The story so far:
Chapter 8: A Feast for Crows
Two weeks had flown by since Sansa had given her scarf to Lord Torquil at the opening night of the Harvest Fair. Two weeks of the festivals and games, bread and circuses, tournaments and oaths pledged had passed, and still her champion battled through the rounds with her favor tied about his arm and with her watching from the dais. And he was winning all the time, besting all other knights who went up against him with drama and panache.
He is still young, Tyrion thought. He has not seen life blood drawn in war, nor grown sick at the way fire burns flesh. Battles are still a game to him, just as love is just a game to him…
It was the custom of the land that courtships should be brought to fruition and betrothals initiated at summer’s end. As the local saying went, when the harvest came in for the feast, the lovers came out for the ribbon binding. A man grown too old without a woman to call his own might well become a social outcast according to the traditions of Davneros.
This was a certain Lord Torquil’s plight, Tyrion supposed. And it seemed to be his intent to use Sansa to remedy it. After all, he had from good authority that success on the tournament field wearing a given lady’s scarf was taken as something of a given that a match had been made. Sansa of course was unaware of this, and Tyrion had not told her any more about it.
He wanted her to have a good time, and Torquil made a point of spending as much time with her on the fairgrounds as he could before and after the competitions. He wanted her to get to know this knight better on her own, without social conventions confusing her worse than she already was. Sansa had assured that she would not reveal anything about her past, except that she was an exile from the wars in Westeros, to explain her accent. There were enough of them to make the story plausible and yet not give away too much.
But Tyrion still wondered why such a good-looking, seemingly obliging, if rather shallow, lord was so desperate as to take a peasant girl over one of the high-born ladies who would certainly be flattered by his attentions…unless he had something to hide. Or unless perhaps it really was what the poets called “love at first sight”, although Tyrion seriously doubted such a thing even existed in any meaningful way. But he could believe in lust at first sight…the question was, did that sort of thing ever lead to a stable and happy marriage between a noble and, at least what Torquil thought to be, a commoner?
Not in Westeros, to be sure. But this was a different country with different customs. Perhaps fantasies like that played out in real life here?
He wasn’t sure, but whether or not Sansa was aware of all the details, she did seem rather…happy. Not to say that she hadn’t seen her happy with him; perhaps it was just another shade of happiness, just like her cheeks had taken on a rosier shade. She had always had a weakness for attention, and now she was getting that attention. Like a fleeting chapter in an illuminated fairytale book, it almost a bit too good to be true. He sensed that Sansa felt the same.
She continued to ask Tyrion daily if he’d rather she’d stopped attending the tournaments, if he thought it was putting them too much at risk, and each day he assured her it was just a game and no harm would come from it. Still Torquil went half as deep as her concern for him.
And yet he questioned if perhaps girls cared so very much about depth at the end of the day. Maybe their happiness was more based in the senses, and a basically decent atmosphere to live their lives. He…didn’t know. But he had done at least some research on Torquil, and it did not seem that he had anything too terrible in his past. As a merchant prince of the city, he was well-situated in a beautiful manor at the heart of the city. By all accounts, the circumstances seemed fair enough. And for Sansa, it could spell out the beginning of a whole new life…if she were willing to leave Tyrion, that is. Her streak of northern loyalty concerned him most of all.
The day of the last tournament came, and Sansa met with Tyrion as usual in the woods to discuss what had transpired. But this time, she was noticeably distraught.
“You didn’t tell me,” she blurted. “You knew, you had to know…but you didn’t tell me.”
“You knew!” she shouted. “He thinks…he thinks I’m his now…and you let him think that, and let me…lead him on!”
“It’s not a matter of leading anyone on,” Tyrion responded quietly. “I’ve researched his background, and I see him as a suitable match.”
“Suitable match?” she exhaled. “So I have no voice in this at all? Am I your hostage to bandy about as you wish?”
“You have no father to settle these things,” he stated. “The duty is mine.”
“You…you want to get rid of me,” she whispered, the realizing striking a chord of rejection. “Why?”
He paused for a moment, knowing what had to be done, and yet feeling crushed at the thought of it. He would have to…make it hurt.
“Perhaps I have grown sick of playing games with you, Sansa, as if you were a little child,” he shot back, although the words wobbled with the pain of enunciating them. “Perhaps I have better things to do with my time then act as nursemaid for a backward northerner farm girl I should have forced to be a woman long ago!”
She was wounded; he could tell. It was working.
“I thought you…enjoyed my company.”
“Oh, your company has been so stimulating,” he mocked coldly. “Like your passionate kissing. Truly, what could be more stimulating than that?”
“I…I meant that kiss…”
“Yes, you meant to make the little dwarf feel better! Well…I’m afraid his tastes are rather more cultivated than your efforts could satisfy. Are you shocked, my naïve hostage?”
“You’ve a body worth lusting after, but no sense to make use it. Too busy in your fairytale world, talking to stars and chasing rainbows, instead of learning about men like me. You think I want your company? I want your blood on the sheets!”
She let out a little gasp, just as she had when his knife had grazed her arm on the coast of Westeros.
“Don’t play the role of shocked maiden with me,” he growled. “It disgusts me. Go on, get out of my sight, go off with your handsome knight, and learn to play house with him! Get out before I decide to use you as you should have been used long ago!”
Through angry tears, Sansa flung his Westeros coin out of their tree and snatched down her healer’s crystal.
“My mother was right,” she sobbed. “You are an animal!”
Tyrion’s watched mutely she stormed away back through the woods. Then his eyes became fixated on the coin glinting in the dirt. For long, painful, frozen moments he stared at it, and the dead face of Robert Baratheon glared back at him.
Was the murdered king’s ghost wreaking punishment on all Lannisters through fate? That in exchange for the taking of his life, they should never know more than a tantalizing taste of love?
He wondered if he should pick up the piece or leave it where it fell, lest he desecrate it with his touch, besmirch all that had been and might have been in this place, this beautiful place that had turned into his ugliest hell.
But he had done the right thing, had he not? Had he not?! One vaguely decent thing he could be buried with, that could linger on after his small body became the meal of worms? Oh, Seven, grant a sign!
The decision was made for him, albeit in a different way. From out of nowhere, a raven swooped down in from of him on the ground, eyed him ominously for a long moment, and then snapped up the coin in its beak and flew away.
She shuddered as he noticed the black feather lying in its place. Death had come to steal away his gold. He smirked, his old cynicism twisting through his bones.
Thus marks the end of all good things, he thought to himself. A feast for crows, like our hearts’ flesh will be…average men might face worms, but Lannisters were special…they deserved…crows…
He heard the distant cawing, felt it claw through him like the sharpest of talons, and stifled a gasp. His throat suddenly felt as dry as a dust-choked road.
Need drink…need it…must have it…
And he intended to drown in it till the raven came to pick him dry on the last day.
Sauriel had sensed he would be drunk before he even returned home, wild-eyed and slurring swear words as he staggered in the door and nearly knocked down her shelf of fruit preserves.
“So I assume you’re very pleased with yourself now,” she remarked sarcastically. “Assuredly this will go a long way in bringing you to peace with Sansa.”
He laughed, an empty laugh. “Sansa?” he repeated. “She’ll be off with her…rescuer…by now…”
“So you won’t even put up a fight?”
“All she was worth to me was…was another little virgin to pluck!”
She considered this drunken declaration carefully. “Then why did you never get around to the plucking? Did you lack the manhood?”
He turned on her, a growl in his throat. “I…have…manhood,” he defended himself in a gravelly tone. “You ask…ask anyone…they’ll know my…accomplishments…I am the dwarfish king of whoredom…” He touched his forehead suddenly, as if to still a shooting pain.
“Then why did you wait so long to claim her maidenhead?”
“I…I was leading her along…like a lamb to the slaughter…a stupid little lamb…I just played a little…game…yes, I am an expert at games,” he chortled, but it came out like choking.
“And now you’ve lost the game?” she challenged him. “What misstep has robbed you of your prize, little man?”
“Nothing…robbed me of it,” he retorted. “It was…amusing for a while, but…now I’ve grown tired of it, so…I’m done with her. She’s such a…a simpering…child…she’d have brought me no pleasure…”
“Enough of this!” Sauriel bellowed. “You are the one acting like a baby whose rattle is being taken away! Are you so mean-minded as to want to break the rattle into so many pieces beforehand?”
He stared at her, gleaming and goggle-eyed, then bit down hard on his lip, so hard, his teeth broke the skin.
“I’m not…trying…to break…anything…but…but…” He inhaled hard. “But…her cage.”
“Oh,” she exhaled, shaking her head. “What a fool you have become.”
He lunged toward her awkwardly at the insult, stumbled, and pitched forward onto the floor. He made an involuntary moan of pain, and she reached a hand towards him.
“Keep away!” he snarled. “Away!!”
She obliged him, realizing that he needed to work this out on his own, in more ways than one. He tried to get himself up again, but his body would not obey him. His head was spinning and his legs felt as if they were cast from lead.
Slowly, slowly, he began to drag himself forward across the floor. It hurt, scraping his belly along the ground, like some kind of reptile, clawing at the ground with his small, malformed hands. Sauriel winced as she watched, but still she forced herself not to intervene.
Slowly, slowly, the ground slid under him.
Go on, little viper, little inch-worm, go…
He remembered the taunts from his childhood, when he had first learned to walk, still struggling at age 4 to gain the balance needed even to stand without wobbling and collapsing in a heap on the floor. The servants of his household would chortle and mutter among themselves who would have to touch the goblin this time. When his nurse finally picked him up, her hands tensed with revulsion, as if she were touching a spider or a toad. She had always felt slighted to be assigned to the stunted outcast child, and did little to hide her feelings. But something about her cold touch had often made him want to cry when he was too young to understand it all, but he bit down through the skin of his lip instead.
He was a Lannister…even then…oh…
He remembered his father forcing him to walk the twisting stairs of one of the high castle towers, laughing his heartless laugh whenever the little boy fell down, scraping the skin from his hands and face, with the taste of salt tears and his own blood tricking onto his tongue. He remembered how he would shout at him to get up, get up or be left there in the dark all night, hurt and frightened and clinging to the stairs like an insect on a leaf…
And who are you, the proud…lord…said…that I must…bow…so…low…? So…low…
Now, on the floor of Sauriel’s shop, his lungs felt stretched with the exertion he dragged himself towards the hearth, towards the cot, where he could sleep off the drugged memories. Finally, finally…he reached it…pulled himself up…onto it…he coughed at the way his breathing trembled inside him. He lay flat on his belly, so….tired…
Then the scent of lemons tickled his nose. It penetrated the alcohol’s haze, so gently…like the touch of her lips had penetrated the haze of his life. Softly, softly, like a mother’s embrace he had never known, he felt softness brush against his cheek. Her nightgown…still lying…on the bed…
It was the end game, splitting the board and shattering all the pieces. And then the tears came like blood drawn from a mortal wound, and he sobbed so long and hard he felt his strained lungs might burst open. He clutched at the material, struggling to refer the pain built up over so many years that he feared might kill him at long last. And then he brought the gown to his lips and kissed it, again and again and again…until, exhausted, he fell against its softness, and drifted away…
Sansa returned home late from the last night of the tournament. Sauriel immediately noticed that her eyes were red and swollen.
“Are you alright, sparrow?” she inquired in a motherly tone.
Sansa rubbed her hand across her face. “I must…have somewhere else to sleep. He…he doesn’t want me near him, and…and I suppose I am to marry Lord Torquil. So…so it would inappropriate anyway and…I…”
“Do you love this…Torquil?” the old woman questioned.
“I don’t know,” Sansa whispered. “I don’t know…anything…anymore…” She closed her eyes tight, to try to stop the intense burning.
Sauriel took Sansa by the shoulders gently. “Listen to me, girl. There is something that every healer must remember. When sickness wields its heavy hand, it often has a voice. It speaks through the people it afflicts. The little man – your friend – is sick in his soul, and now with the drink. Do not be quick to judge him for the demons that torture him. He must learn to make peace with them if he ever hopes to gain power over them. If you care for him at all, you must do the same.”
“I thought I cared for him,” she whimpered. “I…I thought I could even be…be his own…one day…but he…he hurt me…he said horrible things…”
“He thought he was hurting you for your own good,” Sauriel insisted. “He is a fool, but a fool who wants your happiness above his own. That’s why he thought a little pain now would save you a lifetime of pain in the future.”
She turned her eyes down. “Am I to blame for all this?”
Sauriel shook her head. “Casting blame never heals wounds. Only love does that.”
“But he doesn’t want my love,” she blurted. “I…disgust him…”
Sauriel paused, then gently started to guide her towards the main room where the hearth burned.
“No, please, I…I don’t want to see him…like this…”
“He’s quite harmless now,” Sauriel assured. “It will only take a moment, and then you may sleep with me tonight.”
Reluctantly, Sansa obeyed. Stepping tentatively inside, she saw very little at first because the fire had died so low. But then as her eyes adjusted, she made out Tyrion’s small form, sprawled haphazardly across the mattress, all tangled up in something.
Yes, it was…her nightgown that she had left there in the morning.
She wondered for a moment in alarm what might make him reach for it, if it was simply out of a burning lust…but no, no…somehow…she knew better.
She moved closer and knelt down next to the cot, observing that he was decidedly unconscious, but his breaths were wheezing, as all breathing becomes when one has been crying. Slowly, hesitantly, she reached out and touched his cheek, accidentally falling into tracing his scar again.
Yes…his face was wet.
She felt a lump rising in her throat as she let her hand gently stroke the edge of his hair. And she noticed for the first time that it had changed color, growing lighter from time spent in the summer sun.
He stirred slightly, but did not awaken. Indeed, she was familiar with how deeply he slept when intoxicated. She thought about trying to pry the gown away from him and tuck him in with a proper blanket, but seeing how he was clutching it like a small child clinging onto a favorite blanket for security, she could not bring herself to do it.
Suddenly that simple dressing gown seemed worth so very much more then the expensive evening gown her noble suitor had purchased her, bragging all along about its cost to prove his love to her. Tyrion had proved it in a different way, by cradling her when she was frightened, and gently rubbing her shoulder beneath the material he now clung to so tightly. And who could put a price on that kind of love? Yes, even now, after all he had said, she knew it was true.
But he was pushing her away from him on instinct, pushing away the only one who could return the love he so desperately wanted to show. And there was nothing she could do about it. Nothing but let the tears slide down her own cheeks as the last embers of the fire turned to ashes.
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.