The night is dark, pitch black and illuminated only by the faintest of stars, as the raven flies over the marsh.
Twisting through the trees and dodging the snapping jaws of lizard-lions, the bird eventually reaches the narrow causeway through the mire. Catching sight of the hooded and cloaked band of travelers, the raven croaks out a greeting, swooping down until it alights on the branch of a fallen tree.
The smallest figure pulls down their hood, revealing the shadow of a slender frame and delicate face as they peer down at the bird.
“My princess,” a soft spoken voice echoes through the swamp, the boy smiling down at the bird as it looks up at him. “We are making good time and should meet you within hours.”
The bird caws again, a question only one member of the party seems to understand as he laughs softly, the noise drawing the attention of his companions.
“I am fine, my princess. I merely bring news that cannot be discussed in a letter.” At that assurance the raven ducks its head in a nod before taking flight, climbing higher and higher until it is nothing more than a speck of black against the dark sky.
“Lord Reed!” Sansa calls with a smile, stepping forward as the band of crannogmen finally reach the gates of the castle.
“My princess,” the same boy greets her with a smile, green eyes bright as he dips into a deep bow.
“Come,” the princess tells him, taking hold of his arm and pulling him further into the halls of Moat Cailin. “I have food ready and beds waiting for you and your companions.”
“We only intend to stay a few hours-” he begins to protest, though his smile remains, and Sansa shakes her head, red hair falling in a curtain around her face.
“I trust you, Jojen, and I trust your news is serious. I may have to ride for Winterfell when our talk is done. You will do us all a disservice if you do not rest before we ride north.”
He nods, easily relenting to her command cloaked in courtesy, and Sansa smiles brightly.
“We have much to discuss, it seems,” she tells him, “but it is good to see you again.”
The windows of the tower are open, bringing in both the brightness of the rising sun and the sharp sting of the ever present cold.
“I know your people have not encountered any significant trouble,” she starts, pouring a glass of lemon water from the pitcher on the table between them. “For you would have told me if you had.”
“So,” Sansa leans back against the plain chair, head tilted just slightly, “what has your sight shown you?”
Surprising her, Lord Reed sighs, his green eyes filled with worry-an expression she’s never seen on his face.
“I dreamed of a great stag,” Jojen finally tells her. “A huge beast, one that even a direwolf would have trouble killing. It ran through the snow as wolves howled around it, yet no pack appeared to kill it, no wolf to hunt it.”
It is no great effort to keep her face composed, to keep the worry she feels from showing, though Sansa knows her friend can doubtless sense it anyways.
Green dreams are tricky things, fickle and not often easily understood. But it is easy enough to guess what the stag represents, easy enough when every northern child knows of the southron king.
The southron king who was only barely kept from raising his banners against her own father for the crime of saving a child of his blood, the southron king known for his countless attempts at winning the allegiance of the North.
Winning the allegiance of the North! As though they are a prize to be won, as though they have not ruled since the First Men stepped foot on the shores of Westeros. The North did not kneel to the dragons, they would never kneel to stags.
And yet the king seems to think otherwise, for only a fool could miss the meaning of this dream. Only a fool could miss the image of a stag in winter, a stag that even wolves cannot catch.
Sansa is no fool. The North is strong and well protected, the King of Winter-her own father-is a man known for his skill with strategy. But everyone knows luck runs out, just as everyone knows even the bravest and best can be felled.
“It seems I must keep your company from their rest,” she murmurs, “we ride for Winterfell within the hour.”
She watches her father pace around his solar, gaze locked on the courtyard outside as he thinks.
Father had not done Jojen the discourtesy of asking if he was sure, instead only listening calmly as the seer explained before asking him to leave.
Sitting opposite father’s desk, the situation feels queerly like the few times she was brought in for misbehaving-a feeling not helped when father finally settles into his seat before her.
“I have an idea,” Sansa speaks up, watching as his own stance shifts until he is her king and not her father.
“Speak,” his reply is curt.
“We have lived in isolation for so long, with nothing to bring us news of the South but traders and the Tullys. Still, we know enough. We know enough of the king and we know enough of Jon Arryn. Why not send a message asking for an envoy?”
She continues, emboldened by the lack of interruption.
“We have furs and lumber and stone, we have plenty of goods that would warrant a trade agreement. And we have the southron king’s known desperation for your friendship.”
Her king frowns at that, mouth twisting in distaste, but that is acknowledgement enough.
Sansa leans back in her chair. “Send a letter to the South. Claim we want to finally trade directly with the crown. The king will send someone he trusts, and we may use the opportunity to learn more.”
“You would invite the Baratheons into our own home?” There is no heat in his words though, just a bone deep weariness.
“No,” she replies, “I would see what threat the stags truly pose before they can act against us.”
The king stares at her, grey eyes assessing, before nodding slightly.
“Make the preparations,” her king orders as he moves to stand. “The agreements will be your responsibility, just as investigating whatever envoy he sends will be yours.”
“Of course,” she easily agrees, sweeping her skirts up as she stands and moves to leave.
“Sansa?” He calls and she turns, noting the weariness he lets her see, noting the way he leans just slightly on the desk.
“You have done well,” father says, voice thick with unspoken emotion, and Sansa does smile at that.
“Thank you, your grace.”