Modern AU—Sansa and Tyrion meet aboard a train travelling from the North to the Crownlands. What happens when they have to share a room for two whole days in The Drunkard’s Tower at Moat Cailin?
Sansa Stark was driving down to the Wintertown railway station; the classes at the university had just got over at four on that gray and cloudy afternoon and her winter break had begun. She would join her family at Storm’s End; they planned to sail around the Stormlands, the Reach and Dorne in her uncle Robert Baratheon’s Golden Fury for at least three or four weeks. It would be quite a large party that Uncle Robert and Aunt Lyanna would host, consisting of their six children; her parents and their five kids; Robert’s two younger brothers, their partners and a niece, as well as Robert Arryn, Sansa’s orphaned cousin and her uncle’s godson.
She’d packed her bags and put them in the boot of her car that morning before she left for the university. The rest of the family had already gone off to the Stormlands a week ago; she had stayed behind, since she had classes to teach. She parked her car at the appropriate spot in the railway station car park and dragged her bags across to the platform where the train going south of the Neck would arrive. She was just in time; the train was just chugging onto the platform as she got there. She located her compartment and loaded her luggage into the locker.
Although the advent of railways some hundred years ago had reduced the time taken to traverse Westeros, she still had a long journey ahead of her. Her family had taken Grey Wind, the family yatch, down the Winterkill River, to Duskendale and Storm’s End a week ago—they had just made landfall. Sansa expected to spend at least three days on the super-fast train she had just boarded. It would take them twelve hours to reach Moat Cailin; then eighteen hours to get to the Twins and a day to Lord Harroway’s Town. From there, it was another day’s journey to King’s Landing, which was the major railway junction in the country, where she would take yet another train to Storm’s End. She’d been lucky to get a compartment to herself all the way from Winterfell to King’s Landing; she planned to spend a night at King’s Landing, with her friend Margaery Tyrell, who worked as an assistant to the Hand of the King, and then take the train to Storm’s End. That should not be a long journey; not more twelve hours, so Margaery had said.
She was just sipping her tea as the train started; she was a little anxious about it splashing on her lovely gray travelling outfit. She was congratulating herself on being alone—she felt the need for solitude acutely, from time to time—when the door to her compartment flew open and a man four feet tall, with stunted legs, a large head covered with lank platinum-gold hair that fell over his massive forehead, a face with squashed-in features and mismatched eyes, one green and one black, barged in. He was warmly clad in a pair of tweed trousers, over which he wore a crimson cardigan, with a lion on the left side. He was lugging a suitcase almost as large as hers—his was crimson and gold, while hers had been a discreet gray-and-white.
“Excuse me for disturbing you so, my dear lady; I just caught the train as it was leaving.” Although he had the wits to make polite conversation, he was woefully short of breath and gasped as he did so. She indicated the seat opposite hers and encouraged him to sit down and share her tea. He thanked her and introduced himself.
“I’m Tyrion Lannister—I do a regular column for the Westeros Times on history and culture. I’ve spent the last month tramping up and down the Wall, from Eastwatch to the Shadow Tower. I’ve just finished my assignment and was desperate to get to King’s Landing.”
Of course she’d heard of Tyrion Lannister and his column; as a student and later a teacher of history, it had always been her favourite reading. It was widely known that he’d started writing these columns soon after he left university; he began with stories on the Westerlands and then went on to cover every important region in Westeros. He’d never written on the North before; this was his first trip there, he told her as they shared the pot of tea provided by the railways.
“I teach at Wintertown University; I’m going down to Storm’s End to meet my family,” she volunteered. She spoke of their plans to go sailing in the south, while he spoke of catching up with his family. His sister, he said, lived in the capital; she had married young and had three children. His brother, who managed the family property, would travel down from the Westerlands, along with his wife and their mother and father, who worked as an advisor to various politicians.
In return, she spoke of her father’s work in experimental farming and her older brother’s work as a lawyer. “Arya’s just joined university; she’s one of the guiding lights of the fencing club. My two younger brothers are still in school.”
He frowned as she spoke. “You mentioned Storm’s End—are you by any chance related to the Baratheons?”
“Of course; Robert Baratheon is married to my aunt. Why do you ask?”
“Because I see him quite often in the capital—he’s still quite a fine footballer, you know, despite the binging on food and drink? He coaches the King’s Landing Dragons, although he says they’re not half as good as his own team, the Storm’s End Stags. His wife is great fun—she really manages to keep him in line—and give him a hard time when he binges.”
The ticket collector walked into their compartment just at that moment; he looked at Tyrion, his lips tight. “Mr Lannister,” he began, “I don’t think it will be easy for you to find a free berth on the train to King’s Landing. Almost all our passengers are heading south; we might just make a few stops to pick up fresh water and supplies on the way, certainly not to let off travellers.”
“What do you mean, Jory?” Sansa interrupted, feeling a little perturbed.
“What I mean, my lady, is this—Mr Lannister will have to share your compartment as far as King’s Landing. I’m sorry, ma’am; I know you booked ahead and he just bought his ticket as he got off the train from Castle Black. You’ll have to share—we’re full up.”
Sansa simply nodded her head. She could understand that Jory felt apologetic for the lack of space for Mr Lannister; she could also understand Tyrion’s desire to be with his family for the winter holidays. She would not really be inconvenienced—they were adults; this was the modern world and her virtue would hardly be compromised irreparably if she shared a compartment for four days with the journalist, who had, so far, behaved like a gentleman.
“I’ll give you the bottom berth; I shall be quite all right on the upper one,” she told Tyrion. She’d always done this when travelling with her younger brothers and sister; she always worried about Bran climbing and (not-so) little Rickon falling out of the topmost berth. As for Arya—she was such an active child that she seldom went to bed early. Sansa hated it when she was woken by Arya climbing up to the top berth.
“If you say so, ma’am,” he responded, suddenly sounding tired. She quickly asked Jory about mealtimes and the location of the dining car. He told her how to get there, and also said that dinner would be served at eight. She thanked him.
They heard about the approaching storm at dinner; one of their fellow travellers, who’d come up north on business, and was just as anxious to return now that winter had come, spoke of what he’d learnt while staying at the Dreadfort. They would have several days, if not weeks, of bad weather, due to something called the polar vortex. Since that well-informed gentleman, a Mr Hyle Hunt, sat at their table in the dining car, they had the full benefit of getting the information from the horse’s mouth.
“I hope,” she said to Tyrion, as they returned to their compartment, “that this wretched storm strikes when we’ve reached our destinations. It would really be very tiresome to be held up somewhere on the way because of bad weather.”
He agreed with her. “I was talking with the men of the Night’s Watch—their Lord Commander in particular—and he told me of their findings. They say the ice sheets that once covered the Land of Always Winter have grown thin; they fear some environmental disaster is on the way.”
She said nothing to this; her family had always believed that some disaster awaited them around the corner. She was pleased to note that the beds had been turned down; she felt the need for an early night. While Tyrion Lannister sat reading, she quickly finished using the bathroom and changed for the night into a modest white woollen nightgown that would have been a septa’s envy. She bade him good night and climbed to the upper berth. He got up after a little while, went to the bathroom and returned, in a crimson silk pyjama suit embroidered all over with little gold lions. She closed her eyes, shuddered in horror at the sartorial excess and went off to sleep.
She did not know what time it was when she felt the train jerk to a halt. She woke up, all of a sudden, and grabbed the strap located close to her head, because she felt she would fall off the upper berth. She was somewhat steadied as she listened to Tyrion Lannister snoring gently in the lower berth. She decided to get up and investigate what had happened when she heard the loud voices of the railway guards and stewards and sensed something heavy thump on the roof.
She got into her warm gray dressing gown and inched herself off the top berth, stuffing her feet into her slippers. She opened the door of her compartment and looked out; the guards were moving around, looking bewildered.
She called out to one of them. “Alyn, what happened?”
He sighed. “Lady Sansa,” he said, sounding somewhat defeated, “we’re caught in a snowstorm--a really heavy snowstorm. The railway lines are blocked right up to the Twins, even as far as Lord Harroway’s Town. And we might have to halt here at Moat Cailin for the gods know how long. There’s a rather run-down inn here, called The Drunkard’s Tower, where we’re trying to get rooms for our passengers and ourselves. We can’t go on in this weather.”
“When will we have to leave the train?” she asked, feeling anxious. “What time is it?”
“It’s five in the morning, my lady; we made good time so far. All would have been well, but for the snow... It won’t be long now before we give the wake up call. Best be prepared, is all I will say.”
She went in at once and dressed quickly. Then she gently shook Tyrion awake, told him what Alyn had said and advised him to get ready. He scrambled out of bed and went off to tidy up. She could not help but notice that, despite his ugliness, he looked rather charming when he was a little rumpled. She shook her head and finished her packing. By the time Alyn woke up the rest of the passengers in the carriage, both she and Tyrion were packed and ready to move.
The Drunkard’s Tower, a small, family-run hotel, which had not seen such a large group of guests in many a decade, was able to provide rooms for them all—the passengers, the guards, the dining car waiters, the cook, the stewards, the engine driver and the engineer. They were all able to squeeze in. Sansa found herself gasping when she and Tyrion were given the honeymoon suite. She felt her face turn red as a beetroot with embarrassment. She was glad they were amongst the last passengers to be accommodated. Although she had felt quite nonchalant about sharing a compartment with him on the train, because everyone knew the berths on the train could hold no more than one person at a time, she felt less so when sharing a room in a hotel. It was likely that the room had a double bed. She did not know how they would solve this social riddle. She hoped and prayed the storm would get over soon. She called her mother as soon as she had settled in to give her the bad news.
Her mother had equally dire news to share with her. “We’re not going sailing,” Catelyn informed Sansa. “The weather reports say we are to get the heaviest fall of snow in the history of the Stormlands within the next week. They expect the temperatures to plummet. Dorne is suffering from a drought, as are the Dothraki grasslands—your uncle Brandon called to give us this information. He says they fear Vaes Dothrak might go up in flames. And the Ironmen are fleeing their islands, because of the floods. Hordes of them have arrived in the Reach. They’re not going to the Westerlands or the North—they say it’s too cold there. Please stay warm and well wrapped up, sweetling. Take care of yourself. Everyone’s worried about you.”
She went down to breakfast and found herself sharing a table with Tyrion Lannister. He looked grim. When she asked him if he’d been able to call his people, he nodded, in the affirmative and continued: “Mother and Jaime can’t leave the Westerlands—it appears the Sunset Sea is running high and flooding Lannisport. They’re worried it might flood the lower levels of the Rock. Asha—that’s my goodsister—is frantic about her family and her people because the Iron Islands are almost under water. Father’s stranded somewhere in the Vale—he’d gone to Essos to meet representatives of the Iron Bank and his plane had to make an emergency landing there on the way back. Cersei—that’s my sister—is frantic because her new year’s party will be a disaster. And I’m stranded on the Neck.”
She pursed her lips; as a north woman, she was used to all kinds of bad weather and took it as a fact of life. “The storm might end soon,” she said, trying to sound hopeful as she ate her porridge.
“Or it might snow for the next two days, non-stop. They’ll have to clear the railway lines of snow before we can continue our journey.” He crunched the bacon and toast as he finished his breakfast. “I’ve spoken to my editor at the Westeros Times. He says they’re comparing it to the Long Night you north men talk about; or to the time around the Targaryen Restoration when the Wall almost fell and they say the Night’s Watch fought the White Walkers. Made my skin crawl, I can tell you that. And he’s talking about the Ironmen coming to the Reach.”
“Yes; my mother talked of that too. I just hope we don’t have riots down south.”
“I’m certain we won’t—the Ironborn aren’t invading, as they did almost a thousand years ago. They’re merely fleeing their flooded islands.”
“I suppose we should expect an influx from Skagos to the North, unless the Skagosi have made it to Essos. And if Skagos is affected, what about Braavos? And there’s another thing--my uncle Brandon says the Dothraki are facing a drought—and there’s drought in Dorne as well, so my mother says.”
They entertained each other with dire visions of the calamities that could arise due to the bad weather. She wondered what they would talk about, if they were marooned in The Drunkard’s Tower for a day or more. They’d briefly described their families, spoken about their holiday plans and bemoaned their derailment due to bad weather.
Tyrion remarked. “I haven’t spoken to my father yet; he faxed my mother at the Rock when his plane landed in the Vale. He’s never believed the stories they tell of the Long Night or the White Walkers. And if you talk to him about the Wall almost falling and the Night’s Watch fighting the Walkers, all you’ll hear is a snort. I wonder how he’s taking it. My brother-in-law, Rhaegar, is an entirely different kettle of fish; can’t stop talking about the Long Night and environmental disaster. My sister has a tough time, between the two of them. I think she still thinks like father, although you’d never hear her say so.”
“My family’s always believed the old tales—of the Long Night and the White Walkers—although my father thinks it happened a very long time ago and might not happen again. My mother too—my uncles always complain, when they come home to visit, that Mom’s become a north woman and not a Riverlander. Of course, she disagrees.”
“What do you think, Ms. Stark? Will we have yet another instance of the Long Night? Because that’s what they said at the Citadel in Oldtown—that the White Walkers reappearing around the time of the Targaryen Restoration was a sign of the Long Night.”
Sansa sighed. “I don’t know, Mr. Lannister; I don’t know what brought it on in the first two instances, so how can I say this is the Long Night come again? Although it feels very like it—the cold and the snow, I mean. I know what used to be said in those days—that there must always be a Stark in Winterfell. Perhaps we should not have planned this trip with Uncle Robert? Perhaps I should have stayed home, in Winterfell? I don’t know.”
“Come now, you don’t really believe in these old wives’ tales, do you? Your father is the Stark in Winterfell—if he sees nothing wrong with vacationing in the south during winter, why should you not go? You might well have frozen to death there; at least here, you have amusing company, if I may flatter myself.” And he smiled at her, his mismatched eyes gleaming. She laughed back and tried to remain cheerful.
They were there two days, during which they got to know each other rather well. They were able to work out the double-bed issue amicably—they simply set up a wall of bolsters and cushions in the centre of the bed at night. And then they lay on either side of the barrier and talked till they fell asleep. They talked of their families—he told her how his father, Tywin Lannister, had worked as financial advisor and Hand to Aerys Targaryen II, the late king; how, when Crown Princess Elia died birthing a son, the Crown Prince had insisted, against his father’s disapproval, on marrying Cersei, Tywin’s daughter; and how Cersei now reigned over the Targaryen court. “Of course, Queen Mother Rhaella lives in Dragonstone with Rhaegar’s younger brother and sister, as well as his children by Elia—Cersei will not have them at court. She’s quite determined that the throne must go to her son, young Joffrey—and my mother and the Queen Mother are equally determined it will go to Aegon, or else there might well be war with Dorne. Cersei and I never got along, even as children; Jaime, her twin, was always her favourite—and mother keeps him at the Rock, with his nose to the grindstone. She even got him married to Balon Greyjoy’s daughter, Asha, who’d rather run up the rigging of a sailboat than sweep down the staircase in a ball gown. He’s grown quite fond of the girl—she’s not at all conventional.”
She found herself telling him all about her family—her father and mother, who seemed to her to take the burdens of the world onto their shoulders; her uncle Brandon, who was so horse-mad he went off to live with the Dothraki; her uncle Benjen, whom he must have met at Castle Black; aunt Lyanna and her passion for gardening; uncle Edmure and his attempts to avoid marriage (until her mother set him up with Mya Baratheon); even about her aunt Lysa’s death of cancer, which had come soon after Uncle Elbert fell from a horse. She told him about Robin, the sad little boy, and how she’d spent time with him, because he was not used to playing with other boys his age. “My aunt treated him like a fragile creature, and he grew to think of himself that way. Now that he has us—and uncle Robert’s boisterous bunch—to get used to, I think he finds it rather difficult. But he’s getting out of it—Bran’s very good to him, and so are Jon and Gendry. I think he finds Mya rough and Bella loud and Edric boisterous—but he loves little Barra and she likes him.”
He told her how he’d become a journalist after he left the Citadel—he wanted to spread his wings, and his mother encouraged him, much to his father’s horror. His involvement with a fellow student from a humbler background spurred him on; although his relationship with Tysha didn’t last long (“I have the paparazzi and the celebrity press to thank for that!”), it was the making of him as a person. He told her how he’d tried to keep his involvements with women discreet (“Just because my sister’s the queen doesn’t mean my girlfriend loses her privacy!”), although he was not always successful.
She told him how she related to her siblings; how she’d always looked to Robb for protection; how she’d always looked after little Rickon, who hated being babied; how she and Bran had always enjoyed stories of the Long Night and knights and ladies and how she and Arya had always squabbled as little girls. “It’s only when we both grew up that we really learnt to appreciate each other. I’ll never forget the day when she came to me—she was a senior in school—and asked for my help to dress up and impress a certain guy. I don’t know what became of him, but we were able to talk after that, without having a fight.”
She even told him how her aunts had tried to arrange dates for her, and how unsuccessful that had been. Aunt Lysa had recommended Harry Harrdying enthusiastically; he turned out to be the love-‘em-and-leave-‘em sort, with three children born to three different girls out of wedlock. Aunt Lyanna had reciprocated by trying to set Sansa up with her brother-in-law Renly’s assistant, Loras Tyrell, because Sansa had taken such a liking to him, only to discover, much to her discomfiture, that Loras and Renly were a couple. Then her friend Margaery had taken a hand in matchmaking. “She’s trying to get me to go across to Highgarden, to meet her brother Willas; he got into farming and breeding horses and dogs, after he was crippled in a riding accident. But I don’t know if I want to settle down so far from my family. And if Willas can’t come to Winterfell to meet my father, what will become of my plans to see the world?”
They spent long hours talking about the books they’d read and the music they had listened to. They found themselves arguing and laughing and joking. They found they enjoyed each other’s company. Finally, they resumed their journey when the railway tracks were cleared of snow. They promised to write to each other and keep in touch, when they got off the train in King’s Landing.
When Sansa spoke to Margaery later about her stay in The Drunkard’s Tower at Moat Cailin, she did not realise how often she quoted something that Tyrion Lannister had said or described something that he had done. It was not difficult for Margaery to get Sansa to explain how they’d shared a railway compartment and a hotel bedroom, whilst talking and laughing and joking, without his making a pass at her. “Because you must know, Sansa,” Margaery informed her eagerly, “that most members of the court believe Tyrion Lannister to be some sort of insatiable lecher. His sister the queen set the paparazzi after him and his first girl friend, which did nothing to help the relationship. And they made such a big deal about her being a farmer’s daughter! The queen hates it that her mother and twin brother don’t come to court as often as she would like them to, and she feels they give her younger brother more attention than they do her. My Granny, the Hand, says she’s really very childish for a woman in her thirties. She’s very offended that Tyrion’s made a name for himself as a journalist and writer; green-eyed with jealousy, I’d say. Granny says she believes the queen’s done everything possible to ruin her younger brother’s reputation, which I think is disgraceful.”
She also told Sansa rather gleefully that Willas was to marry the princess Rhaenys, to ensure an amicable relationship between Dorne, the Iron Throne and the Reach, while Aegon, the Crown Prince, was to wed Shireen, the only one of the Baratheon girls who was the same age as himself. The King had already had his younger brother wed the Princess of Dorne, and his younger sister wed Prince Quentyn. It seemed, Margaery said, that His Grace wanted Princess Myrcella to wed Prince Trystane, much to the Queen’s rage at her daughter marrying a younger son. “But then she will not have her wed any of Robert Baratheon’s boys—neither Jon, Gendry nor Edric—so what does she expect?” Margaery laughingly asked.
Sansa had much to talk about with her mother by the time she reached Storm’s End. Catelyn told her how well the Stormlanders had coped with the snowstorm and how the Reach had been plagued by fifteen-hour-long traffic jams. She got an e-mail from Tyrion, telling her his mother, brother and goodsister had made it to King’s Landing, just in time for Cersei’s celebration. About his father, he said, “Dad might have changed his ideas about the Long Night. The Braavosi have been talking to him about financing environment-friendly technology and making a profit.” Sansa wrote back, to let him know the Skagosi had come to the North, just before the storm hit. “Dad’s fretting and fuming; he wants to get back to Winterfell. He doesn’t think Manderly , the deputy Warden of the North, and the Night’s Watch will be able to cope without him. I hope we have an easy voyage north; we’re going home by sea!”
It was not long after they returned home that Tywin Lannister invited himself, his wife and his youngest son, as well as Rhaegar Targaryen I, the reigning King, to visit Winterfell. Her father was rather surprised at this onslaught of distinguished guests, and Sansa wondered what this visit might lead to, although she looked forward to introducing her family to Tyrion. She hoped his second visit north would not be marred by yet another snow storm.