Sansa watched in horror and fascination as the wights emerged from the wooded area that bordered the castle. There were men, women and children of many shapes and sizes and all in various stages of decay. Some were missing limbs while others displayed bony appendages where the flesh had receded. The one feature that unified them all was their bright blue eyes that glowed like tiny stars in the gloom of the night.
“They were once our friends, our neighbours…our kin”, said Sansa to one of her men. “And now they have been resurrected to prey on the living”.
As the men, women and older children of Winterfell mustered along the walls, Sam hastened to lead the very young, elderly and infirm into the maester’s tower for safety. The tower was somewhat isolated from the other towers and corridors of the castle and access was limited. Sansa and Sam reasoned that, if necessary, they could beat a hasty retreat and hold out there until help arrived. They carefully stocked Sam’s quarters with water and provisions that would last, with hope and a prayer, a few days.
Those armed with crossbows dipped their quarrels in the pitch and set them ablaze before unleashing them on the approaching foe while others threw rocks and other debris at the wights attempting to scale the walls. The more nimble of them are making progress, Sansa observed. She thought wistfully of her brother, Bran, and how he would clamber up the walls of Winterfell before Jaime Lannister crippled him. Her mind strayed to her other siblings, dead or lost…perhaps forever. Gone, they’re all gone now.
Sansa shook herself from her daze and turned her attentions once more to the enemy. She noticed that if the rocks struck the wights between the eyes then they were stunned for several minutes, long enough to douse them with pitch and set them on fire. She directed the more keen eyed children, armed with slingshots, to direct their missiles between those beacons of intensely blue light.
She then turned her attention to the front gate. The wights were battering the stout wooden barrier with timber taken from surrounding wooded area. The rhythmic pounding noise rose above the din of the clamour above them. Although all the gates had been reinforced with iron rods, the wights had displayed enough superhuman strength so far that Sansa realized that, with enough force, the gate could fall and then only the portcullis would remain to stop them.
Some of wights were reaching near the top of the walls before being flung back. Swords were employed to hack off limbs to prevent the wights from ascending further. Sansa ran back and forth along the battlements, redirecting her forces to points where a breach of their defenses appeared imminent. She was exhausted with the effort and but also oddly exhilarated.
And yet, despite their valiant efforts at pushing the wights back, they continued to lurch and stagger from the surrounding countryside in numbers too numerous to count. Sansa surveyed the scene with dismay. She sent the children back into the castle to seek more objects to use as missiles and more pitch be brought from the cauldrons boiling in the kitchen.
Sam appeared with some of the children, armed with crockery and other objects that could be flung at the enemy.
“Sansa”, he called out,”it’s time”.
“Are you sure it can be contained to the perimeter of the castle?” she asked.
“Aye”, Sam confirmed with a nod. His look was shaky but showed as much confidence as Sam could normally muster.
“Inform our best archers then”, she replied.
When Sam had confided in her, after Jon had left, that he was capable of creating wildfire, Sansa responded with disbelief.
“But I thought…I thought that only the alchemists in Kings Landing possessed such knowledge”, she said.
Sam shook his head.
“There was a disgraced maester in Oldtown who willing to teach surreptitiously some of the more eager acolytes how to make it. I…I have the necessary ingredients. Not a lot, mind you, but it might be enough if we are desperate and all looks lost”, he replied, staring at his feet.
Sansa knew how dangerous a proposition this was. Wildfire was fickle and unstable, capable of setting the whole castle and all its inhabitants ablaze. The placement of the small jars filled with wildfire would have to be done very carefully and strategically.
She reluctantly agreed and Sam set about the task of creating wildfire, enough to fill a few pottery jars. The jars were then placed about the castle in caches that were marked with cairns. Ropes were coated with a highly flammable oil and laid from the caches to a point that even the less skilled of archers could fire upon with enough accuracy to set off an explosion.
Sansa’s throat was thick with fear as she watched the archers load their flaming arrows and aim for the thick ropes that lay atop the snow. After several attempts, one of the arrows finally lit up a rope and the fire traveled at a rapid pace towards its destination.
The sky turned bright green as the ensuing explosion set off a chain reaction, the sparks causing the other caches to blow up. The noise was deafening and the light was blinding. Children sank to their knees and covered their ears and shielded their eyes as they grimaced. The adults were transfixed by the sight of the wights twisting and falling to the cold ground as they were engulfed in the green flames.
Sansa watched and waited for what seemed like hours as the wights and the surrounding wooded area continued to burn. Some of the wights escaped the blaze and continued their assault on the castle. They are relentless because they no longer feel, thought Sansa with fear and admittedly some admiration. But their numbers were severely diminished and Sansa believed that they could fight back until the foe was vanquished. She hesitated to say that they had won but the tide of the battle appeared to have turned in their favour.
When she heard the high-pitched screams Sansa whirled around frantically to locate the source of the cries.
“Wights!” yelled one of the women running from one of the doorways. Sansa stared in confusion as wights emerged from the doorway and overtook the woman, tearing at her clothes and throwing her to the ground as the woman continued to scream in pain until she was suddenly silent. The wights then turned their attention to the others in the vicinity attempting to flee from their grasp.
Where in seven hells are they coming from, wondered Sansa frantically? She ran along the battlements trying to find the source of the breach but the walls and gates remained firm. And yet wights continued to invade the yard with people fleeing to safety before them.
The crypts! Oh why did I not pay more attention to Old Nan’s stories, thought Sansa, as she stopped momentarily, trying not heave in panic. Sansa had heard the stories of how the hot springs beneath Winterfell were connected by a system of underground streams and caves. Belatedly she realized that her failure to block off and guard the entrance to the crypts may inevitably lead to their deaths before the night was over.
She grabbed one of men nearby.
“Sound the retreat”, she ordered breathlessly.
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