title: savage lands
chapter title: a princess cut from marble
summary: i don't want your money, i don't want your crown. see i've come to burn your kingdom down – jeyne, theon, ramsay and a ghost in winterfell
dedication: the winds of winter, whenever it may appear. let it put the dumpster fire that was GoT S5 onwards to shame. i am personally still very bitter but whatever
Here is the thing; even a giant can fall to its knees.
A legacy can be tarnished beyond measure by dishonourable deeds, by sin, by evil. A legacy can be broken in the time it takes for a hammer to fall and rubies to float downstream, to sink to the bottom of a rushing river.
Here is the thing; Winterfell is possibly the oldest castle in Westeros and beneath it lies a tomb that can only be measured in infinities. Its dead are all named Stark.
Ruin a legacy, or smash it to smithereens – the one thing you cannot do is steal it.
The hall is burnt and broken, barely habitable, and she cannot breathe for the destruction of her home.
The castle she's returned to is a far cry from the safe haven she remembered throughout her days in the brothel, the whip coming down on her bare back and leaving bloody welts behind. Even now she can still feel the lash of it biting deep into her spine, feel the blood welling where it tore her flesh clean away.
She'd prayed for Winterfell then, prayed so hard to the Old Gods and the Seven that she thought her chest would implode. Arya got her wish in the end, but all she's come home to is a burned ruin and a handful of angry ghosts.
A hand starts to sneak up her thigh, under her skirts. Her hands clench around her utensils, but Arya says nothing, does nothing because there is a collection of flowering purple bruises around her throat and her husband will only make it worse for her if she fights back. Instead, she goes deep inside and fixes her eyes on a serving girl manoeuvring between the long tables, deftly sidestepping groping hands and leering faces, the way Arya wishes she could avoid her husband's.
"Give us a kiss, sweetheart!" Sour Alyn leers, groping the girl as she passes and it makes Arya sick, bile building in the back of her throat, or maybe it's a scream. Beneath the table, Ramsay's fingers poke and pinch. She does not move.
"Such a dutiful wife," he leers at her. "Such a cold fish. I thought wolf-bitches liked to be fucked."
A trick, a trap, no right answer.
Silence is the only safe option, yet even that is wrong. Ramsay likes an excuse to punish his playthings. Nails tear into the soft skin of her thigh. The serving girl moves towards the high table, copper hair gleaming in the candlelight.
"More mead, m'lord?"
The hand stills, falls away. The serving girl is biting her lip, eyes focused on the wall beyond Ramsay's shoulder – and Arya thinks she should run, run as far as she can because she is clearly afraid, even as she intervenes – afraid and entirely too pretty.
Ramsay's favourite kind.
"Yes," he says, holding up his goblet with a slow indolent smile. "I think I will."
The mead is poured carefully and the girl bobs before retreating back among the tables. Her lord husband's pale eyes track her progress around the hall and his hand does not return. When he rises, he leaves Arya at the table trying to remember how to breathe through lungs that don't work properly anymore.
That night Sour Alyn goes missing.
"You have to stop crying," Theon tells her – because no matter how hard she tries, no matter how much he begs her to learn his name, he will always be that dark, smiling boy who looked at Sansa like she was someone special.
Everyone looked at Sansa like that, she thinks bitterly, raising a hand to the bite mark on her throat. Her fingers come away red and wet.
"If I was Sansa," she asks, in a voice which trembles like dead leaves on winter winds, "would you have helped me?"
He can't answer, gets that blankly terrified look he has sometimes when he starts to remember before. She thinks that life before Ramsay – that's not a place he's allowed to go, that's a place, a person which leads to broken teeth and missing fingers.
She places her bloody hand over his mutilated one, the only action she can take to still the strangled breaths coming from his mouth, the desperate gasps of a drowning man. Theon flinches hard and she tries not to let the tears welling in her eyes slip and fall, sobs wracking her chest which she tries so hard to suppress.
Theon doesn't like to be touched anymore. She forgets, every time.
You are not the boy I knew, she thinks, surprised at how much capacity she has for hurt even after all this time.
"I can't help anyone," Theon whispers and all she can think of is his hands trembling on the laces of her dress, the frantic sweep of his tongue between her legs on her wedding night, frantic for all the wrong reasons. Of course he cannot help her; he cannot even help himself now.
Winterfell is not the only ruin her bastard husband has made.
"I wish I was dead," she whispers back, hands curling into fists. "I wish I was dead, just like them."
"I wish that too."
"Your new ladies maid," her husband informs her with a flourish and smile which makes her flesh crawl. "Serve my lady wife diligently, won't you?"
The girl with the copper hair bobs clumsily and bows her head. Arya doesn't miss the way Ramsay eyes the sliver of pale throat exposed to the winter air.
The smile widens, something ugly and salacious in his red tongue and glistening teeth. Arya shivers, but doesn't move, doesn't react, doesn't say anything at all. The door closes softly behind him like a promise.
Quiet footsteps approach her and Arya looks up into green eyes she could drown in.
"What's your name?" Arya asks impulsively, yearning beyond anything for a friend, someone to be on her side, someone who can move between the walls of this castle without being watched, the way she and Theon are.
She wants an ally. She wants to tell this poor young girl to run. Ramsay will only hurt her, or worse – there is nothing to protect a serving girl from his very worst cruelties, just as there was nothing to protect poor Jeyne. Arya Stark at least is someone who cannot be disposed of quietly.
"My name's Freya," the serving girl tells her.
She has not been to the Godswood since the day of her wedding, but when she is feeling particularly brave Arya looks out across the castle to the tops of the weirwood trees and tries to remember the girl she was before. It is difficult to see that silly little thing clearly these days. Arya looks back at Jeyne Poole's petty jealousies in something close to amazement.
You wanted to be a high lords daughter, she imagines saying to that dark-haired little girl who watched the Stark girls with bottomless envy – particularly the youngest one, the scruffy-haired, scabby-kneed child who cared more for riding than for sewing, the girl who didn't deserve her station in life.
You wanted this, Jeyne. All your life you wanted to be Arya Stark and now you are.
If she thought it would do any good, she would brave the inevitable wrath of her husband and walk out into the snows to beg the Old Gods for forgiveness. But she knows now that the gods of the North are not merciful. They gave her everything she ever wanted in a way that makes her wish she never wanted it at all.
"I take it back," she whispers to the empty room, to the ghosts that lurk in every corner. The ghosts see her and they know. They laugh.
They watch as Ramsay does – as Ramsay does unspeakable things to her body night after night and they do not lift a finger to help her.
Why would they? To the outside world she is the last daughter of a broken House, but in her heart of hearts Arya is still nothing but a stewards daughter no matter how much Theon tries to make her convince herself otherwise.
"There must always be a Stark in Winterfell," the people used to say in hushed voices, the kind Old Nan would use to tell a particularly scary story, one of Bran's favourites and it doesn't occur to her yet to wonder why.
The snows are high and blazing and somewhere out there an army is marching doggedly toward them. Theon's mouth is bleeding.
"Grunt and Skinner are gone," he mumbles between broken teeth, eyes darting nervously around her bedchamber. "One of Ramsay's bitches, too."
Together, they are hiding under her bed in the dark spaces where she never used to feel safe. In the dark, they can almost be themselves again.
"Stannis?" she breathes.
"Ghosts," he replies in a fearful whisper. "Lady Dustin made me take her down to the crypts and there are swords missing."
She thinks of the catacomb of tombs far beneath them, the chill air so far removed from the warmth that flows through the walls. Lady Stark always said that the hot springs were the heart of the castle, but Arya wonders now if the crypts are the real centre of Winterfell, that timeless hole in the earth where dead kings of old are buried, where the line starts and stretches forward into infinity, all the empty graves waiting for lords that will never be and never die.
"Ghosts," Arya echoes and for the first time, Theon is the one to reach for her hand.
They find Skinner and Grunt two days later, strung up from the rafters it the great hall with their eyes gouged out and their shrivelled cocks stuck between their open jaws. Lord Bolton surveys the carcasses with that strange, cold gaze that Arya hates, and purses his lips.
"Cut them down," he orders, while the dogs snap and howl over old bones, skinny, dreadful things that scare her almost as much as her husband. They were reared to hunt, to shred, and even without the feel of canine teeth against her neck she is barely holding herself together, holding the cracks in cupped hands.
Without her permission, Arya's eyes slide across the room to find Theon huddling in a corner. She can never call him Reek, can never even think of him as that in her head. No matter that Ramsay ruined him long before he took her to wife for a dead girl's name, in the privacy of her own mind he will always be the smiling boy who looked at Sansa like she was someone special.
He has seen it too – the words written in blood on the wall beneath the bodies, the thing Ramsay would never want either of them to see:
The North Remembers.
Lord Manderly doesn't smile, the Frey's are beside themselves and Theon – Theon looks like he truly has seen a ghost. Arya follows his gaze, surprised, and sees a shadow in the corner, a feral winter-thing watching the mayhem with a smile.
It's gone before she can make out a face.
notes: it's taken me years and years and years to get this the way i want. literally wrote this first draft back in like...2012?
notes2: apparently i have decided to tackle my years-long writers block by delving back into incomplete and abandoned fics, you guys there is so much fic on my laptop that has never seen the light of day you do not even know
notes3: someone teach me how to write again please and thanks