Sansa resented the night, the long awakening darkness that rattled with the cold of the storm that raged around them. She moved closer to Jon, grateful for the heat that radiated from his body. She traced the scars on his back, the small irregular mounds of tissue where arrows had once pierced his flesh, and delicately kissed each one. He shifted and rolled over to face her.
“Can’t sleep?” he whispered as he reached out to brush her cheek with his fingertips.
Sansa shook her head and burrowed closer into his chest.
“I’m sorry, Jon”, she said, her voice muffled.
“Why? You have nothing to apologize for, Sansa”, he replied in a surprised tone.
“I should be stronger…you need me to be stronger for the sake of everyone involved”, she cried, her voice breaking with emotion.
“You’re the strongest person I know”, he said, cradling her and stroking her hair. His eyes twinkled when he saw the exasperated expression on her face.
“You are the only surviving child of Catelyn and Eddard Stark”, he explained patiently. “It was you who rebuilt Winterfell and restored its status as the seat of the north with few resources and little help. And it was you and Sam who conspired to keep me alive after the Wall had fallen and I threatened to succumb to my wounds. And it was you who remained my anchor when I learned the truth of my parentage and believed that life had cast me adrift”.
“You are the bedrock upon which I have built my life, Sansa”, he continued. “Without you I would still be a sad, bastard boy with few prospects and even less hope for the future”.
He sighed and kissed her forehead.
“I know you have been struggling lately with self-doubt. So you need to know that I have every confidence in you. You have the skills and knowledge necessary to defend your home and your people against any kind of invasion, even the supernatural. Don’t forget that you can rely on Sam for advice and comfort. He has dealt with this enemy before and he is ready and willing to do whatever is necessary. But you are the lady of Winterfell and ultimately any decision will be yours to make”.
She threw her arms around him and kissed him passionately. Their ensuing lovemaking was more heated and urgent than it had been earlier in the evening, each of them acutely aware that this might be the last time they would lie together.
They awoke just before dawn. While Jon readied Viserion, Sansa packed food, drink and clothing for the long journey ahead. Then she fetched Torrhen from the nursery while Jon issued final instructions to his men.
They stood together silently with their arms entwined as the snow continued to fall around them. The storm had abated and visibility was better, noted Sansa to her relief. She reached up to brush some of the snow from Jon’s hair. He smiled and leaned in to kiss her and their son goodbye.
“Stay safe”, whispered Sansa, “and come home as soon as you can”.
“I will”, he replied, “and don’t lose hope and despair. We will return and we will bring help”.
She watched him steadily as he mounted Viserion. I am Sansa Stark, she chanted to herself as if reciting an incantation, and my spine is made of Valerian steel. As Jon and his dragon rose into the early light, she drew her son closer to her chest and hugged him fiercely. We will prevail, she whispered to him as she watched her husband fade from sight, because we are Starks and we have survived whatever life has thrown at us for hundreds of years.
Sansa spent the better part of the day overseeing preparations for a siege that she desperately hoped would never occur. Nevertheless, she knew that hoping that the wights would be diverted or stopped entirely was hopelessly naïve of her. And she stopped being a naïve girl the day she witnessed the horror of her father’s head being severed from his neck.
The evening meal was a somber affair as everyone collectively held his breath in anticipation of what was coming. The watch on duty consisted of many men who were remnants of the former Night’s Watch and they stubbornly clung to the protocol of the blasting a horn three times to indicate the approach of White Walkers and their army of wights. Each man had been issued weapons made of obsidian and instructed to keep a lit torch nearby while on watch. And barrels of boiling pitch were placed strategically along the walls.
The first night passed without incident but the tension still mounted. Uneasily, Sansa ordered a group of three riders to venture out beyond the walls of the castle the next morning to look for signs of the approaching enemy. They were ordered to retreat immediately at the sign of any danger. Fire is their only enemy, she reminded them. They returned without sighting anything unusual.
Reluctantly, life began to gain some normalcy as the people of Winterfell carried on with their daily tasks. Only the men on watch remained ever vigilant, bristling with nervous energy, spoiling for a fight. Sansa changed the watch frequently so there was less danger of overheated emotions boiling over with the tension.
When the third night passed quietly, there were mutterings that perhaps they had been misled by earlier reports of a massive army descending on them. Perhaps the wights and their masters had retreated north, no longer regarding the people of the Winterfell as a threat. Sam knew better.
“They are watching us, Sansa”, he remarked ominously. “They are waiting for the right moment to strike”.
She nodded silently in agreement. She deferred to Sam’s prior knowledge of the behaviour of the enemy and she doubled the watch as a result.
Sansa stood on the battlement staring moodily into the woods beyond the castle walls. The sun had left the sky and the day had collapsed into a violet glow that signaled the birth of night. She shivered slightly as the increasingly bitter winds tugged at her skirts and hair. She tightened the grip on her cloak. What are they waiting for, she wondered?
She was startled out of her reverie by three short blasts of a horn.
“It has begun”, she whispered grimly to herself before loudly calling the men to arms.
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