'Instil doubt in their hearts, Alayne, and they are yours.'
The knock on the door startled Sansa, who had been sitting at her desk in the solar. Pushing away from the table, she idly wondered what it was Arya wanted this time, and why she felt she had to knock. Arya had been bursting through her door at regular intervals since their arrival at the manse a week ago. It almost seemed to Sansa as though she couldn't bear to stay away from her, though Sansa couldn't understand why. Arya had changed; she was harder now, yet somehow a shell of her former self. She had always been the stronger of the two, the fierce one, and the fighter amongst the Stark girls. But now they were at long last reunited, it seemed as though it was Sansa providing all the support. Just last night Arya had crept into Sansa's bedroom and lay on the bed beside her, falling asleep in her sister's arms. Sansa wasn't entirely sure what had happened to Arya in the time they had been apart, but didn't feel right to pry. Instead, she drew her little sister closer and spent the night thinking on how to make good on her promise. I promised you Winterfell, Arya, and I would sooner die than go back on that promise. Now, however, she stood up with a sigh, smoothing her dress in a mockery of her old self. The other Sansa would've folded her hands demurely, she thought as she leaned on the desk with her arms crossed over her chest.
"Come in," she called when the door didn't open. A man pushed it open, stepping inside before announcing the Queen's arrival. Daenerys swept in wearing a violet chiffon dress that split down to her navel, gold buckles holding the fabric together on her shoulders and a gaudy belt of sapphires around her waist. The ever-present golden crown rested atop her elaborately braided hair, and Sansa recognised the formality in her presence. Pushing off the table, Sansa curtsied, allowing a mocking smile to play around he lips. She knows, Sansa thought. Or at the least she thinks she knows...
"You Grace," Sansa started, straightening her back and looking the Queen in the eyes. I will not go back on my promise. Though she had toyed with the idea of returning to Westeros and raising an army, she quickly rid herself of the notion. That would not be the way, she thought. The North would stay loyal to her, Sansa was sure, and though perhaps with a little convincing the Riverlands and the Vale, too, would stand by her; she knew the death-count would go into the hundred thousands. There has been enough killing, she thought. Her mind had then lingered on Petyr Baelish, and after suppressing a shiver of disgust, she came to consider the power he had. He taught me well. This is how she came to tell her handmaiden about her plans, knowing the way servants liked to talk among themselves. She also knew that it wouldn't be long after she leaked her plans that the Queen would pay her an official visit. Gone was the kindness from Daenerys' face. It had been replaced with a look of cold hatred, and Sansa smiled, feigning innocence. Don't let her know your endgame.
"Lady Sansa," Daenerys began, straightening her own shoulders and only managing to make herself look smaller than she already was. Sansa smiled down at her from her height, knowing this would vex the Queen. Feign innocence.
"Your Grace, how might I be of assistance?" Sansa interrupted the Queen, turning and picking up a stack of letters, shuffling idly before signing one and putting it back down with a smile. Sansa knew the Queen followed her every movement, yet refused to acknowledge her questioning look. Let them wonder what your plans are, dear Alayne, for then they will be too distracted to watch what you are actually doing.
"Lady Sansa, I have heard some troubling news. I wondered whether you might ease my mind by denying the slanderous lies I have been hearing." The words washed over Sansa as she folded a letter, before sealing it with grey wax. She briefly thought about how she would've preferred the direwolf sigil to be printed into the wax, but after studying the plain star and moons in the wax, she smiled and placed the sealed letter back on the desk with a flourish. Turning to look at the Queen over her shoulders, Sansa noticed the anger and confusion on Daenerys' face. Good.
"Which lies do you refer to, Your Grace?" Sansa shot back, raising her eyebrow. She turned to her stack of letters, sealing another one with the grey wax before straightening to face the Queen once more. This is just too easy, Sansa thought. The pale, silver haired Queen was gritting her teeth, her face an unhealthy shade of red in her anger.
"You know what it is I speak of, Lady Sansa! Now tell me, is there truth in it?" She spat out the question, spittle gathering in the corners of her mouth. Sansa watched the disintegration of the Queen's facade with disinterest, before allowing her mouth to split into a wide smile.
"Your Grace, surely you do not believe the idle chatter of servants? Me? Take over the Iron Throne?" Sansa laughed, before noting the hesitant smile tugging at Daenerys' lips. The sigh of relief was audible.
"Oh, Sansa! I thought- I really thought perhaps, but no. Of course I did not believe that!" The Queen rushed over to Sansa, offering her hands, which Sansa grasped in her own. They felt sweaty and hot to the touch, and Sansa gave them a slight squeeze.
"Think about it, Your Grace. What would I do on the Iron Throne? I have heard it said it is very uncomfortable," Sansa gushed, pasting a bright smile on her face. The Queen laughed.
"To be sure! I have to resist placing cushions on it to soften the feel of metal on my buttocks!" Sansa shrieked as though it was the funniest thing she had heard in a long time, before looking the Queen in the eye.
"Perhaps it's best you do, Your Grace. Perhaps it's best you throw it out completely. Being Queen with so many sharp knives at your back must be... unnerving, to say the least." The Queen's laughter died down immediately, and Sansa smiled once more before letting go of her hands and turning back to her letters.
"I'm terribly sorry, Your Grace. I have so much to do in so little time!" Sansa gave a titter of nervous laughter. Let her wonder. Gesturing at the pile of letters on her desk, she made an apologetic face. The Queen looked at the stack of letters suspiciously.
"Who are you writing to?" Sansa laughed again, before dismissing the question with a wave of her hands.
"I won't bother you with the tedious details. I am merely preparing for our return to Westeros." Sansa turned towards the letters, gathering them all up before turning back and holding them against her chest. Doubt. She noted with glee the troubled look on the young Queen's face. She thinks I'm up to something, Sansa thought. This will be over sooner than I anticipated.
"I won't take up more of your time, Lady Sansa," the Queen said, gathering the folds of her skirt as they pooled on the floor. "I shall leave you to your writing. Will I see you at dinner?"
"Yes, Your Grace. Arya and I will be there."
"Very well," said the Queen, before turning to leave in the swirl of chiffon. Sansa watched her signal to the guard who had announced her arrival, and he held the door open for her.
"Your Grace!" Sansa called out, taking a couple steps closer. Daenerys turned to face her, an enquiring look her face.
"I was wondering, perhaps you might tell me what has become of my uncle Edward Tully? Does he still hold Riverrun?" Sansa schooled her face into an expression of polite inquisitiveness, yet she knew the effect the question would have.
"And why were you wondering?" The Queen looked suspicious when she posed the question, the redness creeping back into her face. Sansa shrugged.
"Arya was wondering, and he is family, Your Grace. The only family we have left." Sansa looked down at her feet in a show of contrition, though she felt no such thing. Arya had wondered no such thing, but it was easier to let the Queen think she did. Let doubt eat her up, she thought. A faint whisper of guilt gnawed at her stomach but she ignored the uncomfortable feeling. For Arya, she thought. For Winterfell.
"He holds Riverrun, still. Is that all?" The curt reply was exactly what Sansa had expected and known all along, so she smiled before making a show of shuffling through her papers.
"Thank you, Your Grace! My sister will be glad to hear he is alive and well." Sansa curtsied, spreading her dress with one hand as she clutched the letters with the other. The Queen nodded, but did not move. Sansa was aware of her eyes on her as she pretended to find the letter she was searching for, narrowing her eyes in mock concentration and read its contents. She was aware of the Queen's eyes as she rushed back to her desk and dripped the molten wax onto the letter to seal it. Only when she pressed the seal onto the wax did she hear the door shut behind the Queen. Taking the letters, Sansa walked over to the fireplace and dropped them all into the blazing fire, watching the paper curl up and blacken. Sansa had written nonsense onto the paper, filling the parchment with silly stories and strange drawings. They served one purpose, and one purpose alone. Doubt.
Always keep your foes confused. Instil doubt in their hearts, Alayne, and they are yours. Make them doubt you. Doubt your power. Doubt your influence. Eventually they will doubt themselves, and only then, my sweet daughter, will you win. Doubt is a disease, you see? It cripples men, breeds fear; a fear which kills faster than any poison. A seed of doubt is what killed John Arryn. It is what killed your father. Doubt, my Alayne, is a weapon sharper than any sword. You only have to know how to use it to your favour.
The words echoed in her mind as she sat back on her desk. A deep sense of shame racked her body. She was loath to put the lessons Petyr taught her into practise, but it had to be done. Watching the flickering of the candle, she thought about how this game would affect her friendship with Daenerys. It will never be the same again, she thought, and felt regret at the realisation. But when her thoughts turned back to Arya, she found the loss of her friendship with the young Queen would be worth it in the end.
"The pack survives," she whispered into the empty solar. Bringing her fingers to her mouth and wetting the tips of her index finger and thumb, she brought her hand to hover over the candle. "Fire and Blood," Sansa said to the stifling emptiness, snuffing the candle out with a hiss. Winter is Coming.