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Battle Tested

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With Sandor Clegane’s bloodied cloak falling around her shoulders, Sansa shut the door behind him. She slid a heavy chair in front of it to brace it. Had she done the wrong the thing, refusing to leave with him? He promised to take her to Robb, to Mother, who as far as Sansa could tell, had forgotten about her entirely. Despite his protecting her from Joffrey’s petulant rage where he could, she did not trust the Hound. He had wells of dark weakness within him that even he didn’t understand. If they stayed on the road long enough and he had enough of his precious wine, he would forget his chivalrous impulse and hurt her beyond anything Joffrey had attempted.

Though what Joffrey had attempted was no small thing. Her back still ached with the sting of healing lashes. The salve Shae used to keep them from infection wept through her gown, making it clammy and uncomfortable against her back. Even if by some miracle King’s Landing survived the siege, Joffrey would only be more emboldened as a “warrior king” to abuse her at every opportunity. She couldn’t imagine she would fare much better under dour, unfeeling Stannis, who, from what she had been told, resented Ned for usurping Stannis’s place in Robert’s affections.

Doomed to rape and ruin if she left with the Hound. Doomed to torture and worse if she stayed. This was the price she was paying for listening to the cursed Queen, for believing Joffrey could ever be a “golden lion.” She was a fool. And death was the forfeit of foolishness.

So many times, she wished she could just go back to those days leading up to her father’s execution and scream at herself to “Wake up, you idiot!” She wishes she could tell Joffrey to leave her alone, never speak his lies to her again. She wishes she could take back the cruel words to Arya and ask how her baby sister disappeared so well. She wishes she could take back that day her father had given her the doll, and thank him prettily for a sincere effort, instead of being such an ungrateful brat.

She crossed the room to where the doll rested on her vanity. It was a finely worked toy, made from porcelain, starched cotton and soft silk. Even the hair was real. Six years ago, she would have wept happy tears for such a present. She stroked a finger over the doll’s curved cheek, tear welling in her eyes.

Outside her window, she heard screaming, but not the cries of dying men – the petulant howls of their king in a fit. She peered down at the darkened courtyard, a mere three floors under her window, where a clutch of Kingsguard surrounded their mewling monarch. Joffrey was whining about his mother summoning him, and that his men weren’t making way through the crush of soldiers fast enough. He couldn’t even be bothered to look at the dying soldiers being dragged to the infirmary from the front. He just wanted his dearest mummy.

Sansa supposed she should be grateful that there was no blood dripping from the coward’s untested sword. So if she was forced to kiss it again, the act would only be humiliating, not repulsive.

A haggard man in a patched black robe approached Joffrey, with a small green glass pot in his hands.

Sansa recognized the substance and gasped. Wildfire? Surely, Joffrey wasn’t mad enough to use wildfire in battle! The liquid was notoriously unstable. Then again, Joffrey was screaming at the old man for bothering him with stupid questions while – a pyromancer, she supposed – clutching him by the robe and shaking him. The royal idiot was spilling the green liquid in splashes around his feet. The Kingsguard ducked out of the way to avoid it, but their bright gold armor showed the telltale emerald splashes even in the moonlight.

Sansa wished she could just toss the candle by her bedside out of the window and put King’s Landing out of its misery. But a candle would just blow out on its descent to the ground. She weighed the doll in her hands. A candle might lose its flame on its flight, but a doll, soaked in cheap perfumed oil Cersei had given her as a nameday present? That would hold a flame nicely. The perfume bottle, which its chipping gilded paint, was in her hands and uncorked within seconds. Before the plan had fully formed in her head, the doll’s dress and body were saturated with the stinking overly floral perfume. Holding the doll by its porcelain head, she pressed the cotton-stuffed hand to the candle’s flame, eyes widening as it spread over the doll like a caress. Breathing deeply, she scurried over to the window. It was right and fitting that Joffrey, who had taken her father’s head with his lies and madness, now be destroyed with a gift from Eddard Stark.

Joffrey was still there, still berating the poor necromancer for daring to question why the king wasn’t at the front of the battle. She heard his weak, high voice bellow, “I AM THE KING” as the doll dropped out of her hand and plummeted down. She could see its flames reflected in the golden armor of the king as his guard. She watched the face of Meryn Trant as he looked up, saw the ball of fire dropping from above, and the moment he realized what it meant. And she smiled, knowing that her face would be the last thing he saw.

The North Remembers.

The explosion was almost beautiful in its shifting, boiling greens. Still, Sansa knew enough to throw herself away from the window, watching as the flames roiled up past the opening for a second and then returned to earth. The screams of dying men were almost musical in her ears. She laughed as she crawled to her bed, and pulled the cloak around her body. If she told Shae such a thing, her not-a-handmaiden would tell her she was succumbing to Targaryen madness.

Wildfire could burn through stone. She’d just condemned anyone in this section of the Keep to death. And while she was sorry for it, she couldn’t summon the energy to warn anyone. Death was her forfeit, and she would gladly share this gift as many Lannister loyalists with her as she could. Other than Shae, she had no friends in the Red Keep. The court’s ladies and their guards could watch for smoke and flames as easily as anyone else. And Shae was a survivor. She’d be gone before anyone else realized there was danger.

Sansa had slain the Baratheon monster. She’d earned the right to a rest. Perhaps she would be asleep before the flames ate their way into her chamber. It wouldn’t be such a bad way to go, letting the smoke take her while she was sleeping. She wrapped her arms around her pillow, whispering, “Mother, I’m sorry. Father, I will meet you soon.”

As the screamed echoed in the courtyard outside, she let the words of her favorite hymn run through her head. “Gentle mother, font of mercy, save our sons from war, we pray…”

The sound of fists pounding on her door woke her. The chair braced against the wood rattled mightily as accented voices shouted outside. “Lady Sansa! Lady Sansa of House Stark? Are you in there?”

Sunlight was pouring through the window. Her room was intact, save for the slight staining of smoke around the window casing. She was alive and well, as far as she could tell. And she wasn't sure how she felt about it. There were men banging on her door. Stannis’s forces? Joffrey’s Kingsguard? Did they know what she’d done? Was she to be executed for regicide?

She scrambled up her bed as the door gave away ever so slightly. She leapt from the bed and sought out the only weapon in her room, a small paring knife Shae kept on her side table for peeling fruit. Hiding the blade in her stained skirts, she scurried into her wardrobe and closed the door as silently as she could. She pressed into the back of the wardrobe and made herself as small as possible. It was no easy feat with her long limbs.

Outside her hiding space, she heard the door give way. Footsteps as loud as thunder clamored into her room. She shrank back into the corner of her wardrobe. The voices outside were strange and lilting as they called her name. But she’d never traveled to Dragonstone, perhaps this was the natural accent of Stannis’s men? . They were trying to sound gentle, she noted, like her brothers when they tried to train their direwolves. They didn’t want to spook her. That didn’t exactly make her want to trust them.

“Lady Sansa, if you can hear us, please come out. We will not harm you,” a voice practically whispered.

“We’ve looked all over the Keep. Where could she have gone?” an anxious, higher voice asked.

“You don’t think she was taken by the fire, do you? It was awfully close to her chambers.”

“Her younger sister disappeared like fog the moment their father was executed. Perhaps the lady shares the talent for escape.”

“She is reported to be a sweet, biddable girl, I doubt she would have risked escape.”

The words “sweet” and “”biddable” echoed in her ears like the gravest of insults. Sweet and biddable had gotten her nowhere in this place. Her nature had only brought her heartache. She was a Stark, she was a wolf. She would let Stannis know this from the start.

Her sweaty hand slid against the paring knife as footsteps neared the wardrobe. She gripped the handle tightly and prepared to spring at whoever opened the door. She thought of Father and of Robb as they practiced their sword arms in the yard. She even thought of Arya, who’d mastered the bow in secret by the time she was eight. She was of the same blood. She could be strong.

The wardrobe door rattled and Sansa tensed her legs. The door swung wide and she let out a warrior’s scream. She sprang forward, brandishing her tiny dagger.

“Mother of fuck!” someone nearer her bed shouted as strong hands wrapped around her wrist and cradled her body as she rolled to the floor. The man under her was older, older than her father, and tanned skin and a hawkish nose. His hair was black, as was the short goatee at his chin. He didn’t seem at all angry that she’d just tried to stab him in the face. In fact, he was grinning up at her as if she’d just done something absolutely adorable.

“The Lady Sansa Stark, I presume?” he asked, his accent rolling the S’s. “Not nearly as biddable as rumor would have it.”

“I won’t let you hurt me,” she told him, hoping that she sounded somewhat bold as the other men in the room, garbed in orange silks and strange leather armor, lifted her from her compromising position. They didn’t grab at her, like the white cloaks did, she noted. They’re hands were gentle as they brought her to her feet. “Tell Lord Stannis that I am not a traitor, no matter what Cersei says, and I will not be treated as such!”

“If and when I see the Lord Stannis again, I will be sure to tell him,” the man said, still smiling as he pushed up from the floor. His armor was more ornate than the others, with bronze suns at the shoulders shot through with a red spear. It almost looked like the sigil of

“House Martell?” she said.

“The best and brightest of all houses,” the man said, pressing his hand over his heart. “Prince Doran was happy to send forces to protect our beloved capitol when we heard of Lord Stannis’s plans to revolt. We could not stand by and see the king thrown aside so easily.”

Sansa nodded slowly, her heart sinking. He was speaking of the king in the present tense. She would be summoned to the throne room at any moment. Joffrey would surely have her beaten to death for her trick with the doll.

The man – a general? - gingerly took her elbow and led her to the window. Outside, she could see the banners of House Martell, red suns against orange silk, fluttering in the breeze. Below her window, green flames still flickered feebly at the sooty remains of armor suits. She could see a melted circle of gold near the smallest set.

She’d done it. She’d killed Joffrey. The only thing keeping her anchored to earth through her joy was this man’s hand at her elbow. His skin was so warm, even through the silk of her gown, and he smelled pleasantly of spices. She wanted to curl against him like a cat. “King’s Landing is now safe for you, my lady. I promise, on my brother’s name.”

“Your brother?” Sansa asked, frowning at him.

He grinned again, his teeth white and perfect against his tanned skin. “I am being very rude. A thousand apologies, my lady. I am Prince Oberyn of House Martell. I am very pleased to meet the fabled beauty of the North.”

It took all of Sansa’s remaining strength not to faint.