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A Game of Stars

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“You want to get me lemon cakes.”

Arya laughed so loud that Nymeria lifted her great, shaggy head and stared at the girl. “You’ll have to do better than that,” Arya said.

Sansa clenched her jaw, her blue eyes meeting Arya’s gray. “You… want… to get me… lemon cakes,” she repeated. For a moment, Arya’s expression slipped away. A tiny droplet of sweat slipped down Sansa’s forehead, giving her a chill. She shuddered, and the life came back to Arya’s eyes.

“I thought you were supposed to be good at this,” Arya said, tossing her head. “Besides, there aren’t lemon cakes here. Nobody has time to make fancy food like that. And where would the lemons come from, anyway?”

Sansa ignored Arya’s words as she stared deep into her eyes. She could do this. She knew she could. According to songs and stories, this only worked on the weak-minded, but she’d been able to do it with Robb, Bran, Rickon, and even her own mother. Arya had a powerful mind, but it couldn’t be stronger than the mind of Catelyn Tully, could it?

Maybe it could. After all, as fearsome as their mother was, she wasn’t Force-sensitive. That had skipped Catelyn’s generation, making her—in the eyes of the Empire—valuable for breeding, but not much else. With fewer and fewer Force users being born, arranged marriages were even more popular than they’d been a few generations ago.

Just then, as she stared into her sister’s eyes, Sansa felt it—her connection to the Force, deep down like it had always been there, waiting, maybe asleep. She felt it rush through her, dulling her sensation to the cold, calming her nerves, even relaxing her muscles. She felt… well, warm. Impossibly warm, for Echo Base. “You want to get me lemon cakes,” she said slowly, every word humming with power.

Arya’s eyes dulled and her head bobbed. “I want to get you lemon cakes,” she repeated, jumping to her feet. Nymeria yelped and rose beside Arya, her tail low.

Sansa laughed gleefully, clapping her hands together. Next to her, Lady’s ears flattened in a kind of direwolf smile. “Arya, wait!” Sansa called just before her sister could run out of their quarters with Nymeria at her heels. “I didn’t mean it.”

Arya turned back to her, scratching at her scalp as if Sansa’s mind trick had made the contents of her head itch. Her eyes were wide as she stared at her sister. “Seven hells, Sansa, that was…” She scrunched up her face before she could slip up and compliment her sister. “So stupid. I’d rather swing a blade any day.” She pulled out her lightsaber from her belt and began to slash the hilt around without activating it.

Sansa couldn’t hide the smile on her face. Robb and Arya might have her lightsaber skills, Bran his visions of the future, and Rickon his powerful—if unreliable—telekinesis, but none of the Stark children could manipulate others’ thoughts as well as Sansa. Being able to use the Force was one of the only good things about being stranded on the frozen, Outer Rim wasteland that was Hoth. On Alderaan, the Stark children were forbidden to do anything with their gifts, or even speak of them. Their father had insisted on it, and over the years he had paid a fortune to hide their Force sensitivity from the Empire. He’d told them once that he didn’t want his children to be used as weapons. Like he had been.

Like he still was, now, in Coruscant.

As if sensing her anger, Lady nudged Sansa’s hand. Sansa petted the soft fur behind Lady’s ears.

Of course, Lady was the best thing about Hoth. When the Starks were exiled from Alderaan six months ago, Sansa was terrified of all the new creatures she’d face. Sure enough, as soon as they arrived—forced to land far from Echo Base in case they were being followed—they were attacked by a huge, furry wampa after their transport landed too close to the body of the massive creature it was feasting on. A pack of direwolves, creatures hunted to extinction in the Core Worlds, had surrounded the wampa, snarling and biting until they’d chased it away. The direwolves wouldn’t leave the Starks alone after that, even following them into Echo Base and living among them like pet dogs. They didn’t know then that the direwolves were just pups, probably orphaned that very day from their mother, the wampa’s victim. Now, the direwolves were as big as horses and twice as fast.

As Robb pointed out, House Stark’s sigil had always been the direwolf. Grey Wind, Lady, Nymeria, Summer, and Shaggydog must have known this—perhaps through a kind of Force of their own—and claimed the children as part of their pack.

“When are you going to try a mind probe?” Arya asked, turning the lightsaber hilt over in her hands.

Sansa looked down at Lady. “Never.”

When she first heard about mind probes, all she wanted was to try them. If only Father would let her use the Force. She could read the mind of Joffrey to see if he really did love her, or find out exactly what made Arya do the things she did. But when she arrived on Hoth and learned that a mind probe could be turned around on her, she was terrified to try it. She didn’t want anyone seeing what was inside her head, and maybe that meant she wasn’t supposed to go snooping in others’ heads, either. After all, she might not like what she found. People kept secrets for a reason.

Like her father.

It wasn’t until House Stark was being stripped of its lands and banished from the Core Worlds that Sansa learned Ned Stark had been part of the rebellion. Not only that—he’d been one of the leaders, the Rebel Kings, along with Robert Baratheon.

He was dead now. But Sansa remembered him well. He was to be her father-in-law, after all. Because Ned Stark hid the Stark children’s Force sensitivity, Sansa was, like her mother, only good for breeding. That was enough to merit a betrothal to Joffrey Baratheon.

Then Joffrey’s father Robert joined the rebellion by killing Elia Martell, Rhaegar Targaryen’s wife and the next Empress.

That was the beginning of Sansa’s world turning upside down. At first, she’d worried that this meant Joffrey was no longer good enough for her. His father was a traitor.

But Joff’s mother Cersei left Robert, taking their three children with her to Coruscant and pledging their loyalty to the Empire. As Lannisters do, Sansa remembered Catelyn saying to Ned, her voice bitter and quiet.

After Robert Baratheon was executed, Cersei married the widowed Rhaegar. Joffrey—Prince Joffrey—was even more powerful than ever, heir to the Kyber Throne after the Targaryens by blood: Emperor Aerys, Prince Rhaegar, Princess Rhaenys, and the young Princes Aegon and Jon.

Sansa had secretly been thrilled. Until she learned that her father was part of Robert’s rebellion. Sansa’s fear that Joffrey was not good enough for her was supplanted by the clear fact that she was no longer good enough for him. Or the Core Worlds. Her supposedly dormant Force sensitivity wasn’t enough to save her. She was torn away from everything—her father, her fiancé, her home.

“You’re crazy!” Arya said, startling Sansa from her thoughts of Joffrey and the rebellion.

She’d lost almost everything—but not Arya, the annoying little sister that she’d always wanted to escape from. No, Arya was here, and she even had to share quarters with her… but Sansa had to admit she didn’t mind it as much as she thought she would. They still bickered like they had on Alderaan, of course, but the funny thing about losing almost everything was that made tolerating Arya easier. Even when she called Sansa names.

“You’re never going to try a mind probe?” Arya asked. “If I had the nerdy mental focus that you and Bran have, I’d be mind probing everyone.”

Then thank the gods you don’t, Sansa thought. Lady let out a warm huff of air through her nose, like she was laughing.

“Where is Bran?” Sansa asked, rising from her small cot in the dim, windowless room the sisters shared. Most of the quarters here were stacked high with bunks, but the rebels had given smaller rooms to the high-born people there. She felt guilty, sometimes, but also thankful that she didn’t have to share a large, loud room with a dozen rough rebel women. Sansa stretched, feeling herself come fully back into her body and out of her head, even as something nagged the back of her mind, like she was forgetting something she was desperately supposed to remember. “I haven’t seen him, or Robb or Rickon, all day.”

There was a pounding on the door.

Sansa jumped, startled, and Arya whirled toward the door, raising the hilt of her lightsaber like she was cutting down an enemy.

“Arya, don’t be stupid,” Sansa said, but her heart was beating fiercely. She had a strange sense that this visitor had something to do with the odd, persistent feeling she couldn’t shake.

You don’t be stupid!” Arya frowned and hit the door’s open button. It slid open as slowly as ever. Sansa laid one hand on Lady’s side, trying to be patient even though all her nerves felt on edge. When the door opened, Bran stood there with Summer, trying to catch his breath. His eyes were wild and darting, like some kind of prey caught by Joffrey’s horrible hunting parties. Sansa’s stomach turned.

“They’re coming,” Bran said.

Sansa and Arya looked at each other. Neither needed to ask what he meant. The room shuddered, growing larger and then smaller, like the last time Sansa had had too much wine. She shut her eyes tightly, trying to think. “Mother, and Robb,” she said. They would know what to do.

“Robb and Rickon aren’t in our quarters,” Bran said.

They weren’t safe. They needed to run. Again. Sansa’s eyes lit on the chest with her possessions—but Arya tugged at her sleeve. “Come on. You’re already wearing your coat.” They all were, always, because Echo Base was freezing. “All you need is your lightsaber.”

“Let me get it, then,” Sansa said, her voice pitching as she opened the chest of her belongings. Her heart squeezed as she saw them all, and she couldn’t help but slip her small keepsake pouch into her sleeve as she grabbed her lightsaber hilt. Arya’s quick eyes probably noticed, but she didn’t say a word as Sansa stood up again. “I’m ready.” She wasn’t.

Sansa followed her siblings and their direwolves into the hall, slipping the pouch into the pocket of her huge coat. The quarters that Catelyn shared with General Brienne—the powerful Force user, almost like an old Jedi knight, who had been training them—was empty. They ran down the long barracks hallway, passing the always-shut doors of the command center, until they reached the mess hall.

Rebels sat at the tables, eating and laughing in their big fur coats. A group of young boys, no older than Bran, sat sprawled at one table, playing cards. Just seeing them made Sansa feel ill. They were in danger because of the Starks.

“There they are,” Arya said, pointing across the room at the table where Catelyn, Robb, and Rickon were sharing a tray of some Outer Rim food that was surely more like rubber. As they hurried through the busy mess hall, rebels grinned and ducked out of their way, staring up at the direwolves in awe. Some of them recoiled, trying to get as far from the beasts as possible. Usually, Sansa would have taken it personally—Lady was so gentle, after all—but right now she didn’t care.

Arya got to them first. “The Empire,” she gasped. “Bran saw it.”

Catelyn’s weary smile faded away. “No,” she said, her voice almost a whisper. Catelyn looked to the sky, as if she could look straight through Echo Base to glimpse at the sky. “How could they find this place?”

Robb stood up, whistling for Grey Wind to come to his side. “We need to get out before it happens,” he said. 

Cat stared at him. “Abandon the others? General Brienne? King Renly? Everyone else?”

“We can’t!” Arya snapped, and Robb shushed her.

“We promised we’d save Father. That’s why we’re here. That’s what we’ve been working for. How can we do that if we don’t survive?” He leaned forward, taking Catelyn’s gloved hands in his. “He needs us, Mother. More than any of these rebels do.”

Catelyn took a deep breath and looked at the faces of her children. “Fine,” she said, looking down at the ground. “But we’re not leaving without telling Lord Renly.”

“I’ll tell him myself. He should know of the threat.” Robb nodded, turning to Sansa. She felt herself paling. Why was he looking at her like she was some kind of leader? “Get Mother and the others to the hangar bay. Find rations and a transport just for us.”

“Just for us?” Sansa repeated. It would be safer to be in a big transport with the other rebels and a true pilot, wouldn’t it?

“A big transport is an easier target,” Robb said. “Set the coordinates for Tatooine. I’ll meet you all in Hangar 7.”

 


 

By the time they arrived in Hangar 7, it was already in chaos thanks to the warning sirens flooding Echo Base. King Renly’s voice thundered over the speakers. The base was to be evacuated. The shields were being raised to maximum power. When Renly announced that the tauntauns that rebels used were to be released outside the base, Sansa clung to Lady’s side, praying to all the gods that he wouldn’t say the same thing about direwolves.

In the crowds, Sansa could barely see straight. Following Arya’s lead, she hoisted herself onto Lady’s back, pulling her scruff as gently as possible. She’d learned to ride horses and other equine beasts on Alderaan, but only side saddle. Lady had no saddle at all, but Sansa didn’t wear skirts anymore, anyway. The four direwolves leapt through the ship deck, Nymeria and Arya leading the way, and Catelyn holding Rickon close on Shaggydog’s back. Rebel pilots were already leaping into the cockpits of their fighters, droids at the ready. 

If the Starks wanted to escape before things turned ugly, they needed to go now.

Finally, Arya spotted a small, empty transport. She leapt off Nymeria and began to prepare it for launch. Robb had seemed to put Sansa in charge, but Arya was quicker at these kinds of things anyway, wasn’t she? Sansa felt her heart racing faster and faster; a ticking clock running out of time. Lady bent her legs and Sansa slid off, keeping her hand on Lady’s side. “What about the direwolves?” she asked Arya.

Arya stopped and shook her head without facing Sansa. “There isn’t room for them all in here,” she said, and when she turned around, her face was red. Sansa had seen that look a hundred times. Her sister was trying to fight back angry tears.

“Shaggydog can’t come?” Rickon gasped from behind Sansa. She turned around and saw him, holding Catelyn’s hand, his features scrunched as if he was ready to cry, too. Bran stood beside them, his face ashen.

“It’s not fair!” Arya’s voice echoed around them. “We can’t just leave them.” 

“We can’t,” Bran agreed.

“We’ll find something bigger,” Sansa said, her voice more demanding. 

Catelyn pressed her hand on Sansa’s shoulder, but Sansa wouldn’t look in her mother’s eyes. “They’re creatures of Hoth, Sansa,” Catelyn said. “They won’t survive the deserts of Tatooine.” 

“No,” Sansa said, shaking her head. “We’ll go somewhere else, then.” Her head felt dizzy, like she was going to be sick. Her life had been torn apart. She’d lost her friends, title, betrothed—even her home and her father. But now that she had Lady, she wasn’t losing her. Ever. 

Catelyn closed her eyes. “There isn’t time. What would your father say?” 

Sansa wanted to say that her father would tell them to bring the wolves. But she didn’t know what he would say. Not anymore. He’d lied about the rebellion. Maybe she didn’t really know him at all.

“Father would say they were the sigil of his house, and proven friends to us.” It was Robb, suddenly behind them, sliding off of Grey Wind’s back. “The more friends and weapons we have, the more likely we are to survive. And the direwolves are both friends and weapons.”

Sansa nodded, relieved, but Catelyn didn’t look convinced as she peered into the small transport. There wasn’t room, really, but they’d fit. Somehow. They had to.

“There’s plenty of room,” Robb said, exchanging a glance with Arya.

“There isn’t time, like you said, Mother,” Arya said, punching the command screen. The transport door slid open. “Let’s go instead of arguing.”

Catelyn took a deep breath, then turned to Robb. “You spoke to King Renly?”

“I did. General Brienne, too. She said she needed to stay by her king’s side until the base was evacuated, but that they would find us on Tatooine.”

Catelyn nodded slowly.

“Mother, you first,” Robb said, ushering them into the transport. “Now, Rickon,” he said, helping his younger brother inside. Catelyn brought Rickon into her arms and he hid his crying face on her shoulder. Shaggydog sniffed around the transport as Catelyn shooed him into the small cargo hold behind the even smaller cockpit. Catelyn strapped them both into the center seat. “Bran,” Robb said, crouching down to face him. “Do you have your lightsaber?”

Bran nodded silently.

“Good.” Robb helped Bran inside and he fastened himself into his seat, calling Summer to his side. Two seats left. That meant Sansa and Arya would probably have to share, even though it should really be Arya and Bran. Sansa was always getting stuck with Arya. And it was Arya’s turn next, because she was the next-youngest after Bran. Sansa waited for her sister, impatient. She could barely wait to get in and leave Hoth, curled up with Lady on their way to somewhere safe. 

At least, she hoped it was safe. She didn’t know much about Tatooine except that it was far, far away. Just like Hoth had been.

No, she thought, pressing her lips together. It would be safe. It had to be.

“Arya,” Robb said, nodding at his youngest sister. She nodded back, and then—then she was pressing the button to seal the transport. The door slid shut in an instant.

Catelyn’s face fell, realizing all too quickly what was happening. Sansa dug her fingers into Lady’s side, unable to speak.

“No,” Catelyn cried, her voice muffled behind the glass of the door and the divider. She reached to unhook herself from the seat, but Robb shook his head.

“I’ve locked it from the outside until after landing,” he said as his mother’s face twisted in horror. “You’re on auto pilot to Tatooine. Keep the boys safe, Mother.”

“No,” she repeated.

Sansa was shaking her head, but she couldn’t move. All she could do was stare at her mother’s eyes, the same Tully blue as hers.

As the transport began to hum to life, Arya placed her palm on the glass, but Sansa could see that her other hand was shaking, curled into a fist. “We’ll find you.”

And just like that, the transport began to rise. Anya’s hand slipped from the glass. Sansa could see their mother’s auburn hair for an instant longer. Sansa blinked and the transport was gone. They were gone.

Sansa leaned against Lady. Her knees were so weak that she thought she would have fallen otherwise. “Why?” she asked, her voice weak. Lady whined. 

Arya spun around, her face hot and red. “We can’t just abandon the people that took us in and kept us alive. We have to fight with them!” 

Robb reached out to Sansa, but she backed away, farther into Lady’s warm ribcage. “Sansa, we’re the only Force users here, besides General Brienne,” Robb said. “We need to help fight. We can buy time for the others to escape.”

“No,” she protested, shaking her head. “We’re not strong enough! We don’t… we’ve only been training for a half a year.” Arya’s lip curled. Sansa knew that meant she was completely and utterly disgusted by her, but she didn’t care. She wanted her mother and her little brothers. She wanted Tatooine, however far and hot it was, because at least it was safer than here. She wanted home and her father again. “Let’s go, Robb, Arya, we can still make it,” she pleaded, grabbing Robb’s sleeve and trying to pull him away. There were transports all around them. The lines were long, but they were the Starks—the rebels would let them move to the front. The rebels would take them to Tatooine, right? Even just to the nearest planet, anything—anything was better than this.

“Sansa.” Robb took her shoulders in his hands, holding her firm. Lady let out a small growl, and Sansa flinched, embarrassed at herself and embarrassed at Lady, who was always so good. Grey Wind flicked his tail and stepped toward Lady. Brother against sister. Everything was falling apart. “Sansa,” Robb continued. “We have to help.”

“I can’t,” Sansa protested. She was hopeless with a lightsaber; even Bran was better than her and he was only 14. She’d been practicing telekinesis on her needlework, but her stitches always came out crooked. She could influence others’ thoughts, it was true, but not more than one at a time. How could that help in battle? “I’m too weak, Robb,” she whispered.

“You’re more powerful than you know.” He leaned back and smiled up at Lady. “And she won’t let you get hurt, will she?”

“You can either fight with us or sit here like a proper lady and die,” Arya snapped, pulling herself up onto Nymeria’s back. “But I’m not waiting for you to cry over it first.”

It stung. Sansa was tired of feeling useless. On Alderaan, everyone had always marveled about how accomplished she was. But ever since she’d been forced into the life of a rebel, she found she wasn’t much good at anything useful except for patching up torn uniforms or comforting the children. Now, finding out that Robb and Arya had planned this all behind her back stung even more. They didn’t trust her to be strong enough to know about the plan.

She wasn’t strong enough. Just thinking about her mother made her feel weak. In a few seconds, she’d lost even more of her family.

But what was it that her father always said? Something about their house sigil. Something about direwolves.

As if Arya was reading her mind, she repeated it now, her voice gentler than before. “When the snow blows and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies—”

“But the pack survives,” Sansa finished, her voice more of a sigh than anything else.

On Alderaan, she was a girl training to be a lady. The future Lady Baratheon. But on Hoth, she was nothing more than a rebel.

No, that wasn’t true. She was a rebel who could use the Force.

Now it was Lady’s turn to read her mind. She lowered herself and Sansa climbed atop her back. If she was going to fight, it was better to have a head start. “Let’s go,” she said, her voice a mix of mourning and terror and anticipation, and maybe just a hint of resolve.

But it was too late for a head start. As soon as Robb leapt onto Grey Wind, Echo Base’s warning alarm changed, chiming at a new frequency. A voice, not Renly’s this time, came over the loudspeaker: Imperial forces within atmosphere. Identified as Stormtrooper elite unit Blizzard Force. 

Stormtroopers. So the Empire meant to launch an attack over land. “Blizzard Force,” Robb repeated, exchanging a glance with Arya. When did they start keeping secrets from her? Before she could think too much about it, Nymeria and Grey Wind began to run through Hangar 7, and Sansa nudged Lady to follow, dread filling her belly. All she could think was that the snow was certainly blowing, and if she didn’t stay with her pack, she would not survive.