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Winter Rose, Growing Strong

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As she stepped delicately from the grass and onto the footpath back towards the castle, Sansa struggled to breathe properly. She had taken a great risk by confiding in Margaery and her grandmother, and she may yet suffer the consequences of her recklessness. But how could she have let Margaery walk into the lion’s den without at least a proper warning? No, she told herself, telling the truth was the right thing to do. If this choice brought further suffering upon her, well, she wouldn’t be the first Stark to get hurt trying to do the right thing in King’s Landing – though she might be the last, given the cloud of danger hovering over her family at the present moment.

It wasn’t the possibility of getting hurt again that truly scared Sansa; it was the possibility that her circumstances might improve. To hope that she might yet escape the Lannisters, only to find the bars of her gilded cage slammed closed once again…it would be utterly crushing. Imagining the many ways she could accidentally screw this up for herself, Sansa shuddered, and vowed that she would not speak a word of this Tyrell betrothal plot to anyone. Indeed, she would forget Margaery had even mentioned her brother Willas. It would be easier if she erased any hope of escape, because then she could not be broken by the discovery that the plan to marry her to Willas was merely an offhand, thoughtless remark. If she kept her lips sealed, at least she would know that, if the promised marriage failed to materialize, it was not her fault.

Unlike Father’s death, which was entirely her fault. If she had not told Cersei about the ship…no, it was useless to dwell on this. Keep smiling, stay silent, and think of nothing, she told herself. But even so, her responsibility for her Father’s death laid heavily on her. Every day, her guilt motivated her to be especially careful with her words, to keep secrets even if she was nearly certain that the information she kept close to her breast was useless to anyone else. You never know when something that seems innocuous might be the missing piece of intelligence that allows some unknown person’s schemes to fall into place.

Gods, she hated King’s Landing. She hated watching her back, minding her words, shrinking herself into nothing to avoid attention from her tormenters. I have to get out of here, Sansa thought desperately. Maybe it will work out, with Willas…

She pinched her arm to keep the thought at bay. Nothing happened, she told herself sternly. You know nothing. Forget it, before your hopes blow up in your face.

 

***

 

I should have known, Sansa thought, as silent tears streamed down her face. I should have known nothing good can ever happen, that life is not a song and there are no true knights, that hope is merely the ascent that allows you to fall ever harder and ever further onto the rocks below. She gazed out her window, picturing herself falling, falling, falling, like the Lady Ashara Dayne.

First Bran and Rickon, and now this.

I thought it couldn’t get worse. I was wrong. A surge of hysterical laughter bubbled up inside her, but she killed it before it escaped her lips. I am dead inside and I will stay dead, my heart will become like stone, my mind will escape into the clouds, and I will feel nothing ever again. They can hurt my body but there will be no one inside to feel it, because my heart is dead, dead, forever dead.

How could they be so cruel? Even the Lannisters…she had known that they were capable of great evil – Joffrey had shown her that, when he beheaded Father, after promising her mercy – but this…

It was so horrible she could not put her thoughts into words. Her mind reeled, her stomach rippled with nausea, her mind was a smooth, blank, icy sheet of misery. There was no room for thoughts, for words. Only silence and stillness and images she could not stop from flashing before her, images of Robb, dead, Mother, dead, Grey Wind, dead, Father, dead, all of them dead dead dead. Grey Wind’s head sewed onto Robb’s body. Father’s head, falling from his shoulders, on a spike, covered in tar. Lady’s head, falling from Father’s sword. Mother’s throat slit, Bran and Rickon burned.

Why didn’t she realize it, after everything they had done? Why didn’t she know how rotten they were when Lady died? Why did she still think they would let Robb win anything, that they would play fair? What fools were they – her and Robb and Father – trusting such niceties as honor and guest right?

For days, Sansa lay still and silent in her bed. Eventually, the tears stopped leaking from her eyes, and she simply lay there, stone-faced. Her arms and legs felt heavy. She found food utterly unappealing. Ashara Dayne, she thought, over and over again. Ashara Dayne, Ashara Dayne. Can I be strong like she was, strong enough to choose my own fate, strong enough to end my suffering?

It seemed no one noticed that she was missing from court. Margaery, her supposed friend, was absent. Perhaps she was merely busy with wedding planning, but Sansa saw it as cowardice. Some friend, she thought, her heart aching.

After days – how many? – lying there in the darkness, still and quiet, she finally rose. Whether it was weakness or strength, she could not say. She decided to forget. Forget Robb, forget Mother, forget Bran and Rickon, forget Father and Grey Wind and Lady, forget Winterfell. In her mind, she sealed them off, as if they never existed, as if they were only a dream, half-remembered and quickly fading, until nothing but a feeling remained lodged in her memory.

Willas, she thought, as she crept towards the kitchens, feeling her stomach rumble. Maybe there is still a way out, if not for my family, then at least for me. But who would want a traitor’s daughter? Hadn’t she learned by now that hope was always a lie, a precondition for eventual despair?

All of them are dead but me, she thought dispassionately, as she popped a stolen grape into her mouth. I am alone in the world now. I must forget that it was ever otherwise.

***

The Red Wedding – that was the disgusting name everyone was using for the horrors committed against her family and the Gods. No, no, I do not care about the name, I do not care at all.  Nothing happened, nothing matters, it was never otherwise, she told herself firmly. In time, the Red Wedding began to slip from her mind. She locked away her memories of her family in a dark, inaccessible vault in the back of her mind. She forgot the beating she suffered after Robb’s victory at Oxcross, and Joffrey’s delight at the slaughter at the Twins. She erased them all, one by one, the good memories along with the bad.

In time, she also began to forget her conversation with Margaery and Olenna. Willas, erased along with Robb and Bran and Rickon and Mother and Father and Lady and Grey Wind. Gone.

In fact, she was so diligent in her forgetting that it did not even occur to her that Ser Dontos’s offer might conflict with Margaery’s. Choosing to trust the Fool – but importantly, telling him nothing he did not already know – she idly prepared herself for her impending escape. On the day of Joffrey’s wedding, she wore the hairnet of black amethysts, as instructed.

Of course, she didn’t really believe anything would come of Ser Dontos’s promises. After all, he was a drunkard from a disgraced family. He held no title and no castle in which to hide her. He was unlikely to be capable of beating even the greenest squire in a swordfight, much less sneaking her out of the formidable Red Keep under the hawkish eye of the Queen and Joffrey. And if he did somehow manage to spirit her away, where would they go? There was no home to return to, no future ahead.

Their love was doomed, she knew, but still, Sansa found it pleasant to imagine Ser Dontos as her knight in shining armor and to pretend that he might rescue her. Unlike the Tyrells, who frightened Sansa precisely because they likely possessed the power to save her if they so chose, her Florian’s silly dreams of running off together were toothless, which made them a nice distraction from her miserable life in the Red Keep. By now, of course, she knew better; life was not a song. But fantasy is all that’s left for a woman whose heart is stone and ice. Daydreams could soothe the pain, but it was important to keep them separate from reality – and that is why she did not daydream about Willas. Only a fool would hope that he might still want her, with her traitor’s blood and her empty claim on a burned-out clump of stones in the frozen North. Ser Dontos, though – there was a dream she could dally with, knowing that the hope was false from the start, enjoying the simple pleasure of imagining that life was otherwise. Songs could still come true inside one’s mind, in secret daydreams and play-acting among friends. Hope couldn’t hurt you if it was only a game of pretend, if you never really believed it in the first place.

So on Joffrey and Margaery’s wedding day, Sansa wore the hairnet. She wore it to honor Florian and Jonquil’s flights of fancy in the Godswood, to honor the romantic songs she used to love, in all their childish glory. Dontos was a fool, and she was a fool; they were perfect for each other. It gave her a beautiful lie to tell herself when she lay awake at night, unable to sleep for fear that Joffrey might arrive at her door to make good on his threats. Because she did not take him seriously, however, she did not recall his solemn advice to wear a warm, dark-colored dress and a concealing cloak.

Along with the hairnet, Sansa put on the nicest of her ill-fitting dresses. It was a royal blue dress of sturdy cotton, and though it was a few inches too short and the bodice a shade too tight, she had done her best to render it presentable. Saving scraps of lace and thread from her occasional invitations to Margaery’s sewing circle to use as materials, Sansa had sewn a ring of lace around the hem and neck to create the illusion that the dress fit properly. She also modified the sleeves, shortening and slitting them so they billowed around her shoulders. As a finishing touch, she added festive embroidery, displaying the Lion of House Lannister and the Crowned Stag of Baratheon frolicking in a garden of flowers. Surely, she thought, no one could object to such harmonious, crown-loyalist imagery at a royal wedding, but she was nonetheless frightened that Joffrey would find some way to interpret her embroidery as treasonous.

Sansa threw up her hands. As usual, she was in the unenviable position of trying to discern the indiscernible, striving – utterly in vain – to predict Joffrey’s unpredictable rages. There was no use worrying about the embroidery. Nothing about it could be reasonably interpreted as disloyal, and if Joffrey arbitrarily decided otherwise, then so be it. There was nothing she could do.

At that precise moment, Sansa heard a knock at her door, and seized up with fear. Was that him? Was that Joffrey, coming to take advantage of her in his final moments of freedom? Had she preserved her maidenhead for this long, only to lose her last bargaining chip just before she could cash it in?

“Sansa?” The voice came floating through her door, sending a surge of relief coursing through her body as she realized the voice was too deep, too tired, and not nearly angry enough to be Joffrey’s. It wasn’t him. Thank the gods, it wasn’t Joffrey! The voice was friendly, but at first, she couldn’t quite place it.

“Sansa? Are you there? It’s me and Tyrion!” called a second voice, a girl’s voice. It sounded like one of the ladies from the Reach, but Sansa wasn’t sure which one.

Attentive to the need to arrive to the wedding in a timely fashion and grateful that she would be escorted to the ceremony by at least relatively tolerable friends of the Crown, Sansa opened the door.

“Desmera?” Sansa said, hoping she hadn’t gotten Margaery’s ladies mixed up and trying to squelch any uncertainty that might seep into her voice. She was nearly certain that this was the young lady Redwyne, sister to Horror and Slobber.

“Yes! And Tyrion, too. Hello, Sansa! Margaery sent me to fetch you, and on my way, I ran into Tyrion, who was apparently sent by the Queen Mother for the same purpose. Are you ready to go to the Sept?” Desmera Redwyne replied.

“Yes, of course. Thank you both for escorting me,” Sansa replied politely. She stepped out into the hallway and closed the door behind her, hoping neither of her escorts had seen the sorry state of the room the Queen had assigned to her.

“Hello, Sansa,” Tyrion said softly, gazing at her with a strange look in his eyes.

“Hello, my lord,” Sansa replied impassively.

 

***

 

The ceremony was a long, elaborate, but ultimately dull experience. Sansa – who had once craved the pomp and glamour of the South – found herself wishing that everyone kept the Old Gods, with their simple Weirwood ceremonies. But then again, she thought ponderously, the court would probably find a way to make an Old Gods wedding last for hours, too.

Sansa was happy to see Margaery’s radiant smile as she finally strolled down from the dais, arm-in-arm with Joffrey, but she wondered if the smile truly reflected the way the Tyrell (now Lannister? No, Baratheon, of course) girl felt in her heart. Sansa wouldn’t be happy to be in Margaery’s place, and surely Margaery couldn’t be either, after everything Sansa had told her about him. Perhaps Margaery wanted to be Queen badly enough to endure Joffrey, but Sansa found that hard to imagine. Sansa was unspeakably grateful that it was Margaery on the steps of the Sept, and not her, but she felt guilty for wishing such an evil man on anyone, much less her one true friend in the world.

Of course, Margaery was no true friend, not really; but still, it seemed cruel to wish Joffrey on such a kind person, even if she did make herself scarce while Sansa grieved in the darkness and dreamed she was Ashara Dayne. Even if Margaery’s certain torment might provide Sansa a moment’s peace.

Letting her mind wander as the ceremony dragged on and on, Sansa thought of Ser Dontos’s hairnet. He said the stones were black amethysts from Asshai. Sansa did not know much about Asshai, except that it was far away and that its name was spoken only in terms of fear and awe. I wonder if they’re really from Asshai, or if that’s just an old wives’ tale, perhaps passed down by his mother and her own mother before her.

Eventually, the ceremony ended, though by the time it finished, Sansa had already forgotten most of it. The new royal couple made their way to their carriage, and the front pews emptied into their carriages. Finally, Sansa and the others consigned to the lesser rungs of seating were allowed to begin making their way back to the castle for the wedding feast, and hopefully dancing. Despite an undercurrent of apprehension that never left her, somewhere inside, Sansa felt just a teeny bit excited. Maybe, for once, she could enjoy herself just a little. Maybe Joffrey would be so enthralled by Margaery that he wouldn’t notice her at all.

Haha, Sansa thought acridly to herself. Silly girl, don’t you know better than to get your hopes up? Hope is always a lie.

 

***

 

At first, the wedding feast was lovelier than Sansa had dared to dream it might be. The ballroom and courtyard were lavishly decorated, with flowers everywhere and cloth-of-gold hanging from every rafter. Ice sculptures of stags and lions dotted the courtyard, a lavish expense this far South and given the inevitability that they would melt. Every wall torch in the ballroom was lit tonight, and every table full of guests. A decadent meal of seventy-seven luxurious courses was planned, and already the smells wafting from the kitchen seemed absolutely tantalizing to Sansa, who so rarely had the opportunity to indulge (or even, with Joffrey and Cersei hovering around all the time, to simply eat enough to quiet the ache in her belly).

As a traitor’s daughter and a traitor’s sister, Sansa was seated far from the royal family, which suited her perfectly well. The front tables were full of Lannisters and Tyrells, along with most of Margaery’s handmaids and the greatest of the lesser houses, including the Redwynes and Fossoways. Though above the salt, Sansa’s table was further from the Royal family than most of the lesser nobility of the Crownlands, the Reach, and the Westerlands. Between Sansa and the head table were tables full of Rosbys and Stokeworths, Hayfords and Marbrands, Rowans and Cranes.

Sansa’s place at a table just above the salt was clearly intended as a slight, but she bore it with dignity. She had no desire to be anywhere near Joffrey’s line of sight, and mercifully, she found herself among reasonably pleasant (albeit mildly disreputable) company. Her dining companions comprised a humorous mix of notorious oddities and upjumped hanger-ons: Sansa, the Traitor’s Daughter and heir apparent to Winterfell; the exiled Summer Islander Prince, Jalabhar Xho; the roguish Dornish Prince Oberyn and his scandalous paramour, who could not be seated among any truly noble houses yet refused to sit apart; one of the singers, a blue-bearded man called Collio Quaynis of Tyrosh; Lord Tyrion’s bawdry sellsword, Bronn, and his nervous squire, Podrick Payne; and a pair of friendly Tyrell bastards, Garrett and Garse Flowers. Sansa wondered at the choice to sit Tyrells, Lannisters, and Dornishmen all together, given their enmities, but she supposed the other noble houses would refuse to be seated with foreigners and bastards, so they would have to make do.

Though she noted the location of her seat immediately upon arriving, Sansa joined Desmera in mingling a bit before settling down in the designated spot. Feeling unusually confident, Sansa did her best to charm everyone she met. She told Lord Rosby that his cough sounded like it was getting better, and the usually serious man graced her with the sad smile of a man who knows his days are numbered but hopes it isn’t so. Don’t bother with hope, Lord Gyles, Sansa thought cynically.

She spotted Elinor Tyrell, dressed in one of the loveliest gowns Sansa had ever seen. It was turquoise silk, overlaid with gold chiffon, cut low at the neck and bound at the waist with a flowing, pale yellow sash embroidered with multi-colored flowers.

“Elinor! It’s so good to see you. Wasn’t the wedding delightful? And this feast! Why, everyone looks so beautiful tonight, especially you, in that amazing dress. Did you stitch the flowers yourself?” Sansa exclaimed.

Elinor beamed. “Why, thank you, Sansa! I must confess, I love this dress too. The family seamstress did the flowers, as I didn’t trust myself to make them perfect. But you! Look at that embroidery! That’s your own handiwork, is it not? I swear, you are better than our seamstress. I wish my stiches were as elegant as yours.”

Sansa cast her eyes downwards as if humbled by the compliment, but when she looked up, her eyes were sparkling and her grin was wide and genuine. “Oh thank you, Elinor! That’s so kind of you to say. Your stitches are lovely too, you know.”

After chatting with Elinor and a few others, Sansa began to make her way back towards her table. Along the way, she ran into Kevan Lannister and his son Lancel. Unable to avoid them without appearing rude – and very attentive to the fact that the Lannisters held her fate in their hands at all times – she made polite small talk with them before continuing on to her table.

“Ser Lancel!” she said as she passed by, “It’s so good to see you up and about again. I was sorry to hear that you were wounded in the battle, but I heard that you showed true valor that day. One day, when you’ve regained your strength, you will have to tell me all about it. I give thanks to the Mother for your recovery.” Ser Kevan looked very happy to hear her praise his son, and Lancel smiled and thanked her, though his eyes did not lose their haunted cast and his movements appeared slow and pained. Sansa had little sympathy for Lannisters, but she did feel a brief flash of pity for Lancel; after all, he had only been doing his duty, defending the city from Stannis.

When Sansa took her seat, Prince Oberyn was regaling the table with exciting tales from his time in Essos.

“So then I told the Norvoshi sellsword that I couldn’t possibly respect his religious customs if he remained intent on keeping them all a secret to outsiders like myself!” Oberyn was saying. “For how could I respect what I do not know, eh? I think he might have let it go if I hadn’t followed it up with a joke about his ridiculous beard – sorry Collio, there’s nothing wrong with it, it just looks foolish to Dornish eyes, I must confess – well, actually, he might still have hesitated to challenge me to a duel if I didn’t ask if they colored their netherhairs as well…Oh dear, a lady has arrived, and here I am speaking of netherhairs!”

Sansa blushed bright red as the table roared with laughter. His paramour looked at Sansa’s horrified expression and slapped Oberyn playfully on his upper arm with the back of her hand.

“Apologize, you rouge, for offending this poor young lady,” Ellaria hissed, but then she smiled and kissed him on the cheek.

“My apologies, my lady,” Prince Oberyn said to her, his eyes bright with mischief. “I fear someone has made a terrible mistake, seating a proper young lady among us ruffians and bastards. Whatever did you do to so offend the Queen that she would place you here?”

Sansa’s smile, which had begun to creep back onto her face at Ellaria’s kindness, drooped again. She stared at her plate.

“My brother is a traitor and my father too,” Sansa said, her voice utterly without inflection. Oberyn looked stricken by her words, and Ellaria glared at him again.

“Gentle lady,” Ellaria said softly, “What is your name?”

“Forgive me, I did not mean to be rude,” Sansa replied quietly, still looking at her plate. “I am Sansa Stark, of Winterfell.”

At this, Oberyn and Ellaria exchanged knowing glances. “My dear lady Stark, it is I who must be forgiven for my rudeness,” Oberyn said. “I know well how little girls can suffer in the lion’s den. Let us speak of something happier, if it please you.”

Tyrion’s squire frowned at Oberyn’s words, but his sellsword looked amused.

“Perhaps Prince Jalabhar might tell us about wedding customs in the Summer Isles,” Sansa ventured.

The ebony-skinned prince smiled at this, gesturing animatedly with his hands as he described beautiful dresses of rainbow feathers and wedding feasts of exotic fruits served with freshly caught fish. Then, glancing from Oberyn to Sansa and then around the table, he finished by commenting, “As for the ceremony…well, Oberyn, you would surely love to hear all about the wedding ceremonies I have seen, but with Westerosi shyness, I dare not describe it in such dignified company as the Lady Stark.”

Sansa was confused. “What do you mean, my lord?”

“He means that they fuck each other, in Summer Islander weddings,” Bronn interjected. Sansa’s mouth dropped open. Ellaria giggled, and soon the rest of the table was roaring with laughter again.

At that precise moment, Margaery – who was making the rounds from table to table, with her grandmother in tow – arrived at their table.

“Why, what did I miss? It looks like you all are enjoying yourselves. I’m so glad that each of you could be here to celebrate with Joffrey and I on this wonderful day,” Margaery said.

“Thank you for having us,” Sansa replied politely, as the others continued to chuckle.

“Margaery, my dear cousin,” said Garrett Flowers, rising from his seat to kiss the new Queen on her cheek. “I am so happy for you.”

“Garrett! It is ‘my Queen’ or ‘Your Grace’ now, not cousin Margaery!” Garse admonished in a tone of mock-offense.

“Oh, no, please don’t,” Margaery replied with a silvery laugh. “I couldn’t bear it if the two of you were to become formal all of a sudden! I may be the Queen, but I’m still your cousin.”

“Of course, Margaery. Your Grace.” Garse said with an exaggerated bow and a wink.

“And Sansa! I was wondering where you were. It has been too long since we lunched in the gardens, has it not?” Margaery said, as her grandmother appeared behind her. “But you remember my grandmother, surely?”

Sansa looked at Margaery and Olenna, her heart suddenly burning with foolish hope. But she suppressed the feeling and replied in a friendly-but-not-too-friendly tone, “Of course, who could forget a great wit like the Queen of Thornes? I am at your disposal, your grace, and I would be happy to lunch with you in the gardens once you have recovered from all this excitement.”

Olenna fixed her steely gaze on Sansa. “Oh, don’t bother with flattery, girl. I’m no great wit, just an old woman who lost her patience for fawning and frippery before you shot squalling out of your mother’s womb. A Tully, wasn’t she? Very fertile, that lot. Goes with being from the Riverlands, I suppose.”

“Grandmother!” Margaery exclaimed.

“Oh, hush, Margaery. We’re in the presence of Dornishmen, singers, sellswords, foreigners, bastards, and traitors, I can say what I like.” Sansa’s eyes dropped to the floor and Oberyn looked cross at that remark. It looked like the prince might say something – probably something rude – but Olenna started up again before he could get a word in. “Don’t look so sad, Sansa, I say only what that haughty brat of a Queen must have been thinking when she put this table together. Only a fool would seat my grandchildren next to the man who crippled my dear Willas.”

Willas, Sansa thought with longing. Then she pinched her arm, driving the thought from her head.

“Old lady Tyrell,” Oberyn said with mild irritation, “You know as well as I that it was an accident, one that Willas forgave long ago.”

“Indeed. And you know as well as I that it was not your error but my Oafish son’s that led to the accident. Entering a boy of eleven into a tourney, bah! What foolishness. But don’t say that to the Fat Flower or that simpering wife of his – truly, why do the Gods hate us so, that they would give us the only stupid Hightower? But I suppose better Alerie than that mystical fool Malora.” Olenna paused, fixing her eyes on Sansa’s hair. “You look exquisite, child, but the wind has been at your hair.”

Olenna reached out and righted Sansa’s hairnet, tucking a few stray strands back inside. “You know, I was very sorry to hear about your losses,” she said as she poked and prodded at Sansa’s hair. “I know, your brother was a terrible traitor and all, but if we start killing men at weddings, they’ll be more frightened of marriage than they already are. Just ask Ellaria here, Oberyn’s never going to make an honest woman of her, is he? There, that’s much better!” she proclaimed, letting go of Sansa’s hairnet and stepping away.

“Grandmother,” Margaery warned, glancing at Ellaria and Oberyn.

“No offense taken, your Grace,” Ellaria replied lightly, pressing a hand to Oberyn’s chest to keep him in his seat.

“Anyway, I’m pleased to say that I’ll be leaving this stinking city the day after tomorrow. You really should visit, Sansa, while the men are off playing at war. I shall miss my Margaery so dreadfully, and all her lovely ladies. Perhaps the Dornish could even accompany you. With my Oaf son away, there’s no one to gainsay it, and no one need tell him. What he doesn’t know can’t hurt, surely,” Olenna nattered on.

“Unfortunately, my place is here in King’s Landing, at least until I get what I came for,” Oberyn replied. “The Imp promised me justice for Elia, you see.”

“You are so kind to invite me, Lady Olenna,” Sansa added sadly. “I would love to visit, but as you know, I am a guest of Queen Cersei. Perhaps one day, if she gives me leave.”

“I see. Well, forgive an old woman’s blathering. I think I have bothered you people enough. Time to go eat a few bites of this ridiculous feast. Seventy-seven courses, it’s a bit much, don’t you think?”

“I think it’s delightful,” Sansa said, with just a touch of hesitation. Eyes glistening slightly and open wide, Sansa met Margaery's gaze directly, and spoke from the heart. “Truly, Margaery, I wish you the best.” She willed Margaery to understand her true meaning.

“Thank you, Sansa. Do not worry, all is well. Come, Grandmother, it is indeed time for us to return. I think the pies will be out soon.” With that, Margaery took Olenna’s arm, and the pair walked back towards the front of the ballroom.

“I think I shall join them, I believe it’s my turn to sing soon,” Collio said, getting up from his chair.

“Well, that woman doesn’t pull any punches,” Bronn remarked with amusement.

“Indeed, Olenna has always been quite a character,” Garse replied stiffly.

“A breath of fresh air in this deceitful city,” Oberyn said with a shrug.

“I can never tell if she likes me or not,” Ellaria said, shaking her head. “She says the same things that non-Dornish nobility usually say when they disapprove of my existence, but I never get the sense that she actually holds it against me.”

This small display of vulnerability from Ellaria immediately endeared her to Sansa, who remained hidden inside her armour of courtesy at all times. Sansa could not display vulnerability, not when she was surrounded by cold-hearted, powerful enemies, but she missed the intimacy she once had with friends like Jeyne. That kind of true friendship could only come from sharing each other’s fears and secrets, and Sansa missed having a person she could share her true self with.

“I think she’s just stating the facts as she sees them. I don’t think she means it in a judgmental way,” Garrett assured Ellaria. “Olenna’s like that. She knows how social power works, and it’s true that us bastards and paramours have a black mark against us in the eyes of society. But that doesn’t mean she cares about that black mark, unless it poses some external impediment to one of her plans. Like, she would tell me I’m crazy if I said I was going to try to marry a princess, but she’d probably think it was funny if I tried and funnier if I succeeded.”

“Don’t dispel her air of mystery entirely,” Garse cautioned, half-jokingly. “She wouldn’t thank you for it.”

It was then that the pies arrived.