The story so far:
Prologue, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9, Chapter 10, Chapter 11, Chapter 12, Chapter 13, Chapter 14, Chapter 15, Chapter 16, Chapter 17.
Chapter 18: The Birthing
Tyrion knew hearing her scream would burn him up inside. He knew it would make him run through a thousand painful memories, resurrecting the cries of men and women killed in some way or other connected to him. He had learned to be hard to it back in Westeros, most of the time at least, and to work through it with a bitter smirk and sarcastic tongue. It was either that or go insane.
But he had softened the casing of his heart since then, allowing it to become vulnerable, piercable. And as a result, his defense against the memories, and the trigger of those memories, weakened. Sometimes the screams swallowed him up, hollowed him out, in the barren land of nightmares. And always, it ran back to the first scream ever he heard, the scream that carried him through his birthing, like a ringing curse of pain…
Did all the suffering in the world run back to him, the first causation? Sometimes in his battle-weary mind, world-weary mind, it felt that way…
But outside her chamber, where Sauriel had sent him lest he make things worse by panicking, Sansa’s first cry cut him with an intensity he had not anticipated. He couldn’t help but think of the little girl kicked across the room by one of Joffrey’s guards, trembling like a leaf with her dress torn open.
Yes, he had heard her cry out since then, most notably the moan uttered at their consummation. That cry had been one of pain, but also pleasure. It had been one of opening up to the unknown, but an unknown she herself had embraced, her body and soul mingling with his and shattering the last separation between.
But this latest cry was wrought from an internal tearing far deeper, punctured with fear’s cold claws. It was a pushing outward, a strangled cry of a struggling survival…oh, again and again she screamed…
Had she gotten a scream out when the knife bit open her neck? Or had she been forced to bear the final deathly slice in silence, with the metal tearing through her soft white flesh and spilling her dark life’s blood? Oh, not again…he couldn’t bear for her to suffer it again…nor to see her eyes emptied of the love that shone through them…
Tyrion dared a drink from the wine jug on the table. Even Sauriel insisted that he have one or two, or else he would come apart at the seams. But he was so swallowed up by the thought of his young wife’s suffering, he barely appreciated the taste of the grape’s blood on his tongue, gulping it down for medication as opposed to pleasure.
He also barely heard the sound of boots on the floor coming closer, closer to him. The thudding was heavy, manly, yet not as strong it seemed as the screams of pain. It was only when the approaching figure’s shadow fell over him that he leapt up from his seat on the chaise, and reached for the dagger he no longer possessed.
Still his reactions were from days of old…reaching for invisible knives to protect himself from that which no mortal weapon could protect him from: hurt…
He saw a man standing in front of him, old and yet seemingly without any firm planting in time itself. Like Sauriel, there was something about him that seemed otherworldly in its authority, in the straightness of his spine and the glint in his steel-gray eyes. He had a purple cloak wrapped around him, which ran all the way down to his polished leather boots and trailed along the floor in the back. There was a covering over his mouth.
Tyrion knew who it was instantly, though he had never set eyes on him before.
“Thurandin comes,” he rasped, and there was heat riding hard through his voice. The tension he had lived with for the past month was rising to the surface, threatening to lash out through his temper at his employer he had long held in contempt for refusing him a meeting.
“Beware of insolence to me,” the old man growled deeply. “You are in my service…”
“I choose who I will serve,” he shot back.
“And respect is due to…”
“I have no respect for landless lord who refuses to show his face to me!” He was still far too much a Lannister to take orders from a minor noble easily, especially one who seemed so much a part of the haunting aura of the surroundings.
They stared each other down silently, with their eyes as unsheathed blades, until Thurandin finally relented, and pulled back the covering. The glowing quality of his silver hair and beard stood out eerily in the shadows, and his mouth set into a tight, hard line.
Sansa screamed again from inside the chamber, and Tyrion flinched. “What curse lies on this place?” he demanded. “You will tell me, you will tell me now…what curse lies upon my wife?”
“She was a fool to go out…upon the swing…and you should not have cut it…”
“Curse you and your damned swing! Tell me the truth…what power lay in it, and in that tree? She said she heard voices…you know, you must know what she meant!”
“The voice…of a girl?” A slice of pain shot across the man’s eyes.
“Tell me…” Tyrion’s words were shivering now. If his wife was made to face death once again, he had to know the cause at least, somewhere to lay the blame for such a cruel unfolding of her shroud.
Thurandin stiffened, and then relaxed. “Fifteen years ago, when land was still mine, I threatened to evict a tenant farmer unless he gave to me his only daughter in exchange, for I lusted after her. She, out of love of him, sold herself to me. At first, she was nothing more to me than a plaything. But…she was kind to one who had treated her as an animal to be bartered with for her father’s livelihood. Her youthful gentleness became my only comfort in these lonely halls…” His deep voice cracked. “But still she feared hell for what she had been made to do. And then…” He closed his eyes. “She fell off that swing outside, trying to pick a blossom from the tree bough. Broke her delicate neck.”
“So…so you believe her reach is from hellfire?”
“No!” Thurandin spat. “No, never, never that. I alone would deserve it…”
“Then why would my wife be cursed? No one but a demon would curse her…”
“She was not cursed,” he snarled. “She was…called…”
Oh. Called across…to the other side, where she had dwelt once before…by a girl, not so different from her, whose portal to the otherworld had been that swing, that tree…perhaps, in some purgatorial prison…she was lonely…?Oh, gods, no…not Sansa, do not take her away!
Just then, Sauriel came out and met Thurandin’s eyes as if she knew them well. She gestured for him to come into the chamber where Sansa was in labor.
“What…what’s going on?” Tyrion’s snapped his gaze on Sauriel angrily. “You’ve met this man before I did? What have you been keeping from me?”
“He’s done much time in the dungeon, searching out the door between life and death. He’s also a grave thief and a cutter of bodies…”
Sauriel’s look bored into Tyrion. “If she is to live, or even have a fighting chance of it, someone must open her up and take the baby out. I am unable to do it. But…”
“He’s only done work on corpses, not living flesh!”
“If you stand in the way of this, you condemn her to certain death!”
“I am her husband!” he shouted. “I have a right to…”
“You may have a right,” she conceded. “But you won’t have the ability.”
“How can you…”
“Because that wine you just drank had a sleeping potion in it.”
Tyrion stared at her in disbelief for several moments, suddenly noticing a strange sensation in his head, and realizing she was dead serious.
And that was the last thing he remembered before his mind went numb.
When Tyrion woke up, he felt a strange buzzing in his head. Then the buzzing was overtaken by the sound of crying. But it was not cries of pain anymore, and they were not from Sansa. No, this was a cry of freshness and vigor, loud and clear and so very full of life.
He propped himself up on the chaise, his eyes widening and his heart racing. He struggled to his feet, trying to regain his balance, and walked shakily towards the chamber in which he had last left his wife. Oh, gods, please…
There were candles burning through the last hour of darkness, casting shadows along the walls, stretched and strange like the flickering flame of dreams, running one after another after another in troubled sleep. Sauriel was sitting in a chair alongside the bed, her eyes meeting Tyrion’s and seeming to guide his view to the pillow where Sansa lay.
She was exhausted, wrung out like a rag it seemed, with the color drained from her pale face and lips. She could barely keep her eyes open, but still she caressed the baby close to her heart, like a little doll, and let it suckle at her breast. She was humming, very, very softly, an old lullaby from the north, invoking the protection of the Seven on the little children…
Something inside Tyrion broke watching her hand gently stroking her newborn, and hearing the simple tune rising from memories of her shattered homeland, he retreated from the chamber in tears. Joyful, sorrowful, glorious, he knew not what kind. Perhaps that is the best kind of crying…where the whole heart gushes out, and all the colors of the soul run together.
Sauriel came out to him after a little while, and he looked at her pleadingly.
“Is…is she dying, Sauriel?” he queried brokenly.
“Dying? No. Not now, at least. She’s very weakened of course, and she’s lost a great deal of blood. She was unconscious for the cutting and stitching up, but she will of course know the pain of it when she becomes fully aware. But the operation’s intent was successful. She is still whole inside. His lordship is evidently skillful at his craft. He is the one to thank this time round.”
“Where…where has he gone? I wish to speak with him…”
“Go back and see your wife and child first,” she urged him.
Tyrion swallowed. “I…don’t know if I should. I don’t want to…intrude…or disturb…”
“For the love of…” The old woman shook her head. “You’re the child’s father! In there is exactly where you belong, and there’s no such thing as intruding in a place you belong.”
Sauriel left him alone then, to give him space with his own thoughts and the chance to prepare for this first contact. Finally, he reentered the chamber, and slowly, ever so slowly, approached his wife.
Sansa seemed to be asleep, but then flickered open her eyes when she sensed his presence and gifted him with one of her softest smiles. “Meet…your daughter,” she whispered, gesturing for him to climb up into the bed.
He swallowed hard. “San…” His voice failed him, overcome by the emotion of the moment.
Her smile was overcast by a look of concern. “I know…I should have had…a son for you…but…”
“Hush, hush,” he chided her, summoning up his strength to climb into the bed. “Not another word…”
He gazed fully upon his child for the first time. She was so tiny, so helpless, so…alive. Although she could not yet see, her tiny fist had clenched onto lock of her mother’s silky hair. And she was…normal. Fully formed, not like him.
Tyrion felt Sansa move the baby towards him, and the infant’s hazy blue eyes met his for the first time. She squirmed a little, and he felt shaken to the core with terror.
Was she going to be afraid of him? Was she going to cry? Was her mother going to have to tell her he wasn’t some horrible monster come to do her harm?
“Hold her, Tyrion,” Sansa coaxed.
“I…I don’t want…to scare her…” He inhaled. “She’s…so beautiful, Sansa…”
He remembered being a small child when one of the ladies of the court had brought her baby in a bassinet while her husband and his father discussed the affairs of state. She had stepped away for something or other, and left the baby in the bassinet alone. He had gone over, curious as little boys will be, and started talking to the baby to ease some of his gnawing loneliness. He had told the baby how much he wanted a dragon for his upcoming 6th birthday…that he would be very good with dragons surely, because they were ugly, and wouldn’t mind if he were ugly, and he could spend time with something that didn’t mind if he talked to it a lot, and he wouldn’t be all alone anymore…
Then the baby’s mother came in, saw him leaning over the bassinet, and pushed him away from it, as if he were a rat trying to climb in and bite the child. It was the commotion that frightened the baby into crying, he had been sure, but the woman was merciless in blaming him for it, saying that Tywin should have “locked up the little demon monkey” for their visit.
But now, gazing into the face of his own child, he did not see any signs of fear or panic, only a fathomless innocence. She trusted him…she trusted him…oh…
“See?” Sansa whispered. “She’s not afraid at all…just…hold her.”
The baby was half against his chest and half against the pillow now. Her hand had finally opened up enough to release her mother’s hair. Tyrion wondered if she might want something else to cling to for the moment, so let his finger touch her palm, and she obliged him by closing her little fist around it.
His courage increased, and he pulled her up into his arms. “There…there, there…” He tried to make his voice soothing as he adjusted her weight against him. There was something so pure about her, like freshly fallen snow without a track of man or beast having been made upon it. It filled him with wonder and awe, and he wished it would always be this way for her, but he knew well enough how life had a way of leaving cruel imprints.
Oh, please…let her live her days in peace…let the only games she plays be those of joy…do not let them put the choice to her…to win or die…
He couldn’t tear away his gaze from her, but felt himself linked so profoundly with her every tiny movement, every baby-thought, like baby-talk, garbled but adorable, in her own little world. His whole life he had been struggling to make some sort of lasting impression on people, whether it be to inflict fear or instill respect, in spite of his stature. Now in this moment, all he wanted from tiniest of beings was love. And he dared to believe that he felt the beginnings of a bond forming between them.
“She…she seems to like…my finger,” he muttered, chuckling awkwardly. “Maybe…in time, she’ll…like…like me too…” He felt tears well up in his eyes at the simplicity of this moment, and went to brush them away with his one free hand, running over his scar. The horrors of Blackwater contrasting so starkly in his mind that he felt a shiver run up his spine.
He would protect her from them…from the winter wind always howling at his back…from lions, wolves, and dragons…from anyone who might seek them out…he’d battle the whole world to keep her beautiful eyes from seeing what he had seen, what Sansa had seen…
Just then Sansa twitched and stifled a moan. Tyrion turned to her, realizing she was in pain, not sure quite what to do while still holding on tightly to his child. He wanted desperately comfort his wife, but without frightening his daughter. Too much happening at once…
With her perfect sense of timing, Sauriel had made her way back into the chamber and gently eased the baby out of Tyrion’s arms. The little one seemed not to want to let go of his finger, whimpering as she was pulled away.
“Oh – Tyrion…” Sansa bit her lip. “Don’t…let them take…take her away…please…”
“It’s alright, love…shh…” He stroked her hair, realizing she was starting to drift into a confused state.
“But…but they will…they’ll…try and…”
“Over my dead body,” he choked, kissing his wife on the forehead. “She’s ours, and ours alone. No one else holds a claim to her. No one has the power to take her away…”
His own mind envisioned how it might have gone had they been back at King’s Landing. He imagined, in horror, the mockery and scorn they would have been subjected to for having a daughter, how his manhood would have been scoffed at, and her womanhood put to shame. He thought of how they would have tried to take the child away, and use her as another pawn on their chessboard of greed and desire…and then he banished the thoughts with resolve.
Never…never would they touch…his family now…
“Tyrion,” Sansa sobbed, tears running down her cheeks as her nestled her head into his shoulder. “I’m afraid…ahh…” She tightened, again in reaction to pain.
“Don’t be…don’t be,” he calmed her, wrapping his arm around her shoulders very carefully, observing through the thin shift where the bandages crisscrossed over her belly. The shift fell open some, exposing her breasts to him. He swallowed, and then very gently, he kissed them, and her shoulders, and her neck, until she moaned, but for a reason other than pain.
He turned her face towards him, and let their cheeks slide against each other, and he kissed away the tears, the salt stinging his lips and tongue. “Don’t be afraid…don’t be afraid anymore…my brave, strong girl…you’re safe, I promise, you’re safe…”
Sauriel came over with a vial and handed it to Tyrion. “Get her to drink this,” she instructed. “It will help with the pain.”
He nodded, and put it slowly to her lips. She seemed unnerved at first – good gods, had her mind gone back to a world where poison was still a real threat? – but as he lifted her head, she trusted him enough to swallow it down.
“Good girl,” he praised her, with one of his sincere, eager-to-please smiles.
She chuckled very softly in response and again leaned back into him. “Tyrion…?”
“Yes, dear?” he responded, letting his hand trail her spine.
“Can I…hold the baby tomorrow? Will they let me…?”
“Sansa,” he exhaled. “You may hold her as much as you want, for as long as you want, whenever you want.”
She smiled softly and started to drift off to sleep in his arms.
“We’re free, Sansa,” he whispered in her ear. “Really and truly we are. And we’re never going back. I swear it as a…”
Damn him to hell, had he almost just said Lannister? It had been such an instinctive fall back over the years, when he had no other leg to stand on…
“As your husband, and your child’s father,” he amended. “I’ll never let them frighten or hurt you again. I swear it.”
Avellina Balestri (aka Rosaria Marie) is one of the founding members and the Editor-in-Chief of The Fellowship of the King, a literary magazine with a strong Tolkienite influence (which, by the way, is open to submissions). She reads and writes extensively, and eagerly seeks out the deeper spiritual significance of popular fandoms such as The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, Star Trek, Star Wars, and The Hunger Games. And yes, she does have a soft spot in her heart for classic Disney movies, The Princess Bride, and Merlin 😉 She is also a recording artist, singing traditional folk songs and her own compositions as well as playing the penny whistle and bodhran drum. She draws her inspiration from the Ultimate Love and Source of Creativity, and hopes to share that love and creativity with others.