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Author: bratanimus
Title: Nights Without Armor (Chapter 4 – Sansa)
Fandom: Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire
Pairing: Jaime/Brienne, Podrick/Sansa
Word Count: 6,234 this chapter (~32,000 entire story)
Rating & Warnings: M for adult themes, sexual innuendo
Summary: An unlikely trio – Jaime, Brienne, and Podrick – set out to rescue Sansa from Petyr Baelish. Can they return the last known Stark heiress to Winterfell and fulfill their oath to Catelyn Stark, thereby releasing them all from Lady Stoneheart’s death sentence?
Author’s Note: If you missed it and need to catch up:
Chapter 1 – Podrick
Chapter 2 – Brienne, Part 1
Chapter 3 – Brienne, Part 2
This COMPLETED story has six chapters, to be posted once weekly. It is a continuation of my one-shot The Wrong Things for the Right Reasons, but can be read on its own. Thank you for reading!




Sansa


Sansa didn’t care if Podrick did not sleep on the nights that she drew his arm around her waist. As long as his knees were tucked behind hers and his chest pressed warmly against her back, she didn’t care if he never slept again. The darkness was the worst, and it was nighttime that she most needed the pressure of Pod’s body against hers, for it was in the night that her thoughts drifted to her mother, and she wasn’t certain if it was excitement or dread she felt. If her companions were speaking true, her mother was … no longer her mother. The Kingslayer and Lady Brienne had met her when she was alive, so this Lady Stoneheart couldn’t be an imposter, could she? Or were her supposed saviors lying? What purpose could a lie like that serve? Sansa could not fathom it, and so her thoughts whirled and bucked as she lay still and blinking with Podrick’s arm over her.

She couldn’t help being angry with her own body for becoming aroused by the feel of his, by the sensation of this stranger who seemed honorable enough but was still, after all, just a man. Pod was everything she’d once thought a knight should be – unafraid to do what must be done, yet kind to the gentler sex. But though he was all those things now, she knew she couldn’t trust him never to frighten her, never to disappoint her. After all, she understood how time and loss could change a person. She knew how it had changed her. Her body had eventually betrayed her with Littlefinger, too, and she hated herself for that, for giving him that satisfaction. But he had never hurt her, oh no – he was too clever for that. For her, calculated kindness was his weapon of choice. He understood how badly she needed it, and he was … persistent. She hoped that she knew better now.

Sansa closed her eyes and tried to go back to a better time, before everything and everyone turned on their heads and she didn’t know whom to trust. Podrick’s hot breath against the back of her now-bare neck felt almost like she had Lady back again. Lady, who’d slept against her like a mother, or a lover. Lady, who had hurt not a soul and had no one to defend her in her hour of need, not even Sansa’s own lord father. Especially him.

She squeezed her eyes more tightly shut, trying to force that thought back into the dark where it belonged. But the sun was rising, and she was cold, and she needed to find a tree behind which to relieve herself. She was so tired of having no privacy. It had been far too long since she hadn’t been under the watchful eye of someone. And if her companions were more respectful than any of the others had been, they were still constantly there. Podrick was less irritating than the others by virtue of having less to say, and so she liked him better for it. He let her be, and it was refreshing.

Podrick sat up, of course, when she did, but she laid a hand on his chest to keep him still. Her breath steamed in front of her face as she found a tree and hiked her skirts. By the time she was done, Lady Brienne had disentangled herself from the Kingslayer’s long arm – Sansa wondered who exactly had been on watch in the wee hours before waking – and was off in search of her own tree. Sansa shuddered when she realized that she and Podrick had been mirroring the sleeping position of their cohorts. But no one here seemed to care for propriety, and she couldn’t exactly be bothered about it, either. She’d done far worse in the Vale, having been despoiled by her protector and supposed father, and forced to swallow moon tea to escape the consequences of that horrid arrangement. Now, sleeping next to a squire every night seemed but a snowflake in an avalanche.

Podrick grunted, breaking the snow-blanketed hush of early morning, as he tugged on his new boots – Littlefinger’s boots, which he’d slipped from the man’s feet a short while after the Kingslayer had put an end to him. Sansa didn’t like the boots on Podrick. It felt to her as if they would poison him from the toes upward. But that was childish. Still, she turned away … and met the eyes of the Kingslayer.

“Good morning, Lady Sansa,” he said, still hoarse from sleep. He rose from his sleeping spot, cleared his throat and hawked, then spat into a bush. Sansa could not believe that she – or anyone – had ever found him handsome. He looked so much like his hateful sister. Besides, he was a man, like the rest. A man who’d murdered a king and started this horrible mess. A man who’d wanted Robb dead. A man who had made certain her father would die. So now he’d rescued her, and perhaps that shifted the balance a bit more in his favor. But there were miles to go before she saw her mother, or whoever she was, and even more before she was home again, and a man could show his true face in many ways, she’d learned.

Still, Brienne seemed honest enough, and kind, if a bit brusque about it. And there were many things Sansa found reassuring about her. The horrid scar on her face, for one, was strangely comforting, as were her crooked teeth. Her masculine strength and form. The way she only spoke when she had something real to say. And her eyes – her eyes were astonishing, and so expressive, and they seemed honest. Sansa sat on a fallen log and marveled as the older woman loomed over Podrick while he prepared a meager meal to break their fast. She towered over the Kingslayer, as well, and that was reassuring, too.

Best of all, she’d been teaching Sansa the art of defense. She seemed so at ease with violence, as if it were nothing personal but simply a way of living. Sansa envied that attitude because, to her, violence was deeply personal, and that made it difficult to hurt someone. Her fear, her damned fear, kept getting in the way, making her timid, keeping her weak.

She imagined Arya, alive, whirling about like a tornado with her little sword, cutting down foes with Nymeria by her side, the two creating a whirlpool of blood and gore around them. She smiled.

“You slept well, my lady?” asked Brienne, with a smile of her own.

Sansa nodded, for the sound of her own voice often made her angry. Many things, she found lately, made her angry. It was as if, now that she was free of Littlefinger, her rage finally had room to declare itself, and it was not a comfortable feeling.

“Shall we begin?”

Sansa nodded again.

Their routine was to complete Sansa’s lessons every morning before or after breaking their fast, as the noontime meal was for the two knights to practice together, and then for one of them to spar with Podrick. Sansa would always watch, to see what more she could learn, and she was astounded by how often Brienne, a woman in spite of her size, bested the Kingslayer. Even left-handed and using a wooden sword, he was a terror to watch. But she’d seen how the two of them had dispatched Littlefinger’s company with seemingly little effort, and quite often she had the odd thought that, together, there was nothing they couldn’t do. They fit together in some bizarre way, and that made Sansa uneasy, though she couldn’t have said why.

“Podrick?” called Brienne.

He set down the sacks of hard cheese and dried meat and rushed over, his cheeks flushed. But he met Sansa’s eyes today, as he’d been doing more and more often. She graced him with a smile and the redness of his cheeks deepened. But then he smiled back and she was disarmed. His teeth were rather nice. It made his plain face almost handsome, and she was not prepared for that and certainly did not trust it.

While these thoughts flitted through her mind, Podrick grabbed her roughly about the waist, as a drunkard in an inn might do. But Brienne’s drills helped Sansa to respond instinctively. She had her hands free, and so she pressed one knuckle into the sensitive muscle of Podrick’s jaw, keeping his head steady with her still-bandaged palm against the other side of his head. She felt part of the wounds on her fingers open again, but still she pressed hard.

“Ow!” he cried, backing away from her at once, his hand over his jaw. “What was that?”

The Kingslayer had leaned against a nearby tree to watch and now chuckled softly, and Podrick shot him a look of betrayal. Sansa grinned at her attacker’s hangdog look and flexed her wounded fingers, hardly feeling the sting of pain.

“That, Podrick,” said Brienne, “was a simple way to keep a harmless man from advancing any further. But what did you forget to do next, Sansa?”

She sighed. “Run away,” she rasped.

“Precisely. Put distance between you and your assailant. Perhaps he’ll find that you are too much trouble to chase.”

“What if he’s not harmless?” asked Podrick. “What if he gets angry? My lady,” he added quickly, bobbing his head.

Sansa raised her eyebrows at him. “Try it.”

Podrick frowned and looked at Brienne, who nodded. He stepped forward, grasping both of Sansa’s wrists. Sansa twisted and wrapped her hands around his, quickly trapping one of his hands in a stress position, as Brienne had taught her; but she didn’t have a strong enough grip to then force him to his knees, or perhaps she didn’t want it badly enough, for he turned his body and slipped free and somehow they were both on the snowy ground. Podrick hovered over her, his hands pinning her wrists at either side of her head. She knew what could happen next, though Podrick would never presume to push her legs apart with his knees. The fear began to roil in her belly and throat then, and, panting, she felt her courage leaving her like water running through a sieve.

“He cannot take what is not his,” said Brienne, reciting the mantra again, “unless you allow him.”

Both women knew that wasn’t exactly the truth, for there were many situations from which a female might not escape. But for the purposes of training, Brienne expected her to break free of every hold Podrick placed upon her.

Sansa ground her jaw. She could do this. Quickly, she raised her hands, sliding her wrists – still within Pod’s vise-like grip – upward along the cold, wet ground and turning her head to one side. Podrick wasn’t expecting the sudden shift and fell face-forward over her shoulder into the snow. Then she wrapped her left leg around his right, planted her right foot flat on the ground, and pushed with all her might from that hip and foot … and somehow she threw him off of her. She huffed in surprise, frozen for a split second.

“Next!” shouted Brienne.

Still kneeling next to him, Sansa struck Podrick hard in the inner thigh, to simulate a fist to the groin. Then she whipped her wooden practice dagger from her belt and slapped the flat side to his upper chest, to represent stabbing him in the throat. Podrick hadn’t had a second to recover. Still breathing hard, Sansa smiled down at him.

“Excellent,” said Brienne. The Kingslayer clapped his mismatched hands together slowly, nodding as he did so.

Podrick laughed, a throaty chuckle that somehow felt better to Sansa than her teacher’s praise. She laughed, too, her scratchy voice barely audible; but for the first time in a very long while she felt actually happy, and the strangeness of that made her laugh harder. She stood and offered Podrick her hand. He stopped laughing, though he still smiled, and after a moment of looking at her hand he took it and hoisted himself up. He was taller than she was, and his dark hair ruffled in the cold wind, and for a wild second Sansa wanted to kiss him. But she knew that impulse could only be the thrill of her victory speaking to her traitorous body, and it must be ignored; and so she slowly turned and made her way to their small campfire. Podrick plodded along behind her, as usual, but she wasn’t sorry when he sat down next to her to break his fast.




Their day unfolded much the same as many others. Rogues and bandits hadn’t waylaid them in a few days, which was a relief to them all. Sansa had noticed that Podrick was becoming more and more confident fighting, and killing when he had to, and she longed for the day when she would be skilled enough to have her own sword. Arya would be so smug, if she could see her now. She often found herself wishing that she could tell Arya how right she was, about everything. Her thoughts flitted one after another to Robb and Bran and little Rickon; to willful Arya; even to Jon, who now seemed more a brother than he’d ever been, or perhaps it was loneliness making him seem so; and finally to her mother and father. Her need for them felt bottomless, and she felt herself spiraling into a dark place. How little she had appreciated the real people in her life, the ones who had wanted her to flourish.

“Are you well, my lady?”

Sansa hadn’t realized that she had allowed her horse to fall behind Brienne’s, and Podrick had ridden up beside her. Brienne now dropped behind so that Sansa was protected between her and the Kingslayer; usually it was Brienne by her side and Podrick behind.

Sansa nodded and offered a small smile. “Yes, thank you. I was just – ” She stopped herself. Did she really want to talk about her sister? About any of them?

Podrick watched her and waited for a few seconds, then turned his gaze forward again. “You – my lady must be thinking of going home,” he ventured.

Would sharing the burden lighten it? She let out a breath and nodded.

“I was thinking, my lady, that if Lord Tyrion isn’t – I mean, if we find him – if he returns – ” Podrick swallowed and furrowed his brow, squinting. “Winterfell is assuredly yours, by your own right, and by the rights of your lord husband. The Iron Throne made it so.”

“They can as easily take it away,” said Sansa. “We are suspected of killing King Joffrey.” If only I had, she thought. I would have died happy, instead of whiling away my pathetic days like a bird in a cage. “And Lord Tyrion is wanted for the murder of his father.”

Sansa could not help casting her eyes forward toward the Kingslayer for, if the rumors were true, Joffrey was his own son. His torso undulated with the movement of his horse, but he gave no sign that he was listening to their conversation.

Podrick frowned. “Ser Jaime says that Lord Tyrion confessed to him that he killed King Joffrey. But I don’t – it doesn’t seem – Lord Tyrion is wickedly clever, but poison? I cannot believe – ”

“He did not kill Joffrey,” said Sansa. “This I know.”

The Kingslayer tilted his head slightly toward the left. He was listening. No matter; wouldn’t Sansa want good news of Arya, if anyone had such a thing?

Podrick’s eager expression darkened and he frowned, thinking. “Is there – do you know who actually did it?”

Sansa appreciated that Podrick could not suspect her of such treachery, for all the good it did her. “Petyr Baelish told me the murderer was Lady Olenna Tyrell. I think he might have helped her to do it.” When little Robert had finally died in the Vale, it hadn’t looked like one of his fits; it had looked like poison. It had looked like Joffrey’s death, horrible and ugly. But what could she have done? Hers was a nest of vipers, and there had been no friend to call her own.

“In truth?” exclaimed Podrick, wide-eyed. “Well, then, my lady, all we have to do is – is – ”

“Prove it?” said Sansa. “How? And destroy another house in doing so? Start another war?”

“But if we don’t – ”

“Then we – ”

She stopped abruptly, forgetting her own dire prediction when she comprehended that he’d said we. Her heart thudded hard and she swallowed, breathing heavily for several seconds as she tried to discard the long-dead hope for a true companion during what would surely be her final trials. She shook her head.

“There is no we – ”

“Shhh!” said Jaime, whipping his head to the right and looking up into the hills. Brienne wheeled about in the same direction.

Then the riders were upon them.




Sansa sat backward on horseback. She was lashed to Podrick, facing him, in his lap with her thighs around his waist and her legs dangling to either side; her arms were tied behind his back and his behind hers. Her skirts had ridden indecently high and the skin beneath her leggings was freezing cold. Though they’d taken their weapons, at least their captors had allowed them their cloaks and gloves. They had to hold each other tightly to keep from being unbalanced and sliding off the horse. Brienne’s and the Kingslayer’s armor and weapons had been confiscated, as well, and they were tied in the same way. The Kingslayer had laughed bitterly when he and Brienne were bound together, and Brienne had given him a small, sad smile in return. Then they held each other close, whispering to each other until the one with the dirty yellow cloak struck the Kingslayer’s leg with the flat of Brienne’s sword to shut them up.

“Will you not hear me?” Sansa said again. She looked at Hullen’s son Harwin, who turned away. Would no one listen to reason? “These people were escorting me to you! It is what my mother – ”

“Quiet, lass,” the man with the yellow cloak said. “Your escorts escaped from our camp. Lady Stoneheart will see them hanged. Afterward, she’ll deal with you.”

“This lass is a highborn lady,” said the Kingslayer, “and you’d be well advised to address her as such.”

Sansa couldn’t help it; affection and gratitude flooded her, and suddenly the Kingslayer – Ser Jaime – looked like a better man than he’d been a moment ago. Why was hope so obstinate a feeling? Would she never be rid of it?

The man with the yellow cloak led his horse closer and smiled a dangerous smile that revealed his rotten teeth. “The Kingslayer is in no position to give me etiquette lessons.”

“What is your name?” Jaime asked mildly. “Lady Stoneheart did not grace us with proper introductions at our last meeting, brief though it was.”

“They call me Lem. Or Lemoncloak.” He shrugged a shoulder to indicate his filthy garment.

“Very good,” replied Jaime. “I like to know who I’ve killed. It’s a point of honor for me – ”

Lem leaned out and slapped Jaime’s face.

“You will not touch him – ” began Brienne, nostrils flaring.

“Stop,” whispered Jaime to Brienne, before turning a cool stare toward Lem.

Lemoncloak began to laugh, a horrid, hacking sound that made Sansa want to retch. He fell back, still cackling, until he was level with Sansa and Podrick. “Slapping Lannisters is more entertaining than I would’ve thought. You ought to try it, little lass. You deserve a bit o’ justice.”

Sansa and Podrick just looked at him. Her heart pounded in her throat, and she could feel Podrick’s pent-up energy as he held her tightly.

“I’d like to try it,” called the one-eyed man riding behind them. “Them bastard Lannisters killed my brothers. We shoulda had our fun when we had ‘em before. But Lady Stoneheart don’t go for such. Alive or dead, no messing about in between.”

“You’d think killing someone would be enough messing about, Jack,” said a longbowman, sniggering.

“I wish Thoros was here,” the man called Jack went on, “and not out with half our men ‘collecting funds,’ as he says. That’s not near as much fun as slapping Lannisters. He’s missing out, he is.”

“All in good time, Jack,” said Lem with a glare. “Lady Stoneheart won’t be letting these two spend the night in any stable this time. And you,” he said, narrowing dangerous eyes at Podrick. “Who would’ve thought you’d be the one to help those two escape? What’s the saying? Still waters are deep waters?”

“What water?” asked Jack. “We didn’t camp near no water.”

As Lem tried to educate Jack about the concept of proverbs, the man with the longbow led his horse closer to Sansa and Podrick, letting his eyes roam over her legs before trotting past. A listless fear whorled in a hollow pit in her stomach and she wished she’d had a sword when the men had swept down upon them. Could she have helped her comrades at all? Could she have struck even one of those men? Too late, she realized that Podrick, Lady Brienne, and, yes, even Ser Jaime really had had her best interests in mind, for they’d fought violently against the attackers. And Sansa had sat there like a simpleton, frozen on her horse with her mouth open in a silent scream.

Jaime and Brienne kept their eyes on their abductors, though they would be powerless against them. Sansa looked at Podrick, wincing at the bruise forming on his cheekbone and the cut on his lower lip. His eyes darted from captor to captor, perhaps assessing their weaponry; but what could he do? She stared at the stubble on his jaw, watched his throat work as he swallowed. Before she knew what she was doing, she had rested her forehead on his shoulder and was inhaling his warmth, his male scent. She held him closer, felt the muscles of his chest against hers, and dully registered the heat between his legs against her own. A tear dripped unbidden from one eye and she rubbed her face against his rough cloak to make the wetness disappear. This was no time for tears, not now, not after everything. But if these were the sort of men upon whom her mother relied, these men who would treat a Stark lady with such dishonor, what did it say about her mother?

Who, exactly, was Sansa about meet?

As if he’d sensed her worry, Podrick nuzzled aside Sansa’s hood, brought his lips to her ear, and spoke quietly, tickling her with warm breath and the low resonance of his voice. “Do not fear, my lady. You will live.”

She began to quake, and his bound hands held her tighter. Through her hood she thought she felt his lips on her head, but she could not be sure. “Pod,” she said. Her rough voice quavered, though she fought to steady it. She hardly knew what she was saying; all she knew was that she felt horribly alone. “Stay close,” she said. “Stay close.”

“I will, Sansa – my lady.”




There were more men when they arrived at the camp, and two of them pulled Podrick and Sansa from their mount. Brienne and Jaime were yanked from theirs and they tumbled inelegantly to the ground. Though still bound, they somehow managed to stand up as one, their breath huffing in the same rhythm, making puffs of steam between them like a two-headed dragon. Sansa saw a smooth-faced man who knelt on the ground near a small campfire. He was making a noose, and more rope sat coiled beside him. All of the men looked tired and dirty; some wore dangerous expressions, but some looked as if they didn’t care a whit what became of their captives.

It was dusk, and the purple and pink light of the darkening sky looked garish behind the gnarled, black fingers of the tree branches above their heads. There was movement at the edge of the forest, and a terrible hush descended upon the camp as everyone stilled.

Sansa’s mouth hung open and she stopped breathing.

If a nightmare could become flesh and come shambling toward her in a tattered cloak, it would have looked like this woman. This was not her mother, this pale, swollen, slashed figure with the dead eyes. This was not the mother who had held Sansa in her arms when she’d been so ill as a child, who had spoon-fed her broth and goat’s milk. This was not the lady who had taught Sansa to be courteous, but who had made her laugh at gossip and intrigue traveling north from the Red Keep. This was not the wife who’d made her husband’s eyes shine with pride or frustration when she spoke her mind. This was not any real thing at all. She – it – no, it looked like Sansa’s mother, but it – she could not be. She could not be.

Sansa’s face was wet.

The woman was a few inches away, and Sansa could smell her. It was not her mother. No cloves and nutmeg, no milk and grass and wine. This was damp, and dark places with mushrooms growing; this was the deepest of wells where snakes dwelled. The woman did not look at Sansa in any way a mother looks at her child. She looked at her as one looks at a curiosity for a moment and then turns away. Only she didn’t.

Stonheart covered the gaping wound on her neck and croaked something that might have been, “Unbind the girl.”

Sansa sobbed, a desperate noise she was incapable of stopping. She clung to Podrick and he to her as the ropes were loosened.

“Step away,” Stoneheart ordered.

Sansa shook her head childishly and held onto Podrick as if he were a raft in a stormy ocean. His arms about her were steel bands, crushing her, and she felt a dull sort of gratitude for the suffocation.

“Have pity,” Brienne said. “Please – ”

“The prisoner will be quiet,” said Stoneheart. “Step away, child, so that I may lay eyes on you.”

Her mother … her mother had said that, several lifetimes ago, hadn’t she? She’d said it when Sansa wore a new gown or braided her hair differently or bemoaned a spot on her face. Let me lay eyes on you, child.

With effort, Sansa let her arms fall to her sides and took a shaky step away from Podrick. Her chin quivered and she could not stop it.

Stoneheart’s eyes looked like a lamprey’s, oily and flat and animal. They passed over Sansa’s face, down her body, coming to rest on her left hand. “Show me,” she croaked.

Trembling, Sansa undid the dressing and held out her fingers. Stoneheart silently regarded the healing scabs and the fresh, dried blood from a couple of them opening during Sansa’s sparring with Podrick.

Stoneheart held up her own hand. Her fingernails were dirty, her palm as pale as a corpse’s. The scars from the night Bran had been attacked in his rooms were white. “I have these from defending another of my children,” she said.

Sansa’s heart thudded in desperation. So she does remember us, she thought.

“You defended your child?” asked Stoneheart, her cold eyes meeting Sansa’s.

Sansa’s brow furrowed. “No. No, I have no – ”

“Whom were you protecting?”

Sansa’s mouth worked. “M-myself.”

“Ah.” She turned away, the curiosity no longer worth her attention. “These three will be hanged tonight. The girl will stay with us.”

“No,” said Jaime, his voice a knife in the night. “Do what you will with us, but Lady Sansa wishes to return to Winterfell – ”

“Silence!” screeched Stoneheart, and Lem shoved him, forcing both Jaime and Brienne to the ground. With effort, they managed to come to their knees. “You will hang first. Then your woman,” she said, pointing a dirty, white finger at Brienne. “The boy last.” The pitiless eyes found Podrick.

This was madness. Sansa’s only friends in the world, dead? It was as if Lady Stoneheart had cast the players in her mind with no regard to the people behind the characters, as if this were some sort of script she were following and she were a puppet on strings, yammering out death sentences because those were the only lines her puppeteer fed her.

“No,” said Sansa, shaking her head. “Please. Mother.” The word cut her heart in two.

Stoneheart looked at the girl who had been her daughter without pity, without familiarity, but with a sort of possessiveness that froze Sansa to the spot. She felt herself shrinking under that cold gaze, her resolve shriveling … but she had to try.

She stepped forward, gesturing to the comrades behind her. “All three of these – ” Sansa somehow felt she should not use her companions’ names, lest she fuel Stoneheart’s vengeance all the quicker. “ – have proven their loyalty to House Stark. They are not who they were. They are loyal to me, and therefore to you.”

“Lies,” said Stoneheart.

Brienne’s voice echoed in Sansa’s mind: He cannot take what is not his, unless you allow him. Would she let this dead woman murder her only friends?

A spoonful of anger stirred deep in her belly, mixing in with the fear. She felt ill, tremulous, as though her body were about to shake itself into a million pieces. But she spoke quickly. She could pretend to be brave even if her insides shattered.

“They were bringing me to you, and from here they will accompany me to Winterfell.” It is mine. It is mine. “I will call our bannermen and women. We will restore our family home to its former beauty and power. I will be Queen in the North.”

She stopped speaking abruptly and nearly gasped. This thought had never, ever entered her mind. Not once. But to save her companions … to save herself … could she do it?

Lady Stoneheart stepped away and drifted toward the noose maker sitting next to the fire. He looked up at her nervously and held the third noose closer to his chest, as if it would somehow protect him. When she spoke again, her voice was as quiet as a dagger sliding into flesh. “Once there was a boy who wore a crown … ”

“My brother – your son – Robb.”

“ … who would have been king …”

“And I will take up his crown and avenge him.”

Lady Stoneheart faltered. She looked back at Jaime as though she were trying to put the pieces together in her mind but they were slipping away, like sand through her fingers. “Something happened to him. To his wolf – ”

“Robb has no more need of his direwolf. Nor have I any need of mine. I am the wolf. I will bring justice to all who would subjugate the North, and reward all who stand with us.”

“The Kingslayer – !” Stoneheart hissed at Jaime, one hand clawed and grasping, her merciless eyes boring into him. He drew himself up and did not flinch.

“ – will be a powerful ally,” said Sansa quickly, stepping in front of him. She stared into Stoneheart’s eyes, making her face the only thing the woman could see. “He will bring my lord husband Tyrion to my side. I will battle the Iron Throne with two Lannisters at my back. The Iron Throne has betrayed them, and now they are our allies. We will not rest until the North is ours.”

Sansa could hardly believe the words spilling from her lips; but the more she spoke, the more she felt that she had the right of it. She felt a hurricane inside her, its screaming, relentless winds thrashing her uncertainties to shreds like leaves against a stone wall.

She could do this, or die trying. At least she’d die for something.

Lady Stoneheart took a step back and turned her head, looking away into the trees. Sansa glanced behind her at Jaime, unsure of what his eyes would tell her; but he met her gaze and nodded.

Brienne, still bound to Jaime, spoke firmly. “I am sworn to Lady Sansa and this I promise: I will give my life for her cause.”

“I will stand with Lady Sansa, as well,” said Jaime. Brienne shot him a look of astonishment. “I will find my brother,” he murmured.

Podrick stepped closer to Sansa. “My place is by Lady Sansa’s side. I will protect her with my life.”

Sansa watched his face as he stared down the horror in front of him, and something skittish and shy quivered in her heart. She reached out and grasped his fingers with her scarred ones and squeezed. One of her scabs broke and blood flowed afresh between their hands, and he squeezed back, never taking his eyes from Stoneheart’s swollen face.

Lady Stoneheart was quiet for a long while, much longer than any person should have been without making some comment during the silence. She turned back and watched Sansa, almost as a fat, blind spider waits in a corner of its web. Sansa forced herself to look back into the woman’s dead eyes. She wiped the tears from her face and raised her chin. Catelyn would have been proud. She would have been very proud, indeed.

“I am well pleased,” said Lady Stoneheart flatly. “You may use the Lannister men to avenge the Stark name and return us to glory. Be on your way. Unbind them,” she said, gesturing to her men. Lem began to protest, but the look she gave him cowed him at once. The longbowman brought out a dagger and cut Jaime’s and Brienne’s ropes, and they stood behind Sansa. “If I discover that you have lied about your intentions, or failed in bringing them to fulfillment,” continued Stoneheart, “we will find all of you and kill you, for you will have brought dishonor to our house.”

Sansa felt her heart harden, and she wondered if that was how Stoneheart had earned her name. “You need not fear,” she rasped.

“I do not fear,” croaked Stoneheart. “I only expect, and prepare. Then I act.”

Sansa stilled as she looked into her dead mother’s eyes, and she told herself that that small bit of wisdom was something her mother might have offered her someday, had she lived. She felt tears well up again, but she blinked them away.

“Come, Sers. Take our weapons,” said Sansa. “Pod, get our horses. We shall leave immediately.”




Pod began his watch in the early hours before dawn. He sat holding his sword in one hand with his arms around his knees; he’d folded a blanket beneath him on the cold ground. They had traveled as far and as fast as they could all night, putting as much distance between themselves and Lady Stoneheart as possible, in case she thought better of her decision to let them go.

Sansa had wept beneath her hood for miles.

Now she could not sleep. Though she was exhausted, she couldn’t stop the turning of her mind. When she did this thing, when she took back Winterfell and challenged the Iron Throne, she would be walking to her death. There were not enough people left who could fight for her, and she would surely die. Everyone would die.

And yet, despite her fear and guilt and a growing sense of heavy responsibility, she felt almost relieved. This would be a death of her own choosing, and people would sing songs about her someday, of her courage and her righteousness. She smiled grimly as she sat close to Pod and wrapped her arms around her knees.

“You should be asleep, my lady.”

Sansa nodded.

“Daylight will come soon,” he mused, yawning. He seemed half asleep as he spoke. “Just you wait. Everything is grey now, but the color will start to show in a few minutes.”

She looked at him, surprised by the poetry in his words, and stifled a smile. Then she sighed and leaned her head against his shoulder. Podrick stiffened, but she didn’t care. He would relax eventually.

In the predawn silence, Jaime snored lightly, his face buried between Brienne’s shoulder blades. During sleep, Brienne looked almost like the Maiden, or perhaps the Warrior, but fierce and wild instead of merely beautiful or strong, with her angelic pale hair and eyebrows, her full lips slightly parted while she slept soundly.

Sansa and Pod remained quiet together as they waited for the sun and the silence was comfortable. He slipped his arm from his knee and wrapped it around her shoulders. She snuggled closer and tugged his heavy cloak over herself. She thought about her lord father, and about her lord husband Tyrion, and wondered how many lovers they had taken. She thought about Littlefinger, and the Hound, and Cersei. And Robb.

If she could lead her ragtag band of bannermen and women into battle once more, she could take a lover of her own choosing.

Just as Podrick had said it would, the rising sun cloaked the frozen ground in every color, making it sparkle like liquid jewels. Sansa smiled again.

To be continued … Chapter 5 – Jaime, Part 1

Comments

gilpin25
Aug. 9th, 2013 09:30 pm (UTC)
Oh, how I enjoyed this. Even more so on the second read, as I've learnt there is so much depth to this story and your writing, that I always find things I've missed or not thought enough about.

Firstly, your Sansa. You've brought to life someone who has survived horrors, is scarred as badly if far less visibly than Brienne (no wonder she relates to her), and yet is starting to come to life. The determination to see her mother for herself, the lack of trust and the irritation with the others (I liked the early line about her preferring Pod as he talked the least. LOL), and the courage to try and learn how to fight back are all interwoven and convincing. As is her reverting back to frozen fear when confronted with violence once more. How sad that it is what's left of her mother that is responsible for it this time.

As before, the fight scene is excellent, and now there's the added element of her fighting Pod, who one minute is sleeping with his arm round her, and the next pretending to attack her. It's fascinating how the 'couples' are starting to mirror each other; this is another ill-matched pair that are drawn to each other through circumstance and a need to survive. After surviving her time with the most devious of men, Pod's apparent simplicity and honesty must be like fresh air to Sansa. I loved them holding hands in front of Lady Stoneheart, sealed with blood, and the lines below. In both instances, I felt I could read them as either ominous for their future or a sign of further obstacles to be overcome together.

Sansa didn’t like the boots on Podrick. It felt to her as if they would poison him from the toes upward.

It's nice to see Sansa doing the opposite to most other people: finding comfort in Brienne's face and distrusting Jaime's because of his likeness to Cersei. She's quite right, in a way, that this is all his fault! I liked him watching her and listening to her, and mostly having the sense to leave her alone; glad as well that at last he knows the truth about Joffrey's death and his brother. (Maybe this will have future plot developments?;))

As for Lady Stoneheart, she strikes the perfect, very scary note between someone beyond normal human feelings and who is almost consumed by thoughts of vengeance. When Sansa finds probably the only words that would reach her, and unleashes something within herself at the same time, it's a powerful and moving moment. I loved the ending of this - and how you've been using all these sleeping scenes throughout. This time a new dawn brings a new Sansa; one with a purpose. Just wonderful.:D

Edited at 2013-08-09 09:35 pm (UTC)
bratanimus
Aug. 10th, 2013 04:20 pm (UTC)
Thank you thank you thank you!! Your feedback is, as always, so generous and beautiful and thoughtful. You help me to recognize the worth of my writing, and to see things I hadn't noticed but somehow made it into the chapter anyhow. THANK YOU. *hugs*

I liked what you said about Sansa's being scarred inwardly versus Brienne's being scarred outwardly; you're right, Sansa would definitely trust someone who's been through it so obviously as Brienne has. I also think there's a subconscious comparison to The Hound, the other frightening but ultimately kind (to her) person she's known. I don't think Sansa even recognizes that she's comparing these two "saviors," but she is. And strangely, Jaime is as brutally honest as the Hound, though Sansa has a hard time seeing that comparison.

I hoped that Sansa's gradual build to bravery worked in this, and it seems that it did, in your eyes. Sansa's frozen fear would indeed be a hard thing to shake. But once she sees Stoneheart threatening the lives of the only friends she has, she somehow digs deep, just as she did with Ser Dontos in suggesting Joffrey make him a fool. It's almost as though it takes the peril of OTHERS to bring out a brave action in her; but she's slowly learning.

I also loved the idea of her sleeping next to Pod and then fighting him, so that they mirror Jaime and Brienne. I think, too, that fighting Sansa helps in a strange way to bring Pod out of himself, enabling him to be bolder with her; I mean, he has no choice when he has to wrestle her to the ground, right? Of course, Jaime and Brienne chose Pod because he's closer to Sansa in size and ability; but they both gain confidence and skill as a result. I wish I could see this happen in the HBO series somehow, lol. It'd be lovely to watch!

In addition, the mirroring in Sansa goes deeper as she takes on aspects of everyone from Winterfell who has influenced her. I'm sure you noticed that her voice is wrecked (like Catelyn's), she's learning to fight (Arya), she cuts her hair (Arya), her hand is injured (Cat, Jon), she "becomes" the wolf (Bran), she takes up the crown (Robb), she's a former ward who's betraying the Red Keep (as Theon did Winterfell), she's the heir to Winterfell (Ned). Sorry, Rickon and Hodor, I couldn't figure out how to include you guys, hee hee. Anyway, it's almost as though she's taking the "stories" of everyone she's known and threaded them into her own story, if that makes sense, to become the best of all the heroes and ladies.

I loved what you said about the blood bond, and the poisoned boots line. I hadn't even considered the symbolism of those things regarding the possible deaths of Sansa and Pod, or future obstacles they'd conquer together, but of course my subconscious must have done, lol. I almost cut the blood bond lines because I thought they might be OTT, but I ended up leaving them. Now I'm glad I did. Lisa liked that bit, too.

I'm glad you liked that Jaime is learning to keep his mouth shut. ;) I think the loss of his hand, plus falling in love with Brienne, must have imparted some perspective. It's interesting to me that he's inadvertently teaching Pod how to be a man to his woman, simply by his actions (as most fathers do, I suppose). And I HAD to have Sansa reveal to Jaime that Tyrion didn't kill Joffrey. I mean, Jaime never seemed to feel a deep love or any sort of bond with Joff, and I think he recognized the boy's cruelty, but still. These chapters are my wishful thinking, lol.

It's gratifying to know that you think my Stoneheart was scary. Those were some of my favorite bits to write, TBQH, because mother-daughter dynamics ON TOP OF human-dead person dynamics?? OMG. ;) I'm so pleased that the moment Sansa figures out what to do felt right to you, and thank you for saying so.

Glad you liked the end, and all the moments in each chapter so far of day into night, sleeping, dawn, etc. I've tried to use the structure of a single day from morning to night for each of the four characters, and to have the nighttime be the moment when their "armor" comes off, somehow. Thank you for noticing this. :)

Once again, I am sending you LOTS of hugs through the ether, because you "get" this, and me, and my writing. THANK YOU. ♥
gilpin25
Aug. 15th, 2013 03:58 pm (UTC)
In addition, the mirroring in Sansa goes deeper as she takes on aspects of everyone from Winterfell who has influenced her. I'm sure you noticed that her voice is wrecked (like Catelyn's), she's learning to fight (Arya), she cuts her hair (Arya), her hand is injured (Cat, Jon), she "becomes" the wolf (Bran), she takes up the crown (Robb), she's a former ward who's betraying the Red Keep (as Theon did Winterfell), she's the heir to Winterfell (Ned).

OOH, I LOVE THIS!!! I'd spotted almost all of these (forgot Jon. As always!), but not joined the dots and put the family connections together to see how they're echoing in Sansa...

Brat, there are more layers going on in this story than the average Banoffee Pie. ;) Which is exactly what the best and deepest-thinking writers do. ♥
bratanimus
Aug. 16th, 2013 06:38 pm (UTC)
*insert random Davos-as-wise-man-grinning here*

Thank you, thank you, thank you!! Now, if only I could manage to do this in some ORIGINAL writing. ;)

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