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Not a song

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DISCLAIMER: This story is entirely based on character[s] from George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire

 

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He feels people stare. He knows they whisper and laugh. Let them. They whisper and laugh too, just the two of them. He likes hearing her laugh. She had been an unhappy girl when he met her and it touched him. He’d always had a soft spot for broken things, and many men had tried to break Sansa Stark after her father had been framed and executed. She had only wanted to be loved…

Love. That is not really his style. He cared for her surely, and she was as beautiful a girl as he had ever seen. But he couldn’t ignore the stares and whispers and laughs. People think she is too good for him, and he knows they are probably right. They wonder why she is with him and sometimes he wonders too and is snarky with her, testing her to see if she will finally leave him. He hates himself for it, for hurting her feelings, even as he enjoys the power of his wit to make others feel as small as he is.

He makes up for his size and his cutting remarks with generosity: jewels, clothes, the finest dinners and wines. He is good to her. They are photographed whenever they are out, which is frequently, and he likes her to look good on his arm. It makes him look good; but he still cannot resist the cruel comments. When people disingenuously remark how tall she is, he leers and tells then she is not so tall on her knees or on her back; and he sees her eyes glaze over with distant pain even as she remains ever-courteous and refined.

He really should let her go, he supposes: he is not like to love her truly as she deserves. But he likes having her and pleasing her: when he does he does it very well, and she flushes and smiles at him. After all: a Lannister always pays his debts.

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He finds her sitting near the little tiled fountain she favours, alone as usual. He smiles languidly to see her dressed in bright yellow silk with a loose bodice that exposes her throat and the rounded tops of her breasts and admires her pale shoulders and slender arms. Her sandals lie in the grass and she is barefoot. He remembers when she first arrived, how she persisted in wearing her heavy gowns over a shift and underskirts, clinging to some Septa’s notion of high-born modesty while suffering in the dry heat until she finally fainted dead away one evening at court. The other women had smirked knowingly, though he had thought it because of her manner of dressing.

Poor child, he remembers. Poor sweet, beautiful child.

Oberyn pauses beneath the shade of a fruit tree to watch her: the auburn hair has lightened in the sun, and she smiles faintly and sweetly as she plies her needle, as he supposes most noble girls are taught to do. She hums some song, occasionally singing some words here and there, and pausing to check her work by holding it up to the sun. It is then that she sees him watching.

“Oh!” She exclaims and jumps up to curtsey before standing with her hands held together demurely before her, still holding her needlework. “Forgive me, Prince Oberyn, I was not told that you were expected-“

He waves his hand lazily, dismissing her apologies. “You were not told because I told no one. My lady,” he greets her teasingly as he takes her hand and raises it to kiss. His dark whiskers graze her soft skin. He notes that she blushes when he is near; he had thought she had become less reticent and is disappointed but perhaps he is at fault. He does not visit the Water Gardens often anymore; mostly because he is needed at Sunspear with Arianne, helping her to rule in her late father’s stead as war continues throughout the Seven Kingdoms. But Lady Sansa needs not know of the world beyond these gardens, and she has not asked, not since Oberyn had her moved here from court. Here, she is safe; for now.

He tilts his head down and reaches his other hand out for her work, and she releases it for his inspection. He smiles wider now to see the delicately embroidered border of red suns, a less martial version of the Martell sigil. He nods approvingly. “For the boy?” he asks and her own smile brightens as she nods in return. He sets in down on the bench behind her without letting go of her hand.

“Come,” he commands gently, “I needs wash off the dust from the road. We will bathe and lie together this midday.”

She drops her eyes modestly and blushes deeper but follows obediently as he leads her away now.

……

After bathing and lying together, he stretches and turns his head to watch her sleep as he had watched her in the garden. She is very beautiful, and sweet and shy. He had found her courteous shyness alluring, a challenge…at first. Oberyn is not a shy man, and in time he found too much of her gentle and agreeable company tedious. Abed, she submits to him and is receptive to his touch and his passions; she sighs and whispers soft words of love to him. Her voice is what drew him in at the start: so breathily soft that he needed quiet himself and lean in, but now he sometimes finds himself mildly irritated and wishes to hear the teasing, lustful and even crude words of coupling that his other lovers use without blushing.

 His true carnal appetites and tastes overwhelm and confuse her and so he tempers them when they are together. He has others for that, chiefly his long time paramour Ellaria Sand. Still, he cannot bring himself to stay away entirely: she is his now, and he will claim her when he pleases. He knows that he is like to return to Ellaria before another evenfall or two: Ellaria who had wanted him to share the Lady Sansa with her as he had shared other lovers; but the Stark girl was not any other lover. Ellaria had plotted to change the girl to be like them, open and wanton; but Oberyn knew she would not succeed, and he had selfishly wanted the girl’s sweetness all to himself.

She had been brought to them spoiled, it had turned out; but he had never learned if the child she lost the night she fainted had been sired by the betrothed Baelish had arranged for her or by Baelish himself, or even the Hound Clegane who had spirited her from captivity in the Vale and escaped with her on the first ship to stop in Gulltown: a Dornish galley. He was not even certain if she had been had willingly or if she had been forced, though the Hound had seemed to care for her: he had protected her and appealed to Prince Doran to shelter the girl and give her guest’s rights, promising to repay him by returning with the head of his own brother, the Mountain. The girl in turn had begged her rescuer not to leave her but he had gone North to fight with her people. She had watched the sea every day for moons though ravens brought word that the North and their forces had been decimated. Finally he had approached her alone and told her that he was very sorry, but her home, her family and her cause were all lost: the Hound was not coming back. She had only continued to stare out longingly to sea.

“I know,” she had finally whispered as he turned to leave her. “Pray tell me, Prince Oberyn…what is to become of me?”

“You are the honoured guest of the Prince of Dorne, my lady, and no harm will come to you here.”

He had meant it sincerely, but he also saw her eyes stray past him to where the court was gathered and knew he could not truly promise her safety. The Dornish were passionate and fiery, prone to jealousy and murderous rages or sinister plots. Her singular beauty and gentle nature had meant that many ladies at court did not appreciate her presence; and her Stark name was not revered and respected as might have been in other regions. Lyanna Stark had lured Prince Rhaegar from his own sister Elia, and Ned Stark had fought alongside the usurper Robert: Robert who had smiled down on the ruined bodies of his sister’s children. There were those who were resentful and who might seek revenge, or justice as they might see it; and poisons, snakes and daggers could lie in wait for her at any table or around any corner at court in Sunspear. Some knight could also betray her to Queen Cersei for the bounty still on her head. And what fate could befall her once the Targaryens returned he preferred not to imagine. She had reason to fear; more than she knew. He stepped closer to her now, his sensual intrigue heightened by the sense of danger and her vulnerable need for protection, as well as some lingering resentment of his own towards her honourable father Lord Stark.

“Mayhaps, Lady Sansa, you would feel more…comfortable away from court. I keep rooms and servants at the Water Gardens by the sea. If you wish, I will arrange to have you moved there,” his eyes looked deeply into hers as he spoke, “and I will accompany you there myself to ensure that you are…very well treated.”

His voice was a purringly seductive murmur, and the girl gazed up at him steadily as understanding came to her deep blue eyes. After all, she was no maiden and they both knew it, as did the rest of the court. No marriage or alliance could be made for her, at least not one that could afford her the protection she needed. He was her best hope he realized, as did she, and so his prize was assured. He detected the slightest straightening of her spine and lifting of her chin as she continued to meet his gaze.

“I accept your kind offer, Prince Oberyn, and I…I thank you,” she had finished with dignified courtesy and a sad resignation.

…….

Now he leaves her bed. She is still slumbering among the silk pillows and bedclothes, her gloriously rich hair fanned out in the rosy light of the setting sun that filters through the gauzy drapes; and he instructs her maid to wake and dress her before moonrise and send her to his chambers. She is to join him for dinner, and he intends having her again in his own bed. He strides purposefully down the hall and passes the large and silent armed guards with a nod of acknowledgement before flinging open the heavy doors to the rooms nearest Sansa's chambers. Inside he finds two Dornish nurses bathing the boy, and so he reaches into the gold basin and lifts him high into the air with a great laugh.

“Have a care, Prince Oberyn,” the younger woman admonishes him, and the older nurse blanches in fear.

He shoots her a dangerous look that stills her tongue. “My son fears nothing,” he lashes out, still holding him aloft. “Do you, my boy?” he asks the big-eyed and dripping-wet babe.

Eddaryn only stares curiously at him: his mother’s steady gaze but his own dark eyes. He is not afraid.

Sansa had smiled tearfully when he had named their son Eddaryn; but Oberyn felt that he had owed her at least that much. He may have amused himself with the knowledge that he bedded the beautiful and seemingly chaste daughter of Eddard Stark outside of marriage, that the man's noble daughter was now his kept mistress; but the Stark girl had done what no other woman had done: she had given him a son. And so for his son’s sake he keeps her safe and relatively close. She knows he will take his son away someday to study and train to fight. He will train him as he trained his daughters though better, he knows, as do they. The Sand Snakes were happy for him to have a son, but guarded because of his mother. They do not understand a woman, a lady like Sansa. Ellaria, his soulmate and favourite paramour, had feigned indifference, but then she had made the dangerous mistake of implying the boy would be weak, like his mother.

“She is a Stark of Winterfell and a Tully of Riverrun, and I am his father,” he informed her coldly. “There is no weakness in him…though there is weakness in jealousy, my own pet,” he had purred slyly. “The Stark girl is mother to my son which makes him heir to Winterfell, and so she will be a part of my life until he makes his claim or I make it for him…and you must accept this.”

“Do you love her more?" Ellaria had challenged him finally.

Oberyn had laughed. “Why, I do not love her at all.”

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The last note of the recital hung in the air momentarily before thunderous applause filled the Royal Concert Hall. Sam took a deep breath to steady himself before turning to the audience and gratefully bowing his head in acknowledgement. He lifted his hands palms out to signal them to stop and turned resolutely to the keyboard again so they would know that he meant to continue. There was some murmuring and confusion because this piece was not on the programme but he was determined that he should play it tonight of all nights. They were still finally but Sam was only playing for one person now as he began to strike the opening notes of the Prelude to Florian and Jonquil.

She was sitting as a guest in the royal box and he knew that she would understand that it was for her, the best and brightest thing to come into Sam’s life ever since the day she had opened her apartment door to him on that fateful afternoon and smiled at him. Him: fat Samwell Tarly who everyone had ridiculed and bullied his whole life. Well, not everyone exactly: certainly not his mother who had taught him to love music, or his sister, or Jon, his friend from his failed turn in boot camp, where his father had sent him in a desperate and final attempt to toughen him up and make him the son he had always wanted. It was Jon who had encouraged Sam to call on his sister in the Capitol when he went to study music at the Royal Conservatory after being rejected by the army.

“Sansa loves music and books like you do, Sam, so you’ll have a friend there, and…well, she had a boyfriend who treated her badly, Sam,” he had added with a pained line between his grey eyes, “so you can be a friend to her too.”

He had been so stunned by the site of her that when she stepped aside to invite him in he had just stood there staring open-mouthed. He had assumed that Jon’s sister would be attractive but-

“Hello? You are Sam, aren’t you?” she asked worriedly.

“What? Yes! S-s-sorry…sorry, M-miss Stark, I- I…you’re beautiful,” he said finally and cringed. She would think him an idiot. But she smiled. She had red hair: he liked red hair. And her br- …no, he should not notice that about her.

“You’re so sweet. Won’t you please come in? Jon’s told me so much about you; and I would love to hear about your studies at the conservatory. You play piano, don’t you?”

She had kept up a steady stream of chatter, so that he didn’t have to stumble over his words too much; and he smiled dumbly as he held his tea cup and sat on her overstuffed sofa with her dog Lady sitting at his feet. He could have listened and looked at her all day. But why was she being so nice to him? Maybe she was just being nice like Jon had been; but Jon was his friend now so maybe Sansa… But no, a beautiful girl like her must have so many friends and admirers; she would have no need of a fat, stumbling fool like him.

“Do you like to go to concerts, Sam, and the opera? I love to go but none of my friends is really interested so I go with elderly friends of my parents. They are very kind but I feel rather like a third wheel,” she blushed prettily to say. “Maybe sometime we could-“

“I’ll take you,” he blurted so suddenly that he forgot to stammer. “I mean…that is I…if you would like to go…sometime, I-I could get us tickets and escort you…if you like, M-miss Stark.”

She smiled sweetly again. “Please call me Sansa, Sam. I do hope we are going to be friends.”

He smiled back, knowing he looked foolish and too eager but he could not help himself. “Friends…I’d like that very m-much, S-Sansa.”

So they became friends and went to concerts and poetry readings and dinners where they always shared a bottle of Arbor Gold. In time, he stammered less and laughed more. They liked the same things and enjoyed each other’s company. When his sister Talla announced her engagement, he felt comfortable enough to ask if she would be his date for the wedding.

“You can stay at Horn Hill, and meet my family,” he offered, “and you don’t have to pretend to be my girlfriend or anything. We can just go as friends,” he smiled. But her own smile faltered and her beautiful face fell before she stammered her response.

“I- I thought…Of course, Sam,” she tried to smile for him now, “of course I will go as your friend.”

“Sansa, did I say something wrong? Oh, I’m so awkward, Sansa; please forgive me. I- I’ve never had a girl for a friend before…in fact I haven’t really had any friends before.”

She had bit her lip tremulously and given a short little laugh of embarrassment.

“I’m the one who is awkward…and sorry, Sam, you see…I- I thought I was your girlfriend.” And she is too embarrassed to look at him now.

After a stunned moment, he reached to take her hand. “Sansa,” he begins, “nothing would make me happier…or more proud than to introduce you as my...my g-girlfriend,” he can barely get the word out but once he has he smiles hugely. “I j-just never thought…that is: you’re so sweet and-  and so very beautiful and smart…why would a girl like you want an awkward fat man like me for her boyfriend?”

He knows that he is not so fat anymore though; all the walks they take with her dog Lady and all the climbing he does up the hill to the practice hall at the conservatory meant that he has had to have his trousers taken in again and again, until the tailor had finally told him to just buy smaller pants. He had needed a new suit for his first recital too. Sansa had even helped him pick it out, with new shirts and ties, and smiled at him in the mirror. When he goes out with her, people treat him respectfully, and he does not feel so foolish or stammer so much.  And when he plays before his teachers, he imagines he is playing for her: she loves to hear him play for her, and tells him he is wonderful. How could he not have known? But no one has ever told Sam he is wonderful before. How could he have known?

“Please don’t feel bad, Sansa. I’m sorry I didn’t know. No one…no one has ever made me feel special or…or that they cared about me…before you.”

She smiles up at him, her deep blue eyes glistening with tears. “I do care about you, Sam…and no one has ever treated me so well, or loved all the things I love; even my family make fun of me…oh!” she starts as Lady barks now, and they both laugh. “Except you, Lady. You see: Lady cares for you too.”

“Well I care for her,” he states and feels awkward again. “But, if it’s all the same to her…I’d much rather kiss you, Sansa.”

It was at Horn Hill that they had become lovers. His family had adored Sansa; even his father had been respectful to him in front of Colonel Stark’s eldest daughter.

“I knew your father, Miss Stark: he was a fine man and a good soldier. There is no better praise for a man,” he had intoned authoritatively.

“I thank you, Ser; but I never knew my father as a soldier, General Tarly,” she had replied softly. “You see, to me, he was mostly a wonderful, loving father, and so I know no better praise for any man.”

Sam’s heart had stopped for a moment as he saw his father’s hard, inscrutable expression staring at Sansa. Sam had never told her how much his father had bullied him his whole life but she seemed to understand right away and he loved her for it. When he snuck into her room at night to thank her, she had turned back the covers of the great canopied bed for him.

“Stay with me, Sam…please,” she had invited softly, and he had.

He was sure that he was terribly awkward and fumbling but Sansa did not seem to mind at all. She had touched him and kissed him and held him to her as he had dreamed for so long that he couldn’t help telling her how he felt.

“I love you, Sansa. I want you to know that…I- I love you.”

She smiled back at him. “I should hope so…after all that,” she giggled sweetly and caressed his face. “I love you too, Sam,” she replied and kissed him tenderly. “But you should go back to your room now: it’s almost morning.”

He had bought the ring as soon as they were back in King’s Landing. She had cried when he got down on one knee and then she had accepted him immediately. They were going to be married at Winterfell by year’s end but first he had to perform his graduate recital. He had already secured a place with the Great Symphony of the Reach and he and Sansa planned to look for a home with a studio outside Highgarden.

He finished the impromptu piece with a  flourish now and stood when he was done.

“That was for Sansa,” he announced, looking up to the Royal box.

I love you, she mouthed from her seat.

Sam took his bow and left the stage.

 

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Sansa loved her studies: she loved the lectures and the library and her dorm room. She loved filling her days and nights with stories and legends and beautiful words.

She had been reading on a bench in the park; she was so excited to have found a second-hand copy of her favourite story at the used bookstore near the campus. Then she had felt a presence looming over her; and she had needed to adjust her glasses when she looked up.

“Florian and Jonquil?” the man had inquired with a sneer, or she thought it was a sneer: it was hard to tell with the scars covering one side of his face.

“It’s a literary classic,” she had explained. “An epic poem from before the era of the War of Five Kings. Scholars believe it was once a song-”

He shook his head at her. “You’re just a little bird chirping all they taught you in class, aren’t you? I know the War of Five Kings, girl; I study military history. Might be a seminar or two about battles and warfare would teach you not to have a head full of songs. Life is about survival: fight or die and get out of the way of those who can.”

Sansa tilted her head now. Military history, she thought, he must be a veteran. He was older than most students; and it would explain the scars which she suspected were from severe burns. He was very tall and strong looking, with dark hair and grey eyes. His tone was challenging, but his eyes on her were gentle and even a little uncertain. She could not help feeling like she needed to protect him from some of the harshness of life.

“But without literature or songs, we would know nothing of the history or legends of those battles. Without culture or beauty…or love, I don’t know that survival alone would be worthwhile”

"Seven hells: the little bird's a romantic." His mouth twitched. “You’re not going to sing, are you?” he asked archly.

She ducked her head at his harsh humor before looking up again and smiling shyly.

“I would sing for you gladly.”

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He cannot believe the boy did it. It had seemed some kind of mummer's farce at first, Joff threatening to kill the girl right at court for her brother’s victory. She only had to plead and cry and look penitent: to say and do all the right things like Sandor had told her. She might have been hurt, likely beaten again; but not this. But she had given up it seemed, had only shook her head tearfully and waited with sick resignation for the crossbow bolt to fly.

Fly it did, so suddenly that the people at court, himself included, did not quite believe that it had happened. It was so quiet that the solid thunk of the bolt piercing her heart echoed in the throne room. She gave a startled gasp, and then a dying wheeze of a breath as those deep blue eyes fluttered but remained open, staring vacantly ahead. She had died so quickly that she had not even fallen over. Only the stillness of her and the blood dripping from her nose and seeping slowly through her silky gown and pooling onto the marble floor told the truth of what had just happened.

Men had winced, even the battle-hardened, and looked upon her with furrowed brows, worried that they could be next. They knew now how power had gone to the boy-king’s head; they saw how fickle and cruel he was. Another king had punished Starks in this very room and had lost the Seven Kingdoms, his family and his life for it. Sandor knew that some here would flee under cover of darkness tonight, to join Renly or Stannis or the Stark forces.

Ladies and handmaidens were trying not to sob; many were failing. Lady Sansa may have been a traitor’s daughter, but she had been a sweet girl. Still, they were not mourning her. Only her family were like to do that when they heard. Her bones would go North, just like her wolf. But just like the men, the women  knew if a high-born girl, the king’s own betrothed, could be skewered like a pigeon at the foot of the throne, then they were all in danger.

The Imp was talking now, having appeared out of nowhere, and calling for someone to get something to cover the girl with. She has listed to one side, like a fallen battle flag, and now she slowly slumps over. Sandor unhesitatingly steps down from beside the throne and rips the cloak from his shoulders. He takes his last look at the little bird. He isn’t sure if he is sorry that she is dead. At least Joff could not hurt her anymore.  He should be hurt, outraged and angry; but he only feels numb. This is how the world is: he has known that almost his whole life. Why should it stir him now? He drapes the white cloak over her, though the dark red pool of her blood continues to thicken and spread out from beneath it.

“She was to be your queen,” the Imp rages angrily. “Had you no respect for her life, no regard for her honor? The girl’s dead: now we’ll never get your Uncle Jaime back. What will you tell your mother?”

Joff sneers down at his hand who is looking up at him with barely contained fury.

“Tell her I’m the king,” Joff snaps at him, then stomps back up to his throne to sit down with the crossbow across his lap.

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Idiot.

Lord Tywin observed with impatience the Stark girl sitting alone at the head table when his son should be with her. He was never going to get her with child if he kept his distance from her. If he meant to have her willingly he had best spend time with her, not that Tywin thought that any time spent with his dwarf son would make her willing. He sneered at the thought: the girl was wed and needed to do her duty. Why his useless son was so stubborn about something of no consequence irked him terribly. She seemed a compliant enough thing: quiet and docile, as a girl and wife should be. Comely too, he had not failed to notice; certainly she would have been wasted on the Tyrell boy. Obviously the little idiot dwarf was deliberately trying to undermine his authority. Why would any man, much less a drunken lust-filled beast, refuse to bed the Stark girl?

He should just do it himself, he thought impatiently; all that was needed was Lannister blood. He was still a virile man; and he was no dwarf; and he would not trouble himself with her willingness. He gazed discreetly upon her now, on her insipid expression and her delicate skin and fiery hair. He had never cared for red hair but that didn’t matter. He did not need to engage her more than was necessary. His hand gripped the arm of his chair involuntarily as he pictured tearing open the back of her shift and exposing her young, rounded white behind before bending her over. He could just imagine how tight she would feel as he tore through her veil, how she would whimper and mayhaps weep softly to have a lion inside her, possessing her to breed future generations of Lannisters. The Stark sigil might be a direwolf but this child seemed more like a sheep: stupid, soft and weak. He had grown uncomfortably hard and absently grunted through his teeth.

“Father?” his daughter inquired.

“How long do we needs sit here?” he snapped. “I’m hungry, and there is enough food to feed the whole of Kings Landing.”

“Soon, Father; but I wanted to ask if they had seized Tyrion’s whore?”

“Hm? Oh, yes: the foreign girl. She is in my custody as we speak,” he replied with his usual firm tone as his daughter smiled with smug satisfaction.

Tyrion’s whore.

Yes, she’ll do.

He stopped thinking about the Stark girl.

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He stood before her outside the ice-cream parlor where she had been waiting for her friend Jeyne. He tilted his head, making his dark hair fall across his forehead, and squinted into the sun behind her. He took the cigarette from his lips.

"Hi. Nice day," he offered casually.

"Yes," she replied a little nervously, "it is." She had seen him around of course, he had lived in Wintertown for years now but he had never noticed her before. Goodness, he was good-looking; but he was a Snow and everyone knew what that meant. He would never have the future she wished to have one day. Still, she could not help smiling at him. His eyes were so dark and warm. He had a sexy smile. Sansa wasn't sure she had ever seen a sexy smile before.

"What's your name?" he asked her now.

"S-sansa," she said so quickly that she stammered. "My name is Sansa."

"Pretty name," he murmured. "I'm Jon. Have you ever been on a motorcycle, Sansa?"

…….

That was how it had started: the most romantic, perfect summer she could have imagined; certainly better than any song. Maybe he had seduced her; but maybe she had let him. It had felt so wonderful not to be the good girl for once in her life; to have fun and be free and even a little bad. He had laughed at that, and then gently tucked her hair behind her ear and said she could never be bad: she was soft and sweet and that was how he liked her. She liked it too. He might be rougher than the high-born boys she knew but he made her feel so feminine and special. She had known all along that it couldn’t last. She knew she had to go away to school once the summer was over; she just hadn’t thought she would miss him this much.

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They needed each other. Maybe it wasn’t right; but it was good.

 

Winter had finally ended, and so had Sansa’s studies at nursing college. She was now working the preemie ward at White Harbor Hospital, walking from her quiet neighbourhood through slushy Spring weather to the center of town and back. She loved her little wee babes but they didn’t always survive, the poor sweet dears; and as dedicated as she was, Sansa found the work hard and occasionally heartbreaking. She had taken to having more than one glass of Arbor Gold at night after a long shift; and she craved, well…other distractions.

She saw him for the first time in front of the emergency room doors, on her way back to the hospital from a coffee break with a group of nurses. He was leaning sideways against the rear of an ambulance, smoking and staring into the middle distance. One girl quirked an eyebrow and purred:

“Mmm, dark and brooding: me likey.” All the others had laughed. Sansa stopped in her tracks.

“Jon?”

He turned around fully and took the cigarette he was smoking from his mouth and looked at her with equal surprise.

“Sansa: what are you doing here-”

“I was going to ask you the same. Didn’t you join the Night’s Watch Rescue Brigade up North?’

“Aye,” he replied, dragging on the cigarette once more, “but the Lord Commander thought I would make a good medic so here I am: I’ve been training over a year now and have another eighteen moons to go. It’s hard work,” he said after a pause. He looked tougher, but weary. His voice was hoarse from smoking and something else, probably whiskey and ales. She felt sympathetic.

“Yes,” she replied simply. “I know.”

He nodded solemnly as he looked her over in her nurses’ scrubs. She knew she looked tired; her hair was a sloppy braided bun. “Aye, I guess you do… Fancy a drink later, then? We can catch up…if you like.”

Sansa smiled. “I would love a drink,” she agreed wholeheartedly.

That was how it had started: a drink or two, talk about their work, reminiscing and laughing and then a lingering look and a soft touch and an invitation back to his place. He had a messy, near-empty loft but they hadn’t bothered with the lights anyway; not the first time: they were too wrapped up in each other.

They saw each other often, usually at her attic apartment with the squeaky iron bed and the pink painted furniture she had bought at a flea market. He brought her flowers the first time: they were still drying up in the vase, and then he’d taken her every way on every surface and she had loved it. They were always passionate, sometimes even a little rough with each other; but they needed the release from their work trying to save others. They needed to feel alive, or sometimes just to feel anything after days and nights of closing their eyes to pain and loss and being stoic and just getting on with it. They would lie together afterward, talking softly but mostly just holding and looking at each other. Sometimes she would watch him sleep: those were the times she would wonder what her family would think.

Jon was a Snow, and her family had known him growing up when he lived in the Wintertown as an orphan and tradesman’s apprentice. But because of a strong resemblance there were ugly rumours that he was really her late father’s bastard; and though they knew it to be false, Sansa’s mother still resented the talk and him. They had been involved before, the summer before she had left for nursing college, and she had missed him terribly at first: he had been her first lover, and they had kept it secret then. He and Robb had been friendly, she remembered fondly; but Sansa did not think her big brother would approve his friend seducing his sister as a girl, any more than he would approve Jon’s current habit of tying her wrists to her bedframe and making her beg for it. Sansa giggled now: how she begged for him…

“S’funny?” he mumbled from his pillow without lifting his head. “Com’ere…”

Sansa crawled back into bed with him now and curled up close to his warm body, but he wrapped his arms around her and rolled onto his back with her on top of him. He looked up at her face and brushed back the auburn hair falling around them. Dark eyes in the dark, she mused dreamily.

“Why were you laughing?”

Sansa bit her lip as she slipped a long leg over his body to sit astride him. “Hm, I was imagining my mother’s face if she could see us-”

“Ugh, that wouldn’t be a bit funny, trust me…and your father’s ghost would come back and murder me.”

She kissed his eyelids and then his ear and finally trailed her tongue down the stubbly jaw to kiss his lips. “It can stay our secret again, Jon, if you like,” she whispered as she sat up to take him on his back. He placed his hands over hers on his chest and smiled drowsily.

“I’m yours to command, my lady…this time,” he teased her.

She leaned to kiss him and love him again. It was at these moments that Sansa could care less what her family thought: it just felt so right and so good to be together.

Still, it mattered little what anyone thought: just like the first time it could never last. He was a man of the Night’s Watch; and once he finished his training he would need to return North to serve the last of his required years at the Wall before he could be posted to another Northern district. The rules against taking wives and fathering children had been repealed almost a century ago but he would never ask her to wait for him: he wasn’t like that. When he was done he would move on, she was certain. So it didn’t matter that it wasn’t serious, that her heart wasn’t really at stake. It was just fun and sex and company. It made the days easier and the nights sweeter and less empty of anything but grief and dirty glasses on the counter and in the sink. They were each other’s solace: they saved each other. Neither could be hurt by that, could they?

 

 

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He had waited until she laid herself out for him, her throat bared like the little wolf she is. He waited like the mature lion he is: he enjoyed having her, but would never act as though he needed her. It was she who needed him.

Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.

Some fool had said that, in the days before. What did he know? Tywin Lannister had the power of life or death over millions and he enjoyed it as much as he enjoyed the girl, and in the same cold-hearted way.

Stark’s daughter, he scoffs haughtily: how the honourable have fallen. Stark was one of the first to be round up when the regime came to power: a war hero, he was one of those too idealistic, or too stupid, to know that democracy was a failure and the masses were stupid morons. They needed guidance and control to maintain order; and Tywin Lannister loved order. He could herd them about like sheep…like the girl.

He looks down on her, leaning back naked over his great desk, and laughs cruelly.

“They all think you are so pure and innocent,” he mocks. She is a beautiful girl, with long legs, a small waist and full breasts; but it is her face, her sweet, vulnerable smile and deep blue eyes that entrance men.

She opens those eyes at that, and has the decency to look ashamed.

“My father was a traitor to the regime, Herr Lannister,” she tells him sadly, “No one thinks of me as innocent.”

“That’s because you’re not,” he counters snidely. “Look at you: you’re a whore with open legs for any man who says he’ll protect you. Trant…Clegane…” He names the men under him whom he knows have had her. Normally, he would have had such a girl fired, if not sent to a camp for re-education, or worse; but this one…this one he had wanted for himself. “They can’t keep you safe, only I can…if I want to. Do you think I should want to?”

“Please, Herr Lannister…” she murmurs.

“I can’t hear you, girl: speak up,” he barks.

“Please…please, Herr Lannister,” she pleads softly.  “I will to whatever it is you wish…to please you. I only want to be loyal…and safe. My father-“

“Your father was a traitor and you’re a whore. Now spread your legs and shut your mouth.”

Though she complies, he slaps her for good measure, and her head falls back in some kind of weak ecstacy. The lower classes, the lesser races, women: treat them half like dirt and half like children and they love you for it. He thrust hard and fast into her, gripping her hair and her throat when she moans and sighs too much; women should submit to want and not be a slave to it; and so he slaps her again harder when he is done with her.

“You’re a slut.”

She blinks and drops her eyes. “Y-yes, I’m sorry, Herr Lannister. Please forgive me.”

“Clean this up.” He means his desk: the blotter is crooked now and some papers have fallen to the carpet. Tywin zips his fly and straightens his tie and walks away to pour himself a drink. They play this same scene over every time she comes at night with the locked bag sent by the ministry. His second-in-command, Herr Baelish warned him not to trust her, but Tywin knows she is weak and scared and foolish. Besides, he has Clegane drive her to his home and escort her to his library. She is never not watched. And Clegane’s presence gives him more reason to mistreat her. After all, she did have relations the big ugly dog before him after Clegane took her from Trant. Brainless thugs, the both of them: no wonder she is so meek and compliant. Any vestiges of Stark idealism or heroism had surely been beaten out of her long before he began. And if not…well, the girl Shae had tried to use and betray him and had died screaming: he had Payne see to her after he was done. This one…in time, he might turn her over to the Mountain, since she had a taste for Cleganes, after he had tortured her himself. If she thought he liked hearing her beg now…

“Aren’t you done yet, girl?” he demands as he turns back around. She is half-dressed and busy straightening the papers that had fallen.

“I am sorry, Herr Lannister,” she stammers.

“You’re stupid as well as a slut,” he pronounces.

“I- I never got to finish school, Herr Lannister,” she offers as an apology.

Of course not, he thinks, you were busy running. After her father was executed, the whole family went into hiding. Herr Frey offered to shelter the mother and eldest son but it had been a trap. Herr Greyjoy got the younger boys and their servants. Only the bastard remained and they had sent him to the Northern front to fight; and finally the daughter…oh, there had been another, a little girl, but she was doubtlessly dead too. That left Sansa, who had been forced to take the name Snow; so there were to be no more Starks to trouble him, and she had been indoctrinated and sent to work for the ministry where she could be used as an example for the regime…and easily watched and eliminated if necessary. It was a deliberately low position so she would needs ingratiate herself to her betters which she did by falling on her back like a stupid little whore. Only Baelish was rebuffed; apparently he had bedded her mother; at least to hear him tell it. Baelish was a slick toady, only to be used but never trusted…same as Sansa. Beautiful and weak and pliant she may be but she was still the enemy.

“Go on now. I’m a busy man. Get dressed and go. Clegane is waiting for you.”

“Yes, Herr Lannister. Thank you.”

He watches her straighten her garters and smooth down her dress before looking around for her bag. She scampers to pick it up and walks to the library door in her red high-heeled shoes, a gift from him of course; no one else could find such luxury goods except on the black market. Her legs made him want to take her again, harder.

“Good night, Herr Lannister,” she says finally before opening the door. Clegane sits on a bench waiting for her.

“Fraulein Snow,” he dismisses her curtly. “Clegane.” The man nods without expression, dutifully uninterested. He was loyal, and asked no questions, which was even better than the girl’s pliant stupidity.

They leave together while Tywin finishes his drink. His valet would see them out, he has more important work: the bag she has brought him.

Fools, he thinks them. Fools and weaklings. He is a lion, and a lion does not concern himself with the opinions of sheep.

…….

 

They walk down the marble hallway and out the door staring straight ahead and not talking. Clegane opens the car door for her and speaks as curtly as Herr Lannister.

“Get in,” he tells her and shuts the door hard behind her. Sansa knows to hold her tongue. Still, she feels bad for Clegane. He had never hurt her.

“Sandor, I‘m sor-“ she begins but he cuts her off.

“You stayed longer this time. This is as far as I can take you. I have a guards’ meeting.”

Sansa looks around. “B-but this is Flea Bottom,” she whispers worriedly.

“You’ll be alright…as long as you haven’t any coin or food.”

She steps out gingerly into the dark street, and he speeds off and leaves her.

Sansa tightens the belt of her coat and looks around carefully; she has a little coin, and so she sets off in search of a potshop that has food.

 

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Oberyn was waiting for her. Meeting locations moved frequently: it was safer that way. Sansa had gone to a potshop in Flea Bottom for a thin, meager bowl of brown and the new location had been slipped to her with her bill. She was in a tunnel under the ruined Sept of Baelor.

“General,” she greets Martell stonily, but he smirks.

“Is that any way to greet your comrade? The one who saved you?” he teases dangerously.

That much was true, she could not deny. When Sansa tried to flee the new order in Westeros for the freedom of Essos without the proper papers, she had instead ended up in a refugee camp in the Vale. It was there Oberyn’s people had found her and recruited her to their cause.

“They killed your father. They killed your mother and brothers. They have turned this country into an armed camp with absolute power for the privileged few. Help us show them that the Lannisters are not the only ones to pay their debts.”

“They’ll know who I am,” she countered.

“Oh, yes: they’ll know who you are…but not what you are. Look at you,” Oberyn had looked her over slyly. “Who would suspect you of being in the resistance?”

“Anyone who knew my father,” she replied, raising her chin proudly.

Oberyn’s eyes hardened. “You’re going to need to swallow that pride…and a lot of other things if you are going to survive. Do you want to survive, Sansa Stark?”

So she had been taken to a remote location deep in the Riverlands and trained to fight, to survive and to look meek and helpless doing it. She had even been beaten and tortured, so she would be used to it and submit. Then there was Oberyn’s more personal test…

“A woman’s best weapon is between her legs,” he had told her bluntly, “and you need to learn how to use it.” Not only did he have her, but several other men in the movement did as well. She had to learn not to care, to think of her body as a tool and a weapon, and to submit to men she even hated. “I’m never certain that you don’t really like it,” Oberyn had teased her darkly one night in his tent.

“Then you’ve trained me well,” was her cryptic, unemotional reply.

“Then you’re ready to be in the field,” he had countered sharply, and smuggled her back to the refugee camp, making sure Herr Baelish discovered she was there this time.

“For your mother’s sake, I can try to protect you, Sansa,” he had told her as he stroked his dark beard, “but Herr Lannister at the ministry will need to know. There is no hiding in Westeros anymore, not even for Starks.” And he had smiled slyly.

After her party indoctrination was completed, she began her first day as his assistant’s flunky, and she had feigned getting lost in the ministry building and timidly asked the brute Trant for directions. He had agreed to tell her if she let him kiss her in a broom closet, where he had actually bent her over a stinking sink and raped her. After a fortnight, his superior Clegane caught him and promised that no one would hurt her again. In gratitude, she sank to her knees behind his desk in the guards’ office and took him in her mouth, though he told her it was not necessary. He didn’t like for her to look at his scarred face but he would let her do that for him. He even asked her if she had enough to eat, and brought her stale bread rolls and days-old fruit from the barracks. Food was in short supply in Kings Landing, unless you were the ruling class; soldiers came second. Everyone else fought or stole or starved; though the first two could have you rounded up and shipped to a re-education camp where only half returned.

Word of her and Clegane reached the minister, Herr Lannister, and he was not pleased that his head guard and oftentimes personal protection had a weakness for a pretty girl. Normally she would have been sent away but when he saw her, saw her timidity and ashamed meekness, and heard she was Sansa Stark, he had her brought to him.

“Fraulein Stark,” he had commented when she was alone in his office.

“I- Forgive me, but I am now Fraulein Snow, Herr Lannister.” She was avoiding looking at him and he was pleased and satisfied to see how frightened she was. “I have renounced my traitor father’s name,” she cringed to say.

He stood towering over her; despite her height, Tywin Lannister knew how to be imposing just by standing still.

“You are right to be ashamed, Fraulein Snow. Your father was an enemy of the people and the state, and deserved to die. All traitors die, make no mistake. Are you a traitor?”

“N-no, Herr Lannister, I beg you; I wish only to be of loyal service-“

He raised his voice as he cut her off. “And yet you tried to flee the country to Essos!”

“N-no, Herr Lannister, no. I had no home, and so I sought my family in the Vale. I was sent to a camp. I did not want to leave. I am only grateful Herr Baelish found me.”

“You are grateful to him but you have illicit relations with Clegane. Why?”

“Guard leader Clegane…Herr Lannister, he protected me. I fear every day that people should discover who I truly am and will punish me for my father’s treason. I know I am wanton, and wrong, but I have nothing else to offer but myself,” she finished in a hoarse whisper and blinked back tears. “I- I have nowhere to go.”

She could see him wavering behind the cold eyes. His every instinct was telling him to have her shipped to a camp but the dilated pupils and quivering nostrils, like a hungry rabbit, gave him away. It took all the strength she had to appear weak and submissive before the monster who had killed her family. However it worked: even a man as cold as Tywin Lannister was still a man, and his cruel streak saw a mouse to toy with and torment.

“Well, then we’ll have to find you a position where we can keep an eye on you, Fraulein Snow. It would not do to have a young woman of superior blood, despite the blot on your name, feel unsafe in the very ministry that protects Westeros… would it now?” He was so close she could smell his breath and thought it small wonder a death merchant should stink of decay. But she smiled tremulously and hopefully for him.

“That…that is m-most kind of you, Herr Lannister. I am most grateful.”

“Like you were grateful to Clegane?” he mocked her cruelly.

“No! No, Herr Lannister, I would never-“

“Never?” he countered smoothly and enjoyed watching her struggle to find the right answer.

“I- That is, I only wish to serve, Herr Lannister,” she replied carefully.

“Then you will. Not here. You’ll be brought to me. Be ready when you are, I’m a busy man.”

She was made flunky to his assistants, of which there were many, each all bitchier than the last. They enjoyed ordering her about and treating her like she was stupid, which she pretended to be quite convincingly. Finally she was ordered to stay late and wait with Clegane for the evening bag, as it was called. The locked bag held the dispatches and records from the camps, as well as reports from all seven regions about the rebels’ activities and the prisoners who were tortured for information. Sansa needed to have access to that bag; but she was told to wait.

Instead she needed to submit to Herr Lannsiter, to his harsh commands, cruel insults and his sickening lust. He slapped her. He pulled fistfuls of her hair to jerk her head up to look at him instead of meekly at the ground. He pushed and shoved her into walls and furniture and ordered her to strip off her clothes, to spread her legs, to bend over. He whipped her bottom with his riding crop and tied her wrists and even her ankles with a guard’s restraints. One night there was a nightstick on his desk and she feared he would beat or sodomize her with it, but instead he had her take it in her mouth before ordering her to do the same to him. He was aroused by her fear and humiliation and his own sense of power. Every night she was with him she returned home to throw up. Sansa wanted him dead. He was the enemy. Her enemy.

…….

Oberyn was looking at her steadily now. “Fine, we will forget pleasantries; that is not why you are here. Do you have anything?”

Sansa unselfconsciously reaches into her dress to retrieve the fallen paper she had tucked into her lace bra and handed it over.

“It’s not from the bag,” she assures him. She had no orders to open the bag yet.

“No, nor will it be you until we can plant more suspicion about Herr Baelish with the dark lord Lannister; the blame needs to fall on him. That Baelish desires you should certainly help but Littlefinger has always wanted power for himself. The high and the low are mere stepping stones to him. He has no conscience.”

“Has anyone anymore?” Sansa ventures softly.

“Are you becoming idealistic, Stark? Remember how that ended for your father.”

“I wonder sometimes if it is better to die for your beliefs than to live according to that of your enemies.”

“Very noble; but how does that help, Stark? If we don’t fight for the future, there won’t be one.” He pauses as he looks at her carefully. “Lannister getting to you?”

“Just promise me that I can kill him,” she asks, but Oberyn shakes his head slowly.

“I can promise you nothing, Stark; not even that he won’t kill you. You knew that going in. Nothing has changed.”

“No,” she says resignedly, “it hasn’t.”

“It will. It has to. Here.” He held out his hand. She has to step and then lean in to see the tiny object.

“Plant it is his home, in his office, wherever you can. We’re counting on you, Stark. We’re losing people out there: more raids and executions every fortnight. We need to know what they know.”

She takes it from him, and then tucks it into her bra where the paper had been hidden.

“And this,” he holds out a lipstick. “I’m sure he likes to see those soft lips hard at work.”

Sansa’s spine straightens and she snatches the lipstick away.

“That’s my fighter,” Oberyn laughs.

“Who do I fight with this,” she turns it over in her hand dismissively.

“Anyone. Yourself, if you need,” Oberyn suggests. “It’s poisoned."

"How very Dornish of you," she retorts, but he ignores her jibe and remains serious.

"You are in a dangerous place, and so I am trusting you with it. Use it wisely, Stark, not vindictively. Think like your father.” He steps closer to her and puts a hand on her shoulder. “You are as strong as he is: I can see that now.”

Sansa thinks for the first time in moons, years maybe, about her father and how good and kind he was, how brave and gentle and strong. She wants to be brave like her father, and strong like her mother and Robb.

She sniffles once before nodding resolutely. “Thank you, General. I need to get back before anyone watching me takes notice. Clegane dropped me off and left but he may be trailing.”

“You’re right. You should go,” Oberyn nods wisely. “Good luck, Stark.”

He stands there watching her walk away and then listening until he can no longer hear her footfalls. Finally he turns and another tall figure steps out of the darkness.

“Might be she does herself in; Lannister’s enough to drive anyone to want to die, or kill.”

“That’s why I have you to watch over her, Clegane,” Oberyn remarks lightly. “You’re her faithful hound…only she does not know it.”

“Better that way, is it?” Sandor asks, though he knows the answer already.

“You are too well-placed and well-trusted to lose, Clegane; Stark is useful but…sadly, expendable. You are not.”

Sandor is quiet a moment and then spits.

“You think I’m awful,” Oberyn jeers.

“No,” he rasps. “You’re honest; it’s the world that’s awful.”

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They are wed within less than a fortnight of her arrival at Highgarden, to ensure that she needs not be returned to Kings Landing. They share his chamber and his bed that night but Willas will not claim his bride until she is ready. Sansa…gods, beautiful Sansa, softly and blushingly assures him that she wishes to be his true wife but he resists: she is too hurt and too fragile and too young, and he wants her to know him first and to trust him. So she walks the rose-filled gardens, and visits the overgrown godswood as Willas breeds his animals and reads in his solar. Sansa sits with him and sews and sometimes sings and in time they begin to talk and to know each other. Meanwhile war alternately flares and subsides throughout Westeros; and after more than a year passes since they were wed, a raven arrives from the North with word that her young brothers live and her bastard brother is leading the battle to reclaim Winterfell. Sansa is deeply shaken and hopeful and frightened all at once, and so Willas reassures her when she turns to him for comfort and guidance.

“What- what must I do, my lord,” she entreats softly. She is ever courteous and gentle.

“Whatever it is that you feel that you must do, my lady,” he replies firmly but with equal gentleness. “They are your family, and Winterfell is your home and if you go to them, you will have guards to escort you and a ship to sail you North.”

She gazes upon him with big eyes, astonished. “You would have me leave, my lord?”

Willas shakes his head and picks up her hand to hold. “No, my lady, I would you stayed with me; but I cannot in good conscience keep you here if your heart is elsewhere. I will not be the cause of your unhappiness, not after all you have suffered; and so you have my leave to go and the strength of Highgarden to keep you safe on your journey.”

He kisses her forehead chastely and with tenderness and she leaves his solar for her own chambers as he resigns himself to losing her forever, knowing that she has never really been his.

She comes to his chamber that same night as he is preparing to blow out his candle. She is in a thin bedgown, delicately embroidered with roses, and her thick auburn hair falls loose around her shoulders. Her hands tremble and so she folds her fingers together before her as she speaks more openly than she had ever spoken to him.

“No man has ever wanted my happiness more than he wanted me or my claim,” she tells him in a voice full of emotion. “Now I know that I can never hope for a better man or a better husband, and so I would be a true wife to you, my lord, this night and every night if I am to stay with you.”

Willas holds out his hand to her as she climbs into his bed, and he finally takes her in his arms and is her husband in more than name.

“Your family, Sansa; and your home-“ he ventures as he holds her close afterward.

“Highgarden is my home now, and you are my family, Willas…Willas,” she repeats in a whisper as he kisses her face, her eyes and her neck. “Willas…my happiness will be here with you, and our own family.”

Willas smiles into her thick hair. “Our family,” he repeats hopefully. But on the morrow he sends knights of the Reach to White Harbor to help protect the Stark heirs and keeps a ship anchored there to spirit them to Highgarden if their cause should be lost.

Sansa births twins: a girl with her blue eyes; a boy with his brown eyes. They both have their mother’s auburn hair. When Spring comes a Targaryen girl with three dragons sits the Iron Throne,  the Starks rule once again in Winterfell, and their twins speak their first words and run on small and unsteady feet in the yard and gardens of Highgarden. Sansa is nearing her time with their next babe, and Willas joins her in the godswood to thank and pray to her old gods because he is grateful and knows that their happiness was worth the wait.

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MURDER ABOARD THE ESSOS EXPRESS

 

Cast

Ser Davos Seaworthy – a criminal investigator and tribunal head-for-hire,

former aide to General Stannis Baratheon

Jorah Mormont – long-exiled, disgraced Westeros nobleman, now director of Essos Express line

Martin Sand – porter on the Essos Express sleeper car

Mr. Mockingbird – a powerful Westeros man, reputedly of ill-gotten means

Duncan Podrik – secretary to Mr. Mockingbird

Blackwater – valet to Mr. Mockingbird

Miss Alayne Stone – famed nightclub singer and mysterious beauty

Mercy Canal – former troupe actress and wardrobe assistant to Miss Stone

Lady Thorn – an aged and opinionated Westeros noblewoman

Miss B. Pennytree – Lady Thorn’s maid

Lord & Lady Jon S. Black – a Westeros diplomat & his wife

Captain S. Graves – a mercenary of the Second Sons

Miss Margie Rose – a tribunal stenographer

Miss Osha Wilde – a charity worker for orphans

Miss Dany Storm – a jewelry designer

 

He sits alone in the dining car with the papers of all the other passengers spread out before him. Some are obviously forgeries but that does not surprise Davos. So many from Westeros sought to flee the violence and bloodshed of their home country for safer shores in Essos, and they did it by any means necessary.

No, what he notes now is that many are from Westeros, like the murdered man himself. Davos had only met the man a few nights ago at their hotel, sitting next to each other at reserved tables to hear the alluring Alayne Stone sing, and Davos had not liked him. The man had engaged him in conversation that had largely consisted of him bragging about his wealth and connections and making no attempt to hide his lascivious interest in Miss Stone.

Her papers were among those on his table; and he had been surprised to see that she was travelling with him. She also did not seem to like the man; if anything he frightened her. But she sat with him and wore his expensive gifts and even smiled, albeit dutifully. Her young wardrobe assistant Mercy Canal had papers from Braavos which was plausible since Miss Stone had traveled and performed widely throughout the Free Cities. He set these two aside: suspects, both.

Joran Mormont’s papers were real, that much he knew without even looking closely. The man fled to exile long before the civil war under a cloud of suspicion for embezzlement from his family’s own estate but was noble enough to have worked his way from porter to director of the Essos Sleeper Car Line. He may have envied the murdered man his wealth but had no real reason to want him dead, especially under his own watch. Davos set his papers to the other side of the table.

The current night porter Martin Sand was clearly a Dornishman by his looks and his accent, but there was something a bit too proud about him for a man who waited on others. Davos wavered now because so people many had needed to take positions beneath them to survive…while men like murder victim had thrived. He placed his papers with the suspects.

Blackwater and Podrick, the man’s valet and assistant: both now out of work but as they had nearly unrestricted access to the man they were now both suspects. Two more sets of papers were added to the pile.

Lady Thorn, he mused, her papers were real and very old…rather like the lady herself. From her accent she was from the Reach but he remembered no House Thorn. Bah! Davos had come from nothing so what did he know of houses, particularly now as so many were disappearing and others were rising from nothing as he had. Still, some were bound to be resentful of being stripped of everything while others were on the rise, so the lady and her maid, the astonishing tall and strong Miss Pennytree, joined the other suspects.

Lord and Lady Black, another mysterious noble designation, both had newer papers and were authorized to leave and return from Westeros: fitting since he had diplomatic status but that could be tricky for Davos because they could recuse themselves from questioning. His mouth twisted in indecision before placing their papers aside to be returned to them.

Captain Graves was clearly a true former military man though he now fought alongside mercenaries. Davos knew that many former soldiers of defeated armies had fled, and like Graves many had burn scars from the fiery failed siege of King’s Landing; but he could remember no man of his size, nor any man named Graves in Stannis’ ranks so they may have been on opposing sides, in which case the man was not like to cooperate with him merely out of resentment. Tough, Davos thought as he slid his papers into the growing suspects pile. Mercenaries were murderers for hire for the right price, and the dead man seemed the type to make enemies.

The rest were women travelling alone: the charity worker Osha Wilde, the sharp and vixen-ish tribunal stenographer Margie Rose and finally the young jewelry designer Dany Storm who had been on the same boat from Meereen as Davos. What was it he had overheard her say to the lieutenant…Naharis was his name, who had seen him off? Not now, when it’s all over.

There, he thought, everyone is a suspect except Mormont; and the Blacks may have diplomatic exemption. And Davos…Davos had a dead body, only as much time as it would take to clear the avalanche of snow that had stopped them in their tracks, and so many questions that he hardly knew where to begin.

He decided to begin with the dead man himself. He looked up from the table now and signaled to Mormont who was standing on the other side of the window to the lounging compartment. The distinguished man approached him respectfully.

“Ser Davos, how may I be of assistance in this terrible matter?”

“I need you to bring me the passengers as I request them for questioning; all except the Lord and Lady Black, who must volunteer or be excluded, and Lady Thorn, who I will attend in her compartment with her maid.”

“Very well, Ser Davos, I am at your disposal.”

“Thank you. Start with his young assistant,” Davos lifted his papers and peered at them now. “Duncan Podrick, he’s called. Let’s find out what we can about our not-so-dearly departed Mister Mockingbird, and see if anyone, or everyone, had reason to want him dead.”

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Gods be good.

She ducked into a doorway smelling of sick from ale and nearly gagged herself, so much was her heart in the throat already. The soldiers were striding away from the woods' side of the village where the blacksmith lived.

The children.

Once they had passed, she ducked further away from the market where she had come early with her basket over her arm. Even in her terror, she clutched the food she had bought close to her: there was still so little coming in from fields and crofts and some days there was nothing at all but what some commons would hunt or forage. She had learned which wild mushrooms and berries were safe to pick; and her husband was lucky with his snares but he most often traded his work in the forge for other men’s game.

She stifled a yelp as she cut her bare foot on sharp stones but never stopped running until her small home came into view and she glimpsed her youngest daughter in the grass in her little burlap dress and cap. Finally she stopped and  released her held breath and her fear...until the next time.

“Mama,” her red-haired daughter called and the clanging in the forge ceased. A burly man stepped out, his face red from heat and brow furrowed from work and strain.

“Jeyne, ye’s back already,” he noted as the little girl ran to her mother and leaned into her to hug her legs through her skirt.

“Yes,” she breathed out heavily, “there weren’t but little-“

“You been runnin’; th’butcher’s boy try fer t’tumble ye agin?” he demanded.

She shook her head quickly. “No…nay, he weren’t there so there’s no meat, and no goat’s milk neither,” she told him regretfully.

“Seven ‘ells,” he spat and turned back into the forge before coming out to hand her a tool. “Best kill a pullet then,” he ordered as he held the small axe handle out towards her.

She hesitated only briefly before reaching for it, and when she did she saw how rough her hands were with the scars from being burned or cut, and how short and ragged her nails. She rarely had time to notice such things.There was no glass in their cottage so she had not looked upon herself in years but she knew that her skin must be freckled and stretched tight over the bones of her face like so many of the other women.

This is your life now.

She set down her basket and walked around back to the chicken coop. She hated killing pullets; she took good care of their few chickens and even pat them in gratitude every time she took their eggs. Taking their heads was hard; she remembers how she sobbed to do it the first time and thought of another beheading…

No, she reminded herself, that girl is gone. Jeyne never knew her father.

Jeyne was a common enough name. She had told them her mother had served in a castle as a seamstress, to account for why she spoke so well and could only sew and not cook or clean or pull water from a well. The smith’s daughter, who was years older than her, had needed to teach her and had done so grudgingly, resentful to have another mouth to feed, and gave her the worst and heaviest work to do.

Ye don’t be inna castle no more so ye best git over yer airs, girl; yer but a common whore iffen y’ask me.

In truth she may as well have been at first. The man had not taken her in without expectation: she knew she would needs share his bed and did so without complaining or shedding tears until after she was alone. He was not a gentle man, nor had she expected him to be; but neither did he take any pleasure in hurting her and she soon became accustomed to his needs. They did not marry properly until a travelling septon and his dog came to the village; by then she was big with child and the hateful daughter had died. After that no one else ever questioned her story that her mother had been killed when the Ironborn sacked Deepwood Motte and that she had fled the North in fear for her life. After years of war, the Riverlands were full of such people. She was one of them now.

She had learned to cook and clean and launder her own clothes and her husband’s and children’s in time. Some days she needed to work the bellows in the forge. She haggled in the market, though usually with smiles and flattery rather than stridently which had only served to make the butcher’s boy think she would tumble with him. She tried to learn to speak like them but it always came out wrong somehow. She bathed in a bucket of cold water brought in from the well, and sewed plain clothing from rough linen and woolens and wore wooden shoes or went barefoot like her children who would never learn their letters or the old gods.

Sometimes at night, she still dreamed of castles and silk gowns, of ladies in songs, and of lemon cakes. But she had nightmares too: of beheadings and soldiers in red or white cloaks, of bruises on her flesh and of unwanted touches and kisses that smelled of mint and lies, lies, lies.

She had escaped again, to the Riverlands where the blacksmith had found her in the woods when in hungry desperation she had tried to take one of his snares. He had returned to the village with two rabbits and a russet-haired girl with a servant’s dress and a lady’s manners. No one in the Riverlands questioned that she feared the soldiers because so many other commons did as well. They also feared the wolves that were said to roam in large packs lead by a large female that had no fear of men but sometimes at night when she woke from her dreams or nightmares and heard the howling in the nearby woods Sansa would wrap her arms around herself and remember.

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They brought her there by coach in the dark of night, as though she had been the condemned criminal and not her father. Treason, they had all whispered as they cast those harsh sideways glances towards her. Sansa knew it wasn’t true: it could not be true, for there was no man so honourable as Lord Eddard Stark. But no one believed her; they ordered her to stop crying and to mind her tongue and her manners, not to speak unless spoken to and keep her eyes downcast. She was no longer a lady, they told her.

Deportment was rigorously taught, sometimes beaten into them. Needlework and running a household, French and piano lessons were all that were required of them. They were the illegitimate daughters of high-born men, or true-born daughters brought low or no longer wanted by the families that warded them. The Lannisters had no longer wanted Sansa. Once betrothed to their eldest son and heir, she did not mind that she would no longer need to marry him. Joffrey had been vain and cruel, and had tried to touch her and then pushed her down the stairs when she would not obey. But the teachers could be cruel too, she found; and so Sansa worked and studied hard and spoke little, for fear they would send her to a workhouse instead. She kept to corners and dark places, and read at night by candlelight in her attic room. When she grew older she would wander the halls after dark and sometimes talk to herself, just to hear her own voice and her own thoughts. She felt like a ghost: a ghost that haunted the girls' school by night and disappeared during the day into the body of a silent, withdrawn student. Sansa thought she would die there.

On her seventeenth nameday, a matron came to find her in the bath. Her uncle, Edmure Tully, had found her and was coming to take her home with him. Sansa lowered her eyes and thanked the woman, and then quietly packed her few belongings in a small carpetbag. Something fluttered inside her, a vague triumph that felt like happiness; but it was not to be. Uncle Edmure and his wife Roslin wanted a governess for their children, and Sansa was perfectly trained. Her room was another attic room reached by the back stairs. She wore calico in the servants’ hall, and black in the family rooms, as befit her station. She was good to the children: they were well-behaved and even kind to her. Uncle Edmure eventually permitted her a dog, if she wanted; and she accepted…though he doubtlessly regretted his offer when he saw the big, dark hound that she selected.

Sansa called her Lady.

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They think that they have broken her, that she is helpless, weak, and only a girl. They think they have nothing to fear from her. They thought they could kill her family and hurt her and get away with it, that there would be no reckoning. But Winter had come, and the North remembers. And a girl who has been left nothing has nothing left to lose. She will use whatever weapon is at hand; she will use her cunning, her wits and even her body. That works easiest, she had found: no man expects a soft-spoken, sweet-smelling and willing girl to murder them. But Sansa had seen death and does not fear it; she will bed them and watch them let their guard down so that they can know death as well. She will not let the monsters win.

When she has done with them all, she had the words inked onto her skin: valar morghulis or all men must die, inside the outline of a little bird. Then she sets out to find the last man who is owed. The man they called the Hound. He is the only man who tried to warn her, then to advise and try to help her, and like the North Sansa remembers; and she is coming for him. She will offer him her thanks, her body and even her heart, such as it is, if he should want it. She hopes that there are still some things sweeter than killing.

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NORMANDY HQ – - REPORT OF SEVERE FOG OVER CHANNEL STOP PLANE FERRYING RAF SQUADRON AND SINGER SANSA STARK NEVER LANDED AT BASE STOP NOW FOUR HOURS LATE OF ETA STOP REPORT TO FOLLOW STOP

The officer tore the message from the hand of the secretary who had transcribed the coded message in the war rooms near Whitehall and brought it to his commanding officer.

“’Beg your pardon, Colonel, but I thought you might want to see this,” he handed it over with a firm nod.

Colonel Tarly scanned it quickly and then cursed and cursed again.

“Could they have landed at another base, sir, or returned when they saw bad weather?”

“You had better find out and quickly, otherwise I’ll need to wake him,” he thundered ominously.

“W-Winston, sir?”

“Who else, lieutenant? You know he adored her, and she was carrying intelligence for him. He’ll want to know as soon as possible: if they were lost or shot down…” he paused and shook his head. “No one can ever know about her war work, lieutenant, how would it look if the public found out? The prime minister entrusting secret documents to a nightclub singer-“

“Not just any singer, sir,” the lieutenant interrupted, “but the soldiers’ songbird the lads all call her.”

“Yes,” the old colonel agrees morosely as he casts a glance the famous pinup of Sansa Stark, all long red hair and longer legs encased in black dancer’s tights, visible on the wall over a sergeant’s desk across the room. “That’s what they called her.”

 

…….

 

SINGER SANSA STARK

“SOLDIERS’ SONGBIRD”

FEARED LOST OVER CHANNEL

Accompanied RAF Squadron to Normandy to

perform for D-Day troops and wounded

Decorated hero fiancé Capt. Jon Snow in capitol on leave

 

“Sansa loves all of you: all the soldiers and all the people," he said in a statement. "She loves singing for you, and she loves doing her part for the war effort. She’ll be very touched to know how much everyone is worried for her…and I hope we find out it was all for nothing…but it’s wartime: we all know that, we’ve all lost loved ones. It’s a great comfort now to me and her family to know how much you all love Sansa just as much as she loves you.”

 

…….

 

“Did the Krauts do her in? Ack-ack?” the Prime Minister asked now before he put his cigar back between his lips.

“There were no reports of Luftwaffe over the Channel that night, sir; and all their guns on the coast have been K.O.’d as far as we know.”

“As far as we know…” the Prime Minister repeated. “And the Jerrys? Do you think they suspected her?”

“We don’t think so, sir, though Miss Stark was a powerful propaganda tool in their eyes, not far behind the Royal family. The soldiers loved her-“

“Ah, everyone loved her,” the old man mused fondly. “She had her mother’s looks and her father’s loyalty to England. Stark fought in the Great War but we lost him at Dunkirk.”

“Yes, Prime Minister. She was a fighter herself, if I recall correctly. They say she was singing one night during the Blitz and-“

“-and refused to stop singing or take shelter. Damned stupid really but they cheered her for it. She called for champagne and held her glass up on stage and told them all: ‘Let’s show those Jerrys how the English truly get bombed.’”

The younger man laughed. “Where you there, sir?”

“In a nightclub? Don’t be stupid, boy: I was at Chartwell with Mrs. Churchill. But my son Randoph was there, not that he needs any encouragement getting bombed; and he fell head over heels for her. Mad about redheads, he is; he even proposed to her once or twice. Well, the Digby girl is a redhead too and she accepted him so I have a namesake grandson.”

“What will happen now, sir?”

The prime minister sighed. “Until we’ve proof we can only say that she and the RAF boys are missing. Make certain the papers are playing it up though: how brave she was, how she sang for the troops and visited hospitals and accompanied evacuee children to her family’s estate up North. This war’s not over yet, and we can still use her to keep morale up. And make certain there are lots of photos of her at bond rallies: we need to keep money coming in. Just make sure there is no speculation about her war work…not a whisper from anyone; it’s to remain top secret.”

“Even from the family, sir?”

“Especially from them. They’re loyal, I know; but I don’t need them blaming me for her loss any more than FDR needed that upstart Irish Kennedy blaming him for his son’s death. Make certain that Snow knows nothing either.”

“Any chance she might have told him, sir?”

The prime minister ruminated as he puffed on his cigar. “No matter, just make certain that he knows that he knows nothing.”

“Understood, sir. Good night, sir.” The young officer closed the file folder he carried and returned to his desk. The tab was written in clear script SANSA STARK. Now he took a large rubber stamp from a drawer and tamped it in red ink before bringing it down firmly onto the outside cover of the folder: CLASSIFIED.

…….

 

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BBC NEWS WIRE SERVICE REPORT – WWII-ERA SINGER TO RECEIVE POSTHUMOUS MEDAL

Recently unclassified war-era documents revealed that then-popular band singer Sansa Stark, known as the soldiers’ songbird, had worked for the War Ministry in carrying secret documents and gathering intelligence. Her fame and popularity among soldiers and society gave her far-reaching access to the high and low alike, and her reputedly kind and generous nature made her privy to their confidences. She disappeared over the English Channel while flying to Normandy several weeks after D-Day with an RAF squadron where she planned to visit with wounded soldiers and, as newly-discovered documents revealed, to deliver war-time information to the British and American heads of the armies from Churchill himself. Afterward she hoped to travel on to liberated Paris and from there visit troops closer to the front lines to perform for them.

“Sansa thought nothing of her own safety or comfort,” decorated war-hero Captain Jon Snow told the BBC in a phone interview from his home in Scotland this week. “She only cared about the soldiers, and for the children evacuated to the countryside. She worked tirelessly for the Red Cross but no one knew how she worked for the war in an official, albeit secret, capacity. This recognition has been a long time coming, and she deserves it.”

BBC interviewer asked him if he felt that she deserves it as much as the men who fought and died.

“Listen,” he replied testily, “I fought in the war. My friends fought and many of them died. They gave their lives, and so did Sansa Stark. She boarded that plane for them, so that she could comfort them and sing for them and remind them of home. For years…for decades after she was lost soldiers have visited her memorial at Winterfell and left flowers and copies of her records and bottles of champagne and even their own medals. If they thought she deserved them, who are you to ask?”

The reporter apologized for his question.

“Sorry,” he added contritely and somewhat sadly. “We…her family never got her back. Let them at least honour her this way.”

And him: does he still mourn her after all these years?

“Her life was cut too short; but she would not have wanted me to be unhappy. And I am happy: I married a French girl, and Ygritte and I have raised our children here in Scotland near the Stark home and stayed friends with the family…but we miss her all the time. She should have been here with us.”

And did his foreign wife object to naming her only daughter after her husband’s late fiancée?

“Ygritte is a generous person: it was her idea to name our girl Sansa. Sansa Snow. She’s a ginger, just like her mother…and her namesake.”

Does their daughter sing, this reporter inquired. A long pause followed before former Capt. Snow replied.

“Like a songbird.”

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She would not be burned. She supposed that was a small mercy; but she would be hanged. As soon as they entered the clearing beside the sept, she saw the noose high in the tree. Sansa swallowed hard but she was still shaking.

“Oh, Sansa,” Margaery whispered next to her and clutched her hand. They were followed by Sansa’s friend Jeyne, and Margaery’s cousins Alla, Elinor and Megga. “They’re going to hang us! How did it ever come to this?”

“You know how,” Sansa answered dully

Girls in the village had heard about the woods’ witch. They were warned not to go into the woods where she lived. Any woman who lived alone in the woods and collected herbs and stones had to be a witch, and in league with the devil. Decent women lived with their families in the villages and attended the sept and prayed to the Seven, especially to the Maiden if they were unwed.

But it was said the maegi could know your future with just a taste of your blood; and girls wanted to know who they would marry and if they would have children and if they would be wealthy like the septon or the village widow, Cersei Baratheon.

It had been Cersei who had denounced them: Sansa, and then Margaery. They had both caught the eye of her spoiled and lascivious son Joffrey and she hated them both: Sansa for spurning him and Margaery for encouraging him. The maegi herself had told them that Cersei hated all younger beautiful girls because she had given her a prophecy as a girl and told her that one day another woman, younger and more beautiful, would take everything from her. As the fervor for uncovering and denouncing witches mounted, more villagers came forth to claim others had consorted with the maegi and the devil: pretty girls, farmers with the richest lands were denounced, villagers who were too poor to leave stars and dragons at the altars of the Seven, or those who worshipped the old gods or the god Rh’llor. The drunkard Thoros had been condemned, and then even the dwarf Tyrion who was Cersei’s own brother was imprisoned and questioned on the grounds that he read books other than the Seven Pointed Star, books about dragons. When the maegi was condemned, she denounced Cersei, who started it all, and now she followed along behind all of them this dawn from the courthouse jail to her final judgement.

Sansa had been one of the easiest to condemn since she was from the North and worshipped the old gods along with the Seven, and the septon and his tribunal had accused her of paganism as well as sorcery in consulting with the woods witch. But unlike the other girls, Sansa had not asked her about her future, or about riches or for a spell to make a man love her. She went to the maegi because she loved a man, and because she wanted to ease his suffering. Sandor Clegane was disfigured with horrible burns to his face and it made him angry and bitter and solitary. Sansa had gone to ask if the woods witch could heal him and let him accept her love. The gnarled old woman had heard her out and then shaken her head.

“Leave this place, child; before it’s too late for you. You’re kind, and kindness will get you killed.”

I did not go to her for a prophecy, Sansa thinks now, but she had given me one anyway, only I did not know it.

She wondered what had become of Sandor Clegane. Had he fled when the arrests and trials started? He was impious as well as disfigured, and so could easily be denounced and condemned, though she wondered who would have the courage to try to throw him into a black cell as she, and all the others, had been imprisoned. She had never told anyone the truth, for fear that they would accuse him along with her.

Sansa offered a prayer to the Mother now; despite being condemned to die, she knew that those who were hanging her were not truly of the Faith.

Gentle Mother, font of mercy, save him if you can; and gentle the rage in side him.

Behind her, Sansa heard Jeyne sniffling and Margaery’s cousins begin to sob. Margaery gave her hand another squeeze.

“All we wanted to know was the future,” she whimpered.

Sansa looked to the noose again and replied:

“And now we know the future: we haven’t one.”

 

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Sansa Stark.

Little bird.

Lady Lannister.

Alayne Stone.

Sweetling.

She has been called all these things, as well as stupid, and clever; a lady, a murderess and a bastard.

Beautiful, sweet, courteous: the perfect lady.

Eldest daughter of a great house, then last surviving child of a traitor.

Betrothed of a prince and a king, wife of the Imp; betrothed of one heir to the Vale, and then the next.

The key to the North.

Heir to Winterfell; even the Queen in the North, she was styled by those who hoped to claim the North through her.

Warrior.

No one had ever called her that, or thought to call her that.

She smiles: not vacuously or serenely, but knowingly and proudly.

She has fought her way back; with help of course, she had to learn to fight, to let her hurt and her sadness and her anger, her boundless, furious rage be harnessed and disciplined and honed with fierce cries and the strong sweep of a blade and the thrust of a dagger or a spear.

She is a spearwive; she fights alongside the wildlings now: she and Sandor. She is his wife: the wildlings believe he stole her when in truth she stole him away to a heart tree to speak the words before the ancient weirwood. Sansa Stark returned to Winterfell to reclaim her home but Jon was there, Jon Snow, now King in the North because her brother, her own brother, Robb, had put him ahead of her in line for Winterfell. Her own family thought her a Lannister, and no longer a Stark; so she is Sansa Clegane and a wildling now though she is sister to the Lord o’ crows to them, and the woman of the burned man. She has red hair and is “kissed by fire” they call it but it is Sandor who has truly felt fire’s kiss and they think him fierce and fearless but she knows. She knows the fire they need to fight the wights frightens him and so he wields a dragonglass blade and dagger while she shoots arrows tipped with dragonglass or lit with fire to kill their enemies.

She likes killing. Sandor once said killing is the sweetest thing there is, and though they have known sweeter things together, she also understands now. She likes being fierce and angry and fighting for the North and its people and her family’s legacy, and for her family.

The wildlings think she is beautiful and strong and Northern. She is filled now with a wild sense of freedom: she can do as she likes and her once-Westerner-now-wildling husband will nod and raise his horn of ale to her and then sweep her into his massive arms and tell her she is beautiful. She wears leathers and furs and lies with him at night and it is good. But he looks at her sadly too: she is not the girl she once was, the sweet summer child with the gentle courtesies and soft voice full of songs. His little bird has grown wide wings and talons and can give a mighty shrieking battle cry that carries across the Northern snows when she fights and kills alongside him. She had fought battles before, gently, carefully, with her wits, but she can fight different battles now. She has gotten used to looking at killers.

Jon has said when the war against the Others is over, he will reward them with a castle and lands. He thinks she wants to be a lady again, he knows Winterfell should be hers and he looks away from her sheepishly but he looks on her proudly too, and insists to the other Northern lords that she sit in council with them along with her husband. In council, the wildling Tormund who also looks admiringly on her and calls her a red wolf loudly tells Sandor to treat her well or she’ll leave him and then a real wilding will steal her away though he fears for any man that is fool enough to mistreat her. He knows she will not take mistreatment meekly. She knows that she will not take it at all. Not anymore. Never again.

Sandor’s mouth twitches a wry smile. He treats her very well.

She rests her hand on her swelling belly under her furs as they lie together in the night. She hears the wolves howl in the darkness, knowing they have come again with a vengeance; and she smiles back at him.

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Two of Lion Pictures biggest stars sat in the studio head’s office where they were called for a meeting. Stannis Baratheon was an established actor in his mid-thirties. Too severe-looking to be the handsome leading man, he had made his career playing straight-arrow types like cops, judges and even a septon. Now he got top billing in the hard-boiled detective movies that had become so popular since the war years. Adapted from cheap pulp novels, they were set in the underbelly worlds of Westeros like Flea Bottom or Planky Town: full of dark alleys, crooked men and shady dames. His weary expressions and flat delivery were perfectly suited to the genre, and he was now one of the studio’s highest paid stars. Lion Pictures could not afford to have his name and reputation ruined by scandal.

Tyrion snorted with suppressed laughter to think of the fussy, uptight Stannis as a figure of scandal but that is exactly what was bound to happen if the married actor kept carrying on with his current co-star.

Sansa Stark was a luminously beautiful young woman with auburn hair, deep blue eyes, pale skin and a figure to stop traffic. She sat in the chair nearest to his wearing a dove grey suit with a silver fox collar: every inch the well-bred young lady in gloves and heels and with a serene smile on her face. She had begun her career at the studio as a child actress and singer, appearing in musicals as some star’s daughter or kid sister. In her teens, she had acted in coming-of-age films as the girl-next-door to the hero football player or the boy going off to war. When her good looks only got better with age, she had been cast alongside adults in movies: usually in light comedies in the ingénue role.

Tyrion could have laughed at that too. Sansa Stark as an ingénue was as ludicrous as Stannis Baratheon as a hedonist. The girl was a slut. She had fucked her way through most of her co-stars since she hit puberty: first her co-stars in teen films, Theon Greyjoy, Ramsay Bolton  and Gendry Waters, and then the young actor Jon Snow who played the prince opposite her princess in “The King in the North”. Rumour was that the studio’s maester had dosed her with moon tea at least twice. She’d later put out for Aegon Targaryen when they had filmed the screwball comedy “A Commoner at Court” after she had spread her legs…her gorgeous long legs, Tyrion admired now…for the director Oberyn Martell to get the part. Nothing stood in the way of Sansa Stark’s desire to be a star, nothing with a cock anyway, Tyrion thought wryly: she’d expertly sucked his cock in the back row at a film premiere to be cast in the feature with Stannis since no one would take her seriously for the heavy role she was to play. Tyrion suspected that a fragile beauty would add a tense element of suspense to the story and he had been right but that didn't stop him from letting her persuade him in her own fashion. Sitting in his back row seat with her head between his knees, he had only cursed that his dwarf’s arms were too short to reach and grope her amazing, firm young tits; but since he was now a rising director, he comforted himself that he would surely get another chance…Stannis or no Stannis.

Stannis shifted in his seat now. “Why are we sitting here waiting?”

“You know perfectly well why, Stannis,” Tyrion replied now. “The head of the studio calls for you: you wait for him.”

“He’s your father, Lannister; not mine.”

“Stannis…” Sansa cautioned him in her soft, breathy voice.

“No, he’s the head of the studio that made your career, Baratheon,” Tyrion smiled menacingly. “Don’t imagine for a moment that he will hesitate to break it if it pleases him…and the same goes for you, young lady.”

“Don’t speak to her that way,” Stannis rounded on him icily.

“Your knight in shining armor,” Tyrion laughed as Sansa gazed adoringly at her rescuer.

“I’m pleased that you have reason to laugh, Tyrion,” the voice of Tywin Lannister sounded behind him and all three hurriedly stood until the imposing head of Lion Pictures Studio sat behind his ornate desk. “Sit down. I have not found any reason to laugh since filming on “Heartless Lady” began. You are over budget. We are having trouble with the censors. And now I find out there may be a scandal with one of my most bankable stars and an up-and-coming actress,” he glared at the each of them in turn. “Tyrion would you like to start explaining?”

Tyrion cleared his throat. “The budget overrun-“ he began.

“Is my fault,” Stannis interrupted bluntly. “I have been having family difficulties and I have needed time off from filming.”

“And so you shut down production,” Tywin turned to him without hesitation, “and went sailing on Blackwater Bay with Miss Stark here, and according to the gossip columnist Varys you spent all your time below deck. This film is already courting controversy with some of the risqué scenes you have shot of Miss Stark, Tyrion. It was bad enough that she was cast against type, but why must you push the boundaries of decency by filming her in a manner which may bring the censorship board down on our heads?”

“I believe you will find that the script and the scenes are true to the source novel, Mister Lannister,” Sansa interjected calmly.

“The source novel is cheap pulp fiction, Miss Stark,” Tywin retorted. “Lion Pictures employees…especially their leading ladies are not cheap.  They are not filmed naked in a bed,” he began.

“It’s only her back in the scene-“ Tyrion tried to explain.

“It’s her naked back…which means she has a naked front and a naked bottom…need I go on? The scene will not get past the censors. Cut it. Burn it. I won’t have it in one of my movies,” he spoke with authoritative finality.

It’s my movie, Tyrion wanted to insist but as long as his father ran the studio, he held the purse strings and controlled all their careers. They were all under contract, and even if he fired them they could not work for another studio or independently unless they fled Westeros for Essos. Their films could never be released in Westeros without Tyrion’s father suing, making them box office poison. The studio system made feudal lords of the studio heads, and none was more powerful than the head of Lion Pictures.

“Right,” Tyrion replied tightly.

“And the scene showing her garter.”

Tyrion heard Sansa gasp. It was a key scene for her character, and she had played it flawlessly. Lax morals aside, the girl could act.

“But that scene is pivotal to the plot: the audience can see the pistol tucked into her stocking when the detective can’t. That’s when they realize that she is playing him!”

“Re-shoot it. Put the pistol in her handbag. You can do that with a double and splice it in. I know how movies are made.”

“I’d forgotten. It’s been so long,” Tyrion sneered. His father had made mediocre one-reel silent films in the early days of motion pictures until he found his talent was for business.

“And I am still not convinced the public will accept a pretty girl like Miss Stark as an amoral character…any more than they will accept her and her leading man as immoral people. This…situation between you ends now.” He glowered at his stars who he regarded as his property.

Stannis spoke first. “I want to divorce my wife,” he stated bluntly.

Tyrion didn’t know whether to admire the man for his forthrightness or slap him for his stupidity.

“That is out of the question,” Tywin Lannister replied. “Go home and fix things with your family.”

“I want to marry Miss Stark.”

The silence that followed hung heavily in the air. Tyrion glanced at Sansa. He suspected that she had not expected this.

“No,” Tywin replied. “You cannot have a divorce. Your bankability is based on your status as a stable family man: that is why you are acceptable as a tough, hard-boiled killer who knows how to circumvent the law. The public does not want the real thing. Just as Miss Stark cannot be both a villainous vixen onscreen and break up a marriage and family in real life. You wanted to be cast against type then you had better live up to your perceived type. No more illicit relations in public,” he lectured Sansa who sat immobile under a brutal scolding. “If you want to sleep your way to the top, do so discreetly. Gods know you won't be the first; but I won’t tolerate any more gossip items about you. Have I made myself clear?”

“Yes, sir,” all three mumbled like chastened children.

“Good. See yourselves out…and be on set early tomorrow. I want this picture wrapped by next week or I’ll replace you all. Good day.” The studio head walked out the back of his office and left them sitting in stunned silence. After a moment Tyrion spoke.

“Well Stannis, Selyse is undoubtedly waiting at home for you, though I doubt she’s waiting to make you grunt and shout like you do in Miss Stark’s trailer.”

“You watch your mouth-“

“Stannis, please…it’s over: it has to be." Sansa turned to him and spoke softly but with a finally that rivaled Tywin's. "I’m so sorry, lover but…I’m not ready to stop working. I have to support myself."

“I can look after you,” the man said with uncharacteristic emotion.

“Not if you’re not working either, Stannis. We’ll see you on set tomorrow morning,” Tyrion quipped.

Stannis Baratheon left them with a backward glance worthy of the corniest melodrama and shut the door quietly behind him.

“There, you’re off the hook,” Tyrion told Sansa.

“Stop that now; he’s a good man,” Sansa said looking down into her lap at her clasped gloved hands.

“Just not good enough,” he shot back and she raised her head and narrowed her eyes at him.

“Stardom is all you care about, Sansa; not the men you bed certainly. Everyone talks about your…little recreations.”

“You were my only ‘little’ recreation, Tyrion,” she shot back evenly.

“Touche’,” Tyrion admitted graciously. “You doubtlessly cannot say the same about Stannis Baratheon?  I could hear you carrying on in your trailer.”

“I think he really cared for me,” she observed wistfully.

“Now you sound like a girl in one of those coming-of-age movies you used to make; surely you are passed being infatuated when you’ve fallen on your back on every casting couch in the studio.”

“Like I did for you? Who are you to judge, Tyrion? When did you ever cast a girl who didn’t let you have your way? You rig the system against us and then call us sluts for playing by the rules you make.” She stood up and looked down haughtily on him. “Go ahead and make your judgements, I don’t care. You think Selyse is a bitch? Or that your father is a harsh taskmaster? Well, I was raised by my aunt Lysa and her husband Petyr Baelish. They put me in show business and worked me like a dog, acting as my managers and then they took my money, every penny. If you think I’ll do anything to get to the top you’re right, I will…because I learned that I have to, and I learned how to do it from people like you and your father and my guardians. I’ll survive you all, just watch me.”

That sobered him. “I’m sorry, Sansa; you’re right. For what it’s worth, you have been giving a tremendous performance: I think it will make your career, and you’ll be able to pick and choose roles after this. Directors will be coming to you,” he told her generously. In truth, he realized now that she knew the mind of the character that she was playing better than the author who wrote it.

She looked at him directly now. “Thank you, Tyrion.”

“You’re welcome…I’ll see you on set tomorrow.”

“I’ll be there,” she replied and even smiled wearily.

He nodded respectfully. “I know you will.”

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She is shy at first, as befits a lady; and as modest as she can be after having been stripped of her wedding gown by his friends. He bars the door, naked as his name day, and she averts her eyes even as she gives a tremulous smile. They are alone now in their chamber with the fur-covered bed and candles, and he tempers his desire with tenderness and tells her in a low soft voice that she is beautiful: the most beautiful girl in the world, and that he wishes to make her happy.

Sansa turns to him. She wants to be brave. She also wishes to make him happy, so he will love her, but she does not know how. Surely he knows this: that she is a maiden, as true-born noble girls must be when they are wed. She takes his kiss, and more kisses and returns them. She feels his hands on her body, strange, alarming but gentle. He murmurs more sweet words and lifts her to carry her to the bed where he climbs on top of her and settles on her. There is pain; and though she is prepared for that she is overwhelmed by how close and personal the act of love truly is. It is not a song, or a dream, it is very real. He kisses her forehead when he is done, and tells her she is honey-sweet. He seems pleased with her, and soon reaches for her again and yet again, sighing and gasping and groaning and calling her name.

She begins to feel some of what he feels, and so she kisses him and touches him tentatively which only enflames him all the more. She likes this and so lets him guide her to please him and soon finds her own pleasure as well. They laugh softly and kiss some more and begin to talk in whispers about the wedding and their life together. When dawn breaks, he holds her in his arms and sleeps but Sansa lies awake and smiles. She is a woman wedded and bedded, and she has done her duty as wife and done it well. She has pleased her lord, and feels more confident that he will come to love her. If he truly cares for her happiness and always treats her this kindly, she knows that she will come to love him as well, and that her life mayhaps will be better than any song.