He hasn’t seen Sansa Stark in years, but one look at Alayne Stone tells him all he needs to know.
“Ser Jaime,” she greets calmly, as if he hasn’t been dragged in and placed on his knees before her. She is seated a half step below her cousin Robin Arryn, but it is undeniable that she commands this room. “How lovely to see you after all these years.”
Her hair has been dyed brown, as his spies have told him, but the way the lords and knights of the Vale defer to her tells him that they know who she is.
“Lady Sansa--” he starts, only to be cut off by Bronze Yohn.
“Lady Stark to you, Kingslayer.”
There’s a glimmer in Sansa’s eyes when Jaime straightens, as though hearing her title pleases her.
“Not many people know that I am here, Ser Jaime,” she says, and her cousin Robin nods his head enthusiastically. “I’d appreciate it if you told us how you came to know of my location.”
Jaime eyes the knights around him, their drawn steel, and wishes for his sword though it would do him no good, hasn’t done him any good since his hand was taken.
“I’ve been looking for you for some time,” he answers carefully. “I promised your mother I would see you safely to Winterfell.”
How did you know I was coming? he wants to ask. Where is Littlefinger?
“You’ve come all this way to fulfill a promise to my mother?” she says incredulously. “How very honorable of you, Ser Jaime.”
Sansa Stark is my last chance for honor .
“I’ll admit,” Jaime jokes, “she did not think much of my honor either, Lady Stark. But I am here, to pledge you my service and sword in the wars to come, if you’ll take me.”
He’d thought her a stupid child, when she’d been in King’s Landing, with her pretty courtesies and wide eyes. Cersei had certainly called her a fool enough that he’d never questioned the thought.
The way her eyes narrow, however, show him that she is anything but.
“We should make him fly,” Robin says, clapping his hands. Sansa turns to him with an easy smile.
“You know that would make many people happy,” she says, sweetly. “But, my lovely cousin, remember what you decreed only a few days ago? No flying without a trial first.”
The boy visibly deflates, but nods, chastened.
“Pledge yourself to my service?” Sansa says finally, turning back to Jaime. Her brows are raised. “If I seem to recall correctly, Ser Jaime, you’re not very good at keeping vows. Did you not kill the first king you pledged to? Are you not breaking your kingsguard vows to your sister at this very moment, just being here?”
“I am,” he says simply, because Jaime has learned to accept that he has broken his word time and time again. This time, he hopes, will be the last. “But my sister is prepared to let the realm bleed itself dry before swooping in and laying claim to the ashes. I know you and the Knights of the Vale are preparing to go to war, I’ve seen enough on my way up here. You’ll be joining your forces with that of your bastard brother Jon Snow, I take it?”
Bronze Yohn’s fist flexes out of the corner of Jaime’s eye, but he presses on.
“I’ve heard the rumors and seen the ravens Lord Snow has sent from the Wall, my lady. I know the threat we face. So does Cersei, though you can be sure she’d rather the Others have the North before any Stark reclaims it. I’m here to fight for the living. I’m here to fight for you .”
A flicker of uncertainty crosses her face, before it hardens. Jaime still has no idea if he’s about to be thrown from the Moon door when Sansa says, “Lord Royce, let us bring Ser Jaime to the lord’s solar. We have much and more to question him about.”
The story comes out in whispers and hushed breaths as they prepare to leave the Vale, Jaime under constant watch and guard. Lord Baelish had announced Lady Sansa’s identity only days before his arrival, prepared the army to march North to take Winterfell for her, only for Sansa to accuse him of treason and murder. He’d been tried and sentenced to death three days before Jaime had been caught trying to enter the Vale of Arryn.
“Just imagine what she’ll do to you,” Bronze Yohn says to Jaime coldly, when they begin their march, “if you betray her. She cared for Baelish, after a fashion, and sentenced him to die. She cares nothing for you. The Stark blood runs through that girl, and she will show you no mercy.”
He spies her at the beginning of the column, the dye washed from her hair and gleaming a golden red in the dawn light. A true Stark, he thinks, and is surprised at the approval he feels.
Their first true battle takes place outside the Twins. They attack from the South, while the Manderly forces lay siege from the North, and the crannogmen poison the water. It takes a week of siege before the Lannister flags are seen on the horizon, coming from Riverrun, and the camp readies itself for battle. Jaime is kept away from the fighting, with Lady Sansa and her guardsmen, but the shouts and clanging of metal fills his heart with a sense of dread.
Sansa has been armored, for her protection, and though her guards shoot Jaime suspicious looks when he brings his horse closer to hers, they let him through.
“My Lady,” he says, “If the battle here is won in your favor, the siege on the Twins will still carry on, and from what I know of the enemy to the North, time is of the essence.”
Sansa’s face is white, her lips pressed thin when she looks up at him. The noises of the battle make her uncomfortable, but she refuses to move further away. “Do you have a suggestion, ser?”
“Send an assassin to scale the walls at night. One man should pass through unnoticed. Kill Lord Frey, and his sons will cede the castle to you.”
Sansa shakes her head. “We have no such man,” she says. “No one equipped to climb such heights fast enough, between guard rotations.”
“Your crannogmen are small enough and fast enough,” Jaime argues. “Send one of them.”
“They are on the other side of the river,” Sansa retorts. “How do you counsel we tell them to do so?”
“They’ve retaken Moat Cailin,” Jaime says. “Perhaps a raven could be sent there and a rider--”
“We’ve already sent a raven to Moat Cailin, and a rider would take days. Give another suggestion, Ser Jaime, one that does not waste time.”
Framed this way, against the screams of the men dying just over the hill, armored this way, with her red hair streaming about, Jaime can see suddenly that she is perhaps more like her brother Robb than Catelyn.
He has a stroke of inspiration. “The Freys don’t have visibility from their towers, through the mist. They can’t see the battlefield closely.”
Sansa raises a brow.
“They won’t know who won, then, unless you raise the Stark and Arryn flags once you’ve won.”
“You want to fool them,” Sansa guesses, and smiles unexpectedly. Jaime is surprised she followed his thinking so quickly, but perhaps he shouldn’t be. “You want to raise the Lannister flags and then go to the Twins in Lannister armor and make them open the doors for you.”
“Lord Frey and his sons know me.”
“And do they know you’ve abandoned Queen Cersei? You’d be taken and killed immediately.”
Jaime hesitates. “I don’t think Cersei has made it public that I left her. With the misinformation in the Riverlands, she may not fully know what happened to me. I left a letter with Addam Marbrand, but only the gods know if she’s gotten it yet. Or if he’s still alive to deliver it.”
Sansa’s eyes narrow. “What would you do once inside the castle?”
“Be taken to Lord Frey.”
“And then what? Kill him? You’d die immediately.”
Jaime points in the direction of the Twins. “Do you know who’s left in that damned keep? Old women, children, Walder Frey’s wives and his weakling sons. Their soldiers are nearly all dead, or fighting other battles. All they have are their walls. Give me a retinue of thirty men dressed as Lannisters and we can take that castle.”
She doesn’t trust him. He can see that. Still, she smiles tightly, a challenge. “You can have twenty men,” she says, “if we win. Darryl,” she says, turning to a knight by her side. “Send word to General Royce that if we win, we are to hoist the Lannister banners. We shall let Ser Jaime try his plan to get the Twins.”
In the end, the crossbowman at Jaime’s side has the honor of killing the slimy Lord Frey. The castle is ceded almost immediately, Walder Frey’s remaining sons dropping their weapons and shouting, “Yield!” the moment their father is slain.
It does not change their fate. Lady Stark has every Frey man in the keep put to death after a short trial. Their fast surrender does nothing to replace their crimes at the Red Wedding.
“You did well,” Lady Sansa says, after the executions. She had been present for each one, all forty of them, had heard all their last words, their spit curses and tears. Her hands are tight at her sides, face hard as stone.
He wants to see her smile again.
The realization hits Jaime unexpectedly, and he is left speechless in its wake. She doesn’t matter to you, he scolds himself. You are here to get her North, nothing more.
“You did well, too,” he says, almost cursing himself for saying anything at all. His mind screams at him to leave her, to think about his sister, but his mouth forms the words without leave. “I think...I do believe your mother and brother would be proud.”
Her eyes flicker to his, blue as the sea in Lannisport. She looks unsure, scared, if only for the flicker of a moment, before she looks away. “Thank you,” she says swiftly. “That--I do wonder that, sometimes.”
Jaime wishes he could reach out and assure her, but stays his hands. “They would be proud of everything you are.”
The words seem to do the job. She straightens, clears her troubled face, and faces her army. “I will do them proud. Honor their memories, theirs and my father’s.”
With that, she strides away. Jaime is left watching her leave, a soft sense of loss burrowing into his heart.
That night, she is declared Queen in the North. Jaime finds that his voice is raised along with the rest, declaring his loyalties for House Stark, for Sansa, once and for all. When the lords kneel, one by one, to bend the knee to Sansa Stark, first of her name, Jaime finds himself hopeful that this is a vow he won’t break.