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Beauty and the Beast

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“Once upon a time, their lived a lord and lady. They were gentle-hearted, and their people prospered under their rule,” Old Nan intoned, gnarled old fingers working deftly at her knitting.

“Boring!” interrupted Arya, “I want bloodshed and gore, Nan! Men being split open, and chopped in half! Not this old story again.”

Old Nan tilted her head and sighed at the young girl sitting before her on the large grey and blue rug. “One may not appreciate all my stories, but they do have lessons for impatient little girls.”

“Please, Nan, continue. What happened to the lord and lady?” Sansa asked, eyes practically sparkling. Arya looked over at her sister in disgust. They had heard this sappy tale about how the lord forgot the lady and she won back his heart plenty of times. It wasn’t news to either of them.

When Old Nan started on listing the things the lady did to win back her lord, Bran and Rickon both groaned and pretended to retch. Sansa glared at them and turned back to listen to the story.

This was a typical evening scene for the young Stark children. All six of them would hole up in the room with the great big fireplace and small windows to listen to Old Nan’s tales. Some were scary, ad others were romantic. The boys and Arya far preferred the terrifying stories of old about White Walkers and witches. Sansa was the only one to prefer the romance of lords and ladies. She lamented that she was the only civilized and intelligent Stark child who paid attention to the important lessons Old Nan taught them about manners and honor and poise.

“And then, when she thought that her lord had left her for the world he did not remember, he came back,” Old Nan said with a sly smile. Arya groaned.

“Why would he do that? She was holding him prisoner basically! He should’ve gone to explore the world!” Arya exclaimed, banging her small fists against the floor. Jon snickered at her antics over a simple story, no matter what Arya said she always listened attentively. Jon ruffled her hair playfully before Arya, shrieking, tackled him to the floor.

“Because he ended up loving her all over again, sweetling,” Ned Stark’s voice rang out above the cacophony of squeals and laughter. All heads turned to see their father and mother standing in the doorway, arms linked. He patted Catelyn’s hand with a soft smile on his face, and Sansa thought that was the look of a man who knew what love was.

“It’s still stupid,” Arya said petulantly. “I’d have gone to see the world with or without her.”

“You just wait and see, my ferocious little wolf,” Catelyn said with a crooked smile quirking her lips. “You may one day feel differently.”

“Horseshit!” Arya exclaimed, and despite the disapproving look from Catelyn, Ned Stark broke out into laughter and soon his children followed.

“Alright my pack of rowdy wolf cubs. Off to bed. A storm is on the horizon and we must ensure we are prepared,” Ned said. As the children left the room, Ned kissed each of their heads, avoiding the scowl that Catelyn sent his way when he kissed Jon’s.

Winterfell was enjoying peace between the minor lords, and winter was coming. The merriment in his home warmed Ned’s heart, but he knew they had their work cut out for them this winter.


 

It was after the storm had passed, that Sansa found herself in the Great Hall sharing a merry feast with the castle’s residents. From the stable-hands to the scullery maids, everyone who was employed to Ned Stark was present and happy. They had all weathered the long storm for a month and a half, and when the icy winds had stopped blowing, they had cleared away the four feet of snow quickly. The weather was warming slowly but surely, and the crops they had stored would last until spring. This was a happy occasion, but Sansa couldn’t help but feel that something was amiss.

She watched as Robb, Theon, and Jon whirled around ladies of all statuses, laughing and stealing kisses on their cheeks. Arya was practically standing on a table regaling a story of a fearsome knight to many older burly drunk men. Bran and Rickon were racing about between people’s legs and skirts stealing sweets. Her parents were sat at the high table observing and whispering conspiratorially, but happily. Sansa wondered if they were making wedding plans for her brothers. Sansa sighed happily as she walked along the edge of the dance floor, nodding and curtseying to everyone. It was when she had kissed Old Nan’s head that a steely cold gush of wind swept into the hall, whisking out many candles.

Sansa turned as the two large doors at the main entrance creaked open, and a man dressed in a heavy brown cloak strode in. A Hood covered his face from view, but he brought a chill as cold as death with him. He looked around at the silenced gathering, and removed his hood. A man with small dark eyes and grey wispy hair appeared with a sickly sweet smile.

“My Lord Stark, what a pleasure it is to finally meet you,” he said. His voice carried over the stones like a song with an innocence that was anything but. Ned stood and glared down the intruder, one hand on the great sword Ice.

“Who goes there? What business do you have in Winterfell, stranger? Ned demanded. Sansa couldn’t help the swell of pride she felt for her father that overcame her fear of this new man.

“I am Qyburn. A humble servant of the Realm,” the man bowed. He glanced up, and small flames flickered off his teeth as he smiled. “And on a mission from the Crown.”

Without waiting for a reply, Qyburn straightened and whipped his cloak around him. In that instant, the people except for the Stark family had vanished. Sansa’s stomach dropped, and her mouth ran dry.

“What do you want, witch?” Ned demanded, withdrawing Ice and leaping over the high table to face the witch. Qyburn smiled serenely.

“Merely the peace that my Queen has asked for,” Qyburn said. He raised his palms and two pillars of ice shot out toward Lord and Lady Stark. Sansa flinched and squeezed her eyes shut.

“Father!” Arya screeched, and Sansa looked to see both her parents frozen in huge blocks of ice. Qyburn turned to the boys who were grabbing any type of knife they could.

“Oh, now, now, little wolf cubs. This will all be over in a second. I’ll send you all far away from this place with no memories of this ever happening,” Qyburn said, waving his hands in a gesture like he was approaching a spooked horse. Sansa lunged for Arya as her sister made to attack the witch. She held her back with all her might as Qyburn made their brothers disappear.

“No! Sansa! Let me go!” Arya struggled against her as Qyburn turned toward them.

“Well, darlings. I do believe you have a choice. I can treat you like your brothers and erase your memories, or you can stay here, hidden from the world,” Qyburn approached them. Arya broke free of Sansa’s grasp and glared at her sister for a moment before turning her attention to Qyburn. She flexed her jaw.

“One day, I’ll kill you. You’ll wish you had never attacked the Starks. Send me away, but remember: Winter is coming,” Arya said defiantly, before she disappeared in the blink of an eye. Qyburn smiled at Sansa, and she felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up under his slimy gaze. She couldn’t leave her home. She couldn’t abandon her parents in a state like this. There must always be a stark in Winterfell. Sansa took a deep breath.

“I’ll stay.”

“Very well, little cub. But that comes with a price, no one must recognize you outside of the walls of Winterfell. Everyone will forget the existence of this castle, and few will ever happen upon it,” Qyburn was suddenly right in front of her eyes. She stared at him as unshed tears stung her eyes and she bit the inside of her lip to stop them.

“However, no curse is perfect, and this one requires me to tell you the requirements to break it,” Qyburn frowned in distaste. A flame burst to life in his hand, and a rose with petals as bright as fire appeared. He handed it to her. “In order to break this curse on your family, before the last petal on this rose falls, the Queen must be defeated, and you must find true love.”

Sansa’s eyes left the fiery rose in her hand as she stared angrily up at Qyburn. If she must get revenge, so be it. She would do it.

“If any of your family should remember this place, they will be barred from reentry until the curse is lifted,” Qyburn added as he stepped toward the doors. Before he left the room he looked over his shoulder and smiled.

“But you will never break this curse,” he snickered. Sansa felt her muscles tense in anger and worry. “For who could ever love a beast?”