W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G. W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G. W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G.
Sansa stared at the prince where he squirmed under Lord Tywin Lannister’s hard gaze. The man sat atop his beautiful white war stallion, dressed in gleaming armor and shoulders draped with a shimmering red and gold sash. The king squirmed harder as Lord Tywin took the pin worn by the Hand of the King from the pillow thanking his Grace with the barest of nods. He turned his horse about, taking his leave without looking at anyone else in the throne room.
Ser Loras Tyrell was called forward. Her breathing sped as they spoke. She covered her mouth as the words Queen Cersei had spoken to her for once came true. She forced tears into her eyes as Joffrey set her aside in favor of Lady Margaery. Once it was over, she made to leave quietly with almost a laugh and a smile on her lips. Finally, it was over. Mayhaps, they would allow her to leave now.
“Lady Sansa, that must have been difficult for you.”
The words came easily and naturally now, no matter whether she addressed the king or any of small council. She had said them so many times that she almost wondered if they were true in the darker moments she was trapped in her head. Courtesy was all that had kept her alive. Betraying her family was just one small part of what she had to do. She turned her eyes on Lord Baelish.
“My father was a traitor. My mother and brother are traitors. I’m not good enough for King Joffrey.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that, my Lady. You’ll remain good enough for a great many things. Now you have no betrothal protecting you. Joffrey isn’t the type of boy to give up his toys. Don’t be frightened. You have friends here, willing to help you.”
Fear spiked through Sansa with the same harshness as the flat of Ser Meryn’s blade. She watched his back as he disappeared. Lord Baelish was wrong. She had no friends in King’s Landing, and she had no family here either. She was a doll for Joffrey to torture and the queen to torment.
Her mind flitted back to Lord Tywin Lannister, how Joffrey had looked like a worm, wiggling around on the throne under the penetrating gaze of his lord grandfather. He had been unable to meet the full gaze of the Great Lion of House Lannister. She stopped in her tracks as realization came over her, placing a hand against the wall. Lord Tywin frightened Joffrey, or at the very least intimidated him. Baelish was right about her being stuck here. She needed someone’s help, someone who would not stand by while the King ordered his white cloaked monsters to pummel her with gauntleted fists, strip her, humiliate her. There was no Hound anymore, and he was the only white cloak who refused the order to hit her.
She needed someone stronger and smarter than a mockingbird playing at a great beast of the forest or plains. Words from a song she heard often from minstrels since she came south sent a chill racing through her body.
“And now the rains weep o’er his hall and not a soul to hear.”
She needed a lion, a real lion, not the shadow of a cub. Joffrey tormented smaller creatures because he could. Lord Tywin destroyed with a purpose. The song was a lesson, a terrifying lesson, about those who defied the Warden of the West. She needed him as he needed her—alive. She might be the preferred target of his daughter and grandson, but her brother had his beloved son, not the imp. Surely, he would protect her, if only to protect Ser Jaime. All she had to do now was determine how to approach the most deadly lion.
W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G. W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G. W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G.
Sansa dug through her dresses the next morning. She had made up her mind, no matter how dangerous it was. She had no choice. Lord Tywin was the only man in the seven kingdoms who could help her. Robb would never offer to trade Ser Jaime for her. Robb was not bringing his army here to liberate her. She was surrounded by lions, and living would mean becoming friends with the most ferocious one. She shook herself. Friends was the wrong word. Lord Tywin had no need for friends. He needed her for her status as Robb’s heir. He needed the only Stark that he had. She choked back tears as she thought about Bran and Rickon. Their deaths were what made her Robb’s heir, and she pressed her hands to her eyes hard. No tears. No tears. Lord Tywin likely preferred girls to be pretty, not with tear streaked faces and running noses.
“My Lady.” Shae’s Lorathi accent snapped up her attention, and she jerked her hands down. “Are you well?”
“Yes, I’m fine.” She lied through her teeth, hating herself a little for it when Shae had tried to help hide the evidence of her flowering.
She hated that the lies came so naturally. How could she be fine? She was preparing to face one of the most dangerous men in Westeros, and his danger did not come from a lance or a sword. She was offering a warm, vulnerable throat to the lion’s jaws and praying that he would not suffocate the life out of her.
“Lady Margaery and her grandmother have invited you to break your fast with them. They are waiting for you.”
Sansa lifted her arms, slipping into a gray dress with snowflakes embroidered across the bodice by her hand. She left her hair down with the exception of two braids twisting around the crown of her head in a simple northern style. She was of the north. She was the daughter of Winterfell, descendant of the Winter Kings. Her mother was Catelyn Tully of Riverrun. Today, no later, she would enter the Tower of the Hand to speak with Tywin Lannister, Lord of Casterly Rock, Shield of Lannisport, Warden of the West, and Hand of the King.
H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R. H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R. H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R. H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R.
Tywin Lannister walked purposefully through the halls back from his meeting with Tyrion. The dwarf was out of his mind, thinking he was going to be given Casterly Rock as a reward for saving the city. The Imp thought far too highly of himself for bleeding a little in battle. As if Tywin had never fought and bled. As if his older brother had never bled in war. Angry, misshapen, drunken little lecher thinking he would have the Rock for his brothel.
Despite all that, he had made an excellent point. Jaime remained far too invested in the life of a glorified bodyguard for kings undeserving of the title. He had no desire to rule. Cersei had no capacity. The way she allowed her son to ride roughshod over this city was evidence enough of that. To hear Lord Varys tell it, Ned Stark was the first in a series of poorly thought out, violent atrocities against the people. Cutting out singers’ tongues, killing babies and children, allowing riots to grow beyond control, his grandson was a vicious idiot. Sitting on a chair atop a dais and wearing an ugly crown never made anyone a king. The crown had no one suitable to wear it thanks to his daughter and her stupidity. None of his children or grandchildren were fit to carry on his legacy. Through no fault of Joanna’s, he had been left with no heir.
The hard mask remained plastered to his face as she strode with four guards surrounding him. He would not dwell on his first wife, the love of his life. Thinking about her here would only lead to anger and weakness, especially in this place where she suffered so much indignity and pain.
She had been everything that was good and kind, the perfect lady and his match in every way. She was the water that tempered red hot steel. She was the only person who had ever made him smile, and he had never told her how much he loved her. With a single look, she turned a roar to a purr, and when she died, his heart froze, leaving only duty to carry him through his days. She died in his arms after being torn apart by his beastly second son. She told him that she loved him and knew he would make everything right again. She told him to find someone to love again, that there would be no shame or dishonor upon her if he could find someone to please him again. She wished for his happiness.
He slowed as he heard the voices up ahead. The men who guarded the Tower were refusing entry to a young woman. He paused in the shadows of the bridge above the main entrance to watch the exchange.
“Please, I must speak with Lord Lannister. It’s urgent.”
“His Lordship is in the Small Council meeting, Little Lady.”
Lady Sansa wrapped her arms around her middle, and her voice choked a little on her response. She was a lovely girl with her fiery hair and porcelain skin.
“May I wait for him inside?”
“No, Little Lady. Our orders are to keep everyone out. We’ll not let you wait there.”
She rocked on her feet, looking around in every direction but up.
“Do you know when he’ll return?”
“No, my Lady.” His guard was beginning to sound exasperated.
“Do you know what time he might be here tomorrow?” It sounded like a last plea for her life.
“No. Now, you need to leave. My Lord is the Hand of the King. He’s a busy man, fighting a war and saving the realm. He doesn’t have time for dresses or ribbons.”
“Lions have long, sharp claws, Ser. I pray you’ll not feel them for this.” She tucked her arms around herself then and walked away.
Tywin’s eyes narrowed. Lady Sansa was the most valuable woman in the Red Keep, and she had just told one of his guards that she was threatened enough to engage the Great Lion’s wrath if whatever plot she knew of came to fruition. His daughter said that she was stupid, but if she was coming to him, that proved that the girl was learning at the very least.
“Gerold and Tyren, follow Lady Sansa discretely. If anything seems likely to happen, one of you report to me immediately. The other one of you is to protect Sansa at any cost.”
The two men following behind him each gave a ‘yes, milord’ before departing in different directions. Whatever stupidity might be happening, the Stark girl was terrified. Cersei had been negligent in making sure that she was being watched over and kept safe if she was wandering around on her own. While it would not be a simple matter, it would be nothing too complicated to kidnap the girl with the right planning and knowledge of this castle. More than one person in the Red Keep had the skills and the men to get it done if they desired.
Why she would be so keen to remain here was interesting, unless she simply preferred the hell she knew to the hell that could be.
“Jeryth.” Tywin stopped by the door to the Tower, raising a brow at the man who spoke to the Stark girl for so long. “If a lady comes by and she is distressed, she may be shown in once there is a guard to stay in the room with her.”
“Shall I fetch Lady Sansa, milord?”
“No. I’ve taken care of it. Has she been here before?”
“Not while I’ve been on duty, milord.” Jaryth stared straight into his eyes as he answered.
He said nothing further to the man, just turning and entering the tower. He had an enormous number of letters to attend. Some wars are won with swords while others can be handled with quills.
Robb Stark was a bold, belligerent battlefield commander, but his inexperience in the subtleties of war was already in the process of ending his short career. A girl with a beautiful smile was as deadly as a plague, and Lord Westerling had a gorgeous, empty-headed daughter. She would be tricked into doing exactly what was needed to end his alliance with the Freys. Lady Jeyne had obeyed her liege lord unwittingly, and the foolish wolf married her for honor—just like Ned Stark would have done. The plan was proceeding on schedule.
Glancing over the letter he had been preparing for the moment this news arrived brought a smile to his face. Stupid boy. His sister was a Frey. He knew Walder Frey. Surely, Lady Catelyn had advised her son about crossing that despicable old man. He would leap at the opportunity for revenge, giving no thought to how his actions would destroy the support and authority he wielded over any fools not part of his family.
He could have a dozen men murdered at dinner and save thousands on the battlefield. Once the Northern War was put down, the kingdoms could return to peace. He could begin the business of ruling and seeing that a proper king would come to the throne. They could begin making money and seeing to the welfare of the sheep. Peace and governance purchased with a cunt and an old man’s spite. It was a bargain.
W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G. W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G. W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G.
Sansa huddled under a large aspen tree in the godswood. The Tyrells wanted her to go to Highgarden and marry Willas. They wanted her to talk about what Joffrey did to her. She might be stupid, but she knew better than to speak that truth. Any other courtiers could tell them and be shortened by a head or have their tongue cut out. She somehow managed to chirp out something about truth always being horrible or boring.
It was only after she said that they began asking her if she would like to visit the Reach. Then they started talking about her marrying the heir to Highgarden. They spoke of how kind and gentle he was despite being a cripple. It was Lady Olenna’s snide comments about House Tyrell reminding her of Queen Cersei that told her she wanted to be there as much as she wanted to be in King’s Landing now. It had been easy to smile and nod, thinking about leaving this horrible place. She hoped that she fooled them the way she never could the Hound.
She glanced up at the deepening colors of the sky. Deep royal blue, reds, and golds from the sunset were a feast for the eyes particularly when dotted with the first evening stars. Maybe she should go back to the Tower of the Hand. Maybe Lord Lannister would be back. Tears sprang to her eyes at the idea that maybe she was not important enough to speak to him. She was just the ward of the crown now. Her fingers gripped her hair and tugged. She was a Stark, and her mind latched onto her lessons from Maester Luwin back home about all the great houses of Westeros. The words of so many played in her head.
Unbowed. Unbent. Unbroken. Family, Duty, Honor. Winter is Coming. Hear me Roar. Ours is the Fury. As High as Honor.
She might not roar, but wolves of the north never had difficulty being heard when they needed to be. That was one thing she had missed the moment she arrived in King’s Landing, the song of the wolves. She would go and howl all night if she must, until the Great Lion had no choice but to listen. She took several deep breaths to calm herself and quiet her thoughts.
She was Sansa Stark of Winterfell. Her brother was King in the North, and he held Jaime Lannister, Lord Commander of the Kingsguard hostage. Who she was had to mean something or she would not still be breathing.
She stepped onto the path and examined what she could see of herself. She still looked every bit a lady of winter. Now, it was time to find her wolf.
“Well, the little bitch is here.”
Sansa’s blood froze at the voice of Ser Boros Blount. Fear filled her entire being, making her heart gallop like the feet of her horse the day of the Bread Riot after the Hound took charge of her.
“His Grace sent me. Heard you sought his grandfather.”
Lord Lannister. He was her only chance now. She saw the number of soldiers and guards that he had. She had seen the City Watch reporting to him. Lord Tywin. The words the Hound spoke about Ser Boros replayed in her mind as fear sped her breathing. Paint stripes on a toad, he doesn’t become a tiger. Toads had no claws, but lions did.
The scream tore from her throat the moment the giant oaf lunged at her. She stumbled back over a raised root and was not fast enough to avoid him. A louder scream came from him then as his hands slid from her skirt, rending the fabric in places. Her eyes shrank as she saw the spear pinning his right knee to the ground. A man in the distinct western helm and a red Lannister cloak stepped out from behind the toad.
She tugged her skirt to preserve what little modesty she had left. The man in red placed his sword under the kingsguard’s neck.
“Gerold, take the lady to Lord Tywin.”
Another man in Lannister red approached her, tipping up the crossbow he had been aiming at the knight.
“Lady Sansa, please come with me.”
She backed away from him, swallowing and trying not to feel sick at the weak moaning of the man who had tormented her so long. The bark of a tree was rough against her back when it stopped her. It tugged at her dress like angry fingers. She glanced down at her leg and saw ugly red scratches and bits of raked up skin. The fabric of her dress was going to be ruined by the blood, and she was being taken in this state to the only man who might be able to help her.
A red cloak settled over her legs and the rampant lion snarling up at her drew her out of the memory of the Bread Riot. If the Hound had not been there, she knew she would not be alive now. Her hand reached out and stroked the stitching. The Queen’s guards had no lion on their cloaks, just Lannister red.
“My Lady, can you put your arms around my neck?”
Sansa shivered hard as she stared back into the hazel eyes of the man beside her, offering his arms.
“Why?” The question was out before it could be stopped, but she had to know. Why had Lord Tywin sent them? Did he know that she sought his help? She bit her tongue in anticipation of a slap. Maybe they were just here to deliver her to him for his amusement. She was so stupid.
A lone wolf being carried into the jaws of the Great Lion of Lannister.