The Calling - Coda
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.
We think by feeling. What is there to know?*
And so it was she caught them unaware. Slipping carefully down the stairs into the crypt, Sansa stopped at the bottom and listened for their voices. She followed the muffled sounds down one long corridor and slowed as it intersected with another.
"And this one?" she heard Sandor ask. His voice came to her clearly and she knew she'd found them. But she stopped before rounding the corner, eavesdropping on the conversation instead.
"Brandon the Shipwright," came the answer. "And here next to him is his son, called Brandon the Burner."
"Why was he the Burner?"
"Because he put the whole of the Northern fleet to the torch when his father disappeared on the Sunset Sea."
"Good. You've been paying attention."
"Maester Ferryn says I'm very smart for my age."
"A fine thing, too. A king requires more than a strong arm if he is to be a good ruler. A sharp mind can be a more formidable weapon than any sword. Remember that."
"I will, Papa. Can I go now? Alyn says a mummer's troupe arrived last night and they're setting up a stage inside the east gate. I want to watch." There was an extended silence and Sansa could almost see her husband's expression as he pondered their son's request.
"I suppose it wouldn't hurt. But I want Tristopher with you. I'd go myself but I must look in on your lady mother."
"No need for that, I'm right here," Sansa announced as she stepped around the corner. Two pair of gray eyes found her, both set in long, angular faces and framed by dark hair. But the boy had her curls rather than his father's thinner locks.
"Mother!" Sansa returned her son's embrace the best she could, as he ran to her and threw his arms around her hips. "You're up!" She returned her son's smile and glanced up at his father. The look she received was much as she'd imagined it would be.
"You should be abed, wife," he gently rebuked.
"It has been five days. I've given birth, not sustained a battle injury. I'm fine."
She closed the distance between them as Sandor held out his arms. "What are you thinking bringing the babe down here? This is no fit place for a child. Give her here."
"I'm a child," their son pointed out as Sansa carefully placed the girl in her father's arms. Sandor shot him a sour look and lifted the baby to kiss her smooth pink brow.
"Hello, my little bird," he hoarsely murmured, then buried his nose at her plump neck and cooed at her. Sansa couldn't help but smile at the sight of this large man so undone by an infant.
"She's odd looking," their son thoughtfully interjected. "And she's noisy and smells of milk. Do we really have to keep her?"
Sansa chortled. "Yes, we do. She is your sister and she will look to you to protect her when she's older and to make certain she is treated honorably."
"Is that what a king would do?" He glanced at the both of them, but all of Sandor's attention was focused on his daughter.
"Yes it is," Sansa told him. "Now, run along. And remember what your father said. Take Tristopher with you."
She watched as he skipped down the corridor, a bright and beautiful child of six. And suddenly she was overcome by the feeling that this moment had happened before, that she had stood in this very spot and seen him speed away on long skinny legs. Before she could think, Sansa called out his name.
He stopped and turned to her, his expression open and carefree, his eyes sparkling with good humor. Sandor stepped to her side as the echo of her call faded, wrapping an arm around her waist and drawing her close. She tried to shake off the queer feeling, smiling widely at the boy. "I love you," she told him.
The smile she received in return was dazzling. "Love you, too!" he proclaimed and, wheeling around again, sped off around the corner like an arrow shot from a bow. She felt Sandor's appraising eyes on her long before he spoke.
"Sansa, what is it?"
She shook her head in bemusement. "It's nothing. A fragment of a dream, that's all." She pulled loose from his grasp and turned to him. "If you would take her to the nursery, I'll be along shortly. There is something I must do while I'm here." She saw his hesitation but he finally nodded, leaned to kiss her brow, and followed their son out.
Before long she found herself, torch in hand, standing before her father's sepulcher. She studied his likeness for several minutes and absorbed the stillness surrounding her, the silence broken only by the soft hiss of the torch's flame. She stepped closer, until her toes touched the base of the tomb.
"The boy wasn't you at all, was he?" she whispered. "Even then, a part of me knew, though I could not see it clearly for my fears. But you knew, didn't you? You knew my strength long before I did. We've done it, Daddy, just as you asked. The North has risen again and a Stark once more sits the throne of Winterfell. I only wish you were here to see it."
Sniffing, she wiped away tears and kissed the tips of her wet fingers, bringing them to the stern line of her father's mouth and holding them there for a moment. Then she placed the torch into a ring set in the wall and made her way out of the crypts and into the sun-filled courtyard of the only home she had ever known.
*Excerpt from The Waking by Theodore Roethke
A/N: The final chapter and the coda are dedicated to Kallie. She was so afraid this story wouldn't have a happy ending. After all the gifts of art she's generously bestowed upon the SanSan community, how could I do any less than write the best ending I possibly could for her?
Thank you one and all for your patience as I struggled with this one. Not long after this story was begun, my mother entered the hospital and took up a protracted battle for her life. I'm happy to say she's much improved and things are looking up. But because this story deals with subjects such as loss and disappointment and the bonds that form and remain even in the face of separation and death, some of it was pretty painful to delve into, hence the slow progress. I offer apologies to all my readers and my profound appreciation for those who stuck with me. Thank you so much for coming along for the ride!
Until next time …