Dany says, Tell me about the Starks, Lord Hand , and Tyrion says some dribble about his poor little wife, abused in King’s Landing by the Usurper’s horrible spawn, nobly sacrificed on the altar of marriage for reasons known only to men, and then, as an aside, that there had been a younger girl who had disappeared from King’s Landing when her father had been executed and never heard from again. Of the brothers, he has little to say that hasn’t been gleaned from hearsay and nonsense: the Wolves of Winterfell, ferocious in battle, undefeated legends, something about their footsteps being followed by actual wolves the size of horses.
“Horses?” Dany says, amused and skeptical. “Come now, Lord Hand.”
“I saw them when they were still puppies,” Tyrion replies. “They were enormous then, I hate to think what adulthood might have done to them. There are rumors, which I hadn’t put any credence to until I met your grace, that there is some connection between the Starks and their wolves. The man thinks and the wolf acts, that sort of thing.”
“You mean, like I have with my children,” Dany says, and she deliberately keeps her face expressionless so Tyrion will not be able to tell if she is pleased with the comparison or not.
“Who am I to disdain rumors of men who can speak to wolves, when I serve a queen who rides dragons?” Tyrion says, and Dany is amused, as she often is, by Tyrion’s ability clever his way out into and then out of problems.
Although Tyrion had told Dany that he would send spies north to suss out the truth of the matter, in the end, Dany is too impatient to wait for his reconnaissance. She has a native distrust of spycraft; she knows that it does not work as well as other, more straightforward machinations. Stalling for time benefits those who needed shadows and secrecy and lies to do their work, she tells Tyrion. He needs to remember that he is no longer the disdained younger son of a powerful, conniving lord. He no longer lives and serves at the pleasure of the Usurper or his spawn. He is the Hand of the Queen, and Dany does not need to work in the shadows, when she herself casts the greatest shadow of them all: that of a dragon.
“Ah,” Tyrion says. “You are correct, your grace, that I had become used to my small schemes and cleverness. But, if I may be frank?” And then, when Dany gestures that he can do so: “I worry that the Starks are a family altogether too stupid to be frightened by the might of dragons.”
“My beloved was such a man,” Dany says, and she knows that she sounds too fond of her husband, a man she loves more and more the longer he has been dead, because a muscle in Tyrion’s cheek jumps. “I know how to deal with them, too, Lord Hand.”
“As your grace wishes,” Tyrion says. “We will fly to Winterfell, then.”
On the flight to Winterfell, Dany sees more of Westeros, the land she had been born to rule. She is unexpectedly entranced by the flat, colorblocked beauty of what Tyrion tells her is the Riverlands and even more surprised by how appealing she finds the craggy northern scenery. Dany has never seen snow, or trees as tall as the Titan of Braavos, or smelled anything that smells like the air in the north, so crisp and pure, burning inside her nose like lye. Even on the ground it feels like she is still on Drogon, still flying high above the land in the thin air of the sky.
“Who will come to greet us?” Dany asks Tyrion, more out of curiosity than because she thinks he might have the correct answer.
“If he’s anything like his father, Robb Stark will come himself,” Tyrion says. “The raven should have arrived yesterday, telling them of our arrival. There will have been enough time for them to prepare to receive your grace.”
“I’m not worried about how nice my chambers might look,” Dany tells him, amused as always by Tyrion’s Westerosi fussiness. “Missandei, come take my cloak.”
“You’ll freeze,” Missandei says, making no move to come and help Dany remove her cloak. “We will need to find you furs more suited to this climate if we are to stay here.” She and Tyrion are standing close to Drogon’s folded wing, looking like two sad cats huddled in a lone patch of sunlight. Grey Worm stands apart, vigilant, scanning the horizon. Although much of the north had appeared forested as they flew, Dany had had her child land in an open stretch of land just south of a grey smear on the landscape that Tyrion had assured her was Winterfell. To their left is the village known as Wintertown--apparently the northern Westerosi are not a particularly creative breed when it comes to naming their settlements.
“Should it be this quiet, Lord Hand?” Dany asks Tyrion.
“No, your grace,” Tyrion replies. “Although it might seem inhospitable, wildlife does thrive here. I distinctly remember being deafened by the birdsong. A particularly northern tune, as I recall, full of much squawking.”
“Are all Westerosi men so occupied by these distinctions?” Dany asks him. “Northern, southern, whose birds sing the sweetest, whose trees grow the tallest?”
“The birds in the south are uniquely sweet, your grace, compared to their northern counterparts,” Tyrion replies. “With the exception of my dear wife, of course.”
Dany, amused, says, “Is she still married to you, then?”
“Alas,” Tyrion replies, “I believe she was married again after my departure from these shores. But I remember her fondly. First marriages occupy a special place in one’s heart.”
Before Dany has very much time to ruminate on this spot of typical Tyrion wisdom, Grey Worm announces, “Someone approaches, my queen,” and they all turn to look northward, where there is indeed a group of people on horseback approaching along the road. There are perhaps a dozen riders on sturdy, ugly horses that nonetheless seem suited to this craggy place.
As they come closer, Dany absently puts out a hand and rests it against Drogon’s snout. He exhales sharply and she feels his hot, sulfurous breath against her palm. “Shh,” she murmurs, and Drogon closes his eyes and rests his head against the ground.
The riders stop at the edge of the road as it winds away towards Wintertown. No one moves to dismount, which Dany would find insulting under other circumstances, but Tyrion’s warnings about northern customs have been ringing in her ears for hours. They are a proud, stubborn people , he had said, as though they were not also Westerosi, as though their blood was not also borne of traitors and usurpers, as though they did not also owe their allegiance to Dany. Their father died before he would bend his knee to a king he did not believe to be righteous, and their uncle and grandfather before him. Better not to give Robb Stark the opportunity to make a similar choice .
“Which of you is Robb Stark?” Dany asks, when the riders have said nothing for longer than a minute. She pats Drogon’s nostril and then steps forward, past Tyrion and Missandei but not quite past Grey Worm. Without the protection of Drogon’s body, the wind is biting and Dany is glad that Missandei had refused to take her cloak.
The man at the forefront of the riders dismounts. He has a long, handsome face and bright blue eyes set under a cap of russet-colored hair. “I am Robb Stark, King in the North,” he says, and he speaks the Westerosi common tongue with an accent that Dany has only heard the faintest strains of in Jorah’s voice. It feels like the soft bristles of a hairbrush against her upper arms. When he strides forward to meet her, she sees that he is quite tall, and he wears a sword strapped against his back, the hilt just visible above the ruff of fur draped around his shoulders.
Tyrion steps forward and says, “May I present Her Grace, Danaerys Targaryen, First of--”
“You may not,” Stark says. He stops directly in front of Dany, but not close enough that Grey Worm is out of his peripheral vision. “We introduce ourselves in the north, Lord Tyrion, as you might recall from your visit here many years ago.”
“You were not quite so well-spoken then, my lord,” Tyrion says with a fine edge of irony.
“My brother is to be addressed as his grace ,” a lady says, and Dany cannot help but turn her eyes to look for the speaker. She had not realized women were part of the approaching company, but now that Dany is looking she can see them--two women, in fact, a small one dressed in brown and a tall lady with regal bearing and bright red hair in a braid wound around her head. She has the same long face and blue eyes as Stark.
Tyrion sketches a swift bow to the lady with blue eyes. “Well met, Lady Sansa.”
“Lord Tyrion,” she says, inclining her head.
“I am Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen,” Dany says. In her heart, she hears First of her Name, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons , but she does not say it, because Stark’s fine blue eyes are cold and haughty and she knows what will make him furious and it is not her accomplishments across the sea. “Queen of Westeros.”
“So we have heard,” Stark says, mouth pulled into a tight line. “What brings you to the North?”
“I will visit all my lands in time,” Dany says. “But the need in the north appeared to be most pressing. The whispers that my Lord Hand brought to me, of ice kings and mysterious creatures brought back from the dead, I admit I found them amusing at first. But one of my advisors came to me from this land and he took these whispers quite seriously. It is for his sake I have come.”
“All who wish to fight the dead are welcome,” Stark says. “But the North is independent and I am her king. We admit no conquerors here.”
Dany lets her eyes move off of Stark’s handsome face to the riders arrayed behind him. His sister rides to his left, dressed in thick furs and finely embroidered wool, the features of her beautiful face smoothed into a cold mask. To the right of Stark’s riderless horse is a man dressed entirely in black, with dark hair and beard and a tight, almost sullen expression. Dany finds herself staring at him without knowing why--is it that he looks like Daario? But no, it is not Daario of whom she is reminded. She cannot place him. He must be the bastard brother. Perhaps it is Jorah he reminds her of, another faithful right hand. Perhaps his mother was Jorah’s kin.
As she watches him, he loosens his grip on the reins of his horse and lowers a hand to his waist, resting it against his belt, where it might go then quickly to the hilt of his sword where it is strapped to his hip.
“We will discuss political matters at another time,” Dany says finally. “If the dead walk again, it is a serious matter.”
“They indeed walk,” Stark says grimly. “And matters are worse than that.”
A few of the riders are left behind to return to Winterfell on foot and their horses are offered to Dany and her advisors. Dany rides at the front, beside Stark, and Tyrion, sharing with Missandei due to the absence of his modified saddle, rides to the left of his estranged wife. “It is good to see you so well, Lady Sansa,” he says. Dany can hear him perfectly well, because these northerners ride close together. Perhaps it is to stay warm.
“Thank you for your kind words, Lord Tyrion,” the lady replies in a voice so soft and even that Dany cannot tell how she feels. Has she missed her clever, ugly husband? Or does she hate him?
“I had not thought your brother the type to forsake his vows,” Tyrion continues, and it takes Dany a moment to realize that he speaks of the dour, dark-haired man. She only does so because Lady Sansa replies, “Jon forsook no vows. His watch ended.”
“A man’s watch ends with death,” Tyrion says.
“We received word yesterday from your sister,” Lady Sansa says instead of answering Tyrion’s unspoken question. “She has heard that the dead walk again and will provide assistance, of course, on the condition that his grace takes the knee.”
“Of course,” Tyrion says with a sigh.
“She also requested that we return your brother,” Lady Sansa continues.
“Do you have him?” Tyrion asks with some surprise.
“We do not harbor anyone by the name of Jaime Lannister,” Lady Sansa replies in that soft, even tone. Even her accent, that barely familiar northern burr, lacks any sort of edge. She’s more of a feather mattress than a person.
After a long pause, Tyrion says, “Then they married?”
“Mmm,” Lady Sansa hums.
“I did not think I would live to see the day,” Tyrion says, and Dany can hear that he has gone soft, too; Lady Sansa has liquefied him with this news. Dany does not discuss his family with her Hand and is proud of herself for this compromise. Dany would not accept divided loyalties from anyone else, but she will allow Tyrion his tender heart, provided he does not actively prevent her from undertaking action against her enemies.
“The man who murdered my father,” Dany says to Stark. “You have him at Winterfell? He is your guest?”
“He is my subject,” Stark corrects her, which Dany abhors; she whips her head around to look at him and he is facing forward, out into the distance, squinting against the sun. “He is married to my sister’s champion, a woman of exceptional honor and decency, and they rescued my sister when she was held hostage in the Vale. That said, he also pushed my brother out of a window and almost killed him, but my brother has accepted Ser Jaime’s apologies and penance.”
“Your brother appears in fine health for someone pushed out of a window,” Dany says sharply, looking to the shadow in black who rides on the other side of Stark.
“Not that brother,” Stark says tightly. “Bran, who will never walk again.”
“Are there children?” Tyrion has asked Lady Sansa in a quiet undertone.
“The Evenstar has his heir,” Lady Sansa replies, which is gibberish that means nothing to Dany but is apparently quite meaningful to Tyrion, who inhales sharply.
There is no more discussion for the rest of the ride, which is good, because Dany needs time to think--about how little she knows of the houses of Westeros, about the dead who walk again, about Jaime Lannister, a man who will soon be dead and never walk again, if Dany has her way.
About Robb Stark, with his handsome face, whose wife had died, Tyrion had taken care to inform Dany, without giving him children.
Winterfell is a bleak pile of rocks in the middle of a great forest. To someone raised on huge expanses of open space, to sand and grass and the largest, greatest cities in the world, it is a fine enough space to spend a few nights but it is not impressive in any sense of the word.
“Welcome to Winterfell, Lady Stormborn,” Stark says as they ride through the gates. The smallfolk bustling in the keep are the palest people Dany has ever seen in vast quantities, even the ones with dark skin; they have the look of people who do not spend their lives under the sun. Their washed-out complexions and serviceable brown clothing, set against the dark stone walls of the keep, are a dreary sight.
“Her Grace is the Queen of the Andals and First Men and Khaleesi of the Dothraki,” Missandei says. It is the first time she has spoken; Dany can see that it startles some of the men around her, who had likely thought her unable to understand the Westerosi common tongue.
Stark dismounts easily from his tall, ugly horse and then reaches up to lift Dany down. “Is that so?” he asks Dany. He has the strength to swing her down almost unbelievably slowly, perhaps as a sign of respect of Dany’s ladylike delicacy? Dany still does not quite understand Westerosi ways. When they stand this close to each other, Dany’s head just barely reaches to his shoulders. She had thought him quite lean but she sees now that it is his height that gave her that impression; he is robust, as a man should be.
“Do you admit conquerors of lands not your own?” Dany inquires. “Missandei speaks the truth. I am the Queen of the Andals and First Men. I am Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea. I am the Protector of the Seven Kingdoms.”
“Six kingdoms,” Stark says softly, with an edge. He does not look away from Dany, although it looks to be a painful position for his neck.
Dany lifts an eyebrow up at this man. She is close enough that he could probably break her neck before Grey Worm could gut him, and perhaps before Dany could call for Drogon to burn the castle from his flight high above its walls, but she is not afraid.
“Six kingdoms,” Dany finally allows. For now .
“Sansa, will you show her grace and her lady to their chambers?” Stark calls to his sister, still sitting on her horse. The silent brother moves to her and lifts her down. She rests her hands on his shoulders as he does so, her fingers and wrists disappearing into the furs strapped over his shoulders, and her expression softens from its cold cast into something a little warmer and finer for it. She says something quietly to the silent brother and he nods once.
“Of course,” Lady Sansa says. “Your grace, if you would?”
“We will meet privately after the evening meal,” Stark says to Dany. “My sister will see you settled.”
“Thank you for your hospitality, your grace,” Dany says, and she can almost hear Tyrion’s sigh of relief. “I look forward to our discussion this evening.”
“You know what will be discussed, when we are through with the White Walkers?” Sansa says to Robb as she joins him at the ramparts overlooking Wintertown. He hadn’t heard her approach; whatever had been done to her in King’s Landing and the Vale, it had made her into a ghost. The most beautiful woman in the keep and she could move without being seen by anyone except for Arya. It worried Robb sometimes, when he had a moment to think about what Sansa should have been: bright, cheerful, beloved.
Robb clenches his hands on the tall edge of the stone wall and then lets go. There is nothing left of the men who had hurt his sister. Robb has no one he may conveniently fight to make himself feel better, just his own inadequacies as a brother and guardian. “You mean marriage?” he says.
“Yes,” Sansa agrees. “I’m glad you could see it.”
“Hard not to notice,” Robb says. “She wants all of the kingdoms, you can see it all over her face.”
“She does not understand our ways,” Sansa says. “I had thought, perhaps, with those who also went into exile, she would have grown up knowing something of us--but she’s quite foreign. She will not be able to keep the throne unless she marries someone who is truly Westerosi.”
“I’m not sure she knows that much,” Robb says.
“Tyrion does,” Sansa replies. “He did not ask after Roslin, so he must have heard.”
Robb looks down at Wintertown, which should be settling into the night with its usual quiet bustle. Lanterns should shine in the windows; the trade at the brothel on the edge of town should be increasing. But Wintertown is quiet and empty, its people relocated to the castle, where they might be easily protected from wights. Robb is pretending not to know that the brothel is still quite operational; unless any of the women are hurt, there is nothing he can do about it.
“Everyone heard,” Robb finally says. “If Arya heard in Braavos and knew to come home, then should we be surprised word reached the rest of the Free Cities?”
“I suppose not,” Sansa finally says. Although she has not been very physically affectionate since her return to Winterfell, she steps closer to Robb and lets her arm press against his. She feels so shockingly warm that Robb realizes he has been up here for too long. Instead of returning inside, he lifts his arm and tucks his sister under it against his side. “Does Roslin still have a firm hold on your heart, Robb?”
After a long moment, he says, “No,” and it is not even a lie. “I could marry again, if that is how we are to survive the winter.”
“As could I,” Sansa says, and that is a lie. Robb can feel the fine tremors running through her. “Highgarden--”
“No, Sansa,” Robb says softly, and she stops speaking immediately. “Willas Tyrell might come here to Winterfell and petition me for your hand, and if he makes a fine enough showing perhaps you might agree to become his lady, but you will not be parted with for less.”
After a long moment, Sansa murmurs, “Don’t be foolish,” and presses against Robb’s side in a swift, one-armed embrace. “He can’t ride that far with his leg. If he did try, it would take him a full year to get here.”
“Doesn’t sound like the kind of man I’d part with my sister for, then,” Robb says, and when he looks down at her face he can see that the corner of Sansa’s mouth is quirked upwards, the furthest she’s gotten into a full smile for months.
After a few quiet minutes, the smile slips away. Robb already knows what she’s going to say. “Has Jon told you of his decision?”
“Not a single word,” Robb says. “Did he come to you?”
Sansa’s face looks smooth again, like it has been carved out of fine marble. Her lips thin. “No,” she says. “Perhaps he has spoken with Arya.”
“No one goes to Arya for advice on diplomacy,” Robb says, hoping that that might coax another smile out of Sansa. It does not. She has gone still against his side.
“Knowing Jon, he will think on it for several months, talk to no one, and then blurt it out in front of her at the least opportune moment possible,” Sansa says. Although Winterfell has been full of Starks again for almost a full year, Robb is still surprised when Sansa unearths these small insights. She and Jon have become close since her return; they pass many quiet mornings together, which Robb knows because he’s often come to Sansa’s solar to break his fast and found them there, twin insomniacs by the fire. They had seemed the most wounded of any of their siblings upon their respective returns--Jon from the dead, Sansa from her second marriage--and that had been the bridge between them. Or so Robb assumes, for neither will speak much of the other.
“I will talk to him about it,” Robb assures her. “I won’t let her kill him, Sansa.”
“That doesn’t worry me,” Sansa says. “Have you not thought--well, fire cannot kill a dragon. Do you think it would kill Jon? Perhaps he is like her. Perhaps he would survive.”
“Do you think she really cannot be burned?” Robb says skeptically. “It’s just a story.”
“You mean like men who can speak to wolves with their minds? Or the Three-Eyed Raven? Or perhaps you mean like dead men that rise again,” Sansa says.
“It’s good you don’t want to marry again,” Robb observes. “I might have trouble getting someone to take you, with that sharp tongue. Ah!” He flinches as Sansa wriggles her cold fingers inside jerkin and pinches his side.
“It’s my sharp fingers you have to worry about,” Sansa tells him, and then she shrieks as Robb picks her up and hefts her as if he means to throw her over the side of the rampart. “Robb! Put me down!”
Robb says, “You’re getting thin again. It didn’t used to be this easy to pick you up, you know. Are you wasting away, thinking of your beloved Willas Tyrell?”
“Robb,” Sansa says, gasping, “you wretch --” and then she begins to laugh.
It occurs to Robb during supper that Daenerys Stormborn, first of her etcetera, is actually quite gorgeous. She is wearing white, layers of silk wrapped around her small body, diamonds winking from her throat and ears and hair, a fine white pelt of something small draped over her shoulders. If this is meant as the first step towards marriage--putting her in his colors--then it does not quite accomplish that, but it does make Robb think about how she would look naked, which is perhaps a less honorable route to the same destination.
“I hope you found your chamber to your satisfaction, your grace,” Sansa says to Daenerys. “If you should require anything, I hope you will inform me.”
“What a gracious lady you are,” Daenerys says. “Your hospitality is appreciated, Lady Sansa.” She has a striking way of speaking, an almost old-fashioned precision to her diction. She sounds like Robb’s grandmother, who had married out of House Whent in a different, more courtly time. “You are the lady here?” she asks Sansa.
“My brother is a widower,” Sansa replies. She had still been happy and lively when she’d left Robb on the ramparts to dress for supper a scant hour ago, but she now looks like a fine marble statue of herself, all of her animation drained away. “Until he marries again, I will keep his household for him.”
“Or perhaps until you marry again?” Daenerys suggests.
“Yes,” Sansa says.
“When I have restored my Lord Hand to his lands and title, would you wish to renew your marriage vows?” Daenerys asks, and Robb chokes on the sliver of rabbit he’d been unfortunate enough to be chewing. Although Arya, Rickon, and Bran continue to eat, Jon stops cutting his meat. Robb can see his knuckles go white on the handle of his knife.
“What a generous offer,” Sansa says, without any inflection whatsoever. “However, I do not think that Lord Tyrion and I would suit.”
“I am sorry to hear that,” Daenerys says. “Women always want to play matchmaker, don’t they? I got carried away.” The way that she says this-- women always --reminds Robb of nothing so much as Arya complaining about the feminine mysteries, and he looks down the table to her. She is watching Daenerys with her eyebrows set low, as though she is a cat watching a particularly interesting mouse.
“Lady Sansa was kind enough to an old dwarf that I treasure my memories of the time we had together. However, it seems rather cruel to subject her to more charity work of that nature,” Tyrion says, lifting his wine goblet in Sansa’s direction.
“You are too kind to me, Lord Tyrion, and not kind enough to yourself,” Sansa replies steadily.
“I speak only the truth, my lady,” Tyrion replies.
Jon puts down his knife, moving very carefully, as though he is afraid of being cut by it. Or perhaps he’s afraid that if he keeps holding it, he’s going to drive it into Tyrion Lannister’s throat. Robb is certainly more worried about that possibility than he had been at the beginning of their meal.
“Enough about marriages,” Arya says suddenly, and Robb watches Daenerys’ eyes go to Arya’s small form where she’s hunched over her plate. “I want to hear what it’s like to fly.” Arya still has that expression of concentration, but it’s likely that only Robb and Jon--who had taught Arya how to snare rabbits when she was small--would recognize it.
Daenerys looks at Arya for a long moment, and then a smile breaks across her face. She has a lovely smile, like she has a secret that she cannot wait to share. The light flickers against the apple of her cheek and Robb wants to bite it. She has a pampered, luxurious look to her, like her skin will feel softer than the silk she wears.
“Flying is truly the greatest pleasure in this world,” she tells Arya seriously. “All else falls away, until it is only you, and your child, and the sky. The entire world lies before you, and you may go anywhere you wish. Even the very concept of chains falls away.”
“Yes,” Tyrion says drily. “You’re free to fall to your death at any moment, it’s very liberating.”
“My Lord Hand does not enjoy flying,” Daenerys tells Arya. “I suspect he does not enjoy any situation where he is not in complete control. It is rather like a man, do you not think?” She has picked the wrong sister for this aside; Arya says nothing, but Sansa allows herself a small smile that Robb catches before she buries it in her wine goblet. “I trust my children to take care of me, as I took care of them when they were infants.”
“You raised them?” Arya asks.
“Oh, yes,” Daenerys says. “I was with them in the fire when they hatched. They came into this world with my pain and blood, as do any women’s children.”
“But they aren’t human,” Arya says. She even goes so far as to let her brow furrow, and now Jon has caught on to what she’s doing; he looks at her for an incredulous second and then flicks a glance at Robb. When their eyes meet, Jon tilts his head very slightly towards Arya in inquiry. Robb rolls his shoulders back in an aborted shrug that might be mistaken for a stretch.
“Must they be human?” Daenerys asks. “I have met so many contemptible men and women who were no better than rude animals. Are they more worthy, more deserving than my children? I don’t think so.” She pauses for a moment. “My Lord Hand has told me something of these wolves of Winterfell. Are those stories true?”
“Our direwolves?” Arya says. “They do exist, if that’s what you mean.”
“You have felt this connection,” Daenerys says. “One you form with a creature who is not human, requiring you to understand a mind that is not like your own. It changes your perception of the world, does it not?”
Arya’s brow softens and goes smooth. She has found what she has been looking for. “The dragons are not just children of a human woman,” she says. “You are a mother to dragons.”
“I am the Mother of Dragons,” Daenerys says. “There has never been another like me.” She gazes at Arya for a moment, and then she smiles. “Perhaps there are others who understand what it is to be linked to another creature, but it is not the same. There are no other dragons.”
There is a heavy silence that falls over the table at this. After a few long seconds, Jon affixes a determined look on his face, opens his mouth, and Robb and Sansa speak immediately, moving so quickly that their voices layer on top of each other. “More wine, your grace?” Sansa inquires, as Robb says, “Perhaps we should move to my solar.”
Daenerys says, “Yes, let us discuss the dead.”
Jon had gone wight-hunting with Ghost the night before, as soon as they’d heard that Daenerys was to come north. It hadn’t been hard to find one, he’d said; man and direwolf had been back within a few hours, a dead child tied to the end of a sturdy pole to keep it immobilized out of arm’s reach. Jon had gagged it, to prevent it from calling to its fellows. After much discussion they had decided to keep it in the crypts, where if it did shriek when it was revealed, it would be buried in stone and out of earshot of any nearby wights.
In the darkness of the crypts, Daenerys’ fine white hair nearly glows, catching the firelight from Jon’s torch. She is accompanied by Tyrion and the silent man she refers to as Grey Worm; the crypts are not large enough for more people, Robb had told her, and so Arya, Bran, and Daenerys’ handmaiden are left in Robb’s solar with a cyvasse board and Rickon’s increasingly sleepy antics for company.
Roslin’s tomb is one of the first that they come upon. Robb, at the back of the party, pauses for a moment to pay his respects to his wife. She has been rendered in soft limestone, her small features made sharp in death, and she carries a baby in her arms. Their babe had not in truth been so large; when Roslin died she had only known herself to be with child for a handful of weeks. But Robb had wanted the child to share Roslin’s eternal sleep. She had hated to be lonely.
Robb kisses his fingertips and rests them against the baby’s forehead, and then he gathers himself and continues before he has the chance to lose the light of Jon’s torch. He only reaches out for a moment as he approaches the tomb shared by his mother and father, letting his hand grasp his mother’s in passing.
Jon has hidden the dead child deep in the crypts, away from where it might be discovered by accident. As they approach, Jon calls, “Ser Brienne, we’ve come to see the wight.”
“My lord,” Brienne says, coming to her feet off of her stool and resting her palm against the hilt of her sword. Robb had sworn to her that he would not let the Targaryen queen claim her husband’s head, but Robb sees her in bearing that Brienne is still uneasy. “I have seen no one,” she tells Jon.
“Thank you, Ser Brienne,” Jon says. “Will you see to Lady Sansa?” Brienne moves to flank Sansa instinctually; likely Jon had not needed to ask. Jon turns back for a moment, looking for Robb, and then he jerks his head off to the left.
“Your grace,” Robb says to Daenerys. “Are you prepared?”
“Show me the dead child who still walks,” Daenerys says. She is not looking at Robb; she is looking at Jon, and the flame of the torch he holds. Robb can see the yellow and red tongues of fire reflected in her eyes. She looks like a strange, unearthly creature, and Robb’s mouth feels dry. Perhaps Arya is right, with her questioning: Is Daenerys a woman, or is she something different?
Jon touches his torch to a dry one in a sconce on the wall, and then another, and the small room brightens with light, suddenly, to reveal the dead child, its single eye a piercing blue. The other is gone, leaving behind a socket gone muddy brown with dried blood and gore. The bottom half of one of the child’s legs is missing, and its hair is matted with blood. When it sees Daenerys, it begins to try to scream, but the gag stifles most of it.
Sansa says nothing so palpably that Robb almost moves to comfort her, but he stops when Daenerys speaks. “This poor child,” she says. “How did he die?”
“A wight,” Jon says. “There are--teeth marks.” Sansa makes a very, very soft noise, and Jon’s whole body goes still.
“They cannot be killed in any other way?” Daenerys asks. These are practical questions, the same ones Arya had asked when Jon had first told them of the wights, but Daenerys does not ask them as Arya does. She sounds deeply concerned, almost maternal.
“Flame or dragonglass,” Robb confirms. “Or Valyrian steel, but it’s much rarer.”
“Not terribly rare,” Tyrion murmurs. “I count three blades of such a material in this very crypt, and another upstairs--that was the young Tarly disgrace who left your solar in such a hurry, was it not, your grace?”
“Perhaps we should thank your father for melting down Ice,” Sansa replies in a cold voice. “Now two warriors may carry its precious steel into battle against the dead.”
“Even my father could not claim such foresight, Lady Sansa,” Tyrion says, his tone gone apologetic. “He could occasionally be a wily old bastard, but he was, mostly, simply a bastard.”
Sansa does not say anything and she turns her face away from Tyrion.
“Ser Brienne,” Robb says. “If you would?”
“Yes, your grace,” Brienne answers, and she unsheathes Oathkeeper.
“No,” Daenerys says suddenly, and Brienne halts her steps, looking to Robb for orders. “First, normal steel. Show me this invincibility. I want to see it myself.”
Robb nods and Brienne sheathes Oathkeeper before reaching for the short dagger she keeps at her waist. She shows the blade to Daenerys, making clear that the steel does not ripple in the light with a surprising flash of showiness--but, of course, she had been trained in the south--and then she puts the dagger into the wight’s throat and rips down in a swift, economical motion, cutting at the connections between heart and lungs.
“Grey Worm?” Daenerys says.
“It is a death blow,” Grey Worm says. “Near instantaneous.”
They watch the wight wriggle and shriek under its gag for three, four, five endless minutes. Sansa has gone tighter and tighter in the shoulders as the time drags on; Robb can see that Jon’s mouth has thinned into almost nothing. Daenerys stands still at Robb’s side, her eyes reflecting the dancing light of the flames.
Finally, Daenerys says, “End it.”
Brienne unsheathes Oathkeeper and plunges it into the chest of the wight, slotting it neatly between ribs to protect the blade and piercing the heart. Almost instantly the child ceases its restless motion, and its small body falls limp. Before anyone can think to stop her, Daenerys crouches down next to the child’s body and puts her hand on its forehead, above its ruined eye. The piercing blue color has faded from the other, like a candle snuffed out. She says something that Robb cannot quite hear, although it sounds like High Valyrian.
“I see that you face a serious foe, your grace,” Daenerys finally says.
“This is not the foe,” Robb tells her. “The wights are a weapon wielded by the White Walkers and their general, called the Night King. It would be too dangerous to capture a White Walker, even to convince an ally to join our cause. It is the White Walkers who raise the dead, and the Night King who directs them to his cause.”
“And what cause is that?” Daenerys asks.
“The death of all men, your grace,” Robb replies.
When Daenerys looks up at Robb, she has a strange expression on her face. It takes him a moment to recognize it as almost rapturous, as though she has seen something in the death of this child that is beyond the rest of them. “Yes,” she says, “I will fight with you to protect men from this King of Night. My children and I will rain fire down upon them all.”
Jon clears his throat.
“And dragonglass?” Robb asks.
“You may mine it,” Daenerys replies. “Is there enough time for such a venture?”
“Winter will be upon us soon,” Robb says. “But the Wall still stands, and Bran says we will not do battle with the Night King until it falls.”
“ Falls ?” Tyrion says. “The Wall?”
“It will happen,” Robb says grimly. “We know not how, but Bran has seen--other things, that proved themselves to be true. We cannot rely upon the Wall to remain standing.”
“Of course we can,” Tyrion says. “It’s the Wall . Nothing could fell it. I’ve traveled half the world and I’ve never seen anything so large.”
“Have you ever seen the dead walk, Lord Tyrion?” Sansa asks. “Winter is coming, inexorable, on tireless legs. One way or another, the Wall will fall, and then we will have no protection against the Night King.”
“You will have me,” Daenerys says firmly.
Dany goes to Stark that night, when the small castle has gone to sleep. She does not often go to her lovers; they usually have the sense to come to her themselves. But she does not think that Stark, a widower who is apparently a paragon of Westerosi virtue and mourning, would come to her. She thinks he would like to, based on how his eyes had devoured her at supper, and so she makes her way to his rooms.
“This man?” Missandei asks in High Valyrian as they cross the narrow, twisting corridors. “Truly?”
“Yes,” Dany says.
“Because you would marry him to take his kingdom?” Missandei asks, not reproachfully so much as if she does not quite understand what Dany wishes to accomplish.
“Perhaps I will,” Dany tells her, “but that’s not why I go to him.”
“You should have sent me to fetch him ,” Missandei says, and now she is reproachful. “It’s cold enough here to freeze off your toes. And what if his guard turns you away?” Dany cannot help but laugh at this, and after a moment, Missandei does the same. “Very well,” Missandei finally says. “No man would be so stupid. But these Westerosi, they’re a prudish people. I do not believe that they respect their lovers, from the way people here speak of the natural-born brother.”
Dany says, “The one in black?”
“Yes,” Missandei says. “They call him the White Wolf when they wish to be respectful, but many simply call him the bastard .”
“Missandei, are you advising me to be cautious?” Dany asks her, and she lets the affection and amusement come through in her voice.
“Yes,” Missandei says firmly. They have gotten deeper into the castle now; a flight of stairs is what stands between them and the room that Stark had called his solar. “Any man who shames you should die, and this king must live, or it will be war.”
“I can win a war,” Dany reminds her and Missandei frowns.
“It is a different kind of war,” Missandei finally says. “These people, their hearts are as cold as the ice in which they live. They do not open them easily, not even to those that are righteous and kind.”
They have reached the top of the stairs now and there is indeed a dour-looking pair of knights standing guard outside of Stark’s chamber, standing silently in their pale grey cloaks, swords strapped at their waists. They look like men born of the stone of which this castle has been built.
“My lady would speak with the Stark king,” Missandei says in the Westerosi common tongue, stepping forward onto the landing. The guards turn their heads in unison to look at her; one of them flicks a glance at Dany, swathed in her white cloak, and then back to Missandei.
“The king has retired for the evening,” the guard on the left says after a long moment.
“You will ask him to receive my lady,” Missandei says, softly, firmly, and the guards look at each other before the one that had spoken jerks his head towards the door and the silent one knocks, waits a moment, and then enters.
They wait in the chilly corridor for what feels like ages before the guard returns. “The king will see you, your grace,” he says, and he holds the door for her.
“Go back to bed, Missandei,” Dany murmurs as she passes her, and Missandei looks stubbornly resistant. “Do not freeze lingering all night in the corridor,” she adds in High Valyrian and Missandei says, reluctant, “Very well,” in the same language.
Stark is in front of the fire in his solar. He wears a linen shirt and wool trousers, no jerkin or coat, no cloak, no furs. The fire has turned his hair alight, and Dany can see that the new hair on his face is also red, almost golden in the light. Looking at him, gilded like this, Dany’s thighs feel tight. The way she wants him is difficult to describe, even to herself. It’s a covetousness like hunger more than sexual desire. She has never known a man more sure of himself without that horrible cockiness that had always repelled her even as it attracted her.
“What concerns you, your grace?” Stark finally asks.
“Many things,” Dany replies. “But we will discuss other matters in time. I have come to speak with you honestly about something I saw this evening in the eyes of the dead child. Perhaps, since we are being so honest, you will address me as Daenerys.”
“Very well, Daenerys,” Stark says, and Dany feels the sibilants of her name whisper across her skin. “Will you sit?” He gestures to one of the heavy chairs positioned by the fire, dressed with cushions that look like his fine lady of a sister embroidered them. Everywhere Dany has turned in this castle, she has seen those dancing wolves.
“Thank you,” Dany replies, and after she has sat, Stark does so in the other chair. He leans back in the chair, letting his long legs sprawl across the floor between them. He is still wearing his boots, Dany sees; perhaps it is too cold in Westeros to go without shoes.
“I had a curious vision,” Dany says.
Stark says, “Indeed?”
“I have had them before,” Dany says. “My children came to me as eggs--a wedding present. I had them for ages until I knew, suddenly, that they should be put on live fire. Perhaps a vision is not the correct way to describe it? But I had the knowledge where before I had not.” Across from her, Stark has put a hand against his mouth, hiding the expression from her, although his eyes look curious. “I had a similar experience tonight. I looked into the eyes of the dead child and I knew that I would fly my children in battle against the Night King. I knew they would need riders to prevail against him, and I knew that such a rider was in the crypt with me.”
Stark says nothing, but his eyes no longer look quite so bright.
“Tell me of your brother the White Wolf,” Dany says. “He looked so familiar when I first saw his face, I thought perhaps his mother was kin to Ser Jorah, my sworn sword. But I no longer believe that is the source of this familiarity.”
Stark does not answer, and in and of itself, this is confirmation.
“I thought we were all killed,” Dany finally says. Her voice has gone soft, and although she hates it, she cannot stop herself. The small, kindled bit of hope in her chest will not die. “My Lord Hand informed me that the Usurper had us all murdered. He nearly succeeded in killing me. Even those with the weakest of connections to my House were stripped of titles and then of their lives. How did he survive?”
Stark says, “My father took what he knew of Jon’s mother to his grave,” and then he falls silent again. Dany cannot see in his face if he knows the truth of the lady, but he had known of his brother’s bloodline. Talk of the White Wolf riding a dragon had not surprised him at all.
“Perhaps a natural daughter of my uncle Duncan,” Dany suggests. “He was said to have left many behind. Women loved the Prince of Dragonflies.”
“Mmm,” says Stark.
They sit together in silence, until the sounds of the fire become all that Dany can hear. She loves nothing more than the hisses, the spitting, the crackling. She loves that the flames are always proclaiming their existence with such fury. Dany does not remember the hours she spent on her husband’s pyre for anything other than the noise and the heat, burning through her and cleansing her of her grief.
“Have you ever seen him suffer a burn?” Dany asks.
“I don’t know,” Stark says. Dany looks up from the fire to see him watching her, warily. His body looks relaxed but she can see that he is thinking furiously; the tiny pinpricks of his pupils are moving restlessly. “What makes you so sure of this vision?”
Dany thinks, It means that I am not the only one. But that is something she will never tell Stark, or anyone. Not even Missandei. Dany’s strength has come from her loneliness. She has succeeded where others have not and that is by its very notion an act of isolation. “Surely your people are moved by gods.”
“Aren’t you here because they’re also your people?” he says drily, but he does not wait for her to answer. “Yes, we have greenseers. But I have met men who claimed to see messages from the gods when it was in truth spycraft and whispers.”
“I abhor spycraft,” Dany says immediately.
“No matter your inclinations, I find it hard to believe Tyrion Lannister would disdain it. And I’ve heard that you have Varys and his little birds at your disposal.”
“Men scheme and spy,” Dany says dismissively. “They look in the shadows for secrets they can twist to their own use. Men are always looking for ways to make themselves feel more clever.”
Stark says, “That’s a refreshing interpretation of the inclinations of my sex.”
“Women did not need to invent spycraft, Stark. It is men who think women too weak to wield the dagger, who think women need to resort to poison and scheming to accomplish their goals. Women know their own strength, and it is boundless. A woman does not need a network of pathetic orphans to make herself feel powerful.”
Dany says all of this, all of what she knows to be true in her heart, even though she knows that Stark will not understand. These Westerosi are all so shackled by their traditions, even those of treachery. Dany is exhausted by Westeros and she’s only inhabited its shores for a handful of weeks.
“Daenerys,” Stark says, and Dany clenches her hands into tight fists in her lap. “Call me Robb.”
When Dany wakes the next morning--in her own bed, next to Missandei’s warm, snoring body--it is too early for anyone to be awake, let alone someone who had to wait long into the night before sneaking into a king’s solar for nothing more than a polite conversation. She assumes at first she has woken up because she’s so cold, but then she can hear it: steel on steel, men shouting.
“Missandei,” she says, as that tingling feeling of readiness courses down her spine, “what--” but she knows before she even finishes her sentence. Missandei does not wake up; Dany is left with no witness as she crawls out of the warm bed and crosses the floor to the small, narrow window. It takes two tries for her to force the casement open, and then she is looking down into the yard. A few clusters of men are shouting as two opponents face off, their bodies sweating so furiously that they’re steaming in the morning cold.
This, Dany realizes, has been a somewhat insulting room assignment on the part of Lady Sansa. How refreshing to know that the lady is capable of rudeness.
Beneath Dany’s window, the men separate and one shoves a hand through a mass of curls, pushing it out of his face. In a flash, Dany recognizes him again--the silent brother. Is he her cousin? He seems familiar in a way just out of reach.
His opponent is laughing, and Dany takes a moment longer to realize that it is Robb Stark, King in the North, wearing a dirty shirt and trousers, absolutely caked in mud. “What’s this, then?” he calls, doing a flashy bit of work with his sword. “Tired already, brother?”
“Of your antics, sure,” the silent brother says, in his quiet, deep voice, and then he attacks swiftly. The men are moving almost too quickly for Dany to follow the lines of their swords; it’s just past dawn and the light is not very good. She has seen the men of her khalasar perform such exercises, but the style of fighting is so different. The Westerosi style of sword-fighting, with those huge greatswords, had not struck Dany as one that would be beautiful to watch. She finds herself surprisingly engaged. As the sun rises further, struggling to make its way over the horizon, Dany can see that both men fight with Valyrian steel.
The match ends unexpectedly, when a large shape moves out of the shadow of the hall and darts in between the men, tripping first one and then the other, sending them sprawling on their backs. “That fucking menace,” someone in the yard says on a groan, and then a woman shouts, “Shaggydog, get back here!”
The beast--the direwolf--named Shaggydog has laid on top of the king and seems to be occupied in licking his face. “Get off ,” Robb says; all Dany can see of him is his kicking legs. Abruptly he stops struggling and dissolves into laughter. “By the gods do you smell vile, you fucking monster. Where are the rest of your kin?”
Another direwolf comes to join Shaggydog in assailing the king. Dany is far above the yard but she can tell that Tyrion had not exaggerated; they are not the size of the giant Westerosi horses Dany had seen the northerners riding yesterday, but they are certainly proportionate to a pony.
“They brought back game,” calls the woman who had shouted for Shaggydog, and Dany follows the commotion to see the king’s sister--the Lady Arya, whose appearance had deeply shocked Dany’s Hand but had otherwise not been discussed or explained. She’s wearing the same clothes as her brothers and equally smeared with dirt. The direwolf at her side is smaller than the others, but still tall enough that the wolf can lick her cheek without having to stretch very far off of the ground. “Nym had a deer, Sansa even kissed her.”
“Go bother Rickon,” Robb tells one of the wolves as he stands and one of them peels off and disappears into the castle, tongue lolling. “Where’s Ghost, then?” he asks. “He’s not--?”
“He’s fine,” Arya says. “Must still be with Sansa.”
“Brought back game, did you?” Robb says to the wolf winding around his legs. “You’ve earned yourself a fine bath and a long nap by the fire in my solar, Grey Wind. Did Sansa give you a kiss? No, probably not, you smell like a latrine.”
This must be his wolf, then. Dany is intrigued enough that she leans a little closer to the window, trying to get a good look at the creature. She has never seen a wolf before, and although it had been described to her as a large dog, she sees very little resemblance between Robb’s beast and the wild dogs that had roamed the streets of Braavos. It looks affectionate with Robb but there is blood along its muzzle and down its neck, drying into thick flakes. Dany had all but scolded Tyrion for insinuating that her dragons were like these direwolves, but she now understands the temptation to make this comparison.
Down in the yard, the silent brother uses the hem of his tunic to remove the mud from his sword. He’s turned away from Dany, towards the doorway leading back into the castle that the direwolves had come out of, and although he looks to be the very picture of nonchalance, Dany somehow intuits that he is waiting for something. His direwolf, perhaps?
Lady Sansa is the next out of the door, and the silent brother loses that posture of anticipation. There is a large white direwolf dogging her steps, pressing against her side and tilting its head to give her fingers access to its neck. Although the lady is dressed very plainly for the day in a dreary smock over a dark grey dress, she and the wolf seem of a type. Perhaps it is that they are both so pale.
“How’s he so clean, then?” Robb asks, affronted.
“A bath, Robb,” the lady says.
“Why does Ghost get a bath?” Robb demands.
“He’s the only one patient enough to sit still,” Lady Sansa replies instantly, and there’s a strain of mockery in her voice. She rubs her fingers over a long tufted ear and the white wolf closes its eyes and presses its head against her hand. No one is watching the silent brother but Dany, and so she alone can see tension leave his shoulders. Only Dany sees that when he pushes his hand through his hair, fighting back against the curls, it is trembling.
“You’re playing favorites,” Robb accuses, and Lady Sansa lifts a single dark eyebrow.
“Even if I am, there’s nothing you’ll be able to do about it,” she says, and Lady Arya barks out a laugh at this. “You’d better come inside before you all freeze. Arya, wipe your boots!”
The king and his siblings tromp inside, direwolves trailing, dripping mud and sweat in their wake, and the remaining men in the yard scatter to other tasks. The white direwolf lingers in the doorway until the silent brother approaches, and then it lifts its head and butts against his shoulder with enough strength to make the man stagger. Man and wolf stare into each other’s eyes for a long moment, and then the brother puts both hands on the wolf’s head and scratches underneath its ears. “Good boy,” he says, so faintly that Dany can only barely hear the words.
After a quick dunking and an even quicker shave, Robb joins Arya and Jon in Sansa’s solar to break their fast. Sansa had presumably eaten when she’d risen with the sun, hours ago, but she sits with them and sips from a hot cup of tea. Grey Wind, still covered in muck, has not been allowed entrance to Sansa’s domain, but Ghost is stretched out in front of the fireplace, nearly purring like a contented cat.
“How much game did they recover?” Robb asks Sansa as he tears into a hard roll.
“A deer, a brace of hare, and some water fowl--I hadn’t realized any had lingered, I thought they would have all gone south,” Sansa says. “We’ll dry most of it. The hare will line a fine pair of gloves. We need needles, spoons--do you suppose any of the Free Folk would be able to fashion us knives, Jon?”
“Yes,” Jon says.
“Then the antlers and bone will go to the Free Folk,” Sansa says. “Half for their use, in exchange for half for ours. I’ll speak with Tormund on it.”
They eat in silence for a few minutes; Robb enjoys the quiet, the spitting of the fire and the clattering of the wooden plates against the surface of the table. Although she usually sits by the fire and keeps her hands occupied with some sort of busy work, Sansa has joined them at the table today, and it’s enough to make Robb content for the handful of minutes he has to eat in peace--Rickon and Bran still tucked in their beds, the rest of his siblings within arm’s reach. Winterfell is full, as it should be.
“So how was she?” Arya asks, lifting her face from where she’s kept it all but flat against her plate. When no one says anything, she clarifies, “The dragon. She went to your chambers last night, didn’t she? To ply you with her wiles?”
Robb almost inhales a piece of bread and has to cough into his fist to clear it.
“Arya!” Sansa hisses.
“No one at this table’s a maid,” she says. “If the dragon wants to fuck Robb, it’s because she thinks that’s how she’ll take the north, which makes it no longer his personal business but instead a political matter.”
“That doesn’t-- Arya --” Sansa sputters.
Robb says, “She could just be enthralled by my good looks, you know,” and Arya rolls her eyes so hard that her whole head jerks backwards. “I don’t know if she came to me with seduction in her mind, but we spoke of other things. She says--well. She says she saw a vision, in the eyes of the child wight, of her riding her dragons against the Night King. And you, Jon. She says you will ride one as well.”
Sansa’s face goes white in a flash. Her pale lips move for a moment but no sound emerges. She looks in that moment like their mother, as she had looked when she was dying, and Robb turns to Jon so he does not have to remember their mother’s drawn, bloodless face, and the way she had asked Robb to bring Sansa to her, over and over, until the fever stole her final breath.
Jon says, “Did she know it all?”
“No,” Robb says. “She seems to think you’re a cousin of some kind. She mentioned the Prince of Dragonflies, who apparently fathered no small number of natural daughters.” Jon lifts a hand to his mouth and rubs it, hard, like he has to scrub away some expression. He’s looking down at the table, away from Robb, and it’s hard to know what he’s thinking.
After a moment, Sansa says, in a low voice, “They were all killed. Robert had them all--” She pauses, exhales softly, and then says, “There would be none to contradict it.”
“Sansa,” Jon says, “no.”
“You’d be safe,” she says, a little thready. “Illegitimate twice over. She’d never think you a threat.”
When Robb glances to Arya to see what she makes of this, Arya is staring at Jon with narrowed eyes.
“He’s not my father,” Jon says, and he almost sounds angry. Jon hasn’t been truly furious in ages; Robb hasn’t seen him lose his temper since before they all left Winterfell many years ago. A few months ago, when Robb had gotten enough ale into Jon to make him talkative, Jon had said, Death took away almost all sensation. I’m barely human anymore. But in this moment, Robb can see that there are strong emotions roiling inside of Jon; his eyes look wild as they lock on Sansa’s face. “It’s wrong, to name him my father.”
Sansa’s breath hitches and on a weak exhale she says, “Jon--”
“So we won’t,” Arya interrupts briskly. “More than half the castle thinks you’re Uncle Brandon’s anyway, you know.”
Jon jerks his eyes away from Sansa. “What?” he says.
“Really?” Robb says, surprised. “No one’s said anything to me.”
“Nor me,” Arya says. “I just don’t have my head shoved up my own arse. We know you’re not, of course, but what’s everyone else to think?”
“Think about what?” Robb asks, but he’s soundly ignored.
“You say nothing about it, and soon enough they’ll all think you’re born of Uncle Brandon and some crooked branch of the Targaryen tree,” Arya says. “It’s neat enough to satisfy everyone. The dragon keeps her claim on that pile of useless steel, you don’t have to be king of a land you hate, Jon, and you’re no longer dishonouring Father’s memory.”
“You’re not--” Robb tries, but Sansa is already speaking.
“Why would Father claim Uncle Brandon’s son as his own?” she asks Arya.
“You’re the schemer,” Arya replies, leaning back in her chair with a smug look curling up the corner of her mouth. “You tell me. Worried Robert Baratheon might prune our cousin along with the rest of the Targaryen buds, perhaps? It has the benefit of being the truth.”
“You’re such a flowery thinker at this time of the morning,” Jon says, and Arya sticks her tongue out at him. Jon lets out a loud crack of laughter and the tension that Robb had felt--and not fully understood--feels like it finally breaks.
“We will have to encourage it,” Sansa says, almost to herself. “But it must seem like a secret we can’t control anymore. Gilly is easy to underestimate; if she let something slip to one of the Free Folk, within hearing of someone working at the castle, they would just think her indiscreet. It can’t be someone loyal enough to us to keep their mouth shut.”
“That woman who works in the glass gardens, the blonde--Nance?” Arya says. “She’s a rare gossip and has worked here for a few years with no problems, but she wants to be liked.”
“Yes,” Sansa says. “Nance is a good choice. I’ll think on how best to do it.” The blood has been slowly coming back into her face and she appears almost rosy-complexioned now as she looks down into her tea, likely gone cool. “Shall I speak with Gilly, Jon?” she asks her cup.
Although he is not quite as sullen as he had been in their youth, Jon still favors moodiness and silence; he does not lose his temper, he does not laugh, he does not tend towards levity. It’s absurd that people who had known Uncle Brandon--by all accounts a fun-loving cad, if an excellent swordsman--think Jon is his son.
“You can take some time to think on it,” Robb points out. “We have a few days, while we sort out who will go south to oversee the mining.”
The brief moment of laughter has gone out of his face, but the corners of Jon’s eyes are still tilted up. They soften when he looks at Sansa’s bowed head. “It needs no further thinking,” he says. “Speak with Gilly, Sansa.”
Daenerys’ handmaiden brings a message from her lady a few hours later, inviting Robb to meet Daenerys’ dragon before she takes him north to observe the Wall. It comes at an opportune moment, when Robb has finished yelling at Rickon for biting another child during lessons and is staring moodily into the fire in his solar instead of doing actual work. A distraction is very welcome. Robb puts on his furs, saddles his horse, and manages to talk Jon down to only sending half a dozen guards with him.
“If she wants to kill me, no number of guards will keep me safe from dragonfire,” Robb points out, and Jon says grimly, “The guards are to remind Tyrion to keep her calm.”
The dragon is still out by Wintertown, on the open hilltop that Robb had had cleared of trees when they’d needed to build out the castle earlier in the year for the influx of smallfolk. His scent--sulfurous and smoky, like eggs cooked on charcoal--travels on the air far enough that Robb can smell it when he’s barely left the castle. It becomes thicker and thicker the closer they travel, until Robb has dismounted and left one of the guards with the horses at the base of the hill and the smoke is nearly visible in the air.
At the top of the hill, Daenerys is speaking in a crooning voice to an enormous shadow of a creature, dark in color with streaks of red along its back. He purrs under her hand like a cat, except the purr moves the ground under Robb’s feet because the beast is the same size as Winterfell’s Great Hall. Every time he exhales, his nostrils turn bright, searing orange.
“Good day, Robb,” Daenerys says, turning to face him. She has that smile on her face again, the one where she looks like she is the keeper of a delicious secret. “Come and meet Drogon. I named him for my sun and stars, who was my great love before I had the might of dragons.”
The dragon named Drogon fixes a dark stare on Robb, who feels no inclination to move closer. Nevertheless, Robb manages a dozen or so steps before he can hear his guards audibly begin to lose their nerve, the sound of arrows being surreptitiously nocked, and then he stops. Daenerys does not seem concerned, but Grey Worm shifts his weight forward onto the balls of his feet. “Drogon,” Robb says, and he nods at the dragon, although it makes him feel like an idiot.
Daenerys looks pleased. “It is Drogon I will ride against the King of Night,” she says. “I do not know which of my children will accept your brother as a rider. Perhaps Rhaegal, named for my brother Rhaegar.”
“Your grace--” Tyrion says, and Daenerys laughs and waves a hand at him.
“My Lord Hand does not think your brother to be my kin, Robb,” she says. “Or perhaps it is that I dare to say the name of my brother Rhaegar, whom you believe to have slighted your family and stolen your aunt. But if you dare to harbor the man who killed my father, I will dare to speak a name.”
“I do not think often of Rhaegar Targaryen,” Robb says, and the dragon looks at him as though he can tell that Robb is lying. “His name does not offend me, Daenerys.”
“Good,” Daenerys says, looking pleased. She puts a small, pale hand against Drogon’s head, below his eye, and rubs the scales there. “I hope your brother feels similarly. You should send him to Dragonstone to oversee the mining of dragonglass, so he may come to know Rhaegal. I will teach him to fly.” Daenerys does not speak this suggestion with any deference whatsoever; it is clear that she rarely tenders advice that is not an order.
“Perhaps Jon Snow’s parentage might be discussed in more detail before we put the poor bastard on a dragon and expect him to survive,” Tyrion says.
“Is he of Targaryen blood?” Daenerys asks Robb without sparing a glance for her Hand. She and the dragon have twin stares, like they both have hot coals for eyes.
“Yes,” Robb finally says and the hilltop goes silent.
“Ned Stark--and a Targaryen ?” Tyrion says into this silence, and then he laughs so hard he has to bend over and put his hands on his knees. “Gods, pull the other one. Not even the comeliest of Prince Duncan’s bastard daughters would Ned Stark have tupped.”
“Lord Hand,” Daenerys says.
“My deepest apologies, your grace,” Tyrion responds immediately, straightening up and making clear effort to wipe his expression clean. “I was simply overcome for a moment. Do you have any sort of evidence of this tryst?”
“I do not require evidence,” Daenerys says. “I saw the truth. He is my cousin and I will gladly welcome him into my house.”
“Jon is a Stark,” Robb says. “I have offered to legitimize him and although he has repeatedly refused, he is recognized as my true brother.”
“I forgot,” Daenerys says and she makes a sour face, like Grey Wind when he’d stolen a lemon from Sansa’s solar and made the mistake of eating it. “Only fathers convey legitimacy in Westeros. Or perhaps I might say, had conveyed, for I am sick of rules made by men.”
“Your grace,” Tyrion says, with caution in his voice.
“The might of dragons does not care for the weaknesses of men, my Lord Hand,” Daenerys says and her tone is enough to wipe the last wisps of amusement from Tyrion’s face. “If your brother does not wish to be a Stark, he may be a Targaryen and a member of my house. Name his mother and I will see it done.”
“This is a matter for Jon, and Jon alone, to decide,” Robb says. “If he wishes, he may go to Dragonstone and think on it.”
“You allow your subjects a great deal of personal freedom,” Daenerys says, and to Robb’s surprise, she does not appear to mean it as a criticism. “I think this is an unusual trait, for a Westerosi monarch.”
“Northmen are a different breed,” Tyrion comments drily.
“My brother was Lord Commander of the Night Watch,” Robb says, both for the benefit of these southron visitors and for his guards, who perhaps have suspected Jon to be the son of Uncle Brandon but certainly hadn’t thought him to be part Targaryen. It is important that they remember not just who Jon is, but what . “He kept his vows until death, and came back from death to protect the north from the threats beyond the wall. Such a man can decide his own fate.”
Tyrion does not look surprised--likely he has heard of Jon’s resurrection from Varys’ little birds, then. He does, however, hide a small smirk with a hand across his face. Let him think it a tall tale to scare the smallfolk; if Jon is underestimated, it might save him in Dragonstone should a disaster arise.
“Many of the dead walk again, it seems,” Daenerys says, and she says something in High Valyrian that makes Tyrion bark out a soft laugh. “In Essos, it is common to say that all men must die, Robb,” she explains in the common tongue. “The reply is that all men must serve. But perhaps in Westeros, it is ‘not all men’?”
Robb can still remember the exact sensation that had come over him when he’d received the raven telling him that Jon was dead, killed by his own men; the chill that had descended from his scalp down his back to his hands, like a current of ice through his spine. By then, Robb had known that Arya and Sansa were long dead, and the loss of Jon had ripped through him like a furious snowstorm. They are picking away at us like buzzards , he had said to Roslin, and she had put his head against her breast and murmured comforting nonsense to him like he was a babe. She had been unable to say anything to thaw the chill in Robb’s heart.
“The gods brought Jon back to serve their will,” Robb says, and he can hear that his voice is raw and chilled. “Their way is bloody and mysterious. I will not question it.”
The humor fades from Daenerys’ expression. “I apologize,” she says. “I know what it is to be subject to the cruel whims of the gods, when they wish to take away those you love and you cannot resist their will.”
At her side, the dragon is looking at Robb as though he is contemplating whether eating Robb will improve Daenerys’ mood. “Journey safely to the Wall, Daenerys,” Robb says. “Be wary of any life you see; north of the wall, it will be wights or White Walkers. Most of the Free Folk have already fled.”
Tyrion mutters something under his breath but nonetheless submits to being hoisted up onto the dragon’s back by Grey Worm, who hands up his lady before himself following. Even three riders do not seem to trouble the dragon, who shakes out his limbs before rising to his full height. Robb has to crane his neck and shield his eyes from the weak sun to make out Daenerys, perched between two ruffs of scales behind the dragon’s neck.
“Shall I bring you back the head of the Night King, Robb Stark?” she calls down and before he has a chance to even think of something clever to say, she calls out a command in High Valyrian and the dragon unfurls its wings and beats them twice and lifts into the air with powerful force.
In the deafening silence that follows her departure, one of Robb’s guards mutters, “That’s one way to take your leave,” and another one coughs back a laugh.
“Not a word of this,” Robb says, not looking at them. The dragon and his riders have become a speck in the distant sky, rapidly dwindling into nothing. “Any of it, to anyone.”
“Of course, my lord,” his men reply in somewhat discordant unison, which means it’s going to be all over the castle by nightfall.
Dany decides to leave for Dragonstone immediately, almost as soon as she sees the structure known as the Wall. When they return to Winterfell for Missandei, however, she can see that Tyrion is uncomfortable from the hours of flying in the cold and out of respect for her Lord Hand, she tells Robb that they will leave the following morning.
They spend two hours after a hearty and tasteless supper in his solar with the silent brother and the two sisters, discussing mining arrangements and the details of smithing and shipping the dragonglass back north. Although her expression rarely shifts from placidity, the beautiful sister almost single-handedly manages the entire business. Tyrion, on a pile of cushions embroidered with dancing fish, lifts a goblet in her honor when they are done, and Dany does her best to mask her irritation with him. She suspects that her Hand would indeed welcome back his erstwhile wife, but the lady would not have him.
“Stop flirting with her,” Dany tells him as they are shown back to their chambers for the night, “or my cousin will take your head.”
“He does look fierce, doesn’t he?” Tyrion says. “He was much less threatening when he was shorter, I must say. We will have to see what sort of man death has made when he is in Dragonstone. By the Seven, it’s as if he was carved of weirwood, that pale and sullen face.”
Dany says, “Weirwood?”
“The northmen’s gods are trees,” Tyrion says, and Dany strongly suspects him of being drunk and irreverent, or perhaps just drunk. “They do not worship the Seven.”
“Trees?” Dany echoes.
“Everything you need to know about a northman,” Tyrion says, apparently not caring that they are being escorted by a quiet maid who most certainly is going to report this conversation back to Lady Sansa, “can be found in the godswood.”
Without elaborating on this cryptic remark, Tyrion snaps a sharp bow to Dany and totters off into his chamber.
“More secrets of this barbaric land,” Dany says to Missandei in High Valyrian later as they undress. “Trees as gods?”
“Not all worship them, but it seems that most do,” Missandei says. “This place, the godswood, it is beyond the kitchen gardens to the west, near what was once a guest house and is now home to refugees from further north. The family of the king prays there every morning. If you are still insistent on taking this man as your lover, you will likely find him there tomorrow, as the sun rises.”
“They pray to trees!” Dany says. “How strange. I want to see what sort of tree would make a man think it a god.”
“Then I will wake you early,” Missandei replies, sounding extremely put out by the prospect.
Nonetheless, she is as good as her word; she shakes Dany awake when the sky is just beginning to be shot through with pale pink light over the distant treetops. Although her near-supernatural abilities to absorb gossip have gotten them this far, it fails when they attempt to make their way into the godswood itself. The light completely vanishes when they’ve been walking for a few minutes and the trees, most of their leaves gone yellow and brown, shiver in the wind. It’s unbelievably cold. Dany has possibly never been colder in her entire life.
“These are their gods?” Dany says to Missandei, and she speaks quietly because the air is so queer and heavy and it is so dark. “These dead, shivering things?”
“I don’t think they are dead,” Missandei says. “These northerners are practical people; they would cut down trees that were dying.”
Dany muses over the idea of trees that sleep as she and Missandei make their way down the path that has been left winding between the trees. The sound of their footsteps is muffled by the snow and frozen mud. For all that the sleeping trees seem menacing, they do not strike Dany as particularly spiritual.
“If Tyrion lied to me, I’m going to cut out his tongue and feed it to him with slices of lime,” Dany observes to herself.
“Do you hear that?” Missandei says, and they stand still for a moment, straining to hear. After a moment, Dany thinks she does--a kind of bubbling hiss. “Hot springs,” Missandei says. “The castle sits on one, it is how they keep the walls warm.”
The trees do not look quite so dead near the hot springs; their leaves are a brighter yellow, some almost still green, and there are small white flowers peeking out of the snow in a fine lawn. The hot springs have no occupants, but there is a basket sitting by one with a cloth folded over its contents. When Dany leans over to inspect it, she sees that the cloth is linen that has been embroidered with a motif of strange five-pointed leaves; there is just enough light for Dany to see that they are red.
“Do you think if one of her brothers sat still long enough, she would embroider them, too?” Dany asks Missandei, who laughs softly. Underneath the cloth, Dany finds a long-handled scoop, a washcloth, and a bar of soap that smells sharply of lemons.
The wind changes direction as Dany tucks the cloth back around the basket’s contents and she hears the voice of Lady Sansa. “--safe enough?”
Someone answers her in a low murmur, too quiet for Dany to make out. It is not clear where Lady Sansa is, but Dany follows the direction of the wind further down the path until she can hear the lady again, saying, “You don’t have to do this.” She sounds unexpectedly emotive, almost tearful. Dany’s curious is so pricked that it feels like it’s a living thing, crawling across the back of her neck.
“Yes,” says someone, and Dany thinks at first that it is Robb, but no--it’s too deep and quiet. It is the silent brother, Dany’s cousin. “I do.”
“No, you don’t,” the lady says, her voice thickening. “You think you do, because you and Robb are always running off headfirst into any fight you can get your hands on, but you don’t!”
“Robb would be mortally offended if he heard you call his battle tactics ‘running off headfirst into any fight,’” says Dany’s cousin. “Sansa, surely,” here, he sighs deeply, “you have to know why. There isn’t any other choice.”
“There’s always a choice,” the lady Sansa replies, with swift bitterness. Dany can see that the path ahead makes a sharp turn and she moves to take it before being halted by Missandei’s hand on her arm. When she turns back, Missandei puts a finger to her lips and then points at a tall tree, less sleepy than the others, with fat yellow leaves and a thick trunk. It is positioned against the inside of the curved path, perfect for eavesdropping.
Dany looks at the tree for a long moment, waiting for her disgust with herself--eavesdropping!--to pass.
“You know what path I’ve chosen,” Dany’s cousin says.
“Jon,” the lady Sansa murmurs.
“Did you speak with Gilly?” he asks her.
After a few seconds, so softly that Dany almost cannot hear, she answers, “Yes,” and that near-inaudible reply is what encourages Dany to join Missandei behind the tree. The bark of it is rough and cold against her cheek.
“Just a few months, then, until everyone knows.” Dany had not realized that her cousin’s voice could be so tender.
“If you die, it will be for naught,” the lady says softly.
There follows after this a long silence, long enough that Dany moves to peer around the tree to see if they have gone and is yanked back into place by her hair, tangled against the bark of the tree. She bites back a hiss of pain.
Dany’s cousin says, “Sansa.” He says her name in such a way that it almost hurts upon hearing. Missandei grab onto Dany’s forearm with a grip tight enough to grind the two bones together. “When I return, everyone will know that I’m not your father’s son.”
Missandei is staring at Dany with huge eyes. She mouths something that Dany cannot make out in the dim light of the godswood.
“With your consent, I will speak with Robb when I come back,” he continues, in an oddly formal way. He sounds stiff now, almost nervous.
“Oh, Jon,” the lady murmurs.
“If you--wish me to,” he says. “I will return to you, even if the answer is no, and we won’t--it needn’t be spoken of, again.”
“Oh, Jon ,” the lady Sansa says. “I thought you didn’t--”
“After I came back from the dead, I didn’t feel anything for the longest time. Not until I saw you again,” he is saying urgently. “When Jaime and Brienne brought you back, it was my first true breath. Even if you don’t wish to marry again, I will never leave your side.”
“Jon,” she says, muffled. “Jon!”
“Ghost will stay with you and keep you safe until I return,” he says softly. All Dany can think of in this moment is to wonder at the last time she was treated with such tenderness by a man, and it’s irritating to her that she has been turned so maudlin by eavesdropping. This is why she abhors spycraft. “It will only be a few months.”
“Oh Jon, be careful ,” Lady Sansa says. “Please promise me to take care.”
Who cares if your lover is as tender? Dany thinks to herself, furiously, and then she yanks herself away from behind the tree, ripping out a sizeable chunk of hair in the process, to judge by the smarting of her scalp. She hisses at Missandei, “Stay here,” and steps back into the path and around the corner just in time to see her cousin--if he is, in fact, her cousin--lower his head to take a kiss from Lady Sansa. He is cupping her cheek with his hand, knuckles red from the cold, and there is snow dotting the braid looped in a crown around Lady Sansa’s head. With her eyes closed, Lady Sansa’s dark red lashes make her look as if she is weeping blood.
“Good morning, cousin, Lady Sansa,” Dany says and the couple springs apart in a flurry of cloaks and furs, both furiously blushing.
“Your grace,” the Lady Sansa says, falling into a flawless curtsey. “Good morning.”
Jon Snow inclines his head, less as a bow and more as one might offer one’s neck to the executioner’s blade. He does not greet Dany; but then, this overheard conversation is the most Dany has ever heard him say, on any topic.
“As a Targaryen, I suppose I cannot be one to disdain love between siblings,” Dany says. “I myself was the product of such a union. But I was under the impression that sensibilities in Westeros have changed since my parents were married?”
“We are not--siblings, your grace,” Lady Sansa says, and her face is slowly cooling back to its usual white cast. Dany had actually thought her quite becoming turned all pink with love and tender feelings; the statue of the Lady Sansa is perhaps more beautiful, but an altogether less appealing picture. “Jon is my cousin.”
“You appear to be everyone’s cousin of late,” Dany says to him and he scowls at her.
“Please, your grace,” Lady Sansa says, and Dany turns back to her. Somehow the lady has turned her tall, straight posture into one of more abject misery; she has made herself appear smaller, turning her shoulders inward and drooping like a cut flower left too long in the sun. “It was only recently we learned that Jon was not my father’s child, but instead his nephew. We are trying to--find the best way to tell everyone. Your grace included.”
Despite knowing better, Dany can feel herself melting a little at this display of anguish. “Many children had to be hidden from the Usurper’s wrath,” she allows. “Is it so surprising that two were successful, when so many others were murdered? No. But I cannot abide subterfuge and underhandedness, Lady Sansa.”
“We were enemies not three days ago, Daenerys,” Robb says, and Dany whirls around to see him coming from the woods, on a path that Dany had not even realized was one, so subtle is its demarcation. “Forgive us if you have not yet earned the right to all our secrets.”
“Enemies?” Dany says, drawing herself up to her full height. It is not impressive in this clearing full of giants, but it reminds her of what she might have forgotten, facing off against these mighty Starks: she is a queen.
“Generally, allies don’t introduce themselves as the monarch of the country they are visiting,” Robb says drily. He’s close enough now that Dany can see his hair is damp and slicked back from his face; he is steaming gently in the cold air. “But I don’t want you as an enemy, which is why I opened my home to you as an honored guest, and we established this mining venture to secure our shared future.”
“How long have you known?” Dany asks. “That this man is not your brother?”
“Jon will always be my brother,” Robb says, so promptly, like all older brothers always answer questions about semantics. Dany can’t keep herself from scowling at him. “We’ve known that Jon was some mixture of Stark and Targaryen for only a few months. My brother Bran, the greenseer, saw as much. We thought it best to tell no one.”
“Ah,” Dany says. “But then they fell in love.”
“What?” Robb says, and his head swivels around. “They-- what ?” He looks at the pair of them for a long moment, at their flushed faces, and then he looks up towards the sky and says, “ Half the castle thinks Jon is Uncle Brandon’s . Fuck. Fuck the Seven.”
“I haven’t--” Jon Snow says as Sansa, hurriedly, says, “Robb, it just happened--”
“So your father was Brandon Stark, the great swordsman,” Dany says. “Handsome and brave and foolish, was he not? Exactly the sort of man a Targaryen woman would love. Do you know who your mother was? Was it one of my Uncle Duncan’s daughters?”
“I don't know,” Jon Snow says. “Bran had never met the lady in his vision. She died shortly after giving birth to me.”
“Was Brandon Stark not the eldest brother?” Dany asks. “Your Westerosi customs, they dictate the eldest male inherits. Did you not want to take your birthright, cousin?”
Jon Snow, with zero affect, says, “I am illegitimate. I claim no birthright.”
“Jon,” Lady Sansa whispers, reaching out with a fine white hand to clasp his fingers.
“I claim nothing,” he continues; Dany is not watching his face, which is so unhelpfully blank, but instead where he has gripped Lady Sansa’s hand and is holding it tightly to his side. “Nothing of Stark, nothing of Targaryen. All I--” here he falters for a moment, and Lady Sansa takes two short steps to hold herself against his side, “--all I want is--to be at peace.”
Dany says, “And the Lady Sansa, presumably.”
Stiffly, Jon Snow says, “Robb, I was going to come meet with you after my return from Dragonstone.”
Robb is pinching his nose between his thumb and forefinger. “Of course you were,” he says, and then he sighs and lowers his hand. “I think, considering that we are on the cusp of war with tens of thousands of walking dead, we can put aside our concerns regarding Jon’s parentage and inheritance prospects for the time being.”
“I don’t have--” Jon Snow says, aggrieved, and Robb says, “Shut up, Jon.”
“This is agreeable to me,” Dany says, lifting her chin when Robb turns his cold blue eyes to her. He looks more weary than before, when he had been playing the haughty king. Dany had thought herself attracted to him because of his arrogance, but this form that Robb Stark takes, of a man bearing life’s hardships, is just as compelling. She wants to put her palms against his face and guide his head to rest against her shoulder; for the first time in ages, she does not long for her first husband, the only man who had ever come close to being her equal. “I came to see this tree that is a god before my departure. Will you escort me, Robb?”
Robb stares at her for a long moment, eyebrows slowly pulling together, before something truly astonishing happens: he lets out a short laugh and the brightness of it passes through his face, wiping away the exhaustion and arrogance, turning his eyes into a startlingly warm shade of blue. Or perhaps it is not the laugh, but instead the sun, which has finally struggled its way high enough to cast its light through the sleeping trees of the godswood. Dany can feel its warmth like fingers against her cheeks.
“Yes,” he says. “I will show you the weirwood, Daenerys.”
The mining is all but finished and the smithing not far behind. The dragonglass will be shipped up the eastern coast, as we discussed, and put in at White Harbor in three weeks’ time. Perhaps you have heard that the Usurper’s widow has recently cast her lot in with pirates. To protect the dragonglass, my cousin and I will accompany the fleet on Rhaegal and Drogon, with Lady Arya riding in the ship itself to circumvent any mischief or scheming the Usurper’s widow might devise. Lady Arya seemed quite certain there would be some.
I will not stay long in White Harbor; my children do not enjoy the cold and Viserion will be lonely without his brothers. I would like to see you while I am there. I have often thought of what we discussed before your tree god and the proposal you made on how we might establish a friendship between our independent kingdoms. I have made my decision, but I will not write it here. If you would like to know my answer, you will have to meet me in White Harbor.
P.S. You had better let my cousin marry your sister. I had thought him a silent, sullen man before, but I had not realized how much Lady Sansa’s presence elevated his mood. Dragonstone has never before seen a man so devoted to misery. I am worried that if they are not allowed to marry, he will throw himself into the ocean like that maiden everyone sings of, the one who lives on an island and loses her love to a storm. It would be a wretched waste of so fine a sword arm.