Sansa's stitches were crooked again.
She exhaled sharply through her nose, and resisted the urge to toss the bit of fabric across the room. But she could only imagine Septa Mordane's reaction to the eldest Stark daughter showing such childish temper, in front of the Crown Princess and her ladies, no less. Instead she restrained herself, with some difficulty, and glanced over towards her younger sister, Arya, who sat somewhat nervously with the other girls.
Arya had at some point, through some witchcraft, managed to train her awkward, ungainly-looking fingers to dance precisely with the needle and thread. Sansa had small, delicate hands, as befitting a lady. Yet she regularly pricked herself with her needles to the point where half her decent embroidery was spotted with rusty spots of blood.
“Sansa’s work is a disgrace to her beauty,” Septa Mordane had once told Sansa’s lady mother. “I’ve no idea why- her sister has the hands of a blacksmith, and even she manages quite well.”
Septa Mordane was currently cooing over the needlework of Princess Myrcella. Sansa had no quarrel with Myrcella, who was just a little girl, only a bit younger than Arya. Sansa was eleven, but wished she were younger. If she was younger, the King might not want to marry her to his son. Nothing had been explicitly said to Sansa on the matter, but she could sense it coming the way one might a storm. Which might have been funny, given the fact that the Baratheons, who now ruled the entire seven kingdoms, had once ruled Storm's End.
But it was hard to find anything funny when faced with the prospect of going south to King's Landing. Sansa had no desire to go south, no desire to live in the capital, and no desire, above all to marry. Especially not to a boy like Joffrey. She’d barely held more than a single conversation with him but she knew already she disliked him.
Sansa hated the way he sneered at his surroundings, as if the grand Winterfell were no more than a collection of rotting huts, she disliked the way he snapped at and mocked his younger siblings, and she disliked the way he looked at her, like she was an exotic creature to be shut up in a fancy cage. However, Joffrey was not here now, with his false smiles and cruel green eyes, like those of his beautiful but cold lady mother, Queen Cersei.
“Sansa,” Jeyne Poole, Sansa’s dearest friend, although they sometimes bickered enough to melt half the ice in the North, was all eager eyes and coy smile. “You have to admit that the prince is handsome, though. You’d never see a boy as golden as him up here.”
“If you like him so much, Jeyne,” Sansa said crisply, “Then mayhaps you should marry him instead of me. I’m sure all Northerners are more or less the same to him.”
Jeyne pouted, while Arya looked torn between a giggle and a frown, and Sansa felt a little guilty. Jeyne was only the daughter of a steward, and could never even dream to marry a prince, although it was her most ardent aspiration to one day marry a lord. It was why she made sure to carry herself like a highborn girl, at least when in the company of the Starks, as if hoping she might be mistaken as one. Sansa had always treated Jeyne as a sister, but her dreams of being a lady made her thoughtless and petty at times, and sometimes she was cruel to Arya, although it was usually inadvertently.
Little Beth Cassel, daughter of Winterfell’s master-at-arms, Ser Rodrik, looked up at the older girls in confusion. “Don’t you want to be queen of all the realm?”
“No, I don't,” snapped Sansa vehemently, although she kept her voice low, lest Septa Mordane hear. She had no dreams of being queen, or even a lady, yet that was what she was. Truthfully, Sansa didn’t know what she’d be, had she the opportunity. Mostly, she wished she’d been born a boy, a second son who could freely swing a sword and ride off to adventure and battle without having to worry about being heir, like Robb did, or marrying right away.
And she knew that above all else, Arya wished she were her. Arya was plain where Sansa was pretty. Arya looked like their lord father; she had brown hair, grim gray eyes, and a long, somber face. Sansa looked much more like their mother; she had high cheekbones, despite the few traces of childish roundness still clinging to them, thick auburn hair like her mother’s family, the Tullys, and bright blue eyes. Even if her hair was usually bound in a rough, messy braid and her face often grimy from being outside, at least whenever she could sneak away from her lessons.
As the eldest daughter, Sansa was expected to know how to dance (her height made her awkward, at least when she wasn’t putting it to use riding), to sing (she did have a fine singing voice, but she despised most of the songs she was taught), and to sew (the disaster of which had already been discussed). Aside from that, there was poetry (she had no patience for it), dressing as befitting her station (all her fine dresses were inevitably ruined before the week was out), and playing the high harp and bells (she hated the harp, and didn’t mind the bells), and all the things concerning the management of a household. Sansa didn’t mind that as much, although she had a bad head for figures.
The irony of the situation was moreso that Arya was good at all the things Sansa was expected to excel at. Arya was small and skinny, yes, but it made her an excellent dancer. Her singing voice was nothing astonishing, but she could carry a tune rather brightly and get everyone to join in. Her sewing was quite good. She enjoyed poetry, although some of it was rather comic, and meant to tease her siblings. She loved pretty things and beautiful dresses, even if hers tended to be far simpler than Sansa’s. At least she kept her clothes immaculate. She was wonderful on the high harp and learning fast with the bells, and while she hated to ride, she was very good with figures.
Sometimes Sansa dreamed about waking up in Arya’s body, and suspected her younger sister did the same. They loved one another, but were usually at a loss as to how to the show it, the gap of mutual resentment and envy being so wide. Sansa could be spiteful and dismissive, and Arya could be sullen and passive-aggressive. Jeyne didn’t always help matters, having once called Arya ‘Arya Horseface’ to the point where Sansa had hauled off and slapped her round the face. She’d gotten in a terrible amount of trouble with Father and Mother, and Jeyne hadn’t spoken to her for two weeks. But Jeyne no longer mocked Arya, at least not in front of Sansa, and Sansa knew Arya, although uncertain of how to show it, had been grateful. After all, like it or not, it was Sansa’s duty to look after her younger siblings, much like Robb’s.
“But the prince wants to marry you!” Beth couldn’t let the matter drop.
“Don’t make up stories,” Sansa hissed under her breath, then relented when the red-haired girl looked upset.
“I think the prince is very gallant,” Arya spoke up quietly. Due to her plain appearance and often looked over status as the second daughter, she was often shy and timid, especially when she felt compared to Sansa. In private, however, she could be very lively, and Sansa wished she would brighten a little. Arya could usually succeed in bringing her out of any foul mood, but now the prince, curse him and his false looks, was firmly between them.
“Jon says he looks like a girl,” Sansa sniffed. “And I agree with him.”
“Maybe Jon’s just jealous,” Arya murmured, her attention returning to her stitching, cheeks aflame.
The old gods help them, Sansa thought in dismay, her little sister was besotted with the prince! She’d half a mind to let Arya have him, were it possible, but she’d never wish someone as arrogant and idiotic as Joffrey on her younger sister. Arya deserved someone who’d treat her as the highborn, perfect lady she really was, under the long face and plain dresses.
“A wolf,” she said hotly, “Would never envy a deer.” That was all the Baratheons were, for all that the King was Father’s friend. Just a herd of vapid deer. Or lions, given the Queen’s preference for dressing herself and her three blonde children in Lannister colors. And Jon was a wolf, bastard that he might be. She and him were very close, almost twins, although there were three years between them. Robb and Arya were much the same; Robb would beat anyone who mocked or pitied Arya bloody, he was so protective of her.
Sansa realized too late that she’d spoken too loudly, and now Septa Mordane’s beady eyes were trained on her. The Septa seemed to dislike her moreso for the fact that she was ‘wasting’ her looks and ‘natural grace’ on ‘acting like a half-wild boy’, than for any of Sansa’s actual failures when it came to her lessons. She was frowning at all of them, but her gaze pierced Sansa most, who shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “What are you talking about, children?” Her tone implied that she suspected it was nothing suitable for young ladies. Septa Mordane had a very short list of things she deemed suitable for young ladies, and rarely did Sansa keep with it.
“We were talking of… of how nice it is to be sewing with the princess,” Sansa said lamely, and somewhat nervously. Princess Myrcella smiled at her from across the room, and Sansa forced herself to smile pleasantly back. The little girl did seem to like her, despite Sansa’s evident disdain for most things… princess-like.
“Indeed. A great honor for us all,” the septa replied suspiciously, and eyed the work in Sansa’s fidgeting hands. “Now allow me to see your stitches.”
Sansa looked around furtively as the septa approached, modest skirts rustling with every mincing step. Arya looked vaguely amused in a way that made Sansa want to lean over and give her a good shake, but her sister was doing a fair job at masking it with placid interest. Jeyne was biting her lip and looking away, obviously glad it was not her under the septa’s scrutiny. Beth Cassel scurried out of the way like a frightened mouse.
She relinquished the fabric to the septa with the look of a martyr, and held her breath as the woman examined it far too closely. “Sansa,” she sighed. “This will just not do. Not at all. You are the firstborn daughter of a great house, and you will one day be a great lady-,”
“Queen,” Arya said under her breath with a sly look, as Septa Mordane lectured on and on and it was too much for Sansa to bear, so before she started crying in front of everyone at the injustice of it all, she jumped to her feet and let her long legs rush her towards the door to the tower stairs.
“Sansa!” Even Septa Mordane seemed shocked at her brashness, on this day of all days. “Come back here at once! This is not befitting a lady of your house! Your lady mother will be most displeased to hear of your insolence, and in front of the princess, as well! Have you no shame?”
Sansa froze, shaking a little in mortification, at the door, face as red as her hair by now, and looked back at the little princess. “I beg your pardon, my lady, but you’ll have to excuse me,” she said stiffly.
She hurried out the door and down the steep stone steps as fast as her dress would permit, knowing Septa Mordane could not leave the other girls unsupervised to chase after her. Besides, the Septa was too old by now to manage it, even with Sansa’s dress impeding her flight.Nothing was fair. Soon she would have to leave Winterfell, her home, which she loved more than anything- leave to marry the Prince, who would someday be King, and her the miserable Queen, trapped in a golden cage for the rest of her life. It all felt like some terrible dream. Her only comfort was Nymeria, waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs. She would have taken Nymeria into the sewing room if she could, but Mother had said it wasn’t appropriate to parade the wolf pup around with her everywhere she went.
She’d named her after the great warrior queen. Arya had named her wolf Lady, of course, but Sansa really couldn’t fault her for that, even if she was furious with Arya for provoking her today, knowing it would get a reaction in front of everyone. Gods, Mother would be infuriated to hear of this, but Sansa could hardly return now, with her tail in between her legs. Besides, maybe if she acted out enough, they’d no longer try to marry her off to Joffrey, wormy boy that he was.
She would go to the practice yard, where the boys were bound to be. Perhaps she’d be lucky and get to see Robb, or even Jon, best Joffrey at swordplay and land him on his smug arse. “Come on, Nym!” The wolf pup ran along gaily at her heels, barking, as she dashed in the direction of the covered bridge, where one had an excellent view of the whole yard.
Jon and his direwolf, Ghost, pure white and largest of them all, were there. “On the run from Septa?” Jon asked with a small smirk, observing her out of breath state, mussed hair and skirts.
“Oh, be quiet,” Sansa snapped. “It was awful, listening to everyone prattle on about the prince.” He wisely chose not to argue with her right now, and moved over a little, to make room for Sansa’s ungainly skirts, which she smoothed down irritably as she perched on the windowsill, looking down at the yard.
It was Bran and Tommen, the younger prince, going through their drills, and she huffed in exasperation. Watching the two of them fight, padded and puffed up so they wouldn’t hurt themselves, and whacking at one another with ridiculous padded wooden swords that wouldn’t be good for beating a kitchen boy, never mind practicing battle, was almost comical. Robb and Theon Greyjoy, Father’s ward, were among those watching, occasionally calling out words of advice and encouragement.
Sansa didn’t like Theon. He was resentful and crude, and occasionally cruel. She’d punched him square in the jaw when she was eight and he sixteen. Although she hadn’t done much more than bruise him a little and bruise her hand a lot, neither were quick to forgive or forget, and so the feeling between the two was one of mutual animosity. Still, she thought she might even cheer for Theon, were it he that bested the Prince.
“Is this less awful than needlework?” Jon asked dryly. He always spoke to Sansa as an equal. Some might have balked at his familiarity with his highborn half-sister, but Sansa didn’t mind. She loved Robb, but he tended to speak to her as though she were still seven or eight, not a girl on the verge of flowering, nearly a woman grown. Even if she hated to think of it. She wanted to pass this autumn still a child. Let her be a woman come winter. She ignored his remark. “You weren’t allowed to train with them?”
He looked at her balefully. “What if I somehow damaged the prince? The queen would have my head served on a platter.”
“I should like to see it, regardless,” Sansa retorted, but he’d managed to coax a small smile of amusement out of her. “I’d like to damage him myself.”
Jon snorted. “Pretty girls like you weren’t made to swing longswords, Sansa.”
She pinched him on the neck with her sharp fingernails, since grappling with him might send them both plummeting down into the yard. When they were small she and Jon had tussled like brothers. Robb had always refused to lay hands on her, saying it was his duty to protect her. But Jon had never hurt her, not really. Although, once they both started to grow older, they’d been scolded for laying hands on one another like that. It was 'unseemly'. Even Father, for all that he tolerated much mischief, wouldn’t permit it. “Sansa,” he’d always say, massaging his brow. “You are swiftly becoming a young lady, and you must start to think like one.” Sansa loved Father, but quiet Jon and sullen Arya remained his favorites. Her waywardness seemed to disconcert him deeply, although she did not know why. It was not the usual exasperation of a father with a rebellious daughter.
“I could best you and Robb and Theon and Joffrey with a bow,” she bragged to Jon. “They’re much lighter than swords.”
“You have good aim,” Jon conceded. “But I’m told the prince prefers the crossbow. He might take you up on that challenge.”
Sansa snorted and looked for Joffrey in the crowd of men. There he was, looking bored with the whole thing, with a surcoat bearing both the arms of his father’s House and his mother’s.
“He has no respect for us,” she said coldly. “And neither does his father, bothering serving girls and drinking so much!”
“Careful, sister,” Jon cautioned half-jokingly. “They’ll have you up on the executioner’s block for words like those.”
“They wouldn’t have anyone to marry the prince, then!” she spat.
“They’d find someone,” he muttered. “Come now, Sansa, the idea doesn’t tempt you, not even a little? You’d be the most renowned woman in all the realm.”
“Look at Queen Cersei,” Sansa replied bitterly. “She hates the King.”
“That she may,” Jon conceded, and then smiled in his usual quiet manner. “I will miss you, though.”
Before she could respond, a shout came from below. Sansa started, thinking they’d been seen peering down, but it was merely that Bran had bested Tommen, who lay flat on his back, unable to get up due to all his padding. He was not the Baratheon she had wanted to see bested. All the men were in an uproar, laughing at the sight. Sansa watched at Ser Rodrik helped up the little prince and called Robb and Joffrey forward, asking if they wanted another round. Robb looked eager, but Joffrey sneered that it was a game for children. His hair truly was molten golden in the sunlight, and Sansa despised him all the more.
The two sniped back and forth at one another, the prince demanding they fight with live steel. Sansa almost wished they would. A wishful prick of bloodlust in her thought a real scratch or two might teach Joffrey a lesson. However, Ser Rodrik firmly forbid it, and then a tall knight with a horrifically burned face stepped forward, mocking that they must be training women. Sansa tensed and scowled. After a few more jabs at Robb and the Stark men in general, the prince and his party moved off, Theon clearly holding Robb back from going after them.
“He knew Robb would beat him again,” Jon said. “He didn’t want to be humiliated in front of all his Lannister cousins a second time.”
Sansa was tight-lipped in her outrage. “He’s a craven little coward,” she said, slowly clambering down from the window, careful not to trip on her skirts. “I’ll never marry him.”
“We don’t always get to choose,” Jon was looking away from her now, as if ashamed. “Sansa, I’m going to the Wall,” he ground the words out.
“What?!” She spun on her heel to face him, face white in shock. “Is Father making you go? Jon, you can’t! They can’t force you out- this is your home!” She knew her mother had no love for Jon, but to send him off to the Night's Watch was unthinkable. Boys like Jon didn't go to the Wall.
“It’s for the best,” he said firmly, pale face flushed. “Father is going south to be the Hand, and your mother won’t have me here without him.”
“Come south with us,” she pleaded desperately. “Jon, you don’t belong at the Wall, it's for criminals!”
“Uncle Benjen is at the wall,” he retorted hotly. “I can’t go to King's Landing- there’d be nothing there for me. I’m a bastard, Sansa,” he reminded her sharply.
“You are more than that,” she snapped. “Above all else, you are a Stark. You may never be a lord, but you do have a place!” Shaking her head fiercely, she gathered up her skirts, calling Nymeria to her side. Jon watched her. “Where are you going?”
“To face Septa and Mother,” she said defiantly. “And to speak with Father.”