Tossing, turning, and the night falling heavily, like a think mantle of northern cloth. There was no moonlight, not even starlight, just the blackness of raven wings, and the weight of stone hearts. There rose a string of words, chanted by monotonous voices without meaning, swirling up and around like pungent incense. It was thick and breathless. And it was hot. So hot…burning up the lips, the tongue, the mind…
“Let me go home…let me go home!” She screamed it over and over again until her throat dried up and she choked. She wanted her family back…she wanted her own room, and her long dead dire-wolf, and her books, and the doll her father had given her…before the nightmare began. She wanted to wake up and find her old life again, just as she had left it before finding herself condemned to a world of half realities.
She pleaded with the darkness to release her. She begged it, and fought it, and then trembled beneath its grasp, weighing down her slight shoulders. Then she felt the touch of other hands, kinder hands, and the taste of water. She did not know from where it came, or who was offering it to her, but it must have been a drink from the gods. It felt so good against her face, and running down her neck. It soothed her….quieted her…and she heard another voice, not from her past world but from the present one…and it was broken…but it lulled her to sleep…
Sansa opened her eyes and waited for her vision to adjust to the darkness of her surroundings. Yes, she was still among the Lannisters, still a pawn in their game, still a prisoner in their chambers. The canopy bed was a pretty cage for a bird too weak to fly.
She could hardly move, hardly keep her eyes open. She must have been deathly ill, but her memory was failing her as to the cause. What had happened? Try as she might, she could not recall. Everything was lost in her mental haze.
But as she ran her hand over the blanket, she felt the heartiness of fur…northern fur from home. And tucked under her arm, she felt a small porcelain face, and arms and legs, and a tiny dress…the doll from her dream. Had some magic brought it to reality, or was it a gift from her father’s ghost? She could easily imagine Eddard Stark caring enough for his daughter’s feelings that he would make a visit to the land of the living just to assure that the doll was in her embrace.
She remembered the day he had brought it home for her, and how she had spurned it as childish. Now…it made her feel loved as nothing else could. She had dreamt of being a mother of little children once, of cradling babies as she was cradling the doll, and singing to them as her mother had sung to her. She remembered the lullabies about the seven gods who would never allow harm to befall little children, and how her faith in them, along with her innocent expectations for the future, had been shattered like porcelain…
Sansa started as she picked up the sound of breathing not far away. Her chest tightened. She was not alone. She peered into the dark and saw a blurred, hunched shape near the curtain. She spit words out, “What…what…are you?”
“It’s alright, Lady Sansa, it’s only…” Tyrion paused, clearing his throat.
She fell back against the pillow. “What happened…to make me like this?”
“You…came down with an illness,” he answered carefully.
“Natural or unnatural?”
“Was it poison?”
She heard him draw in a tight breath. “Given my excellence in the art of retribution, I do not believe anyone would be particularly eager to poison my wife.”
“That doesn’t answer my question.”
“I don’t know the answer,” he admitted. “But…you’ll be alright now. The worst is past. The physician said that if the fever broke, you would recover. And it has.”
She nestled her head deeper against her pillow. “How long have I been like this?”
“Almost three days now.”
“How long…have you been here…in the dark? Why did you not…light a candle?”
“I…did not wish to disconcert you, should you awaken,” he explained. “Besides, there is something comforting about…the dark. For me, at least.”
She felt rather sorry that his words rang so true. For once, she was talking to him without having to look at his scarred face. And, in truth, it was easier.
“Tyrion, I heard prayers being said for me. Who was saying them?”
“The priests were sent by my father to beseech the intersession of the gods for your recovery,” he stated, but his voice contained a certain edge in it.
“Your father hates me,” she blurted.
“He has no particular fondness for me either,” he joined in. “So…I chased his priests out of here, and his servant-spies too.”
Sansa allowed herself a small smile. He might be only half her height, but his temper was enormous. Then she grew solemn again, thinking hard.
“But there was someone else who prayed for me in this room. And…the prayer was not a recited one, nor a meaningless one.”
He shifted in his chair, uncomfortably.
“It was you, wasn’t it?”
“Why should a creature like myself ask anything of the gods?” he shot back. “They do not seem to have granted me any particular considerations.”
“But you did, all the same.” She exhaled. “Which of the seven did you pray to? The Maiden? The Mother? The Crone? Or another?”
Sansa squinted. “But his nature is unknown to us.”
“So they say,” he conceded. “But I am not a praying man, and hardly a man at all. My only chance was to pray to the one who they say we do not know. But we do know him, Sansa, we know him all too well. We see him every day, in every vagabond and harlot and bastard born in the street, in the baited bear and circus freak and crippled child, and in all eyes that mirror pain.”
The thin finger of dawn stretched itself through her window, and she could make out his own miss-matched eyes in the shadows. They were tired, and moist.
“Perhaps a day will come when he will come among us in his fullness, and we will be sure to reject him, for he will be the stranger still, and I doubt we will have grown much wiser than we are now,” he continued hoarsely. “But in this age…the shadows are all we have, and I have spoken to them, and asked…asked that you be brought back.”
“Why, Tyrion?” she asked dejectedly. “I wanted…wanted death…I wanted to go to the halls of the dead and find my family…”
“Your family would want you to live. And I…” His voice cracked.
She glanced towards the nearby stool, and saw a bowl of water and rags. “It was you with the water, wasn’t it?”
“Someone had to stay with you, and I did not trust anyone else to care for you properly.”
“And the fur covering? And the doll?”
“You asked…to go home, over and over again, during the fever,” he muttered, trying to make it sound unimportant, although she noticed a tremor in his voice. “I found both those items in your chest.” He gestured to the corner of the room.
“So you gave them to me?”
“I thought they might soothe you. Make you think that you were…where you wished to be, at least for a little while. I believe…I did right…?” His statement accidentally turned up at the end like a question.
He nodded in return. Then he slowly slid down from the chair, still struggling to keep away from the light of the window. He stifled a small gasp.
“Does it hurt, Tyrion?”
“Being dwarfed…does it cause you pain?”
She knew that she had shamed him into silence. Trapped inside a stunted frame was a complex man of pride and of wit and cunning. And of secrets.
“Not…often,” he replied at last. “But sometimes. Twisted bones…are what they are.”
“Do you take anything for it?”
“Wine is always helpful for numbing sensitivities…”
He smirked. “Touché.”
“But…does it hurt now?”
“You should not have stayed in that chair so long.”
He chortled. “That is one of the reasons I need you, Sansa. You get me to speak of things…I never would with anyone else.” He paused, then came a little closer, and she saw his face in the light for the first time in their conversation. He was daring to risk it now, to see how she would react. “I…I need you to stay, Sansa. That is why I asked the Stranger to bring you back from the shadow-lands. I thought…he would know what it’s like…to be alone.”
She looked at him deeply, trying hard to find something which she could love in that face. His eyes…yes…she could love those pain-filled stranger’s eyes.
“You need to sleep, Tyrion,” she whispered.
“I’m quite alright,” he countered, but the weakness of his voice belied this. “I really should stay here. You might need something, and there are no servants on call.”
She thought for a moment, and then edged herself to the far side of the bed.
“What are you doing?”
“This bed is wide enough to fit even three people. We can each use part of it.”
“Because I can’t, I can’t…” His tone rose in frustration.
She knew what was wrong. She was his wife by arrangement, and yet she would not embrace him as a wife. And he swore never to force her. And now she was rather innocently offering him…this. A mock representation of what she would not give him. Yet she would never lie to him about her feelings, and she knew that deep inside, he respected her for that.
“I’m sorry, Tyrion.”
He shook his head. “It’s not…your fault.”
“I just don’t want you to be in pain. And you are exhausted. And I know you would feel better if you would…lie down.”
He gazed into her eyes, and then down at the bed with a certain sense of longing. Then he let his hand run along the fur he had placed over her, and gradually allowed himself to ease under the covers. It was a very large bed, and he was suitably distant from his lady for their strange protocol to be maintained. It also showed just how small he really was, as he seemed lost in the mattress and pillow. But Sansa did not laugh.
“Are not all our efforts to trick death ultimately purposeless?” she queried. “I mean, we all must die. We are fighting so very hard to obtain mere stays of pardon.”
“We become skilled players at our petty games,” he explained. “It becomes an entertainment, an art form, a security. To win is to have power, however temporary, and to have power is to…” He paused again. “We get used to the feel of it, that’s all.”
“Is that all?”
He sighed. “No, not all. I suppose we keep going because…we keep hoping that…”
“That there is something worth living for left?” she finished.
“It is a vain hope, but…perhaps.”
Sansa closed her eyes to the broadening beam of light washing over the blankets. “In my dreams between life and death, I saw nothing worth living for left to be had.”
“Failing anything substantial, some people find vengeance a safe haven when such thoughts of defeat assail them,” he offered. “Hate can have the power to keep one alive.”
“Not really alive,” she refuted, more to herself than anyone. “Breathing, but not…really alive. I have already tried to draw strength from hatred, but without something more to stem its tide, it would kill me. Just as surely as any poison.”
“Please don’t say that,” he rasped. “I told you, you must not give in to such thoughts. You will live through this, and come out the stronger for it.”
“Stronger?” she repeated blearily, and touched her leg. “I heard someone say…say I might never walk again…indeed, that my lower body might be useless, that my womanhood is undone…”
“It was just a lie from my father’s physician. Ignore it. You will grow well again.” He inhaled and added slowly, “And even if it were true, about your womanhood…which it isn’t, mind you, but even if it were…it is not as if we had plans in that direction anyway. But you would still be a flower among woman, Sansa, through and through. Nothing could ever detract from that.”
She opened her eyes again, and the sunlight blazed into them. It hurt, but also refreshed. And she looked at Tyrion. “They wanted to take me out of here, didn’t they? To put me away, in some chamber where no one would find me, and let me die naturally that way, like a flower without water. They think I am of no further use in their game now. That’s really why you sent them away, isn’t it?”
He didn’t answer. And she knew it was true.
“You are my lady,” he stated in a voice that resonated resolve. “If there is any manhood in me at all, it must be shown to this end. When we were wed, shambles as it may have been, I vowed to care for you and protect you and show you…” He searched his mind for a word. “Whatever qualities were worth showing…from this miserable, blackened heart of mine.”
Not blackened, she thought. Bruised and broken and embittered in parts, but not blackened. It is far closer to a knight’s heart, even with all its faults taken into account.
“There is an old dream of mine that I thought long dead,” she told him. “But I have found it still has a heart beating. It showed itself alive, not as I thought it would, but…concealed in the smallest of things…in a doll, a fur covering…a prayer. They have given me a home, inside, to come back to even when there is no other light to guide me. That…that is what I will always remember of you, Tyrion.”
She heard a click deep in his throat. “I…am glad, Sansa.”
She let herself smile softly. “So am I.”