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.
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
To give an idea of progress. Jon and Sansa are travelling in a general NW direction. They are in the state of Kansas, heading towards Nebraska. Elm Grove, which is mentioned in this chapter, is approximately 30-32 miles from Independence. This chapter ends some time in May.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Sansa stood next to her husband in the prairie grass. The blades held morning dew and the earth was still damp from the rain two nights back. The hem of her blue dress would be dirty before the day ended. All around them, other families milled about, waiting their turn while the children played games. Strewn about was a mix of rocking chairs, water barrels, chests, and all other assorted items. Seeing others work to empty their wagons, knowing it would need to be stowed across the ford and packed up again, Sansa better understood her husband’s insistence on packing so little. Only two more wagons and then it would be their turn.
She itched to hold Jon’s hand in view of others but resisted, deciding such open displays of affection were improper with so many people about. Besides, it was obvious he was studying the wagons crossing the ford rather closely. For awhile, she’d done the same, but was slowly losing interest. The crossing seemed rather easy, the water level was low enough and slow moving at that.
“Jon, I’d like to go help Gilly if you don’t mind.” Her friend was always willing to pass Melessa over and Sansa enjoyed having a baby in her arms.
He sprinted away from her, leaving Sansa alone, with only their cow, Martha, for company. Then she heard the child’s cries and saw the tottering wagon. It landed on its right side so water flowed in.
It was the terrified cry of a small boy but she heard only the wails of her frightened brother, Rickon. A second child shrieked, this one came from a small girl. Sansa wondered if Arya made the same sounds at the end. She could see Jon by the fallen wagon, him and a bunch of other men. His pants were getting wet, she noticed.
There were sounds coming from a woman, helpless sounds. Jon glanced towards her and their eyes met, even with the distance between them. Sansa saw him hesitate before pulling his hands away from a wagon wheel. She didn’t know why. It was Mrs. Glover she heard, not her mother. Sansa’s mother died a year ago.
Somehow, her feet moved, carrying her to Mrs. Glover who stood by the waters edge. The bottom of her brown woolen dress looked black from the river. She held her son, Gawen, close to her breast while trying to comfort her daughter who clung to her skirts. Both of them were completely sodden.
“Let me help.” Sansa swooped in to pick Erena up. The little girl whimpered as she put her short arms around Sansa’s neck. For the first time, she noticed the Glover’s oldest child peek out from behind her mother’s dress with a guilty expression.
Mrs. Glover wiped her eyes but seemed calm, otherwise. “Thank you. These two snuck into the wagon while I was distracted.” It was a lucky thing it had been emptied before the crossing, the children would not have escaped injury otherwise.
She was ill from her pregnancy, but Sansa didn’t speak it. “My mother and I always struggled to keep track of the little ones, even with both of us. I’ll take her for a spell.” Sansa hummed a lullaby for the little girl until she calmed, head resting on her shoulder.
“I brought some dry clothes for you.” It was Mrs. Umber with children’s clothing in her arms.
“We’ve got a dress and three umbrellas,” said Gilly with Mrs. Mormont and Mrs. Karstark following after.
“Will you hand me one over?” Sansa could make use of it with the girl in her arms.
The children were put in clean clothes and then it was Mrs. Glover’s turn. The women raised their skirts and opened umbrellas, giving her needed privacy outdoors and away from the men’s curious eyes. After, they each took advantage, seeing to their own personal needs. Another opportunity would not be afforded for several hours. Arrangements were also made to provide the Glover family with meals for the next few days. Sansa would be getting them dinner that night.
She glanced about, looking for Jon, noticing for the first time their own wagon had crossed. He was on the other side of the river, attending to the Glover wagon. Much of the train’s cattle wandered about, feeding she guessed. The rest of the crossing took place without incident.
“Have you bought us a child already?”
Sansa felt bashful all the sudden, confronted with her new husband in view of so many others. Images of their lovemaking the night before came to her. She’d married a very kind man. Quickly, she explained the offers of help to the Glover family. “I offered to carry little Erena for a while.” The poor girl was already dozing off to sleep, exhausted by her scare. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to help a few of the other women. I’m used to caring for children and, for some, this has been a trial.” She knew Mrs. Karstark had wept when her husband told her they were crossing to Oregon.
“I’ve no objection.” Jon rubbed at his brow, spreading oil and grease all about. Sansa noticed a tear in his pants too, she’d need to mend them that evening. “What happened to you earlier? I’d swear it was like you were seeing ghosts.”
Sansa didn’t see them, she’d heard them. “I was frightened for a minute, that’s all.”
Her husband didn’t look as if he believed her. “We eat cold and then move on. Tomorrow night, I expect we’ll be at Elm Grove and it’ll be time to push these animals more.” Jon stroked the brown hair of the sleeping child in her arms as his expression turned tender. “How do you feel, Sansa?”
She wondered if her ears went red or if it only felt that way. He’d been gentle and tender, none of her whispered fears with Beth Cassel had proven true. “Mr. Snow, that is not an appropriate subject in view of others.”
Jon laughed, enjoying himself. “You amuse me, Mrs. Snow.” He kissed her, clearly not as concerned as she was. “I’m hungry.”
After a cold meal of bread and meat, they left the ford behind. Sansa felt a melancholy settle over her as the oasis disappeared into the distance. They’d only spent two nights there but it would always be a special place to her, a sweet memory to hold in her heart. She’d danced, imagining some of the young men attempting to steal kisses from their future brides. She’d done the same with her own husband and been in his arms. Their marriage had become a true one, with the merry sound of violins in the distance.
As Jon predicted, they arrived at Elm Grove two days later. She was disappointed, the grove stood on the bank of a small creek and was only a lone tree surrounded by a few dogwood bushes. Its branches were picked clean for fuel by all the other emigrants that had come before. Some green willows grew by the water’s edge and they would serve poorly for her cookfire.
The willow branches and few bits of scrub Jon found for her made for a meager and smoky fire. Sansa abandoned her plans for a peach cobbler and gravy; dinner would be fried bacon and vegetables. As she cooked, the wind steadily grew worse, blowing so much smoke in her eyes, Sansa felt she was growing blind. Tears fell down her cheeks in a futile effort to stop the stinging. After, she went to work on one of her dresses, raising the hem several inches to avoid it getting dirty. There had only been a single day’s rain but it was enough. Mud was caked to the bottom edge. It was not modest but Sansa was quickly realizing she would need to yield to the reality of their travel. She intended to reach Oregon while doing as little laundry as possible.
“I’m on guard duty again tomorrow night.” Jon lay next to her in their bed. She could scarcely see him but his fingers stroked along her cheek, seeking to comfort her over his news. “You’ll be asleep when I come to bed.”
She wasn’t so certain, her sleep the one other time he’d been on duty had been miserable, filled with loneliness and ears attuned to creatures in the night. “I’ll see to Martha that morning for you.”
“I want to ask you something,” he said quietly. She felt him pull a few strands of hair from her braid to twirl around his fingers. One day, when they reached Oregon, she would wear it down for him. “What happened to your family? It was them you were thinking of by the ford, wasn’t it?”
Sansa didn’t particularly want to talk about her family. “Yes, the children’s cries made me think of them.” He pulled her closer so they lay on their sides, facing each other. “I don’t know exactly what happened since I wasn’t there. My parents let me stay with my friend Beth Cassel for a few weeks while they went to visit my Aunt Lysa and her new husband. There was a fire one night. Mr. Bealish was not home at the time but all the rest perished. He offered to take me in, claiming to be my only family but I refused. The Cassels offered as well but they already had three unmarried daughters. So, I stayed with my Uncle Benjen for awhile.” It pained her to even think of it. Her uncle was a silent and taciturn man, he’d made it easy to avoid the topic altogether.
“Then you found me.” Sansa thought she detected pity in his voice.
Her uncle had taken her in but he didn’t know what to do with her. It was Beth who suggested Sansa go looking for a husband. “We found each other, seems like.” Jon’s fingers left her hair and she felt, rather than saw, his head move closer to hers. He would want to kiss her soon. “Will you tell me about your mother?”
“I loved my mother, it was my father I never cared for. You remind me of her in some ways. She told me stories at night when I was a child and was always giving me lessons on how to be a good man.”
“You learned your lessons well.” Silently, Sansa thought that if God in His wisdom ever gave them a girl, her name would be Lyanna. They’d never spoken of children though, she didn’t know how Jon would feel about one.
He gave a light-hearted huff. “Some of them.” Jon lightly pinched her chin, drawing her lips closer to his. “I’m going to kiss you now.”
Sansa felt her cheeks flame in the darkness. “Best be quick about it, Mr. Snow.”
The next morning’s routine was no different than any other day. During the nooning, Sansa noticed Jon and a few other men talking with a stranger. Looking about, she saw only their usual village of wagons and head of stock. Curious, she watched, noticing a few of the other women were doing much the same, but none made any effort to approach or discover more. Most times, she didn’t mind when Jon left to discuss camp business. This was different somehow. Sansa left their wagon, wanting to know more.
“Vermillion Creek isn’t more than a few day ride from here. Plenty of wood and good, clean water.” It was the stranger.
“We wish you luck, Mr. Budd.”
“Our condolences for your wife.”
Sansa felt eyes on her but no one spoke a word about her presence. Jon did not look pleased to see her though. “Come on.”
She didn’t want to. “Who was that?”
“A stranger. We need to be packing up soon to move on.”
Sansa wrenched her hand from his. “Packing is done. I won’t apologize, I didn't do anything wrong.”
“I’m not looking for a sorry.” He took her hand, more gently than before. “Back to our wagon and I’ll explain.” She followed this time. He led her to the rear of their wagon, seeming to want some privacy. “That was Mr. Budd, member of a train only a few days in front of us. He buried his wife a couple mornings back. She died of measles.”
Sansa let his statement settle into her. “He doesn’t want to go on without his wife.” She wondered what Jon would do if the same happened to her. She didn’t want to know. “I will say a prayer for him.” It was all Sansa could do.
Jon frowned, obviously contrite. “After what you shared, I didn’t want to upset you further.”
“I’m not upset.”
“No...I meant…” He lips drew tight into a grimace before he scratched at his beard. “I didn’t want you think that was our fate.”
Her heart fluttered as understanding took her. “It won’t be. I’m no less determined than I was yesterday.” Jon’s hand still grasped hers. Sansa stroked his palm with her thumb, trying to reassure him.
Jon pulled her hand up so she felt the prickle of his whiskers against her skin before he kissed her wrist. “So am I.” He kissed her lips then.
The rest of the day passed as expected and the day after that. It was on the third day that they happened upon four unmarked graves. One of them contained the remains of Mrs. Budd, Sansa knew. Near the graves were the caracsses of a pair of oxen, their bodies stripped of meat and the remains left to rot in the wind and sun. It filled the air with the sweet stink of death. It made for a somber sight and the train pushed on, eager to move past it.
The next several days were much the same. Jon rose with the trumpet call. She made breakfast and they walked, stopping while the sun was high over head, and then walked some more. One day, there was good grass and wood. The next found them with poor wood but good grass. The day after was the opposite. Their meals were much the same, griddle cakes and coffee one day and then biscuits with tea the next. She made apple pie or peach cobbler, always wanting to have a sweet dessert ready for her husband.
Most days brought them some reminder of death, perhaps a newly dug lone grave or a pair that looked a year old or more. They passed the skeletal remains of a horse once and many decayed oxen. Buffalo were common as well, hunted for sport and meat, then their bodies left where they fell. Sansa did her best not to see any of it.
A couple times, Jon and other men hunted some buffalo of their own. The camp was a festive one on those nights, bellies full of fresh meat, and the music would begin. The lively sound of violins would carry on the prairie winds and Jon would dance a dance or two with her. After, he’d lead her away to their own tent to end their night with lovemaking. She loved those days especially.
Another day, they happened upon a prairie dog village, an entire colony of the creatures. The children were enchanted by it, running through the village, yelling loud whoops of joy. The prairie dogs would bark and wag their shaggy tails, as if to scare them away.
“You are very good with children,” said Mrs. Mormont.
They were walking together and Sansa carried little Erena in her arms. It was a common practice for most women to be carrying a child in the afternoons as their legs wore out. “I’ve been caring for them since I was one.”
“One day soon, I hope to say the same.” She’d lost more than one pregnancy, Sansa knew.
“Are you with child?” Sansa whispered conspiratorially. “If this is meant to be a secret, I will keep it for you.”
“Jorah does not want it known, considering our past experiences. I’m several months gone now,” she said, blushing. As if to confirm it, Mrs.Mormont patted her stomach, comforting the child growing in her. “It’s a secret but I wanted to share my joy with someone.”
Sansa did not know why she’d been picked, they rarely spoke. She did not have a high opinion of the woman’s husband. It was rumored he visited with shady women and he showed his wife little care in the camp. “You should feel joy, a child is always a great blessing.” It was all she could think of to say.
“Blackberries at the creek,” yelled Gilly, running up to them.
It ended their conversation, as all the women and children quickly took off for the river’s edge. As Gilly promised, blackberries grew fresh all along the water’s edge. It made for a happy afternoon, as the women picked the bushes clean and the children ate the fat berries, letting the sweet juice run down their chins.
After, Sansa, went in search of her husband, to show him the great bounty she’d picked. “I pity you,” she said teasingly.
He grinned. “Why is that?”
“I get to walk about and visit, having all sorts of adventures. You have nothing better to do than drive our oxen.” It was true. Jon’s days were spent driving their animals, he was never far from their wagon.
“I pity you.”
Sansa laughed, enjoying their game. “Why is that?”
“I get to be stuck here, watching my wife while she goes on about her adventures.”
Her heart thumped. There were times when Jon spoke as he did that made her hope he was coming to love her. Sansa tried hard to be a good wife to him. “Would you like to know about today’s adventure?”
She reached into her basket, pulling out a ripe berry. “Fresh blackberry cobbler tonight,” she promised.
Sansa held out the berry for him, intending Jon to take it. Instead, he ate it right out of her fingers. She felt his warm tongue against her skin. She gasped which only made him smirk. “Very sweet.”
“They are indeed,” she somehow managed to blurt out.
“I was talking about my wife.”
“Oh.” Sansa did not know what else to say, even as her husband’s words sent a tremble through her body.
Jon ate three helpings of blackberry cobbler, complimenting her cooking with almost every bite. That night, they lay in their tent together, talking quietly as they always did.
“We will be at Fort Kearney before too long. The plan is to rest for two days before moving on again, give the cattle a chance to rest and restock supplies.” They were averaging fifteen miles a day now, she knew, but Jon constantly worried about pushing the animals too far.
Sansa meant to ask what sort of supplies were available but then Jon’s lips were on hers and all thoughts of forts, Kearney or any other, fled.
Jon’s hands roamed all over her body in his eagerness. “I can taste the berries on you.” He kissed down her neck to the edge of her breasts.
Her toes curled. “I could say the same,” she murmured. Sansa began to pull lightly on his hair as desire coiled low in her belly.
“Wrap your legs around me,” he said in a low growl. It was the voice he saved for when they were alone. It never failed to make her shiver
Sansa did as he wanted. Jon quickly entered her with a grunt. The air left her body in a rush before she wrapped her arms around him, pulling her husband close. They kissed, clinging to each other, as he began to move. It was bliss. She no longer remembered why the act ever frightened her, their lovemaking was a beautiful thing. Finally, he grunted and stilled before kissing her again. After, she lay in Jon’s arms as they slowly drifted to sleep.
The next day started as usual. Sansa took care of Martha before getting Jon’s breakfast and they set off again. She spent the morning walking besides Gilly, carrying Melessa when the baby did not need to nurse. She saw many women about but Mrs Mormont spent her morning in the wagon.
During the nooning, she prepared a cold meal for Jon which they ate together, sitting on the back of the wagon.
“A button is missing from your shirt.” He wouldn’t take it off for her to fix then, she knew. There was no point in asking.
Jon fingered the small gape made by the missing button. “I didn’t notice. Will you be helping out the Glovers again?” She was. “Keep her away from the Mormont wagon. A pregnant lady doesn’t need to be around illness.”
“Who is ill?”
“Jorah Mormont. I found out this morning when I went over to visit his father.”
She wondered if Jeor Mormont knew his daughter in law was with child. “Who is taking care of him?”
“His wife. Who else would be?”
“I’ll go check on them, see if they could use assistance.”
“You will not,” Jon said, dismissing the idea. “Jorah Mormont is not a man I’ll risk my wife over.”
Sansa did not see any harm in offering some help. She could provide them with dinner, if nothing else. She stayed quiet though. Jon would only argue.
1. I had a hard time researching how women handle periods or going to the bathroom on the trail. Finally, I stumbled upon an interview between a woman and her great grandmother. Her great grandmother did not travel the Oregon Trail but was one of many Mormons making their way to what would be the state of Utah. She described women using umbrellas and raising the skirts of their dresses to form a wall, granting other women privacy. I borrowed that here.
2. Elm Grove is a real place and was a popular camping destination for emigrants. I found numerous journal entries describing it. It was fascinating to read about as it showed how people impacted the land. Older entries describe two trees and more timber. Later entries describe one tree. Finally, it was one tree, picked clean, and a few bushes.
3. Sansa trying to cook over a smoky fire was inspired by a woman's diary. "It is very trying on the patience to cook and bake on a little green wood fire with the smoke blowing in your eyes so as to blind you..." Esther Hanna, 18 years old, minister's wife.
4. Sansa's decision to hem the bottom of her dress was common. Laundry on the trail was a difficult task and women would wear the same dress over and over to avoid it. The morning dew on the prairie grass and rains meant the bottom of their dresses got dirty. Pictures of emigrants will often show women with shorter dresses.
5. The story of Mr. Budd and his wife is inspired by true events. "May 9. We met a man that was going back he had buried his wife this morning She died from the effects of measles..." (copied directly from source material). Lydia Allen Budd, 1852. I borrowed the name but the tale in this chapter is a true one.
6. Sansa's description of the days was partly inspired by a diary entry of William Porter 1848. He made a point to list out the quality of wood, water, and grass every day.
7. The dead animals as described here is accurate. Emigrants tended to leave their bodies where they died. It was not unusal for trains to pass the carcasses of oxen, horses, mules cows, and buffalo. All too often, the animals were left to rot beside water sources, contributing to illness
8. Buffalo hunting was common. It was a source of fresh meat and sport for the men.
9. The prairie dog village was inspired by a diary entry. "Saw hundred of prairie dogs barking about. They are about as large as a grey gopher." Eliabeth Dixon Smith 1847.
10. I read an article talking about pregnancy on the trails. In general, diaries would never mention pregnancy. Instead, there would be a mention of a new birth only.
11. The blackberries at the creek were also inspired by a diary entry, except it was blueberries. I happen to like blackberries better so I changed it.
12. Fort Kearney was a major stop for emigrants on the trail after it was built in 1848. We will see it in future chapters.
13. Sansa's mention of fifteen miles a day is accurate. The first week or two, travel is slow to break in the animals. After that, trains averaged fifteen or so miles a day.
Chapter 6: Chapter 6
This is not only my favorite chapter in this story so far, it also happens to be one of the faves of anything I've written, ever.
***Even if you do not normally read the notes at the end of chapters, I do ask that you read the last three for this particular one.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Jon gave a deep sigh of relief to hear Umber play that evening’s bugle call. He brought the whip down with more force than necessary, signaling his team to stop. He was tired and the bottom of his pants were a sodden, muddy mess from puddles he’d stepped in while wrangling with Rhaegar. He glanced about but his wife was nowhere to be seen. Jon had not glimpsed so much as a lick of red hair since nooning earlier that day. More than once, he’d wished she would’ve stopped by for a visit to ease his ill mood.
He pulled into the train circle, between the Tarly and Glover families before putting the wagon’s brake. Next up, he took the chains off his herd, keeping the yokes on, and motioned for them to move out for the evening’s graze. Rhaegar, the stubborn beast, did not move. The steer’s ears had turned stiff and pointed forward. Jon looked the animal in the eyes, waiting for a sign of obedience but his ears did not turn back. Jon growled deep and raised his whip. Rhaegar’s ears finally turned. “Good boy,” he said soothingly, “there’s no need for a fight today.”
After, the herd followed him to the river’s edge in their usual lumbering manner. The grass alongside the Blue was a rich, thick green. There were white flowers all about and a few patches of willows grew by the water’s edge. Jon’s breath hitched as he walked into the brisk water to wash the dried mud off. It would save Sansa some laundry and he had spare shoes and trousers to use while the other pairs dried.
Across the river, Jon could make out the remains of an ox. It’d fallen ill or been killed not more than three or four days past if his guess was correct. Jon pointed at it. “See that there,” he hissed to Rhaegar, “that’s your kin. Keep up your behavior and I’ll butcher you the same.” The wretched animal didn’t answer, not that Jon was expecting one. He’d worked with cattle his whole life and Jon considered himself more than competent when it came to selecting and training his animals. Red Durhams were known to be strong with good meat, should that ever be required. This particular animal was causing Jon to doubt his skill and he disliked the animal for that too. He thought of his father, a man Jon did not mourn. He’d named Rhaegar well.
His team let loose to graze, Jon returned to their wagon only to find Sansa still missing. Jon grumbled, he’d expected to find her starting on dinner. Instead, he grabbed a water bucket and set back for the river to save her a chore. On the way back, the bail handle fell loose from one of the bucket’s ears, soaking his shirt and the rest of his pants. Jon threw it angrily on the ground and kicked the damned thing. Swearing to himself, Jon picked up the bucket and filled it once again, carrying it from the bottom. He was tired, sodden, hungry, and his disposition seemed determined to grow even more sour.
Sansa was at their camping spot, hurriedly unloading their wagon to set up for their evening. “You’re all wet.”
Jon held back the acerbic comment on his tongue, Sansa was not to blame for his temper. “Will you bring me dry clothes?” He changed behind the wagon, worries over modesty be damned.
“I’ll hang them by the fire for you. I found some scrub and buffalo chips to start a fire so dinner can be started.” The sweet melody of her voice already started to calm him.
“I’ll do the fire,” he offered. “Will it be soon?” His mouth watered, thinking of it. A fine meal and his wife’s company sounded pleasant. Reassured the wait would be a short one, Jon left to corral their herd and hitch up the wagon for the evening.
“Eggs?” he questioned, disappointed. Jon was hungry. He’d pictured a meal of fried bacon, gravy, fresh biscuits with butter, a vegetable, and a dessert. He got some scrambled eggs, a baked potato, and fried corn cakes. There was no sweet to be had either.
“It’s the last of our eggs. In a few days, I’ll be able to cook up some applesauce but there wasn’t time tonight. I’ll come up with a better dinner for you tomorrow,” she said apologetically. “My afternoon was fuller than I expected.”
It also happened to be the first afternoon Sansa did not walk with him some as he drove their herd. Still, the last several hours misery could not be laid at her feet. Jon was determined to enjoy his wife’s company. “Did you assist Mrs. Glover this afternoon?” He knew she was not with Gilly, he’d seen the woman with her daughter slung up in a blanket several times.
Sansa’s lips flattened as she glanced towards the fire. “No, she had no need of me. Her sickness is not so terrible today so she’s making her own family’s meal.”
His wife had hardly been without a child to care for since they’d left Independence. More than once, Jon had imagined Sansa holding one of their own. They’d yet to discuss the subject of children but he’d always assumed it would happen. She would make a good mother. “Perhaps you’ll stumble upon another pregnant lady tomorrow,” he said jokingly. Even in the gloaming, Jon did not miss her stunned expression. “Will you share with me what you were up to?”
Sansa did not answer right away. She tightly gripped the blue skirts of her dress before meeting his eyes. She was gathering her courage, he realized, disquieted. “I was helping Mrs. Mormont care for her husband,” she answered tentatively. “He had the ague and a sore stomach.”
The man frequented whores and was as likely to have the pox. “And how did you care for poor Jorah Mormont?” he asked stiffly. The knowledge that his miserable dinner and absent wife was due to that miscreant rankled.
“I gave him some laundonum and chamomile tea for the pain. He was burning up for awhile but I kept several wash clothes with cool water on him. Now, I know you did not want me to help but I had too because-”
Jon stopped listening. He placed his empty tin plate in the dirt and stood up. “I do not recall granting you permission to offer assistance to the likes of him,” he bit out.
“Yes, but as I explained-,” Sansa started to say hastily.
“I don’t care what your reasons are.” Jon’s voice was growing louder, he could not seem to stop it. Sansa risked herself over a fever. He could remember his mother’s deathbed and the heat radiating from her weakened body. “You deliberately disobeyed me.”
Sansa stood up until she was only a few feet away. Her chin trembled. “Will you quiet down, please?” she asked. “Our neighbors can hear you.”
“I don’t give a good goddamn what our neighbors can hear,” he barked. “I want your word this won’t happen again.”
She blinked rapidly several times. “I promise it won’t happen again,” she said quietly. Her shoulders slumped as Sansa sat back down in her chair.
“Thank you,” he said, this time in in a calmer tone. Jon’s anger drained away.
As the minutes dragged on, neither of them spoke. The silence between them was stiff and awkward. Sansa did not eat, he noticed. She would not look at him either. It was their first argument and Jon had allowed his temper to dictate his actions.
“I’m going to do the dishes,” Sansa said stiffly.
Jon was not sure how to respond. “I’m going to visit with some of the men tonight,” he announced. After, he would return and they could pretend the disagreement never happened.
As usual, several of the men were gathered around the Umber wagons. A great fire had been built up, warming the cooler night air. The prairie wind was light too. It made for a pleasant evening. As usual, politics was that night’s discourse. Several men smoked their pipe. There was no whiskey to be found, as the consumption of spirits was against camp rules. Jon vowed he would treat himself to a couple drams once they reached Fort Kearny.
He leaned back against the wagon, putting his left foot up on a wagon spoke and listened in.
“The Whigs will not bring back Fillmore, I’ll say that much.”
“And why not? Thanks to him, we avoided war.” It was Mr. Karstark, a staunch defender of the Compromise.
“We didn’t avoid it, merely delayed it awhile,” Jon argued back.
“Mr. Snow is right. Seward’s higher power is more important than the Constitution,” said Tormund.
Sam Tarly nodded his head avidly, saying, “California is a free state. I guarantee Utah and New Mexico will choose to do the same, when their time comes.”
“It’s stability we need. They’ll bring him back.”
It went on as it did every night with the conversation eventually drifting to the idea of statehood for the Oregon territories. Jon did not think it would happen for many more years yet. Mostly, Jon listened, offering up an opinion when he had one.
Eventually, enough time passed, and he returned to his own campsite. The fire had burned low and the site was cleaned up. Sansa was already in their tent. Jon entered, quickly removing his shoes as he knew she liked. He undressed before crawling under the blankets next to her. She lay on her side, facing away from him, probably already asleep he guessed.
Jon laid a hand on her shoulder. He could feel her tense and stiffen under him. “Sansa?” She did not answer. He said her name once more but did not get a response. She would not cease pretending, he knew. “Good night, wife,” he murmured, hoping his love and affectation could be heard in his voice. Jon stroked her hair but she did not respond to that either. He gave up, laying on his back and waiting for sleep to claim him. Jon told himself they would apologize to the other in the morning and that would be the end of it.
The next morning, he woke to realize Sansa had risen first. She was already dressed and the fire was built up. This was the only time in their short marriage she’d woken first. Jon did not know what to make of it.
“Good morning,” he greeted as kindly as he knew how.
Sansa did not return his greeting. “The cow is milked and I’ve already fetched water. Breakfast and hot coffee will be ready soon. Fresh bread will also be cooked so you’ll have it for lunch.” She turned away, dismissing him.
Jon saw to the herd and returned to a plate of hot food and steaming coffee. “Will you join me?”
“I’ve already eaten,” Sansa answered curtly. She went about the rest of the morning chores while he ate alone.
His wife disappeared shortly after. Jon readied his oxen and wagon, ordering them to move on Jeor Mormont’s call. The train was spread wide, only two rows, each a dozen wagons, spread wide across the prairie. He saw Gilly Tarly glaring at him as they set out. Sansa moved about but did not come to visit. Jon noticed she was always in his sight, it disturbed him to wonder if she did it deliberately.
The nooning came and their train stopped. Jon let his steers loose to graze and returned to a plate of cold meat and fresh bread waiting for him. “Will you join me?” he asked hopefully.
“I have no appetite.” Instead, Sansa prepared part of their dinner so it would be ready to put on the cookfire when they stopped that evening. It would make for an early meal.
Jon approached his wife where she worked, using the wagon’s back as a countertop. “How was your morning?”
“It was lovely, thank you. If you’ll excuse me, I have other tasks that need to be done.” Sansa did not move.
She was waiting for him. Jon felt sick. “Enjoy yourself,” he said.
Sansa left him alone and Jon did not know where she went off too. He did know she was upset and it was his doing. The train continued on and she did not come to visit. He saw her speaking with some women and carrying Melessa in her arms once more. The train stopped for the final time that day with Umber’s bugle call and Jon took care of their herd.
“I’ve already fetched water and gathered enough chips for the fire. Your dinner will be ready soon.”
“Thank you,” he said weakly. Jon sat in his chair glumly as she handed him a plate. “May I speak with you?”
“Of course,” she said sweetly with a smile that was not sweet.
“I would like to apologize for my behavior yesterday. I was worried for you and that worry led me to speak in haste,” Jon said. He considered what else to say. He wanted to explain. “You are more dear to me than I have words to describe. My poor mood led me to lash out when I should not have.” His cheeks burned and his back was slick with sweat. Jon did not know if he was in love with her, that was an emotion he’d never experienced. Still, he thought he could be, soon.
“I should have informed you earlier and I am sorry for that,” Sansa responded. She was relaxed in her chair. “Mrs. Mormont has had so many...difficulties with children in the past, I had no choice but to help. He only had a fever and belly ache though.”
“She’s with child?”
“Yes. I tried to explain last night.” And he was not listening.
“Will you accept my apology?”
“Will you accept mine?”
Jon got on his knees before her and took her hand in his own. “You’ve done nothing wrong. Sleep late tomorrow, I’ll do the morning chores.” It was all he could think to offer. He grazed her knuckles with his thumb, trying to summon what else to say. “You are all that matters to me in this world, Sansa,” he choked out.
She gasped his name.
He helped with the dishes, and afterwards they sat close together by the fire.
“Will you be joining the men tonight?”
“I’d rather be with you. Besides, all we talk is politics.” He watched Sansa’s needle work for awhile. It wasn’t any of his clothes for once. “What are you making?”
Sansa grinned, pleased. “Alys Karstark was granted permission to marry earlier today. We’ll have ourselves a wedding once we reach Fort Kearney. The women are making her some pillows and a quilt as gifts.”
“I look forward to the chance to dance with my wife.”
She snorted. “Somehow, I don’t quite believe you, Mr. Snow.”
“You should,” he said sincerely.
The next day, Sansa walked beside him a fair amount and even agreed to hold hands some when his droving work allowed for it. They stopped to camp that evening across from a Potowatomay village which caused a great stir of curiosity amongst the folk in the wagon train. There was a fair number of French men living in the village with Indian wives which Jon thought was the cause of most of it.
“Some of the women are dressed in more Christian garb.”
“They are. Do you want to go see them?” Many others had done so.
“No, I will not pretend they are in a circus for our entertainment. Can we walk a little further?” The train stopped an hour earlier than usual, on account of the Indian village. Rather than eat dinner so early, the two of them were walking along the edge of the Blue so Sansa could pick more of the prairie flowers that grew all about.
She leaned over to add another to her bouquet. “We can put them in a cup of water after this.”
“Do you ever think on having children?” he blurted out.
Jon could not say if Sansa turned as red as a tomato but it was close. “Of course,” she said, smiling shyly. “A son who looks like his father.”
“Or a girl who looks like her mother.”
Sansa grabbed his hand and squeezed. “Her name would be Lyanna.”
Jon swallowed thickly. He no longer wondered. “Sansa, I-”
“Oh, Jon, come look,” she yelled out, excited. “Take my flowers.” She blindly shoved them into his hands before wandering right up to the water’s edge. “Turtle eggs.”
“Well, that’s good.” He supposed it was good.
“They’re fresh too. Can you give me your hat?” Jon silently handed it over and watched as she filled it with eggs. “Would you like some cookies or a pie?”
“Cookies would be wonderful.” He could put some in his pocket to eat the next day too.
Sansa sang for him as they walked back towards their camp, holding her precious catch while he kept her flowers. Later, Jon cut them short and put them in water for her, setting the cup next to her side of their bedding so she would see it upon waking.
The next couple days passed without incident. On the third, the train took a day of rest so the women could do much needed laundry while the men hunted a buffalo. At dusk, Jon’s ears were filled with the frog’s mighty bellows, the hollers of children at play, and the crackle of the log fire. The instrumental sounds of an Umber fiddle mingled through it all. Sansa had used the day’s respite to her advantage, bathing with the other women in the river water.
“Will you sing for me? The song doesn’t matter.” Sansa had a beautiful voice, she’d performed for others in their train more than once.
There was hardly a breeze that night and Jon could feel an early summer heaviness in the air. Sansa’s hair was pulled back some but otherwise hung loose. The sight stirred him. She sang quietly, sharing her music with him only. That stirred him too.
Finally, the time came for bed where Jon slowly removed her clothes, kissing every part of her skin. He took her slowly, with the fiddle music floating to them on the prairie wind. After, Sansa lay in his arms as they drifted off to sleep.
The train continued on for several more days. They passed graves as they always did, some newly made and others not. A morning came, and with it the warm, genial sunshine of summer. The prairie was filled with the blooming fragrance of white flowers peeping through the grass. Jon thought the smell surpassed any garden flower to be found back east.
During the nooning, Jon, as one of the lieutenants, was called to Jeor Mormont’s cabin. There, he met with other men to learn both of Rickard Karstark’s younger sons had taken ill. No name to the sickness was given but the symptoms could not be denied, it was Cholera. After some discussion, the decision was made to continue on. Three hours later, Jon Umber reported that his eldest child had also taken ill. The train came to a halt. After that, the list of those afflicted grew, to include Mrs. Locke, married only three months ago, and Tormund’s daughter in law.
The train was split in two, to separate the sick from the healthy so they did not breathe in the foul air.
“Have you offered to help?” Jon hoped not but he was not so stupid as to repeat his earlier mistake.
“Gilly, Mrs. Glover, and me have offered to look after some of the children so the women are free to care for those who need it. Alys Karstark will be with us tonight at her mother’s request since she is to be married in only a week or so.” Sansa stroked his hand, perhaps understanding his worry.
Jon thought of his mother as he sometimes did. Cholera was not the same as consumption but the result was so often the same, it was only the amount of time it took for dying that was different. “Thank you for understanding,” he said weakly. She started to walk away but he called her back. “I love you and I’m so grateful you’re my wife,” he stammered. Sansa’s eyes grew large, she’d clearly not expected his confession. “I knew it for sure the day you collected the turtle eggs but I think I was almost from the beginning. I love you and I wanted you to know.”
Sansa drew closer to him, but still kept a respectable distance with others in view. “I love you too,” she said back. Her tone was soft and intimate. Her eyes shone. “The knowing crept up on me slowly until I woke up one day and I knew. I love you too,” she repeated. “And now we both know.”
“I’ll say it more,” he promised. Jon was glad he’d declared the truth of it. A part of him felt it was wrong to celebrate a small moment of joy such as this when disease was in their camp. A larger part decided it was past time he declared himself to her.
That night, Alys Karstark slept in the tent with Sansa while a pair of children slept in the wagon. Jon wrapped himself in a bed roll next to the cook fire and, somehow, the night passed. The next morning, he helped dig a pair of graves before breakfast. Eddard and Torrhen Karstark both passed during the night.
They ate together quietly. Jon thought Sansa lovely in her blue wool dress. She wore it most every day but the color suited her. “I love you,” he said, remembering his promise.
After, Jon went to the Mormont wagon where he learned two more had taken ill. The decision was made, they would not be travelling that day. He returned to their site, to seek out Sansa and give her the news, only to find the dishes unwashed and the bedding not put away. His heart pounded in terror.
He found her laying in the prairie grass, maybe twenty feet from their wagon. “No...no...no…” he chanted to himself, over and over.
“It hurts,” his wife said weakly. Sansa lay curled up, her hands tightly gripping her stomach. “Leave. I don’t want you to see me.” She mumbled the last few words. Her eyes were half-lidded and unfocused.
Jon wiped his cheeks and ignored her. He pulled back the bottom of her now sodden dress. Rice, he thought, it was rice. “You have Cholera, Sansa,” he told her. She did not respond. “I’m going to pick you up so we can get back to the wagon.”
She moaned before violently emptying her stomach. Jon supported her as best he could then picked her up. Sansa did not respond to that either. “We’re going home now,” he said, voice trembling.
Their wagon was largely emptied due to the Cholera outbreak for which he was grateful. Jon laid her as gently as he could on the wood flooring. “We have Laudanum for you. I can brew up some chamomile tea too.” He remembered what she said about stomach upsets. Sansa did not answer him but her eyes were open and she seemed to be following his movements.
Not wanting to bother with river water, he pulled open one of the barrels he’d collected from back in Independence to make the promised tea before giving a dose of medicine. He also cut away the blue dress, it would be burned later. She was clad in bloomers which he cut up to her waist. Sansa lay there, still and limp.
Jon found their washcloths and cleaned her up. After, he helped her to drink water and tea as best he could. There was little else to be done, Cholera would either take his wife before the next sunrise and leave him alone in the world or it would not.
Sansa mumbled something, he could not make it out. “What was that?” She mumbled again. “Are you thirsty?” Jon held a cup to her lips. “Keep drinking.”
“Go to Oregon,” she said hoarsely. Go on after she died, he knew what she meant.
“Hush,” he said as soothingly as he could. Jon stroked her cheek. “I have not granted you permission to die. We’ll both go and I’ll build us a home. Our adventure isn’t ending today.”
“I don’t want you to see me like this.” Tears leaked from her eyes.
“I cared for my mother, did you know that? She died in my arms early one morning. Her body wasted away and the fever….the fever burned her from the inside. I couldn’t stop her from dying, Sansa. If you think I intend to let you do the same, then you don’t know me so well.”
Her lids fell shut but she wasn’t asleep. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry,” he ordered, “get better.”
She didn’t answer but he didn’t expect her too. Slowly, the hours passed. Jon held her when she needed it and kept her clean as best he could. Once or twice, Sansa lazily kicked him to stop but he ignored her. In the afternoon, Gilly brought him a plate of food which he only picked at. Later, he noticed their campfire blazing. Someone had cared for it, he didn’t know who.
“Drink more water, Sansa, please. More laudanum too.” Jon held the cup to her lips. He’d long ago stopped tracking how much she drank. “There you go. See I told you no one was dying today.” Jon was lying, but he didn’t think she was listening all that close.
Soon after, Sansa drifted off to sleep, exhausted and worn. The sky was dark but he did not know the hour. He also did not know if the sickness had grown worse or if others were on the mend. He couldn’t bring himself to care either.
He sat cross legged next to her sleeping form and let his mind wander. Her breath was even and steady. Her body did not burn but he didn’t know if ague was common with Cholera.
He blinked, surprised to hear his name. “Sam? What’s wrong?”
His friend stood back several feet, illuminated by the still burning fire. “I came to tell you we voted to rest again tomorrow before moving on. Gilly also wants you to know if Sansa is still alive, she’ll probably make it.”
He stroked his wife’s hair. Her neat bun had fallen apart into a tangled mass. He should have thought to brush it for her. “What time is it?”
“It’s close on to eleven. Gilly can stay with her for awhile so you can rest if you need it,” he offered.
Jon looked down at Sansa. “Tell Gilly thank you but it’s not needed. I won’t leave her.” He would not leave her care to another.
“You need rest too. We’ll bring you both breakfast in the morning.” They said goodbyes and Sam left.
Alone again, Jon laid down next to his sleeping wife. “Did you hear that, love? Gilly thinks you’ll get better. It’s because I forbid you dying, isn’t it?” She didn’t respond to his poor excuse for humor but he didn’t care. “Sleep, wife.”
He took her hand with his own, careful not to disturb her and eventually drifted off. Jon woke the next morning to find a pair of blue eyes meeting his gray ones. They were clear and alert.
“Where are my clothes?”
Jon glanced down, her cut bloomers were twisted up to her waist. “Sorry. It was easier to care for you.”
“We will never speak of this again.” Jon did not know if she meant it to be a joke or not.
“You need to drink water.” He filled her cup from the water barrel. “Food will be here soon. How do you feel?”
“Tired. Thirsty.” He wasn’t surprised, her skin was sunken. She smiled weakly at him. “I still don’t regret it.”
Jon wiped his cheeks. “Nor I. Here, drink.” He held the cup to her lips. “I love you.”
“I love you.” She moved to lay back down. He followed, not wanting any distance between them. “You saved me.”
“Maybe I did,” he said tenderly, “but you saved me first. I came alive again the day I married you.”
“I heard you say that you would build me a home.”
“And I will, several months from now. Our adventure isn’t done yet.”
“Our adventure won’t end for many more years yet, I know it.”
He knew it too.
1.Ears forward is a sign of disobedience. Jon’s decision to stand in front of the ox and then growl is a common discipline technique. Next step is to slap or hit the animal with the whip.
2.Burying animals would have been too much work. If one of their steers (or any other animal) died, it was left were it fell. All to often, that meant rotting caracsses next to emigrants’ water supplies and camping spots. Not exactly sanitary.
3.Red Durhams were among the first cattle brought to America by English pilgrims and were very popular on farms. They are very large, strong, fast (under a yoke), and had good meat.
4.Buffalo chips are dried buffalo dung. Great fuel for a cook fire.
5.Ague = Fever. Pox = Syphilis. Laudanum=Opium. It was the medicine of choice on the plains and was believed to “cure” most anything from fever to cholera to dysentery to the mumps. It did not. Chamomile tea can soothe an upset stomach and would have been in the medicine chest of many families.
6.The men meeting up to talk was common. Women were usually busy taking care of the children or doing chores. Smoking would have been allowed, most of the time. Alcohol consumption was against the rules for many wagon trains. Drunkenness, and the problems that came with it, was not something emigrants wanted to deal with. If they wanted a drink, it meant waiting until arriving at one of the Forts.
7. Millard Fillmore was president of the US from 1850-1853, after Zachary Taylor. He was not popular and did not get the Whig party’s nomination. His decision to push through the Great Compromise (and the associated Fugitive Slave Act) cost him and the Whigs dearly. Jon Snow was right, the country did eventually go to war in 1861. This discussion would be common at this point in history.
8. Oregon became a state in 1859.
9. Wagon trains did not always travel single file. In the more open plains of Kansas and Nebraska, wagons would travel in a column that could be as much as a mile wide. It helped with dust and meant better grass for their cattle.
10. Weddings were common on the trail, often taking places at Forts along the way.
11. From the diary of Benjamin Franklin Owen, May 6-7, 1853 “... camped near a little Potowatomy Village called Union Town, where there were Frenchmen living with Indian wives, Who were Genteel nice looking women having much the appearance of civilization.
12.There are constant references in women’s journals to a white flower that grew wild all over the prairie. None referred to it by name. One woman called them prairie flowers so I used that here.
13. The turtle eggs are based upon a journal entry I read. Except the eggs went towards a cake instead.
14. “This is the first day of summer, beautiful day. The prairie is covered with beautiful little flowers whose fragrance surpassed any garden flowers. There is a modest little white flower which peeps up among the green grass which particularly strikes my fancy. I call it the Prairie Flower.” - Harriett Buckingham, 1851
15. Consumption = Tuberculosis
16. Most emigrant deaths were due to disease and illness. Of those, most were due to Cholera. The illness was especially common on the eastern leg of the journey and growing increasingly rare further along. The symptoms were sudden and violent, leaving a person dead within hours. It is estimated half of those afflicted eventually died. Jon’s “rice” comment was due to the nature of Cholera. The disease basically causes severe vomiting and diarrhea. Cholera can be identified since it looks like water that was used to rinse rice. Sansa’s behavior and the way she displayed symptoms is accurate.
17. Jon doesn’t know it but he basically saved Sansa’s life. Cholera is caused by a bacteria that lives in contaminated water and foods. The dead animals and poor living conditions led to numerous outbreaks. Jon’s decision to use the emergency water in their barrels and forcing her to drink is what saved Sansa. Otherwise, she probably would have died by sun down. The poor advice I read in travel guides and journal entries was both staggering and tragic. Opium, peppermint oil, cod liver oil, and similar were all suggested to treat Cholera. None would have helped.
18. In reality, women and children were most often those who fell victim to Cholera. I am taking some liberties here, mentioning characters who died in canon or kept it vague.
Chapter 7: Chapter 7
A quick note on geography and timelines. This story started mid-April and approximately six weeks have progressed. This wagon train needs to move a little faster!
For reference, they started in Independence, Missouri and went west towards the Blue. They followed that river N/NW across Kansas and into Nebraska. They left the Blue at the Platte River. I will go into more detail on the Platte in the next chapter. Fort Kearney is located in the southern half of the state, in a valley a couple miles from the river. The wagon train is probably 60% of the way across Nebraska.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The wind tickled her skin, bringing the sweet scent of prairie grass and flowers to her. In the distance, she could hear the squealing laughter of small children as they played their morning games. Jon guessed they were less than a week from Fort Kearney and she greatly looked forward to it. There would be a wedding and dance afterwards. Sansa could pretend she was attending a ball with the walls of a great fortress in the background.
“Green suits you.” Jon peeked in at her over the wagon’s back. “We leave in a few minutes.”
Sansa wore her green wool dress, it was one of only two that remained to her. Dull and sturdy, it was suitable for the demands of daily travel. Still, she missed the blue even though it had been a plain and simple thing. It was the dress she wore on her wedding day and the beginning of their journey. She’d worn it for their first kiss and first dance. Now, it was nothing but ash and memories, Jon had burned it the previous day. Sansa would tell none of this to him though, her husband already worried over so much.
“One more day and then you’ll find me pestering you,” she said lightheartedly. Sansa took his offered hand with her own. “Our travels today will be lonely.” Their train was resuming its journey after the attack of Cholera for the first time. Sansa’s convalescence was not over quite yet, she would be travelling alone in their wagon, with only a blanket for company.
“A single day’s loneliness is a small price and one I will pay gladly,” her husband said solemnly. Jon kissed her palm before releasing her. He’d spent all the previous day fussing over her as Sansa slowly recovered. His every touch and gesture with her had been tender, she knew memories of Lyanna Snow were likely sharp in his memories of late. “Rest today. For me.”
“For you,” she agreed.
Jon jumped over the side, leaning in to kiss her cheek before whispering a goodbye. Only a couple minutes later, she heard his commands to their steers and the wagon started forward with a sudden jolt. Sansa was tired and she would enjoy that day’s respite but there was one task still left to her.
She drew away from the wagon’s edge as much as she could, there was only a small space made available with all their goods inside with her. Sansa felt Jon veer their wagon towards the left, to join up the long train being formed. They were one of the first to pass over the graves. Sansa counted each of them, seven in total, the newly turned earth could not be missed.
Sansa offered up a prayer to God to give comfort and succor to the Umber, Karstark, Locke, and other families who grieved for their lost kin, children and a woman who’d been married scarcely longer than her. She stayed rooted to her spot, watching in silent commemoration as one wagon and then another and another drove over the graves. Sansa had not been able to attend the funeral services or offer condolences but she could still pay her respects. The last members of the train were those whose loved ones were taken from them. Their wagons were driven to the side and did not pass over the graves.
Her lids already began to droop but she fought off sleep a bit longer. Sansa kept her gaze focused on the place Jon declared his love for her. He’d spoken plainly but his words were no less heartfelt. The feeling of joy that trembled through her body as they stood there on the plains to whisper their devotion was a sensation that would stay with her for all her remaining days.
The brisk winds whipped at the prairie grass, reminding Sansa of ocean waves. She peeked her head out of the wagon back to see the many white sails of prairie schooners, an armada of them she thought, eagerly rolling west in the great green ocean towards the Pacific. Sansa kept her eyes on the horizon until the place they’d camped was lost in a sea of grass. After, Sansa curled up in her spot with a blanket and promptly fell asleep.
The next day, she walked the morning away, holding Jon’s hand for all the world to see. The contentment and jublicance of his manner told her it was the right decision. She napped some after the nooning but made a large quantity of suckeyes for dinner that night, enough to last a good while, along with some stewed apples, and meat. The morning after dawned bright with birds chirping in a nearby copse of trees. Shortly before stopping for the evening, the children were sent out with baskets and buckets to collect buffalo chips as they walked along. Once, Sansa would have starved before eating anything cooked on them but no longer. They kindled easily for her and their coals were more beautiful than any wood.
“This is our last night on the Blue so I’m going to try my hand at fishing while we still have the chance.”
“Trout?” Her mouth began to salivate.
“I’ll do my best.” Jon kissed her forehead and left.
Excited at the prospect, Sansa kneaded dough so they would have enough bread for a few days. After, she dug a trench and covered it with shredded chips to serve as kindling. Jon had spent a few evenings teaching Sansa how to use flint and she was getting quite good at it. She hummed to herself as she worked.
“That’s a pretty tune. What’s its name?”
“No name, only a melody I liked.”
“I like it too.” Jon held up a pair of trout, dangling from a hook and line. It was enough for a few meals. He knew it too, Sansa thought his chest was a bit puffed up with pride. “You are lucky to have married a man skilled with a rod. Well, that and the abundance of fish to be found in the river. I’ll prepare it. We need to be quick.” Jon pointed up towards the sky.
Sansa looked upwards and felt deflated to see gathering storm clouds. Their night would be a wet one. They hurriedly worked together but it was not enough. A fat drop of rain fell on one of her bread loaves. She despaired, the chips would not burn if water got to them.
“Hold on.” Jon left her side to pull an object from the wagon. “Is that better?”
It was an umbrella, enough to cover her and the cook fire. “You’ll get wet.” Jon chose to cover her, leaving himself exposed.
He flashed a devilish smile. “Then you can help me get dry later.”
“You are very forward, Mr. Snow,” she admonished but her smile spoke the lie to her words. Sansa hurried as quick as she could while the rain grew heavier and heavier. She readied two plates and covered the remaining pans. They had not even put the tent up. “What are we going to do?”
“Passing another night in the wagon, looks like.”
They ended up eating their meal atop some of the food barrels, facing each other, with only dim lamp light for company. The rain fell down in a torrent and lightning flashed, so bright Sansa could have read by it.
“I need to chain up the oxen or else we’ll have a stampede on our hands.” The thunder boomed and Jon appeared in front of her, bright like a ghost from the lightning before he slipped back into the shadows.
“I’ll see what can be done to make up a bed for ourselves.” Not much, the space was so small, they would sleep huddled up together. Still, Sansa pulled out a blanket for their use. Alone in the wagon, she felt the chill from her now wet clothes and the damp night air.
“I can hear your teeth chattering even over this storm.” He climbed in before creeping towards her. “Let’s get under the blanket and warm up as best we can.”
They both removed their outer clothes and wrapped themselves in the blanket, huddled up close and Jon blew out the lamp. The sky was already black as pitch, broken only by the occasional flash of white.
“The animals must be frightened. The children too.”
“It will pass. How do you feel? Are you tired?” Jon’s arms came around her, pulling her close. “Don’t tell me you aren’t because we both know you’d be lying.”
Sansa had planned to say just that. “Some. I’ll be fully recovered in a few more days.” She was tired by day’s end but it was easier and easier as time passed.
“Good,” he whispered into her ear. “You seemed so tuckered out before cooking, I was tempted to feed us both hard tack and send you to bed.” Jon laughed softly.
“I’ll be able to do more very soon,” she said carefully, not quite able to summon the courage to speak out right. Jon had been so very sweet and kind these past few days. Still though, he’d seen her, wretched and ill, and she could not help but wonder. “We could resume intimacies, if you want to that is.” Her cheeks burned. Sansa was glad for the darkness.
“You mean carnal relations? Have I shocked you?” Jon’s whiskers tickled her lower lip as he kissed her chin.
“I am no longer so easily shocked, Mr. Snow.”
“I’ll try harder then,” he decreed. She felt his fingers in her hair, lightly pulling at a few strands before sighing wistfully. “I’m going to ask you to take your hair down for an entire day sometime. A winter day when we are stuck inside, only the two of us for company. Would you do that for me If I asked you?”
“Yes,” she said. Her body shivered at the thought.
“Good, then you can cease your worrying because you have married a man who is so entranced by his wife, he harbors fantasies of her removing the pins from her bun and spending the day naked in his bed.” She felt his lips by the lobe of her ear before grazing a trail lower down her neck. “Have I shocked you now?”
Sansa opened her mouth but could do nothing else, she was speechless.
“I am glad to hear it,” he drawled. “You need to sleep because we both need you better.”
She did so, as best as she could. Outside, the thunder rolled and the rain continued to come down in sheets. At one point, Sansa woke in the darkness only to realize it was the quiet that roused her. The storm had passed.
The morning came, and with it what seemed a foot of water on the ground and another couple inches on the wagon floor. The train lost two oxen as well, Jon thought from fear or shock. Her green dress was still wet so she wore the sole remaining one left to her, brown. Sansa did not care for it, believing the shade did not suit her coloring.
It was her turn to see to Martha but the cow was huddled up next to the wagon side, wet and miserable. “My poor dear, I bet you had yourself a fright. Would you like a treat?” Sansa offered their cow a couple pieces of dried apple. Martha ate it up and Sansa told herself it gave the creature some comfort.
The train continued on, and for the next two days it was nothing but endless routine of travel, wake, eat, walk, and sleep with the chores that never ended. The day before they were due to arrive at Fort Kearney, a great surprise greeted the train.
Five wagons, broken up and partially burned, were found abandoned by their former owners. Next to them was a great pile of bacon, thrown away. Mr. Jeor Mormont and Tormund, who’d both travelled the trail guessed it was from lack of means to transport or owners who no longer cared. Inside the wagons and scattered all about were bonnets, whole wagon wheels, cooking utensils and all manner of household items. The bacon was distributed among the different families with ten pounds given to her and Jon. One of the wagons had several older newspapers from back east which the men tore into with great excitement. Sansa also found a small book of poems, some red and blue calico fabric, and a pair of tea cups with pink roses painted on the side. She thought they would go nicely with the two plates she’d secreted away. Sansa had yet to tell Jon about either of them.
“I’ll replace everything one day.”
She gazed longingly at the rocking chairs. They were made with good heavy wood and the ivy carvings on them were exquisite. “Please don’t worry yourself. We’ve passed by so much, you were right.” His friend Theon had advised Jon to only bring what was absolutely necessary. Others had abandoned bed frames, stoves, tables, and all manner of items.
“Do you miss your dishes?”
“Somehow, trout tastes even more delicious with the sky above you and a beloved husband beside you. The dish your meal rests on doesn’t matter so much.” She took his hand, leading Jon to their camp site.
“What will you be making with your new found treasure?” They were sitting together over dinner, talking about the mysterious wagons.
“I’m not sure yet. Perhaps some new bonnets or pillow cases or I may save them to make a new dress.” She considered more before noticing Jon’s half smile of amusement. “What do you think I should make?”
“I don’t much care. It’s the pleasure of watching you I look forward too.”
Sansa did not know how to respond. “Would you like to know what we plan for Alys Karstark’s wedding?” He did.
They reached Fort Kearney the very next afternoon and Sansa was sorely disappointed. She’d pictured a great fortress on the plains. Instead, there were no fortifications, only a few wooden houses and several long, low sod buildings that grew up ramshackle around the square. Trees were set out along the borders of the parade square. One of the wooden buildings was a post and store front while the others were a hospital and officers quarters. They camped that night in the Platte Valley, between the river and the fort. It reminded Sansa of Independence, their train was not the only one to seek the comforts of civilizations. It seemed a small city of white canvas tents lay all through the valley.
The next morning found her walking arm in arm with Gilly and Mrs. Mormont toward the fort to do some shopping. Sansa had expected Jon to join her but when she’d asked, he’d only lifted his hat to pull at his hair and beg off, claiming there was hunting that needed to be done. Sansa would also be sending a short letter to her Uncle Benjen back east. She’d offered to do the same for Jon as well but he’d refused, saying, “The only person I wish to share news of my travels with is already standing beside me.” Her heart still ached to think on it.
The store was clean and filled with all manner of goods, even though the shabby exterior had made her believe otherwise. Sansa wandered the aisles, enjoying the feel of civilization it gave to her. Mrs. Mormont was currently engaged with several bolts of fabric.
“Gilly, did you happen to see her husband this morning?” He had not gone to hunt with Jon or stay behind to watch over the herds with Sam.
Her friend leaned in closer to whisper conspiratorially, “He’s probably enjoying a bottle of whiskey somewhere. It’s disgraceful.”
“They have a child coming too.”
“The men demand to be in charge, yet when something needs doing…” Gilly trailed off, crossing her arms. “We aren’t the first to notice.”
“It’s not the women that need to notice.” Sansa wondered over what to do, she’d never been so forward with Jon before. He might take her efforts as an order and she did not know how he would feel about that. It didn’t matter, she decided. “Jon is a lieutenant, maybe I could say something to him?”
“I will do the same with Sam. The two of them have grown close, I think. Mrs Umber too, that is a fierce woman if I ever met one.” She took Sansa’s arm. “Let’s join our friend. She needs the company.”
They did so. She found a spool of lace and gingerly fingered it. The lace was beautiful to look upon and would add a touch of decoration to her plain dresses. There was rose scented soap as well, the very same scent from her wedding night, she blushed remembering. Sansa could imagine the flare of Jon’s nose and eyes if he were to smell the roses in her hair. He would enjoy her in a lace collar too, Sansa told herself.
However, the prices for goods quickly made her realize those secret desires would remain only that. Flour, sugar, coffee, and other essentials were more than twice what she paid in Independence. Secretly, she thought it robbery, but said nothing. They needed more sugar, Jon enjoyed his desserts as she’d come to learn. Sansa also purchased dried peaches, pumpkins, potatoes, pickled green beans, pickled cucumbers, parsnips, dried peas, carrots, more dried apples, and four dozen eggs. They would stow nicely in the bran she still had on hand. She also replenished their medicine stores, candles, buckets, grease, rope, and other items Jon asked for. Sansa wished to buy some of the dried berries but did not, the prices were too high and she had no money left.
After, the three of them walked back to camp together and their conversation turned to Alys Karstark and her wedding the next day. Jeor Mormont followed behind, having volunteered to load and return their purchases to camp.
Sansa spent the remainder of the day sitting on blankets with a number of her friends as they pieced together a quilt to be given as a wedding gift. She loved every moment of it, as they traded stories, sang songs, and puzzled over riddles. She thought of her family some too. Her mother would have been sitting next to her while her father went hunting with Jon. Arya would have begged to join them and she knew Jon would have let her. If she squinted her eyes, Sansa could almost see little Rickon and Bran pretending to be soldiers along with the other boys at play. She felt a bit of melancholy seep into her, thinking of them, and returned to her own camp to prepare dinner soon after.
“I got the killing shot on an antelope.” Jon picked her up and swung her around so the green skirts of her dress twirled about. “You not only married a skilled fisherman, you also married one of the best shots in our camp.” His eyes were all lit up and his mouth drawn back into a mirthful grin.
“I’m proud of you.” She was too, only her eyes threatened to spill over with tears.
She didn’t know how to answer. “The store didn’t have lemons.”
Jon removed his hat. His hair was matted down from the day’s sweat. “Once we reach Oregon, I’ll buy you some. A whole bushel full.”
Sansa was being foolish. She breathed deep and reminded herself she was a married woman, not a little girl. “You are a very kind husband, Jon Snow.” She kissed him on the lips. It was a brief kiss, but still, anyone could have seen it. His breath hitched in surprise.
“I’m in love with my wife, Mrs. Snow.” Her low spirits were gone.
Sansa woke the next morning and hurried through her chores, baking bread and fixing another tear on one of Jon’s shirt sleeves. She wanted to bathe before the wedding and it would be a task to gather the needed water.
“I have something for you,” Jon said gruffly. His hands were in his coat pockets. One left to scratch at his beard before returning to his pocket. “Will you come with me?” He led her to the other side of the wagon, to afford them privacy she guessed. His gait as they walked was stiff.
“Nothing.” Jon pressed his lips flat before breathing so deep his nostrils flared. “I have something for you. I asked Gilly a long time ago and she told me.” He pulled a bar of soap from one pocket and over a foot of lace from the other. “Is that enough? I wasn’t sure how much to get.”
Sansa merely stared at him, speechless.
“It’s not enough. I can get more.”
“March two more miles?” Her voice was back. Sansa took both items and breathed in the scent of roses. “It’s been a very long time since someone gave me a present like this. Thank you.”
“I should have thought to give you something for our wedding,” he said contritely. “Gilly saw you looking at them.”
“But you did,” she argued. “I had two glasses of lemonade and we stayed in a hotel room. I never stayed in a hotel room before and you put up with me prattling away the entire day.”
“I love your prattling.”
She stroked the lace with her thumb, remembering her earlier plan to use it for a collar. Sansa changed her mind. “If you don’t mind, I would like to use this to make something for our new home, something I can give to our daughter someday.”
“I would love that.” He kissed her.
Sansa thought the wedding was a delight. The fort’s chaplain performed the ceremony and people from other camps came to watch and give their congratulations to the couple. They ate a great feast too, meat from Jon’s antelope, a bean salad, wedding cake, berries and cream, fresh biscuits, and baked parsnips. After, the music started and the lanterns were lit. Everyone danced, serenaded by fiddles and accordions. Sansa looked up to the sky several times, she kept expecting the moon and stars to join in their merry making. It was a joyous celebration, with the evening air filled with people’s laughter and the sounds of revelry.
Still, the time came when Jon could take no more and begged her to retire with him. They barely pulled the tent flap closed when Jon began pulling at his clothes in his eagerness.
“You women should dress like men do,” Jon said impatiently.
Sansa wrinkled her nose in distaste. “We should not.”
“It’s easier to get my clothes off.” He hurriedly undid the last of her buttons and pantaloons before pushing her onto the bedding. “Much better.”
She reached between them to press her palms against his stomach, wanting to feel the warm skin and thin trail of hair. She felt his sharp intake of breath too. “You’re impatient tonight.”
“Do you know how long it has been? I am the very soul of patience.” His words were playful but his tone was not. Jon nuzzled at her neck, lightly nipping and kissing the tender skin.
Sansa remembered her earlier worries, they were a little girl’s worries. Jon’s desire had not lessened. “It’s good we managed to sneak away then,” she teased.
He pulled himself up, weight resting on his arms. “If that’s so, we don’t sneak very well. Most of the camp has taken notice of our early departures.”
She turned scarlet with mortification at his statement. “We need to return to the party before anyone notices we’re gone,” she said in a rush. Sansa shoved at his chest. He grunted, which she ignored to shove at him again.
Jon sat up but cupped one of her breasts with his hand. “Why would we do that?” He scratched at his hair with his free hand. “Sound carries very well at night here on the prairie, did you know that? It so happens, I hear many couples engaged in amorous activities while on guard duty. We all pretend not to notice.”
“I’m very good at pretending.” Catelyn Stark sometimes accused her of having an overly active imagination as a child. Sansa didn’t mind pretending.
“Good,” her husband growled. “Because I don’t think I can wait.” Jon covered her body with his own and pressed his lips to hers. Their kiss was ravenous and impatient, it felt as if he wanted to devour her.
Sansa wrapped her arms around his neck as her lids closed. She lost herself in the warmth of his body and the taste of his kisses. She loved the way Jon kissed her, the eagerness he displayed and the devotion of his touches.
He broke away and she felt his jagged breath against her neck. “I want to kiss you here.” Jon kissed the tip of one nipple. “And here.” He did the same to her other nipple. They were both hard peaks.
The heat and coiling tension between her legs grew. Sansa clasped his chin, tilting it so he gazed up at her. Her husband’s eyes were soft, filled with love and desire. “Do that again,” she demanded.
Jon almost threw himself into it, sucking and lathing at one nipple while one hand slid down her body to cup her mound, stirring her into a further frenzy. He released her with a loud popping sound that brought a devilish grin to his face. “Did you know your nightgown is transparent?”
“No,” she gasped, a tad frustrated. “You never said.”
“Why would I? It was a luscious sight.” Jon began to greedily kiss her breasts before moving lower down her body. “Spread your legs for me.”
A part of Sansa was still shocked and horrified when Jon did this. It was sinful. “Use your fingers.”
Jon snorted. “My wife is demanding and I love her dearly for it.” He lightly bit her inner thigh and then she felt his tongue against her center. Sansa’s back arched and she began to pant. “I missed this taste.” His words were garbled.
Sansa let herself get lost in her husband’s ministrations, in the feel of his wet tongue and the gentle glide of his fingers. Her head fell back as a desperate cry escaped her and she saw a flash of white light. Jon slowed his caresses, ghosting little kisses against her center and up her body.
She grasped his shoulders, nudging her husband upwards until they were looking into each other’s eyes once more. Sansa put one leg over his before reaching up to kiss his lower lip. A sound spilled from him, she thought it akin to a growl. Jon fumbled at her before impaling her body with enough force to push them both further up the bedding. Sansa hissed at the ecstasy of it all.
“I missed this. You and I, together.” Jon kissed her briefly before pulling away. His eyes were twin pools of smoky black. The tent was quiet except for the sound of their jagged breaths. “I can’t wait, Sansa.”
“Nor I.” To prove it, she writhed underneath him and raked her nails across his back.
Her actions stirred him on and Jon moved, driving into her slowly. “I missed your taste and the wet sounds of our bodies. I missed your legs around my hips.” Jon drew up, resting his weight on his forearms and started to slam into her. Sansa sobbed and ground against him, wanting more, needing more. “I missed those sweet cries of yours too.”
Jon roared and began to drive into her with a growing urgency, faster and faster Sansa drew her legs up, meeting his every thrust, as she wailed into his ear. A litany of filthy words fell from his lips and with a final push, Jon stilled with his body heaving against hers.
Sansa opened her eyes. She felt giddy and sated, all at once. “What is it?”
“I don’t know.” They laughed together before he playfully kissed the tip of her nose. “I still can’t believe I found you.”
“You didn’t,” she pointed out. “I answered an advertisement.”
“It was a good advertisement.”
She’d memorized it. “Young man, 25, of good breeding, seeks wife-”
Jon cut her off with a kiss.
1.This will sound crass but I’m not sure how else to say it. The trains would stop long enough to bury the dead and give the dying time to die. Otherwise, the trains continued on. Those who were sick or recovering traveled in the wagons. It would not make for a comfortable ride and would not help with recovery.
2. Wagons were sometimes driven over graves to pack in the earth in the hope that it would keep wild animals away. “The grave was dug in such a place that the wagons when leaving camp might pass over it. In digging the grave, those who have it in charge was careful to cut and lift the sod in squares so they could be replaced when the grave was filled... Rev Cornwall conducted the funeral services. When we broke camp next morning, the wagons 74 in number passed over the grave. Fathers wagons was driven to one side and did not pass over the grave.” - Henry Garrison, 1846
3.A sister’s grief at the loss of her younger brother: “This to us is heart rending, but gods “ways are not our ways neither is his thoughts our thoughts”! O! may we bow with submission to his will one of our young men is also verry ill. Two months and seven days this morning since our beloved mother was called to bid this world adieu, and the ruthless monster death not yet content has once more entered our fold & taken in his icy grip the treasure of our hearts!” -Abigail Jane Scott, 1852 (spelling and grammar errors are hers).
4. The wagons were nicknamed prairie schooners. The white canvas tops were similar to the white sails of a schooner and the wagons sailed in a green ocean rather than a blue one.
5. Suckeyes are an old term for pancakes.
6. "Mrs. Burnett was not altogether happy about it. She even said that she would have “starved before she would have eaten anything cooked on them if she had known it.”...Dry fuel of any kind was very scarce, so even the finicky ones were compelled to use them, and after a time, used them in preference, when other fuel was plentiful. They were good tinder and made beautiful coals that held heat for a long time." -Charlotte Matheny, 1843
7. Prairie storms were mentioned a lot. The one Jon and Sansa experience here is rather mild in comparison to some of what I read. “We have a dreadful storm of rain and hail last night and very sharp lightning. It killed two oxen. The wind was so high I thought it would tear the wagons to pieces. Nothing but the stoutest covers could stand it. The rain beat into the wagons so that everything was wet. In less than 2 hours the water was a foot deep all over our camp grounds. As we could have no tents pitched, all had to crowd into the wagons and sleep in wet beds, with their wet clothes on, without supper - Amelia Stewart Knight, 1853
8. "We passed today the nearly consumed fragments of about a dozen wagons that had been broken up and burned by their owners: and near them was piled up, in one heap, from six to eight hundred weight of bacon, thrown away for want of means to transport it further. Boxes, bonnets, trunks, wagon wheels, whole wagon bodies, cooking utensils, and, in fact, almost every article of household furniture, were found." - Cpt. Howard Stansbury, 1852
9. "Came ... to Fort Kearney; We here halted awhile to write letters, look at curiosities, &c. The fort is a rather shabby looking concern but contains two very good looking dwelling houses which to us who had been traveling for three weeks without seeing a house or any thing like civilization presented an appearance of a very pleasing nature." - Abigail Jane Scott, 1852
10. Fort Kearney was not a fort in the way Sansa thought of it. It was primarily a supply depot and refuge for those on the plains and for emigrants. It was on of the first western outposts with regular mail service. It also kept huge supplies on hand for travellers.
11. Travelers regularly complained about the cost of goods at forts along the route west. They did not know that much of what was sold at the fort outposts was sold to them at cost. The military, and government, was not making a profit. The officer in charge at Fort Kearney was also authorized to give goods away for free when he felt it was warranted.
12. Stays at the Forts would often last 1-3 days. It was a time to rest the animals, perform repairs, purchase needed goods, seek medical care (such as it was), and so on.
13."Our long journey was not altogether devoid of pleasures. We spent many happy hours visiting our neighbors in camp, talking and singing, telling stories, guessing riddles. There were some very amusing incidents.” - Martha Gay, 1851
Chapter 8: Chapter 8
To give some idea of progress in this chapter. Jon and Sansa traveled west, mostly paralleling the Platte River. The Platte forks into the North Platte and South Platte. The train was on the south side of the river so needed to ford across it to get to what would be the north fork. The chapter ends with them in the valley of the North Platte, going towards the river. They are almost out of Nebraska and are approximately 508-510 miles into their 2000 mile journey.
Also - I'm on vacation so replies to any comments will be slow. :)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Jon could give the Platte River credit for one part of its name, the damned thing was flat, it was the river part of the name that galled him. The Platte was never more than a foot deep but looked to be a mile wide. It lacked the decency to shrink down to a puddle or grow to the size of a creek. It did not bother with a proper bank, somehow deciding mudflats and stagnant pools would serve the same purpose. They did not.
Their train was now two days gone from Fort Kearney, travelling west until they reached the fords. Mr. Locke was no longer with them, he’d chosen not to continue on after the death of his wife. Jon wondered if he’d find some purpose at the Fort or eventually return to his family back east.
Two new wagons had joined their party, owned and guided by a fair number of bachelors hoping to find fortune and adventure in the west. Pyp and Grenn were both agreeable boys and eager to befriend the other men of the camp. Edd and Satin were quieter but Jon liked them well enough. It was their clothing attire that left him befuddled. Each sported big whiskers, mustache, a steeple-crowned hat, buckskin coat done up with quills, belt, pistol, hatchet, bullet pouch, a bowie knife twenty inches long, a red shirt, and five-inch spurs. He thought it quite a bit of dressing to make oneself so ridiculous.
“I swear all the mosquitoes in Nebraska have decided to follow us every step of our travel to Oregon,” Sansa said vehemently. She slapped another one off her neck. “If I swore.”
Both of them had more than a few bites on their bodies. He’d seen the children scratching until their skin bled. “It’s the Platte.” They would need to cross it soon too and he worried over it. The quicksand bottom meant their heavy wagons could be easily stuck. “It won’t get better for awhile, the north fork will likely be the same.”
His wife picked at her food, nibbling at the occasional bite of bacon but not much else. It was not like her to be so wasteful. “Will you be one of the men who decides when we cross?”
“As much as I usually contribute to the decisions, yes. Mr. Mormont and I get on rather well.” It was the two of them that made the call to limit their stay at Kearney to only a couple days, some of the other men had pushed for twice that. “I have guard duty tonight as well but that responsibility will lessen some with the addition of a few more men to our camp.” Not a whole lot but he wanted to ease Sansa’s worry. He knew she did not sleep well during the nights he was not beside her. “I’ll keep the cows safe from mice.” Jon glanced at her, alarmed, but if she heard his poor joke then he could not tell.
“Jon, I need to speak with you,” she said solemnly. There was trepidation too, he suspected she’d spent their entire meal summoning the courage to speak.
“Of what?” He couldn’t guess the topic. They’d not had so much as a word of disagreement since she tended to a certain sick and miserable excuse of a man.
Sansa kept her eyes planted on the still-full plate in her lap. “The men are in charge of this camp, I know it. A group of you decide when we go and when we stop, you pick who stands guard and decide the rules. It’s to keep everyone safe, I know that too. Yet, there is a woman in this camp that needs help and all the men are blind to it.”
He didn’t need to ask who she referred too. Their first day at Kearney, Jorah Mormont had pilched some whiskey from the soldiers there. A couple other men found him that evening, drunk and threatening an officer. He’d spent that night in the brig, much to his father’s shame. “What do you expect to be done?”
“I expect the men to meet the promises they make.” He wanted to interrupt her, it was Sansa he’d made vows too, no one else. “The men are blind, Jon, but the women are not. His words to her are cruel. She does his chores since he is so often drunk and she has a child in her belly. How can we trust all of us to be safe if a single woman is deliberately ignored?”
The low rumble of anger churned in his belly. Long ago memories, the sort he kept buried away and rarely dwelt on, surfaced in his mind, of his father’s rages and his mother’s tears. “I feel shame.” Sansa finally looked over at him, with her features scrunched up and her lips drawn into an almost frown. He wondered how often she’d practiced her speech before finally speaking up. She was a dutiful wife, did every responsibility expected of her without complaint, and had just called him out for his failures as a man. She would acknowledge his hurt at her words but she would not take them back. Jon would not ask it of her. “I am proud of my wife though.”
“Will you help her?”
“I will speak with her father in law tomorrow. If that is not enough then,” he stopped, considering, “then, there are a few other men who may help.” He needed to be beaten with a horse whip in Jon’s opinion.
Sansa expelled a breath and he could see the tension slowly disappear. He’d failed to notice the stiffness in her shoulders or the set of her jaw before. “Thank you.”
“I’d rather you didn’t thank me.” He took her hand, stroking the inside palm with his thumb. “Someday soon, I’d like to tell you about my father.”
“When you are ready, I’d like to listen.” She didn’t inquire further although Jon knew she did not miss the odd comments he’d made regarding Rhaegar.
He kissed her palm, Jon loved his wife more with every day that passed. “Tell me a story.”
The next morning, he sought out Jeor Mormont as promised, telling himself the effort would likely prove fruitless. It was not quite dawn, the barest tip of a pink sun appearing far to the east. The cattle lay spread along the water’s edge, quenching their morning thirst. The mosquitoes were everywhere, all seemingly determined to buzz in his ears.
“Mr. Mormont, I need to speak with you.” Sansa would try a gentle approach, full of kind words and understanding. Jon tended to bluntness. “It concerns your son’s behavior.”
Jeor Mormont was an older man, gray haired and heavily grizzled, similar to an old bear in appearance. “My son,” he sighed, “and my disappointment. What has the boy done?” He spoke the question tiredly, as if it was a question asked countless times before.
Jon disagreed with the boy assessment. Jorah Mormont was a man, with a man’s responsibilities. “Women and children in the camp have witnessed him drunk on more than one occasion. Sansa brings me tales of his wife crying. It needs to stop.”
Mormont seemed to shrink in on himself, standing stooped over the water’s edge. “I have tried, more than I care to think on. My sister’s family lives in the Oregon Territories, Mr. Snow. I am bringing her to them. She will be cared for.”
They were not in Oregon yet. “What of now? How shall it be handled today? Be aware I am not the only man itching to take action.” That wasn’t strictly the truth but he didn’t care.
“I’m an old man, Jon. This will be my last journey on the trails and I’ve seen much over the years. Do what you feel needs doing.”
He returned back to camp, finding Sansa waiting to shove a cup of hot coffee into his ready hands. Jon was not sure what to tell her. He would not keep a secret from his wife but it did not seem right to immediately divulge an old man’s confidences. “Can we speak tonight?”
She was disappointed. “You may not want thanks but I’ll say it again.”
The rest of the day passed without incident as Jon deliberated what to do. He was no closer to an answer that night as he lay in bed with Sansa in his arms. “I’m no sheriff or lawyer; deciding on a punishment is a new experience.”
“Have you asked the lawyer?” She meant Sam, he realized. Jon hadn’t considered it. “Husband of mine, will you allow your wife to share some wisdom?”
His chest shook with silent laughter. Jon pulled her up his chest for a kiss. “Please do.”
“The women of this train help each other every day with more than the chores of washing and cooking. We give each other our presence and support. Do you see?” He did. Jon breathed deep, taking in the faint trace of roses that still lingered in her hair.
Sansa had the right of it, he could not keep track of Jorah Mormont’s movements on his own. Jon promised her he would speak with Sam the very next morning and they both fell asleep shortly after.
“Gilly already spoke to me, Jon, I know what you mean to ask. Talking will not change his behavior. My father was fond of whiskey, it is not a vice easily given up.”
“Shall I wrestle him?” Jon asked, a bit dumbfounded. It was a foolish question, talking had never worked with his own father either.
“Well, I most certainly cannot.” Sam Tarly was a portly man, he was also the only one in the train to attend college. “Men will do ask you ask, I promise. He’ll break a rule soon enough. Let him and you’ll be able to demand any punishment you see fit afterwards.
He ended up speaking with other men in the camp and all promised to spy on Mormont as needed. It was a start.
The days passed, and as they did, Jon kept watch but there was no further sign of alcohol. Sansa brought him no further tales of trouble either. As they moved west, towards the fords he noticed the rich green grass slowly growing thin and dry. The buffalo herds had picked some parts of the land clean, leaving sharp stubs of burnt grass behind. It would wear at the cattle’s feet soon. The only trees to be found were a few dried willows, confined to the small islands of the Platte.
One evening, they happened upon a large store of wild ducks nesting in one of the prairie ponds. The next day found another prairie dog village with the creatures barking as they passed by. The children were as excited to see them as they’d been the first time.
Their train arrived at the river crossing early one afternoon. The summer sun and faint breeze brought a feeling of drowsiness to many, Jon could see it in the slowed movements of the men and lazy play of the children. A few individuals chose to nap in their covered wagon, protected from the sun’s rays.
The decision was made to start the crossing in the morning hours to avoid splitting up the party which meant a few extra hours of leisure for them all. Jon intended to spend them with his wife.
“It is lovely, isn’t it?
“It’s a puddle of mud,” Jon said disdainfully. The quicksand at the bottom meant he’d have to drive the oxen hard. “You will need to travel in the wagon or your dress will be covered in mud.”
Sansa sniffed. “The sun warms our skin and the flowers bloom all around us. Look at the waves, it’s as if the water is filled with floating gold.” It was the isinglass that lent the river its gold appearance. “Do you want to see what I discovered earlier?” He did.
She pulled a small leather pocketbook from her apron. Jon studied the contents inside. A few sheets of paper, with the beginnings of a letter and some poetry. He didn’t recognize it. The lock of sandy blond hair interested him. “He will miss this.”
“It is lost to him but not us. We know the story of an unnamed man who loved a woman named Helen. I shall keep it for him.” She took back the pocketbook, hiding it away in her apron once more. It was another lost possession, one of thousands they’d passed, and now claimed by his wife. “They will see each other again.”
His thoughts drifted to the items she’d been made to abandon so long ago in the fields outside Independence. The furniture discarded along the trails only confirmed his decision to leave it all behind but that did not lessen her hurt over it. “I’m sorry about your mother’s dishes.”
Sansa fiddled with her skirts, looking away guiltily. “I kept some, under the bedding where I knew you wouldn’t find them.”
He hissed a laugh as his eyes crinkled up. “My wife is a regular rapscallion. I bet you were a disobedient child too.” He doubted it, but Jon did enjoy her scandalized expression.
She huffed. “Take that back. You take that back, Jon Snow or I’ll….”
“You’ll what?” he challenged.
“I’ll burn tonight’s dessert. Don’t think I won’t.”
“Is that a threat?” He didn’t believe her. “I love you.” Jon kissed his wife, with an army of mosquitoes to witness it.
He should have believed her. “This peach cobbler is burnt.” They were sitting on a blanket next to the fire, facing each other with their knees touching. “Unfortunately for you, I have a great fondness for burnt peaches.”
Sansa’s lips twitched with unshed laughter. “I warned you.”
“So you did. Tomorrow night, I shall expect burnt-”
Jon was not able to finish, their conversation interrupted by a woman’s frightened scream quickly followed by shouts warning of fire. He shot to his feet, looking about for the blaze. Sure enough, there were flames larger than any cookfire should be. He grabbed the bucket of water meant for that night’s washing and ran to the Mormont wagon. Other men joined him, carrying more buckets and blankets to try and smother the fire.
The fire was already half out by the time he arrived but flames were precariously close to the wagon. Jon doused what he could as a man next to him did the same. More people arrived, carrying cups or pots filled with any liquid on hand. Around him, Jon heard the frightened cries of children and the angry yells of men.
Eventually, the flames were extinguished and it seemed as if every member of the train was gathered together as a spell fell over them. No one spoke or moved. Jon saw his wife clutching Mrs. Mormont, both of them frightened. Her husband sat on the ground, resting against a wagon wheel, head in hands. Then the spell broke and a few men grabbed Jorah Mormont, bodily moving him out of the camp, further into the prairie grass and away from any onlookers.
Jon looked to his father but saw only an ashen-faced old man, worn down and beaten. He would not be of help. The tension he’d been holding slowly left his body, replaced by a heady mix of exhaustion and rage. He glanced about, searching for the right target. “Pyp, Grenn, Rickard. I want the Mormont wagon searched and torn apart. Look for whisky or any other form of spirits. Take every weapon of his, gun, knife, ax, even a butter knife if you find one. Flint, matches, any tool to light a fire. All of it is now forfeit.” All three men ran forward to do as bid. Jon was surprised, he’d not been sure it would work.
He sought out Sansa next. “Take her. She’ll be sleeping with you tonight.” Worry for his wife only fueled his anger, Jon had not forgotten the fate of her lost family.
Now for the arsonist. “Sam, Tormund, come with me please.” They followed silently, as he went in search of the men who’d taken Mormont away.
The sound of pained groaning made for an easy trail. Jon Umber stood over Jorah, looking to prepare for another hit. He wanted to join in but restrained himself. “Stop. We will not be beating a man to death tonight.” Even over the linger odor of smoke, Jon could smell faint traces of alcohol. “No matter how much it seems deserved.”
“My wagon was next to his. Two of my children were sleeping in it.”
“He could have killed every woman and child in this camp with his carelessness.”
Jon agreed, he’d seen the size of blackened grass as well as anyone had. “We’ll have a trial.” It would not take more than a few minutes. “Sam, will you explain the order of events?”
His poor friend seemed stricken to be the subject of focus. “As I see it, he stands accused of attempted murder.” Sam was interrupted by a few murmurs of assent which Jon quelled. “We give him a chance to defend himself and then decide guilt and punishment.”
“The wretch is guilty, I’ll say that now.”
Jon ignored Mr. Umber. “Go on then, defend yourself,” he said, speaking directly to Jorah Mormont.
“I didn’t do anything none of the rest of you did. Glover’s wife almost got her children drowned. Locke gave up and stayed behind. Sam here couldn’t hunt if we stuck a lame rabbit in his face. Umber, you’re responsible for the loss of a couple of our cattle.” Jorah stared at the cluster of men with an expression that told Jon all he needed to know and spat at Glover’s feet.
“Let’s be quick, we’re all tired. Is there anyone here who does not find him guilty?” Jon asked. Silence. “Tormund, fetch a rope please.” His friend left to do so.
“You mean to hang me?”
“Your drunkenness and disregard could have killed every person here, including the women and children.” Jon wanted to hang him, he wanted to beat him. “Jorah Mormont, you will stay away from your wife from now on. You will sleep in the open with only the stars for company. She will not clean or cook for you. If you step out of line again, if you are found drinking or committing any other crimes, the only choice left to you will be the bullet or the rope.”
Jon directed the man to be tied up and staked to the ground that night. “He can sleep the drink off, assuming the wild animals don’t get to him.”
He stepped away, wanting to return to Sansa, but stopped. Jon was not done yet. “Do not forget, we know where you sleep at night. Next time you go astray, every man here will have a turn at you, including me. Believe that.”
Jon made himself stay until Jorah was securely tied. He kept expecting one of the men to challenge his decision or demand another punishment but they kept silent. After it was done, he spoke quietly with Jeor, feeling pity for the old man, explaining his judgment. The elder Mr. Mormont accepted it all without complaint. That finished, he returned to his own camp, only to find Sansa tucked away in the tent with Mrs. Mormont. Alone, Jon cleaned up the dishes and finished the evening chores before tucking himself into a bed roll by the cookfire’s glowing embers. He did not sleep easily.
The next morning dawned beautiful, with a light wind and clear sky. It made no matter, the camp was in a somber mood, the blackened grass a severe reminder of the previous night’s events. Jon had only a few short minutes alone with Sansa, barely enough time to share the trial’s results, before the wagon crossing was to begin.
“You will want to stay in the wagon while we cross. Your skirts will be covered in mud and quicksand elsewise.”
“Do not worry, Mr. Snow. The women have their travel arrangements in hand.” Sansa absently kissed his cheek before running off.
The crossing started, limited to only a pair of wagons at a time. Should any of them be stuck in the quicksand, it would take several men to get them moving again. Jon drove his oxen hard, using the whip for a few hits to keep them going. The crossing itself proved uneventful, except for the women. Rather than sit in the wagons, most of them had chosen to cast modesty aside and walk the mile-wide river. He could not recall such a display of fantastic costumes in all his days. To his further amazement, Sansa was a member of the procession of scantily clad women. Jon could not decide between averting his gaze or hungrily ogling his wife’s body for all to see.
The day passed without a nooning due to the crossing and Mrs. Mormont joined his wife again that night, leaving him alone once more. Jon slept fitfully, he missed Sansa. The next morning, he felt a certain grim satisfaction to see Jorah Mormont eating a sad meal of hardtack alone. The man was a ghost within the camp, allowed to stay but nothing else.
The train would be making camp that evening at Ash Hollow before moving into the North Platte Valley. The journey down the hill and into the valley was taken as far as it could with the ox teams. After, the animals were unhitched and led down into the valley proper. The hind wheels were rough-locked and ropes tied to the axles. A team of men were at the ropes to stop the wagons from flipping end over end, another team lifted the wheels over the solid rock steps of the hill, while a third group was at the tongue to steer and guide the wagon down. It took the entire day, and by the end of it, the muscles of Jon’s arms, shoulders, and back throbbed.
Finally, the evening came and they were alone in the tent. The loneliness eating at him all day disappeared. He watched, wordlessly, as Sansa methodically removed his clothing, one item after the other.
“Sit down,” she gently ordered.
He did so, with his legs crossed on their bed and lids drifting shut. Sansa began to knead his arms and shoulders and he moaned with pleasure. “Thank you.”
“Is it helping?” She kept it up, rubbing and squeezing the muscles of his back. Jon answered with a weak groan. Sansa giggled and kept on. “We’ve barely spoken the past couple days.”
Barely spoken and nothing of consequence. “The rest of the men wanted to kill him. Beat him to death.”
“I’d thought it was possible.”
“I wanted to do the same. I almost did. If those flames got to any of the wagons, we couldn’t have stopped it.” As if was, the fire got right up to a pair of them. “The whole camp would have turned into a tinderbox.” Now that he was confessing, Jon couldn’t seem to stop. “This way, an old man still has his son and a wife her husband. That is, if she even wants him.”
“You showed mercy. That’s never wrong.” She kissed his shoulder before resting her cheek against his back. Sansa’s arms encircled his chest, pulling him against her. It felt good.
“She want him back?”
His wife sighed heavily, the exhalation making his skin shiver. “I think they believed themselves in love once. Apparently, he was a good husband before he started to drink.”
“They’re always good husbands before they start to drink,” he said bitterly. Sansa remained quiet, waiting for him to explain. “My father was a drinker. I hated him.”
“Where is he now?”
“Probably dead somewhere. He started disappearing for long spells after my mother died. Eventually, he never came back and I’ve been on my own ever since.”
“He was violent,” she said flatly. It wasn’t a question, Sansa already knew the answer.
“He was violent.” Rhaegar would pretend not to remember afterwards but Jon never believed it. Now, he finally had Sansa alone and all he’d managed so far was to create a dreary mood. “I don’t want to talk about my father anymore.”
“I have heard lovers sometimes leave their names behind on the Courthouse and Chimney Rock.” Sansa kissed between his shoulder blades.
A great affection washed over him. She’d stumbled upon exactly the sort of topic he wanted. “That’s disappointing to hear as we are not lovers.”
Sansa hummed a soft laugh. “We are lovers and we are married. Not so many are as lucky as we are.”
“We will leave our name on every stump of rock between here and Oregon,” he promised. “I missed you.” Jon turned into her. “I may have seen you a whole lot but it wasn’t the same.”
“No, it wasn’t.” Sansa moved away to pull back the blanket and start laying down. “Come on.”
Embarrassment fell over him as Jon struggled how to explain. A flush crept up his neck. “I’m really tired and sore.”
“I know you are,” she reassured him. Her hand pulled at his arm, bringing him closer. “I usually sleep in your arms. I thought you might like the chance to sleep in mine.”
Of course she understood, he should have expected it. “I would like that very much.”
1. The Platte River, think of a giant mud puddle. It did provide fresh water in parts but not much else. Phrases used to describe it: “a mile wide and a foot deep”, “too thick to drink and too thin to plow”, “the greatest lie I ever saw”, or “The river that flowed upside down.”
2. Membership in a train was informal. Families left off or joined for a variety of reasons, including death in the family.
3. I found this quote and needed to fit it in somewhere. “Imagine to yourself a biped five feet four inches high, with big whiskers, red mustachios, steeple-crowned hat, buckskin-coat, done up with hedge-hog quills, belt, pistol, hatchet, bullet pouch, bowie knife 20 inches long, red shirt and five-inch spurs. It seems to me that the boys take pains to make themselves ridiculous.” Dr. Israel Lord, 1849
4. I don’t know if emigrants hated the Platte River or the mosquitoes more. If pressed, I’d guess the Platte by a narrow margin.
5. “The prairie having been burntdry, sharp stubs of grass remain, which are very hard, and wear and irritate the feet of the cattle.” - Joel Pamer, June 7th, 1845
6. "Helen found a pocket book. Some one will wish they had not lost it. It contained some friendship lines, some lines of poetry, a lock of hair, but lost to him now. Camping on the vast prairie and in sight of the Platte River." - Agnes Stewart, 1853
7. After disease, accidents were the second most common cause of death. A fire in the prairie grass could have turned deadly very fast.
8. Frontier justice! Crime was actually pretty rare. However, punishment tended to be very harsh. I read a diary entry telling the story of two men who argued and one ended up getting killed. There was a very quick trial, all of a minute or so. The man was found guilty and offered a choice: bullet or rope. He chose a bullet. After the sentence was done, the train started moving again.
9. The “government” of a wagon trained tended to be sort-of democratic. The trial, such as it was, would have given all the men a chance to participate.
10. Stripping down was sometimes required and was more common than we might think. One account: "Of the fortitude of the women one cannot say too much. Embarrassed at the start by the follies of fashion, they soon rose to the occasion and cast false modesty aside. Long dresses were quickly discarded and the bloomer donned. ...what a picture.... Elderly matrons dressed almost like little girls.... The younger women were rather shy in accepting the inevitable but finally fell into the procession, and we soon had a community of women wearing bloomers.”- Ezra Meeker, 1852.
11. Ash Hollow is approximately 508 miles into the Oregon Trail and was a popular camping spot before moving into the North Platte Valley proper. Noted for its fresh spring water which meant plenty of wood and grass for grazing.
12. Not sure how clear I was about getting to Ash Hollow. Going down that hill meant the men physically carrying and guiding each wagon down a 300ft hill. The rough-locking wheels has left evidence that remains to this day. The hill still shows five scars of trail ruts down its side.
Chapter 9: Chapter 9
This chapter has them continuing on, following the North Platte River, moving N/NW. This chapter covers maybe 110 miles. Fort Laramie is coming soon.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The North Platte Valley was different somehow. It was not the dry, hard deserts Sansa read about in her books but the differences could not be missed. The sun burned hotter, the wind blew harsher, and the grass grew more coarse. The lovely prairie flowers, with their inviting scent and white blooms were no longer so easily found. Slowly, the land under her feet changed, from the rich earth of the eastern prairie to the dry hint of desert. It made her feel as if she was going to a strange place, an alien place filled with sights she could not yet imagine.
Behind her sat the Courthouse, a great rock fortress that seemed to dominate all the land. Sansa wished Jon had been able to come see it with her. Instead, he’d offered to fetch water from the river and do some of her chores so she could spend the afternoon exploring. Many women of the camp had done the same, with the elder Mr. Mormont and Edd acting as their protectors should the need arise.
“Mrs. Mormont seems happier these pest several days,” she said to Gilly who walked beside her. The change had been dramatic. The woman smiled more easily, the burden of her marriage no longer wearing at her. Jorah Mormont lived on the edges of camp, his existence tolerated but nothing else. Jon had set the bachelor men to look over and to see to some of her needs. Sansa noticed her bringing them pies and other treats more than once.
“I’m pleased for her. Our travels are hard enough, her burdens did not need to be.” Gilly drew closer to Sansa to take her arm. “She’ll have that baby while we’re still on the trail.”
“She won’t have it alone.” There was no doctor in their train but many of the women had birthed children. Sansa had even helped her mother with Rickon.
“Can I tell you a secret, Sansa? I didn’t have the courage to share this with Sam.”
She thought of Beth Cassel. They’d been the dearest of friends and Sansa missed her greatly. “I won’t tell anyone, not even Jon.”
Gilly’s expression briefly turned guilty but it was only momentary, as if it was an emotion not so strongly felt. “After all that happened, a small part of me wished some accident had befallen her husband. Edd seems rather sweet on her.”
A part of Sansa was horrified, only a small part though. “A new beginning for her, as it is for us all. A man who loves her as Sam loves you. I won’t tell a soul, Gilly.”
She patted her arm. “And Jon loves you. Sam tells me they hope to acquire land close to each other. We would be neighbors still.”
“A friend close by, I would like that very much.” Gilly was her closest friend in the train and would be so in Oregon too. She hesitated and then decided to plunge forth. “I have come to see you as something of a sister in many ways.”
“I left many sisters behind when Sam announced his desire to emigrate. My heart was torn, to stay with them or to follow my beloved husband. He picked up his whip for us to leave and I knew. I do not regret my choice but it is painful, I will never see my sisters on this earth again. If you will have me, I would love to be your sister.”
Sansa’s own heart felt as if it was about to brim over with emotion. She took young Melessa in her arms while little Sam walked beside them. Her and Gilly held hands and walked the remaining mile back to their camp. It was just as she did with Arya so long ago.
The moon that night was nearly full, shining down upon them as many of the campers danced late into the night. Satin knew the accordion and it made a fine addition to the Umber’s fiddles. Finally, the time came for everyone to seek their beds for much needed rest.
“Did you enjoy your afternoon adventure?” They lay together, wrapped in the other’s arms. Sansa thought her husband’s voice sounded huskier than usual, but perhaps that was only a trick of the darkness.
“I loved all of it, although I think it more closely resembles one of the great castles in Europe than something dull like a courthouse. An old castle, with turrets and walls so large. You could imagine knights at the guardhouse and peeking through windows.”
“I would not know, not being well acquainted with the castles in Europe.” Jon’s fingers traced a pattern along her jawline as he pulled her closer. No matter how hot the day, the night would grow colder and the wind fiercer. “It seemed to me more a dilapidated old shack or a stupendous pile of sand and clay.”
“Are you teasing me?” Her tone implied she believed so.
“No, I would never tease my wife,” he answered with feigned innocence. “You have married the gravest of men.”
“I married a man prone to falsehoods.”
Jon chuckled before turning serious. “Sam and I thought you deserved it. An afternoon of fetching water and starting fires was an easy price.”
“You arranged it, for all of us,” she exclaimed, realizing what he meant. Not all the women had the fortune to marry so well as she did. “Thank you.”
“It’s not a bother,” he said uncomfortably.
“Gilly told me you and Sam hope to obtain land close to each other. I would like that. Her and I decided we would be like sisters to each other today.” Quickly, she explained what she could of their conversation. Sansa did not betray Gilly’s confidence though, she would not do that, not even with her husband.
“I’m glad to hear it.” Then Jon cupped her face and his lips met hers. She did not think about Gilly or Courthouse Rock again that night.
The next morning, Sansa happened upon a bed of clover not so far from the river’s edge. She grabbed as much as she could, wanting to give it as a treat for their cattle.
“George, you get the first bunch.” She handed some over to the steer, making sure Jon did not see. George had the calmest disposition of all their cattle and she knew Jon tended to make great use of him. “Thomas, Andrew, Martin, would you care for a treat?” She gave out more, each one accepting the clover from her hand. She even snuck a handful to Rhaeger after making sure her husband was not close by to notice. “When we are in Oregon, a great field of clover will be waiting for each of you.”
The train started and it was time to leave Courthouse Rock. Jon’s wagon led once more as he’d done the previous three days. Sansa wandered by him before slowing to walk with Gilly and her friends. Her joy from the previous day was still with her. She’d been lonely not so very long ago and now she had a husband and sister. Sansa dearly hoped to have a child growing in her before they reached Oregon; Jon was as eager for them to start a family as she was, maybe even more.
Her thoughts drifted, and for the first time in awhile, Sansa let herself think of Robb. She remembered the last time she saw him, gray shirt and trousers freshly washed and unruly hair combed neat and smooth. Her mother had announced she would not allow her eldest son to make his way in the world looking like an unkept hellion. Sansa wondered if he was one of the trappers or mountain men she’d read about or perhaps he was married with children of his own too. Then, she’d have another sister and maybe a niece or nephew. She felt the early stirrings of grief, these were only fancies and dreams, so Sansa put them away.
Instead, she turned her attentions to Chimney Rock. It stood proud, dominating all the land nearby, a great beacon to all the travellers who passed. The train continued its slow, plodding trek, always west, as they followed the North Platte’s shore. To Sansa, it seemed one more step would take her right up to Chimney Rock but as the day went on, it was as far from her as it’d ever been. It could have been a mile away or fourty. Evening came and the great structure of stone and dirt was still far into the distance, still calling to her.
“It’s a nose. A mighty big nose, I’ll give it that,” Jon said plainly. He reclined back in his chair, rubbing at the whiskers that grew along his chin and throat. “We will be alongside it tomorrow.”
They’d finished eating not so long ago and it was still early enough yet, barely even twilight. Sansa handed over a slice of pie to her husband and picked up her latest piece of needlework. The sun still shone but the heat was lessening, replaced with the evening’s cool. She stayed quiet, content to listen as Jon shared his day with her.
“What are you making?” He peered over her shoulder, curious.
“A sampler for us,” she aswered shyly. Sansa had thought to use the lace he’d given her to decorate the table they would one day have. It was her family Bible that led Sansa to the sampler instead. “A border of blue roses for my mother’s dishes and the lace for us. It has our names as well.”
“I recognize the date of our marriage.” Jon tapped beneath it, to the portion she’d been working on. “What’s that one?”
A warm flush crept up her chest and neck. The idea seemed romantic when it first occurred to her. She pointedly looked away from him before explaining, “That is the day we declared our love for each other, the day our marriage became a true one. Beneath it, I will add dates for our arrival in Oregon and when we have a home of our own. It’s a chronicle of our family’s beginnings.”
“It will go in our parlor.” Jon said nothing for awhile, gazing into the horizon. It was Chimney Rock that had stolen his attentions this time. “If I may ask, what are your opinions on politics?”
Sansa dropped her needle and gulped, certain she’d misheard. “Politics? You want to know my opinion on political matters?”
“Yes, if you’re willing to share.”
“No one’s ever asked me before.” She’d spent the last year with her Uncle Benjen who didn’t much care for conversation. Before that, Sansa lived with her parents, neither of whom ever spoke of political matters with her.
“I’m asking now. I’d like to know my wife’s thoughts.”
“What if I disagree with you?”
Jon smiled in that way he did, the smile that was only for her. “Then you’ll explain why and I will listen.”
Sansa twisted her skirt and chewed the inside of her cheek, not sure of what answer to give. “I understand our president wishes to do more with foreign relations and I’m sure that is well and good. But, in his desire to avoid war, he demonstrates moral cowardice.”
He grabbed her hand and squeezed tight. “Those are my positions as well. Thank you for telling me.”
“There’s more,” she continued on, emboldened. He was genuinely listening. “I can say, with a great deal of certainty, some of the women of this train hope to find a degree of freedom in the territories that has been denied them back home.”
“Do you feel this way?”
“I know Mrs Mormont’s fate should her husband leave her. An abandoned wife with a newborn babe has little in the way of options.”
Jon was quiet and she knew he was thinking of his own mother, taken from him so long ago. “I’ve married a smart woman.”
They did not speak further so Sansa resumed stitching, gratified. Her beliefs mattered and she loved him for it. Jon reached over to grab her hand so their fingers were loosely entwined and she felt the warmth of his calloused palm against hers. Sansa could not stitch one-handed so she set the needle down. They sat together as camp life went on around them. Some of the children played a counting game and a baby cried. She heard a woman’s laugh and thought it was Alys Karstark. To the west, Chimney Rock towered over them all as the sun slowly set behind it.
They reached it the next day and the train stopped early as everyone was eager for a visit. Pyp, Grenn, and a couple other men agreed to watch over the cattle and off they went, whole families and groups of people hiking through the dry earth and spartan grass to reach it. This time, Jon was by her side.
“If Bran was here, he’d proudly announce his intention to climb it.” Sansa guessed it reached up at least two hundred feet, maybe more. “I think he would succeed. My brother could climb almost anything.”
“What would your parents do?”
That was an easy question to answer. “My mother would forbid it while my father would call him a squirrel and encourage him.” Sansa could see the ghosts of her family at the base of Chimney Rock, little Rickon scrambling over the boulders and Arya challenging Bran to a race.
Jon stopped short. “I would do the same as your father.” He smiled, wistful, as the lines around his eyes deepened. “Come on, I’ll help you up. There is a promise to be kept.”
He stepped into a hollow at the base and Sansa climbed up next to him. They took several more steps until the base grew increasingly vertical and she could go no further.
“It seems we’ve hardly moved,” All Sansa could see was shale and hard clay.
“Lean against me. I won’t let you fall.” Jon put his arms around her so she rested against his leg. There were people below them but only a few had attempted the climb. “What shall we put?” He had one of his smaller knives in hand, waiting for her answer.“
Us. Jon and Sansa.”
“Us,” he repeated and went to work.
Sansa refused to weep when she read what he’d inscribed. “‘The Snows, 1852.’” Still, she could not keep the quiver from her voice.
“You and me.”
“You and me.” It was her turn to echo him. Jon often called her his wife, as if it was a nickname, and even Mrs. Snow on occasion. This was the first time he’d named them a family in such a way though. “I love it. I love you.”
“I love you too.” He smiled tenderly, a gentle tilt of his lips as his eyes went soft. “I’m going to kiss you here, even with people around. A good kiss, the sort I enjoy.”
Jon pressed his lips to hers, a slow rub before she opened to him. Sansa placed her hands on his shoulders, careful to keep her balance, up high as they were. Their tongues moved together until he finally broke away, leaving them both breathless.
“I am looking forward to the time our chores are done and we can retire for the night,” he said, making it sound a promise.
It was time to go after that. They slowly made their way down and joined the others to make the two mile trek back to their campsite. The two of them walked sedately, arm in arm, content to be in the other’s company. The sky above them darkened suddenly, as she went from one step to another. The sun disappeared in an instant, as dark and heavy rain clouds appeared.
‘A storm is coming,” she remarked, wondering what sort of rain it would be. The sudden clap of thunder echoing across the sky answered her question.
Jon said nothing, ripping his hand from hers with such force she almost lost her balance and fell. He didn’t notice, taking off at full speed towards the camp. Around her, other men were doing the same, Sam and Mr. Glover, and Tormund too. She looked about and saw many woman staring after the men folk.
Sansa heard the gunshot then and understood. Great sheets of rain fell from the sky, followed by the roll of thunder. She ran to Gilly, taking Melessa from her arms. “This way you can carry little Sam.”
Another gunshot, quickly followed by the unmistakable sound of stampeding cattle. The women ran, drenched, through the earth already turned to mud. Not so far away, the stampede moved away from the river and their campsite. Sansa did not know what happened to her husband. There was nothing for her to do but run, carrying Melessa until her sides burned and her heart pounded. The hail started just as she reached the Tarly wagon. “
“Come on. Get inside,” Gilly yelled out to her.
They sat huddled together, as the rain and hail continued to pour. There were no more gunshots, Sansa could only hope it meant some control over the herd was regained. “Do you think they led them to the river?”
“I’d expect so. I wonder how many were hurt.” Melessa started to cry more loudly so Gilly put the girl on her breast for comfort.
Only a few men were set over to watch the entire herd during their excursion. Injuries, both men and ox, were quite possible. The downpour slowed to an everyday sort of rain. Sansa helped Gilly to clean up and dry the children in the wagon’s limited space as best she could. Her own dress was sodden, she would be forced to wear her brown one the next day. She hated the brown dress.
Not much later, Jon appeared, peering in at them through the wagon’s back. He was soaked, coat missing and shirt clinging to his chest. Mud sat thick in his hair. It was the grim set of his jaw that worried her though.
“Who got hurt?”
“No one. Grenn will be walking with a limp for the next few days but that’s the worst of it.” Jon wiped his temple with a shirt sleeve. It didn’t make any difference. “It’s George, Sansa. He was hurt.”
“Well, make him better.” That’s what Jon should have already been doing, instead of coming over for a chat.
“We don’t have an animal doctor, and even if we did, I know what he’d tell me. I came over to give you a chance to say goodbye.” He offered his arm, wanting to help her down. “I know you were sweet on him.”
She wanted to slap him. Jon wasn’t even going to try. “Take me to him.”
He did, leading her to the river’s edge. The thin North Platte was swollen somewhat from the rain and the now calmed cattle millled about. Her kind George lay on his side with his front right leg twisted about.
“He can’t walk, Sansa,” Jon said calmly, as if talking to a child.
She didn’t want to hear it. George’s breathing was heavy and labored. Sansa sat down in the mud to stroke his side. “We can’t do this, Jon. You see, George and Martha are falling in love. We can’t do this.” Sansa wiped at her cheeks, the rain had turned warm.
“He doesn’t have his parts.”
Sansa stared at her husband, horrified. “What do parts have to do with it?”
“Nothing,” he sighed. “Say goodbye and go. I won’t make you stay for this.”
Jon could not force her to leave. “I’ll stay right here. His last moments will not be spent alone with a butcher.” Sansa hummed a tune, she wasn’t even sure if it reached George’s ears over the drizzle. Then his eyes glazed over and her friend was gone.
Sansa stared ahead sightlessly before blinking as she took Jon in. He was standing, calmly removing his shirt. Sam stood next to him. “No,” she screeched, noticing the butcher knives for the first time. She threw herself over George. “We can’t eat him.”
Jon squatted down in the mud next to her, pulling the hair from her face. “We can feed the entire train for days with him, Sansa. I won’t leave meat to rot in the sun, you know that. You can stay or go, I won’t force you either way.”
Sansa turned her back. She could not argue with Jon’s practicality but that did not mean she would witness it either. Quickly, it was done, until only a lonely carcass was left.
She passed the rest of the evening in a haze. They ate a supper of bread and cold meat since a fire could not be started before going to sleep in their cramped wagon. Jon held her the entire night but her sleep was not restful.
They woke the next morning to a blue sky, as if the storm had never been at all. Thin strips of meat hung from several of the wagons, like grotesque red curtains. Jon hovered over her, perhaps worrying she would break into tears. Sansa would not, she was stronger than that.
They made camp at the beginning of Scott’s Bluff. It was a wondrous sight but it meant the very end of the prairie she knew. Still, the bluffs had a certain romantic appearance, close enough she could almost feel the sublime.
Sansa started to make camp and go about her evening chores when Jon snuck up behind her. “Hold this,” he said, handing her the grease bucket and sweeping her into his arms. “We have somewhere to be.”
“Where are we going?”
“Will you put me down?”
“When I’m good and ready.”
Sansa did not argue, she knew it would avail her nothing. Instead, she rested against him and held onto the grease bucket. He’d told her the truth. They did not go far, only closer to the bluffs where several red boulders waited for them.
“What are we doing?” she asked, confused.
“I’m keeping my promise. I can’t carve into solid rock so the grease will have to do.” He grabbed the bucket and used the tip of one finger to write on the nearest rock.
“I could help.” She went to grab the bucket but he pulled it away.
“My hands are already filthy.” Jon put their family name on a second and third boulder as she watched silently. “Are you ready to talk now?”
“I’m not angry with you,” she said hastily. Sansa did not want him thinking she was.
“I didn’t think you were.” He leaned back against a boulder that stood taller than either of them and motioned for her to rest beside him. “You were hurting though.”
“He was my friend.”
“I know. When I was little, we had a cow I loved. One day, my father sold it without me knowing first. I’ve never quite forgiven him for it.” Jon spoke slowly, not meeting her eyes.
“I would never do that to you.”
Jon chuckled. “Sell my cow or not forgive me?”
“Neither.” That wasn’t right. “Both. Could we do another rock? It’s my turn.” Sansa scooped her finger into the black grease before he could stop her.
“Do you regret it?” The familiar question between them, casually asked but it hid Jon’s vulnerability too.
“I’ve not regretted any of it, not for a minute.” Sansa placed their names on another rock. “I miss my family. There are times when I almost forget and I don’t think on them at all. Then, it’s as if their ghosts are with me and I feel it all again. I’m making a new family though and you made it possible. How could I regret that?”
He smiled for her, it was a softer and more trusting smile than he gave to other people. Jon’s gray eyes bored into her. “I don’t know,” he said sheepishly. “It’s important I keep asking though.”
They both went to work after that, until a dozen dull red rocks carried the same message, “The Snows, 1852.”
“It’s lovely.” A part of her wanted to continue but she didn’t push it. The grease was needed for wagon parts, not to satisfy her romantic whims. “Thank you for taking me out here. Be aware though, your evening meal will suffer for it.”
“A price easily paid. Do you feel better?” She did. “Good. Let’s go back.”
They walked back slowly, fingers laced together. Her heart was brimming over again.
A couple days later, they left the Nebraska Territory behind forever. Before her lay Wyoming and she wondered what surprises it would bring.
Jon approached, taking her hand. “Will you walk with me this morning?”
“I would love too.” Sansa leaned into him, wanting to feel the warm strength of her husband. Together, they stopped forward into the dry desert and plains of the Wyoming Territories.
1. Sansa is starting to leave the midwest and move into the desert. It will be drier and hotter for them going forward.
2. Courthouse Rock and Jailhouse Rock are a little ways from the North Platte. Many trains parked at the foot of the rock itself while others stayed closer to the river. Here, I put them in the middle so Sansa and other women could explore. That meant Jon and the other men could not since they were too far from the river.
3. A couple of men usually came along when women left the camp, not to protect them from other people. There were wolves, coyotes, snakes, and other animals.
4. “Her parents and kin folks had coaxed her to stay, telling her if she would not go, her husband would stay with her. But when they saw him take his whip and start his team out, they gave up the idea. The saddest parting of all was when my mother took leave of her aged and sorrowing mother, knowing full well that they would never meet again on earth.” - Martha Gay, 1851
5. “The moon, I think must have been near the full ... we leveled off a space and one man played the fiddle and we danced into the night." - John Minto, 1844. This scene took place at the base of Courthouse Rock.
6. The descriptions from both Jon and Sansa came from journal entries. Courthouse Rock, and the nearby Jail Rock, both resemble a type of giant public building.
7. A bit of info on why oxen were chosen for travel. They’re cheap and strong, basically They aren’t a special breed or type of cattle, just steers (neutered males) who happen to be really well trained. Once they arrive in Oregon and settle on land, the oxen would be expected to work the land. (and be eaten). So, its future farm tools that are also providing transportation along the way. They move at the astoundingly fast pace of 1.5 miles an hour or so.
8. Chimney Rock rises 325 ft into the air from the base and can be seen from miles away. The dry air and open land created a bit of optical illusion for travelers. There was a great deal of variation on height and size estimates in journals. The historian Merrill Mattes did a study of over 300 journal accounts of those who followed the Platte River. Chimney Rock was the most mentioned landmark, by a large margin.
9. The president at the time was Millard Filmore. His biggest achievement is probably opening up relations with Japan. The moral cowardice Sansa speaks of is the Fugitive Slave Act and the Compromise of 1850. After Taylor died in office, Filmore took over as president, dismissed the entire Cabinet, and heavily lobbied Congress to pass it. Seriously, fuck this guy.
10. This was a pretty common practice. Travellers left their names or some other record behind when passing by. “I undertook to reach the chimney and succeeded in my effort, though I found that it took hard work, I inscribed my name on the East side of the rock, or at least my initials A.H.G and the date of the month and year." - Henry Garrison, June, 1846. Some of the etchings are still here today.
11. The storm is based upon an actual incident. “to day we [had] the dredfulest hail storm that I ever witnessed which me and a young woman had like to have caught in as we went out to visit the famous chimney rock fortuneately we reached one of the foremost waggons just as the hail began to pelt us. it tore some of the waggon covers off broke some bows and made horses and oxon run a way & made bad work they say a bout it is subject to tornadoes." - Elizabeth Dixon Smith, 1847.
12. A quick explanation on the gunshots. The sound is loud enough to frighten a stampeding herd and send them in a different direction. The repeated gunshots are an effort by the men to control and drive them to the river.
13. “These hills have a truly grand romantic appearance calculated to fill the mind with indescribeble amazement approaching almost to sublimity.” - Margaret Scott, 1852.
14. The bluffs are named after a mountaineer who grew sick and was left for dead by his party’s leader. He ended up starving to death. It is estimated 70,000 people passed it by in 1852.