Somehow a year had passed since she'd seen her brother last, her company taken up more with Lannisters and Baratheons in the meantime. Another year. Another year south, away from home. And Casterly Rock was the last place she'd expected for their reunion.
"Sansa!" They hugged, and Robb's eyes were apologetic immediately. "I'm sorry about Theon."
She shook her head, not wishing to think further about Theon, how he'd died twice, and how she never even had a chance to see him this time around. "There was nothing you could've done...I could've...I should've been more prepared..."
"You're right, sister," he said, hugging her harder. "There's nothing you could've done either. You can't save everyone."
"I know," she agreed, fighting herself from tearing up all over again. "And I don't want to save everyone." Only the ones I care about, she wanted to add, but didn't.
A smile struggled to grow on her brother's face. "I've some good news, at least."
She wondered what it could be. Surely something concerning one of her brothers. Bran. Rickon. Or Jon.
"Rickon," Robb answered. "He's returned, the wildling girl Osha brought him back after they heard we...after we won the battle."
"Thank the gods," she said, a rare prayer for her, "he never had to meet Ramsay this time."
"She said the last time they saw Bran, he was going north with Hodor and Howland Reed's children." He looked uncertain again, obviously less comfortable with the idea of leaving their more vulnerable brother in many ways to the many hazards of the savage lands.
"You have to trust them," she answered, more confidently than she felt herself. "This is Bran's destiny, he needs to become...something else...before the war against the dead."
Once Bran gained his talents, she wondered if he would know, about their shared past life, the last two surviving Starks, until Daenerys had her burned alive.
"Come," she said eagerly, reaching for Robb's hand, "I'll show you the castle."
"You've taken a liking to it," he asked her, half humorously.
"Surprisingly, there's not a grumpkin or troll in every room." She'd been here for more than two moons now, observing each lord as they passed through the seat of the west on the way to the Iron Islands. They hadn't invited her to the war councils, which she'd half expected, but she had a good idea of what had been discussed through the mouths of either Tywin, the Red Woman, or the King himself, depending on which ones sought her out later that night, all hoping for a burst of prophecy from a girl who was fast running out of foresight. Her only suggestion had been to seek the assistance of the Lord of Winterfell, if out of her own selfishness to see her brother again.
"Lord Stark," a deep voice echoed through the Great Hall as they meandered through, belonging to the old lord of Oldtown, Leyton Hightower. "I was hoping you'd not miss out on this war."
"Lord Hightower," Robb recognized from the sigil on the man's vest, "it's a long ride from Winterfell, and most of my bannermen are busy preparing for winter." The two men studied each other, sizing up the other's strength, seeing if they could outpiss the other, Sansa figured.
Once the King and the Lannisters departed, the castle had been much quieter. As in King's Landing, she had the company of Tommen and his mother, observing them sullenly from a distance. Shireen had accompanied them on the ride west, but Stannis had taken her along with the Red Woman to the Iron Islands, the King insisting that his heir bear witness to wars she may one day have to lead. Sansa missed the girl, and she half envied her. Though she didn't mind Tommen's company, obviously infatuated with her as he was now, left alone in Casterly Rock with strange lords like Leyton Hightower left her not just bored, but wary.
"You'll sail soon to join the siege, I'd imagine?" He looked Robb in the eyes and spoke to him as if he were the only one present, as if his lady sister did not exist, or stood invisible next to him. It was better, the determination to ignore her by men like Leyton and Randyll Tarly, she figured, than other lords such as Alester Florent and Harwood Fell, who did nothing but leer at her in their stay, making bawdy remarks they thought too clever for the girl to understand.
"I hear His Grace has taken Pebbleton."
"You approve," Leyton asked the Young Wolf. Arrogant as he was, young as Robb was, Sansa could tell the man near admired her brother for his martial prowess and reputation from the last war.
"It's an unexpected move, with the Greyjoy fleet occupied in defending Pyke," Robb said thoughtfully, "and it's a good base for the coming siege. I would only worry about an attack on their rear from Gorald Goodbrother, particularly when the King's armies are split in half while crossing for Pyke."
"You've won your share of battles," Leyton replied, surly but respectful. "So has the King. The realm's men far outnumber those bloody pirates. Sail north at once, Lord Stark, and you can ensure the King does not remain at the disadvantage." The old man clasped Robb's shoulder, more warmly than before. "It'll be a good thing, the realm's best men fighting together, for once. This will be a nice little war for all of us."
"The Northmen will be the first to land on Pyke," Robb confided in her when they were alone again, walking along the walls of the castle overlooking Tommen's beloved ocean waves.
"Ferried by Prince Oberyn's ships," she added quickly, to her brother's surprise. Apparently he'd not known of her newly gained trust of the King. And Tywin Lannister, though she'd kept that from Robb on purpose. "It's a risky proposition, but Stannis believes it a mark of honor. He trusts your abilities, more than most of his own southern lords."
But she still worried. While she'd advocated for Robb's presence selfishly, she had not expected him to bear the initial brunt of the siege, and though she trusted her brother's prowess with a sword, and his bannermen's swords to protect him, she worried, for what was the greatest skill or ability against the coin flip of a skilled archer and his mark?
"Stannis shares his war plans with you now?" An appreciative smirk, his way of conveying to her that he did not question whatever place she had with the new King. "Or are the plans completely yours?"
"Jon was the military planner in my last life," she answered, wondering how long before she could safely see her brother again, once he gained his rightful position at the Wall. "I pick up some details here and there. Mostly Stannis wants me to keep an eye on his lords, whom he can trust, whom he can't." She smiled. "It gives me something to do."
Robb laughed, pretending to shudder. "I dread what a bored Sansa Stark is capable of." He looked around, to see if any other lords or servants were in earshot. "So who can the king trust, or mistrust?"
"So eager to enter the fray of southern politics?" She asked this good-naturedly, but a corner of her still felt the dread, that some subjects were better kept away from Stark men.
"Not really," Robb replied. "I just want to know this sister of mine, how she thinks."
"Certainly not the Lannisters," she started, keeping the front and the secret from her own brother, though she and Tywin had conversed little since leaving King's Landing. It would seem suspicious for her and the Lannister lord to be seen whispering in corners with each other, and truly it was to their collective benefit to support the king and keep his reign strong for the time being. "Not old Leyton Hightower either."
"He ignores me," she said, trying not to sound petty. "It's not about me, it's about Shireen. Lord Leyton voices his support for the King's heir so loudly it sounds like he's protesting, but I told Stannis, the way his lords treat her fellow highborn ladies at court will tell him how they'd honestly view the idea of a woman on the throne once he's gone."
Robb frowned as he followed her thinking. "Most men don't know who you truly are, and won't think to pay heed to you. You can't blame them for being, well...normal."
"Then most men won't support the claim of a shy girl upon the Iron Throne, when she herself doesn't truly want it. There's a reason no woman has ever reigned uncontested. For Shireen to rule successfully, she needs her lords to be better than most men."
Or she needs to be horrible. Like Cersei or Daenerys. The future belonged to either Shireen or Tommen so it would seem, both sweet, young children who would grow up to be too weak to keep the throne on their own. If she had initially promised to help her betrothed rule six kingdoms for the sake of the freedom of the seventh, for the safety of her own family, and her people, she'd grown to like both Shireen and Tommen enough to realize that, no matter which one of them would eventually reign, or both of them together, she wanted to help them because she liked them, and she understood the consequences of what would befall them were they to gain the throne only to lose it. Stannis's mercy for failed claimants was a rare thing indeed, and not likely to be repeated.
"Seems like Stannis's dynasty is safe in your hands," Robb said, still absorbing both her own words, as well as his continuing understanding of the person his sister became, even as she still hid her worst from him.
"Come," she said, uneasy at the mention of her loyalty to Stannis. "I'm sure Prince Oberyn is eager to meet his new charge."
The first time she'd seen little of the Prince from Dorne, hearing only of his demise at the hands of Gregor Clegane from the Vale, knowing of his hatred towards the Lannisters from Littlefinger. Perhaps Petyr would have used him, if he'd lived longer, and Sansa wondered, because what was she in her second life but a subtler, younger, and prettier Littlefinger?
They found Oberyn roaming the beach, near a particular overhanging rock that Tommen favored. He'd mildly threatened Tywin Lannister upon arriving at Casterly Rock, she'd heard, not unexpected. But they remained words, whatever the old lord telling the Prince enough to satisfy him, so much as to not murder his host, at the very least.
"Lady Sansa," Oberyn said upon glimpsing the two of them, "and Lord Robb Stark." He extended his hand, drawing a warm clasp from her brother. "It's an honor, to meet the man who ended Gregor Clegane's life."
"Prince Oberyn," Robb replied in turn. "Do you hate me, for denying you the privilege?"
"I would have liked to enjoyed the pleasure myself," Oberyn agreed, his features for the moment inscrutable, "but Gregor Clegane dead by the hands of another is still better than Gregor Clegane alive." He bowed to Sansa. "Here we are then, enemies of the Lannisters, sharing their hearth, their beds, their mead, though milady may be still too young to partake."
"I enjoy my wine in moderate amounts, Prince Oberyn." The Prince was clever, more clever than she imagined, and though she'd talked little to Tywin since his arrival at Casterly Rock, she still worried he could somehow magically sniff out her agreement with the old lion, subsequently considering her an enemy of House Martell and Dorne. "I'm to be a Lannister once Lord Tommen comes of age, I suppose I ought learn their ways sooner than not."
"A shame," Oberyn replied, seeming genuinely bereaved by her engagement, "though I do not begrudge children for the sins of their fathers...or grandfathers." He turned to her brother. "Lord Stark, tomorrow we sail, and fight together beside Tywin Lannister and the Kingslayer."
"Men who've wronged you," Robb replied, understanding of the complicated politics between their own family and Dorne, even without her secret promise to Tywin. "But there's a reason we fight together, there's a reason you and I and Lord Tywin bent the knee. For the sake of peace, for an end to the endless fighting our sworn swords wield in our names."
"Eloquent words, Lord Stark." His dark eyes moved up and down Robb's entire frame, and Sansa wondered if he were studying her brother, or admiring him, according to his reputation. "We Dornish are a peaceful people, we've no wish for violence unless provoked. They say the same of you Northmen, but today, you follow your father's footsteps in marching south and waging war for House Baratheon."
"It's my duty, Prince Oberyn," Robb replied hardily. "And there's more that threatens the realm than just Greyjoys and Littlefingers."
"Ah, the Red Priestess's whisperings."
"You don't believe them," Robb asked, though Sansa wondered how much her own brother would believe of the White Walkers had the testimony not come from his own once dead sister, and only after she was already proven in her foresight. Stannis was careful in confiding with his lords the threat beyond the Wall, and she didn't think he'd brief even his own Small Council on the matter. But the Great Houses whose support he needed, whose support required more than just sworn words, such as House Martell, he'd told the truth. But then, not all Great Houses were equal in their lords, were they? Mace Tyrell, who accompanied the Lannisters on the Great Wyk, she was confident remained ignorant of the Others, though she advised Stannis to confide in the Lady Olenna, when the time came.
"I do, strangely," Oberyn replied, smirking. "For a Red Priestess from Asshai to agree with a Stark of Winterfell on the same tales...makes them less likely to be tales." He then turned his attention upon her, and Sansa hoped she did not appear openly uncomfortable. "Lady Stark, I hear much about you, though I've yet to have the pleasure of making your acquaintance."
"I'm only a girl, I do not wish to trouble a Prince," Sansa demurred, though Oberyn was correct, she had indeed avoided him, because though he was not an enemy now, and he was not an enemy she wished to make, he could inevitably prove one in the years to come, when her allegiance with Tywin Lannister was made open.
"Not just a girl," Oberyn smiled appreciatively, "but a Stark, sister to a man who was once a king, daughter to a martyred Hand to another king, daughter of a Tully still, cousin to an Arryn, to be married to a Lannister, close confidante to the heir to House Baratheon...and whispered to have the ear of the King himself."
And a brother who's the grandchild of Aerys Targaryen.
She turned to Robb, who watched her predicament with some amusement. "The Prince speaks too kindly of me. I've never met my Lord cousin," in this life anyway, and he's safely Littlefinger's now, "and perhaps one day I may offer counsel to the Queen Shireen, or the Lord of Casterly Rock...but only at their pleasure."
"The same counsel you give the king," he questioned, and Sansa truly could not tell whether his words were hostile, whether he was sniffing out her as a future enemy, considering she was to marry into the Lannisters. "A Dornish husband for the Crown Princess...I hear Edric Dayne's name was mentioned?"
So Stannis tells him more than she'd expected. She'd brought the heir to Starfall up briefly, if only because of his closeness in age to Shireen, and that they said he had a gentle comportment. The King planned for a tourney, after the war with the Greyjoys and before the war with the dead, and it was understood that would be the moment the lords of the realm presented their sons before Stannis and his heir.
And their Stark counselor.
"The King asks my advice only because I know Shireen," Sansa replied, feigning meekness, though she sensed Oberyn's question came from a place of genuine curiosity and interest. And did she need to make an enemy out of the man? Perhaps all she had to do was to wait out Stannis. The man was not as fearsome or cold as she'd expected, though she knew him too hardened and bound to give away the North. But who was to say he could take the North unwilling, once the Others and Daenerys was dead? He'd try, though, which would certainly mean war, but why fight if she had the patience to outlive his reign? Surely Shireen would not be adverse to ruling over six kingdoms rather than seven, especially with Sansa counseling her still when she gained the throne.
But turning her back upon the offer she'd made Tywin Lannister would mean making an enemy out of Tywin Lannister, never something to be undertaken lightly. Part of her reason for approaching Tywin in the first place had been to keep her family, and herself, safe. Were she to stand with the Baratheons, Robb and mother and Rickon may well be safe North, but for that to happen, Sansa herself had to stay south, subject to the wraths of the lions, unless she could somehow bring about the deaths of Tywin and Cersei and even Jaime beforehand. Even then, the Lannisters were no Boltons, to be easily disposed of with the King's, or Queen's, justice on her side. So she ought to be content now playing a child, even in Casterly Rock, knowing the troubles to come with the Long Night and afterwards.
Oberyn chuckled at her. "It's a shame you have to hand her to the Lannisters," he said to Robb, "she could help you back in Winterfell, keeping your lords in line. What's ruling a kingdom, after crowning a king?"
So Oberyn definitely knows. She wondered who told him about her part on the council. Not likely Tywin, unless it were a ploy to gain his trust of an enemy. Probably Stannis himself, revealing the extent of his need to keep his Dornish subjects close and happy.
"If you know of Stannis's selection," Robb replied, as Sansa kept herself purposefully quiet, playing at the role just openly acknowledged to be a lie, "then you know the true threat is North, and old grudges and old wars need to be set aside."
"Yet we both fight a war today against the Iron Islands. Not beyond the Wall, and against living, breathing beings, or am I wrong?"
Robb stared at the Prince, confused. Dornishmen were certainly a strange people, a different kind of southron than the usual lords she'd come to know. Next to Robb, she could not imagine two men more different, the far north, and the far south. And what was she, except Robb's translator for everything else in between?
"Does it bother you then, to be fighting a war for Stannis Baratheon."
A jovial smile broke out upon the Prince's face, and to Robb's surprise, he reached out and clapped him warmly upon his back. "To the contrary, Lord Stark, it gives me great joy to fight beside the man who ended Gregor Clegane."
If collecting the acquaintance of all the Great Houses is the game, then I suppose I've won already.
She'd never spoken to a Martell her last life, though she'd vaguely remembered their new Prince at court in King's Landing, watching and trembling himself as the Dragon Queen gave the order for her burning. Perhaps Oberyn's point was valid. Stark. Tully. Baratheon. Arryn, once Stannis dislodged Littlefinger. Now a Martell. With the combined might of five kingdoms, how much did she really need the Lannisters, once everything was all over?
"When the King's away, will the spiders play?"
Varys sighed. He could have gone a whole lifetime without hearing Littlefinger's voice again. Standing by the rocky shore, connected to the King's castle by way of many of Maegor's secret tunnels, he wished the tides would come and drown the man. Drown them both, he thought, his own life a worthy sacrifice to rid the realm of the pestilence that was Petyr Baelish.
"Lord Baelish," he answered measuredly, "I trust you did not sail all the way down to King's Landing to inquire as to my well being."
"No," Littlefinger answered, "but I am curious, your thoughts on yet another new king you find yourself serving."
He'd humor him, because he was prepared, and there was little harm. "The King is not as...devout as I feared, to be honest. I'd worried about the Red Priestess he brought with him."
"So it would seem that he has not seen fit to overturn the religious beliefs of millions on the advice of a witch."
"I didn't know you were so dedicated to the Seven, Lord Baelish."
"Neither I you," Littlefinger replied, wandering the sandy beaches as if it was his domain, as he once did in the courts of Robert and Joffrey. He wore his robes black as usual, and Varys wondered whether the man must be baking under the heat of the sun.
"No, but wars of religion are about the worst kind of war a realm can suffer."
"What about wars of succession? That war is sure to come, the moment Stannis dies, and every lord in the realm seeks to grab power from his daughter."
As usual, Littlefinger was right, though the man's specialty was twisting right opinions into nefarious ends.
"The Baratheon dynasty may die with King Stannis," Varys agreed. "The Dance of Dragons was a truly awful event, but then, the dragons are dead, aren't they?"
"Not if the whispers are true, that Aerys's daughter has found herself with three living dragons in the east."
But then Varys knew that too, didn't he? And it wasn't Littlefinger testing him, as it was he testing Littlefinger, seeing if the man still had whispers of his own, hidden away in the mountains of the Vale.
"She'd be one of many to try and tear the throne away from the Princess Shireen," Varys said carefully. "Perhaps the strongest."
"And when the time comes, you'll find yourself a new patron. Your first whispers were to a Targaryen. Appropriate, perhaps, that you'll whisper last to one also."
"I serve King Stannis and his heir until my dying day," Varys said, lying. "And I doubt the Targaryen girl would accept me into her service, considering I've authored orders for her death on behalf of the late King Robert." And though he felt no compassion for Robert's brother, despite the fact that he was proving not to be as horrible as he feared, he did feel sorry for Shireen, for her part in the wars to come. But then, they told him the Dragon Queen, as she was being called now, had a soft heart. The girl Shireen had no ambition or desire to rule. Perhaps, when the time came, Daenerys Targaryen would spare the child, the niece of the man who'd overthrown her father. Certainly she could understand that mercy was needed for her to reign successfully, as half the realm had turned against her father, and rightly so.
"I hear whispers you're already in her service," Littlefinger said with a smirk. Is he bluffing? Is he guessing? Or does he actually know? "That's it why, perhaps, Robert's assassinations failed, and the last of the Targaryens live."
"I have many enemies, and they whisper many lies of me," Varys said, wondering just how convincing his words were, "as they do of you."
"And what does the King say of me?"
"He says you're a traitor, to be dealt with after the Greyjoys are put down." When Littlefinger feigned shock and dismay at his words, Varys continued, playing the game as they were accustomed to. "Is that why you're here, to convince me otherwise?"
"Perhaps." Never a straight answer from Baelish. "The Lannisters, the Tyrells, the Starks, all pardoned. Why should this humble lord not receive a pardon also?"
"Because the King needs the Lannisters, the Tyrells, and the Starks. He does not need a Littlefinger, and those whom the King sees as traitors that he does not need, he uses to appease his witch." A wry smirk formed on his face, taunting his rival. "You did hear about Roose Bolton and his bastard, even in the mountains, have you not?"
"I have," Littlefinger said, uneasy. Was this an act too, or did he fear his eventual fate, once he was caught and tried by Stannis. "Though I'm surprised they and our late colleague Pycelle were the only highborns to suffer the King's...fervor."
"To be truthful," Varys confided, because he could, "it's probably because of the Stark girl."
"The Stark girl?" Littlefinger cocked his head, genuinely surprised at the revelation, and Varys couldn't help but delight in pulling one last trick across his former rival's eyes. "Sansa? Catelyn's daughter?"
"The very same," Varys said, too gleefully for his own taste. "It was she who made the peace and crowned Stannis, you know. Some say it was she who helped her brother destroy Gregor Clegane, leaving Tywin Lannister crippled enough to bend the knee."
He remembered his own part in that fiasco, underestimating the girl enough to allow her to play him, then dispose of him afterwards. A part of him wondered whether or not he ought to be thankful the girl seemed to hold no personal animus against him, despite his refusal to save her father, else he may not have been subject to Stannis's more forgiving nature.
"Visions, apparently. Of the future, a future she's certainly changed." He shook his head. "I'd dismiss them, except it's true, else how else could she have won over men like Stannis and Lord Tywin?"
"A fantastic claim," Littlefinger agreed, and Varys could tell the wheels were in motion in his head, digesting this new fact and contemplating how it could further benefit him. Thankfully, it would come to nothing, else Varys would not have shared the information. "But then, they say the magic of the old gods live in the blood of the Starks."
"I never figured you one for fantastic tales," Varys said. His patience was wearing thin, and as little as he'd missed this particular game since the end of Joffrey, he missed it less now that he was playing it again. "Sansa Stark does not speak well of you either, not from what I've heard. I'd take a boat east, if I were you. There are fortunes to be made in Essos still."
Littlefinger grinned back at him, in a way far too uncomfortable for his liking. "That's exactly what I intend to do, Lord Varys. Though you'd never allow me to reach the other end of the Narrow Sea. Both reasons you have to die today."
"The sellswords you hired to apprehend me, and bring me before Stannis?" Littlefinger pointed towards the cliffs above them, where the said sellswords watched their whispers in secret. "I paid them double the coin you did."
A whistle, and the distant silhouettes answered Baelish's summons, their crossbows pointed at his own chest, rather than Littlefinger's. At once, Varys realized that he'd played the last of his games, and he had lost.
"Any last words, Lord Spider?" The man never looked so demonic than when he was triumphant.
"The Targaryen girl. The Stark girl. May they both destroy you."
And if the gods had any justice, he thought, as the crossbows shot and arrows flew towards his heart, Littlefinger would die sooner than later, and there would be no one left to remember his last words.
Notes and Responses: Thanks all for reading and reviewing! My pace of posting has slowed a little this chapter, and will remain slower for the next few weeks, at least. As to what Dany remembers...I'll just say it would seem her memories are not the same as Sansa's. She seems to remember Jon Snow killing her, which would align her closer to the canon version. And if she dreams of Jon killing her, it would mean she doesn't dream of burning Sansa alive. Not literally, at least. Perhaps there are different worlds where Sansa and Dany both died, only to find themselves in this one. Also, I don't think Dany has dreamed of burning KL, etc.