12- Sansa (II)
Winterfell was restless. Cold winds carrying the noise of hustled steps, the clangour of training swords and the rushed sound of worried voices as they traveled through the fortress corridors. She had been just a child the last time the castle had been so busy with the noises of imminent departure, and Sansa rubbed at the bridge of her nose in fatigue, feeling the hammering pain of a headache creeping behind her eyes and pounding in her ears in rhythm.
Lord Cerwyn was standing at her side, his slander frame lying heavily on a makeshift cane, their gazes focusing on the carts that would make up the supply line following the army south.
"Are those the only ones we have left?" she asked, voice tired.
"Afraid so, my Lady," he answered, offering her a contrite smile.
She stayed silent, adjusting the furs draped around her shivering shoulders, eyes trailing toward the already darkening skyline; it hadn't stopped snowing once that day. After all those years, it was strange to remember the time she had followed her father south. She had never been more delighted at anything else before at the time, young and naive and only three and ten, she could recall sewing dresses in the fashion of warmer lands and wondering what it would be like to marry a prince, to be called a queen one day, she was not excited now.
"My Lady?" Lord Cerwyn insisted, tearing her out of her thoughts, his young face contorting in a question.
"I need to talk to Jon about this," she finally responded, her words dying in a heavy sigh and her mind wandering to Brienne, her faithful knight who had left a few nights before, escorting civilians to what they had thought would be the relative safety of White Harbour at the time, "meanwhile, we need to have those filled to full capacity."
"Of course, my Lady."
She gave him one last look as he bowed in respect, limping away to meet the men that had been at work since the morrow, and then she turned on her feet, walking back toward the fortress' walls, her hearing absently focusing on the snow faintly cracking under her feet - it had covered the muddied and bloody battleground rather quickly indeed.
"My Lady," a guard curtsied as she passed the door, ushering her inside.
She gave him a greeting nod, "Have you seen the King?"
"In the Queen's chamber," the caustic voice of Tyrion Lannister resounded to her right, "But I'm afraid he is busy."
"Busy?" she asked turning to face him, a slight smile stretching on her lips as she met his eyes. Tyrion returned her smile but did not answer, taking assured steps toward her to walk at her side. "Is it so bad that it requires you to escort me there, my Lord?" Sansa questioned once more, eyebrows quirking.
Tyrion had a dry chuckle, "It is the scariest thing of them all: a lovers' quarrel."
She had a heartfelt laugh at that, shooting him an amused glance, "I think I can handle that."
"Can you?" he asked, brows furrowed in mock concern, failing at entirely hiding the true worry laying underneath his mask of wits, "It's a married lovers' quarrel we are speaking of, Lady Sansa, I wouldn't want to see you caught in the crossfire."
"Rest reassured, my Lord," she replied, "I have dealt with far worse"
"I know you have," he said, the tone of his voice suddenly void of any humor, and she glanced toward him once more, briefly meeting his remorseful eyes.
He would always be one of the witnesses to her first travel southwards, one who had looked upon the childish foolishness she had once been warped in, too blind to see and too naive to know, a stupid girl unaware of where she belonged, of where she had always belonged.
He cleared his throat and looked away, suddenly awkward, "I gather that you must not be looking forward to journeying south once more, my Lady?"
The question was rhetorical of course, and so she stayed silent, wordlessly walking alongside him until they reached the end of the long corridor leading to Daenerys Targaryen's chamber.
"I think this is where I leave you to your fate," he said, head lifting toward her to meet the blue of her gaze.
She had a sad smile, "Thank you for escorting me, my Lord," she replied in a sincere voice, maintaining the eye contact for a few seconds before walking away, "It was very gallant of you."
Sansa felt the warmth of his stare digging at her shoulder-blades until she disappeared from his view, walking toward to the locked door that held her brother and his queen inside. The dimmed echoes of angry voices were resounding ever louder as she came closer; what Tyrion had described as a 'lovers' quarrel' had apparently evolved into a full blown argument.
"... you are an hypocritical fool, Jon Snow!" Daenerys' enraged voice was reverberating through the door, clashing against the stone walls, "You are the one who wanted to ride Rhaegal into battle with one arm less!"
"But I didn't!" Jon's voice slammed back, his tone seemingly rising with each syllable. "I don't want my wife to..."
And the utter fury in her voice as she let out those two simple words had made Sansa stop in her tracks, throwing a sharp wary glance at the door as she quietly pondered the possibility of turning away and coming back at a more opportune moment - how she always managed to find herself caught up in such melodrama, she'd never know.
"I might be you wife, Jon, but I am also the queen just as you are the king, you do not order me around!"
"Dany," Jon spoke again, "I need you safe... I need... you are..."
But the queen cut him off, anger never leaving her voice, "I need you safe just as much Jon, and yet I said nothing when I found you covered in your own blood! You could not command from the back anymore than I am able to, could you?" there was a short pause before she continued, her voice suddenly cold, "My decision has been made, and I will not change it."
A deafening silence had followed the argument, and Sansa had just made the decision to come back at a later time when the door suddenly slammed open on her brother's furious face. He barely acknowledged her presence as he stormed past her, his anger burning with such heat she could have sworn to have felt it on her skin, leaving her stunned in his wake.
"Lady Sansa, I... how much did you hear?"
Daenerys Targaryen had appeared in the door-frame, her silver hair, wild and unbound, were flowing on her thin shoulders, her glimmering violet eyes had widened in surprise as she peered at her, "By all means," she spoke again, slightly stepping aside, her back straightening as she found her composure anew, "come inside."
And too bewildered to find her voice again, Sansa obeyed.
"I apologise, your Grace," she said a couple of minutes later, regaining her usual poise and sitting down on the chair that the dragon queen had drawn for her, "I did not mean to eavesdrop."
They had made their way inside, and Daenerys took place in front of her, legs neatly crossed and chin held high, her glance intently searching her face; Sansa looked away at that, eyes sweeping the room quickly, from the window, to the bed, stopping on Ghost's white form laid at its foot, and back on Daenerys' face again they were.
"And I did not mean for you to hear any of that, my Lady, I apologise likewise," the queen replied looking away in turn and losing her glance somewhere in the distance, "Is there something you need?"
Sansa studied her, titling her head slightly as she noticed her tensed shoulder and her lips pressed together in a thin line: she was concerned and angry. "My brother can be stubborn," she tried, voice tentative, drawing Daenerys' glance toward her once more, "He knows he can't protect everybody all the time, and yet he will keep trying to the end, no matter the odds and no matter the cost. It is hardly a surprise that he would try to shield you even if he already knows that you do not need nor want it."
Her violet eyes turned toward her, boring at her with a new kind of intensity, and Sansa held her gaze as the queen reached to pour the both of them hot tea in ornate wooden cups.
"Issa iā mittys, nyke kostagon daor...," the Queen started, anger creeping on her tone, and frustration obvious on her voice despite the foreign words, "I am with child, I am not weak, I have ridden through the arid desert sea of Essos while carrying life bef..."
She had cut herself at once, putting her mask on once more, as if afraid to have said too much, "I must apologise again, my Lady, I did not mean to erupt at you."
Sansa considered her gravely before responding, blue eyes studying her face with care, "I doubt he thinks you weak, your grace but he..." she paused, her gaze falling on her hands in search of her words, "What do you know about the battle for Winterfell, your Grace?"
"Only what the whispers say."
Sansa frowned, taking a sip from her cup as she organised her thoughts, "Jon, he..." she hesitated, taking a deep breath, "The whispers are all true, but they do not tell the whole story, Jon faced the cavalry because he charged ahead to save Rickon... our brother," she added quickly before continuing, "he would have done anything to save him, and he tried even if it meant losing his life, even if it meant losing the war. I think perhaps he is afraid to have to choose again, knowing exactly what his choice would be."
The queen remained silent at that, looking down at her drink, her long and graceful fingers tightening around the wooden goblet.
"He is stubborn and he loves fiercely, it is his strength and his failure, it almost lost us Winterfell but it also won it back for us."
"I'm not sure I am following you, my Lady," Daenerys said, her tone as composed as ever.
"The Wildings would all die for him," Sansa explained, "and it is the reason you are here, isn't it?"
"Perhaps." the queen admitted in a whisper, her lips brushing at the edge of her cup.
Sansa nodded, "And it is a good thing that you came, I have come to find."
The fierce violet of her gaze looked back at her fixedly, tense pupils reading her face with utmost caution, "You were not always convinced of that," she observed, keeping her voice controlled.
"If you have heard the whispers, your Grace," Sansa replied, holding her eyes with strength as Petyr Baelish's face, selling her to the Boltons, appeared in her mind, "Then you must know why I do not place my trust in strangers quite so easily."
"I have heard, and I do know," Daenerys acquiesced.
"If the whispers I have heard about you are true, then you must know indeed."
Sansa's eyes never left her face as she uttered those words, and the queen did not answer, a tacit acknowledgement passing in between them instead, lingering heavy in the silence that followed.
"If I might, my Lady," Daenerys asked after a while, her voice strangely pensive as they both finished their drinks, "what made you decide that I was worth your trust."
Sansa pondered the question, her gaze finding Ghost; his white head had risen from the ground, the red of his eyes focusing on hers, "Because I think you are like him, your Grace," she finally answered, "you are stubborn and you love fiercely."
She had always been talented with threads and needles, turning golden fibers and simple fabrics into lavish and sumptuous embroideries. She always understood patterns ever since she had been a young girl, she was good at taking separate elements and knowing how they could fit together, molding them into an intricate whole once patiently picked and sewn and laced into complex motifs. Politics were not much different, she had come to find, threads and needles prickling at the fabric of the world, warring kings drawing maps out of wars with the point of a sword or the strategy of a long negotiated alliance.
She had been nothing but a soft cotton in this never ending game once, used and stitched and torn apart when the seamstresses that made the world had seen it useful, but somewhere along the way, she had pushed back against all odds to become the needle instead.
"My Lady," Yohn Royce, greeted her politely as he entered her study, his head bent in respect, "you asked for me?"
Sansa turned her attention away from the pile of scrolls she had been reading and looked at him - inventory would wait.
"Indeed my Lord," she responded, her lips stretching in an amiable smile, "any news from Lord Arryn?"
The older man had an awkward breath, averting his eyes and fidgeting slightly on his feet, "Not yet, my Lady."
"Not yet?" she responded, her eyebrows raising in discontent, but keeping her voice contained, "I told the Queen, upon your assurance, that her men would be able to land safely in the Vale after taking the sea in White Harbour, my Lord, did I lie to her? Did I lie to the King, my brother?"
"You didn't, my Lady, I assure you, the Vale will remain an ally of the North through this war. It will remain an ally of the Starks after that."
She observed him intently, her eyes fixating on his, blue meeting brown in an attempt to gauge him. One of the men who had so readily listened to Littlefinger's poisonous words was standing before her; he had been so quick to turn on the King he had just seen crowned at the time, was it any different now?
"I am grateful for your loyalty toward my family, my Lord," she said, keeping suspicion out of her tone as it was no time to forgo diplomacy, "but can the Dragons count the Vale as their allies the same?"
"They can," he answered, features hardening under her scrutiny.
"Good" she replied, keeping her blue stare on him, her voice firm yet courteous, "because my brother is right; the North will not be the only victim of Winter if we let the Army of the Dead go through the Neck unchallenged. You heard him, my Lord, we have no time for petty quibbles, we need the Vale's full commitment."
"And you have it, my Lady, there will be no quibbles of any kind, you have my word."
'How much that word is worth is the question,' she had wanted to say at that, her mind racing with everything that still needed to be done. For as long as Sweetrobin himself had neither pledged nor committed, Lord Royce's words would keep ringing hollow in her ears, she had learned to distrust wind vanes such as him after all, and as far as she could see, he had long proven that his loyalty was laying entirely with his lord. 'Robin Arryn might be a nitwit,' she thought to herself then, 'but he is a useful nitwit.' She could not begrudge Lord Royce for keeping faith with his liege-lord of course, it was just most unfortunate that a copious amount of the only plan they had left to survive was solely resting on said liege-lord ability to think rationally.
Sansa closed her eyes in tiredness as she walked into the crypts a while later, the ache of pain pounding in her temples had yet to dim, she felt utterly worn out.
"Of course you are here," she noted, as her gaze stopped on his silhouette standing a few feet away from her, "I should have known as you practically live here those days."
Jon's dark eyes darted at her quickly before trailing back toward the carved face of his mother, and for the space of a few seconds, she had felt as if transported back a few weeks ago, to another conversation in this very room, bathed in the same orange gleam of the flames hung above their heads and talking of a truth that neither of them had had the time to process.
"I like the solitude," he said without glancing back, "You were looking for me I presume?"
She walked toward him and stood at his side, her eyes finding Lyanna's statue, "Robin Arryn," she started, her voice dismissive, "the fool has yet to reply."
"We need the Vale secured, Sansa," he responded, with an impatient gesture of his hand, "where else can we land, when we..."
"I know that Jon, I heard you the first time," she interrupted him, slightly irked, "why do you think I am here telling you?"
He inhaled sharply, his face burdened in concern and his hand messing his dark hair as he started to pace around, the sound of his steps bouncing in echoes against the cold stones, "I would rather we do not have to display nor use our strength," he said, his voice sounding oddly like a warning as his eyes found hers once again, "but we will, if we have to."
"I am aware," she answered, taken aback by the harshness of his tone.
"I thought you had their loyalty," he said not without annoyance, going back and forth on his steps.
She sighed, "I spoke to Lord Royce already, he assured me that the Vale would keep its word."
He stopped in his tracks then, the grey of his gaze peering at her, "Can we trust him?"
"No," she responded without an ounce of hesitation, she hardly believed in trust as of late, "Not entirely. This is why I am telling you."
They fell into silence at that, their eyes lifting toward Lyanna Stark once more; her stone face looking as if it was moving under the flicker of the fire that surrounded them.
"I'm sorry," he confided after a while, "It is not you I am weary of."
She acknowledged him with a gesture of her head, too aware of the weight of responsibilities placed on his shoulders to begrudge him, "Is it the first time that you visit her?" she asked without hoping for an answer and more to divert the conversation away than anything else.
And he remained silent indeed, his frame slightly shifting in discomfort next to her.
"Do you remember," she tried then, her voice softening, "when we were children and we came here to play with Robb?"
He had a genuine chuckle, his gaze mellowing with tenderness as it locked on her, "Aye I do, and I remember you getting scared."
"And I remember you scaring me, you enjoyed it quite a bit if I recall," she replied in a quick smile, soft on her lips like a butterfly on a flower.
He returned her smile, gazing away and body motionless.
"I'm sorry," he spoke suddenly after a moment of silence, back stiffened and voice careful, his dark curls falling on his eyes.
"What for?" she asked, raising an eyebrow at him, "It was a long time ago, and I can hardly say that it was entirely undeserved."
Their relationship would never come easy, she knew. It would always be defined by the way she had once treated him: she would never be Arya, she would never understand him as easily as their sister could as a part of him would never allow it. They would always need to work harder in order to meet in the middle, they would always have to dance around the invisible scars her mother had left on him, the scars she had unwittingly helped carve and that he had kept hidden underneath the inscrutable mask he always wore, never giving away an inch of ground.
"It is not why I am apologising," he explained giving their father's likeness a vague gesture of his head without entirely looking at him, "I'm sorry for speaking to you the way I did when... well you know,"
"When you found out who you truly are? There is nothing to forgive, Jon," she answered, echoing his words from long ago.
She could recall that day as if it had been just a moon ago; seeing the Wall for the first time and reuniting with the only family she had thought she had left at the time, her heart racing oddly as he had walked toward her, his face contorted in disbelief and awe all at once. She would never be Arya to him, she knew, but here and now it didn't matter for they had come such a long way from where they used to be, they had rebuilt their sibling bond from the ashes of a childhood that time had long left cold, and they had done it stronger and better this time. He was her brother and she his sister, and they loved each other as such all the same. Perhaps Jon Snow would never let her in entirely, but Jon Snow would also die for her; it was a strange thing to be sure of after all those years.
He laughed softly at her words, his eyes turning ever tender, "Forgive me, regardless?" he asked.
"Alright, I forgive you," she said, the ghost of her smile lingering on her lips.
He stepped toward her then, taking her face in between the palm of his hands to place a soft kiss on her forehead, and a pang of sadness had shattered in her chest at that, the memory of her father doing the same thing jolting in her brain at once.
"Jon," she said then, her glance meeting his, doubting she'd find another moment to tell him, "I will not go with you."
His eyes grew wide, his body tensing as her words bounced in between the tombstones, "What?"
She had been three and ten all those years ago, a lost girl in the heat of King's Landing, in search for a life that she had never been meant to lead. She had wanted to marry a prince, to wear a crown, to see the heat of the southern sun turn her skin a pale golden. She had wanted, she had desired and she had been wrong.
"I will not leave Winterfell," she insisted, her gaze holding his as he was about to protest.
She had learned to see politics as she saw threads, leading somewhere, meaning something, she had long been blind to where she fitted in the pattern, she no longer was now, her father had always been right, she was of the North.
"Are you sure you are not coming, my Lady?"
Tyrion Lannister had taken place next to her, his eyes following the glance she had kept in the distance. Sky and land were joining in the purple glow of dawn; the sun was rising on the horizon for what would be too short of a day.
"Somebody has to stay here to oversee the supply line, and to stay with Bran," Sansa replied.
She had made this point to Jon time and again since she had told him: Bran, she had argued, would not want to leave the Godswood behind, and indeed had no intention of doing so, Weirwood trees were few and far between south of the Wall, and even fewer the lower you went into the realm.
"Then I will tie him on Rhaegal's back if I have to," he had asserted, his voice strangely serene.
"You are being unreasonable."
She had found him in his study that day, and he had stood from his chair to face her, looking calm and deadly and very much the picture of the king that he had become.
"Unreasonable?" he had interrupted her, staring at her straight in the eyes and keeping his voice guarded, "Why is it unreasonable for me to want my family to be safe? Why is it unreasonable to want my w..."
He had cut himself off then, sitting back down and swallowing with difficulty, his head thrown backward in clear frustration as he closed himself back off, and she had narrowed her eyes at him, gaze searching his face in scrutiny – she always felt like praying to the gods for him to let her in, in moments such as those.
"It is not unreasonable to want your loved ones safe, Jon," Sansa had replied, keeping her exasperation at bay, "But it is unreasonable to expect them to be regardless of one's wants. As I told you before, no one is safe, we have to make our own justice in this world."
He had snorted without looking back at her, "That sounds like the sort of rubbish Baelish would have said, but in a more elegant way perhaps."
"He did teach me some valuable wisdom," she admitted, her eyes peering at him.
But Jon hadn't replied, and so she continued, "I told you many times that I did not need you to protect me."
"You also told me to not become the lone wolf."
She sighed, "And I still mean that, but we won't be for as long as we are loyal." She paused for a few seconds, intently searching for her words. "Stop trying to look after me Jon, I do not need it and neither does she."
"She?" He asked returning her a quick glance.
She had rolled her eyes at that, "Your wife, I know that you have been arguing back and forth about exactly that since a few days."
"I don't think you know everything, Sansa," he replied, features darkening.
"Perhaps not, but I know enough, and I know you. I know that you cannot protect everybody," and she had taken his hand in hers, forcing him to meet her eyes, "You have to stop trying."
He had a defeated sigh, finally relenting, but held her gaze, "Tormund is staying with you, and there is no point arguing it." Sansa had nodded in agreement, feeling herself relax as his fist tightened around her small fingers.
A couple of days later, she still felt strangely at peace. Standing atop the walls of Winterfell and overlooking the snowy hill that surrounded the fortress, unfocused eyes lost in the distance where the horizon was greeting waves after waves of men disappearing behind its faraway line.
"I hope I will see you again one day, my Lord," she spoke to Tyrion again, her pupils finding his face.
He was standing motionless at her side, seemingly half lost in thoughts, "Says almost no one ever that I can remember. Granted I spent most of it drunk, but still."
She caught herself smiling, "I'm sure your brother said it quite a few times."
"Hence the 'almost'", he replied, dryly.
"Well," she answered smiling wider, "There is a first time for everything."
"Indeed," he agreed, "And I do still owe you an annulment... technically."
"You do, my Lord, and I am too young to be a widow twice over."
"You are," he agreed in a slight chuckle, "and I haven't been the lord of anything in a long time, my Lady,"
"And yet you are worthier of the title than most," she pointed out, eyebrows frowning.
He held her gaze for a few seconds, a strange fire catching in the depth of his eyes, "I suppose the bar has always been low enough for a dwarf."
"With southern lords, perhaps," she said, looking directly at him, "but I am of the North."
Her words sunk into the silence for a while, an emotion she couldn't quite name etching on his rough features, "Goodbye, my Lady," he finally spoke, a gentle smile stretching on his lips.
An odd warmth had spread in her chest at that, "Goodbye my Lord."
The snow was as solid as ice under her feet, the wheels of Bran's chair rolling easier on the hard ground as she pushed him in front of her. Her heavy cape was catching the freezing wind and floating behind her like an open wing as they made their way in the silence of dusk. She was taking her brother to the Weirwood tree and Winterfell was oddly calm: Arya and Jon had left the day before, accompanied by the Dragon queen, the last of the men following in their trail.
"Don't do anything stupid, please," she had told Arya then, holding her in a tight embrace as they had been standing in her chambers.
"I can survive on my own," she had replied, tearing herself away from her.
She knew that of course, and so she said nothing, turning toward Jon who had been standing awkwardly next to Bran, his hand squeezing tightly at his shoulder.
"I can't convince either of you to come, can I?" he had asked, his dark resigned eyes traveling back and forth between the both of them.
She had smiled at him sadly, "No, but I have something of me that you can take with you, or rather something that I had made for you."
And Sansa had turned toward her bed where an armor had been waiting, gesturing for him to follow.
"I know that yours has been mended," she said shyly, unable to prevent the nervousness from spilling on her voice, "But I figured that..."
Sansa had glanced toward his face, throwing him a sharp look; a tide of unreadable emotions had crashed on his feature as his grey eyes had remained fixated on the glistering sigil spread over the breastplate. The intertwined Stark wolf and Targaryen dragon were glistering under the white winter light, piercing brightly through the open window.
"You can wear it when you are ready, if you wish."
Her whisper had been just enough to reach his ear, and he had swept her into his arm, her head resting against his healing shoulder.
"You are in charge of the North," he had said after that, regaining his composure.
She had nodded at him and opened her mouth to reply, but Bran's voice, pregnant with a rare display of emotion had resounded behind her, drawing her glance toward him: "Stay alive," he had said, his face blank still, despite the urgency in his voice.
And then they had gone, leaving her to wonder if she'd ever look upon their faces again. 'Perhaps this short reunion had been nothing but borrowed time' she had pondered to herself, sitting at the foot of the white tusk, red leaves sheltering her from the winter blizzard, 'gods be kind, and let them come back,' she had prayed quietly, finding comfort in her faith.
She had been taken out of her thoughts by Bran's sudden gasp, jumping on her feet at once to kneel in front of him in the snow, the Weirwood tree casting a dark shadow over them both, and taking his cold hand in hers, she had asked in earnest: "What is it? What did you see?"
His eyes had turned brown again, anchoring himself in the present by focusing on her face, "The Night King," he said, breath catching in his throat, "I know who he is, and I know what he wants."
AN: I know that it has been almost a month since the last time I updated and I apologize for the huge delay: turn out that I am still not back home, and I don't really have free evenings at the moment, which is usually when I like to write. That plus the fact that I had a hard time getting through this chapter and I'm still not 100% happy with it mostly because I know this chapter will not please everybody since I realise Sansa is not everyone's cup of tea, but it needs to be there so... all of this means that I have been writing at snail pace. The good news is that after next chapter the rhythm of publishing should be back to normal (about once a week). So I'll see you next time with Jon, and if you are still around, thank you.