(These characters are not mine, they belong to George RR Martin)
At the Magic Lantern
Ned Stark was a creature of habit. The Stark family ate a substantial dinner every Sunday after attending the morning service in church. Then Ned would give Robb sixty bucks and tell him to walk his brothers and sisters to the bookshop after dinner. The children would spend at least two hours browsing there, buy what they wanted to read, have a cup of chocolate and a cookie or slice of cake each and then walk home. This not only gave Mama and Papa Stark three hours together every week but also got their children into the habit of going for long walks and reading, which were both excellent in themselves.
Of the six Stark children, Sansa was the one who enjoyed reading the most. She was fifteen, and loved to help her mother around the house with the cooking and sewing and baking. When she wasn’t busy with her hobbies, her schoolwork or choir practice, she would be found with her nose buried in a book—poetry, romances, family sagas, literary classics, whatever. Catelyn often said that she had got the habit from her aunt Lysa, just as her love for music and song were her aunt Lyanna’s legacy. She used to spend time looking out for just the right book for family members and friends.
Jon and Robb, who were three years older than her, were into sports and military history—they could describe, in excruciating detail, how World War II was won, or why the US had lost in Vietnam. They were such experts in matters of this nature that they were now into counterfactual history—what if Hitler or Napoleon had not invaded Russia?
Arya, who was two years younger than Sansa, loved to ride—put her on a horse and she was in seventh heaven. She was an authority on the work of Dick Francis and any other novelist who cared to write about racing or horses. She’d also begun taking an interest in martial arts and women warriors—she was thinking of going to West Point, now that the armed services were opened to women aspirants.
Bran, younger than her by two years, liked to read about great men—presidents, prime ministers, winners of the Purple Heart or the Victoria Cross—these were people he idolized and wanted to emulate. Sansa had introduced him to stories about King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table and Robin Hood and his Merry Men when he was very little—and she had also introduced him to all the detective fiction she could find.
Rickon, who was the youngest at eight, still enjoyed picture books—his copies of the Maurice Sendak and Doctor Seuss books, which he had inherited from Sansa, were in tatters.
The children walked down to their favourite bookshop, The Magic Lantern, which was close to the centre of town. It was owned by a strange little man, Tyrion Lannister. He was strange because he was a really ugly dwarf with mismatched eyes. And, despite belonging to the wealthy Lannister clan, who were known for their multi-billion dollar deals and political influence, he and his wife had chosen to open a bookshop, with a coffee shop attached to it, in their northern town, considered a popular resort for invalids because of its hot springs, seven years ago.
Sansa claimed that he must have broken off with his family because they disapproved of his marriage. When Arya and the boys laughed at her assumption, Sansa showed them a photograph of the rest of the Lannister family in the society pages. There they all were—the shaven-headed Senator Tywin Lannister, looking coldly and grimly into the camera; his brother, Congressman Kevan Lannister, who looked more affable and had a thicker thatch of hair; his daughter, Cersei Lannister, who now managed her father’s business and Col. Jaime Lannister, decorated for heroism under fire several times.
“They all look so very well-heeled and polished. And you’ve all seen our Mrs. Lannister—she’s very sweet with her snub nose and she makes the best cookies and chocolate and coffee in town, but she’s not from that sort of background at all. I remember talking to her about The Grapes of Wrath—it’s set in California, where she said they both came from, and she said she cried when she read it because it reminded her of what her grandparents went through when they came from Oklahoma. He must’ve married for love and they disinherited him, which is why he opened the bookstore.”
When they arrived at the Magic Lantern, it was to find Mr. Lannister looking somewhat worried. The usual afternoon crowd from the Wintertown Hotel was there—Doran Martell, whose family owned a hotel and a resort in Arizona, as well as a string of racehorses; his brother and personal physician, Oberyn Martell; Willas Tyrell, whose family were known for their peach orchards and stud farms in Georgia and his secretary, Samwell Tarly. The Martells and Tyrell were there to visit the hot springs—Mr. Martell suffered from a bad case of gout and Mr. Tyrell from arthritis. They were guests at the Wintertown Hotel, which was managed by the Pooles. Jeyne Poole, who was a classmate and close friend of Sansa’s, had given her all the details. The gentlemen were playing chess and arguing politics and economics—there was nothing new in that. What was new was to find Mr. Lannister sitting at the till, with a frown on his face. Usually, he was in the thick of the argument—and the older boys, as well as Sansa, would sit back and listen, because he often had something interesting and incisive to say. Mrs Lannister was not in the shop—usually, she would be there, encouraging her husband, exchanging a joke with the children and running up a sale simultaneously.
While Jon and Robb joined briefly in the discussion before going into the sports section, looking for a book on the 2012 Olympics, and Arya raced off to locate a biography of Admiral Grace Hopper, Bran and Sansa glanced at Mr. Lannister’s face and then at each other. Sansa steered Rickon to the children’s and young adult’s section—she would get him a book and look for something to give her cousin, Robert Arryn, who was just a year younger than Bran. Then she would take a look around for herself.
In the meantime, Bran approached Mr. Lannister, who had not even looked at the shop door when they entered and the bell tinkled. “What’s the matter, sir? You look worried. Can I help?” he asked softly.
“Hmm? Oh, is it two o’clock already? It’s nothing, Bran—just that my wife has had to go for a check up and I’m rather worried about that. Nothing at all.”
“Oh? What time was her appointment?”
“About one, I should think,” said Tyrion, clearing his throat. “I sent Bronn with her.” Bronn was an ex-soldier—he had left the army after serving in Afghanistan and now functioned as the Lannisters’ chauffeur, guard, handyman and general factotum. He could be relied upon to be there if boxes had to be emptied or filled, or if a customer wanted a book on a higher shelf that Tyrion himself could not reach.
“Does she carry a mobile?”
“Yes, of course. She said it would not take long—she said she’d be back by two.”
Just as he finished speaking, Tysha walked in, all smiles. Everyone greeted her—the gentlemen in their corner and the Stark children in the shop. She was universally liked—she’d thought of adding a coffee shop to the bookshop, and her cookies and baked goods were very popular with the patrons of both establishments. Tyrion looked somewhat relieved when he saw her and Bran moved away from the counter, to quietly exchange a word or two with Sansa, who nodded and smiled knowingly.
By the time the children had finished their shopping—Sansa had decided to introduce cousin Robert to Theodore Boone—Tysha was at her usual place, behind the counter of the coffee shop. After Arya and the boys had selected what they wanted for tea, Sansa went to the counter to make the payment. When she’d finished, she looked Tysha in the eye and said, “Mrs. Lannister, if you or your husband need any help, you only have to ask. We’ve known both of you a long while in this town, and we’re your neighbours. We’re here for you if you need us.”
“Thank you, sweetheart—that’s very kind of you,” Tysha said, surprised. “I will be sure to get in touch...”
A few days later, there was a notice up at the Magic Lantern—it seemed they needed two people, working in shifts, to manage and wait tables at the coffee shop. Sansa decided to apply for the job in the afternoon shift—as she told her mother, she felt she needed to have some experience of working in a shop. She and Jeyne used to babysit the children in the neighbourhood, along with Jeyne’s younger sisters and Sansa’s younger brothers—Arya preferred to be babysat by Jon or Robb—over the evenings and weekends.
At the interview, Tyrion explained, “The job in the coffee shop is temporary, Ms. Stark. My wife and I...well, we’re expecting an addition to the family. And,” he said, looking sternly at Tysha, who was grinning at him, “I insist she put her feet up—she must not be worried about the shop—she’ll have enough to do with the baby. She’ll probably have to be up all hours of the night, feeding the little monster.”
“Tyrion, how can you?” Tysha was laughing at him. “He’s not a little monster—he’s a little angel.”
“Pah! I can’t forget my nephew—the eldest one—who was a little monster, and spoiled rotten from the moment he was born,” grumbled Tyrion. “How do you know it’ll be a little boy? It could be a little girl, for all you know—and be just like Cersei.”
“I prefer to think of him as a little boy who will be just like your uncle the astronaut, or your aunt Genna, or as clever and funny as you,” said Tysha firmly. “Please think positive, Tyrion—it will be wonderful having a baby.”
“Congratulations, Mrs. Lannister,” Sansa smiled. “I’d love to help out for however long you need me,” she told Tyrion. “And just in case—Jeyne and I also babysit the children in the neighbourhood.” And she gave them her card, with her mobile number and Jeyne’s upon it.
Tyrion grinned with relief. “Thank you, Ms. Stark—we will certainly call on you and your friend.”
Sansa worked quite happily at the Magic Lantern’s coffee shop—she started off by waiting tables and then Tysha showed her how to work the various gadgets they used for the drinks. Eventually, she also began encouraging Sansa to bake cakes and cookies and make sandwiches for the shop, for a substantial increase in her salary. By the time Tysha went into hospital for the labour, Sansa was managing the coffee shop in the afternoons very well indeed, along with all her other activities. Alysanne Mormont, whose little boy Jeor was in the same class in school as Rickon, had the morning shift, and did the same things as Sansa did.
She began to wonder how well she was managing things when she walked into the Magic Lantern in the afternoon one day, eight or nine months after she had joined, to find the shop open, Alysanne about to leave for the day and no sign of Tyrion. Bronn wasn’t there either.
“What’s going on?” she asked anxiously.
“It appears Mrs. Lannister went into labour this morning. Mr. Lannister has gone to the hospital with Bronn—I would stay with you, but I have to pick Jeor up from school and drop him off to my mother’s for the weekend. I will be back in three hours—can you take care of things here till then?”
Alysanne went off and Sansa had the shop to herself. She got things ready in the coffee shop and stood at the bookshop counter, where she would see anyone who came in to browse or buy. An hour and a half passed as she waited—no one had come till then. She decided to go on a quick trip to the staff restroom. She heard the front door bell tinkle just as she came out and she ran to the bookshop counter. The door was open, framing two men—one of whom was huge and the other merely tall. Both of them looked scruffy—the huge man looked very threatening because his long black hair covered a part of his face, which looked burned. He seemed to be glaring at her with his angry gray eyes. The merely tall guy was blonde and green-eyed, but he also sported long hair as well as a beard, and he stared at her insolently. Both of them were clad in army fatigues, which looked as though they had been slept in.
“Excuse me, gentlemen,” she said politely, “but if you’re looking for either Mr. Bronn or the Lannisters...”
“Oh, so you’re the one minding the store while the little fellow’s at the hospital with the wife, eh? Rather careless, isn’t he, leaving a child like you in charge? What if we were to hold you up?” This was the huge guy.
“Oh, come on, Hound, stop frightening the girl—can’t you see she’s terrified of you?” drawled the blonde man, who looked her up and down. And so saying, he walked into the shop followed by the huge man he’d called Hound.
Sansa was furious, but she would be civil to these very rude men, even if it killed her. “Are you friends of Mr. Lannister’s?” she asked, in her politest and coldest tone of voice—the tone that Jon and Robb often said could freeze a pond full of water on a hot summer day.
“And what if we are?” the man called Hound rasped at her.
“Would you mind giving me your names please? I can inform Bronn that you have arrived and he’ll let Mr. Lannister know when he has the time.”
The blonde ruffian laughed as he walked into the store. “Oh, we’ve already sent someone to inform Tyrion we’re in town,” he said lazily. “Why don’t you give us a cup of coffee on the house instead—a cup of coffee and a slice of cake?”
“I’m sorry, sir—I can’t do that. Everyone pays for their coffee and eats. Those are the rules,”
“Is that so?” the man called Hound demanded, in his growling, raspy voice. Sansa looked him straight in the eye—he sounded just like her father’s old hunting dog, who used to jump at anyone who came to the gates of their house, friends or foe. He’d nearly bitten Alysanne’s uncle’s hand off once, when Old Jeor had come with his son Jorah and daughter-in-law Lynesse, to pay a visit to the Starks. She had been stern with that dog—she would be stern with this man.
“Yes, they do, sir.”
“Good god, girl, you don’t have to call me sir. No one calls me sir. In fact, I hate being called sir,” said the man called Hound.
I can see why they don’t—she thought to herself—you have no manners.
“You mean, Mr and Mrs. Lannister did not tell you that members of the armed forces could be given a cup of coffee and a slice of cake free of charge? Even if they ask nicely?” asked the blonde man, his hands on his hips. He sounded surprised.
“No, sir, they did not.”
“Didn’t know he was so unpatriotic, did you, Hound? Do you think we should teach him a lesson, then?”
Sansa had had enough of the two men—they looked like ruffians, and she was certain they would try to do some damage to the shop. They’d refused to give any names or show any ID whatsoever—for all she knew, they were just a pair of tramps who’d picked up army fatigues from a used clothes store and were posing as soldiers. They claimed to know Mr. Lannister and his wife—but she didn’t think they sounded very friendly. She needed reinforcements—and she knew where to get them and how.
She reached for her mobile—it was in her coat pocket. She pulled it out—luckily for her, the men had their back to her and were looking around the shop. She watched the man called Hound walk into the coffee shop and look at the tables and chairs—she was certain there was not a single chair that would hold him. Fortunately, there was the sofa, where he decided to loll. The blonde fellow stood over him, laughing.
She pressed the speed dial button for her father. He picked up the phone at once.
“Sweetheart, what’s wrong?” he asked.
“Dad, there are two ruffians in the shop who appear to know the Lannisters—but they haven’t given me their names. They’ve been demanding coffee and cake on the house. Do you think you can send someone over to check them out? They seem to think I’m a pushover—and the Lannisters are in hospital because of the baby. And Bronn’s there with them.”
“Of course, sweetheart—I’ll just send someone.” And her father ended the call just as the man called Hound yelled across the room. “Hey, there, girl...”
“Yes, sir.” She walked up to them with a smile pasted on her face.
“Didn’t I tell you not to call me sir?” he demanded irritably. “You can give me a large mug of coffee and a slice of that chocolate cake. And you can give this fellow here,” he indicated the blonde man, who smirked at her, “the same.”
“What kind of coffee do you want, sir?” Sansa asked and the man said irritably, “Black—two large black coffees.”
“Very well, sir—that will be...” And Sansa named the price they would have to pay.
“Hound, do you have any money on you?” the blonde asked his companion.
“No, I don’t—do you?”
“What about credit cards?” Sansa asked—if they were going to play this game with her, she would keep them busy till the cops came.
“Nah—we don’t need them,” the blonde replied.
“You know what you can do, sweetheart?” the blonde said, giving her a sexy smile. “You could give us some coffee and cake on the house, couldn’t you? Tyrion will be back, I’m sure, and he’d have no objection if you did that.”
“I’m sorry, sir,” said Sansa firmly. “We’re not allowed to do that for anyone. That’s the policy here. Now I don’t know either one of you from Adam, so I don’t think I can help you. Perhaps if you were to show me some ID...”
“Oh, you mean driver’s licenses and passports and such? Well, we don’t have them on us—we got dropped off here, you see, and ...”
Just then, Sansa heard the sound of a police siren drawing closer and closer. She heard a car stop outside the shop. She heard the front door bell tinkle. And she saw—welcome sight!—Jory Cassel, her father’s Chief of Police, walk up to the two men, along with his deputy, Hallis Mollen.
“Now then, gentlemen, just what is going on here? Why are you bothering this young lady? Where are your IDs? And why are you demanding food on the house?” Jory asked the two men courteously.
“Damn it!” the man called Hound exploded. “You ...you called the cops on us,” he snarled at Sansa. He almost leapt to grab her when Mollen grabbed his hands instead and twisted them behind his back, snapping on the handcuffs. His friend, the blonde, turned an innocent face to Jory Cassel and began his explanations, which were long-winded and complicated.
He claimed he was Jaime Lannister, Tyrion’s brother—the man with him was Sergeant Sandor Clegane. He and Sergeant Clegane had just flown all the way from Afghanistan after completing their tour of duty. They’d been picked up by his aunt Genna, who’d dropped them off at the bookstore before she went to the hospital, to see how things were going with Tyrion and his wife. And he claimed the two of them had left everything—cash and IDs—in their luggage, in her car.
“We thought we’d be able to go up for a shower—we got dropped off at the back, you see—and then, when we walked up, the flat was locked. So we came in here, because I remembered something about there being a coffee shop attached to this bookshop and then this female Scrooge here...” he looked at her with a sorrowful expression, “refused to give us a cup of coffee and some cake. Considering what we’ve been through for our country...”
“Sir,” Jory said, cutting across his explanation, “I’m sorry but I have to handcuff you. Both you and your friend look like suspicious characters and you have no proof of identification. How do we know you are who you say you are? How do we know your aunt is at the hospital? Does she have a mobile number? Perhaps we can call that and have her vouch for you?”
“She doesn’t use a mobile,” the blonde said.
“In that case, sir, you have to come with us. You will be fingerprinted. We’ll send someone across to the hospital—maybe Mr. Lannister will vouch for you.”
The two men were frogmarched out of the shop by the cops, just as Alysanne walked in and Sansa’s mobile rang. Sansa immediately picked up the phone—it was Tyrion. He sounded elated—they’d had twins. Sansa congratulated him and asked about Tysha, who was as well as could be expected. She and the twins would be home in a few days. Then she told him what had happened.
Tyrion sounded quite amused at the other end. “Don’t worry, Sansa—that sounds just like my brother Jaime. It’s just like him to leave his wallet, with his ID and money, in Aunt Genna’s car, and get dropped off to the flat, which he should’ve known would be locked—I have one set of keys and Bronn has the duplicate. And Sandor just follows his lead. It won’t do either one of them harm to spend some time in the lockup; it might just teach them a lesson. I’ll send Bronn across to bail him out. I bet he thought you’d fall for his charm or get frightened by Sandor into doing what he wanted you to do. You didn’t tell him, did you, that you were the mayor’s daughter?”