Two more days and they would be at Winterfell. Two more days and she could get some proper medicine for her burns. Sandor too. Sansa couldn’t wait to see Maester Luwin. The godswood. The heart tree. The ponds fed by the hotspring. The glass garden. Her old bedroom. She was dreaming of it now.
She dreaded having to be there as the one in charge. Without Robb. Without her mother. Without father. She knew Jon was close by, but Castle Black was his home now. She felt sick thinking of seeing her home without the laughter and happiness that Bran, Rickon and Arya had brought with it. Without Lady. She knew it was going to be different, it was going to feel empty and cold. But if she had to be without her family she was glad that it would be in their home.
She and Sandor were still stuck in the wheelhouse together. She was able to sit up, but still felt too weak from the fever. Sandor however still had to lie back with his leg bandaged. He had tried to stand on his own, but failed miserably. Shae had to find him a sturdy branch to use in place of a crutch so he could get outside to relieve himself. Sansa knew he hated being cooped up inside. She tried not to laugh, because she knew he was in pain. But he was being such a baby. Not about the pain, but about wanting to get out of the wheelhouse. He made it pretty clear, with his complaining about his teeth chattering with every bump they hit in the road and such. After yet another complaint from him, she couldn’t help it. “I mean, I know I haven’t bathed in quite some time Sandor, but I can’t possibly smell that badly.”
He turned to look at her, shock in his eyes- until he saw her smirk and realized that she was joking. Sansa knew there was something in between them, some awkwardness, something uncomfortable that hung in the air. They both ignored it, but she wondered how long that would last.
They stopped for a midday break. Sandor was sleeping when Shae came in with water and food for the both of them.
Shae pushed Sandor with the toe of her boot. “Wake up.” He did. “I have good news.”
“Winterfell? Are we closer than they thought?” Sansa asked.
“No. Still two days away. But in between here and there, we can make a stop to see to your burns.”
“I thought we weren’t going to pass any more inns.” Sansa said.
“We aren’t. But we can go a little out of the way to and make it to the Dreadfort for-“
“NO!” Sansa and Sandor both yelled. They both shot up from their reclined positions at the same time. Shae took a step back, her eyes wide.
“Sorry Shae.” She looked at Sandor, his mouth was set. He would not be going there either that much was clear.
“But you can start healing faster. Why wouldn’t you want to stop? Just for a day?” Shae shivered. She looked like she wanted a hot bath and a nice warm meal.
Sansa thought about Ramsay and shivered. She shook her head. “No. Not important enough, Shae I’m sorry. We will wait for Winterfell.”
And so they did.
As they approached the south gate in the dusk two days later, Sansa was disappointed. She had hoped that she would be able to ride her chestnut back through the gates and into her home again. But she was not well enough for that yet. She knew that Sandor had tried to get on Stranger the day before, but it just was not working. He couldn’t bend his leg and Sansa couldn’t imagine the pain he was in from it. So they were brought in through the gates of Winterfell in the wheelhouse. She couldn’t see enough out the window. Her heart beat a thousand times a second at the thought of being home again. Being called a princess in Winterfell. It was so bizarre, she didn’t know how she would take to it. She looked over to Sandor. Being here now, in the cold, it was so strange to think that he would be with her every day.
They went through the gate and Sansa had a very strange feeling come over her. She couldn’t express how happy she was to be home. But the last time she went through these gates she was with her father, Arya, Lady. She had been afraid of the Hound. She had hopes of marrying her handsome prince, of living the rest of her life in the south, in the warmth surrounded by her yellow-headed children. She shivered at the thought. Here she was now, a woman grown, Princess of Winterfell. Without her family. Her sister and brothers missing. Her father dead. And Sandor Clegane next to her, her sworn shield, her friend.
When it stopped, Shae helped her down the step of the wheelhouse. Sandor was behind them, wooden crutch in hand. The first person she saw waiting in the long line was Maester Luwin. He looked so much older than he had when she left Winterfell, so long ago. She walked over to him, with Shae’s support. His smile was magnificent.
“Princess Sansa. Welcome home.”
Sansa didn’t know what came over her. She strode right up to the old man, the man who pulled her from her mother, who healed her hurts, who counseled her father and brothers, who had helped to raise her. She threw her good arm around him.
“Oh!” He said, completely shocked. But soon his arms wrapped around her, returning the hug. He laughed. She pulled away, smiling, but with tears in her eyes.
“Sweet girl. How you’ve grown.” He kept his hand on her shoulder.
There was a whole line of people. Most of whom she remembered, but some who were new. She heard all of their names, but she was too overwhelmed to remember. She will have to find out from Maester Luwin later.
Sansa, Maester Luwin, Shae and Sandor continued into the Great Hall.
Once they were in the warmth, Sansa needed to sit down. She knew Sandor did too. Once they did, there were a few things that Sansa needed to address immediately.
“Bran, Rickon. Any word?”
Maester Luwin shook his head, sadly. “No. Nothing yet. No word on Arya either. I was going to write to Robb to see if we could send out a few more search parties.”
Sansa nodded right away. “Please. As soon as possible. Winter is coming.”
She saw Maester Luwin smile sadly at her saying the Stark words.
“Maester, you remember Sandor Clegane.”
Both men nodded toward each other. The maester wasn’t successful at hiding his obvious wariness. “And this is Shae.”
“Welcome.” He bent his head toward her.
“First thing is first. Sandor needs treatment immediately.” From the corner of her eye, she saw Sandor turn his head sharply toward her. “His leg was badly burned from an incident on the road.”
“Of course.” The maester said. “I see that you may need some treatment as well?”
Sansa looked down at her hands. “Yes, I suppose. Blisters, is all.”
“Well, why don’t you and Shae go up to your room? Maybe take a bath, relax from your long journey. We’ll have some hot food sent up and I will be there soon for a salve for your hands.”
Sansa nodded, sighing. “Perfect.”
They all stood. Maester Luwin looked at Sandor, up and down.
“Are you truly able to walk?” Sandor nodded. “Alright, then. You may follow me.” Sandor took one last look at Sansa. His jaw was as hard as his eyes. He was gritting his teeth. She hid a smile as he turned to follow the maester.
Sansa started to make her way to her old bedroom, but two girls appeared and stopped her.
“We’ll take you to your rooms princess.” The smaller of the girls said.
“Oh that’s alright, I remember the way.” She turned to go again, Shae right behind her.
“But, Princess.” She turned back around. The older girl was speaking. “You will be staying in the Lord’s Quarters, as it were, until the King gets here that is.”
“Oh.” Sansa stopped. She swallowed and shook her head. “I’m so sorry, you are?”
“We are your new handmaidens Princess.”
“Oh lovely.” She looked at Shae. Her eyes were cold. “What are your names?”
The smaller girl with dark hair spoke first. “Anna, Princess.” She curtsied. Her eyes were a light brown. She looked similar to Darol the more Sansa looked at her.
The older girl spoke next. “Mallory.” She was almost as tall as Sansa, but she had more curves and quite a chest. Her hair was shorter, a mousy brown color. Her eyes were a very dark green. Her face was quite round, but she was very pretty.
“I’m very happy to meet you both.” Sansa turned to Shae, who stood with her arms crossed. “I would like you to meet Shae. She has been my handmaiden for the last few years in King’s Landing. You will see to her if you have any questions.”
Shae looked at her, her forehead crinkled. Sansa raised her eyebrows to her.
“Shall we go?” Sansa looked back to the girls and smiled. They nodded and turned, heading in the opposite direction to the Lord’s Quarters.
As they walked through the halls and up the staircase, Sansa trailed her fingertips along the stone wall. She closed her eyes and smiled, feeling the warmth of the hot springs pumping through the pipes. Before she knew it, they were at her parents’ old bedroom. Mallory opened the door and Sansa stepped inside. Everything was exactly the same. The flames burned bright and warm in the fire place.
Shae looked at the trunks in the room. “Mallory, you can start by unpacking the princess’ things. Putting the clean clothes in the wardrobe, the dirty ones down to the wash. Anna, San-“ She stopped herself. “The princess will be needed a bath. A hot one.”
They both nodded, and got right to work.
Shae turned to Sansa, a small smile playing at her lips. Sansa shook her head. She is going to have too much fun with this.
Sansa took off her cloak and Shae took it. She walked over to the bed and felt the furs with her fingers. Her heart ached, imagining her mother and father sleeping here together. It didn’t happen often, but there were times when she was very young that she would sneak into their room during a summer thunderstorm. She remembered snuggling up in between her parents, her father throwing his arm around her as he slept. She remembered feeling so safe. Sansa realized she hadn’t felt that safe since.
“What shall I do with this Shae?”
Sansa wiped the tears that fell to her cheeks before she turned around. Mallory held Sandor’s white cloak.
“Oh.” They both looked at Sansa. “You can just toss that on the bottom of the wardrobe. I’ll deal with it later.”
She ignored Shae when she tilted her head at her. Shae was probably expecting her to get rid of it. But she couldn’t. She didn’t know why, but she just couldn’t.
Later, Sansa had her bath. She ate her dinner with Shae, ravenously. Maester Luwin came to her and applied a salve onto her hands before wrapping them in bandages for the night. The salve cooled her blisters. It felt much better. He took off the sling on her arm, deciding the shoulder was fine for the time being. It was then that Sansa learned Shae was the one whopopped it back in when she was unconscious. Then, Sansa asked Maester Luwin about Sandor.
“He’s asleep. Milk of the poppy will do that.”
“Milk of the poppy? He’s been dealing with this for days without a word!”
Maester Luwin shook his head. “I don’t want to upset your stomach after you just ate Sansa, but his leg was-“
“That’s alright.” She stopped him. “I believe you.”
He laughed quietly. “I’ll have him brought to his room down the hall. He should be able to resume his duties in just a few days.”
After he left, Anna showed up to bring Shae to her room. Sansa gave Shae a great big hug, thanking her for everything on the road. When they were gone, Sansa realized how alone she felt. She hadn’t slept alone in a very long time. She had gotten used to sleeping next to Shae, and then Sandor, she thought with a blush. She undressed and got into bed. The last time she was in this bed, she was just a girl. And now here she was, the Princess of Winterfell. It’s just not right. It’s not the way it was supposed to be. Sansa tossed and turned. She was so warm with the furs and the fire. After a while, she tossed the furs off of her and pulled her hair above her head fanning it out to get it off of her neck. She closed her eyes, but sleep didn’t come.
“Don’t.” She told herself. “Don’t you do it.”
Gods. If anyone could see me right now, they would think I am absolutely mad. She took a breath. Well maybe I am. She jumped out of bed and ran over to the wardrobe, pushing her clothes aside and reaching down to the bottom. She grabbed the cloak, wrapped it around her naked self and ran back to the bed. She curled up on the foot of the bed, like Lady used to do, and calmed her breathing. With just the thick wool over her and being close to the fire, her body was the perfect temperature. That night Sansa dreamt she was lost in a deep grey fog.