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elynross organized yuletide 2008. I was assigned to Miang, who requested something with Arya Stark and Jaqen H'ghar, with an emphasis on Jaqen.

Title: With a Tide of Locusts
Author: voleuse
Fandom: A Song of Ice and Fire [George RR Martin]
Characters: Jaqen H'ghar & Arya Stark
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Summary: In another wilderness, the possibilities, the loneliness, can strangulate like jungle vines.
Notes: Set in the past and in the future, with references to all four books



i. rising with a tide of locusts,
she swarmed with others
to inundate the shore


Before he died, he was the second son of a scribe and a Pentoshi sailor. His family was not wealthy, but there was usually enough food for everybody. His mother even had time to teach his sisters how to read.

Then the summer fevers came, and he sank into his bed one evening and did not rise. Sharp voices filled his head, bright colors and flight, skimming above the sea. Dry hands pressed against his forehead and his neck, and water trickled like honey in his throat.

The first time he died, he woke to darkness, to muffled whimpers and the shuffle of feet. He grasped for knowledge, but it fled him. All he knew was the echoes of the air, and a flicker of understanding. This is a holy place. He turned his head, and there was a skull wearing a man's skin standing over him.

It grinned, and if he had still had breath within him, he would have gasped.

*


"You were an offering," the skull told him, whispering as they paced through the darkness. "They thought it would bring you peace to die here."

"But I didn't," he protested. "I didn't die."

The skull looked down at him. Bone melted to flesh, but the boy flinched at the hand on his shoulder. "We have all died, here."

They came upon a spring, its water turning eerily by candlelight. It smelled clean. Cool and dark.

"You were an offering," the man of skulls told him, "and under this roof we serve." He bent, dipped a stone cup into the spring. "Will you drink?"

The boy watched liquid bead against the jagged surface of the cup. He listened to murmured chants in languages he'd never known, and he remembered the lessons of his fever dreams.

He took the proffered cup, quaffed the water like mother's milk. He closed his eyes.

He forgot his name.


ii. dough-faced landlords
slip in and out of your keyholes,
making claims you don't understand


The boy learned three things worth knowing every day, until the only way he could track the days were the condition of the wares in the market's green quarter. He learned to spit seeds across the canals as the sun rose, and how to make a courtesan smile when he juggled dragonfruit and apples. He learned how to make apples shine and how to keep lemons from tasting bitter. He learned to haggle in a dozen languages, and how to curse in half a dozen more.

He grew tall, and perhaps clever. Lifting and shoving crates made him wiry, even if his shoulders never broadened like his father's. No, he had no father. He had no mother but the sea, no brothers or sisters but those that served. He spoke so that others agreed, even when they did not hear him. He laughed in three different ways, and thought there might be a fourth.

And when the moon waxed wide and bright above the sea, he shed his clothes and his name and his manner. He became nobody, became dead again, because that was the only way a child could enter the temple.

*


'Twas hard for him to learn to kill, harder still to learn the skill of changing his face. To change his voice was simple enough, all pitch and cadence and curse. To change his manner, his posture, his walk, he studied and toiled and posed.

In the warrens below the temple, there was a room of shelves, filled with bottles of glass and clay and stone. None of them bore labels, and when the time came, he was sent down to that room to learn. The round woman waited for him, and for hours he watched her amongst the bottles. She kneeled in front of a long, low table to work, her deft hands never brushing carelessly against her tools. She twisted caps from bottles and let loose drops from within, rolled vials together, and sprinkled powders into a jar. He grew dizzy from the fumes of her work, though he managed not to sneeze at smells.

There was a dish, small and round and deep. In it, she crushed a handful of nuts into a paste. Her hands flew from bottle to vial to jar, and he lost track of the drops of ointment, pinches of powder, splashes of liquid that she added to the paste.

Finally, she turned and acknowledged him, nodded as he shifted, sitting on his heels. "You would become faceless," she observed, and he nodded three times, the correct affirmation. "Approach," she said, and he shuffled forward on his knees.

The round woman watched him as he approached, then she reached out, rapped three fingers against his nose. "It is an old magic, to change faces." She tapped again, his forehead, his left cheek, then his right. "Are you willing to lose this last thing?"

"I am willing to serve." He raised his chin and waited for her to strike. "A man does not consider the loss."

She chuckled and tapped his chin lightly, thrice. "Perhaps a man, now," she replied.

The dish was between them, and she lifted it with both hands.

"Take this and eat," she told him.

He scooped the paste into his mouth, and the world dissolved into pain.

On that day, his training began.

*


When he was not making offerings to his god, he slid through the shadows of the temple, eyes open to see what there could be seen. He watched those who offered their own lives on the altar, and those that would offer the lives of others.

The Beggar King came to them twice in this way, and both times he spat at their feet.

"The Usurper profanes the gods with his rule," the Beggar King said, that second time.

The man of skulls did not flinch; he never did. "It is not a poor thing, to offer a king to the gods," he said.

The Beggar King cursed, and his hand twitched beneath the gaze of the god's many faces. He spun on his heel and stormed away.

The man of skulls tilted his head, found him listening from the shadows. "This bears investigation," he mused.

"That king will never make contract with us." He pulled himself from the shadows' embrace. "For what reason would a man travel across the sea?"

The man of skulls smiled, skin stretching across his face. "It would be a thing to know." He turned, then paused. "Only kill the king if you must."

"Which king?" he asked, but he left it for a joke.

That was a day he took the name Jaqen. It rolled against his tongue like honey, but it was just a name, just a face like any other he might have chosen.


iii. your one fragile identification,
a jade link
handcuffed to your wrist


Jaqen slid into the seven kingdoms of Westeros as if they were water, and fell in with a band of mercenaries easily enough. He sang and drank and, when he had to, wenched, and never once did he stop watching.

One day, he placed fourth in a melee and caught the attention of those close to the king. He sat at a table across the pavilion, and he gossiped with jumped-up hedge knights about the sparkling nobility. A maester sat across from him at the table, broke his bread into pieces while Jaqen taught the rest a Lysene ballad.

The maester watched him, listened to him, and Jaqen thought maybe he knew. He let worries slide past him, over him, and tossed a bone to the dogs fighting under the table.

Then the maester said something to him, and Jaqen answered before he realized the words had been in High Valyrian. The maester's eyes widened, and Jaqen shrugged.

When the gaolers came for him, later that night, Jaqen was not surprised. He might have escaped a hundred times previous, and a hundred times hence, but he submitted to chains without comment.

This also, he thought, might bring to him things to know.

*


All dungeons and prisons were much the same, Jaqen found. It was something he had known, and it did not trouble him to know it again.

When the crow came for him and chained him to the cart, he breathed air in and thought of twelve ways he might convince his captors to free him. Two opportunities came, but he let them pass for the sake of curiosity.

There was a girl pretending to be a boy, and he wanted to know the secret she kept hidden. That she had a secret was writ large in the stoop of her shoulders, and the quick clench of her fists at the rasp of any blade.

After she freed him, and after she found him again, he made her a holy promise. It wasn't one made lightly, but it was not one the god would have required. The things she knew, however, he thought would be good to know.

She changed her names like dressings on a wound.


iv. you have left no footprints,
but only because
there is an ocean in between


Years passed and wars ended before he returned to the temple. When the moon waxed wide and bright above the sea, he shook the accumulated years from his shoulders. He shed all but the bitterness from his tongue, and he stepped across the threshold wearing a stranger's face.

The girl, now a woman grown, greeted him from the shadows of the temple. She greeted him with a kiss, like a viper caressing his cheek.

He felt a brush of poison sting beneath his skin. He smiled. Such things were harmless to the faceless dead.

"Well met, sister," he said, and in the dark her bared teeth shone. At her gesture, he followed her to the warrens below, and she led him to his empty quarters. "A man would share a meal with an old friend."

She laughed, a hollow sound, and he knew she still hid one face from their god.

"Perhaps you will pray with me," she suggested. "Offerings we have yet to find."

It had a faint whiff of blasphemy, but he understood the purity of her intent.

She had one secret left, and he whispered the names along with her.


###

A/N: Title, summary, and headings taken from Cathy Song's Lost Sister.

Originally archived here.

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
glynnis
Feb. 2nd, 2009 05:22 pm (UTC)
Oh, I liked this very, very much. I've never been that curious about Jaqen for some reason, but this has me wishing that Martin would crib a bit off of you. :) My favorite line is: "She changed her names like dressings on a wound." So lovely and so Arya. Gorgeous!
moodfic
Feb. 6th, 2009 11:59 am (UTC)
*blush* Thank you so much!
edoran
Apr. 24th, 2012 09:47 am (UTC)
Wooh! I love Jaqen. I'm searching around for some Arya/Jaqen stories. Glad to have stumbled upon this one... It's got a different mood than many of the others I've read... More cryptic, more philosophical. I really enjoyed it, thanks!
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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