No one else came to the godswood and so she slept with Nymeria. And when dawn came, she did not have to pause to remember her name today. Sansa Stark lived, and always had. She could never forget.
"But what do I do?" she whispered to Nymeria and stroked the wolf's ears. She could still taste the remnants of fear in her mouth. "What do I do?"
Nymeria had no answer but a fierce licking, and it tickled so that Sansa almost giggled. How many years had it been since she last laughed? Not since I was a child. I was only Sansa then...just Sansa.
The wolf reminded her of the day when Bran had come barreling into her lessons with Septa Mordane, two balls of fluff in his arms. "Father got us pups!" he cried joyously, and pushed the both of them at Arya. Sansa had gasped, and more so when Robb and Theon entered with three more fluffballs. She'd been only eleven, then, and giggled with her siblings as they watched the pups stumble around. Hers was named Lady as soon as Sansa saw the grey wolfling lick her paws clean. Arya had bent down to stare full into her pup's mouth until Sansa had been sure her head would be bitten off, but her sister only pronounced that her pup's name was Nymeria.
How many months had it been since Sansa felt as clean as a lady? She couldn't remember. One of the many feelings lost after King's Landing and Joffrey's corpse were left behind. Change had come to her as it had come to the weather. She needed teeth now more than cleanliness.
Nymeria gave her hope. As a piece of home, a weapon against all the wretched turmoil, she was significant and large. Sansa felt herself a child again, at least with her arms locked around the wolf's neck. It felt natural to murmur words into the fur.
"The queen did not kill Tyrion for being the child of a traitor. And that man at her side...his voice was of the North. She is just and I can see the goodness in her eyes."
Petyr's mocking words echoed in her mind, though, and she bit her lip. Even with a wolf the size of a horse at her side she could not throw trust at the feet of the mother of dragons.
There was Tyrion—and there wasn't. So Sansa had naught to trust, as always.
Worry and bone weariness, however, kept her from submitting to the habits of running and hiding. Her wolf was her. Sansa Stark might be ready to appear to the realm again. Petyr would have told her no, but her mockingbird had not been all wise, least so about Sansa's needs.
Prayer to the gods seemed to bring results, so Sansa offered up all the old prayers to her father's gods. Nymeria sat and patted her tail against the dirt, panting, her red mouth full of white teeth. That was the only answer, yet it gave Sansa confidence. She was free to make her own course. She did.
In her wrinkled dress, with hair that would not lay perfectly smooth, Sansa returned to the palace to ask for the queensguard.
A Dothraki man came to her first and she stared at his arakh so long that he grew suspicious. But she found her words—it was easier knowing that Nymeria was close, would come at a call. "I spoke to a man yesterday, with the queen. I don't know his name...but he was from here, from Westeros. Very close to the queen?"
The rider snorted. "Jorah the Andal. Always with her, yes. Very...close, yes." He laughed in a way that made Sansa flush.
"Would you please tell him that I wish to speak with him in the garden? It is a matter of importance to him and the queen." Her eyes darted about, but no one seemed to be watching.
"Why should he listen?" the queensguard asked, suspicious again. "What is your name, girl?"
"Stark," Sansa breathed, backing a step away. "Tell him Stark."
The man stared but she knew he heard. Not waiting for an answer, Sansa hurried away into the shadows.
Nymeria padded at her side almost before she'd left the halls, wet nose brushing against Sansa's palm. Most likely it was courting danger to have her in the city, but Sansa knew her wolf did not care—and neither did she.
With the sun only hinting at its full warmth, the gardens were empty. Cool dew still dripped from lush green leaves, melting into soil as dark as night. Winter blooms colored the world around Sansa as she waited, chilled fingers buried in Nymeria's fur. In the North, winter would have been much harsher, yet this bare chill felt strange. Snow would have made her feel more at ease.
Finally she heard footsteps, and hurriedly helped Nymeria to hide among the bushes. When she turned around, she saw him coming.
"Who is it?" the battle-scarred man asked, a hand on the hilt of his sword.
"Just me, Ser." Sansa swallowed and stepped forward. "I don't know your name, but I saw you yestermorn..."
"Ser Jorah Mormont," he said with a frown, staring at her. "Alayne, was it?"
Sansa breathed in quickly. Mormont. There was little family more loved in the North, by the people or by her family. Many a time had she watched in both awe and horror as the wild Mormont girls played at archery or sparring with her brothers, laughing and running as they pleased. There was a son who her father had banished—this must be he. "No," she said, daring. "Not Alayne. I am Sansa Stark."
Expectedly, he looked her up and down as if she'd declared herself a dragon.
"My family is not loved anywhere, not anymore, and so I've been hiding..." Sansa spoke quickly, hands clasped at her waist. "I would serve Queen Daenerys, though, if she would protect me. I don't want to hide anymore."
"Do you take me for a fool, girl?" Jorah stepped forward, brows fiercely drawn together. "House Stark has known enough troubles without having to face another impostor."
"I'm not an impostor," Sansa insisted, forcing herself to stand her ground. It was a new talent. "You must believe me...you must have seen my mother once, or my father, before you were banished. I'm a Stark and a Tully..." No one else would recognize her, but surely a Northman would.
The man was no less suspicious than his fellow Dothraki, and stepped towards her with a dark look on his face. While the hand that had been on the hilt of his sword was now less-threateningly placed, it spooked Nymeria. The enormous wolf leapt from the bushes with a snarl to stand between Sansa and Jorah, almost as tall as the girl she defended.
"Seven hells!" Jorah snapped, and did draw his sword then.
"No, Nymeria, don't!" Sansa ordered desperately, clutching at the wolf's fur. "Don't hurt him!"
Obeying, Nymeria only snapped the blade from Jorah's hand and sent him sprawling onto his back. From the ground, eyes wide, he stared at them both.
"A direwolf," he breathed.
"My sister's once," Sansa replied, and somehow it stung her eyes to say that now, even after all this time. Her fingers dug tighter into Nymeria's fur, and the wolf didn't once yelp.
Jorah laughed harshly and pulled himself to his feet, brushing the dust from his palms. "A good trick, this, if it is one." He was taller than Sansa, much older, and broad of shoulder. Yet he looked at her with less darkness in his eyes, though still caution, and nodded to both her and Nymeria. "I'll speak to her grace."
Sansa let out a breath she hadn't realized she was holding. "Thank you, Ser Jorah."
With no more than a final look at Nymeria, he backed away and disappeared.
Sansa realized then that her legs were shaking, and the import of his words struck her. If the queen believed her...if she would help Sansa... "I can go home," she whispered to Nymeria. Her mouth trembled but she laughed it off and blinked the tears back. "I can go home." And so she waited.
Missandei had a pet cat that belonged to a former Lannister king. Ser Pounce said the collar around its neck, and while most fond of its new mistress it doted on Daenerys as well. Pets had been denied her on her journey so far, and so she allowed the cat free reign of her solar. "It is more of a ruler than I, judging by manners," Dany had said laughingly only an hour before.
Ser Pounce preened at her feet now while she sipped at sweet mare's milk. Outside, pigeons cooed, but the room felt empty. Her bear would be back soon enough, but it could not be too soon. Peace urged her to cling to him in ways that, when sober and undistracted, frightened her worn heart.
Missandei returned with a bowl of dates to wrest her thoughts from Jorah, and Dany smiled at her for it.
By the time her bear entered, she'd composed her face for duty. "You found her again?"
"She comes." Jorah crossed to stand by her.
"And you are certain it is no trap?" Dany asked while reaching down to scoop up Ser Pounce to her lap, for Missandei had left without the cat.
"I trust the Lannister's words." Jorah shrugged. "And for all that they gave away nothing freely, I trusted the girl's eyes too."
"Oh, her eyes," Dany mocked, recalling vaguely how Alayne had possessed a young—if strained—beauty.
Jorah made to protest, but a bustle outside had him hurrying to the door instead. "Let them in," he commanded to the guards outside. "They are expected."
Dany looked up, expecting the Stark girl to enter with a guard.
Ser Pounce was not so prepared—he hissed and dug sharp claws into her leg when in padded a wolf the size of a large foal. Outside of books, Dany had never seen a wolf before, yet she could imagine that the woodland variety paled in comparison to this hulking beast. Walking beside it, the auburn-haired girl looked as a child of four, though the top of her head reached Jorah's shoulder at least. Dany remembered flat, mousy hair and a stiff demeanor. Lady Stark, however, had a striking grace even in a loose cotton gown and with unadorned hair falling about her shoulders.
Until she bowed and spoke, Dany could not be sure that she wasAlayne.
"Please rise, Lady Stark." Dany nodded to a cushioned bench and gave a queen's smile, gaze flitting from girl to imposing direwolf. "Sit and be at ease. You are an honored guest, I hope."
Sansa smiled as if it had been years since her last attempt, but took the proffered seat and directed her wolf to lie at her feet with a simple wave of the hand. "Thank you," she said, hands folded across her lap. "You are more gracious than I had hoped. When I spoke to Ser Jorah, I despaired of having impressed him at all."
Dany allowed a tiny smile. "My Jorah is never welcoming at first, but his trust is solid once earned. We were satisfied with your husband's assurances, for truly I have never heard a higher recommendation from his lips."
Rather than calming, the girl paled and her wolf looked up bristling until Sansa's hand rested between alert ears.
Frowning, Dany leaned forward. "Is there something I am not aware of?" Tyrion's vouching had been unexpected, when the matter came up, but not suspicious. Curious, perhaps, but not worthy of the fear that Dany saw—and liked not—in the girl's eyes.
"Lord Tyrion is too kind," Sansa said quietly, fingers twisting together. "He has no cause to support me, your grace."
While Dany found that even more curious, and stared at Sansa with mixed feelings, she felt that the time was ill-suited for such personal discussions. Leaving curiosity for later, Dany offered a smile and raised her palm upwards in peace. "I do not mean to make you uncomfortable. You came to me for protection, did you not?"
The Stark girl relaxed barely, though no color returned to her cheeks. She lowered her eyes for a few seconds, but raised them with defenses fallen somewhat. They were large, clear, and the chill of the blue made Dany wonder where this younger girl had been to return with ice that might rival her own fire.
"Yes," Sansa said simply. "I am not loved in this kingdom."
"Because you are not from the South. That is how it works, no?"
Sansa shook her head. "More than that..."
"Did you indeed murder the pretender Joffrey?" Dany asked.
Sansa's mouth went grim. "I only wished to."
Yet she'd killed others. Dany could see the guilt, however cold. "You are a Stark," Dany finally said. "The North has been restless about your absence ever since your sister died in the snows."
The wolf let out a low growl, but Sansa appeared unaffected. "I don't seek my brothers' throne or inheritance, your grace. You need not—you need not be vague in your suspicions."
Dany blinked. "I had not suspected you of that. You may have a wolf and a name that demands strange loyalty, but the North submitted to my dragons. They did so to Aegon the Conqueror before me. It would take a girl more foolish than you, and an intact realm, to dare do anything else. But submission is not always...willing."
A little hardness returned to Sansa's eyes and she nodded.
Ser Pounce had retired hastily to the corner when the wolf entered, but he now returned to rub against Dany's elbow. She sighed and lifted him to her arms. "I want my people to be happy. And if I can do so, while still giving you the protection that a lady deserves, I will do it. Perhaps you might call me heartless, as so many have done, but practicality is necessary when the realm is so..."
Sansa swallowed hard and said quietly, "Please tell me what your terms are."
Dany looked to Jorah, then again to the girl sitting across from her. Though only sixteen, and too-slender for that age, she had a woman's figure and the weight of woman's experience in her eyes. Slim lines at the corners of her eyes explained the tension in her limbs, marks of a life lived in constant danger. Skittish she was not, though. Dany saw the strength and would bet on seeing more. "Winterfell lies in mostly ruins, unmanned and unsettled. I would send you home, Lady Stark, as a symbol of rebirth. Your husband will be lord, there, and Warden of the North in my name. Because of our time spent together I trust him for this task, but not alone. You must work together to convince the North that I bring peace to their ghosts, and life to their children."
Sansa started and opened her mouth, but no sound came out for a few seconds, then only a nearly-stammered. "It is necessary to be his wife again?"
Niggling curiosity returned to Dany and she furrowed her brow. "I am fond of Tyrion. Are you telling me that he has done anything in the past to make you fear him? He said you were estranged—I'm not ordering you to share his bed, Lady Stark, but your marriage is important to the kingdom as it is now."
Sansa looked smaller to hear that answer, though, and only nodded. Her wolf nudged at her hand and licked its palm, and she stroked its ears.
A part of Dany was sorry to cause her unrest, but then again, she did not know this girl. Her terms were those of a queen, not a friend. Hopefully this Sansa would realize it. "I will give you until tomorrow to decide. Jorah will escort you to a room where a maid will tend to you."
"Thank you, your grace." Sansa bowed her head and rose. Jorah stepped forward to offer his arm, but the wolf stepped between them.
"Lady Stark," Dany called. "Would you tell me at least why you go with a wolf?"
Sansa turned back. "Her name is Nymeria. All my brothers and my sister had wolves, too. They were a gift from the old gods...for safety."
The tragedy struck even Dany. "I am sorry that your gods forsook your family. I swear, if you accept my terms and prove as trustworthy as I hope, you will know glory again. I'll not take your legacy away from you simply because you are a woman."
Sansa looked straight at her, hands at her sides. "You cannot take the Starks from Winterfell. No one can. Not all of us."
It was not a threat.
Dany wondered again what this North was, that made men and women both cold and hot. Jorah was from there, and Tyrion would go there willingly, but she was the dragon and the dragon did not belong in snow. Winter had come for her as well as the rest of them. Winter in all its glory, however, could stay away.
She nodded, and Jorah escorted Sansa and Nymeria away. Dany called for Tyrion, and while she waited made a list of questions to ask. Westeros was full of mysteries, and he and Sansa were the two most curious as of now.