The story so far:
Chapter 2: A Matter of Trust
One week later, on a dark and blizzard-whipped early morning, Sauriel heard a weak knocking at the door of her shop. She opened it to find her neighbor the dwarf standing there, looking even more disheveled than he had at their first meeting. His face was scruffy, his eyes bloodshot, and the scent of hard liquor was about him. Beyond that, she could tell the effects of frostbite and starvation were finally beginning to take their natural toll.
“It’s…m’lady,” he slurred, struggling to clarify his meaning. “She needs help from you…please…”
“What’s wrong with her?” Sauriel questioned.
“She’s bleeding…badly,” he blurted. “Hemorrhaging…the monthly curse. She’s very weak.”
“And you were out drinking meanwhile?”
He shut his eyes tight. “I am wicked,” he muttered, then laughed strangely, which broke into a partial sob. He looked back at Sauriel, trying hard to focus his gaze. “She needs you. She’s frightened…she’s only a little girl…and I…I scare her…”
“I thought you didn’t trust me.”
“I…don’t, but…I have…no choice…”
“At last you embrace the risk,” she sighed, throwing on her cloak.
He shook his head, suddenly seeming to be overwhelmed by his own misgivings. Oh, how much he was risking…
“They…they’d pay more for me…they want me more than her…if you were of a mind, you’d be wiser to turn me in…than her…she’s only a girl…”
“Who would offer such a price for you?”
Tyrion chortled then froze, unable to move or speak, the alcohol swirling in his mind, washing over his scattered thoughts, the scattered faces and cruel sneers that haunted him.
No, no, no… no, please…they’d hurt her if they had her…they’d strip her bare and hurt her, and break her, and beat her bloody if she cried, and drown out her screams with a cloth…and they’d steal her voice away…oh, no, no, no…
“Yes,” he drawled. “Who, indeed…?”
Then everything went black.
Tyrion awoke to a splitting headache, and a shaky feeling in his limbs. He was laying on some straw with a blanket over him, in some room filled with hanging herbs and shelves of preserved fruit. What…happened…?
“Little man,” came that same, deep voice from the market.
“Must you keep calling me that, hag?” he groaned. Then his full awareness flooded back. He sat up and demanded blearily, “How long have I been here?”
“You’ve been here since the morning,” she explained. “It’s close to midnight now. You’re lady is by the fire.” Her expression darkened. “You should have had me come much sooner than you did. She’s not faring well.”
He turned his eyes down. How could he have gone off and gotten drunk when she needed him most? He had just been afraid, afraid to face up to failing her. After he could find no other work, and she fell ill, he could not bear to see her in pain, in panic, and his own presence seemed to add to it. So he had gone out…drank until he couldn’t feel anything anymore. Upon returning, he had found her all crumpled up on the ground, her clothes and hands all bloody, and her rasping for help. That’s when he had decided to had to get help…no matter the risk.
“You should go see her now,” Sauriel advised.
“I am certain I could do no good for her,” he confessed. “She would only be distraught to see my face…”
“She needs you! She needs someone who can understand what she’s gone through.” Sauriel exhaled. “She’s said a lot, these past hours. I can only make sense of a fraction of it. She must be understood, or she will kill herself from the strain of trying to be and failing to get through.”
Tyrion grimaced. The old one must know everything now. Everything…oh…
“She needs you to be her friend…”
“Friend?!” Tyrion burst out. “You can’t…can’t be serious…”
“I’ve never been more serious in all my days in this world,” she declared. “She – needs – you, or she will starve to death in the heart. You’re the only one who can share her history, and her history is the key to her heart. She’s panicked; she needs to be calmed down…”
“I would just panic her all the worse,” he insisted. “I can’t…I’m part of her pain…”
“And if she dies because you won’t try?” Sauriel eyed him harshly. “What a small man you are, then.” With that, she left him alone.
Tyrion lay there silently for a long time. Then the quiet began to gnaw away at his heart, and it finally broke with the sound of a moan from another part of the shop. He staggered to his feet, and followed it to where Sansa lay outstretched on a cot, with bloodied rags all around her. Sauriel saw him approach, and swiftly left her patient alone with him.
Sansa looked up at him with feverish eyes, her mind a jumble of the past and present. Her gaze flitted briefly to the bloodied rags, and then her own blood-stained shift. “They said…a Lannister would…put a son in my belly, once I had bled.” She was trembling spasmodically. “If I open my legs, do you think I will bleed much more?”
“Sansa…” he croaked, not sure how to respond as she started to shakily pull open the top buttons of her shift. “Sansa, stop, stop it!” He grabbed both her wrists.
She shrank back, her exposed breast heaving. “Please…don’t tear my clothes…I can take them off myself…please…let me do it…”
He felt fierce tears stinging his eyes. “You are no whore! You…you are my…” His voice cracked, and he awkwardly began to button up her shift again. “We’re…friends. You must believe that.”
She whimpered softly. “I…I can’t stop…sh…shaking….help me…h…help me stop…” She bit down on her trembling lower lip.
“Sansa…I can try, but you must…trust me, or it will do no good.” He touched her face gently. “You don’t have to look at me, just…trust me.”
She closed her eyes tight as he eased his way beneath the covers alongside her on the cot. He reached his small arm around her slender shoulder as best he could and pulled her close. Her entire frame tightened automatically, as if awaiting an onslaught of pain.
“Sansa, please,” he choked, hurt beyond words at her bodily revulsion. “I’m just trying to keep you warm…keep you from shivering.”
She squirmed slightly, struggling to find a position of comfort. “They said…if I couldn’t bear you a son…they’d let the guards ravage me…and…when they were done, they’d cut my throat…”
“Oh, my love,” he murmured, pressing his face into her hair. “I’d have cut all their throats before letting them lay a hand on you.”
His words seemed to register deep within her, and her body relaxed more. He took this as a positive sign, and started gently massaging her shoulder.
“That’s it, just rest…you’re safe with me, I promise,” he assured her.
He felt her tears seeping through his shirt as she nuzzled her face against his shoulder. “It hurts…inside…so much.”
“I know it does,” he whispered. “It…hurts inside me, too.”
“Then…whatever will we do?”
“We’ll get better together, we’ll heal inside someday, you’ll see…” He felt the tears running down his face now. He had very little hope of ever being healed himself, but he was determined that she should have some hope to cling to all the same. She was still young…her broken heart could be put back together again. She still had a whole life ahead of her, and a chance to meet that handsome and gentle knight she had always dreamed of who would court and marry her like a true nobleman, and make her the mother of beautiful children.
He inhaled the lemon scent of her hair deeply, and shut her eyes tight against the pain of his own lack. “As long as you need me, I’ll be here for you,” he vowed. “And when you don’t need me anymore…when you find someone who can be everything to you…I’ll go far away, and you’ll never have to see my face again.”
Too late to gauge her reaction; she was already asleep. Thank the gods. He felt himself lost in the soft depth of her breathing and the flutter of her heart so very close to his own. He could not determine if he slept that night or not, for in waking or sleeping, she was his single ribbon of thought, strung through his ribs and wrapped around his heart.
She trusts me….she trusts me…she trusts me…oh…my love…
When the first rays of the dawn filtered through the shop window, glistening off the icicles hanging from the roof, Tyrion found himself smiling at the beauty of it. It had been years since he had smiled at something so random, but the world somehow seemed deserving of a smile that morning, even if his smile made him look sinister, as his sister had insisted. It mattered not.
He was trusted. He was needed. At least for a little while…
Very slowly, he started to pull himself away from her so that he could get up without disturbing her. She was slumbering very deeply, and her breathing was peaceful, at long last. She wasn’t shivering at all now. He smiled at the sight of her, and very, very softly let his lips touch her forehead. Then he pulled himself up, and prepared to go hunting for work yet again.
When Sansa awoke, she found Sauriel kneeling over, helping to change her bloodied linen. She felt very weak, and confused, but also strangely peaceful. “He held me,” she whispered, “all night…in his arms…so I wouldn’t shiver…” She closed her eyes and smiled slightly. “He was…warm…”
Sauriel raised one eyebrow. “Well, my little sparrow, I am sure…you will be well now. The bleeding has slowed, and your fever seems to have lifted. Now all you need is to rest and build up your strength again. I’ll make you some hot soup. A witch is always best at her cauldron.”
She winked and then started back into the kitchen.
“He held me…” she heard Sansa repeat softly, as the she drifted back to sleep. “In his arms…all night…he held me…”
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.