The story so far:
Chapter 17: Hanging by a Thread
Over the course of the next month, Tyrion felt as if he had been turned inside out. His entire purpose for living and working felt drained out of him, and all his former joys evaporated into the residue of bitter, brooding thoughts.
How could she do this to him? Time after time he had tried to love her, and put her interests before his, and had been either rejected through choice or circumstance. If she truly loved him, surely she would be willing to do anything to spare him more pain, particularly the pain of losing her and having to live with being the indirect cause of that loss.
He was demanding nothing less than what he would have been willing to do if the situation was reversed. All he asked was that she stay alive…that she not throw away their lives together on behalf of a thing he could not even think of as human anymore. It was just a parasite from his body, feeding off of hers. It was going to kill her…just as he, as a pre-born parasite, had killed his own mother. How could he endure the torture of emotionally engaging in such a tragedy, grounded in Sansa’s stupid refusal to temporarily sacrifice her dream of motherhood?
So he stayed away from her, trying to blot her out of his mind altogether. Sauriel was taking care of her, he knew, and he would continue to work to keep a roof over her head, as was his duty. But all at once, he felt the need to bury that very deep love that grown between them as husband and wife. He would bury it as deep as the hole to receive her coffin, or else pull it out by the roots with one maddened thrust. He had grown sensitive, and dreaded the sting of the thorns wrapping around his heart again. Better to tear the vines asunder, even if the blossoms died.
But now he could not think ahead…he refused to think ahead…and burying himself in books became his only link to meaning, as he waited for the ink to dye his heart black.
Then one night, Sauriel decided enough was enough. He had been treating her like a plague victim as well, and she was finding it increasingly hard to sympathize with his attitude. He had returned multiple notes from Sansa unopened, and the traveler woman was aware of the toll his bitterness was taking on the girl, and the way her eyes had become glazed over, just waiting and wishing for death.
So Sauriel entered the accounting room, and received the welcome from him she expected.
“I have nothing to say to you,” he stated coldly.
“Did I ask you to say anything to me?” she responded quietly, seating herself in the chair across from his desk on which he was marking ledgers. It seemed his chair of authority had become his own personal iron throne, where he was king of laced lies and stunted sentiments lost in the shuffle papers, white and cold as snow.
“I’m not interested in listening either,” he growled, “nor receiving any further notes. They clutter the desk.”
Sauriel started at him hard. “I should never have brought her back to you…not if you were going to treat her like this…”
“You’re quite right, you shouldn’t have,” he concurred flippantly. “It’s just brought us all more suffering than we ever bargained for. Why did you have to interfere anyway?”
She refused to respond to this, but murmured on her own, “Love is death. A death to self…but the danger is that little by little, as your heart breaks apart, it may die.”
“It has broken…enough,” he sighed. “Now it has hardened to what must come, and you certainly cannot change that, nor should you want to.”
“If it has hardened,” she hissed through clenched teeth, “stop clutching it so tightly, or it will break apart in your own hands. Better to let it fall, strike the ground, and shatter…than to kill it yourself.”
“At least it is numb now to the shattering,” he retorted. “I do believe I’ve been through enough for one lifetime, thank you kindly.”
“And if she dies in anguish for protecting her child…your child…”
“It’s not mine!” His words were biting, but lacked logic. “I have…no part…with it.”
Emotion. Alive. Not so hardened, after all.
Sauriel narrowed her eyes. “Sansa would not be Sansa if she chose herself over the child. And Joanna would not have been Joanna if she chose herself over you.”
Tyrion snapped his gaze on Sauriel. “Do not bring her into this!” he spat.
“She is in this,” she insisted. “And well you know it. Your fear is strong enough to tear down mountains. It is more dangerous even than your hatred.”
“It is not fear, but anger!” he shouted, and was visibly shaking now. “She has betrayed me. Betrayed…everything we had…”
“For disobeying your order to kill her child? What did you want, a slave or a wife?”
“A woman,” he choked. “Alive. Not…torn apart inside.”
“And she needs a friend. Would you have it said that your lady showed more courage in defying you than you did in refusing her solace? Would you have it said…that you had become like Twyin…?”
“Do not…” He clenched his fist around a paper weight, his eyes glittering dangerously, as a flood of memories assaulted him. But Sauriel did not move, pushing back his inner fire with her own. If he was a lion, she was a dragon. No…he was not really going to throw it at her…was he?
He let go of the paper weight and slumped back in his chair, overcome by a sense of defeat. “I cannot give…anything anymore,” he rasped. “All that I had…is dried up inside.”
“Then do what you must to replenish it. If you do not, she will give up on any chance of living.” Their eyes locked. “She is already slipping. With every note you reject, she slips further. Sauriel looked about her surroundings. “I fear…a shadow hangs over this place, and it’s calling to her. I could bring her back from the grave only once, as we both surely as surmised, but the otherworld still holds a claim to her, and whispers for her to come back. She is terrified, Tyrion, terrified of losing everything. Do not make her face her fears alone.”
He stood silently before her bed that night when she was fast asleep. Hours before, he had found himself outside, standing before the swing from which she had fallen, and the tree of death which beckoned to her. And with a razor, he had vented his fury by cutting the cords upholding the swinging cause of his distress. He had cried out as it clattered to the ground, as if he had cut the cords of his own heart.
Now, his violent passion sated, he had stolen into her chamber at a late hour, just to watch her breathing, to ease himself by this symbol of her life, still hanging by a thread. It was a strange thing focusing on the hypnotic rising and falling of her breasts, full with a mother’s milk now, made visible by the moon’s light shining through the thin material of her shift.
Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale…
And automatically his own breath fell in sync with hers, as the tide follows the movements of the moon’s rising. He wanted to caress and kiss those motherly, womanly breasts…he wanted to hear her moan sweetly in his ear, and he wanted to whisper tender words back to her, and feel the brush of her long, wild hair against his face. Could he ever truly shred himself away from her, shed her off of him like a snake’s skin, or would it be like expelling the air from his lungs?
The next night he came to watch her, she was more restless in her sleeping, dreaming he knew not what about, but he could imagine the meshing of time and eternity in the teeming depths of the subconscious. He saw anxious beads of sweat form on her forehead. Was she dreaming of her death…or her little one’s death? He noticed the way her one hand clutched the coverlet and the other trembled, lying outstretched, palm turned upward.
Was she beckoning to him in her dream?
Part of him wanted to clutch and kiss it, to swallow up the tremor and make it melt away in his own small body, tangled up with hers in the warmth of their embrace. But another part resisted, yes, even the lightest encounter of flesh upon flesh in the joining of hands. It was too early, and he was too empty for touch.
But he did run his hand along the silken cover of the pillow beside her, and there he placed the latest summer blossom from the ivy-covered tower. He had braved the thorns amidst the vines, letting them make him sensible to pain again, and the purist Jasmine blossom was sprinkled scarlet, a proof that he was no longer numb.
The following day, her heart soaring, she tried to send him another message. But he maintained his silence. Words could not conquer fear, or hate, or the immutable depths of indifference. Only feeling could do that, only the shock of the senses. They would have to grow back together through them.
The next night he noticed the way her hand automatically traced her round belly in her sleep as a storm beat against the outer castle walls and boarded window. Was her role as mother so deep in penetrated the boundaries of waking thought? There was love in those soothing fingers, some love he could not completely understand yet…and it threatened him.
Yet still he hungered for that knowing, and felt her hunger pulsing as real as his own, knotted together in some circle which could not be broken, a sphere that consumed him with a longing far deeper than the baked clay oven and hotter than the skin of the sun. And upon her pillow he placed the bread of rosemary and thyme, to be broken by her fingers alone.
The next day Sauriel delivered a simple message. “She will not break the bread nor her fast, until milk is brought to her.”
He smirked, somewhat wryly. Ah, yes, the herbs of faithfulness, followed by the milk of forgiveness. She asked much, and quickly. Was it still a wisp of the demanding little girl in her, once greedy for flattery and presents? He was not upset, but forgiveness could not be forced. Acceptance was coming, but growing slowly, like the flowers on the vine.
He took longer to make his visit to her chamber that night, and did not come until only a single star remained glistening outside the window, waiting to be absorbed in the grey-eyed mist of morning. He saw Sansa lying haphazardly in bed with a book of prayers to the mother open on top of her. She had clearly been trying to wait up for him, like a she must have waited for her father to come home as a little girl, but sank into slumber at last.
He smiled a little as he placed the glass of milk on her end table. She was so adorable, so singularly adorable, all tangled up in blankets, with messy hair, and her messy book flung open with crumpling pages. And she was his.
He wanted to wake her up then and there and put an end to the game. He felt guilty for playing it this long. But then a pang of terror struck him, imagining the tossled bed empty, and her nightgown lying there, never to be worn again…and the door of his heart could not yet open, though all the locks had been undone.
One more night, he thought.
But the next day made him regret his indecision, for Sauriel came to him in the evening, telling him that Sansa had been sobbing her heart out all day and now was in an extremely weakened state. Worse still, pains, intermittent and spaced apart though they were, had begun. It could start anytime now.
Tyrion’s own heart had lodged in his throat as he went once more to her chamber. He saw her lying on the far side of the bed, whimpering weakly, undone, like a dress at the seams.
Oh, when was the last time she had sewed? She used to love it so much…used to be so proud and happy to show off her needlework…would every piece of cloth she had so lovingly designed become a relic?
He inched closer to the bed, afraid that he should be spurned by her for this late effort at reconciliation. Watching her so long had made him love her all over again, in some new dimension, as one watches over a garden. Now he felt like an insect on the petals.
How could he have been so selfish? So hard? So much…like the man who had given him his noble, sullied name, and done his utmost to destroy his humanity, pulling it apart, like petals, and scattering them to the wind?
When he reached the edge of the bed, she sensed his presence, and turned to him.
“Tyrion…” She stretched out his name, tremulously, almost in disbelief. And so they stared, and stared, and stared at each other, each facing the fear flaring in the eyes other. Then the tears swelled in her own, and dragging herself across the bed awkwardly, she flung her arms around his neck. “Tyrion, Tyrion!”
“Sansa…please…” He tried to force his voice not to betray hurt or fear, so enveloped was he in her own hurt and fear. He clambered into the bed himself, to stop her from straining herself.
“Please, please don’t hate me…don’t let me die with you hating me…I can’t stand it…” She sobbed against his shoulder. He curled his arm around her back and rubbed up and down along her spine. “Oh, my girl,” he choked, “whatever will I do with you? Tell me, what am I to do with you, my bonnie, brazen girl…”
He nuzzled against her tear-stained cheek and let their lips lightly mingle. They tasted of strawberry tea, but felt chilled like the moonlight through the window. He pressed his lips against hers more firmly, seeking to warm them.
“I’m…your girl…” she whispered.
“Yes, my girl…my lady,” he added, and kissed the palm of her hand.
She closed her eyes, as if sustaining a sharp pain. “Would I be yours…even if…”
“Don’t say it,” he pleaded. “Don’t. Just feel…”
And she did, the depth of her lips hot against her own, then her neck, and she breathed in like it was the first time she’d ever been kiss this way. Were they bathing now in the filtered light of the moon, the harshest of mistresses? Life to death, death to life…glowing eerily as an ancient sacrificial flame, making her skin seem translucent. He saw her blue veins standing out in her hands, and felt them flicker when he kissed her eye lids.
Threads running through her, threads of blue running through her like the rivers of life…threads flaming red inside, the rivers of love…
“Love…” She whispered it between breaths, between kisses. “I do…love…”
“I know,” he acknowledged. They had come too far for him to forget or ignore it.
“Then…know…know…this…” She placed his hand over her belly, and he closed his eyes tight, feeling the movement.
“Our child…is alive.”
“Oh, Sansa…” It was all he could get out before bursting into tears.
“You will love…our child,” she whispered. “Won’t you?”
He forced himself to nod, again feeling the living movement of another being encased within her body. He touched his fingers to his lips and back to her belly. And they cried.
“Love me,” she choked, “even if…”
“If…anything,” he murmured. “I fear…I am…too far gone…” He inhaled shakily. “Oh, what did they do to this twisted lump of clay when they sought to wed and bed him? They could not know how much…oh, I’m all twisted up for you, and though all the stars might die, I shall never be straight again.”
They went on, kissing and stroking, and breathing life into each other…and then they drifted to sleep, with the tears still wet on their cheeks. Tyrion even slept soundly, until he felt his wife tighten as if in pain.
“It’s time.” Her eyes were dark, looking down at her abdomen where the baby was pushing down, but the strength of her hand determined and she squeezed his and whispered, “One more time.”
And their lips met one last time before the ordeal began.
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.