The story so far:
Chapter 3: What Friends Do
Tyrion returned to the apothecary shop early the following morning, just before the sun rose and sent its light splintering down the side streets. Sauriel met him with a cross expression on her face.
“And where did you disappear to for so long? I thought you’d left her on my hands for good…”
He promptly took her by the hand, and pressed a coin into it. “No fortune telling tricks this time,” he twitted. “It’s the real thing.”
“How did you manage to come upon this juicy nugget, pray tell?” she queried suspiciously
“Gutter cleaning,” he provided, somewhat glibly, which made her question whether it was true or not. But judging from the way his clothes wreaked of the street, she figured he was probably being honest after all.
“Well, at least you’re not drunk,” she conceded.
“And at least I don’t leave my debts unpaid,” he added. “Now, please tell me…how is m’lady faring?”
“You’ll be pleased to know that warm food, a fresh change of clothes, and a little understanding towards the little sparrow has done wonders.” She raised one eyebrow. “And I must say you were not altogether unhelpful in the latter area. She seemed rather taken with your touch.”
Tyrion looked shocked and then rather upset. “I was not trying to ‘take her’ with anything,” he growled. “Believe me, I know how to pleasure women and have warmed many a brothel bed. But that is not what I was doing last night.”
“I was not suggesting that was your intent,” she clarified, “only that she is young, and innocent, and the touch of a man is new to her. And you touched her with softness and kindness and made her feel safe. She is surprised herself that it was possible to feel such things in association with you.”
“That I can imagine,” he exhaled.
“But more than anything, if you truly want her health restored, she just needs you there for her. She needs that kindness you showed on a daily basis.”
He grimaced. “I am not a man of honor,” he protested. “I am…a demon monkey thing who takes what it can get when it can get it. I can only keep up the façade of being decent sort for so long until something breaks. I can only pretend to be another person to a point.”
“I’m not saying that you should ever try to be another person,” she countered. “Only be what you were meant to be, and that will be flowing from what you truly are.”
“I’m having a hard time following you,” he confessed.
“Don’t follow me then,” she twitted. “Follow the voice inside yourself that you have thus far been unable to silence altogether. It will not lead you wrong. Now go inside; Sansa’s been waiting for you.”
Sansa was sitting up in a chair by the hearth, snugly, wrapped up in blankets and a shawl, with a cup of steaming tea in her hands. Her hair had been combed back and braided, and while she still seemed extremely weak, she looked far superior to the way she had two nights before. Her eyes fell on Tyrion, and he responded with an awkward little wave. Yes, it was very silly looking, and she responded with a sheepish smile. He loved seeing her face like that…perhaps, he thought, he should wave at her more often.
“How are you feeling, Sansa?” he inquired.
“Better,” she acknowledged. “Sauriel has been very good to me.” She paused, and then added, “So have you.”
He blushed deeply, but before he could answer, Sauriel came in and stood up another chair alongside Sansa’s. It was slightly taller than hers. Tyrion looked at the chair, and then back at Sansa with a quizzical expression. “Is she trying to break something to be gently?”
Again, Sansa smiled and her eyes danced a little.
“I just don’t want your neck to be strained,” Sauriel clucked.
“My neck is like an owl’s, short but with an excellent range of movement, all from years of rigorous use…”
“An owl needs a perch,” she trumped him, gesturing to the chair.
Tyrion rolled his eyes, but finally obliged, clumsily clambering atop it. “There; satisfied?”
“Overcome with ecstasy,” she trilled dramatically, exiting the room.
Simultaneously, he and Sansa both burst into a moment’s laughter. Then they grew serious again, realizing just how close in proximity they were to each other. The strangeness of being on eye level with her made him feel increasingly self-conscious. This also made him decide to do what Sauriel had suggested and try to speak his mind as honestly as he could.
“I…haven’t been particularly kind to you this past month. I mean…I’m afraid that I should have tried harder to…provide you with some…emotional support.”
“Tyrion,” she addressed him softly, “last week, you almost had your hand chopped off in exchange for mine. You’ve been working yourself to the bone to keep us both alive…”
“That’s all well and good,” he conceded, “but it’s not the same as really being there for you. I just…didn’t want to impose myself on you, especially after everything that’s happened.” He exhaled. “Especially after throwing the knife. That was the pinnacle; the perfect end to a perfectly horrendous marriage if ever there was one.”
“You just…reacted,” she offered. “I don’t think you were even taking aim.”
“I wasn’t,” he assured her. “If I had been, you wouldn’t be here.”
The look on her face confirmed his suspicion that that wasn’t the most diplomatic way of putting it.
“What I’m trying to say is that…I would never intentionally cause you harm, but there are still too many ways of unintentionally causing harm, so…I didn’t want to run the risk by growing too close to you because the opportunities of accidentally hurting you might increase.”
Did that really made any sense at all, he wondered? Or was he just a coward, pure and simple, and terrified of being hurt himself…yet again?
She looked at him thoughtfully. “But now?”
“But now…I’ve been thinking. I’ve come to the conclusion that the bulk of our problems has derived from our trying to function as an estranged couple trapped in the bonds of unwanted matrimony. But in this country we are beyond Westeros law. We can live free from such shackles, and yet still have a chance to become…friends.”
“Friends,” she repeated the word meditatively.
“It will no doubt take a bit of getting used to for both of us, but if we both agree to trying it out in unison…I believe it just might just work out in the end.” He filled out his chest with a full breath. “So…want to give it a stab?” Oh, bad, bad turn of phrase! “Er…what I mean is…”
“Yes,” she answered simply.
“Oh,” he sighed with relief. “Good.”
They were silent for a few moments.
“So what do friends do?” she inquired.
He shrugged. “Considering how few of them I’ve had in my life, I’m really no expert. But I suppose getting to know each other better would be a good start. For all we’ve been through, we’re still practically strangers to each other.”
“Would you like to…ask me anything?” she queried.
“Umm…yes,” he decided. “For starters…what do you enjoy doing? I mean, what makes you happy? What did you do in your spare time at Winterfell?”
The mention of her old home made her eyes twinge, and Tyrion regretted speaking it. But she went on to answer anyway. “As you know, I’ve always liked to sew. I made my own dresses, and helped embroider tapestries with images from the stories I used to read.”
“Right, reading,” he latched upon that, “what did you like to read?”
She looked down. “Things that you probably never heard of, or if you did hear of them…wouldn’t find very stimulating.”
He smirked. “Try me.”
“You’ll think they were pathetically childish.”
“Sweet Sansa, just tell me.”
“Oh, just old books of legends and poetry and prayers…things.” She met his slightly amused gaze. “Have you ever heard of Ser Trevelyan de Chancer?”
“Author of ‘The Scarlet-Fringed Rose’”, he responded smartly.
Her eyes widened. “I am quite surprised you would know that. He’s an obscure poet.”
“Whatever else my father may have been to me when I was growing up, he did have an extensive library, and I made full use of it,” he explained. “I’d read the entire thing by age 12. So I may be stunted in growth, but not in my literary knowledge.”
“But I thought such a library would only contain historical and political material,” she surmised.
“Well, it did contain copious amounts of that,” he affirmed, “but…my mother’s books were still there too. And she evidently loved poetry.” He smiled softly. “If I’d known you favored de Chancer, I would have gotten you white roses fringed with scarlet for the wedding.” He felt rather silly for bringing up that affair, and muttered, “Not that I expect it would have helped any but…perhaps it would have helped take your mind off the Lannister gold you had to wear, at least a little bit.”
She blushed at his efforts towards kindness. “I used to grow them myself at Winterfell. There was a lovely full bush of them just below my window that blossomed every spring and remained until summer faded.” She paused momentarily, and then asked, “What’s your favorite flower?”
The question clearly caught him off-guard, and he broke down in an embarrassed chuckle. “I honestly can’t say I’ve giventhat much thought.”
“There were so many lovely varieties in the gardens at King’s Landing…”
“They were Cersei’s,” Tyrion spat, unable to disguise the bitterness that came with the memories. “I could not see them as anything but poisonous.”
He quickly regretted his harshness, which seemed to make Sansa ashamed to have asked the question to begin with. In truth, being asked such a simple, innocent question by her made him feel deeply human, in a way that a lifetime’s worth of questions about geo-political complexities, military strategies, and brothel orgies never could.
“I think…I remember something,” he offered gently. “When I was quite young, I went exploring by myself in the wooded area just beyond Castle Rock. There was this old wall built ages before, crumbled and covered in moss, and growing through the cracks were these glorious wild flowers, small but sturdy, and unfettered by anything or anyone.” A certain strain of melancholy crept into his voice. “I went back every day and studied them, and felt terribly good that I might stare at something beautiful without frightening it away…” He stopped short. He was talking far too much. But it felt good to get it all out…and somehow she seemed to understand. “Well…well, I made a pact with myself never to pick one of those flowers, and kept it for a long time. But ultimately I broke it…and I took one back with me. Cersei found it, and knew where it came from. She was only 11 at the time, but still had a way with the guards. The next time I went back to the wall, they were all torn out.”
“But, yes, the point of my boring you to death with all that was to say…yes, those would be the kinds of flowers I would like, I suppose.” He tried grinning to cover himself, then thought better of it, giving how it distressed some people, and let it fade quickly.
Sansa looked at him hard, bearing down with a strange pressure on his throbbing heart. “If I had been your sister, instead of Cersei…if we had grown up together like that…I would never have done anything like that to you, ever.”
“Of course not,” he whispered, daring a small smile. “If we grew up together, I think we could easily have been…good friends.” His eyes grew wide for a moment. “By the gods, Sansa, I just thought of something. I think we did meet before…before King’s Landing.”
“What? When? How…?”
“Yes, yes…I saw you when you were a small child, at a feast given at Winterfell. It was very long ago, so it’s no mystery if you can’t remember it. You couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6 at the time. But…yes, I remember it now. You were the red-headed little girl sitting near your mother at the great table. Yes…you were a beautiful child, even then.”
Her cheeks flushed pink again. Tyrion adored her weakness for flattery.
“I don’t know why I never thought of it before now! It must have been the chaos of everything and… I probably got myself fall-down drunk at the feast at any rate.” This rang another distant bell in his brain, but it was fleeting, and he was unable to grasp exactly what it was he was supposed to remember from that event.
“I think…I might remember, a very little bit…” She pursed her lips together. “I think my nurse said something about a dwarf who might…make bad jokes.”
He laughed hard at this. “That’s a concisely accurate summary! I can only imagine what she might have thought about the genius notion of making you share a bed with me…”
“She never knew,” Sansa blurted, pain scratching at her throat. “They killed her before…” She couldn’t go on, but pulled the blanket tighter around her.
“Oh, I’m…so sorry,” he apologized, tongue-tied with shame. “I didn’t know…I forgot…I’m terrible…”
“You’re not terrible,” she retorted. “And…I liked having you share my bed. I mean…I don’t mean…I…”
“I know what you mean, dear,” he assured her. “Like…the other night?”
She nodded timidly.
Slowly, he reached across to her chair and touched her hand. “If you want me to, I’ll do so again. If not, I won’t. It’s up to you.”
She gazed at his hand on top of hers, and replied simply, “I do.”
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.