The story so far:
Chapter 16: Swinging from a Limb
The winter months passed, and the security of the castle was welcome as the winds blasted against the stone as if in a futile fury. Tyrion continued to catalog the library of his unseen employer, who was said to spend most of his time in the dungeon, experimenting with various substances in hopes of finding the key to reversing age…and even death. Clearly a typical eccentric. Hearty Sauriel joked that she could show him a thing or two, and Sansa and Tyrion enjoyed a good laugh.
The three of them still took pleasure in sharing their meals together on the floor on the castle which they occupied, not far from the library where Tyrion spent most of his waking hours. They talked like any family would, fed the dog under the table, and hypothesized as to why their host had become a recluse. Tyrion insisted it was a simple matter of lost prestige, but Sansa was sure it had to do with an affair of the heart. Sauriel vaguely surmised it had something to do with looking for all the right answers in the wrong places.
Whatever the truth was, the library was clearly assembled by a brilliant yet scattered brain. After several months at it, Sansa started to help Tyrion with the organizing and cataloging. Although he had first quite opposed the idea, and they had quite a spat over it that involved some mutually childish shouting and pouting that lasted for several days at a time, Tyrion came to realize that his young wife was far more intellectually astute than he had previously given her credit for, and the work actually seemed to provide her with some level of satisfaction.
Once he let down his unreasoning masculine sense of superiority, he came to realize that he and Sansa worked quite well together, and he grew pleasantly accustomed to her presence on the job. She was no longer a threat to his ability to provide for her, but became very truly a partner in the task at hand. He had long since known that his relationship with Sansa was unique, and could be nothing less in their circumstances and after all they had been through.
But the more time he spent around her, and the more sides he saw of her, he realized that her own process of maturing had matured him as well. That they were doing so together, connected through a deeper friendship than Tyrion ever thought he would share with anyone, laid a more stable foundation on which to prepare for parenting.
Spring eventually came, and with it the desire to leave the fortress and better explore their surroundings. Outside, in what formerly must have served as the castle gardens, the landscape appeared trapped in time and in a state of disrepair. There were various patches of earth that had once surely been meant for flowers, trees that desperately needed pruning, and a tangled lawn overgrown with weeds.
Sansa thought they should ask permission to start growing their own food for the household, which Tyrion agreed would be a rational course, especially given Lord Tibolt’s ill-managed financial situation. But the thing that caught her attention even more was a swing suspended from one of the trees. With a girlish enthusiasm, she rushed over and hopped onto it, causing Tyrion to feel a mix of amusement and concern.
“Easy now,” he chided her. “You are carrying an extra load in there.”
She smiled down at her belly. “The baby will like to swing. It’s like rocking…oh, Tyrion, do swing me!”
He exhaled and indulgently did as she requested. There were so many things he wanted to lavish her with that he could have a hundred times over at King’s Landing: fine clothes, glittering jewelry, satin sheets, and gourmet food. That is what he was accustomed to giving women to earn some small semblance of favor, and back before their exile, and their love, it is what he had hoped might win some sign of contentment from her. He would have seized upon anything in the depths of his guilt, any show of willingness to overlook that he was in favor of what he could give her, but had only received icy courtesies in response. But now that they had very little, they loved much, and as he pushed her on that swing, he basked in the sun of her smile, and the unfeigned familiarity between then.
Spring warmed into summer, and the lord of the castle, via his squire, started to turn over the financial books to Tyrion in hopes of him having the ability to put the household accounts in some degree of order. He was fascinated to discover that Tibolt did indeed have have a fair sum worth of inheritance, but it was mostly hoarded away in gold troves to gather dust, or else melted down for one of the castleman’s many experiments in down in the dungeon.
Now it was just a matter of taking what was at hand and using it to turn a ghostly seat of former glory into a functioning, if none-too-extravagant, gentry manor. Tyrion was tempted to refuse to do anything further until he was given some form of official title to wield the needed authority to accomplish the task, and further was given the immediate “privilege” of meeting his lordship face to face. But of course he didn’t. He couldn’t, not with Sansa’s time drawing close at hand.
As the months passed, his wife had become more weak and sickly as a result of her pregnancy, and spent much of her time confined to bed. She hardly ever came to the library anymore, and oftentimes did not even come to dinner. Tyrion felt distracted and lonely, trying hard to conceal the nervous tension gnawing at him. He hated seeing her ill, especially since he noticed a strain of listless melancholy in her eyes.
Her moods began to fluctuate in a way that revealed her own anxiety and depression, which as a result made his own moods swing from side to side. He wanted to be there for her, and yet she often preferred the quiet to his company. He was unused to this, and secretly it hurt him. Sauriel, always the sensible one, said it was natural for a young girl carrying her first child, and that he should stop moping like a little boy who had lost his playmate and just give her space.
He obliged, even taking to sleeping in an adjacent room on a cot when she was feeling particularly poorly and needed time alone. After all, he had been involved in creating the cause of her ailment and didn’t want to impose himself on her. However, every morning, before the sun could be seen and before Sansa awoke, he would leave a piece of rosemary bread, a glass of milk, and a jasmine flower that grew among the tangled ivy along the castle walls. And when she saw them there, these tokens of faithfulness, she never failed to smile even through her illness.
That Tyrion had grown accustomed to more regular sexual activity was a given, and that he missed it was a surety, but what might have driven him mad back in Westeros had a much more muted effect here. Here, it was a part of the whole that made up his life…but not the whole, and it could be more easily subjected for the good of the whole through abstinence. He had lain with so many women in his past, and had used them flagrantly as a proof of his manhood that was always in question. But now he had lost his urge to let desire dictate what it meant to be a man. He had found that path of conquest diverged from the path of love.
But Sansa was finding herself walking down a strange path of her own, and one cloudy day, she found that it led outside to the uncut lawns and unpruned trees. It had been the first day she had ventured out in weeks, and she knew she probably shouldn’t without letting anyone know where she was. She was still very weak, and her entire body felt weighed down. But some hazy dream had set her forth, and some primal gnawing led her on.
She had seen his face in the night.
His handsome face, his strong arms, holding her.
Was it some memory of Winterfell…or of her journey through the halls of the death?
A wind rustled along the grass, causing a wave of lighter and deeper greens to ripple along the ground. It was the portent of a summer storm; she saw the storm clouds filling the breast of the sky, like lunges filling with air. The world was inhaling, the trees whispering…and the swing was swinging, beckoning her.
The trees hold the spirits of those gone by.
Come and talk to them.
See faces etched in the gnarled bark.
Find your bloodlines in the leafy veins.
So she came, and eased herself onto the swing. Her fists were tight around the ropes, her knuckles turning white. And the wind blew back her long auburn hair, like a swirl of sunlight tinged with blood. She had suggested cutting it shorter back in the spring, for such length was meant for virgins, and she was no more a maid. But Tyrion had said he loved her hair, and that he did not wish their love to be the death of her crowning beauty. But now it seemed to her to be a messenger of the otherworld, swirling around her.
The trees are calling…
They have many tongues
All singing, in old voices…
Your kin is with you always
The heart of the past in the wood
What did she find herself doing, reaching out to touch the highest limb, and run her fingers along it till they became one with the wood, one with the swallowing song…
I am a lady, calling you
I am lady of these trees
This is my portal, my circular chasm
I am just a girl…come…play with me…
Was she trying to stand…stand on the swing? Catch the hand of a girl who was calling, calling through the trees, and then falling, falling…onto the ground.
And as Sansa fell, everything else was swallowed up in the growl of the thunder the rain washing through her hair cascading on the ground.
When Sansa returned to consciousness, she was back indoors, picking up the sound of the wind and rain striking the walls, and broken fragments of a hushed argument outside.
“….the old wound from Torquil…”
“…how much blood…”
“….labor could kill…”
“…mustn’t go through with it…”
“…yes, yes! I can…”
She knew…it had to be Sauriel and Tyrion…oh…
In a panic, she sat up and saw bloodied towels around her in the bed. She touched her belly. Had she failed? Had she killed her own child?! She was nearly crying in terror at the thought, but then was overcome with a wave of relief. She knew somehow, in that deepest form of motherly intuition, that another life still flickered within her. Thank the gods…but her belly was still wrapped round with bloody bandages, and she was shaking like a leaf in the storm.
Then Tyrion came in, and he looked as if all the life had been drained from him. She opened her mouth, but no words came out. His criss-cross eyes looked set in stone, and for the first time in a long time, they frightened her.
“What…did you do?” he demanded hoarsely.
“I…just wanted to go out…”
“Not good enough!” His tone was razor-like in pain.
She shut her eyes tight. “The trees were calling me,” she whispered.
“You were having delusions! You should not have gone out in such a state!”
She opened her eyes again, and they were glistening with a strange, far-away look. “There was a girl…or a ghost of a girl…she told me to take her hand…”
Tyrion exhaled, almost in defeat, realizing in what a confused state she was in. But he had little patience for it, for his mind was tortured by what he had to tell her. “Sansa…you’ve injured yourself…badly. You reopened the wound from Torquil’s courtyard.”
“But the child still lives,” she whispered, killing Tyrion with the hope in her voice, and the way she touched her belly. “I know he does…”
“You must terminate the pregnancy,” he blurted.
Sansa just stared at him, as if he had become a stranger to her.
“You cannot…live through it…otherwise,” he continued haltingly. “You must…end it.”
“No,” she rasped.
“You must,” he choked, “or you will die.”
“No, no…you can’t…it’s too far along anyway…you can’t…it can’t be done…”
“There are ways of doing it, and it must be so.”
“No!!” She jerked herself up, all her defense mechanisms striking off at once. “I won’t let you kill our child!”
“And I won’t this part of me kill you!” he shouted back, the pain breaking his voice. “Not again…never again…” He pressed his hand over his eyes, wishing his mother had listened to the physicians when they forewarned her the labor might be too hard for her to withstand, might have ended him then before he could do her harm…
“No, I will not.” Her voice was shaking, but with a frightening resolve. “I will not do it, no matter what you say. No…it’s our child…”
Tyrion looked at her, a desperate look creeping into his eyes. Even she knew he couldn’t physically force her to do it, but surely…surely she would do it…she did not want to die again, did she? She would not…leave him again? No, surely…
“Sansa.” He breathed her name, trying so hard to soften his voice so as not to add to the fear blazing in her eyes. “If you love me…at all…please.”
She looked at him for a long, long time. Then, to his shock, and utmost pain, she slowly shook her head.
He recoiled in hurt and anger. “Then I shall have no more to do with you, and you shall die with my contempt! You will cause me to suffer it again, you will not…”
He saw her eyes welling up with tears, pulling at his heart, but he would not allow it to pull him under. He could not go through it again, he could not…not if she loved him so little, after all they had done, after all he had tried…no, no, no….
“Tyr…Tyr…” She whispered, but he had already turned his back to her and stormed out of the room and shut the door behind him. He was too far away to hear as she sobbed out her heart against the pillow, and held her belly so her baby would not feel the pain.
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.