Chapter Nine: Cold Calculation

Sansa sniffed as she squeezed the rag and continued to scrub the floor. Masha had been kind enough to keep her away from the main hall lest she be harassed. Podrick had already been set to work cleaning the sword and armoury of sellswords and within a few days, both she and him had settled into a quiet routine. They shared a room on the pretence that he was her brother, but really he was there to protect her.

They hadn't really formulated a plan since by the end of the day both of them were too tired to do anything, yet she hoped he considered her request. Sansa bit her lip as she slammed the rag down and worked away the dust. What she had asked Podrick had been in desperation.

Since Tyrion had left, she had weighed her options and decided this was probably her best course of action. Masha had given her sound advice that had opened her blue eyes. She needed to take fate into her own hands.

Podrick had been surprised and even embarrassed by her request considering how red his cheeks went, but he assured her that he would think on it and that they would come to a solution. But really now, Riverun was the only place she had left to go. Tyrion had made sure of that. But she didn't want to return to her brother in such a shameful fate. She didn't relish being married off to Robb's banner men to hush everything up.

She had seen men of war and besides the Hound, she had no wish to be married to one. So therefore, Podrick seemed like the logical choice. He wasn't cruel or filthy or crude. He was loyal, kind and from what Shae had told her, an upstanding warrior. True, he was low born, but she was sure her brother could see his worth.

It was the only hope she had of assuring her child's future and that of her own safety. She had to be realistic now. As much as she wanted to find Sandor, the idea of a future with him let alone even finding him was bleak indeed. Perhaps one day she would see him again and tell him she had given birth to his bastard. But for now, she needed security for herself. Especially in her condition.

"Done Joanna? Come now luv, Masha wants you to serve today in the main hall." Sansa went very still. Masha had kept her away from such tasks lest she be recognized or harassed by lewd sellswords. The woman had dyed her hair dark, but still…if someone saw her…

"Is there a reason why?" She asked Nora. A cousin's daughter if she recalled.

"Short staffed I fink. Bessy, that slut, ran off to rut with some Riverun soldier. Bitch is probably dead she is. Naked on the road." Sansa thinned her lips at this and offered no comment. Her time at King's Landing had taught her to be silent and wary of others. She had only been here a few weeks and noticed a few of the girls thought poorly of each other although no one had been unkind to her. It was probably because of her condition, now somewhat visible under her woollen smock.

"I'll be right down."

The cook swore and shoved mugs and rounded stone plates for carrying food on top. It was loud and busy as Sansa began to serve. Many men gave her appreciate looks, some went out and grabbed her bottom almost making her jump. As witty and sharp as ever, Nora was at her defence.

"Eh Fuck off ya half wit wart!"

"Put yer hand there again and I'll rip it off and shuv it up yer no good sellsword arse."

Most of the time the men laughed in good humour and let them be. Sansa although uncomfortable by all this vulgar talk, did find some of it funny herself. It reminded her of Sandor and that awful foul mouth of his.

She continued on in a good mood with the assurance that Nora was looking out for her. It was hard work and it went on deep into the night. She was only given a quick break and had to wolf down some bread, cheese and ale, before returning to clean up a few tables. Many of the men and families had gone off on their own way or stayed the night. There were only a few lonesome figures sitting at the back, watching her, but she paid them no heed.

"Joanna, Masha wants ya to get a pale of water from the nearby stream and then bring it to boil. It's fer one of them unwanted little un's." The few weeks at Crossroads Inn had taught her the meaning of that. Besides helping 'whores in need' as Masha called them, she helped them get rid of unwanted babies. Either by drinking some moon's tea she had conjured up or she would stick some metal needles inside one of the girls' privates and swirl it around.

Sansa had already been in attendance to a few because Masha knew she would be silent about it to save her own neck.

Weakly, she nodded, finished cleaning a table and fetched a bucket.

Wrapping a warm cloak around herself, she headed off into the night with a fired torch to ease her way and make it to the stream. As she reached down to dip in the bucket, she heard footsteps behind her. Feeling a chill run up her spine, she turned around and swallowed hard.

"Well hullo there little luv. Out here all by yerself?" One of the men from the tavern said. Sansa felt her mouth go dry and assessed the situation. There were three of them and she was completely outnumbered. Furthermore she was too far away for anyone to hear her cry for help and any escape was dismal at least.

All she had on her person was a little pocket knife and the fire torch for her safety. Hardly protection against three burly men.

Bessy, before she disappeared had told her about situations like this. If it was one man she could entice them to lie between her legs before slitting their throats. If it was more, it was best to go along with it, ask for more 'cock' and hope that they would let you go afterwards.

Despite how bad the situation was, Sansa found her voice.

"I'm gathering water. Can I get you anything from back in the tavern?"

The men looked at each other and chuckled.

The middle one flashed his yellow decayed teeth at her. Or what was left of them.

"As a matter of fact you can," he said, getting closer.

Instinctively, Sansa backed off and stepped into the stream.

"Now now, don't be shy. We saw yas with that other whore telling off the men. Yer basically begging for it."

Sansa clutched her smock and began to breathe hard. How could she let this happen to herself? The man continued forward until he was close enough to touch her. He caressed her cheek and licked his lips.

"A pretty un' yer are. Better than those dog faced bitches we see 'ere all the time."

And just when he was about to bend down and lick her face, a cold, but very familiar voice sounded behind.

"Get your fucking hands away from her."

The visions were becoming more frequent as of late. Bran struggled to make sense of them. It was again of that queen upon a throne. Men from the beyond the wall were coming to plead with her.

"You must come back!" They begged.

" Queen Margareth, you must come back. We are dying out there. The protection is gone."

Still, her face was a mask of ice.

"And so it will be until the Gods deem it fit for our kind to return. For far too long the powers of those in the North has been used for evil and necromancy. The Others, they grow stronger because of it. I alone can longer protect you."

They stared at her stunned by her betrayal. One of them looked like they wanted to stab their sword through her pretty face. It was probably fear of her husband that they refrained.

"You will sacrifice us? You will sacrifice us all?"

She gave them the ghost of a smile.

"It was my people or the world. I have made my sacrifices. I sacrificed my first born to create the magic that stops the Others from crossing. I have sacrificed my throne. My title. My children. I have married a mortal man and will live a mortal life. I am bound now and what is bound cannot be undone."

Defeated, the men before her looked down.

"Then what must we do? You have condemned us to slavery!"

Margareth was hardly perturbed by it all.

"Yes and if you are smart you will leave the North or endure thousands of years of servitude and fear to the white walkers."

"What about the Prince of Promise?"

She smiled at them knowingly.

"No child of mine bears such a title. But I assure you, in my line, that child shall be born and the world and the north will be free."

Bran woke up in a sweat and rubbed his forehead. Osha as quick as ever was by his side and dabbing his forehead.

"What are you dreaming about little lord?" She whispered so as not to wake Rickon.

Bran looked at her quizzically making the wildling woman shift uncomfortably.

"Do you know anything of a Queen beyond the wall?"

Osha raised her brow at him and stared at the fire.

"Aye, a long time ago there were kings and queens beyond the wall. Legends and myths these days."

Bran considered this before opening his mouth and asking, "do you knowing anything about a queen named Margareth?"

At that Osha went completely still. Bran waited in confused silence for her to answer. He was not at all prepared for what she did next.

With a hiss, she grabbed him by the neck, placed her other hand on his mouth and pushed him to the ground.

"Never and I say never say that name again. It is a curse. An omen. A disgrace. Never repeat it or I will slit your throat while you sleep."

Sansa stared in shock at the now mangled bodies on the ground. One of the mens' bodies idly floated away past her and she moved away from it and on to solid ground.

She looked at the cloak figure quizzically and just as she was about to thank him, her breath caught in her throat.