It was her name day, and she was now six-and-ten. Alayne gave a customary smile to her father as she watched him talking to the cook to make the final arrangements for the celebratory feast that was to take place that night, then turned back to helping the maids decide on which decorations would look best around the great hall. It was, of course, not proper to have such a big feast for a bastard girl. Her father had made sure she knew that. The feast was not for her, but for celebrating the two year anniversary of the arming of the Faith. She knew her father well, and Petyr Baelish had duties to attend to. Any rising power in the kingdoms demanded his attention, even if he didn't make it known to anyone else in his household, save her. Such things as name days were not important, but she allowed herself to feel happy about it nonetheless.
Last year's feast had been much larger, with three times the number of brothers and septons attending the Eyrie. Yet the long winter had come, and the paths leading through the Vale and up to the Eyrie were nigh impossible, save for the most persistent of visitors and even then the path was treacherous and was advised against. Yet still they had received word that one-and-twenty of the Faith would be attending this year. The war had been hard on the Knights of the Faith, as some had come to call them. Only six of the party were Warriors Sons, and ten were of the Poor Fellows. The rest were unarmed septons and septas who led the prayers and hymns and sang of the glory of the Seven, and the success of the Knights of the Faith.
More would be coming if the winter wasn't so harsh, and the nights weren't as long. Making the long climb in the dark is hard enough, but adding snow and ice to the mix will be a downright nightmare. Alayne thought to herself as she double checked that there were enough rooms and accommodations for their guests. She paused at one of the windows to view the sun setting behind the mountains of the Vale. A sigh escaped her lips. Every day was shorter than the one before it. It was almost noon, and the sun had only been up a few hours before it slid back to the horizon. Soon the long night would be upon them all, and there would be no sunlight for years. Dread settled in her stomach at the thought, and she turned from the window. There were still plenty of preparations she needed to tend to, and she was won't to let her father down on such an important day.
Everything came together nicely just as the Brothers of the Faith arrived. She met them at the Gates, at her father's side. Both were bundled up in thick white cloaks, and when she caught a glimpse of the Brothers her heart went out to them. They looked half frozen, and she suspected that frostbite might take a few fingers and toes this night. Petyr welcomed them, and Alayne ushered them inside where it was warm, and they could finally rest.
Once the Brothers were comfortable inside, and their needs attended to, she returned to her chambers to get herself ready for the feast. It would be wonderful to be surrounded by people again. Too often her meals were taken with only her father for company, and although Alayne enjoyed his company, she longed to speak with others…people who came from a different world.
A world you were once a part of, a soft voice reminded her and she shoved the thought away. She was no longer that person. Alayne hardly remembered that silly little girl at all. She was a woman grown, and those thoughts had no place here. Not in the Eyrie. Not since her frail cousin had left the world to join his mother Lady Lysa. The world was a terribly cruel place, and with winter here…well, only the strong survived, after all.
Alayne straightened her gown and caught a glimpse of herself in the looking glass. Her brown hair had lost most of its luster two years ago. She still had to dye it every so often, to combat the traitorous roots, but her hair grew much slower these days. Was it because of the winter, or just because she was getting older? Her eyes were still the same shade of blue, and if she was mistaken, didn't they look older?
Stop being silly. You just wish you were older. You look the same as you did at one-and-fifteen! She thought to herself and shook her head as she stepped away from the mirror. Truth be told, she didn't feel that much different either.
A knock at the door startled her out of her thoughts and she quickly went to the door. If it was father, it would not do to keep him waiting. It turned out just to be one of her maids.
"Your father sends for you Alayne. He asks if you have forgotten about the feast! The Brothers of the Faith have already gathered!" she squeaked and Alayne felt a blush rise to her cheeks.
"I'm so sorry Rianna! I will be there at once!" Alayne replied hastily as she closed the door to her bedchamber and hastened to the great hall to take her customary seat at her fathers' left hand.
The seven courses were filled with much talk and Alayne found herself on the edge of her seat to hear the stories that the brothers told of the world outside of the Vale. Tales of war and of the valor were prominent, as were stories of the intervention of the Seven and how they swayed different outcomes of each tale. Only a few of the brothers actually spoke, the others ate in silence.
One of the Warrior's Sons, a man by the name of Vardis Martell, a knight from Dorne, was the most outspoken of all the brothers. He and Petyr seemed to become fast friends, chatting amicably between themselves, but there was something about him that made Alayne uneasy. She was all courtesy however, and listened intently to his tale of Maidenpool, and what they had come across on their way to the Vale.
"It was the sorriest sight I've seen since the slaughter of Saltpans. The streets were filled with the bodies of the fallen; men, woman and child alike. Others we found later in their homes, brutalized and maimed in ways that would make brave men weep. They left several alive, an old man, two young whores and a small lad who must have been only five. All of them were tied to a stake in the middle of Maidenpool and made to stand on hot coals until their feet turned black and cooked as they lived. We got nothing out of them on who did this horrible act. All four were in too much pain to do more than scream or whimper. We gave them the mercy of a quick death after we untied them from the stake. If I didn't know better, I would have placed my bet on the Hound doing this travesty. Seems like something befit of that cur," Martell slammed his fist down on the table to emphasize his point. The brothers nodded their agreement and murmurs spread throughout the room.
"I'm sorry m'lord, but what do you mean about the Hound…that if you didn't know better?" Alayne asked as she promptly lost her appetite and her stomach seemed to suddenly be filled with hot lead.
"Ahh don't worry sweetling, the Hound will not terrorize the realm anymore. He was slain by the Maid of Tarth, all of two years past. May the Father judge him harshly. No more children slain, women raped or towns turned to ash at his hand…are you alright child?" Martell asked with a queer look in his eye as he gazed at her.
"I…I am alright m'lord. These tales are just…horrid to hear," Alayne managed though she felt faint. "Pray tell ser, was there proof it was the Hound, or was it just a tale you heard?"
"Aye it was none other, for he wore a snarling dog helm that was fearsome to behold…but enough of that! You're white as snow. I beg your pardon, we shouldn't be talking of such things over a meal as fine as this," he amended, looking slightly sheepish.
Alayne didn't notice as she stood up so suddenly that her chair tipped backwards. Petyr gave her a slight disapproving look that none of the others at the table could see.
"Are you well, daughter?"
"I fear all this talk has my stomach in knots, father. May I have your leave to seek the maester for something to soothe it?" she managed, feeling ill. This was one lie she didn't have to tell.
"You have my leave, if it suits you. Return to your chambers when you are finished with the maester, and get some rest," her father excused her and turned back to his guests. Most were polite enough not to stare, but she felt the eyes upon her anyway. It made her feel like a child, and she walked from the hall with as much grace as she could muster.
It wasn't to the maester's tower that she went, but straight to her bedchamber. Her heart was in her throat, and some unknown panic had taken hold. Alayne flung herself onto the bed and grasped the rough blanket as hard as she could, and buried her face into the rough wool. She did not cry, but tried to catch her breath regardless. Such a conflict of emotion she had never known and it felt as if she were being pulled apart from the inside out.
Why did such a tale bother you? So the Hound is dead…what does it matter? Some rational part of her mind insisted. What was the Hound to Alayne? They had never met. He was just a cruel beast that deserved a cruel death, and to be shamed for being slain by a woman. Just another man claimed by this horrible war.
No, he's not just another man. Not him! Not like this! The other half of her screamed in dismay. This wasn't the way it was supposed to happen. He wasn't just a stranger, or a helmet, or a name. He had been kind to her once! The Hound had saved her life. She sang for him…
The Hound saved Sansa Stark. Alayne insisted. That girl is long dead; she's just another face in the sea of dead memories. He is nothing to you.
He's everything…he was everything and now he's dead. Dead like everyone else I've ever cared about. A small moan escaped her mouth at that thought. She gripped the blanket tighter, her knuckles going white with the strain.
Her mind warred against itself in this manner for what seemed like an age before sleep snuck up and claimed her. She still clung to the blanket in her sleep.
It was early; too early for servants and guards to be up and about. Too early for her father and it should have been too early for her, but she was awake.
The skies were crystal clear and the air was sharp and cold. Her breath fogged before her, slow and steady. She didn't have to raise her head very high to see the stars. The seemed to be just right out of reach. The moon cast pale, lifeless light across the Vale. It seemed bigger than normal, and she found that comforting. Perhaps it was always this way when looked at from the Moon Door.
We gave them the mercy of a quick death. Martell's voice rang in her head. Joffrey had once said the same thing about beheading her father.
My father was Eddard Stark, not Petyr Baelish. She thought as she tightly grasped the doorframe and stared out at the frozen world before her. I was to be Queen, and Joffrey my King. My brothers were Bran and Rickon, and they were slain by Theon Greyjoy. My brother Robb was killed by the Frey's, and my lady mother as well. My sister was Arya and she vanished into the night, and my bastard brother Jon Snow is lost to me. He belongs to the Night's Watch.
A cold wind blew through the Moon Door and spiked right through her dress. She drew the cloak around her shoulders more tightly with her free hand. Bringing the edge of the cloak to her face she could still smell fire and blood. It flooded her with sudden memories she had suppressed successfully for over three years.
He told me to do what Joff said so that he wouldn't beat me as much. When they tore my clothes off and hit me while I was naked, he gave me his cloak so I had something to wear back to my room…and when they pulled me off the horse and I thought for sure that I was going to be killed, he was the only one who rode back. He cut off that man's arm, the one with the garlic breath. Her breath came more rapidly as she remembered who she was. Tears pricked her eyes and blurred the world before her.
I found him in my bed. The world was green and he was drunk. There was fear in his eyes and he asked for a song. I sang to him, and he kissed me and called me little bird. She hadn't thought of these things in years, but remembered them as if they had happened mere moments before.
He said he would take me with him. That he would protect me and kill anyone who tried to hurt me…and then he left. The tears fell freely from her eyes as her heart broke all over again.
Why didn't I go with him? Now he's dead and gone and what's left for me here? My family dead, my home burned and my people long gone. Why did I stay in King's Landing? Was I such a fool? I could trust him. I knew I could but I didn't go with him. What were the words? The ones he once said to me…
"A hound will die for you, but never lie to you."
Yes…that had been his words to her that long ago. He would have kept her safe…but that wasn't where her thoughts led her.
"Never lie," she murmured into the cloak. That was all her life was anymore. Alayne was a lie. A safe lie, a selfish lie. Littlefinger's daughter was a lie, and he kissed her. Revulsion ran up her spine like a spear and she felt herself sway on the brink of the Moon Door, as she had so long ago as her aunt Lysa had clung to her hair and tried to push her to her death.
I lied to everyone…but most of all I lied to myself. She recalled as the last of her memories fell into place. The Hound had never kissed her, and she didn't sing for him. She raised a hand to her throat and could now remember the cold steel that had pressed there as he took the song from her. Not the one she wanted to sing for him, but a cry for mercy.
It was time to give up the lies. All of them. No one was coming to save her. The Hound had turned feral, as much as she wanted to deny it. He was not going to rescue her. He was no knight. He hated knights…and he was dead. She was alone.
The wind picked up, bringing stray flurries with it from the roof of the Eyrie as the last trace of Alayne gave up, and the girl who stood on the edge of the world finally remembered who she was.
She let go of the safety of the doorframe and tottered on the edge of everything. Grasping the stained cloak with both hands she brought it to her face and closed her eyes. It still smelled of him, amongst the blood and fire. She didn't mind. It wasn't half so bad a smell and it was honest.
"I am Sansa Stark," she whispered to the stars and made her decision. The truth would be the last words to come from her lips. That seemed to be the most important thing. She was afraid, but at least she was honest.
Sansa Stark leaned forward and felt her feet give way over the edge.