The moment her young handmaiden appeared in her chambers, eyes locked on her toes, Sansa knew she would be disappointed. Still, she tried not to show her dismay.
“You couldn’t get his measurements because…?”
“His squire is still recovering from battle, my lady,” Betha whispered. “And there were still so many men in armor everywhere. I don’t think he’s given his wardrobe any thought.”
“Which is precisely why I need his measurements,” Sansa sighed. “Did you think to measure him yourself?”
Her tone was gentle enough, but the girl looked up with a start. “Oh, no, my lady. I…I’m sure I couldn’t.”
“Very well.” Sansa dismissed her and turned to her recently replenished sewing kit. The first ships from Oldtown to White Harbor had brought Dickon Tarly and his men, but the next arrivals came bearing necessities and luxuries alike to the war-torn North. It was at his brother Sam’s urging that the heir to Horn Hill had pledged troops to the War for the Dawn and, by extension, Daenerys Targaryen. The reason for the second wave of shipments became clear only after the queen had defeated the White Walkers and established a makeshift court half a day’s ride north of Winterfell.
“She thinks you must marry,” Jon said with a grimace, resting a fist on a crate stuffed with bolts of cloth. “I tried to explain how important Winterfell was to you, but instead she’s spread the word of your generosity to her cause and the favor she intends to show you. I’m afraid this won’t be the first shipment of gifts sent with courtship in mind.”
“And I receive it gladly.” At his startled look, Sansa tried to explain. “Queen Daenerys isn’t wrong, Jon. Of course I must marry.”
“I made a promise to you, Sansa. I will not let you be sold to the highest bidder to be mistreated again, no matter what my aunt says.”
She moved closer to reassure him as he set his jaw. “It was a noble promise and one I trust you will keep. But it is my duty to marry and bear heirs. I know it as well as the queen. She has taken more than one husband because she must, and still she plans to marry you, after all.”
Sansa smiled at her cousin’s sudden blush. “That’s different. We—it is a marriage of choice.”
Sansa thought back to rumors of secret weddings and Daenerys, beautiful and calculating beyond her years, and bit her tongue. Theirs was a marriage of necessity made palatable by mutual affection. But Jon’s face was so earnest Sansa could hardly bear to dash his hopeful dreams. They had both supped on tales of romance, once, and both had suffered enough when their fantasies were stripped away.
“Then help me choose. Pray tell, what measure do you make of Dickon Tarly? Because in my estimation, the man has a very keen eye for velvet.”
Apparently, Jon had taken her jest for a serious inquiry. At his next visit to Winterfell, he gave her such a complete assessment of the man she wondered how many soldiers he’d interviewed. She stopped him mid-sentence with a raised hand.
“He sounds very fine. What do you think of him?”
If possible, his brow furrowed even further as he paused to run a hand across the back of his neck. Then, wide-eyed, he stepped forward to take her hands in his. “Father would have approved.”
The match was decided there and then. Sansa sent a letter to the queen’s camp outlining plans for a wedding a month hence in the godswood at Winterfell. To her surprise, her betrothed’s reply gave no indication that he might wish for anything else.
But a wedding required more than scribbled words on parchment. Quilts were washed and tapestries aired, dishes were ordered and tasted, and, eventually, a new tunic would be sewn of fine green wool.
Once she had the proper measurements, of course.
After Betha’s failure, Sansa tried another tack. “He is an accomplished soldier, my intended,” she started, eyeing Jon with more scrutiny than usual. “Would you say he is built more broadly than you? Across the chest and shoulders?”
Jon blinked. “Across his chest? Aye, I would say so.”
Her next question was a bit more delicate. “And…in height?”
“He is a fair bit taller, as you can probably guess,” Jon huffed. “Are you suddenly concerned for your husband’s looks?”
“I’m concerned he will be married in blood-stained leather if I can’t stitch him something appropriate,” Sansa grumbled. “Could you take his measurements for me? I sent my maid, but she found the task overwhelming.”
Jon eyed her a moment too long. In a man less serious, she might think his look meant mischief. “Return to camp with me and measure him yourself. You should meet before the wedding, anyway.”
Thus she found herself seated on a collapsable camp chair, measuring tools beside her, when her future husband ducked under the flap of his tent.
“Lady Stark,” he greeted her, bowing his head to kiss her knuckles. Then he remained stooped, shrinking away from the sloping ceiling of the tent as he fetched refreshment for her, because Dickon Tarly was possibly the tallest man she’d seen since the Hound had abandoned King’s Landing.
Tall and broad and strong and—
“My lord!” She forced herself to stop staring and rose from her seat. “I thank you for agreeing to be wed at Winterfell. I realize it may not have been your first preference…”
She trailed off as he pressed a goblet of Arbor gold into her hands. “I shall wed my lady wherever she wishes.”
Sansa sipped at the wine as she watched him straighten to his full height, his eyes wandering from her hair down to her hem. He didn’t speak again until his gaze returned to her face.
“Lord Jon told me of your offer to make my wedding clothes. I would gladly accept, if you aren’t too busy with your own preparations.”
“Not at all, my lord. It would be my pleasure.”
He gestured at her tools. “Shall I take off my tunic so you can take your measurements?” Before she could answer, Dickon was already shrugging his outer layer over his head. She tossed back one last swallow and set down her goblet, hoping to hide her flush. No wonder poor Betha had looked so helpless upon her return.
Fumbling with her shears, Sansa approached him. “If you could turn around, my lord.”
He pivoted without a word. Months of wearing heavy armor had worn his undershirt to a transparent gauze that did little to keep her attention from his muscular back. She drew a level line with the thread from shoulder to shoulder, feeling carefully for the edges of his deltoids before snipping off the excess. Choosing a different color, she repeated the process to measure from his nape to his knees, and then one arm from shoulder to wrist.
Heat radiated across her cheeks, but still she walked around to his front. “Lift your arms, please.”
The movement pulled his shirt above the tops of his thighs, and Sansa gulped. The distance between their bodies closed to nothing as she leaned in to wrap the string around his chest.
“I have three sisters,” Dickon said without warning. “I’ve never worn anything not sewn by them or my lady mother.” The rumble of his voice so near to her pounding heart threw her off balance, and she swayed forward into him before catching herself. Sansa was suddenly and vividly aware of the swell of her breasts against her gown every time she drew breath. Tall though she was, his shoulders blocked her sight of the rest of the tent. Her senses could focus on nothing but his powerful body and the responses it provoked in her.
“I look forward to meeting them when we travel to Horn Hill.” The voice that came from her lips was huskier than her own. Sansa watched him swallow.
His brawny arms were nevertheless pliable as she brought them down to his sides. Arranging his limbs just where she wanted them made something trill in her stomach like a vibrating string. She sifted through the remaining colors in her sewing bag and instructed him to bend one elbow.
The gesture brought his hand to rest on her side. She jumped and he quickly let go.
“No, it’s okay,” Sansa murmured, reassuring them both. The heat of his fingers spanning her ribcage thrilled and grounded her at the same time. Marveling at the length it took to circle the strength of his arm, Sansa realized she wouldn’t have believed Betha even if the maid had managed to track down the measurements from his squire.
His waist, however, posed a problem. Not a bad problem— he was as lean here as he was bulky in his shoulders— but it was impossible to wrap the thread around the folds of his shirt without making a point of avoiding contact with his skin. To measure underneath his shirt invited that contact.
Sansa wanted to touch him.
She lifted his arms to shoulder height once more. His breath came in regular intervals as she maneuvered the thread, but his stomach twitched and jumped, hot under her fingers. Inches away lay the laces of his breeches, and below them…
She caught herself and nearly laughed. Had she ever speculated about a man’s cock with any degree of anticipation? The thought made her giddy even as she pulled the strands taut against Dickon’s navel. To his credit, the soldier didn’t flinch.
The circumference of his collar came last. Just as Sansa balanced on her tiptoes to ensure her measurement was level, Jon swept into the tent, startling her back onto her heels.
“I’m so sorry I couldn’t—“ he paused, taking in Dickon’s grip around her waist were he’d caught her, “…properly introduce you.”
“Don’t trouble yourself,” Sansa replied, her voice still too breathy. “I was just finishing up.”
She turned back to her work, trying to keep her attention from the way his stubble tickled the backs of her knuckles. His hands continued to hold her in place, thumbs wrapping around to stroke the front of her hips. She pinched the twisting fibers at her fiancé’s throat and made one final, careful cut.
“Lord Jon didn’t tell me you were so beautiful.”
As Jon sputtered out excuses, Sansa’s heart swelled. Here was a tower of a man, jaw square as the battlements atop the walls of Winterfell, calling her beautiful as casually as one might comment upon the weather. Perhaps her romantic notions could persist a little longer after all.
Jon’s eyes darted back and forth between the future bride and groom as he bid Dickon farewell. Her cousin remained silent as they crossed the camp toward their horses, her hand secure in the crook of his arm. Sansa used the time to muse on Dickon’s parting expression. The man was serious without slipping into the brooding frown that was her cousin’s habit. If they’d met under different circumstances he would have bid her farewell with a smile, she thought. In another time, in another life, they might have met at court. Perhaps he would have asked her to dance.
Once mounted, Jon found his tongue. “I take it you are not displeased with the match.”
She smiled in response. “I told you I trusted you to help me choose. We did very well.” When he didn’t respond, she pushed him further. “I do hope I can keep my measurements straight, though. It would be a shame if I got my threads confused and had to repeat them.”
Jon snorted. “I shall have to warn Dickon that he’s marrying a minx.”
In this life, Sansa decided, they would dance at her wedding. And all her husband’s future clothing would be well-fitted indeed.