Ayra let out a string of expletives worthy of a sailor on shore leave as the blast of wind nearly knocked her off her feet.
Rickon had already dropped to the muddy ground and was cowering, his arms placed over his head, with Needle still clutched in his hand.
Sansa set her basket of flowers down before rushing over to their aid. Arya had sheathed her sword and was already kneeling on the ground, trying to hoist Rickon up but he was refusing to budge. Shaggydog was circling him anxiously, whining and barking with his eyes fixed firmly on the sky.
The wind was moving like waves crashing on to the shore as if signaling the imminent arrival of a storm that was massing on the horizon. Arya glanced at Sansa as her sister knelt down to give her a hand in persuading Rickon to rise up.
“We need to take shelter immediately”, shouted Sansa as they hustled Rickon towards the glass houses with Shaggydog in their wake.
“I don’t remember any storms from our childhood that came up this suddenly and with such ferocity”, Arya yelled back as they pushed their way through the entrance.
Sansa shook her head.
“This is no storm”, she replied. “This is Jon’s dragon”.
With the telltale screeches filling the air, Arya watched in open-mouthed amazement as Jon appeared in the yard to guide the dragon safely to the ground. When he gave the all clear signal, Arya tugged on Rickon’s hand.
“Come on”, she said excitedly. “I’ll race you”.
But Rickon stood steadfast.
“Direwolves don’t like dragons”, he declared.
Arya glanced at Sansa who nodded in agreement.
“But…but you rode on the dragon”, Arya said as she bent down with a perplexed look on her face. “Was it not fun?”
Rickon shook his head, his eyebrows knit together, as he stared at his feet.
“Direwolves don’t like dragons”, he repeated while Shaggydog growled softly beside him.
Sansa bent down to retrieve her overturned basket and then gathered up the flowers that had fallen out. After straightening up she turned to Rickon.
“I know the cook has been baking all morning and I’m sure that if you put on your best manners she would be willing to give you a taste”, she said. “And she might have a treat for Shaggydog, too, if you ask nicely”.
Rickon raised his head eagerly.
“C’mon, Shaggydog”, he said as he began to charge towards the kitchen.
Sansa glanced at Jon who was adjusting the saddle that had been placed on Rhaegal’s back. Then she turned back to Arya.
“Go to him”, she urged her.
With the chickens clucking furiously in the background, Sansa watched Arya flit across the yard towards the green dragon. Rhaegal swiveled its head as soon as she came within a few feet, fixing its bulging yellow eyes on her. Its tongue darted out and dragged slowly over its snout before letting out a puff of black smoke.
The thrumming and heaving of the dragon concealed the sound of her approach so Jon didn’t sense her presence until she was almost within touching distance.
“Jon”, she called out.
He finished buckling the strap before turning towards the sound of her voice.
“Be careful, Arya”, he warned. “Dragons can be fickle creatures”.
“Jon”, she said as she slowed her advance, “please take me with you”.
He turned to her with a sigh.
“Arya, it’s going to be very boring up there. I plan on meeting with the engineers first before we visit the underground caves where the veins were found”, he replied as he patted Rhaegal’s side. “I promise I will take you for a ride when I return”.
The dragon snorted and clawed at the ground impatiently.
Sansa moved closer as she realized that Arya was going to need her help convincing him.
“Take her with you, Jon”, she said. “She’s bored and restless here. There are only so many times she can endure Rickon’s recitation of The Odd Little Duckling”.
Arya had been amazingly patient with Rickon, spending hours with him in the library as he laboriously picked out words from the books in the children’s section and performed rudimentary sums. Sansa was impressed.
“Well, you have to have a lot of patience in my line of work”, replied Arya nonchalantly.
Sansa swallowed. This was another not so subtle reminder of Arya’s carefully honed skills.
“The expedition won’t take just a few days, Arya”, he said. “Once we reach Castle Black we’ll be setting out on horse so we might be gone a fortnight or longer. It will be a long, hard slog. And we’ll be underground part of the time so you will have to be prepared to stumble and crawl through some dark, wormy passages to reach the caverns”.
Arya glanced at Sansa who nodded at her in encouragement. Then she squared her shoulders and looked boldly at him.
“I’m quite prepared to do whatever is required of me. I’m not some soft girl who jumps and screams at the sight of spiders and rodents…you know me better than that”, she replied.
Jon hesitated while Arya leaned forward.
“Come on, Jon”, she said softly. “What do I have to do to prove to you that I’m tough enough…kill somebody?”
Jon faced turned black as thunder while Arya grinned cheekily.
“Arya, that’s not funny”, he hissed. “Go get your stuff and be quick about it”.
Arya fled the yard to collect her belongings while Jon waited impatiently next to Rhaegal, glaring at Sansa.
“Did you put her up to this?” he asked.
Sansa tried to look innocent.
“Really, Jon, anybody can see that she’s stifling here. She needs to get out of here for a while and spread her wings. And she’s been itching to get on that dragon ever since she learned of its existence”, replied Sansa. “Indulge her, please…she’s been trying very hard to fit in but I believe she’s at the end of her tether”.
Their conversation was interrupted by Arya’s return. She was clutching a small bundle of clothes and she was dressed in fur leggings and a coat.
Kisses and hugs were exchanged before Sansa finally bid them both farewell.
She fervently hoped that the discoveries made by the engineers, with the aid of the Free Folk who still made their home north of Castle Black, were going to yield the results needed to make the new northern kingdom prosperous. The lumber trade was still lucrative but Jon knew that it wouldn’t be enough to sustain them in perpetuity.
“When I lived amongst the wildlings, I heard talk of rich, underground mineral deposits. But they didn’t have the means nor the knowledge to extract them from deep below the surface. Or they simply had no use for gold and gems…what good were shiny rocks if you couldn’t eat them?” he explained.
He had sent two engineers north, men skilled in the detection and extraction of precious metals, to meet with a few of the Free Folk who guided them through the maze of underground caverns to take samples and determine the likelihood of turning these locations in full-fledged mining operations.
The engineers sent messages south indicating that three sites were most promising and urged Jon to accompany them to these locations so he could judge for himself. Jon was figuratively rubbing his hands with glee at the prospect of immense wealth pouring into the north.
“One day maybe we’ll have the Iron Bank coming to us, cap in hand, asking to borrow our money”, he said with satisfaction.
Time passed swiftly after Jon and Arya left for the far north. Sansa’s days were busy with domestic duties and appointments with guests who came to discuss doing business with the new territory.
Nevertheless, she felt uneasy as the feeling that they should have returned by now overwhelmed her. So she made it a point to stop by to speak with the new young maester who had taken over from Sam.
“I’ve had no replies recently, my queen”, he said in response to her inquiry. “Shall I send another raven?”
No, she said with a shake of her head. She knew it would be pointless as the region north of the Castle Black still played havoc with the ravens’ instinct for navigation.
So she continued to fill her days and wait patiently for them to come back.
She batted at the hand that gently shook her shoulder and squeezed open her eyes. The room was dimly lit in the early dawn light. Still heavy with sleep, she turned to see who needed her attention so early in the morning.
“Jon”, she exclaimed, wiping the sleep from her eyes, “when did you arrive?”
“Just now”, he replied as he sat down on the bed.
Hazily she noticed that he not yet removed his outer layers of clothing.
“Are you not staying?” she asked looking puzzled.
He shook his head.
“Get dressed, Sansa”, he said as he rose up and crossed over to open up the shutters to reveal the rosy morning light. “I need you to return north with me”.
“Why?” she asked as she scrambled out of bed. “Has something happened to Arya?”
“Arya is fine…she’s waiting for me to return with you”, he replied, clearly agitated. “Shall I summon one of your ladies to help you pack?”
Sansa took a few steps to grab his hand before he reached the door.
“Jon…what’s going on?” she demanded. “Why the urgent need for me to go back with you?”
He turned, took her in his arms and leaned his forehead against hers.
“We’ve found Bran”, replied.
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