It's said the North remembers; Sansa remembers as if it's tattooed on her skin. Her mother traded Jamie Lannister for her and her sister, though Arya hasn't been seen for years, Sansa went home to Winterfell. The Boltons chafe for more power, but she is a Stark, and the North remembers her family. No one challenges her authority when she liberates her castle from the Greyjoys. It's a quiet liberation, for once in the long war, relatively bloodless. Theon's place is with his family and she sends him to them.
The North is disheartened, downtrodden, like so much old snow, and she must be their light. She leaves candles in the sept and lingers in the godswood, listening for the voices of her family. Her father reminds her to look to the wall. She's pledged her loyalty to King Tommen, sworn with ash in her mouth not to rebel against those who have put her father's head on spikes and conspired to murder her brother and mother. She knows what the Lannisters and Freys did, but she's become a lady of ice and snow. Words have no heat in her mouth, and anger slumbers in her chest. Her people need a lady, not an avenging warrior.
Winter bays on their doorstep like the wolves in the Riverlands, ever louder. Swords will not feed her people and dark things await on the wall. She pledges her neutrality to Stannis and his red priestess and tells him she's sick the wars of kings. Her men died for Robb and her father. Her women fear they will not feed their children and that is what she tells the boy king in the South and the red king on the Wall. Her only war is with the winter.
She repeats that over and over, to anyone who asks. Winter is her only foe and that is what Winterfell guards against with crumbling walls. They make do with patches where the stones have fought. She dreams of rebuilding her home the way she once dreamed of her husband.
She's wed the land now. Sansa is a traitor's daughter, a rebel's sister, a murderer's wife; but all she cares about is the land. Her land and her people are her husband and children.
She writes her replies to the endless ravens herself, because no Maester has replaced Luwin and few left in Winterfell can write. Winterfell is neutral, she carries no grudges, plots no rebellions and gathers no armies. Sansa's sent the same message to King's Landing at least four times, but Cersei has never understood why anyone would turn from the chance of more power.
The Stark colours weigh on her like the snow on the trees, but like the pines, she bends until it slides away. She dreams of Lady and Nymeria, of her sister laughing when she should be silent, and knows now she would laugh with her, for joy is as rare as the sun in winter. She trades jewels for food, then tapestries, what remains of their books, armour, weapons, everything that will not feed or clothe her people is expendable like so many tales of chivalrous princes.
She sings in the great hall, when the walls are full to bursting with smallfolk. They teach her the songs they sing in the fields, and she teaches them the songs and stories she's carried with her like a maiden's flowers. Tales aren't true, and songs rarely sing of the scent of death, but there's hope in verses about flowers and sunshine.
One brisk morning, the raven in her tower announces the realm is now that of Queen Daenerys Targaryen, mother of dragons. Sansa rubs sleep from her eyes and pulls her mother's robe over the body that became a woman while she worried about grain and onions. She's taller than Catelyn, nearly as tall as her father, but she wears her mother's robe because she needs Catelyn's strength. She dutifully replies that she is the lady of Winterfell and will gladly pledge her allegiance when the roads thaw. She adds that the concerns of the North are feeding the people and surviving until spring. She, of course, will be loyal to the throne as she has always been.
The ice in the godswood thaws before the Iron Throne sends another raven. The queen's envoy will come with the spring, preparing the North for the dragon queen's progress.
Sansa replies that the feast will be simple, but the dragon queen is welcome. They gather what grain they have left and pray it can sprout in the glass house. The heat of the springs is undiminished, even if the walls are bare. There's hope in the air and the songs seem less fanciful as the sun creeps around them.
Ice falls from the walls of Winterfell and can no longer hang from the stone by the time the banners appear on the Kingsroad. The gold and green is House Tyrell, and behind it, the splendid banners are Targaryen. Sansa still shelters the remains of King Stannis' army, but her walls are sacred.
The day the envjoy arrives, Sansa allows the servants to dress her. She's dressed herself in threadbare gowns, layered one over the other to keep winter back, but today she must be the Lady of Winterfell.
Letting down the hem on her mother's dress, Sansa sees Catelyn in her own reflection. She smiles at that, glad she can carry her mother on her face as well as deep in her chest. Her dress was fine when Sansa was a girl, and it's both old and poor compared to the furs and silks that wrap Margaery Tyrell as she climbs down from her horse.
Sansa smiles, wondering what Arya would say about the lady riding sidesaddle. Sansa curtsies neatly but her head remains level with Margaery's. She'll bow to the queen, if she comes, but here, she is the land. No one will ever doubt that again.
She's not sure what she expected, perhaps veiled contempt, or more political manoeuvring like Cersei Lannister, but Margaery glides through the snow, embracing her as a sister.
"I told her it had to be you. Everyone thought it must be an imposter, because no Stark would forgive, but I knew," Margaery pauses, catching her breath in the cold air, "I knew it was you."
"I am honoured, lady--"
"Margaery," Lady Tyrell, the wife of three kings, insists. "I'm Lady Tyrell again, and I would have us be friends, Lady Stark." She stands close to Sansa, her hair down around her shoulders. She smells sweet, with the heady scent of lilies clinging to her even all the way from the Reach where such flowers grow. She hasn't smelt them in years and when Sansa leads her into her hall, she wishes she could follow Margaery, just to keep the lilies in her nose.
Tommen's been fostered down south with the Martells and his sweet sister. With Joffrey dead, Tommen abdicated without a fuss when Daenerys promised to be just and kind. Margaery says over wine brought up from the Arbour. That too reminds Sansa of the world past and she finds it all the sweeter in better company, safe in Winterfell. Margaery's words come easily, half explanations of the war, the other half whispers and secrets. Things are changing with the spring winds. The dragon queen speaks of forgiveness and rebuilding. growing a kingdom from the ashes and mud of too much war. She is strong, Margaery promises, and her dragons stronger still.
Dragons sound like something out of songs and Sansa listens to what Margaery can tell her about the creatures as if she were hearing Old Nan again. She shakes her head and drinks deep, dragons she may need to see to believe. If they are possible, then peace must be, for no one can challenge a dragon, much less three.
"Show me Winterfell," Margaery asks, grabbing the sine skin. "This is one of the great old castles."
"It's full of smallfolk instead of tapestries."
"Tapestries I've seen, show me what your ancestors built." Margaery waits for her to stand, looking up into her eyes. There's a mystery in hers, something quick.
Sansa can hardly show her the castle without speaking of her family, and the tour is as much of Sansa's past as the ancient stones. The stairs where Rickon hid, the towers Bran climbed when no one was supposed to see, Robb's favourite view of the Godswood, the sept her father built for her mother and all the places where Arya hid to avoid needlework: all of her memories cling to the stone, making up for the lack of finery.
"The walls are warm."
"Water runs through them from deep underground," Sansa says, leading Margaery up the stairs to her parent's room. She sleeps there now, but she can feel her mother and father in the stones. "It's always warm in my room, even in the darkest part of winter."
Margaery sits on the bed, wine in hand, watching her. "I think it's colder in my chambers at Highgarden."
"My father thought it was too warm." She can say that now without wincing. Her father is gone but the pain is dull now.
"I think it's perfect."
Sansa sits beside her, taking the wine and drinking from the skin. Flushed with wine, her face is as warm as the walls. "What does she want?"
"The queen?" Margaery lays back, staring up at the ceiling as she drums her fingers on her cup. "Peace, justice, a return to order: she'll be a good queen, Sansa, better than any you or I have lived through."
"I've only known one queen," Sansa replies. Her words are soft and empty of Cersei's name. She doesn't ask what became of her.
"Daenerys is different." Margaery sits up, setting aside her cup. "She gave me leave to find you."
"I pledged my loyalty, she is my queen."
Margaery takes her hands, wrapping Sansa's fingers in her own soft ones. "She doesn't doubt you because I told her that Lady Sansa Stark was the most loyal subject she could wish. That you'd been loyal to the worst of kings."
"The best of queens should be easy." Sansa watches their hands, smiling as she remembers what it is to be wanted for more than her protection. Margaery leans closer, lily-sweet and teasing.
Sansa closes the kiss, meeting Margaery's lips and the taste of wine. It's a slow kiss, more of hope and exploration than lust, but it's theirs, something pure and as full of hope as the earth beneath the snow.