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Faith - northernlass49

Chapter 53

The return to Winterfell was swift and immediate. Sansa’s entreaties to stop off at Castle Black to make her goodbyes were met with a terse reply.

“No”, said Jon, “there’s no time”.

They arrived under cover of darkness. Jon dismounted quickly and had already slipped into what Sansa had teasingly referred to in the past as his Lord Commander mode. Only it was no laughing matter now. As she slid into his arms he was already rapidly barking out orders to the men on duty. She could feel the tension in his body as he held her close. His movements were precise and his diction clear as he dressed down any man who dithered in his duties. Sansa stood at his side, uncertain as to what to do until he finally turned to her.

“Go wake the children, love”, he said, his voice low and calm. “We will all meet together in the great hall”.

As the men darted about in reaction to Jon’s orders, Sansa made her way to the nursery. Torrhen was already sitting on the edge of his cot, rubbing the sleep from his eyes while Lyra sat babbling in the nursemaid’s lap, shaking a rattle furiously as the nursemaid attempted to tie the ribbons on her daughter’s gown.

“Mama”, cried Torrhen when he spotted her. He slid off his cot and padded barefoot across the stone cold floor. She held out her arms and scooped him up to give him a kiss and a hug. Lyra screeched happily and strained to join her brother while the nursemaid hung on gamely.

With the children dressed, they joined the rest of the inhabitants of Winterfell in the great hall. Sansa and the children joined Jon to stand on the dais to face a sea of onlookers. Some were seated at the tables chatting quietly while others gathered in the doorways or slouched along the walls. Their faces showed a range of emotions from idle curiosity to barely concealed anxiety. Sansa listened to the low murmur of voices and watched the children shuffle restlessly with boredom and anticipation.

Torrhen stood stock still between his father and his mother. His solemn face matched his father’s demeanor as he clutched his father’s hand tightly. Lyra was perched on her mother’s hip, kicking her legs energetically and tugging on her mother’s long auburn braid of hair. Jon glanced at Sansa before raising one hand high, signaling his intention to speak.

“People of Winterfell”, he began as the noise in the hall died down. “This prolonged war with the Others is finally coming to a head. A massive army of thousands of wights is bearing down on us from the north but this time we are prepared to face them as a united force of Westerosi men and women”.

He turned and gave Sansa a wry smile before continuing.

“I know many of you recall a similar speech given in this very hall over a year ago in which my late lamented aunt promised to deliver the north from the scourge that had descended on us”, he spoke haltingly.

He paused to clear his throat while his audience nodded and murmured to each other.

“And we all know how that ended”, he said, his voice tinged with regret. There was a chorus of ayes in response and then an awkward silence ensued.

“I…I can’t promise you that we’ll succeed this time”, he continued, his voice rising. “But, I can promise you that we have assembled an impressive fighting force that will never give up. We are all united in a single cause…to protect our families and homes by driving back the Others from whence they came. There is no turning back now. We either take back what is ours or we die trying”.

He paused to take a breath while the assembled throng shouted and thumped their approval.

“The Others and their minions do not belong here. That was made clear thousands of years ago when Bran the Builder erected the Wall as a means of protecting us from the cold, unfriendly forces of the Land of Always Winter. We may not understand the source of their animosity towards us but we do understand unalloyed aggression. They may have started the fight but, by all the gods, we’re going to finish it”, he concluded as the clamor grew louder.

He stood there for a few seconds basking in the warmth of their support. Sansa looked at Jon with admiration shining on her face. Jon is rather good at this demagoguery, she thought with approval.

He turned to her and gave her a quick nod. She understood and passed a squirming Lyra to the nursemaid who stood off to the side as Jon motioned to the crowd for silence. Then Sansa swallowed and wiped her hands discreetly on her gown before she began to address the audience.

“I know all of you have grown weary of this prolonged and perceived threat to Winterfell. But I assure you that the threat is still both credible and imminent. Yes, we can count on the combined forces of both the north and the south to push back and hopefully destroy the enemy with all their might. And, the gods willing, they will prevail. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t do our part. You are all still loyal servants of House Stark. As your liege, I expect you to continue to carry out your duties but keep a wary eye on your surroundings. We must not ever grow complacent and expect others to defend us when we are more than capable of defending ourselves”, she said with alacrity.

And thus endeth the lesson, muttered Sansa under her breath as the crowd slowly began to disperse. Jon hoisted Torrhen on to his shoulders while Sansa lingered to speak with the nursemaid.

When she caught up with Jon in the corridor he was deep in conversation with Val. They were speaking in hushed tones as Torrhen played quietly at his father’s feet. Sansa watched as Jon nodded and patted Val’s shoulder before he noticed Sansa standing nearby. He beckoned to her.

“Val has decided, and I have agreed, that she will remain at Winterfell”, he said before reaching down to lift up Torrhen on to his shoulders once again. Torrhen gave his mother an impish grin as he grabbed at his father’s shoulders to steady himself.

“Think of me as the first recruit for your Queensguard”, said Val, “as long as I don’t have to do that celibate thing”.

An all-female Queensguard sounded very appealing to Sansa. That was an idea worth considering if Jon made good on his plan to make her queen of the north.

“Welcome to the Winterfell family”, said Sansa as she stuck out her hand. Val took it and shook it vigorously before turning back to Jon. She stuck a finger in his chest while Torrhen giggled at her boldness.

“Promise me you’ll rid of us of those white sons of bitches, Lord Snow”, she said fervently. Jon smiled at the use of his proper name.

“I’ll do my best”, he replied.

Val withdrew her finger as her face softened.

“You know…you’re not the same withdrawn boy with a chip on his shoulder, anxious to prove his worth. I rather like the new Jon Snow and I reckon it’s down to her”, she said with a nod in Sansa’s direction.

Jon gave Sansa a sheepish grin and nodded while Sansa beamed back at him.

“Shall I…?” asked Sansa as she held out her arms to Torrhen. Jon lifted their son off his shoulders and passed him over to her.

“Kiss your papa goodbye, little soldier”, said Sansa as Jon leaned in for a hug. Torrhen gave his father a quick peck before sliding to the floor.

“I’ll look after him while you two say farewell”, said Val as she held out her hand to Torrhen. Jon and Sansa watched the two of them leave before turning back to each other.

“This is getting old”, said Sansa drily as she leaned against his chest.

“I agree”, replied Jon. “It’s time to end this once and for all time”.

Sansa wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him in for a long, lingering kiss.

“That will have to do you until you return”, she said pulling away with a sigh.

Jon’s face grew more serious.

“And what if I don’t return this time?” he asked. “I don’t think I have any more lives left. After a suitable period for mourning, would you consider taking another husband?”

Sansa shook her head.

“No, I’ll not risk ending up with some haughty fool seeking some submissive little cow so he can try to take away our children’s legacy”, she replied. “I expect I’ll wear widow’s weeds for the rest of my days”.

“Wouldn’t you at least like somebody to warm your bed?” he teased.

She regarded him coolly.

“Perhaps…but who said that it needs to be a man?” she replied. He looked at her with astonishment.

“After all”, she continued, “I already have my children. Maybe a woman with a talented tongue would be all that I require to fulfill my…needs”.

She could see Jon staring into the middle distance with a silly look on his face. She cleared her throat to get his attention.

“I appeared to have stumbled on to one of your fantasies, Lord Snow”, she growled.

Jon flushed before recovering his composure.

“Never mind”, she concluded briskly. “It’s all moot because you’ll be back soon enough. You will have defeated the enemy and the Targaryen supporters will be pounding on our gate”.

Jon sighed.

“Now that is something truly to be feared”, he said as he pulled her closer for a final hug.

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