I should've gone with him, the girl chided herself. There wasn't a day that passed without that flitting through her mind, but now it occupied her every waking thought. He would've kept me safe, the voice said. She knew who the voice belonged to, but dead girls didn't speak, so she shook her head, hoping to dislodge the cobwebs of her past. Straightening back up from the fire she had been making, she stared into the hearth, seeing his face in the dancing flames. She wanted to whisper his name, to reach out and touch his face, and again she gave her head a small shake. Dead girls don't have memories. Forget him. Who she was talking to didn't matter; she didn't even know who she was, anymore. She knew who she used to be. Sansa, her name was. Young, beautiful Sansa with her mothers' red hair and Tully blue eyes. Sansa, whose brothers and sisters still lived. Little bird. A tear rolled down her cheek, tracing a visible line of sadness in her otherwise unblemished skin.
After her came Alayne. The dark haired girl; Peter Baelish's bastard daughter. He had been kind to her, no doubt, but beneath his kindness he was always calculating. And underneath his kisses was lust, a desire he had no right to have. I was his daughter, the girl thought. Lies, the voice yelled. You are the daughter of Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell, Sansa admonished. It makes no matter; I am an orphan, now. All three of the girls were, Sansa, Alayne and Nymeria. The name she had adopted now made her smile, despite herself. When the innkeeper asked for her name, she had been thinking about Sansa's little sister, Arya. Arya-underfoot had loved the legend of Nymeria, and the name tumbled out before she could stop herself. For the first week, Nymeria blushed at the mention of her name, reddening at the memory of her stupidity. Still a Little bird, she heard him growl. His voice had stayed with her, and some nights she could still taste his kiss on her lips. Blackwater, she remembered. I should've gone with him.
Nymeria went down the stairs to prepare the common room for breakfast. Sweeping the floor, wiping down the tables and lighting candles, she thought of how lucky she was. Working at the inn wasn't bad, and free room and board was all she needed, though the coppers John thrust into her hands each week were welcome, too. John was the innkeep, an old man, his back hunched over so far he was almost facing the floor and his hands swollen from gout. He was kind enough, though not very talkative, but she sensed he had begun to care for her. He was surprised by her courteous attitude, and when she asked for a job so sweetly, he had no choice but to say yes. Fool, Nymeria had thought. It had been a long time since she had been Sansa, or even Alayne. They were long gone, and the cold-hearted girl who had replaced them was neither sweet nor courteous. She had killed men three times the size of John, though she could never imagine hurting him. John was a harmless, and he needed her. She would not let him down. Preparing a breakfast of fried bread and eggs, she hummed a song. Florian and Jonquil, she remembered from her past life. She never gave him his song.
She took the eggs out of the water and put them in a bowl. Grabbing a jug of ale, she rushed to the common room, juggling the bread, eggs and ale while dodging John.
"Watch out, Nym. There's a rowdy lot just come in last night. Don't talk to them unless you absolutely 'ave to. And don't take no money from 'em; I already 'ave it," he warned.
John would always repeat the same words, and she would always ignore him. I know how to take care of myself, said her smile. I've killed men for less than a drunken grope, said her wink. Pushing into the common room, she set the tower of bread, the bowl of boiled eggs and the jug of ale next to the skins of wine and the cups she had put out earlier. Men were standing around, talking about what some Lord has done this week, or swapping stories about the tourneys they had won, or lost. Mostly lost. She stopped to talk to Betsy, of an age with Nym, who always came to the inn for breakfast, either too busy or lazy to make her own. She was a whore, and was always on the job, eyeing men and winking generously. Nym liked Betsy, and looked forward to seeing her each morning. Betsy was kind, honest and always happy to share juicy tidbits, Nym being past the stage of blushing furiously, as Alayne had done with Randa, at the merest mention of coupling. She was the only person Nym could call a friend, apart from maybe John and Marty, who worked in the stables once a week. As Betsy talked about her customers last night, Nym's eye fell on a man sitting in the far corner of the room, face washed in the shadow of his hood. She didn't know what it was about this man, but he watched as he drank a skin of wine by himself. He ate nothing, but his eyes went everywhere, and finally caught Nym's. She thought she recognised them, but judging from the way he blankly turned away, he must not have known her. Nym hardly knew herself, these days. Her eyes, once perpetually wide and innocent, were always narrowed in distrust, and her face had turned gaunt and, in her opinion, ugly. Sansa was no more, and it was only fitting that Nym look the complete opposite to her.
"...So I says, listen Walder, I says to him, if yer gonna put me arse on fire, yer better pay me in dragons!" Betsy laughed long and loud. Nym smiled to humour her, but her eyes were on the man in the shadows.
He's about the same size, she thought. And he would've sat alone, too, never being one to socialise. And he would've covered his face, to hide the scars. Those scars, she thought. She missed his face, and though he was nowhere near handsome, he was beautiful to her. No, he was beautiful to Sansa, she thought. He never knew me. Nym wished he could see her now. Would he still call me a little bird? Her hand dropped to her thigh, tracing the outline if the dagger she strapped around her leg. The same on the other leg, and another was hidden in her sleeve. She was just about to leave Betsy to her breakfast when the door was kicked open. Men streamed in, swords drawn. One man brandished a maul, and wore the flayed man sigil of Ramsey Bolton. It might've been him, but Nymeria had only heard his description, which the man standing before her fitted. His eyes stood out to Nym, an icy blue a stark contrast to her own. Though she was sure the small, cruel-eyes man was the Bastard of Bolton, she couldn't have been sure. She remembered stories that had filtered into the Vale an age ago. Of his marriage to her sister, this had turned out to be her childhood friend, Jeyne Pool. Nym looked at the man standing before her, wanting to punish him for what he did to her friend, to Winterfell, to her home. She vaguely admonished herself for thinking it was her home, but she found she didn't care. He had to pay, either way.
"Put your swords away, unless you mean to die with it in your hand" the man yelled. Those who had one had unsheathed their weapon, the others looked around nervously. One man refused to lower his sword, a rusty old thing, and stepped forward, a slight hesitation in his step marring his brave act.
"What is your business here?" he asked. Nymeria shuddered, fearing for John's life. His sword looked as though it had seen more years than him, and its weight pulled at the man's swollen wrist.
The man who might've been Ramsay stepped forward as his men snorted in laughter. Nymeria moved to stand by John's side, and the sniggers stopped instantly. It started as sudden as it had ended, only louder. The men hooted and slapped their thighs in mirth. Only the man in front of her was silent. The laughter dwindled down as he took a step closer, closing the distance between Nymeria and him.
"And what have we here?" he asked menacingly. Nymeria stared him boldly in the eyes, refusing to answer, but John spoke up.
"Touch her and you die, Bastard," he growled. From another man the words might've been a warning, but in John's weak voice, Ramsay took it as an invitation. Reaching out, he pulled her scarf from her head, red hair tumbling over her shoulders, the copper tones shone in the sunlight coming in through the door. Somewhere behind her, she heard an intake of breath. Be strong, Nymeria reminded herself. You are not Sansa!
"Well, doesn't she have pretty hair? Shame about her figure, though. I suppose she'll have to do, for tonight. Then maybe I'll give you to my men; the Gods know they're in need of cunt!" He laughed, pawing her breast. One of his men spoke up; "M'Lord, I wouldn't mind seeing more of her red hair, though I'm quite bored with the ones on her head" he said, licking his lips. That brought more laughter.
I am not Sansa, she reminded herself again, biding her time till she could have her vengeance. Thinking back to those happier times spent with her friend brought her courage. For Jeyne, she thought, whose only fault had been that she was of the North.
John had had enough, and raised his sword higher, stepped forward but before he could crash it back down into Ramsay's skull, Ramsay had stepped backwards and swinging his maul, brought it down into John's face. John whirled around, spraying blood on Nym before he fell down with a thud. Nymeria screamed, throwing herself to the ground beside John. Sweet, kind John. John who had loved her like a daughter these last years. Tears rolled down her cheek, and with one last kiss on his bloody forehead, Nymeria stood up. She didn't know how long she'd sat with John, but the men were fighting in earnest. She recognised Paul, who'd been here for a week. She saw him cut down by one of Bolton's men. She couldn't see Bolton anywhere. The stranger whose face was still hidden was hacking at men, severing head and arms when she left the common room.
That was when he found her. Rushing through the kitchens, she felt a hand grab her by her arm, roughly pulling her back into the shadows.
"Come for me, have you?" he said, bringing his face close to her own and running has other hand down her waist to the curve of her hip. She was taller than him, yet his menacing presence raised him up a few inches. For Jeyne, for the North, Nym thought.
"I doubt anyone has ever come for you, Bastard." Nym replied, straightening her back until she dwarfed him. His eyes grew harder and though he smiled, the tension in his jaw was tight enough to gnaw his teeth to dust. Nym quirked an eyebrow up as she wrenched her arm from his grip. He let go easily enough but then she saw the glint of steel and felt the cold edge of his knife against her and she smiled.
"You really are stupid, Bastard."
"I am stupid? Which one of us has the knife against her throat?" he quipped, but Nym couldn't help but smile her brightest smile. His own grin faltered when she tapped it against the top of his thigh.
"And which one of us is about to lose his cock? Here's a clue, I don't have one." And with that, she plunged the dagger into his groin before stepping back as his own slashed violently at her throat. She laughed; long peals of mirth that wouldn't end as he slid down the wall, the red spot on the front of his breeches growing bigger with every second. He was looking at her with his cruel eyes that had lost their cruelty as the man had lost his manhood. Nym smiled down at him before kicking his dagger out of his hand and crouching down next to him.
"For Jeyne," she said, as she put the edge of her steel against his throat. His eyes widened a fraction at her next words, whether from recognition or fear, Nym didn't know. But she noted the whites of his eyes with satisfaction as she whispered "For the Winterfell," before pulling the knife along his throat.
In the stables she found Betsy, blood running down her face as a man pumped into her, two others pinning her to the ground. A rage overtook Nymeria, and ripping the two daggers from her legs, jumped on top of the man raping her friend and slit his throat, blood gushing over Betsy's face. The other two approached her, without their weapons, and circled around Nym. Fools,Nymeria thought. They should've picked up their weapons. She made sure not to give anyone of them her back. She was watching, for weakness, for a disability. The man to her left was right-handed, though the other was left-handed. She could tell from the fists they had up, the preferred hand balled in a fist while the other was to block her daggers. She feigned left to the man on her right and when he swung out to punch her, she ducked and sunk the dagger in the exposed right side of his neck, twisting it four good measures. He fell to the ground and the other came rushing at her. She jumped to her right, keeping his left fist far from her reach. He twisted around fast and nimble, faster than Nymeria expected and his large fist connected with her face. The world swam around her, but she made sure to keep her legs steady when all she wanted to do was sit down. He came at her again, but this time she ducked and sunk a dagger into his gut, again twisting. The other dagger sliced through his throat, and he yelled before the blood choked him off. He fell, blood gurgling from his mouth. She listened for his last breath, then stumbled to the corner and sank down. Betsy, she remembered with a start. Nym lurched forward, attempting to get back up. The sudden movement made the world swim again, and her eyes lost focus. That's when she saw the figure enter the stables, sword dripping blood... and her world turned black.