Sansa rocked back on her heels and ran a hand across her damp forehead to push her hair off her face. Then she wiped her hands on her pinny and rose to her feet to take stock of how the harvesting and replanting was progressing.
Torrhen was enthusiastically picking the delicate strawberries. Sansa estimated that half were ending up in his increasingly distended belly judging by the red smear on his lips and hands. She scolded him for being greedy while wiping off his face and hands. Then she gave him a small spade and showed him how to dig up the potatoes and carrots. Within minutes, dirt was being flung in all directions as he attacked this new task with equal gusto.
She didn’t hear Jon enter the glass gardens until she felt his arms slip around her and his lips on the back of her neck. She closed her eyes and leaned into him.
“So, what did Sam say?” she murmured.
“He agreed that it is an impressive shade of purple”, he whispered softly before he kissed her behind her ear.
Sansa twisted to give him a withering glance and gave him a playful dig with her elbow. He made a show of mock protest as he rubbed his chest.
“Is there no treatment for it?” she asked as she returned to her planting.
“No, except I should keep both of them covered in future when venturing outside in such extreme cold”, he said as he removed his cloak and tossed it aside. He rolled up the sleeves of his shirt and passed her the watering container.
Sansa sprinkled water on the row of seedlings and then set aside the container. Then she reached up to tug on Jon’s curls.
“You would think such a massive head of hair would help prevent your ear from becoming frostbitten”, she teased. She giggled as he threw back his head and shook his curls like a preening peacock.
She stepped aside as Jon produced another flat of seedlings to be planted before they lost the light for the day. She watched him as he deftly dug a line of small holes and popped the young plants into the pockets. She followed up with the watering container. They continued in silence, rhythmically working side by side until the planting was done. By this time Torrhen was bored with digging for root vegetables and begged to be picked up by his father. As Jon lifted his son on to his shoulders, Sansa took a few seconds to appreciate how improved he had become.
He was recovering steadily as food and rest had added a few pounds and taken away a few years. The cook made him tasty dishes which he devoured with alacrity. The only choice cut of meat he refused to eat was roast pork. He said that the smell alone caused his stomach to roil.
“Too many bad memories”, he said as he blanched and leaned against the wall for support the first time he passed by the kitchen as the meat slowly turned on the spit. “There’s a reason they refer to human flesh as long pig”.
As they walked across the yard, Torrhen pointed excitedly to a large flock of birds taking flight into the dimming sky. Sansa looked up and saw that the sky was alive with the fluttering of their wings but they did not call to each other. She looked around with a sense of unease but could only see their long shadows spreading out on the hard packed snow.
She caught Jon’s eye and saw that he, too, looked worried.
“Something has spooked them”, he muttered under his breath.
“We need to make haste”, she said. “We have to make sure everyone is prepared”.
They parted ways as they entered the castle. Sansa delivered Torrhen to the nursery while Jon dispatched men and women to warn the others to prepare for a possible imminent attack.
Jon mustered some men to check on their defenses. Once they were assured that the newly reinforced gates would hold and that the entrance to the crypts had been sealed off, they herded the very young, old and infirm into the maester’s tower once more. And then they waited.
Sansa stood next to Sam before the open window with her daughter cradled in her arms. The moon was up and casting a silvery light over the scene before them, giving the illusion of life outside the stalwart walls of Winterfell. She could just barely make out Jon pacing on the battlement, his heavy cloak twisting in the breeze. Everyone was in a state of readiness.
The fog crept through the trees like a ghostly apparition. Tendrils of white mist floated towards them and gently licked at the outer walls. Sansa could hear the shouts of alarm go up amongst the men on watch and she watched Jon peer over the wall, Ghost at the ready by his side.
“This is very odd”, observed Sam, his brow furrowed. “I don’t understand…we shouldn’t be experiencing fog on a night like this. It’s too cold and windy”.
Sansa let out a slow breath.
“Death stalks us tonight”, she murmured. “I hope and pray that when my time comes there will be somebody left to feed my body to the fire”.
Sam raised his hand to her shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. She looked at him gratefully before leaning down to kiss her daughter’s downy head.
She startled with the first blast of the horn. She passed her daughter to the attending nursemaid when she heard the second blast. Then she closed the shutters when she heard the third.
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