There is always blue, and there is always white. The bottomless sky and the small white sighs it gives in the winter that covered the world. Her small white hands, and deep blue eyes. And her hair the bright red of obstinate songbirds. Liesbeth can remember exactly what it felt like to have your lips split with cold and your fingertips freeze beneath the skin.
She remembers being the youngest. The child who clings to her parents, and stops crying only to hear stories of virgins and heroes and true love. A girl, close to her older sister who is the living epitome of the fairest maiden true. A sister who waits with excitement for the day that her brother would be the brave knight to save a damsel. A daughter with no need to look any further than her parents to see that the fairy tales couldn’t be lying.
Her mother is so beautiful and warm and she sings to her. And her father joins in and lifts her to the sky in his giant hands. He carries her on his shoulders, scraping the heavens before carrying her safely to the earth. And from where she stands, Liesbeth could see them smile at each other as if they had never before met, and she remembers wanting to be in love like that.
And then, she remembers the baby. Liesbeth loves the baby before it arrives, while her brother prayed for another son, and her sister another daughter. Liesbeth remembers both of them teasing, in the way that children do, that it is a monster who will eat her toes while she sleeps. Liesbeth is determined to love the child, for that is what fair maidens do. And Liesbeth is determined to become a fair maiden like her mother. But as her mother grows large and tired and hostile with the child, Liesbeth worries.
The baby is another daughter, small and pink and round. Liesbeth can see no teeth in her, but her mother scarcely gives her baby a second glance. From her bed, she looks tired and ruined, her face lined with pain. Liesbeth is determined to love the child. But after what she has done to her mother, Liesbeth is afraid. Her brother whispers that it is probably a changeling. Liesbeth ignores him and starts to sing to the girl, but her mother asks her to stop, and to leave.
The songs stop after that.
Her mother is never the same. Her father is impatient with her, and although no one is certain of how to help her, he ignores her completely, as if it will affect a change. When Liesbeth and her older sister sit with their mother, her words are directed to the walls and the ceiling, asking if they know what happened to her husband. He will not speak of her with any of his children. A guilty thought that the changeling has done this crosses Liesbeth’s mind often. She is determined to love her, but Tamsin grows more unpredictable, and in her ten-year-old worry, Liesbeth has more difficulty dispersing the notion. One year, she gives her a bow and arrows, both as a gift and an apology. Liesbeth wishes to be a maiden fair, gentle and compassionate, but she isn’t sure what that is any more.
She’s not sure if Tamsin ever uses it.
Her mother has been ill for months, but Liesbeth thinks she has been unwell for years. Her father refuses to believe it, and leaves Ironhal for weeks at a time, until he is carried back afflicted with pneumonia. They only see their children to bring news of the other’s health, and will not stand to listen to stories of recoveries.
One day, when even the bottomless blue sky has turned grey with cold, her mother asks the ceiling to never leave her. Family is the only thing a person needs, and once they have it, they should never let it go. Hold on to it. For her sake, for she has failed to realize this until then. She begs the ceiling to give her its word, and on its behalf, Liesbeth swears on her twelve-year-old life.
Three days later, her mother passes away. And three days later, her father tells her that she is betrothed to a Carrow in the South. And as he dies, Liesbeth is sent to Rivergate to marry a boy she has never met. She remembers a story with a happy ending and holds unto it, determined that she will find the light in all of this. As all fair maidens do.
She loves him. Of course she loves him. Why shouldn’t she? He’s handsome, wealthy and comes from a respectable house, things that were always more than adequate in stories. There’s so much sunshine in Rivergate, and she can barely see straight, but still she smiles like a proper lady. They are both so young, and even if she doesn’t love him, she has time. But she does love him. She has no reason not to. So, she should.
Years have passed, and as Liesbeth comes of age, the daily reminders that she loves her husband and this place become more frequent. She does anything to make him happy, but when he lies with her, she looks anywhere but his face, with his dark eyes and hair. She loves him.
And even if she doesn’t, she has her children. They are as dark as their father, and often she wonders if she married someone else if they would be fair. But there is no one else, and the never will be. And there is no need, for she has her children. She dwells on her childhood less, but still she sings them Northern songs. If she has ever asked to visit her old house, she does so never again. She could never leave her children. Liesbeth needs no reminding that she loves them.
But then, her husband sends their son away to become a knight. Sends her child into certain death and injury. And as he rides away, Liesbeth realizes that nothing can stop him from ripping each of them from her. She can barely look in his direction, but still, she loves him. She loves him because that is what she is supposed to do, not because it is true or right.
Often, she will ask the ceiling or the walls what has happened to her children.
There is too much sun in Rivergate, and it never snows.