Sansa was desperate. She did what she could, she truly did. There had been garlic in her bags, because it was antiseptic, so she had mashed it to a paste and tried to apply it to Arya's wound. The fever got worse nevertheless. Perhaps it had nothing to do with her sister's mouth.
Sansa wrapped cool strips of cloth around Arya's skinny legs and put a wet, cold handkerchief on her forehead. To no avail.
Arya was too weak to mount a horse as well. She had tried to do so, but she hadn't even been able to stand upright, let alone lift a leg.
It was all so horribly frustrating. Had Sandor been there, his size and strength would have secured their progress, but the way it was...
Sansa became seriously frightened. Their food provisions were slowly coming to an end. The creepiest thing was that wild, independent Arya was suddenly shockingly gentle.
There was a sad depth and softness in her grey eyes, and she sometimes stroked Sansa's hands in a way so that at some point, Sansa simply exploded: “ARYA. Don't behave as if you were on your deathbed. You will survive. Understood!?”
Her sister looked at her and suddenly... chuckled.
Sansa realised what was going through Arya's head: Sansa had suddenly become the loud and impatient one of them both. Reversed roles.
Sansa simply threw her hands into the air like her mother would have done, and she stated: “There will come the day when you'll be the livelier one of us again, I swear.”
Arya patted her hands with her own, clammy ones... and drifted off into sleep.
Sansa looked at the lithe, sweaty form in the bedroll and decided: “I'll make a stretcher. Somehow, I'll have to do it.”
With those thoughts she disappeared in the brushwood to look for a few proper sticks for some kind of frame.
Three hours later, she wanted to howl in frustration. Neither did she manage to come up with an acceptable construction, nor did she find a way of how the horse could be harnessed to it.
Then, there was her sister's weak, hollow voice, and it sounded strangely amused again: “Koo gichiculk.”
At once, Sansa was at her side: “What is it, Arya?”
Her sister nodded at the sticks Sansa had gathered, smiled and repeated: “Koo gichiculk.”
Sansa needed another moment to come around with a guess: “Do you mean “too difficult”?”
Arya nodded... and in spite of the bleak situation Sansa started to laugh: “Gods, when we arrive back at Harrenhal Sandor will go berserk, do you know that?”
Arya looked at her interrogatively.
“Ah, but you know what I mean: from now on, he'll have to decipher yours and Bessie's garbled language.”
And then, Arya was laughing, too; the mere idea of getting on the Hound's nerves seemed to cause her an impish delight.
A few moments later, though, the bout of merriment came to an end, Arya dozed off again, and they hadn't made a single step.
It was then that a tear spilled down Sansa's cheek, and lacking any alternatives, she started to pray to the old gods and the new.
Two hours later, Sansa had helped Arya pass water, but otherwise, the situation had remained pretty much the same.
Suddenly, however, the little hairs on Sansa's nape of her neck rose, and her intuition – which had been underdeveloped before she and Sandor had left King's Landing – sprang into action. The tethered horses were becoming nervous and started to snort, to swish their tails nervously and to move their ears into the same direction.
Something or somebody was approaching.
Sansa grabbed her dagger and her throwing knife. It was all she could do, but she was determined to sell her life dearly, if necessary. She repeated to herself that she wasn't a caged little bird any more.
The brushwood parted.
A tall, grey creature appeared.
Sansa's blue eyes widened in recognition.
The next moment, she was weeping and laughing at the same time and clinging to Nymeria's fur – and the direwolf was whining from joy.
“Ngyheria! Ngyheria!” Arya suddenly called in her throaty voice from her bedstead and tried to rise.
At once, the wolf darted towards her human little partner and licked the girl's face as if she wanted to heal her, or to at least end her pain.
Sansa sprinted after the animal and called: “Nymeria! Nymeria! Listen to me. Arya is ill. She can't ride a horse. But you've grown. You can carry her. Will you carry her to safety?”
The direwolf turned around and looked at her with those wonderful, intelligent eyes.
Nymeria whined. She had understood.
For a moment, Sansa's heart clenched when she remembered that Lady would never be able to look at her like that again, but she quickly pushed those thoughts away. She had to focus on the present now.
Nymeria was already lying down, and weak as she was, Arya managed to scramble onto her back with Sansa's help.
Sansa packed their belongings at top speed, stored them on Arya's horse, grasped the reins, mounted her own steed and forced it to follow the direwolf, who was already slowly trotting away, and who had taken over the lead.
Sansa had thought that Nymeria would head straight for Harrenhal, but she had to find out that she had been mistaken. At nightfall, the wolf reached a little – mainly wooden – cabin that was apparently inhabited, judging by the smoke that was rising from a crooked little chimney.
Surprised as Sansa was she still decided to follow Nymeria's judgement and didn't expect to meet an enemy in the hut. She tethered the horses to a crossbeam near the building, approached the entrance door and knocked.
“Hello!” she called. “Please, can you help us? We're two women, and one of us is ill.”
There was the shuffling of feet to be heard on the inside – and from more than one person.
At once, Sansa felt a little more insecure then she was already doing anyway, but with Nymeria in her back at least she didn't feel the need to break into a cold sweat.
The door opened and a young man appeared in the door frame. He was neither tall nor impressive in any other way. He had a short beard, a wart under his eyebrow and teeth like a rabbit. On the inside, Sansa caught a glimpse of a corpulent, young woman with jig ears and a baby suckling at her breast.
No, these people didn't look dangerous.
Sansa remembered her husband's simple statement: “Sheep.”
Well, in her situation this was as good as it could get.
The man looked her up and down and asked in a voice that sounded like a rusty door hinge: “The hair colour isn't right. But the rest looks fitting. Are you the Tully women?”
Sansa's heart sank into her boots.
Was it so easy to recognise them? And why had they already been expected? From the way it looked pretending they were someone else made no sense any more.
“Our grandfather was Lord Hoster Tully.”
The man nodded.
“That was a fine lord, especially in comparison to what you can hear about so many others. Gave me a copper for brushing his horse once when I was a child and I saw him while he was crossing my home village. A pity the Stranger took him, but at least he lived to see old age. Come in, come in. You must be the ladies Sansa and Arya, I gather?”
“Umm, yes, these are our names.”
The man smiled and nodded again while Sansa was crossing the threshold.
“My name's Dan, and these are my wife Lera and my daughter Asha.”
Suddenly, the man exclaimed: “Aww, Wolfy, who are you bringing us? Good girl, you've grown!”
Confused, Sansa turned around and saw Dan fussing over Nymeria as if she were a little lap dog pup – and the direwolf was whining and wagging her tail merrily.
Inside the cabin, Lera spoke up for the first time: “Found her quite a while ago. She was hurt, so we nursed her back to health.”
Sansa could only think: “No wonder Nymeria came here with Arya.”
She simply answered: “I see.”
At the same time, Nymeria was entering the room as well with Arya on her back.
“Oh!” Lera chittered excitedly and put her daughter into a simple wooden cradle. “Dan, look at the poor girl! Wolfy, come here, bring her here! See, we've got some furs here. Lie down. And let's have a look at you.”
Sansa explained: “Her tongue has been cut out, and now she's feverish.”
“Aha,” Lera uttered and asked, “little lady, would you open your mouth?”
Arya did as she was asked and Lera inspected her while Dan disappeared into the darkness to take care of the horses.
“Hmmm...,” the portly woman murmured. “Well, that's nasty, but it could have been even worse. The tongue has been cut off, yes, but it hasn't been torn out at the root. There's still enough tongue left to form at least some sounds. She'll always sound as if she's got some hot gruel in her mouth, and she won't taste much any more. Oh, and she'll have to adapt her kissing methods. But as I said: it could be far worse. Once the tongue has healed properly swallowing may still cause some problems, but not half as much as if she had nothing of her tongue left.”
“What about the fever?” Sansa inquired.
Lera cocked her head.
“Hmmm... that's a bit tricky, I must confess. Fevers can be dangerous. But there are different kinds of treatments that I could try out. I'm sure we'll find something suitable.”
On hearing this, Sansa was so relieved she started to weep.
Lera patted her shoulder and murmured: “There, there. Don't you fear a thing my lady.”
Arya was already relaxing in the warmth of the hut and dozing off again.
After a few minutes, Dan came back in.
“One of the horses has stepped onto a stone and is a little bit lame now. Removed the stone and put a compress around the ankle. And both animals were sore from the harness and the saddles. They should rest for two days.”
“Poor animals! I'm such an oaf. Ser Gilroy at Harrenhal would scold me, and I'd deserve it. Still, I wish we could be back on our way sooner, but I guess we've got to be reasonable,” Sansa sighed.
Next, she asked: “By the way: how come you knew who we were when we arrived?”
Dan pulled in his head like a turtle.
“There were men here. Half a dozen. Bad men. They were asking, if I'd seen you.”
Sansa's eyes widened.
“Did you see any any sigils?”
“Yes, I did. They had two towers on their tunics and shields.”
Sansa gasped and pressed her hands onto her mouth.
“That's they Freys! But why are they here and asking for me? What about my brother? This shouldn't have happened!”
Dan and Lera were exchanging meaningful looks.
“What is it?” Sansa demanded to know.
“My lady, your sister is ill. I think it's too soon to talk about this.”
All of a sudden, Sansa went cold to the bone and felt like the day she had seen her father's head on the battlements. Only on that day Sandor had been there and had handed her his handkerchief to wipe away the blood after she had been beaten on Joffrey's orders.
She grabbed Dan's arm and pulled him over to the other side of the cabin.
“Now you can talk. My sister won't hear your words here.”
Dan's eyes flitted back and forth as if he were a trapped animal.
“SPEAK!” Sansa ordered and sounded like her mother when she gave an order.
Dan surrendered and started his account.
Some four or five minutes later, Sansa stormed out of the cabin, not knowing where she was heading, and tears streaming down her face. Nymeria was following her, she noticed. The direwolf was the only one who she could accept around at the moment.
After some minutes, she was far enough away from the hut – and then, she raised her face to the nightly sky and uttered a primal scream that drove all the ravens in the nearby trees away from their branches.