The atmosphere in the room was heavy with unexpressed emotions until Jon finally snapped.
“Sansa, you know I can’t take you further north…it’s far too dangerous”, he sputtered.
Sansa jutted out her chin in defiance.
“Surely as warden of the north it is my duty…” she began. But her words died on her lips as he raised his hand to silence her.
“You know as well as I do that pulling rank in this instance is not going to change my mind”, he said coolly. He folded his arms as a final gesture. In his mind, the matter was closed.
She glanced quickly at her great uncle, her eyes seeking alliance with his. But he and Howland were already rising from their chairs and readying themselves to take their leave.
“This is between the two of you, sweetling”, the Blackfish said as he rested his hand briefly on her shoulder as he passed. “I trust that the both of you will arrive at a rational decision.”
Rational, thought Sansa crazily…there was nothing rational in this. This was sheer want and nothing more. She had swallowed her fears and now was giving in to a greater craving for adventure. But Jon was going to take a lot of more persuasion if she wanted to change his mind.
She raised her eyes and noted the look of finality on his face. She lowered them again and moved closer to him, almost nestling against his chest. She swore she could hear the pounding of his heart as his breathing began to quicken.
“Please don’t make me beg, Jon”, she pleaded softly. “I swear I won’t be a hindrance. I think I proved that already on the journey here. And I can be an extra pair of eyes and ears in such a dark world”.
Her fingers danced along his forearm.
“I only know this world through your letters. Please let me come with you so I can let loose my senses on a place that right now exists solely within my imagination”, she added with a flourish.
She looked at him from under her eyelashes and could see his face begin to soften. He had let go of his stubborn resolve and doubt now reigned. He sighed heavily.
“And what of the babe?” he asked as he tilted his head and looked at her skeptically.
“Safe as houses”, she assured him with a grin as she laid a hand on her belly. “Riding a horse would be more dangerous in my condition… at least I don’t bounce up and down when riding Rhaegal like I would on my own steed”.
He took in a deep breath and let it out slowly as he raised his eyes to the ceiling. Then he returned his gaze to her.
“I must be mad”, he muttered. “Alright…but first we eat and get some rest because it’s going to be a long night”.
She uttered a happy cry and threw her arms around his neck. She peppered his face with kisses before raising his hand to her lips and kissing his knuckles.
“You won’t regret this”, she said excitedly.
They joined the others in the common hall for a meal of venison stew and freshly baked bread. After the meal was finished and the tables had been cleared, they gathered around with their horns of ale to share wild stories of campaigns long past and sing bawdy songs of loves long lost.
Sansa listened with curiosity and delight to their outlandish tales. She was unfazed by their boozy behaviour and was disinclined to leave the hall despite Jon’s reservations.
“I’m no longer a blushing young maid”, she reminded him. “I’ve heard worse. And in a funny sort of way their songs remind me of happier times when we were young. Remember when my parents would host large gatherings that would go on long into the night? We would be shooed off to bed early before they got well into their cups but we would always sneak back later to finish the dregs and throw the scraps to the direwolves”.
They reminisced about the time when they failed to notice that Arya had consumed more than her small body weight could tolerate and was staggering around the room, dodging her older siblings desperately trying to corral her. When they finally caught up with her, Robb hoisted her over his shoulder while Jon ran interference before the drunken adults could catch on to their antics. Arya spent the rest of the evening vomiting while Sansa remained with her, speaking soothing words and coaxing her into taking small sips of water to calm her roiling stomach. All the while, the boys remained outside the door as sentries, vigilant to the prying eyes of nosy servants.
They left the hall just as the din was rising and expanding as high as the rafters in the ceiling. The shouts and laughter faded into the night as they walked hand in hand across the yard. The horses whinnied softly in the stables and the snow crunched beneath their boots. And rising in the sky was the biggest and brightest moon that Sansa had ever seen. It lit up a glittering path towards Hardin’s tower where they bedded down for a couple of hours, curled up tightly together on Jon’s old bed.
Rhaegal was waiting just outside the south gate as if it had never left. The dragon snorted bursts of fire and shook its head as Jon and Sansa made their farewells before mounting the beast and taking to the starry sky.
The night was clear as they flew over the white expanse that glowed in the light of the full moon. She breathed in the air that left a tingly sensation on her tongue as she silently scanned the alien landscape below. The frozen streams and rivers glowed like silvery ribbons in the moonlight while in the distance she could see the craggy Frostfangs tower menacingly.
As they neared the Frostfangs, Sansa could see a faint glow of greenish light stretching across the sky. As they drew closer, she clutched at Jon’s arm and pointed to the lights that separated into waves of red, blue and purple before receding into a warm green glow once again. The colours danced over the snowy peaks of the mountains as if beckoning them to come closer.
Jon leaned in to speak in her ear.
“The northern lights…it’s rare to see the full spectrum of colour like this”, he explained.
As she watched the spectacle with awe, she also felt a growing apprehension in the pit of her stomach that what they were witnessing was a harbinger of something bigger yet to come.
With the mountains looming in the distance, the lights suddenly burst into an array of brilliant colours that lit up the plains that lay beneath them.
Sansa feared that she would be sick.
“Oh, gods, Jon”, she cried as she pointed to the thousands of reanimated corpses that lurched over the frozen terrain. “How in seven hells do we take on all those?”
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