The story so far:
Chapter Six: Lost Treasures
Even the longest winter eventually melts into spring. So it was in Davneros some four months later, when the icicles started to drip and little streams rushed along the streets that had just recently been patched with dirty snow. The first flower bloomed behind Sauriel’s shop, and a certain hyperactive puppy aptly named Arya chased down the first songbird preparing to build its next in archway. New beginnings were everywhere.
Tyrion was doing well at his job as an office clerk, even if he still received cat-calls from the other clerks due to his size. It mattered little. He was by far the shrewdest of the lot, and the merchant he was employed by was taking note of it. If there was anything really important to be done, he realized that Tyrion was the best equipped to sort it out. He was keen at the figures, and at business logic, and while he might have had to sacrifice his noble title, being an industrious and educated working man was rather to his taste. And there was a future in it, at that.
Sansa, meanwhile, was also finding her own place working alongside Sauriel in the apothecary shop. She learned about the many uses and properties of plants and how they could be used for both nutrition and medicine. She helped with customers and made visits with Sauriel to care for those too sick to leave their hovels, often without charge. She learned many things, from curing fevers to easing tension to birthing babies. She also started to wear a healer’s crystal around her neck. Sauriel told her that it would bring blessing to all those who looked upon it, and that she would always find friends in the most unusual places on its account.
She also started to learn cooking, and while it originally chafed against her high-born identity, she actually began to enjoy experimenting with it. Tyrion would tease her rather mercilessly about her meal-time attempts and her flour drenched apron, and she would respond in kind about the ink smudges on his clothes and hands when he came to the table. It became their favorite mutual joke, and brought them together through the shared experience as a lord and a lady learning to live like hard-working peasants without the pleasantries or pretense of noble titles. But they were living, at long last, a hard life, but a real life. And in spite of their occasional yearnings for past grandeur, neither one wanted to give it away.
One evening in early spring, Tyrion returned home and approached Sansa with a sparkle of mischief in his eyes. “I want to take you on an adventure,” he declared.
“I thought you didn’t believe in adventures,” she countered. “You said there was no such thing as real adventure, just an uncorrelated succession of events…”
“Since when have you taken what I have to say so to heart?” he shot back.
“I believe I once made some type of promise with regards to honoring you, and heeding your words,” she reminded him.
“Right, well, that was in a different country,” he refuted. “But feel free to start now on this side of the border. So…I hereby command that you believe in the plausibility of having adventures.” He took her by the hand and pulled her towards the door.
“Tyrion! I have cooking to do…”
He rolled his eyes. “You are really becoming an old maid.”
She swatted him with the apron. “Stark women are never old maids.”
“And I, among others, can fully appreciate why not,” he flirted lightly. “Which is why tall, dark, and handsome strangers will undoubtedly come asking you to leave your cooking and go on adventures.”
She raised an eyebrow.
He shrugged. “And…others who prefer to be original and defy that description!”
His self-deprecating humor caused her to giggle. “Alright, my lord and master, I’ll do as I am bid…but what am I being bid, exactly?”
“Just…come, and I’ll show you!”
Traversing to the far end of the city via back streets took some doing, as Tyrion was still heartily concerned about them being spotted together again. But the end result was worth it. At the end of the last back street, there was a small wooded outcropping, wild with underbrush and generally unkempt. In spite of Sansa’s hesitation, Tyrion insisted they were going through it. So they did.
After staggering through about ten minutes worth of brush and tangle, then found themselves in a grove of cherry trees alongside a small, gurgling stream, with a large willow overhanging a large stone slab with what appeared to be a seat cut into it. The woods ended at that point, and beyond it Sansa saw the land drop into a dramatic valley, with the shadow of the distant mountains painting the horizon.
“Tyrion,” she murmured. “It’s…gorgeous.”
“I thought you might find it so,” he admitted. “I heard tell of it as a place where people used to come to pray, although it has long been abandoned. It’s one of nature’s secrets time forgot.”
She spun around to take it all in. “The sky is so open here! Look at the clouds,” she sighed in ecstasy, lying down in the tall grass alongside the stream. “They’re glorious!”
Tyrion watched her resting there for a long moment, her breast rising and falling in a peaceful rhythm with her breath. He felt that same far-away feeling he always got when she seemed to be happy at long last. He wanted to fit into that happiness so much it hurt, but still realized, no matter how hard he tried, that he was woefully out-of-place in her life. He felt like a rock watching a river flow by; like a dead thing, yearning for, but never fully being able to taste the drink of life.
He allowed his imagination to wander, letting his natural cynicism fall by the wayside for just a few seconds, he pretended he was pleasing to look upon and that he had courted and won her of his own accord. He pretended that she really did want him, and that his presence brought her happiness. He pretended they were both very much in love and their marriage was something they had both desired. With all this alternate realities coursing through his mind, he could not help but fanaticize what a wonderful time and what a wonderful place this would be to make love…
Then reality clicked in.
Make love? Seriously? He had never “made love” in his life, and did not even know what it meant – not really- and he doubted he ever would…
Sansa leaned up and smiled at him. “You look like your thinking very hard about something, my lord.”
He looked down shyly. “I watch things, think things. A favorite pastime.”
“Well, come then, watch the clouds with me!” She tapped on the ground beside her.
“I…I’m allergic to clouds,” he protested dryly. In truth, he was uncertain that lying next to her at this particular moment would do much to ease the twisting sensation in his chest.
“Oh, you’re no fun!” she moaned dramatically.
He smirked. “I’m afraid it’s just a side-effect of getting too bloody old. All those hours at a clerk’s desk is just aiding the aging process, getting numbers all scattered in your brain and ink under your fingernails, and breaking your back propped up on a stool…”
“Oh, you’re not that old!”
“Well, twice your age, almost,” he reminded her. “I could very nearly be your father.”
She rolled her eyes and pretended to pout with arms crossed.
He chuckled. “Alright, but if I can’t get this bag of twisted bones back up again, you’re going to have to lend a hand.”
“Agreed,” she conceded, taking his hand and pulling him down beside him. He winced a little when his back did hit the ground.
“Did that actually hurt?” she inquired, suddenly beginning to realize something he may have been hesitant to bring up. He was dwarfed, after all. It might actually…hurt. Hurt more than just normal stiffness in the bones.
“I’m fine,” he insisted. “I’m good.” He grinned, that odd grin he always made when trying to conceal something. “Oh, look, that’s an interesting cloud…looks like a dragon or something…could also be a pony with wings that breathes fire…”
He paused in his sing-song distraction as he felt her hand moving its way along his shoulder in a soothing, circular motion.
“Does that…feel alright?” she queried gently.
“It does,” he replied, surprised by her consideration. “Thank you, I…it feels very, very nice.”
He tried to remember the other occasions when women had massaged his shoulders when the pain flared in them. They were scattered, alcohol-blurred times in the aftermath of hotter activity, and always after payment was assured. But the strange thing was…it never felt quite so nice when they did it. He supposed it was because he usually had been looking for comfort, and you can’t buy comfort. Passion and pleasure, yes, but not real comfort. Perhaps he had felt it a little bit with Shae, but looking back, it was all wisps and shadows, never the real thing. Now he felt…the real thing.
“When we get home, I’m going to make you some special tea Sauriel taught me about,” she told him. “It’ll…help.”
“You’re becoming a regular little hedge witch, aren’t you?” he twitted.
“It’s not sorcery, Tyrion” she insisted. “It’s just learning to find…the good, I suppose, hidden in the world in ways we might not expect. It’s almost like a hunt for buried treasure. Like the way a terribly bitter plant can be used to heal, or how what was thought to be a useless weed can nourish you. The way the flowers all have stories and symbols, and the way the animals sense things that we cannot. It’s about making peace with the world after so much war. It’s about finding life after so much death.”
“Does it make you feel…happy?” he inquired.
“I helped save a baby’s life the other day, with Sauriel,” she whispered. “The father came into the shop and told us to come for his wife. It was a difficult pregnancy. If we weren’t there, the baby might have been lost, and possibly the mother too. But we were there, and we helped save them. I got to hold that baby in my arms for a little while, the first time it cried, so beautiful and needing. What greater happiness could there be?”
He regarded her softly. “You will make a wonderful healer, and a wonderful mother…with someone, someday.”
She blushed. “I don’t know about that…”
“But I do,” he assured her. “And I’m as obnoxiously clever about predicting these things as you can get.”
She smiled and squeezed his hand. He felt a surge of heat, but bore up against it. He thought for a moment back to his own birth, wondering if in a different circumstance, his mother might have been saved as well from the ordeal of her fatal labor. He wished he could have flashed Sansa back to that moment…maybe in that horrible either/or moment, she might have been able to do something that helped save the mother, instead of the child…
His trend of thought was splattered by a sudden sprinkle of raindrops. Both of them sat up abruptly. “Just our luck,” he muttered, realizing they were about to get caught in an unexpected downpour. “Even the sun has been taken by surprise.” He gestured to the still quite visible golden orb slowly descending in the sky.
“We can wait it out over there!” Sansa gestured to the seat cut out of stone beneath the willow tree. He didn’t see a reason to argue with her logic, so they both scrambled to their feet – Sansa pretty much dragging forward Tyrion – made their way to the stone seat. It was a tight fit for both, but they managed rather laughingly to make it work. She was shivering a little from the rain, and didn’t hesitate to curl up against him for warmth. He inhaled…deeply. Her hair still carried with it the scent of the lemons she used when she washed it. It made his nose tingle.
They watched as the rain fell outside their willow canopy, water washing and wind whipping against the fire of the sun. And all along, her head rested comfortably on his shoulder. It felt as if time itself had ceased to run its course, and that they had melted into the rhythm of eternity, set aside from the storm. Nature was humming all around them, and Sansa began humming softly as well. It was an old tune, and Tyrion recognized its melody.
“My featherbed is deep and soft and there I’ll lay you down,” he recited quietly. “I’ll dress you all in yellow silk, and on your head, a crown.”
She smiled, encouraging him to go on.
“And…you shall be my lady love, and I shall be your lord…” He swallowed. Proving he was well-versed in poetry was suddenly becoming painful. “And…I’ll always keep you…warm and safe…and guard you with my sword.”
“But she wanted to do without all that and be lovers in the woods,” she filled it in. “She could not love him amidst all the splendor, but she could love him in their special place, their wild place in nature…” She looked around her thoughtfully. “A place like this.”
She started humming again and then sang the last verse of the song:
“And how she smiled, and how she laughed, the maiden of the tree. She spun away and said to him, ‘No featherbed for me. I’ll wear a gown of golden leaves and bind my hair with grass, and you shall be my forest love, and me your forest lass.”
“You…your voice…is like this place, Sansa,” Tyrion remarked. “Timeless and true, like the wild flowers, unafraid of the rain.” He exhaled. “I must sound so silly when I say things like that to you.”
She lifted her head. “Why?”
“Because…of what I am.” He tried a sardonic grin, but it pained his mouth. “I’m the imp; I’m supposed to making dirty jokes, not…saying pretty things like that. It feels so out of character.”
“Then you don’t mean the pretty things you say?” she queried, seeming genuinely concerned by the possibility.
He shook his head, a gurgling chortle rising in his throat. “Sweet girl, it frightens me sometimes how much I mean them.”
She looked at him for a moment, then unexpectedly reached out and ran her fingers over the scar on his face. He twitched. She certainly did seem to want to touch him a lot today. Maybe…she was getting to like it? Maybe…it meant something significant…?
“Sorry, I just…wanted to know what it felt like.”
Tyrion shrugged. “Strange desire, but I really don’t mind,” he decided, knowing he was silly to have expected anything more meaningful. “Just don’t scratch it, please. I got blood on far too many shirts doing that. Had to bite my nails down to stop myself from keeping at it.”
“Aww,” she cooed. “I’ll be very careful.”
He smiled, just a little. “So…how does it feel then?”
“They stitched it all uneven,” she stated. “I could have done a much better job.”
He chuckled. “Of course, with your hand guiding the needle, I’d have been transformed into a patch-work quilt, a true work of art.”
She giggled. “You are a work of art, Tyrion.”
He rolled his eyes. “Now you’re the one who’s being silly.”
“No really,” she insisted. “You’re…a masterpiece. All great masterpieces have cracks, and those cracks should never be covered over. No, they should be filled in with gold for the world to see and know the courage of those cracks.”
Her companion’s face blushing crimson. “Well…well,” he sputtered. “It seems that the rain is stopping. Shall we…start for home?”
He started to awkwardly slide off the stone bench, lost his balance, and almost fell. Instantly, Sansa gripped his arm and steadied him. He looked up at her, a gleam of gratitude, and then epiphany, in his eyes.
“I remember what it was we said, what we did…all those years ago, at the feast at Winterfell. It was…on the stairs…”
Her own eyes lit up. “Yes, the stairs…I…helped you, didn’t I?”
“I was quite drunk, and trying to get up to my chamber…and then you came out too.”
“I was going to bed, because they were having bear-baiting,” she recalled. “My father never had bear-baiting at Winterfell, but the guests had demanded it.”
Tyrion exhaled. He knew which “guests” had done the demanding. His father was an avid gambler when it came to the blood sports. Tyrion never acquired a taste to watch suffering animals tearing each other to pieces. It reminded him too much of his own torments at the hands of his sadistic family.
“I believe I was exiting the room for a similar reason,” he reminisced. “Well, that and being thoroughly intoxicated. Bu then I got to some stairs, trying to find my chamber, and…fell down…and…and you were there, I think, watching somehow.”
“Yes, I…I didn’t expect you be out there. They told me to stay away from you, and there you were…sprawled out across the stairs…laughing.”
“I was laughing?” he queried. “I don’t remember that part at all.”
“I think…I think you were laughing because it hurt.”
He looked perplexed, but then realized she was probably correct. Sometimes forcing laughter, he had found, was sometimes the only way of staving off humiliation or pity. And falling down always hurt and humiliated him.
“So…you came over and…pulled me up again?” he filled in the blanks.
“I think I just watched for a little while, but…but you were struggling.”
Yes, struggling. Tyrion could not remember a time when he was not struggling at something. He imagined what she must have thought, watching him flat out on the stairs. He must have looked like a dying beetle, flipped over on its back.
“You could have just…walked away,” he mumbled lamely. “I’m sure your nurse and parents would have been displeased with your touching me.”
“You’re correct about my nurse and my mother,” she agreed. “But my father…would have understood.”
He nodded solemnly. Ned Stark had been the most honorable man in the Seven Kingdoms, and he met a cruel fate because of that honor. But here he was, living on through his daughter, who had helped Tyrion so long ago knowing her father would approve.
“I remember when you got me up. We were the same height back then, because I could look you straight in the eyes.” He smirked. “You looked more than a little afraid, but still said something sweet. I forget exactly…”
“I said…I said I climbed those stairs all the time,” she recalled. “That you didn’t have to do it all alone. That…I could…help you.”
A lump rose in his throat. “I remember now. Then…then I…did this…” He reached out and touched her face. “And then your nurse came up, and saw it, and pulled you away.”
Sansa turned her eyes down. “She was just trying to protect me from something she did not understand.”
“She understood,” he exhaled. “My touch…was too often associated with…other things. I don’t blame her for pulling you away.” He closed his eyes. “But…but I only meant…to say…thank you.”
She smiled a little. “You weren’t very heavy, as I recall.” She paused for a moment, then added, “But all the same, when you touched me, I…I knew what you meant.”
He grew misty-eyed, remembering how every step up those stairs alone had brought with it a strange ache at the little girl’s absence. “It’s strange how I did not remember this, did not remember who you were, when I broke into the throne room to get you away from Joffrey. I was returning a favor without even knowing it.”
“Yes, I suppose you were,” she agreed.
“But then you switched it up again, on the coast in Westeros.” He turned his eyes to the ground, felt his knees shaking slightly. “I still don’t quite understand…why you did what you did, that night. So few have dared stand in the way of a Lannister lion and his prey, much less in order to save that lion.”
“I thought…you needed a friend, very, very much,” she explained simply. “I suppose you always had…but I just kept pushing you away, and punishing you for things you could not control. Before the wedding, I said that I doubted very much that you could understand what I was feeling. But nevertheless, you were still trying to comfort me, and instead of rebuking your efforts, I probably should have been trying to comfort you too. I knew you didn’t want the marriage, but you did want to make the best of it, in spite of everything. You needed, at the very least, some sign of friendship, or assurance that I would put my heart into it.”
“One cannot put their heart into something where the heart has no place,” he exhaled. “I was a fool to think you ever could, after all my family had done to you and yours.”
“But your heart was in it,” she stated. “On our wedding night…I still can’t believe you did not take what was yours by right. You…owned me, all of me. You were drunk, there was craving in your eyes. You said salacious things, ordered me to undress. And then…and then…you stopped it all, and slept on the hard chaise instead of your own bed. You risked your father shaming your manhood or maybe even having your head for your disobedience. But you would not force your touch upon me.”
“I swore never to hurt you,” he murmured. “And…it’s true I was drunk, and that I wanted you, but…you looked so scared, taking off your clothes. I could not…watch it. Paying off prostitutes is one thing, but I could not…I would not bed a frightened child…”
“But you said you didn’t care about my age,” she countered, “that you wanted me anyway. And no one would have stopped you from taking me; in fact you would have been praised. And I certainly had no way of stopping you…”
Her words sent Tyrion into a flash-back of that night, and he remembered the slow, pained way in which she had started to remove her dress. With her one bare, hunched shoulder exposed, she looked so helpless and alone. She looked like she was preparing to be flogged all over again…only there was no one to rescue her this time. Tyrion had thought he would enjoy gazing on her nakedness, but instead he had felt like the lowest scum of the earth. Someone had to save this child from his own ravenous hunger for her…and paradoxically, he was the only one able to do it. So he did it.
“I stopped me,” he stressed. “A pervert I may be, but not…to that level. I…I am not only a creature of senseless desire, no matter what they all thought, all said. I stopped me…and that one victory I will carry inside me, even to the gates of the Seven Hells.”
She squinted. “You have…travel plans?”
Tyrion burst out laughing in a strangely hollow manner. “Assuredly, my lady, it would be like a homecoming for me. I’m the demon monkey. I would finally be in a location that truly suited by tastes and where I fit into the general atmosphere with ease.”
“But I’d want to be with you,” she blurted. “If we died…I’d want to be with you.”
He gazed at her in astonishment, then recollected himself. “No, no, the gods would never allow that. You’d be put in some beautiful place, like this, and you’d never know ugliness or cruelty again. You’d have your old family all together again, and whatever new family you might make in the future, your husband and children. I’m just the demon monkey…”
“You said that already,” she chided him, “and it means nothing to me. They are just words, flung at you by cruel tongues, not based in what you are.”
“Then what am I?” he queried, still in a somewhat teasing fashion.
“Much, much more than you’ve ever let people think, or people have ever let themselves believe. You know that, and I know that, and Sauriel knows that, and the Seven know that. And that’s worth just about everything.”
He snorted. “You’ve with spending too much time with that crone, I think.”
Sansa was undeterred. “Perhaps I have, but she is a wise woman. I have never known anyone quite like her, Tyrion, but she’s taught me how to…grow up. And I’ll never forget how I grew up here.” She laid her hand on his shoulder lightly. “In the Seven Hells, you’d have to forget me, forget all of this, let it be burned off and carried away like the wind carries the ashes.”
He remained quiet for a moment. “That would never happen,” he said at last. Damn it, he was not at all sure if he believed in any life beyond the one he was living, but he knew that this memory of daylight would be stronger than all the power of eternal night.
“They would make you take the bitter drink that washes away all goodness…”
“It might take every other good thing away, but not the memory of this time. Every drink that I would take, I would raise the glass to you.”
She eyed him deeply. “If you could hold onto this one memory, then the guardians of the gates would find no place for you in the underworld.”
“So I would be betwixt and between? A wanderer for the rest of eternity?” he proposed.
“Being a wanderer is not so very terrible,” she decided. “Not when you have someone to wander with. You can’t be lonely if you have someone to be alone with.”
He gazed at her deeply. “I think…I have had some difficulty in that department.”
She sighed. “Look at us, all the way out here. If we two could find a home in Davneros, I’m sure we will find a home in the Halls of the Dead someday.”
“Let’s not think on that now,” he exhaled. “We’re alive now, and…I want us to think about…living, and being together…for a while…here…”
“Oh, look! A rainbow!”
She stood up abruptly and put her hand over her eyes, observing the glorious after-effect of the sun-shower, wending its way down into the distant mountain range. “It’s like a necklace from the gods, all different colors cast by the same light that made us all.”
Suddenly inspired, she pulled off her healer’s crystal and hung it on the nearby cherry tree. The sun reflected on the crystal and the rain dripping from the pale pink blossoms, and prisms spread everywhere. They reflected on Sansa in hues of fuchsia and azure and violet and gold.
“You look like a princess,” he complimented her, “out of a fairytale, full of magic.”
She smoothed out her skirt wistfully, letting the prisms dance along her slender fingers. “My father taught me to leave precious things behind in sacred trees. He worshipped the old gods of the North, and said that when he died, wanted to be remembered as a true Northerner.” She pointed to the crystal. “This is for him. For all of them, living and dead. Light is the fastest messenger, and the colors of the light will penetrate any separation.”
Observing her act of devotion to her family, Tyrion again felt woefully out-of-place. Then slowly he drew a coin from out of his coat. “My last Westeros coin, worth little except for the memories. But going from a lord down to a clerk, one can hardly blame me for the guilty pleasure of carrying it for security.” He placed it in her hand. “Would you place it up on that branch please? I’d do it myself, but stilts are hard to come by these days.”
“Are…you sure, Tyrion?”
She clicked her tongue. “You know what I mean. This coin…means something to you.”
“That’s the idea, is it not? Providing such a gesture from a Lannister would not be seen as a sacrilege, I would like to do it…for all of them.”
“For us too.”
He raised an eyebrow.
“It’s for every lost treasure that we find, and every strain of light tying one to another.” She exhaled, and tucked the coin into the tree branch just below the one from which her crystal dangled. “For them, for us. It’s all the same. We’re all together in this now.”
As if to confirm this, the light piercing through the crystal struck the coin, turning it into a glowing golden orb, not so very different from the sun as it became submerged in the fiery orange sky that faded into a joyous pink and a melancholy purple and a deep, breathless blue.
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.