They stood together, hand in hand, with the freezing mist swirling about them. The soupy fog had penetrated the castle grounds, making it impossible to see beyond one’s reach.
“Where in seven hells are they?” fumed Jon in frustration.
Sansa could hear the shouts of the archers calling for more torches.
“That won’t do any good”, she muttered. “No light can penetrate a fog this thick”.
“Quiet!” shouted Jon. “If we can’t use our eyes then we need to use our ears”.
Silence ensued. Both Sansa and Jon strained to hear beyond the sound of the wind whistling through the trees.
“There!” came the excited cry.
As the mist parted, Jon and Sansa saw three spectral figures with penetrating blue eyes seated on decaying horses. The horses pawed at the snow impatiently while the faces of the Others remained impassive.
The archers drew back their bows and prepared to loose a volley of arrows until Jon called out a halt.
“Jon”, hissed Sansa, “what are you doing? Now is our chance!”
Jon shook his head.
“Look and listen, Sansa”, he said staring at the three creatures. “They have come alone”.
True, thought Sansa as she glanced about wildly. An army of wights is incapable of being silent and stealthy. But these three are far more dangerous than any army they command.
Jon turned to her.
“I’m going out to meet with them”, he said.
“No, Jon”, she entreated. “This is madness. You can’t possibly expect any mercy from them”.
“I’m not expecting mercy”, he muttered, “just an end to this damned war”.
“You can’t go out there alone”, she said shakily.
He smiled and whistled.
“I won’t be alone”, he said as Ghost trotted to his side. He gave her a kiss and a quick squeeze.
“I’ll be back”, he whispered before descending the steps with Ghost close at his heels.
Sansa wrung her freezing hands as she watched the pair of them cross the moonlit expanse before the mist enshrouded them and they were lost to view. She watched and listened helplessly as some of the men and women gathered behind her.
She beckoned to the lead archer.
“Take a few of the men and sufficient arrows with obsidian tips. Bring him back. Show no mercy…they have played with us long enough”, she ordered. He nodded before issuing the order to saddle up some horses.
She paced nervously along the battlement for the better part of an hour. Finally she could contain herself no longer.
“Jon!” she screamed hoarsely into the rolling mist. “Jon!”
She was met with silence. Finally she could hear the crunching of snow as dark figures emerged from the ghostly mist. A knot of fear formed in her chest as she waited for them to reveal themselves.
“Milady”, cried the halting voice of the lead archer, “I’m requesting permission to call off the search”.
“Get back inside these walls and explain yourself”, she called out angrily.
She ran carefully down the steps and met them outside the stable.
The archer dismounted and lowered his gaze when he saw her blazing eyes.
“We searched everywhere, milady”, he mumbled. “The fog is so thick in some places that the horses stumbled more than once and one almost broke a leg. We pressed on because we know this land like the back of our hands but it’s like they vanished into the night”.
Her face softened when she saw the misery and disappointment writ large on their faces.
“Keep watch tonight”, she said, “and resume your search at first light”.
Sam was alone in the maester’s tower when she arrived. He assured her that both children had been taken to the nursery. Sansa sat in one of his chairs looking dejected. Sam took her hand and patted it gently.
“Jon is a survivor, Sansa. He has lived more lives than I will ever see”, he said as he comforted her.
She thanked him for his kind but empty words and dragged herself off to collect her children to take them to her bedchamber.
While she fed Lyra, Torrhen bounced on the bed before sliding under the furs. His eyes grew heavy as his mother tucked his baby sister into the cradle which stood beside the bed. And then, as the last candle had been snuffed, he curled up in his mother’s arms and was soon fast asleep.
Sansa lay awake for a while, watching the interplay of light and darkness on the ceiling, until sleep finally overcame her.
She awoke a few hours later to the sound of her daughter crying.
“Hush, little love”, she whispered as she lifted the baby from the cradle. “Let’s not wake your brother”.
While her daughter fed, Sansa gazed intently at the fire as if to find an answer in the flames. The room was cooling rapidly as the fire slowly extinguished itself with nothing left to keep it alive. By the time Lyra was placed on her mother’s shoulder, the fire was nothing but embers and they sat in almost total darkness.
As she placed her sleeping daughter back in her cradle and covered her with extra furs, Sansa could hear Jon’s words echoing in her head:
“Sansa, can we get out of the water now? It’s bloody cold.”
She threw more wood on the fire. As she poked and prodded the logs to encourage the fire to come to life, she heard same words again only this time she could swear that he was right beside her. She swiveled and scanned the room quickly but she saw only shadows and her own sleeping children.
And then she felt the cold realization tightening in her gut.
“I know where he is”, she whispered mournfully.
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