Tyrion did not know what to think when Sansa Stark, Queen in the North, and still technically his wife, came to negotiate with Queen Daenerys. He tried to hide, knowing very well he would have to see her soon since he was Queen Daenerys’ Hand. But he was very surprised, after hiding all day that he would walk into his chambers to find Sansa Stark there.
Tyrion Lannister was startled to learn, from old Ser Barristan, that Sansa Stark, now Queen in the North, was coming personally to conduct negotiations with Queen Daenerys, her liege lady.
“Do you know anything of the matter?” the grizzled old knight enquired. “Why is she coming herself? She has usually sent Lord Davos Seaworth or Lady Brienne Tarth to negotiate on her behalf, has she not? You have dealt with them, as Hand of the Queen. She is your wife—has she not confided in you?”
Tyrion laughed bitterly. “My marriage to her,” he told Ser Barristan, “was a means by my father to seize her family’s lands and title in the North. She and I had little in common then—she was only a child of three and ten and I was a hardened rake of three and twenty. We parted immediately after my nephew died—I only know by hearsay of what became of her in the intervening years. She has not communicated with me...”
“But she has not ended your relationship either, has she?” enquired the old knight shrewdly. “It is almost four years since your nephew’s death—and His Most High Holiness, the Chief Septon, tells me that he has received no requests for annulment of her marriage from Lady Sansa.”
“Perhaps,” Tyrion japed, “she is waiting for me to die of my excesses...” Ser Barristan merely looked at him, pursed his lips, raised his eyebrows and shrugged. For Tyrion had forsworn whores and wine on his memorable journey through Essos with Penny and Ser Jorah Mormont. The three of them had somehow survived the Battle of Meereen, when Brown Ben Plumm’s Second Sons had almost perished to a man.
When Daenerys returned from the Dothraki Sea, with the largest khalasar of screamers supporting her, she found Ser Barristan, her Unsullied and his knights, along with the three wanderers, who had not only survived an enfeebled Yunkish attack but also the attempts of the Iron Fleet, under Victarion Greyjoy, to sack Meereen. Viserion and Rhaegal had done their bit against the Ironmen and the Yunkish, before they flew across the Sunset Sea. Of the Iron Fleet, there were only a few ships left, which would do to transport the Unsullied, Ser Barristan and his knights, as well as the lion and the bear. Penny would travel with the queen and Drogon, with her entourage of Dothrakis, as they uprooted slavery throughout Essos, with fire and blood.
Tyrion could still vividly recall their passage through the Demon Road; how they had been waylaid by remnants of Victarion’s Iron Fleet, which had held back from his headlong journey to Meereen for just this task. They had been able to fight them off, with help from Ser Gerion Lannister, who had been trapped in the ruins of Old Valryia with his crew. He had found Brightroar, and two dragon horns, which Jorah said could only be used to control Viserion and Rhaegal.
By the time they arrived in the Westerlands after this eventful voyage, much had changed. Stannis had defeated the Boltons; they said he had been aided by an army from the Vale, led by Ser Brynden Tully and his niece, the Lady Sansa. They had seized the north and then the Riverlands; those of Lord Walder’s family who had participated in the Red Wedding were killed; and the Lannisters in the Westerlands were forced to sue for peace, for the roads south were now controlled by the Tully, Stark and Arryn forces. Tyrion immediately had all prisoners of war living in the Westerlands released and sent home, without collecting a penny of ransom. His father would never have forgiven him that, had he been living, and neither would Cersei; Tyrion did not care. Lady Genna and his cousins were held in Riverrun—he wanted them home at the Rock.
Stannis had left his allies in control of the Riverlands, the Vale and the North; he had retaken Dragonstone from the Lannisters and Tyrells, and recovered Storm’s End from Aegon Targaryen, who had left the confines of that keep to fight the Ironborn raiding the Reach. There was talk of a marriage alliance between Aegon and Stannis’ daughter, Shireen, who was but a child of nine or ten.
Daenerys’ arrival from the east to Dragonstone changed the situation drastically. There was a danger that both Stannis and Aegon would become food for dragons when Lady Sansa Stark, then residing at Harrenhal, arrived to request Daenerys’ aid against the wights and White Walkers attacking the Wall. The Ironborn had almost all been defeated; some of the more adventurous knights from the Reach and other southron lands accompanied Daenerys to the Wall.
It was now almost two years since Daenerys’ return to King’s Landing from the North; her so-called nephew had, in the meantime, died of his wounds after winning the final battle against the Ironborn. Stannis Baratheon had died at the Wall, fighting the Others; his daughter had chosen to marry her bastard-born cousin Edric rather than Prince Trystane of Dorne, who had wedded Tyrion’s niece Myrcella, once believed to be Robert Baratheon’s daughter. Shireen now held Storm’s End for the Queen.
Daenerys told Tyrion she felt the North, which now included the wildlings from beyond the Wall, as well as the remnants of the Ironborn and Skagosi fleeing the White Walkers occupying their islands, could not be governed effectively from King’s Landing. “They are too different from the southron people,” she said, “They still worship trees and not the Seven. Some of them are of the faith of Rh’llor. And Sansa Stark has introduced innovations—she has a Great Council of the North and listens to all of them, the Ironborn, the Skagosi, the wildlings, the northmen, the men of the Night’s Watch—before she makes a decision. I cannot accept that—not in the south. I will not have it. I have agreed to not molest her kinfolk—her Tully and Arryn relatives—because I know she will not fight me for the throne of Westeros.”
Tyrion had little and less to say to that; he had his hands full with settling the south. The Dornish and the Reach were baying for Baratheon blood, and were told just as sharply that they could not have it, since both Shireen and Edric were determined to live peacefully in Storm’s End. Lord Randyll Tarly was incensed because Lady Elinor Mooton of Maidenpool had been wedded off to a Blackwood scion, after her betrothal to his heir, Lord Dickon, was broken; he would have fought the Tullys and the Riverlanders, if Tyrion had not prevented his doing so in a rather harsh manner. He had expected the Tullys and the Arryns, as well as their bannermen, to fall upon the Lannisters, just as the Dornish were trying to do, as vengeance for Lord Tywin’s hand in the deaths of Elia and her children, but they did not do so. He was too relieved to note that they did not; he had not the energy to enquire why. Add to that famine, epidemics of the pale mare and grayscale, the mutual hatred between the Westerosi and the Dothraki, the lack of money in the treasury and the unlikelihood of raising taxes...and he had too much on his mind for sleep. He had no time to think of Jaime or Tommen; he knew Myrcella was safe in Dorne; Princess Arianne had told him so, when she visited King’s Landing with Lord Willas, her husband. He knew Cersei had died, and he knew Margaery had chosen to marry Ser Perewyn Frey, who now held Rosby.
He had chosen not to think of Sansa; he was relieved to know that she was alive and safe in the North. That was enough for him. He did not want to know how she had made her way back from King’s Landing, although he suspected that Littlefinger, whom Stannis had hanged in the Riverlands before he left for Storm’s End, had something to do with it. He was glad to deal with Lord Davos Seaworth or Lady Brienne Tarth, when they came south as envoys; they spoke of taxes and trade, of settling the borders between the North and the South, of dealings with Essos and the Free Cities, which Sansa left to Daenerys, since the Dragon Queen had lived there and had greater knowledge of the people. “Moreover,” as Lord Davos gravely informed him, “the North cannot afford to send out ambassadors, my Lord Hand; if you think matters are bad in the south, you have no notion how things are in the north. We feed the poor if they rebuild holdfasts and houses and towns. Her Grace is even building roads, to give her people something to do and to keep the peasants fed during the winter.”
There was also the matter of repaying the Iron Bank of Braavos, which had financed Robert, Stannis and the Night’s Watch, and which had also bought up the debts owed by the crown to the sept and the Lannisters. Sansa had contributed by sending wood for ships to Braavos—Lord Davos and Lady Brienne explained that Brandon’s Gift, and the land given to the Night’s Watch by Good Queen Alysanne, was being cleared for cultivation come spring. This had enormously helped ease Westeros’ burden of debt—Tyrion had been so delighted to hear of this that he had quaffed a pitcherful of spiced Dornish red to celebrate. The Riverlands had also contributed, and the Vale, which acted as Westeros’ bread basket in these troubled times, had eased its burden by paying its share in silver.
But none of this provided an explanation for Sansa’s visit to the capital. Tyrion wondered if she had come to arrange for the annulment of her marriage; after all, she was a woman grown, and as a queen, she had a duty to her people to provide them an heir. He recalled what he had heard of her brothers’ deaths at the hands of their Ironborn foster brother, and he recalled her sister’s disappearance. As the last of her line, Sansa had a duty to perform. He would not stand in her way, but he did not desire to see her. He had heard enough from the southron knights who had gone north to fight the White Walkers or her beauty and her icy courtesy to all men; they called her the Ice Maiden, in jest or in earnest, who can say?
When he heard she had arrived, he sent his squire, Ser Podrick Payne (for he had returned to serve Tyrion, after being knighted for his services by Lady Brienne) to tell the queen he was suffering from a fever. He hid in the maester’s rooms, reading Archmaester Marwyn’s books to allay his feelings of dread; the Archmaester had chosen to attend the queen instead of attending to the Lord Hand, who had nothing in the world wrong with him, except a case of nerves or cowardice.
When the lamps were lit in the evening, Tyrion crept back to his room in the Tower of the Hand. He did not know how long Sansa chose to stay here; he would stay away from her as long as he was able. He would use whatever excuses he had at hand; he would claim to be suffering from the pale mare, the pox, grayscale, whatever...as long as he did not have to meet his wife face to face. He had reached his rooms by the time he made his resolution—when he opened the door to his sleeping chamber, he was startled to find Sansa Stark, the woman he had done much to avoid the whole day, seated on his bed wearing a plain northern gown.
He could not tiptoe out of his room and go and hide in the stables, he thought wildly, because she had seated herself facing the door and she was looking at him and she was even lovelier now at seven and ten than she had been four years ago...and...and...he should skin Pod alive for not keeping her out of this room. He pasted a smile onto his face and bowed to her.
“Your Grace, you do me too much honour to visit my humble home.” There, that should please her! He thought triumphantly.
She got off the bed and curtsied. “Not at all, my lord husband—Her Grace informed me you were unwell and were thus unable to attend our meeting. I came to see if I could be of service to you. I am glad to see you on your feet, my lord—I hope you have recovered from your illness.” This was said gravely and kindly, as though she meant it.
“Somewhat recovered, my...Your Grace, although Archmaester Marwyn assures me I should convalesce for as long as possible—he feels I have been weakened by my labours on behalf of Westeros,” he said rather pompously. He hoped she believed him and would let him be. “He also feels,” he said hastily, as he saw her open her mouth to speak, “that I might have some infectious disease—he is not certain what it may be.”
“Does he now?” she asked, an eyebrow raised in enquiry. “He told me you were the healthiest man in court, now that you had...ahem...given up a life of debauchery and vice for one of virtue and hard work. His exact words, I assure you.” She did not smile, but gazed at him gravely. The silence would have stretched out between them till the Others attacked again, if he had not lost his patience and his temper, and exclaimed angrily:
“Enough of this mummery! You don’t have to fool me with your false concern for my well-being—I know how much you cared...you abandoned me to face my father’s wrath after Joffrey’s death. You ran off and left me to face the music. That’s how much you cared for our marriage. Well, if you want an end to it, go to the High Septon and ask for an annulment—I will not make it easy for you by requesting it from His High Holiness.”
He said all this in a rush—it was as if this volcano of words erupted out of his mouth now that he had seen her after all these years. She still gazed at him gravely and replied:
“My lord, I want to ensure you understand a few things about my feelings with regard to our marriage. You are aware, of course, that I was a prisoner in King’s Landing? You are also aware that, although I was betrothed to the king, this did not prevent your nephew from getting me beaten by the Kingsguard? You are also aware that your nephew had my father executed? It was this execution that led my mother and my brother to rebel against him... that, and your father’s attack on the Riverlands.” He would have spoken, but she raised her hand, requesting his silence and continued:
“I know you did much to alleviate my ill-treatment as a prisoner—I know you arranged for Joffrey’s betrothal to Margaery. Are you aware that the man you sent to arrange the alliance also arranged for his murder by the Tyrells?” He stared at her, his mouth open, as she spoke:
“His servants spread tales of Joffrey’s cruelty to me, even as Littlefinger assured the ladies Olenna, Alerie and Margaery that the tales were untrue. He had already arranged for Ser Dontos Hollard, whom I saved from being murdered by Joffrey, to meet me and plan my escape from the Red Keep. He gave Dontos a hairnet of silver,” and here she took out the net from a pocket in her dress to show him, “which was set with pieces of strangler—Ser Dontos assured me these were priceless, magic pearls from Asshai to take me home to Winterfell—that I was to wear to Joffrey’s wedding feast. The Tyrell ladies talked to me when they first came to the capital—they asked about Joffrey. I told them the truth—I did not want Margaery to go into the marriage as blindly as I had done. They offered to take me to Highgarden, to wed me to Willas. I told Dontos of this plan; I did not want him to risk his life for me anymore...”
“He must have told Littlefinger, because Littlefinger spoke of it to my father.” These words burst out of his lips almost without thought; he was listening to her breathlessly. She was silent and looked at him as he continued.
“That is why my father had us wed. He wanted me to bed you, to get you with child...”
“But you were unwilling to do as he bid...and I was unwilling to be forcibly bedded.” She spoke quietly. “Especially by a man whose family was fighting mine, an oath-breaker. You promised you would send me home to my mother in open court...and you broke your word. I could never forgive that. And then your father had my mother and brother murdered most treacherously...did he think I would jump into your arms when I heard of their deaths?”
I don’t know what he thought, he wanted to shout, but she continued. “I lived for my meetings with Ser Dontos in the godswood after that—to plan my escape. When Joffrey fell down, choking on his blood, I fled to freedom. Even had I remained—I was the daughter and sister of traitors; you might well have been killed for being my husband, if for nothing else! Ser Dontos got me out of the Red Keep and to the wharf, to the Merling King, where Littlefinger was waiting. He wanted a thousand gold dragons for his trouble and he got a bolt from a crossbow instead. I learnt how he had murdered Joffrey when we reached his holdfast on the Fingers, where my aunt waited to wed him.”
She looked at him in silence a while before she continued with her tale: “My aunt wished me to wed her son, a sickly boy of eight. She wanted to be certain you had not bedded me...she thought I would be meek and obedient, now that I had lost my family and Winterfell.” She laughed bitterly. “She was a jealous and bitter woman and cared nothing for me. Do you want to hear how she died?” she asked suddenly. He nodded—he was both riveted and shaken by what she said. He slowly walked towards the bed and sat down—she followed his lead and sat facing him.
“Petyr spent many days away from the Eyrie, pacifying the Vale lords, who hated him. One morning ... it was snowing so heavily... I went out to the garden and built Winterfell out of snow. Petyr had returned by then...he helped me. And then he wanted to walk into my castle! And he kissed me—and she saw that. She called me to the Lord’s Chamber at the top of the Eyrie—she accused me of seducing Petyr, just as my mother had done (so she claimed) when they were girls. She would have thrown me out of the Moon Door when Petyr arrived...Marillion the bard was playing all the while so that no one would hear my screams...Petyr threw her out, but not before she said she’d killed her husband with the tears of Lys that Petyr gave her. She sent a letter to my mother, telling her the Lannisters had killed her husband.”
He saw the tears pour down her face as she spoke; he gave her his handkerchief to wipe her face. She continued to speak as she dabbed at her eyes and cheeks and delicately wiped her nose. “Of course, Petyr denied the truth of all she said. He told everyone Marillion had killed her...and I repeated the story to Lord Nestor Royce. I knew he had committed murder—he’d killed Joffrey; he’d got my aunt to murder Jon Arryn and claim your family did it; he’d killed my aunt when he had no use for her...what was to stop him from murdering me? He could always say I was not his daughter...he told everyone I was his bastard; did you know that?” He shook his head silently. She ploughed on. “And then he expected me to marry Robin’s heir, Ser Harrold Harrdying...he wanted me to give Robin sweetsleep.”
She fell silent then, gasping—sounding as though she had been running a long while. “What happened then?” he asked, riveted despite his horror at what she described.
“I lied to him of course...I pretended to be his bastard, because he said that would keep me safe, but you can never forget who you really are, or where you really come from, can you, my lord? I agreed to the betrothal...and I added honey to Robin’s milk instead of sweetsleep, because Maester Colemon said too much sweetsleep would make him ill. And I waited and waited for Petyr to leave for the Riverlands...for something to happen. He did leave for the Riverlands, when a messenger arrived from the Twins, complaining about the bandits who were killing Freys. I told him he had to go...he knew my grandfather’s bannermen; he could catch the bandits; he could hoodwink Cersei, while she struggled with the Faith and the Tyrells...and he believed me and left for Harrenhal. And then my granduncle arrived in the Vale. Of course, he knew whose daughter I was as soon as he laid eyes on me—he said no amount of brown dye on my hair would make me look less like my mother. It took me some time to trust him—and then I told him how Aunt Lysa had died and what she had said before dying. The lords and knights of the Vale were eager to fight—when Uncle Brynden arrived and asked them to fight for me, they answered his call. They defeated the mountain clansmen—but I made them allies when I told them who I was and how you had been falsely accused of Joffrey’s murder. They too were eager to fight against those who had wronged you. The rest you must have heard already.” She spoke more quietly now, her emotion spent.
He gazed at her in wonder. “And yet...you fought for Stannis, not for yourself.” He said softly.
“I learnt, when I reached White Harbour, that Stannis Baratheon was the only one to answer the Night Watch’s call for help. The Royces had word from the North—they said Jon had become Lord Commander. Petyr would not help him at all—and Petyr had kept my dearest friend in a whorehouse, of all places, and sent her to wed Ramsay Bolton, of all men, when I had begged them all in the Small Council, to send her to a place of safety. I could never forgive him that. Stannis hated him, and made no secret of it. Petyr entrusted a chest filled with his papers to my care—he told me to keep it unopened against his return. I took the chest north with me and had a smith make a key for its lock as soon as I was able. I took a good look at the papers—there were lots and lots of numbers and names. I could not make head or tale of it. By the time we reached Stannis’ army, they had driven the Boltons from Winterfell, but Stannis himself was ill and feverish. I’d taken Robin and Maester Colemon with me from the Vale—the maester cared for Stannis. In the meanwhile, the knights from the Vale were able to prevent Lord Bolton and his son from reaching the Dreadfort—they cut off their retreat and took them prisoner.” She said the words and looked at him—he nodded at her, to tell her he understood. “Lord Bolton left his pregnant wife behind in Winterfell—the poor woman was on the point of giving birth. Of course, she lost the babe.”
“Then what happened?” he asked, unable to stop himself.
She sighed. “The northern lords wanted their revenge for the Boltons’ part in the Red Wedding. Ramsay and his men used to strip peasant girls naked and hunt them through the woods with dogs—they forced all the Bolton men, including Lord Roose and his son to do the same—and then they set the dogs upon them. They were killed, every one of them, and fed to the dogs. It was most horrible...but I could not blame them. Lord Manderly had lost a son, as had the Greatjon. I had lost my brother...and it was the Boltons who burnt my home, not the Ironborn. Theon was there, with his sister...you remember him, do you not? You must have met him when you visited my parent s at Winterfell.”
He nodded silently—yes, he recalled the boy.
“He’s dead now—he died fighting the Others. But I met him then...he told me that he did not kill Bran or Rickon. I did not believe him at first...but then Lord Davos arrived with Rickon, Shaggydog and a wildling woman who had been caring for him. And they were followed by almost everyone from Skagos. They were fleeing the White Walkers. We had arrived at the Wall by then—and I learnt Jon was on the point of death; a group of his men had tried to kill him, because he wanted to go south to aid Stannis.” She laughed hysterically, “So I had two ailing men, one dying of fever, the second of his wounds; a sickly little boy; countless wounded knights and soldiers, Valesmen and Stormlanders and Skagosi and Northmen...I was like to go mad, I can tell you this, my lord. And then, there was this banker, a Braavosi, one Tycho Nestoris—a man with a funny hat. I gave him Petyr’s papers, telling him only that they had been left in my care, and I could not make head or tail of them. Could he please help me? So while I handed Stannis off to Maester Pylos, who was also caring for Jon, and handed Robin off to Alysanne Mormont to look after and had Jon’s assassins locked up in cells and calmed down the wildlings, who would have killed and eaten them all, they were so incensed...you can well imagine my state.”
He smiled and nodded in understanding.
“Luckily, Lady Dustin was there—she was able to arrange for more maesters to care for the wounded. And Lord Reed arrived as well, with Lady Maege and Mors Umber and Galbart Glover. They all helped to care for the wounded. And then Lord Reed said I had to go beyond the Wall to fetch Bran from the three-eyed crow. He said Bran would help Jon get better; he said his son and daughter were with Bran. Lady Brienne and Pod and Ser Hyle Hunt...no, you never met him...he was at one time household knight to Lord Randyll Tarly—had followed us from the Vale to the North. She and Val, a wildling woman, agreed to go with me to look for Bran. Ser Hyle and Pod stayed with Jon, to ensure that no one harmed him further. Well, to cut my story short, we found Bran and returned to Castle Black to help Jon. In the meanwhile—this I learned much later—the Braavosi banker and Maester Pylos had broken Petyr’s code; he’d apparently been embezzling money from all the manufactories he was setting up. He would ensure that the king had just enough in the treasury to meet his expenses; the rest went into paying off debts and Petyr’s pocket, which is why Stannis had him executed at Harrenhal.”
She stopped speaking—her voice sounded rough, as though she had not used it so much in so many years. He got up and poured some wine into two goblets for both of them. Giving one to her, he said:
“I can now understand much and more of what you did. But if your brothers returned to the North, how is it that you became Queen in the North? Why did neither of your brothers take the throne?”
She sipped at her wine and, setting her goblet down, she said, “Bran is a greenseer, which means he has little interest in the things of this world. However, he can give me good advice, because I trust him. Rickon has no patience with being a lord, let alone a king, but he will fight for me. And as for Arya...yes, my troublesome little sister did come back,” she smiled at him as she spoke, “she has little patience with things as they are, but she will fight for justice. The Northmen were reluctant to accept me—after all, Robb had almost set me aside in his will because of my marriage to you. But since you were nowhere around, they agreed to let me lead them. About being Queen—I would have been content with being Lady of Winterfell, Warden of the North—but my bannermen have little or no patience with southron lords and kings. They could not forget how my father, grandfather, uncle, aunt, brother and mother were murdered when they went south of the Neck. So even though they were grateful to Daenerys for her aid, they told her they would be ruled by one of their own, by me. And they said it as one man, at a great assembly I had called after the War against the Others ended, to honour her. I did not know whether to be pleased or mortified. I was angry with them—I reminded them that she had fought at their side—and they said they would have a kingdom of the North. I told them I knew little of reigning over them—they reminded me I had kept them fed and battle-ready during the winter. And when the Ironmen and the Skagosi and the wildlings joined in, well I could not say no. And since they agreed with me that we would not fight the Iron Throne, since Daenerys herself came to our aid, she was able to agree to our secession.”
“That was a wonderful tale,” he said with a sigh as he stretched out on his bed, leaning on an elbow and looking at her, “but it does not answer my questions. Why did you come to negotiate with the Queen on the Iron Throne? You usually send Lord Davos or Lady Brienne. Why come yourself this time? And, why, for the Seven’s sake, Your Grace, if Robb nearly disinherited you because of your marriage to me, did you not ask the Lord High Septon for an annulment earlier?”
She got up from the bed and paced about the room. “I could not send Lord Davos—he is visiting his wife and sons at Cape Wrath on Dragonstone. Yes, Daenerys let him keep his lands in the south—I told her it would ensure he would support peace between the North and the Iron Throne. As for Lady Brienne—she is not well. No, it’s nothing serious—she is increasing, expecting a child.”
Tyrion could not but exclaim in surprise. He recalled Lady Brienne, who was no beauty. “Who is the father?” he asked, trying to keep the laughter from his voice.
“Your brother Jaime,” she answered.
He stared at her, his mouth and eyes round with astonishment; he had never expected Jaime to live through a Targaryen restoration, nor had he in his wildest dreams expected him to lie with a woman other than Cersei. In fact, he had often wondered if his elder brother had discreetly removed himself from Westeros, although discretion and Jaime were rather distantly acquainted.
Recovering himself, he said, “I would ask you to tell the tale...but you must be tired.”
“No,” she said. “I am not tired. It is time you learned it all. You have chosen to be blind and deaf for far too long, my lord, and now you must be told all. You do know my mother released Ser Jaime and sent him with Lord Cleos and Lady Brienne to ransom myself and Arya, do you not? She succeeded in getting him to King’s Landing, by which time my brother and mother were murdered and Joffrey himself was dead. He asked her to look for me and keep me safe...and she found me at the Wall, poor woman, after many a dreadful adventure. When we returned to the Riverlands, with Stannis and his men, she and I went to Harrenhal. It was my grandmother’s home; if Winterfell was lost to me, as Lord Reed said that Robb’s will decreed, I could always go to Harrenhal. Stannis had already executed Petyr and I had nothing to fear. However, while we were there, we were attacked by a Kingsguard knight—he was enormously big and strong. Ser Jaime had given Brienne a sword called Oathkeeper, which she now used to defend me against him. She took a wound, but she killed him. Ser Jaime arrived almost at his heels. He was delighted to see her, and she him. I could tell at once that they were in love; and I could tell they were just right for each other. She kept begging his pardon for betraying him and he told her she’d done very well to do so, for she had completed her mission. Tommen was with him...oh, it was a long tale they had to tell.”
He sat there, looking at her as wide-eyed as a cat, breathlessly waiting. She continued, “It appears this Kingsguard knight was a Ser Robert Strong, whom your sister had given the white cloak. He fought for her honour against the Sept’s champion when she was accused of adultery and incest...and he won. Margaery was accused of adultery and immoral conduct—she chose to defend herself in the court of justice. She won too. Ser Jaime had been in the Riverlands, getting the lords to pledge allegiance to Tommen, when Brienne met him again; she had been captured by my mother’s men, the Brotherhood without Banners... Oh, you know my father sent out men to bring the Mountain that Rides to justice, did you not? These men were led by Lord Beric Dondarrion, who was now dead. They had recovered my mother from the river—she led them to hang the Freys who had been present at the Red Wedding. They captured Brienne and her companions—she had to kill Jaime to free Pod and Ser Hyle Hunt. I am surprised Pod never told you of this. Or is it that you did not ask?”
He looked at her, as if to say, Continue the tale, and so she said, “Well, she wounded him badly enough; she left him for dead at Saltpans, where she claimed the Hound held me captive. She and her companions then came to the Vale to look for me. In the meanwhile, who do you think came to Saltpans, dressed as a septon or near enough? Why, Sandor Clegane himself! It seems he’d been wounded by his brother’s men at an inn; the wound festered; he was like to die when he was found by the brothers of the Quiet Isle, which is where he took your brother. “
Tyrion took a deep breath as she finished speaking and sipped at her wine again. She now sat facing him, smiling slightly as she told the tale.
“Well, Ser Jaime recovered...and Sandor insisted on taking him back to court, instead of to Riverrun. It was as well they did so, because by the time they reached King’s Landing, our forces had taken the Riverlands. When they arrived at the Red Keep, he went to Cersei, told her his tale (I know not what he said to her) and was made a sworn shield to Tommen. He was a brave man—the only thing he feared was fire. She knew he was loyal. Well, it seems your sister did not think too well of Margaery—for Margaery was celebrating (so she said) her victory and Cersei’s against the Sept. She had her cousins with her, and Tommen was there as well, with Sandor. And Ser Robert Strong attacked. Sandor faced him—he ordered the women to run; he told the king to flee, and he faced that mountain of a man alone. Tommen went straight to Ser Jaime, to complain of the conduct of his brother officer. By the time Ser Jaime arrived, it was too late—Sandor was dead; the women had fled to the Tower of the Hand and Ser Robert Strong was gone...no one knew where. So they chased after him—Tommen and Ser Jaime. Tommen even picked up Joffrey’s sword—Widow’s Wail?—and yes, his kittens three. They followed him all the way to Harrenhal.”
“But that does not explain,” He objected, “how he wedded Brienne.”
“No, it does not. Well, they went north, after visiting a smith at the Inn on the Crossroads—you know it, do you not, my lord? He was the very image of Lord Renly. He was able to weld together Oathkeeper and Widow’s Wail, and remake Ice, my father’s greatsword. And then he insisted on accompanying Brienne, Jaime and Tommen north—he said he had travelled with Arya and served with the Brotherhood; he knew my mother well. I was happy to meet him. Mother was near the end when I met her—she was glad to learn that Bran and Rickon were alive; her men had heard the news from northern soldiers and Stannis’ men. The rest of the Brotherhood had taken the black; only the smith remained. He had been caring for a house full of orphans. When my uncle came back from the Rock, he took in the orphans to Riverrun. He told us you’d freed all the prisoners; he also saw to it that your aunt and cousins returned home. I had Ser Jaime disguised as a septon, and Brienne forced him to memorize The Seven-Pointed Star. He acted as my septon at Winterfell—and then I sent them both to the Rock, telling the Queen that strange sights and sounds, as of dead things rising from the sea, were seen there. They did find something in the depths of the Rock, although they never told me what it was.”
“But they did not stay on at the Rock,” he interrupted.
“No, they did not—they came back North after Daenerys left. They will hold the Shieldfort for me—Brienne has, for the past few years, been the captain of my guard and Jaime has been master-at-arms. I owe them much. As for Tommen, he is happy in the North—he has learnt to be a warrior and he will do well, whatever he decides to do. He might well marry a Mormont woman; who knows?”
She was smiling as she spoke; he heaved a huge sigh of relief. He had been angry with Jaime, whose lie about Tysha had caused him so much grief. There was a time, not so long ago, when he was angry and bitter enough to hurt Tommen or Myrcella—but his grief and rage had cooled and frozen over. They were his blood—he had lost too many members of his family to contemplate their loss with complacency. Then he asked her:
“So about the annulment...I presume Your Grace sought me out to speak of that?”
She shook her head. “No, my lord; I have no desire to request an annulment. If you will hear me out... I have thought long over this and sought the advice of my lords, all of them, individually and in council. They are agreed that Robb acted unjustly in disinheriting me because of my marriage. It was not something I could have avoided as a prisoner. Although I did say that he did it to safeguard Winterfell and the North from your family, they said that his will would have been valid if he had lived and won the war. Since that was not the case, neither Lord Stannis nor the Queen Regent would have heeded his wishes. And he died leaving no heir of his body behind. They have seen and disliked most of the knights who have sought my hand in marriage; most of those men are ambitious; they would wed me, set aside my brothers and sister and rule the North in my name. On the other hand, they know how you assisted in bringing Queen Daenerys back to Westeros; they have heard from the Dornish that you were keen to see justice done against those who had Princess Elia and her children killed. Many believe that you were accused of Joffrey’s murder for that reason alone. They also know how hard you have worked, how much you have changed, since the restoration. Lord Davos and Lady Brienne have spoken well of you; Lady Shireen has several friends in the North and she, too, has spoken kindly of you since she returned to Storm’s End. So they are agreed that I should bring you North, as my consort and Hand.”
“But... do you recall our wedding night, my lady? Do you recall that I offered to wait however long it took to gain your affections? And you said that that would never happen? What has made you change your mind, my lady? Why are you willing to consummate your marriage to me now when you were so reluctant then?”
“Yes, I recall our wedding night vividly my lord. I am not proud of what I said—I was unkind. But... I was a girl of three-and-ten, forced to wed a man who was fighting against my family. I was married to you for my claim to Winterfell, nothing more; your family did not cease fighting against mine after the wedding—my mother and brother were murdered most cruelly by your father. Well, I learnt from my aunt that she had set us—your family and mine—at each other’s throats; I learnt from what I saw of knights and lords that they were more moved by thoughts of land and loot than by thoughts of honour and justice. You were an exception to that rule, my lord... And since then...I have seen how hard you have worked to rebuild Westeros after the war. I have worked just as hard to rebuild the North, and my regard for you has grown, I must confess, with the passage of time. There was a time,” she said hesitantly, “when Daenerys came North to fight the White Walkers and the wights, when I hoped my brothers would take over the governance of the land... I was not trained to be Lady Paramount or Queen... I was trained to be the lady of a castle, the wife to some lord, the mother of children. Well, fate has decreed otherwise. I must do my best for my people. And rather than wed a fair-faced fool who would dishonour me with the first pretty peasant girl that caught his eye, or a cunning knave who would murder my family and myself, to crown himself King in the North in his own right, I’d rather wed you. We have seen the worst of each other; and we have seen each other grow. I could never imagine, in my wildest dreams, that you would go east to bring back the Targaryen queen. I am certain I could not imagine myself leading an army; perhaps I would not have done so, had not Grand-Uncle Brynden appeared in the Vale.”
She fell silent at this, and gazed out of the window. They had spent almost the entire night talking; there was little left to say as the day dawned.
“You have spoken of this to Daenerys?” he asked, feeling foolish.
“Yes, I have—she feels sending you North will be a good move. You have proved your loyalty to her; neither you nor I covet her throne. She will get Lord Davos as her Hand, and she will be glad of it. Doubtless, if you had been in court yesterday, my lord, you would have heard of it; I came here to let you know—the queen was all for surprising you with her decision, when you next appeared in court. She was certain you would stay away because of me. She even told Pod to pack all your things and put them in my room. At least that’s what he told me when I found him there. And that’s when I knew I had to talk to you—tell you that you had to come North and why.”