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Just One Night

Chapter 1: Just One Night

by Malinwen

Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas."
(Calvin Coolidge)


• JUST ONE NIGHT •

Secret Santa 2012





Author: Malinwen
Type: general/humour/light romance
Fandom: The Lord of the Rings vs. A Song of Ice and Fire crossover
First person point-of-view

Warnings: This is my own take on ASOIF; in my version, some characters are ommitted, some live when GRRM had them killed, and some battles/wars have never happened. Other than that there will hopefully be some humor to this.


Disclaimer:
I make no profit of this story. I wrote it for pure fun and for the love for the canon stories.




Winterfell
Gēola, midwinter


They have done a wonderful job in removing any sings of the Bastard’s fires.

I can definitely see now that trying to conquer this mighty fortress of the North would have been suicide. Its outer walls alone would have thwarted me and my loyal men for at least a full season, even with the defenders cut-off from supplies.

It is a massive structure.

My horse snorts underneath me, and with a pang of regret, I think of my silver; the mare had not been given a life that extended beyond the civil war. She had borne me faithfully, until a shot from one of the Greyjoy archers had brought her down. Her screams still wake me sometimes.

But her offspring is just as good, if not better, as their mother was. She has given me twin foals, and one of them I now ride. Ser Barristan found one of the old horsemasters of King’s Landing once the war was over, and the man has trained both of them for me. They are identical, dustier in colour than their mother, and the only way to tell them apart is by knowing that one is blind on its left eye. I am riding him now; he is my horse for peace, as my good Ser likes to joke about. The stallion’s sister is my feisty war-mare, snarling like one of the panthers I had seen in Quarth, back in the day.

But enough of old memories.

This new Winterfell has definitely been improved; Robb has told me that they have had to rebuild most of the southern and eastern section, but the reinforced walls look even more daunting than before. The inner wall has never even been touched – except with slime, which has been washed off.

Now, the turrets and the standards are flying high in the breeze, and the mighty direwolf of the North challenges anyone who rides close.

They’d bent the knee to a Dragon once; not this time.

This time, Wolf and Dragon are equal.

Unlike the crazed Queen of the tainted Lannister family and her offspring, I was not stupid enough to challenge the North just after the War of the Seven Houses. My strength had not been as great as everyone pictured it to be, and I had no desire to rule a land of frozen crops and invading corpses.

No.

I’d gladly given Robb Stark the kingdom he wanted, and we became allies. I presented him with Lannister pelts; he hunted down the Greyjoys for me.

And instead of spending my first yuletime in the gentle warmth of King’s Landing or perhaps even the ravaging storms of Dragonstone, I’ve accepted his invitation to do so in this harsh, unyielding stronghold of the North.

"Your Majesty."

Ser Barristan’s voice floats to me, and I turn in the saddle to see him slowly ride down the path that has been ploughed through the snow. The banks are as high as my thighs or waist sometimes. His horse seems to have no difficulty, however.

"Ser."

"Majesty, King Robb sends me; his Maester says a storm will hit Winterfell soon. He was worried when he could not see you inside the castle walls."

As much as I would like to fight this gentle guidance, I know very well that despite all my fire I could never survive a full-blown storm here. These storms are different to the one I was born into.

"I was just about to return anyway."

I give my faithful knight a smile and direct my horse beside his, for the path is wide enough on our way back.

"How are my children?"

"In King’s Landing, Rhaegal and Viserion are gentle enough, or so I have been told in letters; Drogon, however, is restless."

I frown; I knew I could not leave Drogon behind in any case, so he has come with me, yet he likes these snowy lands no more than I do.

"I will visit him after the feast."

Ser Barristan inclines his head as we reach the open doors in the outer walls. The bannermen above greet us, and then a horn is blown as the gate is closed. They are telling the Wolf King that the Dragon Queen is safely within. But I do not mind, for even though I am unused to this climate, I am not blind to the dark clouds hanging low in the sky to the north. They are closer now than before.

Robb himself is waiting for us in the inner courtyard, and I cannot help but grin when I see him. We are almost of the same age, and we think almost alike as well. Regardless of who his father was, he has given me what I wanted, and I now count him my ally, and my friend.

"You very nearly gave me an aneurysm," he tells me as I dismount.

I laugh at that; I cannot remember the last time I have laughed so much since coming into the company of the Northeners. Their jokes are raunchy and sometimes tasteless, true, but I prefer their direct humour to the intrigues of the South.

"It will take a lot more before you receive such a gift from me," I tease him as he offers me his arm, and I gladly take it, huddling into his side for warmth. The shiver that runs through me makes him laugh, and I elbow him.

"Quiet! Dragons were not made for freezing climates. Have all your furnaces gone dead?"

He continues laughing, "You should see yourself – the mighty Warrior Queen of the South, helpless against the last month of the year in the North!"

"Well I did not bring my lion pelt with me," I grumble good-naturedly, but I am still smiling. Robb has never meant me harm. All he ever wanted was revenge for his father’s murder – something I can understand; I know more about the Mad King now than I did before, and I can understand why House Stark and House Baratheon had risen in defiance to begin with, exiling me and mine.

Robb and I are now like siblings, and since I have no family of my own left, he has taken it upon himself to make sure I am comfortable within the folds of his own, accepting me with open arms. I am grateful, although his sisters intimidate me.

Lady Sansa of the Vale rises to greet us as we enter the keep, and I am once again struck by her beauty; in the southern court, had the Lannister’s been kinder, she would have flourished and become a most gracious Queen. She is tall and willowy, with auburn hair that tumbles freely past her waist, which looks to be synched so tight that she can barely breathe – and yet I know that is truly her waistline. She is that skinny. But other than the slender build, she is a woman, and a woman grown, and her blue eyes are always kind when she looks at me.

"Dany, Arya has been asking for you, and we were almost ready to send Nymeria out to find your path."

"I am well, despite freezing," I reply with a smile, trying not to feel intimidated by her looks, "your brother does not know how to keep his guests warm."

They both laugh at that, and Sansa seats me by one of the roaring fires in the basins placed around the grand hall, "Forgive Robb – his courtesy has been lacking of late. The more it vanes, the more his wife’s stomach grows."

Robb has the decency to blush then, but I smile hugely; Jeyne is pregnant with their first child, and I have been named its godmother. I am anxious to see the little thing.

Doors open, and the other Stark female strides in, purpose in every step she takes. I was told that Arya had been a gangly, tiny little doll-like thing for most of her life. I cannot see any of that now in the woman coming towards me. She has grown taller than her sister, almost as tall as Robb and Jon, with the distinct Stark colouring, the dark hair and piercing grey eyes. She does not have her sister’s type of beauty, but she is a looker in her own way, and she is also a trained assassin. I have asked Robb to allow me to take her to King’s Landing for a while once I leave.

"Dany! I thought you got lost outside in the snow."

She seats herself by us, and I smile more; sometimes, she is still alike to a child. Robb excuses himself when he sees Rickon, his brother, beckoning to him, and we wave them both away.

I settle down comfortably with a sigh, warming my hands around a mug of steaming apple cider they bring me.

"I took my stallion out to ride a little, but Ser Barristan brought me back."

"It is good as well, because it will storm soon," Arya predicts with certainty as she stretches her long legs out. Sansa has had to hide almost all of her breeches and tunics so the younger sister could be persuaded to wear anything dress-like, or so I have been told.

"How bad are these storms of yours?" I ask cautiously, taking a sip, mindful not to scald my tongue on the liquid.

Sansa shrugs: "It depends, but we have not had a good one in years now; Bran suspects this might be it. In the Vale, women tell tales of storms that raged for months at a time."

Both sisters laugh at my stricken expression, and Arya pats my shoulder, "Don’t worry! It will not be so now. This storm will pass as quickly as it has come."

"How can you be so certain?" They always baffle me, with their superior knowledge of the land around them. I am constantly reminded that I have spent the majority of my life on the other side of the Sea, and know little of the kingdom I now rule.

They shrug, but it is Sansa who speaks: "The birds are all out in the wolfswood. If a longer storm were approaching, they would have hidden by now."

Such an easy explanation! I almost wince at my own stupidity, but none of the Starks have ever treated me negatively for it. Viserys would have long since ‘unleashed the dragon’, but they are not my brother. They are teaching me all they know, and Sansa has offered to visit me in King’s Landing in a couple of months.

I appreciate it more than I will ever be able to tell, and I know it must be hard for them, for all of them; King’s Landing holds only bitter memories, but I will work hard to erase those. They will never regret their friendship with me.

The doors open again suddenly, and all three of us turn at the sound; one of Robb’s men marches in, and Sansa stands in all her glory. Arya simply turns in her spot on the bench, but the waves radiating off her are that of calm authority; she will support her older sister if needed. I simply remain where I am.

He bows: "My ladies, Majesty, one of our scouts has ridden in. He brings reports of a column of riders making its way towards Winterfell."

I frown, and I can see my expression mirrored on both other girls.

Sansa speaks: "But all who have been invited are here – what banners ride with this group?"

The man shakes his head: "We cannot say, my lady; they are not our bannermen."

This can either be good or bad, but all the same, I feel a tingle of anticipation go up my arms.

Arya stands suddenly, nearly toppling me from the bench.

"I will go tell my brother – come with me, we shall decide together."

They leave us, and Sansa sits back down again with a troubled expression.

"Can we fear an attack?" I ask her quietly, so that no one else will overhear; the hall has become a flourish of activity.

She shakes her head once, quickly: "I doubt it. The column does not sound large, and all the garrison is filled. They would be fools if they decided on an attack like this, when we have been warned. Stannis Baratheon could not take Winterfell with all the force of his army behind him."

I nod, and try to assess my feelings. I cannot find anything negative in this, save for distrust, but that is to be expected. Other than that ... I am simply curious.

Rickon appears suddenly, startling both myself and his sister. The youngest of the Stark children may be Tully in colouring, but he is a Wolf of the North. His direwolf, a huge black beast more feral than any of those that always shadow my hosts, turns his bright gaze on us for a moment, before resuming ignoring us.

I am grateful. Unlike the Starks and their people, long-since used to the sight of wolves as big as small horses trailing after their masters, the direwolves still raise the hairs on my arms each time they appear in my presence. Ironically enough, Drogon seems to have taken to them instantly, and they to him. To say it is amusing to watch the huge black-and-crimson dragon playing with the canines is a sore understatement.

"Rickon," Sansa says gently, in her pleasant voice. Her black-clad brother stops by our side; I can feel the warm breath of the direwolf making my hair dance.

"Where go you?"

"Robb asked me to ride and see who these newcomers are," comes the reply, along with a shrug of his shoulders. Sansa gives him a look, and for the first time in a while, Rickon laughs, "Worry not! I ride customary today. I’m taking a group of soldiers with me."

"Good." She seems satisfied, and once her brother leaves, I reach out to touch her arm and direct her attention back to myself.

"What did your brother mean by ‘customary’?" It strikes me as strange that one would use this word here, in the snow. Unless he thought Drogon would carry him ...

Sansa sighes: "Rickon runs the fastest of us all, and fights the harshest, but he also rides the most fearless. When he scouts for my brother, he often rides Shag instead of a horse. Arya does the same with Nymeria."

I stare at her, trying to comprehend what she is telling me, but I have a hard time believing it. However, dragging a picture of the huge beasts before my eyes, I have to rethink my own beliefs.

Arya interrupts us before I am able to say anything else; she has changed into an outfit more suitable for someone of her profession.

"Has Rickon ridden yet?" she asks, hastily pulling her hair out of her face.

"He is just leaving; the soldiers are assembling," I supply, hearing the clamour of armour and weapons outside.

Arya curses and runs away on light feet. Sansa sighs in exasperation again.

"Sometimes I think she has been raised by a wolf herself. No doubt they will do what they always do – send Arya as leader of the group and have Rickon asses it all from afar, unseen."

"It seems a sound tactic," I comment with a small shrug of my shoulders. I feel warmer now, after consuming the warm beverage and sitting near the fire for so long.

The auburn-haired beauty smiles: "I forget that you have seen more of events such as this than many here at the fort. Come; we should get you dressed into something else, or you truly will freeze to death."

I accept this turn of events gratefully, following Sansa into the private wing of Winterfell, where even the floors under our feet are warm because of the water that has been carefully led through the walls. Immediately, my body relaxes and the muscles stop complaining over the low temperature. Once in my room, Sansa quickly rummages through my wardrobe while my fingers work to undo the lacings of my riding jerkin. My window looks out onto the wolfswood, just like all in these quarters, and the sight of it calms me, even while it brings such unrest to the people in the South. But the Northern gods are just, even if cruel. They do not have as many faces as those in the South, and therefore I find them easier to trust.

"Finally," Sansa mutters and pulls out one of the dresses they’d gifted me upon my first arrival here. It is a light grey, very soft, heavier than those I am used to, but also – more importantly – warmer. Both Arya and Sansa are amused because I refuse to walk around without leggings, but in these temperatures, I am as likely to freeze as any warm-blooded lizard, so I turn a deaf ear on their gentle jibes and continue with the practice. Sansa helps me dress and as soon as the fabric settles over me I can feel my body heat remaining between it and my skin. Heaven.

"There, now we can walk around without fear of you turning into an icicle on us," she jokes lightly, and I have to laugh with her.

"It is definitely my personal preference that I remain alive and kicking, I assure you."

She chuckles and offers her hand, which I take gratefully as we exit the room again. Whispers follow Sansa sometimes, wherever she goes, because she is a ruthless negotiator and perfectly capable of ruling the Vale without a man by her side. Littlefinger has taught her to become the ultimate player in this game of thrones, and I am very thankful that she is not an enemy. Servants scatter before her.

We meet Robb halfway back to the main hall.

"It seems we’re getting more visitors," his sister comments lightly. The King in the North shrugs his broad shoulders,

"Apparently. I will not deny them sanctuary. The storm is nigh upon us, and their numbers are not great."

"Yet you chose to send your two best commanders to bring them in," I can’t help but voice out loud; sometimes, a ruler’s decisions still baffle me, even if I say they do not.

Robb smiles: "They do not know that. And I much prefer sending Arya and Rickon than anyone else; I can trust them, and know they will assess the situation as it should be."

I nod, storing away this lesson for another time. When we return to the great hall, the light outside is already becoming dim, as the Sun does not grace this place for long during winter months. Lanterns and torches have been lit in abundance, and the sharp smell of cinnamon burns my nostrils.

That, and the Greatjon has apparently brought his best beer to the occasion.

"The King in the North!" he roars upon seeing Robb, and the strength of his voice shakes whatever isn’t solidly placed, including, it seems, my bones. The man could stand at the top of the Red Keep in King’s Landing and probably be heard all around the city with little problem.

Robb laughs and goes to his most faithful bannerman, clasping hands with the giant and greeting the others who have now returned from outside or their assigned rooms. My eyes search for those who rode with me to the North, and I can see them seated among the Northerners, as if they were their own. My insides warm at the sight, for even across the sea, we have always been considered outsiders.

Sansa tugs on my hand and I return my attention to her when she guides me closer to her brother.

I swallow past a sudden lump in my throat. The Greatjon could step on me and squish me beneath his iron-shod feet. His presence has always been unsettling to me. Not menacing, but I am simply frightened of him.

The worst part is he seems to know it.

His eyes twinkle as Sansa and I join the group, and the Blackfish, Bryden Tully, makes room for us politely.

"So, little dragon, you haven’t frozen yet have you? That’s good; can’t have a proper feast without a lizard!"

Initially, Robb was convinced Umber meant me ill, and reacted accordingly. However, I have long-since forbidden him to do so. How will I ever earn respect here in the North if I must hide behind their King? Besides, unlike the Greyjoys or Lannisters, the Umbers are a faithful house, if mistrustful. The only thing the boar of a man wants is to rattle my nerves. I might be Queen in the South, but here in the North, they spit on Queens like that. I must grow a backbone.

So I smile as convincingly as I can, trying not to show how petrified I am whenever I near him, "I would not dare spoil your fun, lord Umber – who else will you pick on if I’m left outside for the wolves to gnaw at will?"

Sansa turns her head away, but I can feel her shoulders shaking from where I am still holding on to her arm; the Blackfish sputters over his drink and Robb looks like he’s swallowed a lemon.

But the Greatjon booms with another bout of room-shaking laughter, and suddenly I am torn from Sansa’s side and pressed into a fluffy, furry coat under which are muscles of steel as he pulls me into him.

"That’s the kind of spirit we like! You should leave that stinking red castle by the sea, dragon queen, and come live with us. The North agrees with you!"

They all laugh, and even I manage a giggle or two from the folds of his cloak without suffocating myself on it; it seems I have just gained another supporter. Both Robb and Sansa look at me with the proud expression only parents normally wear, and even though Robb moves to extract me, I shake my head to stop him, simply rearranging myself better in the Greatjon’s hold. I am actually enjoying the burly man’s presence, he reminds me of the soldier who rescued me from the slaughter at Dragonstone.

Through the din of conversation and laughter, we hear the horn being blown outside, and the lord of the houses sworn to Robb turn to their King; I sense the Greatjon tense beside me, but instead of releasing me to go to his ruler, he simply pulls me towards him tighter. Apparently, he is my self-proclaimed protector tonight. I catch Ser Barristan’s gaze between the people gathered, but he does not seem overly worried about my position. Rather, he is conversing quietly with the castellan.

"Are we expecting anyone else?" Bryden asks, looking quizzically at Robb.

The King slowly extracts himself from the group, "Riders were spotted heading for the fort but carrying no banners we know. I have sent Arya for them."

It remained unspoken that Rickon was also out; everyone knows how these things work. And as if summoned by our thoughts, the King’s youngest brother suddenly appears beside him, as if materialising out of thin air.

The horn sounds again, a mournful keening sound that tears at my heart, and outside shouts are raised, and horses neigh as the gates are closed behind them.

"They come," is the only thing Rickon can say before Arya pushes the gates to the main hall open, tall and slender in her riding outfit, confident, leading the procession. Behind her, the newcomers slowly file in.

We can only stare.

The Northerners are all tall of build, taller than the people in the South or across the sea, and yet these new guests seem taller still. Perhaps it is due to the strange robes they are wearing, they seem to be sweeping the floor with them, and yet despite the apparent length, there is no sign that anyone is about to trip or fall. The material is unknown to my eyes, it seems to be some form of velvet, but the way it shifts and folds around their forms is unnatural for velvet to begin with. They all wear similar cloaks of a soft gray colour, pinned at their right shoulders, or left, depending, and they seem to catch and mute the light that falls upon them.

All the fabrics seem richer than those we are wearing, the cloaks woven with greater care, the accessories fashioned in forms we could never have imagined to begin with. There are wide sashes in the form of belts on males, slender ones for females.

But their clothes pale in comparison to their visage.

They are all inhumanly beautiful.

Even the men; perhaps especially the men. Even Sansa, who is possibly the most renowned around the kingdoms for her beauty, looks pale and diminished next to them.

Their build is slender, both for the men and the women, and they all wear their hair long, longer than we are used to. I have only ever seen it thus on men in the Dorthraki Sea, among the khalasars. As one, they have lifted their slender arms to push their hoods back, and rivulets of the deepest night or the palest silver-gold cascade down their backs. Their brows are unadorned, save for one who seems to be wearing a circlet of some sort.

But the greatest beauty is their eyes; pools of liquid knowledge, so deep, so infinite, that no matter whether they are grey, or blue, or green, they want to suck you in and keep you there. They are like a clear night above the fortresses here in Westeros, clear and cool and filled with stars, sprinkled with their dust. They flash from side to side and yet seem to encompass everything in one glance. They are treacherous as the marshes around Deepwood Motte. They sear through those they land upon.

They are the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

Arya is first to break the sudden silence that has fallen upon the gathered as she crosses the floor towards her brother.

"My King," she says with a slight inclination of her head; somehow, I guess this is for the benefit of the new visitors, not those already-gathered, "I bring you guests. They are far from home, and the storm has begun."

She turns and beckons, and the one with the circlet steps forward. His movements are so fluid and graceful that he seems to be dancing instead of walking; he makes every woman within the hall jealous, not just with that, but by his clear skin, and his long, silvery hair.

"This is Prince Legolas, of the Woodland realm," Arya introduces, then steps aside. Our eyes are on this prince, yet I find myself incapable of trying to think what kingdom he could rule when there is no known wood so big to hold one.

"Your Majesty," he speaks suddenly, in a lilting tone; it sounds as if his voice is better suited for singing. It is like a cool mountain spring jumping and twirling down into the valley to join the great river, yet knows that it will remain forever-young. We are enthralled by it.

"Prince Legolas," Robb replies, inclining his head in greeting and offering his hand; the tall newcomer takes it, and I notice, from where the Greatjon refuses to release me from his side, that his fingers are long and slender.

"Welcome to Winterfell; you were lucky to happen upon us, with the storm so near. Where are you headed?"

"We did not initially wish to intrude on your hospitality," Legolas answers gently, "but the Lady Arya convinced us that we would never survive the ice and snow, thus we were forced to bow to her wishes. We were journeying farther North to my father’s home when we got caught in a storm much akin to the one that now rages outside. I fear we were waylaid and found ourselves in a strange land, not far from your mighty fortress."

Robb nodds, "My sister did the right thing by bringing you here; our storms are known to outlast man and beast. Come! Seat yourselves, and warm your bones."

The group that has remained clustered together seems to relax, like the sudden whisper of a gentle breeze through the then-still curtains, and they come forward. The graceful movements seem to be akin to them all, not to Legolas only, and I notice, once they move closer, that they all look exactly alike. Perhaps it is a spell placed upon my eyes, yet I see the same puzzled look upon many others taking in the newcomers’ appearance.

Legolas thanks the King and unclasps his cloak. Sansa breezes by me to take it from him, giving him a hesitant smile, and then passes to do the same with the rest. The Greatjon, curiosity getting the better of him and, I suspect, also uneasy with the King moving so freely among people he doesn’t know, finally releases me to trail after Robb. I gasp at the sudden feeling of cold that rushes up my side; I have not noticed how much I relied on the big man to keep me warm.

Sensing someone’s eyes on me, I lift mine and notice prince Legolas looks amused. His eyes are two brilliant, ice-blue pools of ancient knowledge.

Without realising it, I slowly move towards him, and without a comment, he shifts on the bench to make room for me. I am aware of Ser Barristan’s eyes on me the whole time, but I choose to ignore him.

Legolas, however, does not seem bothered by this.

"Your protector may rest easy, I mean you no harm," he says in that musical voice of his, and I feel blood rushing to my cheeks. My eyes glance over to my faithful knight for a moment, before returning to the silver-haired being beside me.

Suddenly I notice something.

"Your hair – I thought it was silver, like mine, but it has gold in it."

I blurt it out without thinking properly, before realising how childish and silly that must sound, and feeling my cheeks heat I stumble further over words, trying to correct my mistake.

Legolas laughs softly, so soft that I fear I am imagining it – but how could I imagine something so magical? If his voice is like the bubbly stream in spring, his laughter is the sound of chiming bells during this exact time of year, the warmth of a hearth in front of you and the feeling of family that surrounds you.

"Perceptive – it is true. I am told I look much like my father, but my mother managed to snatch some attention as well. Hers is the gold in my hair."

I am fascinated: "She must be beautiful."

An expression I do not instantly recognise crosses his features: "I am told she was."

It takes me a moment to comprehend what he is saying, but then my breath clashes against my teeth in a sharp inhale.

"I am sorry."

His smile is easy: "No need; it was a long time ago."

We both pause, and I watch the way Robb’s men cautiously approach this new group, each time mesmerised by their friendly smiles and regal bearing.

Legolas pulls me back to him: "Who do you resemble most, then? Your father or your mother? They must both be of extraordinary beauty, for you look nothing like the dark men of this castle."

A sharp pang shoves itself down my throat, and I now know the expression he wore earlier; it is mirrored in my face.

"Both. My family married among each other, brother to sister, to keep the line pure ... my parents were no exception."

He does not take so long to understand. Instead, his blue eyes are sad.

"Forgive me."

Like him, I smile, shrugging my shoulders: "It was a long time ago."

This makes him laugh again, and I am pleased to know that this strange, ethereal person seems to find me amusing.

There is a loud crack from the front, and we both turn to see the Greatjon has dropped his tankard full-force onto the floor to gain everyone’s attention. Robb stands next to his throne, Grey Wind behind him, his siblings to either side. Even Jon, Lord Commander of the Nightwatch, who I have been told stays mostly in his rooms, is there. The direwolves are also all in attendance, except for Sansa’s; I had no mercy for Cersei Lannister once I found out about that of her crimes as well. Nymeria, Shag, Summer and Ghost all follow Grey Wind’s example in surveying the hall before them.

"My friends!" Robb calls, "My bannermen, my family! Let us not allow the storm outside the castle walls to diminish our joy; let us feast in it’s honour, for it keeps us safe from anyone who wishes us harm!"

There is a roar among the Northerners; Legolas and his group remain silent, but I cannot help but feel elated by the words my brother-in-arms shouts. He is a good orator.

Queen Jeyne has joined us for the feast, though she is worn out by the pregnancy, I can see that, and my heart goes out to the poor girl; I know she only wishes to curl in bed and sleep until it is all over.

Robb resumes talking: "Welcome to one and all in this hall tonight, even guests unlooked-for! May the coming year prove merciful in winter, and bountiful in summer. To all those who are still to come, and to those not here with us tonight!

Hail the dead!

And to our allegiance with the Dragon Queen; hail Daenerys Stormborn, Mother of Dragons!"

"Hail!" rings out around us and the shout propels me upwards; I feel Legolas’ eyes upon me, but I do not care. I stand on the bench to make myself seen.

The crowd dies out; someone passes me a goblet. I lift it.

"The King in the North!"

My voice is stronger than I could have hoped, and the shout multiplies and echoes up under the roof as everyone takes up the call and I feel the adrenaline and blood pumping through my veins. Robb’s eyes meet mine across the hall and he lifts his own drink in toast to me; my lips are spread in the widest grin I have worn in a long, long time. Beside the King, his family matches my expression without exception.

THIS is what family feels like.

The direwolves lift their snouts into the air and howl, their voices joining in a terrible, haunting melody.

And from somewhere both deep below and high above comes a ferocious roar that shakes the glass in the windows and the cutlery on the tables, answering the call of his northern brothers and sisters. Drogon feels my happiness, and he is happy too; and I know that, in King’s Landing, Rhaegal and Viserion are echoing his song.

The soldiers smash their fists against the tables as Robb calls for the meal to be brought out, and the doors to the side open as servants pour in with food and drink aplenty.

Legolas helps me climb back down from the bench; I feel like a giddy young girl as I sit.

"I did not think you were a queen, my lady," he murmurs just as one of the serving girls suddenly beckons, and I belatedly realize my seat is with Robb and his family.

"I did not tell you," I reply with another shrug of my shoulders as I stand, and extend my hand, "but you and I are not that different."

He smiles and takes my offered hand, bowing over it, before we both cross the hall and climb onto the raised dais. A chair has been brought out for him at Sansa’s order, and we are seated without difficulty.

For the next hour, nothing else matters but the feast. I have been privy to many of those, yet none match the simplicity and generosity of this in Winterfell. There is food and drink for everyone in abundance, and once our stomachs are sated jesters suddenly appear, and minstrels, to quench our hunger for jokes and thirst for song.

At first the songs are gentle, almost timid, though I know for a fact this is not how my hosts usually are. Lays and ballads are presented before us, and the voices of minstrels float up into nothing.

But it is the livelier songs that I realize everyone in the hall seems to be waiting for, and one of the musicians strikes up the melody for the Bear and the Maiden Fair. There is a clamour of approval, and a loud roar as all of a sudden, Sansa rises with an impish smile on her lips and a wink in my direction, before grabbing Robb’s hand and dragging him from the dais. A space is suddenly cleared in the middle of the hall and they begin to dance; everyone claps in union.

"A bear there was," the singer calls,

"A bear, a BEAR!" the crowd roars in answer, and I cannot help but laugh and clap with them. By my side, Legolas also joins in, and even as others rise to dance with their King and the Lady of the Vale, so too do some of these beautiful newcomers, though their moves probably belong somewhere in a far more refined place.

But it does not matter, for they laugh as the song progresses, picking up the tune and the steps easily, and singing along.

Arya materialises before me suddenly, and before I can say or do anything, she is already towing me behind her. I throw a helpless look across my shoulder, but Legolas can barely contain his amusement.

"You cannot sit there all night!" the youngest Stark girl accuses me and propels me into the arms of her oldest brother; Robb, bless him, catches me before I can fall flat on my face, and he spins me in a quick circle before I even realize what is happening.

"Oh I’m a maid, I’m pure and fair – I’ll never dance with a hairy bear!" sing the minstrels, but for the first few turns I cannot follow the song, too busy with trying to keep up with everyone else.

Finally I simply surrender and let go, and Robb laughs in approval as I pick up my skirt and skip gaily around him; from the corner of my eye, I notice that Arya has dragged Legolas onto the floor as well.

We are all dancing; I do not even know where one circle begins and another ends, for one moment I am between the Stark royals, the next I have the Greatjon on one side and a fair-haired member of Legolas’ group on the other, another moment finds me in a center spinning with my hair wildly flying about me, Ser Barristan catching me once I get too dizzy to continue. It seems even the direwolves are content with what is currently happening; when I get a chance to look, their massive heads seem to be bobbing up and down with the music.

"And off they went, the bear, the bear! And the maiden fair!"

The song ends with a loud squeal and a crash; Summer and Ghost have launched themselves towards the singers in an attempt to participate, but the only thing they accomplished was to frighten the poor souls and send one toppling into a barrel of mead.

A roar of laughter echoes through the hall; the Greatjon saunters over and fishes the poor singer out of the liquid, shaking him a couple of times. The direwolves sniff closer and lick the petrified man clean.

"Now that’s what I call drowning in mead!" Umber shouts, dropping the singer unceremoniously back into his seat, while the direwolves are shooed back up onto the dais.

I take as many breaths as I can, feeling a bead of sweat trickling down the side of my face, but I have never felt so alive here in the North before. My veins are thrumming with the melody of the song still.

Legolas and his group seem to be enjoying themselves as well, though they do not even look winded. Only now I notice the strange shape of their ears, pointed at the tips.

Once the singer has recovered sufficiently, another song is called for, another bawdy one, and the dancing begins anew. I find myself next to Legolas this time, for the duration of the song. We cannot really speak, for the chaos in the hall is too complete at this point, but I am enjoying his company nonetheless.

After a few quick-beat songs, someone calls for a respite, and it seems everyone agrees with him, whoever he may be; we collapse all over benches and seats alike.

"Your Majesty," Legolas interrupts the squabbling musicians who cannot decide what to play, "if we may – there are singers among us."

All eyes turn to this eerie group, who can be so merry yet so solemn at the same time.

Robb motions with his hand: "Please."

Legolas nods, and a raven-haired woman – at least I THINK it is a woman – and one of the fair-haired men stand and go to fetch whatever baggage the group has with them. They return within moments, carrying some packages.

The woman carefully unwraps a small harp, but the design is so exquisite that I have never seen anything alike to it here, or across the sea. The man pulls a flute slowly from its wrapping.

The last murmurs in the hall die the moment the woman touches the strings of the harp.

I cannot describe it adequately; it is as though the harp cries like the thousand of women when men march to war, laughs upon their return, imitates the falling rain and the roaring flames in the fireplace.

And then the woman opens her mouth to sing.

"Fanuilos heryn aglar;
Rîn athar annún-aearath,
Calad ammen i reniar
Mi ‘aladhremmin ennorath!

A Elbereth Gilthoniel
I chîn a thûl lin míriel
Fanuilos le linnathon
Ne ndor haer thar i aearon.
"


The others join in, even Legolas; I look at him as he sings in a gentle baritone. The eyes of everyone in the hall is on the singers, yet theirs do not appear to see anything. The man with the flute begins playing, like the mournful keening of the winds.

"A elin na gaim eglerib
Ned în ben-anor trerennin
Si silivrin ne pherth ‘waewib
Cenim lyth thílyn thuiennin.

A Elbereth Gilthoniel
Men echenim sí derthiel
Ne chaered hen nu ‘aladhath
Ngilith or annún-aearath ...
"


The song fades into nothing, the gentle tunes of the harp and flute echoing in the distance. It feels as if I am waking from a dream.

And for some inexplicable reason, even though everyone in the hall is enthralled and enchanted by this performance, clapping enthusiastically and demanding more, the group looks incredibly, heartbreakingly sad.

The two musicians look at each other and the male motions with his head; one other joins them, with a flute, but this time they strike up a livelier tune, even if it still seems to belong to another world.

I refrain from dancing this time, instead content on watching everyone else joining in the revelry. For a time, I smile as I watch Arya being pulled into the circle by one of Legolas’ group, though she holds her own well enough; then my attention drifts.

I notice Legolas’ eyes on me, and I quietly slip away from my current company; nobody notices I am missing for the moment, not even Ser Barristan.

For this one moment, I am free.

With measured steps, but still quick enough to escape possibly detection from someone who would wish something from me, a dance or a word, I make my way across the hall, knowing he will follow. I do not know how this is; I simply allow myself to move.

We exit through a side door and enter a lonely hallway leading down to the kitchens to one side, and out into the courtyard in the other.

"If you wish to exit the fort, perhaps you will need this," Legolas’ voice comments close beside me, and a moment later something soft is placed upon my shoulders. I see it is the cloak he wore upon entering Winterfell.

"How did you know I was not headed to the kitchens?" I pull the material closer together, refraining from burying my nose in it; it smells of freshly pressed pine and a spice I cannot name.

His smile is infectious: "After a meal such as we’ve had, I highly doubt you would have wanted to see the kitchens."

"Oh," I manage, before suppressing a giggle and stepping down the corridor in the direction of the gate. Legolas follows by my side.

"What language was it with which you sang?" I ask him after a moment of silence, "It was beautiful ... I have never heard it before."

For a heartbeat, there is only the sound of our footsteps against the cool rock.

Finally, he simply says: "It is the language of my people."

I refrain from asking any more questions since we are upon the gate, and the guard opens it for us, letting us out into the courtyard. Snow is falling heavily, but the wind is quiet and it does not seem so cold.

"What are you?" I finally ask once we are alone again, turning my lilac eyes to him; his face is partly hidden in shadow, but I can see, just barely, the way the tip of his ear curves into a pointed end.

"My Queen, I do not think tonight is a time for such questions," he replies gently. He means no offense, yet still I feel slighted, like he is treating me as a child. It has been too long since anyone has spoken to me as anything but a Queen, and I have to silently berate myself for it.

"Forgive me," I mumble, turning away and peeking out from under the roof to see whether the clouds are still low.

They are.

There is a sigh behind me.

"Daenerys."

The sound of my name from his lips sends a thrill through me, one I have not felt since my sun-and-stars. It is a strange feeling to experience again.

Legolas leans against one of the massive beams.

"Your Majesty, I understand there is much you would wish to know about me and mine – but trust me when I say this, it is best if you do not. As soon as the storm ends, we will away, and you will never see us again."

The thought strikes me like lightning, and it pains almost the same way. I have only known him for an evening, yet I wish for it to be longer.

He seems to read my thoughts from my face as I turn to him, for he sighs again.

"Ah, this is wrong. I did not wish to cause anyone pain. We should have continued on our way and not listened to Lady Arya."

I open my mouth to speak, but he moves so quickly that I do not see, and one long, cool finger is on my lips.

"It does not matter. Just one night will do you no harm; you will forget about us as soon as we are gone."

I highly doubt it, but I do not voice my opinion out loud. Instead, I turn and slowly walk out into the falling snow.

I know he will follow.

But when he does, I do not hear him, and upon closer inspection, I see that whereas I dig myself into the white stuff with every step, his feet leave no mark, and it seems he weighs nothing at all. His boots, from what I can see under his robe, are of lighter make than mine, yet, like him, they do not seem to be bothered by the snow.

"Are you not cold?" I ask, suddenly realizing another thing: he is not wearing a cloak.

His smile seems to want to convey a mystery only he knows: "No, I am not cold."

The cloak he has lent me does not grow heavy even when my shoulders are covered with snowflakes, and it is pleasantly warm. Legolas does not seem overly bothered by the weather, and I decide that he is simply a mystery himself.

"Will you answer any of my questions?" I ask after I can bear the silence no longer.

He seems to consider this.

"Very well; I will answer one."

I feel like a child who is about to be presented with a gift. My mind sifts through the many that suddenly appear. It seems impossible to pick just one.

Finally, I sigh: "Will I ever see you again?"

It is more a wish than a question, and I do not honestly expect him to answer.

And he does not; he simply places one finger under my chin and applies light pressure so I look at him. He is smiling, but his eyes, even in this very dim light of torches burning behind my back, are sad.

He presses a soft kiss upon my forehead and I close my eyes to savour the feeling; when I open them again, he is gone.

I stay out in the snow for a while longer, but not long after the small door opens again and first comes a white-haired direwolf, then his bond-mate Jon, and I am summoned back inside.

I cannot remember the rest of the evening; it is a blur, and I excuse myself sometime after midnight to seek the solace of my own room, curling up under the many blankets I have been given and watching the flames crackle in the fireplace.

That does not help and I am soon padding through the hallways, like a shadow, until I come to an exit I know well; on the other side, an eye as large as a small shield opens and looks at me with understanding. Drogon curls his long neck around me as I hug myself into his warm scales, and one of his wings comes down as a roof. I am warm and sheltered. It is only then that I manage to fall asleep.

In the morning, when I am found – for Ser Barristan of course alerted the guards the moment he saw my empty room – I am told the strange guests have already gone.

"They rode just after sunrise," Ser Barristan tells me while bringing me a cup of warm wine and a plate of food, "they said they could not delay any longer."

I nod and go through my meal in silence. Only when I am back in my room again, just as the rest of the castle begins to stir, do I notice the grey cloak tossed haphazardly across a chair.

Legolas never asked to have it back.

I finger the fine material and touch the exquisite detail of the ivy leaf brooch, the emerald colour glistening in the pale light of day, yet diminished, somehow; like it knows it is no longer with its original owner.

Once I am sure it will not be considered strange, I seek out the library and study, where I know Bran usually hides. Mercifully, he is not there when I arrive, and I am allowed to browse through the books and scrolls in peace.

It does not take me long to find what I am looking for, in an old storybook:

The ælfe were mischievous beings to begin with, but the Gods deemed they could be helpers to the Children of the Forest; and they were given the span of years greater than any man, and extraordinary beauty. It was said that when the Children of the Forest were at the height of their power, the ælfe learned from them, and learned to nurture trees and flowers and all growing things, and teach animals how to speak. But when the Children disappeared, so too did the ælfe retreat back into their woodland realms, rarely to be seen again by mortal men, and if they were, to be hunted for their beauty ...

There every herd, by sad experience, knows
How, winged with fate, their ælf-shot arrows fly,
When the sick ewe her summer food forgoes,
Or, stretched on earth, the heart-smit heifers lie.


"Dany?"

I jump at the sound of Bran’s voice, hastily closing the book.

He looks at me quizzically : "Is everything alright?"

I do not dare think about the possibility of legends walking among us.

"Yes," I smile and rise, "yes, everything is fine."


ælfe = Elves