A part of him wanted to think this was a victory, but he was too old now to engage in such self-delusions. It wasn’t like before. After the Rebellion he really thought that maybe they’d made a difference, that perhaps the Seven Kingdoms would be stronger without the Targaryens and their madness, but now that the Seven Kingdoms were Six, well, Five really as bringing the Iron Islands to heel was a work in progress, he knew that perhaps life would become incrementally better, but this was no true victory.
He watched the host approach from the South, one horse in particular. He’d heard she looked like Little Cat. He’d see soon. Cat was gone now, her bones held by the Greyjoys, and all that remained were her children.
The horse grew closer, but he still couldn’t see her. He tamped down the instinct built on so many battlefields to draw his sword as he gazed on the lion and stag banners. Technically, these were the banners of his King. He’d been proud to kneel before Cat’s boy, but when the winter started to blow, wins on the battlefield had demoralized the Lannisters and threatened the Westerlands, and their Reachmen allies refused forces for any war not focused on Stannis or the Ironborn, a peace had been reached. The victories had been enough to cleave the North from Seven Kingdoms – the North had never really followed the Seven – but the Riverlands’ long indefensible border left them ceded back to King’s Landing, albeit with a number of concessions. Only a total victory could have freed the Trident, and he supposed, he’d never really seen one in his many years and fights.
Now one such concession had arrived. Those accompanying her dismounted, and helped her down from the horse. She did look like Cat. She looked like she had reached her home.
“Princess Sansa, welcome to Riverrun.”
“Thank you Ser Brynden. It is an honor and pleasure to meet you. I only wish Mother was here to introduce us. She always spoke so highly of you.”
The pleasantries were dispatched with, as were the guards who had brought her to Riverrun. He would deliver her above the Neck, where Winterfell men would take her North. He felt his shoulders relax slightly as the horses turned away. They did not ask for guest rights, but immediately departed. Perhaps Tywin was aware quite how much the Trident remained a tinderbox, as if the river were wildfire.
He took her in to meet her uncle, who was still recuperating from wounds earned bravely, if surprisingly on the battlefield, and saw her to her rooms where she began to settle into her two week respite in her mother’s home.
He couldn’t help thinking how much she looked like Cat. He could just close his eyes and see her telling him about her betrothed, Brandon, and her excitement. Her daughter looked like she fit here, he almost didn’t want to take her away in a fortnight. What ruined the fleeting illusion was her dress. It was stretched tight across her bosom and hung several inches too high off the floor. She looked half-woman and half-child, stranded between the two, and unkept in a way that was nothing like the Cat who had grown up cradled in the arms of this castle.
She’d had no household in King’s Landing – not after the Lannisters had killed the Northmen who accompanied her father – and the room was quiet without the chatter of ladies and maids. Several of the staff from Riverrun would see to her, but they were busy in the bedroom. He let her break the silence.
“Ser Brynden,” she said as her eyes wandered around the solar. “Do we have plans for the remainder of the day?”
“Just a dinner. We suspected you would be tired after your journey.”
“Indeed. In that case, would you accompany me to the sept? Mother always spoke of it, and I would like to pray for her here.”
“It would be my pleasure,” he said, and offered her his arm. She walked gingerly. She must be deeply sore from the long journey.
They prayed in the sept for an hour. He offered his usual supplications before the marble visages of the Father, Warrior, and Smith. His grand niece instead began before the Stranger, then knelt before the Mother, and finally the Chrone. She was silent the entire time. As they emerged from the sept, she turned to him.
“Could you lead me to the Maester?”
As they walked he told her stories of Cat, Lysa, and Edmure as children. He watched her carefully. He doubted the Lannisters would have let her ride often, while she was a hostage in King’s Landing. To go from being cloistered in the Red Keep to the hard driving journey a month after the peace was set and the armies journeyed home must have been difficult for the young woman.
They arrived at the Maester’s quarters and he provided introductions. Maester Prior directed her to sit, and he took up a position in a corner. She looked to him questioningly.
“Your brother made me promise not to let you leave my sight so long as you were in the South.”
He wouldn’t break his promise to the man who was his King, even if he did not reign in this land any longer. Besides, he wouldn’t put it past the mad King in the Red Keep to try to have her killed. He was not a man – boy – known for well thought out action. His execution of Ned had set the tone for his rule, and her death could destabilize the fragile peace.
She nodded, wordlessly, and continued to sit motionless for several moments. Finally, she took a deep breath, leveled a gaze at the Maester, and asked, “Could you please check if I am with child?”
He felt a warm flush of fear course through his body.
“Why do you believe you might be with child?” Maester Prior asked, evenly. He envied that control.
“My moonblood has not arrived in many weeks.”
“A child requires actions, not merely time.”
“I am not a maid.” She said this as if by rote.
“When did you last…couple?” Maester Prior continued.
“About seven weeks ago.” Seven. Seven, he thought again. Seven would have been after the treating.
She looked to her hands, clasped in her lap, and then returned her gaze to the Maester, studiously ignoring his presence in the corner. “King Joffrey was disappointed by the break of our betrothal, and thought to take what he was owed.”
“Was that the only time?”
“I believe once my maidenhead was gone, the action lost some of its appeal.”
The Maester asked after her stomach, which was unsettled, but no different than how it had sat for months. He continued, questioning whether her bosom was tender to the touch, and found it was not. He asked if she had been especially tired or if she had felt a backache, but she did not know.
“The ride to Riverrun was rather challenging.” She dissembled.
The Maester frowned, and asked if she would allow him to examine her without her dress. She consented with a swift nod and her fingers went to her laces. They nimbly loosened the tie and outer wrap fell away, leaving only a thin linen shift. The Maester asked her to turn away from the door and stepped around to her front. Maester Prior lifted the shift and felt her midsection.
With her back to him, he stared at the cloth canvas before him. It had been rent and repaired, with several horizontal slashes closed with careful stitches. Brown dots and dashes of blood looked like the remnants of ink from a copyist with a heavy hand.
He felt as if he had mother’s stomach himself.
Maester Prior lowered the shift and gestured for her to turn. The Maester paused, then returned to his earlier seat.
“I do not believe you are with child. It is not uncommon for women recently flowered to have their moonblood irregularly, particularly during times of stress. It is too late for moon tea. I would watch for your moonblood. If it does not appear, be sure to inform Winterfell’s Maester on your return.”
“I will,” she intoned, and briefly closed her eyes, as if in prayer.
“Might I also see to your back, and any hurts from the journey?”
The Maester continued, probing, and unwrapped a covering on her back. He went to an armoire and withdrew a small bottle of salve. She seemed only half cognizant of his ministrations, but when complete, thanked Maester Prior with all the appropriate courtesies.
He escorted her back to her rooms and, unlike their prior trip, said little. Each walked with their own thoughts. Once they returned to the rooms empty and still, he spoke.
“If you take up riding and become known for the pursuit, my Princess, no one need know. It is not uncommon for highborn ladies to be good horsewomen, especially in a land as vast as the North, and many a maidenhead has been lost to a saddle.”
“Thank you for your wise counsel, Ser Brynden, but I’m afraid that will not be a solution in this situation, even if I am not with child. You see, King Joffrey declared his intentions to the court upon hearing the terms of the peace, and informed them after the deed that while the North was gone from the Seven Kingdoms, so too was the North’s virtue.”