The torch outside her chambers was reflecting in his eyes, turning the dark grey to fire as they stood like statues, staring at one another. She’d just kissed her husband for the first time. It was no more than a timid peck. He looked like she’d slapped him.
His chest was heaving as if they’d just run the distance from the Great Hall to here. Hers was, too. They hadn’t been quarreling at all but it felt very much like when they did.
Despite the wine she’d indulged in, if he refused her tonight, she’d surely spend her night sobbing into her pillow.
His eyes dropped to the floor and he clenched his sword hand. “Sansa…” The rasp of his voice could raise gooseflesh. “I’m not sure if…”
Tears it would be. “Go on, then. Go back to drinking with your men.” She wanted to sound hard as steel, as if she didn’t care. Her voice was a shameful croak.
She turned but felt a hand on her hip, stopping her. It was hot even through the layers of her gown and shift. He’d never touched her like that until now.
She swallowed hard as their eyes met. No tears had fallen yet. Perhaps none would.
He walked her backwards through the open door and kicked it shut behind him. She shivered when he deftly spun to bar it. That threat of tears had been smashed to pieces. Her blood thrummed through her veins and her tummy began to twist with a new variety of nervousness. And lower still, a heat was stirring.
“Are you sure you want this? I know you’ve never…” His words were measured but trailed off before he could bring them to an ending point.
Her words tumbled forth from her mouth like a lark singing about the morning. “No but I want to know what it’s like. I don’t want you to go and for us to never…don’t leave your wife still a maiden. I wish you weren’t going at all but you’re going in the morning and I want…I want…” I want you.
He pulled her to him so swiftly she gasped and clutched his muscled arms. He smelled of ale but also pine and leather. His lips were full and they’d felt soft when she’d given him that first kiss. Would he initiate the next kiss? What would it be like?
They were back to staring at each other and Sansa wondered if he was changing his mind. But no, he was merely studying her face, his eyes flickering between her lips and her eyes. She was about to find out what his kisses were like.
Her toes were already curling in anticipation when he tilted his head slightly and held her firmly by the waist before his lips crashed into hers.
Sansa had thought that night was the beginning of their song, of a love song, but that must’ve been its ending.
The memory of that night had brought her comfort throughout their separation. Now, it seemed that separation might never end. And not because he’d fallen in battle. No. Her husband was choosing not to return home again. She’d thought they could mend each other but perhaps he preferred them both broken.
In the songs she’d loved as a girl, the knights were always brave and carried magical swords. The maidens were fair and would capture the heart of a worthy man. If there was a villain in the song, he would be defeated. Perhaps forbidden lovers might share a kiss though their endings were not always happy.
That last part was accurate at least.
A singer might lament a broken heart but what about a broken person? No one sang songs about that, did they?
Sansa had stopped believing in the songs a long time ago. She’d told herself she had anyway.
But when she’d reunited with Jon, things had been different. For a time, she’d believed they could truly rebuild their shattered lives and broken dreams together as they fought to reclaim their home. For a moment, she’d known joy again. Despite all the bad, she’d believed that there could be a happy ending out there for them.
She should have known it would never last.
She’d no longer been alone. She’d no longer felt so broken inside. He’d told her she wasn’t alone, that they would stay together. He’d said she wasn’t broken either and, in her heart, she’d secretly cherished a little spark of hope that he might be right.
There were songs about hope, weren’t there? Sometimes, they were nothing more than a dream of what might be. Was that what she had now? If so, her hope, that dream of what might be, seemed to be flickering precariously like a candle in the wind at present.
But back to before…
Lord Baelish had arrived at the head of an army when they’d needed him desperately. It was only desperation that could’ve induced her to summon him back into her life.
And, no sooner than they’d defeated one enemy, he’d started working to sow discord between them. She’d been forced to play the game because they’d still needed that army. She’d done what was necessary for the sake of her family, counting down the days until she’d no longer need him.
Jon had said he understood but it was clear he had not liked her appeasing the man.
To say Jon had been reluctant to wed would not be a lie. He’d stubbornly insisted it was not necessary but Sansa had swallowed her pride and worked to sway him. He’d needed protecting so she’d convinced him that the union would make their house stronger and bring much needed stability to their kingdom.
As it so happened, it was precisely what Lord Baelish had wanted after news of Robb’s will had come to light.
“There are those who believe this will is truly the words of your brother. There are those who would support Jon Snow as king despite his parentage.”
“He does not want it,” she’d argued.
“Can you be sure of that? You’d said you weren’t particularly close growing up.” It had stung to recall the distance between them as children when he was so dear to her now. “But why wage a war when you can negotiate an alliance? What better alliance than a marriage?”
“Jon still views me as his sister.” She had not admitted that she’d ceased to view him as a brother.
“Does he? I’ve seen the way he looks at you. You may be surprised at the baser thoughts men conceal in their hearts.” She’d wanted to slap him for that. Who was he to lecture her on the baseness of men’s hearts? “I have faith you’ll win your sullen cousin over in time, sweetling. And while he’s away waging this war he speaks of with such fervor, you will secure your claim and rule.”
Jon had not spoken of claims or ruling. He’d only said that Winterfell was hers by right. His eyes had been turned northward towards other matters. But the truth of his parentage had turned so many against him. There had been no time for these petty squabbles. A greater battle had loomed and Sansa had won the argument in favor of marrying in the end.
He’d wed her in the godswood but he had refused to bed her that night. “Not until it’s something we both desire…if ever,” he’d murmured before leaving her alone outside her chambers, strangely bereft and yet relieved as well.
She’d appreciated his delicacy but she’d already had one marriage go unconsummated. It was not a risk she’d been willing to run a second time even if she’d wished to give them more time to grow into their union, to grow comfortable with the truth of who they were to each other.
And in her most private thoughts, Sansa felt a flutter around Jon that she never would’ve anticipated as a girl. A wild and reckless longing came over her whenever she earned one of his rare smiles and she’d feel the urge to sing. There was something there, wasn’t there? Couldn’t there be something more than duty between them someday? For her, there already was.
There’d been a feast the night before he’d left with his army to face the enemy to the north and Sansa had decided they’d waited long enough. Fortifying herself with wine for courage and to reduce her mortification if he refused her, she’d talked him into walking her to her chambers and then invited him into her bed with one tremulous kiss.
After his initial hesitancy, he’d come along far more willingly than she’d hoped with tugging hands and a hungry mouth. And although his kisses had tasted of ale, nothing he’d done to her had seemed like the clumsy act of a man in his cups or the dry and dutiful kisses of a bridegroom merely carrying out his duty. He’d been quite passionate. He’d been incredibly tender as well.
That night had stayed with her all through his absence. It had been like a sweet song, a promise of what they could have if they survived the winter. Even when she’d awoke to an empty bed that morning after only to catch one final glimpse of him as he’d rode out that day, he’d looked back at her, his fleeting smile stealing her breath away and filling her heart with hope.
She should’ve known it wasn’t meant to last, not for a broken thing like her.
After Jon had marched North and once their position had been secured, she’d eliminated the threat she’d been forced to keep close for far longer than she’d wanted.
Thank you for your many lessons.
The Knights of the Vale had proven themselves loyal to her, not Lord Baelish. News arrived that the Dead had been defeated. Jon had won the war, the only war that should’ve mattered. There were other threats out there but this should be a time for celebration. Then, the two of them would work to regroup and prepare to fight anew for their people and the North.
Except now, Sansa was told her husband would not be returning to her.
“He’s won’t be returning, milady,” a man-at-arms said.
The hall had fallen silent but there was a ringing in her ears and a rising sense of panic. “I beg your pardon?” Her heart was lodged somewhere in her throat.
“Apologies, Your Grace. King Jon is alive but says he’s not returning to Winterfell,” a knight clarified.
She sighed wearily and her own heart started beating again. “But you said…”
“He ain’t coming back. Says he means to stay beyond the Wall.”
The hall was filled with the victorious warriors, all who had survived…all save her husband. They were looking at her with a mixture of curiosity and pity. She felt nauseated.
“I don’t understand,” she stammered. If he was alive, why wasn’t he coming back?
They all started speaking then, a flock of them cawing out their unwelcome news as she sat there visibly poised but internally quaking.
“After the battle…well, you would’ve thought we’d lost. He was filled with darkness, Your Grace.”
“I never seen a man so angry.”
“Nor so forlorn to find himself still breathing.”
“He said he did not belong here, Your Grace.”
“I’m sorry to say you might be better off without him, my lady.”
“He’s dangerous, half wildling these days.”
“He might hurt you, milady.”
Jon hurt her? That could never be. Jon was stubborn and impulsive at times. He could be cold in his anger or quick-tempered by turns. He was withdrawn upon occasion but Sansa did not fault him for that. He’d died and come back. He’d had his identity torn from him. He’d suffered things these men could not imagine.
He felt forced to marry his half-sister.
She put that unpleasant thought away.
She knew enough of his inner turmoil to appreciate how this battle must’ve left him shaken regardless of their victory. It was these men who did not understand him. Jon was no monster. He just needed someone brave enough to go after him, to make him see that he was still wanted.
Perhaps our song is a different sort. Perhaps in our song, the maiden rescues the knight.
“Jon would never hurt me. He may be feeling lost at the moment but I will find him and bring him home. This is where he belongs.”
“But, my lady…”
“I will find him,” she said more firmly.
She set off the next day.