Sansa was greeted by the smell of freshly baked bread and the sound of raucous laughter.
“Oh lovey…is your belly troubling you again this morning?” asked the cook sympathetically as she looked up from the dough she was kneading.
Sansa nodded. The cook wiped her hands on her apron and pulled up a chair, gesturing to Sansa to take a seat.
“I’ll brew you up some more of my herb concoction, shall I?” she asked as she bustled about opening cabinet doors.
“That would be lovely”, replied Sansa wearily as she leaned her head on one hand with her elbow resting on the table.
“Shall I have one of the girls bring it up to your room?” asked the cook. Sansa shook her head slowly.
“No, Lord Snow is still sleeping and I don’t want to wake him”, she replied. “I’ll sup it here”.
“I’ll wager neither of you got much sleep last night”, cackled Val from the recesses of the kitchen. She plunked a plate of bread slices and a bowl of butter on the table and slid on to a chair.
“Don’t give her no mind, my dear”, said the cook as she gave Val a warning look. “She’s just jealous because she didn’t have a lovely man warming her bed last night”.
“Too right”, sighed Val as she buttered a thick slice of bread. “But, there’s a couple of tasty lads that have been giving me the glad eye that I just might try out before we leave”.
She winked at Sansa before biting into her bread. The cook presented Sansa with a steaming mug of brew. Sansa blew on the surface of the liquid gently before taking a tentative sip.
“I remember when Dalla was with child”, ruminated Val as she chewed on her bread. “The poor girl puked her guts out many times a day for the first few moons. Then she broke out in a rash that itched something fierce and her feet were swollen half the time. Oh…and she had to pee all the time. She was forever shying off to pee no matter where we were or what we doing. You wouldn’t catch me baring my bum in weather that was so cold that your pee would turn into an icicle before it hit the snow. I’d rather hold it in until I could find somewhere warmer”.
“I’m guessing you’ve never been with child”, said Sansa as she warmed her hands around the mug. Val shook her head.
“Never been caught…not once”, she said proudly. “And after caring for Dalla’s babe after she died in childbirth I realized that children weren’t in the cards for me”.
“Do you still miss your sister?” said Sansa.
Val pushed her plate aside and tented her fingers.
“Every day”, she replied solemnly.
“So do I”, whispered Sansa.
“Dalla was everything to me for much of my life…sister, best friend and mother when our own was taken from us. She was beautiful, wise and compassionate and when she died I thought my heart would never mend”, said Val.
“Arya was taken from me far too early. When we were growing up we were as different as chalk and cheese. She was passionate about fighting and exploring whilst I was caught up in being the perfect, dutiful daughter to please my mother. At times she was almost fearless; hurtling over the meadow on her pony, loosing arrow upon arrow until her fingers bled. Sometimes we could be so horrible to each other. And it hurt me that she preferred the company of the boys to mine own but it didn’t stop me from loving her dearly”, reflected Sansa.
Val sat back in her chair and studied Sansa’s face.
“You know…in some ways you remind me of Dalla”, she observed. “Your gracious exterior belies the toughness that dwells inside”.
Sansa tilted her head to one side and smiled.
“And you embody the woman I imagine Arya would have grown up to become”, she realized.
“Except, being a lord’s daughter, she would have been a lot more refined”, snorted Val as she picked up her knife to slather on more butter.
Sansa chuckled as she raised her mug to her lips.
“Are we interrupting?” asked a polite male voice.
Jon stood in the doorway with Lyra in one arm and Torrhen swinging from the other.
“Ah…look at them…two beautiful little ones”, exclaimed Val. She rose from the table, bent down before Torrhen and stuck out her hand.
“I’m Val, little lord”, she said. “I serve under your father’s command. And you must be…?”
Torrhen glanced up at his father who nodded at him.
“Torrhen”, he replied gravely, awkwardly proffering his hand. She smiled and ruffled his curls as she straightened up.
“And this little princess must be Lyra”, she said. Lyra regarded Val for a couple of seconds before turning her face away and burying it against her father’s shoulder.
While Torrhen scampered over to the table for his breakfast at the behest of the cook, Jon leaned over to plant a kiss on Sansa’s brow as she reached up to take their daughter from him. Then he pulled up a chair while Val sat down to resume her repast.
“You look exhausted and unwell”, he said with concern as he brushed away a loose strand of Sansa’s hair. “Why don’t you return to bed?”
“It’s temporary”, she replied as she pushed the hot mug away from Lyra’s busy hands.
“You still look peaky, my dear”, said the cook as she brushed past with Torrhen’s meal. Jon nodded in agreement. Val laid her slice of bread back on her plate, rose and rounded the table. She extended her arms.
“I’ll look after Lyra while he takes you back to bed”, she offered.
“That won’t be necessary”, replied Sansa. “She does have a nursemaid whom we can send for”.
“Let me, please…if only for a little while”, insisted Val. “I may not be anybody’s mother but I am experienced with babes”.
Sansa looked at her gratefully and passed the struggling child into Val’s waiting arms. Val soothed Lyra as the baby began to wail and frantically reach for her mother.
“Come on, chuck”, she said, her syrupy voice rising above the din. “Let’s go look at the pretty flowers in the gardens. Then maybe we can go visit the funny little men hiding in the trees”.
As Lyra’s cries faded, Jon gently picked up Sansa’s mug and offered his hand to her. She took it as she rose up and turned to Torrhen.
“Stay in the kitchen until Papa comes back”, she said. Torrhen nodded as he chewed on his food.
“Not to worry, my dear”, said the cook. “We’ll keep an eye on him”.
She leaned on him slightly as they walked towards her rooms. As they walked in companionable silence, she thought again about his offer.
“Jon, if Ayra was here, would you have hesitated to ask her if she wanted to ride a dragon?” she asked as they rounded a corner.
“Arya wouldn’t have waited for an offer…she would have mounted Rhaegal as soon as the saddle was in place”, he replied. “Why do you ask?”
Sansa stopped and grabbed his shoulder.
“I’ve decided that I want to ride that dragon after all”, she said.
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