The story so far:
Chapter 7: A Respectable Courtship
Sansa and Tyrion went on more than a few adventures into the woods that spring, sometimes on their own, and sometimes with Arya the puppy, who would bark at every bird and squirrel, and fetch every stick either of them threw. They could busy themselves with nothing in particular, and never fear the leering eyes of those who might find their companionship a source of mockery. They could be themselves…or at least start to discover who they truly were.
They talked about anything and everything, sharing joys and sorrows, silliness and solemnity. And Tyrion began to feel that this had been the one thing missing his entire life. Cruel circumstances may have thrown them together, but now they naturally seemed to belong together. There was camaraderie and comfort in that.
He would regale her with outlandish stories, make her laugh with his wry sense of humor, and make her blush when his remarks became a little too crass for her virgin ears. He would mumble self-conscious apologies, and she would smile at him teasingly, knowing him well enough to appreciate his rough-hewn realness. She would reflect on her childhood, the sweetness and sadness of it all, and of everything she was learning about bark and flower and root and all good things coming forth from the earth.
Sometimes they lay together to watch the watch the clouds drift across the sun, or the stars pierce through the pastel colors of the dusk, and he told her the names for the constellations he had learned from his books. Sometimes they said nothing at all, but listen to the wind rustle through the willow and the flow of the stream. Sometimes, when he would drift off to sleep beside her, she would cushion her head against his chest. The nearness made her feel warm, and reminded her she was not all alone in the world after all.
The gentle beauty of spring burst into the wild warmth of summer. Tyrion’s working situation improved, as his own diligence earned him the merchant’s promotion to overseer of the other clerks. That he was devilishly dogged, and fiercely intelligent, no one could deny, and now his co-workers who had formerly mocked him had to take orders from him, however much it might grind against their instincts. Tyrion admittedly was enjoying every second of it.
After a life rooted in court intrigue and political drama, this simple, earthy existence should have felt pointless and dull. Indeed, Tyrion was originally certain that he would rather be executed than enduring normality for too long a stretch. But he shocked himself with the reality that the great and the grand contained far less meaning than his days and nights that rolled by without momentous occasion, like the stream in their special place.
As summer ebbed out apace, they still had not been discovered, their schedule still continued uninterrupted, and Sansa, now heading towards her 15th name day, was eagerly continuing her training as a healer. It gave her a sense of purpose and peace, and she was doing considerably better with regards to her nightmares and flashbacks that would shake her to the core. That having been said, the storm had not passed entirely. She was only human, after all, and could not forget the horrors she had witnessed.
One night she awoke again with a start, the images of her dead family members assaulting her memory. As usual, Tyrion awoke as well.
“Are you alright?” he questioned.
“Yes…alright…you can go back to sleep.”
Sansa lay quietly for a long time, determined not to emotionally tax him anymore, as she had done so many times in the past when confronted with nightmares. No, no, she would lie quietly and let her breathing adjust, and try to think happy thoughts, and let him go back to sleep. She lay there for what felt like forever, wanting to melt away before her resolve melted into tears.
Then she felt his hand twine into her own. “Sansa,” he whispered.
She forced a jerking nod.
“Would you…” he started, then thought again. “May I…hug you?”
“H…hug me?” she stammered.
“Yes,” he confirmed softly.
She honestly didn’t know if she wanted him to or not, but rejecting his offer seemed cold, so she let him pull her against him, and squeeze her tight, as if to let the pain she felt pass into his own body. Something about being held so very close reminded her of the way her father used to hold her when she was a little. Her resolve finally broke, and she sobbed into Tyrion’s night shirt.
“I’m…I’m sorry…” she whimpered. “I didn’t want to…to cry…”
“Oh,” he exhaled. “Don’t ever apologize for tears. Just…let it out when it hurts. Too many things have been buried too deep inside the both of us for too long. No sense in hiding them from each other. We…we need to start letting them out, a little at a time…”
“It’s just that…I still miss them,” she admitted.
“Of course you do,” he acknowledged. “They loved you, and you loved them. I don’t know exactly what that’s like, never having had a family…like that. Well, aside from my brother Jaime, to some extent, but Cersei was always the queen of his affections, and she despised me, so…” He exhaled, realizing his topic of conversation was drifting. “What I mean to say is that if I had known the love of a family like yours, and they were taken away from me, I don’t’ believe I would ever stop…missing them.” He touched her hair softly. “Even if I had…one person close to family like that, and I lost them, I would…it would…hurt.”
Sansa pressed her face against his chest, felt his heart thumping a little faster. “I just thought of something,” she mused. “If our families hadn’t been warring, you would have become…my father’s son, in a way.”
Her words struck him a way she had not intended, and he pulled away from her abruptly. “Your father had fine, strong, honorable sons that honored his blood,” he asserted firmly. “He did not deserve any mark of shame. And at any rate, he would have chopped me into little pieces before I could ever sully his precious, virginal daughter with my touch.”
“Tyrion,” she choked, a little startled by the intensity of his retort.
“Could you imagine if I ever came courting you? The littlest viper in the pit, all spit and polish and vile jokes and a torn up face…”
“And a mouth that made you sick, Sansa, when it touched your own….that shared spit with too many other mouths, and gulped down too much wine…grotesque, like the Lannister lust that makes men beasts…”
“You are no beast!”
“Your mother…knew otherwise, and your father would never have condemned his daughter to lie with an animal. Whether frightening or farcical, none can make up their mind. That is why I am both demon and monkey…”
“Stop it, stop! I will not have you constantly talking of yourself this way. You are my friend,” she insisted. “My very…best friend.”
Before he could respond, she impulsively pressed her lips against his own. He pulled away, shocked and sputtering. “M’lady…don’t…”
“Because…because it disgusts you,” he finished. “Even at the wedding, it…hurt you to kiss me. You had to…spit up in the napkin afterwards.”
Sansa felt a chill race up her spine. One of the courtiers must have seen it and used it to mock him, for Sansa had been careful to do it out of his sight.
“It wasn’t…it wasn’t the kiss,” she tried to explain. “It was just…oh, everything…the tension, the nerves…that’s what made me spit up in the napkin.”
“But you…you still…pulled away,” he exhaled.
She knew exactly what he meant, and couldn’t deny it. When they first kissed, in front of the crowd of noble onlookers, she had hesitated, then pulled back in almost automatic distaste. For a brief moment afterwards, she had seen the look of hurt in his mismatched eyes, and the cruel smirk on his sister’s face, and regretted her reaction. But what was done had already been done. Looking back, she wondered if that was what had caused him to drink more heavily than was wise that night…for if she had shown such revulsion over a kiss, what would consummation hold in store?
“I didn’t know you then,” she explained. “But I do now, and I…” She could not find what she wanted to say, so once again she let her lips find his, this time for a longer span of moments. He did not jerk away this time, but accepted it tremulously. It was not a passionate kiss, but still tender and meaningful. His lips were soft, and gentle, and not disgusting at all to her. He did not try to take advantage of the moment, take her beyond where she was ready to go. For the first time since their marriage, she thought that perhaps, someday, she might truly be able to love him as a wife would, as a lover would.
Tyrion sensed it too. Not now…but maybe…someday…maybe…someday…
Breaking free from the kiss, she settled back against his chest. It was pounding, faster and faster yet. But there was a swelling joy in the movement now, not a rattled sorrow.
“They’re opening the harvest fair tomorrow evening at the city limits,” he informed her softly. “There will jousting and all sorts of sport. We could…go there…?”
Sansa smiled a little. This was the first time Tyrion had ever suggested they go somewhere in public together. It was a risk, both of them knew it. But it was also an acknowledgement of some new flower budding between them. Almost like…courting. It was a risk worth taking.
“I would be honored to attend the fair with you, my lord,” she responded.
“And if worse comes to worse, and we’re spotted, the good news is I’m fairly easy to hide, in a pickle barrel or under a horse blanket or something,” he jested.
“Always ones for pointing out the silver linings,” she remarked, tongue in cheek, and they both chuckled as they drifted back to sleep.
Tyrion took Sansa over to the fair early to watch as the tents were being pitched, the targets assembled, and the jousting walls erected. This was the first time he had taken her on any outing that even resembled what he might imagine courting to be life, and he desperately wanted her to enjoy herself.
“I used to be fascinated by these things when I was young,” he prattled. “Somehow watching them set up the fair and take it down interested me more than the actual proceedings.”
“Don’t tell me you wanted to run off to the circus?”
He rolled his eyes. “Freak show openings might have proved tantalizing at times, especially during some of my father’s more epic rants, but I’m afraid acrobatics just wasn’t my specialty.”
“I didn’t mean that,” she emphasized. “I meant…I suppose…management operations or something!”
He chuckled. “Well, that might have at least done something to satiate my in-bred power-lust. But right now, I’m more interested in satiating hunger. Let’s go get something.”
Conveniently, there was a stall with baskets of food already packed, which Tyrion gave Sansa the coinage to purchase. As they sat on a straw pile on the outskirts of the grounds, eating their meal of bread, cheese, sausage, and donuts, Sansa began to muse deeply, with her eyebrows knit.
“And what is it that is keeping my lady so deep in thought?” he queried.
“Last night, I just realized, you…have a hairy chest.”
Tyrion nearly choked on his food at this declaration from his sheltered lady. “Why, m’lady, I’m scandalized!” he exclaimed, pretending to be shocked, and letting a teasing smile take over his mouth.
“Well…you do,” she maintained, reddening at his sarcasm.
“And you are…bonnie and buxom, as they say,” he responded, gesticulating with his hands in front of his chest.
She huffed, blushing a deeper shade of pink. “That’s not very nice, you know.”
“Yes, it is!” he insisted. “It’s very nice…it’s a compliment!”
She continued to pout.
He sighed. “Would you prefer to be called pancake flat?”
She thought about it for a second, then resolutely shook her head.
He burst into a giggling fit.
“Now you’re laughing at me,” she sulked.
“Only because…because you’re adorable, Sansa!” His expression went from teasing to sensitive. “You…you really are. If I’m a demon, you’re an angel. You’re a joy to keep company with.” He smirked again. “And if I have a hairy chest, it must be the monkey part of me.”
“No, its…it’s the man part of you. It’s just…sometimes I forget when I’m sleeping next to you, that you’re…”
“A potentially virulent male?’
She nodded slowly.
“Does it scare you?”
“I kissed you, didn’t I?”
He smirked. “Yes…you did.”
She looked down. “I know you wouldn’t hurt me.”
“That’s true. And as I once said, in the dark, I can be the Knight of Flowers.”
“I didn’t want to kiss the Knight of Flowers, whoever he might be,” she retorted. “I wanted to kiss Tyrion.”
“Well…well,” he exhaled. “Like the bread?” He gestured to the half eaten piece in her hand.
“Very good bread,” she confirmed.
“And the cheese?”
“Very good cheese.”
“Tyrion!” she burst out. “It’s all…very good.”
He shrugged, and reclined a little further back on the straw. “I love the scent of hay,” he commented randomly.
“I love it when the moon comes out at the same time as the sun at dusk,” she remarked, turning it into a little game.
“I love old books…the way the pages crackle when you turn them.”
“I love the scent of tea made with strawberry leaves.”
“I love flames that burn purple, late at night.”
“I love white roses, fringed it scarlet.”
Tyrion sat up and smiled as she continued, “And at Winterfell, in the spring, there were these beautiful butterflies, a cross between blue and violet, and they would land on them all the time.”
“I love how you let me be so very random with you,” he finished. “I love it when you…play
“I’d wager few people ever thought you knew how.”
“Depends what type of ‘play’ you mean,” he jabbed. “I could tell you about some varied definitions…”
“No, that’s alright, but thank you all the same. If I change my mind, I’ll be sure to inquire.”
This partial flirting could become a habit…
“Oh, they’ve set up the fabric stand now,” he noted. “Want to go look?”
She nodded enthusiastically, brushed the crumbs from her dress, and headed over to the stall.
The material displayed was all of the highest quality, and therefore meant for the nobility. It far surpassed the pay level of even the chief among clerks. But she seemed to extract enjoyment from feasting her eyes on it nonetheless.
Tyrion watched her as she held up a bolt of silky azure material up against her body, gazing in small mirror hanging from the tent for that purpose. For a moment, he desperately wished to be a Lannister in good standing again so that he could afford to purchase any of the pretty things that might set her heart a-flutter. She looked gorgeous in blue. It brought out her bright, winter blue eyes. But as usual, he decided to disguise his own feelings of lack with humor.
“Careful now,” he twitted. “If you try to make off with that, they’ll be demanding more than a hand, and there’s simply not enough of me to satisfy the need.”
She chuckled at his own self-deprecation. “Oh, you silly little man.”
He clicked his tongue. “That witch is clearly having a bad influence on you.”
She ran her hand over a bolt of burgundy velvet. “If we had the money, I’d first buy some material to sew you new clothes. You used to dress so handsomely, I remember.”
“Oh, yes, that was me,” he clucked. “Always dressed to kill.” He grew serious again. “But I’d kill myself before letting you dress me better than you dress yourself.”
She swished the silk fabric once more. “Admittedly, this might just make it into my dreams at night…”
“Then you should have it,” came a deep voice from behind them. Sansa spun around. Sitting astride an ornately designed saddle on a snow-white mount was a man, youthful and by the looks of his clothes, of prestigious origins. He was tall and strapping, with a handsome, chiseled face, and dark eyes. A crimson cape swirled around him, and he wore an ostentatious feathered hat.
Sansa looked down bashfully and curtsied. “My lord.”
“I am Torquil, a merchant prince of this city, and I would consider it an honor if you would allow me to purchase this material for you.”
She hesitated, trying to look for Tyrion who seemingly had vanished. “I…I would not wish to inconvenience my lord…”
“Nonsense,” he assured, pulling out a pouch of coinage and tossing it to her. “From your accent, I can tell that you are a stranger in these parts, and it is my obligation to show proper welcome to all new-comers…” He paused, and then added, “Especially ones that are so pleasant to the eye.”
Sansa turned pink, both from his recognition of her Westeros accent and her appearance.
What to do? He could be dangerous! What to do?
“My lord…does me honor,” she exhaled nervously.
“Would you do me a favor in return?” he queried, leaning forward across his saddle.
“It depends upon the favor,” she answered, shocking herself with her own forthrightness. Spending so much time batting back Tyrion’s frankness was clearly having its effects.
Torquil let out a hearty laugh. “A beauty with spirit! So much the better! But my request is a simple one.”
Sansa tilted her head, waiting for a catch.
“When I compete in the jousts over the course of the fair, may I wear your sash?” He gestured to the simple girding about her waist.
Again, she stalled. She was, technically, married, after all. No matter how it happened, or what Tyrion had said, surely this would be…inappropriate? But of course, no one was supposed to be aware of her background. So…perhaps doing as he said would prevent suspicion? And he did seem rather generous, and hospitable, and…and she rapidly regretted the other thoughts that assaulted her mind while gazing at his muscular arms.
Tyrion…where are you?
Slowly, she unbound the sash. “If it is to your pleasure, my lord,” she responded, reaching up and handing it to him on his horse. He quickly clutched her hand in his own, covered in a fine glove and jeweled ring, and kissed it.
“I know I will triumph over all adversaries this harvest,” he predicted. “Will you join the other ladies to watch their champions?”
“I…I am not sure if I can stay, my lord.”
“Do try. Your presence alone would strengthen my sword arm.” With that, he rode off towards the tournament grounds.
When Tyrion stepped forward from out of the tent shadows at last, he was tempted to make a joke comparing the merchant’s foppish appearance to his own rugged “beauty”. But then he saw the way Sansa had to wrench her gaze away from him as he rode away. A lump rose in his throat.
Ah, he understood now. That kiss…last night…she was starting to feel the flowering of her womanhood, and was running on instinct. It was all muddled up in the poor girl’s mind. She didn’t know what she wanted.
As soon as she knew he had spotted her glance, her cheeks flamed red with shame. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled. “I didn’t want to give him my sash, I just…”
“My little dove,” he addressed her, affection overcoming a twinge of hurt, “As I’ve told you many times before, I do not…own you; you can give your sash to whatever form of manhood pleases you.”
“That’s not it, that’s not it at all…”
“You’re just flowering, Sansa, newly bled…” Seeing her blush a deeper red, he regretted putting it quite so bluntly. “What I mean is…you’re just becoming a woman, and learning that the attentions of a man can be pleasurable. There’s no crime in that.”
“I’m…older than you, and know about these things.” He jutted his chin towards the dais. “You should join them, for the fun of it.”
“But…but that’s for maidens, Tyrion.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Are you not a maiden? If not, then I, for once, am not to blame.”
She shook her head at his improper jest. “But I am…spoken for, am I not?” There was a twist of confusion, and possibly just a little pain, in her voice.
“Oh, it’s just a game,” he assured.
She glanced over her shoulder at the bevy of the cities high born ladies taking their seats on the dais. “They’re all from the nobility,” she protested.
“But no one is supposed to know that!”
That much was true. It was something of a risk. But it also could be an opportunity, a chance for a new life. Tyrion new better than to call it just a game. This was the way the wealthy went in search of wives.
“Trust me, dear, it will be fine!” he insisted.
She looked at her clothes. “I’m not even dressed right for something like this! And my hair is a mess!”
“Sansa, you look…glorious.”
His choice of words gave them both pause, as the last time he had called her glorious was on their wedding day.
“Where…where will you go?” she queried.
“I’ll be around, but out of sight,” he promised. “Not that hard for me to accomplish, natural endowments considered.”
“Are you…sure about this?”
“Absolutely positively and without question or doubt.” He grinned broadly. “Now go before I give you a switching.”
So Tyrion watched her from a distance for the rest of the evening, taking her seat on the dais, the fairest of the fair. He watched the archery, and fencing, and jousting. And his eyes never left Torquil, now decked in his finest armor, with Sansa’s scarf wrapped around his arm as he speared the prizes dangling from the poles, and knocked the other knights from their mounts, to the applause of the crowd. He saw Sansa blushing awkwardly, but knew her well enough to know she was taking pleasure in the experience.
She might believe it was just a game; or maybe in her heart of hearts she suspected there was more to it. But he of all people knew that games were never something to take lightly. Even games of make-believe could have very real repercussions.
He had taken her here to the fair, allowing himself to pretend he was courting her, a fine lady and him a gallant knight. Or maybe nothing quite so grand. Maybe he had simply dared to hope they might go out to celebrate the harvest like any peasant lovers might do. But now he felt a pain stab through his gut. It was over…the late summer day-dream…all over…snuffed out as swiftly as the season when autumn winds blow…
Now she had the chance to be courted by a true man for her beauty…a fully grown, wholly-formed, red-blooded man. And she could have a respectable courtship, not one marred by poverty and shame. Of course she might have gotten used to being around a comical and well-intentioned dwarf when there were no other options, but now…other options were presenting themselves. She would leave him, leave forever, without a look back. And Tyrion would never raise a hand to stop it.
No…he would even help it along, if he could. The sooner he was made to break with her, the better. Delaying it would only hurt all the worse. And it had to come, he knew, it had to…it always did. He was a fool to have even let himself fantasize otherwise.
But still he wondered if he would ever be able to gaze upon clouds or stars or butterfly wings or scattered straw again without them torturing him, and tearing at him, until there was no Tyrion left.
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.