“Hear me out, Sansa”, pleaded Jon when he saw the look of skepticism registered on her face. “I’m not the only one to come to that conclusion”.
Sansa gave him a questioning look.
“Ser Barristan Selmy”, he replied. Sansa was surprised.
“How…?” she began.
“When Joffrey dismissed him from the Kingsguard, he joined Daenerys in Astapor and proclaimed his loyalty to her to make amends for not protecting her family”, he replied.
“When I arrived in Meereen, she was besieged on all sides,” he continued. “and her reign teetered on the edge of disaster. The Sons of the Harpy were waging a shadow war with her in retaliation for shutting off the slave trade and closing the fighting pits. The Bloody Flux was spreading unchecked throughout the populace of refugees who had flooded into the area from Astapor. And although the gates had been barred to them in order to halt the spread of disease, it was just a matter of time until it oozed its way into the city. Selmy said that she had made concessions to appease her detractors but to no avail. She refused to bow to their demands so they struck harder and faster, ruthlessly killing her allies with stealth and precision. She retaliated with mass arrests, show trials and hasty executions with her dragons serving as the executioners. Selmy said that he urged her to exercise compassion and be more judicious but she was determined to turn their deaths into a cautionary tale to others.”
“None of what you have told me so far suggest that they are the actions of a madwoman”, she argued.
“When the executions did not have the desired effect”, he replied,“ her paranoia deepened and she became, at times, incoherent and delusional. She claimed to see her dead enemies lurking in the shadows. The guards were diligent about seeking them out but they were never found. Finally, she withdrew to her quarters in the Great Pyramid, admitting only her most trusted advisors. I might have been refused entrance if it weren’t for the fact that I arrived on her missing dragon”.
“Stress and guilt can play tricks on the mind, Jon. Perhaps she will recover now that she has removed herself from Meereen”, suggested Sansa. Gods help me, she thought, why am I defending this woman?
“I know…and I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt except for Selmy’s final words of warning the night before we left”, he responded. “He said it was the look on her face when she watched those men burn that convinced him that something was seriously wrong. Because, he had witnessed that same look of ecstasy on her father’s face when he roasted your grandfather alive and arranged to have your uncle to strangle himself trying to save him”.
Sansa blanched. The horror of their deaths had haunted her father for the remainder of his days.
“Is he sure?” she whispered.
“She is obsessed with destroying her enemies. She babbles on about righting the wrongs that her family has suffered and seeking retribution”, he replied staring at the hearth. The fire had died down until only the glowing embers remained.
She shivered and pulled the furs closer. The warmth seemed to have fled the room.
“I’ll add more wood to the fire”, announced Jon as he slid off the bed. He donned his robe before padding across the room to pile on more logs.
As Jon stoked the fire, Sansa watched the sparks float above the flames, the light casting his face into shades of burnished red and gold.
We may have handed the keys to the kingdom to a madwoman who would sooner burn it down, she realized.
Jon returned to the bed once he was satisfied that the fire had caught and was steadily burning. She could tell by the expression on his face that he had arrived at a decision.
“Although she didn’t expressly ask me, I will lead the northern forces south”, he said, “but not with the intention of supporting her bid for the throne. I will support my brother’s claim instead”.
Sansa gaped at him.
“She will be furious”, she warned. “Who knows how far she may go in retaliation. Please, Jon…don’t renege on our bargain. We need her and her dragons to rid ourselves of the Others”.
Jon shook his head.
“She won’t know until it is too late”, he replied.
“Jon, don’t underestimate her”, she begged. “She is cunning, charismatic and ruthless”.
He reached out and took her hands.
“I am capable of playing the game, Sansa”, he argued. “I did it successfully while I was north of the Wall”.
“Yes”, she hissed, “but you also had her to protect and vouch for you”.
As soon as the words were out of her mouth she instantly regretted them. Jon’s face grew dark with anger. Although mention of Jon’s wildling wife was never expressly forbidden, it was understood.
She had first heard her name when Jon had been racked with fever after being brought back to Winterfell. He called out her name frequently with such yearning and regret that Sansa’s curiosity was piqued. When she asked Sam who Ygritte was he grew red and flustered. He mumbled his apologies but couldn’t tell her about the woman out of respect for Jon. But Sansa persisted with Sam holding his ground until she got him drunk one evening on strong Dornish wine.
As Sam confessed the whole story from beginning to end, Sansa was rapt with attention. She smiled when she learned how Jon had inadvertently taken a wife when he set the woman free out of compassion. That was so like Jon, she thought. And she had to admit that she felt a little jealous when Sam described their growing affection and subsequent love for each other until Jon’s betrayal ended the relationship. And finally she saddened when she learned how Ygritte had died in his arms after the battle for Castle Black, with Jon trying to convince himself that it wasn’t his arrow that had fatally wounded her.
“I’m so sorry”, she said with contrition. “That was uncalled for. But I said it out of love and concern”.
“I know”, he replied quietly. He took a deep breath before continuing.
“It’s a dangerous game but I’m up to the challenge. I’ve spent enough time in her company now that I know how to handle her and I know she trusts me”, he continued.
“But she doesn’t trust Aegon”, she cautioned. “In fact, she is convinced that he is not your brother at all…that he’s a Blackfyre”.
Jon looked unsurprised.
“You knew?” she asked with astonishment.
“I suspected”, he replied. “I asked Sam to make a few discreet inquiries”.
“Then how can you support his claim to the throne as Rhaegar’s trueborn son?” she demanded.
“Because regardless of his bastard bloodline, Aegon has been groomed to rule Westeros”, he retorted hotly. “Jon Connington raised him to believe that he is the son of Rhaegar Targaryen. He has been carefully schooled and I, and many others, believe that he will be a fair and just ruler, better than anybody else vying for the crown”.
“Besides”, he continued. “I have pledged him my support in return for an important concession”.
“What is it?” she asked anxiously.
”Full autonomy for the north, Sansa”, he replied, “with you as its queen”.
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