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The Wolves of Winterfell

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She doesn't tell her father -- Peytr, Littlefinger -- about the wolf dreams.

In them Alayne -- Sansa, she is Sansa Stark -- wanders the ruins of Winterfell, wearing a crown and paced by a pack of wolves. The wolves are black and grey, lean and hungry, eyes flashing and breath misting in the cold moonlight.

In the most recent dreams she has a sword, too. She doesn't know how to use a sword, as Alayne or Sansa. Not that it matters, the wolves aren't going to hurt her, they wouldn't dare. The sword feels almost like a toy, the steel is real enough but the hilt is sized for a child's hand.

Sansa walks into the great hall of Winterfell, open to the sky and empty of furnishings. Someone is already there, a girl of no more than eleven, with grey eyes and a long face.

The wolves encircle them, and Sansa lays the blade at the girl's feet. "Arya Horseface, you've lost your sword."


Alayne Stone marries Ser Harrold Hardyng.

He is a preening cock of a young man, as new-made knights are wont to be, but not unkind with it. He is a good match for bastard born Alayne, but Sansa thinks him half a boy. He's never seen real battle or real horror, and all his tales are of the joust and the hunt.

A tourney knight, her fath -- the dead lord of somewhere very far away -- would have called him.

During the bedding he pushes inside her and Sansa Stark, for she is Sansa Stark no matter what they call her, slips from her skin and goes... somewhere else.

The Vale is leagues below her. The Eyrie is leagues below her. She can almost see Winterfell from up here. She could go there, fly there, all she needs do is tilt her wings into the wind.

Sansa Stark has slipped from her skin into that of a falcon soaring over the Vale. And with that realisation she lets out an undignified squawk and tumbles from the sky, arriving back in her own body with a gasp.

"Am I hurting you, Alayne?" asks Ser Harrold, braced over her, with a look of pained restraint on his handsome face.

"No, my lord. No, it was merely a--" she picks her next word carefully "--shock."


Little Lord Robert gets weaker by the day, and the maester confines him to his bedchamber.

Alayne soothes him with tales from the North that a bastard from the Fingers has no business knowing. His favourites are the ones about wargs, brave warriors who went into battle in the form of great predators.

"Of course," she tells the little lord, "not all wargs were fighters. Did I ever tell you about the princess imprisoned in a tower who escaped by flying from her prison in the form of a falcon?"

"I'd like to be a falcon, Alayne. I want to fly!"


Later, Alayne's father summons her to his solar and pulls her onto his lap. "Shouldn't you be focusing on keeping young Harry happy and not telling Robin bedtime stories?"

"Father, I--"

"Dote on the boy if you must," he says. "He will not be with us for very much longer."


The wolf dreams change. Instead of walking through the ruins of Winterfell on two legs she runs on four, leaping over rubble and scurrying under half-collapsed beams.

Other wolves run alongside her, including one at least twice the size of any other in the pack. This one nips playfully at Sansa's heels, at her ears.

Sansa wakes with her mind ringing with the words, stop it, with the words, little sister.


Since the night of her wedding she hasn't managed to share a falcon's skin. It's a fear of flying, she thinks, a fear of falling.

She spends an hour behind the eyes of a caged songbird her Aunt Lysa had kept as a pet. When she comes back to herself she weeps tears of unbearable sadness.

She rides in the minds of Mya's fearless mules as they traipse up and down the mountain.

Lord Nestor's horses are half-mad anyway, and when they feel her slipping into their skins they roll their eyes and kick at the walls of their stalls, however much Sansa tries to soothe them.

Sansa Stark had never been much good with horses, not even before she became Alayne Stone, that had always been Arya's gift.

Dogs are easiest.

The hunting hounds, the one-eared mongrel that follows at Mya's heels, the half-blind sheepdog that Sansa sometimes feeds scraps under the table. She feels almost like she could curl up inside their skins and stay there forever.

She misses Lady, painfully.


There are rumours of war, then more than rumours.

Harry rides away accompanied by all the knights of the Vale. Petyr rides too, already scheming to use this to their, to his, advantage.

Harry returns, having lost an arm, having lost Littlefinger, but bringing with him Tyrion Lannister.

"Alayne," says Harry.

"Lady Stark," says Tyrion.

Sansa thinks that if she could truly turn her body into that of a wolf and run away, then now would be the time to do so.


"My husband is angry," Sansa says, pouring wine for Lord Tyrion. "If he is even still my husband?"

"He is if you want him to be. I hadn't planned on insisting that I had a prior claim to your hand, but if you wish to be free of him...?"

"I don't-- I don't know what I want. I barely know who I am." I am Sansa of House Stark, a wolf, a bird in a cage. "How did he come to lose his arm?"

Tyrion shrugs diffidently. "Bravely. You may find that it has been the making of him. At any rate, any anger he feels will diminish once he realises he has traded the bastard daughter of a hated good-father in for a princess."

Sansa laughs, she may not always know who or even what she is, but this she knows: "I am no princess."

"Ah, now you bring me to the purpose of my journey. The dragon queen craves an audience with the last Stark."

The last Stark, the words echo hollowly in Sansa's head and in her heart.


Sweetrobin joins them for the journey to King's Landing to act as page and cupbearer. He screams and rages, feigns a shaking fit, and threatens to have them all thrown from the Moon Door. But Harry is patient yet immovable with his young kinsman and the boy eventually relents.

Sansa wonders if this what Tyrion had meant when he said the war had made the best of Harry.


On the High Road they might have expected to be waylaid by the Mountain Clans or hungry lions, but not wolves; there are no wolves in the Vale, and no direwolves south of the Wall.

And yet here one is, looming right in the middle of the High Road; huge, grey, and silent. Without thinking about it Sansa slips from her skin.


Sansa slams back into her own body with such force that she tumbles from the saddle. The horses panic and men struggle to draw swords or wind crossbows without losing control of their mounts. In the confusion the wolf vanishes.

Harry dismounts to help Sansa to her feet. "Are you alright, my lady?"

"Arya..." Sansa breathes. "Arya."


The world looks very different from behind a dragon's eyes--

Tyrion and Harry had tried to warn her during the journey, but what had only been stories on the road, were giant, flying, fire-breathing lizards straight out of legend once they reached King's Landing.

And their mother must let them roam free because a vision of fire and blood and death landed in the courtyard just as their party walked in, and Sansa, almost on reflex, slipped inside those cream and gold scales.

--everything is angry shades of red and orange, and tiny blurs of insignificant motion.


The dragon's long neck whips round, and Sansa sees Queen Daenerys for the first time through the eyes of one of her children. If Sansa were in her own body -- and unwed -- she may have immediately dropped to her knees and proposed marriage.

Sansa slips back into her own skin, and the dragon gives her a lingering, hungry look, before spreading his wings and disappearing as dramatically as he'd arrived.

"He likes you," says the queen.

Sansa is not sure if she is pleased by that, so she curtsies and says, "Your Grace."


Daenerys Targaryen is beautiful, it's true, but now that she's not seeing her as the dragon sees her -- as the glittering silver center of all that is strong and right in the world -- she finds it easier to keep her composure.

They are in the queen's private audience chamber, and "Princess of Winterfell?" is the title Her Grace has just offered Sansa.

"Many in the North still clamour for an independent kingdom, to see your brother's crown passed on. You understand that I cannot conquer seven kingdoms only to give one of them away. But, perhaps we could come to a similar arrangement as Dorne has long had with the Iron Throne, a ruling prince or princess who would swear fealty to me; does that sound possible to you, Lady Stark?"

"You honour me--"

"I do not do this to honour you. The winter has been long and hard, and the North has suffered more than most. The Manderlys fight the Boltons, the Wildlings fight everyone, and Winterfell lies in ruins. A dragon cannot thrive in the cold, but--"

"Perhaps a wolf can."


At White Harbor they gift her with a crown.

It is no true crown as she is no true queen, but the silver circlet rests prettily upon her brow. Some artisan has etched running wolves into the silver, and by the firelight they appear to chase each other through Sansa's russet hair.

True wolves join their party. By day they can see them flitting through the trees just off the Kingsroad, and by night they sit close enough that the light from the camp fires catches their eyes.

"Don't," Sansa commands when she sees men reaching for crossbows.

"Yes, don't!" Harry agrees, he is deep in his cups, but so cheerful with it that Sansa finds it difficult to become cross with him. "The wolves have come to pay homage to the wolf princess!"

When Sansa retires, leaving Harry to his drinking and singing, she again dreams of running with the wolves.

Soon, she thinks, soon.


They arrive at Winterfell -- at the ruin of Winterfell -- at dusk and make camp outside the walls. It is too dangerous to explore by the failing light, they say.

The men sleep and Sansa walks through the broken gate. Spring snow crunches under her feet and the wolves creep out of the shadows to join her. They are black and grey, lean and hungry, their eyes shine and their breath mists in the moonlight, and yet Sansa is not afraid.

They keep pace with her as she walks through the rubble -- somehow knowing where to set her feet to avoid stumbling -- like a guard of honour. They stay with her as she ascends the steps to what was once the great hall of the Starks, the roof has collapsed and the furnishings are long gone.

Someone is already there, as Sansa had half-known there would be. Not a child but woman-grown, wearing plain but masculine garb, and carrying two swords; a long slender blade, and another which is almost identical to the first but shaped for a child's hand.

In Sansa's mind her sister has remained frozen at the age of eleven, this woman looks like... she looks like Jon Snow might have had he been born a girl.

A direwolf -- Nymeria, Arya had called her pup Nymeria -- lopes up beside her.

"I thought you were dead," she says.

"I thought you were dead," Sansa counters.

"I hear they call you the Princess of Winterfell now."

"I didn't--" Sansa tries to swallow the sobs, chokes on them. "I didn't know who I was. I forgot to be a Stark, Arya. He called me Alayne. He called me Alayne and made me call him father, and I was starting to believe, until the wolves came."

Her little sister collides with her in something that is as much tackle as it is embrace.

"You never forgot, never," Arya whispers fiercely against Sansa's neck. "You found me. You brought me back. Arya Horseface, you've lost your sword, remember?"

And Sansa lets the tears fall freely.