The story so far:
Chapter 10: Through the Veil
It was a nightmare…but it felt so real. All the faces flickering like candles and melting like wax. There was Tysha, the peasant girl who had been his first love so many years before, ravaged by order of his father. There was Shae, a prostitute like so many others since then who had brought him nightly pleasures and distraction, betraying him out of spite and a purse offered by his sister. Had he cared for her at all? Had she cared him at all? Perhaps, just a little, in spite of themselves…and that possible reality hurt more than anything.
So many women, all morphing into a single image. It was his mother, the mother he could not remember. Why then did he keep hearing her screams tearing through his soul, see her blood running free down her legs? And then…she turned into Sansa. And his father’s hands were on her, and he had her pressed down in a choke hold against the bed, tearing off her clothes. Tyrion strained towards her, but could not reach her. He was helpless, as he had always been, to save the ones he cared for most.
He cried out for her not to fight it, that it would only hurt worse, that it would be over soon. In the end, broken and deflowered as she might be, he could still be there to comfort her, to calm her down, and hold her tight against him and let her cry it out. Then he turned, the evil man he had been forced to call a father, and snickered, “You didn’t think I’d really let you have her back, did you?” And then he put his hands around her long, swan-white neck, and squeezed…
Tyrion awoke, a cry rising from his throat, but the sound would not come forth. There was something soggy in his mouth, and it tasted of blood. He grimaced as the full force of pain flooded over him. Then he felt something warm and wet against his face. He struggled to raise his hand…he only managed a little bit, and clung onto a patch of fur.
Dog…a dog…licking his face…
He let his fingers run along the fur, over and over and over, until the fur suddenly disappeared.
Don’t go…don’t go away…stay…
He knew how pathetic it was, but he had never wanted so much to have a living thing near him, to keep him warm and keep him company. He was dying, he thought, and now he would die alone, as he always knew he would.
He had expected death to find him when all his petty securities were stripped away, when he was drunk in some alley after his last party joke had been laughed off, or sprawled in a brothel bed after the hussy had taken all the money from his pockets and moved on to a more pleasing lover. Or maybe it would be a dagger to the back by some assassin behind the curtains in his chamber, or perhaps his own hands guiding it into his heart. Crumpled up and quieted at last, they would find him.
And what would they say, the gossiping servants, the tavern keepers, the brothel women, or street sweepers, the men with the blood on their blades and the minds he had sparred with and beat, when he was oh-so clever, so very clever…the cleverest of the Lannister litter, with claws, such fine claws…?
For mine are long and sharp, my lord, as long and sharp as yours…
Yes, as long and sharp as…his father’s…his father should have been so proud to have…such a son…even after…they found him…would he not own…his own…flesh…and blood…and twisted bone…?
Look, a dead dwarf. Get it out of here.
Yes…yes, that’s what they would all say. That’s what his own father would say at the sight of him. Get – it – out – of – here…
And the servants would mutter among themselves again…over who would have to touch the goblin this time…this last time…
Surely some voices would speak of his deeds of cunning as the littlest Lannister in the lion’s den, his sly service as the King’s Hand, the enemy fleet he had annihilated with molten green flame, burning flesh and screams, such screams that would haunt him until his dying day, of men dying in fire and water, and the city he had secured for his family’s banner…
They might recall his hell-raising pluck, his crass wit, his perverse pride in pleasuring harlots and guzzling wine…the late nights, running together like thick black tar, of dark pleasures and sporting stabs at all that was sacred…standing on a table, with a goblet in hand, laughing through the pain…a grotesque freak show…beware the small ones, they would say…
They might chortle in the streets, half from a grudging admiration, half at the cosmic joke that was his life, spit from the side of their mouths and toast to the little bastard’s death, and his burning body on the pyre, and burning soul in the Seven Hells.
But would anyone remember…that he had loved the scent of hay?
Or the way old books…make a crinkling sound…when the pages were turned?
Or the candle flames that flicker purple…?
Or…flowers…wild, untended…growing in a wall…?
His whole body tightened, his memory flooding back. Sansa. Sansa. Sansa…
He tried again to speak her name, and the blood ran down his throat, and he started to choke. His whole body contorted in pain. And then he felt hands on him, and the cloth being pulled out of his mouth, and a bowl put in front of him to spit the bloodied saliva into. He was gasping as he fell back against the cot, and his eyes slowly adjusted the face of Sauriel hovering over him like a ghostly autumn moon.
“S…S…San…sa…” he forced out, pain puncturing his jaw. “Sss…ansa…Sansa…”
“Calm,” Sauriel whispered, touching the side of his face, and there was sorrow in her touch. “Calm…”
“Where…is she? Where…?”
“She’s gone.” The words tore out of her with a shiver. “She thought…you were dead…but the guard did not kill you. He…thrust his knife below your chin in such a way as to make them think the deed was done…but he did not do as he was ordered.”
“I don’t…don’t understand…”
“He recognized Sansa as one who saved his wife in labor, so he could not…kill you. He would not kill her either, but…there were other guards…”
“No,” he spat, gripping her wrist with all the strength in him. “No, Torquil…wanted her…he would not…harm her…”
“She harmed herself,” Sauriel whispered, “with a knife through the belly. She was of no use to them anymore, so…he ordered her…put out of her misery.”
Tyrion stared up at her blankly, making no movement, no reaction. It was too deep a mortal hurt to trivialize by the normal phases of mourning. No, it was the killing kind, that bite to the throat that severs the wind pipe in an instant. Death was coming…at last…
But some spark of light returned to his eyes as a thought journeyed across his blurred mind. “Where…where is she…now?”
“The guard let me know what had happened, and helped me…bring you home.” She swallowed hard, and gestured to kitchen. “She’s in there.”
Tyrion tried forcing himself up. “Take me…take me…to her…”
“You can’t be moved, not with a splint…”
“Just…take me,” he panted. “For the love…of the gods…take…take me…” He gripped her sleeve and crumbled into her lap.
Sauriel turned away.
“I order you to, I order it, don’t you know I could have you killed, I order it!” It was a scream of his former self, his fearsome front at King’s Landing, the death threats that always kept him safe and got him what he wanted. “I’ll kill them…kill them all…cut them into little pieces…stick what’s left of them on the walls…for touching her…” He was ranting wildly, derailing altogether. But he seemed to realize the futility of it seconds later, overwhelmed by a surge of self-blame, and trembled at the thought of his utter helplessness. “Please…please…” He was begging now, hands clasped, face buried in her dress, barely able to breathe.
At long last, he felt himself being lifted up by her and taken into the kitchen. Slowly, she settled him into a chair that was there, and helped him position his hands on the wooden arms so he had something to grip when the pain became too intense. Then she moved away from him. Everyone was entitled their space to grieve in their own way.
Sansa lay on a low table directly in front of him, as white and silent as the northern snows, draped over with blue material from the bolt given her by Torquil on that fateful first evening on the fair, and she was still wearing her healer’s crystal. Her auburn hair fanned out loose around her, contrasted by the ruby red incision across her neck, and the stains seeping through the material covering her belly.
“I want your blood on the sheets!” He remembered his words flung at her in the blindness of his pride and fear, and wished for death to steal the cruel irony away from him.
He reached out and touched her face gently, trembling at its coldness. But she was still loveliness itself, even in death. He let his fingers run along the strands of her hair, softly, so softly. He remembered out in the woods, in their magic place, when he would pretend to be asleep so she would lay her head down on his chest…
“A princess…” he whispered. “They wed me…to a princess…”
His throat swelled. He leaned forward towards her, the splint biting into his shattered rib cage. He sucked in a breath. O gods, let me reach her…
“I could be a cynic…once…” His voice was so weak, he could barely hear himself. “The world…was dark…and terrible…I began to think…I was…untouchable…”
He forced himself forward a little further, and the pain cut his heart like a jagged stone.
“But you…you came…and touched me.” He felt his eyes grow hot. “I look at you…and you are beautiful…and…it hurts…it hurts…” He bit his lip. “But…I can’t ever go back…I want you, all that is you, always…you’re…my lady…my life…”
Finally his lips reached her own, starving for comfort and for claim, and he melted into their icy depths. Oh, so deep…deep, deep, deep down…he wanted to drown in that aching beauty that once gushed from her soul, to pour himself out in the act of loving her.
Oh, yes, he realized now…it did not have to be mutually exclusive. Love and desire could be tangled up together, even though he had long forgotten just how intense such a union of factors could be. He wanted the flame of her life to burn through the essence of his being, but all that was left to him was the ashen casket of her body. The absence of even a spark stung more than a thousand battle wounds.
“Don’t…leave me…alone,” he pleaded, and the tears ran down his face onto her own. “Come back…come back to me…or…take me with you…”
His lips found her neck, and he kissed it passionately along the line of incision, as if loving her brokenness might somehow put her back together.
“Tyrion, come, come now…”
It was Sauriel, using his name for the first time, ushering him away from the corpse.
“But she needs me…she has nightmares…without me…”
“She’s at peace now,” she choked, gently lifting him out of the chair.
He was fast losing himself, too weak and sorrowful to fight or protest as she carried him back to the cot. Ordinarily, he would have given her a verbal thrashing for treating him like some toddler, but now he was beyond caring about appearances. All his pride, his anger, his nerve, his wit, and what would have been his natural thirst for revenge against his lady’s murderers were evaporating in a pool of pain, sinking into a sickened slumber. There was almost no will left; only shock and a shutting down of the senses.
Sauriel seemed to realize this and continued to let him rest his head on her lap after laying him down on the cot. He shuddered from the pain that shot through his shattered ribs and torn jaw. He twined his fingers around her sleeve as she began to dab his bloodied, bruised face with a wet cloth. Now more than ever, he needed to know someone was there.
“Am I…a ghoul?” he whispered. “Kissing her…like…like that? It must have looked disgusting…”
“It looked like love,” she responded. “And love knows no death.”
“Death seems to follow me…always…” He blinked back tears. “Sauriel, I don’t want them to…hurt you too. You must…turn me in to them. My family would pay…anything for my death. You could live out your days in security….I only wanted to live…for her, anyway…but now…she doesn’t need me any more…and death would be…a kindness to me…”
“But it would be no kindness to me,” Sauriel replied, her voice trembling. “The little sparrow was the daughter I never had, and you are…the son that I lost.”
He stared up her, weakly, perplexed.
“I had a love once when I was young, and he was false to me. But he left me with a child, and I became an outcast from my clan. So my little boy and I became wanderers, rejected and despised. He was clever and kind, my son, but also very weak, and he fell very ill as we passed through Westeros, your old country. No one would help us, no one…except a fair young woman of a noble family who saw us on the side of the road, and came to help. She ordered a physician, and helped nursed him herself until help arrived, dabbing away the sweat of the fever with her own silken sleeve. When my son…died, she saw to his burial and gave me a place to stay until I was fit to move on. Her name was…Joanna. Your mother.”
“Sauriel…Saur…” His voice stopped as she stuffed the packing back into his bloodied mouth.
“So…I lost my son but now, as the circle spins, I am caring for her son in turn. Everything happens for a reason. Maybe you’re family to me, little man, yes?” she suggested tremulously, pulling up the blanket and tucking him in with it. “And family is as precious to the wanderer as open sky.”
He shut his eyes tight, unable to say any more, but also unable to stop the tears that ran down his face once more. She wiped them away with the cloth.
“You just…rest,” she whispered. “Don’t think about anything, just…let yourself rest.” She felt Arya the dog lick her hand. “You guard him well,” she instructed, and placed her next to him. Obediently, she nuzzled her nose under his arm, and she saw him start petting her head with his shaking hand.
Finding herself overcome by seeing him in such a pitiful state, Sauriel stepped into the room where Sansa lay. Through her tears, she saw a glimmer in the healing crystal around the girl’s neck. Her heart skipped a beat as she drew closer. There was a tiny point of light that burst forth and splintered into shafts of color, bleeding raw, rainbow hues, running over her white, bloodless body like a watercolor painting. It burned like fire and danced like a storm, with the defiance of a sun shower at dusk. It cut like a glinting blade, and Sauriel saw her path clear. The veil was parting, as it had so many times before for the seer.
Slowly, she approached the lifeless child and placed her hands on either side of her face. Then she leaned down and let their foreheads touch.
“Here we are, little sparrow,” she whispered, “maiden and crone, beauty and age, the beginning and end of the great circle that binds us all.”
She moved her hands onto Sansa’s severed neck.
“O Light that brings all colors into being from the depths of space and the breadth of time, that guides every journey and decides every destiny,” she murmured, “life and death are knit together in harmony, as is the radiance of day and the mystery of night. They are sacred stairs on the same eternal climb. And yet the power of love is your truest nature, O Light, and love can turn back even death, if the light wills to work through an instrument.”
She felt her hands begin to tremble slightly, summoning up the strength of her craft. “I am a healer of the ancient ways, of the four elements and the four seasons, of root and berry, crystal flame and thin places. I have seen with eyes undimmed beyond the worlds, and what gifts I have been given I used to make whole that which has been broken and return that which has been stolen….”
She closed her eyes tight to the pain running through her hands. “But I have lost much. My own son I could not save. I have never thought myself to be the final word. The wheel turns on its natural course, with little interruption. I have long resigned myself to the mystery of it. And yet I see by the grace of the healer’s crystal, some powers transcend the wheel…yes, they shatter it at the hub. Perhaps this dwarf’s tears are capable of penetrating the veil when nothing else can. He once was a fool of great earthly power, and now he is a wise man stripped bare, destroyed for love of love itself. Perhaps only the broken can truly heal.”
She felt the heat pouring forth from her palms, like hot blood, coursing back into Sansa’s neck. “I have known brokenness; break me more, if need be. I am old, and she is young. Take whatever grace has been given me, and pass it on to her. Let her know life and love, and share it freely, till the end of her days. Let it flow out to her husband, and let life flow back through them both to the next generation.”
There was a flutter beneath her fingers now, a trickling pulse, measuring out moments, as light and warmth emanated from the crystal and soothed her ripped throat. Shattered veins sealed and slit flesh was welded together again. Slowly, slowly, it gained momentum, filling the void of her casket body, and rushing in with the breeze of breath. A drowned, struggled gasp, the pains of rebirth, and Sauriel held her tight against her as she rasped “mama…mama…”
“There, there, little sparrow,” she sobbed over her. “You have a mama here.”
Sauriel was half afraid to tell Tyrion that Sansa was alive. She thought he might die from a rush of emotions he would not be able to control. But after the initial shock of being awakened by the news, and a long, silent interval, he queried in a shaking voice, “Are you…a Red Priestesses…of the Lord of Light? They are the only ones…capable…of bringing back the dead…”
“No, for mercy’s sake,” she exhaled, shaking her head. “Their Lord demands the blood of innocents and the sacrifices of oppression. Such a deity is not of the light, but of the underworld. Whatever powers precede from him come forth at a price too high to safely pay, and that mark him out as an imposter. He mocks the true Light, that writes the way of Light on every heart. No, I am no priestess, but only a simple healer…but I know that there is a deeper magic than that born of terror and domination. The crystal represents that…encases that, as a living grace. You…awakened that, and I brought it to fruition.”
He shook his head, clearly confused, possibly slightly disbelieving. But his own survival instinct was returning to him. “We must…get her out of here…Torquil might…come looking…he still could get money…for corpses…”
“I’ve already been packing the wagon,” she assured. “I’m afraid our days in this city have run out their course. We’ll all be dead meat now if we are found here. But inland, towards the mountains, the merchant princes are beyond their jurisdiction. I am a traveler in the blood; I am used to making fast work of a camp site. And we have enough money, as I saved every coin you ever gave me.”
He looked amazed. “Why…why would you do that?”
“I knew you’d be needing it someday, but I certainly wouldn’t rob you of your pride in the meantime.” She smiled slightly. “Call it a seer’s foresight.”
Once the wagon was sufficiently packed, Sauriel helped Tyrion into the back.
“Listen, I’m going to put her back with you,” she explained. “I gave her something to make her drowsy, but if she comes around, she is going to be very disoriented. Indeed, she might not remember much at all. Just…be gentle with her.”
He nodded awkwardly, not sure what else to say. When Sansa was laid next to him in the open wagon, he immediately noticed her neck was still scarred but, no longer severed, and her breathing, though weak, was still perceptible.
It was true…it was…true…thank all the powers that be…she’d come back to him…
Impulsively, he squeezed her hand, and she stirred. Just to see her move at all made his heart leap. But then her eyes flickered open and saw him leaning over her. Automatically, she recoiled in horror, a scream she could not utter lodged in her weak throat.
Oh…she didn’t remember him at all. He was a monster to her, all over again…
His heart sank like a stone to see the terror in her face. But still he recovered himself quickly.
“It’s alright, sweet heart, I don’t mean you any harm,” he calmed her gently. “Truly…I may be ugly, but I’m not…dangerous.” He smiled at her, meaning to be reassuring, but remembering the many remarks he had received on how sinister it looked, he was not entirely certain if it would have the desired effect.
But the intensity of her fear was subsiding at least. Now she had a look of one struggling to retrieve something that was lost, scanning his face for some trace of a memory. Then, hesitantly, she reached out and touched his face. She gazed at the blood on her fingers from his scar, ripped open in the fighting.
“Oh, gods…I must look hellish, all bloodied up…like this,” he muttered, realizing for the first time how disturbing his present condition must have made him.
He prepared to turn away from her, but again he felt her touch, on his temple this time, and her fingers running softly through the edge of his hair. Slowly, deliberately, she brought her fingers to her lips, and then reached back out and touched his scar again.
He felt a warmth fill his torn body and decided to return the gesture by touching his own lips and then her scarred neck. She winced at the sensation due the heightened tenderness, so he quickly moved his fingers to her lips. She let them rest there for a long moment, and he felt a tear trickle down her cheek.
She may not remember, he thought, but she does…know. And that, for now, was enough.
Just then the wagon lurched forward, and both of them were tossed to the right. Sansa squeaked as she landed against his rib splint, and he suppressed a groan at the pain the wrenched through his body. But again, he pulled himself together quickly for her sake.
“It’s alright, love,” he assured her through gritted teeth. “This thing can come in handy.” He took her hand and laced her fingers through the separations in the splint. “Good for bracing yourself. And you can rest like this.” He guided her head against his shoulder. “Among my many attributes, I make a superlative pillow for a rocky road.”
He saw a wisp of a smile touch her lips in the fading city lights. And he was grateful beyond words.
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.