So this was to be her new home.
Sansa hesitated, wondering if she should take her luggage out of the trunk now or wait until she was directed to do so. In the end, she opted for the latter and retrieved her handbag and her folder of personal documents from the small hand-carry beside her. She locked her car, and then she faced those old brown stonewall buildings standing gravely before her like ancient sages in silent conference, the even older trees around them marbling their façades with dappled sunlight.
She told herself to breathe. She told herself to still. She closed her eyes, and when she opened them again, her mask was on and she was ready.
The University of Arryn Vale was one of the most prestigious educational institutions in the Seven Kingdoms — second, perhaps, only to the Citadel in Oldtown in her heritage and reputation. Indeed, many of the empire's best and brightest commonly boasted of the Vale as their alma mater. It had been a huge relief to Sansa to learn that this campus was, in relative terms, considered the runt of the litter. For one thing, it was an absolute pill to get to, with its stingy, twisty roads and no rail access. It had been uphill for most of the drive and Sansa had been thankful that, in The Fallout, she at least got to keep her car. One of the small blessings she supposed she was now expected to count and be grateful for.
Because, they kept telling her, you are nothing now. You are worse than nothing.
She took it all in silently, feeling the weight of the place, its gravitas, its seriousness. She felt the collective history of the place and immediately felt small, insignificant. And then, as she ventured towards the campus map for directions, she caught a glimpse of what must be the outdoor sept; a giant gilded star hanging in the middle of a modest atrium like a dream catcher, as if suspended from the heavens by invisible threads. She didn't have to count to know that there were seven points on that star.
She glanced at the discreet directional signs, then turned right to head towards reception. For a fraction of a moment, she sensed — rather than saw — a dark figure staring down at her from the top storey window. But when she turned fully to look, she realised she was mistaken. There was no one there.
“You must be Sansa.” It was a declaration, not a question. The older woman was already confident of the answer. “I am Septa and Doctor Olenna Tyrell. I am the Deputy Head of School here. Is your luggage in the car?”
“Yes, I — “
“Good. Leave it there, we’ll get to your room later. Come with me.”
Jeyne Poole, the kindly, mousy receptionist, nodded in encouragement and flashed Sansa a small smile which Sansa gratefully returned before hurrying behind Dr Tyrell. The elder woman looked to be in her mid-seventies, although her speed and acuity belied her actual age. Together, crone and maiden took a whirlwind tour through the campus. Here is the main kitchen, although the staff mostly use the modest kitchenette within the staff room. Here are our lecture halls, and break-out rooms, and bathrooms, and common areas. Here is the indoor sept where everyone is welcome to evening prayers on their own. They have chapel daily, but Wednesdays are when they frock up and do the whole shebang from start to finish. Here is the outdoor sept, where the devout have their morning prayers while freezing to death from the icy north wind, but what good is devotion without some self-flagellation?
Sansa had a glimpse of her workspace, which turned out to be essentially a single wooden desk parked outside the biggest office in the staff building on the top floor. This surprised Sansa, who had initially assumed she would be working alongside Jeyne in the bright and busy reception area. Sansa was initially crestfallen, but she soon cheered herself up when she realised how much privacy her actual workspace would afford her. The less people saw of her, the more she could disappear. And the more she disappeared, the less everyone would remember...
“Now, your lodgings,” Olenna Tyrell finally paused, before pushing past a small wooden gate. They were stepping into a different world now. The bushes were overgrown and took over much of the path so Sansa could barely make out the flagstones. Drooping Japanese maples pregnant with leaves hung heavy on each side like dozing sentry. Eventually, Dr Tyrell fished out a small key and opened the door to the bedsit at the end of their path. The air inside was cold and musty, and Sansa took great care not to make a face even as her skin crawled slightly.
“I’m sorry we can’t offer you better,” she bristled defensively, and Sansa was quick to assure her of her gratitude. “Your accommodation needs were… unexpected, and we need to keep our other guest quarters available at all times for visiting lecturers. This flat is old, but it should do you nicely. You have your own toilet and bathroom, which is more than what most students get.”
“This is wonderful,” Sansa assured the older lady once again. “I cannot thank you enough.”
Seemingly satisfied for now, Dr Tyrell turned and took her leave. “I’ll give you an hour to settle in, and then you can come in and meet the rest of the staff. Most of them should be arriving in the next half hour except the Professor, which is unfortunate, seeing how you’ll be mostly working for him. He took the red eye from King’s Landing and arrived before dawn this morning, so I expect him to be coming in around lunch time, if not after.”
“I’ll see you in an hour,” Sansa promised. And then the door finally closed and she was alone.
Her phone buzzed in her pocket once again. She sighed heavily, and closed her eyes. When she reopened them, there was a shard of steel in her gaze.
She flicked on her phone, and scrolled through the messages. Twenty-three this morning.
I’ll find you and cut off your tits, you cunt.
I’ll find you and rape you.
I’ll kill you, slowly. I’ll find out where you live. You’ll never be safe.
I want to slice up your stupid, pretty face, you good for nothing. You worthless piece of shit.
I hate you. You’ve ruined our lives, you and your father.
My mother will die from her cancer now, because of you.
My grandmother is crying. Because of you.
Daughter of a traitor.
Whore. I hope you die from a thousand painful diseases.
I hate you. I hate all of you. Go to hell, Sansa Stark, you and your fucking traitorous father.