The story so far:
Chapter 9: The Maiden and the Bear
The next day was the ball concluding the harvest festivities. It was to be held at the manor of Lord Torquil, the victor of the competitions. And naturally, Sansa was expected to be there at his side, his consort for the evening…and, it was assumed, ever after.
But she seemed none too to participate. Stiff as a manikin, she had allowed Sauriel to help dress her for the occasion, but had made no movement to leave. No, she just sat in her favorite chair by the fire, fingering her healer’s crystal she had insisted on wearing, and let the minutes tick by, wishing away the ultimate outcome.
When she was a good quarter of an hour late, Tyrion came in to see her. He was sober at long last, although still not completely steady in his walking. She got the distinct impression he wanted to say something to her very much…but was not at all sure what that something was, or how he was supposed to go about it. After all, the words he had spoken to her the day before were intended to split them up forever. But he was still here, and she was still here.
So he just stared at her, distractedly, and she stared back at him. For little while, Sansa wondered if they were going to go on like that all night, guessing at each other’s thoughts but not daring to utter a word. Finally, Tyrion summoned enough courage to blurt out, “M’lady, you…really must go.”
She crossed her arms tight around her and shook her head. “I don’t want to.”
“Sansa, it’s highly improper…”
“Improper?” she exploded. “You’re going to lecture me on what’s improper?!”
“No,” he exhaled. “It’s just…I have no idea how he might react to such an affront. He’s your champion, and this is his victory celebration. He’ll be disgraced in front of everyone if you don’t arrive.”
“I never promised him I’d come,” she retorted. “In fact, I never promised him anything.” She eyed him harshly. “It’s rather complicated to discern what’s fitting and proper when one’s…guardian…wants his charge to act like a woman in the body, while at the same treating her like a child in the mind.”
He sighed. “Look, I’m not going to go through all that…again. Once was…more than enough for me.”
From the tone in his voice, she gathered that his rant in the woods had not given him great pleasure, and in fact, had caused him more than a little pain. But apologies and explanations still seemed beyond his reach at this stage. Typical man.
“Just…think rationally,” he implored. “We both know how insane nobles can be when deprived of what they see as belonging to them by right.”
“Yes,” she acknowledged bitterly. “It seems a very consistent reality.”
Tyrion shut his eyes. “Right, so you hate me,” he mumbled. “That’s entirely the point.”
She raised an eyebrow, trying to grasp his meaning. Then her expression softened. There was clearly more to this than met the eye. She had to test him.
“If I asked very politely, would you…go with me?”
“As my escort,” she explained quietly. “It’s proper for a young lady to have one.”
He shook his head. “Sansa, they’d take one look at me and laugh us both out of the hall. You know that. It would be…purposeless.”
“But there’s no one else,” she whispered. “I promise…this would be the last kindness…I’ll ever ask of you. I’ll be gone in no time, and you need never be bothered by me again.”
Again, he seemed unable to find words, and proceeded to stare at her for a long moment.
“I shouldn’t,” he stated at last. “But if that’s the only way to make you…go…”
She turned her eyes down. That part hurt.
He too wrenched his gaze away from her. “Let’s just go.”
The celebration was already in progress when Sansa and Tyrion made their entrance in the hall of Lord Torquil. Unblinkingly, Sansa introduced Tyrion as her “guardian and protector.” As predicted, the hall erupted in laughter. Torquil did not laugh immediately, but there was a glinting smile on his face which somehow unnerved her. She had not seen it in all her time spent with the man on the fairgrounds, but now, in front of Tyrion, there was a cynical glee about it that made her feel sick.
Over the past two weeks, Tyrion had been actively his natural suspicion due to his own inferiority complex when dealing with the emotional complexities. The feelings of genuine affection, he realized, did little to keep his armor of the mind polished in a state of readiness for war. Now…it was all a little late to go back, even as his gut instinct was being reawakened.
Something just…wasn’t right. Just watching the Torquil ceremoniously giving Sansa back the sash he had won for her. It was like a chain, latching her to him…like a prisoner…
Dinner did little to quell either of their apprehensions. Note worthily, Sansa was the only woman present in a room full of merchants and nobles. The seating arrangement had Sansa next to her “champion”, with her “protector” off to the other side of the table. Even if she needed protecting, and he was willing to engage himself in it, and if that engagement was even capable of effecting any time of positive outcome, he was a bit far off to do anything. And worse yet for her position, both the men in her life were being rather free with the wine going around.
For Tyrion, it was a godsend, something to keep himself preoccupied when one or another of the lords in attendance would take a jab at his stature. Ordinarily, he would have fought back with more fire, but he did not want to ruin what could be salvaged of the evening for Sansa. He could safely ignore whatever this prestigious event had to offer with a full glass in his hand.
Until, that is, he heard the strains of “The Maiden and the Bear” from the hired players picked up in the background. Tyrion had only heard it before played in the brothels and taverns of ill repute that he had so often frequented in his colorful past. Sansa, he imagined, probably never heard it, but still reddened at the crudeness of the words and connotations.
“What shall she do with a bear? The bear, the bear…all black and brown and covered with hair…” Torquil and his friends belted out, laughingly.
What the hell…why would a nobleman regale his lady with a song about a beast…licking the honey out of her hair…?
Tyrion turned to Sansa for the first time all evening, and their eyes met. She looked like she was searching for some strain of the friend she had grown to trust and depend on, who had provided her with a safe haven from the cruelty that had wracked her world.
Then her eyes took on a shade of despair. He knew she was remembering his outburst the day before, wondering if their friendship really had been just a game, and that she really was all alone in the world, the play-thing of savage men on all sides.
Torquil ran his hand along the back of her neck seductively, and she shivered. Something jostled inside Tyrion.
“Stop that bloody song!” he bellowed. “It’s not fitting for my lady’s ears.”
Torquil looked genuinely shocked. “Your lady?” he repeated incredulously. “She’s mine now, half man.”
“Not if you treat her like a whore, she’s not!”
First, silence flooded the room. Then Torquil let out a loud laugh, and his guest joined in, pounding their goblets on the table. “And you’re going to fight me for her?” He challenged.
Tyrion burned red, fired hot with fury and frustration. Kill, kill, kill the money-grubbing, dirt-rolling, snott-faced son of a bastard prince…
“Oh, come now, I wish for no feud you, little master,” Torquil insisted unconvincingly. “In fact, to show you my good will, I’ll even let you make one last toast to your former charge.”
Tyrion got off the chair slowly and raised his glass in front of him defiantly. Now was his chance to show off his biting Lannister wit, his infamous determination to have the last word, his refusal to be cowed by mockery by giving it back in turn and taking no quarter. He could show that his time away from the viper’s nest at King’s Landing had not softened his cynicism, not blunted his cutting edge…
But then he looked at Sansa and saw that her eyes were weak with pain. Her face was blanched as she awaited his words, words she seemed to have already predicted might just wound her all the more by making her a pawn in yet another round to save his pride. His intent faltered. All the clever lines he could have said died on his tongue.
“To she who is most desirable for her presence alone,” he whispered, the broken shards of his heart scratching at his throat. “Like the strength of a rose in winter gives hope to men…”
Just then, the glass which he had been gripping so tightly, cracked in his hand. It gashed his palm, and the pain made him drop it to the ground. Torquil and his guests burst into laughter once again. Tyrion closed his eyes to hide from the shame, and felt his way almost blindly back to his seat. He felt around the table for his napkin awkwardly, to sop up the wine and blood…
In moments, he felt her hand on his. She was kneeling down next to him, wrapping up his hand in her sash, the one Torquil had worn throughout the tournament. He turned his eyes away. “M’lady…don’t…they’ll just disgrace you further…”
She seemed not to hear him at all, but continued to place pressure on his hand, which was now trembling. He clutched the table with his other hand as he heard the noblemen continue cackling, and Torquil saying it would be bad luck for her to get dwarf’s blood on her fair hands. That there would be more worthy things for them to caress that night. His mouth grew dry, his head throbbed, and his stomach twisted.
He knew now what he should have known all along…they were cruel…and they’d use her… and it was all his fault…
“I need…the wine, please…please get me another glass…it hurts if I don’t have it, please…”
She swallowed back tears at his pleading with her for something to numb the pain. He was not used to enduring this sort of torture without the security of a glass in his hands. He had been alcoholic, after all, although she had somewhat forgotten it over the past six months. When he was happy with her, he hadn’t seemed to need the alcohol in excess. Now it looked as if he might have a panic attack without it.
“It’s alright, its going to be alright,” she whispered, stroking his sleeve to calm him. “I’ll get you another glass, I promise.”
“I…I’m not sure I can pour…my hand…”
“I’ll pour it for you,” she assured. “It’ll be alright, I promise, you’ll be alright…”
He gazed into her eyes, and all at once he knew he had been wrong to try and push her away from him. The tears springing up in those eyes were drawn from a deeper well than mere pity. They were the kind brought forth when one’s own heart is pierced. So her heart was his own, and his was within hers. Why had he refused to believe that earlier?
She stood up and stepped towards Torquil, who was holding the wine bottle. She extended her hand towards it. “My lord,” she addressed him solemnly. “If you please…”
“I do not believe I would be able to conscience that,” he declared smugly.
She closed her eyes tight. “My lord, please…”
“You see, sweeting, the drink serves either to enhance euphoria or blot out realities, for some small space of time, and I really don’t think that indulging false illusions is ethical. A man should get used to his own face, no matter how disgusting it is…”
“There is nothing in his face that disgusts me,” she stated, and there was a resolve in her voice as stalwart as a tree of the north.
He smirked. “But of course! You’re a maiden, and he’s your bear.”
She watched silently as he poured out the contents of the bottle in a crimson cascade, and the cruel laughter rose up from the table like a gurgling brook. She took a step back and touched Tyrion’s shoulder. His mouth was partially open, watching the wine form a puddle on the floor. She squeezed his shoulder tightly, lest some animal impulse might cause him to try and lap it up like a dog. Then she turned back to Torquil, daggers striking through her eyes.
“No, he’s a man,” she responded, rage creeping through her restraint, “and you’re not even half.”
Before he could respond, Sansa took hold of Tyrion’s hand and ushered him out of the room and into the outer courtyard.
“My lady…” he addressed her shakily. “No…”
“Yes,” she responded firmly.
“I know…I know these kinds of men,” he explained, bracing his back against the courtyard wall, trying to stop himself from shaking from the alcoholic spasms. “He will not…just…let you go. I have to think…think of a way out…”
Sansa knelt down and gripped him by both shoulders, feeling the tension in them. “I need to get you home. You’re not well…”
“I’m not a moron either!” he burst out. “And I don’t want to be patronized and treated like a child!”
“No one is doing any such thing,” she exhaled. “Everyone knows how intelligent you are. That’s why people wanted to kill you, remember? You were too smart for them, and they hated you for it. You’ve survived situations no one could survive unless they had the keenest of wits. Even here, in a strange land, you’re mind has assured you give orders, and not just take them. You have always been, and will always be, your own master.”
He looked at her hand on his shoulder and muttered, “My wits…seem to have failed me…these past weeks. I…I put you in danger…here…because…I was…afraid…of it happening again…wanted to get it over and done with….” He closed his eyes tight. “It’s just…always been the way…everyone I know…goes away in the end.”
She paused and squeezed his shoulder again. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“But that’s just it!” he blurted. “You’d live your life as a prisoner of pity!”
“Not pity,” she insisted, looking him in the eyes with resolution. “Never pity. How could I pity a man who has saved my life time and again?”She touched his face lightly. “But that doesn’t mean that you don’t need to be helped sometimes, just like I need to be helped sometimes. It’s not a matter of treating each other like children, it’s a matter of being…helpmates. No one else could understand the things we’ve been through together, no one else can read each other’s hearts like we can. That’s why we take care of each other. That’s why we need each other. ”
He felt a shiver run up his spine hearing her northern accent coming through her words.
A true-born daughter of the North, she was, her father’s blood flowing rich and red in her veins, and his soul knit into her own…
Just then, a hand covered in chainmail gripped Sansa’s arm and pulled her up. It was one of Torquil’s guards. “My lord demands you be brought to his quarters,” he explained gruffly.
“His…quarters?” Tyrion repeated. “Clearly his lordship is wasting no time in testing the effectiveness of his…manly charms.”
“Shut your trap, dwarf!”
“Tell Torquil, from one old player of the game to another, that he needs to read the rules more carefully,” Tyrion lectured, his old tit-for-tat reemerging with vigor. “Attempted seduction must end in consent or rejection. You may use any type of treat you wish to lure the damsel into your lair, from the size of your manhood to the coinage in your pockets, but having her physically dragged? No…that’s just cheating.”
“It is not my desire to go with you,” Sansa informed the guard coolly. “Release me this instant.”
“What a shame, little trollop,” her captor mocked, starting to pull her towards the door.
“I really wouldn’t do that, if I were you,” Tyrion advised crisply.
The guard laughed and twisted her arm as she started to struggle.
“That did it,” Tyrion mumbled. Quicker than quick, he unhitched the wooden shield attached to a lion gargoyle in the courtyard. Conveniently, it was just his size. With a level skill Sansa never knew he possessed, he rapidly struck the guard in the legs, using his shield as a weapon, and knocked him to the ground. Then, before the man could rise, Tyrion smashed him in the face with it.
Whether the guard was dead or merely unconscious, Sansa could not tell, but her mouth hung open in shock at the sight of the bloodied shield in Tyrion’s hands.
“Don’t stand about gaping, m’lady!” Tyrion ordered. “Run!”
She dodged behind a statue just as two more guards stepped out into the courtyard. A melee ensued, one which Sansa knew from the start Tyrion had no way of winning. All he was trying to do now was buy her time to get away. But she couldn’t tear herself away.
He was a much better physical fighter then she had expected, and understood how he had achieved legendary status for his rallying the forces at Blackwater where he had also earned his scar. He might be small, but he was also fast and ferocious, like a badger smoked out of its hole.
But this was an unfair fight all the way. It was a wooden shield against two swords, with his back up against a wall. Then two more guards came. It was the end.
Sansa’s eyes burned blood red as they knocked the shield from his hands and commenced beating him with the blunt ends of their swords. She stepped out of the shadows on impulse, and one of the guards instantly seized her. She strained against the hands twisting both her arms behind her. “No, stop, stop! Stop, please! STOP! You’re killing him!”
“You’re getting the idea, little girl,” the guard snickered.
Tears spilled down her cheeks as she watched them continue to beat him and kick him hard against the ground. She could have sworn she heard his ribs snap, his jaw break, and his effort to suppress a muffled groan. She remembered how his twisted bones pained him already, and knew how much agony he had to be in. She saw a puddle of blood forming on the ground beneath him.
“No, please…please…I’ll do anything you want,” she sobbed. “Just let him alone!”
“Quite attached to that abominable little troll, aren’t you?” Torquil was standing in the threshold, arms crossed, with a smug expression on his face.
Sansa turned and her eyes blazed with a raw emotion. “He is my husband!” she screamed, so loudly that her lunges ached and her ears felt pierced through. “My husband! I love my husband…” Then she broke down weeping.
“Yes, so I gathered,” he declared. “Lord Tyrion Lannister and Lady Sansa Stark, is it not?”
She gasped, frozen in time and the realization that their lives were truly forfeit.
“Never fear, my lady,” he insisted airily. “I shan’t turn you in for any price offered. I am a man of honor, and you are far too precious a jewel. The dwarf, however –” He gestured to his guards, one of whom yanked Tyrion up on his feet, and placed his dagger’s blade snugly beneath his chin. “I believe the arrangement from House Lannister is dead or alive.”
“No…” She felt all the strength drain from her body as Tyrion made eye contact with her. His scar had been ripped open and his face was covered in blood, but she still saw that strange, soft look clouding his criss-cross gaze. That look that drank up the sight of the one thing he loved, with the knowing that he would never see it again with his living eyes.
And now there was something else present in those eyes as well, the same look her father had given her just before he was beheaded. A look that said everything would be alright, somehow, and she shouldn’t blame herself for anything. That she was still his “treasure.”
Oh, father…oh, Tyrion…so different, yet so very much the same…
“It’s the natural way of things,” Torquil stated. “The love of beauty always kills the beast.”
Sansa felt as if a knife had been plunged into her at his words, just as she saw knife thrust up into Tyrion’s neck. Blood spilled out of his mouth, and he choked. She screamed as a final gurgling gasp escaped him and they pushed him down to the ground. She tore one of her arms free and reached out towards his crumpled body as it was cast down the stairs, gasping for her own breath that she felt was being crushed out her by seeing him dying.
She heard Torquil snicker. It was the final straw. She lunged at him with a strength she did not know she had, freeing herself from the guard for a moment, and yanking his dagger from his belt. She struck at him blindly, and slashed him across the face, leaving a gash that extended from the bridge of his nose to the corner of his mouth…not so very different from the way Tyrion’s own scar had been.
As one of the guards seized hold of her one arm and dragged her back, Torquil pressed his hand over his wounded face and growled, “I’ll make you pay for that, little wild cat! Just wait till you share my bed…”
No…no…I want to be with Tyrion…he’ll hold me, and whisper kind things to me, and help me get to sleep…
Sansa squeezed the hilt of the dagger in her other hand, gritted her teeth, and thrust it deep into her lower belly. She moaned and sank to her knees. The guard released her, shocked at the sight of the blood pouring out of her, a crimson cascade staining the stairs as she started to drag herself down them with the dagger still in her. Slowly, slowly, she made her way closer to his body, crumpled on the stairs, just as she had found him when she was a child on their first meeting.
She moaned at sight of so much blood, both his and her own, mixing and mingling as she laid herself down against him and sobbed. “You don’t have to climb alone,” she gasped through the tears and pain. “I can…help you…”
Then she felt another chainmail clad hand clenched hard against her arm like a dog’s teeth. She knew what was going to happen, wavering between life and death as she was. She was a dying animal now, of no use to anyone’s game, and someone had come to deal the fatal stroke.
He turned her over on her back, and held her down by tugging her loosened hair hard as he drew out his blade.
Why so hard? There’s nowhere else to run…death is the only refuge left…
She twitched out of reaction when she felt the knife’s edge press against her throat and start to saw back and forth, like sawing wood. She felt the hot blood start to run down her neck…the neck Tyrion once thought so attractive…
The cold metal sank deeper, as if through butter, and she felt it stealing her breath away. She tasted blood trickling into her mouth, she choked on it…but could not breathe.
The death-labor was on her now, and her whole body writhed as the knife sliced through her pulsing veins and tore through her windpipe.
Her eyes were as empty glass now, and her face had gone from a sickened green to a deadened gray. Her lips were drained white, even as the tide of dark purple gushed over them, and her slit throat flailed once more, like the gills of a dying fish.
A last tear ran down her cheek, and a last word clung to her last fleeting breath. It was “mama”, but no one heard it, drowned out by the ocean of death. No one saw the glint of moonlight through her healer’s crystal in the jaws of darkness.
Her head fell back onto Tyrion’s chest…and she found her sleep there.
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.