For Sansa, this tourney paled in comparison to the tourneys of her childhood. Those tourneys were on a much grander scale with each house represented by its most talented warriors who fought in gleaming armour and rode magnificent steeds. Sansa reveled in the colour and drama of these events. It was an opportunity to mingle with members of the other families, show off her pretty gowns that her mother had made for the occasion and flirt outrageously with the young bucks eager to show off their carefully honed skills, both on and off the field of battle. A rich banquet and ceremony always concluded the tourney, an opportunity for the host family to make an ostentatious display of its wealth and power.
This was a far more drab affair, apart from the sagging bunting that had been hung along the temporary fence that separated the participants from the onlookers. The cordoned off area was a mixture of mud and snow, there was no grand dais festooned with flowers and the attending crowd were hardly dressed in their finest clothes. But the mood of the crowd was festive…even the grey, overcast skies couldn’t dampen their spirits.
Sansa surveyed the scene and watched the vendors hawking their wares as people wandered past. In the distance, she could hear the clanging of swords, the chunking of the arrows hitting their mark and the clapping and shouts of approval as the matches wore on.
Edwyn stirred slightly in her arms. She bent down to kiss his dark thatch of hair, which ruffled in the breeze, and rearranged the furs around his sweet face. Then she glanced over at the nursemaid to check on Alysane who was still awake and alert. The baby stared at the nursemaid with serious blue eyes as the woman crooned softly and stroked Alysane’s downy, silvery hair. Then Sansa noticed the child’s eyelids start to droop and knew that it wouldn’t be long before she joined her brother in slumber.
The crowd parted enough so that Sansa was able to spot Jon pressed up against the fence. She smiled at his indulgence when she saw Torrhen and Lyra’s sticky faces. The sweetmeats vendor will no doubt be very pleased with today’s takings, she reckoned. Lyra rode her father’s shoulders and was playing a game of peekaboo, covering and uncovering Jon’s eyes while giggling loudly. Torrhen sat precariously on the fence, quietly observing the swordplay with a look of intensity Sansa had often seen on Jon’s face. She realized that in only a few short years Torrhen would be old enough to begin his own training.
As she drew closer, she could see the combatants swinging their swords, grunting with each thrust and parry. The onlookers collectively gasped as one opponent came dangerously close to skewering the other. Her eyes darted anxiously to Jon as he started to raise his arm to call a halt to the match until the two young men, panting and wheezing, stopped their fight. They stood with their swords hanging limply by their sides, collecting their breath, while they considered how perilously close the match came to ending in tragedy. Then one of the men glanced at Jon who nodded his assent and the men raised their swords again to continue doing battle.
She caught Jon’s eye when he looked in her direction. His face registered surprise and then he smiled as he tapped Torrhen on his shoulder and pointed to her. Torrhen gave her a happy grin and waved while Lyra clapped her hands with delight. Then, with Jon’s steadying hand at his back, Torrhen carefully climbed down from the fence and dropped to the ground to scramble after his father and sister as they weaved through the crowd towards Sansa and the babies.
“I thought you intended to give this event a swerve”, Jon said as he leaned over to give her a kiss. “When I left you were still sleeping peacefully”.
“We were feeling a little cooped up so we decided to join you”, she replied.
Lyra was leaning down with an outstretched hand, straining to touch her baby brother’s head.
“Be gentle, Lyra”, cautioned Sansa.
Jon ducked down slightly so Lyra could reach out to gently pat Edwyn’s thick head of hair. The baby opened one violet eye and yawned before falling back to sleep.
“Where is Val?” she asked as she scanned the crowd for signs of her.
Jon glanced over to another corner of the yard.
“She’s supervising the archery competition”, he replied, “and cheering on some of her more special students”.
All girls, no doubt, thought Sansa. It broke Val’s heart when some of the older girls grew bored with loosing arrows until their fingers were sore and calloused and abandoned archery for more ladylike pursuits. But she still commanded a small band of girls whose devotion to her was touching.
Sansa briefly looked at the two combatants that continued to battle it out before turning back to Jon.
“Are you considering entering the ranks yourself?” she asked.
Jon shook his head and ran his fingers through Torrhen’s curls.
“No, I don’t feel compelled to prove anything anymore. I’ll step aside and let the younger lads strut their stuff today”, he replied.
Sansa shook her head.
“You surprise me, Jon Snow”, she said as she poked him in the belly, “because I believe that the day a man such as yourself ceases to feel the need to prove himself to the world is the day that he begins to turn into Robert Baratheon”.
Jon visibly stiffened and she saw his hand drop to Longclaw’s pommel at his side.
“Perhaps a skirmish or two would be good exercise”, he decided. “It’s important to keep up my skills”.
Sansa nodded sagely.
“And it might be good to give the people a bit of a show when they see that blade flashing red. It will remind them of how much of their present security they owe to you”, she replied.
He lifted Lyra off his shoulders and lowered her to the ground before squatting down before his older son.
“C’mon, Torrhen”, he said as he held out his hand, “you can help me with my gear”.
Torrhen nodded solemnly and then giggled as his father lifted him up and swung him over his shoulder like a sack of grain. Lyra frowned in disappointment as she watched the pair of them disappear into the crowd.
Sansa knew there was no danger that Jon would ever become a fat, complacent fool like King Robert. But she did know that Jon’s song was far from being finished. And if they were ever going to break the ties that bound them to Kings Landing then they had to stay lean and fighting fit.
Sansa took Lyra’s hand as they wandered over to the archery arena where Val was gathering up the arrows that fell short of their mark while the next set of competitors flexed their bow arms. She looked up and grinned broadly when Sansa and the children came into view.
Lyra broke away from her mother’s grasp and threw her arms around Val’s legs, pinning her in place. Val looked confused at first and then reached down to disentangle herself from Lyra’s arms. Then she knelt down and ruffled the toddler’s hair while Lyra danced a little two-step.
“I expect you’ll be one of my students in a few years”, she laughed before straightening up. She looked at Sansa as if she had overstepped her mark.
“With your parents’ permission, of course”, she added hastily.
Sansa beamed at her.
“I’m pleased that you plan on staying with us long term”, she said graciously. “And, yes…I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Lyra did decide to take up archery…if she ever develops any patience and can learn to stand still”.
A roar went up from the crowd after a few minutes and they hastened over to the arena to find out the source of the clamor. Jon had entered the ring, clad in his training garb and swinging Longclaw back and forth. Torrhen stood on the lowest rung of the fence, yelling his support from the sidelines. It occurred to Sansa that this was the first time Torrhen would be witnessing his father’s skill with a blade.
Jon’s opponent was the Master of Arms for Winterfell, the only man who had enough skills to take on Lord Snow. He looked uneasily at Jon, already poised in his fighting stance with his arm at the ready. The signal to begin was issued and the two began to spar.
With every thrust and parry, Sansa could see why Jon had earned his reputation as a formidable fighter. His style was a unique blend of northern blunt force and southern graceful elegance. The master was soon on the defense, puffing and backing away as Jon lunged at him. After a quick flurry of exchanges the master’s sword was knocked from his hand to the ground. The master stood in stunned silence rubbing his wrist while Jon circled patiently, waiting for a rematch.
After two more bouts it was clear that Jon was the superior fighter and was declared the winner of this event. He graciously turned down the purse, instead turning it over to the runner-up. But when it came to awarding the prize of the Queen of Love and Beauty, he chose to accept the honour.
Sansa blushed when she heard the catcalls and whistles as Jon approached her with the crown made of blue and yellow crocuses entwined together. Val gently took Edwyn from her arms before Jon laid the crown of flowers on her head.
“Thank the gods they’re not blue roses”, she whispered to him with a smile.
The crowd cheered and stomped their feet as the lord and lady of Winterfell embraced.
They didn’t see the sentry approach until the crowd began to disperse. His face was neutral but he walked with some urgency.
“Milady”, he said after clearing his throat. “There is a group of men at the gate requesting admittance”.
The smile faded from Sansa’s lips.
“Well, did they give you their names?” she asked coldly.
The sentry looked uncomfortable and glanced at Jon who was staring at the man with a puzzled expression on his face.
“They…they refused claiming the need for secrecy as there are spies everywhere…even here in the north”, he stammered.
“However”, he added, rubbing his sweaty palms on his breeches, “one of them did say to tell you that they are here to speak to Jon Targaryen on a matter most private”.
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