They called Sansa the young queen; if anyone called Cersei the old queen they didn't do so where Cersei might hear, not if they wanted to keep their tongues.
No one survived long in King Joffrey's court without learning to look without seeing, to know without speaking, and so if anyone did notice that the young queen spent more nights in the bed of the king's mother than her husband's then they didn't talk of it.
If they did say anything, they might have said that with the nights growing so long and cold it's understandable for highborn ladies to keep their bedmates close.
Nobody said that winter is coming; the Stark words are never spoken in Lannister-ruled King's Landing.
The first time it happened Sansa had been married to Joffrey for little over a year.
"You do know how little princes and princesses are made, don't you, Sansa?" said Cersei, her palm pressed almost painfully against the flat of Sansa's stomach.
"Or," said Cersei, slipping her hand inside Sansa's gown, "would you like me to show you?"
Sansa knew how little princes and princesses were made. And Joffrey understood the theory well enough, it was just that he found himself incapable of performing the act.
Her lord husband screamed, raged, blamed Sansa: if he'd been allowed to pick his own wife this wouldn't be happening, Sansa must have put a spell on him, all Starks were wargs, everyone knew that, if Sansa were a real woman, if she weren't so ugly...
Then he threatened to order his Kingsguard to rape her.
"How will you do that," Sansa spat, "without telling them you couldn't manage?"
Joffrey did not have her raped, but the bruises he left her with did not begin to fade for a fortnight.
When Cersei saw the bruises her face froze and she gripped Sansa's wrist so hard it hurt, her fingernails digging into Sansa's bruised skin, but she said, "Oh, sweetling," and from that day on Sansa spent more nights with Cersei than with Joffrey.
And on the rare occasions when Joffrey visited her and couldn't perform he still screamed and raged and smashed the furnishings, but he never struck her, or ordered anybody else to harm her.
Sansa's courtesy demanded that she at least attempt to thank Cersei for her intervention. Cersei refused to speak of it and banished Sansa back to Joff's tender mercies for a week.
Whatever her reasons, Cersei would protect Sansa from the worst of her son's excesses, but she did not wish to know the details of them.
After almost a decade of marriage, the lack of a royal heir had become just another thing that was never spoken of.
King Joffrey had a brother, a sister, cousins; there would be another clutch of lion cubs soon enough. There were always more lions, Sansa had found.
For all the meaningful looks and even more meaningful silences that made up life at King's Landing, rumours from across the narrow sea flourished.
The last Targaryen, returning from exile to reclaim her father's throne and lay waste to the usurpers.
Cersei dismissed the threat out of hand. "One little dragon," she said, "and a she-dragon at that."
For someone who so resented being excluded from the halls of power on account of her sex, Sansa had noticed that Cersei did not have a very high opinion of other women.
The last Targaryen landed on the shores of Westeros, styling herself Daenerys Stormborn, the First of her Name.
Sansa didn't believe anything would come of it, not really. Her faith had been tested sorely over the years. Surely, she'd once believed, the Seven Gods of her mother wouldn't let a man such as Joffrey sit upon the Iron Throne. Surely her brother Robb would come riding into King's Landing, direwolf at his side, and make her a gift of Joffrey's head. Surely old King Robert's brothers wouldn't let the lion of Lannister fly over King's Landing in place of the Baratheon crowned stag for long.
The dragon queen would fail. They all failed.
Then again, if the rumours were to believed, Daenerys had dragons.
Dorne declared for Queen Daenerys. Joffrey's sister Myrcella was married to a Dornish princeling and Cersei was furious.
Sansa was sitting up in bed, the bedclothes rumpled on her lap. "Cersei come to bed, please."
"How could she? She is my own daughter, she is Joff's own sister."
"And Prince Trystane is her husband, she has no choice but to take his part."
Cersei crossed to the bed and pushed Sansa back against the pillows. "Something you would do well to remember, sweetling," she said, pushing Sansa's nightgown aside.
Cersei was still sleeping when Sansa left the bedchamber.
"Sansa! I mean, Your Grace!" Sansa turned to see Prince Tommen, Joffrey's younger brother, approaching her.
Before he'd left to marry a Tyrell girl in an attempt to bind Highgarden to the Lannisters, Tommen had been her only true friend in King's Landing. He did not have the golden beauty of his siblings and mother, his hair was more straw than spun gold, and puppy fat still clung to his face, and Sansa was delighted to see him.
"I did not know you were visiting."
He drew her into an alcove and said, "Myrcella has been writing to me, she wants me to talk to Margaery and her family about supporting the Targaryen queen."
Sansa stayed quiet and Tommen said, "I know Joff's my brother, but he used to torment Myrcella and I as children, he's--"
"I know what Joffrey is, Tommen."
Tommen squeezed Sansa's hand. "Of course you do, I'm sorry. What should I do about Myrcella? Should I tell my mother?"
"No, leave it to me," said Sansa. "I'll tell Cersei."
Tommen looked relieved and Sansa didn't tell Cersei.
"Tommen," Sansa said as the young prince prepared to ride back to his bride, "what did Myrcella say in her letters, about Daenerys?"
"She said that she'll make a better king than our brother ever would."
Just because Joffrey no longer struck Sansa didn't mean that he wasn't still cruel to her.
"She'd kill you too," he said when he noticed how keenly she listened for news of the dragon queen. "She'd probably feed you to a dragon. Or give you to her Dothraki as a bed warmer, that's all you're good for."
Joffrey was wrong. The Lannisters could not hold the North by strength of arms alone; Cersei knew that even if Joff did not. Their claim on the North was through Sansa, through her Stark name and Stark blood.
Dragons or not, Daenerys would need a similar hold over the North. It struck Sansa as a fair deal, Winterfell and the North for her life and Joff's death.
One of Sansa's new lady companions was the daughter of a Dornish nobleman loyal to the Lannisters. She and her father had fled their homelands, but she had been to Sunspear and seen the dragon queen in the flesh.
"What does she look like?" Sansa asked, trying not to sound too interested.
"She's beautiful. And she's terrible."
Sansa tried to imagine Daenerys' face, but in her mind it keeps morphing into Cersei's, both beautiful and terrible.
The Lannisters broke and ran, as though they'd be safe from the dragons underneath Casterly Rock. Sansa doubted that it would be possible to bury themselves that deeply.
"Leave her, she's not important," said Joffrey, ever Sansa's loving husband.
Cersei grabbed Sansa's wrist, hard enough to hurt, a familiar pain. "They'll kill you."
Sansa pulled away. "Maybe, maybe not. You should go."
Sansa wondered if she should await Daenerys on the Iron Throne, as the Kingslayer had once met her father.
No, perhaps not.
She chose the chair just behind and slightly to one side of the throne, Cersei's chosen seat. She smoothed down her gown and settled in to wait.
When the doors opened Queen Daenerys had only two guards with her; she must have known that the Lannisters had fled before her advance. If she was surprised by Sansa's presence she didn't show it.
The queen was beautiful. Sansa could see how she might also be terrible, but after lying with lions for ten years Sansa did not frighten easily. She stood and met Daenerys halfway between the throne and the door. Two leather-clad guards armed with whips and cruelly curved blades stepped between them.
"Let her approach," the dragon queen ordered.
"I said let her approach." She looked Sansa over. "You're the Lannister queen. One of them, anyway."
"No, Your Grace. I am Sansa Stark of Winterfell come to swear fealty to my true queen."
Daenerys' lips quirked up at that. "Then please, Lady Stark, do so."
Sansa fell to her knees, took Daenerys' hand and kissed her fingers. "My queen."
My queen, my queen, my queen.