The next weeks were marked by the most interesting developments, and many of them were good, Sansa found.
Rollym settled in slowly, even if he received many critical looks. He was calmer and more sensitive and thoughtful than Robb had been. As much as Sansa missed her brother as he had used to be she came to like her “new brother”. Of course, he also fell victim to Bessie's charms, and her positive energy helped him a lot. He also tried to help in the castle wherever he could, and Sandor started to appreciate him a lot – not as a fighter, because he was lousy in the training yard with his much weaker body, but as an advisor. After all, Rollym had the memories and experiences of two men at his disposal now.
One day, her brother approached Sansa with a problem: he admitted that he was drawn to Ser Cody. Obviously, the sexual orientation of former Wellym was still very much awake. Sansa didn't know exactly which advice to give him, apart from telling him he should give himself some time to become more secure about his feelings and more stable in general, and he should try to accept his new personality, no matter what other people thought and said – and that she'd always accept him the way he was.
After that, Rollym started to his see his new life as a second chance, instead of an unfortunate accident or a punishment from the gods.
Sansa was very happy of seeing her uncle Edmure again, safe and sound, even if he was a ward now and not free to go back to Riverrun. She was more reserved towards his wife Roslin, because of her family background. However, the young woman was shy and friendly, and Rollym knew only positive things about her; he also informed Sansa of how Lord Walder had put her under pressure before the Red Wedding, so Sansa let go of her initial grudge.
In that respect, she was much more forgiving than Arya, who couldn't forget that maybe Robb had survived in an altered form, but many other people – first and foremost their mother – had been slaughtered.
Soon, it was discovered that Lady Roslin was pregnant, and it was also clear that Lord Edmure was growing more fond of his wife by the day.
Sandor simply said to this: “Their beginning may have been horrible, but they'll make their way in the world. We know what that means, don't we?”
And he smiled.
With regard to the Riverlands – and the Seven Kingdoms in general – the good news were that Brynden Tully and Kevan Lannister managed to sign a truce. Of course, the remaining northern Lords were still rebellious, but with winter looming ahead and the Riverlands at peace they knew their cause was lost – for the time being, that was, and they retired to their castles and fortresses and strongholds to lick their wounds and to prepare for the cold season.
Edmure was allowed to lead his life at Casterly Rock, instead of in the capital, and Sansa's uncle liked this much better, knowing well he wasn't made for the cesspool King's Landing was, and knowing as well that with Kevan Lannister, who intended to return home, he'd have a reasonable gaoler. It would probably also be easier to maintain a correspondence with his uncle Brynden, the castellan of Riverrun. So when Edmure took his leave from Harrenhal with his wife and riding at Ser Kevan's side he waved back at his nieces in the yard and didn't look too depressed.
Someone else was accompanying that party as well: Jeyne Westerling, Robb Stark's widow. She had arrived with Ser Kevan after the Blackfish had surrendered. A clause of the peace treaty was that she had to marry Ser Addam Marbrand, just like Lord Tywin had ordered it.
For Sansa, this had been a bit of a problem, and for Rollym as well. Should they tell Jeyne of his existence or not?
In the end, they had opted for candour, because it had been clearly visible how intensively Jeyne had been mourning her “deceased” husband.
Sansa had established the contact and had told her goodsister about what had happened. The woman's shock had naturally been immense. Eagerly, she had dashed to Rollym, who had been waiting next door – but the disappointment had also been substantial: no, Rollym wasn't Robb any more, neither with respect to the body nor to the personality. Jeyne couldn't love him any more the way she had done before, and for Rollym it was the same. It wasn't as if they didn't like each other, but the mutual attraction was gone.
“I can still see parts of him,” Jeyne conceded in Sansa's presence, “but all in all, he's not the man I married. In a way, I am a widow nevertheless. And the peace treaty – I have to do my duty, I guess. The Riverlands have endured enough. Ro... Rollym has also agreed to this. Besides... I know Ser Addam from the Westerlands. He's a decent man, as far as I can tell. It will be better for all of us this way.”
Sansa had been sad, but she had also understood.
There were also some wonderful news from King's Landing: Lady Brienne had given birth to two healthy girls. Though never a good writer and horribly clumsy with his left hand Jaime Lannister had taken it upon himself to write the messages.
“Proud bugger,” was Sandor's clipped comment.
Sandor with his bad eyes couldn't make head or tail of the blotchy scribbling, and even Sansa had a hard time to decipher the words.
Ser Jaime reported that the girls, Bayenna and Brilla, were as charming as their mother, and Sandor thought at first that the man was being ironic... until Sansa read about sapphire blue eyes and big, smiling mouths.
“Fuck me sideways, the Kingslayer is a lovesick fool. We can shake hands now. Well, one hand.”
Sansa grinned and thumped her husband in the side. They both laughed and kissed and drank some milk in honour of the newborn babes. In that way, Sansa also thought she had managed to make her peace about the Lannister family – well, parts of the family, to be precise.
Soon after, alarming news reached them from another place in the Riverlands: the Twins. There had been a massive outbreak of greyscales in the stronghold, and all those Freys who had been there at the time, including Lord Walder, had been killed by the illness within the week.
Sansa was certainly not sorry for the family who had murdered her mother and so many others and who had committed such a horrible kind of treachery – the problem was that the illness was contagious and spread everywhere in the region around the Twins, so that the smallfolk fell victim to the epidemic as well in great numbers.
Only at the end of autumn was it clear that the pestilence had died down and wouldn't pose a threat to Riverrun and Harrenhal any more, and Sansa thanked the gods.
In King's Landing, the king's Hand, Lord Tywin, appointed Emmon Frey – his brother-in-law – the new Lord of the Crossing, though the man was basically a lord without subjects and lacking a stronghold now, because the Twins were still uninhabitable after the outbreak of the illness.
People tattled behind upheld hands what a convenient coincidence it all had been for the Old Lion, but nobody dared to go any further with the suppositions.
Another one of Lord Lannister's decisions turned out to have far-reaching personal consequences for him: rumours said that Cersei had died while giving birth to a child in Braavos that had turned out to be like Tyrion. A while later, this was proven true, namely when the Braavosi father of the baby shipped the boy named Ezro to King's Landing and dumped him into Lord Tywin's arms, saying: “That deformity is part of your blood line, not mine, and you're experienced in raising such a child. You take care of him.”
Well, and frustrated Lord Tywin had nothing better to do than to dump the baby at Casterly Rock, even though Jaime had offered he'd raise the child together with his daughters.
The Old Lion had simply said the baby could grow up with Lord Edmure's child just as well, that he didn't want to have the brat around him, and he voiced the question why it hadn't been killed back over in Braavos, because that would have been easiest for all of them.
Sansa couldn't believe how anyone could be as cold-hearted as Tywin Lannister, and she was even more relieved she didn't live in the Red Keep any more to witness this meanness.
At the end of autumn, things started to become really precarious for the Seven Kingdoms: a young man popped up seemingly out of nowhere and claimed he was a Targaryen, that he was Aegon VI. Sandor believed that the youngster was simply a pretender who resembled a Dragon on the outside. Whether this was true or not – this Aegon managed to gather followers around him and even conquered a few castles at the coast.
Fortunately, the danger was ended by a completely unexpected turn of events, and without Lord Tywin needing to sacrifice many of his soldiers: a certain Euron Greyjoy reappeared at the Iron Islands – and the Krakens and the Aegon followers got involved in frequent skirmishes. In the end, they extinguished each other conveniently. For the moment, Westeros and King Tommen were safe again.
Then, winter fell upon them, and it was long and harsh, and Sansa was relieved she wasn't farther in the north: even in Harrenhal it was icy cold, and the snow was piling up high.
It paid off now that Sandor had appeared just in time to take over the castle and to prepare the people for the winter. Food had to be rationed nevertheless, but the situation wasn't as hopeless as it would have been otherwise.
On a positive note, Sansa found out that the long, dark, cold nights did have some interesting effects: suddenly, every fertile woman seemed to be pregnant. It brought many a smile to her face... and the sweetest thing was when she found out she was with child as well.
However, she soon didn't smile often any more. She had always believed she'd love it to be pregnant – but now, she had to find out that reality was completely different. Her sickness was so frequent and so intense that she was on the brink of becoming weak and really ill. Next came murderous pain in her back, water in her legs and extreme thirst whenever she ate grain products.
It was no wonder that from some point onwards she wasn't able to behave like a lady any more and became quite impatient. Even vicious. Sandor's reactions were according and they had some bad arguments – luckily always followed by quick reconciliations.
When the birth came it took Sansa almost three days, and she nearly died. The baby, a boy, was Clegane-sized, which explained the many complications. Sandor named him Costyan, because a male Stark name would have been met with suspicion in the capital. Sansa, who had always wanted babies, was too weak for a long time to take care of the boy, and in the beginning, she didn't even feel any motherly instincts, so Sandor tried to even out this shortcoming with excessive fatherly care.
Only after three to four moons had gone by did she finally start to love her son in a normal way, and then, she was deeply ashamed of herself. Sandor consoled her and told her of his own mother, who had reportedly reacted like her after having given birth to her three children.
“It sometimes happens after giving birth. Look at animals, cats, dogs, what have you. Don't be too harsh, after all, you love our child now. That's one of the countless points that makes you better than Lord Tywin, you know?”
Sansa, however, wasn't the only Stark with a baby: Arya married Gendry, who had been her lover for a while now, with Sandor's consent – and at that time Sansa's little sister was already heavy and round with child. Her birthing process two weeks was over after five hours, and she had a daughter, Lyanna, who had inherited her father's thick, black hair.
While Sansa had been envious of Arya's easy delivery those feelings evaporated soon when little Lyanna turned out to be weak and sickly – and wailing all the time, so that the parents didn't find a minute of peace. In contrast to that, Costyan was a happy child: he looked much like his father, grey eyes included – only he smiled easily and had obviously inherited Sansa's gentle nature.
Nymeria had her first pups as well, a sweet littler of three little ones. The animals' father was Salmon, and the dog always came over to sniffle at the pups with pride in his eyes. Considering that the female dog bitches in Harrenhal all started to have very big pups Grey Wind was obviously very productive, too.
Ser Cody seemed to have finally understood Rollym's longing looks. To her surprise, word reached Sansa's ear that the knight had had several male shieldmates before he had become a member of the Holy Hundred, and he was unproblematic about accepting Rollym's feelings... even reciprocating them to some extent.
In the course of winter, there were also more and more frightening news from the Wall. People whispered of wights and Others and the weirdest beasts, which had managed to enter the region around Winterfell. Sansa was worried for her half-brother Jon and hoped he was amongst the survivors.
And then came the big bang, politically speaking: Tyrion arrived back in King's Landing. Riding a dragon. Followed by two other dragons. Followed by Daenaerys Targaryen with her army. And the most baffling thing was: Tyrion and Daenaerys were married.
It was reported that Lord Tywin got the shock of his life, and Sandor said he'd have loved to see the Old Lion's face.
The dragon woman's terms had been very clear: Tommen had to abdicate at once. Jaime, the Kingslayer, and his father would be spared, if they gave up their residence and positions in the capital. Moreover, Ser Jaime was ordered to fight against the wigths and the Others in the north – alongside with Daenaerys, Tyrion, the dragons and many more.
Lord Tywin wasn't one to give up, but even he knew that with a sword – or rather dragons' breath – at his throat he didn't stand a chance and had to retire.
“Do you know what's most interesting?” Sandor asked Sansa one evening in bed.
“What is it, love?”
“The Vale, the Tyrells and the Dornish – they're all holding their feet still and biding their time to creep out of their holes and to thrive again once they feel they can gauge the new queen.”
“You're right, Sandor. And I hate this Game of Thrones. I'll just bend the knee and be done with it.”
Suddenly, Sandor chuckled: “We're Harrencleganes. Too blind to take aim. But we don't bend the knee – we lift the leg.”
That night, many castle inhabitants were surely wondering what on earth the lord was doing with his wife to make her laugh as loud as she did... but Sansa was unperturbed. She'd never be ashamed of her laughter, especially, if it was her husband who had caused it.
Another few months passed by, and Sansa became pregnant a second time, although she hadn't wanted to have another baby so soon. When she heard that Lady Brienne was with child at Casterly Rock as well she started a correspondence with the woman, especially because Bessie hadn't forgotten the tall female knight and her companion, and she always wrote a line or two herself as well.
Lady Brienne proved to be charming, and her supportive letters helped Sansa to get through her second pregnancy.
The delivery after nine months was difficult again, but not quite as dangerous, and it took Sansa a day less to give birth. In the end, she was able to hold another Clegane-sized baby in her arms, this time a girl with red hair named Jeyne – but with Sandor's big, hooked beak, instead of a snub nose. Yet, for Sansa and Sandor, she was the most beautiful girl in the world, and Sandor murmured: “I wonder if she'll be able to become Lady Brienne's squire one day.”
“If you train her I bet she will!”
Meanwhile, Queen Daenaerys and Tyrion had not been idle with their army: they were driving the wights and the Others back with fiery dragon breath. Lord Tywin lost his life in the process... and came back as an undead creature, though not as a normal wight. He had horrible gashes on his body and hands that were black of congealed blood – but he had retained his green eyes and a mind of his own. Some kind of mysterious northern magic had preserved his soul.
“I don't know what would be creepier: the Old Lion as a normal wight, or the Old Lion as an intelligent undead monster,” Sandor commented, and a shiver ran down Sansa's spine.
Shortly afterwards, fantastic news reached them from White Harbour: Rickon Stark had been found alive and well, together with his direwolf Shaggydog. Apparently, the Manderly's had hidden the boy from the realm's disputes and fights – and now, he was ready to become the next Lord of Winterfell, once the damaged castle would be renovated. He was also engaged to a girl from the Manderly family, which was a low price, if one considered that the Mermen had saved an orphaned – and alleged traitor's – child, even with his claim.
Sansa, Arya and Rollym were overjoyed, of course, and they decided to visit Winterfell in spring to help rebuild the castle.
“We're experts when it comes to renovating castles, aren't we?” Sansa jested, and Sandor boomed his laughter.
In Casterly Rock, Lady Brienne had given birth to a boy who they had named Selwyn, after the lady's father from Tarth. She, her son and Ser Jaime were still stationed in Winterfell after all the fighting in the north, and they'd still stay there for a while, so Sansa was looking forward to making the warrior woman's personal acquaintance in spring.
What dimmed Sansa's mood considerably was that she soon lost a third child. It was at the beginning of her pregnancy, yet it affected her a lot. Sandor was very sad, too, of course, and they both mourned for the life that had not meant to be.
At least, Costyan and Jeyne developed nicely, and even Arya's Lyanna was getting a bit more stable.
During the winter, Sansa's aunt Lysa had given birth to a son, but she had died in childbed a few days later. Sandor wondered loudly whether the Mockingbird, the baby's father, had had a hand in it, and he predicted: “The next generation of human shit is growing up in the Vale now, mark my words.”
Sansa hoped her husband was wrong this time for once.
When spring finally arrived in Harrenhal, there was a feast to welcome the warm season – and then, Sansa and her family packed their things. Sansa's heart was pounding like mad in her chest, because she was so looking forward to see her old home again, and she knew it was the same for her siblings. Arya was pregnant with her second child, but stubborn as she was she still wanted to travel, declaring in her throaty voice that she was fit for the voyage. There was a bit of a discussion with Gendry, but the man could finally make sure that his wife at least didn't ride and travelled in a cart instead, together with Sansa and the children, who were still too small for riding.
Sansa also noticed that Stranger as well as the wolves would be happy to be on the road again; Nymeria and Grey Wind seemed to have an inkling that they'd meet their long-lost brothers Shaggydog and Ghost again and were incredibly excited.
Bessie, however, was in tears for days when she realized that Ser Gilroy was supposed to stay behind to help maintain the order in the castle with Ser Bonifer while the lord was away. Sansa had not seen the girl so depressed since she had been brought to Harrenhal. Finally, both Sansa and Sandor were not able to watch the misery any longer, and when Ser Cody offered to stay behind instead, so that Ser Gilroy would be free to travel to the north Bessie clung to the necks of both nights, this time weeping tears of relief.
“I wonder whether an innocent child's love can turn into a woman's love when the time comes,” Sandor mused. “It's certainly nothing common, but I wouldn't stand in their way.”
He turned around and looked at Arya, who had been rummaging in a knapsack, asking: “What do say?”
Arya shrugged and answered: “I gonk ngow. Buk I ngow oang ching: Che pack churvivech.”
Sansa smiled and nodded: “Yes, you're right, Arya. The pack survives.”
Sandor grinned and asked: “Moles included?”
They all laughed, and Sansa answered, her eyes sparkling: “Yes, moles included.”
The day is dark and full of questions;
the night is bright and full of hope;
a smile - it stirs amongst the shadows;
a tear - it stains a joke.
So few have lived to see the end
of a beginning full of doubt
when options were but nightmares,
not worth to dream about.
The day - an echo of the past;
the night - a kiss for what's ahead;
a song unsung for future lovers;
a tree's leaf coloured red.
So few find peace amongst the shadows
and grow a plant in barren soil;
so few set out with tears of wrath
to end with tears of joy.
But we, my dear, we persevered
though, yes, the way was dark;
you made me see a path - and me?
I was your morning lark.