The lack of sleep the previous night made Sansa look pale and drawn. She had kept tossing and turning in her bed, her mind coming back to her talk with her mother. She had been so careless that her lady mother had noticed her feelings for Sandor. Thankfully, she had misunderstood the extent of their relationship but the thought brought not only a relief but also a guilt to Sansa.
She had lied to her mother. Not outright but she still had kept some things to herself, leaving her mother to draw false conclusions from her words. It was true that Sandor had scoffed at her confession of love but he hadn't refused her entirely like her mother had seemed to think. Sansa tried to convince herself it was unnecessary unless she wanted her and Sandor separated but the idea of having to continue lying, to her own family no less, was like a sharp stabbing pain in her stomach.
Sansa rose from bed at dawn, the guilt still gnawing in her insides only to discover a bloodied sheet under her and she realized the pain was from her moon blood coming at last. It did little to soothe her conscience but it distracted her nonetheless.
After she cleaned herself, her mind turned to the trial she was to take part in very soon. She would have to speak about her encounter with Lord Karstark the previous night and how he confessed to his intentions. Killing of the captives was a distasteful crime and most of Robb's bannermen would agree but it was the other things he had said to her that they might find true. With Robb marrying a Westerner girl and her own fondness for her sworn shield, the accusations of the Starks consorting with the Lannisters would be dwelt upon more attentively. The only way out that Sansa saw was to draw the bannermen's attention to something else.
She chose a dark grey dress without an embroidery of any kind and combed her hair away from her face, leaving it to hang down her back freely without any ornaments. The dark colour of her dress accentuated her paleness and her bare head added to the effect of a frail and almost sickly-looking girl. It was a startling contrast to the way she had appeared at the feast and she was sure that everyone present would notice and they would wonder as to what had caused such a change in her.
It was her own small way of helping Robb fight his battles. He had no need of her in the field but the court and its intrigues were her battlefield of choice. It didn't matter that Riverrun was no King's Landing. The currents of power and people's efforts to shift them were the same. Contrary to what Joffrey and his mother had thought, Sansa was not stupid. During the months she had spent in the Red Keep she had watched and she had learned even if she had failed to realize just how much she had retained from her knowledge until recently. Her lady mother's example brought the little things into the forefront of her mind and she set about to use her own standing and power more consciously.
The feast had been merely an effort to prove her point but her uncle Brynden's words had showed her how she could use her own standing and appearance to further her own goals. The Queen had been right when she had told her that women had weapons of their own, even if Sansa would never go as far as Joffrey's mother had hinted she should. No, for now, she would merely emphasize her frailty, her moon blood pain unexpectedly helping her in that regard. When the lords of the North and the Riverlands would look at her, they wouldn't see a young woman who had gone for a walk in the middle of the night with her sworn shield - which would raise their suspicions. No, they would see the sister of their King, pale and tired from having to witness a man's act of rebellion against her brother. An act of rebellion that would have sullied her brother's honour and their own in turn.
Sansa blinked at her reflection in the looking glass. Her thoughts had become so cold. She hated feeling cold like this, not in her body but in her soul. She had been tainted and would most likely always be by what had happened to her after her father's death, by the things she had been forced to live through, the lies she had had to tell. If only she could bring the carefree Sansa of her childhood back.
A knock on her door roused her from her increasingly grimm thoughts and she bade the person on the other side to enter. It was Sandor, his manner still the same even if he held himself more carefully, most likely due to his injury. She smiled at him just as he frowned.
"What happened to you? You look terrible."
Sansa's smile got wider. His honesty, while at times harsh and unforgiving, was very welcome to her at the moment.
"I did not sleep well," she told him as she stood up and walked over to him, resting her head against his chest. His arms rose to embrace her loosely and she felt his warmth seep into her despite the armour he wore. This was what her mother wouldn't understand. In Sandor's eyes, she was always pure and good. In his arms, she didn't have to bother about pretending and lying to protect herself. The way he handled her, like the most precious thing he ever saw or held, she needed that feeling. The feeling that despite it all, she was not as tainted as she had feared.
"Bad dreams?" he asked and Sansa shook her head.
"There are just many things on my mind," she replied and stepped away from him. After the talk she had had with her lady mother, it wouldn't do to be caught embracing Sandor in her room. "How is your wound?"
"All better. All that sewing you do is good for something, after all," he teased her and Sansa swatted his arm lightly.
"Stop being ungrateful."
Instead of answering her, he took her arm and started leading her out of the room.
"Blackfish wants to speak with you before the trial," he explained and Sansa nodded, picking up her skirt slightly so she could walk faster.
"Do you know what he wants?"
Sandor shrugged and Sansa reminded herself that her uncle had been very sympathetic to her plight and he most likely just wanted to make sure she was alright. He waited for them in front of the Great Hall and Sandor left her with him, heading for the cells where Lord Karstark awaited the trial.
"You wished to see me, uncle?" Sansa asked, the serious expression on Brynden Tully's face scaring her a little. She had glimpsed her mother present in the Great Hall already and wondered if she had told him something.
"Come with me," he requested and Sansa followed him further down the corridor where they would not be in the way of the gathering bannermen. He stopped at what he must have thought a sufficient distance to discourage any eavesdropping and looked her up and down. "Are you up to this?"
"I beg your pardon?" Sansa asked, unsure what her uncle meant.
"I mean no offense, Sansa, but you look like you just rose from a sickbed."
"Oh," Sansa flushed. Her dressing up like this was effective then. "It is nothing," she assured him. "I just did not sleep well," she confessed. She left out telling him about her moon blood, as such things were never shared with men. Blackfish looked at her keenly, studying her.
"And you also dressed in such a drab colour," he commented. "You are going to play them like a fiddle, aren't you?"
"Uncle, I-" Sansa stammered, not expecting him to catch up as quickly on her ploy.
"Do you remember our talk at the feast, Sansa? You admitted that you knew about the effect you had on the other people and that you achieved it on purpose. I can guess as to your reasons for wanting to appear like this when testifying against Lord Rickard. There is more Stark in you than anyone would guess. Everyone focuses on your Tully looks, and yes, us Tullys can be crafty and manipulative when needed, but we are seldom as ruthless as the Starks."
Sansa shook her head.
"Starks are just and honourable," she told him.
"And they ruled the North for eight thousand years if the legends are to be believed. You need strong people to weather your winters and to hold on your land."
"I am not strong," she denied. "If I was, this," she gestured at her dress and hair, "would not be needed. I would have stopped Lord Karstark without bloodshed."
"You blame yourself even if you didn't wield the sword," Blackfish seemed to finally understand and Sansa nodded.
"I gave the order, knowing what would happen," she looked down. For all her fears about him the previous night, she had known Sandor would prevail. "I have seen Sandor fight before. I had him kill those men and I am about to destroy Lord Karstark by playing on our bannermen's sense of honour and justice. I will appear as the victim and they will gladly condemn him a thousand times over, to punish him for threatening me like that. They do not know I have been through worse things in King's Landing and a man mad with grief threatening my life just does not scare me any more," she hugged herself, her body going cold again. "I know all of this and yet I will not hesitate doing it. Does that make me a bad person, uncle?"
She was surprised when he pulled her into a fatherly embrace. It was not at all like Sandor's embraces but it gave her a small measure of warmth back.
"No, Sansa, it does not," he answered her. "It makes you a good sister. You are doing this for Robb, aren't you?"
Sansa nodded and her uncle pulled away to look in her eyes.
"Lord Rickard was in the wrong. The captives he threatened are but children and they are unarmed. It would have been murder if he had managed to follow through. Stopping him was the right thing and you mustn't blame yourself for doing what was necessary. Do you understand?"
"Thank you, uncle," she whispered and he offered her his arm to escort her back to the Great Hall just in time to see Sandor leading the bound Lord Karstark inside. Sansa's eyes met the old man's for a moment before he looked away from her, the harsh and unforgiving expression on his face never changing. Sansa forced herself to harden her heart against the pity she felt. This was for Robb. Her uncle was wrong. She was no Stark in this case. When it came to her family, Sansa was a Tully through and through.
A/N: Well, a short one. I know. No promises as for when the next update will be. I should update Write Your Own Song as well (considering the trollish ending of that last chapter) and I would like to finish Mind and Heart at last. But my cousin is getting married this weekend and I am something akin to the maid of honour (I have the most gorgeous dress and shoes *happy wiggle*) so my time will be somewhat limited. Still, I will try and make another update to one of my fics before the end of this week.