Sansa knocked on the wooden door.
It was the first time she had descended in the dungeons, looking for the room near the vaults in which Tyrion spent most of his time.
Truth was, Sansa had started getting bored.
In the past three weeks she had read, explored the castle, sewed, even played the harp (which she hadn't done in years), but she had grown tired of solitude.
She smoothed the surface of her gown before entering the room, not knowing why she felt so nervous. Surely, she was allowed to see her husband in daytime, if she wanted to?
-Sansa!- Tyrion exclaimed.
It took her a while to distinguish his shape: the room was cramped, dark, windowless and completely packed with books and parchments.
Every single surface was covered with open rolls, notes, ink and pens. Tyrion was hunched next to a candle, at a desk whose surface Sansa couldn't see. There was ink on his hands, and he had a stain on his brow, too. For some reason, it made her want to smile.
-My lord husband, I hope I'm not bothering you.-
-No, no, not at all… How can I help you?-
Sansa felt herself blushing, and didn't know why:-Nothing, I just… I was just… wandering around the castle and thought I could pass by…-
-Oh.- Tyrion looked dumbfounded for a moment, then pulled himself together.- Yes. Lovely. What a pleasant surprise. Here, let me just…-
He rose from his chair and waddled across the room. He moved a handful of parchments to reveal a small chair and gestured to it.
-Can you ever find anything in this confusion, my lord?- she asked, watching her husband searching through piles of scrolls.
-Absolutely. Everything is exactly where it should be. I have a method.- Tyrion answered, producing a flagon of wine and two goblets seemingly out of nowhere.
Arya used to say the same. Tyrion's cabinet reminded her of her sister's room.
Sansa picked up a book from the floor and looked around:-You need a bigger library my lord. A bigger room, actually-
He smiled and handed her one of the goblets: -I don't take much space. It's one of the advantages of being a dwarf.-
-But why don't you use the solar? That's its function.-
Tyrion shrugged:-I'm comfortable enough here. It's close to the vaults, so I have everything at hand.-
He had been avoiding her, she realized. She could scarcely blame him: for all their marriage she had been distant and aloof, and she carefully prevented to meet him as much as she could. No wonder he had been doing the same. The idea made her feel slightly wounded, though.
She sipped her wine. Her attention was caught by a parchment pinned to the wall behind Tyrion.
-What is it?-
-It's just a drawing… it's Balerion.-
Sansa stood up and moved closer to the wall to see it better.
It was a dragon: it was drawn by pen, only using black ink, but it was realistic, detailed and somehow vibrant.
-Did you draw it?-
-Yes. I was bored.- he added, as to excuse himself.
She didn't believe him: it wasn't the scribble of a moment of idleness, but something done attentively, with care. Love, even.
-Thank you. I've always been obsessed with dragons.- he confessed.
Sansa thought about her fantasy of seeing Joffrey eaten alive:- Oh, I'd love to see one too.-
Tyrion's eyes glowed:-Really?-
-Of course- she answered, studying the skin of the creature, where every scale had been patiently drawn.
-Come with me, then- Tyrion said.
Sansa was perplexed:-Where, my lord?-. There were no dragons in Westeros, it was a common fact.
-It's a secret- he replied in a conspirational tone, taking the candle from the desk.
He guided her through the dungeons, through ancient, dusty corridors and hidden passages in the walls.
When they reached a level where the light was scarce, he took her by the hand and motioned through the corridors with confidence, as if he had been there before countless times.
Finally, he pushed an old, battered door.
What was behind it left Sansa speechless.
-These are the skulls of the Targaryen dragons- Tyrion explained, his voice coloured with enthusiasm- There are nineteen of them. The smallest are the most recent ones. That one over there is Balerion. He's huge isn't he? He could swallow a mammoth whole! Aegon the Conqueror rode him himself…-
The skulls shined in the candlelight like black diamonds. The bones looked finely carved and yet strong, powerful, untouched by the years.
Sansa touched one of them:-It's warm!-
Tyrion moved by her side:-Yes, they seem to absorb the heat. Look!- he touched one of the dragon teeth with the flame of the candle, and the bone seemed to shimmer from the inside. It was beautiful.
-They like fire- she noted, then giggled nervously–It's like they're following me with the eyes, but there are no eyes!-
-Yes! I have the very same feeling! It's queer isn't it?-
Even in the semi-dark of the room, there was something luminous about Tyrion's face. She sensed that he had wanted to share the experience with someone for a long time.
He told her the stories of the dragons that lied there, then they sat inside one of the jaws (Vhagar's, apparently) and talked until the candle burned out, so they had to find their way to the door gropingly, bumping into the skulls and giggling when they almost knocked one of the smallest down.
They went back towards Tyrion's cabinet, and they were still holding hands when they turned into a corridor and almost bumped into Varys. Sansa let go hastily, blushing furiously.
-Lady Sansa, what a pleasure to see you.- he said softly. Sansa felt the intense lavender scent that always surrounded the eunuch.
He turned to Tyrion: -I'm afraid I'm bringing bad news, my lord. A little bird has just whispered to my ear that an emissary from the Iron Bank is on the way to King's Landing, and he will be here in two days-
Tyrion's face turned into the anguished expression that he seemed to have anytime someone mentioned a Bank:- Seven hells. So soon?-
-I'm afraid so, my lord- Varys nodded –Is there something that I could do to help you?-
-Do you have three million dragons at handy?- sighed Tyrion.
They moved towards Tyrion's room. Sansa didn't know what was expected of her, so she followed.
She noticed a small couch in the cabinet, covered with parchments. She moved some of them and sat.
-Isn't there any way for your lord father to help you find more money?- Varys asked.
Tyrion shook his head:-That's out of the question. We need to borrow from the Iron Bank, but they will never accept. When Cersei told them that the Crown wouldn't repay the debt, they started treating us like dangerous debtors. It took me forever to re-open the negotiations. And we don't have much warranty to offer right now.- he sat down and buried his head in his hands- If we don't get the loan the realm will go bankrupt.-
-Surely, lord Tywin wouldn't allow that.- Varys said. Sansa knew from his voice that there was something implicated in his sentence.
Tyrion gazed up again:- Surely not. He will find a better Master of Coin, that's it.-
There was bitterness, and misery in his words.
-You will find another occupation, I'm sure- said Varys.
-Oh definitely. I might become Master of Drains, I have an extensive experience on that subject. Or maybe, since I'm heir to nothing, I might just go and live in the woods and become an outlaw. I won't even have to hunt, my very face will scare animals to death.-
-It's winter, all the animals are gone into winter sleep. You will end up eating the trees.- objected Sansa, without thinking.
Varys turned to her, as if he had forgotten her presence and Tyrion looked at her, dumbstruck.
Sansa wondered if she had been supposed to leave.
-The trees- Tyrion repeated.
He stood up and started pacing the room, apparently thinking hard.
Sansa was embarrassed: -It was just… a bad jape, my lord.-
But Tyrion took her hands and kissed them, then smiled to her:- You're a genius, mylady!-
He waddled hastily to his desk and started opening huge leather bound books, muttering to himself:-I have to check this… but… if we can ensure… yes. It might work…-
Varys offered her his arm:- I think we best go, my lady-.
Tyrion came back to their shared apartments several hours later, to explain her his idea ("Your idea!"): Braavos was a city built on a lagoon and it had no trees at all. They had to buy them from abroad and ship them to the city. Tyrion was planning to sell the Iron bank their wood (even in winter, trees were the only thing that Westeros didn't lack of, and they all belonged to the King) at a very convenient price, so that they could send it in Braavos and have a huge profit margin. This would reinforce the alliance between the Crown and the Iron Bank, and serve as a warranty for a further loan.
Or at least so he hoped.
He had to define a realistic proposal to the Bank emissary, so he had taken two horses and left for the woods near King's Landing with Podrick.
-Is there something that I can do to help you, my lord?- Sansa asked. She did want to help him.
-Actually yes, there is something that you could do. We need to welcome the Bank envoy, so need to have the servants set up some quarters for him. And we need to organise a supper, nothing too splendid because we need to show him we're saving money, but still he has to feel like an honoured guest. –Tyrion sighed -The Gods know how it will be difficult to convince him of our good faith after my sister treated them like annoying beggars. ..- he looked at her intently, with his mismatched eyes- Could you do that, if you please?-
He's asking for my help, thought Sansa. He's putting his trust in me.
No one had done it, after her father…
-Yes, my lord. Of course.- she said, after a moment's hesitation.
Sansa was afraid to fail.
But she found she liked to be in charge. With all the court gone to the wedding in Highgarden, she was the only highborn lady, and for the first time, she was the one to take decisions.
Not very crucial decisions, she knew, but still…
Sansa prepared comfortable quarters for the Braavosi, and consulted the cooks and bakers about the supper. She had been trained all her life for these tasks. It was thrilling to do something she was actually good at.
She remembered that some years before, Tyrion had offered to take her to Casterly Rock. She wasn't particularly interested at that point (she still thought that Dontos would spirit her away to Winterfell), but, now that she thought about it, it actually didn't sound that bad.
Far from Joffrey, and Cersei, and Margaery too, and her reluctant charity of friendship, and lady of an household.
She was a lady, after all: she didn't have Margaery's family, nor her wealth, but she had Tyrion.
He was her ally now. Perhaps he had been all along.
She didn't need to be alone against Joffrey. She could stop being a powerless pawn, and become a player.
She didn't really know what to play for, true, but she decided she wasn't just going for survival from now on.
That night she slept alone, because Tyrion would come back the day after. The bed felt strangely empty and cold without him.
Sansa found she missed his embrace… and his kisses too. It had nothing to do with Joffrey' threat anymore.
The nights before they had kissed and touched, and Sansa had found herself aching for more.
He was always very controlled now, caressing her lightly on her breasts and her hips, but she half wished for him to grab her urgently as he had done that one time.
The day after, Tyrion arrived almost at sunset, covered in snow and mud, and flushed after the long ride.
He felt optimistic too: he had found from the woodcutters that there was a way to make the wood travel via river to the harbour, which surely made things easier.
He then shut himself in the cabinet to revise some counts.
Around midnight, Sansa decided to go and see him, bringing bread, olives and fruits for him. She knew from the kitchens that he didn't have any kind of supper.
Tyrion welcomed her with a smile when she entered the room. She remembered finding his smiles sinister and gruesome due to the missing nose, but she liked them now.
He looked tired and bleary-eyed.
-You should get some sleep, my lord-said Sansa- You can finish the work on the morrow.-
Tyrion nodded in agreement:-I will, I just… need to finish to write this tonight. I'll sleep as soon as I'm done here.-
Sansa sat on the couch. She didn't like the idea of going back to her bedchamber alone. She was too nervous to sleep. On the morrow the Bank envoy would arrive to King's Landing and she hoped that he would be pleased by his quarters and their hospitality, and that he would accept Tyrion's business proposal… There were so many thoughts in her head, she didn't feel she could just go to the bed and sleep.
-Can I wait for you here? – she asked.
Tyrion looked at her in surprise:-It might take a while. Go to sleep, there's no need…-
-Please- she cut in- I'd rather stay here. If you please, my lord.-
Again, she couldn't read his expression, but she thought he looked somewhat happy.
She picked up a book about dragons (there were at least a dozen on the shelf) and started reading. She could hear Tyrion's pen scribbling on the parchment. She liked to feel him close, even if they weren't talking.
After a while, she laid her head on the couch. In the cushions lingered the pleasant scent of Tyrion's hair. Sansa wondered how many times he had slept there.
She kept reading until her eyes closed and she dozed off.
She woke up feeling Tyrion climbing onto the couch next to her.
-What time is it?- she asked.
-Almost dawn- he answered, holding her.
She yawned:-Promise me you'll move everything to the solar, when this is finished.-
-I gladly promise.-
He looked exhausted, but his heart was beating fast and his muscles were tense.
She turned to face him and stroked his hair:-It will be alright, I'm sure.-
He let out a dry chuckle, as to contradict her, but instead he changed subject: -You were reading Septon Barth's Unnatural History. Did you like it?-
Sansa thought about it:-Yes, but there were parts I didn't understand. It seems like there is something missing.-
-There is, actually. Baelor the Blessed had ordered all Barth's writings destroyed when he came to the Iron Throne. That's the only surviving fragment I've ever found.-
-But Baelor the Blessed was a great king and probably thought that the book would upset …-
-I know, I know- he said, smiling - But I'm afraid I will never be one of Baelor's admirers.-
She kept stroking his hair, feeling him relaxing.
-I wish you had met my brother Bran. He liked scary stories too. He would have loved to read these dragon tales. You remind me a bit of him.- It was true. Tyrion and Bran had the same curiosity about what was hidden and possibly forbidden. She felt tears prickling her eyes. She missed him, but she didn't want to block all thoughts of him, as she used to do. Remembering him made her feel a mix of sorrow, and joy, and melancholy.
-I did meet Bran once.- Tyrion, unexpectedly, said.
-Did you? I…don't remember. Was that before he fell?-
-No, it was later. When I was coming back from the Wall. Your brother Jon had asked me to help him and I brought him a drawing of a special saddle, so that he could ride also without using the legs.-
Bran, thought Sansa. Bran that loved to climb, and ride, and wanted to be a knight. Bran the cripple.
-Do you…. do you think he managed to use it?-she felt a single tear streaming down her cheek.
-I think so. He was surely eager to try, and your master thought it was a good idea. I think he had all the time to learn to ride again before… before.- he finished, sounding uneasy.
She could almost see him, riding again in his special saddle with the wind in his hair. In her vision, he was happy again. He wasn't the gaunt figure she had kissed goodbye before leaving, but he looked like the healthy boy he once had been.
She couldn't contain the tears, but felt strangely happy too: -Thank you, Tyrion.-
He wiped off her tears with his blunt thumb:-It was my pleasure.-
They said nothing, but held each other until they both fell asleep.
Tycho Nestoris, the Braavosi envoy, was the tallest man Sansa had ever seen. He reminded her of Arya's dance teacher, who was Braavosi too. There was something similar in their features.
He looked wary, as if he had expected an unfriendly welcome.
Tyrion let Sansa do the courtesies that came so easily to her: she asked him about his journey, complimented him for his perfect mastering of the Common Tongue and chatted with him about Braavos.
He seemed to appreciate the quarters she had set up for him, which made her feel relieved.
He definitely looked surprised, and, she hoped, well-disposed towards them.
They supped in their solar, with cheese, a broth of crab and monkfish, greens dressed with apples and pine nuts, mustard-stout eggs, steaks marinated in mead and wrapped in boar bacon, lamprey pie with buttered parsnips and wine-poached pears. They finished the meal with strongwine and lemoncakes, that the envoy seemed to love, since he ate three of them.
Then Tyrion and Nestoris started talking about business.
-My lord, what you ask is impossible, I'm afraid- sighed the Braavosi -The Iron Bank is very pleased with your repayment plan, but a further loan right now is very risky-
Sansa felt her heart sink at those words, but Tyrion didn't sound dispirited.
Pouring the envoy more wine, he started explaining the wood sell proposal producing an enormous amounts of parchments with details and figures. They debated the conditions for at least three hours, in which Tyrion's ability to hold his drink was put to test.
When the first flagon of fine Arbor wine was almost finished, Tyrion looked at Sansa, who discretely asked the servants for more wine.
Three flagons later, Nestoris drew a parchment and Tyrion finally signed it. Sansa could scarcely hold her joy but did her best to keep her composure. Tyrion looked unimpressed, but she could see how he held his fist tight.
The Iron Bank envoy looked unsteady on his feet when he left the room.
When he was out of earshot, Tyrion let out a cry of joy and lifted Sansa off her feet, holding her by her waist and making her spin, his face pressed against her belly. Sansa laughed and felt her cheeks burning with colour.
-My lady, you will be the safety of the realm, one lemoncake at a time!- Tyrion said, letting her go.
She impulsively held his face between her hands and kissed him fully on the lips, feeling something stirring inside her.
Varys entered the room:-Oh. How untactful of me. I didn't mean to interrupt.- he exclaimed.
Tyrion turned to him and cleared his throat:- Let me guess. A little bird has just whispered to you that the Iron Bank accepted to lend us money. Honestly, how do you do it? We were here, and we barely know it!-
Varys took a glass off the table and poured himself some wine:-I'm afraid I can't tell you all of my secrets. I can just offer you my congratulations.- he lifted the glass.
-Mind you, it's less than I had planned. And Nestoris chaffered as much as he could... He's good at his work, that one!- replied Tyrion- But it's a start.-
Afterwards, they talked some more and drank, and even Brella and Podrick had a glass too. Pod went so red faced that Sansa wondered if he ever had drunk wine at all.
Varys was an amiable company, in his own mysterious way.
Sansa laughed and talked and for the first time in years felt like she belonged with the people in the room.
When everybody left, Tyrion and Sansa moved to the bedchamber.
He kicked off his boots and climbed onto the bed:-I'm drunk.- he announced.
Sansa felt her head swimming:-So am I- she said, snuggling close to him.
He cocked his head:-Why, is it befitting a lady to be stinking drunk?-
She pretended to ponder the question:-Absolutely. An armour of courtesy and demeanour surely benefits from large amounts of alcohol-
-Good.- he kissed her, and Sansa felt the taste of strongwine.
Maybe it was the wine, but he wasn't tense and controlled this time: he kissed her and touched her with passion and eagerness. She found she liked it better this way.
His hands started fumbling at the laces of her gown, so she helped him and started undressing him too, until they were both giggling for their clumsiness. Finally, they were both naked. She broke the kiss to look at him: in his eyes there was the same hunger she had seen on their wedding night, but it didn't scare her anymore. If anything, it made her feel fuzzy.
His body was always small, scarred, twisted as it was that night... but it was also warm, and smelled so good! This time she noticed also how strong his arms were. There was golden hair on his chest and she stroked it, feeling it coarse. She dreamed about Loras' hairless chest once, she remembered, slightly embarrassed, but she discovered that she liked Tyrion's chest hair even more.
He was staring at her, with a mixture of lust and amazement, as if he couldn't believe what she was doing. In fact, she could scarcely believe it herself.
-You're beautiful- he muttered.
He pushed her softly onto the pillows and pressed his whole body over her. It was an intoxicating feeling.
It's finally about to happen!
Tyrion kissed her neck, her shoulders and her breasts, sucking on her nipples and making her shiver with excitement. She spread her legs, to increase their contact, and felt his manhood pushing between her thighs, until...
-Wait.- Tyrion exclaimed, pulling away from her.
-No, but... why?- she protested.
He sounded breathless: -Because there's still... something that we need to do.-.
Sansa pulled him against her:-You just want to tease me.-
Tyrion smiled mischievously and cupped her breast, resuming the kissing:-That's been precisely my design all along.-.
"You have to desire it, with your body as well as your mind", she remembered him saying. Only a month before, she thought it was impossible for her (for anyone!) to desire Tyrion that way, but now...
His hand travelled to her hips, stroked the delicate skin of her inner thighs, until his fingers found a hidden point between them and started rubbing it, with slow circular movements.
Sansa closed her eyes: nothing had ever felt so good... she wondered briefly where Tyrion had learnt that. But then he started drawing a line of light kisses from her breast, to her stomach, to her inner thighs, until his tongue replaced his fingers. This felt even better: every single contact made waves of delight irradiate from her groin to her belly, to her whole body.
He kept licking and at some point she felt intense pangs of pleasure, almost impossible to bear, and she shuddered and gasped; he didn't stop until her body relaxed again.
She had never felt anything so intense.
He climbed up and rested his head on the pillow next to her, staring at as if expecting her to say something.
It took her a moment to find her breath again:- My septa didn't tell me about this.- she said eventually.
That made him burst out laughing and kiss her on the lips.
She realized that his manhood was still hard and she smiled thinking back of her fear that it wouldn't work.
She knew that men could relieve themselves using their hands... actually it was difficult to ignore this fact, having lived under the same roof as Theon Greyjoy.
She wanted Tyrion to feel pleasure too, so she tentatively gripped his man staff and stroked it.
Tyrion took her hand and adjusted her grip, leading it up and down: there was still that look on his face, like disbelief and fascination. His mismatched eyes were as wide as platters.
She wondered how she could have thought his manhood ugly on their wedding night.
She had expected it to feel slimy, like some kind of eel; instead it was dry, except on the head, where there was moisture, and its skin was as delicate as silk.
Sansa moved her other hand lower, and stroked the skin beneath his golden hair: this felt different, thicker and almost wrinkly. She caressed it, fascinated, until Tyrion let out an heavy breath and started spilling his seed over her hands. She was so surprised that she almost let go at once: but Tyrion placed hastily his hand over hers, and showed her the rhythm that he wanted.
He's feeling what I felt, thought Sansa, watching the pure bliss on his face. That made her feel strangely proud of herself.
Then, he helped her cleaning her hands, and covered her face with kisses. He started tickling her until she grew breathless from laughter, and she had to tickle him back to make him stop. They fell back on the bed, both flushed and out of breath. He looked ecstatic.
That's what he wants, she realized. There was lust, surely, but above all Tyrion wanted to feel desired, accepted... loved. That's why he didn't just take her maidenhood at once. He wanted her to laugh and be happy to be with him.
She held him close, stroking his sweaty hair and thinking that even his sweat had a sweet scent.
She woke up hours later, when the pale winter sun was already high in the sky.
For the first time in years, she found that Tyrion was still asleep next to her, his arm still clenched around her waist, as if he was afraid to let her go.
Sunlight filtered through the curtains, illuminating him. It made his hair shine and she fully realized how handsome he was.
His skin was beautiful. His eyelashes. His jaw, his neck, his collarbone. His shoulders, his arms, his wrists.
His body was not like that of other men, but it made no matter. If he was any different, he wouldn't be him anymore, and there was nothing that she would have changed about him. Perhaps that's what Septa Mordane meant when she used to say that all men are beautiful.
Sansa had always thought that being intimate with an husband would have been somewhat solemn, serious... that it would have made her feel like a true grown up.
She never imagined it could be playful and silly: she couldn't picture her parents tickling each other in bed. But then Tyrion was nothing like her father, and in this case she was glad about it.
He had been wounded so many times, by Sansa herself too, but he was still willing to try, to put his heart at stake, to risk again. She used to pity him, but now she admired him.
It was his vulnerability that made her love him.
He opened his eyes and looked at her hesitantly, still half asleep.
Sansa kissed him on the lips, and he responded eagerly, deepening the kiss.
-Tyrion- she said, when their lips parted- will you take my maidenhood today?-
Later that day, Cersei stepped off the travelling carriage, thanking the Gods that the nightmarish journey had finished. The Tyrell cripple had insisted on giving Tommen one of his dog puppies, and his son had refused to travel without it, which resulted in having the carriage smelling and constantly full of the monster's barks.
She had been sorely tempted to shove the little bugger off the window, but Tommen didn't let go of it. Lord Muzzle, he had called it.
She wondered what was wrong with that boy... it was only a dog. He could have as many dogs as he wanted in King's Landing.
Cersei was also annoyed because Margaery and her family had convinced Joffrey to stay back at Highgarden with them for a couple more weeks. The little schemer said she wanted to show him the beauties of the Reach, no doubt an excuse to get him away from his mother's good advice and manipulate him. The crone, Olenna, mentioned some frivolous activities, like a hunting trip…
Never mind. Joffrey would come back soon. Meanwhile she was back at the Red Keep, and blissfully close to a hot bath.
Cersei entered the Red Keep and saw that gargoyle of her brother and the Stark girl walking down a corridor. They politely welcomed her back.
There was something strange about the girl: she looked... different.
There was colour on her cheeks, and her eyes shined.
She turned to see them walking away, and when the twisted demon told her something she laughed- a true laughter, not just a polite smile as she always did.
Cersei intercepted Varys:-The Stark girl looks exceedingly happy to see us coming back. I hope she hasn't been too lonely in the past days.-
-Oh, not at all, Your Grace- beamed the eunuch- In fact, a little bird has whispered to me a remarkable fact that occurred this very morning...-
PS: Joffrey, obviously, will never come back from Highgarden. MUAHAHAHAHHA!
PPS: I'd be very grateful if you left a comment… pretty please? Thank you!