I. Robb and Jon
Their favorite thing to do is play at warriors in the practice yard. Together, they recreate the stories that Old Nan tells them at night, giving special voices to the heroes of the past, chasing one another around the stone walls and streets of Winterfell. The people let them be, a fond smile on their faces as they watch the two boys; Theon is absent this time.
Today they are Aegon the Conqueror. Robb is Aegon, because that is how it is; Robb is always the prince or knight or king in these games of theirs, and they never think about it, never question it, but that is how they play, easily falling into the roles that life has laid out for them.
Robb stands, feet braced apart. Around his head is a twisted piece of metal that is meant to be his crown. “You have to burn them all,” Robb shouts.
Jon, Balerion the Black Dread, frowns from where he has curved his spine to transform into the fearsome dragon. He’s a lanky boy, thin shoulders that look like a bird’s wing. “But I don’t want to.”
They are acting out the Field of Fire, straw bales meant to be the army between them.
“You have to,” Robb says. “That’s how the story goes.”
Jon’s mouth twists into a moue of disappointment, but he obliges, finding that there is nothing to say against what is accepted history. He roars and moves his arms in a flapping motion.
The straw bales do not change, but their imaginations make them an army melted under the black fire. This is where their lord father finds them later, and Robb is glad for once that his mother is not with him, if only because Jon goes quiet and still under her gaze.
“And what are you two doing,” he asks.
“I’m Aegon, father,” Robb says, waving the practice sword in his hand. “And Jon is my faithful dragon, Balerion. We burned the King and his men just like the story.”
Their father smiles, but his words do not exactly match. “Ahhh, all men do not have dragons to so easily win them their battles. You should remember that.”
They are young and so they do not understand what he is trying to tell them. For now, they are boys playing at stories.
Sansa is precious.
Oh to be sure, Ned loves all of his children, all five of them, and they are all gifts from the old gods to him. But Sansa, Sansa is his first child born from love. Robb had been duty, made from the first few couplings spent with Cat where they had barely known more than each other’s names. Sansa had come later when they had known much more, when happiness had settled into the spaces behind their ribs and war had long been put behind them.
Sansa is precious with her red hair and blue eyes like Cat. So much like Cat. She is young and small, and takes to following him around the castle and out into the yards, hanging onto his large hand with her tinier one, ordering him to tell her stories.
His daughter is enamored with tales of knights and maids and queens and kings, of what the songs sing about. Not in the same way as her brothers, who long for the fighting and the victory. She lives for the beauty. He knows that though winter is in her, there is a warmth that she craves that the North does not always allow for.
He cannot give her the splendor of the foreign Southron Court at King’s Landing. He cannot bring to her musicians to sing the songs and stories she loves. He can only give her what he can.
It is her eighth name day, and her tiny fingers carefully pull back the cloth covering the gift.
“What is it?” she asks, eyes wide and face so open.
Ned does not answer her, but then she has already unveiled the doll. Red yarn to match her hair, and the clothes in blue of the thin and airy style of the South.
Sansa lets out an excited noise, a rush of air exhaled through her lips, and brings the doll to her chest, holding it reverently. She looks at him, a lady in her actions as she rises on her toes to kiss his cheek. “Thank you, father.”
She is dear to him, and he only wishes he could keep her young for much longer than he knows he will be able to.
Cat finds her daughter in her room that evening.
Sullen faced and arms crossed, Arya keeps her head down at her entrance. She has at least changed from her dirty and torn clothes to something better for sleeping, but her hair remains a tangled mess.
She picks the brush up and sits down next to her on the bed. Her second daughter mumbles something, and so she says, “What was that?”
Arya flinches under the brushes’ strokes, the bristles getting caught in the snarls. Her jaw is set, teeth clenched. “I said, Septa Mordane already yelled at me.”
She smooths down the locks. “And what did she yell at you for?”
The question does not need to be asked. Arya is nothing like Sansa, nothing like the practiced courtesies and refined lady-like manners, much preferring to play outside or practice with a bow and arrow. It is not what did the septa yell at her for, as it would be nothing new. Cat has heard them all before.
“I said Sansa’s story was stupid and she was stupid for liking it.”
She has to fight not to laugh, for she remembers days where she and Lysa and Petyr would run the grounds outside instead of being cooped up in.
Arya twists her body, vehement in her declaration, “Well it was stupid. Who needs to wait for someone to rescue you. I would save myself.”
“Hush,” Cat turns her head back the other way so she can finish untangling. “You should be kinder to your sister.”
The glower returns along with the jaw tightening, and if ever there had been a more sullen seven year old girl.
Her hands still as an idea comes to her. “Has your father ever told you about his sister?”
“Only a little,” is the response; and it is true, Ned only speaks a small amount about her.
“Your Aunt Lyanna,” she begins, “Was as wild as the North. Much like you.”
Silence and then, “Tell me more.”
The summer snows have fallen, building up mountains and banks of snow that have turned the castle into a trap for anyone wanting to cross the actual grounds. But to the children, to him and his brothers and his sisters, this is their play ground. The snow has transformed the stables into a fortress in which the holding side can attack the other. They are split up, Sansa and Robb paired against the rest of them.
Bran flattens himself out on the ledge. It is not far from the ground, only a foot or so with the snow now, but it is his watch point. He waits.
Waits until the tell tale glimpse of red hair makes himself ready his body to jump. And when they are directly beneath him, he jumps off. Short glide to connect with his sister.
Sansa falls with a yell, but there’s a grin on her face and in her eyes. They both shove snow in each others’ faces. Then, Arya and Jon run from their stable fortress to help. Three on one is unfair, even for them.
Her voice lifts high over the yard, “Robb, Robb!”
His missing brother appears to her defense.
Sides are forgotten as it devolves into the five of them throwing packed snow at anyone and everyone. Their voices are loud and cheerful in the gray light, sun barely peeking through. It is one of the last times they are all together.
Five children, five blessed children of her own.
Cat thanks the Seven for them, gifts to Winterfell, gifts to her and Ned, products of their love and devotion and vows and family. She shudders to think that once she’d thought that she would never be able to give him children of her own, and that when she did they would not have been enough. It is not a proud thought, but she can at least admit to it.
Now, she holds her fifth child to her chest, relieved at the newborn’s squalling cries. It is a good sign, a healthy sign. She is sore and tired, but no more so than any of the previous times.
She smiles and thinks Rickon will be a good name.
and one time they really weren’t
Sansa dismounts, walks forward and leaves her horse behind. It will not wander off, where would it go here where this is nothing. She stares at what once had been the great Northern castle of Winterfell, her home and life. It is a waste that she looks at. Broken walls and stones and felled trees.
She looks with a heavy heart, feels the men behind her. From the corner of her eye, she sees the glint of gold armor and wills him not to come closer. This is hers. She is Queen of the North now, Sansa Stark come home when all the rest of her family is dead or lost.
And this is what she will rebuild.