W I N T E R F E L L
Lady Stark walked steadily toward the godswood, her thick woollen dress skimming the cobbles. It was a deep, rich purple, to enhance the stunning colour of her eyes, and embellished with embroidered wolves tussling, snarling and howling. Although it was summer still, she wore thick layers and a fur trim; Northmen could not possibly understand how chilled to the bone she felt, each time she stepped beyond the warmth of Winterfell’s solid walls.
She smiled demurely at all who she met long her path, pleased when they first dipped their heads with deference, but met her eyes with crinkled, toothy grins of their own. It was no secret she was well loved here. Over the years, she had given thanks to the gods for blessing her with the privilege of a husband she loved, and loved her in return, and a household that respected them both.
Steeling herself for the interesting news she was about to impart, Ashara entered the godswood, and marched determinedly toward her lord husband: the Quiet Wolf, Ned Stark.
T H E R E D K E E P
Sansa watched her brothers spar with amusement. Though he was the younger, Bran was superior to Robin in every manner conceivable. What an awful trick the Seven had played, making petulant Robin Arryn their father’s heir, when they could have had sweet, dutiful Bran instead.
But it was not Sansa’s place to say a word; she had grown up in the nest of treachery that was King’s Landing, and she knew better than to let her real feelings show. Instead of sneering or laughing at her inept and foul-tempered eldest brother, Sansa sat placidly with her friends, Princess Mrycella and the Lady Rosamund, and added delicate stitches to her needlework.
“Oh, Sansa,” Mrycella mewed, like the sweet kitten that she was; “Your work is always so pretty!”
Sansa flushed, grateful the awful Queen Cersei had chosen not to accompany them today. Myrcella was always more confident and cheerful when her overbearing mother was not around.
“Thank you, Princess,” Sansa beamed, “Your work is lovely too- such bold, fierce lions!”
Sansa herself would never dream of sewing row after row of her mother’s sigil, without thought for her father’s. She swallowed the lump of distaste in her throat, for Cersei’s complete lack of deference to the Baratheon line. King Robert was a fat drunk, but he was the King, and she should have encouraged her daughter to proudly remind everyone of her Baratheon lineage. Alas, Cersei was too proud, and her children did not understand how their efforts to please her looked to the rest of the court.
Sansa’s own work was beautiful; a shining eagle, gripping flowers in its sharp beak and talons.
W I N T E R F E L L
G o d s w o o d
“A match between our Houses?” Ned repeated bluntly, surprised but not truly aghast.
Ashara laughed at the clear lack of enthusiasm upon his face. All these years of her chiding him to be less blatant about his emotions had done little to make a difference when he was truly shocked.
“Oh, my love,” she sighed, taking a seat beside him beneath the regal heart tree, “Robb is almost of age. He is beyond ready to seek a betrothal, but it will not be with this Arryn girl.”
“Ashara-” he began, suddenly stoic, resigned, as he was whenever he had accepted something for the sake of honour. She fought the urge to roll her eyes. Men could be so difficult.
“Robb is your heir. And the future Lord of Winterfell will not have a Southron for a bride. We cannot allow that pattern to be sewn. Not unless you want each of your bannermen to curse us daily, for letting Southron sensibilities further encroach upon the North,” she said, a sentiment they had discussed before, though never with such urgency.
Her sweet husband had once tried to build her a Sept. A Sept, in the seat of the North. As soon as she learnt of it, Ashara had requested the few stones that had already been laid to be uprooted, and used to build a nice stone bench in the godswood instead. She was content to pray in the confines of her room. She had her girlhood copy of the Seven Pointed Star, what would she need a Sept for?
“If Jon Arryn wants a husband for his daughter, they are of course welcome to sup at our halls and find one- but it will not be Robb. I warned you we needed to arrange alliances,” she continued, trying to keep the judgement from her tone.
“Aye,” Ned admitted, “But my sons and daughters are not chattel to be traded. I saw what such maneuvers did to…. Brandon. I will not repeat my Father’s choices.”
“No indeed,” Ashara leaned forward to gently place her small hand on her husband’s arm. Ned smiled at her, not broadly or effusively, like some lords would, bragging about their affection tastelessly. Instead it was a small, genuine smile, of trust and true devotion, and her heart fluttered, still taken with it, even after all these years.
“Which is why I have invited a few select girls more suited to the position, to Winterfell. Handmaids, for our daughters. We will find a bride for your son among them, my lord; whichever girl turns Robb's head the most.”
T H E R E D K E E P
T o w e r o f t h e H a n d
Sansa surveyed her best dresses as carefully and critically as she could. She did not know what to expect of the North; she had heard fearsome tales of brutality and barbaric behaviour. But what foolish girls of the court said, could rarely be trusted. Her lord father spoke of Ned Stark fondly; a dutiful young man, honourable and kind, and not akin to Robert Baratheon in any manner. Such a man would surely produce sons that were not as awful as Joffrey, at least. Sansa was not sorry to be leaving for the North, she only wished Father could accompany them. Mother and her brothers were all coming, but Father’s duties as Hand could not be abandoned because his only daughter needed a husband worthy of her.
Robb Stark was the heir to Winterfell. He was said to be handsome, and a good swordsman, with dark curls and purple eyes like his Dayne mother, but little else could be garnered of him. Sansa had been dedicated to learning all she could about the Houses, customs and families in the North, since the moment Father had told her of his intention to have her become the future Lady of Winterfell.
But it had been difficult to garner real information. The Northmen were not like any other Houses in all of Westeros; they kept to the old ways of the First Men, their mysterious tree gods, and did not boast or promote themselves. They did not attend tourneys, to show off their skills and their wares. All Sansa had learnt was the barest bones of information, about the House she hoped to call her own.
Eddard Stark was the Warden of the North, and the Lord of Winterfell, which was the largest castle in the North, and the oldest in Westeros. He had five children; Robb and Jon, who were non-identical twins, Elia, Arya and Rickon. After Balon Greyjoy’s rebellion, the Starks had taken in his remaining heir, Theon. Ned Stark called his hostage his ‘ward’, which Sansa took to mean he cared for the child. So that meant six children she must make love her, plus the gorgeous, gracious Lady Ashara, formerly of House Dayne. If she had any hope of gaining respect from the North, she had to work out who held the most sway, and befriend them all.
Sansa would certainly not gain respect by turning up in the coldest region in Westeros with dresses fit for the heat of the capital. Determined not to cry at setting aside such pretty things, Sansa began to divide her clothes. Anything too ostentatious had to go. Rose pink, sunny yellow, emerald green and fire orange; pile upon pile of lace, silk, and cotton dresses were heaped to one side. The sky blue of her Father’s House was acceptable, as was the deep blue and blood red of her Tully heritage. Black and yellow for her allegiance to House Baratheon, plum and lilac purple close enough to align with the Daynes, and silver for House Stark; because she had no dresses in dour shades of grey. She had commissioned woollen ones, of course, but for now, that would have to do. Sansa allowed herself a moment to bemoan the loss of such fine garments, before a placid mask of indifference settled upon her lovely face.
She called for her handmaids, and let the girls pick whatever gowns they wished. Sansa giggled at their delighted faces, as the girls began to twitter in glee, and tussle over the nicest ones. Let them have their fun; they was little and less of it to be found in the capital of the Seven Kingdoms.
Silently, Sansa prayed that Winterfell would be as dull and boring as cruel Queen Cersei declared it was. A simple household, full of honourable people, oh what a joy that would be. Unlikely, but she let herself dream for one afternoon, and a more pleasant dream she could not imagine.
W I N T E R F E L L
L a d y S t a r k ' s S o l a r
Jon shifted nervously beneath her gaze, and Ashara resisted the urge to sigh and smack his fidgeting fingers.
“Sweetling,” she began, privately taking note that her son was really too old for such sweet words, though she was determined to never stop using them, “I have a dishonourable task for you.”
Jon blanched, horrified, before remembering that he had been tasked with such things before, and they had been thrilling in the end; teaching his sisters to wield a bow, for example, and taking Rickon to explore the First Keep. He sighed, his initial alarm clearly mollified by those memories.
Ashara chuckled, and wrapped her second son in her arms. A part of her had wanted to hate the babe her husband had returned from war with; a boy of her husband’s blood but not her own. Then she had taken one look at him, she who had been a handmaid to Princess Elia Martell, and seen at once who he was and why Ned was pretending to have fathered him.
“I have two boys,” she had declared, plucking the babe from Ned’s grip, “Twin boys, though their faces do not match exactly. Robb, your heir, and….”
“Jon,” Ned had croaked in disbelief.
“Jon, who you will settle a castle upon. Moat Cailin is the largest ruin is it not? Properly restored and outfitted, it could rival White Harbour in glory- the gateway to the North!”
Ned had stared at her uselessly, until she sighed, sympathetic to his grief, but frustrated nonetheless.
“I bounced Rhaegar’s children upon my knee, lord husband, I saw their little faces smile and cry and crinkle in confusion,” she had whispered, gratified to see his skin turn pale, “And I will not have questions and confusion follow this babe about because he has no mother. Your men and servants love you. They will keep your faith, if you ask it.”
Now, Ashara saw that same apprehension in Jon Stark’s grey eyes, as he awaited her instructions.
“A pretty little fledgeling is fluttering North to perch in our den, my darling,” she said softly, waiting for the light of understanding to filter into his dark grey eyes.
“Aye, Mother,” Jon nodded, “Father says she might be a bride for Robb?”
“I’d smother her in her sleep, before I let her sit beside your brother,” Ashara chuckled gutterally, only half jesting. “No, sweetling, she is to be your’s. Your’s or Cley Cerwyn’s or Domeric Bolton’s, I care not.”
“But not Robb’s,” Jon confirmed, clearly bemused; but he nodded nethertheless, used to placing his faith in the loving woman he believed to be his mother. Ashara warmly squeezed his calloused sword hand between both of her own.
“They tell me she is beautiful, like her Tully mother. A scion of two Great Houses; as are you. Let us hope it will be a wonderful match, hmm?”
Jon swallowed thickly, before squaring his shoulders decisively. “Yes, Mother.”
K I N G ' S L A N D I N G
H a r b o u r
Myrcella sobbed when Sansa said goodbye at the Harbour. The Hand of the King’s children leaving the Capital was a grand event; there was great fanfare as they had ridden through the streets, Sansa confined to the litter with her lady mother and Bran. Robin rode astride his palfrey, flanked on all sides by their Vale guardsmen, as her eldest brother was a craven, and like to make a fuss at the slightest issue. At least this way it would be more difficult for the crowds of smallfolk to see him shame their House with his tantrums.
But thankfully, Robin had not made a scene today. Instead it was Mrycella who had clutched onto Sansa with clawed hands, ignoring her own horrid brother’s disgusted scoffs. Sansa had extricated herself gently, with false regret at their parting. Curtseying to the Queen had never been so satisfying before, as Sansa fought back the urge to smirk. Mrycella was sweet-natured; but the meanest sprinkle of sugar was not enough transform a mountain of sour lemons into wonderful cakes, and the court of King's Landing was drowning in bitter fruit.
If the gods are true and just, I will never set foot in this chamberpot of a city again, Sansa prayed.
Mother did not share her sentiments. She was happy to leave the Capital for a time, but she did not agree with Father’s choice of House for her daughter.
“The eldest and only daughter of House Arryn should be married into the Vale, or perhaps the Riverlands. Renly Baratheon is still unwed…” Mother sighed sadly as they settled into their cabins. “You are more suited to the sunny South, my sweet summer child. I fear the North will not to be your liking.”
Sansa smiled stiffly, aware that her mother was only thinking of her wellbeing. “Nothing is settled yet, Mother. Officially, we are only going to visit the Starks, and foster Robin.”
Privately, Sansa vowed she would do all in her power to never leave the North, if the Starks would consent to keep her. Joffrey had spoken more than once of the terrible things he would do to her, if she was his bride. The further she could get from that monster, the better. Some poor girl would suffer at his hand- but it would not be her, not if she had any say at all. Sansa would be forgotten quickly by court, in the distant and disinterested North, and that suited her just fine.
Sansa Stark, the Lady of Winterfell, had a fine ring to it. I will make them love me, she vowed again as the ship began to pitch in earnest, rolling over the waves to take her to her new home.