Independence, Missouri 1852
Independence was a mere trading post to some and a good size town to others. It was located approximately six miles south of the Missouri River, not so far from the state’s western border. The great courthouse, an impressive building made of painted wood, stood at the center of everything. All around it, streets of dust and mud were filled with a great mess of people, traders, trappers, and groups of emigrants preparing to head west. Jon noticed the odd Cheyenne sporting a war bonnet of feathers. The town boasted a number of a number of grocery and mercantile stores, blacksmith shops, wagon shops, livery stables, and hotels.
Jon paid it all little heed, looking at his reflection made with the glass windows of Messner Dry Goods and Grocery. He’d made use of the barbershop next door for a shave and cut before meeting the woman who would soon be his wife. Jon cupped his chin, stroking his freshly shorn whiskers. His black wool trousers and grey linen shirt were both freshly cleaned and his leather boots shone.
Satisfied, he left the store behind to make his way through the street towards the river’s edge to greet his new bride. The streets were busy, groups of people hurrying about and jostling one another to be about their business. He passed mules and oxen, heard squeaking wheels and rattling chains, saw teamsters aplenty and a pair of women on donkeys with parasols. All of it produced a din Jon could not describe and, always, the ever present ox teams and teams men.
He weaved through it all, a single figure lost amongst the masses as he made his way to the town docks. The Yellow Stone waited for him, the crew having already tied and secured the steamboat. Dock workers moved cargo, large barrels and wooden crates containing all sorts of goods. Jon suspected much of it would be sold to men such as him, preparing to take their families west to the Oregon Territories. Except, he had no family. Only a stranger he hoped to take for a wife, if she was even on board.
He watched the streams of people pass him by, mostly men close to him in age. There were a few older couples and a fair amount of families. It slowed to a trickle as the crowd thinned out and finally, Jon noticed her. A woman in a dark blue calico dress and holding a worn satchel, gazing towards the town, looking through the sea of faces.
She turned slowly, her eyes settling on him. “Yes, I’m Sansa Stark. Are you Mr. Snow?” A sigh escaped her as the lines etched in her brow disappeared.
Jon realized she had been frightened he would not be there, just as he’d been of her. “Jon Snow, m’am. I’m pleased to meet you.” His arms hung limply at his side. A kiss felt too intimate with a stranger and a handshake seemed too formal.
Instead, he stood facing her, feeling awkward. She was a lovely creature, the drawing she’d sent him did not do her justice. Sansa Stark’s hair reminded him of the fire light he sat beside when his mother would tell him stories as a child. The dark blue of her dress seemed to make her eyes shine brightly through long, thick lashes. She was tall for a woman, almost of a size with him.
The silence between them stretched on, growing thick. Jon was not surprised, they were two strangers meeting for the first time. All he knew is that she hailed from Delaware and was alone in the world.
“Tell me, Mr. Snow, has the weather been as fine as it appears to be today?” She was smiling prettily at him, perhaps sensing his discomfort, he did not know.
He glanced up at the almost cloudless blue sky. “Yes, m’am. I expect good weather for us as we prepare to leave.” Tension slowly left his body. “Will you call me Jon, please?”
She hesitated. “Jon. Yes, if you will do the same for me?”
“Sansa. That’s a pretty name.” Jon had once been told to compliment a lady’s name. Her pleased expression told him he was wise to do so. “If you’ll allow me?” He took the satchel she carried and made arrangement for her trunk to be delivered to his….their…hotel room.
She walked by his side as Jon led her away from the boat dock and back into the town proper. He noticed Sansa’s curiosity at all the activity. “I had the same reaction at first.”
She glanced towards him. “Pardon?”
“The activity,” he hurried to explain. “Most of the people you see are like us, heading west. Or will be, soon enough.”
“All the encampments, it appears there are white tents in every direction. They could go on for miles.” Families and ox teams were spread all around the town of Independence, preparing to leave on their journey, either the next day or someday soon. All of them with their wagons, and oxen, and tents, crowded together along the outskirts.
“Our tent and wagon is hidden away in that sea. I’ve purchased our schooner wagon and a team of eight oxen. I paid a nearby family to watch over it all tonight.” The Tarlys seemed good folk and Jon had taken an immediate liking to Sam.
“I thought you might like to stay in a hotel room for our wedding night. We will be traveling rough shortly, a nice bed seemed a good idea.”
Jon could not be sure in the bright sunlight but he’d swear she paled at his mention of a bed. They walked together in silence towards Independence Main Hotel, across the street from Messner Dry Goods.
“Mr–Jon, I understood we would be marrying today? Was I mistaken?”
He drew himself up. “I thought to give you a meal and chance to bathe first, if you wanted.” Jon knew conditions aboard the steamboat, he would want the same in her place.
“I sincerely appreciate your offer but I’d prefer to be married first. If it isn’t an inconvenience, that is.” Sansa seemed anxious, those earlier creases in her brow returned as she bit her lip.
“I don’t mind at all,” he hastened to reassure her. “We may be strangers now, but I do want you to be happy, Sansa.”
He offered his arm and she took it. The two of them strolled down the wooden sidewalk as strangers swarmed around and passed them. Jon pointed out the different stores and buildings of Independence, including the wagon makers and livery. As he spoke, her head moved and bobbed about, taking it all in. Soon, they stopped at a small, white building with a steepled roof.
Sansa’s hand tightened around his arm, pulling him to a stop just as he was about to open the door. “I want you to know I intend to be a good wife and do my best to make you happy as well.”
Jon swallowed, unsure of what to say. “I intend to be a good husband,” he answered lamely. She didn’t seem to mind, her smile was a relieved one. “Will you marry me, Sansa Stark?”
A laugh fell from her lips, the first one he heard. Jon thought it beautiful. “Yes, I will marry you, Jon Snow.”
Within minutes, they stood before the minister to exchange their vows. Jon noticed her eyes narrowed at the promise to obey but she spoke the words all the same. Their kiss was dry and stiff. It was a kiss of formality rather than one of affection. He hoped it would not always be like that. But, it was done, Jon was a husband, and he hoped neither of them would come to regret it.
His lips were warm and dry. It was a pleasant kiss, if not the kind she once dreamed off. As they stood alone in the church, a compulsion took her. “We won’t regret this.” His cheeks pinkened, at least what she could see of them. Sansa liked the look of him, Jon Snow was a handsome man. His eyes were a dark grey and it felt to her as if she could guess his thoughts with those eyes. She liked his mouth too, pink lips that could belong on any woman. He wore a scar across his eye, there was a story Sansa hoped to learn one day.
She was frightened at what was to come. Only an hour before, Sansa had been alone in the world with no family or home, only a brother lost somewhere in the Oregon Territories. Now, she was a married woman and would soon begin a journey she had yet to fathom. She was frightened, but she was excited too. Or, she would be.
Jon gave a tentative smile. “Would you like to eat? The restaurants here aren’t especially fancy, but they’ll do well enough.”
She was hungry, had been since stepping off that wretched steamboat, but could not bring herself to eat a morsel of food until the wedding was done. “Sharing a meal is always a good way to learn about a person, don’t you think?”
“Yes, m’am, I do. Shall we?” Sansa took his offered arm. “Will you tell me about the Yellow Stone? Was it as miserable as my experience?”
“I suspect so.” She distracted him with a few stories of her time on the steamboat while they strolled back towards the hotel. Sansa didn’t notice all the people so much any more.
The dining room was made with raw pine and the walls were mostly bare. There were a few samplers on the walls but nothing else. The tables were covered with white cloths, clean and starched, she noted.
“Do you like lemonade?”
Her eyes lit with excitement. “I’m partial to anything with lemons in it.”
“You leave me no choice then,” he said, pleased.
“Do you like to read?”
“Read?” He asked, taken aback. “I read the newspapers, mostly. How about yourself?”
“I rather enjoy it. Are you familiar with the works of Jane Austen?” His blank expression gave her an answer. “I have one of her books in my trunk to read while we travel. Do you have any hobbies?”
“Well now, I like to hunt and fish.” He grew quiet. “You must think I’m dull.”
Sansa did not think that at all. “The opposite. You wrote to a strange woman and asked her to come travel all the way to Oregon with you. I’d say you have an adventurous spirit.”
“An adventurous spirit, is it?” That amused him.
Their meals arrived, baked chicken, green beans with stewed potatoes, and hot yeast rolls. It looked delicious to Sansa. She was famished.
Their conversation turned to idle chatter, the sort of talk between two strangers learning to be friends. She enjoyed it, Jon Snow was a quiet man but didn’t seem to mind her talkative ways. There were so many questions she wanted to know but they would have to wait until the privacy of their hotel room.
She reached into her satchel. “May I show you something?” Sansa pulled out a small blue pamphlet at his nod of curiosity. “I purchased this the day after receiving your letter.” She handed it over.
He read the cover. “The National Wagon Road Guide.” Jon began to rifle through the pages. “I didn’t purchase all our supplies, I thought you might like to help with that since it involves the food and cooking.”
“Could we begin tomorrow?”
“We need too, only got three days.” He reached across the table then, grabbing her hand and giving it a polite kiss.
Too soon, their meal came to an end and he was escorting her to the third floor. Their room was small, barely enough space for the brass bed and dresser. In one corner, there was a wash stand with a porcelain basin and two water pitchers. Sansa eyed it in anticipation.
Jon noticed her interest. “I had extra water brought up for you. There should be soap too.”
She let out a squeal of joy until realizing she would need to undress and wash in front of a man she barely knew. Sansa had never been undressed before any man. “Could I ask you to turn away?”
He stared at her. She did not know if his expression was disappointment or discomfort. “I’ve developed a sudden fascination with the paint on this wall. If you’ll excuse me, Mrs. Snow.” He abruptly turned away, sitting in a chair to face the wall. The room was cramped, leaving almost no room for his legs.
She sighed in relief. Sansa quickly removed her boots before undressing. Her head fell back in pleasure as she inhaled the rose scented soap. She grabbed the nearby washcloth and soaked it before slowly cleaning her body. Every so often, Sansa checked on Jon. But, if he tried to steal a glance at her, she did not catch it. His frame sat rigid in the chair, his head facing forward. Jon was as fascinated with the paint as he claimed.
Sansa dressed in the only night gown she owned, it barely reached her knees and had almost no sleeves at all. The springs of the bed creaked as she slowly sat down.
“I didn’t see a thing, I promise, but this room smells like roses.” He stood up and faced her. “Your hair is wet. Can I touch it?” He asked uncertainly.
Sansa nodded, her stomach twisting as she wondered what else he wanted to do. Jon didn’t seem to notice. “My mother kept her hair up like you during the day but I remember her putting it in a braid at night. Is that what you do?”
She was surprised Jon brought up his mother. Sansa knew both his parents were dead but not much else. “I comb through it first.”
“Will you leave your hair down for me tonight?”
Her heart began to thunder in her chest as she stared at the floor. “Yes,” she whispered.
Jon sat next to her, so close Sansa could see the slow rise and fall of his chest “You’re beautiful, I should have told you that before. You also happen to be so nervous that I think you’d jump out that window if I attempt to touch you.” He ceased stroking her hair. “If that’s all I wanted from a woman, there are plenty of saloons I could visit.” Jon pulled a few sheets of paper from his pocket. “You recognize this?”
The writing was her own. “It’s the letter I sent you.” The sheets were folded so many times, the creases were worn.
“Do you remember what you wrote? I’ll read the line for you. ‘I will believe there is always kindness in the world, if one only knows where to look for it.’”
She did remember that. “I told you the truth. My hope was that we would find it in each other.”
“I’m tired of being lonely,” he said wearily.
“Me too. We aren’t, now.” Sansa’s family was dead too, except for her brother Robb who disappeared in Oregon two years ago. She still hoped to see him again one day. She grasped his hand, kissing his palm. His skin was hard with callouses. “Maybe we could learn more about each other, instead?”
He smiled sadly. “I think I’d like that. I think I’d like that very much.”
So they did as the hours slowly passed and she began to yawn. “Jon, I think I need to sleep now.”
“Yes, I expect you do.” He moved away from her to hang his coat up on the hook in the wall before removing his suspenders. A part of Sansa was fascinated, another part wondered if she should turn away to give him a bit of privacy. “I should warn you, I’m not especially modest. The trousers will stay on tonight though,” he said reassuringly.
Jon snuffed out the lantern before laying down next to her. Not so much as an inch of their bodies touched.
“Good night, Jon.”
“Good night, wife.” His hand reached out in the darkness, squeezing hers before letting go.
They said nothing else and, eventually, she drifted into a dreamless sleep.
1. Messners Dry Goods was a store located in Independence. I could find pictures of it as late as the 1870s.
2. The Yellow Stone was a steamboat that traveled the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.
3. Sansa was married in a dark blue calico dress. I was inspired by the story of a woman on the Oregon Trail who married in a dress of the same description. Her name and the year of this event are lost to history.
4. The pamphlet Sansa showed to Jon did exist. It was a how to guide.
Sansa stirred, causing the bed springs to creak beneath her. The warm air and quiet, broken by the rustle of fabric, served to remind her she was in a unfamiliar place and with a man she’d known for less than a day. She opened her eyes only to quickly squeeze them shut at the sight greeting her.
“Sorry, I tried to be quiet.”
“Don’t apologize.” Sansa sat up, pulling at her nightgown to better cover her legs. “Do you need help?”
He smiled sheepishly. “It’s not necessary. I’ve been washing myself since I was a boy.” His trousers lay on the floor next to him. Jon had told her the truth the night before, he was not inclined towards modesty. Now, he didn’t have so much as a stitch of clothing on him. “There was some water left in the pitcher, figured I’d make use of it.”
Sansa felt a devilish curiosity as she studied her new husband. He was strong and well muscled, doubtless from a life of physical activity. She especially liked his backside and the curve where it met his hip and leg. However, it was Jon’s manhood that fascinated Sansa the most. Once, she’d been responsible for her two younger brothers so had seen that particular part of a man’s anatomy before. Jon was different though, it protruded every so slightly from a patch of dark, curly hair and flopped about some with his movements. Sansa wondered over it, she’d imagined his manhood would be much bigger.
“Am I embarrassing you?” He stood next to the wash stand, splashing water from the basin onto his chest and lower.
“No,” she said uncomfortably. “I used to care for my younger brothers so I’m familiar with a man’s body.” He stared at her with a strange expression, Sansa did not know why. “We only have the rose scented soap. I didn’t think you would appreciate smelling like a woman.”
He picked up the bar to sniff at it before scrubbing at his torso and arms. “I’ll be smelling like my wife.” He smiled shyly.
She blushed before standing, not sure how to respond. The porcelain chamber pot sat on the only chair in the room and Sansa wrinkled her nose, noting he’d made use of it. She picked up his trousers and laid them out on the bed before doing the same with his shirt. “Are all your shirts linen?”
“I only got four and, no, just the one.”
Sansa guessed this was his finest, it looked newy made. She was pleased though, the material was much too thin for their journey. “Good.” She stepped towards him, holding out the small towel she’d used the previous night. Jon ignored it, sticking his head into the basin before scrubbing at his scalp. “Let me help you.” She picked up the remaining water pitcher, pouring it over him and running her fingers through the wet strands of his hair.
“Thank you,” he said, picking up the towel she once again offered to dry himself. “Last chance to wash.” Jon began to dress then, putting on the same clothes he’d worn the previous day before using the comb she offered him.
“Will we be returning to your wagon soon?” Sansa felt eager to begin, the idea of shopping for supplies excited her.
Jon took his coat off the wall hook to put on. “Our wagon, and after we eat. I need to go make arrangements for your trunk.”
He sighed. “It’s bigger than I thought. The hotel should be able to store it until we can fetch it with the wagon.”
“Oh,” she said, relieved. Everything Sansa owned in the world was stored away in the old oak trunk she’d traveled with. It contained the rest of her clothes, some family heirlooms, and other items she required for her journey.
Jon stood, rooted to the same spot, staring at her. Several seconds passed before he finally spoke, “Sansa, last night, I meant what I said.” She tensed. “In time though, I hope there is some measure of affection between us."
Sansa’s parents had loved each other dearly. She remembered coming on them embracing the other or stealing quick kisses while doing chores. “I hope for that too.”
He nodded sharply. “Can I kiss you?”
She rubbed the bottom of one foot against the wood floor. It was dirty. “Of course.” Sansa remembered their kiss in the church, it had not been horrible.
Jon took the needed three steps until he stood before her and his hands settled on her waist. Sansa was not sure how to respond. She didn’t want to touch his chest, that seemed much too forward, so she put one on his shoulder and waited. She wasn’t sure if she should close her eyes or move forward, instead, Sansa stayed still. He said nothing, moving suddenly until their lips touched. Jon used more pressure than he had in the church and Sansa found herself enjoying it. Her lids drifted closed as he went deeper until she felt his tongue and his hands digging into her waist. She moaned quietly and he broke it, pulling away.
“Thank you.” His breathing was ragged. “I’ll see to your trunk. Can you be ready when I get back?”
She nodded as he left the room. Sansa touched her lips with the edge of her fingers, smiling to herself. Her second kiss was much better. With Jon’s absence, she made use of the chamber pot before moving it back under the bed, dressed, packed her satchel, and began to pin up her hair.
The door creaked open, announcing her husband’s return. “Will you be keeping your hair up all the time?”
Sansa remembered his fascination with it the previous night. “It will be windy,” she explained. She also did not know how often opportunities to bathe and wash would be available. She remembered her parents though. “The color comes from my mother’s family. I'll have it down tonight and I like putting it in a braid sometimes.” Jon liked that, she could tell.
He did not respond, picking up her old satchel and escorting her to the dining room instead. After a quiet breakfast, or rather, one where she rambled over her book while Jon politely listened, they stood on the edge of the street once more.
The town was as busy as the day before. The wide street was filled with all sorts of people. One corner, across the way from the white brick courthouse, had a swarm of men buying and selling ox teams. Three old men, all with whips in hand, stood together arguing, their faces turning red. Sansa looked on curiously until Jon pulled her arm so they kept moving.
“Which wagon shop did you say you bought from?”
“I didn’t. There, Hiram Young.” Jon pointed at a blacksmith shop with an open yard next to it. The yard contained a number of wagons, none of them covered. “Did I tell you how I happened to learn his name? My old friend, Theon Greyjoy made this same journey with his wife, Jeyne, last year. I got a letter from him telling me to contact Hiram Young and do what he told me, just as when we were kids. So, I did.”
“I think I like your friend, Jon. Perhaps, one day, we can thank him proper.” Sansa smiled up at her new husband, content.
“One day, perhaps. Come on.”
Jon took her hand in his as they walked along the road leading west out of Independence. A train of wagons slowly drove past, Sansa counted twenty in all. A woman on a poor horse rode alongside one, with a little child in her lap and another strapped on behind her front. Three more children were tied on to another horse. She thought then of her younger brothers and sisters and could not imagine caring for such a great many children alone.
“Why doesn’t she ride inside?”
Jon looked in the direction Sansa indicated. “Lack of room and comfort, I suspect.”
She did not think a single woman and some babies would take up so much space but she kept quiet. “How far do we walk?”
“A mile or so.”
Jon led her through a maze of white topped wagons and tents encamped on the plains surrounding Independence, all waiting to depart, the same as them. They passed a woman in a red calico dress bent over a cook fire with a baby on her hip. Nearby, two more young children played together while her husband sat in a rocking chair, smoking a pipe. The woman noticed them, watching as they walked past. Sansa grew uncomfortable, the young mother was miserable, she would swear to it. The husband was not.
“Home, such as it is.” Jon drew them up in front of a prairie schooner that looked no different than any of the others surrounding them. The oak wood was new, Sansa could smell it. The bows were hickory and covered in a thick, white hemp canvas. She felt oddly disappointed to see it, Sansa had imagined something much bigger. Her husband jumped, pulling himself into the bed before dropping the chains on the back. “Well, no thieving was done while we were gone. I’ll need to thank Sam Tarly for watching over it.”
She meant to ask over the oxen but they were forgotten at her first glimpse inside. Jon had two large water kegs, a wash board and tub, mattress, blankets, pillows, ground covers, a tent, tin pail, spare wagon parts, axes, a hatchet, a hoe, two shovels, a saw, and much more that Sansa did not not recognize. More supplies needed to be purchased along with enough food to last them for six months. It all meant Sansa’s trunk, the very trunk that had once belonged to her mother could not come.
She focused her attention on Jon, realizing he’d been talking but she’d not heard a word of it. “It won’t fit, will it?” She asked dejectedly.
Jon gazed down at his wife, instantly knowing what she was referring too. “No, it won’t.” He jumped down to stand beside Sansa. She stood by the corner, her hand resting on the white cover. “I didn’t know how to tell you, I’m sorry,” he apologized.
“My father’s wagon was bigger so I imagined it the same.”
“Your father’s wagon wasn’t meant to travel great distances, it wouldn’t make it two hundred miles before breaking on us,” he explained. Jon wasn’t sure if he should offer some form of comfort or not, Sansa was obviously distraught. “Can I ask what was inside?”
“Personal items for travel, my bible, and keepsakes of my family. Oh, I dried some apples and peaches as well, those are stored in some old flour sacks I cut down for size.” Her voice grew quieter, plaintive. “My father made the trunk for my mother shortly after they were married so I kept it with me, even while I lived with my uncle Benjen for awhile.”
“I’m sorry,” he lamely repeated.
“It doesn’t matter.” Jon didn’t believe her. She blinked a few times before giving him a forced smile. “Where shall we begin our shopping?”
“Kelly’s. You can order whatever you want and I’ll pick it up tomorrow.” She still wore the same false smile. Jon owed her better, he should have been honest from the beginning. He scratched the back of his neck. “It matters to me, Sansa. We’ll bring as much as we can, I promise you.”
Sansa smiled reluctantly. “That’s kind of you.”
“A husband taking care of his wife shouldn’t be considered a particularly kind thing to do.” Jon’s fingers itched to take down her hair, it had inflamed him the night before. He wondered if Sansa realized how thin her nightgown was, Jon would bet not at all. An urge struck him, he picked her up by the waist to swing her around, depositing her on the back of the wagon.
“You should not do that where others can see.” Her cheeks turned a bright red hue. She began to swing her legs back and forth so her dark blue skirts billowed about with her movements.
Jon pulled himself up so he sat next to her. “No one is paying us a bit of attention.” The individual camp sites were a good hundred feet apart or more and their closest neighbors were the Tarlys who looked busy with chores. “You want to bring memories of your family with you. I can understand that.”
“I saw nothing personal of yours, Jon.”
“That’s because I don’t have any.” His mother died when he was still a child and Jon didn’t have any particular desire to remember his father. “No, don’t go pitying me. I got something better.” He kissed the top of her palm before getting back on his feet and helping her to do the same. “Shall we go?”
They wandered back through the emigrant town growing up on the edges of Independence towards Kelly’s, a store the size of a warehouse to purchase supplies. Jon wondered how much of their stock arrived with Sansa the previous day. He stood back, letting her handle all the arrangements with one of the store clerks.
She ordered almost 300 pounds of flour, 200 pounds of bacon packed in bran, coffee, sugar, beans and rice, dried vegetables, yeast, salt, pepper, and more.
“Eggs?” Jon had not expected that. Mostly, he’d pictured sacks of beans and rice.
“We can pack them in cornmeal. They’ll last a couple weeks.” She waited until the clerk left them alone. “Jon, would you consider getting a cow?”
He didn’t particularly want to move a herd by himself for the next five or six months. “How many?”
“One, a dairy cow. I won’t have time to take care of another. We could churn the milk into butter with buckets suspended from the wagon. If it’s covered, of course.”
Jon’s mouth began to water at the idea of fresh butter. He’d imagined meals of nothing but hard tack and salted pork. “There’s two of us.”
“Two of us for what?”
‘The cow. I’m as capable as you are.” His answer pleased her for some reason. “You aren’t my servant, Sansa, you’re my wife. I’ve got a marriage certificate if you don’t believe me.”
She giggled. “It’s not that.”
“What is it then?” Sansa glanced about in a way that made him think of her as a little girl worried she might be caught stealing sweets before pulling a bit of dirt or dust off the edge of his coat. “You are a proper thing, aren’t you?” Jon wondered how much he’d shocked her bathing earlier that morning.
Her face fell. “Are you making fun of me?”
“Shit,” he sighed. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said it.” Jon thought he’d grow to enjoy her proper ways but all he’d managed so far was insulting her.
“You don’t need to apologize,” she said tightly.
Jon disagreed but their private moment was gone. The shop clerk returned so Sansa finished her purchases while he waited patiently. In the end, she ordered both of them more shoes, cookware, medicine, tin buckets, tin plates, and enough so that Jon ceased listening. After, they left Kelly’s behind with him over a hundred fifty dollars poorer. He didn’t mind.
Next, they made a short visit to a local butchers and Messner’s, at Sansa request, to pick up some fresh food. She chattered on as always, it was if Jon never made an ass of himself earlier. He was rapidly coming to enjoy listening to her, it was a welcome change from the isolation he experienced living alone and with his father. Jon had never met any of the Stark family but was beginning to feel as if he’d known them all his life, she talked about her brother Robb and younger siblings almost incessantly.
That evening, Sansa cooked him a meal of fried ham, green beans, roasted potatoes, and fresh pie. Jon ate so much his belly was beginning to hurt. He loved it. “This is the best meal I’ve ever eaten, I promise.”
Sansa gave him a pleased smile. “Thank you.” She took his newly emptied tin plate. “I’m going to do the dishes.” She dropped their cookware into the wash tub, keeping her back to him.
“Will you come here? I want to talk to you.” Only a day ago, Jon had promised to be a good husband. So far, he’d managed to avoid delivering bad news and then inadvertently insulted her.
“Is something wrong? I want to finish cleaning before it grows much darker.”
It was already dusk outside. The sun was slowly disappearing on the horizon, turning the sky a brilliant shade of amethyst. “Plenty of time, I’ll help you.”
“You don’t need to do that.”
“I’ve washed dishes before, Sansa, I’m perfectly capable. Sit down.” Jon waited for his wife to join him and pulled her close before she could object. “I didn’t live up to my word today.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” she said, puzzled.
“Your trunk. I knew right away and shouldn’t have left it for you to figure out on your own. It was cowardly.” Jon waited for Sansa to say something but she kept silent. He took that for agreement. “I also enjoy your proper ways, but be warned, I’ll poke at them some. I’ll bet you're blushing again. Are you?”
“Perhaps, a little.” There was a sweet tone to her voice that Jon liked.
“Did your parents love each other?”
“They loved and adored each other, greatly.”
He swallowed, considering. Jon’s parents were never in love, or at least he had no memory of it. “I’m going to kiss you again, Sansa.” He hoped they would be doing more very soon, but he was content to wait a bit longer. He desperately hoped to see her naked too, the tantalizing glimpse through her nightgown had been stuck in his head all day.
“Best be quick about it, Mr. Snow.”
“Yes, Mrs. Snow.” His lips settled over hers, turning the start of her laugh to a sigh. Her hands settled on his chest as he cupped her face, drawing her closer. As the kiss went on, Jon wondered if they would ever have a marriage like her parents. He hoped so.
1. The description of the three men arguing that Sansa described was partially inspired by a diary entry. Francis Parkman, 1846.
2. The woman with five children tied to horses also came from a diary entry. Her reaction to the sight: "I felt thankful and imagined I was only on a picnic." Francis Sawyer, 1854
3. Hiram Young, the man Jon purchased his wagon from was a real person. He was a former slave who bought slaves to work in his wagon shops so they could earn their freedom.
4. Sansa's observation of the miserable woman with a baby on her hip was inspired by something I noticed in letters and journals. Younger, newly married women tended to be more excited by the trip. Older women, with children, much less so. I read a couple entries where wives recalled begging and pleading with their husband over it. None of the men listened to them.
5. The smaller size of the schooner wagon is accurate. They were smaller than the wagons that would be used back east and were designed to carry only the most needed goods long distances. Most could carry 1500 pounds or so.
6. The store Jon mentions using for supplies, Kelly's, was a real store. It specialized in outfitting those who would be travelling along the trails.
7. The food purchases are based upon my research and used source materials, including some journal entries and field guides. One of the field guides came from an army captain. The "bacon" was salted pork and would be kept cool in bran. Eggs were stored in corn meal.
8. Sansa's idea of putting milk in a tin bucket was a common practice. The wagon's movements would churn it into butter over the course of a day.
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
1. This is all Sansa's POV.
2. I've gotten a couple queustions about it but there is no great mystery to the death of Sansa's family. It's a painful memory so she isn't dwelling on it. She'll tell us soon.
3. More details about camp organization and life will be told in further chapters. I didn't want this chapter to turn into one giant infodump.
4. Several people have mentioned playing the oregon trail computer game. The path in this story may not match the one in the game exactly. The "Oregon Trail" is not a single trail as we may think of it, but a general path with off-shoots and variations.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Come on, Sansa. Get up.”
It was Jon, shaking her awake. She sat up abruptly and rubbed the sleep from her eyes. “Sorry, I’m awake,” she said groggily. He was dressed and probably had been for some time. “Is it time?”
“A couple hours or so. If you clean up, I’ll put the tent down.” He kissed her forehead, as he’d done the previous morning too, before standing up. “I’m hungry.” Sansa was learning quickly, Jon was always ready for his next meal. He ate nearly twice as much as she did.
“Breakfast will be ready when you come back.”
He was gone, slipping through the front of their tent, to tend their oxen and cow she suspected. Sansa rose and put on the same blue calico dress she’d worn since arriving. Laundry would be one more chore once their journey started and she intended to do as little of it as necessary. Their fire was already lit, as she knew it would be. It was 5:30 or thereabouts and Jon had most likely been up for at least an hour.
Not so far away, Gilly was already preparing breakfast over her cook fire. Sansa waved a greeting before starting her own preparations for the morning meal. Jon would be expecting a plate of hot foot to be waiting for him. The orange glow of camp fires were all around, lending a ghostly shadow to the white canvas on the wagons and tents. Dark figures moved about, mostly women, preparing to depart as she was. This was the last time she would wake up in Independence, Missouri.
“This is delicious,” Jon muttered in between bites of food.
She thanked him before taking a sip of coffee. Secretly, Sansa thought he would find corn porridge with a bit of salt delicious if she made it. She wondered what he ate before meeting her. “Enjoy the chicken, it will be the last for a good while.” She forced herself to finish a griddle cake before giving up. Sansa had no appetite.
Jon had become increasingly coiled up tight with excitement over the past couple days, unable to stay still for any length of time. He would check over their four yoke then perform another inspection of the wagon. Yesterday, he’d led them to the nearby springs for a final cleaning and then met up with several of the men in their train after dinner. He’d not shared the purpose behind the meeting but it was no social call.
Sansa felt the stirrings of melancholy settle deep within her, an unwillingness to say goodbye that she didn’t quite understand. “I’’ll put away the bedding while you finish eating.” There was no point sitting idle. She left him to stow away their blankets and pillows in the gutta percha ground cover she’d purchased. So far, Sansa had kept the inside of their tent quite neat and tidy and she meant for it to stay that way.
“I’ll finish here.” Jon’s hand settled on her shoulder, his thumb resting on the bared skin close to her neck. “You hardly said a word at breakfast.”
Sansa put a bright smile on before facing him. “My mind was occupied with all the tasks that need doing before we leave.”
“If it is more, I hope you share your worries with me,” he said earnestly.
“You are a kind man.” She gave a half smile before pressing her lips to his, knowing he would like it. Jon was the one who’d instigated their physical intimacies so far. “I do not regret marrying you. I do, however, regret the never ending dishes that need cleaning.”
“I’d promise to eat less but we’d both know I was lying.” He stroked the hair at her temples, probably wishing she had not pinned it up that morning.
Sansa did the dishes and put them and cookware away before dumping the tepid gray water on the ground. Above her the sun was almost completely up. The slight morning chill would be gone soon, to be replaced with the hot summer sun and the harsh prairie winds. There was only one task that remained to her and she dreaded it.
Her mother’s china dishes sat on the front of their wagon but they could not come with. They were beautiful, with blue roses and trout painted along the edge, and had belonged to her grandmother, Minisa Whent, once. Now, they would sit upon the cold prairie earth until another woman saw fit to make them her own. Her mother’s music box would join them. It had been a gift from her father when they were still newly married but it was too large and could break easily. Inside the tent, tucked safely away, were the Stark family Bible, a doll her father gave her for her fourteenth birthday, and a few wooden toys that once belonged to her siblings.
“One day, I’ll make you something with the pieces of your chest that could be saved, I promise,” Jon said solemnly. She took some comfort from it and his sweet presence. He did not help her remove the chinaware, for which she was grateful, it was a task for her.
“I would like that.” Not so far away, a pair of women caught her attention. They were of a similar height and age with the same chestnut hair. Sisters, she realized, as they embraced each other with a ferocity that made her think of the family now lost to her. A man came, tapping one on the shoulder, before leaving them alone.
“What are they on about, do you think?”
Sansa deliberately looked towards the ground, wishing to grant what privacy could be given. “You should avert your gaze, Mr. Snow.” That came out more harshly than she meant. “I’m sorry. They are mourning a great loss, looks like.” She thought of her older brother and wondered if she would ever see him again.
“Don’t be,” he said hastily. “I need to harness the oxen.”
She nodded, understanding what he was telling her. Quickly, Sansa removed the last few pieces, stacking them together into a neat pile. Temptation took her and she snatched two of the larger plates before climbing into the back of their wagon. Some part of her mother would be coming with her after all, Sansa decided to herself. She tucked them away amongst their bedding before taking out her Bible.
She opened the back pages, stroking along the names written in her mother’s flowing script. The only portion that contained her writing was the day of their death, May 16th, 1861. Her and Robb were the only Starks that remained now and Sansa did not know if she would ever see him again. Sansa glanced upwards to God in his Heavens before closing her eyes. She prayed for Bran and Rickon and Arya, for her mother and father, taken from her so cruelly. She prayed for her brother Robb, wherever he was, for all the other young men men who left the loving arms of their family in search of adventure, for her Uncle Benjen who she lived with this past year, she prayed for Jon’s parents up in Heaven. She prayed for the mother she saw on the tired horse with her children all about. She prayed for the woman over the cook fire and for her husband to be a better man. She prayed for all the families setting forth in their train and all the women travelling the trails. She prayed for the children they had and those yet to come. Lastly, she prayed for Jon. Please let him always be the good husband he’s shown himself to be, she asked God, and let us find the love my parents once shared.
Sansa opened her eyes, taking notice of the increased noise and activity around her. She put away her Bible and climbed out. The Tarly family sat on their front bench, their oxen already yoked and harnessed. Their baby, Melessa, lay cradled in her mother’s arms with little Sam seated between his parents. She went to her own place, where Jon awaited her.
“You won’t regret this,” he told her. Jon’s expression was confident but his eyes were pleading.
“It will be our adventure.” Sansa glanced behind her, to the east and all she’d ever known. She would never see her family farm again, now owned by the Boltons, or her childhood friend Beth Cassel. She grasped her new husband’s hand in her own. “We will never regret it.” She smiled confidently. Sansa was nineteen years old and a married woman, she would not give voice to the fear that sat low in her stomach.
Preparations done and the wagons formed a long line. Too soon, came the sound of a trumpet and a man’s bellowing “Wagons Ho.” could be heard. One went and then another and another, each accompanied by the harsh snap of a whip until it was their turn. Their oxen moved and their wheels turned. Sansa looked only forward, to the Pacific Coast, to their new home and land, to new friends, and all they had yet to encounter. She wondered what dangers and difficulties lay before them.
Slowly, they crept along as the distance between each wagon grew. Their oxen stepped forward, seemingly in no hurry and with little care for the lush green grass all around them or the white prairie flowers that appeared every so often. “How far did you say we would travel today?”
“Eight miles, maybe.” Jon had explained more but she hadn’t listened so well. Their first few days were mostly to break in their animals so they grew used to the routine of travel. “Stopping at 10:30 for the nooning.”
They rode in silence, past the springs that provided them with water and the local mill that made the flour sitting in the bed of their wagon. It took her only an hour to decide she didn't much enjoy riding in the wagon, it bounced and jerked over even the tiniest pebble in the road. Silently, Sansa admitted she better understood Jon’s refusal to bring her mother’s china with.
She put her arm through Jon’s and smiled up at him. “It’s a fine day for a ride, Mr. Snow.”
That pleased him, she could tell. “May I ask a favor?”
“Could we have more pie for dinner tonight?”
“I’ll start on it when we stop next.” Sansa thought through the fresh fruit she’d brought with, deciding to make use of the remaining berries. “Would you mind terribly if I walked the rest of the day after we stopped?”
He quietly laughed. “I expected you to scramble off this thing five minutes after we started.”
The head wagon sounded the trumpet and their train drew to a stop. Jon jumped down before grabbing her by the waist to set her on the ground. “I’ll see to the animals,” he said before removing their yokes.
He would be setting them to rest and graze while the sun was at its strongest before getting their water from the nearby Big Blue River. Sansa prepared a cold lunch, using up the last of their ham and bread made the previous day, before beginning the pie dough and cutting up some parsnips. The time passed and they were moving once more.
This time, Sansa noticed many of the women and older children chose to walk just as she did. Ahead of her a pair of young girls walked arm and arm, she could hear their sweet, childish laughter across the wind. She smiled sadly, one of them sounded like Arya.
After awhile, she saw Gilly, holding a sleeping baby, while little Sam pulled at her skirts and whined. “Can I help you?” Sansa extended her arms, offering to take Melessa.
“Do you mind?” Gilly handed over the baby, grateful, before picking up her second child.
“I spent so much time caring for my younger brothers, I sometimes forget they weren’t my own.”
Sansa carried the little girl for the rest of the day until the wagons drew to a halt and formed a corral. The sun was still high over head, she noticed, it could not be so very late. She returned the baby to her mother before asking Jon, “What time is it?”
“Not quite three.”
A tremor of excitement went through her at his pronouncement. That meant time for her to make dinner and prepare for the next day, and even spend the evening on some embroidery. Her berry pie was almost done when Sansa heard the trumpet once more followed by a pair of men on the other side of the corral yelling out warnings of nearby Indians.
Sansa glanced about in confusion, noticing several others doing the same. She did not see any Indians, or anything of danger for that matter. “Jon, what should we do?”
“Get in the wagon,” he ordered. She merely stared at him. “I said get in the wagon.” There was a glow to his eyes that frightened her.
Sansa did as told, climbing inside and crouching down to remain hidden. Jon took his rifle and left her alone. She could hear other women screaming and a man calling out that someone had fainted. The minutes passed and then silence. Finally, Jon appeared before her once more.
“What happened? Are we going to die?” She cried.
“No, it was only a drill. It went pretty well, I’d say,” he said calmly. “You can get out now.”
She stared at her husband, his face serious and calm. She recalled his meeting the previous day, the one he’d been secretive over. “You knew,” she accused.
“Yeah, I did.” He wasn’t going to apologize, she realized. “You did good,” he complimented. A part of her wanted to slap him over it.
“I thought we were going to be killed.” Only their first day too.
His face softened, growing contrite. “If everyone knew, it wouldn’t have been taken seriously.”
Her pie and bread had burned. Sansa stared down at the blackened masses, feeling glum. She would need to start dinner all over again and would have no time for needle work. She hoped Jon liked peaches, their berries were gone.
“This is the best peach pie I’ve ever had.” He was almost done with his second slice. She thanked him. “Sansa, I’ll do all the work for the cow tomorrow.” From his tone, she realized it was Jon’s way of apologizing for frightening her earlier.
She wondered what a good wife would say to his offer. “Perhaps only the morning?” Sansa thought maybe she could sleep a little later.
“That’s fair.” He set his tin plate on their table and rose, coming to rest before her. Sansa glanced about, worried who could see. Jon chuckled before putting his hands on her knees. “No one is paying us the slightest bit of attention, I promise you.”
“It’s not proper to behave this way in public,” she explained.
“The tent is up. Shall we behave this way in there? Besides, I’m only touching your knees.” And her thigh a little too, but she did not correct him. “I wanted to make sure you didn’t regret it.”
Sansa stroked his whiskers, liking the soft tickle of them against the skin of her palm. “No, not even for an instant.”
He grabbed a hand to kiss it. “Good.”
Later, after dinner, Jon left her to speak to some of the menfolk again. It was still summer which meant the sun had not yet fully set and with the fire light so close by, she could see quite well in the gloaming. Seizing the opportunity, Sansa partially filled a bucket of water and took the very last of her rose-scented soap before disappearing into the tent.
She stripped down, completely removing her dress, humming to herself. The prairie wind could be felt against her skin, giving her gooseflesh but it was not so very cold yet. She hurried, using a wash rag before rinsing off.
“Sansa, I---” Jon entered, coming to a half only couple feet away. His nostrils flared and his jaw dropped. He stared with an intensity that should have frightened her but did not. “Shit.”
She pursed her lips at his foul language but said nothing. This was the first time Jon had seen her undressed. They had kissed many times and lay together during the nights but nothing else. Jon had made no demands although Sansa expected he would soon. However, his hands stayed at his side even as she could see the desire growing in him. “You can touch me if you want,” she said, feeling brave. That morning, she set off on a journey that she once never could have imagined. Letting her husband look on her felt a very small thing in comparison. Sansa took his hand, settling it on her breast.
“You do tempt me,” he sighed. Jon squeezed, ever so slightly. “I’m going to touch you.” She thought his fingers trembled a little.
Sansa nodded, unable to speak. His hands trailed lower, down her rib cage to her stomach and lower, to her hip. She felt his fingers tracing a path to her other hip and shivered before they lightly grazed along her stomach to settle on her other breast. Jon surprised her then, suddenly leaning down to suckle at her breast, his eyes never leaving hers. She stared at him, breathless. Sansa cupped his cheek encouragingly. It stirred him, suddenly his lips were on hers and his hands were at her waist, pulling her close. His kiss was demanding and forceful, she loved it.
Then Jon broke away, his breathing had turned harsh and ragged. “A very big temptation,” he rasped. Her husband released her before stepping away. “You should put your nightgown on,” he instructed.
Sansa did as told, feeling uncertain. “Is something wrong?”
“Yes, we were arranging the watch schedule and I volunteered for the first shift.” He rubbed at his beard, frustrated. “Just might be one of the dumber decisions of my life.”
“You’ve done nothing wrong, believe me,” he said, as if sensing her thoughts. Jon was correct, she worried she’d been overly forward. “I came by to tell you to go on to bed.”
“You won’t be here?” Disappointment filled her.
“I’m sorry. You’ll be fast asleep when I come to bed.”
Sansa remembered he’d volunteered to take care of the cow in the morning too. “Jon?”
“I don’t regret it, not any of it, not even a little bit.”
He groaned before kissing her again. “Good night wife.” Jon left right after.
It grew dark soon after and Sansa went to bed, alone. It was quiet outside the tent, the darkness broken by the occasional sound of an owl or other night animal. Slowly, she drifted off, wondering what the next day would bring to her and her new husband.
Later that night, Sansa did not wake as Jon crawled into their bed next to her or feel him press his lips to her forehead. She did sigh in her sleep, however, and pull her body close to his.
1. It was not unusual for the day to start as early as 4am to gather up the cattle and other animals.
2. The griddle cakes that Sansa made are flour and water cut into squares and fried, usually with beef fat.
3. The gutta percha coverings were common. Its a plastic/rubber like material. The covering would have gone on the ground first. Then blankets, comforter, and pillows on top.
4. Sansa's comment about keeping the inside of the tent neat and tidy was a common declaration I noticed. One woman pointedly set a table for dinner every night, with a white tablecloth and everything.
5. Sansa laying the cast off items on the ground was rather common. Emigrants often did exactly that to lighten the wagon load or when something broke.
6. The two women, sisters, that Sansa saw is inspired by a real-life story. I will quote portions of a letter: "It was like tearing our heartstrings asunder. But such sorrows are to be endured not described. As she with the other friends turned to leave me for the ferry which was to take them back to home and civilization, I stood alone on the wild prairie. Looking westward I say my husband driving slowly over the plain; turning my face once more to the east, my dear sister's footsteps were fast widening the distance between us. For the time I knew not which way to go nor whom to follow." - Lavinia Honeyman Porter about leaving her sister in 1859. This was written 42 years after. Misspellings are hers.
7. The "Wagons Ho" is authentic.
8. Sansa's reflections on leaving are inspired by a journal entry: "After weeks of preparation we are at last ready to take our departure for the Pacific Coast, to find a new home far away, to form new ties and other acquaintances amid far different scenes. We know not the dangers we may meet, the difficulties that will have to be overcome on this long and perilous journey.” - Rachael Taylor, 1853
9. The springs Sansa mentioned is a real place. It was a source of water for emigrants and their animals. So is the flour mill. I have conflicting information on the name but it would have been the source of the flour in their wagon.
10 Nooning was a midday stop, usually a couple hours. The main purpose was to eat and let the animals rest during the hottest part of the day.
11. Fear over Indians was a common sentiment. The actual data does not support this fear. The practice drill described was fairly typical. I based some of it on a journal entry by Catherine Haun in 1849.
12. Sansa is 19 years old. I noticed most brides in my research were between 18-20 years so set her age accordingly.
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
1. I will slowly be unveiling life in the wagon train as the chapters continue.
2. To give a sense of geography. The train left Independence, MO and headed west towards the Big Blue River. They then followed it in a general W/NW direction towards the ford in this chapter.
3. The time frame for this chapter would be the later half of April.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Jon bolted upright from the morning bugle call. The enthusiasm combined with lacking skill told him it was Tormund waking up their camp. He reached out blindly, seeking Sansa’s form, but his palm landed on her chin and mouth. She stirred before turning away from him. “Sleep awhile longer, wife,” he whispered into the darkness before rising to put on his trousers and suspenders and grabbing his coat. Jon left behind his hat, not bothering with it in the early morning.
Outside, the dim shadows of other men moved about, a few with lanterns to help guide them in the blackness. Jon stoked the coals of their camp fire and threw on a few pieces of scrub and branch he’d picked up the previous evening. They should have enough for Sansa to make their breakfast before packing up. After, he untied the ropes between his and the Tarly wagon, pulled up the stakes, and separated the hitch between his and the Glovers. Grabbing his whip from the side toolbox, Jon led his team away from the corral and out into the lusher grasslands for their morning graze. Water gathering was next, two buckets from the nearby Blue. The water was crisp and cold with a rather pleasant taste. He set them down by the back of the wagon for Sansa to find when she woke before returning to his four yoke.
Next up was the cow. Jon tied her to the back of the wagon although he didn’t worry much over any escape. Sansa had done well, she was a placid creature. “Good morning, kind lady. My wife says you will be giving milk to the children in our travel party and told me to thank you.” His hand grazed her side, comfortingly, before he squatted down on the stool. The bucket was clean and dry, as he knew it would be. Jon stripped the first teat before emptying it, repeating the process three more times. It went quickly. The bucket was left next to the water and covered, his wife would see to the rest of it.
“I never thanked you last night.”
Jon turned to see Sansa standing only a few feet away, in the same blue dress she’d worn the previous day. Her hair was pinned up and already covered by a bonnet, a fact which he found to be rather disappointing. She glowed from the orange flames nearby. Jon felt a stirring low in his belly. “For the cow? I told you back in Independence we could both see to it.” He pressed a chaste kiss to her lips, mindful of Sansa’s concerns for modesty. Still, his memory of her naked flesh the night before was still with him.
He left her to fix their breakfast and pack up before setting off to round up their cattle. Jon flicked his wrist, letting the whip’s popper grab their attention before motioning forward. He walked them back to camp, staying to the left. All eight followed easily, lumbering along as was their habit.
“Whoa.” He bid them to a halt, spying Sansa bent over their cookfire, a pair of frying pans in front of her. “Is there enough time to yoke ‘em?”
She stood, filling up a plate. “Eat first so you have warm food in your belly.”
Jon did as she bid, biting into bacon, eggs and griddle cakes. He felt greedy over Sansa’s cooking. Before her, Mrs. Tarly took pity on him sometimes and fed him dinner. Otherwise, he usually fixed himself meat and beans, or ate in one of the Independence saloons. The last time Jon experienced a woman caring for him like Sansa was before his mother died ten years ago.
He finished, leaving Sansa to clean the dishes and pack up the inside of their tent. Jon picked up a yoke and stood to the left of the first pair. “Move your head,” he ordered. He stepped in front of the pair, placing the beam over the off ox before laying the yoke over the nigh and repeating his instruction. The bow under each of them was pinned and it was done. Jon did these to the other two pairs, leaving the fourth to follow behind their wagon. After, he backed them up, lifting the wagon tongue and hooking it through the first yoke ring. The wagon’s link chain went through the second and third pair, securing them all together.
A bark of “Wagon’s Ho,” was heard through the camp by Mr. Mormont, their train captain. Jon rushed to take down the tent and slide it into the back of the wagon before flicking the whip in his right hand. “Get up,” Jon said and the four pair stepped forward, pushing with the back of their neck against the yoke. They were at the back for today’s rotation, the train setting out three to four wagons wide. The open grasslands meant greater space for travel and less dust to breath in.
“What are their names?” Sansa stood on his left side, a couple paces away, with a child in her arms.
“Where did the baby come from?”
“It’s Melessa. I volunteered to carry her so Gilly could better watch over little Sam. He’s a….spirited boy.”
Closer to a devil, Jon thought. Gilly would need to watch him close. “If you were asking over the oxen, they don’t have a name. You want to give ‘em one?” They were Red Durhams and Jon was pleased with the choice. They were well trained, gentle and easier to care for than horses would have been.
She grabbed his free hand, squeezing tight before releasing him. “Of course. They will be with us for a long time and they will be doing us a great favor. It’s only right we give them names. This one here, closest to you, that will be George. Next to him is Thomas.”
He grinned “And the next pair?”
“James and Andrew.”
He stopped in his tracks before quickly moving again, lest the oxen notice. “Are you naming these beasts after our presidents?”
“Do you want different names?” She asked cautiously, perhaps thinking she’d angered him.
“No. It was unexpected, that’s all. The next one’s Andrew then.” He pointed at the animal on the off side, closest to the wagon. It was the biggest and ugliest of the bunch, ill-mannered, with the shortest temper. “That one though, he’s Rhaegar.”
“After your father,” she said, nodding approvingly. “The remaining two will be Martin and William then.”
“How about the cow?”
“Her name is Martha,” she answered simply, as if telling an obvious truth.
Jon’s head fell back as a great bellowing laugh escaped him. He leaned down, picking up one of the stray white flowers that grew all over the grasslands. He handed it over to his wife before pecking her cheek. Sansa’s eyes grew big and a flush fell over her cheeks. Jon thought he may have done more to win her over with that simple gesture than anything he’d done before.
“Thank you, Jon.” She pressed it to her nose, breathing in the subtle flowery scent. Sansa said her goodbyes and left to go talk with some of the other women.
Jon walked on alone until the cry came for a halt and it was nooning time. He let their cattle loose to graze before they ate a cold meal and rested some.
“When do we stop today?”
He did his best to recall the map he’d seen. Mr. Joer Mormont had done the trail a few years back and was the only one to have any familiarity with it. “A couple more hours maybe, once we reach Alcove Springs. We’ll cross the Blue there in the morning.” The herds were still being broken in, limiting the daily travel time. Another cry and they moved forward, still at the back of the train.
Jon had guessed correctly, the cry for a stop came a mere two hours later. They had several hours until it would grow dark. Quickly, he removed the yoke, braked the wagon, and took the herd to graze.
Sansa ran up, grabbing his arm in her excitement. “Come and see Jon, it’s so beautiful. Come on.” She didn’t let go, pulling at him until he agreed to follow. She led him off the prairie land and through the trees that bordered the river. “It’s one of the most romantic spots I’ve ever seen.”
The spring gushed up from a ledge of rocks and fell ten feet or so into a large basin below. Shelving rocks projected all around it and rich, green shrubbery even further back. The water burst forth from the springs, clear and crisp. On the other side of the spring lay the rest of the Big Blue, the water narrow and shallow. It would make for an easy crossing, he hoped. “It’s real pretty.”
“It’s more than pretty. Come on.” Sansa led him further into the basin until they stood by the water’s edge. “Taste it.”
Jon scooped some up with his hands. “It’s cold.” Sansa gazed at him with a joyful expression, ignoring his lack of reaction. The basin walls protected them from the usual prairie winds. He glanced about, they were alone but he did not expect that to last much longer. Men would be taking their herds for water and filling up buckets. “Will you remove your bonnet for me?”
Sansa cast her eyes down shyly but did as he asked. Her hair was still pinned up, drawn into a smooth bun at the nape of her neck. “Shall I take it down for you tonight?” She was quiet but he didn’t hear a trace of fear or nervousness this time, nothing like the first night.
“Not yet, soon though.” He stroked the strands along her temple, taking care with the arrangement. “However, we are alone.” Jon kissed her hungrily. This time, she kissed him back with an equal fervor. It inflamed him, but he did not push further, mindful of Sansa’s sense of propriety. “No drills tonight,” he whispered, their lips still grazing. “You can do your needlework if you’d like.”
“Dinner first. I’m hoping to bake up some bread for the next day or so.”
His mouth watered at the thought. They left the springs behind, him returning to the herd, it was still early and no one had formed their corral yet. Later they ate dinner, meat, cornbread, fried potatoes, and stewed apples.
“Are you going to spend time with the men folk tonight?” They were sitting together in the early dusk, bellies full.
“No, they’ll be talking politics again. I seem to be one of the few that holds a low opinion of Millard Fillmore, him and his Know Nothings.” Jon didn’t think Sansa would much enjoy politics though. “I saw you talking with many of the women today.”
Sansa enjoyed this conversation. Jon learned that Alys Karstark was sweet on Mr. Thenn and would be turning eighteen in only a few more weeks. She hoped her father would give them permission to marry. Mrs. Glover was expecting her fourth child. Jeor Mormont’s son was rumored to be a poor husband to his wife. The man frequented prostitutes, Jon knew, but he kept his silence.
Later, as they prepared for bed, Sansa did not ask him to leave or turn away as she donned her night gown. He took it for progress but made no other comment. They lay together in the darkness and Jon noticed the wind pick up, not quite so much that it worried him.
“Some of the women don’t want to be here.” She whispered it hesitatingly in the darkness.
“I’m sorry to hear that.” Her comment made him wonder though. “Will you tell me if you ever feel that way?”
Sansa did not answer for a long time. They were not in each other’s arms but still lay close enough so he could feel her movements next to him. “I would tell you.”
Jon didn’t believe her. She’d smile bravely for him and say nothing. Sansa was eager to please, he’d learned. “May I share something with you?”
He moved until he laid on his side and let his hand splay out across her stomach. She made no effort to move away which he took as a good omen. “My parents did not have a loving marriage. My mother died when I was fifteen and my father seemed to think he was relieved of some horrible burden. I don’t want that to be us.”
“Oh,” she breathed. Sansa’s hand covered his own before she turned onto her side, curling up closer to him. “Your mother seems a woman I wish I’d known. I would tell you.”
“Do you enjoy being one of the lieutenants?”
“It’s an empty title with little responsibility.” There was a total of twenty-five wagons in their train with one lieutenant chosen for every five. Jon had been picked only because Tarly was a lawyer, Mr. Tormund outright refused, and Mr. Karstark begged off on account of his children. Sam had suggested him and Jon could not think up an argument to refuse. “I make sure guard duty is arranged and gather opinions on travel should that be required. Not much else.” He’d be expected to act as a jury member too, if the need for a trial should arise but he doubted that would ever necessary.
“I didn’t like falling asleep without you. The night animals were loud.”
Jon suspected Sansa hadn’t slept very many nights outdoors. “Well, it will be a few more days until it is my turn again.” He listened to the silence, it was quiet. More than he would expect.
A gust of wind pushed the sides of their tent and rain began to fall, hitting the canvas and falling towards the ground.
“Are we going to get wet?”
“Only if we leave this tent,” he reassured. It was thick painted canvas, Jon was not worried. “Let’s go to sleep. That damned trumpet will be waking us soon enough.” He kissed her before moving onto his back.
Jon woke the next morning, around four as expected. The rain had stopped a short time ago but the grass and dirt underneath were both wet. The spring air was damp and cooler than usual. Jon set his herd to grazing but left the cow for Sansa. The train was supposed to cross the Blue but that was before the rain.
As expected, several men already congregated by Jeor Mormont’s wagon, a pair of lanterns giving them light. The only topic of interest was the crossing.
“What is the water level?”
“Do we need to wait?”
Finally, Mr. Mormont grew impatient with the cross talk. “We can’t see the damned water,” he bellowed. “Until we do, none of us know a damned thing.”
“Once the sun is up, I’ll go scouting,” Jon volunteered. “We won’t know until we try walking.”
“I’ll join you as well.” Jon thought it was Jon Umber but could not tell which one in the dim light.
“So will I.”
Jon woke Sansa and instructed her to get them a cold breakfast so he could eat. The scouting went quick, they were not crossing that day. The ford was reputed to be one of the most shallow spots on the river, looking elsewhere would be a wasted effort. After, he told Sansa to do all the needed cooking, they would be eating cold until dinner the next night. They checked the river twice more and, in the early afternoon, decided they could continue as planned in the morning. Several days in, Jon thought to himself, and they’d managed all of fifteen miles or so.
Sansa arranged an early dinner, explaining, “There are musical instruments to be found among us. Some of the women thought we could have some dancing before we sleep.”
“I’m not much for dancing.”
She seemed to shrink before him. “We shall stay here then.”
“We will not.” Jon looked around and realized an evening of merrymaking was already starting up. “I’ll enjoy the music.”
He took his wife’s arm and led her towards the Umber’s wagons. A pair of violins and a flute appeared. The music started, delightful tunes, and the sound carried cleary on the evening air. The children enjoyed themselves, their youthful laughter could be heard even from a distance away. Jon hung back, content to watch his wife as she moved from one partner to the next. It was mostly women dancing, and a few of the younger, unmarried men.
“Are you not joining your wife?”
“No, Sam.” He glanced at the man beside him. “I’d trip over my own feet.”
“Ask her to teach you. Gilly taught me.” Sam left to do as he’d suggested to Jon.
He stayed where he was, leaning against a wagon edge. As best he could tell, Sansa forgot his presence as she moved from one partner to the other. Tendrils of hair began to escape her once tidy bun. Then she moved and her blue eyes bored into him before she smiled shyly. Another song started and she twirled away, dancing with a young woman he did not know.
Jon left his spot behind, weaving through the small thread of onlookers, in search of his wife. “My turn.”
Her expression quickly changed from surprise to excitement. “Are you joining me?”
He slowly lifted his shoulders. “Show me how.” Sansa placed his hands on her waist and they moved. His wife was gracious, refusing to acknowledge when he stepped on her toes. Jon lasted two songs. “We need to go.”
“Are you tired?”
No, he was not. Jon grabbed her hand, leading her away from the crowds. “It’s time for bed.” Quickly, they arrived at their tent, removing shoes before entering. That was a rule Sansa put in place the very first day. He took off his coat and hat before noticing she had not moved, content to watch him. “Take…” Jon stopped, changing his mind. He swallowed. “Will you let out your hair for me?”
“I was certain you would ask it of me last night.” Another shy smile before she started removing the pins. “Jon, I’ve never done this before,” she said nervously.
“We’ll learn together.” He could at least say he’d been with a woman before even if he wasn’t particularly experienced. He waited until her hair was loosened, streaming down her back in soft waves before leaping at her for a kiss.Their lips met and Jon licked her, almost forcing his way in for a taste. Apples and tea, from the dinner. He loved it. Sansa yielded easily, a sweet sigh escaping her. Jon cupped her cheek and place his other hand at the nape of her neck, bringing her close. He felt her arms encircling him as she leaned in. He wrapped her hair around his fist, enjoying the silkiness of it against his skin, before gentling their kiss. “I’ve wanted you since our wedding night, but, I won’t force you. Tell me if we should stop.”
“I was frightened, I won’t lie. I’m not now. Well, maybe a little, but that’s to be expected.” Jon drew back, confused. She noticed. Sansa giggled before whispering, “Will you kiss me again, Mr. Snow?”
He obliged and felt her hands on his chest. Jon pulled his shirt out of his trousers and quickly removed his suspenders and undid the buttons. They fell at his feet, giving him some relief from the itch of the wool on his legs. Sansa started on his shirt and that quickly joined his trousers.
She reached out, tentatively, to explore him. “Can I touch you?”
“Please,” he answered, practically begging. She stroked his chest and stomach with the tips of her fingers. He noticed she did not venture lower. “Will you let me take your dress off?” She froze. “I could turn around instead,” he offered.
“No, don’t do that. You’ve seen me naked before and we’re married.” Sansa took his hand, placing it on her chest.
Jon took it for permission and begun to undo the buttons. “Men’s garments make for easier removal.” He’d never taken a dress off a woman before. It loosened enough for Sansa to slide it the rest of the way, pooling about her feet. “Can I?” He waited for her nod before cupping a breast, enjoying the weight of it in his hand. His hand slid lower, to her stomach and hip. Her skin felt smooth against his work-roughened hands. Jon bent down to lick across one nipple before suckling at it. Sansa gripped his hair as her head fell back. He took it as permission to continue, repeating the gesture with the other breast.
He kissed his way up her neck, letting his fingers graze the skin of her stomach and hips, and sides, before he cupped her cheeks. “You’re so lovely, Sansa,” he murmured, their lips not quite touching. “I’m so grateful we found each other.” She let out a mewling sound and they were kissing one more. She leaned into him and Jon found himself supporting her weight with his body.
They walked the two steps towards their bed together. Distantly, Jon realized he could still hear the faint sounds of violins on the prairie winds. That was good, he thought, there would be no one close to hear them. Slowly, they laid down, until he rested on top of her. Jon pulled himself up, resting on his forearms, so as to avoid hurting her. “Spread your legs more.”
Sansa tensed up and Jon feared she’d changed her mind. He stroked her hair and felt her almost immediately relax against him before doing as he said. Jon drew up to his knees, resting between her thighs. This time, his hands roamed lower, past her hips to her thighs. “I was..” Jon reconsidered. His wife would not want to hear how he learned a particular skill. “I want to make you feel good.”
“I’m not going to stop you.” Sansa rested on her arms, looking down at him. The sky outside was starting to darken but Jon could still see the expression she wore, trust.
Jon lowered himself, putting his mouth between her legs and sucking lightly. Sansa’s sharp inhale and shiver pushed him to continue. He kept up the ministrations until her hips bucked against him and a sharp sigh escaped her. Jon wiped his mouth with the back of his hand before moving up her body. “How did that feel?”
Sansa gazed up at him, her lids drooping and smile relaxed. “I may not know what that was but it wasn’t proper.”
“No wife, it was not.” Jon reached between them but did not enter her. “I don’t know how to make it not hurt.” Sansa said nothing so he pressed his lips to hers, gentle and sweet, before he cupped his cock, guiding himself into her. Sansa’s breath hitched. “I’m sorry.” Jon planted light kisses everywhere, along her cheeks and the tip of her nose, her jaw all the way to her lobes. Suddenly, Sansa stilled him, initiating a kiss of her own. She’d never done that before.
Jon took it for permission and began to move, trying to be considerate. His lids fell shut, as he lost himself in the slick, wet feel of her. After a while, Sansa lifted her hips, tentatively matching his movements. He buried his face in her neck before whispering, “I’m going to go faster.” Jon thrust into her, encouraged by her moans. Sansa’s pace quickened as her confidence grew. He rammed into her with abandon, grunting frantically until he let out a loud roar, giving a few more fierce pumps until he stilled, spilling into her.
“How do you feel?”
“I….” Her voice was faint and unsteady. Sansa didn’t try to finish.
Jon shook with silent laughter. “Me too. It will get better, I promise.”
“I did enjoy it, Jon.” Sansa’s eyes met his where she lay beneath him. The strands of hair close to her brow were damp from their exertions. Her hand came up, tracing his lips. “Can we get under the blankets?”
He noticed the dropping temperature for the first time. It was not cold but the sky was almost completely dark and the weather would cool as the night advanced. They did as she asked. For the first time, Sansa fell into his arms as they talked for awhile, before drifting off to sleep.
The next morning, he rose to the bugle call and let the cattle out for their morning graze. After breakfast, Jon bolted down as much of their belongings as he could, securing them with rope. Both him and Sansa applied a rubbing wax along the open portions of the bottom quarter of their wagon to waterproof it as best they could. Jon yoked and attached their oxen, thinking they looked rather presidential all tied up together.
The first wagon crossed the ford with ease. He began to count them after, four, five six, seven, eight. Sansa stood next to him, watching the activity with curiosity. The ninth wagon began to cross, as easily as the ones before it. Then, it lurched in the rocky riverbed before slowly falling onto its right side. Jon heard the frightened wail of a child followed by a second. He took off, sprinting towards the capsized wagon.
1. The wakeup call was usually around 4am via a trumpet or a shotgun fire. I chose the method that did not involve weaponry.
2. The wagons were tied together at night, into a circle or square, as is commonly shown in different forms of pop culture. This had nothing to do with Indian attacks, but was a way to corral their cattle at night. Ropes and spikes were used to make the corral bigger if needed.
3. Jon's "whip" is not a whip as you probably are thinking of. It's a rod, maybe two feet long with a popper at the end. The popper is essentially several leather cords streaming out of the end. A flick of the wrist, and the drover (drover, not driver), could catch the oxen's attention. Commands were done via a mix of vocal calls, whip motions, and body movements.
4. Jon's orders to the oxen, include "whoa" and "get up" are correct and not made up by me. The drover always stands to the left of the oxen, when putting on the yoke or issuing instructions. The ox closest to him is the nigh. The further away is the off. Jon will reveal more about oxen in further chapters.
5. The creation of a train captain and officers is accurate, although the titles may change. They were chosen by the men in the train. The captain helped organize and lead but was not in charge. Jon's description of his duties is pretty much all that was expected of him.
6. The wagons rotated their place in the train every day, moving from the front towards the back, before repeating the cycle.
7. Paintings and some old pictures show people sitting in their wagons. This was not the common practice. The majority of emigrants travelling the Oregon Trail walked all 2000+ miles of it on foot. The children walked, were carried in their mother's arms, and sometimes rode in wagons.
8. Alcove Springs is a real place and a popular camping destination for those on the trail. The ford nearby was very shallow and easy to cross.
9. The name was given to it by those in the party of Edwin Bryant. The description in this chapter of the springs largely came from him. Edwin Bryant is mostly known for being a member of the infamous Donner Party.
10. Alys Karstark wanting to marry as soon as she turned 18 is a reference to diary entries that I saw. This was not particularly unusual.
11. I did not exaggerate the consideration given to crossing the Big Blue. River crossings were dangerous and done very carefully. There are multiple methods used for rivers, I will eventually reveal more of them.
12. Several journal entries I read talked of music and dancing in the evenings. I noticed every journal entry I came across mentioning it was a woman. None were from a man. Here is one: "The first encampments were a great pleasure to us children. There were several musical instruments among the emigrants, and these sounded clearly on the evening air when camp was made and merry talk and laughter resounded from almost every camp-fire." Catherine Sager, 1851
13. The preparation Jon took with their wagon before crossing is accurate. I will go into this in more detail in the next chapter.
14. Sansa's decision to name the animals was common. I noticed names given to their cattle quite a bit. Families and trains recognized how valuable their oxen were to their survival and treated them accordingly. I ran across some interviews of people travelling as children who thought of them as pets.