The story so far:
Chapter 4: Sansa’s Hymn
And it so it was that Tyrion Lannister came to share Sansa Stark’s straw-stuffed mattress in the small apothecary shop on the corner of a back alley street in a tiny republic on the fringes of the civilized world, where even the wisps of rumor were lost in the sea mist. The cruel life of privilege they head led in Westeros seemed to have melted away in all but memory, and their new world of privation in Davneros offered a chance, even a slim one, that they might grow together as their gaping wounds slowly began to close.
Of course, he still had to struggle against his burning desire to claim her as his own in the flesh. But there was something deeper at work within him, and that deeper something found solace in all that she was and would be, stark in inner beauty as a wild rose in a wall or a star glittering through clouds. If he could not have the moon, he could still glory in the stars. A fleeting smile, a gaze of trust, a trembling touch, like wind on the grass…his life became hinged on such signs of something deeper, deeper yet.
And then there was Sauriel. A spy, a wanderer, a witch? A mystic, a healer, a crone? All of the above? Tyrion could not decide. But whatever she was, she had kept them from the halls of the dead and taken them into her home, ostensibly for the sake of Sansa’s health. Or perhaps to betray them, as Tyrion feared. But he had no choice in the matter. If they did not except her hospitality, they would surely perish; this winter happened to be the fiercest on record in this part of the world, and continuing to sleep in the cellar would surely have been their bane. They had no option but to rest upon the rule of percentages, that after all the cruelty they had met with thus far in life, kindness had finally found its way to them.
Tyrion continued to dutifully do whatever odd jobs it took to help defer costs for room and board. Sauriel never asked for payment, and yet given that she did keep a roof over their heads and warm food in their bellies, Tyrion felt indebted. He was a Lannister, after all, and Lannisters always pay their debts. Meanwhile, on the days when Sansa was feeling stronger, Sauriel started to teach her about the herbalist craft. She seemed interested by it, and even offered to help with customers around the shop when she knew more. Although Tyrion still had his reservations about the old woman, he had to admit that he was getting to like her quite a bit. They were rather similar, given to wise-cracks and practical assessments, and knit together by their concern for Sansa. And she really was helping the teenager by giving her another woman to talk with and have something of a mother figure. Indeed, he began to think that having a girl to mother was of more worth to the lonely healer than his trickling payment.
But the bulk of the emotional weight still fell upon Tyrion, for while Sauriel did her best to keep Sansa preoccupied during the day, she would often wake up screaming during the long dark nights of winter, running through horrible scenes of her past in her disquieted mind. It was on these occasions that he had to hold her down, hold her tight against him until she calmed down. It was always very dark during such scenes, and he felt safe in the reality that she could not see him. Indeed, she was often far too upset, caught somewhere between nightmare and waking memory, to even acknowledge who it was trying to comfort her. But his touch was always soft, and his words were always soft, and it was in these moments when she seemed to truly find comfort in him, some type of instinctive need to be held against the body of another who she sensed would not bring her harm.
But Tyrion only learned just how accustomed she had become to sleeping alongside him when he decided to travel inland to neighboring towns in search of better employment. It was his hope to find a job based upon the workings of his mind, and he planned to be away for several days. Sansa had given him a strange look he could not define before parting, uncertain whether it was regret or relief upon thinking of his coming absence.
When he returned three days later, bursting with enthusiasm after having finally secured a position as a clerk, Sauriel met him at the door. It was a late at night, so he could not make out her expression completely, but he immediately sensed her mood was downcast.
“You’re back,” she greeted him dully.
“Please, don’t put up such a struggle to contain your unbounded joy,” he twitted. Then he noticed a certain gleam in her eye by the moonlight. Something was wrong.
“She’s…in one piece. But she has not been well.” She gazed at him levelly. “She tried to kill herself.”
Tyrion took a step back, too overcome to speak. After collecting himself, he ordered hoarsely “Take me to her.”
Sauriel led him to the back pantry where she had evidently locked up his lady. “What that really necessary?” he snapped.
“Very,” Sauriel assured.
He exhaled as the door was opened and he beheld Sansa, slumping listlessly against the wall. He saw scarlet wrappings on her wrists.
“So while the cat’s away, the wolf will play,” he snapped bitterly. “Play with knives, it seems. Are you trying to pay me back for some evil, m’lady?”
She turned her face away, and her hair fell over it like a veil. “Why don’t you all just let me go, just let me die…”
“Because we care about you, damn it!”
Sansa stared at Tyrion, her eyes wide. Sauriel clicked her tongue.
He exhaled and turned to the older woman in frustration. “Sauriel, help me! You’re not helping me!”
“This is your affair, little man. You are her…friend.”
“Don’t give me that, hag,” he blurted. “Just…don’t.”
“Your high strung temperament is certainly not improving the mood.”
“To hell with my temperament; she just tried to kill herself!”
“So why shouldn’t she?”
“That’s what you need to answer…why shouldn’t she just end it all? You have to give her a reason.”
“Would you please stop talk about me like some child or animal or like I’m not even here?” she moaned, and then broke down in a sob.
Tyrion turned to Sauriel. “Give me a minute alone with her.” The healer nodded, and was gone.
He started to approach his lady slowly. She cocked her head up, and her eyes were shimmering with sorrow. “Are you going to hit me?” she questioned dejectedly.
“By the gods,” Tyrion sighed in exasperation. “Why would I want to do that?”
She chewed on her lower lip. “I deserve to be disciplined, I suppose.”
He shook his head. “Did Joffrey make you feel that much like a dog?”
“Well, you did strike him when you had reason to…”
“You think I’d treat you the same as my vile bastard of a nephew?”
She thought about it for a moment, then shook her head slowly.
“Alright, then.” He gazed into her eyes deeply, trying to read them, to understand what thoughts were coursing through her mind. “Why would you try to do such a thing to yourself, Sansa? Tell me, why? Do you not care at all about how hard others have been trying to keep you safe and help you grow well? It would hurt us…hurt me…very, very much to lose you in such a way. Did you not know that?”
She looked down ashamed. “It was the nightmares, Tyrion…”
“You’ve had nightmares before and never did this.”
“But this was a different sort of nightmare! And…and you weren’t here to talk to me about it, and I just couldn’t tell Sauriel, I couldn’t…”
He breathed out again. “Tell me about it now then.”
She blinked. “It was…about my mother.”
“You saw her death again?”
“No…I mean, yes…well, it was different…she was different.” Her lower lip started to tremble.
“Different in what way?”
“I…I can’t describe it right, but…her heart…it was all gone. She was gone, but I saw her image looking back at me, from a mirror. Her eyes were dead like stone, and she had a bloodied knife…oh, Tyrion, they said she lost her mind before the end, that she slashed the throat of a defenseless lady…and in the mirror, she was me, and I was her…all eaten up inside and hallowed out, raving mad and blood on my hands…I was a monster…”
“Sansa, you are not going mad, and you are not a monster.”
“Yes, I am! And I don’t want to…don’t want my heart ripped out, I don’t want to turn into glass…I want to die before… ”
“No, Sansa!” he shouted. “You must survive this, you must…” He breathed deeply, and forced himself to calm down. “This wretched world needs you to survive, Sansa. You have come so very far, you have withstood so very much. That is why I have come to care for you so dearly. Not just the little girl I first saw being flogged, but the lady Sansa Stark, beautiful and strong…and with a heart of the finest quality. And the world needs…quality like that. It’s rare, and priceless, and…makes life worth living.”
She had lifted her head back up and was gazing at him. He took that as an encouraging sign and decided to continue.
“Tell me, are you the same girl who sang at Blackwater, sang out your heart when the battle was raging? Did you stand on the parapet when the fire’s heat singed the sky? Were you the only one praying from the heart when night slid over the earth like black mud? Did you ask for us to be shown a kinder way?”
“I was…praying to the Mother, font of all mercies,” she whispered. “I…had to…get the words out…to pray for myself, and not with the words of others.”
He drew closer to her. “I heard you sing. It cut me more cruelly than any sword could. For you meant every word of it, no more lies, no more games…” He swallowed hard. “No more play-acting, Sansa. On that day, even a scheming, wenching cynic like me could have died for the love of your song. They could beat you and tear at you, but they could not steal your voice. They could not mold you into their own image, like they did with me. And I was so…proud of you.” He clutched her thin, trembling hands in his own, and winced at the site of the bloodied rags tied tight around her wrists. “Sansa, listen to me. There’s a fire burning in you, with flames so pure no one can put a price on its worth. I’ll never be pure like that, in body, mind, or soul, but sometimes when I look at you, I wish…” He paused, rethinking what he was saying. “I think that maybe…if I could help keep that fire alive, even keep a spark glowing inside you, then…my life might not be wasted altogether. And if I can know that you are alive and well, I can crawl back under whatever rock I came from and face the end like a man. Like a man, dear Sansa…for once.”
She sniffled and turned her eyes down. He felt one of her tears fall on their joined hands. It rested on one of her fingers like a jewel, then slid over onto his own. How precious it was, more precious than the most costly wedding band. Oh, mother of mercies, if only all eyes could cry such tears, and soften stone. Very gently, he pressed her moist fingers against his lips. She did not pull them away.
“You must promise me never to hurt yourself like that again,” he pleaded. “You will do that, won’t you?”
She nodded, slowly, her eyes still turned down.
“Sansa, look me in the eyes…please. I must know you mean it.”
Slowly she lifted her head and fixed on his eyes. They did nothing for a very long time, just searching out each other’s gaze with hands still tightly entwined.
“Now, I don’t mean for you to get dizzy and fall into my miss-matched vision vortex,” he dared to tease. “Your pretty eyes may get terribly crossed up. Plus, the green and gray contrast might just make you sea-sick. Better just promise and get it done, yes?”
“I don’t mind your eyes,” she responded shyly. “Really, I don’t. They took me a while to get used to, because I felt like I couldn’t read them, but now…I’ve learned. And I’ve learned to trust them.”
He squeezed her hands a little at her words. “So…will you trust them with your promise now?”
“Yes,” she whispered. “Upon my honor.”
“As a daughter of the most honorable Eddard and Catelyn Stark, your word is enough for me.”
His honoring of her parents made her smile sadly.
“Now it is late, my love. You must get some rest, and we can have a long talk in the morning.”
He helped her stand – for a dwarf, he could be incredibly strong when he had to be – and escorted her to her cot.
“Are you…staying with me tonight?” she questioned as he helped get her tucked in.
“Of course, if you’d like,” he assured. “I just plan on paying a visit to the kitchen briefly beforehand.”
She nodded, remembering that he had gone without supper. As he turned to leave, she called after him. “I…I just wanted to tell you that…at Blackwater…when I prayed…I did…think of you. You had been kind to me, and…I truly did want you to come back safe.”
He turned back to her, and rasped “A prayer from you is surely a gift I do not deserve. But…I thank you all the same.”
Feeling emotionally drained, Tyrion wandered into the kitchen and found a bottle of Sauriel’s formula for head colds. In addition to whatever herbal combinations the essence was made of, Tyrion new for a fact it also had a fair percentage of alcohol. Thirstily, he seized the bottle, tore off the lid, and began to drink. It burned his throat, but sent a warming, tingling sensation down into his belly. It loosened his tight-strung nerves…
“I wouldn’t overdo that, little man,” Sauriel warned from behind him.
He turned around with a jolt. “I thought you said this was medicine,” he challenged.
“Yes,” she conceded. “To a point. But I have an inkling that Lannister lions specialize in excess.”
Tyrion’s frame stiffened. It was the first time she had said the name of his house aloud, although he suspected that she knew all along, and Sansa’s fits would only have given more information away. Still, the verbal use of it made him feel exposed and vulnerable. Their fate lay squarely in her hands. If she had mind, she could easily crush them with her long bony fingers. But somehow…he did not believe that she would. He thought he had long ago given up on trusting anyone, but her eyes were clear as white light piercing blue water. There was no second shade to them, no gleam of gold or dagger’s edge. They were the eyes of a seer between the worlds and the ribs of men, where the heart resides.
“Indeed, we excel at excess,” he bragged in a shallow tone, gulping down another mouthful. Then he put the bottle down, and he closed his eyes again. He felt some pounding pain welling up inside, overwhelming him with a hot surge of remorse. She saw it in him; he knew she did. There was no point in hiding it any longer.
“When the final tally is taken,” he began tremulously, “how many Sansas do you think have been crushed in the flower of their innocence? How many maidens raped, and little children maimed, and honorable men laid low? More than I have ever cared to count, I wager.” He clenched his fists hard. “And I…played the game. Up to the hilt, with my mind as the blade. I rationalized it, relished in it, and watched the river of blood flow by me, doing little to halt its course. I took what I could get, any way I could get it through how much blood my own barbed wit could draw. Because it is the way of the world, you see, and cruelty must be met with cruelty, and so there are survivors, and victors, and petty lords of life and death who rule their little courts till some cat of a different coat claws them down. So credit is due to this twisted creature, this true-born Lannister, who got his precious taste of power…” He shut his eyes tight and added with broken-voiced, bitter sarcasm, “Here me roar.”
Sauriel observed him solemnly. “You are your mother’s son,” she stated without explanation, “more so than any of her other children.”
He gaped in astonishment. How could she know of any such thing? “I…killed my mother at birth, and in doing so, killed whatever good may have been in my father.”
“No,” she countered. “She gave her life for you…to you. And now that love lives on in you. Her heartbeat is the conscience you have been unable to suppress all these years. You’ve tried beating it and clawing it to death, you have tried to outwit it, and make it drunk with the wine of self-indulgence. But you could never kill it, never kill her. She is still alive through her son. Is that not the greatest legacy any mother could pass on?”
He was silent for a long while, gazing mystified passed Sauriel into the unknown. “She never even saw me, her demon child. I was all twisted up when I came forth from her body, couldn’t move right, had to be straightened…and my face…any mother would have screamed at such a sight…and she was beautiful, everyone said how beautiful she was…” He blinked back sudden, unexpected tears. “One of the few mercies of her death was that she never had to see it, never had to hold or give her milk to a little monster. It would have only gotten worse…watching me try to walk, and knocking things down, and getting all bloody scraped up…she would have hated every moment of it, cursed every breath I took…”
“She would never have hated you.”
“Yes, she would…”
“She would have loved you, and nursed you, and wiped the blood away.”
“She loves you now.” Sauriel pinioned his eyes back with her gaze. “She always has.”
He froze in his spot. “Let me alone, Sauriel,” he choked. “I must…not dwell on such things. Sansa needs me. Your sorcery cannot stop her nightmares. She needs me…”
“Of course she does,” Sauriel agreed. “Go to her now.”
And so he did. But all through the night, it was the healer’s words that screamed in the silence of his soul.
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.