Everything changed when Bran fell. Sansa still remembered when her father carried his limp and broken body back to the castle. Her mother's cries echoed throughout the silent and cold grounds. Catelyn held onto him so tightly, Sansa thought her mother might break whatever was left in the poor boy. That was the first moment, as a young girl, Sansa stood still and frozen, that she realized that everything was going to change. She realized that life was not like the songs the fools sang. Life was cold and cruel, and death was no different.
It was her first lesson.
The memories of those first fearful hours blurred together, but Maester Luwin took Bran from Catelyn's grieving arms, just has he had placed Bran into her arms the day he was born. Luwin carried the boy up to Bran's chambers and laid him on the soft furs that covered his bed. Bran was alive, but just barely. Catelyn, Arya and Sansa never left his side in those first initial hours. It was the first time that the two sisters sat together without an argument breaking through. Ned was angry to the point of blind rage. She remembered hearing the crash from several floors below. To this day, Sansa never knew what her father broke because he never spoke of it. Her father, while noble and gentle, had a quick temper. A Stark trait.
And few months after his fall Bran died and that temper broke.
Robb took over the duties as Lord of Winterfell while the rest of the family grieved. He took the step that was needed and became the heir that Ned was proud of. It was in those first dark days that Sansa really saw who her brother was and what a great Lord he would become. Rickon was so young that he didn't understand what had happened. He clung to his family and simply cried. Neither Sansa nor Arya wanted to leave their mother alone so they would take turns caring for their youngest sibling. It was the first decision that the two sisters could agree on.
The only sibling that didn't stay to see if Bran would wake was Jon, but as Sansa thought on it, he wasn't really wanted. That was something she was sorry for now. She hadn't seen him since she watched his horse gallop off from her chamber window. She still remembered Ghost's paw prints in the light summer snow. She knew Arya missed him but even to this day it was hard for her to admit how much Sansa longed to see him again. She regretted her actions toward him now.
The second lesson came when her father turned down the position for Hand of the King. That was the only strand of hope that Sansa felt in such a dark time. She thought that Kings Landing would be an escape. A place where the thought of Bran's lifeless eyes and her mother's sobs could fade into a distant memory. It was to be her future. The first steps toward the prince that would one day be her husband and into the chapter of her life that would make her queen.
What a silly fool I had been. Sansa thought bitterly. It had been six years since and how bleak those six years had been. She had cried when the King's party had departed. She was furious with her father for not taking the position. She yelled and screamed at him and he simply let her. Ned was too distraught to really muster the effort to correct his daughter. Robb however didn't let her treatment of their father go unpunished.
Of course King Robert still wanted to make an arrangement between Joffery and Sansa, something she wanted so badly. She thought that she was in love and wanted nothing more than to be Joffery's queen. Sansa shook herself. She couldn't think of that now. Things were bleak, that was certain but they were better than they had been in so long. While she was angry and broken, she simply wanted to enjoy the freedom.
Sansa leaned back and let herself rest against the Weirwood. The godswood is the only place she found comfort anymore. She often would sit there and sew or read while her father prayed. It was like a silent agreement between the two of them but they never spoke a word to each other. Not under the Weirwood. Her father had taken Robb and Theon to the village to deal with an issue, so Sansa was enjoying the silence. Being alone was a hard find in a place such as Winterfell. The godswood was the only escape, a place where very few people will come and bother her. But if someone, whether a drunk guard or an escaped wildling, Sansa made a vow that she would never become a victim.
Sansa reached down and pulled the small dagger from the holster on her thigh. It was a gift from Jon that she received on her last name day. Arya gave it to her with a letter from their brother after the festivities had ended and the two of them went to their chambers. How Arya kept this dagger a secret from their parents, she would never know. But then again, Arya had Needle and her mother had no notion of that weapon. What would father say if he knew I had this? It was made of valyrian steel and the handle had the engraving of a direwolf. It was light but deadly. After turning the dagger over in her hand for a few moments, she heard the soft crunch of footprints in the snow. Sansa put the weapon back in the holster where it could be easily accessed.
“I thought I would find you here.” Sansa turned and saw Lady Stark before her. Her mother wore the smile she reserved only for her children. Her long auburn hair was down and hung around her waist. The Tully fish pin nestled gently on her light green gown. Catelyn moved closer to her daughter, her cloak dragging behind her and causing a rift in the snow. The elder women sat down beside her daughter. Sansa placed the smile of the eldest Stark daughter on her lips. I can't let her see. Sansa thought. She needed to hold it all together. She didn't want her family to see who she really was, what she had become. She wanted to be the lady they thought she was so badly.
“You caught me just in time. I was about to go and look for Lady.” Sansa replied and Catelyn laughed lightly.
“Well I just saw her. She was chasing Nymeria, Shaggydog and Summer who were chasing Rickon.” That caused a genuine laugh out of Sansa. She could envision it. The three giant direwolves padding after the horse that carried her younger brother. Of course Rickon liked to ride fast and Sansa couldn't blame him for that. He was far more sheltered than any of the other Stark children. Riding was his only source of freedom.
“Horseback riding again?” Catelyn nodded but her lips thinned into a straight, displeasing line. It wasn't that her mother disapproved of Rickon's riding. It was exact opposite, she was glad that the nine year old boy had some sort of freedom and enjoyment. Ever since Bran's death, Rickon was not the same cheerful little boy anymore. No, it was the reminder on why he was riding.
At first, Sansa thought her parents were being irrational. When Tyrion Lannister came back from the Wall after riding off with her uncle and bastard brother, he received a cold welcome and it wasn't just the snow that brought the chill. He came back with a gift, a saddle for her brother, incase he ever awoke. Maester Luwin stated that if he ever did wake, Bran would be paralyzed but when he didn't, Ned locked the designs away in his solar. They remained there until a year after Bran's death, when Rickon found them nestled between some old documents. Like Arya, Rickon had a habit of snooping in places that he didn't belong. Rickon insisted upon having the saddle, he said that he couldn't remember what Bran looked like and wanted something that reminded him of his brother. It was a generous gift and she didn't see why her parents were reluctant to accept it. It wasn't until after Rickon convicted them to have the saddle made to honor Bran's memory that Arya told her about a conversation she overheard while exploring the hidden passageway that lead down to the kitchens.
Arya had a habit of wondering Winterfell's grounds. She learned a good deal about what went on around the castle and the secrets that it held. She heard horrid gossip of the servants and sometimes she saw more than she bargained for. Once she saw their ward, Theon having relations with a servant girl. That was how Arya leaned about what happened on a bride's wedding night. Theon had gotten a severe punishment from Ned once he learned of the whole incident. Arya was lucky. Sansa thought.
Arya overheard her parents arguing over the saddle. Catelyn never understood why Ned kept the design in the first place and she wanted nothing more than to throw them in the fireplace but it was the look of pure happiness on Rickon's face that prevented them from doing so. She didn't understand why her parents would turn down such a generous gift. Arya didn't hear the specifics but her parents blamed the Lannisters for Bran's death. To Sansa that made no sense because the Lannisters could do no wrong in her mind. On day a few months later, while feeling bold, Sansa asked Robb why they thought that the Lannisters could possibly be at fault for what happened to Bran.
Robb spun a story about the night Bran fell. Once Catelyn was able to leave her chambers after Bran's death, she went to the tower which he fell from. There she discovered a long golden lock, one that only could belong to Queen Cersei. At first Sansa couldn't believe that the Lannisters or Queen Cersei would do such a thing. At that time, she thought they could do no wrong. It wasn't until she became a closer acquaintance that she realized how wrong she was. She began to realize that the Lannisters were capable of all manner of perversions.
And she wanted them to pay for it all.
“It's all he seems to want to do.” Catelyn stated. It was true, getting Rickon off his horse was as difficult as it was to get Arya to act like a lady, who at that very moment was having secret lessons with Ser Rodrik Cassel. She knew he mother was unaware of the lessons but she was sure that her father knew of them, if not organizing them up himself. “But that is not why I came to speak with you.” Catelyn stood and held out her hand. “Let's take a stroll.” She held out her hand and Sansa took hold of it. They linked arms and began a leisurely pace out of the godswood.
They were silent for a moment, just taking in their surroundings. The snow was getting lighter now and the cold wasn't as bitter. Some say that the thaw was coming and summer would soon be upon them. A six year winter was much shorter than anyone expected, but it was still harsh. The last summer lasted nine years and hopefully this one will last just as long. If Sansa looked hard enough, she wondered if she could see the flowers begin to bloom. The small part of her that remained the hopeless romantic wondered if the new summer would bring new life to her. Yet, the bitter and cold part of her knew that it would always be winter.
“Your father and I are very proud of you Sansa. The women you have come in the last few years, well, you've matured into a beautiful young lady.” Catelyn stated with a soft smile playing on her features. It was when her mother smiled that Sansa could see the beauty that her mother was in her youth. Her mother rarely smiled like that anymore. She never fully recovered and when Bran died, a part of her did too.
“Thank you. You have no idea how much that means to me.” The lie slipped through her lips easily. Lying was natural now, almost like a second nature. She walked with the grace of a someone of her station, but she hated it all. Catelyn squeezed her arm with affection and it comforted her. After everything, the pain, the fear and most of all her foolishness, she still loved her family. She loved them but they all were so blind to what was right in front of them.“But I'm assuming that you did not come out here in the cold to praise me.”
“You always were quick witted.” Catelyn laughed lightly. “But you are right.” She paused and looked ahead. Winterfell was in sight and she could see people busy about up ahead. In the distance she could hear Rickon's laughter. “You're seventeen now. Your father and I have been thinking that it is time for you to marry.”
That was the last thing Sansa wanted to hear. Once upon a time that would have been everything she dreamed of. The thought of a handsome knight with blond hair and ice blue eyes to sweep her off her feet. She dreamed that he would be made of honor and bravery. She was wrong. Fairy tales didn't exist.There were no knights to come in and rescue her. If she needed someone to save her, she would have to do it herself.
“I see.” She didn't want to think about marriage but she knew the reason why her parents were pushing for it and she had been expecting this conversation for some time. At night, Sansa and Arya would sit up talking about the fact that several of the high born families were falling. Westeros was in trouble. Several families owed money to the Iron Throne and the Iron Throne owed money to the Iron Bank in Bravvos. The bank was now trying to collect. The throne and the highborn families were scrambling to pay their “taxes”. The Starks were no different.
The Boltons fell. The Peasburys fell. The Waynewoods.....the list never ended. The Greyjoys still lived in their ancestral home but their power has practically diminished. Theon didn't take that news well. While the Starks were not exactly destitute not all the families they presided over can afford to pay their taxes to the Starks, thus paying the taxes that the Iron Throne is demanding, much more difficult. Her parents were hoping that if they married off Sansa to a wealthy family, then perhaps her new husband would be willing to help with the financial needs of the North. In exchange, they would have the North as an ally and their armies if they ever needed them.
“Do you have any suitors in mind?” Sansa asked.
“No. We have discussed possible matches but we didn't want to make any arrangements without your input.” Catelyn stated and Sansa knew why. They broke her engagement with Joffery without her consent and she was different afterwards. They thought she was suffering from a broken heart and she let them continue on with that illusion. It was far easier than the truth. Outside of Arya and her brother Jon, no one knew. She planned on keeping it that way.
“I see.” While Sansa would have been happy to never marry, she knew that she would not be so lucky. “Thank you for letting me have a say in this.”
“Of course. I wouldn't force you to marry someone you didn't want to, neither you or Arya-or any of my children for that matter.” Catelyn stated. Sansa had to smile at that.
“Unlike you and Aunt Lysa?” Sansa asked. She knew that what her mother's thoughts on the matter. Catelyn loved Ned but she knew that she was lucky. Not every women is blessed with such a kind husband and she knew that the chances of Sansa and Arya ending up in a marriage where they were not kindly treated were great. As for her sister Lysa, Jon Arryn was always kind to her but there was no love there. Catelyn often said she didn't understand why her father married her sister to Jon Arryn but Ned always assured her how kind he was so she never questioned the matter any further.
“Exactly.” With that, mother and daughter walked toward to Winterfell, the saw a figure approach. The figure, while walking briskly, was still coming slowly. It was Maester Luwin. The maester was getting up there in age and his body didn't work the way it once did. He walked with a small limp caused by the pain in his left hip and he often complained of his fingers getting stiff easily. He had a piece of parchment in his had and once he was close, Sansa could see the worry on his face.
“A raven came my Lady. Lord Stark is not back from the village and I thought it would be best that someone should see this right away.” Maester Luwin handed the parchment to Catelyn. Sansa could see the Tully seal closing the letter inside. She watched as her mother open the scroll and her face turn grim. She let out a heavy sigh.
“Well this is to be expected, I suppose. But much sooner than he wanted.” Her mother said as her lips displayed a small thin line. Catelyn looked back at Maester Luwin. “We will have to prepare the spare rooms, we are to have a visiter.”
“Whose coming?” Sansa asked. She wanted to read that parchment but she knew that her mother would never allow it. Robb only was privy to matters of the North because he was the heir and would one day be Warden of the North. Catelyn wanted to protect the rest of her children for as long as she could.
“A tax collector.” The three of them began to walk briskly toward the castle. “He is an old friend and a few members of the royal guard will be joining him.” That was wise, Sansa thought. If he was coming to collect a good bit of money for the Iron Throne, then it would be necessary for him to have a guard with him. If he didn't, he would be the perfect target for thieves.
“Is he coming from Kings Landing my lady?” Maester Luwin asked. It took a month at least to travel from Kings Landing to the North. If that was the case, they would have some time to prepare and perhaps get their affairs in order.
“No. The letter was from my brother, Lord Baelish just collected his taxes. He left the Riverlands a week ago so he will be here in a few days if the weather permits.” Catelyn stated and Sansa pondered the name. Petyr Baelish. The name was completely foreign to her. It didn't surprise her though, her mother rarely talked about her childhood or any of the friends she had as a child. She always assumed it had to do with her engagement to her uncle Brandon and her uncle's death.
“When was the last time you saw him?”
“At your aunt's funeral.” Her aunt Lysa died two years ago and it was quite the scandal. It seemed that her aunt's personal musician had fallen in love with her and was displeased when she didn't return his affections. When Lysa rejected him a final time, the musician threw her aunt through the moon door. Her mother was gone for a solid month for the funeral. It was around the same time her father, Robb and some of the banner men had to travel to the Wall in order to assist with a Wilding problem.
“If he is an old friend, perhaps he will be.....I don't know...kind to us?” Sansa asked and she knew she sounded foolish. When it came to matters of coin, no one was kind. Catelyn gave her a small smile. She was proud of who her daughter became but enjoyed that Sansa still showed some signs of innocence. She wanted her to hang onto that part of her for as long as possible.
“I knew Petyr along time ago. He is not the same small boy I once knew. Who knows what he will do.” Catelyn stated as she walked up the stone steps of Winterfell. Sansa stopped and watched her mother leave her behind. She looked around and felt the light snow fall around her. Her mind buzzed with one question.
Who exactly was Petyr Baelish and why has her mother never mentioned him before?