He arrived without fanfare…a solitary, broken man astride a dappled grey mare.
She was shocked by his appearance. He was gaunt with hollowed cheeks and sunken eyes, looking as if he had aged ten years. As he stood there, cradling his daughter, she barely recognized him as the man she married.
But when he smiled at her, looking more like the Jon of old, she felt her heart lighten with hope.
“She looks like me”, he said in awe.
“She’ll be a beauty like your mother”, replied Sansa.
“Thank you, my love”, he whispered as he passed the sleeping baby back to her mother. Then he dropped to one knee.
“Have you nothing to say to me, young man?” he asked in a mock stern voice.
Torrhen clung to Sansa’s skirts looking uncertain as he stared at the man before him. She leaned down to whisper in his ear.
“Papa”, she said as she gave her son a gentle push.
Torrhen took a few hesitant steps and then reached out to his father. Jon took him in his arms and held him tight, fighting back the tears.
Sansa held out a hand.
“You look like you could use a bite to eat, my lord”, she said as she led him inside, Torrhen swinging from his arm.
The cook took one look at him and began issuing orders to the kitchen staff to bring him his favourite foods. As they scurried about she gave him a hug and bid him sit down.
“If nothing else I intend to use my remaining days trying to fatten you up”, she vowed pinching his cheek.
Sansa watched gravely as Jon picked at his food.
“Jon, you need to eat”, she admonished him softly. “You are dangerously thin”.
He pushed the plate away with a sigh.
“I don’t have much of an appetite”, he replied.
She reached up and pushed aside a stubborn curl.
“Maybe after you’ve had some rest you’ll be ready to eat and then…talk”, she said.
She accompanied him to his chambers and then stayed to help him undress. His ribs protruded but he was not too emaciated, Sansa noted with relief.
She crawled into bed with him and wrapped her arms around him. He was still shivering despite having stoked the fire until it roared. She tucked her head between his bony shoulder blades and waited until he fell asleep before she stealthily withdrew, placed an extra fur over him, poked at the fire once more and left him to rest.
He slept through the night and well into the late morning. When he arose and joined her in her solar he looked better after having bathed and donned fresh, clean clothes. She vowed to trim his hair and beard before the day was done as he currently looked more like a wildling than the lord of a great house.
“Have you eaten yet?” she asked as she greeted him.
He gave her a kiss before pulling up a chair.
“Torrhen shared his lemoncakes with me”, he replied with a chuckle. “It looks like you have competition now as to who loves them more”.
It was so good to see him laugh and smile, thought Sansa.
“And have you been to see your daughter today?” she asked as she closed the accounts book and slipped it into the drawer of her desk.
“I just came from the nursery”, he replied, his eyes misting over. “She is a bonny, wee thing isn’t she”.
“Aye, that she is”, she agreed.
They sat in awkward silence until Sansa finally spoke up.
“What happened out there, Jon?” she asked. “When did it all go wrong?”
He fiddled with his hands before answering.
“Where do I start?” he replied.
Sansa leaned back in her chair and folded her arms.
“Try the beginning”, she suggested.
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