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The Mockingbird's Castle

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She was too far from home.

She knew she should have retraced her steps hours ago, but she feared the consequences of coming back empty-handed. Lysa had given her a task and Sansa had, needed, to perform it.

Her aunt was a merciless woman and she hated Sansa. Sansa had spent her first years of existence oblivious to this fact. She’d had a happy childhood: she’d lived with her siblings and her parents in Winterfell, in a castle surrounded by trees and snow; she’d felt like a princess in a fairytale.

A princess that could understand the talk of animals.

It was a rare gift. At least, she’d never met anyone who had a supernatural ability. In Westeros, magic was feared and hated. People used the word “witch” to address those who could do extraordinary things. Witch. Witch. Witch. The tone of their voices was full of hatred and terror every time they pronounced it.

Being accused of witchery was one of the worst things that can happened to someone, for the punishment was death.

Sansa had never told anyone that she could understand the talk of animals. However, Lysa had found it.

It had happened shortly after Sansa moved to Riverrun. She’d been twelve. Her parents and siblings had died (she still wasn’t ready to talk about what happened even though it’s been seven years since then) and Lysa and Robin were her only relatives so there had been no other choice than to stay with them, to her dismay. Sansa was certain that her aunt would have kicked her out if she’d been of no use to her. But fortunately, or unfortunately (Sansa still couldn’t decide if this had been a blessing or a curse), one afternoon her aunt had caught her talking with Speed (Speed was Robin’s horse) beside a hazel tree, several feet away from the stables. Speed loved wandering across the property at daytime.

Lysa had witnessed how Sansa leaned forward to take something from the ground.

A flower. But not just a common flower.

A wonder.

The wonders were the most rare and prized flowers in Westeros. They could grow in the most unexpected places, but no one had managed to cultivate them. They only grew in the wild.

They were used to make ointments. It was said, they could reverse the signs of aging if used monthly.

“I can track wonders in hundreds square feet,” the horse told Sansa proudly as she straightened again, holding the flower in her hand.

“Really?” Her eyes widened in admiration. So Speed wasn’t an ordinary animal. He was magical.

“What are you doing?” Lysa’s voice startled them.

Sansa turned around and put her hands behind her back instinctively. She didn’t want Lysa to see the wonder. Her aunt shouldn’t have been listening to a private conversation. She had no right to do so.

“What are you hiding?” Lysa raised her voice, and Sansa flinched. She knew how volatile her aunt was and she’d seen for herself how dangerous Lysa was when she was filled with rage. Sansa knew she shouldn’t make her aunt angry, yet there she was, disobeying her.

“Answer me!” Lysa screamed and ran towards her. Sansa stepped back quickly, scared by her reaction, but she wasn’t quick enough. Lysa’s hands grabbed her dress and yanked her. Sansa let out a cry and fell onto the ground.

“Stupid!” Lysa hissed. “Did you believe that you would get your way? You’ve been so sheltered all your life, haven’t you? You should have realized since you set foot in this house that things would be entirely different here! You’re not a guest; you’re not someone my sweet Robin or I would want here. You are a pain, a nuisance, and you should be grateful that I’ve allowed you to stay. You should kiss the ground I walk on since I’ve given you a roof over your head! Ingrate! But you’ll learn to behave, one way or another. Now, show me what you were trying to hide from me.”

Her mind wanted to resist, but her hand opened, and the delicate flower came to view.

Lysa’s expression changed. First, confusion. Then, amazement.

“A wonder,” she murmured to herself as if she couldn’t believe it. She looked at the horse and then at Sansa, and something seemed to click in her mind. Her lips curved into the most spine-chilling smile Sansa had ever seen. Sansa looked around, trying to find a way to escape.

“He showed it to you!” Lysa exclaimed.

Sansa stepped back, swallowing. She didn’t know what her aunt would do now that she knew her secret. Would she call the guards? If her aunt told them that Sansa was a witch, she would be done for.

Her eyes met Lysa’s. Sansa was expecting her aunt to leap on her at any moment, but her aunt remained surprisingly quiet. Suddenly she gave Sansa a small smile and her words surprise her:

“Perhaps you won’t be useless after all.”

And this sentence changed Sansa’s life. Since then, every day, before the sun rose, she left the house in search of wonders. She spent hours and hours riding.

The first days had been the worst: Sansa wasn’t used to riding, and her muscles ached. The first nights she could barely sleep; she’d felt as if someone were sticking needles in her body. Every moment hurt, and she thought she wouldn’t bear it.

But she did, and a week later her body began getting used to riding for hours. Most days she didn’t find any wonder, but this was expected. The fact that there were very few and far between, made them more valuable. So long as Sansa found some wonders every month, her aunt would be pleased.

Lysa used them to make her own ointments. She didn’t look younger with each passing month, but of course, Sansa wasn’t going to tell her. Her aunt was in a better mood. At least, she hadn’t had a rage attack since she’d started using the ointments, and even though Sansa was wary (she though of her aunt as a hibernating beast), she hoped this apparent calm lasted.

But Sansa wasn’t happy. She couldn’t bear the idea of living like this forever. What if nothing changed no matter how hard she tried? What if she spent all her life between those walls, first serving Lysa and afterwards (when her aunt died) taking care of Robin?

Some days, these somber thoughts invaded her mind, and Sansa felt tempted to stop fighting and just resign to her fate. But she never did. She kept going.

And one day, things changed, though not in the way she expected.

One morning, the sky became black. Seconds later, a massive storm rolled through Riverrun.

It lasted two months and caused terrible damage. Houses, trees, crops. The roof of Lysa’s house had to be repaired, and her vegetable garden got waterlogged. The lettuces, potatoes, melons, zucchinis… everything went to waste.

But there was still another terrible effect the storm had caused.

It seemed to have destroyed every wonder. For weeks, Sansa searched and searched without success.

At first, Lysa thought it would be a matter of time. New wonders would grow in Spring. But when Spring came and Sansa kept coming home without flowers, Lysa’s patience wore thin.

It was the end of May now, and there were no signs that the situation would get better. Sansa knew her aunt wouldn’t be able to stay calm much longer.

Sadly, she was right.

Last night, Lysa exploded with rage. She entered Sansa’s bedroom while she was asleep and yanked her blanket.

“Waaake up!”

Sansa jumped in her bed and opened her eyes, her heart pounding so hard that it hurt. What was happening? She looked at her aunt and saw there was a strange sparkle in her eyes. What were her intentions? Sansa put her arms around her legs, a weak attempt to protect herself.

Lysa crossed her arms and said firmly:

“It’s clear that wonders are no longer growing in Riverrun so it’s time to search in somewhere else.”

“Wh… What?” Of all things, she hadn’t expected this. She’d though her aunt was going to punish her or even get rid of her now that it seemed evident that Sansa won’t be able to find more flowers.

“Are you deaf? Get up and dress quickly! You’re leaving now! And this time, I don’t want you to come back until you find some wonders.”

*

Sansa didn’t know where she was. She could barely see the sunlight; the top of the trees almost hid the sky completely.

A thunder broke the silence. Speed neighed loudly and moved backwards. Sansa gasped with surprise and leaned forward to pat him on the neck.

“Hey, it’s alright, Speed. It’s just a thunder.”

She hadn’t finished to say it when it started raining. The rain was so heavy that soon they both were soaking wet.

Sansa’s teeth chattered. She looked around, trying to decide what to do, where to go, but it was difficult see the path before her.

Speed didn’t seem to have the same problem because suddenly he raised his front legs off of the ground, neighed again and began running.

“Hey!” Sansa gripped bridle harder. “Stop! Where are you going?”

Speed didn’t obey her. He was running so fast that Sansa feared they might hit a tree or stumbled over a bush or a root. Either he was running away from something (or someone) or an invisible force was attracting him to somewhere. Both options were unsettling. Sansa shut her eyes. Her knuckles had turned white.

Please, stop. Stop.

And then, suddenly, her prayers were heard.

Sansa breathed slowly, but she didn’t dare to move. Why Speed had stopped?

At first, she didn’t notice. But then, she realized.

It had stopped raining.

But how strange. She still could hear the drops of rain falling behind her. How was it possible? She opened her eyes and saw for herself that certainly the rain wasn’t falling on them anymore. Alright. She took a deep breath and turned her head.

She’d been right. It was raining just a few feet away. If she raised her arm, some drops would fall on her fingertips. She lifter her gaze to the sky. Strangely, there were no clouds over their heads.

Speed neighed again and pawed the ground as if trying to demand attention. Sansa looked down and let out an exclamation.

Wonders. Thousands and thousands of wonders covered the ground like a delicate carpet, and its petals shimmered even thought the sunlight was dim. Sansa opened her mouth as her eyes followed the path of flowers. But the surprises weren’t over yet. When she took her eyes off the ground, she saw a castle in the horizon.

A castle. There, in the middle of nowhere.

Who had decided to build it in such a place? Who would want to live there?

Perhaps it was uninhabited. But it seemed to be in good condition. Someone must be in charge of its conservation.

Sansa stared at the castle hesitantly. It was getting dark. Soon she wouldn’t be able to see anything. She needed a place to stay for the night. And she needed to get out of wet clothing as soon as possible. A violent shiver confirmed her words. She didn’t want to catch a cold.

“Stay here,” she told Speed.

The animal moved his head, but this time he didn’t neigh. Sansa got off and began walking towards the castle.

The ground was damp, and her footsteps made no sound. Time seemed to have stopped.

There was a low relief on the door. She narrowed her eyes, but she couldn’t distinguish the image just yet. She kept walking, resisting the urge to look at the wonders again. There was something special in them, some kind of magnetism that made them fascinating, but Sansa needed to focus. She needed to change her clothes and find a safe place to sleep.

As she came closer, the lines became more defined and the image was revealed.

No, it couldn’t be possible. Sansa stopped and blinked several times. Was she having a vision?

A bird. No, it wasn’t just a common bird. Sansa knew now where she was. Her heart pounded faster in her chest, and she wondered if it was due to fear or excitement.

Four lines of a tale she’d heard as a child came to her mind:

A silent mockingbird watches

Those who dare to come into the castle.

Be careful if you walk through the door.

For the magic in this place will entice you to stay.

This was the Mockingbird’s Castle, a place between the living world and the Otherworld, a place Sansa thought it only existed in folktales and dreams. A tickling sensation spread across her belly. If the castle was real, its owner too.

Lord Baelish.

The tales said he wasn’t completely human. They said once he’d been a boy with a heart full of hope. A boy who believed in fairytales. But after an incident that almost costed him his life (the tales didn’t specify what happened exactly), he’d lost his soul, and his heart had turned to ice. He’d become a supernatural creature, one even more powerful than witches.

Sansa shivered again, her eyes fixed on the door. Should she turn away?

But then what? To take some flowers and go back Lysa’s home? Her mind rebelled against the idea and her feet moved forward.

Towards the castle.

Unconsciously she’d made her decision.

*

Her knuckles had barely touched the door when it opened. Sansa froze, her arm hanging in the air. She expected to see someone on the other side, but there was none.

No one had opened the door.

It has been magic. Powerful, unexpected.

Wondrous.

The magic in this place will entice you to stay.

Sansa lowered her arm slowly. Beyond the doorstep, darkness covered everything. She didn’t have any candle, any match. She had no clue about what she would find if she came into the castle.

Had she made the right choice? She faltered. But before she could decide whether she should walk through the door or not, she heard a flapping wing sound behind her, and a gust of wind pushed her forward. She managed to keep her balance and turned away quickly. She wasn’t ready for what she saw. Her breath caught in her throat.

A giant bird, as big as a northern bear, settled on the ground. And riding him, there was a man dressed in black, with dark hair and grey temples. Sansa directed her gaze towards the mockingbird pin hooked in his cloak.

Lord Baelish.

He seemed to be around forty, but Sansa didn’t let herself be fooled. The stories she’d heard of him were old. Very old. They’d been told for centuries.

How old would be he in truth?

His green eyes stared into hers, and a sparkle of curiosity colored his features.

“Who are you?” He spoke in a soft voice.

She opened her mouth but paused, her eyes still fixed on his. Should she tell him her true name? Would he have power over her if he learned it?

“I’m Sansa Stark.” She decided to take the risk.

“Sansa Stark,” he repeated more to himself as if he wanted to see for himself how her name sounded in his lips. His expression didn’t change. “And what are you doing in my kingdom?”

His kingdom. Sansa wondered who his subjects were. The tales said all the creatures that lived in this place could become invisible.

“Speed brought me here.” She gestured to the horse.

Lord Baelish followed the direction of her gaze.

“I see.” He looked at her again and silently he got off the bird. The animal began preening himself as Lord Baelish came closer to Sansa. She tensed but didn’t step back. She realized then that his clothes were dry. How was it possible? Lord Baelish smiled again and took off his cloak.

“You’re soaking wet, sweetling.”

Sweetling? Why had he called like this? Strangely the word made her feel warm inside. Lord Baelish put his cloak over her shoulders, and Sansa perceived a scent of mint.

“Come,” he said softly after pulling away. “You need to put on dry clothes.”

“Wait.”

He stopped and looked at her again, a questioning look on his face. Sansa bit her lip.

“I don’t know if I should. I’ve heard the stories about you.”

The last words spilled out of her mouth before she could stop them. She clenched her teeth. She hadn’t meant to say the last part. Was he offended?

He smiled, but this time Sansa noticed it was a sad gesture. She was going to apologize when he spoke again:

“I’m not surprised that you’ve heard some stories. But tell me. Are you afraid of magic, Sansa?”

“No.” Her quick answer caught them both off guard. But it was truth, Sansa realized. Her heart was pounding fast in her chest, but it was due to excitement. She wanted to discover all the marvelous things this world hid. She wanted to see more displays of magic (witnessing how the door opened by itself had been quite amazing).

“No?” His lips curved upward.

“No,” Sansa assured him and gave him a small smile.

He held out his hand.

“Them, come with me. I promise no harm will come to you in this castle.”

She felt butterflies in her stomach when she took his hand. It was surprisingly warm. Perhaps his heart hadn’t turned to ice.

What other lies about him had been spread over the centuries?

*

A loud noise came from the second floor when they entered the dining room. It had sounded as if someone had knocked over a heavy piece of furniture. Sansa, who was still holding Lord Baelish’s hand, lifted her gaze to the ceiling.

The tales said he’d seduced and defeated a monster, and that he’d locked them in a room of his castle.

Her eyes met his, and she knew she didn’t need to express her concern. He must have known what the tales said. His thumb caressed the back of her hand, and he said softly:

“Don’t worry. They cannot hurt you.”

Sansa swallowed and tentatively squeezed his hand.

“Can they hurt you?” Her voice was barely a whisper.

Her question seemed to surprise him. Had no one cared for him before? He tilted his head as if considering his answer.

“I have to use my magic to keep them locked,” he said finally. “Sometimes it’s exhausting.”

“Why do you keep them locked then?”

Lord Baelish sighed.

“It’s complicated.”

He didn’t want to talk about it, so Sansa decided to let it be.

For now.

*

She was sat by the fireplace, wrapped in a white sheet and a cloak. Lord Baelish had given them to her. First he'd given her a towel so she could dry herself.

“I’m afraid I have no lady clothes,” he’d told her.

Sansa had smiled.

“It’s alright.”

His fingers had grazed against the back of her hand for an instant, and then he'd asked her if she fancied a mug of hot chocolate.

"Yes, please.

Lord Baelish had left the room then. He'd given her enough time so she could take off her clothes and made herself comfortable. By the time he showed up again, the sweet smell of cocoa filled the room. They exchanged a smile, and he handed her the beverage.

“Thank you.”

Lord Baelish sat in the armchair opposite and set his mug on the glass table between them.

She stared at him expectantly. Now what?

“May I ask you a question, Sansa?”

She nodded, a little hesitant.

“What were you doing before getting here? I don’t think you were just taking a ride.”

Sansa breathed and before she realized what she was doing she was telling him about Lysa. Lord Baelish listened to her in silence, his expression unreadable.

“It seems you’ve also dealt with monsters,” he said when she finished.

Sansa didn’t know what to say. Lord Baelish sighed and leaned forward.

“I have a proposition for you,” he told her, and a special sparkle filled his eyes. “Stay here. Start a new life. Here you won’t have to look over your shoulder in fear. No one will subdue you.”

“Not even you?”

“Not even me.”

She studied his face, her mind racing. She could feel her heart beating in her throat.

“And what I’ll become if I stay?”

“Sorry?” He looked confused.

“Will I become one more of your subjects?” But this wasn’t the question she really wanted to ask.

What do you want in return?

He gave her a reassuring smile as if he’d guessed what she was thinking.

“For now, you’ll be my guest. I mean every word I said, Sansa. I won’t subdued you. I won’t force you to do anything. You can leave at any moment” He leaned back, and his eyes flickered. “This is all I can offer you. I have no control over the future and that’s exciting, don’t you think so? Who knows what can happen between now and never?”

Chapter Text

Who knows what can happen between now and never?

His words echoed in her mind and lit a spark of hope in her. Everything could happen, even the most wondrous things, even the things she didn’t dare to dream of. She could be free. Lysa would be part of her past. She wouldn’t find Sansa there. She couldn’t hurt her anymore.

Sansa tilted her head and studied Lord Baelish’s face. Was he being sincere? Was it true that he couldn’t see the future or was he trying to trick her? His eyes were fixed on hers, and for a moment, she thought his iris had changed from green to grey, but it must have been an optical illusion caused by the candlelight.

His lips curved up slightly.

“What are you thinking?” he whispered.

She lifted her chin. There was no point in lying. Not about that.

“I’m trying to decide whether I should trust you.”

His eyes flickered. Was he amused?

“Ah, but that’s something you can’t know. Not yet. You’ll only find out if you stay, I’m afraid.”

“That sounds risky” she replied, but she found herself smiling at him. “Have you persuaded many young girls to live in your castle using those words, my lord?

“Not a single one yet, my lady” he confessed, a smile tugging at his lips.

Gods, what was she doing? Was she flirting with him? No, it couldn’t be possible. She hurried to grab her mug and take a sip, trying to hide the pink in her cheeks. He leaned back in his seat, a smug look on his face. Gods. Sansa almost wished the creature from the second floor would start knocking over pieces of furniture again. Anything so Lord Baelish stopped looking so pleased with himself. She took another sip, and a warm feeling spread throughout her body. This was the best hot chocolate she’d ever had by far. Sweet, creamy and intense. And it almost seemed a magical drink since it was helping soothe her nerves. Wait. She knitted her brow and set the mug on the table again.

The smug look disappeared from his face when he noticed her gesture.

“What’s wrong?” he asked softly.

“Is this some kind of potion?” she asked gesturing at the mug.

“What? The beverage?” He looked genuinely surprised. “No, it’s just hot chocolate, I promise.”

He didn’t laugh at her, and Sansa felt comfortable enough to ask her next question:

“Then why it seems to have soothing effects? And why it tastes so much better than any other hot chocolate I’ve ever had?”

“I’ve heard the food tastes better here,” he said, his tone pensive.

His revelation caught her off guard. Did this mean that he’d never eaten or drunk anything from the human world? Why? Was it forbidden for him?

He spoke again, interrupting her thoughts:

“Concerning those soothing effects you mentioned, I guess there’s some magic in the cocoa.”

“What?” Had she drunk magic? Then she hadn't been completely wrong. Sansa didn’t know how to feel about that.

“All the foodstuff you can find here is from this kingdom, and the magic is so strong,” he explained. “It dozes in the ground and flows in the rivers, the fountains and the lakes, and into every living creature. Flowers, trees, animals. There’s magic in the sap and in the blood, sweetling.”

“Will there be magic in my blood if I stay?”

“I don’t know. I had never invited anyone to my kingdom before,” he murmured, and Sansa noticed something in his gaze, a touch of vulnerability that surprised her. It was risky for him too, she realized. He was allowing a stranger to enter his home.

My kingdom. His tone had changed when he’d said those two words. My kingdom. There had been pride in his voice, but also fondness. And fear. His kingdom was everything he had. Sansa was certain he protected his world and its living creatures fiercely.

Had he ever dared to trust someone? Did he want to trust her?

Did she want to trust him?

Yes. The answer came to her mind right away. It was strange, but she felt connected to this place. Was it because she’d drunk the hot chocolate? She didn’t think so. She’d felt attracted before taking the first sip. She looked down at her dress smoothed out some creases in it. Yes, she’d made her decision.

Slowly, she raised her face, and her eyes met his. Lord Baelish didn’t move, his back was still resting against the armchair and his body looked relaxed, but he was expectant, Sansa could tell.

“It’s very kind of you to invite me to your kingdom, Lord Baelish,” she started.

He tilted his head and his eyes bore into hers. He didn’t know what I’m going to say, she realized. He’s trying to read me. Sansa didn’t know if he had any supernatural power, but it was a good thing that he couldn’t read minds.

“I accept, Lord Baelish.”

He held his breath. So he hadn’t been sure about her answer.

“I’d like to live in your castle, as your guest,” she continued.

He rose to his feet and walked towards her. Now it was Sansa who held her breath. What was he going to do?

He offered her his hand. Sansa took it without hesitation and was about to stand up when he leaned forward and pressed his lips to the back of her hand. He made eye contact with her as he whispered:

“Welcome home, my lady.”

Chapter Text

Home.

Very few words were as powerful as this one. Home. How long since she had heard it? How long since she had used it? So long. She had been trying to bury this word in the deepest part of her mind after moving to Lysa’s house. The word home made her sad.

She could never go back to Winterfell. No one could in truth. Not since the curse. Thirteen words recited by the person who had orchestrated her family’s death. No magical wands, no potions. Just thirteen words and a burning hatred of the Starks. This person wanted Winterfell to stop being a place when anyone could create fond memories. They wanted to prevent anyone from seeing the ancestral castle again. They wanted Winterfell to become an impenetrable place so it could become a forgotten place eventually.

And they succeeded. Those thirteen words recited by a soul filled with hate created a large hedge of thorns and poison ivy around the castle.

Many brave knights had tried to break through it. They’d used swords, knives, daggers, axes and torches, but nothing worked. The metal melted as soon as the edge touched the plants and the fire disappeared in a puff of smoke.

When Sansa was still a kid, shortly after moving to Lysa’s house, she’d fantasized about being the one who would break the curse. She wouldn’t use swords, knives, daggers, axes or torches. She wouldn’t even wear gloves. She would break the curse with a song.

She would stand in front of the hedge of thorns and poison ivy and wouldn’t stop singing until the plants bent over and turned into ashes.

A pretty picture.

How naïve she had been, she thought, her hand still holding Lord Baelish’s. He was watching her face attentively, but she didn’t notice; she was lost in her thought. He must have seen something in her expression. Melancholy? Bitterness? Shame?

“What’s wrong?” he asked soflty.

Sansa blinked and met his eyes.

“I was thinking of Winterfell,” she murmured. “A long ago it was my home, but it’s been cursed since my family died. No one can visit it anymore. It’s surrounded by a magic hedge of thorns and poison ivy. So far no one has managed to destroy it. It seems unbreakable.” She swallowed when a sudden idea came to her mind. Perhaps he could… Her heart started beating faster. “So far only humans without supernatural powers had tried to break through it. They had used weapons and fire, but no one has ever used magic against it.”

She knew she’d sounded desperate, but if there was the slightest chance of recovering Winterfell, she wanted to know. If magic was the solution, she was willing to asking him for help. He was the King of a supernatural world. Surely, he was one of the most powerful creatures on earth. He must be. Sansa guessed he would want something in return. In the fairy tales, when someone asked something from a supernatural creature, they always paid a high price for it. Your first child. Your voice. Your memories. Your heart. The possibilities flashed through her mind.

What price would she be willing to pay?

She didn’t know, and she didn’t want to think about it. Besides, it was pointless, she told herself. First, she had to hear his answer.

Lord Baelish gave her a sad smile.

“I’m afraid I don’t know how to break curses, Sansa. A curse is something that only those who have nothing to lose dare to cast. It involves the use of the most powerful and unpredictable magic and its effects can be deadly.”

Her heart sank. She bowed her head. So she would never recover Winterfell. She should have gotten her hopes up.

Lord Baelish squeezed her hand gently and added:

“This doesn’t mind we cannot find a way to break the curse though. There are thousands and thousands of books about magic in my library. I’m afraid none of them are catalogued so it will be like looking for a needle in haystack, but perhaps we can find the answer on one of their pages.”

She raised her face. This time, his lips curled into a reassuring smile.

“In the meantime, this could be your home, Sansa. Winterfell will always hold a special place in your heart, and nothing and no one will change that. This kingdom will never replace your ancestral home. This has never been my intention. But you could be happy here. You could end up loving this place, if you give it a chance.”

“I want to try,” she said.

“That’s a great start.” He smiled and let go of her hand. Then he pulled out his pocket watch and checked the time. “We should get ready,” he announced as he rose to his feet. “They must be about to come.”

“They?” Sansa frowned. “Who are they?”

“The monsters,” he replied as he walked towards the glass cabinet placed in a corner.

“What?” Sansa stood up quickly. “What are you talking about?”

“There’s a legend that says that if a human steps into a supernatural world, several kinds of monsters from other places will sense their presence.” Lord Baelish opened a drawer and grabbed a hairbrush and a small box as he talked. “The legend says the monsters will show up midnight and will try to take the human with them.” He closed the drawer again and walked towards Sansa.

She had grown pale. Suddenly her legs feel weak and she had to lean against the armchair to prevent herself from falling. Monsters. They were coming to take her with them.

“Hey, hey.” Lord Baelish set the hairbrush and the box on the table quickly and took her hands. “Sansa, breathe. It’s not as bad as it sounds. The legend says there’s a way to stop them from reaching their goal.”

“How?”

“Apparently they must follow two rules if they want to go back to their worlds. The first rule is that they can only come at midnight and must leave seven hours later.”

“And what’s the second rule?”

“They cannot touch any supernatural creature.” His eyes flickered. “If they stay after seven o’clock or if they touch a supernatural creature, they will turn into ice.”

Sansa breathed out slowly and said:

“So they won’t do anything against me if they are not completely certain I’m the human they are looking for.”

“Exactly.” Petyr smiled proudly.

A thought came to her mind:

“But if they turn into ice… Does the legend said if they can regain their original shape?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “But I’m not going to give them the chance.” His gaze darkened. “If they are stupid enough to stay and they turn into ice, I’ll make a bonfire personally and as the ice melts into a puddle, I’ll ask my mockingbirds to drink all the water.”

Sansa shuddered at his tone of voice. It had sounded menacing. Lord Baelish wasn’t joking. He was determined to make the monsters vanish forever if they stayed after seven o’clock.

Suddenly he caressed her cheek tenderly.

“We are going to take every precaution, Sansa. I won’t let them hurt you. Do you believe me?”

His face showed a strong determination and Sansa knew he was going to do everything in his power to protect her. She nodded. They both would be safe.

“What must I do?” she asked.

“The monsters are not very smart,” he said turning to the box. He opened it and showed it to her. There was a vial filled with grey powder and a yellow kerchief that has several signs embroidered in the corners. “They are looking for a human,” he continued. “They know what humans look like and what they smell like. But with a little bit of magic I can disguise you so they cannot be certain if you’re the human they’re looking for.” He took the vial and looked her in the eye. “Do you trust me, Sansa?”

“Yes.”

“Then took a seat, please.”

She obeyed. Her stomach fluttered. She didn’t know what to expect. Would he blow the powder on her face? Would the powder make her cough? She interlaced her fingers on her lap and looked up at him.

“Don’t worry, sweetling. This won’t hurt,” he told her as if he’d read her thoughts. “This powder will mask your natural scent so long as you don’t remove it. I’ll put it below your ears and on your wrists. It will be quick, I promise.” He poured some powder on his right hand and paused, meeting her eyes. “Will you let me?”

“Yes.”

His lips curved lightly. He leaned forward. Sansa wondered what she smelled like. If every human had a different scent, they all must have something in common or else the monster wouldn’t be able to find them. What was Lord Baelish’s original scent? He smelled of mint, but this must be the scent of the soap he used.

What kind of creature he was? If she hadn’t heard of the tales about him or had seen him riding that big bird, she would have though he was human, just like her.

“Ready?” he whispered, his warmth breath caressing her jawline.

“Yes.”

When his finger touched the spot below her left ear, a shiver ran down her spine and her feet curled into her boots. She hoped her reaction had gone unnoticed. Lord Baelish rubbed the spot softly, and she closed her eyes. When he stopped, she found herself feeling disappointed but soon he was doing the same in the spot below her right ear. A faint scent filled the air. It smelled of vanilla, cinnamon and something else she didn’t recognize. Something herbal and spicy.

“How are you feeling?” he asked pulling away.

“Relaxed.”

“Good. That’s good. Now I’ll put it on your wrists too.” To her surprise, he kneeled down. “May I?”

She nodded. He took her left hand and poured some powder on her wrist. He began massaging it. Soon her wrist was covered in grey, but as she watched it, she realized it wasn’t a common grey. It was different somehow, as if there were several color-schemes at the same time. It also seemed to contain glitter, because her wrist was sparkling now.

He took her other wrist and did the same. When he finished, he stood up again and grabbed the hairbrush. He smiled at her and explained:

“This hairbrush is magic. It will make your hair look less human.”

Sansa didn’t know if she liked how this had sounded. He smiled again and added:

“Don’t worry, just like the powder, its effects are temporary. I just have to brush your hair again and it will look normal again. Your hair won’t suffer any damage, I promise.”

“Alright.” She gave him a little smile.

This was all he needed to start. He was surprisingly gentle. The hairbrush glided easily, and she didn’t feel anything strange. She wished she had a mirror so she could see what was happening. Some seconds later, Lord Baelish set the hairbrush on the table and turned to her again.

“You can see and touch your hair, if you like, sweetling. It won’t affect the spell.”

Sansa took a lock of her hair between her fingers, hesitantly, and felt as if it was covered by tiny stones. What a strange thing, she thought. When she finally saw it, she gasped. Effectively it was covered by tiny stones. Green tiny stones.

“They are emeralds,” Lord Baelish told her.

“They are beautiful,” Sansa murmured with awe.

“They are.” He agreed, pleased with her reaction. “Now there’s only one thing left.” He took the kerchief. “This will create an optical illusion. You just have to wear it over your shoulders, and it will cause the monsters to hallucinate if they set their eyes on you.”

Sansa took it and put it over her shoulders without hesitation. Hopefully her disguise would disorient the monsters and they wouldn’t dare to touch her.

Lord Baelish pulled out his pocket watch again, but this time, he gave it to her.

“I want you to have it from now on as a reminder of your bravery.”

“Thank you.” She didn't consider herself brave, but she liked to hear it from his lips. She held it in her hand and checked the time.

It was midnight.

A soft tapping made her jump. No, it couldn’t be possible. The noise didn’t come from outside! Someone was knocking on the door, but they weren’t knocking on the front door. They were knocking on this door! There was someone in the corridor and they wanted to come in.

She looked at Lord Baelish, her heart pounding so hard, and he returned her gaze. For an instant, his pupils seemed to get bigger, the black color covering his green irises. He didn’t say anything. Instead, he dragged his armchair closer to hers. Then, he sat down and took her hand. Sansa gripped his hand tightly and stared at the door, but she didn’t dare to ask. It wasn’t necessary though, because soon she heard his voice murmuring:

“Yes, sweetling, They are already here.”

The tapping sound grew louder as if confirming his words.

“Is there anything else we can do?” Sansa asked turning to him.

“We’ve done everything. Now we just have to wait until seven o’clock. You should try to sleep. It will make time go by faster.”

“Are you kidding? How can you expect me to sleep when there are monsters on the other side of the door? And why don’t they come in, by the way? Do they need an invitation? Because if so, they’ll stay in the corridor for the seven hours.”

“Sansa, relax.” He turned to her and put his free hand on hers, trying to comfort her. “They can step into this room, but your disguise will confuse them so much that they won’t dare to touch you. You are safe.”

The door creaked open, muffling his last word. Sansa’s heart skipped a beat. She gripped his hands even tighter and shut her eyes. A putrid smell filled the room, but she didn’t hear steps. The grey powder, the hairbrush and the kerchief must be working. She felt Lord Baelish’s lips press to her forehead.

“Just seven hours, sweetling, and it will be over.”

Chapter Text

Her left hand was gripping the pocket watch so tightly that her knuckles had turned white. She was curled up in her armchair; her legs had gone numb a while ago (she didn’t remember when exactly), but she didn’t dare to move.

There was only one minute left to seven o’clock. One minute before the monsters disappeared forever.

Petyr squeezed her hand gently. Hang in there, he seemed to say. It’s almost over.

He’d been holding her hand since he’d sat next to her, shortly before the monsters knocked on the door.

If Sansa hadn’t been so scared, she’d let out a laugh. Monsters knocking on the door? It almost seemed like a joke.

Petyr had told her that they weren’t very smart, but they‘d been smart enough to know that announcing their presence before stepping into the room would instill fear. They’d known that opening the door slowly would increase the feelings of panic and uneasiness.

They’d been smart enough. And they’d been cruel too. They were monster after all. This was expected, wasn’t it?

Twenty-five seconds.

But their strategy was failing.

The walls shook violently when one of them roared. It sounded as if hundreds of lions roared in unison, and Sansa could feel their rage, but she could also feel their desperation.

Beside her, Petyr caressed the back of her hand with his thumb.

“They know they’re losing, sweetling.”

She nodded, but kept her eyes fixed on the pocket. She’d lifted her gaze once (she hadn’t been able to suppress her curiosity) and the sight of the monsters had made her blood run cold. She was certain she would have nightmares for ages.

Crash. Crash. Crash. Crash. Crash.

Five paintings fell off the walls. The glass shattered. Sansa flinched and turned to Petyr.

“They’re furious,” she whispered, her heart pounding fast.

To her surprise, his eyes gleamed mischievously.

“Oh, they should be,” he said. “Check the time.”

Sansa obeyed.

It was seven o’clock.

Finally.

Finally. She almost cried tears of joy.

“We won,” she muttered.

“We won.”

Suddenly the putrid smell disappeared, and Sansa perceived a sweet fragrance. It smelled like candy and cherries. This fragrance lingered in the air for some seconds and then disappeared too.

Neither of them broke the silence. Sansa checked the time once more to make sure that they were really safe. Then she took a deep breath and glanced around the room. She gasped. There were several large cracks in the walls as if an earthquake had shaken the castle. The ground was covered with broken glass and the wooden frame paintings had turned into splinters.

“I’m sorry the monsters have caused such damage,” she said in a low voice without looking at Petyr.

“Oh, don’t be sorry. This room was in need of a redecoration,” he replied in a lightly tone.

His words brought a faint smile to her face, her eyes still fixed on the broken glass. He was being kind; the room was a total mess.

“Hey.” He gave her hand a little squeeze. “Sansa, look at me.”

She turned to him. There was a tender expression in his eyes. He leaned forward and said emphasizing each word:

“This is not your fault. The only thing that matters is that they haven’t taken you with them.”

“Thank you. For everything.”

He tilted his head.

“My pleasure.” He rose to his feet and took the hairbrush. “I think it’s time to make this illusion vanish.”

Sansa nodded, the corners of her lips curving upwards. They had defeated the monsters. She closed her eyes when he began brushing her hair. Now that she was more relaxed, she enjoyed it even more than before. Petyr’s hands felt heavenly. He never pulled the brush roughly through her hair, he used gentle strokes. Sometimes, his knuckles grazed lightly against her neck, and Sansa’s heart skipped a beat.

When he finished, Sansa took off the kerchief and gave it back to him. Petyr folded it and put it in the box again. Afterwards, he looked at her and offered her his hand.

“Come with me.”

She took it and stood up.

“Where are we going?”

“To the Star Room.”

“The Star Room?”

“Yes. You haven’t slept at all tonight. I could accompany you to your bedroom and you could pull down the blinds and pretend the sun hasn’t risen yet, but why I would do such a thing when I can lead you to the magical room where it’s always night?”

Sansa looked at him with surprise and fascination. Did really existed a room like this? Petyr smirked.

“Come,” he said softly.

They walked along twisting corridors and passed doors with strange symbols on it. Sansa thought the castle looked like a maze. Finally, they climbed a spiral staircase.

“It leads to the West Tower,” he explained.

Seventy-seven steps later (Sansa had counted them), they stopped in front of a lilac door.

“Here we are. The Star Room.” Petyr reached inside his cloak and pulled out a silver key that looked very heavy. He inserted it in the lock. “Ready?”

“Yes.”

*

“It’s like being in a forest at night,” Sansa muttered in awe.

Beside her, Petyr chuckled.

“I guess you can describe it like this.”

She could actually see trees in the distance, and also a lake. The air was warm, and it smelled of freshly mown grass. She lifted her gaze to the ceiling and saw thousands of stars sparkling.

“Wow.”

“Yes. Magic can create stunning things, Sansa. We are lucky. Others will never witness such beauty. Others will never know the real meaning of wonderment.” He took her writs gently and watched the glittering grey stains. The stains looked like dust of stars, she thought. Carefully, Petyr put his palms over them. Then he raised his head. A shiver ran down her spine when their eyes met. Petyr went on: “Others will always live ordinary lives, sweetling. They will never know that magic exists, that fairy tales are not just fiction.” He slid his hands down, down, down, and Sansa held her breath. She felt like electricity running through her veins, but she didn’t know if his magic was affecting her somehow or if it was just the way he touched her, the sensation of his skin against hers.

Petyr touched her fingertips lightly before lowering his arms again. Sansa breathed out and looked down at her wrists.

The stains had disappeared.

“Now it’s time to sleep,” he said softly.

“Where?” Sansa glanced around. There were no beds, no hammocks, no mats, no sleeping-bags.

“The ground is magic. Once you lay down, it will feel as if you were lying on the most comfortable mattress in the world. Trust me.”

Sansa looked at the ground and then at Petyr.

“Will you stay? Please?" She swallowed. "I mean, you also need to sleep. We could pretend we're camping.” Like two normal people who have never met a monster.

His eyes lit up, and suddenly he looked younger.

“As you wish, sweetling.”

Chapter Text

Petyr was right. The ground was solid beneath their feet, but when they lay down, the texture changed. It was as if the grass had turned into cotton shreds. Sansa gasped and turned her head to look at Petyr, who was just a few inches away from her. He returned her gaze, an amused smile tugging at his lips.

“How does it feel, sweetling?”

“Amazing,” she answered. “I feel as if I were floating.”

The corners of his mouth curved upward. Suddenly, he sat up and unclasped his cloak. As he took it off, the starlight shimmered on his mockingbird pin, and for a moment, Sansa thought it would turn into a real bird and fly away up to the ceiling.

Petyr smiled at her and lay down again, pulling his cloak over them. His gesture brought more intimacy to the situation, or at least, Sansa thought so. The cloak wasn’t big enough to cover two people, and perhaps that’s why Petyr rolled onto his side, to take up less space. Now her left arm was brushing against his upper body, and she could feel his chest move up and down every time he breathed in and out. If Sansa closed her eyes, she wouldn’t perceive any difference between him and a man. His body was warm, and it looked as vulnerable as a human body. In these moments it was easy to forget that he was a supernatural king, and Sansa thought it was beautiful to share this with him; to stay with him in the Star Room while their minds traveled to The Dream World.

“You should see yourself now sweetling,” he said interrupting her thoughts. “You look so cute with those shades of pink coloring your cheeks.”

“Petyr!” She covered her face with her hands, embarrassed.

“What?” He sounded genuinely surprised.

“You cannot tell someone that they’re blushing!”

“Why not?”

“Because you’ll make them blush harder!”

She heard him chuckle.

“I’m sorry, sweetling.” He pressed his lips to the back of her right hand, and his stubble tickled her skin. Sansa smiled, though he couldn’t see it. He placed another kiss, this time on the back of her left hand. “Could you forgive me?”

“Yes.”

“Then, stop covering your lovely face, please.”

Sansa knew she was still blushing, so she said:

“Okay, but close your eyes and don’t open them until I tell you.”

“Alright.” She could hear his smile in his voice. “Done.”

Sansa moved her hands just a little to see if he was saying the truth. He was. His eyes were closed, and there was a smug look on his face.

“May I open them now?” he asked in a playful tone.

“No,” Sansa bit back a laugh.

Not until my “lovely" face stops feeling warm.

Chapter Text

The gardens looked beautiful covered in snow, Sansa thought looking out of the window. The leaves had ice crystals; they looked like glass jewels. They were so perfect that it was as if a magical elf had made them in a secret workshop. Before she stepped into this Kingdom, she thought that elves weren’t real, but Petyr had told them that they lived in the trees and that they loved to visit the castle at night, when everybody was asleep. Sometimes they left presents such as velvet shoes, music boxes, honey jars or chestnut sponge cakes. Other times, they stepped into the bedrooms and sprinkled dust of stars to scare away the nightmares. Where did they find the dust of stars? She had asked Petyr, her eyes sparkling and her body leaning forward unconsciously. He’d smiled at her, just like every time she asked questions about his kingdom. He seemed to enjoy watching the amazement on her face every time she learned more about what magic could do. He’d told her that the dust of stars fell from the sky during the meteor showers, and that the elves caught it with a net and kept it in small bottles.

“Are the meteor showers common in your kingdom? Sansa had asked him.

“No, they are rare and unexpected. You can never predict when a meteor shower will occur.”

“Oh.” Sansa hadn’t been able to hide her disappointment. She’d hoped to see at least one, but perhaps there wouldn’t be any meteor shower in hundreds of years.

Or thousands.

He must have sensed her disappointment because he’d said:

“Don’t worry, sweetling. I have the feeling that you’ll see a meteor shower sooner than you think.” His lips had curved upwards mischievously.

“How do you know?”

“Because the magic is alive and it knows the deepest desires of your heart. The magic welcomed you when you stepped into this world, Sansa, I could feel it. It likes you and wants you to feel happy here. It’s being trying to show in its own way.”

It was true. Sansa remembered all the unexpected “gifts” she’d been given.

The first night she slept in her bedroom (the day after sleeping in the Star Room), she’d gotten trouble sleeping. She’d been tossing and turning, adjusting her pillow, pulling the blanket up to her chin only to kick it off some seconds later... Until she perceived a faint scent of lavender, vanilla and chamomile. It was a heartwarming scent, and she felt more relaxed instantly. It didn’t take her long to fall asleep, and in the morning, when she opened the curtains, there was a bamboo cane on the windowsill. The cane had six small holes. Sansa opened the window and took it, surprised. Who had left it there? She looked around, almost expecting to see a magical creature coming out from under the bed or sitting on top of the wardrobe. But there was no one. Or if there was someone, they were invisible. Sansa looked at the cane and after a pause, she blew into it. A sweet sound filled the room, making her smile.

Sansa also remembered the occasions when she’d walked through the gardens and felt like eating a fruit and suddenly the nearest tree branches had leaned as a silent invitation. Apples, oranges, plums, pomegranates, pears, peaches, bananas, grapes… The first time Sansa had picked a pomegranate and said “thank you” aloud (it had felt natural saying it). However, she hadn’t eaten it then. Instead, she’d put it in her coat pocket, smiling, and she’d kept walking.

“How was your walk?” Petyr had asked her later, when she went back to the castle.

“Perfect,” she’d said pulling out the pomegranate.

His eyes had flickered when he saw the fruit.

“A tree offered me this,” Sansa explained. “I hope it’s okay.”

“Oh, it’s more than okay, sweetling.”

Sansa had smiled then and she’d handed him the pomegranate.

“I’d like to share it with you.”

Petyr had looked pleasantly surprised.

The animals also seemed to like her, specially the mockingbirds. She could hear them singing every morning as she took a bath, and some afternoons, when she and Petyr were sitting on an iron bench, watching the sunset, the mockingbirds descended and gave her feathers, twigs and small river rocks. They also complimented her (they must know she could understand them).

Sansa knew that among all animals, Petyr had a special bond with the mockingbirds, so she thought that perhaps they were acting this way to please him. That perhaps they wanted Petyr to see that they were being kind with his guest.

“Oh, no, sweetling. They really like you,” he’d told her when she shared her thoughts with him.

*

Sansa moved away from the window, feeling the urge to go outside.

The icy air fluttered her hair. Sansa smiled. The cold weather, the snow, reminded her of Winterfell.

The snow crunched beneath her feet. She stopped under a tree. A hawthorn. Petyr had told her that the hawthorn trees leaded to the Fairy Kingdom, but that the portal only activated during the Autumn Equinox. He’d also told her that it was very dangerous to go through it. Sansa had asked him if he’d ever done it, but he hadn’t answered her question.

She kneeled on the ground covered by snow. She didn’t care about getting wet. An idea had entered her mind.

She scooped up a handful of snow and began working.

Soon she heard footsteps coming closer, but she didn’t turn away. The footsteps stopped behind her. She perceived a scent of mint and soap and smiled.

“I’m making a snow castle,” she said, her eyes fixed on the first tower she was trying to build, but it was proving difficult. She hadn’t gotten any trouble building the walls, but the towers were more delicate, and the snow didn’t stick.

“May I join in?”

“Yes,” she answered. “But your clothes…”

“It’s alright,” he said moving to her left side. “When we finish, we’ll go to the castle, change our clothes and drink something hot.”

She turned her head to him, and they exchanged a smile as he kneeled.

“That sounds good,” she said.

His smile grew wider. For a moment, neither of them spoke. Finally, Petyr cleared his throat and looked at the snow walls she’d already built.

“I must say you've done an extraordinary job, so far.”

“Thank you. But I’m having trouble with the towers. The towers of Winterfell were…” She paused. She hadn’t intended to reveal that she was trying to make a replica of Winterfell.

Understanding flashed through his eyes.

“There’s nothing to be ashamed of, Sansa. I’ll happily help you build Winterfell. You can always talk about your home, sweetling. I know you miss it. And I haven’t forgotten our conversation. Someday, we’ll be able to break the curse, and Winterfell will be yours again.”

“Thank you.”

To her surprise, he began whistling. Soon dozens of mockingbirds descended (Sansa didn’t know where they came from) carrying twigs in their beaks.

Petyr watched them leave the twigs on the ground with a smug look on his face. One of them settled on his right knee, tilted his tiny head and chirped:

If you need anything else, we’ll be happy to provide. We want the lady with auburn hair to smile often.

Sansa beamed. What a sweet thing to say. The mockingbird turned to make eye conact with her but flied away before she could open her mouth.

Once Petyr and Sansa were alone again, he looked at her and smirked.

“I thought the twigs would help us build the towers.”

“And did they just read your mind?” Sansa asked, her tone cautious.

“Oh, no.” He chuckled. “I just can talk with them. They understand my whistles and I understand their trills.”

“Oh” You can talk with animals!” Sansa exclaimed delighted. “I had never met anyone who could do so. I had felt so out of place…”

“Wait. Are you telling me that you can also talk with animals?”

“Yes. I thought the mockingbirds had told you. They’ve been talking to me since the first time we watched a sunset together.”

“Oh, those wicked birds. They had kept it secret.” He tilted his head, amused. “I hope they only tell you nice things.”

“Yes, they are always very kind.”

“I’m glad. Now, let’s make the most spectacular castle ever. If you like, I can use a magic spell so the castle lasts throughout the whole Winter." He scooped up a handful of snow and added: "In a few hours we’ll need to start getting ready for tonight.”

“Tonight? What happens tonight?”

His lips twitched.

“There will be a masquerade ball to celebrate the Winter's Arrival.”

Chapter Text


“A masquerade ball?” Sansa repeated, her eyes widening in surprise. “With… guests?” She knew that the animals weren’t his only subjects. She knew that there were also supernatural creatures that looked like humans, but she had never seen them. Several weeks had passed since she’d stepped into his kingdom, yet a large part of it was still unknown to her. Sansa had never gone away from the castle. So far, she’d just visited the West Tower (where the Star Room was located) and explored the ground floor, some rooms of the north wing and the gardens.

“Yes. I thought today would be the perfect occasion to introduce my subjects to you. I guess you’re curious about them. The tales are very vague, very unspecific.”

It was true. The tales about his kingdom were deliberately vague. They had been created to pique the curiosity of those who heard them, to make their imagination fly. The tales suggested many possibilities, but they didn’t offer any answers.

“Yes,” she said. “I would like to know more about your subjects. Where do they live?”

Petyr smiled.

“In a little village, two hours’ ride from here. It’s a nice place: the houses have beautiful gardens with roses, chrysanthemums, peonies, daisies and tulips. The whole village smells of flowers, apple pie and chocolate cake. Someday we could go there by horse, if you like.”

“I’d love that.” She returned his smile.

“Good.” His eyes brightened, and he placed his right hand on hers. A comfortable silence settled over them.

*

After changing their clothes and drinking a mug of hot cocoa, Petyr offered her his hand and led her to the room where she’d spent her first night. The room where she’d been sitting over 7 hours accompanied by him. The room the monsters had destroyed.

She hadn’t been there since then. Sometimes she had passed in front of the door, but this had always been closed. Sansa had often wondered if Petyr had started redecorating it, but she’d never asked him. Part of her still felt guilty, though it hadn’t been her fault. Only the monsters were to blame.

They stopped in front of the door. Petyr turned to her, his eyes flickering with excitement.

“You’re about to see the new ballroom, sweetling.”

“Oh.”

“Well, in truth there’s a ballroom in the East Wing, but it’s as old as the castle, and it’s never been remodeled. It’s a dark room, with big and heavy curtains, chandeliers that cast a faint light, ceramic tiles that have lost its color and rusty armors leaning against the walls. It sounds very decadent, doesn’t it? Besides, it’s been closed for decades, so it has quite a musty smell. In conclusion, the castle was desperately in need of a new ballroom. A modern one, with large windows, white walls, filmy curtains and magical lamps. A place where you can feel like home instead of a place that intimidates people.”

It sounded very good, though his description of the old ballroom had piqued her curiosity.

“Will you show me the other ballroom sometime?”

“Of course, whenever you want.”

“Thank you. And have you just said that there are magical lamps in this room?”

Petyr chuckled and winked at her.

“See it for yourself.” He opened the door and moved away to let her enter the room first.

Sansa stepped into the ballroom and opened her mouth.

“Wow.”

Rows of tiny and delicate pearls were floating in the air, near the ceiling, and they casted a light bright enough to illuminate the whole room, but not bright enough to hurt their eyes.

It smelled of daisies and sand, and it seemed unbelievable, but Sansa felt as if the rays of sunshine were caressing her face. If in the Star Room you felt like you were in the meadow at night, in the ballroom you felt like you were walking in a field of daisies under a cloudless sky.

The windows were opened, and the curtains, blue and green, fluttered. There were some beige armchairs in a corner, next to one of the fireplaces. The wood flooring gave a sense of warmth. Sansa smiled. Certainly, the ballroom wasn’t majestic. Sansa felt as if she’d stepped into a cozy cabin.

“What do you think?” Petyr asked behind her. He was beside the door.

Sansa turned to him, and her smile broadened.

“It’s perfect.”

His face lighted up.

“I’m glad,” he said softly and began walking towards her. Sansa didn’t move, and soon he was taking her hands in his. He was wearing black gloves. Her hands, on the contrary, were bare. She’d taken off her gloves as soon as she’d gone back to the castle. Her gloves had ended up soaked after creating the snow castle and she didn’t have another pair. She was used to the cold, but Petyr frowned when he watched her nails, slightly purple.

“Your hands are freezing. Let me warm you, sweetling.”

Sansa was going to tell him that she was alright, but he was already taking off his gloves and putting them inside his pocket cloak. She didn’t protest when he held her hands again and began rubbing them gently. His hands were warm and soft, and spread a tickling sensation across her body. Sansa closed her eyes instinctively. It felt so good.

Soon the cold sensation had completely disappeared from her hands, and her heart was pounding so fast in her chest. She had read somewhere that bird’s heart rate could rise above 1000 beats per minute, and even though she knew it was impossible, she felt as if her heart was beating this fast right now.

When he stopped, Sansa opened her eyes again, he lifted his gaze to meet hers, and the look in his eyes was so intense that she forgot how to breathe for a moment.

“Petyr,” she whispered.

He let go of her left hand to cup her cheek.

“You’re so beautiful,” he murmured.

She looked at his lips and swallowed. Was he going to kiss her? Did she wanted him to kiss her? Yes, she discovered. Yes, she wanted.

Petyr moved closer, and Sansa closed her eyes again expecting to feel his lips on hers. However, she felt his breath against her eyelids and just a few seconds later, he was pressing his lips to her forehead, his hand still cupping her cheek. His gesture made the tickling sensation in her body grow more intense and she felt the urge to lift her chin and kiss him on the mouth, but his gesture also comforted her. It was hot and sweet at the same time, she decided. When he started pulling away, Sansa put her hands on his chest, and he stopped, his face just a few inches from hers. He breathed out and Sansa felt the vibration in his upper body. How the legends could say that his heart had turned to ice? How many lies the tales had spread over the centuries? She licked her lips and moved her hands up slightly. He trembled again.

“Sansa…” His voice sounded pleading, but she didn’t know whether he was asking her to stop or continue.

She lifted her gaze to meet his and saw vulnerability there. Perhaps neither of them was ready to continue. Perhaps it was too soon. There were still many things they didn’t know about each other, and she didn’t want to risk ruining what they had, ruining the bond that was forming between them, the bond that they were creating.

She lifted her hand and caressed his grey temple with her fingertips, a soft smile tugging at her lips.

“We should start getting ready for the ballroom,” she said.

He swallowed hard.

“Yes,” he whispered. “Yes, I think so.”

Sansa smiled again and gave him a peck on the cheek. Her gesture took him off guard, and for a moment the aura of power and mystery that surrounded him vanished and he looked so human and vulnerable, just like when he’d slept next to her in the Star Room. Sansa couldn’t help it. She hugged him. She heard him gasp, but soon he was wrapping his arms around her too.

When she pulled away, he cleared his throat, clearly affected by what just had just happened between them; affected by the almost-kiss-on-the-lips and the real-kiss-on-the-cheek and the hug though he was trying to pretend not to be.

“Well, I think you’d like to see your dress and your mask.”

“Oh.” Her eyes sparkled with excitement. “But, how…? I mean, I haven’t tried it on. How do you know it will fit?

“Because the fabric is magical. I asked the elves to make your dress. Once you slip it over your head, it will adjust to your body.”

“You asked the elves?” she repeated. “I thought they didn’t like to be seen. How did you contact them?”

“They day after we slept in the Star Room, I wrote a letter to them and left it on the floor of my bedroom, next to the door, along with three gold coins. The next day the letter and the coins had disappeared.”

“Why didn’t you tell me? I could have helped you organize the party.”

“I wanted it to be a surprise. Though I admit it would have been so much fun to organize it together.” He smiled softly and offered her his hand.

She placed her hand on his, and he brushed his thumb against her fingers before heading towards the door.

He led her to small room with lilac walls. He opened a wardrobe and pulled out her dress. Sansa gasped. It was the most beautiful dress she’d ever seen. The color was bright black, and it seemed to emit a faint light as if it contained several rays of moonlight.

“Do you like it?”

“It’s so beautiful.” She lifted her hand to touch it. The fabric was so soft.

“I’m glad. I’ll leave so you can try it on. When you finish, meet me at the library. There’s still another surprise.”

More? Her eyes shone. She took her dress, and he tilted his face before leaving. The smug look on his face didn’t go unnoticed. Sansa shook her head and grinned.

*

The library was closed. Sansa knocked on the door and could hear the excitement in his voice when he said “come in”.

As Sansa opened the door, she perceived a smell of pine tree and she felt as if she were in a forest.

The scent gave her a clue of what she was about to witness, but the sight of it was much more impressing that what she’d imagined.

In the center of the library there was a massive pine tree, and beside it, Petyr was smiling at her. Sansa had to press her lips together to suppress a laugh. He looked so tiny in comparison. He almost looked like a forest fairy. The trunk was so big that one could build a room inside. Her eyes traveled up the tree. The height from floor to ceiling must be around 40 feet, yet the top of the tree was almost brushing against the ceiling.

On the floor there was a big box with streamers, figurines and foam balls.

“Where did you find that tree?” Sansa asked coming closer to him.

“Oh, I planted it this morning,” he said as if it was completely normal.

“What?”

“I have some magical seeds. In the next crescent moon, I’ll transplant it in the gardens so it can grow freely.”

“Do you think it can grow more?”

“Oh, yes. It’s a magical tree. It will reach the clouds for sure.”

Sansa knit her brow.

“Once I heard a story about a kingdom in the clouds. What if it’s true and someone use the tree to come here?”

“Don’t worry, sweetling. It’s not so easy to step into this world.”

“It was easy for me.”

His lips curled into a soft smile.

“That’s because perhaps you belong here, Sansa.”

She didn’t know what to say. She’d started to love this place, to love his kingdom, but she couldn’t call it home yet. It was soon.

It seemed that he’d read her thoughts because he touched her shoulder gently, a look of understanding in his eyes.

“No one can say for sure is Fate exists and if it does, no one knows the influence that our decisions have in our lives.”

It was true. No matter whether it had been fortuitous. The important thing was that she’d stepped into his world and that she enjoyed being there. If things continued like this, she could call his kingdom her home someday.

Petyr was watching her face attentively. He was trying to read her emotions.

She smiled at him reassuringly before looking at the box.

“Do we have time to start decorating the tree now?”

His face brightened.

“Oh, yes.”

*

The moon was shining when they heard seven knocks at the front door.

“The guests are here,” Petyr said. He was wearing a black tunic patterned with mockingbirds. The tunic had three silver buttons that shimmered when the light reflected on the surface. Both of them were wearing a crown with five emeralds at the top. She hadn’t expected him to give her a crown:

“You’re me equal, Sansa,” he’d told her offering it to her.

“But a crown? I’m not a queen.”

He’d smiled gently.

“Don’t use that word if it makes you uncomfortable. Just enjoy the night.” His eyes had flickered mischievously. “I plan on dancing with you, if you let me.”

She’d blushed.

“Yes, I’d like that.” She’d finally taken the crown and placed it on her head.

“You’re so beautiful,” he’d whispered.

The blush on her face had intensified.

They walked towards the front door his hand holding hers, and when he opened it, they saw a long row of people wearing elegant clothes and masks. Well, Sansa knew they weren’t real people, but if she didn't know the truth, she would have never guessed it. They really looked like humans. She saw that everyone was carrying a wrapped item.

“Welcome to my castle,” Petyr said. “I hope you all enjoy the night. Please, follow the path of green tiles. It leads to the new ballroom. Sansa and I will go there soon.”

The guests started entering the castle, greeting them. Sansa wished to see their faces, but the masks covered them completely. Many minutes later, the hall was empty again save for Petyr and Sansa.

She turned to him and asked:

“Why they’re all carrying wrapped items?”

“It’s a tradition to exchange presents during the Winter Solstice,” he explained. “The wrapping paper has a spell that identifies who is the perfect person for each present. At midnight the spell will be activated and the items will float in the air and will look for its recipient. Though I confess I haven’t played fair this year.” He leaned forward and lowered his voice even though they were alone now. “I wanted to make sure my present would be for you, so I haven’t wrapped it. I’ll will give it to you after midnight.”

“But I don’t have any present for you. Why didn’t you tell me? I would have liked to give you something too.”

“You’ve given me so much already. Before meeting you, I felt so lonely. You’ve brought so much happiness to this castle. Your company is the best present you could ever give me.”

“Petyr…” His words had caught her off guard. She swallowed. “I’m happy to have met you. I… I’m happy to be here with you.”

He took her hand and kissed it, his eyes staring into hers, and Sansa smiled, her cheeks flushing.

*

Sansa didn’t know how many times she danced with Petyr but they were many, and neither of them seemed to get tired. She discovered she loved dancing with him, and she was happy to see that he seemed to love dancing with her too.

After midnight, once every guest got their present, Petyr turned to Sansa, his eyes flickering mischievously, and he took her hand.

“Come.”

They sneaked out of the castle and took off their masks. They walked along the gardens, heading towards the hawthorn tree where they had built the snow castle. When they got there, Petyr pulled out a small bottle and sprinkled a yellow powder over the castle.

“Alright, we should take several steps back now,” he said.

Soon Sansa understood why. During the first seconds nothing happened, but afterwards, the castle began growing. It grew and grew until it was as big as Petyr’s castle.

At first Sansa didn’t react. Then she turned to Petyr, confused.

He squeezed her hand gently.

“This spell will last an hour. If you close your eyes and think of Winterfell, this snow castle will become a perfect copy. The door will open, and you’ll be able to come in and visit every corridor and every room. I… I’d like to come in too, if you let me, sweetling. I’d like to learn more of your home, if you’re willing to show me.”

A tear ran down her cheek. A look of regret appeared on his face when he saw it. Gently, he wiped her cheek with his thumb.

“ I’m sorry, sweetling. I didn’t mean to make you sad.”

She shook her face, giving him a shaky smile.

“Please, don’t apologize. Your present is perfect, Petyr. And it makes me happy that you want to know Winterfell.” She paused and held his hand tightly. “Honestly the fact that you want to accompany me makes this even better. I… I can tell you things about Winterfell, share some memories as we visit this replica.”

“That sounds wonderful.” He stroked her hair with his free hand. "When you feel ready, close your eyes and relax. The more details you can see in your mind, the better. Take as much time as you need. I’ll be here, by your side.”

“Alright, but first there’s something I’d like to do,” she said giving him another smile.

“Whatever you want.”

She leaned forward slowly and saw him hold his breath.

“Sweetling?” There was a look of amazement in his eyes and also a flicker of… hope?

She stopped just a few inches from his face.

“I’d like to kiss you, Petyr. Is it okay?”

He let out a shaky laugh.

“Believe me, it’s more than okay,” he said in a husky voice.

Sansa laughed too before pressing her lips to his. She kept her lips on his for several seconds, and Petyr stood still, very still. Then she gave him a peck on the tip of his nose and pulled away, watching his face.

Petyr licked his lips slowly, a dazed expression in his eyes, and Sansa smiled. It felt so good to see that he wanted her to do it again.

“We could do it often from now on if you like,” she said.

He licked his lips again.

“Yes. Yes, I’d like that.”

“But now, I want you to know more of my old home,” she told him.

His lips curled into a gentle smile. He squeezed her hand.

“Whenever you’re ready, sweetling.”