Working diligently beside fellow dressmakers in what was now her home, Sansa finished the finer embroidery and hung the dress up to keep it in good condition until tomorrow. Looking at her hands, the Westerosi rubbed her callused fingers together and looked out the window of the sewing room sadly. Instead of seeing the snows of the North, which she hadn’t for many years now, Sansa only saw the busy streets of Braavos and the neighbouring buildings of the harbour. Somewhere in this city, Arya was earning coin with her own skills while Sansa created gowns commissioned by the wealthier families of Braavos.
It was just them now; the daughters and last Starks of Winterfell.
Winterfell. Riverrun. The Eyrie. Casterly Rock. Highgarden. Storm’s End. Dragonstone. Sunspear. It didn’t matter what part of Westeros came to the mind of any of the few Westerosi here in Braavos or Pentos; they would never see it in its splendour again.
Every ship of Westeros was said to be burnt down by Daenerys with Drogon and Rhaegal before she flew to Mereen once Viserion was slain using Valyrian steel. Thus restricting the Others to the continent of Westeros.
Sansa hadn’t seen an Other since fleeing at Jon’s behest with a resistant Arya seven years ago. She still remembered Arya’s emotional mask falling away when she begged Jon to let her fight, to no avail. Her sister had only become more closed off than she had been when she returned to Winterfell. It pained Sansa to witness Arya fade into a husk of who she used to be, but she would take what she could get; Arya was her sister.
I haven’t seen her for days.
A clamour of Low Valyrian cheers outside caught Sansa’s attention and drew the redhead outside to the docks to sate her curiosity. Leaving one of the ships was a number of men with one or two obsidian tipped arrows remaining in their quivers. Quickly concluding what the fuss was about, Sansa paid no further attention to the archers and made her way back inside; picking up her employer’s instructions and proceeding with the embroidery for a lavishly constructed wedding dress.
She had heard similar cheers for years, but it always tore at her heart to be reminded of what had become of her homeland.
A hunting ground; for daring, wealthy men when they came of age.
Sansa wiped away a stray tear and mentally pushed herself to focus on the dress, letting the soft sounds of her fellow dressmakers keep her to task.
“Sansa?” her closest friend murmured next to her. “You’re the most skilled at needlepoint in this house. The Mistress isn’t about to dismiss you for being distracted for a few days,” Sansa was reassured in Low Valyrian; the language of the Free Cities.
A tear slid down Sansa’s cheek once she placed the silk safely aside. “There’s been no trace of her; Arya,” Sansa explained in kind and receiving a knowing nod from the fellow dressmaker. “I trust she can take care of herself. She told me never to seek her out, but I fear the worst. She’s never failed to return by day’s end before. Her haunts unvisited. It’s been four days.”
With all she’d lost, it was difficult to be optimistic; especially in Braavos, which Arya had told her to never leave their shared chambers The Mistress rented to them without carrying a blade.
Enduring the wait for Arya was worst then Cersei’s cruel words, Joffrey’s Kingsguard, or Ramsay’s flaying knife. This was her sister, and she didn’t know if Arya was alright. Sansa had no word.
There was a knock at the door and Sansa hurried over to it, praying it was her sister; only it revealed a stranger holding a note and Needle with traces of fresh blood. “Valar Morghulis,” he greeted with a bow. “A message for Sansa Stark,” said the man in Low Valyrian.
It had taken time to learn the language of the Free Cities, but it was a necessity now that Westeros was as good as gone. “Valar Dohaeris,” she responded, accepting both from his hands. “I am Sansa.”
-Look after Needle.
"No...," she breathed in denial, shaking he head. "No..."
The message was clear but Sansa just didn’t want to believe it and looked back at the man. “Who sent this? What did they look like?”
Her emotions must have shone through her eyes, for the stranger looked at her with pity; Arya always said her eyes gave too much away. “High as your shoulders, brown hair cut short, tunic and breaches. She asked I delivered these if her wound festered. I’m sorry.”
Sansa dropped all pretence of calm, held Needle close and sobbed; oblivious to all around her and felt something unyielding slice her side and the wet that could only be blood, but she didn't care.
Arya was gone.
The last Stark slipped into darkness.
That was the first thing that registered in Sansa’s mind. Her closed eyes felt heavy as though she hadn’t slept for days.
Beneath her body was the familiar feeling of her bed, while the cool strokes of damp linen ran across her forehead. Attempting to stir in the quiet room, Sansa almost flinched when the linen was dabbed over her closed eyes. She took a breath and opened them, but saw a stranger on a stool beside her bed.
“What happened?” she murmured, darting her eyes around the room, taking note of differences within, before they landed on Needle. It all bubbled to the surface. “Arya…”
The woman grown, just out of girlhood, seated beside the bed looked confused. “Did you dream of home?”
“No,” Sansa denied with a weak shake. “Family. I dreamt of family.”
Another woman, several years older than the first, entered her room. “Meralyn, I heard voices. Has she awoken?”
Meralyn quickly became demure. “Yes, Mistress.”
That made Sansa do a double-take of the second woman, for she looked nothing near the age of the business owner she knew. But Sansa carefully took in the woman’s appearance and could see her eyes and face had the same features except only younger.
How is this possible? And Meralyn? I’ve never seen her before now.
“Good,” her mistress remarked with a nod and dismissing Meralyn. “Sansa, you won’t be assisting with sales for two sennights. Instead, I want full dedication to creating and completing a wedding order I received this morning,” the owner instructed, before turning to another woman Meralyn’s age. “Tell the girls to gather everything for the square. I want our pavilion readied in a half-hour.”
“Aye, Mistress,” was the meek reply.
“And Sansa,” Mistress spoke, glancing her way. “Put that sword away. You won’t be leaving the house any time soon.”
Following the lead of Meralyn and the other presumed dressmaker, she replied in the same manner. Mistress left without looking back and closed the door, much like the woman she knew before the day Sansa received news of Arya’s death.
Rising to her feet and instinctively beginning to change out of her shift, she noticed the significant difference in her small, scar-free body. She was little more than a child. Ten, one-and-ten at most. Grasping the wall so not to knock over the looking glass, Sansa stiffly opened the door to her wardrobe and noticed all her gowns were meant for a child.
Instead of reaching for them, Sansa sought for Arya’s clothes in the wardrobe they shared but there was nothing.
She had to stifle a sob so not to draw attention; the pain of Arya’s absence clawing at her heart. With force, the last Stark dressed in black and approached the delivered meal, eating the food out of obligation more than anything. When her eyes fell on Needle, Sansa pulled it into her lap and traced its hilt imagining how much time had been spent handling it for Arya to become a proficient fighter.
She remembered the note; Look after Needle.
And so I will, but I won’t disservice Arya trying to be her. We are our own person.
Taking the skinny sword over to the wardrobe, she carefully rested it within its sheath on the shelf, but didn’t close the door just yet. Looking at it from where she stood, Sansa silently wept for her sister; eyes closed and remembering the admirable prowess Arya sparred with against Jon in Winterfell. Those two had enjoyed it as much as Sansa worried about the future; such fluidity hadn’t been enough for either of them in the end.
Opening her eyes, Sansa glanced over at the looking glass and easily saw the tear streaks on her cheeks.
Lightly treading over to the water basin, she used a fresh linen to wipe her face until the only trace of her grief was that of the redness of her eyes. Taking a breath and looking over at the closed door the woman grown in a girl’s body tidied her room to the typical liking of Mistress and made her way into the sewing room; currently vacant with the exception of fabric bolts, threads and sewing kits.
If matters were the same now as they had been before then she would need to earn her bedchamber, food and a small amount of coin by way of promptly making the ordered gowns. Now that she had the weakness of a child and the absence of the dragonglass knives Arya taught her to handle to protect herself, Sansa couldn’t afford to be dismissed from here.
Looking at the order written under her name, the last Stark gathering the silk and began crafting the dress from scratch according to the measurements. Letting herself get lost in the task of marking, cutting fabric, doing the seams, she failed to realise the time until she noticed that the daylight had grown weak.
Retiring to the kitchen, Sansa had a brief meal with diluted Essence of Nightshade and was soon abed. Her sleep dreamless.
A sense of time was lost to her as she threw herself into the duty given to her; Days became sennights, and soon enough Sansa was present with the other girls under the pavilion in the market square.
A wealthy woman who'd been called Lady Daena permitted Sansa to take her measurements behind a screen, upon deciding on what she wanted. “Dear girl,” she addressed Sansa, making her look up from the notes. “I’m glad you’re making gowns for me again. Truth is,” she dropped into a whisper. “the other girls make gowns. But, you dear, make gowns of beauty.”
“That’s a kind thing for you to say, my lady,” Sansa replied, falling into her courtesies without hesitation.
To Sansa’s surprise, Lady Daena lifted her chin with a single finger making Sansa meet her eyes. “I say what I mean, dear. I’d make my orders with another business otherwise.”
She felt a slight blush of pride warm her face, which her customer smiled at and patted her cheek. “I’m honoured, my lady,” Sansa thanked with the briefest of curtsies. “This will be complete in a sennight,” she promised.
“Any art cannot be rushed, but do make sure you rest, sweetling.”
Watching the woman leave, she noticed that a Dornishman in his twenties, or close to it, was looking at the displayed gowns with critique before his eyes rested on one appropriate for warmer weather; those black eyes becoming a glimmer of determination.
Seeing the man step into the shade of the pavilion towards Mistress, Sansa walked over to the order book and wrote down her customer’s measurements and specifications for reference later. Glancing up when a hand gestured towards her, catching Sansa's attention, she took in his appearance and felt an urge to drop into a deep curtsey, for his features looked somewhat familiar, but younger.
Her instincts knew this man; faintly, but knew his identity she did. There was no smattering of grey amongst the deep black hair, no laugh lines on his face. His body was just as angular as his visit to King's Landing.
Watching the exchange between them, she seated herself near the display and eavesdropped with her back to them.
By reputation, this Dornishman was one of impulse and chivalry. There was a chance she could exploit this if her suspicions were true.
“You must be proud of your girls, my lady,” he complemented before dropping into a tone Sansa couldn’t hear; Mistress following his lead. She begins to watch him haggle with Mistress, who is becoming agitated with his persistence.
“She is my finest dressmaker!” was Mistress’s outburst, attracting the attention of people passing through the square.
Now with a valid reason, Sansa turned around and looked past the man’s back to the frustration on Mistress’s face.
“And clearly a fine gift for my sister, Elia,” the Dornishman countered. “The craftsmanship is impeccable.”
Struck with shock, Sansa’s gaze whipped to the top of her order book.
Day 10, 9th moon, 275 AC.
Stunned by all that was confirmed, there was one thought that dominated her mind.
Westeros isn’t a cold wasteland anymore.
And I'm not delusional.
The pair continued to argue while Sansa quickly assembled a new identity for herself.
One way or another, she was going home to Westeros and needed to find a way to fit into the era of her mother’s girlhood. Her reflection in a window provided a quick answer to who she would pose as. The date meant she was younger than her mother by a year, which worked as Aunt Lysa was two years after Mother. Walking up to the pair, she curtsied before the second prince of Dorne. “My Prince, it prides me to hear such words. Sansa of House Tully.”
Prince Oberyn blinked at her once before his eyes developed a shine of intrigue. “Tully of Westeros? Daughter of Hoster Tully, no?”
Behind him, Mistress looked like she’d lost their argument.
With proof that her new identity was convincing, Sansa continued with it. “Yes, Prince Oberyn, he is my father. Minisa Tully; my mother.”
“I admit this make me a curious man. What is a Tully girl of, I dare say, ten doing in Braavos? One would think you should be home. Family, D-“
“-Duty, Honour,” she finished for him with a nod.
Looking thoughtful, he sat down and looked at her with intensity; his gaze piercing as though they’d know all her secrets. “You know your words,” he remarked in acknowledgement. “But you neglect them. You’re not with your family,” he continued and raising his index. “The first word.”
“Braavos is the only home I’ve known, My Prince, but not the one I belong to,” Sansa defended with demure. “I’ve been here for many years.”
“Your voice speaks of grief,” he noted, glancing up at Mistress before returning to Sansa. “Is Westeros what you desire?”
“More than anything, Prince Oberyn. I’ve no memory of Riverrun, but long for it all the same. My father most likely believes I was stillborn," she told him solemnly. "I don’t think I would be well received at Riverrun, but I want to go home.”
Sansa remembered what Prince Oberyn said about his sister earlier. “I admit I’m curious about Sunspear, My Prince. Would I be welcome there? I fear I won't be at Riverrun.”
“Aye, I do believe you would be, Lady Tully. You wouldn't be speaking to me like this if you didn't desire to leave Braavos. Are you in agreement to come to Dorne?” he asked her
“I am, My Prince,” she confirmed with no hesitation.
“Then it is settled.” Prince Oberyn turned to Mistress who owned her in all but name. “This child will be sailing to Westeros with me on the morrow. I shall take her to Sunspear where she will find a true home. ”