Stay”, urged Sansa.
Arya turned to her with a bemused expression on her face.
“Sansa, you always knew that this would be temporary”, she said as she returned to her packing.
Sansa reached out and took the garment from her sister’s hands.
“Where will you go?” Sansa asked.
Arya sighed as she clasped her hands and leaned against the bed.
“Dorne”, she said flatly. “At least…at first. After that…who knows”.
“Will you stay with the royal family?” asked Sansa.
“Jon has already notified Arianne that I am coming”, she replied.
Sansa flushed when she realized that Jon already knew of Arya’s imminent departure but had failed to let her know. Arya grew flustered when she saw the thunderous look on her sister’s face.
“Sansa…I told him not to tell you because…well, I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go at first and I wanted to wait until I was sure of what my plans were…” she said as her voice trailed off.
Sansa continued to regard her with pursed lips as Arya ducked her head looking shamefaced.
“Look, Sansa…” she said glancing up at her sister. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner but I was afraid of what your reaction would be. We…we’ve never been this close before”.
Sansa’s face softened.
“I’ll miss you terribly”, she whispered holding out her arms.
Arya uttered a small cry before embracing her sister tightly. They murmured endearments to each other before finally breaking apart. Then Sansa hopped up on the bed beside her.
“Surely Jon could take you”, said Sansa as she smoothed out her heavy skirt.
“No”, replied Arya as she continued to pack. “Tempting…but no. This will be a personal journey of sorts. I plan on rediscovering a small part of myself that I sent off packing many years ago. But I promise you I won’t sleep rough and I’ll stick to the main roads”.
“But Arya”, said Sansa, “it’s dangerous for a woman to be traveling alone. Please let us send some guards to accompany you”.
Arya paused and uttered a short laugh before turning to her.
“You have obviously forgotten that I was a lone wolf for many years, Sansa”, she replied. “I have no need of companionship. Besides, I rarely travel as a woman”.
She gave her sister a knowing look.
“Nevertheless”, Sansa continued, “it would be comforting to know that you wouldn’t have to fend off the footpads on your own”.
Arya straightened up and laid aside the shirt she had been folding.
“I don’t intend to be alone for long”, she said glancing up. “I’ve been having the wolf dreams again. They’ve been more frequent as of late and I know I’ve heard her calling to me in the night”.
“Nymeria”, she said hoarsely, her face betraying the long buried feelings of guilt that bubbled to the surface.
“Are you sure?” asked Sansa.
“Positive”, she replied as she directed her gaze towards the window. “She’s close…I can sense her out there, just waiting for me to go to her”.
She flashed her sister a smile.
“Soon we’ll be reunited”, she said softly as she gathered up her gloves, a distant look clouding her eyes. “And I can finally close the wound that was opened when we made that journey so long ago”.
They gathered near the stables the next morning to make their final farewells. While the wind chased the clouds and lifted her skirts, Sansa brushed away the tears from her eyes as she watched Jon and Arya say their goodbyes.
Ghost and Summer nosed at Shaggydog as Arya mounted her horse. Then she saluted her family one more time before turning her horse towards the gate with the three direwolves nipping close at her heels, eagerly anticipating the reunion with their sister.
Jon slipped an arm around Sansa’s shoulders as the tears streamed down her cheeks. She leaned her head on his shoulder for comfort.
“What if she never comes back, Jon?” she sniffed.
He lowered his head to deposit a kiss on her temple.
“She’ll be back”, he replied. “This is the only true home she has ever known. And if she ever decides to stay then we’ll sever some land and build her a keep of her own. And there will be no pressure to marry because she belongs to nobody but herself”.
They stood there for a long time, watching the children play in the yard. Rickon pushed Bran around the yard in a lightweight chair mounted on sturdy wheels while Bran pretended to be a dragon. He roared and reached out to grab at Torrhen and Lyra who skipped away in mock terror, screaming and laughing as they hid behind their parents for safety.
Sansa was gratified to see Bran engaged in childish games. So often he seemed like an old man trapped in an adolescent body. She feared that Bran sometimes existed only in his mind or in the bodies of others and that eventually he would become divorced from his own helpless body.
She watched him spend what felt like hours sitting before the open window in his room, his hands folded neatly on his lap and his eyes rolled to the back of his head. Sometimes she would sit with him, patiently waiting for him to return to the here and now.
Oftentimes she would quiz him about what he had seen out there beyond the walls of Winterfell. He would sometimes regale her with outlandish stories of creatures once believed to be mythological nonsense…the type of creatures you threatened naughty children with in order to get them to behave.
He smiled and shook his head when she would challenge him and accuse him of aping Old Nan.
“They are very real, Sansa”, he whispered, his face solemn. And then would he burst out laughing when he saw her eyes grow as big as saucers.
“I’m exaggerating a little”, he said as he choked on his mirth. “But not a lot…there are many creatures in the far north that remain hidden from our prying eyes. But as long as we keep our distance and don’t disturb their habitat then they’ll not bother us”.
Bran frequently requested an audience with Jon after warging. The two of them would spend long periods of time together behind doors barred to everyone except the occasional servant. And when Sansa asked them what they were doing together they were evasive and answered cryptically. She grew increasingly suspicious of them.
“Jon”, she asked one evening as the two of them readied themselves for bed, “has Bran become your Master of Whispers?”
Jon paused briefly as he pulled on his nightshirt. Then he tugged it down before turning to Sansa.
“What if I told you it was his idea?” he responded.
Sansa set her hair brush down on her dressing table and glanced at him.
“He’s too young to be indulging in such subterfuge”, she chastened him. “He’s barely a child”.
Jon rose from the bed and crossed the floor to stand behind her. He draped his arms over her shoulders and kissed the back of her neck.
“To you he is still your crippled younger brother who is need of your protection”, he murmured. “But to me he is a valuable adviser who flies unnoticed all over the kingdom. He sees things that others cannot and brings me news from the far flung corners of the realm. He has seen and done more in his lifetime than men many times older and I value his counsel”.
He squatted down beside her and took her face in his large hands.
“He acknowledges that he is still in need of our protection because of his physical limitations. But let us not lose sight of how powerful he has become despite those same limitations. He has found his place in this world, Sansa…a place of his choosing. He is no longer lost to us and for that we should be grateful. But don’t try to make out that he is the helpless little boy that he once was…he has moved beyond that state and so should we”, he said quietly as he held her gaze.
She stared back at him for a few seconds before bowing her head slightly and nodding.
She found Bran alone in his room the next morning, only his body present. She knelt down by his side, watching his vacant face anxiously. She reached out to gently jostle his arm, heedless of Jon’s advice to leave him alone when he was in this condition.
“Bran”, she pleaded softly, “Bran, I need to talk with you”.
His expression remained unchanged until she heard a quick intake of breath and his eyes rolled forward in their sockets.
“Sansa”, he gasped, “please take me to see Jon immediately. There are three visitors approaching from the east and I need to speak to him urgently before he receives them”.
“Why?” she asked uneasily, alarmed by his tone.
He reached down to grasp the wheels of his chair in a vain attempt to move them himself.
“Because he needs to know that these are the men we’ve been waiting for”, he replied before she rose to help him.
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