“Seven hells”, said Sansa with a grimace.
She set aside her embroidery hoop and stuck her bleeding finger in her mouth. After a few seconds, she could feel small hands groping her leg as Edwyn pulled himself up on unsteady feet and grinned at her madly. Then he stuck his own small finger in his mouth and made loud sucking noises. She leaned down to rub her nose against his and he cackled happily as he reached up to grab at it.
“You are such a little card”, murmured Sansa as she pulled him on to her lap. Then she wrapped her arms around the squirming child and planted a loud wet kiss on his brow after smoothing away his dark thatch of hair. He looked up at her with his exotic violet eyes which were crinkled in delight.
As anticipated, she felt another set of small hands creeping on to her lap as Aysane’s clear blue eyes, capped by her silvery hair, peered over the folds of Sansa’s gown. The little girl laid a small cloth toy in her mother’s lap and waited patiently for the forthcoming praise.
“Thank you, sweetling”, said Sansa, swelling with pleasure, “it’s very kind of you to share your bunny with me”.
Alysane raised one arm expectantly and made urgent grunting sounds. Sansa nodded at the nursemaid who reached down to lift the child on to her mother’s lap. Sansa knew that whatever one twin did, the other was always quick to follow.
The twins burrowed against her chest facing each other. Alysane batted at her brother’s hands as he reached out to tug on her hair. He shrugged in defeat and Sansa observed how their facial expressions mirrored each other as they squealed and carried on a conversation in a language all their own.
Sansa glanced towards the window as she noticed that the steady roar of noise coming from the yard suddenly grew louder, punctuated by shrieks that rose above the din. And therein lay the challenge of differentiating between Lyra’s shrill cries of happiness and her equally vociferous wails of despair.
The nursemaid rose to check on the cause of the disturbance but before she could report back there was a rap on the door.
“Lady Arya has returned, your Grace”, said the sentry after he was admitted entrance. “And his Grace has requested that you meet with them both outside”.
Sansa’s face registered surprise as she lowered the children to the floor.
“Well”, she said as she straightened up, “this is unexpected”.
She briefly stroked the children’s hair before picking up her shawl and tying it roughly around her shoulders.
“She might have given us some warning”, she sniffed in annoyance as she left the room. “But apparently that would have been out of character”.
A small crowd had gathered just inside the gates and within its ranks Sansa could hear her sister’s voice interspersed by peals of laughter. And in between she swore she could hear the yips of what sounded like a pack of young dogs.
The crowd parted slightly and she could see Jon turning towards her with a beckoning smile. And firmly grasped in his arms was a very young grey and white mix direwolf, not long birthed by her reckoning.
“Sansa”, yelled Arya, “at long last”.
Arya held open her arms and ignored the slight scowl on her sister’s face. Sansa relented and embraced her sister heartily. Protocol can go to all seven hells just this once, she thought as she buried her face against her sister’s shoulder.
“What is all this?” asked Sansa as they parted, although she already suspected the answer. Four little direwolf pups raced between Torrhen and Lyra while their mother panted quietly nearby, keeping close watch on her offspring. The pup in Jon’s grasp whimpered and wriggled to be let down to join its siblings in the chase.
“And here I thought she was getting fat because the innkeepers were slipping her too much food when I wasn’t looking”, replied Arya from the side of her mouth.
Sansa glanced at Nymeria’s three brothers as they pushed their way into the gathering and nosed at the little pups. Ghost appeared to be particularly attentive, so much so that Sansa had to ask.
“Have you wondered if…?” she asked leaning in towards her sister.
Arya rolled her eyes.
“Sansa”, she replied with a dramatic sigh, “unlike some humans, direwolves are not inclined to mate with their siblings. Besides the timing is all off…she gave birth once we reached Riverrun, barely a moon’s turn after we left Winterfell. Direwolves normally take at least twice as long as that to gestate in their mother’s womb”.
They watched the children happily play with the pups for a few minutes while Jon squatted down beside Ghost and ran a hand across the direwolf’s back.
“I wanted to surprise you”, said Arya. “We never made it past Riverrun. Nuncle agreed to keep mum while we waited for the pups to grow big enough to make the return journey home”.
It gladdened Sansa’s heart to hear her sister speak of home in such lilting tones.
“There are three females and two males”, said Arya, her meaning clear… Jon and Sansa’s children were meant to have them.
“There is an extra female”, said Sansa, “and unless I am unknowingly with child then she must be given to another”.
“She belongs to you, Sansa”, said Arya as her slipped her fingers around her sister’s limp hand and gave it a squeeze.
Sansa was too stunned and overcome with emotion to respond properly. Not once in her life had she ever considered replacing her late lamented Lady, even after the sight of direwolves south of the Wall became more commonplace. Her eyes filled with tears and she shook her head.
“I can’t”, she croaked.
“Why not?” insisted Arya. “Nymeria has provided you with a special gift and it would be rude to refuse her”.
Sansa snorted with laughter…trust Ayra to remind her of her courtesies when it came to giving offense to an animal of all things.
“I’m far too busy raising four children to make time for a direwolf pup”, she said as she waved her hand dismissively before wiping away her tears.
Jon sidled up beside them.
“What’s wrong?” he asked sharply when he saw his wife’s face.
“You need to convince her, Jon”, pleaded Arya. “You need to convince her that taking on another direwolf pup would be a blessing…that it wouldn’t be a betrayal of Lady’s memory”.
The small pup that Jon had been holding earlier brushed up against Sansa’s skirts and then sat down quietly by her side. Jon reached down to scoop up the little direwolf and thrust her into Sansa’s arms. The pup began to lick at Sansa’s face enthusiastically.
“It’s too late, my love…she has already chosen you”, he said softly.
Sansa started to laugh despite her misgivings. Lady’s death had signaled a series of soul crushing events from which Sansa feared she would never recover. But all the players from that dreadful day were dead now…all except her dear sister who only wanted her to recover those feelings of happiness and optimism that she lost that day.
“I owe you this, Sansa”, said Arya. “It was partially my fault that Lady was taken from you”.
Sansa shook her head.
“We both played an equal part in that mummer’s farce”, she said sadly. The puppy gave her another lick and Sansa smiled before glancing sideways at Jon.
“Well…she would be companionable on those nights when you are away”, she said with a heavy sigh.
“That’s my girl”, he said brightly as he bestowed a light kiss on her brow and patted the animal’s head.
Torrhen and Lyra had already claimed their pups which left the remaining two direwolves for their younger siblings. Jon instructed that they be removed temporarily to the kennels.
Sansa lowered her pup to the ground and watched her race after her siblings as Sansa and Arya headed towards the castle.
“So…when is the blessed event taking place?” asked Arya as they passed through the entry.
“Two days from now”, replied Sansa.
“I heard that Torrhen and Lyra spend their nights sleeping with scaly eggs tucked beneath their covers”, said Arya drily.
“That”, replied Sansa, “was Sam’s doing. He read that upon the birth of a Targaryen child, a dragon egg would be left in the cradle beside the baby so that once it hatched, the child and dragon would be instantly bonded. I’m not sure that it really applies in this situation but there’s no harm nor foul under the circumstances so Jon is carrying on with the custom”.
“I would love to have a dragon of my own”, said Arya dreamily. “Death would be swift and certain as it swooped down from the sky to deliver its final gift”.
“Arya”, hissed Sansa in admonishment, “stop spouting such nonsense”.
“I’ll wager Jon turns into a cold-hearted bastard when he wargs into Rhaegal”, said Arya as she pushed open the door to Sansa’s solar. She paused when Sansa didn’t reply immediately.
“Oooh…I’m not far off, am I”, said Arya as the smile faded from her face.
Sansa nodded soberly as she turned to close the door.
“Dragons change you”, she replied, “but mercifully, in Jon’s case, it has only ever been temporary…mainly when he wages war”.
Arya dropped on to a chair and chewed on her lower lip.
“You’re afraid of how the presence of dragons is going to influence your children”, she remarked.
Sansa nodded as she poked at the log burning in the fireplace.
“I fear that wielding such power will make them harder…and not necessarily better”, she replied. “And I don’t want them to lose their innocence too soon”.
“Like us, you mean?” said Arya softly.
Sansa nodded silently.
“Well, you’ll know soon enough if you can get those eggs to crack two days hence”, continued Arya.
“I take it you’ll attend the birthing ceremony?” asked Sansa.
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world”, replied Arya with an impish grin.
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