Torrhen burbled happily as he squished the mud between his plump little fingers. Then he squealed as he smashed his fist repeatedly into the pile of mud until he was almost completely covered in it.
“Well, it looks like the little lord is going to need a bath sooner than later”, said the nursemaid as she bent down to pick up the protesting child.
Sansa looked up from the seedling she was shoring up and smiled at the sight of Torrhen frowning and trying to wipe his dirty hands on the front of the nursemaid’s pinny.
“After you have bathed him you can take him to the kitchen for his tea. The cook says she has some choice bits of food she has prepared for him today”, called out Sansa as she sprinkled water over the plants before her.
Sansa hummed while she moved about the glass gardens, trimming back some of the plants and harvesting others. The number of hours of daylight was diminishing as winter settled in. So every minute spent in the warm and humid gardens was a reminder that there was still life to be found in the midst of this bare, cold and indifferent world.
She gathered up some vegetables for the root cellar and placed them in a large basket. Then she fastened her cloak and reluctantly returned to the castle with the basket balanced on her hip.
The winds had picked up since she had entered the glass enclosure and Sansa wondered if another snow storm approached. With every careful step on the ice and packed snow, she found herself battling increasingly stronger winds. She set the basket down and pulled her cloak closer around her as the wind whipped her hair around her face. She searched the blue skies for signs of dark grey clouds scudding in from the northwest but the only ones she could see were white, fluffy and benign.
She heard the shouts from the sentries first before she heard the telltale shriek coming from beyond the Godswood.
“Jon!” she screamed with joy.
She picked up her skirts and hurried closer to the yard. She could hear the flap of Viserion’s vast leathery wings as man and beast appeared over the trees.
She ran towards Jon just as he dismounted. She threw herself into his arms, laughing giddily as he lifted her off the ground in a great bear hug.
“My love, my love”, he murmured, holding her tight, “I have missed you so much”.
“I was beginning to fear that you would never return”, she cried, her voice muffled as she buried her face in his shoulder.
“Didn’t I tell you that I will always come back?” he replied teasingly as he lowered her to the ground.
She grabbed his face with both hands and gave him slow, passionate kiss which left them both breathless. Then she grabbed his hand and pulled him towards the castle entrance as Viserion rose out of the yard and took to the sky.
“Why didn’t you warn me that you were coming?” she asked, half dragging him down the corridor towards her chambers.
“There was no time”, he replied.”A dragon can always travel faster than a raven, especially when it’s only from White Harbour”.
She stopped and turned to him.
“White Harbour?” she asked with curiosity.
“I had to sign for a line of credit with the Iron Bank of Braavos in order to purchase more provisions”, he replied while leaning against the wall. He looks so tired, Sansa noticed. There are dark circles under his eyes and his brow looks perpetually furrowed.
“What did you use to secure it?” she asked.
“The Gift”, he replied.
“I didn’t know you had the authority”, she responded coolly.
“I am the last living commander of the Night’s Watch and I am married to a Stark…it was sufficient as far as the bank was concerned”, he explained.
And no doubt they are charging exorbitant rates for the privilege of funding this war.
“What has happened to Daenerys’ gold?” she demanded.
“Gone. Much of our funding was coming from Aegon’s supporters. After his death, they stopped sending money. Before long the coffers had run dry”, he admitted.
”When you are fighting a war in the far north”, he continued, “there is very little in the way of plunder. And wars are very costly to finance. Feeding and equipping an army takes enormous resources, resources that are becoming more and more scarce now that winter is here”.
Not to mention the huge cost of human life, added Sansa silently.
“How many did she lose?” she asked.
Jon bowed his head briefly before answering.
“Almost half…many to disease, some to the elements and some just seemed to give up on life”, he whispered.
“And we still haven’t begun to fight”, he added grimly.
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