Theon slumped at a corner table in Winter Town’s small brothel, staring at the bottle of whiskey in front of him without seeing it. Instead he saw Alice’s...No, Mya’s, fingers wrapped around the jail cell bars, the fear and desperation in her blue eyes. His stomach clenched at the thought of her touch and the way she’d wept. She lied. You never even knew her real name.
The brothel was packed tonight. In one corner the piano was jangling loudly. One of the blacksmith’s boys was pawing at the keys, bellowing an out-of-tune chorus with several whores and fellow drunkards while the crowd laughed and roared and gossiped over the day’s events. Occasionally Theon would catch one of them pointing or glancing his way. Shortly after he arrived, Mabel, a bawdy whore he knew quite well, perched herself on his knee.
“Haven’t seen you ‘round here lately, sugar,” she purred. “Where you been?”
“Busy.” Theon tried to ease her off his knee. “Listen, this ain’t a good time.”
“Aww honey, I’ve known you for years. It’s never not been a good time.” Mabel’s hand was sliding between his thighs. “You come on upstairs and tell me what’s got you so bent out of shape.”
“Are you deaf? I said no.” Theon’s patience ran out and he gave her a sharp shove. “Get outta here.” Mabel pouted at him, but in the next instant she was adjusting her corset top and moving onto the next table.
Theon gazed blearily at the whores with their painted faces and hiked-up skirts and he wondered how Alice...Mya...whatever she called herself, could ever have survived such a life. He knew all the whores in Winter’s Town, and he’d paid for his pleasure with most of them. He didn’t give a shit about them; they were whores, for the gods’ sake. No one cared about them, and they didn’t care about anyone longer than they were paid to. He fixed his gaze on one of the younger girls, one he hadn’t had before. She had dark hair like Mya’s and suddenly he couldn’t get the image of Mya out of his head. He closed his eyes, pressing the heels of his hands into them, but all he could see was her smiling at some faceless stranger, perched on his knee, coyly laughing at unfunny jokes and pretending not to notice when mens’ eyes slipped to her high, firm breasts. In his mind’s eye her blue eyes flicked to him, and her smile grew. Suddenly it was his knee she was sitting on, his hair her fingers were stroking, him her ploys were working on. It was a familiar feeling, one that both warmed his blood and curdled it slightly with guilt. Alice Longmire was Mya Stone, Mya Stone was a whore, and Theon Greyjoy could not get away from her.
All of a sudden, every harsh word, every shameful encounter, every derisive laugh he’d ever given his paid companions came rushing back. He’d hurt several, naturally. It was a matter of course. He’d had to be more persuasive than was maybe needed with some of them, more forceful. He’d shorted some on coin, and had outright refused to pay others. Did anyone treat her like that? Did anyone hurt her? Of course they did. Look how she reacted to Ramsay-
Ramsay. He knew. He’s had her. The realization made his blood boil hot. Ramsay was sick, and his hobbies with women were even sicker. He’s fucked her. He’s hurt her.
“Godsdamn.” Theon rubbed a hand over his face. “Godsdamn.”
She said she loved you. And you left her in that jail. Theon didn’t know if she’d meant it or if it had been a last desperate attempt to get him to free her, but her words had stung. No one had ever told him they loved him before, not even his own mother, and he’d never said it to anyone. Part of Theon wanted to think that he’d never felt it, not a real, true love, but as much as he wanted to think it he knew it was a lie. You loved Ygritte, you never told her, and you lost her.
Another bout of raucous laughter erupted on the balcony above him. Ramsay Bolton and his gang of cronies had stumbled out of one of the rooms upstairs, followed by a scrawny red-headed girl whose name Theon could never remember. She was tugging her chemise back into place, her face pale. Theon could only imagine what she’d been subjected to in that room. It made his stomach turn.
Ramsay leaned over the balcony railing, grinning widely down at him. “Hey there, Greyjoy!” he shouted in an obnoxiously loud, cheery voice. “Where’s your lady love?”
“Fuck off, Ramsay,” Theon muttered. He turned back to his bottle of whiskey, hoping Bolton would leave him alone. A heavy clattering of footsteps on the stairs told him that wasn’t like to happen.
Ramsay threw his thick frame into the chair across from Theon, leaning over the table. “Exciting day, isn’t it?” He plucked the bottle from Theon’s hands and took a long pull from it. “I love a good wedding, but they can be so boring. Not this one though. Definitely worth the trip in. And little miss Mya!” He whistled, leaning back in his chair. “Never saw that one comin’, did ya.”
Theon gritted his teeth. “Did you see that busted-up jaw she gave you comin’?”
Ramsay’s grin sharpened. “She and I’ve met before, y’know. You probably figured that out. Must’ve been...gosh, 2, 3 years back? She’s real good, isn’t she? Worth every penny I paid for her. Hey,” he reached over and swatted at Theon’s arm as if they were old chums exchanging fishing tales. “She still a squealer?”
“You better just take off, Ramsay.” Theon grumbled. “ ‘m not in the mood.”
Ramsay kept on talking as if he hadn’t even heard Theon. “Y’know, when we were at the whorehouse down in the Eyrie, they said she was the best at faking it, and that you could hardly ever tell. Except there was this one noise she’d make...oh, how did it go?” Ramsay leaned back in his chair, his tongue travelling over his thick lips as he thought. “Ah, right.”
He let his eyes drift closed, his face contorting into an ugly bastardization of pleasure. He started moaning, a high-pitched, obscene, and entirely too-familiar noise. Several of Ramsay’s companions started laughing, egging him on.
Theon’s vision went red.
The next thing he knew he was leaping across the table, slamming his fist directly into Ramsay’s fat, smug face. They tumbled to the floor, and after that Theon lost sense of what he was doing. All he knew was that Ramsay had hurt Mya, and he was hurting Ramsay. He was distantly aware of Ramsay’s cronies falling on him with punches and kicks, and he responded where he could. A fist smashed into his forehead just above his eye, another into his lip. He could taste his own blood and it just enraged him more. Theon poured all his anger, his pain, his betrayal into his blows. Not just from Mya, but from Ygritte, from his failed engagement, from a lifetime of being other peoples’ plaything.
The brothel seemed to erupt. Theon couldn’t tell who was beating who, and he didn’t care. All he cared about was the feel of his fist sinking into Ramsay’s gut, his face, anywhere. Distantly he heard the women shrieking and clamoring to get away from the fight, glass breaking, shouts, yells. This was what he needed, and it felt good. Better than fucking. Theon’s heart was pounding, and his blood was up. He could go all night. He could fight anyone who was dumb enough to come at him -
A shotgun blast shattered the air, breaking through Theon’s rage. A large, paw-like hand seized his upper arm and yanked him off Ramsay, tossing him at the now-overturned table he’d been sitting at. The shattered table leg jabbed him in the back. Theon grunted, squinting up to see who’d interfered.
It was Sheriff Umber, of course. He loomed over Theon and Ramsay and a handful of other semi-conscious brothel patrons, bristling with anger. “What in the hells is goin’ on in here?”
Ramsay chuckled as he pushed himself up on an elbow. His battered face pleased Theon, as did the broken teeth he now sported. “Nothin’, Sheriff. Just a casual conversation between friends.”
Theon looked around the brothel. There was hardly a table or chair that was still standing. The bartender was standing on the bar, a pistol in his hand, and there were unconscious or semi-conscious patrons sprawled everywhere in the floor. Two of the wall sconces hung askew, and Theon thought it was only by the grace of the gods that the brothel hadn’t caught fire. The floor was littered with spilled booze and broken bottles that crunched as people started to rise to their feet. Casual conversation, fuck.
Sheriff Umber wasn’t amused. Grasping Theon’s arm in one hand and Ramsay’s in the other, he hoisted both men to their feet as if they were dolls.
“Get your posse outa here, Bolton,” he growled. “Every time you show your ugly face somewhere I wind up having to intervene.”
Ramsay spat a wad of blood and shattered teeth on the ground, eyeing the Sheriff. Umber was nearly a foot taller than Ramsay, and Theon wagered he had ninety pounds on him, mostly muscle. Go on, he willed Ramsay. Take a shot at him. He’ll have you licking out the inside of your own asshole.
Unfortunately Ramsay wasn’t stupid enough or drunk enough to take on an angry Umber. He yanked his arm free of the Sheriff’s grasp and jerked his head at his men. One by one they clambered to their feet, glaring at Theon and the Sheriff as they went. Once they were gone the Sheriff clapped a hand on Theon’s shoulder and steered him outside. The air felt cool on his flushed face, sobering him up slightly.
“Best for you not to be in there right now,” he said.
Theon shook him off. He hadn’t had much whiskey but he also hadn’t had much to eat so the alcohol had gone straight to his head. “Who put you in charge?”
“The fine people of this county.” Sheriff Umber straightened his shoulders and even in his slightly drunk haze Theon was aware that this was a man who could use him as a pile driver without breaking a sweat. “You don’t want to be in there when Miz’ Ros starts handing out bills for damage to her brothel.” Theon grunted and let the Sheriff lead him down the wide main street. “She got under your skin, didn’t she? That girl?”
“No.” Theon shrugged. She was under his skin, alright. She was under his skin, filling his lungs, holding his very bones together. “Maybe. What’s it matter? She’s nothin’ but a liar and a thief.”
“Might be.” The Sheriff pushed his hat back. “ All’s I know is I got two girls. One’s five, one’s two. My wife says this next one on the way’s a girl too. Regardless, I hope they never get themselves into the kinda trouble your girl did. Now, I’ve got some things to finish up. You don’t gotta go home, but I better not see you goin’ back into that brothel, y’hear? Go eat something. It’ll do you good.”
“Fine, fine.” Theon just wanted the Sheriff and his parental suggestions to go away. He was starting to feel the fight he’d just had - his knuckles were stinging, his ribs hurting with every breath. “I won’t go back to the brothel. Have a good night, Sheriff.”
Going back to Winterfell seemed impossible right now, but the Sheriff was right. Going back to the brothel while the owner was riled up seemed unwise. Theon shoved his hands in his pockets and stepped off the wooden sidewalk. He could hear people talking and laughing in the brothel and the saloon, but it seemed muted. The night was cool, the breeze carrying just the slightest hint of autumn. Much like the night Ygritte had shot Robb, it seemed too peaceful. He stood there in the middle of the dirt road, lost in himself.
The sound of footsteps interrupted Theon’s thoughts. Petyr Baelish had just exited the hotel, and had spotted him. He was dressed in his finest: grey trousers and a patterned green silk vest with a fine linen shirt underneath. In his hand he held a lit cigar and from the smell coming off it Theon knew it was high quality, most likely from the Dornish Marches. “Mr. Greyjoy. Looks like you got into a bit of a scuffle down at the brothel.”
Theon lifted his chin, feeling every cut and bruise on his face. He had a molar that felt a little loose now. If Ramsay Bolton cost me a godsdamn tooth I’m gonna knock all his out his ass. “Nothin’ to speak of.”
Baelish hummed to himself for a moment. “Join me for dinner, why don’t you. Lysa is giving Robin his dinner, and I do hate to dine alone.”
Theon knew he wouldn’t be able to get out of this and didn’t even bother trying. “You payin’?”
“Of course.” Petyr smiled, steering Theon towards the largely empty saloon. They were seated in a dark corner by the cold fireplace, and Petyr handed Theon a menu. “I have to thank you.”
“For keeping Miss Stone here all this time. I thought she wouldn’t go north of King’s Landing, but she’s more restless than I anticipated.”
Theon shoved his hands in his pockets, leaning back in his chair. Something had passed between Baelish and Lysa earlier when Ned asked about Alice- no, Mya. Her name’s Mya, Mya’s baby. It wasn’t much, just a slight look from her to him, but Theon had seen it and it was bothering him now.
“‘s it true, what she said? Her baby died?”
Baelish sipped whiskey their waitress had brought him. “Tell me what you would do in my position, Greyjoy. You’ve got a young, fresh, nubile girl who is growing popular with some of my customers. She’s a very valuable piece of merchandise, who then goes and forgets to drink her moon tea, and comes up in a family way. She’s damaged, but that’s ok. Some men pay extra for damaged ones. Everything goes swimmingly until her time comes, and where does that leave me? I can’t have a screaming baby hanging from her teats all the time. It’s bad for business. And she’s certainly not fit to be a mother. I did her a favor, her and the babe both.”
Bile rose in the back of Theon’s throat as he thought of Mya, weeping alone in her jail cell. “What happened? You drown it?”
Baelish laughed. “Hardly. Just like some men pay extra for damaged women, others pay even more for a baby to raise with a barren wife. Mya’s little bastard is off somewhere in Essos, being raised by a very wealthy Braavosi merchant and his wife. That boy’s got a better life than you or I, far better than the one he would’ve had raised in a brothel by a whore who can barely read.” Without missing a beat he looked up at their waitress, who had returned with a basket of crusty, warm bread. “The roast quail and asparagus, please. What’ll you have, Greyjoy?”
“Nothin’.” Theon could barely speak. “Lost my appetite.”
“Bring him the saddle of lamb, with extra mint sauce.” Baelish broke off a hunk of bread, smiling blandly at Theon when the waitress left. “Lamb always helps to settle my stomach. It’s a good, non-contentious meat. You look like you could use it.”
“What’s going to happen to her?” Theon asked suddenly.
Baelish shrugged. “She’ll get her trial, and if the gods are good, we’ll get our justice.”
Theon felt sick all of a sudden, as if his insides had been scooped out and replaced with rotten, maggoty meat. “She’ll be hanged.”
“She stole a horse, among other things. Don’t you hang thieves up here?”
“We don’t hang scared girls running for their lives.” Theon’s chair creaked and the sound was a rope creaking as Mya’s body swung from a heavy hangman's noose. No one would claim a criminal whore. She would go to an unmarked pauper’s grave or worse, she’d be left for the crows to peck at. Godsdamn…
She said she loves you. Theon’s brain pricked at him again. He didn’t doubt it now, and as much as he wanted to deny it, he started to wonder if he didn’t love her too. The thought of her dying was horrifying - just as bad as the thought of Robb’s death, if not worse. He’d gotten used to her smile, used to her laugh, hells, used to her smell, long before they’d slept together. There was an intrinsic trust that had developed between them somewhere along the way. If she fell, he knew he’d catch her. He wanted to protect her, to keep her safe, to give her the kind of life she wanted.
She lied to you from the start. What did that matter? The only person who knew the truth of Robb’s attack was Robb himself. Theon had never been able to tell the truth to anyone else. She lied because she was scared. And you were no help. You had a gun pointed at her. Anyone would lie in that situation. Godsdammit, Greyjoy. You love her and if you don’t do something you’re going to lose her too. The realization was a hot flood, turning his bowels to liquid. If she dies her blood will be on your hands. How...how could he save her? He couldn’t very well march into the jail and pry the cell open. What, then?
The answer came with their dinners. Theon shifted in his seat slightly as his plate was set in front of him, and he felt the sharp edge of a deck of cards in his pocket. He’d tucked them in there that morning almost as a reflex. Most of the time, when he had to attend a town event or celebration, he wound up playing poker with some men from town, or teaching Arya and Rickon how to stack the deck. It’s your only shot.
Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out his old, slightly ragged deck of cards and slapped them on the table. “One hand.”
Baelish looked at him, his grey-green eyes slightly surprised. “I’m sorry?”
“Poker. One hand.” Theon tried to slow his brain down to let him form sentences. “I’ll play you for her. For Mya.”
Smiling now, Baelish cut a slice of quail and chewed carefully. Then he wiped his neat little moustache on his napkin and took a sip of water. He did all these things deliberately, as if he could see the pulse jumping in Theon’s neck and could read the desperation in his eyes. Finally he spoke.
“What do I get if I win?”
“You get...you get her.” Theon swallowed. His throat felt parched. He grabbed his glass of water and drank deeply. The water tasted like copper, bloody from where he’d bitten the inside of his cheek at the brothel. “If you win, you can take her back to the Eyrie.”
“And if you win?” Baelish seemed amused by all of this.
“If I win you drop all the charges, you get on the first train south, and you never even think her name again.” Theon compulsively shuffled the deck once, twice, three times. He was nervous, jumpy. If Baelish refused, then what? Don’t let him refuse. You’re one of the best poker players in town. This’ll be just one more game. That’s all. It’s just a game.
“If you win,” Baelish took another bite of quail and asparagus, “what will you do with her?”
“Doesn’t matter. She’s a person, not some good to be traded. She can leave if she wants. ‘s nothing to me.” Theon forced himself to cut a bit of lamb. It was bland and soft, lacking the spices that Catelyn would’ve cooked it with. He made himself chew it, focus on the weak mint sauce. If Baelish knew the turmoil swirling in his head Theon wouldn’t stand a chance. It’s the only thing you can do. Face it, you’d rather have her alive and far away rather than dead.
Baelish smirked. “If you really believed that you wouldn’t be gambling for her.” He set his fork down. “No matter. We’ll play. Dornish Hold ‘Em?”
“Five card draw.” Theon looked around the saloon, finally waving over their waitress. “She’ll deal. I don’t trust you further than I can throw you. I imagine it’s mutual.”
“If you trust me so little, how do you know that I won’t just make off with Miss Stone regardless of whether or not I win?”
Theon had to smile at that. “Because I’m a Greyjoy. We don’t handle being cheated very well.”
“Of course not.” Baelish’s simpering tone made Theon’s teeth stand on edge.
It took some convincing for the waitress to agree to deal their game, including both men swearing that she wouldn’t lose her job. Finally, she pulled a chair over and took the deck from Theon. After shuffling it a little clumsily, she dealt them their hands. Theon picked up his five cards, eyeing them. A deuce, six, seven, a jack, and an ace. It wasn’t the greatest hand, but he’d seen worse. He watched Baelish carefully, keeping his face a stone mask. One of the reasons he was one of the best poker players in town was that he knew everyone’s tell. Jory’d give a disinterested sniff when he had a good hand, Robb would run a hand through his hair, Jon would get agitated when he had jack shit. Manderly would just keep ordering food the cockier he got.
Petyr Baelish was an unknown. And, looking at him, Theon realized he was good. His eyes flicked over his own cards but betrayed nothing. Finally, he drew two cards out of his hand and slid them back to the dealer.
Theon looked at his hand again, pulled the deuce, six, and seven. If Baelish got shit back, and Theon got a pair of jacks, the game was his. His heart began to skitter as the waitress slid three cards to him, and two to Baelish. Picking his up, his stomach leapt. Staring up at him was a five, a ten, and a second jack. Could it be this easy?
He looked across the table at Petyr. His expression was still smooth, unmarked. His hands were steady, his eyes clear. Baelish looked at Theon and raised his eyebrows a touch. “What’ve you got?”
“You first,” Theon replied. His heart was hammering away now. If Baelish couldn’t hear it, it’d be a miracle. This is it. She’ll be free…
Baelish laid his cards down plainly, with none of the flourish some players liked to exhibit. Theon took a fast count. A three, a four, two tens and a queen. His breath escaped him as he laid his own hand down with a wide grin. His two jacks stared up at them. Theon liked to think they were laughing at Baelish.
“Jacks win,” the waitress announced, rather unnecessarily. “Sorry, Mr. Baelish.”
Theon stood and started gathering his cards back together, elated. Mya was safe now. He could see the smile that would light up her face, could feel her in his arms. “‘s been a pleasure playing you. Now, I imagine we can catch the Sheriff before he heads home, and-”
“Wait.” Baelish held up a hand, leaning back in his chair. “One hand seems too...small for such a wager. I’d say Miss Stone is worth more than that, wouldn’t you?”
Theon paused, looking warily at Baelish. “What do you mean?”
“Let’s go two out of three.” Baelish returned to his quail, spearing a wing and cutting some meat off. His knife grated against the delicate bones and suddenly all Theon could think about were the fine bones in Mya’s hands, how sure they were when they moved over him. He couldn’t risk losing her now...could he?
“If I say no?”
Baelish shrugged. “Say no. Even Greyjoys get scared, I’m sure. Although...Lysa told me you’ve been with the Starks for half your life now. I’m sure that’s diluted some of that brave highway robber blood your father and forefathers are so famous for. I imagine when word gets back to Balon, he’ll be pleased with your progression.”
Theon wasn’t stupid; he knew Baelish was wheedling him. He knew he should just leave the saloon, collect Mya, and spirit her away somewhere safe. But Baelish’s words had jabbed at his bruised pride and he found himself sitting back down.
“Two out of three. But that’s it.”
Theon waited while the waitress shuffled the deck and laid Baelish’s cards facedown. This was a stupid idea. Theon was tempting fate, and he had a cold feeling creeping down his spine. It grew worse at the quick, cocky smirk Baelish wore as he glanced at his cards. It happened so fast he wondered if he’d imagined it. Theon wanted nothing more now than to run to the jail, but he forced himself to pick up his cards as they were dealt.
Four, ten, jack, eight, queen...that’s almost a straight. If they’d been playing for anything else than Mya’s life, Theon would’ve discarded the four and hoped he’d get a nine in return. That was too much of a risk here, judging by Baelish’s expression as he laid down one card. Theon studied his hand for a bit, trying to think of what would be best, what would ensure him a win. If Baelish had only put down one card...Theon couldn’t think straight. He gave himself a mental shake and plucked three cards - his four, his eight, and his ten. He’d be ok if he got a pair. He had to get a pair.
The waitress slid three cards back at him. When Theon picked them up he felt light-headed. A four, five, and six stared baldly back at him, and he was done. He closed his eyes as Baelish laid his cards out, and barely heard the waitress.
“Ace high. Mr. Baelish wins.”
One more chance. You’ve got one more chance. If he lost, if he failed...you won’t. You can’t.
The third hand was dealt. Theon’s blood pounded thick in his ears, but he kept his expression flat and neutral. Three sevens, a nine, and a deuce...when his time came he tossed the nine and the deuce away and prayed to whoever was listening that he win this hand.
“You look unwell,” Baelish noted as he looked over his cards. He plucked two and set them down. “I would’ve hoped the lamb would make you feel better.
“I’m fine,” Theon lied. “Just lookin’ forward to finishing up here and headin’ home.” The waitress had drawn their cards and they lay before the players. Theon’s gaze never left Baelish as he drew his up. “So let’s see what you’ve got.”
Baelish glanced down and once more, without a flourish, laid down five spades. Theon didn't even look at the rankings. Son of a bitch...he’s got a flush. There were only three hands that could beat a flush, and an infinite amount that would lose to it. Theon couldn’t bring himself to look at his cards as he laid them out. If he lost he’d go down to the jail and reconcile with Mya after this was all done. It was the least he could do. Unless...even if Baelish and Lysa leave with Mya there’s nothing saying they’ll all three make it to the Eyrie. That train has to stop at some point and I could be there waiting for it. We’ll slip away. We’d never be able to come back here though. It’s the first place they’d look. We could make for Dorne maybe, or Braavos. Baelish said that’s where he sold her boy to. We could find him, make this all right...
“Full house beats a flush,” the waitress announced. “You win, Mr. Greyjoy.”
Theon was so absorbed in his thoughts he didn’t hear her straight away. “Huh?”
“You win.” The waitress nodded at the table, and Theon gaped. Sure enough, he’d drawn two fours. That, on top of his three sevens, had trumped Baelish’s flush.
“Huh,” Theon repeated. He leaned back in his chair slightly, feeling his usual cockiness starting to percolate in him again. “Holy shit.”
Across the table Baelish smiled tightly. “I don’t suppose you want to go four out of five.”
“I’ll go four out of go fuck yourself, Mr. Baelish.” Theon collected his cards and stood, winking at the waitress. “You collect your woman and her whelp and you be on the first train out of here tomorrow mornin’. And if I ever see you in these parts again I’ll tie you over a barrel and let my stallion have a go at you. Understand?”
“When you put it in such simple terms, how can I not?”
Theon grinned and plucked Baelish’s cigar out of his mouth. Taking a victorious puff, he waggled his eyebrows. “You just remember that, then. The nights get real cold up here, and Smiler gets lonely. Though that might be preferable to your old lady’s reaction when you tell her you lost your little prize. Now, let’s go find the Sheriff and settle up.”