She begins with Petyr, because he deserves to be brought down and this is the fastest route to his downfall.
Sweetrobin was an innocent – he was as he was because of his mother, because Lysa was weak and half-mad and could not understand that her son needed to be a little boy – and what Petyr had done to him was a sin that Sansa cannot, will not, forgive.
So. She begins with Petyr, because he deserves to be brought down.
It is easy – almost too easy, and she regrets that she learns so little from the act of seduction. All she had to do was appear in his chambers after dark having washed the dye from her hair with lemon juice and vinegar and whatever other horrid things Randa had suggested for the purpose, looking like her mother returned to him, and he was hers.
He has always been hers, whether he knows it or not.
He is a meticulous record keeper, and while that has served him well in the past it will be his doom now, she decides, turning his own weapons on him and searching through his desk and solar while he slumbers, deep in a sex-sated sleep of lost dreams given him again.
Sansa stands tall, hair a river of fire down her back and garbed in silver and white, and she presents a neat ledger to Lord Royce of Runestone and Lady Waynwood not a week later.
She rides north with a small garrison of Arryn guardsmen at her back, and she wonders if Petyr will die by sky cell or Moon Door.
The Boltons, father and bastard, are suspicious and eager respectively when she presents herself at the gates of Winterfell as a submissive.
She would never have worn a gown so tight and low as this in Winterfell before, but it will serve her purpose and serve it well.
It takes a single dinner to earn Ramsay’s trust, a teasing comment to entice him to her bed. She feigns breathless sighs at his touches, his rough attempts at caresses, and kicks him squarely between the legs when he attempts to tie her wrists down.
Too long has she been tethered. Sansa is free, and she will make it so that her home is, too.
She scrubs her skin clean as soon as he leaves her in the morning, but within a week his father is dead and flayed as a traitor to the North, rumours brought to Ramsay by Sansa’s whispers, and a week later sees the Bastard of Bolton, Ramsay Snow, with his throat slit, and his men chased from Winterfell.
Sansa sits without flinching, without looking away, and watches her men burn the Dreadfort a moon’s turn later.
They say that Euron Greyjoy is the comeliest of his brothers, but Sansa finds him strange and cold.
Stannis Baratheon has fallen, Sansa’s bastard half-brother held up by Stannis’ Red Priestess, and so it is that Euron Greyjoy thinks himself undisputed King in the North, especially with his niece and nephew returned to him.
Theon watches Sansa step off the boat, more beautiful than she was when last they saw one another, and he is a wreck – she would ask for his head for Bran and Rickon and home, but she has a kraken to slay and Theon is not even that anymore.
The Crow’s Eye is every bit as debauched as they say he is, cruel and harsh and fearsome, but he is as susceptible to a woman with Sansa’s beauty as any other man, especially one so obsessed with the idea of salt wives as he seems to be.
He seems to think to legitimise his claim to the North by taking her to wife, though, and then to take Daenerys Targaryen as his second wife to claim all of Westeros with her dragons, and Sansa’s allows him to think that she will agree to this until he caves under her constant attentions and takes her to bed.
She presents his head and crown to Theon the following morning, names Asha Theon’s heir and promises that all the mainland will come together to crush the Iron Islands should Theon not give up that crown and bow to the authority of the rightful queen of Westeros and her dragons.
Aegon Targaryen is the most beautiful man Sansa has ever seen, as beautiful as she is herself, and he seems quite taken with her when she presents herself at Storm’s End.
She flirts and japes and shows rather more of her bosom than is appropriate, and the Martells and Jon Connington watch her with wary eyes. His father forsook a Martell for a Stark, after all, and they will not have him giving up their cause for Sansa’s.
Still, he is more innocent than his age or position can possibly allow for, and so it is a small thing for Sansa to convince him that it is his queenly aunt’s right to ascend the throne before him, her dragons all the legitimacy she needs.
Sansa had thought of working to place Aegon Targaryen on the throne, but by all reports his aunt has a love of vengeance that could almost match Sansa’s own, and that is what she needs now.
She regrets slightly that she did not have to lie with him, if only because of how beautiful they would look together, but is also relieved because he is the sort of man that would want to marry her after fucking her, and she cannot have that.
The thought disgusts her, and Sansa begins to wonder for the first time if Cersei Lannister understands the price she pays for this most effective of weapons.
He comes with the dragons and their mother, the Hand to a Queen the likes of which Westeros has never known, and he is the only member of his House that survives save his bastard niece and nephew and a handful of other children, all of whom are stripped of names and titles and rights until he adopts them all and secrets them away at Casterly Rock.
Sansa needs him to speak to his Queen on her behalf, because Aegon’s influence and Sansa’s record are not enough to convince the fool woman to listen when Sansa suggests something that will be beneficial to them all, such as restoring Rickon to Winterfell and naming him Warden of the North.
She is still Tyrion’s wife, after all, and though she has long since lost the maidenhead he refused to rid her of, he is still reluctant to touch her and proves her greatest challenge of all, but the Warden of the West is still the same man under his new-found confidence and peace and he cannot say no to a beautiful woman.
He looks at her strangely, tells her that she reminds him greatly of someone he used to know, and he walks away to consult with Daenerys while Sansa empties her stomach at the implication that she is like the Golden Queen that was his sister.
Sansa is four-and-twenty when Rickon comes of age, long ago restored to the name of Stark when Tyrion agreed to annul their marriage and named Tommen his heir, long since used to ruling a realm scarred by war against pirates and wights and madmen.
She is four-and-twenty, old to be married by many standards, but she needs to marry a powerful man so that Rickon will have the support of a powerful House in the event that the crown – or anyone else – turns once more on House Stark.
There is the option of the legitimised bastard Lord of Storm’s End, of course, but they say he is much like his father and Sansa will not suffer a houseful of bastards. She saw what Jon’s presence did to her mother, the strain it put on her parents’ marriage, and so she says no when he sends her the offer for her hand.
Tyrion, in jest, requests her hand as well, and she laughs and sends him a sweet refusal such as she might have written when first they were wed. He has become a great friend, a powerful ally, and she is fonder of him than she might once have thought possible.
Aegon, too, sends an offer – his wife, pretty Jennylene Fowler, did not survive the birth of their sickly son, and he needs a woman who will be his queen when Daenerys’ day comes and the mother to his son, but Sansa cannot imagine herself married to him, cannot imagine herself mother to another woman’s son. Besides, Aegon would expect her to be something she is not.
Sansa has not been the innocent maiden, the innocent girl, she plays at being in many years.
There are none in Sunspear who would touch a Stark with a bargepole, and so she does not even consider the possibility of a Martell.
Harry Hardyng remains Sweetrobin’s heir, her cousin’s health having never truly improved, and he, too, makes her an offer she should not refuse.
But there is a letter sealed with a rose, written on scented parchment, and Sansa cannot stop herself from returning to it again and again.
Rickon and some of their bannermen accompany her to Highgarden for her wedding, and she is amazed to find that Willas Tyrell, at thirty-five, is just as lovely as his poor scarred brother ever was.
She smiles demurely, lowers her eyes when he praises her beauty, her sweet words, her person in every way imaginable. He is gentle with her during their wedding ceremony in the godswood, when he removes her Stark grey and replaces it with Tyrell green, when he tips her face up for the sweetest, most chaste kiss Sansa has ever had bestowed on her.
She is doing this for Rickon, because the Tyrells are somehow still as powerful under Targaryen rule as they were under Baratheon and Lannister, but when Willas makes love to her – she has never made love before, has only lain with men for a purpose – she finds herself weeping inconsolably for what she might still become.
She will love her husband for herself, for himself, not for the strength this marriage lends to her brother. She will do that, because if she does not think of him in relation only to himself, she will never be able to look him in the eye or herself in the mirror.
He gathers her close and strokes her hair, utterly perplexed by her tears, and she can only give him a trembling smile as reassurance.
She will not become Cersei Lannister. She won’t.