It is nice to be back in Westeros at the head of a winning army, mused Tyrion. The Targaryen forces have conquered the Seven Kingdoms in one glorious sweep, and in many places the dragon banners, red on black, were unearthed and unfurled as soon as people heard of the coming of Queen Daenerys. Of course, the Lannisters and Tyrells and most of their bannermen - Tarly, Rowan and others - fought, as did other houses who had a bone to pick with the Targaryens, in particular those who sided with Robert Baratheon during his rebellion. But those who had no cause to love the Lannisters - the river lords and the northmen, and even the two-faced Freys - accepted the dragon queen without so much as unsheathing a sword. As for Dorne, they were the first to bend the knee. Well, after the tragic death of Myrcella, the Dornishmen knew they would never be forgiven by the Lannisters, so they wouldn't have had much choice anyway.
Tyrion had won his place of honor as the queen's ally any counselor by coming to her and siding with her before she even revealed her intention to reclaim the throne of her ancestors. He pledged his life to her service, and although he was a Lannister himself, after hearing him out Daenerys Targaryen decided she has sufficient grounds to trust him. He had since ample opportunity to show this trust was justified - he became a valuable source of information about many of the lords and houses and alliances in Westeros, and his cunning made him especially good at developing strategies.
He fought in some battles, too, and although none of his wounds were life-threatening, his left arm was in a sling when he rode through the gates of King's Landing on the magnificent horse Queen Daenerys had granted him as a special boon. The stallion was bred and raised by the Dothraki, and trained to fight no worse than the average Westerosi knight. A handsome horse, thought Tyrion. It merits a handsome rider.
Strange. Now that he thought of it, last time he made a triumphant entrance to King's Landing he had his arm in a sling as well. But then my nose was still whole. I had better hope this time I will leave this vile city without losing any other body parts.
The queen invited him to sup with her in private that night. The fare was simple but satisfying - a stew of lamb with peas and carrots, warm bread, sharp yellow cheese, baked apples stuffed with raisins. Tyrion savored every bite. He never acquired a taste for jellied dog's brains or slug stew - the delicacies of Slaver's Bay.
"Well, my lord," said the queen, "Casterly Rock is now your seat." Tyrion nodded, and a cloud passed over his face. His father, brother and sister were all dead, and he couldn't say he felt any great loss there - even about Jaime. Some things were hard to forgive. Joffrey's death, which happened even earlier, was a blessing too - the boy was so mad and cruel he put Aerys Targaryen to shame. But Tommen and Myrcella... they were sweet children. They were born out of incest and betrayal, but none of this reflected on their innocent selves. Tyrion grieved the evil intrigues that led to their deaths.
"I look forward to seeing the Rock again, Your Grace," said Tyrion, "the happier part of my life passed there."
"And you shall have many more happy years there," said the queen, "but before... Lord Tyrion, I have a request to make of you."
"The queen needs not request. She commands."
Daenerys nodded. "It is my wish to become acquainted with the Seven Kingdoms, the land of my fathers, before I set up my residence in King's Landing and devote myself to matters of state. In particular I wish to see the north and the legendary castle of Winterfell. I heard it is a magnificent place."
"Was magnificent," said Tyrion, "you surely know, Your Grace, that Winterfell now lies in ruins. It is a great pity."
"I know. But ruins can be rebuilt. And on this score I shall require your counsel. I want you to ride north with me, and see the country with me, and suggest how what was broken should be mended."
"I will do what I can, Your Grace," Tyrion inclined his head in agreement, "Casterly Rock can wait." Actually, he rather wished to see the north again. He had always wanted that, since that unfortunate visit during which Robert asked Ned Stark to become his Hand.
"Casterly Rock is a grand place, too," said Daenerys, "but it asks for the presence of a lady. Is it your wish to marry now?"
If the question had come from anyone else, Tyrion would suspect he is being mocked. But the queen was just, kind and wise beyond her years. "Perhaps Her Grace does not know," he said slowly, "I am married."
The queen looked at him in surprise. "I never knew that. Married? To whom?"
The name had not passed Tyrion's lips for years. "Sansa Stark," he said.
Daenerys frowned. "How come you never told me this? Sansa Stark... she was the daughter of Eddard Stark, was she not? And he was in league with Robert Baratheon, he fought against my valiant brother."
"I assure you Sansa had nothing to do with that, Your Grace," said Tyrion, "she was no more than a child when we wed, and the marriage was decreed by my father. He wished to claim the north by allying house Stark with the Lannisters. I haven't seen Sansa since Joffrey's death. For all I know, she might be dead as well."
"The marriage was decreed by your father? You didn't want to marry her?" the queen asked shrewdly.
"Sansa was a sweet and beautiful lady. She had a gentle heart and pure soul," said Tyrion, "but I... I knew how she would feel about marrying me. This made no difference, however. The Starks were the key to the north, and Sansa was their last remaining child, to the best of our knowledge. So I accepted my father's will and married her and tried to do my best to make her life bearable. I can hardly say I succeeded. The most I remember of Sansa is the look of misery upon her face. Of course, I am not solely to blame for that," his mouth twisted bitterly, "it might also have something to do with the fact that her entire family was killed."
"Do you intend to look for her now?" Tyrion could tell this question had come from the curious young girl fascinated by the tale of someone else's life, not from the queen who had made her enemies tremble.
"If I planned to, Your Grace, I wouldn't even know where to begin." I should probably try to find her, though. As the last remaining Lannister of Casterly Rock, it was now his duty to beget an heir. Someone somewhere in the Seven Kingdoms was bound to be desperate or greedy enough to have him. Perhaps he should offer himself to that daughter of Stannis Baratheon, the young maiden whose face was disfigured by greyscale. Together, we would look like a proper grotesquerie. But first, of course, he would have to look for Sansa and either find her and annul their marriage, or prove that she is dead.
Sansa. Despite all the time that had passed, her memory evoked a certain wistfulness in him, as of a word unspoken, a song unsung. Somehow, he felt things could have worked out differently between them. Yes, in a different world where I would be a tall, handsome, gallant knight, and not the son, brother and uncle of those who ruined her life. She was three and ten when they parted; if she is alive, she would be seventeen now, a woman grown, and who knows how she had lived all this time. She might even have married again, he thought suddenly. Well, if that is so, she is up to an unpleasant surprise.
At one crossroads a couple of days away from King's Landing, the queen and her retinue encountered a small sept, a point of quiet and prayer for travelers. A little hut was located near the sept, with grey smoke curling up from its chimney - no doubt it was the dwelling of some holy man or woman who tended the sept and offered travelers some food and drink.
"You would do well to stop and pray here, Your Grace," Tyrion advised quietly to the young queen. He was not excessively pious, although he did light candles for the gods sometimes, and the Targaryens never expressed much reverence either for the old gods or the new; but Queen Daenerys should do differently if she wishes to win the love of her smallfolk, and she knew it. She nodded in agreement and gave an order for the column of riders to stop. The queen, Tyrion and a couple of others descended from their horses and entered the sept. It was quiet and clean and half-dark in there, and the smell of smoke and incense hung in the air. Daenerys knelt in front of the Mother's altar and lit a candle. Her face was unexpectedly earnest, and Tyrion could guess what she is praying for.
He knelt as well, in front of the Warrior, and lit a candle, then got up to his feet. He wanted to pray, but didn't know what for. The war was over and he was alive and his enemies dead, and he was the lord of Casterly Rock as he had wished, but a strange emptiness reigned in his heart all the same.
A septa in long grey robes was working near the altar of the Maiden, sweeping the floor and picking up stubs of candles that have burned out. Her clothing was loose and drab and a large hood covered her hair and threw a shadow over her face, but something in her movements and in the way she carried herself convinced Tyrion she must be young and comely. There was also something inexplicably familiar about her, and although he realized the impropriety of this, he could not tear his eyes away from her.
And then a ray of sunlight fell upon her from one of the small windows, illuminating her face, and Tyrion gasped with astonishment. She heard his sharp intake of breath and turned around, and he knew she recognized him as well. How could she not? She turned pale as if she had seen a ghost, and the tray with the candle stubs fell from her hands. Bits of congealed wax scattered all over the floor.
He took a step towards her. "My lady," he said in a hoarse voice.
"My lord," she said uncertainly, her eyes wide.
The queen got up from her knees and looked at them curiously. "What is going on, Lord Tyrion?" she asked. "Do you know this holy woman?"
"Your Grace," said Tyrion, taking a deep breath, "this is most extraordinary. Allow me to present Sansa Stark of Winterfell, the eldest daughter of Lord Eddard Stark... and my lady wife."