Sansa entered Lord Baelish’s tent in a dress of grey and white, Stark colors, her hair settling around her shoulders at the reprieve from the Northern winds. It was warm in here, with a small fireplace and the heat of some twenty bodies heating it, the shadows of their forms dancing with the leaping flames. In the middle of the small chamber lay the great war table, the representation of the Seven Kingdoms littered with figures to show where armies lay. The walls were made of silk and velvet but lined with fur, mockingbirds embroidered along them in the style of Petyr’s house. You must call him Lord Baelish, she reminded herself. It had taken her some time to stop calling him Petyr in her head and father aloud, but he had insisted. “You are neither the ####### Alayne Stone in the Vale, who could call me father, nor the hostage Lady Sansa in King’s Landing, who could call me Petyr,” he had said. There I always called you Littlefinger, she had thought, but never spoken the words. “You are Lady Stark in the North, and you must treat all your underlings the same.” She had nodded fervently, to seem chastened, but she misliked the word underlings. It reminded her of something Cersei would say. If I were ever a queen, I’d make them love me.
As the assembled lords looked up to see her, she sensed that the fact that she was Lady Stark did not mean that Lord Baelish wanted her to participate in matters of state. His eyes widened, then narrowed when he noticed her from his spot at the head of the table. He dared not reproach her here though, not when his power lay in taking advantage of her claim. Each of those surrounding the table inclined his head to her, though Lord Baelish and his flock were last, the unwillingness to bow to her clear in their eyes. It was Harry who made his distaste for her presence clearest.
Walking over to her, Ser Harrold Hardyng placed his arm around her waist and gently steered her towards the door. “Sansa, darling,” he said, his head bent down with his breath brushing against her ear. “This is no place for a lady. Come, let me escort you back to your tent.” She breathed deeply. You are Lady Stark. Smiling up at him, she removed herself from his grip and walked back to stand across from Petyr at the table. “I am the Lady of Winterfell, my lord,” she said. “I grew up in the North. Perhaps my knowledge of these lands could be helpful.” You ride to take back my home, she wanted to say. This is exactly my place.
Sansa studied the board, her brow furrowing in concentration. At Winterfell, the Bolton’s flayed men, Dustin’s axes and crowns, and Karstark’s sunbursts lay, along with the Hornwood’s moose and an Umber giant. Where they were camped at a fork in the White Knife were broken wheels and mockingbirds and falcons and all the other symbols of the great houses of the Vale. The army which concerned her lay to the south. Coming out of White Harbor, it consisted of mermen, fists, a giant, battle axes, and a crocodile, and, having moved far more quickly than should be possible for an army of its size, it was camped barely more than a half mile from their own camp.
“What news have we of the mystery forces?” she asked, appraising each of the lords at the table. It was Lord Nestor Royce, Randa’s father, who answered her. He stood up straight, smoothing his beard with his hands.
“Many of these houses were previously sworn to Lord Stannis, or at least of questionable loyalty to the Boltons. However, Stannis is dead, and we have no knowledge of who leads them or their allegiance. We would assume they rally for the Boltons.” She traced the crocodile figure with her finger, a memory of her father’s stories of Howland Reed coming to her mind. Father had seen him as a good friend, and a leal vassal. He had always been Lord Stark’s man. You are Lady Stark. she thought. He is not my man. There was no use in trusting blindly, in believing that duty and honor alone meant a man’s word was his vow. Words are wind.
“Could we defeat them on the field?” she asked. For this question, Sansa looked to Bronze Yohn Royce, the most capable military commander she had, and therefore most likely to know the answer. He stood up tall, his telltale bronze armor clanking and casting light all around him. “Our army is better trained, better armed, and better rested, and we have more horse beside. It would be no rout, but we could not lose, if it came to that.” The wording of his last assertion irked her.
“How could it not come to that, my lord?” she asked. “Well, my lady,” Lord Royce began. Lord Baelish stepped forward slightly, and began to speak before he could continue. “We hope to negotiate, sweetling. These lords have no great love for the Boltons. The only reason they fight against us is because they think this is an invasion by the Vale. If they see we ride for you, they may let us pass freely to Winterfell, or even join with us in the fight against the Boltons to restore their true liege lord. The memory of your father and brother means much in the North.” She thought of Robb then, who had only been a year older than her, and had died a king, and of Bran and Rickon, dead at the hands of Theon Turncloak, who they had thought was their brother. She thought of Father, who had been executed by Joffrey and his mother, and of her own mother, who’s throat had been slit by the Freys. These men had allied with the Boltons, who stole her home with the help of the Lannisters. They had allied with the families who had killed her mother and her father and her brother. She wanted no negotiation. She hesitated to tell it to her supporters, however, remembering Petyr’s words. You are Lady Stark. she reiterated. She was in command, at least in this moment. If there were no negotiations on her command, then every man who died would have done so solely because of her selfishness. The blood of every fallen man would be on her hands.
Sansa inhaled deeply, pushing her feelings into the pit of her stomach. “Send a raven to their camp. Ask who commands them, and what his purpose is. Ensure them that you come only to depose the Boltons, but do not mention my name. We will see if northmen are as loyal as my father thought.” They inclined their heads to her as she swept out, leaving her vassals to decide the finer points of the wording of their message. They are Harry’s vassals, not mine, she chided herself. She could not be overly prideful. It was only because of her fiancé’s claim and her uncle’s influence that she was able to bring the knights of the Vale into the North to take back her home.
Outside of the stuffy tent, the frigid winds blew snow across the camp and into the field between the two armies. It was cold, but there was a smell in the air that soothed her, caressing her soul. The northern winds seemed to blow only for her, swirling around and whispering in her ears. You are home, the winds seemed to say. You are Lady Stark. She might have guessed that around a corner would be Arya playing at being a boy or Robb using that silly lord’s voice he’d put on to boss her around. Every time she looked up, she expected to see Bran scurrying along a rooftop with her lady mother staring up at him worriedly, Rickon on her hip. Father’s voice echoed in her ears, half-forgotten, and in the corner of her eye, she could see Jon Snow the only way she had ever seen him in her presence, brooding. People surrounded her, she knew, mostly confined to their tents for fear of the cold, and yet the only people she could see were the dead.
Lost in her thoughts, she barely heard Harry approaching her from behind. When he placed his hand on her waist she flinched, startled. She felt him start to pull away from her, so she placed her hand on his and leaned into his body. “It is cold, my lord,” she said. He smiled down at her and kept holding her close as they walked in silence for a little while. It would be nice to have a husband who would smile down at her, and one who chased after her too. He had not done so when Sansa had been Alayne. She had found that most lords and ladies revealed their true selves in the way they treated ########. What true self did your treatment of a ####### reveal? she wondered. He was your brother and you were cruel to him, and now you will never see him again.
“I do not think you should attend our strategic meetings, my lady,” Harry said, with no warning. “You are only a woman, and I do not want the details to upset you.” She inhaled sharply, looking up at the sky as a raven flew overhead. Littlefinger’s fingers were all over these inquiries, for while her betrothed may have felt this way, he was not brave enough to express his feelings without express permission from his betters, even to one who was only a woman.
“Do you feel the cold, my lord?” she asked. He moved away from her slightly to look at her, puzzlement etched in every feature of his face.
“Yes, my lady, but I would have you confirm that you will no longer attend to matters of war.” She sighed and returned to her position leaning against him, her hair spread against his chest. Charm him. Entrance him. Bewitch him. Petyr had said, but he had said it to Alayne. Sansa was the Lady of Winterfell, like her mother before her, and the Lady of Winterfell should not have to hide her true thoughts from the man she would marry.
“As you feel the cold, I feel the need to return home. I will try to be less vocal in such meetings, but I feel it is my duty to support the brave men who fight in my name by showing that I have some small say in the ways in which they risk their lives.” Although they were not her reasons for participating in the campaign to take back her castle, the words were true nonetheless. Even though she was only a lady, she would rule through love, not fear. Ser Harry did not speak for a long time, though he continued walking with her. Her resolve began to weaken, doubts gnawing at her mind. I’ve ruined everything now. she thought despondently. He’ll take the armies and go home to the Vale, and I’ll never see Winterfell again. When he stopped them, her heart stopped with him and panic rose in her belly.
“I will grant you your request. But I must tell you that I will be less happy to grant such whims when we are married, and that I find your lack of obedience daunting.” She hated him for saying it. Marriage was a partnership, as her own mother and father had demonstrated, and love only grew from a foundation of respect. The winds howled around them, blowing the snow into their eyes. They rushed on and on, and she heard them screaming at her. You are Lady Stark. they screeched. How can he treat you thus? Sansa steeled herself against the sounds of the North, though all her being resisted her, curling herself further into Harry’s side until the winds slowed down. Then she stopped her and Harry's progress, removing herself from his side to face him.
“I hope that I will never again displease my lord as I do now, for I am learning still. I have been betrothed once and married once, and yet I have never had a proper husband.” She paused, gauging his reaction, before continuing. “You are kind and strong and chivalrous, and yet in the matter of the Boltons, I still find it difficult to defer to your wisdom, for my hate for them is so passionate it overwhelms me.”
“It is a woman’s role to have passions, and a man’s role to control them,” he said. She nodded solemnly, struggling to keep from gritting her teeth.
“As you say. I apologize deeply for my disobedience, but I beg you to indulge me until we take back Winterfell, at which time I will be as faithful and obedient a wife as it is possible to be.” His features were blank for a moment, his blond hair filled with snowflakes. For those few seconds, she was nervous, until he took her gloved hands in his and kissed them gently. She felt nothing through the lined gloves, but for a moment he looked exactly as she had always hoped her husband would, the picture of chivalry. He almost looks like the husband Father promised me. she thought. Brave and gentle and strong. Harry met her gaze, smirking then in a way that was far less like the man her father had promised her. Looking away from him to erase the image from her mind, she saw the raven returning.
“My lord, may we return to my uncle’s tent?” she asked, hoping that he would stand by his earlier promise. He smiled and kissed her hands again before taking her arm in his. “Of course, my lady.”
Walking back to the tent by another route then the one they had taken, they passed the stables, Sansa’s own grey mare whinnying at her presence. She wished she had a sugar cube to give her and reached instead to pat the dear horse on the nose, but Harry steered her away from the stables as quickly as they approached, in a hurry to reach Littlefinger and the other lords. He is hurrying so that we can participate in the meeting. she told herself, trying not to take offense. It was hard to banish their previous conversation from her mind, though. He is hurrying so that he can participate in the meeting.
As they entered the tent, the lords already assembled around the war table, Sansa saw that her place at the end of the table had been usurped by Ser Lyn Corbray. He smirked at her as he entered, some of his hair falling in front of his face. She smiled back at him, seeing the opportunity that Littlefinger’s plot had given her. Instead of standing in the background away from the table, as she was sure he had hoped, she removed herself from Harry’s arm and strode across the tent to stand at Lord Baelish’s right. A scowl marred his features for a moment before his customary polite smile returned.
“Lady Sansa. Ser Harry,” he greeted. “I am glad you are here.” I am Lady Stark. she thought. Of course I am here. She said nothing. Instead she smiled and inclined her head, every inch a gracious lady. Lord Baelish held a letter in his hand, a seal broken off and laid face down on the table. He spoke out across the table, addressing all the assembled lords.
“We have good news, my lords, my lady. Their forces work against the Boltons to depose them. I am sure that once we inform them of Lady Sansa’s presence, they will rally to our cause.” His lack of explanation was suspicious to her, as was the way he avoided her gaze as he scanned the room. He is lying, I’m sure of it. she thought. But where is the lie? She considered for a moment, attempting to discern what information he had given, and what information he had left out. She glanced at the white seal on the table once again, lying face down so that she could not see the sigil of the man who had sent it.
“Do we know who commands this army, Lord Baelish?” she asked. As soon as she saw his response to the question, Sansa could tell that her instinct had been correct. He paled a little bit, his hand moving to stroke his beard. That was the most open admission of guilt she could get from Littlefinger. He was concealing the identity of her people’s leader from her, though for what purpose she could not tell.
He cleared his throat. “The man who sent the message was a #######, so we can assume that their true leader was not present at the time of the sending. However, I think that knowledge of their loyalty is enough, and that meetings can be arranged later.” Sansa smiled at him again, then snatched the seal off up the table. Petyr grabbed her wrist, then looked around at their audience and dropped it, anger burning in his eyes. She turned the seal over in her hands, expecting the worst. A Greyjoy kraken or a Bolton flayed man, which would reveal the betrayal she was so sure her good uncle was planning. What she saw instead made her fling the seal back to the ground in shock.
A direwolf. “May I read the letter, dear uncle?” she asked, her heart pounding. The man who sent the message was a #######. It couldn’t be. Her brother had been stabbed to death by his own black brothers. He was dead. She was sure he was dead. And yet Lord Baelish shied away. Why would he not want you to read it?
It was Bronze Yohn Royce who granted her wish. “Let the girl read it, man,” he boomed, his words striking some fear into her even though it was in her defense. Lord Nestor Royce blustered his agreement, as did many of the other older lords. Lady Waynwood spoke up, her voice clear over the mumblings of the others. “Give the letter to Lady Stark, Lord Baelish,” she said. I am Lady Stark. she thought. She was grateful for their words on her behalf, but she was the Lady of Winterfell, and she would not be afraid of a man who all called Littlefinger. “I will read the letter, my lord,” she said clearly, making it clear that this was no request. Despite his reluctance, with most the Vale’s lords and ladies behind her he could not refuse. He handed her the letter and she snatched it before he could find some way to wriggle out of this situation. As she read, her eyes widened and she gasped.
We are grateful to hear that you come to depose the Boltons, as that is our purpose as well. However, men of the Vale have no place in the North and we have no need for you to fight our battles for us. We have the arms and the knowledge to take back Winterfell and return it to it’s rightful lady, my sister Sansa Stark, upon her return to the North. Turn back now and retreat to the Vale and we shall have no trouble. Remain, and it will come to arms.
The letter fluttered to the floor as she stood stock still. Littlefinger smiled at her in that slimy way of his, the kind that made her feel dirty just from receiving the leer. “You see, Lady Sansa-” he began as he grasped her arm, wrapping his fingers around her in a touch that was as cold and clammy as a corpse, though she had layers of fabric between them. She jerked away from him, her eyes trained still on the letter. He paused in shock, seeming to forget how his sentence was supposed to end now that he had begun it.
“Lady Stark.” she interrupted before he could remember. “I am Lady Stark.” At this, he tried to touch her again, an apology perhaps, or a comfort. But he had tried to keep her from her family, the last of her family. Jon Snow. The only brother who remained to her now. She could have laughed at the irony. She looked at the letter once more, trying to remember if that was his handwriting. It had been so long though, and even when they had been together at Winterfell, she had never paid her ####### half-brother enough mind to note anything about him other than his complexion and his brooding and the way his presence upset her lady mother. Sansa removed herself from Lord Baelish’s touch once more. As she tore her gaze from the letter she saw the lords and ladies of the Vale looking at her expectantly. She forced a smile and curtsied at them, strapping on her courtesies as she was sure her brother Robb had strapped on his armor at the Battle of Oxcross.
“My lords, my ladies. I will take my leave,” she said, forgetting all of her efforts to enter the meeting in the first place. She gathered her skirts in her hands and walked out with as much dignity as she could muster. When she glanced back over her shoulder, she saw Petyr or Harry or someone else preparing to follow her, and leaving all dignity behind, she lifted her skirt up to her knees and ran. Running, dodging through tents and men, she avoided her pursuer to the best of her ability, heading in the direction of the destination she had had in mind since the moment she saw her brother’s name on the page. Where was it? she wondered, attempting to connect the route she had taken on her stroll with Harry with the route of her wild flight from the command tent. When she finally found the stable she was out of breath and disheveled, with her hood fallen halfway down her head and pins falling from her hair. The stableboy who had been brushing her Winter stopped abruptly, blinking twice slowly. The consternation with which he looked at her reminded her of how she used to look at Arya. She could have giggled. I feel like Arya. Another time, the memories might have made her sad or full of regret, but now she was going to see Jon and how could she be sad at that? Jon. she thought joyfully. My brother.
She heard a noise outside and froze, snapping out of her dreams. She looked up at the boy, who was still standing there in shock, or perhaps awe. Maybe disgust, depending on his sensibilities. I wonder if he has any brothers.
“Saddle my horse,” she commanded. He took Winter out of the stall and went to fetch the tack. While he was away, Sansa crouched down and snuck into her horse’s stall in her place. She felt a little foolish hiding from her advisors and her betrothed as if she were a child who had stolen some lemon cakes from the kitchen, but she didn’t want their words right now. They wanted her at the camp, to take care of some triviality or another, to settle their arguments for them, to handle negotiations with her brother. Her brother, who after all these years lay just across a field of snow.
The boy came back then and saddled the horse as she had asked him, sending incredulous looks at his lady hiding in a horse's stall. When Winter was ready, Sansa swung her leg over the horse’s back and climbed on. She smiled down at the stable boy and pulled her hood up over her head as he tried to conceal his confused glances up at her. I will ask him for his name when I return, she decided, and pay him well for his trouble. But she would worry about that later. She was going to see Jon now, and there was nothing more important.
She trotted out of the stable at a reasonable pace, half already gone when she saw Harry waiting for her. She stopped, staring at his expression. If he had looked hurt or sympathetic or relieved, she might have halted her journey and climbed off her horse for him, explained to him where she was going and that she would be back soon. But he didn’t look hurt or sympathetic or relieved. He only looked at her with impatience and annoyance and distaste, as if she were an inconvenience he had to endure.
“Sansa,” he called out, but she was already away. Kicking her heels into the sides of her horse, she galloped past him and through the labyrinth of a camp. She swerved around tents and fires and weapons left out carelessly. Thrice she almost ran into a man, swerving out of the way and continuing with the sound of curses following behind her. Winter ran and ran, until the two of them were out, finally out. Across the field they flew, the wind blowing so hard in Sansa’s face that tears formed in her eyes and snow hit her face and melted, until salt water and fresh water mixed on her cheeks. She could hardly tell if the tears were from the wind or from happiness. Her hood fell back off her head and the wind had its way with her hair, removing carefully placed pins until it streamed behind her like a red banner. She soared across the snowy plain, as happy as if it were spring, heading for the camp where her brother lay.
As soon as she drew near she noticed the difference. There were fewer tents, of course, but this camp looked far busier than the one she had come from. It was no surprise. One could not compare how Valemen attempted to face the cold with how northmen endured it. There were men milling about in every direction, some of them with the sigils of houses she recognized on their armor, some wearing no armor at all, only furs. Perhaps they were wildlings. Don’t be an idiot. she chided herself. Jon was a man of the Night’s Watch. He would never let wildlings through the wall. Regardless of who they were, they were not happy to see her, and she heard words of warning begin to spread through the camp. Before her, she saw weapons being readied, men streaming out of their tents. But she could not see the man she was looking for.
“Jon!” she cried, finally entering, men diving aside as she sped forward. “Jon!” she called again, looking for the command tent where she was sure he would stand. Sansa rode past tent after tent, man after man, all looking at her suspiciously, some with weapons drawn, but none attacking her as she called her brother’s name. Looking around frantically, speeding past men and dogs and tents and fires alike, she finally noticed the biggest tent she had seen thus far and stopped. A red-haired man dressed all in fur with the thickest, bushiest beard she had ever seen stood in front of it, guarding it from intruders. From her, she supposed. He leered at her, and for a second she had doubts. Her brother had died at the Wall. How could he be here?
Then, from within the tent, came her father. She stood in shock for a moment, remembering that fateful day in King's Landing, as she remembered how much more Jon had looked like a Stark than Robb. This was him, not Father. Blinking that first impression away, she could see the differences between them. Those two had looked alike but where her father had been straight and grey and hard, like winter incarnate, Jon was softer, with some few traits that must have come from his mother. Her eyes were riveted on him, on his black curls, his grey eyes, his long face, the way that despite the fact that he did not look exactly like Father, he looked every inch a Stark. Staring at him, paralyzed atop her horse, all her girlhood cruelties came back to her. Every time she had insisted Arya call him their half-brother, every time she had looked pointedly away as he entered a room. She saw him now and she was ashamed, but for far different reasons than it had been then. As she stared down at him, his eyes were upturned towards her, both taking in every inch of the other’s face, as if to ensure that this wasn’t some cruel dream. Suddenly given the strength to move, she dismounted her horse and stood next to it, drinking in his face, wanting to be near him, but hesitant, afraid of what he might think of her after all these years.
“Jon,” she breathed, taking one small step forward.
“Sansa,” was his reply. Then suddenly they were together, brother and sister as they had never been before. She hugged him as though he was the last person she would ever see, and for a moment, at least to her, he was. She thought of all they had lost, of Winterfell and Father and Mother, of Arya, Bran, and Rickon. Of Robb. She thought of the fact that she had thought he was lost to her, and of the fact that she had found him. She thought of the fact that he had rode to take back Winterfell for her, even knowing everything she had done as a girl. She felt tears shine in her eyes and, despite her best efforts, they began to slip down her cheeks. As they drew apart, Sansa stared into her brother’s eyes, a smile splitting her face, tears streaming down her face, his face a mirror of hers. I am Lady Stark. she thought. And I am home.