The week crawled by as though a limbless beast, shuffling and pained in the cold. Sansa tried to immerse herself in work to combat the cruel days but this caused her to miss her estranged husband all the more. Though it had been some time since he had participated in a council meeting, Sansa knew that many of her advisers spoke with her husband at their leisure. It had offended her, initially; she clamoured at the opportunity to feel an affront, to feel anything at all apart from the cold emptiness of her bed. With time came understanding and she took offence no more. If her husband chose to attend meetings she was sure that her advisers would speak with him then, in front of her. As it was he had aborted that possibility and thus the men who advised the Lady of Winterfell sought out her husband in the cold of the yard or the heat of the forge.
She wondered what he could tell them that she could not. At that morning's meeting, when the debate grew hot and endless, old Leece stood and suggested that they wait until the return of Lady Stark's husband before deciding on the matter. It took all her strength not to laugh.
After all, she was her mother's daughter.
Instead, Sansa belittled them with her kindness, with her grace and her smile and her frosted voice. She reminded them of to whom they had sworn their allegiance without a single word on the subject. With a nod and a dip, hands gently pinching the lengths of her gown, Sansa withdrew.
In her family's rooms, the days continued to taunt her. Pained by her father's absence, little Wren whined and fought and could find no comfort, not even in the warm, fat bosom of old Frieda. The small girl had scattered her felt wolves and kicked at Lilith when the poor maid had tried to hold her. It was Sansa who bore the brunt of her daughter's tantrums; she held her close as she wailed, singing secret songs in her ear as she swayed and shuffled with her child against her chest. To her daughter she whispered stories of her family, of her parents and siblings, of her husband. She made promises of love and hope and when all else failed she carried her child to her own bed where they both slept, entwined and dreaming of the scarred man.
Sansa knew not how to move on from the great hurt she felt.
The fourth day found her on horseback towards the Winter Town. A child had been born and Sansa welcomed the chance to leave Winterfell, if only for a day, to congratulate the new family with a gift. She had maintained her skills with a needle, stitching a soft blanket for the child. It was gently adorned with silver threaded flowers, perfect for a babe called Flora.
The visit brought her cheer. The small house was clean and warm, smelling of milk and hot bread and lavender. The parents were young, younger than her, and so very happy. She cradled the babe and kissed her brow when she yawned. Sansa pretended that it was she who lived in the small house, who had created such warmth and love, who lived simply but with peace and contentment.
"Holding a child suits you, milady. Your own child must be walking now, talking even."
Sansa smiled. "Yes Mirabelle, she is, with confidence – perhaps too much. It is something indeed to be bossed around by a three year old. She reminds me much of my sister."
The room turned silent at the talk of a Stark long gone. Sansa did not mind. It was in the quiet that she remembered Arya best. Yet Sansa smiled and spoke, polite to the end.
"You have a beautiful child, Mirabelle. I wish you well. Thom, with your permission I would visit again, perhaps in the new month." She rose to leave.
"You are always welcome, Lady Stark. Please, le'me help you to your horse."
Sansa thanked the new father and kissed the new mother on her forehead before leaving. Once mounted, she turned her mare, pausing to tug at her sleeves.
"Oi! Thom, you silly bugger! Where's this babe of yours?"
The voice was loud and full of mirth, yet as rough as the stubble on a man's face. Sansa turned to see the owner. Her heart skipped.
The woman was beautiful, in her way. Her gown was tight and poorly kept, but her face was merry. Her nose was reddened, by the cold or the drink, and she wore a rose stain on her lips.
"Flossie, mind your tongue! Lady Stark has just been 'ere."
Sansa's ears had betrayed her when she had first heard talk of her husband's infidelity. She hadn't wanted to listen but listen she did. Soon she was searching out the tale, finding a satisfying pain in the detail, like scratching at an insect bite. She knew much of the woman whom Sandor had shared a bed, enough to know that she stood before her in muddied skirts.
By the shock on the ruddy woman's face, it would seem she knew just who sat astride the horse before her.
Something inside Sansa took over. She could hear herself speaking, felt her hands tug at the reins, saw the smile on Thom's face and the humility on the whore's.
"Please, Thom, she may speak as she chooses. She could not possibly offend me. You forget that I am married to a man with a much coarser tongue. Farewell."
Sansa turned her horse, begging to take her home before she broke.