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A Shield Against Ice and Fire

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Sansa

She did not fear death. But that did not mean that she looked forward to it. Especially fire, though she figured dragons were a bit preferable to being chewed up by the reanimated bones of her ancestors, physically at least. But from the standpoint of her pride, it was far worse. There was no pride lost in losing and dying to the dead, no embarrassment, no thought that the enemy who defeated you would take any personal pride in defeating you, no need to stare into the triumphant gleam in their eyes your last moments alive.

"You do not repent or beg forgiveness for your treasons?"

The Dragon Queen. The woman who saved the North. The woman who destroyed King's Landing. The woman who killed her brother, whose dragon killed her sister. She would have sworn vengeance, except what choice did she have? Daenery I Targaryen held at dragon point the armies of the North and Vale, with even men like Wyman Manderly and Yohn Royce petrified by fear of the fire, casting guilty looks upon her as they stood silent at her sentencing.

"By all the gods, I will repeat," Sansa yelled across the Dragonpit, hoping that her last words would carry beyond what remained in her own life, "Daenerys Targaryen murdered the rightful heir of the Seven Kingdoms..."

"After he tried to murder me..."

"...she is a kingslayer and a kinslayer," she continued, ignoring her interruption. A dead woman already, she had no reason to fear any further the woman before her. "Though I refuse to bend the knee, I pray the North does not follow in my example, if only so that she does not reduce all our cities and castles to rubble."

One look at Wyman Manderly, whose downcast eyes revealed the truth, that they'd rather live and kneel than see all their lives, legacies, families reduced to ash.

"Is that all?" Daenerys asked her, a violent gleam in her eye. "Is this what you wanted, a martyr's death, so as to preserve your own pride?"

"If you want to save the North," she recalled Bran saying in Winterfell, after they heard the news, "go south, surrender to the Dragon Queen, and accept her judgment."

How difficult it had been to tear herself from her home one last time, but she knew full well that doing nothing would see it torn from her. And though she was a survivor, what point was there in surviving in a world made of ash, what joy was there in life to find that all her suffering and her ordeals had been for naught, to live in a world where she was the only surviving Stark, beside her brother who was no longer her brother, or even human?

She swore she'd never leave Winterfell again. She swore she'd never return to King's Landing. But what use were sworn words in this world of dead men and dragons?

"Daenerys Targaryen, long may you reign," she uttered with a bitter smile, "so long as your dragon lives, of course. I'd imagine there be a bounty on that beast higher than any upon any man or woman before. Long may you reign, knowing that men and women, lords and ladies, smallfolk and children alike will devote their lives to seeing you and your dragon dead, on both sides of the Narrow Sea."

Bran, even though he wasn't fully Bran, she trusted not to send her to her death for no reason. Perhaps by dying before all the northern lords she'd inspire them to rebel, to take back the North just as she and Jon did, for a brief time. And if her own miserable life be the price, then she found herself all too willing to give it, now that she had nothing left to live for.

"Enough," the Dragon Queen ordered, her voice surprisingly soft. As she turned to her dragon, Sansa closed her eyes, and wondered what was to come. Jon said there had been nothing afterwards, and that did not surprise her, because the gods were nothing. But she allowed herself to hope, in that there were those who awaited her after.

Arya. Jon. Mother. Father. Robb. Rickon. Theon. Lady. She repeated those words in her mind as the fire engulfed her.


She woke screaming. And standing. In a bright room. She collapsed immediately onto the ground. Calming her arms, still batting away the intense, dreadful pain of the flames, she saw her sleeves...frilly, light, pink...wholly unlike the dark wolfskin coats she'd worn to her own execution.

"Dear girl, you fainted." A most unwelcome voice, that of Littlefinger's, and she knew this must be hell. As the man who betrayed her family rushed down to her, helping her up, she avoided his eyes, meeting instead those of a curiously detached Cersei Lannister, who watched the two of them with mild amusement. She'd not seen this enemy of hers since her escape during Joffrey's wedding, but heard that they'd cut her hair short for her walk of atonement, that she'd kept it short through her short stint upon the Iron Throne. She wore it long now, this dead woman, with a face younger than she'd remembered.

Behind her stood a pudgy bald man, and she remembered. This was when they coerced her to write that letter to Robb, after they'd taken her father. Was this hell, to relive her worst, most shameful moments? Yet...she wasn't reliving them, was she? Not in the way she'd imagine, as she'd never fainted upon leaving the room, Baelish never rushing to her side in mock sympathy to lift her up before the gleeful queen, delighted to see further evidence of the embarrassment and destruction of the Starks.

"A terrible ordeal, to be sure," Varys said to Cersei, "the young ought not suffer so for the crimes of their elders." He bowed deferentially to the queen he still pretended to serve. "We ought to get her some essence of nightshade, to help her sleep. She is still to be married to your son the King, and it would do him well to have a Queen of sound mind beside him."

"Pycelle, get to it then," the queen said curtly, apparently bored already by her victim's torment, as Sansa avoided the lecherous eyes of the old maester.

Father's still alive, she thought. If I'm here, and Robb doesn't know yet...they haven't killed him...he's in the same castle as me! In the dungeons! I must see him!

She would never trust them again. Littlefinger. Cersei. Pycelle, not that she'd ever trusted him. Varys. Except Varys had betrayed the Dragon Queen, hadn't he, just as he betrayed the Lannisters. For the good of the realm, Tyrion had said of the first betrayal. Of the second, they told her it was because he was about to champion Jon's claim to the throne. She had to get his attention, now, before the others, in a way the others wouldn't know.

"Viserys Targaryen is dead," she said, looking straight into his eyes. She wasn't sure whether this was true or not in the strictest sense, but even if the man lived now, he'd die around the same time as her own father. The surprise she caught in the Spider's eyes indicated that this was news to him. Or even if it wasn't, it was something a spoiled little girl like she ought never know. "Daenerys Targaryen will have three dragons soon, within the span of five or six moons. She'll lose the Dothraki once her husband dies, but she'll regain them again, she'll unite all the khalasars, once she burns all their khals...though that will be many years from today."

"The poor girl's delirious," Baelish said next to her, Sansa not unaware of the way he moved his fingers against her skin, her body still that of a child's, as he held her upright. "Perhaps Grandmaester Pycelle can give her something stronger..."

"Yes yes, I'll have him empty his coffers," Cersei said, impatient with her hostage now.

If you know yourself years from now, you wouldn't overlook the Targaryen threat. But you're not worried about them yet, are you? You don't even know what a khalasar is.

You have no idea how terrible those dragons will be. Far more terrible than you.

Pyrcelle raised his eyebrows, and she'd imagine Littlefinger ought to be more suspicious than he let on now, but all of this could be explained from things she could have gleaned from her father the Hand, combined with the delirium. But to the person in the room who could help her, her words had their intended effect, the Spider's eyes not leaving hers as Littlefinger walked her out of Cersei's chambers.


He came to her, as she'd expected. Harmless girl she was, they would never allow a traitor's daughter freedom to roam the Red Keep and seek out the best spymaster on either side of the Narrow Sea. So she had to induce him to seek her out instead.

"Lady Sansa," he said, approaching her delicately in her gilded cage, and she saw that he still seemed lost for words.

"You betrayed Robert Baratheon. I understand, because he's a drunk and a beast sometimes. You'll betray the Lannisters, why wouldn't you, they're the worst. But why the Targaryens? Don't you know them, their blood, their history? Haven't you heard enough of Viserys to know that he won't be any better of a king than Jaime Lannister's bastard son?"

"Whatever your father told you," Varys said cautiously, and she could see that even he could not hide his fear in front of the dumb traitor's daughter who knew too much.

"My father told me nothing," Sansa smiled innocently. "He never told me of your relationship with Illyrio Mopatis of Pentos, because he never knew it himself. He also never told me your contact with Ser Jorah Mormont...that's how you keep abreast of events across the Narrow Sea, isn't it? I'd assume you're already aware of Visery's death? Have you already pardoned Ser Jorah? Did you know that he will betray you for the Drag...Daenerys, he's probably in love with the girl already? That he'll foil whatever attempts you make to kill her...except that's your intent, isn't it? Because you never wanted either one of them dead, not when you planned to crown them and seat one of them back upon that wretched chair."

"How do you know all this," Varys asked, abandoning all pretense, and in his fearful eyes, Sansa knew she must tread warily, because whatever Varys was, she did not think him above killing a traitor's daughter to preserve his own head.

"She's not what you think she is," Sansa said, changing her voice to be sweeter, more sympathetic towards the man, as if she could understand his obvious mistakes in logic. "Her heart can be sweet, but her heart is cold, how can it not be, after all you've done to her, on behalf of King Robert? She is a Targaryen still, and I assure you...the blood of the Dragon flows stronger in her than any before her."

Shutting her mouth, she looked away, gesturing to him she was done speaking. Information was his weapon, his currency, she knew, and she was not about to give away any more to him, so as to freely and foolishly transfer this power to him from her own hands.

"What do you want?"

"For you to save my father."

"Your father will keep his life," Varys said wearily, relief in his voice that he could at least grant her this simple request. Or so he thought. "He will confess his crimes before the Sept of Baelor tomorrow. Two moons from now, he'll join his bastard son on the Wall..."

If only you knew now about that so-called bastard.

"It won't happen," she interrupted, terrified ever since she found herself in this world, whether it be real or a dream, of having to relive that moment again. "He'll confess, the crowd will roar for his blood, and Joffrey will take his head anyway. My brother will go to war. Robert's brothers will go to war. Flea bottom will starve, King's Landing will..." She stopped herself again, resisting the urge to spill all her secrets to this stranger before she'd received anything in return. "Let him loose. Take him through the tunnels. Arrange for a ship to carry him..."

"I couldn't, even if I wanted to..."

"You could, if you wanted to," she said, remembering what he'd done for Tyrion, who had burned too, not long before her, simply for the crime of loving his own brother. But he wouldn't know this now, would he? "Save my father, or I'll tell the Lannisters of your betrayal immediately."

His eyes cold, she knew she'd overstepped her bounds. "You'll not leave this room alive, much less speak to the King or his mother. And who would they believe, a most valued member of the Small Council in good standing, or a traitor's daughter, spewing all sorts of madness she'd heard from her traitor father? Dragons? They've been dead hundreds of years..."

His tone indicated that he'd little believed her himself, except there was doubt in his mind, that she could know the impossible. But he was right, she'd do well to remember that she was still a traitor's daughter, and not the grown Lady of Winterfell. And she ought not to alienate Varys, not when he was the only ally she could gain in King's Landing...at least until the Half Man's arrival anyway, and that was still many moons away...far past that day before Baelor's statue.

"Give me two audiences then, that's all I ask, and I swear, on the honor of my family, that I will keep your secret from the Lannisters."

"You want to see your father, I presume," Varys asked.

He trusts me. He trusts I'm my father's daughter still.

"And Cersei. Joffrey I trust will never listen to reason. She I can at least plead to control her own son. You'll be present, of course, to ensure I don't reveal your secrets."

Though she doubted that Cersei could help. As he took her down the stairs of the dungeon later that night, she told herself there was nothing she could do to help her father, so as not to see her own hopes wilt and die when it happened again. Varys was right. What power did she truly have at this moment, how was she anything but a dumb and helpless girl? The Spider controlled all the information coming and leaving King's Landing. Cersei would not believe her about the Targaryens, not with Varys refuting her. And by the time news of the dragons arrived from other sources, her father would be long dead.

What power did she have over any of these foolish southrons, caught as they were in their own game, what could she say to them now, that would prove prophetic before Ned Stark's would be execution? That the White Walkers were coming? They'd definitely lock her up in the Maidenvault for that. That Cersei was sleeping with her brother, that the children were not Robert's, that she'd used Lancel Lannister to poison him? She'd just be repeating her own father's so called treasons, making up bits and pieces of her own. That Stannis would storm the city, that Renly would be killed through witchcraft? What proof had she of these events, until they happened? Littlefinger's crimes? She'd get her revenge on him in due time, but at this very moment, his lack of scruples, compared to Varys's, gave him even less reason not to kill her when confronted by his treacheries. So she'd have to accept that, unless Cersei could somehow speak sense into her son, she'd be doomed to witness her father's death all over again.

"Stay," she ordered the Spider atop the stairs, in the voice she used when she'd ruled the North. He shrugged, seeing no harm in letting secrets pass between a dead man and his strange daughter. She'd bluffed, she'd used the only card she had, and she failed. Could her own words have further doomed her father? Certainly, the only reason Varys would have thought her knowledge possible was through Ned Stark one way or another, that he'd gained more spies than the Spider could have guessed during his short stint as Hand. But wouldn't that ensure the Spider would never let him leave the Keep alive?

"Come," she said, changing her mind, and he followed her like a dog. "Unlock it," she said, a voice used to ordering others, and he did.

The shock in her father's eyes, the sadness that she would see him like this, broke her heart as she ran onto him, caring not of the smell and the sweat, hugging him with her small arms until she feared that she could choke the life out of him herself.

"Sansa...what are you doing...," he managed to ask, after she'd let go of him. "You shouldn't be down here."

Rather than answer him, she turned to Varys. "Father, I'm going to ask the Spider to leave now. For his peace of mind, I ask that whatever we speak of here, whether it be his loyalty to House Targaryen, his association with Illyrio Mopatis of Pentos, his attempts to foil the assassinations of Daenerys Targaryen through the use of Ser Jorah Mormont...whatever else we speak of in the privacy of the cells, that you swear, on your name as a Stark, by all our ancestors, that you will speak not of it to anyone else. Not even Cersei Lannister...not even Stannis Baratheon."

She hoped the shock on her own father's face would save him from Varys's plotting at least, and keep the Spider satisfied that Ned Stark was not one he ought to fear, that he would keep his mouth shut upon the Wall, were she lucky enough that Joffrey did spare him; her father's honor, she hoped it may actually help him for once.

"Do it, father."

The sheer intensity of his daughter's words, a passion and maturity beyond what he'd ever witnessed before, led him to agree.

"I swear it, upon my honor."

Varys nodded silently.

"Leave," Sansa ordered again, before either of them could get another word out, and she hugged her father again as she listened to the Spider's feet clambering back up the stairs.

"I don't think I can save you, father," she admitted, once Varys was out of earshot.

He seemed lost for words, incredulous, because she was a little girl, and little girls weren't supposed to save their own fathers. "Sansa...I..."

"Arya escaped," she said, wondering if or how she should tell him what she knew. "She'll go through a lot...she'll survive the Lannisters, the Cleganes, the Faceless Men...she'll destroy the White Walkers and death itself...but she won't survive when the Targaryens burn what's left of our family."

Now he was really confused, and Sansa wondered whether he thought the same as she in the beginning, whether this was just a fevered dream...nightmare rather.

"The Targaryen girl...Robert was right about her. Though she does come North, she does help against the Others...but then she'll burn King's Landing to the ground, because she's a Targaryen, one who's been tortured and tormented all her life."

Just like me.

"Sansa...who...how do you know this?"

She knew what he was about to ask? Who are you? What have you done to my daugther?

"I'm still your daughter. I died too...as the Lady of Winterfell, when I refused to bend the knee and surrender the North to her."

"When? How?"

"Seven years from now." The pride in his eyes indicated that he believed her, impossible as her words sounded...and weak as his mind was from rotting in the dungeons for so long. And the heartbreak in his eyes...knowing what she must have gone through, knowing that his own daughter died anyway, then somehow survived that ordeal. But she wanted him proud of her, she wanted to suck down that feeling, that look in his eyes, down her throat like wine, so she continued. "I survived many things before then. Arya and I both avenged our families from those who betrayed us. She slaughtered every man living who bore the Frey name..."

"The Freys?"

She nodded, though she didn't want to burden her father with any more of that terrible knowledge. "The Boltons...I fed the son to his own hounds. I watched as they chewed through his skin and bones. That was after we took back Winterfell. Myself and Jon...the trueborn son of Rhaegar and aunt Lyanna."

If he'd any reason to doubt her before, he certainly doubted no longer.

"What about..."

"The others," she finished his question sadly, asking about those in her family whose fates she'd yet to reveal. She shook her head. "It was bad. It was very, very, very bad."

Bran survives yet, she thought. Can he see me now, in the past? Did he know this would happen?

"I died? I couldn't do anything to stop this...before you died?"

"Tomorrow," she nodded, tears streaming freely down her eyes at the memory.

"Sansa," he said, clutching her closely this time, "I'm so sorry. Everything...I couldn't protect you. I never should have come south."

"It's not your fault," she said. Before, she would blame herself, except now that she was back in the Keep, in the thick of it, she truly understood how little power she held in the middle of everything. For now. But for now, all the knowledge in the world may not save her father.

"You're too good for this world. We all are, we're all children of summer...even you...even men like Tywin Lannister and Stannis Baratheon and Roose Bolton...none of them know, none of them have seen the dead, or the true power of the dragons. Even if we'd all stayed in Winterfell, our doom was coming anyway...a doom of fire and ice, to destroy this realm one way or another."

Ned Stark laughed. "My own daughter, calling me a summer child."

They stayed like that for a few precious minutes, Sansa curled up in her father's arms, the so perfect sensation of his fingers through her hair helping her feel, for this idyllic moment too brief, like the child she once was.

"I don't know if I can save you," she said again. "I'll try...but...I'll save Robb, and mother, and Jon, and Arya, Rickon...the North. Everyone."

"It shouldn't be your burden," her father said, holding her closer. He'd probably wanted to add dear child, except he understood she was no child, and hadn't been for some time.

"It is," she realized, her eyes clear through her drying tears, even as she heard the approach of the Spider, signifying the end of their time together. "That's the only reason why I'm here."

Chapter Text

Sansa

"The Gods have no mercy, that's why they're Gods."

"Come again," Cersei actually looked up this time, having ignored all her pleading up to this point.

"A saying I've heard," Sansa replied. She didn't want to say anything of the future to Cersei, but at least this remark got her attention. But it was the Queen and Littlefinger whom she knew would do everything they could to squeeze out everything she had to their own benefit, were they ever to discern the truth about her.

"Doesn't sound like something Ned Stark would say," Cersei remarked, just a little suspicious at her now.

"The King, your husband, I heard him say it to my father in Winterfell," Sansa lied, wondering if there was any way she could steer this conversation now that the queen was finally listening to her. "Your Grace, I mean no offense, but...you're not a god. Neither is King Joffrey..."

"Keep speaking, girl, and my son won't be the one to change his mind about your father."

She's bluffing, Sansa realized. No, she's not bluffing. Bluffing would mean she were serious. She's playing with me.

"The King is strong of will," she said, toeing her line. Cersei had seen through her pretenses the first time around, they all had; Littlefinger, for all his faults, had been the first to tell her the truth of it, it was just that none of them had seen her as a serious enough threat to call out her awful attempts at acting. So she must play the same role now, that of a stupid girl, pretending she's smart, not realizing how stupid she looks to all the smarter southrons around her. "But he is young. My father is a traitor, that is true, and his betrayal has raised up other traitors across the realm. I fear he will feel the need to be too strong, so much as to forget the need to listen to the wiser counsel of his mother and his advisers. This war between our families...the war my traitor brother has started...it makes my soul weep."

"You don't want your traitor brother to win, is that true?" Cersei questioned. She was still toying around with her, but Sansa sensed her words had triggered something inside the woman, enough for her to realize there was something intangible she was missing. "Do you pray to the Gods that my son slaughter your own in battle?"

"I pray that we may all sit down in a room and talk and work things out and agree to make peace between all our houses," she said, an idea so foolish that even the naive girl she had once been could have never believed such a thing. But let Cersei believe it, because it's what she wants to believe. "But my brother Robb...he has fire in his blood. I fear...I fear what he's capable of...only father's words could calm him. It's always been that way, when we were children."

A lie. But again, another lie Cersei would wish to believe, to reinforce her notion that northerners were all uncontrollable wildmen and savages.

"Your brother's no less of a child than my son," Cersei said dismissively. "Do you really believe your future husband would be so stupid as to provoke the northern armies, with the Baratheons nipping at our heels to the south, thanks to your traitor father?"

She wondered if they'd captured the Kingslayer yet, and cursed that she never reconciled these old timelines before coming back. But then, she'd never expected to travel back in time, did she? How does one prepare for such an occurrence? Jaime's capture would be the only thing that could convince Cersei to do something drastic, such as keeping Joffrey from attending her father's trial in the afternoon. Blurting that out could save her father's life, but more likely than not, Cersei would not believe her. Not until the news came, at which point she'd find herself in worse danger as a prophet in the hands of her enemies. And what if, by some odd twist of fate, she did believe her, and Jaime had yet been captured? Could she not send a raven to Tywin Lannister, warn him, and possibly get her own brother killed were the Lannisters smarter to the situation at Whispering Wood?

"The King is too just," she replied instead, gathering herself, knowing she was running out of time and chances. "I worry justice blinds him, when it is mercy that will save his realm."

Cersei sighed. "I'll speak to him, little dove. You'd have a hard time believing how little my words matter to him sometimes, after his father died."

Oh, I believe it, she thought, as she walked back to Varys, who'd said not a word the entire exchange, more than you can imagine now.

"You know something," he said to her, once they had returned to her chambers. "You were playing the Queen...more than any child of Ned Stark ought to be able to."

Yes, she screamed in her mind, I know everything, or have you yet to notice that yet, oh wise Spider?

"They say the Starks have magic in our blood...that we come from wolves, that through the beasts and the trees and the old gods, we can see through eyes not open to others."

"Common tales to children in the north, I'd imagine," Varys said, though she could tell her words unnerved him.

"There are things I know, even as I have no right to know them." If Bran could become a Three Eyed Raven, if he could have dreamed the future before even venturing beyond the Wall, why could such things not be possible for his sister? In the mind of a southron, at least?

"It's how I know about Daenerys and her three dragons. It's how I know that Joffrey will ignore everything his own mother and his counselors tell him, and kill my father today." Even as she said those words, she felt the truth in them, despite all her measly efforts, despite any even more pathetic efforts Cersei could make on his behalf. She looked up at Varys. "I know you will die, Lord Varys. It will not be of old age, or of your own choosing. If my father dies today, you will die also, at the sentence of a tyrant."

It was a threat, a suggestion that perhaps he ought to sneak out her father, just like he'd done so with Tyrion so many years later. There was something in his eyes that indicated that he did believe her, but then, it was probably too late, wasn't it? The Spider had had days, maybe even weeks, to prepare for Tyrion Lannister's escape. He had a day for Ned Stark perhaps, when she returned, reduced to mere hours now.

"How do I die," he asked, she knew, against his better judgment. "Why?"

"Because for the first time in your life, you realized the extent of your mistakes, and you decided to do the right thing."


She had not fainted this time. Instead, she'd looked towards the statue of Baelor, where she saw Arya, and mouthed to her as best she could, while she cried out in grief and pain.

I'm sorry. I tried.

"The gods are cruel," she screamed to the walls of her cage. "Why? Why? Why send me back, when everything still happens the same?!"

But then she shut up, because who knows who could be listening in on her still? She knew what would happen later, when Joffrey would take her up onto the bannisters and show her her father's head. She thought about ignoring the Hound this time around, doing it, truly doing it, pushing Joffrey off, perhaps taking herself along with him. But what good would dying again do? A part of her wondered whether it would just return her back to Cersei's room, doomed to repeat the cycle again and again until the gods were done tormenting her.

So when Meryn Trant beat her savagely this time around, she did not cry out, because his blows barely counted as pain after Ramsay. She saved the fool's life, just as she'd done before, because it was the decent thing to do. They'd need the fool to kill Joffrey, she knew, but it didn't matter, because she had no intention of letting him live so long as to see the day of his own wedding to Margaery. Varys ignored her, probably because she'd been right, both about her father, as well as the dragons, and that scared him more than he could ever admit to himself. Not that she needed him anymore, with her father dead, though she knew he would return in due time, because a man who lusts for information wouldn't be able to help himself.

They all left her alone, for one reason or another, except Cersei and Joffrey, whenever they sought a plaything to torment. She smiled for them as she'd done before, played dumb for them as she did before, the polite responses, the barbed retorts all coming to her without a second thought. But mostly, she hid in her room and thought and planned, because it was quiet there, because once things started happening, she wouldn't have a chance to truly think everything through again. And she could not afford to make one mistake, not with so much on the line. At least this time around, she did not have to live with the uncertainty, that lingering dread that Joffrey and Tywin Lannister could hurt Robb. Because they could and would, but they underestimated Robb, all of them, and that bought him years to his life, and years enough for her to save him.

Robb and mother, they were still alive, and she needed to keep them alive. Arya and Jon, she hoped she had not changed things enough to affect the paths they would take before returning to Winterfell. As bad as it was, she needed Arya to suffer, enough so to devote herself to the Faceless Men. And Jon...he needed to see what was beyond the Wall, so as to get the North to believe, along with the rest of the realm. If only he didn't have to die doing so this time around.

And she needed Daenerys, and her dragons too. Often she'd thought about shoving a dagger into Joffrey and Cersei, stepping up onto the throne herself, and ordering Varys to kill the Targaryen girl and her dragons once and for all, before the Kingsguard came for her, but she knew that she needed them...the realm needed them, the Dragon Queen, and all her three dragons, fully grown, for the Great War ahead. If somehow she could get that point in time, and they could defeat the dead again...she'd need to betray Daenerys...not as she'd done before...but Cersei's and Littlefinger's way, behind her back, through methods which would bring shame and dishonor upon her own name, if not that of her family's for all ages to come. And where would that leave her, a woman who'd lived two lives, who would save the world from ice and fire, only to live with the residue of hatred and disgust from her own family whom she'd saved?

One day at a time, she told herself. She needed to survive King's Landing first.


"My king. I dreamed of your sister last night."

"Oh," he asked, curious rather than cruel for once.

"I dreamt of her in the desert, by these beautiful fountains and gardens of...water. Below flags bearing a sun. With a stick poking through it."

"Spear," Joffrey corrected. "The spear of House Martell."

"Oh, it must be Dorne then," Sansa said innocently. "I did know Dorne's a silly country, but 'Cella there? I apologize for troubling Your Grace with my foolishness."


"Tell me the truth, Lady Sansa," Tyrion said, reaching out to pour her a glass of wine, before remembering her age, and pulling back to pour a goblet only for himself. "You don't really mean to betray your brother."

"My brother is a traitor," she said, wondering just how much of the woman she could let slip through. Tyrion she could trust, more than most, but his aim was still to preserve his own life first, his father's pride in him second. If only he'd know how disappointed he'd be in the latter. "But he's a successful traitor...as my King has seen fit to remind me."

"I'm so sorry about that, my lady," he said sincerely, and Sansa remembered the kindness he'd shown her, the first time around...and the second time. "Believe it or not, the King is difficult to...counsel, these days. Even when it comes to his own mother."

"The King is strong. He must be." She smiled sweetly. It was getting easier to manage now, the need to act well at acting poorly. "He has so many enemies now...all stronger than he...how is he to prevail, if he does not believe himself stronger than they?"

It seemed he almost choked in his wine, at her words.

"My Lady, you don't have to play this game with me. I know you wish bear no good tidings for your King. Or his dwarf for a Hand, for the matter."

"I love King Joffrey," she said, somehow holding back her vomit as she uttered the words. "But...," she made sure to look hesitant, "I love my brother, even if he is a traitor. I've no wish to watch the two men I love kill each other on the battlefield."

Not that Joffrey would ever step foot on a battleground against Robb, so much as she wished it could happen.

"If only you could tell your brother to bend the knee to Joffrey, and if only I could tell Joffrey to accept his surrender without taking the head of another Stark." He drank again, a deeper gulp down his throat.

"It's Stannis you worry about, isn't it," she asked, perking his interest. "His is the larger army, after he murdered Renly."

"They say your mother was behind Renly Baratheon's death," Tyrion said, probably surprised himself to be confiding in her. Perhaps he was testing her, perhaps he had spoken to Varys about the dumb girl's occasional bouts of smartness.

"She was there, along with Brienne of Tarth. But Brienne loved Renly, she would never betray him. And King Renly had just agreed to the independence of the North, before Stannis killed him. Why would my mother agree to such things, then kill the man who would have destroyed her enemies for her?"

"That's not true," he began dismissively, before stopping himself, and thinking, and realizing that everything she said was more than plausible. He leaned forward, conspiratorially. "How do you know such things? Even Varys knows not of what truly happened in Lord Renly's camp."

"I just do." She bit her lip, shyly. "Stannis has a larger army now, and he doesn't have Tywin Lannister standing at Harrenhal, between him and the capital."

"Varys told me about you," Tyrion said, eyes fearful, same as the Spider;s when they'd last spoke. At this moment, his mind was certainly calculating all the ways the stupid little girl could have overheard such things from the various comings and goings in court...including the most sensitive of his father's troop dispositions. So she couldn't allow him to keep thinking.

"I know you're more worried about Stannis than Robb. That's why you've been preparing the wildfire..."

He gasped. "Do you have spies? Varys?" He shook his head nervously. "Has Littlefinger been speaking to you?"

"You love Shae," she said, understanding she was truly treading on dangerous ground, knowing that the Half Man would kill for the sake of his love. "Don't worry, she doesn't know I know. And you haven't told her anything that would endanger her more than you already have, why would you, you love her."

For a moment, she wasn't sure whether he was about to deny it, or choke her with his bare hands. She'd put up a fight, to be sure.

"As I've said, I know things. But believe me when I say I'm on your side. And hers. I wish for the two of you to be happy."

"Be careful what you wish for," he said, uttering the words darkly and lamely, because he had no response once she struck too close to his own heart.

"Let me write a letter to Robb," she said, making her move. "You may read it. Even the Spider too. Even your sister...I only ask you not show it to Littlefinger."

"Littlefinger? Why not him?"

She shuddered nervously. "I don't like the way he looks at me." Still he hesitated. "You don't trust me?"

"It's not that I don't trust you," he muttered, running his fingers through his hair. "It's that I don't trust my own mind were I to believe these things."

"Yet you did hear me, my words were not a trick of your mind, were they?" What she left unsaid now was that she had power over him, with her knowledge. "My Lord Tyrion, let us work together. We both have so many enemies already, we don't need new ones, not with each other."

He didn't answer her. In fact, he didn't speak for quite some time. But he did walk over to his desk, and take out a piece of parchment, handing it over to her along with a pen.

"Write," he ordered, watching her fingers carefully as she did so.

"My dear brother. The King and the Lannisters treat me well in the capital. You must know that mother had nothing to do with Lord Renly's death. I trust she will arrive soon in your camp, along with her sworn sword. Show this letter to her, so that she knows I am well, and that I know she is well, for there is none more honorable nor so strong who can protect her, than Brienne of Tarth. Do not show this letter to anyone else but her.

The girl is beautiful, I hear, and kinder than she is beautiful. Your heart carries you across the Narrow Sea, but be wary of those who sail the other seas.

You sent our dear brother Theon to Pyke for his father's support. He has betrayed us. He will take Winterfell, if he has not done so already. For my sake, I pray you won't be too harsh on him, his father Balon is horrible, and he knows not what he does. You may hear news that he has killed our brothers Bran and Rickon. You must have faith in ALL our brothers, that they are not as weak or as horrible as what they will tell you.

You were wrong to trust in Theon. You will also be wrong to trust in those you were promised to, and those who serve you bearing sharp blades. The fish is foolish, he swims aimlessly, lacking intelligence or purpose, and he will strike at mountains blind, not unless you show him the truth.

Arya is well, and strong.

Your beloved sister Sansa."

Finished, she handed him the scroll.

"These are...things you believe will happen?"

"I see it, yes."

"What do you see exactly," he asked. "Do you dream these things?"

"It's not like that," she answered cryptically. "It's not dreams, nor visions...nor is it everything. But the things I know, I just know. Like Shae. And the wildfire."

"And the battle with Stannis," Tyrion pressed. Taunt him. Taunt him with what he wants to hear. "Will the wildfire help? Will Stannis take the city?"

She shook her head, denying him his much needed peace of mind. "No." Seeing his shoulders slump in defeat, she continued. "Not without your father's help. He's made cause with the Tyrells, you see, but he can't march south, not with my brother ready to capture either Casterly Rock, or fall upon his rear." She pointed at the letter, picking it up and waving it to his face as if she were a still a foolish girl, playing with a toy she didn't quite understand.

"Don't you see? Once my brother reads this, he'll believe me, when he hears of Winterfell himself. And he'll march north, especially when he hears that his own men are not to be trusted...not even my mother's family...and he'll stay north, he'll take our home back, and maybe afterwards he'll never step foot south of Moat Cailin again!"

"The Tyrells," Tyrion muttered, and Sansa realized this was the first he'd heard of this detail from Tywin's plans. "And why are you helping me? Why don't you want to see us crushed by your brother and Stannis? And don't tell me it's because you love Joffrey, we both know what joke that lie is."

"Because Robb's own men will betray him." This was the truth, and she used her genuine sorrow, from a past life, to her fullest extent. "And his own blood, his uncle Edmure, that will be the betrayal he sees last, and the one which breaks him and my mother. I'd rather he return home alive, than rescue me. You'll save King's Landing, Stannis's armies will be crushed. Joffrey may rule over only six kingdoms, but I'd trust both of you would prefer six over nothing, when you're both dead. And even if Joffrey and your father march north for Winterfell, I'd rather Robb there, rather than here. Stark men do better north than south, you see?"

"Stark women though," he said, as if seeing her for what she was the first time. "What about you? What, after your brother leaves you to the lions?"

She smiled again, sweetly. "Then I become a lion, my brother remains a wolf, and I am happy, because the two men I love most both live."

Chapter Text

Sansa

She kept telling herself that whatever happened today, it didn't matter in the long run. But it would make things much easier, and it was indeed personal, standing beside the King, who displayed little emotion watching his little sister carried away to a strange and faraway kingdom. Beside her, Prince Tommen cried, and Sansa reminded herself that not all Lannisters were rotten. Not Myrcella either; both had been doomed to pay for their mother's sins before. If she could help it, she would do what she can to save these innocent children, who were not so much younger than her. That Ned Stark kept her sheltered from the world, that was no surprise, but she wondered how these two younger golden haired Lannisters managed to remain pure with Cersei their mother.

Walking past the High Septon, she found Joffrey on their way back to the Keep, wedging herself between him and the Hound.

"My King," she said, looking around nervous, "I know that I'm just a dumb girl..."

"Yes, you're very stupid," Joffrey answered dismissively.

"But the smallfolk seem angry. My dream..."

"It was a nightmare," he said, groaning impatiently at her as Sandor Clegane rolled his eyes above her. "Kings don't have nightmares, and we certainly don't have to worry..."

The manure hit him in the head, same as the last time. For a moment, Sansa had worried that she would stand between the shit and its target, but it hit true, and as she remembered, Joffrey went berserk, yelling at his Kingsguard to slaughter all the starving cityfolk around them.

"Your Grace...it was terrible. They threw...dung at you...and they flung themselves at you...there were so many of them, they pushed over the Hound and tore him limb from limb...oh thank the Gods, you ran! You found the High Septon and stood by him, and the Gods protected you both, from the crowd...and they took me too, trapped me in an alley, they were going to do horrible things to me, until Ser Meryn found me and took me back to the Keep..."

If she were honest with herself, she'd had little memory of that awful day, besides the fact that Joffrey lived, she almost died, and the High Septon did die, screaming. This time, she wanted to say Joffrey's high pitched screams, as the smallfolk tore him limb from limb, rang louder than the High Septon's, but she had no proof. Her body standing between Sandor and the King, the Hound had been helpless when Joffrey ran back towards the rear of the procession, fear overwhelming his feeble mind as he sought solace with a fat and doomed priest.

"Joffrey! Joffrey! My son! My dear son!"

She'd hoped that they'd take Cersei with him, but the Kingsguard, shaken out of their temporary paralysis, dragged the shrieking and hysterical woman away, though she heard Ser Meryn muttering to her how he'd personally slaughter every man, woman, and child in Flea Bottom, as if that would bring Joffrey back to his mother.

"It's your fault," Cersei pointed maniacally at her when they arrived at the Keep, even as Tyrion did his best to calm his sister, "you whispered your poison to him."

But no one knew of her private conversations with the King, and what little the Hound gleaned before the riot started, she trusted that he would keep to himself even if he did harbor any suspicions. As to herself, she was an expert enough liar to cry and weep and scream in fear all the way back to her own quarters where, with all her handmaidens otherwise occupied in lieu of the ghastly death of the King, Sansa laughed and laughed and laughed until her throat was dry and she couldn't utter another sound without choking. Then she laughed some more.


Arya

"The King's dead? What's the point of fighting this war anymore?"

She nearly choked upon hearing the words. Sparing a look at Tywin Lannister, she thought she saw genuine sadness in his eyes. But more, she saw rage, and anger, and knew that his fellow lords were better off giving the old man some time alone. But she couldn't help herself.

"By the Gods, how," she asked, before hurried adding, "apologies milord...it's just...shocking to hear."

He regarded her, and she didn't need to feign her surprise, because the news was indeed shocking; she just needed every ounce of her control to keep from smiling, laughing, or crying out in joy.

"There was a riot in Flea Bottom," Tywin said, his own voice already carefully controlled and modulated before his vassals. "It would seem that a few dozen penniless paupers were enough to overwhelm the Kingsguard..."

"Your daughter was a fool to dismiss Ser Barristan," Amory Lorch snarled, and Arya knew the man was far too dumb to realize his own mistake.

"And you're a fool to leave Clegane without a leash, to be destroyed by Robb Stark," Tywin said in response, voice never rising to a shout but his ire enough to catch the attention of all in the room. He stood, and pointed at the knight. "Take his head for his treason."

"My lord," the brute protested as he was dragged out of the room.

They'll tear themselves apart, before my brother even gets to them.

"The Riverlands are lost," Tywin's brother Kevan sighed dejectedly. "Casterly Rock may well be lost, and Stannis Baratheon will slaughter everyone with Lannister blood if he takes King's Landing."

"You're suggesting we cede all the northern kingdoms to Robb Stark, to protect an empty throne," Tywin asked, though his voice was tinged now with despondency rather than anger.

"Clegane lost us more than a third of our fighting men," Kevan replied, even-toned. He seemed a decent man. It shocked her that there could be even a halfway decent man amongst the Lannister brood. "What men remain loyal to House Lannister, we need to find, to lessen our weakness, and it just so happens they're all in King's Landing, or further south. Your daughter, your son, my son, your last grandson...Robb Stark can nip at our heels on the way to the capital...but he'll get to us sooner if we wait uselessly in Harrenhal."

"The Red Keep has never fallen," another knight whose name Arya did not know sounded. "If we get there before Stannis, we can reinforce the city's defense..."

"I'm sorry for your grandson," Arya dared say to him after he'd dismissed what remained of his war council, smaller and smaller by the day.

"You're not," he said, seeing through her lies immediately. "You had no love for the King...nor should you have, being a northerner."

"You're right," Arya admitted, knowing how pointless it was to lie to Tywin Lannister. So she told him the truth. "But I know what it's like to lose family."

"You'll stay here," Tywin decided, standing up to leave. He did not seem the type to waste time, so if he were to ride for King's Landing, he'd likely depart before sundown. Which gave her and her friends a chance to escape. "You'll keep to Ser Amory, I'll spare him..."

"But...milord...I thought you ordered him dead..."

Tywin Lannister shook his head. "I need someone to man the rearguard before the Stark wolf tears his head off."

"The riot in King's Landing," Arya dared broach. If she wanted to smile, she tempered her expression by her fear for Sansa. Shit as she was...cunt as she was, the other boys would happily call her...she didn't want her to die, or even hurt. Too badly, at least. "It must have been a dangerous one...to get to the King. The Queen lives?"

"She'll take to drink of course, to sooth her nerves, for her grief...it's always been her weakness."

"She wasn't hurt by the rioters?"

"It would seem the gods love tormenting me, always having to clean up after their mischief...they killed only my grandson and the High Septon..."

"No one else was killed...no one else important...," Arya said, daring herself to say Sansa's name, but knowing it would be risking too much. "Prince Tommen too, he was unhurt? I imagine he'll be king now."

Tywin scoffed, admitting to her what she imagined he'd never admit to anyone else...of importance at least. "If I were a betting man, I'd place my gold on Stannis or even the Stark boy to be sitting on that throne before the next moon."

"But you're not a man who bets against himself."

A rare smirk from the old lord, a sight she'd become accustomed to seeing. "Careful girl. You know too much, yet you've yet to learn that it's wiser sometimes not tell others of what you know."


Sansa

The next time they sought her out, it was Tyrion and Varys together.

"The Queen wants your head," Varys began. "My friend here is more than inclined to give it to her."

"For what crime," Sansa asked. And true enough, while Cersei had no evidence that would point her complicit in Joffrey's death, she'd still kept her imprisoned for all intents and purposes, keeping her confined to her own quarters, rather than the dungeons. They'd taken her handmaiden away as well, though she thought that could be Tyrion's doing, in order to further keep his secret. "I was merely speaking to the king..."

"It's a fantastic accusation, to be sure," Varys said, "but both Lord Tyrion and I have seen some fantastic things from you of late."

"You mentioned mountains in your letter to your brother," Tyrion said, accusingly, yet eyes looking hurt that she would betray his trust, after he had shown kindness to her. As if she owed him anything for displaying basic human decency in this pit of vipers. "Coincidentally, your brother's armies then went to surround those of Ser Gregor Clegane, before destroying them. Rather than march north to Winterfell, they give chase, and they tell me they'll arrive at King's Landing merely a day or two after my father relieves the city."

"I...I...," she acted, as a twenty year old woman accustomed to acting, in the form of a shocked little girl of four and ten, overwhelmed by events beyond her control. "I can't believe Robb would leave our home in the hands of our enemies!"

"Either you underestimated your brother," Tyrion said suspiciously, "or I underestimated you."

"Then kill me and give Cersei my head," she spoke, the voice of a woman now, startling them both with her boldness. "But you won't do that, will you? Not with my brother's armies bearing for the capital...not with both your own heads on the line for so many reasons." She stood, and watched as they backed away from her. "Tell me, how did Queen Cersei deal with her grief? Did she order the slaughter of all of Flea Bottom?"

"Half of it, perhaps," Varys said, in a way that suggested he was most displeased at his own inability in preventing such a slaughter.

"And now the very city you're so keen to defend despise their own defenders, don't they? They have no king to rally towards, and you can't even man your own walls without thousands of rioters shouting for the heads of all the Lannisters."

"Perhaps all we need is the head of one who was once betrothed to a Lannister," Tyrion tried threatening again, though they all knew how empty they were.

"Then do it. But you won't, because you need me. Stannis and the Northern and the Riverland armies together will more than outnumber the Lannisters and Tyrells. Stannis will never compromise with Robb...but my mother could convince him to bend the knee to Stannis, if only to save me, and rid the seven kingdoms of your family for good. Your days are numbered, you're practically all dead men walking...so you want to know if I can help you, even as you threaten me and accuse me of betraying you."

Varys shrugged his shoulders at Tyrion. "Be it witchery or magic or the olds gods or the new, you've dropped your pretense, and I'm glad of it."

"Glad," Tyrion asked.

"You're too sensitive towards how others see you," she volunteered him. "That's a weakness you offer too freely to others."

"I'm less concerned with the feelings of my friend here," Varys said, daring to approach her, as Tyrion pondered the truth of her words, "and more eager for you to get on with it and tell us what is it you want. In exchange for preserving our own heads, as you'd say."

"There was something I wanted once," she said, daring him back. "You were quite useless about that."

"There's something you want still," Varys challenged her, not backing down. "Or else there's nothing stopping you from playing mute while you watch happily as we all get slaughtered."

"What I want," Sansa sang, as if she had not yet made up her mind yet. "What I want, is for you to follow my every instruction to the dot. Until the battle is over, to heed my words as if I myself sat on the Iron Throne. In return, I will save your lives." She turned towards Tyrion. "I'll save even Cersei's life, even though she deserves none of my help. I'll also save your nephew Tommen's life, because he's an innocent child who deserves not his awful family, and out of everyone in this wretched castle, his is probably the only life deserving of saving."

"You're practically promising us the world," Tyrion said, "in exchange for the world."

"I do because I can." Taking a deep breath, she stretched out her body, so as to loom over the Hand of a dead king in every sense of the word. "And there is one more thing I'd ask."


As strong a front as she'd put in front of them, there was still some of the girl left in her. Descending the steps of the dungeon for the second time in this second life, she was reminded not just of her own father's suffering, but her abject failure in the first item she tried to accomplish upon her return.

He stunk worse than her father. He'd suffered much in his life, but this part of it solely the fault of hers.

"You'll be happy to hear your brother's dead. They say he suffered, wounded as he was in the battle. They say it took four hacks of the sword for my brother to get his head off...though not out of cruelty or weakness in Robb's part."

To her dismay, Sandor Clegane reacted with little joy in her words. If anything, his expression changed from mild indifference and discomfort to rage.

"Fuck off," was all he said in response to her.

"It wasn't your fault, Joffrey's death," she said, ignoring his harsh insult. "The Queen is unfair to blame you."

"What the fuck is fairness to you? You're a spoiled little bitch, just like the rest of them."

It was pointless to goad him on, or to convince him to not be an ass when he was so determined as such. Instead, she took the key, and opened the door to his cell, bemoaning that Varys did not let her do the same for her father.

"Follow the stairs down, past where they keep the dragon skulls. You'll find yourself on the bay. There's a dinghy awaiting you there."

Shock, a reaction she was used to now. A reaction that, were she to be honest, she actually enjoyed eliciting this time around. Too much, perhaps.

Rather than insult her again, or ask questions, he simply rose from the grimy floor, and walked slowly and deliberately in the direction she pointed.

"Why him," Tyrion asked, while the Hound could still be within earshot.

"There's still a role yet for him to play," Sansa answered cryptically, as they all awaited until the ring of footsteps disappeared in the darkness.

"As do the two of us, in this grand plan of yours," Tyrion said. "You do have a plan, I assume?"

"Letters," Sansa said, forcing a smile. "Always letters."


Tyrion

"I leave you the kingdom, and you get your king killed in the span of a fortnight?"

"You know full well Joffrey was perfectly capable of dying on his own, without my help."

He let his father stew in his anger, because as much as Tywin Lannister hated to admit it, this was a rare occasion where the blame lay not upon his youngest and least favorite child. Pacing the inside of his tent, Tyrion imagined the insults his father was exercising his restraint upon. As uncomfortable as he was outside the walls of King's Landing, where his father had set up camp upon his arrival, a part of Tyrion feared more what lay within the walls.

"And you're fully capable of losing a city without my help."

"Losing a city," Tyrion replied indignantly. "If everything, I've saved it! What help could you have brought south, your armies defeated and depleted, a day after Stannis's arrival, no less?"

"The Tyrells," Tywin replied. Sansa had not lied to him, not about the Tyrells, at least.

"Yes, well they arrived after Stannis also. Why do you think Stannis has not yet taken the city, or destroyed the Tyrells on his own?"

"Perhaps he should have," Tywin retorted contemptuously. "Perhaps he could have been weakened from having to give two battles, and I could have finished him off."

"Perhaps he could have won both battles, and you would have arrived upon a city of ashes, the last surviving Lannister. Unless, that is, you've finally decided to take that wretched throne for yourself?"

"There's one more Lannister yet remaining." Both their demeanors softened at the mention of their collective favorite Lannister.

"And hostage to Robb Stark," Tyrion said. "The longer we put off this battle, the longer Jaime keeps his head."

"So tell me, oh wise son," Tywin began, uncomfortable at remaining at a disadvantage to him for much longer, "how did you keep Stannis from attacking the city? The wit of a common tavern scoundrel? Did you buy him off with Littlefinger's whores? Or was it your own sister you whored out to him?"

They were insults directed at him solely, both of them understanding that Stannis Baratheon was above being bought off by whores, whether in the form of a faux handmaiden, or former Queen Regent.

"Parley, actually."

Tywin cocked his head, perplexed at his son, not for the first time nor the last time, but his bafflement mixed with rare curiosity. "Parley?"

"Half Man. Surrender the city. I'll spare you, and your nephew, so long as Tywin Lannister renounces any claim his blood has to the throne."

"Lord Stannis," Tyrion mock bowed, "a pleasure as well." He turned, and gestured to Sansa Stark. "May I present Lady Sansa, of House Stark?"

Cersei had called him mad for letting her outside the Keep, much less the city walls. Tyrion had ignored her.

"Your Grace," Sansa demurred politely, and Tyrion wondered how much of this would be an act on her part. All of it, most likely.

"Lady Stark," Stannis said, surprised as he ought to be at her presence, representing the Lannister side of the parley. "Your father was a good man, and honorable. He championed my claim, and I raise my banners against the Lannisters and the false king in his memory."

"Your Grace," Sansa repeated again, "on behalf of House Stark, I thank you for your efforts. My father respected you as a man of honor also, and of duty. But the false king is dead."

"There's one false king left," Stannis said, the man going as far as to threaten a helpless girl. So he would think helpless still, in his ignorance of all things Sansa Stark. "Your brother Robb still refuses to submit to the authority of the Iron Throne, no matter who sits upon it."

"Three, actually," Sansa said in a shy, feminine way which somehow managed to avoid offending the ghastly man. "Balon Greyjoy has declared himself the King of the Iron Islands...again. And the King Beyond the Wall Mance Rayder has rallied a hundred thousand wildlings, marching south against Castle Black."

The usual look of surprise at her words, but Stannis shrugged them off easier than most. "Triflings, to be dealt with in short order."

The girl bowed again. "My apologies, Your Grace," she said politely, before turning to Stannis's red priestess.  "Valar morghulis." The girl's words confused everyone except the priestess, who then took note of her for the first time.

"Valar dohaeris," she responded back, to Stannis's befuddlement.

"Lady Melisandre, I've heard of your arrival on our shores. And not a moment too soon."

"Lady Stark," Melisandre answered, puzzled as well. "I thank you for the kind words, but I'm afraid I'm less acquainted with your name."

"You don't need to be," Sansa replied, with false humbleness so well acted so as to fool a witch. "I'm but of a girl of the north. All you need to know is that the cold of Winter flows through my blood. But you share more in common than you know with us Northerners."

"Is that so?"

"We both know who the real enemy is," Sansa said, suddenly so capturing the Red Lady's attention, that for a moment Tyrion thought she'd forgotten her own champion and king. "Death. The dead. An endless night."

When the Red Woman spoke again, it came out as a whisper, as if the skies themselves had darkened, midday, outside the walls of King's Landing.

"You know this? You've seen it too?"

"The Great War is coming," Sansa said, nodding, all traces of childishness lost in her voice. "You champion Stannis Baratheon, because you believe he is the Prince Who Was Promised." A pause. "You are correct in doing so."

King and witch exchanged a glance. Dwarf and eunuch exchanged glances. This they had not expected.

"But one man alone does not defeat death. There are more, with roles to play to in the Great War."

"Tell me who." The Red Woman leaned forward, captivated now, the girl somehow masterfully validating her own petty superstitions. Clever.

"There's a bastard on the Wall, whom men will learn to follow. A girl with three dragons in the east, to wage fire against the ice of the dead. The magic of the godswood, and a man lost beyond the Wall for hundreds of years. Armies of Dothraki and Unsullied, sailed across the Narrow Sea because the Great War is not about kingdoms or thrones, but about humanity and life itself, so must many other living play their parts against the darkness...men burnt, broken, cut apart, lost before finding themselves anew in the last battle. A man with one hand, whose story lies yet unwritten. The greatest knight of the seven kingdoms, yet not a knight in name. An exiled man, shamed, who serves his queen out of love unrequited. A maester, who takes for himself a wife, and claims two sons as his own. A lord with a patch over his eye, brought back many times from the dead by the drunk priest of Myr with red hair."

"Thoros," Melisandre and Stannis both exclaimed at once. Melisandre continued. "He has this power?"

"Look into the fire tonight, my lady, and tell me tomorrow whether what I speak of is true. Why do you think the Lord of Light has brought all of us here before King's Landing...Stannis Baratheon, the True King and the greatest military commander of the realm...Robb Stark, a boy who holds the love of the north and who will never lose a battle...Tywin Lannister, the richest and most powerful man in Westeros...if not for the fact that all of us have a role to play in the Great War ahead? The realm needs to be strong for us to prevail against the Night King and his Army of the Dead...and the realm needs its strongest men working together, rather than fighting each other...else Prince of prophecy or not, we'll all be doomed to fall to the dead."

They were all stunned into silence for a minute. Even Varys. The so-called Prince of prophecy and True King broke it, speaking bluntly at Tyrion.

"What did you Lannister dogs do to the poor girl?"

"We killed her father," Tyrion stammered out, not appreciating the awkward position the girl had once more put him in. "Were that the key to such...abilities...I assure you, I'd be the first to volunteer my own father."

"I see ancient eyes in her," Melisandre said to Stannis, as if they were alone, "long-suffering eyes...eyes that have seen the truth."

"You believe her," Stannis asked, though Tyrion could tell he more than half believed himself.

"I believe all she's said is true...yet I believe there is a great deal more she knows, that she keeps to herself." The Red Woman dipped her head. "My King, we must take her with us, so that she can guide us in this Great War to come."

"She knows more than you? What use are you me then, if the Stark girl's more powerful."

"I've never claimed to be anything more than a tool for the Lord of Light, seeing only what He gives me vision to. I question not His will, nor others, who have received his gift of foresight."

Stannis grunted, then looked to Tyrion. "Fine. The girl comes with us."

"Your Grace, as much as I wish to, I must stay in King's Landing."

He shook his head in confusion. "Lady Sansa...must I remind you the Lannisters are traitors, and they killed your father. I offer to take you away from those wish to harm you."

"No one can protect me from anyone living," the girl replied, somehow with a disarming smile, "much less the dead. You need me, for this war between Kings, so that you can entreat my brother to bend the knee...and for the Great War, so that I may help guide the Lady Melisandre. If I leave King's Landing, there's nothing stopping you from breaking the truce and attacking the city, wasting more men and lives, when we need to preserve as many men and lives as we can for the Great War."

"So you'll allow yourself to stay a hostage, for the sake of your Great War?"

"It's our Great War. What choice do I have, knowing what I know?"

"We can't give you Lady Sansa," Tyrion said, stepping in, only after she turned to look at him, giving him her signal that she had said all she needed to say. "I can't agree to your claim, or my lord father will take my head himself. But, for the sake of compromise, Prince Tommen, the rightful King of the Seven Kingdoms, will not take up his claim until after the council."

"You say she insisted on having this priestess of Stannis sailed over from Dragonstone?"

"It was the only way for a successful parley," Tyrion admitted, "to keep Stannis from sacking the city. And it worked." He had no idea how his father could react to such a fantastic tale...except the mere proof that it had, indeed, worked.

"So in truth, it's the girl who rules in King's Landing now, not the late King's Hand, nor his mother."

"She's saved our skins, for the most part."

Tywin sat by the fire, finally letting his exhaustion show. "I knew Stannis. By the Gods, I respect the man...I never figured him swayed by children's tales."

If he was expecting a cynical remark from his cynical son, he did not receive it.

"You believe her?"

"I believe she believes it," Tyrion said truthfully. And I believe she knows far more than any human ought rationally know, much less a sheltered rich girl. I also believe she uses her knowledge, however gained, to her own advantage, and lies to us, if need be, to keep us on our toes and at her mercy. "Did you speak with the Tully's, by any chance?"

"The Tully's?" His father's incredulous look answered his question. "Why would you say such a thing?"

"Perhaps they could be induced to betray their new King of the Trident?"

"Do you know their House words, boy? Do you really I'm foolish enough to think Hoster Tully capable of betraying his own blood?"

You clever, awful girl.

"You'll meet her too," Tyrion said, almost gleefully. "She says she has words for you. I believe you'll see her in a different light after, along with my own actions in heeding her instructions."

Chapter Text

Sansa

Before, he had never given her a second thought, except as a means to accentuate his own power. Today, as she stepped into the tent, it was not the faces of the men she knew, or her own family's she paid heed to, but Tywin Lannister's, his steely eyes fixated curiously upon her...the man who had plotted the betrayal and murders of Robb and mother at the Red Wedding.

"Lady Sansa," he said sternly. "I see no reason for a girl like yourself to be present in this Council. Your brother has demanded it, understandable, you are his family, and he wishes to be assured of your safety. Yet, my own son insists also upon your presence, along with Stannis Baratheon, a man whom you'd met but several days ago, your only encounter being, based on what was told to me, a most interesting parley. But they also tell me all of us are gathered together, because of you. So I'd imagine both Lord Stannis and Lord Stark are most eager to hear you justify your presence here with us."

You're a little girl. Prove why you deserve to sit with the big tough men of Westeros. She'd forgotten that this was Tywin's first time meeting her and now, perceiving her as a threat for the first time in two lifetimes, he needed to project his strength, even as he sat the weakest party at the table.

"Lord Tywin," she said, seating herself, resisting the urge to run up to her brother and her mother and cry and hug them fiercely, because she needed them all to take her seriously, rather than see her as a scared little girl. "Believe me that I hate you more than near everyone, and I have no wish to sit across any table from you, except that none of us have a choice in the matter."

"Your father's death, I had no part in that, I assure you," he said, truthfully. "Joffrey's decision was his own, just as the King's foolish death was also his own."

Was it really?

"And this war between Stark and Lannister was started not by myself, or any of my children, but by your own lady mother."

Before her mother could protest, Sansa stepped in. "By Littlefinger, actually."

"Littlefinger," Catelyn asked, horrified. By the gods, she still trusts him. "Petyr?"

"Jaime Lannister pushed my brother out the tower, he's already admitted that to you, hasn't he, mother?"

"Sansa...how do you know?"

She really wished her first words to her mother after so long weren't the usual confusion she sowed whenever she spoke.

"And no need to pretend to Lord Tywin you still hold his son, we all know you let him go against Robb's wishes, with Ser...I mean, Lady Brienne accompanying him."

"Is this true?"

She watched as Robb shifted uncomfortably in his chair. He can't lie. Same as Jon, he hates lying.

He needs to learn.

"It tis," was all Robb could admit.

"He'll be on his way to the capital. Slowly, they travel the back roads. But this is a distraction. It was Littlefinger who talked our Aunt Lysa into poisoning Jon Arryn. It was Littlefinger who talked her into sending a letter to my mother, blaming the Lannisters for the crime, and it was Littlefinger who paid for the sellsword to kill Bran, then blaming it on Lord Tyrion."

All of them looked to her in shock, except Stannis, who seemed merely disinterested.

"Why?"

"You'll have to ask him yourself. He's fled, according to Lord Varys." The problem, she realized upon hearing that news, with changing the future, was that she could no longer control it, once it had changed. "My guess is he's gone to the Eyrie, where he'll continue to speak poison into my aunt's ears."

"I will have his head," her mother uttered, and Sansa knew she meant it. Tyrion admitted to her that she was a force to be reckoned with, but Sansa herself had never seen this side of her mother. Until today. "My dear Sansa, I don't know how you could know such things, but...Lord Tywin, I beg your forgiveness, for my unfair treatment of your son, and I ask that we set aside our grudges and bring justice to the true perpetrator of these foul crimes."

"Don't forgive him too quickly mother," Sansa interrupted. "He would have had your head, and Robb's, in a way most foul and treacherous, had he a chance to continue his plotting."

"I know not of what lies the girl speaks of," Tywin said accusingly, in a tone which indicated she'd struck too close to the truth, "though her imagination, I'll admit, far exceeds her father's."

"Have you married her yet," she asked Robb.

"I have not...," her brother began shakily.

Seeking to put an end quickly to his discomfort, Sansa looked back at Tywin. "He would have sent letters to the Freys, the moment you broke the engagement. He may have even sent them now, if he's heard word of your affair with Talisa. As for Roose Bolton, I'd imagine he'd have promised him Warden of the North the moment Littlefinger brought him the Tyrells...is that right, Lord Tywin?"

"Your letter," Robb said, putting the pieces together, "you're saying it's Tywin Lannister who would have plotted their betrayals?"

It was Tywin Lannister who shifted uncomfortably in his seat this time. "My Lady Sansa, many appear to be convinced of your abilities to...know things you ought not know. Including my son, and the self-proclaimed King Stannis, First of his Name. But I assure you," he said, looking at a disbelieving King in the North, "your sister's fantasies, are just that...fantasies."

Perhaps it was too early in the war, that Tywin barely knew of his own guilt, Robb not giving him the opportunities he needed just yet. Besides, she'd never have proof to the conspiracy, her brother's distrust of his enemies, known and unknown, the best she could hope for in revealing the future. But if Tywin were close to breaking, there was one last card for her to play.

"Your cupbearer at Harrenhal," she said, catching his attention just after he'd tried deflecting it from himself, "she called herself Arry, didn't she? You were the only one who saw she was a girl. You were the only one who saw that she wasn't lowborn, that she was a northern girl." Silence, so she continued. "That was my sister, Arya Stark."

"Arya," Catelyn shouted, turning angrily at Tywin again, moreso than when Sansa told her of his plotting with the Freys and Boltons. "You told me she was in King's Landing...not Harrenhal!"

"You told me you had Jaime. It would seem we are even in our lies."

"Where is she," she asked first Tywin, then Sansa. "Do you know, Sansa, where is your sister?"

"Hopefully halfway to Braavos by now," Sansa said with a smile, thinking fond thoughts of Arya. Rather than the gruesome ones of seeing her the day of her father's execution, or that dreadful memory of hearing her dead because of the Dragon Queen, causing her to finally give up on any hope or urge to keep clinging to her own life.

"Braavos? Who does she know in Braavos?"

"No one," Sansa answered Robb, still smiling.

"Enough," Stannis said, finally speaking for the first time in the council. "I don't care who killed or didn't kill whom, or who tried or who failed. I don't know how she knows, but the truth's out. As king, I'll bring Lord Baelish before the King's justice, to answer for his crimes, and settle this war between your two families."

"They killed my husband," Catelyn said, eyes red as she pointed her finger accusingly at Tywin Lannister, "and the father of my chlidren."

"They besmirch the good names of my daughter and your own brother Robert," Tywin shouted back at Stannis.

"My lords, my kings," Sansa interrupted fervently, knowing how tenuous the truce was, "now is not the time to argue amongst ourselves."

"She's right," a bearded man answered beside Stannis. It was Davos Seaworth, who many never enter her brother's service this time around. At least not for many years. "If a little girl can get us all together in this tent, surely we, the most powerful men in Westeros, can settle this rotten business in a way which avoids further bloodshed."

"The Great War is coming," Melisandre added, looking at her appreciatively. "His Grace Stannis is the Prince Who Was Promised, and the only hope all your families and houses have against the dead."

Tywin smirked, ignoring the Red Woman and addressing her lord instead. "Yes, the girl knows many things she ought not know...but don't tell me you believe in these northern folk tales."

"I saw it," Stannis remarked glumly. "She showed me, last night in the fire, I saw it myself...a great battle, in the snow."

The way he said it, Sansa could discern he hadn't fully believed her previously, at the parley.

"Jon will be among the first to see with his own eyes," she said directly to Robb. "He'll kill his first White Walker beyond the Wall."

Robb stared at her with disbelief. "He'll survive it," he asked, concerned for the man he thought his brother by blood. "You see him surviving it long enough to come south to warn us?"

"For a time," Sansa answered. "He'll need our help." Again, she turned to Stannis and his Red Woman. "I'm sorry, Your Grace, but I lied the other day, below the gates of the city. Many of those I spoke of we'll need in the war against the dead. But not all of them. Not you, Lord Stannis," she said, before turning, "and not you either, Lord Tywin."

"What puzzle do you speak now girl," Stannis asked angrily, betrayed.

"I don't mean to be rude," she said nicely. "Your men will help, of course, all the realm's men. But more than anything, it's her dragons we need."

"Dragons," Tywin asked incredulously.

"It's true," Tyrion said, next to her. "Lord Varys informed me half a fortnight ago that he's received reports from the east, in Qarth. Daenerys Targaryen has acquired, in one manner or another, three baby dragons...as predicted by Lady Sansa before Ned Stark's death, in front of your own daughter, along with Lords Varys and Baelish and Grandmaester Pycelle."

"They'll grow," she said, before they could question her further, "those horrible beasts, they'll grow to be the size of Balerion the Dread."

Stannis eyed her warily. "Horrible? I thought you said we needed them."

"We do. That doesn't make them any less horrible." Standing up, leaning forward, knowing this was the key moment she needed to take charge of the council, she pressed her last and most important point. But before that, one last detail. "Lord Tywin, I ask you ask your son to leave."

"Me," Tyrion asked, betrayed.

"You," Sansa answered coldly.

His father had no qualms at her request. "Do what she says, Tyrion."

"After everything I've done," he muttered as he left the tent, no humor in his voice. I'm sorry. It must be done.

"This is why I've called you here," she said, once her first husband departed, "all three of you. Daenerys Targaryen will save the realm. Then she'll destroy it with the dragons...starting with King's Landing, she'll wipe this city off all the maps." Looking into the eyes of all who sat across from her, she continued. "Lannister. Stark. Baratheon. Martells. It matters not, she'll burn all our families to dust and all our castles to the ground...unless we bend the knee to her...and live as slaves to the dragons and their Queen. You want your dynasties, my lords? You want an independent North Robb? She'll burn all your wants and wishes away."

"Sansa, you're convinced of this," her mother asked. She thinks me insane. My own mother.

"I've seen it," she said, "just as I've seen Theon taking Winterfell, just as I've seen Bran and Rickon escaping, just as I've seen Lord Tywin persuading the Freys and the Boltons to slaughter you." She laughed, the laugh of a bitter old woman, a woman who'd once died, burning. "They'll call it the Red Wedding afterwards. They'll stab Queen Talisa a dozen times in her stomach, killing the heir to the North. They'll slice your throat to the bone, mother, and toss you into the river like a pauper. Roose Bolton will stab you in the heart, Robb, but only after they've riddled your body with arrows. They'll kill Grey Wind too, then they'll cut off both your heads, and sew his onto your body."

By the time she finished, she was trembling.

"You hate me," Tywin said, his own jaw shaking a little. "So it would seem I may give you ample reason to feel that way."

"I hate her," she said, with more invective than she'd thought possible. "That's why I need to keep you alive, Lord Tywin, much as I would like to tear you limb from limb...because I need you, because I fear a man less than I fear her dragons. And I need you, Lord Stannis, even though I know you're the man who'll burn your own daughter for the sake of claiming your throne." He drew back in his chair, but she pressed on. "You think it'll clear the snows, so you can march on Winterfell, and take it from the Boltons. But it'll be for nothing...I've seen it with my own eyes...you'll have less than a thousand men in the end, and the Boltons will destroy what remains of your army down to the last man, and you'll die alone in the snow, bloodied and broken."

"What is it you suggest then," Stannis asked her, and she had to hand it to him for keeping his composure, even as his priestess stared at her in horror. "If you hate us so much, yet you need us so much...what will you have us do?"

"You're the three most powerful men in Westeros," she stated plainly. "Use your power. Use your minds, your bannermen, use your strength, and strengthen the realm...so that when she comes, we are not divided, we stand as one, behind one Iron Throne. Use her dragons, when she brings them here, so that we can destroy the Night King and the dead...then kill her. Kill her dragons, kill their queen...and save the realm twice over, once against ice, once against fire."

She looked to her brother. "Robb...I know better than anyone how proud the Northern lords are. But the North is the first to fall to the Army of the Dead. You must bend the knee, I don't care, to Stannis, to Tywin, Tommen, hells, even Ser Davos here. Let them defend the North alongside our own, and afterwards, if there is an afterwards, you may judge whomever sits on that throne on their own merits."

Then to Tywin. "Lord Tywin, Joffrey is dead. Cersei is a drunk, and mad to boot. Whether or not Tommen is King Robert's trueborn son, he's a boy, and you can't hold seven kingdoms together with just the Tyrells...especially not against Daenerys Targaryen and her three dragons and her tens of thousands of Unsullied and Dothraki bloodriders."

Suddenly, she felt invisible as the three men regarded each other, silently dividing in their minds the kingdoms between them, now that they'd been presented it by a little girl.

"Stannis is the rightful King," Davos Seaworth began, breaking the silence, "whether through blood, or through conquest. You're weak, Lord Tywin, your armies have no morale, not after getting destroyed by Robb Stark, not after losing their King, then seeing Flea Bottom in drowned in blood afterwards. If Lord Stark bends the knee to King Stannis, you'll be destroyed before the sun rises tomorrow, Tyrells or not."

"I want my family unharmed," Tywin finally said to Stannis, after staring at his hands, clasped tightly together, for some time. "And I want my son released from his vows...if he ever makes his way back to the capital."

"Your family usurped my rightful throne," Stannis replied. "I can't let treason go unpunished. Or none in the realm will respect me by the time the girl's dead men and dragons come for us."

"Joffrey usurped your throne," Sansa said. If these men were unwilling to work things out in the face of mortal danger, then by the gods she'd lead them by their noses. "Joffrey is dead." When Stannis remained unmoved, Sansa continued. "Cersei betrayed both our families. But we both know Lord Tywin will never give her away. Use her then, she could still make a useful marriage to someone. Or take one of his sons, except rather than burn them, send them to the Wall, or exile. Jaime."

She paused.

"Or Tyrion."

"You can have Tyrion," Tywin said, almost too quickly as to be comical to her.

"He won't go to the Wall," Sansa said. "Lord Commander Mormont wouldn't have him, I don't think."

"Then Essos," Tywin said, not caring a bit for the difference, "so long as you allow me to give him enough gold to settle there."

"Essos is fine," Stannis said. He turned to Robb. "And you, you'll bend the knee and give up your fight against the Lannisters."

"If what my sister said is true, then how am I to trust the Lannisters, when they'll have me questioning the loyalties of my own bannermen?"

"Handle your own as you see fit," Stannis said. "You'll be Warden, the North is yours, as it was under your father. You'll have little interference from me, until the threat beyond the Wall shows itself."

The man they were about to proclaim King looked back at Tywin. "She'll marry your grandson."

Slowly, it dawned upon her whom he spoke of. "Me? Marry Tommen? He's a child!" And his mother will see me join the Army of the Dead before they ever cross the Wall.

"You're a child," Stannis shot back, "or so you've seemed to have forgotten." He looked to Robb, who was about to protest further. "I'll have peace between the Starks and Lannisters, if I'm going to keep the realm together for everything the girl claims to have seen. I don't care if it's her to Jaime, or Cersei to Lord Stark himself, or his brother Rickon, so long as I'm satisfied there'll be no further war between your families."

"I'm satisfied by the terms, so long as the former King in the North agrees."

"I won't give Sansa away again," Robb protested, looking his sister in the eye. "Whatever we agree to, she has to agree to it. None of us would be here without her...we'd be fighting amongst ourselves and leaving the realm vulnerable to far worse enemies, if what she says is right...and by the Gods, I believe her, the Starks have never been good at lying."

"I agree," she said, falling into their trap even after she'd trapped them. "Tommen...he's a child, but he's a kind child." She looked over at Robb and her mother, trying to assure them. "I can of think of far worse."


"I know she'll help us Robb, and we'll need her help. But you must be able to lie to her, you must hide your intentions from her."

"You ask me to betray and murder a woman who would save us all," Robb asked, indignant.

She stopped. With everything settled, there was no reason not to allow her time alone with her family, in their camp.

"A bear looms over you, about to claw your throat out. Before he can, a lion kills the bear, then looks to eat you just the same. Do you spare the lion, and die, just because she killed the bear?"

"We speak not of beasts, but of people!"

"Dragons aren't people," Sansa said with gritted teeth.

"My dear daughter," her mother said, pained. "I know you, I know it's still you in there. But not the things you say, the things you'll have us do...the way you say such things...with such coldness...what have they done to you?"

They loved her, but they clearly saw her as almost a stranger now. Which she was, in many ways, to them.

"Many things," she replied, clasping her mother's hands. "They beat me, they sold me, they raped me, cut me..."

Seeing the horror in her mother's eyes, along with a building rage in her brother's, she stopped. "Not this time, yet. Not the worst. And it wasn't all just the Lannisters. There was Littlefinger too, who sold me to the Boltons."

"How," Catelyn cried, horrified. "What happened to you, daughter?"

"I died," she said simply, trusting her family with the truth. "I survived everything...Jon and I, we took back Winterfell from the Boltons, we beat the dead with Daenerys...then she destroyed our family, and she burned me alive..."

Her mother looked as if she were about to collapse onto the ground, and this time, it was Sansa who held her upright. "But I'm here...the gods, they have a cruel sense of humor...but they sent me back here. I tried to save father, but there was no time...but I spoke to him, and I apologized for being so awful, and...and..."

It was all too much for her, so she finally allowed herself to cry, in the arms of her mother and brother, and it seemed several fortnights before she stopped.

"I can't imagine what you had to go through," Robb said, teeth still clenched, "my little sister."

"It's all worth it," she said, "to save you and mother. And Talisa." She smiled. "I'd like to meet her, before you march back north."

"You will," her brother promised.

"Rickon and Bran will live. Theon holds Winterfell with merely a few dozen men...they'll abandon him the moment you show up with the entire North at your back, with the Baratheons' and Lannisters' support."

"I'll cut off his head myself," Robb swore, as Sansa knew he would.

"Please don't, for my sake."

"Why not?"

"He saved me. They...the Boltons, they did far worse things to Theon than you could ever imagine, dear brother."

He drew back. "They flayed him."

"Yes." She closed her eyes. "And worse than that. So bad, he forgot who he was, for a time. But he remembered, and he fought with us, for our family, for Winterfell, and he died defending Winterfell."

Robb hugged her again, because her brother likely couldn't come up with the proper words to say to her. How could he comfort her, when it looked like he needed comfort himself right about now? "Maybe a few weeks in the dungeon will clear his head."

"I'm sure it will be," Sansa smiled. And Theon needed to suffer a little, this time around, to get the arrogance beaten out of him. But it'll be an improvement from what happened before.

"These Boltons," Catelyn said, still horrified, not forgetting what she'd said earlier to them, "you said...Petyr sold you to them."

"Roose is a cold man, and ruthless. His bastard Ramsay...," she paused, wanting to relive as little of those memories as possible, "there's not a crueler man in the seven kingdoms. He's worse than the Mad King, he's worse than Joffrey, or Tywin, or all of them, put together."

"And he...," Robb hesitated, afraid to speak the words, so Sansa spoke them for him.

"He was my husband, for a while." Abruptly, she turned to her mother. "You were always too harsh on him. But Jon saved me, he fought for me, he nearly died for me. And we took Winterfell back, Jon and I...then I fed Ramsay Bolton to his own hounds."

"By the gods," Cat swore, though Robb, horrified as he was, couldn't help but see his curiosity piqued.

"You had an army, you and Jon?"

Sansa shook her head. "Not much of one. Some wildlings. A few dozen from Bear Island."

Robb choked in laughter. "I'll need to release Jon from his vows and have him commanding my men...what a great battle that must have been."

"It wasn't," Sansa said, half in pride, half in horror, unsure as she had been at the time, until Littlefinger arrived. "They used Jon's goodness and kindness against him, just like they used father's honor against him, or would have used your honor and goodness against you...the battle was lost from the beginning...and I nearly feared Jon dead. But I called the Knight of the Vale to help us, and they won the battle and routed the Boltons, just before it was too late."

So it was settled. She was a stranger to them, even as they remained the same as she remembered, except younger than how she'd pictured them in her mind all these years.

"But worry no more. None of this will happen. None of us need suffer ever again."

"Except you did suffer," Robb said, pained. "I couldn't protect you."

"You don't need to now." She looked at her brother, fire in his eyes, so bright, so spirited...so innocent still, and at her mother, so protective of her, of them both. "It was worth it all. You're both alive. Here. With me."


"Lord Tywin?"

"Girl," he nodded, allowing her entry into his tent. "I hope you're not here to kill me. I suppose we'll be kin soon, which will make you a kinslayer."

She could see where Tyrion got his cleverness from.

"Do you trust me, Lord Tywin?"

He regarded her with amusement first, then seriousness.

"You ask me a question I know not myself." Reaching from his chair, he grabbed the poker, and tended to the small fire. "My daughter told me once of a witch they said lived in the woods, outside Casterly Rock. I never believed in such things..."

"I'm not a witch," Sansa said plainly.

"What are you?"

She took a deep breath. "Not your enemy. I don't have to be."

"If what you claimed were true, you ought to be."

"It's just the two of us here, there's no point in you denying it...not when the secret's long out anyway."

His silence signaled his surrender.

"Tell Cersei I won't harm Tommen, I promise you that. He's good. Too good, I think. I'll try to keep him that way."

"Stannis was wrong," he said quietly. "Tommen's a child. But you're not."

"No," she admitted. "I am a child, your eyes don't lie. But the things I've seen...it's hard to remember what I was before."

"You remind me of your sister, in a way."

"Stark girls are a different breed from Stark men," Sansa said, missing Arya all over again.

"So I've seen."

"I can be your ally."

He turned his head.

"You are my ally, by order of His Grace...Stannis, First of..."

"Don't lie to me. You're not satisfied by the results today, with Stannis taking the Throne from your family. And my soon to be family."

"Treason's a hard thing to quit, hmm?" His humor echoed not amusement, but like Robb earlier, interest.

"Give yourself time to see if you can live with him as your king. Perhaps you can, then you need never bother with me again, except at the odd feast, where you'll give me odd looks and your daughter hateful ones."

"And if I can't? Will you call another great council with your visions, and name another king?"

She would tread on dangerous ground now. But if it broke, it would sink them both together.

"The things I know...the things I knew...I know less now, because I've changed things. But what remains, I withhold from Stannis, and counsel you, when the time comes."

A pause, as he considered her offer. "All I hear are vague promises of things you admit you're no longer sure of."

She had indeed confessed her weakness to him. That, the more of the future she changed, the less power she held. He needed to hear this concession, in order to feel himself powerful, and less threatened by her.

"I may see more. I may not. I don't know. But I know the dead...and I know the Dragon Queen."

"The one you would have us betray," Tywin said cautiously. "What does your brother think of that, the honorable Robb Stark? How can I trust you haven't been whispering to Stannis the same things, on how to betray me? After all, Stannis will never send letter to Roose Bolton or Walder Frey."

Sansa shook her head, and wondered how ridiculous it must look, to those who had not attended their council, who had not spoken to Tyrion or Varys, for a girl of fourteen to be settling the future of the seven kingdoms, alone with Tywin Lannister.

"To be honest, I don't know Stannis well. But I do know he's not the kind to compromise. He'll never yield the Throne to Daenerys. That's good. But after, he'd never yield the North to Robb."

Tywin laughed knowingly. "The heart of the matter then. You want a kingdom, for yourself?"

"For my brother," she replied. "For my family, though I'll be half a Lannister by then. Declare yourself the King, after Stannis and the Dragon Queen are dead, or your son Jaime, or Tyrion, it matters not...but of Six Kingdoms. Let my brother keep his crown. You'll never hold it anyway, not against an unwilling North."

Tywin Lannister stood, the old man's frame still imposing, still intimidating, even as he was less than half the warrior his son was. "I saw your brother today, this King of the North, with my own eyes. He's Ned Stark's son, in every way. What makes you think he'll betray Stannis after he's given his word, much less this dragon queen of yours?"

"He won't," Sansa said, agreeing with him. "He won't betray Daenerys, unless his King orders him to. Then he'd refuse the northern crown, until you leave it in front of him and run away. But he'll take it, I'll make him take it."

"How," Tywin asked. There was a gleam in his eye as she spoke her last words.

"The North is his. But I know the North, just as much as he. Better, even. Whatever he refuses to do, I'll do in his name." When he hesitated, she continued. "It will be House Baratheon that will be remembered for losing the North, House Lannister claiming what remains."

They regarded each other for some time, a standstill.

"The way you speak, it would seem as if you know everything."

"I do." Not a complete lie. But not a complete truth either.

He walked up to her, until they stood nearly chest to chest. "You're not your father's daughter, are you?"

"I am," she replied vehemently. "But I've spent more time south than he."

Without another word, he turned from her, sitting back into his chair, returning to his solitude.

"We'll speak again, Lady Sansa."

Chapter Text

Sansa

"Who holds Harrenhal now?"

Robb looked uncomfortable as he answered. "Roose Bolton."

"Tywin Lannister won't give him further cause to betray you, not that you should trust him by any means."

"I never will again," Robb said, as they wandered the gardens of the Keep. The capital seemed rejuvenated, with even Flea Bottom joyous having avoided a war, four great Houses making their peace before all the realm. The arrival of the Tyrells overshadowed the absence of the many handmaidens and attendants to the former queen, most of them having already been sent back to Casterly Rock, but Sansa imagined the Keep to be a dull place once it was only Stannis and his court. "Why do you ask of Harrenhal?"

"There is a man, Qyburn. They banned him from the Citadel."

Robb frowned. "Why?"

"I never knew, to be honest," she said, of Cersei's Hand. "Call him to the capital, and ask King Stannis to take him into his service." With his crown secured, the new king seemed to give little thought for the girl who'd arranged it for him, so she would speak to him through her brother. "Tell Stannis he's not to be trusted, but that he'll be loyal."

"I saw him," Robb said. "The Lannisters killed most of the smallfolk there, but we found him, clinging to life. What's his significance?"

Her own brother had saved the future Queen Cersei's Hand? She wondered if that had happened the first time around too, or whether this was a new change, wrought by her actions.

"Scorpions."

"Scorpions," Robb asked.

"He'd make them stronger and faster than they'll ever be." She frowned. "On second thought, the Dragon Queen must not know of him, or his creations. Better I ask Lord Tywin to take him in...I trust him with the secret more than Stannis."

"You're ruthless, aren't you?" There it was again, that look, that his little sister was a stranger to him, and more than a bit horrible, and there was little admiration in his voice as he spoke to her, just like Jon, when he'd compared her to Cersei.

"How do you think I survived so long?"

The words she left unsaid, why do you think you didn't survive?

"You don't think you can betray the Dragon Queen, can you?"

"It's hard to fathom," Robb said, sighing in frustration, and Sansa had a feeling he could prove just as difficult as Jon, "she saves the realm, we use her, and her dragons...and we stab her in the back?"

"She'll massacre millions," Sansa cried, before lowering her voice, looking around the empty gardens. "Jon thought the same way as you, and he died for it! She burned both your sisters alive, and you won't avenge us? You were ready enough to kill Joffrey."

"Joffrey won't save the realm," Robb argued. Nearby, she saw her mother approaching, already listening intently to their conversation from afar. "I don't deny, she did horrible things in your life. But we can't punish her for crimes she hasn't committed, just like I can't punish the Boltons or Freys for crimes they haven't..."

"You're not going to punish the Boltons and Freys?" Exasperated and surprised, she looked towards her mother, surely she'd understand.

"What will the lords of the North think if I execute a man I claim will betray me, with no evidence except my sister's word?"

"They'll fear you, as they should!" She stopped, knowing this not the way to win over her brother. "Perhaps Tywin Lannister's word? That Roose Bolton did not refuse his offer of treason?"

"Roose will deny it. I'd lose all respect, if I held a phony trial for him, the outcome already decided, the Warden of the North putting more faith in Tywin Lannister's words than his own bannerman's."

"Robb, your sister's right," their mother said, stepping in. "They won't betray us for the Lannisters this time, but for them to do so once before...the grudge is there, the seeds are there..."

"He raped me, his bastard," she could barely hold from screaming, "and that was the beginning of what he did to me!"

The former King in the North buried his head in his hands, as if he were a child, Sansa thought. "I'll summon their servants. If what you tell me about his bastard is true, then he'll have committed crimes against the King's law long before he took Winterfell from Theon."

"And Roose Bolton will deny knowledge of them," she said. Faraway, she saw Lady Margaery and her grandmother...losers this time around in the game, far earlier than they'd lost the last time. But perhaps this time they'd get to keep their lives, though they'd never realize it.

"What would you have me do," Robb asked, impatient, though he didn't have a choice but to listen to her if he wanted to survive.

"Kill every Frey with a cock on your way back North, and raze the Twins. Flay Roose and Ramsay Bolton alive, and reduce the Dreadfort to rubble."

They stared at each other, then she watched to her dismay her brother break out in laughter, before then realizing that she wasn't joking.

"Perhaps not as harsh as your sister says," Catelyn said, placing a gentle hand on his shoulder, "but you must do something about them."

"Let me handle them then," Sansa said, knowing that if Robb didn't kill them outright, if he tried to play the game with them, he might get himself killed regardless. She looked at their mother. "The Freys I'd worry less about, though I'd tell Uncle Edmure to keep them distant. But tell Stannis to call the Boltons to the capital. He'd understand, he'd know they're traitors, and we'd get rid of them eventually."

"You want Ramsay near you," Robb asked, petrified.

"I don't, but seeing as you won't do anything, someone has to protect this family."

"Sansa," Robb cried out, excruciatingly, "you forget sometimes that you're a little girl!"

"No," she replied. "You forget that I'm not."

If he's not willing to punish the Boltons, how can I ensure he'll turn against Daenerys, when the time comes, much less Stannis?


She'd been expecting this summons from Lady Melisandre, after admitting in effect during the council to lying to her at the parley. Still, most of what she had said was truth, and they still both sought the same goal...but she knew better than to play with fire against this most dangerous and most trusted of Stannis's advisers.

"You lied to me," the witch accused her, though she did not appear angry, merely curious still. "You swore by the city gates that Stannis is the Prince Who Was Promised."

"It was truth, in a way," Sansa replied. "King Stannis will play his part, as will the many others I spoke of. And he's King now, is he not? Accepted by the Lannisters and the Starks, because of me. I saw him die, were he to give battle at King's Landing, before he ever wore a crown. He lives, and he will lead the realm against the dead, because my...bad...visions will not come true. Is that not what you want?"

"And you want Stannis as your King?" It seemed appropriate that the Red Woman would interrogate her in Cersei's old chambers.

"I do," she said. Not all truth. Not all lies.

"You seem very adept at getting what you want, Lady Stark."

"Do I," she asked, taking a seat across from her. "I want to kill white walkers and dragons and their Queen. None of that's happened just yet."

"But you believe you've set such things in motion?"

Sansa looked around, wondering whether Stannis will force the priestess to vacate the Queen's chambers once his own wife arrived from Dragonstone. She wouldn't bet on it.

"It's the best chance, Starks and Lannisters and Baratheons working together."

"I believe you," Melisandre said, proclaiming her verdict. If Ser Davos were to be the new king's Hand in name, then this woman would wage equal power in the shadows. "But out of all you spoke of in the Great War, I know there's something you haven't told me."

"You see it," Sansa asked, wondering what visions the Red Woman glimpsed since they first talked. If she saw of a Godswood, Sansa begged with her eyes that she speak not of it aloud.

"I don't," she admitted. So the Lady Melisandre was not a liar. Unlike her. "But I see you."

"He sees too," Sansa said in a hushed whisper, "the Night King does. He may even be able to see the two of us talking now, listen in while his body lies leagues beyond the Wall. If I speak of it to you, he may hear." They both exchanged a knowing look. "It's as I said, Stannis is the Prince Who Was Promised."

A knock on the door, bearing one of Stannis's sworn swords. "Lady Melisandre. Lady Stark. The King has received visitors."

"Whom," Melisandre asked.

"Lord Beric Dondarrion, accompanied by Thoros of Myr." The words startled her, they were all wrong. "They claim they bring the Lady Sansa's sister with them, safe."


"Arya." They hugged. They were glad to see each other. Yet...

You should not be here.

"I tried to save father, I really did," Sansa whispered to her in the throne room. Robb and mother were present also, the first to greet her arrival, alongside King Stannis. Later, she would tell Arya of what she truly knew.

"Lord Beric," Stannis said, "I thank you for bringing Ned Stark's daughter back to us."

"You have my eternal gratitude, my lord," Catelyn said, not understood that these fools could have doomed them all.

"The war is over," Stannis said to Beric. "Your...brotherhood, there's no need for it now. You should all return home."

"The war isn't over," Beric replied. "The true threat..."

"Lies beyond the Wall," Melisandre repeated. "I've heard of you. Of what's happened to you." She looked to Thoros. "Of what's been done to you."

A small smirk from the man, who'd seen death and lived to tell the tale.

Beric Dondarrion. Jon Snow. Sansa Stark.

Why me?

"The Lord has seen fit to watch over me, for reasons I know not."

"The Lord chooses you for a reason," Melisandre said. "The Great War is not your own to fight anymore. Our king understands it's his war also, and we will serve the Lord and fight it together."

Beric bowed. "My Lady. Your Grace."

Melisandre looked to Thoros, body swaying even in the King's presence. "And we will talk."


"They say you're like her now," Arya said, gesturing her head up at the Red Woman, who watched them in the gardens from above. "A witch, or something."

"Not a witch," Sansa replied. "Not quite like her. But I do know things." She looked at Robb and mother, who she'd never seen so happy, two of her children returned to her, two more reassured of their survival from Theon Greyjoy. She whispered to her sister. "I'll tell you all of it, when it's just us, tonight."

"I can't believe you fooled Tywin Lannister," Robb said, with a laugh. It would seem the former King in the North's brain was near breaking, hearing of all his sisters' ordeals.

"It's a Stark trait," Arya replied, a proud gleam in her eye. "They spoke of you at Harrenhal, at his war councils, as if you're a legend already."

"Battles are nothing to be celebrated over," Robb said, a darkness in his voice, eyes withdrawn into his head. He had been a legend, but Sansa never saw until now how much his legend took away from his soul. "I did what I had to do. We all did."

"Mother," Arya asked, with a nervousness Sansa had not seen since the first time her father died, "my friends...you promise they can come with us to Winterfell?"

"Of course they can," Catelyn answered warmly. Though she was not apt to take strangers into her home, refusing her daughter was beyond their mother's willpower at the moment. "We'll have need of a good smith, and if the boy..."

"Hot Pie."

"...Hot Pie's...well, hot pies are as good as you insist, maybe Robb will finally fill in his armor."

"My armor fits me just fine," Robb said with a grin, their earlier argument forgotten. But, as happy as this familial scene was, Sansa needed to break it up, because Arya could not return home.

"Did you get the coin," Sansa asked, eliciting a startled look from her sister, who broke out in a grin.

"So you saw that as well."

"He gave it to you, then." Another thought occurred to her. "Did you see Sandor?"

"Clegane," Arya asked, confused. She shook her head. "Why would I see him?"

That wasn't good. Arya needed the Hound. She needed to learn from him how to be cold, and how to kill.

"You can't go back to Winterfell," Sansa said, squeezing her shoulder. "You have to go to Braavos."

"What do you mean," their mother asked, and Sansa could sympathize, losing her daughter so soon after finding her again. "Arya will stay with us, she'll return home..."

"She needs to learn."

"From Jaqen," Arya said, understanding. "Why?"

"Who's Jaqen," Robb asked.

"To protect our family," Sansa said cryptically, as they walked up to the Red Woman, eyes transfixed on her sister as well. "Lady Melisandre, a request for the King."

"An important one, I sense," Melisandre answered back.

"Very important," Sansa replied, in a way only the two of them could understand. "Send men to find Sandor Clegane. Tell him he'll receive the Crown's pardon, so long as he can take my sister safely to Braavos."

"Not him," Arya cried out, a familiar rage building in her eyes, a look Sansa had missed so much, despite what it meant. Did she die with spirit, with defiance, when the Dragon Queen killed her? "I hate him, he killed Mycah!"

"He was following orders," Sansa replied, remembering her own role in that ghastly incident by the river, the first of many they both endured. "The boy who gave the order is dead."

"Why the Hound? Why would you force me to go with him?"

Sansa smiled. "You may find that he'd kill for you too, one day."

"You're determined on this, aren't you," Robb asked, furrowing his eyebrows. Sansa knew that, though he believed them both, Robb Stark did not yet truly understand the threat beyond the Wall, focused as he had been on his own war. But who could understand, until they'd seen the dead with their own eyes. She dreamed still of that night, standing on the battlements, hearing the awful sounds coming for them in the darkness.

"Winterfell needs eyes and ears," she lied again, "to protect against those who would betray us."

She sensed Melisandre could see through her lie, which was fine, so long as she did not speak of it.

Her mother was still not convinced. "Arya...she'll be safe? In Braavos?"

"Do you doubt your own daughter?"

"No," Catelyn sighed, relenting. "Neither of them."


The ship was a good one, and Sansa imagined the accommodations were an improvement over his last trip across the Narrow Sea.

"I trusted you," Tyrion grumbled. "You used me, and you throw me away."

"It's for the better," Sansa said, the guilt weighing upon her. "Shae will be safe, far away from your father. The two of you will be happy together."

"We will be," Shae agreed, not looking nearly as glum as her lover. "I fear the little man loves his politics more than he loves me."

"A ship, a girl, and a bag o'gold," Tyrion's sellsword remarked. Bronn, she remembered. "I'd kill to be you, and I mean it, I'll cut yer throat if yer beautiful lady would take me in your place."

"You wouldn't live to hit the water," Shae replied, half joking, half serious.

"Apologies you won't see my brother's wedding," Sansa said. It had been Stannis's idea, actually, the ceremony between the new Warden of the North and his wife before the King's court a gesture of unity for the realm. "My mother was in the wrong to take you, but I still don't think she would have wished to see you in attendance. And she would have had to invite you, were you still in King's Landing."

"I spit on your brother's wedding," Tyrion grumbled.

"So rude," Shae replied, slapping the imp playfully. She looked over to Tommen, who stood next to Sansa, dutifully following her around like a dog, whenever he could, since their engagement was announced. "You should ignore your uncle's rudeness."

"Though you're here to see me off," he admitted, looking at Tommen fondly. "That's more than I can say for the rest of my family."

"I'd hoped Jaime could have arrived in time," Sansa said, though she had no doubt the Kingslayer, freed from his duties, would be the first to visit his brother in Pentos. "It's a pretty city, from what I've heard," she added lamely.

The Half Man needed his exile in Essos. Once upon its shores, Sansa had no doubt that Varys would do the rest, bringing him before the Dragon Queen, same as before. It was not a question of if, but when, the new King's old spymaster would betray him, and Sansa needed them both by her side, to bring her to Westeros, and to talk her down from burning the realm immediately upon her arrival. To give her bad advice, as Tyrion had before, so as to keep her from winning over the realm and its lords. To temper her dragon, until Sansa found a way to kill them all.

"A pretty city with a pretty girl," Tyrion said, cracking a smile. "I suppose it could be worse for me."

"Yes. You could have died in King's Landing," Sansa replied, hoping he was coming around to hating her less, "Stannis's sword in your mouth."

"At least you're not this poor kid," Bronn said, winking towards Tommen. Next to him Podrick Payne, who seemed on the verge of tears, gave the man a puzzled look. "Pentos is a far better exile than Winterfell, with winter coming, no less." He looked apologetically at Sansa. "No matter how pretty his new bride is, no offense, my lady."

She'd made clear to Tywin and Stannis that, Lannister she would marry, they would spend at least six moons a year in Winterfell, the remainder of the time she'd suffer with Cersei at Casterly Rock.

"Tell me there's a reason to this...," Tyrion said, glimpsing quickly enough at the truth. "Tell me you didn't just do this out of spite."

Really, she figured, it was more his father he was mad at, for giving him up so easily, his anger at her a pale shadow comparatively.

"Lord Tyrion," Sansa replied sweetly, remembering her voice was still that of a child's, "have you ever known me to do anything not out of reason?"

He shook his head. "So I suffer, while the realm reaps the rewards."

"Oh, you'll suffer so much tonight," Shae said, rubbing his head affectionately with her hands, "and every night after that."

As they walked away from her, Sansa couldn't stop herself from calling out to him one last time.

"Lord Tyrion." He turned to look at her. "You've met his father," she said with a wink. "You'll soon meet the son."


Robb

Sometimes it felt like he was losing his mind. He'd found his sisters, lost a kingdom, if not the war, and now Tywin Lannister was going to be a guest of honor at his own wedding. And his sisters...he swore, he'd half leave them again with the Lannisters, now that they were no longer the enemy, if his mother wouldn't kill him even if he said it as a joke.

Except he did believe Sansa, everything she said, just as he'd believed her when he received her letter, hours before hearing of Theon's betrayal. His actions baffled his own men, but he trusted her, when she told him he could not trust Roose Bolton. He trusted her, when she suggested that Bran and Rickon would survive...and she'd even anticipated Edmure Tully's mistake, which would have cost them him the war...except by reining his uncle in, he'd essentially defeated the Lannisters, enough so as to bring Tywin to the bargaining table by the time they reached King's Landing.

"How many wars are you going to have to win for me, Sansa," he muttered to himself. Not just the Great War, but the one his sister envisioned afterwards, against a girl with three dragons.

"Your Gr...I mean, my lord," one of his bannermen said, entering his chambers. "You've visitors."

"Not Rickard Karstark," Robb said, sighing, relief in seeing his mother walk in. "Good, it's you. I thought he was going to give me another chewing for ending the war without letting him kill any Lannisters himself."

Except though his lords protested that he gave up the North so easily, it was not with the vehemence that he'd expected and feared. They had won the war, to a certain extent, fathers watching their sons pad their family name with glory before their own eyes. Joffrey was dead, and as much as some of the lords wanted to press the fight, many more yearned for home...especially the few who believed him when he told of the threat beyond the Wall.

"Lady Brienne, actually," Catelyn said smiling. "And another."

Behind his mother's sworn sword emerged a smaller woman, and Robb ran forward to hug her. "Talisa!"

"My king," she replied, kissing him gently, in the presence of others.

"Just a lord now," he said back to her. He'd argued that, for those who did not want to bend the knee to Stannis, his terms were nearly the exact ones offered by Renly, which he would have accepted, the only difference being his own title, which he cared the least for. "I'm sorry you're no longer a queen."

"Ah, Queen Talisa of the North," she said with a giggle, "a title that died too soon." You don't even know. "I don't care, Robb. I just want you."

"You have me," he said, hugging her, thinking about what could have happened...what had happened, in a different lifetime. "Now, and forever."

"Lady Brienne," he said, bowing his head at her. "I know you have no love for Stannis Baratheon. I don't expect you to ask to serve in his Kingsguard. But I've bent the knee to him, as has my mother, as has all the realm. I don't ask you to forget his crimes, but I do ask, for my sake, and my mother's, that you refrain from acting...in a way which will put your own life in danger, and shame upon both our houses."

He could see the emotions swirling through her mind, and applauded in silence her restraint.

"My Lord Robb," she said finally, "you were a good king. Renly would have been a good king. The two of you are exceptions, I think, and it should come as no surprise that only the most rotten can win that damned chair. If the lords of the North can bend the knee, if you can keep your own sword blade from the necks of Tywin Lannister and his ilk...," she sighed, "Renly's death will not find justice...not from me."

"We do need him," a girl's voice echoed, as both his sisters entered the room, "for the wars to come. He'll be useful, for those wars." She bowed before the woman. "Lady Brienne."

She cocked her head, not recognizing the girl who'd addressed her, though Robb figured that Sansa must have met her already in her last life.

"You must be Lady Sansa. And Lady Arya."

"I'm not much of a lady," Arya said, looking admiringly at Brienne's armor. She smiled back at the girl.

"Neither am I."

"The Kingslayer," Sansa asked. "His hand is healing."

Brienne nodded. "There was a man at Harrenhal versed in those arts."

"Qyburn," Sansa asked, looking at Robb.

"I'll have him sent to Lord Tywin," he answered, remembering their earlier conversation, uncomfortable as he still was with this idea that the man was to be used for the purpose of a gross betrayal.

Both Arya and Brienne watched their exchange curiously, not knowing what was said between them before. Before they could ask questions, Sansa turned to Brienne.

"You suspect Jaime Lannister to not be what they say he is, don't you?"

Now it was Robb's turn to join in the confusion.

"My Lady, I'm not sure what you mean."

"Don't give up on him," she said, almost tenderly.

"Sansa, I don't know what you've seen," his mother said, "but Jaime Lannister may be the worst man in the seven kingdoms."

"And you let him free," Robb asked, still with a tinge of anger at his mother.

"I'm glad you did," Sansa replied. "One day he'll fight for us, for the Starks, for the North." She looked at Brienne again. "Give him time. He'll risk his life, as you'll risk yours...the two of you will fight side by side in Winterfell."

"Your sister is...something," Talisa whispered next to him, though Arya caught it with her ears.

"She'll be your sister soon," Arya replied, making a vomiting motion with her hands, even as Brienne continued to stare stunned at Sansa. "Good luck."

Both girls walked up to his soon to be wife, studying her, as if to judge whether she deserved a place in their family.

"I can see why," Sansa whispered into his ear, before clasping hands with Talisa. "It's so good to finally meet you, Lady Talisa. They tell me you have the kindest heart in all of Westeros."

"They tell me the same of you," Talisa replied, "and many other things." It seemed they liked each other, to Robb's relief.

"Then they speak falsely of me," Sansa countered strangely. "There's little kindness left in my heart. You should know that of me, because you're my family now. But where there was kindness, there's determination, to keep my family safe."

"There's peace in the seven kingdoms now," Talisa responded politely, managing to avoid the usual consternation at his sister's strange words. "I'd say you've done much to keep everyone's families safe."

"But not out of kindness." She looked at him, and hugged him again, and he hugged her back, knowing that, if he missed her because she'd been gone a year, she missed him because he'd apparently left her for a lifetime.

"I wish Jon were here," she said after, "for the wedding tomorrow." Arya nodded approvingly, but as he expected, his mother did not react well to her statement.

"Jon Snow's a man of the Night's Watch now. They're more his family than us."

"He's family, mother," Sansa said, defending him to Robb's surprise, though it sounded as if they'd become closer in her last life. "And he will be so strong for our family, and he will die for us, if he had to." She bit her lip, a rare moment of uncertainty from her. "It's not what you think, mother. Don't blame him. And don't blame father."

If Sansa were still a little girl, Robb would laugh and ask whether some tavern wench had forced herself upon their unwilling father after besting him in a fight, stripping him, and pining him down, but she clearly knew better. In fact...she knew, he realized.

"Jon's mother...you know?"

"I can't tell you."

"Why not," Catelyn asked sternly, unable to help herself.

Another rare hesitation from her. "It's very important," was all she said.

"Then you should tell us," Robb said, pressing her.

"May one day," she answered, not meeting his eyes. "After the wars are won."

Chapter Text

Sansa

So this was to be her latest new husband. She'd little regarded his significance this time around, even knowing he'd reigned as king for several years after Joffrey's death. When she told Tywin Lannister he was too good, she meant with regard for herself as well, for what was she but a younger Tywin Lannister now, with all her plotting and planning since waking up a child again. She'd wonder whether the youngest and nicest Lannister would see her fearfully the same way she did Tyrion and Ramsay when they married her off before, except she was good to look at, and she supposed that helped the boy digest his new engagement.

"Lady Sansa," he said, bowing to her, out of all things.

"Tommen," she said, she muttered, lost for words for once. Cursing herself, she wondered whether she was being bashful, out of all things, next to yet another future husband. No. I understand, more than anyone, how awkward this is for Tommen.

Shy as he was, he continued speaking to her. "This...this will be us one day," he said, looking around the vast Sept, empty as it was now, the lords and ladies filing in slowly one after another.

"It will be," she said, wondering where the boy's mother was. Defanged as Cersei was, she was still to be her mother-by-law, and Sansa knew how the woman who'd become the first of her sex to rule from the Iron Throne would reckon with those who would take her children away from her. "How do you feel about that?"

"Confused, to be honest," he said, his innocence overwhelming her. He's me, and I'm his Ramsay at worst...his Littlefinger at best. "I've never been married before..."

He looked down immediately, embarrassed at the obviousness of his remark...and in doing so, failing to see her own uncomfortable look in return, because she could not honestly say the same, though she had to pretend otherwise.

"It may not be for years. It won't happen...not until you're ready." Or until I am, with any luck. Though that may be never.

"I don't remember the sea at Winterfell," he said, eager to keep talking to his betrothed, seeking subjects in his mind to discuss.

"No, we're very far from the ocean," she said, waiting for her family to enter the sept.

"I've never lived anywhere far from the water before." The tone in his voice, the apprehension in his eyes, and Sansa realized that, however much she was a girl, however much she wasn't Tyrion Lannister or Ramsey Bolton, she, and the idea of marrying her, terrified him.

"We have waterfalls," she replied, her voice gentler, actually paying heed to him as she addressed him, "and hot springs. The snow on the hills, on the first warm day after the storm...the woods and the gentle babbling creeks...it's not all barren wastelands in the north." Though she could imagine why he'd think of it as such. "I'll show you my favorite places, when we do marry. We can visit them together."

"I'd like that," Tommen said, seemingly comforted by her words. He frowned. "Mother said you're my enemy, that you're a wolf, disguised. But now they tell us we're friends...grandfather, he says I'm to trust you as family some day."

"Lord Tywin said that," she asked, less amused than impressed by herself, really, that she could win over Tywin Lannister, so quickly. "There were liars, Tommen," she said. He wasn't that young, really, what was he, two or three years younger than her? Except he seemed so much younger, because of his innocence, a miracle considering his family. He also seemed younger, she reminded herself, because of the fact that she was not really a girl of four and ten years, and no amount of distance would take away her past life, weighing upon marriage or any relationship she had in this new life. "There were some reasons for our family to be at odds with one another. But there are more reasons for us to find common ground, now that there's peace."

"You found the common ground for us," he said, eyeing her with admiration. Tommen was not fit for war, she realized. As King, he hadn't handled the peace well either, but that was Cersei's fault. And Margaery's. "They said you were the one who brought peace between all our families...and my unc...the King, also."

Stannis had disinherited Robert's surviving "children", though he legitimized them as Lannisters, for the sake of the peace, to save face for Tywin Lannister. It was a fair gesture, made by a man who could be fair...when he was at his best, she supposed.

"You could have been king, Tommen. Would you have wanted that?"

Quickly, he shook his head. "No. I was afraid, honestly, after Joff...after the riots. I'm glad I don't have to follow him."

She squeezed his shoulder sympathetically. "I wanted to be queen once, too."

They watched as the soon to be bride and groom walk into the Sept separately, Robb with their mothe. Talisa walked in alone, her beauty shining through the building, adorned in yellow colors which did not hide her exotic nature, while Robb...well, she'd never seen Robb wearing robes so proper. She had been surprised that Stannis and his priestess would allow this marriage in the Great Sept, much less leave the building standing at all. But Stannis was a practical man, and his throne secure, perhaps he would be less observant of the Lady Melisandre's more...fiery...aspects. Sansa did not lie to herself about who this woman that she sought out as an ally was, but with Tywin Lannister as an additional ally, she would need her less now that she and Melisandre both had what they wanted.

And she suspected that were the new King ever to encounter troubles with his crown, the new High Septon and all those who'd follow him would be the first Melisandre would have burned at the stake.

"Do you still want that," Tommen asked. "To be a queen?"

"No. I just want my family to be happy."

"They look happy," Tommen said softly. "She's pretty," he remarked, not caring that she came from a different continent. Nor did Robb care. That was a kind of innocence as well, though wasn't innocence the weakness of Stark men? Hadn't innocence destroyed Tommen along with all her family the last time?

"She's beautiful," Sansa replied, her heart so full, so thankful, that she could bear witness to their marriage this time around...and that they'd live, they'd be happy...that at least one of Ned Stark's children could find a permanent and lasting love, and live to see their family name passed down.

"So are you," he said, before he even knew it. "I mean...," he said, his face suddenly reddening.

"It's no crime for a man to compliment his betrothed," a deep voice uttered behind them, startling them both, and she swore she glimpsed a twinkle in Tywin Lannister's eyes. "And it's no crime for a lady to accept the compliment."

"Lord Tywin, apologies," she bowed, "I did not see you coming."

"You can't see everything, can you now, girl?" He scanned the gathering crowd. "Your sister?"

"Lurking, somewhere," Sansa said with a smirk despite herself. "She'll be here, before it's too late. Else mother will scold her." Except that was the least of Arya's fears, weren't they, after all she'd been through?

"She had me fooled." A rare admission from the man, in front of his surviving grandson no less. "Not many get such a privilege."

"No," she said, a smirk of her own forming. "Only Ned Stark's children." He glared at her, in a way which said to her that caution was still a virtue. "A secret, Lord Tywin."

"Yours, or mine?"

"She's not meant for buildings like this, or fancy dresses. Where you saw her...in the wild, hidden in plain sight...that's where she should be."

Tywin grunted. "This more of...," he glanced at Tommen, "what you...believe?"

Sansa nodded. So he'd seek to preserve his innocence too.

"And you? What are you meant for...Lady Sansa?"

"This," she said, as her mother walked into the building. "Watching my family. Keep them safe. Seeing them happy." Because through their happiness, she could maybe glean some for herself.

"I'd hope so," Tywin said, his eyes a mystery. "Tommen will be your family one day."

"Then I'd see him safe too," she said perfunctorily, except she meant it also.

Leaving the Lannisters, she turned to greet her family and give her blessings to her sister by law to be, when he heard Tywin's voice behind her, having trailed her as she walked.

"Like you saw Joffrey safe."

Stunned, she spun to turn and face him. "I...I didn't know..."

"They say you were the last to speak to him, before the riot began." His eyes were cold, not furious, as she would have expected based on his words. "I won't go as far as to speculate what you said to him, or what it may or may not have incited him to do. But I find it impossible to believe you could know all you've spoken of, and not seen the death of your own betrothed, the King."

"It's," she stammered, caught off guard for once, "it's the truth, Lord Tywin."

"It's not." He said this plainly, as if it were a common enough fact, as in the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. "It's a good thing you sought me out after the council, the way you did. You owe me a dynasty."

So it would be, and she, who had faced down twice Daenerys Targaryen, who had lived death by burning and survived to live, would not be intimidated by an old man. "You owe me my father's head."

It was not her best comeback, but it was the truth, and the plainness and uncleverness of her words did not blunt its dull, raw, truth. Knowing who Tywin Lannister was, she was fully aware that he was assessing her, gathering her measure, calculating just how much of a threat she would pose him. And by the gods, he seemed satisfied by her defiance.

"Hmmpff," he grunted, chest puffing, "you'll do anything for family. Good." He craned his neck backwards, at Tommen, who was now talking to another older man, Kevan, Tywin's brother, she remembered. "We'll be family soon. I gather you hate me, and my children, and I don't blame you. But as you've said, Tommen is an innocent. He's a good boy." Standing as they both were under the statue of the Crone, his next words came as a whisper. "He'll learn from me, but you'll teach him too, so that when he sits on the Throne, King of Six Kingdoms, his reign, and his dynasty, will be long lasting."

She should have expected this. But she'd overlooked Tommen in the grand scheme of things, just as everyone had overlooked him once before. Part of her wanted to ask Tywin to reconsider whether kingship was truly the right fit for this most decent Lannister.

"I...I don't think I can teach him anything? Not to see visions at least...and without those, I'm rather useless."

"Don't speak to me as a fool, kin of mine. Yes, you see...visions. The stupid, the insane, they may all glimpse the same visions, and fail to use them as you have. Ned Stark could have seen the same things, and gotten himself killed all the same." For a second, he almost looked apologetic, as if he didn't mean to invoke her father's name in that manner. "Had you been born a man, I'd already be missing a head. So would Stannis, and many others; they'd all be laid at your feet, sitting on that throne."

"Why not Jaime?" She'd thought she could eventually talk Tommen into staying at Winterfell, with her and her family. Now, it would seem that Tywin Lannister wanted to keep her in King's Landing, or Casterly Rock, or wherever the Lannister patriarch would roam.

"He'd never take it. Tommen doesn't want it either, but he's Robert's rightful heir. He's young, and his wife will show him the wisdom in wearing a crown." His lips thinned, and when he spoke his next words, they bore a rawness similar to when she invoked her own father's death. "If Stannis doesn't want him as a Baratheon, so be it. When he does take the throne, he'll take it as a Lannister."

He doesn't believe it, Cersei and Jaime. He truly doesn't see the truth. It wasn't the anger in his voice, but a hurt, the tone of one who believed himself wronged, that revealed to Sansa his weakness.

I'll play your game then, because you're not as sharp as you think you are. Not when it comes to your own family. "His mother needs to not see me as an enemy. If Cersei believes me a threat, she'll do everything she can to pull Tommen away from us, and it'll wreck him, along with your dynasty."

Did he gather that this came from yet another taste of her so-called visions? "I'll speak to my daughter," he said, a pointed look at her, "but words alone won't be enough to satisfy her."

An idea came to Sansa suddenly. "There's another thing I'd ask."


She drank more wine than she ought to have, forgetting her body was still that of a child's. But it felt freeing to celebrate. The last time she'd done so was after the battle at Winterfell, except they were all celebrating with the woman who would destroy their family a mere three moons later. But now, seeing so many of her family together, laughing, eating, dancing...even Arya sharing an awkward dance with Tommen Lannister, she dared to dream of a future where they could all continue to be happy.

Sansa sought her out, because the thorns grow thick on a rose unheeded. "Lady Margaery, my apologies, the war has not been kind to your family."

"Lady Sansa," Margaery curtsied politely. As with Tywin, this would be their first time meeting, and Sansa knew these minutes with the would be queen, as this Margaery assessed her for the first time, may prove crucial. "My father's lords never even saw battle. Many of them are unhappy, but I give thanks to the gods they keep their limbs and lives."

"Your brother Loras," she approached, as delicately as possible, "I hear he was very good friends with King Renly. Please, I ask you to relay him my sympathies for what happened to your husband, just as I offer them to you now."

If she could guess, it was Loras Tyrell who had been just as instrumental in dragging his father to war alongside the Lannisters as Margaery, his motives even more personal due Renly's murder. And word was he'd already fled the realm, taking a ship to Essos after the peace.

The quick flutter of her eyes, glancing about their surroundings, observing who nearby could overhear their conversation, indicated that Margaery knew she knew.

"I thank you for your kind words, Lady Sansa." She started walking down a row of hedges, turning her shoulder to indicate that Sansa ought follow. "There are whispers that it was you who crowned Stannis king. An impossibility, I'm sure, for someone like Stannis to owe his throne to girls like us...though I must say it makes for a great song...the maiden who made kings and brought peace to the realm."

Sansa laughed nervously. "I'm not sure what to think about that. No one seems particularly happy about this peace."

"Which means it's a good peace," Margaery said, eyes sharp, catching her reaction. "Except our new King, of course, he got everything he wanted."

"If he got everything he wanted, if King Stannis won his throne through battle, then my brother Robb would be burning alongside Tywin Lannister and all his surviving children and grandchildren."

"And the Tyrells also," Margaery said cryptically. "Does it disappoint you, Lady Sansa, that Stannis has a wife?"

"I've enough of kings already," Sansa said demurely, tying to shove the conversation she'd had with Tywin earlier that morning far from her mind. Her eyes hardened. "After Joffrey took my father's head, after he promised mercy, he dragged me to the battlements, and forced me to stare at my father's head, and my septa's next to it. He said he'd take Robb's head, and serve it to me at our wedding feast. That was after he had me beaten in court by Ser Meryn Trant, every time my brother won a battle."

Had he said that on the battlements, or afterwards? It didn't matter, and Joffrey's proclivities was one secret she was free to reveal, with Stannis the power in King's Landing. Margaery's astonishment and horror seemed genuine, and Sansa wished that her description of the man Margaery had sought to take from her could dampen somewhat her disappointment at losing her opportunity to rule beside the King...though Margaery would likely believe herself able to handle even the worst of men, as she had the first time.

"You have to marry his brother."

"Tommen and Myrcella are nothing like their older brother," she replied. Though Tywin would have her change that, as part of their bargain to give Robb a throne. She changed tact. "They say Stannis's wife will not bear another child. And he's a man of honor, he's not likely to take another wife. Perhaps...his heir need not be a Baratheon."

"I don't see him appointing my brother Loras," Margaery said, understanding her true meaning. "I doubt any of your brothers will get it."

"What about Jaime Lannister?" They both burst out in laughter. "I wouldn't count the Lannisters out in anything, though." She reached out to Margaery, squeezing her hands softly, as she'd once done to her, when Margaery had been the more experienced woman. "Or House Tyrell. Perhaps...Ser Davos is old, but Stannis trusts him...maybe his son Matos may prove worthy of his inheritance."

"You know much of our houses, Lady Sansa? Or the Onion Knight's, for the matter?"

"Father made me study them all," she lied, "once it was decided I was to be Queen, all the way from Winterfell to King's Landing."

They had made their way back to the head tables, where she saw Robb drinking and laughing alongside their uncle Edmure.

"Shame he's spoken for after tonight," Margaery remarked, eyeing her brother, before curtsying again and leaving her to her family.

That would have been an interesting match.

"I'll visit him on the Wall," Robb said, once they were out of their mother's earshot, "once I take back Winterfell, and find Bran and Rickon." His lips quivered, and Sansa suspected he was trying to pry the secret from her, Jon's secret. She felt awful, having to keep it to herself, but she needed Stannis, and Daenerys, and this time, she would not say a word until both of them were dead, and the North secure and protected from all the awful politics of the southern kingdoms.

"You won't find him there," she replied. Trying to remember his stories beyond the Wall, she placed where Jon was most likely doing at this time. Probably making love to that wildling girl, she hoped. Not sulking, and being happy, for once. "He's with the Freefolk, actually, accompanying them to climb the Wall and raid villages in the Gift."

As she'd expected, her brother's jaw dropped. "Jon betrays the watch?"

"He does this for the Watch. He's spying on Mance Rayder, and he'll return to Castle Black in time to warn them of his attack."

In time to see his heart break. He loved her, she'd come to know, both from the way Tormund described it, and from the way Jon refused to describe those years of his life. Maybe he loves her more than he'd love Daenerys. Perhaps if he could continue loving her, he'll never fall for Daenerys.

"They're not the enemy, you know," she told Robb, "the wildlings. All they want is to flee the White Walker; they don't want to die, as is their right."

"Aye," Robb said, groaning as he took a sip of his ale, "I'm going to have a hell of a time with everything once I get back to Winterfell."

"They'll raid villages in the Gift. Keep men stationed there, in secret, so you can catch them. Keep watch for a wildling girl in particular, Ygritte. She's got red hair, and she shoots a mean arrow."

He looked at her cross eyed. "Why?" Then he understood, even in his inebriation. "Jon loves her?"

"And she loves him," she answered, smiling at her brother. He needed to keep his wits like this, if he was to survive. "But she's wild to the core. Disarm her, take her to Winterfell as our guest, let her keep to our tables and our meals."

"If she's so wild, she'll slaughter everyone in the castle first."

"Not if you give the wildlings what they want."

He choked on his ale. "Let them cross? Give them lands in the south? Stannis will have my head, if not my own lords first."

"Your own lords will hate you for it," Sansa said, remembering why many of them had sided with the Boltons. "The Umbers may betray you for it again. But you must do it, for their sake, and simply for the fact that if you don't let them cross, they'll all become part of the Army of the Dead."

"I'll think about it," Robb conceded, and suddenly, Sansa felt guilty for troubling him so at his own wedding. But they had so little time.

"And kill Smalljon Umber while you're at it."

Robb shook his head, incredulous at her despite the drink and the festivities. "You'll have save a hundred thousand wildlings, let them south, while killing every lord who serves under me?"

"I'll have you doing whatever it takes to protect our family," Sansa replied back stonily. She saw Arya, listening in to their conversation, nod approvingly.

"Arry, is it?"

The perpetrator of the Red Wedding arrived to pay his respects to her newly married brother.

"Lord Tywin," her sister replied boldly. "I see you survived King's Landing."

"I see you're quite relieved." He turned to Robb. "My congratulations on your wedding, Lord Stark. And though my words mean little to you, I offer you my blessings, on behalf of my family."

"Be wary of Lannisters and their wedding blessings," Sansa replied bitterly, not taking her eyes off of Tywin as she spoke.

"My apologies for what happened to your son Jaime," Robb said more diplomatically, as was his duty. "War is war, but the way they treated him was...unnecessary."

"It's a good thing the Boltons are both our enemies now," Tywin said quietly, within earshot only to the few of them at the table. He looked at Arya, then at Sansa. "It's time."

"Time for what," Robb asked, confused. Sansa leaned in, and kissed him on the cheek.

"He has a gift for Arya," she said innocently, "in return for her faithful service at Harrenhal." Looking over at Talisa, tolerating politely the drunken ramblings of Mace Tyrell, Sansa said, "go tend to your sweet wife."

"A gift," Arya asked, caught off guard. There was still some innocence left in her, unlike the Arya she'd known before. Were it possible that she could learn what she needed to learn, without losing all her soul? Having Robb and mother helped, Sansa hoped. "Do you trust him?"

The sounds of the wedding echoed softer and softer as they happened upon an abandoned section of the gardens. Standing on patrol in a darkened square stood a dozen Lannister soldiers, their heads covered by their signature helmets.

"Surprisingly, to a degree," Sansa answered. They came upon a small courtyard, lined by more Lannister men, and Arya eyed them all warily.

Tywin took the lead, all the soldiers standing at attention in sight of their lord. Walking over to one man in particular, he stopped.

"Remove your helmet, soldier."

The man obeyed, and as recognition, and hatred, dawned in Arya's eyes, she discovered at the same time the tiny sword attached to his armor.

"He's the one?"

Arya nodded. "That's my Needle."

"Hand the girl her sword, soldier."

Looking uncertainly at his lord, the man they called Polliver did so, Arya grabbing it in an instant. Tywin stepped away.

"Restrain him," he ordered, and several of his other men stepped forward to grab Polliver, who, caught off guard, suddenly looked as he was about to piss himself. The Lannister lord then turned to Arya. "Go on then." When she did not move, he continued. "Do with him as you wish."

"Lord Tywin," Polliver said, panicked, "I don't understand." Sansa wondered if he recognized her sister, his killer, yet.

Still, Arya hesitated.

"Remember what I told you," Sansa said gently to her.

"Her dragon burned us?" Arya had asked.

"They say one of her men threw his spear straight through Jon's heart."

Watching her sister speak to the man, before sliding her sword through his neck, she thought about how inappropriate it was for her, a girl who would never pick up a sword, to be teaching Arya how to kill, rather than Sandor Clegane. But if it were her duty, to take on all the sins of those she'd known in her past life, she'd do it gladly, for the sake of family.

Chapter Text

Robb

"Lord Bolton, you've served me well. I pray you will serve our new King just as ably."

Was he lying well enough? Sansa probably wouldn't think so. Having heard what transpired in her life, it took much of his restraint not to beat the man before him to a pulp. His bastard was on his way south as well, and Robb wondered if he could control himself if they knowingly passed each other on the Kingsroad.

Yet, it was hard for him otherwise to harbor any excessive amount of personal hatred for the man, because Roose Bolton had indeed served him well, among one of his most trusted lieutenants until he received the letter from Sansa. But he'd trusted Theon too, hadn't he? Maybe she had a point, that he needed to be less trusting, more ruthless.

More like her.

"My king," the new Master of Coin started, before correcting himself, "my lord, words cannot express my gratitude. I honestly expected to hang as a traitor, when I heard of the peace, rather than ever see myself sit upon the Small Council."

Sansa may have worse planned for you. Robb wasn't sure if he liked that or not, leaving the Boltons in her hands, for both their sakes. It gave him some assurance that Stannis would be there, hopefully keeping an eye on the men they both knew to be most untrustworthy.

"I trust you will represent the North with honor in my stead," Robb said, again wondering if he had a facial tic he was unaware of when lying.

"You did well," Sansa said at his side once they rode further away from the city walls. She looked down, thinking. "Well enough, I suppose."

"I still worry for you," he replied, his mother echoing his concern next to them. "Especially with his bastard accompanying him in the capital."

"He won't have free reign in King's Landing," Sansa replied, "not like the Dreadfort, or when they held Winterfell. The Boltons are northerners, the capital foreign terrain for them."

As it is for me, and every Stark, beside my eldest sister.

"And I don't see why Arya can't come home," his mother added disapprovingly. "To go and travel with that brute. What if...she's so young...do you know if he won't..."

"He won't," Sansa replied ardently, and Robb recognized what their mother was afraid to give word to, especially in front of Arya. They'd found the Hound near Harrenhal, the lure of a pardon enough to bring him back to King's Landing, though they said it was more the promise of gold that kept him from killing his would be captors. They would meet at Hayford, where he would have to somehow convince their mother not to renege at the last minute and let her youngest daughter leave with the murderous beast of a man.

"Maybe I'll kill him before we even make the Narrow Sea," Arya spat out, and somehow Robb believed her. Since when did Jon sneak her a sword by the way, and since when did she learn how to wield it?

"Arya's going to Braavos," Robb asked Sansa skeptically, "to learn how to kill?"

"Someone in our family has to," Sansa replied, not meeting his eyes.

"I thought that was me," Robb grumbled. Had he screwed things up so badly, that Sansa did not trust him with any of their futures now?

"You have to lead, Robb," she replied, though Robb sensed it wasn't the whole truth. Perhaps if he had promised to personally execute the Boltons and Freys and Daenerys Targaryen without cause, his sister would view him in a different light, a better light.

"I will." As if he needed to prove himself to his child sisters, except he knew he did. "Once we take Winterfell from the Ironborn, I'll have the bones of our ancestors moved south to Howland Reed's keep until after the battle. And King Stannis said he'll start sending the dragonglass to White Harbor within three fortnights."

"And Jon," she added, both of them noticing their mother wince away uncomfortably, despite Sansa's attempts at assurance during the wedding feast. "Remember, there will be a battle at Castle Black, the wildlings will try to take it, and fail. You need to be ready, when you hear of the oncoming battle. I'm sure they'll ask the Warden of the North for help. March slowly, so that you don't arrive at Castle Black until the day after the battle. Then, you can treat with Mance Rayder."

He shook his head, perplexed. There were so many things he had to remember, so many things he had to do per her instructions, that he could not fully understand, because he hadn't lived it. "Why can't I arrive before the battle? I thought you wanted to prevent bloodshed."

"The battle will change things for Jon," Sansa answered. As much as it pleased him to hear her speak of Jon with admiration rather than scorn since their father's death, the drastic change still unsettled him, though everything about his sisters seemed to unsettle him since their reunions. "They'll truly see him as a leader after the battle, and he'll have won the Watch's respect."

Robb sighed. He would never understand his sister, he figured who, if he did his math correctly, was older mentally than he, a strange concept he imagined few had ever needed contemplate before. Everything Sansa did she did to keep himself and their mother safe from the Freys and Boltons, yet she was most willing to continue risking the lives of Jon and Arya, as well as her own. Could she be that confident that their journeys won't change this time around, especially since she'd already changed aspects of their new lives, so to speak?

And what about Sansa? Everything about her own track differed now from before, and here he rode, leaving in the south, in King's Landing, to serve, along with the boy she was betrothed to, as something of a hostage to Stannis Baratheon until the king was satisfied their family feud was truly over.

"I trust you, Sansa," he said, hugging her in turn with the rest of their family, as they reached the edge of the woods, marking where Sansa would return to the capital, accompanied by Lannister soldiers. "I trust you'll take care of yourself. But I'm your big brother, and you can't stop me from saying it...take care of yourself, sister."

He watched as the two sisters hugged each other, closer and harder he'd ever seen before.

"What the Red Woman said to me," Arya asked, before fully letting Sansa go, "is that something you see too?"

A mysterious smile to answer a mysterious question. "Say hi to Sandor for me," Sansa replied. "And try to take the back roads, if you can."


Sansa

"Ned?"

"Excuse me, Your Grace?"

Cersei Lannister rolled her eyes at Sansa, the first time she'd seen the former queen since Joffrey's death. The bags were heavy under her eyes, evidence of much drinking, crying, and mourning, Sansa guessed, but everything else about the old queen fit as she remembered.

"Don't pretend with me girl," Cersei muttered abruptly, "you're the first to celebrate our disgrace, aren't you? Or should I address you as Lord Eddard's ghost?"

"I'm afraid I don't understand." She wasn't playing dumb, she genuinely didn't know what Cersei was going at, and wondered whether the loss of her son had truly driven her insane this time around.

"Stannis Baratheon sits on the throne. My Joffrey's dead, the Gods know where his remains are...I couldn't even bury my firstborn properly...Tommen disinherited. That's all you wanted, wasn't it, Ned? This your revenge, you damned ghost?"

Sansa clenched her jaws. As much as she needed the former queen on her side, she would not have her father's memory tarnished as such by the woman.

"If you truly believe I hold any sway with the new King, say my father's name again and I'll have him burn you myself."

First defiance in her eyes, then resignation.

"You're even, aren't you, girl?" At least she was addressing her as a girl again. The less Cersei knew about her abilities, the better. "A father for a first born." Cersei shook her head bitterly. "A warden for a King."

"A good man for a wretched boy," Sansa replied, unable to help herself again. "A great lord for a bastard."

Cersei glared at her with open hatred in her eyes, but Sansa stood her ground, knowing weakness was not a weakness she could afford in front of Cersei. And as she hoped, it was the older woman who gave first.

"That means you're to marry a bastard."

"I'm to marry a Lannister. Don't think there's much of a difference."

She regretted her words as she said them, the two of them both turning to look at Tommen in the courtyard below, sitting alone, watching slightly terrified as his mother and betrothed traded barbs with one another.

"My apologies," Sansa said, giving in first this time, "my words were unworthy, beneath what he deserves."

Cersei shook her head, sighing. "He would've been the first decent king we've had in several generations. Stannis robbed the realm of that."

So she admits Joffrey's rotten. Though Sansa did not press her further, realizing at the same time that Tywin had yet to share his own plans yet with his daughter.

"He needs his family," she said. "He needs his mother. It's not his fault he's born into all these...politics."

Cersei looked at her, and she saw the eyes of an honest woman for once. "They say you want to take him to Winterfell."

"I do," Sansa admitted. "But I have no wish to keep him from his mother. We'll stay in the capital, for as long as the King requires of Lord Tywin. I'd like to go home, yes, but I promised your father we'll go to Casterly Rock after."

I'm the powerful one now. I have sway with the new King, or so she thinks. I have sway with her father, even if she doesn't know the full extent yet. She seemed so helpless, enough for Sansa to pity her, except she reminded herself that Cersei Lannister was at her most dangerous when backed into a corner.

"Jaime won't be there," Cersei said in disgust, Sansa surprised she felt comfortable enough to confide in her on such a sensitive, and dangerous matter. "He's always loved our wretched brother far more than he deserves...I wouldn't be surprised if he stays in Essos and sells himself as a crippled, feebled sellsword, just for coin to pay for the wretched imp's wine."

"He'll come back for you," Sansa said confidently, because she knew from Brienne firsthand the lengths of Jaime Lannister's devotion to his sister.

"Stop."

"Stop what?"

Cersei chuckled, and though she smelled no wine upon her breath, Sansa wondered if the woman was drunk.

"Stop pretending you care."

"You're right," Sansa admitted, watching her betrothed, now chasing mindlessly some cat through the gardens. "I don't care about you. I don't care about Jaime. But you're his family."

"And you care about him," Cersei asked skeptically. "He must seem a boy to you."

"He is," Sansa said, more knowingly than the former queen could even guess. "I won't lie and profess my love for him, but he's decent. Even were we not betrothed I'd not wish to see him harmed. The war's over, and my brother and mother are on their way to take back our home. Now that Tommen's to be my family, I want to see the best for him also."

"Remember that," Cersei hissed, almost as a threat. "You're going to be a Lannister. You go where he goes. Your fortunes rise and fall with your lord husband's. Without him, you'll be nothing, if you let him fall into the hands of traitors like you did his brother."

But it was a concession from the former queen, acknowledging her place both in her family, and with her son. And Cersei was right, it wasn't just her own fortunes, but also her family's safety and her brother's throne, all of it now tied to her success in ingratiating herself inside this most horrible family.


"Was she mean?"

"Your mother's a...strong and determined woman. She loves you Tommen, and she wants to make sure no one tries to harm you."

If Cersei seemed worse for wear, Sansa remembered that the woman had lost two children in one afternoon, Myrcella sailing down to Dorne the same day of the riot, into an engagement that, though the war was over, both Stannis and Lord Tywin knew better than to break.

"Do you miss your sister?"

Tommen nodded sullenly. "I shouldn't complain. You missed your family too."

"What I went through doesn't make it any less painful for you." She looked over to a fence, where the orange cat sat perched, observing the two of impassively, and Sansa tried smiling, and meaning it. "What's her name?"

"Ser Pounce. It's a he." Tommen looked around the gardens. "I haven't seen Lady Whiskers all day, I think she's hiding somewhere."

Gods, he's a child. But the names were cute, in a childish way, as were the cats themselves, and Sansa found her smile wasn't all that forced. "Should we go find Lady Whiskers? I'd like to meet her."

Just as Tommen nodded eagerly, she heard another voice from behind them.

"Can I join you?"

Though she'd yet to meet the girl, Sansa recognized immediately the crown princess, the only child of Stannis Baratheon, First of His Name.

"I'm sorry to interrupt," Shireen said, the more nervous one of the group despite her new status as heir to the Iron Throne, and though her condition was no surprise to Sansa, she still had to make a conscious effort not to react upon seeing the poor girl's face. "I didn't mean to listen in."

"Please," Sansa said politely, "don't apologize. This is your castle now, and we're your guests. Of course you can join us."

From what she glimpsed from Ser Davos, the Princess Shireen was a kind girl who had lived a lonely life in Dragonstone. But she laughed and marveled with them all the same as they ran through the lower levels of the castle, poking through nooks and crannies trying to find a lone cat, and for the first time since...when? Since before she left Winterfell for the first time, perhaps, Sansa remembered what it was like to live the carefree existence of a child, if only for half an afternoon.

"Father says you're...special," Shireen ventured, less nervous than before, as they all sat panting in the same courtyard where they started hours ago. "That you're like Lady Melisandre."

The way she said the last words, it was clear the princess did not trust her father's red priestess, and Sansa couldn't blame her, knowing what happened to her before. So she shook her head.

"I'm afraid I can't claim to be like her. I have no connection to the gods, I don't see visions in the fire."

"But you see visions?"

She saw that Tommen was watching intently as well, and wondered just how much his grandfather had told him about her, of their plans, to the boy they intended to together make a king, by taking away the inheritance of the girl they'd just chased cats and rats and ghosts through the castle with.

"I don't see them, like you see things," she lied again, though she felt guilty for once, lying to someone who was not a cruel warlord or bloody witch. "Sometimes, I just wake up, and know things."

"You don't believe in her Lord of Light?"

The princess was studying her, awaiting her response, and Sansa wondered which answer would be correct. She guessed.

"The things I've seen...the gods...or god, they're real, something's real. But I can't keep to any of them, not after what I've seen."

Her answer seemed to satisfy the princess, and even Tommen didn't seem too perturbed, unpious as his own family was.

She doesn't trust the Red Woman.

She has good instincts.

"Princess Shireen." A deep voice, accompanied by the King, and a man she'd all but banished from her nightmares a lifetime ago.

"Lord Roose Bolton," Stannis said curtly at his daughter. He finished his introductions. "His bastard Ramsay. Lady Sansa Stark. Tommen Lannister."

"A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Princess," Ramsay said, bowing, as...courtly...as she'd ever seen him. And thankfully ignorant of her, though she couldn't help but feel nervous for Shireen from the evil gleam in his eyes as he looked at her.

"Lady Sansa," Roose said, not forgetting his own liege lord's sister, "a pleasure to make your acquaintance. You were quiet on the King's Road when we bade farewell to your brother."

That's because I avoided you on purpose.

"Lord Bolton," she curtsied, "my brother speaks highly of you."

"He fought a war for you, my lady. It warms my heart to see you safe."

And it breaks your heart peace has come and you're no better off than before, Small Council seat notwithstanding.

"He fought a war for the North," Sansa replied.

"And what of his peace," Roose asked skeptically, inducing even the King to raise his eyebrow. While she could not be certain of who knew and who did not know, Sansa was sure that Robb had told the traitor none of what had transpired during the council. And Stannis knew him to be a traitor and dishonorable, the only reason for his appointment an agreement with Robb to draw out his treason before the crown, so she trusted him to keep her secrets from the Boltons as well.

And he's testing me and Stannis.

"My brother realizes that there's more important things than a crown, and more dire threats to the North than Baratheons or Lannisters."

Roose bowed. "I admire your forbearance, my lady. Marrying into the family of a former enemy must be trying."

"Former," Sansa emphasized. Though she'd think she hid it well, she could no longer stand to be in his presence much longer. "My Lords. Princess. Your Grace." She spared one glance to her former husband before she departed. "Bastard."

Whatever mask Ramsay wore now, she saw him flinch at the word, just as when the King uttered it minutes earlier.


Tyrion

"It's not that bad," his brother said, his left hand gripping awkwardly the glass. "I'm not much for wine, but this one seems...like it's not shit."

"I've no complaints about the wine," he said, the chirps of strange birds bustling through his ears. He looked over towards Shae, wandering a faraway beach with one of Illyrio Mopatis's courtesans. "Or the company."

"But you miss it, don't you?"

"Miss what," Tyrion asked.

Jaime spoke dramatically. "Leading. Running the realm. Prepare the city for a siege. Mastering the Small Council. Changing the King's diapers."

"I don't envy Ser Davos, having to change Stannis's diapers," Tyrion remarked, and they both chuckled. "You're right. I liked it. I did it well. Well enough, I suppose, until Joffrey got himself killed, and I started listening to her."

And it seemed curious she could foresee everything except Joffrey's death. He weighed his options, whether or not he ought to tell Jaime his suspicion. But his brother thought him crazy enough already, and Sansa was now to marry Tommen, so there as no harm in stirring the family pot any further, if only for Tommen's sake.

"She seems like a nice girl. A bit more clever than I remembered...I wouldn't have believed it, had father not vouched for the truth of it."

"'A nice girl.' Cersei will have your tongue for that," Tyrion joked, but Jaime frowned.

"You really think she used these...visions...for the sole purpose of shipping you off to Essos? Rather than to help her brother, or end the war so she could go home? And all for the reward of marrying a boy without a castle?"

"He's your heir," Tyrion said glumly, taking a long drink. "You're heir to Casterly Rock, father got at least one thing he wanted out of this war. And Tommen... he'll likely follow you into lordship." The question of Tommen's parentage became essentially a detail the realm would willingly forget. Stannis disinherited the boy from House Baratheon, but legitimized him as a Lannister, for the sake of Robb Stark, so his sister would not marry a bastard. As to the identify of Tommen's father, or Myrcella's for the matter, it would be a question they would all leave unanswered, for the sake of the peace.

"Unless you take a wife, of course." He watched Jaime shirk uncomfortably at the idea. "I'm sure father's sending scrolls to all seven kingdoms by now."

"You hear of such gossip here," Jaime asked, eyebrow raised.

"Some say Margaery Tyrell." He shook his head. "Stannis isn't fool enough to bestow us ties to more than one great house. Though...I wouldn't count our father out entirely. Play his cards right, you may find yourself sharing the throne one day with Queen Shireen, First of Her Name."

And the kingdom will weaken, as every house major and minor scrambles for the inevitable crisis of succession.

"Lord of Casterly Rock," Jaime shook his head, as if the words themselves were a slur.

"It's what you were born for," Tyrion admitted, despite the fact that he could not deny he wanted the title for himself.

"It's not," Jaime answered truthfully. "Though let's hope I'm better at it than I was as Kingsguard."

"You're too hard on yourself."

"I saw three Kings die under my watch. That's got to be a record."

"One at your hands, who didn't deserve your vows. The other two, in your absence. If anything, it speaks to your effectiveness." Setting his glass down, he put his hand on his brother's arm. "Jaime. You need to learn from father."

He scoffed impatiently. "Not you too."

"You're a piece in the game now. They agreed to this peace, knowing there's a war to come the moment Stannis dies. Which can come sooner than you think, if he's supposed to lead a battle against an army of dead men."

"Then you are, too," Jaime insisted, and Tyrion knew what he was going to say next. "When Stannis dies, you can come back. There's a role for you to play yet."

It did touch him, to be honest, that there was at least one person in Westeros who did want him back.

"Maybe you're right. It's not a bad life here. And now that I've said it out loud, it doesn't seem like much fun. Not the dead men part...not what's to come after either."

He felt Jaime's touch, his left and remaining hand clasping his chest. "You're not a good liar, brother. And besides. I need you. If only to make sure I'm not the one father puts on that throne."


He missed Jaime already, but it was good he didn't dally, suspicious as it was for one recent enemy of the new King's to be conferring with an exile for an extended period of time. He drank more after his brother left, though Jaime vowed to return before winter. Day into night, he drank, until even Shae grumbled in frustration, willfully ignoring him until he broke out of his drunken haze. Which he swore to do, tomorrow, then tomorrow, then tomorrow, then the day after that.

"Just a few more minutes," he yelled, the knocking on the door the sound of castles crashing against each other. To his chagrin, the door creaked opened anyway, and a servant appeared.

"Lord Tyrion, you have a visitor."

"Did my brother forget his hand," he muttered.

"Nor does all the realm forget their Hand," Lord Varys said appraisingly, entering his chambers with a smug smile, accompanied by the less joyous face of Loras Tyrell.

Chapter Text

Stannis

"We've enemies east. We've enemies west. You're my Small Council, tell me how to deal with the traitors."

"Your Grace," Ser Davos began, "do you trust Robb Stark?"

Stannis paused. In truth, he did respect the young man, from what little he saw of him in King's Landing. And he'd trust the honor of a Stark, but he could not allow himself any weakness before his Small Council, not when it was comprised mostly of those who had once been traitors.

"He bent the knee," he replied simply. "His crimes are forgiven, but not forgotten."

"Let him take care of the Greyjoys then," Davos said, relief in his eyes. If it were up to his Hand, however, he suspected Davos would have him forgive even the enemies beyond the Wall and the Targaryen girl's dragons, when the time came.

"It won't take long for the Starks to retake Winterfell," his brother's spymaster agreed. "I've word Theon Greyjoy may abandon the castle before the Northmen even return. A wise decision, but if not, Robb Stark's got himself a valuable hostage for us to deal with, as we see fit."

He'd kept Varys on not because he trusted him, having bent the knee for yet another King, but because he needed him for now. Pycelle, he'd less need for, which was why the Lannister lackey was rotting in his dungeons.

"If the boy doesn't execute the whimp himself," Stannis muttered.

"Let the Young Wolf shelter his own coast against the Ironborn reapers," Davos continued, "and let Tywin Lannister do the same in turn in the Westerlands. But to mount an extended siege of Pyke, we need more ships in our fleet."

"How do you intend we gather them?"

"Dorne," Davos replied. "Invite Prince Doran or Oberyn to the capital, appoint them Master of Ships."

"As a reward for standing still while the rest of the realm fought each other, traitors and loyal lords alike?"

"Pardon me, Yer Grace," the man they called the Blackfish said, "but you won't have much of a Small Council if you keep only the men who fought with you in the beginning."

As much as he hated to admit it, Brynden Tully, another former traitor, spoke accurately, that he'd had few men to keep counsel were he to seek only the ones who'd stood by him before his brother's...demise. It would trouble him more, the idea of Starks and Lannisters working together, had it not been his own idea to tie the two families in the first place for the sake of his peace. But it did not escape his notice that Tywin Lannister seemed too content with the arrangement.

"Dorne comes to the capital, and we make Balon Greyjoy's second rebellion his last." Stannis flipped through the scrolls. "What of Baelish and the Eyrie?"

"He's married your niece," Varys said, addressing the Blackfish. "They say the young lord Robin worships his new uncle, and has ordered the execution of several lords who voiced opposition to Lord Baelish's new position as Lord Regent."

"It would be foolish to give battle in the Vale," Alester Florent said, his new Master of Laws, one of the few men advising him now who had been loyal to him since before the Stark girl's council, though his own wife's uncle had rallied to Renly first. "Send ravens to the lords, and ask them to denounce the traitor Baelish and bring us his head."

"I'd advise patience, Your Grace," Varys added. "Great houses like the Royces have no wish to remain pariahs of the crown forever, I'm sure, compelled to obey the whims of a madwoman and a whoremonger."

"A foreign whoremonger," Alester spat angrily as he eyed Varys suspiciously. And it was good he'd do so, better that the Spider did not feel too comfortable in his position.

Brynden Tully sighed sadly. "She's my niece, but she's always been too easily swayed by that little weasel. Let me call my nephew's banners in your name, Your Grace. We'll patrol all the roads coming in and out of the Vale. Maybe Lysa can be persuaded to see reason when she realizes just how isolated she is."

"You'd want me to show mercy to your niece," Stannis asked. They'd call him Stannis the Merciful now. Much more tolerance for treason, and they'll call him Stannis the Weak next.

"Take her from the Eyrie," Brynden said reluctantly, clearly pained at the idea at having to treat his own family as enemies, "and she's just one woman. I can put her in with the Silent Sisters."

"It's on your head then, if she further betrays the crown, it's on your name, and Lord Edmure's."

"Consider my men at your call," Roose Bolton added. There was a man whose pardon was temporary, at least. It seemed he had a man from each kingdom in his Small Council, many of them without titles. But it was a practical move, Davos said, a show of unity after the brief war. Again, he wondered whether his Hand's mercy would too easily result in his own demise. "The North fought their rightful king once, but today, we stand with the throne."

You'll stand with a noose around your neck, if what the girl says is true. Though Stannis didn't care that much for the reliability of the Boltons, really, except this was a personal favor to the Warden of the North, and to his sister, who'd helped call the council which crowned him king without need for further battle, who'd convinced her own brother to set aside his crown.

"We'll move what ships we have to take Gulltown now," Davos agreed. "With any luck, the Vale lords will give up on Baelish sooner rather than later."

As one lord after another filed out of the throne room, it remained only Ser Davos, Roose Bolton, and Lady Melisandre, the latter who'd not spoken a word in their first Small Council meeting.

"Your Grace, my apologies for taking more of your time."

"Your son, Ramsay?" Stannis had to admit, the girl seemed right, he could practically smell the ambition off this man. He could even prove useful, had Stannis not already given Robb Stark his word to expose his treachery, that of his and his bastard son's. "Give me Baelish, and I'll consider legitimizing him."

"It could benefit both our houses," Roose added, his cold eyes not reacting positively or negatively to his vague promise.

"How so?"

"If I may speak honestly, Your Grace?"

"Go on."

"I'll venture that you've received ample proposals of marriage across the realm for the Crown Princess Shireen by now."

"You'll insult me in suggesting your bastard, Bolton?" He looked dubiously at Davos Seaworth, who remained expressionless, for the sake of guise.

"I wouldn't dare," Roose protested, making the very same suggestion he was denying. "But there will be many in the realm who would seek to usurp her power. Betroth her to one of the Great Houses, and you may find your dynasty passing to their name within a generation."

"And a weak house like yours will lose Shireen's throne to a Great House within a fortnight."

Again, if Roose took his words as an insult, he did not show it.

"Your Grace, House Bolton will be your rock, for your reign and all your descendants to come. I followed Robb Stark into rebellion because it was my duty, just as you fought for your rightful throne because it was your duty. You were never my enemy, Your Grace, and I'm thankful it never came to battle between our houses."

"I'll have Ser Davos find a suitable hand for your son in marriage, provided he proves his worth in battle," Stannis replied, eager to rid himself of the man's presence.

"You do me more honor that I deserve, Your Grace," Roose said, truthfully for once, before making his leave, sensing the king's patience had come to an end.

"He's impugning Robb Stark's loyalty by elevating his own," Stannis explained, when it was just Davos and Melisandre in the throne room. "The Stark girl's right, there's not a loyal bone in his body."

"He's too smart to commit treason now," Davos remarked, eyeing warily the door from which Roose Bolton just exited. "It may take years before he spots a weakness, or makes a move. He may never do so, if we don't give him an opening."

"I promised Robb Stark I'd flush the treason out of the man," Stannis muttered. "I may regret it, but a promise is a promise." He looked to Melisandre. "What do you think?"

"I'm afraid court politics isn't my area of knowledge, my king," she demurred frustratingly, as Stannis half expected her to.

"Court politics will keep the seven kingdoms strong enough for your lord's war," he rebutted. "So tell me, how do I keep my lords in line and bring my traitors to heel? Roose Bolton? Petyr Baelish? Balon Greyjoy? Tywin Lannister?"

"Tywin Lannister," Davos asked.

"He submitted, because he was weakened by Robb Stark's battles and Joffrey's death. Same as Bolton, give him an opening and he'd take it." He'd expected headaches as king, but feeling them the first time, he wondered whether he could sustain his own sanity against the constant wariness of those who sought to leech upon his power, now that he had his rightful throne.

"My king, it's not lordlings or princes who keep the kingdom's strength for the Great War...only the Lord of Light's will. How can we ask him to look with favor upon us, a realm of heretics and disbelievers?"

He'd been dreading this from her ever since the council, the ask. "I've given you the dungeons for your...ceremonies, haven't I? Don't forget, it was the Stark girl's visions who gave me the throne, not your Lord of Light."

"Where do you think the girl's foresight comes from," Melisandre contested, "if not our Lord? Why do you think He saw fit to kill the usurper, if not for our offering to Him the false idols. But false kings are triflings, Your Grace, compared to what you'll face in the Great War to come, and greater sacrifices must be offered."

"Fine. You can have Baelish and the Greyjoys, should they survive the battle. Burn Pycelle too, it'll do good for the realm to see at least one immediate consequence of treason."

The Red Lady seemed satisfied by his decision, to his relief. Then she spoke again.

"There's power indeed in king's blood, Your Grace. Balon Greyjoy declared himself a king, though a minor one. But the usurper Joffrey declared himself a greater king."

"His claim is false," Stannis muttered, looking at Davos, who seemed as uncomfortable as he in where Melisandre was taking the conversation. "He shares not Robert's blood."

"Yet his rule was true until his death," Melisandre answered with a smile, "and there are others who do share his blood."

"Burn the Lannisters?" It scared him just to give voice to the words. "If Tywin raises his hand against me, I see no reason to refuse you. But he's no fool, he knows his gold and men alone can't win a war against the dead. If I burn him or his kin as traitors, before they'd make a move against me, I'll have half the kingdoms in rebellion before we reach the Wall."

"All decisions are yours, my king, the wisdom to please or refuse the Lord in your hands."

"Ask the girl," Stannis said. "Ask her what now. How do we defeat the Ironborn, how do we take back the Vale, how do we defeat the dead?"

"Your Grace," Melisandre said, bowing to take her leave, and more than ever, Stannis looked forward to the solace of isolation.


Sansa

"And who was it who knighted Ser Pounce?"

"Not Joffrey," Tommen said, treating the question with utmost seriousness. "He never liked my cats."

"My uncle Robert," Shireen suggested, and the two younger children giggled at the picture of fat Robert bending down to knight a cat.

"Any knight can make another knight, you know," Sansa said, remembering Brienne, remembering how she'd protested when Sansa told her she was going south to face the Dragon Queen, when she ordered her sworn sword to remain in Winterfell, so that she would not burn alongside her. "Maybe your...uncle Jaime?"

A smile grew on Tommen's face. "He likes Ser Pounce, he's told me."

Though Sansa had never seen this softer side of Jaime Lannister, spoken of fondly by Brienne once, and now Tommen, she could not deny its existence. The fact that he sought first to visit his brother in exile spoke well for his character also, though Sansa wondered which Jaime would reveal himself, once things came to a head. Perhaps it was the treacherous man without honor she needed, when the time comes to betray Stannis and Daenerys.

"He'd be a good hedge knight," Shireen said, petting the cat gently. "He'd wander all the kingdoms, delighting the smallfolk with his purring."

"Then after all his good deeds," Tommen said, a sweet smile upon his face, "your father can anoint him one of his Kingsguard."

"Lord Commander Pounce," Shireen replied, giggling again.

It'd been just she and the children for the last few fortnights, Tywin leaving with Jaime west to inspect the defenses of their lands against the Greyjoy fleet, and though she sought their company just as much as she avoided Cersei's and the Boltons, she couldn't help but miss...being important, playing a part, no matter how restful chasing cats and reading children's stories could be on occasion. It wasn't that conversations with Tommen and Shireen were a chore, she genuinely liked the both of them, but the fact was her mind was grown, and she could not help but feel more mother than peer, the need to constantly act her own bodily age wearisome, and the idea that she was to marry one of them in the years to come more uncomfortable by the day.

"I bet even dragons will tremble at his snarl," Sansa said longingly. If only.

"His hiss will be scarier than Balerion the Dread's," Shireen added, "but his kisses always the gentlest and sweetest."

The Crown Princess seemed to adore the tales of the Targaryen dragons and conquerors, just as her sister once had, and Sansa wondered whether, like Arya, Shireen would change her mind once those fearsome creatures, changed from fantasy to truth, arrived in Westeros to threaten her own family and inheritance.

And if we survive Daenerys, she'll hate me, for conspiring with Tywin Lannister, for betraying her, for betraying her father, for stealing her inheritance. Though Sansa had a feeling that Shireen cared much more for her father than the throne, and the rotten, accursed power which came with it.

"Lady Sansa, a word?"

It was the Priestess Melisandre. And while she scared her less than Ramsay or Cersei, Sansa still would avoid her if she could, because who knew when her powers would bestow her the truth, and she'd call out Sansa for being the liar and traitor she was.

"Tommen. Princess."

They walked wordlessly through the gardens towards her chambers, and Sansa could not help but marvel at the foreign woman's gait, her steps just as graceful as any noble lady's in Westeros.

"You miss Winterfell, don't you?"

"I do."

"I hope King's Landing is kinder to you today than it was under the usurper Joffrey."

"King Stannis treats me with honor," Sansa replied. In truth, his court was rather cold, and boring. But boring was a vast improvement upon insanity and cruelty.

"May I confess something to you, Lady Sansa," Melisandre asked after another long pause, as Sansa pondered how pleasanter these walks were with Margaery once upon a time.

"You can," she answered carefully, unsure of where the priestess wished to lead her.

"The flames have shown me little since the King took his rightful throne."

"Yet he depends on what the flames do show you," Sansa grasped. He needs her. And she needs me.

"You saw a battle against the dead," Melisandre answered, sidestepping her comment. "You saw it won, without Stannis. I understand you cannot speak of how it was won, but I ask you now, what must the King do, to follow the same path?"

Sansa bit her lip nervously. She'd had nothing to do in the Great War the last time around, except ensuring the smallfolk fed and sheltered before and after the battle.

"To be honest, milady, I've seen little also since the council." Her mind raced, as Sansa knew she had to give the woman something. "The dragons," she said, recalling how the Wall had fallen in the first place, "they can't be brought north of the Wall."

"Why not," Melisandre said, instantly intrigued.

"It's how the Night King will cross the Wall."

"Yet you say we need the dragons to defeat the dead."

"We do," Sansa replied, understanding how contradictory the idea was. "It's beyond my understanding," she admitted.

"Perhaps it's not up to us to understand," Melisandre answered, appearing to sympathize with her confusion, "only to act on behalf of the Lord's will."

"You must do your part," Sansa said, directing the conversation back to Melisandre. "The king must stand with my brother when he makes peace with the wildlings, and allow them across the Wall. Otherwise, the Night King's army will be near unstoppable."

"The King is a practical man. So long as they bend the knee..."

"They won't," Sansa replied. She understood some of their culture after having worked with them since fleeing the Boltons, but Sansa still did not fully grasp what drove the tribesmen, and how, or even whether, they'd be willing to play the games of the south. "They don't cross the Wall because they want to, they come south because they have to. But they won't sacrifice their freedom, they don't want fields to plow and lands of their own under any lord, they won't raise Stark banners, much less Baratheon, and they won't bend the knee."

"They expect the king to save their entire civilization without offering anything in return," Melisandre asked, and Sansa could understand her skepticism. In a way, the wildlings were similar to her own Northmen...fiercely stubborn, fiercely independent, except a hundred fold more so.

"They expect the King to be a practical man," Sansa replied, echoing the Red Woman's own words. "They expect that were the King disinclined towards charity, to understand that it's to his own benefit that hundreds of thousands of wildlings don't join the Army of the Dead."

The priestess absorbed her words carefully, taking stock of them, and Sansa felt important for the first time since she crowned a king in the last council.

"I appreciate your time, Lady Sansa," Melisandre said, seeming sincere in her gratitude. "You've given me much to contemplate." But she showed no signs of dismissing her.

"I'm afraid there's little more I can say about the Army of the Dead."

"It's not the dead that trouble our King right now," Melisandre suggested. "It's the living. The King worries about his enemies in the realm. And potential enemies, who pose as friends."

This is your weakness, Sansa realized, from the woman's uncertainty. You know your god, you think you know the Great War...but you know little of politics.

"The King ought to remain patient," Sansa replied. "The Greyjoys pose little harm aside from a few raids here and there, and Robb will soon have their prince and heir in his grasp. As for Littlefinger, let him linger, useless on the periphery. That's his worst hell, and the longer he waits, the more likely he'd venture out and make a reckless move."

"You speak of Lord Baelish as if you know the man well," Melisandre offered intriguingly, "far more than a distant friend of your mother's."

"I knew of you, didn't I?"

"You do," she replied, a glint of danger lining the edge of her words. She then smiled at her. "It must pain you, one day dictating the terms of peace to the greatest lords of the realm, the next playing at childrens' games day and night."

There was truth in her words, though Sansa reckoned neither Shireen and Tommen were mere ordinary children by the fact that one of them or both may sit on the Iron Throne one day. Though she did not accompany them merely for practical reasons alone, their company was pleasant enough, if not scintillating for her mind in the way time with Tyrion or Varys or Tywin or even Littlefinger was in her last life.

"I don't expect Stannis to call a girl to his Small Council," Sansa said demurely. "The realm would think him mad."

"Much of the realm thinks him mad already for trusting a priestess from Asshai," Melisandre countered. "The King recognizes talent, and more importantly, he recognizes talents which may be of help to him." A brief pause, another hesitation, before she continued. "The Lannister House, the one you are to marry into...the Tyrells, who conspired treason with the Lannisters...all their houses remain powerful after the King decided upon mercy."

"Don't forget it was the King who pushed me to marrying into the Lannisters," Sansa replied, too hastily, she wondered. Suddenly, she was very much a player in the game again. Be careful what you wish for, stupid girl. "Never trust the Lannisters," she advised honestly. "The king needs to use them, in a way which both he and the Lannisters can benefit."

All her words were honest. Too honest, in fact, but Melisandre seemed not to notice.

"What can the King offer Tywin Lannister," she asked, "that he hasn't offered him already, besides a crown? His Grace has been far more merciful than he ought be, allowing him to retain his life and all his titles."

"The future," Sansa answered truthfully again. "The Princess Shireen enjoys the company of Tommen Lannister. And young Tommen would not pose a threat to her, he lacks the ambition of his grandfather, and his mother, and Tommen will outlive them both by many years." With any hope.

It was a bluff, and not a bluff. It could avoid her union with the Lannisters, allowing her to return home, a free woman. But it also meant she'd no longer have any further use to Tywin Lannister, even if she did help broker the marriage which would return his blood to the crown. Which meant her own freedom could cost the North its freedom.

But Tywin Lannister was far away from her, and it was Stannis and his red priestess she needed to please at the moment. And, good for her or not, good for the North or not, it was the best advice she could give. It would not be her fault if the King's stubborness and his own fear of the legitimacy of Robert's supposed children would likely lead him towards rejecting her advice, given through the Red Woman.

"I'll share him your thoughts," Melisandre answered her, similarly skeptical that Stannis would break her engagement.

"And Cersei. Don't underestimate her, don't forget her, she's every bit Lord Tywin's daughter."

They arrived at the Red Woman's quarters. "My lady, your presence is always enlightening. I look forward to more of your wisdom in the days to come."

So she would play with children, and cats, and fire, all at the same time.

Chapter Text

Sansa

"...they'll scream, even the bravest of warriors, when the blade cuts through their skin...and when you start pulling..."

"Bastard!"

For once, it was she who startled Ramsay and not the other way around, the young man jumping at the sound her voice, echoing through the empty halls of the Keep. He moved, revealing poor Tommen Lannister cowering in the corner, and for a second she recognized the same malicious glint in his eye she knew so well.

"My lady Sansa," he bowed properly, addressing her through gritted teeth. Given her reputation as the spoiled brat of Ned Stark, it was easy for her to cultivate her reputation as a spoiled highborn around him, disdaining and dismissing the circumstances of his birth, but he'd surprised her as well, having maintained his composure and bearing ever since his arrival at King's Landing. Stannis had promised Robb he'd have his men spy on the bastard, pouncing upon him the first time he'd beat a servant or assaulted a handmaiden, but somehow Ramsay maintained the perfect model of a lordling the last few moons.

He must be dying for someone to torture. And Tommen proved an easy target, apparently, Ramsay thinking little of his status as the younger brother of a traitor and usurper.

"You speak of flaying as if you were personally familiar with the practice," she spoke carefully, noticing the blade in his hand. A small, dull blade, but men like Ramsay Snow had their ways of making even the most innocent objects into weapons of the worst torture. "Do you forget, bastard, that flaying violates both the King's laws and that of his Warden's?"

"Just a history lesson, for the boy," Ramsay bowed, stepping away from Tommen and towards her instead. "My apologies, Lady Sansa, you are the sister of my liege lord and I've yet to make my proper acquaintance with you."

"It's no accident, I've no time for sons of millers' wives." Taking a deep breath, she walked past him, and using all her courage to ignore him, gambling in her mind that he'd not dare to hurt a Stark, much less a guest of his King, in his King's keep, she bent down and gave Tommen her hand, the young man taking it and allowing himself to be picked up by a lady. "Did he hurt you, Tommen?"

"He didn't hit me," he said nervously, and Sansa felt her blood boiling. It was one thing for Ramsay to be Ramsay, it was another for him to pick on an innocent like Tommen who, as she'd grasped in the weeks passed, had been subject to enough of the same torments from Joffrey most of his life. She whirled to turn at Ramsay, who had disquietingly taken several steps towards the both of them, holding the knife in his hand plainly enough, as if it were any harmless object.

"If my lady would like, I can teach her the history of my house as well," he said, the all too familiar malevolent gleam in his eye rising to full surface. "Our families have a long and intertwined history, Lady Sansa..."

She forced herself to laugh at him. "Your family? Your house? You're a bastard, you have no house, no family, no name. Your father insults the king with your presence in this very keep."

As he bristled through her continued insults, she wondered whether she was glad of the fact that he had indeed accompanied Roose to King's Landing. Part of her wished Ramsay to remain in the Dreadfort, so as to remain Robb's problem, but Roose Bolton clearly distrusted leaving his son unattended for an indefinite period of time, whilst he served on Stannis's council.

"I will prove my worth to the King, Lady Sansa," Ramsay said defiantly, his voice low enough to turn even a harmless profession of loyalty into a threat, and Sansa could see his grip upon his blade tighten. "Then the King will name me father's trueborn, and wed me to a proper lady, blood free from rumors of vilest incest." Defying her, he bent down towards Tommen, moving his blade ever closer to the boy. "Did you know that, boy? Incest is considered an abomination in the North. But House Bolton has our ways of dealing with abominations."

"And House Stark has our ways of dealing with bastards of our lesser lords," Sansa said, leading Tommen by the hand past the actual abomination in the hall. Again, her heart stopped, but she felt nothing except the stare of daggers against her back as she walked away.

You're in the south now, she thought, unable to keep herself from smiling as she walked. You're impotent here, and you hate it.

"He didn't hit me," Tommen repeated again, in a way that could be considered dumb, his mind touched by the Gods, so to speak. But Sansa knew him well enough by now to understand he'd retreated inside his own mind, the same way he had when Joffrey abused him when he was even younger, and wondered what was it about Tommen's innocence that attracted the cruelest of minds.

"Men can hurt others without use of their hands," she replied sympathetically. "Did he scare you?"

Tommen nodded. "He shook the knife at me. I wanted to run away, but he...I...I didn't think he'd let me leave. Not without hurting me."

"He's a predator, Tommen," Sansa said too knowingly. "You were afraid of him, and you let him see your fear...smell it. That only makes him want to hurt you more, because he thinks you weak."

"How do you not be afraid," he asked, as she let go of his hand, distanced as they were from the true abomination.

"There's a difference between being afraid, and showing it." Then the words came to her, despite herself. "You're a Lannister, Tommen. You're a predator too...your mother a Queen, your uncle Jaime a great warrior, your uncle Tyrion a Hand to a King, your grandfather one of the most powerful men in Westeros." She stopped. Ought she encourage the boy to depend upon the reputations of his elders?

"I know," he said, voice lowered as if ashamed. "They're all...they all seem so...different, from me. Uncle Jaime, he could challenge a knight in single combat, by the time he was my age."

"Not every Lannister's the same," she said, "not every Stark's the same. Aren't you glad you're nothing like your brother?"

Again, he nodded, and Sansa realized the level of trust the boy placed in her to admit such a secret away from his mother.

"You're kind, Tommen. You're decent. Traits that others see as weakness in this world. But that doesn't make it right."

And that will change, she thought, her heart hardening. We'll change that together.


The next time she saw Ramsay was in Cersei's chambers, Sansa grateful for the woman's presence for once.

"Your Grace," Ramsay bowed, "you summoned me?"

There was no fear in his eyes, not before a room of women and children, Cersei's handmaid Bernadette the only other present along with Tommen, the servant cradling the young man protectively behind his mother.

"Roose Bolton's bastard," Sansa decided to introduce, before the former Queen could speak. She'd kept to her chambers most of the days, a sad, if still dangerous woman, and Sansa reckoned it must have been a difficult choice, to pick between accompanying her brother back to Casterly Rock, or staying in the capital and keeping an eye on her son in the hands of stags and wolves. In the end, it was her maternal instincts which prevailed. "An abomination," she said, using Ramsay's own words from the day before, "a bastard produced by rape, they say in the North. The bastard of the Dreadfort."

"Bastard," Cersei said, her ire for once directed towards someone deserving of it. "You threatened my son. You insulted him."

"Your Grace," Ramsay chuckled, a bit more nervous than before, "I meant no offense. It's a lonely castle...I just wanted to make a friendly acquaintance."

"No one wants to befriend a bastard," Bernadette said, following her and her lady's lead in choice of words, as Sansa intended. She'd hated the woman before, when she'd first bled, only Shae's threats keeping Bernadette from telling Cersei immediately of the matter. Today she held no love for the handmaiden, but her protectiveness of Tommen was something she could admire, born as it may have been out of loyalty to her lady, word being Bernadette had died with Cersei I Lannister when the Dragon Queen destroyed the castle, loyal to the very end.

"Word is your father tried proposing your bastard hand in marriage to the Crown Princess Shireen," Sansa said, taking the lead. "Do you know, bastard, how the court laughed when they heard of the joke? Do you understand, bastard, that you're seen as nothing but a joke in this city?"

She exaggerated. Word had gotten out of Roose's subtle suggestion, and some had indeed chuckled. But Roose Bolton had been but one of dozens of lords to make such a proposal, doing so more as a profession of loyalty to a new king they'd once raised banners against, rather than any actual belief of a future union. His son a bastard, there was no way Roose could actually believe such a marriage possible between Ramsay and sweet Shireen...except Sansa wondered whether he'd actually explained as much to his son. Perhaps he dangled the idea honestly before Ramsay, so as to keep him behaved, to keep his leash short. And that would explain why Ramsay had not been Ramsay since arriving in King's Landing, at least not until she'd caught him with Tommen.

"You're a joke, bastard," Cersei said, stepping forward, "but you're alive. Look at my son again, bastard, much less speak or threaten him, and I'll have you gutted."

"Your Grace, my lady," he looked at Sansa maliciously, as if casting blame upon her for telling Cersei of the incident, "this must all be a horrible misunderstanding, though for what it's worth, I apologize profusely for any offense given."

It must hurt him so much to say the words, Sansa thought, but then, she saw his eyes harden.

"My father does sit on the King's Small Council, Your Grace. I was unaware that the Queen Dowager and the mother of the usurper had any say with King Stannis, but believe me, I will apologize to my father also, I'll inform him of this small mistake in communication, so that he may assure the King I meant no harm."

"Save your words, bastard," Bernedette spat, clutching Tommen ever closer to her. "You think your father's position a shield? I doubt he'd even lift a finger for you, bastard, were Her Grace to order you dead today."

"Then I beg humbly for the Queen's mercy," Ramsay said, pretending to stammer nervously. Mad dog as he was, even he knew when he was cornered. "Again, I mean no offense."

"Out of my sight, bastard," Cersei said, and for a second it seemed as if she were about to fling her goblet at the man's head. The former queen must feel herself a cornered creature also, bereft of all the power which once befell her. Perhaps with Sansa unwilling to cross her, Cersei was almost glad to find herself a new enemy to direct her hatred towards. And while she was happy at the result, Tommen's unwitting involvement was not something she wished, nor something she would have planned, however much it could help in ridding the realm of the Boltons.

Letting go of Tommen, the handmaiden walked Ramsay from the chambers.

"Go find some sheep to fuck, bastard," she heard Bernedette say from outside the room, getting in one last insult.

"This is what it's come to," Cersei screeched at Sansa once Ramsay was out of earshot. "Even your northern bastards have no respect for me, much less fear."

"I've heard stories in the North about Ramsay Bolton, Your Grace," Sansa lied. "He's a man with little respect or fear for anyone."

Of course she couldn't have heard those stories, not even Littlefinger knew about Roose's bastard, but she trusted Cersei would not be able to distinguish true northern gossip from fiction.

"Yet your brother brings him to the capital."

"Roose Bolton was my brother's most trusted lieutenant, it was a proper reward to recommend his services to Stannis."

"I liked it better when you northerners stayed north."

You don't even know the half of it.

But then, her expression softened, and Sansa wondered whether this was the first time Cersei expressed to her an honest emotion that wasn't open hatred or contempt. "I'm glad you were there for Tommen," she conceded, then turned away without another word.

Hearing steps trailing her as she walked the vast distance from the former Queen's quarters to her own, she hesitated for a moment, fearing a vengeful bastard who may have followed her, before hearing a gentler voice.

"Sansa?"

It was Tommen, who no longer felt the need to address his betrothed as Lady, not when he thought her merely a playmate of his, only a few years older.

"Tommen," she answered, fondly and warily, because anything following an audience with both Cersei and Ramsay did not bode well. But the boy only ventured to produce a small carving from his pockets, a greysilver object she recognized as a lion beside a direwolf, roaming a field together.

"I had this made for you," he said, shier than he normally was around her. "Since we're to marry...I, I thought it an appropriate gesture."

Taking the object, lighter than she expected in her hand, she felt both touched, yet mindful of any gift from a Lannister.

"I thank you, my dearest Tommen." She paused, wondering how to ask the vexing question. "Did your mother give you this to gift me?"

He shook his head. "I asked my uncle Jaime for coin, and he had it made in Pentos."

"Thank you Tommen," resisting the reflex to ruffle her betrothed's hair as if he were a pet, or a child, though he seemed to be both at times. "I'll treasure this."

She wouldn't, but her heart was not so cold as to not appreciate the sentiment behind the gift. Gazing upon it, she wondered what Ned Stark would think of such a carving. Yet, she wondered, considering all the lives she'd saved by ending the War of Five Kings early, how much blood lay upon her own father's hands the last time, because of his contempt for the Kingslayer in a throne room lifetimes ago.


Jaime

"You seem to take great delight in leaving me."

"You could have come west with me, come to Casterly Rock." If he had been expecting a warm return from his sister, he was disappointed again, the same disappointment he found upon his first return to King's Landing with Brienne.

"And leave our son to the wolves?" She sighed, turning away from him, and to her drink, which seemed to have replaced him as her great love. "You didn't have to visit our wretched brother."

"He's our brother, nothing will ever change that," Jaime insisted, his annoyance giving way to anger, both in her persistent refusal to acknowledge Tyrion as family, and in the fact that their brother was indeed gone, half a world away for what could be forever. "You should be happy, you've rid him from our lives for good."

"Blame Stannis for that, that was his doing," she said, though her smirk told him that she'd still gloat over his exile. "Though I doubt father put forth little protest...I wouldn't be surprised if it was his idea."

She wasn't wrong. Any time he'd raised the subject of Tyrion's exile on their trip west was met immediately with a stern look.

"It's a disgrace," he'd argued, "letting Stannis insult our family like this. You went to war with the Starks over it, but you'd submit so easily to Stannis?"

"I lost the war with the Starks," Tywin reminded him, "with ample help from you."

"So we'll die fighting."

"And see our house vanish?" His father shook his head, as they rode alongside the coast between Casterly Rock and Lannisport, inspecting the garrisons of soldiers turned westward, rather than north or south. "A great lord need learn patience for the good of his house. I waited out Aerys. I waited out Robert. I can wait out another Baratheon."

"You have a plan to get Tyrion back then," Jaime asked, vainly hoping, though he knew better to hope. When his father did not reply, he could barely control himself from spitting upon the ground. "I've never seen you so happy in defeat."

"Sometimes to win a war," he started, beginning yet another endless lecture which had plagued them ever since they left King's Landing together, Lord and heir, "you must make peace. Friends can become enemies, and enemies friends. The day you let personal slights get the better of you, when you place your own wants and grudges above the survival of your house, is the day you betray your own house."

"Don't hold grudges," he'd spat back, knowing better than to continue, but he did. "Is that what you told yourself when you sacked King's Landing?"

The stern look of cold rage, but Jaime did not back down before his father. What could he do? Order the execution of his only heir?

"Had Robert lost on the Trident," Tywin said coldly and carefully, "I would have marched into the Throne Room myself and held up Aerys's hand as his champion."

"Before slitting his wrist," Jaime said.

"Perhaps, had my son not done the task for me."

"Father has a plan," Jaime said to his sister. "Do you think he'd give up so easily?"

Despite Cersei's scoff, Jaime sensed her satisfaction, though he wondered if she'd think their father plotting to place her on the throne herself. Tywin would have no objections, were it a sensible notion, but even Jaime could admit, much as he loved her, that Cersei with any bit of power in her hands was very likely to result in their father's worst nightmares...the ruin of their house.

"He's up to something," Cersei muttered, her eyes scoffing as she drank. "He told me to trust the Starks." She laughed, the sound almost resembling a choke. "Surely whatever he's plotting, he believes it beyond the understanding of both his children."

Funny, Jaime thought, he'd said the same thing to him, going so far as to say how the older Stark girl was the best match young Tommen could hope for. He'd thought it merely a grudging acknowledgement of Stark honor, that Sansa wouldn't betray his only surviving grandson after their families had been at war, but Cersei's words made him wonder. It was known that Sansa Stark had been present at both the parley with Stannis before the city's gates, as well as the Great Council after. Most assumed practical reasons, the assurance of safety for the daughter of the man who championed Stannis's claim at the parley, and for the benefit of her own family at the Council. But though Tyrion held back on telling him the full story, it seemed as if the Stark girl had been the pivotal player during the Great Council, and nothing his own father said to him during the last moon disabused him of the notion. Yet there was nothing special about her in his eyes, chasing cats and playing children's games in the castle with Tommen and Stannis's daughter.

"I have to go."

"So soon," she asked bitterly.

"Father wants me with him before the King." He looked at her longingly. "It's not as if you've any reason to want me here."

She'd not touched him since his return, one hand less.

"You're right, I don't," she said indifferently, disappointing him again. "Go then."


"The Martells have accepted my invitation to the capital," the King began plainly, seated indifferently at the Small Council table below the Iron Throne, accompanied by only the smuggler and the witch. Jaime wondered if he felt ashamed in admitting to the rest of his council that he did, indeed, still need Lannister help. To his right, his father raised one eyebrow. "I'll tell Prince Oberyn the same thing I say to you now, behave, act civilly, as behooves your names as great lords and princes."

So the ghosts of fat Robert's Rebellion continue to haunt us.

"Your Grace, I've no quarrel nor any wish for quarrel with House Martell."

The King gave his father a look of concern, though they all knew that were trouble with the Martells to be instigated, it would not be from Tywin Lannister. Not in this decade, anyway.

"The Westerlands?"

"Few sightings of the Greyjoy Fleet, Your Grace." Tywin then turned to Jaime, encouraging his heir to continue as if he were a child, and not a grown man very much accustomed to the whims of kings and queens alike.

"It seems Balon Greyjoy is far more concerned with the fortunes of his son, with Robb Stark marching north. I'd be more worried about the daughter, Yara, except rather than assist her brother Winterfell, she decamped from there several fortnights ago."

"The last reports have her fleets roaming the waters by Torrhen's Square," Tywin finished.

"You're concerned she's better positioned to raid the Westerlands," Davos asked. The odd priestess contributed little, and Jaime wondered what her purpose was at the meeting. Probably to whisper poison into Stannis's ears after they'd all left.

"Or she remains to ferry the so called Prince of Winterfell back to Pyke, assuming he gains some sense and flees before Robb Stark arrives." He knew better than most the consequences of facing the boy they called the Young Wolf in battle.

The King stared at him, uncomfortable in his demeanor. "Has he told you?"

Was he referring to father?

"Told me what?"

"The White Walkers, the Army of the Dead?"

He glared at the King incredulously, at first attributing the king's mad words to his red priestess, except a glance at his father indicated that even Tywin Lannister treated the tales of children not as a joke.

"Until Your Grace sees fit to make his declaration across the realm," Tywin said, stepping in diplomatically, "I thought to keep my silence regarding the various...threats, to the realm, so as to not stir panic."

"This is something...Lady Melisandre sees?" It pained him to refer to the strange woman so officiously as a lady.

"Ned Stark's daughter," Stannis added.

"Lady Sansa sees the truth," the red priestess spoke for the first time, "that the games of the iron thrones between your lords and kings pale in comparison to the true war, that between life and death itself."

Vaguely aware that his jaw was dropped most stupidly, he looked around the room, the serious faces of the king, Davos Seaworth, and to his own father, who, were this a face of a man bluffing at cyvasse, it was the best bluff he'd ever seen in his life.

"It would seem the death of the girl's father has...blessed her with the ability to see things," his father admitted begrudgingly, "and know of things she should never know of."

"It's true then," Jaime asked dumbly. "The Great Council...that was Sansa Stark's council?"

Both Stannis and Tywin nodded grimly, and Jaime recognized that such men of such pride could never admit to such an embarrassing fact, unless it was absolutely the truth.

"You allowed a girl of four and ten to dictate the terms of peace and war and crown a king?"

"The realm needs to be strong and united for what lies ahead," Stannis offered, though it was clear even he seemed discomforted by the idea that he owed his crown to a little girl.

"Aerys's daughter lives," his father said of the man he'd once loved and they'd both served, "and she's acquired three dragons, which one day will grow as large as the Black Dread himself."

"The Stark girl saw this too?"

"Her testimony is confirmed by the King's own spymaster."

"His Grace can't turn his eyes north if he worries about strikes against his flank west," Davos said. Cersei had always pushed him to be Robert's Hand, a position he'd never wanted and thankfully never received, and Jaime wondered what she'd think of a crabber's son in what she thought once his rightful position. "We need to end the Greyjoy threat, take back the Iron Islands. Dorne can help, along with their ships."

"And for Dorne to help us, I need the wounds from my brother's rebellion settled and buried in the past, as it ought be."

"I suspect you'll find a more difficult sell in Prince Oberyn than I," father said, diplomatic once again, "but whatever I can do help in the matter, I will."

"Why didn't you tell me about the Stark girl," Jaime asked, as they walked back to their quarters in the Keep. Though the King had not named his father to his Small Council officially, it seemed he was keen to keep the Lannisters at the capital, if only to keep a close eye upon them.

"I feared you'd tell your sister."

"She'd never believe such stories anyway," Jaime muttered, "grumpkins and snarks marching south to King's Landing."

"The Starks and Lannisters need each other. And we both need the Baratheons now."

He turned a cautious eye at his father. Enemies to friends indeed. "You're plotting something. But with the Starks?"

Jaime understood as well he could the need for friends of convenience, though such games were much more his father's arena, but there was something in him that rebelled against aligning so closely with the family that had heaped scorn upon him for years...that had taken his brother and falsely accused him of murder.

"You don't like it," Tywin observed, "but you'll work with me. Unlike your sister."

He cocked his head, trying to absorb everything that was coming at him at once, stories of dragons, and white walkers, and Tywin Lannister walking in line with Ned Stark's son. When he spoke again, his voice was hushed, speaking as they were in the King's keep.

"You think Robb Stark will help you betray Stannis?"

His father seemed nearly amused by his question. "Not all Starks are the same."


Robb

"Blow the horns. Send forth the terms of surrender."

"My lord," Rickard Karstark grumbled, though he went forth nevertheless to accede his order. Few were happier with the peace than the old lord of Karhold, who'd whinged the entire ride north over the mercy shown by Stannis towards the Lannisters, and his own weakness in accepting the terms of the peace.

"You curse yer own name, denying your father the revenge he deserves, denying me the revenge I deserve."

"Many betrayed my father, but Joffrey alone was responsible for his death, and Joffrey is dead. As to your revenge, were every father to get his for the deaths of their sons and daughters in this war, we'd have no realm left."

"I care not for the realm. Don't lecture me, little lord, you allow your sister to remain in the capital, fed to stags and lions alike."

She'd survive them all, Robb had reckoned, ignoring his insult. And they'd be lucky if they survived her.

"The true enemy lies beyond the Wall, Lord Rickard," he insisted, and though he believed Sansa, he knew how difficult it was for a his lords to accept the idea of otherworldly monsters, however ingrained as they were in the North's lore, and he wondered if Stannis would have the same difficulty, when the time came to rally the realm. "If the Others cross south, Karhold will fall before Winterfell. You may be grateful of Tywin Lannister's bannermen then."

"Aye, I'll be grateful for Tywin in my halls, I'll take his head off myself, along with his sister-fuckin' sons."

"And violate his guest rights," Robb had asked, remembering how he could have once died, in his sister's last life.

"For revenge, aye," Rickard swore. "I'll go to the worst of their southern hells fer it."

His mother remained in Cerwyn's keep, only a few days ride south of Winterfell, along with Talisa, their babe growing steadily in her belly. Were it a boy, Talisa promised in front of his mother to name him Eddard, winning bits and pieces of her approval day by day. And who could resist her? Certainly not him, that much was proven.

He'd expected the banners of the Kraken flying over the walls of his home when he arrived one cloudy morning, but strangely enough the brick was plain. And when he sounded the horns it was not Theon who emerged, though Robb had little expected the man whom he once thought a brother to face him in parley, but that of old Maester Luwin, whom Robb breathed a sigh of relief for, along with a man he did not recognize, holding a dark cloth bag.

"Your Grace," his old maester said, addressing him by his old title, and though he saw relief in his eyes upon his return, Robb thought he discerned sadness also. "May I present Dagmer Cleftjaw of Pyke."

"Where is your Prince," Robb asked, a feeling of dread crawling up his spine at the expressions of the two men, one pained, the other near gloating.

As he suspected, the pirate held up the bag. "Here. The rest of him's in the castle. Fergive me yer grace, we followed him to war, but not a war of our choosing."

"You betrayed your own lord and prince," Robb asked, his heart boiling already, barely keeping his hand from his own sword to take off this traitor's head this instant.

"I offer him as a gift, yer grace, along with the return of yer castle."

"Take him," he yelled, his voice quivering, as his lords and bannermen seized the man immediately. "Take him and every man who betrayed Prince Theon."

"Yer grace," Dagmer protested, confused as he'd thought he'd done him a great favor.

"I'm not a king. If it's your heads you were hoping to save by your vile betrayal, know that none of you will keep yours by nightfall."

Once, Robb had sworn he'd cut Theon Greyjoy's head off by his own sword, after confronting him and asking him how he could betray the family that had sheltered him and loved him as one of their own for so many years. Sansa had been able to talk him down from his rage, and though his blood still simmered, he'd been content, maybe even relieved, by the thought of merely punishing Theon without having to kill him, understanding that the position of the man who was by fact a hostage of their family more difficult than he'd imagined. What would Sansa think now, that the only traitor from her past life she'd wished mercy for was dead? He wondered if they'd somehow come to love each other, in that awful first life of his sister's he could still barely comprehend.

Forgive me, Sansa. Your first charge, and I've failed you already.

Chapter Text

Stannis

"They say I'm as merciful as my brother," Stannis said, chewing his lips at the sight of the three lords prostrate before him. "I don't see mercy as a virtue. I see mercy as a tool. You all raised banners against me, first with my brother Renly, then with the usurper Joffrey. I can take your heads, and your lands, but creating new lords takes time and energy, neither of which I wish to waste."

"Your Grace," Mace Tyrell said, raising his head even has his knee remained bent, "whatever my actions the lords of the Reach did, they did in my name, following my lead. If you must take our heads, I ask you spare theirs for the sake of mine."

He had no wish to do so, having already met the Ladies Olenna and Margaery at Robb Stark's wedding, seeing the truth to the whispers that it was the women of House Tyrell who truly pulled its strings. Whatever Mace Tyrell said before him now, he did not doubt it was done at his mother's approval.

"Lords Paxter Redwyne, Leyton Hightower, your liege lord asks mercy your for houses. Do you swear loyalty to the crown and its true King?"

"We do, Your Grace," both lords answered in tandem.

"And you swear on your honor, on your blood, on the graves of your ancestors your fealty to my daughter Shireen, the true and rightful heir to the Iron Throne, just as you swear your fealty to me?"

"We do, Your Grace."

"Rise," he said, looking back at Lady Melisandre, standing wordlessly behind the proceedings as was her wont. "Your word is your bond, cursed be your houses and those who come after you if you break it."

"Your Grace," Leyton Hightower approached him even as Paxter and his own liege lord departed, and Stannis sighed, sensing what was about to come. The Old Man of the Hightower rarely left his manse, so for him to venture to the capital rather than send his son as an envoy portended more to him than just another profession of loyalty, sincere or not.

"Speak then."

"House Hightower has always been close to the Faith."

"House Hightower can keep the Faith close to House Hightower," Stannis rebutted, aware of Melisandre's eyes upon him more sternly as their words spoke of the gods she disapproved of. "Appoint your new High Septon in Oldtown, in the Starry Sept, whomever you wish, so long as they don't speak against the Crown, I won't interfere, but the King will keep whom he wishes to counsel him."

"Certainly, Your Grace," Leyton stammered, clearly not finished, and Stannis sensed that the Lady Melisandre had not been his area of concern. "I will add, Your Grace, you married before the Seven. Considering the matter of your heir...were the new High Septon amenable to a dissolution..."

"Selyse is my wife and your Queen," he replied violently. He'd expected protests about religion, but broaching such a subject was revealed far too much arrogance and presumption from the man, no matter how old or powerful his name. "Whatever gods I made them before, vows are vows, and I take my vows seriously."

Except the one time he did break his vows, before Renly's death.

"My King," Melisandre finally addressed him, though he imagined her eyes staring fire at the Lord of the Hightower even as she smiled at them both, "there are other matters that require your attention this afternoon."

He groaned in his mind, yet another confrontation he looked not forward to. Glaring at Leyton, he spoke as sternly as he could. "You're dismissed, Lord Leyton. Speak no more, to me, nor anyone, except your loyalty to your rightful Queen and her daughter, the rightful heir."

He bowed, and exited the throne room even as Roose Bolton entered, and Stannis imagined that Melisandre stared hungrily at the northerner. Dropping to his knees, Roose paid his respects but rose quickly to mount his dissension.

"Your Grace, I must protest, this seems an overreaction."

In the brief time he had known the man, this was the first time Stannis had seen his composure break, if slightly. As it should, radical as his pronouncement was.

"The decision is final. Your bastard burns."

"My son's actions," Roose hesitated, "I cannot defend. But the girl serves a traitor queen who tried usurping your own throne. Surely an agreement could be made."

"I need the Lannisters," Stannis muttered grimly. "The Lannisters hold the girl Bernadette in high regard, and her uncle Lord Gawen Westerling is one of the most powerful men in the west."

He half expected Roose Bolton to protest that he was one of the most powerful men in the North, but his Master of Coin knew better than to threaten a king. In all honesty, the man was more than competent, and Stannis wouldn't have minded his continued presence on the council as an adviser for years to come. But the girl had been right about the bastard, showing his sadistic tendencies not long after his arrival at the capital, which meant she was likely right about the father's treasonous heart also. Perhaps if he cultivated Roose Bolton with honors and titles, he'd never feel the need to betray him, but he'd made Robb Stark a promise.

"Your Grace, I'm most grateful your men arrived at the scene before...actions could have gotten worse. I'd have hoped it would allow my son a chance at a reprieve. The Great War is North, as you say, Your Grace, and the Wall would be..."

"I'll have no more of this," Stannis interrupted, because everything Roose was saying was correct. Traitor's servant or not, the beating, assault, and attempted rape of a lady was a severe crime, but men have been spared to the Wall for far worse. "He dishonors the Crown with his actions, and you dishonor your King with your protests."

"Your Grace," Roose said, bowing away, eyes hardened, and Stannis knew he'd made yet another enemy. But a deeper part of him understood this to be the price of his crown, no more or less than what happened with Renly, that his promise to Robb Stark was in truth a pledge to his sister, and it was to Sansa Stark whom he owed his uncontested crown to.

"You're betrothed to a Frey girl, aren't you?" How long would he have to wait, before Roose Bolton stuck a knife into his back? "You'll have new sons, trueborn ones at that."

He ought to keep consoling Roose, but that would require even more acting, and contrived words and facial expressions he did not mean. At a certain point, the problem would no longer be his own inability to act sincerely, but Roose's to see through his lies and sense the danger coming ahead for him.

"Then I'm thankful the King himself blesses our union," the Lord of the Dreadfort replied, thankfully giving way. Stannis wondered what his next move would be. Would he send ravens to the Freys? What threat could two lesser houses pose, now that the Kingdoms were united?

"When's he going to betray me," he asked Melisandre, "have the flames shown you that, or are they as useless as you are?"

He knew he ought not further antagonize the priestess, lest he tempt whatever gods or demons driving her, but what use was she, now that he held his throne and she less helpful than even the Spider in discerning these threats.

"I see treachery in his eyes," Melisandre replied, "yet patience. But you are a King, you may do with him as you please."

"I can't burn my Master of Coin with no cause," he replied wearily, wondering if her reasoning were magic or merely a street conjurer's trick. "Not even a crime of his own to hold a trial for. Look at the Mad King, look at the good that did him."

"My King," she said, walking up to him, floating her fingers over his shoulders, causing him to shudder even as he cursed his own lack of restraint, "you must remain strong, until the Long Night. Lords here and there promise you their loyalty, promise your daughter their loyalty, even as they seek to use you and the Princess for their own ends. How can you know they'll stand behind you, against the greatest enemy to man, unless you can be certain of their intents?"

"You think the realm will follow a tyrant, no matter the threat?" He wondered what lords and princes she had once advised in Essos. Weren't most of the cities in her own home continent ruled by councils and magisters? Why did she suddenly think that an Iron Throne here gave him leave from the need to politic or negotiate, unless she didn't know herself of such matters?

"Then lead the realm, my king. That is your destiny, is it not? Why else would the Lord of Light bestow the crown upon you, except to lead where others follow?"

"Sansa Stark gave me the crown," he forced himself to say, the first time his own voice ever admitted the shameful secret. "Call her here, ask her what I'm to do now."


Sansa

"Have you ever seen a man burn?"

"I haven't," Sansa admitted. Not in this life anyway, or even the last. She'd see thousands of dead burn, she'd burned thousands of the dead after the great battle, she'd heard word that her own sister burned, she'd then burned herself...but no, she'd never seen a living man burn before her eyes.

"I haven't either," Cersei admitted, slumped in her bed, head heavy with wine. With the maesters still caring for Bernadette, it would seem the former Queen needed her to take her handmaiden's place, humoring all her most savage and banal thoughts. "I'll look forward to it though. I imagine it's the closest I'll get to seeing the mysteries of the east, through the hymns of that red bitch."

Despite her slights against her once, Sansa felt sorry for Bernadette. No woman, nor man, deserved the full brunt of Ramsay's torments, though Sansa reasoned that the woman had suffered far less than she had, or Theon for the matter, the king's men keeping a close watch upon him and catching him before he could truly violate her in the worst way. She imagined without his hounds, he would have merely slit her throat after, and thrown her into the bay, thinking few would care for the disappearance of a traitor's servant.

"It's not something I'd wish upon most," Sansa said truthfully. "But the king's priestess needs to satisfy her red god. Better we find deserving kindling for her, so as to keep her satisfied."

"The entire realm, held hostage by a witch," the dowager Queen muttered, looking sharply at Sansa, eyes suddenly more sober than before. "Tell me, little bird, would you cry if I burned?"

Did you burn last time, when she destroyed the Red Keep? Or did you fall, or were you crushed?

"No child deserves to see his mother burnt," she answered, again somehow remaining honest.

She sneered at her response, but Cersei was not wrong. Sansa had wanted Stannis, she'd crowned Stannis, now she had to sit helplessly as the realm felt every whim of their new king, good and bad.

"I envy Tyrion," Cersei said grudgingly, anticipating her look of surprise. "He's a free man, free to drink and whore and roam about the Free Cities as he pleases."

And how soon would he find himself captive to his own fire demon? She remembered his tortured, terrified existence those last days. Even as the Half Man cursed his sister, testified how he feared and hated her, Sansa wondered how much he was unknowingly speaking of his own Queen he served. A thought occurred to her, that in this known world she was the only living human to have seen fully grown dragons. What made her so special or unique, to be the one burdened to devise their destruction?

"Lady Sansa." Both women jumped at the voice of Tywin Lannister, who did not even deign to acknowledge his own daughter. "The King seeks our counsel."

"Stannis?" Cersei asked, half rising from her bed. "You bring the wolf bitch and not your daughter?"

"Can you walk to the throne room without assistance?"

Without a word Cersei got up onto her feet, only to then stumble until she could hold on to a nearby chair for support. Feeling the shame of judgment, she fell back into her bed and curled up under her blankets, as if she were a truculent child sent to bed without her supper.

"My daughter," Tywin mumbled as they walked, "the golden lioness of Casterly Rock, the fairest princess in the land."

"She was a queen," Sansa said. "Now she's practically a hostage." Even as Tywin expressed to her his disdain of his own blood, she wondered how much of this was a test, a ploy for her to reveal her true feelings for the woman.

"So were you. Seems some do better in captivity than others."

I don't see what the Kingslayer sees in her.

Yet had she been much better than Cersei the first time, except she was far too young to take full solace in wine? Rather than reply, they walked uncomfortably in silence to the Throne Room, where Stannis awaited with the Red Woman and Davos, Sansa reckoning the council composed of now the only ones from her own Great Council who still remained in King's Landing, privy to the two great secrets.

"I've good news, Lady Stark, from Winterfell." Stannis began, after she and Tywin both were seated. As he addressed her directly, Sansa realized this was her first true and formal audience before the king she'd help crown since the council, the man barely bothering to speak to her afterwards, even during Robb's wedding.

"My brother's taken the castle," she asked.

The King nodded. "And he doesn't have to waste his sword on that Greyjoy whelp..."

Her jaw dropped, panic seizing her heart within half a breath. "Theon...what happened to him? Did he die? Did he give battle?"

You stupid boy!

Stannis regarded her with puzzlement. "His own men turned on him before the siege, to try and escape the Young Wolf's wrath."

As he continued to speak to the fate of Theon's murderers, Sansa felt the world collapsing down upon her. She'd planned for everything, thought everything out...but how could she have predicted something that never happened in the first place? Was there anything she could have even done to prevent this, except let her own mother and brother die as before?

Theon Greyjoy was a grown man. His choices were his own.

It was still a kinder fate, she fervently told herself, for him to die quickly, rather than suffer through years of Ramsay. Yet he died a scoundrel, a traitor, to be forever remembered as such, and not the good man she knew, not the good man he would know himself to be. Were the Gods of the south true, what cruel fate had she condemned him to, dying before he could truly repent of his sins?

"You're upset," Stannis asked.

"Forgive me, Your Grace," she said, marveling at how her voice barely wavered even as her heart revolted. "Theon betrayed my family, but he still grew up with us. Even with what he did, I still can't help but think of him as a brother."

"You're too merciful for your own good," Stannis said as he looked down at his own hands, uncomfortable in his seat at the sight of a girl suddenly in open mourning.

"A child's mercy saved the seven kingdoms from a horrible war," Davos said. "More of us ought to follow the Lady Sansa's example."

Looking up at her sullenly, Stannis spoke to her awkwardly. "My Hand is right. I won't mourn a traitor, but I'm sorry for your sorrow, for what it's worth." His mouth twitched as he set aside one scroll and picked up another. "You were right about the bastard. I'll burn the boy, as I promised your brother, leaving myself with an angry lord with a traitor's heart. If you were to speak of mercy for him, I don't know..."

"Did Lord Bolton protest your sentence," she interrupted, realizing only after she spoke her rudeness in interrupting the king. But at the mention of the Boltons, her heart swayed easily from sorrow to rage.

"He did," Stannis answered. "I'd expect any father to do the same."

"Call it treason, and burn father and son together," Sansa said coldly. The room looked at her in shock, understandably so, after she'd nearly cried at the news of Theon's death.

"She's a girl, a woman," Stannis said to Davos, who'd thought her gentle and merciful seconds earlier, only to suddenly see her crueler than Melisandre. "Their hearts are not...as measured as ours."

Even Tywin blinked at her remark, as Davos moved forward in his chair, in that sweet grandfatherly way, to speak to her as a child.

"My Lady Sansa, I'm afraid that's not how treason works. The King can't execute his lords on a whim, without cause."

"Roose Bolton's a traitor," Sansa spat, thinking of what his son had done to Theon, how unfair it was that both still lived while Theon lay already rotting in a grave. Would they even give him a proper burial, or burning?

"He hasn't committed treason yet," Davos said, his face pained.

"He has a traitor's heart."

"You'll judge and sentence an innocent man for the contents of his guilty heart?" Fittingly enough, the words came from Tywin Lannister.

That's exactly what I was sent back to do.

Theon's dead.

She had little room in her heart to contemplate the philosophic or legal definitions of innocence. An idea appeared to her.

"Lord Tywin, you've a traitor's heart too, have you not? Did you not already conspire with Roose Bolton and Walder Frey to murder my family?"

He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Girl as she was, unable to control a future as she was, having shown her supposed powers to all in the room, few would have reasons to doubt her, especially when she spoke the truth.

"It's the duty of a lord to maintain...diplomatic niceties with other great lords of the realm," Tywin answered, and Sansa knew this was as much of an admission of guilt as she'd ever receive from the man.

Smirking as she addressed the old lion, she wondered if she reminded him of his own daughter at this moment. "So if Roose Bolton sought you out for treason before, why not now? Why wouldn't he, spurned by the King, seeking revenge, seek out the loser of the last war and plot against the throne?"

"The girl's right," Stannis said, still speaking of her as if she were a girl. He turned to Tywin, his words an implicit threat. "Roose will approach you, sooner or later. I trust you'll relay to me whatever he says to you."

"Why wait?" When they didn't answer her, she continued. "Why let a traitor lay down his roots and plant his seeds?" She turned to Tywin. "Suppose you told the King in this very council that Roose Bolton already approached you. Perhaps...with your gold, he could hire an assassin from Braavos. In return, you take the throne, and make Roose Bolton your Hand and Warden of the North." Then to Stannis. "The word of a Great Lord such as Lord Tywin ought to be enough to condemn the man, is it not?"

The feeling came back to her, the dark, satisfying sensation of the most powerful men of the realm gawking at her in surprise, though this time, for a much different reason.

"You ask me to knowingly condemn a man based on an agreed upon lie," Stannis asked her, and she wondered if she'd crossed too far a line for the king. But it was too late now.

"Would you rather wait through years of uncertainty, Bolton knives at your back?"

To her relief, it was to Tywin the King turned to, and she hoped his decision was already made.

"Will you testify to this?"

"Your Grace," Davos protested, as she half expected him to in the back of her mind, even as the old lion gave his assent with a nod, "what kind of example do we set for the realm, what would this say about the King's justice?"

"It will say the King's justice is harsh but fair." He glared at his Hand, yet Sansa thought she saw pleading in his eyes. "None of what we discussed leaves this room. Treason will be punished, as it always has been. The Boltons will burn, the lords will see it just and reasonable, and we continue to prepare the realm against its true enemies."

"I serve the King," Tywin added. "By the standards of the girl's justice, I'm guilty too, I'd be a traitor, burning next to Roose Bolton. A lie to strengthen the realm is the least I can do, as restitution for the sins I did not commit."

She knew he'd agree, so long as Stannis did, because he needed to both prove his loyalty now to the king he meant to betray later, as well as his continued use to his new and unexpected ally. And Stannis, though he seemed a better man than she'd initially judged, she reckoned a man who'd murder his brother and burn his own daughter would be easily tempted by shortcuts to justice.

They all looked at Davos. "My Lady," he said, still softly, "I understand the visions you've seen must have been jarring indeed, and I've no doubt of your honesty. Yet, I must still protest the way we carry about the King's...but I serve His Grace at his pleasure."

Stannis looked at the Red Woman, silent yet clearly pleased with the results of the council, and Sansa wondered whether her powers had returned, whether she'd foreseen this in the fire...and if this, what else.

"You have your kingsblood then," Stannis said, "the Boltons used to be Kings in the North."

So were the Starks, she remembered. So were half the great houses of the realm once kings and queens in name and blood.


Though the maesters had yet to announce Autumn, it was a chilly night in King's Landing. The stakes were tied but empty, and Sansa observed the crowd which had gathered. At the front of the courtyard stood the Lady Melisandre, and she realized she'd never seen her eyes so light, yet dark, at the same time. As befitting her station these days, she stood with the Lannisters, Tommen to her left, Cersei to her right and past Cersei, Tywin himself, who looked no less glum than Tommen at his presence, though Sansa figured the old lion had no choice to be present at the execution of the man condemned by his word. The Kingslayer was absent however, even considering that it had been Roose Bolton's men who had taken his hand, and Sansa wondered that perhaps Jaime Lannister had less capacity for grudges personal to himself than she'd expected, certainly less than her.

The King arrived near last, followed by the two condemned men, escorted by members of Stannis's new Kingsguard. She thought she observed the same mad glint in Ramsay's eye, as if he were still the one about to do the torturing. Roose's eyes looked blank, like he was dead already, except when they walked him past the Lannister contingent. He glared angrily at Tywin first, almost as if he took his would be ally's betrayal personally, but then took note of her as well, perhaps unnerved by the raw hatred emanating at him from the young child sister of his liege lord.

"You don't have to watch this," Sansa whispered to Tommen, as they bound the two men against the wooden poles.

"He does," Cersei said contrarily from her other shoulder, "so he knows the lion still has claws."

"The boy cannot be sheltered from the horrors of the world forever," Tywin added, agreeing with his daughter, a subtle reminder to Sansa of her debt to the Lannisters, a debt grown after this day.

Both Boltons bound, the King walked over to the father, torch in hand, and Sansa wondered if he was going to set them alight himself.

"Any last words?" He asked this only to Roose, the bastard being below his attention seemingly.

For a moment the last Lord of the Dreadfort maintained his silent composure. When he spoke, it seemed a calculating decision, similar to every action Sansa had seen him take in each life.

"You take Tywin Lannister's word over mine. May it be your downfall."

Without any further hesitation, Stannis walked over to Melisandre, handing the torch to her, paying heed to her chanting only out of the corner of his eye as she set alight the straw beneath the feet of the condemned men. Even as she spoke to the Lannisters, her eyes never left Ramsay's, until he caught her intense stare.

This was me. I'm the one who burned you, I'm the one responsible. I want you to know that, as you burn. As you scream.

There was confusion in his eyes, mixing with hatred and glee, that somehow the hatred floating from her eyes to his fed his own ego, even on the brink of death. But whatever glee vanished quickly as the flames rose, both men screaming as she'd never heard them scream before. She savored each second of the ceremony, remembering the suffering they'd put her family through, remembering the suffering he'd put her through, and all of Theon's unspeakable pain. When her eyes found the Red Woman's, she witnessed a similar dance in her orbs, and imagined that they both felt the same pleasure, albeit for entirely different reasons.

But even as she savored the moment, she felt Tommen's apprehension beside her, and cradled one arm around his shoulders. With each scream louder than the last, she felt him clutching closer and closer against her, tempering her enjoyment of the moment, knowing how brutal this must be for the young man to witness.

"It'll be over soon," she whispered. To her right, she saw a satisfaction in Cersei's eyes similar to hers, though Tywin remained passive as usual, as if the burnings marked just another day in Casterly Rock.

Slowly, the screams waned. When they died, the Bolton name died with them.

She heard a whisper from Cersei. "Are you happy?"

"Justice was served," she replied simply, wondering if she'd reverted to her old habits of lying poorly.

"It was your justice, don't deny your part in it."

"Pardon?"

"An audience before the King, alongside my father, who'd take the Stark girl, rather than his own daughter?" Cersei motioned her head over towards Melisandre. "Do you take me for a fool? You practically run Stannis's court now, along with that witch."

Beside her, Tywin listened to them both, one eyebrow slightly raised, though he seemed more intent to study the crowd of the few lords gathered witnessing the execution.

"The Boltons are my brother's lords," she said plainly, trying to think of a way to escape Cersei's interrogations.

"I don't care about the Boltons," she spat back at her, before looking at her own father. "Just know that I know." She turned swiftly to leave, leaving even her son in the arms of the wolf.


Tyrion

He was getting sick of riding. His legs were sick of riding. His hips, his head, his chest. Next to him, Shae was no less exhausted, though she seemed happier at him, as the all the riding took away from his drink, while the sun was up at least. Even Loras Tyrell seemed worse for wear, though Tyrion figured that the young knight's excursions in Westeros were always in the fertile lands of the Reach, rather than the barren wastes of Essos.

"To think," he said to the Knight of Flowers, "you twats used to do this for fun, for sport at the tourneys. Whomever threw the tournies has never had to ride from Pentos to Yunkai."

"Better this than ship," Loras replied, his mane looking the least impressive as Tyrion had ever seen. "I threw up on the entire trip across the Narrow Sea."

"Word is, Stannis gave nearly every lord who opposed him a pardon," Tyrion said, "even my father. You could be doing a different kind of riding right now, back in Highgarden."

Loras spat off his horse. "I'll return to Westeros for one reason and one reason only."

He had to admire his resolve, something he'd never imagined out of the fairest of all Robert's knights. Loras had recalled during their journey that Catelyn Stark had once called him a summer child, or some northern slang of the sort, but whatever child Loras Tyrell was then, it was a hardened man who accompanied him, who survived with him the hazards along the road to Slaver's Bay. He himself was riding to Yunkai more out of curiosity than anything else, to meet this girl Varys found so intriguing, and Tyrion wondered whether he'd feel the same zeal as Loras Tyrell were someone he loved, such as Shae, killed by his enemies.

"Yunkai is where they train the bed-slaves," Shae remarked as they approached the yellow gates of the city. She looked humorously at Tyrion. "Maybe you could learn some things from them."

Tyrion laughed, thankful at least for the exile rescuing her from the clutches of his sister and father.

"I wouldn't speak too favorably towards the slave masters in front of this Targaryen girl," Tyrion said, remembering the missives Varys had sent to their small group one way or the other, at least once a fortnight on their ride east. "Apparently she's very keen on freeing slaves and killing masters."

"Good," Shae said. "Sounds like my kind of Queen."

"Careful," he replied, "you might end up Daenerys's Hand. Not a fun job, of that I can promise you."

"I thought you were hoping for that position," Loras said wryly.

"You may be right," Tyrion said. He'd taken a liking towards this young man, never having thought him capable of making the hard journey to Slaver's Bay. "If I get in too deep, remind me of these words I warn myself with today. 'Tyrion, your ambition will be the death of you.'"

They gained an audience easily, thanks to whatever strings Varys managed to pull still half a world away. Walking inside golden pyramid, he saw Loras admiring the intricate walls, statuettes, and carvings.

"They say the Great Pyramid in Mereen is twice as tall," Tyrion said. They'd ridden past the outskirts of that city on their way to Yunkai. "You'll see it soon, I bet. Word is they're next on her list."

"List?" Loras looked down at him, puzzled.

"Qarth. Astapor. Yunkai. Mereen. Westeros."

"Can we skip to the last," Loras asked, half a smirk, half serious.

It was a striking sight, the last Targaryen seated upon a throne, a much grander sight than Joffrey or Robert. His sister had thought herself in love with the gallant Prince Rhaegar, and Tyrion imagined this last daughter of the Mad King the doomed Prince in female form. He recognized Barristan Selmy next to her, as well as a grizzled man he did not recognize.

"Lord Tyrion," the woman they called the Dragon Queen said as they came to a stop below the steps of her throne. "I've been expecting your arrival."

"You have," Tyrion asked, wondering just how much Varys had told her of him.

"Your family betrayed House Targaryen. I dreamt you would come east, to make amends for the sins of your father and brother." Squinting her eyes in thought, she studied him, as if he were more flawed, more misshapen, than she'd expected. "Though your arrival today seems different."

"Different," he asked. "How so?"

"I dreamt it happened not here, but the Great Pyramid of Mereen." Taking a deep breath, it seemed as her voice trembled as she spoke. "I dreamt you were accompanied by Ser Jorah, yet he stands next to me here, and a strange young boy stands next to you."

"The strange young boy next to me is Ser Loras Tyrell," Tyrion answered, "the famed Knight of Flowers, and sworn enemy of Stannis of House Baratheon, First of his Name." Blinking, he thought of the city he'd come from, and another strange young girl, with strange dreams. Despite himself, curiosity got the better of him. "I must ask, Queen Daenerys, what else have you dreamed of?"

She frowned, as if troubled by a bad memory. "Betrayal," she said, her voice a hint darker. "Treason."

"By me?"

The Dragon Queen shook her head. "A woman. A wolf, with red hair. A man...a crow...a false dragon." Her eyes lightened, though it seemed to strain her to do so. "My apologies, Lord Tyrion, I need not trouble you with my dreams, not yet. Ser Jorah, please see our guests to their quarters. We'll have much to speak of in the days to come."

As they followed Jeor Mormont's exiled son through the hallways of the Pyramid, Tyrion wondered about the Dragon Queen's remarks about a crow, or the false dragon. The wolf with red hair, however, he had a good idea whom she spoke of, and wondered if this was a particular curse of the gods, to pass him from one strange girl to another.

Chapter Text

Sansa

"You're squeezing your fingers too tightly. Let them dance with the needle and the thread."

Watching Shireen as the girl completed a simple floral pattern, Sansa couldn't help be feel a sense of motherly pride, the Queen apparently having felt little obligation in teaching her daughter simple skills such as needlework back on Dragonstone.

"It's beautiful," she said warmly.

"Thanks," Shireen replied bashfully. "It's nothing like the dresses you make though."

"But you've read ten times the books than I, so I think we're even." She sensed there was something Shireen wanted to ask, but was holding herself back from. "Do you not like sewing?"

"I do," Shireen responded, looking downwards, away from Sansa. "I just...it's taking so long for me to learn. I'll be sewing the same simple patterns forever before I get better."

"Every skill takes patience." Funnily enough, the girl seemed to remind her of Arya at the moment, and Sansa wondered if her sister had made it to Braavos yet. And a part of her feared for her. If Theon could die, once she'd changed things...what about Arya? "Is there something in mind you want me to show you?"

"Animals," the Princess replied immediately. "I want to be able to thread stags and wolves...," she bit her lips nervously, "and a lion, maybe."

Sansa leaned in conspiratorially, holding back an amused giggle. "You want to make something for Tommen, don't you?"

The younger girl pretended to shrug indifferently, but Sansa could tell she'd hit at the truth. "He loved those golden robes you made for him so much...the way he looked at you..." Shireen stopped, sensing she was crossing a fine line.

Softly, Sansa put her hand on the girl's wrist, Shireen's hand still holding her needle. "Shireen, he doesn't like you any less, just because you can't make him clothes."

"It's not the clothes," Shireen said, sighing. "Even if I could thread as well as you...he'll never look at me, not the way he looks at you." Absentmindedly, perhaps unknowingly, she fondled the half of her face afflicted by the disease with her own free hand. Suddenly realizing her breach of etiquette, she looked back in horror at Sansa apologetically. "Not that he should look at me in any way...you're his betrothed, after all."

You love Tommen.

If only we could both get what we want. You, Tommen. Me, home. Freedom.

"Shireen," she said carefully. "Tommen is a kind young man. He's obedient and dutiful, all the things his brother isn't. He...he likes me because he's supposed to like me, because we are betrothed. Were it the other, and you and he to marry, he'd see you the same way he sees me now."

For many, this would be a lie, yet Sansa sensed she was speaking the truth about Tommen.

"He wouldn't," Shireen said, touching her face again, this time more obviously.

"You know Tommen," Sansa replied, conscious as she always was about the Princess's worst insecurity. "Do you really think that would make him think any differently of you? Does he see you any differently now, because of it?"

"I don't know," Shireen muttered, her fingers fiddling nervously as she thought through her words. "He's still a man, isn't he. And men...they like what they like."

"Tommen's better than most men though...that's why you're...fond...of him."

"I'll never be you though," the girl said bravely, looking Sansa in her eyes. "Tall, beautiful, graceful...clean."

"Shireen, don't say that about yourself."

"But it's true," she protested more vehemently, "we both know it. And you're...you're different. I know you play with us, and you pretend you're like us...but you're different when you're with...them. When you're the real you." She gestured with her hand, meaning clearly all the grown lords and ladies and kings Sansa spent the rest of her time with, and she wondered how much she'd heard from her father, or had Shireen figured out all this on her own, smart girl as she was. "He loves you, because you're beautiful and perfect...and because you're different, you're everything he could ever dream of, yet you have to pretend to play with us and like us."

"I don't pretend to like you or Tommen," Sansa said, sincerely, or so she thought...did she not sound as sincere as she believed? "I truly do enjoy spending time with the two of you. Far more than anyone else in the castle."

Yet, she enjoyed her part in the other games, didn't she?

"And I don't think Tommen loves me," she continued, thinking of how she'd once thought she loved Joffrey. "He thinks he loves me, because he's supposed to love me..."

"And because you're easy to love."

Oh poor girl, you're so far from the truth.

"You're so easy to love too, dear Shireen," she replied, holding the girl's face in her hand. "Any boy or young lad who doesn't see that is blind." Sighing, finding the Shireen was doubting her, Sansa continued. "Your father loves you, Shireen. He'd never allow you to marry Tommen, because of...politics. But I know he'll find a good match for you. Someone kind, and gentle, and brave. Someone who will love you for you, and not your birthright, not your throne. And one day you'll sit in that chair, and every lord and prince and knight in the realm is going to look up at you in admiration, and seek your hand, except you already have a man you love sitting beside you, loving you and supporting you."

Unless I ruin it all for you.

"I'd like you to sit beside me too," Shireen said, thankfully somewhat soothed by her words. "I don't want to be Queen, I don't want to rule. But I think I'd be a better queen with you next to me. I'd even name you my Hand. And maybe Tommen can be Master of Laws, or whatever...he'd sit on my Small Council, and we can all rule the seven kingdoms together, and be together, just like we are now."

"I'd like that too," Sansa said. She didn't lie, because she didn't need to lie, it would be something she'd like. She wanted to go home first and foremost, and stay home forever, and stay with her family...but didn't mean she hadn't come to appreciate her new friendships here in this new and different court in King's Landing her second life here.

"Shireen...," they both heard the King say from outside the room. Walking in, he stumbled, not expecting to see Sansa with his daughter. "Lady Sansa," he said, looking away from her as he always did in her presence, "I was actually looking for you earlier."

"Your Grace," she bowed.

"The solar," he said. "Half an hour."

So she left the King with his daughter, wondering what Stannis wanted from her. As always, she thought of the Red Lady, and whether her fire god had finally revealed to her the treasonous plots between certain Lannisters and certain Starks, below the King's own nose. But Stannis did not seem angry when he entered, merely uneasy, as he always was around her, or anyone for the matter.

"Lady Sansa. I thank you for your...help with the Boltons."

"It's my duty," she replied warily in turn, "to do whatever I can to help the king."

"But you wanted them dead for yourself too," he said, with a sudden and unexpected intensity. "I saw your eyes, when they burned, when you convinced us of your...method of guilt." He paused, unsure of how to continue. "Whatever you've seen...in your visions...you must have felt them. Deeply."

"I have," Sansa replied cautiously, wondering how close he was at discovering her truth.

"My daughter thinks you a playmate of hers," he said. "But you're not, are you? Whatever you've seen...it's made you...not a child anymore."

"It'd be difficult," she said, parsing through every word, "to have seen what I've seen and still retain a child's mind."

This time it was Stannis who appeared the more apprehensive. "You said...you saw me burning her. For the sake of this awful throne?"

She'd told them as such during the council, to convince them of the breadth and depth of her visions. Now the words come back to haunt them both.

"It won't come to pass," she replied, doing her best to assure a king. "Not after what's happened."

"I never wanted this throne. To think...," he stopped, cocking his head as he looked at her. "I love her, Lady Sansa. She's the only child I'll ever have. I don't deserve her, especially not after knowing what you've seen, but I love her anyway. And she deserves better than the Iron Throne, but to sit on it's her duty, as it is mine."

He stopped, unable to continue, eyes brimming with hurt and guilt.

Whatever drove you to burn her...it must have been so awful, wasn't it, between the Wall and Ramsay? All for this awful chair. It made her feel sorry for the man, to think him less cold, less cruel...less worthy of her betrayal.

"You fear the throne will destroy her?"

Stannis looked up. "No. I fear the lords will destroy her, the same lords pledging their swords to me now. They'll never accept a woman on the throne, regardless of law, regardless of what they promise me while I breath. They'll rip her apart, when I'm gone." When his eyes met hers again, they seemed to be pleading. "She likes you. She trusts you. I need you to help her...as you've helped me...when the time comes."

"I can't help her," she said immediately, to the King's consternation. Controlling herself, she thought of the best way to extricate herself from this position. "You're the King, Your Grace. You're the one who has to build the world she inherits. You're the one who needs to inspire respect and fear into all the lords, to know which ones to trust and which ones to discard, as you did the Boltons, so that the realm Shireen inherits doesn't destroy her immediately. I swear, I will do what I can to help her, when she does sit on the throne. But I can't secure the realm before she rules...not before her king and father."

Somehow, she managed to speak as before, without lying outright. Until Stannis spoke again.

"Then help me, my lady. If you...get any new visions...such as who's disloyal, or who she'd ought to marry...I beg you, tell me."

Before, she'd been resentful that the new King had used her then discarded her. Now, she wished she were still wallpaper to Shireen's father.

"You need to marry her to a house lacking ambition, true to their word."

Stannis chuckled appreciatively. "You're recommending your own family, aren't you?"

"I won't lie and say I'm without bias, and I won't lie and say I believe my brothers would ever seek to rip the throne away from her. Rickon could be a good match." But Rickon was still young, wasn't he? In her last life, as in this, Rickon was little more than a stranger to her, the man he'd yet to grow into now, the man he'd never had a chance to grow into before. "You shouldn't trust the Lannisters, obviously, or even the Tyrells. But you shouldn't trust a minor house either, just because they're weak, because they'll seek to use your name and hers to augment their power. Look at the Boltons or Freys, or even Baelish, how they strive unscrupulously beyond their station."

"Trust no one but the Starks," Stannis asked, cynically, and hopefully.

She had to remain impartial, because she may still betray him one day.

May. Are you no longer so certain of your alliance with the Lannisters?

"Dorne," she said, remembering. "They're accustomed to a woman's rule. Prince Trystane is already betrothed, but maybe another Martell relation, or a Yronwood, or Dayne."

"I've thought of them too," Stannis agreed. "I know little of the Dornish houses, they've never been on the best of terms with Storm's End." He stood, looking more satisfied now than at the beginning of their conversation. He continued, as if more talking to himself. "It makes good relations with Prince Oberyn more important, once he arrives. The realm's the strongest when Dorne and the throne stand together."

Without even dismissing her, the King rose and paced the room, likely contemplating many of his many problems. When he arrived at a stop, it seemed he'd made a decision.

"Lady Sansa, we ride west the next moon, to put an end to Balon's rebellion. Many of the greatest houses in the realm will fight with me, to prove me their loyalty after the last war. I'd like you to come with me, you can stay at Casterly Rock, I'm sure Lord Tywin won't object. Perhaps...your presence near so many of the Princess's future subjects may spur...more of your...visions."

I'm out of visions, she thought. But she sensed that Stannis suspected that also. And that he didn't want her along for her supernatural abilities...but her natural ones, the ones that drove her to hate herself at night.

"I'm not sure what use I'll be," she demurred, "but where I can help, I will."

He may very well appoint me to his Small Council before I reach my majority, she thought, as she walked back to her own quarters. A darker thought occurred to her. And what better place to betray a King from?


Tyrion

Crucifixion was a bloody terrible business, Tyrion reckoned, and it was a good thing the Targaryens of old preferred fire to this form of blood. He could only hope that the Targaryen of new did not dwell too much upon the punishment, her use of it upon taking Mereen merely a one time measure, justified as it was harsh, as even Barristan Selmy concurred at the end. He had to admit the ingenuity of the siege, which resulted in few casualties. For her side, anyway. As Barriston, the dourer of the Mormonts, and the sellsword Daario gave way grudgingly for his audience, he wondered if this was to be his side as well, in the days to come.

"Lord Tyrion," she welcomed him from atop the Great Pyramid, her voice warmer to him than before, "see before you a great city, freed from tyranny."

"It's an impressive sight," he admitted. The cities of the east were certainly grander things than the ones in Westeros, including the cesspool he'd ruled for what seemed barely half a moon. "Though I venture Your Grace would prefer to look upon King's Landing from above."

The Dragon Queen regarded him curiosity, as if he were a toy, but she the kindest owner of the toy. She was a small woman, short, barely towering above his own brow, though Tyrion knew better than to judge anyone on stature alone. They said the Targaryens of old were gods amongst men, the best of them at least, and though most men and even women towered over her, in her presence Tyrion could not entirely deny those rumors of godliness, and not just for reasons of appearance.

"You liked the crucification of the masters little more than Ser Barristan," she said stately. "Have you decided whether you'll join me when I make my return to Westeros?"

"Will you kill me if I don't?"

A pause, but enough of a humorous glint in her eye to tell him her hesitation was for show, rather than meant in seriousness. "It's a large world, Lord Tyrion. I can't vouch for your safety were you to leave Mereen...but I won't stop you either."

"Hmmph," Tyrion muttered, walking freely through the chambers for the nearest jug of wine. She did not protest when he poured himself a glass, and accepted one for herself when he offered it. "What thought have you given to Ser Loras?"

"He's eager to serve in my Queensguard," she said, not giving anything away.

"Yet you're not sold on him."

"I need men of talent," she said carefully, "and the Knight of Flowers is talented. He's young. Rather handsome, and his name carries weight across the seven kingdoms."

"And I'm old, rather ugly, though my name also carries weight across the seven kingdoms." They regarded one another, more as curious beasts sniffing out the other than the highborn lords and ladies they were. "Yet you call me here before Ser Loras, to ask me for my service."

"I ask nothing," Daenerys replied defensively. "And how do you know Ser Loras was not here before you?"

"I just do," Tyrion replied, grinning purposefully. "I drink, and I know things."

To his happiness, dare he say, the Dragon Queen smiled in return. "Your counsel will be most useful. And I would wish to avail myself of it." She frowned. "Ser Loras...he's a good fighter, but I already have thousands of great fighters in my stead. And all the things you said...he's young, he's handsome, his name is grand..."

"You fear he'd pose a threat to you?" He took a stiff swallow to finish his first glass, and steadily poured himself another.

"Many would wish to claim me as their queen, not least of which from the Great Houses. You at least have yourself a woman, Lord Tyrion, whom you appear to love. A good, jealous woman who appears to love you enough to slit your throat were you ever to presume to claim me as your own."

"You claim you wish my counsel, Your Grace. Allow me to counsel you?" A subtle nod, indicating he ought continue. "You think to remain in Mereen, to learn how to rule before you sail west...a wise choice. As to a possible alliance of marriage with the Knight of Flowers...also not the worst idea."

Her eyes seem to darken as she narrowed them at him. "Explain."

"He has a great name, the best out there, unless there's some hidden Targaryen flying around the realm we know not of. Yet he's not ambitious, he has no wish for the Iron Throne."

"I get it. He wants revenge. And if he can bed a Queen in the process, while he uses her for his own bloody ends..."

"Your Grace...I think it's he who would wish to be bedded as a Queen, had Renly Baratheon lived and won the war."

A curious frown, and then understanding. "He..."

"He will never lust for you, Your Grace. And you need not love him, except you can know with confidence he has no need of your love for him. Take whomever you wish to your chambers, or don't. As to Ser Loras, he'll do his duty, I'm sure, to produce an heir..."

"There won't be an heir," Daenerys replied, her voice sharper and quicker than he'd expected. Now his turn for confusion, she continued. "I can't have children."

"You're sure?" It seemed odd, for the young woman to pursue the continuation of a dynasty she knew would die with her.

"I am. It's a long story, perhaps one day I'll tell it to you, as you counsel me."

The smile returned, warm again...the same smile which he saw inspiring a hardened knight like Barristan Selmy...the same smile he reckoned both Jorah Mormont and the sellsword Daario to be in love with.

"It's strange," she said, almost to herself, "I've never dreamed of him, your Knight of Flowers."

He gulped. "What have you dreamed of, Your Grace?" He'd been wanting to broach this subject with her since his arrival at Yunkai, and dreading it at the same time.

"I dream things that come true," she said simply. "I dreamed my eggs would hatch into dragons, and they did. I dreamed I'd take the three cities of Slaver's Bay, and so I have."

"And so you have," he agreed. With fire and blood.

Her voice hushed some. "I dreamed I was being betrayed by Ser Jorah. I confronted him, he confessed and begged my forgiveness."

"And you forgave him?"

"It was in the past," the Dragon girl said, though he could tell there remained some remnant of the hurt in her eye. "I believe him, he still has my trust, more than most." She approached him calmly, her small steps somehow more formidable than most. "Don't betray me, Lord Tyrion. I may yet dream of it."

"Your Grace," Tyrion replied, head bowing in some sort of reverence, "were I to counsel you, I would pledge to you my word, my life, my honor."

"Your honor as a Lannister?"

"My honor as Tyrion Lannister." His glass was empty, and the jug seemed so far away at the moment. "You said you dreamed of others who betrayed you? A red wolf? A crow?"

She turned away from him, almost as she were brooding, walking to the edge of the top balcony of the pyramid. He thought for a moment that he'd crossed too far a line, that his audience with her was finished because of his words.

When she spoke, it emerged as a whisper. "I loved him, the man who wore a crow's cloak. Yet he killed me, he stabbed me in the heart, even as he claimed to love me, and kissed me." When he had no response, she spun around to face him. "He betrayed me. And the girl with red hair, a wolf's emblem upon her chest. I don't know how, or why...I just know she betrayed me also."

He shuddered, and she recognized the reason for his alarm.

"You know who they are?"

He turned. "Your Grace, I should leave."

"Tell me," she said, her words as commanding as any he'd heard from King Robert, or his own father.

"Your Grace...," he paused, stumbling for words for once. "The crow man, I know not."

"But the girl."

A wolf with red hair? She'd figure it out sooner or later, the moment she lands her dragons in Westeros. And couldn't he better help Sansa by Daenerys's side, to temper her inevitable wrath, justified or not?

"She's an innocent girl, harmed and made to suffer by my own family," he said carefully, looking down below, where hundreds of masters rotted, alive yet dead all the same, nailed upon the crosses. Yet, just how innocent was she? "You have to promise me, you won't judge her for the sins she's yet to commit...sins she may never commit."

"You like this girl," Daenerys said. "Or you feel guilty for her mistreatment?"

"Perhaps both," he replied.

"I'm not my father," she said, looking upon the floor, her eyes guilty herself as she made her candid confession. "I know he was evil, he did evil things...that he deserved his end, dying by the hands of traitors. I aim to sail to Westeros not to seek revenge, but to correct his sins. I won't punish the innocent, Lord Tyrion. I won't further sully the Targaryen name in the seven kingdoms like my father...and brother did."

"Sansa Stark," he uttered, so quickly that he wondered whether he'd been bursting to confess her this the moment he heard of her dreams.

"Ned Stark's daughter?" Daenerys seemed confused. "She's...she's just a girl, isn't she? I thought Starks were dark of hair."

"She has her mother's Tully mane," Tyrion replied, fervently hoping he hadn't just condemned the girl whom he suspected had more to do with his exile than she would claim. "A clever one, but decent, and kind, and a child at that," he added hastily. Or so she had been, when he first visited Winterfell, or so they said of her before she started seeing her visions.

"You know her well." It was a statement rather than a question.

"Passingly the first time. A bit more during Stannis's siege."

Of her abilities, he spoke not of, lest he give the Dragon girl more reason to fear Sansa.

When she spoke again, her violet eyes were more hardened than before, and he saw her grip tightly her goblet. "Then counsel me, Lord Tyrion, and lead me to Westeros, and keep her from committing treason against me, so as to keep her innocent and not deserving of the Queen's justice."

Chapter Text

Sansa

"Robb!"

Somehow a year had passed since she'd seen her brother last, her company taken up more with Lannisters and Baratheons in the meantime. Another year. Another year south, away from home. And Casterly Rock was the last place she'd expected for their reunion.

"Sansa!" They hugged, and Robb's eyes were apologetic immediately. "I'm sorry about Theon."

She shook her head, not wishing to think further about Theon, how he'd died twice, and how she never even had a chance to see him this time around. "There was nothing you could've done...I could've...I should've been more prepared..."

"You're right, sister," he said, hugging her harder. "There's nothing you could've done either. You can't save everyone."

"I know," she agreed, fighting herself from tearing up all over again. "And I don't want to save everyone." Only the ones I care about, she wanted to add, but didn't.

A smile struggled to grow on her brother's face. "I've some good news, at least."

She wondered what it could be. Surely something concerning one of her brothers. Bran. Rickon. Or Jon.

"Rickon," Robb answered. "He's returned, the wildling girl Osha brought him back after they heard we...after we won the battle."

"Thank the gods," she said, a rare prayer for her, "he never had to meet Ramsay this time."

"She said the last time they saw Bran, he was going north with Hodor and Howland Reed's children." He looked uncertain again, obviously less comfortable with the idea of leaving their more vulnerable brother in many ways to the many hazards of the savage lands.

"You have to trust them," she answered, more confidently than she felt herself. "This is Bran's destiny, he needs to become...something else...before the war against the dead."

Once Bran gained his talents, she wondered if he would know, about their shared past life, the last two surviving Starks, until Daenerys had her burned alive.

"Come," she said eagerly, reaching for Robb's hand, "I'll show you the castle."

"You've taken a liking to it," he asked her, half humorously.

"Surprisingly, there's not a grumpkin or troll in every room." She'd been here for more than two moons now, observing each lord as they passed through the seat of the west on the way to the Iron Islands. They hadn't invited her to the war councils, which she'd half expected, but she had a good idea of what had been discussed through the mouths of either Tywin, the Red Woman, or the King himself, depending on which ones sought her out later that night, all hoping for a burst of prophecy from a girl who was fast running out of foresight. Her only suggestion had been to seek the assistance of the Lord of Winterfell, if out of her own selfishness to see her brother again.

"Lord Stark," a deep voice echoed through the Great Hall as they meandered through, belonging to the old lord of Oldtown, Leyton Hightower. "I was hoping you'd not miss out on this war."

"Lord Hightower," Robb recognized from the sigil on the man's vest, "it's a long ride from Winterfell, and most of my bannermen are busy preparing for winter." The two men studied each other, sizing up the other's strength, seeing if they could outpiss the other, Sansa figured.

Once the King and the Lannisters departed, the castle had been much quieter. As in King's Landing, she had the company of Tommen and his mother, observing them sullenly from a distance. Shireen had accompanied them on the ride west, but Stannis had taken her along with the Red Woman to the Iron Islands, the King insisting that his heir bear witness to wars she may one day have to lead. Sansa missed the girl, and she half envied her. Though she didn't mind Tommen's company, obviously infatuated with her as he was now, left alone in Casterly Rock with strange lords like Leyton Hightower left her not just bored, but wary.

"You'll sail soon to join the siege, I'd imagine?" He looked Robb in the eyes and spoke to him as if he were the only one present, as if his lady sister did not exist, or stood invisible next to him. It was better, the determination to ignore her by men like Leyton and Randyll Tarly, she figured, than other lords such as Alester Florent and Harwood Fell, who did nothing but leer at her in their stay, making bawdy remarks they thought too clever for the girl to understand.

"I hear His Grace has taken Pebbleton."

"You approve," Leyton asked the Young Wolf. Arrogant as he was, young as Robb was, Sansa could tell the man near admired her brother for his martial prowess and reputation from the last war.

"It's an unexpected move, with the Greyjoy fleet occupied in defending Pyke," Robb said thoughtfully, "and it's a good base for the coming siege. I would only worry about an attack on their rear from Gorald Goodbrother, particularly when the King's armies are split in half while crossing for Pyke."

"You've won your share of battles," Leyton replied, surly but respectful. "So has the King. The realm's men far outnumber those bloody pirates. Sail north at once, Lord Stark, and you can ensure the King does not remain at the disadvantage." The old man clasped Robb's shoulder, more warmly than before. "It'll be a good thing, the realm's best men fighting together, for once. This will be a nice little war for all of us."

"The Northmen will be the first to land on Pyke," Robb confided in her when they were alone again, walking along the walls of the castle overlooking Tommen's beloved ocean waves.

"Ferried by Prince Oberyn's ships," she added quickly, to her brother's surprise. Apparently he'd not known of her newly gained trust of the King. And Tywin Lannister, though she'd kept that from Robb on purpose. "It's a risky proposition, but Stannis believes it a mark of honor. He trusts your abilities, more than most of his own southern lords."

But she still worried. While she'd advocated for Robb's presence selfishly, she had not expected him to bear the initial brunt of the siege, and though she trusted her brother's prowess with a sword, and his bannermen's swords to protect him, she worried, for what was the greatest skill or ability against the coin flip of a skilled archer and his mark?

"Stannis shares his war plans with you now?" An appreciative smirk, his way of conveying to her that he did not question whatever place she had with the new King. "Or are the plans completely yours?"

"Jon was the military planner in my last life," she answered, wondering how long before she could safely see her brother again, once he gained his rightful position at the Wall. "I pick up some details here and there. Mostly Stannis wants me to keep an eye on his lords, whom he can trust, whom he can't." She smiled. "It gives me something to do."

Robb laughed, pretending to shudder. "I dread what a bored Sansa Stark is capable of." He looked around, to see if any other lords or servants were in earshot. "So who can the king trust, or mistrust?"

"So eager to enter the fray of southern politics?" She asked this good-naturedly, but a corner of her still felt the dread, that some subjects were better kept away from Stark men.

"Not really," Robb replied. "I just want to know this sister of mine, how she thinks."

"Certainly not the Lannisters," she started, keeping the front and the secret from her own brother, though she and Tywin had conversed little since leaving King's Landing. It would seem suspicious for her and the Lannister lord to be seen whispering in corners with each other, and truly it was to their collective benefit to support the king and keep his reign strong for the time being. "Not old Leyton Hightower either."

"Why not?"

"He ignores me," she said, trying not to sound petty. "It's not about me, it's about Shireen. Lord Leyton voices his support for the King's heir so loudly it sounds like he's protesting, but I told Stannis, the way his lords treat her fellow highborn ladies at court will tell him how they'd honestly view the idea of a woman on the throne once he's gone."

Robb frowned as he followed her thinking. "Most men don't know who you truly are, and won't think to pay heed to you. You can't blame them for being, well...normal."

"Then most men won't support the claim of a shy girl upon the Iron Throne, when she herself doesn't truly want it. There's a reason no woman has ever reigned uncontested. For Shireen to rule successfully, she needs her lords to be better than most men."

Or she needs to be horrible. Like Cersei or Daenerys. The future belonged to either Shireen or Tommen so it would seem, both sweet, young children who would grow up to be too weak to keep the throne on their own. If she had initially promised to help her betrothed rule six kingdoms for the sake of the freedom of the seventh, for the safety of her own family, and her people, she'd grown to like both Shireen and Tommen enough to realize that, no matter which one of them would eventually reign, or both of them together, she wanted to help them because she liked them, and she understood the consequences of what would befall them were they to gain the throne only to lose it. Stannis's mercy for failed claimants was a rare thing indeed, and not likely to be repeated.

"Seems like Stannis's dynasty is safe in your hands," Robb said, still absorbing both her own words, as well as his continuing understanding of the person his sister became, even as she still hid her worst from him.

"Come," she said, uneasy at the mention of her loyalty to Stannis. "I'm sure Prince Oberyn is eager to meet his new charge."


The first time she'd seen little of the Prince from Dorne, hearing only of his demise at the hands of Gregor Clegane from the Vale, knowing of his hatred towards the Lannisters from Littlefinger. Perhaps Petyr would have used him, if he'd lived longer, and Sansa wondered, because what was she in her second life but a subtler, younger, and prettier Littlefinger?

They found Oberyn roaming the beach, near a particular overhanging rock that Tommen favored. He'd mildly threatened Tywin Lannister upon arriving at Casterly Rock, she'd heard, not unexpected. But they remained words, whatever the old lord telling the Prince enough to satisfy him, so much as to not murder his host, at the very least.

"Lady Sansa," Oberyn said upon glimpsing the two of them, "and Lord Robb Stark." He extended his hand, drawing a warm clasp from her brother. "It's an honor, to meet the man who ended Gregor Clegane's life."

"Prince Oberyn," Robb replied in turn. "Do you hate me, for denying you the privilege?"

"I would have liked to enjoyed the pleasure myself," Oberyn agreed, his features for the moment inscrutable, "but Gregor Clegane dead by the hands of another is still better than Gregor Clegane alive." He bowed to Sansa. "Here we are then, enemies of the Lannisters, sharing their hearth, their beds, their mead, though milady may be still too young to partake."

"I enjoy my wine in moderate amounts, Prince Oberyn." The Prince was clever, more clever than she imagined, and though she'd talked little to Tywin since his arrival at Casterly Rock, she still worried he could somehow magically sniff out her agreement with the old lion, subsequently considering her an enemy of House Martell and Dorne. "I'm to be a Lannister once Lord Tommen comes of age, I suppose I ought learn their ways sooner than not."

"A shame," Oberyn replied, seeming genuinely bereaved by her engagement, "though I do not begrudge children for the sins of their fathers...or grandfathers." He turned to her brother. "Lord Stark, tomorrow we sail, and fight together beside Tywin Lannister and the Kingslayer."

"Men who've wronged you," Robb replied, understanding of the complicated politics between their own family and Dorne, even without her secret promise to Tywin. "But there's a reason we fight together, there's a reason you and I and Lord Tywin bent the knee. For the sake of peace, for an end to the endless fighting our sworn swords wield in our names."

"Eloquent words, Lord Stark." His dark eyes moved up and down Robb's entire frame, and Sansa wondered if he were studying her brother, or admiring him, according to his reputation. "We Dornish are a peaceful people, we've no wish for violence unless provoked. They say the same of you Northmen, but today, you follow your father's footsteps in marching south and waging war for House Baratheon."

"It's my duty, Prince Oberyn," Robb replied hardily. "And there's more that threatens the realm than just Greyjoys and Littlefingers."

"Ah, the Red Priestess's whisperings."

"You don't believe them," Robb asked, though Sansa wondered how much her own brother would believe of the White Walkers had the testimony not come from his own once dead sister, and only after she was already proven in her foresight. Stannis was careful in confiding with his lords the threat beyond the Wall, and she didn't think he'd brief even his own Small Council on the matter. But the Great Houses whose support he needed, whose support required more than just sworn words, such as House Martell, he'd told the truth. But then, not all Great Houses were equal in their lords, were they? Mace Tyrell, who accompanied the Lannisters on the Great Wyk, she was confident remained ignorant of the Others, though she advised Stannis to confide in the Lady Olenna, when the time came.

"I do, strangely," Oberyn replied, smirking. "For a Red Priestess from Asshai to agree with a Stark of Winterfell on the same tales...makes them less likely to be tales." He then turned his attention upon her, and Sansa hoped she did not appear openly uncomfortable. "Lady Stark, I hear much about you, though I've yet to have the pleasure of making your acquaintance."

"I'm only a girl, I do not wish to trouble a Prince," Sansa demurred, though Oberyn was correct, she had indeed avoided him, because though he was not an enemy now, and he was not an enemy she wished to make, he could inevitably prove one in the years to come, when her allegiance with Tywin Lannister was made open.

"Not just a girl," Oberyn smiled appreciatively, "but a Stark, sister to a man who was once a king, daughter to a martyred Hand to another king, daughter of a Tully still, cousin to an Arryn, to be married to a Lannister, close confidante to the heir to House Baratheon...and whispered to have the ear of the King himself."

And a brother who's the grandchild of Aerys Targaryen.

She turned to Robb, who watched her predicament with some amusement. "The Prince speaks too kindly of me. I've never met my Lord cousin," in this life anyway, and he's safely Littlefinger's now, "and perhaps one day I may offer counsel to the Queen Shireen, or the Lord of Casterly Rock...but only at their pleasure."

"The same counsel you give the king," he questioned, and Sansa truly could not tell whether his words were hostile, whether he was sniffing out her as a future enemy, considering she was to marry into the Lannisters. "A Dornish husband for the Crown Princess...I hear Edric Dayne's name was mentioned?"

So Stannis tells him more than she'd expected. She'd brought the heir to Starfall up briefly, if only because of his closeness in age to Shireen, and that they said he had a gentle comportment. The King planned for a tourney, after the war with the Greyjoys and before the war with the dead, and it was understood that would be the moment the lords of the realm presented their sons before Stannis and his heir.

And their Stark counselor.

"The King asks my advice only because I know Shireen," Sansa replied, feigning meekness, though she sensed Oberyn's question came from a place of genuine curiosity and interest. And did she need to make an enemy out of the man? Perhaps all she had to do was to wait out Stannis. The man was not as fearsome or cold as she'd expected, though she knew him too hardened and bound to give away the North. But who was to say he could take the North unwilling, once the Others and Daenerys was dead? He'd try, though, which would certainly mean war, but why fight if she had the patience to outlive his reign? Surely Shireen would not be adverse to ruling over six kingdoms rather than seven, especially with Sansa counseling her still when she gained the throne.

But turning her back upon the offer she'd made Tywin Lannister would mean making an enemy out of Tywin Lannister, never something to be undertaken lightly. Part of her reason for approaching Tywin in the first place had been to keep her family, and herself, safe. Were she to stand with the Baratheons, Robb and mother and Rickon may well be safe North, but for that to happen, Sansa herself had to stay south, subject to the wraths of the lions, unless she could somehow bring about the deaths of Tywin and Cersei and even Jaime beforehand. Even then, the Lannisters were no Boltons, to be easily disposed of with the King's, or Queen's, justice on her side. So she ought to be content now playing a child, even in Casterly Rock, knowing the troubles to come with the Long Night and afterwards.

Oberyn chuckled at her. "It's a shame you have to hand her to the Lannisters," he said to Robb, "she could help you back in Winterfell, keeping your lords in line. What's ruling a kingdom, after crowning a king?"

So Oberyn definitely knows. She wondered who told him about her part on the council. Not likely Tywin, unless it were a ploy to gain his trust of an enemy. Probably Stannis himself, revealing the extent of his need to keep his Dornish subjects close and happy.

"If you know of Stannis's selection," Robb replied, as Sansa kept herself purposefully quiet, playing at the role just openly acknowledged to be a lie, "then you know the true threat is North, and old grudges and old wars need to be set aside."

"Yet we both fight a war today against the Iron Islands. Not beyond the Wall, and against living, breathing beings, or am I wrong?"

Robb stared at the Prince, confused. Dornishmen were certainly a strange people, a different kind of southron than the usual lords she'd come to know. Next to Robb, she could not imagine two men more different, the far north, and the far south. And what was she, except Robb's translator for everything else in between?

"Does it bother you then, to be fighting a war for Stannis Baratheon."

A jovial smile broke out upon the Prince's face, and to Robb's surprise, he reached out and clapped him warmly upon his back. "To the contrary, Lord Stark, it gives me great joy to fight beside the man who ended Gregor Clegane."

If collecting the acquaintance of all the Great Houses is the game, then I suppose I've won already.

She'd never spoken to a Martell her last life, though she'd vaguely remembered their new Prince at court in King's Landing, watching and trembling himself as the Dragon Queen gave the order for her burning. Perhaps Oberyn's point was valid. Stark. Tully. Baratheon. Arryn, once Stannis dislodged Littlefinger. Now a Martell. With the combined might of five kingdoms, how much did she really need the Lannisters, once everything was all over?


Varys

"When the King's away, will the spiders play?"

Varys sighed. He could have gone a whole lifetime without hearing Littlefinger's voice again. Standing by the rocky shore, connected to the King's castle by way of many of Maegor's secret tunnels, he wished the tides would come and drown the man. Drown them both, he thought, his own life a worthy sacrifice to rid the realm of the pestilence that was Petyr Baelish.

"Lord Baelish," he answered measuredly, "I trust you did not sail all the way down to King's Landing to inquire as to my well being."

"No," Littlefinger answered, "but I am curious, your thoughts on yet another new king you find yourself serving."

He'd humor him, because he was prepared, and there was little harm. "The King is not as...devout as I feared, to be honest. I'd worried about the Red Priestess he brought with him."

"So it would seem that he has not seen fit to overturn the religious beliefs of millions on the advice of a witch."

"I didn't know you were so dedicated to the Seven, Lord Baelish."

"Neither I you," Littlefinger replied, wandering the sandy beaches as if it was his domain, as he once did in the courts of Robert and Joffrey. He wore his robes black as usual, and Varys wondered whether the man must be baking under the heat of the sun.

"No, but wars of religion are about the worst kind of war a realm can suffer."

"What about wars of succession? That war is sure to come, the moment Stannis dies, and every lord in the realm seeks to grab power from his daughter."

As usual, Littlefinger was right, though the man's specialty was twisting right opinions into nefarious ends.

"The Baratheon dynasty may die with King Stannis," Varys agreed. "The Dance of Dragons was a truly awful event, but then, the dragons are dead, aren't they?"

"Not if the whispers are true, that Aerys's daughter has found herself with three living dragons in the east."

But then Varys knew that too, didn't he? And it wasn't Littlefinger testing him, as it was he testing Littlefinger, seeing if the man still had whispers of his own, hidden away in the mountains of the Vale.

"She'd be one of many to try and tear the throne away from the Princess Shireen," Varys said carefully. "Perhaps the strongest."

"And when the time comes, you'll find yourself a new patron. Your first whispers were to a Targaryen. Appropriate, perhaps, that you'll whisper last to one also."

"I serve King Stannis and his heir until my dying day," Varys said, lying. "And I doubt the Targaryen girl would accept me into her service, considering I've authored orders for her death on behalf of the late King Robert." And though he felt no compassion for Robert's brother, despite the fact that he was proving not to be as horrible as he feared, he did feel sorry for Shireen, for her part in the wars to come. But then, they told him the Dragon Queen, as she was being called now, had a soft heart. The girl Shireen had no ambition or desire to rule. Perhaps, when the time came, Daenerys Targaryen would spare the child, the niece of the man who'd overthrown her father. Certainly she could understand that mercy was needed for her to reign successfully, as half the realm had turned against her father, and rightly so.

"I hear whispers you're already in her service," Littlefinger said with a smirk. Is he bluffing? Is he guessing? Or does he actually know? "That's it why, perhaps, Robert's assassinations failed, and the last of the Targaryens live."

"I have many enemies, and they whisper many lies of me," Varys said, wondering just how convincing his words were, "as they do of you."

"And what does the King say of me?"

"He says you're a traitor, to be dealt with after the Greyjoys are put down." When Littlefinger feigned shock and dismay at his words, Varys continued, playing the game as they were accustomed to. "Is that why you're here, to convince me otherwise?"

"Perhaps." Never a straight answer from Baelish. "The Lannisters, the Tyrells, the Starks, all pardoned. Why should this humble lord not receive a pardon also?"

"Because the King needs the Lannisters, the Tyrells, and the Starks. He does not need a Littlefinger, and those whom the King sees as traitors that he does not need, he uses to appease his witch." A wry smirk formed on his face, taunting his rival. "You did hear about Roose Bolton and his bastard, even in the mountains, have you not?"

"I have," Littlefinger said, uneasy. Was this an act too, or did he fear his eventual fate, once he was caught and tried by Stannis. "Though I'm surprised they and our late colleague Pycelle were the only highborns to suffer the King's...fervor."

"To be truthful," Varys confided, because he could, "it's probably because of the Stark girl."

"The Stark girl?" Littlefinger cocked his head, genuinely surprised at the revelation, and Varys couldn't help but delight in pulling one last trick across his former rival's eyes. "Sansa? Catelyn's daughter?"

"The very same," Varys said, too gleefully for his own taste. "It was she who made the peace and crowned Stannis, you know. Some say it was she who helped her brother destroy Gregor Clegane, leaving Tywin Lannister crippled enough to bend the knee."

He remembered his own part in that fiasco, underestimating the girl enough to allow her to play him, then dispose of him afterwards. A part of him wondered whether or not he ought to be thankful the girl seemed to hold no personal animus against him, despite his refusal to save her father, else he may not have been subject to Stannis's more forgiving nature.

"How?"

"Visions, apparently. Of the future, a future she's certainly changed." He shook his head. "I'd dismiss them, except it's true, else how else could she have won over men like Stannis and Lord Tywin?"

"A fantastic claim," Littlefinger agreed, and Varys could tell the wheels were in motion in his head, digesting this new fact and contemplating how it could further benefit him. Thankfully, it would come to nothing, else Varys would not have shared the information. "But then, they say the magic of the old gods live in the blood of the Starks."

"I never figured you one for fantastic tales," Varys said. His patience was wearing thin, and as little as he'd missed this particular game since the end of Joffrey, he missed it less now that he was playing it again. "Sansa Stark does not speak well of you either, not from what I've heard. I'd take a boat east, if I were you. There are fortunes to be made in Essos still."

Littlefinger grinned back at him, in a way far too uncomfortable for his liking. "That's exactly what I intend to do, Lord Varys. Though you'd never allow me to reach the other end of the Narrow Sea. Both reasons you have to die today."

"Pardon?"

"The sellswords you hired to apprehend me, and bring me before Stannis?" Littlefinger pointed towards the cliffs above them, where the said sellswords watched their whispers in secret. "I paid them double the coin you did."

A whistle, and the distant silhouettes answered Baelish's summons, their crossbows pointed at his own chest, rather than Littlefinger's. At once, Varys realized that he'd played the last of his games, and he had lost.

"Any last words, Lord Spider?" The man never looked so demonic than when he was triumphant.

"The Targaryen girl. The Stark girl. May they both destroy you."

And if the gods had any justice, he thought, as the crossbows shot and arrows flew towards his heart, Littlefinger would die sooner than later, and there would be no one left to remember his last words.

Chapter Text

Sansa

Dark wings, dark words, her mother always said. Looking across the raging ocean, towards the dark clouds which had already passed them, drifting north further and further, she wondered if they portended similar same omens. On a small rocky perch next to her sat Tommen, who scrunched up his face, and she remembered he had those he worried not so far away across the water also.

"Are you worried about your grandfather," she asked sympathetically.

He nodded. "And my...uncle Jaime. And Shireen."

Setting her hand softly above his, she tried to comfort them. "I don't think they'll be in the thick of the fighting, at least. Lord Tywin's days with a sword are behind him, as is Ser Jaime's."

"But your brother Robb is leading the attack, isn't he?"

"He's never lost a battle," she said, trying to make herself feel better. She liked to believe him still invincible, Lannister backstabbing and treachery aside, but she knew better.

"Why is there always war," he asked her suddenly, frowning as he considered his own question.

Putting her hand gently again upon his, she looked into his eyes. "Do you want to know the truth, Tommen?"

He nodded, not so eager in his movements. "I should. I can't stay a child forever."

Sansa wondered if Tywin had already put their plotting of his future atop the Iron Throne into the child's head. He doubted it, if only there were few that Tywin trusted, and that wariness certainly did not preclude his own blood. But while he was no uncle Tyrion, Tommen was nowhere as dull as most people thought him.

"Because people are rotten, Tommen. We're greedy, we're selfish, and that's on our best days. Not just the obviously rotten ones like Joffrey and Ramsay and...," she was about to cite his own mother, but stopped herself in time. "Even the best of us, when backed into a corner, when our own lives are threatened, or our family's, the people we love, parents and brothers and sisters and children, we'll lie and cheat and kill to get out of it, or to help the ones we love. Like my own father, when he falsely confessed..."

She stopped herself again, this time too late realizing the implications of what she was about to say, but the young man had caught on to it regardless. "Your father was right, wasn't he? About me, and Joffrey, and 'Cella?"

Grinding her teeth, she tried to think of a way to continue sheltering the lad. "He believed he was right. What he confessed, the day they killed him, he believed were lies. And yes, Eddard Stark lied, in his own mind, at least, for the sake of his children."

For me.

"I don't think he was lying," Tommen said to her nervously. "Not before the Sept, but the first time. When they called him a traitor for it." When he looked at her now, it was with trepidation, and what appeared to be genuine grief. "I'm sorry, Sansa."

Sansa sighed, though she supposed, were they to marry, neither one of them could allow the history between their families to remain unaddressed forever.

"It's all in the past," she heard herself saying. And why not, when she'd put aside their own shared history to seek an alliance with Tywin Lannister. "Your family's sins aren't yours." Which meant she could not deny that his family had indeed wronged hers, never mind those she planned to wrong in the future. "The King wanted us to marry to bury the past. Besides, Ser Jaime...he's not the man most people assume him."

"But my grandfather...and my mother...they are as bad as everyone says...aren't they?"

Her hand still lay atop his, because she'd been afraid to move it, so as to validate the tension. "You're not your mother or your grandfather," she replied, eager to change the subject. "What kind of man do you want to be, Tommen?"

To her palpable relief, her question quieted the young man, sending him into a deep and what looked to be a sincere contemplation and examination into his own soul. As she listened to the waves crashing below them, it seemed they reflected in their rhythm her own heart, allowed to beat again, now that she did not have to further explain to Tommen Lannister why she hated his family and thought most of them monsters.

"I want to be a good husband," he finally replied, looking eagerly at her, and in that moment, she saw more maturity in his young eyes than she'd ever seen before. "A good brother, and a good father. I want our children to love us, to love me, as much as you loved your father." He paused, suddenly regressing to his uneasy state. "I'd want to be the kind of husband whose wife loves him...also."

So she resisted the urge to shake her head dismissively immediately, because how could she ever love him, not just because he was a child, but because even after he did grow to become a man, she would always see herself as the monster, the feral wolf, the only Stark stained enough to survive in the south, next to the most innocent of the Lannisters?

Seeing her reaction, he retreated. "I don't mean to presume, Lady Sansa. I know you're...different, I know you've no love for my family..."

"There's no one else in the seven kingdoms I'd rather be betrothed to," she interrupted, more determined to console him than she would have imagined. And somehow, her words weren't a lie, because there was no one in the seven kingdoms, or outside of it, for the matter, she'd ever want to marry...but if it came down to it, Tommen Lannister was far from the worst. Especially taken by himself, separate from his family...a wish she knew to be more impossible than her dreams so many lifetimes ago of the fair prince Joffrey.

"I hope after us, our families no longer hate each other, and we'll no longer have to fight these awful wars," Tommen answered, somewhat comforted by her words.

"I hope so too."

So they continued to watch the waves in silence, even after she slowly and diplomatically withdrew her hand from his. She had to admit, the ocean and the waves were more calming, more enjoyable than she ever would have imagined, growing up many days' ride from the seas. Though she could usually bear barely an hour more of it before she got bored or tired of its repetitive nature, it seemed that Tommen could stare at the undulations forever. And now, sitting beside him, she thought she could watch the waves for some time longer also.


Jaime

Before anything, he wished to be with Cersei. Failing that, his brother, his children, who could not know who he was. Failing that, his father, demanding and unpleasant he could be at times. Failing that, war. For now, he had the last two. Cersei he'd left in Casterly Rock, and was almost relieved to be away from, so as not to face daily her constant rejection of him. She let him kiss her, one passing night, the taste of her lips still lingering upon his mouth when she turned away from him in disgust, as if he'd magically transformed from himself to Ned Stark, a dead one at that.

"The Greyjoy Fleet's destroyed," he reported to his father, standing in his tent upon the island of Great Wyk. "Not that there was much of one...it would seem most of the Greyjoy bannermen have abandoned their cause, same as on this island here."

"I presume we'll sail tomorrow," Tywin asked, showing no reaction upon the news. "I take it was Prince Oberyn's doing?"

"With help from Paxter Redwyne. The King's eager to have a go at the bloody pirates, to quote His Grace." He smirked. "I doubt he wants Robb Stark and Oberyn Martell to get all the glory."

He wondered if Brienne accompanied Catelyn's son south. Probably not, considering the king they fought for. His instincts hungered for the battle to come, and he envied the Stark boy's place in the vanguard of the campaign, but there wasn't much he could do on the front lines these days, was there? Though the Starks and Martells held the beachheads on Pyke now, Stannis could join them, if he wished, and he likely would, along with Davos Seaworth, poor swordsman he was. But despite the best efforts of Tyrion's old sellsword Bronn, a man his own brother recommended to spar with him when he visited him on Pentos, he remained useless at best in an actual battle.

"Nor do we," his father replied, likely already thinking of the ways not to give the Baratheons or the Starks or the Martells the advantage, allied to them as their family were.

"Are they our enemies yet? Robb Stark? Stannis Baratheon?" He supposed he might try to learn, to at least feign interest, if only to make his life easier, now, and in the future, once he was the Lord.

"What do you think?"

A test then.

"I think I feel bad for the poor girl Shireen." He paced the room uneasily. "Stannis goes to the trouble of bringing her to war, the lords all kiss her feet while she stands useless and bored in the war council, and it's all for naught when you take her inheritance." He squinted his eyes at his father, who said nothing in return, only looking almost approvingly upon him. "Only, how will you do it, I wonder? I suppose I can stab Stannis in the back myself. I won't like it, but anything for my lord father. I won't kill the girl though."

He meant it. Killing one child, or trying to, at least, seemed enough weight on his conscience for one lifetime.

"It's a disagreeable thought," Tywin agreed, to his relief. "But wars and dynasties are not made by being agreeable."

"Tommen will hate me for it, Shireen's his friend." Tommen was his son. Not his nephew, but his son. Still, he did not know whether his father believed those very foul but very true rumors about him and Cersei. It seemed to him in private that he genuinely felt wronged, as if Tommen's claim were true and Stannis had robbed him of it, besmirching their family's good name on his way to the throne. Were that the case, he almost felt bad for Stannis, knowing that sooner or later he would have to face his Tywin Lannister's rightful wrath, in his father's eyes, at least.

There had been another son, whose reputation had also been besmirched by the recent settlement of the succession. But Joffrey's death had merely taught Jaime that he did not love his firstborn as he'd thought, if at all. He once believed he loved him, but then, he'd felt nothing at the news of his death, had he? And when he gazed upon his body alongside his sister, his only thoughts had been of Cersei, and how she continued to deny him after he returned. So it would seem a good thing, that Cersei was the only one he loved who could ruin him, except his father had done his share, hadn't he, with his ancient grudges with the old king Aerys, those seeds laid down long before his own birth.

"Your nephew will forget such friendships once he's sitting on his rightful throne."

Tommen was a different thing altogether. If Tommen died, he would mourn, he may cry, and he would definitely curse himself for his inability to protect him. Joffrey...he felt an obligation to feel something for, and it gave him some relief to admit that it went no further than that. Cersei was something else altogether, but his two younger children he wanted to love, and he wanted their love. He thought of Myrcella, far away in Dorne. By her letters, it would seem that she was happy there, and fond of her new betrothed Prince. He figured he ought to visit her once this war with the Greyjoys was over, and what was stopping him? Stripped of his duties as a White Cloak, who was to tell him no, the heir to Casterly Rock, and keep him from travelling the seven kingdoms as he pleased?

"Will he though? Tommen may well send me to the Night's Watch, and you lose your heir all over again." A mocking smile crept into his mouth. "Though, he'd let Tyrion return, so you'll have an heir after all. Is this all part of your plan, to restore my brother to his rightful seat in Casterly Rock? If so...bravo, you've won my respect after all, a remarkable work of genius really."

His father ignored his barbs, as he expected. "No one is asking you to kill another king, or queen. No one asked you the first time."

Except I did it for you, to save your ungrateful life, and the millions of ungrateful scullions in that wretched city.

"Who will you have do your dirty work then," he challenged, "now that Clegane and Lorch are both dead. Tommen won't raise his hand, much less a sword. Cersei? Our cousin Lancel? A Crakehall, perhaps. Or maybe even the Stark girl..."

Something in his father's eyes registered in his mind, and stopped his voice.

"You...no...you're really thinking about using Sansa Stark to murder her friend and her father?"

"The Princess Shireen does not need to die," Tywin said, not contradicting the brunt of his statement. "I trust the Lady Stark can manage her, provided she doesn't know about Stannis. But she'll do her part, for her husband, and the family she marries into."

"She doesn't love Tommen. She likes him, but no more or no less than she like Shireen." And he was glad Tommen had made himself a friend, that his future wife did not despise the young man, for the sins of their family. Again, his father did not answer him, preferring to continue his lesson. So he paced, and thought, and spoke. "You're offering her something, aren't you? It's not to sit beside Tommen on the throne, I don't think the girl wants to be queen, not after what happened to her father."

"She came to me, actually," Tywin replied, surprising him, "after the council."

His father spoke little of the council which had forced him to bend the knee, except affirming those other crazy rumors, that the Stark girl possessed some sort of magical powers, and that somehow his own father, along with Stannis Baratheon, now believed there was some ancient threat of dead men across the Wall. It would make for an interesting battle, he figured, fighting the dead and the Others, if the notion didn't seem so ridiculous, yet somehow true.

"What did she ask for?"

"The restoration of her brother's crown, once the war with the dead and the Targaryens is over. Her family's the girl's weakness, but if she can help us, so be it."

Not a terribly unreasonable request, now that he thought about it, though it surprised him too how much Sansa Stark would care about Robb Stark's crown, enough to crown then uncrown another king for it.

"Do the two of you have a plan yet?"

"It would be foolish to set a plan in stone now, when we know so little of what's to come."

"Isn't that what she's supposed to do? Know what's to come?"

"I don't think she'd admit it, not to me anyhow. Stannis still thinks she can conjure up the future for him, but I think once she used her visions and changed the future...well, the future's changed, isn't it? And what she once saw is no longer true. The girl may receive new visions, I won't deny that possibility. But she is still a Stark, a strong one at that, though far more clever than most in their brood...worthy of an alliance even without any supernatural abilities."

So Stannis isn't a complete fool for keeping the girl as an occasional counselor. Not when my own lord father thinks along the same lines. A thought occurred to him, that if Sansa were so close to the king and his daughter now, yet willing to betray them both when the time came, what kept her from betraying his own father, or more importantly, his young son. No doubt Tywin had considered the same possibility as well, and already had a plan for such a contingency. But Jaime did not give voice to the thought, knowing better than to further endanger the girl, without need. For now.

His father rose from his seat. "But enough of this talk, we are loyal bannermen to King Stannis, and tomorrow we'll sail to prove our loyalty by crushing the Greyjoys with the Tyrells and Martells and Starks and all the other men who bear no great love for their king."

Thank the gods, war's so much better than these damned politicking.


Yara

"You need to go."

"A Greyjoy will not flee."

Yara sighed. She mourned Theon, though she wondered just how sincere her sadness was, considering he'd returned to Pyke a stranger, and remained a stranger, even as he took up their family's cause. She could not bear the idea of mourning her father so soon after her brother's death, but when had she been able to talk sense into Balon Greyjoy? The rebellion was a failure, she reckoned now, but who could have predicted that Robb Stark and Tywin Lannister and Stannis Baratheon could all make peace solely for the purpose of uniting against the Greyjoys, or so it seemed?

"All our bannermen have fled, or surrendered to Stannis and begged his mercy." She pleaded. "A Greyjoy has surrendered to a Baratheon before. Surrender again."

"Do you think Stannis will spare me, after a second rebellion?" Balon shook his head. "I'd rather die with a sword through my heart than screaming as a sacrifice to his false god."

"It'll be the end of our blood, our family!"

"My brother lives." He spoke rarely of her uncle Euron, likely still seething at his decision to leave the Iron Islands after the first time they lost to the Baratheons. He must be desperate, to invoke his name now.

"Maybe," she replied. "Maybe not. He's a pirate...pirates don't live long."

"Run if you want," her father scoffed at her. "Go and find your uncle and reap Slaver's Bay together." Yet, did she detect hope in his voice, in that he did not want his last surviving child to die alongside him, that behind the mask of contempt in his voice was in fact a plead, an urge?

"I'll fight for Pyke," she muttered. His armor no longer fit him, he'd become such a wisp of a man in his old age, where most men grow fat, the steel seemed to droop off her father's willowy body. "I'll die for Pyke. But know that if our name dies, know it's because of your choices."

"And yours, daughter. I did not force you into this war. I don't force you to die with me now."

"You didn't force Theon to take Winterfell and die in the north. But he's dead, anyway, and the fault is still yours. And mine." If she were to die in the battle to come, she could at least gain the relief from no longer having to live with the guilt that she'd help doom her brother, though it had been his choice to remain at Winterfell. Just as it was her father's choice now to fight and die.

"I don't doubt your bravery, daughter," Balon said, his words soft and relenting, a rare moment where he spoke not as her lord or king, but as her father. "You're probably smarter than me. I know you won't run before the battle, while there's still a chance. But don't go out of your way to die, if the battle's lost."

"Aye, so I will."


Robb

He was thankful for land. Though he'd won many a battle against the Lannisters, he'd never sailed before, not until they embarked from Casterly Rock on Oberyn's ships. There'd been a small battle at sea, and both Oberyn and his captain, the Lord Anders Yronwood, rallied their men bravely, striding the wobbling deck as smoothly as he could ride a horse. And he wouldn't hide, despite his very immediate and continuous bouts of nausea, so he stood uselessly above deck with them, walking alongside the Dornishmen, trying to look brave and valiant without trying to attempt speech only to empty the contents of his stomach.

Though furious, the battle passed as quickly as a storm. The Dornish prince ordered his men to stand on guard, wary of a Greyjoy trap just beyond the next cove or bend, but nothing materialized. They landed on empty shores on Pyke, the fishermen and smallfolk obviously wary enough of the coming battle to have fled or hidden. Nevertheless, he advanced across the island more carefully than he was apt to, recognizing that, with the war reduced to a minor siege against a minor castle, what meant more to Stannis was a statement of political unity rather than the inevitable rooting out of an aged rebel. The King's men landed a day and a half after him, again finding no resistance either on water or land. Lannisters, Tyrells, and more banners than he'd ever seen marched alongside him by the time they reached Balon's castle.

"Not going to be much of a battle," Oberyn remarked, lined up at the south gate, which once saw several sturdy walls standing tall above the terraced, sheer cliffs overlooking the treacherous rocky waves below, before Stannis knocked them down the first time. "The maesters say history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. It would appear, we're mummers in the farce today."

"Aye, not quite the war my father fought with King Robert." He'd come to enjoy Oberyn's company over the short march, the Dornishman's quips and remarks as entertaining as they were unpredictable. Yet there was a dangerousness to the man Robb could sense behind his calculated display of indifference. Though Gregor Clegane was dead, the man's not so ancient grudges festered and nursed themselves to potency behind the man's mirthful grin, and Robb feared that the Prince may suddenly and abruptly decide to strike down Tywin Lannister in the middle of the war. But fortunately for the King's peace, both men kept their distance from the other at camp, and even now, lined up in battle, Oberyn standing to his right, saw to it that the young Warden of the North, his King, Mace Tyrell, and the Kingslayer all stood between him and Lord Tywin.

"Seems like sacking the Greyjoys is the only thing Starks and Lannisters and Baratheons can agree on," Robb remarked as the awaited the very few banners of the Kraken marching outwards from the castle. "Glad your house can join the fold this time."

"The Starks and Lannisters and Baratheons all agreed to together sack the Targaryens and their family," Oberyn replied. He eyed Mace Tyrell, a man for whom he seemingly held only contempt. "Funny thing, the Martells and Tyrells fighting together that war."

"The Starks burned, Prince Oberyn. Dorne once burned as well because of the Targaryens, more so than even my family or bannermen." Was he trying to convince himself, for Sansa's sake, the necessity of having to betray the daughter of the Mad King once the time came? Was he even trying to lobby Oberyn on her behalf, considering none of them knew how the man would act once this Dragon Queen arrived in Westeros, except that he would likely stand on whichever side opposed Tywin Lannister after the Long Night?

"Then we married, so we didn't have to burn. Our allegiances, once given, don't sway so easily, Lord Stark."

"It was King Stark for what seemed a fortnight ago," Robb answered carefully. "Yet here we both fight for a Baratheon."

"Yes, greater threats. If the stories are true, the Wall protects Dorne, just as shields Winterfell."

"And after," Robb asked. "The Martells helped King Robert secure the peace for nearly twenty years."

A wry smile appeared on Oberyn's face, and he whispered into Robb's ear so that only he could hear. "You're thinking of taking back your crown, aren't you, Young Wolf? And Dornish independence will help you in your bid, will it not?"

A subtle shake of his head, so that it could be noticed only by Oberyn. "On the contrary...I knew little of Stannis before I met him. Now that I have...he seems to be a king worth fighting for. And his daughter after him."

Maybe it was because Stannis was Sansa's chosen king, and Robb had come to appreciate his sister's political acumen. The king had little charisma, but then, he'd overhead some of the Riverland lords saying the same about his own father during the war, hadn't he? The man was solid, he was honorable, and if he were stubborn, the same could be said of himself, or Ned Stark, or Brandon Stark, or Rickard, or most of those who came before him. He'd feared, like many of the other lords south of the Neck, that Stannis would let his Red Priestess rule the land and burn away heretics as she wished, but those fears seemed foolish now, more than a year into his reign.

"Starks," Oberyn grunted. "You'll rebel and you'll fight, but once you bend the knee yourself, it stays bent."

The old man Balon appeared before them on the battlefield, flanked by less than a half dozen of his own bannermen. How many times had he played upon the fields outside his castle when he was a child, Robb wondered, now forced to die on such familiar ground. But then, this war, this second failed attempt against the Iron Throne, was his own doing, wasn't it?

I rebelled against the throne once already, truth be told. The Gods help me, if I ever endeavor such a thing again, I'll do better than Balon Greyjoy.

"Stannis, First of His Name."

"Lord Balon," the King replied stoically. "Bend the knee. You won't receive the crown's mercy, but I'll let your daughter Yara keep stewardship over the Iron Islands, provided she bends the knee also."

"You'll give the Iron Islands to her?" Balon chuckled, as Robb half expected him to. It would be foolish for the old man to give battle, only for the purpose of soothing his pride, risking the lives of his own sworn swords. But they were here of their own volition, weren't they, what with most of Balon's bannermen already fled or surrendered. "Aerys didn't give your brother the Iron Throne," Balon continued, one wrinkled hand moving towards the hilt of his sword, "Robert took it by his own hammer. A Baratheon slew the Prince in single combat on the Trident, a Lannister slew the King in single combat in the keep, and so both houses joined together in taking their due from the Targaryens." The old man withdrew his sword. "Let us settle it the same way then, between Kings."

"Your Grace," Mace Tyrell protested immediately, "it would be foolishness to meet his demand. We outnumber them ten to one, we'll drive forward in the morning and slay every last one of the traitors."

The Lord of Highgarden's words were sound, but observing Stannis, it would seem as if the King were considering the challenge.

"It may still be a long siege," Stannis said.

"It'll be a successful siege, regardless of length." Even Tywin Lannister agreed.

"Let them return to the castle," the King's Hand, Davos Seaworth agreed. "His men will abandon him eventually, and the result's the same, not much of a battle."

"Your Grace," Robb said, "aye we'll win the battle, we're sure of it. And you'll probably beat Balon, but you're less sure of that. Don't lose seven kingdoms on a bet, however sound it may seem."

"A bet that may save hundreds or thousands of lives," Stannis said, and by his tone Robb knew his decision was already made. "I'll take it." He looked over to the lords. "If I die today, I ask you to swear loyalty to the Crown Princess Shireen...and honor my word to Lord Balon Greyjoy that I make now...he wins the duel, he keeps his islands."

It was a stupid decision. But it was the King's decision, and an honorable one at that. Robb wondered what his own father could have said to such a challenge. Or he himself during the War of Five Kings. What if the independence of the North came down to a duel between himself and the Kingslayer, a challenge Jaime Lannister was more likely to win? Would he take him up on it, to save the lives of his own men, when he could easily butcher his own men for the sake of a more easily gained victory?

"I swear it," Robb said, the first to answer, and so answered all the other lords next to him.

Without another moment wasted, Stannis stepped forward, meeting the older man armor in armor, sword by sword. Rather than wait and get a feel of Balon's style, he moved at once to attack, striking his blade again and again against his enemy's. Immediately, it was apparent that though the King was no longer a young man, he remained still by far stronger and faster than his enemy. After a few initial parries, he began driving Balon backwards, each blow pushing the older man to stumble several steps.

"The cliffs," Oberyn realized the same time as Robb, "he's luring him towards the cliffs."

Before either one of them could warn the King, Balon moved swifter than they'd ever seen him, dodging and ducking under a blow and spinning around several times over, suddenly positioning Stannis between his own body and the sheer dropoff off a steep ledge into the ocean. And he attacked, and struck with all the ferocity of a rabid dog, no doubt straining what little strength remained in his body, pushing himself only as far as his own mind could will his sword. In that moment, Robb couldn't help but admire in the old pirate his zeal and determination for the independence of his people, especially as he remembered how he'd bent the knee himself.

But despite Balon's efforts, striking and even kicking at the king to knock him off balance, Stannis remained steadfast, patiently defending the thrusts just as stolidly he had attacked moments earlier, and soon it became apparent that the self proclaimed King of the Iron Islands was tiring, losing whatever spirit possessed him his last gasp. Taking a step back, he wound his sword for one furious swing at the King. It came, but was easily anticipated, and his sword only met dirt, even as Stannis's struck him through his shoulder.

The old man gasped, and looked at his own wound as if it were a curiosity.

"Do you yield," Stannis asked, pointing his now bloodied sword at Balon Greyjoy's throat.

Rather than answer, he dropped his sword, and threw his one whole arm wide as if to surrender. Then, he dodged a blow which never came from the king, evasive in a way that made Robb worry that he had a trick up his sleeve, perhaps a dagger hidden under his armor. Instead, he continued backing away from the king, until his body dropped off the precipice into the ocean from whence he came.

"Not much of a mummer's farce anymore, is it," Robb commented at Oberyn. Both of them were short of breath watching the brief and intense duel, and eyeing the King's bannermen now, it seemed only Tywin Lannister seemed unaffected by what they had just witnessed.

"No," Oberyn muttered. "Just a sad waste." He clapped Robb on his shoulder. "But better than thousands of sad wastes." A smile from the Prince. "You've won many battles, Lord Stark. My congratulations to you, on winning your first war."


Yara

She just watched her father die. She never saw Theon before he died. She was the last of the Greyjoys, because her wretched uncle had abandoned their name when he fled after her father's first rebellion. Yet, she was about to do the same, wasn't she.

It's a better death than burning.

"Queen Yara," one of her men thus named her, cowering in her father's hallways, watching hidden as Balon Greyjoy fought and lost. When it became clear the war was lost, he'd insisted on meeting the king by his own sword, and he'd made Yara swear not to intervene. It was the toughest promise she'd ever made.

"Quickly," she ordered, running down the stairways, the men who had followed her since they'd first invaded the North sprinting after her. "They'll find us if we dally."

Rather than further give battle to a lost cause, they'd hidden what remained of their fleet in the caves under their castle, her and the few men who refused to surrender to Stannis.

"Where do we go now?"

"East," she answered, "if the Drowned God smiles upon us. Volantis, maybe."

"How do we avenge your father from Essos?"

"We'll sail sellswords from their patrons to their enemies," she said as she ran. "We'll sell our own swords, until we've enough coin to hire our own sellswords, gather our own fleet. Then we return, and take back what's ours."

And I'll see that wretched king burn.

Chapter Text

Jaime

He ought to feel disgusted by himself, a useless, one-handed man returning from war, except none of them had been much use, had they? Except Stannis, though all he did was strike down a feeble old thing, a limp dog running on his last legs. Robb Stark, Oberyn Martell, they contributed, but really, the war was won from just the sheer force of the names attached to the banners which marched with the king. Jaime figured it was how his father would prefer to win his wars, without actual battle, though he doubted Tywin Lannister actually cared for the lives of the men under him, except that he'd prefer them to continue toiling the fields and mines in his name after the war, rather than dying upon its fields.

They'll sing his songs, he reckoned bitterly, the King who won a war with one swing of a sword.

Not that he had any personal feelings against his king. Stannis was a capable commander, that much was clear, and it almost seemed a shame to waste his talents on such a one-sided war. And he did choose to fight, knowing that there was a chance, however slight, he may die by Balon Greyjoy's hand. If Stannis did die, Jaime wondered just how little his own father would wait before claiming the throne for Tommen, or himself for the matter. He probably had a deal lined up already with more than half the lords as they watched their king fight.

It's much too early, he realized. Tommen's far too young, and unnaturally gifted Sansa Stark may be, the oafs and slobs who stacked up the court in King's Landing would never submit to the authority of a girl, whether she be the daughter of a Stark or a Baratheon. But then Tywin could rule all seven kingdoms on his own, couldn't he, and well after Tommen came of age. It was what the man would have likely done had Joffrey not died, and their men prevailed alongside the Tyrells against Stannis. And he'd likely seek to remain the power behind the crown for well after his grandson came of age.

"It's why I'm patient," Cersei replied when he told her of his suspicions. "Father believes in the Stark bitch's tales of the dead men and the like, but he's still father. When all that's over, we'll return, to our rightful place."

"And you believe that you and father and Sansa Stark can all live happily together and serve their rightful King Tommen on his Small Council?"

A mirthful laugh from his sister. "The bitch Shireen too, for all we know. Tommen's too soft, he'll trust anyone who's anything close to kind to him." She frowned, deep in thought. "But if his kindness brings the Baratheons and the Starks and all the other families in line, so much the better, so long as father reminds him, and them, there's more to the crown than kindness."

He dared venture his left hand along her left waist, and she did not shirk away from him. "Will you defy father and ask him to return me to the Kingsguard?"

She narrowed her eyes angrily, even jealously, perhaps? "Why wouldn't I? Father's already looking about for a beautiful young bride to wed the heir to Casterly Rock. The Tyrell whore, Margaery…you'd already be married to her, if Stannis weren't deathly afraid of our two houses getting too close again."

He gripped her closer, and leaned in so that he could feel her hair against his face, and smell her scent. "I didn't know you cared so much, sister."

She fell back against his body, his nerves trembling despite his best efforts to control himself. After all, he was no maiden, and Cersei's body was no unfamiliar ground for him. But it had been so long, so that when he touched her now, it almost felt like touching a stranger.

"I'll have Tommen appoint me heir of Casterly Rock." Cersei said this completely seriously.

"You may have to wait until father dies." He cocked his head. "Myrcella, maybe. And her children."

Suddenly, she shoved him away again, almost violently, though it was the surprise, the anticipation unmet, that caused him to near stumble. "I'll not have our home stained by the stench of those Dornish whores."

"Trystane isn't a whore, he's a Prince." He wiped his robes with his one hand, as if the action would regain him his dignity. "And Myrcella seems genuinely fond of him."

"And Tommen's genuinely fond of the Stark bitch," Cersei muttered bitterly. "Pity our only strong willed child is dead."

"Pity it was his strong will which killed him." Was every minute with his sister going to be a fight like this? If so, he might as well stop at Highgarden on his way to Dorne and court the Lady Margaery instead, Stannis be damned. "I'm surprised you're fine with letting Tommen go north."

"It's the diplomatic thing to do," Cersei said, her voice still sounding like ashes. And it was. The Stark girl clearly missed her home, having had to bide her time in King's Landing and Casterly Rock for so long, after crowning a king by her words. And with the Greyjoys defeated, the next war was north, whether it be the Eyrie, or beyond the Wall. So Stannis would ride with Robb Stark and his sister to Winterfell, and beyond, and it would only be appropriate that their son accompany his betrothed, after she'd done them the favor riding west.

Cersei looked appraisingly at him, the same way his father did when he was testing him.

Gods, not you too.

"She's smart," she said. "She needs us…why, the gods know what the gods show her with her damned visions. But she won't make her move…not until she's gotten what she wants from us."

"That's when you'll make your move against her?"

Did his father and sister spend any waking hour not plotting against every friend and foe in the realm?

A grin, almost joyful, from her. "If need be."

"They'll be long married by then. You think Tommen will side with you against Sansa, when he's sitting on the throne?"

"I'm his mother," Cersei replied simply.

"You won't be the one sucking his cock." He raised an eyebrow. "Don't tell me that's your plan…the Targaryens never even went that far."

"Or so they'd have you think," she replied, brushing her fingers by her lip suggestively. For a moment in their standoff, Jaime half thought she was serious. "No, I won't go that far," Cersei relented. "But you've no idea just how far I will go for my children."

Enough to murder a king and husband. What chance does the poor girl stand?

Or did you kill Robert for yourself?


Tommen

He woke, and thought about Sansa.

I love her.

By the gods, I love her.

I'll do anything for her.

She despises me.

"Lord Tommen, your clothes are packed for Winterfell."

"Did you include the wolfscloak?" She'd sown that for him herself. She did these things for him, despite hating him and his entire family, and it made him love her more.

The maester bowed meekly at his word. "My lord, I shall add it to your trunk."

He lost track of his maesters. They came and went, in Casterly Rock, as in King's Landing. There'd been one whom he'd been especially fond of, who regaled him with tales of knights of old, of Jonquil and her Florian, of Duncan the Tall and Egg who became a King. His name had been Symon, Tommen remembered. He'd made the mistake of telling his mother of the stories Maester Symon read to him. For some reason, mother did not approve, so by the time he'd returned to Casterly Rock to visit his grandpapa in his tenth year, Symon had been sent back to the Citadel, and another doddering old man who reeked of horse urine had taken his place. Not this one, this one was newer still, and at least he did not stink so.

"And the wolf's pin. I'll wear it for the ride north."

"Does my lord intend to become a wolf in the north," this new maester asked. Apparently he was an impertinent one.

"It would be diplomatic, to don the sigil of my hosts," he replied evenly, so as to not betray his impatience with the man.

He'd not much liked the North first visit. But the way Sansa spoke so fondly of it, he had convinced himself since then that he'd been wrong, that he'd missed its beauties and wonders that first time. This time, she'd promised she'd show him her favorite haunts herself, and he knew he'd come to see it differently. He'd live in Winterfell forever, if it could please her, and learn to love the cold and snow and die in the the North an old man, if only it would earn him the affection of the girl whom he was to marry.

Woman. She's no girl.

And maybe that was why he loved her now, as opposed to his first visit to Winterfell, when Sansa Stark had been merely one of many pretty ladies, exceptionally pretty, he thought, all of whom knew instinctively to ignore the youngest of King Robert's sons, so she didn't stand out to him at all.

Except he wasn't actually a Baratheon, wasn't he? And Sansa Stark had made sure of that, striking down his inheritance for Stannis and his daughter.

Yet, he didn't mind that at all, much less begrudge her. There'd been those days, after Joffrey's death, when the court thought him the next king, and suddenly lords and ladies took notice of him and spoke of how gallant and brave and noble he was, and so he'd learnt the true meaning of courtly life. But Sansa, though she'd tried to mask her hatred and contempt of him and his family as best she could, for the sake of his own feelings, he knew, she never lied outright to him. If anything, she went out of her way to tolerate him, an abomination, as the Bolton bastard had called him, except it was the truth, because he knew that all the worst things they whispered about him and his mother and Ser Jaime were in fact the truth. He'd always known, maybe, well before Lord Eddard made his accusations.

But she was nice and kind and decent to him anyway, and he knew after they married, she would remain nice and kind and decent to him, despite the fact that she hated his family, despite the fact that he was an unnatural being who ought not even exist, despite the fact that if he and his siblings never existed, her father may still be alive...because, try as she might to plot and politic the way his own grandfather did, she could not help herself from being good, because that was who she was. And that was why he loved her, because even though she was clearly no girl, no traitor's daughter, crowning kings and treating equally with lords like his grandfather, she could not help but be decent and kind to he and Shireen.

If only he would wield a sword like his unc...Ser Jaime once could, except his mother never allowed him such hard or harsh training, or his brother, for the matter. Because how else could he prove his love, his devotion, to her, except to fight for her, wield his sword in her name, and die for her, if need be. When he dreamed sometimes, he dreamed that Stannis or the young Lord Stark or even his own grandfather would sentence her to death, and he'd protest, and ask to die in her place and finally, she'd know truly how deep his love for her ran.

I'll be your Florian, your Duncan the Tall, your devoted. Even if I have to die, just so you'll see me as more than a Lannister whelp, the blood of those who killed your father and tried to murder the rest of your family. You'll see me as your champion.

"My armor too," he called to the maester. "The new armor the smiths made for me, from the Street of Steel." As with his other gift to Sansa, which he observed happily she'd brought with her to Casterly Rock, the coin had come from Jaime. And like the carving he'd had made for her, his chestplate featured the outlines of a wolf and a lion, roaming some grand open field together.

I was cursed. With my blood. With my parentage. Because my family wronged yours so gravely, only then the gods cursing me to love you afterwards. But by the gods, Sansa of House Stark, I love you, and by the gods, everything I endeavor, until my dying day, will be for you.


Sansa

For the first time in forever her heart felt light. First her brother returned safe, unharmed, unwounded. Apparently the war had been won with nary a battle, which gave her comfort that all the changes she'd made in this world were coming to fruition in some positive manner. Theon was dead, that could not be changed, and she still thought about him near every day, but with so many wars averted, men and smallfolk lived where they died before, her family first amongst those who lived in her mind, made her believe she was not so horrible as she normally thought herself.

And she was going home! A home she never expected to see again when she left it a lifetime ago, her entire family destroyed, to her fate by dragonfire. The hallways of Winterfell would be decorated with the voices of her mother and brothers and Talisa, and by the time she arrived, mayhaps with her first niece or nephew. She even looked forward to showing Tommen some of her favorite haunts, seeing as how the two younger Lannister children remained under Cersei's lock and key when they'd first visited with King Robert.

Yet just thinking of home reminded her of everything she'd lost once before, and it didn't matter she'd regained them, and they were all still alive except father and Theon. She thought of the dragons, and remembered vividly how much she hated their accursed Queen, and fantasized in her mind all the way she'd make her suffer, this time around. Both Varys and Tyrion would come around to their senses eventually, as they did the first time. Yara Greyjoy, whom she figured would make her way back to Daenerys this time around, would be a problem, but the power of the Greyjoys meant nothing without their dragon benefactors, as it was obvious after this second crushed rebellion. Though she hadn't had a chance to sneak away to the hills by Oxcross, Tywin had discretely informed her that the man Qyburn was making good progress with his scorpion designs. Bereft of advisors and dragons, Daenerys would find herself all alone time time around, if she could help it, and Sansa did not doubt whomever sat on the Iron Throne by then, be it Stannis or Shireen or Tommen or Lord Tywin himself, they would be happy to hand over the Dragon Queen to her to do as she wished.

And Jon will be free from her clutches. Jon will be together with his wildling girl.

She counted the days when she could see Jon again, after the battle at Castle Black. He'd come to his senses the last time, and tried to do the right thing, only to fail and die for it. Like Arya, the Jon she'd meet this time would be so different, so much younger, less scarred, less burdened and haunted. And when the battle was over, regardless of whomever sat on the throne, so long as it wasn't Daenerys, Sansa was confident she could get a release for Jon from his vows, so that he could live happily with his true family in Winterfell, far away from all the rotten intrigues of the south she'd reserved for her own torment.

And Arya, she and Sandor must have made it to Braavos by now. How was her training progressing? How was Sandor taking to life in Braavos? Would he find his place as a sellsword there, as he'd intended the first time, before he ran into Brienne? Was he keeping an eye on her sister from afar, whilst she trained? Would he return with Arya, once everything there was done, and she'd sail back across the Narrow Sea?

"Lady Sansa."

Musing happily towards the future in her room overlooking the ocean, she jumped at Tywin Lannister's voice.

"Lord Tywin," she bowed deferentially.

"We're alone," he said dismissively, "there's no need to play the little girl."

And she could be almost sure there was no one eavesdropping on them, because this was his castle. Unless the Red Woman could somehow listen in to them through her flames, a possibility she could not completely deny.

"I congratulate you on your successful war," she said, a mask of meekness still glued to her face.

"It's Stannis's victory, and he'll be celebrated across the realm for it."

"A victory which would not have been so easily gained without the support of House Lannister."

"And Houses Stark, and Tyrell, and Martell."

She feigned shock. "Does it pain you so much, Lord Tywin, to see the realm working together so wholesomely?"

"No, I welcome it," he countered threateningly, "so long as our agreement remains in place."

For a moment she wondered if he was receiving visions of his own. Or could read her mind. The latter was more likely.

"Why would you think for a second it's not?"

She replied boldly and indignantly. Two lifetimes had taught her how to lie, and lie well, yet she still feared Tywin Lannister would see through her.

"You're counseling the King. You're friends with his daughter."

It wasn't that she'd made up her mind, one way or another, on the future. But Tywin had picked up on her second thoughts quicker than she'd anticipated. Which meant were she to decide to help the Baratheons, she would not be able to catch him unawares. But did that matter, if she had the support of the King himself? However, Tywin could always reveal the deal between them, if it came to that, a betrayal to counter a betrayal. So she was caught in a trap of her own making, and for what? A crown for her brother? A crown she sensed he cared less for by the day?

"Your grandson is good friends with his daughter as well."

"My grandson is a child the Princess Shireen's age. Not a child with a grown woman's mind pretending to be the Princess Shireen's age."

Enough with being defensive. It was time to hit back at the man. A coy grin appeared on her face, though she tried not to resemble Cersei too much.

"Are you upset the King gave stewardship of the Iron Islands to Highgarden rather than Casterly Rock? Do you suspect it was at my suggestion?"

He looked more a disgruntled bulldog than a lion, the way he snarled at her without a word. "The Iron Islands have long been the concern of Casterly Rock. It's our shores and cities they reap, not the Reach's."

"I'll have you know Lord Davos also suggested the Tyrells, as did Mace Tyrell."

So she confirmed it to the old man, that Stannis had sought her counsel, and willfully snubbed his.

The man almost rolled his eyes, growing ever more impatient with her. "Are you dim, girl? Stop pretending as such, for both our sakes, of course Mace Tyrell will aim to expand upon his own influence, at my expense. The Hand would seek to appease the Tyrells, seeing they were in King's Landing but not present at your Great Council."

"Davos may have suggested you, had I not told the he and the King every chance I have to not trust the Lannisters." Her grin widened. "Appearances must be maintained. The King and his adviser must not suspect our agreement, after all."

She had him at a disadvantage now, and wondered who else had the pleasure of getting the better of Tywin Lannister. There was her own brother for one, though that was in the field of battle, rather than court.

"And there's a deeper reason for the Tyrells taking the Iron Islands, girl?"

"Leyton Hightower is deeply skeptical of Shireen's succession, and he'd seek any opportunity to upend it after Stannis's death. And he won't throw willingly throw his support to another queen, especially when she loses her dragons...not when he has a third option. Twice the Tyrells have backed the wrong house against the Baratheons, and twice they've failed. He saw an opening with Stannis's ascension, to take power in the Reach at Tyrell expense. But this strengthens Stannis's ties with Highgarden, and leaves Lord Leyton freshly disappointed in his new king."

"So as to seek out an ally, when the time comes," Tywin realized, coming to the same understanding.

Though this was not her only reason for recommending the Tyrells. Her options remained open. Were she to back Shireen and somehow betray Tywin in the future, she'd prefer the Tyrells as her own allies in the Reach, because she knew Margaery and the Lady Olenna, over the Hightowers, whom she did not know, and what little she did see this time, she did not like.

"The Hightowers are apt to work against Shireen anyway," she had told Stannis and Davos and the Red Woman, "so force them to do so openly, while leaving them with less power in the meantime. And let the Tyrells crush their own southern vassals if the time comes, for the sake of their newfound loyalty to the crown."

Fight every battle, everywhere, always, in your mind. Everyone is your enemy, everyone is your friend.

Though she wondered whether Margaery would remain content as heir to only Highgarden and Pyke, rather than Queen of the Seven Kingdoms.

Tywin looked at her appreciatively, though she was confident her words had not soothed him completely. "Either the king is a fool to trust you...or I am."

"It's House Lannister I'm to marry into," she continued, "not House Baratheon."

"Is it," Tywin questioned. "A betrothal does not always materialize into marriage, as both our families well know."

And therein lay his demand.

"Then my lord should ask the King to grant permission for the ceremony upon our return from the Wall," she answered at once. "He has his tourney, no doubt, so mayhaps after. Though, the tourney is merely an excuse for suitors to place a claim for the Crown Princess's hand, so a wedding combined may do the same trick, yet also allow at the same time the King to officially welcome houses Lannister and Stark back into his fold before all the realm."

So it would be, she would seal her future with Tommen and his blood. Yet the marriage seemed far less disagreeable for now, after she'd already spent so much time with the boy anyway, and it would secure her own life and perhaps her family's crown, allow them to all hide in plain sight from Tywin Lannister's ever aware scrutiny. She backed down, so as to allow him the prerogative.

"It will coincide with the tourney," he decided, agreeing with her suggestion, and walked away, but not before leaving his mark upon her, making it known that he was claiming her fully for his House now, and woe to those who betray the Lannisters, especially from within.

"It will happen before then," she spoke, surprising him. "The ceremony before the Seven will coincide the tourney, with the King's blessing. But I'll have my vows before our own Gods in Winterfell."

He nodded, giving his assent, and Sansa was amazed at how she'd somehow assured him further, despite herself.

Chapter Text

Sansa

Everything about everything felt so right, riding north with Robb, the Lady of Winterfell from one lifetime with the Lord of Winterfell in this lifetime. She'd never seen him after he'd become king, the last time around, and she'd met him in this life only to immediately work to strip him of his crown, if only temporarily. But it filled her heart with warmth and pride to see him now, marching, riding with and leading his lords, a man in full, regal in bearing even as his title remained lord and warden, for the time being. He was as eager to return to Winterfell as she, maybe more so, considering he had a pregnant wife waiting for him at home, along with their mother and Rickon. Her thoughts turned to Jon. He'd never become a King in the North in this lifetime, and that saddened her, because Jon had been a good king, and a great leader, before he decided to kneel to the Dragon Queen. But Jon had never wanted that crown, had he? And Sansa knew that were she to have asked him before, whether he'd give up his crown, and she her own position in the North for the matter, for the sake of their brothers all living, both of them would have answered yes without any hesitation.

"You grow more into your mother every day."

"My name may be Stark, but I will always hold dear the name of my mother's family in my heart," she told her uncle the Blackfish at the The Crossroads, where she sat in his audience with King Stannis to discuss the war in the Vale.

"Your name will soon be Lannister," her great-uncle answered her, though there was no malice in his voice, as he seemed to only wish to inform her of the fact, as if she did not know well enough herself.

"My children may bear the name, but I am a Stark and a Tully by blood and by name until I die," she affirmed to him before the King. For once, she was safe from Tywin's prying eyes and ears, as no Tully bore any love for the Lannisters, not after all the cruelties the Mountain had inflicted in their lands on behalf of the Lannisters in the last war.

"Aye, you've your mother's will too," Brynden Tully observed affectionately. "Or is it stubbornness? Same thing, really."

"Any word of Baelish," Stannis asked, breaking their brief moment as a family.

"They've posted an army by the Bloody Gate," Brynden answered. "Lord Edmure and his bannermen are posted a day's march south, to protect our rear and King's Landing. But no word from Littlefinger, or my niece, for the matter."

This was odd. She'd expected Littlefinger to have made his move by now. And she did not expect that move to be outright war against a king growing more secure in his rule by the day.

"The army's a diversion," she decided to advise. "Littlefinger is too smart to wage open war against all the remaining kingdoms."

Her great uncle looked at her oddly, then at the King. "How does she know so much of Littlefinger?"

"She kind of knows everything," Stannis mumbled uncomfortably.

The Blackfish returned to eyeing her curiously, barely a woman grown of six and ten advising the king on all matters of war. "A diversion against what," he asked with one raised eyebrow.

"I don't know that, actually," Sansa replied, honestly. "It could be a show of force, a way to put himself in a better position to negotiate a pardon."

"A pardon we could arrange," Davos said, happy at her suggestion. He'd grown very accustomed to her presence in the King's councils since the very beginning, despite his reluctance that first time to burn the Boltons. She suspected he liked her, because he had a soft heart for children, and thought her precocious. But he was keen enough to discern that if her initial impression upon Stannis had been a supernatural one, her counsel now was wholly unmagical. "Baelish owes all his power to his favor with the late Jon Arryn. Force an annulment of his marriage to the Lady Lysa, banish him from the Vale, and the man by himself can't pose that much of a threat."

"A pardon, send him to exile, I don't honestly care," Stannis said, deep in thought. "I'd rather execute the man myself, but whatever can secure my last kingdom the fastest...it'll do."

"Yohn Royce is second in power and reputation in the Vale," she offered, "he's a man of honor and duty. He serves Littlefinger because he feels it his duty to Lord Robin, but believe me, he has no love of the idea of rebellion, or being its sole instigator. Send an emissary to him, reminding him of his duties to the King, before House Arryn."

"Robert spoke well of him," Stannis remembered. He turned to Davos. "Will you take care of it?"

"Aye, Your Grace."

"Littlefinger prefers to play in the shadows," Sansa continued, as she continued to contemplate the matter. "Perhaps we ought to play his game."

"How would we do that," Davos asked, slightly suspicious and fearful. She wondered if he feared she was to suggest a similar kind of conspiracy to the one that brought down the Boltons.

"Ser Jaime rides with us, along with his sellsword." Jaime Lannister's decision to ride north had been a surprise to everyone, though Sansa had an idea why he'd choose make a return to Winterfell. "Perhaps we can make use of Bronn. Promise him a knighthood, maybe even a castle. He's been to the Eyrie before, with Lord Tyrion and my mother. Have him sneak into the castle, find the Lady Lysa, or the Lord Robin, or both, and bring them before the King. Maybe he can slit Littlefinger's throat while he's at it, but he needn't. Separated from Baelish, both Lord Robin and his mother can be convinced of the futility of rebellion, and without their support, Littlefinger's power dissolves overnight, and the Lords of the Vale will fight each other for the right to carry out the King's justice. Another war can be won, with nary the need to shed unnecessary blood."

There it was, the look, this time from the Blackfish. He looked at Davos and Stannis as well, catching on quickly that neither one of them were any surprised by her bout of wit.

"She does your blood proud," Stannis said to the man, and she thought she spied a small grin upon his lips, as if amused by the idea of showing off his new toy to her own kin. "Approach the sellsword, see if he thinks it possible to impregnate an impregnable castle."

"Prince Oberyn." She found the Dornish Prince outside his tent in the cold of the morning. They were well in the North now, only a few more days away from the gates of Winterfell.

"Lady Sansa." He bowed, and looked around conspiratorially. "They say the Princess Shireen will name you her Hand once she ascends the throne, though I suspect the King may do you the honor himself sooner than later."

He sensed the truth. Really, all who rode with the King did, considering her presence in his councils. Though she heard some uncomely whispers about some rather less honorable services she performed for her king, none dared to speak such slander openly. Nor did most, such as Oberyn, believe such rumors, considering the reputation of the King as, if not a prude, then certainly still nearly the opposite his lecher brother.

So there was no need for pretense with him. Not when he was such an interesting ally, were she to remain loyal to the Baratheons.

Or a potential enemy, if I remain true with Tywin.

"He would not dishonor Lord Davos," she replied, matter of fact. "And he does not need to. He knows he has my counsel, happily given, without need of placement in any official seat in his Small Council."

"You crowned him, you advise him, and seek not the glories of position," he said, intriguingly. "Why do you love the man so?" He blinked. "Do you believe his priestess, when she says him a prince of prophecy?"

"My father died for the sake of his rightful, lawful claim," Sansa said, feeling guilty even as she spoke for invoking her father's name, borrowing upon his reputation for honor, when she had little of it herself at this point. "And I believe Stannis to be a strong leader, the best man positioned to lead the realm in the Long Night to come." She winked, turning the question at him. "Do you believe in what's beyond the Wall, Prince Oberyn?"

He winked back. "I said to your brother, so I'll say to you, Lady Sansa, when strange bedfellows such as Tywin Lannister and Stannis Baratheon agree upon such a thing, I'm a humble enough man to not doubt their judgment."

"So as to forget the past, your history?"

His eyes narrowed, and she sensed that this was not a matter he felt comfortable discussing with her. Not yet, anyhow. "The King's ordered all his lords to put past grudges to bed, to forge a new world, a new peace, for his reign."

"The King needs Lord Tywin now," she stressed, "for the sake of securing the peace, and for the sake of the Long Night. The realm needs Lord Tywin, his wealth, his power, his bannermen...certainly until the Long Night is finished." She left what remained unsaid, for even in the North, thousands of leagues from Casterly Rock, she felt it wiser to not speak too openly any words of treason against Tywin Lannister. "Do you travel North because you wish to see the threat yourself, Prince Oberyn?"

"I travel north because I want to travel North," he replied with a grin, understanding the hidden meaning of her words. "I would have liked to see Winterfell and the Wall before I died, in any life. It seemed a practical thing to be of use to the King, while pursuing my own desires."

"You're a well traveled man, Prince Oberyn." She bit her lips meekly. "Have you traveled east before?"

"A few of the Free Cities, yes." He nodded, eyes gleaming, as if he had already a thousand tales to regale her with. But it was not his stories she was after.

"But not as far as Slaver's Bay," she asked immediately.

"No," he said, her line of questioning catching him unawares. "Not that far."

"You've heard rumors of the daughter of Aerys, have you not, in Dorne? How she's taken all the cities? How she now has Tyrion Lannister and Barristan Selmy and Loras Tyrell advising her?"

The news of Margaery's brother in Essos had caught her by surprise, though it made sense once she thought about it. He could have been most useful for the Baratheon cause, to secure the Tyrells to their claim by way of a marriage to Shireen, though Sansa knew the poor girl would not receive much enjoyment from such a union.

"Perhaps I have," Oberyn replied cautiously, and Sansa wondered if he'd already given thought to some kind of alliance with the Targaryens, for the sake of his not so forgotten and not so ancient grudges.

"Perhaps you ought to travel east, once you complete your travels north." She bit her lips shyly again. "For the sake of the King, of course. Any Targaryen, pretender or not, is a threat to his crown, especially if the tales of the dragons are real. You would do the King a great service were you to assess firsthand the truth of the tales they tell."

She wondered if he'd find Varys there, already serving in Daenerys's court. The man had not been seen in King's Landing for some time apparently, though Sansa figured any trip the Spider would make east would not be permanent, not until he found further ways to undermine Stannis on behalf of the Dragon Queen. Which suited her fine, because he, like Tyrion, spoke caution and mercy in her ears, once his true loyalties were revealed.

"Do you ask me this on behalf of the King?"

"I would, except the thought just occurred to me now. I'm sure I'll advise the King eventually, were you to strike east. So long as you remember, your loyalties lie ultimately with your rightful King."

Daenerys hates Tywin Lannister. Daenerys had to die, but after the Long Night.

Oberyn hates Tywin Lannister. Oberyn may find common cause with Daenerys.

Does Tywin Lannister need to survive the Long Night, were I to renege on our deal?

The battle would be fought in the North. All the lords and ladies of the realm would have to fight in the north, in the lands of her family, her brother. She'd brought Littlefinger north once, and watched his power fade next to hers. Could Tywin Lannister meet the same fate, without the realm, or his own family for the matter, even knowing of any betrayal? She needed the Lannister men and scorpions to kill Daenerys, after the White Walkers were defeated. But then stranded in the winds of winter, they may themselves be vulnerable were the Viper to see an opportunity to consummate his long held grudge. Afterwards, she doubted he cared whether a Baratheon held the throne, or a Targaryen for the matter, the latter merely serving as a shield or tool for his revenge. Cersei, Jaime, even Tommen, and whomever else remained loyal to Tywin would blame Dorne, but since when has Dorne needed fear the rest of the Kingdoms? So long as Oberyn kept his mouth shut, of course, as he ought, in gratitude to the opportunity provided by her.

"The Lady Sansa serves her King well," Oberyn said pointedly. "I will take her words into consideration."

Her mother's family she was sure she could secure. Add in her brother at Winterfell. Baratheons, that was obvious. Tyrells, if closely tied to the Baratheons. Martells, tied in against the Lannisters. Perhaps even the Arryns too, if they could drive out Littlefinger and she could obtain Yohn Royce's trust again, while Sweetrobin came of age. Did she really need to fear Tywin and Cersei, when she could stack the remaining kingdoms of the realm against their wealth and power?

She wondered if she was getting too good at plotting. She wondered, once her enemies were dead and she and her family safe and the North's independence secure, whether she could bring herself to step away from the game.


Jaime

Robb Stark did not like him. Jaime did not begrudge him for that. They'd not exchanged kind words when he was the captive of the Young Wolf. He had an inkling that his mother would like him less, once they reached Winterfell. After all, their...conversations...had been far more acrimonious than his ones with the once King in the North, even though it was Catelyn Stark, nee Tully, who'd freed him.

"Sansa says I can trust you," the boy wolf snarled at him the night before they were to arrive at Winterfell. "I'm not sure why she'd say that."

"To be honest, I'm not sure why either." There was the agreement between her and his father, of course, but he suspected that, though the Stark girl may or may not have confided in her brother the agreement (he figured not), she would never go as far as fully trust her new allies herself, much less risk the lives of her own family by telling them to trust a Lannister.

"Why are you here," Robb asked sternly. They'd avoided each other mostly, in the Iron Islands, when Robb's army had been separate from theirs, and on the ride North. Valiant at the boy was, he apparently preferred to put off such awkward confrontations until the last possible minute.

"You're the Lord of Winterfell," he replied indifferently, knowing nothing he said would make a difference to move his onetime foe. "I'll be Lord of Casterly Rock one day. I thought it appropriate we get to know one another, knock heads together, and plot all the ways we can serve our King and his rightful heir for the years to come." He waved his good hand nonchalantly in the air. "And there's the whole business with the dead...I suppose that's something the future Warden of the West ought to see for himself."

Obviously the Young Wolf was far from placated by his words, nor had he expected him to be. "You've never won a battle, Kingslayer. And you'll never win a duel again, not against anyone capable." The Young Wolf moved in upon him, encroaching his air, so that when he spoke, Jaime could feel the breath leave his mouth. "You crippled my brother. You're known throughout the realm as a man with no honor. Know that you have no friends in the North, Kingslayer. Know that if you try anything, not the King or even your Lord father can save you."

He really is old Ned Stark's son, through and through. Except with bigger balls, mayhaps.

"I'm not as dim as you think me, Your Grace. I'm not my father or my sister, I've no plots to destroy House Stark from within, with one hand."

"See that you don't," Robb said, as a threat, before turning away purposefully from him, and Jaime wondered whether it was his lot in life to pay for the crimes of his father and sister and son for the days to come.

And my own crimes, I've accumulated plenty of sins before the gods on my own.


He found her sparring with the master-at-arms in the courtyard. Brienne startled at seeing him, the old man gave him a dirty look, and Jaime remembered that he'd killed his son, Jory, was that his name, in the streets of King's Landing. So he walked away, knowing this feeling of shame within the walls of his former enemy would never go away while he was present.

"What are you doing here?" Her question matched Robb Stark's, when she sought him out later that day.

"Are you one of them now," he deflected instead, noting the thick wolfpelts lining her armor. "Never pegged you for a Northerner, though the affiliation seems obvious, in hindsight...I half expect to see you with a beard like old Lord Karstark next time I see you."

"You'd be dead by the hands of old Lord Karstark if Lady Catelyn hadn't set you free," Brienne reminded him, as he'd half expected her to.

"Yes, well I doubt the Lady Catelyn is eager to receive my thanks in person, though you can relay my message, next time you see her." He paused, and quipped further, daring her to cross him. "I brought Sansa back to Winterfell, at least."

"I'd say she brought herself back."

It tired him already to resume the petty bickering that he'd barely tolerated for months on end on their journey back to the capital.

"A vow fulfilled is a vow fulfilled, regardless of method. And it's not my fault the girl sent her other sister to Essos with Clegane, out of all people." He narrowed his eyes. "What do you think, anyhow? Of all these snarks and grumpkins I'm to help my king and lord father fight beyond the Wall?"

She pursed her lips in thought, and Jaime reckoned she believed the stories wholeheartedly already, if only because it was her duty to believe whatever her masters who fed her her meat and mead told her to believe.

"I think you believe in Sansa Stark's stories more than you let on. That's the only reason you're here, isn't it?"

"Yes, it's the only reason I'm here," Jaime muttered more to himself than anyone else. "It'll be an interesting war, I'd think. And I can't do any worse than I did against Robb Stark, can I?"

"That's your question to answer, Kingsl...Ser Jaime. Not mine."

He sighed. The contempt was less, but remained. But how could she not reply to him with contempt, when he treated her the same?

"I did want to see how you were taking to Winterfell. Seems the Starks like you. Much more than they like me, that fairly obvious."

"You're alive," Brienne replied plainly, having seen how close they both skirted with death at the hands of House Bolton, now extinct by the will of Sansa Stark, though he doubt she had them burned to avenge the loss of his sword hand. "The gods gave you a chance to repay your debt to the Starks, to the North. I suggest you think about how you can do that."

"I suppose I might," Jaime said wearily, turning from her and walking away. Brienne was not his father, and he did not come to Winterfell to be scolded as if he were still a child.


His next visitor paid him a visit in his own chambers, and despite his father's assurance that she was secretly on their side, whatever that meant, he didn't know what to say to the Stark girl at first.

"Lady Sansa," he began, doing his best to maintain his mask and not let her see his uneasiness, "I've had the pleasure of being scolded by your brother and Lady Brienne since becoming your guest, so please spare me the insults I've heard thousands of times already."

She regarded him curiously, proudly now that they were in her home...perhaps even some semblance of smugness dripping from her young face.

"I know why you're here."

By the gods, is she here to 'vision' me to death?

"Why don't you tell me then, girl?"

"You ought to have offered to kill Stannis for Lady Brienne. Not that she would have accepted, but that may win you some favor in her eyes."

Why does the girl bring up Brienne to me?

"Is that it? The combined intellect of Tywin Lannister and the magical Stark girl, and the best you can come up with is for the Kingslayer to commit another act of kingslaying?"

Even as he continued to brush her off, the amusement remained on her face. Finally, she shook her head.

"It won't do. Too obvious. Not even a Lannister on the throne would be enough to save you after you've killed two kings."

Rubbing his head with his hands, he paced the room, muttering to himself once again why he willingly chose to come to a place where the sole purpose of all its inhabitants was to torment him worse than Cersei. Swerving his head, he turned the question on her.

"I've slain king and kin alike. I can't understand why the former is so much more abhorrent before the Gods than the latter."

The girl had the gall to laugh in his face. "Depends on the king, I suppose. Or Queen."

So she had the same feeling, knowledge that kings were something less than gods. But he knew why she would feel this way, though he was surprised by her ruthless, confirming by word their shared conspiracy. "We've both been around our share of kings. I've seen four, you've seen two up close. They're human, they cough, they shit, they bleed just like the rest of us."

"You speak so contemptuously of kings," she responded back, fighting him still, to his surprise. "You've had one son sit on the throne, and here we all plot together to seat your youngest child." She was fearless, he could admit. Perhaps it was because they were in her home, though he'd guessed that his own father would not respect her as he did, not unless she'd been equally bold with him, but not foolishly so.

"Better Tommen than Shireen," he said, not letting her provoke him into the questions regarding Cersei's childrens' parentage.

The amusement was gone from her eyes. "The game's a rotten business, Ser Jaime. Though I'd have hoped you had more of a conscience about you when it comes to stripping the poor girl from her inheritance."

"No one but you says she has to be hurt," he said, accusing her back.

"It won't hurt her? When we kill her father? When we take away her birthright?"

"The girl doesn't give two shits about her birthright," he said, fully realizing he had been provoked into an argument with a girl who was supposedly his ally. "Why ought all the lords swear loyalty to her birthright, why should they care more about it than her?"

Why is father determined to make me his heir, when I want it the least?

"It's the only way," Sansa countered back, though her own voice seemed less sure now. "The crown has to be accorded respect, to the degree of near worship, so that plotters like us can't freely strip away one monarch after another, with all the bloodshed it all entails. Aerys was not the only man to bleed and die during the war to overthrow him, after all."

He nearly spat his response. "Worship? You know Stannis better than me. Joffrey too, while he sat on the throne. I knew Robert and Aerys. Neither were great men, neither were gods, but Robert was a better man in every way compared to the Mad King. Robert earned his throne, he fought for it, as did Stannis. Aerys and Joffrey sat on that damned chair only because of who their father was, and look at how well they ruled."

"So you'd shed blood and rather see a war of succession every time a king dies?"

"Why not," he pressed. He knew what he was saying did not make sense, but yet he felt there was more hidden wisdom in his words than even he was aware of. "Or at least have one of your damned Great Councils the decide the matter. Wanting it, and willing to think and cheat and kill for it ought count for something."

The girl let out a sardonic laugh, and from her tone, Jaime imagined he saw not a young girl, but a bitter old crone, to be married off to his one living son.

"It's a good thing then, that Lord Tywin and I have agreed to pass the throne to a boy who does not want to rule, if only because of his supposed birthright."

Her tone made him wonder whether she had joined his own father and sister in toying with him, so as to use his political naivete as an outlet for their own bile.

"Why are we arguing," he decided to ask, exasperated. "You and I know what must be done, to appease my father. Clearly you've no love for the idea, considering it places a Lannister on the Iron Throne, but you must have made your peace a long time ago with all that."

The grin reappeared on the girl's face.

"I wanted to see how far you would go, for your family, for your House. You don't want to hurt Shireen. I'm glad of that. I don't either." She moved to leave, then turned back to him. "But remember, the Baratheons aren't the only crowns we aim to dethrone. You may not want to hurt the Targaryen girl either, when she lands her dragons here. I applaud what conscience remains within you for your forbearance, but remember...she may be much prettier than Aerys, she may speak much prettier than Aerys...but don't let that fool you...she's not one of the Targaryens whose coin flipped the right way."

The Targaryen girl. His father had mentioned her briefly, though he did not dwell. Clearly Tywin Lannister remained focused on the Baratheons and all the families who would defy or betray them in the realm now, but perhaps the girl thought further into the future than even his own father.

"Then if it'll please you and my father, I'll present you her head myself, if it'll shut the two of you up."

She looked him and down and back up, this child who was to marry his son.

"No need for theatrics, Ser Jaime. If your men take care of the dragons...perhaps I'll take upon the burden shedding holy blood myself, this time."

Chapter Text

Sansa

One last time she roamed the hallways of her home, because there was little time to waste. But Winterfell no longer belonged to her now, did it? It was Robb's and mother's and Talisa's, and as much as they would protest and tell her how welcome she was at all times, there was a stark difference between sitting at the center of the table and sitting at its side. Once upon another lifetime, she and Jon had shared it equally.

Except it wasn't so perfect, was it? Jon ignored me once they named him a king. Then he brought along a Dragon Queen to force the North to bend the knee. And then everything he did as king and after got him killed, got Arya killed, got me killed.

"You're sure you need to ride north with Robb and the King," her mother asked beside her.

"Would you rather me stay?"

"I would," she answered honestly, but Sansa shook her head.

"I have to go North, to the Wall."

Though, if she could be fully honest with herself, she was eager to leave Winterfell...and her mother. Because despite her knowledge and best judgment, her lady mother could not help but treat her as a child still...not when even Robb recognized her as an equal, a trusted advisor to the King...a center of power around which the Seven Kingdoms spun. And it made her genuinely angry, when Catelyn Stark would not move on the matter of Jon, when her own mother's eyes grew hardened and cold at every mention of the trueborn man whose father, nay uncle, never wronged her.

Understand I know more than you, her mind cried out to her mother when she turned away any time she mentioned her beloved brother and once King. I know the truth, what ought to be...how you ought to feel about him.

But she had to keep silent, because even if Stannis may not regard Jon as a threat, sworn to the Wall as he was, there was another a continent away for which the truth, even whispered once, could be provoked to madness.

So while she had always intended to go to the Wall, it actually gave her some measure of relief to do so, even when it involved leaving a home she'd barely become reacquainted with in this lifetime. She would return, after all, to bid her farewells...and to say her vows before the Godswood. But before that, she would finally get to see Jon again...the Jon in this life whom she never apologized for being horrible to, for not properly treating him as family. She wondered then, as she did now, if she, and her mother, had not treated him so awfully, would he have been so eager to follow the Dragon Queen to King's Landing?

"You want to see him, don't you?" Her mother spoke with unadorned scorn on her face. Agree with her or not, her mother still knew well her daughter.

"He's my brother," she said, feeling defiance rising from her heart, and in that moment, she had to keep herself from revealing the truth about Jon to her mother. "He's a Stark. He'll lead the battle against the dead. Why shouldn't I want to see him, just like I want to see Robb and Rickon and Bran?"

They walked along the banisters awkwardly afterwards, neither one of them speaking.

"Gods...Sansa...you're not in love with him, are you?"

She nearly guffawed in laughter, and wondered how long her mother had held back asking this absurd question which apparently gnawed at her heart so. "Is that what you're worried about?" The look on her mother's face indicated she wasn't joking. "I'm not a Targaryen. Or Cersei Lannister, for the matter."

Relief appeared on her mother's face, along with the hint of a laugh at her last mention, still a secret taboo to speak of in the kingdoms, despite the stripping of Lannister power in King's Landing.

"I'm sorry," her mother finally relented. "I've tried, I swear to you Sansa, I have...with Jon...but I can't, I'm not a good enough woman to let go of such things. And I'm an old woman now, an old woman who can't change her scales."

Father never betrayed you. He was never untrue to you.

"He was my King," she recalled fondly. "He fought for me, for our family, for Winterfell, when no one else would. There was a time where we thought we were the last two Starks remaining in the world."

Despite what she just said, Sansa did not fail to notice a wince upon her face when she referred to Jon as a Stark. But that was what he was, before and after she found out that horrible truth which cost all of them everything. She remembered those days fondly, before he went to see the Dragon Queen, perhaps they were the best days she'd ever enjoyed, ever since she rode south to King's Landing that very first time, naive and dumb but having a family still whole.

Except it hadn't been that simple, had it? She and Jon had quarreled, as brothers and sister did and ought to. And yes the Dead loomed north, but they were a Wall away, and how simple was a world when the worst enemy she could imagine was the very normal, very predictable, very dragonless Cersei Lannister?

And Jon, as much as she loved him, how would he be remembered, in the world which passed her by? As the King who Knelt for Love? As the King who lost his kingdom with nary a battle? Did that world continue, after she died, with all who remained living little more as slaves under a Dragon Queen triumphant, or was that all a hideous nightmare of the gods, of which only she knew of, and the gods, whichever damned form they took, had decided a mad queen ruling over two continents with fire and blood was too horrible a fate for even their own blackened consciences, and so sent her back to her childhood to fix on their behalf?

I can't wait to watch you die, Daenerys. By my own hands, if the damned gods look with me upon favor for once.

"I know you're not a child anymore, and I shouldn't treat you like one."

She doesn't know me, Sansa realized. And how could she, how could she comprehend what it was like being married to the Boltons, of the Dead, the dragons, of Cersei Lannister on the Iron Throne, a battle where wildlings and Northmen and the Knights of the Vale and a giant all fought together...to see Arya and Bran barely themselves, nearly stripped of their souls in pursuit of what they needed to become...to see Daenerys Targaryen finish her father's legacy by burning each and last Stark alive? How could she understand all that, when she still half thinks Littlefinger a harmless, childhood friend?

"I'm not." She stated firmly, confidently, speaking, she realized, almost in the manner of Stannis before his Small Council. Gods, am I to style my hair after him also? "I was the Lady of Winterfell, the lords and knights of two kingdoms answered to me. And I've crowned a king, and advise him now. I know what's good, mother, I know what has to be done, for our family to survive."

She was about to say, for Robb to regain his crown...but she didn't, because she realized suddenly she didn't trust her mother. Not with everything, not with Jon...not when the stakes were still so high with Daenerys Targaryen and her dragons breathing fire a continent away, seeking to claim all seven of her kingdoms.

Her mother gripped her hand, a sign of apology, for not being someone she could never be. "Just be safe, daughter. And be wary, despite everything you know."

"I'll take care of Robb. He'll travel easy, knowing you're here with Talisa to take care of little Lyanna."

Robb's firstborn had been a girl, Talisa giving birth fortuitously less than two days after their arrival at Winterfell, and Sansa knew the mention of her first grandchild was by far the fastest way to gentle her mother's heart.

"She'll live a long and happy life, thanks to everything you've done."

She was trying to make peace. But for a moment, Sansa wondered whether her mother felt too much confidence in her.


"I don't know why I can't go with you and Princess Shireen."

"I promised Lord Tywin to keep you from harm, and he doesn't want you going to the Wall." Sansa patted her betrothed gently on his shoulder. "The Crown Princess has to go, because one day it will be her realm."

Except it'll be Tommen's realm, according to Lord Tywin, yet he's afraid to let his intended King step foot near a few wildlings. Or is that Cersei whispering into his ear?

"I'll miss you," Tommen replied sadly. "But I know you'll do well helping the King and Princess Shireen up on the Wall."

"We'll be wife and husband when I return," Sansa said, the finality of the matter settling in for her. "Until then, you can get to know your new family."

"I don't think Lady Catelyn is too fond of me," Tommen said, genuinely fearful of her lady mother.

"I don't think Lady Catelyn is too fond of anyone not her children or grandchildren." She frowned. "Robb's treated you kindly, hasn't he? If only not to make Lady Talisa angry."

"He's never been anything but kind to me," Tommen replied, his face beaming at the mention of the new Lady of Winterfell. Sansa half envied her brother's wife, for how wonderful she was, how she had that natural gift of making everyone next to her feel so special and welcomed. And that was good, because Talisa saw Tommen not as a Lannister, but as who he was...an innocent young man who bore no responsibility for the crimes, or would be crimes in this life, of his family.

"Don't you go falling in love with Talisa or Osha while I'm away, you hear?"

"I won't," Tommen cried loudly, reacting as she expected at her mild teasing. "I'll always be true to you, Lady Sansa."

"I've no doubt you will," Sansa said. She kissed him on his forehead, the most intimate act she could bear to make on this boy who would be her husband soon, and he practically swooned in response.

"Be the best uncle you can be for baby Lyanna, that's all I ask."

"I swear I will. Whatever I can do to help Lady Talisa with Lady Lyanna, I will."

It was so easy, playing this boy...Tywin's grand piece in his game, that she could get used to it. Though she had to admit, he looked rather gallant now, wearing a breastplate with both their families' sigils, together. It was an obvious gesture, but she appreciated it all the same, and thought she never remembered him looking quite...close to handsome, as a boy his age could. But then she'd never seen him, had she, after Joffrey's death, after he'd ascended the Iron Throne and married the Lady Margaery for a fortnight or two?

At best, I'm another Margaery Tyrell, in this life.

You'll be the only Lannister who doesn't hate me when it becomes apparent you won't sit on the Iron Throne.

"Does it get colder at the Wall," Shireen asked, a day after they'd left Winterfell riding north.

"This is just a light storm," Sansa replied, not even have noticed the flecks of snow until after seeing Shireen shiver uncomfortably. She wanted to say that this was nothing, that it got far worse...but then, by all appearances she was still a child of summer in this life, wasn't she, never having seen true winter since she was a child much younger than Shireen. "You'll get used to it soon."

The girl's eyes looked scared, petrified even, and Sansa wondered if somehow the gods had cursed her with a premonition of her last fate in Sansa's last life. Could she still feel the fire, hear her own screams, all the while pounded by the cold winds of the winter?

You won't die young, in the North, this time, Shireen, I promise you.

Nor will you be another child doomed to die by Tywin Lannister's orders.

"Father says I have to meet the Night's Watch and get them to respect me." The girl shivered again. "I'm not sure how to do that."

"By being who you are. Don't think to be afraid of them, approach them knowing you're a more higher born royal that any of them would be lucky to meet ever in their lives. Let them regard you with fear, as they should. But then show them gentleness, show them kindness, let them see that you're not just another snooty highborn, make them be happily surprised by who you are, exceed their expectations, and you'll have their respect, and their loyalty."

The Crown Princess rode in silence, mulling over her words. It was easy to give advice, but was it good advice, Sansa wondered? Would it work for Shireen, especially with the hardened men of the Wall...the same men who betrayed and killed Jon?

"They'll fear me, that's one thing I'm sure of," she said, pointing at the mark of her face. Shaking her head, Shireen sighed sadly. "I don't want it. The Throne."

"It's your birthright," Sansa replied, feigning some amount of surprise despite the fact that the girl was giving voice to what she already suspected. "And it's your duty. You're a good person, Shireen, think of the good you can do for all the people of the realm, think of how you'll be remembered as, Shireen the Great, Shireen the Beloved."

The girl shook her head, even more impassioned than before. "It won't be any of that."

"How can you be so sure?"

"They'll fight a war for me. Father says they won't, but I know it'll happen...it's happened with every Targaryen whenever any of them tried to make a girl their heir on the Throne. And win or lose, they'll resent having to fight and die for me, and I'll be remembered as Shireen the Hideous, the Marked, the Scarred...the girl whose crown cost the seven kingdoms tens of thousands of lives."

Her forlorn eyes stared into Sansa's, so sincerely sad and devoid of hope or happiness at her prospects, that Sansa herself felt her breath taken away. "They called her the Realm's Delight, Queen Rhaenyra. Except they fought a war for her claim, and after the Dance of Dragons, neither she nor the two Aegons who sat on the Throne after her death are remembered with any delight or fondness at all, not after all the cruelty and suffering they brought to the realm. I'd rather be forgotten, to be honest. Give me a good, kind husband, your brother Rickon, or whomever impresses you and father at the tourney. With any luck, he'll love me as half as much as sweet Tommen loves you, and I'll go to Storm's End, I'll have a child, continue my family's blood, and no one need ever speak of me or sing songs of me. Or die for me."

"Your father won't like that." That was all Sansa could muster with her words. While she knew Shireen had never coveted the crown, the sheer and deep antipathy she felt for it, and the reason why, broke her heart. She wanted to correct her, contradict her words. She wanted to hate the awful Queen Selyse, whose entirety of motherly nurturing over the years had been merely to deepen the poor girl's sense of self loathing. Except...Shireen wasn't wrong. She sensed it from the books she read, Sansa lived it herself, but both of them understood the same way what a rotten world it was, what a rotten game surrounded the throne...and that no King, or Queen, could emerge unscathed from their battles and strivings for the crown since Aegon the Conqueror, cursed be his name.

The Crown Princess looked around furtively, until she was comfortable knowing no one else was listening upon their conversation.

"Father won't live forever. What happens...after...he doesn't need to know."

They both heard the stomping of horses and quieted. It was King Stannis, and his Kingsguard, and Sansa thought the King looked rather cheerful for once.

"Good tidings from the Wall," she asked. He'd known Jon once before, he'd shown a healthy respect for her brother, and she hoped he would again this time, once he recognized both the steel and the heart in his veins.

"Good tidings from the south," he answered, "from the east."

She frowned. "Littlefinger?" Was he dead already? If so, she ought to be happy, yet she still mourned in her heart but a little.

He nodded. "No sign of him in the Vale from the sellsword. The Eyrie's empty, Baelish, the boy Arryn and his mother, not a trace, vanished."

"He's gone?" This did not bode well, but the King did not notice her dismay.

"The Knights of the Vale lay down their swords at the news, as you said they would. I'll name Yohn Royce Warden of the East, at your recommendation. The East is secured, Lady Sansa, thanks to you. Now all the realm will fight together against the threat beyond the Wall."

Beyond her, Shireen smiled, pretending to be happy at the news, a feign of joy masking the indifference, if not loathing for her inheritance, that Sansa truly understood now for the first time. And she fretted, without need of a mask, because Petyr Baelish would not abandon a kingdom so secure within his own grasp. Not willingly, by any regard. And as her mind ran through the different reasons he could have left and the places he could have gone, she came about only one answer, and grew so pale that even Stannis frowned in concern.

"Are you alright, Lady Sansa?"

"No," she gasped out her answer. "This is all wrong."


Tyrion

"I don't understand." He paced back and forth the throne room of the Great Pyramid, the exotic beauty and the magnificence of the building long lost to him for all he had to endure beneath its walls. "We made peace with the masters of all three cities, they promised to our faces they would accept your rule, and stop funding the Sons of the Harpy."

"Yet they break their word every day," his Queen said coldly. He had been the one to bring her news of the day's attacks. They rotated, he and Jorah and Barristan and Loras, yet every day the news was the same. "Yet they still lie to my face, each and every day."

"You've questioned them as...extensively, as anyone could." They all had to bear witness to that, and Tyrion thought his nostrils could no longer bear the smell of dragon fire, burning upon a man's skin...except there was always tomorrow. "Either they have the strongest wills in the world and are the greatest liars in the world...or they're telling the truth."

"I have to agree with Lord Tyrion, Your Grace," Barristan offered. "We've done all we can do on that front. If they haven't talked yet, I doubt they'd talk ever. Especially if they aren't lying in the first place." It was ironic, Tyrion thought, the old man began his days serving a king who burnt, now he may end them serving a Queen who did the same. Granted, she had far more reason to do so, and the recipients of her justice far more deserving, but Tyrion wondered just how much of the Mad King Barristan saw in their Queen, all of them victims of the circumstances they'd been backed into.

"We need to discover the truth, regardless," Daenerys said, deep in thought. "You're right, I can't burn all the masters in all three cities. Not when it's not doing us any good." Tyrion knew she didn't want to burn the masters, day by day...that all the horrors they inflicted in this pyramid was for the sake of saving all the innocents who lived in the shadows of the pyramid. But she was a Targaryen, after all. How long of such punishments before she became too inured to the fact? It made it all the more so urgent as to resolve the mystery.

"Someone's still paying them, that's for sure," Daario said. "That's what my men gather."

"But they don't know who," Daenerys asked.

The sellsword would have no compunctions letting his men slaughter each and every remaining master. Prowling around in the corner, Tyrion knew that Yara Greyjoy, the newest arrival at the Dragon Queen's court, likely felt the same.

"All they know is their paymasters wear the same masks," Jorah added. Despite the petty jealousies between the northern exile and the sellsword, the two had developed a rather good and beneficial partnership patrolling the streets of Mereen together.

The Queen sighed sadly. "Who would have thought this so difficult?"

Tyrion stepped up. No one stopped him, this small room had become a tight circle of trust, despite all their varied backgrounds and motives.

"With all due respect, Your Grace, this should be difficult."

The Queen glared at him with skeptical eyes. "Explain, Lord Tyrion, why it should be difficult to rid my cities of predators who prey on the weak and the innocent?"

"No," Tyrion gasped. "Innocents shouldn't die by the dozens by the day. Criminals and bandits shouldn't roam the streets, espousing a lost cause. But take all of that away...there's no slaves in Westeros, there's no masters, yet...you'll rule more than three cities from the Iron Throne. And the lords of Westeros...even without slaves and the Sons of the Harpy and the like, I imagine you won't find them any easier to manage."

"You're telling me all the lords of Westeros will be my enemy?" The Queen raised an eyebrow as she spoke. She's testing me, he thought. She tests me constantly. She expects the best out of me, out of all of us. "My enemies have met my dragons here. They struggle still, but I don't imagine they'll struggle for much longer."

He exchanged a wary glance at both Barristan and Jorah. Loras...well he paced the chamber same as them, but his mind seemed not on their discussion but rather...well...perhaps nothing, though Tyrion wanted to give the young man the benefit of the doubt. He thought of an idea, and dared broach it to his Queen.

"Your Grace, how well are you acquainted with the Faith of the Seven?"

Her eyes narrowed, but in a way that showed she was intrigued, daring him to continue. "It is the faith of my ancestors, who ruled upon the Iron Throne."

"The Seven Pointed Star teaches of seven heavens and seven hells," Tyrion began, finding his heart calming the more he launched deeper into his speech. "The book also teaches that those who deny the Seven, the rightful gods of all the worlds, are consigned to, at best the first hell." Walking over to the balcony overlooking the city, he gestured his hands outwards. "This is your city, Your Grace, filled with innocents...women and children, whom you've saved from a fate worse than death."

"Innocents like the girl Jari," Daenerys interrupted, violet eyes cold, "a former slave, slaughtered by the Sons of the Harpy."

"Yes," Tyrion agreed, "innocents like Jari. Yet...I daresay most of them don't follow the Seven. Not Jari, not but maybe a few dozen in the three cities combined...most of them have never heard of the gods of the Andals, and never will. Do they deserve eternal damnation, merely for being born who they are?"

"They don't," Daenerys conceded. Her eyes fixated upon him, puzzled, as did Barristan's and Jorah's. "Your point, Lord Tyrion? I never figured you to be one to take literally religious texts."

"Think of the lords of Westeros the same way, or even the masters in Mereen, or Astapor, or Yunkai. Their intent isn't to be evil, or horrible, or villainous. They're born who they are, they're raised who they are...differently, whether on this continent, or our native one, but...all the same, in that they can only know the world they've only known, and nothing else. Not until they've seen the new world...your world...and they can't just see it, they have to be convinced. And that's your job, as their Queen, to show them a better world, to convince them of it...and that's the duty of all of us who serve you, to help you better paint that picture."

Sinking back into her chair, Tyrion imagined that she understood better the weight, the burden, upon the inheritance which she would claim. And whereas it would bury most others, he still truly believed Daenerys Stormborn to be one of few who could carry that weight.

He continued. "It starts here. Mereen. Astapor. Yunkai. We can't just tell the masters our way is the right way, and their way is not. We have to show them."

"You're right," Daenerys replied, her eyes soft again. "Tell me then, Lord Tyrion, how we show the masters the right way."

Taking a deep breath, knowing this was his opportunity, his time, Tyrion began. "Trade."

"Trade?" The Queen did not appear convinced. Nor should she be, based on one word.

"Trade," he repeated. "The masters worship the coin, as do the freemen and women. Let those who were slaves earn it, let them buy from the masters the silks and necklaces and trinkets they had to toil for in the past. The fleets of the masters sit empty, with no more slaves to slave for them. Let the former slaves lend these ships from the masters, take their goods to ports like Volantis and Tyrosh and Pentos, where they'll sell their wares. Let masters and their former slaves get rich together, let them see the way forward is to work together, that their destinies are entwined."

"It's a good idea," Jorah said, supporting coming from an unexpected corner of Daenerys's council. "But where will thousands of former slaves get the gold to purchase goods from the masters?"

"The Iron Bank."

"The Iron Bank?" The Queen's face was neutral now, and Tyrion wasn't sure whether she thought to support or condemn the idea.

"You have three dragons, Your Grace. The Iron Bank bets on winners. Dragons don't lose."

"A modest tax," Barristan said, thinking out loud and along Tyrion's terms, "and we'll have enough to pay the bank back. Perhaps within a year or two."

Proof, Tyrion thought, by that time, to all the lords of Westeros, of a wise ruler to stand against Stannis. Who has more to her than just dragons and fire and blood.

"And you think this will end the insurrection?"

"We've tried force. Force clearly isn't working..."

"Your Grace." It was Grey Worm who interrupted them. "You have visitors."

"Visitors," Jorah and Daenerys both asked at once.

"From Westeros. Lords of Vall."

"Vall?" Daenerys craned her neck. She had never heard of this particular castle either.

"The Vale," Tyrion asked, as he rummaged through his mind which lords would have cause to venture so far east.

"The Lord Protector of the Vale," a familiar, raspy voice echoed from below. "Accompanying the Lord Paramount of the Vale."

Chapter Text

Sansa

Stannis frowned in consternation. "Daenerys? Why would he go to the Targaryen girl?"

"He wants power," Sansa explained, still kicking herself over and over again for not seeing this move, which now seemed so obvious in hindsight. "He wants to sit on the Throne. If he can't get it in Westeros, he'll find someone else who can give him what he wants."

The King shook his head and looked crossly at Melisandre, whose horse had caught up to theirs. "Why would Daenerys give Baelish the Iron Throne? Does he think to marry her?"

"Maybe," Sansa thought, wondering just how far Littlefinger would go for power. He married her aunt Lysa, after all, and whatever she could say for the Dragon Queen, she would appear to most at first a better wife than Lysa Arryn. "She'll think she can use him. But he'll use her, he'll play her, until she's of no more use."

"And you didn't see this coming," Stannis growled. "Your visions...they didn't show you Baelish sailing east."

She shook her head warily, carefully. "Your Grace, I'm afraid I haven't received my...gifts...for some time now."

The King shrugged off her worries, though it did little to calm her. "It doesn't matter. We need the the girl, don't we? And her dragons. Nothing changes, she would've sailed west, with or without Littlefinger. We'll fight with her against the dead. Then...," the King looked off into the distance uncomfortably, "we'll take care of her and her dragons, as we all agreed to, at the Council."

"He'll only make her worse," Sansa cautioned fervently, wondering just how deeply Daenerys's mind could deteriorate with a Littlefinger by her side. With her luck, he'd be riding one of her dragons alongside her by the time they arrived at Westeros, and Sansa imagined a nightmarish world, a seventh hell for her, on the off chance those gods weren't mere stories, where each and every one of the worst in the realm, Daenerys, Littlefinger, Ramsay, Joffrey, Tywin, Cersei...they each had a dragon at their call, if only for the sole purpose of tormenting her. "He'll indulge her worst desires, he'll watch her destroy herself..."

"Then that saves us the trouble of destroying her." Stannis shook his head again. "You worry too much, my lady. About one man, with nothing to his name."

"Lady Sansa, if I may?" The Red Woman deferred to her, waiting for her acknowledgement before she continued. "The King...his mouth does not always serve well his voice. Words his mind wishes his tongue to say remain frozen in his throat." Again, Stannis looked away, a King with two women amongst his closest advisors, yet wholly uncomfortable beside both of them. "His Grace knows you haven't received your visions since the Great Council. His Grace knows that everything you've done has changed the visions you've once seen. Yet, the King still values your counsel, not because you may no longer speak for the Lord, as a warning for his wisdom not heeded, but because you still speak for your own wisdom, granted you by the Lord R'hilor all the same."

The Red Woman was on her side, she realized. For what reason, Sansa wasn't sure, but the Lady Melisandre was giving her an out. And any practical woman, or man, would take it. Stannis, looking more awkward than ever, leaning backwards upon his horse so much it looked as if he were about to fall off it altogether, seemed eager for her to take it also.

"Your Grace, perhaps I worry too much. But I worry, because we can't afford to underestimate our enemies." She bowed neatly to him. "Nothing changes then, the Crown will be vigilant, as always. And Your Grace, I congratulate you, the realm is again whole, by your guiding hand."

He nodded briefly, as if it were a spasm of his neck. "And yours, Lady Sansa," he said, eyes meeting hers for a brief second, before riding away, the Red Woman following him, but not before giving her, and Shireen, one last appraising look.

"As I said," Shireen said to her conspiratorially, once they were out of earshot, "I'd much rather go to Storm's End."


She should have expected something was wrong when he barged into her tent with nary a word.

"What's wrong?"

Her brother's face looked far more cross than she'd ever seen, and Sansa thought though he was no longer a king, he still bore the weighty demeanor of one, and wondered what it must have been like for even hardened men like Rickard Karstark to suffer the wrath of the once King in the North. Or her own mother.

"I've good news and bad."

Whatever the bad news was had to be more than significant, considering how troubled her brother looked right now. "The bad news first? Something must be very wrong."

"Jeor Mormont," was all her brother said.

"Oh." She remembered, Jon's predecessor as Lord Commander had been killed in a mutiny beyond the Wall. That must have just happened, the news reaching their camp a few days south of the Wall. She struggled to recall the accursed place where Samwell Tarly had rescued the girl, Gilly. "At Craster's Keep?"

"You knew." Her brother didn't ask, he accused, taking slow steps closer and closer to her. In her shock at his anger, directed at her, out of all people, she found herself at a loss for words. "You told me Jon led the war against the dead. You never said how he was going to be in a position to lead. Was this it? A bloody mutiny, betrayal?"

"It was," she said, because it was the plain truth.

"And you didn't see fit to tell me. When I could have warned the Lord Commander, told him of what to expect, from his own men."

The once Lady of Winterfell stepped forward, meeting her older brother eye to eye, feeling her defiance rising, just as it did when her mother refused to speak well of Jon. "And how did you think Jon would be elected Lord Commander? That Jeor Mormont would die of old age? It's the Wall, Robb, it's the Night's Watch, men fight and they die, that's the way it is, that's the way it's been for thousands of years."

"Aye, men die." Her brother did not back down. Had they ever quarreled like this before, when they were children in another life? "And so you'll also let the Wildlings attack Castle Black. 'So Jon can learn to lead,' you said. How many men have to die for Jon to lead, Sansa?"

"How many men and women and children will die in all seven kingdoms if Jon doesn't lead, if we lose the war against the dead?"

Her words caught Robb off guard at first, but he only looked upon the ground for a moment before parrying his words right back at her. "You lived a world decimated and ravaged by war. I love Jon, we both do...but the realms must have been in bad shape when he's the only one remaining to lead the war against the dead. But that's not this world, Sansa. Stannis is our King, the war is his to lead, and he will lead the war, with a realm whole and united. Even now, we ride north, so that the Wildlings at Hardhome won't be part of the dead when they march south." He shook his head. "Did you ever think that things have might have changed, and hundreds of good men don't have to die, just for the sake of Jon leading? And what's so good about Jon leading? He led, he won, he died anyway, didn't he? Twice, if I remember your stories correctly."

"So did you," she shouted back without thinking, realizing only after she had not meant to say the words. He recoiled, only slightly, but enough so that Sansa knew how much the knowledge that he would have failed himself, his family, must weigh constantly upon him. So when she spoke again, it was in a gentler tone. "I'm sorry, Robb. It's not that I meant for Lord Commander Mormont to die...I just didn't think of it. I've never met the man, I...I just didn't think it important."

But her brother did not seem eager to accept her apology. "How many lives out there do you not think important enough for you to save? Hundreds? Thousands? Maybe you should rethink what is or isn't important, sister."

She felt her anger rising anew, in the face of her brother's new accusations.

How dare he? He lost. I saved him.

"I saved you, Robb. I saved your beloved wife, your firstborn child, our mother." She paced the tent angrily, too filled with raged to even look at her brother. "If everything has changed, it's because of me! I saved tens and thousands of men by ending the War of Five Kings, lords and knights and soldiers and smallfolk alike. We're riding north, so we can save the lives of a hundred thousand wildlings, by my counsel. You said it yourself Robb, 'Sansa, you can't save everyone.' Forgive me, brother, that I forgot about one person, however good and honorable, while I was busy saving our family along with the entire fucking realm!"

If she'd never felt her brother's wrath before, the opposite was also true, and shouting and curses coming from her, the little sister who liked to sew and dance and sing, yet her voice not sounding like a little girl's, but a woman well accustomed to leading...it must have been plenty jarring for him, for it was Robb who was left speechless now. Unable to bear staying in the tent with him, she walked to leave.

"Where are you going," he shouted at her, his voice still trying to sound commanding.

"You can't tell me where to go, what to do," she replied back to him, calmly, stately, as a Lady Paramount of the North, the woman who took back Winterfell when Robb lost it once and Jon lost it a second time, ought to speak. "You can't arrest me like you did mother. You're right, Stannis is the King, not you. He's my king, the king I crowned, the King I practically sit on the Small Council for. This is his camp, and I will go where I like in it."

She wasn't sure where she was going to go, except anywhere where Robb wasn't. Despite her words, she wasn't going to go bother the king. Perhaps Shireen then? Or maybe even Jaime Lannister, he was always fun to torment when she needed an outlet.

"They found her." Robb's voice, less harsh than before, interrupted her.

She spun back at him. "Her?"

His eyes seemed apologetic, as if he already regretted their argument. "The wildling girl, with red hair and a dozen arrows strapped to her back. Their band was exactly where you said they would be, ranging north of the villages in the Gift."

"She's alive?"

"She is," Robb nodded. "Not happy, but alive. They brought her to camp this morning."

Satisfied by the news, Sansa turned and walked away without another word. Robb many want to apologize, but damned if she was going to drag the words from him, and damned if he could use this good news as a way to avoid reconciling directly with her. Not when she saved him, not when he owed her. If they were to come to terms, it would be he who would come to her, begging, on his knees. And he would, because he was a Stark, and Stark men were so predictable.


Daenerys

The Queen regarded the thin man with the wispy mustache before her, and the quivering child he practically held by the shoulders. Yet another one of the usurper's men, who had come east to bend the knee to her. Stannis may have won his crown with nary a battle, but it would seem she would receive one by one her own spoils from that war also. Except, just how worthy were her spoils, these exiles who now turn to her because they have little other choice, no other way to return home, except under her banner?

"Tell me, Lord Baelish," she asked, "what brings you to Essos, what takes you so far from home?" She leaned forward in her throne. "What made you a criminal in the eyes of the usurper Stannis Baratheon, to be exiled to these shores?"

"Loyalty, Your Grace."

"Loyalty?" She looked skeptically at Tyrion, who raised his eyebrow questioningly at her. Ser Barristan may be the greatest knight on two continents, Yara Greyjoy may be the newest arrival from Westeros before Littlefinger, but it was the dwarf brother of the Kingslayer she trusted to know most of the inner workings of the court her ancestors forged hundreds of years before.

"Loyalty," the man Baelish repeated. "Forgive me, Your Grace, I was but a child during the rebellion which overthrew your father. I won't mince words, he wronged many a family in Westeros...but not mine."

At least he was not entirely a lickspittle in speaking the truth of her father, however disagreeable it was for her to hear the words still, to know the truth about how awful the Mad King actually was.

Baelish continued. "I was lucky enough to be called to the court of King Robert, and I served him, and the realm, the best I could. I was loyal to him."

Looking around at her advisors, she interrupted him. "Was he?"

It was Ser Barristan who replied first. "Lord Baelish enjoyed playing the games of the court, Your Grace." He paused, thinking. "But Jon Arryn trusted him, and Jon Arryn was as honorable a man as any." The old knight paused again. "But then Ned Stark trusted him too, and he betrayed Ned Stark."

She did not need to add that all these honorable men Barristan cited were the same ones who made war against her family, who overthrew her father, who slaughtered her young niece and nephew and her brother's innocent wife from Dorne.

"You can say that," Baelish leapt to his own defense, as she expected him to, "yes, I betrayed Ned Stark. Or, that I remained loyal to the Throne, to the man I thought the rightful King. And rightfully or wrongfully, I thought at the time Ned Stark a traitor."

"There is no rightful king or queen except those who inherit the mantle of House Targaryen." She looked to Tyrion now, silently beseeching his counsel, as he had not spoken a word since Baelish's arrival. "I don't doubt those who espouse either Stannis's or Joffrey's claims to both believe themselves in the right, because after all, they only know what they know. Just because they happened to pick the losing side, doesn't mean they were in the wrong. Does it?"

Finally the Half Man stepped forward. "Your Grace, I do not believe Lord Baelish championed Joffrey's claim out of loyalty." He paused, staring the would be exile straight into his dark eyes. "He picked Joffrey because he thought him the safer bet."

She narrowed her eyes, first at Tyrion, then at Baelish.

"I presume he thinks me the safest bet now? With Stannis no longer an option?"

The man called Littlefinger moved to speak, but Tyrion spoke before he could. "That's correct, Your Grace. However," Tyrion cocked his head, looking again at Baelish, before continuing, "he did serve my family well, once Joffrey was upon the throne. He proved more trustworthy than most in the capital, more than even my own sister. He engineered an alliance between the Lannisters and the Tyrells, which would have won the war for my father, had Joffrey not died, and the Starks not...made their mark in the capital."

She looked at Loras Tyrell, sulking at the side of the court, as he was apt to do, whenever discussions got too heavy. "Is this true, Ser Loras?"

"It is," the young man admitted. "Lord Baelish was in Renly's camp the night he was murdered. I believe he saved the lives of my sister and I, he pushed us to move forward, and run and seek new allies, when Stannis would have had both our heads."

"How do you know it wasn't Lord Baelish who murdered the pretender Renly?"

She was provoking him, she knew, by refusing to call his former lover a king. And to his credit, he did not react. Instead, Loras laughed. "Lord Baelish has never been known for his prowess with swords or knives or weapons of any kind." His face turned stern, a reminder that old grudges remained unforgiven. "It was the big bitch Brienne, working on behalf of the Starks and Stannis, whom it's obvious they'd already formed an alliance with by then."

He'd repeated this accusation before, and Tyrion himself had expressed privately to her how skeptical he was of Loras's theories, but this was not the day to judge Loras's claims, or the Starks.

"Apparently my counselors vouch for you, Lord Baelish. Though carefully, and only so far."

"Then I hope to prove my loyalty to them as well as you," the man answered. "I come here not for revenge, I come here only so that I can return home. If I can serve a worthy monarch along the way, so much the better. I believe I'm not alone in that sentiment in your court, Your Grace."

At least he spoke honestly, that most of the Westerosi men, and women, serving her were using her for their own purposes.

"What of Lord Arryn," she asked, regarding the child the man almost seemed to shelter beneath his arms, who shirked away from her at the mention of his own name. "Do you speak for him, or does the Lord Paramount of the Vale speak for himself?"

"Lord Baelish has my best interests at heart, Your Grace," the child muttered timidly.

"His mother tried to have me killed," Tyrion said. "Such were those days...where is the Lady Lysa Arryn, by the way?"

"My dear wife did not take well to exile, Lord Tyrion. Nor to the long journey on ship. She was sick for many a night, never leaving her own quarters. One night, the storm was particularly violent, the waves particularly harsh. When my wife rose to walk above quarters, I half thought she had decided to confront her fears at last. But alas, she could bear the journey no longer, or the thought of leaving home, perhaps. I tried to catch her, as she threw herself off deck. I grasped her, and for a moment I thought I'd actually saved her. But she was determined, she fought me, until her dress sleeves tore, and she wrestled away from my grip, and let the ocean take her."

"I miss my mother," the child lord added. "But Lord Baelish has protected me from the day he arrived in the Eyrie."

"It is true," Tyrion agreed, "the Lady Lysa's mind has not been...," he looked apologetically at the child, as if wanting to protect him from the bitterness of a truth already passed, "quite right since the death of her first husband."

"I can forgive King Stannis for taking my position, my lands, my wealth, away from me. I can't forgive him for robbing me of my wife, whom I've loved since I was a child, whom I tried to protect from the horrors of this awful world. Nor can I forgive him for robbing dear Robin of his beloved mother."

"Which is why you're here, to help me depose the usurper." It seemed that neither Barristan or Tyrion fully trusted the man...but neither to the extent that they would reject him outright.

I dream of those who would betray me.

I've never dreamed of him before.

"I see your court is filled already with men and women of vast talents. I merely wish to be one humble voice amongst many. Though I do bring, Your Grace, an equally humble proposal of marriage."

That was unexpected. Not to her, not to anyone in her court, particularly Jorah and Daario.

"So eager not to remain a widower, Lord Baelish?"

But to her surprise, the man shook his head fervently. "Not to me, Your Grace. I'm but a minor lord, with even less to my name today than before. But Lord Arryn is the heir to one of the greatest houses of the realm. The Knights of the Vale follow Stannis now, but they are sworn to Robin Arryn, and they will rally to your cause when the time comes."

She sighed. This was getting tiresome. "You arrive upon my shores, Lord Baelish, proposing Robin Arryn, the heir to a great house, in marriage. Lord Tyrion arrived upon my shores, proposing Loras Tyrell, the heir to another Great House, to take my hand." The young man shifted uncomfortably where he stood, and Daenerys looked towards the Greyjoy girl, who seemed to care little for all the politics. "At least the Lady Yara, the heir to yet another great house, proposes her own hand. I'm more inclined to accept her offer, at this point."

A sword swallower, a woman, and now a child. What wonderful prospects I have, the last of House Targaryen.

A wry smile broke out on the face of the weathered woman. "You honor me with your words, Your Grace."

She smiled back at the formidable Lady Yara. "I'll accept your vow of loyalty, Lord Baelish, along with your counsel. But I will take no hand in marriage, not until I sit on my rightful throne. Then, I will judge each proposal I receive accordingly based on merit, based on what each suitor has done on behalf of House Targaryen."

The thin man they called Littlefinger bowed. "Your Grace is wise then, to know when to take heed of our counsel, and when to listen to her own."

Is it 'our' already?


Sansa

The girl spun around immediately to face her, before studying her closely. Sansa let her, taking her time in approaching this girl whom Jon loved, who loved Jon.

"You're Stannis's red witch they all talk about," Ygritte finally asked. She frowned. "I didn't know women from Essos were as pale as Northerners."

"I am a northerner, Lady Ygritte...blood of the First Men and Women. Same as you."

"I'm no lady," she spat at first, before curiosity grew on her face. "A whore then? Or a wife? I know your Southron lords and kings don't be letting women fight by them."

Rather than take offense, she motioned at the small cot in the corner of the tent. "May I?" Ygritte nodded, and Sansa sat. "You're right, I'm no warrior, not by far. But I'm a sister."

"Whose sister?" Then it hit her. "You're Jon's sister...the older, tall one, who was mean to him."

"And sister of Robb Stark, the Lord of Winterfell." She spoke his name evenly, neutrally, even as she still remained mad at him since their argument. She motioned at the ropes, tying together the hands of the girl, marking her as a captive. "Apologies for the bindings, but you're too valuable to let escape."

"Valuable to the fancy lord of Winterfell?" The wildling girl laughed. "I don't see how. 'Tis true, I may have spoken to Mance Rayder once or twice, but the King beyond the Wall needs no Red Witch whisperin' in his ear before he decides what to do."

"You're valuable to me," Sansa said, firmly, catching the girl by surprise again, "because you're valuable to Jon. You're right, I was horrible to him, when we were children. I haven't had a chance to apologize to him yet..." She almost said in this life, but caught herself in time. "But I'm not just the sister of Robb and Jon. I may not be a Priestess of R'hilor, but I advise the King all the same."

"Aye, just another kneeler then."

"Kneeler?" Sansa regarded the girl humorously. "It was I who crowned the King. The King rides north because of me. I've seen the dead, Lady Ygritte, I know the threat beyond the Wall. Now King Stannis knows it too, along with all the great lords of the realm. We come north not to make war with you or your people, my lady, but peace."

"Peace?" The girl was skeptical, and Sansa did not blame her. "I know your southern peace, what it means. I may not speak for Mance, but I'll do it all the same. We won't kneel for your southern king, we won't say 'oh thank you' and suck his cock endlessly for letting us farm our own lands, giving up our bounty and our food to men like him or your brother, the fancy one who be doin' all the lordin'."

"The King doesn't expect you to. He'll let your people across the Wall. The only thing he expects in return is that you'll fight the dead with the men, and women, of the southern kingdoms, when the time comes. Afterwards, some of you may stay south and bend the knee, if they wish. I suspect not, and the rest can cross back north, to your own lands and homes, and live freely, without fear of the dead...or the 'crows' of the Night's Watch, as you call them, raiding and killing your people, so long as you let live in peace the smallfolk in the villages south of the Wall."

"I don't speak for Mance." It was a lot for the girl to take in at once, repeating herself as she pondered Sansa's words. She was very pretty, especially for a wildling. Quite different from the Dragon Queen, and for once, Sansa admired her brother's taste in women.

She's right to be wary. I'm giving her something for nothing. She's smart enough to know that's usually a trap.

"Alright. Suppose you don't be lyin' to me. Jon Snow's not a liar, not a good one at least. The way he describes his family...yer all the same stubborn kids of ol' Neddy Stark. Tell me then, daughter o'Ned Stark, why am I so valuable?"

"Because I love Jon, same as you, except as a sister, not as a lover. Because you make him happy, and he, more than anyone, deserves to be happy. Because when battle with the dead comes, you need to be by his side."

Baffled, possibly more than a little scared by the forcefulness of her words, Ygritte sank onto a small chair opposite her.

"How do you know all this," she finally asked.

"I died," Sansa said, before she even realized what she was admitting to. "I came back. But not before I saw the Long Night, the battle against the Dead. Jon led that war, we won it, the dead were defeated. Then we all died anyway."

"How?"

Did the girl believe her, or think her mad? Did it matter? Why was she confessing all this to Ygritte, a stranger, out of all people?

Because we both love Jon. Because we both want to protect him, keep him safe. Because, if everything goes right, she'll be family, same as Talisa.

Because if I can't trust Robb to do everything he can to protect Jon, I can trust her.

"Dragons."

"Dragons?"

"They've returned, along with a Targaryen Queen. Jon...he's a good man. Too good. Too honorable for his own sake."

A trace of a smile on the wildling girl. So she saw the same in her brother.

"How'd he fuck it up, then?"

"Jon's a great man. But he's still a man. He fell in love with Daenerys Targaryen, the beautiful Queen with the dragons. He knelt for her, bent the knee for her, helped her and marched beside her as she took back the seven kingdoms. And she did, she won the battle, she took the Iron Throne...and decided to burn it all down, her people, her realm. She killed everyone, she killed all that remained of my family...starting with Jon."

Except Bran. Was he still alive where she came from, bending the knee on behalf of Winterfell? Or did he disappear in a wisp of smoke when she died, and came back?

If her last revelation seemed too much, she wondered how the girl could possibly take this in, stories of dragons, and her own beloved loving their queen.

"Where was I? When all this happened, when Jon knelt for a bitch with dragons. I would have killed him first."

Sansa did not mince words. "You were dead. You would have died, days from now, when your people attacked Castle Black."

"My people...," Ygritte muttered. Wildling or not, Sansa understood the concept of knowing one's own death would be unforgettably jarring.

Not as jarring as living it, and living past it.

"Most of your people would have died at Hardhome, when the Army of the Dead attacked."

Her knowledge of their secret sanctuary finally conveyed to the girl the weight of the truth, that this was not just a southern game with southern lies.

"Was he the one to kill me? Jon?"

"No," Sansa said, recalling with difficulty herself the story Jon never told her, but she'd heard nevertheless from his brothers at Castle Black. "You were about to kill him, actually. But his steward shot you first. And you died in his arms."

By the time she finished, Sansa felt like she needed to cry herself. But she held back, because Ygritte, deep in thought, did not cry, and if the wildling girl could remain strong, so could she.

"I won't wear any of yer fancy dresses," Ygritte finally spoke, breaking the long silence between them.

"I don't care about that," Sansa replied, forcing herself to break a smile. "You're always welcome in Winterfell, but I imagine you'd rather be with your people, until the time comes for the great battle. Afterwards...you and Jon can choose...together...where you want to go. Who you want to be."

For the first time, Ygritte smiled back at her. Warmly, seeing her not as an enemy. "You do care about him a lot, don't you?"

"He was my King," she said again, repeating the words she'd said to her mother. "They named him the King in the North...before he knelt to her, and gave up his crown."

His seven kingdoms. Though that was one secret she would withhold from even Ygritte.

The girl continued to study her face.

"Yer not one of us freefolk," she decided, "but yer not that different. You kneel, but you choose who you kneel to."

"I do."

Though Sansa did not expect the girl to understand how hard of a choice it was. She'd make the wrong choices last time. She hoped she'd learnt from her mistakes by now.

Chapter Text

Jaime

"One golden lion, pissing off a wall."

It was a tall wall, that much was true, and his neck near hurt as he craned it upwards, trying to see its uppermost edge, where beyond, dead men roamed.

Would make for a rough siege. Don't think trebuchets would help much.

"Two golden lions, banging their fists against it all."

He half expected to hear a clanging sound, his golden hand knocking against the ice. Instead, it made a dull, sunken noise, sinking into the deep layer of soft frost covering the lowest ramparts of the fabled Wall.

I miss Tyrion.

Did he feel so lonely, when he was here? Before everything went to such shit?

"I ought to have been a poet," he mumbled to himself. "That certainly would've made father proud."

"That wasn't much of a poem." A soft, yet somehow burly voice interrupted his solitude. Jaime was about to ask the name of the rather chubby ranger, struggling carrying just two pieces of firewood, who dared interrupted him, but the man's eyes fixated immediately upon his golden hand. Just like everyone else. "You're the Kingslayer!"

"Yes, I'm the Kingslayer," he said slowly, his words jumping to the same cadence as his once nascent, now stillborn poem.

"Sorry," the fat boy said, immediately apologetic, and Jaime thought he was going to drop his load. "I didn't mean to insult you Ser...Lord Jaime." He looked around, each jerk of his neck looking as if he were on the verge of suffering a seizure. "If you want, I could get you a book. Not a lot of them up here at Castle Black, but I brought a few up from Horn Hill, and one of them might have some half decent poems in it...not that yours wasn't decent, my lord...half decent at least..."

He shook his head, finally interrupting the man's pathetic ramblings. "I'll be good, thanks." As he turned to leave the fat man to his struggles, something the boy said registered in his mind. Horn Hill. He turned back. "You're Randyll Tarly's son, aren't you?"

Having half turned his back to him also, the boy near jumped at his words. "Oh. Yes. Lord Randyll's my father, the Lady Melessa my mother, I've a brother named..."

"I don't need the history of your entire House, boy." He cocked his neck, studying the eldest son of the fierce, hardened Lord of Horn Hill...this boy who seemed as jumpy and cowardly as a deer...a very well fed deer, that was. But there was a reason he'd heard of him. "You're the one with the wilding lover, aren't you?"

He shook his head violently, as if his life depended on it. "Oh no. That's not me. That's my friend..." He stopped himself in time.

"Yes, everyone knows about the bastard's girl, she rode with us here, after all. Pretty lass, for a wildling at least. But you're the one who actually brought back a wildling son from beyond the Wall."

"Oh," he laughed nervously. "No, that's not...I haven't broken my vows, Ser...Lord...Little Sam's not my son, Gilly just...well, she came from Crasters'...she hasn't been around much, an...she didn't quite know what names..."

"Do pigs stutter so?" His question froze the boy. "Do they tell you that, in your books?"

"I...I don't think..."

Instantly, he regretted his outburst. The poor boy had done nothing to deserve it. Not that he was going to apologize to him, but Jaime stepped up slowly towards the man, who backed away as if he was going to attack him, out of all things. With one hand? But the poor boy's back was upon the Wall by the time he stood before him. To the fat boy's surprise, Jaime patted him firmly on the shoulder.

"You shouldn't be so afraid of me, ranger. Yes, my father's a great lord. You're father's a great lord too...not as great as mine, but close enough. In another world, we could have sat on some cunt king's Small Council together..."

"I'm not a ranger," he said, eyes cast down in obvious same. "Sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt, but they'll never make me a ranger." The poor boy's eyes seemed to twitch as he spoke.

Is it me, is this how low my reputation's sunk? Or is he like this with everyone?

"Why not? Didn't you kill a White Walker up there, beyond the Wall?"

The Tarly boy looked away, arms sinking under the weight of wood bundle by the second. "No one believes me."

"I believe you."

"You do?"

I do?

"You're not the brave, gallant type, I can see that." He paused, looking into the boy's pitiful eyes. "You'd be too much of a coward to claim such an absurd thing in front of everyone...unless it were the absolute truth."

Would Tyrion have been like this, cowering in the corner, petrified of all his fellow sworn brothers, had their father sent him to the Wall, as both of them half expected to happen most of their lives?

The boy's eyes lit up, though he still seemed too afraid to smile. "I killed a Thenn too. During the attack."

They'd missed the Wildling attack by mere days, the men still working to burn all the bodies their first night settled in Castle Black.

"Don't get too full of yourself, Tarly." Jaime near chuckled, and was about the finally leave the boy alone, when he felt his lips moving before his mind again. "You love your wildling girl. Gilly, that's her name?"

Suddenly, the boy's eyes returned to their natural, fearful state. "I do?"

"I can tell these things...the way you said her name, like it was the sweetest poem, the way your eyes lit up." He thinks I'll tell his secret and be the death of him...these men and their dumb little vows.

Not so unlike my dumb little vows, a lifetime ago.

He leaned in closely towards the boy, and whispered into his ear. "Don't be ashamed of it, Tarly. We can't help who we love..."

"Yes, he's a waste of rations. No need to waste your breath on him."

"Thorne." The old ranger, still limping from his wounds taken in the most recent battle, obviously didn't like him, and likely because he'd been the lucky one to shove his sword through the man's most beloved mad king.

"The King's waiting."

They rode the cage lift up for what seemed an interminable amount of time, neither man wanting to be next to the other, only the sheer height and distance of the structure keeping them together.

He thinks I was about to beat the boy or something, and he would have approved.

"You agree with this madness?"

"What madness?"

"Your King's madness," Thorne swore. "Letting these barbarians in through our gates."

"Your brothers have seen what's beyond the Wall. Seems the smart thing to do, not give the dead any more dead men."

"So we kill them and burn the bodies before the dead get to them. We've got the numbers now, thanks to Stannis."

Not even halfway up yet. Gods, does this thing go any faster?

"Even the women and children?"

Thorne looked him clear in the eye, and he had his answer even before the old knight spoke. "These wildlin' women an' children, they're better killers than most yer own bannermen. Or yourself, now that yer nothing more than a rich cripple."

Catching the man's contemptuous glance at his gold hand, Jaime turned and leaned close to him, moving his left hand towards the hilt of his sword, the cage feeling smaller by the second.

"Want to test me, ranger? I'm still ten times the swordsman you are, with my left hand." That wasn't close to the truth, but he did feel somewhat better about his skills these days, the training with Tyrion's sellsword paying off. Maybe he might have even stood a chance against a healthy Alliser Thorne, though he wouldn't have put money on it. Against a wounded old man though? He could use the practice.

But the ranger believed him, and backed away, but not before mumbling under his breath. "Ser Jaime Lannister, famed and fabled across all seven kingdoms...his greatest kill against an unarmed old man, who happened to be the king he was sworn to..."

He found that he couldn't help himself. "Yes, and you would have let the Mad King fuck you raw, wouldn't you? You would've loved every second of it...except, you would've been disappointed, I'm afraid. So it would seem, crazy old Aerys only did that to his own wife, those last awful days." Again, he moved his chest against the older man's and again, he stared him straight in the eyes. "Let me be clearer, when he raped his wife, those nights after he roasted men and women and children alike in court. I heard the screams...coming from those he burnt, coming from your Queen."

To his credit, the man did not back down. "Aye, we were both sworn to the Targaryens, the entire realm was. And what did you do, Kingslayer? For the Queen you were personally sworn to protect?"

Jaime laughed, though it came out more as a cough. "Nothing, then. But I can shove you off this cage, now...after I plunge my sword through your heart of course, and watch you fall to your death, and laugh, because that's what I can do. And guess what, when I get up and see the King, I'll tell him exactly what happened, and he won't care, he'll do nothing, because King Stannis needs me, he needs my father's men, my father's gold. He doesn't need you. No one needs you, no one wants you, that's why you're standing here freezing your wispy little cunt off and after this battle with the dead, when we finish the job your vaunted Order too weak to finish, I'll go back south, I'll drink the finest wines in the world and fuck the most beautiful women in the world, and if the Gods frown upon me, if I dare spit in their face too much...maybe Stannis or whomever follows him will appoint me to some Small Council or other, give me a proper headache or two for once. And guess what? Even if I don't kill you today, even if you survive the dead, this is all you'll have, all you'll ever have...we'll win the war, we'll go back home, and you'll go back to playing your dumb little games and sticking your dick in the snow, pretending it's old Aerys's mouth."

He didn't know all those words came from. Words never came easily to him, not compared to his brother, or his sister for the matter, and Jaime wondered whether Tyrion would have been proud of this little outburst of his. It was certainly enough to shut Thorne up.

The cage stopped, and Jaime realized he actually wished there was more Wall to travel up, if only to further revel in the man's discomfort.


Stannis

"Can you see the dead, out there?" All he could see was the eerie glow of fire, the wildlings burning their own after the brief battle beyond the Wall.

"I can feel them," Melisandre replied next to him, wearing the same red gown as she normally wore, even as he'd needed several additional layers to tolerate the blistering cold and wind standing where he was atop the world. Even as the sight of a Dornish prince dressed in winter garb made even Davos want to chuckle. "I can feel my magic...the Lord's magic, the Lord's work. This is his battlefield, my King, this is where he'll see his greatest triumph."

"You see this? In your fires?"

"I do." The answer startled him, for once. It had seemed the Red Woman had seen little since the Stark girl showed up outside the walls of King's Landing. Nor had the Stark girl seen much since, really, but everything she'd said proved true for the most part. Including the impertinence of this wildling King, who refused to kneel, who refused to even thank him for giving him practically everything he wanted and saving all his people.

"What is it that you see, my Lady," Oberyn Martell asked her quizzically.

"A great battle, in the snow." She smiled, and gripped his arm gently, seductively. "Won by the living. Won by the warriors for R'hilor..."

They all heard footsteps approaching. It was the Kingslayer, and the Thorne man. Jaime Lannister looked smug, as usual, Thorne looking glum, as usual. Though as he came closer, the Kingslayer actually seemed more smug than even usual.

"Prince Oberyn, Lord Davos," Jaime Lannister said with his usual nonchalance. "Where's Stark?"

"With his family."

"The damned bastard," he heard Alliser Thorne mutter underneath his breath.

"I don't need Robb Stark here. He doesn't need convincing. Not of the threat we face, not of what we have to do to face it."

"I've no need of convincing either, Your Grace," the Kingslayer retorted. "Do what you have to, let them all through...it's a long way from here to Casterly Rock."

Was everything a joke to the man? Facing Tywin's heir, Stannis pointed into the distance. "Do you believe in the dead, do you believe in the threat we face? The Great War may not come for some years. Your father's an old man. Worst comes to worst, you'll bear the burden of leading the men of the Westerlands against the enemy."

"Trust me," the Kingslayer laughed, "my father will live to see that day. That's his skill, really, living, and seeing another day." To his surprise, the man's demeanor turned, and when he spoke, it almost sounded like he was speaking seriously. "I do, actually. I wouldn't be here if I didn't. None of us would."

"Good," Stannis replied. He looked next at Thorne. "Convince Ser Alliser then."

"I don't think anyone's convinced Ser Alliser of anything since he was convinced to suckle his own mother's hairy teat."

Oh good. Such a quick return to impertinence.

"Your Grace," the ranger said, speaking up finally, "I know you've heard it plenty from me and my brothers already, but you're making a mistake, and the realm will curse you for it."

"Do you speak for all the Night's Watch, Thorne, or just a few?"

"I speak for enough," the man replied, bold enough in his position to near insult a King. "And I speak as the Acting Lord Commander here at Castle Black."

"Acting," Stannis stressed. "There's others who see differently. Ser Denys Mallister's no friend of the wildlings. Even he sees letting them through's the practical thing to do. And Jon Snow..."

"Jon Snow's a bastard and a wildling lover," Thorne swore, and Stannis wondered what made him hate the poor bastard so. "Aye the wildling girl, you ought to know about her, you brought his own lover up to Castle Black, for what, the gods know..."

Gods, not this argument again.

"There's many in the watch who respect him. He's the one who killed the mutineers, he's the one who volunteered to kill Mance Rayder at the cost of his own life, when no one else did."

"Or join them. We'll never know, will we?" The man had the gall to spit in his face, the spit flying down the Wall into the darkness, and Stannis imagined the man aimed it purposefully at the head of some unknowing wildling below. "Pardon me, Yer Grace, but do you speak for all Seven Kingdoms, or just Winterfell?"

"Excuse me, Thorne?" Beside him, both Melisandre and Oberyn watched in amusement, while Davos frowned in growing concern.

"You take the side of Robb Stark when the young welp turns against everything his father and his family's stood for fer thousands of years, and decides to champion the wildlings. You let that other red haired whore advise you too, aye, the little Stark bitch who plays dress up with her bastard brother's lover..."

"Enough," Davos ordered, threatening to draw his sword, and Stannis could barely avert himself from smiling, knowing how much of a complete bluff that would be, coming from the Onion Knight. "You'll speak to your king, and of his counselors, with respect."

"Your King does not command the Night's Watch," Thorne said, not at all intimidated by his Hand. "Our vows don't go to you, our orders don't come from you." Even Jaime Lannister seemed wary, as he leaned towards him, heavily upon his cane, and continued speaking. "In fact, I don't think you have the power to force us to open the gates at all, do you? As Acting Lord Commander, I can order my men to hold the gates shut. What will you do? Slaughter us all? Be known as the King who turned upon his own Night's Watch, his own guardians of the realm?"

Stannis laughed. This man had gall. But he was also right, he was broaching things too much already, interfering and giving orders where even his powers ought not hold sway. If the circumstances were changed, if he didn't know what he knew, he would have advised any other King against challenging the sovereignty of the Watch, his fat brother included. And it bothered him, if he would meddle so with the Watch now, treat it as his own personal army, what could future lords and kings do? What if Robb Stark's son grew up less a Stark, more ambitious, and decided to challenge Shireen's claim upon the throne? What if a future Lord of Winterfell, or any Great House for the matter, could think to call upon this small army for themselves and ravage the land and sow chaos in the kingdoms? How long would the Targaryen dynasty have lasted, if each Blackfyre pretender were given an opportunity to range for recruits on this sacred site, less sacred now that he'd tossed them aside...for the greater good, but tossed aside their wishes never the less?

But none of that future mattered, because there would be no future if the dead won. No one told him being king would be easy, and he'd never assumed it either. This was why he was king, to make these difficult decisions, each way forward so potentially costly.

"You're right, Ser Alliser. The Wall is yours, I can't tell you to do a thing." Bypassing the Kingslayer, he walked up to the exiled knight. "I can, however, stop supplying the Night's Watch with men from the seven kingdoms. I can send a raven to Mance Rayder, across the Wall, and tell him how weak your defenses are, how you've barely a few hundred men left at Castle Black. I can watch the wildlings massacre you all, appoint a new Watch and a new Lord Commander, then have them make the same peace I plan to make now."

He thought he'd never seen such hatred before, not even from his own brother's eyes, that last time they'd met the day of the parley.

Does it feel good, browbeating a limping old man who'd just nearly died, protecting your realm? Does it feel good, to do so on behalf of some wildling king who'll never bend the knee to you?

"And if you think about crossing me after I've returned south, I'll tell you this, I plan to keep the wildlings in the Gift. Robb Stark's armies will be to the south of them, and my own men south of the Neck, in case they decide to make trouble. But there'll be nothing, no wall, no rivers, no armies, standing between you, Acting Lord Commander Alliser, and a hundred thousand wildlings. So if you were a smart man, Ser Alliser, I'd suggest you start talking to all these brothers of yours who don't like what I'm doing, and start convincing them otherwise."

"I see," was all the surly man said in response.

"See what?"

"I see that's the kind of king you'll be remembered as." Without another word, the old ranger stormed off. And despite the approving looks he saw from Davos, Melisandre, Oberyn, even Jaime Lannister...Stannis wondered.


Jon

He'd thought he was a dead man, sitting in Mance Rayder's tent. He'd thought he was dead well before that, marching through the snow to end the war at the cost of his own life, but when they'd caught him, before he could make his move, he'd thought he'd die as a failure.

A bastard. Unwanted. And a failure to boot.

But then Stannis rode in, and he'd heard Robb and Sansa were at Castle Black, out of all places, and Sansa, out of all people. He'd barely heard about what had happened in the realm that first return to Castle Black, Ygritte's arrows running through his body. That the war was over, that the Lannisters had lost, and that his own brother, victorious in the Riverlands and Westerlands, had then bent the knee to Stannis Baratheon. Despite men like Thorne and Slynt ridiculing him for Robb's actions, calling him the Wolf who knelt, Jon had been immensely relieved to hear his family safe and no longer at war.

But there had been little time to cherish the thought, with avenging Jeor Mormont at Craster's Keep, and the attack on Castle Black, then finally what he had expected to be a long and painful death. Now this war was over too, so they told him, the new King was letting the wildlings south, all so the realm, the freefolk, and the Watch could fight the dead united. Jon couldn't have planned things better himself, but then, it must be so much easier, leading as a king, rather than a powerless bastard.

His door creaked open, and suddenly he found himself being choked to death.

"Jon!"

"Sansa," he managed to croak out. "I...I miss you too...but I'm having trouble breathing right now."

"I told you she's changed."

When she finally let go, he saw his brother standing by the doorway, a small grin upon his face.

"I'll leave you to it then," Robb said, looking every bit the lord their father trained him to be. "Need to talk to old Greatjon, he's non too pleased about the wildling situation."

Suddenly, Jon felt uncomfortable. It wasn't that Sansa was a stranger, she was the sister he knew very well, who was cold to him and occasionally called him a bastard, somehow always when he was already feeling his lowest. That was Sansa, not this girl who clenched him as if he'd just returned from death's door itself.

"Where were you earlier," he asked, "when Robb came by?"

"Oh. I was with the King and Lord Davos, we were discussing how to handle Alliser Thorne."

"Alliser Thorne?" He drew back from her. Was this a dream? "What do you know about that ol'...Ser Alliser?"

A coy smile from his sister, because she'd obviously caught him as he was about to call the man far worse. But then she frowned.

"More than I should," she said, her voice...scared, even? "Jon, be careful of him."

"Aye, he doesn't like me." He looked warily at her. "Has he said anything to you? Has he hurt you?"

The way Sansa looked, it would seem so, and though Alliser never seemed the lustful type, Jon knew enough about men at the Wall, what they were like, what secrets their hearts concealed. And by the gods, still healing or not, acting Lord Commander or not, he'd have some words to say to him.

"He hurt you," she said. "He murdered you."

And so she told her story, and when she finished, he felt as if he'd died and came back, just like she'd said.

Except I haven't died. I never died. Not now, not yet. The other me did. And Sansa. And Arya. And Robb, and...and all of a sudden, it was too much for him to take in, his head buried in his hands as they were.

"I can't believe it," he said. "Our entire family, gone."

And my part in it...

It seemed even more unspeakable...dying the first time for making the decision Stannis had taken upon himself, it hurt, it hurt to know that Olly would be a part of it, but, thinking upon it now, it did not seem so ridiculous. And he figured that, when he made that decision as Lord Commander, he must have done so with a small part of him knowing what could happen, though he doubted he'd ever think them to actually kill him. Strip of of his title maybe, but to murder him in cold blood? But Thorne was a cold man, wasn't he?

But his second death, that was all him. To follow a madwoman, a Targaryen, all the way to the bitter end? To help her kill and burn half a million innocent men and women and children? He'd never seen King's Landing, he'd never imagined he would ever see King's Landing...yet somehow in another life, he'd be near the Stranger incarnate for all the inhabitants of that city, innocent or not.

"I'm sorry Jon. I know it's a lot to take in at once."

"I'm glad you told me. I should know."

They'd name me a king! A bastard, all those northern lords who'd near spit on me and looked down on me, as my guests, in my own home in Winterfell...they'd crown me a King there!

Then I'd give away my own kingdom, and then my own family.

"You thought you were doing the right thing," Sansa said. "We all did. Even when I..."

"When you what?"

She smiled. A coy girlish smile again. The smile he remembered, from when they were children, when she was up to no good, the face she made when she was about to make a small lie to father, and looked at him or Robb or Theon, daring them to contradict her.

"When I welcomed the Dragon Queen into our home, and trusted her word that she'd keep you safe down in King's Landing."

He shook his head. So he'd march south, help this Targaryen girl take King's Landing, all while making love to her along the way, then she'd go mad, destroy the city, and then kill him and Arya when they protested? He understood how he could feel gratitude for her, for her part in helping against the White Walkers. But to love her, like Sansa said? At least Ygritte actually had a good reason for always wanting to kill him.

"She must have been really pretty."

"She is beautiful," Sansa said, he could tell, grudgingly. "They must've thought them gods, the Targaryens, when they first flew over the land, silver hair, violet eyes, each astride a dragon."

"Did they all think her a god, this Daenerys girl?"

Disgust dripped her voice as she spoke. "I wouldn't be surprised. Only a god could be so horrible."

They both startled at a light knock upon the door, but before either one of them could speak, a small girl barged into the room.

"Ygritte."

His first instinct was to hug her, which he did, knowing that she was just as likely to hug him back as she was to stick a knife into his heart. Luckily she chose the former, and it was just as well, because the words they could have exchanged...would have to exchange once he let go of her, he was not looking forward to.

Jon Snow backed away from the woman he loved. The only woman he'd ever love, if he had anything to do with it.

"You'll be happy with your people," he said, each word seeming to weigh as much as the walls of Winterfell. "Stannis will keep his promises."

Somehow, Ygritte knew already. "You're staying here, aren't you, Jon Snow?"

He nodded, barely noticing Sansa's look of horror from the side of his eye.

"What about what we had?"

"What we had...was real. Every day of it, every second of it...I'll cherish for the rest of my life. But it was also my duty then. It's not, now."

His sister was non too pleased. "What are you saying, Jon?"

It seemed puzzling, with everything Sansa knew and saw, lived, why she was so upset about...this? Was the pull of the Targaryen woman that strong? And what did he matter now, with Robb and Stannis taking lead of the Great War, not him?

"My vows, Sansa..."

"Fuck your vows!" Her words caused him to nearly jump, though he wasn't sure whether it was the intensity by which she uttered them, or the fact that his dainty little sister just swore like...well, a sworn brother. "You'll be Lord Commander soon! Who cares who you sleep with...whom you love?"

"Everyone, Sansa!" He sat back down on his bed, and paused, trying to get his thoughts straight with these two women in the room with him. "If what you say is true...and I've still no idea how or why they'd choose me Lord Commander...I'll need to lead by example. How can men follow me, how I can punish those who would break their vows, when they see a Lord Commander doing the same every single day?"

It was obvious that Sansa cared not for his arguments, and she was going to continue, but a gentle touch upon her shoulder from Ygritte quieted her.

"You tried, sweet girl. I'm not surprised, with Jon. I'm just surprised you're surprised." Seeing her approach him, Jon rose to meet her. Ygritte leaned upwards, closing into him...and gave him just one chaste kiss on his left cheek.

"I shouldn't be surprised," Sansa muttered in her corner, rising to leave, and Jon thought she looked on the verge of tears, for the sake of his own love life, out of all things. "I just want you to be happy Jon. It's what you deserve, it's what both of you deserve."

Believe me Sansa, you don't know how much I want it too.

He gazed down at Ygritte's eyes, pleading him to follow his heart. But unlike Sansa, Ygritte knew better.

"I made my decision a long time ago," he said to Sansa, but really, to both women in the room. "I swore a vow. I'm happy...with my vow, with my decision."

When his sister spoke again, by the entranceway, she had noticeably regained her composure. When she spoke, not as a girl, a snooty little sister, but as a woman who'd commanded lords and armies, it was Ygritte she addressed.

"Nothing lasts forever. When this dreaded war is over, Jon won't need to be here anymore. We might not even need a Wall, or a Watch, for the matter."

"What happens to me then? What happens to all my brothers?"

"I don't know about them. But you'll walk the realm a free man...and as a Stark. I'll make sure of that."

Somehow, he believed her.

Chapter Text

Daenerys

"They slaughtered him. He was the greatest knight Westeros has ever known. Or Essos. He was a good man, a man of duty, a kind man, and a friend. He was a warrior, yet he was a man who loved peace, and the people he served, high and lowborn alike.

And they slaughtered him like he was sheep."

It wasn't much of an elegy. But now was not the moment she felt like delivering a speech. Everyone who stood in Pyramid with her knew what kind of man Barristan Selmy was, his accomplishments in life, and not just as a soldier either. For Yara Greyjoy, as well as men like Tyrion and Jorah and Loras and Littlefinger, who all came from her own home continent, they'd practically recited his songs by the time they were children. For her newly found champions here in Essos such as Missandei and Grey Worm and Daario, they'd fought with him in siege after siege, battle after battle, and knew the talent which remained in his sword even at his age, and his gallantry, despite all the tyrants he served.

"He didn't trust me at first," Jorah said, eyes swollen for a man who'd once denounced him. "For good reason, when you first confronted me of my betrayal, he wanted me banished. Everything I've done since then, has been to serve you well as best I could, my Queen, to make up for my grievous wrongs. But not a moment went by, serving you next to Ser Barristan, did I wonder, what does the great Barristan the Bold think of me now? Have I improved my reputation, or am I still a scoundrel, no better the Kingslayer in his eyes..."

She put her hand softly upon Jorah's wrists. He was her rock, he was her shield...and she couldn't bear to see him like this, nearly given to tears.

"I need your sword, Ser Jorah, and your counsel, more than ever now." She looked around to the few who gathered here to mourn this last great hero, Grey Worm present despite being barely able to stand, wounded in the same street skirmish which killed her greatest knight, and understood soundly that it was in these most difficult moments they expected most her to speak, to lead. "Ser Barristan counseled patience, with the Sons of the Harpy. Patience got him killed. I can't afford to make the same mistake, and let them pick you off, those of you who entrust your counsel to me...your lives to me, one by one."

"Your Grace," Baelish spoke up first. He was always the first to speak, prompted or not, it seemed. "Forgive me, but I see the direction in which you're thinking, and I can't help but urge caution."

"Caution?" Gods, were all men of Westeros such prudish cowards? "Is it caution, to let our enemies roam the streets, free to maim and kill the righteous and the innocent?"

"Caution, but with a firm hand." He walked next to the Half Man, whom she was tempted to blame for Ser Barristan's death. No, the fault lays solely with the Sons of the Harpy, the murderers who committed the deed. "I agree with Lord Tyrion's plan, it's a good one, and we should continue to pursue it."

"But," she asked, expecting the Braavosi man to contradict Tyrion somehow.

"But?" Tyrion repeated her a half second later.

"No buts," Baelish said solemnly. "We await still the emissary from the Iron Bank. Regardless of how we approach the problem of the Harpies, we need their gold. Let us not let the enemy provoke us into rashness, let us receive the emissary, as planned. But in the meantime, we need to better secure the streets. After all, the Iron Bank won't look favorable upon us, not if their emissaries don't survive their trip to our great city."

"How," Tyrion asked. "We've tried doubling the patrols of the Unsullied and Second Sons. Yes, we kill more insurgents, but we lose more of our own men too. We only have what we have, Lord Baelish. Our Queen can't just go and buy more Unsullied from the masters, none of them will sell to us, because of what we've done, because of what our Queen stands for."

Missandei spoke. "Many of the former slaves grow more worried, they say, if our Queen cannot even protect her own Queensguard, how can they protect us?"

She paced the chambers. Is ruling always so difficult? Or is it just these cities, with grudges between the slavers and the masters, thousands of years in the making? She tried remembering the stories of her ancestors, how they pacified the Seven Kingdoms over the course of their dynasty. Jaehaerys had been the best of them, and he'd exercised mercy for even his worst enemies, for most of his reign. Even the Conqueror made peace with the High Septon, but they'd all had dragons, fully mature ones, free and unleashed...not two chained up in the bowels of the Great Pyramid, her largest one petulantly roaming the skies without her, probably flying over the northern Wall by now, for all she knew.

"We'll receive the emissary from the Iron Bank," she decided, to her Westerosi men's relief. "Once we have the gold, we'll give a third of it to the freemen, to purchase wares from the masters, as we discussed."

Tyrion frowned. "The rest?"

"We'll buy weapons and arm the populace. If they want safety, they'll have to learn to secure their own peace. They'll enforce the curfews, they'll find the traitors living within their streets."

Littlefinger spoke first again. "Your Grace, an excellent idea."

She turned to Tyrion expecting him to fight her. To her surprise, he didn't. Not entirely.

"An armed militia," he said, stroking the small beard upon his chin as he contemplated her suggestion. "A dangerous prospect, in some situations. But given how much your people love you, I doubt they'll turn against you any time soon."

"It'll certainly help us," Daario said, "my men barely have time to sleep these days."

"So long as it remains a temporary measure," Tyrion continued as she thought out loud, "it may suffice."

"Suffice?"

"We should not set a precedent for the smallfolk to carry out the Queen's justice on their own, else it becomes less the Queen's justice, and more the justice of the mob." He sighed. "So long as we make it clear, they are not to kill the masters indiscriminately...and that once this crisis is over, they must return their arms and cease their patrols. We pay them and arm them...but we also pay them to return their weapons back to us, once the crisis is subdued. It won't help us get to the root of the problem..."

"But it'll buy us time to discover it," Baelish interrupted, finishing Tyrion's thought, "while losing less of our own."

"Good, we're all in agreement then." She was surprised how easy it was. "Let the masters see what happens, when they're the ones under siege from those whom they seek to oppress."


Robb

It wasn't that he'd been avoiding his sister, it was that the position of Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North carried with it extensive responsibilities, not least of which exacerbated by the day as more and more lords and occasional ladies learnt of Stannis's decision to let the Wildlings past the Wall. The King and his entourage had a vastly different set of responsibilities than he, so it made sense that he would often have to ride a day ahead the main army, or take trips to Last Hearth or Bear Island or Deepwood Motte to try, and mostly fail, in pacifying his unhappy lords, barely catching up with the main camp days before they were due to reach Winterfell.

And yes, he was actively trying to avoid Sansa. They'd been cordial since their argument before arriving at the Wall, but every day Robb wondered if he was wasting the little precious time he'd have with his sister, before she had to leave home again and return south to the vipers' nest she dwelt in now. If he was honest with himself, he'd been surprised that Sansa had not approached him already, looking to make amends...if not to apologize outright, then at least think of a way where she would brush off their disagreement, and they would hug and she'd return to being the loving sister he'd give away, at her wedding, once they returned home. But she didn't, and Lords of Winterfell don't go begging for forgiveness from their little sisters, do they?

What would father have done?

So he finally went to her tent, a few days before they were to reach Winterfell. She was sewing something, not a surprise.

"Who's that for," he asked, trying to sound innocuous.

She looked up from what looked to be a vest in the making, deep grey, near black, her eyes drifting from her needle upwards to him politely, but not warmly. "Tommen. He'll wear it for the tourney in King's Landing."

"For your wedding."

"A day before or after, I don't know the schedule yet...," she trailed off, as if she'd already run out of things to say to her own brother.

"I'm sorry," he finally said. This caught her attention. "I shouldn't have raised my voice. And I've no right to judge you, not with everything you're doing, not with everything you've already done. We both want to do the right thing...I shouldn't have tried suggesting anything otherwise."

Finally, he saw something resembling his own sister, resembling family, in her light blue eyes again. "I don't know Robb. I want to say I do know, that everything I'm doing is right, and I'm making things better. But you're right about Jeor Mormont. I didn't think about that. I should have. I should have thought about how changing things would have...changed things for Theon. And I let Littlefinger escape through my fingers..."

He sat down immediately next to her, and took her in his arms, and she relented, accepting his embracing, embracing him back.

"You make it seem so easy, Sansa...it's enough to fool your own brother. All these lords, Karstark, Umber, the Mormont girl...all haggling me day and night, losing me my good night's sleep, I want to scream to them, you try sitting in my seat, you try making the decisions I have to make. That Stannis has to make. Yet I didn't stop to think that the burden you carry..."

"Let's not argue again, Robb," he heard Sansa's voice within his embrace, "not like this. I lost you once, and I thought...I'd lost you again."

He clenched his teeth. It was easy, to see Sansa wearing her pretty clothes, making her own pretty clothes, the perfect picture of a proper lady, who in addition to all that, sat beside and counseled the King himself, to forget what she had gone through, all the suffering, all the pain and death she had to endure, to get back to where she was at this moment. "You'll never lose me, Sansa. As a brother. As family. This I swear to you."


Sansa

He's a soft breather when he sleeps. Softer than Ramsay, certainly. Softer than Tyrion after he drank, she knew this, because though they shared not a bed, they shared still the same chamber at night, to maintain the pretense. After they'd finished, he'd actually asked if he had hurt her, and she'd nearly cried, thinking how completely the opposite Tommen was, compared to Ramsay.

No, I daresay you won't ever hurt me, Tommen. I can't say the same otherwise, because I know how deeply I could hurt you. I'm your weakness.

Originally she would have put off consummating their marriage until after they said their vows again before the High Septon. If she could have her way completely, she would have put it off forever, with anyone. But if it had to be done, she decided, let it be done at Winterfell, in her own home, in the room she'd grown up in, alongside and beneath all her fondest memories. Her new husband...newest husband, to be exact, had no complaints about the arrangement, and if she were honest with herself, the night had not been as horrid as she'd feared. Not anything great either, though there had been a few moments where it'd been somewhat half enjoyable, and she could almost understand why men, and women, would kill and die and betray for this.

Sex. Jaime nearly killed Bran for this. Robert started a war for this. Rhaegar lost a dynasty for this. Lyanna got half her own family killed for this. Jon lost his family and his birthright for this.

She was still deep in thought when she heard a soft yawn next to her. Her husband woke, unaware at first, then eyes widened when he remembered just whom he'd fallen asleep next to.

"Oh, Lady Sansa," he mumbled, petrified and covering his own bare chest with the sheets, "sorry..."

They'd both taken some wine during the modest feast in the Great Hall, after they'd finished the ceremony below the Godswood, and Sansa wondered whether just a few glasses had been too much for Tommen, and he'd forgotten completely what had transpired the previous night. But then the wide, almost sly grin that broke out onto his face told her that those happy memories were just returning to him while he shook off the last of his slumber.

"My wife," he said, a fond smile upon his face.

"Yes," she replied rather plainly. Much as she didn't mind spending time with him, she'd no urge to remain in bed and listen to him whisper sweet nothings to her. Rising, she realized she was still naked from the night before, and moved quickly to cover herself, slipping neatly into the nearest gown she could find.

No scars.

It seemed yet another cruel trick of the gods, losing the scars she wore upon her body since Ramsay, yet bearing twice as many in her soul.

"My lady," Tommen sat up, suddenly pert and eager, now that the last dregs of sleep had left him. "Ought we...do you want...when..."

Men. So predictable.

She smiled at him out of genuine amusement. "We've a long trip back to King's Landing, dear husband. Lots of clothes to pack, and the such." She pretended to appear deep in thought, sticking a finger in between her lips and biting her nail. "Perhaps when we're settled in, on the journey..."

"I'll get to packing immediately," Tommen blurted out eagerly.


Her mother awaited her next to the King, when she descended down into the solar. Catelyn Stark smiled warmly at her.

"Where's Robb?"

Her mother sighed, fingers set upon her forehead. "Still with the Greatjon."

Sansa shook her head. "He's a difficult one."

As was his son, who betrayed House Stark.

And paid the price for it.

"He'll argue, but Robb will get through to him in the end." A humorous smirk appeared on her mother's face. "My daughter, finally a woman."

They exchanged between each other a wry grin, because both of them knew the secret truth of the matter.

"Mother, I believe it highly inappropriate to hint at such trivialities before the King."

"Your Grace," Catelyn said, not sincere at all, "I apologize profusely, I really do."

"It's no worry," Stannis said, clearly and visibly discomforted having unwittingly intruded upon this intimate moment between mother and daughter. He looked at Sansa. "I've news, from the Wall."

She could guess easily at what it could be. "They picked the new Lord Commander already?"

The King nodded. "Ser Alliser Thorne." Failing to see her jaw drop, he reopened the scroll to read further from it. "By eleven votes. He'll be a problem, that one."

"Then get rid of him!"

Stannis looked up, taking in her staggered expression for the first time.

"Excuse me, my lady?"

"You saw him, you spoke to him, he hates you. Jon was supposed to have won the vote, he should be the new Lord Commander."

The King studied her uneasily, and she noticed her mother grow sullen again, the moment she brought up her brother. "Why? Jon Snow lost the vote, same as Ser Denys Mallister. The selection was fair, I have the words confirming so on this scroll, affixed by Maester Aemon's seal himself."

How could they have voted Alliser? What could have changed from before?

The wildlings. We let the wildlings though before the vote. The men must have hated Jon all the more for it, enough to make a difference.

And now Alliser Thorne is his Lord Commander.

At her silence, Stannis came to understand. "You saw Jon winning the vote? In your visions?"

"I did."

Another long pause. "What difference does it make?"

"He's the one to lead the war against the dead," she began, before remembering what Robb had reminded her no so subtly during their argument, that this was Stannis's war to lead now. "He'd let the wildlings south of the Wall, save them from the dead..."

"I've already done that. So the result's the same, isn't it?"

"It is," she agreed, finding herself unable to bring about a convincing argument to the King. "But Alliser Thorne doesn't believe in your war, he doesn't believe in you...he'll fight you. Not openly, maybe, but he'll find a way to undermine you, to hurt the wildlings, to hurt Jon and Sam and all his friends."

"I agree, Thorne will be a hard man to deal with." The King's eyes looked expectedly as her, as if such dull words ought be more than enough to mollify her. "He doesn't like it, but he knows his duty, and he'll do his duty. If he doesn't, your brother Robb will remind him of it."

"Robb's own bannermen are giving him enough trouble about the wildlings, who knows if they'll support him if Thorne actually makes a move?" As she continued, Sansa heard her voice rising to a shrill even as she tried to calm herself. "You're the King! The realm is yours, the Watch is yours...strip him of his command and appoint Jon! Kill him, if you have to!"

When he replied, disappointment echoed in his voice. "I can't do that, Lady Sansa. You ought know that better than anyone. I've broken enough faith with the Night's Watch already, forcing them to let the wildlings through, against their will. Cross the line any further, and I'm no better than any petty tyrant. I've already burnt the Boltons for you, my lady. I've burnt Pycelle and many others for Lady Melisandre's gods...god. It was harsh justice, but it was the King's justice. But this is the Watch, this is beyond mere kings, whatever power we have, it ought not extend over them like that."

He was right, not even the King could do as he wanted. And he was also right, she was acting like the child she wasn't anymore, not in this life, by pretense or by fact. But she couldn't help herself, especially as she could tell from his eyes that Stannis's decision was made, and once made, she had no chance in changing it.

"They'll kill him," she blurted out. "They'll kill Jon, Thorne and his cronies."

Stannis narrowed his eyes.

"This was in your vision too?"

She nodded fervently, as if her movements could save Jon. "They assassinated their own Lord Commander."

Stannis sat, his mind thoroughly strained, considering the ordeal of what he'd originally thought would be an innocuous delivery of news had turned into. "He's not the Lord Commander, so they'll have no need to kill him, for my decision. The wildlings are through anyway, and if there's anyone to blame, it's me, not your brother..."

"Bastard half brother," she heard her mutter, at the worst time, and almost felt the compulsion to slap her own mother.

"You don't know that," she pleaded. Was there any way to get through to this man? "He'll torture Jon, he'll make his life miserable, even if he doesn't kill him." Her mother's words hatched a new idea in her mind. Looking straight at the King, trying her best to regather herself, she spoke again, but this time as a Lady of Winterfell, not as a whinging child. "Legitimize him then. Release him from his vows, let him come home, as a Stark, where he belongs. He'll still fight for you, Your Grace, he'll fight for his King, he'll fight for the North, and he'll fight for the living."

"No," she heard her own mother blurt out, and turned to face her, Lady to Lady. Staring through her mother's eyes, the woman she always imagined she'd grow up to become, she saw cold ice reflect back at her. "I cannot allow that, Sansa, as Lady of Winterfell...as your mother, as Robb's mother. Jon Snow is where he belongs, at the Wall."

"Not anymore," she said. It was her luck, now having to make her case against two stone walls. "You heard the King, they no longer need him there."

"Jon's older than Robb. Legitimized, he'd be your father's oldest son...he could have a better claim to Winterfell..."

"He'd never..."

"Maybe he won't take it from Robb. What of his children, if he has a son with that wildling girl, once you release him from his vows?"

"That's stupid talk mother, and you know it..."

"Don't blame your mother," the King interjected, interrupting the argument between the two women. "Blame me."

"You won't do it? Why not?"

"I can't start making exceptions for everyone left and right. Release enough vows, and my own Kingsguard will think their vows released too. The wildings are through, the Night's Watch will remain sacrosanct."

"That's your decision?" When she spoke, her voice was tinged with anger now. "You won't change your mind?"

The King fidgeted his jaw around uncomfortably, and for a second Sansa allowed herself to hope.

"It's what your father would have wanted me to do. To honor his son's words, his vows..."

You don't know who he really is, Jon...

Father knew...

Father let him go anyway.

"I'll write Thorne," Stannis, "remind him he's no longer master-at-arms, he's a leader now, and he has to lead all his men, not just the ones he likes. And I'll give your brother an exemption to come south, to King's Landing, for your wedding in the Great Sept, if he chooses to come."

You expect me to thank you?

She didn't. Instead, she spun angrily and walked away from both the King and her own mother.


It was a warm day. It felt like summer, as close to winter as they were, it felt like that one warm day when they were travelling along the same road south...that day when she'd stumbled upon her sister and Joffrey and the butcher's boy...that last day she could still truly call herself a child of summer. Thoughts of Lady came to her mind, and Sansa allowed her mind to wonder, lying alone in her tent, whether none of the horrible things which befell her life could have happened, had Lady lived.

But they'd all died anyway, didn't they? Half of them with their direwolves by their side.

She rose, and walked past Tommen's tent, hoping he wouldn't notice her. Once on the move, she'd insisted on separate tents. For propriety, because it wouldn't do for her to be with child in between wedding vows north and south, her belly noticeable by the time she stood with Tommen in the Sept of Baelor. And she'd little mood for him, or anyone, ever since hearing of the what happened at the Wall. But part of her also didn't want to him to see her so angry, so foul, as if her own foulness would rub off on him, and tarnish his innocence.

No one bothered her, early as it was, and she found her way unencumbered to the King's tent. His Kingsguard let her through easily, and she found him conferring with Davos and Melisandre in the early morning.

What an odd couple they make, when the Red Woman's no longer fixated upon burning innocent children.

"Your Grace," she said shyly, deferentially, "may I have a word alone?"

Stannis nodded, and his Hand and priestess left the tent. She sat where Melisandre had sat moments before.

"Lady Sansa, I'm sorry again..."

"No, Your Grace. The apology is mine to make." Surprise registered in the King's eyes, but he let her continue. "I should not have questioned you so, that last morning in Winterfell."

"Your wisdom is proven, Lady Sansa. You've been helpful to me, you've been helpful to the realm."

He wants me back. He wants to put this all behind him.

"I was not speaking out of wisdom, I was speaking out of selfishness, I understand that now. I let my emotions get the better of me, I presumed..."

"You did," Stannis concurred. "But it's understandable, having seen what you've seen, practically having lived it. You bear a burden few have ever borne, my lady, if any...not even the Lady Melisandre."

"Maybe so," she said, lowering her eyes in shame, "but no one ought speak to the Crown in the way I did. I insulted you, I insulted the Throne...and for that, I beg Your Grace to accept my apology."

As was his habit, Stannis coughed uneasily. "It's accepted, Lady Sansa. We've no time for petty grudges, not with what we face."

She rose, bowed in gratitude, and left the tent. So it would be, so easily accomplished, that she was taken back into the King's good graces.

I crowned you. I saved your life, your daughter's life, all your lives. All I asked was one favor, for Jon.

You'll have to die, Stannis. Come the Long Night you'll die, same as Daenerys. I'm sorry for it, I won't take joy in your death as I will with hers, but it'll have to happen all the same.

Shireen doesn't want the Throne. So Tommen of House Lannister will take it, First of his Name. And he'll do as I tell him to do.

I'll give Robb a crown, whether he wants it or not.

And I'll set you free, Jon. I'll make you a Stark. If you don't get to lead the living this time, if you don't get to live a hero, a leader of men...I'll see to it that you live, that you live happily.

Chapter Text

Jaime

One child dead.

One child off on the other side of the continent.

One child married. And I got to watch it happen.

Not that he cared that the vows were said before some overgrown tree, a marriage was a marriage just the same. And he imagined for Tommen that, however many more would gather in the Sept when they did it all over again, saying those words, before the strange woman whom he now called his wife, would be nothing like the first time, in the dark, under a bright lit moon, specks of snow falling upon them. And if Jaime could be honest, if he had to pick between the two, were the laws of gods and men and Tywin Lannister ever to allow him and Cersei a ceremony, he'd rather the one Tommen just had in Winterfell.

There'd been another first time for Tommen as well, and he felt his face light up in a grin while he wondered how his youngest handled it.

You probably don't take after your father in that regard. Not yet, anyway.

He heard a breeze, and before he knew it, a wolf had entered his tent.

"Do you mind asking before you barge in?"

"Should I? We're family now, aren't we? I thought families were above such distance...particularly Lannisters..."

He felt a stinging pain in the back of his head. Coincidentally, the same pain he felt anytime the girl sought him out, the girl who knew too much, gloating of that, throwing into his face how he knew so little. Now she was here, he figured, to gloat how she'd claimed his own son for herself.

"Daughter of mine," he exclaimed, spreading his arms, playing her game. "Come here then, and give your father by law a hug."

The accursed girl raised one triumphant eyebrow. "Daughter? Father-by-law?" She raised one hand to cover her mouth in shock, and looked around them in trepidation. "What are you saying, Ser Jaime? Are the rumors...what they say about you...is it all true?"

Am I so stupid?

He'd only had a glass of wine to help him wake. Or two, maybe. He'd taken to drink lately, ironic that he'd pick up his sister's vices now that they were separated from each other. His stomach was stouter, and he wondered whether his lungs would give, were he to pick up a sword with his left hand and give battle against even someone as old and stupid as Thorne.

Lord Commander Thorne. The idiots.

"It was a joke," he answered lamely. "I'm joking, about the rumors. Because of course they're rumors."

"Of course they are," the girl answered, like a cat catching a mouse.

"What do you want?" Was he pouting right now?

"You're right, Ser Jaime, I do want something." Still bearing the infernal smile upon her face, she took a seat across from him, but not before pouring a glass of wine for herself. "I married Tommen. I'm about to marry him again. I bedded him. With any luck, you...or, should I say, House Lannister, will have its next heir. I believe I've done my part, in showing you and your lord father my good faith in our arrangement."

It was politics then, out of all things? And so early in the day?

"I'm afraid if you want to discuss the arrangement you've made with my lord father," he looked around furtively in the tent, making sure he saw no shadows who may be sworn to the King, "then it's my lord father whom you ought to be speaking to."

"No," the girl answered rather flippantly. "He's too far away. And you've got what I need here. Now."

"What would that be," he asked carefully.

"Bronn."

"Bronn?"

"Your sellsword," she clarified, as if his skull was thicker than what they said. "Your sparring partner. Ser Bronn, of the Crossroads."

"Yes, he's happy at the title, not so happy about the name of the title." He paused. Why was everyone in this world so determined to constantly surprise him, demean him, and make him feel dumber than he already was. "What do you want with Bronn?"

"There's a man at the Wall, Maester Aemon's understudy..."

"Samwell Tarly?" The fat boy?

"You know him?"

"I know of him." He nodded. "I spoke with him, briefly."

Her eyebrows raised in surprise, as if this was news to her. Though she quickly moved on.

"His life is in danger."

"Danger?" But now that he thought about the boy, and who his Lord Commander was, understanding dawned. "No, that cunt Thorne doesn't like him, I suppose."

"They don't like him, they don't like the wildling girl, Gilly, they don't like her child."

"You think it's his?"

"It's not," the girl replied, as if she knew for certain. "But they'll have a chance to have one of their own...if Thorne and his men don't kill them first."

"Would they go that far?"

"Maybe not on purpose," Sansa replied, and the way she leaned forward, speaking to herself rather than him, he realized she felt genuine concern for the fat boy. Had they befriended each other, or the wildling girl perhaps, when they were all at the Wall? "But maybe they'll go for Gilly, men are men after all, and the wildlings left little in Mole's Town. He'll go and defend her, and they'll slaughter all three of them. And Jon's not there to protect him, not with Thorne sending him to Greyguard."

"What's Bronn have to do with this? If anything, he'd kill the boy for amusement, before any of Thorne's men do."

"Not if you pay him. Send him back to the Wall, to Castle Black. You saw how depleted it was, how ill guarded the place is. Tell him to take Sam and Gilly and the child..."

His jaw dropped in astonishment. Whatever he'd thought she wanted, this was the last thing he could have guessed. "Take them?"

"Kidnap them, whatever you'd call it. Knock them out if he has to, gently of course."

"Bronn's got many talents. But dragging fat Samwell Tarly out of Castle Black might be beyond even his abilities."

"Then give him some of your men, however's enough to get the job done."

He shook his head. This was the girl his father trusted to ally with? This insane woman, who'd they just let into their proud family?

"Then what? I don't imagine Tarly would enjoy life after the Wall, what being marked as a deserter and all."

"Give them a ship then. Sail them over to Braavos or Pentos, and give them enough coin to settle on their own, at least till we've finished the task," her voice hushed to a whisper, "you and me and Lord Tywin, then Tommen can pardon them all from the Throne."

"You've thought all of this out rather well, haven't you?"

"I have," the girl said, returning to her usual act of pretending to be meek and harmless.

"All it requires is other men's men and other men's gold."

"A cheap price, considering it's part of the bounty for an Iron Throne."

That was his father's play, not his. Yet he'd be paying his father's price all the same.

"It's a serious crime, to break into Castle Black, abduct a man of the Watch..."

"Just tell your sellsword not to get caught." The girl was so frustratingly unflappable.

Jaime shook his head repeatedly. It seemed right, because she was right, the boy's life was already miserable enough, under a fair commander like Mormont. Under Thorne...he wouldn't be surprised if the man got him killed by happenstance, if he didn't do it in the open. But somehow it all seemed wrong.

"He won't like it, Tarly. He's a sworn man of the Watch...and despite how much most of his brothers despise him...I rather think he takes it all seriously. His vows. His brotherhood, his duty."

"He won't have a choice, once Bronn takes him. He'll be branded a deserter all the same, so he might as well hide out in Braavos for a few years. Especially with the gold being shoved in his face. Find him a place with some books, and he'll be happy enough."

"My gold," Jaime corrected. "My father's gold." He narrowed his eyes at the girl. "I know you mean well, I really do. But you're fine with this, forcing a man to break from his home, his place in the world, forcing him to break his vows?"

She stood up, though her eyes never left his. "I'm fine with doing the right thing. Ned Stark's my father, I don't take such things lightly. But my father didn't know, that sometimes, doing the right thing means breaking vows, breaking sworn oaths. But you understand that, Lord Jaime, where my father didn't...don't you?"

What does she know? What has she seen?

"Alright," he half muttered. "I'll do it. I'll tell Bronn. But you explain to my father his missing gold."

"Happily," the girl gloated, leaving his tent satisfied.


Cersei

Home was the worst. She didn't get it, her handmaidens, her attendants, when they scowled at her behind her back, saying the words without saying them, I'm tired of being here, serving you. I want to go back home. Casterly Rock. Lannisport. Crakehall.

"You're fools," she swore to even Bernadette, when after the Greyjoy rebellion father had told her to remain at Casterly Rock, whilst he let Jaime travel north with their last son without her. "All you think is to go back to your father's home, not yours. Do you wish to suckle at your mother's teat, too?"

So she felt a sense of relief when they finally rode for King's Landing. Where she belonged. Not as some useless wench the glorious Stannis tolerated on the side, but in the Throne Room, by the Throne. On the throne herself, she mused some days.

But the picture of her last surviving son sitting upon it would do well enough. As to this new wife of his, whom she would have to give seven blessings to and pretend to smile sweetly for, during the nuptials they were riding to witness, she wondered. Better Ned Stark's daughter than Ned Stark, I suppose.

"You trust her? Sansa Stark?"

Normally she preferred the wheelhouse, but the former Queen began the day on horse, because her father always rode, and suffering the experience of riding alongside him was the only way she could get his attention.

"We need her," her father answered. "She needs us."

"The bitch is practically in Stannis's Small Council. She's a Stark. You really think she'll betray the King she serves so happily now?"

"The bitch is to be your daughter by law. Already is, according to the northerners and their gods." Tywin paused, his posture keen and upright upon his horse as he pondered about the best way to bullshit his daughter. "She trusted us. She trusted you, she trusted Joffrey. When we killed her father...I think we killed whatever trust she had in Ned Stark's ways. Especially so soon after...these things she's seen."

"Her visions," Cersei scoffed. Though she herself was no stranger to the magical, was she? Remembering the witch in the woods, she mused how one accursed prophecy had already come and passed, and another was well on its way. "Have you ever stopped to think, father, if the girl's so all seeing, all knowing, that she could have known about Joffrey's death? Caused it even, but at the very least done nothing to stop it?"

Tywin Lannister stopped his horse to look at her. At first, she thought it was with pride.

"You think you're clever, don't you? I questioned her long ago, days after the Great Council. She denied it."

"And you believe her?"

"I do."

I'll see Myrcella soon. And Jaime. I miss him, I can't help myself, I miss him so much.

She rode on, with Tywin following her for once. You're not as clever as you think you are, father.


Daenerys

"Forgive me, Lord Tycho..."

"I'm no lord, Lord Baelish. Just a humble servant of my institution."

"Nevertheless, I hope our Queen has left you a good impression."

The banker was a plain looking man, as smug as she'd expected one of his profession to look. Despite everything her advisors told her, that this was a perfectly normal transaction for a legitimate monarch, it felt like begging, and remembering what the merchant in Qarth had said to her, Daenerys Targaryen had long decided that she had done enough begging in her life. Yet here they sat, supplicants to a man without nary a title.

"Yes, Her Grace and her city have certainly given me much to consider."

"Cities," Tyrion corrected him, but the banker's look in return seemed almost one of contempt.

"Cities? I see Mereen, and barely held by her Unsullied at that. As for Yunkai and Astapor, Queen Daenerys has no presence there most days, except for the rare incursions of her mercenaries. Useless incursions, I might add, because both cities remain practically in open rebellion against their self proclaimed queen..."

"You're right," Daenerys said, interrupting the banker's speech, words which were making her advisors more uneasy by the second. "You've seen many rulers, I'm sure, so you know the truth of it, that ruling isn't easy. Especially with men so stubborn as these masters." She took a deep breath. "Which is why we've asked you here, which is why I need your help, I need the bank's help."

"You've also seen her dragons," Yara Greyjoy said, always with a tone of menace in her voice. "That should be enough evidence for any sane man."

"Chained, at the bottom of this pyramid."

"They won't remain chained forever," Daenerys promised.

If the banker were impressed or scared by her dragons, he did not react. "Your Grace, as a representative of my institution, it's my job to fully understand the person or the subject the Iron Bank would potentially entrust our treasures to. This includes the subject matter's objectives. When it comes to your objectives, Your Grace, that of you and your advisors and your dragons...is it to rule peaceably the three cities here, to pacify them after such a...disruption of their millennia old traditions? Is it to free slavery, across all of Essos? Or is it war against King Stannis of House Baratheon, an attempt to restore the Targaryen dynasty upon the Iron Throne?"

"What if I answered yes to all three?"

The banker remained unfazed. In fact, he continued explaining, as if he had not heard her. "To rule peaceably Mereen, Astapor, and Yunkai here is no easy task, though I grant you, tis a modest aim for a Targaryen. The small sum of coin we lend you could go far in that effect. You have good advisors, Your Grace, men of talent and skill, and I trust their counsel will help you in that regard.

To free all the slaves in the Free Cities...well you'll hear cheers from my people in Braavos, we are a city founded by escaped slaves, after all. Much trade will be disrupted, but commerce will find a way, and your wise advisors will help you forge a new path in Essos. I don't know if you'd presume to rule the Free Cities after freeing them, though I can assure you, those in my own city govern ourselves well, we have no wish to bend the knee to any king or queen...and we have the means to keep it that way. But a Queen ruling over the southern shores of our continent we have no inherent objection to...except many of these cities, particularly the Daughters, are quite close to a certain continent west of Essos. And I can't help but notice that much of your fine court is composed of men from west of Essos, who have been banished by King Stannis, First of his Name, who hold in their hearts a certain vendetta against King Stannis, First of his Name...and who, in their wish to return to their native lands, would urge their Queen to a war with King Stannis, First of his Name...were that not her own wish already."

She could barely contain herself as he spoke. When he finished, and it was her turn, she reminded herself to keep calm, because she needed his gold.

"The King who sits on the Iron Throne is an usurper, just like his brother."

"Your Grace, I'm not here to fight the wars of Robert Baratheon. They were fought over twenty years ago, and they were won, by Robert Baratheon. King Stannis is Robert's rightful heir, as decided by all the Great Houses of Westeros, including Lord Tywin Lannister. Stannis's rule holds sway in every inch of the Seven Kingdoms, from Winterfell to Dorne," Tycho gave a look to Yara, then Littlefinger, "from the Iron Islands, to the Vale. The lords are happy enough, the realm is happy enough, the people are happy enough with his rule. He took the throne with nary a battle, he has the men, he has the gold...forgive me, Your Grace, but I have trouble seeing why the Seven Kingdoms would welcome someone looking to usurp his peaceable reign."

"I have dragons. He doesn't."

"So you'll burn him then," Tycho asked disapprovingly. "You'll burn all his men, you'll burn his cities, you'll burn all the lords who remain loyal to the King they're sworn to? That doesn't sound like good business to me."

"Master banker," Littlefinger spoke. She was glad he did, because words were becoming difficult for her. Words she could say, as opposed to the words she wanted to say. "You know I once served as Robert's Master of Coin. In my role, I became well acquainted with your institution."

She thought the banker almost smiled at the man. "You were, Lord Baelish. King Robert was a valued and reliable partner of the Iron Bank."

"And his successor less so, I daresay? Alester Florent, that's Stannis's Master of Coin, is he not? After he burned his first Master of Coin, Roose Bolton, for the sake of his priestess anyhow. How is Lord Alester, may I ask, as a partner to the Iron Bank?"

Tycho Nestoris frowned.

He found a weakness, he's penetrated the banker's veneer.

"Lord Alester is cordial. Though his payments are not as...regular, as they were under your care."

"Why is that, I wonder?"

Another pause from the banker. "He says something about needing the gold to pay soldiers for some great war north, or something of the sort."

Littlefinger's eyes gleamed triumphantly. "Yes, a war against the dead, beyond the Wall. Do you believe that, master banker?"

"It seems incredulous. But the lore of your land does tell the same tales. I saw today dragons with my own eyes, there's mysteries in my own city best left...undescribed. If a man like King Stannis believes it...I say my own opinion matters little."

"The King believes it because he is guided by witches, sorceresses, master banker. The Priestess Melisandre, who guided him to fratricide. The Lady Sansa Stark, who guided him to his Throne, and now the Wall..."

"Sansa Stark is a sorceress?" This was new to her. Tyrion told her she was a poor girl, a hostage and victim to his family.

"I don't know the details of her sorcery," Littlefinger admitted. "Just that she knew the future, and whatever she saw...whatever she told Stannis, was enough to convince him to treat with his enemies in peace. And it was enough to get Tywin Lannister to bend the knee, enough to convince her own brother to give up his northern crown." He turned back to Tycho. "They say dragons are children of magic, master banker, but you saw two today. They looked real enough to you, didn't they?"

"They certainly did."

"Is it good business, to be beholden to magic, or fanaticism? Is it good business, to spend all the realm's men and resources on some war which may or may not be real, told to him by merely two witches?"

The banker frowned, speechless for the first time in their presence.

"Master banker," Tyrion began, "if I may speak on behalf of Her Grace, we seek a loan here and now, for the here and now. We seek the gold which will allow us a compromise with the masters, while at the same time showing to them our strength. We seek coin which will help us guide the three cities to peace and prosperity, to a happiness shared between masters and their former slaves that none could have imagined for thousands of years."

Littlefinger continued. "Allow us to demonstrate to you the reliability of Queen Daenerys of House Targaryen, as your partner. Let Stannis chase his ghosts in peace. But one day, when the lords and smallfolk of Westeros shake themselves from their King's spell, when they see what he's wasted, in his northern crusade against dead people, of all things...let them see then the rightful heir to the Iron Throne, bringing unprecedented prosperity to her peoples. Let them choose the dragon then."

"Perhaps in the future you'll find us a reliable partner on both sides of the Narrow Sea," Tyrion finished. "For now, we are content to solve the problems we face here in Slaver's Bay. But I must remind you, master banker, all possible futures must inevitably start with today."


"A toast, to my Small Council, and its two cleverest."

Yara and Jorah had left to discuss the patrols with Grey Worm and Daario, so it was just her and the two men who had been most instrumental in convincing the Iron Bank to part with its gold. As loyal and wise as Jorah and Barristan were, she doubted negotiations were their strong suit, particularly with crafty, worldly men such as Tycho Nestoris. Where would she be, she wondered, without these two men, foolishly banished by Stannis, and right into her court no less?

"A toast to our Queen," Tyrion raised his glass, too eager to partake in its fruits, "without whom none of this would be possible, and we would remain counselors with no one to counsel."

Sipping her wine, the Queen thought about all of the words she'd heard exchanged that day.

"Is he right about Stannis? That the realm stands united behind him?"

"Right, and wrong," Littlefinger replied. "Tycho may have heard much about the man, but I know him. Stannis may have support of many, but he has the love of none."

"Perhaps they were wrong about Stannis," Tyrion continued, "perhaps he'll make for a good and just king. When you sail to Westeros, you'll make make for a good and just Queen, except also beloved by the people." But then he paused. "But you're already beloved by many here. You are already well on your way to making cities like Mereen and Astapor and Yunkai more good and just than they've ever been in their entire histories."

"What are you saying?"

"Why leave? Certainly, my nephew Joffrey was neither good, nor just...nor entirely sane; I'd venture the subject of slavery aside, his rule could have ended up far worse than any of the masters' here. But the gods passed their judgment on him already, so you don't have to. Let Stannis guide the seven kingdoms. If this war beyond the Wall of his is folly, then the realm will laugh at him, and they'll call for a new king or queen, one who isn't mentally unhinged. But if somehow what he says is true, and Stannis is the champion who leads and wins this war against an army of dead men, then he'll be the greatest hero in the realm since...well, your ancestor Aegon, perhaps. At that point, it may not be wise to challenge his rule...after all, you won't be just challenging Stannis, you'll be challenging a realm which supports him. And while your dragons can destroy the armies of your enemies...they can't win you over the love of the people."

"You're content to stay here in Mereen yourself, and never return home?"

"I miss home," the Half Man said, his eyes wistful in a way she could understand. "I miss the food, I miss the wine...I miss my brother. Maybe even the rest of my relations. Maybe." Tyrion took a deep gulp of his wine, finishing the glass. "But I don't want to see the deaths of thousands, just so I listen to my sister berate me, all while drinking a fresher jug of Arbor gold."

"Do you believe it? That there's an army of dead men marching towards the Wall?"

Before he answered, Tyrion poured himself another glass. "Do you trust Ser Jorah, Your Grace?"

"Of course I do," she answered, remembering how she'd dreamed of his treason, how his eyes, when he begged her forgiveness, told her he'd never even think to betray her again.

"He's a good man, a solid man, a man of stern senses. I've met his father, the Lord Commander of the Night's Watch. Neither father nor son are given to fits of folly. When Jeor Mormont says the dead have arisen...I may not believe him entirely, perhaps it was a trick of the eye, or some disease unknown to Maester Aemon, but I have no reason to question that he believes it."

Taking a sip of her own wine, she considered Tyrion's advice.

"I think Jeor Mormont believes it then," Daenerys decided. "But I think it's very convenient for Stannis to believe the story too. Think of it, a new king, of a dynasty with little history, fresh off a disputed throne. How else can he keep the realm united, a realm you say does not love him, except to latch on to the threat of some great doom? Perhaps he'll fight the war north for the rest of his reign, without raising one sword against dead men, until he dies of old age, his grip on the Throne my ancestors built secure to the last because of the stories he tells."

She noticed that Littlefinger had partaken in little of his wine. "Lord Tyrion's right, in another regard. If the dead are real, and Stannis defeats them, his reign is secure. And he'll get all the credit for it."

Setting her glass upon the table, she observed, same as Tyrion, the sly grin upon the man's mouth. "You're saying I should offer my assistance?"

"You have dragons, my Queen. I'm sure anyone in the known world could use your assistance, should you choose to oblige them with it."

She took another sip of her wine. "You're right, I do have dragons. Perhaps I should take a fly over the Wall myself, and see the truth of the matter."

"Perhaps," Tyrion said, though she could tell he was skeptical. She laughed, to convey to him that she was not entirely serious. "But before we go about investigating rumors of dead men, we still have the Sons of the Harpy to reckon with here, in your free cities."

Lord Tyrion was right. There was so much unfinished business in Slaver's Bay. I ought to change that name, to start with. Every waking minute of her time the last few years had been dedicated to how she could help her people, all the men and women and children she'd set free. Yet the talk this day about Stannis, and how and whether she would wrest the throne from him, sparked a fire within her heart, and suddenly she thought less of Mereen and her sister cities, and more of that day she'd finally return home. A day that seemed ever distant by the day.

"You didn't tell me Sansa Stark was a sorceress." Her words caught Tyrion unawares, and he almost choked up his wine. "According to Lord Baelish today, it was she who helped settle the War of Five Kings. You were there, at the end of the War of Five Kings...surely you would have known of it."

"Your Grace, I..."

"You didn't trust me with the information, did you?" A nervous look in his eyes, telling her she was quite close to the truth. "You want to protect the girl, you're fond of her perhaps. And you worried, because I dreamt she'd betray me, that I'd fly over the Winterfell myself, and put an end to her powers within a fortnight."

Both she and Baelish watched the Half Man as he concocted a way to explain his deception to her.

"You're right. I feared for Sansa, and I felt guilty after all my family put her through. I believe she used me, she sent secrets to her brother in the guise of helping me, helping the Lannisters. Then, when Stannis and my father and Robb Stark came to King's Landing, she no longer needed me, she used them to end the war, and start a new one beyond the Wall." A brief pause, as he dug further inside the well from which his clever words sprung.

"But I can't blame her. Not for using me, nor for ending the war. Because she did end the war, and prevent needless slaughter. If she's right, her and the Lady Melisandre, about this threat north, then she did the right thing, to bring the realm together to face such an unthinkable enemy. She was there, when they put me on a boat sailing east. She didn't have to come, in fact few did. Not even anyone from my own family save my nephew Tommen, whom Sansa brought, to see me off. I saw...sadness, regret in her eyes, that what she did resulted in me being banished from the realm. Your Grace, I worried you'd see her as a threat because, dreams or not, it's easy to see those who are...gifted by the gods, as dangerous. Maybe she is dangerous, but the Sansa I saw last was a kind and quite clever girl who was trying to do right for her family, and for the realm."

For a long time no one spoke. Littlefinger wanted to, he seemed close to opening his mouth when Tyrion finished, but something in her eyes must have struck him into deciding otherwise.

"I told Ser Jorah," she finally said, breaking the silence, "when I found out he betrayed me, that he should have trusted me with the truth. So should you have, Lord Tyrion."

With that, she rose and left her advisors, so as to end to this very long day.

"Your Grace," she heard Tyrion said as she walked away, "there's more."

The Queen turned to face him. "Go on."

"She knew about you," the Half Man said, his voice barely above a whisper. "She knew about your dragons, long before anyone else in the realm knew about them. At the Great Council, her Great Council, really, she told my father and Stannis that when the time came, they'll need you, they'll need your dragons, to win the war against the dead."

Even Littlefinger seemed aghast by the revelation.

"You didn't see fit to tell me this?"

This was important. This concerned her...and my children. Yet her Half Man had kept this from her. What else did he keep from her, did he still keep from her, concerning Stannis, and his family, and the Stark girl?

"Your Grace," Littlefinger interrupted, "Stannis is a hard and stubborn man. I wouldn't begrudge Lord Tyrion, for thinking that he may reject Sansa Stark's advice, and try to take on the dead himself. No future is certain, after all."

"Fine," she said, to visible relief from both. "You're right, our task at hand is here. If Stannis wants my help, let him ask. Let him be the one to do the begging, for once."


The room was just as she remembered it, seen in the House of the Undying. Though it was whole, and there was no snow upon the floor, no hole opening the ceiling above her. There was another difference, behind the throne hung suspended from the walls not the sigil of the Seven, but a lion raised upward, poised for attack.

But the blond haired young man who sat upon the throne looked little like a lion, resembling more a frightened kitten. He was still a boy, she realized, and as she approached him, he sank back into the throne with fear, as if his seat could protect him from her.

But by the time she reached the steps, the boy had grown. But no, it wasn't him. Though her hair was cut short, the same golden color as the boy's, Daenerys could tell this was a woman, mature in her years, and eyes brimming with hatred and contempt at her.

"You think you're something, don't you? You and your dragons?"

And then the world exploded in fire.

Chapter Text

Jon

He frowned while he read the latest scroll freshly from Castle Black. Setting it down, Jon thought must have seemed shaken enough for Dolorous Edd to look up from his meal.

"Samwell's deserted?"

Edd Tollett scrunched his face together, the one friend Alliser thankfully allowed him to accompany to Greyguard. There were less than a dozen stationing the once abandoned tower, and Jon figured that the new Lord Commander would rather he and his small band disappear into the snow altogether. Were the wildlings to betray them, were Mance Rayder to seek revenge for his assassination attempt after the attack on Castle Black, they'd be as good as dead, and Jon figured that could be the one singular instance where Ser Alliser would smile favorably upon a wildling raid. But he doubted that would happen. Though they had exchanged few words during the crossing, he sensed that Mance held a sense of respect for him, for possessing the gall to risk his life as such.

"Whatever Thorne does to him, Sam'll suffer it," Edd said, chewing over the shocking news alongside him in the cold. "Must be the girl, one of the men must've threatened her again. Maybe Slynt, considering she saw the truth of him. Nothin' makes a man more willin' to abandon his word than a touch of a woman. And she's a pretty one, especially for someone like Sam."

He believed Edd. The part about women, especially. How at night, he'd go to sleep still thinking of Ygritte's touch, imagining that he still held her closely in his arms. But knowing that she was safe and with her people, when she could have died during the battle, according to Sansa, made their parting somewhat more tolerable.

"Think he'll come here?"

"He won't get far, not on his own. One storm, and they'll freeze." Edd grunted. "Poor kid."

"He made it all the way from Craster's to Castle Black. Killed a white walker while he was at it."

Edd chuckled, and so did Jon, both of them marveling at the fact. They both believed him, because Sam was not a man to lie. Yet, neither of them would expect him to desert either, not until they both just read of the fact.

"Aye, I bet those cunts at Castle Black'll be eager to throw this in our faces, next time we see them." Edd frowned. "Do ya think Thorne might have gotten him killed somehow, then made this up to get yer brother an' the king off his pale ass?"

Edd's words froze his heart with fear. "If Thorne killed him, he'd go ahead tell the world he's dead, except by some accident, no doubt." He shook his head. "I don't know how Sam could have done this, how he could have thought this through. Where would he go, if he makes it even past the Gift? Horn Hill's no refuge for him and if he's caught, my brother will have to be the one to take his head."

"Maybe he joins the wildlings, gets lost in their camp."

"Sam the wildling," Jon said, half bemused, still mostly concerned. "But then, I never excepted to hear the words Sam the Slayer either."

Edd sighed. "Shows you the power of a good cunny."

"Aye," Jon answered, forcing a grin upon his face, "that's why you shunned them all your life, isn't it?" They laughed, and Jon looked back upon the scroll. "Hmmph."

"What? There's more? Janos Slynt killed a White Walker too?"

Jon shook his head. "Thorne says King Stannis personally granted me leave to sail south for King's Landing to attend Sansa's wedding, if I wished."

Edd eyed their dreary hall wearily. "I'd take it, if I were you. Warm weather, good food...pretty ladies that'll make you ferget about the girl. For a bit, at least."

It was tempting. But then, he remembered that in another life, he'd brought death to that same city with him.

"If I were to have attended a wedding of hers, it would've been the one at Winterfell." He set the scroll away. "My place is here. If Thorne mistrusts me so much already, then I'll prove to him my loyalty, no matter who my Lord Commander is."

His friend sheered in disgust. "Thought you'd say that, Snow. Wish I could go in yer place."

Thinking to himself for a few minutes as he and Edd chewed through their meat in silence, an idea came to mind, and he rose and took his cloak. "You have the castle for a few days, Tollett. Don't let it fall without me."

"Change yer mind after all?"

"I'm going south, but to the Gift, not to King's Landing."

Something near resembling a conspiratorial grin appeared on Edd's face. "You can't resist it, after all."

"Not for that," Jon denied. "I've other tasks there. See if they've seen any sign of Samwell, for one."

"What else," Edd seemed puzzled.

Rather than answer, he patted him on the back before he departed the hall.


Sansa

Lying awake in their bed, she could tell from his breathing that he'd not slept either. Though they weren't wed yet before the High Septon, the northern gods counted enough for him, and Stannis had assigned them a room together the keep, seeing that there were few to spare with more lords and ladies arriving in the capital by the day for the grand tourney. Which meant she performed more often her wifely duties, though no one was forcing her, certainly not Tommen. But the young man's obvious disappointment whenever she found some excuse to turn him down was so pitiable that she did give in once or twice a fortnight, and if she were honest with herself, it was getting a bit better.

"Tommen," she called lightly.

"My lady," he answered, still unable to forget his formality, especially lying in such a vulnerable state.

"You love your family, don't you? Your mother, Myrcella, your unc...Lord Jaime?" There was no need for further pretense, especially since Tommen admitted a long time ago that he'd suspected of the truth.

"Of course I do," he answered plainly, confused at her line of questioning.

"We'll have children one day, if the gods bless us." At this point, it was close enough to their southern wedding that it mattered not whether she was with child by the time they stood in the Sept. "You'll love them, just like you love your family."

He turned in bed to face her, though respectfully keeping his distance, having sensed over the course of their short marriage that, intimate as their relationship was at times, she did not like him getting too close to her physically, not after the act was done.

"I want two sons and two daughters, actually."

She laughed. "That's a lot, Tommen."

"Or maybe just a son and a daughter," he corrected hastily, as if he'd accidentally offended her, "as long as we could have one of each." The way his speech stuttered, it seemed he was nervous just broaching the subject with her. "If we had a girl...I know she'd be beautiful, just like you." His eyes looked away from her. "I thought we could name her Joanna, after my grandmother."

"It's a lovely name," she answered, though not committing to it. So that's how it will be, our children will be Lannisters entirely. "And if we have a boy?"

By the gods, please don't say something like Tywinos.

He seemed more eager to answer her this time. "Eddard."

She could help but reach out and squeeze his hand. "You're a good and thoughtful person, did you know that, Tommen?"

"I suppose," her young husband answered, visibly unsure of how to respond to a compliment.

"Maybe you'll be Lord of Casterly Rock one day. Maybe not." Maybe something else entirely. "You obviously know about the Tarbecks and the Reynes?"

Tommen nodded nervously. "They rebelled against my grandfather. My grandfather did his duty as their liege lord, and Warden."

"He ended both houses." She gulped, not wanting to broach this uncomfortable subject with her husband any further, but something inside her forced her to keep talking, although she made the effort to word her thoughts delicately. "He thought them a threat to his family. He overdid it, many in the realm believe. Certainly the lives of his family weren't in danger, not at that moment at least. But Lord Tywin probably feared that left unchecked, they'd become greater threats, and perhaps come to a position one day where their threats would carry far more weight." She turned to face him, staring into his bright green eyes. "If you were Lord of Casterly Rock...or even the King, perchance...what would you do, how far would you go, to protect your family, your children...the people you love?"

It was not the question her husband expected, though he made a valiant attempt to answer her anyway. "I'll do what I have to do, I guess. Though I'd go about it differently than my grandfather. If I could, I'd avoid killing the women and children...just those who are responsible for...threatening us. But if I had to go to war...I would, and do the best I could."

It wasn't much of an answer. A simple answer, born of his innocence, but that was why she was interrogating him now, wasn't she? To beg him to judge her, through innocent eyes.

"You know the history of the Mad King and my family, don't you?"

Tommen nodded. "He burned your uncle and your grandfather."

"Aerys wasn't always mad, he wasn't always evil."

A smile appeared upon the young man's face. "Not when he and my grandfather were friends. One of my maesters at Casterly Rock told me they were very close, he and the King and Lord Steffon Baratheon. Just like the three of us, I'd think, me and you and the Princess Shireen."

Let's hope our fates end better than theirs.

"Let's pretend for a minute, when I wake up the next morning, I wake up in your grandfather's shoes, except when he was young, and still a friend to Aerys. Should I slay him, the first minute I see him, knowing what he'd do to my family, knowing the misery he'd give the realm?"

This caused the young man to squint his eyes and burrow himself deeper in thought.

Here I am, asking the son of the Kingslayer his opinions on killing kings.

An absurd thought came to her mind, that somehow Tywin Lannister had suffered a first life as well. Perhaps the Tarbecks and Reynes had destroyed his family in that existence, maybe in a manner similar to the Red Wedding, and that could explain how he could be so cruel and ruthless in exterminating those two houses when he was a just young man barely a few years older than Tommen.

"Aerys caused harm in the realm too, didn't he? If you killed him, you wouldn't be just saving your family, you'd be saving everyone who died in Robert's Rebellion, everyone he burnt at court before he...before my grandfather took the capital."

Certainly it was the answer she wanted to hear, but his words still left him unsatisfied. Rather than continue further, she returned to lying upon her back, staring at the ornate ceiling.

To her surprise, Tommen spoke, unbidden. "I know it's the realm you want to save, my lady, everything with the Wall you helped the King with. But you want to help your family too."

She looked to him, but didn't speak, waiting for him to continue.

"Would helping your family hurt the realm?"

The tables were turned, and this time it was his question that left her thinking. "That's the problem, isn't it? I don't know. I'd like to think it wouldn't...but I can't say for sure. But even if it doesn't hurt the realm, it might hurt...other people who might hurt my family."

He knew she had been upset at Winterfell because of Jon. Was her husband bright enough to deduce the treason she intended, on his behalf? And her own?

"My grandfather told me once, responsibility doesn't come with clean hands." He frowned. "I know you don't really care for my grandfather. And you're much better him, when it comes to...responsibility."

Am I?

"I don't think my grandfather cares who he hurts, so long as it helps our family. But you do care."

"So what if I care, and I hurt them anyway? Wouldn't that make it worse?"

Again, it was his turn to stop, and think. "My mother told me the realm was never so prosperous or happy when my grandfather served King Aerys as his Hand. He may have done bad things to some people, but he made a lot of other people happy, the common people, he kept them fed, and sheltered, and safe too. So maybe the good things he did...made the bad things...less bad?"

So that's who I have on my side, Cersei Lannister's conscience. And as she pondered Tommen's arguments, she realized he possessed a better understanding of the point she was driving at, the demons gnawing at her conscience, though she doubted he could guess that they related to Stannis, and their own mutual friend Shireen.

He's making excuses for me, whatever I say, whatever I suggest, he refuses to go against me.

He'll never judge me.

Though it did nothing to soothe her conscience, it did give her a a feeling close comfort, given the nights she lay awake thinking about the disappointment on Robb's eyes when he'd confronted her, without even knowing her plans, past and again present, towards a king he was very much loyal now. Or even Jon, how much would he hate her, if he ever found out what she would have to do to free him.

How much did the last Jon hate her, for breaking her oath, and telling his secret, because she'd thought it would protect him?

At least there's one man who wouldn't condemn me for doing what I have to do. Of course he's a Lannister.

Leaning towards Tommen on his side of the bed, she moved to hug him, and hold him closer to her. It caught him by surprise, but he soon rested comfortably and basked happily in her arms.

"I know you'll figure it out, Sansa, where no one else can. And I want you to know, whatever I can do to help you save the realm, to help your family, I would."

It was unsettling, to have a husband who believed in her far more than she did herself. But it also felt good, to have a husband who believed in her.


"That little trick you pulled on the Wall wasn't cheap," Tywin Lannister said, frowning.

"Guess I owe you a debt, Lord Tywin."

Clasping his hands upon his lower back, the old lion paced the room. "Tell me, my lady, how you intend to pay it."

She gazed down at the map, wondering how Stannis was dense enough to allow Tywin tools to further tempt his ambition inside the walls of the King's own castle.

"You have the West already," she pointed at Casterly Rock. "The North will no longer be a piece, so long as they're separate, they won't support you, but they won't stand in your way either. The Riverlands will be difficult, considering the horrors your men visited upon their lands, I'd venture no Tully will love a Lannister for many generations to come."

"So how do we pacify your mother's family?"

There were the Freys, who'd already been so close to an alliance with the Lannisters...but that was a bridge she'd never be willing to cross.

"The Blackfish," Sansa replied. "My uncle Edmure's the Lord of Riverrun, but it's his uncle whom the lords truly respect, it's the Blackfish whom Stannis appointed to his Small Council, and entrusted the war with the Vale to."

Tywin regarded her skeptically. "You think the Blackfish will turn against a King who's placed his trust in him?"

"I'd have to talk to him, it won't be easy." She paused. "And he can't know of House Lannister's complicity in deposing Stannis. Or mine, for the matter. So however it's done, it'll have to be done in secret, the blame placed on someone else."

"Easier said than done."

Running her fingers eastwards, she continued. "The Vale is naturally prone to isolation, same as the North. Only dragons can penetrate those mountains. Yohn Royce will have no love for the Dragon Queen, when she arrives. Present House Lannister as the savior of the realm from the dragons, and the lords of the Vale will have little interest in who sits upon the Iron Throne, just like the last war."

Her words didn't seem to have their pleasing effect on the old man. "All of this I could have figured out on my own, girl. What value do you bring to the table, eager as you are to further accumulate debts?"

"I can pacify the Blackfish, remember. I can assure him that the Stark Queen by Tommen's side will protect her mother's lands. And I assure you Lord Tywin, I will do so, it won't be an empty promise." He accepted her threat, and shrugged it off. Probably because he didn't truly regard her a threat in the future, once she'd helped him regain his power. Her fingers slipped south, past blue parchment. "The Martells I expect will fight you. Oberyn Martell will never trust you. But he doesn't suspect me. I've suggested that he sail east, after this journey, to go and meet Daenerys."

Her words puzzled the crafty old lord, and she couldn't help but be proud of the fact. "How does this help, to give our enemy freely more allies?"

"They'll oppose you no matter what. This forces Dorne into the open, forces them to pick a side. We kill the dragons, we'll need a story to tell the realm, why Daenerys needed to die, why she was a threat to millions of lords and smallfolk alike. By siding with the Targaryens, the losing side, the side whose story we get to write, they'll be weakened."

Despite everything she was telling Tommen, she didn't want Oberyn to die, as she'd found she rather liked the man. Tommen's words ringing in her head, she wondered whether his thoughts, born in naivete, could be accomplished, that she could think of a clever way through it all. Shireen she was determined to save, just as Stannis had to be dethroned. But was there any way to do that, without killing the man himself? Was there any possible way forward where she didn't have to bear the blood of decent men like Oberyn Martell upon her hands?

Every piece I've set on the board against Tywin Lannister, I can easily now play on his behalf. Did she do that on purpose, when she'd rebelled in her mind against the Lord of Casterly Rock, knowing the possibility that she could find herself coming back to him? Was the opposite not true as well, that those same pieces remained in play for Stannis still, if the rotten gods weren't rotten for once and allowed her a miracle, whereby the King could somehow by some magic change his mind about Jon, perhaps impressed by his gallantry during the battle against the dead.

If Jon makes it that far, with Thorne pulling his strings, before and during the battle.

"I suppose so long as our plans remain carried out in secret, if what you tell me about the Princess Shireen remains true, then she'll see no reason to oppose Tommen's claim, and we can let her remain Lady of Storm's End."

Sansa nodded, glad Tywin would accede on this point. "If only she and Tommen could have married. I mean no disrespect to my husband, my lord."

"But clearly you feel no great attachment to him either."

He's not the worst. Not by far.

"Perhaps when the time comes and if we need it, King Tommen could convince the High Septon to annul our marriage amicably, and marry the Princess Shireen, only so as to further unite the realm. I'd stand with the both of them, of course, to continue advising the Crown, same as you."

Tywin grunted his approval. The old man had no great attachment to their marriage either, so long as Sansa Stark remained his piece in the game.

There was one last piece, one which vexed her more than she'd expected. "The Hightowers will seek us out in the south, I've arranged to that. But I've given it some thought...Oldtown lies far to the periphery...on some occasions, they've been as much isolated as the Vale or the North; their reputation lies in the Citadel and the Faith...two institutions that are traditionally neutral from the Iron Throne. Politically, our position is far stronger with House Tyrell's support."

And because she did not want to make an enemy of Margaery either. Because Margaery was formidable, because her grandmother was even more dangerous...and because she liked Margaery, and like with Oberyn, she'd rather not see her a casualty of her wars, but on her side, if possible.

"The presumptive heir to Highgarden serves the Dragon Queen now," Tywin said, taking in her advice and further mincing upon it. "But he has no love for Stannis. Daenerys, we both agree, we'll have to murder openly, in cold blood. Will he begrudge us for it?"

She frowned. She'd barely known Loras in her last life, oblivious completely to who he actually was during that short farce of a courtship. "He won't be drawn to her beauty, that's for sure. I don't think he's that political at all. But he and his sister are close, and I don't think either one of them likes being separated so far from the other, or savors the idea of standing on opposite sides of a war."

He squinted his eyes at her. "Your visions include the...inclinations...of Loras Tyrell?"

She dared taunt him in a near playful manner. "Curious, Lord Tywin? Would you like a peek at them?"

Tywin returned her playfulness with disgust. "Hardly." He resumed his own fascination with the map. "Stannis gave the Tyrells the Iron Islands. It's a small boon, but hardly a great prize, and comes with more trouble than they're worth, if not properly governed. We'll just have to give them another prize, a better one." His own finger landed upon another castle upon the map.

"Storm's End?" No, she couldn't take away Shireen's family, and then the one refuge she still looked forward to in life, dreary and miserable Dragonstone had been as a home for her. "There has to be a better way."

"You think this possible, to forge a dynasty with kindness and roses, lordships and ladyships and the grandest castles to compensate nearly everyone on the losing side?"

He thinks it kindness, to murder only a few great lords, alongside their king.

"It ought to be considered first, shouldn't it? Unless you declare open war against the Baratheons, how would it unify the realm to disinherit completely their last heir from the Stormlands? I know it's your preferred method, tried and true, but I'd rather not start things with snuffing entire houses to their extinction. Just the one with dragons will do." The face opposite hers was blank, and she wondered whether he was toying with what he thought remained of her girlish naivete. "Robert was merciful, wasn't he? A bit too merciful, perhaps. Maybe he would have been better placed had he shown less mercy, maybe he should have had your head, Lord Tywin, for throwing your support to him only after the war was won."

Did she go to far? His expression remained unchanged. "Go on then, what would you suggest?"

I accept your insult, she interpreted, I invited it, even...but dare go no further.

"Margaery's the stronger of the two, and I think both of them know it. Whereas her father may be placated by the Iron Islands, she's better aligned with her grandmother, and their ambitions run higher, maybe more than merely just another castle..."

"Another kingdom," Tywin reminded her.

"I'll talk to the Lady Margaery at the tourney, try and get a sense of her." Again, she wondered if offering her own husband was not out of the question. Though that could be the worst way she could hurt him, she realized, her abandonment would cut him so deeply. He wouldn't want to lose her, not even in exchange for a Throne, and Sansa found herself surprised that the abject disappointment upon Tommen's face when receiving such news was not something she wanted to face.

The man who'd once tried to murder her entire family stared ever closely at the map, and she wondered what he saw in the piece of paper that she remained blind to. Finally, he spoke again.

"We'll try it your way, Lady Sansa. But know that if I think it a failure, I'll have prepared my own plans as well."

Chapter Text

Sansa

Sandor Clegane may have been right, her father was a killer, but she didn't think he'd ever enjoyed watching men die. Did he find the tourney Robert held for him just as tedious, watching knights play as mummers, imitating how they'd go about killing each other in war?

They don't bother with these games, not when there's a real war going on, and the killing and the slaughter is all everyone's real and inescapable nightmare.

But then, there hadn't been a war in the realm for some time now, was there, save the joke that was Balon Greyjoy's second and last rebellion? It was the peace she'd made, it was the peace she brought to the realm...and here they were, all the knights and lords young and old, fat or skinny, ugly or fair, itching to have a go of it again, because the memories of men were pitifully short.

"Your Grace," the next two combatants paid honor before their joust. She narrowed her eyes at the smaller knight. It was Ser Meryn Trant, who'd once served in Robert's Kingsguard, then Joffrey's...who'd followed his orders to beat her before all the lords and ladies in court, many of whom sat behind her now, and who'd taken excessive joy in it. Narrowing her eyes at him, she watched the weaselly man shift uncomfortably upon his horse, now that it was she who held the King's favor, Trant reduced to a disgraced former Kingsguard, and barely a knight at that.

I hope I've made you nervous. I hope you fall from your horse and break your rotten neck.

So fixated as she was on getting rid of the Boltons, she'd forgotten about lesser enemies like Trant, who'd beaten and humiliated her, who'd murdered her sister's dancing master. She should have concocted something to have him burned as well, though she supposed that she could save him for Arya, same as before, except this time would be after she'd returned from Essos.

"Your Grace." The other rider was young Dickon Tarly, a strapping young lad, the only fault in his appearance being that he seemed to be missing a neck. He had broad shoulders, like Samwell. The rest of him, she supposed the rest of him didn't resemble Samwell at all.

The young heir to Horn Hill had kind eyes. They said good things about him. Sam had said good things about him, when they'd talked at Winterfell, the Winterfell she presided over as its Lady. Daenerys had burned him, alongside his father. How was it these coins flipped, she wondered? Randyll Tarly, an awful man. Samwell and Dickon, not awful. There was Tywin, practically the worst. Cersei, a demon, her new mother by law. Tyrion, a good man. Jaime...well, even the gods were confused by that one, she supposed. She continued running her mind through the Great Houses, another obvious one sticking out in her mind. Aerys was awful, as was Viserys and Daenerys. Rhaella good, a tragic tale at that, according to what they said. Rhaegar? She'd once thought him awful, but now she knew that he'd been nothing more than just plain stupid.

And what of the Starks, what had the monstrous gods unleashed upon her own family? Father, Robb, Jon, good men, decent men, great men. Rickon, a wild child at present, but a good heart. Her mother, a good woman, though so damned stubborn when it came to Jon.

Then there were the rest of them who survived, save Jon. Arya...she'd become something else, hadn't she? Bran even more so. At least Arya was still Arya, at least she'd still been a Stark...she'd died a Stark...Bran, she didn't know what Bran was, what arcane reason he'd had to send her back, whether he'd done it to help her, or wished for whatever cause to extend her torment from one life to the next.

Then finally me. Sansa Stark. Daughter of the honorable Eddard Stark...nothing special, nothing magical...just the plainest, most normal sort of awful.

Dickon won the match easily, though Meryn Trant emerged with barely a wound save his own pride, to her chagrin. "They say he's going to win the tourney," Shireen whispered to her right. "Remember, you promised."

To her own left sat her husband, who watched the proceedings with a blend of fascination and horror. Past Shireen sat the King, and flanking his other side, Davos and the rest of his Small Council. There was no Queen, the infernal woman seemed to have no wish to leave Dragonstone, and Sansa was thankful of the fact, having heard what she had about Selyse, and wondered if Stannis's wife was possessed of some strange affliction whereby she'd melt the moment the sunlight touched upon her skin. No Melisandre either, apparently such worldly contests were beneath her godly ways.

"Father's told me the champion will crown me the queen of love and beauty."

"And they'll all clap and cheer your name."

"No they won't, they'll clap and laugh at me behind their applause."

"Sometimes Shireen, I fear you're even more cynical than I."

"But it's true! Promise me, Sansa, do your thing, talk to the knights, have them crown someone else!"

"How? And who? You're the beautiful and lovely Crown Princess, the tourney's for your hand."

"That's all lies, and you know it. Just have them pick you."

"Me? Not withstanding the fact I don't deserve it at all, I'm married, it'd be an insult to House Lannister. No sane man would dare insult Tywin Lannister, and I doubt my brother would look favorably upon it either."

"Well have them pick someone else...anyone except me."

"If they pick anyone else, it'd be a great insult to your father. Both the champion, and the girl he picks, both their houses will have angered their king."

"Then you can fix that, can't you? That's what you do, right?"

Turning her gaze from the triumphant young lord, back to the Crown Princess, Sansa sighed. Yes, poor girl, that's what I do. And you don't know what exactly I can do with that.

Her spirits soared when she saw the banners of the wolf at twilight, marching into the city just as all the lords were dispersing for the night. Running clumsily through her summer dress at the northern arrivals, she saw her mother emerge from the wheelhouse with Rickon clutching tightly her hand.

"Mother! Rickon!"

She hugged them both, then looked around, before seeing her mother's anxious eyes.

"I'm sorry Sansa. Little Lyanna had a fever, it was so bad...we all spent several nights awake, me and Robb and Talisa, thinking she wasn't going to live to see the morning. Then Talisa got the same fever and Robb...he didn't..."

"I understand," she said, hugging her mother again, to tell her not to worry, "it must be so difficult for him."

"He wanted to come, he told me he feared it'd break your heart. But his wife and his daughter...there was no way they could travel, and they needed him Sansa, they needed Robb..."

"Don't worry about it. When you return, tell him it's not a problem. He was there at the Godswood, that's all that matters anyway."

The agony and worry in her mother's eyes was genuine, and Sansa had no doubt what she said was true. Yet she wondered, whether her own brother, who'd given her away to Tommen below the Godswood, had been secretly relieved, knowing he did not have to ride south to attend a southern ceremony for a sister who'd become far too southern for his sensibilities.

"What of Jon," she asked, knowing her mother wouldn't like the question, but who else could know the answer? "Is he coming, has he accepted the King's invitation?"

Catelyn shook her head. "I haven't heard of anything. I would have, I think." Seeing her disappointment, perhaps seeing that it equaled her disappointment in Robb's absence, brought disappointment to her mother. "Jon's place is at the Wall, Sansa."

She would have rebutted her, but Rickon's presence next to them stopped her from saying what she wanted. Instead, she replied curtly. "Let's not get into an argument either one of us can win, mother."


"It's good stew, isn't it?"

"A bit salty," Dickon Tarly replied, frowning. "Good enough, I suppose."

"And the wine's delightful."

"I guess," he muttered. "Don't have much of a taste for it though."

Contrary to Shireen's expectations, it wasn't easy at all for her to drink and cajole with all the gallant young lords of the realm. Not when they were as dense as their own neck. Not when she was a married woman, with little opportunity to probe towards their weaknesses, little opportunity to flirt, gods forbid, before the watchful eyes of all the realm.

Leaving the chair opposite Dickon, she returned to her own family. The awkward congregation which included herself, her mother and Rickon...along with Tommen, Tywin, Cersei and Jaime. No wonder both Robb and Jon had avoided the occasion.

"Eyes straying already, girl," Cersei asked watchfully.

"That's Samwell Tarly's brother," she tried to explain. "Samwell was good friends with Jon at the Wall."

Ignoring another wince from her mother at the mention of Jon, which she guessed was pretty much reflex at this point, she noticed both Tywin and Jaime studying her with amusement.

"Yes," Jaime said in a taunting manner, "they say the fat boy abandoned the Watch. Wonder how that happened, how the boy could outrun rangers and wildlings alike."

Gods, I've given even Jaime Lannister somehow an opportunity to turn the tables on me.

"I wanted to see what he thought about his brother's desertion," she said dumbly.

"And what did he say," Tywin asked carefully.

"He didn't seem like the type to have any opinion at all," studying her soup as if it were a map and list of all the houses in the seven kingdoms.

Tywin turned his infernal attention to her mother. "Will you insist on your son being called a King, Lady Catelyn, if he's the one to win the Princess Shireen's hand?"

We're allies now, why must he torment me like this?

Because he's Tywin Lannister, and it's in his very nature to torment everyone, you stupid girl.

"I don't presume to think that far, Lord Tywin," her mother protested, just as uncomfortable as she was, though for entirely different reasons.

"The Princess favors Rickon, I think. But the King may have a slight preference for Lord Edric."

"Edric Dayne's a strong candidate," Tywin said, by the fire the night before. "He brings Dorne further into Stannis's fold. Which is why we can't let it happen."

Sansa figured that Tywin understood the irony, championing a Stark as Shireen's consort. Albeit for a doomed cause, but championing a Stark all the same.

A small favor, when Tywin's object of torment shifted to his own children.

"My Lady Catelyn, is your uncle Brynden determined to remain a bachelor?" Tywin's eyes scrutinized his daughter's carefully as he spoke.

"I honestly can't think if he determines anything, Lord Tywin, except where to drink and where to piss himself each night."

Tywin laughed, a strangest sound coming from his mouth. "You're too humble, my lady, when you speak of one of our King's most trusted advisors." The way he turned to look at Cersei seemed almost sadistic. "He'd be a far better match than my daughter ought expect, at her age...unless your family would be eager to claim for House Tully a former Queen into their fold."

Look at you, trying to outmaneuver me in front of my own family.

Locking eyes with the old man, they understood each other. He was just playing a game, toying with her. But his game was also the game.

Luckily, Cersei hated the idea even more than she. "At least let it be lord Edmure, he's closer my age...and I'd imagine he smells a bit better."

If her mother took offense to the insult upon her uncle's name, she didn't show it. Apparently, it was only with Jon whom she couldn't wear a mask for.

"It'd never happen," Tywin corrected her, "Stannis may allow us another marriage with a great house, but certainly not their scion or heir."

"Stark, Martell, and now a Tully," Sansa corrected him, "Stannis would never allow House Lannister to marry into any third Great House, inheritance or not." Eager to shift the discomfort away from her family, she turned to the Kingslayer. "What about Lord Jaime?" Next to and across from her, Tommen and Rickon both ate their mutton awkwardly. Though the politics flew too far above their heads, they were also too distant in age to relate to one another while their more mature relations talked the affairs of family and state.

Tywin frowned at her question, while Jaime looked away and Cersei gave her a dirty glare.

"Notwithstanding the disgrace of his son's desertion, Randyll Tarly still has a daughter unbetrothed. Talla, I believe her name is."

"A solid family, the Tarly's" she said. Narrowing her eyes, it was only to Jaime she looked when she spoke. "What about Lady Brienne?"

Of course her former sworn sword had remained in Winterfell, not eager at all to attend a tourney of Stannis's. It was one thing Sansa regretted in this life, how her plans and her circumstances prevented her from having any kind of relationship with a woman who'd become a trusted friend and confidante before. She remembered Brienne pleading her, nearly in tears, telling her not to leave Winterfell. And she remembered her own heart breaking when she ordered Brienne to stay, to not follow her south to certain death.

"Brienne of Tarth?" Even Lord Tywin had not expected that suggestion. But then, how could she expect him to know his own son?

Though he reacted awkwardly and knowingly to the name at first, Jaime quickly recovered. "Yes, that's a great idea Lady Sansa," his eyes defying hers. "It's always been my goal in life to become the first Lannister crushed to death by his own wife."

"Lord Jaime," her mother stood angrily, "I will not have you insulting Lady Brienne!"

Out of all the Lannisters at the table, her mother had made the most effort of ignoring Jaime during the feast. Sansa didn't blame her, after all the Kingslayer had confessed to her face that he'd been the one to push Bran out the tower, something she did not even know in her last life. Rather than remain poised for a fight, the Kingslayer's eyes immediately turned apologetic.

"My apologies, Lady Catelyn. I meant that as...a sign of affection, not an insult."

"Sign of affection?" Her mother was not convinced.

"She took care of me on the trip to King's Landing better than anyone could have. Certainly better than clods like Trant or Blount..."

"Took care of you," his sister interrupted jealously.

Jaime shrugged. "One hand aside, yes. And that was more my own fault..."

Fortunately, a stir grew in the grand hall, interrupting the growing animosity between the twin lovers. The mutterings and grumbles grew closer to their table, until she saw a blur of rangy patches of fur adorning a coat far too thick, this far south, covering the wildling girl.

"Ygritte!"

Rising at once, she hugged her far more tightly than she would have expected to, this girl who was mostly a stranger...this girl whom she'd confessed most of her secrets to.

"I guess it's Lady Ygritte right now," the girl looked around anxiously, at the crowd of lords and ladies all staring at her with morbid curiosity. She took out a scroll, from which she recognized the King's handwriting. It had been Stannis's letter of exemption for Jon. "Think the guards would have killed me, and served me in yer stew, if it weren't fer this."

Bizarrely barbaric as the girl's dress was, Sansa recognized it as the one she'd made for her at the Wall, in the style of her wildling garbs...yet with as much aesthetic sense as she could bring to a garment of their type.

"I'm glad you're here, but...what are you doing here?"

"Jon told me to come," Ygritte said, her eyes still pained at the mention of her love lost, "to attend in his place. And to speak fer our people, an' Mance Rayder, in King's Landing. He said I was to be Mance's...," the girl's eyes wandered, "am sissy?"

Sansa frowned in confusion, before understanding dawned for her. "Emissary," she corrected. "Or envoy. You're serving as the envoy for your King, Mance Rayder, before the court of King Stannis Baratheon, First of his Name, Long May He Reign."

She spoke the words loud enough for most of the room to hear, so as to clarify Ygritte's position, and save her as much embarrassment as she could.

"Lady Ygritte," Stannis stood, from a nearby table. "On behalf of the Seven Kingdoms, I welcome you to King's Landing." Still on his feet, he surveyed the room, his voice sterner when he spoke again. "And I expect the Seven Kingdoms to extend to the Lady Ygritte the hospitality due the representative of any great house."

"Come," Sansa said, grabbing Ygritte's hand as the time for formalities seemed passed. "Forget the stew, you have to try the lemoncakes..."


Jaime

"Sign of affection, hmmm? Just how much affection was there between you and that wench, all those nights between the Riverlands and King's Landing?"

Gods, was she actually jealous? Of Brienne, out of all the women in the realm? At least that meant she still cared enough to be jealous.

"Friendly affection," he corrected. "Not that we're even friends...I was just afraid I'd offended the Lady Catelyn..."

"Nothing you say or do will dissuade her from taking your head, were the gods ever to give her the opportunity." Before he could say another word, she pounced at him, her kisses feeling more like bites, as she slipped her tongue sloppily through his mouth, caressing and scratching him and finally reclaiming his as hers once more.

And finally, everything about his horrid existence seemed a bit more right than before.


Sansa

It was a rainy, dreary day the last day of the tourney, the droplets falling upon her skin resembling a heavy snow. Winter is finally coming, she thought. And all that comes with this particular winter.

This time, the seating still lined the same in her row, but with her mother, Rickon, and Ygritte situated now behind her, her younger brother placed intentionally behind the Princess. Their arrival displaced a few Westerling lords, insignificant to her and Tywin's games given they were already sworn to the Lords of Casterly Rock.

There grew a rhythm to the brutal madness before her, as each joust and contest took their course one after another. The King yawned less as the matches became more evenly drawn, the betting stakes rising higher and higher for all the lords around her. Beside her, Shireen grimaced less as knight after knight thudded to the ground, barely reacting by the time they carried young Ronnet Connington off the grounds, the man breaking his right leg when he was unhorsed by Dickon Tarly, who'd seemed ever remorseful and accompanied the man he'd just defeated all the way back to the maesters, returning just in time defeat Ser Andrey Dalt from Dorne.

Shireen breathed her relief. "Ser Andrey's a suitor, he'll definitely crown me."

"He would have meant it, then."

The Princess shrugged. "Maybe, maybe not. But it doesn't matter, no one is beating Dickon."

"No, I don't think so," Sansa agreed.

Leaning closer to her, the Princess whispered to her conspiratorially, "I saw you speak to him at the feast. But only very briefly. Does he know, to crown someone else?"

"There's still a lot left to the tourney, Shireen."

"Take the horse away from the damned boy an' put an axe in his hand," Ygritte commented from behind her, "an' we'll see how good he does with the freefolk."

"I think I'd entrust my coin with your people," Davos said, overhearing the wildling girl from the King's side, "my lady."

It came down between the Tarly boy and Patrek Mallister, a young knight who'd carried her brother's banners during the war, and yet another reminder to her of Robb's absence. And though he had been the heir to Seagard, he'd happily accepted Stannis's invitation to join his Kingsguard as a measure of conciliation after the peace, given that he had plenty of younger brothers to take his place.

"As the King's Hand," Davos said jovially, "I think I'm obligated to offer up a bet on behalf of Ser Patrek." He looked around the audience to Stannis's consternation, the King himself steadfast in his avoidance towards gambling. Studying the Tarly boy's burly frame, Davos gulped. "I might need some odds though."

"Two for one," Sansa said, to the surprise of everyone around her.

"Sansa!"

"I'm a woman, grown and married, mother," Sansa said, turning and giving her mother a sly grin.

"If she loses, I have enough gold to pay it," Tommen added obliviously next to her.

"More debts to House Lannister," Sansa said dryly. "Let's hope young Dickon prevails."

Beside her, Tommen barely stifled a laugh as she uttered the young man's name out loud, unable to avoid the easy bait.

"It's a bet then," Davos accepted, and even Stannis seemed mildly amused by their agreement.

They exchanged blows through four rounds. The smaller Ser Patrek proved quicker than Sansa had expected, and she'd nearly lost her breath when he pivoted and give Dickon a solid blow on his side with his lance, the larger lord barely holding on to his horse. This was almost fun, she realized, the rush of the gambit, so long as no one died or found themselves seriously hurt. But it was not Davos's coin she cared for, but rather the true stakes of the contest, considering there was no way Stannis's own Kingsguard could risk offending his king by spurning his daughter's expected title.

But she could breathe easier going into the fifth round. The young whitecloak seemed more and more exhausted with every exchange, while the larger Dickon looked entirely unaffected by the blow he'd just received. And when the gallant son of Randyll Tarly finally unhorsed his opponent, the crowd watched as he took his wreath, interwoven with the finest and most delicately colored flowers of the Reach, rode forward to pay his respects to the King, then veered right and proceeded to crown the Lady Margaery Tyrell the Queen of Love and Beauty, to the increasing horror of the crowd.

"Lady Margaery, you look more lovely than last I saw you."

"Lady Sansa, my congratulations for your nuptials, before northern and southern gods alike."

"It's a blessing, marriage. I dreaded it at first, to be honest."

"I do envy you, my lovely lady. They're calling me the 'Maid of Highgarden' these days behind my back, even my own handmaidens...they don't think I hear the whispers, but I do."

"You were married once. And whatever they say about your Renly, with regards to politics and such...he was a good man, and his death a genuine tragedy."

"I thank you for your kind words, Lady Sansa. Alas, I'm afraid dear Renly may have been my first and last, it would seem most of the lords believe me cursed, whether by the gods...or just mere politics, it matters not to them. But then, I don't help myself much, do I? I tell myself, 'Margaery, lay off the wine and cake tonight,' yet I've had four of one and five of the other already."

"Any man who turns you down is a fool, fair lady. Today, tomorrow, forever. But I daresay, did Randyll Tarly not propose his son Dickon, for your hand in marriage? They say he's going to win the tourney tomorrow."

"It's true. And he is rather handsome, isn't he?"

"Very dashing, I daresay."

"Alas, a lady can only dream. My grandmother thought the match too low. There's been other suitors too, but from these 'pitiful little perfumed southern houses', she says. I think she thinks Queen Selyse may one day disappear into the dust one day in Dragonstone, then propose me to the King. Either that, or get me betrothed to the Princess Shireen's firstborn son the moment he's born."

"And you'll be just as lovely then, and the Lady Olenna just as spirited then."

"You did it," Shireen whispered to her secretly, her eyes revealing the happiness her face hid. "How did you do it!"

"By saddling you with future debts," Sansa said coyly. Though it was getting too much for her to even keep track of, the webs she spun around and through each other. Leaning forward, she saw the older Randyll scowl visibly in the stands opposite her, swearing already at this most unexpected blunder made by his son, bringing about further shame and disfavor to his family so soon after Samwell's supposed desertion.

"They'll crown a Queen of Love and Beauty tomorrow."

"They'll crown the Princess Shireen the Queen of Love and Beauty tomorrow. And she does deserve it."

"But she doesn't want it."

"She doesn't?"

"The Princess, she's a complicated woman. It's so much already, so many lords young and old seeking her hand, a whole tourney raised in her honor...considering that she'll sit as the Queen of Westeros one day...she's generous enough to wish to bestow tomorrow's title to one equally as deserving. And I can't think of anyone more deserving as you, my lady."

"The King can, I imagine."

"The King will hold his grudges, I'm sure. But they'll be forgotten when Queen Shireen sits on the Throne, and grudges for one Crown may change into favors owed for another. I'd think the Lord Dickon could be convinced to change his mind by the woman I'd venture that he'd still wish to marry. And though a betrothal to the handsome champion of the tourney may become more appealing to Lady Olenna in time, such a crowning would certainly remind the realm of the beautiful and unmarried heir to Highgarden. Perhaps Lord Royce may think to propose one of his sons. Or word may find its way north to Riverrun, where my uncle Edmure remains unwed. Though if I were you, I'd cast my eyes east, and find myself a roguish Dornish Prince..."

"I don't get it," Ygritte frowned. "What's the big deal, they didn't want the lunky boy to win?"

"It's a delicate matter," her mother tried explaining, "the King holds this tourney in honor of his only child and heir..."


"So it's done," she whispered to Tywin Lannister, happening to bump into him in the hallways of the Keep, few taking note of them with all the lords and ladies were more preoccupied whispering of the unexpected disaster that had concluded the King's grand tourney. "A rift between Stannis and the Houses Tyrell and Tarly, along with the Hightowers, allies for us to seek in all the three most powerful houses of the Reach, when the time comes."

"All with the Crown Princess's approval and gratitude," Tywin said approvingly. "Well done, there may be more merits to your approach than I'd judged before."

"Don't thank me, thank Dickon Tarly for being strong, dumb, and predictable."

"Yes, a lucky occasion which fit our purposes, this time."

It was as close to words of approval as she'd ever receive from the old man, and she felt pity for Tyrion and Jaime and even Cersei, having lived their entire childhoods begging and likely receiving so rarely the faint praise she'd just heard Tywin Lannister give her just now, to the daughter and sister of his once sworn enemies.

Chapter Text

Daenerys

"A toast."

"A toast then, my Queen," Littlefinger raised his glass in the air, "to peace at last, and some semblance of quiet. A shame Lord Tyrion can't join us, this vintage would be to his liking, I imagine."

"Lord Tyrion deserves some rest, more than most of us. I gave him the night, to spend with Shae...she does not seem the type to enjoy being neglected."

Shae was not alone, so much had been neglected, but it would seem all their hard work, all her late nights spent toiling with her advisors were finally paying off. There had been less than five reported sightings of the Harpies in the last five moons, enough so that she felt comfortable enough in sending Daario and his Second Sons south to Yunkai. They'd just received word that her lover had retaken the city with ease. Daario will stay in Yunkai for now, they'd decided, and with any luck, the masters of Astapor would relinquish their rule willingly, once they saw what befell the Yunkai masters who dared defy her.

"Daario says the masters should arrive in Mereen within the next several days." Setting her wine down methodically, she studied the Westerosi lord, whose blood originated from this same continent. "You'll lead the trials, Lord Baelish?"

"Your Grace, I've little experience in judging," he coughed in surprise.

"You know coin. You know gold. That's what these masters used, to murder women and children. That's what will determine their guilt, or innocence."

She would have preferred to order all the captive masters killed. Daario would agree with her, as she imagined, as did Yara and Mossador did earlier that day in the Throne Room. But both Tyrion and Baelish advocated for trials, to determine each master's guilt or innocence separately. And she remembered Hizdahr zo Loraq, how she'd heard she'd crucified at least one innocent man upon taking Mereen. Relatively innocent, that was, compared to his fellow slavers.

"I don't understand," she said, frowning. "I knew the masters would betray me, I dreamt of it."

"Dreamt of it," Littlefinger asked, though she figured he probably already knew that she dreamed. Maybe not their contents, but the dreams themselves were no secret within her inner circle.

"I dreamed it, that they would pass gold to greedy hands, paying blood money to keep alive the horrible ways of the past."

"That's why you took the hostages, when you took the cities."

"That's why I took the hostages," Daenerys agreed, though it did pain her to think of it sometimes. All the richest and most powerful masters, all the ones who sat on the ruling councils, she ordered brought to Mereen with her, figuring that their sons would not dare risk the lives of their fathers, uncles, and grandfathers in defying her. Even a butcher and former slave named Cleon in Astapor, who she'd dreamed would be just as nefarious as the masters, accompanied them in captivity. "That's why I agreed to reopen the fighting pits too."

She'd dreamed that as well, how the masters would ambush her during the fights. For some reason Hizdahr zo Loraq sat by her side in her dream, as if they were wedded, and then the masked Harpies appeared, and killed nearly everyone. So she was prepared, the Unsullied and the Second Sons searched every man, woman, and child entering the arena, and kept a close patrol all day by each entrance and exit. They found little contraband during the awfully brutish day, the fights took their course, the fighters spoke words of honor at their Queen before they died, and she returned to the Pyramid and partook in more wine than usual, content that the hostages had kept the Harpies at bay.

But then it got worse, the attacks on the streets, less furtive by the day. So she brought her first hostage down into the bowels of the pyramid, where two of her dragons stayed chained. Then a second. Then a third. Then more, yet the attacks got worse, the Harpies more emboldened, it seemed, with the burning of each master. She did not need Tyrion telling her she couldn't burn all their hostages, so as to lose any leverage she had over the remaining masters who had fulfilled her prophecies anyway, retaking Yunkai and Astapor from the ruling councils she'd established. Even Littlefinger had pleaded for restraint after Ser Barristan's death, when she had been so close to burning all the surviving masters, about half of those who had accompanied her to Mereen. But then it ought to make sense, in hindsight, that those who treated human beings as property would not value even the lives of their own blood and family.

I thought I could trust sons of sinners to be innocent.

I was wrong.

"I cannot help be curious, Your Grace, what else have you dreamed of?"

"My dragons," she fed him. "They were eggs, frozen in stone for centuries, yet I dreamed they would hatch."

"And so they did."

"Were I so lucky to have such happy dreams all the time..." Pausing, she wondered how much of her dreams she ought trust his man with. But she did trust him. Not as unflinchingly as she trusted Jorah and Grey Worm and Missandei, but as much as she did Tyrion and Yara and Loras, despite how his arrival had been later than theirs. "Usually, it's traitors I dream of."

"Ser Jorah?"

"And many more, across the Narrow Sea."

"Across the Narrow Sea?" Lord Baelish cocked his head. "I hope I can this is where Lord Tyrion and I could come to your aid...the lords and ladies of Westeros just so happen to be our specialty, Your Grace."

She never dreamed Littlefinger betraying her, that was something. And she always dreamed of her traitors.

"A man, who called himself a King, and claimed to be a dragon." When he frowned in confusion, she continued. "He had dark hair...a small beard. He wore all black. I dreamed he stuck a knife into my heart, that he'll kill me."

I loved him.

"That does not sound like Stannis," Baelish replied, thinking, "and I know of no King of the Black." An idea came to him. "Perhaps Mance Rayder, the King Beyond the Wall."

"Of the wildlings?"

I'd be foolish enough to fall in love with and to trust some wildling king with my life?

"The very same. Stannis has let him and his people south, for the Winter, though I've heard nothing about the man's claims to dragonhood."

"I can't imagine the northern lords happy," she said, thinking over this latest tidbit of information from the man who had very effectively staked his claim as both her future Master of Coin, and Master of Whispers. "Or the Watch."

"Robb Stark approves of the move," Littlefinger said helpfully. "His vassals, less so. You're right, Your Grace, this gives us the opportunity, whenever there are lords who may be dissatisfied by their king." He took a small sip of his wine, and Daenerys thought this was the most he'd ever seen him drink. "We'll keep an eye on this Mance Rayder, if he's the one in your dreams. We'll rid the realm of the man, and the northern lords will thank us for it."

"Perhaps we ought send them whispers today."

"Perhaps we will," Littlefinger replied with a sly smile. That's why she liked him more than Tyrion, she realized, because Petyr Baelish always knew what had to be done, however ruthless it may seem.

"It won't be enough, to rely just upon northern lords," she thought. "Stark...Robb Stark's sorceress sister..."

"Sansa."

"Sansa," she agreed. "I dreamed she betrayed me as well."

"How?"

"I don't know, I just know," Daenerys tried to explain, trying to conjure up the shadows from her sleep. "I saw it in her eyes, she looked at me with nothing but contempt, if not hatred. I saw her standing in the battlements of a castle in the snow...and I just knew she was about to betray me somehow."

"Winterfell."

"Probably."

"She's more a southern girl these days, Sansa Stark," Littlefinger said, taking another sip of his wine. "And you'll find her position far stronger than some wildling King's."

"Yes, she helped crown Stannis, didn't she? I imagine she'd be close to her King."

She knew about my dragons.

"They say she practically serves as Stannis's Hand, widespread derision being the only reason he doesn't appoint a girl of seven and ten to his Small Council. Then there's her family, which binds her to Houses Stark and Tully. Even House Arryn, once we restore Lord Robin to his rightful place."

"I'd expect you to ensure Sweetrobin does not ally himself with his cousin," she said, her voice coming out more as a command.

"Of course, it'll be taken care of." Another pause. "She'll be a Lannister by marriage, if she isn't already. That gives her ties to at least four Great Houses. I daresay we can't just walk up to Sansa Stark, accuse her of treason she hasn't committed yet, and have that be the end of it. That'd be one trial that's beyond me, Your Grace."

"No, we can't," she said, though she wondered. "Perhaps those four Great Houses ought not remain great houses much longer. Perhaps there ought to be no Great Houses, none but House Targaryen...a Great House for the people, rather than lordlings or ladies."

"Perhaps," Littlefinger replied, raising his glass in the air, "though such great changes ought to be handled delicately."

"That's what I trust you to accomplish," Daenerys said sweetly, "Lord Baelish."

"Some advice," Littlefinger suddenly offered, leaning forward across the table closer to her, "Your Grace?"

"You may speak freely, as always, Lord Baelish."

"Don't let yourself be held hostage to your dreams. You've changed them before, you can change them again. And again. And again...but not all the changes are good ones, you've seen that too."

"What should I do then?"

"Let the dreams pass, but don't forget them. Don't spend every waking day and night fretting about what may happen, or what may not happen, depending on what you've done already. Perhaps you'll dream the rest of your life. Perhaps one day, they'll stop. Yet you'll still live, and you'll still reign, and the Seven Kingdoms will still rely on your guidance, dreams or not. Rely on your dragons, my Queen. Rely on yourself, because you can see what no one else can see. And rely upon us, your humble advisors, though only so much as you'd judge the wisdom of our whispers."


Sansa

Between two lifetimes, her fourth time reciting her vows of marriage seemed the most rote. Her second ceremony in Baelor the Blessed's Sept, remembering how mortifying it had been when Tyrion attempted to don his cloak of protection upon her, she felt relief when Tommen completed the symbolic act without laughter from the crowd. Then they kissed, a rare enough occasion, the act she avoided even when in their bedchambers, but this time surprisingly let him linger his lips upon hers for longer than she'd intended.

Let them see that this marriage is less false than the past ones I've had to endure.

The applause was loud enough for her to almost believe most in the crowd were sincere in their happiness for her, save the very small contingent who had come from the North to see her. But Shireen clapped happily, even as Sansa knew a small part of the girl still longed for her husband, and they would have gotten along so much better, two pure and innocent souls. The King grinned too, no surprise for her considering he'd been the one responsible for forcing the match down both families' throats.

Robb, I wish you were here. Even King Stannis, First of His Name, sits present for both my ceremonies.

On the other side of the aisle, she observed Tommen's part of their now very odd match of a family. Jaime's expression, along with the former Princess Myrcella's, radiated genuine happiness for her husband. Soon to be Princess again, Sansa reminded herself, once she married her own Dornish Prince, the surprisingly lovely couple just arriving at the docks of King's Landing the night before. Cersei's face seemed confused, as a part of her seemed actually proud and happy for her son, though there remained a scowl displaying what Sansa figured was lingering distrust for her son's wife and family, or more likely, all of her family's newly made allies...and how little control she had over such alliances. As for the Lord of Casterly Rock, his eyes sang no songs of happiness nor pride, just an intent glare, serving to remind her constantly of all her continuing debts.

"The Pariah of Highgarden, they call me now," Margaery said sweetly to her. With most of the tedium of the wedding feast over with, she was free to leave her husband's side and greet her guests in a more personable, and discreet, manner. "Father says the King didn't even look at him at the Small Council this morning."

Margaery proved herself a great actress, her shock towards Dickon Tarly's decision more than enough for all gathered to believe her as surprised as the rest of the audience. But the appearance of innocence had not been enough to dissuade the King of his anger, not when it concerned his daughter.

"He may be better off resigning and returning to Highgarden, before things get worse."

There was no resentment on Margaery's face, none that Sansa could discern anyway. While she'd offered the suggestion, and the decision and action had both been entirely Margaery's, her choice in the matter cementing her determination to play the longer game, for herself, possibly long after her father and grandmother had passed.

"It'll take a raven from my grandmother before he'll see sense. And she'll be mighty cross at me too, but she'll come to see things my way...our way...within a few fortnights I'd think."

"There's certainly more to come, here and across the Narrow Sea." The bride took the older woman's hands into hers before she continued. "You must miss your brother, especially on a day like this."

A sadder smile. "I'd happily give him back Highgarden, if only to see him returned and safe."

While Loras Tyrell's decision to seek to avenge Renly's death from Essos was an entire decision entirely his own, Sansa couldn't help but wonder how much Margaery could resent her for her part in the matter.

"He will return, I imagine, when Daenerys Targaryen finally decides to come west." She almost said again at the end of her sentence.

"Will it come to war, between her and Stannis?" This time, it was Margaery who appeared nervous, before she continued. "I know this Dragon Queen my brother now serves falls in to the...range of matters you know and advise the King of."

It was no longer time to play dumb, if only because telling Margaery the truth, especially in a subject which hit so close to her heart, would go a long way towards forging the powerful alliance she'd wish to have on her side, Tywin or not. But there was also only so much she could say without revealing too much about her and Tywin's plans.

"The Queen of Dragons is ambitious, but not foolish. I believe her advisors, including your brother, will caution her against storming the Red Keep the moment she and her dragons land in Westeros. With the realm strong under Stannis, they'll probably tell Daenerys she needs to prove that she deserves the Throne on her own merits, not just based on her birthright."

Which isn't really her birthright.

"I doubt she and Stannis could sit side by side in the Throne room, with all the realm pardoned and returned safely to their families...but a girl can hope, can't she?"

Margaery could certainly hope for that, and more. But Sansa wondered too, just what exactly was happening across the Narrow Sea? It seemed whispers from the east told a similar story as she'd known, of Daenerys taking Slaver's Bay, and struggling amply with it. But what assurance did she have that Loras Tyrell, talented swordsman as he was, would return safely to his sister? And what of Littlefinger, how much less caution could he whisper into her ears, now that word had arrived, despite the continued, and troubling, absence of the Spider, confirming his new place by Daenerys's side? The truth was, there seemed little she was actually able to control since the Council she called, save for probably her new husband.

"The Council which crowned Stannis...,"

"Your Council," Margaery corrected with a smile.

"Some may say...I would think it was the only possible result. Yes, the Lannisters were weakened, and yes, I'd influenced my own brother. But both Robb and Lord Tywin were men who could be convinced to give up their claim, for pragmatic reasons...temporarily at least. Stannis would not, he'd fight and die even outnumbered ten to one because he believes it's his duty as the rightful King. Daenerys is the same, except it's less duty, more obsession. And how could she ever be outnumbered, when she has three dragons?"

"It seems war may be unavoidable then," Margaery said, singing her words with apprehension. Just as quickly, the mask returned. "Dragons, they tell me too. It seems impossible, that my brother sees every day the returned dragons with his own eyes. Such marvelous yet dangerous creatures..."

"Horrible creatures," Sansa corrected. She recalled as best she could Shireen's tomes of history, stories she'd ignored once in her last life, and knew to study more closely this time. "It bears saying how many times the Targaryens burnt their way through all of Dorne. We don't think much of it, because it's Dorne, they're so far away. But the Riverlands are closer, certainly for my mother's family. They burned too, during the Dance of Dragons...except it was mostly the villages Prince Aemond went after...even if it were hundreds of villages, better that than Riverrun or the Stoney Sept or Fairmarket, right?"

There was no pretense in Margaery's face when she asked her next question. "Is my brother safe, Lady Sansa?"

"So long as he remains loyal to Daenerys. She rewards loyalty, she respects it. But she loves adoration more. Ser Loras follows Daenerys because he wants revenge for Renly. That keeps him loyal to her, and that ought keep him safe. But she'd rather he worship her, like most of her other advisors and followers in the east."

They walked solemnly for a minute in silence, and Sansa reckoned that Margaerys was calculating how little chance a man like Loras, with neither an eye for a woman's beauty or a great cause, would fare in prolonged servitude to the Dragon Queen.

"And what of the opposite side of the coin?"

"Depends if she regards him a threat. Ser Loras, after all, has his claim to Highgarden, and your family's name. Perhaps he'd change his mind and walk away from her. She won't force him to stay...but because of his importance, she'd expect him to never unbend the knee. That'd be a betrayal, you see, and from someone who could be a threat to her, because of his family."

"The Dragon Queen does not take well to betrayals," Margaery asked, though Sansa would venture that she'd already guessed at the answer.

"She knows only one response to it...fire and blood."

She thought she saw the normally unflappable Margaery Tyrell gulp. "It's a dangerous game my brother plays, isn't it?"

"It's a dangerous game we all play," Sansa corrected. "But we don't have a choice. The dragons have reawakened, whether we want to play their games or not. The threat beyond the Wall is there, whether we wish it true or not."

"That's why you called Stannis's council, isn't it? These are the wars of tomorrow you saw coming, as our brothers and fathers fought their wars of yesterday?"

It was time to tell her the truth, or as much as she could. Now that she'd pulled Margaery Tyrell into her game, Sansa thought that honesty, out of all things, could be the best way to keep the woman as closely tethered to her side as she could manage.

"I want to keep the realm whole, and at peace. I want to see my family survive the Long Night, the Winter of Ice and Fire. I want to see all the good people survive, I want to see people like you live, Margaery, you and your brother."

They'd stopped walking, having reached the edge of the gardens, and though the sun had set as they talked, an early moon illuminated clearly for her the somber expression upon the normally painted face of the heir to Highgarden.

"You don't see us surviving otherwise?"

"No. Not you, not me, not anyone any of us love or care about."

Of course, it hadn't been dragons or the White Walkers who'd destroyed Margaery's family, just a very normally awful Cersei Lannister...currently slouched over drunk in her chair, her chin nuzzling uncomfortably between the former Queen's breasts. And the 'otherwise' Margaery asked of could mean many things.

Honesty can only go so far.


"Thanks for keeping watch."

Margaery bowed quickly to Ygritte on their return, before hurrying back to her father's side at their table. Meanwhile, Sansa and the wildling girl walked in the opposite direction, so that the King and his gathered lords would not see her conferring with the woman who'd embarrassed Princess Shireen in what was to be her moment of glory, Ygritte having stood ready to warn them were anyone to approach their corner.

"More politics," Ygritte asked bemusedly.

"Statecraft, the more serious maesters would say."

"Statecraft, emissary," Ygritte rolled her eyes, "if Mance don't make me a hand when I get back, I might go an' make myself king when I return."

"I don't know how coups work with your people," Sansa joked lightheartedly, the wildling girl's company a relief after her rather heavy and delicate session with Margaery, "but I'd be shivering in my boots if I were Mance."

"Coup?" Puzzling together the meaning to her words, Ygritte grinned knowingly, her understanding of southern politics growing by the day despite the shortness of her stay in the capital. "Ah, coup." Regarding her with curiosity, her eyes wandered back to the reigning Queen of Love and Beauty, now in conversation with her mother, perhaps gauging the possibilities already of a marriage with the Lord of Riverrun. "The pretty girl, all th' fancy words you used just now with her...is it all for yer coups and statecraft and politics?"

The girl was observant, and how could Sansa expect the girl to stand guard for so long and not wonder as to why?. "It is. But I knew her my last life too. We were almost friends...were friends, depending on how you see things. I like Lady Margaery...she's dangerous, her family's dangerous...but I like her anyway, and I want her on my side, our side."

"Our side?" Ygritte chewed carefully on her words. "You think our side will be the ones to survive the dragon lady, you and me and the pretty flower lady together?"

"The Dragon Lady who cares only that all the world bends the knee for her? I'd think your people especially land on whichever side isn't hers, after we use her for the Long Night." Sansa shook her head. "I can't say for sure. But we have to believe, and carry on believing, because it's either win, or die, for all of us." She remembered something. "Jon too. All these politics I play with now...the game, they call it, it's to protect my family. To help Jon, to free him from men like Alliser Thorne...free him from vows he ought never have taken in the first place."

At the mention of the new King Crow, as she called him, Ygritte's face burst into pure disgust.

"Would you wait for Jon," Sansa continued, now that she'd brought up the subject of her brother, and Ygritte's former lover. "He'd make a good queen for the wildli...for the freefolk, once you're their king."

"Not sure if that's easy," Ygritte said begrudgingly. "I shot him full of arrows, or so you ferget."

"And you kept him alive," Sansa replied, though it hurt her to think of it, and only the knowledge of both the survival of Jon's life, as well as that of his love for her, kept her from treating Ygritte as an enemy from the first. "If anyone can forgive that, it's Jon."

"Depends on how long you take, then," Ygritte said with a grin. "And whether anyone fancies my emissary eyes before you finish freein' Jon with politics."

They'd almost returned to the main gathering, before Ygritte pulled her back.

"I know you know what yer doing. I know there's things you probably can't tell me."

"Go on," Sansa beckoned, when Ygritte stopped speaking.

"There's a man I knew," she said, after giving it some more thought. "He could see through the eyes of others, he could...fly with the eagles, hunt as a wolf or bear..."

"A warg?" Fantastic tales, except Bran was learning the skill as they spoke, somewhere beyond the Wall.

"Aye, that's what you southern folk call it." Her eyes grew pensive again. "He was annoying, he was jealous...but he was one of us, one of my band. Jon killed him."

About to interrupt her and defend Jon, Sansa realized Ygritte wasn't finished speaking yet, and let her continue.

"But he escaped, his mind that is. Went inside the eyes of an eagle, they tell me. He lives still, I think. But I wonder if he's already fergotten what it's like to be a man."

"I guess that's not unlike me," Sansa said, picking up where Ygritte seemed to be aiming at with her words. "I haven't forgotten what I'd once been, not completely, anyway. But I know, I'm no longer the same person I was before I died. Never will be again, I don't think."

"I used to warn him," Ygritte said after another long pause, and Sansa realized that, whatever she'd said about the warg, he'd meant something to her once, and it must have hurt, knowing Jon killed him. And it must have made it hurt less, when she made the choice to hurt Jon. "Don't get lost in it...in yer magic...in the beasts. If he'd spent more time practicin' his sword, and less time flying with the birds...maybe he'd be a man still."

"And Jon a dead man."

"It is magic," Ygritte said to her, brushing the subject of Jon aside, an uncomfortable one between them for once, "what brought you here, whatever gave yer yer life again. It's magic too, that gives the dragon lady her dragons. It's a scary thing, magic. It gives us power, but it's also powerful enough to destroy us, if we lose ourselves too deep in it."

"Maybe you're right," Sansa agreed, Ygritte's words striking closer to her own fears than she'd expected. "Maybe I owe my every breath to magic. But I have less and less of it now. Everything I knew, from before...becomes more useless the more I've changed things."

"Good," Ygritte said, loud enough to startle her, and she looked around to see if anyone noticed their conversation.

"It's failed me already. People I loved, people I cared about...they died because I didn't see it happening, because it didn't happen before. I've let enemies slip through, in ways I missed, because I didn't see it happen before. Jon, he was supposed to be Lord Commander, he was supposed to kill Thorne and everyone who opposed letting your people through...and Arya and Bran, I'd been so sure they'd come back, same as they did before. Now, I don't know."

What was it, about this wildling girl, that compelled her to time and time again confide to her her darkest secrets? Perhaps it was because she fell far beyond the circles of men like Tywin Lannister, or Cersei, or Stannis...or even her own brother Robb.

"Then you can't change it then, so let it be, and do only what you can do." Instinctively she reached for her back, before remembering she'd left her arrows back in her room for propriety's sake. "I know my weapon, I know it well, I know exactly what I can do with it. There's no magic to it. Just me, and me arrows, and a lifetime of shootin' them."

She's shorter than Jon, Sansa realized, as Ygritte stared her passionately in her eyes.

"Don't stop fighting fer Jon, I know I won't. Don't stop fighting for yer people, I know I won't. An' don't be afraid to fight fer yerself. The magical gods give me another life? I won't hesitate to take what I want out of it, because I doubt they give me a third one. You've a heart of the freefolk, Lady Sansa, no matter how many clever words you know. Take what you want, sister of Jon, daughter of Ned an' Cat, take from the gods what's owed ya, because you know better than anyone, no one's gonna give it to ya, not kings or lords. Especially not the shit gods that brought you back. An' do it with yer own weapon...not theirs."


Her words rang through Sansa's head in the night, long after her lord husband had fallen asleep. There had been no consummation of this second ceremony and feast, because it was the second time, and because Tommen had taken far too much wine through the course of the more raucous southern celebration.

What do I want?

She wanted her family to safe. She wanted her family to be happy. She wanted Jon to be free, and happy, under the careful and loving watch of a woman like Ygritte. She wanted her mother to find it in her heart to somehow finally let Jon into their family, and their home. She wanted Robb not to hate her.

But what do I want, for myself?

When had she wanted anything purely for herself, aside from the occasional plate of plump and juicy lemoncakes, since she'd been a child the first time? When had she last had that flighty privilege, when everything always seemed at stake for her? What was there for her to want, besides for her own family? She wasn't Daenerys or Stannis, she didn't want the Throne, she didn't want to be anywhere near it, except as a means to help her family...which meant her wants for her family was the one thing keeping her from her selfish indulgence, had she the chance. To be home, and stay home.

Except, it wasn't her home anymore, was it? It was Robb's, and Talisa's, and little Lyanna's, and all the children Talisa would continue to bear for her brother, and the longer she had to wait, the more she'd find herself their guest by the time she'd finally be able to return. And just how long would it take, for her to secure everything, the North's independence, Shireen's life, Tommen's claim...would she be old, withered, and grey by the time she could finally return for good? What would be the Winterfell she'd find in her old age, a castle presided by some nephew or niece she'd know just as well as her uncle Edmure knew her?

Turning to her side, she shook Tommen gently until he woke, his eyes glazed but a bit more sober than before.

"Sansa?"

"I've been thinking, dear husband."

"About what," he asked, slowly coming to his senses.

"A child. For the two of us."

Chapter Text

Cersei

Striding through the hallways of the Keep, the former Queen attempted to walk with purpose, as if the castle's corridors and passageways belonged to her and her alone...as they actually did once, what seemed now a lifetime ago. One day they'd be hers again, everything, she kept telling herself. Trust father, Jaime told her, he knows what he's doing, he has a plan. Matters are being attended to, father said curtly, whenever she asked him what this mysterious plan of his was. Trust the Stark bitch, both of them avoided repeating to her face, yet they all knew it was expected of her all the same.

Father trusts her more than he trusts me, she thought bitterly. His own daughter...wife of a king, mother of another king, and mother to the future king.

And to be honest, it was easy to give in to obscurity, to drown herself in wine, and savor the softness of her bed every morning, that she could drift in and out of sleep well into the late afternoon without any duties or obligations, no smelly old lords or cunty fair ladies to attend to. But then, when she did emerge from her bed, and walked amongst the lords and ladies who practically worshiped her when she was their Queen, it was not adulation they greeted her with, but indifference at best. And then there were the whispers.

Brother-fucker. Spinster. Drunk.

Loser.

The Tarly's had vacated the Keep the same night after their big burly heir won the tourney, a smart decision, Cersei reckoned, to save them the embarrassment of the Kingsguard personally kicking them out of the Red Keep. But they'd returned, she heard, either to try and make amends before the King, or their liege lord, whose own reputation the idiot boy had damaged tremendously with his boneheaded decision at the tourney.

She did not need Tywin Lannister to tell her that this was an opportunity, that wherever a rift had been created between Stannis and his lords, there lay an opportunity for them to regain their influence, man by man, castle by castle. Nor did she begrudge Stannis for being fiercely protective of his daughter, there was some admiration in that, she could admit. As for the daughter, Cersei found herself less impressed with. Shireen was an abomination, for one, horribly boring and uncharismatic, secondly, and again, one did not need Tywin Lannister's canny to foresee that the great lords of the realm would find little reason to rally and bend the knee to the disfigured little runt, once her father was dead. Had she been a Targaryen, maybe, her position carried by an accumulated hundreds of years worth of sworn oaths and tradition...but there was nothing special about Baratheon blood, Cersei had known that firsthand for eighteen horrible years.

"Audience with the King, Lord Randyll?"

He was a small, ratty looking man, and Cersei would not have thought much of him, except for the value of his name, and the fact that her father actually held a tremendous amount of respect for the man for having won a battle or two against her dearly departed husband during the Rebellion.

"Thought it proper to pay my respects to the King before we ride back south," the man mumbled, eager to bypass and continue ignoring her. He did not like it when she turned and trailed him through the corridor.

"It's all rather stupid, isn't it? Just a dumb tourney, and I daresay none of the poor girl's suitors could ever honestly claim the Princess to be pretty, much less anything close to resembling a beauty."

Randyll stopped in his tracks. "Out of respect for your former station, I'll ignore your insult, and forget I heard it."

He walked away from her, his pace quicker than before, but Cersei imagined the frustration while she continued to keep up with his stride.

"Of course, telling the King may help you regain your former station. Probably not though. Don't tell me, you didn't have thoughts, Lord Randyll, of breaking your son's engagement to...what, some Hightower girl or another, when Ser Patrek fell from his horse...the young, gallant champion crowning the Princess then asking her hand the following night at the feast?"

He didn't reply to her, but he didn't deny her words either, and his pace did slow just a little. Which was good, because she was starting to run out of breath.

"You're one of us now, the scorned, the afflicted, the forgotten."

He stopped again to face her. "Self-pity's not a good look on you, Your Grace. In case you've forgotten, Tywin Lannister still presides over Casterly Rock, still advises the King, still holds more weight in power and gold in the seven kingdoms than he deserves."

Gods, is he still sore over the rebellion? At least he addressed me correctly by my title this time.

"Yes, and your liege lord is mighty displeased with you, isn't he? Mace Tyrell's seat on the Small Council grows more tenuous by the day. He can't take his anger out on the King...but he can certainly take it out on you. Perhaps young Dickon won't be marrying a Hightower after all. Who else then? A Fossoway? A Cafferen?" She shuddered theatrically. "Gods forbid, the Maid of Tarth?"

"What do you want, say it plainly then."

He wasn't much of a politician. But that didn't matter, he could still be useful.

"You're right, much of the realm has forgotten about Tywin Lannister. Perhaps that's what my father intends...after all, you know well the wars to come, don't you? Aerys's daughter, no better than a Dothraki whore, plans to bring her army of foreign mercenaries and reclaim her father's throne. And Stannis won't back down, would he? Even in the face of dragons." Leaning closer to him, remembering what it felt like to persuade, to seduce, she thought she saw weakness in his eyes. "Who says either one of them has to win? Who says they don't destroy each other? Who says my father isn't ready for all the possibilities?"

Randyll Tarly narrowed his eyes at her. "You speak for your father?"

"I do," she lied. But why should the Stark bitch speak for her father, after all the harm Ned Stark did the realm? After all the harm Cersei still suspects Sansa Stark wrecked upon their family, the death her sorcery brought her firstborn son, despite her father's denials?

"Give your father my best then," the older man said carefully, leaving Cersei standing in the hallway, a grin upon her face.


Sansa

"Rickon Stark. Edric Dayne. Andrey Dalt. Andar Royce." The King looked back up at his smallest council. His Hand. His Red Witch. His other Red Witch.

"House Royce will be complicated," Sansa said. It seemed odd, the attendance of everyone present, the one noticeable absence being the girl whose entire future was being decided for her at the moment. That was why she was here, Sansa supposed, her capacity in the decision making to both speak for Shireen, as well as to gauge the political consequences of whatever they decided. "I spoke to Bronze Yohn, he understands his stewardship of the Vale is temporary. When the Dragon Queen sails over with Littlefinger and Lord Arryn, the situation would become more complicated...and we wouldn't want the Princess involved in the middle of it."

But that's how the world always was, and always would be, wasn't it? Perish the thought that children could actually choose their husbands and brides to be, the children of kings less free than even a miller's daughter in that regard.

"We'll strike House Royce from the lists then," Davos agreed. She could trust he'd speak on the Princess's behalf as well, and Shireen had told them both how Andar Royce, an upstanding young knight by all accounts, was a bit too old for her, at nearly thirty years of age.

"And too hairy," Shireen had added.

But it wasn't so simple. "If the choice were made to disinherit House Arryn from the Eyrie permanently however, we'd need strong ties to the Royces."

Stannis frowned at her. "You said Robin Arryn is being influenced completely by Littlefinger."

"He's an impressionable young boy, influenced more by his mother's imbalance...rather than his father's sense of honor. You'll find in him whatever tutelage he'd receive from Baelish, or even the Dragon Queen, were he to fall under her spell. He'll no longer be a child when he returns to Westeros, it may be more difficult for us to turn his mind back around."

The Arryns were a great family, who had meant much to her own father. Now here she was, plotting to end their thousands year old reign in the Vale. But a truculent Vale under the possibly irrational leadership of the rather horrid boy she'd remembered was not preferable at all, no matter which family sat upon the Iron Throne. And whether it was Tommen, or somehow Shireen, who would sit on the Iron Throne after the Long Night, it was and would seem to forever remain her burden to control their realms for them, in the shadows. The same way Littlefinger had controlled the realm behind Robert and Joffrey's throne. The same way Tywin had controlled the realm behind Aerys and his own grandchildrens' thrones.

"We can at least get rid of one the Dornish Houses," Stannis said, indicating without much further word that he no longer considered the Royces under consideration.

"Strike out Andrey Dalt then," Davos said. "I found the young man rather...flippant. Perchance it's his customs, but Lord Edric is younger, yet twice as mature, in my view."

"Lord Edric's grown on Shireen, since she's met him," Sansa added. Shireen's preference had originally been Rickon, but she wondered whether their own friendship had unknowingly biased the girl towards her brother. And Shireen, like Tommen, was no longer a child now, and while she'd been initially impressed by Rickon in Winterfell because he'd been kind to her, in a shy, childish way, it seemed obvious that, with all the lords of the realm pursuing her in person, shy as she might be herself, Shireen had grown out of Rickon, several years younger than her. "They're the same age, and he's rather gallant looking."

Whatever her insecurities, the girl was not above the superficiality of physical attraction. Or hope. Hope for a gallant, handsome husband who could love her as she deserved...the same hopes Sansa had once when she was a child the first time, the same hopes which had bewitched her to leave Winterfell and go south. But for Shireen, it seemed the gods would favor her for once, in that her hopes were not out of the question.

"Is his interest in my daughter genuine?"

They all turned their attention to her. As much as Davos cared for the Princess too, he hadn't been there with the Princess during the less formal occasions, times where her various suitors had a chance to speak personally with the Princess, under her quiet friend's watchful eye.

"Lord Edric spend many a fortnight riding the countryside with Lord Beric and the brotherhood." It had to be addressed. "The Princess's affliction does not bother him, not after what he's already seen of the world. He comes to King's Landing, to do his duty as the head of his house. He's not in love with the Princess...but he hasn't pretended as such. They share interests, they both like reading about history and lore. Lord Edric is spirited, and speaks his mind, which means he's less apt to politics and plotting. He has few older relatives who would try to use him to advance their own place in court, his greatest influence being Lord Beric, an honorable man whose only aim is to help us defeat the threat beyond the Wall."

"Thoros told me the Lord's blessings upon Beric Dondarrion," Melisandre added. "He's been chosen by the Lord of Light, to serve a purpose, our shared purpose."

"Beric's a good man, that business with his bannerless brothers notwithstanding," Stannis said, trying to keep the conversation from steering too far into the magical realm. "I've plans to appoint him to my Small Council, once our sights orient us north again."

"It would seem you believe Lord Edric the perfect consort, Lady Sansa," Davos concluded, a bit confused. "What of your own brother?"

"Rickon will survive the rejection, and House Stark will not take offense. You're assured of the North's support with Robb holding Winterfell, Your Grace, so Dorne remains your more difficult flank. While Shireen is fond of my brother, and my family would be honored to receive the Crown Princess's hand in marriage, we don't bring much more to the table politically, Your Grace...except the Starks won't look to use Rickon to usurp Shireen's throne...and that we'd serve as a good stopgap."

"A stopgap," the King asked.

"Say my brother is promised to the Princess today, while the realm is at peace. Years from now, it won't be, especially when Daenerys Targaryen arrives. The King may find himself in need of newer alliances then, ones he cannot predict today. Were the engagement to be broken, for the purposes of such alliances, you may be assured that House Stark will be entirely understanding of the King's reasons, and take no offense, remember no grudges."

They all watched Stannis while the King made up his mind. "I've no wish to break promises, offense given or not. I'll speak to Shireen tonight. If she approves, then I'll announce Lord Edric's selection tomorrow, before the melee." He stood, and they followed in turn, waiting for their official dismissal. But he addressed Ned Stark's daughter first. "My Lady Sansa, I thank you again for your candid advice and your impartiality, your words prove yet again invaluable to the Crown."


"You had them pick the Dornish boy?" Tywin Lannister was infuriated, but he dared not raise his voice, not within the confines of the King's castle.

"I did," Sansa replied him defiantly.

The old man crossed his arms. "Why?"

Because I won't have Rickon a piece in your game, were you to decide to betray me in harming Shireen.

"Does it matter? We've agreed to keep the realm ignorant of our part in...the succession. The Princess Shireen will not look upon us with disfavor, she'll support Tommen's ascension, whether or not her husband is a Stark. That means House Dayne could bring us potentially a new ally in Dorne, to counter the Martells, making them more valuable than the ally you already have in House Stark."

"All of this is true," Tywin said, after considering her reasoning. "But this binds my hands and keeps us from being flexible when it comes to the Princess Shireen...that's your real intent, isn't it?"

"It is," she admitted boldly, betraying no fear. It's one of them, anyway. "Do you blame me, if I still don't fully trust you?"

"Nor should I trust you, after this. You didn't tell me of this change in plans, not until it's already set in stone."

It was getting easier now, not letting herself be intimidated by the old man when he puffed his mane. "I've brought you the Tyrells...all three greatest houses in the Reach. Now House Dayne can be yours too...think about it, you can give them stewardship of Dorne, if you wish...all you have to do to gain them as another great ally is to simply restrain yourself from slaughtering the wife of their Lord. Is it so hard, Lord Tywin, to refrain yourself from murdering innocent little girls?"

"We both know very well little girls don't remain girls or innocent forever." But he sat, and Sansa could tell, from the way his shoulders relaxed, the way his eyes settled from the aim of intimidating her, back to passively gazing at his letters, that she'd been able to pacify him once more. "Now what? All the lords will disperse once the announcement is made."

"Rest," Sansa said, taking a seat opposite him across the table, to signal to him that she was his equal now. Close to it anyway in stature, and more than his equal in complicity. "Eat, drink, dance...enjoy the last moons before Winter. Let the seeds we've planted take root, and bear fruit."

Tywin looked at her skeptically. They were equals now, Sansa reminded herself, not just because she'd just outmaneuvered him, but because she was more powerful than he was at the moment, given her favor with Stannis and his court. But she knew she could only push him so far, before she threatened him enough to go out and seek to augment his own power, to counter hers.

"I'll expect to be with child soon, Tommen and I are working on it. I'm afraid carrying and raising your great grandchild will keep me from all this plotting I'm doing, until the Dragon Queen arrives, at least. But I'd think it's worth it, no? Considering our children will be the future of your dynasty?"

"Our dynasty," Tywin stressed, though there was no warmth in his voice. "Don't try and hide your part in all of this, my good lady. Now, or after."


Tyrion

"You know what," Tyrion decided, arm in arm with the woman he loved, "this city isn't all that bad. Especially when there's a marked lack of masked men trying to slit your throat."

"Hmmm," Shae murmured, not at all impressed. "Little man so proud."

"So I should be," he defended himself. She'd been bitter, because he'd been spending so much time working, to the point where she started calling the Queen his new mistress, though both of them knew just how ridiculous the notion was. "I'm saving lives, I'm improving lives, I'm making the world a better place. The first Lannister to ever do such a thing, I may add."

Though, he wasn't the first, Tyrion mulled. There'd been Jaime, in the Throne Room with old Aerys, once upon a time.

Shae grinned conspiratorially at him. "What," he asked indignantly.

"They say it's your friend Baelish who made the peace."

"Do they," Tyrion choked out. Was Mereen fated to be so similar to King's Landing? Except, he was thankful they never had to find out how well he'd prepared the city for Stannis's siege, considering the girl got them to all surrender and talk peace before the worst happened. Maybe they'd acknowledge his part in it, the maesters one day, and he'd happily share the credit with Sansa, just as he'd happily do so here in Mereen too. "I was the one who thought to approach the Iron Bank, to use the masters' greed to our advantage. Though," he furrowed his eyebrows, "I suppose we may not have gotten the gold were it not for Baelish."

"So you have ideas, but you can't make them happen," Shae countered with a smile. "That makes your ideas useless, without the Littlefinger."

"Just whose side are you on," he asked her playfully.

She drew out her time before answering, that was for sure. "Maybe Lord Baelish's. Maybe he pays his people well."

Tyrion shook his head. "You don't want to know what you'd have to do, to get at that gold of his."

Except she did know, didn't she? It was so easy to forget sometimes.

"I'll have to admit," Tyrion said, hurriedly trying to change the subject. "I had my doubts, when he first came to the Great Pyramid."

"You didn't trust him," Shae grasped.

"I didn't trust anyone. Especially anyone I knew from King's Landing." And as much pride as he'd once taken in his position as his horrible nephew's Hand, it all seemed a distant and dreary nightmare to him now. "I still don't completely trust him, except I do trust his motives."

As he'd expected, his lover narrowed her eyes at him, expecting him to elaborate. "Explain, funny man."

Whatever her origins, Shae did not get to where she was without being clever, without taking a subtle interest in all the comings and goings around her. It was how she was able to survive, he'd realized, during their short stint in King's Landing, and what's carried her from Lorath to the Red Keep to now back east to the Great Pyramid of Mereen.

"Littlefinger's out for himself, that's clear to everyone. He'll never be a king, he'll never be a great lord, except the once in a thousand year prospect where someone as idiotic as Joffrey grants him such a lofty title. As such, his power and status will always be tied to the monarch he serves. Stannis will never forgive him, your old friend Sansa seems to have seen to that, for whatever reason. So he'll back our Queen now, he'll serve her true and faithfully, because it'll be the only way he can get back to where he was. Maybe further than that, maybe he'll be her Hand, if she somehow takes the Iron Throne from Stannis. But he won't get that far by being untrustworthy...by being the same Littlefinger he was under King Robert."

"What happens when she does take her throne?" As always, Shae's question cut right to the chase.

"That's a long ways from now."

And to be honest, Tyrion didn't know. There was the prospect of all out war with Stannis...considering that Stannis held all seven kingdoms securely in his hand, it would mean all out war with the entire realm. Having seen what her dragons could do, even chained, to the masters here in Slaver's Bay, Tyrion did not relish the prospect of watching the same fate befall all the gallant knights and lords of the realm, however arrogant and cuntish they'd been to him all his life on the other side of the sea.

And that life did seem so long ago. He thought about men like Davos Seaworth, sitting in his former seat, and Alester Florent and Brynden Tully, the great shining luminaries Stannis found for his Small Council, and discovered that he did not envy them. Not just because the King kept a Red Witch eager to burn stray Council members such as Pycelle and Roose Bolton, though Tyrion could admit he hadn't heard of any further burnings in some time, a minor point of surprise. But as awful as serving Joffrey was, it had been exciting at times, in his nephew's own horrible way. Stannis just seemed boring, he imagined counting down the minutes to the end of each meeting with little intrigue to spare, perish the thought. Out of all the things she could trouble herself with, he would think someone as clever and knowing as Sansa Stark would find something more interesting than informally advising the king she'd crowned.

And that was quite curious too, that his onetime ally and nemesis had found herself counselling a King at an age where most lordlings, from the Great Houses on down, were still polishing the boots of the knights they squired for. Of course, it seemed that so long as a woman possessed supernatural powers, Stannis would accept them, regardless of age...

"Lord Tyrion!"

He heard the choppy accented voice of an Unsullied soldier.

"Ughhh," he tried remembering the name of this one, but it was hard to tell them apart behind their uniform masks.

"Great Pyramid now," the gelded man urged, "Queen needs you."

Suffering the dirty glare from Shae, he shrugged his shoulders, their peaceful, idyllic day of rest ruined. "Never a dull day in Mereen, right?"


The captive seemed a few years older than he, a short and ragged beard befitting of the hodgepodge leather garbs covering his body.

"They found him in the vaults, with a dozen men," Grey Worm said, pointing his bony finger in accusation at the intruder.

"He was going for the gold, I must imagine," Jorah surmised. The robber's face was bruised already, and Tyrion wondered whether it was the burly exile from Bear Island who did the damage, or one of Grey Worm's men.

"It's the gold," Daario agreed, striding into the Hall from one of the side entrances. Apparently he'd been in charge of interrogating the accomplices. "They're pirates, the lot of them."

More than half the gold from their loan still remained locked in the lower levels of the Pyramid, reserved to pay the freed men for their patrols for each shift, night by night. Observing the pirate, Tyrion thought the man showed little sign of fear or nervousness in his eyes, but an almost sadistic glee at being caught, out of all things.

"My dear pirate," he said, walking up to the man, "I don't think you quite understand the predicament you're in."

"She's got dragons, doesn't she," he asked, his mouth cackled in a smile, and Tyrion wondered whether the pirate was mad.

"I do," Daenerys threatened. "Would you like to meet them?"

"Nothing'll please me more, all my travels, I've never seen a dragon."

He's mad, Tyrion realized. So be it, there's little point in trying to save a mad pirate from the creatures below.

"You don't plead for mercy, you show no regret," the Queen questioned him. She wants to give him a chance, Tyrion thought.

"Ahh, yer a pretty one." He glowered at her in a lascivious manner, likely sealing his fate, then turned to leer at Shae, and Missandei in turn. "Quite a beautiful court you have here, my Queen. The fairest in all the land, I'd say. If you could spare one of yours for a humble pirate..."

They heard more footsteps pattering into the chambers, before the Queen could further rebuke him.

"Uncle?"

All of them turned to see Yara Greyjoy's arrival, her freeze frozen in place when she recognized their new captive.

"Err, not that one," the pirate frowned, "you can keep her."

"You know him," Daenerys questioned.

"Uncle Euron," Yara asked again, paying little heed to her beloved Queen for once.

"Little Yara," the pirate whispered, some form of recognition dawning in his eyes now. "Oi, my brother was a rather ugly man, I'm sorry that it's..."

"Euron Greyjoy," Daenerys interrupted, before he could further insult the woman who appeared to be his niece.

"Some people call me that," the man answered nonchalantly.

"Your niece Yara is a dear friend of mine and a loyal advisor. I'd be careful in what I say about her."

"Loyal," the pirate named Euron asked with a scowl. "Then why's she here with you, why didn't she die with my brother Balon?"

"Father told me to leave, to keep our blood alive, after the Starks murdered my brother!" Scowling, Yara circled her uncle, his hands bound in chains upon his back. "Considering god knows where you went, whether you're alive or dead, I can understand him."

The apparently highborn pirate dared spit in their presence, though Tyrion could only hope the action was interpreted as an insult towards his niece, rather than the Queen.

"A true Ironborn would've died fighting beside her king."

"What about you then? Where were you, after Robert forced us into submission? You fled, you abandoned your home, your people, your family!"

"I had less blood to avenge."

"Trust me uncle, they will be avenged."

"Enough!" The Queen's sharp words echoed through the hall, interrupting the family squabble the trial had devolved to. "Lady Yara, your uncle broke into the vaults, trying to steal the Iron Bank's gold for himself."

"It's a serious crime," Yara admitted, eyes somber.

"Deserving a serious punishment, so as to set the example for the rest of the city." Cocking her head, she regarded the Ironborn woman warily. "You knew nothing of this?"

"Your Grace, you know where my loyalties lie." When she did not react, Yara continued. "I haven't seen my uncle since I was a child...after he fled Westeros when the rest of us bent the knee to Robert."

"Yet you wish mercy for him," Daenerys realized, staring into the Ironborn woman's eyes.

She didn't even know it herself, not until the Queen pointed it out for her.

Shaken, Yara seemed to stumble upon her feet before speaking again. "Our family's been destroyed by my father's wars, Your Grace. There's so little of our blood left remaining..."

"Very well," Daenerys answered, her mind made up for mercy, Tyrion could tell. Her eyes toyed with the pirate, because the Queen enjoyed taunting them, before giving them their mercy, whether they deserved it or not. "Take his ships, they'll prove useful. Double his chains, make them heavy ones. But Euron Greyjoy will live, for now. Perhaps he could be convinced in due time to abandon his unlawful ways...and bend the knee."

The pirate nearly broke out in laughter. "I'll bend more than just a knee if my Queen wishes," he said, pressing his luck, and Tyrion swore the man looked as if he was drooling.

"As I said," Daenerys said, turning away from him in visible disgust, "make sure the chains are heavy."

Chapter Text

Stannis

"What do you think?"

"It rains a lot here. More than Dragonstone." Shireen shrugged. "Guess that's why they call it the Stormlands."

The window was wide but deeper than it was wide, so that the downpour beyond the wall did not drench the inside of the castle. The storm arrived in waves, crashing and blending into the furious and torrential currents below, castle and rocky foundation alike helpless against its relentless battering, so long as the storm lasted.

"Sometimes they last for days."

"I don't mind it," Shireen said, to his surprise. Though they prevented the rain from entering, the windows did not keep out the howl of the wind, drafting in the cold air on a day which felt closer and closer to winter. The hearth in the room was built in the corner, away from the windows and its elements, and Shireen snuggled herself closer to him, sitting on the floor by his feet, hands holding yet another book.

"You don't?"

"It's better than Dragonstone. There's more light in the rooms, when it's not storming like this."

It was another reminder of his ill feelings towards his deceased brother, the older one, whose hand dealt him a castle which had made his daughter so unhappy for so much of her childhood.

"It'll be yours, once you're married. You'll spend half the year here, half the year in court, until you ascend the throne."

"I'd miss you," Shireen said, hugging his leg, a mark of childish affection even as his daughter was growing more and more into a woman. "That's why I'd go back to King's Landing, to see you. And Sansa and Tommen too. Otherwise, I'd stay here all the time, I think."

Stannis frowned. "You need to learn, Shireen. Whether you want it or not, it's your duty, it's your birthright. I'm sorry daughter, there's no choice for you. So you have to do your duty, and you have to be prepared for it...otherwise...they'll eat you alive."

It was no secret, his daughter's disdain for the role she'd have to one day have to take, the way she frowned whenever he tried to lecture her on what it meant to be a strong ruler, the way her eyes dissipated into the clouds whenever he had her sit in upon one of his Small Council meetings.

"I love the sound of the waves," Shireen said, breaking the topic as she was wont to do, whenever the subject arose. "It's calming. It helps me sleep."

He'd humor her now, because she was still young, because she still had time to grow into her crown. But how long did they have, really, with the Great War approaching? Even if he was to be this prince of prophecy...what guarantee did he have that Melisandre's chosen prince would survive the war he was prophesied to win?

"I was a loud child, my mother said," Stannis mused, trying to enjoy his precious time with his daughter, away from all the vipers of his court. So why did he keep bringing their conversation back to such poisonous matters?

"You were?"

"Strangely enough, I was. She said to me, there were times when I cried all night, I refused to stop, no matter what the wetnurses tried. Then mother would bring me into this very room, she'd have a manservant light the fire, and sit in this chair I sit in now...she'd rock me back and forth, on a stormy night like tonight. It was the only way to calm me, my mother told me."

"I wish I could have known her," Shireen said dreamily, yawning as she spoke. "And grandfather too."

Did he even remember what his mother looked like? Short, neatly cropped brown hair, a plump face, her temperament always calm, always with a smile to spare her children whenever they neared her, however vexed she could have been with other matters. He remembered the last time he'd seen her so happy, it had just been after she'd given birth to her last child, and just before she and his lord father set sail on that awful voyage east. What would she have thought, how could she have imagined, if they'd told her she'd given birth to two kings already?

Three, a darker voice whispered in his mind. And what would your mother think of you now, knowing what you did for your damned crown, knowing what you did to her beloved youngest son?

And he would have burned his own daughter, for the sake of the crown, for the sake of his cursed duty. He'd imagined the Stark girl's words an exaggeration at first, a way to gather the attention of all the lords gathered. But the girl's words kept being proven true, especially now as reports grew of the dragons out in Slaver's Bay, and with each passing moon Stannis reminded himself of the sheer reality of the unthinkably awful fate which could have befallen his family.

"What's that book you're reading about?"

"Aegon the Unworthy," Shireen replied, "and the Blackfyre Rebellions. How King Aegon made years of turmoil on his deathbed, out of spite and nastiness, the maesters write."

The King frowned, vaguely pulling out in his mind that specific Aegon from the many which blurred his childhood lessons. "He was a horrid one, wasn't he?"

Shireen nodded. "The maester thinks he may have poisoned his own father, King Viserys, Second of his Name, in order to ascend the throne earlier."

"Hmmpf, seems right."

"It's sad," Shireen commented, hugging him closer, yawning again as her eyelids drooped heavier, "the awful things people do for the chair."

The chair, Shireen said dully, whenever she deigned to mention the Iron Throne, her birthright.

And just how did his daughter think he gained his throne? She knew probably everything about what her friend Sansa did at the Council, but what of before? Surely she's heard whispers about what happened that night in Renly's camp. Surely she met Catelyn Stark and Brienne of Tarth when they went north. Shireen was smart, she could probably sense that the two women some in the realm still blamed for Renly's death did not have it in them to murder a King...else, how could her own father trust them enough to break bread with them in Winterfell? So what other possibilities remained, for a girl so clever, and so educated about the awful histories of those who sat upon or sought her father's Throne?

There'd been a reason he'd avoided coming to Storm's End until now. Everything about the castle, the furnishings, the carpets, the art, it all reminded him of Renly, despite five years having passed since that day. He hadn't believed in the Seven, not since he'd watched beside Robert their parents' ship sink beneath the guilty waves within view of their home, but he did believe there was something out there, above the realms of men. How could he not, with Melisandre and Sansa Stark by his side in court everyday? If fires could foresee the future, if innocent little girls could gain visions vivid enough to scar their souls and age their minds, how could he not believe there was more to existence than merely his flesh and blood?

It was a ridiculous notion, but when he slept these nights, under the roof of his childhood home, under the roof Renly had called home most of his life, Stannis wondered. Whether the gods would come to punish him one day, and receive their due from him. And if not him, then who? What if he'd cursed his own blood, and it would be not him but his daughter who would come to pay the price for his sins, because the gods were obviously not just, whether one or many.

When he slept, he pictured Renly's ghost, watching his daughter sleep in the chambers next door, biding his time. Then his eyes would shutter awake, and he would wonder whether he'd been thinking or dreaming. Or some worse possibility.

"Yes, very bad things," he mumbled.

But Shireen was already asleep, the soft rhythmic sound of her breathing doing nothing to calm him. Then, there was nothing, but him, the empty room his mother had once held all three of her sons in turn, and the fire.


Meryn

"He's a bit of a cunt, t'be honest. But he's good for gold, an' gives me time to come spend it in the capital."

Boros took a giant swig of his ale, and Meryn followed, matching his old colleague and current brother in disgrace, though there was something of a relief in how quickly the realm had forgotten about the two of them, after Stannis embarrassed their names and houses for all time by dismissing them so ignominiously from the Kingsguard.

At least they'll never forget the Kingslayer's disgrace, long after they've forgotten about us.

But disgrace or not, the Kingslayer had a castle and a lordship and mountains of gold to fall back to.

"The worst thing's he's my own brother," Meryn complained. "This is only," he counted with his fingers, "my third time back since Stannis took the city. He has me so busy wrangling the damned villagers, I've barely any time fer leave."

"Aye, but there's pleasures in keepin' the smallfolk in line," Boros said with a wink.

"Aye, there is," Meryn agreed, thinking fondly of that daughter of the pig farmer with her braided red hair, who was too pretty to be the daughter of a pig farmer. Was, anyway, before he'd been done with her.

"Yer to be a married man soon," Boros brought up, and Meryn scowled so harshly, he thought he'd almost choked up his ale.

"Lollys Stokeworth," he grumbled in disgust, having met his bride to be last time he'd been in the capital during the tourney. "Pray the gods it's a long engagement, just the thought of that wench makes me nauseous."

"Aye, she's a bit too old for yer, isn't she," Boros commented with a knowing grin. "But then, any bitch who's past her first bleedin's probably too old fer ye."

"Don't you play innocent, Boros. We've have our good times here. An' remember the urchin we found in that alley that one night?"

Boros shrugged. "Suppose so, when it strikes my mood. Tonight though, I'd in the mood fer tits. Big ones at that."

As if on cue, the old madame brought over two women, one with shiny blonde hair, another's strikingly auburn, over to their table.

"Tits like this one's," Boros said with a wink, grabby at the red haired girl's ample breasts, but Meryn was much less pleased than his old friend.

"Yer joking," he shouted, slamming his ale onto the table. "I said young, ya old cunt! Do you have ears, can ye hear?"

"I'm sorry," the madame said apologetically. She was fat and old, her tits reaching her belly button, Meryn thought. Probably to Blount's taste, but then the man would fuck a corpse so long as he could lie down and let the corpse do all the work. She pointed to the blond. "Shira here, she's four an' ten, she's as young as we have..."

"We gonna keep playin' this game ferever?" Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out another bag of gold. "Young, ya hear me? Not some whore who's old enough to have bred half a dozen bastard welps already!"

The madame took the two whores away, and Meryn noticed the disappointment in his friend's face. "You would've been happy with that?"

"She would've done fine," Boros said, taking a swig, disappointed in his delayed gratification.

"Place has gone to shit since they kicked Baelish 'cross the Narrow Sea."

The fat madame returned, but empty-handed this time, and Meryn swore that had he more ale in him, he'd pull out his sword immediately and demand justice from the woman.

"My lords, my apologies..."

"Ye don't have what we want?"

The old woman looked around furtively. "You must understand, me' lords, it's different these days, Stannis is less tolerant of these things than his brother." He was about to protest, before the madame leaned down towards him, so that he could almost feel the warts upon her fat tits brushing against his face. "We have to be a lot more careful, my lords, with such...interesting courses you'd like served."

"Aye, I getcha, wench," Meryn said, setting his ale down, feeling his excitement grow.

"There's a smaller inn down the other alley. It's quieter there, more discreet."

An idea swirled in his head, and he aimed a devilish grin at Boros. "Tell ye what, we'll take her together, me an' you. Like the good ol' days."

His friend shook his head, far from convinced. "I was in the mood fer tits, Meryn..."

He pulled a second bag of gold from his pockets. "My treat."

The madame watched approvingly while the fatter knight stared at the gold, making up his mind. "Fine, so long as yer paying fer it."

With one last gulp, Meryn finished what remained of his ale, confident that it would not affect his enjoyment for the night. "The two youngest you have, mind you, no joke about it this time."

They followed the fat woman out the brothel, and down the well lit street, until she turned down a less lit alley, and then another darker one.

"Just where ya leading us, wench," Boros complained, and Meryn almost slapped him to shut the man up, because the good things in life usually did not come so easily.

"Having trouble following?"

"Not with yer ass as wide as a wheel cart," Boros jibed. His own mood seemed much better now than before too, so close to tasting his fruit.

The madame's smile was as wide as his. "Here's yer girl."

A slender girl appeared in the darkness ahead.

"In the alleyway, woman?" Boros complained impatiently. "You don't have a room, not fer what me friend's payin' ya?"

It was the girl who spoke. "We don't need a room for what we're about to do together, good sers."

Hells, the girl's voice came out deeper than he'd been expecting. Meryn swirled back at the madame, knowing a whore's dirty trick when he saw one, but she'd disappeared. Turning his attention back to the girl, he noticed her unmistakably copper hair.

Boros recognized her a second before he did. "Sansa Stark?"

And seconds after he uttered those words, he saw blood spurt out of the man's mouth, followed by a thin blade protruding through his heart. The burly knight collapsed onto the alley floor, revealing a small boyish figure behind him, already withdrawing the small sword back through his friend's back.

"What in seven hells..." Drawing his own sword, Meryn lurched at the small figure, but he found his swings were wide and clumsy, drunk as he was after several glasses of ale. Blinking, he thought he saw feminine eyes on the small attacker, who seemed to evade his every blow with ease.

"Having trouble," the small figure asked, "going against a real sword, rather than a wooden one?" Her voice confirmed to him that this was indeed a girl, who somehow managed to effortlessly parry off each attempt of his to take off her head.

"That's not a real sword," Meryn growled, barely tripping over the body of his dead friend, "that's a toy...it's barely a little needle..."

The girl's eyes actually lit up at his words. "Aye, it's my needle."

Then her needle pierced through the palm of his sword hand, and he dropped his sword, hearing the soft thud of his index finger dropping onto the ground after his weapon's clunk. Then the girl somehow swung behind him, and he felt a sharp pain through the back of one knee, and then another, collapsing onto the dirty rock strewn alley, barely catching himself with his hands as he fell. Then more pain, running down alternatively spots on each one of his calf muscles, as if the demon girl was methodically working her way down his legs like she were sewing a dress.

Somehow still on his knees, he howled in pain and rage, and looked up, facing both before him now.

"Your friend remembered her," the smaller one said, poking her little blade slowly through his left shoulder, his throat suited just to crying out in pain before his assailants. "Do you remember me?"

"You? Who th' fuck are you?" He could barely see her face, tears of agony streaming through his eyes, almost blinding him with their briny moistness. "I'll kill ye, yer little cunt."

He vented, he raged, but inside, he knew that he was helpless, as the girl's sword poked through the tenderness of his other shoulder.

"Syrio Forel," the girl said.

"Who th' fuck?"

"My dancing master."

"Dancing master?" What kind of cruel, vicious joke was this?

"When you and your men stormed the Hand's tower. When you slaughtered the servants and the septas, women and old men alike."

The Hand's tower? The Onion Knight? What Hand...Ned Stark! Raising his head, seeing, truly seeing the smaller girl standing beside her older, taller sister, Meryn Trant remembered.

"Yer Ned Stark's other daughter...Arya."

Rather than answer him, she flitted through the air and slashed at him again. He lunged forward, trying lamely to catch her in the act, but grabbed only air as his chest collapsed on the ground. And the pain, his entire abdomen was swollen in pain, and realization dawned, that the ground was likely the only thing holding his guts inside his body. Then even more pain, when a hand grabbed the back of his shirt, and agonizingly dragged his torso back upwards.

The small girl was behind him, so that he faced only the red haired witch girl who shared the King her counsel, they said. Her cunt too, others whispered and laughed. The infernal thin blade poked in front of his eyes, and at first he thought she'd finally finished the job, and stabbed it through his head, only to feel nothing, but then he realized that she was actually offering it to her witch sister.

"Want to have a go at him?"

If the devil girl's magic was real, he saw it tonight, her clear blue eyes staring her hellish hatred through him. Yet, to his surprise, the witch shook her head.

"I've gone two lives without killing anyone myself. No need to start now."

Two lives? What in the hells?

Laughter rang behind him.

"My sister, ever the proper lady...even in a blood soaked alley in Flea Bottom."

Then, before he could fall forward when she released him from her grasp, he was looking at her again, but only for a mere second, before the world turned to black when she stabbed her sword through his eyes with two quick pokes. Watching the blade pierce his blood soaked sockets, he'd expected it all to end, a blissful thought as of now, yet it didn't, and he realized that she'd only stuck the little sword deep enough to take his eyes, nothing else. Then, more blinding pain as he fell a second time onto the hard alleyway, feeling the sword poke what seemed to be hundreds of times through his back while he fell. He shouldn't care, because he was dead, he knew he was dead, and even if he survived the night somehow, this was not a life he wished to survive into. Yet, it couldn't help but bother the dying man, this active desecration of his body whilst he still breathed.

"Are you too much of a lady," he heard the girl say, "to look away while I geld him?"

Then everything got so much worse.


Arya

Despite all those she'd killed in her short life, Arya still fought the urge to vomit, examining the bloody mess they'd left in this dark alley in Flea Bottom.

"I'd think this is close to what I did before, right?"

"You never said anything about gelding him," Sansa answered, and though she knew everything about Sansa, how she was different, how she'd lived a whole different life, it still boggled her mind, the image of her sister standing in a bloody alley in Flea Bottom in the middle of the night, her pale blue dress miraculously immaculate and somehow unbloodied through all the carnage. If there could be any proof of the horrid first life she told of, this night was more than evidence enough for Arya.

"Guess I'm a bit crueler this time?" But she didn't feel cruel, especially compared to the girl her sister described from her past life, the near emotionless assassin she became before. It was tough for her to imagine that existence, Sansa's description of her description to Sansa of all her deeds the closest Arya could come to seeing through the eyes of a woman she'd never been, and may never be.

"Did it feel right," Sansa asked, more concerned about her than the butchered piece of meat below their feet. "Did it feel like you were a Faceless man, while you did it?"

"The face worked," Arya replied. "It fooled them. And killing them was no contest...but they were drunk, and it really wasn't a fair fight...not with the disguise surprising them, I don't think."

"I thought that's the point of the faces, right? To catch your enemy off guard?"

"I don't know." And that was the problem, she didn't know, and Sansa didn't know. Her sister held so much expectation for this killer she was supposed to become, and it all sounded great at the time, the idea of travelling to Braavos, meeting Jaquen again and training to become the warrior she'd always imagined she could be in her wildest dreams...the only drawback being having to travel with Sandor. And while the Hound proved a better travelling companion than she would have guessed, everything in Braavos just seemed...wrong, from the moment she knocked on the temple's doors.

"You said you killed her, the waif girl. You'd killed her before too."

"I did." But that hadn't felt right either. She'd snuck up on her from behind, luring her into the small abandoned hut where she'd left her Needle. It was dishonorable, it was unworthy...it shouldn't have mattered to the Faceless men, she'd told Jaqen, a death is a death. But he'd disagreed.

A girl is still not ready to let go of her past. A girl does only what is told her, a girl is still not ready to become no one. A girl may never be ready to become no one.

And she agreed. If after everything she'd undergone, the deaths, the dark rituals she'd partaken in that infernal temple, the training...the deaths, she could still remember Lady Crane, lying lifeless, blood soaking through her sheets and bed, dripping onto the ground...she'd had enough of it. After one last sleepless night, she rose, grabbed the bag of faces she'd used for her last assignment, and fled, stealing enough coin from a nearby butcher's shop to pay her way back across the Narrow Sea.

"You're still not sure then? Even after...this?" Her sister gestured at the two corpses on the floor, already a draw for flies.

"I think I'm ready. I have the skills, I think." Sansa didn't tell her why she needed her to be a Faceless woman, to live as some rarefied assassin. She would guess there was far more purpose to it than killing lame dogs like Trant and Blount, but just what that purpose was, Sansa refused to say, and it frustrated her, similar to how Sansa had always frustrated her when they were children. She hadn't felt like she was good enough for her then, and somehow, after she'd done everything her sister told her to do, she still didn't feel up to Sansa's standards, compared to this mythical Arya from another life, whose only weakness was that she was not impervious to dragonfire. "I'd like to train more, with the sword, I guess. I don't think I'd fear anyone...maybe not even the Hound..."

"Good," Sansa said, walking away from the two dead former whitecloaks. "I think that's good enough too."

Yet she didn't sound convinced either. "We should get back," Arya said. "Little Ned's probably missing you already."

"He likes his wet nurse more than me, I doubt he'll miss me much," Sansa said, though she couldn't hide her motherly grin. But the idea of greeting her youngest nephew seemed far more appealing than slaughtering her foes, however much they deserved it. Then she could return home, and see Robb, and mother, and Talisa and all their children, Arya looked forward to that. Sandor too, whenever he'd had enough as a sellsword and came back to Westeros. But the idea of happily cutting through men like a graceful, cold-blooded butcher...Arya wondered just what this other shadow of hers had to go through to transform into the Stranger incarnate Sansa had known.


Tyrion

"It's like a disease, you people. Everywhere I go, east or west, it seems I can't find a room without a Lannister whispering at its Throne."

Shaking his head, Tyrion circled the steps below his Queen's throne.

"I'd sympathize with you, Prince Oberyn, except you happen to be wrong in this specific instance. Our throne appears to be empty, so as of right now, I happen to be lacking a King or Queen's ears to whisper my poison to."

"Am I not surprised then," Oberyn asked, though his eyes seemed to be filled with more jest than ire. "I come east to seek the Dragon Queen, yet I see not a sign of her, just a Lannister and a Littlefinger purporting to speak in her place. Did the two of you lock her down in those dungeons, or have you already fed her to her own dragons?"

"Yes, a Lannister and a Littlefinger," Tyrion concluded. He was tired, ruling the Dragon Queen's cities without a Dragon Queen proved more vexing than he would have preferred. "Also a Tyrell, and a Greyjoy, two if we count our captive. And an Arryn crawling about somewhere," he looked around, "probably lost in a corridor and weeping softly to himself. And thousands of locals who are intensely devoted to their Queen, as you've seen, my good Prince...and who would do unspeakably horrible things to Lord Baelish and I, were we to harm a strand of hair upon their beloved Mhysa."

Sauntering down several steps until he was eye level with the Prince, he confided in him. "The truth is, Prince Oberyn, you're right. The Queen is with one of her dragons right now. It just so happens, she's with the dragon we don't have confined inside this pyramid, for the moment."

"Our Queen's dragons are like her children, you see," Littlefinger explained. "And as children are apt to do sometimes, past their immediate adolescence...they may occasionally rebel against their mothers and fathers, and display a...dismaying streak of independence and truculence."

"Drogon is her eldest...," Tyrion grimaced. "Well, maybe not her eldest, they're actually all the same age, to be exact. But her largest, at the very least, her Balerion."

"Our Queen felt the need to lock up her dragons, for the good of her people, because the dragons don't discriminate between child or beast when it comes to their feed."

"This upset Drogon..."

"Upset," Oberyn interrupted skeptically.

"They're intelligent creatures," Tyrion explained, "and with intelligence comes emotion. Drogon took offense to his mother enchaining his two brothers so he...well, I suppose you can say he decided to run away from home."

"Dragons run away from home," Oberyn asked, still dubious.

"Perhaps the maesters left such trivialities out of their histories, but yes, this particular dragon ran away from home, from his mother. But he returned, actually. Our Queen found him perched atop the pyramid, several nights ago...and Drogon decided to take her for a ride."

"A ride? Where?"

"That's the problem," Tyrion said, his face pained. "We don't actually know."

"But fear not," Littlefinger added, "we've got our best men working on the matter."

"A Mormont and a...Naharis," Tyrion said, wondering just how successful the two of them were at the moment. "A perfect union of east and west, really...an alliance only our Queen could have brought together."

"An exile and a sellsword," Oberyn mumbled. "A court full of exiles, I'm impressed, Lord Tyrion, I really am."

"A court full of exiles from the greatest houses of Westeros," Tyrion corrected. "I don't doubt that you're loyal to your King, my good Prince, but it goes to show that Stannis isn't so perfect after all, having somehow managed to banish nearly at least one representative from so many great families, to come serve Daenerys in the east."

"Yes, I agree," Oberyn said with a grin, "perhaps he would have been better off killing them all instead."

"Perhaps, but then you'd be lacking emissaries like us to give you a proper greeting, on behalf of Queen Daenerys, to you, to pass along to King Stannis."

Raising his hands up in the air, as if to protest his innocence for a crime he hadn't committed yet, the prince retorted. "Why do you think I come for Stannis? Why wouldn't you think I would sail east to meet the Dragon Queen, because I want to?"

The game never ends, even with an absent Queen. Especially with an absent Queen.

"So it's an alliance you seek then," Tyrion pressed, stepping down, his feet level with the Prince, attempting to regain the advantage for his absentee Queen. "I don't know where you were in your travels at the time, my good Prince, but I was actually present at the Great Council which crowned Stannis. I heard the Stark girl tell of a threat beyond the Wall, and how the realm would one day need our Queen's dragons to save the King she'd just crowned. My good friend Lord Baelish here receives whispers that Sansa Stark still advises Stannis, so it's not unreasonable that I deduce her advice remains the same, except so many years afterwards, the timing has finally come to fruition."

If he'd expected Oberyn to be chastened after his speech, Tyrion was disappointed, as the prince merely chuckled. "I'd expect better from you, my small friend, to cite history, as if nothing's changed between now and then."

"You don't seek an alliance for your King, or yourself," Tyrion asked, his turn to be skeptical. "Is it your wish to declare war against the Dragon Queen? If not on behalf of Stannis, then on behalf of Dorne?"

Oberyn chuckled again. "Even were that my wish...it would seem I'm missing an actual queen to declare war against." He patted him on his back, and Tyrion looked at Grey Worm, who would have had his spear at Oberyn's throat were he to have assaulted their Queen in a like manner...but it would seem the leader of the Unsullied took a much more nonchalant attitude towards her advisors. "I meant what I said, Lord Tyrion, I come to Mereen to meet the Dragon Queen out of...curiosity. Stannis is still my King, and were I to observe anything worthwhile to tell him during my time here, I will. But if there are matters I don't think relevant for the King's attention...I suppose I'll keep that to myself, as is my right and privilege as a Prince of Dorne."

"Fair enough," Tyrion granted, recognizing the Prince was smart enough to be hedging his bets on behalf of his brother in Sunspear, given how news must have spread by now to the west of the Targaryen Queen, her three dragons, and her three thriving cities. "And until our Queen returns from her own travels?"

Oberyn shrugged. "The food here is...meh. The hospitality meh, the wine meh, the fair company..a little better than meh." He leaned against the wall of the room, as if he were about to fall asleep standing. "I presume you'll have a comfortable room prepared for me until her return, Lord Tyrion?"

"Of course I do," Tyrion answered happily, eyeing Littlefinger knowingly, "prepared on behalf of our Queen, of course."

Chapter Text

Cersei

"We should have another child."

Jaime jolted up in bed beside her.

"Another child," he asked skeptically. Not the most ideal reaction from him, and it only got worse. "Are you sure you can still have one?"

Resisting the urge to roll her eyes, she left her scoff for her reply. "I can."

It was surprisingly hard finding the opportunity for intimate time spent with her brother in Casterly Rock, what with their father's eyes and ears hidden all over the castle they grew up in. But Lord Tywin was gone to Lannisport for several days, leaving behind a much smaller household who could pass along their nefarious whispers, and Cersei ensured that Bernadette, the only one she trusted keep her mouth shut, did not allow anyone else close to her quarters when Jaime was there.

"You seem to be missing a husband, or so you forget," Jaime said dismissively. "I can't imagine it'll look good for father when his daughter, the unmarried widow of a King, springs out yet another blonde haired babe."

"You live just for father now, not for yourself?"

He leaned over to touch her, taking hold of her shoulder with his left hand, but she brushed his hand off with hers.

"I'm the heir to Casterly Rock," he said, frustrated. "I have to be...careful with such things now. We all do."

Sneering, she whirled her head to face Jaime. "And you were a Kingsguard for Aerys, since when did you care so much about titles or what they meant?"

She did not expect the sudden rage of fire dance into her brother's eyes, and thought he was about to strike her for a second. Daring him with her own hardened orbs, Cersei actually found herself disappointed when his rage fell away. Abruptly he rose from their bed and donned his robe, as if he couldn't even stand the idea of being naked in her presence.

"You're a hateful bitch," she heard him mutter as he walked away.

"You're satisfied," she shouted out, glaring angrily at her brother, "leaving the future of our family in the hands of the Stark cunt?"

He regarded her with confusion, too dumb enough to understand, as usual. "The Stark cunt, and our father."

"Who's going to live longer, you think?"

Jaime shook his head. "The way you're talking, I'd put my bets on father."

"You're smarter than you think," Cersei said, allowing a small grin to return to her face.

But he dismissed her again. "Give it up, Cersei. Your son Tommen is the future of our House. Be happy with that."

"And his son Eddard? You'd like that, bending the knee to King Eddard one day, First of that oh glorious Name?"

"I'll be dead by then." But then he approached her, looking for an argument. Which meant he wasn't entirely convinced himself. "You forget, there's people stupid enough still to believe in Tommen's claim as Robert's trueborn son, else father with a thousand dragons wouldn't be able to place him on the Throne."

"He should have just taken it," Cersei muttered. "You should have just taken it, when you killed Aerys. It would have made life so much easier, all of our lives'."

"It doesn't work like that, Cersei. Robert's grandmother was a Targaryen, that's the only reason he had a claim in the first place..."

Gods, it was the only time he sounded like their father, when he spoke to her as if she were a child.

"I don't care," she said, unable to help from sounding petulant. "Did Aegon the Conqueror care, what claim he had, whether there even existed an Iron Throne when he decided to take it?"

"Aegon Targaryen had three dragons," Jaime replied, rolling his eyes. "Yes, I'll grant you, the dragons have returned supposedly...but last I checked, we're not the ones with them."

"We're the ones who will take them down," Cersei said, taking delight in the surprise in Jaime's eyes. "Yes, I know about you and father's little experiments out in the hills, I hear whispers too. House Lannister, the Dragons' Bane...the realm will thank us when we rid the world of them for good...I think that gives us as good a claim as any."

Hearing Jaime's sigh was music to her ears, did she really enjoy toying with him so much? "Again, Tommen might be a bastard, depending on the intelligence or spine of whom you ask...any child we bring into the world now definitely will be one. Which Lannister would you guess would have this greater claim you speak of?"

Rising from her sheets, she faced her brother defiantly. "Depends on which Lannister better proves to father their worth."

"Just what have you done for father anyway, besides emptying his wine cellar?"

"Just what have I done," she began, snarling in anger, before she was able to stop herself.

I can still taste him in my mouth, she thought, even though it'd been nearly a year since she fucked that horrid old man, Leyton Hightower, before the last of the lords departed the Red Keep following the bitch Shireen's tourney. Jonos Bracken she'd been able to seduce with words, and the unspoken promise which she hoped she'd never have to act upon, in addition to spoken ones against their rivals, House Blackwood. Then there was the empty headed Andrey Dalt, she could admit she actually enjoyed her night with that failed suitor of the Crown Princess's.

"Just what have you done," Jaime pressed, in wake of her silence.

The bitch said all the right things to her, Cersei could admit. But she was too smooth, for the matter, and Cersei had no illusions Sansa Stark would happily share her power with her, once they'd placed Tommen on the Throne together. It was one thing had she been allowed to stay in King's Landing, and keep an eye on her son, but he might as well be a wolf to her now, so ensnared he was in the paws of his pretty young wife. She hadn't been entirely serious about the idea of another child however, because she hadn't given up on her youngest son just yet. Or her father, for the matter.

"Father will come to see who's truly more dedicated to this family sooner or later," she deflected instead. "I hope you'll be on the right side, when he does see."

Lacking an answer, her brother stormed out of the room rather petulantly, but Cersei poured herself a glass of wine rather than fret. They bickered more these days, even as they resumed sharing each other's beds, but she knew Jaime would come crawling back to her in time. He always did.


Sansa

"He has father's eyes, doesn't he," Sansa whispered proudly, the sensation of holding her beautiful child, sleeping tightly snuggled against her, still a wonderment even as her shoulders ached with pain when she went to bed each night.

"Lannister hair though," Arya remarked, though she was quick to recover. "Maybe it'll darken when he gets older."

"Maybe," Sansa said, "but Tommen is his father. It's only fair for little Ned to resemble him in some aspects."

"I suppose he can't be all wolf," Arya relented, not having meant any offense against her Lannister husband. "He's not that bad, not at all. Definitely better than Joffrey."

"Better than a lot of men I could have married." Have married.

She'd expected her sister to ride back north two fortnights ago, yet Arya remained in King's Landing, and Sansa was happy she did. No doubt Arya missed their family, and she would see them in due time, and have all the time in the world with them in Winterfell once she returned for good. She definitely missed Jon, they both did, and they talked about him all the time, but it wasn't as if Arya could just ride up to the Wall to visit their stray brother, especially with Thorne in charge.

Well, she can. But this Arya seems to have a bit more restraint than the last one I knew.

For now, Arya was content idling the days away with her sister and nephew, and Sansa was not so secretly delighted with her decision. Even though it was one-sided, she felt a kind of special kinship with her and Jon, because they had been the ones who'd survived with her the last time, who had seen the Long Night, who had suffered alongside her the horrors of surviving, until the dragons consumed them all. And though they were different from the Jon and Arya she'd known before, that bond forged through suffering and survival remained in Sansa's heart, if only her heart and not theirs.

"He's growing on you, don't lie," Arya dared.

"He's my husband, of course he'd grow on me to some degree." She joked more, Sansa realized. How often had she heard Arya say anything lighthearted or playful, when she'd returned to Winterfell before?

"Not any husband would," Arya said, because she retained the uncanny wisdom she'd gained somehow from training with the Faceless Men the last time around too. "How is he?"

"What do you mean," Sansa protested, trying to ignore the devilish glint in her sister's eyes, "you've spent time with him in the Keep too."

"You know what I mean." Her voice lowered to a hushed whisper. "In bed."

Sansa rolled her eyes, too childishly, she realized. "He gets the job done, I suppose."

"Gets the job done? For him, or for you?"

He's gentle, she was about to say, before deciding her sister's ears were too young to hear of such things just yet. Too gentle even, he's timid like a mouse.

But Ramsay had been neither gentle nor timid, had he? Which was why Sansa was allowing herself to settle more and more into her marriage with Tommen, to actually fall complacent into it, because he was such the opposite of Ramsay.

"For him, mostly," she began, before deciding that she'd had enough of this interrogation. From her younger sister, no less. "You know, the last time I saw you, it was I who was asking you questions like these."

Her words had their intended effect. "Me? Really?"

Sansa nodded triumphantly.

"Who was it," Arya asked, as Sansa knew she would.

"What if I said his name...rhymes with Zandor Plegane..."

"Eww," Arya spat out immediately, before regretting her instant reaction. "Not because of his...scar...but he's so old..."

"Tyrion Lannister," Sansa bluffed again.

"Lies," Arya retorted easily. "Bad lies, all of them, don't keep trying it, you know I won't believe you."

"I'll give you a clue," Sansa suggested playfully. "He's currently in Winterfell, as we speak..."

"Winterfell?" Her sister cocked her head, running through the possibilities.

"He has a big hammer," she added mischievously, stifling her giggle to keep a straight face while she spoke.

Still no reaction. He must have not carried an actual hammer during their first travels together with the Brotherhood.

"He's busy swinging that hammer in the forges as we speak, probably."

"Gendry!? Really? Him?"

She did not fail to notice the excitement in her sister's voice. So her crush on him had began during their earlier travels, not when they reconnected before the battle against the dead.

"Don't you jump on him the moment you get back to Winterfell," Sansa scolded, letting the role of the older sister take over again.

"Why not," Arya challenged, true to her naturally rebellious nature, and Sansa swore at herself, knowing that the easiest way to get Arya to do something was to tell her not to do something. Especially coming from her older sister's mouth.

"You're too young."

"I'm barely younger than your husband."

"Don't remind me," Sansa said uncomfortably. "Robb's in charge back home now, not me. I may have been a bit more lenient towards such...dalliances, when I was Lady of Winterfell. Robb...I think he'd kill you first, then hammer boy."

Arya giggled again. "Hammer boy. I'll tell Gendry you called him that."

Freeing a hand from Little Ned's blanket, she wagged her finger accusingly at her sister. "You don't talk to Gendry period. Not unless Robb or mother is present!"

The baby stirred in her arms, cooing softly as he blinked his exhausted little eyes. "He's just waking from a dream," Sansa mused, "he'll fall right back asleep." Surely enough, Ned twirled his arms about a little, then nestling his head closer to his mother's chest, resuming his peaceful slumber.

"I'm going to miss this," Arya said, a faint smile on her face. "I'm going to miss you too."

"It won't be forever," Sansa explained. "The entire court is going to Winterfell soon, for the Great War."

"And after, if we survive?" When she didn't answer immediately, Arya continued. "You'll come back to King's Landing, won't you? This will be your home...it already is, it has been for some time now. You don't like it, but you've accepted it."

More confirmation, that she'd learned her weird mind reading abilities in Braavos this time around too, along with her fighting and weird face skills. All that had to mean she was ready for the Night King, right?

"And I know something's going on with Stannis."

"How do you know," she asked, startled, her instant reaction an admission in itself.

"Every time you bring him up, or Shireen, you have this nervous tic."

Sansa was aware her face had paled. "What is it," she asked, horrified. Who else could have noticed this?

Arya laughed. "Don't worry. No one else would be able to tell, not unless they've had my training. The back of your neck, it tenses up, just a little."

"That's it?" Should she feel relieved?

"That's it," Arya said. "You're a very good liar."

Was there an accusation hidden in her words?

"That damned game of faces," Sansa mumbled. She was glad Arya regained her skills. Yet it made her feel uneasy, same as the first time, after they'd both returned to Winterfell, that there was nothing she could hide from her sister. "Everything I've done, that I mean to do...it's for our family. For Jon, so he doesn't have to toil forever at the Wall."

Her sister shook her head. "You don't need to justify it to me, I trust you've got it handled."

"You might not like it," Sansa warned, feeling her son stirring again in her arms. "Robb and Jon won't, Robb's already expressed his displeasure..."

Raising a finger to her mouth as if to shush her, Arya rose, and placed a hand into little Ned's chest reassuringly, her son's little hands clutching upon his aunt's fingers by instinct.

"It doesn't matter," Arya said, her dark eyes boring into hers, reminding her of the assassin who had once returned to Winterfell a stranger to her. "They haven't seen what we've seen, have they?"


Daenerys

There was smoke in the harbor when she'd returned, she'd seen it from the air from an impossible distance for those marooned upon the ground. Having no idea as to what to expect upon her arrival, she perched Drogon carefully atop the Pyramid, above a small alcove. The city seemed quiet, actually, and Daenerys wondered whether she'd been falsely alarmed by what could have been an innocuous incident such as a small boat catching fire. But the worried looks she caught from her advisors led her to heighten her expectations for the worst.

"What happened," she asked.

"A minor setback," Tyrion offered lamely.

"How minor?"

"We lost the gold."

That was it? It was still concerning, to be sure, but she'd expected something worse, such as another betrayal by the masters, an invasion from Volantis, or hells, a surprise attack by Stannis's armies. Grey Worm's angry eyes certainly told her there was more to the story.

"They took Missandei," the stoic soldier all but shouted.

Burying her head in her hands, she strode to the head of the hall, until she arrived by the steps below her throne. "Explain," she ordered, "from the beginning."

"There was more to Euron Greyjoy's fleet than just the ones who made the initial attempt in the vaults," Littlefinger began. "They must have been off marauding elsewhere, or maybe they lay in waiting, until the right time came. Word of the Queen's absence must have signalled the right time for them."

"They attacked the masters' fleet in the harbor at first, in what must have been a diversion," Tyrion continued explaining.

"We didn't think to check the cells until after we'd driven the attack in the bay off," Littlefinger expressed regretfully. "Euron Greyjoy was missing by then, as was a good amount of the gold."

"Thankfully it must have been a smaller group who made it into the pyramid," Tyrion said, the two of them echoing each other in some perverse chorus of excuses, and Daenerys wondered how long the two had rehearsed while awaiting her unhappy return. "They took...maybe a little more than half we had remaining. Unfortunately, Missandei must have heard something. With the Unsullied busy fending off the attack in the harbor, she made the mistake of going to see herself what was going on."

"They took her," Littlefinger admitted. "It gives us hope, at least, that she's still alive."

And just what could a band of pirates be doing to her, Daenerys wondered, while her friend remained alive? The was no difference in horror really, between being taken by pirates, or retaken by the masters, captivity still being captivity.

"So you've been sitting in the Pyramid, doing nothing?" Though she could not blame them, none of them were warriors, and she did not truly want either one of them to sacrifice their lives uselessly. But Jorah and Daario were still accompanying the Dothraki, her newest army, trailing her by maybe a day's ride or more to the north.

Drogon had indeed taken her for a wild trip, whirling her through endless landscapes of mountains, prairies, and all the small villages in between. She thought she flew over Qohor at some point, before Drogon spun further north, and Daenerys had worried that she'd freeze to death buried beneath the gales while flying over the Shivering Sea. They'd landed on a large island she guessed may have been Ibben, and survived it only because Drogon had been willing to share some of the horribly charred goats he'd burned for food. At least, she hoped it was goatmeat she ate. By the time she recognized the Dothraki Sea below her, she had learned enough control of her largest dragon to steer him somewhat, taking him down towards Vaes Dothrak, where the sight of her dragon had been more than enough to convince her first husband's peoples to abandon all their khals and follow her back south towards Mereen, and beyond.

"That's true. But others are on the move."

She looked around the chambers. Grey Worm remained, because she imagined her two Westerosi advisors needed his presence to bolster their authority with the native populace.

"Ser Loras and Yara?" It wasn't beyond her to be suspicious of Yara, but she did not want to unfairly cast blame upon her for her uncle's actions, considering everything the woman had done to prove her loyalty since arriving in Mereen, and considering the fact that clever men like Tyrion and Baelish trusted her enough to send her after the pirate.

Tyrion nodded. "Along with Prince Oberyn of Dorne."

"Oberyn Martell?" She more than knew of the name, because it had been his sister who'd married Rhaegar, whom Tywin Lannister slaughtered in cold blood during the sack, along with their two small children. It had puzzled her that Dorne would ally themselves so closely to Robert, then Stannis, after the fact, but had her advisors somehow gained the wayward kingdom as an ally in her absence? "What was he doing here?"

Littlefinger answered her. "He came, not in peace, not for war...just...to show off, I think. To act...Dornishly, to make an impression."

"Luckily, he'd been docked with his own fleet in Yunkai to pay a visit to the city during Greyjoy's escape. We called him back in time, and he's sailing westwards fast. With a lucky wind, they may be able to catch the pirates."

"If not," Littlefinger added, "he's already sent word to his brother, the Prince Doran, to be on the lookout for Euron's ships, and to apprehend them should they approach Dorne."

So the robbery was not a complete loss, with this budding relationship with Dorne springing forth as a result, and her soul would be less vexed, if the pirate hadn't abducted Missandei from her too. And her loyal interpreter held not just her trust, but her heart, as much of it as Jorah and the late Ser Barristan, because they'd been with her since nearly the beginning.

"Prince Oberyn is eager to help us," she questioned, knowing it would be foolish to leave unaddressed the political implications of this new development.

"We have shared enemies," Littlefinger stated slyly.

"Not Stannis, Oberyn has nothing against his King," Tyrion added. "But there are those under the King's protection whom Prince Oberyn has not forgotten, or forgiven."

"Your father," Daenerys asked, narrowing her eyes at the dwarf.

"The father who sold me out to Stannis," Tyrion asked boldly. "Like I said, shared enemies."

Pacing the room, her shrinking Small Council was wise enough to maintain their silence while she mulled through her options. The gold was important, she knew, because of the long ranging implications with the Iron Bank were she not able to pay them back. But there was plenty of gold in this world, especially now that she could fly Drogon wherever she wished, there were plenty of enemies for her to take it from. But there was only one Missandei, and that's why she mattered the most right now.

"Ser Jorah and Daario ride with the Dothraki, they should arrive at the gates within the next two or three days."

"The Dothraki," Tyrion asked, and Daenerys remembered that she'd told them nothing of where she'd gone, what she'd seen or done. "How many Dothraki, if I may ask, Your Grace?"

"All of them," she answered simply, taking what delight she could in their awed reactions. "I'll ride Drogon west, catch up with this Dornish Prince, if I can, and make sure his sudden appearance in Mereen wasn't too much of a coincidence."

"I don't believe that it is," Tyrion exclaimed, "but I'm sure you'll ascertain the truth quickly."

"Then, if the Prince hasn't caught up to him already, I'll find this band of pirates and take back what is ours."

"Should we follow you west," Littlefinger asked almost eagerly, "once the Dothraki are arrived and settled?"

She knew he was eager to get back to Westeros, more than any of her court, save perhaps Yara and Loras, with their blood grudges. But then, he was also right, the cities here were settled and pacified, and there was little more she could do for them. Maybe Stannis would come begging for help with this army of the dead, maybe he wouldn't. But why allow him the choice?

"This began for me in Pentos," she whispered more to herself than anyone else, before turning back towards her court and issuing her command decisively. "Take as many Unsullied and Dothraki as you can, Pentos will be where we regather."


Tommen

"Six maids there were in a spring-fed pool..."

"Florian and Jonquil," a voice startled him from behind.

A glance at Neddy, who had fallen asleep, before Tommen turned to face his wife. "Just a song I remember."

"Who sang it to you," Sansa asked, taking a seat next to him beside the small cradle where their son slept.

"One of mother's handmaidens," Tommen managed to stumble out, chiding himself for the nervousness in his voice. Over a year into their marriage, with one son birthed already, he still found himself sometimes tongue tied before her.

"You're good at singing," Sansa said gently, both of them gazing admiringly at the child they'd conceived together.

"I am?" Joffrey always told him to shut up, whenever his late brother caught him singing. His mother usually made a foul face and walked away.

"You'd survive on the streets," his wife said rather playfully, "if Stannis kicked us out of the castle."

"So I'm not that good then."

He felt her gentle hand upon his. "You're a good father." Gesturing at the door, she rose and pulled him upwards. "Come, the nursemaids are here to watch him for the night."

They walked hand in hand through the corridors of the Keep back towards their room, where they changed into their nightgowns.

"Do you miss Arya," he asked. Her sister had finally departed the Keep several moons ago for Winterfell, and while Tommen was sad to see Sansa longing wistfully for her family, he couldn't help but be pleased to have more of his wife's attention now.

"I do," she answered, as they settled into their bed, and Tommen leaned over, wrapping his arms softly around his wife's body. He'd been afraid to hold her for the longest time, until the particularly harrowing nights of her pregnancy, when she'd accepted his poor attempts at comfort and husbandly protection for the first time. Since then, it's almost felt natural for him, though he still expected occasionally for her to shrug him off, wanting to be left alone on her side of the bed.

"But we'll see her again soon," she said, taking his hands into hers, so that they cradled over her belly, as if she were still pregnant.

"We will?" He mumbled the words, face nestled behind hers, wishing that he could disappear into the fiery red strands, though she'd cried out in pain the one time he'd tried to bury himself into her hair, as he must've accidentally pulled upon it too much.

"A raven arrived from Winterfell today," he heard her say, the joy in her voice to be expected, whenever they talked of the North. "Bran's finally home."

Her grip upon his hands tightened anxiously.

"I'm sorry about what Jaime did," he startled apologetically, cursing that he could not escape their families' awful history, even in the comforts of their marriage bed.

"It's not that," she replied, her voice terse. "We'll all ride north, the King and all his bannermen. The Great War begins, really, with my brother's return."

The Great War. The war against the dead. His wife's great cause, the salvation she'd brought to the entire realm, to bring it together against the true threat to Westeros.

"We'll win it, I think," he said, holding her closer to him, surprised she allowed herself to be held further, as her shoulders dug against his chest. "Everything you've done for the realm, for everyone...it can't be for naught."

"I hope so," Sansa mumbled, and Tommen could tell she was far from comforted by his words. But why should she be, she was wise enough to counsel the King, and he was just a dumb boy from a rich family who'd lucked into marrying the most beautiful woman in the world.

"I know the King values your advice, but...you've done enough for him, haven't you?" Taking a deep breath, he made his offer, the only thing he could give to his strange and wonderful wife. "I'm sure he can find others to guide him, especially after we've won the Great War. Maybe we can stay in Winterfell with your family for awhile. At least until Shireen becomes Queen."

He worried he'd unknowingly offended her, when she did not say anything in return at first.

"You're a good husband too," she said, turning and kissing him on his cheek. "I don't tell you that enough."

He slept happily that night.

Chapter Text

Jon

He stared at his reflection in Jeor Mormont's sword because, to be honest, there was little better for him to do these days. Was this what the last Lord Commander intended when he bestowed him his sword, for it and its wielder to waste away in obscurity? His requests for more men for Greyguard were always ignored, and they ended up receiving usually only half the rations he asked for from Castle Black. At least Thorne wasn't trying to starve him to death, for now at least. And he supposed he didn't need that many men, not when there were no longer wildlings keep the realm safe from on the other side of the Wall. As for the White Walkers, they were marching south, everyone knew this, even Thorne and Slynt, but the dead were certainly taking their damned time at it.

"Think they'll call us back to Castle Black when the King gets here," Edd asked next to him, having read the latest scrolls that their Lord Commander was dutifully bound to send out. It seemed ages ago when Maester Aemon died, and that had been his last visit to Castle Black, toiling the years manning Greyguard since. The new maester was a man named Wolkan who'd come from the Dreadfort, an empty castle after his own sister had manipulated a King into burning the entire family which once held it. He didn't blame Sansa though, not after what she'd told him of Roose and his bastard, her dreadful words recounting the echoes of her past life still reverberating in his head years later, as if he'd heard them yesterday.

"Probably not," Jon muttered. "Thorne'll probably have us patrolling naked north of the Wall when the time comes, just to act as bait for the White Walkers while the main army turns their flank."

Edd snorted. "At least we'll be doing something useful. Better that than all the waiting."

"Aye," Jon agreed. "Waiting's better than dying though."

But despite his words, he was looking forward to the King's arrival, when they'd all march north beyond the Wall, unless the White Walkers were be canny enough to try and breach the Wall somehow before Stannis's arrival with the armies of all seven kingdoms. Robb would accompany him, he was sure, so he looked forward to that reunion. He'd heard both Arya and Bran had finally returned home as well; Jon doubted Bran would make any more hazardous trips north in his condition, but he had no doubt Arya would make her way into their camps somehow, whether or not she had permission. Sansa too, or whomever the strange woman it was who inhabited his sister's skin, she was close enough to the King to travel with his court, though he didn't think she would go further north than Castle Black.

"Hear there's trouble with the Thenns," Edd remarked.

"There's always trouble with the Thenns." No one had any illusions that everything would be peace and summer sunshine once the Wildlings moved south into the Gift. There were raids and quarrels within the wildling camps themselves, and occasionally some of that spilled over into the nearby villages. He had no doubt that Alliser Thorne would have preferred to bring justice to the freefolk firsthand, but his men were outnumbered, for one, and Robb had effectively taken control of the situation, ordering the Umbers and Glovers, no friend of the wildlings, to get out their bloodlust by dampening any fires from the more troublesome tribes...particularly the Thenns. He imagined that Alliser was no happier in Castle Black than he was in Greyguard, having little control over the domain which was once theirs.

A ruckus down at the gates interrupted their slow converse, and Jon and Edd ran downstairs to see what was afoot. Both were surprised by the sight of the burly red haired man Jon had once thought was Mance Rayder.

"Tormund! What are you doing here?"

His former enemy regarded him warily. "Lord Snow."

"I'm no lord, Tormund, you know that." The man was sweating, out of breath, looking like he'd ran for days on end to arrive at Greyguard. "Something wrong?"

"Everything's wrong," the man snarled. "Everything's gone to shit, your mounted knights are slaughtering our people, clan by clan."

"How," Jon asked, gesturing for a young steward to hand him Longclaw. It'd broken his heart to leave Olly behind at Castle Black, but he also hadn't been able to look the boy in the eye since hearing of Sansa's tale. "They can't, the King commanded peace!"

"They do anyway. They've got Rattleshirt's band surrounded by the cold river..."

"The Last River," Jon asked. The wildling nodded. "Rattleshirt...Ygritte's there?" He nodded again. "What happened?"

"Fucking Hornfoots, one of them took one of Rattleshirts' wives, started a small war over it. Yer kneelers took it fer reason to march in and slaughter everyone in sight, that's what they've been doing, making any excuse they can to come and kill us."

He looked at Edd, who warned him off with his eyes.

"The Umbers have long held grudges, but I didn't expect them to disobey their Lord and King."

To this, Tormund spat on the ground. "Ye think yer honor and words makes yer people better than ours?"

"No," Jon admitted, considering the evidence against it, "I don't, men can be rotten no matter which side of the Wall they're from." Pacing the room, ignoring Edd's unspoken admonishments, he came closer to his decision.

"How long can they hold off the Umbers?"

"Storm's helping right now," Tormund said, "helped me slip through yer mounted men. Rattleshirt picked a good spot in the hills, they've been picking off yer brother's men one by one. But come good weather, and they'll send more."

He paced some more, before grabbing his cloak and riding clothes. Stepping up to Edd, ignoring the man's pleading eyes, he issued his order. "You have Greyguard."

"This could be considered abandonment," Edd warned him, after he had one foot out the door already.

"Then tell them it's not," Jon said with a grin. "I lead Greyguard, I make the decisions for the Watch here...and I'm simply investigating troubles with the Wildlings."

Shaking his head, his friend knew by now that no further arguments would change his mind. "Aye, don't become part of the trouble yerself, Snow."

If only it were so easy.


Stannis

Winter was here, that much was apparent from all the fires marking the early evenings in their camp on the long march north to the Wall. And his destiny, or so the Lady Melisandre claimed. It was never his intention to be a hero, he'd never dreamed of such foolish things as a little boy, growing up in a realm blessed with peace and tranquility. Nor did he care much about the songs they would sing of him after he was dead, considering he'd be dead, and no longer there to hear them. But he'd be lying to himself if his blood wasn't invigorated by the idea of being chosen, not by some foreign god necessarily, but by the realm and the thousands year old history of the seven kingdoms, to lead the living in the most vital war of mankind since before the Wall was built. It was his duty, to be sure, but Stannis still puzzled at just how that duty fell upon his shoulders, when Robert had always been the leader of men, the figure in his life everyone, whether their parents, or friends, servants, maids, lords...everyone rallied around. Just what was it that made him fit to lead this war instead of his older brother? Robert had been loved by all, especially in those heady days immediately following the rebellion, but love didn't win a war against the dead, did it? It was a serious business, but Robert could be serious when he had to be, because one did not overthrow a hundreds year old dynasty by taking things lightly.

Robert, Robert, Robert...why was he still thinking about his deceased older brother, when so many other pressing matters clouded his mind at the moment, could he not even escape his shadow when the night was at its darkest? But if not Robert then whom, Renly? Certainly Renly would have made no king fit enough to lead a war against the dead, and he figured his younger brother would have abdicated his throne at the sight of three dragons just as flippantly as he'd taken his claim in the first place.

But the price Renly paid for his claim hadn't been flippant, had it?

Knights and plain soldiers alike mumbled their respects to him as he strode through the camp, a sound he'd long learned to ignore while still acknowledging without thinking. Seeing Justin Massey, the whitecloak in charge of protecting the Crown Princess standing guard outside of Tommen and Sansa's tent, he was content to know that his daughter was occupied tending to the baby Shireen treated as practically a beloved nephew. Taking a turn left, he walked up to the lonely tent occupying the outskirts of the camp, and walked inside.

"My King," Melisandre looked up at him in anticipation, but he did not have time to waste.

"Show me your fires," he ordered. "Show me again what I saw outside the walls of King's Landing...the battle in the snow."

The woman rose towards the small fire bubbling upon the torch, but her eyes did not radiate assurance at him.

"Your Grace...the Lord shows me what He wants when He wants, I do not have the power to command Him."

"Then tell the Lord that his Prince in our world commands it."

Stepping aside, she walked to a small corner, where she kept what he figured were her enchantments collected from across the Narrow Sea. "Have you lost faith already, my King?"

"The men outside expect me to lead," he replied brusquely, infuriated at how slowly the woman was moving. "They take my word, that there's an army of dead men marching towards the Wall. What if we get there, and find nothing? I'll be ridiculed across the realm..."

"You expect R'Hilor to be concerned with your broken pride," Melisandre questioned him, her taunting eyes dancing derisively at him.

Something broke inside his heart, and he reached to grab the woman's arm and drag her violently towards him, until he could feel her breasts upon his robes. "I expect your lord to tell me I didn't kill my own brother for nothing but a joke...a hoax. I expect your lord to show me I didn't kill my own brother only to lose the war to the dead..."

"If we lose the Great War, then it doesn't matter whether your brother eked out another few years of sinful existence in this world, does it?" Breaking free from him with ease, she walked up to the fire and sprinkled some of the powder into the flames. As she began her chants to her fire god, he stared again into the flames as he did, before he received his crown, unable to deny to himself how fervently he needed her god's assurance, so close to the battle they were now.

And as before, mesmerized by the priestess's chants, he thought he saw shadows in the fire, vague undulations and outlines shifting and turning and melting from nothingness into nothingness, but nothing more, until he understood the exercise to be futile, and went to look angrily at the Red Woman. But he couldn't. Then deep inside the fire, he saw his own dark eyes staring back at him. Except he saw horror in his eyes, and disgust. And somehow, he could see the reflection in the reflection of the eyes he gazed upon, and in the orbs of the apparition he observed a white landscape...a blanket of snow under a dull grey sky. Except the smooth winter surface was marred by a bright glare in the middle, a fire burning upright...burning a person, tied to a stake, face and body already too charred to recognize. As it burned, he saw a shadow cast itself over the ritual sacrifice, for that was what he knew it was in his heart of hearts, watching the shadow take form in the shape of a dragon's wing.

Then the scene changed, day turned to night, the clear sky now replaced with a furious snowfall, not a gentle storm at all, and he saw himself swinging his sword furiously, at an unending ebbing of shadows, surrounded on all sides by flames. Then the shadows fell away, and he saw his own eyes gleam in triumph and relief, raising his sword in the air like a conquering hero. Then all the visions disappeared, until there was just the fire again. About to turn away for a second time, he nearly fainted when he saw a form reappear in the fire, a lean man, not a boy, not an old man, bearded, with a crown of stags upon his brow, his eyes hurt and sad.

"Renly?"

Was it worth it, brother, Renly's mournful eyes seemed to ask him, your brother's life, for this?

"Renly?" The Lady Melisandre's voice broke the spell, and he felt the cold air upon his skin once more as the flames returned to being just mere flames.

"You didn't see him?"

The Red Woman frowned. "I did not, Your Grace."

"What did you see?"

"I saw a victory, my King, in the snow." But her eyes said more, that she'd seen what he'd seen before too.

"What about in the snow, the burning girl, the shadow?"

She nodded, but did not reply to him.

"No," he screamed violently. "I won't do it. I'll send her back to Storm's End now, do you hear me? I won't do it!"

The woman shrank back from him, because she knew the response her words would elicit from him in his panicked rage. "You won't have a choice, if it comes to that."

"I'm the king," he yelled, not caring if his voice roused the rest of the camp. "You have no power over me, you can't force me to do it!"

"Do you consider yourself more powerful than a God," she asked, the fear leaving her eyes. "Do you believe yourself wiser than the Lord who watches over us all, do you believe it mercy to condemn millions to a fate worse than death just to spare one, only to watch the same fate befall her anyway?"

"I won't do it," he found himself repeating again, lost for words otherwise. "This should have changed things, the Stark girl, the realm's prepared, the dragons...it shouldn't come to that again! It can't! I won't do it!"

"Maybe you don't have to."

He felt her fingers caressing her back, and wanted to strike her, for having the audacity to play with his emotions on such dire matters, but like when he stared into the fire, he felt his body frozen, betraying what his mind commanded it to do.

"Maybe it won't come to that," Melisandre continued, trying futilely to reassure him. "Maybe the Lord won't demand your daughter..."

"How do you know," he snapped.

"I don't know," she responded vexingly. "I saw the same thing you saw, Your Grace. I saw someone burning, but the fire did not show me a face."

"When will you know?" Whatever she spoke to him now, he would cling to as if his own life depended on it, as if the entire known world depended on it, so long as he did not have to do the unthinkable.

Again.

"Whenever the Lord decides to show me."


Jaime

"Yer not paying me enough fer this," Ser Bronn of the Crossroads snarled at him, tending to the fire on yet another cold and chilly night between Casterly Rock and Winterfell.

"It's a war between the living and dead," Jaime tried to explain, slightly exasperated. "I'd think the survival of mankind ought to be a bit more important than a few pieces of gold."

"Is that so?" The so-called knight was not convinced. "I think gold is mighty important. Pays fer a ship across the sea, pays fer a nice house by a nicer brothel in Lys. Pays fer me surviving this war by not fighting it, and watching the rest of you freeze to death tryin' to find an' army of dead men on the wrong side of the Wall."

The man had a good point. And if he were smart he'd follow the former sellsword east. Tyrion was the smart one, Tyrion was in Essos although, if his father's whispers with the Stark girl was correct, they would all eventually make their way west and north to join this great war beyond the Wall. That gave him one thing to look forward to, at least, on this particular trip north, a journey that he seemed destined, or doomed, to make every two or three years. It remained unspoken that neither Stannis nor the Targaryen girl would be sitting on the Iron Throne by the time they all marched back south from Winterfell, the near hundred scorpions they'd stowed secretly onto ships past the Iron Islands towards the Saltspear and Torrhen's Square would hopefully see that into reality, but to Jaime, all this politics meant only that Tyrion's exile would be over when it was all said and done. Though, he wouldn't put it past his father to have Tommen banish him again his first day sitting upon the Throne, or sentence him to a worse fate, such as stewardship over the Iron Islands or something horrible of the sort.

That's one area I'll need to seek the Stark girl's help, rather than father's.

"Fight well enough for the King, and he may give you a castle and a lady wife." It was true enough, though Jaime left out the specific king in question.

Bronn sneered at his offer, picking his teeth with the near clean chicken bone. "I'll believe that, when I finally see one of you Lannister cunts actually shit out gold."

"I'm serious," Jaime pressed. "Think about it, Lord Bronn of House Crossroads. Have you thought of your house words yet?"

Tossing the bone into the bushes nearby, the man reached and grabbed the last leg on the plate...a choice piece of meat Jaime had been eyeing himself. "Don't be crossin' the Crossroads?"

Shrugging, he looked on enviously as Bronn devoured the chicken leg. "Not all that elegant, but gets the message across well enough, I suppose."

Soft footsteps approached their small fire, and Bronn gave him a knowing look with the former Queen's approach, his sister holding triumphantly a scroll, blowing in the cold evening wind.

"Yer Grace," Bronn acknowledged, though Jaime knew the man well enough to understand the words were not uttered in respect.

"Mace Tyrell's dead," Cersei said, joy in her voice, handing him the scroll.

"How," Jaime asked, too lazy to read the answer for himself.

"Choked on a chicken bone," Cersei said, Bronn coughing up a fit and looking at his own supper in sudden disgust upon hearing the words. "Died two days after leaving Highgarden, marching his banners north."

Unsure of whether his sister was joking or not, he leaned closer to the fire in order to read the letter. Surprisingly, she'd twisted none of the words written upon the scroll.

"That makes Margaery the Lady of Highgarden," Jaime surmised, wondering just how well the girl would lead all the armies of the Reach against the dead. Useless as Mace Tyrell could be at times, he still held the begrudging respect of most of his lords.

Craning her head rudely at Bronn, she gestured for the man to leave. The rough edged knight obliged, shrugging his shoulders as he tossed what remained of his chicken leg into the fire.

"The Tyrells have never been weaker," Cersei started explaining, sitting where Bronn had sat, once he was out of earshot. "We could give Highgarden to either the Tarly's or Hightowers, in exchange for their support."

He shook his head, his sister making his brain ache once more, an aggravatingly common occurrence these days. "Don't you think such things are better left to father?" Rather than answer him, she just regarded him with smug curiosity. "Don't tell me you've been...corresponding..."

"You pity the girl, don't you?" She snatched the scroll back away from him. "Do you still think father will marry the two of you, after the succession?"

"Father hasn't brought that up for years," Jaime replied, annoyed, "though it sounds like a better and better idea every time you open your mouth." He sighed. Trading blows against dead men with his lame hand seemed a more pleasant prospect with all this endless plotting and politicking. "Why are you here, anyway, why are you marching north with us?"

"What I told father, to see my son, and my first grandchild."

"Our son, our grandson." Though he was no young man anymore, he still felt too young to be called a grandfather. Did that make him an old man now? While his direct ancestry to Ned Lannister was unacknowledged, his sister's certainly was, which definitely made her an old woman. "No," he tried saying to her with authority, "you're here to meddle, aren't you? There's going to be too many great lords and ladies gathered in Winterfell for you to resist from sticking your finger in the pot."

"I was never much a cook." Was she joking? What a bad joke that was.

"Don't," he warned.

"Is that an order," she dared.

"It is. There are people far smarter than you working to advance our family's interests right now. Anything you do," he looked over anxiously at their father's tent, "without father's knowledge will only ruin things for all of us."

"Such an obedient son," she mocked him, cupping his face with her hands condescendingly, as if he were a child. "Are you going to tell father?"

He should. He knew if he didn't, she'd keep on doing whatever she was doing. But she'd continue, even if their father told her to put a stop to things. Unless father ordered her back to Casterly Rock, of course. But that would genuinely break her heart, as Jaime had no doubt as much as Cersei wished to step over Sansa Stark's toes in their father's eyes, she still did genuinely want to see her son and meet her grandson.

"Just stop," he repeated, "and I won't."


Daenerys

It was a frustrated Queen who landed her three dragons into the free city of Pentos. If there was any consolation in the last moon, it was that she'd seen a lot more of the kingdoms which would somehow become hers one day, having taken Drogon across all the southern shorelines as far as Oldtown and the Arbor.

Let the people see their rightful Queen, and know with their own eyes the return of the dragons.

There were the Stepstone Islands too, it felt like she had each and every one of them memorized by now. It was on these islands where she'd regrouped after a long day of flying, settling in for the nights at the Dornish camps, where she'd gotten to finally meet her vaunted Prince Oberyn, who would actually be her brother by law. The Dornish Prince had searched the oceans unsuccessfully for days and nights, unable to find the Greyjoy fleet as well. Perhaps Euron Greyjoy had fled east instead, seeking whatever enchantments there were for him to buy with her gold, but her instincts told her he'd fled west, because were she to believe in any of the gods, she'd believe his arrival almost a sign, as if the gods were telling her not to become complacent, that her time in Essos had come to an end. If only Missandei didn't have to suffer for it.

She'd questioned them all, Oberyn, Yara, and Loras, looked them in the eyes, until she was satisfied they had no complicity in the pirate's betrayal. Nor was she surprised, really, because she knew Yara and Loras to be too dedicated to their grievances to be bought off by gold, and a Prince of Dorne certainly had for himself more gold than he'd ever need for the rest of his life already. So she'd ordered them to Pentos too, where she herself would meet them after one last flight outlining the shores of Dorne and the Reach, searching every cove and cave in case she'd missed a spot from her dozen trips before.

Let the lords see the dragons and send ravens to Stannis, so that he knows the hour is finally at hand.

"My Queen, any luck in your searching?"

It was Littlefinger who greeted her at the city's gates and accompanied her to the palace whose owner had sold her to the Dothraki so many years ago. She'd left a beggar, little better than a slave, and now returned a Queen and a mother of dragons. Illyrio Mopatis was very eager to serve her cause, they told her, and she felt conflicted emotions at the mention of the man who'd sold her away...yet who'd done so out of loyalty to her family and her brother, who sat at the head of House Targaryen at the time...and who'd also bestowed her the ancient eggs which eventually hatched into the children who'd take back her birthright for her.

"Nothing," she muttered. "I don't know where they could have sailed, unless they went to Asshai, or fled to go hide it out in Sothoryos."

"They'd all be dead if they went to Sothoryos," Baelish replied, sending a chill down her spine, before his next words returned her hope, "but they're not there. Nor did I expect you to find them in the south."

"You know where they are," she asked, knowing her eyes were pleading her advisor for any good news, any word of Missandei, yet begging helplessly all the same.

Littlefinger nodded. "I still have friends in the Vale. A raven arrived from Coldwater yesterday, speaking of pirates, raiding and marauding the villages along the shore. Afterwards, they saw the fleet sailing north, in the direction of Widow's Watch."

"North," she asked, caught off guard by this news. "Why would Greyjoy go north?"

"Because our Dornish friends blocked off all escape to the south, perhaps? Because he knows his world shrinks, when he steals from the dragons." They saw Tyrion and the rest of her court ahead at the entrance to the palace, and Littlefinger continued. "Maybe he'll round Braavos, travel the same icy waters Dragon flew you over. But the Shivering Sea is not a friendly place for sailors in winter, even for a sailor as well-traveled as Euron Greyjoy."

"Wherever he is, I'll find him," she swore, bemoaning all the time she'd wasted already searching on the wrong side of the continent.

"If he's not so foolish as to venture into the Shivering Sea...then that makes him Stannis's problem as well."

"He's still our problem," Daenerys muttered, unsatisfied.

"That gives you common cause with Stannis, doesn't it?"

A sly grin exchanged with Baelish, a reminder that the game never ended, but what else could she expect, the game was her very inheritance, and her lifelong burden. Before they reached earshot for the rest of her advisors, Baelish leaned close to her and whispered only where she could hear.

"I've responses from the northern houses...the intrusion of the wildlings under this king of theirs into the lands of the First Men don't sit well with the proud northern families...the Umbers and Glovers are receptive to your cause...the Karstarks...only need a little more convincing, I think."

Baelish had already promised her the Vale, and Dorne was hers for the taking, so long as she did not offend their Prince. The Reach had grown unhappy with Stannis too, Baelish claimed, and there was even a small chance that Littlefinger could talk Catelyn Tully into convincing her brother to throw Riverrun's support to her cause. That was four kingdoms, and the North would make five, provided the lords unhappy with the Stark-Baratheon alliance came through.

"What of the Westerlands," she'd asked Littlefinger, the night before she'd departed Mereen the final time.

"The Lannisters will never accept your rule willingly. But they'll bend the knee anyway, or Tywin Lannister will watch his family follow the Reynes and Tarbecks into extinction."

"Good," she said out loud. Dismounting her horse before Tyrion, Mopatis, and the rest, she issued her order out loud for everyone to hear. "We will send ravens to Stannis. We will tell him of the pirates seeking refuge upon his shores, and we will offer our conditional assistance in this war against the dead he wages."

"Upon what conditions," Tyrion asked, striding alongside her as they walked into the magister's palace, ignoring the memories of Viserys left behind in its walls.

"That's for my advisors to determine," she replied, already setting her sights north towards the Vale, and beyond.


Euron

"Lovely girl, you could be a Queen..."

"I have a Queen. I only know of one Queen, and will only know of one Queen through all my days."

The chained slave girl was a tough one, feisty, just as he liked. Many fought him at first, but they all gave in at the end. He liked the pursuit, really, though it wasn't much of a chase, given their restricted quarters on board his ship. But the game was still the game, and he wanted them to want him, to beg for him, before he took them.

"You should have just taken the gold," the girl spat out at him. "Maybe the Queen would have had better things to do than chase you across the seas. But she'll find you, we both know this."

"Do we?" He still liked her fight, for now. Eventually some of them wore through his patience. Then...well, he had a rather large crew in need of their own satisfaction. "Your Queen may have dragons, that's true. But I know all the places to hide that she doesn't."

There was little more to accomplish in the girl's chambers, her hardened eyes telling him she'd yet to yield an inch to him, so he left the girl, and returned above deck, where a fierce winter storm shook his ships to and forth, their sails barely making any progress north against the steady waves.

"Don't know how much longer these ships can take th' batterin'," an old, stout man with burly grey hair said to him. It was Tom Pyke, a bastard son of a Harlaw cousin, and amongst one of the first who'd followed him east when they'd fled the Iron Islands after his idiot brother's rebellion. "Or th' men, they fear winter more than they fear the dragons, I b'lieve."

"Not much further," Euron declared. Though he possessed certain faith that it was not his fate to die in a storm, not when he'd weathered so many already, he knew not to tempt too much the patience of the Drowned God. "We break west for land first thing in the morning, after this storm wanes."

"West," Tom asked in surprise. "We're gettin' close to the Wall by now, if not north o' it already. Wildlin' territory, an' they don't take well to outsiders."

"The wildlings are all south of the Wall," Euron explained. He'd heard rumors all the way back in Essos, before he'd made his first attempt into the dragon queen's pyramid. The whispers in the Vale villages confirmed the fact without a doubt. "All their villages are long abandoned. We get a clear fortnight or two, we can carry our ships overland all the way across to th' Sunset Sea, and take back our home."

The word home drew forth a glimmer in the bastard's eye such as Euron had not seen for a long time, but that's how powerful the draw of home was to his men, he knew. That would carry them through whatever ordeals he required of him.

"What if it doesn't stop storming?"

"I know a place to hide, a refuge where the wildlin' clans flee to in bad weather, or war."

"Ye do?"

"Aye," Euron said happily, welcoming the shards of rain falling upon his face, cutting his skin like a million small blades of ice. "Hardhome."

Chapter Text

Daenerys

Hell was ice, she decided. Hell was winter, hell was snow, hell was the unrelenting storm, the deathly clutches of the cold, and the soulless blue-eyed monsters raging in the battle below.

"Dracarys," she yelled frantically from atop Drogon, blasting away yet another wave of dead men and women charging blindly at the small group of survivors by the raging harbor. Below, uncle and niece fought together, because they were so outnumbered, and because the enemy was unlike any they could ever have conceived in their head. Below, Grey Worm fought side by side with the man who'd abducted the woman he loved, because whatever grudges they held towards each other could only be resolved were they to somehow survive the day.

Then, it happened...the hideous shriek of pain from her child, spouting enough blood from his neck to fill the small bay her men had sailed into, before plunging then crashing sickeningly onto the icy surface below, Viserion's mangled wings and limbs bathing the snow in an eerie pool of red after impact. Then just as suddenly, she heard an ominous ringing in the air, and barely pivoted Drogon just in time away from the same kind of icy spear which had just pierced Viserion's neck. Beside her, Rhaegal shrieked in confusion and fear, and both dragons swung upwards into the blinding clouds, to hide from the monsters below, only to find themselves hidden from land, sea, and life itself in the storm.

"Down," she screamed, because it was the only direction she comprehended at the moment. "Down!"

Drogon followed her orders, and Rhaegal followed his brother, and she'd nearly plunged them both underwater before her eyes could discern the difference between snow and sea, pulling Drogon up just barely enough so that this feet and the tips of his wings still skirted through the near frozen currents before lifting back into the air. Through the snow, she saw dark brown streaks in the distance, the mountains she'd seen under a clear blue sky when they'd initially led their assault against the pirate stronghold, Ser Jorah, Yara, and Grey Worm on ships below, a Queen and three dragons from above.

Flying low along the water's edge, shielding her eyes with her hands, she tried to make out in the distance the uniforms of the small group of Unsullied who'd accompanied their captain, or the armor of Lady Yara, or even the infernal grin of Euron Greyjoy, who'd grinned sadistically even as he battled for his life against an army of the dead. But there was nothing but a flood of death, where her friends, and enemies, once stood just moments before. And one of the armored dead men, their leader, she realized, glad in gruesome armor, clashing his icy sword against that of her oldest friend, her most loyal servant. The dead creatures fell back, awaiting the result of his duel as she watched the beads of sweat frozen upon Jorah's forehead as he fended off blow after blow, each swing of his sword slower than the last.

"Towards Ser Jorah," she cried out to Drogon, willing him to move faster than she'd ever seen him fly, but neither one of them were fast enough, not when she heard him scream in pain, then saw the bloodied blade of the creature's sword of ice piercing poking through his back, her beloved knight keeling over lifelessly, his eyes dead, never to smile warmly upon her again.

The rest of my life, if I survive, I'll feel the cold...I'll never forget what this cold feels like. I'll never be warm again.

The monster dared grin at her, before throwing his shoulder back to unleash yet another deadly missile through the air.

"Turn," she yelled, and Drogon moved more swiftly than any creature his size ought be capable of, because they both knew their lives depended on it. Yet another arrow of ice flew by them, close enough to have chilled the skin upon her ears. And she continued to flee, because there was no other choice, because all her friends were already dead anyway...Missandei, Grey Worm, Yara...Jorah...because of her mistakes, because of her determination to attack the Greyjoys the moment she'd spotted their tents from the air. She'd never see them again, she never had a chance to say goodbye to them, ignorant of the infernal trap awaiting them when they'd first departed Pentos pursuing the Greyjoy fleet.

As she fled, she didn't know whether it was her tears or the frozen layers of snow that were clouding her eyes.


Tyrion

It was not a happy Queen who'd returned to Pentos.

With just two dragons, he realized in increasing horror. What could have happened? What disaster could have befallen them?

When she was close enough for him to spy her face, her dress, her hair, he thought she'd flown through hell itself. And he was not so far off in that guess, or so it appeared.

"Your Grace, are you..."

What could he ask her, what could he put into words, when it seemed like she'd seen the unspeakable?

"What happened," Littlefinger asked next to him, a horror in the crafty man's eyes like Tyrion had never seen, because they both understood that what their Queen just faced was beyond mere clever plans or words.

"The dead are real." She said, her words leaving her mouth so dully that Tyrion wondered whether she herself was not dead as well. "The army of the dead is real," she continued muttering, repeating herself, even as Littlefinger quickly thought to fetch a blanket, throwing it across the Queen's shivering back.

"You saw it, Your Grace," Littlefinger asked, "with your own eyes?"

"It's real," she continued speaking in a daze. "It's all real. They took...they killed them all. Viserion. Missandei, Grey Worm...Jorah..."

"You're alive," Tyrion said, knowing how useless his words were to her upon this most horrifying occasion.

"I shouldn't be," she said, and only now did he see the guilt in her eyes, the doubt, the grief, of all she'd lost on that doomed trip north, because they all thought it would be an easy feat to defeat a band of pirates and take back the Queen's translator and her gold...because though he'd heard the Stark girl's warnings so many years before, and despite the fact that he'd relayed it to Daenerys and all her court...none of them had truly taken those warnings to heart, so they all paid the price now.

"What can we do," he asked, putting a comforting hand across her back, trying to warm her body alongside Baelish, because they were both afraid that she was fragile enough to die frozen on the spot if they did not keep her from succumbing to her grief and trauma. And his heart filled with increasing sadness and horror as he grasped more and more this new reality that they could no longer deny. Sadness, because in one fell swoop, they'd lost nearly half the Queen's court, and in Jorah and Missandei and Grey Worm, friends that she loved far more than she could himself and Littlefinger, as much as she depended upon their advice.

And horror, because if this army of the dead was capable of killing a dragon, what chance did humanity, united or divided, have against it?

She did not reply him, her face hidden under the sheets and blankets. But when her eyes emerged from their shelter, her cheeks no longer quivered from memories of past cold, and her violet eyes had turned to ice. "We will defeat the army of the dead. We will destroy them, for the friends we all lost today."


Sansa

Were she lucky enough to actually enjoy a happy homecoming to Winterfell this life, but Sansa knew the gods did not favor her the moment she saw two dragons flying towards the spires of the castle the morning she finally set her eyes upon her home after two long years.

Just two dragons, the former Lady of Winterfell in another life wondered. What happened to the third one? And should she be thankful, or terrified?

Not that the arrival of Daenerys Targaryen to Winterfell was a surprise for her, because they'd received word long ago on the ride north that lords and smallfolk alike were seeing dragons in the air, first in the south, then further north, whispers in the Stormlands, and even the Vale, each read scroll sending a shock of fear coursing from her neck down her spine, each mention of the creatures bringing back her own memories of burning, in her fire.

But no, it was the timing that bothered her, that the dragon queen would have arrived first, while she was so tantalizingly in view of her home. All the soldiers and lords accompanying the King shouted and exclaimed in awe and terror, even Tommen and Shireen, even the King himself, whose face displayed a rare uncontrolled scowl...they'd all reacted, except for the Wolf Who'd Burned.

"Thought you said she had three of them," Stannis remarked, and Sansa could tell he was trying to calm himself by pretending to appear nonplussed by the sight.

"Something must have happened," she said, remembering how Daenerys had arrived in Winterfell with only two dragons the last time too.

While they'd all expected the worse, a bloody, fiery war when word of the dragons spread to their camps between King's Landing and the Crossroads, even Sansa had been surprised when ravens arrived with scrolls telling of a Queen who only wanted peace for the time being, to offer assistance in King Stannis's war beyond the Wall. Sansa cautioned caution, but what could Stannis do but take the Dragon Queen's word at face value, and accept her offer of assistance with a formal request of his own, when this had been their plan originally anyway?

It was a perverse sense of relief when they arrived by the castle's gates, and she saw the banners of the lion flying above the camps entrenched outside her home. So the Lannisters had arrived before her too, which meant, with any luck, that Qyburn's most valuable cargo was somewhere on its way north also. Riding through the gates, she caught the unmistakably silver hair of the woman who'd destroyed her family...the woman whom her family would offer bread and mead and hearth to once again, and shuddered, but it was her sister's eyes which truly alarmed her to the fact that something was horribly wrong.

But she had to await the formalities first, as King greeted uneasily a Queen for the first time.

"Queen Daenerys," he allowed her the title.

"Stannis of House Baratheon." She didn't.

"Lord Stark," Stannis moved onto his brother, then her mother, then the rest. "...Lord Rickon. Lord Tywin..."

So impatient she was with the King's procession, so worried she was by the frantic look in Arya's eyes, that she actually forgot briefly the Dragon Queen, until she felt her violet eyes weighing down up her body, the intensity of the look enough to suffocate her.

She hates me, she grasped instinctively. She's never met me, yet she hates me already.

But it wasn't just her Daenerys fixated towards, because the Dragon Queen fixed her cold glare back and forth between her, then Tommen, then down the line to her left towards...Cersei? Then back at her, and so on.

"Queen Daenerys," Sansa said, when it was her turn to greet her, following the King's lead.

"Lady Sansa." Her reply came out barely louder than a whisper, though Sansa guessed she'd poison her with her breath if she could. "I hear you're the girl who sees all, hears all."

"That'd be my brother Bran," she demurred nervously, aware of the penetrating gaze from a brother who'd sent her to her death a lifetime ago, for obscure reasons she still could barely understand. "I've only been occasionally blessed by the gods in that regard."

"If you want to save the North, go south," Bran said to her, the last time they were both at Winterfell together. Yet here was the Dragon Queen crouching within their home again, how close was she to dooming the North anew?

She knows, Sansa thought, though it was an incredulous and impossible thought, she knows...something.

"They have Jon!" Arya blurted this out to her, whilst she was still in the middle of hugging Robb, wondering just what those evil looks from the Dragon Queen meant.

"What do you mean? Who has Jon?" Only now did she see too, in Robb's austere and restrained eyes, that he'd been concealing something terribly wrong also.

"We do," he admitted.

"I'm confused, I don't understand," she stuttered, aware that they'd interrupted completely the formal procession of the reception, yet not caring because...Jon!

Robb began. "They found him, south of the Gift, leading a band of wildlings..."

"He was saving them from the Umbers," Arya interrupted frantically. "They'd been raiding the wildling bands, killing them without cause, Jon was only...," her eyes shifted to the King himself. "Ask Bran, he's confirmed it, he saw what happened."

"Aye, it's all true," Robb admitted grimly. "But he's abandoned the Watch all the same."

"And he killed many of the Umber men with his own hands," she heard old, cranky Robett Glover bellowed somewhere from beside her, the traitor from her last northern court.

"He was acting on behalf of the Watch," Arya argued.

"That's what Jon says," Robb's grieving voice responded, "but Lord Commander Thorne accuses him of desertion. And the Umbers demand justice for their own."

She looked to Stannis first, before remembering how he'd refused to help Jon before...which was the only reason her brother was in this mess now. If anything, this would have confirmed to the King the righteousness of his decision, of Jon's unreliability, what with the Umbers and Alliser Thorne empowered to twist their tales against him. So she turned instead to Robb, because he understood just as well as she did that Jon was family!

"What are you going to do, Robb? Are you going to imprison your own brother? Are you going to execute him, when he's done nothing wrong?"

"I can't show favor to Jon," Robb said, his voicing trailing off in the end, refusing to meet her eyes, "just because he's my brother." Taking her into his arms, he whispered softly to her. "Don't worry, he's not in the dungeons. I've let him stay in his old room, keep his old bed."

First Stannis, now Robb. What good was power, when it was useless and lame in the hands of those who refused to help even their own family?

"There's to be a trial," the Dragon Queen said smugly from behind her. Daenerys's eyes fixed upon her, Sansa had the idea that the Dragon Queen had not stopped appraising her whilst she'd been distracted by Jon's plight.

"And you'll be the judge," she retorted sarcastically back at her in reflex, forgetting her place as not even a Lady of Winterfell, but just another sycophant in the court of her King.

"The Queen will be a judge," Robb said, regaining her attention. "There'll be three judges, according to the King's law."

"You'll sit in judgment," Sansa asked her brother, daring to hope. If only they could get a third judge, one she knew to be sympathetic...

"I can't," Robb said, eyes regretful once more. "Jon's my brother, I can't sit and expect myself to be fair."

"If not you, then who?"

"Rickard Karstark is on his way to Winterfell. He'll sit in my place."

She blurted her next words out. "Rickard Karstark hates you still, because of the Lannisters."

She'd lost control of herself again, same as when Stannis turned her down the first place. Breathe, Sansa, breathe, she scolded herself. Stop acting like a scared little girl.

"Who's the be the third judge," she asked more calmly, her composure halfway returned.

"I'll defer to His Grace," Robb said. "The King, or his chosen representative, will take the last seat."

Stannis eyed her knowingly, aware of how much her brother meant to her, because of the intensity of both this outburst of hers, and the last one after her wedding beneath the Godswood.

"There's a war with the dead for me to worry about," Stannis decided. "Lord Davos will sit in my place."

A small sigh of relief, because Davos was a reasonable man, and not prejudiced against the wildlings. It would seem that Stannis was trying to do her a small favor, but it was ultimately meaningless, because she did not expect reason or mercy from either old Lord Karstark or Daenerys, who'd shown abject hatred towards her the moment she'd walked inside the walls of her own home. And Sansa had in an unplanned instant revealed her weakness to her; she did not know why the Dragon Queen hated her for seemingly no reason at all, but she was sure that Daenerys would punish Jon as a way to hurt her.

And gods help us if she finds out who Jon really is.

"We don't have time for all this," she heard Bran interrupt from her left, repeating out loud those dreadfully familiar words. Her brother, who was not her brother, nor a Stark, nor entirely human once more, shifted his unnerving glance at the Dragon Queen. "The Night King has your dragon, he's one of them now. They've crossed the Wall at Eastwatch..."

"Crossed the Wall," Stannis asked, alarmed, and Sansa felt herself fainting at the same nightmare she'd lived once before repeating itself anew, only worse this time.


Tyrion

"No wine?"

"No wine," Jaime shook his head. "Just ale for us commoners."

"Some hospitality," Tyrion muttered, forcing the bitter drink down his throat. "At least Ned Stark fed us wine."

"It's your fault," Jaime said pointedly with a smirk, drinking his ale with less complaints than his shorter brother.

"How so?"

"We had wine last time I was here. This time though," Jaime raised his mug in a toast, "too many Kings and Queens to pamper, thanks to you."

Another chug, another forced gulp of the vile bubbly liquid. "No, no, no," Tyrion countered, "last I checked, it's the same. One King, One Queen...just as when it had been Robert and our sister."

His brother looked away, disgruntled, a familiar scowl on his face whenever he'd been proven wrong...a scowl Tyrion had missed so much in the long years of his exile.

"You're right," Jaime relented. "I suppose I've always been awful with the math of things."

"But you're also not wrong," Tyrion pointed out. "I don't envy the Stark boy, having to host two rival courts in his castle. Just so happens House Lannister's the one to get stuck with the shitty quarters and the shittier ale this time around."

"How the mighty have fallen," Jaime said, toasting his brother again. And it was true, Tywin Lannister stepping aside lamely to Stannis and banished west for years without barely a peep. But Aerys had banished their father once before, hadn't he? And just look what that got the Mad King in return.

"I don't expect for long, father's surely got something up his sleeve."

When he saw Jaime sip his wine uncomfortably, not saying anything in response, Tyrion realized all of a sudden not just the truth in the words he'd just spoken, but also just how Jaime was not entirely ignorant this time to Tywin Lannister's conspiracies.

"You don't trust me," Tyrion said, not unhurt.

"I don't trust myself, not when it comes to politics," his brother tried to deflect. "Or even fighting, these days."

And just what could Tywin Lannister be plotting at the moment? Against Stannis? Certainly, probably ever since the man was crowned. Against Daenerys? Most likely, because Tywin Lannister was a man smart enough to understand just what the return of dragons to the world meant. Against the Starks, the Tyrells, Tully's, and all the other great houses of the realm, to settle his unrequited grievances from the last war? Also very possible, provided his father had any spare time left from plotting against a King and separate Queen.

"Queen Daenerys has pledged to fight alongside Stannis in this Great War," he tried to reason. "We're all in this together."

"Possibly. Assuming Stannis and your Queen come to some sort of agreement tomorrow...which would require they put aside their pride, and bury for good all the bad feelings leftover from Robert's Rebellion...," his brother snorted out a laugh. "Yeah, good luck with all that."

"Another Great Council," Tyrion mused, remembering the last one he'd been a part of. "I'll tell you a truth, without asking for one in return. We haven't nearly as many Unsullied and Dothraki in Westeros as we'd like, lacking the ships to bring them over in time."

"An inherent threat," Jaime surmised, "because you have plenty of reserves you can still ferry over, boat by boat. And you also have the Dornish army on its way north..."

So his brother was well aware of the military situation, which meant their father was even more keenly aware of all the going-ons across two continents.

"A Dornish army still pledged to King Stannis, and may remain pledged to King Stannis, which means father has nothing to fear from Prince Oberyn...unless he decides to move against King Stannis."

"May remain pledged to Stannis?" It was with a smile that Jaime rebuffed his argument. "I'm sure you're working on that as we speak."

It was Tyrion's turn to raise his glass at his brother. "You've gotten better at politics, despite your claims to humility."

"Don't think I've much of a choice." Tapping his golden hand gently upon the small table, he looked over at Tyrion. "What's your choice then?"

"Choice in what?"

"Whether you're going to tell your queen your suspicions about father."

If only he knew himself, even though he'd had years of pondering the question the moment he stepped foot in Yunkai, and heard firsthand from Daenerys her determination to return to Westeros...a determination he'd never come close to talking her out of in the years since.

"Depends on how the negotiations go tomorrow, I suppose."


Littlefinger

"Get out get out get out GET OUT!"

"My dear Cat, you must believe me, I had nothing to do with your husband's death."

Perhaps he was too naive to expect a warm reception in Winterfell, but Catelyn's outburst, the frantic nature of her voice, the sheer hatred in her eyes, surprised him. She was in pain, she was in distress, and he would have given his soul to hold her, to comfort her, tell her everything was alright, that he'd protect her from her enemies. Except he had somehow become apparently her greatest enemy.

"You held a knife to his throat," she whispered to him, the raw emotion vanished from her voice, but the hatred clinging deeper as she spoke. "You told him, 'I told you not to trust me.'"

Her words caught him off guard, only momentarily, but enough for the woman whom he'd grown up with as a child to recognize the involuntary confession made during his brief second of hesitation. Because she knew, somehow, Cat knew. It must have been Sansa's visions, he realized too late, she must have seen this after her father's death. Either that, or the son they whispered a greenseer.

"Whatever you've heard, I assure you..."

"Speak one more word Littlefinger, and your Dragon Queen be damned, I'll call Brienne and order her to split you in half."

There was no speaking reason to her, because however she'd found out, Cat knew the truth. Walking alone through this horridly cold and empty castle, he thought he felt a child all over again, the rejection, the loss, the complete sapping of his hope, that all was lost, and the woman he loved with all his life would never, ever be his to have.

Then he remembered Sansa, the girl's outburst outside, hearing of her brother's very gentle imprisonment. It was hard to reconcile the frantic girl he saw, with the wise and bewitched sage they spoke of, the girl who crowned a king, then guided his reign, from one war to another, until they'd arrived at this so-called Great War. But then, it seemed she was prone to fainting. She'd fainted before too, hadn't she, when he stood next to Cersei, who was Queen then, when they'd asked together for the poor girl to condemn her father and betray her brother. That was when she'd first spoken of the Dragons, he realized, perhaps that was the first of her visions. Would she awake anew in Winterfell with new visions that would doom them all?

But gods was she beautiful, now that she was grown, blossomed into a woman in full, he saw that she was more beautiful than her mother had ever been, or ever will be. He didn't know why she'd hate him, except that she might've seen what transpired between he and Ned Stark in King's Landing, damn that man and his family, always standing between himself and what he coveted...what was due him.

Ned Stark's dead. Robb Stark's a foolish boy. And Sansa Stark a beautiful woman.

Yet still a girl. Perhaps Catelyn was a lost cause, she was an old woman, and stubborn at that, he'd always known that about her. But if he could get a word in with Sansa, and truly explain himself, he could talk her into seeing reason. And he'd be saving her life, Littlefinger reminded himself. The Dragon Queen was not one to forgive or overlook those whom she saw as her enemies, and though Daenerys may deny it, Petyr knew from the way her eyes flared whenever Sansa's name was mentioned that whatever betrayal she'd experienced from the girl in her dreams had cut enough to engender a deep seeded hatred the Queen would not easily shake off, if ever. Yes, he needed to speak to Sansa, and convince her to follow and respect and obey the Dragon Queen. For now.

Then one day, all seven kingdoms would be theirs. Together.


Daenerys

The feast was small, subdued, somewhat quiet, the gloomy dark halls of Winterfell lacking really the space for minstrels or jesters and the like. Yet, it was her first great feast in Westeros, held in her honor, so the Stark boy would claim anyway, so the Mother of Dragons tried to make the most of it, taking generously the wine offered her, partaking graciously in the stilted conversations from lords anxious to gauge where they stood now that House Targaryen had finally made its return to the Seven Kingdoms. Yet she could not help herself, even as she felt the wine do its work in calming her nerves, from eyeing everyone in the hall, starting with Stannis Baratheon and going on down to the lowest of hedge knights, and trying to assess in her mind how they'd stack up in the great game, as either ally or enemy. And then there were the ones she'd already recognized as enemies.

But then the exhaustion seemed good for her, because with the dozens of lords she did meet, and those who showed promise within them, took her mind off all the enemies still lying about in this corner of the world. The Stark girl, whose absence at the feast was much whispered about, along with her outburst before everyone in the courtyard earlier that day...Robert Baratheon's widow, whom she'd seen usurping her throne in her dreams, sitting in a corner with the father and son who'd conspired to murder her entire family, eyeing her hateful looks while sucking down glass after glass of wine. There was another absence, a face without a name, a man who claimed to be a Dragon, whom she might meet whenever the wildlings and their King arrived south, fleeing the advance of the White Walkers Euron Greyjoy's actions had unwittingly brought about.

"That's Ser Andrey Dalt," Tyrion explained next to her, at the approach of a young man she recognized to possibly be Dornish in complexion.

"He was once heir to Lemonwood," Littlefinger whispered from her other side, "until his brother Deziel had a son two years ago."

It was moments like this that she missed Jorah the most, and while Tyrion and Baelish likely knew far more about all the Westerosi houses and lords and ladies than he did, neither one of them could make her feel warm and safe and protected with each introduction to every new stranger as Ser Jorah.

"Not the brightest boy," Tyrion added, just before the young man came within earshot of their whispers, "though he'd been one of the suitors to Princess Shireen...and came surprisingly close to gaining her hand, based on what I've heard."

"Your Grace," the young man bowed before her, and she couldn't help but feel the dash of charm floating out of his bright eyes and warm smile. "It's a pleasure to finally make your acquaintance."

"The pleasure's mine," she replied, the glass of wine lingering just beyond the edge of her lips. The man was quite handsome, and she'd almost forgotten about the business of politics for the moment. "They tell me you were a suitor for the Princess Shireen's hand in marriage?"

"I was," Ser Andrey replied, unshaken by her question. "My heart was broken when the Crown Princess selected Lord Edric, but he's a fine young man, and I respect her decision all the same."

"I'm well acquainted with your Prince Oberyn," she began. "I got to know him when we were pursuing the Greyjoy band in the Stepstones. Many of his bannermen came to our aid at the orders of Prince Doran...yet we haven't had the pleasure of meeting each other until now."

"I remained in King's Landing, Your Grace. If I wasn't good enough for the Princess Shireen's hand, I hope to still honor my family by fighting well in this Great War, perhaps well enough to gain a place in Stannis's Kingsguard afterwards."

Making it obvious as she looked the young knight up and down, she replied him with a smirk on her face. "A shame, what the Princess Shireen's decision would rob the realm of."

From the side of her eye, she saw the Half Man's approval, playing the game as he'd taught her. "Don't promise yourself to anyone, but give them all hope for what the future may bring, with Daenerys of House Targaryen on the Iron Throne."

"At least I'll still have wine," Andrey laughed off, though it seemed that her charms had made some amount of impression upon the young man. He bowed again, and raised his glass towards her. "I look forward to more drinks shared in your presence, Your Grace."

So on and on it went, the games, the hidden looks and meanings, until she felt her soul wholly sapped, given away to all the would be sycophants whose loyalty she'd need to win over one day. But Tyrion and Petyr had both warned her how trying court life in Westeros could be, but also how it would eventually get easier for her. Or she could just ignore it, she supposed, like Robert did, so long as her Small Council was trustworthy.

"You think you're something, don't you? You and your dragons?"

The former Queen's words jolted her out of her musing. With the feast over, she and all the other lords were conversing the room in small groups. Somehow Cersei Lannister found her alone, with Tyrion drinking beside his brother and Littlefinger having ducked out of the feast early, the former Master of Coin uncomfortable beside all the enemies he'd made during his tenure in King's Landing.

"Excuse me," she asked, unsure of whether to address Cersei by her former title.

The woman smiled at her, but it was a bitter smile. Daenerys could smell the alcohol on her breath, could see her knees quivering under the weight of all the wine she'd drank, but the hatred and contempt in her eyes towards her, a woman the former Queen had never met, Daenerys had seen before.

You covet the throne, still. For yourself, not for a husband or a son. I know this, because my dreams told me this.

"When I was a girl, all I dreamed of was marrying your brother Rhaegar. To be a dragon myself."

"Yet you married the man who killed him."

"Politics," Cersei tried laughing. "Since when do we highborn ladies, the supposed jewels and flowers of the realm, have any choice in who we're sold off to marry?."

Don't trust her poison, even when she's trying to play nice.

"I assume you've learned much of politics from your time as Robert's Queen." Tyrion had warned her of his sister. That she was indeed clever to a certain degree, a low cunning, he'd described, but that Cersei was also far more ambitious than she was clever, and far less clever than she believed herself to be.

"Oh, I try to forget those dreadful years." Her hair fell far longer than the woman in her dreams, but Daenerys had recognized and matched the two faces the moment she first glanced upon the former Queen in the courtyard earlier. "It took my breath away, seeing those dragons so high in the air today. I did wonder sometimes...when I was a child, the other children told me Prince Rhaegar could change into a dragon at night. But what did I know, silly girls and their dreams?"

She's plotting something. She's playing nice because she thinks it'll hide her deception, but she's a poor actor.

"Sometimes," Daenerys replied, trying to sound diplomatic but probably failing, because she was not good at acting, nor did she ever enjoy the mask of pretense, "the dreams of girls do become reality."

"Pity us poor lords then," a deeper voice said from behind her.

"Lord Stark."

"No need for formalities," the Lord of Winterfell protested, "call me Robb."

As she shifted her attention to the young man, she saw in the corner of her eye the former queen slithering away.

"Robb then." He was stern, and serious, and up to his neck in honor...everything Lord Tyrion had told her. Yet there was something about his eyes that told her he was more than just concerned about his stray siblings...that he was holding something back from her. "How's your sister faring?"

"She's in bed with fever, the journey north must have been too much for her, all things considered," he bowed clumsily, enough to pay respect, but lacking the obeisance due a monarch. "Your Grace, I apologize on my sister's behalf for the scene this afternoon."

"I understand," she tried reassuring him diplomatically, "it's your family, that can't be easy, keeping them in line."

A voice rang inside her head, echoes from a dream. The Stark girl's voice.

"Families are complicated..."

"Aye, it can be complicated," Robb Stark agreed. "Sansa...she's been through a lot, being captive to the Lannisters...watching our father's execution."

"Yet she's married to a Lannister now, and given birth to an heir to the family."

"The King commanded it, for the peace. And Tommen is certainly not Joffrey..."

No, he isn't. I never dreamed of Joffrey sitting on the Iron Throne. But Sansa Stark's husband...

"Again, Lord Stark, you have no need to apologize."

"So you'll help us then? Against the dead?" She could smell the ale in his voice as well, his questions coming out clumsy enough to make the man sound boyish, though Daenerys judged him to be about the same age as she.

He seems to eager to seal my agreement. He's surprised it's coming so easily.

"I've seen the Army of the Dead with my own eyes, Lord Stark. They must be defeated." Narrowing her eyes, she watched his reaction at her next words. "There'll be terms, to be sure."

"Which we'll discuss tomorrow," he added expectantly. The man seemed decent, though there remained something about him she could not yet put her finger upon. Daenerys hoped he would bend the knee to her in time, and hand over this wildling King who could be the man she dreamed of if need be, else Littlefinger had his other contingency plans for the North...ones which may not be kind to House Stark.

"Yes, we'll have much to discuss tomorrow." But then a thought came to her, just as she was about to depart to the chambers her hosts had prepared for her. "Your half brother, Jon Snow..."

"He's a good man," Robb said immediately, defending his blood, "he's a man of honor, and his word...I know it wasn't his intent to desert the Watch."

"The truth will be revealed, I'm sure at the trial. But in the meantime, may I meet him?"

"Of course you can."

Robb Stark's face was befuddled, this request being the last one he'd expected, what with so much diplomacy to settle with Stannis before the Great War. But something told her she needed to meet this Jon Snow, because it concerned Sansa Stark, who was her enemy, that much she was assured of...and she needed to know her enemy, starting with this half brother of hers who meant so much so as to cause her a fainting fit before her own King.

Trailing behind the young Stark lord, she found herself familiar with this castle, its mortarwork, its shadows, and hallways. Just like she'd been familiar with the Great Pyramid before she'd stepped foot in it...

I've been here before. I've dreamed this.

The young lord knocked on an unassuming door, interrupting her reverie. A young man with dark black hair answered the door, and Daenerys Targaryen found herself staring into the dark eyes of the man who had stuck a knife into her heart.


All my enemies are here.

"All my enemies are here," she told Littlefinger, summoning him to her quarters late in the night.

"Good," he answered her, perplexing her in his way. "Better they plot beneath your eyes, than hidden and unseen in the shadows."

"Jon Snow," she repeated the name, like she had over and over and over again, the moment the Stark boy escorted her to her chambers, where the usurper Robert once slept before. "He's a bastard. He's a deserter of the Watch. I don't understand, why would I dream of him a King...that he'd claim to have the blood of the Dragon?"

"Dreams are funny things."

"Not mine." Her heart ached, and before she could control herself, she found herself bursting into tears once more. "I left them there, Petyr. Yara...Grey Worm...Missandei! Ser Jorah! I left them at Hardhome, to die."

In company, she could be distracted. Alone, she felt that terrible cold again, and remembered how the terrifying blue eyes of the dead and the monsters that controlled them made her feel that day...that chill, that horror, that unspeakable taste of death upon her own lips which haunted the nightmares stalking her every night since Hardhome.

"You had no choice. As you said, they were already dead, by the time you'd returned to the battle."

The older man paced the room, taking care not to comfort her too intimately, even though that was what she wanted. Not in any romantic way, she'd never consider that...but as a...father...the calm guiding voice she hadn't heard since Jorah's death, and Barristan's before that.

"I failed them then. They died because of me."

Jorah loved me. He's dead. Daario loves me still. I left him halfway across the world.

The man they called Littlefinger dropped onto his knees before her, surprising her with his rare display of the dramatics. "I'd die for you, Your Grace. I'd be happy to, it'd be the greatest honor that can be bestowed upon my name. They all died for you too...they died so you can be where you are now, within sight of your birthright, your Throne. Honor their deaths by taking what is yours, my Queen, so that they did not die in vain."

"I'm so close, yet so far." Looking at Littlefinger, barely the strength to lift her own head, she spoke. "You were all right, you, Tyrion, the banker. Stannis is strong, his lords respect him, even if they don't love him. They'll accept my help for this battle, but they blame me for letting the dead across the Wall in the first place...I see it in their eyes. Maybe Stannis will grant me Dragonstone afterwards...I think that's the most I could expect of him..."

"Then take it. Don't wait for them to give you what is rightfully yours."

"If only were it so easy," she muttered, wondering where Tyrion was. Probably with his family, she realized. Though the Half Man had little love for his sister or father, he'd never hidden his closeness with his brother...the man who'd killed my father. Or his nephew Tommen...another traitor, who'd dare to sit on my throne. "Everyone I've dreamed will betray me, they're all here under Winterfell's roof...they'll all race to place a knife in my heart the moment I make any move."

"Act before they can act."

"How?"

Again the man paced the cold room, every twitch of his mind one step further towards her own salvation, she dared to hope. "The trial is key," he began, speaking as he continued to think and walk at the same time. "Perhaps Sansa would look to betray you, because you'd rule against her bastard half-brother."

"You think it's that easy? You'd want me to set free the man who'd one day have reason to kill me?"

Littlefinger nodded. "I wouldn't worry too much about the Starks. They care about Winterfell...for their family...and little else. And you're their guest, they would be the last family in all Westeros to violate guest rights...so long as you're in Winterfell, you're safe from them." Approaching her again, he knelt beside her, whispering as if their enemies could hear them in the privacy of her own room.

"I doubt their bastard cares much about guest rights."

"So have him killed then," he said, shocking her with his bluntness. "But don't let the realm know, don't let Sansa Stark know, don't kill her brother openly and thus give her cause to become the enemy you fear her to be." Rising, he walked towards the fire, gently tending to it with a poker. "Besides, it's the Lannisters I'd worry more about. You say you saw Robert's widow sitting upon the Iron Throne?"

"And her son, Tommen." Married to Sansa Stark. What a neat web it was that her traitors wove.

"Most think her weak," he continued, his face hidden in the shadows of the flames. "And so she is, for now, but Cersei Lannister has more ambition in her little finger than Robert could ever think to have. If what you dream is true, then I wouldn't put it past her to be plotting against you and Stannis at the same time, to reclaim the throne for her own family, for her last surviving son." Turning to face her, he issued his proclamation. "She's the enemy you need to fear most, her and her father."

Leaning forward in her chair, she felt her body invigorated once more, because she no longer had to be a bystander, because she was in the game now, and from this moment forward, it would be her own choices, rather than the oppression of others, that would give her what she wanted, that would ensure that all those who died at Hardhome did not die for nothing.

"What exactly ought I fear from the Lannisters, Lord Baelish?"

"I don't know," he admitted. "But I'll find out."

Chapter Text

Sansa

She could hardly control her breathing, confined to the bed as she grew up in. Not that the former Lady of Winterfell was truly confined against her wishes in her own home, but she appreciated the time to breathe, to calm herself, and think. And because her bed was far more preferable than facing all the demons out there, the Dragon Queen, and Littlefinger, the slippery traitor who'd slithered into their home again, following this new Queen he'd found for himself.

Thorne had been trouble, as she'd predicted, the Umbers were trouble, she'd warned Robb from the very beginning, so she ought to be thankful at the very least that Jon hadn't gotten into trouble until now, that Robb hadn't been more severely betrayed yet. Now she was here, and she could solve things...but could she? The Dragon Queen's arrival meant everyone who had power before saw their power diminished now, up to and including the King Stannis. Not that Robb was powerless, but he was unwilling to use it, so ironically, she found herself thinking about Tywin Lannister, and how he had somehow become the only reliable person she could count on in Winterfell.

"I brought you lemoncakes." Tommen's voice surprised her, was it already morning? Had an entire day and night already passed, did she somehow sleep through all of it? She must have, tracking back the rays of the sun from the floor of her bedroom through the east facing window above. "I just checked on Neddy, he's awake, but Osha's watching him right now, so if you need more rest after you eat, you can."

"Thanks Tommen," she smiled at him, in genuine gratitude, even as her mind panicked at just what had transpired while she had...fainted? She remembered thinking about Jon, and Robb and the Dragon Queen in her bed, trying to decipher how Jon's imprisonment would further complicate her plans...she remembered Tommen by her side as she frowned and thought and...slept? Dreamt? Vague memories came to her, a dark room lit by fire, her husband placing a damp linen across her head, raising a cup of warm water to her lips.

"Was I...did I sleep...I slept through everything...?"

Tommen nodded. "Maester Luwin said you'd suffered an awful fever."

"I did?" She did not remember this.

He placed his hand over her forehead, and tried smiling at her. "You feel better now. We were all worried about you, your family...and Shireen too."

Frowning, she realized her dress was soaked, her arms and back moist with sweat. More memories of the night before returned to her, how hot she'd felt under her blankets, her entire body resembling like one giant ache, how Tommen had tried to comfort her, how she'd brushed him away, yearning for nothing more than to lose herself in her misery.

"Was I bad to you, Tommen, last night?"

"Not at all," he replied, too quickly. "You stirred a lot, I think you were talking in your sleep too..."

"What was I saying," she froze, horrified and wondering what she could have given away, but Tommen only frowned in confusion.

"You were talking about Stannis, I think."

"Stannis?"

He nodded. "You kept repeating, 'long may you reign, long may you reign.'"

"Right, Stannis." Grabbing at a lemoncake, she ate it too quickly for her liking, though the sugar revived her body with energy., leaving her less depleted than before. Rising, ignoring the pain in her side, she felt Tommen's hands supporting her back and helping her up to her feet. "What's happened yesterday? With Stannis, and Robb, and the Dragon Queen?"

Was it over, was she too late?

"Nothing, I don't think." Still focused on keeping her upright, her husband somehow spared a hand to reach for another lemoncake, handing it to her carefully. "Everyone was so tired from their travels, I think they just all retired to their rooms after the feast. I heard uncle Tyrion and Jaime and Ser Bronn had a good sparring session in the courtyard late last night...but other than that, the King isn't meeting with Queen Daenerys's council until later this afternoon."

So she had time. Gods, was she actually sick now? If so, this was the worst timing for it. Placing one foot tentatively in front of the other, she found that walking came easier than she'd expected. Looking back at Tommen, she saw he was still deathly worried for her, yet too afraid to express directly to his wife his concerns she was moving far too quickly for her condition. Twirling back into grasp, she took his head, brought it close to hers, and kissed him, locking their lips together, as they'd last done at their second wedding ceremony in Baelor's Sept.

"Thank you Tommen," she said warmly, truly appreciative of his seemingly infinite loyalty, how he'd never left her side even when she was at her feverish worst. "I really don't know where I'd be without you."

Her gesture left him the one short of breath, and he could only smile sweetly at her in response. "They're eating breakfast," he suddenly remembered. "Your family...Lady Talisa invited me when I was getting the cakes...I think they might still be eating..."

Robb. "Come," she tugged at his sleeves, eager to leave the confines of her room.

"But...you already ate two cakes..."

Sansa grinned slyly at her husband. "Are you calling me fat, Tommen?"

"Gods no!"

Kissing him again, this time on his forehead, she laughed, to tell him she wasn't serious. "You need to eat too, I doubt you can survive on lemoncakes alone..."


"Robb sends his regards."

If it was a fever, it had been a fast passing one, and she already felt like herself by the time she found her way to Jon's room. Setting down the plate of breads, meats, and butter, she watched her brother grab eagerly at the food.

"Are they starving you, in your own home?"

"No," Jon said, his mouth full, a smile upon his face despite the fact, "I think they just forget about me sometimes, especially considering all the guests we have now." Washing down the food with a glass of milk, he laughed. "I'm glad you're alright. Not the homecoming either one of us was expecting, was it?"

"Arya's sparring with Brienne, she'll be here to see you soon." It was a half truth. Her sister would probably spar with her mother's sworn sword later in the day, but for now, there was a certain dagger belonging to a certain Littlefinger she'd told her about during breakfast, not so subtly suggesting that she ought steal it from the man.

The mention of their sister was sure to bring about a smile upon Jon's face. "She's come and seen me more than anyone since they put me here. More than even Robb...though I'm sure you'll challenge her for that honor now that you're home."

Marveling her brother could still smile, even while his life lay unjustly in the balance, Sansa wished she could do more. At least Robb had said the trial would come after the Battle. With any luck, she would no longer need to rely on Stannis or Daenerys by then.

"Robb's told me they're safe, Ygritte and the wildlings you brought south. They've regrouped with Mance's army, and they're all marching south in force to defend Winterfell...the Umbers or Karstarks won't dare touch them when they're all together."

"I couldn't believe they'd defy Robb like that," Jon muttered, sipping at the cup of warm tea she'd brought him. "The King commanded them to make peace."

"And Robb commanded them to enforce the peace amongst the wildlings." Biting her lips, she knew she couldn't blame Robb for the mistake, it was her own fault, her absence from Winterfell keeping her from constantly nagging at her brother to be careful with his decisions. "He trusts too much the honor of the lords sworn to him."

"Aye, seems a problem with us Starks, trusting too much."

A shadow from her past. "I'm not a Stark."

"Just the men," Sansa reminded him, and Jon grinned again, and so did she, grateful that none of her brothers were beholden or bedeviled by the Dragon Queen this time around. "Robb says Daenerys visited you last night."

She awaited his response with bated breath.

"She did." Her brother shook his head. "She's pretty, I'll grant you that. There's something about her eyes..."

Was he serious? Could this be happening again? To her relief, he chuckled again, taking her shoulder with his free hand. "Don't worry, I haven't fallen for her or anything."

"Good," she chided, more harshly than she intended. "I'll have Ygritte shoot you again if that happens, in...where you won't be falling in love with anyone ever again."

"I believe you." But then her brother frowned. "It won't happen, especially since she didn't seem to care for me all that much."

Robb had said the same thing too, and it had Sansa concerned, that Daenerys would be cold to Jon, and how different that sounded from the woman who had loved her brother in her own way, until King's Landing. "Did she say anything to you?"

"Nothing really. Something about how it was good for her to finally meet me, then she left. Guess she's got no reason to give me a second look, now that I'm just a bastard, instead of a bastard king."

Finally. Odd. Hadn't Daenerys only learned about Jon's trial that morning?

"It's not fair," she said, Jon's plight from both lives heavy upon her mind. "You did the right thing, Jon. I'll make sure you don't suffer for it, I promise you, I'll make things right."

"I don't doubt you will," Jon replied, though his eyes were uncertain. Not, Sansa understood, because he didn't believe in her, but because he probably didn't want to know just what she'd have to do make true upon her words. And sure enough, he tried changing the subject. "The trial will be ugly, I imagine. They've been taking any excuse, any rumor of even a brawl to encroach into the Gift and kill off isolated clans or bands. Including the women and children, sometimes. If I'm declared innocent, I imagine Robb may have no choice but to put some of his own most powerful lords on trial."

"It won't come to that," Sansa promised, her voice hardened from memories of betrayal past and present. "There won't be a trial. Not for you, and not for any lords disloyal to us."

Her words and the tone in which she said them must have scared him, but she could not control herself, not when they threatened her family so dearly again. And Ygritte too, she'd been in danger as well, and Sansa had come to adore the young woman.

"They'll suffer the fate of all traitors."


Tyrion

"Podrick, my old friend!"

"Lord Tyrion," the chubby faced squire exclaimed in surprise. Except his face was leaner than before, his frame less flabby, more solid. "I heard you'd come back with the Dragon Queen!"

"Did you miss me, Podrick?" His question was unnecessary by the sincerely of their embrace.

"I worried for you," the young squire said anxiously. "I'm glad you're back...and I hope they're able to work something out, your Queen, and King Stannis."

"Oh, it's done!" He didn't bother trying to hide the joy in his own voice, because it was cause for celebration, or so the jug of Dornish red he held unabashedly in his hands spoke for all who'd seen his happy procession through the Starks' dreary castle since the council's conclusion.

"What do you mean it's done," Podrick wondered. "It's barely mid-afternoon, Lady Catelyn expected the negotiations to last for several days...and Maester Luwin said he didn't think they'd come to an agreement until the dead were already rattling down our gates."

"I would've agreed with your Maester Luwin," Tyrion laughed, again reveling in his own happy disbelief, "but it's done in half an afternoon of talk! It's all settled! The alliance, the succession...if only defeating an army of the dead could be so easy!"

"What happened then," the boy asked befuddled, and Tyrion was happy to explain.

They ought to be ringing the bells here, and across all the land, to celebrate and tell the realm this wonderful news.

"It was Robb Stark's idea, actually."

"Lord Robb?" Apparently Podrick hadn't been too impressed by his new lord's political acumen either.

"I'm as surprised as you, Pod. But he brought up the matter of Queen Daenerys's inability to bear children." Podrick frowned. "Not the best way to start a negotiation, I'll grant you, in light of just exactly how Her Grace became infertile. And the gods know where your lord learned of the fact, my guess is Sansa somehow knew it, just like she knew Daenerys would have her dragons back in King's Landing, before Daenerys herself even knew it, I dare say, and she must have mentioned that to her brother."

Moving his eyes along to Tyrion's story, Podrick slowly grasped at the truth of it. "So Daenerys wouldn't have an heir...even if she's to marry someday."

"It's always been a point of concern for myself too, the matter of who'd succeed her."

"Who is it then," Podrick asked with a shrug.

"The Princess Shireen." Seeing the boy's confusion, he continued. "Our Queen will retain her title as Queen of the Bay of Dragons. But in Westeros, she will take the title of Crown Princess, as Stannis's first heir. Lacking the ability to continue her line, Her Grace will mentor the young Shireen, and prepare her to one day take her place on the throne...or Shireen's heirs, should Daenerys outlive her."

"Wow," Podrick's eyes lit up. "It's so simple!"

"Only a northman could come up with such a simple plan, I suppose." Taking a deep chug of his wine, he handed the jug to Podrick, who looked around nervously before taking his own modest sip. "Drink up, young Pod, and thank your gods we've avoided yet another unnecessary war!"

The young man frowned, and not because of the taste of the wine. "Does this mean you can stay in Westeros, then?"

"The King has issued a pardon for all the exiles in Queen Daenerys's court, so long as they bend the knee to him first, and swear loyalty to his crown."

"I'm glad then," the young man's smile widened. "You should come visit Winterfell often, after it's all over, it's not so bad here."

Tyrion erupted in laughter, the sound coming easily from his chest, and he swore he felt lighter than he had in years. "Seems you're drunk already, Pod...though I guess the bleakness and dreariness of the North can grow on certain people." Taking back his wine, he clapped the man on his back. "Tell me, what busies you these days, besides polishing the Lady Brienne's boots?"

"Well, I try to avoid that Bronn fellow your brother brought here. He keeps offering to help me spar, but I think he just uses it as an excuse to beat me up."

"Sounds like the Bronn I remember..."


Robb

For once, he felt nearly his sister's equal, to lead a Great Council, and determine the fate of kings and queens and the realm alike. Not that such lofty goals ever fell within the realms of his ambition, but there was relief in the fact that, rather than quibble over inheritances and families and dynasties and the like, because of his words, the realm could all come together to fight off the Army of the Dead, whose reality was made clear by the Dragon Queen's own account.

And it had all started from an offhand comment from his sister at breakfast.

"I don't even know why she cares about the Throne so much, to be honest. She can't bear children, so her dynasty ends with her."

And he'd questioned her, whether she'd designated an heir in her last life, "don't think she'd thought that far ahead", why the last of the Targaryens was infertile, "I'm not sure, something about a witch poisoning her", and how she'd come to know this in the first place, "Jon mentioned it offhand, and I asked Bran about it before I left Winterfell."

She didn't seem the monster Sansa had described, though Robb knew well enough to believe his sister, considering how right she'd been about everything else, from the dragons, to the dead, to the odd skills Arya and Bran had returned to Winterfell with. But Targaryen girl seemed reasonable, though this was before she'd fallen into her madness, he figured, hadn't Aerys been thought of as a promising king in the beginning? But with someone more reasonable than the Cersei Lannister Sansa had described on the throne, surely a compromise, such a simple one given the knowledge of Daenerys's infertility, was possible. And the agreement did appear so simple that he wondered how someone as clever as Sansa hadn't thought of it herself first. Perhaps her own hatred, well earned, blinded her to this easy solution to a puzzle concerning a woman who'd burned her alive.

Though not all of the results sat well in his stomach, knowing what was to come, after the Long Night. They'd all agreed with Sansa betray the Dragon Queen at the last Council, Stannis and Tywin Lannister and himself, he supposed, by consenting to all the Council's secret decrees. He was already more than complicit in the conspiracy, having sent the captive they'd found in Harrenhal to Casterly Rock, so as to build the mechanisms which would come to kill the dragons which were about to save Winterfell and the realm itself. And while he'd grant Sansa that the Dragon Queen could seem cold and rather...intense at times, possibly portending of a deeper ruthlessness, other times she just looked a scared little girl, unable to hide her grief at all the close friends and advisors she'd just lost to the Army of the Dead, even while he and Stannis and Sansa sat fat and happy in their castles.

He needed to find Sansa, who'd disappeared almost immediately following the Council meeting, betraying little of whether she'd been happy or sad or merely indifferent about its resolution. Perhaps they didn't have to betray the Dragon Queen after all, perhaps with this compromise, she'd no longer feel the need to burst out in madness and destroy entire cities. It was a long shot, he knew, because talking men like Tywin and Stannis out of the course they'd already set would not be easy, but he needed to know, he needed at the very least that repeated from his sister that he hadn't just condemned to death an innocent, frightened girl.

"The Lady Sansa has instructed that no visitors approach her chambers."

Robb frowned. "I'm her brother."

"I'm sorry," the sentry said, one of his own men, he recognized. "She said not even the King could enter."

"Well I'm not the King, I'm Lord of Winterfell. This is our home, Sansa has nothing to fear from me." Shrugging, the guard reluctantly let him continue down the hallway. Slipping open the door to his sister's room, he heard the deep, elegant voice belonging to a much older man emanate from within.

"...so we'll need to make our move immediately after the battle?"

Then his sister's voice. "She won't let Stannis survive the Long Night, or if he does, I doubt he lives long afterwards. But nevertheless, we need to keep the Scorpions several days' march back, and hidden, until she's made her move against Stannis."

"What is the meaning of this," Robb asked, barging in, his lips quivering as he felt the growing tempest in his heart. Both his sister and Tywin Lannister jumped up from their chairs at the sound of his voice, and it was plain from their expressions they'd been caught, that neither he, nor another soul, especially not the King, had been meant to overhear the words they'd just been exchanging.

The older man quickly regained his composure, and looked expectantly at Sansa instead, signalling that she ought to be the one to explain themselves to her brother. Meanwhile, Sansa just looked dumbly at him, mouth agape but unable to speak.

"You planned this," Robb asked, his voice rising, when she maintained her silence.

"I had no choice," she finally admitted.

Swiftly, he turned to old Tywin. "Have you threatened my sister? What do you have over her, what..."

"Robb!" She no longer looked startled, or ashamed, but her eyes bore down against his with all the boldness of an equal, of one who had been his equal in another life. "Lord Tywin hasn't forced me to do anything."

"Explain," he ordered.

"Both Stannis and Daenerys have to die. It's the only way to free the North. It's the only way to save Jon, and make him a free man."

Silence, as he absorbed fully his sister's complicity to treason, and his own part she'd manipulated him into unwittingly taking.

"How long have you planned this, the two of you?"

"Since the beginning," she said, firmly, not yielding him an inch, "the same night as the Council."

They'd turned to her, during the council this prior afternoon, when the offer had been extended, and both sides left to confer with their own.

"Can we trust her," Stannis had asked Sansa directly, "to abide by our agreement, to work with us...and not harm Shireen until...our plans after the Great War's been carried out?"

"We can," Sansa had answered calmly after a moment's pause, as Tywin watched on, Robb realized now, in knowing silence. "Shireen will be safe, because Daenerys cares little about what comes after her. But that doesn't mean she doesn't understand patience, she didn't take three cities without the full use of her dragons lacking it. It'll be enough to temper her immediate ambition, I think, and she takes seriously the promise of a vow, the honor and memory of her House and all the traditions her ancestors laid down before us."

"You brought me into this," Robb said, his voice shaking as he spoke, "you made me betray my own king..."

"She hates me," Sansa shouted back. "I don't know why, but she's hated me the moment I've stepped foot into my own home! She never would have accepted the idea, had it come from my mouth."

"Aye, she hates you, because you're a..." He stopped himself from finishing his immediate thought, but it was too late.

"Because I'm a what, Robb? Say it if you mean it." It was his turn to silence, and when he did not speak, she stood and walked towards him, challenging him further. "What are you going to do, Robb? Tell Stannis of my treason, and betray your own sister, the sister who saved you and your wife and your children, and condemn her to a traitor's death? Do you think it's been easy for me, plotting against a man I served and respected, plotting against the father of a woman I've come to love as a friend?"

"That makes it even worse," Robb nearly screamed, even though she stood just befor ehim, "that you know how...disgusting your crimes are, yet you're still determined to commit them!"

"Crimes," Sansa shouted back in disbelief. "Tell me Robb, what crimes would you have been willing to commit, had I told you of your fate but done nothing more to prevent it. Just what crimes would you have been willing to commit to protect your family? Or let me guess, you'd let them destroy us, like you did...like you could have done, just for the sake of honor? How many people have to die for your honor, Robb? Would you condemn Jon to die too, because you refuse to do what you have to do to save him? Is that how you would have ruled the North, as a bystander, watching impassively while your enemies plotted and gained strength against you? Is that justice, to helplessly put into harm's way Talisa and Lyanna and..."

"Keep my family's names out of your mouth!"

Her words wounded him, because he knew them to be true. Yet they angered him, because he knew her to be true. He found that he couldn't think, it fell so far beyond his scope of judgment, he realized, for such philosophical questions...whose life was more important? Stannis's, or Jon's? Would he have betrayed a man in cold blood during the war, for the sake of the cause he'd once so fervently fought for? All he knew was that this felt so wrong...that there was no true justification to what she'd been planning to do for years...else why would she have kept this a secret from him all this time?

"I won't tell Stannis," he heard himself saying. "I won't tell Daenerys." Her shoulders sunk in visible relief, yet his beloved sister's reactions to his pronouncement only further inflamed his heart, all while Tywin Lannister, the very man who had murdered him and their mother and Talisa in her last life, grinned in amusement at this little siblings' quarrel of theirs.

She used me. And she got away with it. Now she thinks she can get away with anything, because big brother Robb will always forgive her.

"I want you to leave," he ordered, before he'd even realized his decision.

"Pardon me," she asked, more shocked now at his words than when he'd originally interrupted them.

"After the battle, after you and your Lannister kin have finished with all your foul plans...I want you to go back to your wretched castle in the south, your wretched throne, and stay there, and never return."

"You can't mean it."

"I do," he said, feeling more confident in his pronouncement the more he spoke. "You dishonor our family's name, you dishonor father's name." Taking a deep breath, he continued. "Don't ever come back to Winterfell. Do what you have to do, for the sake of family, so you'll tell yourself. But I won't have you corrupting the minds of my children with the ways of your new family."

She looked as if she were about to speak, but bit her tongue, holding back on a much hurtful insult as he'd just done minutes before. But their eyes held no secrets from each other.

Mother won't like this, he realized. But I'm Lord of Winterfell, this is my decision to make, not mother's.

"Fine," she accepted bitterly, though with surprising ease. "But so long as I'm still here, brother, you're intruding unwelcomed upon the chambers of a married lady."

Without a word he turned to leave, because he wasn't sure whether he would have screamed at her next, or burst into tears, the same as he'd done when hearing of father's death so many years ago. Because that's what his decision made just now truly meant, that he'd lost for good his sister.


Daenerys

Littlefinger handed her another scroll. "Word from Prince Oberyn, he expects to arrive in Winterfell by tomorrow night."

"And the Tyrells banners arrived this afternoon?"

"They have."

She set the scroll down. "Anything we can do to gain their support?"

"Lady Margaery once told me of her wish to become Queen, Your Grace. So short of marriage to yourself or Stannis, I doubt we'd be able to satisfy her fully. And anything we give her could give offense to the Martells."

Sighing, Daenerys massaged her temple with her fingers. If her exhaustion had already faded, what with nearly half a fortnight of waiting at Winterfell, waiting for all the realm's armies to arrive from the south, waiting for the dreaded Army of the Dead to arrive from the north, her heart still sat not just heavy with all she'd lost at Hardhome, but the reality of seeing face to face the heavy burden of this great game she'd been born to win.

"The Tarly's and Hightowers?"

"Disgruntled with Stannis, that's no surprise to us. But whispers are that they've become closer to House Lannister in his place."

"We have one new ally," she said wearily to him. "Lord Commander Thorne pledged his loyalty to me earlier today."

"He was a fervent supporter of your father's," Littlefinger replied.

"He commands what, a few hundred men?"

"He commands the Watch, and with it, the respect of the realm."

"No one respects the Watch," Daenerys said disgruntled, brushing away another scroll. "Not since Robert left it gathering dust more than twenty years ago. Not since Stannis emasculated the Order by letting the wildling army south." She paused to think, trying to piece together all the pieces of the jumbled puzzle before her. "If the Lannister are plotting in the Reach, that means they're plotting against Stannis. And I doubt on my behalf, which means they would be plotting against me at the same time."

"Your Grace is wise," Littlefinger answered cryptically, and she saw that his eyes danced with frenzied anticipation.

"You've learned something?"

As always, it was Petyr who stepped up when she needed the most help, what with Tyrion too busy chatting his brother up since their arrival at Winterfell. But perhaps that was why she'd always felt a kindred spirit with the man, because out of all her advisors, former or present, alive or dead, he knew what it meant to be alone, to grown up alone, like she had, with no family to trust when there was no one else to turn to, to fall back upon when the all the world's troubles seemed to weigh too heavy. Now, in Winterfell, only the two of them truly understood what it meant to stand a solitary figure, in a world defined by family.

"Do you remember Ser Andrey Dalt, Your Grace?"

"I do," she replied, unsure of where he was about to go next. "He seemed a charming enough lad."

"Yes, very charming, and so he has to be, for their purposes."

"Whose purposes?" The young knight of Lemontree made a point of approaching her at nearly every meal they'd taken in the Great Hall since the feast that first night, and Daenerys thought he might be almost crazy enough as to propose a marriage with her before they'd all left Winterfell. Not the worst prospect, she'd figured, but far from the most ideal.

"I saw him exchanging glances with Cersei Lannister that night, after he'd spoken to you. I had the both of them trailed...as discreetly as I could."

This was interesting. Just how many queens, current, former, or would be, was this young man pursuing? "And?"

"They find occasions to whisper to each other. My little birds did not hear what they said, but she did see Ser Andrey spend a night in the dowager Queen's chambers."

"That's all your gold's been able to buy? Sordid rumors of an affair?"

"Certainly, it was a good start. I then spoke to Harald Karstark, Lord Rickard's last surviving son."

"He supports us, right?"

"He does, where his father leans but still has not made up his mind."

Not that the Karstark support, nor Littlefinger's pledges from the Umbers and the Glovers, were as critical as before, now that she knew it was not Mance Rayder she needed to fear, but rather the bastard she currently shared a roof with. But support was support all the same. Robb Stark was the son of a traitor, after all, and while she would play nice with these families...Stark, Baratheon, Lannister...who'd betrayed her family before, such poisonous history made it that easier for her to cut her ties with them, should the need ever arise.

"So what does Harald Karstark have to say?"

"It's not what he said, but what he did," Littlefinger answered with a happy smirk. "I told Lord Harald to talk the boy up, spar with him during the day, drink with him at night, and keep feeding him drinks, and asking him questions."

"What kind of questions," Daenerys asked, scared but intrigued.

"The right ones. Questions about his future, about his whispers with Cersei Lannister."

"Let me guess, she promised him her hand in marriage?"

"No," Littlefinger gleamed triumphantly. "She promised him a seat in the Small Council."

The words startled her. Not that she didn't already suspect treason from her enemies, but it was one thing to know it in her mind, it was another to see all her enemies with her own waking eyes, then discover all her worst fears to be confirmed true.

"Certainly she does not speak for my Small Council."

And it would be her Small Council by then, because she'd had enough years as an heir, waiting for an inheritance to be given to her by traitors and usurpers. Littlefinger knew this, he'd encouraged it, because he understand the same wisdom as she did, in when to be merciful, and when to be ruthless, when it came to leading. Tyrion did not know this. Not because she distrusted him, but she kept it from him because, ironically, he seemed the least Lannister of all the Lannisters.

"What is to be done," she asked.

"You mean, what's already been done?"

She craned her neck at the man, feeling invigorated with every word which further emerged from her counselor's mouth. "You've arrested them?"

"You're the Crown Princess of the Realm now, which gives you recognized power in Winterfell, and all the seven kingdoms. Perhaps not so much to charge a former Queen of treason yet...but I ordered the Unsullied to arrest Ser Andrey in your name. His words were still slurred when I questioned him, but his answers proved clear indeed."

Reaching into his robe, Petyr pulled out a small vial.

"Poison," she asked, her heart skipping a beat. Just how close had she been to death, flirting thoughtlessly with the young Dornish knight?

"Meant for your wine, Your Grace."

Holding her hand out, she felt the small glass vial slip into her fingers, and lifted it before one eye, her vision distorted until all she could see, the room, the fire, Littlefinger, it all blurred except for the death in liquid form she held in her hand.

This was my fate. This was my destiny.

This is my escape, from my nightmares, my salvation.

"What do we do now," she asked, eyes still fixated upon the poison. "Do we bring this to Stannis, and have him punish the Lannisters on the eve of battle?"

"You're the Crown Princess of the realm," Littlefinger reminded her again, taking back the poison. "Make your own justice."

"Cersei Lannister will burn then," she said, gritting her teeth. If she's determined to hate me, let her receive my hatred in return. "Andrey Dalt will burn." Looking up at the man, she gave thanks that it was Littlefinger who'd uncovered this conspiracy, rather than Tyrion. "Is there any way we can prove Lord Tywin or Lord Jaime's involvement?"

"We don't need to do any of those things."

"How so?" The man's clever mind always seemed to elude her, his thoughts always several steps ahead of hers. If only she could retain his loyalty and counsel for the as long as possible, for the remainder of her reign.

"Recall your ancestor, Aegon the Usurper, who fed his sister, the Queen Rhaenyra, to the dragons. How did that bode for him?"

"He cursed himself, killing his own kin," she responded, confused as to where Baelish was leading her.

"He killed a Queen. Perhaps she was the rightful heir, perhaps not. But no one can deny that Cersei Lannister was once and unquestionably a Queen of the realm. By accepting the truce with King Stannis, you've inherently acknowledged yourself her legitimate position. What precedent would it set for your reign, Your Grace, if you began your legacy in Westeros by burning Queens?"

Gods, was Baelish going soft on her too? "What other choice do I have? We have proof of her treason," she yelled, standing and pointing at the vial Littlefinger held.

He raised his hands up in the air in a show of supplication, and she gasped, worried that he would drop the valuable vial. "You misunderstand me, Your Grace. I don't counsel you against seeking the justice you deserve...but let your justice be smart, let it be strategic, let it strike away in one fell swoop as many enemies as you can." Dropping the vial back into his robes along with his own hands, he approached his Queen until his face was nearly next to hers, as intimate as one lover to another. "Four and twenty years ago, Tywin Lannister robbed your family of its future. Here's your turn now, to return him the favor."

Understanding dawned, and the horror which came along with it. "You suggest burning Tommen Lannister in his mother's place?"

Littlefinger nodded coldly. "It may seem harsh, and the choice is yours to make, always. But as you've said yourself, you've dreamed of that boy usurping your throne."

"I have," she said, remembering, because how could she forget such things?

"What would cause Cersei Lannister to suffer more for her treachery, a quick death by dragonfire, or enduring the rest of her life knowing how she'd brought about, by her own actions, the death of her last son? What would cause Tywin Lannister more grief, to know that he's lost forever whatever claim his blood may have to the Iron Throne, to kill in the womb any dreams he's ever had of a dynasty springing forth from his blood, after he stained his hands with the blood of your family? With one sentence, you'll shatter the brittle alliance between Stark and Lannister which has kept the realm together for Stannis through nearly seven years, all while giving the King's Red Witch the king's blood she believes necessary for the sake of winning the battle...for the sake of all humanity."

It was true. Burning Cersei would eliminate one of her nightmares. Burning Tommen would eliminate both, with Cersei humiliated before the realm, and her heir dead.

"What about Tommen's son, with Sansa Stark?"

Littlefinger shook his head. "The Starks have always kept their eyes north, Your Grace. Leave them alone, don't make the mistakes of burning their lords and heirs as your father did. As for Lady Sansa, you see no real affection between husband and wife. The marriage, to a Lannister bastard, speaking truthfully, a foolish boy born of incest, was forced upon her, compliments of a grateful King, in return for her handing him a Crown. Let her keep her son, she may actually thank you one day for severing her ties with the family who murdered her father. Perhaps Lord Robb will take the execution of his sister's husband as an insult...but I doubt he'll shed any tears for a Lannister...not for long, anyhow. And if the Starks do give us trouble...well, we've long planned for that, haven't we?"

Everything he said made complete political sense. Yet she felt her hands shaking when she turned to look at him. "Whatever the crimes of Tommen's family, he's innocent of them...right?"

"Maybe," Petyr answered skeptically, "maybe not. Maybe he still craves the throne his brother once held. Maybe the young man truly believes Robert his father, I can't tell you his heart. But what I can assure you of, Your Grace, is the innocence of the infant Prince Aegon, your brother Rhaegar's son...and the innocence of the Princess Rhaenys, a child of three, both murdered by the Mountain, because of the orders of Tywin Lannister. Unlike Rhaegar's children, Your Grace, Tommen Lannister is no longer a child. Nor can he be dismissed as a viable threat upon your inheritance."

Her nerves clenching, Daenerys realized she needed this brutal reminder from Littlefinger about the past, for the sake of her future. "Yara Greyjoy wished mercy for her uncle. Look what mercy gave her, look what her mercy gave us."

"You'll have plenty of time for mercy, once the Great War is over, and you're sitting upon your rightful throne. But we're still at war right now, with the dead, and the living, the Lannisters having made their declaration clear. And you know better than anyone, Your Grace, that wars are not won by mercy alone."

"No," she replied, warming herself by the fire. "They're won by Fire and Blood."

Chapter Text

Stannis

He did look like his father, from what he remembered of a young Ned Stark, except with darker hair. Stannis had met him the last time at the Wall, but only briefly, leaving Jon Snow alone so that he could enjoy what little time he had with his visiting family. And the man would be a candidate for Lord Commander, though the bastard did not know it at the time, but Stannis knew, because Sansa Stark had been so convinced her brother would win the acclaim of his sworn brothers. That was why Stannis could not spend any undue time with the man at that time, so as to avoid interfering with the politics of the Night's Watch more than he already had.

But Jon Snow hadn't won, and so the man who'd been the one to lead the Great War in Sansa's visions now sat before him imprisoned and potentially facing a sentence as a deserter of the Watch, provided they won the battle first against the dead. He supposed he could pardon him before the battle, by the argument that they needed every sword they could muster for the battle, but though he was still King, he had a very powerful Crown Princess to answer to now, and wondered just what decisions he could make on his own, without consulting Daenerys or her court. Yes, he was the King, but by signing his agreement with her, he'd also set in stone the fate of his own daughter, that she could enjoy or suffer the weights of Queen Daenerys's crown once he was vanished from this world.

He reminded himself that needn't be his worry, because of what they'd planned for the Dragon Queen. Unless he'd somehow died during the battle. Then, he'd have to trust that Tywin Lannister could somehow carry through the remainder of the plans they'd made at the Great Council six years before, after which Sansa Stark would have to then more impossibly fend off Tywin Lannister and keep his daughter safe while Shireen took her crown, many years before she'd be ready.

He needed to survive the battle ahead.

"Your Grace," the Bastard of Winterfell knelt before him, surprised at his visit.

"Your sister speaks highly of you," Stannis muttered quietly.

"Aye, her only fault," Jon said meekly.

Did he know exactly what her visions meant for him? If so, maybe that could explain how the boy could act so brazenly, marching off on his own to help the wildlings. And while he may have been in the right, a vow was a vow, and Alliser Thorne was by all accounts the rightful Lord Commander of the Watch. There was the girl too, if the whispers were true, that Jon Snow had left Greyguard not out of duty, but because he was still in love with the wildling woman who'd come to Sansa Stark's wedding...were that truth to be determined at the trial, it would be hard for even Davos to determine that he'd acted true to his vows.

"She's been a loyal advisor for me."

"She's saved the realm, Your Grace," Jon reminded him, "bringing us all together to Winterfell, to fight the only wars that matter."

"You know it too?"

The bastard looked him in the eyes. "Against ice. And then against fire."

So he did know, of course he would, the Starks kept no secrets within their family. If only he and his brothers could have been so close.

"She didn't just crown me, she saved me, and my daughter. I was supposed be dead by the time you led the battle against the dead."

"I know," Jon said, sitting on his bed, eyebrows heavy with the weight of said burden lifted off his shoulders. What was worse, Stannis wondered? Knowing the full weight of your burden, or wondering what could have been your pride and legacy? "But then I lost the battle against the dragons, so it appears."

"One battle at a time boy," Stannis said, not wanting to think of the betrayal that was to come, were they to defeat the dead. He would reconsider things, if the Stark girl's words hadn't been proven so true most of the time, her prophecies about her brother leading the Watch excepted. The realm was better off without dragons, and the realm was better off without a mad Targaryen riding them, even though she wasn't mad just yet. Considering what he'd already been willing to do for the sake of duty, what he could have done in another horrifying existence...finishing his brother's work and ending the Targaryen line ought to weigh easier upon his conscience.

"You don't happen to know just how you won that battle, do you?"

"I don't," Jon replied with a wry smirk. "I'd tell you if I knew, but I never lived that life."

"No you didn't." So he'd have no help here, so why exactly did he come to see Jon Snow? Maybe to just meet the man, and see if he saw in Jon Snow's eyes a mirror of himself, to see if he'd measure up against a man whose success in the battle ahead had been assured in another life. There were similarities between them, he supposed...Ned Stark's bastard certainly had little compunction about doing what he had to do, regardless of the consequences which could befall himself...sacrificing his own life to go kill Mance...saving the wildlings from the Umbers. It appeared duty a heavy weight, whether king or bastard.

"Sansa trusts you," Jon said, while the two of them stood opposite the room, awkwardly not looking at each other. "She wouldn't have made you the King if she didn't believe you would be the right one to lead the war, in my place."

But just how much did she trust him, when she'd protested so vehemently, upon hearing how her bastard brother had lost the vote?

"I wish it doesn't be this way," he said, wandering the room dumbly. "Your father died for my claim. Your sister's helped me take my claim, and keep it. I know, all she's wanted from me, is to help you. I wish I could make her happy, but I can't."

"I understand," the bastard replied grimly, and Stannis couldn't help respect the man's calm resolve. "Everything I've done...it's because I thought it the right thing to do. But I knew the consequences of my actions, before I made them. And I accept that...I accepted it the moment I left Greyguard...I was protecting the realm, Your Grace...and the freefolk are a part of the realm now, by your own orders. I know Lord Commander Thorne may not see it that way, so be it. If I have to die, let it be at the hands of my brother, let it be knowing that I did what I thought was right, that I did what I thought was my duty."

"So be it then," Stannis said regretfully, knowing there was little more either one of them could say. But before he could leave, the bastard rose, and walked over towards his sheathed sword, and Stannis wondered whether his politeness had all been a ruse to somehow catch him off guard.

But the young man's eyes remained honest, as he gripped the massive weapon and handed it over to him.

"Your sword," he asked, seeing the wolf's head mounted on its hilt.

"Lord Commander Mormont's. Longclaw. I had it changed to a wolf's head...but it's Valyrian steel all the same."

The King shook his head. "I can't."

"A King ought not fight with mere dragonglass." When he didn't say more, the bastard continued, pressing the sword against his chest. "Like I said, I don't know how I won that battle, in a life I never lived. But I think it a good sign the man who leads us into it now wields the same sword."

He took the weapon into his hands, pulling the blade from its sheath, and examined the reflection his own face made along the sword's smooth surface.

"I wish you good fortune, in the war to come."

Taking the weapon, Stannis nodded his gratitude at the condemned man. "I'll return you this, after the battle."


Sansa

Something was wrong. Something did not add up, not at all.

"So, Lord Varys isn't in Mereen?"

Tyrion Lannister shook his head. "Lord Varys never came to Mereen. He accompanied myself and Ser Loras as far as Volantis, where we made our own way to Slaver's...no, my apologies, the Bay of Dragons."

She'd taken her time approaching the Half Man, not knowing just how he felt about her role in his banishment east, and knowing him clever enough to guess at her and Tywin's plots were she not careful enough. But all seemed forgiven and forgotten with Tyrion when they'd finally spoke, the small man overjoyed in his surprisingly naive notion that Houses Targaryen and Baratheon and Lannister could all come to an amicable agreement regarding the Iron Throne without betraying each other immediately afterwards. And Stark, she added in her mind.

He asked her, when she didn't speak at first. "Was Lord Varys coming to Mereen part of your visions, my lady?"

Sansa nodded. "And then coming west, as part of her court," she said, choosing her words carefully, knowing how little she could afford to reveal to a decent man who yet still served the Dragon Queen. "I knew that Lord Varys has always served the Targaryen cause, unknown to the rest of the realm."

"It's certainly odd, his disappearance. To be honest, I'd assumed him dead, that Stannis had somehow figured out his true loyalties, and had him discretely executed."

"I can promise you that's not the case," Sansa replied firmly, a growing realization in her mind at just what fate had befallen the Spider. "Tell me, Lord Tyrion, when was it you last had correspondence from Lord Varys?"

Tyrion frowned, counting the moons in his mind. "Nearly five years now..."

"And I presume that came some time before the day Petyr Baelish walked into your queen's pyramid in Mereen?"

"That's true," Tyrion began. "Are you suggesting...Littlefinger had something to do with Varys's death?"

"I'm saying Littlefinger murdered Lord Varys in cold blood, one way or another." She stood. "We should ask Bran now, he'd know what happened in an instant..."

"Why," Tyrion asked, and Sansa was astonished that he could be so ignorant.

"Because apparently, only Varys amongst all who knew Littlefinger in King's Landing knew of his true nature."

"I know Littlefinger, in King's Landing and Mereen," the dwarf said defensively. "It's true, he's had his less savory moments..."

"You trust him?"

"To a certain extent," he said, as if there was nothing wrong with that statement. "Where his interests align with our Queen's..."

"Only a fool would trust Littlefinger." Had those words come from her own mouth, so many lifetimes ago? "You think he's helping your Queen, you may think he's helping you...trust me, there's only one person Littlefinger cares about, that's himself."

"I don't doubt he'd enjoy a return to King's Landing, and the Small Council..."

"He sees only one person sitting on that Throne, Tyrion. Petyr, First of His Name. With either my lady mother as his Queen...or myself."

Tyrion gulped, taking in her words. If he were smart, he would believe her instantly, because her words were always the truth. Well, except when she did lie on purpose.

"Our Queen trusts him," he said, still questioning his own judgment, as well as hers, "as much as she trusts me. Perhaps even more than me..."

A knock upon her door. To her surprise it was Robb, who had just caught her in intense conversation with yet another Lannister. He did not look her in the eyes as he spoke, but she sensed he was uneasy about more than just their argument. He had to be, to come facing her himself.

"We're all summoned to the Great Hall."

"Why?"

"The Lannisters."

At least he didn't say you Lannisters, she reasoned, following him down the corridors. He'd said nothing of their argument to Arya or Jon or the rest of their family, and neither did she, because angry as they were with each other, perhaps irreconcilably so, she'd reconciled with herself, neither one of them wished to use the siblings or mother they both loved against the other.

She heard the soft sound of a woman's weeping before she entered the Great Hall. Something was wrong, Sansa thought, the moment she caught sight of the former queen sitting prostrate in the middle of the room, splayed out as Littlefinger had once been, when he'd died by her orders, the eyes of all the lords of the realm cast in stern judgment upon Cersei Lannister this time around. Allowing herself a quick glance at Tywin before she herself entered the hall, she thought she'd never seen the man's eyes so vexed and exhausted. So this was not something he'd planned for either.

Cersei, what have you done?

"You're late," she heard the Dragon Queen say, as Robb took his place at the side of the head table, next to Stannis at the center, and Daenerys on the other side, but Sansa swore she saw her glare evilly at her while she scolded her brother. That table had once been hers, and Jon's, but this time Sansa dutifully made her way to one of the side tables, where she took her seat next to the rest of her family, including her husband. Across the hall sat Tywin and Jaime, whose face looked entirely crestfallen and just...sunken.

So he doesn't know what's going on either.

Stannis began. "The accused is the Queen Dowager Cersei Lannister, for the crime of conspiracy to commit murder upon the Crown Princess, Daenerys of House Targaryen. The witness is Ser Andrey Dalt, who conspired with Queen Cersei and confessed to his willingness to poison Princess Daenerys, on her behalf."

It was obvious Stannis was repeating himself for the new entrants, because none in the room reacted at all to the stunning charges upon hearing them spoken out loud a second time.

The trial was swift and brutal. As they all expected, the former Queen protested and accused everyone in the room of lying and conspiring against her, and though she'd feel sad for Tommen, losing a mother, Sansa did not expect to shed any tears for Cersei Lannister. It would only make things easier for her once Tommen sat on the Iron Throne, without his spiteful mother lurking in the shadows. Though something struck wrong to Sansa when it was Littlefinger, the man having somehow found his spot leaning against the same pillar as he had when she presided over the castle, who produced witness after witness testifying to the secret liaisons between the two. And everything seemed more wrong when it was Harald Karstark, who'd once died fighting for Ramsay Bolton at the Battle of the Bastards, whose testimony affirming to Ser Andrey's claims seemed to sealed the verdict for Stannis and her brother.

As she expected, Tywin Lannister rose to speak, after she'd been judged guilty, and Sansa knew they were thinking along the same lines...that Cersei had acted out on her own, that she'd been wholly unaware of their own treason...and that perhaps it was still possible to salvage the situation and carry on with their long held plans, still unknown to Daenerys.

"Your Grace, the Crown Princess, Lord Stark," Tywin paused, though Sansa knew it was for effect, that the old man had long determined upon his choice of words during the course of his daughter's trial. "I tell you sincerely, I'm as horrified as you are, for my daughter's foolish actions, and I make what apology I can for her, on behalf of House Lannister. I have no excuses, except perhaps I failed as a father, to have not done more to discourage her foolish state of mind when she was younger. But Your Grace, I ask you to consider her former station, that my daughter Cersei was once Queen of the realm, and wife to your brother Robert."

"She bore him three bastards and tried to usurp his throne once he was dead."

"Again, I cannot defend her foolishness," Tywin said, unwillingly admitting to the entire realm, Sansa realized, that his family had been in the wrong during the War of Five Kings.

Daenerys turned her cold eyes towards the old man before Tywin could continue. "Do you wish to request mercy for your daughter?"

"Your Grace, I could only hope that..."

"Granted."

The entire court gasped in astonishment, from the accused herself, to her father and brothers, to Sansa, and the husband beside her, whose hand she realized she had been holding ever since they'd pronounced their judgment upon his mother.

But the Queen of the Bay of Dragons was not finished, Sansa saw, that sense of dread returning to the pit of her stomach. "But justice must be carried out all the same. We've all come north, for the sake of the Great War, against the Army of the Dead. Let justice serve our common cause then." She turned to Stannis. "Isn't it true, my King, that the Lady Melisandre believes the burning of a king's blood a necessary sacrifice to appease the Lord of Light, to grant us his favor for our battle ahead?"

"Lady Melisandre?"

"It is true, such offerings do please the Lord," Melisandre answered, noticeably unsure in her pronouncement, "but the Lord R'hilor has yet to see fit in his wisdom to instruct me for this battle..."

"It doesn't matter," Daenerys interrupted. "As justice for this crime against me, I instead give your lord his offering."

At first, Sansa thought she'd turned to look directly at her, before realizing that the Dragon Queen had cast her violet eyes upon her young husband.

King's blood.

"No!"

Standing abruptly, she saw that Tywin had come to the same understanding immediately after she did.

"Your Grace," he said, appealing directly to the King, "this is madness."

"No Lord Tywin," the Dragon Queen answered instead. "Madness was the slaughter you committed when you sacked King's Landing, madness was when you ordered the murder of Elia Martell and her two innocent children, the Princess Rhaenys and the Prince Aegon. Madness was when I forgave your unforgivable crimes for the sake of the peace half a fortnight ago, in agreeing to the terms decided by the Council of Winterfell, and madness is House Lannister breaking faith yet a second time against House Targaryen, even after your golden tongued sworn promises of peace."

"Why Tommen," Stannis asked uneasily, just absorbing now what had suddenly transpired in the Great Hall. "He's done nothing against you, he's barely a child."

"Your Grace, you should be more concerned with Tommen of House Lannister," Daenerys said softly, as if she were addressing just the King, and not all the lords and ladies who sat in attendance. "His claim rivals yours, after all, as it threatens the Princess Shireen's in due time...and I believe it's his claim that his mother still champions, it's his claim which caused her, and whomever else backs her, to attempt regicide."

"I don't care," Shireen shouted, standing up, same as Sansa, in her corner of the Hall next to Davos and Melisandre. Her father raised a hand to stop her, but she continued. "I don't care about my claim, damn my claim, I don't care about the throne! I don't want it, I've never wanted it, I just want Tommen to live, I'd give up my claim forever, just so he doesn't have to die!"

Say something, Robb!

To her relief, her brother finally broke out of the dumbstruck coma which had stricken his face the moment Daenerys cast her eyes upon his sister's husband.

"He's innocent, he's done nothing wrong. I see no reason to punish him, for the crimes of others."

"You all object," the Dragon Queen asked, looking petulantly first at Robb, then Stannis, then directly at Sansa.

"We do," she replied confidently in turn, knowing she had the backing of the realm behind her.

"Fine," Daenerys decided, and stood up herself. Then she began walking away. "Good luck with your war against the dead."

"What," Robb exclaimed angrily, the same anger he'd directed at her one day before.

"I see no reason to fight for a realm determined to betray me," Daenerys answered coldly, "a realm which refuses to give House Targarygen their justice overdue, from decades of accumulated crimes. All I ask, for the many wrongs committed against my family, is one..."

"What about the wrongs your family committed against realm," Sansa asked, the entire room stunned to silence that a mere girl dare speak up so violently against the Dragon Queen. "What about when your father tortured my grandfather and uncle, what about the hundreds he had cruelty and unfairly tortured and burned to death, what about the half million people in King's Landing, lords and smallfolk alike, the Mad King had ordered his pyromancer to murder, before Jaime Lannister put a stop to it by killing that monster of a father you had? What about the tens of thousands who burned when your ancestors rained fire upon the cities and villages of Dorne, what about the tens of thousands who burned in my mother's homeland during the Dance of Dragons, because your incestuous abominations of ancestors couldn't decide which spoiled and rotten silver haired beast they wanted have put upon your accursed throne, cursed surely it is by the blood of all that Aegon the tyrant conqueror murdered for the sake of his own bloodlust and vanity? It must be so easy for you, my Queen, to scream Fire and Blood as a Targaryen, seeing that its always the fire and blood of millions of others that end up spilling wherever your wretched family decides to drag your tails towards..."

"Enough!" The Dragon Queen's voice shattered through the stunned chamber, and Sansa gasped, realizing the enormity of what she'd just done.

"Forgive the Lady Sansa," Stannis said slowly, horrified by her sudden outburst, "I'm sure she'll come to regret much of what she'd just said, but she's right to be aggrieved, for the sake of her lord husband."

But ignoring her King, more difficultly ignoring the woman who'd just revealed the true depths of her hatred for her, the Dragon Queen continued to make her way out of the Hall. "The line of succession still stands, my good King Stannis, as agreed upon by yourself and all the great lords of the realm."

"You'd let the realm fall, Your Grace," Robb asked, "just so you can burn one innocent boy?"

"Who said anything about the realm falling," Daenerys asked, cold eyes taunting her brother. "I'll send for more of my Dothraki and Unsullied, even the Second Sons, if I decide they're needed. They'll land south...far south of wherever the King presumes to make his stand...and that is where we'll make our stand, and save the realm."

"The Night King wouldn't even have his dragon if it weren't for you," Sansa screamed. If she thought she'd reached the limits of her hatred for the woman when she'd burned the first time, she found that no horrible thing had limits in this cruel and awful world.

"Don't you dare bring up Hardhome," Daenerys threatened through clenched teeth, "I lost more there than you could ever imagine."

"Oh I can imagine," Sansa yelled back, but suddenly, the rage disappeared from the queen's cold eyes.

"It doesn't matter about the past," Daenerys said, addressing Sansa icily, and Sansa alone, or so it seemed. "The Night King has a dragon now, and you all need my dragons to defeat him." Then she turned at Stannis, and her brother. "It's late, we'll depart tomorrow, so I suppose you'll have some time to change your minds...Your Grace."


Tyrion

"Your Grace, with all due respect...what are you thinking?!"

"It's a bluff," the Dragon Queen said emotionlessly, infuriatingly him even more. "Stannis won't give up the realm for just one boy. He'll come to his senses by morning."

"Why Tommen?"

"Because it's the Queen's will, because justice and honor demands it."

"Justice and honor do not demand the sacrifice of an innocent boy."

He paced the Queen's chambers, growing very aware of the fact that Littlefinger had kept silent all this time.

"Blame your sister," Daenerys replied coldly, barely deigning to look at him while she stood by the fire. "She's the one who tried to kill me, on behalf of Tommen's claim to the Throne."

Damn Cersei, damn father, he thought, though there was no way his father could be so sloppy.

"Then punish her, punish our father..."

"Punish Jaime?"

Her words stopped him in his tracks. Just how far was this queen willing to go, Tyrion wondered, to show her strength, after the King and all the realm had already bestowed to her her very questionable inheritance?

"Just whom do you still serve, Lord Tyrion," the Queen asked, when he didn't reply her immediately. "Your Queen, or your family?"

"This is not the Queen I chose to serve," Tyrion argued, feeling his own rage building against hers, even knowing just how dangerous it was for him to continue speaking in this tone. "Not a Queen who burns innocents."

No, the slavers and masters in the Pyramid were't innocents. Not most of them, anyway. But had they all deserved burning? There had been more than one master, Tyrion had found in his conversations with the Mereenese who, like Hizdahr zo Loraq's father, had certainly not been a worthy candidate for crucifixion. It had been a mistake, they'd agreed at the time, one which they would not make again.

When Littlefinger spoke, Tyrion had first expected to agree with him. "Our Queen has always known that ruling comes not with easy decisions. Mercy may seem the right path today, but how will her mercy look tomorrow, with the dead defeated, and Tywin Lannister wages a new war on behalf of his bastard grandson?"

Remembering Sansa's words to him just before his sister's trial, Tyrion spun around at the man he'd almost come to trust. "Just what is it you want, Baelish?"

"A secure realm, ruled justly by our Queen..."

"What happened to Varys?"

"Excuse me," Littlefinger asked, surprised. Or pretending to be surprised, Tyrion imagined.

"Varys," Daenerys asked, not expecting the turn their argument just took. "Robert and Stannis's spymaster?"

"The man who'd been loyal to you the entire time, who risked his own to save your life, who sent me and Ser Loras east, so as to provide you good counsel!"

The Dragon Queen narrowed her eyes at him dangerously. "What does that say about you then, Lord Tyrion? To have been sent east by a man who served those who betrayed my family, who'd tried to kill me and my unborn son?"

"My Queen," Littlefinger interrupted, and Tyrion expected this to be the last brick which would sink him, that irony out of ironies, he'd burn before his own nephew. But that was not Baelish's intention, apparently. "Forgive Lord Tyrion, I'm sure his sister's betrayal has come as a shock to him. And surely we can sympathize with him, surely we cannot blame him, for loving his nephew twice over, for loving his family still."

"Go," Daenerys ordered. "Perhaps Lord Baelish is right, perhaps you're not well. I suggest you take the night to rest, and rethink your priorities."

Oh I will, he thought, leaving the Queen's chambers, wondering about the old friend whom he hadn't seen for so many years, wondering at the monster they'd conspired together to bring aboard the shores of Westeros...wondering whether it'd mean the doom for him now, as it had meant for Varys.


Sansa

"Maybe we stand a chance," Tywin said, candles burnt to the bitter end as they hovered over the map in the same room she and Arya and Jon had once deliberated their battle against the dead...a battle led and won by mere children, compared to this one. "She doesn't know about our scorpions. We could bring them forward, if we had the time to forge the all the tips with dragonglass," he hesitated, "though that would alert her to their existence, and the betrayal we did actually have planned for her..."

The council was composed only of herself, Stannis, Tywin, Jaime, Davos, Robb, and the Red Woman...practically the same attendance as the one she'd called seven years before...the only ones in all the realm aware of their plans to destroy the dragons after the Long Night.

"So be it," Stannis said. "At least we all live."

"Not for long," Sansa protested. "How much mercy do you think she'll show us, once she finds how we've all conspired to kill not just her, but her dragons as well?"

"Would you rather the alternative," Tywin asked her.

"Never." She thought about asking Arya to kill the Dragon Queen. But then Arya tried before, hadn't she, without even her asking? The Dragon killed Arya, before she'd gotten to Daenerys. What would the dragons do, even if Arya murdered her in hallways of Winterfell, except burn the North to a crisp even before the dead arrived.

Arya loved her. Arya stood with her, Sansa could comfort herself with that fact, even after Robb was probably going to tell their all the truth, provided they somehow survived the dead and the dragons, for how else could he explain the banishment of his sister? Afterwards, Sansa reckoned that Rickon and Jon and even their mother may never look at her the same way again.

That's all I have now. Arya, and Tommen. They're the only ones who will love me, after this is all over. Arya. Tommen. Little Ned.

"The dead are days away," Robb said. "It'll do us no good, to be exhausted from lack of sleep when they do come."

Though they shared the same room, though he'd defended Tommen in the Great Hall, he'd not spoken to her, or even looked her in the eyes since the trial. Tywin knew why. Jaime probably did. Stannis and Davos were likely too caught up in the survival of the realm to take note of some minor feud between brother and sister. As for the Lady Melisandre...she knew...well, something...the way she looked at her at times.


Collapsing into her bed, she was relieved to see Tommen already curled up under the sheets, and disappointed that he was already asleep.

"Is that true what you said," she heard him whisper, when she'd almost drifted off to sleep herself, "about my father? About Jaime, and why he killed the Mad King?"

"It is," Sansa mumbled, only half awake. "Your father has done some bad things in his life, but killing Aerys was not one of them. That day, he was a hero."

She'd never thought to tell Tommen the truth about his father, had she? All these years, she'd let her husband carry on believing both his parents the most horrible monsters in Westeros, when she knew better.

"I'm sorry,"

"For what," Sansa asked, thinking she was the one who owed Tommen an apology.

"For causing all this trouble...for driving the Dragon Queen away."

Suddenly she was fully awake, and held his face inside the palm of her hands.

"Listen Tommen, it's not your fault, none of this is your fault."

But she could see the poor boy was not entirely convinced of his own innocence. "I don't know why she wants me dead, though I suppose I deserve it, for everything that my family's done."

"Your family's crimes are not yours," she said, feeling her eyes well up, that such a good and decent and innocent young man could be made to feel so awful about himself. Out of all those cursed to suffer the cruelty of the gods, people like her husband or Shireen were the last to deserve it.

"Still, it's my fault, if everyone ends up dying, because I don't burn."

"You won't burn," Sansa nearly cried out, holding him closer to her, "do you hear me? You're my husband, you're my family, I protect my family, that's what I do. You will not burn, I swear it."

An idea came to her, she needed to find Arya tomorrow morning. Maybe her sister could go and kill Littlefinger again, but this time wear his face, then talk the Dragon Queen out of this idea Sansa was sure had originated from a man who hadn't forgotten, through two lifetimes, his unrequited lust for her.

"Thank you, Sansa."

When he took her that night, he took her as a man, for the first time in their short marriage. And she'd screamed, in joy, in fear, in rage, in helplessness, in relief, but when she slept, she remembered falling asleep with a smile upon her face, arms wrapped around her husband.


Sansa did not feel her husband in her arms when she awoke the next morning. Panicking, she rose in a daze, scrambling out of her sheets, only to see his soft eyes gazing lovingly at her from across the room. He was already dressed, and stood rather dumbly in the middle of the room, she thought.

"What are you doing, Tommen?"

"Remembering you. Your eyes, the way you look."

"What do you mean?"

It was then when she saw the two guard standing behind Tommen, outside their doorway.

"This war has always been your cause, dear Sansa. You brought the realm together, for the sake of this battle. I won't be the reason you fail."

"No! Tommen, don't, there's another way!" Frantically rising, throwing on clumsily the nearest gown she could find, Sansa screamed at her husband. "You can't do this!"

"I promised I'd do whatever I could to help you save the realm." He gulped deeply, before he turned and walked into the arms of his waiting escorts. "It's true, I am an abomination. I should have never been born. It's time I paid my debt."

"You have no debt, you're innocent, you've never done anything wrong! You're not an abomination, I wasn't talking about you! I've an idea, there's another way, we can figure it out, please Tommen!"

They let her scream through the corridors of her home, from the Great Hall, out to the courtyard below, so that by the time she saw the court gathered, the King, the Dragon Queen, her dragons, all standing outside the gates of the castle, she figured every soul from White Harbor to Sunspear had heard her. But it did no good, because scratch and claw and punch at the men who took her husband, she hadn't the strength to fight back, to pry from them the man who was hers, whom she'd just sworn to protect the night before.

"Are they really going to do this," Arya asked, eyes brimming with worry and concern.

"Robb," she cried at her brother, standing next to Stannis. "Do something!"

"I tried! But the King's orders..."

"I didn't support this," Stannis interrupted, taking the burden from Robb, but unwilling to meet her eyes as he did so, "but if it's the boy's own choice, then so be it."

And she continued to scream, and rage, and cry, knowing it did her no good, while they strung the rope around her husband, binding him tightly against the small stake sitting underneath the horrible queen's horrible dragon. Sansa stopped, because her voice was gone, because she had no screams left in her, because she could barely feel the skin upon her bare arms and legs, blistered from the blinding cold of the winter's morning, because she knew nothing she said, nothing she did, could help protect her husband, now that he stood within sight of the dragons.

"Tommen," she cried out softly, catching his attention. "I love you."

She'd never said those words to him until now, all this time they'd been married, all this time he'd been the father to her only child.

She wished it would be the gentle, brave smile which broke out across Tommen's face at the sound of her last words to him that she would remember her husband by, and not his look of horror after, meeting the eyes of the dragon, or his screams, when the flames engulfed his body, or how what remained of her husband stood sickeningly still, once he had thankfully also ran out of screams, or the heavy thud when his charred remains broke apart, falling into the snow and dissipating into ash. But that would be a lie.

What she remembered after the ashes melted away was her hatred, at the Dragon Queen first and foremost, and the Littlefinger who'd assuredly whispered this evil to her. Hatred at Stannis, and all the lords who stood watching while they burned her husband. Even Robb, who'd been weak and helpless at the end, when she had needed him the most.

Hatred at the gods, for taunting her with happiness, only to so cruelly wrest it away from her grasp. And hatred at herself, wondering just which of her sins it was which brought upon her innocent husband their wicked and brutal judgment.

Chapter Text

Tyrion

"It's a war between the living and the dead, and you're abandoning the living?"

"I don't care. You expect me to fight for Stannis and Daenerys, after that?"

The big woman was berating his brother by the time a shaken Tyrion arrived at the Lannister camps, and he wondered how long Jaime had been bickering with the Tarth woman by now, considering that seemed to be their entire sum of their interactions since reuniting at Winterfell. Except bickering was too frivolous a word, Tyrion supposed, to describe how Jaime words sounded, after watching son burn because of the idiotic actions of his sister and lover.

"I'm still here," Brienne replied. "You're not the only one who's been wronged by Stannis."

"Good for you," Jaime said, in a way that appeared to Tyrion that his brother was indeed actually conflicted, that part of him regretted abandoning Winterfell during such a precarious moment in, well, all of mankind, despite the awful circumstances, despite the monsters who were to lead this upcoming battle. "Were you a knight, you'd be a better knight than I."

Though Brienne looked as if she wanted to continue pressing her case, Jaime mounted abruptly his horse and rode away. Approaching in Tyrion's direction, he wondered whether his brother would miss or ignore him entirely.

"You're leaving with father," he asked uselessly, craning his head upwards at the heir to Casterly Rock.

"What do you think," Jaime snarled at him.

He still couldn't comprehend it, waking that morning, hearing in shock that the crowd had already gathered in the snow, that all they were doing was waiting for the arrival of a boy who'd volunteered to die.

"I tried to talk her out of it."

"You failed." There was no warmth in his brother's eyes as he spoke, saddling his horse in the bitter cold, as man after man in the Lannister camp marched away.

"I thought we had more time."

He had taken the night to think, as Daenerys instructed him to. With Jaime and their father tied up all night in meetings with Stannis that the Dragon Queen's acolytes weren't privy to, Tyrion had little else to do but wander the castle grounds in the dark, tie up a drink with Podrick in the armory, chat up Bronn in the stables, or talk to the smith the Stark boy had brought home deep in the castle's forges. As he drank and conversed, his mind raced separately, deciding how he could not in good faith support a Queen willing to burn innocent young men, much less his own nephew, yet knowing that he no choice to maintain the pretense for the time being.

Because he needed to approach his father, whom he'd avoided even as they sat across each other in the same occasional feasts and councils. Tywin Lannister would need to trust him, while he tried to broker some kind of truce or compromise between his family and the Queen. And Daenerys needed to trust him, and Littlefinger needed to ignore him, somehow, until they could rush Tommen into a wheelhouse and carry him far back to Casterly Rock, or even further south perhaps, to the Arbor, or Sothoryos, or wherever he'd be same from the game of thrones he'd never wanted to play. Then, a battle with the dead, and afterwards, either somehow claw his way into the good graces of Stannis, enough to talk him out of Daenerys's evil proclamation, or resign himself to complete complicity with whatever horrible machinations Tywin Lannister had plotted for six long years since losing a war he'd been hellbent upon winning.

All in all, none of his futures held much promise for him. But if he could help save his nephew? Except, no one expected, not even Littlefinger, Tyrion thought bitterly, that the boy would eagerly raise his hand and run straight into the dragon's breath.

Oh Tommen, you stupid boy! You stupid brave, noble, selfless boy...how did someone like you come from a family like ours?

"You were wrong," Jaime said, apparently showing little inclination to speak more than two or three words to him at a time.

"Jaime," he pleaded, "I'm sorry. I knew nothing about this, I had no idea how or why she...or Littlefinger...would even think to punish Tommen, out of all people, for our sister's stupidity. Please, believe me!"

His brother looked sternly at him. "I believe you." Before Tyrion could let out his relief, Jaime continued. "It doesn't matter. You're not my brother, if you still stand with her, after this."


Sansa

She barely spoke the rest of the day, before setting south from Winterfell. Arya comforted her sadly, perhaps the only other member of her family who had gotten to known Tommen and saw him as the truly pure person he was. Her mother she allowed herself to cry in her arms and for once, Sansa allowed herself to feel small, to feel helpless, to feel like a child. It'd been she who'd held her too during Tommen's execution, first when she was crying, then when she'd fallen silent, knowing there was nothing she could do to save him, even as Cersei continued to cry and beg and scream until the dragon ended it all.

After that, she couldn't help but think that Catelyn Stark would willingly sell Jon out to the same fate, had she the opportunity.

Then clutching closely her son, she stepped silently into the wheelhouse carrying them south to Castle Cerwyn, where the women and children would remain through the duration of the battle. Further south they'd moved the mausoleums from the crypts below Winterfell, the bones of her father and all her ancestors stranded, for the time being, a day's ride away from Winterfell, until the battle against the White Walkers was won. Or lost. At this point, she didn't really care.

Arya had offered to come south, and stay with her, but Sansa shook her head, because she knew how much her sister was needed at Winterfell. Settling into the small room, Robb Stark's sister one of the few highborn ladies to receive the privilege of privacy while so many of the realm's helpless things hid clustered together during the battle, Sansa wondered whether the small comfort had been given her out of respect, or pity. Certainly she doubted Robb would have asked Lord Medger to offer her any special treatment. She doubted he'd even come visit her, after the battle, if he survived. Arya would. And then what? As the early sunset came and went, she thought she might disappear here altogether, a lonely widow, forgotten by the rest of the realm now that her time had come and gone.

She'd sat alone in King's Landing before, in the shell of a broken castle, awaiting death with no one to console her, no one to love her, no one whom she loved remaining in the world except Bran, who wasn't entirely human or family, whom she'd known from the beginning that he was sending her south to die. Her only consolation then, a condemned woman, was that they may remember her and her family fondly, because of who they weren't. An heirless Dragon Queen who'd destroyed King's Landing, who'd continue to burn millions more who stood in her way, could only die alone, hated across two continents, forever remembered as the cruelest of tyrants for hundreds of dynasties to come.

So perhaps they'd remember her as the last of a noble family who'd tried to stand up to all the tyrants of their time, who'd all failed, each and every one of them. Of herself, they'd remember how she faced her death, whether bravely, whether courageously, or cowered and weeping. Sansa the Martyr, they'd sing of her one day, Sansa the Dragon's Bane, and when the time did come, when she faced the Queen and her terrifying pet, it was only the constant reminder of her spite and hatred towards Daenerys Targaryen that carried her through her last moments, cursing the dragon queen with all her soul could muster into her last words.

Tommen faced death nobly, with only love in his heart. He's braver than all of us.

Her first visitor was unexpected. The moment the Lady Melisandre entered the room, Sansa looked towards the stand by her bed, where she kept the dragonglass dagger they gave her and all who'd rode half a day south to Cerwyn's Keep, in case the White Walkers won and advanced past Winterfell.

"My lady," Melisandre said, anticipating her hostility, "I mean you no harm. What happened today..."

"Was against your wishes," Sansa questioned acerbically, when her words trailed away.

"I did not tell the King to burn your husband."

"Yet it pleases your Lord anyway," she replied petulantly.

"Maybe. Maybe not. I'm just a servant, I can only try, the best I can, to follow the instructions passed down to me by R'hilor."

"You don't know," Sansa asked, with increasing frustration. "You don't know whether offering Tommen to your god was the right thing to do?"

Why was she even humoring the woman? Of course burning Tommen had nothing to do with whether they could win the battle against the dead!

"The Lord commands I serve Him, and the Lord commands I serve his chosen Prince in this world." Sitting down across from her, the priestess arched her back towards Sansa, eyes mellow and mournful. "I looked into the fire last night, I needed to know, whether the Dragon Queen's demands were ones which would serve R'hilor."

"The fires didn't show you," Sansa asked, unable to help her curiosity.

She wasn't there. In the shock and trauma of seeing Tommen give himself to the dragon, she'd not noticed until now that it was Daenerys, and Daenerys alone, who conducted the sacrifice.

"The Lord did not show me anything about the Great War."

"What did you see then?"

"I saw...myself, at Castle Black. I saw my own eyes...I saw failure, I saw despair." The Lady Melisandre turned her dark eyes upon her grieving ones. "I saw myself, abandoning Stannis...running away. I saw Stannis leading his army against Winterfell, except the Bolton bastard we burned led the battle against him, and destroyed him. I saw Stannis sitting defeated, next to a tree, dying in the snow. I saw myself, banished from Winterfell, riding away in shame and disgrace. I knew...I know it, my lady, this had been the same as what you'd seen, that you'd been right about everything, all this time. About me, that I'd failed Stannis...that I'd failed his daughter, that I'd failed my God. Perhaps I fail my Lord still, and he sends me these visions, to humble me."

And Sansa knew that she was telling the truth, that somehow, the gods which had brought her back shared with the Red Woman's god the shared future they'd collectively escaped.

"I knew I had done what I thought was right. I knew that I'd failed, nevertheless. That so many innocents had paid the price of my blindness..."

"You did fail," Sansa remembered, though memories of her past life seemed to come to her more difficultly with every breath she drew. "But you succeeded too. You were there, at the Long Night." She remembered what Arya had told her, of what the Red Woman had reminded her, when she'd felt so overwhelmed and defeated during the battle. "You helped us win."

It would seem that Melisandre had not seen this part of her future in her flames, and her eyes lit up, knowing that she, at least, was not entirely lost. Then the woman leaned towards her, the flames casting her shadow over Sansa's frame, and took her one hand, placing it between her own.

"Then you'll come back from this too. You're strong, my Lady Sansa...you're so far stronger than most I've met in this strange and horrible life I've lived. Don't let this break you. Perhaps the despair seems...overwhelming right now. But the Lord chose to bestow His gifts to you for a reason."

"Do you believe that?" She didn't dare allow herself to hope. Nor did she care all that much about...coming back...to what? A family who hated her, a realm who'd laugh at her failure?

Little Ned. Neddy.

"As much as this imperfect servant of the Lord can believe in anything," Melisandre said, releasing her hands, and rising to desert her to her grief. Gliding towards the door, she opened it one hand, and looked back upon the mourning girl. "Valar Dohaeris."

"All men must serve," Sansa translated, remembering learning these strange phrases from her sister in a different life.

"And so must you, my Lady. You have a purpose left to play."

"You've seen this?"

The Red Woman nodded, and left the room.


Her next visitor was just as unexpected.

"I heard what they did," the Blackfish said, throwing a fatherly arm around her back, consoling his great-niece. "Word travels fast, when the entire realm's gathered in one place. It's an awful thing."

"It is." Just what more could she say about the matter?

"It's an insult to our family," she continued. "Tommen may be a Lannister, but he's my husband, and the same blood which runs through yours and my mother's runs through our son."

"You're not wrong," he admitted, shaking his head. "I don't think I can serve Stannis after this. After the battle's over, gods willing if we win, I'll quit from the Small Council."

"It's not just Stannis," Sansa replied. "It's the Dragon Queen. She's a monster, she's always been a monster, I've known she's a monster, from the very beginning. We need her, we need her dragons...and she'll help us win the battle. But that doesn't make her any better."

"Careful, dear Sansa," her great uncle's eyes warned fretfully. "All the realm knows now you're no friend of the Targaryens. And you're right, she does have dragons."

With each mention of her name, and her awful creatures, Sansa felt her blood reinvigorated with each reminder of her hatred. "Uncle, I've been planning for years this war against the dead. What makes you think I haven't been planning for the dragons too?"

"You've known about her?" He was not entirely surprised.

"I didn't know her first acts in Westeros would be to give the White Walkers a dragon again, and then burn my husband alive for no reason."

"If only they'd burned his grandfather instead," Brynden muttered. "Tommen didn't deserve to die, for his mother's sins."

"It doesn't matter who deserves it, and who doesn't. She has a dragon, she'll burn whomever she likes, whenever she wants. Imagine if the Mad King had a dragon."

Even the Blackfish did not have a response to that horrible idea.

"Go fight, uncle. Go help your King win this war. I'll be ready for the next one."

He rose, and nodded to her respectfully. "I'm sure you will be, dear niece."


"Do you want me to kill her fer you?"

Hearing Ygritte's voice was probably the first thing that brought her any semblance of happiness since arriving at Castle Cerwyn. Sansa shook her head sadly.

"Before Tommen...," she sighed, still unable to say with her own voice what had happened to her husband. "Might as well use her for the dragons."

Wandering the room absentmindedly, Sansa walked behind the wildling girl, fondling the tips of the arrows she carried on the small bag latched onto her back.

"Arrows with dragonglass. I haven't seen something like this since my own Long Night."

"You won that battle," Ygritte eyed her with awe, "with less than we have now."

"I did nothing," Sansa grumbled. "I sat in a dark cave and cowered, just like I'm doing now."

"Wish you'd been one of us," Ygritte said sadly. "I'd have taught yer how to shoot an arrow, how to kill yer enemies with yer own hands."

"That's my problem, isn't it," Sansa said, staring sadly at her own useless hands. She could write, she could draw, she could sew, what use was all that, when none of that could protect herself, protect her family? "I can only rely on others to kill for me. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don't. Maybe I'll join your people and cross back over the Wall, after all this is over."

"Me, you, Jon," Ygritte agreed. "We'd be happy."

It was a tempting thought, but an impossible fantasy.


"I hate him," Shireen said, crying. Though she wanted to cry along with her, Sansa held back, because she did not want the Princess to see her older friend, her mentor, her confidante break down.

"You don't," Sansa whispered softly.

"How can you say that? How can you not hate him, he let this happen, he let her burn Tommen!"

"I hate him," Sansa admitted. "But he's not my father. I don't have to forgive him, Shireen. You do."

It was disquieting, comforting the girl, counselling her, all the while knowing she'd likely never see her father again.

"I'll have to live with the both of them, for the rest of their lives. I wish he never became king."

"Girls like us don't get to see our wishes come true," Sansa said, holding the young woman tightly in her arms. "Not now, not ever, everywhere in the world they lie to little girls like us, they mask the cruelties of the world with pretty words dressed in prettier songs."

"Unless you have dragons," Shireen cried bitterly, and Sansa thought this was the first time she'd heard pure hatred emanate through the girl's voice. "Then you get what you want, whenever you want."

"Dragons don't live forever."

Where are you, Tywin? For once, I need you to be strong.


So they came and went, the lords and ladies and occasional wildling girl who came to visit her. She'd commiserated with Davos after Shireen left, and Sansa vowed to remember each and every person who came to see her, because she had debts to pay, debts to collect, after the Long Night. It was Margaery Tyrell who accompanied her when Tywin Lannister finally arrived to pay his respects. Despite her new position now as Lady Paramount of the Reach, Margaery was hiding in Castle Cerwyn with Sansa and Shireen, while the men who were sworn to her fought the war north at Winterfell.

Hearing the old man's knock, Margaery rose to leave.

"After the battle," the Lady of Highgarden said, curtsying politely to Lord Tywin as she passed him by the door.

"What was that," Tywin asked, watching carefully the woman's graceful exit.

"She'll recall as much of the southern armies as she can, once the battle is over."

"And just how much help can she give us?"

It pained her, to be plotting endlessly even now, as if she hadn't watched Tommen burn alive earlier that morning. Yet what choice did she have, considering that was how men like Tywin got to where they were in life?

"Most, I think. Stannis has yet to reinstate Loras, which means he's just a knight, and Margaery still the Wardeness of the South."

"Good."

If she believed it good and settled, he would trust her with the matter, Sansa realized.

"Your daughter...," she began angrily.

"My daughter is under escort back to Casterly Rock," Tywin said, voice pained. "Cersei was my mistake, and mine alone. She has embarrassed and disgraced this family for the last time, she is and will be under close guard for the rest of her life, by all the gods, I swear she will never leave her room again."

"It's too late."

"Nothing changes. This hurts, I know, but nothing changes."

Did Tommen's death hurt his heart, or did it hurt his plans? Did it even matter, to Sansa?

"No," Sansa said, wondering it was beyond the man's abilities to feel grief even for a grandson who wasn't as rotten as Joffrey, "except I lost a husband."

"You loved him?" This was news to Tywin.

"I did," Sansa stated. "I didn't know it, I didn't let myself see it, until it was too late. You may have lost your future, but I lost my husband. My child lost his father."

He didn't question her sincerity, because they'd all seen how she'd cried and bawled and screamed. If that were an act, performed merely to gain the trust of Tywin Lannister, then may the gods condemn her to a worse hell than the one she dwelled in already.

"This means your child is both our futures now."

Sansa nodded once, and they locked eyes.

"By all the gods, I swear that I will see Eddard Lannister will sit upon the Iron Throne, and all who come after him."

"You swear this for Tommen?"

"For Tommen," she agreed. "For me," she seethed, standing up. "For us. We'll see to this, together, we'll secure his throne, together. We'll keep it safe, we'll rule the seven kingdoms, together, until Eddard...until your future, until my future, comes of his age."

"I may not live that long," Tywin said regretfully.

"You'll live long enough to see our revenge," she insisted, walking up to him until they stood face to face, chest to chest. Because she saw in his eyes a despair that matched her own, that all he had worked for, his entire life's legacy, might have disappeared into ash that morning, because of the foolishness of his daughter, and she needed to know that his fury matched hers, that he would not be weaker than her. "You will live long enough to look into the Dragon Queen's eyes when we wrest away from her her future, her throne, her dynasty, her life."

"We'll rule, together," Tywin muttered weakly, and she feared that he was indeed broken, that age and defeat and exhaustion and dragons were all conspiring to bring about the defeat of a man who'd been so strong and horrible for so much of his life.

Turning towards the fire, her eyes fixed upon a breastplate, with a lion and direwolf carved in the center. Leaving the old man aside, she walked up to the relic and picked it up, feeling with her hands the only material object she had left to remember her husband by. Returning towards him, she held the breastplate with both hands, the armor forming a barrier between the two. "Swear with me, Lord Tywin, by the old gods and the new, swear with me that all seven kingdoms will tremble in fear when they hear the roars of the wolf and the lion, screaming in unison."

"I do swear it," he affirmed to her, gripping the top of the armor with his own weathered hands, the fury in his voice feeding her own heart's fiery resolve.

"And if gods don't allow us our justice, then so we'll destroy them too."


Daenerys

"This is not justice."

Daenerys eyed the man, confused. "This is the end of House Lannister. Your sister's murder has been avenged, Prince Oberyn, as have my niece's and nephew's."

"You think it's justice, to avenge the murder of children with the murder of another child?"

"Tommen Lannister was a man fully grown."

"And the heart of a child, I've met him, I know this. So do you."

If she was disappointed in the Prince's reaction, she'd also been disappointed with her own. Walking the man burn, she'd expected to feel relief, a poison remedied, a disease cured, a sudden lifting away of all the weight of the nightmares she'd experienced through so much of her life. It'd been a sort of mercy, she reasoned, that though Tommen had to burn, his death would save the lives of countless others, though they'd never come to appreciate the fact. Her own recognized heir hated her, Daenerys knew, but the girl was too young and naive to understand what a grave threat Tommen was to the Princess's own claim and life. And Shireen had made clear in the Great Hall that she had little interest in ruling. Perhaps she may still prove worthwhile in succeeding the last Targaryen to sit on the Iron Throne, but Daenerys had time to determine the future, after the Long Night was over, and her reign secured. If not Shireen, another more suitable heir could be chosen, especially considering the girl was not likely to protest herself such a decision.

"Have you forgotten your own history, my good Prince? Tywin Lannister has been defanged, never again will he or his house threaten the peace of his realm. He may live, but he suffers every day for the rest of his life what you suffered, what I suffered."

"You think that's justice?"

"I know it is."

Then why does it feel so empty?

Disgusted, Oberyn spurned her to leave, but she was not yet finished with the man.

"If you disagree, then I give you the chance to make your own justice."

His eyes asked the question his lips refused to speak. Protest as he may have, it would seem the self-righteousness of Oberyn Martell had its limits.

"The Lannisters have pulled their armies back to Casterly Rock. I suspect it's a ruse. I want you to withdraw the Dornish army, and keep an eye on them."

Stroking his finely stranded beard, Oberyn stepped back up to the table.

"Wouldn't that weaken the defense at Winterfell?"

Daenerys shook her head. "You'll merely join the reserve, south of Castle Cerwyn. If Winterfell needs reinforcements, you'll return north with Edmure Tully's men. But if you hear word the battle's won, as Crown Princess I give you leave to catch the Lannisters, and determine whether Lord Tywin's abandonment of the realm in its hour of greatest need constitutes treason against the Crown."

"Your Grace," Oberyn bowed, agreeing knowingly.

Returning her eyes to the map, she moved the piece with the spear through the sun south from Winterfell, placing it between the trout and the lion. Much as she'd forever bemoan the circumstances which led to her return to Westeros, it was a dark yet certain blessing that, rather than having to play the game kingdom by kingdom, castle by castle, the cruel inclinations of the gods had yet brought her the entire realm under the shadow of her dragon, for her to win completely before she'd even leave the North.

And what have you done with the opportunity, except burn one innocent boy?

"You were wrong, Baelish."

Tilting his head as he entered the room, Littlefinger regarded her, eyes perplexed. "Then I apologize, though I confess I'm a bit confused as to my exact mistake."

"The lords hate me for burning Tommen," she whispered, shaking her head as she admitted her secret.

"Of course they do," Littlefinger replied. "But they'll be thanking you, when you and Rhaegal and Drogon save their lives, their families, all their lands and wealth and holdings. They'll forget about Tommen Lannister, because they never thought much of him anyway, while he was alive. But believe me, Your Grace, what they won't forget is your dragons, and what they can do to those amongst them who are less innocent than Tommen. The Crown demands fear and respect, not forgiveness. That's the way it has been, that's the way it'll always be."

"I hope you're right about this," she said, leaning down and warming herself beside the fire. It was horrible what she had to do, she could not deny that. But wasn't the Stark girl right, in her own naive way? How horrible must they have thought Aegon the Conqueror, when the Lannister and Gardeners and all the bannermen of the west and south burned at the Field of Fire? Except what people like Sansa Stark would never understand is that without such necessary slaughter, there'd be no realm, no unified country, forged by her ancestors, forged through fire and blood, to stand together as one great kingdom, at this critical moment, to together face the Army of the Dead.

"Your Grace, I've been thinking, about Jon Snow."

She looked up from the fire.

"You found something out about him?"

Not only did she spare Cersei to burn Tommen, she'd also saved Sansa Stark's life, separating her completely from the unending webs of Lannister treason. But the role of her last enemy, the last traitor in her dreams, still puzzled her. Why would Jon Snow kill her? Why did he claim to be a Targaryen King?

Littlefinger raised both his hands. "I've found nothing. I have a guess. But it's a dangerous one."

"Dangerous?"

He nodded, breath still. "Dangerous to you, Your Grace."

I know that.

"Explain."

"They all gossiped about him, after Robert took King's Landing, what beauty was so enchanting enough to remove Ned Stark from his honor. Robert himself pestered his old friend relentlessly with the question, I believe, up until his dying day."

"And you think you have the answer?"

"Nothing certain. But it's know that after Lord Eddard chided his friend Robert for the unwarranted murders of the Prince Aegon and Princess Rhaenys, he went to Dorne, he slew the Sword of the Morning in single combat, then found his sister Lyanna dead, inside the Tower of Joy. It was only some time after that, an infant bastard arrived at the gates of Winterfell."

It struck her like thunder. The false dragon, the false king. Except there was no falseness about his blood.

"Jon Snow is my bastard nephew?"

"Ned Stark claimed Jon his bastard son, and men did not question him, because Ned Stark was not a man known as a liar."

"But he would have been wise to hide him, because of Robert's bloodlust." A memory surfaced in her head, of the wine merchant at the market who'd tried to kill her. Another memory, of the man who disobeyed his false king and saved her instead.

The man she was strongly considering to name her Hand sat by the table, sighing in despair. "One claim no longer exists, yet...if your enemies...if men like Tywin Lannister ever come to this discovery..."

They heard the sound of horns blaring from outside, beyond the gates of the castle.

"The dead are here," she said, ready to lead now, and ready to lead whatever came after the dead.

Chapter Text

Stannis

By the end of the battle, he was barely cognizant of whether he was alive or dead. It was one thing to learn of and spend years preparing for the dead, it was one thing to even see himself fighting the enemy in the flames, but to hear them, smell them, see with his own eyes the unrelenting waves of the rotting monstrosities threatening to overwhelm them with every surge, was to grasp just how truly unprepared his mind was for this war which had fell upon him to lead. Everywhere there were flames, in the trenches beside and behind him, already burning the bodies of the dead who'd just died, and the dead who'd attacked the realm, only to collapse all at once, the battle and war ending unexpectedly with a snap of some cruel god's fingers.

At first Stannis wondered whether it was just a ruse of the Night King, as many of his own men struggled to climb out from under the rotting corpses who'd fallen upon them in an instant. Surveying the scene, most remained as much in disbelief as he, that what had been their methodical struggle mere seconds before just suddenly transformed into triumph. Before he knew it himself, his sword, Jon Snow's sword, was raised high in the air, though from more a sheer sense of relief, than any sense of triumph for his own person.

Engrossed as he'd been during the batle, he hadn't failed to hear two thunderous collisions during the course of the battle, one following another minutes later. The first had been one of Daenerys's living dragons, whose very living screeches he'd heard when it crashed onto the battlefield ahead of him, knocking over and smothering hundreds of wights behind the enemy's lines. That had not boded well, and he'd worried then that the battle could have been lost. Then furious howls and screams from above while his arms and shoulders wore themselves beyond exhaustion when, moments later, another thunderous crash behind him, through the castle's gates, and he wondered which dragon fell, whether their doom was sealed. And of the dragon that survived, were it a living one, was it the one mounted by Daenerys? There was no time to analyze the situation, all he could do was stand and continue to fight.

Turning, face and armor dirtied and bloodied, he started stumbling back towards the walls of Winterfell in a daze, clapping the backs of the few soldiers who recognized him amidst their relief and revelry. The battle was over, the war was over...and what came next only filled him with dread. It had been easy to avoid contemplating such things, when his mind and soul were solely focused upon the Great War, leading it, winning it.

Now, what did he have left? A daughter who hated him, because he'd burned her friend for the sake of winning this war. The woman who crowned him, who advised him and guided him to this victory, who must despise him even more now, because he'd burned her husband for the sake of winning this war. A realm who would judge him forever for the burning of Tommen Lannister, because they'd whisper that perhaps he truly did fear the boy's claim, which meant that his own was indeed false. And a Dragon Queen he still needed to betray, except with the men and weapons of Tywin Lannister, who'd just withdrew his men south out of disgust, because he'd allowed his grandson to be burned.

"It was the girl! She slayed the Night King!" He turned, as the shouts of realization cascaded through the surviving lines of men, women, and children alike who'd just fought the Great War.

"The Stark girl?"

"She had a Valyrian steel dagger!"

"Arya Stark, the Hero of Winterfell!"

Arya Stark? How had that happened? Had Sansa knew this entire time, was that why she'd been so insistent that her sister go to Braavos? Here was another blessing from the woman, another way she'd saved his realm, how she'd won this battle for him, only to be rewarded with the burning of a husband whom she'd apparently loved more than anyone realized. The greater the nightmare ahead of him grew, the more he felt his head throbbing, and he could barely avoid stumbling over the bodies as he walked, or falling into the burning trenches defending the castle.

A shadow in the fire caught the corner of his eyes, and he swiveled his head, though his mind urged him to ignore whatever it was, and forge ahead. Yet he couldn't restrain himself, and found himself staring back into Renly's sad, dead green eyes, his phantome body standing erect amidst the flames burning through the last trench before the castle's walls.

Was it worth it, brother? For this?

A voice bellowed through the night and its increasingly raucous acclaim. "Kingslayer!"

Somehow he knew the slur had nothing do with Jaime Lannister, and barely turned in time to ward off the first blow coming from Loras Tyrell. And the second, and the third, and fourth, and so forth, as the sandy haired young knight who'd bent the knee and begged his forgiveness after his Queen's agreement now bore his sword relentlessly down upon him. His armor was unmarked, the fire's reflection sparkling across its clean surface, and Stannis wondered whether the knight had even fought in the battle they'd just won.

Where was his Kingsguard, he wondered, as he felt his body, already exhausted from the battle, weakening with every blow, while he observed a small circle forming around him. But many of the men were the girl's Unsullied, he realized, who stood facing outwards in a protective and threatening stance, ready to draw their spears and ward off anyone who'd think to come to the aid of their King.

"What are you looking at," Loras shouted at him, shouted at all within earshot. "Do you think they love you, kinslayer? A man who'd kill a King, who'd kill his own brother?"

There were brawls beginning to break out on the perimeter of the circle, as some of his men, broken out of their stunned spell and understanding what was happening, began throwing their swords against the Unsullied, but the mercenaries who, like Loras, seemed more duly prepared than their foes, swiftly drove back any knight who attempted to come to his rescue. Turning his head in between parries, he wondered if he would die under the eyes of his brother's ghost. But the shadow in the flames was no longer there.

"Do it then, damn you," he screamed, even as he surged forward and poured every breath and every ounce of energy he had left into his movements, barreling down on the younger man, stunning him with his resurgent violence. Then, he flung Longclaw into the ground, spread his arms wide, and bared his chest at Renly's lover, hoping that someone would think to return Jon Snow his sword.


Daenerys

Queen in name. Queen in fact. Except none of it was real yet, not until she'd seen King's Landing and sat upon the throne of her father and all who came before them, sealing their legacy with hers. Yet with everything the gods would grudgingly grant her in this world, there came the inevitable price she'd have to pay those cruel, invisible titans. Knowing the White Walkers, knowing their ways, she stayed low to the ground during the battle, burning the wights in an orderly manner with Rhaegal next to them while the great storm raged above her. The screech from the creature which had once been her Viserion nearly drove her mad the first time the infernal sound hit her ears, and it was Rhaegal who'd barely dove onto him in time to ward off the Night King's initial attack. By the time she'd reached their battle, Rhaegal's death throes had already pierced her ears, and Daenerys wondered just what she would have left for herself, if she survived the dead, if she ever saw herself on the Throne.

"Ser Loras Tyrell, you stand accused of treason and kingslaying."

"I killed a kingslayer," the handsome young man argued in turn. "Stannis Baratheon murdered King Renly, First of his Name!"

It'd been scarcely hours since the end of the battle when she called forth all the lords to the Great Hall of Winterfell to attend the trial of the Knight of Flowers. Most of the exhausted attendees still bore minor wounds from the night before, but the matter was serious enough that none complained as to the immediacy of the gathering.

"Still, one wrong does not make right another." She regarded him carefully from the head of the table, the sole judge presiding over the trial of Stannis's murderer. "You don't deny it, Ser Loras? To your crime? Breaking your vow of loyalty to King Stannis?"

The young man strode angrily towards the lords sitting towards her left side. The Unsullied and several of the Stark sentries stood ready, hands ready at the hilt of their weapons, but Daenerys lifted her hand gently from her table, motioning that they should wait.

"Do you deny it, Randyll Tarly, that you were sworn to King Renly?" The serious looking man grimaced and looked away. "Or you, Leyton Hightower, or you, Lord Redwyne, or you, Lord Mertyn, you were all sworn to Renly, you all pledged your vows to him..."

"Renly's dead, boy," Lord Tarly muttered quietly from his seat. "Stop fighting the last war."

Loras nodded. "Aye, Renly's dead, because men like you abandoned him before his body was still cold. Men like you forgot him entirely, and bent the knee to the man who murdered your king! If kingslaying is to be rewarded with a crown, then perhaps I should be king!" He then turned and bent the knee to her. "Your Grace, a figure of speech, I've no wish for a crown, now or ever."

"Do you wish mercy for your life?"

"I will accept whatever judgment laid down by my Queen, Your Grace."

"Very well." She surveyed the room filled with mostly grim eyed old men, the few ladies who would have sat in attendance still riding north from Castle Cerwyn. "Loras Tyrell, I sentence you to die."

"Your Grace, forgive me," interrupted a stout man approaching his middle age, "but is it not true we stand in the halls of Winterfell?"

"That's true, Lord Gerold. But why point out the obvious?"

The blond haired man was Gerold Grafton, Lord of Gulltown, and long one of Littlefinger's closest allies going back to his time presiding over the Vale.

"Do you recall the Hour of the Wolf? When the Lord of Winterfell, Cregan Stark rode south to King's Landing, and pardoned all but two of the conspirators responsible for King Aegon's death?"

Frowning, she turned to Robb Stark. "I believe Lord Cregan allowed the remaining kingslayers to join the Night's Watch. Is my recounting of history accurate, Lord Robb?"

"Aye, it is," the Young Wolf replied rather dumbly. For a man whose king had just been assassinated, he looked rather subdued all morning, and Daenerys wondered whether the shock of Stannis's death combined with the previous night's battle had proven too much for the young man.

"Lord Commander Thorne, will you take Ser Loras, were I inclined to mercy?"

"Yer Grace," the imposing man stood and answered, "I've no love for Stannis. He sullied the realm and disgraced the Watch by lettin' wildling barbarians into your lands, your domains. I've no love for Kingslayin' either, tis a vile crime, and it troubled me deeply, when I heard of my own sentence, while Robert pardoned Jaime Lannister an' kept him in the Kingsguard. But we've need for men now, 'specially after all we lost in the battle last night. Ser Loras will have a place along the Wall, he'll make up for his crimes, I'll see to that, aye."

"Very well," the Queen agreed. "The sentence is amended to exile, Ser Loras."

"Your Grace, Lord Commander," he bowed to them both in turn, "I thank you for your mercy."

"Aye, a farce," a voice called out angrily. "Of course ye'd pardon the Knight of Flowers, yer Unsullied men helped him kill the King!"

"If you're to accuse me of something, Lord Alester, then go ahead and say it outright."

Of course Loras's trial and its result had been long rehearsed and decided well before the man put his sword through Stannis's neck. But it was telling how few men were willing to speak against her now. Alester Florent's reaction was no surprise, he a relation to Stannis's wife, but with most of the Dornish and Westerland lords ranging south, most of the Northern lords unhappy with Stannis releasing the wildlings, most of the lords of the Reach unsatisfied with their King for one trifling reason or another, lords who'd spent years believing Loras Tyrell would be their Lord Paramount one day, it was really only the lords of the Riverlands she'd expected to voice their objections. And Robb Stark, and perhaps a few who stood with him, but they followed him in silence. As for the Riverlords, they all followed the lead of the man they called the Blackfish, and though he seemed unhappy, he joined his great nephew in saying nothing.

Which made her wonder whether this Stark and Tully alliance of silence had something hidden planned between them.

"I believe he's accusing you of instructing Ser Loras to kill his king, on your behalf," Davos Seaworth added, bitter hatred in his eyes. "It does seem rather convenient, doesn't it?"

"Do you make the same accusation as Lord Alester, Lord Davos?"

She noticed his eyes wavering, looking around the room in support. While he may have been the former king's Hand, Stannis's death left him a rather minor lord with little influence, little land, and certainly no power to his actual name.

"I think the truth ought be known." He turned to Robb. "Can't your brother shed some light onto this? He's a Three-Eyed Raven, isn't he, if he can see all things, if he can see that past..."

He was bolder than she'd realized. And fast becoming dangerous. Because if what they said about Bran Stark was true, then certainly that creature could condemn her without a second thought. But what right did the Stark boy have, what power did any of them have, in condemning their Queen?

"You're asking to put your rightful Queen on trial," she said, voice hardening, glaring at Stannis's former Hand. "Such an action is without precedence in the history of these kingdoms, and will remain so."


"Your Grace," the grey haired man pledged before her, knees bent in respect and submission. "The Watch is yours."

"Thank you, Lord Commander Alliser. Your men fought bravely, when the night was at its darkest, and the realm will never forget your service and your sacrifices."

She wished Littlefinger were here, but her new Hand had just embarked on a short diplomatic mission to Castle Cerwyn, and Daenerys trusted that she'd have more of her realm secured upon his return. But while she waited, she had to fend off all on her own all her new subjects. There'd been no sign of Tyrion since the battle, and Daenerys figured he'd changed his mind to flee to Castle Cerwyn just before the battle. It did sadden her, losing a man who'd served her loyally and capably in Mereen for so many years, but she knew he'd been lost to her the moment she'd issued her sentence upon his nephew. So be it, Tyrion Lannister was not the only clever man loyal to her.

"If I may speak honestly, my Queen, the realm is far from safe, and enemies still walk the grounds of your kingdoms."

Don't I know it.

"I will preside alone over Jon Snow's trial." With any hope, this would be enough to please the man for now. Knowing that it was Snow, rather than Mance Rayder, who'd been the man in her dreams, she'd had no urge to fulfill Littlefinger's promises to Thorne, and all the northern lords who hated the sight of wildlings upon their lands. But she couldn't discard them yet, not without knowing just how Robb Stark would react when she pronounced her judgment upon his half brother. "I understand you've come to know Smalljon Umber well, fighting together in the Great War."

"He's a good man," Thorne said with a smile, "the kind you'll need by yer side to rule your Seven Kingdoms."

"I'll need good men like him to keep the North secure. Men like Harald Karstark, and Robett Glover."

Thorne smiled, because of her omission, the one vital northern name she did not affirm as having her trust. Secretly, she'd been thankful that Rickard Karstark died during the battle, so that his last surviving son could formally, and secretly, pledge his support to her Throne...over his liege lord if need be.

"There are many who frown over your pardon of Loras Tyrell. You'll need good men like the Smalljon and the Karstarks to keep them in line, while they're all in the north with them."

"Strike as soon as you can," Littlefinger had told her, after she'd become Stannis's heir. "The longer you wait, the strong his position, as the hero who defeated the dead."

"For a man of the Watch, you seem to know quite a lot about politics."

The Lord Commander of the Night's Watch knelt reverentially before her again.

"My family fought for your father. I fought for your father. We lost that war, but no matter, I'm proud I've lived long enough to serve Aerys's daughter today, Your Grace. You can trust my loyalty to you is eternal, and unending."

"The flower knight pardoned," Hero asked by her door, when Thorne had left. "Will the Snow bastard burn?"

It would seem her former second-in-command of the Unsullied, who'd followed her from Astapor to Mereen and now to Winterfell, had discovered for himself a new fascination with fire. He'd had proven fully his worth and capability, leading his men's defense of Winterfell valiantly against the enemy, and while Daenerys missed Grey Worm, she'd always miss Grey Worm, because he was not just her servant, but her friendm, in his absence, she knew Hero would be the strength she needed in Westeros, leading an army bound to no lord and no cause but hers.

"No." What horrors could arise, were she to order Jon Snow burnt, only for all the lords of the realm to witness him untouched by the fire? "The trial will be held in the early morning tomorrow. Once the verdict is rendered, he will be beheaded, as per the customs of the North."

And then she could rest easier, tomorrow night, than she would tonight.


Sansa

The living won. There was some relief in that fact, though mostly numbness. She despaired, because of Tommen's death, but not just because of it. She did love Tommen. It was not a love which would inspire songs, it was not a love which would have blinded her, enough to destroy her like Robb's love for Talisa, or Jon's love for Daenerys...but like her deceased husband, it had been a quiet love, born out of the purity of Tommen's soul, a genuine appreciation for the person he was, and every person he didn't resemble. Her words to Tywin rang true, she remained absolutely devoted to revenge, to seeing her and Tommen's son sit upon the Throne, in her late husband's memory, so that Tommen could at least be remembered as the father of a dynasty. But was revenge and ambition all she left in her life now?

The numbness came because she suspected that to be indeed the truth. After Ramsay and Joffrey and Littlefinger and all the other horrible men she'd encountered her first life, she supposed only someone as meek and unimposing, somehow who was so not concerned with useless displays of their manliness and false chivalry, could have broken through all the shields she'd placed in her mind against men, against love, against caring for anyone beside her own family. Sweet Tommen had been her last chance, she realized after he'd burned, that she'd ever have for anything resembling the romantic love she'd dreamed of as a faraway child, so what was there left for her, now that she'd earned the hatred of everyone whom she'd saved? She'd been so narrow-mindedly dedicated to her family...now it was all she had left, except but a pale shadow of what she'd hoped for, when she lay in her bed a second time hostage of Joffrey and Cersei, thinking that all would be well once all her plans came from fruition, after which she could live happily in Winterfell with Robb and Jon and mother and Arya, let the rest of the world hang.

Family. The word rang so hollow for her, after yet another Long Night.

Arya defeated the Night King. Pride, and relief. Pride in her sister, that she would earn her way to hero-dom no matter what life she lived, no matter what her circumstances, Arya would always be strong, relentless, indefatigable...the greatest and strongest of the Starks. Relief, because out of everything she'd thought and planned and conspired between her father's second death, and Stannis's crowning, setting her sister up to return to Braavos was perhaps the only thing that worked to the end. Because of Arya, Sansa had saved mankind, she'd saved Westeros...yet sitting sadly alone in a Castle far away from the battle, thinking of the husband she'd doomed through her coarseness and neglect, she felt the greatest failure in two words.

Stannis was dead. Guilt, but a shadow of the guilt she'd felt plotting against him, before he'd turned a blind eye to the burning of her husband. One of her dragons was dead. A blessing, yet Sansa cursed the dead had not taken out both her dragons, and their mother with them. Everything is going according to plan, she imagined Tywin whispering into her ears. Except that same everything was nothing more than vapid emptiness to her.

"Milady, you have a visitor." Medger Cerwyn, who'd been friends with her father, who'd hunted with him in their youth, and who'd been once skinned alive by Ramsay in another life.

She nodded wordlessly, ready to face yet another intruder into her temporary refuge, readying her masks depending upon whether she'd have any use for whomever visited her, whether she needed to act, or just politely thank them with empty eyes for their concern and kind words.

"My dear Sansa, I worried for you."

How dare he?

"I tried to stop it, believe me, I did."

Get out, she wanted to scream to him. But she found her voice frozen, struck dumb by his sheer brazenness.

"To be honest, I'm scared of her, all of us are, those of us who didn't go to Hardhome..."

"Why are you here, Littlefinger?"

As if she didn't already know, though he answered her anyway.

"Because I want to help you, to undo what I can, the damage I've done, bringing the Dragon Queen this far..."

Much as she wanted to rip his throat out on the spot, she forced herself to listen, to humor him, just to ascertain how right she was about Littlefinger's motives.

"Tommen's dead. No one can bring him back. Just how can you help me, Lord Baelish?"

She noticed he wore upon his dark vest the same brooch her father once wore, the brooch that Tyrion Lannister wore when he served his sentence as the Dragon Queen's Hand.

"Your husband's dead, that's true. I'd do anything to undo what was done. I can't. But your son's still alive. Eddard Lannister...no, Eddard Baratheon, may yet have a claim to the Iron Throne. Who are his rivals, a girl disfigured, who just proclaimed before all the realm her unwillingness to rule? A Dragon Queen who's willing to burn innocents, for the sins of their family? At a certain point, what matters more? The truth of a claim, or the truth the lords of the realm want to believe in a claim?"

"My son's claim," she said, her jaw hardened so as to contain her rage. "My claim. Why do I need you?"

"Because the Dragon Queen trusts me. Because she's found out the truth about the man you believe to be your half-brother, because Jon's life is in terrible danger."

She jolted in her chair, disgusted and dismayed that after all she'd learned, all the unearned years she'd lived, somehow the worm of the man sitting before her still had the ability to surprise her, to terrify her.

"What truth?"

"I'll tell you a secret," Littlefinger whispered, leaning forward so that she could smell the mint upon his breath, a previously pleasant smell she'd never liked again after her years as his ward her last life. "Like yourself, the Queen has dreams, she sees things, things that come true."

Like myself?

"What things?"

"The future. Her dragons being born. Her conquest of the east. And she sees enemies...the Lannisters...she saw Cersei betraying her, she saw Tommen on the throne, that's why, I believe, she was so desperate to murder your husband in cold blood. She sees you betraying her...perhaps you're thinking the thought already, I don't blame you, no one would blame you. And she sees Jon betraying her too, stabbing her in the heart with a knife, in order to take upon his own claim to the throne...as the bastard son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark...the last surviving dragon..."

Something in her reaction gave it away.

"You knew this already?"

"He's not a bastard," she said, mind in a daze, stuck irrevocably in the horrid past she thought she'd moved on from. "Jon's never been a bastard. The High Septon annulled his marriage to Elia Martell, and married him to my aunt in secret. Before she died, she named him Aegon, of House Targaryen...Sixth of His Name."

It was Littlefinger's turn to be stunned, though she had to give him credit, the man recovered as quickly as many could, his own revelation scrambled and scattered to the winds.

"No one else knows this," he asked, pivoting his head carefully across the room, as if anyone else could be spying on them at the moment.

"Just me."

"Just us. And it has to remain just us, my Lady Sansa, you have to trust me. The whole realm knows how you brought everyone together for this battle, yet the whole realm knows just how terribly you've been wronged, first with your father's death, now with your husband's. They will rally around you, they'll champion your son's claim, to try and make amends for the unforgivable..."

"So I ask you again, Littlefinger...why do I need you?"

Reaching inside his robes, he pulled out a small vial of clear liquid, the same poison he'd produced for Cersei's trial.

"She trusts me. Tonight, when I return to Winterfell, I'll share wine with her..."

"You were planning to poison Joffrey too, weren't you?"

Her interruption, and the changed expression on her face, froze him. Rising, she walked across the room, minimizing the distance separating the two, until she loomed directly over the man.

"You needed a more reliable partner, for your schemes. So you would have conspired with the Tyrells, the Lady Olenna, to have Joffrey killed, so that the Lady Margaery can then marry Tommen. With the gratitude of the crown and the Reach, you then take power in the Vale, by marrying my aunt Lysa, then murdering her, same as you probably murdered her this time, sailing to Mereen. You take me with you when you leave King's Landing, hide me under a false name as your bastard daughter Alayne, until you sell me to the Boltons, who would have Winterfell by then. Only, they'd lose it when Stannis marches against them and Stannis, out of respect for the girl most believed to be Ned Stark's last surviving child, makes me Wardeness of the North...and then what, I've always wondered? We sit out the next war, between Stannis and the Lannisters and Tyrells? Were you thinking you'd poison whomever came out alive from that battle too? Did you think Stannis would show you favor, because he needed your support in the Vale? Did you truly believe that by marrying me, you'd have the entire North under your thumb, and not mine?"

"My Lady, I don't..."

Before he could continue speaking, she withdrew the dagger of dragonglass she'd hid within her dress, that she'd grabbed from her nightstand the first chance she'd had, when Littlefinger first turned away from her while pontificating, and stabbed it down as quickly and fierce as she could, piercing the flesh upon his left shoulder through his back. Stumbling upwards, he looked at her, stunned betrayal in his eyes, and suddenly lunged at her, catching her, knocking her down upon the ground, except he'd fallen with his stomach onto the blade, and she twisted it and ran it up his body until she felt the sickening crunch of the dagger against his ribs. Knocking him aside, pushing him off her, she staggered back upon her feet, watching the man grasping his abdomen, his slick and polished hands shaking as they felt his own entrails sliding through his fingers.

"You don't get anything," she slurred at him, catching her own breath, realizing what she'd just done...that she'd stabbed a man...that she'd killed a man with her own hands. "You don't get the throne, you don't get my mother, you don't get me, you don't get to live."

The doors to her room burst open, as Medger Cerwyn and his son Cley ran in, having heard the commotion from outside.

"My Lady," the older Lord exclaimed at the bloody scene before him, "what happened?"

"A traitor was dealt with." Leaning back down, she jabbed the dagger at his face, slashing through his lips and tongue just as he was about to plead his case to his host, or Sansa guessed. Rising again, she stared her father's old friend and hunting companion in his dark blue eyes. "Medger Cerwyn, they say I was the one who crowned King Stannis, who brought the realm together, to fight and defeat the dead. Do you believe that?"

"I do, Lady Sansa," Medger replied, voice still in shock at the gruesome scene left by Ned Stark's frailer daughter.

"I saved you too," she continued. "Had I not stopped the war, the Boltons would have taken Winterfell, and Roose's bastard son would have flayed you alive, because of your loyalty to House Stark, do you believe that?"

"I...I...I do," he said, his voice trembling, yet how could he not believe her, how could anyone not believe her, when everything she'd said had come to pass? It was finally time to use this to her full advantage.

"Then do you believe me, when I say that the Dragon Queen is a monster, that she'd burn all us, that she'd burn this entire realm, cities and villages, lords and smallfolks alike, just like she burned my husband? Do you believe it when I say Winterfell is in danger, Robb...my brother Jon Snow, they're all in danger right now?"

"I...I believe you," Medger replied, his voice firm by the end.

"What would you have us do," Cley asked, the same man she'd known in Winterfell her last life, who'd suffered the sight of his father's death, who knelt before her now, as if she were the Lord of Winterfell, and not Robb.

Daenerys knew things. Just what, she wasn't sure, just how much of what Baelish said were truths, or half truths, or lies, whether plain or by omission...only that the time had come to stop waiting. The time had come to act.

"Stop being a bystander, do you hear me? There's no justice in the world, not unless we make it."

"Listen to me," she said firmly, looking back down at Littlefinger, who continued writing on the ground in pain, hacking whispers blowing out of his ruined throat. Bending down for the last time, she slipped the Hand's brooch off his bloodstained robes, his chest still heaving in pain, and made sure the Dragon Queen's Hand for a day watched while she tossed it carelessly into the fire. "Your King is dead. Your new Queen is a tyrant, who has not the blood of the First Men flowing through her veins, not like your blood, not like my blood. Follow me then, do as I say, not because you owe me your lives, but because you trust me to lead."

As they nodded their assent and fealty to her, her hands no longer trembling, Sansa wiped the dying man's blood off onto the leather covering her armor, styled the same way she'd worn it the first time she survived a Long Night. She could always wash the blood off the leather later.

Or I won't. Let this blood serve as a reminder to my enemies, to fear the fangs of the Wolf.


Jon

"It's time."

It was one of the Queen's Unsullied from Essos. According to Sansa, he'd been close with their leader, a man named Grey Worm, when he'd been the one to bend the knee and pledge the North to the Dragon Queen. They'd been nearly brothers in arms, before that man killed him, when he finally turned against his Queen. Now that Daenerys was Queen again, he wondered if he was doomed to the same fate.

"What's your name," he asked.

"Hero," the mercenary captain answered.

So not quite exactly the same. He worried about Sansa. Her King was dead, and now the Seven Kingdoms were ruled by a woman with no love for their family, who seemed to have hated him in the brief moment their eyes met. He'd heard about her outburst at Cersei's trial, and worried what a Targaryen tyrant who hadn't hesitated to burn an innocent boy would do to a woman who'd declared herself an enemy not just of Daenerys Targaryen, but of her entire family and legacy. And Jon felt anger building, that this Queen and her dragons would rob him of the joy and pride he ought to feel right now for his other sister, who'd slayed the Night King and saved the realm, for all he knew, the second time, if this had been how Sansa had seen the Great War won her first time.

My two sisters save the Seven Kingdoms, again and again. Will the Dragon Queen reward them with death and fire, again?

He followed the Unsullied soldier through the halls which he called home as a child, the corridors of the building which stood now as his prison, and wondered just where he was being led to. Just as his instincts told him how much Daenerys despised him, without reason, he suspected that she was determined to have him killed as quickly as possible, also without reason.

Shivering as he was led outside, he frowned in confusion when the soldier ordered him into the near empty stables.

"Why?"

"Go," the man they named Hero ordered, pointing his spear at him. With no choice but to walk obediently inside the building, dimly lit by a single torch, he saw an object lying upon the ground. Bending down, he recognized Longclaw, wielded by the King who'd led the war against the dead, only to be betrayed by the woman he'd just proclaimed his heir. Feeling the grip of the familiar weapon in his hands, it took him awhile to wonder why the Unsullied man would lead him to his sword. Was it to be trial by combat, did Daenerys want to actually give him a fighting chance?

But it wasn't an Unsullied who stood by the stables' entrance when he turned his head. It was his sister.

"Arya?"

"We have to hurry," she whispered, grabbing the reigns of a horse, signalling that he needed to mount one himself. "She'll kill you before the sun sets tomorrow, if we stay."

There was no time for any further explanation, and the two of them slipped their mounts through a back gate and rode briskly through the frigid cold air of the night after the Long Night, the bodies of the dead from both sides of the battle still littering the grounds outside their home.

"Where are we riding," he finally asked, when the walls of Winterfell had faded under the eerie glow of the pale winter's moon.

"To find Sansa," Arya answered.

"Sansa?" Of course, both his sisters would have a plan. "Where's she?"

"Surrounded by lions, probably."

Chapter Text

Robb

"Jon's escaped?"

"They found the naked body of one of my Unsullied, in the kennels. He did not have a face."

Arya!

"Your sister Arya and your brother Jon have declared themselves in open rebellion against the Crown, against their rightful Queen. Your sister Sansa still has yet to return from Castle Cerwyn with the Princess Shireen, when the rest of your family has, so it would seem that your absent siblings are encouraging treason amongst each other. Where do you stand then, Lord Stark?"

He couldn't believe the rashness of both his sisters. On the other hand, he was thankful that Jon was safe. Were Sansa present in Winterfell, she'd be arguing in his ear that the Dragon Queen would never allow Jon a fair trial, that she'd order him burnt out of pure spite. But what did it matter now, anyway? Daenerys was Queen for now, but thankfully her reign would be short, Sansa and the Lannister scorpions would take care of that. However, that would require trusting the word of Tywin Lannister, wouldn't it? The two seemed remarkably familiar with each other, a fact that ought not surprise him considering how they'd been secretly conspiring against their King for the last six years. Yet, Tywin Lannister was Tywin Lannister, and Robb did not put it above the man to abandon his grandson's wife, now that Tommen was dead.

How ironic, that I'm praying the arrival of a Lannister to save my family?

What pretense he put up now for Daenerys still mattered though, he realized, regardless of how much longer she'd preside over all Seven Kingdoms from the within Winterfell. He could play along with the Dragon Queen, bend the knee to her, and follow to the ends of the world her every command, with confidence that Sansa and Tywin would arrive in time, but then have his own lords seeing in him as a coward who refused to protect his own family from the clutches of yet another Targaryen monarch. Or he could resist her, defy her, but risk seeing her destroy his family, his children, his people, with her dragon, long before the scorpions had a chance to arrive and save the North.

He'd credit Sansa for being right about the Dragon Queen. Yet had she not lied to Stannis, Daenerys would not be in the position of power she was in now. Yet, had Sansa not falsely assured Stannis of Daenerys's trustworthiness, they may not have come to the agreement they had, then been in position to fight off the Night King's wights and dragon. Of course, had the Dragon Queen not stupidly stumbled beyond the Wall, the Night King never would have had a dragon, the Army of the Dead may never have crossed south, and they may not have even needed Daenerys's dragon to counter.

The what ifs were useless. Only the now mattered.

"We can't be hasty," he began carefully, to this woman who now had taken over his home, and sat alone at the head of the court she'd set up for herself in the Great Hall of his father and father's fathers. "Arya made a hasty mistake, it's true, but she did it only out of concern for her family..."

"A mistake," a barrel chested man said from one of the tables next to him, and Robb recognized him as Yohn Royce, who commanded his cousin Robin's bannermen while the young lord sat out the battle in Castle Cerwyn. "Arya Stark saved all of us, we'd all be dead men marching in the Night King's army if it weren't for her."

The Queen hadn't even gone and thanked Arya after the battle, but Robb figured that could be more Arya's fault, his sister ducking quickly back into the shadows of the castle the moment the battle was over. With Loras's trial the day before and now the matter of Jon's escape, all the realm had barely a chance to celebrate and drink merrily the most important battle won for humanity in the last eight thousand or odd years.

"Laws are laws," Daenerys replied coldly. "And Westeros is governed not by heroes, but by its rightful King or Queen."

"The rightful Queen can pardon them both," Robb cried out, knowing this could be his only safe way forward. "Pardon Arya, in light of what she did for the realm...your realm. Pardon Jon, for her sake..."

"Pardon Jon Snow," Alliser Thorne snarled across the room. "He's a traitor, who sat in a room while the rest of his sworn brothers fought the dead..."

"He sat in a room because you're determined to have his head," Robb shouted back at Thorne, unable to control himself. "Had you not been so stubborn, Jon would have led his brothers against the dead out there, same as you!"

"Pardon Jon Snow, Yer Grace," Alliser said, ignoring Robb and taking his case straight to the Queen, "and you'll be telling the men of the Watch that anyone can desert, anyone can go help the enemy..."

"The wildlings weren't the enemy," Robb argued, feeling the attacks coming in every direction, his mind beyond exhausted, having nary a moment to rest since the Long Night. "Your King proclaimed it so, Lord Commander!"

"Are my bannermen your enemy," Smalljon Umber thundered against him from beside Alliser Thorne. "Is that how you'd rule the North, letting your family murder freely the men you've sworn to protect?"

"I do rule the North," Robb said, standing up, "Lord Umber! And you're out of line..."

"House Targaryen rules the North," the Queen declared, interrupting them both, "House Stark merely holds it on my behalf, in my name, in service to me, their Queen."

To his surprise, the woman widened her mouth and flashed a smile at him, showing off that devastating beauty which had apparently ensnared Jon in Sansa's prior life.

"Lord Robb, I understand how difficult this is for you, to have to decide whether to betray your Queen, or your family."

You do? "I don't see it necessary, that it's unavoidable I'd betray one or another."

Was he wrong about her? Would Daenerys grant him the pardons he'd requested, even though he hadn't expected much of a chance of her assent when he'd asked the words?

"You shouldn't be placed in such a position in the first place. That is why I am temporarily relieving you as Warden of the North, just so long as until this matter is resolved."

"Your Grace," it was Davos Seaworth who protested before anyone else, even as he still mourned his King and friend, "this is unprecedented. Robb Stark has served you well, he's served Stannis well, he fought braver than anyone during the battle..."

"You're not Hand, Lord Davos, Petyr Baelish is." The Queen turned coldly towards the opposite table. "Many great new things will be set forth in my reign, Lord Davos, many of which will surely be without prior precedence. Harald Karstark, you and Robb Stark share the same blood, come from the same ancestor, don't you?"

"That's true, Your Grace," Harald replied, face bearing too smug and calm a look that told Robb instantly realized this had been choreographed by the Queen and his traitorous vassal well before they'd all stepped foot into the Great Hall.

"I appoint you Warden of the North, until this question of treason has been settled."

It was done, and despite the embarrassment he'd just suffered in his own home, Robb found himself relieved, no longer required to play the act and toe her line. At least he could wait in Winterfell, watch the following days events play out in silence, then hopefully bring himself to actually thank his sister, once she'd finally arrived.

"Your Grace, if that's your decision, I respect it. I only ask you be fair to my family, considering all they've done for the realm, considering all the realm holds their actions in gratitude."

Hurt my sister...my sisters, and all the realm will hate you more than they already do.

"It'll be considered," Daenerys said, effective dismissing him, Robb knowing there was not one shred of sincerity in her words. He hadn't gotten a good read on the woman before the battle, though she seemed courteous enough, making the rounds between he and all the other lords like any prominent member of court. It had only been since Cersei's trial in which she'd removed the mask, revealing a Queen of ice who'd shown little warmth or love or compassion for her subjects since. "Lord Karstark, I command you to send your men south, and capture the two fugitives."

"Your Grace," Harald answered, standing upright, ready to leave at once already.

Jon, Arya, you've a head start. Ride fast.

"And take Lord Rickon with you, he's old enough to learn what it means to be a northern lord."

He looked twice at his new Queen, not sure if he'd heard correctly the first time. Was she actually talking about his brother? Was this not a joke?

"Rickon?"

"He's three and ten now, is he not? Did your own father not take you along with him when he was performing his duties, when you were his age? It's time young Rickon learns the duties required of a Stark..."

"You're asking for a hostage," Robb asked angrily. "It's not enough that you'd have Rickon join Harald Karstark in hunting down his own brother and sister, you want a hostage..."

"Are you accusing me of bad faith, Lord Stark," the Queen asked, her cold smirk growing wider upon her face. "Are you threatening to raise your flags in rebellion, are you telling me that I do, in fact, need a hostage?"

"Lord Brynden," Yohn Royce bellowed, his face turning red. "Do you stand for this? A warrant for the head of the Hero of Winterfell? Threatening the young brother of Lord Stark, who's generously bestowed all the lords of the realm the hospitality of his castle, his lands, his bread and salt?"

"Lord Royce," Daenerys interrupted, "I'll remind you that your opinion matters little, that Robin Arryn, your liege lord, does indeed stand with me. But I do ask you, Lord Royce, whether it's antiquated history you're speaking of, my good man? That combined, the Vale the North and the Riverlands once overthrew a Targaryen? I'll remind you, Lord Brynden, I'll remind you all that my father did not have dragons, when you all betrayed him, when you all betrayed your vows to House Targaryen."

"There's no talk of rebellion, Your Grace," Robb exclaimed, stepping up. "You're the Queen. Lord Rickon will obey your wishes, as will all the Lords of the realm."

So be it, let him lose face, let the lords look down on him, call him a coward. There was no need for him to play the hero, not when when Sansa and Tywin Lannister set had set that as their roles in the play so many years ago already.

"You approve of this," the Blackfish snarled at him, going out of his way to seek him out in the lord's chambers after a second straight tense morning's council under their new Queen's reign. "Yer sisters saved the realm, and you'd sell it all out to the Dragon Queen?"

"Let my sisters continue saving the realm then," Robb argued back. "You heard what she says, she's threatening us with the dragons. Do you want to see Winterfell burn, do you want to see your men, do you want to see thousands of innocents all burn, because our pride can't afford us a little patience?"

"Patience?" Brynden Tully's pacing stopped in his tracks. "You know something, don't you?"

Robb hesitated. Just how much could he trust this man? He was family, true. But few hated the Lannisters, few had more reasons to hate the Lannisters outside the north, than his mother's family.

"Do you?"

"Only the smallest hint."

Robb shook his head, wishing perversely that he was still swinging Ice against an army of dead men. That was much simpler, compared to all this politicking he thought he'd be done with, after he bent the knee to Stannis. It was the King and Tywin Lannister who were supposed to be handling the Dragon Queen, it was their plot to own, he'd assumed all these years. How did she fall upon his hands now?

"The Tyrells withdrew their men immediately after the battle, saying they had the longest march to prepare their lands for winter."

"Sansa's preparing a war," Brynden asked, and Robb could tell from his eyes that he was suddenly terrified for his great-niece. It was one thing to talk rebellion, it was another to know how deep the treason cut already within all their families.

"They marched in time. It's too late now, if you went to join them, it'd be too suspicious."

"The Royces aren't fond of her," Brynden whispered, sitting down, the talk of war seeming to calm his ire, "though they're bound to Robin Arryn. Some of the Stormland banners went to Castle Cerwyn after the battle, to tell Princess Shireen the bad news. I imagine she'll be on our side, if only we can get the assurance of the remaining Stormlanders..."

Just how much would Shireen stick with Sansa, Robb wondered, if the girl knew her good friend just plotted the successful murder of her father? Except, there was no reason Shireen need ever find out, was there? So long as he kept his mouth shut, and Tywin Lannister his.

"Dorne we can assume will follow her commands."

"They're keeping an eye on the Lannisters, from what I hear," the Blackfish said with a grunt, looking him in the eye. "So the question is, what's old Lord Tywin up to?"

"I don't know." Too quickly endorsing the Lannisters could betray his sister's secret, and as mad as he still was for Sansa lying to him, manipulating him into joining her complicity in Stannis's death...he could not risk her life, her reputation, by revealing her secret. Especially when he and the North and all the realm, really, continued awaiting their salvation from her. "I imagine Tywin won't forget the burning of his grandson. The question is whether he'd go it alone, or whether he'd seek allies...whether he'd go the road of patience, or look to strike immediately."

"That old cunt's older than I am," Brynden mumbled. "He's fast running out of patience, I'd reckon."

"And I doubt Tywin Lannister would walk into any war without already knowing who his allies are," Robb said, trying to hint just enough at the treason. "We wait it out, Great-Uncle. Trust me, it pains me, it kills me, knowing they're taking Rickon, knowing all my family, all my people, can burn just as easily as Tommen. But we have no choice."

"Until we do." Standing, he took a mug of ale he'd left standing since marching into his room, and drank it in one swallow. "Have one of your men tell me how to get to Yohn Royce's chambers without the Dragon Queen noticing."


Daenerys

"You say he visited Robb Stark?"

Her new Warden of the North nodded.

"Do you know what the Blackfish said to him?"

"I'm afraid I can't listen through walls yet."

"I have a feeling these walls will be yours by the time I depart the North."

And depart not a minute too soon, Daenerys thought, while Harald Karstark smiled craftily at her promise. It hadn't been her intention to disinherit the Starks when she came into Winterfell, but that had been before finding out just how much of a threat their beloved bastard brother could pose to her. The family was close, they would stick to each other to the end, as evidenced by the little girl showing no hesitation in committing treason and escaping with Jon Snow, so what choice did she have, once Robb Stark inevitably and unenthusiastically followed in her footsteps? In hindsight, had Littlefinger found out about the bastard's parentage sooner, it may have been more beneficial for her to have cut a deal with Tywin Lannister against the Starks instead, rather than burning his grandson.

Fight every war always, in your mind. Everyone's your enemy, everyone's your friend.

"Any word from Lord Baelish?"

"No word from him, and no good news from Castle Cerwyn."

"Strange. But you've bad news to the south?" She'd seen Winter before, across the Narrow Sea, but she'd never been this far North, she'd never seen days this short, the sun setting again so soon after rising, the constant darkness threatening to suffocate her.

"The Cerwyns and the Reeds marched south along with the Tyrells and all the armies of the Reach, the Princess Shireen and Robb Stark's sister among them."

"Sansa?" Looking out the window, she squinted, imagining that she could see all the traitors in the distance. "Why south, if they're preparing for war against us?"

"To find allies, I'd imagine. And who do you think are more likely to ally with them against you, the Lannisters or the Martells?"

The idea froze her. Could it be possible?

"Do you think Baelish could be behind any alliance they could make?" After all, what relationship or even common interest did the Starks ever have with the Tyrells, unless someone as clever as Littlefinger could cook up something in his mind to unite the two distant houses.

"I don't know," Harald admitted. "But I'll have my men ride ahead to find out."

Nodding, she sat by the fire. Normally, Littlefinger would read her well enough, knowing this was his time to leave her, but the younger northerner remained.

"Do you have more to say, Lord Karstark?"

The man's beady little eyes did not blink in response, and Daenerys found herself ever more eager to just appoint the man Lord of Winterfell, depart the North and never deal with all its unpleasantness again.

"Your Grace, if the Tyrells and possibly the Lannisters are plotting against us, we'll need more men of our own."

She knew what he wanted. "We still have Rickon Stark."

"Do you think Tywin Lannister gives two shits about Rickon Stark, pardon my language, Your Grace."

"Fine. Take the Glovers with you. Tell the Umbers to march with the Night's Watch and form a perimeter to the east, between us and the wildling armies. If they give war...if Robb Stark turns to them in desperation, we'll be prepared, we'll give war in return, and Drogon will join the battle as soon as we've taken care of the traitors to the south."

She knew the truth, that in ordering Thorne and the Umbers to watch the wildlings meant it certain they would take the opportunity to provoke them outright. To be honest, she had nothing against the so-called free folk, they had indeed fought valiantly against the dead, their numbers proving crucial in keeping the Night King's army at bay until the White Walkers crashed through into the Godswood, as they'd intended with their trap. But Daenerys was fully cognizant of just how many enemies from all Seven Kingdoms surrounded her in Winterfell, just how outnumbered she was in the small castle with so few alive who remained entirely loyal to her, just how eager most of the lords gathered between Winterfell and Moat Cailin were to slit her throat, her last dragon the only reason they gave any pause to their ambition and desires.

"Your Grace," Harald bowed, finally allowing her her much desired solitude.

Should she cry for the deaths of the wildlings, she wondered? She hadn't cried for the slavers, she hadn't cried for Tommen Lannister, and she did not plan to shed any tears, should the worst happen with Rickon Stark. Could she secure her throne and defeat her enemies without such measures, she'd choose to do so in a heartbeat, but Daenerys Targaryen knew that she was finally understanding with her own mind the wisdom her ancestors had discovered hundreds of years before...that Fire and Blood weren't just mere empty words or boasts...they were the only possible means of forging a path to the Iron Throne, through hundreds and thousands of lords and knights and men all vying to commit treason, all coveting her power for their own grubby hands.

"It would seem you don't even need Littlefinger anymore," a familiar voice echoed through her room, "you've done such a wonderful job becoming him."

"Lord Tyrion?"

Her eyes widened at the sight of the man emerging from her closet, his trembling hands holding a small knife, heavy bags under his eyes a telling indication that wherever he'd been since the Long Night, he'd had just as little sleep as everyone else.

"I regret my part in this, Your Grace. I regret my part for not seeing Littlefinger for who he is. I regret my part for not seeing in your eyes who you really are."

"You trusted Littlefinger, same as I."

"My mistake," he answered, his voice disappointed in his own judgment. "I'll regret that for the rest of my life. I don't expect I'll live regret anything much longer."

Backing away slowly, she looked towards the door, her movements causing her formerly loyal advisor to raise his forearm, ready to strike before she could escape or yell for help.

"You'll be remembered as a Queenslayer," she cautioned loudly, trying to think up whatever could she could think to give him pause, to buy herself time any way she could. "They'll curse your name forever."

"They'll curse both of ours," came the response. "So be it."

"They'll kill you slowly...think about Shae."

He was close enough that she could smell the wine upon his breath now.

"Or perhaps they'll let me join Ser Loras on the Wall. I doubt Queen Shireen will cry for your death, I doubt anyone decent will, after you burned my nephew."

They both jumped at the sound of footsteps clambering back towards her room. Harald Karstark emerged, eyes wild as he registered what was transpiring before him. Still halfway across the room from her, Tyrion gasped, and heaved his arm forward, dagger sailing through the air. Her body frozen as she watched the jagged metal shard fly across the room, sparkling as it cast its reflection against the setting sun into her eyes, she could only fall to the floor in shock, wondering just how remarkably unworthy a death it would be for a Queen to die at the hands of an Imp, barely on the verge of gaining her birthright.

Pain shrieked its way through her body, even as she heard the dull thud of Lord Harald's sword cutting through the Half Man, from his neck down to his chest. His eyes fluttered, and rolled into their lids, lips coming to a still without one last word, and Daenerys dared herself to look downwards, upon her own left leg, and the dagger sticking through the top of her thigh.

"I'll get the maesters," Harald said calmly. "It's just a cut, a deep one, but you'll be strong, My Queen."

The worst is over. I'm alive. And one more traitor is dead.

Somehow her voice did not shake when she spoke again. "Give marching orders to my Unsullied and Dothraki," she ordered, knowing she could not show weakness, if only for a second, or every enemy would look to follow Tyrion's lead whilst she was still ensconced amidst them in the middle of the frozen northern wastes. "They'll march with your bannermen south past Castle Cerwyn. I'll join you tonight."

"Your Grace," the new Warden cautioned, lifting the hem of her skirt, exposing her bare legs as he grabbed frantically a linen, tying it over her wound. "Would it not be better to rest?"

His hands weren't shy, nor were they invasive, and Daenerys did not worry about such intrusions from him, given Littlefinger's whispers that the man's proclivities in the bedroom did not include grown women such as her.

How did I not dream this?

"I'm a Queen," she said, barely feeling the pain in her leg anymore, now that she'd forced her mind to push through it. "I'll do my duty."

Alone in the room and staring at the dead eyes of Tyrion Lannister while awaiting more help, she wondered if the man whom she used to call her friend died thinking he'd done his duty.


Arya

"I'm Robb's sister! You know, Lord Stark, Lord of Winterfell, Warden of the North?! Your niece?"

Dazed, Edmure Tully rocked his head back and forth between the scroll in his hand, and the two captives his men had just apprehended. "Yes, but you're accompanying a known prisoner of your brother's." Shaking his head, he looked again at the letter, as if disbelieving its contents. "And Harald Karstark is Warden of the North now, not your brother..."

"It's a plot," she whispered frantically at Jon. "She's making a move against our family!" Again, she looked up at her uncle, batting her eyes trying to look as helpless and, well, ladylike as she could. "Uncle Edmure, you're family!"

"You're family," he said, nodding with clenched jaw. "He's not."

Fuck. Did her mother go that far out of her way to prejudice her uncle against Jon?

"I'm the Hero of Winterfell," she said, dropping her guise of weakness, walking threateningly up to the man. "And I'm your niece. Are you going to have us arrested?"

Thoroughly confused, the Lord Paramount of the Riverlands kept returning his eyes to the scroll, as if he could decipher some sort of answer after looking upon it for the thousandth time. "Look, Lady Arya, I'll let you pass south if you want, but...Jon Snow has to stay at Castle Cerwyn."

"Arya, you should do what he says."

"I'm not going anywhere without you, Jon."

She could leave, find Sansa on her own, and come back for Jon, but then she could have awaited Sansa at Winterfell in the first place. But the Dragon Queen's own words had confirmed her instincts that she was determined to kill her brother as soon as she could, and Arya didn't doubt that, despite they head start they'd gotten that early morning, just how much ground their enemy could cover with one dragon.  Sansa had told her, take Jon and run, if he was in any danger. She would not abandon him now, especially with the danger increasing, with what seemed to be the entire north after Jon's neck.

"Look," Edmure grimaced again, "just come with us to the Castle. The Karstarks are on their way, I'm sure it's just all a...misunderstanding. You'll have plenty of comfortable quarters, considering most everyone's left already."

Including the Castle's lord, which appeared to be why Edmure Tully was the man in charge of all the soldiers between Winterfell, and wherever her sister had gone. So they marched back into the castle, because Edmure was her uncle, and her mother would be quite cross at her if she hurt or murdered him and took his face. That had also been why she'd held back when his men had stopped them at the river crossing south of the castle in the first place, thinking foolishly that she could talk some reason through her uncle's thick head.

Clearly this is the last time I'm trying this diplomacy thing.

She asked to share quarters with Jon, and Uncle Edmure did not think it a problem, considering he'd already confiscated both their weapons. They waited until past dusk, when the footsteps of a sentry knocked on their room, delivering them their supper. Wandering into the seemingly empty chambers, he sank to the floor when the vase cracked a satisfying thud over his head, spilling the tea and gravy he carried onto the floor like blood.

"He'll live," Arya said, having taken care not to kill one of her idiot uncle's men, frustrated as she already was with their delay.

"What about your Needle," Jon asked, as they raced through the corridors, Arya leading, listening for footsteps ahead.

"Might have to let it gather dust with Longclaw for awhile."

She wore the face of a knight just in case they were caught, and she could explain herself escorting the prisoner to the dungeons thanks to yet another one of Lord Edmure's vacillations. But their second escape proved as easy as their first, and it was under the full winter's moon they rode again, nothing but her instincts to guide her hopefully in the direction of her sister. Somewhere out there roamed Nymeria too, at home in her first winter, and Arya wondered where she was, and just how much she'd changed as well over the last eight years. It was a surprisingly warm night for winter, she thought, though she supposed she didn't better, having been a small child the last time the seasons swung around north.

"It's the hour of the wolf," she whispered to herself as she rode.

"I hope Ghost is safe in Winterfell," Jon whispered next to her.

Just then, they were interrupted not by the howls of the wolf, but the horrible screeching of the last dragon, blotting out the light of the moon above them.

"Quickly," Jon yelled, both of them seeing the giant shadow grow, flying with deathly grace in their direction, "to the trees!"

"The trees will burn too!"

"Maybe," he screamed. "Maybe not! But we'll definitely burn here in the open!"

Kicking her steed and willing it to race as fast as she could, all the while waiting to feel upon her back the same intense deathly heat which had killed her sister's husband, she found herself mere seconds away from the possibly safe harbor when she felt her horse buckling under her. Looking up, she ducked just in time to avoid the sharp claws of the dragon as it swooped down at her. With a thud, she crashed into the snowy ground, seeing Jon at the edge of the woods ahead of her. Hearing her scream, he reared his horse, ready to come to her rescue.

"No, Jon! Go!"

He didn't, but he never reached her, because his horse gave a hideous shriek too at the sight of the dragon, and bucked and fought its rider under Jon found himself lying in the snow next to her. There they'd both fallen, looking each other in the eyes, waiting for death...except it never came.

"Where'd she go," he yelled, both their eyes surveying the clear night's sky.

"Doesn't matter." Looking around, she saw their horses racing far ahead in the distance. No choice left to the two fugitives, they continued running through the woods south, muscles freezing, feet numbing with every step. Feeling weaker and more fatigued than her body had ever experienced, even when she'd trained in Braavos, she felt the arms of her brother reaching to pick her up.

"No," she protested, sinking to her knees in the snow with every step on an unseasonably warm winter's night, a mildness which she realized would doom them considering how the snow now absorbed their feet like the quicksand in Dorne.

"We'll go faster if I carry you," Jon said, even as she could see in his eyes just how exhausted he was, and wondered how much further either of them could continue on foot.

Then behind them came the of horns blaring, and the ominous galloping of what sounded to be hundreds of horses.

"Think Uncle Edmure's finally figured out we're gone," Jon asked, forcing a smile on his face.

"Not even he's that dumb," Arya replied, still lifting her legs high and groaning as she took one more clumsy step forward after the other. "Karstarks, probably," she said, lips quivering, the thunder echoing louder. "Though I think it's only the Dothraki that can ride that fast."

Neither one of them gave up, not even hearing the sound of their impending doom reach closer and closer to them. Further ahead, she could see edge of the forest, and wondered whether they should stay and hide, hoping that somehow the foreign riders would miss them in the thicker woods rather open ground where they stood no chance, both of them missing their weapons.

"Banners," Jon shouted, and Arya squinted her eyes and felt her heart lift at the sight of the moonlight striking off the tips of what looked to be dozens of flags held high in the distance. Both of them were reduced to almost crawling by the time they emerged into the open field, where the ground dipped downwards, and they saw that it was not dozens, but what looked to be dozens of thousands of flags gathered in the plains below.

"We found her," Jon asked, daring himself to be hopeful.

"We found an army," Arya whispered in awe. Except it looked not an army made up of man, but machine, giant bolted weapons mounted upon two wheels forming a wide line as far as their eyes could see in either direction. And riding at its head, they both saw at the same time, stood their sister tall upon a grey horse, surrounded on either side by a Lannister lord.

"Sansa," she cried as loudly as voice could still make out.

Chapter Text

Sansa

Arya was shivering. Jon was shivering. Both their faces colored paler than the snow, and she'd immediately ordered blankets brought to the head of the line, embracing both her siblings under their warm shelter unabashed before all the hardened men ready for imminent battle, running her hands furiously up and down both their frigid backs. Though she trusted out of all her siblings that Arya or Jon could take care of themselves, they'd also died facing the dragon the last time too, and Sansa had worried she wouldn't make it north fast enough now that she had the means. As awful as they looked now, she could only be thankful they stood alive, they'd made it south, and now the pack stood larger than before.

"What are those," Arya asked, the life thankfully returning to her eyes.

"Scorpions," she said proudly. "Each one of them can pierce a dragon's skull."

"You said she's here, with her dragon," Jaime asked, concerned. Sansa did not doubt the man's bravery, nor did she doubt any man's fear when it time came to either kill a dragon, or burn.

"And Dothraki, I think. They'll be here soon."

Not soon enough, Sansa thought. They needed to get back to Winterfell, from what she'd heard from Arya, with Harald Karstark somehow the new Warden of the North. Even if she still hated Robb, a feeling which may or may not wane, there was still their mother, Bran, Rickon, Talisa, Talynna, and all the people of the North she'd died her first life to save. At least the Dragon Queen was here, she rationalized, which gave her less opportunity to wreck havoc in her home.

"Damn this full moon," Sansa cursed, "she might see the scorpions early." Mounting her horse, she rode back and forth along the line between the two alternating rows of scorpions, screaming at all the soldiers holding the hilts of the scorpions at the top of her lungs. "Don't fire until we see her dragon! We either surprise her, or we all burn!" On the opposite side, the Kingslayer repeated similar directions.

Arya frowned once Sansa returned to their center position. "She saw us, I'm sure of it. But she didn't burn us."

Jon. "I think I know why," Sansa began, but then was interrupted by the shrieks of the Dothraki, and she willed that the Lannister armies would not quiver at the exotic sound signifying impending death across two continents.

"Nock," Jaime ordered next to her.

"Loose," he screamed, as the first waves of the enemy riders emerged through the woods.

The arrows flew through the night air, and a few hit true to their targets, downing the riders and their horses.

"Nock! Loose!" Again, another volley of arrows, and more riders fell, but not enough.

"Two more rounds at most," Jaime muttered, the sight of the fearsome army charging down the hill at their formation, tightening the bowels of every man and woman standing their ground in the snow, "and we fire the scorpions, or let them cut through us."

"Nock," Tywin yelled this time. "Loose!"

"Nock," Jaime readied himself once more, and just as he was about to order the last volley, just as the scorpion shooters readied their bolts and the infantry behind them raised their shields, the trees before them trembled, revealing the last dragon of the world swooping downwards to light the ice on fire.

We win now. Or we die.

"Fire the scorpions," she and Tywin and Jaime and all the lords at the head of the army screamed out in unison, and so they did. First shot the ones mounted at the very front, tearing through the terrain before them so that by the time the first volley cleared, the snow covered hill had disappeared entirely, along with the army which had bearing down upon them just minutes before. Behind them, the second row of scorpions raised their barrels higher in the air, and fired in unison dozens of missiles all aimed at the dragon, covering the night sky with their silhouettes. Then, more bolts fired from the rear of their ranks, but those were unnecessary, adding injury to all the half dozen bolts which had already pierced through the creature, the mortally wounded dragon plummeting onto the hillside with one painful shriek. Accompanying more volleys of arrows, the last round of scorpions fell upon the battered hill, decimating what remained of the initial enemy charge which had fast turned into a retreat for those who still survived.

At least it's a fast death for him, Sansa thought. It's not the dragon's fault.

And as much as she wished to inflict a slow death upon the Dragon Queen with her own hands, she'd take this easy win, the last Targaryen dying with her last dragon. They all exchanged looks of awe, her and her siblings and the Lannisters, that it could have been so easy, that with a snap of their fingers, with one single volley of Qyburn's machinery, that they'd done it, that the war was won!

"Forward," Jaime screamed, and slowly they advanced up the hill, infantry marching behind the rolling weapons. More gallops ahead of them, more riders, this time she recognized the sigil of the Karstarks, marching alongside Unsullied and even some banners she vaguely recalled as coming from the Crownlands. If there was one bles