sniffs out the poison within and turns away in disgust, a nose from a memory. Jon picks one and brings it to his lips.
In her haste to get to him she upends the knapsack, sending the fruit she carefully gathered sprawling over the ground, but she’s mindless to that, grinding the fruit into the ground as she runs to him.
His surprise at her outcry caused him to pinch the tiny berry between his fingers. Crimson juice trickles down his palm. Alayne grabs his hand and smears the berry juice over her hips.
When she looks at him she finds his eyes wide and unblinking, his form frozen. “It’s poisonous,” she explains, only now hearing her ragged breaths, registering the racing of her heart. Thank the gods, thank the gods he didn’t eat it.
Jon blinks slowly, looking down at his hand, still stained red. Still on her hip. It seems several moments pass that way, with him staring at his hand, until he looks into her eyes.
“How do you know that?”
“I…” She freezes. How can she explain something she doesn’t understand? “I don’t know.”
“Do you know what the berries are called?”
“No,” she snaps, turning and walking away from him. “Do you? You should. You could have died.”
His hand encircles her wrist, a band of warmth that stops her steps. He tugs and she spins on her heel, finding him closer than she thought, her arm crashing into his chest. They are of a similar height and his face is close, his eyes dark, and she can see his lips part the slightest bit.
His fingers are digging into her hips, and she sucks in a breath, until he pinches the material and drags it away from her body. “Can it… hurt you, like this?”
She shakes her head slowly, wondering at the fog that seems to have fallen over her vision, the way her heartbeat has sped up again. “I don’t think so. I think you have to eat it.”
Jon nods slowly, his brows pinched together in concern, as if unconvinced. He releases a shaky sigh that Alayne feels on her skin, on her mouth. “You ruined your dress,” he mumbles.
“I have others,” she says, wondering why he’d be worried about that of all things.
“You saved me… again. I don’t know how, but, thank you.”
Alayne flushes, feeling suddenly hot. She notices his hands haven’t left her, holding her hips in a gentle cradle now.
“I don’t know how either,” she mumbles, snapping her gaze from his to glare at the ground. The heat suffusing her skin turns inwards, joining a rising tide of frustration and confusion—she’s tired of knowing things and not knowing them, of the dreams and the memories and the stories, of being Alayne Stone of the tower and Alayne Stone of the Vale, of the chasm between Mother’s words and everything else.
She thinks of the last dream, the one with the painfully dry mouth that had felt so real upon waking that she drank her entire water skin and half of Jon’s before she felt almost normal again. The only words she could remember— I’m coming. What did that mean?
Jon’s warm, calloused fingertips grasp her chin and tilt her face up. She looks at him through the blur of tears in her eyes.
“Tell me what’s wrong.” His eyes are burning with concern, burning true. One finger trails a path down her cheek, wiping a tear away.
“It’s difficult to explain,” she says, stumbling over her words as they materialize in her mind just as she says them and not a moment before. “I guess… I never realized it before, but I’m… frightened… of it.”
His jaw tightens; Alayne can see the muscle jumping there. But his hands stay gentle, one trailing over her waist, the other now cradling her face.
“If you let me…” He swallows visibly. “I won’t let anything that frightens you touch you. Do you understand?”
His words were unlike any she heard in her life, words from others acting in the name of protecting her—you’re safe with me. Or, trust me. Although Jon could have said both of those or a dozen other phrases and warmed her heart, she can’t help but see it as a positive omen that his words were so wholly different.
“It’s your choice,” he says slowly, and Alayne realizes she hasn’t spoken. “Always your choice.”
That, that is the difference with Jon Snow.
“I have dreams,” she confesses, for the second time in her life. But Jon won’t punish her, won’t strike her in anger, like Mother did. “I thought they were my imagination… my yearning to go outside.”
Jon winces at that, his fingers flexing on her waist and pulling her an inch closer, and she wonders if he even registers it.
“But I’m realizing now I saw real things… like Winterfell. Like those berries. I know they’re poisonous.”
“I believe you.” He says those words so quickly he must not realize how magnanimous they are.
“How can that be, Jon?” she whispers, her tears threatening to overcome her, and there’s a low humming sound in Jon’s throat before he pulls her in close. Alayne rests her head on his shoulder.
“I don’t know,” he says quietly. She feels it, the vibration through his chest as he speaks, and it’s an anchor. “But we’ll find out.”
It’s new, this—they have been careful thus far, confiding their conversations to the present and the near future, never speaking of that time after the lanterns. The possibility of something else, something besides the tower, of him, brightens the horizon… and Alayne is crushed with guilt. She shakes with it, and Jon—good, dear man he is, tightens his arms around her, misunderstanding the source of her trembling. He wouldn’t comfort her if he knew, she’s sure of it. She is guilty of lying and betrayal. She is guilty of hiding. She can’t be honest about the first bit—he’d never take her to King’s Landing if she told, he can’t be that good—but she can try to broach the second.
“Do you… believe there’s magic in this world, Jon?”
If he’s surprised by the turn in conversation, he doesn’t show it. “I’ve never seen it, but there’s so many stories and legends… there must be.”
He’s still holding her, and Alayne is grateful for it, hiding her face in his neck. It’s the only way she can be this vulnerable, this close to telling. I have magical healing hair, and that’s why I’ve been trapped in a tower my whole life.
“Do you think you’d be frightened by it?”
She feels him shrug. “I wouldn’t want to meet a white walker… or a red priestess.”
Alayne has read of those terrifying, pale creatures of death and must agree. But the red priestesses of Asshai, from what she knows, are just women of extraordinary power… like her.
“Would it be so terrible? To meet someone like a red priestess…”
“It would be dangerous… you can’t trust people like that. Some things are better left in stories.”
She shudders and steps out of his embrace, instantly missing the feeling of his hard chest against her, his strong arms around her. That makes it worse.
She chances a glance at him. He’s staring at her, his expression sullen, his arms held rigidly at his sides. “Are you feeling better?” he asks quietly.
“Yes… can we go back?”
As usual, he doesn’t start walking until she’s in front of him. Alayne feels something spreading between them, a distance she caused, a distance she hates, and when she looks at the frown on Jon’s face she knows he feels it too.
He never has to know, she thinks—foolishly, hopelessly, as she reaches out to thread her arm through his. His eyes widen as he stares at the point of contact for a moment, and when he looks at her she smiles warmly at him.
His mouth twitches, his face transformed entirely to happiness for the rest of their walk, and knowing she caused it with something so small has her stomach fluttering.
Jon holds her arm with care, slowing his pace in a way she knows he thinks she doesn’t notice—but it’s so sweet, the moment so fragile that she doesn’t tease him about it. She likes walking like this, in step with him, tucked close to his side. The way a fair maiden would walk by her chivalrous knight escort, or a highborn lady with her gallant lord husband.
Alayne is drawn from her thoughts, finding Jon frowning as he looks ahead. Immediately she thinks they’ve stumbled upon a new danger. “What? What’s wrong?”
But ahead of them is only her pale horse, secured by a length of rope. Alayne looks this way and that but can’t see Jon’s horse anywhere.
“Where’s yours, Jon?”
“Gone,” he grumbles. Alayne follows him as he approaches her horse and unties him, shaking his head all the while. “We might still be able to find him, if he hasn’t gone far…”
He extends a hand, and Alayne realizes his intent before he asks the question. “Ride with me, my lady?”
and there was only one horse