Settling down with a mug of tea, Sansa needed to take a break from job hunting. Opening her tablet, she decided to indulge her favorite escape: perusing vacation blogs, pretending she was planning a visit to the southern countries of Westeros.
While the south was full of cities bustling with diversity, plenty of jobs to be had for the asking, and mild weather, the north never recovered from the war. And the ten year winter season was a burden itself.
The poor economy denied basic resources for northerners, especially since King Joffrey placed tariffs on all the products exported from there as part of a trade war. In the past year, many industries closed. And families that Sansa had known all her life were moving away.
Since her father passed away five years back, there had been huge financial burdens on the family, and Sansa couldn’t bring herself to leave them. So she settled on a local university to continue her dream of becoming a custom dressmaker.
Bran’s snowboard accident happened not long after; in-home physical therapy and medical bills further strained the family funds. Sansa had to quit school and work two jobs. Since their mother spent her time working and caring for Bran, Arya and Rickon grew wilder by the day. Winter had come with a vengeance for the Starks.
Sleet rattled against the windows, shaking her of her recollections. Gods, what she wouldn’t do to be on a southron beach right now. She was determined to reach her dreams, one way or another. She just needed a plan.
Sansa tapped her finger on the bookmark of her favorite blog. Escape to the warm, sun-kissed beaches of King’s Landing! Sansa wished for nothing more. Life seemed so carefree for the people who lived there. The sight of the wealthy, young, tanned and fit men and women frolicking in the waves sent a pang of envy through her.
Sansa couldn’t remember the last time she had a vacation, could barely remember a time when she felt the effortless contentment in the people smiling back at her through the screen of her tablet.
Eagerly she moved onto the second one. The beautiful shores of Port Lannisport, one of the largest, richest cities of Westeros. Come to visit and see it’s prosperity for yourself!
More beautiful, tanned people, Sansa complained inwardly. This time they were wearing swimsuits that barely covered their most intimate places, enjoying champagne under burgundy and gold cabanas of the exclusive Casterly Rock Club. Yes, Casterly Rock Club was very elegant, but she would feel too out of place there if they even allowed shabby northerners into the place. Every one of the guests was surgically enhanced and dripping in gold and diamond jewelry.
Swallowing hard, her hand instinctively went to the silver and sapphire direwolf charm at her neck, the last nameday gift she had received from her late father. It was a reminder of better times, and the ones she prayed to the gods were ahead for her. She fingered it while whispering a quick prayer to her father before tapping on the next bookmark.
Shop the opulent Lannisport Outlet Mall, your one-stop destination to luxury! Oh, she would much rather visit there! Ever since she was a little girl, Sansa loved embroidery, sewing, and designer clothing.
The scenes showed happy families laughing while eating southern delicacies, bringing up a bitter lump in her throat. Young people in the latest summer fashions carried designer Dornish leather handbags as they shopped and flirted under a shaded canopy.
Wrinkling her nose, Sansa glanced down at her sweats and ratty sweater. When was the last time she went shopping? Aside from The Wall Mart, there weren’t many places to shop near Winterfell - and none of them fashionable. She would definitely need to do some serious online retail therapy if she ever visited Port Lannisport.
Faintly Sansa could hear her mother speaking to someone. On to the next region, she said to herself as she tucked her feet under her legs.
Visit the rugged hills of the Westerlands, the richest lands in Westeros. A landscape dotted with golden, rolling plains and caves from which gold and silver mines pour forth deep veins in astonishing quantities. Abundant gemstones and precious metals mean lower prices on all your jewelry needs!
With widened eyes, Sansa clicked on the pictures of black fertile fields, apple orchards, Pinot grape vineyards, and Black Mission fig tree groves. Further inland lay dense maple forests that opened up to crystal blue lakes and river rapids, reportedly renowned worldwide for whitewater rafting.
Gemstones of all kinds, gold and silver jewelry, beautiful log homes in the verdant foothills all caught her attention. Oh, she would definitely visit the Westerlands first! The featured delicacies and riches were sensational!
But how could she go? The family barely had enough money to get by; not many opportunities presented themselves as of late. Her gaze fell on a bookmark icon for a mail-order bride broker she had set up months ago. Missandei’s Marriage Brokerage Suite. Let us help you find your perfect match with a beautiful, northern bride of your choosing.
That’s one way to get south. And if I’m chosen, I could put my husband’s fee in a trust for Bran. From what Sansa had seen on the website, Lannisport and King’s Landing was teeming with beautiful women, but the farming areas surrounding them were not heavily populated. The men there depended on agriculture and vacationers for their incomes – jobs that left little time for meeting potential partners.
Her mother’s voice pulled her out of her fantasies - and back to the dreary reality of life. Stern Aunt Lysa was impatiently tapping her foot; Sansa had been so caught up in her musings that she didn’t realize she’d entered the room.
“Sansa, are you daydreaming again? Put down the tablet for a moment, please.”
Her mother had a way of saying “please” that sounded anything but polite, especially when she was about to lecture to one of her children.
No wonder Arya and Bran are nowhere to be found. Suppressing a sigh, Sansa braced herself and turned to face them.
“I cannot understand for the life of me why you haven’t yet settled down with someone and moved out,” Catelyn began. “I was married for four years at your age.”
“It’s all I can do to keep Winterfell let out, and food on the table for Arya and Rickon, and Bran with all the medical bills, I can’t afford to feed you too.“
“Mother, I know,” Sansa struggled to remain respectful. Ever since she turned eighteen, this had become a well-worn topic between them, and at twenty, Sansa had already said all she had to say on the subject.
Enter Aunt Lysa.
“That is why I started college,” Sansa pulled her mother close, “so I could make real money, not just the little I bring doing housekeeping and selling on Etsy.”
“And what good did it do you? You knew from the start that we could ill afford it, but you were determined to waste what little money your father left you on it.“ Aunt Lysa interjected. “And here you are, squandering your days on that damned tablet!”
Her words stung. “I wanted to help the family by having an actual career. I thought maybe I could open a clothing store and help the local economy, but there aren’t any opportunities here.” Sansa stepped away and wrung her hands.
Exasperated, Aunt Lysa shook her head. “Always with the dreams. Well, it’s time you grew up. Take your educated self south, Miss.”
“I would love to go, but since I, as you say, wasted my money on education, I don’t have a way.”
Aunt Lysa and her mother exchanged a look. "Uncle Petyr lives in King’s Landing in the famed Red Keep and he’s offered to take you in. You could work with his showgirls’ costumes-“
Tears stung Sansa’s eyes, for this, too, was a familiar and unpleasant topic between the three of them.
“No, absolutely not! He’s not my uncle, so I wish you both would stop with that! And they aren’t showgirls, Aunt Lysa, they’re sex workers!”
"Ungrateful child!” Aunt Lysa sputtered. “This family has no better friend than Petyr, especially since your father and Jon both-”
Sansa rolled her eyes.
“Sansa that is just a terrible rumor started by jealous people trying to discredit him.” Catelyn insisted.
“So that’s the official party line he has you two repeating.“
Catelyn gaped at her, but Sansa went on, “He’s always staring at me in the grossest way. Sending me friend requests on my social media. He’s a stalker.“
“Sansa, that’s your college third wave feminism talking! Petyr is old-fashioned, and he’s not about to hide that he’s interested in you. What’s wrong with that?” Aunt Lysa fumed.
“What’s wrong is that I’ve made it clear that I don’t want his attention - and yet he refuses to take no for an answer!” Sansa set her jaw. “If you like him so much, why don’t you go live with him and leave me alone?”
Catelyn pinched Sansa’s arm. “By the gods, Sansa, you can be just as willful as Arya at times!”
She jerked away from her.
“You don’t have many options. So, it’s either go with your Uncle Petyr, young lady, or get in touch with a marriage brokerage.”
“A marriage brokerage? To offer myself as a mail order wife?” Sansa’s nervously considered the possibility. It was an honorable way to find a husband and definitely a good opportunity…
“Petyr offered to do it himself, but I don’t like your attitude, so you just do it on your own!” Aunt Lysa hissed. "Just go on and become a mail order bride on one of those bargain sites and see what kind of monster you end up with!”
“Whoa, wait just a minute - Petyr offered to buy me outright, didn’t he?!” Sansa shouted. “And not just for my sewing skills!”
Catelyn side eyed her. “Don’t be so dramatic.”
“I married your father as a mail-order bride.” Her mother arched her brow.
Great, another guilt trip.
“And I married your Uncle Jon as one, the Seven rest him.” Aunt Lysa added, even though Sansa had turned her back to her. “You have a duty to your family. It’s time you made good on it.”
“We need the money, Sansa, and there aren’t many prospects up here-“ her mother gestured to the shabby conditions around them, “and Bran and Arya and Rickon need me. What would you have me do?”
“Stop being so selfish, Sansa!” Aunt Lysa shouted.
“Good gods, Aunt Lysa, even the marriage agencies give women the right to choose their husbands!”
Squeezing her eyes shut, Sansa fought to calm her temper and think rationally. Perhaps if I joined up with one of the free sites, I will find a nice man, settle in with him and who knows? Love might follow. It worked out pretty well for my mother. Less so for my aunt.
Biting her lip, Sansa thought it over. Could she really muster up the courage to reach out to a strange man? To be his wife, and share his bed?
Sansa had already looked at a few sites, and they didn’t seem so bad; each one had ways and means to ensure successful matches. The only caveat was the marriage had to be consummated the day of their meeting after the wedding and if they didn’t get along by the end of the trial period, Sansa would need to return the money - and to the north.
Excitement and a bit of fear took hold of her, while Sansa’s silence increased her mother’s unease.
“Stop that lip nibbling, Sansa, it’s unladylike and a disgusting habit you picked up from Arya. So what will it be: go stay and work with Uncle Petyr, or become a mail order bride?”
Sansa had so little ownership of her own life since her father died. Yet today she would regain control, snatch it out of thin air, all for herself.
“Fine, Mother, I’m going to do it my way. I’ll meet with a marriage brokerage as soon as possible.”
Without a word, she picked up her tablet and left the room, leaving her mother crying over her ungrateful daughter and her aunt harping on her duty to the family.