The poor beast’s hooves pounded into the wet, rocky soil as bare branches lashed the girl clinging to its back. Mya had been running for days, and both she and the horse were on their last leg. Lightning flashed overhead, striking close enough to make them both cry out in fear. The horse, some nameless stolen swayback, shied to the left and Mya had to fight to keep them from tumbling into a small, steep ravine. The stream running through it was swollen, frothing with run-off and in a flash of lightning, Mya saw a bloated animal carcass float by. It made her stomach turn. “C’mon, sweetheart,” she muttered through frozen lips. “Just a little further.”
She didn’t know if that was true or not - she had no destination in mind. Just as long as it was far away from Lysa Arryn and that thin, stained mattress that used to define Mya. Used to, she thought as she swiped a way a dripping lock of black hair away from her face. Used to.
Mya Stone was a prostitute. She hadn’t wanted to be, but when she was twelve one of her mother’s gentleman callers had set his eyes on her. There’d been a quiet exchange of money, and when he was done it would be a week before the bruises would fade, and even at that age she knew her prospects were ruined. The only men who would have her now would pay for the privilege, whisper promises of love in her ear while they worked between her thighs. The next time they saw her, though, they’d cross the street to avoid her, keep their pretty proper ladies away from her. She hated every minute of her life in the Vale, every whiskey-soaked night in that saloon her mother sold her to, but that was all behind her. She may be penniless, soaked, wearing boozey clothes that weren’t her own, and her only companion a wheezy old gelding, but she was her own woman. No one would own her again.
No more than fifty yards ahead of her a massive old spruce exploded in a blinding flash of light and sound. She flung her arm in front of her face as her horse reared, and she went flying. “No- NO!”
It was no use. She landed heavily against a large, flat rock, and she felt the crack in her arm more than she heard it. Agony rippled through from her fingers to her shoulder, and for a moment her vision went hazy around the edges. For a moment she couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think, could barely see straight. All that existed was a sharp, sickening pain, her own blood pounding in her ears. She rose to her knees, forcing the dizziness to the back of her mind as best as she could. She just had to find shelter - something. Anything. Without it, now, she could die.
Rising unsteadily to her feet, she looked around. Her horse was maybe thirty feet down the road, snorting and blowing uneasily. “Whoa….easy there...c’mon now, it’s nothing to be afraid of…” She tried to kept her voice quiet and soothing, her movements as smooth as she could. After several minutes she was able to creep closer and what she saw made her groan again. “No…”
Her horse was lame. The reins had tangled around a foreleg, and the horse was limping badly.
“Shhh, there’s a good boy, shhhh.” She crooned to the horse, stroking his wet neck. The animal flinched and snorted. “I know, I know. We’ll find somewhere to bunk up. A cave or something…” She looked around but in the dark it was hard to see. “And we’re both hurt.”
The horse whickered as she ran her thin hand down his leg. He flinched again and Mya sighed. His leg was warm and obviously tender, but she couldn't tell if it was broken or not. Regardless, there would be no more riding tonight. Worst case she’d have to put him down. With no gun, a broken arm, and a dull Bowie knife she’d lifted from a john, that prospect made her gorge rise. She leaned her forehead against the horse’s neck. “I won’t leave you to the wolves. Not yet. Let’s see how far we can get, alright?”
She drew her longcoat around herself and rolled the sleeves up. It wasn’t her coat per se - she’d lifted it, along with the rest of her clothes, off her johns while they lay drunk in her bed. She was a tall girl at eighteen, but slender. Skinny, Lysa Arryn had always said with her nose in the air. It had been hard for her to find men’s clothes that she could fill out but with a little ingenuity and a few belts, it mostly worked. The hardest part, though, had been the boots. Tall though she may be, her feet were still narrow, too narrow for a man’s boots so she’d worn her own and hoped whoever she ran into didn’t look too close. She hadn’t wanted to enjoy stealing these grimy clothes, and certainly didn’t enjoy the way they smelled, but taking them gave her a small thrill, a little sense of control.
Wringing out her messy dark braid she wrapped the reins around her hand and led her horse, limping, down the road. Her nerves were singing, her arm throbbing, and every grumble of thunder sounded like a mountain lion preparing to leap on her or her horse and tear them to pieces. She gripped the reins tightly with one hand, glancing down from time to make sure her dull knife was still at her hip. She didn’t know how to fight, and doubted she could kill a mountain lion. She glanced up as lightning forked over head, but all she could see was rain lashing down, still-bare tree branches torn in the wind.
Mya and her horse slogged through the mud and driving rain for what felt like hours and then she saw it: a soft, flickering petal of light - a lantern. A house. A barn, an outhouse, something. Her heart soared, and she had to force herself to keep her pace slow. As she got closer several buildings came into view - a large house, several of the windows ablaze with lanternlight. Some outbuildings and- a barn. She looked around - this was a large ranch, and she expected there would be some ranch hands or someone out, but apparently this raw night was enough to send everyone running for cover. She tugged the battered gambler she wore further down on her head and urged her horse for the barn.
The muddy, rutted road forked off to the right, and Mya followed the path to the barn. Rain dripped off the eaves, and a few old bales of hay sat on either side of the wide door. Saying a silent prayer to whoever was listening, Mya gave the door a sturdy tug. After some initial hesitation it squealed open, and she breathed a sigh of relief. Her horse needed no leading now. He seemed as eager to get out of the rain as she was.
It was blessedly warm inside, the rain muffled, and Mya leaned against the door as soon as she’d pulled it shut. Most of the stalls were full, and several had nameplates on the doors. She heard the occasional whicker or swish of a tail, but for the most part the barn was peaceful. A few pairs of curious dark eyes peered out of the stalls, taking in this strange horse and his human. Patting her horse’s neck, she looked around. Everything seemed to be in its place, no drafts, the building sturdy. All she needed was shelter for the night, and some feed and water for her horse. If he was still lame in the morning...she’d have to leave him. The other animals in this barn were well-cared for. That much was clear. As for what she’d do, she had no idea. There had to be a country doctor around here, and she did have at least one talent she could trade. Mya closed her eyes, her stomach turning at the thought. That’s exactly what she was running away from.
Scrubbing a hand over her face, she turned her attention to her old gelding, trying to unfasten the saddle. It proved to be impossible - she couldn’t bear to let go of her arm long enough to work the buckle and after several minutes she straightened, sighing. Leading the horse in, she rubbed his velvety muzzle. “I’m sorry, boy. I know it’s uncomfortable, but I can’t get it off you. But you stay here tonight, alright? You’ve been real good to me, but you sleep now.”
Mya slid the stall door shut while the horse stared dolefully at her. She slid to the floor, her body aching and broken, her head spinning. Resting her head against the stall door, she shut her eyes. Just five minutes. Five minutes and she’d be able to figure out where she went from here.
She jerked awake and for a moment she couldn’t figure out why. Then, voices. The barn door creaking open. Lantern light, two men, and the footsteps of two horses.
“-these days, Stark, I gotta teach you the meaning of the word ‘poker face’.”
“That’s two words, Greyj-...hold up, what is that? Who’d you put in Lightning’s stall? And what’s in front of it?” The sound of footsteps stopped, and there was a pause a bit too long for comfort. When they spoke again, the voice was lower, the playfulness replaced by a sharp edge.
“That’s not one of your horses, Stark. I reckon it belongs to the son of a bitch sleepin’ on the ground there.”
Mya scrambled awkwardly to her feet as the two men approached, blinking owlishly in the orange glow of their lantern. She backed away from them, her footsteps uneven. They both wore long leather coats, not unlike hers, well-fitting pants. The shorter one had a pocketwatch on a chain in his vest pocket, and he fingered it out of nervous habit. Both men looked strong, well-built. For one crazy moment she thought she could push past them and run, but the same instant that thought entered her head the taller of the two men pulled a sleek silver six-shooter and aimed it at her chest. “Stop right there.”
“Please.” She managed. The shorter man blinked, clearly surprised that she was a woman. “I don’t have any weapons. I just…”
The taller man strode towards her, the gun never leaving his hand. He was taller than she expected up close, his own coat wet with rain. His eyes were flint grey and sharp as he glared down at her, cold and full of suspicion. Without a word he yanked her coat open and pulled her knife from her hip, tossing it aside. It landed with a clatter that seemed too loud in this space. When he spoke, his voice was quiet but tense as steel. “Liar.”
“No, I-” Mya’s teeth were chattering now, and she couldn’t hold his gaze. “I forgot I had that, is all.”
The tall man’s gaze never left her, but he spoke now to his companion. “Better go fetch the Sherriff, Robb. Breakin’ and entering’s a crime last I heard.”
The other man approached now and gave his friend a weary, slightly disdainful look. “Put your gun away, Theon.” He stepped closer to Mya and lifted his chin slightly. “Who are you?” His hand rested on the butt of his own revolver, but he made no move to pull it.
“Mya…” No. Lysa and Littlefinger would be sending a posse to look for her soon, if they hadn’t already. And you stole a horse. They’ll hang you. You don’t know these people. “My...uh...name is Alice Longmire.” It was the first name she could pluck from her mind, and she swallowed hard, willing them to believe it.
The second man, hanging back, pushed his dripping gambler back , revealing a mess of thick auburn curls dark as varnished walnut over a strong, open face. His eyes were the bluest Mya had ever seen, clear as the spring sky. A rough stubble covered his stern jaw. “Please, I’ll be gone in the morning. Or sooner.”
“Why are you here?” He asked. His tone softened and those blue eyes seemed to look straight through her. He looked familiar for some reason, but Mya couldn’t place it and felt a shiver course through her. “Miss Longmire?”
“My horse.” Mya blurted. She pushed damp locks that had slipped from her braid off her forehead. “My horse spooked at some lightning and came up lame. I just needed to get out of the storm. Please, I didn’t take anything but feed and I’ll...I’ll pay you for that.” There were a few coins in the pocket of her stolen coat, and she held them out with a shaking hand. It was no more than five or six coppers. “Here, take it.”
The two men glanced at each other, and the second closed her hand around the coins. His fingers were thin, and his touch was calloused, but warm. “Keep it. And you’re not about to stay in this barn.”
Mya nodded, feeling her heart drop. “I understand. I’ll go but...keep the horse. Take care of him. He’s a good boy.”
The auburn-haired man shook his head. “That’s not what I meant. Come up to the house, get a bite to eat and get warm.” He reached out and touched Mya’s arm where she clutched it, and she couldn’t bite back a hiss of pain. His expression changed immediately, his brows drawing together. “You’re hurt.”
“My arm. I got thrown when my horse spooked and I think it’s broken.”
He stood a little straighter and looked to his companion. “Theon, run into to town and get Doc Luwin. Tell him we need him out here fast as he can.”
The taller man, Theon, his name is Theon, glared and shifted his weight. “I don’t recall ever taking orders from you, Robb.”
“While my father’s not here you will.” There was such tension crackling between these two men that Mya half-expected one to haul off and punch the other. “Now do what I say.”
After another long, tense moment Theon jerked his head and strode off down the aisle with a heavy step. She heard him leap astrid a horse and she fought off the urge to peek over her shoulder.
“Don’t mind him,” Robb said. “He’s the least of your problems right now, looks like. Can you walk?” Mya nodded. “C’mon then. The house ain’t far.”
Wrapping a firm arm around her back, he led her out of the barn. Mya couldn’t help but glance at him as they walked. His jaw was clenched, eyes narrowed as he scanned the dark and he kept his free hand at his hip. They were within an inch of each other’s heights, but Mya felt like Robb was so much bigger than she was. It was probably how ramrod-straight he carried himself. He was a man who had confidence, or at least bravado. She felt safe around him.
The rain had slowed to a cold drizzle, but thunder still rumbled in the valleys surrounding them, and lightning flickered blue-white in the low-hanging clouds. The path to the back of the house was muddy but straight, lined with rocks leading up to the porch steps. As soon as she and Robb set foot on it, there was a small scuffling sound from the far end of the porch, and a wet shaggy beast loped into the circle of light left by the lantern next to the door. Mya instinctively took a step back, nearly stumbling off the porch, her heart in her throat. “What is that?”
“This? This is Shaggydog.” Robb smiled easily and ruffled the dog’s ears.
Mya edged away from the dog warily. It seemed more wolf than dog, with long legs and large, pointed ears. Its head came up to her hips, and its coat was thick and black as the night they stood in. Cruel lips twisted back, barring even crueler teeth, but after a minute the animal lowered its head and gave its long tail a wag. Mya looked from it to Robb, raising her eyebrows. “Shaggydog?”
“My little brother named him. He’s four. Not long on imagination.” Robb crouched down next to the dog and scratched his ears. “So long’s you don’t try to hurt Rickon, Shaggy here will leave you alone.” He stood, brushing some dust off his pants. “But that’s not important now. Shaggy, come.” He held the door open, and the black dog trotted inside. “Theon’ll be back soon with the doctor and we’ll get your arm fixed up.” When he pulled the door open a wedge of light and warmth spilled out onto the porch. “Kitchen’s right through here, Miss Longmire. Ma’s probably put the younger kids to bed already and this’ll be quieter than going in the front and waking the other dogs.”
“Please, call me M- Alice.” Mya smiled, but it felt thin. “Miss Longmire makes me sound like a schoolmarm. And I don’t even know your last name, or where I am or anything, really.” As she said the words she realized how true they were. She was hundreds of miles from everything and everyone she’d ever known. Completely alone…
...except for this house, and this handsome stranger on the porch who was ushering her inside now. “Stark. I’m Robb Stark, and you’re at Winterfell. One of the biggest ranches in the area.”
Mya looked around the kitchen. It wasn’t big, but it was very neat. Rows of pots and pans were stacked neatly on shelves, and a large fire burned in a fireplace, the flames licking at the underside of a steaming kettle. Tomorrow’s bread had been set out to rise, towels over the top of it, and a few bushels of potatoes, apples, and onions were tucked in a corner. Dried herbs hung from the rafters, and a pepper mill sat on the cast-iron stove. It was a cozy room, Mya decided. Cozy and fragrant and warm. Heat poured out of the fireplace and she felt like she’d sunk into a hot bath. Shaggydog lay sprawled in front of the fire, pink tongue lolling.
Before Robb could speak, there was a scuffle outside the kitchen and the door swung open. A scrawny, girl with two tangled dark braids and a sun-browned face burst in, dressed in a long flannel nightgown with a too-big holster around her hips. She had a toy pistol in one hand and paused mid-shot, looking from Mya to Robb and back. Her lips peeled back in a smile, and in a voice louder than Mya thought could come from such a small girl, she bellowed. “MA! Robb brought onea the whores home from town!”
“Arya!” Robb cuffed the girl’s ear while Mya’s heart stopped. She can’t know just by looking. It’s impossible. He pulled the toy gun out of the girl’s hand. “You apologize to our guest right now!”
The girl, Arya, looked surprised, and then frowned, sullen, eyeing Mya as if to make her confess. “Don’t look like nobody that needs apologizin’ to.”
“I’m just sayin! No proper lady comes to visit this time a’ night.” The girl’s sharp eyes flicked over Mya. “Ain’t even dressed right.
Robb, his hands on his hips, took a breath and held it for a minute, and then, looking apologetically at Mya, turned back to his little sister. “This here’s an injured proper lady, so you show her some respect or I’ll make you wear a dress for a week.”
“Not that!” This appeared to cow the girl properly, given the squeal of dismay that followed. In the silence that came after, the girl looked from Mya to her brother one last time, and finally it seemed the battle was won, for after a while of their gazes locked in combat, she looked down and shuffled her bare feet. “Sorry,” she mumbled. It didn’t seem entirely honest, but halfway there, at least.
“Worse than the dogs sometimes, I swear…” Robb muttered. “Now you come with me. We’re gonna find Ma and she’ll tan your hide but good if I tell her what you just said.” Robb gripped Arya’s arm and smiled apologetically at Mya as he dragged the girl out. “Sorry, Miss Alice. It’ll just be a minute. Please, sit.”
Mya sank into a kitchen chair and resisted the urge to lay her head down on the scarred table and fall asleep. She could still run, could still disappear into the night and...no. You’re down a horse, down an arm, and you likely wouldn’t last till morning at this rate. She rubbed her face with her good hand and slumped a little. Whoever the Starks were, Alice Longmire was at their mercy.
The door swung open and a slender, weary-looking woman entered, followed by Robb. Mya saw the resemblance immediately - they both had the same blue eyes, the same vibrant hair, though hers was in a neat bun at the nape of her neck. She wiped her hands on the stained apron she wore around her waist, and gave a short, terse smile. “Robb told me about your troubles - you should’ve just knocked right on the front door, young lady.” Her tone was gently chiding, and Mya tried to remember the last time another woman had spoken so kindly to her. “Let me dish you up some supper.”
“Can I get some too, Ma?” Robb adopted a charming look. “Seeing as how me and Theon missed supper.”
The look his mother gave him was less chiding this time while she dished up a chunky stew from the kettle. “You boys need to spend less time at that saloon. With your father and Jon away, I need you here in case...in case we need something.” She set a bowl and a hunk of cornbread on the table in front of Mya, then gestured to Robb. “Sit down, then.”
The stew in the bowl smelled heavenly and it was all Mya could do to remember her manners as she ate. “Thank you, Mrs. Stark.” She swallowed a hunk of carrot. “I appreciate you takin’ me in on a night like this, least till the doctor comes.”
Mrs. Stark smiled that same tired smile. “It’s nothing. Let me take a look at your arm, see how bad it is.” Mya hesitated. The stew was warming her insides, but the thought of her bones grinding together the way they were made her stomach churn. “I’ll just look, girl. I’ve got three boys of my own and a handful of others that wander around here. I’ve seen a broken bone or two in my day.”
Still swallowing apprehension, Mya gingerly rested her arm on the table. Mrs. Stark rolled up the coat sleeve, as well as the shirtsleeve underneath it, and Mya had to look away. Her arm bent grotesquely between the wrist and elbow, and was already heavily bruised. Mrs. Stark pressed her lips together and sat back in her chair. “Well, Doc Luwin’s seen worse, I’ll tell you that. But I don’t envy you how much that’s going to hurt tomorrow.” She and Robb exchanged a glance, and Mya knew what was coming now. “Alice, dear, forgive me for prying but what exactly was a girl your age doing riding alone on a night like this? And dressed like...well, forgive me, but dressed like a man?”
The cornbread settled heavy in Mya’s stomach and she prayed it would stay there. These are good people. Decent people. She forced herself to look them full in the face while she talked “I was in a bad situation.” She felt her eyes pricking. It wasn’t entirely a lie, and one of the tears rolled down her cheek. “I just had to go, and I saw a chance, so I took it.”
Mrs. Stark looked at her, her ageless face hard to read. “Robb, go fetch some more wood off the porch. The pile’s running low in here.”
Robb glanced at the rather healthy-looking stack of wood next to the stone fireplace and opened his mouth, but at his mother’s look he shut it again and went to do as she asked.
Mrs. Stark’s clear blue eyes hadn’t moved from Mya’s face. For a long moment the only sounds were the pop of a knot of pine in the fire, and the distant thumping sound of Robb gathering logs. “Are you pregnant?”
Mya looked down at her lap, pressing her lips together. “I...no. I’m not.” Not anymore. “It was just a bad time.”
Mrs. Stark assessed the girl for some time. Then, “I’ll let you stay here till you’re healed up, and then we’ll see where things are.”
Mya forced herself to nod. She hadn’t been looking for a handout but what choice did she have? “Thank you. Soon as I’m able I’ll pay you back.”
The kitchen door swung open and Robb entered, his arms full of logs. “Don’t you worry about payin’ us back tonight.” He said, nudging the door shut with his heel. “Theon’ll be back quick with the doctor.” His brow furrowed. “Assuming the road doesn’t wash out out like it did last spring. Had to go down damn near to Moat Cailin to get around it.”
“Robb.” Mrs. Stark’s voice was quietly reproachful. She reached over and brushed a wet, lank clump of hair off Mya’s forehead. “You’re hardly older than my daughter Sansa, I’d wager. She’s almost sixteen.” The touch was so gentle, so intrinsically maternal that it nearly took Mya’s breath away. The last time her own mother touched her that softly...Mya could hardly stand to remember what followed. Her chest clenched and for a moment that pain overpowered her shattered arm. “Where’s home for you, sweetheart?"
Mya's mind raced towards another lie. "Down at King's Landing...well, it was. I reckon I ain't got one now." The thought, while terrifying, was exhilarating now that she was on the right side of a sturdy set of walls.
"There isn't anyone looking for you? No kin?" Mrs. Stark's gaze was guarded, and Mya shook her head.
No one I want to see. “No ma’am.”
Mrs. Stark sighed and stood, brushing her hands on her skirt. “You’re a little shorter than Sansa but her night clothes should fit you well enough. I’m going to go set up a cot in her and Arya’s room. Robb, you wait here with Alice till the doctor comes back.”
“Yes ma’am.” Robb leaned forward in his chair as his mother left the room, thick brows knitted. “How’re you feeling? Theon can’t be much longer, I imagine.”
Mya smiled tiredly. The white hot pain in her arm was starting to fade just the tiniest bit, so long as she didn’t move her fingers. The food and heat from the fire were helping. “I’m sure I’ll live, thanks.”
Robb smiled and traced his index finger over her palm where the skin was red and raw. “Don’t ride much, do ya?”
“How can you tell?”
“Ain’t got callouses.” He held out his own hand. “Here, between my thumb and first finger. ‘s like leather.”
Mya brushed her finger over where he gestured. The skin was rough, but not the roughest she’d ever felt. He’d be gentle. “‘s not that bad.”
Robb sat back for a moment and smiled. The expression made him look young, less like a man and more like a bashful, uncertain boy. He leaned forward again and wrapped his fingers around Mya’s hand. His grip was warm and steady. “Don’t you worry ‘bout my ma. She’ll let you stay here till...well, prob’ly as long as you like. She acts tough but she’ll not turn you out.”
Mya couldn’t help but smile, but before she could say anything the kitchen door swung open and Mrs. Stark re-entered, followed by a tall, willowy girl who could’ve been her double. Her hair flowed loose over her shoulders, but it was the same rich red as Robb’s and his mother’s. She was dressed for bed, and had a thick shawl wrapped around her shoulders. She eyed Mya’s hand in Robb’s and smiled shyly, and Robb jerked his hand away. “Sansa, you’re supposed to be in bed.”
“She’s going to help when the doctor gets here.” Mrs. Stark answered firmly. “Which, unless Theon got lost…”
“He’ll be here any minute.” Robb stood and peered out the window into the dark. “There - they’re coming up the road just now.”
Doc Luwin was a small, graceful old man with snow-white fringe around the sides and back of his head, and a thick, drooping white mustache. He carried a black leather medical bag in one hand and doffed his dripping hat with the other. “Mrs. Stark, younger Starks…” His grey eyes lit on Mya, and there was so much intelligence there. “I don’t believe we’ve met.”
“This here’s Alice, doc.” Robb took the doctor’s wet coat. “What all’d Theon tell you?”
“Not much, I’m afraid. That boy’s not much for talkin’ when he doesn’t want to.”
“Alice fell from her horse.” Mrs. Stark said. “Broke her arm, looks like.”
The doctor tsked and sat across from Mya, looking at her arm and gently laying his hands upon it. His eyes flicked back to her face when she hissed. “I’ll be as gentle as I can, lass, but this is going to hurt.” He glanced at Mrs. Stark and Sansa. “Sansa, sweetling, there’s a bottle in my bag marked ‘Laudenum’. Fetch it for me, would you?”
“No.” Mya’s stomach was gripped in ice. “Not that, please.” She’d seen too many of her friends at the brothel, her own mother, glassy-eyed and limp from the mix and she’d sworn long ago that it’d never be her.
Those intelligent grey eyes of Doc Luwin now held doubt and a touch of pity. “My dear, I don’t think you realize how much this is going to hurt otherwise.”
“I know.” Mya’s voice was trembling now. “But please.”
The others exchanged glances, but the doctor sighed and nodded. “If you wish. Cat, it’ll be best if we lay her down. The table will suffice.”
Mya stood, clutching her arm while Mrs. Stark and Sansa moved dishes off the wooden table. “C’mon, then.” Robb touched her elbow. “I’ll help you up.”
Her heart pounding, Mya lay on the sturdy old table, biting her lip when the doctor adjusted her arm. “Better give her something to bite on.”
“Here.” Robb’s voice was quiet, and he touched her cheek. “‘s just a leather switch. But bite on it. It’ll help with the worst of it.” He stood at her head while Sansa held her good hand, and Mya grimaced at the grimy taste of leather in her mouth.
Mya felt the first twist deep in her gut instead of her arm, a dull, solid punch. The second one ground her bones together, straightening them and pressing their broken ends together, brought a searing white-hot agony. All she could hear was a high-pitched white whine. The air rushed out of her chest in a scream that sounded like far-off bells, and Mya’s vision flashed white before fading to black.