They lingered in bed far longer than they originally planned. They were aided and abetted by servants too tactful to knock on the door to Sansa’s bedchamber. There were no reminders that breakfast had been served and had long gone cold…there were no invitations to visit the children, freshly bathed and dressed, in the nursery…and there were no hesitant enquiries as to when Lord Snow planned on giving his final orders before leaving for the far north.
They lay curled up together, their combined warmth conspiring to keep them from rising up to face the cold reality of day.
“I promise you that there will be more communication this time…plenty of ravens to bring you messages from the battlefield”, he whispered. “Howland has also assured me that he will send you regular updates…good and bad”.
“Sometimes I wish I could go with you”, replied Sansa as she laid a hand aside his cheek. He turned his face to kiss her palm.
“I wish you could, too”, he sighed. “If it weren’t for the children I would have encouraged you to come”.
She nodded in understanding. She often wondered wistfully what might have happened if her mother had stayed in Winterfell and not gone south with Robb to secure hers and Arya’s release and avenge her father’s death. Would the Ironborn have attacked and taken the castle so easily? Would the Boltons have sacked it and claimed it as their own? Would Bran and Rickon still be there to grow up alongside her own children?
“Do you ever stop and think that maybe this was all preordained?” she asked rising up to face him. “That maybe the gods drew a circle around this point in time and decided that you would be here, no matter what happened along the way?”
She could see Jon contemplating her words for a few seconds before shaking his head.
“I don’t know…I like to think that I have freer hand in determining my fate”, he replied. “But so much has come to pass that I don’t fully understand and never wished to happen. Sometimes I feel like there is a greater hand that guides me along the road of life. Sometimes I feel like life is just a series of random events… bumps in the road, so to speak, that I either go over or go around”.
“Well, Jon Snow…Targaryen…Azor Ahai or whatever you choose to call yourself”, she said with a sigh, “it’s time to prove that you are more than just the fulfillment of some ancient prophecy. Are you ready to lead an army of skeptical northerners and doubtful southerners to battle with an army of the undead led by a race of creatures whose motive for wanting to kill us remains unclear?”
“Well…when you put it that way…” he began until Sansa playfully punched him on the shoulder. Jon mouthed an “ow” while rubbing it. He held his hands up in mock surrender.
“I defer to the wishes of queen of winter and will leave anon in my quest to rid us of the scourge that plagues us all”, he said, over enunciating his words like a sycophantic courtier.
“My hero”, she murmured with a smile dancing on her lips. She laid her head on his chest and closed her eyes. She let the motion of his chest rising and falling lull her back into a light sleep.
They arose finally a short time later, resolving to feel no shame in what might have been their final hours together. While Jon packed up his possessions and assembled everyone in the yard, Sansa fetched the children from the nursery to make their goodbyes.
“I want you to obey your mother and be kind to your sister”, said Jon sternly. Torrhen nodded solemnly as he played with the clasp of his father’s cloak. Then he raised his eyes and tapped his chest while pointing at his father.
“Go with papa?” he asked with hope glistening in his blue eyes. Jon shook his head ruefully.
“Not today, little man”, he replied as he kissed his son and hugged him tight.
Then he gently removed Torrhen’s small hands and lowered him to the ground. Torrhen leaned against his mother and clung silently to her skirts with one finger lodged firmly in his mouth. His eyes never left Jon as if he could compel his father to stay through sheer willpower.
Jon took Lyra from her mother’s arms and leaned down to kiss her dark wisps of hair. She yawned and furrowed her brow as she stared back at him with the same stormy grey eyes. Jon smiled and chucked her under her chin before passing her to the nursemaid who stood nearby. Then he took Sansa’s hand and gestured to the woods beyond the castle walls.
“The crannogmen said they promise they are ready to face any enemy that dares show its face in these parts”, he chuckled. “They’re tough little buggers and I believe them”.
She leaned forward to kiss him one more time, clutching at the collar of his cloak until she was ready to let him go.
“And what is your eternal promise to me?” she reminded him before loosening her grip.
“To come back to you…always”, he replied huskily. She nodded.
“Don’t you dare break that promise”, she said fiercely.
Rhaegal clawed the ground impatiently as Jon mounted the dragon. Ghost stood like a mournful sentinel as Torrhen dragged a desultory hand across the direwolf’s haunch. Lyra began to sniffle and cry as the dragon stepped back a few paces before it took flight. While the nursemaid shushed and swayed back and forth with the baby, Sansa let her own tears flow as she watched Jon and the dragon soar beyond the treetops.
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