She stood between two grassy hills. A holdfast to the south, a large oak to the north. She had been here once before she was sure of it. The sun was setting and the horizon seemed hazy. It was summer, and even north of the Crownlands, the day was hot and humid. Brienne turned in place, catching a glint of sunlight from the oak.
There was a rustle of leaves and brush, a snap of a twig, and she spun, Oathkeeper suddenly in her hands as she prepared to defend herself. But as quickly as she tensed, she relaxed. His gold hair was cropped short like she remembered it, his smile just as sharp and cynical. He wore his red leathers and gold armor, eyes flashing green. Brienne straightened, Oathkeeper mystically gone from her grasp.
“I'm dreaming,” she muttered, mostly to herself. He looked around, taking in the sight.
“Are you?” he asked her drolly. “Odd dream.”
“You’ve both your hands,” she reasoned, gesturing to the solid, hands of flesh which rested on his hips. With a smirk, Jaime held them out before him as if he’d never seen them.
“So I do.”
“Where are we?” She asked, turning around to get her bearings better.
“In your bed at Winterfell.” She shot him a look, completely unimpressed. Even in her dreams he was a mouthy trial. He laughed and waved her off, coming to stand right beside her. As he pointed to the middle distance, a crowd of red and gold tents appeared. “Don't you remember? This is where you lied.”
“Pennytree,” she answered. “You were camped here….But why am I dreaming of it?”
Jaime shrugged, “Perhaps you’ve forgotten something.” He began walking south toward the fort.
“Where are you going?” She called after him. Jaime spun on his heel with a smile.
“To save Sansa Stark from the Hound. Remember?”
She reached out, “No. We didn’t return—”
He shakes his head, “No, we didn’t. What happened, Brienne?”
“A squire.” She whispered. “A squire from Heart’s Home with a message for your sister.”
“Lord Corbray selling out dear Petyr. Sansa was in the Vale. You lied.”
Brienne recoiled, withdrawing her hand. “I lied to her. Not to you. I told you true right away. I could not lie to you.”
Jaime smiled. “You could not kill me,” he corrected.
“No. I broke my oath.”
“You were not honorbound to a vengeful wraith,” he reminded her. “Not that it mattered much in the end, did it? Little Arya took care of that problem.”
“A fortnight after Gendry went south.” She shook her head. “Why am I dreaming this? I know this tale already.”
“But you missed something. Where did we go Brienne? Where did we go from Pennytree?”
“Fairmarket. We were trying to avoid the Brotherhood. And then we went to the Bloody Gates. And then on to Ironoaks. We had to be sure she was there.”
“Then you sent me away.”
“I sent you to Jon Snow. To the last of her kin.”
“There was Edmure Tully.”
“Ah, ah, ah, remember? We thought Lady Stoneheart walked the Trident. No way to keep Sansa safe with that half-life on the prowl. Besides, the Starks belong in Winterfell not Riverrun.”
“You still sent me far from you. A battle and two wars away.” She felt a hand on her ruined cheek.
“There was little to be helped. You didn't know Littlefinger as I did.”
“I could have protected you.”
He smiled sadly at her. “None of that now, Brienne. We did what we had to do.”
“You used to be angrier.”
But Jaime only laughed, “This is your dream, wench! And besides, we had our night together.”
“It wasn’t enough.”
He pressed forward, “It never is.” His arm roped around her waist. “Do you remember how I held you? Do you remember what I said?”
The tears slipped, unbidden, “Yes.” He knocked his forehead to hers and she had to shut her eyes to him.
“You have to think Brienne. You have to remember. Sansa needs you.”
“I fell at the Bloody Gates.” He turned and pointed, and suddenly they were where he said. “There. Three bolts to my torso as we fled.”
“I wept when your brother sent word.”
He put an arm around her shoulders, “I know. Where did you first see him, Brienne?”
“At Ironoaks. I wanted to kill him.”
“Not with Sansa Stark in your arms. She fainted, remember? What did you think of him?” The scene materialized in front of them, just as it had all those years ago, Brienne staring down the bastard who had murdered her love and Jon Snow contemptuously informing him how everything was going to go. They clapped him in irons and Jon sent Brienne away to take care of Sansa. Derron came with.
“That he was not as beautiful as you.”
He laughed. “He wasn’t alone, Brienne. Who was with Harry the Heir?”
The hazy background cleared as another figure appeared. “A woman.”
“A child. A little girl of five or six years, maybe.” She turned, watching herself carry Sansa off to a maester and the scene changed again. They were in the Eyrie on the day of the executions. Petyr Baelish was begging Sansa for his life, shouting that he loved her. For a man who had done so much damage to the living, he was certainly undignified in death. Jon Snow raised Longclaw, and Baelish’s head rolled. There was no sound from the onlookers. Brienne turned her head, taking them all in as Harry Hardyng was brought to the block and Jon began the sentencing.
“She was there.”
“The woman?” Jaime clarified.
“The girl. She watched the whole thing from an outcropping. A little girl. Where was her mother?”
“Why would she weep?”
Jaime kissed her marred cheek, nuzzling there, and his heat was almost real. Almost.
“Why would you?” he whispered.
Brienne lifted her gaze to the little girl again, her wild blonde curls tossed in the gusts. She was staring right back, blue eyes hard and hateful, accusing. But not at Brienne. The knight whirled around, searching for the target. Not Brienne, but Sansa. The young queen looked up, seeing through Brienne, seeing the burning hatred in such a little body. She turned again looking for the girl, desperate to find her, comfort her, take her away before Harry’s head could hit the ground. She turned and she turned, and slowly everyone vanished into nothing. She couldn’t find the girl.
All she could see was stone.
Brienne woke violently, thrashing about in her bed as she clawed her way up through layers of sleep. She was on her feet and in a dressing robe immediately, flying through her chamber’s door and out into the chilled corridors of the Great Keep. She stalked down to the lord’s chambers, calling out to Lucan and Derron to open the doors for her. Jon was a half a day’s ride away according to his last raven and the queen never slept well when they were separated. Brienne expected to find her bent over some embroidery project in the solar. She tore through the room wildly, finding it empty. She burst into the bedchamber finding more of the same. No one. Nothing. Empty.
“Where is the queen?” she bellowed, stomping out into the solar to face the Durwells. “Where is Sansa Stark?”
Sansa was cold. That much, at least, she was certain of. The night previous, she had fallen asleep in the nursery, rocking baby Rhaemon and Rhaenys to sleep. Jon had ridden out to Torrhen’s Hall a fortnight ago, and she always had trouble sleeping when he was away. He had armies to inspect, troops to train, that was just the way of it. And since Sansa had only recently given birth to the twins, she was in no shape to accompany him. An unfortunate side effect of being the one to carry children. To make it worse, she’d been having strange dreams. Dreams about running through dark forests at night, of chasing down rabbits and deer, ripping them to pieces. She hadn’t been able to sleep for very long. The guards for the morning shift must not have realized she was in the nursery, and so were nowhere to be found when she woke, restless, several hours before dawn. She thought to return to her own chambers, but the winds called to her, and so she went on a walk to the wood. Alone.
Now she was cold. She blinked. Blindfolded too, with her hands bound which was decidedly not an ideal situation. Furthermore, she didn’t know where she was or who had whacked her over the head into unconsciousness. As her senses evened out and her center steadied, she realized she heard voices. Three voices. Two were men for sure, but one was possibly a woman. Maybe. All right, so three people had abducted her. Was it possible that they did not know who she was? Equally likely as unlikely, which was a frustrating thought. She wriggled around a bit, trying to get a sense of her surroundings. She was sitting up against a tree. Her feet were unbound, but with her hands tied and eyes covered, she couldn’t get very far. She opened her ears, casting the sense out as far as she could, focusing. Just the murmurs, wind in the trees. A crow. A crow!
“Bran!” she shouted as loud. “Bran, help me!” Her words were cut off by a cry of pain when she was kicked in the side. The force of it knocked her over, sending her into a pile of snow. She hit her chin on a rock, and she did her best to stifle her whimper, but it didn’t work well.
“Quiet, bitch!” a man growled at her viciously.
“That’s enough, Jothos!” the woman scolded. “Let her scream all she likes, she is beyond saving now.” Jothos? Sansa’s brained whirred in recognition, but she couldn’t place it. She couldn’t place the woman’s voice either. She wanted to scream and stamp her foot.
“If that is the case,” she snarled, “then can you remove this filthy blindfold?” They could rape her and kill her, she knew, but that would be nothing compared to what Jon would do to them when he found them. And Jon was going to find her. “I am Sansa Stark, Queen in the North, and I swear on Warrior that I will have your heads. Now remove it!”
Surprisingly, they obeyed her and the dirty rag was ripped from her eyes. She winced as the light burned her eyes, refracting off the snow.
“Pray to whoever you like, Lady Hardyng, they won’t hear you now.”
Inhaling sharply, Sansa lifted her gaze to the woman standing above her. She wore rags and dirtied furs, her hair was brilliant gold and wrestled back into a braid. She was thin, her chin jutting out, and her eyes bright blue. Eyes Sansa could have sworn she had seen before.
“That was never my true name,” she snapped. But the woman only barked out a shrill cackle. Sansa finally took in the two men with her. Tall, burly, also wearing rags. They could have been your average bandit, or maybe of the mountain clans. Their faces were horrible, one had a nose half twisted from being broken so often. The other had a severe scar on his head where no hair grew back. They wore nasty sneers, black furs, and carried battered swords. Probably stolen, she thought sullenly.
“You married Harold Hardyng, you were his wife. His murder doesn’t change that!” the woman shot back furiously. The two men shifted uncomfortably behind her, watching Sansa with far too much hatred for her well-being.
Sansa exhaled, trying to settle her rancor, “Harold Hardyng was lawfully executed for his crimes.”
“False crimes!” she spat back.
“And who are you to say?” Sansa demanded in her bewilderment. “He has been dead ten years, why do you care?” The woman went silent, shaking in fury, her eyes bright and hateful.
“Get her on the horse,” the woman snapped at the men. “We have a long way to go.” They reached to grab her up, jostling her between them. Once on her feet, Sansa jerked her elbows, glaring at them. They smelled of foul meat and heavy sweat, like they hadn’t bathed in many turns. And the bigger one named Jothos leered down at her like she was a plate of sweetmeats. Sansa wanted to spit in his face.
“And where are we going?” Sansa asked airily as they manhandled her toward a palfrey. “Since I’m to die and all.”
“Never you mind,” the smaller man growled at her. She wrinkled her nose in distaste; he had a particularly onion-like smell to him. Jothos picked her up and set her up on the horse with ease, though Sansa did nothing to help him. His hand lingered on her waist and she kicked at him. He laughed at her, and then she really did spit on him. Mother, help her. He slapped her for it, and squeezing her eyes shut, she flashed back to the Traitor’s Walk.
“The first thing my husband takes will be that hand, I promise you. And then I’ll feed it to my wolf,” she hissed lowly. The man only smirked and went to lead the horse. Sansa glared at the back of his head as the horse lurched forward. She couldn’t lose her temper, she couldn’t let them see her fear. She had to be steel. Steel. Her heart fluttered and she thought back to her dreams. Something about it had seemed so familiar. She darted her eyes subtly around to the sides, trying to find some indicator, some marker, that might give away their location. They were moving south…east as best she could tell, but other than that it was flat land and trees, tundra and forest as always. The panic set in. No, she had to be steel. She could panic, she had to be steel. She had to be steel. She had to be steel. She had to be Steel.
Sansa thought about her direwolf. About what it must be like to run free, to move as a predator and not be afraid of anything in the forest. She thought about the strength of the pack. Winter was going to have pups soon, the pack would grow. They hunted together, ran together, slept together. She thought about the safety of that strength, the warmth of it, of Steel’s eagerness to please, her innate excitability. Suddenly, the walls of her chamber materialized in her mind’s eye. In vivid detail, she was taking in her bedchamber, could smell the acrid scent of fear, hear the raised voices, even as the horse moved underneath her and the cold air bit at her cheeks. In shock, Sansa shook herself, pulled away from it like snapping a cord, and the vision vanished. What in the seven?
The others were on their mounts, not aware of anything out of the ordinary. Whatever had happened had been for Sansa alone. With a steady breath, she put her hands to the pommel of her saddle, straightened as best she could and tried to focus again. How had it started? With Steel. She was thinking of her direwolf. Missing her. Wanting to be like her. She settled. She sharpened. And then she could see into her solar. She could see Brienne standing there, shouting at Lucan and Derron. She could hear the guards running through the corridor, waking her children, searching in a panic. Crow Brother, she thought nonsensically, Have to find Crow Brother.
She was moving quickly through the corridors, to the apartments in the south wing of the Keep. Crow Brother and Hunter Sister slept there. Bran, Sansa thought to herself, Steel is thinking of Bran and Meera. It was strange, thinking as herself and as Steel. Was she thinking as Steel? Is that what was happening? It didn’t matter. She lifted her paw to bat and scratch at the door. She could hear them stirring inside. She whined. Crow Brother! Crow Brother! The door whipped open suddenly, Meera holding up Bran, who was wide eyed with shock.
“Sansa?” he breathed out. She paced, turning in a circle. “Get my chair. Summer!” She paced while she waited, whining as Hunter Sister wrangled Crow Brother into his seat. Then Brother Summer came bounding into the corridor, nudging her along. She knew what that meant. Run. So she did.
Even as she rode astride her horse with her kidnappers, she ran with Brother Summer through the corridors of Winterfell, howling. And her pack howled their response. We come, Red Sister. Sister Nymeria broke off from the pack, going west. To Brother Ghost, Sansa-Steel thought with no small amount of comfort, to Wolf Brother. Sister Winter and Brother Shaggy came with Lucan and Brienne’s cloaks in their teeth, dragging them.
“They’re going to her!” Cat Sister cried out. She was already mounting a horse. “Follow the wolves! Follow the wolves!”
The direwolves howled their agreement, picking up speed as they burst through the gates heading South. Come to me, Steel, find me.
With that, Sansa felt herself gasp and she fell from her mount. All the breath was pushed sharply from her gut; tears stung her eyes and snot dripped from her nose as she gasped desperately for air. She vaguely registered the commotion of her abductors shock. Jothos rode behind her and was the first to dismount, dragging her up by the arm.
“What happened?” he snapped brusquely. Sansa panting, struggled against him, eyes trained away from him.
“I’m tired,” she mumbled, not wanting him to see her panic, her fear. He released her suddenly and slapped her again, right across the face. He drew blood this time, the cuff on his arm tearing at the skin on her cheek.
“Let that wake you up!” From ahead, the other man laughed and Sansa felt her rage broil and swell in her belly. She lifted her gaze to him, face tight and lips stretched. But before she could get out some pithy retort, they were interrupted by faint howling in the distance. And then their roles were reversed; he was the one who looked scared. He was the one who faced the unknown.
Sansa threw her head back and cackled, her ribs aching for her efforts.
“You’re all going to die.”
Jon’s party had just crossed the White Knife and expected to arrive at Winterfell before noontime. They had taken their leave of the Tallharts slightly earlier than expected. Jon claimed it was because he was meeting with the Cassels, but in true, he missed his wife. He missed his children. He would have brought Ned or Lyanna with him, but Sansa insisted they were too young to be away from her for so long. Tactfully, he had decided not to argue that point; past experiences were against him. Regardless, he was eager. Their party was small, so they were moving fast. Davos, Podrick, Podrick’s squire Harlan, and Ghost were his only companions. Had Sansa accompanied him, he would have insisted on a larger guard, but Pod was sufficient for the daytime while Ghost guarded his chambers at night.
They stopped to break and water the horses, though Jon was impatient to keep going. Greystar and Ghost must have been as well, they were certainly behaving oddly enough. Usually, the pair of them were easy with one another. Greystar was much calmer on the road when Ghost was nearby, and Ghost often slept with the horse in his line of sight. The beasts had been through much together. But right then, Greystar was jerking his head, stomping his foot. Ghost kept darting in and out of the wood.
“Ghost seems restless,” Davos mused, taking a long swig of his water.
“He is no longer accustomed to being away from the pack.”
“There he goes again.” Ghost vanished from their line of sight over a nearby hill. Then he came bounding back up to stand atop it, facing Jon. On the wind, there was a howl, a wolf song Jon could recognize. Was that Nymeria? And to his shock and horror, Ghost answered. The white direwolf stood on top of that hill and howled back to his sister, head thrown back and snout in the air. He howled louder and longer than Jon had ever heard, even in his dreams. His belly swooped and his bowels clenched. Something was wrong.
“Back on your horses!” he snapped, “We’re moving now!”
“But your grace—!”
“Follow Ghost!” Jon barked back at them. “Now!” Ghost waited only long enough for Jon to mount Greystar and give chase before he was sprinting over the hill again. As they sped along, the wolfsong on the wind danced in Jon’s ears. He could hear them. He could hear her.
The sun was a quarter to dusk when Sansa’s abductors allowed themselves to rest. They had lost their fear of the wolfsong, for they did not heed the danger of it. Sansa had assumed that knowledge of the Stark’s ever-growing direwolf pack was well known throughout Westeros. Either the kidnapping trio had never heard it or didn’t give credence to their reputation. Certainly they pack had done nothing very terrible since the war, but their size was spoken of with great respect. The fools, did they think they could escape? Not one of them had spoken to her again since she’d fallen from her horse; the smaller man was clearly shaken by the whole event, but Jothos had snarled at him until he quieted.
Sansa was feeling much bolder, much more secure. Her pack was coming for her, she would be home soon. Not to mention, she had begun to recognize the terrain. They were on Cerwyn lands, travelling between towns along the lesser used routes. Meaning, they were unlikely to encounter anyone for some time. Occasionally, she focused her mind on Steel’s, trying to figure how much time she had, but they were moving too fast. Soon, soon, soon, Steel would chant back to her. When Jothos yanked her down from her horse and pulled her over to an outcropping to sit, she figured it was as good a time as any to try for information.
“You still haven’t told me who you are,” she said evenly, watching them as they stretched and watered their mounts. “Or what you want.”
The smaller man spat on the ground, “Your head on a spike and your husband’s righ’ next to it.” His words caused a scuffle between him and the other man. Apparently, he’d said too much. Sansa only lifted her brows in vague surprise. She couldn’t possibly fathom what she and Jon had done to deserve such hatred, though they were monarchs, and occasionally there didn’t need to be a reason. Still, it felt personal.
“Obviously this has something to do with Harry Hardyng,” she said looking down at her clasped hands. “But it was your lords who decided in favor of his execution, not me or my husband.”
“You seduced him,” the woman hissed, “Lied to him, betrayed him.”
Sansa’s eyes narrowed in her direction. “I did what I had to do to survive. But I did not wish him ill.”
“Liar!” The woman unsheathed a bejeweled dagger that Sansa did recognize. It belonged to Harry once, a Name Day gift from Lady Waynwood. She pointed it in Sansa’s direction. “We are taking you back to the Vale, back to that godforsaken cliff where he died. We are going to sever your head from your body and toss you from the mountainside like the stupid whore you are!”
Before the woman could do anything, however, one of the men was knocking her to the ground and scolding her for being an idiot.
“Without her, we can’t get him, so cool it!” he barked. “And put that damned thing away!”
They went back to ignoring her after that, and set about making camp for the night. The smaller man built a fire while Jothos prepped the food. She hadn’t heard them use each other’s names, except the once. Jothos still struck her as familiar, though she had yet to place it beyond King’s Landing. She remembered hearing the name in King’s Landing, but nothing beyond that. By her measure, the two men were brothers, and their grudge was against Jon. The reason for that was a mystery as well, though Jon and Tormund had explained often enough that there were plenty who would pay to see Jon Snow dead. The woman was tied to Harry somehow. Maybe one of his mistresses, but she looked too young for it. Not that that would have stopped him.
They passed around their food, huddling close to the fire. Sansa scoffed. It was unseasonably warm out, though she would be much warmer not sitting in a pile of snow. Thankfully she was wearing her warmest mantle, but she could very well lose a toe or a finger to the frost if she didn’t maneuver closer to the fire. She did her best to scooch close without attracting too much attention to herself, although it was somewhat painful. The sides of her chest ached. She wished she had her dragonglass blade to cut through her binds at the very least.
“Stop moving,” the little one snapped at her. Sansa huffed out a sigh.
“If I freeze to death, you’ll be tossing a frozen corpse from the cliff. I would hardly find that satisfying,” Sansa kept on drolly with a calm she didn’t feel, “Though, I can see how it would easier in the long run. Less resistance.”
“Shut up, whore,” the woman grumbled.
“I am not allowed to eat, not allowed to sit near the fire, and now I cannot speak? At least when I was the Lannister’s prisoner I was well-fed and warm.” They were back to ignoring her. When the woman was about to open her mouth, Jothos kicked out at her. She kicked back but kept quiet. “Although it seems an imprudent plan.” She watched them cautiously, trying not to make eye contact, to seem bored. They were shooting each other looks, a silent conversation happening among them that was quite obvious to Sansa, who was much better practiced at this kind of thing. The smaller man whispered furiously as Jothos, who looked ready to hit him again. He ignored him.
“Why’s it—whatsit, you said?” he asked. Jothos did hit him then.
“Imprudent?” Sansa supplied. “It’s near two thousand miles to the Eyrie. Even if we travel quickly, it would still take us a moon’s turn. But we will be traveling through the North, the Riverlands, and the Eyrie, all where many people recognized me. Even the smallfolk. So we have to stay off the main roads. Much longer than two turns, in that case.” Even Jothos had begun to look perturbed, though the woman was starting to become infuriated. “My husband was expected home hours ago, I break my fast with my children every day, I have three guards who monitor my every movement. In all likelihood, they have already begun their search. Aided, in fact, by my brother who happens to be a greenseer.” Jothos frowned deeply, disbelieving, obviously. “You may not believe in such things, but my direwolves do.” She hummed. “And they will find us, trust me.”
“Whispers. Little girl dreams,” the woman spat at her. She kicked at her companions. “She is just trying to scare us.”
“You ought to be scared,” Sansa bandied back reasonably, clenching her fingers tightly together. She held her breath and exhaled sharply. “My husband’s wolf is much larger and far more protective than my own. And he has ripped men apart. Horrible, really, when you think of what he can do to your average stag.” The smaller man had gone pale, frozen in his movement to take another bite of jerky.
She chuckled, “And if you think my husband’s reputation was bad.” She snorted. “You should hear my sister’s. I always wished she were more of a lady, but I have to say—her skills are quite invaluable to me.”
“Stop talking, bitch,” the woman interrupted again. Almost there.
“Mayhap we ain’t though’ this through…” the smaller man said with no small amount of trepidation, eyeing Sansa warily.
“It’s fine,” the woman argued, “she’s making shit up!”
“Right. Of course I am. I am only Queen in the North, good niece to the Dragon Queen in the South, niece to the Lord of Riverrun, and friend to the Lord of the Vale. Have I mentioned that the Lord of Casterly Rock is my former husband and that I have a personal relationship with Lord Tyrell of Highgarden? But yes, your abduction plan is absolutely brilliant, and I am the fabricator.”
“I thought I told you to shut up!” the woman shrieked getting to her feet and upending her plate. She had drawn her dagger again, lips twisted up in a snarl. “Why must you ruin everything?” Sansa’s heart was in her throat, if her hands weren’t bound, they would have been shaking. She could hear the rush of her blood in her ears, felt the painful tightness in her legs.
Fortunately for Sansa, and rather unfortunately for the woman, she decided she couldn’t resist attacking her prisoner. She lunged at her, dagger ready to strike, but was intercepted by a gray blur. It was Steel. Woman and wolf fought, the woman shrieking and the wolf snarling, jaws snapping viciously. Sansa cried out in a panic when she saw the flash of the dagger stray near Steel’s exposed belly, but it was for nothing. As quickly as the dagger raised, it was dropped, the arm holding it going limp as the thunk of an arrow buried itself in her throat. Steel bent to rip the rest of the flesh there out.
Sansa whirled around, hindered by her bound hands, to see her family speeding toward her on their mounts through the dark. Arya, with her bow in hand, the Durwells, Brienne, there was Pod and Harlan, Davos, and…Jon. Her voice caught in her throat as the rest of the direwolves came leaping forward to subdue her two remaining abductors. Ghost tackled the bigger one and Summer tackled the smaller one, while Shaggy, Winter, and Nymeria snapped at their hands and feet if they tried to move. Sansa slumped in relief, suddenly exhausted from the near constant rush of panic in her blood. As her eyes fluttered closed against her sluggishness, she could hear Brienne’s shouts and Jon’s bellows. Heard the shlick of swords being drawn, the wolves’ snarls.
“Davos, see to the queen!” her husband barked from a distance away. Soon, Sansa felt warm leather on her face, on her neck to check for a pulse. She nudged into that warmth and opened her eyes. The Onion Knight smiled kindly at her.
“You’re a tad far from home, your grace.” Sansa melted.
“It is good to see you too, Davos.”
“Are you hurt?” She shook her head no, but she felt him press a strip of cloth against her cheek where she bled. And she was a little sore from falling off the horse. Perhaps a bruise or two? That bastard had kicked her ribs. She twisted slightly and winced.
“Perhaps a little more hurt than I thought,” she amended to his chuckling. She held her hands up to him, “Can you get these off? They’re rubbing something awful.” With a bark of laughter, he cut the rope from her wrists and helped her to stand. She was much weaker than she realized, dizzy from lack of food and trying to get inside Steel’s head so often. Davos had to steady her, keep her upright for a long moment while Sansa’s vision righted itself. Steel cantered over immediately, standing defensively at her side and nudging under her hand. She dropped a hand to Steel’s withers, feeling stronger already. Though she quickly came to center when she realized Jon was beating the life from the larger of the two men who’d kidnapped her.
“Davos, please prevent my husband from murdering those men before we discover who they are,” she requested tiredly. The Onion Knight only left her side when he was reassured that Steel would bolster her mistress properly. He went to try and pull the king away from his victim, alone of course, because the rest thought it a fitting response. Only Brienne looked uncomfortable. Davos wasn’t able to get him away, though. Sansa cringed when she heard the crack of his fist breaking the bones of the man’s face. She took a few wobbly steps forward and called out to him, fingers clenched in Steel’s withers.
He froze mid-punch, his body reeling back from the wasted energy, a smear of blood on his face as he turned to look at her. His eyes were crazed, his expression taut with fury. This was the version of her husband that the Free Folk whispered about. The warrior who had cut through men and demon alike without hesitation. She wanted desperately not to recognize him, not to see him like this, but she did. She saw the man who smiled at his small children. She saw the man who kissed her gently, who treated his servants and smallfolk with kindness. This darkness, this violence was just as much a part of him as all that. But still he dropped his fist.
When he did, she moved forward slowly, not wanting to startle him. She held out her hand to him, silently beckoning. He stared, the mania slowly fading, the rage dimming. With a shaky exhale through his nose, Jon took her hand, standing, and allowed himself to be pulled away from the two men. She ignored his ripped skin, the blood on his hands. Their direwolves created a perimeter, still growling. When Jothos tried to move away, Lucan kicked him. Sansa didn’t particularly care what happened to either of them, but she certainly didn’t want Jon beating them to do in a fit of rage. When she faltered as she walked, though, Jon didn’t hesitate. He swept her into his arms, and Sansa went easily, giving her weight over to him. Silently, he took her over to Greystar, set her to her feet, smoothly mounted him, and then reached down for her. Sansa hadn’t realized that Derron had trailed behind them, his hands went to her waist to lift her up to Jon. She gasped as he settled her in front of him, an arm tight around her waist.
“We ride for Castle Cerwyn. Bring the prisoners,” he barked at them, and then circled Greystar around to the direction of the castle, not bothering to wait for the rest. The direwolves followed as a pack, trailing their wounded sister.
They were only a few hours ride from the castle, surprisingly. All that suggested to Sansa was that her abductors were not as familiar with the North as she might have thought. It made even less sense then, as to why they would be so hateful toward Jon. Sansa decided not to say anything to him just yet. Instead, she held onto his arm, leaning back against the hard press of his chest and let her head drop back to his shoulder. She felt his heart pounding, hard and fast. His breathing was ragged in her ear, chin on her shoulder, thighs solid against her. And even though her body was stressed and tired, Sansa relaxed for the first time in a fortnight, reveling in the familiar shape and smell of her husband. Safe.
The guards at Castle Cerwyn gruffly demanded to know who approached as Jon cantered up to the edge of the drawbridge. Greystar swerved to a stop, and Sansa’s weight was kept centered by the brace of Jon’s arm. Sansa saw their wolves coming to a stop just behind them, Ghost, Summer, and Nymeria at the center, looming over the others for sheer size, while Steel, Shaggy, and Winter flanked them.
“Who goes?” the shout echoed down from the battlements.
“Jon Stark!” her husband bellowed, making Sansa shudder. She would never become accustomed to him saying that name with such sureness and ferocity. “King in the North!”
There were shout, Lower the bridge, lower the bridge, and a bugle sounded as the drawbridge was quickly and hurriedly lowered to grant them entry. The wolves ran ahead of them, creating a protective perimeter around them and preventing any of the guards from getting close. Jon swung off Greystar first and then reached up to help Sansa down. A squire had run off to fetch Lord Cerwyn and the guards were congregating around, recognizing their guests. The commander took an abortive step forward to greet Jon, but Ghost snarled at him, and Steel bared her teeth.
“Ghost!” Jon snapped, “To me.” Immediately Ghost backed off, circling off and around to sit at Jon’s side. The others followed his lead, moving to sit near and behind Sansa. Steel nudged into her side, begging for attention. Sansa reached down to stroke her snout. There was a commotion from the main door as Lord Cerwyn burst through in an uproar, shouting at squires and his steward to prepare accommodations, stable the horse, and generally step to. There was a flurry of activity as people ran to do as he bid. He came toward them with his hand extended.
“Your graces!” he panted out, face red from upset and exertion, “We were not expecting you. I apologize for the state of—my queen,” he breathed out, taking in the sight of her, the dirt on her hem, her ripped sleeve, the cut on her cheek, “What has happened?”
“We apologize for the intrusion, Lord Cerwyn,” Jon said curtly, “But Queen Sansa was kidnapped early this morning. We’ve only just overtaken her abductors.” There were gasps all around, as Lady Cerwyn and their good daughter had raced up behind the lord.
“I can send men right away—”
“Mine are not far behind with the prisoners,” Jon interrupted evenly. “They should be arriving shortly. We need a room to confine them and interrogate them, and accommodations for the night. My wife needs to recover.”
“Of course,” Lord Cerwyn answered fervidly, “Ladies, might you—”
“I’m staying with my wife,” Jon snapped. Sansa clenched a hand in his cloak, looking up at him with a small amount of reproach. He cut a cursory glance at her and scowled. “If you would kindly show us to a chamber, and send a maester and a bath, we would be exceedingly grateful.” Cerwyn agreed to all counts very quickly, passing the king and queen into his wife’s care. Jon gave him explicit instructions to give to their party when they arrived, and ordered the wolves to remain in the courtyard. Steel whined, pacing and circling Sansa however, so they relented and allowed her to accompany her mistress. Though, Lady Cerwyn looked ill at ease having such a creature in her home. Sansa could hardly blame her.
Jon didn’t allow Sansa to take a step without picking her up. As always, he swept her up into his arms, hefting her as easily as one of their babes and carrying her without a problem. It really never ceased to leave her breathless, his effortless strength. She turned her face into his chest, not wanting to deal with the concern and the stares. She left everything to Jon now, let him make the appropriate judgements. Which he did, cuttingly. He asked for privacy the moment they reached the guest chambers. He situated Sansa on the bed and gentled Steel before he allowed the maester to come in a check her over. He refused to leave them alone, and instead barked orders at the servants who were bringing in the bath from the doorway of the bedchamber.
The maester was old and shaky, but he knew what he was about. He assessed her ribs, coming to the conclusion that they were badly bruised, but not broken. He rubbed a salve on her bruises, giving her extra to reapply later, cleaned the scrape on her cheek, and did a thorough check her head.
“Did you fall?” he murmured gently.
“From my horse.” She paused, thinking. “And—and one of them hit me…” Sansa winced when Jon swore viciously under his breath. The maester hummed.
“Rattled the brain, I think,” he told her. “You’ll need to rest for a couple of days at the least, before you return home.” She immediately opened her mouth to protest. The children—
“You’ll do as he says,” Jon snapped from the doorway. Sansa whipped her head around sharply, mouth shutting immediately. He looked grim and angry, the vein in his forehead pronounced. It was best not to argue with him in this state. The maester gave her a tonic and milk of the poppy for when she wanted to sleep. He assured her that once her nerves settled, the pain would surge up. She was to take a full dose and sleep properly to best recover. Sansa agreed with a smile, shooting a glance at Jon. He was watching her determinedly, and she knew full well that she would be drinking milk of the poppy before she went to sleep, regardless of whether or not she was in true pain. In retaliation, she had the old man clean up Jon’s hands, a task he usually preferred to do himself. With a scowl, he submitted, but he glowered at her the whole time. Sansa thanked the maester profusely before he left.
Jon refused to allow a maid in to help her wash, so she set about the task herself. He helped her into the bath and handed her various items from the stool where he sat, his gaze on her unwavering.
“Are you going to tell me what happened?” he asked quietly. She felt his eyes burning into her, and she did her best not to meet his gaze, focusing instead on washing around her ankles.
“I couldn’t sleep—”
She scowled at the interruption, “And, I went out for a walk, early.”
“Alone?” he growled. Sansa sighed, bringing the rag to wash around her knees and thighs.
“There must have been a guard change…”
Jon was up out of his seat, “I’ll have their fucking heads.”
She tossed the rag into the water, “You’ll do no such thing! I went out by myself. I know I should have waited, but I didn’t. Do not punish those loyal to us because of something I did.” He spun to face her, chest heaving. He sat back down, hands tightly clenching his thighs.
“Then what happened?”
With a deep breath, she told him of her short walk, about losing consciousness. She told him about their anger, about the one that hit her, about the woman’s abuse. She told him they were somehow connected to the Vale and to Harry, but she didn’t know how. She winced at the angle of her arms when she tried to rinse her hair, so Jon moved to take over, gently handling her after breaking a man’s face.
“All right. We will interrogate them, find out what the hell they thought they were doing…but, what I would really like to know is how everyone knew where to find you.”
Sansa opened her mouth to speak, finding it a struggle. “I think—I think I warged into Steel.” He moved around to make eye contact with her, his gray eyes wide and questioning. She stroked his beard, longer from travelling. “I started having dreams after the twins were born. Dreams of running through the Wolfswood, of hunting.”
“Wolf dreams,” he supplied.
“I suppose so,” she agreed with a nod and dropped her hand back to the water. “I was frightened. And tired. I started to think of Steel, and suddenly I could see into home. Into our bedchamber. I saw what she saw, smelled what she smelled. I wanted to find Bran, so she did, and he just knew. After that, I am not sure what happened.” She looked over at Jon when he stayed quiet. He was staring at her hair now, brow furrowed deeply and frowning. “Jon?”
“Ghost howled,” he muttered. He said it so softly that Sansa almost misunderstood him. But as the implications began to dawn on her, her jaw gaped open slightly. She felt her heart painfully skip a beat. When he didn’t elaborate, she turned in the tub, grabbing up his hands. Jon graced her with a miserable look.
“I’ve never heard him howl before. Except in my dreams.”
“I thought you dead.”
She pushed forward to kiss him, sloshing water over the side of the tub, but throwing her arms around him anyway. It was sloppy and desperate and a terrible angle, but she’d just missed him so much and all of this was awful. Jon didn’t even hesitate in his response; he kissed her back with equal fervor, arms firm around her naked, wet body.
“Don’t ever do that to me again,” he begged around her kisses. She felt the wetness on his cheeks and gripped him tighter, then broke off to press her forehead against his.
They were interrupted by a knock at the door.
“Who is it?” Jon growled out, pressing lingering kisses to her lips.
“Your men have arrived, your grace. Princess Arya is with the prisoners now,” answered the muffled voice of some squire on the other side of the door. Jon sighed and ground his forehead against hers, his fingers digging into the dips of her spine.
“Are you certain you want to know who they are?” he asked her facetiously. “I’d much rather gut them and be done with it.” Sansa only had to chastise him with a look, and he conceded her point. With a small grin, he kissed her lips and promised to be back in an hour. He was going to send Brienne and a maid to help her dress and settle into bed. And he made sure to emphasize that Brienne was to be in the room with her the whole time, no exceptions. With a roll of her eyes, Sansa promised and kissed him again before he moved to leave.
“Jon,” she called after him, sloshing the water again. He turned, brow arched with one hand on the door handle. “The one you hit, the woman called him Jothos.”
Jon frowned deeply, frozen. “Jothos? Jothos Slynt?”
“Slynt,” she echoed as her memories clicked into place, much to her horror.
“His father, Janos, was commander of the City Watch under the Baratheons. Betrayed Father. Was Lord Commander of the Kingsguard before Tyrion Lannister sent him to the Wall. Had three sons, if I remember rightly.”
Her throat tightened, “You knew him?” she breathed out in a whisper. Sansa remembered the day of her father’s murder with glassy clarity. She remembered Slynt’s ugly frog face smiling with glee while he held her father down against the block. The swine had held her father’s head while Ilyn Payne lifted Ice in triumph. He’d killed Varly, he’d mocked her pain. Jon gave her an odd look she couldn’t quite interpret.
“I executed him,” he told her shortly, and then he was gone.
As Jon exited, Derron and Brienne were approaching Sansa’s chambers. Jon caught one of the maids in the corridor and asked that someone be sent in to assist the queen before storming toward his gray cloaks.
“I want someone at her door and with her in the room at all times,” he said lowly, trying to keep Sansa’s words in mind. It wasn’t technically their fault that she had decided to wander off alone, though he could cheerfully strangle both of them without a second of remorse.
“Yes, your grace,” Derron answered smartly. Jon wasn’t impressed.
“Have they said anything?”
Both shook their heads. “Not a word since you left, your grace,” Brienne answered. “Stubbornly silent. Her highness thinks she can break the little one.”
“Sansa says the woman called one of them Jothos,” Jon told them gravely. He didn’t like it. He didn’t like the implications. But what he really didn’t like was that he had no idea who the woman was. A woman who was somehow connected to Harry Hardyng.
“Slynt?” Brienne echoed eerily, “One of Janos Slynt’s boys.”
“Met him, have you?”
“No. But I know him by reputation. His sons testified against Tyrion Lannister during his trial for regicide. There were three of them; Morros, Jothos, and Danos. Morros was killed in some drunken duel at King’s Landing, but the other two are wanted at the Bronzegate for raping and murder.”
“Excellent, Arya can get the woman’s name and then we will send their heads to Lord Selmy.” Nothing would please the man more, Jon thought bitterly. He’d been usurped as Lord Commander of the Kingsguard with Janos Slynt’s assistance, and it was obvious the newest Lord of Storm’s End still held a grudge. Both of the Queensguards fervidly agreed and Jon excused himself to go find his sister and their prisoners. The squire was dutifully waiting for him and led him to the room where they were being held, Lucan stood guard with Nymeria sitting at his side. Evidently, the wolf didn’t trust Arya alone with the two men.
“Any word?” he asked Lucan curtly.
“None, your grace. Silent as a crypt in there.”
Jon sighed. “Does not bode well for them.”
“Either their throats are cut or she hasn’t let them know she’s in there. Not sure which I would prefer.”
“Cut throat,” Jon answered without hesitation. “You would prefer a cut throat, trust me.” He began to open the door only for Lucan to clear his throat.
“Your grace, I—” Jon turned to Lucan, one of the few men who had been with him through the thick of it. Through the wars, entrusting him with Sansa’s safety, a wedding, five babes, and now this. He was training Lucan’s son right alongside his own. His daughter would be one of Lyanna’s handmaidens, and they would ensure she married well, to a good man who cared for her. This man was his friend. He saw the tight line of torment along his brow, the way his throat and jaw clenched against his own words.
“I would never have forgiven myself—”
“I know, Lucan.”
“How is she?”
“Resting,” Jon answered firmly. “She is exhausted and I know her head aches, but the maester believes she will be fit for travel in a couple of days.”
“That—that is good news.”
Jon clapped the Queensguard on the shoulder, “You all noticed her absence right away. They had only a few hours start, and we got her back well and safe.”
“It is my duty—”
Jon waved him off, “We will sort everything out once I deal with these two. If you still wish to throw yourself atop the pyre, I won’t stop you.” He pushed through the door without a backwards glance to find his sister seated in front of their two prisoners, bound to chairs, while she languidly ate an apple and stared at them. The smaller one, who Jon now assumed was Danos Slynt, did everything in his power to avoid looking at Arya. The other, Jothos, whose face Jon had bashed in, glowered at her with a sneer on his lips, blood bubbling and sluggishly sliding down the side of his face. Jon had broken his cheekbone and his nose, and his right eye was swollen shut.
“Interesting interrogation technique,” Jon muttered drolly. Arya took a wet bite of her apple and pointed.
“The little one is about to squeal.”
“Cunt,” Jothos spat, and he actually did spit, mostly blood, on the floor. Narrowing his eyes, Jon circled around behind him, grabbed the back of his chair and swiveled it, rocking it side to side until the man was facing the corner. Then he grabbed a rag, gagged him, and kneed him in the stomach. Without a word, he returned to Arya’s side, grabbed a stool and sat beside her to stare at the brother.
“Start talking, Danos,” Jon barked. “Tell me who the woman was and why you want my wife dead.” Danos tossed his head, clearly shocked that Jon knew who he was, and then shook it vigorously. His defiance was negated by the obvious fear in his eyes.
“You’ll jus’ kill me anyways,” he squeaked timidly. “Ain’t sayin’ shit to you.”
Arya bit loudly into her apple again, examining it closely, “Brother, did you know, that if you avoid cutting certain places on the body, a man can take near half a day to bleed to death?”
“Half?” he asked, feigning interest.
“Longer if you do it right,” Arya pointed out with enthusiasm. “And it’s quite painful, too.”
“Mmm, it would take Ghost but a moment.”
“Very true. Depends on how much pain you would like to inflict.”
“Well, they tried to take your sister, who is the mother of my children, my love and my queen.” He bobbled his head. “I find myself torn between more pain and more damage.”
“Here is a thought for you,” Arya offered, as if recommending a particular dish for better digestive health. “Why not compromise? Instead of cutting his flesh, we carve it from his bones in chunks, and then feed it to Ghost.”
Jon exaggerated his consideration of the idea, “He was meant to hunt today.”
But at that point, Danos Slynt couldn’t take it anymore. He was sweating and openly weeping, his whole body quivering in fear. Obviously, whatever conceit existed in the family had been given to Jothos with none to the youngest brother. He confessed everything. They had been riding north to escape justice in the Stormlands when they encountered Alys Stone at the Inn at the Crossroads. At first, she was going to pay them to help her kidnap Sansa, but then she suggested they could lure Jon out as well. The Slynts wanted vengeance for their father, reparations for his undue death at the hands of Jon Snow. Everyone knew their marriage was true and that they were exceptionally devoted to one another. There was very little chance that the king wouldn’t come after his wife himself. Alys’ plan was to take Sansa back to the Vale, send a raven to Jon to draw him there, and murder the queen in front of him before the Slynts had their way with them. Arya seemed pleased that her plan brought such information, but Jon was not particularly amused by any of it and thrummed with anger. He’d never hated anyone so much as Alys Stone in the whole of his life. For even he could see that the Slynt brothers were a far cry from intelligent enough to concoct such a scheme. Jon sorely regretted that Steel got to her first.
“And who is Alys Stone? How is she connected with Harold Hardyng?” Jon demanded, barely able to contain himself. Jothos was rumbling from the corner, struggling against his binds. Danos looked between them, absolutely confused, as if he hadn’t expected them to be so ignorant.
Arya leaned over and whispered, “Hardyng had three bastards before he wed Sansa. There were whispers that one of his whores killed herself after his death. Her husband was said to have killed the girl.”
“Clearly not,” Jon growled back. Whatever her intention for Sansa, Alys Stone obviously blamed the queen for what happened to Harry as well as her mother. Her subsequent disownment was salt to the wound. It had probably driven her mad. Jon sniffed and got to his feet.
“Since you have been so agreeable, I shall forestall your executions until the morning. You will have the courtesy of a last meal and parchment to write to whomever you wish. Unlike you, when I condemn a man to die, I do so to his face and swing the sword myself, instead of stealing his wife and drawing him into an ambush. I will take yours heads, sons of Janos, and then we will burn yours bodies and leave them to the winds.”
Jon took his time returning to Sansa. He wanted everything settled and squared away so that they would not be bothered once they were abed for the night. He had food sent to their chambers, he made sure the Queensguards and Arya had accommodations, he spoke with Lord Cerwyn about guard shifts for Sansa. He sent a raven to Bran, to Lord Selmy, and another to Tyrion. The Royal Hand could break the news to his aunt far more temperately than he. Lord Cerwyn was apprised of his plans for the executions. There was some argument; others seemed to believe that the executions should be as public as possible in order to make a statement. Jon had no desire for their words and their lives to be witnessed. All he conceded were ravens, to be sent to every house in every corner of the North, to tell their vassals of their crimes and their ends. Their names would not be given out, their histories would not be acknowledged. Jon was going to erase the name of Slynt from the earth once and for all.
He entered their chamber late, dismissing Brienne and Derron to rest and speaking quickly with the Cerwyn guards who served as their replacements. Soon, he was slipping into the lowlight of the chamber, moving quickly through the solar and into the bedchamber. Sansa was already abed, thank the gods, but he could tell she was not yet asleep. And at her bedside was the full glass of the milk of the poppy. Even after giving birth she would hesitate and resist drinking the stuff. Guilt, she’d told him once, for what happened to Robert Arryn. Harry, on Baelish’s orders of course, had laced his usual dose of the opiate too much sweetsleep. Sansa unwittingly killed him, though she had told the court it was Harry who gave his cousin his medicine that night. He was just as guilty, and Sansa could not have known, but still she blamed herself. She’d kept one of his dolls, and there were days when he found her walking through the Glass Gardens clutching the old thing. Jon and Arya had arrived in the Vale shortly after Baelish had been named interim Lord of the Vale while Harry was taught what would become his new duties.
“You should be sleeping,” Jon murmured, going to sit on the bed next to her. She rolled to look up at him, looking much better and better rested than she had a few hours before.
“I was waiting for you,” she argued on a sigh. “Have you eaten?” Ah. Jon screwed up his face in what was an obvious no. Sansa glared at him reprovingly and pointed over to the table where there was a tray of food. He grudgingly complied, filling a plate with the bare minimum for himself, but making sure to grab her favorites. He didn’t care what they said, there was absolutely no way that she had eaten near enough. Sansa never did when she was stressed. He brought it over to the bed, sitting cross legged in the middle of it and offering her a slice of cheese and bread insistently. She just as grudgingly and sat up to accept it. Husband and wife ate quietly together for a while, passing bites of various foods back and forth, taking solace in the silence of what was so familiar.
“You never told me about Janos Slynt,” she said quietly, focusing on the mug of soup in her hands he’d passed her.
He cleared his throat, wishing she would look at him so he could have some idea of what she was thinking. There were days when she was more a daughter of the Stranger than his wife, when she was shields up and hidden away from him. Most times, he could decipher her innermost thoughts from the look in her eyes. Maybe that was precisely what she did not want now.
“There are many things I haven’t told you about the time before we wed. Many things I never wish to have to tell you. I imagine there are plenty of things you have yet to tell me,” he prompted cautiously. “Like Alys Stone?” That finally caught her attention to him. Her head whipped up sharply to stare at him, wide eyed and brow furrowed.
“Alys? Harry’s daughter with Cissy…Myranda Royce told me she was dead.”
Jon dipped his head regretfully, “She is now.” He reached out for her thigh when she gasped, hoping to steady her while she reeled. It had been an overwhelming couple of days.
“She blames me—”
“She was ill. Half mad. There was nothing you could have done.”
Sansa sniffed, looking up at him miserably. “I thought to take her in. When Myranda wrote that Cissy had…done what she’d done. I nearly wrote to have her brought here.”
“Why didn’t you?” he asked her gently. But she could only shrug.
“Rickon wasn’t well and there was so much to do here. I just…I should have done it. Gilly would have happily helped. She would have been safe—Mother forgive me, I deserve her hatred. I could have—”
“No. Sansa, no. You cannot blame yourself for not saving every wayward bastard that crosses your path. Harry made his own decisions. Her mother made her own decisions. The Royces or the Waynwoods, or any number of families in the Vale could have done the same, and they didn’t. The fault is not yours. And if it is, it is not yours alone.”
Her only response was to sob. Quickly, Jon set the tray aside and moved to comfort her. He drew her across his lap, cradling her to him while she wept. Though it shredded him to hear her cry, that she was in pain, it also soothed him. He hated being away from her for extended periods of time, even though it was sometimes necessary, and the panic of seeing Arya, Brienne, and the Durwells in pursuit of Steel and Summer had been enough to stop his heart altogether. They’d taken only a moment to tell him Sansa was missing, that the wolves knew where she was, before he was speeding off in chase. Without thought or hesitation or doubts. Ghost howled for no one. He had not howled when Jon was murdered, had not howled when he was brought back, had not howled for any of the others who had fallen during the war. But he howled for Sansa. He howled because Sansa was in danger. Because someone threatened Jon’s mate. How long had the pair of them longed for a companion? How long had Ghost protected those Jon cared about? For so, so long. Sansa was the woman he wanted, the partner he needed, the friend who kept him smiling. She’d given him the family he had dreamed about, the love he never thought he’d have. Warmth and home, love and respite. Someone had tried to take a piece of that bliss from him, had tried to steal that love and warmth from his children.
Jon Stark would be far from merciful.
“It’s over,” he murmured into her hair. “It’s over.”
Eventually, she fell asleep in the cradle of his arms. Jon stayed awake the whole of the night, clutching her to him, stroking her hair, unable to let go.
Jon left their chambers before the sun rose. He sent a servant to wake Lord Cerwyn, Arya, Brienne, and the Durwells. Two guards brought the Slynt brothers to the courtyard, a squire tailing them with the blocks. Jon stood to the side, waiting for the witnesses to gather, waiting for the prisoners to be shoved to their knees in front of him. He asked them if they had any final words. Jothos spat, as was expected. Danos only shook his head.
He passed the sentence.
He swung the sword.
When Danos Slynt’s head dropped to the ground, there went up an eerie howl of wolfsong. As the Starks’ direwolves sang out, a response on the wind was heard. Jon’s skin rose into gooseflesh and he shuddered.
“Burn the bodies,” he ordered gruffly as he took a rag from a nearby squire to wipe down Longclaw.
“Will you join us for the morning meal, your grace?” Lord Cerwyn asked graciously. From his tone, there was no suggestion that he would be disappointed by Jon’s absence. Jon lifted his gaze to the manse that housed his wife, hopefully still asleep. He refocused his attention on the blade.
“No. I shall be spending the day with my wife.”
He sent Arya home with the direwolves, with the exception of Ghost and Steel who were reluctant to leave their sides. Arya wasn’t happy about it, but she understood his need to have someone he trusted with his children. He also wanted a full report of their well-being once she arrived home.
Sansa was still half asleep when he returned to her. He slipped out of his cloak and tunic, went to the basin to wash himself. He always did so before going to bed with her. And he wouldn’t be able to bring himself to touch her now if he didn’t. He scrubbed the soap on his hands, working it between his fingers and under his nails. He was so fixated that at first he did not hear his wife call out to him.
Hearing her, he spun quickly, taking in her disheveled state. Gods a fortnight away from her was beyond absurd. He might as well have been four and ten again, telling Gilly her name was pretty. Sansa had grown increasingly self-conscious with every pregnancy, a little shier in how she presented herself. But, in true, while she had been heralded a spectacular beauty in the previous decade, Jon very much preferred this version of her. Hair longer, lines around her mouth and eyes from laughing too much, marks and scars from where her skin had stretched to accommodate their babes, dimples and dips in her thighs that felt softer than any silk, ribs and shoulder blades hidden from view by a healthy appetite and fortuitous harvests. Her eyes were just as bright, laugh just as sweet, and her kisses more reassuring. Ten years later and Sansa still took the breath from his lungs. Apparently his astonished silence prompted her concern. She got up from the bed, hands coming. To his forearms.
“Jon, you’re shaking like a leaf! Where were you this early?”
He inhaled deeply, taking in the warm scent of her lavender and vanilla bathing oils, something the maid had rubbed into her skin and hair to help her sleep. It lingered even still.
“I’d not suffer them to see another sunrise,” he confessed gently, bringing one of her hands to his lips to kiss. Still, she clicked her tongue at the unsteadiness of his hands, the way the muscles of his arms clenched and released aggressively. She led him back to the bed, pulling him to lie across her lap as she had done the night before, and she stroked her fingers through his hair.
“I wish someone else—”
“It is my duty.”
He laughed softly at her derisive scoff. “Yes, but it always upsets you so.”
“Perhaps. But it reminds me the cost.”
“Was today so heavy a cost, then?” If it were anyone else, they might have been offended that he shook so after executing the men who’d wanted her dead. As if he were truly capable of being so distant and detached even in his anger. No, every swing of his sword cost him something. But this was Sansa. When she asked, she wanted only the truth. She wanted to know how he fared, she wanted to help. Jon curled his arms around her leg and nuzzled into her lap.
“Some part of me wishes it were heavier.”
Sansa smoothed his hair back and dipped to meet his gaze.
“And the other part?”
He swallowed thickly, “Could only think that I almost lost you.” Her expression turned pained and she looked away from him. “How are you faring?” He rubbed his thumbs along the divots of her knees, stroking soothingly.
“I will be better when we are home again with the children. Other than that...I just feel stupid for wandering off alone.”
“It was stupid.” She scowled. “Well I’ll not tell you I'm happy about it! Lucan is ready to fall on his sword and you know how Brienne can be.”
“I know. I wasn't thinking clearly. I only wanted to be alone for a while.”
“Where were you going?”
“I don't know.” He huffed. “Well I hardly know what to tell you. I wish there was some deeper meaning to it or that there was some place of import I had hoped to revisit, but there wasn’t. Sometimes...sometimes these things just happen and there is no reasonable explanation for any of it.”
“So I would have lost you for nothing?”
“We lost Father for nothing. We lost my mother and Robb and Jaime and so many others all for nothing.”
He was up and flipping them, shoving her down against the furs and laying on top of her faster than she could squeal or protest.
“Not for nothing.”
“Jon—” she breathed out.
“We are here. And anything coming for you is going to have to rip you from my cold, dead hands.”
“Don't talk like that.”
“I mean it, love,” he growled out. He unlaced her shift so that he could get to her breasts. He pressed wet, open mouthed kisses down the line of her throat, to her chest and over the rounded softness of each breast. “Don't know how many ways I can say it, how often,” he murmured against her skin. He smoothed his hands along the thick of her thighs and gripped her arse tight. He was trying to be careful, not to put weight on where she was bruised and hurting. But her legs gripped his hips, she was pulling them up closer to her chest. And Jon knew that move, knew what she wanted. It was how they made the twins after all.
“What do I have to do to convince you? How do I get you to be more cautious? Do I have to lock you away in the Keep?” He bent her legs back slowly, gauging her reaction to make sure she wasn’t in pain. He rolled his hips down teasingly, smirking when she bit her lip to stifle a whine.
“I would do it, you know,” he continued, reaching down to undo the laces of his breeches. But it gave her enough room to sit up and shuck off her shift, to reach for the hem of his shirt. When she pulled it over his head, he ducked to kiss her, hungry and excited and just this side of agitated.
“I would lock you in our bedchamber,” he said around kisses, maneuvering her back so he could get rid of his breeches. Then he dove back down, rumbling in satisfaction for skin on skin, and bracing her legs against his chest. Sansa arched up to meet him for a kiss, her hands in his hair as he worked her nub. “I would,” he bit out against her lips. “You would just have to conduct your duties from our bed.” He slid the breadth of his hand along her cunt, dragging his fingers back between her folds. He drank down her gasps. “No one would get to see you but me. They would write songs about the hidden Winter Queen.”
“Jealous,” she hissed, lifting her hips against him.
“Always,” he kissed her deeply, “Endlessly.” He moved down to lavish attention on her teats, sucking and lightly biting as she liked it. When he felt her peak, he kissed her mouth again and pushed into her. She cried out, finishing on a satisfied hum, and moved her left leg to his left shoulder to clamp tightly down on him. Jon let out a long string of expletives, mentally reciting the Targaryen family tree to keep from coming. (He’d mastered the Stark line years ago, at least the Targaryens required some concentration.)
“You missed Daemon,” Sansa japed breathily, her reddened face making her the blue of her eyes sparkle all the brighter. Jon bit out a noise somewhere between a laugh and a growl, and hiked his hips back to thrust back into her. Sansa’s giggles were replaced by moans as he set a steady pace, slow and even, wanting to burn her up, mark her. Remind her who she belonged to.
Remind her just how desperately and pathetically he belonged to her.
Sansa was babbling incomprehensibly at him, her face and chest burning bright red. He ran his hands up the length of her legs, separating them again and urging her onto her side to change the angle. She had one leg on the bed, the other hooked over his shoulder, and he picked up the pace, shallowly driving in and out of her with a hand on her nub, working it in opposite time.
Jon didn’t last more than a thrust after her muscles fluttered around him. He’d been barely holding on as it was. She was just so wet and took him so eagerly, always struggling to keep him with her. Given even the smallest opportunity, he would have fucked her forever, just stayed buried in her. He’d long hoped the sharp edge of his need for her would lessen or dull as time passed, but to no avail. He never tired of being close to her, he could never turn her away. Jon dropped her leg as he spilled into her, smoothed his hands along her sides and belly as she fluttered through the aftershocks of her release.
When he finished and pulled from her, Jon slid his hands to her waist and rolled them so she was stretched atop him. She sighed in relief, the pressure off her bruising, and perched herself on his hips. Her hair fell forward in waves as she balanced herself, still catching her breath. She scratched her nails into his chest hair, twining the rough curls around her fingertips.
“Are you trying to keep me pregnant?” she rasped out indignantly. “I swear on the seven, Jon Snow--” But he cut her off by reaching for her neck and dragging her mouth back to his.
He kissed her deeply, thoroughly exploring her mouth with his tongue, gentling her protests with the softness of his lips and expert nips.
“Sounds like an excellent plan.”
She pinched his side, “Yes, because your feet don't swell to the size of boats.”
“All I'm hearing is that you cannot get very far, very fast, so the plan is better and better by the moment.”
She thwacked his chest, “Idiot.”
“An idiot with a mission now,” Jon mumbled lifting his head to latch his mouth on her teat. She squirmed against him, rocking her hips. “Have mercy,” he groaned, “I’m an old man.” Sansa laughed, twisting her hips, making his cock twitch with interest.
“Oh,” she crooned teasingly, “But I thought you had a mission?”
“Well some of us,” he rumbled, kissing between her breasts and down her belly. He gripped her hips tight, lifting her just so, so that he could slide down between her legs. “Need a break after doing all the work.” Sansa laughed only long enough for Jon to latch his mouth on her cunt, making her groan and shudder for being so sensitive. He lapped at her, tongue curling into her only to drag out, licking a stripe up to her nub. He brought her back up slowly, spurred on by her breathy moans and whimpers, by the shake of her thighs from trying to keep upright. His hands dug into the give of her softness, pulling her down closer to his face for better access. And she moved against him, fucking herself on his lips, and fingers, and tongue, not caring if he could keep up with her. It was something he’d come to love about doing this to her; she always chased her own end, thoroughly enjoyed his attentions and just let everything go. No trace of the proper lady Catelyn Stark had raised could be found in their bed. Her heat pulsed, the pressure around his fingers jumped, and she gushed with a dry squeal. Gods, he loved that squeal. He moved to eagerly lick at her sweet juices, soothing her through her peak. But he didn’t have long, however, because she must have been too sensitive. Sansa threw herself off of him, flopping to the side. He rolled, following her, trapping her legs beneath him and using her belly as a pillow. He hummed when she dug her fingers into his hair.
“How was that a part of your mission to keep me pregnant?” she panted out flippantly. Jon snorted, turning into the softness of her belly, kissing and nuzzling.
“Remember the first few days after our wedding?”
It was her turn to snort, “I remember not being able to sit a horse for a week.”
“When we’re home, we’re trying for a fortnight.”
“I thought Tormund was incorrigible.”
“You can share the title.”
“All right, well, Jon the Incorrigible is ready to go again.”
“Jon! Honestly—ugh, would you mind the ribs? Ah oooh ooh ooh, hhhmmm, bloody buggering Others, I hate you.”