Sansa had been sensing it all morning. She listened carefully as she stood in the yard holding Lyra against her shoulder. While her daughter whimpered and sucked her fingers, Sansa strained to hear the familiar noises but the silence was broken only by the sounds of hammering and sawing in the distance. She stared intently at the sky and then lowered her gaze to watch Ghost circle Jon in an agitated manner as he strode from the stable. When the wind suddenly gusted, lifting her skirts into the air, she knew the time had come.
“Your new steed arrives anon, Jon Targaryen”, she sang out. Jon rolled his eyes and reached out to grab Ghost as dragon cries filled the air. He motioned to his men to clear the yard while Sansa hurried to remove herself and Lyra to safety.
Rhaegal glittered like a giant emerald as it descended from the firmament. Jon fixed his eyes on the dragon as it skidded on to the slushy snow and slipped into its skin to control its fiery temperament. Sansa watched uneasily as the dragon surveyed the yard with baleful eyes. Its smoky, sulphurous breath suffused the air surrounding it as it throbbed with heat.
The dragon swiveled when it heard the snort of a pig penned up nearby. Its eyes narrowed and its lizard-like tongue darted out in salivatory anticipation. Sansa could see Jon struggling to curb the dragon’s natural instinct to plunder the stalls of Winterfell.
This one, she realized with concern, might not be as compliant as its sibling.
Ghost circled the perimeter of the yard, his tail swishing back and forth, never letting the dragon out of his sight. Jon called out to the saddler and his apprentice to haul out the saddle that had been created using Viserion’s measurements. The saddler and the boy approached the dragon using great caution as if prepared to flee at a second’s notice should the dragon open its mouth to unleash a hell storm of fire.
Jon kept one hand placed firmly on the dragon’s haunch as the saddle was thrown on its back. The saddler froze in fear when the saddle slipped slightly and the dragon swiftly turned its head to fix the man in its hypnotic gaze.
“Keep going, man…I promise you it won’t hurt you”, barked Jon. The saddler dipped his head and continued to fumble with the straps. Sansa could see his lips moving as if offering a silent prayer for help while the boy kept glancing at him with a perpetually worried expression on his face. The dragon shifted impatiently as they slid their fingers underneath the saddle as they looked for points of irritation and unnecessary slackness.
Sansa was diverted from watching the hapless saddler and his apprentice as Lyra’s whimpers had now become cries of hunger.
“Let’s go inside and feed you, little one”, whispered Sansa as she rubbed and patted her daughter’s back. As she turned towards the entrance to the castle, she was startled by a familiar cry.
“Papa”, yelled Torrhen. He was returning from feeding the birds in the godswood and had broken away from his nursemaid. Sansa swiveled back in time to see him barreling down as fast as his short little legs could carry him towards his father…and the dragon. Rhaegal tossed its head and turned quickly, snorting oily smoke, in the direction of the child running towards it.
But before Sansa could open her mouth to warn him, Jon had already intercepted Torrhen and scooped him up into his arms. Torrhen laughed and threw his arms around Jon’s neck, peppering his face with kisses. Sansa didn’t realize she was holding her breath until she slowly let it out.
She expected Jon to hand over Torrhen to his nursemaid’s care. Instead, she shook her head dumbly as she watched Jon stride over to the dragon with Torrhen still in his arms. As the two stood before the fearsome creature, Torrhen reached out to touch the dragon’s snout. He quickly pulled his hand away and made a face.
“Hot”, he declared.
Jon chuckled and kissed his son’s forehead before setting him back on the ground and shooed him towards the nervous nursemaid. She scurried after him as he ran towards his mother and sister, beaming with delight at Sansa while she made side eye contact with Jon. We will speak of this later, she telegraphed. He nodded, his chin raised defiantly, and turned back to mount Rhaegal.
The dragon bucked and screeched as Jon hung on stubbornly to the reins and dug his heels in. Ghost showed his teeth and bristled but sensed enough to not come any closer. Jon reached out to stroke the dragon’s neck and spoke soothing words into its twitching ear. The dragon exhaled a plume of smoke and calmly unfurled its mottled green wings.
“I won’t be long”, announced Jon as the dragon reared in anticipation of mounting the sky. Sansa nodded.
“Ghost, to me”, she called out sharply as the direwolf darted about anxiously while dragon and rider left the ground. Torrhen grasped a handful of white fur after Ghost nosed his way in between them while Sansa watched Jon and his new pet fade into the distance.
They returned just as the sun was peeking over the highest hill. Jon’s eyes glittered as he excitedly recounted how he met up Howland and his men as they continued to march north towards Castle Black.
“They should arrive within a few days and then everyone will be in place”, he said as he pulled off his cloak and shook it out. Sansa took it from him and hung it up.
“Have they encountered any resistance along the way?” she asked.
“They have had a few skirmishes but nothing they couldn’t handle. The worst is yet to come”, he replied grimly.
Within the past few weeks, the ravens had been flying in with messages of armies arriving at the castles that lined what used to be the Wall. Dickon Tarly’s men occupied the Westwatch while Wyman Manderly’s men took over Eastwatch. Robert Arryn’s men were sailing up the coast with the intention of taking over Rimegate while the Blackfish marched his men up to Castle Black. Sigorn and the men of the mountain clans already occupied the Shadow Tower, Greyguard and Hoarfrost Hill. The Umbers, the Mormonts stood at the ready in Queensgate and Oakenshield while the Dustins and what few Bolton loyalists were left took up residence in the Nightfort. The Blackfish was marching the Riverlanders towards Castle Black and was prepared to take a fallback position should any wights penetrate their defenses. In the meantime, Shireen Baratheon, at Jon’s request, sent weapons from Dragonstone made of obsidian, caches of which were delivered and distributed to each of the occupied castles.
Arianne Martell had sent word that several ships were sailing from Dorne with provisions and volunteers. And she reported with some satisfaction that Myrcella was experiencing some success in convincing her timid brother to defy his mother and grandfather and send troops to the north to prevent a catastrophic event from occurring.
All that was left was for Jon to join them in leading them out of the long night in the battle for the dawn.
“They’re almost finished”, he said jerking his chin towards the window. “Once they have piled up the snow and placed branches over their positions then they’ll be ready if the wights advance this far south again”.
Howland had left a contingent of crannogmen to help defend Winterfell. Jon assured Sansa that although the men of Greywater Watch were small in stature, they more than made up for in their cunning. They had spent the last few days constructing traps and blinds in the woods surrounding the castle. Jon reminded Sansa that Greywater had never been successfully invaded.
“May I remind you that we don’t live in a bog which can suck a man into its very depth by virtue of the weight of his armour”, she had responded drily. “I hardly find that a ringing endorsement of their skills…it’s more an accident of geography”.
Jon laughed and assured her that the wily crannogmen were more than capable of adapting their effective defensive skills to more frozen climes.
She caught his hand as he turned towards the door.
“Jon”, she hesitated, “you know how uneasy I am about having a dragon in our midst”.
Jon held up his hand.
“I knew you didn’t approve of having Torrhen touch Rhaegal, much less getting as close as he did, for that matter”, he replied softly, “but it’s important that he become acquainted with dragons in preparation for possibly becoming a dragon rider himself one day”.
Sansa was too stunned to reply. She barely accepted having Jon riding a dragon… she certainly never considered the possibility that their children might someday follow his lead. She always thought of them as their little wolf pups, never dragon spawn. Jon smiled at her sympathetically and drew his arms around her.
“Then again”, he continued, “Rhaegal may be the last dragon, doomed to disappear once this war has been won, thus rendering it obsolete”.
Sansa sighed inwardly… I can only hope and pray.
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