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The Worth of a Lady

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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.

Chapter Text

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 walked quickly and purposefully back from seeing messages dispatched to the Twins by a trusted courier.  The war would end quite soon and on good terms for the crown and the West. For every task there is a tool, and for every tool there is a task.  He had the task and the tool.  Soon enough, all would come to fruition.  Then the kingdoms could be at peace, and life could prosper.

 

“My Lord.”

 

Only years spent in this castle as Hand to the Mad King helped him keep his composure at the sight of Sansa Stark wrapped in a red cloak and nestled in Gerold’s arms. One of her arms draped the guard’s shoulders while the other clutched the red material about her leg where a darker shade of color stained the fabric. She stared into the distance, fading away somewhere beyond what happened here.

 

Anger flared in him. The most valuable hostage they had, their best chance at getting his son Jaime returned was being treated with the most brainless kind of brutality. He had no difficulties or qualms with violence when it was necessary and expedient. The history of the Reynes and Tarbecks was proof enough that he was more than capable of handling rebellions with the swift justice that was necessary. He had waited till the opportune moment and struck them down before they knew what had happened, and no one japed about toothless lions in the west any longer. What in the seven hells were his foolish daughter and his stupid grandson thinking?

 

He willed all expression from his face, letting the coldness he came to feel following the death of his wife chill him. Anger would only terrify the girl, and she would not provide useful information if she was in fear. She would say whatever she thought she had to say to escape cruelty and violence. From the looks of it, she had already learned that lesson far too well. His stance stiffened as the guard approached and bowed to his lord.

 

“Lady Sansa was attacked by Blount of the Kingsguard. He tore her dress, slapped her, and her leg and ankle are injured. Tyren has him pinned down in the godswood.”

 

Tywin slid a hand delicately onto the Sansa’s neck and chin, easing his thumb beneath her jaw to adjust where she was looking to be into his face.

 

“Look at me, Lady Sansa.”

 

When watery blue eyes met his own green steadily, he rubbed a thumb sweetly along the side of her jaw. He was not a man to touch many people, but gentle little touches would go a long way with a girl accustomed to being hit by every man around her.

 

“Tell me what happened, my Lady.” His words and voice were firm, and the command was simple and clear. He offered no lead in with what Gerold had just said. Her words were what he needed, and she had to find them herself to convey to him what happened, and he had another man that he could question if need be to confirm any discrepancies.

 

“The king sent them. He’s always sending them to hit me.” Her head tilted a little into his careful touch, and her breathing hitched. “I tried to run, but I couldn’t get away. He was going to—going to—”

 

Tywin’s jaw twitched furiously at this. His daughter was steadily digging deeper into debt with him, and his grandson was already buried so deep that he would never escape. Tyrion would pay the most. Jaime was the child who fought the hardest for them to get along. He loved them all and wanted them to love each other, yet his siblings seemed to have no care for what their brother would do for them. He would do anything that they asked of him and gladly so for the love he gave freely, and they were content to let him rot as a Stark prisoner.

 

“I don’t want them to hit me anymore. Please.” The words and voice were so small and nearly broken by tears. The muscles of her face trembled under his hold, but she managed to keep her eyes locked with him, offering him her faith and her hope.

 

“They will never hurt you again, Lady Sansa.” For a moment, all he could see in her sweet face was Joanna’s after she had been returned to him broken and bloody after her humiliation and rape at the hands of the Mad King.

 

When his resignation was refused the following day, he knew what he had to do. He began plotting the assassination of the Mad King. His hand slid gently over the face of the maid in front of him, and he brushed away her tears with his thumb. His other hand lifted the cloak at the stain to assess her injury. There was a good deal of blood, but the wounds appeared to be mostly superficial. She hardly made a peep as he looked over parts of her in a public corridor that would normally be concealed under layers of fabric. Cleaning and bandaging, but not likely stitches. Fading bruises showed that this type of unprovoked attack was not new to the girl. He flicked the cloak back over her for modesty, lips thinning to the hard line they had become when word arrived about Ned Stark’s head decorating a spike and Lady Arya Stark’s escape. The stupidity had to end before there was no kingdom left to rule.

 

He lifted a hand, twisting off his gold lion ring.

 

“Lady Sansa, give me your hand.” Instantly, she offered her empty palm. Her tears had dried, and she stared at the ring he placed in it. “Keep that close. People will know what it means, and they will know to leave you be.”

 

She curled her fingers around it, tucking her hand close to her chest as her eyes closed. She was likely giving a prayer of thanks to the gods when she ought to just thank him. The gods had done nothing, but he would not carelessly disregard her. She belonged to him now.

 

“Take her to the Tower of the Hand. She’s not to be seen by the king, queen mother, or any kingsguards. If any member of the Kingsguard comes for her, give him one chance to leave. If he presses, kill him. Have Maester Jenner summoned to see to her cuts, bruises, and that ankle.”

 

Sansa’s eyes stayed locked on him as he issued his orders. Her index finger slipped through his ring, and she rubbed her finger over the lion head ring, nails slipping into the grooves of its mane.

 

“Stay in the room with her, and I want two guards posted at every entrance to the tower and every room.”

 

No more foolishness would chance ruining all possibility of getting his son back alive. If Jaime perished, every castle in the north would feel his wrath, and Sansa would only be more valuable if her brother died after accepting Lord Frey’s offer to mend their treaty by marrying a daughter to Edmure Tully. She would become the key to the north and the Riverlands if that vengeful idiot became overzealous.

 

The idea was beginning to take shape in his mind as he strode into the godswood. An idea that would end the war. An idea that could put his children in the seats of three castles as lords paramount or wardens. They would be the liege lord of their regions, and he would have a grandson presiding over them all. No one would be able to challenge his dynasty. It would be perfect. And all it would take was a marriage and the removal of a few expendable idiots.

 

The Northlands, the Westlands, the Riverlands, the Crownlands, and the Stormlands and Dorne eventually would all be ruled by his descendants. The war ended with the North. If he allowed them to remain free, his son through Sansa would be their king. Ensuring that would be no difficult thing, and the girl who would make this all possible was now under his protection. She put herself with him. With a few more moves, the game would be a peaceful place for a time. Even if the thought could not make him smile, he felt cold satisfaction in the perfection of his plan. Lady Sansa was a beautiful young woman. Doing his duty with her would not be difficult, even if there was no affection between them.

 

Soft moans coming from a large lump in the center of the path distracted him from his plans. A Lannister spear pinned the fool in place, and a small pool of blood surrounded the damaged limb. Once he stood in front of the loathsome knight, his eyes flicked to Tyren who held a blade to the brute’s neck.

 

“Tell me.”

 

His face remained impassive as Tyren recounted the same story about a white cloaked moron attacking the Stark girl. It was the next part that was new and told Tywin how loud his message would have to be. Apparently, the great baboon believed that the king ordering him to rape a highborn lady made it acceptable.

 

“Since this knight hasn’t sense enough not to beat highborn maids, see to it that he is relieved of the offending limbs which struck the lady and return them to the Kingsguard Tower. Put Ser Boros in the black cells after administering to him the same treatment that girl has so often suffered.”

 

Tywin stood in front of the man, watching as a blade was heated in a torch’s flame. The guards dragged the man out flat on his belly, hands pinning the knight’s arms and legs. A scream rang out and was likely heard through the whole Keep and by most of King’s Landing. A man picked the hands up, waiting for his liege lord’s command.

 

“Nail them to the tower door.”

 

“Yes, my Lord.”

 

“Tyren, with me.”

 

He walked away to the Tower of the Hand, giving Tyren instructions as they went. He nodded quietly and nodded his affirmation to the orders, departing once his lord was safely behind another set of guards in the tower.

 

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 shuddered under the Lannister cloak, rolling the ring back and forth. This tower had been different when her father served as Hand. Everything here looked different, and she could not help wondering what would happen to her now. She was where she had wanted to be. Lannister guards saved her. Men serving the real power in this city had filed into the tower close behind her.

 

Why had these men been close enough to help her? Why did they bother? She felt like an idiot after wondering that. It happened because Lord Tywin Lannister ordered it. How he knew she needed safety was a better question, but those things happened for one reason, Tywin Lannister commanded them to keep her safe.

 

The maester treated her gently, only uncovering as much of her body as he was necessary to treat her. He had a youthfulness to him, and he asked gentle questions, saying he would see her tomorrow to change the bandages and bring some oils to sooth the bruises. She had not said much to him, just twisting the ring back and forth where he could see it to watch his reaction.

 

Gerold had stayed in the room with her, hand on his sword the entire time. He stood at a distance, turning his back when her leg was inspected. It seemed a long time in silence after the maester departed till Lord Lannister arrived. The man who saved her by running Ser Boros through the leg arrived several minutes later, giving her a small smile and bow before joining Gerold.

 

Lord Tywin did not so much as glance at her as he crossed the room to sit behind a large desk. He dipped his quill into ink and penned two messages. He sprinkled them with sand, folded and sealed them with red wax and a stamp with a hand on it.

 

“Gerold, see these immediately delivered.”

 

Sansa did her best to hide her apprehension as the man Lord Tywin had ordered to protect her was sent away. He was not hers, and he had only been obeying orders. Still, he had been a truer knight than any she had seen in the last many months in this castle, and she wished him closer. Her breath froze as realization came over her. They were not so different from the Kingsguard. They would protect her from everyone but the man sharing the room with her. She was now under the authority of the Great Golden Lion. Mockingbirds and roses seemed much more inviting now. But the lion could easily kill them. Strains of The Rains of Castamere played in her head.

 

His chair scraped softly, and his footsteps were soft as he approached her. His green eyes glinted like brilliant gemstones in the flicker of the dozens of candles lighting every corner of the room. His expression was severe, lines crinkling the corners of his mouth and eyes. He was utterly and completely terrifying, terrifying enough to control lesser lions and terrifying to scare away the wolves.

 

“Lady Sansa, you will no longer wander the castle alone. Gerold and Tyren will accompany you wherever you go. Whether to the throne room or the godswood, they will be beside you.”

 

“Yes, my Lord.”

 

“How long have the Kingsguard been beating you?”

 

Sansa flushed with fear and shame, curling in on herself. Tears welled in her eyes as she twisted the ring that could protect her from everyone but the man in front of her. She had thought nothing could be worse than waking up every day, waiting for whatever depravity King Joffrey dreamed of the previous night to be visited upon her body and soul. Now, being asked to recount the horrors to a man with all the concern of a block of ice made her feel smaller than a worm wiggling in an apple.

 

“You will answer my question truthfully.” His deep voice grated, holding a hint of ire and menace but more frigid command than anything else.

 

“Just after my father was killed.” She did what the queen asked, wrote what she said to Robb. The queen had promised that her father would be able to take the black. She begged Joffrey in open court to show him mercy, and he called a quick death mercy. “My father was a traitor. My mother and—”

 

“Spare me, my Lady.”

 

Sansa shivered, squeezing down as much as she could. She wished she could disappear. Her eyes flicked up and away from the lion’s face, desperate to know if he was going to beat her for being here, for being stupid. His face was so severe, like he never felt anything but the occasional flash of anger or annoyance. No hint that a smile had ever graced his lips could be seen.

 

“You came here earlier today, and Jaryth turned you away. Tell me what you thought would interest me.”

 

She hunched over, longing to disappear or for him to leave, and she clutched the Lannister red fabric tighter. Stupid, stupid girl. She did not foolishly wander into a lion’s den. She begged entrance, pleaded to be in his presence for all the good it would now do her. The flames danced on the hearth as she tried to quell her panic. If she did not respond, he would become angry.

 

The king screeched when he was angry. He demanded tongues and heads. He pointed a crossbow at her. He ordered her beaten and stripped. Only two out of two hundred said anything to help her. One was half a man, and the other ran away. The Hound had just been scared of the fire, and everything had been burning. How could they have been so cruel as to order him to fight out there?

 

“Lady Sansa, I am not going to repeat myself.”

 

She swallowed down her fear. She had to answer. Answer to appease him. Lord Lannister had assigned her two guards. He wanted her safe. She should have gone with the Hound. The fat king’s words rang through her ears for a moment, his words for after he ordered her beloved Lady killed. Here she was without wolves. She chose the lion. Now she was in the presence of the strongest and meanest of them all.

 

“Lady Olenna and Lady Margaery invited me to tea today.” She took a deep breath as she saw his lack of response. She elaborated a moment later. “They asked if I wanted to go to Highgarden. If I wanted to marry Lord Willas.”

 

The splashing of liquid filling a cup caught her attention as she pressed back against the pillow propping her up. A moment later Lord Tywin passed her a cup of wine. The memory of another Lannister ordering her to drink flashed through her mind. She let her head fall back, gulping the contents the way that pleased that cruel woman. When only cool water soaked her tongue and throat, she shifted up higher.

 

The golden man in front of her pursed his lips, eyes remaining hard as stone.

 

“Lord Baelish said I have friends at court. Friends that would help me, protect me.”

 

She sipped more water. She tucked a pillow against her chest tight, wishing with all her heart to remain calm and get through this interrogation. She thought she knew terror from every time Joffrey summoned her for her innumerable punishments, from when he forced her to look at her father’s severed head. Fleeting glances at the king’s grandfather only convinced her that her fear of Joffrey, who was tempestuous and changeable as the weather, was nothing to what she should feel for the man in whose solar she was now sitting. Whatever Lord Lannister felt about hearing her speak of Littlefinger and the Tyrells remained cloaked behind a frozen face.

 

“Littlefinger watched me beaten and did nothing. The Hound at least said it was enough.” He also had not moved when he was ordered to beat her. “Lord Tyrion was the one who made it stop after he arrived to find me half naked. He told his guard to slit Ser Meryn’s throat if he spoke again.”

 

“After all that my grandson and daughter have done to you, why come to me?” His fingers wrapped around her trembling hand, holding the cup steady as he refilled it.

 

Sansa bit the lip of her cup. Somehow she doubted he would appreciate the sentiment that a lion’s claws and teeth were far more frightening than a rose, smelling sweet and hiding its thorns.

 

“I—” She pinched her lips.

 

The wrong words to the king earned beatings, and Joffrey was a pet cat, happy to torture anything smaller and weaker than himself. His lordly grandfather was the Great Lion who made rains weep over empty halls. There was no torment, no torture, just death. He was strong and decisive. He would not point a crossbow at her to make her afraid. He would pull the trigger and shoot her in the heart, and he would not be changed from his course.

 

“The king is afraid of you.” She did not waste her breath, telling him how afraid she had been since her father died. He did not care. It would not move him. He asked why she was there. She wanted to be beside someone more frightful than Joffrey, and she finally found the scarier man.

 

He leaned back, remaining quiet. No doubt he was waiting for her to press her throat closer to his jaws. Would he relish the blood pouring forth?

 

“Lord Baelish was right when he told me I needed protection. As far as I have seen, he would push me off a cliff if it meant saving his own neck. The Tyrells—” The scoff was out of her mouth before it could be stopped. “Their army is marching back to Highgarden. Most of yours is staying here. My brother has your son. He has no Tyrells. The Tyrells will not let me go to my family. I don’t know what you’ll do, but King Joffrey is afraid of you, not the Tyrells and not Lord Baelish. I want to be with someone who can keep me safe. I think that’s you.”

 

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 watched her quietly sip the water. She was not as dimwitted as Cersei told him. She realized the precarious nature of her imprisonment by lions, so she approached the biggest and meanest with information about two plots to kidnap her. One of two things would happen in doing this, and she knew it. She understood that better than his children. He would defend her, or he would kill her. Either way, her suffering would end. She might not know or comprehend her actions fully, but she recognized who had the power now that he was here.

 

“You’re the only person who can protect me, and you need to. My brother has Lord Commander Jaime.”

 

“Smart.” He left it at that one word, watching the way her head shot up.

 

The cogs in his head began whirling away. Endearing this girl to him would not take much thanks to the way she had been treated. The meaningless courtesy she was due that his daughter chose to never learn might be all that was needed. He had heard all about Cersei’s shameful drinking and talk of whoring herself out for favors to Stannis Baratheon if he won the Battle of the Blackwater. As if she believed her father too stupid and short-sighted to rescue the capital from a sacking. The precious little northern doll before him—every noblewoman of the castle had told him how she had inspired them with her courage. It sounded like courage and strength were what comprised her the night of the battle and every day she spent here. While his blood shamed the Lannister name, the little silver wolf did her duty and won the respect of ladies of the Crownlands while her house and kingdom were in open rebellion against the king.

 

“Your belongings have been moved here, and you will reside in this tower. Before you leave it, I will know where you are going, what you will be doing, and how long you will be there. If I command you to stay, you will stay. You will likely not leave without being in my presence.”

 

Sansa’s breathing became louder and heavier, and Tywin reached out, taking one of her hands, despite his mild annoyance at the panic. It was to be expected. Patience and self-control would pay off in the end here.

 

“I will not tolerate panic. You have nothing to fear. I want my son back, and you’re the only Stark I have.” He did not add the bitter truth that it was the stupidity of his family that made that so.

 

“My father’s men all died here, except the ones who died when Ser Jaime attacked him.” Her voice shook on his son’s name, but she used his proper title, not one of the names that hurt Jaime to hear.

 

Tywin’s eyes narrowed, and his jaw clenched as he reminded himself that he was talking to a traumatized maid of sixteen. Lord Stark may not have even informed her about realities of Jaime’s reckless aggression. It seemed like the type of information that he would keep private, crippling his children with naiveté and ignorance.

 

“Did your father tell you why Jaime attacked him?”

 

The pretty little lady sipped more water before answering.

 

“He said it’s because the Lord Commander lacks honor.”

 

Tywin leaned forward, breathing out through his nose heavily. Just the response he would expect from a Stark. A daughter is ‘kidnapped’ so ride to the capital in a fit of rage, demanding a prince’s head. Still, this was an opportunity. If he could learn more about Sansa, it might do some good. She had already shown potential and discernment. She did not understand all her actions, but she could learn, if somewhat slowly. Speaking honestly to her about trivial matters would hurt nothing. He would not tell her what was not openly shown to anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear.

 

“What are the words of House Tully?”

 

“Family. Duty. Honor.” Her eyes locked with his as her brow furrowed in a brief display of confusion before it slid away to be replaced with blankness.

 

“My son attacked your father because your mother kidnapped his brother.”

 

Lady Sansa’s eyes widened as he continued. He kept the rest of his opinion about Jaime’s actions bottled up. It was none of the girl’s business that Jaime did what he did because he was as reckless as he was loving as he was loyal to his siblings. She did not need to know that Jaime’s vanity saved her father’s life that day. She did not need to learn ways to manipulate members of the Lannister family—available to her or not. Someone stupid manipulating someone reckless was dangerous—Cersei proved that.

 

“I didn’t know that.”

 

“I don’t suppose you did. Do you love your brother?” When she looked likely to parrot back the nonsense his grandson liked hearing, he held up two fingers to silence her. He would have to repeat it many times before it would sink in, and he would be patient. “You can desist with that asinine behavior that has saved you from Joffrey. I have little tolerance for it. Tell the truth.”

 

“I love my brothers.”

 

Tywin leaned back in his chair to project complete command of his surroundings and new authority in her life. He gave her a moment to see if it would sink in. Loath as he was to admit it, Jaime loved his siblings deeply enough to allow them to order him—the greatest swordsmen in the Seven Kingdoms—mercilessly. He would journey to the ends of the world, past the shadow lands of Asshai if they asked or needed it. Worst of all, he would never seek return for his generosity.

 

“The Greyjoy boy murdered your brothers. Strung them up, burnt them like wood for a fire to warm his hands.” Tears of pain rose in her eyes as he spoke, just the way he desired. Painting a picture would help her see, understand reality. “There was nothing you could do to save them. You were a thousand miles away, held captive by a far more fearsome family. A family known now for forty years for successfully ending rebellions. Jaime saw an opportunity to send a message to your father. He had the men and the skill to do so. He loves his brother and wanted him back. He owed your family a debt, and—”

 

Tywin paused. She knew the words and would finish the thought. She was a smart woman.

 

“A Lannister always pays his debts.”

 

He nodded approvingly before continuing.

 

“Jaime did his duty to his family to keep their honor intact.”

 

Tywin kept the opinion that his son could have opened Lord Stark from navel to nose to himself. That visual would not help him. It might shut the girl down to the points he wanted her to take from this conversation. She did not need to know or understand how idiotic his son’s actions had been in defense of that lecherous little stump. She needed to relate to Jaime, to see his side, something her father had always chosen to ignore and what ultimately killed Lord Stark. She did not need to know how incompetent his daughter had been in allowing Lady Arya to escape. She did not need to know how deplorably wasteful and short-sighted Cersei and her son had been with the life of another lord. Sending him to the Night’s Watch or beheading him—it made no difference. Either choice made the Great Lion want to strangle his grandson and marry his daughter to someone, somewhere less apt to tolerate foolishness this destructive to the realm.

 

“If you could save your brother, would you?”

 

It was enough to plant the idea in her head that she could for now. Explaining it slowly and thoughtfully would help her see the wisdom. She was young, part of her detriment as much as part of her charm and value.

 

“You need your rest, my Lady. I’ll expect to see you every morning to break our fast. When you are well, you will begin accompanying me on my business.”

 

She bowed her head, “My Lord.”

 

He met Tyren’s eyes to let him know to wait here while he escorted Lady Sansa to her room. Whatever silly explanation she formulated for his behavior, gallantry most likely, would only benefit his long term plans for her. There was much to discuss with her guards. More than one voice treating her gently and more men protecting her offering her wise counsel would speed along her learning.

 

Chapter Text

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 said nothing to her new maids as they helped her dress. She was as silent as she had been for the past three fortnights, ever since she returned to the Tower of the Hand. That first night, she thought she would sleep better away from the monsters in Maegor’s Holdfast, but her mind had been too full after her conversation with Lord Tywin to sleep much at all. He said almost as much as he left unsaid. Since the night she became his ward above the crown's, he had been neither overly social nor overtly taciturn.

 

Unlike his daughter, he seemed interested in her engagement in conversing with him. Even if she said something he deemed silly, he was never hostile in his reproach. He did not speak down to her, and he always paused at moments to wait for her to respond. While he lectured, he demanded her attention, not that she would have been foolish enough to let it stray. All she could think about when she looked at him were Maester Luwin’s lessons about the Warden of the West and how he earned the title Lion of Lannister. She would be a dead fool if she ignored such a man.

 

It all seemed so simple before he told her that her mother kidnapped Lord Tyrion. She knew that Lord Tyrion had been kidnapped. She could hardly believe it possible that her mother had done such a thing. The look of relief that crossed little Princess Myrcella’s face when she saw her uncle safely returned had been like swallowing a mouthful of the sourest Dornish Red, being reminded that her family could never be returned to her.

 

Lannisters were liars. Arya certainly recognized that before she had, but Lord Tywin had spoken of what happened so calmly. The queen’s tone turned bitter and resentful when honest and sweet and cloying when lying. Joffrey’s was lofty when he lied and played his part, but it turned to petulance, cruelty, with a streak of wicked glee whenever he showed his true self. She remembered the delighted look on his face when he asked the musician which he preferred to keep, his fingers or his tongue, and she would never forget the scream as Ser Ilyn sliced his tongue out with a red hot blade.

 

Tyrion had been the unusual one, expressing sympathy for her loss and asking if she wished her engagement to the king ended—as if she would have been stupid enough to say anything but what Joffrey wanted to hear. Lannisters always pay their debts. Why treat her with kindness if her mother did what Lord Tywin said? It boggled her mind. She had given him the only response that would save her life, I am loyal to King Joffrey, my one true love.

 

Now she was with the Old Lion himself. Lord Tywin was not like his children or his grandchildren, and she had to learn to please him the way she had mastered the words that pleased the king. He said she was smart. He was still largely his fearsome reputation in her eyes. He had destroyed two houses of the Westerlands in his youth, before he ever became Lord of Casterly Rock. He sacked King’s Landing at the end of Robert’s Rebellion. This man always landed on his feet instead of his back. How cruelly and callously he spoke of her dead brothers, killed by Theon Greyjoy, whom they had treated as family. Putting the actions that lamed her father and killed Jory at the hands of Ser Jaime on her mother. It hurt, but she could not love her brothers and expect Ser Jaime to offer less devotion to his. Nothing was as simple as one good person and one evil.

 

She remembered watching Ser Jaime joust and spin through the melee with his sword or lance. If she had those skills, she would have done everything she could to save her brothers. She would have cut Joffrey down when he demanded her father’s head from Ser Ilyn Payne. The Hound was the only reason the king was still alive. She remembered thinking how easy it would have been to push him to the stone courtyard and fall herself. He was also the reason that she was alive, though she did not understand why he wanted to save her that day.

 

The ladies who now served her tittered as she opened the box that Tyren passed through the door. In it, she found the most elegant gown she had ever seen. Nothing compared to it. It was made of royal blue silk to match her eyes, and tiny pearls were sewn across the neckline. Gold embroidery accented the sleeves and bodice with swirling vines and tiny leaves. Fine, transparent sleeves flowed from just above her elbow to the floor like waterfalls. Even the queen’s gowns were put to shame by this. Cersei’s dresses always bordered that space between elegant and gaudy. Lady Margaery’s were borderline vulgar, displaying her body from neck to belly in some cases. Their dresses always seemed to wear them in some way.

 

She released it suddenly as she realized whose taste this gown had been made to please and took a step back as if a viper might be hiding in the elegance. Lord Tywin must have selected and purchased this for her. The only question was why. Why spend so much on her, even if his son was held captive by her brother? He must have some reason to want her seen like this. This dress was a statement about Lannisters, and she did not know what it was.

 

“My Lady.” Shae passed her a leather bag. She had been grateful when Lord Lannister allowed the Lorathi woman to remain with her. Shae was the closest person she had had to a friend since coming south.

 

Out of it poured a gold necklace with pearls set within tiny, twisted gold cages every few inches. A gold pendant with a lion’s head roaring hung in the center. It was beautiful, and he intended for her to wear it today. Last night, Lord Lannister declared her well enough to accompany him on his errands outside the Red Keep today.

 

She allowed herself to be ushered into the tub and scrubbed clean. In little time, she was dressed, and her hair brushed. Her new necklace draped her neck, the pendant adjusted to be just below her throat. Her new dress was laced, lifting and fitting her changing body better than the dresses she had been forced to wear of necessity. She bit back a gasp as she looked in the mirror before shaking herself from her stupor at the coos of her maids. They left her hair down, sliding only an elegant winter rose hair comb into her braided crown.

 

She opened her door to a red curtain of two Lannister cloaks. She had grown accustomed to the two men who spent their days at her side. They were always cordial to her, if not always talkative. It was mostly pleasantries or peeping as the Hound would call it that they exchanged. They were Lord Tywin’s men, and she reminded herself of that when they opened doors for her or glared down any men who approached her on the brief visits Lord Tywin had allowed her to the godswood or the Sept.

 

“My Lady.” She recognized Tyren’s voice and Gerold’s blue-green eyes peering out from under his helmet. They were wide and bright as he looked her over before averting his eyes with a bright blush.

 

She still walked rather slowly, and neither of her guards offered physical assistance despite her soft limp. In a strange way, she was grateful for it.

 

Lord Tywin had done the same her first night when she stood, expecting to be escorted by her new guard or even carried as she had been brought here. Pain had flared so intensely in her ankle that she had almost cried out. He paused, waiting with all the patience he had, not that she tested it. He did not have a look of anger on his face as he stood, waiting for her to master the ache and walk under her own power. His hands helped her only once, catching her elbows when she slipped on a stair. He told her to watch her feet and keep a better grip on the railing. His tone had been frigid as the frozen north wind. Despite that, he remained close behind her in case she needed him to prevent disaster again. At her door, he must have seen some look on her face that irked him because he leaned down to look directly into her eyes. She felt the fear flare in her, but she kept herself upright, meeting his gaze. He told her he did not carry her or have another do so because she was able to get there on her own. She had not needed that assistance, and now she knew it too. Then he lifted his chin proudly and left her without wishing her pleasant dreams.

 

Pausing at the door of his solar, she rested on her better leg. He sat behind his desk, looking over paperwork and letters, probably war correspondence. His face gave no indication whether the news was favorable or unfavorable. He did not pause or greet her as she made her way to the table set with a simple meal of bread, fruit, milk, and bacon.

 

Once she gripped the back of a chair and bobbed her curtsy, he was on his feet and beside her with a fluid grace.

 

“My Lord.”

 

Nervousness still pervaded her senses when he approached her so rapidly. Kingsguards moved quickly too, and always with anger waiting for her in their fists. All Lord Lannister did was offer his hand to her and help her be seated at the table.

 

“Thank you, my Lord.”

 

“Eat, Lady Sansa. We have a long day out in the city.”

 

Sansa pressed a few grapes into her mouth, revelling in the bright sweetness that danced across her tongue as much as the silence of her companion. She could not believe she was sharing a meal with a Lannister without fending off tears or forcing smiles when they mentioned new dresses or the death of her brothers.

 

Lord Tywin did not say much or even sit with her. He put a small amount of food on a plate and returned to his desk. She kept her eyes on him, eating slowly.

 

What did Lord Tywin want? What could she say or do to please him? He was currently scratching away at a letter, and she would never dare speak to him while he was thus engaged. He would not respond. In the time she had been his ward, she had watched others try to interrupt him while he worked. He always ignored them until he intended the conversation to start. He had spoken precious little to her since he provided her with fabric for sewing.

 

She kept quiet and pressed a piece of bread past her lips before she spoke her first thoughts. Imagining the Lion of Lannister responding kindly to inquiries about how he had slept the night before or the loveliness of the morning sun would have made her snort if it was ladylike. His conversations had always been the model of perfunctory. When he spoke, people listened. He did not repeat himself, except if the person was digging themselves into debt with him. Now, as every morning, instead of eating with her, he was dedicated to his work for the first part.

 

Lord Tywin valued few things from what she had gleaned during their limited encounters involving conversation. Efficiency and results. He worked hard, and he expected obedience and a certain strength from those around him. A soft smile passed her lips as she remembered how he wanted her to know that she was strong enough to do more than she believed she could. It was a kindness of a sort she had not been taught before.

 

He set his quill aside, sealing the letter.

 

“Do you have something to say, Lady Sansa?”

 

Sansa tucked her smile away and considered her words carefully, placing her hands on the table in front of her. She bit back her words of gratitude. They may be true, but they were already spoken and Lord Tywin had not saved her because he was an honorable man. He saved her because she was a valuable hostage. He saved her because he wanted to save his son. He would trade her back to her family for Ser Jaime.

 

“My Lord, I have had little to do during my confinement here. I was hoping that I might find a useful way to spend some hours. Idleness does not suit me.” That should be pleasing and understandable.

 

He leaned back, locking his green eyes with hers. She raised her chin calmly. She was not asking much. He was assessing her for what she could not begin to guess. He set aside the sealed letter upon a small pile on the right side of his desk.

 

“What do you define as useful?” His words were slow, measured, and held an edge of warning not to seek something frivolous.

 

Images from the many books in Winterfell’s library sprang to her mind for some reason. She had always enjoyed looking at them. Surely, reading would not be objectionable to the man. It was a perfectly suitable thing for a young woman to do.

 

“I enjoy reading and learning. Perhaps we might stop at the Great Library and borrow some books, perhaps some history.” Another flash of inspiration struck her as she remembered watching him pause several moments while a harp was being played in the gardens for a party Lady Margaery had been hosting. “I was learning to play the harp.”

 

Reading and music were suitable for a lady. If the harp’s sound was pleasing to him, offering to learn something that might give him pleasure would not be objectionable. She would play and sing for him if he asked it.

 

“I thought maids preferred songs and poems to history.”

 

“I did once, my Lord.” She raised her eyes to him, noting how he sat looking over his interlocked fingers at her as he leaned back in his chair. “Now I prefer to know the truth of something without ribbons or lace.”

 

“We can stop at the Great Library, and you may select some books. A proper music teacher will take more time, but you will continue your harp lessons.”

 

“Thank you, my Lord.”

 

Sansa offered him the softest smile she knew. He never returned them, seemed to distrust the brighter, flashier ones. He turned away from them, usually with his icy exterior looking more solid than ever. She could not explain why, but it made her ache deep in her heart to see such misery, even in the heart of a Lannister. Once she thought seeing the Lannisters, all of them, completely wretched, humiliated, and brought low would bring a smile to her face. It had been an ugly, unladylike desire. Only realizing how like the queen it was to wish for other's pain had made her cease. She wanted to be a lady, and a lady would wish to help anyone she could, even her enemy. Surely, there was something that could make him smile, and she would endeavor to find it while she was with him. That was a thought worthy of the person she wanted to be. She would help anyone she could.

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 watched Lady Sansa hobble around, touching her finger to the spines of different tomes in the Great Library. A copy of every book in Westeros was kept here at the request of the Grand Maester some two centuries back. The advisor to the king must have access to all known knowledge. Lady Sansa was much improved but not fully healed. She had desperately been in need of an outing of any kind. She occasionally pulled a book down and opened them to read a few lines. If it was a large or thick volume, she might set it on a table before thumbing through it as though scanning for particular information. If it suited her, she set it aside. Once she had the books she wanted, she made her way to him slowly, clutching them somewhat awkwardly. A quick nod to a guard had her burden off her arms.

 

“Thank you, Ser.”

 

The man blushed, bowing his head and giving a soft response of it being no trouble. He was happy to help her. He followed after her like a delighted puppy. It was a wonder he was not leaving a trail of drool. Jason would never be assigned around her again. If he could not keep his wits and hide his infatuation better, he was unsuitable. Too many young men of good sense found themselves made half-wits when a lovely girl with a nice set of teats smiled at them. She was too highborn for a bastard of Ashemark. He should know better than to even look at her with lust.

 

Tywin offered Sansa his hand when they reached the carriage, helping her up. Her eyes softened, and the slightest of smiles twisted her lips as she softly inclined her pretty head to him.

 

“Thank you, my Lord.”

 

“My Lady.”

 

As soon as she was seated, he took the books from the guard, placing them on the seat beside her and climbed inside with the order to the driver to see them back to the Red Keep.

 

They rode in companionable silence up the street with Lady Sansa staring out the window, keeping her hands folded in her lap. She was unlike other girls her age. Any other maid of sixteen would be full of giggles and chatter. His face twisted to greater grimness, knowing that Joffrey had likely beaten the laughter out while Cersei watched with a smirk. While the method and behavior reflected poorly on House Lannister, the result of the estimable lady with whom he now shared much of his days was a pleasant relief from what he had expected. While a marriage to her could never include the love he shared with Joanna, it would not be an annoyance to him, not with this girl.

 

Sparing a glance at the books she selected, his brow shifted up minutely, and he looked her over with a tick more respect. Houses of the Westerlands, Tales from the Age of Heroes, and The War of the Nine-Penny Kings. The girl was of a mind to learn something about her captor and his family. He had been correct in his assertion that she was smart. This was something he could use to his advantage. After brief consideration of his schedule, he decided he could begin by eating dinner with her at the table so they might discuss what she was reading. Letting her explore the topic of him was all well and good so long as it was directed appropriately. She might arrive at all manner of ridiculous and inaccurate deductions left to the opinions of the authors. She had access to him. Pleasant, intelligently directed conversation would not be a burden. She was nearly doing his work for him. Bringing her to his logical conclusions would not be difficult.

 

Loud shouts and the carriage abruptly stopping had his face tightening as Sansa’s paled, peeping out the window. Her fingers gripped the edge of the seat, knuckles turning white with the strength of it.

 

“Thieving little gutter-rat. This is the last time you steal from me.”

 

“Please, Ser. He’s only four. He don’t know better. He’s just hungry.”

 

“I’ll have your hand so it never takes from me again.”

 

Before Tywin could blink away his annoyance at being held up for such trivialities, the coach’s door had opened. He let his lips tighten, forcing away memories. This could be fascinating.

 

“Stop!”

 

The voice coming from Lady Sansa was firm, solid, and just loud enough to be heard in the crowded street. She exited the carriage and walked up to the bakery, forcing the limp from her steps. Rather than stop her, he leaned back to watch what his little doll was going to do. Lannister guards swarmed around her three deep on every side, facing the gathering crowd. Tyren and Gerold walked beside her at the center of the group, hands resting on their sword hilts ready to draw them at a moment’s notice.

 

“Release that child.” Lady Sansa’s voice was soft enough that at his distance it would have been difficult to hear if her first command had not silenced the crowd.

 

“What business—”

 

“You’ll change your tone when speaking to a lady or taste steel when it opens your throat.”

 

Rolling his eyes, Tywin stood and stepped out of the carriage to put a stop to any unnecessary violence before it had the chance to start. If violence was needed, he would be the one to call for it.

 

“Peace, Ser.” Sansa placed a calming hand on the soldier’s arm as it was about to pull his sword. “Release the child, so you can take money to pay for his bread.”

 

With the gentlest touch, she took the young boy’s hand and moved him beside her. Her sleeve draped his dirty arm and face as she dug into a small purse produced from a pocket and handed the baker a silver stag.

 

“My Lady.” The baker gave a clumsy, awkward bow. “This more than pays for one treat.”

 

She tugged a square of red silk from her pocket and unfolded it. She motioned to an older girl with drying streaks of tears on her face from trying to help. Her smile was warm, encouraging them both to not be afraid and come closer, that she and her soldiers would do them no harm.

 

“Is this your brother?”

 

She nodded, picking up the boy and cuddling him. The little boy moved a hand wistfully back and forth over the soft flow of her sleeve.

 

“Why don’t you pick out a treat too?” Sansa handed her the silk, smiling gently at them.

 

Tywin’s face remained calm as a frozen lake as each child placed their treat in the fabric, and Sansa wrapped it up for them. She walked back toward the carriage, holding the hands of each child and swinging them playfully. Both tried to hide behind her when they saw him standing on the top step, waiting for his ward and the stern expression he fixed upon them. He felt a mild surge of satisfaction at knowing that they realized the seriousness of their situation, and he looked down at them, watching his lady more than the street urchins she had felt the need to rescue.

 

Sansa shushed their whimpers with sweet whispers as she stooped beside them. She quite appeared to be kneeling to him, and it felt right and wrong in equal parts to him. A true lady was a lord’s equal in all the most important ways. It was how he treated his wife, and the gentle way Sansa spoke conveyed the essence of everything a lady ought to be. She was at his feet, showing her deference to his authority, and it was a beautiful if unnecessary gesture on her part. He would not have ordered such a display of her, and she offered it to him while the world watched.

 

“Don’t be afraid. Lord Lannister won’t hurt you. He’s the savior of the city, and he’s the Hand of the King. Do you know what that means?” At the blank stares and wide eyed glances back and forth between him and the pretty lady who just helped them, Sansa explained with smiles and squeezed hands. “It means he’s here to help us. He will keep us safe, make sure we have enough food, and help the realm prosper. He is already doing so. Lord Stannis has retreated from his siege. Wagons of food are arriving every day. These good things happened the day Lord Lannister arrived and took his place as Hand. Do you want to know a secret? How I know that Lord Lannister will protect us?”

 

The children both nodded, eyes firmly fastened on Sansa’s face. She leaned closer to them and spoke in a voice just above a whisper.

 

“He already saved me. A monster sneaked into the Red Keep, and monsters always attack beautiful ladies. My Lord Lannister saved me and has been keeping me safe ever since. Did you know that you can help him keep everyone safe, too?”

 

The little boy was the one who peeped up first. His hand passed back and forth over the sleeve, delighted by the silky fabric.

 

“How?”

 

“Don’t take things without paying for them. Work hard. Listen to your parents. Can you do those things?”

 

They both nodded, and Sansa smiled at them, squeezing their hands before releasing them.

 

“I must go now. The Hand of the King must return to his work. It is not easy to care for so many which is why we must all help him whenever we can.”

 

Tywin stepped down as she straightened up, dropping the little hands. He offered her his hand to help her into the carriage. It was what was expected, and it was a good show for the people. It would have them speaking almost as well of him as her after what she just did.

 

“Thank you, my Lady Lannister.” Her back stiffened, and his hand was squeezed at these words. She would need to get used to it. She would become a Lady Lannister soon.

 

“You two will come to the Red Keep tomorrow and work all day and the rest of this week to repay my Lady’s generosity. Jason will fetch you in the morning.”

 

He entered the carriage without looking back at either child and sat down across from Sansa. He rapped his knuckles against the top to tell his driver to move and get them back to the Red Keep. With the curtains drawn and Sansa staring out the window, he allowed the muscles of his face to soften and the tension to bleed out of his body. All he could think about was the last time he saw an act with the strength and gentility that only a true lady could possess. It had been decades, and it was something he never believed he would witness again. It made him wonder about the savage religions of Essos he had read about—those about dead loved ones sending new faces to care for those left behind.

 

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 felt his eyes on her all the way back to the Keep, and she kept her own counsel. She did not know what she could say or what she should say. If Lord Tywin had something to say about her actions, he would eventually rake his claws into her for her kindness to the street children. All she had been thinking when she left the carriage was of the people screaming for bread after Princess Myrcella left and how she had none to give them. Then the Hound cut off the arm of the man who was going to harm her. She had money today, and she had been able to help one little boy and his sister. It was little enough, but it was something. It showed the people that their ruler cared for them.

 

The Old Gods and the New would never claim gentility or generosity were traits of the golden lions of Casterly Rock. If he were determined to roar at her, she would hear him. It did not mean she would have to listen. She was kind, and she would continue being kind no matter how many times she was struck down for it. A lady was all she had ever wanted to be, and she would be one no matter the price to pay. No child of four deserved to be maimed for being hungry, and she would not allow what she could stop.

 

A chill settled over her as they passed through the castle gates, and she gathered the books to her chest, staring at Lord Tywin’s knees. Once they pulled to a stop and the door was opened, Lord Lannister was out and down. Doubtless, he was eager to escape her foolishness and be away from her. She did not know if she should feel relieved or more frightened than ever. Perhaps he wanted to consider how to make her pay. She would not escape without paying what she owed, however much he assessed it to be.

 

“Lady Sansa.” His voice was nearly gentle with the edge of the chill absent, and his hands took the books from her arms. He passed them to a guard with orders to take them to her room.

 

Taking a deep breath, she prepared herself to face the castle of her nightmares. A hand held up for her almost made her jerk back when she realized to whom it belonged. She took Lord Tywin's elegant hand, remembering her courtesies just as the Old Lion seemed to be remembering his, and he helped her down. His hand was warm, just as it had been when he made her look at him the night she was carried to him. The moment she was on the ground he released her hand and stepped back to give her space.

 

She curtsied and walked quietly beside him into the Tower of the Hand. Once under the roof and away from prying eyes, Sansa moved toward the stairs to escape to her room. His silence, not normally eerie, was made so because he seemed to have something to say. It would not have raised the hair on her arms if she had not suddenly become the sole focus of his attention.

 

“My Lord—” The words squeaked out before she could swallow them at the feeling of a hand gripping her arm and pulling her softly around to face him.

 

She shook, bowing her head and pinching her lips together. Whatever the punishment was, she would take it and pray for it to be swift. All she could think was how the guards would let this man do anything he pleased, then she would have to look at them, knowing they were not her true protectors. Her words this afternoon to the children about Lord Lannister protecting her and how soon they were becoming a lie made tears rise in her eyes. This was the moment the Lion would strike her. She clenched them shut to prevent their falling, waiting for the blow.

 

Lord Lannister had made it clear how much he despised tears soon after she became his ward. He had hauled her out with him just around the Keep in that first sennight, treating her like a pretty bird tethered upon his shoulder. Tyren and Gerold always remained with her in an antechamber if he was in a private meeting of the Small Counsel, but the moment the meeting would end, she was back beside him. They had been on their way back from the counsel chamber when they saw a member Kingsguard, and she made her first major misstep.

 

Fear had overwhelmed her, and she did the first and most foolish, childish thing that came to mind to let them know she was with Lord Lannister. She leaped forward, taking Lord Tywin’s arm. Her fingers wrapped in his doublet sleeve, twisting the fabric as her breathing quickened. She remembered very little of the time after that until they were almost in this very same spot. He had leaned into her face and told her that she was never to grab or maul him publicly in that manner again. There had been no emotion in his voice, and he walked away with calm, confident footsteps as she slid to her knees with a heart pounding in terror.

 

The sensation of fingertips grazing her neck and palms cradling her chin jerked her from the memory. Moisture on her cheeks was spread by thumbs rubbing soothing circles over them. Forcing everything to steady, her eyes opened to gaze upon the Great Lion. All words seeking her tongue died in her throat. There was nothing she could say or ask about what he was doing. An expression of such tenderness as that had surely never graced his face before. Every wrinkle was relaxed from its normal position communicating authority, suspicion, and command. The softness of the light in his eyes asked her to feel safe with him, instead of commanding her to be strong. The only time she had even seen a comparable look on a man’s face before was after her lady mother had birthed her brother, Brandon. She, Robb, and Arya had been called in after their mother had spent many hours in the child-bed. Her father had been fully wrapped around Lady Catelyn, gazing down at her and pressing kisses to her forehead while she smiled at the small baby bundled in her arms.

 

Sansa tipped her face forward into the hold, wondering in a quiet, peaceful way if Lord Tywin would kiss her. The man in front of her was not the man she had been shadowing. This man was a stranger. When her hands raised without her conscious permission and found his wrists, the magic that held him there snapped like a bowstring and the soft expression was gone as quickly as a bolt from a crossbow.

 

He jerked back, dropping his hands from her cheeks as though her skin were fire. He turned, walking away with slow, purposeful strides. He paused at the stairs that would take him to his solar and spoke to her without turning to look at her.

 

“You’ll join me for dinner.”

 

“Yes, my Lord.” Sansa curtsied to his back, watching him depart with less tension in his body than usual.

 

She followed several steps, craning her neck to watch until he shut the door. She leaped at the sound of a familiar voice, pressing a hand over her heart as Lord Tyrion stepped out of a shadowy place behind a pillar.

 

“My dear Lady—” He waddled to her on his stubby legs, uglier than ever with his nose missing and his queer green and black eyes locked on her. “What have you done to the Great Lion of Lannister?”

 

Her voice was small, even to her own ears as she answered.

 

“I have no idea, my Lord.”

Chapter Text

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’s strangest fortnight in the Red Keep had definitely been the one she experienced after buying bread for the street children. It was quite possibly the strangest of her life, including the week following her father’s death. That had been horror wrapped in fear, pain, and anguish. The past fourteen days and nights, by contrast, were confusion draped in a cloak of intrigue, quiet, and a tranquillity Sansa could not remember experiencing since Winterfell.

 

Lord Tywin was no more communicative with her, but he had stopped working through their meals. Infrequently, she caught him watching her with a soft, contemplative expression that fled the moment he noticed her observing him. When they were in the relative privacy of the Hand’s Tower, he extended her every courtesy without ceremony or smile. He escorted her to her room at night, served her food, held her chair, stood when she left the table. They shared quiet conversations in the evenings and mornings, generally about whatever she had been reading. He had not been discourteous before, merely distant and aloof the way a preoccupied man might be. She had come to know true cruelty from the queen and Joffrey. Lord Tywin simply never inconvenienced himself beyond necessity to extend courtesy until that night. That night, his quill had stopped the moment she entered his presence, and he joined her at the table, asking her to tell him about her life in Winterfell. Outside the tower, his teeth and claws remained on full display between them. It was just so confusing.

 

The knock on her door distracted her from musing about how the Old Lion had moved council meetings from the previous chamber off the throne room to the tower, citing the walk as being a waste of his time. It happened the day after their encounter with Ser Meryn on their way back to the Tower of the Hand.

 

“Lord Tyrion, my Lady.”

 

“Thank you, Gerold. Allow him in.”

 

The shorter son of her captor entered quietly, bowing to her as much as his small stature allowed. Sansa curtsied in return, meeting his unusual, mismatched eyes. They were large and watchful as though he expected some sort of trap to be sprung by her at any moment. If the rumor that Joffrey had ordered Ser Mandon to kill him was true, it was no surprise for him to be wary. Their families were at war, even if it had had nothing to do with her. It was only reasonable and sensible for them to be cautious.

 

“My Lady.”

 

“My Lord. Thank you for accepting my invitation. I’m sure being the Master of Coin keeps you busy. Please be seated.”

 

“I’m never too busy to meet with a fine lady. I assure you the loftiness of my position is not enough to gain the notice of those of certain stature.”

 

Sansa ignored his attempt at jocularity about being a dwarf as he made his way to a chair. Making civil conversation with Lannisters was a skill she had been learning after spending so much time with Lord Tywin. Getting answers from the Great Lion often resulted when she offered gentle observations and asked sensible, direct questions. Lord Tyrion had the answers to some questions, and he was the only man in the city who did.

 

There were different ways she could lead into the conversation. She considered asking about his wounds, but she dismissed it a moment later. They were clearly evident on his face, and the way he occasionally touched them told her they must be paining him, perhaps emotionally more than physically. It would be unsuitable this early in the conversation, and she had more pressing, personal inquiries to make of him later. Still, she made herself look into his face, remembering the rage of another man into whose face it had always been difficult to look. There would be a moment to ask her questions. Finding the appropriate moment to ask them would take all her powers of courtesy, especially since she wanted an honest answer.

 

“May I introduce Ser Bronn of the Blackwater, my personal guard?”

 

She offered the new knight a smile and polite greeting. She remembered him from the day the little lord in front of her ended her beating in court. Ser Bronn was the man who had been ordered to kill Ser Meryn if he spoke.

 

“Ser Bronn.”

 

She glanced to the corner at Tyren, reminding herself that she had a guard. Her guard would not allow harm to come to her. The knight in front of her had not beaten her, but that was only because Lord Tyrion had not commanded it. Whether he would refuse was impossible to say. She knew he had been a sell sword. His only question before slapping her would probably be how much it was worth.

 

Tyren stepped from the shadows and moved to her side calmly and confidently. Once he was there, she breathed a little easier. She did not know what Ser Bronn could do, but she had seen Tyren’s skills.

 

“Ser Bronn, please wait outside for me. I feel perfectly safe from my lord father’s exceedingly lovely ward, and Tyren won’t hurt me. I’ve known him all my life. Sadly, knights make this dear lady quite nervous.”

 

“Used to be a sell sword if that makes her feel better.” Ser Bronn shrugged insolently at Tyrion.

 

“I doubt you killing for money makes her feel safer. She has little money, and you’re worth double now that you’re a knight.”

 

“Everyone needs a job.” Ser Bronn said, retreating from the room with a shrug.

 

Sansa smiled sadly at him as Tyren retreated from the table following Ser Bronn’s departure.

 

“Thank you, my Lord.” He was perceptive, and he sought to put her at ease.

 

He nodded, complimenting the spread she had ordered from the kitchens. They made small talk as they nibbled everything. Sansa sipped watered down Arbor Gold, wondering how to steer the conversation the proper direction. She needed answers but not to seem it. There were questions that could be asked, and that might be answered if they were well spoken. There were others that were forbidden, no matter how curious she was.

 

She could certainly not seek personal information about Lord Tywin as she wished. He was changing in a way that no person would possibly believe. His son would surely refuse any personal inquiry about the man. Lord Tyrion had been shocked to see his father holding her face which left her with her questioning why. Without doubt, her guard would tell the Great Lion. Best to keep her own counsel when it came to Lord Tywin, especially if she wanted to keep his good opinion.

 

“I am especially fond of books and learning in general. A keen mind needs books the way a soldier needs a whetstone, my Lady.”

 

If possible, his face became uglier when he smiled. Sansa smiled in return, looking into his eyes and face despite it. There were worse things than ugly faces, and a lady must always remember her courtesies. It had always hurt the Hound when she refused to look at him, and she did not want to hurt anyone. Remembering how his father preferred directness, she decided to simply ask. Maybe Lord Tyrion would appreciate the same quality. There was no way to know until she asked.

 

“There’s something of a personal nature I would like to ask, my Lord.”

 

Lord Tyrion took a deep gulp of wine after crunching a piece of bacon cooked till it was burnt black, just the way she had requested the kitchens to prepare it for him. She remembered him requesting his bacon that way every morning at Winterfell.

 

“Ask away, my Lady.”

 

“Please tell me why my lady mother took you captive.”

 

She was not asking so much as commanding information, but she spoke gently and politely as a lady should, and she had been subjected to Lord Tywin’s commands for information enough to know that there was power in direct commands. Still a lady did not command the same way a lord did, and she would keep her courtesies wrapped around her as tightly as she had the Hound’s white cloak the night Lord Tywin saved the city.

 

Tyrion leaned back in his chair, tilting his head to watch her more with his green eye than his black. He seemed to be studying her, looking for something. He might or might not have found it, but he decided to answer her question.

 

“She believed that I plotted to murder your brother Bran.”

 

Sansa felt her face pale as she looked upon him. The liquid in her goblet sloshed a little as she set it down miraculously not spilling a drop. A hitch in her breathing was all that gave her away as she considered her next words. She needed to be direct without being accusatory. It was the way of a lady. She could not ask if he did so. He would surely not disclose something as heinous as plotting the murder of a ten year old boy crippled in a fall.

 

“Why did she think that?” It was perfect. Her mother took no blame for wanting to protect her brother, and Lord Tyrion was accused of nothing of which the gods had already acquitted him.

 

“I don’t know. I tend to believe as I have seen my whole life, a dwarf makes an easier target than most others. People are more willing to believe the worst of something different from themselves.”

 

Sansa shifted, thinking about how he helped her in the throne room. Helping her and hurting Bran—they made no sense together. Why hurt Bran, then show her kindness after being kidnapped by her mother? It was not the Lannister way the queen and King Joffrey had taught her.

 

“You never hurt Bran.”

 

Her words were quiet, and she could feel the tears building up behind her eyes. Someone had hurt her brother, but it was not this little man. All this anger, this war was not caused by those accused of the greatest wrongs.

 

“No, my Lady.”

 

She bit the back of her lip to keep in distress that made her want to scream and wail. A lady did not do such things. How had all this happened? Her mother would only have taken Lord Tyrion hostage if she believed it, so the only remaining question was who told her mother Lord Tyrion did this horrible thing.

 

“I stopped at Winterfell on my way back from visiting the Wall. I had learned your brother was awake and wanted to give him a small piece of himself that he needn’t have lost forever. I gave him the plans for a saddle to suit a cripple. King Robb can confirm that, should you speak or be allowed to write him soon.”

 

“My brother is a traitor. So is my mother. I am loyal to the king.”

 

Lord Tywin was the only Lannister to command the truth from her on that score. Making him angry could be deadly, and dishonesty was something for which he had little tolerance. It was better and safer to give that man what he wanted. She would not withhold his desire from him if it was in her power to see it done. Her brother's life might one day be the payment for a debt she had no desire to incur. She still slipped back into saying what she was trained to say, but he would snap her out of it and nod approvingly once her words came from her heart.

 

The last time she had been allowed to write to her family she wrote the queen’s words. She believed that she was saving her father’s life, telling her brother to come and swear loyalty to the new king. Joffrey had quickly taught her that mercy was neither in the Lannisters’ vocabulary, nor in their upbringing. His laughter still rang in her ears from when he told her the fates of her younger brothers and the response of joy she had to give to save herself from a beating.

 

“Out, Tyrion. You have much to discuss with Lady Olenna about the royal wedding, and you will return this evening to share your results.”

 

She looked up at Lord Tywin, folding her hands in her lap as he loomed just inside the door with his hands clasped behind his back. He had not been cruel to her, and it gave her a small hope that she would survive even the winter in his eyes. Maybe his children had not learned his lessons, but she needed to for her sake and the sake of her family. They were not the lessons of her father, but they were not meaningless just because they were different. They may save her life if they helped her to understand him. Lord Tywin had had a different life. He had to be a different man. Whether he was good or bad, Sansa was not ready to say.

 

“My Lady, if you wish anything, you need only ask.” Tryion bowed before waddling away under the glare of his lord father.

 

Her guard followed the half-man out, shutting the door quietly behind him and leaving her alone with the great lord who towered over those around him, who commanded such respect that he had the king’s small council jumping to do his bidding at times. She rose and curtsied to him.

 

“My Lord.”

 

“Did he upset you?” His normally frigid tone remained, but his volume was softer than normal.

 

“No.”

 

When the green eyes flecked with gold narrowed, she offered a little more explanation to save Tyrion from any cruel vengeance that might be building in his father if she could. There was much animosity in the Old Lion for the little lion, a hatred that in her darkest moment. when she wanted to kill Joffrey, she could barely begin to fathom. Some unspeakable, grievous wound had been inflicted on him, and he blamed Lord Tyrion for it. Rather than seek healing and peace, Lord Tywin left it torn open to fester into a malicious contempt that would consume and destroy him if he was not careful.

 

“He told me a truth I asked of him. He did not hurt me. I need time to decide what this truth means to me. That is all, my Lord.”

 

It was something she had been learning of late. Ugly truths were never softened by pretty faces, and dull truths were never made interesting by ugly ones.

 

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 looked down at her, touched once again in a place he thought buried by long, lonely decades. The day he stood staring at the sea with the ugly, murderous monster in his arms and chose to walk back to Casterly Rock instead of casting them both into the waters to be carried away felt more distant with her there.

 

Time spent with Lady Sansa always brought a long forgotten relief. He knew he needed to be careful of that, becoming familiar with her as naturally happened when around someone every day. When it became too much, he would escort her away and pull out life’s ugly moments to solidify melting resolutions. She seemed to do something each day that showed him she was neither defeated nor destroyed by the trials she had endured. His brother Gerion, before he disappeared, wrote of a strange bird he saw across the sea. His arrow struck it from the sky. As it fell, it burst into flames. From the falling ashes, a young bird swept away, giving the sweetest trills. He dismissed it as nonsense years ago. Still with reports that dragons lived again—it was enough to make any man wonder.

 

“Please, be seated, my Lord.”

 

Tywin stiffly took a seat at the table. That dwarf better not have been upsetting her. He would need to know what they talked of in the event he needed to control damage. His contentious relationship with his youngest was no secret. Tyrion could easily poison this girl against all the good they could do together. His eyes flicked to the door as it opened, revealing the little waif whose brother Lady Sansa had saved. She avoided his eyes as she did whenever they shared the room, placing down a small plate of lemon cakes in the middle of the table.

 

“Is there anything else you would like, Lady Lannister?”

 

“No, Jonquil. If I need you, I’ll call. Thank you.”

 

The girl performed a poor manoeuvre halfway between a bow and a curtsy to them. She would improve in time. Tywin would find another servant to teach her. She could not be allowed to embarrass the Lannisters with that in public.

 

“Yes, milady, milord.”

 

Once she was gone, the melting tension that was becoming so common in this young woman’s presence settled over him like the comfort of a well stoked fire in the midst of winter. Their conversations had become a way to ease away from the troubles of running seven kingdoms. Tension dripped away like icicles in sunshine, and he poured himself a cup of water. His daughter must be blind and deaf to have missed the simplicity of lessons this northern girl grasped as naturally as Jaime did a sword.

 

She understood kindness as a lady’s currency and that the value of it was higher than gold or silver. The girl now serving her would always remember the lady who cared enough to stop someone from cutting her brother’s hand off. For all that girl knew, Sansa held up royal business to help someone she had never met, and she would share her lady’s story with all those she knew. Her little brother would be only more devoted in his worship. Sansa filled his hungry belly, gave him a lesson, and made sure his belly would be filled again and again with Lord Tywin’s help if he adhered to the lesson she taught him about hard work.

 

“You’re still allowing them to call you Lady Lannister.” She had not even stiffened at the address this time. The first day she took his arm as his lady wife would be wonderful for her. He would do all in his power to make sure of it.

 

Sansa barely twitched, pausing with a grape held to her lips. She pushed it in, chewing slowly to savor the sweetness. Sadness drew her eyes and lips down as she chose her words, but she raised her chin proudly as she spoke, meeting his eyes with a strength he was coming to appreciate radiating in them.

 

“The Stark name is tarnished in this city, far beyond what little polish a young maiden can offer. The king saw to that when he executed my father for treason.” Sapphire bright Tully eyes with enough ice to frost the seven kingdoms entirely locked with his. “I’m not ashamed of my family. I never will be, but my name has hurt me as much as it has helped me since I left home. Reminding anyone that I am a Stark won’t help me or them today. It won’t remove the image of my father’s sword removing his head. All I can do for my father is all I have been allowed these past months.”

 

He waited quietly for her to continue. It took several deep breaths for her to steady and find the words she wanted. She needed to let them out, and understanding her mind would help him know where and how to plant the seeds to get the results he needed.

 

“I can remember the good things he taught me. He spent my whole life promising me that winter is coming. He taught me that we must look out for each other in the winter. The lone wolf dies, but the pack survives.”

 

He hid his expression behind his cup as he took a drink and sighed quietly. He took a small lemon cake on his plate and placed some strawberries with it. It was a lovely sentiment about family and one that could easily be adapted to speak of lions as well as wolves. A pride hunts best as a group, but without the strongest, smartest leader, the largest prey will never be a meal.

 

“He also taught me kindness and to listen to all those around me who work in my castle and live under my rule. I may not be able to share the name from whom these deeply ingrained lessons came. That doesn’t mean I will let them die. No knife has slit my throat or tongue to silence them. My father, Lord Eddard Stark, will always live in my heart. The only way I know to honor him is to share what I know with a family and city that, to me, seem woefully or willfully ignorant. The gods have placed me here for a reason, and I will serve their purpose.” She took a long drink of watered down Arbor Gold. “You, my Lord, are the savior of the city. My actions being associated with your family will do more to preserve peace than my saying I’m from a family in open rebellion against the crown. I don’t wish to create more chaos and death.”

 

Tywin nodded, more convinced than ever that his next moves were right for the realm. She would serve a purpose, his purpose which he could easily help her believe to be the same as the gods. She was almost where he needed her, and letting her return to her family for good was far from his mind. She needed to marry, and she needed to marry well. He was her brother's only option. Securing the north was paramount, and everyone would do their duty to have this war ended. A brother would give up a sister. A widower would wed again. A lady would bear children.

 

“Well thought and well spoken, my Lady.”

 

He did not tell her that she thought like a true princess, putting the people first. She would be the finest lady wife in the seven kingdoms, and she would belong to him for the low cost of common courtesy that should have been extended to her. Once she wed him, it always would be. No one would dare treat her otherwise.

 

“This morning we were talking about the War of the Nine-Penny Kings. You had questions. Perhaps a man who fought those battles might elucidate.”

 

No smile lifted her lips, but she looked him over in all her serenity, considering what to say.

 

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 reached out for a lemon cake. Her next words had to be careful. She more wanted to know about what followed that war. Those were actions that had come to define Lord Tywin and solidify his place in history. The destruction of two houses established his reputation as a man to be feared above all others. She had to know why he took those actions. Judging him before she knew why he acted as he had would do her no good. A lady always tried to be understanding of everyone, no matter what they had done.

 

“You’ve answered all my questions about that war for now, my Lord. Might we talk of the book I just began?”

 

“Depending upon the topic.” He ate small bites of cake, waiting for her to speak.

 

Watching Lord Tywin relax brought Sansa a quiet, satisfied contentment. It brought even more the first time it occurred to her that she could be the cause of it. When they were alone and began speaking quietly on a topic of interest, it was like the invisible strings he held himself up with gradually loosened their tension, allowing him to find peace. She was becoming accustomed to watching for the signs. It did not happen at every meal and certainly not every meeting. Much of their time was spent in some sort of company. Frequently they sat in complete silence while he worked and she read or sewed. His silences were never personal. She constantly reminded herself that he was a busy man with much on his mind when he was especially unsociable. Silence was a reprieve from snideness and derision.

 

Houses of the Westerlands.”

 

She jerked at the snort from her protector. Glancing at him from the corner of her eyes, she attempted to determine if that was a sound of amusement. It would be the first she ever heard from him, and it might be the closest the Old Lion knew.

 

“Tell me what you know of noble houses of the Westerlands.”

 

Sansa recited the names of the great houses owing allegiance to Lord Tywin Lannister, including name, sigil, words, seat, current lord and lady, and facts of note that one must know to host them. By the time she finished, Lord Tywin was leaning back in his chair. He had a queer expression on his face, a mixture of pride, respect, and suspicion.

 

“Winterfell's maester was quite exacting in educating the children of the castle’s lord and lady.”

 

She nodded, not mentioning that these types of matters were the ones that had always most interested her. Remembering names and places and marriages had been a source of pride to her at the age of six and a way to earn her beloved lemon cakes as a treat. Starfall, Tarth, Deep Den, Gates of the Moon, and all the rest. A proper lady must know every lord upon whom she may be called to hostess. The mark of a great lady resided in her ability to make her guests feel as though they were in their own hall.

 

“What would you ask? You have an excellent knowledge of everything you should need to know if I should call one of my vassals here.”

 

She blushed a little at the implication. Surely he was not intimating that if it were necessary, he would ask her to handle the duties of the lady of his house. That would be a great compliment, perhaps the finest anyone had ever paid her. He was often doing that, complimenting her with expression if not tone and demeanor. He complimented her mind and understanding, her choices in how she handled herself most times. He never gave empty comments about her beauty, not that she would be opposed to him finding her pleasing to the eye. The number of times she caught him looking at her proved he must like what he saw to some extent.

 

She wanted to ask about two castles she removed from her recitation, Tarbeck Hall and Castamere. Both of their families had been eliminated by the man sitting in front of her. One of castles had been obliterated. Her guards occasionally hummed the Lannister Song. It was chilling that men of the Westerlands took so much pride and strength from a song featuring such dark deeds.

 

When she finally learned all the words, she had not been able to look into the Great Lion’s eyes for several days. The terror of rains weeping over Riverrun and Winterfell, of her family being annihilated had been more than she could bear considering. All the fighting this man had seen, and he was still alive. He served as Hand for twenty years under the Mad King. He survived to go on playing each horrible game that came next. What moves was he making against her family even now? He always won, and he had just implied that she might one day be called upon to perform duties that rightfully would belong to his wife, were he not a widower. She twisted away from the questions that statement placed in her head, visibly shuddering as a small whimper escaped before she regained control of herself.

 

“Lann the Clever founded your house during the Age of Heroes. There are so many tales about him. Where did he come from? How did he become Lord of Casterly Rock?”

 

The softness from earlier hardened, and his lip twitched up in a small snarl for the slightest moment. She cursed herself for that after the words passed her lips and could not be pulled back. She was being foolish again. Lord Tywin would no more think of marrying her than he would a wildling. She forced away the thoughts of wildling marriages, how a man stole a woman. He had not looked for any woman in the decades since his wife died in childbirth. Even if he had taken her from the king who had taken her from her father. Now he was annoyed, and that was the last thing she wanted. Irritated Lannisters were unpredictable.

 

“Those questions would not make you whimper in fear, my Lady. Don't insult my intelligence. Ask what you want to know.” Despite the hardened face, his tone remained detached and his volume normal. “And Lann married Lord Casterly’s eldest daughter and inherited when no male heir reached maturity.”

 

Sansa did not respond for a minute, too afraid she would twist the words she wanted to say or mention the story about Lann pretending to be a ghost and impregnating each of Lord Casterly’s daughters. Those were the stories that showed a man half as clever and devious as the one with whom she now shared her meals, the man fighting a war against her family.

 

“Ask.”

 

He might kill them if the war continued. He would win, and she would remain with him until he decided whom she would marry. He would choose some Lannister for her. She would never escape the Lannisters. She was never going home. Better to do as he commanded and make him more amenable to her. Maybe then he would be more likely to give her a good, kind Lannister husband.

 

“Why did you completely destroy House Reyne and House Tarbeck?”

 

He nodded minutely at her in a show of respect, perhaps for her courage in looking into his face as she asked. His eyes glinted as he leaned back, taking his glass with him. He reminded her of a mean, old tomcat that had lived in Winterfell’s stables. The creature had most of one ear gone after an encounter with one of the hunting hounds. One morning, the whole castle woke up to the sounds of howls and yowls coming from the kennels. When she went down to break her fast, the kennel master had been speaking with her lord father in the great hall. She heard tell that the dog that injured that cat was found disembowled with his throat torn in the middle of the kennel. The cat had been sitting near the carcass, glaring at any dog that became too curious of the corpse or the killer and twitching his tail.

 

“My father—”

 

The way his lordship spat out the word father made it sound as though it were a piece of rancid meat, instead of a man he should have loved and respected. It sent a tingle through Sansa and had her sitting up a little straighter. Just the memory of Lord Tytos inspired emotion in him, but when he continued, his voice became the cool ice she now knew so well.

 

“My father wanted everyone to love him. His affability and readiness to laugh earned him nothing but derision and dismissal. His vassals had no respect for him or his family. The only thing my father taught me was the vulnerability of joy. My family ceased to command any respect in the West the day he announced my sister’s betrothal to the second son of a house of no consequence. His daughter should have gone to a Tully, an Arryn, or a Targaryen. A Martell would have been preferable.”

 

Sansa thought as hard as she could when he paused, waiting for her to make the connection, but for the life of her, she could not remember the family into which Lord Tywin’s sister had been wed. His whole body was stiff, and his eyes gleamed like the snowy topped peaks of the northern mountains.

 

“Lady Tarbeck laughed openly, and her husband walked out. I was the only one who stood up and told him it was foolish, and I was ten. Some years later, after I was knighted and the War of the Nine Penny Kings ended, I returned home to find my house had fallen further in dignity and respect. We were in the worst kind of debt. My father, the laughing lion, readily extended loans without stipulating repayment periods or interest rates. I sent word that all houses owing gold were to send full payment immediately. Houses Reyne and Tarbeck were in the most severe debt. Both refused my terms which were repayment or sending a hostage to Casterly Rock until such time as they could. Lord Tarbeck refused to pay back the money or pledge his loyalty. When he came to confront my father, he found me waiting for him. I had him imprisoned immediately.”

 

She shifted forward to the edge of her seat as Lord Tywin continued telling of his most famous or rather infamous deeds. He had done all this before he was the true leader and Warden of the West. He had the strength to do what was needed when his father hid under Casterly Rock as war broke out in his home, following his release of Lord Tarbeck. Tywin went and put down the Tarbecks, extinguishing their light forever when they refused to bend the knee to his family. The Reynes were forced back into their mountainous stronghold after arriving too late to help the Tarbecks. They persisted in their belligerence, calling the golden lion toothless, despite the lesson the Lion of Lannister just taught another rebellious house. With the Reynes barricaded in their castle and facing a siege that would have lasted years and taken thousands of lives, the Great Lion thought his way around the problem presented by the stronghold. He found the solution that ended the war ravaging his lands, saved the soldiers serving him from an enemy deadlier that swords. He chose the quickest and least costly end to the rebellion by diverting a stream from a nearby goldmine and drowning the castle’s inhabitants.

 

“Was it necessary to kill them all?”

 

Sansa bowed her head, unable to help to shyness of her voice or the awe it would be impossible to not feel. He did things to save lives, the lives of his soldiers. He had offered a hand in friendship to defeated lords. They chose to slap it away rather than be helped to their feet after being driven to their knees. Maybe a hand might be offered to her brother. She could only pray that her brother would not be too proud to take it if it was offered. Peace was the offer of a brave man.

 

What he said made sense. Saving the lives of his men made sense. But two families gone forever. The gravity and the loss of life was not something to be taken lightly.

 

“When men must be punished, and every father must punish a child at some point, it is better that it be as brief in duration as possible. I ensured that they would never rise against my family. All learned to fear the Lion of Lannister. Only one lord has since expressed less respect than I am owed, and I ended his rebellious thoughts with a musician playing a flute. None of my bannermen harbor resentment and quietly plot my demise for a minor injury.”

 

She was not sure she truly understood, but here he stood alive and breathing, proof that his methods had worked. He was now Hand to the King for the second time, the second Mad King. He seemed to sense her attempt to reconcile his actions with her upbringing, so he spoke again, voice soft but eyes hard as he spoke in terms her father had always used.

 

“My bannermen pledge loyalty to House Lannister as the northern lords have pledged their fealty to your brother and to your father before him and on back through the generations. Correct?”

 

“Yes, my Lord.” She remembered harvest feasts with her father presiding over all his vassals, listening to each in turn. Many had reaffirmed their vows and loyalty to House Stark every year at that time.

 

“What would your father do to a man who broke his vows?”

 

She stared at her plate. It had been her father’s duty, killing oathbreakers. He never enjoyed it. There was nothing sweet about killing another, no matter what the Hound drunkenly told her. It did not look or sound as though Lord Lannister had particularly enjoyed killing when he had to either. The Old Lion had known patience and waited for the opportune moment to strike. He thought ahead and prepared for the worst. Winter tried to come for House Lannister, and Lord Tywin built fires, stored food, and survived. He had come out in the spring stronger than ever.

 

“The other kingdoms hear a story of horror when The Rains of Castamere plays, yet the Westerland soldiers hear a different tune. You spend your days with Westermen. Ask them what The Lannister Song means to them.” He scooted back from the table and set his plate back. “I am sending a messenger to your brother in the morning. If you would like to write him, I will send your message after I review its contents.”

 

He bowed upon standing, murmuring a ‘my lady’ as he left. The moment the door shut, she released her tears. A letter to her family. She would be writing a letter to her family. All her prayers were being answered, and Lord Tywin was at work in them. She could not help feeling entirely overwhelmed and drained with the acceptance of it.

Chapter Text

 

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 glared up at the sound of the Imp entering the Small Council’s new meeting room in the Hand’s Tower. He would send Tyrion away soon enough, make him useful. He had a low cunning that made him useful, and he understood people better than either of his older siblings. He, at least, knew that sometimes people had to work with their rivals. His granddaughter being sent to Dorne was proof of that. It had been unavoidable, and not entirely without merit. It may even have been the best alliance that could have been made with the rumors from the east that the Targaryen girl had dragons. The Dornish had been the only people able to resist the dragons the first time they came.

 

“What is she doing here?”

 

“Our business concerns her as well.”

 

He brushed off his youngest child’s attempt to gain praise for convincing the Tyrells to do their share to pay for this revolting extravagance they called a royal wedding. Seventy-seven courses to say nothing of the singers, contortionists, dancers, and other ridiculous planned entertainment. Shameless, wasteful expenditures in war times. They would be equally so if they were not at war.

 

“I brought the Tyrells into the fold, and Lady Sansa informs me of their attempts to steal the northern princess, our only Stark, and the Key to the North away from me.”

 

Tyrion then pointed out that the Tyrells were feeding the city. Refusing them the Stark girl would not be wise. He, at least, had the sense to see that. Cersei simply nodded foolishly, watching her shorter brother as if she had worked out the entire plan. She would be livid, but she would do her duty when she was told what her family and the realm expected of her.

 

“If they had asked properly, it would be foolish to deny them. What’s happening now is a plot. The girl is the answer to the peace that we need to govern and prepare for winter. The white ravens have already flown, announcing the end of summer. She’s the heir to the North and the Riverlands if anything happens to their lord or king.” And there was a plan in place to remove them if they thought to continue in their war mongering, not that any of his children would understand or see the beauty or simplicity of putting down a dozen at dinner. “Protecting her is necessary and simple, not that either of you has done enough.” He paused, waiting for either child to see the path before them. Surely, one of them was less than a total fool.

 

“Marriage, to whom? Cousin Lancel?”

 

Tywin’s jaw set in annoyance. His sons always had to say something they thought was clever, instead of thinking it through and giving the logical, well thought out answer. Kevan was a good brother, and he owed him much for his counsel in the years after Joanna’s death. Unfortunately, the first son of a second son would earn no respect or favor from the northern lords, and Lancel had not shown the promise of being a ruler. The North would consider him unworthy of their princess, and they would be right.

 

“Someone far more perfect and satisfying.” Cersei’s eyes had the ugly, pleased glint they always got when she thought she solved one of his riddles.

 

Tyrion’s eyes widened in horror, and his jaw dropped as if he could not think of something more cruel. The dwarf would see that he was dealing with someone far craftier in short order. Like that doll would go to him. She would make the loveliest bride.

 

“Me? That’s cruel, even for you. She just escaped Joffrey—now you want...”

 

Tywin cut the Imp off with a raised hand. The children he would have by Sansa would have to be raised to think better than his grown children if they were so stupid as to first think of such foolish matches for a princess.

 

“The Stark girl is a prize far too precious and fine for you. The Northern lords will never accept you. It will not give us the peace we need. Only one Lannister will appease them, and only their princess birthing the heir to the West will satisfy them.”

 

“Not Jaime!” Cersei’s entire face lit with a vengeful color.

 

“Jaime’s oaths bind him to celibacy, and the northmen like to believe all men honor all vows. Jaime has already notably broken many of his.” His cupbearer from Harrenhal would already have solved the riddle.

 

Tywin’s eyes slid to the dwarf. At least Tyrion was starting to think about the only Lannister they could offer in marriage. Jaime would only anger the North further. Tywin had no heir who wanted his castle and was suitable. The North had a princess that could carry one for him. Waiting to see which of them would figure it out was almost painful.

 

“My dear father, are we to have a new mother after all these years?”

 

“Not that pathetic, simpering little northern waif. She can barely open her mouth to say ‘yes, your grace.’ You can’t seriously be replacing my mother with that little—”

 

“Silence!” Tywin’s sudden shout brought both his children up short. When he was certain that they were paying attention, he continued. “Not one of my children has amounted to the worth of a copper star. I made my eldest child queen. She repays me by letting the kingdom become bankrupt, drinking and cursing her position while she talks of whoring herself. She raised a vain, stupid, vicious beast and has the audacity to tell him that he is a king. She taught her son nothing of ruling and wonders why he rips out tongues and beats highborn ladies.”

 

Tywin turned away from them. He did not know how to deal with the shame his children continuously brought to the Lannister name. They were bringing ruin and destruction upon his legacy, and it had to stop now. He would have more children, and he would have to do better. He failed Joanna in every way, but he would not fail Sansa.

 

“I gave my youngest the opportunity to rule in my place in King’s Landing, and instead of ruling, he bedded harlots and drank with thieves. I will not listen to more stupidity. You’ve left me too many messes to clean up. The war must end. I need an heir, and I am marrying the Stark girl to breed one that is worthy of my title, lands, and legacy. Leave.”

 

His daughter stormed away in a huff with a face redder than the Lannister dress she wore. She slammed the door as she was wont to do when upset. She never had the self-control or grace of a lady, and perhaps it was better that she wait to learn her future until nearer that time.

 

“Congratulations, Father. You’ve done something I never thought. You found someone more cruel to wed her to than me. I had no idea you were so perverse.”

 

“When the Stark boy agrees to the match, and he will, the war will be over. We’ll be bound by blood. His nephew will inherit the West. This is for the good of the realm.”

 

More to the point, it would ensure his legacy. She was young and beautiful, and her mother and grandmothers had both had many children. She would give him pleasure, and he would make sure she wanted for nothing. He would take care of her enemies, not least of all because they were also enemies of the realm.

 

“You—”

 

“Me?” Tyrion looked back at him, rubbing one stubby leg.

 

“Not a word about this to Princess Sansa. You will leave in the morning to deliver the request for a meeting to negotiate the cessation of violence between the North and South.”

 

“Why me? Because the Starks enjoy inviting me to partake in the hospitality of sky cells in the Eyrie. Hoping there are flooding cells in Riverrun that I will love equally.”

 

“Enough. You’ll go because you’ve been told to. You’ve spent more time with them than any other Lannister, and you have a devious, low cunning. You will determine their intentions with this trade, and you will assess your brother’s condition. Nothing of the marriage plans will be said to them. I will be offering that, and that whore remains here.”

 

Tywin glared his youngest child out of the room after dismissing him with his sliding two finger gesture. Princess Sansa would make a fine wife. She was young and lovely. She was dutiful and respectful. She would end the war. She would come to see the wisdom of this decision as they shared more conversations. She would be the most beautiful bride in forty years, and like so many beautiful women before her, she would belong to the most powerful man in the seven kingdoms.

 

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 blank parchment. A colorful ink jar in front of her caught the evening sun, and she twisted the quill in her fingers. She rubbed her lips together, waiting for inspiration of any kind. There was so much she wanted to say, and so much more she never wanted to tell anyone about her experiences in the capital. All she wanted was to leave this place. She prayed for it every day. Perhaps the man who had been answering her other prayers would give her this too. Writing to her family was surely one step closer to leaving, even if it was reviewed.

 

After the tears of joy dried and her breathing calmed to a manageable level, she had sat here, trying to decide what she wanted to say, what she would be allowed to say, and revelling a little in the idea that she would get to speak to the people she loved. So far, Lord Lannister had consistently held to his word about everything. From things as trivial as when sewing materials would arrive to when they would take outings into the city, his words always came true. He had been the unexpected answer to countless prayers. She was no longer something to be beaten by kingsguards in the middle of court. She had barely even seen King Joffrey since Tyren and Gerold became her guards. There would be a price for the relief and safety that Lord Lannister offered. Lannisters did not give gifts without expecting a return, but she was certain that the price would be worth it.

 

Today, Lord Tywin was giving her two opportunities. She should feel annoyed that she could could not send a private message to her family, but all she could see was the chance to speak to both sides. This was nothing to be squandered. Being sent to redo her letter was not an option to contemplate. If she had to rewrite it, she would lose the attention of one warring party. If her family sensed Lannister minds behind her letter, she would lose the attention of both. The balance between who she was now and the girl that her mother and brother would be looking for was critical. She had to write to them as the lady she had always wanted to be. They knew her longing to be a great lady. Now, she just had to decide what a great lady would say at sixteen years old. Somethings were impossible and others simply difficult.

 

Closing her eyes, she forced her thoughts from all her pain and suffering to keep away the stressed tears. That time had been behind her since Lord Tywin came. This letter would leave in hours. There was no time for emotional outbursts. She dipped her quill and let her hand glide, swirling through her elegant letters. It may have been minutes or hours later that she signed her name and was sprinkling sand on the ink when the door to his lordship’s solar was flung open.

 

It so startled Sansa to see Ser Kevan Lannister enter the room clutching a small note that must have just been delivered by raven earlier that day and just found its way to him that she was on her feet with a hand pressed over her heart in seconds.

 

“Tywin?” His voice was a wet gasp as he finally lost the battle with his tears. He collapsed in a chair before the fireplace, chest heaving as they poured helplessly. “He’s gone. My son is gone. Willem. Gone.”

 

Sansa’s heart screamed for the man. She had seen him frequently. He was never overly affable, but he treated her as respectfully as propriety demanded. There was always love in his eyes for his older brother. It was the way she had looked at Robb, and a way she had never looked at the only other brother that remained to her. That was a broken tower to mend the moment she was able, and a prayer to see Jon Snow was something she would whisper tonight in the godswood. Thoughts of her pain needed to be set aside for the minute. A lady would help ease the heart of a man who just learned his son was dead.

 

“Ser Kevan.” She approached him cautiously as sickly, wounded sounds escaped him. Emotional Lannisters were unpredictable, and if the north was responsible, there was no way to know if this man would lash out at a daughter of the north. “Ser Kevan, what has happened?”

 

Her hand sought his shoulder the same way it held the Hound’s all those moons ago when her father was alive and before she realized what being a wolf in the lion’s den meant. The Hound had told her a tale that she could never have imagined, how he got his scars from his brother as a child. His brother shoving his head into the flames while he screamed, and his father’s lies about bedding catching fire. She remembered the darkness around them afterward and the ride back to the Red Keep in silence before he threatened to kill her if she ever told anyone what he had said. Yet, he stayed by her side during the greatest danger she had known, the bread riots.

 

“My son has been murdered. Willem was a good boy. He wanted to join the Kingsguard.”

 

She eased down near the man, uttering no words of comfort or assurance to this man who had just lost his son. No words had helped her immediately after her father’s death. She just listened to him whisper about a boy who loved riding horses and eating apple tarts and fishing near Lannisport with his uncle and sparring with his brothers with wooden swords. His hand was limp in hers as words of love and loss were expelled by a stomach that could no longer hold them. His forehead eventually drooped to her shoulder after he fell silent.

 

A deep ache filled her chest for him in the same way a calmness and surety settled over her. Lannisters were not made of the cold gold that came from their mines. They were fathers and brothers, mothers and daughters, wives and husbands. Her arms rose up and wrapped around Ser Kevan. It was all she had that could console him, and it was precious little. There was every reason to try and to give. They could not live with this hate between their families. They had to reverse the coin, find the other side.

 

Tears slipped down her cheeks for him as she thought of her letter, what she had said and what she had left to say.

 

“Kevan.”

 

He looked up at the sound of his brother’s voice, and Sansa let her arms fold back till her hands rested in her lap. The shoulder of her gown was soaked with his tears. She handed the knight a folded square of fabric from her dress pocket.

 

“Thank you, my Lady. I apologize for my behavior.”

 

“Ser Kevan.” Her voice was calm and gentle, and she used his name to take his attention in the way she had been seeing his brother do to countless others at court. “Please do not think me upset by the love of a father for his son. Nothing is more right than you mourning your child. I only wish there was more I could do to ease your pain. Should you desire to speak of him, you will have a ready listener in me, Ser. Call upon me at any time.”

 

She placed her hand upon his gently for just a moment before withdrawing as Lord Tywin approached. She curtsied to the Great Lion as he motioned his usual dismissal to her. Moving past him, she took up her letter, the quill, and ink.

 

“My Lord, may I bring my letter to you in an hour? I feel there is more to say and little time to find the words. I hope that you will find my sentiments both worthy and acceptable.”

 

She dipped her head softly at his nod and slipped out of the room, praying that he had not heard her pounding heart. It was risky speaking to the Old Lion once he dismissed her. His nod and emerald eyes following her movements as his own body gave a slight bow in her direction gave her the slimmest hope that he had been listening.

 

Maybe it could make a difference as long as her mother and brother believed the words were from her. Surely they would see the lady she had always wanted to be in her sentiments. Her greatest worry was that they would not feel this letter to be from her heart or that anger would continue clouding their actions. She was not the silly girl she had been, but the experiences that changed her into a lady were something she did not know if she could ever share with them. They had not been at the mercy of a mad king. She would not wish it upon them. Until experiencing it, the story of King Aerys burning her grandfather and strangling her uncle had just been horrible stories. Hearing of her pain and suffering would only ignite greater rage and resentment between two contentious families already at war.

 

No words would ever convey the agony of shattered promises of mercy and bodies flopping to stages and heads on spikes. She could not resurrect the dead, and fighting on would only create more fatherless daughters and mothers absent sons. It had to end, and she was willing to pay the price because the cost of continuance was too high.

 

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 sat beside his brother after reading the little note, waiting for the shocked grief to fade and reason to return. He seemed to be calming as he wiped his face with the cloth given to him by Princess Sansa.

 

“What happened?”

 

“Murdered by Karstark men while he slept. Apparently in retaliation for Jaime’s escape attempt that ended with the death of Karstark’s son. What did they expect to happen, keeping a lion in a cage? Did they expect Jaime would act like a highborn lady?”

 

Tywin’s face took a slightly grimmer look. His son’s recklessness always got in the way of good judgment, and now it was costing Lannister lives. Lives less important than Jaime’s, but Lannister lives nonetheless. It would likely end up taking his head if he could not learn to control himself. Peace could not come quickly enough. The renewal of law and justice and governing were the only things that would save his oldest son, the only child who loved his family as selflessly as Joanna had. Madness. Chaos. Stupidity. Jaime should have known better than to do half of what he had done. Why did his children persist in behaving like fools? Jaime knew that his father would be doing everything he could to have him returned. The boy had no patience.

 

“An offer to discuss terms of peace at Riverrun has been accepted by the King in the North, and I will be leaving in the next several days to begin the negotiations.”

 

“You have his leg in a trap and a bolt in his side. Why seek peace?”

 

His brother was not wrong, though he did not know the whole plan. Boldness and a decent head for strategy when swords and shields were the tools at hand were all the Young Wolf had. King Robb, at eighteen years of age, had proven himself an able commander, and his failures were so subtle that he was not yet aware of the how much snow was above him, ready to crash down and bury him at the first foolish noise.

 

Losing the Frey alliance was piss poor thinking. Walder Frey probably would have given two daughters to a king to have one a princess and a grandson made king in time. It was more than the old idiot had ever dreamed possible. Whatever happened with the Westerling girl need not have made him lose sleep. Men had sex with women they would never marry during every war that had ever been. Even the honorable Ned Stark was said to have had a dalliance with the beautiful Lady Ashara Dayne. Lady Jeyne Westerling should have been his lapse instead of his downfall. That was all she would have been if the boy understood the complexities of war.

 

Now the words of another letter conveyed that Robb Stark had executed Lord Karstark for treason. That was thousands more abandoning his army. Immediate responses to impulsive actions in war times were the path to death and defeat. A calm mind won wars more readily that fists beaten bloody against the wrong opponents. Lord Karstark had not been his enemy, but he turned all the Karstark men on him for honor. He should have taken the old lord hostage to keep the Karstark men loyal. Punishment could have come at the end of the war. No man should be put to death without great consideration.

 

“I have word from Lord Bolton that Jaime was set free by Lady Stark. Peace is the quickest way to ensure that he reaches the capital safely. Robert and Baelish have successfully bankrupted the kingdoms with their stupidity. We need to begin repaying the debts owed to the Iron Bank before foreign armies are knocking down our doors. Starks may be prone to bouts of honor and stupidity, but they are always right. Winter is coming. They have resources that we will need or can trade for what we need across the Narrow Sea. We won’t trade while we’re warring. It will end soon, one way or another. They say that the north remembers. Good. Let them remember their fool king leading them to disaster when Lord Tywin offered peace and at a low price.”

 

He had fools to take the blame if the boy refused, and he would have a princess to marry either way. He would have his way whether peace took a few more weeks or a few short autumn months.

 

“What is the price?”

 

“Two advantageous marriages and some inconsequential details.”

 

The Stark boy had surely been taught how women can start wars. It was time for him to learn how they end them. The Key to the North would be in a Lannister bed regardless of his choices. He would have Lannisters ruling all the kingdoms in time. The soft knock at the door stole him from his musings about his legacy.

 

“Enter.”

 

Lady Sansa glided into his solar and stopped directly to his right side. She curtsied to him, holding her letter already folded prettily in her hand. His eyes greedily observed her.

 

She was a vision in the deep green gown that dipped only modestly in front to display just the very tops of her blooming figure. Two vibrant red curls accented each side of her face where they draped her shoulders. The gold lion pendant at her throat gleamed, marking her as his. She had taken quite well to wearing it. Her bare forearms looked silky soft, making him long to run the tips of his fingers over the bare flesh.

 

Every instruction she was given she mastered with very little repetition. Nervous fear still clung to her at times when she would gaze into his face, but she managed to master most of the signals. Only her eyes still widened, though inconsistently. She seemed to have learned that he was not interested in unnecessary violence toward her. His violence was premeditated. There was also an offered alternative to it. As long as she gave him no cause, none would come her way. It was not needed and destructive when his ends for her were considered.

 

“My Lord, my letter is ready. I pray it will meet with your approval.”

 

She offered him the parchment. When he took it, she slipped from his side and replaced his ink and quill in their proper places, returning to his side afterward. He motioned for her to be seated in the chair she occasionally used when they shared an evening in conversation about the topic he slipped into her mind or that she found on her own.

 

Tension eased from his back as he read the lovely, scrolling script. Her words were eloquent and gently urgent. They flowed delicately tinged with her new knowledge and understanding of the cruelty in the world. He could see the girl who had been tortured by a sadistic king in them, but there was no word of any evil she had suffered.

 

“Will your brother know these words are from his sister?”

 

Sansa stared at her hands, quietly pondering as she was wont during their talks. Her letter was nearly perfect in every way, though she might not know it. Her impassioned plea for peace, her request that her brother do only what he could, her talk of the cost being too high, and that it would gain them nothing worth having. Live to listen instead of fighting to die. She longs to see him and her mother again.

 

“I believe so, my Lord. My mother and brother know what I have always desired. They should see that desire in this. I can’t write a letter as the girl they knew three years ago. She’s gone. She’ll never come back. They will see the lady I have always longed to be in these words.”

 

“The messenger tomorrow is carrying an agreement for us to meet at Riverrun to discuss the peace terms. That will begin with both parties seeing their families.”

 

The softening of his expression was beyond his control for once as he took in Lady Sansa’s response. Her eyes shut to hold in tears, and she covered her mouth with a hand as her chest heaved. It was not going to be the dream of going home which she envisioned, and that knowledge almost made him feel like a mean, selfish, old man.

 

“My Lord, will I truly see my brother and mother again?” she asked once she had control of herself and tucked her hands back into her lap properly.

 

“When I see my son, you will see your brother and mother. See that your things are packed for the morning. We have only two days till we will be joining my army and leaving. The queen mother will be joining us on our travels.” He paused to watch her reaction to this, noting the way her eyes half-frosted and half-glazed before she responded.

 

“It will be a pleasure to have the queen mother’s companionship.”

 

Tywin bit back his response as his face tightened again, reminding himself that breaking her of old habits would be difficult. They were in front of the only other person he trusted, but her comforting his brother earlier did not mean that she trusted Kevan. She would come to see his good sense in time, and she did not deserve barbs for being guarded. A snarl here and there in private would not do lasting damage, but public humiliation, even before just one man, might set him back. There was no time for them to be at odds or for her to be suspicious of him or frightened.

 

“My daughter will have other duties to attend and shall scarce have time to be a pleasurable companion.” His voice warped on the word pleasurable just enough to tell Sansa that he knew she did not care for Cersei’s company more than the queen mother cared for hers. “As such, you will primarily be sharing my company in the evenings when I am not busy. I have already chosen out several books to be available to you.”

 

Her eyes regained some of their light at this, and the pinching in his chest eased as her lips twitched up for a moment. When he looked at her, all he could see sometimes was the chance to do better than he had with Joanna. The Mad King had done everything he could to rip them apart. As if he would stop loving his wife when she had been unable to say no. He kept his voice gentle as his heart pulsed. This girl was a means to end a war, not something to be cared for beyond what pride and position demanded. He would protect her because she was his, and he owed it to himself. No one would take her away from him.

 

“Jonquil will be coming and her brother. They are your responsibilities. Go and see to your packing, my Lady. Then copy this letter twice more.”

 

Such an item would be of interest to the maester at Casterly Rock once they were wed and to the Citadel when they recorded the ending of the War of Five Kings.

 

“My Lord.” Tywin lowered his eyes as Sansa sank to her knees in front of him, taking his hand with hers slowly. “Thank you, my Lord. Thank you.”

 

Petal soft lips grazed his knuckles, and he twisted his hand around in her grasp. Her cheek was soft and warm against his palm, and contentment settled over him again. He would be good to her when they married. Political match or not, she would be the Lady of Casterly Rock. No one would hurt her or insult her after that day or the Reyne-Tarbek Rebellion would look like a country picnic by the time he was done. Anyone who insulted his wife would be insulting him, and his children by her would rule Westeros.

 

“Go.” He rubbed his thumb once over her cheek before pulling his hand back.

 

She rose to her feet, curtsied to him and departed with a single soft look back at him.

 

“Tywin?” His younger brother’s shocked tone and dropped jaw as he uttered his name had Tywin’s face freezing over.

 

“Treating her gently is a small price to pay in return for what she’ll give the family.”

 

“Tywin.” A deaf man would have heard the light reproach in his brother’s tone, and it made Tywin lean back and press his fingers together.

 

The Great Lion of Lannister turned away from his confidante. He had the girl. He could wed and bed the girl now if it pleased him. He did not have to ask for her. Accomplishing his goal would be made more difficult if he did, but he had her. If the Stark boy thought to take her back and give her to another lord, he would destroy them all. He always was a mean man, not because he wanted it. He had never had a choice. Keeping her with him would pay for her brother’s life which was what she wanted. She would settle his war debts in full when she took her place in his bed and spread her legs for him.

 

“Tywin, it’s not wrong if you like her. You can allow yourself to feel happy.”

 

His face curled into an ugly sneer. Princess Sansa was a means to augment his legacy in a way he had never imagined possible. His sons and grandsons ruling everywhere. The Riverlands, the North, the West by his sons. The Crownlands and the Stormlands by grandchildren. A granddaughter engaged to the prince of Dorne. A grandson engaged to a Tyrell, securing the Reach. Only the Vale of Arryn was untouched, and that would be easily handled by grandchildren. There was a word for what the Vale would be: surrounded. He would not speak these plans aloud to anyone, certainly no one while he was here. The walls of the Red Keep had ears and eyes in plenty.

 

“It isn’t wrong. Joanna only ever wished the best life for you. She would want you to love and be loved by a second wife. Her last words to me were that she wanted you to feel the sun again. You just have to let yourself.”

 

“I don’t love the girl. She is tolerable, and she is the best solution.”

 

Joanna was the only woman he had ever loved. Marrying her had been his only selfish act, and that selfishness had gotten her humiliated, raped, dismissed from court, and often too long parted from him. It ended with her bleeding out in his arms after birthing a little monster. He was marrying Lady Sansa for the realm, and she would stay at his side. No further ill would befall her. If it did, he would leave the realm a pile of ashes.

Chapter Text

 

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 out at the sea of red cloaks and banners marching around her along the King’s Road. She twisted around, looking back at the city she had endured. The Red Keep and the Sept of Baelor, two places she hoped to never see again, were now nothing but tiny dots that would soon disappear. With any luck, she would never pass through any of the horrid gates to her prison again.

 

“Hopefully, you’ll never see that place again.”

 

“But you will miss the city, won’t you, Shae?”

 

Shae shrugged and leaned against the window to stare out, going quiet. She was grateful that the Lorathi woman was allowed to come as well. Lord Tywin had not appeared pleased by the request, but he appeared pleased by quite little. Many gentle words about Shae’s loyalty to her had gotten his grudging approval, despite his displeasure.

 

“Milady.”

 

“All is well, Jonquil. Everything will be well.”

 

“Thank you for letting my mother come with us.”

 

Sansa nodded and smiled to the girl. She would not separate a mother from her young boy. Her own mother fought against the idea of having Bran separated from her at so young an age as he had been when she and Arya left Winterfell. Had it not been for his accident, he might have come south with them. She was grateful that he had not endured that. He might have been restrained, the same as she had been, when their father was executed on false charges. She hoped that she was the only Stark who had to watch that. She would not wish anyone to watch their father die like that.

 

The queen’s monstrous wheelhouse creaked along behind six large horses a short distance ahead of them. She was relieved that she was not expected to ride in the same contraption. Lord Tywin had been most considerate to provide her with her own carriage. It would be a far more peaceful journey to Riverrun without being surrounded by all the queen’s hatred. She took out some sewing and began stitching again. It was mindless in many ways and helped ease her nerves to put her story onto the beautiful white fabric Lord Tywin provided her. It removed the concerns of what was to come.

 

The war and life had changed her, and she only experienced one horrendous battle that lit the night sky green and brought one of the bravest men she had ever seen to her chambers, reeking of blood, smoke, and wine. She wondered what had become of the Hound. Something made her feel certain that would see him again, be given the chance to help him, to show him gentleness. But right now, she had the opportunity to help thousands more stop before rage consumed them and killed them.

 

What had the war done to her brother, a man who had known what would happen but never witnessed or lived with the consequences? Men died because of decisions her brother had made. There was no other choice. Robb had seen what she had been blind to. If he had come to King’s Landing without his banners, he would have been murdered by Joffrey. Her father was dead because of her choices when she believed all would be well. She loved him, and he was dead. He was not coming back. She had to make sure her brother would not be dead.

 

After stitching as much as she could without being emotionally overwhelmed by the story she was telling in it, she folded the fabric and placed it to one side before picking up one of the books that Lord Tywin had asked her to read: The Reign of Aerys, Second of his Name, King of the Andals and the First Men, Ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, Protector of the Realm .

 

A length of ribbon stuck out of it in the middle, prompting Sansa to turn to the marked page. A picture of a stunningly handsome young man with silver-blond hair that reminded her of Lord Tyrion’s and brilliant purple eyes stared up at her. She could not help thinking how his face looked oddly familiar to her, as if only the colors were wrong. He wore a black doublet with a three headed dragon stitched on the front with red thread. Under the gorgeous drawing, the words Prince Rhaegar Targaryen caught her eye. This was the man who kidnapped and raped her aunt. She flipped to the next page quickly.

 

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 flicked his fingers at the generals who joined him for the evening meal. They were three days away from Riverrun, and everything was proceeding according to schedule. It was time to inform Cersei of her future husband if negotiations went well. She had been sending requests to speak with him for the past six nights.

 

He slipped out the back entrance and ordered Ser Addam Marbrand and a few of his men who were seated near her tent keep an eye on Sansa with a jerk of his head. His daughter would be passing directly by it, and he could not afford any backlash hitting his betrothed. She was not yet informed of what was to be, but he would be telling her soon what was in their future. So far, she had been a lovely, considerate travelling companion. She was always ready to eat when he summoned her in the mornings to break their fasts. She did not burden him with worthless complaints about the conditions in which they journeyed.

 

Satisfied once her tent was surrounded by men who knew his daughter was not to be in contact with the maid, he turned back into the tent. She would not be alarmed by this. Sansa had made a point of learning the names of the men assigned to her protection and knew a little of their homes and families. They were all rather taken with her, not in a romantic sense. They knew their place was to stand between her and danger, and they were fond of her easy, quiet way. She was a good listener with an excellent memory.

 

He sat down at his desk, ignoring Cersei when she entered. He finished a short note to Princess Sansa to tell her that she would dine with him the next evening and what he expected her to have read. He sealed it and called for a guard. The man nodded and departed with a smile on his face which brought a cold sneer to Tywin’s. He never trusted smiles. It was time to begin explaining to his princess what her role would be in establishing peace for the realm. She seemed as ready for this news as he had time to prepare her to be.

 

“You wanted to speak with me. Speak.”

 

“I should be in the capital with my son. He needs me right now. The Tyrell girl knows how to manipulate him.”

 

His eyes flicked up at her. She said that like it was a bad thing. She taught her son nothing and was surprised when another found a way to speak to him and make him listen. Margaery Tyrell had a brain in her head to have figured out how to get through the madness. She might manage for a short time, but he would eventually go too far with her, just as he had with Sansa.

 

“Good. Someone needs to know how to handle him.”

 

Cersei leaned toward her father, taking a pitcher of wine and pouring some. The capital was the last place that she needed to be. She was utterly incompetent, and she craved power that she could not handle. Her understanding of ruling was limited to an inability to accept that others had their own agendas and that destroying them was never the first option.

 

She knew the history of the Reynes and Tarbecks. She was his child, but she did not understand that he gave them more than one chance to avoid their annihilation. They owed money to House Lannister, a great deal of money. He ordered their debts repaid. If they were unable, they were allowed to send a hostage to Casterly Rock until their debts could be paid. There was a command, yet there was an alternative if it could not be readily met. They refused his terms and thought to bully his father, but they found him waiting for them. When he seized his bellicose vassal, Lady Tarbeck had taken three Lannisters hostage. His father freed Tarbeck with an apology, instead of following his son’s advice and returning her lord to her in three pieces, one for each Lannister she held hostage. He again offered a hand to his rebellious vassals to help them to their feet. The trouble with fools is that they do not always know when they are on their knees. He ordered them to the Rock for judgment. They chose war with him, as he had known they would. He had his army prepared in advance, ready to meet their forces, an army of veterans. He won his war and made sure there would never be a rebellion against his family again.

 

“Why am I here?” She drank deeply, glaring at him as she drummed her fingers.

 

If only she knew how petulant she appeared, she might cease. She seemed to think herself a female version of him when he truly had no idea how she came to that erroneous conclusion. She had no qualities of a queen, and she did not understand people. She had done nothing with the gifts he gave her. He gave her royalty, and she wasted her time drinking. She should have spent time endearing herself to powerful houses. There might not have been four men ready to declare themselves kings if she had been paying attention and doing her duty, instead of nursing wounds.

 

“I am doing as I must, and you will do as you must. You are here to do your part to make peace with the families with whom your son started a war. You owe a debt, and you’ll be paying it. You will marry Lord Edmure Tully.”

 

His daughter shook with a rage that would soon have voice. Her face turned red, and she shook her pretty golden head as her breath came out in an angry snort.

 

“No, I won’t.”

 

“Yes, you will.” Tywin’s voice dropped into the warning tone. “You’re still fertile. You need to marry and breed.”

 

“I am queen regent, not some broodmare!”

 

Tywin nearly rolled his eyes. She had not listened a bit to him. He had already given this lesson to her son in her presence. Anyone who must say I am the king is no true king. She could not be so foolish as to think declaring herself the queen made it so. He was winning this war for them, and they still refused to understand.

 

“You’re my daughter!” He raised his voice to stop the hysterics and shut her up. She shrank back as he continued at the raised volume before lowering it as she paled, shaking her head with tears in her eyes. “You will do as I command and marry Edmure Tully. All you have done with your title is cause trouble. When Lord Tully agrees to the peace terms, you’ll go to the sept in Riverrun, say your vows, spread your legs, and do your duty. I’ll hear no more disgusting rumors about you.”

 

“Father, don’t make me do it again, please.”

 

“Not another word.”

 

Tywin glared at her. Another flavor of hysterics. She had allowed this war to happen. Now, she would help end the war the way a woman could. If she insisted in her behavior and refused to breed, the rest of the peace terms would still put a Lannister in that castle. His eyes slid to the flap of his tent as it flipped up suddenly.

 

“Lord Tywin, you must come. The Hound is here. He claims to have Arya Stark and is threatening to kill her if we try to take her.”

 

Tywin rose slowly as his captain stood before him, panting and doubled over from the exertion.

 

“Stay with my daughter. If she attempts to leave, bind her to that chair.”

 

“Father, please.”

 

Tywin ignored her call, leaving quickly and issuing the order to one guard to locate Princess Sansa. If anyone would recognize Arya Stark, it would be her. Clegane would take money for the girl and be executed for cowardice. He ran away from the battle with his tail tucked between his legs, but first, Arya Stark would be rescued, if it was the lost Stark daughter. She would make a fine gift to them, a lost child returned to her mother's embrace, a second princess to be given in marriage to a deserving lord.

 

The red sash floated behind him as he squeezed with his legs, telling the stallion to canter through the camp. Ahead of him, outside the tent line at some distance, he could see Clegane on his black charger. It was the auburn haired creature floating toward the mutt that had him urging the horse to a gallop. He cursed internally, and his chest clenched in a mass of fear and pain at what he was about to see. If Clegane hurt Sansa, he would never be able to repay that debt just as he had never truly repaid the Mad King for what he had done. If she died, his son was a dead man and putting a Lannister in all the great houses would die like sparks that never got the air they needed to burn. She was worthless if she was dead, and he would have failed her. The death of every man in the camp would not so much as staunch the wound.

 

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.

 

“Protect the princess.”

 

Sansa gasped as dozens of men surrounded her. She had been out for her late afternoon walk around the camp to stretch her legs after being in a carriage all day, and she was still becoming accustomed to how she went from captive to princess the moment she joined Lord Tywin’s army. They could only be referring to her. She was often the only lady around to be addressed. Every soldier stood as she walked by and bowed if they were highborn. If they were lowborn, they bent a knee. Even Gerold and Tyren now addressed her as princess and always bowed when they came on duty as her guards.

 

Shouts as soldiers rushed about did not shock her half as much as the gruff voice she instantly recognized. A ring of soldiers surrounded her as words she never expected were shouted, and a voice she thought gone forever screamed. Her heart rejoiced at both, and she moved forward to peer over a man’s shoulder at the sight.

 

“Arya Stark is my prisoner, and I’m willing to sell her.”

 

“Arya!” She shouted, tears springing to her eyes at the voice. She would never forget that voice. Her sister was alive, and she was close.

 

“You son of whore! You’re the worst shit in the Seven Kingdoms!”

 

“Move.” Sansa spoke loud enough to startle the soldiers around her. She slipped between two of them and gasped at what she had known she would see and paled at what she had not expected to see.

 

Sandor Clegane sat atop his foul tempered horse, and her sister dressed as a boy with mostly shorn hair sat nearly in his lap. His arm was wrapped around her, holding a familiar dagger to Arya’s throat. Something she had never before felt filled her as she gazed at the imposing man. He would strike down any of the men who approached, but he would not hurt her. The confidence in that belief based on his every action in the Red Keep spoke to her heart, telling her that she was completely safe with him. She could rescue her sister, and she was the only one who could.

 

Lifting her long gray skirt just enough to avoid tripping, Sansa walked purposefully toward him. Ugly words from a man who never deserved a crown filled her head, giving her strength to continue. Get her a dog. Sandor was no dog, but it was his sigil. Mayhaps, he was supposed to be with her. She would help him today, the same as she had that dark night some moons ago when he held a dagger to her throat and had her sing for him.

 

“Princess Sansa.” Gerold stretched his arm in front of her.

 

The panic in his eyes made Sansa pause long enough to give him a tranquil smile. He was understandably uncomfortable, but she was in no danger. He would see that, and he would obey her command.

 

“All is well, Gerold. You and Tyren have no work here but to wait for me. I must save my sister, and I must go alone. He won’t hurt me.”

 

“Princess.” Tyren shook his head at her. "The Hound could chop you to pieces."

 

“You will both wait here.” She turned from the guards who saved her life from that false knight and stayed by her side every day. They could never understand how much she owed the man holding her sister. “He will kill you, but that man is no danger to me.”

 

She had not realized it until she began working on her tapestry. His actions had been a source of hope when Joffrey ordered pain and humiliation be delivered to her. This man had helped when and where he could and never once sought repayment beyond a song and her looking him in the face. She stopped several dozen paces in front of him, holding her hands clasped daintily as she looked up at him. A sweet smile graced her lips. It was not the smile she had used when she found her courteous response to his comments about his mountainous brother. It was a smile to tell him that she saw him and knew him.

 

His horse snorted, nervously rolling his eye on her. He pawed the ground restlessly and twisted back and forth with snorts and whinnies.

 

“Sansa, what are you doing here? Are you stupid?”

 

“I’m glad to see you, Arya. I’ve missed you very much.” She did not look at her sister as she spoke, looking up at her captor serenely instead. When her sister had no response, she spoke to her again. “I know we’ve had much discord between us, caused by myself as often as not, but we are sisters. Allow your sister to do that which you cannot. I promise we’ll see Robb and mother soon. I just need your trust, something I have little right to ask for after everything. Please trust me, Arya.”

 

Arya’s eyes nearly bulged out of her head, but by the grace of the seven and wisdom of the old gods, she was silent. Now came the more difficult person. There seemed only one choice left to start. Not a lord. Not a ser, and she refused to degrade him by calling him the names her tormentor preferred for him, Hound or Dog, even if he claimed not to mind. He deserved better, and a lady would treat him better, no matter how he snapped and snarled about it.

 

“Sandor Clegane.” The sullen look in his eyes melted away at her use of his name. “Let us know a better day. There is a kinder way.”

 

She walked beside the head of the great war horse, stepping up beside Sandor. Sandor would not let the horse hurt her, though she remembered Stranger taking a bite out of a young stable boy in front of her. The horse was more than capable of being just as angry and obtuse as his master. She kept her eyes locked with him.

 

“Little Bird.”

 

It was mostly mumbled, but his hands were loosening. Remembering his reaction every time she had found the courage to touch him had her hand raising slowly. His eyes tracked it like a hunting hound’s did a game bird. She curled her fingers around his vambrace. The slightest pressure of her hand moving pulled the weapon away from her sister’s throat. She moved his hand out fully to the side so the dagger could be seen by all the soldiers behind them, and she kept his wrist in place with the flat of her palm.

 

“Release my sister, Sandor.”

 

As if in something of a trance, he lifted Arya to the ground. His eyes had fled from hers, finding instead her tiny hand pressed to his arm. Her other hand took Arya’s. She could feel her sister’s eyes on her, watching every move with no understanding, and that was okay. Arya had her own skills, and this was something only Sansa could do. It was okay for them to be different. She drew her sister in close, embracing her with one arm and pressing their cheeks together for a moment.

 

“Thank you, Sandor.” Her voice was soft, meant just for him.

 

“He has my sword, the one Jon gave me.” Arya’s voice cracked a little as she said their brother’s name, and she turned her gray eyes to Clegane to glare at him.

 

“Please give my sister back what is hers.”

 

Rather than chastising her sister for having it or even rolling her eyes, she watched the steel removed from his belt quietly. It was a present from Jon, whom Arya always cherished and loved better than any of her other siblings. It was only natural she should need such a treasure.

 

Sandor handed her a small, thin scabbard. Sansa took it with the same placid expression of relaxed calmness gracing her. Arya brightened when it was handed to her, tucking it to her chest. She squeezed her sister’s hand.

 

“Why are you with the Lannister Army, Sansa? I thought you were in King’s Landing.”

 

Sansa looked down at her shorter sister, unsure what to do about the situation behind her. If she walked away with Arya, she was condemning a good man to death. This man had saved her life, thought her life more precious than the king’s during the riot. He gave her hope when she had been surrounded by the most vicious of enemies.

 

“I’m being returned to Robb and mother in exchange for Ser Jaime.”

 

She thought about telling Arya more, but this was neither the time nor the place for such a lengthy discussion. It was one Arya would not like, and helping her see something beyond the surface would not be easy. Arya had hated the Lannisters from the start, but people were more than their surface appearances.

 

Sandor was a monster on the surface, but he had the goodness of a true knight within him, no matter how vehemently he would deny it. Joffrey was a beautiful prince, but he was rotten to his core. Lord Tywin was colder than the wall, but there was some warmth in him. He just needed someone to help him find his way back to it.

 

“Doesn’t hurt to call a man what he is, Little Bird. He’s a Kingslayer. You best realize who you’re travelling with. Every Lannister cunt has a plan within a plan. If your name isn’t Lannister, you can bet their plan won’t be fun for you. You don’t know what it is, best figure it out.”

 

Sansa’s gaze caught on the hand holding his arm as she made to look up and respond. The solution to this problem was gleaming in his fist as much as in her hand. The appeal could be made to Lord Lannister that he owed this man a debt as much as Sansa did, but he would need some show his liege lord where he stood. The argument could be made that he had been acting in Lord Tywin’s interests all along, if she spoke well.

 

“Sandor, do you want to live?”

 

“Of course, he wants to live.”

 

Sansa turned to her sister at the tone of incredulity in her voice. She did not truly grasp this situation, that it was delicate. It had to be handled just so or it would all be for nothing.

 

“He needs help now, or he won’t.” Thirty-thousand swords against one, and these were not scared, starving rats. These were soldiers. “Swords will lose this fight. Only words are left with which for us to duel.”

 

“Why save the dog?” Sandor growled, keeping close to both girls.

 

The idea of turning his phrase on him played in her mind, of asking why not save a dog? However, it would be rude and would likely anger him. It would not help her cause.

 

“You’re angry and hurt. I have been hurt and angry, and you saved me from that. You offered me a cloak once. Allow me to return that kindness today. Please, Sandor.” Her voice was soft, and she stared into the usually furious gray eyes. Her breath came out a little heavier and a little faster as she spoke her next words. “Put away your weapon.”

 

He sheathed the dagger, and the sigh she had been holding in escaped as she raised her chin proudly. She did that. She was bringing one of the fiercest warriors in the seven kingdoms to heel. She did not really understand how she was accomplishing it, only that she had been working at it for some time in the Red Keep. Now, he was hers, and she would treat him well.

 

“Come down off your horse.” She raised her voice to be sure that all eyes and ears were hers. It was the only way.

 

Sandor slid down and dropped to his knees in front of her. He pulled his sword, placing it at her feet even as numerous soldiers shuffled behind them prepared to avenge her if she were struck down, though none moved for fear of causing that catastrophe.

 

“You swore to protect me once. Will you do so again?” It was not quite the oath she would have chose to hear from someone, but it had been the best he knew how to offer. No one would hurt you again, or I'd kill them.

 

“I will shield your back, keep your counsel, and give my life for yours if need be. I swear it by the old gods and the new.” His rough, growling voice vowing to her warmed her in an inexplicable way. He had refused to say vows to join the Kingsguard, distrusted them, but he was willing to say those words to her. She had to believe that they meant as much to him as they did to her.

 

She placed a hand on his good cheek, tilting his face so he was looking up into hers.

 

“And I vow that you shall always have a place by my hearth and meat and mead at my table. I pledge to ask no service of you that will bring you dishonor. I swear it by the old gods and the new.” She released her sister’s hand, reaching up to release the ties of her cloak. She placed it over his shoulders in the northern style of a lady accepting a man as a sworn shield. “Rise.”

 

Sandor sheathed his sword as he stood and glowered hatefully at all the Lannister soldiers and with a special hatred toward the Warden of the West.

 

“Yeah, glaring at them is going to help. Him promising to be your dog isn’t going to help either, Sansa.”

 

“It will.”

 

Sansa let out a slow breath. Now all she needed to do was face Lord Tywin and King Robb with her decision. She peaked back over her shoulder at the soldiers and saw Lord Tywin atop the white horse, looking every bit the lord and leader he was. He looked more like a king than any other man she had ever seen, and she could not help wondering what he would look like sitting in the Iron Throne. Her father had looked rather awkward in the throne, but she somehow thought it would suit Lord Tywin.

 

“War of words. War of words.” She repeated the phrase in her head like a mantra.

 

She had never done anything she knew had this probability of angering the Lion of Lannister. She did this publicly and without his permission or consent. She was bringing a man who had deserted in battle into his war camp, but she was also bringing a valuable hostage who was part of no negotiations yet. He did not look angry. He looked as he ever did, like a block of ice. She would have to speak with him privately if she was to have a chance.

 

Multiple decisions. Multiple debts. Multiplied problems.

Chapter Text

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 watched cold and impassive as the scene unfolded. He was too guarded to allow his emotions to play across his face as Princess Sansa accepted a cowardly dog as her sworn shield. He was equal parts furious and impressed. Furious that, as his ward, she thought to invite a deserter into his camp, an extremely dangerous deserter at that. Impressed by her solution to whatever her goal had been, presumably saving the mongrel’s life. Slightly awed when she took the man’s arm while it held a knife to her sister’s throat and moved it as though it were nothing more troublesome than an errant butterfly. Her clear, well spoken instructions had been obeyed instantly and fluidly. The mutt’s eyes had barely strayed from her lovely face. She obviously knew how to control her pet better than his daughter, else they would not run away from her.

 

Obviously, there was infatuation on Clegane’s part. The greatest fool in the seven kingdoms would not have missed it. He was not the only man lusting for a beautiful lady, and he would not be the only one that wanted Sansa, even after she was married to a deserving man. Her new bear was going to require rules for being around the maiden fair.

 

The Hound lifted Sansa onto the back of his black beast and set the younger Stark up behind her. He walked slowly with long strides toward them. There was a slight limp in his step that he tried to hide. At least, she was not bringing the Hound in at his best. His ugly face remained blank, except for the twitches that he could not help on the burnt side.

 

“Gerold and Tyren, escort the princesses to my tent along with Princess Sansa’s new sworn shield.” Taking the girl’s face and touching her to ensure that she had been safely returned to him was not for so many eyes. No one needed to know that he had been afraid for her.

 

Sansa dipped her head to him, “My Lord.”

 

Her bright eyes blinked softly at him as he nodded in return to her. Once they disappeared in between the red silk tents, he turned to the men. They had probably done the right thing, not approaching, but they never should have allowed Sansa to leave their protection. There was not really anything to threaten or say to them. Having that many men punished advanced nothing. He would need all of them if Robb Stark decided to continue warring with him, and he would need them at their best.

 

The sight of a displeased Lion of Lannister was enough to have them all looking away and shifting in place. A few slowly eased back, slinking away shamefully with lowered heads. He turned and rode at a pace as leisurely as when he entered the throne room to accept his position as Hand of the King for the second time. He was still in control of this army, and it would be clear to them that Clegane was here with his permission. He had two lectures to give, one to his future wife which would require the most well thought out diplomacy and one to a dog that had sneaked too close to her skirts to beg for scraps and rest his head in her lap.

 

When he arrived at the tent, he was greeted by an image that made him grind his teeth. Clegane’s large, meaty paws were wrapped around Princess Sansa’s waist, lifting her to the ground, but what chilled his eyes were how her delicate, creamy hands rested on his shoulders and how softly she gazed upon him.

 

The younger wolf glared about aggressively with a hand resting on her thin, little sword. Her nose wrinkled in anger at him as she dismounted without help. He wondered whom Princess Arya believed she was fooling now. He recognized his cupbearer from Harrenhal. He had known she was more than she said, but she would never have told him who she was. She was far too clever for that. It was satisfying to see her. He had ordered the Mountain to do no harm to her, and she had been told about not letting the over-sized man become too drunk to do his work.

 

The Hound followed them into his war tent like an enormous, hulking shadow, and the moment they were within, there was a terrible screech.

 

“Evil fucking bitch! I’ll cut your head off! Let me go, Dog!”

 

Tywin dismounted gracefully and strode inside to handle whatever problem was brewing between women. The scene was less shocking than he had expected. He expected torn hair and blood. What he saw was almost comical enough to earn a snort of whatever amusement he was ever able to feel.

 

The Hound had Arya Stark lifted up off the ground, both arms pinned. Her thin sword was on the ground at Clegane’s feet, and she wriggled and flopped, glaring murder at his daughter. Cersei had a real gift for inspiring hatred and fear in those around her. She should have been making allies with these girls. It would not have been too difficult to befriend Princess Sansa with her gift for kindness and wanting to see the best in those around her, sometimes to the expense of missing the worst in them.

 

“Escort my daughter from here.”

 

“That beast abandoned the city and your family.” Cersei jabbed a finger at the Hound. “You should put it down.”

 

“A dog’s misbehavior is the fault of the master, Cersei.”

 

Her lips pinched together to hide her hurt expression. Her tears, her anger, and her hurt had never moved him in the past. She had a purpose, and she had to learn to accept it. He wanted what was best for her and for the realm. He did not know why she persisted in behaviors that gained her nothing.

 

“I’m your daughter. Maybe I should be trusted with your confidence.”

 

Tywin poured himself a cup of watered down wine.

 

“I don't trust you because you’re not as smart as you think you are, and you too often show ineptitude and stupidity. You learned nothing from your father, even sitting next to your brothers as I lectured all your lives about family.”

 

Anger replaced her hurt. She was too often governed by a spiteful, jealous hatred that she never attempted to control. It was no wonder her oldest son would never make a good king, a just king, a wise king. Grandson or not, the boy would have to be removed for the good of the realm before he ever sat the throne for true. Another monster. Another civil war, and they would destroy themselves.

 

He dismissed her, and a guard moved to lead her from the tent. She was of no use here, no use till she was married to Lord Tully. Her only use there would be keeping that man from a lady who would do her duty by him. His child would stubborn herself with moon tea just to avoid it. She would never see the good she could do by marrying and having her husband's children.

 

“Madness and stupidity.” He eased down in his chair. “Seems you’re not from Barrowton anymore than you were from Maidenpool.”

 

“I’m Arya Stark of Winterfell, and never compare me to that evil woman again. I’m way smarter than her, milord.”

 

“Arya.” Sansa’s gentle voice cut through to the girl, and she stopped struggling. “I know you think I’m stupid, and I have been about many things. I would change that if I could, but that is impossible. I can help you go home with Robb and mother, but you must calm yourself.”

 

Sandor Clegane dropped the girl, and she stooped, grabbing her sword. She looked up at Tywin from one knee with murder in her heart and eyes. Her sword would never penetrate his armor, but if she made the attempt, she would have to be physically confined. Sansa moved quietly between them, placing herself between her sister and him.

 

“Arya, this is not the way. I know you find your strength in wielding a sword. I am asking you to believe in the strength of words over arms now. Father taught you that as he taught all his children. I’m your sister. I am on your side. I just have a different weapon. Don’t kill those seeking peace. It’s a far braver thing than seeking war.”

 

The wolf girl sheathed her needle like sword, meeting Tywin’s green eyes as she spoke.

 

“If I see your evil cow daughter again, I will run her through the heart. She won’t be the first person I’ve killed, milord. She tormented my sister, and my sister forgave her for the evil. Then she let my father die. She’s the kind of stupid too stupid to know it. You put a crown on her head, letting her think she deserved it. She is no queen, no matter what her title is.”

 

Tywin did not tell the girl that he agreed. He did not tell her that his ambition was part of his daughter, and that he failed her by giving her something she did not earn. He had to take back the respect his family lost during his father's rule. He took it back with thoughtful precision and hard lessons in the West. Cersei had not been ready to rule a castle, and he gave her seven kingdoms because he loved her and wanted to make sure his family was seen as one of the most powerful families.

 

“Gerold, take Princess Arya to get something to eat. She’s fond of mutton. Keep her out of trouble and away from my daughter.”

 

That girl truly was too smart for her own good. She could go far in life, though she would never be her sister. Her strength was different, and it would require a different type of discipline for her to master herself. Sansa likely had the right of it, putting her with someone who would knock her down and bruise her would be the only way to get through to her. Learning to use a sword would teach her discipline and hard work, two things that she desperately needed. Once she mastered herself, no gods, old or new, would be able to withstand her.

 

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.

 

Sandor’s solid presence was just as she remembered, imposing and vigilant. He was also quiet, probably more because of the lord in front of him than anything else. It was a comfort she had not known she was missing. He had just done something that he clearly took seriously, despite all his claims that words were wind. If that was all they were to him, he had no reason to avoid them so conscientiously. They meant something to him which gave them more meaning to her.

 

Sansa folded her hands in front of her, taking the seat Lord Tywin offered. She had a million questions she would like answered. He was acquainted with Arya. However that happened, it would be an interesting, and probably horrifying story, one she might hear her sister share in time. She would never ask her. Enough nightmares filled her own head that she would prefer to keep buried in the deepest dungeon of a castle. She would not request her sister face the monsters she defeated again.

 

She glanced up at her new sworn shield. His eyes cut to hers for a moment. A small frown crossed her face as she remembered his slight limp while leading her and Arya through the camp. It concerned her almost as much as Arya’s claim that she had killed people. That her sister could, she did not doubt. That she had needed to kill broke Sansa’s heart. She wondered if Arya remembered the northern way of the one who passes the sentence swinging the sword, and whom else Arya found deserving of her blade besides the queen.

 

“Sandor, are you injured?”

 

“Just a scratch. Nothing to worry about, Little—Princess.”

 

The pause after ‘little’ had Sansa biting her lip to keep in a soft smile. Lord Tywin did not seem to like them all that much, and he would definitely disapprove of Sandor’s nickname for her. He was so accustomed to his nickname that he nearly slipped up in front of Lord Tywin. It was not just a scratch. A scratch would not have him limping, and even now, he stood favoring one leg.

 

“Princess Sansa—”

 

She turned her attention immediately to the Great Lion. Walking through court with the Small Council trailing him like puppies made him seem the perfect lord master, and it was an image that often played in her mind the moment he called her attention to him. Sitting here in front her in his war armor with a sword dangling from his waist, he seemed to surpass kingly.

 

“My Lord.” She met his glimmering green eyes, taking in their hardness and the chill in them.

 

“Explain.” His voice was firm, but the lines around his eyes softened just enough to reveal the man behind the lion to give her courage.

 

Sandor did not return the soft gaze she offered him. She bit the tip of her tongue, searching for the perfect words. How did someone begin to explain the bond between the two of them? There were things she could not say and things she would not say. Talking about the moments when she first wanted and tried to comfort Sandor was a would not. It would betray his confidence now that he was hers, and she would be a good lady to him. It would not even begin to explain how she had come to know she was safe with him. She could not talk about the number of times he held blades to her throat. Lord Tywin would never understand and would command his removal. His urging her to hurry after Robb had won the battle at Whispering Wood, so she might avoid angering the king to new extremes was too personal for her share. Sandor had been frightened for her, and he had hurt with her every time she was beaten. She knew that in her heart, now more than ever. How he stood there when told to beat her, not because someone else had distracted him, but because he was refusing the command. She knew it was more than Ser Dontos stepping up to hit her with his melon topped morning star. He never held on any order given to him but that one. That story could be seen different ways and was best not shared yet. Finally, she found one nightmare that showed him in goodness to her, and in no disloyalty to the only Lannister at this moment that mattered.

 

“He was the only person who truly tried to help me after my father died for many moons, my Lord. On the way back from seeing Princess Myrcella depart for Dorne, the people rioted in the streets. They were just hungry.” The story of Sandor saving her during the Bread Riot flowed out in shaky words at first. She began shaking horribly when she recounted the man’s arm being removed and the others who were threatening to rape her. Then there was the harrowing ride back to the Red Keep.

 

“Enough.” She looked to Sandor in relief, surprised his voice had not come from above her head. He was on a knee beside her. “You’ve got your fucking answer, Lannister.”

 

She took the small cloth he offered her, not mentioning the last time he wiped her face for her. She dabbed at the tear trails on her cheeks, turning slightly toward Sandor. He might snap and bite, but he would do no lasting harm. He had been as good to her as he had known how to be. She had even been teaching him to be better. The night of the Blackwater, when she sang for him, the words of the queen from earlier had her shaking with his dagger at her throat. Cersei had taunted her drunkenly about the ladies being in for a bit of a rape, then the mother's hymn and prayer for mercy had flowed from her lips. She reached for his face and found his tears, heard the hurt in his voice. Then he tore his cloak away and left.

 

“He would never have hurt me, and he would not hurt Arya.”

 

“Princess, your sworn shield requires a maester’s attention. He can show himself there. He knows the layout of war camps.”

 

Sansa agreed with his lordship, and she thanked Lord Tywin for letting Sandor stay quickly before her sworn shield said something to get himself in trouble.

 

“I’ll see the princess back to her tent and her sister first.” He rose to his feet beside her.

 

“I will see Princess Sansa back to her tent.”

 

Sensing two wills of steel meeting would end only in disaster, she put an end to it in favor of the one who had less to lose. Sandor could not win this fight, and Lord Tywin would not hurt her.

 

“Sandor, it will do me good to know that your scratch has been tended. I’m quite safe with Lord Tywin. He has never harmed me. We'll speak this evening.”

 

She stopped herself from pointing out she was of no value to this man dead or damaged. Sandor was smart enough to know that. Her corpse would not get him a son returned safely from her brother's dungeon, and her bruises and blood would not get him the peace he wanted for the kingdoms. His gray eyes narrowed, and she gave him her most reassuring look with tear trails still drying on her cheeks.

 

“We will.” He moved back, watching his former lord suspiciously, clearly leery of leaving her on her own with a Lannister. He would see in time that the Warden of the West meant no harm to her.

 

“Thank you, Sandor.” She put her hand over his for a moment and squeezed it. “I’m relieved that you are here. With you and Lord Lannister, I have not felt safer since last I stood at Baelor's Sept.”

 

She could see that he understood that she felt as safe now as she had felt before her father died. He might not agree yet, but if she could help Arya see, surely Sandor would see as well. He nodded, finally walking to the tent flap as she lowered her hand back to her lap. He paused for only a moment as though considering another snarl, but he calmed himself somehow and departed.

 

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 dismissed the other two guards in the tent the moment Clegane was gone. What he was about to ask was far too delicate for anyone to know but him. It had to be discussed, especially with all she had endured. Listening to the rumors and reports in the Red Keep told him that much.

 

It was no wonder that she did what she did for the Hound. Her debt was high with Clegane, and that debt even extended to himself. He owed the man for saving her from her fate during that. Wanting a man with her who saved her from a riot and more than one rapist was natural. Any woman would gravitate to a man who protected her so ferociously. There was much more to them than a not so simple rescue. He wondered if Clegane’s infatuation had driven him even further for her. Would he defy a king for her? He understood the force moving the man. The Hound might fancy himself in love with her, and he knew she was a bone he would forever desire and forever be denied.

 

The question he had to ask, to know—it was Joanna all over again. Seeing her returned to him with bleeding claw marks marring her perfect thighs. Hunks of her hair torn out and bite marks on her neck and breasts. Bruises covering her belly and hips. His dearest one, closest advisor and friend, had never been the same after that night, and nine months later she bled out in his arms. He had to protect Sansa from that fate.

 

Now, he was looking upon another lady who had been tormented by a sadistic, vile monster wearing an ugly crown. Joffrey had to go. He was more convinced than ever. His grandson wanted all the people killed because one threw some filth at him. Marrying, even him, would eventually not be enough protection for Sansa, just as it had eventually not been enough to protect Joanna. Marriage would only damn the Tyrell girl to him. His grandson did not have the sense not to torture her. Joffrey had to go, and this time there would be no Barristan Selmy to save the day. His foolish grandson had sent away the most loyal man he had, not considering what the man would do for even the wickedest of persons. This time, he would have an ally who would not flinch at doing what had to be done the way Lord Darklyn had.

 

“Sansa.” He sank to his knees in front of his lady when she could not raise her eyes. One hand took hers and the other took her face. Putting himself lower than her would make her feel more in control of this situation, and he needed to see her face to watch for any signs of discomfort.

 

Those blue eyes danced over his face curiously, and the tears of fear at reliving horrific moments faded from her eyes. She pressed a hand over the top of his. There was much he would need to wheedle out of her in time. Her head tilted to one side, watching for his next move as she rested her cheek against his palm.

 

Moments like these had become a not uncommon part of their time together over the past several moons. He had been correct about the gentle touches helping her see what he wanted her to see, a man who would not hurt what there was no reason to harm. He had not anticipated how her faith in him and her touch would move him. He had not been moved in years from his course.

 

“Have you been alone with Sandor Clegane?” He searched her face for every sign of nervousness, fear, and deception he knew and waited for her words.

 

“Dozens of times when the king sent for me. He liked to have Sandor fetch me.”

 

Tywin leaned in closer to her, scant inches from her face as he spoke barely above a whisper. The words he wanted to ask would not come out. He could not bring himself to question her honor.

 

“Has he ever hurt you or frightened you?”

 

She raised a hand and held it against his where he touched her lily white neck, skin soft as silk. He rubbed his thumb along the line of her jaw.

 

“I was a very well loved, protected maiden of the north when I arrived in King’s Landing, my Lord. Sandor showed and told me of horrors that I was unable to comprehend, believe, or imagine.” He rubbed his thumb along her cheek as she continued, keeping his face impassive. “He has only ever been brutally, callously honest. It made me fearful at first, the anger and hatred in his eyes. Not of him, but for him. Whatever he has done, whoever he has been, he was a tormented soul. I’ve been watching him change. He’s not the nothing so many in his life have treated him as. He can be a good man if given the chance.”

 

Her hands twisted to take his, and she pressed her cheek into his palm again.

 

“He will never hurt me, my Lord.”

 

She was such a gentle, compassionate soul. She would be the best companion for him because she was everything he was not. That gentility and forgiving nature could get her killed, and he had to make sure that he kept her safe. That was what a lord husband did for his lady wife, and Sansa would be his lady wife, if he had to kill the rest of her family to have her.

 

“Another guard will remain with you at all times.”

 

“As you command, my Lord.”

 

He hated that her words soothed him. She was obedient, and the way she leaned into his hands, giving him control. She would make a pleasing wife, and she would provide him with fine children. Their son would be a king in the north, a wise king.

 

“Did Joffrey or his white cloaked brutes ever rape you?” He grit his teeth. If they had damaged her, he would not stop until he found the most creative and painful ending for each one that caused her grief.

 

“Never, my Lord.” Her hand rested on his shoulder, the one draped with the velvet sash.

 

He did not release the sigh of relief or let any emotion play across his face as he stood to issue his next order to his wife-to-be. If she thought to defy him, which she would not, he would teach her what a true punishment was, and he would not have to beat her to do it.

 

“You will never do something that reckless again. You have guards for a reason.” His tone was cool as ice, and his hand slid from her face. Treating the girl kindly was important. She needed to be his willingly. It just made life so much simpler. “Come. I’ll take you to your tent.”

 

Sansa took his arm dutifully the moment it was presented, and they left. She walked at his side with the stately elegance of a queen. Her eyes remained on what was ahead, never shifting from the path he set them on, despite it being farther than it needed to be. It benefited the men to see the hope of a swift resolution to this conflict. He had heard the whispers about a marriage between the two of them were being traded amongst the men. When they put their hope on returning home on Princess Sansa, it would make them fight more fiercely to get her back if she was denied to their lord.

 

Her words about Clegane might mean trouble. Somehow, after all she suffered, she retained the strength to keep caring, continue loving. She believed her life could be better, believed there were better people. She cared for others and wanted to help them, just as a great lady ought to for even the least deserving. She was going to belong to him, and no one would take her away. She would never leave him after they were married. Her kindness and her gentleness would be for him first.

 

“There she is, the beautiful princess.” Tywin stiffened at his daughter’s voice. “Soon you’ll have your heart’s desire, Little Dove.”

 

“Cersei.”

 

The queen mother ignored him, too lost to her own rage to be rational. She stood in Sansa’s tent behind a dining table about to make a spectacle of herself again.

 

“Breeding and bleeding for House Lannister. I offer my congratulations—”

 

Tywin turned to ice as he removed his arm from Sansa’s hold. The girl gave no argument, and she did not try to reclaim her hold on him. She had learned her lesson well the day she snatched his arm in the halls of the Red Keep. He had made his point to her that day. He did not know if she had truly grasped her infraction, and he was not about to bring it up, not with the way she had slid helplessly to the floor in fear. Letting her dwell on moments spent in fear and reminding her of times she felt powerless would not help them, and she had not repeated herself. Her mistake that day had been questioning his ability and resolve to protect her, and he would not have it. She made him look incapable, and she had done so in a public corridor where any number of onlookers would have seen and wondered. She was his, and he would not have anyone harming her as long as she remained so.

 

“Marrying Lord Tywin Lannister.”

 

To Sansa’s credit and his daughter’s chagrin, her only reaction to this news was walking deeper into the tent, closer to Cersei.

 

“Out.” Tywin looked his oldest child over as she made her way around the table, remaining wisely out of his reach. She knew her father well enough to know that he would not make a show of moving to grab her. Apparently, she had yet to take complete leave of her senses.

 

“It’s an excellent match, Your Grace.” She spoke when Cersei had half left the tent, stopping his daughter to his annoyance with Cersei and his pride in her. She was learning how to command and adapting it to her needs. “I am honored to do my duty by my family to end this war.”

 

Angry, blazing green eyes like lit wildfire rounded on Sansa. A courteous smile crossed the princess’s face as she spoke again, calm and dignified.

 

“Tywin Lannister, Lord of Casterly Rock, Shield of Lannisport, Warden of the West, and Hand of the King and Princess Sansa Stark of Winterfell, sister of the King in the North and granddaughter of the Riverlands.” Her eyes were bright and clear as she said her last piece. “Winter is coming for one of us, and it isn’t me. My betrothed is the most powerful man in the south, and my brother is the most powerful man in the north.”

 

“My son is the king and the most powerful man in Westeros, you treacherous little whore.”

 

“A crown and an ugly chair don’t give anyone power.” She met his eyes, speaking to him. “You learned nothing from your father.”

 

Tywin caught Cersei’s drawn back hand before she could strike Sansa. It would anger the North if their princess arrived broken or bruised, and Sansa was going to be his soon. His other hand took hold of her thick golden hair, wrenching her head back.

 

“You will never raise a hand to her again. She is to be my wife. Return to your tent. Your abominable behavior will be addressed soon.”

 

Fear tinged her green eyes as he twisted her hair more firmly when she glanced defiantly at his betrothed. She twisted her head once, and he tightened his grip, giving a firm yank. Tears sprang to her eyes, and she winced, pressing back toward his hand to relieve the pain.

 

“Yes, Father.”

 

He released her wrist slowly and steered her from the tent with her hair. He snapped a few orders at the guards to make sure his child was never out of eyesight or earshot. If she gave them trouble, they were to tie and gag her. When he returned to the tent, he put his hands behind his back and assessed the lady in front of him. His face was hard. He had hoped to have a quiet conversation with Princess Sansa that would lead her to her own sensible conclusion that marriage to him was in her best interest and the best interest of her family. At least, she claimed to see the merits of their marriage. She had pointed out the benefits to her and him quite clearly and concisely. That meant nothing at all about her willingness. He needed to be sure that she would choose him.

 

She stood, watching him with a soft look on her face. No anger or fear or tension distracted from its beauty. Dreams he had been having of Joanna urging a little silver wolf to run to him played in his mind for a moment, but he shook them away.

 

“That is not how I intended to tell you of the best resolution to this conflict.” This truth  was more beneficial than anything he could make up. “I have business to attend to, Princess. We will speak of this more later tonight and before our journey tomorrow if needs be.”

 

He bowed, though no more deeply than was strictly necessary for propriety. His stoic betrothed curtsied.

 

“I look forward to it, my Lord.”

Chapter Text

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 eased down in a chair the moment Lord Tywin departed. She was to marry the most terrifying man in all seven kingdoms. He would make vows to her. She would make vows to him. He would take her to his bed then. They would have children, breeding and bleeding for the Lannisters. She always wanted to be a mother, and she would be mother to Tywin Lannister’s children. He was so much older than her. He had been a widower more years than she had been alive. Shae’s words about Littlefinger came back to her, that men never think they are too old for a beautiful woman.

 

Marrying her and having children with her was his plan to end the war. Marriage to end a war. There had to be more to it than that. He had a convoluted mind. She could not be the sole compensation for what her brother had been doing since he came south. She could not be so valuable as all that. If she was, why would her brother not have tried to trade her for Ser Jaime?

 

Over the time they had spent together, he had proven himself a complicated, if not deviously brilliant man. Her father once said of the man that he was as much a fox as a lion. Something colder and darker than the longest winter would happen to Robb if he refused this marriage, and she had to figure it out or convince Robb to marry her to a man he hated, a man with whom he had been waging war, a man whose crime was no worse than her brother's. He had been defending his family.

 

Lord Tywin Lannister had been a widower for nearly three decades. He sought no other known female companion or lady for his castle. Why now? Why her? She pinched her lips between her teeth to stop tears before they could begin. Tears would not help her, and really older men had married younger women before. Her aunt Lysa had wed a man far older than she had been. There were far worse choices. She could be wed to a man she did not know.

 

Her father had wanted to find her someone brave, gentle, and strong. That was the last conversation she remembered them having, and she clung to those words from the moment that she learned of his arrest. She wanted to show him that Joffrey could be those things, but her father had been right. Joffrey only knew how to play at gallant.

 

He would never have considered Lord Tywin Lannister. She had seen the look of pain etched too deeply into his face when he spoke of the sacking of King’s Landing and the deaths of Prince Rhaegar’s children, little Prince Aegon and Princess Rhaenys. He had been appalled and disgusted and frightened of a man who could order such a deed done. He would withdraw into himself after speaking those things, often for days. He would complete his duties, but all traces of humor would vanish. He always hugged them tighter afterward, held them longer, looked at them more deeply as though to learn their faces by heart.

 

Gregor Clegane was Lord Tywin’s bannerman. That made the Old Lion responsible for everything the Mountain did in her father’s eyes. But that logic would make Robb responsible for what happened to Lady Hornwood at the hands of the Bastard of Bolton while he fought for his family. Rumors of a woman being starved to death and forced to eat her own fingers had filtered in whispers through the Red Keep. Robb would never have allowed that if he could stop it. He would have put Ramsay Snow to the sword, and he surely would once he returned north, after he punished Theon Greyjoy for killing their brothers.

 

She sought her father’s voice in her head, pictured his face as he leaned on the cane after telling them they were being sent home. How she wished they could have gone now, how she wished they had never left, but that was a wish that would never be. The day they were to leave, she had gone to the Sept and prayed that she would not have to part from her beloved Prince Joffrey. It was far too soon after that she learned how many tears could be cried over answered prayers.

 

She had been so stupid, so blind to and ignorant of what she had in Winterfell. Now, there was a price to pay for Robb and her mother to be able to go home. She was part of Lord Tywin’s payment, and she would do her part willingly to save one of only three siblings left to her. It was not too steep a price. She was always going to be married, and Lord Tywin was not nearly as horrible as her first betrothed. He had defended her from a king.

 

What she had told the queen was true. She believed her words. Lord Lannister was an excellent match. He was not the handsome young knight that she had always dreamed of marrying. A bitter smile crossed her face at the memory of how she and Jeyne had thought Lord Beric Dondarrion was old at twenty. Lord Tywin was more than double that. That proud lord was a block of ice, more sinister and clever than any person should be, but he was not cruel, vindictive, or sadistic. He was not ugly or fat or a drunk. There was much to be grateful for in his choosing her. She had spent time coming to know him. Maybe, one day she might learn how to give him pleasure, make him smile—if he was capable of feeling anything at all. She knew in her heart that he was. He had shown her that he was, and she would continue to look for the man that held her face, that asked her if his son had upset her, that spoke calmly to her, that planned a different way of telling her that she was to wed him.

 

Her head sank into her hands as she considered her father’s words to her, and how silly she had been wanting to remain betrothed to Joffrey. He promised to find her a man who was brave, gentle, and strong.

 

He was tall, proud, and the closest thing to a king that she had ever seen. When someone wronged the Lannisters, he had been decisive without being hasty. That was a strength her father had lacked. Lord Eddard should have ended her engagement to the prince the moment the fat king made Lady die. She should have known then that Joffrey was a worm, that he had no kindness in his heart, but she wanted to believe he would love her, that her life would be a song. Lord Tywin went to war when a son he hated was taken captive. If she married him, she would certainly be the safest woman in the world, if for no other reason than his pride. He stopped his poisonous daughter from striking her with his own hands, and she had not seen his hand raise to strike anyone, much less touch any with kindness. Even when Ser Kevan had been mourning his son, he had offered no touch, no embrace that she had seen. He prevented the Kingsguard from beating and raping her. Were results or reasons more important?

 

Lord Tywin served as Hand to the Mad King for twenty years. He worked tirelessly to make Westeros great and powerful. He made sure the people had justice, food, and order. Then the Mad King became jealous of praise lavished on the man who had been his friend, and King Aerys spent the rest of Lord Tywin’s time as Hand seeking nothing but the complete loss of reputation and ruin of the Warden of the West. He mocked him and humiliated him, performing the opposite of everything suggested by his Hand for spite. Lord Tywin’s resignation was refused, and he still got up every day and faced whatever new hell was in store for him. She had had to do the same with Joffrey. There was strength, bravery, and resilience in the heart and mind of anyone who found the strength to daily face their tormentor. She would never believe otherwise.

 

Gentle. That was the only trait left that her father had wanted in the man she wed. The Lion of Lannister was not a man given to strong or public displays of affection, but the times when he took her hand and escorted her or cradled her face, all in private, were more special for knowing that it was for her alone. What she imagined from a betrothed would forever be confined to her imagination. He would never dance with her or bring her flowers. He may never even smile, but she could not believe he would order someone to hit her.

 

He was cold, colder than snow or ice, colder than the heart of the Night King if Old Nan’s stories were to be believed about White Walkers and the like. Then he took her face in his hands one day, holding it while every stern line etched into his face from suffering to do what he thought right softened. Questioning her just this afternoon on his knees so tender and careful. So many feelings slid around his face for those few seconds, like this was something he had to hear. He had ceased being the hardened lord, showing her a different face. There was a desire written on him that she could not fully read. Sitting with her and sharing meals, willingly speaking about what he had done and why. Surely, that was a gentility of its own kind, too. It gave her comfort she had been unaware she was seeking.

 

She lifted her hands to look at them as a thought flitted through her mind. What kind of power brought a man like Tywin Lannister to his knees? She had been the only person with him. It could only have been her, as impossible as it seemed, and it may have just been a calculation to get what he wanted. He still did it, and he did not seem a man to be put there easily.

 

Strong. Brave. Gentle. All three traits were there. Maybe not in the forms her father would have searched for, but they were there.

 

Tywin Lannister was no monster and no hero. No matter what others said of him, she could not see him as a truly evil man, and she was grateful. An evil man would not be seeking peace. An evil man would already have taken what he wanted. He fought for his family. Her father had fought for his sister, her aunt Lyanna.

 

She could marry him, and she would do it to save her family. She would be a good wife to him, and she would try to love him. She wanted to love her husband, and there was someone worthy of affection there. Maybe he might even feel something in return for her one day.

 

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.

 

There was an impressively loud bellow from the man in front of him as the maester cleansed his wound with boiling wine. The Hound jerked the man closer by the chain draping his neck, growling angry curses about how that better be the last of it. Once his wound was sewn closed, Tywin dismissed the maester. It was time to let it be known to the dog that he could search for his bones in brothels, far from the skirts of a lady.

 

“Tell me what she can’t.” That was what so much came down to with her. She was close mouthed about her torture because saying it would make it so much more real.

 

Clegane cursed and glared at him. Tywin looked coldly and calmly back at the rage filled man. Whatever semblance of peace Sansa had given him when she brought him down from his horse and to his knees before her was gone. She had become his mistress, and he would have no other again. A beautiful woman, when she was full of compassion and gentility, tended to have a strange effect on a man. Even one as brutish and boorish as the Hound could not remain immune entirely to such charms.

 

“Everything she told you. Nothing else to say.” The monstrous man tugged his clothes back on, grabbing his sword belt.

 

There was plenty more to learn, and Tywin would hear it. He had heard more than enough in the Red Keep, such differing accounts of some that he hardly knew anything for certain. She took her beatings with dignity. She never fought back, not that she could have. There was even a whisper that the Hound had covered her naked body with a white cloak after the king had her stripped in court. He owed the man a terrible debt if that was true. The Hound saved not only Jaime’s life by saving her, and he ensured that Tywin could have peace with a lady at his side.

 

“You’ll say it. I won’t have Princess Sansa uncomfortable because of you.”

 

“Princess, yeah. I noticed that. She became premium goods when you got to the capital. From favorite target to treasured princess. What’ll it be next? Lady of Casterly Rock?”

 

He waited for the Hound to look directly at him after lacing up his filthy breeches before responding coldly and curtly with two words.

 

“It will.”

 

There was no inflection, and his volume did not increase in the slightest. He stood perfectly straight, knowing that Clegane would never challenge his claim to the northern princess. The dog would understand right now that while the princess may feed him from her plate, he was a dog and scraps were all he would ever have. Scraps were more than he deserved.

 

“Why’s there always some Lannister cunt behind all the suffering in the world?”

 

A Lannister was what it had taken to end one young woman's suffering, and the Starks were the reason that he had not been there sooner. Rather than rising at the forceful snarl, Tywin asked his next question.

 

“How many times have you been alone with her?”

 

“As if I fucking counted. Your grandson liked giving her pretty things to look at—like her father’s head on a spike. Her septa’s was right beside it—down and down the line. All the northmen she knew with heads decorating the walls of Maegor’s. Sent me to get her often enough and bring her to the next round of torture. Figured she liked my face so let her look at it often as she liked.”

 

Sansa seemed to have no trouble looking at him earlier. How much fear had this angry, bitter, beastly man put in her before that happened? Something had transpired between them that neither were willing to share. It was more than saving her from a mob. It gave her confidence and strength to approach a man threatening her sister with a knife held to her throat fearlessly.

 

The flash of understanding had to be swallowed back. He would not shout, not here and not now. There would be far too many witnesses to the outburst, and it would not change what they had already experienced. He had put an end to her thinking that she would spend true time alone with a man who lusted for her. A man would have to be as perverse as the third son of the Tyrells to not desire a woman like Princess Sansa. She was one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen, and it would only deepen as she aged.

 

“You’ve raised a weapon to her before.” When Clegane’s only response was a sullen glower, Tywin knew he had the answer and not one he liked. “More than once.”

 

Clegane yanked on his boots before shifting around shamefully and giving his liege lord another sullen, dark look.

 

“That’s why you won’t be drinking or ever alone with her. Whatever misplaced, foolish gratitude she feels, she will be kept safe, even from sworn shields. She’ll be joining me for the evening meal. You may come with her and wait for her to toss you scraps.”

 

The phrase ‘ladies may pat dogs, but they don’t marry them’ was something that flitted across his mind. He did not need the man carrying that sentiment to his lady. She probably did not like Clegane being addressed as what he was. She had been calling him by name. She had a gentle heart, and her husband would be the primary beneficiary of it.

 

Tywin did not wait for a response before departing. If he were a weaker man, he would have gone directly to her tent, demanded to know what she was thinking, why she put herself in danger. He would not be seen going to a woman, certainly not one with whom there was no formal betrothal, not one under his care. She answered to him. He was not weak. He did not care for her beyond the heirs she could provide. He would never let himself feel that pain again. He had never known anything like the pang of loss, and he would never care enough for loss to attempt strangling him again.

 

She would be his wife because it was in the best interest of the realm. He was the only man for her. They would need the north as their allies if the rumors of dragons in the east were true. The North surely had the one thing that would stop the calamity and chaos that dragons would bring, and it was the only chance they had. The Dornish were the only men who had been able to resist the dragons last time, and they were not to be trusted, even if they did have his granddaughter. It had been the only choice to make. If he knew anything of men at all, and Lord Eddard Stark in particular, the safety of the south from dragons was assured with one life.

 

Compassion ran in the Stark blood. The child was alive unless some misfortune had befallen him, and that misfortune could damn them all.

 

He sat down in his tent, dipped a quill in ink and began listing what peace must cost the north to be safe from catastrophe. The lesson of Harrenhal would not be visited on any other castle if the Targaryen girl’s dragons grew to be the beasts of centuries past. What he was doing was uniting them for their safety and security. Lannisters did not act like fools or die like them. No one wanted to rule a kingdom of ash.

 

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 watched her sworn shield pace the length of her tent like a dog tethered in a yard, waiting for a beating. At least, his leg seemed to be paining him less. The maester likely gave him milk of the poppy for it. The dagger in his hand shook as the burnt corner of his lip twitched and his brow wrinkled. He mumbled a hundred different curses about entitled, proud, blond shits not having the decency to die and rot in the ground before destroying every life around them.

 

Tyren had not left her side since the man returned in such an agitated state. His eyes watched him as he gripped a spear, prepared to use it at any moment, and Sansa was not going to allow the situation to escalate to that point.

 

“Do you know about your engagement, Little Bird?”

 

“She’s Princess Sansa, and you’ll do well to remember that, Hound.”

 

Sansa’s lips thinned. Her breeding and training kept her from sighing at them. If she was not so exhausted from spending the afternoon pondering the enigma that Lord Tywin Lannister constantly presented to her and what it would be like to be his wife, she might have let herself be afraid of the violence she might witness.

 

“Yes, Sandor, I recently was informed of my new betrothal. Tyren, I don’t appreciate people calling my sworn shield ‘Hound,’ ‘Dog,’ or anything similar.”

 

Tyren glowered at the tent wall, likely keeping plenty inside because of Lord Tywin’s orders that she be treated with the respect that they would give to him.

 

“Sandor, please put your dagger away.”

 

He grumbled as he obeyed and glared about furiously. He prowled the perimeter of the tent, sneering at Tyren from time to time.

 

“Ser, would you please wait and watch from the entrance?”

 

Once Tyren had complied, she turned her attention to the man who had nearly become her shadow shortly after her father’s death. He was hers now. He swore it, and if any man in the seven kingdoms could have his vows depended upon, it was the one before her. Words were not wind to him.

 

“Sandor, sit down with me. You said we would talk.”

 

She leaned back in her chair as he pulled it around gently and dropped to his knees in front of her. Men kept kneeling to her today. It was equal parts terrifying and empowering all at once, knowing that she could bring one of the fiercest men she knew to his knees. His hands gripped the chair arms, boxing her in as he had so often—sometimes with a blade to her throat. The difference between then and now that left her calm was the clarity of his gaze. The ferocity remained in his eyes as he searched her face with his keen gray eyes. It was nearly the same look he gave her when he had taken lives in her defense. He leaned close to her face and spoke in his low, gravelly voice so softly she knew his words were for her alone.

 

“Do you want to leave? I can take you. No one will hurt you or force you to do things you don’t want. I’d kill them.”

 

Always killing. Always death. It was no wonder this man named his horse for the Stranger. Words he spoke to her some time ago floated back across her mind. Strong arms and sharp steel rule this world. A peaceful smile flitted to her face. The Warden of the West had fully proven the fallacy of that notion. The man never had to use more than his voice to command, and he rarely raised it in her hearing. No one questioned his absolute authority. He commanded with his head not his sword or arm.

 

She took Sandor’s sword hand between hers and watched his face transform for the second time, eyes locking on where she touched him. It broke a small piece of her heart, wondering how infrequently he must have been the recipient of physical comfort, even something as small as what she had ever been able to offer. Her parents had always been quick to give an embrace, something she never appreciated till she was being knocked around by knights in white cloaks.

 

“All is well.” Sandor’s nose crinkled angrily at this answer. “Will you come with me this evening? I’m to sup with Lord Tywin.”

 

Maybe seeing the way the Great Lion of Lannister treated her would ease his mind. Of course, his presence may keep the Old Lion watchful and suspicious, unwilling to show the face beneath his mane. He was never overly kind or affectionate in the presence of others—excepting when Cersei had attacked her. His daughter had displeased him, and he had taken matters into hand literally. It had been in her favor then, but pulling his child back by the hair. Sansa shivered, remembering the lack of emotion in him as he spoke to his firstborn. That was the man who wanted to marry her. She would die inside if he spoke to her that way.

 

“Figuring out your precarious situation, Little Bird?”

 

“Lord Tywin—” She paused, considering her words carefully. There were things she could say and things that would be wrong. He was not kind, not the way she had always thought of kindness before. Neither was he cruel, not the way she now knew to reside behind the most beautiful faces. “Lord Tywin has never raised his hand to strike me.”

 

She wished she could convey her confusion to Sandor and learn what it all meant. He would never believe her about the Lion of Casterly Rock. His children would likely not believe it either. Sandor had spent more time with Lannisters than she had. What did Lord Tywin’s radically different behavior in public as opposed to private mean? She had to believe it meant something, even if he was just personally conflicted about claiming her for himself. She would have snorted if it was ladylike, imagining Lord Tywin conflicted. It could not be a game. Lord Tywin was not a jocular, humorous man. She had never heard amusement in his voice. In the moons she shared his space daily, she had not seen so much as the minutest upward twitch of his lips. He was a man absent love or joy. It made her want to help him, give him some joy if he would take it. Wanting to marry her, he wanted something from her and believed he could have it.

 

“Sandor, would you bring Arya here?”

 

“Whatever you’re thinking about, Little Bird, you just think again. The Old Lion has always been a man with a heart frozen as that damn wall you northerners love so well. No summer sun will ever melt it.”

 

Sansa watched him leave with a quiet smile. He was being a good guard. Warning her about the danger of a man like Lord Lannister was his job. Still the lion had been slumbering till her mother awakened him by taking one of his cubs. He had made no move to harm her, and his hands were always gentle to her. Sandor had not seen the way Lord Tywin treated her.

 

“Princess.”

 

She turned to Tyren, another man who had saved her. He removed his helm, tucking it under his arm.

 

“Yes, Ser.”

 

“With all respect, Princess, Clegane is strong, loyal, and more ferocious that any other man you’ll meet. He worked many years for my Lord, but more were spent with Queen Cersei and her son than Lord Lannister. I’ve personally guarded my Lord’s life for nearly thirty years. Twice as long as Clegane, and I have been beside his Lordship every day.”

 

Sansa pressed her lips together, pondering this. There were so many men here to serve Lord Tywin. More than enough to tell her the whispers and rumors about the man that every child of the West grew up knowing.

 

“Sandor has always been honest with me, and he has chosen me above all others.” She knew Sandor’s honesty, and she had had time to make her own observations of Lord Tywin. There was more to him than what Sandor saw. That did not make Sandor a liar. He could not speak to what he had not seen.

 

“Princess Sansa, I’m not calling the man dishonest. I’m telling you there may be more to the Lord of Casterly Rock than what one man saw growing up in the Westerlands and training among a thousand other boys at that shining castle by the sea before the queen asked for him to be with her.”

 

Sansa considered these words. Tyren had served his Lord far longer than she had been alive. It was another sharp reminder about her lack of experience. Anything she could learn about the man who would be her husband would be useful, and she had no doubt that Lord Tywin would be her husband the moment he confirmed Cersei’s hateful words. She would only hurt herself by not listening to what everyone had to say.

 

“Will you sit with me, Ser?”

 

“Ask me anything, Princess.”

 

Sansa kept her hands tucked in her lap, the perfect appearance of a lady with her straight back and hair hanging like waves of fire around her shoulders. The earnest expression on her guard’s face reminded her of Jory when she saw him speak of her lord father. The Warden of the West had this man’s complete loyalty. He wanted her to think well of the man when she did not think so poorly of him now. He was not his children or his grandchildren, and his daughter was nothing like him. He was a different kind of frightening when roused to action. Then there were his gentle touches and careful propriety toward her in private. That he showed more concern to her in private was something deeply indicative about the man. If it was affection, he was not performing it as a show for others. It was for her. It was because she mattered. His cautious talk or easy silence were a reprieve she abandoned hoping for in King’s Landing. Her eyes lit as she realized she already had her first question. It was something she had avoided asking, not sure how to ask it.

 

“Tell me what The Rains of Castamere means when you sing it.” The story of destruction and annihilation of a family—that every red cloak seemed to relish in singing, humming, or whistling. It meant more than fear to them.

 

“I know the other kingdoms hear a tale of a horror in that tune, Princess, and it does inspire a terrible reverence and fear, even more so in the lords of the Westerlands. Lord Tywin’s soldiers hear another story in the words. It's not just a warning. It’s about a lord whose house had so fallen in dignity and respect that his vassals—” Tyren’s eyes brightened with an anger at the notion. “His vassals thought they could deny him his respect and due. They thought to rob him and laugh at him as they had his father. In short time, and with the most minimal loss of life, Lord Tywin took back the pride and honor of his house. Another lord grew truculent, and Lord Tywin sent him a warning in the form of a musician with a flute. He played The Rains of Castamere, and the man was instantly pacified. He stopped a rebellion before it started. There is a power in it, and my Lord uses it to keep his lands at peace.”

 

Sansa could not help her smile at this staunch defense of his liege lord. It was not the way her father had won the loyalty and respect of his banners. But her father never had an open rebellion amongst them to combat either. Her grandfather, Lord Rickard Stark, had been respected, so much so that his banners followed her father to war after he had been roasted alive in his trial by combat.

 

“Has Lord Tywin ever smiled?” Being wed to a man who never felt joy would make her ache in a way so different from the aches Joffrey’s men gave her. She could say she knew less worth smiling about after Lady died and her father’s execution, but she had to believe that something would give her a smile of joy again.

 

“I’ve seen two smiles on him. I had just been made his cup-bearer before the birth of his first two children. I was bringing a pitcher of sweetened milk to ease his lady wife after she birthed them, and he was sitting beside her, holding Ser Jaime. Tiny as could be. When he looked over at his wife and his daughter, then back at his son, his whole face lit with that smile. Just sitting there with his family.”

 

Sansa felt a sigh of contentment in her chest that escaped just the smallest bit. Any man who loved his son had to have some goodness, and she had watched Lord Tywin toil for hours at his desk. How many of those letters concerned seeing his son returned to him alive? She knew without doubt that he loved Ser Jaime more than anything else left in the world. She hoped that Ser Jaime knew.

 

“And the second?”

 

“He was just dancing, quietly with Lady Joanna in his study after her nameday celebration. His rulership stretched to every corner of the seven kingdoms, Princess. Only one castle escaped his rule, the one housing Lady Joanna. She ruled him, and she was his heart in every sense. She was the only woman with whom he ever felt able to be more than the cold leader he had to become. Don’t think anyone but her ever gained his smiles of pleasure, absent all else.”

 

Sansa sipped at a cup of water to avoid chewing too hard at the inside of her cheek. His wife died, giving birth to Lord Tyrion. That was common knowledge, and now she was hearing that he had not smiled since Lady Joanna died. This was told to her by a man who claimed to have spent most every day in the presence of his lordship. He loved his lady wife so dearly that he never approached another woman about marriage until now. Had he mourned her so deeply? The why of it would be something only he could answer. What was it like to love that way? What would it be like to be the recipient of a love like that?

 

She shook her head. He was marrying her for the realm. He could not possibly love her. They barely knew each other. He and Lady Joanna had grown up together.

 

“That’s why he hates little Lord Tyrion. Blames him for killing her. She bled out in his arms, him begging her not to leave him and all the gods not to let her die. After that, he just froze through the three year winter, colder than that wall in the North. Been seeing new looks on him recently though. Softer looks I thought dead with his lady.”

 

Sansa looked up at him. There was a story she used to love hearing told by Old Nan, the story of the frozen heart.

 

A man, having lost his love during a ten year long winter, went to the court of the Night King. He asked to have his heart frozen, so he would never love again. His heart remained solid ice, and he spent so many years, near a hundred without a friend. Then a young woman, kissed by fire and so radiant that she dimmed the sun, came upon him. In her warmth and kindness, she could not bear to leave him to his despair. She became his companion, and she showed him so much he had forgotten. Like all good things, it came to a halt as sudden as a lance shattering against a chest plate and sending a knight rolling in the dirt. She was betrothed to another, and she was to be taken to him. His heart froze again, and he went to the first wedding of her family to ask for her to be given to him. When he was refused, he killed everyone there, everyone taking her away from him. When she sat alone in the hall, he dragged her away with him. He took her to keep forever, making her his prisoner for all time. The woman he had loved was destroyed, and she never truly lived again.

 

“When?” she asked, praying that he would say when he was named Hand for the second time or when he saved King’s Landing. Even someone telling him of a new goldmine would be preferable to the creeping feeling in her body.

 

“Not every time, but when he is with you, he doesn’t seem so unhappy and cold anymore.”

Chapter Text

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 set aside his work the moment Princess Sansa entered his tent. His letter needed little else, just a request for his brother to join him as quickly as possible. His other letters were already waiting to be sent, one to the Mountain and another to Lord Walder Frey if needs be. There were always plans to move forward and plots to terminate before they went further than necessary.

 

It was imperative for Sansa to see the sincerity of his commitment to her and what they needed to discuss. She had been treated as if she had little value. Showing her that she deserved his immediate attention, and it would be given to her had immediate payoffs. She would know her value as his betrothed and never doubt it as his wife, a value that had been too long treated with ignorance. Repairing cracks was easier and cheaper than rebuilding a tower turned to rubble.

 

“There is much to discuss, Princess.”

 

“Yes, my Lord, there is.” She glided over to him, pausing a short distance away and curtsying to him.

 

He ignored her sworn shield’s glower, pulling out a chair at the table for her to the right of his. She sat primly with her hands in her lap, a look of serenity painted over her face. He locked his feelings away. No woman had sat to his right with his permission since Joanna died. Now was no time to think of her. He could not allow his bitterness over her death to be perceived by his bride-to-be. This was no time to dwell on the way Joanna had thrown herself smiling into his arms when he told her they were to be wed. Sansa was not going to do that, and he would not believe her if she did. She would calmly accept her fate, and he could help her see the merits of the match. It would do good for two families. Their children would help heal the realm and prevent future violence between the North and the West. She was a lady, and she seemed to understand that her power was not solely located between her legs, but beneath her breast.

 

“Have you read the book I gave you about King Robert’s Rebellion?”

 

“Yes, my Lord.”

 

She accepted the food he placed on her plate with a nod, honeyed chicken and buttery vegetables. She took a piece of bread when he offered it to her, eating quietly and staring at the flickering candles. He sliced into his own choice piece of venison, eating quietly as they often did while she determined her questions. After several bites, it was clear that she was waiting for him to direct the conversation. She realized there was a lesson he intended for her to take from the story but not yet what she was to understand or question. Most likely, she had been raised with the popular misconception that Prince Rhaegar kidnapped and raped her aunt.

 

“What thoughts do you have?”

 

She chewed the bread slowly and took a long drink of water to wash it down. Her pretty brow wrinkled in thought as she looked up at him.

 

“It is not the story of my aunt with which I was raised, my Lord. I hardly know what to think. The woman my father spoke of, when he spoke of her at all. He called her wild, beautiful, stubborn, and carefree. This story matches that woman’s description better than the other.” A wistful, sad look passed over her face as she held back other thoughts. It vanished in much the same way he vanquished miserable thoughts and dark feelings that he preferred to keep to himself. “Did you know my aunt, Lord Lannister?”

 

Tywin assessed her coolly. Seeking another perspective was always smart when that someone might have first hand knowledge.

 

“I saw her and spoke with her once.” True enough. Their paths had crossed at the Harrenhal Tourney. Here was the opportunity to water the seeds of his future bride's curiosity. “Prince Rhaegar, I knew very well. We spent a great deal of time together while I served the realm as Hand of the Mad King.”

 

“Was Prince Rhaegar like they say? Kind and gentle. There are so many stories about him. In one he played music in the streets and gave the money he earned to an orphanage.” The barest of smiles touched her face then, and she leaned forward, more engaged in the conversation than she had been.

 

Tywin gazed down at her. Rhaegar may have held the title of prince. He may have worn the colors of prince well. He would have made a fine king if not for the foolishness of youth. Naming a woman other than his wife as his queen of love and beauty was an ill thought idea, no matter how lovely he thought her. Sansa likely wanted to hear of the prince’s goodness and kindness matching that of Aemon the Dragonknight, and there was more than enough goodness and kindness of him to share with her. What she needed to hear was that there was also brashness and thoughtlessness for consequences when confronted by what he wanted to believe. Those beliefs had caused pain and suffering that could have been avoided if he had taken the time to think things through.

 

“Prince Rhaegar was a quiet, thoughtful, compassionate man burdened by the confidence that youth gives a man. He gave every sign that he would become a great king. He sought the advice of men with learning beyond his extensive education. He applied himself to knowing his people and their needs. He was generally a good listener, which is the sign of a wise king. He became hope for the people of King’s Landing, and he wanted to be a better man than his father.”

 

Tywin paused, though there was plenty more he could say. Her learning would only continue so long as she actively participated in conversations, proving her engagement. She was a thinker in the same way that his twins had always been impulsive. He might have them to thank for this trait in her. If he were a man given to prayer, he would importune the gods to make the children he intended to produce with the young lady before him to have a natural thoughtfulness. They would work together as mother and father to teach their children. His twins had been robbed of their mother, and neither ever recovered from the loss truly.

 

“If he was the good prince that everyone says, why would he kidnap and rape my aunt?” Her voice was small and sad, probably wondering what made princes evil. “My father always spoke of how wild and alive Aunt Lyanna was. If Prince Rhaegar is as you say, if he was a good prince, I don’t understand why he would hurt her.” She pushed her plate away with most of the food untouched while she blinked back tears.

 

Her pale hands rested on the table in front of her. This was the moment when his words were the most crucial. Convincing the girl would not be too difficult, not when she was mostly there. Treating her with the dignity her birth earned was a low price for the esteem and respect that she appeared to give his words. Those were what would give him a willing wife, a wedding, and children ruling three kingdoms. Stretching out a hand, he placed it over hers, curling his long fingers around them.

 

“Why did—”

 

Tywin had to pause to get the words out. They stuck in his throat as though they were barbed. Thirty years later and the pain was still able to slice through the layers of ice he built around his heart like a blazing sword. He gritted himself, sitting straighter and stiffer as he kept his voice from revealing how deep the pain still ran.

 

“What was my wife’s last name before we wed?”

 

Letting this girl know how much he loved Joanna was not sharing a part of his soul. It had been no secret. He heard the whispers of her ruling him in his castle, and he had not cared. She had tended to all the best parts of him, and she took them with her when she died. His face hardened, closing off as the image of all the bloodied blankets and the deformed dwarf child and the paler than snow Joanna flooded his mind and threatened him with grief driven madness. A mad king took her away, and there was nothing he could do to save her.

 

“Lannister, my Lord.” Her fingers twisted gently under his hold, taking his hand.

 

His eyes slanted at her fingers and her bowed head, wondering for a moment what the girl was thinking. Instead of looking into the face of his pain, she offered him a respectful reprieve to collect himself. His fingers knotted with hers, knowing the time was coming that she would be tied to him. No one else would have Sansa. She was never leaving him. They may have to part from each other for brief moments, but those would be fleeting.

 

“Curious for a man always so concerned about the advancement of his family to not wed into another great house. Recently the youngest man to ever be named Hand to the King. Heir to the Casterly Rock. Destined to be Warden of the West. A man like that might have any woman he wanted from any house, yet I chose my cousin. Why?”

 

He stared blankly at the table, grinding his teeth. His love for her was still remembered in the west. He heard the stories among the smallfolk of Lannisport and even in the Rock itself before he forbade anyone in his castle from speaking of her life, her death, and especially his frequent visits to take her golden lilies.

 

Sansa neither answered, nor smiled. All she did was rub her fingers gently back and forth over his hand as she cradled it. She was as gentle and comforting with him as she had been with his weeping brother. How did she not despise Lannisters with every beat of her heart? After every torment his daughter thrust upon her shoulders and every torture his demonic grandson dreamed of to see her tears, she still had kindness beating in her breast. She never should have shown it to such a selfish, greedy man. It had only made him want more for himself.

 

He had been friends with Aerys, but when the Mad King began his slow, demented revenge because Tywin was praised above him, Tywin had done as he did the moment Lady Ellyn laughed at his father. He immediately began waiting and watching for his opportunity. If it had not have been for Barristen Selmy, Aerys would have perished a prisoner in Duskendale. Lord Darklyn had not had the stomach to see the plot through.

 

“I loved Joanna.”

 

He paused there. He would not tell this sweet lady how much his wife had meant to him, how her death nearly killed him, how it made him wish he was dead for years. She did not need to know. He forced his breath to come out smoothly. Pain at her loss and relief at someone knowing that he had treasured her left him confused, but he pushed through it. This was best for him and his legacy.

 

“You were standing beside the king when your father confessed. The moment you were born, he loved you above his honor. The moment he confessed, he admitted it to the world though the world chose not to see or understand. He said your life was more important than doing what he knew was right. He loved your aunt, and he loved King Robert. He would not hurt her memory by admitting to anyone that her poor choice started a war. He would not hurt his friend Robert by telling him that his betrothed loved another and found no merit in him. It was easier to blame a dead man and a mad king.”

 

Tywin left out how well he understood Stark’s process of thinking. He still could not talk about all his Joanna had suffered, that he blamed himself for his inability to protect her. He thought he knew pain and humiliation, but it had not been till Joanna returned to the Tower of the Hand, broken, bloody, and bruised that he had ever wept. His failure to protect her was a debt to himself that he could never pay.

 

“Did Prince Rhaegar love my aunt?” Sansa asked after a long silence. Her fingertips traced the veins in his hand, and he bit back his words of gratitude to her for getting the conversation back to the main point.

 

“He named her his queen of love and beauty, insulting his wife and the Dornish, quite publicly. He ran away with her, causing a war in the process.”

 

Tywin left out the greatest foolishness, how the prince had his marriage annulled and wed Lyanna Stark. That part was virtually unknown. The boy had written him to ask for advice after his idiocy had reached this conclusion. He had kept all the raven messages. When Ned Stark came back with a dead sister and a baby, it had only been the logical conclusion that the babe was most likely Lyanna's. Still he claimed the boy as his bastard, so there had been no need to do anything about it until now. If they were lucky, there was still one lord alive who could confirm the truth about him.

 

“Lyanna Stark is not blameless in Robert’s Rebellion. Had she done her duty, it would never have happened. Had she paused to consider the consequences her actions would have, she might have thought a kingdom and the life of more than one man she loved too great a price to pay.”

 

He stopped before he spoke of Rhaegar’s idiocy, believing in some ancient prophecy about a prince who was promised. He did not say that Lyanna’s actions could be objectively interpreted as the direct cause of her father and brother dying. Sansa would see all that. She did not need to hear how Brandon Stark could have been wiser than to gallop into King's Landing screaming for the crown prince’s head. Rickard Stark could have been more conscious of the danger of going to south to the capital alone and called his banners to accompany him. Tywin had called his banners to leave the capital. Aerys had always been a little mad, and many had denied that truth to the price of their lives. Lord Rickard had just one of the more horrific.

 

He pulled his hand back, letting all expression flee his face. Love killed people, and he would not let it take him. Princess Sansa was the best solution to a series of problems, but those problems had another solution. He would not hesitate if that was the only one left. She would be his in either case. The Stark boy was on his knees. The only problem was he did not know it, and he might not recognize a hand to help him to his feet. Sansa had to help her brother see when someone was helping him build a fire to stave off the winter chill before he froze to death.

 

“No matter whose eyes you look through, Princess, love started a war where duty and family could have killed it before rivers turned red with the lives it took. A woman helped start that war, a Stark woman. Now the right woman, the same age as the first, has the opportunity to make a different choice to help her family. What choice will she make?”

 

He leaned back lazily, watching his words take effect as a young man came in and cleared the table. The girl would agree to his proposal. Even if she loathed the idea, it did not matter. There would be no castle in Westeros where she would be able to hide from him. By the time he finished with any family that thought to steal a woman from him, the Reynes and the Tarbecks would be understood as his acts of mercy. He shook himself from imagining what he would hypothetically do to a house that offended him in such a way. She would be his, and there would be no hysterics.

 

“My Lord, a lady’s husband is chosen for her. My brother may already have another in mind for me.”

 

Before he had a chance to respond that plans could be changed easily, two of his soldiers dragged a young woman into his tent. Dark mahogany hair hung down her back in a fine braid. Her eyes were swollen and red, and she shook when she saw him. She turned her back on him, trying to push through the men in an attempt to escape. They lifted her by the arms and nudged Lady Jeyne Stark to stand in front of him.

 

Madness and stupidity and debts getting deeper.

 

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 girl with a morbid fascination. Lord Tywin’s frosted emerald eyes watched the girl’s display of indignity and fear emotionlessly. It was beyond more frightening than ever being called before Joffrey, and this young woman knew the stories of this lord but not the man himself. With Joffrey, pain and terror were assured. She always knew the reprieve she prayed for was the shadow of a fool’s dream with the king. Lord Tywin gave no indication of what he planned to do, or that this girl meant anything to him.

 

A twinge of loss twisted in her gut as he withdrew his hand from hers and leaned back in his chair. She moved her hands to her lap, turning to watch the girl over the Great Lion.

 

A phrase she had heard from him once echoed in her mind, When your enemies go to their knees, you must help them back to their feet. Elsewise no man will ever bend the knee to you. Perhaps, with her help, this girl would rise to her feet. She would help her. She would not leave her here. She would do something so few had the courage to do.

 

Blocked by the two soldiers, the beautiful girl turned in nervous circles before sinking to the dirt and covering her face. She hunched forward, nearly touching her forehead to the ground.

 

A thousand questions bounced around in Sansa’s head. After all the time she had spent with him, watching him write letter after letter and attend meeting after meeting, she knew better than to interrupt this. Her very being begged this young woman to find peace and dignity as much as she longed to comfort her and take her away from the frightening, icy stare. Lord Tywin was just sitting there, doing nothing but waiting for her to calm herself. This summer girl knew nothing of winter, and Lord Tywin seemed to live in a perpetual winter.

 

He finally spoke when she desperately sucked in a breath.

 

“Lady Jeyne Stark, formerly Westerling.”

 

Sansa’s eyes rounded, and her breathing came faster. She kept her hands still, forcing herself to calm down. Her brother, one of only two remaining to her, had done something stupid. He married a girl whose family owed their loyalty to Lord Lannister. What madness could have possessed him to do this? This woman was his queen, his wife. Did he think her family would suddenly change their loyalty to have a daughter a queen? There were three other Westerling children to think of. Their castle was in the West.

 

“Clegane, escort Princess Sansa back to her tent.”

 

Sansa’s eyes snapped back to her newly named and known good sister where she huddled at Lord Tywin’s feet. She made her choice then, seeing the terror she recognized all too well. She would not leave her family here. She slid to her knees, offering the young Queen Jeyne her hands. The two guards spun on their heels and left, but she hardly took notice of it.

 

“I am Princess Sansa of House Stark, daughter of Winterfell and sister to the King in the North. It’s good to meet you, Sister.”

 

She did not glance back at Lord Tywin, and he did not address her though she could feel his keen, piercing gaze boring into her. She did not say the words bubbling up within her like the hot spring water that heated the walls of her ancestral home, and I am not afraid of Tywin Lannister.

 

Jeyne took her hands, continuing to shake horribly. She did not raise her eyes as Sansa helped her rise with the gentlest pulls. She embraced the girl. If Robb married this girl because he loved her, she would help him see her again.

 

Her mistakes teased her mind, the idea that her betrothal would have helped her father receive the king’s mercy. The idea that Joffrey would be kind to her, that he would love her.

 

The weight of Lord Lannister’s gift weighed heavily around her neck. It had protected her from everyone, but was just jewels and metal to the man in front of her. It would not save her from him. Her hand rose to the lion pendant at her throat. If Lord Tywin meant to make her his wife, she would find out right now what kind of husband she might expect. Her mother, Lady Catelyn, had been her father's partner, but she knew that she had been the prisoner of her betrothed.

 

“Lord Lannister is g-going to punish me and kill my family.” The wet sobs nearly choked her as she let out another broken sound.

 

“He is not going to hurt you.”

 

Sansa took the other girl’s face in her hands, forcing the brown eyes to meet her blue. Queen Jeyne did not know suffering or pain, and she was just now learning fear. She handed her a Stark direwolf handkerchief she had embroidered over the course of their journey to Riverrun.

 

“Dry your eyes, my Queen.”

 

Sansa waited patiently, resting gentle hands on the other girl. Even as horrible thoughts teased her mind, she prayed for her words to be true. It would not be logical or sensible for Lord Tywin to harm the queen of the man with whom he sought peace. He could not expect her brother to respond well to such a thing. This could ruin everything he had said he wanted.

 

“Thank you. Robb has always said you are the kindest and sweetest of ladies.”

 

“I know no greater compliment.”

 

A true lady was all Sansa ever wanted to be, and she would continue striving to be one. It was her desire and no one else’s, something even the knights of the kingsguard had not beaten out or stripped away. Once Jeyne had a semblance of composure, Sansa turned to the Great Lion of Casterly Rock, the man who wanted to marry her to stop a war. She was going to find out what she meant to him right now.

 

“My Lord, this woman is my good sister, and—” Sansa gulped down her fear, reminding herself that Lord Tywin had never given her cause to truly fear him. He stood up for his family. She would show him that she would do the same. She had faced monsters, and she was still standing. “I am asking you not to do her harm.”

 

The Old Lion watched her with his chilly eyes, reminding her so eerily of the image her mind always conjured at the words frozen heart. She was to marry a man with a heart like that. No glimpses of warmth appeared in them to give her a spark of hope. She had seen the warmth before, and she conjured those tender moments in her mind. More than once, she found him looking at her that way. Tyren had seen it too, and he had spent more time with his lord than most any other.

 

“Any harm meant for her, I mean to take.” Surely he would not hurt her. She prayed to every god whose name she knew. She begged to be right about this Lannister. A frozen heart was no monster. It was just someone who had forgotten. “She’s my family.”

 

If Lord Tywin Lannister meant to marry her, Queen Jeyne would become his family. He would not hurt his family absent the greatest of causes. Even then, the worst he had ever done had been done to save them.

 

“Sansa, if I meant this young woman harm, it would have been carried out before you saw her or knew her new relation to you. I am as interested by the story of how she comes to me as you.” His voice had no inflection, no emotion.

 

Sansa stared at him hard, willing him to prove his words to be true. She bit at the back of her bottom lip, trying to determine if it was when there was no noticeable inflection of his voice, and his expression remained icy.

 

“Princess.”

 

She turned at the gruff voice of her sworn shield. He stepped toward her out of the shadows. Queen Jeyne turned at the sound, and her tears began to silently flow again as she trembled.

 

“The Hound.” Jeyne wrapped her arms around Sansa and hid her face in Sansa’s shoulder.

 

Anger twisted his features, and Sansa gave him a soft look to ask that he not snap at her sister. The poor queen was under enough stress. She did not need to be frightened more. She placed her hand gently on his arm to promise that she would address this with the other girl in her own way. A lady must always remember her courtesies, more so when she was a queen.

 

“A man will do much for gold. Working with the Lannisters teaches that lesson.”

 

A Lannister always pays his debts. The phrase blazed brightly in her mind as if freshly branded there. The gods knew she had heard it often enough from the queen and Lord Tyrion. She turned back to the Great Lion who remained impassive as ever. His face told her nothing, so she turned to her brother’s wife.

 

“Queen Jeyne, Sandor is my sworn shield. He will do you no harm. Be at peace.” She kissed the other girl’s cheek.

 

She took the handkerchief and wiped the young woman’s tearing eyes. Sometime later, it may have been minutes or hours for all Sansa knew as she kept soothing her. She made no promises about how the girl would be treated. Surely if they were treating with her brother, it would be gentle. Her brother would not give her to someone who abused his queen, and Lord Tywin knew that. He was no fool. Sill, she knew the danger of believing she knew someone when that someone was a Lannister.

 

She waited for Jeyne to calm enough that her tears stopped, wondering what she should say. Before she was able to decide, Lord Tywin took away her need by speaking.

 

“Queen Jeyne—” Lord Tywin’s eyes caught Sansa’s as she stood before him with her arms full. “Are you injured?”

 

Queen Jeyne did not answer for a moment, and Sansa rubbed her back soothingly.

 

"You must answer Lord Tywin."

 

“No, my Lord Lannister.” She leaned into Sansa’s side, and Sansa petted her dark hair.

 

“How is it you are come to me?” He leaned back in his chair, watching them.

 

“I don’t know. I just remember something grabbing me and holding a cloth over my face. When I woke up, my hands were tied to a saddle with a little man behind me. We rode into your camp, and the soldiers brought me to you.”

 

“Do you know the man who took you?”

 

She shook her head, pressing against Sansa as she darted glances at Lord Tywin. Sansa felt a comfort settle over her as she remembered her own questioning from this man. He was treating Jeyne with the same coldness with which he had initially treated her. There was no hostility, just a quiet attempt to understand and adapt to an unforeseen complication. The woman bowed her head to him in fear, unsure what to say.

 

“You must tell his lordship the truth. Elsewise he will not be able to help you.” Sansa rubbed her arm.

 

“No, my Lord.”

 

“What do you know of current events?”

 

“Nothing.” The rest of it came out as between a sob and a whine. “I want Robb.”

 

Sansa pulled her closer, remembering how badly she had wanted her father after Joffrey had his head chopped off. Of course, Jeyne would long for the security and comfort of Robb and Greywind. She did not know she was safe right now.

 

“I am travelling to talk peace with the King in the North. You will be returned to your husband when we arrive at Riverrun in two days. Until then, you will share a tent with the northern princesses.”

 

Jeyne looked ready to start crying anew, only this time tears of relief as she managed to get out a weak, garbled thank you to him. Lord Tywin snapped his fingers, and the two guards who had mostly carried the queen into his lordship’s tent reappeared.

 

“Escort Queen Jeyne to Princess Sansa’s tent. Send for the maester to look her over and give her some sweet sleep.”

 

“All will be well.” Sansa pulled back, managing to give the girl a smile. He was dismissing Jeyne, not her. It would be best to get rid of all the extra eyes, or she would never talk him from his icy fortress. “I will see you soon. Sandor, please go and tell Arya what has happened.”

 

Jeyne squeezed her hand briefly before departing. She hunched over between the guards, rubbing her arms to sooth herself as she left with Sandor following behind and looking suspiciously at them.

 

“Come to me, Princess.”

 

Sansa went to him, holding the skirts of her pale green dress up to avoid tripping. He remained seated as she did, so that when she arrived, she was looking down at him. Her earlier unspoken declaration about not being afraid of him had her biting her tongue. She was grateful she had more sense than to say that. She longed for it to be as true as it had been in her thoughts at that moment. He was marrying her, but not for love—for peace. She held her hands in front of her stomach, meeting his eyes and waiting for his judgment.

 

“We didn’t finish our conversation.”

 

Sansa tilted her head to the side as she regarded him. The knowledge that she had defied him left her uncertain of what he might do. The hard lines around his eyes softened before she found the courage to respond.

 

“No, my Lord.”

 

He shifted to the edge of his chair as he took her cheek in his hand. Sansa managed a weak, wobbly smile, feeling her knees go weak.

 

“You’re trembling.” His voice was soft, and his thumb rubbing the crest of her cheek made her shiver. “There is nothing you need fear from me.”

 

Sansa could not respond or manage to lean her cheek into his palm in the way she knew he appreciated on some level. There was something to his voice as he spoke that made it sound like her safety with him was something he wanted her to believe more than something he was commanding her to know.

 

She defied him, saying she would not let Jeyne be harmed. Worse, Sandor and Jeyne had been witnesses. She made no noise as his hand found her hip, and he directed her between his knees. His eyes traced the lines of her sides as his thumbs caressed the length of her waist and tops of her hips. The man he kept hidden sat before her, and she could not avoid his gaze, any more than she could when he asked if she had been harmed as grievously as Lady Tanda’s daughter.

 

“Tell me what you’re thinking, Sansa.” His voice was so soft and quiet.

 

Somehow, she kept herself on her feet, despite longing to be on her knees. All she could think of as she kept her legs under her was how Joffrey had ordered her to rise just to watch her knocked down. She wished he would rise. As intimidating as he could be on his feet, he was perhaps more disconcerting off them. She had him on his knees just this day. He was looking up at her again.

 

"I don't know what to think, my Lord. It has been a strange day."

 

“Sansa, I am not a quick tempered man. I consider my options and behaviors before I take action.” His hand stroked from her ribcage over the dip of her waist to her hip, lifting and repeating the gentle movement again and again.

 

She managed a nod. Her eyes jerked up at his next phrase, and she found his eyes remained soft in their expression.

 

"I know. You have not been cruel to me." She had been blessed from the moment she went to him. She had done the right thing, the only thing that could have been done.

 

“It was good of you to tell me what you were thinking and brave to stand up for your family.”

 

The thought that Lord Tywin might have needed her as much as she had him made her bite the back of her lip. She smiled weakly, keeping her eyes on him. Her guts stopped tossing like the ships on the Blackwater the night of the battle. Her eyes slid to his shoulders, wondering what he would do if she embraced him. Joffrey had screamed at her not to touch him once when she sought to give him comfort. She longed for the comfort of a pair of strong arms.

 

“We will continue our discussion on the morrow. You will join me to break your fast.” His hand dropped from her face, taking her hip as he stood. He stroked the lines of her sides up and down, dipping down and briefly touching their foreheads.

 

“Yes, my Lord.”

 

The only place to look was into his face. She wondered if he was going to kiss her and what a kiss from Tywin Lannister would be like. They were as good as betrothed now. Remembering Joffrey’s kisses made her feel ill, but this man, this stranger she was coming to know, was more a king than any other she had ever known. He was the slyest man in Westeros. Whatever was happening, whatever his play was, he was so far ahead that she could not see anyone catching up or passing him. The scariest part was that he had a way of letting others think they were winning before showing them just how wrong they were.

 

He withdrew from her, rising to his full height. Before she took time to consider it too much, to hesitate a moment, her hand raised to his face. She cupped his cheek and chin the best she could with her smaller hand the same way he touched her face from time to time. He took her wrist gently, lowering her hand after kissing the center of her palm.

 

“It’s late. I will escort you back to your tent.”

 

Sansa nodded, taking his arm and walking quietly at his side to her tent. When she looked up at him in the light emanating from within, she could not help the twinge of sorrow she felt seeing the return of the cold. He changed in the course of a two minute walk. She had said nothing and done nothing to cause offense, yet all traces of softness and what might pass for affection had vanished. Maybe they had never been there, and she was imagining it all, like she had imagined Joffrey’s love for her.

 

He lifted his head and looked around before speaking after she released his arm.

 

“Tyren will walk you over in the morning.”

 

His tone made her breathe out the sigh she had not known she was holding inside her chest. It was almost warm as he rubbed her arms just above her elbows. Her eyes slid around his face, searching for the softness she knew could be there. She sought their meaning, to know if her guard was right, that someone like the Great Lion saw something in her that was worthy of his notice. Maybe one day it would be worthy of his love. That was something she wanted, for her husband to love her and that she would love him in return. She would be a lucky girl if she had his love, more so than just having his hand in marriage. She would endeavor to give him love, and pray for him to take it and give it in return, if a man like Tywin Lannister could love again.

 

“My Lord.” She curtsied, dipping her head.

 

He took a step forward, moving them just inside her tent before taking her face and pressing a kiss to her temple near the line of her hair as he held her waist.

 

“Princess.” He bowed and left, walking briskly back to his tent.

Chapter Text

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 had to flinch at Arya’s continued death glares the following morning. At least her sister waited till Queen Jeyne had been escorted from their shared tent by a few soldiers to be checked by the maester before she let loose with her horrid language. She reminded herself for the hundredth time that Arya was young, and she had suffered a great deal since their father was taken captive. She had not much spoken of her ordeal, and Sandor had spoken only a little, just enough that Sansa knew that her sister’s anger at the Lannisters was burning bright and hot as dragon fire.

 

Neither of them could have taken the other’s place and survived. Arya had spent time with only one of Lord Tywin Lannister’s faces, and Sansa could not believe that her sister glimpsed the gentler face of the lion, heard the purr instead of the roar. Arya was not the type of girl who drew gentility out of a person, and there was nothing wrong in that. The gentle needed protection from a strength they did not have. Someone had to be prepared to defend their family with a sword, and that was how Arya had always been and probably always would be. They were both still standing because of their personal strengths, and she would swear she had glimpsed respect in Arya’s face when she took her from Sandor’s saddle and removed the knife from its place at her throat. Her sister had probably never imagined her capable of such a thing, and she had never imagined herself doing such a thing either until she was.

 

“That was totally disgusting, Sansa. Even more so than Joffrey.” Arya twisted her sword around, dancing in the tent’s central space with her thin sword. “Tywin—”

 

“Lord Tywin, Arya, please.”

 

It was a simple courtesy to offer the man his title. Her sister would do well to practice in private how she should behave in public. There was no way to know how the soldiers would react to her wild sister, though Sansa was certain that his lordship would order them to do her no harm.

 

“LORD Tywin is mean, spiteful, vicious, ugly, old man, and you let him kiss you. He’s plotting ways to kill Robb. I would have vomited on his shoes and run him through the belly if he tried that on me.”

 

Sansa bit her tongue to hold in her retort. He had pressed his lips to her forehead. It had hardly been a kiss of any kind, despite being quite affectionate for the man as she knew him. Getting into an argument with her sister would do no good. Who would believe what she saw in Lord Lannister? She did not always believe it herself. Making Arya believe it might be impossible.

 

Arya had every reason to doubt her sister’s judgment, and more than most others could claim. Sansa’s choices, made in the effort of not poisoning her betrothed against her, had lost both of them their direwolves. It eventually cost her the life of her father. She wondered more often than she liked if she had not asked mercy, if Joffrey still would have chopped off his head. It had taken her time to learn, but she had learned. She just had to pray that she was correct this time. The consequences of being wrong were too horrible to contemplate.

 

“He is asking Robb for my hand in marriage to help end the war.” Allowing the man to kiss her forehead did not amount to treason, and Lord Tywin had done nothing but protect her from the moment she went to ask it of him. It had made her feel cared for and desired, things she had not felt in so long.

 

Arya’s grey eyes, so like their father’s, nearly bulged our of her head. Her sword hand shook violently.

 

“I’m going to stick him with the pointy end.”

 

“Sandor, stop her.”

 

Her sworn shield moved quickly, snatching Arya up and taking away the sword before it got her into trouble.

 

“Let me go, Hound!”

 

“Listen, Wolf-Girl. You stick him, his guards will spear you like a pig ready for the roast.”

 

Sansa winced at the imagery, but maybe that was what it would take to get through to her stubborn, younger sister. It hurt that her sister could see no merit in being a lady, in what Sansa could do, in what kept Sansa alive in a court openly hostile and apathetic to her plight.  She was fighting the lion with her weapons, and she had yet to be mauled by him. Sansa could stop the lion. She knew she could.

 

“Give me back my sword. I will end that mean old man.”

 

“Listen, Wolf Girl. Some monsters you fight with swords. Men like my brother.  It's the only way to end them. Some men you have to use a different kind of weapon.”

 

“Seven hells, Sansa. Think of what Father wanted for you.”

 

Marrying Tywin Lannister to let their brother be king and go home to Winterfell was a small price, and in that man’s own way, he was what her father had last said that he wanted for his daughter in a husband. She did not know if she would ever be able to help Arya see it. Their lord father might never have been willing to see it that way, and he was dead now.

 

"Arya, I also think Father would want my brother and my sister and my mother to live in peace. Sometimes people are more than what the world would see them as." She looked her sister over as Arya set her jaw. "Sandor is. Surely, you have seen that he is more than what you originally thought."

 

The lesson from Old Nan’s stories teased Sansa’s mind as she thought back on different moments shared between her and Sandor, some good and others quite frightening. There was a lesson there. She remembered his story about how his father lied about how Sandor had been burned. She had longed to know what to say to comfort him, a man who felt unworthy of love.

 

"Please trust me." All the songs could not be lies. The frozen heart did everything he did to avoid pain and prove himself undeserving because he wanted and needed love so badly. "Those we would see as the least deserving are those with the greatest need of love. Who are we to decide? Can we not just give?"

 

Arya scowled and rolled her eyes.

 

"If that old man hurts you, I'm sticking him with the pointy end."

 

Sansa breathed out a sigh. It was not what she wanted her sister to say, but it was honest, and it was the girl her sister was always to become. Lord Tywin was not going to hurt her. It was not what he wanted. If it was, it would have been done already. Arya would not need to stab him.

 

"He won't hurt me."

 

“Princess Sansa—”

 

She stood up and smiled at the man who spoke to her so gently and warmly of his liege lord the day before, and curtsied when she saw Queen Jeyne behind him.

 

“Good Morning, Tyren. Good Morning, Queen Jeyne.”

 

“Lord Lannister is ready for you to join him, Princess.”

 

“Arya, perhaps we can speak in the carriage today if you would like.” Sansa reached out and took Queen Jeyne’s hands. “I look forward to us becoming true sisters, my Queen.”

 

“As do I, Princess.” Jeyne tried to smile as her hands shook in Sansa’s.

 

Robb’s queen had calmed considerably since last night, though she still looked around like a terrified rabbit. Sansa almost pitied the girl, wondering what Jeyne would have done if exposed to someone truly villainous and evil. It seemed to have taken hours to get her to speak of anything but the punishment that her family would suffer.

 

Lord Tywin had done nothing horrible to her, and she knew that she would have to ensure that Robb knew the truth of that matter. His queen was traumatized, but not through any action of Lord Tywin’s. Surely, the man who had kidnapped the queen was being held here, and he was the man who should be punished.

 

“Seven hells,” Arya mumbled as Sandor dropped her.

 

Arya’s cursing caught her attention, and she turned to her sister. The closeness between Lord Tywin and Ser Kevan played in her mind. They were family. They should trust each other. Arya had done things Sansa could not imagine and survived where Sansa knew she could not. Arya could do something to help their family, something Sansa never could while Sansa did what Arya could not.

 

“All will be well.” Sansa knew her smile did not reach her eyes, just as the queen’s could barely even breach her lips.

 

“Saying a thing don’t make it true, Sansa.”

 

“This is true, Arya. You will see.” She moved to her sister, pulling her into a hug and whispering quickly to her.

 

The smaller girl huffed, but she nodded to the request as Sansa withdrew. Sansa’s heart lightened as she thanked her, and she walked forward to stand with Tyren. Knowing that she and her sister could ally on this one point was a relief. Asking Arya to help Robb in the way she could in this camp would keep the other girl occupied. She would surely have little patience for Robb's wife, and Jeyne did not need to be around anything or anyone that might make her more frightened.

 

She would handle the person that her sister could not, and her sister could uncover what would not be shared with her. Her hopes and prayers were that the Lannister that currently wanted to marry her would not make a liar of her or a fool of her faith in him. The way he touched her last night could not mean nothing, his hands gentle on her sides and his lips soft against her forehead. She put on her lady’s armor of courtesy and the softest quirk of a smile as she stepped out of her tent to cross the short distance to Lord Tywin’s.

 

More than a dozen men paused to greet her, bowing, kneeling, and smiling. Sansa greeted each of them in return by name and with a gentle look. They had all ridden with her one day, either outside her wagon or within as guards. She had taken time to talk to each, just as her father had so often done with all the men who served their family. In doing so, she had learned and gained new perspective.

 

Gerion was a musician from Ashemarke who played five instruments and sang beautifully. All he wanted was to teach others to play and sing. Aeron was a baker from Lannisport. He only ever wanted to bake in the grand kitchens at Casterly Rock, and he used to make a delicious apple cinnamon tart before the war started. Edric was a jeweler, and he enjoyed making lockets and bracelets. Balon was a farmer who grew the most beautiful lemons in the kingdoms. Steffon was a fisherman who dove for pearls and crabs.

 

There were so many more stories just like theirs, so many boys wanting to be more than soldiers killing other boys with other dreams. It had to stop so they could live, love, and dream. She had a role to play in making it end, and she would do her duty. Her family and so many others were counting on it. Ser Kevan’s words, so broken hearted about his son and his tears. No more dead fathers. No more dead sons. No more beaten and raped mothers, daughters, and sisters. Enough. It had to end.

 

“Princess.”

 

Sansa looked up at her title from greeting the men who were now backing away with nervous downcast faces. They slipped away to return to duties they were assigned.

 

“My Lord.” Lord Tywin’s sharp, cold eyes sent the rest of the men scurrying away as she paused in front of him and curtsied.

 

He held his tent flap up for her to enter ahead of him. Once it fell back into place, he pulled out her chair, helping her to the table. A finger twisted one of her curls around, rubbing the softness with his thumb. When his hand moved around to touch her cheek briefly, she leaned into it. Tension always slipped away from him when she did that. His words to her, about how he married his first wife for love, gave her hope. It meant that he had loved. Maybe he needed a lady to love him again.

 

“How is your good sister?”

 

“She is still somewhat spooked, but she hasn’t been crying. She will only be truly well when she is returned to her husband. Being held hostage is a difficult thing.” Sansa spoke quietly, hoping that her words would not offend, and that they might remind Lord Tywin that he had been in a hostage as well.

 

“It is.”

 

Contentment bloomed briefly in her chest at his agreement. As long as they were in accord, things had a chance of getting better. They were going to finish their discussion of last night, a discussion about their betrothal and the good it would do. She hoped that her comments had not set her back with him in any way. She lapsed into silence as a plate of cold venison and apple slices was passed to her. A little hard cheese caught her eye, and she paired it with the apple, waiting for what he had to say.

 

“Your assertion of last night was correct. A father generally selects the most suitable match for a daughter, and a brother usually chooses when a father dies early. However, that does not make a woman powerless in these matters.”

 

Sansa stared at the gold flecks in his lovely green eyes.

 

“A word well spoken. A story well told can help lead a man who cares for her to make the best choice he can. It can make all the difference in the world, these alliances only women facilitate. They can make family and friend from an enemy. Marriage and a woman’s sense are often good guidance to a husband, brother, father, son, or suitor.”

 

She rubbed her lips together, pinching them between her teeth at his words. She could not help noticing that the first person he mentioned a woman being able to influence was her husband, and that was what he wanted to be to her. Would he truly allow her to influence him, to soften his edges? Was she up to the task? She remembered him on his knees in front of her the day before and wondered if she already had more power with him than he realized, than she thought possible.

 

His lips pursed into a thin line as he paused to let her consider what he was saying. It was something he often did, and Sansa offered him a soft smile to let him know that she was listening. She knew that a woman could influence a man in many ways, and not so in others. Her mother had never been able to talk her father out of executing oathbreakers and Night’s Watch deserters, but other matters had often been well within her realm of influence. She had always tried to push him to do what she saw as right. Her father had always sought her mother’s pleasure when it was possible. If Lord Tywin had loved his wife as he said, surely he had wanted her to be happy. Sansa put on her lady’s smile before she continued that thought.

 

Lord Tywin had loved his wife, Lady Joanna, a woman he had known his whole life. He did not love Sansa, and he had not known her long. His heart froze with the death of his first love, and she did not know how to thaw it. A man who knew him said he saw a change in him, and she saw that he was softer to her than others. She remembered when she climbed into the carriage in the Red Keep to depart to Riverrun how Ser Kevan had looked at her like she was sent from the seven heavens. Lord Tyrion had clearly been shocked that day he saw them together. Surely, his son would know if his father was not himself. Surely, his brother would know.

 

He was marrying her to stop a war. Through their children, they would bring peace between north and south. Her happiness was not a factor. If it were, he would let her go home with her brother. Her heart twisted at that thought. Her brother would need to marry her off to some high lord eventually. There was no guarantee that she would like whomever he selected. There was no reason to believe that she would be happy with Robb’s choice, and she had not been unhappy with Lord Tywin. She felt more content and peaceful in his presence than she had since Lady died. She knew him from their time together, from sitting and speaking about matters, his history and her understanding.

 

“There are many lessons to be learned from Robert’s Rebellion. It is not just the danger of taking actions rashly in the name of love, but also the danger of spurning the wrong man.”

 

Sansa turned pale, her hand shaking until the meat on her fork fell back to her plate. That was not a warning or a threat. It was a promise, as good as a sacred vow made before a heart tree or in a sept. Words were not wind to Lord Tywin, not these words. Their marriage was not optional if there was to be peace. If Robb rejected the lion over a girl that was always to be married away for a political gain, he was putting his throat in the beast’s jaws.

 

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’s eyes slit. He meant every word. It was obvious that his beautiful princess understood what he was not directly telling her. He had decided to keep her, whatever the cost was to her family, even if he had to let an idiot take the fall for killing them. She did not know that, and that was all for the best. She might try to circumvent him and drag the war out longer. The horror plainly written on her face told him what he needed to know. Making her frightened was not what he wanted, but she needed to know the truth.

 

“You have more power than you believe, Princess.”

 

If he was denied, all she needed to know was what the world would know. He had offered a hand of friendship to her brother to have it slapped away for actions Lord Tywin had not committed. A dozen dead over dinner was far better than the thousands dying on battlefields. There would be no honor in it, but the dishonor would be heaped upon a man who had insulted the Lannisters in the past. The Starks were keeping him from where good could be done to prevent his grandson from bringing the wrath of a hundred thousand soldiers on the capital in an uprising if he were to abuse his new betrothed Margaery Tyrell. A dozen men to end a war and prevent another was a bargain.

 

“What are you thinking, my Lord?”

 

Fear continued to wilt her perfect face, making him want to make a number of promises to her that would be impossible to keep if her brother refused to give him a princess for a wife. His face hardened at the tender thoughts. He did not care about her. Her misery would just make his life more unpleasant where her contentment would make him less unhappy. She would strengthen his family. She would give him sons. Treating her gently was his duty as her betrothed, and it was nothing that did not work in his favor. Showing her kindness and honesty when she had seen so much deception and cruelty would earn him her devotion. A wife should be completely and truly devoted to her husband, and she would love him and obey him. It saved trouble, and it made the partnership so much stronger when there was love.

 

“Nothing you need to be concerned about, my Lady.”

 

He hated that he frightened her at times. She should not be afraid of him. He did not like this truth any more than she did, and she would never believe that. Killing the lords of the north was not what he wanted, but he would do what must be done. He was offering friendship and peace. It was up to her brother to accept or reject it. All it was costing was a girl he was going to trade away for an alliance. He could not make a better alliance than the Lannisters.

 

“That was how I felt after begging King Joffrey on my knees in open court to show my father mercy. I felt there was nothing to be concerned about—until he announced that Ser Ilyn was to bring him my father’s head on the steps of the Sept of Balor. I had to stand five feet away as his sword...” Sansa breathed harder, and she shook horribly.

 

Tywin remained quiet as the young woman sought to find her courage and continue telling him what might be the worst memory she had and would ever have. She was telling him something meaningful that had changed her life forever, and he would listen to her words. Knowing her better only helped him.

 

“Do I need to fear for one of the few siblings left to me? My younger brothers were murdered by Theon Greyjoy, a man they called their brother. One brother has been fighting a war against a man who has always won his wars. The other was sent to the Wall because my mother hated him, and he did nothing to earn it. Please tell me if Robb in danger.”

 

She reached out, placing her hands on his arm. She slid to her knees beside him and gazed up, desperate to know that her brother would not have to die.

 

“War makes everyone fearful, Princess. Even kings can not always escape it. When the war ends, the family will be safe and protected.” His breathing eased, and a little tension oozed out as she worked her fingers under his hand, moving it to hold her cheek.

 

Ending the war was their top priority. He would not tell her what she already knew when hearing it would make the threat so much more real. She was frightened enough and rightly so. Learning that the war would end with the death of her brother if he thought to deny Lord Tywin, that Sansa would be returned to him to become his wife afterward did him no good. It did her no good. Knowing that Roose Bolton had turned so readily on his king and that the Young Wolf’s marriage to a girl that was not a Frey, as he had sworn, only solidified Bolton’s betrayal. None of this helped him or her in the long game. What would help them was what he would get for them, a marriage and a brother.

 

They would be his family once she had a child, preferably a son, and a threat to the Starks would be a threat to the Lannisters.

 

“All the family, my Lord, those under the banner matching your wife’s maiden cloak as well as those under the golden lion?”

 

“Yes. Family is everything. It’s the only thing that lasts.” He twists his hand, interlocking their fingers where they press to her cheek.

 

Once Sansa wed him, the Starks would be the second most powerful family in Westeros. Giving them their kingdom now was giving his future son royalty. It mattered little that he would not have the name. He would have the blood. His son would know who he was when he sat in the ancient seat of his mother’s house, a Lannister and a Stark. That was the only ending there was, and their children would be untouchable.

 

“Come. We need to get moving if we are planning to arrive at Riverrun in two days. I know you're eager to see your family again.”

 

He stood and helped her to her feet. He directed her to walk at his side, tucking her hand onto his arm as he escorted her to the wheelhouse.

 

On the first step, she turned a little toward him. Her lovely eyes drank in his face, while his glanced over the line of her fine neck. It would be lovely to press his lips there to her pulse until she squirmed for more. It was also a thought best saved for their wedding night when he would be able to act on such urges.

 

“My Lord, I would ask something of you, if you will permit.”

 

Tywin glanced around, noticing all the hustle and bustle making them less an object of spectacle. He would never have her believe that his kindness and good will toward her were a show for others. They were for her, and her alone.

 

“I will, my Lady.”

 

“You have always been patient with me. Please give my brother your patience when you ask for his sister.” She squeezed his hand, and for a moment he saw her the way he had last night after she stood in front of him, telling him that she would take any harm intended for her brother’s wife. “I am to be yours. Surely, time is not so urgent when the gods have brought us together.”

 

He had not meant to pull her closer, but when she began trembling, he had been concerned about her falling. For a moment, he wanted her closer, wanted her to want him to take care of her, instead of simply accepting it as her situation. Now, she was slightly looking down at him again, and she was absolutely glorious, the perfect lady. A flash from a dream the previous night passed through his mind, a silver wolf with blue eyes being sent to him by a glowing shadow with Joanna's voice.

 

“I don’t want anyone else to die, my Lord. Especially my family.”

 

He scanned the beautiful face, giving him such a heart-rending look. Thirty years it took to find another one, another true lady with a woman’s heart, and she would be his. No fool with an ugly crown on his head would be taking her away. He was trying to save her brother, and he was trying for her. The trap already set was always the most difficult to stop.

 

Not for the first time, it occurred to him that showing up with the princess already wed to him in the eyes of men and gods would not be the worst plan. The Starks would have no choice but to return to her to him. The only trouble he would then have would be convincing the North to bless a union the Starks had not sanctioned, especially when his requests for peace benefited her child with him more than any other. Ending the war and protecting the family were what mattered now, not his being able to immediately satisfy himself. He waited eight years to get his revenge against the Reynes and the Tarbecks. He could surely wait eight days for Princess Sansa.

 

“Tell your brother that I am not a man unwilling to negotiate terms. Much is changeable, and much is not. I’m not unreasonable or necessarily opposed to sensible compromises. I have faith in you to help him. You can do this, and you’re the only one who can, my Lady.”

 

Once she was seated, Tywin bowed ever so slightly without lowering his eyes from her lovely face. She did not speak, but she searched his face softly, lips alternately quirking up and down. The thought that perhaps she might want to kiss him teased the back of his mind for only a moment. She was a beautiful young lady. She did not want to kiss an old man, but she would in time.

 

“Will we be sharing another meal today, my Lord?”

 

Satisfaction worked its way into him unbidden at that question. She had never asked to spend time with him. He had always commanded her presence when he desired it, and she always obeyed. He had all but told her that her brother was defeated, and he had not answered her request for his patience. Perhaps she wanted to renew the entreaty, more than be with him. She had asked nothing of him that he had not already determined necessary, but one hint, one rumor of someone else being given his princess—and his patience would be extinguished faster than a torch tossed into the Trident.

 

“If it pleases you, Princess.” The words would please the girl, probably make her think he was making concessions for her, being chivalrous. He was just paying his debts to her, and she would pay hers to him when the time came.

 

“It will, my Lord.”

 

“Then we shall take our evening meal together.”

 

When she made no response, he withdrew to give her the space she needed to think about what she now knew. The sooner they got to Riverrun, the sooner she would be his.

 

A scowl crossed his features. Saying she would be pleased to dine with him did not make it true. It would be better to keep that in mind. It would be true one day, and that mattered more than any polite words now. He refused to glance toward her. He would not be seen as more interested than he should be. Any actions toward her right now could be seen as what was necessary for the return of his beloved child. He was not his father, and Sansa was not going to lead him around by his cock and balls the way that harlot had his father. He urged his horse to a canter. The sooner that girl was wed to him, the better off they would all be.

 

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 smiled politely as Jeyne told her about growing up in the Westerlands. It was mostly meaningless chatter, picnics on the cliffs of the Crag, playing games with her siblings, sitting in fields of flowers while learning the lessons her septa taught her. All that made her see why Sandor used to accuse her of peeping at him. All she really knew of her good sister was that she seemed like a simple summer child of the south, and when winter came, she might not survive.

 

Arya abandoned them early in the morning, unable to stand it and opting to ride beside Sandor outside. She gave Sansa no indication that she knew anything about the man who kidnapped Robb's queen, but Arya knew better than to discuss that in their current surroundings.

 

“Princess Sansa, it was so brave what you did, yesterday. I don't know how to ever thank you.”

 

Sansa smiled at her new sister, unable to help thinking how much more she would have liked Jeyne if they had met before Joffrey. It made her feel sad and sick to her stomach when she wondered how silent Queen Jeyne would have stayed while the Kingsguard beat her.

 

“That’s so very kind of you to say, my queen.”

 

“I was so frightened for you.” Jeyne took her hand and squeezed it.

 

Sansa shifted, unsure what to say. Her good sister spoke like Lord Tywin was more frightening than the Night King himself.

 

“You needn’t be worried for me. Lord Tywin has been good to me." She smiled sweetly at the other girl, adding in a soft reprimand to her for her words about Lord Lannister. "He is so kind to see you returned to your husband.”

 

She reminded herself at the startled look from her sister that Jeyne knew nothing of monsters beyond stories whispered in the dark of a long night. It would be rude to completely contradict the history her good sister was raised with and wholly vile to betray the confidence of the man she would be marrying. His kindness to her was not something she needed to proudly tell the world. She had not taken her vow to obey him and keep his confidence yet, but she knew she would very soon. She would be his, and he would be hers.

 

If word got back to Lord Lannister, and his soldiers surrounded them on every side, whatever softness he had found for her might vanish forever. His cold indifference would be easier to live with than Joffrey’s vindictive cruelty she supposed, but she longed for more in her marriage than that. She wanted to love her husband, and be loved by him. He would be the father of her children. She blushed a bit at the thought. Those things may never happen, but she would do her best to love him. That started with showing him her trust and that he could trust her. She had spoken of something horrible earlier, and he had listened. He had respected and perhaps even appreciated her candor.

 

“You were so good to me. I want to be a good wife to your brother. I love him very much.”

 

Robb was brave, gentle, strong, and good, the way her father had raised him to be. She remembered how Princess Myrcella had even been taken with him during her visit to Winterfell. The young princess had asked Sansa if Robb was betrothed to anyone. Any maid of any land would be lucky to have him as her husband.

 

“I’m glad to hear it. I love Robb dearly.”

 

It was true. He was her brother, and she managed to smile through the thought that her brother had had an army. Instead of coming to King’s Landing and rescuing his sister, he went the wrong way. He captured Ser Jaime Lannister long ago, and he never offered a trade. He should have sent men to rescue her. He should have come himself. She had been accepted as lost to him. Tywin Lannister was the reason she was seeing her family again, not Robb, not truly.

 

“I long for us to be good sisters. We shall have much time to get to know each other on the journey to Winterfell.”

 

“Nothing would make me happier.” Sansa took her hands when the lovely dark haired girl reached for hers. She did not have the heart to tell her that she did not know when or if she would ever see Winterfell again.

 

“Saving me was so brave, and I’m grateful.” She looked around, leaning closer to her. “Please, be careful, Sansa. Lannisters always pay their debts. I don’t what he’ll do to you. I don’t know how to protect you without Robb.”

 

Sansa smiled serenely at the other girl. She did not need Jeyne’s protection or her warnings, but she would never say that. She did not need her brother’s protection from Lord Tywin either. She was safe with that lion. She knew what the Lord of Casterly Rock had in mind for her, and being his lady would not be so horrible. Slapping her was not one of his priorities. He did not need to use such methods to ensure obedience, not from her at least. She had heard so much of the man, and so little matched the man she was coming to know. He was far more complicated than the man who sacked King's Landing and the man who crushed the Reynes.

 

“Surely, you know the stories of the Reynes and Tarbecks. They offended the Great Lion, so he completely obliterated them. He drowned one and crushed the other in their castles. I don't want him to hurt you.”

 

Sansa kept the serenity of her courtesy wrapped around her as she considered her words. Correcting her sister on the particulars—both what she read and learned directly from the Warden of the West would not calm the girl’s nerves. Queen Jeyne had made up her mind what she thought of her family's liege lord, and it would take something extreme to make her understand the opposite. It had taken the extreme for Sansa to realize that Joffrey was the monster of House Lannister. Even now, Queen Jeyne’s eyes were darting to look at all the red cloaked soldiers surrounding them.

 

Sansa breathed out a sigh, letting a smile twist her lips. She did not have to continue listening to someone speak poorly of a man who had shone her kindness. The soldiers surrounding them would help her put an end to this conversation if need be, and they would not need their swords to do so.

 

“I am touched by your concern. You have a good heart. It’s good of you to want to ensure that I cause no offense to Lord Lannister. You are a good sister.”

 

She could defend his lordship’s actions. She could speak of his kindness to her. His soldiers would hear her and mention her loyalty to the man. But those words could be viewed as undermining his authority. He did not need or ask her to defend him against families owing him their fealty. He had used fear to secure their loyalty, and to say that he was not a man to be feared would be a mistake. The man under the lion’s mask was not for all to see, and she wanted to see more of that person. That was a privilege that she would have to earn, put him in her debt and leave that as the only way to repay her.

 

“What were you doing with him this morning? Why did he summon you?”

 

“We have often broken our fasts together over the moons that I have spent in Lannister captivity.”

 

She did not tell the other girl that she found the Old Lion’s company to be pleasant and his manners to be above reproach for the most part. She doubted this girl had known unpleasant company. Better to keep some things close. Robb learning of her treatment at the hands of the king and queen regent would not make him more likely to end the war with the Lannisters. He might even deny Lord Tywin under the misapprehension that he was protecting his sister. The Queen of the North would understand not disobeying Lord Tywin. She would not believe Sansa asking and even wanting to spend time with him.

 

“He’s dangerous and vicious. He has no heart. He loves no one. The Stranger killed his heart and left a lump of gold in its place.”

 

Sansa’s patience with this conversation was fraying almost as horribly as Arya’s poor, crooked stitchwork. She was beginning to feel hurt by hearing the man who saved her from a real monster maligned by a girl who hardly seemed to know him at all. It was not her fault that she was raised with these stories, but Lord Tywin had done nothing to this girl that Sansa could see or had seen. He told her that she would be returned to her husband, and they were traveling toward Robb now.

 

She could tell Queen Jeyne horrible stories, and that Lord Tywin Lannister had been the man who put a stop to her waking nightmares. He had always treated her as a lady, not always the way she imagined a betrothed or suitor would treat her, but he had never struck her or spoken to her as if she was unworthy. Thinking of how his hands cradled her face on occasion was a calm pleasure that she focused on at times when other memories threatened to drown her. He was kinder to her in private than public. It seemed strange, but she appreciated it. Joffrey had always saved his worst tortures for when they were alone with his Kingsguard.

 

“Queen Jeyne, I am cognizant of the stories those in the Westerlands raise their children with regarding their liege lord.” Seeing that she had this girl’s attention, she looked to both sides, silently encouraging her to take in her surroundings. The message that words travel being communicated, Sansa continued, keeping her voice sweet and gentle. “Lord Lannister has always treated me with all propriety. He has never been vicious with his words or dangerous with his fists or with his soldiers. Now, may we talk of something more pleasant? I would love to hear about your wedding to my brother.”

 

A hurt look twisted the face of the other girl. She thought she had failed to say what she needed. However, Queen Jeyne finally accepted the change of subject and spoke of her wedding with a light flush while Sansa listened and nodded.

Chapter Text

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 magnificent white walls of Riverrun where it sat gloriously against the silky flow of the Red Fork. Long shadows stretched out to the west in the golden light of the rising sun. The white trout on the split field of red and blue of House Tully flapped beautifully beside the gray direwolf of House Stark. Her brother was there, and her mother was surely watching the Lannister host that was returning her daughter—daughters, but Arya would be a surprise for them.

 

Jeyne and Arya were nearly at the end of their ordeal. Arya would return home to Winterfell, and Jeyne would go to her new castle as every lady did once she married.

 

“It’s almost over, Little Bird.”

 

“No, Sandor. It’s really just beginning.”

 

Sansa would be staying in the south. She would do what she was born to do, make a powerful alliance for her family. That was all people saw when they looked at her. The difference between Lord Tywin and the Tyrells and all the others was that he looked beyond that. He surely wanted her claim as much as the others, but he offered her something in return for it, something worth having.

 

Robb was going to be furious, even getting his wife and one sister back absent anything tangible to trade for them.

 

“I’ll be right there with you, Little Bird.”

 

Sansa shivered as she thought over the plan that Lord Tywin had suggested to her. It was clever, exactly what she expected from him. It also made her heart flutter with fear and her stomach a twisted mess more wretched than when she had been dragged before the king to answer for what Joffrey had done to the butcher’s boy and then suffered at the teeth of her sister’s wolf. It would terrify her brother beyond all reason, which was the reason for her addition to the plan. The terror for herself was far more potent, but there was a sense of peace in knowing that Arya and Sandor would be safe. It would make a point that words never sufficiently could if she stood alone against the infamous Ser Jaime Lannister.

 

The image of Ser Jaime Lannister as she had first seen him, everything her young mind saw when the words true knight were told to her in every song and story she loved, filled her mind. The white cloak and the golden armor, and the knowledge that he had done something that she had once longed to do.

 

For a mere moment, she had had the opportunity before Sandor saved her by stopping her. She knew why she wanted Joffrey dead then, when she had just promised him that she would do no treason and that she only wanted to go home. She still knew now why she wanted him gone. Joffrey would never stop his evil ways. He believed he could not be touched as the king, but the blond knight she would meet in the field today was the living proof that he was more wrong than he could begin to know. She would ask him why and pray for an answer.

 

“Sandor, don’t be afraid for me. What will happen today is a show, and you must remain calm.”

 

Her sworn shield grunted and shifted his stance as more Lannister soldiers clanked around them, lining up neatly.

 

“My queen,” Sansa said, curtsying as Jeyne walked up and took her arm. “You’ll be back with your husband soon. Not long now till you’ll be in Winterfell. I know you’ll adore it there. It’s enchanting. You will love the glass gardens and the warmth of the walls.”

 

Winterfell was the best home she had ever known, and she had never appreciated it while she was there, never appreciated what she had there, and now so much of it was gone. She had never been meant to stay there. She was destined to leave to be with a lord husband.

 

“I am eager to see Robb and my new home. Surely, you are also eager to return to the North. I am sure Robb will find an excellent match for you. Perhaps a Wydman.”

 

A flash of confusion passed over Sansa at the comment about the Wydmans. Robb was not going to marry her to a house of the Vale. Neither would he wed her to a Waterman which was the name the queen had surely meant. The Watermans had three daughters and no sons.

 

“We shall see. I pray King Robb will find me a wonderful match.” She also had to pray that Robb knew the best for him when he made that match.

 

At least Arya had the sense to do no more than roll her eyes. Robb would have much to teach his wife if he hoped for her to earn the respect of the North, respect that his actions had already somewhat lost him.

 

“Sandor, please put them on Stranger.”

 

Jeyne jerked away as the man hoisted her up onto his enormous courser. She kept her eyes away from him, gripping the saddle. Arya poked the queen in the middle of her back as she was lifted up behind her.

 

“Don’t be stupid. It’s just a face, a really ugly one. He’s not so bad, if you hold your breath.”

 

“Arya.” Her sister ignored the reproach in her tone, but Sandor gave a raspy laugh.

 

Sansa’s breathing quickened as two enormous direwolves exited the castle side by side first. A wave of unease passed over the soldiers assembled around them, and they moved their hands to their swords, shields, and spears. Archers nocked their arrows as Greywind slunk toward them, low to the ground but easily visible with his massive size. He snarled as he dropped his head. The other wolf, bright as the full moon at night, with glowing red eyes made her heart nearly stop.

 

“Jon!”

 

Arya’s excited exclamation matched the shout in Sansa’s heart. She had much to say to Jon Snow, not that he would have any reason other than his own innate goodness to accept her apology. She was relieved almost to the point of tears to know how close he was. She needed to make things right with him, treat him as the brother that he had always been to her.

 

“That the brother who?”

 

Arya nodded to Sandor, and Sansa looked up at the sound of heavy hooves trotting to them. Tightness in her chest released at the image Lord Tywin made atop his large war horse. More than a dozen of his vassals joined him on horseback, including Ser Addam Marbrand, Lords Lefford, Farman, Crakehall, Lydden, Jast, Moreland, Yarwyck, Garner, Hawthorn, Brax, and more than a few of the Lannisters of Lannisport.

 

Gleaming, perfectly polished armor with lion head pauldrons draped with his red war sash. Tall and proud, he looked every inch the Warden of the West. He looked like a king atop his stallion, and he wanted her for his wife, was asking her brother for her.

 

“Bows down.” His deep voice carried to the archers, and they listened to him, looking between the wolves with bright, nervous eyes. “Those creatures are what pass for pets in the North.”

 

Several northern lords filed out and took up places, leaving the central space open. Sansa walked over to stand beside Lord Lannister, close enough that he could touch her if it pleased him. Somehow she kept her composure as her mother and brother appeared. A bright silver crown gleamed on his head, and he sat on a large red chestnut horse.

 

“Go, Clegane. Offer our gifts to the North, so we can get this trade accomplished.”

 

F~A~M~I~L~Y~D~U~T~Y~H~O~N~O~R. W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G. F~A~M~I~L~Y~D~U~T~Y~H~O~N~O~R.

 

Catelyn longed to hold her son’s hand as she watched the Kingslayer led from the castle. Truly, she was lucky and grateful that Robb was allowing her presence. They were luckier still that the Glover men had recaptured Ser Jaime Lannister after she let him go. She had feared for his life that night, and all she had been able to think of had been her girls. Robb had made no mention of rescuing his sisters in so long. He had said they would need to give them up as lost. He made his bastard brother his heir to his mother’s heartbreak. He summoned that boy from the Wall and forgave his vows. She did her best not to glare at her husband’s bastard, atop a gray courser to his true-born brother’s right. Surely, Robb would set things right now with his sister being returned to him.

 

She glowered at the still somewhat shocked, now oddly silent Kingslayer, horrified and relieved in equal measure at his loss of limb. He had needed some sense knocked into him, but that did not mean that he should have had that done. It was one thing to kill a lion, another to chop its paw off and leave it bewildered.

 

The man never used to be silent, even when it was in his best interest. He had infuriated her, and he was the reason why her son had lost a large part of his army. He was the reason Bran had been crippled. Oathbreaker. He was the reason that Ned had been injured. He was the vilest of men. He was part of the reason there was so much injustice in the world, and he would rot in the deepest of the seven hells because the gods were just.

 

“Mother! Robb! Jon!” Tears erupted from Catelyn’s eyes at the sound of that voice.

 

“Arya!” Only Robb’s hand on her shoulder prevented her from running to her youngest daughter. She was alive, and she was right there, coming back to her family.

 

She had no idea that the Lannisters had her youngest till a messenger arrived the night before with news that both were alive and safe. They would be returned safe and whole to their family. Her son had been in a near panicked rage when his wife turned up missing. Most of his army had been dispatched to search the surrounding area for the queen, but there had been no sign of her. That was how she ended up back in a room near his instead of the tower cell where she had been put after freeing the Kingslayer.

 

“Look who’s escorting them.”

 

Catelyn’s blood boiled like burning hot oil when she saw the monstrous Hound walking his great black courser toward them with her daughter atop it, waving to them. Another reason why the world was so full of evil was coming toward them. He was destined for the seven hells as assuredly as his brother, Tywin Lannister’s mad dog. The enormous, scarred man held the reins of his giant horse and approached her son quietly. He looked up with a dark sullen expression as though he had been forced to do something that he neither liked, nor agreed with as he stood there with her youngest and with Robb’s wife. His angry grey eyes locked on the Kingslayer with a menacing threat in them.

 

“King Robb—” Catelyn cringed at the sound of his voice. “Lord Tywin Lannister, Lord of Casterly Rock, Shield of Lannisport, Warden of the West, and Hand of the King, is pleased to return to the North your sister and Queen Jeyne whom he found upon his travels here. He took no part in their disappearance, and he asks only for the gratitude and favor of the King in the North in return.”

 

“And what of the man who kidnapped my queen?” Robb urged his horse forward, reaching out to take his queen’s hand.

 

“Held by Lord Lannister for an as yet undetermined debt.” Clegane stared straight ahead as if this conversation held no interest to him.

 

“I want him.” Robb’s voice was colder than any winter blizzard Catelyn had seen. “I’ll take his head myself.”

 

“That’s for you and Lord Lannister to haggle about.” His gray eyes burned like fire as he tossed an ugly look toward the monster of the West. "Might make it one of your peace terms."

 

“Where’s Sansa?”

 

The ugly burns on the Hound’s face twisted grotesquely in the light as he turned his glare, sullen and angry, on Catelyn.

 

“With Lord Tywin, waiting for you to release the Kingslayer. That was part of the deal to begin the peace negotiations.” The big man stared intently toward the Lannister host.

 

“The man who kidnapped you will be punished severely, Jeyne,” Robb said, cradling his wife’s cheek after the brute helped her down.

 

Jeyne moved closer to Robb, holding his hand gently to her lips and kissing it. Arya wiggled in the saddle, turning to look for Sansa.

 

“Arya, the sooner you get down, the sooner this man can leave, and your sister will be with us.”

 

“The Hound is staying with us.”

 

Catelyn’s face heated with anger. That savage, despicable man was not remaining with them. Robb’s staunch command refusing that notion let her breathe easier until Clegane made no move to get Arya down. He fiddled with something on the saddle instead.

 

Arya straightened up, looking down at the Hound.

 

“He swore himself to Sansa, and he rescued me from the Brotherhood Without Banners. I would not be here if not for him.”

 

That brought Catelyn’s anger down to a simmer. This man was responsible for helping restore one of her children to her. Still, he was not staying. It was folly to keep one of Tywin Lannister’s pets with them. Surely, they could pay him a ransom and send him on his way. If he took his vows as seriously as his brother did, it would be nothing to him to abandon Sansa. She deserved better than an old dog guarding her. She would have the finest knights of the North to protect her once she was with her family. There would be no need for vicious dogs to run with noble wolves. He would not remain with Sansa.

 

The conversation seemed to have gotten the Kingslayer’s attention for the moment. He lifted his dirty head, looking at the Hound. Before he could think of something to say, if words had been in him, the Hound lifted the Kingslayer like he weighed no more than a loaf of bread. He shoved him away toward the Lannisters.

 

Catelyn gasped as she saw the cloak hanging from Clegane’s shoulders. She would recognize Sansa’s needlework anywhere. A leaping wolf with its teeth bared decorated the back of the white wool. Around the lower border were leaping black dogs with bared teeth.

 

“Fuck off back to your father, and keep your cunt mouth shut. If you even look at Princess Sansa in a way she don’t like, if she gets upset by any shit pouring out your cunt mouth, I’ll hang you with your guts tonight.”

 

Clegane stepped forward and shoved him again out into the clearing. He lifted a protesting Arya to the ground and mounted his enormous black horse. He kept a hand on the hilt of his sword as he watched his former master’s son walk away.

 

Catelyn bit her tongue at the crass language. How could her sweet, lovely lady allow such a man to enter her service? She would surely be convinced to send him away once Robb provided her with a proper guard and found her a suitable husband. Any kind northern lord would be over the moon to have her daughter. They would treat her gently and love her. She would tie them to their king and tie their king to them. Sansa would be close to her family.

 

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 shifted at the weight of the sword hanging at her hip under the cloak. It was uncomfortable and awkward, and she kept a slow pace toward Ser Jaime, Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. Looking upon him hurt her. He looked nothing like the man she remembered riding into Winterfell years ago—golden, handsome, resplendent in gleaming armor with his snowy white cloak streaming behind him. He had been the perfect knight in her young girl’s mind. Now, there was no armor. His golden hair was darkened, and his face was covered by a shaggy beard like a lion’s mane. A healing scab discolored one eye, but it was the stump where his right hand had once been that horrified her and from which she refused to turn away. The greatest swordsman in the seven kingdoms no longer had what made him the man he had been.

 

Seeing his piteous state made her wonder at what her own family might see as they looked at her. Did they see the young girl she had been in Winterfell? Did they see her pain? Did they see the lady she had become after all she had survived? Would they still love her? Would they see that Lord Tywin was restoring her to them, that he saved her from her torment? He was so much more than everyone said. If they would just look and listen, they might see a spark that could be kindled to a flame to guard against the long night.

 

Her heart went out to Ser Jaime as he stared morosely at his stump. The man who blew a kiss to a lady in the commons at the tourney to honor her father was not the man who stood before her now. He should have been better treated as a valuable, highborn hostage. How had he come to that? How had he become the Kingslayer, a title she would have taken herself that day Joffrey forced her to look upon her father’s severed head? How many times the king dragged her there, and how many times she had made herself go away inside.

 

“My dear Princess.” Sansa looked down at the man escorting her. Lord Tyrion reached out and touched her wrist. “My brother was a difficult prisoner. He killed one of his jailers in an escape attempt. He then had to be kept more securely, and your brother did not take Jaime's hand. It's a long story, and one not for me to tell.”

 

“What did they expect of a lion with his paw in a trap?” She would have tried to escape if she had his skills. She would have killed the king. With Ser Barristan Selmy gone, none of the other Kingsguard would have been able to withstand Jaime Lannister. In another life, she might have been Jaime Lannister.

 

“A lion surrounded by trout and wolves feels entirely different from a wolf pup surrounded by lions after being dragged to their den.”

 

Sansa refused to say that she thought them not so dissimilar. The only difference was a lone wolf stood no chance against a lion, especially a lion with his pride. A lion without his pride was still a fearsome creature to behold.

 

“It looks like we both received an ugly education. A lone lion fared as poorly against a large pack as the lone wolf against the pride.”

 

“Here is where I wait, Princess. Rest assured that Jaime, despite his well earned reputation, will not hurt you. We are not always the names others give us, especially the ones that cut the deepest. I am sure that you know this.”

 

Traitor’s daughter. Little Dove. Little Fool.

 

Sansa shifted the folds of the cloak she wore aside, removing the sword from where it had been concealed. Clutching it with both hands, she continued toward the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. She kept her eyes on him, reminding herself that he was not solely the names others gave him.

 

He was Ser Jaime Lannister, and whatever he had done, he had a reason. No matter what the other knights of the Kingsguard had done, Ser Jaime had done none of those things to her. He had not been there to stop the Kingsguard. Whether he would have or not, she did not know. He killed an evil king, the man who murdered her uncle and her grandfather. Why?

 

She had to remind herself that the evil king he killed had not been the son of his sister, mayhaps even his son if rumors could be believed. She did not think she would ever have the courage to ask that. No one in the Red Keep was so stupid as to risk that. Still, she had to believe that Ser Jaime might have chosen a different course of action from that of his sworn brothers. Surely, there was one true knight somewhere amongst the knights of the Kingsguard.

 

Fear twisted her gut as they got closer and closer. She was about to give one of the deadliest men in the kingdoms back his greatest weapon, the weapon that made him a knight, the weapon that helped him slay a king. She was about to hand the leader of the monsters who tormented her his weapon, but he had not been there. He no longer had his sword hand. He was not his men. Maybe he was a true knight. She still believed that they were out there, and she believed that she would meet one someday.

 

“Lord Commander.” Sansa curtsied to him. His bright green eyes locked on the sword with a nearly feverish desperation. She held it out to him. His blond head twisted curiously from side to side. “Your father bade me return this to you, Ser Jaime.”

 

As soon as his left hand closed around the hilt, a vicious growl emanated from the side. Sansa’s breath caught at the sight of Greywind, head lowered, teeth bared, and ears flat against his skull.

 

“That one doesn’t like me.” The ringing song of steel being drawn from a sheath had her brother’s wolf prowling closer, menacing the knight.

 

“No.” Fear made her breath come out slightly labored. She held a hand out to the wolf and placed her other on Ser Jaime’s right forearm as she moved between the giant direwolf and Lord Tywin’s son.

 

He would be her son by law soon. He would be her family. She kept her back mostly turned to Ser Jaime, and all she felt was a cold chill. She knew how he earned the Kingslayer name by stabbing the Mad King in the back. Now, he held live steel at her back. Ser Meryn Trant beat her back with the flat of his blade.

 

The wolf’s growl died, but the rest of his posture remained the same. A flash of white from the other side moved just through the edge of her vision. The difference between Ghost and his brother could not be more startling. His red eyes watched her curiously, and his ears perked up. He moved forward silently, stopping just out of range of the sword.

 

“Ghost, please help me.” Ghost took a slow step toward her, sniffing cautiously. “Ser Jaime.”

 

“Kingslayer. Oathbreaker. Man Without Honor. Aren’t those the names the honorable Lord Eddard Stark taught his children were synonymous with Ser Jaime Lannister?”

 

The pain in his voice rang in her heart, helping her know what to say. He had not wanted to be any of those things. Maybe, in his own way, he was more than those shameful words.

 

“Ser Jaime, please put the sword away. They won’t hurt you.” She kept her hand out, commanding both wolves to hold. Her brothers’ wolves would do her no harm, and she would show them a gentler way. The sword would not be out if Greywind had not been here growling. “I will stay between them and you, Ser. Ghost, I will not let him hurt you.”

 

She reached for Ghost with a steady hand. Jon had always been so kind and gentle to his siblings, even when she had not always treated him well. Ghost was calm and collected, just like Jon, watchful of his surroundings and aggressive only when provoked. His lips had pulled back when the sword was drawn but relaxed at the gentle reassurance in Sansa's voice. She had never touched any of her brothers’ wolves, not since they picked them out, and John had arrived with the little white pup already selected and cuddled in his arms.

 

The enormous white wolf leaned forward, pressing his nose into her palm. She slid her hand along the side of his muzzle, holding in the sob in her throat. When her fingers twisted gently in his ruff, he moved easily with the slightest motions of her hand, keeping his red eyes wearily on Ser Jaime as he struggled to get the sword back in the sheath.

 

“Thank you, Ghost.”

 

When the Lord Commander managed to get the sword put away, Greywind snorted, raising his head. He walked closer, and his lips were still pulled back in an ugly display of aggression. She had her work cut out for her, convincing Robb to take a hand in peace. Ghost moved between his brother and Ser Jaime, and the giant wolf made a show of yawning and stretching before sitting back on his haunches.

 

“I’m not turning my back on them.” Ser Jaime glared in the direction of her family.

 

“Ser Jaime, I know how little it means and how difficult it is to believe, but I swear to you that I won’t let them hurt you.”

 

He breathed harder, the same way she did every time she had been dragged before Joffrey by one the Kingsguard. His eyes stayed on Greywind, pupils narrow, hand on the sword hilt. She remembered how she grabbed his lord father’s arm when she saw one of her tormentors, and suddenly she understood. She believed in Lord Tywin to be able to protect her, and Jaime believed in his ability to use a sword, even clumsily. Greywind had been used to frighten and intimidate Ser Jaime. Her breath came out as a heavy shudder, and her arm draped Ghost’s back.

 

“Go to your master, Greywind. Ghost will protect me. Go!” She whispered a prayer to the old and new gods that the wolf would listen. She needed answers, and Ser Jaime needed to trust her to be able to control the wolves.

 

Her voice came out forcefully, and she pointed toward her royal brother. The direwolf yawned and stretched, ignoring her command until Ghost stepped forward and stared at him. Then he trotted back to the northerners. Ser Jaime did not say anything until the wolf had dropped down to rest by Robb’s horse.

 

“I’m not afraid of that monster.”

 

She embraced Ghost’s neck on her knees before she answered, turning them to Ser Jaime. She was not the names his sister or his nephew gave her.

 

“And I don’t fear the Kingsguard after all the times King Joffrey ordered them to beat me bloody, sparing only my face because the king liked me pretty.”

 

The look that painted his face for only a moment said everything. Disgust. Fear. Anger. He had seen a king like the one now on the throne before, and now he would see it again. And this time it would be so much worse for him. He looked like he just wanted to go away inside so he did not have to hear this. She had spent her time going away inside too, and there was no time for it.

 

“A hundred courtiers just stood like frightened lambs, too afraid of being next to help the traitor’s daughter. I’m sure many were there when the Mad King killed my grandfather and my uncle.” Sansa chewed the back of her lip, wondering where the desire for the next answer came from and knowing it was no mystery. “Why did you kill him?”

 

Ser Jaime looked away from her and toward the Lannister host then. He glanced back at her where she held Ghost and then at the northern lords.

 

“No one has ever asked me that before.”

 

His eyes held a strange light, like he had wanted to tell people but knew no one would believe him. It was rather the way she thought she might have looked as her brother’s wife told her what a monster Lord Tywin was and she thought of correcting her. She simply knew the Great Lion differently. Sansa looked back at the man where he sat, waiting on his horse and watching his son interact with his betrothed. The question in her heart caused her horrible pain, but now that she had thought it, it was a part of her. Why were Lannisters the only family that seemed interested in the king being a good king? What had kings done to them?

 

“Someone is asking now. Tell me, please.”

 

“King Aerys was stockpiling wildfire. He was going to use it to kill everyone in King’s Landing. My first order when he learned my father was sacking the city was that I should bring him Tywin Lannister's head. Then I was to convey his orders to the pyromancers to burn the city and all the people. So I killed the pyromancers first, then the king while he kept shouting ‘burn them all.’ He shouted that for so many hours. Burn them all. Burn them all.”

 

Sansa forced herself not to fold under the pressure of what was weighing her down. Ghost nudged up against her, pressing supportively to her legs. His warmth and gentle encouragement helped her keep away the tears. Ser Jaime was a true knight of a sort. He saved all the people in King’s Landing. That was an important vow he made, protect the innocent. Maybe he would have protected her too. He saved so many lives by taking only a few, just like his father.

 

"So many vows, they make you swear and swear. Defend the king. Obey the King. Honor your father. Protect the innocent."

 

Ser Meryn's words when Tyrion questioned him about beating an innocent girl with his sword came back with a sharp chill that made her backbone quiver. The kind that obeys his king. Ser Jaime chose a different vow when he could not keep both. What would any man do if confronted with the order to kill his father? She knew Robb would never have done anything to harm their father.

 

“Would you have hit me or stripped me or slapped me if the king ordered it of you?”

 

The hurt, distressed look that crossed the Lord Commander’s face said everything. He had seen it all before. He had seen innocent girls hurt, and it horrified him, left him conflicted. It made him want to go away inside. He did what he did because he wanted to be a good man, a good knight, a true knight, and she believed in true knights. Yet, nobody saw that when they looked at him. All they saw was the vow he broke because he could not speak the horrors aloud, make them real, contemplate the other choice so many people would have had him make.

 

“No.”

 

The tears that briefly filled her eyes at the words she needed to hear and the urge to throw herself into Jaime Lannister's arms. She would never make such a spectacle of herself, and she was certain that the gesture would be undesired. She would not ask him what choice he would have done to his nephew if he had been there. She did not want to know, but she believed that he would not have struck her or allowed the other men to harm her. What would the people say of him then, a man who stood up to a king and monsters to help an innocent girl? That was the man he would be if given the chance. She could give him a chance to make a different choice, and today, that choice came at a low price for him to pay. She would lower it further, show him a lady's kindness and graciousness. He deserved it in some way for being who he was, a man like few others.

 

“We have to put the horrors we have suffered behind us, Ser. We should never forget them or let them happen again, but we must not be defeated by them.” She walked toward him, stepping up to look into his eyes. “What do you want most, Ser?”

 

W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G. F~I~R~E~A~N~D~B~L~O~O~D . W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G.

 

Jon’s eyes moved back and forth between the scene playing out between Ser Jaime Lannister, one of the most irreverent men he had ever met, and Sansa, his most indifferent sibling who now held the fur of his wolf after sending away her king’s. They were just talking between the armies like old friends.

 

“What’s Sansa doing with the Oathbreaker?”

 

The way his brother’s lady mother spat out the words reminded him of her ever hateful attitude toward him.

 

“Talking.” Robb answered, sounding no more pleased about it than Lady Catelyn. “And we can’t do anything about it.”

 

“Doesn’t seem to be any harm in that, Your Grace.” Sansa had even put her back to the once proud knight while he had the blade drawn as the wolves menaced him. The Lannister had made no move to harm her, had barely even looked at her, eyes and attention dominated entirely by the direwolves.

 

The northmen had all drawn weapons then, prepared to run down Jaime Lannister. Robb had ordered them to hold. If they charged, Sansa would be the first casualty. The Hound snarled louder than any of the others, roaring and shaking his sword. His enormous black horse had reared and stamped and snorted right along with his master. The man was ready to kill their former captive to protect Sansa.

 

The Kingslayer would make or break the peace right now, and his father had the numbers to take Riverrun and wipe out all the northern lords as succinctly and cleanly as he had the Reynes and Tarbecks. Their best hope was Lord Bolton, and he was at Harrenhal, too far to do them much good, and he gave Jon the same slimy feeling that Craster did. The men around him seemed to collectively sigh as Ser Jaime's blade was put away. They stood, talking quietly to each other for some minutes.

 

Then Ser Jaime offered his arm to Sansa, she took it as calmly as she might gather a kitten to her chest. She looked straight at them all, chin raised, daring them to speak against her escort. Jon had heard of the deal struck between the Kingslayer and his brother's mother.

 

“Robb, we don’t need our swords.”

 

Having weapons out could ruin this moment, whatever it was that Sansa was doing, and she was doing something that no man could do. They needed to be calm and look calm as they watched whatever was happening. It was like a moment from a song.

 

His brother tossed him a hard look before ordering the swords be sheathed and the Kingslayer to remain untouched so long as he made no move toward his weapon.

 

“Sansa.” Lady Catelyn shook with tears as she stepped toward the knight escorting her daughter.

 

“Mother.” There was something different to his sister’s voice, a lady’s gentle kindness and grace in every sound.

 

Lady Catelyn choked on the sob in her throat as her son ordered her to remain still. Jon could not take his eyes off Sansa. She was what he had always known she would become, a great lady. The little girl who left Winterfell was gone. He could see none of that easy joy in her face. The horrors she had seen and suffered were plain to anyone looking at her, and all he wanted to do was take her in his arms and promise her that he would keep her safe, that her suffering was over now.

 

“A daughter for my freedom. That was our deal, Lady Stark.”

 

When Sansa released his arm, he bowed his head ever so slightly to Lady Stark.

 

“Thank you for seeing me safely back to my family, Lord Commander.” Sansa dipped into a perfect curtsy. “Your honor does you credit, Ser. I will always speak well of you to those who ask, leaving your story to you to tell when you are ready.”

 

“My Lady.” Ser Jaime bowed far lower to Sansa than he had to her lady mother, and he kissed her hand gently. “You never told me what you wanted most. It seems unfair for you to know me so much better than I know you.”

 

“A conversation that I hope we’ll be able to have soon, Lord Commander.”

 

“As do I, Princess.” The blond man bowed again before backing away and eventually turning to walk across the field.

 

Jon smiled a little when he saw Lord Tyrion waiting for his brother. The little man had helped him enormously at the Wall, and he would forever be grateful to him.

 

Sansa stood quietly in her mother’s arms, breathing much more calmly than the other woman. She looked up at him, and she smiled.

 

“Let’s go inside.” Robb lead the way into Riverrun, and Jon followed after Lady Catelyn and his sisters.

 

His heart ached a little at how reluctant his sister was to release Ghost. She looked back toward the Lannisters more than once, checking for something which only she knew to look or asking for something only she could gain.

 

“Jon.” She withdrew from her mother the moment the gates shut. “Jon.”

 

His eyes widened a bit at her address, that she was reaching first for him. They had never been close, and she wanted him first of her brothers. She reached out and took his hands the moment he was off his horse, ignoring the looks of everyone around them. She was treating him as her brother.

 

“I’m so glad you’re here, Jon.”

 

“It’s good to see you, Princess.”

 

Something in her eyes drew him in closer, removing his hand from hers. She had suffered horribly, but there was a hope that it would soon be over.

 

Suddenly, she wrapped her arms around his neck. She pressed her face in close to the fur on the collar of his cloak, and he wrapped his arms around her in turn, holding her tightly. A few tears wetted his neck, and he held her all the tighter for it. He would do whatever it took to keep her safe, if she would let him.

 

“I’m sorry, Jon. Sorry for everything.”

 

Jon’s eyes widened, but he tugged his sister closer, ignoring the hateful glare from Lady Catelyn and the smug satisfaction of Arya.

 

“Will you ever forgive me?” Her voice cracked a little on the word forgive as she pressed into his neck.

 

He pulled back, looking down into his beautiful sister’s face. He gripped her hair, staring into her very blue eyes as he answered.

 

“There’s nothing to forgive, Sansa.”

Chapter Text

F~A~M~I~L~Y~D~U~T~Y~H~O~N~O~R. W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G. F~A~M~I~L~Y~D~U~T~Y~H~O~N~O~R.

 

Catelyn stared at the Hound where he sat on his black monstrosity with her daughters to each side of him. She had no idea how it had come to this. The conversation of what to do with the giant man had begun almost the instant the drawbridge was raised behind them.

 

Robb, Jon Snow, and Edmure dismissed everyone from the stables and stared at the scene in front of them once it was just family and the man her girls were defending. Both of her daughters stood like little soldiers beside Clegane’s war horse. Arya held a sword in hand to her mother’s disgust, looking ready to fight to help the Hound of all people. Sansa stood to his other side with her hands held primly in front of her stomach. Her bright blue eyes watched them, and a placid smile curved her lips without reaching her eyes. She looked as if no harm could come to her that she could not withstand.

 

The white wolf moved among them, sniffing at them all before taking a place beside Sansa. His ears twitched but remained high despite his lowered head. They were together at last, and she still could not hold her girls. Greywind sat at Robb’s side, enjoying her son’s fingers scratching his ears as he watched over his master protectively.

 

“You can’t be serious, Sansa. He’s a Lannister man.” Robb shook his head as he looked over at them from between his half-brother and uncle.

 

Catelyn moved toward her dear ones. They were not taking in stray dogs, not even to live in their kennels. She was grateful that Robb did not even want to offer scraps to the Hound. They would pay the man for his deeds. Arya said that Clegane had rescued her from a group of bandits, and Arya had never been a child prone to exaggeration. Whatever drove him to ensure that Arya was indeed returned to her family, maybe he was not all horrible, but she could not stay. Her son’s men would only see a spy around them.

 

“She is. She took him into her service. I was there. Threw a cloak around his shoulders and everything.” Arya nodded grimly to them. “He’s Sansa’s man now. She made her vows to him.”

 

She was touched to see her daughters in agreement, but why did it have to be over this man?

 

Catelyn moved to her daughter and stroked Sansa’s hair. Sansa had suffered, and the Lannisters would pay for it. Tullys and Starks were capable of paying debts just as much as those blond beasts. She barely recognized her sweetest one now. Sansa looked nothing like the little girl who left Winterfell what felt like ages ago with Ned. She was a lady now, a woman flowered, ready to be wed and have children. Bits of despair and sadness marred that little girl who loved knights in shining armor.

 

“Sansa, you will have fine knights to protect you. You don’t need a Lannister dog.” Robb spoke more softly to her then.

 

“Please don’t call him that.” Her hand moved up and touched his forearm atop his armor.

 

Catelyn’s eyes widened at the gentle words and gentler actions of her lovely one, making it neither a request nor an order, but some strange combination between them. It was exactly the type of thing her Sansa would do, wanting every person to be treated with kindness and respect. The daughter she remembered adored beautiful flowers and courtly knights in shining armor and love songs. The man who claimed to have pledged himself to her, that she accepted into her service, according to her wild child, was nothing that daughter could appreciate. He was as crass as he was ugly, yet the young woman in front of her seemed determined to keep this scarred, brutal man close to her.

 

Seeing that her daughter’s resolve was not weakening, she tried to speak to her. Sansa had seldom failed to be obedient to her mother. This was not like the times she had stayed awake to finish learning all the houses of Westeros or perfecting a part of a song or making a beautiful dress. Those had been her greatest acts of rebellion until now. Now, she stood here in front of her king, telling him that she wanted to keep a dog. That dog had to go, and they had to help Sansa see him on his way with his tail tucked.

 

“We will pay him and send him off. Your brother has thousands of loyal men eager for the chance to guard a princess of the north. They will be kind and gentle to you. They will speak to you according to your station.”

 

Surely, the promise of men treating her with courtly manners would help her see reason. Every man of the North would worship her. The chance to marry into their king’s family was nothing to be taken lightly. The look in Sansa’s eyes stopped her thoughts, utter serenity, and her hand remained in contact with him.

 

“Then let them stand beside Sandor. I have made vows to him, promised him meat and mead in return for his protection and counsel. I will honor my vows as Father taught me.”

 

Arya laughed, looking between everyone before peeking around the horse to look at her sister. Catelyn almost wanted to chastise her youngest living child for chortling like a hyena, but it was so good to have her back and laughing after everything she must have experienced that Catelyn had no heart for it. It was not quite the same laugh with which she left Winterfell. Now, it held an edge like steel, but it was a laugh.

 

“Sansa.” Robb moved forward, reaching for his sister.

 

“She’s said her bit, and she’s doing what’s right.” Arya raised her chin, jutting it out defiantly. “What Father would want her to do."

 

“Your Grace.” Sansa curtsied to her older brother, meeting his eyes but leaning back a fraction when he got too close.

 

Catelyn reached for her as Robb stopped where he was, a hurt look on his face. His sister had never pulled away from him. When they had been little, she had often taken his hand or arm, letting him escort her around Winterfell.

 

The Hound’s horse snapped at them both, forcing them back. It stomped its foot as its master gently corrected it.

 

“You’re with us now. I’ll keep you safe.” She stepped into her brother's arms as he spoke, allowing him to draw her close and kiss the middle of her forehead. “The Hound has to go, Sansa. I know you want to honor your word, but he’s too dangerous to stay in the castle, too dangerous to be around you.”

 

“Your Grace, has my sworn shield caused any trouble to you?” Her voice was calm, and her eyes were steady as the flow of a river as she stepped away from Robb to be between her brother and the man who had sworn to protect her.

 

“Sansa, that horse—”

 

Sansa turned and ran her hand down the powerful black neck. The stallion made a soft noise, dropping his head and nudging her in return before resuming his position to keep a watchful eye on those that might threaten his master or his master’s mistress. Catelyn released a soft gasp at seeing the gentility of the horse toward her daughter, acting like he was a young foal when she touched him. Her touch to the Hound had seemed to have the same calming effect. The man remained watchful for danger to her, but he soothed at her reassurances that there was no danger for her.

 

Robb looked down gently upon his sister, and he offered his hand to her as he stepped back. She gazed back at him steadily, almost as if she was expecting her brother to punish her for standing up to him.

 

“Sansa, he has been the Lannister—” Robb paused at the look on her face, the way her lips trembled, and it stopped him. When her hand moved to rest upon the Hound’s again, he changed what he had been about to say. “Lannister’s loyal man. He served King Joffrey for many years as a shield and was named to his Kingsguard. How can I be certain of his loyalty to you over the Lannisters?”

 

“He also declared in open court that he would swear no vows, nor would he become an anointed knight to join the Kingsguard. I’m the only person to whom Sandor has ever sworn anything because no man I know is more committed to seeing his word kept.” Sansa’s eyes moved steadily between her brothers, her uncle, and finally to her mother. “He has saved the lives of your sisters. Mine more than once.”

 

Catelyn should escort her from this, take her somewhere so her brother could get on with the business of dismissing that man.

 

“And I’m glad to reward him. How much?” Robb looked up at the Hound, ready to pay him well for all Sansa claimed he had done.

 

“Meat and mead at Princess Sansa’s table.”

 

Arya laughed and smacked the man’s arm.

 

“And to think you were on my list. Not anymore.”

 

“What list?” Catelyn asked, looking sharply at her youngest remaining child.

 

A strange, dark look crossed Arya’s face, and she shook her head. Arya had always had her secrets, ones shared by her father and her of which they thought Catelyn entirely ignorant. She knew her daughter learned to shoot a bow, just as she knew what the look on Arya’s face meant now. It was the way she felt when she learned her husband was dead. Her youngest daughter wanted blood, and she was willing to go after it to avenge what had happened to her family.

 

“Name your price.”

 

“Sandor already did.” Arya looked up at her mother. “And it’s a low price. Sansa is safe with him. He obeys her. I’ve seen it. You should be happy to have the champion of father’s tourney guarding her.”

 

It was the softness and the sadness of the words from Sansa that drew Lady Catelyn from her attempt to learn the entirety of the story behind Arya’s words. Tears rose to her eyes at the expression on Sansa’s face.

 

“Father killed Lady.” Sansa claimed everyone’s attention with the way her voice choked on her next sentence. “All Lady ever did was protect me.”

 

No tears came, and Catelyn was sure it was only Sansa’s determination to be a true lady that kept them away. What shocked her even more than Sansa’s aching words was Sandor Clegane. The man was down from his horse and on one knee in front of her precious girl, offering her a handkerchief before anyone else could move to comfort her. He remained kneeling in front of her as she dabbed her eyes. Sansa did that. She brought one of the most frightening men in Westeros to his knees at her feet.

 

“Sansa.” Catelyn wanted to make a dozen promises to her daughter. She was at a loss, unsure what would convince her daughter that she would be safe and unable to believe that she was in danger from this Clegane.

 

He looked almost in love with her, and he was most certainly in lust with her. That lust might push him to do many things. Sansa was a woman, with a woman’s body, and she was growing into one of the most beautiful women in Westeros. Only a man with tastes too perverse to mention aloud would not desire her girl. Sandor Clegane had certainly noticed her, and he no doubt enjoyed having her attention in return. At least he was not seeking it by tormenting her.

 

“All Sandor has ever done is protect me.” She placed a hand on the scarred man’s shoulder, and he remained motionless as a statue in a sept at her feet.

 

Sansa ducked her head, hiding her face for a moment in the cloth. Still on his knees, Sandor Clegane turned to half look at them and half keep an eye on his mistress.

 

“Her father killed her wolf. Now, her brother wants to run her dog off.” The words were harsh and sounded all the worse through the scratchy growl of Sandor Clegane’s voice. “Why does her family want to take away her loyal pets?”

 

“Sandor, you are my shield, not my dog and not my pet.” She moved her hand on his unburned cheek as she finally managed to compose herself. “Why does my family take away what has always protected me, what has never harmed me?”

 

A sob choked Catelyn’s throat, and she reached instinctively for her child to reassure her that no more evil would come upon their family. Her suffering was ended, and the Lannisters were going to pay. Before she could touch her, Clegane was on his feet between them. She never had a chance to order him away, to snap at him that she was Sansa’s mother and would never do her a harm. He was never to come between her and her child again.

 

“It’s alright, Sandor.”

 

The large man stepped away immediately at her half command, letting Catelyn embrace her. She moved aside moments later without returning the hold, much to her mother’s sorrow.

 

“Your Grace. Lord Uncle. Jon. Mother.”

 

Edmure jerked a little at being addressed, but he nodded to this niece he had never met.

 

“I know Ser Gregor Clegane has been causing great harm in the Riverlands. I know I am asking much of you to allow his brother to remain within your castle, Your Grace and my Lord. I beg you to remember that a man is no more his brother than a lady is her sister. Have you ever seen two sisters more different than the pair before you?” She paused, letting them take in her fine silk dress and perfectly styled hair, then Arya’s chopped off dark hair and rough wool trousers and tunic. “I have personally witnessed proof that Sandor is different in his heart, countless times.”

 

She looked between them. Certain that all eyes and ears belonged to her, she began telling a story in a quiet voice.

 

“At the tourney to honor our father’s appointment as Hand of the King, Ser Gregor was unseated by the Knight of Flowers. Enraged, Ser Gregor demanded his sword. After beheading his mount, Ser Gregor turned his blade on the unarmed Ser Loras Tyrell. There were many armed men there, knights of the Kingsguard included. Not one of them, except Sandor, moved to help the man who raised the wrath of the Mountain that Rides as Ser Loras’s shield cracked and splintered. He told the Mountain to leave Ser Loras alone, and Sandor defended the unarmed knight while his brother swung repeatedly, trying to take his head off. I don’t know how long it lasted, them swinging swords at each other. It seemed like ages. When the king called for the fight to stop, Sandor knelt instantly while his brother stormed off in a rage after throwing his sword down.”

 

Catelyn glanced at the huge, burnt man who loomed behind her daughter like a shadow. He stared straight ahead, offering no words to defend himself or add to the story Sansa told of him. It was a story from a song in many ways, just what her daughter would love.

 

“The only person who must fear Sandor is the one who wishes harm to me, your sister, your niece, your daughter.” A soft smile crossed her face then, a true one and a sad one as if she had only just pondered something. She turned to look up at Clegane. “Did you—did you hear me that day, what I asked of my father?”

 

Clegane nodded, looking down at her, and a haunted expression crossed her face. It disappeared the next moment, replaced with the serene little smile she had worn since they entered Riverrun. She stepped closer to the Hound.

 

“Sandor.”

 

When she looked about to thank him, a scowl crept over the man’s face along with a slight flush as he turned away from them all, face twitching madly.

 

“Don’t start that, Little Bird.”

 

The softness of his voice made Sansa smiled, letting her hand drop from him.

 

“What did you ask Father?” Jon Snow stepped forward, moving around Clegane and looking down at Sansa.

 

Sansa’s eyes did not leave the man who had sworn to protect and obey her.

 

“Before Ser Gregor and Ser Loras tilted against each other, I begged Father not to let the Mountain hurt the Knight of Flowers.”

 

The large man merely shrugged and stared blankly ahead, choosing not to see the rest of them as he stood close to Sansa. Had he truly been obeying her daughter while still in service to the crown? Catelyn could not take her eyes of the strange monstrous man. He admitted that her daughter had commanded him, a man grown while she had barely been out of childhood.

 

“If he can’t stay, the three of us will leave.” Arya declared. “He saved my life. He helped me get Needle back. I don’t want him dead, even if his brother is the worst shit in the seven kingdoms.”

 

“Arya, watch your language.” How had her child learned such repulsive habits? It must have been the company she had been keeping, yet she claimed the Hound had done naught but help her. If learning harsh language was the worst that happened in his company, she was as well as she could be and unharmed by him.

 

Robb walked over to Edmure, motioning Jon Snow to join them. They held a conversation in low whispers.

 

“Don’t be surprised when your kingly brother kicks the dog out the gate, and you earn a locked tower cell, Wolf-Girl.”

 

Catelyn bristled at this crass address. Both of her daughters were princesses, though only one would ever truly live that role. Before she had a chance to correct such a horrid nickname, Robb had returned with his uncle to one side and his half-brother heir on the other.

 

“All the lords will assemble in the great hall this evening to welcome back my sisters. You will swear yourself to House Stark. Then you may stay.”

 

“I’ll only swear myself to Princess Sansa again. I won’t be made a liar of what I already swore to her.”

 

His burn scars twitched furiously as if he suspected them of plotting to use this vow to House Stark with the intention of taking him from Sansa’s side, which was exactly what Catelyn would have advised her son to do, make that man prove his loyalty to them. He was known to be fierce. He should be used to frighten Robb's enemies.

 

“See, he’s loyal to Sansa above everyone else.” Arya’s thin little sword shook in her hand.

 

“An excellent compromise. Arya and Sansa are both right. His word matters to him, and he’s showing loyalty to the woman he gave it to, our sister.” Jon Snow spoke softly and calmly, looking over the man standing with his sister. “We both know his reputation. Seems we could hardly have a better guard for her than this man.”

 

Robb weighed the words cautiously, and Catelyn saw the moment he agreed with his heir. He should not publicly do that, even with Jon being his heir. He was not naturalized, and she would fight tooth and nail to prevent that from ever happening. He needed to return Sansa’s status to her, make her his heir. Jon Snow was never meant to inherit any part of Winterfell. That was why she insisted that Ned send him away from the castle when he left, despite seeing the pain it caused him and hating herself a little for it.

 

“Your Grace—”

 

Robb turned to Sansa as she called to him. She walked to him and took his hands.

 

“Thank you, Robb. May I ask one more thing of you, as my king and my brother?”

 

“Of course, Sansa. I want only to do my duty, and it is the duty of the king to listen to all those who serve him.”

 

“Please, do not let fear for a sibling prevent you from doing what will help the most people. No person is entirely the face he or she presents to the world. Don’t think because you have not seen something that it is necessarily absent. Consider the experience of someone who has had a different perspective.”

 

Her advice, her words, sent a shock through Catelyn, telling her something frightening. Her daughter knew what Lord Tywin had suggested for the peace proposal. She knew that he was asking for her as his wife, and she was asking her brother to consider wedding her to the man who had destroyed his vassals, to the grandfather of his father’s murderer. She would need to be sure that Sansa properly knew of that man. He was dangerous and more than capable of hurting her. She could not marry him.

 

H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R. D~E~F~E~N~D~T~H~E~K~I~N~G. H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R.

 

When his father dismounted, he passed the reins to a squire, some Lannister boy from Lannisport before leading his sons into his tent. The moment they were in private, he took Jaime’s face in his hands. His thumbs rubbed over Jaime’s cheeks, and Jaime leaned into the hold as if he were a little boy that had just been caught jumping from the cliffs into the sea. For a moment, he longed to be closer, have his father’s arms around him as he could seldom remember having.

 

He stank. He had not shaved, and he was thinner than he could ever remember being in his adult life, having lost a great deal of muscle during his time as a captive. Yet, his father was closer to hugging him than he could remember in recent memory. He hoped that maybe the proud man would finally say the words he had spent his life wanting and waiting to hear. Instead the man appeared to be tallying up the debt owed to the Starks for returning his favorite son a filthy cripple.

 

“The Starks didn’t do this. It was a Bolton man.”

 

His father tilted his face gently to and fro. Jaime bowed his head into the hold, knowing that the words he wanted were once again not coming. He knew his father cared, and he knew that verbal expressions of affection were not the man’s way. His way was to express nothing, and it had crushed Jaime for years. Three little words were all he wanted. He had said them often enough as a child to his father and could never understand his father’s lack of response. The hands dropped, and Jaime swayed toward him, almost crumpling to the dirt.

 

“What were you speaking to Princess Sansa about for so long?”

 

His eyes widened a bit at the title attached to the Stark girl, even though he had not failed to use it in front of the Starks. He had been entirely unable to imagine calling her anything less, but his father using it meant something entirely different. That was the last thing he expected to come out of his father’s mouth. It was an acknowledgement of northern independence.

 

Delivering Sansa, seeing the looks he had gained from the northern lords, the men who so despised him while he escorted their princess had given him a reminder of who he was and the man he had so long wanted to become. It gave him a flash of life back, made him feel more the true knight than the smiling one. He had not felt truly amused for so long, despite how he smirked whenever he had tweaked the noses of the Starks at every chance they gave him while living as their captive. Flustering them had been satisfying, if not amusing. His feelings when returning Sansa went deeper and felt more profound than that. He did not even know if there was a word for what she did, why she did it, what he felt because of it. The words he shared with the girl would mean nothing to anyone but him.

 

“Our excellent treatment as captives and our favorite nicknames. I’ve decided on Man Without Honor. I believe hers was Traitor’s Daughter.” He almost bit his tongue as he smarted off to his father.

 

Jaime stared at his stump, hating the words he was spewing as much as he had been touched by hers. She had not called him by anything but his title or his name. He could not remember the last stranger that thought to address him by name. She called him honorable in front of her family, curtsied to him. After everything she suffered, she had been willing to take the arm of a man she barely knew, the lord commander of men who beat her bloody, and walk with him. What kind of courage was that?

 

He did not know any other woman who would have done such a thing. She told him he could be better, that being better was a short walk away. All he could think to do as she offered him the opportunity while holding the silent white wolf back from him was to take it. She asked him for nothing in return. Anyone else would have made a hundred demands. All she made was an offer to do something kind for him, absent expectation of return. She had gained nothing from it that Jaime could see. She did not have to say those words in front of those men who were his enemies.

 

“You’ll never be as good.”

 

His father’s hard look and harsh words shut him up. He folded in, fearing the truth of those words, the truth that he felt as he smelled his hand rotting around his neck those few days before the Glover men found him and made sure he was properly tended.

 

His father was preying on him and his vulnerability, the way he did to any man the moment he found a weakness he could exploit. Jaime had no proof, but he knew his father had used Lord Darklyn’s sinking finances to convince him to hold the Mad King hostage. He sacrificed the lives of Prince Rhaegar’s two children and his daughter’s hand in marriage to bargain with Robert Baratheon after coming to his cause late. He nearly destroyed Tyrion when he found he had wed a common girl after they rescued her from rapers that night. He found the value of a girl with a mother far too lowborn to wed a Lannister but in possession of a pretty face and the right name to mix with a boy’s broken heart and honor to shatter Robb Stark’s accord with the Freys.

 

He always had to say something clever or do something reckless, but he had no response to that nasty barb. It was true. There were no words to explain the conversation that propelled his actions and how it had mattered in the middle of the field between army and castle. He did not want to explain that he felt like a knight, the knight he always believed his father wanted his son to be, the man he wanted to be.

 

It was beyond his father’s choice to understand in his son, and it was so deeply personal, a moment not meant for others. If someone had to ask why he walked her to her family, they would never understand. What that girl did for him, how much he owed her for such a simple thing. She had given him something others had decided was beyond his reach the day he became the Kingslayer. She gave him a little bit of honor after everything he had done to the Starks. She gave him the chance to be the man he dreamed of being as a boy if only for a moment when he had barely managed to scrap together a response to her inquiry.

 

“Jaime, don’t speak so flippantly of Princess Sansa. She’s to be our new mother.”

 

Jaime snorted, yanked from his melancholic musings as he settled into a chair with an eyeroll. That was the stupidest joke he had ever heard, and he glanced over at his younger brother as Tyrion poured them both cups of wine.

 

“I know you love wine, my sweet brother, but you might want to switch to water if that’s your best jape.”

 

“My sweet brother, no fool could concoct this.” Tyrion nodded toward Lord Tywin.

 

Jaime turned incredulous eyes on his lord father. Lord Tywin Lannister had been single and celibate ever since the death of Lady Joanna. He never even entertained the idea of finding another woman. His capacity for tenderness and warmth had frozen over the day his lady wife bled out in his arms. The ugly snarl on his father’s face as he stood in the tide with waves rushing over his boots was etched permanently in Jaime’s mind. He thought the man would hurl his brother and possibly himself into the Sunset Sea that day even when Jaime moved between them, screaming and pushing the man back toward shore.

 

Whatever happened, something changed his mind, and Jaime scampered behind his father till they were back in the Rock. Tyrion had been thrust into a nurse’s arms, and his father ordered the little lord be housed on the opposite side of the castle from him. He refused to look upon a murderous abomination. Afterward, he followed his father back to his mother’s corpse and watched the strongest, proudest man he knew weep over the pale corpse before kissing the cold face and carrying it to the Lannister crypt. He never saw the man cry before nor since the passing of his mother.

 

“Hasn’t Lady—”

 

“Princess.”

 

His father’s voice was cold and curt and had Jaime sitting up a little straighter. His father was not in the mood to tolerate any questioning of Sansa’s status, nor allow any disrespect toward her. He could hardly take his eyes off the man. If marriage was his solution to the war with the North, it made complete sense. He was marrying a woman of high status, not taking a mistress in his old age.

 

“Hasn’t Princess Sansa suffered enough?”

 

She had offered him something that few others would have in her place if her words were true. He could spend his life trying to repay her and not come close. She could not seriously be interested in marrying his father, not that his father would give her desires all that much consideration if he had decided she was to belong to him and bear his children. The very idea made Jaime’s face pinch is disgust momentarily.

 

“I’m not planning to abuse her.” The deep timber of his father’s voice remained steady as he sat behind his desk, ignoring the expression.

 

His brother’s ugly face grinned at him, pulling the scars tight across his noseless visage. He even shrugged a little, offering him a look to say that they could speak more of this once out of their father’s presence. He would be glad to hear how this happened, and what their father possibly had in mind for that sweet little doll.

 

“I’m sure that’ll comfort her and her brother when he tells her she is to wed a man old enough to be her grandfather.” Jaime mumbled, pouring himself a cup of wine.

 

Times like these made him understand how their family had driven his brother to drunkenness. What could their father possibly thinking? He could not imagine the man being truly fond of her, even if she was as beautiful and well-spoken as his mother had been. Women like his lady mother were something either long gone or a phantom his mind had conjured when he most needed to escape. That was what he had believed until Sansa Stark took his arm and allowed him to walk her back to her family. He still did not quite believe that she truly existed.

 

The Lord of Casterly Rock had refused, quite nastily depending on the family offering a woman, all offers of suitable matches for nearly three decades. What in the name of the gods, old and new, had changed? He appeared as dour and humorless as ever. Lord Tywin smiled at Jaime's mother on rare occasions, but the idea that a sixteen year old girl somehow made his father happy, in any way, was mind boggling. It was impossible. If he wanted to marry her, he could have simply done so. She had been in his power. Why was he asking when he could take?

 

“She took this news quite well, more maturely than any of my children. She knows the place of a lady, and she knows how to obey a lord and behave herself.” His father sat rigidly, watching both of them after saying his piece and daring them to make one of their quips about his choice.

 

“Father.”

 

There was nothing else he could think to say. He would save the girl if he could, but it seemed that task was as likely to succeed as the walls and towers of Harrenhal at protecting the castle's occupants when the dragons came. The Old Lion had made up his mind, and he would not deviate from his course.

 

“How can you do this?”

 

Lord Tywin’s eyes flicked to him, gold flecked green watching him the way a cat watches a mouse as it prepares to pounce. His father was preparing to fight for this, and may the gods old and new have mercy on any family unfortunate enough to raise the lion’s ire by trying to stop it.

 

Princess Sansa was going to be his wife. The Starks would give her to him, or he would treat Riverrun and all its occupants to the same pleasures known by the Reynes and Tarbecks after they defied him. Only it would be worse. Those foolish lords denied him gold and defied his orders and offers, choosing war with their liege.

 

The Starks were in possession of something apt to make Lord Tywin far more volatile. Jaime had only witnessed his father in a violent, uncontrolled rage once. It had been more frightening than any tantrum of King Aerys II’s he witnessed as a kingsguard. The Mad King came back with laughter, insane laughter after burning men alive when he believed them to be his enemies. His father always came back from rage colder and crueller, ready to take down his enemies and their families and their castles in ways no one had ever imagined before him.

 

He and Cersei had been so young when it happened, and Tyrion had not even been born. They had been brought to the capital for the tourney to celebrate King Aerys II’s tenth year on the throne. One evening after a great feast, he heard his father’s powerful voice raised to a level he had never before heard. The man rarely spoke loudly, and he was screaming like someone had chopped a hand from his arm. Jaime had crawled from his bed and crept to where he could see his father and mother.

 

Prince Lewyn was there with other knights. His father was forced back as he reached for Lady Joanna while the Dornishman nudged her out of the tower. She had cried, begging him to be calm as she was taken. The other knights remained between Lord Tywin and the exits, caging him in the Tower of the Hand. His father had raged for what felt like hours, smashing a great many things in his solar as he roared. He had never seen his father wounded or afraid until that moment, but whatever his afflicted his father, it was causing him more agony than Jaime believed any one could survive. He understood in that moment what his uncles had meant on his first hunt when they told him how dangerous a lion could be when injured. His father had a spear in the side, and he would take down those hunting him if they were not careful. He remembered scampering into a small space, tucking his knees to his chest and praying to every god for his father to live, praying for his mother to come and soothe him. He had gone to her room and hidden in her bed when his father eventually became quiet.

 

His father had attempted to resign the following morning, to take his family home, but his resignation was refused. The king ordered Tywin Lannister to remain in the capital. His father returned from that meeting with the king a different man. His mother sobbed as they left for Casterly Rock without him, and her tears had persisted quietly for the majority of their journey. Jaime sat cuddled up to her, reassuring her that Father wanted to be with them, that he loved her most of all and that they would be together soon. He remembered her whispering in his ear when they reached Golden Tooth that she feared losing the man she loved. She had cradled Jaime’s head and kissed him, telling him that she saw his father in him, in the way he loved his family. It made him proud to be like his father. She begged him to be careful because she loved him so much, and the way he loved so deeply might get him in trouble one day. His father had been so big and strong that he had only been able to understand that his mother was truly frightened, not why. Her words and her feelings confused him, but he promised her that he would be careful as she wished. It had been a small promise told to comfort her.

 

If his father, by some strange blessing or curse, had come to care for the Stark girl, even fractionally, he might become the monster the seven kingdoms already saw when looking at him if anyone tried to take her away. Not even his family would ever hear words about it. They would only see the actions it would drive their father to take and wait for whatever horrible thing happened to his father's enemies.

 

“Why?”

 

“To end the war. To protect the family. To tie the North to us by marriage and by blood.” He sat behind his desk, pulling a piece of parchment in front of him to begin writing. “I require an heir. My oldest son insists on playing bodyguard, first to a mad man, then to drunkard.”

 

Jaime could almost hear the censure in his father’s voice. He had refused his duty to his family. If he had not become a Kingsguard, he would have been married to Lysa Tully. Their families would already be tied. They would not have warred with each other. All he had thought of was his sister and protecting his family, just as he believed his father would want.

 

“Princess Sansa is from two of the most ancient houses of Westeros. She is the descendant of kings. She is the only suitable match for the Lord of Casterly Rock, and she is the only lady capable of ending this conflict.”

 

There was another plan if this fell through, if the North refused. Of that, Jaime was certain. He knew his father. There was always a plan, and marrying Princess Sansa was some middle part of this plan. Whatever cold solution had entered his father’s head to trap the Starks, it would hurt that girl, the girl that gave him something he wanted and could never have gained on his own. He almost cursed, but instead he took a cup of wine.

 

“A toast to our new lady mother. May I be her favorite child for a time!” Tyrion tipped the cup to his lips and drained it.

 

Jaime lifted his cup to his brother and drank just as deeply.

 

W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G. F~I~R~E~A~N~D~B~L~O~O~D . W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G.

 

Jon kept an eye on both sisters throughout the small feast celebrating their return. Arya stayed in the shadows, creeping around and glaring at anyone who got too close. All the joyous, childlike mischief he remembered during King Robert’s visit to Winterfell was gone. Needle hung at her side, and she frequently reached for it, giving different people around her suspicious looks. Sansa was also changed in ways so profound that they physically pained him.

 

She was still the perfect lady, beautiful and perfect, seated beside her mother. She smiled gently and politely at every young lord and knight who approached and greeted her. But if any man attempted to touch her hand, to kiss it, she pressed back in her chair. Each one hoped for her favor as she tucked her hands away, hiding them in the folds of her dress. If a man lingered in front of her, expecting her hand after she pulled back, Clegane stepped forward. His hand rested on the hilt of his sword to drive the other away with an ugly look and ugly words if the expression on Lady Catelyn’s face was any indication. Only when she relaxed would her sworn shield’s face ugly scowl fade to a neutral expression as he stepped back ever vigilant. Occasionally, she spoke softly to him, and his tension would ease further despite his eyes never stopping their constant observation of the hall.

 

It seemed completely clear to Jon that Sansa wanted nothing more than to leave this feast for peace and quiet, but her mother insisted upon their speaking to every lord of the North and Riverlands who approached. The feast may be in her honor, but she had been through something life changing. She was fading away, becoming a doll that was only there to be beautiful. Finally, it was enough. It was time for him to be her brother, the heir to Northern crown and make it stop.

 

“Princess,” he asked, leaning close to her. That was when he saw the strain in her eyes, that her smiles were becoming more forced. “Would you like to leave?”

 

His words came out wrong, and it made him bite his tongue. He had always been quieter than his siblings because it always seemed so awkward, and he was always led to understand that his opinions were diminished because of his surname. However, when Sansa nodded, rising from her seat as he did, he felt the relief in the soft touch of her hand on his arm.

 

“Thank you, Jon. You’re always so very thoughtful to me. I never appreciated it enough before.”

 

Jon offered her his arm, leading her quietly through a back door out of the great hall with the Hound following close behind them.

 

“How are you?” He crossed his hand over to rest on hers as it held his arm.

 

“I’m glad to be with my family.”

 

Her words were good, but her tone conveyed nothing joyful. Jon was certain she was glad in many ways, but there was a lingering sadness and understanding now present in her. She almost seemed to be missing someone. Jon recognized the feeling easily enough. He had missed Winterfell and its smiling faces and warm rooms deeply enough when he arrived at the Wall. The only difference was that he could think of no missing family members who could now be with them to comfort Sansa.

 

“I was so worried about you and Arya when I learned what happened to Father.”

 

He did not tell her that he tried to leave the Wall for them. He was neither proud nor ashamed to realize in those moments how little his vows had meant, knowing the danger his loved ones were facing. Maester Aemon’s words about love being the death of duty had proven absolutely correct. Nothing else mattered when all he could see were their faces, knowing they needed him. All he had known was that he should be with them, doing everything he could to help them. He may have ended up back at the Wall that night, but they had never left his mind.

 

She had to have been terrified when Father had been arrested and all the northerners were suddenly dead. Then she remained betrothed to the prince responsible for the chaos when all she could have wanted was to go home. Her brother was fighting a war. He had an army, and he was not marching on the city to rescue her. That had to be an agony to her. How many times must she have prayed for them to rescue her?

 

With Lord Tywin positioned as he was, it had not been possible to march on King’s Landing, but Sansa probably did not know all the details of the war. All she had known was that horrors were happening, her father was arrested and executed, and she was remaining to marry the boy who demanded his head on a spike. Her brother was out there, fighting in all the wrong places to rescue her. She had been completely alone.

 

“You’ve always been a good brother to me. Better than I deserved.”

 

She leaned against him for a moment as they stopped outside the door to the room she had been given in her grandfather’s castle. It was across the hall from his and situated between Robb’s and her mother’s. He had no response to that. She deserved good brothers, and he had always wanted to be a good brother because he could never be her true brother.

 

“I’ll always be your brother, Sansa. No matter what happens. I’ll protect you in every way that I can. I love you.”

 

“And I shall always be your sister. I will do whatever I am able to keep you from all harm, Jon. Please know this whatever the future brings.”

 

Her statement gave him an uneasy feeling in his gut. All the lectures from Maester Luwin about southron lords in general and the Lannisters in particular stuck in his mind. He remembered some about Lord Tywin, all of it terrifying, and Sansa had been with him for an extended period of time. Fighting wars, destroying houses, being called the true king of Westeros. Having seen the man just across the field, he understood how the world would call him a king, far more so than he could the first time he saw King Robert or even Ser Jaime.

 

“Sansa, what do you know?”

 

“Will you join me in my room?” She took his hand and pulled it close, looking around with wide eyes as if she thought people had followed them and were listening to their conversation.

 

“Of course.” He kept her hand cradled in his, rubbing his thumb back and forth over her knuckles.

 

Jon took a seat in front of the fire after his sister eased down. Clegane remained in the room with his back to the door. His gray eyes stared straight ahead, and he seemed to be ignoring their conversation. Sansa seemed to sense his slight discomfort with the large man and spoke gently to reassure him.

 

“Sandor has defied and abandoned kings to protect me, and I'm sure he will again if he thinks anything Robb is doing will put me in danger. He’s the most reliable and trustworthy man I know. I trust him with my life because of how many times he has saved it, often putting himself at risk to do so.”

 

The Hound remained expressionless as Jon looked up at him appraisingly. The only thing that hurt about her faith in the giant, scarred man was wondering what she went through to teach her this conviction. He hated knowing that she had needed to be saved, not that there were people out there who would look out for her but that the person had to be a stranger, and such a frightening one. He remembered watching the man knock down northmen as if they were gnats when they were in the training yard at Winterfell. He had never seen any man fight like that, throwing three men off him like they were small children.

 

“Was there anything in particular you wanted to discuss?”

 

“Has King Robb said anything about Lord Lannister’s peace proposal?” She drank in his face, searching for any details in it as he always must once people learned his name.

 

“He has, and he was displeased by some of the demands. I believe he’ll be summoning you tomorrow to talk about some of it.”

 

It was a horrible understatement, but Sansa did not need to know that Robb had flung his crown into a wall when he asked what the Old Lion had been thinking to make such a demand. She did not need to know some of the horrible names Robb had found to describe the Warden of the West. Jon had tried to tell him that it was more of a request, especially since Sansa would be returned to them before any decision would need to be reached. He had wanted his brother to see that Lord Tywin could have just forced her to marry him before bringing her to them.

 

A marriage to end a war was a nice tidy ending and offered the promise of trust in the future, trust born of common cause, common blood. Robb had calmed at least a little, but he still was not in favor of the marriage. It was difficult to blame him with what they were seeing of Sansa and Arya. If Sansa showed even a hint of fear of the Lord of Casterly Rock, Jon would not send her into his jaws.

 

“Are you afraid of him, Sansa?”

 

Sansa’s eyes darted to Clegane again, but she folded her hands in her lap and smiled blankly at her brother. The idea that crossed his mind made him wince. This new expression was one that she had learned to put on for people because they preferred a pretty lie to the truth.

 

“No, Jon. Not of him.”

 

Her words were as strange as her manner in saying them. He repeated them in his head again and again, wondering what she means. There was fear in his sister, fear that had been well taught. Jon could not doubt that, yet she claimed that she was not afraid of Lord Tywin.

 

“Not of him? What are you afraid of, Sansa?”

 

“Afraid of what he’ll do to claim what he wants, terrified of what getting his desire will cost him that he can’t see, and daunted by what it will do to me when the rains weep over empty halls. I know him too well to doubt his cunning. I can’t imagine what he will do, and I would never want to.” She looked like she had more to say, but she had no way to put her thoughts into words.

 

“What do you know about the treaty agreements?” He looked her over, the blank smile as she gazed up at him.

 

“Only a little.”

 

Her vagueness made him uneasy, and he shifted around to look into her face more, looking at what little he could see in the dim firelight.

 

“What parts?”

 

Sansa’s eyes again sought Clegane, and it set Jon’s mind rolling like snow shaken loose from a mountain top. She was so suspicious, and she looked to the Hound for answers.

 

“No one is out there, Little Bird.”

 

“There’s always someone out there, Sandor. You know that.”

 

“It was usually me, Little Bird, waiting to chase off rats and cats and toads. I’ll take care of anyone who comes along.”

 

Jon took her hand, and Sansa leaned over, close to him. He shifted, allowing her to rest a cheek on his shoulder. Her voice was barely a whisper as she thanked him, and her breathing was heavy. She glanced toward the window. The light from dozens of fires lit to warm the Lannister camp dotted the landscape beyond.

 

“Sansa, how do you feel about Lord Lannister?”

 

She made several soft whimpered noises that might have been attempts to truly speak.

 

“Do you want to talk about it?”

 

“Yes, and no. Everything since leaving Winterfell has mostly been so terrible I don’t want to think about it. But there were moments of kindness and relief that stand out like candles in the long, dark night.” She pulled back from him, returning to the lady’s face she now wore like armor.

 

Jon kept her hand in his and waited quietly for whatever else she wanted to say. Surely, she had invited him in with some purpose in mind. He remembered what a little ass the prince had been and how much he had longed to send him into the dirt on his smug royal face. The queen had not behaved much better at Winterfell than her son, always looking as if she was standing in the middle of a stable with stalls that had not been mucked for a full moon’s turn. Being held captive by them cannot have been easy for Sansa. He tugged her hand closer as full realization settled over him.

 

Sansa had barely smiled since her return, not smiles of joy. She was happy to be with her family, but she seemed to understand that her time with them was short. She was always going to marry, and she had always wanted to be married, to have little babies to love and cherish. The bright joy and laughter were absent. That could be as much from her trials as knowing that the future held more for her than returning to Winterfell. Even if she did not marry Lord Tywin, she would be married to create an alliance for her brother.

 

Great, gray clouds seemed to hang over her head, preparing to bury her in snow and ice. Her smiles were subdued, and few crinkled the corners of her eyes. When he escorted her to the feast, and even right now, he caught her staring out toward the Lannisters, with a contented smile on her face that said she knew something was there or maybe someone.

 

Horrible things had happened to her. They took away the laughter, and they left something else, someone else, but Sansa did not blame the Lord of Casterly Rock for her pain.

 

Whatever happened, he would not force her to speak of it. All he could do was be sure he was there to listen when she was ready to talk. He would make sure she was not alone.

 

Still she had said that it was not all horrible. There had to be more that she believed she found than one man constantly saving her life.

 

“Lord Tywin was not one of the horrible parts. I’m sure it sounds like madness after all the time Robb has spent waging war with him, but I care for him. And—and I think he might care for me too. He—” Sansa cut off, twisting away from him and onto her feet as Clegane ripped the door open.

 

Jon looked up when the door opened suddenly and the sliding ring of steel greeted his ears. He was on his feet the instant when he saw who it was, and that Clegane was holding a knife against Lady Catelyn’s pale throat while he wrenched her head back.

Chapter Text

F~A~M~I~L~Y~D~U~T~Y~H~O~N~O~R. W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G. F~A~M~I~L~Y~D~U~T~Y~H~O~N~O~R.

 

Catelyn worried when she watched Jon Snow escort her dear Sansa from Riverrun’s great hall in the middle of the feast celebrating their reunion. Sansa had always taken such joy in feasts, from planning to fruition. She had helped Catelyn host the Harvest Feast since she was eight. Getting dressed up, fixing her hair, greeting her guests, and seeing to their needs had been what her eldest girl loved best in the world. Sansa had not been herself during the feast. All she seemed to want was to be away from it.

 

Catelyn expected her to be changed after everything she went through, but Sansa had hardly said a word when asked about her time in King’s Landing. She found polite ways to redirect the conversation to a different topic all afternoon and into the evening. One man promised to avenge her suffering, and she had gently thanked him and told him that she would pray to the mother for him to know gentleness. She greeted everyone, spoke gently to them about how good they were and thanking them for their well wishes. She assured them of how delighted she was to be returned to her family, but the vibrance of her smile was diminished. She shrank away from people, keeping always close to that beast of a sworn shield.

 

Clegane maintained a constant vigil over her and was another matter altogether. He was not the sort of man who belonged around her precious daughter, regardless of what Sansa thought, but she could not deny how quick he was to get people to leave if she displayed the minutest discomfort.

 

It was what propelled her toward her daughter’s room as the feast finished, and it was how she found herself with a thin blade held to her throat and her head wrenched back by one of the Hound’s monstrous hands. Her hands pushed at the hand holding the blade uselessly.

 

“Release her,” Jon Snow ordered. His hand was on the hilt of his sword, and his gray eyes, so like Ned’s, were narrowed at the man threatening her.

 

The Hound growled, making no move to obey, and Catelyn gasped, remembering the last time a knife was at her throat and a wolf saved her. Jon Snow’s wolf merely yawned on the rug in front of the fireplace as if he could not be bothered to rise for this.

 

“Don’t answer to you, Wolf-Prince.”

 

“Sandor, release my mother, please.”

 

The knife flicked away, returned to its place as quickly as he released her hair. The man offered no apologies as he stepped back beside the door to guard it. He even had the nerve to glare at her. And for what?

 

She gave the ugly expression back to him, holding a hand to her neck, but finding no blood.

 

“I’m your lady’s mother. You will never do that to me again.”

 

“A lady would knock before barging in on her room. If she asked me to throw you out that door on your arse, I’d do it gladly.”

 

Catelyn moved toward him, hands balled into fists that could do nothing against the strength of that man, but she was stopped by Sansa.

 

“Sandor didn’t know who was coming through the door. His actions were taken in my interest and to ensure my safety.”

 

Sansa’s words were so soft and gentle that they startled Catelyn from her anger. Her lovely, quite grown-up daughter stood statuesque with her hands clasped in front of her stomach and the same strange, false smile on her face that she had worn throughout the feast.

 

“Would you have me wait outside, Princess?”

 

“It’s late, Sandor. Please retire for the evening. I trust you’ll escort me to break my fast in the morning.”

 

He bowed, nodding his agreement to her commands. His eyes never strayed to any of the other people in the room as he spoke his final piece to her.

 

“I’ll be nearby if you need me. I’ll hear you.”

 

“I appreciate your consideration, Sandor.” The direwolf cloak billowed behind him as he departed, shutting the door quietly. “You always do your best to keep me safe.

 

Catelyn turned to her child and her husband’s bastard once he was gone. She wanted him to leave and give her time alone with this strange new woman. They had hardly had a moment to become reacquainted. An ugly feeling wiggled in her gut, telling her that Sansa would not allow Jon to be dismissed as easily as she once had. Her daughter had greeted him more warmly than her true-born brother and had seemed more reluctant to part from him, begging some of his time to speak that day. For his part, the boy quickly agreed, as he should. She was his better. Before she could decide how best to get her daughter alone to speak, Sansa was.

 

“On King Joffrey’s name-day, not so very long after Father was put to death, there was another tourney of sorts. Very few men were there to compete, with the North, the Stormlands, the Reach, and the West all going to war with each other. Ser Dontos of House Hollard showed up drunk to the competition. The king was going to force wine down his throat till he died. I didn’t want to see that happen, so I told him a lie to save Ser Dontos’s life. The king suspected the deception or that I was repeating some superstitious peasant nonsense. Sandor Clegane, the man you keep looking down upon, told the king the same story in order to help me. He didn’t have to do anything. He didn’t have to care. It wasn’t the first time he helped your daughter, and it was far from the last.” A strange look crossed Sansa’s face then, a look of sudden comprehension mixed with tenderness, and she was thinking of the Hound. “You should be kinder to him. You should be grateful to have him looking out for your daughter as he has been doing for some time now. Robb’s queen was taken out of this castle by a man you don’t know. Someone might have been coming to do me great harm for all Sandor knew, and he acted with my safety first in his mind.”

 

Catelyn stared at her daughter, hearing her defend that man again. She just could not see that he might want more than she could give him, and Catelyn did not know how to tell Sansa that without offending her. She seemed to have taken to him the same way she took to her wolf pup when her father and brothers brought them home.

 

“I am resigned to the fact that he’ll stay with you as your personal guard, and I’m grateful that he protected you.” Catelyn took her dear one’s face between her hands. “What did the Lannisters do to you?”

 

Sansa withdrew, taking her wrists softly and moving the hands away. A hurt look hung in her eyes, like she might cry at any moment. She turned away from them both, walking to the window. Words appeared to be on her mind and in her heart, but she refused to speak them for long moments.

 

“Who told you that Lord Tyrion tried to kill Bran?”

 

Catelyn jerked at this as if her daughter had slapped her. Sweet Sansa never answered a question with a non-answer, much less a question. She reached for her to stroke her fingers through her hair. She would sooth whatever was wrong, promise her that the little man would pay for any crimes against her. She would not let anyone hurt her children again.

 

Sansa dodged her hands, a wide eyed look flashing on her face as she stumbled over her dress to be caught across the white wolf’s back. Her arms launched around its neck, and she pressed her face into the fur, whimpering. She moved around the wolf, putting Ghost between them. The wolf lowered his head and his ears aggressively.

 

“Sansa.” Catelyn’s voice choked on her name. The Lannisters would pay for instilling such fear in her baby.

 

The animal had the nerve to lift its lips and snarl silently at Catelyn.

 

“Please, just answer my question. I need to know.”

 

“Lord Baelish. We’ve known each other since we were children. He was fostered in Riverrun. He would never betray me.”

 

Sansa made eye-contact with her half-brother whose eyes went equally wide at this news. She stood up to her full height which was now an inch taller than her mother as she delivered her response.

 

“Lord Tyrion must be the most forgiving man in the seven kingdoms, and among the kindest.” Sansa’s head twisted a bit as if discomforted by what her mother had just told her. “His niece and nephew both feared for him. You—you started this when you kidnapped him.”

 

Sansa dug her fingers into Ghost’s ruff, and the creature remained silent as ever. Catelyn felt lost, defeated as her daughter remained beside the wolf.

 

“Everything I did was to protect our family, to bring the guilty to justice.”

 

Serenity floated about her daughter as she stepped away from the wolf. Catelyn moved with tears in her eyes, wrapping her arms around her daughter as the wolf slipped over to Jon Snow’s side.

 

“I’m quite tired. Mayhaps, we can speak more tomorrow.”

 

Sansa returned the embrace, though she remained stiff and her smile looked fake.

 

“Would you like Ghost to stay with you?”

 

“I would love that. Thank you, Jon.”

 

Jon Snow bowed to his sister, before leaning over and kissing her forehead as tenderly as he had Bran’s before he departed to take the black. She gripped him in return and kissed his cheek.

 

“If you need anything, you let me know.”

 

“I will. Thank you.”

 

“Keep Sansa safe. Do as she says.” He stroked the large white head.

 

He left the door open as he departed. He was as strange a man as he had been a boy, and Catelyn was glad he was gone. She could never quite understand him.

 

“Jon’s more like Father than any of us. Please be kinder to him. I was not as I should have been when we were children, and I regret that now. He’s been good enough to forgive me. He’s my brother, and he has never sought to offend you. He loves all your children dearly and would do anything for us. You should have treated him differently, loved him as a son. He did not ask to be born a bastard, and he shares the blood of your children. Try to think of him as one of father’s nephews if it’s easier for you, but this hatred between us must end now.”

 

Catelyn had no response for her daughter. Her father had no nephews from his siblings, and that was the fault of the Targaryens. When she was part way out the door, Sansa’s voice spoke softly.

 

“Mother, war will not bring back the loved ones we’ve lost, but peace can bring us new lives to love. Do you want a grandchild born in the middle of this?”

 

The Lannisters had taken so much from her, and now they wanted to take her daughter away. With nothing left to say, Catelyn bid her sleep well and left with an aching heart.

 

H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R. D~E~F~E~N~D~T~H~E~K~I~N~G. H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R.

 

Jaime sat in a tent with his younger brother. His father had dismissed them both hours ago. Jaime had been sent to bathe, shave, and make himself presentable, as presentable as a one handed man could be after spending so long living in his own shit. He held the damaged limb close to his chest, feeling its loss keenly as he felt the fear of vulnerability now.

 

His mind had been a tangled mess since his father announced his plans to wed. He had always known his father to be as wily as a fox and as strong and ferocious as a lion. He had never known the man to fancy younger women. Growing up under his watchful eyes, the man never appeared interested in having any woman—especially a wife.

 

“How did Father come up with this plan?” He gulped down a cup of watered wine.

 

“It’s politically sound. As to how and why he chose himself to be her groom—he’s a nasty, greedy old man.”

 

Jaime turned a sharp look on Tyrion. Hatred and bad blood between his father and brother was clear to anyone who so much as saw them in the same room. There would never be any goodness or love between them. This was not funny. Cersei was likely having a tantrum. She hated no one as much as she loathed the Stark girl—not that Jaime could see why. Speaking to her once had revealed a sweet girl who had been forced into an ugly understanding of the world. Yet she still seemed to believe that she could find goodness, and she offered people the chance when she had every reason to believe she would be slapped for her efforts.

 

“Apparently, we want to be family to the people who take us captive.” Jaime grumbled, wondering how Sansa had seemed so calm if she had known and how she was reacting if she was just hearing it from her sibling or mother.

 

That young woman was not the type to outwardly rage, and the way she had looked back toward his father would be enough to make him wonder if she somehow liked something about his father, something more than his gold. She just did not have the look of a woman interested in jewelry and baubles. She looked almost as if she was looking to a friend.

 

“One could argue their readiness to take Lannisters hostage will diminish once our good mother is a Stark. I’ve never known the experience of having a mother. I think I’ll try to enjoy it.”

 

“Cersei will kill you if she hears you say that.”

 

“Our soon-to-be mother can handle her, particularly with her fingers sunk so into the Great Lion’s mane. She’s survived Joffrey’s tortures, and our dear sister is soon to regain what she lost to a boar. We might pray that she prefers trout to venison.”

 

Horror shot through Jaime at that. All he had done to stay close to her, and it was all about to be for nothing. He would not be able to help her if she was wed to a Riverlord, particularly when they had declared the king in the north to be their liege. Everything he did to remain close to his twin for the love he felt, starting with becoming a Kingsguard, and all life ever did was conspire to separate them. He had not chosen to love her as he did, but she was an oasis in the desert his life had become.

 

“Jaime, she can’t remain in the capital. She has allowed so much harm and allowed Joffrey to do more. We have a new Mad King. I don’t want to hurt you, but what you’ll see is something I wouldn’t have you enter unprepared.”

 

Jaime shrank down, clutching his arm. Joffrey’s madness was the price for his sins, and he knew the boy was unwell. He had known for years, but he pushed it away. After seeing that girl, he knew what his son was, what the boy had been allowed to become. He still saw Queen Rhaella in his nightmares. He recognized a victim of insanity, yet there she had stood, offering the father of a monster kindness.

 

Whispers about the Targaryens teased his mind as he tucked his chin over his stump, grinding his teeth together to keep from crying out. Everytime one was born, the gods flipped a coin or so it was said. Sanity or madness were all down to chance. He had played that game of chance with his sister for love. Maybe it was best for all that he remain with his sons in the capital while his sister was removed. Still he ached at the thought of her being separated from him, even with the ugly words she had spoken and the uglier way she had looked at him when he approached her.

 

He should want to do what is best. It was who he wanted to be when he ran his sword through the Mad King, giving him the greatest pride he had ever felt. He may have killed countless men on the battlefield, but he had saved half a million lives when he ended the Mad King and his pyromancer lackeys. The shouting voice still woke him in the middle of the night at times, left him breathing hard and wide-eyed. Bring me your father’s head. Burn them all. Burn them all.

 

“Come back, Jaime.”

 

The voice calling him was distant, almost like it was calling to him over the roar of a thunderstorm at sea. Screams from men being roasted alive.

 

“Jaime!”

 

His mother’s face swam before his eyes, perfect and lovely as the Mad King on his throne faded away. She had been all that was kind and good in the world, and he always sought memories of her out for comfort . He longed for her embrace more days than he could count . Her lips were forming words, and he squinted, longing to know what they were, what he could do . Her soft voice and the whisper of help him called to his heart, and he nodded to her . It was not an infrequent dream.

 

“Jaime!”

 

Two hands with stubby fingers, nothing like his mother’s long and graceful ones, grabbed his freshly shaven cheeks. It pulled him away from her and the Mad King on the throne of swords. She always wanted him to help his father, and his father never needed help, never wanted help. He pushed the hands away, leaning back in his seat to breathe.

 

“Where were you, Jaime?”

 

Watching men burn.” He stared up at nothing above him, trying to bring his mother’s face back. “Looking for our mother.”

 

What was she like?”

 

Jaime looked back, breathing evening out as he tried to focus on the image of his mother. He used to go to Tyrion at night and whisper stories about his mother to the little boy. They were forbidden to talk about her most anywhere his father might hear. He remembered Uncle Kevan pulling him aside and telling him that his father simply could not take hearing her name. He said that his father changed the day his mother died, and he would never be the same again. They must try to love him because there may never be another who would, and Tywin needed love more than he would ever admit. He loved them too, even if he never said the words.

 

“Perfect.” It came out as a whisper. “She would have loved you so much. She was the perfect mother. She was the only woman good and kind enough to love a man like our father that I ever knew. Others came when we were young, but Father said they just wanted our gold and power. So he refused them or saw them married to other lords of the west. He barely even looked at most of them for so long, then fathers stopped trying.”

 

“Mayhap, we’ll both get to know another.”

 

Jaime looked his younger sibling over. His big mouthed, short brother was unusually silent for such a talkative man. His mismatched eyes and head twitched as he shifted. He remembered a time when Tyrion had been silent and horrified. That secret, that debt he owed Tyrion was one he hoped to repay but feared never being able. How could he tell the little man about Tysha? The truth would destroy their family. Family was the most important thing. It lasted, and Jaime loved them—all of them—despite watching them despise and torment each other.

 

“What aren’t you telling me?”

 

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 leaned forward, resting her cheek on a cool stone merlon and breathing the fresh air. She had not been able to stay in bed another moment after the nightmare assaulted her mind. The only image of it that remained was a man’s body topped by a wolf’s head atop a horse, surrounded by torches being paraded through the night. A golden lion sat, with a smile on its smug face, watching the procession with a little silver wolf pinned under his paw.

 

Sandor stood guard by the tower’s ceiling door. Her frightened cry had brought the man into her room fast and hard enough that she thought the door might have been knocked from its hinges at first. They had traversed most of the castle for the past several hours, finding all sorts of nooks and crannies. From the dungeons to the kitchens to the godswood to the top of the main keep. Her hair danced with the wind, flapping like the Tully and Stark banners.

 

“Don’t think about trying to fly, Little Bird. Long way down to that river.”

 

Her breath came out in a harsh shudder. Jumping had not even entered her mind. Her pale fingers dug into the gaps between the stone as she stared hard at the war camp, desperate for any sign of Lord Tywin.

 

“He’ll do something horrendous, won’t he? If my brother doesn’t give me back to him.”

 

She turned to look at her sworn shield. She knew it was true. She did not need Sandor to confirm it, not really. She knew what he was could do and what he had done.

 

“Without doubt. You know that.” Sandor tried to speak gently, but his words always came out slightly gruff. It was only the softness in his eyes that told her of his effort. “Your kingly brother did not choose his enemy wisely and hasn’t made friends with the enemies of his enemy. Lord Tywin is a predator, and he’s on the hunt.”

 

Lord Tywin Lannister knew little mercy, compassion, or forgiveness where his family and pride were concerned. Any other southron family would have been better to anger. She could not delude herself about the amount of real danger that her mother and brother were facing, that they brought upon themselves in some ways.

 

The Warden of the West understood why her brother was acting as he did. He wanted his father back, and now, he wanted revenge. She had to help them see why Tywin was doing what he was doing, before he did whatever he was planning to do was done.

 

“He’s a selfish, old man, Little Bird. He is determined to have you in a cage to sing for him, when you’re not peeping on his arm.”

 

“He won’t stop, not till he gets me. Will he?” She turned back, searching helplessly. She was the only one who could stop that man, and she had never imagined having to do such a thing, rule over a man.

 

He was a man who could be brought to his knees by her, but he was certainly not a man to be kept there by anyone. He expected her to help him rise again, and when she had been on her knees, she wanted him to help her stand as he had been.

 

“He’ll kill them, and he’ll have someone else to take the blame when he steals you back and drapes your shoulders with red and gold.”

 

“Drowning castles, collapsing them, waiting till news of the Trident arrives to sack King’s Landing.”

 

A man who thought his way through every decision, who understood people in a way she did not know if she ever would, was the kind that was after her. He was coming for her, like winter, and he would not be stopped by anything as inconsequential as another marriage or a king. He had faced more frightening kings than her brother, and he would face another when he returned to King’s Landing. She was certain that Tywin Lannister understood better than any other man the type of king his grandson was becoming and what came from kings like him.

 

“Little Bird, they offended him, and he wanted their money.”

 

He wanted his money repaid. They were his vassals and owed him their allegiance. Lord Tywin wanted something worth more than gold now. He wanted her bloodline. That was certain. The only real question was whether she would live after the destruction he would cause to get it if it was not given. She would survive to be plucked from the rubble and returned to him, but the rest was all too frightening to consider.

 

“Sansa!”

 

She jerked up, looking out to the tents even as her sister called to her. Only her marriage to him would save her family. She could protect them. She would take every step she must to do so.

 

“Up here, Arya.”

 

Her sister popped up through the door.

 

“What’re you doing up here?”

 

“Watching.” She answered, turning back to stare. “Thinking.”

 

“Robb and Mother want you to break your fast with us.”

 

“Of course.” She lifted her chin the way she had when coming to command Sandor to release her sister. He had been her man far longer than she had known.

 

“Do you like him at all?”

 

Sansa looked out toward the tents again, especially toward the one that was Tywin’s. There were so many things she could tell her sister, so many little things Lord Lannister had done, and Arya would say that those were little reason to like the family that killed their father. She might never see that he had nothing to do with something he would never have done. He was not a man to waste a life or to squander what he had.

 

“How did we get here?”

 

Arya moved up closer to her, tilting her head to the side and trying to look into her face.

 

“I ran, leaving my teacher and friend behind to fight Ser Meryn with a wooden training sword. When I got to where our men had been packing, they were all dead. Our things were scattered all over.” She lifted her sword. “I knew I had to have Needle, so I tugged all my clothes out and found it the moment the fat boy found me. He was going to take me to the queen. Said that queen would pay him better than anyone else for me. So I stabbed him, telling him to leave me alone. I had to kill him to escape. Then I just ran from that horrible place.”

 

Sansa turned to her sister and wrapped her arms around her. Arya had to kill someone to save herself. She was spared having to see their father’s head chopped off and placed on a spike by killing someone else, and Sansa was glad of it. Joffrey would have killed Arya the moment he could when Nymeria had done nothing but protect her sister.

 

“Then they came after Yoren. He was taking me to Winterfell, and the queen sent men after us. They killed him to find my other friend. They killed Lommy and took us to Harrenhal. I watched so many people killed by the Tickler and the Mountain. Then that—” She pointed to the war camp. “That man came, and he made it stop. They were going to kill Gendry, but he stopped them. Said ‘Are we so well armed that we’re able to discard capable young bodies and skilled laborers?’ Why do Lannisters just keep coming?”

 

She wiped her sister’s eyes with the small cloth she carried everywhere, the one Sandor had given her so long ago when Joffrey made her stare at all the heads. Sadness and contentment warred within her as she fought to find understanding and the peace that could only come with it. Telling her sister that Lord Lannister coming to Harrenhal saved her life as quickly as his coming to King’s Landing had saved her would not please Arya. She knew it, and it did not make her feel better.

 

She glanced toward Sandor as she found it, wondering if that was what caught his attention. She had been angry, so angry over everything that happened, but she never raged, never lashed out. She was not like him or her sister. Her head would have ended up spiked, so he had advised her to do the safe thing, give him what he wants.

 

“Tell Mother and King Robb that I will join them soon.”

 

“King Robb. Remember when he was ten, and he ate himself sick at the Harvest Festival and puked all over Lord Bolton’s boots? That’s our king.” Arya’s attempt at a smile faded away, and she stepped forward, engulfing her sister in her arms.

 

“Everything will turn out right in the end, Arya.” She had more to say, but she swallowed back the words that Arya was not ready to hear. Arya eyed her suspiciously as she pulled back. “Arya, you’re the bravest person I know. Can you—can you?”

 

“What, Sansa? Tell me.”

 

“You got out of the Red Keep. You ran away. You got so far.”

 

She could not say the words. She could not ask her sister if she knew a way to escape from Riverrun. She would not run away to escape her duty, but she would flee to save their lives. She would also pray that it would not come to that choice. Running away was not a choice that had worked out so well for Starks in the past.

 

Arya moved close to her, staring up into her face as she glanced toward the door and Sandor before asking what she needed to know.

 

“You’re going to run to him?”

 

“I will run to the man who told me I could walk on damaged legs, who promised that he would not let me fall down. He told me to take it slowly, and I would be fine.”

 

Sansa had to blink back tears, remembering how it had not been the kindness she wanted, the kindness her father would have wrapped around her. He had given her a strength she had not known she still had, and she wanted to keep it forever.

 

“Yes, and I’ll find it.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

N~O~T~A~S~E~R. N~O~T~A~S~E~R. N~O~T~A~S~E~R. N~O~T~A~S~E~R.

 

Once her sister was truly gone, Sansa looked back out toward the enormous tent located almost in the center of red and gold silk.

 

You don’t have to give him what he wants. You don’t have to marry him, Little Bird. I’ll cut him down, and you can go free.”

 

She did not respond for a moment, but she gave him a sad smile. She was well trapped in a Lannister cage, and she would not let a dog carry her away.

 

“Everything will be alright, Sandor.”

 

The way she looked at him and said that so calmly made him want to curse and thrash and rage on her behalf. She knew who was coming for her. She knew his reputation, and she stood there, composed as a statue, the image of every lady from every song.

 

He should have taken her that night, not the way he mentioned wanting her to the wolf-girl. He knew even as the words came out that it never would have pleased him to be that kind of monster. Still, he should have tossed her over his shoulder screaming and taken her anywhere. They could have taken a ship to Essos from the Salt Pans. He would have found all the work he could to take care of her. Even if she never hated him for it, she would have been safe. The rest of Westeros could burn and leave a mockingbird to sit on the ashes, repeating all the stupidity of the people who thought themselves clever.

 

Then she never would have met Tywin Fucking Lannister. He would never have gotten the idea into his cunt head to marry her. She would not have to do this. She did not deserve it, any of it.

 

“Sandor.” The soft voice called to him through his pain and rage, through his desire to paint every body red. “Sandor, peace. I care for him, despite the horrible things he’s done, despite the horrendous things he might do, despite the hellish plans he may be implementing.”

 

Gentle hands on his helped steady his breathing, and he sank to a knee to keep himself calm.

 

“None of us is truly free. You may think me silly, but I believe my marriage to Lord Tywin, forbidding and formidable as it will surely be, is what the gods, old and new, have planned for me. Maybe I’m what he needs.”

 

Fuck the gods, then.” He growled. She deserved a true knight like the sodding little knight of flowers. Why did the first truly kind person he met have to suffer so much?

 

“I have to protect my family. I’m the only one who can. If that means marrying Lord Tywin, I’ll go to him willingly. There are worse men. He has been good to me, and I want him to continue to be so.”

 

Sandor breathed out, following her through the halls of Riverrun. There was no stopping her. All he could do now was help her and protect her. He would be her good dog, even if it pleased her to treat him as a man. If a lion tried to rip her apart, he would die saving her.

 

“There’s something I need you to do for me, Sandor.”

 

“Anything you wish, Little Bird.”

 

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 sat at the desk in his war tent. He tapped the wood in irritation. Bolton’s fate had been sealed the moment Jaime told him a Bolton man chopped his hand off.

 

“My Lord.”

 

Tywin turned to one of the best trained hounds he had ever known. The Mountain that Rides towered over him, looking down and waiting for his orders.

 

Go to retake Harrenhal, but wait for my signal. Kill all Bolton’s men, and bring him here alive.” The northern lord had not controlled his monsters very well, so Tywin would need to have them put down. Lord Bolton would need to be revealed to Robb Stark as a traitor once Sansa was married to him with the boy’s permission. He might otherwise cause trouble.

 

Sansa would have one man fewer to fear harming her family once they returned north. With the promise of the West to come to Robb Stark’s aid, if needs be, none of his other lords would think of doing anything foolish, despite his wasting the life of old Lord Karstark.

 

“Yes, my Lord.”

 

When the monstrously over-sized man departed, Tywin eased back. Every task has a tool, and every tool has a task. He was prepared to bide his time, let Roose Bolton think all was well wh ile he fixed his own noose, attached it to a branch, placed it around his neck. Tywin would happily kick the bench from beneath him when the time came and watch him strangled to death.

Chapter Text

 

F~A~M~I~L~Y~D~U~T~Y~H~O~N~O~R. W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G. F~A~M~I~L~Y~D~U~T~Y~H~O~N~O~R.

 

Catelyn embraced her daughters, placing one to each side as they sat down to break their fast. Sansa’s eyes strayed to the window beyond which the Lannister army waited. There was at least one thing to be grateful for this morning. Her monstrous sworn shield was blessedly absent, just as she had prayed. He might have drunk himself into a stupor. Now Sansa could be given a proper guard for the day, a kind knight. Sansa would like that.

 

Yet, she could not help wondering what brought such a look to the face of a girl who had once shown such joy. She had a look of longing as she stared toward the Lannisters, and Catelyn remembered thinking the same thing when she would look out over the river thinking about Brandon Stark. She would not have traded Ned for any other man she had ever known, but Brandon had been the man she had longed for once she was betrothed to him. Could her girl long—truly long for a man like Tywin Lannister?

 

She had longed for Joffrey, too. She had begged her mother to make Ned accept the king’s offer. She said it was all she ever wanted. Her look now, though, was that of someone dragged from a peaceful existence that she had long forgotten and thrust back into chaos. Her children should not have had to suffer such things as knowing war. They should have had to know only peace, despite the words of House Stark. Their father had always promised them that winter was coming, and Catelyn would do everything to help them survive it. Bran and Rickon had been the first victims. She did not want Sansa to feel more cold than she already had, but her daughter did not look toward the Lannisters as if staring into the northern wind. She looked toward him as she had looked at the fires once she reached Winterfell.

 

Robb and his queen sat beside each other, and Jon Snow sat to the king’s other side. The bastard had risen for his lady sister and helped her to sit, and Sansa squeezed his hand in gratitude. She was always such a kind girl. She was kind to everyone, and it was not in her to abandon someone in need. Her daughter’s words the previous night about the dour young man being like Ned echoed in her head, but she pushed them away. Thinking about her husband was still too painful.

 

Did her sweet daughter know what the vicious man outside these walls had in mind for her? She had counseled her son to deny the request the moment she heard it. She thought of the miserable woman she had seen in the Vale, the woman who had been her sister, the woman who denied their brother any form of aid in his time of need. Her marriage and the death of her husband had changed her into a woman that Catelyn no longer knew.

 

Lord Tywin was old enough to be Sansa’s grandfather, and he was the nastiest, cruelest man the seven kingdoms had ever known. Still Sansa had spoken no ill of Lord Tywin or his treatment of her. Could a man like that have treated Sansa as the treasure she was? If he had not and the gods were just, he would burn in the deepest of the seven hells. She did not want to live to see what would become of her daughter by the time he was done with her if he planned captivity for her. She would rather have her throat slit.

 

“Sansa.” Robb’s voice was gentle as he addressed her. “I’m happy to have you back with us.”

 

A smile that did not reach her eyes greeted them as she looked around into each face at the table.

 

“It’s so good to be with my family again. I hope to help my brother and king in every way that I am able.”

 

Her poor girl, the girl who loved knights and ladies and songs and love—that girl was not the one looking at them. She had gone to her last night, hoping to see what damage had been done. All she had walked away with was the knowledge that the young woman now with them was a stranger.

 

She was also in every way the great lady Catelyn had always foreseen her dear girl becoming. Queen Jeyne spoke of how Sansa had moved between the Old Lion and her brother’s wife. She said that Sansa had protected her. She showed no fear, and she walked away without a blemish. Did she have a lion gentle in her hands, or had she just had him by the tail for a moment? Her daughter had been returned unscathed by his teeth or claws. Queen Jeyne seemed somewhat in awe of her good sister, and Catelyn could not be more proud that her daughter showed the understanding of the words of House Tully that she had always wanted her children to know and show.

 

“Sansa, please tell us what happened. We’ll make them pay.” Robb sat up a little straighter, and his wife touched his arm.

 

Catelyn’s eyes were hard. She would hear nothing she liked, but she watched her daughter sit silently, long enough that Arya spoke with the new false cheer in her voice.

 

“Maybe you should ask what didn’t happen.” Her voice became eerie and ugly as she finished. “That story would be shorter for Sansa to tell.”

 

“Arya!” Catelyn did not know what to be more horrified by, how Arya said the words so flippantly or what it meant for Sansa. All these horrors that had come upon her children. Her youngest two murdered by Theon Greyjoy. Her daughters subjected to countless horrors that they had yet to share. It was more than any mother should be required to know or feel.

 

Sansa reached out and took Arya’s hand, lacing their fingers together.

 

“Fine. Fine. Let you handle it, but I’m here. And I’m your sister. You don’t have to say if you don’t want.”

 

“Thank you, Arya.” Sansa released her sister’s hand, sipping a little water. “What happened is that Lord Tywin Lannister came to King’s Landing, and he made sure that I would not have to be wed to the monster who murdered my father in front of me. He stopped the madness that your sister was living under, a king who will never understand what it means to be a king or to rule.”

 

“Sansa, please. No matter what has happened, we will always love you.”


Horror crept through Catelyn at the implication of her son’s words. They were true, and it would not lessen her value among the men of the north. She had been a little girl, locked up with no way to escape. It seemed that her daughter, even if the worst had happened, would never lack for suitors. Ravens had been bringing messages from castles in every kingdom to ask for Sansa as a bride. Whatever she had been through paled in comparison to her claim.

 

“Did you receive my letter?”

 

Catelyn’s eyes flashed angrily. Yes, they had received her second Lannister dictation. These were not the Queen’s words; this time they were Tywin Lannister’s. The results of the first were proof enough that the Lannisters were evil. The second had been beautiful and elegant, all that the letter of the most well bred lady ought to be. It begged for peace, not just for the great houses, but for every mother and father. It talked of forgiveness for those who bore no blame for heartless atrocities. It spoke of bravery in making peace with enemies and that the difficulties and sacrifices that peace cost being less than the price of war—a price so many good people were being forced to pay. A price that could not restore what anyone lost.

 

Every word told the story of the woman her Sansa always dreamed of becoming. She had loved the stories of ladies who loved and followed their hearts. Seeing Sansa now made her feel that perhaps the woman before her did write it. The way she gently spoke to men the night before when they promised to help her avenge the wrongs done to her family, how she told them she would pray for them to know a gentler way, the way her sworn shield had shuddered when she said it as though he knew her to have prayed that prayer for him. Still she had been with the foxiest lion to slink through the hills of the Westerlands. He was smart enough and slick enough to conceive those words. The founder of his house had convinced the Casterlys that their castle was as haunted as the Night Fort.

 

Still, the idea that it was her dear one to write something so powerful—it had touched Catelyn until she heard the terms of the peace proposals from the Lannisters. She wanted to take her children home. She wanted them to live more than anything, long, full lives, and that man wanted her child.

 

“I recognized the tongue of Tywin Lannister your hand wrote. It was far more eloquent than the words of Queen Cersei.”

 

Sansa rested her hands in her lap, ignoring the sweet lemon cake that Catelyn specifically requested after seeing her nearly non-existent appetite the previous evening. She had to speak to her, help her understand that her brother would let no harm come to her.

 

“My first letter was dictated by the queen. I was told that by writing it I would save Father’s life. I would have done anything to help him. The stories I was hearing about what happened in the Red Keep. I didn’t believe them at first, but I came to know the truth of how the men of the north were slaughtered. All I thought about afterward was that my father needed my help. Now my brothers and my mother need my help. I wrote that letter. Was it so incongruous with my character that you feel it impossible to believe the words came from me?”

 

No tears stained her cheeks or blurred her eyes as she asked this, yet her face showed an inconsolable sadness mixed with a concern. She took her child’s hand to console her.

 

“Sansa, you are safe. You can tell us the truth.”

 

“Lord Tywin had no part in the contents of that letter. He gave me a chance to live instead of surviving from day to day.”

 

“You don’t have to defend the Lannisters.”

 

“I am doing my duty by defending the honor of a man who has done no harm to me. He started a war for his family. He could not have prevented Father’s death. He was not in the capital, and once he was, life became better for everyone, not just the nobles of the court, but every peasant in the street.”

 

Catelyn moved to her daughter, reaching out to take her, but Sansa was on her feet before she could reach her.

 

“Please excuse me. Please.” Sansa floundered a moment until the white wolf slipped under her arm.

 

Catelyn ached as she had the night before when Sansa pulled away so hard. She had looked like she expected to be struck. Now, she looked frightened of losing everything and everyone she loved. Even the look she cast out the window toward that man looked like she was certain that she was about to lose something more valuable than gold.

 

H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R. D~E~F~E~N~D~T~H~E~K~I~N~G. H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R.

 

Jaime hunched over as he walked by the men training with their swords. His father’s words replayed in his head, and the fear that the man was right about him, as he was right about most things, made him almost want to weep. He could not shake the look he had seen on his twin’s face when he walked into her tent.

 

He had imagined sinking into her arms and hearing that she loved him. Instead, she just stared at his stump like the horror could not sink in, that she had every reason to be afraid. She rejected him and sent him away. He had to leave when she had been unable to address him. He could not take it. She made no effort to comfort him, when he was so lost. He had to look at men he had been besting since he was thirteen and know that he stood no chance against them now. Now, he was barely better than a wooden practice dummy. He had once cut down ten men in an effort to get to Robb Stark before he was captured.

 

He stopped when he saw his father standing outside his ostentatious tent, staring up at Riverrun as the clouds overhead turned darker as if they sensed the blackness always ready to strike out from his father’s heart. The stiffly calculating look was one he recognized, and it made his heart beat faster. His father was imagining destruction. He remembered seeing it at Harrenhal when he became a knight of the Kingsguard. He remembered seeing it when the news of Robert killing Rhaegar arrived at King’s Landing. Now, Lord Tywin Lannister was assessing damages and determining what the Starks owed him for all the trouble they had been causing.

 

“Inspiring, isn’t it?” Jaime looked down at his brother, but Tyrion’s eyes were firmly fixed on their father. “Uncle Gerion told me a scary story once.”

 

“What story?” Jaime asked, feeling dread twist in his gut like a mass of eels.

 

“You think he looks frightening standing there. At least, he isn’t smiling. Uncle Gerion said that our father smiled when Tarbeck Hall came crashing down to bury Lady Ellyn.”

 

It shook Jaime to his core, thinking of that kind girl who held his crippled arm and walked beside him to her family. His father was standing there, determining how to eliminate Starks standing between him and that girl. If her brother did not realize what his father was capable of doing, of plotting, he was going to get thousand people killed. He owed that girl his help. He owed his father for working to free him. There was plenty of debts for him to settle.

 

“Do you think he’ll laugh when he ends the Starks and the Tullys? The bards will certainly have a new song to write.”

 

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Jaime had seen his father smile once when his mother stepped out of her litter in the Red Keep before the tourney to honor King Aerys’s tenth year on the throne, but laughter was something his father had never experienced.

 

The memory of his father kissing the line of his mother’s golden hair as she embraced him that day was one he often called to mind when he wanted to remember his parents, wanted to think of love.

 

“I’m perfectly serious, Dear Brother.”

 

Lord Tywin returned to his tent, flicking the flaps behind him. The expression of cold, patient rage on his face meant only suffering for those between him and whatever goal was in his mind concerning Sansa Stark. As if demanding her hand in marriage was not cruel enough, he intended to kill the family he had thus far failed to eliminate. No doubt, then he would put their child as ruler of the North.

 

“We should go somewhere more private to talk.”

 

Jaime nodded and followed his brother through camp, ordering a light meal for both of them to break their fasts. All the depravities he knew were being committed by his son played in his mind. Tyrion had confirmed the northern lady’s words and worse. His son was an evil creature, maybe worse than the king whose blood had already flowed over Jaime’s sword. At fifteen, his son demanded the lives of all the people because one threw filth at him while they were starving and enduring a siege. He had not had the sense to see that his crown would not protect him. The people would have gladly cooked him up to fill their bellies.

 

He would not deny he had wanted Ned Stark dead the instant the man said he ordered his wife to take Tyrion hostage. He loved his brother and wanted him back. He had been so angry that someone would hurt someone he loved, someone so often made to feel he had done wrong that could not have been helped by him. All he had been able to think was how Tyrion always got attacked by his family, and that he would not allow other families to take out hostility on him as well. He could hardly defend him from his sister or his father, but Lord Stark could feel his rage for treating Tyrion like a toy.

 

They waited quietly in their shared tent for food, and Jaime grabbed his bowl up the moment the guard departed. All that kept him from bolting his food after his father got him back was what he knew he would hear from the man. Lannisters don’t act like fools. He did not think he could bear to listen to the lecture that his lack of dignity would earn him. At least, the food was manageable for him, and he was not reduced to failing at meals.

 

“I wasn’t sure I believed you. Still not sure I do.”

 

How could his father want to wed a sixteen year old girl? Did he truly care about her? The fact that she was born of two powerful famil ies , and their children would cement a lasting peace between the North and the South might not be enough to prevent his lords from wonder ing if they were witnessing Lord Lannister and his mistress again in the next generation . The only difference was Princess Sansa w as no chandler’s daughter. She was young and beautiful, and she was worthy of the grandest of marriages. She would be a wife, not a kept whore.

 

His brother downed a cup of wine.

 

“It’s incredible.” Tyrion looked around nervously as though suspecting one of their lord father’s or lady sister’s spies might jump out at them at any moment. “Princess Sansa has had a most startling and wholly unpredictable effect on the mighty lion. I’ve seen it on more than one occasion.”

 

Lord Tywin had not looked much changed, if at all, a moment ago. He had the same look he always did. He remained the merciless, cold hearted man Jaime had known since his mother’s death. He had been gazing at Riverrun systematically searching for weaknesses. He was planning how to attack if Robb Stark refused to wed his beautiful young sister to a mean, old man. It would be his final kingly mistake. His father would kill all the Starks, except the woman destined to become a Lannister.

 

She would be destroyed by witnessing such callous, ruthless, exacting revenge carried out by the man who would then wed her and bed her. She would give him children. Those children would take over Riverrun and Winterfell, and he would tell the world that he tried to make peace with the Starks and the Tullys. All the evidence of his claims would be there.

 

Jaime was no stranger to suffering. He had seen it, felt it, and brought it upon people when it was necessary. What he had heard from his brother was that Sansa Stark had been punished, often for no reason other than Joffrey enjoyed violence. Beautiful Queen Rhaella’s broken body limping from the king’s rooms back to her chamber after being savaged by the teeth and nails of the Mad King. Then the words of Ser Gerold Hightower. They protected the queen from all but the King. What had their vows meant if they did nothing to help her? She was innocent. What kind of knight was he if he did not try to protect her?

 

“She has had a profound effect upon Father. I’ve never seen him look at anyone else the way I saw him gaze upon her once.”

 

“He will break her if he has to use his contingency plan. If Robb Stark thinks that she can be protected, he’ll destroy his sister. Piece by piece.”

 

Jaime could not help how he focused on her face. She was the first person outside his family who had addressed him by his name in many years. Not Kingslayer or Oathbreaker. Not Man Without Honor. Ser Jaime and Lord Commander. It boggled his mind still. How had Ser Barristan Selmy been released of his duty? His reputation had only been lauded by commoners and nobles alike. People went out to see him when he rode at the king’s side. He had been the honor of the Kingsguard, renowned for singlehandedly rescuing King Aerys II from Duskendale.

 

Jaime, you sound as if you care about her.” Jaime snorted at this, and his brother continued. “What’s the plan? Knowing our father, I’m certain the price is more than what he’s led the northerners to think which is nothing to the debt that will be incurred by refusing.

 

Jaime dunked his bread in the thick venison stew and shoved it in his mouth. After swallowing and thinking of something horrible enough to have come from his father’s diabolical mind, he spoke again.

 

“Make sure Sansa is heir to the North and probably Riverrun too. Lady Jeyne can drink moon tea for the remainder of her fertile years, and Lord Edmure can wed a Lannister who’ll do the same. All because Lord Tywin commands it. He will sire children on his broodmare, and those children will each have castles, the Rock, Winterfell, and Riverrun. They will be lords paramount and wardens, and all the other titles he can think to secure for them.”

 

So you can think like father.” Tyrion kicked his stubby legs as Jaime finished the last of the stew. “I imagine him killing the Starks at a wedding, especially if they try to wed Sansa to another man. I like to think he would have another family to take all the blame for it too. He just needs a stupid man, not a brave one. Robb Stark already slighted the Freys by breaking his vow to marry one of theirs. Walder Frey would do the job credibly. The Freys stand together, and our aunt is a Frey. Father would even keep his hands from being sullied by such a dirty business.

 

That’s foul. Even for our father.”

 

And now the snow piles in their halls, their king frozen in his throne.”

 

Jaime trembled at the new words his brother put to the familiar tune, and he bit his tongue.

 

“Ser Jaime. Lord Tyrion. Sandor Clegane is here to visit you.”

 

W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G. F~I~R~E~A~N~D~B~L~O~O~D. W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G.

 

Jon sat beside his brother, watching Sansa stumble away. Whatever happened to her, that was Prince Joffrey’s doing, not Tywin Lannister’s. She had been defending the man. She said she wrote the letter she sent them, and there was little reason to think otherwise. It was in her hands, and a few passages even reminded Jon of some of Sansa’s favorite songs as a child, talking of the parts left from the tune.

 

“Mother, let her go.”

 

Lady Catelyn choked back tears as she looked down at Arya who stood, guarding the door through which Sansa had left moments ago with Ghost.

 

“Someone needs to go to her.” Robb looked between his queen, his mother, and his brother. “We don’t know what she might do. She isn’t the girl she was when she left Winterfell.”

 

“She wanted to speak with me last night.” Jon volunteered. He did not mention that she had precious few moments to speak well of Lord Tywin before the seven hells had tried to rain down fire on them as surely as dragons. “She said that she cares for him. Thinks he cares for her, too. If we can assure ourselves that he will treat her well and care for her, we should consider his offer more seriously than any other.”

 

His sister was offering him her trust in a way she was unable to offer it to her mother and trueborn older brother. He would show her that he was worthy of her trust. He would help her if he could, listen to what she had to say. Tell Robb so they could help her. She said that he was not one of the horrible parts of her experience since leaving Winterfell.

 

“She should speak with her mother.” All the bitterness of knowing she was losing her children poured out of her mouth at that statement. “I want her to be safe and happy. She has to know that. She used to come to me to fix everything.”

 

Jon kept the phrase he wanted to say in his heart. That was then; this is now. She was not that little girl anymore. She wanted different things. She knew life was different. She was a woman who had been through horrific experiences, and her mother would only be angered by them. Anger was not going to help them. Any mother would be angered by her child suffering, but Sansa had seen enough of anger. She had seen where anger dragged people. She was asking them to choose something else a moment ago as much as she had in her letter. It had been carefully worded, but she had been just as careful with her words since she returned to her family’s loving embrace.

 

“She stood on the stage five feet from where Father was executed by her betrothed while he smiled. You can’t fix that. I love you, Mother, but nobody can fix that.” Arya remained at the door, keeping any of them from leaving. “You don’t listen to her. Jon is the only one listening when she’s talking about stuff.”

 

“Arya, I would like to listen to whatever Sansa was trying to say to us. May I go to her? I think she needs someone.”

 

Jon looked into his favorite sibling’s eyes, willing her to understand how much he wanted to help Sansa, even if he might not do a good job. He would do whatever was necessary for her.

 

Arya nodded to him, stepping aside to let him pass. She reached out, wrapping an arm around his waist briefly.

 

“I love you, Jon.” He tucked an arm around her, watching out for the sword as he pressed his cheek onto her head. “She went to the tower this morning. She might go back there.”

 

“Thank you. I love you, Arya.” He gave her a second squeeze before passing through the door.

 

He made his way quickly to the topmost tower of Riverrun, hoping that was where Sansa went. He knew he was right when he found Ghost at the bottom of a ladder, head up and ears alert. He climbed as quickly as he could, fear eating him up as he wondered if she would do the unthinkable.

 

When he was a small child, he heard the story of what another noble, highborn lady had done. He had not heard much about Lady Ashara Dayne. They said something of his father dancing with her at the Tourney at Harrenhal, and that he had been instantly taken with her. That he had been too shy to ask her to dance, so his brother Brandon had asked for him. She had come to love him that night as they danced, and they had found pleasure in being together. The love story ended when he married Catelyn Tully and she jumped from Starfall’s highest tower when his father returned the Dayne’s ancestral sword to that Dornish castle. As soon as the servants saw him, they went instantly silent. Since then, he wondered often if the Lady Ashara had been his mother.

 

The idea of being born of two great noble houses like his brothers and sisters had always appealed to him, and imagining being part Dayne had nearly addled his mind. His father had always spoken of Ser Arthur Dayne with awe and sadness. He meant to ask his father about her by name the last time they were together, but her name had gotten stuck in his throat. His father promised that they would speak of his mother when next they saw each other. He had never heard her name spoken again after that day in Winterfell.

 

The idea that Sansa might jump just like the woman he had so often imagined being his mother terrified him. He did not want to lose a sibling that way, and relief brought him to his knees when he saw her with her face buried in her hands, leaning against a merlon.

 

He struggled to his feet and moved to her side, remaining silent. She was whispering quietly, and she was crying. She repeated it over and over.

 

Jon pressed his back to the wall and sank down to sit beside her. He took one of her hands, holding it to let her know that she was not alone. She looked up at him with swollen, red eyes after her breathing calmed.

 

“Why do men choose war when peace would be so much better?”

 

“Robb didn’t choose this war, Sansa. He has offered his own peace terms to the crown, and he fears turning his sister over to the family that murdered our father. He’s a king, and he has men looking to him to see justice done. If he fails on that, he won’t be king for long. He’s looking out for lives, yours, his, our family, every man in the North.”

 

“I’m looking out for them, too. I’m what Lord Tywin wants, Jon, and he won’t stop until he has me. There is great fear in spurning the wrong man. He need not fear Lord Tywin being the husband to his sister, and he could not have a stronger, cleverer ally. I’m not afraid to be the wife of a man who has been honest with me, who treats me gently.”

 

He could see the words that she could not get out. She was afraid of being the wife of the man who killed her family.

 

“This is what you need to tell Robb, Sansa. I told him what you said, about Lord Tywin not being terrible to you, but it’ll mean more if it’s you.”

 

Sansa dried her eyes and let Jon help her to her feet. Calmness settled over her as she replaced her small cloth in her pocket before they made their way back to the family.

 

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 sat quietly in the solar with her brothers, uncle, and mother. Jon sat beside her, holding her hand, and she twined their fingers together. Robb sat, holding his queen’s hand.

 

“Sansa, do you know what the peace terms were as stipulated by Lord Tywin?”

 

“He did not discuss much of those plans with me. All I do know is that he asked for my hand in marriage.” She smiled serenely at them, taking comfort from her brother’s hand.

 

“Many families want to have you married to their son, Sansa. You won’t—”

 

“Mother, this isn’t your decision.” Her mother went silent and pale, gazing at Robb with a touch of fear and a touch of indignation. “After what you did, don’t start. Your feelings against this marriage have been made plain enough. The whole castle knows.”

 

Robb leveled a finger at their mother. He did not know the half of it. If he did not know that their mother had taken Lord Tyrion, he did not know what had awakened the lion that now stalked their family. She loved her mother with all her heart, but she could never condone her actions. Taking Lord Tyrion hostage, her father would never have approved of such rashness as that.

 

Don’t punish me by giving your sister to that man.”

 

That’s enough, Mother.” Robb motioned to a guard to escort their mother away, and his voice softened as he dipped his head to look into Sansa’s eyes. “I want to hear what you think, Sansa. I want to know how he’s treated you.”

 

I’ll stay with my daughter.” Her mother moved to her, taking her face.

 

Then let your daughter speak. Jon has said that you have your own thoughts and feelings about this potential marriage, Sansa. Father always taught us—”

 

Sansa smiled then, seeing the brother she had known in Winterfell for a moment. He was Robb, and she was Sansa. He had not gone to war. He had not been crowned king. She had not been betrothed to an evil prince. She had not watched her father executed. She nodded.

 

“Being a ruler means listening to everyone’s problems and opinions, whether you want to or not.”

 

It was not so different from some of Lord Tywin’s lessons. Her father had been an excellent listener of what people were saying. It was what they did not say that he failed to hear. He did not always know what they meant, or he believed that right would always win. Lord Tywin heard everything, and he understood the way people thought in a way that her father never had and probably never could have.

 

Robb smiled back at her, stretching a hand out to take hers.

 

Sansa, more than twenty houses have asked for a formal betrothal to you. From Lord Gerold Dayne in Dorne to Lord Glover. Even our cousin Lord Arryn of the Vale has had a request made on his behalf.”

 

Sansa listened patiently while he told her the names of other prominent houses, including the Tyrells, the Tarleys, the Martells on behalf of Prince Oberyn, the Penroses, and so many more from every one of the seven kingdoms except the Westerlands. No house of the Westerlands would attempt anything with her, other than handing her over to Lord Tywin the instant she was placed in their care. They knew better than to raise the ire of their liege lord by attempting to take something the lion already had beneath his paw.

 

“As you can see, His Grace is in a very perplexing situation.”

 

Sansa shifted, rubbing her lips together. It was not all that confusing. Robb could cast away many names quite easily. She hoped that Jon understood what Robb was ignoring. She prayed he understood what she was trying to tell him earlier. If she went to anyone but Lord Tywin Lannister, she would be the only Stark alive in a year. How could she live with that?

 

“Sansa, you can marry a kind northern lord and visit Winterfell as it pleases you.” Her mother stroked her face, embracing her. “The Manderlys and the Umbers have also asked for you. They’ve served your brother loyally. His best supporters.”

 

Sansa pushed all her fear and sadness away. She would only see Winterfell when Lord Tywin decided to allow it. Maybe he would. She had never ventured the question to him. She knew the Manderlys and the Umbers well. Lord Umber was a loud man with a loyal heart, and Lord Manderly always reminded their father of his unceasing faithfulness to House Stark after all House Stark did for them when they were banished from the South. They were one of the wealthiest houses of the North.

 

“Mother, please leave us.” Robb glanced to their uncle Brynden for assistance. “I want to know what Sansa thinks, not what she can be guilted into saying.”

 

“Let’s go visit your father, Cat.”

 

“No.” Her mother’s arms tightened around her. “You don’t have to do what Tywin Lannister says.”

 

Sansa held her mother in return, wishing she had words to comfort her. Lady Catelyn only wanted her to be safe. She knew that. She refused to accept the danger of Lord Tywin was different for her or that Sansa could protect them all from the lion’s teeth.

 

“Lord Tywin has always treated me with respect and gentility, Mother. A man may be completely different in private than he shows the world. I care for him.”

 

She cherished the feeling of her mother’s fingers combing through her hair. It was something her mother often did for her, and she had not known how much she missed that, something as simple as her mother brushing her hair. Still her eyes found the window and all the red banners flapping in the wind outside Riverrun’s walls.

 

“You didn’t start out loving Father, but you came to over time. Is it so impossible that your daughter might come to appreciate a man with whom she has been spending her time?”

 

All she heard in her heart as she stared was what he was thinking. He believed that she could help her family. He told her she was strong when others told her she needed to be protected. What was almost shocking was her only other thought was how he was, if he was well. Nan’s story of the dangers of the frozen heart and the strength it took to fight gave her a sense of calm as she looked between her brothers as her mother was taken from the solar.

 

A sense of peace settled over her as she realized there was an option if she wanted to force the choice. What northern lord would have a girl who ran into the arms of a Lannister, even a princess? It was a poor option, and she would do all she could to point her brother to what he should be seeing, just looking out any window of this castle.

 

“Your Grace, I am a girl who was always going to have many lords seek her as a wife. You must look at where your greatest advantage is, who offers you the best and the most in exchange for me.”

 

N~O~T~A~S~E~R. N~O~T~A~S~E~R. N~O~T~A~S~E~R. N~O~T~A~S~E~R.

 

Sandor strode back through Riverrun’s gates, jaw twitching with his scowl. If it was possible, the little bird had become sillier. Sending him to invite the Kingslayer and the Imp to visit with her, without her kingly brother’s permission. She could get herself in a great deal of trouble.

 

Talking about making allies and other nonsense. He had heard the queen say once anyone that is not a Lannister was an enemy of the Lannisters. A foolish sentiment—Starks kept their word from everything he had even seen of them. They would make better allies than lords like the Martells. His brother had ensured that the Martells loathed the Lannisters, and it was certain that Lord Tywin had ordered the deaths of the princess of Dorne and her children.

 

He pushed open the door to the small room where he delivered the pretty bird this morning to break her fast with her family. Every muscle tensed, ready to draw his blade and strike down whoever caused that look of despair on his lady’s face. First a prince tore out her feathers to fletch his arrows. Then a lion came and clipped her wings to prevent her flying away. Now the wolves will force her to sing to whomever they wish to make their ally. There would be nothing left of her if she was never allowed a moment to recover.

 

She peeped so softly that he almost missed her words as he stomped over to her. He knelt beside her, watching to know if she wanted to leave. Surely, her family would allow her that much dignity and choice. They had to see that this bird had flown through storms and hills, searching for the snow that meant she was home.

 

“I’m not defending Lannisters as a choice. I’m defending my brothers, my mother, and my sister from what it might mean to deny one of the most powerful houses in Westeros.”

 

Sandor stayed on his knee, watching her. He would toss her over his shoulder and carry her from here if it became necessary. It was enough. It had to end.

 

“Sansa, I have an army.”

 

The snort was out before he could keep it in. It had never been in him to keep things inside—not until he saw tears pouring down a lady’s face while he towered above her drunkenly. His knife had been poised at her throat, and she sang a song asking the Mother to help him find peace. Then she touched his face, and it had all been too much. He ripped that damn white cloak off and ran.

 

“Does my sister’s sworn shield have something to say?” King Robb’s voice was clear and sharp.

 

Just like the fool boy in King’s Landing, he did not want anyone to tell him the truth. He wanted only to hear his praises, hear how he won every battle he fought, not that he had lost the war because his army was disintegrating. Well, he would tell this king the truth he needed to hear to help the little bird just as he told Joffrey on that little cunt’s nameday.

 

“Your army’s falling apart.”

 

The King in the North rose to his feet. His jaw set forward, and he glared down at Sandor. Sandor shook his head. The boy married a girl from the Westerlands. That was his death blow. He was just too smart to bring that one up. Never attack the place a man chooses to warm his cock. It rarely ended well.

 

“Killed old Karstark and now his men went home. What did you expect?”

 

Sandor rose to his feet with a nearly malicious feeling filling him. The boy may have been winning on the battlefield, but his mistake remained beside him every day to remind his lords of his folly. He put a crown on the head of the mistake and made her a queen.

 

“I’m the king in the North.”

 

The gasp from the little bird was nearly covered by the sound of her chair scraping as she pushed away from the table. She breathed heavily and shakily. Joffrey had liked to say the same thing to her, often and loudly while he tormented her. But she managed to find her voice and get something out without fading away.

 

“Calling yourself a king doesn’t make you one.”

 

Sandor recognized the voice a Lannister in the little bird’s parroting. The number of times he heard Joffrey declare himself the king was proof enough that Lord Tywin was right about that. Joffrey had no power and no brain. He would destroy the south and drive them to war if he tried doing to the Tyrell girl what he had done to Sansa.

 

“You want to be a king? Act like one. Think of the lives of your people before your bloody honor.”

 

“Sandor, that’s harsh.”

 

“The King of the Wooden Sword needs harsher if he wants to live.” A growl was coming from his throat. She would be destroyed if her brother did not cease the foolishness. He did not want to see the heartache and despair in her again.

 

“Enough.” Sansa’s voice cut through the argument before it got worse. “Please, Your Grace, Sandor is telling you truths that are worth heeding. His manner is not meant to offend, but to defend.”

 

Her brother sat down more roughly than necessary, and he linked his fingers together in front of himself. His queen put her hands on his arm gently.

 

Sandor almost glowered at her to watch her flinch. That girl had played this boy like a harp, and he was none the wiser for it. Someone had probably plucked her strings too, to get her where she was. Robb Stark was too foolish to conceive of such tactics being in the mind of the Warden of the West. The Westerlings were one of Lord Tywin’s most loyal vassals. They may have conceived the idea. The girl might be innocent of her parents’ machinations. It did not change the seal on the order from being a rampant lion pressed into red wax.

 

There was no weapon half so dangerous as the one kept between a woman’s legs, especially when combined with what a boy kept between his. That was the whole point of marrying his sister to the Old Lion.

 

“I delivered your invitation, Princess. The Kingslayer and the Imp will be coming to visit on the morrow as you requested.”

 

All eyes turned on Sansa then, and Sandor grinned. The change in subject was just what was needed. Now, they would have new reasons to be upset and bicker, but they could not retract her invitation without losing face.

Chapter Text

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 sat with her sewing in her lap, working on some stitches as she waited to find out what her brother was going to do about her inviting lion cubs to visit Riverrun. Lord Tywin had agreed to let them come, trusting them to be returned to him at the end of the afternoon. Now, it was up to her brother to decide if he would allow what she had already set in motion or send them away, reducing the chances of finding a peaceful resolution. She felt badly that she had tied his hands, but they had to start seeing each other as people first. People talk. People make peace with their enemies, not their friends.

 

Lord Tywin had taught her the value of making friends with enemies. When he allied himself with the Tyrells, the condition of King’s Landing immediately improved. Stannis’s siege was lifted. People had food. Now, he sought to offer peace to the North. He would bring them as close to the West as the Crown was bringing the Reach. They would all be family, and Lord Tywin had shown her just how much value he put on his family.

 

Her good sister had been making light conversation with her all morning, and Sansa had only been half paying attention to her. She had been lost in thought, wondering what she could do to make the most of the time she was spending here. She thought of the only other queens she had ever known and how cruel Robert’s had been and how snide the queen of thorns was. They were both twisted and ugly.

 

As frightened as she was for her brothers, her sister, and her mother, she knew that she could not even whisper the words that her heart mentioned to her.

 

Why had this girl married her brother? She could not shake the feeling that there was more to it than them falling in love while she tended to him after he took an arrow in his shoulder.

 

“My queen.” She met the eyes of the other girl. It all seemed so clear to her in that moment. “You grew up in the west. Did you ever sit in court at Casterly Rock?”

 

“Oh yes, Princess.”

 

Sansa listened quietly as Jeyne described the beauty and wealth of Casterly Rock, and what Lord Tywin was like as he dispensed justice to his vassals and to the small folk who came to him. She spoke of different gifts brought to honor the Old Lion, always what he was owed. She mentioned briefly how her father had sought once to have her married into the Lannister family to Tywin’s nephew, Ser Lancel.

 

“You know that Lord Tywin has asked for my hand in marriage.” Sansa worked delicately on a golden lion staring at a little gray wolf with blue eyes. “Did you ever see someone refuse Lord Tywin?”

 

Jeyne’s eyes widened a bit. No doubt she was recalling the stories of the Reynes and the Tarbecks. She knew them well. She grew up with those stories and hearing the Lannister song. She knew better than to defy him, and she knew why not to challenge him.

 

“I stood in front of him and protected you.” Sansa smiled warmly at the other girl, reaching over to take her hand in comfort. “I was your shield. Did you hear him so much as raise his voice to me?”

 

Jeyne shook her head.

 

“The Reynes and the Tarbecks refused him. They had armies, too. He annihilated them for their rebellion.”

 

She let the threat hang in the air, hating herself the smallest bit for using Tywin Lannister’s name this way. He would surely prefer this to her saying that he had been kind to her. Who would believe her if she said that? All King’s Landing knew what a horrible liar she was. She was lucky and should thank the gods that she did not need to lie to her brother’s wife to encourage her.

 

“What will he do to the Starks if he is refused?”

 

Sansa let them linger in silence for a few minutes, letting her good sister realize what her name was. She did not tell the girl from the Westerlands that they would likely be the only survivors. She did not say that she would still end up married to the lion. She doubted that that detail would matter much to Jeyne, knowing that her husband would die. Jeyne loved Robb. It had been obvious when she had seen the queen of the North leaning into his arm and kissing him once they passed through the gates while she had been embracing her other brother.

 

“You are a queen. You love your king and your husband. Be a queen, and counsel your king with what you know. I stood up for you. I protected you from Lord Tywin, and I am unscathed. Who can protect you from the wrath of the Great Lion when he is wide awake and angered? Who can protect your husband?”

 

She left out the rest. She did not need to say it. She had made her point, and she could see that Jeyne was realizing that there was one option to live. Only one option.

 

“Help me save our family.”

 

H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R. D~E~F~E~N~D~T~H~E~K~I~N~G. H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R.

 

Jaime tugged on his golden armor and white cloak, leaving off only his helmet as he mounted a shining white destrier. He was not riding into battle. He was riding to make peace. His helm was unnecessary. Tyrion rode next to him on a small, grey spotted palfrey. They both urged their horses forward slowly past the line at the edge of the war camp.

 

“I wonder how our soon-to-be lady grandmother will greet us. Lady Catelyn has long wished me dead for imagined slights. Are you her favorite grandson? If so, I’ll need your guidance to please her.”

 

Jaime snorted lightly at this, feeling more than an edge of trepidation. Without his sword hand, he was more vulnerable than his brother. He was the son his father would want back. He was the sensible choice to take captive behind the castle walls. He would not be able to defend himself against his squire, though he wore a sword at his hip.

 

Humor was all his brother had ever had, growing up with a father who so deeply loathed him for what he could never have changed. Tyrion did not choose to kill his mother, and his father could not control it. He could not save his wife, and Tyrion had been blamed for it. His father had not recovered easily from Lady Joanna’s death, and Jaime was still unsure if he ever had.

 

The moment he saw his father regain the control that always so impressed Jaime was a moment he had never forgotten. His father had stood in the Sunset Sea with the newborn babe in his arms as icy winter air whipped up around them. The terror of losing his father and his mother and his brother all in one day had shaken Jaime in his very core. His father had looked so ready to throw himself and the baby into the waves to be washed away. Jaime had raced into the water up to his waist and flung himself onto his father’s waist, screaming. He shoved against his father with all the strength he had and might as well have been pushing against one of the cliffs. When he had been unable to push him back, he pressed himself to his father’s stomach, holding him with all the love he had in his heart. He begged the proud man not to die, that he still needed him. He remembered hearing his father’s heartbeat as he squeezed him and wiping his eyes against his tunic. It was the closest to an embrace that they had ever shared.

 

His father never acknowledged him, and they had never spoken of it afterwards. But somehow, Jaime had turned his father that day. Lord Tywin had gripped his shoulder and directed him out of the water. They walked back up to the Rock with no words passing between them. Jaime had shivered and sniffled, keeping his fingers twisted in his father’s sleeve, afraid he would leave if Jaime could not feel his warmth. For some reason, his father had allowed it as they climbed the steps. He thrust Tyrion into the wetnurse’s arms with orders to keep the demon monkey away from him, but that if anything happened to him, she was responsible. He was a Lannister.

 

“You were treated to a sky cell in the Eyrie. That sounds like a delight compared to the cage I was given, chained to a pole in my own shit. You had a giant window and pissed off the edge of the world. She bludgeoned me with a rock when I upset her once. You must be her favorite soon-to-be grandson.”

 

Jaime almost quipped that he might be their soon-to-be uncle’s favorite. Robb Stark frequently showed off how well trained his beastly direwolf was to Jaime. In fact, more than once, he thought the creature would eat him. He bit back the words. It would not do to be in too much of a joking mood around the Starks. They had terrible senses of humor, especially the bastard, and he sat beside his kingly brother now.

 

“Why are we doing this again?”

 

“Father commanded it,” Jaime said, letting only his pupils glance up at the archers peeking between the merlons on Riverrun’s walls.

 

“And we mustn’t disappoint father, must we?”

 

Jaime pursed his lips at this. If Father had commanded them to refuse Princess Sansa’s invitation, he would have been more tempted to go. He was not going for the realm, for peace, of for any reason he could quite fathom in his heart. He was unsure if he was going more for himself or for Princess Sansa or his father. She was like someone from a song, and it would be nice to be around her more. She made him feel, for the first time in ages, like he was not lost, and all she had needed were a few words and to take his arm to lead him truly.

 

He did not know what had compelled him to tell her the truth when they stood together in the middle of the feud between their families. She believed something, something good about him. He never expected her to ask such a question. No one ever had cared, the Starks least of all. He wanted people to know that he was more than what they called him, that he was a knight different than all the others. They could call him whatever they wanted, and he would never show them how much it bothered him. The Lion does not concern himself with the opinions of the sheep. He was not ashamed of what he had done, but their words—how little he had known he would become looking into the faces of his father’s men—made him ache no matter how he tried to hide it.

 

They could refuse to ask thereby refusing to know the truth. The words still haunted him, the king telling him to bring him Lord Tywin’s head, and the look and smell as the mad man shit himself when Jaime told him the blood on his sword was Rossart’s, not Tywin’s, often returned to haunt him in the night. He had chosen his father’s life over obey the king. He had chosen defend the people instead of obey the king. He was not without honor. He had not broken every vow he ever took, no matter what every self-righteous peasant or self-important northern or southron lord chose to believe.

 

Then a young woman he knew to have been brutally treated by Lannisters asked him what he wanted, and he told her, a little bit of honor. She told him he could have it for a bargain. She promised to help him have some that day if he wished for it. He remembered looking at his stump and scoffing, the pain of the loss of limb still so fresh, as he told her that his bloody honor was beyond repair.

 

The bold way she had raised her chin at that moment, stepped forward to take his injured limb. It had shocked all the pain of his loss from him as he wondered what she was doing. She looked into his face and told him what little she had likely been given by his father, that her mother released him so he would return her daughters safely to her. He may have been recaptured, but fifty paces was the price for a little honor to be restored to him in front of thousands of witnesses. She would take his arm, let him escort her.

 

When he had given Tyrion a confused look, his younger brother had shrugged, offering no witty advice about what he should do next. Had he not known the girl would make the offer? If he proved nothing of honor to anyone, fifty paces had still given him the pleasure of seeing the furious look on the Young Wolf’s face as his sister walking sweetly with her hand tucked on his arm. Then the lady had thanked him and complimented his honor in front of all the Northern lords, her mother and kingly brother looked ready to strangle the life out of him together, but she had been the only person he had truly had interest in understanding.

 

The Hound had also gotten his with that little maneuver. The man had given a full fledged snarl when she said that she looked forward to the time when they could resume their conversation. Then he kissed her pretty white hand, watching the gargantuan mutt almost draw his sword to be stopped with a single look from a red-haired maid of six and ten. That and the way Lady Stark’s face had flushed with rage had given him his first true satisfaction in so many moon turns.

 

He stared up at the walls that had held him prisoner not so long ago. Less than three days of freedom and he was flouncing back into the wolves’ woods.

 

“This is insane.”

 

“I’ve read that Riverrun has dungeons that can be slowly filled with water till just inches of air is left in which to draw breath.”

 

Of course, Tyrion would have read that and choose now to share such a morbid fact to reassure his brother.

 

“Sounds like half the fun of tumbling from a sky cell.”

 

The men guarding the castle walls and watching them approach gripped their weapons more firmly. Jaime almost laughed at them. The noseless dwarf and the handless Lord Commander of the Kingsguard must be so frightening. This was how Lord Tywin Lannister, who made rains weep over empty halls, would destroy the ancient Riverlords. He sent his crippled sons through the castle gates when it housed five hundred men at arms and contained the woman he wanted as his bride. If he was a whole man, their battle would rival any of the best stories of Ser Duncan the Tall or Aemon the Dragonknight. The tapestry that told the story would be of damn near the same cloth as Ser Barristan’s rescue of King Aerys from the dungeons of Duskendale.

 

As the drawbridge lowered, Jaime’s nerves increased ten fold. The horses’ hooves clomped dully on the wood and through the gate into the stone courtyard. Only the Hound stood there waiting for them, tall and imposing as ever. A finely sewn tunic hung over his broad chest, bearing the snarling direwolf of House Stark.

 

Jaime cast a look toward his brother as they followed Clegane toward the castle’s great hall. As he entered the room, his nerves lit as though they had been doused with wildfire. It was almost a nightmare made real, not that he would admit it or show it to anyone. He had what limited protection his sword now offered, and he was no longer shackled to a post with his face at a convenient biting level, but now there were two wolves laying at the feet of the Starks. His grandfather had kept lions beneath Casterly Rocks, but not as pets at his command.

 

Robb Stark sat on a raised dais at the front of Riverrun’s great hall with his monstrous direwolf at his feet. To his right were his uncles, Lord Edmure Tully and the Blackfish. To his left sat the bastard of House Stark first, then Sansa, the younger Stark girl, and last dear Lady Catelyn, once intended as his good sister. How different things might look now if that had happened. Another direwolf eased around the bastard boy, receiving a pat on the head. The giant white one the princess had called Ghost as they were returned to their families blinked his creepy red eyes at them.

 

A silver crown fashioned of running wolves decorated the head of the king, and he leaned back in his large throne, eyes cold and watching them both with an ugly hatred.

 

“I see you’ve missed our hospitality, Kingslayer.” The boy’s cold northern accent and the soft snarl from his wolf yanked a smart remark from his brother’s mouth.

 

“I see you’ve failed to learn a king’s courtesy just as spectacularly as you did a lord’s.”

 

It was only the expression of hurt on Sansa’s face that stilled Jaime’s tongue as he waited to see what would happen next. Whatever else was in the girl that Lord Tywin wanted, Jaime knew he was ready to see it.

 

W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G. F~I~R~E~A~N~D~B~L~O~O~D. W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G.

 

Jon watched the exchange with a set jaw. His brother should not have spoken as he had. His sister should not have invited Lannisters to the castle without her king’s permission, but it was done before a stop could be put to it. She was trying to help them find peace, if peace could be found, and Robb would not have given his permission if she had asked. If she was known to have defied him, it would have looked bad for Robb after all the trouble he took to have her returned. Peace needed to be had and quickly. The North needed its men back to help when winter arrived, and it was coming for them all.

 

Whatever mistakes had been made, all that mattered now was that they begin listening to each other. Sansa had the right of it. Winter was coming. He had seen what was out there waiting for them beyond the Wall. They should not be doing the Night King’s work for him. They would need every living man they had to fight this off.

 

“Lord Tywin has some very interesting peace proposal terms.”

 

Jon cut his eyes to his brother to see Robb watching the Lannisters quietly at the conclusion of this statement. Sansa reached out, placing a hand on his arm. She was putting a good amount of trust in him, and the last thing he wanted was to let her down.

 

“Why does he want to marry my sister?”

 

“He’s a mean, old man.” Arya’s voice was as stern as her king’s.

 

“Arya Stark, that’s no way for a lady to speak.”

 

As Lady Catelyn took her youngest remaining child from the room, Jon reached a hand over to cover Sansa’s. Sansa was the only one who did not seem disturbed by Lord Tywin asking for her to be his wife. She had said nothing against the proposal at all. They were now clenching the fabric of her dress so tightly that her normal porcelain complexion turned nearly snowy on her knuckles.

 

“I knew I liked her.” Tyrion smiled after Arya. “Not one to mince words, and quite honest. Her assessment is fair, though she forgot to mention greedy.”

 

“Tyrion.” Ser Jaime shook his head a little.

 

Jon looked between the brothers, speaking quickly before there could be any more arguing or insults. That was not why they were here. They were here to talk peace, a true and lasting one, if the gods were good.

 

“If Lord Tywin wants to speak peace, why has he not come himself?”

 

“For the same reason you have not journeyed into his war camp to treat with him, Your Grace. Hard fought battles make would-be friends suspicious of each other.” Tyrion spoke as courteously to him as he had ever spoken to Jon, even when reprimanding him and telling him that he would not make friends if he insisted upon keeping his attitude at the wall, a lesson Uncle Benjen had not been able to teach so easily.

 

Robb straightened visibly at this form of address. His eyes slid to Jon’s and then to his Uncle Edmure.

 

“I would still like an answer to Jon’s question, King—”

 

“Ser Jaime.”

 

All eyes turned to Sansa as she interrupted Robb. She had spoken loudly enough to be heard over her king, and she rarely spoke out of turn. It was not in keeping with her courtesies. Jon rubbed a thumb back and forth over her hand to sooth her. She did not enjoy hearing Ser Jaime Lannister called names anymore than she cared for some of the more colorful names people had used when referring to her sword shield. She had been quick to correct them, sometimes even reminding them in her gentle way that their enmity and refusal to properly call a man by his name and earned title was to end and the continued harshness would only further drive them apart.

 

“Ser Jaime—” Jon agreed, clutching her hand, trying not to remember his first thoughts of how this man looked like everything a king should be. Then their exchange about the Night’s Watch, how irreverent he had been.

 

“Noticed you haven’t called me Oathbreaker, Stark. I suppose it lost its sting the moment it began applying to both of us.”

 

“Jaime.” Tyrion’s voice cut through the room, stopping whatever foolish thought might spew next from his older brother’s mouth.

 

“Kingslayer.” The softness of Sansa’s voice could barely be heard. She put her hand over her face to hide her feelings.

 

“My Lady—” The blond knight took a step toward Snasa as though to comfort her. “I have a whole kingdom who knows me. It’s nothing. My apologies if I upset you. It wasn’t my intention.”

 

“No, Ser. It’s not nothing. What a king he was. He burned our grandfather alive, and he strangled our uncle. Mayhaps we should thank Ser Jaime for sparing another family the fate that ours suffered.”

 

“He took sacred vows to protect and obey the king, and he served well while serving was safe. While our grandfather burned and our uncle was strangled, he just stood there.” Robb spoke coldly and calmly the words that their father had told them once.

 

“Where’s your Frey wife? Did you not swear to wed one of Walder Frey’s homely brood? I’d watch your back. He doesn’t care for being insulted.”

 

Robb sat back with a violently scarlet face, scowling at Jaime.

 

“Jaime!” Lord Tyrion shook his head, looking up at Jon and then Sansa.

 

“A hundred people.” They all turned to Sansa as she spoke. “One hundred people just stood in the gallery when King Joffrey Baratheon, first of his name, ordered his Kingsguard to beat a helpless, unarmed lady for the victories that her brother was winning over his grandfather and uncles.” Sansa rose gracefully and walked down the small set of three stairs to stand in front of Lord Tyrion and the knight dressed in gold and white. “Only Sandor Clegane and Lord Tyrion said or did anything to stop it.”

 

“Sansa.” Jon jumped the steps to take his gentle sister in his arms protectively. He would do everything in his power to see that she did not go to people who would mistreat her, even if it meant staying at her side.

 

Sansa allowed the embrace, briefly hiding her face in his shoulder before pulling back with the strange false smile taking over her face.

 

“Thank you, Lord Tyrion, for protecting my sister. You’re a good friend to our family. The North will always remember your kindness.”

 

“Surely, we can find things upon which we agree. We must focus on the lives we can save instead of the lives we have lost.” Tyrion spoke calmly, looking up at Jon and Sansa.

 

That was when the names began spilling from Sansa’s lips like beads from broken necklace. Names of northerners who had come south with their family. Names of soldiers, where they were from in the Westerlands, what they enjoyed or what their dreams had been before the war.

 

“Princess, I assure you we’ll do all we can.” Tyrion bowed to her as best he was able.

 

“Ser Jaime, perhaps you and I might share refreshments outside he castle walls. The weather is quite lovely today.”

 

Sansa withdrew from Jon’s arms and smiled gently at the leader of the men she said had beaten her in open court. How she still found the ability to hold her courtesies and gentility astounded Jon.

 

“Perhaps those who have been captives so long are best excused from these matters. I dare say we might find matters worthy of conversation amongst ourselves.”

 

H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R. T~A~L~L~A~S~A~K~I~N~G. H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R.

 

Tyrion nodded. It was an excellent idea. King Robb and Jaime were not prepared to set aside the contentious, needling relationship they had built over the time that Jaime had spent in chains. If there was to be peace, and peace would benefit the realm, it would be more easily attained if discussed by calm minds. Princess Sansa had the right of it, taking Jaime away with her.

 

Jon Snow bid him a kind goodbye, extending his hopes that negotiations would go favorably. Tyrion gave his brother a sharp look to tell him to behave around Jon and the princess. Jon was a friend of sorts, and their father had clearly developed some strange bond with the young lady. Tyrion had often been sent from her presence like some worthless cur, yet the Hound was allowed to stay with apparently little conversation passing between the princess and his father. Admittedly, after her little show in front of the soldiers, there was little his father could do about Clegane other than allow the princess to parade about with his leash in hand.

 

It was incredible that the man had not dragged her before a septon and forced her to wed him after that stunt. Jealousy and possessiveness were the emotions extended to Sansa Stark, and maybe more. She could have easily been taken captive by the brutish man, but instead, he was the one following her.

 

“Lord Tyrion, please join us.” King Robb offered him the chair that his brother had just vacated.

 

He climbed the stairs, and he waddled around the table, pulling himself up into it.

 

“Would you care for some wine, my Lord?”

 

Robb Stark’s great wolf prowled over to him and sniffed his face before pulling back, snorting and curling around the king’s chair where he could stare at Tyrion.

 

“Thank you. You’re quite generous, Your Grace.”

 

Lord Tully poured him a large cup, and he took several deep swallows after it was passed to him. Why his father sent him might forever remain a mystery, unless he was hoping that Robb Stark would feed him to a direwolf as a snack. Then Tywin Lannister would have all the excuse he needed to bring down a third ancient castle.

 

“You have me at a disadvantage, Your Grace. You know what the crown wants in return for peace, but we’ve no idea what you desire.”

 

It was not entirely true, but it was polite. It offered a small comfort to the boy at least, pointing out that he had the advantage at this moment, even if that was only because Tywin Lannister allowed him to think that.

 

“We sent a list of our requirements for peace to the crown some time back.”

 

Tyrion nodded. He had some idea of what the boy was after, though circumstances had changed after he witnessed Cersei’s excellent paper tearing abilities. He had made sure that the letter was copied and sent on to his father.

 

“During my service as Hand of the King in my father’s stead, I recall receiving a letter listing the concessions you desired of the crown in return for the cessation of violence against the South. No small number of those have already been performed.”

 

The boy had his sisters back. The bones of his father had been sent to Lady Catelyn, and those of the rest of the northmen had been sent north. All that remained was renouncing their claim on the North and swearing that Joffrey and his men would never set foot there again.

 

King Robb tapped his finger against the table, and he looked to be considering what to say next. It was indeed a conundrum. He was being offered a kingdom for a princess, but he doubtlessly had many men from families who served him well in this war who also wanted princesses. They were not to be ignored lightly. The truth that Tyrion must convince him of was that Lord Tywin offered the best value for her.

 

“I’m grateful for the return of my father’s remains and those of my countrymen. Their families will have the comfort of giving them proper burials. Seeing my sisters has brought me joy I never thought I would feel again.”

 

Tyrion took a gulp of wine to hold in his comment. The boy who could so quickly be recognized as King in the North by the wolf crown looked overwhelmed by his joy. The way his hands crossed and linked mixed with the hard set of his jaw and his narrowed eyes reminded Tyrion of the way his father looked when he arrived with his clansmen to the Lannister war camp, furious over disappointed hopes to find that Tyrion had escaped his imprisonment alive.

 

“Why does your father wish to wed my sister? Has she not suffered enough at the hands of the Lannisters?”

 

The message that Robb did not speak was clear to Tyrion. He understood that his sister had suffered daily in King’s Landing following the death of Lord Stark. Any person in King’s Landing could have told the tale of Sansa and what she had suffered. Tyrion would not attempt to deny it. He would not repeat the great lie. Robb Stark knew better.

 

Lord Stannis had made sure every house in Westeros knew the ugly truth about his older siblings and their bastard offspring. He would not say that Joffrey was a Baratheon. Joffrey was his mother’s son, through and through, with a dash more reckless madness and cruelty than she had yet shown.

 

“Not every Lannister has done harm to your dear sister. More than one wishes to help her, particularly now that her situation has become such as it is. Now that she has attracted attention from the Warden of the West. He offers you much for her.”

 

That was well and true. Jaime and Uncle Kevan might wish more to help his father. Helping Sansa was simply the means to help Lord Tywin. Tyrion wished to help all cripples, bastards, and broken things. Sansa was certainly broken to an extent, cracked and one small step away from shattering. His father seemed to have helped her in some strange way, but if he was refused the wife he asked for, he would break the only Stark who would remain alive to pay that debt. Sansa Stark might never recover from that blow. He did not want to see her hurt worse, not when he had seen a hint of a smile on her face at times when he saw her walking with the nastiest man in Westeros.

 

“Her marrying a man old enough to be her grandfather helps her how?”

 

Tyrion pinched his lips together at the boy’s question. That was more Princess Sansa helping her family. However, King Robb would not appreciate the sentiment that he needed the help after half his army deserted him, following an untimely execution.

 

“Your Grace, this may be his cleverest moment since the beginning of the war.” The Blackfish leaned over and whispered some words in his great-nephew’s ear, and the boy nodded.

 

Getting men to fight could be a tricky business, and King Robb had made one too many mistakes to keep the Freys and the Karstarks with him. Still criticizing his marriage and his justice were not the way to get the boy to listen to persuasion and reason. No man appreciated having his mistakes publicly recognized. It would only put the finishing touches on his statue down in the crypts of Winterfell. Tyrion hoped to help the boy escape that fate. Robb Stark was not a bad man. He was a boy who found himself unexpectedly supposed to do far more than a young man his age should.

 

“Will he help her the way the Kingslayer helped my brother Bran? According to my mother, he confessed to throwing him from the broken tower because he hoped the fall would kill him.”

 

And Lady Catelyn had still set Jaime free. She had helped bring doom upon her son as much as he had done to himself. They should have allied themselves with Renly and the Reach. Though if the truth was half as strange as the rumor of Lord Renly’s death, the North could have done nothing to save that king. Still Robb might have been able to marry Margaery Tyrell—Tyrion stopped that train of thought. Speculation on what might have been was pointless. They had to solve their problems based on how things currently stood, not on what might have been.

 

Tyrion sucked down another few gulps of wine, and Lord Edmure refilled his goblet.

 

“Thank you, my Lord.” As generous as the soon to be lord of Riverrun was proving himself, it would be better to discuss some matters privately and with rather less wine dulling his senses. “Lord Tywin Lannister gave your sister guards loyal to him and his orders to protect her. The man who did attempt to harm her was relieved of his hands and, shortly after, his head. She was moved closer to him where all incidences of her suffering came to as sudden of a stop as a man at the end of a noose.”

 

“So he’s her knight in shining armor?” The Blackfish asked in a cool tone of voice. “Because he made sure she was treated as she always should have been.”

 

“My father was knighted in the War of the Nine Penny Kings, Ser.” Tyrion said, offering the bit of history. No one would be fool enough to call his father their knight, and he would not betray Sansa by telling her family that he doubted her taste for knights remained what it once had been. “I daresay, and it’s only a guess. He wants to marry her to ensure peace between our families through procreation. He intends no harm to ever come to her, and if she becomes a Lannister—well, you saw how my father reacted when the lowest of the Lannisters was treated poorly, and she’ll be his wife. No man has ever accused my father of treating his wife badly. You’d have to ask witnesses other than myself about that, but there are plenty of Westermen available to ask, plenty of Lannisters to ask, too.”

 

“So he wants my sister as a special kind of hostage, the kind he gets to—”

 

Tyrion pinched his lips together, letting the boy carry on his little tirade. Interrupting the king would get him no where nearly as quickly as would letting him spew up all the pent up vitriol about Lord Lannister he was desperate to share. Better to let him get it out now, instead of spouting it out to his father. His father would not take well to someone insinuating that he was a degenerate old man wanting nothing more than a young woman’s warm presence in his bed. Given his reaction to anyone bringing up Lord Tytos Lannister’s mistress, poorly, especially if they knew the fate of that woman.

 

Other than the age difference, there were few commonalities in the situation. Lord Tywin wanted to marry a highborn maid of an ancient house, suitable to be Lady of the Rock. Lord Tywin wanted a meaningful alliance, not just a warm place to put his cock to keep it warm at night. Lord Tywin surely wanted plenty more, but much of it was contingent upon unlikely chains of events. Mayhaps none would come to pass, and that was what he needed to convince Robb Stark to believe.

 

Once the boy was done, he slumped back, looking as irritable as he had when Tyrion had stopped at Winterfell to break his journey back to King’s Landing after seeing the Wall.

 

“He’s not asking for a hostage, Your Grace.” Tyrion took a cautious sip of wine as he watched Robb’s eyes narrow angrily before tilting his head and offering an ugly smile to the king. “He’s asking you to be uncle to the future Warden of the West.”

 

The words made Tyrion bitter, but he did his best to hide it. His father had already sworn that Tyrion would never have the castle. The best he could hope for was that he would be able to endear himself to his younger brother in hopes that Sansa’s son would be good to him. He felt certain that she, at least, would never allow him to be turned out of the castle. She would raise her children to be good and kind lords and ladies who loved their siblings. Together, she and his father would have a good chance to raise a man who would be loved and respected by all the lords of Westeros.

 

Tyrion had to fight the urge to grin as he watched a myriad of emotions and understanding twisting their way around the Young Wolf’s face as he began contemplating the possibilities of what Tyrion had just said. It was as good a reward as his father would ever give him. Robb Stark was now using his brain to consider the possibilities of an alliance with the Lannisters.

 

“My father is an old man, as you have noticed and been good enough to point out. You have the opportunity to wield influence over the wealthiest and most powerful family in the south. Who can say how much influence he may in time have over other southron powers?” Let the boy mull that over. Joffrey was a horrible king, and when he angered the Tyrells, Lady Olenna would end him without any man being the wiser for it. “Think about what you want, what will benefit your kingdom and people. Much is negotiable. Good compromises are those where both parties must accept things that make them unhappy—even when one is Lord Tywin.”

 

Tyrion almost felt triumphant. When peace was established and his father was wed to a princess, the man would owe him a sizable debt for all his work to get him something he clearly wanted. The soft, tender look that he had been seeing on his father’s face so often when he was with Sansa told a story. She had somehow worked her fingers into the Great Lion’s mane to lead him gently. The look on his father’s face when he left her once was like none he had ever seen before on the man. He appeared almost relaxed, almost content.

 

“I’ll need time to speak with my advisors, Lord Tyrion. This matter requires consideration.”

 

“Lord Tywin will understand that, but I caution you not to test the patience of a man who wishes to be wed.”

 

Robb Stark nodded as Tyrion waddled from the high table.

 

“Jon speaks very highly of you. He tells me that Sansa has spoken highly of you as well. You helped Bran reclaim a small piece of himself even after I failed to treat you as I should have. You have my apologies for that, and an invitation to come to Winterfell if ever you find yourself in need of a king's favor. The North remembers. Should I call upon you for your knowledge in matters of the south, may I depend upon you in the coming days?”

 

Tyrion nodded his head and bowed. As he turned away, he could not help wondering what that meant. Robb Stark was practically asking him for advice. Life was indeed becoming very interesting, far more interesting than it would have been if it had all ended by being thrown out the moon door or rolling out his sky cell or being killed by the mountain clansmen. More interesting than he had ever thought it would be.

 

Chapter Text

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 drummed his fingers on the table as the boy was brought before him. He had been thinking of the best way to handle this situation since he learned the identity of the boy who had kidnapped the northern queen.

 

Tywin Frey’s lip stuck out petulantly, this grandson of his sister who had been named no doubt with the intention of plying his uncle for favors. There was no end to the number of Walder and Walda Freys named no doubt with the intention of doing the same to the Lord of the Crossing. This boy had grown up in Casterly Rock, schooled beside his cousins Willem, Martin, and Lancel, and he was a complete fool.

 

“I was only thinking of pleasing you and serving you, Lord Uncle.”

 

The boy chattered on, bouncing a bit on the balls of his feet as he looked around. Every word he spouted proved the stupidity inherent in the Frey bloodline. The only thing that would save this Frey was that his grandmother was the sister of the Lord of Casterly Rock.

 

King Robb was sure to demand the head of the traitor who dared kidnap his queen. He was right to do so. How his nephew had even managed to slip under the Young Wolf’s nose without being sniffed out was something of a minor miracle and one that would only anger the Starks further. There was still hope for him as long as he shut his mouth and listened to what he was told. He had probably only been considering in the lowest and swiftest way how to get even with the Starks for slighting the Freys and killing his father.

 

“You weren’t thinking when you took Queen Jeyne hostage.”

 

The boy needed to understand the enormity of his foolishness if it was possible to impress it upon him with anything less than a red hot branding iron or a hundred lashes to his back.

 

“Uncle, please. You’re not going to give me back to those savages. I’ll be fed to the wolf. They’ll chop my head off.” He started snotting and sniveling. He had done something stupid, and there were consequences for stupidity at his level.

 

“Shut your mouth.”

 

The boy was barely twelve. That could surely help his case with the northerners. He could swear to never enter the North again, and he could sing the pretty little song his great uncle told him to to save his life.

 

“You’ll listen and learn this story, and when you are brought before King Robb to answer for your foolishness, you’ll sing this as prettily as you have ever heard the bards sing The Reynes of Castamere. Do you understand?”

 

Ty nodded, wiping his tears away with his sleeve. When he had calmed and sat himself in front of his uncle, Tywin began the tale the boy would tell. He would bring him here every day to repeat it until the boy believed it to be true himself.

 

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 sat facing Lord Tywin’s camp at the table she had been allowed to place between the walls of Riverrun and the war camp surrounding it. She had a nearly direct line of sight down a row to his command tent, just as she had requested when the picnic was being arranged.

 

She dismissed all the servants with gentle gratitude and smiles as soon as they finished setting the table. She would not have their conversation heard by anyone and reported to either side. The only way to be certain that no one was spying on them was to be where they could see everything around them and keep their voices low. Sandor could be sent to fetch a servant if needs be, and he was more than sufficient protection against the crippled Lord Commander. Ser Jaime was not going to hurt her anymore than she intended to hurt him.

 

She stared toward Tywin’s tent. It would be nice to see the man, if he could see her, understand the message of her being here.

 

“He won’t be coming, Princess.” She jerked at the soft words of the once proud knight. The arrogance that she remembered from her father’s tourney was gone. The man who blew a kiss to a woman in the commons before being unhorsed by her sworn shield tilted his head to the side as he looked sadly at her. “It isn’t about wanting to be here. You have to know that, Princess.”

 

Sansa knew that he was not able to come because of his pride. He could not come to a woman, not this way, not without an understanding that she was to be his wife, given to him by the king of the North. All, she could hope was that he wanted to be there with her. She had begun to think that he enjoyed her company as much as he was capable of enjoying anything. Still, she had chosen to have their picnic here to show him something, but he would not get the message if he refused to come out of his tent and look. He needed to see that she was not so very far away. She was not out of his reach, and she was not lost. She wanted him to know that she would be with him soon, that she was safe, but he could see nothing if he refused to look.

 

It was the next thought that made her jerk a bit and watch for him, straightening up stiffly.

 

“I know. I just want to see him, to let him know that all will be well.” She looked over at Tywin Lannister’s oldest son before she speaking again. “Will you tell him for me?”

 

She would not say that she mostly wanted to know what he was doing. If he was plotting, she would ask him to stop. If he was preparing to fight, she would ask him to sheath his sword. If he was cold, she would ask to hold him until he was warm.

 

“My lord father is—”

 

Ser Jaime paused, putting the roasted chicken leg he had been eating back on his plate. Sansa was glad that he was eating without difficulty. She had asked for a number of foods particularly with his loss of hand in mind. She did not wish to watch a man with the pride Ser Jaime had always possessed to be brought low in the presence of a young woman who was such a stranger to him by being unable to feed himself.

 

“My father is the same as ever.”

 

Sansa’s face fell at the disheartened look on the blond man’s face. Had Tywin embraced the son that he had spent so many moons seeking to free? Had he told Ser Jaime that he loved him dearly, how relieved he was to have him back? Did Ser Jaime not see his father’s heart? How could he not see how much his father cherished him?

 

Tywin Lannister had not been himself when they broke their last fast together. He was a man whose silence was seldom difficult for her to bear. He was always calm as a frozen lake, but that morning, when she joined him, she found him frightening in a nearly sinister way. For the first time, she understood why Jeyne had been in tears when she was brought before the Great Lion.

 

A young wolf’s carcass had been on table with Tywin Lannister’s hands thrust into its belly. He yanked out the guts and dropped them in a bucket beside him. Then he calmly set to the task of cutting away the soft fur from its now emptied belly.

 

Her sucked in gasp had alerted him, and he wiped his hands. Tears had filled her eyes as she covered her mouth and nose to avoid the stench. All she had been able to think of was the destruction this man had brought on rebelling houses when he had been her brother’s age, the actions that inspired his friend to name him his hand. He approached her quietly after setting his knife aside, and he offered a softly worded explanation that a pack of wolves had been worrying the soldiers and horses that morning. They had to be killed for the greater good. He led her away, speaking quietly about what she might expect during the exchange of family members that day with an arm wrapped around her waist. All she had been able to think was that it was a horribly ill omen at best, and a threat at worst.

 

“How is he?”

 

The Lord Commander of the Kingsguard gazed at her like she was some beautiful bird in a cage, one that had been purchased only to chirp sweetly for its master. Her song was sweet and gentle, and he enjoyed the tune. But she sang songs of the Summer Isles, and he did not know the language. Was it so difficult for him to fathom that someone might feel concern for his father?

 

Lord Tywin was not a man who inspired tender feelings, but surely, she was not the only person who cared for him. The horror on Ser Jaime’s face when he spoke of the king asking him to kill his father told the story of a son who loved his father. When Ser Kevan learned that his son was gone, his brother was the first person for whom he had reached. He loved his brother. Queen Cersei, almost the moment her husband died, named him Hand of the King and wanted him with her and her children. She believed that he would do all he could to defend his family, if nothing else.

 

“I’ve seldom been privileged with knowing what my father feels, Princess. I wish I could give you better information. I’ll take any message to him that you like.”

 

Sansa placed her hands in her lap. There were a hundred and one things she would like to ask Lord Tywin, and that proud lord could grant any of them if he was of a mind and heart to do so. Most of them she did not feel comfortable asking another to convey. The garbling would be unintentional, but if she made a misstep with her words and that got to him, there would be little way to help him feel what she had intended. She would have little ability to change the course of her charge with her feet fallen from the stirrups and the reins out of her hands.

 

Asking for his patience had not been worded as well as it could. She had known it the moment the words were out, but there had been no way to explain what she intended that she could find. Telling him that what he determined to be fate was not harmed by being delayed had left him cold, and she had offered him nothing in return for what she was asking. She did not know what she had to offer that he was not already determined to take, by force if necessary. He may even have believed that she thought being parted from him was preferable. It was difficult to know. She meant they would have the rest of their lives together, and her time with her siblings and mother was less.

 

She did not know what message she could ask him to convey, but she did know something she could tell him that he might not know.

 

“He loves you very much, Ser Jaime, more than he can ever say. I’m certain that he doesn’t tell you, but I sat close to him for many moons, watching him do all in his power to rescue you. His pain and concern that you might be taken from him forever were very real, too much for any man to completely hide. You have been the most important thing on his mind, my Lord, and he was also ruling a kingdom and negotiating peace with two warring parties. You were always first in all things.”

 

She did not have the heart to ask if he knew what her brother had done to get her back, if he had done anything at all. She did not want to know. Their situations were not the same, not really. Her father had sacrificed himself for her. Sadness twisted her as she thought of what Ser Jaime had done for his brother, abandoning his duty to the king and riding off to rescue him. Why could Robb not have done the same for his sister? She knew that he could not have come screaming into King’s Landing. He would have ended up the same as her father, the same as their grandfather and their uncle. She knew this, but it did not make it hurt less, all that time she spent wondering if Robb had abandoned her.

 

Ser Jaime looked away from her, pouring a glass of wine. He stared at the table as though shamed by something. His emerald eyes flicked toward the war camp before dropping as he took several deep breaths.

 

“I have shamed my father deeply, almost every day of my life, I think. I—” He looked toward the camp, appearing for all the world like a little boy who wanted to begin confessing crimes to her. “If he knew—if—”

 

Sansa reached out and placed her hand over his gently. It did not matter what he had done, what was so terrible, and she had heard all the rumors. If they were true, and she felt certain that they were, it would never take Tywin’s love from his children. Ser Jaime choked back a noise, looking ready to collapse for a moment.

 

“Nothing you do will ever make your father stop loving you. Nothing. It wasn’t long after I was staying with him in the Tower of the Hand that I went down to thank him for providing me with some thread and fabric for embroidery.” Ser Jaime’s quirked eyebrow made her nod. “I didn’t know him so well then as I do now. I was stopped when I found him in his solar, staring at the fire. He was hunched over, whispering the same thing to himself over and over. They have my son. He was so terrified that he would lose you. He would never forgive himself if that happened.”

 

“It’s too late for me.”

 

“It’s never too late to change and do something different, Lord Commander. Two days ago, seven kingdoms would say that Ser Jaime Lannister was a man unwilling to keep his word. You proved every man, woman, and child in them wrong. You kept your word by delivering a girl you barely knew back to her mother as you promised.”

 

“Who are you?” His green eyes just stared at her, trying to understand her.

 

Sansa smiled softly at him, squeezing his fingers. The lion was still in Jaime Lannister, and lions accomplish great things. King Tybolt protected his lands from the Andals. King Cerion Lannister extended his lands to the Golden Tooth. King Lancel IV Lannister beheaded two men of the Iron Islands with a single swing of his Valyrian steel sword, Bright Roar. It seemed to her that Ser Jaime was forgetting the men he came from as much as he knew those from which she came.

 

“I am Sansa Stark from Winterfell. I am descended from an eight thousand year old family. My ancestor is Brandon the Builder, and I intend to be a builder too. I won’t be raising castles. I’ll be raising lords and ladies, building a bridge between the North and the West that no man will ever be able to destroy.”

 

“You sound like my father.”

 

Sansa almost smiled. Not so long ago, she would have raged to herself about being compared to a Lannister.

 

“Your father gave me back my voice, told me I was to speak only truth to him, Ser.”

 

“That sounds like my father. You know what he told me?” The great knight’s eyes were bright and sad, as if he already knew the truth was exactly what his father had said. His father’s words had crushed him. “You’ll never be as good. It’s true.”

 

Sansa shoved her jaw forward. Ser Jaime had missed his father’s real point, his real words, and he was too wrapped up in his pain and loss to find them alone. Tywin said that for one purpose and to make one point. Knights of the Kingsguard led uncertain, frightening lives. He was trying to save his son’s. Getting as good with his left hand as he had been with his right would take time, time during which his son could easily be killed. It never had been a safe life, and it never would be. Tywin had been trying to tell Jaime how much he cared, but the words always twisted on their way out of his mouth. Those words were all wrong, and Jaime had not heard his father correctly.

 

“You don’t have to be.” Sansa said, turning to look toward Lord Tywin’s tent. She would have to find a way to speak to the man about that. She would not having him saying such things to any sons or daughters she would birth for him.

 

She would undo this damage before Ser Jaime was gone. He could still do amazing things for the Kingsguard. He was their leader. He could make them honorable again, if he was given the chance and made the right choices. He knew what he needed to do. All that remained was the doing.

 

“You only have to be better than everyone else.”

 

He looked up at her, biting the corner of part of his lip. He looked like he wanted to smile, and a snort came out of his mouth before he began laughing.

 

“I should tell my father that. He would love it. Give me a stern look, and tell me to say something else that was clever, that I have always been a slow learner.”

 

“You’re Jaime Lannister. You won your first melee at thirteen. You saved Lord Crakehall from bandits and crossed blades with the Smiling Knight, one of very few men to have done so and lived to tell the tale. Ser Arthur Dayne knighted you for your bravery. Later that year, you were raised to the Kingsguard at fifteen years of age, the youngest ever. Ser Gerold Hightower raised you to their ranks at the Harrenhal Tourney. You are still alive to do great deeds, and now you are Lord Commander of the Kingsguard.”

 

Sansa paused, watching the broken knight as he looked over his stump.

 

“All I ever wanted to be was Ser Arthur Dayne when I was a boy. Somehow along the way I became the Smiling Knight.”

 

Sansa reached out and took his chin, tilting his head so they looked into each other’s eyes.

 

“You killed a mad man who killed my grandfather and my uncle. From what little I heard from my father, you gave up the throne you seated yourself upon afterward when he arrived to claim it for King Robert Baratheon. I don’t know any man like you.”

 

“How do you know so much about me?”

 

“I have brothers, Ser. Some who longed to be a Kingsguard more than anything else.” Sansa smoothed her hand over his cheek. “Jaime Lannister has been surprising Westeros all his life. Two days ago, he proved to the world that he could keep his word to the woman who kidnapped his brother. What will Jaime Lannister do next? He can be the Smiling Knight, or he can be a knight as great as Ser Arthur Dayne. It’s his choice.”

 

W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G. F~I~R~E~A~N~D~B~L~O~O~D. W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G.

 

Jon sat quietly throughout their talk. Sansa spoke of Ser Jaime Lannister constantly surprising the people of Westeros. His sister had not stopped amazing him since she was returned to their family.

 

In spite of it all, watching their father beheaded and the old gods only knew what other horrors that royal prick had dreamed up, she could sit here and tell the southron king’s true father that it was not too late for him to become the man he always wanted to be. What impressed him all the more was that she believed her words, believed that a man like the Kingsguard who sliced his king’s throat could be redeemed, that he could be better. She was not sitting there, tearing down a man. She was building him up like Brandon when he raised the Wall during the Age of Heroes.

 

“He’s a quiet one.”

 

Jon’s eyes cut to the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, the man who had halted his brother’s dreams of ever being a knight when he pushed him from that tower. All he could feel for the man now was sorrow. He was now a broken man, a crippled knight. He might have been broken for a while where no one could see, reaching for what felt good because if he did not grasp one good thing, he would turn his sword on himself.

 

He was a different man than Jon had thought, and Sansa had been the first to see it. She had been the first to offer him something he wanted, truly wanted, something that would always bring him joy to remember, not momentary satisfaction.

 

“Jon has always been as silent as he is thoughtful. He’s a good man and a wonderful brother.”

 

They all sat in silence after she finished. She tilted her head at him, considering the lion. Ser Jaime poured himself some more wine.

 

“You still have me at a disadvantage, Princess. You have yet to tell me what you most desire. You said we could continue that conversation, and I have been anticipating it.”

 

Sansa looked at Jon, reaching over and touching his arm. He covered her hand with his. He was as interested as the Lannister in hearing her response. She spoke more of the good of others than for what she wanted. She should not have to give up everything she wanted for a selfish, greedy man. They could not afford more war, not with winter coming, but to think of his sister having to wed Tywin Lannister if she did not wish it. Knowing what Tywin Lannister was capable of. If only there was a way to know that she would be safe with him, that she would be loved, that she might feel something for a man like him, it would be easier to advise Robb that way.

 

“I want—”

 

Before Sansa had a chance to continue, a furious yowl like an angry cat erupted. Jon was away from the table with Sansa behind him and Longclaw drawn as a blond woman stumbled toward them from the Lannister camp. Clegane also had his sword drawn and stood beside him, keeping between the woman and Sansa.

 

“You little bitch.” The queen looked almost deranged in her drunkeness.

 

“Cersei.” Ser Jaime was on his feet, moving to intercept his sister before she injured herself.

 

“First she wanted my son. Well, my son wouldn’t have her. Now, she’s taken my father.” She turned with an ugly smirk to Sansa. “He’ll fuck you bloody until you squeeze out a dozen Lannisters. The ending of your song. He’s a knight too. Just what a little fool like you always wanted.”

 

Jon turned with an angry look to his sister and her guard. She was breathing heavily, and her eyes were a little widened. Her hands shook a little where she tried to hide them in the folds of her dress. Sandor Clegane shifted more closely in front of her, cheek twitching madly. His eyes never left the queen. He looked ready to leap upon her and hack her to pieces.

 

“Well, she won’t have my brother. You won’t have him, you manipulative little cunt! I never should have tried to help you.”

 

Jon turned and took Sansa’s shoulders gently. If this was the way that his sister had been spoken to and cared for during her time in the Red Keep, he would have to speak to Robb. Sansa was not going to be sent back into a place where she would be treated that way. She deserved better, and Jon was not about to allow her to be harmed that way. Better would have to be negotiated, and the queen could certainly never marry into Robb’s family.

 

“Come, Sansa. Let’s leave.”

 

“Cersei, come away. You’re not well. You’re drunk. You need to rest, Sister.”

 

Her brother tried to lead her away quietly, but she struggled against him. He continued speaking softly to her.

 

“You abandoned me in King’s Landing. For the Imp. He’ll turn my joy to ashes. How could you leave me?” She pounded Jaime’s breast plate.

 

The proud, beautiful queen so full of disdain for his family and their northern castle looked a wreck now. She pushed at Jaime’s arms, tears filling her eyes.

 

“Now, you’re useless. How can you not pay your debt to her? You’re a poisonous little witch, and—”

 

Queen Cersei cut off when her eyes found Jon standing there with his sword drawn and his arm wrapped around her shoulders, hand buried in her hair to keep her from looking at whatever this was. Not because she could not handle it, but because she should not have to be put through it. Sansa gripped the gray fur that lined the collar of his cloak and pressed against him.

 

The queen’s glassy eyes widened at the image of him. Her lip trembled as she reached a hand for him, heedless of the sword and too distant for it to matter.

 

“Rhaegar?” Her voice choked as she spoke the name of the last Targaryen prince, killed by King Robert on the Trident. “My prince, what did you do to your hair? It was silver and perfect. You were supposed to be mine.”

 

Jon kept an arm around Sansa, twisting his sister away from the mad woman as she struggled against Ser Jaime. Longclaw shook in his hand, the weight of the steel a solid steady presence waiting for its chance to defend his family.

 

“I thought you were dead.”

 

Jon stared at her, not sure if she was mad or stupid as more tears poured from her eyes. She was reaching for him desperately.

 

“I loved you. Why didn’t you come back? The people would have rallied to you. They always cheered for you loudest of all. Louder than for your father. Louder than for my father. You would have been the greatest king to sit the throne.”

 

The queen mother began screaming, begging Prince Rhaegar to come and rescue her as Ser Jaime tossed over his shoulder and carried her away. He stumbled more than once, and her eyes remained locked on him as she clawed the air.

 

“Let’s go, Sansa.” Jon sheathed Longclaw as the Lannister siblings disappeared in the mass of red tents. “Hurry.”

 

Sansa reached for his arm as he released his hold. She walked with such solemnity and grace at his side back to the castle that he could not help but think her deserving of the title of queen, if only there was a suitable king for her. Jon issued orders to the servants to take care of the tent and remaining food as they passed them. He was nearly vibrating with his anger as he passed through the gates. His chest burned with it.

 

Why had that woman been calling him by the name of the Targaryen prince? As Winterfell’s bastard, he could not have been a top interest when the king and queen visited. He had been seated with the men of Winterfell instead of the lords at Lady Catelyn’s insistence. Still confusing him with a Targaryen, even if she was drunk, proved she was completely mad.

 

He spent so many of his days imagining that he was part of another great house, but the idea of being a Targaryen was something he had never even considered. He had dark hair; Targaryens were silver haired. He had gray eyes; Targaryens had purple. His father brought him to the North at the end of Robert’s Rebellion. There had been only two women in that family at that time, a babe just born like him and Queen Rhaella. The only Targaryen and Stark who had been together prior to the approximate time of his birth were—Sansa’s gentle voice interrupted him before he could continue down that dark line of unreasonable thought.

 

“Jon.” She tugged his arm softly. She stretched a hand up to his face, turning him to look at her.

 

“How do you do it, Sansa? Find compassion for them?”

 

“Because the alternative would give me no greater chance for happiness. Because as horrible as so much has been, I choose to look for the hope that I have found.”

 

Sansa took his hands as his thoughts grew dark. She was oddly quiet as he shook himself from the memory of the burning wight, and how he had never thought any living creature should have that fate. Not even the woman who spewed such hatred at his sibling, who slept with her brother and cuckolded the king, who might do far worse if given the chance, deserved to be burned alive.

 

“I’m going to pray in the godswood. Can we keep what she said out there between us?”

 

He did not want anyone thinking along those lines. If—too many ifs.

 

“Yes. Will you share dinner with me tonight?”

 

He nodded, leaving her to Clegane. All he could wonder was if she was thinking the same thing he was. Could his father possibly have done such a thing? Had Ned Stark been his father? What if? Why had he never been able to give Jon so much as a name to his mother? It had been asking so little, wanting to know her name, if she loved him or wanted him when he was going to the Wall. He swallowed those questions down and the answers they were leading him to. That was something to ponder with his sister—his cousin—maybe.

 

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 sat in his tent, fingers linked together. Every letter was written, waiting to be sent. Every man was in place, ready to play his part. All he needed to do was wait, and wait he would.

 

Sansa did not have to glide out of Riverrun on his son’s arm to have a country picnic so near to his war tent. If she was guileful or cruel, Tywin would have thought her to be taunting him. Even knowing that she was so kind and gentle could not console him.

 

If the girl expected him to come out and play the knight or the fool for her, she was going to be sorely disappointed. While he did wish to repair their last meal together, there was nothing he could yet do. It may have served as an unintended warning to her of what was to come, with how silent she had been, how she quaked in his arms after she found him skinning that wolf. Holding her would have been pleasanter if she had taken any comfort from it. Normally, she leaned into him slightly, but that morning, she simply accepted his embrace without withdrawing from him.

 

The wolf had been part of a pack that had been harassing them for some time. They had no choice but to kill them. She needed to understand that the wolf’s death had not given him any pleasure. It was simply something that had to be done. Still, she had been terrified, finding him elbows deep in the creature’s gut. He had an army to feed. No meat was going to waste, and the fur could be tanned and made into something lovely for her, a collar for a cloak or perhaps a lap blanket. It had a fine pale silver color and was nearly pristine, suitable for a lady of her quality in every way.

 

A loud scream tore him from his thoughts of the Stark princess. He exited the tent purposefully and saw Jaime carrying his twin into her tent while she yowled for Prince Rhaegar to rescue her. She would never be marriageable again now. She was supposed to have been kept sedated by milk of the poppy. She needed a marriage, a marriage to a man who would keep her far from Sansa and King’s Landing and Casterly Rock.

 

His orders were issued quickly to Tyren to fetch the maester and have him calm Cersei. She acted as though people were plotting to murder her children. The fact that Ser Kevan had sent word that Olenna Tyrell was indeed plotting against Joffrey was irrelevant. That boy could not be allowed to come to full power as a king. Letting that plot play out would be for the best. Joffrey would bring greater war and destruction upon them than he already had once he began mistreating Margaery Tyrell. He refused the sacrifices of rulership, while embracing the power to do whatever he wanted.

 

No king was empowered to do whatever he willed. The lesson of King Aerys II Targaryen was completely missed by his idiotic grandson, when the Mad King had been murdered by his uncle who had been a member of his kingsguard. There were a hundred other kings of similar stupidity; Orys I, Baelor the Blessed, Maegor the Cruel, and Robert Baratheon all readily sprang to mind, to say nothing of some of the fools from the Lannister family’s past whom he refused to ever think upon too long.

 

His daughter continued to scream as he entered the tent to see that she was properly attended. Before he spoke, his daughter pressed her lips to Jaime’s.

 

Jaime had his arms around his twin, and he leaned into the kiss. Cersei’s hands clutched his jaw, caressing the line of it perversely.

 

“What are you doing?” His voice was deathly silent as he stared at his children, looking at them, really looking at them as if his heart was about to stop beating.

 

How could they do this? He had given them everything he could, and they had been doing this. They were ruining the Lannister name after everything he had done to restore its prestige and glory.

 

Jaime tried to pull away, but Cersei clung to him tighter. His children. His legacy so far—and this was what they were doing. He shook as he turned and left the tent. He did not know what to say to them. There was nothing he could say to them. They were all he had left of Joanna.

 

How many people in the seven kingdoms knew what they were? He made Cersei a queen. It was all he had ever wanted for her, for her to be the most important woman in Westeros. She was meant to give birth to the king. She was how he had planned to establish a dynasty that would last a thousand years, and she had squandered it for spite. He had seen how she wasted the opportunity he had given her, but this—this unspeakable perversion he could never have imagined of his perfect, golden twins.

 

He had never been prouder than when they were born, and they were placed in his arms in turn. They had given him such joy. He made it to his tent, sinking into his chair and staring at the plain red silk.

 

She had been shouting for Rhaegar. He leaned his head into his hand, glad for the privacy. Why had he ever called her into his solar all those years ago? He pulled her close in his arms, holding her for the first time since her mother died, the first and probably only time that she remembered. He tucked her close, pressing his forehead to hers and told her that he would make her queen, that she would marry Prince Rhaegar. She had thrown her arms around him, not that he had known quite what to do when she began peppering his cheek with kisses as she thanked him. She claimed that she loved the prince, and that she would be glad to be queen and do her duty to her family. She had promised that she would work hard to be a good queen.

 

She had been too young. She had not been ready then, and she was no closer to being ready now. She would never understand. She was probably angry with him for failing to secure her engagement to the Targaryen prince. It had not been Aerys refused his request. It had not been his fault that Rhaegar did something foolish for a young woman as young men were often so quick to do.

 

He still made her queen, just as he had promised, and she had seemed happy enough at her wedding to Robert Baratheon. She would have been able to rule when the imbecile wearing the crown preferred whoring, drinking, and hunting to ruling. He made a mistake, a horrible mistake. The idea that passed through his mind next was too sickening to consider, so he banished it, locking it away where he resolved to never again consider it.

 

Drunk and drugged, she must have mistaken Jaime for Rhaegar, not that they looked anything alike. Rhaegar had been dead for nearly twenty years. Why would she shame and disgrace her family after everything he had tried to do for her? Why would Jaime do such a thing? He would have given the world for Jaime. He lived for the boy after Joanna died. Jaime had hooked him, reeled him in, clutching him and leading him back to the Rock. His son told him over and over the day Joanna died how much he loved and needed his father.

 

Tywin barely noticed when Jaime when he entered the tent. His oldest approached him, dropping to his knees and looking up at him.

 

“Father.” He reached for his father, looking like a little boy again. “Cersei is unwell. She’s hysterical. She thought that the Stark bastard was Prince Rhaegar. She was drunk and screaming at Sansa.”

 

“What damage is done?”

 

His son bowed his head, looking at his stump again. He could not begin working to fix things until he knew where to begin. His harsh words to Jaime about his loss of limb came back, but he could not bring himself to regret them. His son had to learn that there were things from which even his father would be powerless to protect him. He had to learn to think before feeling. Tywin did not want to live in a world without his son.

 

“I don’t know. Her brother and Clegane led her away, and I brought Cersei back to her tent.”

 

“You’re never to see your sister again.”

 

He would never let credence be given to those horrid rumors Lord Stannis had spread about his children. He would see them ended once and for all, and separating his twins was the best answer he had. He had to turn away from the distressed, heartbroken look on his child’s face. Seeing him in pain was more than he could bear, and it told him more than he had ever wanted to know or believe about his children. It was true, and it had to end.

Chapter Text

W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G. F~I~R~E~A~N~D~B~O~O~D. W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G.

 

Jon sat in the godswood of Riverrun next to an enormous ebony tree. This was no weirwood, but it served as heart tree where no weirwoods grew. He oiled Longclaw gently, glad that he had not been called upon to use the weapon to defend his sister. He forced away the anger that made him imagine the queen suffering. The fury for the way his sister had long been mistreated threatened to consume him, and the queen was the first person he had encountered that showed her disdain openly for Sansa.

 

Then she screamed at him, calling him Rhaegar. Prince Rhaegar, the last of the dragons, the prince who kidnapped and raped Lyanna Stark. The Lannister woman claimed that she was meant for the prince. It was easy to believe that the Lannisters would have tried to wed her to the dragon prince. He scowled, sheathing his sword and leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees.

 

It was something he had never considered in his wildest imaginings. It was one thing to imagine himself having a noble mother. It was quite another to consider that the man who raised him, that he called father his whole life, was not his father. Maester Luwin had taught them how Prince Rhaegar’s bloodline ended. Once, he had asked his father about it, and Lord Stark had embraced him and told him that it had been a terrible crime. He would have feared for Jon’s life if it was possibly true.

 

What if—pondering it all just made his head hurt. Sansa, Robb, or Arya could not know more about it than him. He stared at the ripples and folds of the Valyrian steel blade, longing for a foe to swing it against. He forced back the words Tyrion Lannister had spoken to him about how he imagined burning his enemies as a boy, seeing the suffering and punishment of all those who mistreated him. What if? The Mad King had burned his grandfather alive. What if one grandfather murdered the other?

 

Father never spoke his mother’s name. He forbade the servants from giving life to any rumors about her. He always despaired when anyone spoke of Lyanna, as sad as Jon remembered him looking when he spoke of the Tower of Joy, and the deaths of Ser Arthur Dayne, Ser Gerold Hightower, and Ser Jon Darry.

 

For the longest time, he wondered if his father had killed his uncle that day. He always said that Ser Arthur Dayne was the finest swordsman he ever faced, and that the Sword of the Morning would have killed him if not for—Howland Reed. Pain and tears had spilled across his father’s face the few times Jon ever heard him speak of the Kingsguards he fought. Four lords of the North had died to take down the white cloaks. Only his father and Howland Reed walked away from the Tower of Tears as Jon had privately come to think of it.

 

Howland Reed. If there was any credence to the ravings of a mad woman—if he was the son of Lyanna and Prince Rhaegar, Howland Reed was the only man alive who would know for certain. All he had to do was convince Robb to summon the man to Riverrun.

 

Tywin Lannister asked for him to stay in the south as some sort of ambassador on the small counsel and advisor on matters of the north. Why would he want a Targaryen, if Jon even had Targaryen blood? How could Tywin Lannister know anything about this?

 

Jon could think of only one person to ask to help him finish whatever twisted picture was being worked on the tapestry telling the story of his life. Lucky for him, she had some of the best needle and threadwork he had ever seen, and she had invited him to dine with her that evening. She knew the Lannisters like few others, and she was his sister—no matter what their blood was, and he needed to talk to his brother first. They could not allow that woman to marry into their family. She was a disease, a limb withered by an infection so deep that hacking it away was the only chance.

 

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 leaned into his hand. For the first time in many years, he was unsure what to do.

 

His daughter, his firstborn, was unwell. She may have been unwell for some time, and he had been too blind to see it. He had written it off to her not being as smart as she thought she was. But what he had seen her doing, what Jaime had done with her leading him. He pushed away the horrible thought that they may have carried this further. His children. A brotherfucker and a sisterfucker. Both of them were slow learners, and they had to separated before they ruined the Lannisters.

 

He cursed his sister internally for being right, that Tyrion was the most intelligent child bearing his name. And Tyrion was not his son. He was a malformed, drunken lecher. He had not been able to tell anyone, not his brothers or his sister, what Aerys had done to his wife, how he had watched Joanna dragged away. He could not stomach the idea of anyone knowing the shame he felt from not being able to save her.

 

Cersei would never leave Sansa in peace. This afternoon was proof that she could not be allowed in any proximity. His daughter would kill the woman he wanted to wed or find a cutthroat to do it at the first available opportunity. The man who had been guarding her was found in a puddle of his own blood, with his throat slit from ear to ear.

 

Sansa was too sweet, too forgiving. She would be his to protect soon enough, and he would fail her if he allowed his golden daughter too close to her. He was not even certain that Sansa would be safe at Casterly Rock without him there with her.

 

He knew what Cersei had done to pay her debt to the serving wench who bedded the king and birthed him twins. The black haired babes were poisoned, and the woman was packed off into slavery. He had not concerned himself with it too much. A serving woman was easily replaced, and she ought not to have shamed a Lannister. His daughter was paying her debt to the woman and the king. Now, she might attack Lannisters, Sansa’s children by him.

 

Sansa had done nothing that he had seen to his daughter. She had been selected as the future queen by King Robert, as was his right to choose a woman for his son. She was an excellent choice for a queen. He wished she was here now, not that she would know better what to do about Cersei. She could hold no love for her, and he loved his child, despite what she had done. Still Sansa should have a hand in deciding how to pay her debt to the queen. She was to be a Lannister.

 

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 curled in on herself a little as she sat at the window, holding her harp. She plucked a few strings, trying to calm herself. The queen’s words haunted her in a way that was difficult to admit. Her drunken words the night of the Blackwater, and her spite when she congratulated Sansa on her betrothal to Lord Tywin. It was the second time she had attacked her with that horrible threat, the same words.

 

She did not want to believe that they were true. Lannisters are liars, but they were also terrible. They could be monsters, and she had learned her lesson the hard way. What-ifs bombarded the walls of her defenses. What if the queen was right? What if Lord Tywin was monstrous? He wanted her, and what did she know of what that meant? What did she know of wedding nights? Only what Septa Mordane had told her, that she was to take her clothes off, lay back, and let her husband do as he wished. Then when the Mother favored her, she would bear her husband a child. She had always believed that it would be magical, and she had always dreamed of being a good mother to the children her husband gave her. That was before Joffrey and Cersei. They made her fear the dream she always had.

 

She remembered the way the men at court had stared at her when Ser Boros ripped down the bodice of her dress. She had covered herself as the flat of the sword came down on her over and over until Lord Tyrion came in with his sellsword.

 

She pushed the thoughts away, closing her eyes to hold in the tears. She plucked the strings, playing the chords she remembered from the northern song Old Nan sang about the frozen heart. She forced away the cruel words and actions she remembered. As she did, she reminded herself about what she had already experienced from the Great Lion and how that experience had been nothing like what she had expected, nothing like what his child and grandchild had done to her.

 

He had sent his men to watch over her. He let her help those orphan children, whom he then helped in turn by giving them jobs. Afterward, he held her face gently. He sat and spoke quietly about history with her. He listened, and he did not raise his voice to her when she moved to protect her family. He praised her.

 

Surely, a man like that was no monster, not to her. Certainly, not the monster the queen painted him as being. He was her father. How could she see so little of him? He was what he had to be, and that man, that hard man who had to tear down castles of rebellious lords, had been gentle to her. Surely, he would continue being gentle as long as she obeyed him.

 

Tears welled in her eyes that she had to push back as she remembered the threats he made against her family if they refused him. Those were not threats from a thoughtless boy. Those were a man’s words, and they had a man’s mind and a man’s means to assure it. He would strike her family down, and he would not regret it. He was dangerous. She would be a fool to ignore his threats. Yet, she missed his quietness, the utter peace that came just sitting in his presence. She missed their conversations and their shared meals, even when they were both silent. She missed having him escort her politely like she was something precious and the way his lips felt, warm and dry, against her temple.

 

“You play beautifully, Sansa.”

 

Sansa stilled the strings of her harp, turning at the sound of Jon’s voice. She placed the instrument aside, rising to greet him. He kissed her cheek as had become his custom since they met again, and she clutched his hands as they went to the table.

 

“Thank you for joining me, Jon.”

 

W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G. F~I~R~E~A~N~D~B~O~O~D. W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G.

 

Trout with slices of lemon and herbs, fresh bread, hard cheese, roasted onions, and little fruit tarts waited with a jug of watered down wine on the table.

 

Jon helped Sansa fill her plate first before filling his own. He nibbled an onion quietly before he met her eyes and told her what was coming. She would not appreciate this being a surprise.

 

“Robb will be coming soon to talk to both of us, Sansa. I had to tell him for the good of our family, and he’s going to expect frankness from you about what happened.”

 

She nodded quietly, and Jon glanced toward Clegane, not nervous of the man breathing secrets he would prefer kept quiet for now, but that people might be listening at the door.

 

“Sandor, do you mind standing guard in the hall and letting us know when King Robb approaches?”

 

The man bowed his head softly and left without a word.

 

“As you command, Princess.”

 

“Are you alright, Jon? You were upset earlier. I’m sorry you saw that. It wasn’t what I wanted.”

 

Jon watched his sister quietly. She certainly would not have wanted anyone to see that. She had said so little of the way that the queen had treated her. Her eyes were bright, and her head tilted to the side betraying her curiosity. He could sit and lie to her easily, say he thought nothing of the rantings of the woman who spat venom at her.

 

All he could think about was how such a woman should be punished for the way that she spoke to his family. Tyrion Lannister’s words about imagining people burning came back, and he willed away the image of the queen set ablaze. That was satisfaction that he would never have, and he could not shake away the knowledge that that was how one of his grandfathers died, roasted alive in his armor.

 

How did he tell his sister about the dreams he used to have as a child, dreams of a giant green dragon curled around him? He had always assumed it was the vividness Maester Luwin had when he told them about Aegon the Conqueror and his sisters. How did he tell her that he imagined his enemies burning? Did it make him mad?

 

“Do you know why she was calling me Rhaegar?”

 

How could the queen have possibly thought that he was Rhaegar? That man kidnapped and raped his aunt. He might be born of a terrible crime. He always dreamed that he was born of love, a love his lord father felt for a woman other than Lady Catelyn, a love he could not control.

 

“I don’t know, Jon, but there are two men nearby who know more of Prince Rhaegar than any other men alive. Both of them are Lannisters.”

 

Jon took a large bite of onion and fish to avoid thinking about the implications of what Sansa was saying. Ser Jaime would definitely have known the dragon prince.

 

“I see how Ser Jaime would know him. He served on his father’s Kingsguard. How would Lord Tywin?”

 

Jon took a gulp of the watered wine, wishing it was stronger. It was one of the few things he had always liked about being a bastard, being able to drink more than his siblings were allowed at celebrations when he was seated away from where his father could keep an eye on him.

 

“Lord Tywin served as hand to King Aerys II for nearly twenty years. He must have encountered Prince Rhaegar often during his tenure.”

 

Jon set his wine aside, tearing apart a piece of bread and chewing it roughly. What she was saying made sense, but why was Tywin Lannister asking for him? Did he have any reason to suspect that he was a Targaryen by blood? What would it matter if he was Rhaegar’s bastard child? What would Tywin Lannister want with a Targaryen, except to make sure that he or she was quickly and quietly put to death? That was what he did to Rhaegar’s other children. If he killed Jon, the war would begin again with greater hostility. Tywin Lannister had to know that too. What did he want with Jon?

 

“Is it possible, what she said?”

 

He did not know if he wanted this to be true. He did not know if he could stand wondering about it. Could he truly be descended from the men and women who rode dragons that conquered all Westeros except Dorne? It was what he always wanted. How many hours had he spent wondering what it would be like to have a castle, inherit so much? He had been jealous of Robb his whole life, and what if? He was not Prince Rhaegar. That was absurd, but what if he was born to more than he ever imagined?

 

“Could you be the son of Prince Rhaegar and Aunt Lyanna? I believe you could be. Father always shushed every rumor there was about who your mother could be.” Sansa took his hand. “He lied to save my life. Of that, I have no doubt. Father would never commit treason. He said what he did for me. I was standing right there. Everything he was doing was because he loved me, and I didn’t see it at the time. I’m sure he would do the same for Aunt Lyanna’s child, for his blood.”

 

You may not have my name, but you have my blood. That was the last thing that his father—Lord Stark said to him. Jon had never thought it a strange way to say something until now. He bit the tip of his tongue as he thought about all the death his probable parents had caused. If his mother was anyone else, why bother keeping it from Jon? If she was just some peasant, who cared what her name was? If she had been Ashara Dayne, as he often fantasized, what harm would it have truly done for him to know? Prince Oberyn of Dorne had numerous bastard daughters, and they were all loved and raised with trueborn siblings as equals.

 

But what his father—his uncle—Lord Stark said of the deaths of the Targaryen children, Rhaegar’s children, had always made his father ache. Stabbed forty times and head dashed against a wall, wrapped in Lannister cloaks as they were placed at King Robert’s feet. Lord Stark would have feared for his nephew, and he would not be wrong to fear.

 

“Jon, please, listen.”

 

He looked up at her, unable to think of how he could be any child other than one born of Rhaegar and Lyanna. Had his mother died hating him for what the prince did to her? Why would his father—his uncle—keep him alive if he was hated by Lyanna? She must have loved him. His mother must have loved him.

 

“Jon.”

 

Her voice was a little louder as she said his name that time, and he snapped out of that train of thought, wondering if his mother hated him, if Prince Rhaegar—his father, mayhaps—cared about his birth.

 

“Truth is often more complicated than the stories we have grown learning.”

 

Sansa told him a quiet story about a prince who fell in love with a lady betrothed to another man and how she ran away with the prince. They lived as prince and princess in a tower surrounded by golden sands, ignoring the fire and blood of the world outside their walls. It was not meant to last, and the prince had to defend his kingdom while his princess was left with a round belly. The words of the story were sad, just two people wanting to be with one they loved over their duty. It ended with one body floating down the waters that carved the Riverlands, and the other being returned to the snowy land of her birth after she died.

 

“I don’t know which story is true. What I do know is what Father always told us about Aunt Lyanna, that she was stubborn and carefree, that she was like Arya. After everything I have been through, I have to think that if Arya was told to marry a man she hated and found another she loved...what would she do?”

 

Jon knew the answer as he stared at his half-eaten plate of food. He felt better, thinking that his parents loved each other. He felt worse, thinking about the destruction their love had caused. He did not know if what they did was right or wrong.

 

Maybe Robert Baratheon was wrong to stand in the way of two people who loved each other. Maybe he was selfish and heartless. The man had fucked plenty of women other than his queen while at Winterfell. He cared nothing for the bastards he might sire. He liked fucking women other than his wife, and he hauled them onto his lap in the center of the great hall to fondle. He said that he loved Lyanna. Visiting her had been the first thing he wanted to do when he arrived in Winterfell. The man said she should have belonged to him, like she was some horse or dog. If a man said that to Arya, she would gut him.

 

“We can walk across that field. We can speak with Lord Tywin, and we can walk back. You don’t have to trust a Lannister, Jon. You only have to trust your sister.”

 

A different thought occurred to him with her words, and he had mentioned something similar to Robb, when he voiced his concerns about Sansa being left with Lannisters, especially after he heard what the queen had yelled at her. He suggested them letting Sansa visit him, finding out if there was any emotion flowing from him to her.

 

“Sansa, I trust you, but it’s Robb’s decision.”

 

Robert Baratheon waged war and killed the person who took away the woman he was to wed. Was Tywin Lannister the same cloth, only a different color? What would happen to Sansa if he was denied? What would happen to him? They were the two Lord Lannister wanted in the south, the two who were not Starks or not meant to remain Starks.

 

H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R. D~E~F~E~N~D~T~H~E~K~I~N~G. H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R.

 

Jaime sat in his tent, repeating Princess Sansa’s words about his father to comfort himself. She said that he would always love his son, no matter what he did. He tried not to dwell on the differences between the woman he loved and the second woman his father had chosen to marry.

 

Sansa was all kindness and gentility to him. She had built him up that afternoon instead of trying to take him apart. Cersei had told him as he left her tent without having her that he was the stupidest Lannister of them all. She had never spoken so cruelly to him. He thought she loved him as he loved her, and she had proclaimed him worthless without his sword hand. Had everything he ever believed about them been a lie?

 

He still remembered when she presented her plan to him to join the Kingsguard, promising him that their father would not be able to openly object or stop him. He had wanted Casterly Rock then, and mentioned to her that he would have to give it up. That was when she embraced him, asking him in a conspiratorial whisper if he wanted a castle or if he wanted her. That night when they met on Eel Street, he had never experienced such passion. He had been so certain that she loved him more than any one else. He had thought Casterly Rock nothing as long as he could have her.

 

Now, his father wanted to dismiss him from the Kingsguard because he would never be as good, and his sister whole heartedly agreed with that. The little northern girl just looked at him and told him that as long as he was better than everyone else, it would not matter if he was never as good with his left hand.

 

He hoped that Tyrion was having better luck with the Starks than he had. He was losing everything. His father had not been able to look at him earlier.

 

They have my son. That was what Sansa said he repeated over and over. He had known throughout his captivity that his father would do whatever was necessary to get him back, and how had he repaid the man? By shaming him and their family in every way possible.

 

“Jaime.”

 

Jaime looked up as his brother called his name.

 

“Were you enjoying the Starks company?”

 

How they must despise the Lannisters. After everything they had done, it was not difficult to see why the Starks would hate them. How did you talk a boy who hated your family into giving you his sister?

 

“They were quite hospitable to me after your departure with Sansa, though the boy king’s ire was raised when Prince Jon returned, piqued about the way his sister had been treated by ours.”

 

Jaime leaned forward into his hand. That girl was doomed, and his father would be damned after he finished punishing the Starks. Jaime could do no more for her than he had been able to do for his sister once he took the white cloak.

 

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.

 

Jon was quiet as she finished. His mind had to be filled to the brim from everything that was happening right now. She hoped that her words and story had helped ease his mind from where it no doubt dwelt.

 

“How can you be so sure, Sansa?”

 

She set her plate back away from her and sat up a little straighter.

 

“I’m sure because I’ve come to know Lord Tywin. He’s not a completely evil man. He’s deviously clever and well reasoned. He takes the time to understand his enemies in ways they’re unable to understand him.”

 

There were so many things he had done that she had not expected, and each one had shown her a man other than the one she thought to see the first time she went to him. She expected to ally herself with the nastiest of the Lannisters, the Lannister who ruled the West. She expected to live in fear of what punishment he might deliver to her. He spent time proving her wrong. He had never said aloud that he was not a monster, but he had shown her through quiet concessions, getting her a music teacher, letting her read and learn, speaking with her when she had questions about what he had seen and knew, even comforting her when she was frightened out of her wits. He was a quiet, calm presence surrounded by a raging inferno.

 

Then he told her the truth of what he would do to her family if he had to take her back. She knew she was looking at a monster when he said those things, when she found him skinning that wolf. Was she to forever be denied what she most wanted?

 

She was certain from the look that she saw in his eyes that he had suffered something horrible, perhaps as awful as what she had, at the claws of a tyrannical beast, the only beast more frightening than a lion. She had never seen such a pit of despair in any man’s eyes as she had when he mentioned his lady wife to her. She could not shake the feeling that something horrendous had happened to the woman he loved. He had been unable to prevent it, and he was unable to forgive himself.

 

“Sansa, I know you think he’s winning, and I know that Robb’s made some mistakes. He beheaded a man leading part of his army and lost the men that Lord Karstark commanded. Why would Tywin Lannister seek peace if he’s winning?”

 

She walked over to the window to look out as if looking toward him might provide some sort of answer to the question twisting inside her gut. She was precious to him. He would not continue a war over her if she were not important to him. It was an expression of feeling, maybe love and maybe not. A man who had everything wanted her. She wished he would say directly if he cared for her, instead of leaving her with whatever mystery his words and consequent actions would mean. Before she had a chance to attempt an explanation of what the Great Lion might be thinking, there was a quick knock at the door.

 

H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R. T~A~L~L~A~S~A~K~I~N~G. H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R.

 

Tyrion stared at his brother, not sure what to make of the revelation. He had known for a long time about his older siblings. His father had chosen a life of denying what he could not accept, of what he could not bear to see.

 

“How’d this happen?”

 

Neither of his siblings would be so foolish as to confess to the man. He was dangerous when the Lannister name was at stake, and they knew their father. Cersei knew and felt the fear he inspired. Jaime was possibly the only child who loved Lord Tywin, and for his part, Lord Tywin cherished his first son above any other Tyrion had ever seen until he saw the man cradling Sansa’s cheek like she was something fragile that would break if he handled it without the greatest of care.

 

Jaime told him the events of the afternoon, how Cersei had called Jon by the name of the long dead prince that he had served, how she cursed Sansa with any number of vile names, that none of it made any sense.

 

Tyrion’s heart broke for his brother. He would never suffer what Tyrion had suffered for his indiscretion with Tysha. He remembered his jape to Jaime about how much he loved his family when they visited Winterfell what felt like a lifetime ago. The truth was that Jaime loved his siblings and father more than anything. He would do anything for them, including damning himself. He never thought his actions through, and his heart made too many decisions. Jaime would do so much for the love he felt for each of them, and Cersei was spitting on him for it.

 

He remembered his sister’s obsession with the dragon prince. He also remembered how pleased he had been when he heard Cersei crying once over what the Mad King had said when his father asked for a betrothal of his daughter to the prince. He declared that his son would not wed his servant’s daughter. It had been done publicly, and that pleased him even more.

 

Tyrion rubbed his scar when his brother finally quieted. He looked at him the same way he had looked at their father when Tyrion had been brought in with Tysha, like he just wanted him to fix everything before it got worse. Then he confessed that Tysha had been a whore.

 

“I know you loathe Father. He deserves your devoted hatred.” Jaime stared at his stump. “I want to help him. I haven’t seen him want someone, truly want someone since Mother. I can never repay him for what I’ve done. But maybe the Stark girl can help him.”

 

“She doesn’t deserve what he’ll do if the Starks refuse, and I intend to have them saying yes. Jaime, our father loves you best. You can refuse to be his heir, kill the king you swore to serve, lose a hand, and he will keep on loving you.” Tyrion kept in Jaime’s greatest sin. It did not matter to Lord Tywin that his golden son was a sisterfucker. “He shouted at his generals, including Uncle Kevan, that they had his son. Then he told them to get out.”

 

“I know I have no right to ask, but please help him, Tyrion. I doubt I’ll be invited back into Riverrun, and you were sitting in there talking to them for hours. What were you telling them?”

 

Tyrion cocked his head at his brother. Why would Jaime say that he had no right to ask? He was the only member of his family who had always stood by him, wanted to help him. He knew that Tyrion loved him.

 

“Lord Tyrion—your lord father commands your presence.”

 

Tyrion looked up at the guard who stood just inside the tent. Then he looked to his brother. It was only natural that he should be summoned as soon as he arrived back—after spending hours with the Starks. Lord Tywin would want to be debriefed on what was discussed. He did not know if he wanted to help the man or not. His lord father had done little enough for him. It could be argued that the man went to war for him, but that was not for him. He did that to defend the Lannister name, not out of any affection for his misshapen child.

 

“Tyrion.”

 

“Father calls.” He slid off his chair and followed the man out, shaking his head as he wondered what could possibly happen next.

 

W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G. F~I~R~E~A~N~D~B~O~O~D. W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G.

 

Jon watched his sister as she sat quietly for a moment, staring out at the Lannister camp. Her utter serenity and gentle expression when she looked toward the Lannisters was the exact opposite of Arya. She accepted her duty than any other person he knew. He had raged when his father told him that he could go to the Wall. It was what he said he wanted, what he thought he could want, but what he had truly wanted was different. He understood that now.

 

When his cherished, favorite sibling collapsed in his arms sobbing, she told him about watching their father beheaded, that Sansa had been on stage just a few paces away, that she tried to save him, and she failed. Sansa had been held back by a knight with a white cloak, and Yoren had saved her life, and she still saw their father dying every time she closed her eyes.

 

It was a horror beyond what he could imagine, learning that his gentlest sibling had been so close to something like that. He had seen many men lose their heads, but Sansa and Arya had always been kept away from such lordly duties. Arya hated every Lannister for what happened, but Sansa did not have a place in her heart for that hatred that Jon could see. If she did, it was buried under embroidered silks and lace and courtesy. It was probably what that despicable little shit of a king had made her do, pretend to love him while he tortured her. She had somehow survived everything.

 

“Sansa.” She turned to him at the sound of her name as if she had forgotten that he and Robb were with her. “What would you like?”

 

She could pick almost any lord in Westeros for her husband, but she had only spoken of one. Robb had trouble believing it, and it was impossible to not be confused and troubled, knowing the uglier parts of her story. She believed she could help them, and it was what she wanted, to do her duty to her family. She had to want more, but she would place her siblings and mother above those desires.

 

“Everything I wrote in my letter.” Sansa stood and walked closer to Robb. “I want my brothers and sister to see Winterfell again. I want all the northmen to see their wives, make sure their homes are secure for the coming storms. I want the westermen to hold their children and harvest their crops. I want—I want—”

 

Tears welled in her eyes as she stuttered at the end unable to finish her thought.

 

“Don’t you want to go home, Sansa?”

 

“Winterfell was never going to be my forever home. Riverrun was never going to be Mother’s or Aunt Lysa’s.” She looked them over, but Jon noticed that while she faced them, her eyes were on the window and the war camp. “Old Nan told us so many stories, didn’t she? Do you remember the one about why the sky is blue?”

 

Jon ducked his head with a smile and found her blue eyes.

 

“She said we lived inside the eye of a blue-eyed giant.” Jon gripped her hand, tugging her around to face Robb.

 

“Named Macombre.” Robb grinned as he finished the story.

 

“May I tell you a story?”

 

“Sansa, we don’t—”

 

Jon shook his head at his brother, and somehow the look stopped Robb from finishing what would have been a hurtful statement. She would close herself off if she was hurt, if she believed she would be disregarded. He still wanted Sansa and Arya to be the sisters he had known before they left home. Those girls were gone, and these were the young women life had made them. He was the man that the Wall had made him. They were all damaged and hurt by what had happened after leaving Winterfell, what they had seen.

 

Just this morning he found Arya stabbing a sack of grain in the cellar with Needle. She had been reciting a list of names. Joffrey, Ser Ilyn Payne, the Mountain, Queen Cersei, and more. She had collapsed tearfully in his arms when she saw him. She cried for their father, telling him she wanted all the people dead who hurt their family.

 

“Okay, Sansa. Robb is willing to listen. We want what’s best for you. Tell us your story.”

 

She took several deep breaths as though she was staring at a frozen lake and searching for a safe way to cross. When she found what she needed, she began a quiet, haunting story about a family of wolves from the north and a little wolf with blue eyes who dreamed of the lands and animals beyond the forest. There were so many lovely stories about them. The story turned as dark and horrible as Old Nan’s tales of the night that lasted a generation. The little blue eyed wolf suffered from the antlers of stags, the thorns of roses, quills from porcupines, and the claws of a savage lioness. All she had was a pitiful woodland surrounded by walls and a scrappy dog to follow her through the mountainous structure of red stone that surrounded her. She prayed for help every day.

 

After much pain, a golden lion walked from the western hills to the red stone prison. His feet were silent. His voice was soft as spoke to the throne room, but his whisper echoed like a roar. She knew he had been fighting wolves because a she-wolf took his cub to a falcon to be devoured in the mountains under the moon. Another tossed a cub in a dungeon away from the sun. The blue eyed wolf saw this lion growl softly and all the other animals trembled, afraid of what he would do. Though she feared the lion, as any lone wolf rightly would, she knew he was as strong and smart as he was golden and terrible. So she went to him and begged his help, despite her fear because she needed a friend who could make the pain and suffering stop. She knew that the great golden lion could help her, and she would help him in return. When she begged his help, he placed his golden paw over her, protecting her.

 

What she had not known was that he was a lonely lion. He decided that if the wolves who had injured his pride allowed the blue-eyed wolf to remain with him, that he would offer them his friendship and allow them to return to their forest and their snow. If they refused to give her to him, he would crush them as he crushed others. She would be the last of her kind. He always sought to help the animals of any land so long as they respected him.

 

Jon stared at his sister as she went silent. That was her message. Her message was give her to Lord Tywin and her family lives. He was furious, but that fury and burning rage would do them no good. Her message was that the greatest of the golden lions had been kind to her, and she wanted to stay with that man. The alternative, the only one she saw, was that she would be a prisoner of a monster, instead of a beast that had been gentle to her.

 

“How will the lion kill the wolves?” Robb’s eyes flashed. All he had heard was the threat.

 

She shook her head, turning to him with tears in her eyes as her breathing quickened.

 

“That’s not the message.” Jon embraced her. He would stay with her in the south as Lord Lannister requested. Starks might do poorly in the south, but he was no Stark. “The message is that the wolves can go home. They can leave the little wolf with a lion that has only been good to her or with a monster that slaughtered her pack.”

 

“How do you know, Sansa?” Robb moved closer, standing in front of them. “If you know his plan, you can help us. We can beat him.”

 

“All I know is what has always happens to Lord Tywin’s enemies. He crushed them. He drowned them. His son cuts them open, while he sacks their city. I’ve been spending time with him, and I’ve come to know him. He’s been honest with me, helped me when others stood around watching and waiting to hear the next verse of the song King Joffrey was composing for his betrothed. The once mighty bugle of a great deer was reduced to the squeak of a mouse.”

 

Jon looked up, meeting his brother’s eyes at her words. She was advocating just as he had known she would. She wanted to save her family if that meant going back to the lion. She was afraid, but she also seemed to miss him. She had to have reasons, and she believed she could shield them. She might be right, and she might be wrong.

 

The truth was Robb’s army was melting away like snow around the hot springs in the godswood. Tywin Lannister had fifty thousand men surrounding the castle, and Sansa was the person he put the most value upon among them. Still he was offering them the chance to go home, when he had every advantage, every reason to believe that he would win the war. Maybe the offer was for her sake, or maybe it was just some trick.

 

If it was possible to see them together, see if she was right, if that man cared for her at all, it was an ending to the song that Sansa would love. If she was wrong, it was still a song, just a tragic one.

 

Surely, giving her to him would be better for her than him taking her, and she was not wrong about his advantage. Uncle Benjen’s lesson about Daemon Targaryen and his foolish war with Dorne rose to his mind.

 

A man taking a Stark girl had not turned out so well the last time. Their uncle died. Their grandfather died. War destroyed families. The Targaryens were nearly extinct. He might be one of two. The more people that died, the more they swelled the ranks of the Night King, and winter was coming.

 

“Sansa, many of my bannermen are asking for your hand for their sons. Men who’ve loyally served me. Men who named me their king.”

 

“None of them offers what Lord Tywin does. Let me protect you from him. Let me keep my family. He’ll come for me, just like King Robert did for our aunt.”

 

“Our aunt was kidnapped. He was trying to rescue her.”

 

Jon bit his tongue. He thought on the face of Lyanna carved in stone in the crypt beneath Winterfell. He kept what he wondered inside. There was no reason to alarm Robb without irrefutable evidence, and all they had were the ravings of a drunken lunatic. Robb had sent the raven, summoning Lord Reed to appear at Riverrun as soon as he was able, and Jon was grateful that Robb had accepted that he had questions that only Lord Reed could answer. The more people who knew a secret, the more difficult it was to keep.

 

“Sansa, it’s my duty to protect you.”

 

“Your Grace, it’s your duty as king to form the best alliances possible through the marriages of your sisters and brother. If you would be a king, be a king. Think of your people, all your people. This has always been my duty, and I have never hidden from my duty. I’ve always accepted it, looked forward to being wed and having a husband, bearing his children.”

 

She looked like she wanted to say more. Jon knew that she had always wanted her life to be beautiful as a song, lovely as the tale of Aemon the Dragonknight and his love. She wanted to be loved by her husband, and her first betrothal had been a nightmare. It sounded like others had tried to take her hand in marriage as well, from the way she told that story.

 

“Father—the last thing he told me was that he wanted me to marry someone brave, gentle, and strong.”

 

Jon shifted as Robb moved uncomfortably, returning to his chair with a sigh. His brother had to be thinking the same thing he was. Their father had never had anything complimentary to say about the Warden of the West. Robb’s queen, who suggested that marriage to the lion might be best, had an edge of fear in her voice and face when she spoke about it, telling him that Lord Tywin was not a man to anger. She feared the consequences, just as Sansa did. Sansa, however, also told them that the man had treated her well. He was not a man to be spurned or denied a reasonable request. He may even now be planning to place Riverrun under siege to get her back. The number of men he came with proved his intentions.

 

“People are more than what the world sees of them, Robb. Sandor saved my life more than once and always sought to help me in the gentlest way he knew and could. Who would guess such gentleness was in such an angry man? Lord Tyrion looks like a monster and is treated as a monster by his sister, but he saved me. Maybe there’s more to Lord Tywin’s song that you’ll hear if you just listen.”

 

“Go, Sansa. I need to talk to Jon alone.”

 

“As you command, Your Grace.”

 

Robb shook his head at her, a sadness taking his eyes as she curtsied and left. He hated when Sansa addressed him as your grace. He wanted to be Robb for her, but now he was more, and he would always be more. Jon followed her to the door, opening it for her. He gave her a nod of encouragement.

 

“What in the seven hells have they done to her?”

 

“She’s still seeing the best in people. That’s not nothing, Robb. It’s a powerful force, to look for the good over absorbing the evil and letting that evil chip you as you cross blades with it. She fears that man, but she also cares about him. Maybe that’s what he needs. I’ve never met him. I couldn’t say what he needs, but he wants her. Fifty-thousand men outside are prepared to help him get her.” Jon paused as he eased down in a chair beside his brother. “That we know for certain. From what we’ve heard, he hasn’t wanted a woman in years. Not till he met Sansa, and he’s going about getting her honorably from her family. She was in his power. Why ask for what you already have?”

 

That was something too, something that Jon could not explain. It could be another Lannister lie. He had heard enough of those, enough of what Joffrey had done to his sisters, even more from what Clegane and Sansa would not say. He refused to think about the justice he could not have when it came to that royal prick. There were other paths by which to get what was owed, without the malevolence he felt in his heart for the boy who killed his father.

 

“People don’t always come back they way we knew them.”

 

The old gods knew he had seen and heard enough to change him, and his suffering did not compare to Sansa’s. His sister who was still looking for the best in people. He heard her crying last night, holding Ghost. She told the wolf what had been done, how the king made her look upon the severed heads of all the northmen, her septa, and her father. He did not dare repeat those words to Robb. More anger would help no one, and he was not supposed to have heard them. That was Sansa’s story to tell when she was ready to whom she chose. He would not press her for the images that kept her from sleeping. He had enough that kept him from sleep. He would be there to listen if she came to him, but pressing to hear the hurts would do more harm than good.

 

“She’s not opposed or frightened to be with him, Robb. She’s frightened of what happens to us if you keep her away. She’s frightened of what she’ll lose. Looking toward him, she gets this look on her face, like she’s looking toward a kindness she wants to keep.” Jon eased down across from his brother. “It seems to me that she’s doing everything a lady would, and she always wanted to be a great lady. We both know that.”

 

Jon paused to let his brother weigh his words, remember his suggestion from earlier. He had suggested it before Sansa said it to him. They all needed reassurances. Sansa said she could keep him safe. He trusted her. Lord Tywin might be able to answer questions of a kind.

 

“Mayhaps there’s a way to alleviate our concern about this match. I’m willing to do it.”

 

“I could lose you both if we do that.”

 

Robb’s blue eyes were bright and scared, and he looked like the boy Jon had grown up beside. That look gave him the courage to say more.

 

“You could lose a lot more if we don’t try, Robb. Let us help you. We love you.”

 

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 drummed his fingers as Tyrion waddled into his tent and up to the chair. He hauled himself up into it and reached for the flagon straight away. Tywin reached out and pulled it away. The last thing he needed was for the fool to be drunk.

 

“You were with the Starks for a long time.”

 

“Yes,” Tyrion leaned back in his chair, shoving his lip out for a moment. “Robb Stark invited me to count the teeth of his dire wolf. Forty-two if you were curious.”

 

“What were you talking about for so long?” Tywin had to grit his teeth.

 

“How you only play lord and lady of Casterly Rock with the most beautiful women in Westeros.” Something in his look must have stopped the wretched creature, because the Imp paused. “We spoke of the peace treaty.”

 

Tywin sat quietly while the dwarf told him everything that had occurred in the meeting. It seemed, to hear the Imp tell it, that everything had gone well until Cersei’s behavior was reported. He turned away from him, picking up the letter. This was what he was reduced to, depending on the lowest of the Lannisters.

 

“You’ll go to Riverrun tomorrow and extend our apologies to Princess Sansa.”

 

It should be him going to speak with her, but that was not possible. She had not understood when he parted from her. The dead wolf frightened her. She had barely been able to look at him the day she was returned to her family. He would not let the world separate them longer than he must to assure her safety. She had not been willing to listen to what he needed her to hear that day, and that might have deadly consequences later.

Chapter Text

H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R. T~A~L~L~A~S~K~I~N~G. H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R.

 

Tyrion left Riverrun quietly after another long night, still slightly suspicious of it all, but not complaining. For some reason, the Starks had decided over the past fortnight of rainy days that he was the only Lannister they liked, the only Lannister with whom they would consort. They had even begun allowing Bronn to accompany him as a bodyguard. It was a different experience, being the favorite Lannister, instead of the albino cub. He found himself enjoying it immensely and wondering if the Starks paid their debts to those that pleased them. If the Manderlys were any example of their capacity for mercy, what would the pack do for a lion unwelcome in his pride?

 

Most of the northern lords treated him as civilly as they treated each other. They seemed ready to wed Sansa to his lord father for the right price. He hoped they were ready to take payment for the girl and go home. He knew what they wanted, and he knew that his father likely wanted the same event to occur. Joffrey embarrassed the Lannisters, particularly Lord Tywin, and he was beyond being saved.

 

He could not shake the image of Lady Sansa’s face when he had delivered his father’s apology letter. She had stared at it, pondered each word as she read and reread it. He had never been more curious about the contents of any book than he had been over that neatly folded piece of parchment, sealed with red wax and stamped with a rampant lion of House Lannister.

 

The softest smile he had ever seen on any woman’s face had crept over hers, as if his father had written words that touched her. She refolded it and tucked it into a dress pocket and asked if he could be troubled to deliver her response. He nodded, and she had called a servant to bring him some wine and a warm meal.

 

Princess Sansa cared for his father. There was no accounting for her taste, and Tyrion still wondered in the dark places in his mind if she was just afraid of Lord Tywin, if he was helping condemn her to years of unhappiness. Only the bravest man or a fool more pitiful than Dontos Hollard lacked the wisdom to fear Tywin Lannister. Still there would be two kings, countless lords, and seven kingdoms in her debt once she took her place beside the Great Lion. Tyrion had no doubt that she had led the lion to a new path.

 

If he was right, and he usually was, the North had the only warrior with the weapon to hold the lion from a reign of fear. When she was born, that weapon was tucked in her cradle as gently as ever a dragon egg was placed beside a Targaryen. She had been learning to wield it, and she was ready to do battle if those around her were prepared to send her out. It would end soon, one way or another. King Robb was as ready as Tyrion could make him for negotiations with Lord Tywin Lannister. The rest was in the hands of the gods.

 

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.

 

Rain had poured down for nearly a fortnight. It was so heavy at times that it rushed down the glass, turning everything to a blur, even the red silk banners outside the castle walls. The events of her days had similarly blurred together.

 

Her family had flowed in and out constantly, hardly giving her a moment of peace except when it was time to sleep. Conversations had often heated almost to the point of bursting into flames. Her mother tried to be gentle, but she was clearly concerned in every way about Lord Tywin. No matter how many reassurances she offered, her mother remained convinced that he would do her great harm. It had become enormously exhausting. Her mother had to know that the consequences of saying no would be worse. She had to know that they would die if Robb refused, all but her. She had asked several times what the Great Lion threatened, and every time Sansa repeated calmly that Tywin Lannister would do no harm to her.

 

Robb had almost always come with Jon, and Sansa had been grateful for the protection and patience that Jon had given her when Robb’s temper flared. She knew that he did not mean to be that way, that he was under tremendous pressure from all sides. She did not know what she would have done without Jon, and Jon had his own confusion, yet still found the strength to be there with her and Robb and Arya when they needed him most. He told her privately that Lord Tywin had asked Robb for both of them, Sansa for his wife and Jon to speak for the concerns of the North at court on the small counsel.

 

It put a terror in her to think what could happen to her brother if Tywin suspected anything about him. He could easily end up murdered. Robb would come howling with the strength of the North and the Riverlands to avenge Jon. They needed Lord Tywin, and she would be the only shield Jon would have if he believed him a threat to his family’s legacy. She told Jon that they could visit safely, that she could protect him. She believed it with all her heart, that she and he could walk across the field and back safely. Her heart would stop Lord Tywin if he wanted to kill her brother. She had moved between him and Lady Jeyne. He said that he never intended her harm and that if he had, she would never have seen her good sister. She never imagined being frightened of her husband, but his words did frighten her at times.

 

Lord Tyrion had been at the castle every day, mostly in meetings with her brother, but he always visited with her before leaving. He was being brought to consult about the peace negotiations. There was no doubt of that, and she prayed he had provided good advice for Robb. His relationship with her family was strained at best and contentious at worst. His relationship with his father was far worse, through no fault of his as far as Sansa had seen. What reason did Lord Tyrion have to want to help his father or the Starks? Yet, he had been at the castle every day, soaking wet to speak to her brother about whatever it was they needed to discuss for him to be willing to do as he must.

 

Sansa patted her pocket, breathing out slowly as she felt the letter that Lord Tywin had sent her the first day. His words had reassured her, and she worried the back of her lower lip as she pondered whether or not to share the letter with Robb. These words had been for her. It felt like betraying him to share them with another, but they might be the only way to prove to her brothers that there was something there. The man kept his emotions in chains, and getting him to show affection for her while someone was watching might be impossible for him.

 

Lord Tyrion was the only person whose very presence caused emotion in the Great Lion, and the emotion most easily expressed to the little lord was hatred. It was distressing to see Lord Tyrion work tirelessly to please a man who would only ever feel disdain for him. There was so much more to the little lion, and she was grateful to see Robb giving him a chance. If they treated him with kindness, he might repay them in ways no one could predict if the phrase ‘a Lannister always pays his debts’ had any meaning.

 

Jon had spoken to her a little last night, told her what he had to tell Robb about what she had said of the abuses she suffered from Joffrey. After the queen’s outburst, she had known that this would come. He told her that Robb would be coming to speak to her about it, and that Robb had been working with almost every waking breath toward making what they needed for peace a reality. While she dreaded having to speak the horrid things she had endured, she would survive this. She would help her brothers survive as well.

 

She sucked in a breath as someone knocked softly on her door and called for them to enter.

 

H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R. D~E~F~E~N~D~T~H~E~K~I~N~G . H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R.

 

Jaime watched his father nervously where the man stood with his jaw set and cold hatred filling his eyes, staring out at the heavy rainfall toward Riverrun. Lightning flashed across the sky, followed by a low rumble of thunder that shook Jaime’s bones.

 

His father had fallen into this pattern of oscillating between obdurate melancholy and cold-hearted, mean-spirited resolve. Despite almost nothing being visible through the downpour, he spent a great deal of time glaring contemptuously at Riverrun, loathing everything about that castle and imagining how much prettier it would be as stepping stones to cross the river. The last time he saw such viciousness was when his father confronted him after he swore to serve the Kingsguard of the Mad King at Harrenhal.

 

Jaime was not sure who had more to fear, the rainclouds or the castle occupants if some overture was not soon made with their terms for peace. He considered a dozen different comments to drag his father from the vengeful fantasies laid out upon this table, waiting to be skinned, disemboweled, and devoured. He wondered if the look that his father now wore so often was the same as he wore preparing to bring down Tarbeck Hall or drowned Castamere. His brother’s story about his father smiling when Lady Ellyn was buried under stone brought a shudder that he was a struggle to suppress. Would his father smile when the walls of Riverrun were reformed into a bridge to show the Freys their irrelevancy?

 

They had shared a lovely tea in a field now turned to mud. The princess had been a vision in dark blue silk shot with gold thread, and she sat with her back to the castle, watching the war camp with wide eyes.

 

He almost laughed at the thought. Princess Sansa, loveliest maiden in the seven kingdoms watched for the Lord of Casterly Rock, Lord Tywin, the most feared man since Aegon the Conqueror came on Balerion, the Black Dread. Her face had given her feelings away when he told her that he would not come. Her looking for him like he was Aemon the Dragonknight. The idea that anyone wanted to see his father was too hilarious to be entertained, especially a beautiful woman other than Cersei. Even Cersei rarely wanted to see him. She wanted his reputation defending her and her children more than she wanted to deal with his authoritative rule. She knew the power of their father’s reputation, and she had always sought to be and envisioned herself as a female version of him.

 

His sister’s beautiful face teased his mind, but he found that he had few tears left for her. It hurt, and Jaime did not know if it would ever stop. She had lied to him his whole life, and it did not make him love her less. He wondered if she ever loved him, or just loved what she could make him do, what he would do for her. He remembered when they made love while the king was passed out drunk three feet away, and she asked him to go and get rid of the younger of the Stark girls.

 

The rustle of fabric drew Jaime from that memory to see the tent flaps close as his father turned into the tent.

 

“I suppose you have something clever to say. Say it.”

 

There were a hundred little quips he could utter, but they all were dying in his heart at the expression of agony on his lord father’s face. It was the pain his father wore, clutching a dead body to his chest and the defeat he had seen when the man collapsed on his knees that night of the ten year anniversary tourney.

 

If Jaime had not seen that expression before, he would have believed his father angry, a variety of angry at any rate. Irritation was one of the few emotions that his father could not always smother under cold rage, not when his children were concerned. As soon as it was there, it was gone, leaving Jaime to guess.

 

“She asked about you at our tea on the lawn.” He kept his voice soft, hoping his father would be mollified with this.

 

Princess Sansa was a very different kind of woman from any other he had known. She was a lady in a way few were. Ladies like her did not live long. His mother had been his first example of how quickly someone who was nothing but good, kind, and loving could be snatched away in a moment.

 

Jaime had not been able to tell as she stared toward the Lannister camp if she was more worried for her family or herself or his father. The gods and every lord in Westeros knew she had plenty to trouble her heart. She knew beyond doubt what his father would do to get what he wanted. Still the idea that she felt something for his father had comforted him in a way he had forgotten he could feel. His father needed someone to love him, love him gently and kindly.

 

Few people truly cared for him, not that Lord Tywin was without blame for that in part. His father was a hard man who never shrank from doing what needed to be done with ruthless efficiency. He plotted and schemed, quietly waiting to take everything his greedy heart wanted, and it wanted everything there was. He would have his way, and his way was marrying a princess of the North. Her family—all the Starks alive—were in one castle. They had made themselves an easy target. His father’s trebuchets were loaded and aimed. All he had to do was give the order to fire and watch the walls come tumbling down.

 

He eased closer to his father, looking him over cautiously. Lord Tywin had been a cold, hateful man almost as long as Jaime had known him. The only soft spot he had ever seen the man have was his mother. She had been able to wrap her arms around him, press close and gentle him. That was all it had ever taken, a sweet, gentle word, and his father always acquiesced.

 

Jaime still remembered when he was eight, and he had to go with the maester when his father was told that he was not able to learn to read. His father’s face had turned dark and scornful before he dismissed the elderly man. He wanted to cry for shame under his father’s gaze as much as he had wanted to tell him how he bested two boys already taken to squire by his uncles just that morning. Being able to read was nothing to being able to swing a sword well, and he was better than all the rest.

 

All that happened was that he had been ordered to report to his father first thing in the morning. Mornings became his bane as he reported to his father to learn to read and write. He could have spent that time with a sword, and his father had kept him inside at the table in his solar, sat beside him, staring at stupid squiggles on a paper until he could read and write. He had never hated anyone so much as his father during those hours. Still he had learned, but he had never thanked his father for making him learn.

 

He looked down at the missives scattered across his father’s desk, and he could read them because the man sitting in front of him refused to let his son settle for ignorance or mediocrity. One had beautiful letters on it. They arched and swirled elegantly, making it difficult to easily read especially upside down.

 

“That’s none of your concern.” Lord Tywin picked up the letter, folding it neatly and tucking it away in a small drawer that he then locked.

 

Pain pinched Jaime’s heart. He had noticed the name at the bottom before it was taken away. Sansa.

 

“Aren’t you going to ask what she wanted?”

 

Annoyance filled his father’s eyes as he sat back in his chair. It was the same expression on his face as when he chastised him for attacking Lord Stark in the streets of King’s Landing and then for not just killing the man, foolish as he said it would have been. It was the same way he looked at Tyrion every day after he returned from the castle.

 

“Since you want to tell me now after so many days, I don’t suppose I need to.” Tywin linked his fingers together in front of him, resting his elbows on the arms of his chair.

 

Jaime looked straight into his father’s bitter, sullen green eyes, knowing that feeling being shown to him was not shared willingly. His father never shared his heart easily. The man would likely be disgusted by the request, but he repeated the lady’s words to him.

 

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.” Jon walked into the room with his Valyrian steel sword hanging from his hip. He took a seat at the table after kissing her cheek.

 

“Sansa.” She took Robb’s hands as he came to her also wearing a sword. He leaned in close and kissed her forehead.

 

“Your Grace.”

 

“Sansa, you don’t have to do that. I’m still Robb.”

 

Sansa curtsied to her king, glancing to Jon. Robb pulled her into a gentle embrace before leading her to the table.

 

“As you say.”

 

“Jon.” Robb looked to their brother. He backed away and pointed a finger at her before slumping into a chair. “If I this plan fails and I lose my sister, my mother will string me up by my guts. If my sister gets hurt by the man she and my wife keep promoting that she wed, my mother will never forgive me. Talk to her. I don’t know how anymore.”

 

“Sansa.” Jon moved to her. “Robb knows your position. He loves you, and he worries. Everyone is making demands of him. He has more to protect than you. Lord Tywin wants to wed his daughter to your uncle. You need to talk to him.”

 

It had not been a secret how she had been treated, not when she was stripped and beaten in front of a hundred people. How Cersei had treated her could not have remained secret long, not when the queen screeched at her in front of her brother. Arya would have concluded that her treatment had been far from gentle with no difficulty. She understood that Jon would tell Robb in order to ensure her safety and help her family. His actions were solely motivated by the desire to keep her safe. That was who Jon was and would always be.

 

“Then you tell us a story about Lord Tywin threatening you with the death of your family if you aren’t given to him. Is that how you’ve been treated, Sansa?”

 

Robb’s normally gentle eyes looked every bit as furious as she had ever seen Sandor’s as he looked into her face. He looked like he already knew the answer, and the answer hurt him. It hurt him to know what his sister suffered.

 

Sansa willed away her fear and her tears. Neither would convince Robb of how deadly it would be if he kept her away from Tywin, and the worst part was that she wanted to go back to him, for the peace and quiet he offered. He was not a man given to feasting and loud partying unless it was necessary, and his conclusion was generally that it was not.

 

“Love drives a person to do strange things, whether that love is for a person or a kingdom or faith.”

 

Jon took her upper arms gently. Her eyes widened, and he rubbed softly with his thumbs. His expression was angry, not in the same way Robb’s was, but there was anger.

 

Sansa looked between them both. The thought of what else they could argue about if she brought up Jon’s secret niggled in her mind, but she knew she could not distract them permanently from the discussion of her treatment. She had spoken what little of it she had been able to get out and kept everything else inside.

 

“What should our love for you have us do? Let you be subjected to spite and rage so we can go home? If you marry him, we have no way to protect you.”

 

“If I don’t, Robb, I can’t protect you. Tywin Lannister’s pride will be sword and shield for me. He won’t allow me to be hurt because I’ll be a Lannister, the most important one after him. Look how quickly he came to the defense of the Lannister he most loathes. What will he do for his wife?”

 

“You were mistreated by his daughter five days ago. Where was he?” Robb took her face in his hands, lowering his head to look into her eyes.

 

She could be the sweet, gentle lady she wanted only if someone was there to protect her.

 

“No man can stop or avenge all the evil in the world. No matter how he would wish it. Lord Tywin will keep me safe. You can say he has done no more than his duty. If you believe that’s true, you have no reason to believe that he’d suddenly begin shirking it.”

 

Robb’s eyes flitted to Jon.

 

“How do we stop evil from happening to you? From happening to our family? Do you know what he’s asking?”

 

“You stop evil by making the best allies you can, Robb.”

 

Sansa chewed the backside of her lower lip. As pleased as she had been when Joffrey set her aside, fear had twisted in her heart. She had feared so much after what Lord Baelish told her. The moment that she realized she was staying, thanks to Lord Baelish, was the moment she began fearing what worse things Joffrey might choose to do to her. She feared that she would never be married, that her dream of sweet little babes with a husband who cared for her would never be—that she would only have bastards, bastards that no one would love.

 

What man would want her after Joffrey finished playing with her? Joffrey would not let her go if he could hold on. He enjoyed his tortures too much, but Lord Tywin had stopped every evil plan that Joffrey devised for her pain. She had not seen the king after she met his lord grandfather. He was asking so little for what he had done to keep her safe. He wanted her, despite everything that had been done, everything that might have been done. Instead of treating her like she was stupid, he helped her learn.

 

“Sansa, he wants his sons by you to be the heirs of Riverrun and Winterfell if no male heir is born to me or Uncle Edmure.”

 

Sansa felt her whole face heat at the implication of sons and what it meant for her and Lord Tywin. He wanted children with her, possibly a good number.

 

Her father was a Stark, and her mother was a Tully. What was so strange and horrible about ensuring that her children received their rightful inheritances? If West, North, the Riverlands, the Crownlands, the Vale, and the Reach were all connected by blood, there would be no need for them to war with each other. They would be a power with which none could contend without an army of dragons.

 

“Why should my children not inherit if no male heir is born to you or uncle? With Bran and Rickon gone, I’m next in the line of succession for Winterfell. I’m the daughter of Winterfell, and I’m Lord Hoster Tully’s oldest granddaughter. He’s not asking for more than what should be mine. He wants to give to me.”

 

She could see the judgment on their faces. All they saw him doing was trying to take more castles, more kingdoms for the Lannisters. If all that mattered to Tywin Lannister was putting his children in three great castles of Westeros, he could have done that by marrying her in King’s Landing and letting her brother meet whatever fate he wrote them. He did not have to offer them anything. He had everything he had needed if castles were all he wanted.

 

She fought the instinct to look toward the red tents at her next thought. They would surely think her mad if she voiced it, but she could not unthink it now. She knew what her value had been in the Red Keep. Joffrey had never been quiet about it, but maybe she meant more to Lord Tywin than her claims, if that was possible. She needed to speak to him, not that he would say it to her if he did feel it.

 

“Sansa, they’d be his children, too.”

 

Sansa bit her tongue before she made one of the snide comments she had been so prone to making as a child. Ladies did not behave that way. Saying that her children would be Lord Tywin’s children when she married him was ridiculous. Of course, they would be his. She only ever wanted children with her husband. Even when she had feared that husband being Joffrey, she never contemplated having another man’s children.

 

It was possible to have children with men other than her husband, but that was not her. She had seen a partially clothed Ser Lancel Lannister stumble out of the queen’s bedroom the morning she was taken to her after she flowered. It disgusted her, what the queen said and did. She could never do that. She wanted to be a lady and a good wife to her husband, and any man who would touch Lord Tywin’s wife that way would have to be mad with jealousy and hatred and the gods knew what else would have to be in his head.

 

She thought on the ways Lord Tywin would try to lead her to answers with simple, open questions. How he would wait, encourage her to keep plucking at the strings till the song played true. Her brothers needed her to play and play well.

 

“Robb, you know what Joffrey did to me. I know you do. That man brought an end to my suffering and offers to end a war.” She gestured toward the window with an open palm. “He had me in his power, could have forced me to do anything he wished. Instead of wedding me and bedding me and killing my brother, he offers a hand to help you. Why?”

 

H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R. T~A~L~L~A~S~K~I~N~G. H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R.

 

Tyrion stared at his brother as he practiced with Ser Addam Marbrand in a privately erected tent. He could not help reflecting on the number of times that he had been invited to Riverrun, and he would be returning again this evening. He had been questioned time and again by the Northern lords. They were mostly courteous to him now, courteous in the northern fashion at any rate.

 

He was helping their king, and by extension them. They knew it. Robb Stark was as ready as Tyrion could make him after hours of playing the part of his father. He had been instructing Robb Stark in how to negotiate with his father, and it was a difficult task. The king clung to his truculent attitude about Lord Tywin, but he was working to tame his temper as he was learning there were ways to speak and times to keep silent. The lords and king in the north treated him like he was a master at arms in the war of words.

 

A loud cry brought his mind to what was happening in front of him. Jaime Lannister, Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, once the greatest swordsman of Westeros, was in a terrible position after the loss of his hand. It was only made worse that he was distracted, troubled by the loss of the woman he loved. Knowing something was for the better did not reduce the pain of loss heaped upon loss. With sweat soaked hair and clothes sticking to him in all places, Ser Addam struck the blow that disarmed him and had him yielding. Reclaiming his status as best sword in the seven kingdoms was a great distance off.

 

He waddled after his taller sibling back to their tent, finding his brother half naked when he got there and splashing cold water over himself. Dripping wet, he dropped onto the simple chair at the head of the table.

 

“Better find a way to leave what troubles you behind and focus on learning to use the hand left to you. I don’t want to see my brother in an early grave.”

 

“What do you talk about with Robb Stark?”

 

“Father’s peace proposal and how he can ask for things he wants that benefit the North if he considers what he wants in return for giving Father the beautiful woman with whom he wants to play Lord and Lady of the Rock.”

 

“How did he seem about his sister wedding a man old enough to be her grandfather?”

 

A sad look passed over his brother’s face, telling Tyrion what he needed to know. Jaime had seen that the man felt something for Princess Sansa, even if it was only selfish, perverse desire. Their father was a man, and Tyrion had seen few men who did not desire the companionship of a person they found beautiful.

 

“After reminding him that he would have great influence over the Warden of the West when the patriarch of House Lannister dies, better than when I insinuated that our dear father is excessively particular about the women with whom he plays Lord and Lady of Casterly Rock. Only the most beautiful girl is suitable for the descendant of the ancient kings of the West.” Tyrion poured himself a full goblet of wine.

 

“Tyrion, this is serious. What he’ll do—”

 

He smacked his lips together as his brother tried to verbalize what he saw in the hard man that raised them. The thick Dornish Sour filled his mouth and warmed his belly. The tone of Jaime’s voice gave him pause instead of inducing him to make another smart remark. His older brother was rarely this serious, and he was one of the few people always willing to make witty remarks. Now, he just looked distressed and concerned. The loss of his hand had changed Jaime in ways Tyrion had yet to see, ways that might be for the better if he would allow the experience to better him. The look on his brother’s face was the one he often wore when he moved between his warring siblings. He must be concerned at the start of the war between their father and him, how it seemed to have reached a point of tentative alliance and so quickly. He loved his family and always wanted to get for them what he could.

 

“What’s wrong, Jaime?”

 

“Father isn’t himself.” Jaime’s head lolled over the back of the chair in which he sat.

 

Tyrion tilted his head, thinking for a moment that he might have seen tears in his brother’s eyes. Maybe he could make him smile. The situation was dire, but nothing that a smile could not improve hopefully.

 

“Plotting to kill all the Starks and the Tullys if they refuse to let him wed, bed, and breed a sixteen-year-old woman. Seems like Father’s thinking as clearly and cruelly as ever. Sansa Stark is the prize of the kingdoms, and he’s not about to let any other man have her.” Their father would gain much through the match, much to fill his greedy, cold heart.

 

Tyrion’s gut twisted at the hurt look on his brother’s face, and he almost felt bad. He knew he was being flippant, and that his brother was truly concerned for his father. He did not know why Jaime expected him to share those concerns. He did not want to hurt Jaime, but their father had taken away his wife. Some part of him wanted to take Sansa away to spite the man for what he had done to Tysha. Even knowing that she had been a whore gave him no comfort when he remembered the way she looked with coins spilling from her hands with the spend of dozens of men dripping down her thighs. He was trying his damnedest to help the Stark girl. Sansa did not deserve the suffering that would fall on her if his father was denied. She had probably never sought to hurt anyone in her life, and she had the misfortune of having attracted the attention of the wrong men.

 

Still there had been those few moments when he glimpsed a man entirely different from the one who did that. He wondered if this new man was the one his father had been to his lady mother. Lord Tywin was not a man given to striking out in anger or in caressing tenderly. He spoke sternly with his tongue and struck fear into people with his eyes. But that day he had been waiting to speak with him, he had seen his father take Lady Sansa’s face, rubbing his thumbs over it as tenderly as if she were worth more than all the gold beneath the Westlands. It had not left Tyrion.

 

He had been disgusted to think that his father might kiss that sweet girl. That would have shaken her to her core, nearly as often as his nephew tried. Then there were all the times his father had ordered him away from her. He was not the same nasty man when ordering him about in front of her that he was when she was absent. He was practically civil as long as she was there, and watching him walk with her on his arm reminded Tyrion of everything he imagined a king and queen should be as a child.

 

“I know you and our father have bad blood. I know how horrible what he did to you was. He blames you for so much that’s not your fault, and it isn’t fair. I have no right to ask you to help him, but he needs help.”

 

“You should help him because he’s your father, Tyrion, whether you hate him or not.”

 

Tyrion downed a third cup of wine as he looked up. Ser Kevan Lannister walked into the tent, taking up the wine jug and setting it down away from him. He had been helping the Starks which in turn would help Lord Tywin, not that his father would ever express gratitude for Tyrion’s work.

 

“Uncle Kevan.”

 

The urge to ask what his father had ever done for him waited behind his clenched jaw. What the monster had done to Tysha—what Tyrion could never have protected her from—he might never be able to pay that debt. The worst part was not the debt he owed the man. It was the debt he owed himself. He swore to protect her, despite having been a whore Jaime hired. She had been his wife.

 

“I know what Tywin did, Tyrion. I know how hurt you are, but your father never got the chance to be other than he became.” His uncle eased down with a sigh. Hurt twisted his features as he considered his words. “You can weep and moan about how unfair your lives have been. You can even blame your father for some of that misery. He wants the best for the Lannisters, and he’s always fought with every beat of his heart for his children to never have to fight the battles he did. As surprising as it may seem, his life has had moments of the bitterest heartbreak. Life hasn’t been fair to him either.”

 

Tyrion listened to his uncle talk about the Reyne-Tarbeck Rebellion, how Lord Tywin had to deal with that when he was barely eighteen years old. How he offered a hand of friendship to those lords, told them to come and face judgment, and how it was rejected. His ability to swiftly met out justice had impressed his friend, then the newly crowned King Aerys II Targaryen. Ser Tywin Lannister became the youngest man ever appointed Hand of the King, and the world expected him to help rule over seven kingdoms, a task that would have been monumental for a man with twice his age and experience.

 

“Not long after, your father married Lady Joanna in the most splendid and beautiful ceremony I have ever seen in the Sept of Baelor. I remember him smiling that day. It’s one time he was too happy to hide it from the world. The whole of King’s Landing witnessed them returning to the Red Keep, and they cheered for them the whole journey. His marriage to the woman he loved brought him a peace that nothing else ever had, and too soon it became a tragedy.”

 

The words his uncle had spoken to him years ago when he was a younger man came to the front of his mind. Uncle Tygett always claimed that the best part of Lord Tywin died with Lady Joanna. They said her death nearly took him to his grave.

 

“Your father does not know that I know this. Your mother needed someone to talk to while he was serving as Hand in King’s Landing as the Mad King demanded of him. I expect you to both keep your tongues from wagging.”

 

His uncle Kevan told a tale that, if Jaime had not looked so horrified, Tyrion would have had trouble believing. Their mother, by all accounts, one of the kindest and most beautiful ladies ever to walk to the earth, captured the attention and obsession of the one man from whom her husband could not defend her. Jealousy and lust turned the Mad King against his friend because of the praise lavished on the Lord Tywin. He shouted that he was the king. He could not contain himself from publicly lusting after Lady Joanna at court—particularly after she gave birth to Tywin Lannister’s twins.

 

“After that lunatic did what he did, all your father wanted was to leave. It was all your mother wanted too, for him to bring her home and keep her safe. Aerys refused to accept his resignation, determined to make him suffer. Your father became his prisoner, so he put all his energy into protecting the people where he could while enduring each humiliation the king determined he deserved. Getting into Mad King Aerys’s good graces required nothing but making Tywin Lannister look like the court fool.”

 

Tears filled his uncle’s eyes as he shook, staring at them. He leaned forward into his hands, slumping a bit.

 

“You love him.” Tyrion spoke quietly, pushing his wine glass away.

 

“He’s my brother.” Ser Kevan raised his eyes to them after a short time. “There’s so much in this life he didn’t ask for and that he sought to avoid. There’s so much he’s had to take, and he’s done it for his family, for duty, to raise the Lannisters above all other houses. Marrying your mother may have been the only thing he ever did because it was what they both wanted—more than anything.”

 

Tyrion scowled down at his cup. He had never heard the story of his father told that way. Not that it surprised him. Lord Tywin was not a man to allow people to speak of his humiliations and pains openly. Few men were brave enough to tempt raising his wrath.

 

“I don’t know what his plans are, what he wants with that northern girl. Whatever it is, it isn’t to hurt her. I’m sure of that. Maybe he wants to prove that he can protect a wife.”

 

Tyrion pushed a cup toward Ser Kevan, and Jaime shifted, clumsily dressing in his white armor. His father wanted something more than castles with her. His uncle, who knew him better than any other man, was certain of it. Tyrion had suspected it.

 

“He’ll hurt her without meaning to, though, to get what he wants. Won’t he? Because he has decided that he wants her.” Jaime dipped his head to look up at their uncle.

 

“He will. If the Young Wolf won’t give, Tywin will take what he’s decided belongs to him.”

 

Tyrion completed the thought on his own. When his father took, he would destroy. It was the Reynes and the Tarbecks all over again. The only difference was their destruction had brought him pride and power and respect for his house. That was what they had been trying to take from him. The Starks had something far more precious to him, and something that destruction could not win him. The bards might strum the song When Winter Came for House Stark, but he would lose if Sansa Stark was what he wanted.

 

She would wed him and bed him. He would be her husband. She would sit at his side without weeping in front of him or anyone else. She would give him children if he had any say in it, and he would do his best to ensure it. She might even survive him after surviving Joffrey. But Tywin Lannister would lose. And if Sansa tried to leave, Lord Tywin would lock her away and force her to remain by his side. He would command her to love him, and she would say the words—just the way his nephew had taught her to sing like a bird. His father would see the lie, and it would anger and hurt him. He would never acknowledge that his faults were what had made it impossible for her to love him, and he would find someone else to blame for the pain it would cause.

 

He would kill the remaining Starks to have her. Once that was done, she would never love any Lannister if his father took it that far. If Lord Tywin wanted her to be his wife, that was what she would be or everyone would feel his pain. Even she would not escape, and she knew it when she sent him with her letter for the proud lord, the second letter he had been eager and desperate to read.

 

“If I must beg that fool boy on my knees, I’ll do so.” Uncle Kevan locked eyes with both of them in turn, making Tyrion want to duck his head in shame, but he kept his eyes up. “I don’t know if she can make him feel happy again. I do know that he feels less unhappy when she’s with him.”

 

In the moments that his uncle paused to let the words sink in, a soldier came in carrying a small note which was handed to Jaime.

 

“I have requested an audience with the northern king tonight, and I have been granted an audience with him. I hope you will both think on what I’ve said and make wise decisions to help your family.”

 

W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G. F~I~R~E~A~N~D~B~L~O~O~D. W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G.

 

Jon reached over and took her hand. It was better for her, especially after what she experienced if she went to someone that she had been given time to know, a man for whom she cared. She feared Lord Tywin, but there was also a tenderness for that man in her—even if he was not the first man any of them would have chosen. Even it had started as gratitude. Even if he had done no more than treat her the way she always ought to have been treated. She believed that the Old Lion might care for her, and Lord Tyrion sang that same strange tune about his father, a man known for his coldness and detachment being enchanted by a little wolf.

 

It would be nothing to him to stay in the south, sitting on the Small Counsel as Lord Lannister had requested if certain assurances were met. Robb was furious and frightened to be asked for a brother and a sister. But if that was the price to give them a voice, if he could help the Night’s Watch and his brother, if he could ensure that Sansa was not alone if she needed help, it would be worth the risk.

 

“Why’s Lord Tywin offering you peace? This isn’t a game, and it isn’t a trick.” Sansa looked to Jon, eyes bright and begging him to listen. “He offered peace to the Reynes and the Tarbecks when they rebelled against him, after they had taken his family hostage, after they called their banners to fight him. He offered peace more than once before destroying them. You owe him your sister’s life. Both sisters in truth. He returned your youngest sister and your wife, gave them to you for your good opinion.”

 

Robb’s eyes flashed a bit when she mentioned Jeyne’s kidnapping, and Jon moved to catch his eye before he snarled out his theory that Tywin Lannister could have been behind the kidnapping. That was something they could not prove, and something that they would be discussing with Lord Tywin tonight if all went well.

 

Jon almost smiled at her. She had just been making the same points that Lord Tyrion had over the past days, not that she knew it. Jon kept coming back to that question when he was not caught up in his own musings, waiting for Lord Howland to arrive and then after speaking with the crannogman.

 

Lord Tyrion contended that they knew that Lady Catelyn had set Ser Jaime free. It would not have been difficult to determine that when so much of Robb’s army had been sent out to reclaim him. With his son free, what was served by continuing with the peace agreement? He had Sansa. He could have married her. He could have allowed the north to meet the fate he planned. He would have everything Robb knew he desired, Lannisters ruling three castles, even if two of them had to take different names. Lord Tyrion had agreed every time Robb ranted about what a selfish, greedy man his father was. No matter how he raged, it remained irrefutable that he was there, offering peace terms. He was offering a kingdom to the north.

 

“I think he cares for me. It would hurt me if you died, and he doesn’t want me to be hurt.”

 

“Sansa—” Robb shook his head at her. “A man who cares for you doesn’t threaten your family. He wants hostages, my brother and one of my sisters. He wants to take you back to where you’ve suffered. Who knows what will happen to you and Jon there?”

 

Seeing the distressed look on Sansa’s face had Jon speaking up. He knew what Robb wanted most, what the North wanted most. They wanted the life of the boy who killed a father and their liege lord. Robb wanted to chop Joffrey’s ugly head off himself, the way their father had taught them was right. The man who passes the sentence must swing the sword. That was something that they would never have. They could not display his head as a warning for crossing the North. Joffrey was too well protected, first by city walls, then the City Watch, then the walls around the Red Keep, and then the knights and retainers within the Keep itself. They would never get rid of him the honorable way.

 

“Sansa, will you excuse us for a moment?”

 

He nodded to her as reassuringly as he could manage. This was something she did not need to hear. She might not appreciate knowing what her brothers felt would best ensure her safety, more than her standing with the lion. He did not know if she would want to know the plot they were willing to undertake. They went into his room and barred the door.

 

The weight of the crown on his brother’s head troubled him more than Robb would ever admit. Born to inherit Winterfell and rule as Warden of the North was nothing to the burden that had been thrust upon him by his bannermen. He could never have expected to be named King in the North. Ever since Torrhen Stark knelt to the Targaryens, there had never even been a whisper of a northern king.

 

Jon had been beyond shocked to learn his brother’s new title, and jealousy and twisted in his gut. Then he had been selected as the best person to approach King Robb to tell him of the need the Watch had for men. Who better to approach the king than the man raised as his brother with the unbelievable events they were witnessing? The dead come back to life. When he arrived in Robb’s camp, his brother greeted him with a warm embrace and by naming him heir to Winterfell, despite his oaths to the Watch.

 

Lady Catelyn had been furious. She pointed a finger at him and reminded her son that Jon had taken vows to the Night’s Watch. He was making an oathbreaker of his brother. His sisters were his heirs, and he should be doing everything he could to rescue them, not giving away their inheritance to some bastard. His sisters were what should matter most to him.

 

Everything she spent her married life thinking about him had come out in a few short moments. Robb had looked more livid than he had ever seen his brother. His brother had not been blind to his mother’s hatred, but she was his mother. He had not had the authority to make it stop before. Robb had told her very calmly that she was never to speak of his brother that way again. If he heard of it from Jon, he would see her wed to a northern lord, letting it be known that she would not be welcome at Winterfell again. He loved her as much as he loved his brother. He was king and had the right to absolve a man of any vows he had taken, particularly in times such as they were facing. A Stark must always be in Winterfell. He was going to make sure that there was. He looked ready to have her flogged when he dismissed her, but he would never do that to his mother just as he would never behead Joffrey with Ice.

 

“You know we can’t have things the way we’d want them, but there are ways to get what we want.”

 

Robb wanted them to be safe. Tommen was a sweet, agreeable child, if a little simple from what Jon remembered of him. He had adored Bran, even when Bran kept knocking him to the ground. He just rolled back to his feet and wanted to keep practicing. He only left because his brother told him it was time to be done.

 

“It’ll have a high cost, but what’s more important? Taking all your lords home to care for their families during winter or to having your justice the way you want it? Better to ensure that justice happen and live to see it than watch more men be killed for what can never be.”

 

It was a lesson that Uncle Benjen had tried to teach him about Dareon Targaryen, Jon’s childhood hero who had sought to conquer Dorne, but Jon had been too stubborn to listen then.

 

“Jon, we’ve discussed this before. How can we secure that? How can we even be sure that he even cares about Sansa? Lannisters are liars.”

 

“We haven’t asked for what we most want. If you want Joffrey dead, ask. Maybe he’ll say no. He knows that Joffrey is Sansa’s enemy, and Sansa believes he’ll protect her. I don’t think he’ll put her in danger if his pride is at stake. We’ve seen that much of him at least.”

 

“I’ll ask, but only in person. Such words aren’t meant for being written.”

 

“Sansa is certain that she can keep us safe. We’re asking something big. Might not hurt to sweeten him by letting him see the woman he wants. A woman has mysterious power over a man.”

 

“I’ve spoken to Lord Tyrion about this plan. He thinks it somewhat foolish, but he’ll come and take you tonight. I’ll come after. Every Lannister in the Riverlands feels the urge to speak to me. I’ll hear what they want to say. Might be that we can learn something from them if they ask to see Sansa, and she isn’t in the castle. If they’re willing to talk, we should be willing to listen.”

 

Jon moved to his brother and embraced him. He recognized the words of Lord Tyrion, and he was grateful that his brother saw the wisdom of them.

 

“You’re not trusting Lannisters. You’re trusting Sansa, and you’re trusting me.”

 

“Jon, you may be a Snow, but you’re my brother. You’ll always be a Stark to me.”

 

“Everything will be alright. You should be the one to tell Sansa what will happen.”

 

“I will. I’ll be telling my mother too. She’ll be comforted if we can show her that Sansa will be fine.”

 

Jon nodded, staying quiet. Nothing would comfort Lady Catelyn other than keeping her daughters in her arms and going home to Winterfell, but that was never to be. Sansa was the most valuable possession they had.

 

“Robb, I—” Jon faded for a moment, staring into his brother’s face. “I want to tell you what Lord Reed and I discussed yesterday. You need to know.”

Chapter Text

H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R. D~E~F~E~N~D~T~H~E~K~I~N~G . H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R.

 

Jaime cast the note into the flames. He could not do what his sister was asking of him, and it terrified him that she had even had the nerve to send such a note. Such a plot could ruin all chances they had at peace, not that Jaime ever ran from the chance to fight. Even eyes that so chose not to see what waltzed in front of all seven kingdoms for more than a decade. He and Cersei were every bit the shame, known to all, that ever King Loreon had been when he would flounce about the docks of Lannisport dressed in women’s clothing. Their sins were different. Many would say worse. The things Jaime did for love, but this one was impossible. He had chosen her in the past, and this was where it brought him.

 

He could not fight the lord his father decreed his sister would wed. After the scene she made, she would never be wed to Lord Tully. The Starks had everything they needed to burn that plan to ashes if they took it. She did not even understand that she had ruined their father’s plan or the good it might have done. They had ruined his plan for a Tully wedding to the Lannisters when he was fifteen too, when he swore to serve on the kingsguard. Looking at the chaos they had caused made him appear the smiling knight in every dream.

 

His uncle’s story and his memories left Jaime with an ache that could never be soothed. He never wanted to see his father rage again. He never wanted to see that pain. He did not know whose pain had been greater, his father’s as his mother was dragged away or his own as he was sent from the Harrenhal Tourney, knowing his father was taking the woman he loved in a direction he could not travel.

 

Lord Tywin Lannister deserved something good, deserved a chance to be happy. He remembered how men described his father when he sat upon the Iron Throne. He remembered seeing it once himself, when the Mad King had cut himself upon it. The relief of the commoners and the lords alike to see the Great Golden Lion when they brought their problems to the crown had stayed with him, making him feel that he could never measure up to the man. He was not the lord his father was, and he never would be. Much as he had hated disappointing the man, he had been more frightened of failing to be him. He loved his father, and he would do anything he could to please him.

 

“Ser Jaime, your father commands you to come.”

 

Jaime jerked a little at the directness of Ser Addam Marbrand. His father commanding him was rare. He knew how swiftly his son was to rebel against commands, treating it like a game since he became a teenager and that his son had never outgrown it. His nature made it difficult. As a child, he had to do the opposite of what he was told often. Whenever he came out the opposite side of disobedience, he always ran to his father to save and protect him. His inability to keep the last promise he had made to his mother had brought him to this point. He was part of the reason that five kingdoms had called their banners and gone to war with each other. He had not chosen to love her as he did, but the actions he took for that love were on him. Looking at some of those actions sickened him, even when he had to take them. Now, his father had the task of fixing his son’s mistakes and protecting the Lannisters and their legacy.

 

He turned to go to the man’s tent as more soldiers closed in around him. His father had anticipated him rejecting the summons, and these men had been ordered to bring him, even if it was against his will. He went with them quietly. He would not bring more shame to the man, and he lacked the ability to defeat these men. Once he had cut through ten men with the intent of cutting down Robb Stark, the boy who thought to fight the Lannisters after his mother kidnapped a man half her size.

 

What he saw when he entered his father’s tent shook him to his core. Lord Tywin’s face was utterly impassive, and Jaime felt the same terror as he did when his father stood in the Sunset Sea. He was not a physically or verbally affectionate man. Now, he just sat there, staring at Riverrun like a jilted lover. He remembered how upset the Martells had been when they left Casterly Rock with no engagement to either of Tywin’s children and only the offer of the misshapen baby that the Warden of the West clearly despised. His father looked that way now.

 

He tugged at the man’s clothing. Tears boiled up in his eyes as the terror he felt as a boy filled him. His father was fading away the same as that day his mother bled out. He had been sure he was going to be abandoned by the man. Now, his father was disappearing again, and this time it was all the Stark boy’s fault. That boy had one foot in those dank, gloomy crypts that Robert Baratheon insisted upon visiting immediately upon arrival in Winterfell.

 

“Father, please don’t leave me.” He leaned over his father, pressing his face close into his stomach. “I need you. I still want you. I’ll do whatever you command, please.”

 

Lord Tywin put his hands on his son’s shoulders, but he did not speak.

 

“I’ll make it right, Father. I’ll get that girl for you. Please just stay here. I’ll pay my debt. Just stay with me. I love you.”

 

Jaime shook his fingers loose, fighting the terror. He did not know how he would get Sansa Stark out of that castle. He would make this right, if it was possible, with all he had done. Sansa’s words to him about how much his father loved him, how much more than any words could ever convey. How she spoke of the ceaseless, sleepless nights spent scheming and plotting how to rescue Jaime. How he sent his advisors away so they would not see the pain and fear Tywin felt at the prospect of losing his most beloved son.

 

If Uncle Kevan was right and his father wanted something more than fear from the Stark girl he was determined to wed, he needed help. He would pay the debt the Starks incurred if they kept that girl away from him. It would be the worst kind of horrible, and Sansa would return to him a different woman. She would know who did it, and that her husband murdered her family. Then his father would lose her, and he might not survive that pain. Sansa might not die, but she would be gone all the same—whatever his father found in her that pleased him would be gone, and it would be at his hand.

 

“Jaime, what are you doing?”

 

Jaime looked down at his brother who stared at him curiously.

 

“Going to get that girl for Father.”

 

“How are you going to do that?”

 

“I’ll get into the castle.” Jaime climbed onto the back of the gleaming white horse, his new mount that he named Honor.

 

“How are you going to do that?” Tyrion sounded a little exasperated.

 

“I suppose I’ll have to knock.”

 

Jaime leaned against the animal’s neck. Knocking was definitely the quickest way to get inside, especially without a dragon to burn the walls down.

 

He would get the girl if he had to kidnap her and drag her to his father like a wildling. It was the only way to save his father and the first kind woman he had known since his mother died. He squeezed with his legs, urging his horse faster. Jaime was not afraid to die, but right now, he was going to fight to help the people he loved live.

 

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 out the window of her room. There was nothing to see at this distance, but she still looked every chance she had. She knew which tent was Lord Tywin’s, and she had to wonder if he looked toward the castle much or thought about her. They had taken every evening meal together for so many moons. She missed the quiet conversations as much as she missed the peaceful silences that followed.

 

“Sandor.”

 

He stepped forward out of the shadows and knelt beside her.

 

“Little Bird.”

 

“Did you see him while you were there?”

 

“That camp is like any other war camp, Little Bird. Generals and leaders aren’t seen much until they need to be.”

 

Sansa rubbed her lips back and forth together. Sandor had not really answered her question, and she was not worried about Lord Tywin. She was worried for Lord Tywin. She worried for her family and what he might be planning. He was capable of most anything, even kindness when he was of a mind to be kind. He had been kind to her.

 

This was the type of man who wanted to marry her. He threatened her family if they refused him, but he told her that she was strong enough to help them in the same breath. He would do the most unspeakable harm to her if he had to, and it would not be with his fists on her body or his words to her heart. She should be afraid of him. He wanted her, and he was not a man to be slighted or refused.

 

“What do you think my brother will do?”

 

“He has a great many lordly men wanting a princess for their lordling sons. He only has two sisters. Only one wants to be wed, and only one is of an age to be wed. The Lion would be an excellent alliance for him to make. He knows that, and you said your bit to him.”

 

Sansa nodded, wondering if she would ever understand Lord Tywin. The way he had last spoken to her, it sounded as if her brother stood at a crossroad. He could pick one direction and live. If he picked the other, he would die. How could Tywin know that? What had Tywin Lannister set in motion? Her brother’s death would end the war between the north and the south just as the wedding of the lord of Casterly Rock to the princess of Winterfell. She was the heiress of Winterfell if anything happened to her brother. She would be wed to the Warden of the West. Why offer to let Robb live when he got everything he wanted just as quickly with Robb dead? Surely, it was for her.

 

“It’ll turn out all right, Little Bird. The Queen in the North—” Sandor rolled his eyes at the title, making Sansa give him a bitter little smile. “The Queen in the North has been singing your same song to her husband at night, telling him the danger of defying the Golden Lion.”

 

Sansa nodded, again feeling a pinch of sadness in her chest. Lord Tywin had been quite kind to her good sister, and her fear might only be feeding her brother’s mistrust. Lord Tywin could call her and her family on the debt of betrayal, and he, instead, helped see her back to Robb. He gave Jeyne back for nothing but goodwill. Surely, Robb could see that and more. He could have easily married Sansa before leaving the city. He could have married her at any point on the journey. She was a women flowered. He could have made her his wife.

 

“Seven hells.”

 

It crept out of her mouth before she could stop the words. By the old gods and the new, he had allowed the wedding between her brother and Queen Jeyne—mayhaps even encouraged it. But, why? She had to speak to Lord Tywin. She had to know the man she was marrying.

 

“I need to speak with Lord Tywin, Sandor.”

 

“Tell your brothers.”

 

The knock at her door startled her, and she nodded to Sandor before he opened it.

 

“Jon, come in.”

 

“Sansa, you and I are going to see Lord Tywin this evening. Robb will be following behind us to talk about the peace treaty.”

 

Relief flowed through Sansa with each following word. Everything was going to be fine. She took Jon’s hands as he spoke to her, telling her the general plan for what would be happening.

 

H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R. D~E~F~E~N~D~T~H~E~K~I~N~G . H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R.

 

Jaime dismounted and walked with long, purposeful strides onto the wooden platform that locked with Riverrun’s drawbridge when it was lowered. He had no idea what he was going to say, but he knew he was going to do something to help his father. He would never do anything to intentionally hurt the man. He was not his siblings. He had always been treated well by his father, even when his father had to chasten him, and he could never hold grudges against the man. The most important thing he ever asked his father to do, the man did and did it well. He should honor the man by learning to think better, make better decisions, not be led so quickly by his heart without the guidance of his head.

 

He joined the kingsguard. He had not really known what it would mean, not known what he would see, not believed it completely. All he had thought of had been being closer to his sister. He came into the world, clutching her foot. She had been his best companion until he left Casterly Rock to squire, and she left to go to court. He had been away from them. He had not seen the growing hatred between his father and the jealousy of Mad King Aerys. If he had known the truth about the Mad King when he was fifteen the way he came to know him after taking the white, he would have only vowed louder and faster to protect the people he loved from that. It would have been nothing to die if it saved his father and sister from being burned or strangled or whatever fate the king thought of for them. What he had never imagined was his father giving up his position as Hand of the King, feigning illness and going home after his son accepted the position. He did that for Jaime.

 

Ser Arthur Dayne, Prince Lewyn Martell, Ser Oswell Whent—some of the finest men he had ever known became his teachers the day the White Bull initiated him into the kingsguard in front of the world. He did not know how they did it, how they slept, knowing what the king did to the people. Lord Commander Gerold Hightower told him it was not his place to judge the king, just to obey him. All he learned from that statement was to go away inside his head while men roasted over flames, when he heard the queen scream in pain and fear. Then the day came, a day he had sensed the moment he saw his first tongue ripped out by the lunatic sitting on that miserably uncomfortable chair.

 

The king demanded that he kill his father and have the city burned. He hunted down the pyromancer, Rossart, first, to stop the city from becoming an infernal nightmare. Then he slit that king’s throat after dragging him from the steps to his throne. He did it to save half a million people, intending to slink away and let someone else take credit for the death. Anyone but him would be a hero for killing the Mad King. But the honor was bestowed upon him when Ser Elys Westerling and Lord Crakehall burst into the throne room. He instantly became the most infamous man in Westeros, the Kingslayer, the Oathbreaker, the Man without Honor. Still, he was proud of killing the man, of saving his father’s life, of saving the city. It was the finest thing he had ever done and easily the most well thought out, far more so than attacking the Starks.

 

He had been certain that he would be the only one to stand up for his brother. The Starks took Tyrion, and all he had seen was red as he galloped through the streets to open Lord Stark from balls to brains. If he had been a smart man, he would have taken Lord Stark as a hostage to his father. This war would have gone so much better if he had stopped to think things through.

 

The only honor he had was the horse carrying him, and Sansa was his last chance to have a little. She offered it to him, took his arm, walked beside him to her family to help him fulfill his promise to her mother. She told him he could make his choice, and that a little honor was only fifty paces away. He would help her if he could, but he had to think to make it happen.

 

He had to find the right words to convince the boy to give his sister to the family that killed his father.

 

Several dozen men slunk around the walls of Riverrun, glaring up and shouting occasional insults at the men atop them. Apparently they were all still honoring the peace talk agreement by not shooting the Lannister men full of arrows. Just like men under Stark orders, even when one of the men drunkenly serenaded the castle with an off-key version of The Rains of Castamere.

 

“When snows drift in Winterfell’s halls, Casterly Rock will be hearing a wolf howl in ours.”

 

Jaime shook his head in disgust at the statement. Surely, Lannister men could come up with better than that to taunt the inhabitants of Riverrun’s castle, and the Starks would not enjoy that humor or the fact that the man was drunk.

 

“Get back to camp.”

 

Jaime shook his head at the group of five more sober men facing the main entrance, demanding that Princess Sansa come to speak with them. They wanted to see that she was safe and being well treated. Chances were high that they would all be punished when they arrived back at his father’s war camp.

 

“Go.”

 

They skulked off, obeying reluctantly. A man on the wall shouted a slur about Westermen, and Jaime bit his tongue to hold in a smart remark. He could not afford to anger them if he wanted into the castle the easy way and the only way likely to end the way he needed this interlude to end. He walked out onto the bridge, tipping his head to look up at the guards.

 

He was about to utter the most humiliating phrase he could imagine coming. When he left with Brienne, he had thought that his time with Starks was over. He forced away thoughts about her. She was rotting in the cells under Riverrun, and there was nothing he could do for her. When he entered his father’s war camp, he hoped his time with objectionable Starks was over.

 

When he finished sharing tea with Princess Sansa, he had hoped that the next time he saw the girl would be the next day when his father would toss a red and gold cloak about her shoulders. The Starks seemed to be ever in his path, and it was time to face them and their judgment again.

 

“I’ve come to request an audience with Robb Stark.”

 

A grizzled, gray haired man with a scruffy beard peered down at him, squinting.

 

“Better leave him there. That’s the Kingslayer, Lads. And Robb Stark is our king.”

 

“Blackfish.”

 

Jaime had idolized the Blackfish as a squire. He would always remember the first time he met him, coming to visit this castle when his father sought a betrothal between him and Lysa Tully. He had been seven, and his mother had only recently died. His sister spent a great deal of time crying or going to do hateful things to their newborn brother that he would have to stop. All he felt was anger and confusion. He wildly swung a wooden practice sword when he saw the famous knight of the Step Stones. He was already a good sword. He wanted to test his abilities, so he smacked the great knight with the wooden flat and was soundly and deservedly knocked down.

 

Not one to surrender, Jaime had gotten to his feet over and over, continuing to swing until a hit finally connected that Ser Brynden had tried to deflect. For the rest of the visit, he had trailed Ser Brynden, completely enthralled by him, despite his requests for stories always being refused. He had been very kind, helping Jaime hone his skills at that difficult time. The Blackfish seemed to understand the pain and knew that swinging a sword was the only thing helping Jaime. He had not asked him why he was upset and hurting. He had not asked him about a recently deceased mother that Jaime could not think about without tears coming to his eyes and screaming miserably for her. He just instructed him on how to better hold his sword and keep his feet moving carefully and purposefully.

 

Now the man he had so respected reviled him for breaking his oath. What about all the other oaths? He swore to honor and love his father before he swore to obey the king. He swore to protect the innocent before he swore to protect the king. He saved half a million lives. He saved his father, even if he and Uncle Kevan were the only ones who cared that Tywin Lannister still clung to life. Why was it that only one girl ever bothered to ask him why? The only answer he had was completely ludicrous, from what he had seen of Princess Sansa. She seemed to believe that there were true knights out there, not just men cutting other men open like sacks of meat. She wanted the kingsguard to have honor, and she believed that he could restore it to them.

 

Jaime scowled down at the dark, churning water, knowing what he had to do and hating it. He would do it for his father. He removed his sword, keeping it in the sheath, and he placed it on the ground behind him.

 

“I come alone and unarmed to seek an audience with King Robb.”

 

“Sieges are boring, and the king enjoys seeing the stump. Take the Kingslayer’s message to our king. It may provide entertainment for a short time worth.”

 

Jaime eased down to wait, dangling his legs over he edge of the bridge and leaning on the railing. If he believed in the gods, he might have prayed for all to go well.

 

W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G.  F~I~R~E~A~N~D~B~L~O~O~D. W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G.

 

The bridge cranked and creaked as it was slowly lowered. The large castle doors swung open, and Jon Snow leveled his eyes at the golden haired man who slumped against the bridge railing. He remembered thinking once that Ser Jaime Lannister looked like everything a king should be. When he visited Winterfell, he had stood tall and handsome. He moved with natural confidence. The man could not help looking kingly when compared to the fat drunk who very nearly fell on his face when dismounting from a horse. When he trained with Winterfell’s men-at-arms, Jon had been certain that no man could best him that he had ever seen fight, and he had been proven correct no matter the foe sent against the kingslayer.

 

The war had taken its toll on him. His face was thinner, though at least he was cleaner and looked better put together than he had when he left them. He remembered how the man had mocked him when he went to join the Night’s Watch, but he had also been one of the few people telling the truth about the kind of men he would find living at the Wall.

 

“Ser Jaime.”

 

Sansa always insisted upon simple courtesies, and the man’s name was not too much to ask. Especially if they were soon to be family. The broken man looked up at him. His green eyes briefly held a haunted light as if he had seen too many truly horrible things, and he hoped to prevent them from happening again. Jon knew that look. He had worn it when people he had known and seen dead came back to life.

 

Ghost trotted up next to him, and he lowered his head. He never growled, but he stayed a half pace behind Jon. His red eyes were watchful, and Jon scratched the scruff of his neck.

 

“The bastard of Winterfell. A man of the Night’s Watch.”

 

Jon bit back remarking about how one-handed kingslayers needed to keep a better hold of their tongues lest they talk themselves to more loss of limb. He stared at him, thinking about what the man had sworn to his part of his family, that still hardly felt like family in many ways. Still those people who might have raised him and loved him were dead because the knight in front of him had failed. His brother and sister had been children, children who had done nothing wrong to anyone. They just had the wrong father, his father. He pushed away the thoughts. He had siblings now, siblings he grew up loving, that needed him to be patient. He would surely have a better opportunity to ask these kinds of questions in the future.

 

“Why are you here, Ser?” The man’s bright eyes gave him a slightly suspicious look, appearing wide and moist.

 

“The reason I told the Blackfish.”

 

“Why do you want to see the king?” Jon asked.

 

Whatever the Lannister game being played, he would figure it out before getting to the second critical mission. This could be used as an opportunity of sorts for them to determine what the Old Lion might do, given the chance. Few could know the Lion as well as a son and a brother. They would be able to speak with both if he brought Jaime into the castle.

 

“I thought he might miss me. We used to have these wonderful talks where that great wolf of his would nearly tear my face off while I shit myself.”

 

“Robb doesn’t miss you, but Greywind might be hungry. Shut the gates.”

 

“Wait!”

 

The urgency in the Lannister’s voice dragged him back in. The opportunity to have two Lannisters who were in position to know Lord Tywin closely was too good to pass up. Ghost moved forward at his urging, pulling his lips back briefly, but his ears remained perked up more in curiosity than aggression.

 

“What do you have to say, Ser?”

 

“Did she teach you that?”

 

Jon rolled his eyes, motioning to his wolf to come as he scowled from the other side of where the portcullis would drop. He learned early on just how many people were better than a bastard, and thanks to Lord Tyrion, he had gotten better at not letting it bother him so much. It made his life far simpler to give true-born people the respect they felt they deserved, even when they treated him like muck in a stable. It was easier, and it helped him avoid the unwanted attention that only ever ended in him being hurt.

 

“Being a bastard taught me that.” Jon’s jaw set forward, but he did not feel the need to remind the man in front of him that he was a prince. He would remember it if he wanted to see the king. “This is your last chance. The Blackfish assures us that sieges are dull, but you’re more annoying than entertaining.”

 

“I’m here to ask King Robb to give his sister to my father.”

 

“Is there a reason your brother couldn’t be the one to come and speak your piece to us? Except for Lady Catelyn, we all think of him as our favorite Lannister.”

 

“Well, I was bound to be the favorite Lannister of one Stark.” Jaime climbed to his feet.

 

“Close the gate.”

 

“Wait!” Ser Jaime raised his head proudly. “I’m here for the same reason that you came south. I love my father.”

 

Jon stared at him quietly, considering what to do. This was a chance they had not anticipated, and they could not afford to pass it up.

 

“Come with me. You’ll wait under guard while I see if the king has time for you.”

 

H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R. T~A~L~L~A~S~A~K~I~N~G. H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R.

 

Worry filled Tyrion as he entered the castle. He had seen his brother brought inside, and he could only hope that Jaime would not ruin all the good he was working toward. He loved Jaime best of all his family, but Jaime was no negotiator. He roared, and people heard because he was loud not because they wanted to listen to what he had to say.

 

Tyrion knocked quietly on the door, and the soft voice of Princess Sansa called for him to enter. He still found it almost impossible to believe that Robb Stark had agreed to this madness. It was not till he was called into this private meeting with the princess, Prince Jon, and the king that he believed they intended to see this scheme of the princess’s through to its conclusion.

 

He was to escort the two members of the Stark family his father requested to remain in the south—one as a Lannister and one as an ambassador to the throne—into the man’s war camp. It was nearly as mad as the story his uncle told him earlier that afternoon about his mother and father. His father not knowing the appearance of Jon was irrelevant. He would be where he had no power, and Robb was allowing this to happen.

 

The Hound opened the door, but he did not pretend that Tyrion was too small to be noticed. His face did twitch horribly as his nose wrinkled like an angry dog, but he stepped aside for him to enter.

 

Tyrion almost cursed as he saw three siblings standing there. He was going to be a dead dwarf when this lunacy reached its resolution. There were two possible endings for him if this failed. A Lannister would be a kinslayer, or the Starks would have a tasty treat for two direwolves. It was smart, but very risky, to send what his father wanted ahead of being asked for something that was sure to anger him unless he had privately reached the same conclusion that the Starks had years ago. If the plan worked, the possibilities of what his reward might be were worth considering. He would be depending on the Starks for that.

 

Jon Snow had shaved his face of the dark facial hair that the northerners favored. He was dressed in light armor of the north, instead of full plate. Dark curls covered half of his face, and a heavy furred cloak draped his shoulders. Leather crossed his chest, holding the cloak on, and pressed into the leather was the direwolf of House Stark outlined with white thread.

 

Princess Sansa was dressed in a simple gray dress, absent any adornment to mark her name or family. With her head covered, she was unrecognizable.

 

“Your Grace—”

 

Robb turned to him with a steely look in his eyes to let him know that he would hear no more objections to the plan. He had pointed out, and rightly so, that if his father broke this temporary peace by keeping Sansa and Jon that the Lannister name would suffer for it. His children and grandchildren would bear the shame. Their inheritances would be poisoned gifts, which defeated the purpose of wanting them for the child. Lord Tywin was not a man to do something shameful without having another man to take the credit or the blame depending on how it would be written.

 

“I’m ready to escort your brother and sister to their meeting with my father.”

 

“Are you sure about this, Sansa?” Robb held her arms, making her look into his eyes.

 

“I am certain, Robb. Jon and I will be safe with Lord Tywin. He won’t hurt me, and he doesn’t know Jon’s face. Jon is just my protector, my less conspicuous one at this time, until we tell him otherwise.”

 

Tyrion was not so sure about her bold claim, but her king seemed set on taking the risk, set on trusting his siblings to manage this. To a degree it was smart. If the Lord of Casterly Rock truly wanted Sansa and Jon, and Tyrion had no doubt that he did, they would not be harmed. Even if Jon remained the unknown, Lord Tywin would do no harm to someone guarding Sansa. If negotiations went poorly, having Sansa in close proximity to be called to sooth and ply the lion with her big blue eyes was far from foolish.

 

“I’ll be coming as soon as I finish business here. Apparently, every Lannister feels the need to visit Riverrun, except Lord Tywin.”

 

“My uncle is waiting for his audience?” Tyrion had put away some of what Uncle Kevan had told them about his father. There was no time to dwell on it, or how many times his father looked at him and said, ‘you’re not my son.’

 

“Ser Jaime is also waiting.”

 

“My brother wants to help our father, Your Grace, but he’s no diplomat. Please be patient with him.”

 

Robb Stark had been getting quite good at the impassive stare they had been working on for negotiating with Tywin Lannister. Getting emotional would only help Tywin, and phrasing it that way was what had begun helping Robb to really try to keep his cool. He did not know what the king was thinking as he explained that Jaime would always speak from his heart, and that his heart was impulsive when he feared for those within its confines.

 

“As long as he commits no treason against the North, his propensity for verbally vomiting can be overlooked. I’ve enjoyed his company for long enough to know his personality better than I’d like.”

 

Tyrion snorted at this turn of phrase. It was a wit that had not often edged Robb Stark’s speech, but it made him a little more fun. He had heard more and more over the last several days of teaching him how it would be best to negotiate.

 

“Apologies, my Lord, he’s been spending too much time with you. He’s been learning how to speak with fancier language.” Jon looked between them at Sansa’s gentle words. “You’re his favorite Lannister. I’m quite certain of that.”

 

“My father is the mean one. My brother is the reckless one. My sister is the one who lusts for power. I am the thoughtful one.” Tyrion reached for Sansa’s hand as she stepped up to him. “The king’s choices have been limited. Are you ready, my Lady?”

 

H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R. D~E~F~E~N~D~T~H~E~K~I~N~G . H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R.

 

Jaime stared at his stump. The hand that had once been attached to it, that had rotted around his neck until he had been rescued from the Bloody Mummers by Lord Glover, it had caused him nothing but trouble. He sat outside Riverrun’s great hall, waiting for the bastard of Winterfell to return and tell him that he could enter and speak his piece. What could he even say that would make the wolves care for an aging lion?

 

His life was a long list of mistakes. He was glad that his mother had not lived to see what happened to her son. Whenever he doubted himself, she had opened her arms and welcomed him. No matter his mistakes.

 

“Kingslayer.”

 

Jaime bit back how much it bothered him, and kept it inside how proud he was that he killed Aerys II. There was nothing he could say to northerners to make them understand or care. Six people dead to save half a million, five pyromancers and a mad man who asked a son to kill his father, die, and watch the city burn. Remembering the White Bull’s advice had given him no comfort that day. He had been the only member of the kingsguard in the city, kept there as a hostage for his father’s good behavior. He chose to reject that advice, to not look away at those commands.

 

He lifted his head to look into the Blackfish’s eyes. He was here to help his father and this man’s great niece. They may not want it. They may not think they needed him, but they did. There were no men like him. Only him, and he would do his best.

 

F~A~M~I~L~Y~D~U~T~Y~H~O~N~O~R. W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G. F~A~M~I~L~Y~D~U~T~Y~H~O~N~O~R.

 

Catelyn watched her son enter the hall and take a seat calmly. Robb nodded to her, even offered her a small smile as they listened to Kevan Lannister. His words gave her hope as much as fear. He spoke of his brother and how he was there to ask for someone who was the first person to make his brother less unhappy in decades. He was there to ask strangers to help him help his brother. Two people would suffer otherwise, and he did not wish pain on either of them. They had both suffered enough in his eyes.

 

Robb listened so quietly. Her son had finished writing his terms for peace that afternoon. She prayed for him, lighting candles in the sept as she prayed for her daughter and for what her son might be planning to do with his sister.

 

Rumors of what happened to her second child haunted her dreams. She had tried to speak with Sansa about it, told her that she must tell Robb, so he would know to protect her. Beaten and stripped in court. One of he servants who helped Sansa dress had told Catelyn about the marks on her daughter’s back, long thin lines of healed scars. More than a dozen going in as many directions.

 

Sansa refused to answer any of her questions, opting to change the subject each time her mother tried. The next day, she had refused to allow any young women who waited upon her previously to do more than light her fires and fetch her bath water. They were politely but firmly dismissed.

 

“Get in there, Kingslayer.”

 

“Jaime, what are you doing here?”

 

Jaime looked up at the sound of Uncle Kevan’s voice.

 

“Paying my debts.” Jaime walked calmly past his uncle, staring up at the Stark boy where he sat with two large guards holding spears at the head of the hall.

 

“Your Grace.”

 

“We will speak with the Kingslayer alone. You’re welcome to wait for him, Ser.”

 

And now, him. Did the Lannisters have no comprehension of how loathsome they were?

 

The kingslayer approached. His long white cloak streamed down his back, and the white scales glinted in the light of the candles.

 

Robb sat with his sword sheathed and leaning against the side of the great chair that her father had so often sat upon when she was a little girl. He snapped his fingers, and Greywind took a place at his feet, eyes leering at the Lannister and lips curling into a snarl every so often.

 

“Ser Jaime Lannister, why have you come?”

 

The chill in her son’s tone pleased Catelyn. The knight looked up at them uncertainly. It was almost unnerving. He had clung to arrogance and cockiness when he was chained in his own filth. Yet now he was the shadow of a stable cat, more than the golden lion that was his family’s sigil.

 

“May we speak alone?” He lifted his chin and met her son’s eyes. “Your Grace.”

 

“Is your business concerning the peace discussions between the North and your father?”

 

Jaime Lannister met her son’s eyes evenly as he answered.

 

H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R. D~E~F~E~N~D~T~H~E~K~I~N~G . H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R.

 

His father’s words about ruling filled his mind as he walked toward the King in the North. Piety, justice, and strength were not the best qualities of an excellent ruler. Wisdom was what a ruler needs.

 

Jaime had yet to meet a wise man who sat upon a throne and wore a crown. A crown always seemed to crush the brain of its wearer. Madness and drunken debauchery were all he had known of kings. He did not hold much hope that a boy barely older than he had been when he joined the kingsguard would know wisdom if it walked up and backhanded him across the face.

 

“Are we to host every Lannister in Westeros?”

 

The Blackfish spoke up a moment into the lingering silence.

 

“Here I was thinking we’d been clear about our favorite Lannister.”

 

“That’s enough, Lord Umber and Uncle Blackfish. We’ll hear what he has to say. We agreed to what I hope will become a lasting peace. I won’t have us dishonor it.”

 

Hopefully, King Robb would heed his counsel’s advice. The fact that he made his bastard brother his heir did not make it look too promising, despite it being done at a time when he believed he would never have his sisters back and only one brother at his side.

 

Jon Snow hated him for his slightly drunken teasing when he heard that the boy was going to the Wall. It had not been his proudest moment at Winterfell, nor his most dishonorable. He had thought only of protecting himself and Cersei and their children when he pushed Bran. The teasing had been more because he could hardly believe that Ned Stark was going to allow his son to go there. Surely he loved his bastard better than that. He brought him home to raise.

 

Jaime bit the tip of his tongue. He had to think. He had to make better choices now than he had.

 

“What do you want to say, Ser Jaime?”

 

Jaime hid his surprise at being address so politely. Without Princess Sansa here to correct her brother’s manners as if he were a rude little boy, he expected to hear every colorful name he had been given by commoner and nobleman alike.

 

A piece of advice he remembered from his mother came to him. What you say is just as important as how you say it.

 

He walked forward till he was at the bottom of the dais, a place he was quite familiar with being in relation to kings. He eased down to both knees before he spoke. It might be the only way to get the only thing he had ever seen his father desire.

 

W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G.  F~I~R~E~A~N~D~B~L~O~O~D. W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G.

 

Jon helped Lord Tyrion’s personal guard pull the boat up to shore in a line of thin woods. The man made a joke that he ignored about how he expected princes and princesses to travel more fancily.

 

Clegane had been furious at bring left behind, promising to go great violence if any harm came to her. He had only calmed when Sansa put her hand on his shoulder before he helped her into the boat, promising him that all would be well. He had scowled but spoke quietly, promising to do her bidding when she asked him to protect Robb and Ser Jaime.

 

They walked quietly into the Lannister camp, and Jon could not silence his mind. They would put to rest much of their speculation tonight.

 

Ser Kevan and Ser Jaime had both gone for audiences with Robb. He would follow the plan and get twice the reaction in half the time. They would know more. They would see if Tywin Lannister’s family believed he would do something as horrible as what Robb’s queen and sister were telling him was possible, what his history had shown him capable of devising.

 

His own past was more than he had ever dreamed, and Jon did not know if it mattered. He still felt more like a Stark than anything else. Lord Stark had loved him as a son, and for the most part treated him as a son when his wife could not find ways to push him away. The Blackfyre Rebellion had been in his mind often after his discussion with Lord Reed. They had caused such chaos and destruction in the kingdoms. His brother told him that he remained a Stark, no matter what his name was. He had a brother who loved him.

 

He scowled down at Lord Tyrion. Ned Stark was his father, though he was the son of Rhaegar and Lyanna. Still, why could he not have said the name of his mother to him once? With the king having been so near the only time he asked, too much danger. If King Robert had even suspected, he would have killed Jon. His father always turned cold as the bitterest wind to whip over the top of the Wall when the Princess Elia’s children were mentioned, their fates at the hands of Gregor Clegane and Robert’s utter lack of compassion for the fate of two children, one a babe and the other barely more than that.

 

Jon stopped as it hit him, the deaths of those two children. They had been his siblings, as much as Sansa or Robb or Arya, and they had been murdered by the man he was going to see. The suddenness of a hand on his arm pulled him away from it, and Sansa squeezed him.

 

“Oh, the Little Lion Man?”

 

Jon jerked at the voice and stumbling approach of the Lannister soldier. He drank from a flagon of wine, toasting Tyrion as the little man stopped in his tracks.

 

“Who’ve you gone and married now? She’s a pretty face.” He chuckled as the little lord turned his bright black eye on him.

 

“Ser Ryam Hill, I suggest you stop and walk away before the noose slips around your neck.”

 

The man pouted, grabbing a purse that dangled from his belt and opening it.

 

“Your whore has a beautiful body, and I’ve the coin to pay—even if—”

 

Jon was on top of the man in an instant, slamming a fist into the other man’s face. There was a gush of blood and a satisfying crunch as Ser Ryam’s nose broke under his fist. He tackled the knight, throwing him to the ground. He punched the man in the face again, the twisted smile he had worn reminded Jon of Theon. Theon killed his brothers. Wham. That was for what had been done to Arya. Wham. That was for Sansa. Ser Alliser Thorne calling him a traitor’s bastard. Wham. All he saw was red like fire as he continued hitting the man.

 

He struggled as two men lifted him off the other. That was when he saw Sansa’s face, hiding beneath her hood. She stared at him blankly, and he felt his heart break. He should not have done that, but he had just been so angry. He would not hear his sister spoken of that way.

 

He took several deep breaths. That was when he noticed that Sansa had stepped into the light of a campfire and that she had lowered her hood. All the men’s eyes had found her, and more than one had found their knees in the mud.

 

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.

 

“Release my guard.”

 

Sansa held her hands in front of her stomach and refused to look at the man lying in the muck that Jon had just been pummeling. She had never seen so much anger in her brother, and she thought she might be sick if she saw all that blood.

 

“Princess.”

 

Both men holding Jon bowed to her and released him as if he had burst into flames. He moved to her, looking for all the world like he wanted to take her in his arms. She wished she could press into them and remember their father, but right now they had a story they had concocted. Her cuddling in his arms would damn them. They had to stick to it, until Lord Tywin uncovered it. She was a terrible liar.

 

“Apologies, Princess. Does Lord Tywin know you’re here?”

 

She looked over the men around her. Instead of answering, she changed the subject. A man had darted away from the group, likely to inform Lord Tywin that she was here. It was not supposed to happen this way, but this was the way things were now. She had hoped to be a pleasant surprise for him if he wished to see her at all, and now, one of his soldiers had been attacked. Jon had been defending her virtue and honor, protecting her, and this temper was something she had not expected. She had known it was there, seen it sometimes when he practiced fighting. Still he had been able to pull out of it, and that was comforting. He needed to be calm.

 

“Please take him to have his wounds tended.”

 

Two soldiers nodded to her, and they hoisted the unconscious man up, wrapping his arms around their necks. As soon as they were gone, Sansa turned back to Lord Tyrion. It was all she could do to hold her tears at the sorrow on his face. It made her stomach twist and turn. She forced herself not to think about the words that man had spoken. This was no time to think on them. This was no time to cry. She had to help her family, and she would help Lord Tyrion as soon as she was able. He was to be her family, but she knew nothing to raise that little man’s spirits in this moment. All she could think to do was keep moving forward. There would be a chance to help him that would come in time.

 

“Lord Tyrion, perhaps we might continue along to your father. I’m sure he’s aware of my presence by now.”

 

She reached for his hand as she took Jon’s. One was her guard and one her escort. No one could fault her for holding them for comfort after what had just happened. Word was already spreading, and the sooner they got to Lord Tywin, the sooner they could begin the business that brought them here.

 

“Yes, my Lady.”

 

Pain twisted his features. He looked in the direction the man bloodied by Jon had been taken. He was plotting his revenge, readying his lance to ride against this foe. This incident had been committed to his memory, and he would wait for his opportunity to face him in the lists. Sansa was familiar with that expression on a Lannister’s face. It was the same as the one Lord Tywin wore when he calculated what was owed to him or what he owed to others.

 

She squeezed Lord Tyrion’s hand, thinking about what the other man could have meant, but not bold enough to ask while his expression flitted between rage and devastation.

 

There were a half dozen questions pounding through her head. She had not known Lord Tyrion had been wed, and it had brought him the deepest misery. Her heart pounded heavily. She knew the little lord’s penchant for whores. It had been no secret, not when she began listening to everyone. Could he have married one, loved one?

 

She pushed through the panic making her heart race. They were here to talk peace, and Jon, her level headed brother, had already been fighting with a man over something as small as the ill thought words of a drunk. She had heard more hurtful and frightening things from a man after he drank far too much.

 

Jon was going to insist upon an explanation for that comment, and the most logical explanations might damage what they were working to achieve. The heartbreak of it all was that Jon would be asking to protect her, and he would not be wrong. Sansa was equally curious, but they might end up wounding the man who had been friend to their family. She did not wish that either.

 

“My Lady—”

 

She glanced down at her escort, and she had no words to lessen the pain he was expressing. It told her the truth in the words Ser Ryam had spoken. It told her that some unspoken punishment had been dealt out to this child that Lord Tywin so hated.

 

H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R. T~A~L~L~A~S~A~K~I~N~G. H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R.

 

“I can’t go to him.” He motioned toward a large tent, feeling the heat and the warmth of tears that wanted to come but had to be held back. “I don’t wish for what just happened to cause distress when you speak with my lord father. I can’t go.”

 

“I fear for you, my Lord. Don’t ask your friends to leave you alone with your pain.”

 

Sansa knew well what it was to be alone, and she would not leave him to the demons in his head. He almost choked as she called him a friend. He was not sure he had any of those. Tysha’s pretty face and her ravenous appetite after Jaime rescued her from those rapers was playing in his memory as if it would never leave. He had thought that the pain would deaden eventually, but it was still just as painful today as it had been when she stared at him after all those guards raped her. Warm hands wrapped around his and drew him away from the memory he could not face.

 

“Then you better start explaining what that was.”

 

Tyrion squeezed Princess Sansa’s silky white hand, leading her toward his tent. At least he would not have to recount the story in front of Jaime. His brother had only been trying to do him a kindness. He could never have predicted the catastrophic outcome. How could he have imagined his little brother being so foolish as to wed a whore? Jaime would never do anything intentionally to harm him.

 

“Lord Tyrion—”

 

He looked up, not surprised to see Ser Addam Marbrand with ten men surrounding them.

 

“Ser.”

 

Naturally, there would be no reprieve, no moment of peace after that. He clenched his jaw, forcing the pain away before it made him sick. Hopefully, the beast would be pleased enough to see Sansa and would realize that Tyrion was the one who had helped make it possible for them to be together.

 

“Your father commands the presence of you and your guests.”

 

Tyrion almost cursed. It was as he knew it would be. Lord Tywin knew that his princess was here. He would not take his time about having her summoned, not when he had heard nothing about the peace proposal. He would not be able to look at the man right now. Jon had demanded an explanation, and Tyrion was unsure what he could say about the incident that would not bring the memory of Tysha back more strongly than ever. How she stared at him with silver coins spilling from her fingers as he gave her a gold dragon. It had brought him to tears that night and for many moons afterward. It had driven him to drink and more whores. He wondered every so often what happened to her when he became drunk enough. He hoped she had found a happy life as far from the Westerlands as land could take her.

 

Sansa stooped, almost kneeling in the muck to take both hands.

 

“All will be well, my Lord. The North remembers every kind, honorable act done for them. I’m certain you’ll find the Starks capable of great generosity.”

 

Tyrion wished that he could share that calm confidence. He had counseled the Starks against this. The ones his father wanted were now in his possession, and Robb intended to come out here with a minimal guard to treat with his father. Lord Tywin could easily destroy those in his path without risk to those he needed.

 

She tightened her hold on his hand as they walked between the circle of guards and entered the Great Lion’s tent.

 

May the Seven be merciful and the old gods keep their queer red eyes watching, for surely this was the strangest event in decades to occur. A young woman was being sent to fight a lion. Though she was frightened, she intended to win.

Chapter Text

 

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 stood when she entered his tent. He had not been sure whether he believed the tale told by his cousin’s squire. His eyes flitted over the plain dress she wore and the simple black wool cloak. What was her brother thinking, letting her dress so when leaving the castle? She ought to be dressed to match her station. Still, no idiot should have been mistaking her for anyone else.

 

The ugliness of the thought that sparked to life in his mind like a candle in the night had his voice chilling as he spoke to her. If his troll of a son had kidnapped her—if she had run away—all would be ruined. Robb Stark would never believe that he was not responsible for her disappearance from the castle. Rather than assume him innocent, the boy would attack like a fool, thinking her kidnapped as his queen had been. His lack of involvement would mean nothing. She would blame him if anything happened to her brother.

 

“Why did you bring her here?”

 

His eyes took in the way one of her hands was tucked into Tyrion’s and the other was holding that of a young man with them, probably the young man that had attacked the man who insulted her. He owed him a debt for defending her. He wore a furred cloak with a crossed leather belt securing it across his chest. A direwolf’s head decorated the center of it. The boy’s gray eyes were cool as snow and assessed him quietly. The wolf where it was indicated a closeness, at least a sworn guard, if not a sibling. She had only two left, and he knew Robb Stark to be red of hair. So, she had not run, but perhaps been sent away. Her dog was not at her side, and the young man with her was dressed like a fine lord of the north with his leather and fur, possibly done by Sansa’s hand.

 

The squire said that the man Princess Sansa claimed as her guard had started a fist fight with one of his men after the man drunkenly said something. The squire had been uncertain of the particulars.

 

“Well, the Starks have decided to wed the princess to their favorite Lannister. Me.”

 

His eyes darted to Sansa as his hands fought a losing battle and formed into fists. She shook her hand from Tyrion’s gently.

 

“Your son japes. That’s not true, my Lord.”

 

She approached him quietly, stopping where she had learned to, just in front of him to his right. He wished that he could pull her close and tuck her head onto his shoulder, especially when he saw the mild alarm in her eyes.

 

“Where’s Clegane?”

 

“Riverrun. My brothers felt he would attract too much attention, and we wanted my visit to be quiet. Unfortunately, oft times the gods make a mockery of our desires.”

 

He eased down in his chair. He did not need to loom over her frighteningly. The gods would make no japes of his desire for her. Neither would her family, not that northerners were known for their readiness to laugh anymore than he was.

 

“Who’s this man guarding you?” He took her hand, helping as much as directing her to sit at his side in the place she belonged.

 

“This is Jon.”

 

A smile so soft he was hardly sure it was present teased her face as she looked into his eyes, keeping her hold on his hand when he tried to withdraw. He allowed her the victory. She had never done that before, sought to be close. He glanced to this Jon of hers. He had to be the bastard brother. Was the boy here to spy on him? To report back to the king. Why keep his hand now in front of others but for one to see? This man likely had the ear of his king, and his king’s trust—likely in the way only a brother could.

 

“I’ve known Jon all my life. So has Robb. He entrusted him to deliver a message from the north to you with me.”

 

Tywin leaned back in his seat, trying to put together whatever the north was trying to do. If they were taunting him, sending him the two he wanted was a bad way to go about it. Nothing would stop him from seizing them and taking them with him as hostages. Even Robb Stark had to know the results of such actions. The only reasonable conclusion was that Sansa would be wed to him, and Jon would be staying in the south, so long as they liked whatever they saw of him.

 

“Bring it here.”

 

Jon stepped forward, holding out a roll of parchment sealed with a circle of shimmering gray wax and stamped with a leaping direwolf. He withdrew his hand gently after giving hers a little squeeze of reassurance.

 

“Please sit.” He briefly considered addressing the boy by his title, but decided against it for now. “If you start another brawl in my camp, you’ll be taken prisoner.”

 

Jon quietly took a stiff seat in front of him as he broke the seal. He skimmed the words. So the King in the North was coming here to speak with him tonight, and he had sent his sister ahead. He probably thought the girl visiting was a kind gesture, or it was merely meant to appease him for so long a wait.

 

It was only when he set the roll aside that Jon spoke to him. Sansa had perhaps been advising them on how to communicate more easily with him, to be patient and play his game, rather than showing their emotions. Though it was possible that it was also the boy’s natural inclination, given the status with which he was raised and how opposed it was to the station into which he was born.

 

“And how will you deal with the man who called your future wife a whore and offered her a silver stag to return to his tent with him?” Jon’s voice was rough and as dark as his gray eyes when he met Lord Tywin’s gaze. He looked like he had more to say, but he stopped before saying it.

 

A brief glance at Sansa was all it took to see that there was more to the story that what Jon had just said, but that there was truth to it. The heat and temper behind the words had her curving in slightly on herself. There were more than a few points of interest in what had just been said, but they could wait as could the discussion of peace until King Robb arrived. He turned his whole body to face her after dismissing his guards from the tent.

 

Her guard ignored the gesture, watching for whatever he might see from beneath his dark curls. His dark gray eyes danced like flames, and he made no move to leave or back down. He would stand with Sansa till he was cut down. He was a loyal man, and those were rare. He would stay beside her, making sure she was safe, and Tywin would let it be. Jon speaking well of him and his treatment of Sansa would only do him favors.

 

Tywin reached out, taking Sansa’s hand as unobtrusively and openly as possible. It took her some time to look up at him. She slipped her other hand around his, and he raised his chin, trying to remind himself that Sansa responded to him better when he was a bit less tense.

 

“Tell me what happened, Sansa.”

 

H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R. D~E~F~E~N~D~T~H~E~K~I~N~G. H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R.

 

Jaime stared at the young man on the throne who was scarce older than he had been when he first had the impudence to try out a throne. He bit his tongue to keep in his other comments, unable to bear the thought of failing at this too. He owed his father a debt that could never be paid. Still, he was a Lannister, and he would try. A Lannister always pays his debts.

 

“May we speak in private?”

 

The northern king glanced around at his counselors.

 

“Leave us, please.”

 

The northern lords rose slowly, most scowling at him before they left. He knew they blamed him for the murders of a number of men. He had done those for the people he loved. They did not care that he had done those to return to the woman he loved. Others because a beloved little brother had been kidnapped. Why did they expect him to behave like a woman when taken captive? He was Jaime Lannister, like their princess said, and he was a lion. If Robb Stark had been captured and escaped by killing Lannisters, it would be lauded as bravery and genius by the North. When he did it, it was just another monstrous act of the golden kingslaying beast.

 

Edmure and Brynden Tully and Catelyn Stark were all who remained when Robb Stark turned his attention back to Jaime.

 

“Speak.”

 

Jaime sucked in a deep breath, barely managing to hold his tongue. He would never understand how Tyrion managed to tolerate these people. Still his brother had been invited back every day since the picnic with Sansa. He came back every night or sometimes in the early morning hours, completely exhausted and unwilling to say much about what he was doing. He made japes when asked what was discussed to the special annoyance of their father, who surely wanted Tyrion in there as a spy.

 

“You have no right to be here. Your father tried to wed your sister to me, and that woman is mad. She called my niece horrible things, and I would bet all the gold in Casterly Rock that he knew she would be as poor a wife to me as she was to King Robert. Were you going to sire heirs for me too? My lands have felt the lion’s claws unjustly, and I’m supposed—”

 

“Uncle, being king means listening to men I’d rather not at times.” The young wolf leaned back in his seat. “I’ll listen to what this man has come to say. Those matters are best addressed in a different discussion with a different Lannister. Speak, Ser.”

 

Jaime turned from the Starks and the Tullys. He needed a moment of peace. He loved Cersei, and he would always love her, though he would never see her again. Even though her last letter that she somehow cajoled one of her jailers into sending had the tinge of the same madness he had sensed in her when she reached her hand into the lion’s cage deep in the bowels of the Rock when they were children. Killing them would accomplish nothing that would do the realm any good.

 

“Why are you here? Look me in the face when you answer.”

 

Jaime’s jaw ached from the strain of clenching so hard. All the lessons his father had ever tried to teach him raced around his mind as haphazardly as men in a melee.

 

You always were a slow learner. Know your enemies before they know you. Think before you speak. Think more before you do. You always were a learner. You’ll never be as good.

 

He was a man of action. When he knew what was right, he never flinched. He had not hesitated from cutting down those men to try to kill Robb. He had not paused when he learned his brother had been seized by Lady Stark. A different face came to his mind then as suddenly as sparks jumping from flint and steel. A gentle hand resting on his arm, and a kind voice in his ear.

 

He loves you very much, Ser Jaime, more than he can ever say . Another voice came after. You love the way your father does. Be careful, my Love.

 

That was when Jaime knew what he needed to say. That was when he knew the words that might move Robb Stark the direction he needed the boy to go.

 

“I imagine that we find ourselves here because of the same reasons.” Jaime looked up at the frigid gray eyes. “We both love our fathers.”

 

Words spilled from his mouth then, flowing like wine from a fallen goblet. He found himself talking about how he felt serving under the Mad King and apologizing for not saving the Starks. Lord Rickard’s screams as he roasted, and Brandon Stark’s choking gasps as he strangled and struggled to save his father still haunted Jaime’s darkest nights. He had been sixteen, and his brothers of the Kingsguard had told him to serve the king, not judge him. He had not known what was right until he was told to bring Lord Tywin’s head to the lunatic.

 

It was not until he finished and was staring at the direwolf in front of the boy king that he understood.

 

Your father loves you, Ser Jaime, more than he can say. His father quit being Hand that day, gave up the position he had dutifully filled for more years than Jaime had lived then because he loved his son. If he had seen Cersei or his father being tormented or tortured by Aerys, he might still have succeeded in killing the king, but the other kingsguards would have made short work of him.

 

Lord Tywin loved ruling, and he did it better than any other man Jaime had ever known. He gave up what he did so well, what his duty to the realm had been, because he loved Jaime more. The realm had felt the loss of Lord Tywin’s leadership. Sansa was right.

 

“Ser Jaime.”

 

Robb Stark was a little blurry. It was only when Jaime blinked that he realized tears were in his eyes. He pressed his hands over his eyes furiously swiping away the moisture and took deep breaths, willing a calm to settle over his body.

 

“I believe you.”

 

“Please, let me escort Princess Sansa to see him. Let him marry her. I swear I’ll bring her back.”

 

It would please his father to see her, and it would possibly please her to see him just as much. He hoped so, thinking back on the way she had looked for him while they sat together.

 

“We’ll let her decide if she wants to visit with him tonight. Uncle Edmure, please bring Ser Kevan back, and have a man fetch Sansa.”

 

“Robb.”

 

Robb Stark silenced his mother with an ugly look and a shake of his head.

 

“Sansa can make her own choice, and we both know what it’ll be. It’s a good match, and it’ll end this war.”

 

Jaime startled slightly when Uncle Kevan entered the room and came quickly enough to his side. He could see the questions bouncing around in the man’s head. What did you do? Have you been up to mischief? Please tell me you’ve not hurt your father. Loyalty to his father would keep many of them bottled up until they were no longer surrounded by enemies. Others he asked quietly while Jaime took deep breaths of relief.

 

A man burst into the room through the main hall doors and sprinted the length of it.

 

“The Princess is gone, Your Grace.”

 

F~A~M~I~L~Y~D~U~T~Y~H~O~N~O~R. W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G. F~A~M~I~L~Y~D~U~T~Y~H~O~N~O~R.

 

Fear gripped Catelyn from the moment she heard those horrible words. She was terrified of the danger she might be entering, but she would face down the Stranger himself to protect any one of her children, even if he appeared in the form of a golden haired, emerald eyed lord.

 

Both Lannisters in front of them began shouting and looked at each other with wide eyes.

 

“We need to tell my father immediately.” The Kingslayer’s eyes were wide as he looked up at Robb.

 

“Agreed.” Ser Kevan also looked up at Robb with a set jaw. “He’ll find out soon enough, and he has fifty thousand men to help you search for a kidnapped princess.”

 

Catelyn leaned back in her chair, unable to move. The terror that gripped her for her girl was as strong now as it had been when she knew that Sansa was trapped in the capital. She could end up captured by Tywin Lannister. Who knew what he might do to a girl who would try to run from him? If he caught or injured her sweet girl, she would make sure he suffered for it. She reminded herself as she pressed her hands over her rapidly beating heart that her daughter had spoken highly of the man. She wished and prayed to every god there was for Sansa to be right, and she hoped that he was as fond of her as Sansa believed him to be. It hurt, but Catelyn had been coming to terms with it. At least she had until this happened, until she heard that Tywin Lannister told Sansa that Sansa would be his wife if he had to kill her whole family to take her.

 

Sansa was not a girl made for life on the run. She would not make it far, and she was such a dutiful girl. Her daughter who loved songs and the stories of shining knights like Prince Aemon the Dragonknight and others. What kind of song would be sung about this? One like the Rains of Castamere or one like her dear Florian and Jonquil or perhaps one like the Bear and the Maiden Fair. Sansa would not abandon her family. She would not leave them to the lion’s mercy.

 

“Mother.”

 

She looked at her son helplessly, unsure if this was some plot. Had this been planned? Did Robb know where his sister was? What was happening? Why was so much misfortune falling upon her family? Such evil was continuing to strike them down.

 

“Mother.” Robb took her hands. He leaned in close to whisper in her ear as he embraced her. “Sansa is fine, I swear it. Nothing bad has happened to her. She’s somewhere safe with someone who loves her watching over her.”

 

A sob choked in her throat as she cupped the back of his head, clutching his lovely red curls. Her racing heart calmed as he whispered that this had been about seeing what other Lannisters believed would happen if harm befell Sansa or if the Warden of the West was denied his sister.

 

She nearly collapsed against him with relief as she struggled to breath. She had to see her daughter, hold Sansa in her arms.

 

“I need to see her, Robb. I have to see her.”

 

“I want you to come with me to meet with Lord Tywin. Why not come and see for yourself what his feelings for Sansa are while we discuss the peace? If she’s right—”

 

Catelyn nodded, resolving that with a son swearing a daughter was safe before that son prepared to enter the gaping maw of a lion that she should be with Robb.

 

“I want to see Sansa first.”

 

“Mother, Sansa is visiting with Lord Tywin.”

 

Catelyn gripped his arm as he led her out to the courtyard where several horses were waiting to take them out to the war camp at their gates.

 

“I won’t rest until I see my daughter, Robb.”

 

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 cradled both of her hands around Lord Tywin’s as she finished sharing the story and keeping her questions inside. Her thumbs rubbed over his knuckles after she told him how the man had spoken to her. She left out nothing, and she could not bring herself to look up into his green-gold eyes. What if she did not like the man she saw?

 

The implications of that man’s words, the drunk man’s, made her feel frozen and frightened. She had only needed the briefest of glances to tell her that there was an ugly, horrible truth hidden in the words. Lord Tyrion had appeared so close to tears before his eyes turned dark and wrathful.

 

She dwelled in the world of Joffrey’s endless torments. Being forced to look at her father’s head, her septa’s, and all the other northmen. Stripped and beaten in court. Having a knight of the kingsguard sent to rape her. She had been the toy of a house cat. Lord Tyrion had been the victim of a lion.

 

The man’s awful words repeated themselves over and over and over in her head. Then it was Queen Cersei’s words telling her that horrible lie that Joffrey loved her, and she had believed her. She should have known that a boy who loved her would not have let her pet be killed. She had made herself their prisoner. She went to the queen for help, the same queen who had come up with the plan to kill Lady in place of Nymeria. She begged Joffrey on her knees to show her father mercy. She went to Lord Tywin when she saw the way he made his malicious, wormy grandson wriggle. She needed a powerful creature to fight her monsters. Why was she so blind to the most basic concept about Lannisters? Lannisters are liars. She had heard Arya say it time and time again. Still, she had to believe that she would wed a good man, instead of a monster.

 

She had spoken to Robb and Jon about how well the Great Lion had treated her. She had been told the consequences of him being refused. What had Lord Tyrion done to cause his father to do something so heinous? What had the proud lord done in retaliation? What would he do if she ever displeased or angered him? She still remembered how close he had gotten when he told her not to ever grab him publicly in such a manner again. She had cried and shook until Shae came and helped her to her room.

 

She closed her eyes as the tears came, the tears she could not hold back. She had heard things she never wanted to hear, and she could not unhear them. All she could do was move forward. The mess was already made, and she was unsure where to begin to make everything clean again. Still it would be clean. She was going to belong to him because he willed it to be and would make it happen. He intended to take her if he had to kill her whole family.

 

She traced his fingers, thinking on how kind his hands had been the night Ser Boros attacked her, how often they touched her face and held her. She tucked his hand up next to her cheek, hoping to feel the same contentment that had accompanied it so many other times.

 

His fingers flexed softly against the hinge of her jaw, tilting her face up. When she managed to meet his eyes, he spoke, pressing his palm to the side of her face.

 

“Thank you for telling me.”

 

Sansa closed her eyes, whispering prayers to the old gods and the new. She needed to be right about him. She wanted him to care for her as she longed to care for him. If he could love her one day—nothing would be better than that. A husband ought to love his wife, and a lady ought to love her lord.

 

“Yes, my Lord.”

 

The sudden blast of a war horn made Sansa jump and grip her lion’s hand and wrist more securely as she settled back on the edge of her chair. She slumped forward against his hand as he whispered some reassuring words to her in a low voice, telling her that her brother and mother had arrived in the camp. The letter Jon gave him said they would be coming to talk of ending the war.

 

W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G. F~I~R~E~A~N~D~B~L~O~O~D. W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G.

 

Jon could not help staring despite feeling that he should give them some privacy. His eyes narrowed a bit as the man sat impassively while his sister cried after recounting the story. Surely, he could think of something to say to her. Instead, he just sat there, letting her hold his hand close.

 

He stood to go to her, and that was enough for him to calm.

 

Tywin Lannister’s thumb was rubbing Sansa’s cheek as gently as if she were made of fine glass and liable to chip or break if handled too roughly. He looked at her as though he wished to take her in his arms and never let go of her. His face as he turned to Jon changed expression completely, forming a mask of cold indifference, more than capable of stopping the Others, but his hand remained where Sansa put it.

 

A moment later before Jon could think of a way to call the man on the way he was treating a princess, Sansa was looking up at him and pressing her cheek tighter into his palm. She stroked the side of his wrist as he spoke softly to her.

 

“I will take care of this. You have my word.”

 

The blasting of a war horn almost made Sansa leap off her feet. Hooves thundered up to the tent, and there was a shout. Ser Jaime threw up the tent flap, bursting in on them.

 

“She’s missing. Sansa. We have to—”

Jon ducked his head, hiding beneath his hood. It was all part of the plan, but still he did not want to be recognized just yet.

 

Ser Jaime almost fell to his knees when he saw Sansa sitting beside his father. His father looked ready to issue a stern reprimand for bursting in the way he had.

 

“Lord Commander, are you well?” Sansa released her lord’s hand and moved gently and gracefully to his oldest son.

 

She cradled his hand as he reached for her with the only one he had.

 

“Sansa—” Lady Catelyn entered the tent followed closely by Robb.

 

A dozen conversations all began trying to happen simultaneously. Lady Catelyn tried to take Sansa close to be assured that she was well by holding her daughter. Sansa insisted on reassuring Ser Jaime that she was perfectly fine, and she was sorry to have given him such a fright. Robb moved to him, leaning in close and asking with his eyes if Jon had seen what Sansa told him they would see. Ser Kevan Lannister went to his brother, and they shared a few quiet words with their backs half turned to their visitors to shield the conversation.

 

Through it all, at least one of Tywin Lannister’s eyes watched over Sansa, and she kept looking back at him as though searching for peace.

 

Once everyone calmed and had things explained gently, Sansa moved to Jon and took his hand. Moments later, Lord Tywin was beside them, taking her other hand.

 

“My Lord.”

 

“We’ll speak about what happened later. I assure you that you’ll never hear such again.”

 

“Thank you for your consideration, my Lord.” She lowered her eyes to where they were attached.

 

Lord Tywin raised his chin as he observed her lowered head, bowed in deference to him. The man barely seemed to recognize or acknowledge the presence of her family. She was his first priority.

 

“Your brother and I have some matters to discuss before we come to an agreement, and we will come to one. Jaime will escort you and your guard to your old tent to wait.”

 

Jaime stepped closer to them, and Sansa took his arm the moment he offered. It was not until she was nearly out of the tent before she turned to Lord Tyrion.

 

“Lord Tyrion, I hope you’ll join us. You’ve been so good to me and my family.”

 

Tyrion scowled down at his feet when his father’s expression turned blank and cold again.

 

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 eased down in his chair as Jaime led Sansa out. He would need time to determine how to make her understand his actions. He never intended for her to hear that, and she had walked off with the man who could ruin all the work he had done. Nothing would save that little stain on the Lannister name if he damaged the relationship Tywin had been building with Sansa. She deserved a better life, and she was his chance to do things right, his chance to protect a lady as she deserved.

 

“What is it that my sister will never hear again?”

 

Tywin remained quiet for a moment, taking the measure of Robb Stark as they met face to face for the first time. What happened had been family business that did not concern the Starks, now or when Sansa became his. Sansa would answer if she was questioned by her brother, and that guard of her’s would definitely answer any question asked by his king. It would be better if he controlled some of the information that Robb received.

 

“Tyrion has done a great many foolish things, during his youth and into adulthood. He drinks to much and spends too much time with whores.” He was not saying anything anyone in the seven kingdoms did not know about the little bastard. “When he was thirteen, he married a whore. A man referenced that event to Sansa. He’ll be chastised for how he spoke to the princess. You have my word that it won’t happen again.”

 

Robb Stark sat quietly for a moment with his mother quiet beside him. He was irritated, but pride glinted in his eyes when Tywin used the word princess to name his bride-to-be. He was also more than willing to display some of the irritation. It made it simpler to deal with the boy.

 

“Jon gave me a note indicating that you had a further stipulation that could not be put on paper, and I would like to discuss some of your requests in more detail.”

 

Robb took a moment to settle before he spoke.

 

“I’m amenable to discussing any matters you have, Lord Lannister. My sister has suffered more than any other members of my family at the hands of the Joffrey.”

 

Tywin’s face remained impassive despite his annoyance. He had done nothing to cause Sansa to suffer, and he had not been present to stop it. His actions, at the very least, were not being called into question.

 

“It’s extremely important to the north that a prince and princess of our kingdom are not being taken to be living quintains and practice dummies. Sansa has been one, though no fault of yours. Given what recently happened to my father and the other northmen in King’s Landing, I require certain reassurances for the sake of my family, my blood.”

 

The boy remained quietly staring at him after his announcement, cool and calm. It was entirely reasonable, and the type of thing that Tywin would have asked for had positions been reversed. Protecting his family meant putting their lives ahead of all others.

 

“What does the north asking of the Lannisters?”

 

Robb Stark sat up a bit more stiffly. His chin jutted out, and his fingertips pressed together. He looked as if he had practiced this conversation many times. Tywin clenched his jaw. The dwarf must have turned on him and been advising the boy, though something in Tywin’s phrasing appeared to have confused him. His lower lip stuck out for a moment, and he looked like the eighteen year old boy he was. He was a boy who had been forced into a man’s world far too young by a series of follies made by his elders and himself. Circumstances made little difference. He made the decisions that were necessary to defend his family. His goal had always been saving his family.

 

“The north won’t tolerate harm coming upon its prince or princess. Joffrey and Cersei have both caused my sister to suffer. There have been plenty of witnesses, including my brother and sister.”

 

Robb Stark steadily met his eyes. He looked eager to criticize the Lannisters, but aware of the stupidity and futility of it and that the only place it could take him would be his family crypts. He was here to avoid that fate.

 

“You went to war with the Tullys after my mother—” Robb gave his mother, who looked so similar to her daughter while being nothing like her, a stern look. “Kidnapped your least favorite Lannister. What will you do to protect the woman you’re asking to wed from your grandson? The north sees only one solution, but we’re willing to listen if you have other ideas.”

 

H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R. T~A~L~L~A~S~A~K~I~N~G. H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R.

 

Tyrion scowled into his wine cup to avoid looking at the girl that found the weakest point in his father’s armor, aimed at it, and sent her weapons through it to bring him to his knees. He had no more desire to look at Jon Snow or his brother, and his uncle had retired to his tent after telling Sansa he was pleased to see her. He could not bear them to see his anguish and shame. His father would surely find a way to make himself the winner of this joust. Who would care that the man tilted at someone half his size?

 

“You told me once that all dwarves were bastards in their father’s eyes.”

 

Tyrion threw back the entire contents of his cup. He remembered. It was at Winterfell, during the feast to welcome the royal family. Jon had run out of the hall because of how he was being treated.

 

“I see what that means in your case. What else is there that I haven’t seen?”

 

“Jon.”

 

Sansa’s soft reprimand stopped at one word, but Tyrion knew the Starks would want an explanation, probably before they let Sansa dance away the evening and spent a night in the lion’s den. He would be blamed if anything went wrong. He had let himself be put in the position to take credit or blame. How was he supposed to control the tongue of every one of his father’s guards who were invited to his humiliation and punishment? He almost laughed hysterically as he remembered his nephew’s method of silencing those who had earned his disapproval or scorn. The Mad King was known to have done the same, Ser Ilyn Payne was the living example of that insanity. Was he to begin removing the tongues of all those who spoke ill of him?

 

Sansa poured more wine for him.

 

“Lord Tyrion, are you well?”

 

For a brief moment, as Tyrion looked at her, he imagined the joy he would have felt if Robb Stark would have offered Sansa as a bride to him instead of his father. It would have angered his father, all the more so because there would be difficulty finding objection to it. The pleasure would have been short lived, shorter than his marriage he was sure, and it would never have pleased Sansa to be wed to him. There was no goodness he could do for her that would undo the evil of that.

 

“I was married once. Marriage was not what I thought it would be, and the girl was not the person I believed her to be.”

 

Tyrion wanted to tell them, mostly Sansa, about Tysha. It was not the desire to spare his father that stilled his tongue, but the hope that Sansa could be spared the worst of the man she would wed. She would be able to protect others from him, if anyone could take meat from the mouth of a lion, but she would have to care for Tywin Lannister to be able to do what needed doing.

 

“Please, your children will need you. Westeros needs you.” Tears he could not stop were flowing as he thought about what his father had forced him to do, to pay his wife with a gold dragon because Lannisters could afford the best. Sansa might never be able to forgive the man if she heard those words, so he kept them inside.

 

A soft hand taking his helped him calm, and he looked forward into sapphire blue eyes.

 

“I-I’m sorry, Tyrion. I had no idea he would do that. You have to believe me.”

 

Tyrion turned at the sound of his brother’s voice. Why was Jaime sorry? Suddenly, words were spilling from his brother’s mouth, words that shook Tyrion to his core.

 

F~A~M~I~L~Y~D~U~T~Y~H~O~N~O~R. W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G. F~A~M~I~L~Y~D~U~T~Y~H~O~N~O~R.

 

Catelyn stared at Lord Tywin and her son as they each extracted promises and altered what they were promising in return for the end of the war. He son kept calm, but fought with the ferocity of a wolf for his family. He extracted the promise of Joffrey’s death.

 

Tywin Lannister was as frigid as she had always known, speaking with great detachment about the death of his grandson. How would he treat Sansa’s children if he could so easily throw away a grandchild, even one like that evil bastard currently sitting on the iron throne? Would the lives of her grandchildren mean nothing to him beyond a means to an end?

 

“My sister will marry you. But she won’t be in King’s Landing until her tormentors are gone so far that she’ll never so much as hear their names again.”

 

His eyes glinted like a cat’s, but his face gave away nothing. The muscles tightened for the briefest of moments at the understanding that he would have her girl but leave her in the care of her family until certain promises were fulfilled. He had the same expression when Robb insisted that the Riverlands had joined with the north and would swear no vows of fealty to the Iron Throne. Still he acquiesced so long as Sansa’s sons through him were promised the castles in the event that Lord Edmure and King Robb had no sons. If they did, and Sansa had daughters enough, it was agreed the prince would be engaged to his cousin.

 

It continued on for what felt like hours, back and forth between them, with Robb cool and calm as the lord of Casterly Rock.

 

She glanced at his hands, the hands that had been cupping her daughter’s face when they arrived. The touch had looked tender and soft enough. She would not have believed it had she not seen it.

 

There was much to be grateful for, but Catelyn could not completely quiet her feelings of unease. Sansa had appeared distressed when they walked in on her and this man. Robb was confident as he secured the promise that if a son of Sansa’s was to inherit Winterfell, the child would be sent to foster with him when he was of an age to do so. A king should know his lands, his castle, and his people, and Lord Tywin raised no objections so long as the boy was also sent south to squire with a lord or knight of joint selection so his son might be raised to knighthood when he earned it.

 

“Are we in accord?”

 

“Soon. You’ve mentioned wanting the man who kidnapped your queen.”

 

“I do. I insist that he be brought to justice. I don’t depend on other men to swing swords for me.”

 

“This particular man is a boy, a boy whose story you should listen to. I ask for restraint in your judgment of him. He’s burdened by the foolishness common in a boy of twelve years.”

 

Catelyn bit her tongue to not interrupt this as she looked at her son. She thought of the other young boys, her sons, who had died, and she would not wish any mother to know the anguish of losing a child. She would not wish it even upon the Lannisters.

 

“Who’s the boy?” Robb’s voice is quiet and calm, not as emotional as he had been. He had grown into a fine young man. She was proud of her son.

 

“His name is Tywin Frey, and he’s my great nephew.”

 

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 sat silent, letting the young man in front of him ponder the bait before he decided if he was going to bite. This was something he had kept quiet, even from his sons and brother. He would learn much of the young man giving him a wife by waiting. He had come to see the boy’s head for strategy on the battlefield. It was negotiations and finer points where he had failed at leadership. Killing a lord with thousands of men fighting in his name was stupid. It would have been wiser to make Lord Karstark hostage for his men’s continued good behavior. Honor had driven him to foolishness. His marriage that broke his pledge had finished him.

 

“I’ll consider what he says, but a boy need not lose his head for making a mistake. I doubt he came up with treason on his own.”

 

Tywin snapped his fingers, and the captain of his personal guard came.

 

“Fetch the boy.”

 

“Yes, Lord.”

 

He kept his face as neutral as possible. His foolish nephew knew his story, and they had worked tirelessly to find answers to any questions they anticipated Robb Stark asking.

 

“I would speak with Princess Sansa before she returns to the castle. I would tell her of what portions of our negotiations pertain to her.”

 

“That’ll make her happy. I’ll wait and take her back with her guard.”

 

“Robb, they require a chaperone.”

 

Robb Stark turned to his mother, the woman who had started all this strife. It was a difficult matter to chastise a woman, particularly when it was a son looking at his mother.

 

“Lord Lannister has been alone with the young woman who will be his wife many times, and Sansa speaks of him highly.” He turned to Lord Tywin. “He’s not going to hurt her, and he’s been enormously understanding about what we need to have so Sansa will be safe.”

 

Catelyn Stark looked ready to say more, but Robb shushed her with a stern look.

 

Tywin sat completely still, wanting to see where this would go. He nearly sneered. He had never done anything untoward to Sansa or let any harm come to her. He also kept quiet because of the anger heating his belly made him want to lash out.

 

Robb Stark was right to insist that his sister be kept away from King’s Landing, especially with the plots in motion. It would be far too easy for Sansa to be blamed for any evil that happened to Joffrey at the hands of others. The boy was incapable of and unwilling to grasp and lift the weight of rulership that had settled upon his shoulders. Despite his certainty that his name and status would be sufficient protection for her, he knew that it would be better for her to be far from such deeds until they were done. He could be as miserable about it as he chose.

 

“My Lord.”

 

“Lady Catelyn.”

 

Tywin met the fiery blue eyes of the woman with his own ice, listening to her. Only one thought occurred as she spoke. Lady Catelyn had none of her daughter’s grace and goodness, and she would need to try harder to convince him of her nonsense.

Chapter Text

 

H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R. D~E~F~E~N~D~T~H~E~K~I~N~G. H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R.

 

Jaime’s cheek still stung where his brother’s hand had struck. He deserved it. It was exactly as he had told Lady Catelyn and Brienne of Tarth in the not too distant past. Every man in seven kingdoms reviled him for his finest action, and one had long praised him for his greatest shame.

 

He had barely gotten a few words of apology out before Tyrion’s hand connected with his face. His eyes had burned with more emotion than Jaime had ever seen in any man’s eyes, more than Lord Stark when he found him upon the throne, more than his father’s when he asked him at fifteen if he had any idea about what he had just done, more than when the Mad King realized the blood on his blade was Rossart’s instead of Lord Tywin’s.

 

“One more word, and I’ll hit you again.”

 

Jaime had not had the fortitude to continue after that. His brother did not want to hear what he had to say, and Jaime did not blame Tyrion. He had looked ready to murder. His last words before storming out of the tent were that Jaime should keep his mouth shut about that entire incident else their father feel the need to punish them both.

 

He moved to a chair away from the Starks, refusing to look at them. He was afraid that if he did, he would start blabbering, and Tyrion was right. Nothing good would come of saying more about Tysha, how his lie had ended for her. His father may have been right. Maybe she only did want the Lannister money, but the way she had looked when he led her from the castle with all her money, stinking of sex and men, had been one of the worst moments of his life, almost as bad as when he watched Lord Rickard burned alive.

 

His family was falling apart. The only blessing he knew now was that the Starks were willing to sit silently with him while they waited for Sansa to be summoned back to his father’s side.

 

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 watched Lady Catelyn escorted from the tent by two men wearing Stark colors, determining to put what she had said out of his mind. It was completely ridiculous. He felt a savage satisfaction when her son told them to take her to a tower room and see that she not leave it.

 

When Robb Stark sat down, Tywin took note of the cold rage on his face. The boy might love his mother, but she had once again overstepped her bounds. She would not be talking her way out of this one. Her son took her arms, looking deeply into her eyes as he told her that she would not be attending the wedding. Lady Stark’s eyes had teared, and she tried to argue with him before two guards escorted her out.

 

He was saved from making further conversation with the boy when his nephew showed up. The boy flashed him a wide eyed look, and he appeared ready to bolt.

 

“Tell the king in the north what you told me.”

 

Tywin Frey stepped up in front of Robb, and he knelt, shaking a little and looking around. No doubt he was expecting to be menaced by the direwolf. They did serve their masters well by inspiring fear in the hearts of the Starks’ enemies.

 

“I’m sorry for taking her, Your Grace. Please don’t let the wolf eat me.”

 

Tywin sat back as the story they had devised spilled from the boy’s lips. He was ready to annihilate a house by the time his nephew finished. Robb Stark knew what he had to do, and he would destroy the Boltons once and for all. They had been treacherous from the moment that they bent the knee to House Stark. This was far from their first betrayal. Now, Sansa’s brother was becoming aware of how fickle the minds of men were and the true importance of his word. He knew that his crown would bring him great trouble and greater betrayal than he could have ever imagined. The power he was given was not so different from poison. All he required were the right antidotes to save himself, and he was grabbing the vial Tywin offered to him.

 

Robb Stark was completely silent as he leaned back in the chair at the end of the boy’s tale.

 

“Leave us, Nephew.”

 

Tywin Frey leaped to his feet and nearly sprinted from the tent.

 

Robb Stark sat for a long time in complete silence. The young man who came into his tent and negotiated so well for what his family wanted and needed to go home in peace looked like the young man Tywin remembered seeing Jaime as the first time he saw his son after he was renamed the Kingslayer by every man, woman, and child in Westeros. He was just a little boy who wanted his father to make it better. It was the first time in more than a decade that Jaime had reached for him, telling him he never wanted to hurt his father and he could not do what the Mad King ordered him to do. All he had wanted was to take Jaime home, take him and teach him his follies so he could become the man he was meant to be.

 

“Is this true?”

 

Tywin passed him the small note that Lord Bolton had sent as an initial overture of friendship between the Boltons and the Lannisters. All he asked for in the note was Winterfell and to be named Warden of the North when Robb Stark was defeated and until such time that Sansa had a son of age to take the title. The man asked for the moon and stars. He was going to get mud and shite instead.

 

The king’s fist crumpled the tiny piece of paper. He looked like he had plenty to say, but he was keeping it inside to avoid offending the man who just became his ally, the man who was going to be his brother tomorrow. He knew that he had been betrayed. He knew that Tywin had quite probably devised a great deal of the treachery that had come over his army. What he had not done, Jaime had been able to manage with his foolishness.

 

“I have a man in place to handle this matter once I give the signal.”

 

He did not say that the boy should be throwing himself at Sansa’s feet because she was the only reason that Tywin was revealing this. It would not have been difficult to let Sansa think that he had no involvement in any of the violence that was about to befall her family. The risk of her finding out or suspecting was simply too great. They were going to be together for a long time, and he intended to ensure that his children by her knew that she was a treasure to precious to ever be bargained away. She would rest in the Lannister crypts near him.

 

Some time later, Robb looked up at him with the same expression that Ned Stark had given him in their first encounter of each other. It was shortly after Robert first sat the Iron Throne. Gregor Clegane and Amory Lorch had just placed the bodies of the Targaryen children at the feet of the new king. He was disgusted, but that disgust would do nothing of use. He had a choice to make. Would he make the best of his new arrangements or would he lose everything?

 

“My dog can fetch him and bring him to Riverrun if it pleases you.”

 

The king in the north linked his fingers together in front of himself, gazing with hard eyes at Tywin. He was considering what it would mean to take Tywin up on the offer. He knew that he had just made friends with the person who had orchestrated Bolton’s defection.

 

“I would appreciate that. I hope that you’ll be willing to lend me your hunting hound to sniff out the other flayed man in my lands who might cause me trouble.”

 

Tywin inclined his head to the boy as he stood.

 

“He’ll do as he’s told, and he can be told to obey you until such time as your greatest enemy in the north is removed.”

 

“If you’ll excuse me, I’ll tell Sansa that you’re ready to speak with her.”

 

Tywin nodded, watching the young man depart. When this was over, King Robb would have two castles to fill. It would be interesting to see what he did with that.

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 lifted her skirts as she walked to the tent. Robb had come to her a few moments earlier. His eyes had been bright with a dozen emotions as he told her that Lord Tywin requested her presence at the end of their talks, and he had no answer when she inquired about the discussions. All he told her was that she was engaged to the man and that he wished to explain matters that had pertained to her that came about during the discussions. Robb had chosen to honor the request.

 

Ser Jaime’s words played in her mind as she walked beside him. He had been so ashamed, saying he never thought their father would do such a thing. That he was sorry for his part in it, then Lord Tyrion’s hand had connected with his brother’s face, telling him to shut up. He had shouted loudly in what Sansa thought was High Valyrian. He had spoken so quickly that she had not been able to understand what was said, and then he was gone, running as best he could on his short legs.

 

“Please, Princess.”

 

Sansa glanced to Ser Jaime as she touched the tent flap behind which waited her betrothed.

 

“Ser, your father is waiting for me.”

 

She wanted to know as much as she did not want to know. Whatever had happened to Lord Tyrion and his wife had surely been horrible, and from the comments made, she did not want to guess. She would not even ask Tywin about it. She knew he was capable of harm. She knew many of the actions he had ordered taken.

 

“He’s done horrible things, things you can’t imagine. But he’s not horrible. He’s not.”

 

She took the hand of her soon to be son and squeezed it between hers.

 

“I know. Everything will be well. Please, don’t be afraid for—” she twisted her head to get a look at him more in the light. “Don’t fear for him. We will have ti—”

 

The tent flap raised, and Sansa looked up at Lord Tywin, releasing his son’s hand.

 

“My Lord.”

 

Sansa curtsied to him as he stepped to one side, letting her know that she was to join him now. He dropped the flap, taking her by her lower back and moving her to a bench in front of a brazier. She held his hand as he helped her to sit before him.

 

“In the West, we traditionally celebrate betrothals with a feast. The husband-to-be provides the favorite game meat of his wife-to-be. Since your brother and I are both busy men, we will share that meal tomorrow at noon. Our wedding will be tomorrow evening.”

 

Sansa twisted, dipping her head to look into her lord’s face. She wanted to know how the discussion went, and Robb had given away nothing. He had looked slightly perturbed, and her mother had not been with him. It had been concerning, and he just dismissed her, telling her to go to the Warden of the West.

 

“I enjoy pheasant and salmon equally, my Lord.”

 

She glanced at his hands, remembering how gently his thumbs had been as they brushed over the tops of her hips while he spoke to her the night she and Jeyne had been introduced. She breathed out slowly and calmly, trying to forget how warm it had felt when he touched her, how she had wanted to press closer into his arms and body.

 

The finality of it all was finally settling over her. Tomorrow, at this time, she would be at her wedding feast, or she would in a bed with her husband. She would be married in front of men and in front of the gods in two days time. Her family would go home, and she would stay with this man beside her.

 

Her chest heaved, and she had to force herself to take several deep breaths as a few tears of relief escaped. Her family was going to live. She did not know any lord in the seven kingdoms who thought fighting Tywin Lannister was a smart idea. He had done this for her, helping her family live. Seized by a sudden impulse, she took his hand and tucked it close to her chest.

 

“Our ceremony will be led by a septon. I know you’ve spent much time in the godswood at the Red Keep. Do you keep to the old gods?”

 

Sansa squeezed his hand, drawing it up so his knuckles brushed against the underside of her chin. She put the events earlier in the evening out of her mind. She could not sit and wonder what evils her husband might do. She had to see the best in him, instead of searching for the worst. Only finding the best would help him find it in himself. It was her duty as a lady.

 

“I haven’t, but the godswood is a place I’ve found great peace. It helps me remember my father. It would honor the lords of the north if we held a ceremony there as well. It shows our respect for them and acknowledges my origins. It’s a lovely way of showing how we’re coming together.”

 

Tywin’s fingers stretched out and caressed her pulse. She pressed forward, pressing her throat into the warmth of his hand. She sighed as his fingers stroked.

 

“Well spoken.”

 

They spoke of some wedding details, including her dress and cloak, that he wished her to wear the necklace he gave her to the wedding feast. There was no reason to delay with all ready. She blushed deeply at her next thought. Her family would be safer once she began adding lion cubs to their pack.

 

When she found the courage to glance up at her lord again, she found his bright eyes watching her thoughtfully and his expression soft. This was the man she wanted to marry.

 

W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G. F~I~R~E~A~N~D~B~L~O~O~D. W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G.

 

Jon took a seat beside his brother once Sansa was escorted out. He hoped everything went well for her. She deserved to have something go the way she wished this evening. He had almost ruined it, just as he had caused so much chaos for himself when Ser Aliser had called his father a traitor. He had just lost his temper and wanted the man to pay for his insults.

 

“Jon, is our sister being wed to the monster of Westeros?” Robb looked slightly defeated as he leaned forward against the table.

 

“If he is, at least he’s a monster who cares about Sansa deeply. More than I think he realizes.”

 

Jon spoke quietly to his brother about how gently Tywin Lannister had spoken to and comforted their sister. If nothing else, the man greatly esteemed her. He wanted her, and he attached great value to her. He had no plans to abuse Sansa, and Jon planned to remain close to her. He was her protection. It was quite possible that Sansa would have the love she had always so desired from her husband. Tywin Lannister might already love her.

 

“When I explained our wish that Joffrey not live long enough to torment Sansa again or do any harm to my brother, the man looked at me with this strange expression—colder than a weirwood’s face and he said he understood. When I pressed for his word and insisted that we wouldn’t allow Sansa to return to King’s Landing until we knew that little shit was dead and buried, he snorted and said that the Tyrells didn’t want their precious girl wed to a monster any more than our father had. He seemed to think with all the Lannisters gone, that the Tyrells would take care of such business.”

 

Jon pinched the tip of his tongue between his teeth. Lord Tywin might be correct, and what could be done to punish them? They were allies, and they had been bringing food into the capital to feed the starving population. It sounded like it would benefit everyone if an accident befell Joffrey.

 

“Will he treat Sansa’s children that way? With the same callous disregard he has for his grandson?”

 

“No. Sansa would never allow a child to grow up to become like Joffrey. She’ll be an excellent mother, and you’ll be fostering them at least for a short time.”

 

Robb went silent for several minutes, leaning forward on the table.

 

“Jon. Tell me the truth.”

 

Jon’s heart twisted in his chest at seeing his brother looking the way he did. He remembered seeing the same look on his face after they first witnessed their father dispensing northern justice. He confessed to Jon later that evening that he was not sure if he would ever be able to do that. Since this war had started, he had found that he did have their father’s steel.

 

“Always, Robb. You know that.”

 

“What kind of king am I?”

 

The way Robb looked up at him, almost as if his heart was breaking, tore at Jon like the claws of an eagle. His brother was trying. He wanted to do right and rule well, just as their father had taught them.

 

“Sorry. I shouldn’t be asking you that. You were born to—” His brother cut off, looking down at the table miserably.

 

Jon knew what he had been about to say, what he stopped himself from saying. Jon was glad of it. He was still having difficulty coming to terms with it, with what would have been his if Prince Rhaegar had not been defeated at the Ruby Ford. He had been born the prince, and his brother was now a king. He had been raised a bastard, and his brother had been raised a lordling. He forced away the unkind thoughts. His brother needed him to be there for him, not sitting here pouting about what he deserved but would never have.

 

“You can ask me anything, Robb. I’ll always give you the best answer I know.”

 

Once again, his brother had more than him. Robb always had. For the longest time Jon had hated the way it was, even if he accepted it. Being angry about it would change nothing. Robb told him that the north could ever be called to come to Jon’s defense. He appreciated the gesture and the vow, but he would not ask his brother for what should be his. The north could not win without allies, and after seeing everything that kings had done, he was not sure that he really wanted to be one, wanted to pay what it would cost. Uncle Benjen’s words about the cost of some actions was something he had come to understand better now.

 

“I think you’re a young king. Whether you’ll be a good king or a bad king—we’ve not had the time to see. You want to be a good king, and Father raised us to be good men. Being a good man, being a good king—It doesn’t mean that you won’t make mistakes. Surround yourself with good advisors, men who know more than you, and you can become a great king. Ending this war is a good thing, Robb. It’s costly, but it’s also good.”

 

Robb had worked so tirelessly with his lords on what they wanted from the south in return for what they were giving. Lord Tyrion had put forth the same patience and effort. He had understood his opportunity, and he had worked to use it the best he could.

 

“I beheaded Lord Karstark, and all his men marched home. He committed treason, and he killed two innocent boys, boys who were in my care. Boys who could have been traded for hostages. Boys who had done nothing but fight for their family, the same as me.” Robb’s face sank into his hands.

 

Jon looked down at his own, remembering how he had killed Qhorin Halfhand and Ygritte. It still hurt to think about them, both of them killed for honor, killed to do what was right. Both killed in service to the Night’s Watch.

 

“Tywin Lannister showed me letters that proved Lord Bolton had turned on me.”

 

Jon jerked at that news, almost leaping to his feet. What was being done about this? Lord Bolton was one of the most terrifying men sworn to House Stark. He had always given Jon a sick feeling in his gut.

 

“Lord Tywin has sent the Mountain to bring Bolton to me, alive if possible. The rest of the Bolton men will be put to the Mountain’s sword, so I don’t have to be waiting for a knife in the back.”

 

Jon kept silent. There was nothing else to say about the matter. The Boltons had rebelled against the Starks more than once in the history of the north. Mayhaps it was time for the treachery residing within their hearts to be extinguished. There were loyal men around Robb. Maybe Lord Tywin had a point about ending rebellions. All that was left was Roose Bolton who turned on Robb and his bastard son. When the leech lord lost his head, it would end the bloodline. Bastards never inherit—Jon knew that well enough. It would leave two castles open in the north, the Dreadfort and Hornwood, the castle that had been theirs for more than a thousand years and the one they had taken brutally for the wealth of its lands.

 

His thoughts bounced around all the events of the past several hours. There was much that needed to be said and far more good that could be done if they took the opportunity. Robb could gain an ally and a friend. All he had to do was take the opportunity.

 

“Robb, maybe this is the will of the gods. Now you have the means to reward a service done for the north.”

 

When his brother looked up at him, Jon continued with his idea. It was a good one and a kind one. It was also right.

 

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 looked over Sansa. Lady Stark’s words teased the back of his mind, but he could not see any truth to them in the young woman sitting beside him. She had not looked distressed talking about their wedding. She had taken his hand and held it close to her. It was his next piece of news that might get reactions of note from her.

 

“There are several parts of the peace agreement that directly pertain to you. I would not wish for you to be hurt by them. Your brother and I both agree that these measures are necessary for your safety. He won’t have his sister harmed, and I won’t have my wife put in danger.”

 

He became silent for a moment, watching emotions flit across her face before tightening his fingers around her hands. He brushed his lips over the knuckles of both fair hands and lowered them to rest between them comfortably.

 

He watched her face carefully as he told her that she would need to remain at Riverrun following their wedding. She shifted closer to him, pressing her leg to his and bowing her head as he finished.

 

“My Lord—” She paused.

 

“Tywin.” He kept his voice soft, tilting her chin so she looked up at him. “When it’s just the two of us and when propriety allows, you may call me by my name. A wife ought to feel so close to her husband.”

 

She took several deep breaths, rubbing her thumbs over his fingers. He was beginning to wonder if he had been wrong to interrupt her when she spoke, looking into his eyes.

 

“Tywin, I understand why I must wait here while you return to King’s Landing. You always take such excellent care of me, and I don’t know the words to express my gratitude.”

 

Tywin squeezed her hand gently. She would show him her gratitude when she wed him tomorrow. It might not be the way he wanted it, but it was the way it was happening. Something he had never imagined happening again. He would marry the woman he cared for more deeply than any other. That it was happening would have to be enough for him. He would treat her well.

 

He forced back her lady mother’s words. The beautiful, young woman in front of him, speaking to him now did not ask her mother to wed him in her place, did not ask to be rescued from him. She knew better than to ask that. She knew that she was the only woman he would have, the only one who could do as she now was. She had known before she was returned to her brother that she would be coming back to him with her brother’s blessing or stepping over his arrow filled corpse. She had shared the ultimatum with him more tactfully than that he was certain, but she had known. He had made it clear that she would be with him, whether she wanted to be or not, so she might as well be good to him.

 

“We shall not be separated long?” She rubbed a finger gently over his middle knuckle. “My father and mother. When they were no longer together—when—”

 

She did not seem to know how to say it all, but the look she gave him gave her heart a voice.

 

“No. No longer than necessary, my Lady.”

 

He had been forced to be away from his first wife more than he would have wished, to do his duty. He would not make the same mistake with Sansa. She would be with him every day as soon as the monsters that hunted her were gone. A small smile graced her face as she moved his hand close.

 

“Thank you.”

 

H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R. T~A~L~L~A~S~A~K~I~N~G. H~E~A~R~M~E~R~O~A~R.

 

Tyrion wanted to scream, and more than anything, he wanted to kill his father. All the pain and suffering had swirled into hatred with no way to kill the man, to pay his debt, exact his revenge, not now. Not surrounded by his father’s army. The only consolation Tyrion had was knowing that he had been able to escape recounting the whole truth. All he lost in his partial retelling had been his brother.

 

Jaime looked hollow as he tried to apologize for everything he had done, the lie he told his brother about Tysha. His hand had flown out and Valyrian words spat like fire from his mouth as the handprint burned on Jaime’s cheek.

 

Sansa had moved between them, putting a stop to the fight. She begged them to remember that they were brothers and that they loved each other. All he could think was that the pain would be less if he did not love Jaime. So he left the tent as quickly as he could, wishing to return to the time before he knew what his brother had done at their father’s urging. The worst part was that he believed that Jaime had been duped by their father, that he never knew what Tywin had planned to do to Tysha after Jaime’s confession.

 

“Lord Tyrion, King Robb is requesting your presence.”

 

He bit his tongue. What did Robb Stark want now? Had Jon told him part of the tale? Was he regretting engaging sweet Sansa to Tywin? Looking for a way to get his sister away from him? It was impossible now. The moment she was allowed into camp was the moment that Sansa was out of his power and given to Tywin. That deal was done. That ship had sailed as his other options sunk like the ships during the Battle of the Blackwater as they burned.

 

Tyrion slid from his chair after downing a cup of wine. Drinking was all he had. Revenge would have to wait while his debts collected interest at an alarming rate. He walked morosely back to the tent that had been the place of so many horrible confessions, so much he had never imagined.

 

He walked in quietly and took a seat, wondering how he would make good on his promise to make his sister’s joy turn to ashes in her mouth, and how he would punish his brother for what he had done.

 

“Lord Tyrion, thank you for coming. I’ve a matter of great importance to discuss with you.”

 

Tyrion’s eyes cut to Jon Snow, and the bastard boy nodded to him encouragingly.

 

“Lord Bolton turned against me. He has no issue, only a bastard son who will have his head chopped off at the earliest possible time. I imagine your father’s hound will be taking care of it.”

 

Tyrion stared at Robb. He was not asking what to do about the Boltons, and his assessment of how dangerous they were was accurate. What Tyrion did not know was what any of this had to do with him.

 

“The North will have two castles without families. You have done a great service for the Starks. We wouldn’t have had peace without your aid. I’d like you to take a castle and lands in the North. You might look for a bride among the northern houses too. You’ve impressed Maege Mormont, and she has five daughters.”

 

Tyrion leaned back in his chair, eyes wide at this. His father denied him all that was his, and the Starks were offering him more than he had ever imagined, what he would promise a man for saving his life. A castle and a high-born beauty. He had seen Dacey, the heir to Bear Island, and Alysane who claimed her children were fathered by a bear. She had three others, Lyra, Jorelle, and Lyanna.

 

“I want you to serve as my Hand. You’re one of the most knowledgeable men I know, and I remember hearing you say before you went to see the Wall that if you went celibate that whores would go begging from Dorne to Casterly Rock. If you’ve been all over the south—”

 

A castle, lands, position, title, a wife. It was the recognition that he had always wanted. He would be able to sit up north and out-think all the lack-wits whose lives he had been busy saving. He would be away from his father and all the people who spent their lives spitting on his head.

 

“Your advice has been invaluable. I’ve agreed—”

 

Tyrion listened with fascination as Robb spoke of the treaty he had made with Lord Tywin.

 

“I’ll also be taking the queen mother north. Your father hopes that in time, I’ll find a suitable husband for her where she can cause fewer wars for him to fight.”

 

Tyrion nodded at this statement, and almost grinned at the idea of his sister being wed to the Umbers or the crannogmen if they had an eligible man. As far north as northern castles went or the muck of a great, impenetrable and inescapable swamp full of lizard lions. No one would be willing to take his sweet sister with all the sins Lord Stannis had cast upon her head and his brother’s.

 

“We both know that the northern lords will never have her, Your Grace.”

 

“So she shall live in the north as a prisoner, treated to our hospitality.”

 

Tyrion leaned back in his chair, knowing that Robb had no idea what kind of trouble his sister might make, given the chance to spread her legs. She took no care for her actions or how they might hurt people. He had nearly told his brother what a whore the woman he loved was, how she began bedding cousin Lancel practically the night that Jaime left to rescue him. His hands clenched into fists to keep away the tears. His brother would have risked all for him. He knew it. It was why he had chosen him as his champion for his trial by combat. Jaime loved him, and he still loved Jaime.

 

“I feel certain that we can make her comfortable in her new home, though perhaps not as comfortable as my sister was in King’s Landing.” Tyrion leaned forward as he offered his next bit of counsel. Keeping his sister in his castle as his prisoner appealed to him. He would be the one to tell her when her wretched little beast of son was gone.

Chapter Text

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 her reflection in the mirror. It had hurt her to learn that her mother would not be attending her wedding. She was forbidden from seeing Lady Catelyn for the time being. All Robb had said was that she had disrupted the peace negotiations, and he wished for her wedding to be free of all emotional disturbances. He hoped for her to be as happy at her wedding as he had been at his.

 

“Sansa.”

 

She turned at the sound of her name.

 

Jon slipped into the room as Shae and Jonquil finished fixing her dress. He held out a blue velvet bag in his hand, but he was stopped when she turned to face him completely.

 

“You look beautiful, Sansa.”

 

“Thank you, Jon.”

 

“Your uncle sent these for you.” He passed her the bag. “Your lord grandfather had them made when your first betrothal was announced.”

 

All the breath left her lungs as lovely pearl tipped hair pins tumbled into her hand. Her two ladies cooed their approval and appreciation as they took them and began sliding them into place in her crown of braids. They fixed her veil and the pretty silver and pearl circlet Tywin had given her at their engagement meal just a few hours ago.

 

“Are you ready?”

 

Sansa nodded, taking a final look at herself.

 

“He’ll be speechless, my Lady. They all will be.”

 

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 took in the expressions on the faces of his brother and son. Kevan was smiling but trying to hide it. He looked for a moment as though he might embrace his brother. They had not embraced in years, since they were children and he was sent away from Casterly Rock to serve as a cup bearer at court.

 

“I’m sure she’ll make you happy if you’ll let her.”

 

Tywin gave his brother a withering look, but Kevan did not shrink back from him. He continued to meet his eyes. It was his brother’s way, and it did not surprise Tywin. The only brother he had left had often spoken gently to him about his desire that he find some joy in life, that it was what Joanna would have wanted for him. It had taken so much time before he snapped that nothing left in the world merited a smile. He had not deserved to be happy after he failed, and Kevan had not been able to understand it. Those words were what it took to get his brother to quit, finally realizing that the hole Joanna left was not something Tywin wanted to fill or felt could heal. That had been before Sansa had been born—before Robert’s Rebellion.

 

She had been a vision at their betrothal meal, resplendent in the white silk dress he gave her. The silver wolves raced around the hem by her feet. She had entered the hall on his arm and walked to the head table with her red hair flowing down her back like a waterfall catching the light of the sunrise. It had been difficult to take his eyes off her, and he spent most of the meal conversing with her quietly, making sure she had everything she wished. They had discussed nothing of real import, but it had been pleasant none the less. At the conclusion of the meal, he had walked her to her bed chamber so she could prepare for their wedding.

 

“I have the cloak, Father.” Jaime held the bright red material up, showing of the cloth of gold lion roaring on the back.

 

He nodded to Jaime. Everything was falling into place far more perfectly than he had ever dared to imagine.

 

The War of Five Kings was all but over. North and South were at peace again. News had arrived today that Lord Stannis’s body had washed up on Dragonstone, and the castle was ready to bend the knee to the throne. Only the Greyjoys remained at war with the seven kingdoms, and the Iron Born would soon be cast to their god at the bottom of the sea by the combined might of the kingdoms.

 

Tyrion had been offered a castle in the north. He would depart and offer no contestation to the rights of children Tywin would be putting in his new wife, tonight if he was lucky. Stafford’s daughter, Cerenna, would be wed to Lord Edmure Tully.

 

He met Jon Snow formally. He was a fine young man with the same quiet thoughtfulness Tywin had so often seen in his father. The new Jon Targaryen had looked shocked, but it had been more by being given his name and told that Dragonstone was to be his castle, especially when the only stipulation was that he make no war with the Lannisters. The young man had raised a brow as he swore loyalty to his family and the north first, swearing he would take no action that endangered the agreement unless his family was threatened. Sansa was his family and through her the Lannisters would be his family.

 

They would find him an excellent match in time. There had been a frankness to his speech that was refreshing after the double dealing from the Tyrells. What more could he expect from up-jumped stewards who betrayed the Gardeners, the old kings of the Reach? They were ambitious and wanted to secure all the best for their family. Being the second wealthiest family in the seven kingdoms was nothing to be overlooked. And no reasonable, thinking man could blame them for seeing dragons and being smart enough to surrender.

 

His blood would be shared with the children he would have by Sansa who would share the blood of the crown. She would connect the greatest families in so many ways, strengthen them all.

 

“Come, Tywin.”

 

Tywin followed his brother and first son out of the room he had been given to prepare for his wedding.

 

He forced away the ugly look on Catelyn Stark’s face. He was determined to think no more about her asinine claim that Sansa suggested a trade. It was too ridiculous, and she was bright enough to know better. She knew she was for him, and no other woman would do.

 

Still her behavior toward him during their conversation this morning niggled him in the back of his mind. It had been difficult at best to tell what her true thoughts had been, just acceptance or relieved or pleased. She had smiled some while talking about wedding plans the previous evening and when he said that their separation would be as brief in duration as possible. But was that because she knew they would likely need to couple many times to make children, and children were the swiftest means to assuring a lasting peace between their families. Or was it because she wanted to be close to her husband? Her husband who had told her the truth of what he would do to have her. Her husband who threatened her brother and mother.

 

Damn that woman. His only consolation was that Robb Stark had possibly been more furious with his mother than Tywin had. He had told her in front of Tywin that she would not attend the wedding because he refused to have her disrupting and upsetting Sansa. So her brother had thought that such foolishness would upset Sansa, but what would be the true cause of her distress?

 

“Tywin, it’s time to go.”

 

He nodded and followed his brother. She was going to be his soon enough, and that would be enough. He would be good to her, and she would learn to love him.

 

W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G. F~I~R~E~A~N~D~B~L~O~O~D. W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G.

 

Jon took a place near the back of the godswood after passing Sansa to Robb to walk up to Tywin Lannister. All the lords of the north and the west stood, facing her as she walked between them.

 

She had always been beautiful, but today she was more gorgeous than he had ever seen her. The pearls gleamed in her red hair like a crown of snowflakes, and she seemed to float almost as through carried by the wind as she approached Tywin. Her white cloak was caught by the breeze, and flowed behind her displaying the grey direwolf of her house. Her face was partially covered by a thin veil that Robb removed very gently.

 

As she moved to kneel respectfully to her man who would soon be her lord husband, Jon’s breath caught in his throat. Tywin Lannister had taken both of her arms so gently that the fabric of her dress did not even wrinkle. He drew her closer to him, sliding his hands down to take hers. They met each other’s eyes as the septon spoke of why they were here today.

 

Robb took her white and grey cloak, folding it over his arm. He kissed her head and wished her every happiness with her husband. When he stepped back, Lord Tywin stepped forward, removing his cloak and wrapping it around her. He pulled her a little closer to him as he did so.

 

Then they were speaking their vows, promising to be faithful to each other from that day until their last day. They shared no kiss, but they walked back between all the witnesses after being pronounced man and wife with all the grace and dignity that Jon thought a king ought to have. Sansa had wrapped her hands gently around his elbow, staring straight ahead just like her husband. They both looked regal and commanding as they led the way to the great hall.

 

Robb followed behind with his queen on his arm. He followed with Arya beside him and Ser Jaime and Lord Tyrion and Ser Kevan behind them. Afterward came alternating lords of the three kingdoms in attendance.

 

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 quietly thanked her husband as he placed some herb encrusted trout that had the pleasant aroma of lemon on her plate beside some buttery vegetables the moment she asked for them. He encouraged her quietly to eat anything that pleased her. She glanced up at him from time to time, wondering what he was thinking and knowing that he would never share the intimacies she was accustomed to from him while they were on display in front of three kingdoms. He spoke very little else to her.

 

The idea that she had in some unintentional way displeased him was distressing and discouraging. She had hoped for him to be happy today of all days. She wanted their marriage to be successful and have the love she had seen between her mother and father. He loved Lady Joanna. Ser Kevan had whispered to her at the lunch celebrating their impending marriage that Tywin was pleased to be marrying her. She wished he would show it, show her, even if he could not show everyone. Would it be so difficult? Was it asking so much?

 

As soon as she thought it, she understood. His father had acted a fool with a younger woman, a mistress. He did not want his banners to believe that he was a fool over a young woman too, even if she was a princess, even if she was his wife. He would not be seen as anything less than totally dignified and in control of himself. But how did smiling, how did feeling happy about his marriage make him a fool?

 

The look on his face when he stopped her from kneeling had made her heart flutter like a swarm of butterflies, almost as much as when he had told her before they parted last evening that there would be no bedding. Maybe that was a display of his affection for her, that he had not expected that. He did not want to see her beneath his boots. He had raised her up to stand with him. She could have sworn that his lips quirked up just the slightest bit as his arms moved around her, draping her shoulders with the cloak that had been around his own moments earlier. It was the closest she had ever seen him to expressing happiness, and she had squeezed his hands a little tighter to let him know she had seen. She felt him to be hers truly in that moment.

 

His eyes had not once wavered as he spoke his vows. He had stepped closer to her at the end, and she had been so certain that he was about to kiss her. She had hoped that he would, but he just placed her hand on his arm. Then together they walked between everyone assembled to witness their union as man and wife, lord and lady, leading them to the wedding feast.

 

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 took her hand when she appeared to have finished her meal. It was expected that they lead the dancing. It had been something Joanna had especially enjoyed, but they rarely danced in public view. She always wanted people to know that she loved him more than anything, and she always understood when he did not ask her to publicly dance. He made a point of constantly surprising her with private dances when they were together. Everything he had done that gave her far too short life joy had been worthy. He would have her in his arms for the first dance, then be forced to share her with other lords who wished the privilege of dancing with the bride.

 

“Would you like to dance, Sansa?”

 

“Very much, my Lord.”

 

She tucked her hand into his, and he led her to the center of the space, holding her hand high for all to see. She was Lady Lannister now. She never dropped her eyes from his face as he cradled her delicate hand, letting him help her spin. Others soon joined them, but he payed them little mind. It was impossible not to watch his wife as the soft smile on her face brightened. He bowed to her as the music finally died.

 

After him, many lords approached to request her hand for a dance. It was expected that he allow her to dance with them, tonight at least. After tonight, he could send them away from her, saying she was meant to be at his side. She squeezed his hand before taking hands with her brothers each in turn, then lords from the three kingdoms in attendance by turns. Every man walked away from her with a smile. She caught eyes with him every chance she could, and he kept his eyes on her to ensure no mischief was attempted with her person. Each time their eyes met, she gave him a soft smile.

 

He had paid a steep price for her, but the returns would bankrupt his enemies. At the conclusion of a thirteenth or fourteenth dance, Lord Umber walked her back toward him.

 

Their fingers twined together as she reached for him. She stepped closer to him, placing her hand over his arm. She stroked the soft material of his doublet. She was breathing a little heavier, no doubt from her exertions, and she looked ready to rest.

 

“Are you enjoying yourself, my Lady?”

 

“Very much, my Lord.” She stroked his arm softly up and down as she caught her breath.

 

“I’ve a message for you, Lannister, from the Umbers.”

 

Tywin raised his eyes from his bride’s face to look at the very tall man in front of him. He was not the height of the Mountain or the Hound, but he was close.

 

“If you hurt the princess of the north, not even your mad dog will be able to save you.” Lord Umber stepped up into his space and glared down at Tywin.

 

Tywin glared, but he refused to step back. Sansa had the strength of the west, the north, and the riverlands to defend her. He was being threatened and accused of being a man who would harm his wife. Still, he would not spit venom at his enemies like a viper, especially when those allies would be giving castles and kingdoms to his children.

 

“Her name is Lannister now. No one hurts Lannisters without paying the price.”

 

Lord Umber gave him a last harsh look before backing down. He strode back to his table and downed another cup of ale after seating himself around some Mallisters, Glovers, and Leffords. He was not the first man to threaten him today. Why did so many sheep feel the need to tell the lion how to treat his lioness? She was precious to him. Did they take him for a fool? Surely, he had shown himself as worthy.

 

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 looked up at her husband. She could feel the tension in his arm. He was becoming irritated. He did not like being treated like he was unworthy of her, like he was waiting for the chance to abuse her. He had saved their lives from whatever plot he had imagined, a plot she wanted to know nothing about. She wished to sooth and comfort him.

 

“Many of these men I’ve known all my life, Tywin.” She spoke his name quietly, still unsure of addressing him so in such company. “They look upon me as their daughter. That’s what they’re trying so hard to say. You would never need to tell a man the harm that would come to him if he raised a hand to your daughter.”

 

Sansa rubbed his hand, hoping he would hear what she could not say.

 

The lords threatening in her name—it was not about the man she married at the command of their king. It was not about whether they believed he would or would not harm her. It was that they knew what had happened to her and wanted it to be known that they would rise again to come to her defense.

 

Fear stabbed her heart when Tywin gave her no response. His face was cold and blank again, the look he so often wore to hide away the good man within him. He was being robbed of the happiness he might have felt. Surely, he knew all they meant was that she would be protected if the worst should happen. The feeling that there was more bothering him about this than he was willing to say or show made her ache. How was she to soothe him? Whatever pain he felt, she could never ask him to share. It would have to come from him, and he may never be able to say it. She found his touch comforting, but she was certain physical closeness now was not the answer to this emotion.

 

A snarl she had heard from him directed at Lord Tyrion had cut through her belly when she heard the spite and hatred in the words, You’re not my son. Tywin had strode off to his solar at the end. That was when Tyrion saw her in the corridor and said something that clearly weighed in his heart, He’s never been quite sure that I was his child. Her own words to her father when he told them that they would be returning home to Winterfell also twisted in her heart. He’s nothing like that old, drunk king. If only she knew what it all meant. It could mean nothing, or it could explain everything.

 

Unsure if any words would make her husband content, she clutched his hand, tugging it up to press his knuckles against her chest over her heart. She wished she could embrace him, but she felt certain that would be a misstep as egregious as treading on his toes during their dance would have been. He was a deeply private man.

 

She glanced around at everyone else, the dancers and those at the tables conversing with each other. Many were slipping deeper into their cups. She glanced up at her husband again, wondering when he would take her to his bed.

 

His promise that no one would be seeing her naked had relieved her in ways she had not known she needed. Once she had imagined that it would be fun, being taken to her wedding bed in such a way. She had not even thought of it much until Tywin had said something to her, promising it would not be. The nausea and fear had almost made her wretch when she heard the words and understood what he was talking about. All he had done was take her close, whispering that no one was going to do such things to her. He would keep her safe as would all the other lords of the west.

 

Her eyes flicked up at him again, unable to imagine any women being brave enough to attempt removing his clothes. How would it work once they got to their bed chamber? What would he expect from her? How would she please him?

 

Cersei’s words about the act of making children had frightened her, and she could not entirely put them out of her mind. Her septa’s had not been more encouraging. Her mother had many children, but it was never a subject about which they had spoken, how children were made, the wedding bed, giving birth.

 

Then she thought of all the whores she heard about King Robert having. She thought of all the babes there were in the world. Women had been having babes, and many of them, for a great many generations. Surely, if it was as unpleasant as the queen would have her believe and made it seem, there would be fewer babes and fewer whores.

 

Perhaps, he was ready to retire with her, but she did not feel brazen enough to ask Tywin. Surely, he would say if he was. It was his right to have her.

 

“Princess.”

 

She turned at the sound of Ser Jaime’s voice.

 

“Ser Jaime.”

 

“My father asked me earlier this evening if I would escort you back to your room.” When she glanced to Tywin, Ser Jaime spoke more quietly. “Just walking, Princess.”

 

“I would be honored, Ser.” She pressed her lips to Tywin’s middle knuckle. She did not have the courage to ask her husband anything else. Not when he would come or if he was tired or how he was feeling. “I’ll be waiting for you, my Lord.”

 

W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G. F~I~R~E~A~N~D~B~L~O~O~D. W*I*N*T*E*R*I*S*C*O*M*I*N*G.

 

Jon watched Ser Jaime escort Sansa out, then he turned his attention to Lord Tywin. He would almost say the man looked torn between brooding and plotting a quiet revenge. The expression had nothing to do with Sansa. As far as Jon had seen, the only moments the Old Lion appeared content were the ones spent close to his wife. He thought at one point while they were dancing that the proud lord was almost smiling with her pressed close in his arms.

 

“My Lord.” Jon approached him where he had eased down behind the high table.

 

The green eyes looked up at him with all the warmth he had ever felt at the Wall.

 

Jon sat beside him, wondering if the man would say anything about what was irritating him. All he did was nod in greeting to Jon before turning the ugly look back on several lords of the north.

 

“My sister speaks very highly of you, my Lord. She seemed happier today than I’ve seen her and happier in a different way. I’m glad she’s married to a man she respects. A man who treats her so well.” Jon watched him as he spoke her words about Lord Tywin to the man’s face.

 

Sansa was a little afraid of her husband, but she was also willing to find fondness for him if he would allow. Maybe if he did not allow. He had seen the relief in her as she danced with him, the relief that it was over.

 

His face softened at hearing someone tell him that Sansa thought well of him. He cared for his new wife, even if it was something of an obsession. When he declared at the meal announcing their engagement that there would be no bedding, Jon had seen the look of relief on Sansa’s face. Then she had taken his arm before they left for a short walk to survey the godswood before the wedding. He cared for her, more than he was willing to admit or show.

 

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 sat perfectly still and straight while Shae removed the decorative pins from her braids. She played with the pearls sewn on her dress, wondering at some of what Lord Tyrion had managed to tell her earlier when he he wished her happiness at the wedding feast.

 

She had stooped to embrace him, and he had held her an extra moment to whisper that if she was at all worried about anything to come that night, she should ask Shae. It had taken her a moment to understand. When she realized what he meant, she knew her face must have turned a dozen shades of red, likely reaching the point that it matched her hair or her new cloak.

 

Now, she glanced at the slightly older woman in the mirror. If what he meant was what she understood, Shae had been a whore before she became her lady’s maid. She might still be a whore. How did one go about asking such a question? It was rude, and it was scandalous.

 

“Lord Tyrion said you might have questions for me, my Lady. About tonight.” Shae’s soft Lorathi accent soothed Sansa’s nerves, though she still was unsure where to begin. “I know what the septas teach. Don’t do that if you want to please your husband.”

 

“Septas have instructed me all my life. They taught me my duty—” Sansa cut off as the other woman sat and met her eyes.

 

“My Lady, septas know much that they can teach, but they never have relations with men. Whores do. With many men and frequently. I might not know how to read or about your gods, but I know about having a man. I know what men like.”

 

Sansa rubbed her lips together, considering Shae’s words. She wanted to please her husband, but surely, Tywin would not expect half the things of her that Shae would know. Certainly not tonight at least.

 

“What do men like?”

 

“They’re all different, as different as all the women you know.”

 

Sansa felt a little lost at the answer. She knew that all men were different, and Tywin was no exception. He was a man unlike any other she knew. Many of those qualities had helped build a fondness for him in her. He was not the sort of man she had ever dreamed of marrying, but she was his wife now. And she was not disappointed that he would be the man joining her soon in the bed behind her. It was impossible not to be wholly relieved by his change in circumstance between now and a year ago. It was equally impossible not to be nervous about what was to come.

 

“No man wants a woman who reclines and does nothing.” Shae met her eyes steadily as she spoke her next words. “Kiss him. Hold him. Touch him. Show him that he’s more than a duty, more than the baby he wants to put in you.”

 

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 almost hated how good it felt to hear those words from someone he barely knew. He knew that Sansa was fond of her cousin, had been raised to think of him as her brother. After all the accusations, it was good to know from someone Sansa trusted that she had not spoken ill of him. Catelyn Stark’s words had bothered him more than he had been able to admit to himself.

 

He understood that the lords of the north felt the need to bluster like the winds of winter. They had such backward behavior it was nothing short of miraculous that his bride was so absolutely perfect. She had none of their temper or foolishness. She would be happy and safe if he had to allow the Tyrells to do some dirty work in the interest of the kingdom.

 

He had known that his anger was all to do with him, and he was loath to go to Sansa in such a mood. She had nerves enough tonight. He had seen it in her relief when he told her how some things would be. The nerve of the northern lords to insinuate that he would not protect her. Did they not know she was a Lannister? That meant everything to him, whether they were the lowest Lannister or himself.

 

The most infuriating ones were the statements that he could not protect her. He was leaving his wife in the safest castle he could until it was unquestionably safe for her to return to his side. He had failed in his duty to protect his first wife, but he would not fail Sansa.

 

Once he felt a little calmer, he stood, bidding the young man beside him a calm good night before leaving through the side door. He paused when he reached the door. He could hear female voices on the other side, and he recognized them as his wife and her handmaid, the Lorathi whore the dwarf had brought to court.

 

“Your husband would have to be blind to not like seeing you this way.”

 

He could not make out Sansa’s words, and afterwards, he could only make out the soothing tone of her handmaid. The door opened a moment later, and he was looking into her dark brown eyes. She bobbed a curtsy, giving him a slightly threatening look. She was quite protective of her mistress as she should be. It need not extend to him, so he ignored it, walking past her and locking the door behind him.

 

It was only when he turned to Sansa that he felt his breath catch in his throat.

Chapter Text

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 sat with her knees curled under her. The cloak Tywin had given her draped her shoulders, flowing back around her luxuriously. Her cheeks heated, and she looked down. He was not speaking or moving. He was her husband. Surely, he knew that this was for him.

 

She was still worried that Shae had been wrong about the shift she had helped her pull on. The material was lovely and soft against her skin. It was also completely sheer. He could see all of her, and her small clothes. What if he did not want to? What if he would have preferred the candles blown out before her clothes were removed? What if he would have preferred removing her wedding dress himself?

 

The words of her vow repeated themselves in her head, and she focused on what Tywin had promised to her. To protect her, to be faithful to her, to take care of her. She remembered how his eyes had locked on hers as he spoke, how he had held her hands, how he cradled her cheek. He still had not kissed her, not truly kissed her. Then they went to Riverrun’s great hall, and other than their dance, he had not paid much attention to her.

 

It may have been all the people. Her husband was not a publicly demonstrative man. He surely had a great deal on his mind, and he had little time left with her brother before he returned to King’s Landing. What did he think about their upcoming separation? He had not been with his first wife all that oft—.

 

“Sansa.”

 

She looked up when he called her name, forcing away the thoughts about whether he wanted her. He had worked so hard to get her. He must want her, or had he only wanted to get his son back? His son who was injured. Was that a debt he would want to pay?

 

“Sansa.” He took her face gently in his hands, forcing her eyes to lock with his before he pressed his forehead against hers. “There you are. Stay with me. Stay with me.”

 

Sansa was not sure how long he held her that way, but he eventually straightened up and stepped back from her. Her cheeks burned hotly when he removed his doublet. He was now wearing only his trousers and undershirt. The bed depressed beside her, and her leg pressed against the side of his. He was warm as she tilted ever so slightly into him, her front pressing to his side. The length of his arm felt so warm where her chest and belly pressed against it.

 

“My daughter has told you things that are as unkind as they are untrue. Do you have any questions for me? About how this night will proceed?”

 

His thumb rubbed over her chin as he helped lift her head. His other hand was unbearably and perfectly warm as it pressed into her side, cupping around her hip and directing her to move onto his lap. He kept his eyes on her face as his hold tightened as though he feared her being torn away.

 

“Will it—will it hurt?” She pressed her cheek against his arm as his hand slid onto her leg. She forced herself to stop chewing the back of her lip as she looked at him.

 

“I understand it can be disconcerting and sometimes painful for a woman the first time. However, I am not without knowledge. It is not my intention to cause you any pain. You’re my wife. As such, I will do all in my power to minimize your discomfort and maximize your pleasure.”

 

Sansa slid her arms around his neck, pressing her body close. Her forehead pressed against the side of his jaw and neck. She was at least touching him now. It was not some of the touches that Shae told her he might enjoy, but this seemed to be what he wanted at the moment.

 

Shae had likewise spoken of pleasure. The septas never said the experience was meant to be more than a duty to be endured. Now her husband and her handmaid had told her there was more to a wedding night than duty. The other things she had told her—like about how to touch herself and that making a baby would likely take many nights—were so improper. Her handmaid had also pointed out, septas took vows of chastity. They could not know as much as a woman who had survived by earning money as a whore, and Tywin had been married and had children. He surely knew of these things, and he had always proven true to his word.

 

He was being so patient and so kind with her, and being in his arms was nice. He said that he wanted their night to be pleasant. Shae had said it could be incredibly pleasant if she let herself relax with her husband.

 

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 rubbed her hip and thigh gently as he shifted her in his lap. Joanna had also been spooked their wedding night, and she had clutched him for several minutes before she had found the courage to ask him when he was going to kiss her. She never told him what happened before he arrived and sent the king slinking from the room like a scolded dog. At least, there had been no need for Sansa to face such things.

 

Her voice was quiet when she found it, but she was not mumbling and her voice was not wavering.

 

“Are you ever going to kiss me?”

 

He pulled back enough to look into her eyes while gently stroking her thighs. They were supple and firm, and it was difficult not to imagine what it would feel like if she wrapped them around him to hold him closer. He would be settling himself between them soon enough. They had the whole night. Her skin was soft as ever, and he cradled her cheek and played the silky red strands of hair.

 

Kissing was something he was dreadfully out of practice at doing. He had not been celibate since he lost Joanna, but his few encounters with women never involved that. His needs had been met with a few virginal servants in Casterly Rock who had the sense to keep their mouths shut and they had all drank tansy tea. He neither wanted, nor needed any Lannister bastards.

 

He had considered kissing Sansa more than once, but he had not wanted to risk wanting more before she was ready for him. It had not been easy to tell if it was her desire to kiss him or just her desire for courtly kisses. The kisses he had in mind were far from the ones he had so far given her, and the ones he hoped to give her were not the chaste ones she had known from men in the past. When he looked at her, chaste kissing had not been the contact he imagined. He was accustomed to denying his desires, and this one had been no different. More so, when done correctly denial was a means of increasing desire ten fold.

 

“Would you have me kiss you?”

 

Her fingers dug into his shirt as she tilted her head invitingly to the side, drawing his eyes to the smooth column of her lovely, silky neck. That porcelain skin would be perfection with a few love marks from him on it. Several dozen where her dress would conceal them would be perfect. They were for his eyes only. Her eyes dropped from his to look at his lips as she rubbed hers back and forth together. There were plenty of places he would be able to and willing to kiss her soon, if she wished it. He would teach her to wish for it, as slowly as he must. This type of loving was new to her.

 

“I would, and it seems a nice place to start.”

 

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 wiggled under him. Her whole body felt alive with tingling, warm and eager to be touched. She twisted her fingers in his undershirt to hold him. It would hurt if he left. She had to keep him close. His lips were nearly as warm as the rest of him. She moved her arms to his neck, tugging at his shirt. She wondered between kisses if she was tugging herself closer to him or fighting to keep him as close to her as possible.

 

When he pulled back, she made a noise of protestation, tugging at his shoulders and pressing up against him. She trembled as she pressed closer. Her eyes tracked his mouth as he leaned his forehead against hers. She tried to press their lips together again, but he withdrew just enough that she could not reach. A low whimper came from her throat, and she pulled herself up against him. Pressing against him was as close to perfect as she had known in so long, even if she was unsure how they ended up in the middle of the bed with him atop her. She flushed as her breasts brushed against him, and they tensed and tightened with desire for more contact. Heat was building in places she had not much considered before.

 

She bit the back of her lower lip at the needy sound that escaped her throat when he pulled back. She tightened her grip on him and was moving toward him when she was pinned to the bed on her back. His hands slowly unwound her arms from his neck, and her eyes widened at being separated.

 

“Don’t leave.”

 

Both wrists were gently but firmly cradled in one of his large hands above her head. He hovered above her imposingly, and she wriggled again as he shushed her, gently nuzzling her neck.

 

He raised a brow at her as her breathing quickened. She turned her cheek into his hand the moment he cupped it, arching her back off the bed to get closer to him.

 

“What do you want, Wife?”

 

Sansa shivered, almost as much at the timbre of his voice as at his warm breath against her neck. She turned toward it, prepared to lunge at his mouth only to whimper when he was back above her after brushing his lips over her jawline.

 

“More kisses.” Her eyes slid between his eyes and his mouth as she pressed forward as best she could.

 

His hand was warm as it slid up her thigh, massaging and gripping the outside of her leg. He bent her leg up, and when she felt her knee brush against the side of his hip, she moved her other leg up without prompting to cradle him between her thighs. The idea of wrapping her legs around him to keep him where she needed him flashed in her mind, making her blush with desire. His eyes searched her face, but he made no move to kiss her immediately.

 

“Please, Tywin. I want more kisses.”

 

“You shall have them.”

 

Tywin made a soft humming noise at her before gently taking her chin and turning it to the side. He directed her hands back to him, and Sansa gasped, arching directly up against him once her hands were sliding beneath his shirt.

 

His skin was warm and far softer than she had considered. She kissed his chin when it was all he would allow her to reach and stroked down the center line of his chest, panting a little when he growled in response to her nails scraping over his chest.

 

Her mind was turning to mush, and all she wanted was to keep him in her arms closer than close as he began pressing warm kisses to the side of her neck, rubbing his nose close along her jaw. She settled back on the pillows with a high pitched whine, tugging him atop her.

 

He settled between her thighs, pushing her shift up over her hips. He kissed his way to the other side of her neck, licking and sucking where her shoulder started.

 

“No.” She tried to continue running her hands over his back as he plucked them away. “No.”

 

She hooked a leg around one of his to be sure he could not leave. She bit the tip of her tongue as her face burned with shame. She wanted more kisses and to continue touching her husband, and he was pulling away from her. A whimper came out of her throat.

 

“Don’t go.”

 

Tywin engulfed her in his arms gently, tucking her up against his chest as she continued whimpering. He shushed her, rubbing his nose in her hair and scenting the rose oil that had been in her bath. She favored rose oil, and it was nice.

 

When she stopped shaking, he eased her down, kissing her neck and chin as he murmured to her.

 

“I’m not going anywhere tonight, Sansa. I intend for us to be together as often as possible once I know that you’ll be safe at my side. I won’t risk your safety.”

 

He pressed their lips together, untangling her legs from his. He sat up on his heels and pulled his shirt off over his head. She rubbed her lips together and stared at the flesh she had been caressing. A row of pink, raised up lines along his abdomen and sides caught her attention, and she reached for them.

 

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 let his eyes run over every stunning inch of the woman that was now his. He had expected to be coaxing Sansa more to touch him. She had always been somewhat conservative about reaching for him when she was not terrified. He would have tried to be gentle as possible and patient with her while she found her sensual side. Instead, he found a young woman with a tentative curiosity.

 

Instead of a shy maid, he had a young woman who started out shyly but quickly wanted to learn more about him and what he wanted as much as what her body was telling her she wanted. Once she began touching, she had quickly tried a variety of touches. Each one heated his blood hotter, but it had been her scratches and her hardening nipples and whimpers that made his cock harden so fast.

 

Then she had cried, begging him not to leave. He leaned in, giving her more nuzzling kisses along her jaw. He would give and accept all the cuddling she wanted when they were together in private.

 

He gripped the fabric of the red shift she had wrapped herself in that teased him with the vision of what was his. It had bunched around her waist from all her wiggling and attempts to keep him close. He hummed the moment it was over her head as he tossed it away, and his whole body jerked toward her as he helped her line their hips up.

 

She whimpered and stiffened as her lovely pink tipped breasts were revealed to his gaze. Her arms moved up, crossing her chest protectively. He gathered her up onto his lap gently, pressing their foreheads together. His hands moved slowly and smoothly up and down her back, tracing her shoulder blades and her backbone from her neck to where it ended. He would kiss and suck on each point before the night was over. In the future, when she was more comfortable with him, he would put her on her hands and knees and take her from behind. Imagining her arse pressing up and back against him was almost enough to end the night before it began. He gripped himself almost painfully. He was not about to let the evening end before the event he had been anticipating for some time.

 

“I want to see you, Sansa. All of you. You’re beautiful.”

 

She was his most valuable and cherished possession now. She would stay with him forever. She would bear his sons, and his sons would have everything he could give them. One would be a king. They would live as lord and lady and rule the seven kingdoms in peace.

 

He dropped his forehead to her shoulder, unable to stifle his groan when she pressed herself closer to his cock.

 

He murmured more compliments and promises that he stopped thinking about or understanding to her as she dropped her arms to her sides. He rubbed his nose tenderly against the underside of her chin as he kissed her throat.

 

A soft high pitched noise came from her throat as he lowered her back to the bed, and she wrapped her arms around his neck. He bucked against her center the moment she locked her legs around his waist. Grabbing a handful of her thick, soft hair, he pressed their lips together again, slipping his tongue between hers. He growled into the kiss, knowing and disliking part of what he was about to do.

 

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 twisted toward her husband as he gently unwrapped her legs from him. He eased down beside her and slipped an arm around her shoulders. She blushed when she realized how heavily she was breathing.

 

She settled back on his arm, resting against the warmth, fighting the urge to cover herself again. Tywin had called her beautiful. He said that he wanted to see her. She could let him look. He was hers as much as she was his.

 

She rolled her shoulder toward the hand that was curled around it. His fingers all rubbed so carefully over her skin as if he was afraid to bruise her. His left hand traced over her lips down her neck and between her breasts.

 

Her back arched as more heat built between her legs. It was getting wet and uncomfortable. It was almost unbearable, and she rubbed her thighs together desperately hoping it would offer some relief and wondering if he would put his hands on her again as tried to press herself against the length of his body.

 

Tywin stroked her belly after pulling her to her back again carefully. His eyes were warmer than she had ever seen them, and for a moment, she could swear that his lips quirked up the slightest bit. She leaned toward his mouth when she thought he smiled. His kisses were so nice, and he varied between soft and gentle and nipping at her skin every place his eyes glanced while he growled. He dipped his head lower, kissing her collar bone before his hand slipped lower over her hips where the ties of her small clothes were.

 

He traced a finger along the edge of the cloth, following the line of it between her legs. Her breathing sped with his touch. His hand twisted and when he fully covered her lady’s place, Sansa gasped. She pressed her hips into his hand, tipping her head back against the pillow with a sigh. His hand felt so good, and she panted as his fingers teased along the lines of her small clothes. She rocked against his hand as a guttural sound escaped her throat. His hand had followed the movements of her hips, and she twisted to press closer to him, unsure if it would bring relief or just make the heat worse. She felt like she could not get close enough to him.

 

Tywin whispered quiet promises into her ear as his fingers teased her, dipping beneath the cloth every so often as he kissed her throat. Sansa flushed when she felt the wetness against her skin where he was touching. She twisted close, snuggling her face on his shoulder. Just as she was wondering what her husband must be thinking of her wanton behavior, he spoke.

 

“Do you like this?”

 

She burned brighter at the question, unsure how to answer. She liked it, and she wanted more, but she did not want him to think her anything less than the lady he had married. She did not want to be a disappointment to him. When she did not answer, he pulled his hand back.

 

“Don’t stop. Please, Tywin.”

 

His hand returned quickly, brushing his fingers lightly over her center as he tucked her closer to him. He whispered words of praise to her as she bucked against his teasing hand.

 

She twisted toward him, looping an arm around his neck. She whimpered as his thumb brushed over her, sending heat cascading through her and make her press faster into his hand, chasing some feeling that she did not fully understand other than wanting more of it. Her body was so hot.

 

She stroked the light, golden hair as he climbed back on top of her, settling himself between her legs.

 

“I’m going to take these off.” He moved her hands back beside her head and dipped down, giving her a tender kiss as he cradled her chin. “I’ll make you feel good.”

 

She leaned up and kissed him before settling back to allow her husband to continue what they had started. She lifted her hips to make it easier for him to remove the small cloth covering her and throwing it away.

 

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 stared at her moist center. He had felt her pleasure through her soaked small clothes, but seeing more fluid soaking the red curls covering the treasure he was about to claim for himself made him want to be buried in her warmth even more. Someday, he would put his mouth on her there, but tonight it might be too much. He did not wish to overwhelm her more than she already was, and if the rest of his plans went well, she would be quite pleased. She would want more from him, and he would show her other ways he could please her and drive her to desperation. They had time to experience everything he wanted for them. It did not have to all be tonight.

 

He grabbed his cock hard and rolled to his back, trying to think of anything to calm down. She needed her husband to put a babe in her. If he became too excited like a young man just discovering what his cock could do for him, it would not happen tonight. He intended her pleasure to be absolute. He propped himself up comfortably on the pillows as he forced his breathing to slow.

 

Once he was certain he would not finish immediately at the image and pressure of her being where he desired her, he cupped a handful of her glorious backside with one hand while the other massaged the back of a thigh to direct her with a gentle tug to settle on top of his lap.

 

Her hands slip over his chest and neck and chin, stroking softly as her breathing alternated between heavy panting and slow and heavy as though calming herself. Getting her to let go might be trickier than he thought if she was still determined to be a lady.

 

“Nothing will be done or said to shame you here. All you need to do is relax and enjoy yourself.”

 

He drew her down closer to his chest, adjusting her so her forehead rested against his chin. The silken skin of her thighs delighted his hands as much as her soft whimpers did his ears. One hand stroked his sideburns, alternating between stroking and combing.

 

His cock throbbed almost painfully as her hips rocked experimentally against his stomach where he had placed her. Juices dripped from between her legs as she continued restlessly wiggling.

 

Her eyes widened as he took her hips to still her movements, and he shushed her before she started pleading. Someday he would explore how much he could make her beg for more from him.

 

“Like this.”

 

She slumped against his chest, clinging to his shoulders as he showed her how to move her hips. As soon as she started moving on her own, he began unlacing and working himself free of his remaining clothes. As soon as they were off, he shifted her down over his hips. His brain almost melted with her core pressing down and rubbing against his cock, and his hands grabbed her arse excitedly. The relief was so sweet as more of her juices dripped over him, preparing him for her. Once her moans and sighs of appreciation increased in volume, her arms took his neck to hold him close to her.

 

He lifted her from him, despite her protests and thrashing to get back closer again. He reassured her as tears built in her eyes that he was not leaving her this night. His mind was aflame as images teased him of the different ways he could position her to show her all the ways he could send her body spiraling into delicious pleasure.

 

Seated atop him with her head thrown back and her teats bouncing as she rode him for her pleasure. Settled comfortably beneath him, knees cradling his hips while she accepted him with her arms curled around him holding his face against her neck. Tucked in his lap in a chair, moving slowly and gently while her breasts pressed in his face to be lavished with attention from his lips and tongue. Trapped between him and a wall with her legs wrapped around his waist and her arms clutching his neck while he took her quickly in the middle of the afternoon.

 

There would be time enough for all of these during their marriage, but not tonight. He cupped her breasts, pinching her nipples gently as she rocked over him, drenching his cock with more of her juices.

 

He sat up so he could reach more of her, pressing hot, open mouthed kisses to her nipples as he draped her arms over his shoulders. She needed no prompting at this, arching her back and holding him to her breasts. Her squeaks and cries made his cock twitch and throb for the warm welcome he was coaxing her body into giving him. As her writhing and whimpering became louder, his eyes flicked to her face, searching for the signs of how close she was to what he wanted to give.

 

His new wife was enjoying herself more than he had realized. She was about to take her pleasure of him, and it was difficult to take his eyes off her even as she tried to pull him back to her teats.

 

He rolled them over quickly. He did not have much time if he intended her first orgasm to happen with him inside her perfect body. He caught her lips, taking himself in hand and directing his cock to her entrance. She moaned loudly into his mouth, pressing toward his cock with her hips and his mouth with her lips.

 

He drew back, pinning her wrists above her head with one hand. No one was going to rob him of seeing her face as she came on his cock the first time she felt a man inside her lush body.

 

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 gasped, arching toward her husband as the feeling that had been building in her body since he began touching her that evening crashed down. He pressed in slowly, staring into her eyes. As she began to settle and feel accustomed to the new sensation of fullness and completion, he leaned in, kissing her. His tongue tapped her lips gently. She opened her mouth to sigh and was rewarded when his tongue slid into her mouth.

 

He thrust slowly and steadily for a little bit before pulling back to touch their foreheads. He whispered a dozen promises to her as he held her close, and each filled her with warmth and comfort. His hands stroked her sides up and down, pausing occasionally to grip her thighs and jerk her harder against him. They also ventured to her breasts again to squeeze and brush gently at the hardened peaks. Wherever they went to explore her body, Sansa tried to press as close as she could to him.

 

The pleasure that had flooded her body was building again, and she whined as her husband began sucking at her throat. His thrusting was losing its steady rhythm, and he was growling louder than earlier, reminding her of his lion sigil.

 

“More. Please, Tywin. More.”

 

Moments later with a loud grunt, she felt something happen to him. He was clinging tighter to her. She smiled softly, hiding her face in his neck as he eased down on top of her. His hands reflexively rubbed the backs of her legs, keeping her flush against his hips as the hardness within her eased. His breathing slowed, and he eased off her body, dropping beside her.

 

All the promises he had made while thrusting into her whispered in her mind. She wondered if he meant them. Shae had told her men were apt to say dozens of strange things when they bedded a woman and to be careful of taking too many to heart.

 

He said he would kill anyone who harmed her. Frightening, but she was certain he meant it as reassurance after all she had been through. She belonged to him, and no other man would ever touch her again. There were a dozen variations on these, promising to protect and care for her, that she would never want for anything now that she was a Lannister.

 

Once his breathing fully eased, he rolled toward her and draped an arm over her waist. She took his hand in hers. Remembering what those hands had done to his enemies, and what they had just been doing to her made her feel warm. If someone hurt her, they would be his enemy. She was his now, just as he wanted, his, in front of gods and men. She rested her cheek on his arm, thanking the gods for giving her a husband that she felt that she might be able to love in time.

 

“I am yours. And you are mine. From this day, until my last day.”

 

Everything was going to turn out just fine. She was sure of it.

Chapter Text

I had a reader make an extremely interesting request. It was requested that I write a "darker" version of this story, darker meaning there may be some canonical character deaths (perhaps in a different manner than canon). Darker would mean more than this, of course, but that is the beginning of what it would mean.

 

The general premise is 'What if Robb said no?'

 

This is a direction that I considered taking the story. It would be an AU of my AU. I have seen the skeleton of where this idea might lead.

 

Is this a concept that interests other readers? Would you want to read it?