There is no one left. The world is covered in a blanket of white, red and pink where the blood and snow have seeped together. Margaery lifts her skirts above her ankles and treads carefully as she makes her way blindly in a direction unknown; hoping that soon she will see someone. “I am the Queen, and I will rule.” A prayer she has been reciting since leaving Highgarden, Margaery tells herself this every time the blisters on her feet burst and a trail of sticky yellow puss follows her further North. Or East. Or West. I am so lost. Roses do not grow in the snow. The young queen is terrified beyond all reckoning, but she cannot stop now. Everyone is dead, and I have survived.
Winterfell is warm. It is never so warm as it is now that the snows have fallen, and the people of winter town have huddled inside to be beside the warmth of their queen. Some say she radiates a soft hue of heat, others say that looking upon her warms a dead man’s heart, but all who have ventured within the castle walls know the truth of it is that Sansa Stark is home, and home is warm.
“There is a body at the gates!” One of the Stark guards, wrapped in thick furs and moleskin gloves, climbs down from the battlements and orders the South Gate be opened; Queen Sansa and a few of the children of winter town who pull at her skirts like babes stand to see what unfolds beyond the granite walls.
A fierce, terrifying wind rips through the opening between the gates and knocks a few of the children off their feet. Sansa shields her eyes with her arm and orders them inside. “See that they are fed and well cared for.” She steps forward with a few guards at her side. Shrouded by a flurry of snow and a white wind roaring through her entire body, she sees a lump lying on the floor. Green cloak, and green skirts; the girl within appears lifeless, and is impossibly cold.
“There is a pulse!” Maester Samwell cries, almost as though his touch has brought her back to life. Sansa does not even have to ask her men to fetch the girl inside; she follows them to her sister’s chambers where a room has been prepared should any guests or Aryaarrive.
Inside, Sansa sends Sam for his supper, and sets about taking his place by unwrapping the girl from her torn cloak. Her feet are unrecognizable as feet at all; blisters the size of her fist have burst and bred, puss oozes from the open gashes while the others threaten to pop at any time.
Bedridden and broken, Margaery is constantly denied a chance to speak with the Queen. “We were friends,” she protests to the Maester, a fat boy with a red face and dark brown eyes “tell her I am Margaery of the House Tyrell and she will come for me!” The man (though he appears to be much more a boy) says nothing, and tends Margaery’s poor feet. She refuses to cry out in pain, and turns her head to bury her face in her pillow each time he pricks one of the smaller blisters and drains the putrid fluid. “Please,” she whimpers softly, “please let me see my Sansa.”
“She is not your Sansa, my lady. She is Queen in the North, and belongs to her people. I’m sorry, I am forbidden to tell you anything other than as soon as you can walk, you will be sent away.”
“But why? I have done nothing wrong! I am queen of—…”
“…Queen of dust, and dirt. Queen of nothing. Sansa is queen and you are a traitor, though I do not believe it so. I am sorry, my lady. But I have been given my orders.” By who? Margaery wants to ask, but she is too exhausted to argue.
Sansa tends her people in the Great Hall, there are so many she never has time for ought else. With winter truly upon them, the only fighting is that of her brother leading the war against the White Walkers, but thus far she has heard no word of Jon’s victories, or defeats. Lady Melisandre remains with her day and night, tending the wounded and leading a small gathering around a fire in one of the forgotten rooms. Sansa allows Melisandre to pray to her Red God, so long as she believes Jon to be Azor Ahai. If he fails us, she will have failed us too. As Sansa walks along one of the hallways, she spots Maester Samwell dithering by the door to Arya’s room.
“Maester? How is our guest? Does she have a name yet?” Sansa has only seen the girl once; when she was first brought to the castle and her face was bruised and cut so badly she could not decipher who wore such violent afflictions.
“No, Your Grace.” Samwell stammers as he replies, and Sansa wonders whether he is being truthful. But before she can ask him anything, Melisandre appears, and sweeps Sansa away with news of her brother.
“Jon has defeated an army of wights along the king’s road, and believes the path to the Vale may finally be accessible. The Eyrie is safe, as you well know, and we must deliver smallfolk there before we are overrun, my queen.”
“Which ones shall we send?”
“The healthiest, the strongest, and those who will likely die. Better they pass along the road, than in your halls. There are enough ghosts in Winterfell, you’ll be needing no more. I think you should send the girl, too.”
Sansa wrinkles her nose. “What girl? Samwell’s girl?”
“Yes, my queen. She is like to die, too.” Melisandre almost smiles, and Sansa considers whether her red priestess is as genuine as she appears. Begrudgingly she accepts this offer, and disappears back down the corridor.
Margaery begs and begs Samwell to let her see Sansa, she even agrees to leave for the Vale without argument, so long as she can see the queen first. “I’m sorry, Margaery, but this is not my doing. My orders are—…”
“…I know what your orders are! You keep reminding me!” Margaery screams, and she notices how Samwell’s eyes dart towards the door. Sansa is close. “SANSA! SANSA PLEASE IT IS ME, MARAGAERY! MARGAERY TYRELL, PLEASE!” Samwell is as gentle as a kiss, trying to plead with her to be quiet, but Margaery’s voice is unrelenting. “I AM AWAKE! I HAVE A NAME! PLEASE!” She hates begging, it makes her feel weak. But Sansa is all she has left, she cannot leave without seeing the only person she ever loved.
The door opens, and Margaery holds her breath. Please, please oh please be my Sansa. It is not. A woman dressed all in red appears, and closes the door behind her. “Lady Margaery,” she starts, and inclines her head respectfully. Margaery sits up in her bed and frowns “forgive me for intruding. Maester Samwell go and find something to do.”
“I am d-doing something. I’m—…”
“…In the way, yes. Thank you, Maester.” She smiles again, only there is little genuine about the way her lips curl back over her teeth, and remain as such until Samwell disappears.
“Who are you? What do you want?”
“Perhaps I should explain why I have refused you access to your Sansa. Did you know that some talk of how the world will end, lady Margaery?”
“Who are you?”
“Some say it will end in fire, others in ice.”
“Are you going to kill me?”
The red woman laughs and approaches the bed. “And risk being branded a queenslayer too? I wouldn’t dare.”
Margaery’s eyes narrowed. “You’re mocking me.”
“I am not. You are a queen, aren’t you? Some say the world will end in fire, others in ice. Is that all the world is made of? I think not. There is air, and water, and earth. Do you know these things, little rose?”
“Yes.” Margaery gives up trying to decipher exactly where the red priestess is taking her, but listens carefully, entranced by the sultry tone in her voice, and the slither of an accent that remains to her. “I know all these things, yes.”
“Westeros was not made to be ruled as one, Aegon was wrong. Men will not live side-by-side and rule as equals, but women will. Sansa is Ice, and you my dear child, are Earth. And you will rule, and you will rule alone. A faction of Westeros, a place that will be yours, not Sansa’s, just yours.” She is not my Sansa, she belongs to the people; I understand it now.
“Where will I rule?”
“Where the first rose of spring grows, you shall rule as Queen. And your daughters, and their daughters, and all the daughters thereafter will rule in your wake. The line of roses will be as noble as the line of wolves.” The line of roses, Margaery thought, and she smiled. I like that.
“Why can I not see Sansa? She will understand!”
“Because you love her as she loves you, lady Margaery. If she sees you, if she knows you are alive before the spring has come, she will have a winter to fall in love with you as far as she did when autumn came and you arrived in King’s Landing. A shorter lapse of time than the snows will fall, and she will love you so much that Ice and Earth will wed. It cannot be so.”
It cannot be so. A new prayer Margaery recites as she mounts a horse given to her by lady Melisandre. It cannot be so. Her feet scream in pain as she laces them delicately into her stirrups and spurs her horse forward. From the Maester’s turret she knows that Sansa is watching, but with her hood up and her face hidden, she is just a girl with blisters on her feet and bruises gracing her face. It cannot be so. It cannot be so. She allows for a single tear to roll down her cheek.
It cannot be so, until spring comes.