Sansa slipped off her best shoes and leaned down to rub her swollen ankles. As she did so, the baby started to kick furiously. She immediately abandoned her ankles and redirected her hand to the right side of her swollen belly, rubbing concentric circles and gently pushing the baby inside towards the middle. To her relief, the baby slowly moved and appeared to settle back to sleep.
As she straightened up, she listened with some amusement to the Riverlander nearby telling his version of Jon’s final battle with the Great Other. Sansa had already heard the oft repeated tale many times over, each time with a little more embellishment. If the latest account was to be believed, Jon had wielded a sword six feet long, developed arms like tree trunks and Rhaegal was the size of Winterfell. As the man finished his story, with hands gesticulating wildly, she felt a light tap on her shoulder.
“You look tired, my dear”, commented her great-uncle. “Perhaps you should consider retiring for the night. I’ll supervise this lot…I’ll make sure they’ll get off to bed without breaking anything”.
She rested her cheek gratefully on the Blackfish’s hand before reaching up to clasp it with her own. She nodded and began to rise, taking his proffered hand to balance herself. He then slipped his arm under hers to escort her to her rooms.
“You know”, he said as he kindly patted her hand, “three children in such a short period of time is a lot for a woman to bear. Perhaps your man should exercise a little restraint and leave you be for a while …give you some time to let your body recover”.
She stopped and looked at her great-uncle before bursting into laughter.
“You’re assuming, nuncle, that he’s the only lusty partner in this marriage”, she chortled. The Blackfish blushed and shook his head with embarrassment. Sansa leaned over to deliver a kiss on his reddened cheek.
“I appreciate your concern”, she murmured, “but apart from the fatigue and a few swollen bits I’m still young and healthy. As long as I’m willing, and the gods continue to bless us, then I expect to have more children. After all, it’s imperative that we rebuild the Stark name”.
“Well, if worse comes to worse then he could always follow the Targaryen tradition and take another wee wife to share the childbearing duties”, he said as he tugged at her hand. She looked at him in disbelief until she saw the twinkle in his eyes. She shook her head with laughter.
“Lands’ sake, nuncle…Jon can barely cope with one wife telling him what to do. I can’t imagine how cornered he would feel with two ordering him about”, she said as they continued down the corridor.
When they arrived at her rooms, Sansa thanked her great-uncle for his solicitousness. He turned to her before leaving with one final inquiry.
“Has there been any word from the Citadel?” he asked. Sansa looked uncomfortable.
“Nothing but unsubstantiated rumours, so far”, she replied, “but I’ll be sure to let you know of any official announcement”.
He nodded and hugged her goodnight before returning to the great hall.
As she lay quietly in bed watching the baby’s limbs move under the taut skin of her belly, Sansa ruminated over the events of the past few weeks. The Blackfish’s visit was only the latest in a seemingly endless parade of lords and their men stopping off at Winterfell to pay their respects to the lady of Winterfell as the slow process of demobilization continued.
Jon had yet to return to Winterfell. He was busy overseeing the turnover of the castles of the Night’s Watch to the Iron Bank as repayment for financing the war. Part of the terms was that some of the fortresses would be repaired and refurbished for occupation by the Free Folk who chose to remain as part of Westeros. A thousand-year lease was delicately negotiated along with the construction of glass gardens and the establishment of trade relations. And, in time, the Gift would also be repopulated, as sanctioned by the bank.
Although there had been no official word from the Citadel as to the validity of the marriage contract, Jon had already reported overtures from shadowy figures since the war ended. As Rhaegar’s only living heir, they urged him to consider wresting power from the Lannisters. They insisted that the dragons were the natural rulers of Westeros, not the lions who had made a hash of things with a series of ill-conceived decisions. Jon was tempted to dismiss their entreaties outright.
“I’ll not sit that poxy throne”, he wrote. “Aerys no doubt cursed it before dying at the hands of the Kingslayer”.
Upon learning of these suitors, she wrote to beg him not to refuse their advances. We might be able to use their support to further our own agenda, she reasoned. After all, Jon’s reputation as a war hero combined with the pending revelation of his legitimacy made him a potent force. In some circles he was already considered a demi-god.
“I won’t be a mask for some cabal of devious men seeking to satisfy their lust for power and control”, he warned.
Nobody is going to manipulate us, she assured him. We are the masters of our own fate and we will make decisions that meet our ambitions and nothing more.
“Control your headstrong nature and your sense of righteous indignation”, she cautioned in her reply. “And for the sake of us all, Jon…hold your tongue until I have had a chance to meet with them myself”.
Sansa finally fell into a fitful sleep after her mind stopped reeling and the baby stopped kicking. She awoke late, almost missing the departure of the Blackfish and his men for the Riverlands.
“Take care of yourself and the wee ones”, he said as he gave her one more squeeze goodbye. “And tell that husband of yours that he needs to come home as soon as possible. He regrets missing Lyra’s birth and said more than once that he was determined not to miss the birth of this little one”.
“Gods willing he still has time, despite how large I appear to be”, she dimpled. “Now…away with you before you start to lose the light”. He chuckled as he mounted his horse and waved farewell.
She spent the next few days in blissful, domestic peace. Unburdened by visitors, she let down her hair and gathered up her mending. The infant clothing needed repairs while some of Jon’s garments were beyond repair. He will need new clothes when he returns, she decided…clothes befitting a man who is regarded as no less than the saviour of the north and beyond.
She was humming softly to herself as she sewed when she heard the rap at the door. It was Sam and judging by the look on his face she was able to guess his news.
“So it’s true, then”, she said as she stuck her needle into the cloth. Sam nodded.
“The Citadel has sent out messages to all the major and minor houses. Jon is a Targaryen”, he replied.
“Well”, she sighed. “There will be many that will be overjoyed by the news. But my fear is that there is an equal number of others who will be very displeased by this revelation. And that, dear Sam, could put a target very neatly on Jon’s back”.
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