A/N: I am so sorry for the long wait. Life got a little hectic for me this past month. Hope you guys are still interested! *fingers crossed*
The raven came from the Wall on a cloudless day, black streaking across the blue sky. Around him, he heard the mutters. Dark wings, dark words.
Lady Stark left the ruins with a black charger and a green cape, her hair a blaze of fire as she rode out of the gates. She took a small group of men and a maid with her and two months passed without a Stark in Winterfell. The reconstruction of the stable and armory were near completion and the builders had begun work on the bed chambers that were on the collapsed side of the Great Keep. Until now, Jaime and a handful of other men slept under the roofs they finished building that day - in stables, parts of the unfinished library, anywhere but the crypts - but whenever winter decided to show its face again, they must be ready. Even without the Starks around, Winterfell was alive with their words: Winter is coming.
Two moons passed before his eyes caught sight of her again. She had returned with another Stark, one who all thought had been lost forever. The youngest, the little wilding. The little lordling returned to his inheritance much the way Jaime was brought there himself, restrained with wild hair and filthy clothes. Where Jaime had learned that fighting accomplished nothing, the boy fought with everything he had.
Since Queen Danaerys ascended to the throne and he was locked in a pit of darkness, news from the North occasionally trickled down Kingsroad, through the tunnel of whispers in King's Landing, and down to his pitiful cell. Everyone knew of the young wolf's demise and how the gracious and beautiful Lady Sansa won the new Queen's favor. She had met her younger sister, the horse-faced one that began with an A, across the narrow sea and pledged their allegiance, swearing their father's mercy in speaking out against King Robert's assassination attempts and their aunt's tragic romance with the Queen's eldest brother. Despite all the tales, no one ever spoke of Ned Stark's living sons. Most assumed that although they had survived the Boltons, Winter claimed them as it had many Starks before.
Yet here was one, as different from his sister as could be, pulling at the ropes that bound his hands and feet and grinding down on his teeth. Even after all he must have gone through, the boy was so young, his voice still high and childlike as he yelled at his sister, whose gaze remained forward with steely determination. He could see the tension in her brow, though, the same way Cersei used to hold back her tears when they were children at Casterly Rock.
A parade for the returning heir of the Great House of Stark became a prisoner's march. The cheers faded to silence and one by one, the men returned to their work until only Jaime was left at the entrance of the stable. Aric and his brothers unhooked the cart and led the boy, kicking and screaming, toward the Great Keep. With his good hand, Jaime took hold of her horse's rein and led it to a nearby trunk to ease her dismounting after the long journey. He knew enough of his place to keep his head bowed even at the faint sounds of hitched breathing and rough exhales. From the corner of his eyes, he spied her hands, small and white as she gripped her saddle.
He allowed the moment to pass and watched for the tremble to fade before offering his hand to her and gently gripped her fingers thin and cold as ice. "Lady Stark," he began quietly.
"Sansa," she breathed. "Lady Sansa. My brother has returned at long last. Winterfell is his." She swung her leg over and slid gracefully onto the proffered platform. As gallant as he was raised to be, he let her back fall gently against his right arm even as he kept his hold on her hand. "Thank you." Patches of red spotted her pale complexion, her rim of her eyes matched the red of her hair. For a moment, she was once again the eleven year old girl he had once seen from afar.
She quickly wiped her eyes again before remembering herself again. "I'm sure you have plenty to do. I will leave you to it, then." She grabbed her skirts and disappeared as she so oft did around him.
He was still until he was roused by Walt, who had come to help unsaddle the small herd. "The boy's possessed by the cold. Gods be good, Lady Stark can get some sense in that head of his. Poor girl."
Winter is coming. Even as Spring approached, those words rang true to Sansa Stark. She closed the heavy wooden door to her chambers with a trembling hand and heaved a sigh. Nothing came easily to her after that first time she left the North and this should have been expected, but when she had received the raven from her Jon at the wall, she thought things could be easier now. She could perhaps rest her head, just for a moment...
She stood by the window and watched Rickon scream and scratch at her men, who all tried their best not to harm their little lord. Of course there is plenty to be done to groom him to be the lord their father was, and if even it killed her, she would succeed. She would make him the man he was always meant to be, the type of man their father and Robb were, one to whom these stalwart, hardened men of the North would bend their knee. As familiar as she was with these men from the time she had spent with them in the past few moons and as well as she could play the game she learned from Littlefinger, Sansa worried as she always did. She worried for their safety, their stability, the next coming Winter... For a girl of eighteen, she worried about far too many things.
Lessons were not the difficult part. She had learned enough from Septa Mordane to teach her own litter when the time came, but she could never teach a man to want to rule. Rickon had been so young when it all went to ruins. This was no home he ever knew and she was no sister. When she first arrived at the Wall to return him to his rightful throne, her brother Jon, with whom she had reconciled on a battlefield on the side of their new queen, had to restrain her baby brother from attacking her. Her heart had nearly pounded out of its chest when he stared savagely at her with those familiar eyes. He wore the same sharp eyes as their father when he had on what Bran used to call the face of the Lord of Winterfell.
Yes, there was so much to do, and although she vowed to protect these lands and loathed to distract her family from pursuing their own passions, she knew they would want to behold Rickon with their own eyes. Quickly, she set to the task of writing two letters, one for the South and one for the East.
There was much to do indeed.