Chapter 15: Dear Jon
Seeing Damon again was strangely liberating and terrifying. She still cared for him deeply, and she was happy that he was here, because at least she wouldn't be surrounded by unfamiliar faces in a hostile place. But that pull she'd felt towards him back in Mystic Falls when she'd first been turned, that desire to make him happy regardless of cost, that need to just be with him all day and all night…it was gone. It was as if she could breathe again in his presence, and a great weight she hadn't even known about had been lifted from her chest.
Elena was no longer bound to Damon, and while she would always love him, she was no longer in love with him. Those feelings had burned fiercely like a supernova, and but they had burned themselves out.
Or perhaps the ice on the Wall had quenched those fires. She didn't know. It was confusing, and this revelation frightened her. Without the bond, it was suddenly like she was a boat adrift on the wide sea after her anchor had been broken. They would have to talk about it sometime, but how did one talk about such things? She didn't want to see him hurt. That was the last thing in the world she wanted.
She was so deeply mired in her thoughts that she almost forgot to answer Lord Stark's question, and if hadn't been for Yoren giving her a nudge, she might just have gone on without answering it.
"Yes, of course I will be Lady Sansa and Lady Arya's companion, if you think I'm the right person for the job, my lord," she said. "I can't thank you enough for taking me in, Lord Stark."
"Do your job well, and I will consider your debt repaid," said Eddard. "Sansa and Arya are growing, and they need someone closer to their own age to help them learn their roles. I trust my son's judgement and I admire anyone who can tame Damon Salvatore." Was that a smile? Yes! It was a smile!
The clothes she was given were simple and functional. But to Elena, who had spent months on the Wall dressed in clothes scrounged from the men's discarded garments –and considering the…erm…wealth of the Watch, that said something for the state of her appearance during those few months– the dress was the prettiest thing she had ever owned in Westeros. It was made of light grey linen and it went over a long white undershirt, with laces at the front so she wouldn't actually need someone to help her with it. That would defeat the point. She was the lady's maid. She didn't get a maid herself.
She tied her hair back in a long braid. Well, it was time to face the music, or rather, her new employers. She felt as if she knew them already, with everything Jon had told her about them. A knock sounded on her door.
"You ready?" asked Damon as he opened it and peeked around.
She whirled to face him, having expected someone else. "Damon! You scared me! Listen. We need to talk…"
"Now is not a good time, Elena," said Damon. King's Landing had made him harder to read, for he had learned the art all politicians seemed to possess of having absolutely no expression whatsoever. He was still Damon, but not quite the same Damon as when she had left him at his behest. Then again, she wasn't quite the same Elena either. "Come on. You don't keep Sansa and Arya waiting. It's just not done."
She followed him down the stone hallway, past narrow windows that gave her glimpses of the palace grounds below. It was a long way to fall if one were to –accidentally or otherwise− jump out one of them.
The solar was bathed with mellow yellow sunlight. A pretty red-headed girl sat with her head bowed over a piece of beautifully intricate embroidery, the likes of which were never seen in the modern world save for in really really expensive collections of designer clothes at haute couture shows. An old woman sat beside her with the mending, her hair swathed in cloth like a nun. That, she supposed, was the septa. Jon had described her in rather unflattering terms. In one corner, stabbing the fabric but not really making any progress, was a smaller dark haired girl. Elena hid a smile. Arya was exactly as Jon had described her; a skinny sparrow with a sharp beak.
Sansa looked up and smiled when she saw Damon. "Ser Damon, what a surprise to see you here," she said as she glanced at him from beneath long eyelashes. How old was she? Thirteen? Fourteen? Well, all right, with his looks, Damon would make any teenaged girl swoon.
"A good surprise, I hope," said Damon. "I thought I would bring your new handmaiden to meet you."
"A handmaiden?" said Arya.
"Indeed, my lady, by your father's orders," said Damon. "Allow me to present Elena Gilbert. She'll be your companion from now on."
"Elena, like your Elena?" blurted out the younger girl. Even the septa stared.
Damon's eyes darkened, but his smile never slipped out of place. "No," he said. "She's just Elena. Not mine or anyone's Elena."
He bowed and slipped past Elena through the door. As he brushed her shoulder, he leaned down ever so slightly and whispered.
"I won't stop fighting for you."
Arya glanced at their new maid while pretending to work on her embroidery. The patch of stitching grew smaller every time she looked, for she seemed to be unpicking more stitches than she was making them. At this rate, she would be left with nothing but a piece of blank linen with as many holes as Joffrey would have when she was finished with him. In her dreams, anyway. Oh, if only Sansa would do it. She could; she was always spending time with him and his mother these days, which sounded like more fun than sitting here with Septa Mordane bending over embroidery. At least she wasn't completely alone anymore, and she was no longer the worst at needlework.
Elena's brow was furrowed in concentration as she tried to get her stitches just right, and stabbing her finger more often than Arya did. But she looked so beautiful while she did it. No wonder Damon liked her. For once, there was someone prettier than Sansa. It was about time someone showed her sister she was not the gods' gift to mortals.
Septa Mordane sighed. "No, child, your stitches must be small and close together. Oh, look at all those stains! Have you never done embroidery before?"
Elena shook her head. "It wasn't something my parents thought I'd needed to learn," she said. "I'm not a lady. Only ladies learn to embroider."
"And only ladies are taught their letters, yet you are learned," the septa pointed out.
Yes, it was a bit of a mystery. How did Elena know Damon? Without realizing it, Arya leaned forward to better examine the older girl. She had a terrible posture, but her figure was beautiful; even she understood that. Her fingers were long and fine, and her fingernails were neatly trimmed, not cracked and rough like a peasant girl's. Her hair was glossy, so obviously she had enough to eat all her life. No, she was most definitely not a commoner.
The sun touched the top of the window.
"It's time for my dancing lessons," Arya announced, throwing down her needlework with glee and jumping to her feet.
"Arya, ladies do not shout," scolded the septa.
Arya rolled her eyes. "May I please be excused? It is time for my dancing lessons," she said in her best Sansa voice as she curtseyed.
The septa nodded with less disapproval, not detecting any of the dripping sarcasm. Or perhaps she hadn't put enough in.
"Lady Arya, may I accompany you?" asked Elena.
"Elena, you have yet to do one correct row of stitches," said the septa. In that moment, Arya recognized a kindred spirit. Elena didn't want to be here in the solar practising her needlework either!
"She must come with me," she said. "Septa Mordane, she's my maid."
"Companion," the septa corrected her.
"How can she be my companion if she isn't accompanying me?" There. No one could deny that logic.
"I promise I will come back and complete the stitches," said Elena. Perhaps it was those large pretty eyes. Or maybe the septa wasn't as cruel as Arya had thought. Although, whenever Sansa asked for something, regardless of how unreasonable it was, she always got it. Maybe it was the 'lady' effect. Damn, she needed to learn that.
"All right," said Septa Mordane. "But you will return before dinner, the both of you."
Arya grabbed Elena's hand as they ran from the room. It wasn't until they were half way down the corridor that they stopped, breathless, and started giggling with no good reason at all.
"Will you keep a secret?" asked Arya.
"Of course," said Elena. "As long as it's not a life or death secret, in which case I will have a responsibility to tell your father, my lady."
"He knows it," said Arya. "Syrio's not really my dancing master. He teaches me swordplay. Jon gave me a sword and my father said I should learn how to use it if I'm to keep it." She paused. "Did you know Jon on the Wall?" she asked.
Elena had such a pretty smile; it wasn't false at all. Sansa had never given anyone an unfalse smile before, except for Damon. Damon was special. It made her want to throw up her lunch.
"I did, my lady," said Elena. "We're friends. He taught me swordplay."
What? Jon taught Elena swordplay? Why didn't Jon ever teach her swordplay? It wasn't fair! Then again, she could hardly be angry at Elena for it. She was so nice.
"Then you really must practise with me." Her father couldn't have picked a better maid than if he'd actually deliberately tried. But then, she'd heard Robb had recommended her. Clever Robb.
Syrio was waiting and pacing in the room. At that rate, the grooves on the stones would be all worn away. He raised an eyebrow when he saw Elena behind Arya. "Who is your friend, child?" he asked.
"This is our new maid Elena," said Arya. "She fights too."
"All fight when their lives depend on it," said Syrio. He suddenly tossed Elena a sword. Arya couldn't help but be impressed as the older girl caught it the first time. She hadn't been able to do that.
"You have good reflexes, Elena," said Syrio. He said her name in a pronounced way, placing an emphasis on the first syllable so it sounded like 'Eee-lena'.
Syrio tossed Arya the other practise sword. She could catch it now as easily as Elena had caught hers. "Now," said the Braavosi. "Let's see how well you two dance."
I hope you're well, and that this letter finds you safely. Your father and brother have been very accommodating and kind and I cannot repay them enough. I have entered Lord Stark's service as Lady Sansa and Lady Arya's 'companion', which is really a better word for a maid. I know you're laughing. Stop laughing. All right, maybe you can laugh a little bit. But it's really not that funny because I can't embroider, my sewing is crooked, I keep getting bloodstains on my work, and the only dance I know is the one you taught me. I try to practise on my own when there's no one around, but it's not the same.
You know what I am acing? Swordplay. Lord Stark hired a sword master for Lady Arya, and I accompany her to her lessons when I can. Sometimes Syrio (that's his name, Syrio Forel) lets me practise with Lady Arya so she can learn to deal with someone with a different style. He says I have excellent footwork. I tell him the credit's mostly yours. Just mostly, mind. One does not have the footwork I do without some natural talent.
(An odd round winking face with an impossibly wide smile and no nose had been drawn here. Jon remembered it was called an 'emoticon'. Elena had told him all about those.)
King's Landing cannot be more different from Castle Black. It's hard to describe; you have to see it to really understand. There are people everywhere, which makes things difficult and easy at once. We're never lacking onions, for one, nor carrots or any other vegetable. But sometimes it's so loud you can't hear yourself think. I like going to the market to explore, though. You know what I found the other day? I didn't know what they were at first, but Jory Cassel started laughing uncontrollably when the nice man selling them asked me if I wanted to buy some.
Bulls' testicles. Yes, they eat bulls' balls in King's Landing. And it's not bullshit.
Anyway, Lady Sansa is asking for me, and I should really go. Say hello to Sam, Grenn, Pyp, and Benjen for me, and give Maester Aemon my love and regards.
P.S. Damon sends his regards. It's actually Ser Damon now. Greetings, Frosty. I trust you are protecting us all from the zombie apocalypse and that your brains haven't been eaten yet?
(Jon laughed. Of course Damon would appropriate the pen. He'd written to the Wall just once before, and he'd called Jon 'Frosty the Snowman' before explaining Frosty was a snow sculpture that moved and played with children until he melted. Jon didn't really like the sound of that because he didn't melt, and he was not a snow sculpture! Just a Snow. And what was a 'zom-bee' and what was an 'ay-poke–' Never mind. He gave up. He couldn't even read the word, much less say it. They probably weren't words.)
P.P.S. Sorry about that. Damon's gone now. He's got work to do, he says. I'm not sure what work he could possibly have. Lady Arya says he stands around doing a whole lot of nothing. By the way, P.S. stands for post script which is a note you put after you've signed a letter, just in case you thought it was some secret code, and P.P.S. stands for post post script which is the note you put after the post script. Okay, I really have to go now. One does not make Lady Sansa wait, but I'm sure you know that.
The necklace winked in the moonlight shining through the cracks in the shutters. His breath misted on its silver surface as he dangled the locket before him, just watching it swing and thinking. Elena's letter had arrived earlier that day. He must have read it a thousand times, for he could remember it word for word. How he had brushed his fingers over that familiar round tidy script and the ink blots, pretending it was her voice that was saying these words to him and trying to imagine her in her new King's Landing clothes, looking like the lady she was as she bent over the piece of parchment. She still hadn't mastered using a quill yet, judging by the number of blots and smears.
When he closed his eyes, he saw her again; Elena in the snow holding her arms out like wings and saying she was flying, Elena stepping on his toes whenever they danced while torchlight flickered in her eyes, Elena's lips on his cheek when she had kissed him goodbye.
Elena asking him why he wanted to be in the Night's Watch.
He still couldn't form an answer that would satisfy both of them. Everything he could think of seemed either false or forced, whereas it hadn't before. What had changed? He knew exactly what.
The necklace continued to swing in its lazy arc. He was watching it, but not really watching it. His mind was full of questions and doubts and they swam around and around, screaming in the silence of the darkness.
The locket was yanked from his hand. Jon leapt from the narrow cot. "Give it back, Pyp," he just about snarled. Ghost, at the foot of the bed, did snarl.
"You've been flashing this thing in my eyes for the past two hours," said Pyp. "Some people are trying to sleep here, Jon. What's this anyway?"
"What are you doing up?" whispered a sleepy Sam on the cot at the right side of Jon's. "It's not dawn yet."
"Go back to sleep, Sam," said Jon. "Pypar, give it back!"
"It's pretty plain. I can't imagine it's worth stealing," said the thief as he turned it over in his hands, and then his eyes widened as he recognized it. "Seven hells! It's Elena's necklace!"
"Now I can't go back to sleep," said Sam. He tried to swing his legs over the side of the cot. It took a few tries before he managed to get disentangled from his blanket and rolled off the side, miraculously landing on his feet. "Elena gave you her necklace?"
"What's that noise?" said Grenn with a groan. "I don't know about you, but it's still dark outside."
"Elena gave Jon her necklace!" whispered Pyp and he dashed over to show Grenn before Jon could successfully reclaim his token.
"Shut up!" said Rast from the other end of the room.
"You shut up," the four of them said in unison, but they tried to keep their voices as low as possible after this, not wishing to wake the rest of Castle Black. Instead, they crowded around in a huddle. Jon finally managed to get the necklace back and put it back on. The locket nestled coldly against his heart before his body heat warmed it.
"She loves you," said Sam.
"She's with my friend Damon Salvatore," said Jon.
"The cocky sell-sword who became a cocky knight because he was cocky in front of the king? That Damon Salvatore?" asked Grenn.
"Yes, that Damon Salvatore," said Jon. Damon would make himself known everywhere, including the Wall where they always got the news last. He didn't know why he had chosen the raven as his sigil, although perhaps there was sense behind it. The raven was an animal associated with the dead after all. And his words, 'Tender is the night'? There was nothing tender about vampires and the other creatures that haunted the dark places of time. Unless, of course, said vampire happened to be Elena.
"Well," said Sam sagely. "Elena didn't give Damon her locket, did she?"
"She loves you," said Pyp. Jon looked around at his friends. Their eyes were gleaming in the darkness as they stared at him. "What are you still doing here, Jon, when there's a girl like that out there waiting for you?"
"You don't have to stay, not like us," said Grenn. "You should go to her."
"Yes, you should," said Pyp.
"I'm with them," said Sam.
"I've wanted to be a ranger since I was old enough to understand," said Jon by way of protest. It seemed like a pretty pathetic protest and not really an adequate argument. In his head, he could hear Elena's voice asking him whether it was still what he wanted.
"Men are allowed to change their minds, Jon," said Pyp.
"Well, at least they are before they take their oaths," said Sam. "Just promise you'll think about it, Jon."
The tension in Tywin Lannister's study was so stifling, Stefan would not have been surprised if lords started dying of asphyxiation right there and then as they stood before the patriarch of House Lannister.
Tywin slowly set down a little piece of parchment. It curled up on itself, as if afraid to let him see its words again, so much had they angered him. His face was schooled, and there was almost no difference to his heart rate, but Stefan could tell the difference from his slightly heavier breathing as his body took in more oxygen to prepare for a fight or flight response. With Tywin Lannister, it was always a fight response. The lion did not run from anyone.
"It seems like the wolf has bitten off more than he can chew," he said.
"Bitten off what, my lord?" asked one of the bannermen.
"A stunted lion, but a lion nonetheless."
No one said anything. They all knew Tywin didn't think much of his youngest, but he was still a Lannister, no matter his size, and no one ever took a Lannister prisoner without all the other Lannisters trying to get him back. It was more about the family's reputation than anything else, just like his family, except his family never had armies to play with. Thank God for small favours. As Stefan had very quickly learned during his short time in Tywin's service, the Lannister reputation was almost everything. Military might and money made up for the rest.
"Salvatore," said Tywin.
Stefan stepped forward and bowed. "My lord?"
"You will raid the Riverlands," said Tywin. Him? Why him? "Clegane will be your second in command. Burn the villages, raze their crops, salt their fields. Do not fly our banners, but let the word spread. I want Eddard Stark to know about it."
Stefan glanced at the ill-tempered giant who stood on the opposite side of the room just a few feet away; the giant who had been defeated and humiliated in front of the crowds of King's Landing by one Damon Salvatore. He'd been wanting to taste Salvatore blood ever since, and one Salvatore brother was as good as another as far as he was concerned. He didn't have very discerning tastes.
"Yes, my lord," said Stefan. It was a test. He wasn't sure what Tywin was looking for, but putting a Salvatore and a Clegane together, with a knighted Clegane under the un-knighted Salvatore, was an experiment of some kind. It had to be. Otherwise, he was just asking for trouble. But then, maybe trouble was exactly what he was looking for.
Gregor pounced on Stefan as soon as they were out of earshot and pinned him to a wall. Even he was not stupid enough to disobey Tywin in front of Tywin. But outside, he was quick to assert his authority as the most vicious oaf that ever lived. Well, at least, he tried.
"Lord Tywin might have made put you in command, but I don't listen to Salvatore dogs," he growled.
"Lord Tywin put me in command and I will be in command, Clegane," said Stefan. Hadn't he learned his lesson from Damon already? What made him think that another Salvatore would be easier to take down? Although, he would probably have to do a rinse and repeat in order for him to get the message. "You will remove your hand from my person before I remove it from yours."
If only he'd had a camera to capture the look on Clegane's face as he easily wrenched his arm away from his neck, as if he were no stronger than a newborn child, and then pushed him aside. The men stared at him, some in disbelief, and some in awe. Sometimes, he didn't hate being a vampire.
Their eyes followed him. He commanded some of them to prepare brigands' clothing, and others to ready the gifts that they would leave for the Starks. This wasn't about killing as many people as possible. This was about sending a message, and unlike Damon, he didn't believe in killing the messenger.
They burned, they screamed, and they whimpered as they were rounded up while their houses were torn down and their crops were systematically torched and the earth was salted. Stefan had to remind himself he was doing them a favour. If it had been up to Clegane, they would all be dead or maimed. He couldn't exactly save them all. His name might be Salvatore, but he was no saviour. Right now, he was in a strange land trying to make a way for himself and his friends. He had to put them first.
"Take everything you can take," he said to his men. They were more than happy to do as he asked, because they were allowed to keep whatever they wished. There was very little to take. The villagers, while not too badly off by commoner standards, had little of value. The soldiers callously tossed treasured trinkets aside and turned over tables and beds just for the sake of it.
He whipped around at the sound of terrified screams. Clegane. Again. The Mountain was pinning down a girl who could not be more than fifteen. She tried to fight him. He struck her. She continued to fight as he tore off her clothes. He made to hit her again, but his hand never made it down.
Stefan bodily hauled him from the girl. "What did I say? We raid, we burn, we tear things down. No rape, and no killing unless there's resistance," he said, keeping his voice calm but loud enough so everyone could hear. It would be easier for them all if they simply gave up and surrendered. "This is in direct violation of my orders, and my orders are Lord Tywin's orders, Clegane. Do you know what the consequences are?"
"You dare to threaten me, Stefan Salvatore?!" Stefan had never actually seen anyone turn purple before in his life, and it had been a very long life.
The Mountain swung a fist the size of a war hammer at him. Stefan easily dodged. He seized the Mountain's arm, and slammed the side of his gauntleted hand down onto the unprotected inside of the elbow. Something snapped. Probably a ligament or a tendon. He didn't really care as long as something broke. The Mountain roared in pain and anger, and was quickly shut up by a backhand to the face from the vampire. He threw the giant to the ground, where he scrambled to his feet and glared at anyone who dared to come near him.
"I could end you now," said Stefan. "But I won't. Just remember a dog only has one life." He would have liked to do nothing more than rid the world of that monster, but he doubted Tywin would appreciate it.
He heard the sound of someone rushing at him before one of the villagers slammed into him and almost knocked him to the ground. He must have taken Stefan's mercy as a sign of weakness. As though he could defeat the man who had taken down the Mountain unarmed.
Stefan seized him by the throat, and before anyone could see what he was doing, he had plunged a little dagger into the base of the man's skull where the spine joined with it. The blade met with little resistance as it went in, right through to the cerebellum.
The man went stiff, and then limp. Stefan let the man's body fall to the ground, still twitching with life.
"Bury him," he said. He could not let his emotions get in the way. No, he could not. If he felt those feelings, then he would want to turn them all off. And he could not turn them off right now! He needed all his senses if he were to survive and help his friends survive too.
"He's still alive, ser," said one of the men.
"I know," said Stefan. "Bury him."
There was very little resistance after that.
The village looked very pretty from a distance. It was surrounded by greenery and wooden palisades that looked as if they had been erected more than a century ago, and a little winding dirt path went through the middle. On either side were cute little round thatched straw and stone huts with chimney holes in the centre of the roof. How very quaint. Some of the richer villagers, like the blacksmith, actually had a cottage with mud brick walls.
The path led to the very heart of the settlement; a merry little pub which was already attracting a great many farmers tired from tilling the fields. She ducked inside without many people noticing her and sat in a shadowy corner, as she was wont to do. She ordered a bowl of thick hearty fish stew and a tankard of the only wine they served. Oh, she missed bubbly.
The fish was good and fresh, with white flaky meat, but she hadn't come here for the food. Well, it was part of it. Even vampires occasionally craved non-blood products. Two men who were too well dressed to be mere villagers came in, quietly discussing the recent raids in the Riverlands. They were the tallest people in the whole of the pub, and the only two blonds.
"Nice little village, this one," one of them was saying. "Do you think Salvatore will want raze it too?"
"The Mountain will want to raze it, but he can't. Stefan Salvatore is too smart for that, and he won't risk his position as Lord Tywin's newest favourite."
Stefan was here too? Well, well. It wasn't entirely unexpected, she supposed, now that she knew Elena and Damon were both here too. Who was next? Baby Gilbert? He wouldn't last. The Bennett witch? She might last, until they decided to burn her for being a witch. Or perhaps an original or two? She hoped it would be the nice one who liked her, although she wasn't counting on it.
"He's not Lord Tywin's newest favourite. The pretty one is," said the first.
"Salvatore is pretty." He had good taste, that second man.
"Not in that way. The other pretty one. The blonde little lady knight. Lady Mikaelson."
Lady Mikaelson? How did Rebekah manage that? She hadn't met her yet, but from what she'd heard from Elijah and from what she'd observed when she had been –ahem– keeping an eye on Stefan during the thirties, Rebekah had been a bit of a brat. Very pretty though, if one liked freckly dumb blondes. Lord Tywin Lannister couldn't be that bright if he'd made Rebekah a knight.
"She's not a lady," said the second man. Amen. "She's a knight. You should call her ser."
"She's not a ser. She's a woman. 'Ser' is an honorific that you use for a man."
"Oh shut it and drink your wine."
"It's not wine. It's ale."
"I'll 'ail' you if you don't shut up."
Well, if Rebekah Mikaelson was in the south, then here was just one more reason not to go there.
Thank you to Guest, tthorn, Heller, and LittleNK for the reviews!