He may be only half-alive, but he is still the only hope she has.
Please help me.
She tries the little tricks and catches that she learned in the brothel. If that makes her a whore, then so be it. Her dream of being a lady has fled her entirely. There are no small happinesses left for, no illusions, no practicing curtseys. She’s cut to the point. She is done with dignity.
I would do anything, anything.
He looks back at her, hollow, his lips slightly parted.
He turns away.
He knows the stories, Jeyne knows. He knows them because he has lived them. She looks down at his hands. There are gloves on them, right then, but she can see the way that the fingers are limp and empty, and she realizes, with horror, that he is missing at least two of his fingers.
Her stomach felt sick the entire journey, and now, at last, she feels as though something is going to come up. She tugs on her cloak – a flayed man, his sigil – and swallows her sick.
The whole place smells of iron and dog excrement. Her husband smells like these things most of all.
He was a pale man with dark hair that shined like he’d been swimming in a swamp. She hadn’t looked at him closely. She’d stared at her slippered feet throughout the ceremony, and held her breath when she’d leaned in to kiss him.
The room is all dark stone and wood, with a dank smell in addition to castle’s customary reek. Outside, dogs howl; someone shouts at them.
She slips off the bed. It makes her uncomfortable.
Like metal and dogshit.
With a very sick feeling in her stomach, she strips the sheet off.
Huge, brown stains cover the mattress.
Can I be a wife to him? She knows what he is. She knows what he can do.
She’s nothing more than any of the other girls who’s suffered his cruelty. The only thing that makes her different is that he cannot actually kill her.
The more she thinks about it, the more she realizes this is not a good thing.
She tries to forget everything else.
She can still remember Theon, though. Reek. Every moment that their eyes connected. He smelled horrible, too, like he’d been sleeping in dogshit, but she never told him this. Never told him how much he repelled her. When he put a hand to touch her, she counted two fingers missing, saw a stub on the other.
When she looked in his eyes, she saw pity and sympathy, a boy who had once known Jeyne Poole.
So she pinned her hopes to him and allowed him to be a prince.
He was the only thing that reminded her she was worth more than a beating.
Later, she would describe how that part of it ended.
We flew through the air. He and I. Like birds.
She finds herself in another stone room, this one entirely grey. A washbasin in the corner holds water so cold that it turns her face red and stiff. She uses it anyway.
There is no polished silver, here, no room for vanity, but she keeps looking for a place to catch her reflection. The guards had jeered at her, saying something about her nose. By crossing her eyes, she can see the tip of her nose, black and purple. It feels like hot wax that has cooled on her face. Other than that, it feels like nothing.
Her room has one candle, near the bed in addition to the fireplace. For lack of anything better to do, she sits near it and draws her fingers closer and closer to the warmth, until she burns them.
“Where’s Theon?” she asks on the third day.
Her fingers still ache, with that same strange, waxy feeling on them that she has on her nose. Odd, how fire and ice can all hurt the same.
“Asking ‘bout him again? You feeling better, then, m’lady? No more crying, now?”
The question is not kindly asked, and Jeyne does not answer.
“You sure you should be up and about? Might break your ribs again.”
“They’re healed.” She clenches her hands into fists, hoping that the guard cannot see her burned fingers. “Where’s Theon?”
“It’s best for delicate things like you to lie back down in bed.”
“I’m fine,” she snaps. There’s quiet for a moment. She feels herself going pale.
“As m’lady wishes,” the guard says, almost a sneer, and he leaves. She can hear the lock click behind him.
Truth be told, her ribs still ache from where the maester put poultice on them. But she cannot tell them that, and there has been no maester to see her since. The more she thinks about it, the more he wonders that he must not have been a very good master, because he left the frostbite on her nose. Do they mean for her to get infected and die? She doesn’t want them to cut off her nose, but she cannot die, either.
“I’m Arya Stark,” she says loudly. Her voice is feeble. She tests its power. “You will be sorry that you’ve treated me this way.”
It was Arya Stark that Theon saved, and Jeyne will not let her die of neglect.
“If Theon Greyjoy is not kept safe-“ her voice is shaky “-if he cannot remain with me – then I will not go.”
He’s saved her. Now she must try her best to save him.
When they finally bring her to Theon, she suppresses the temptation to run and cling to him, to dissolve back into tears. It must be all too clear in her eyes, though, because the king they call Stannis looks from her to Theon and back again.
She remembers Theon’s advice: Be Arya Stark and if you do what they want, they won’t hurt you.
Theon looks more unhappy than usual. His eyes have an especially dull quality, a kind of disbelief. I’m glad they have not killed him, Jeyne thinks, but it is a half-hearted thought. Would death really have been so bad? Even she, ignorant as she may be, can tell that this does not bode well.
“I trust you have been well in your accommodations, Lady Stark?” She notices that he does not address her by Ramsay’s name - Bolton. She cannot quite bring herself to think of him as her husband. She does not want to think of him at all. Thinking of him sends her pulse and mind racing, makes her fearful to the very root of her being. She shakes, but she tries to hide it.
“You have been through quite a bit.”
It could be sympathetic, but it isn’t, not quite. It’s a test. She can feel his eyes on her. His eyes are as hard as the rest of him, this statue of a man that they call Stannis.
“I suppose so, my lord.”
“I apologize, Your Grace.”
“I shall leave you to talk.”
When he’s gone, Jeyne looks tentatively over at Theon. He moves first, putting his arms over hers. He leans in to whisper something in her ear.
When she hears it, she goes pale.
“You should be grateful.”
The sentiment reminds Jeyne of the brothel. Asha’s voice and touch, however, do their part to dispel the illusion.
“I ought,” she says. She leaves it at that.
“They let you live,” Asha says, and her tone makes it clear that she could care less. “You and Theon both. Stannis might have sent you to the Wall, for your bastard brother to take a look at you. He wanted to kill Theon, at first. I talked him out of it.”
A moment of quiet. “But now he’s planning – this instead.”
Her tone makes it clear that perhaps “this” is little better. Jeyne does not know how Asha expects her to respond to that. She does not know how to respond to Asha generally. She is a strange creature, more man than woman. She reminds Jeyne a little of Arya – the real one. Thinking of Arya reminds Jeyne how very different they are, and how precarious her role is.
Asha’s fingers give an especially hard tug. Jeyne does not cry out. She counts to ten, then she exhales.
“Why the pins?” she asks, partly to break the silence.
Asha stops the yanking – what she terms “brushing” – and even without a silver looking glass, Jeyne can feel her storm-eyes setting on her. She remembers Mira, seemingly so long ago. She cannot decide which was better: to be a nameless whore or to be poor imitation of Arya Stark.
“You seemed to like them well enough when Stannis suggested them. You’re complaining, now?”
“Pearls,” Jeyne says, though they were nowhere near as lustrous as those kept in the brothel. Someone had dug them out of some corner for her. “But why?”
Asha resumes her yanking. “To remind people of who we are. What we came from.”
“Who you are,” Jeyne whispers. “What you came from.”
“The Iron Islands.”
It takes a bit longer for Jeyne to work up the courage to ask. Asha lets out a little noise of distaste, possibly for how long and tangled Jeyne’s hair has gotten. Are you sure we can’t cut it off? she’d asked, half-mocking.
“What were they like?”
“They tasted like salt. The air was thick with it. Sometimes they went foul with mud – or iron. Blood, that is. Turn.”
Jeyne obliged. It was only then that she saw Asha was smiling.
“They were green in the summer. Fairer than most places up North, thriving in that salt air.” Jeyne notices the way that Asha’s nostrils flare, as though smelling something out of her memory. Jeyne wishes she could do the same with Winterfell.
Another yank on her hair take her from her reveries.
“I can assure you,” Asha says drily, “real pearls were not so common. Not as though Stannis would know.”
“And I am not really from the sea,” Jeyne whispers. “So I suppose it suits.”
To Jeyne’s surprise, Asha laughs. Jeyne is appreciative for it.
“Perhaps you are not all so stupid as we have believed.”
It doesn’t even sting. I would have to be very stupid, she thinks, and because of all that’s happened, she wonders if perhaps she is.
“It must have been hard to… to leave.”
“No,” Asha says, “It is never hard to leave. Ironborn carry her with them in their hearts.”
“To be – sent away, I mean. From your family.”
Asha laughed. “My mother is frail, and my father was a fool. Most of my uncles are equally foolish and even more dangerous, sad to say.”
“Perhaps you should rule,” she says. Jeyne’s voice is quiet and slow. “Perhaps you would be better at it. Instead of them or Theon - even though you’re a woman.”
It surprises Jeyne when Asha goes on without hesitation. “Even though I’m a woman? I know I would be better at it. Most people would agree on me over Theon, that’s true.” Her mouth forms a solid line. “But Theon is the man that Stannis has chosen.”
“I don’t understand.”
“My dear uncle Euron the Ironborn now. He’d have me married off and put out of his way. But his claims are ludicrous and dangerous.”
“He promises dragons.”
“Dragons don’t ex-“
“Do they?” Asha says. She stops tugging. “Your hair is done.”
Jeye can imagine how Asha’s handiwork must look: rough braids, more like boating knots than hair, spotted with uncertain pearls.
“Without them, he won’t be popular for very long.” Jeyne’s voice is timid. She feels unqualified to make such assesments. In this case, though, she has hit the mark.
“Yes. My other uncle is no ally of his, and, at any rate, he is gone on a quest. A quest for the dragons that do not exist. At least, not as far as we sailors are concerned. We thrive in water, not fire. My brother and I will have an opening – or so Stannis hopes.”
Jeyne can tell from her voice how possible Asha believes this opening is.
“And a marriage to Winterfell will elevate him in their eyes.”
Asha’s eyes are dark and unreadable. She smiles.
“Yes. Or so Stannis hopes.” Jeyne notices that it is something she has already said. “Do you need help putting on that cloak?”
Jeyne looks at the grey sigil draped over the bed. A direwolf. Quickly made, but serviceable nonetheless. Perfect for an imposter.
She feels each of the pins sticking into her head.
“I’m already married,” she says, for the fifteenth time.
“To a man who coerced you into marriage and beat you.”
“It’s easy enough to see the welts and cuts. The bruises.” Asha’s eyes go dark, and her lips purse. “There’s nothing to hide. Such things are within his rights in, but that doesn’t make them right. Others would not care to hear of those injustices.”
“Who would know?”
“Theon said Arya Stark’s bastard brother was very close to her. He, for instance, would not be happy to hear of either marriage.”
Sansa used to act a bit as though Jon didn’t exist, as though to reason between her father’s affection and her mother’s blatant offense. Jeyne had always been a bit intimidated by him.
Jeyne pool thinks very hard. Jon was the one who wanted to save Arya from Ramsay in the first place. She thinks of Jon, of how he was always quiet and set apart. How he looked exactly like his father and his half-sister and was always so quietly determined, so quietly unhappy. So dutiful and intense.
“Is this – to get Jon Snow back to Winterfell?”
Jon Snow will leave the Wall when he hears what they have done to Arya, Jeyne thinks, with a pang of guilt, and then Theon’s marriage will be for naught. It is a claim for the North – the Iron Islands would be only a consolation prize, if that. None of the Northerners will accept Theon Greyjoy as their king.
“You are not so stupid as you look at all,” Asha says, and this time, it sounds almost like a compliment.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers during the ceremony. Whether he apologizes for himself or for the role that she has now married, Jeyne cannot be certain.
“It’s all right,” she whispers back. She looks very hard at the flickering candlelight and tries not to blink.
It’s all right.
She has been playing at being a princess her entire life.
It’s about all she’s prepared for.
He held out his arm to her, and she takes it softly. He still feels fragile, this half-human prince of hers.
“Very well,” he replies, just as softly.
She bites at her lip until it’s raw, until he looks at her and she knows. She relaxes immediately, and he sits down next to her on the edge of the bed, dressed only in his nightshirt.
They do not speak to each other for a long time.
“The real Arya Stark wouldn’t be here.”
Jeyne is so relieved that she speaks without thinking. “The real Arya Stark thought that your face looked like… never mind.”
“No.” He seems curious, amused. “Like what?”
“Like a fish’s.”
He looks surprised for a moment. Then he laughs. He seems to hesitate for a moment, then: “You talked about me?”
“Oh, yes.” She’s speaking too fast. She knows that they are both stirring a past of poison, now, sweet as the moment may be. “You were one of the only things to talk about. At one point, when we were very young, Sansa wanted to marry you.”
He looks down at his feet. The draught hits him. “Not anymore, I suppose.”
Jeyne stares at him. His white hair looks brittle. As though if she touched it, it would snap.
Without thinking, she reaches out to touch the back of his neck.
“What did you do?” she whispers. “You can tell me. I promise I won’t tell – I won’t be angry. You are all I have left. But I have to know what happened.”
“I fucked it all up. Everything.”
“Winterfell burned because of me. Because I trusted him-“
He does not answer, but he does not have to. She can tell by the way he says it – him – by the way his body shakes and the way her own body responds, with a prickle in her neck and a sharp pain in her lower belly.
“The horn blew all night.” His voice cracks. “All night and day. He told me to kill the boys. But I didn’t.”
This is the most important part. The part everyone knows.
“But they were burned,” she says, repeating the story. She does not think about the little boys involved, little boys she had known and even played with when she was young. “Their corpses were shown.”
“No.” He buries his face in his hands. “Those weren’t them. Bran. Rickon. If they’re dead then – I played no part in it. I never betrayed Robb - not that - I never killed them.” He sounds unsure. Jeyne does not press the issue.
“He said I was spoiled.”
Theon looks up from his hands. He lets her speak.
“Because my back was scarred from the brothel. From the way they punished you there.”
He puts a hand on her back and rubs it, so lightly that she almost can’t feel his touch. She knows he doesn’t mean to make her feel bad, but she does, because she can imagine how her back looks, and can suddenly remember how each scar formed. Now she finds herself pulling away.
“I can hardly see those scars, now, but I can still see his. When I looked in the room, before the bedding, there was blood on the mattress. And down between the stones, in the floor. Some against the wall, even. And I knew…”
She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. His hand leaves her back and finds her own hand.
“But it wasn’t your blood,” he whispers. “You’re still here.”
“I’m still here.”
He leans in and kisses her on the lips. A closed-lipped, chaste kiss. They look at each other for a long moment before he speaks.
“I am sorry that you are marrying half a man.”
“You are more of a man than any of them. More than he was.” She touches his face. “When I told you I would be your wife-“
He draws away. “You deserve a full man. One who… one with all his fingers, to start.”
“Don’t you want a woman without scars on her back? One without a bit of her nose missing?” Her voice is nearly shrill, and for a moment she fears he will not answer how she so desperately wants him to.
“No,” he says. “It’s not like that.”
They can see each other so clearly that, in that moment, she feels she might die without him, and he without her.
He takes her hand again.
“Good night,” she says.
“Good night,” he whispers.
She blows out the candle.
When she wakes up, his hand is still on hers.
You’re still here, she thinks. And so am I.
She had wanted puppies and children, good silks, people calling her “lady”. In her bodice she holds five of the pearl pins, stolen as a memento. A memento of what, she could not say.
I’m still here.
There was a third part of Stannis’s plan, one that Jeyne had not expected from such an orderly, principled man. That third component – chaos – proved to be the only benefit.
Asha’s crew was bolstered by Stannis’s numbers. To her, he had given a tiny fleet, enough to plant chaos on the coasts and spread word of Arya Stark’s claim. Sometimes they wove inland, Jeyne and Theon and Asha, to meet with some sympathizer. They made little progress.
Sympathizers were few.
Stannis’s power waned. Their little band grew rowdy. And still they sailed on.
The storm rages so loudly that at first she cannot make out his words through the muted thrashes.
He leans closer and whispers them in her ear. His hair, so thin and brittle, brushes against her skin.
“I never had much but disdain for The Drowned God. Do you think we should play?”
“Pray. Do you think we should pray?”
She buries her head deeper into his neck and squeezes her eyes shut. “You’re making fun of me.”
“All right, this isn’t so bad. I apologize.”
Her gut twists. She knows when he’s lying. At first she believed him. And then she stopped.
“Will he do me any better than the Seven? Or the gods of the North?”
He pauses at that, as though confronting something ugly for himself. “It might be worth a try. The storms are the Drowned God’s greatest enemy.” He laughed to himself. Jeyne could feel it in his chest, along with his heart, beating too fast. That was what had given his lie away. “He’s a fearsome man, the Drowned God. He has a tunic spun of the elements, and salt staining his skin.”
“He sounds horrible.” Jeyne pictures the Stranger, but younger and fiercer. Death in its prime. A plague, a murder, a rape.
“It is said that when you die you might live forever. His followers lie-“
“Die.” He brings his mouth close to her ear again. His breath is warm and slightly sour, as it has been since Ramsay. He touches her like he might touch a sister, or a wife, a friend, even, but not quite a lover, and Jeyne decides she could stay there forever. “His followers are drowned in the sea and – brought back to life. When you die, you live forever, under the waves.”
She breathes in. The muscles in her face unwind.
For a long time, neither of them says anything. Jeyne is sure there is more to it than that – there is always a catch – but she cannot help but think how nice it sounds. Peace, under the waves. Life after death.
“We’ve earned it, haven’t we? Peace.” Her voice cracks with the effort of speaking. She feels like salt water has made its way into her stomach, into her throat, and it stings like fire.
His breath catches in his lungs. She can feel that, too. Finally, he speaks.
“Your old gods spoke to me. Once.”
Her mouth goes dry. “They have never spoken to me.”
He says nothing to that, but she knows that she has earned peace. She has earned a life of her own, a life for Jeyne Poole. A life that will never come.
He does not reply because he knows – as well as she does – that becoming Arya Stark holds nothing of the sort.
The new queen comes out from nowhere. From an icy tower, they say, from compromised circumstances. But she is the oldest blood. The dim claim that Arya Stark held is vanquished.
“How are we to know she is the real thing?”
Asha, ever practical. She only plays this game to stay afloat. Jeyne knows that she only wants to return home.
She has thought of telling her, once or twice, who she really is. Now the idea is so foreign, so frightening, that she does not even consider it. Most of all, she does not want to tear that away from Asha. Arya’s claim is the only thing that gives Asha hope for their success. It is only Jeyne and Theon who know better.
Theon glances at Jeyne. “Show her the letter.”
Asha crosses her arms.
“Your sister sent us a letter,” he explains, “Asha, just… show her.”
Asha looks worn. It has almost been a year now. A year of too little food and too much fleeing; too few words from Stannis.
She hands over the letter.
“I didn’t want you to see this.”
“You knew her well,” Asha says simply.
She was not my sister, Jeyne thinks, almost as much to remind herself as anyone else.
She rolls open the parchment.
The writing, indeed Sansa’s own, flows across the page in elegant swirls. Her script has gotten smaller and more regular as Sansa has gotten older, and more cramped, as though she has come to use her parchment more efficiently.
As a sister, the letter reads, I ask only that you stand down from your current claim. I ask that you return to Winterfell and embrace me, as my heir. Our father would not have wanted us against one another – not him, not our lady mother, not our brothers. This is what they have died for. Our family. Our enemies could hope for nothing less than a continued rift between the remaining Starks.
I know that you could not have married Theon Greyjoy by choice, not knowing as I know what he has done to our brothers and our home. I will offer him and counsel exile, and any soldiers fighting in your names pardon if they disband.
I know we have had our differences in the past, but I hope the world has not poisoned you against me.
I still have great affection for you.
Jeyne puts the letter down.
“This was meant for her sister,” she says, dizzily.
Asha quirks an eyebrow. Theon does not rush to her defense. Jeyne’s thankful for that. He would give her away too quickly.
“Your sister, you mean.”
“No,” Jeyne says, slowly. She stares at the wall. “I am not Arya Stark.”
She remembers the lying pearls Asha put in her hair. I am not Ironborn, she’d said. Neither had she been a Stark of Winterfell.
Asha and Theon are very quiet. Theon looks up at his sister after a moment and stands. His eyes are hard with determination. Despite his missing teeth and white hair, he looks like Asha in that moment. “If you suggest that we leave her-“
“I’m not planning anything like that, you fool.” Jeyne’s heart almost stops at her words. “Although I’m sure we would be better off cutting off her dead weight.” She turns to Jeyne, her mouth pursing.
“She wants to give mercy to her sister,” Asha says. “Not a girl who’s making false claims. She would figure you out. We cannot accept her term. Even moreso than before, your leaving for Winterfell is not an option.”
Jeyne shivers. She does not bring up her friendship with Sansa, their past as almost-sisters. The past is gone, and Jeyne is married to a man who has hurt Sansa in ways too sharp to imagine.
Asha’s voice goes soft. “Who are you, then, girl?”
“She lived in Winterfell,” Theon says. He does not say more. Asha does not ask.
“Jeyne,” Jeyne says.
“Jeyne.” Asha tries the name on her tongue.
Jeyne nods, reluctant. Now Asha stands, readying herself to leave.
“You must remain Arya, Jeyne. It is our only way out of this. To move forward.”
One day, the letters from Stannis seem to dry up entirely.
They have hushed discussions. What should they do?
What can they do?
They are captured, one night, as they are travelling through a patch of woods. None of them quite expected it. All of them knew it. They had gotten slow; winter had into their bones and rooted. Asha, only Asha, still knew the sea, still moved like a wind on water.
Jeyne thinks it is possible that she escaped that night.
It was a new moon. It was too dark for Jeyne to tell.
Winterfell has become a strange place, a mess of snow and dirt and dirt-colored tents. When they get to the top of the hill, Jeyne can see it in all its strange not-glory, the mass of tents and smoke-snakes of fires. The half-restored bits – the ones done by the Boltons – have candles in the windows. Somewhere, Jeyne can hear a song. Whether rowdy or sacred, she cannot tell.
It reminds her of the wedding, the last time she was here, and fear slips along her spine.
The man guarding her tugs on the rope at her neck. It chafes, but she’s tried to stop feeling it. “Keep moving,” he says. She stumbles along after him, tearing her eyes from Winterfell and looking instead at the ground.
“Where are my companions?” she asks.
Again, the guard does not answer.
When they what was once the castle yard, she sees, briefly, a noose on a stand. Her breath catches in her throat, and she nearly starts screaming.
“Who is that for?” she asks, in a tiny voice.
This time the guard answers.
He sounds almost regretful. Jeyne realizes that this is a Northman, and he thinks he is dragging Lord Eddard Stark’s daughter by the neck.
“Please. Tell me.”
“The turncloak. Theon Turncloak.”
The stone is cold against her bare feet.
Her head itches. Lice, or fleas.
It aches, too, with nights spent on a thin pallet, on another stone floor. Locked away. Waiting to die. But they don’t know her. They don’t know what she’s been through. She’s learned how to stop crying and go someplace else.
She swallows and quivers, and finally, she thinks of Theon and nearly cries.
The light up here seems to blind her, and she squint and looks down at her feet, practically closing her eyes. It’s either early or late in the day, but it is so much brighter than the near-total darkness of the dungeons. Down there she could hear rats and the cries of other prisoners. She would sob alone, wishing for Theon, wishing for anything. Their time on the run – once so monotonous and meager – seemed again like the pinnacle of living.
She thinks of him hanging, of his face going purple.
She can’t stop crying.
She can hear the faintest echo of voices and as she gets closer and closer she can hear a woman’s murmur. When she gets close enough, she dares to look up into the light. She finds a pale, auburn head looking back down at here.
The young woman’s white fingers are curled around the chair’s stone arms.
Jeyne swallows. Her throat is dry. Her head rings and rings and rings.
She dips a curtsy, but is so frail she ends up tripping on her shackles.
The silence around them crouches. Finally, Sansa’s voice springs:
“This is not my sister.”
No one dares reply.
Sansa stands and comes closer. “Who are you?”
One of the men in the crowd, the one with the burned face, touches his sword. Jeyne knows, because even though she’s staring at the floor she can hear the touch of metal on metal. Do not try to run. Do not try anything at all.
There’s an instinct somewhere deep inside of her to search Sansa’s face for sympathy, friendship, something of her happy long-ago, before the ever-after never came.
But it would be like looking into the sun, all the more because Sansa has changed. She is no longer milk and honey. She is something burning cold, the Midwinter sun itself.
She is the North and she is a queen.
“Look at me.”
Jeyne looks up into the face of Theon’s killer.
Her nose is fine and foxlike. She is beautiful; tall, willowy, and regal. She looks like the figurehead of a ship, or a statue of a queen. But her eyes ruin the image. They are too cold and sharp and alive for a statue, and they have a haunted look that suggests she clawed herself out of a tapestry.
Her face shifts.
“Do I… who are you?”
Arya. That is what she has said for years. That is what Ramsey whipped out of her and what Littlefinger said to make her blood go cold. That was the price of the relative safety that Theon and Asha bought her.
And yet Arya’s face, her little-girl scowl, has long faded.
“Jeyne,” she says, and it comes out a whisper.
Sansa is still as a statue, now, as though she’s reverted to stone. Jeyne wonders what Sansa has gone through to be so still or if she, too, is going back to a place before the never-after never came.
“Jeyne Poole.” Her voice is even.
“Yes, my lady.”
Sansa does not laugh. “You would address me as your lady, even after you conspired to take my throne and lands?”
“It was not my plan, my lady.”
Sansa’s cloak swishes as she sits back down on her throne. It seems too big for her. When Sansa’s small fingers curl around the edges, Jeyne can see that, sometimes, it is.
“You have claimed rights to Winterfell. That is reason enough to execute you.”
It wasn’t my fault, the child in her cries out. But she cannot think of much to say, really, when she opens her mouth to speak.
“You killed him.”
“I executed him.” Sansa sounds almost defensive, almost childish. She is only sixteen, Jeyne remembers. That is not much older than herself. War ages everyone. It has brought Sansa to queenhood. It has brought Jeyne two whispers from the grave.
“He killed my family. My brothers – Bran, Rickon – you do remember them, don’t you? Do you think you would have been any different? He betrayed my brother’s trust for his own greed. I am alone because of him.”
There’s a grain of sadness in her voice. This is a girl who has been alone for a long time. Jeyne can hear it, recognize it.
“That wasn’t the man that I knew.”
“The man you knew could not be called a man. He was hardly more than a ghost.”
“You’re wrong,” Jeyne says. Her voice is very small.
Jeyne has nothing to say to that. Sansa does not understand life and death. She knows some other creed, something that is not the Seven and not the Old Gods. Perhaps it is the honor of the Starks. Perhaps it is the creed of war.
Jeyne hangs her head. Her lips part again. She wants to say a silent prayer. She has been praying to the Seven and the Old Gods for as long as she can remember, hoping one or the other will listen. But they have not, and now she does not know who to entrust Theon’s soul to.
The Drowned God, then, she thinks, but in her heart she hates to condemn him to so frightening a figure.
And once again, she says nothing at all.
Sansa’s fingers are at her neck, searching for something. But there is no pin there, where she expects it, and she forces her fingers away. Her eyes are sad and solemn.
Jeyne starts to sob quietly again, despite herself.
Sansa’s eyes widen. Jeyne realizes that her crying is a curiosity to Sansa. An oddity. Perhaps because it has been a long time since she saw a child acting like a child.
Sansa flicks with her wrist and Jeyne is led away, her chains scraping the floor.
She stays in her dungeon.
Here, time stops for her.
She thinks she may be sick. Feverish, perhaps.
If she dies here, she thinks, all the better.
Sansa looks out of place.
For a moment, Jeyne wonders if it’s a dream. But she’s gotten good at sorting truth from reality. Sansa even crinkles her nose at the smell of shit. She lowers her hood and stares. The torchlight illuminates the dugeon, and at last Jeyne can see her own filth.
Finally, Sansa speaks.
“Do you remember how we played when we were children?”
It is an odd thing for her to bring up, but not the oddest, Jeyne thinks. She tries to smile. “You were always queen.”
“Sometimes I let you be the princess.” She pauses.
Jeyne thinks of Theon and for a moment she is angry. But she doesn’t think that’s what Sansa is apologizing for. Sansa is apologizing for everything. For the world. And Sansa is only a part of it, a grain of sand like Jeyne, and Jeyne cannot blame her for that, can she?
She is angry and mad and desperate and lonely, and despairing, because wasn’t Theon only a grain of sand, too?
She looks up at the woman whose birthright she would have taken. Who would now have Jeyne killed because of it.
Jeyne cannot read Sansa’s face.
“You’ve changed,” Sansa says at last. “You’re not like I remember.” She seems to catch herself. “But that is foolish of me. Nothing is as I remember it.”
Jeyne grinds her teeth. She thinks of Ramsay, unbidden, but does not whimper. She looks to the wall and tries to think of something happier, but all she can think is that the Stranger has finally come, and he has made a mockery of her, for he has come in the guise of her oldest confidante.
Sansa draws her cloak up around her face so Jeyne cannot see her face. She raps at the door and the hulking brute with the scarred face opens it. Such things once frightened Sansa – burned men and dark dungeons. Now Sansa the Stranger is master of them all. Jeyne thinks of Theon and Sansa and herself and counts them all as one.
The hooded Stranger - perhaps a Maiden, somehow possessed – looks in Jeyne’s direction. In an odd form of supplication, she averts her eyes and sets a pouch at Jeyne’s feet. It jingles as it touches the hard, dirt floor.
Jeyne waits a moment.
She does not ask why.
There is no point.
Theon's face, purple, springs again to her imagination. She reaches for the pouch, but hesitates. When she speaks, her voice is rusty with disuse and tears.
“We flew through the air. He and I. Like birds.”
That motion again: Sansa’s hand goes again to her neck. It is a strange habit but then, Jeyne has never been allowed to pick at her ornaments. Or had many ornaments to pick at.
“People don’t fly,” Sansa says slowly. “Only in songs. Only in songs and in death.”
Maybe that was what they had done. Died together. Again.
She bites hard at her lip. "What will I do?"
“You will be alive. Is that not enough?”
Perhaps for Sansa it is. Jeyne can see sympathy in her eyes, sympathy and fear.
“You’ll have escaped. You’ll be free to do as you wish.”
The burned sets throws down a rough cloak, softer in manner than Jeyne would have expected. Jeyne wraps it over herself, becoming The Stranger as well. She looks at Sansa’s stone face one last time and tries to mirror her stone expression. She thinks of the Drowned God. She prays – summons him, hopes that he may show himself in her image – and then turns away.
It seems that they have said goodbyes long ago.
Jeyne turns, and Sansa hurries toward her. She wraps her arms around Jeyne and squeezes her tight then, in the next moment, lets go and turns away.
In the rough cloak, Jeyne covers her face and walks through the yard. She summons The Drowned God, Theon, Asha – she tries to walk like a man, but she knows that the tears are rolling down her face and if she is a man, she must be a very old, sickly one. Still, she steals through the night and leaves the camp – Sansa’s palace – unscathed.
She walks for miles.
Before dawn, near the river, she finds a boy, rough-looking, but still smaller than herself. When she pulls down her hood, he looks at her with mixed interest and disgust. She knows how she must look and smell, covered in filth, missing the tip of her nose.
“I need safe passage,” she says. She tries not to sound frightened.
The water looks black as blood under the moon. It is still a new moon – a second new moon, Jeyne tells herself. It has been at least that many days in the dungeons.
In the boat, she opens her little pouch. She realized long ago that it jingled, and now she muffles its jingling, tries to shield it from view with her cloak.
Inside, it glitters.
There are five gold dragons inside. And her pearls, the ones that she kept in her bodice. They’d stripped her before they’d put her in the dungeons. Sansa had returned them.
The boy cannot see. He leers at her with dark eyes. “What’re you going to give me?”
She feels her eyes prickling.
Five dragons. A nice sum. More money than she’s ever held, to be sure.
She stays quiet and bowed over.
The pearls leave her hands, all but one. An oath. This is the iron price.
She has paid it in reverse.
The sept is dark and cool. The smell of rosemary nearly overwhelms her as she draws closer and closer to the front, where candles are burning. When she gets close, she leans over the embalmed body, a man she doesn’t know.
When she does, she realizes how loud her steps sounded through the little sept. She realizes that the Silent Sister stares at her.
She makes her way to the Stranger’s altar, where she lays one of her gold dragons. Even the gold looks oddly dull and worthless in this light.
She approaches the Silent Sister, then, trying to make her footsteps as soft as possible. It’s no use. Here, everything echoes.
She spends a long time standing there, unsure whether or not she’s caught the Sister’s eye. When she dares to look up, she finds she has. The Sister’s eyes are gray.
“It smells good,” she says, and her voice shakes. “I mean that – it smells better than – than a dead body ought to.”
She’s smelled dead bodies before. Heaps and piles and mounds of them. She’s smelled flayed flesh.
The Silent Sister blinks. She says nothing. There is something oddly weighty in the silence, something that makes Jeyne’s words uncomfortably heavy, and suddenly they all rush out of her mouth.
“I have no place left to go – I don’t think I – I don’t know what to do.”
The Silent Sister says nothing.
“I’ve seen men flayed before.” I’ve seen my own thighs bloody. I’ve felt my back stinging. Her voice is shaking, and her breath comes in gulps. “I could serve you well. I could be one of you.” In a small voice, again: “I don’t know what to do.”
The Silent Sister folds her hands in front of her. She looks over to the coin that Jeyne set before the Stranger’s feet. She looks back, then, to Jeyne, and suddenly, Jeyne understands.
She stands quiet before the Sister.
After a while, the Sister points to a sun carved above the Father’s head. She makes a downward motion, then another circular motion. Around. Jeyne wonders if this is how they all communicate with one another, or if they simply give up speaking, after a time. Because they find it pointless, or exhausting. Or if they have simply reached a higher understanding.
“Tomorrow morning,” Jeyne says. Her voice echoes far too loud in the sept, and her throat catches at the thought that, soon, she may no longer use it. “At dawn.”
What use was your voice to you before? She thinks. To lie? To call yourself Arya Stark, to call yourself happy? To cry out when he cut you? You never used it very much, anyway.
There was a time, though. A time when she sang hymns with Sansa and her septa. A time when her mother sang to her. A time when Asha laughed at something she said, or when she whispered to Theon and he listened.
The Sister’s eyes are gray and large. Something in the way they are set almost belies sympathy, but they are too weary for that. They are, most of all, like silver mirrors, where Jeyne can see a younger version of herself, pale and frightened, with the brothel’s seed pearls in her hair.
When she reaches up, her tears wet her sleeve.
She leaves – almost runs.
She kept one pearl for herself.
She drops it into the sea that night.
For you, Theon.
May the Drowned God take you.
For Sansa, she says a prayer to the Stranger.
Dawn is still hours off.
The dark river refuses to yield a reflection when she stands over it. She wishes to see herself, again, to see what time and sorrow have made of her.
The pouch of gold around her waist, bolstered with stones, feels heavy. She wonders whether it will be enough to keep her under. She wonders all night.
She wonders what it would be like to lose her voice, forever.
She thinks she wouldn’t like it very much.
When dawn finally falls, she leaves.
She has already died once. She is ready to live again.