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Sansa tries her best to focus on the goblet of red arbor in front of her to somehow distract herself from the surrounding noises of the inn they spent the last two nights at. Due to a sudden snow storm, they couldn’t move further, closer to Winterfell, “home”, or so Baelish insisted. If he were a man of the North, he would have ridden anyway, “snow storm” notwithstanding.

Sansa’s father would have.

Robb would have.

Arya probably would have, too.

But Sansa is not her father, not her brother, and not her sister. So she just nodded at the sound of Baelish’s words, sat in silence, and waited – for the storm to pass, or perhaps rather not to pass.

Just like she waits now.

For what?

Only the Old Gods will know if there even is something to wait for, still.

She just wants to be out of this place in particular, though.

Away.

Wherever that is.

She’d rather walk her way through ice and snow.

If only to get a feeling of the home she’s travelling to.

The home long since forgotten, stomped-on snow.

She pushes the bowl of food away from her. To tell the truth, Sansa didn’t’ feel like eating ever since… she can’t even remember since when. It all makes her sick. Not even lemon cakes can help with that, if there were any. 

Sansa doesn’t feel like anything much.

She doesn’t dare to.

Or else she’d shatter, burst.

Or maybe not.

At some point, Sansa starts to believe that maybe bursting would serve as a kind of relief. Then maybe she could piece herself back together thereafter, but she doesn't burst.

She just endures, or rather, has to.

“Are you unwell?” she can hear Baelish ask from next to her. “You have barely touched your meal.”

“I am… sated,” she replies, not looking at him, not looking at anyone in particular.

Though “fed up” is the more appropriate term.

She is fed up with the drunkards lulling songs.

If they don't scream them, out of tune.

She is fed up with the drunkards brawling.

The smell of wine and beer… and other things.

She is fed up with all of this.

A serving of broth with meat doesn’t make her hungry for more.

“Well, we should rejoice. Some of the locals said that the storm will pass tomorrow, the day after tomorrow the latest,” Baelish tells her. “And that means we can finally make our way to your home, Lady Sansa.”

“Home,” she says, allowing the word to hang in the air for a long moment, as though it was a puppet, which only makes her think of the doll her father had given her back in King’s Landing, the one she told him she didn’t have use for anymore, because she was too old for it, or so she said.

Sometimes she wished she had taken it along, if only as a reminder, however childish it may be.

As a small reminder of a time that was home.

A place that was home.

Of people who were home.

Sansa is pulled out of her thoughts at the sound of a loud shout coming from the common folks from the other side of the common hall.

She can hear Baelish mutter at the two guards commanded to keep watch over them – while the others are busy getting drunk or lose their money in some game of cards or roll of dice, the snow storm seemingly having made them very lazy.

But who could blame them? Upon Lord Baelish’s order, they had a look at all the guests, so why bother to check again?

Sansa tilts her head slowly.

It’s odd how people can morph into the elements of nature once they are many.

They can morph into the earth, disappearing to the ground below, as though they weren’t there, even when bad strikes the earth, just like they can morph into avalanches, hard and unforgiving as they crush down on their victims.

They can morph into the winds, whooshing away, moving past without a single touch, a single noise, are just gone.

They can morph into the fire, screaming, shouting, heated, angry war cries – for a man to lose his head who never deserved it, burning deeper and deeper into the flesh with every flicker of the flame.

And they can morph… into the waters. Waves crushing, up and down and up again, reaching higher and higher, just to crash back into the ocean of the people to rise once more, unending.

And at present, Sansa seems to be surrounded by the latter, the crowd rising at once, and falling the next moment, crashing like a giant wave, collapsing upon itself as the brawl starts to unfold – and creep closer to their table with every second passing.

“Someone put an end to that bar fight already,” she can hear Baelish order some of his men. Sansa’s eyes are focused on the wave of people, however. A tall man with black, unkempt curls falling into his face rising above even that giant wave, shaking out his bruised wrist after he knocked one of the others to the ground, sending the other man halfway across the room. More people throw themselves at the tall man with raven hair, only to be shaken off as he stomps his way forward over to the man he taught how to fly, seemingly out for teaching him a second lesson.

Sansa shifts back in her seat, the air catching in her throat.

“By the Gods,” Baelish mutters, motioning at the guards. “Bring Lady Sansa to her chamber, now.”

Sansa simply gets up and follows the two men assigned to her protection, while Baelish will likely take it upon himself to put an end to that mess, or rather, have it be put to an end by his men – because Littlefinger won’t move his little finger to do that, obviously, and because he needs the quiet tonight. He is supposed to meet up with some man of the Boltons – to escort them to Winterfell, or so Sansa gathered from the snippets that came through the filter of silence she usually cloaks herself in.

After all, men of the North do ride through such a storm.

The guards guide her to her chamber, lead her inside, give the room a quick glance around, and then mutter something she doesn’t hear as they disappear, taking their stance outside her room, or so she reckons.

Sansa lets out a sigh as she walks through the room and over to the small window. She opens it, daring the snowflakes to fly into the room and into her hair, the cold air preserving them in shape instead of melting them. She glances out into the pitch black night, which seems to swallow everything, and spitting out some snowflakes in return. The cold air burns on her skin, but she finds it more soothing than the warmth of the fires in the common hall by far.

She leans out a little more, glad to find the night dark and silent.

That means the former Stark bannersman did not arrive yet.

The faintest of smiles flashes across her face, but then, suddenly, something moves out of the darkness of the night, into the room. Sansa means to scream, but she finds her mouth covered with an ice-cold hand as the shadow pushes her back into the room.

“Shhhht. You have to be silent.”

Sansa’s eyes open wide as the cloak of darkness is ripped away from the person’s shoulders in the dim candlelight, revealing only a person, wrapped in a heavy cloak and furs, with familiar, darting eyes.

“Will you be silent?”

She nods. He pulls his hand away at once.

“S, Ser Jaime?!” she whispers, her voice quivering. He flashes a nervous smile at her, crystals of ice glistening in his beard, shaking snow out of his hair as it melts, leaving droplets on the ground.

“Look, I don’t know what Baelish’s been telling you all this time, but whatever he said concerning Brienne or me and what we meant to do with you, it was a lie. We wanted to help you and…,” Jaime mutters in a low voice, but the words are knocked out of him when Sansa throws her arms around him, holding on tight.

Jaime blinks, breathing hard, slowly patting her on the back.

Some devil must possess her to seek comfort in his arms, but Jaime will be the last one to deny her at this point. He already feared he’d have to gag her to make her come with him in silence. After all, Littlefinger refined the arts of manipulation a long time ago.

Not to mention that Jaime knows that he himself is not really the person Sansa has much reason to trust in. She knows that he was the one who pushed her little brother out the window back in Winterfell, after he confessed to her – and he always reckoned that the girl was simply smart enough to see that she could trust Brienne, and simply accepted him along the way.

So no, this is by no means the reaction Jaime anticipated.

The Stark women still tend to surprise him.

Perhaps the next generation of Starks can make him reconsider on the clan, but just perhaps.

She pulls away at once, searching his eyes, “I feared you’d never come. I feared that… that something happened to Lady Brienne. Or did it? Back on the ship… please tell me that she did not…”

“She’s well. But for now, we have to get you out of here, alright? We have to be quick about it, though. Everything else will have to wait until later,” Jaime mutters, his eyes nervously checking the surroundings.

“For as long as you get me out,” Sansa smiles nervously, close to tears, but then gathers herself. “What do we do?”

All this time she waited.

And all this time she already felt like giving up.

That Ser Jaime and Lady Brienne wouldn’t ever come.

Yet, here he is!

She wasn’t forgotten after all.

Sansa wasn’t forgotten.

She is Sansa Stark – and as such she was remembered.

Not Alayne.

But Sansa.

“Wrap yourself in the warmest cloak you have, and then we get out of here. We have no time to lose,” Jaime replies, nervously looking around before quickly grabbing one of the wooden stools to put under the door in all silence – seemingly not to alarm the men out the door. Sansa nods, hurrying over to the wooden chest with her clothes, glad to find the heavy coat with fur almost on top. She warps herself in it, searching Jaime’s eyes again.

“Alright, we’ll go over the roof,” Jaime says, already moving back over to the window.

“The roof?” she frowns.

“It’s a bit of a signature move Brienne and I developed, or so it seems,” Jaime shrugs, hopping out of the window, extending his left hand to her. Sansa accepts gratefully, stepping outside into the brisk wind and snow, dipped in the darkness of the night.

Jaime guides her over the roof wordlessly. Their steps as silent as they can, shuffling over the roof. Once they reach the edge, Sansa can see a small ladder. Jaime climbs down first, checking the area around them, before gesturing at her to come down, too. Sansa climbs, feeling her breath hard and frantic, but curiously… lighter.

Once she is down the ladder, Jaime takes her by the wrist to guide her over to the woods close by. At some point, Sansa still expects to wake up sweat-soaked from yet another dreamish escape that only succeeded insider that very realm insider her head. Yet, here she is, in the darkness of the woods, and suddenly… the hot breath from a horse’s nostrils, like a flash of white light in the darkness.

Sansa runs her gloved hand over the mare’s forehead.

“What are we going to do now?” Sansa asks.

“Well, the plan would actually be to send off the horses this way for matters of distraction, then walk further into the woods to where we have our other horses… and then get the hell out of here,” Jaime says, licking his lips, turning back and forth on the heel.

“But?” she frowns.

But… that was Brienne’s part of the plan, not mine. She’s told me to ride off as soon as I got you, but, ugh… to tell the truth, I would rather make sure they don’t get her after all,” Jaime grimaces.

“Where is she?” Sansa frowns.

“Why? Didn’t you see her beating the men up?” Jaime chuckles. Sansa gapes, her mind racing back to the common hall, the people made of water, and the tall man with black hair who taught them all to fly.

“You are not the only one who knows how to dye one’s hair,” he says, nodding at the black hair she wears at present. “She was supposed to distract Baelish and make him send you to the chamber, or get you both to the chamber – then I would have had my dear fun with him. Now’s the question if she comes out of the situation without Littlefinger seeing through the trick. He knows her after all… Rescue missions are more dangerous than I would want them to be.”


Two days before:

“… The inn is the last chance we’ll get before they reach Winterfell. It’s lucky for us that there is this snow storm. The problem is that he has an entire entourage with him, one we cannot overpower with just us two – and possibly a number of common folks who’ll jump to Baelish’s coins he will toss out to seek the swords or fists as well, willing to take us down in his name,” Jaime mutters, glancing out the tiny window of the chamber that allows view on the inn where Littlefinger and Sansa sought refuge.

“And then there are the Boltons and those who’ve turned to them as well…”

They have been discussing and fighting over the matter of Sansa’s rescue – or rather the attempt – ever since they caught up to them and tracked them down to this inn. While the journey there was ever the tougher and demanding due to the tough weather conditions, it brought that one advantage, which was that Littlefinger was forced to stop by in inns and only got to pass from town to town.

That still didn't change anything about the fact that even with only a few yards between them, Sansa is still incredibly far out of their reach.

Which leaves them to stare out the window – and argue.

“I know all that. We already said it all. The best we can do is to sneak in and get her out, steal her away,” Brienne grimaces thoughtfully.

She doesn't like it by any means. She is always up for honest fight – but at this point, stealing away seems to be the only option. Jaime said it often enough until she had to grasp it herself.

As Brienne had to learn, the world isn’t a chivalrous one, and some people’s honor won’t change the world’s course. Just like she knows that saving Sansa means sacrifices.

“Which is ever the more a pity because I want to cut off Littlefinger’s little fingers to force them down his throat before I open it with a knife,” Jaime growls low in his throat.

The mere thought that he may have to let Littlefinger walk makes him sick to the stomach – and his fist clench to the point that he can feel his nails feeling crescents in his palm.

After what he did to them.

After he almost killed almost all of his family.

“Jaime, you know that we should try to bypass killing him at present, for Lady Sansa’s sake.”

“Now don’t tell me that you don’t want to thrust a sword through his belly!” he grunts, turning around to look at her.

“There are many things I’d want to do to him, but we cannot and we must not.”

She bites her lower lip. It’d be a lie to say that she does not have those dark feelings deep in the pit of her stomach, creeping up to her eyes by night to give her vivid images of what she’d do to Littlefinger if she had a chance.

“How can you stay so calm, by the Gods?! If we were more, we’d just go in there, take out his watchdogs, and then murder him slowly before taking Sansa away with us,” Jaime mutters.

“I am not calm by any chance,” Brienne argues, her voice slightly shaking. Jaime flashes a sympathetic look for a moment.

It must be cabin fever that’s making him antsy. Normally, he knows better than that, but it's during those moments that Jaime wishes his right hand back to take the man apart with all of his former expertise.

“He will have men gathered about himself to protect him. There’s no way of stealing Sansa like that. And I bet he’ll have his men instructed that in case something were to happen to him, they are supposed to alarm the men in Winterfell and chase us – and they might manage,” Brienne goes on, setting her jaw.

They kept having those discussions again and again, mulling over every option, every way, to the point that they echo the other person’s words to somehow reassure each other of the truth of them. Jaime said the same thing only just yesterday night, but the longer they stare out the window, the darker and the riskier other thoughts become.

“That man deserves worse than what he’ll get,” Jaime shakes his head, turning back around to the window, leaning his arm against the sill, and his forehead against his sleeve.

“For now,” Brienne then says, making him turn to her with a frown yet again, “Hm?”

“For now. He gets away for now,” Brienne tells him, her eyes fixed on Jaime.

“Under the premise that we get Sansa, you and I both know that her safety will take precedence. That means we will have to keep away from him and his men for as long as we can until we got her someplace safe. So there’s no sweet revenge for us any time soon,” Jaime argues. “That’s the price we’ll have to pay.”

“I know all that, but I also know that there are worse ways to punish a person than by taking his or her life,” Brienne argues.

“Oh, are there? I thought death was the most absolute solution,” Jaime huffs, if amused.

“That man has no honor, so he doesn't deserve an honorable death,” Brienne says, licking her lips.

“Couldn’t agree more,” Jaime snorts with a sly smile.

Jaime knows that he himself is already a man with an honor beyond repair, but Littlefinger was seemingly born without an ounce of it.

“And that is what we’d give him with a quick thrust of the sword,” Brienne goes on.

“Indeed, or well, we could surely drag it out a while, twist it around in the belly a little bit,” Jaime replies, gesturing with his left.

And the Gods know how many nights he twisted the knife in Littlefinger’s belly, to see all the bad blood spill out of him, painting the little mockingbird on his lapel red.

“If you want someone to suffer the most, you have to take from him what he values most. The things he loves. The things he can’t bear without,” Brienne goes on, now turning her gaze away from Jaime.

“My, my, Brienne, aren’t we having dark thoughts? I thought that was more of my niche,” Jaime chuckles.

Truly, he didn’t even think she was capable of having such a thought. If at all, he thought her to dream it, but not to actually say such a thing, or rather, mean it.

“He did Lady Sansa harm, he did you and Gurion harm, Lord Tyrion and Podrick… and… me… He’s supposed to suffer for that. It’s mere chance that I didn’t lose Gurion back on that ship. And it was one of his men who hit me in the stomach. It was his men who would’ve killed your brother and young Podrick. It was his men who stole Lady Sansa against her will. It was him who made me the culprit for a crime I never would have committed, forcing Gurion and all the other people we care about into a way too dangerous life in dangerous times anyway. That is enough to me,” Brienne tells him, her voice shaking with anger.

“So? How do we hurt Baelish – if not by twisting a knife in his belly?” Jaime asks.

The same question again and again.

Brienne silences for a moment, but then something flashes across her face that Jaime can’t put his finger on. He looks at her, blinking.

“How do you hurt a king?” Brienne questions, glancing back up to him, her eyes shining with something dark that Jaime didn’t even think was possible in Brienne’s blue eyes.

“Hm, as the Kingslayer, I’d say you shove a sword through his back… but usually, it’s to take the crown from him, though Robert probably would have liked that, but he was… a different brand of man anyway,” Jaime shrugs.

“Right. How do you hurt a burglar?” Brienne goes on.

“You take his coins,” he shrugs.

“And how do you hurt a social climber?”

“You make him fall very, very deep,” Jaime says, a dark grin spreading on his face.

“Exactly. He’s climbed the ladder. He’s gotten lands he’s never earned. Already the fact that he won’t be able to deliver Lady Sansa to the Boltons will hurt his reputation – and destroy whatever plan he may have had to strengthen his power in the North.”

“If they don’t get out their oh so sharp knives out, that is,” Jaime exhales.

And what a splendid time that would be – though Jaime still dares to have the selfish wish to deliver the final blow to the man himself.

“He won’t win the North, if we can help it. That leaves him to return to the Eyrie – or King’s Landing. That means, except for the Vale, he’s not gained much of anything… and once it’s safe for Lady Sansa, we can reveal his plot, and then we will see how much higher he can rise without missing his step,” Brienne says. “And fall. Deep.”

“I quite like that,” Jaime grins.

“It might be that we can’t kill him right now, but he shall fall, sooner or later. And he shall fall deep. There’s a season for everything, and the Winter will be long, I’m sure. And revenge is cold and unforgiving. We’ll have time for it, we’ll just have to wait for it to arise,” Brienne says in a sinister voice.

“I never thought you had that in you, m’lady,” Jaime can’t help but muse.

“Then you were mistaken. That man will suffer, I swear it, but for now, we have to get Lady Sansa, so we’ll have to let that go, for now,” Brienne repeats.

Just for now.

That man has to be brought to justice.

It just has to wait.

“But the time will come that we get our revenge.”

“Right.”

“That still doesn’t buy us a ticket to Sansa. Littlefinger will watch her like a hawk. It’ll be hard to separate them. The problem is that he knows both our faces. That fact remains, no matter how we twist or turn it,” Jaime argues, contemplating again.

The plan far away is fine, but it doesn’t change a thing about the present situation. And therein lies the problem.

“I know,” she grimaces, biting her lower lip as she glances over to the inn again.

That is where it all fails. She can think a few steps ahead, but the ones right now prove to be the most difficult task.

Because whatever step they take now will inevitably determine the next steps.

It’s all up in the air – in stormy Northern air.

“Well, we can’t attack them from the front, and stealing through the back will be difficult if we can’t get her alone at some point. Even if we killed Baelish in his sleep, I bet he has his men instructed for such cases. Not to mention that I believe he has one of his men in his room at all times. We’d need a moment of distraction,” Jaime mutters. “But how?”

“… Chaos,” Brienne whispers.

“Right,” Jaime nods. “But the kind of chaos we can control somehow… And that’s the difficult thing…”

“What about… Danny Flint?”

Jaime turns back to her, his eyes widening once his mind comprehends the plan the wench’s bred out at once, or so it seems. He steps over to her with fast strides, waving his index finger, “What? No, no, no, get that right out of your head, no!”

“What? The idea is not almost bad. I could distract them so you can get Lady Sansa,” Brienne argues stubbornly.

And Jaime can already see the idea manifest itself inside her thick skull.

“You are aware that brave young Danny Flint who’s taken the Black, pretending to be a man, was raped and killed in the end?” Jaime reminds her.

“And you know that we are not on the Wall, and that they wouldn’t do such a thing in such a situation,” Brienne argues. “Just like it’s no more than a song.”

“Brienne, Baelish knows your voice, he knows your face. He knows your hair. Do you sincerely believe that man forgets another person’s face? That’s part of his capital – that he does not,” Jaime tries to convince her with vehemence.

He can’t do that, no.

“He knows me as a mannish woman in armor, tagging after Renly and Lady Catelyn. If I don't talk to him, avert my gaze, and dress like a man, I could start a fight in the common room once they are there, something like that,” Brienne insists.

“He knows your face. He knows your eyes.”

“No one cares about my eyes,” Brienne huffs.

“Well, I do,” Jaime replies, to which she rolls her eyes at him.

“You should be aware of the fact that your features are quite distinct nonetheless,” Jaime adds, trying to bring her to reason.

“Not if I really act like a man. I’d have more trouble to pretend to be a womanly woman, you know that. A mannish man doesn’t stick out. A mannish woman does. That’s our best chance,” she argues. “Just like we have better chances to disguise me as a man than you as a woman.”

“I would doubt that. I daresay I would still pass for a better-looking woman than you…,” he means to say, only to earn himself a smack in the side that leaves him gasping for air, “I deserved that one.”

“You did.”

Jaime gathers himself, trying another time, “If you want to go with such a distraction, we would probably still have better chances to make me distract him.”

“If we want to force him to send Lady Sansa away, we have to come close to him. He’s known you for years. He’ll recognize you at once,” Brienne argues.

“I can keep my face out of his sight better than you can, I’m sure.”

“Then tell me how he won’t see this,” she points at his stump.

“Now, that’s unfair!” Jaime cries out.

“You know that I’m right,” Brienne insists, but Jaime only shakes his head, “It’s too dangerous. He’ll recognize you. He’ll take you. So what do I do even if I managed to get Sansa in the meantime? Which is no guarantee that I would?”

“Bring her someplace safe, like we both promised to Lady Catelyn,” Brienne tells him resolutely.

Of course she does.

Always out for playing heroine.

“I won’t let you endanger yourself like that,” Jaime shakes his head. “No. Just no.”

“You’ll have to,” Brienne argues.

“No.”

“Yes.”

Brienne.”

“Now please, listen to me,” Brienne says with sudden urgency, grasping his wrist.

“I am listening.”

“It's the best we can do, and deep down you know that it’s the truth I’m telling you,” Brienne goes on, her voice now almost soothing.

“Your acting is about just awful,” Jaime reminds her.

“I know, but gladly, not much acting would be needed.”

“Still enough to start a fight. Still enough to maybe speak to Baelish if he asked you and to come up with a swift lie on the spot. There are a million things that could happen that may force you to tell a lie at once to somehow steal out of the situation. A million things might happen where even a lie is not enough. It is too dangerous for you,” Jaime argues, swatting down in front of her to meet her gaze.

No, just no, not after he just got her back.

“You give me the story, and I will tell it.”

“What now?”

“I can tell a story once I’ve heard it or read it. If you tell me the lies, which I believe you can with ease, I can tell them, too.”

“Is that a compliment, really?” Jaime laughs.

“It's an observation,” Brienne shrugs her shoulders.

“Brienne,” he exhales, but she interrupts him, “You know that I’m right. We don't have much time to prepare more than we already did. The storm will pass – and they will move to Winterfell. We have to act, now. Everything else means more danger.”

He looks at her for a long moment, trying to come up with a better alternative, a way that doesn't put her in as much danger, sings of another song than that of young Danny Flint…

But he finds none.

“… We’ll dye your hair. I don't know if your Danny Flint’s ever had the idea, but it seemed to work for Sansa,” Jaime says after a long while. “We may work it to our advantage that your hair has grown quite a bit since he’s last seen you.”

He runs his fingers through the straw-like mane that now ends just about her chin.

“Alright,” Brienne nods eagerly – and if not for the sincerity of the situation, Jaime would laugh at her eagerness.

But he can’t laugh at that.

For that, the melody of Danny Flint, the solemn tone, rings too threateningly in his ears. Not because he fears that the exact same thing will happen, but that something unexpected happens, like it does in the song, something that will leave Brienne out in the open, and with him not there to be by her side.

“You mustn’t search his eyes. You mustn’t look at them too long. You have to ignore them, or rather, you have to let it look like you don’t even see them.”

“Yes.”

“You mustn’t hesitate. If you want to start a brawl with the men in the inn, you have to seize the moment at once, curse one of their names and simply attack, there’s no time for titles or for words of apology, you have to be as foulmouthed as a sailor to make them jump you – because you need to draw the attention away from you, and that only works if you manage to get a lot of men fighting at once.”

“Go on.”

“I don’t think we should handle it like that,” Jaime shakes his head.

No, just no.

“What else are we supposed to do?” Brienne argues.

“I’d rather go on my own,” Jaime shrugs.

“Same here,” Brienne replies. Jaime presses his finger against her palm.

He knows that he is not the only one not wanting to risk what is still so fragile – and worth so much to him that he can barely think of its dimensions.

“I can’t afford to lose you, you understand?” Jaime says, searching her eyes.

“… Then we better make sure that you don’t,” Brienne replies, trying to sound certain, though both know she is not.

Yet, it does not matter.

They have to rely on each other.

Be my armor.

Shield me, but hidden.

And I shall be your sword.

“That sounds surprisingly enthusiastic coming from you,” Jaime chuckles sadly.

“I have had fights before, you know that the best. I know how to do that,” Brienne tries to reassure him – and herself as well.

“Just that you have to make sure you get out of the brawl before Littlefinger gets a good enough look at you. Baelish might be fooled for a short moment, but not for long.”

“Then I should better do my job outright,” Brienne shrugs.

“You better should,” he agrees. “You better learn to tell that story I’m about to give you, full of lies and bad language, ay?”

He kisses her softly, but with need of contact, to somehow reassure himself of the chance that may lie out that window. Jaime pulls away after a long moment to press his forehead against hers, pulling her to him.

One of the hardest parts of loving this woman is the fact that she always puts herself in danger.


Hear you now the sad lament
Of Brave Young Danny Flint
Whose parents died of sickness
When she was not but ten.

So off Young Danny went to live
With her wicked uncle
Who one night stole her maidenhead
So into the North she fled.

Oh Danny Flint you'll never escape
The Fate the Gods have written
And life must seem the cruelest jape
Oh Brave Young Danny Flint.

North she fled to take the Black
And leave her troubles past
She cut her hair and changed her name
To Danny Flint the Brave.

At the Night Fort Danny took the oath
Thought a boy by all
And she hoped to live forever
As a Brother upon the Wall.

Oh Danny Flint you'll never escape
The Fate the Gods have written
And life must seem the cruelest jape
Oh Brave Young Danny Flint.

Now Danny was so diligent
To keep from watchful stares
But one night as she bathed
Her Brothers saw her body bare.

These men were quick to break their vows
As they threw her to the ground
They took her honor then her life
While Danny made not a sound.

Oh Danny Flint there's no escape
The Fate the Gods have written
And life does seem the cruelest jape
Oh Brave Young Danny Flint.

It is said Young Danny still yet walks
The Night Fort's shadowy halls
A pale form singing sorrowfully
The loneliest, saddest song.


 

Jaime bites his lower lip.

He should have said no.

He shouldn’t have let Brienne take over that part.

He should be in there right now.

If Brienne becomes anything close to a Danny Flint, he will rip the world apart.

“So? Do we ride? It’s your choice, Sansa,” Jaime asks, not looking at the young girl, fearing that he will only end up pressuring her, but before he can say anything else, he can hear Sansa’s small yet surprisingly resolute voice, “We’ll wait.”

“Well, let’s hope she won’t keep us waiting much longer,” Jaime mutters, his eyes fixed on the inn.

Please, Brienne.

You can’t become another Danny Flint.

That can’t be your song. Yours should be a heroic one to sing to Gurion.

“C’mon now.”

Both glance at the inn nervously, but that is when a tall figure stumbles around the corner, coming from the back of the inn.

“Is that…”

“That’s her,” Jaime nods frantically, his heart suddenly beating so loudly in his ears that it muffles all other sounds.

Thank the Gods.

No Danny Flint.

He waves his arm around in the air once, and the tall figure picks up speed to hurry over to the rim of the woods.

“You were supposed to take off,” Brienne growls at him once she approaches.

Of course she does…

“Lady Sansa insisted that we wait, what was I supposed to do?” Jaime argues innocently. “Deny the Lady? You can’t mean for that.”

“Lady Sansa, I’m so sorry for what happened, I…,” Brienne means to apologize, but Sansa takes her hand, squeezing it hard. “You came. That’s all that matters.”

Brienne just looks at her, perfectly stunned.

“Let’s leave the great feelings aside for now and get moving,” Jaime grimaces, taking the horses by the reins, walking further outside before clapping each one on the back to make them run down the road.

“C’mon now.”

They start to run through the woods, the snow creaking under their steps.

“Why didn't we take these horses?” Sansa asks, still trying to wrap her head around all this.

First Ser Jaime stepping into her room as though he was a ghost.

Then Lady Brienne appearing to her as a man with black hair.

And now they don't ride off into the night?

This is so strange.

“By now, Baelish might check on you. They’ll find the door locked. He’ll send them out to go looking for you. First thing they’ll do is to check for footprints – and those of horse hooves. If we are lucky, they’ll chase the wrong direction for a while. It’s better than nothing, or so we reckoned,” Jaime shrugs. “We didn’t have much time to prepare… and limited resources.”

They reach a small clearing where two horses appear at once again.

“I bet some folks will be disappointed that we stole their mares, but I think they’ll find their way back home. You’ll have to share with Brienne. It’s better with just two horses for now. They’d expect us to have one for you as well, so it might buy us time, too,” Jaime goes on.

“I see,” Sansa nods quickly.

“Their horses won’t get far anyways.”

“Why?” Sansa frowns.

“We gave them some things to eat before we went inside the inn. The horses won’t take damage, they’ll just… sleep a lot,” Jaime shrugs with a sly smile.

If the Tyrells can do that with crows, then why can’t they do the same with horses, right?

“By the time they might get on our track, we have good chances that the snow will have swallowed our traces,” Brienne goes on to explain as she helps Sansa into the saddle.

“We found a vacant cabin further up north. It hasn’t been used in years. We hope that they will think us smart enough not to go into a house for refuge, but instead search for caves and the like, as we did all the while before when still further down South. We will have to do without fire, however, or else we’d draw them to us by chance, I fear,” Jaime warns the young woman, who only flashes a small but bright smile, “That’s fine.”

She’d sleep in cold and heat alike for as long as that meant she gets out of this place.

Creature of the North, ay?” Jaime chuckles, before he spurs the hose. Brienne does the same, to make the mares gallop through the terrain.

Lucky for them, they could use the preparation time to ride the horses through the narrow woods again and again, which means the horses know the path better. Hence they are much swifter to ride through the narrow spaces and ups and downs of the earth.

“What took you so long?” Jaime questions as they make their way through the woods.

“… I was held up by Baelish,” Brienne replies, her jaws barely moving apart as she speaks.

“You talked to him?” Jaime gapes.

“Only a few words in passing. He told me to stop this folly, if I knew what was good for me. I told him that I was finished with the man anyways, and turned back around to the crowd. One of the man’s friends tried to get fast revenge on me, but he didn’t really stand a chance. He didn’t even know how to swing his arm correctly,” Brienne shakes her head. “After that I sneaked through the backdoor. I waited. No one’s went to check on me immediately.”

Though Brienne can’t really say that she felt as certain in the inn. Her heart was hammering in her chest so loudly that she could barely hear the men singing and hollering out of tune.

Just like it was much more challenging than she dared to imagine to start a brawl with the man she had picked as a target – just like picking him as a target was cruel enough, for he had done her no wrong.

Jaime had warned her again and again, as he kept taking her through the situation, kept telling her the story she was supposed to tell now, but it wasn’t anything like it until she sat next to the man and had to attack him, shout at him, and actually… enact it.

And Brienne still doesn’t know how she ever made it out of the inn without giving away her game. She is not good at lying or at acting.

Yet, it somehow worked.

For now, at least.

Sansa glances back at the inn, seeing torches in the wind, small flickers that soon fade away in the snow, but then turns her face ahead, feeling the snow slapping against her face.

And finding it… thrilling and soothing all the same.

Eventually, they reach the place Jaime told her about.  

It’s a small cabin, the wood all ramshackle, grey and green, the door halfway out of its hinges, banging against the doorframe in the snow storm, but to tell the truth, Sansa has never seen a place so full of hope as this shabby cabin.

Jaime and Brienne lead in the horses into the small cabin as well.

“For the heat – and because we don’t want anyone to hear their noises carry through the woods. Just like there is apparently no proper stable,” Jaime explains to her. Brienne closes the door behind them with what looks like a new plank that they likely brought along to secure the door.

“Good for us, this place has a backdoor. That means if we see them coming, we don't have to go through the front,” Jaime further points out to Sansa, who took one of the small stools to sit upon in one of the corner of the small, now fairly cramped cabin.

“One should think that a storm is a bad omen, but this proves to be a wink of fate for once. I thought we’d have them chasing us all at once,” Jaime grimaces, glancing out the window which only has narrow slits to look through because of the planks nailed on it.

“They might still come,” Brienne argues.

She still fears that her plan will go up in flames, or snow, for the matter. Brienne knows she isn’t the smartest tactician – and their plan was risky at best. They have Sansa for now, but they are nowhere close to a safe place to keep her.

Their plan is such a fragile thing…

“Of course, but… maybe we get lucky after all,” Jaime shrugs.

They made it to this very point, right? Why not further?

“Maybe,” Brienne grimaces.

Sansa tilts her head at the two, her mind still catching up to… everything, to this very moment.

To her, it feels as though a chapter suddenly ended, a completely new book was opened before her to read.

Brienne looks at her for a longer moment, her hands nervously flexing as she tries to come up with the words.

If only talking wouldn’t be as difficult as it still proves to be for her.

One act as some sort of Danny Flint doesn’t eradicate years of not getting her jaws apart.

And it’s still not out yet if her act played out at all.

“Lady Sansa, I, uhm… I never meant to disappoint you back on that ship. I wanted to bring you to Tarth, no matter what Littlefinger may have said to you about it. I wanted to get you to safety, that’s all I ever wanted. I… I never meant for this. I never meant you harm – and I hope you find it in yourself to forgive me for failing to protect you, I…,” she stutters, fidgeting for the words that are somehow blown out of her mind, since they all revolve around the fact that Lady Sansa is here with them right at this instant.

That this is real.

“He said to me that you just wanted to do that for reasons of money and the like,” Sansa nods.

“That isn’t true. I… I know you have no reason to believe us, but I would have sailed to Tarth with you, in the hope to give you a stable and safe place to stay at for however long you wished. That’s all I wanted, that’s all we ever wanted,” Brienne insists.

“What of your child? Is it… did something happen to it? On the ship, I thought…,” Sansa bites her lower lip.

“Gurion is in best health, and with your husband,” Jaime tells her quickly.

“My… my husband? Lord Tyrion is alive?” Sansa gapes.

“He and Pod, yes,” Jaime replies. Sansa touches her chest with her gloved hand, “I thought they had them killed. Lord Baelish said that he had them ordered to kill them. He said they tossed them into the sea.”

“And that is what they tried to do, but one should never underestimate a Lannister, or a Payne for the matter,” Jaime grimaces.

“Lord Tyrion is alright… and Podrick as well… I can’t believe that. All this time I thought… all this time…,” Sansa mutters, the words dying on her lips.

All this time she thought she damned another person who’s personally done her no harm, who’s tried to help her, and was one of the few people who opened his mouth to Joffrey’s cruel treatment. Sansa thought that she just kept attracting all that evil to herself – only to emit it out to other people, leaving even more chaos.

But if Lord Tyrion and Podrick are alive… then maybe… there is hope after all?

“He never meant to trick you either,” Jaime goes on.

“He always treated me kindly, even when it endangered him… back when Joffrey still sat the Throne and could do as he pleased… I couldn’t ever really believe that he meant me nothing but harm,” Sansa tells him.

She may be dull at times – and she may not be able to read people the way Lord Tyrion, Ser Jaime, or Lord Baelish can for instance, but Sansa knows kindness when she is treated with such, at least she does so now.

“Well, we’re quite relieved to hear that. To tell the truth, we feared that you’d reject our assistance – and follow Baelish’s commands instead,” Jaime grimaces.

“I did. I… I didn’t act against him. I thought that I had no other way but to obey him,” Sansa says, biting her lower lip.

“Lady Sansa, you did what was necessary to ensure your safety,” Brienne assures her quickly, seeing the young woman’s distress.

“He even got me to say that he didn’t kill my aunt, which is what he did… which is what she tried to do,” Sansa says, the words suddenly just spilling out of her.

After she silenced about so many things, the words just keep flowing out of her.

“Why would she… want to kill you?” Jaime blinks at her, taken aback.

“She was jealous. She thought Lord Baelish and I were…,” Sansa means to say, but then hesitates, so Jaime asks again, “Were what?”

“In love.”

“I always knew Lysa was a rather… skittish mind, but that’s…,” Jaime shakes his head, but Sansa suddenly goes on rambling, “He gave me a kiss. That’s what she saw. I pushed him away at once, but I reckon she didn’t see that anymore, or bothered to care. So when he’s convinced her to let me go, he… he pushed her through the moon door. But I was afraid of telling the truth. I was afraid that… I don't even know what in particular I was scared of. I was just afraid. Just… afraid.”

“There’s no shame in that,” Jaime assures her with a grimace.

To think that he’d find himself in a position where he wouldn’t just risk his life in a mission to fulfill a vow to Catelyn Stark, but to actually comfort a Stark girl… it’s still an odd tale Brienne and he seem to have rewritten.

“Isn’t there? I could’ve… I could’ve told them, but I did not. I kept it to myself. I don’t even know why I did it,” Sansa shakes her head.

Why didn't she just say it? That question kept her awake at night more often than she’d like to admit.

“Because it wasn’t unsmart to do that,” Jaime shrugs.

“It was not? I felt like a fool once it was over and it dawned on me that he’s had any plan to sell me off to the Boltons, the Boltons of all people.”

“Well, that is something you couldn’t really know at that instant. What you knew was how influential Baelish is. The best way to ensure that he did you no harm was to appear valuable to him, and that is what you did by keeping that… secret. And how would you know that the other folks of the Eyrie would have treated you the way they should? Maybe Lysa instructed them without anyone’s knowledge? That woman, in her crazy head, still managed to cause quite global trouble,” Jaime shrugs.

Sansa looks at him stunned, sad, and happy all the same. A strange kind of grimace even in dim moonlight, though Jaime reckons that an avalanche of emotions must be sweeping through her at present anyway.

“All this time… I had already given up, you see? I had… I had given up. I didn’t think anyone would come find me. For all I knew, you were probably dead, too, and even if not, lost in grief over the child’s loss… or… I don’t even know what I thought. I just know that I gave up. After Aunt Lysa died… I gave up completely. I… I thought everyone had forgotten about me. I thought I’d have to be this girl with black hair for the rest of my life… but… but then you came.”

“We wanted to come earlier, we really did,” Brienne says, her voice shaking with emotion.

If only they had come sooner.

If only…

“I didn't mean that in such a way. I am grateful, you see? I mean…,” Sansa tells her quickly.

“Lady Sansa, there’s no need, truly,” Brienne shakes her head.

“But I am. I… now that I see you here in the flesh I realized it once more. You had no obligation to ride after me. You could’ve fled with your child to someplace safe – and it would have been your good right. Still, you came for me. Still, you held on to that promise you made to my family once. Ever since I came to King’s Landing, I had to see that chivalry and promises don’t mean as much in this world as I had envisioned in my girlish mind. But still… you intend to keep your promises. And for that I’m grateful. This means a lot to me, more than words can say indeed,” Sansa insists.

Brienne lowers her gaze, trying to keep her emotions in check.

Now is not the time. She has to be on alert.

They are not out of danger. Not yet.

“May I ask you a question?” Jaime turns to Sansa after a long moment of silence.

“Of course,” Sansa nods.

“Does Baelish know about our child?”

“I did not tell him a single word, I swear it,” the young girl assures him quickly.

“And I’m grateful for it, but didn’t the news reach him?” Jaime goes on to question, his eyes drifting between outside and inside, checking for a searching party to arrive.

“He’s never mentioned it to me. That’s all I can say. Why do you ask?” Sansa tilts her head.

“It’s always better to know what the enemy knows,” Jaime shrugs. “At least that is what my brother used to tell me. And he is the wisest of the bunch.”

“I reckon Lord Baelish will have heard rumors if there were any,” Sansa shrugs.

“There surely were,” Jaime huffs.

“None of which I was told,” Sansa argues.

“It’s strategically the best he could do, to keep you in suspense about us,” Jaime replies.

“So that I’d… lose hope,” Sansa completes slowly.

Because people without hope don’t try to run away.

“Right.”

“Well, then I’m glad that I did not, for it was right to hope,” Sansa replies with a small smile.

“We’re not off the hook yet. In fact, we are still treading very dangerous terrain, so close to Winterfell – and hence Bolton’s men, and with Baelish’s men still breathing into our neck,” Jaime grimaces, wrinkling his nose.

“But we put some good distance between us and them,” Sansa argues.

“And Baelish proved to get us even when we thought we were already out of the woods,” Jaime huffs.

One successful turn on the tale of Danny Flint won’t ensure that they can make this a happy ending story.

The ship that sailed from King’s Landing proved it to them all way too painfully.

“Then what will we do? Where do we go from here?” Sansa asks nervously.

Does that mean there is no way after all?

“Well, our plan is to bring you to the Wall, to your half-brother,” Jaime tells her.

“To Jon?”

“That one. Well, we cut our way off down South for the moment. Baelish will likely send message to his men in the Eyrie and other forces he surely managed to gather in the meantime, and they will be prepared for us to come. We also have to suspect that he somehow learns that the Tyrells helped us a great deal, hence Highgarden is also off the list. Once you are on the Wall, Baelish is powerless. He won’t bring it to shake and crumble, or even to quiver,” Jaime shrugs.

“We would’ve loved to return you home, but… with the Boltons holding Winterfell… there is no chance for us at present,” Brienne tells her apologetically.

Brienne would truly like to conquer entire Winterfell back – if that meant safety for Lady Sansa in any way, but at present… they have no means. They have no army. Just themselves, some horses, and shaking faith in success.

“This is not home, not for as long as their banners with flayed men whip in the winds, but… but what will come of it once I am on Castle Black? I mean…,” Sansa asks, her voice trailing off.

This is no place for frail maidens, or so her father and mother always told her, for Winter is Coming.

“That’s the best we can do right now, even though we are aware that this is not the most favorable place for a young woman like you. And surely, this arrangement is not meant to last forever. But… I’d love to tell you an exact plan, but I fear the past experiences have proven us quite painfully that even a carefully framed plan can turn to ashes for just a single circumstance changed,” Jaime argues. “We dare not plan too far ahead at this point.”

“We’re taking one step at a time. The first is to know you safe. And you’ll be safe with your half-brother, for he will mean you no harm surely,” Brienne adds.

“And what of Lord Tyrion, and Podrick… and, uhm, Gurion?” Sansa asks.

“They are currently roaming the area around the Vale, off the usual paths. At least that was the original plan, but it may be all different now anyways…,” Jaime grimaces, his voice drifting off.

“For what reason?” Sansa frowns.

“It’s not for certain, that is the thing,” he says quickly. He better shouldn’t have said anything.

“What is it? Please, tell me, I… I can’t bear any more secrets, I just…,” Sansa stammers.

She is just so fed up being lied to.

She is fed up being left out.

She wants to know, even the uncomfortable truths. Sansa tried to live a lie when she believed that Joffrey truly loved her. She tried to live the lie that Lord Baelish wanted nothing but her best. But if Sansa learned one small thing from all the terror she’s lived through, then it is that not knowing is very dangerous. Just like it leaves you motionless.

And Sansa is truly fed up being motionless, voiceless.

“We ran into your sister back by the Eyrie, short before the Bloody Gate,” Brienne tells her.

“You, you… you’ve seen Arya? Arya lives?” Sansa gapes.

Gods be good.

They don’t mean to trick her, do they?

No, not them, they wouldn’t, would they?

“She’s very well alive – and still a wild thing, I daresay. She’s cut me quite well with her little Braavosi blade,” Jaime chuckles. “Needle she called it, wasn’t it?”

“Yes,” Brienne nods, her voice no more than a whisper, the wound still fresh that they may have made a fatal mistake with the youngest Stark daughter.

“Arya lives. Arya… lives… Gods be good, that isn’t just a cruel jape, is it? I mean, so much fortune at once?” Sansa just looks at the two with wide eyes, kneading her gloved fingers.

Fortune? You are aware that we are currently on the run?” Jaime huffs.

Leave it to the young girls to think of such a situation as anything close to hopeful.

“But your child is alive and safely in this world. Lord Tyrion is alive. Podrick is alive. And now I hear that Arya’s alive, too. What is this but a fortune? I thought she was dead. That’s what everyone told me. I thought she came too much after Father after all, even following him into the realm of the dead, but… but… then I still don’t get it how that makes it all different?”

“We don’t know if she ever reached my brother,” Jaime explains.

“Why?”

“We chased after you straight away. We would have lost too much time to intercept you before you reach Winterfell, had we escorted her to my brother. We had to make a choice, so we paid the Hound, who’s travelled with her, to escort her to Tyrion, but… if they followed through with it and went to see my brother? We can’t tell. We haven’t exchanged news with my brother ever since we left, fearing it too dangerous to send a raven. Birds can easily be shot from the sky,” Jaime exhales.

And while that once was his fortune back in King’s Landing, Jaime knows that this chapter doesn’t have to repeat itself in the same way – and actually, in favor of what he considers the villains of the tale… or in fact, just one villain amongst even more villains.

If that makes him a hero of such a tale – Jaime is more than doubtful of the matter, but he cares less about the heroism of the act for as long as it means the safety of those he wants to see protected.

“So it might be that Arya is gone with Ser Sandor?” Sansa concludes.

Yet another person she never thought she’d hear of again.

The world seemingly turns much faster than she thought it would, because for Sansa, the world stood still ever since they travelled North towards Winterfell, but as it appears, there was so much in motion, so much on the move, and Sansa just hopes that she can somehow keep up with it.

She has to.

“As I said, we had to make a choice at some point. And that seemed the only one that made sense. Or else either one of us would have been alone on the quest of getting to you,” Jaime goes on. Brienne bites her lower lip.

They have forsaken one vow for the other after all…

She opens her mouth to utter yet another apology, but the words don't come – and before her throat can release any sort of sound, she can hear Sansa speaking up.

“Well… I… at least she’s alive, right? That’s more than I ever dared to believe possible,” Sansa says with a crooked smile.

She thought she was dead.

But Arya is alive.

She is alive.

She still has family, somewhere out there. Jon and Arya.

Brienne looks at her solemnly. She doesn’t know where Lady Sansa takes that much strength from, to be honest. To be hopeful when she’d have any reason to be furious with them for not… managing more, for not doing more.

“So… we go to the Wall,” Sansa repeats.

Focus on the immediate next steps, right?

Focus on the small hopes.

Small steps.

But forward.

“We go to the Wall,” Jaime nods. “The thing is that if we want to go there, we have to rely on you.”

“Rely on me?” Sansa looks at him, aghast.

“You grew up here, you know these lands. I’ve been here when it was still summer. Brienne’s never been here in the first place. You are the only one who can navigate us past Winterfell – and to the Wall,” Jaime says. “Especially because we can’t travel the usual paths.”

“You’d have more luck with Arya to do that. I wasn’t the sort of child that played outside a lot. I stitched and learned my lessons. I… I’m no good out in the wild,” Sansa argues frantically.

“But Arya’s not here. You are here,” Jaime replies.

“I will get us lost,” Sansa shakes her head.

She can’t take such responsibility.

Sansa is used to rely on other people – for better or worse.

She is not used to people relying on her, or rather, putting faith in her to… protect them, is it?

No one’s ever really trusted her to protect someone – Sansa herself didn't either.

And now she is supposed to put that to test on terrain she only looked at from a distance while stitching and learning the proper acts of a lady?

It makes her feel ever the more foolish for having judged Arya for playing outside so often, for knowing every stone and every tree.

“We’ll be even more lost without you, trust me in this,” Jaime insists.

“But…,” Sansa means to say, but he interrupts her, “You grew up here. The North runs in your veins. You’ve travelled these lands, Sansa. You know these places. That you know them from another angle doesn’t mean you can’t tell the way anymore. And even if we get lost, we’ll go back to where we went wrong and start over. The thing is that we can’t go the usual paths at present. That’s all different once we are out of the close periphery of Winterfell, but until then… we need you to guide us.”

“I won’t be any good, I tell you,” Sansa insists.

“Better than Brienne and I would. I’m rather a bit lost than completely lost,” Jaime argues.

“We need your help,” Brienne repeats.

My help… no one’s ever asked me for help. And now it comes from the people helping me,” Sansa shakes her head.

The world is such a strange place.

“A good exchange, I’d say,” Jaime winks at her.

They carry on talking after that, in hushed voices, tightly edged together to keep up some of the warmth, discussing the next steps and the former, the ship, the woods, the way up North, meeting Shae. And Gurion. They talk a lot about Gurion – especially because Sansa seems to almost lighten up at the news about the babe. About Arya and the Hound. Massey’s Hook and the Vale.

And Sansa listens eagerly, knowing that she has to learn what happened while the world turned so much faster while hers did not, and finding a strange kind of solace in all the good turns, however small they may be.

Some good chapters to fill the pages with.

Some good chapters to push her back into the story – and ahead, with them.

Some good stanzas for a new kind of song.

In a cabin, dark, ramshackle, grey and green, the hinges screeching in the wind, the snow storm howling, cold and unforgiving.

In a cabin without light.

But, for some strange reason a cabin with a lot of hope.

And by some faint chance, it seems to be the case that their version of the tale of young brave Danny Flint may take another turn than in the songs.