“Nervous, Prince Jon?” Tyrion asks him while nursing his flagon of wine, with his appraising smirk that always makes Jon sigh tiredly.
“Me? No. I imagined you might be though, you are seeing your ex-wife, after all,” Jon supplies, smirking back at him.
Tyrion rolled his eyes with something like half amusement, half exasperation. “The Lady Sansa was hardly ever my wife, Prince Jon. You well know that. A sham marriage meant to humiliate us both,” a hint of bitterness laced in Tyrion’s voice then.
Jon doesn’t bother correcting him on how his so-called Lady Sansa is actually titled the Queen in the North, since he knows it would be a futile effort at this point. He was lucky to get his aunt to even agree to send Jon as an emissary rather than bringing her dragons here to quash the rebellion. He figures he should do what he can, for the Starks are his kin, strangers though they may be. However, he thinks Tyrion may well ruin this trip with his carelessness.
“I imagine that would be another reason to be nervous, Lord Tyrion, do you think she will be happy to see a reminder of her time in King’s Landing?” He knows he is riling Tyrion up, but sometimes he can’t seem to help himself, especially when Tyrion aims his arrogant teasing at Jon. The man thinks it’s funny, the idea that Jon might be nervous. He can’t help but to needle him back.
“I was good to her. I was kind,” Tyrion says, offense darkening his features.
Jon thinks Tyrion probably was kind, in his own way. But from what he’s learned since Tyrion came to them in Meereen and since they made their way to Westeros, he can’t imagine Tyrion’s kindness was nearly enough for his cousin.
“A reminder, all the same.” Jon tells him, but the bite in his voice is gone, as he veers back to his worries about this trip. He’s not as confident as his aunt that Tyrion will be given a warm welcome. From what he’s heard, Northerners are hard and stubborn, and if that’s true, he thinks the lords and ladies may react badly to the man once wed to their Queen. What’s more, he does not wish to offend his cousins.
And then there are the other worries, the ones that have nothing to do with diplomacy and are more personal in nature. Whether the Starks will despise him for killing his mother to come into the world. Whether they will look at him as an outsider for his Targaryen heritage, just as his aunt and uncle had looked at him as too different, with his dark hair, his grey eyes and long face. Of course, until his looks stood to give his aunt an advantage.
Then, there is the desire within him to learn something of his mother and her home. He didn’t know how one could miss someone they didn’t know, but he missed her all the same.
Perhaps he needn’t worry, he thought bleakly, for the North will kill him, Tyrion, and their party before he has a chance to face the fears plaguing his mind. Perhaps it was foolish to come with only a small party of men and weapons. To come without dragons. But the Queen in the North had accepted the Dragon Queen’s entreaty to send Jon North on her behalf. And guest right was important to the North and to the Starks in particular, if what Ser Jorah had told him was true. The native man from the Northern house Mormont was helping to lead them, teaching Southerners how to survive the cold.
Truthfully, though he would never admit it, he wonders if this cold winter in the North might have killed his aunt’s dragons—if they could survive such frigid temperatures and hunting game different from what they’d known. Of course, the Targaryens had forced the North into submission with dragons before. But Jon doesn’t know if it was winter then. Or if the winter then could compare to now. He can’t remember if he learned it in his lessons and forgot, or simply never had a lesson for it in the first place. Plus, his aunt’s dragons were not as large and formidable as the dragons of old. Powerful creatures, no doubt, but still—not like those that brought the North to its knees.
And perhaps the North had magic in it too. He’d heard the tales of what happened North, with an army of the dead, a Night King, struck down by the Queen in the North’s elder brother, who died along with the White Walkers. It was fanciful, but Jon didn’t know whether to dismiss it entirely. His aunt brought dragons back, who is to say if the tales were impossible?
He had lied to Tyrion, though the man probably knew that. He was nervous. He didn’t think anyone in his party—himself included—had a true idea of what awaited them. And if Tyrion and his aunt’s final ploy was eventually put forth—to betroth Jon to Sansa Stark, Queen in the North, he didn’t know if any of them would survive it.
“You know what they want. You know what they’ll try to do,” Arya mutters to her angrily.
Sansa barely looks up to her furiously pacing sister before returning to the numbers on their grain stores. There’s little point in giving Arya’s disdain further attention, as there will be no resolution to it and they both know it. “And what would you have me do? Refuse their invitation and possibly provoke the new Southern Queen into flying here herself with her children?”
Arya snaps her fingers, pauses her steps and juts out her forefinger at Sansa, fully into her rant now. “And that’s another thing,” she says, “they claim she is not mad like her father, but what sane woman would claim to be the Mother of those beasts, Sansa?!”
“Lower your voice,” Sansa reprimands her, feeling as if the ghost of her mother has stepped into her body for a moment, “do you want all of Winterfell to hear you?”
“Maybe I do, Sansa,” she says, but her voice is lower now. She slumps into a chair across from Sansa’s desk, winded by her fury, it seems.
“I wish to ignore the South as much as you do, Arya. But you know that we cannot.”
“We can’t give away our home, Sansa.”
“I know, Arya.”
“Our people would rather burn—”
“I know, Arya!” she snaps. Sansa realizes she is breathing heavily and is surprised at how easily her sister has goaded her. Perhaps she is under too much stress. She pinches the bridge of her nose in frustration. “I will never bend, Arya. You know that. I only hope to prevent us from burning if there is any chance to do so.”
Arya nods, seemingly calm. She is quiet for so long that Sansa begins to think she has slipped out of the room unnoticed, as is her way, when she speaks again. “What do you think father would think?”
“Of bending the knee; the Dragon Queen?”
She huffs, as if it is obvious what she is asking. “No, it’s—what do you think he’d think of our cousin?”
Sansa considers for a moment before answering. “I think he’d withhold judgment until he met him.”
Arya stares at her searchingly. “Is that what you’ll do?”
Sansa knows her father was a good man. Knows how much he loved Lyanna, only a girl when she’d died. She knows her father had wanted to find Jon and bring him North. She feels a tug of tenderness at the thought.
But she also knows her father made mistakes that cost him his head. Mistakes she cannot afford to make. Sansa tells Arya, truthfully, and it is such a gift to have her sister with her again, someone she can be truthful with: “I don’t know.”
When Jon sees Winterfell in the distance, he feels some strange pull forward in his chest. He feels he’s seen it before. Maybe in dreams. But perhaps he is romanticizing, as he’d often been accused by his aunt and her Hand.
Jorah looks to the castle in an expression Jon imagines mirrors his own. It must feel strange, like coming home, and also, decidedly not at the same time.
Jon wonders, not for the first time, whether his Stark kin might allow him to visit the crypts with his mother’s remains. He’s heard tales that the North built statues for their past Kings of Winter, and later their Lords and Wardens. Heard that Ned Stark had loved his sister so dearly he’d had a statue of her own commissioned. What would such a man have thought of him, to see him now, with this retinue from the South, here to bring them back into the Seven Kingdoms?
What would she have thought?
“Are you ready, Prince Jon?” Ser Jorah had trotted over to him on his horse. Jon gives him a swift nod. They enter the courtyard.
The lords and ladies give them hard looks. Not a word is said. The silence is eerie, Jon thinks. The wind howls. Snow is on everything.
So familiar and unfamiliar to him at once. He dismounts and his party readies itself, and that’s when he sees them. What could only be the Starks across the courtyard.
He notices the boy first. Well, young man. The crippled boy in his chair, his stare is what brought Jon’s gaze to him first, he’s looking at him in a way that makes Jon uneasy. He sees a tiny young woman, her gaze hard and Jon is struck by their resemblance. He’d always been told he’d had the look of the North but seeing this is another thing entirely.
Then he sees her, standing by what must be her sister. The woman that must be Queen Sansa. Her long auburn hair is only slightly pulled back, flowing around her shoulders, and it’s in contrast to the styles he’s seen in the South. She is tall, stands regally with perfect posture. Her expression not revealing a thing. Her hands clasped in front of her almost daintily.
She is beautiful. In fact, Jon realizes, she is the most beautiful woman he has ever seen. It momentarily takes his breath away when her deep blue eyes meet his. He tries to shake off the thought—the feeling—it would bring no good for him to approach bewitched and fumbling. On her other side is an even taller woman, with short blond hair, a sword at her hip. He sees an older gentleman with a beard, looking to him wearily, but also studying him, Jon thinks. Jorah clears his throat and Jon hears the message therein and begins to walk toward them, and he hears Tyrion’s steps slightly behind him.
The gray-bearded man approaches then, stepping closer to Jon and the Queen. “May I present, Sansa of House Stark—The Queen in the North,” motioning to the red-haired beauty before him. Jon dips his head in a polite nod, not bowing.
“Your Grace,” he says and swallows thickly. Yes, he is nervous. More nervous than he thought he would be.
Jorah places a hand at Jon’s shoulder, and the slight brown-haired woman that eerily resembles him follows the motion with her eyes, gripping the slim sword at her hip. This is not a good start, he thinks, but she makes no other move. “May I present, Prince Jon of House Targaryen, nephew and heir of Queen Daenerys Targaryen. And the Hand of Queen Daenerys, Lord Tyrion Lannister,” Jorah finishes his introductions. Jon thanks the Gods for small mercies, that at least his aunt is not here. That they do not have to listen to a long and painfully awkward recitation of her many titles as she always insists.
Tyrion steps forward to Queen Sansa and Jon finds himself holding his breath. He should have stolen the man’s liquor from him. “How lovely to see you again, my former lady wife,” he says, smiling at the woman with fondness. Jon cringes inwardly but tries not to show it.
The Queen looks to him and Jon thinks he’d seen a flicker of something—some discomfort—in her eyes when Tyrion said lady wife, but it is smoothly wiped from her expression. He doesn’t miss the way her sister scowls or the blond woman shifts her feet. Jon knew it was a bad idea to the bring man here, her ex-husband, blood of the people who slaughtered her family.
But Queen Sansa smiles slightly—polite and practiced, Jon thinks—and speaks, “and to see you, Lord Tyrion,” she says, and Jon can’t tell if she means it or not. This woman (this beautiful woman) is enigmatic to him.
“I don’t believe you have met Ser Jorah of House Mormont,” Tyrion motions to Jorah, and a murmur runs through the crowd around them, though Jon does not know why. He sees the Starks eyeing the man, Ser Jorah holding an expression Jon does not recognize. He has the sinking feeling that something has been kept from him.
The Queen barely looks to the man, as if it is painful to do so, and nods slightly, “Ser Jorah,” she says quietly. Jon doesn’t know the meaning of this interaction, but he knows he must find out quickly.
“I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Prince Jon,” she says, and it takes Jon a second to realize she is talking to him. Before he has the chance to make any sort of reply, she is speaking again: “May I introduce my sister, Princess Arya Stark,” Princess Arya shifts uncomfortably—seemingly at the title—and nods stiffly at him without speaking. “And my brother, Prince Brandon Stark,” she motions toward the crippled young man in the chair, silent and oddly still until now.
Now he looks at Jon and something small, almost a smile, passes from the man’s lips: “Welcome,” he says, with little of the warmth one would expect from the word.
“My ladies’ maids will show you to your chambers, and we shall then meet in the Great Hall after you have settled,” Queen Sansa says gracefully. She seems to do everything gracefully, Jon observes, and just like that they are being escorted inside.
Jon moves to Ser Jorah as they are led through the corridors. “We must speak,” Jon says, knowing he cannot do it here in the halls of Winterfell.
Jorah nods minutely. He says, regretfully: "Yes, Prince Jon, that we must."