"The North Remembers. Winter came for House Frey."
Kitty Frey watched in shock as the Lady wearing her husband's... her husband's... who had just killed every male Frey walked out of the great hall with an even, controlled pace, barely even noticing as she stepped over the bodies gracefully and exited the hall.
After another few minutes of being in shock once the door had closed again, she looked down at her cup of wine, remembering her husband... that Lady... dismissively telling her 'not you'. She started, one hand reaching out to knock over the cups before her quickly, her own and her husband's silver goblet, both untouched.
The three serving girls that had seen everything looked up at her for direction. To her! Just her! She shivered again, not ever having seen this many dead men before. Her chest felt tight as she looked out and thought, strangely enough of the future, not what was before her.
The castle still had a garrison, mostly of smallfolk and a few bannermen, now without the Freys to direct them. There was a small contingent of Lannister soldiers who had their own ravens. The poor serving girls looked to her. Her own Ladies would look to her. None of them had husbands anymore to keep them safe... for whatever safe meant.
They couldn't stay. They couldn't go anywhere in the Riverlands without being caught. They couldn't go North, not after the Red Wedding...
She blinked, looking out at the scene before her. The great hall's doors were closed now that the Lady had gone, no-one would enter. There hadn't been any shouts, any screams. Lady Winter had already come for House Frey, had already avenged the Red Wedding and had spared the maids, had spared her. Had forbidden her to drink, personally.
Perhaps she had also spared other servant girls, her other Ladies.
There was only one thing to do.
She hoped it worked.
Sansa looked up from her paperwork as one of the gate guards entered her solar, looking quite disturbed. She spoke smoothly and steadily, her voice raised slightly over what she would have preferred to ensure she could be heard clearly over the sounds of the construction and preparation below, "Yes, what is it?"
"M'Lady, The Twins, err, Freys, umm..."
"Is there more news of what happened at the Twins? The raven wasn’t very helpful," said Sansa.
"Er, yes. The Lady of the Crossing is at the front gate."
Sansa stood, her face going cold and blank, "And no alarm was given?"
The young guard flinched back, reminded of the tales that Lady Stark had fed Lord Bolton to his dogs... alive. For all that she was beautiful and kind, she was a Stark, and dangerous. "No, milady, it's just her and some women. No men, no guards. Umm... horses! They have horses. And packs. And carts. And some children. Young ones. Umm... maybe some chickens? And..."
"Thank you, I will visit them myself. Call for another set of guards to escort me," said Lady Stark, cutting him off and gesturing for the guard to precede her out the door as she headed down to the gate. She paused briefly to look down at the gate from a high window, verifying the guard's tale, and looking out at the horizon to make sure she couldn't see anything else. The raven they'd received had mentioned only that the Freys were 'destroyed', whatever that meant, and the Lannisters were heading up to the Twins.
Not for the first time did she wish she'd spent more time cultivating a spy network when she had the chance, rather than being a silly girl waiting for others to rescue her. What she had now was poor compared to Littlefinger's, but sufficient to get immediate word of at least major events and force Baelish to divulge a little more of his own information. Knowledge is power, Littlefinger liked to say. She knew it was true, just as she knew there were many other kinds of power. Brienne's kind, Jon's kind... her own kind.
Approaching the gate just ahead of the contingent of hard-eyed veteran Vale and Northern forces, she looked at the group gathered outside of the gates. A pitiful group, really, small and nervous and scared; certainly not appearing to be a threat. A teenage girl was at the front, reminding Sansa rather strongly of herself in King's Landing, surrounded by those who wished her ill, forcibly married to a man she did not choose. She called up the many lessons she'd learned from Cersei and Baelish, and gave a small, courteous smile, "Lady Frey, what a surprise. I'm sorry that my brother the King is unable to greet you himself; he left some time ago on a journey. Could you please tell me why have you come, alone, to the North?"
Kitty visibly gathered herself together, looking up at the tall, strong Lady of Winterfell, and replied, "Because you're our only hope. After the... after... after, we knew that someone would come, the Lannisters or the Mountain. We've been married off before, and... and we were still alive, even though the North remembers. So we knew we could come. It's just us; most of my handmaidens and Ladies, a few of the servant girls, and our children." She brightened, turning briefly to gesture to the back, where a few of the girls flipped back the ratty cloth covering a heavy cart, then opened the lid of one of the many chests, holding up a handful of mixed gold and jewels. The Lady of the Crossing continued, "We won't be a burden, I swear to you. This is all the treasure we could take from the Twins, as our repayment for what the men we were married to did to your family. We just want a place to be safe."
Lady Stark looked at the chests, and turned to speak softly to her guards, "Bring bread and salt. Have chambers set aside for Lady Frey and her entourage as our guests. Put the gold and jewels in the treasury, and see that they're given warm baths, clean clothes, and a hot meal." She turned back to Kitty, "Lady Frey, if you don't mind, I would be pleased if you would speak with me in my solar after your bath and meal."
Lady Stark smiled, more comfortable now that she'd had time to think a bit, and gestured the clearly warmer Lady Frey to a chair, "Sit, please, Lady Frey. Are your new chambers to your satisfaction?"
"Yes, thank you, Lady Stark."
"I'm pleased to hear that. Now, tell me, what happened at the Twins? Start at the beginning, please."
Kitty's face paled dramatically and she grasped the arms of the chair tightly for a few seconds before she said, "After Ser Jamie left, Lord Frey ate alone with Black Walder and Lothar, became cross and sent them away towards Pinkmaiden on some sort of errand. He wouldn't tell anyone else what it was, but he was out of sorts. A few days later, he called for a feast. All... forgive me, my lady, all the men who... at the Red Wedding were invited, except Black Walder and Lothar. They... they're all dead. All of them are dead. She said... she said to say The North Remembers. She said Lady Winter came for House Frey."
Sansa tilted her head, puzzled. While she quite sure that the girl was either Cersei's long lost sister, or was telling the truth, that really didn't answer much. While she felt a slight sympathy for Kitty - Lord Tyrion had certainly been kind to her, as Walder clearly had not - she felt mostly a great satisfaction at the idea that her mother had finally been truly avenged. Well, except for two, but without their family and the Twins, Black Walder and Lothar were little threat. "How did they die?"
Kitty looked up at Sansa seriously, "The North Remembers. Lady Winter came for House Frey. That's what she told me to say."
"She told you? Who was she - what did she look like?"
"I don't know who she was. She looked like the very face of death."
Kitty Frey would say no more than that on the subject, then or ever.
In the crypts beneath Winterfell, Sansa’s steady voice continued their conversation, an undertone of sadness clear in her voice, "Arya," she said as they released their embrace, "Bran’s home too."
Arya smiled, though as she watched her sister’s expression, her smile slowly diminished. Arya watched carefully for another moment, thinking, then spoke quietly, "And he didn't come with you... no, you didn't invite him, or even send word to him. We need to talk, then, Sansa, don't we."
"Yes, we do," Sansa said as they turned and headed deep into the crypts, Arya picking up her saddlebag and Sansa taking but a single candle for light as the sound of Sansa’s light footsteps echoed quietly, Arya’s own stride nearly silent beside her. Arya tilted her head slightly at the spot Jon had once jumped out covered in flour, miming a punch, and Sansa returned a slight, wistful smile, murmuring, "We were so young, then. I wish I had been a better sister to you, to Jon, to Bran and Rickon and Robb. But that we can talk about later."
Some minutes later, their steps came to a halt in a cavern far beneath the surface, past the statues of the Starks throughout the ages. Sansa spread her cloak atop a large rock to make a clean seat for them in the warm temperatures of the deeps, near the source of the more commonly used hot springs that bubbled up in caverns far above them. She reached out to clasp Arya’s small hand, feeling her calluses, mentally comparing them to Brienne's hands as she spoke in a near-whisper, quieter than the dripping of water from stalactites into the underground lake before them, "Your dancing lessons, in King's Landing. You didn't come back bruised because you were clumsy, you came back bruised because you were learning to fight."
Arya nodded, clasping her sister's soft hand, watching her in the flickering light as she assessed the changes her sister had been through herself, "I was studying water dancing with Syrio Forel, who was once the First Sword of Braavos. He died, protecting me from Meryn Trant and four other knights with naught but a training sword." She paused, then pointed at Sansa's nose with a smirk, "You've learned to rule your face, Sansa."
Sansa paused a moment, then laughed quietly, happy they could laugh and joke together now in a way they never could when they were young. "I did. I was trapped with Cersei first, then with Littlefinger, then... then with," she paused briefly, closing her eyes and remembering the sight of Ramsay, his jaw torn off, the sounds as he was eaten behind her, "Ramsay. I learned quite a lot from Cersei and Baelish, and even - gods curse him - from Ramsay. Littlefinger, though, is the first reason we need to talk. He's gotten himself declared Lord Protector of the Vale, and has declared for House Stark... for me. He wants to rule, and he wants me as some sort of prize, though I know he wants power more than he wants me."
Arya took her sister in her arms, hugging her as she whispers in her ear, "I'll add his name to my list, then. My sister is not a prize to be wanted like that. Would you like him dead in public, or as a quiet accident?"
They looked at each other for a moment, Sansa thinking furiously, kept her voice curious as she asks, "As a quiet accident? What do you mean?"
"I left Westeros and spent the last two years training at the House of Black and White, in Braavos, to become a Faceless Man. I'll kill him for you however you like," said Arya with quiet confidence and utter sincerity.
"A faceless man? Was it you then, at the Twins? Did you kill the ones responsible and scare Lady Frey near to death?"
"I did. Every Frey who killed Mother and Robb and our good sister is dead, now. How do you know about Kitty, though?" Arya asked, curious, "You sound like you know her. Is she here, then? She is, isn't she. And you were surprised it was me, still. She's a good girl, who only wanted to be a good wife and mother, the poor thing."
Sansa nodded, "She is here; I've taken her as a handmaiden. She showed up looking broken and lost with carts full of treasure, a few dozen women and children, and a very strange, very short tale," she said as she remembered the precise wording of the tale, then giggled, "You still don't want to be called Lady Arya, do you?"
"I'm not a Lady. You are."
"Well, as Lady of Winterfell, I will make sure that you aren't called Lady Arya or Lady Stark, or any title of Princess, though I don't think that will be a difficult task," said Sansa with a slight smirk, "I want Littlefinger dead, but we can't afford to lose the allegiance of the Vale, nor shake the faith the Lords and Ladies of the North have in Jon. And he has spies everywhere - all over the North and the South both, more than Lord Varys has, though I don't know why Varys still has any, he's been gone for ages."
Arya shook her head, looking up at her sister, and nudged her with a shoulder, "You Westerosi, so provincial! The Spider still has spies because he joined the Dragon Queen in Meereen years ago and serves as her Master of Whispers, alongside your ex-husband Lord Tyrion, who's been Hand of the Queen for even longer. Really, I don't think any of you would last a month in Braavos during the Choosing of the Sealord, when you have to see the knives in the dark just as much as the knives in the light, even the ones you don't know about... even the ones across the Narrow Sea."
Sansa gaped for a moment, then giggled, setting Arya off as well, "Arya! You're just as much a Westerosi as I am! It seems you've learned some politics in your travels, even if you're still not a lady. I've missed you, you know. It's so good to have you home."
They were quiet for a moment, for the first time taking true comfort in the other's presence, as they had never done as children.
"More pressing, Baelish must have known about Tyrion and Varys both through his spies, and he didn't mention Varys to us at all. Tyrion signed the note from Dragonstone, so we knew about him just before Samwell Tarly discovered proof of dragonglass under Dragonstone and Jon set off." She huffed, remembering the council sessions where Jon refused to discuss his plans with her first, forcing her to try and give advice, and ask questions, in public. She loved her brother, but he was exasperating as King.
As Sansa's expression dimmed, Arya narrowed her eyes, "I have learned some politics, though I'd rather leave them to you, along with the sewing needles. You advised Jon not to go, didn't you? You did. Good. Jon can be stubborn, though, and he doesn't like to take advice, he likes to act, like me." She nodded quietly at Sansa, "I've learned I need to take advice sometimes, too, and hear the words between the words, and in the silence. Has Jon told you how he's doing? Asked how the North is? Asked your advice?"
"No. He landed at Dragonstone, he's been seen on the battlements and the cliffs unguarded and safe, sometimes alone, sometimes with Tyrion, sometimes with the Dragon Queen. He's sent no word of any kind. I'm worried."
"I am too, but there's nothing I can do to help him, here. I couldn't help Father or you in King's Landing, I couldn't help Mother and Robb at the Twins, or Rickon at the Battle of the Bastards, but I can help you now. You've learned to lie, to act, haven't you? Well enough to fool Littlefinger and his other spies?"
Sansa smirked, "I have; as long as he doesn't see a chance to gain power while I dangle myself outside his reach, he won't see what I don't want him to. He can't get more power in the Vale... and he can't get any in the North without me. You mean for us to fool him while we find his spies, and take them from him, don't you? And his brothels, too, with his books, whores, and money. If we can contact Lord Royce, we can keep the loyalty of the Vale... yes, that'll work. He has more than spies, Arya - he has cutthroats, too, like the one that attacked Bran. Brienne swore to protect me - to protect both of us, both of Mother's daughters, but she's only one knight, and I don't want her stabbed in the back or poisoned."
Arya's face grew blank and her body still, her eyes empty in the candlelight as she spoke quietly, without emotion, "Don't worry about the cutthroats, even if Littlefinger hires those pathetic Sorrowful Men. No One is the best in the world, and no one is going to be killing anyone I don't want dying today."
"Arya?" Sansa asked, worried.
The shorter girl blinked, emotion returning to her as she heard her name in her sister's voice, "It's all right, Sansa. There are different kinds of spies - spies for money, for loyalty, for power, for revenge, for glory, for fear, for excitement, for sex, for love. I'll take the fearful ones and those who want vengeance and excitement and their own power. You can take the ones who want money and glory and political power. We'll have to kill the loyal ones, but with Littlefinger, there won't be many of those. We can split the ones we can turn who are in it for sex or love. Most important, we have to fool him until we're ready, then we kill him in a way that leaves the Vale loyal to you."
Sansa nodded, "He killed Aunt Lysa after he married her, because he wanted Mother, and now me, more than her... and because he wanted to be Lord Protector of the Vale, even more than that. I lied for him at the Vale, but if you can contact Lord Royce without Littlefinger knowing, we can prepare him for the killing and what comes after, and keep the Vale, with stronger ties than now. I can't talk to him without Littlefinger knowing... and you can't be seen by anyone. There are some secret passages, but Littlefinger and Varys both have spies who use them. You must be very careful of Littlefinger - he sees every small detail."
Arya shook her head slowly, squeezing Sansa's hand, "Sansa, you aren't understanding what I've trained to be. I won't be seen when I don't want to be, and when I want, I won't be noticed even when I am seen, because he will see what I have presented myself to be first. I'll show you more, but later; we'll need to be careful any time we may be observed." Arya's face grew still again, and she spoke softly, without emotion, "I will say and do things to hurt you, to make you afraid. Know now that is just a face I wear to trap Littlefinger, but know then that you are hurt and afraid."
"Of course, Arya," Sansa said, returning the squeeze, "I've been learning, too, from Littlefinger, and Cersei, though I hate them so. What do you mean, a face you wear?"
"Don't worry about that yet," Arya said, then laughed, and smiled, delighted by an idea she'd had, "We can do something other sisters do; have a set of secret signs. Not for talking about boys, but for our work, and as reminders of what's the truth, and what's a lie until it's time to end the game and kill Littlefinger."
Sansa glanced at the shortening candle, and nodded, "We need them to be subtle, unobtrusive, even in front of many people; we have to have several to choose from for the most important ones. All right. We can start with this..."