Sansa hadn't expected to ever have cause to laugh in King's Landing again.
Joffrey had her brought to the throne room, and in front of all the court he said that as the father of the realm it was within his rights to make matches for his subjects.
Sansa felt a creeping dread at the thought of what brute, old man, or babe in swaddling clothes it might amuse Joffrey to give her to.
The Hound was gone, so was Littlefinger. Who else might want the disgraced daughter of a traitor?
The king's permanently petted lip curled in distaste as he continued, "Such deviant matches are rightfully rare, but by royal decree Lady Sansa will wed Margaery of House Tyrell in a fortnight's turn."
Sansa lifted her hand to her mouth, but not in time to stop the giggles burbling past her lips.
"What?" snapped Joffrey. "You should be thanking me, you have traitor's blood, and I've made you a better match than you deserve!"
Sansa knew that he was right, in a way. The safest thing to do would be to curtsey, thank His Grace for making her such a good match, and promise to make Lady Margaery a good wife.
But at the idea of making Lady Margaery a good wife Sansa was crippled by more hysterical giggles.
"What's wrong with her?" Joffrey demanded.
A dry voice from somewhere near Sansa's elbow said, "I'm sure that Lady Sansa is merely overcome by your generosity, nephew." Lord Tyrion took Sansa's arm and guided her from the throne room.
As they left Sansa caught a glimpse of Margaery Tyrell on the upper balcony, and immediately felt sorry for her outburst. Lady Margaery couldn't be any happier in the match than Sansa was. And how humiliating must it have been to have her betrothed publicly break down in a hysterical fit at the very idea of marrying her.
Sansa resolved to think more kindly of Margaery; this was not her fault, it was Joffrey's.
"It's not just Joffrey," said Lord Tyrion as they walked in the gardens together, Shae a few steps behind them. They had developed a friendship of a sort ever since he had saved her from her own outburst at her engagement announcement.
He was a Lannister, but he was far from the worst Lannister, and Shae approved of their friendship.
"If it was just our wise king you might hope that he'd get distracted torturing small animals and forget what he found so amusing about your engagement, but my sweet sister and benevolent father want this wedding to happen too."
"Why?" Sansa could guess as to Cersei's motives; the queen regent liked to see her suffer, albeit in subtler ways than Joffrey. But what could Lord Tywin's interest in the match be?
"Cersei has always been petty and jealous, of both you and Margaery." Sansa rolled her eyes in disbelief, but Tyrion ignored her. "This way she keeps her precious, psychopath son free of the Tyrells, insults you, and strips Margaery of her best source of power; she can never marry another man who might be tempted to declare himself king, and no children of hers will ever be legitimate. It's so neat that I almost don't believe that Cersei came up with it."
"And Lord Tywin?"
"The Tyrells are a rising House; it was time for a lesson on the perils of threatening Lannister power, although a gentler lesson than the one Lord Reyne got. As for you-- my father thought of marrying you into the family, to make a Lannister claim on the North. But he thought that the vows would be no sooner spoken than your brother would disinherit you. This way..."
"Even if I were someday to inherit Winterfell, I could never pass it on."
"Look on the bright side, my lady, it could have been far worse," Tyrion said gravely, "you might have had to marry me."
"I'm sure you'd have many virtues as a husband, Lord Tyrion." They turned to find Margaery Tyrell coming along the path behind them. "May I have a few moments alone with you, Lady Sansa?"
Sansa nodded, and Tyrion took his leave at once; it took a cleared throat and a significant look from Sansa to make Shae to do the same.
"Shall we sit?" Margaery asked, gesturing to a low bench set a little way back from the path. They were quite alone.
Sansa sat, and Margaery reached up to pluck a yellow rose from one of the surrounding bushes; it bared a stretch of skin of her stomach where her gown was cut away and Sansa snuck a peek.
Margaery offered the rose to Sansa. "Firstly, I should apologise for what happened in the throne room. I would not have had you told like that."
Sansa remembered her vow not to blame Margaery for this. "I should be the one apologising. They mean to insult you, by giving me to you."
Margaery sat down, close enough that Sansa could feel the heat of her skin through both their gowns. "It's true that matches such as ours have always been rare, and usually intended as an insult or a way to extinguish a bloodline - but it's only an insult if we're insulted, and I choose not to be." Margaery half-smiled. "My brother Loras believes that some of those marriages were great romances; star-crossed lovers wedding despite all the odds."
"Maybe they were both," Sansa suggested. "An insult and a romance, both."
Margaery smiled. "Perhaps." She rested her hand against Sansa's thigh. "Perhaps we will be too."
"I don't mean to presume," said Margaery. "There's no question of heirs, so there's no reason for us to be married in that sense if women aren't to your taste, or I'm not to your taste--?"
Sansa opened her mouth to deny it, but bit her lip instead.
"But I should like us to be friends," Margaery continued, smoothing down Sansa's skirts as though that was her sole reason for touching her. "Friends if nothing else."
"Friends, if nothing else," Sansa agreed.
After breaking her fast Sansa prayed in the godswood, and found Margaery Tyrell waiting for her afterwards.
They had taken to spending their mornings together in the gardens. They were not unlike many young couples, betrothed as virtual strangers and trying to get to know one another before their wedding day.
The difference, of course, was that most couples didn't have what felt like most of King's Landing sniggering behind their backs. Sansa tried to hold her head high, and if she didn't know better she might have thought that Margaery didn't notice the whispers and cruel laughter for all the effect it seemed to have on her.
"What did you pray for?" Margaery asked, taking Sansa's arm.
Sansa blushed. "I can't tell you."
Margaery nudged Sansa with her shoulder, and said, "You prayed for a happy marriage, perhaps?" making Sansa laugh.
Their Lannister guards fell into step behind them. It had amused Joffrey to declare that Sansa and Margaery were not to be left alone before the wedding. "After all," he'd said, "it would be a shame if either bride was to lose her virtue so close to the big day."
"Although," he'd added with a confused sneer, "I can't imagine how that's even possible with two girls..."
"Our king lacks imagination," Margaery had whispered later, her breath hot against Sansa's ear. And Sansa had realised two things: Joffrey was jealous, and while she had no idea what bedding Margaery Tyrell might involve, she wasn't against the idea in principal.
Sansa squeezed Margaery's arm and glanced back; the Lannister guardsmen were well out of earshot and looking bored. "I pray for my brother Robb, for the Gods to give him strength and keep him safe." Sansa glanced nervously at Margaery. "You won't tell anyone, will you?"
"Of course I won't. I prayed for Loras before the Blackwater too. And I don't owe Joffrey my loyalty."
"You were supposed to marry him."
"Yes, and if my father had allowed my grandmother to handle the negotiations, instead of tripping over himself to agree with Tywin Lannister's every suggestion, then I might be a queen right now. Instead the Lannisters offer Myrcella for Loras, to pay us off and keep us away from the throne; it's as unkind to Princess Myrcella as it is to Loras."
"I'm sorry," Sansa told her, "that you won't be a queen."
"I may be yours someday; you are a princess of the North, after all."
"I--" Sansa's old armour rose automatically. "I'm not a princess. My brother's not a king. My family are traitors."
Margaery stopped and took Sansa's hands. "I understand why you say these things, but soon you won't have to. This arrangement of ours might be uncommon, and the Lannisters may think it an especially clever joke, but it's legally binding. When I wed you I'll have wed House Stark, and we take marriage alliances seriously in the Reach."
Margaery withdrew her hands with a gentle smile. "We'll speak of it more after the wedding. My grandmother will have to be consulted. I know that you'll love her as I do."
Cersei Lannister was given the job of chaperoning Sansa and Margaery at supper; the queen regent found the joke much less amusing than her son.
Sansa ate sparingly and wished for the evening to be over. Margaery either didn't notice the queen's hostility, or more likely she just didn't care, because she was chatting away about the gowns for the wedding.
"--Green and gold will suit Sansa's complexion, don't you think, Your Grace? And her hair, she has such beautiful hair."
Sansa was flattered, but mostly she wished Margaery would stop bringing her to the queen's attention.
It was late in the evening - late enough that a second pitcher of wine had been called for even though the queen was the only one partaking - and Sansa had all but stopped listening to Margaery and Cersei's barbed conversation until she heard mention of a heart tree.
"I wasn't aware heart trees grew well in the south."
Sansa's head snapped up, and Margaery said, "It's only a sapling right now, but the gardeners at Highgarden can make anything grow. It's my wedding gift to Sansa."
"But surely you realise that the king expects you to live here at court; after all, Lady Sansa is a ward of the crown."
Margaery smiled at the queen; it was a smile with teeth. "And I am not hostage to anyone. The king will not object to me taking my own wife to live in my own castle, surely."
Sansa and Margaery were alone for the walk from the queen regent's solar; Cersei didn't care to have them followed.
"We can really live at Highgarden?"
"Yes, of course," replied Margaery. "Unless you'd prefer to stay?"
Heedless of the fact that they were in a hallway of the Red Keep, and seemingly empty or not the walls had ears, Sansa threw her arms around Margaery.
The embrace lasted a long moment. For the first time Sansa became aware that she was taller than Margaery; if they were to kiss Margaery would have to tilt her head up, and maybe stand on her toes.
Sansa brushed her fingertips along Margaery's jaw, and Margaery whispered in Sansa's ear, "It's true about the heart tree, too. You'll be able to pray for your brother's victory, my princess."
With the wedding only two days away Sansa was increasingly sure that she didn't want her marriage to Margaery to be friends and nothing else. But she was still in the dark as to what might be expected of her at the bedding.
Sansa's education in that regard had been rather heavy on seeing the beauty in her eventual husband, and doing her duty by producing sons, and rather light on anything else.
She had few friends in King's Landing, and the only person she could think of who may know what two girls might do in bed together was Lord Tyrion, but she was appalled by the very idea of asking him for advice as to how best please her betrothed.
The wedding was not nearly so large or elaborate as either Sansa or Margaery may have dreamed of, but it was more solemn than they might have expected.
Perhaps it was the presence of the High Septon, or perhaps it was Ser Loras Tyrell with his hand on the hilt of his sword, daring anyone to laugh at his sister's wedding. Sansa felt Robb's absence fiercely.
Sansa's gown was white with an edging of green and gold vines, Margaery's was pale green with a trim of grey fur as a nod to the Starks. When they came to kiss Margaery did have to tilt her head back; her lips tasted of honey, and Sansa almost didn't care about Joffrey's loudly muttered, "Disgusting!"
The wedding feast was just extravagant enough to avoid further offending the Tyrells. Margaery was dancing with her brother - Ser Loras had already danced with Sansa; looking indefinably sad, somehow - when Lord Tyrion sat down next to her, wine sloshing from his goblet onto the tablecloth.
"Your lady wife looks very beautiful," he said.
"I--" Sansa began. "Yes. She does."
Tyrion regarded Sansa for a long moment. "I hope you'll find some happiness in this marriage, Sansa; I do so enjoy seeing Cersei foiled." He took a long drink of wine. "I'll miss you when you leave for Highgarden."
"Well, of course I will. You're one of the few people in King's Landing not actively wishing for my demise."
Sansa's gaze flicked away from Lord Tyrion to where Shae was standing against the wall. He noticed and asked, "Something wrong?"
"It's just that Shae, my handmaiden, she won't be coming to Highgarden. She says that she's in love with someone in King's Landing." Sansa leaned in towards Tyrion. "She won't tell me who, but I think it must be a knight, because she says he's very brave and clever."
Tyrion smiled. "Doesn't sound like a knight at all, but whoever he is he's a fortunate fellow."
"Will you--" Sansa began awkwardly. "My lord, will you please keep an eye on Shae for me? I worry about her."
"Two eyes, my lady," Tyrion promised.
It was then that Joffrey sent his wine goblet crashing to the floor, and announced that it was time for the bedding.
Sansa was pushed into Margaery's bedchamber as naked as the day she was born. Her body was a mass of tiny hurts; Joffrey and Ser Meryn had not been gentle in stripping her.
She was alone so she wrapped herself in a sheet and sat down on the bed to wait.
Margaery was tumbled through the door still in her underthings, looking utterly unruffled. Of course, her brother had been with her, and that as much as Joffrey's absence would account for her gentler treatment.
"Oh." Margaery took one look at Sansa and crossed to the table, pouring something into a goblet. She pressed the goblet into Sansa's hand. It was water rather than wine, and Sansa drank gratefully..
Margaery brushed a droplet of water from Sansa's lower lip with her thumb. Her lip was slightly puffy from where Joffrey had forced a rough kiss upon her.
"Does it hurt?" Margaery asked gently.
Margaery sat next to Sansa and pressed a soft kiss to her mouth. "Does that hurt?"
Sansa raised her palm to Margaery's cheek. "I don't know. I think I'd need you to do it again."
The second kiss was deeper; Margaery brushed her tongue against Sansa's lip, and Sansa parted her mouth with a sigh. When Margaery pulled back she said, "You don't have to. We're already wed in the eyes of the Seven whatever we do tonight; Joffrey can't keep you here. We could wait a few weeks until we reach Highgarden--"
"No, I want to be married to you in all ways." That was true, and it wasn't only because a part of Sansa still believed that unless the marriage was consummated Joffrey could still come bursting in and say that it had all been a cruel joke, and he was taking his favourite plaything back.
"I want--" Sansa's vocabulary failed her here; all she knew was that she wanted desperately, and it had everything to do with Margaery Tyrell.
Margaery smiled a slow catlike smile; she pushed Sansa back onto the bed, tugging the sheet from her body. Margaery slipped out of her own shift and straddled Sansa's hips.
Sansa's eyes widened. She wanted to touch Maragery everywhere, and that made her afraid; she fisted her hands in the bedclothes instead.
Margaery pulled Sansa's hands free and linked their fingers together. "Women are very complicated, you know, pleasing us takes practice."
"Well." Sansa wet her lips. "I've always been dutiful."
Margaery grinned again, and bent down to kiss Sansa. Their breasts pushed together and Sansa shuddered; she ran her hands up Margaery's back, and buried her fingers in her wife's hair.
This time, Margaery tasted like hope and the possibility of freedom.