Chapter 1: Man and Wife
Tyrion prevails upon Sansa to visit Ellaria
“It would be politic of you, my lady wife, to accept. Your informal, off-the-record meeting with the Tyrells ladies has been noted.”
“I deemed proper to meet them, to make plain I hold no grudges for the King's marriage.”
“Of course, it was wise of you, and I fully approve of it. Still, Dorne should be treated equally; they are so fussy about the Reach. It will be an unofficial visit as well; no more than a friendly chat amongst you girls.”
“Lady Olenna, our Queen-to-be Margaery and her genteel cousins are all high-born ladies. She is not, nor by birth nor by marriage. She is not even married!”
Against all odds, and everything an only mildly sensible being could conceive, to Sansa Cersei was still the high lady role model, but she had not yet acquired her grand manners.
“My lady, you are too young and pliant, and you would better avoid bad company. If I may remind you of Her Majesty the Queen's most gracious words: 'That Dornish bastard! She is but a whore.' I'm afraid you missed the juiciest part: Dornish.”
Tyrion views on the matter were quite different. He thought of well bred ladies, such as his loving sister, or Lady Catelyn Stark, who seized him with no reason; of her creepy sister Lady Lysa Arryn, of Lady Sansa herself, his icy stern, hostile child wife; then of Tysha, and of Shae.
Oberyn Martell was a most happy man, who could openly choose a whore as his life partner, officially bring his mistress to the royal court, and demand her to be treated like a lady of consequence.
“Sansa, you're a Lannister now, and heiress of the North: up to King Joffrey's wedding, you are, after my sister Cersei, the highest ranking lady in King's Landing. Welcoming his arrival with a small party proved not the brightest idea; there is no further need to offend Dorne. Prince Oberyn is willing to understand the Queen is too busy with the wedding, but anyone of lesser standing than you would be considered a slight to House Martell. We need Dorne to counterbalance and check the Tyrells who already dream they're King's Landing masters. Haven't you seen how the Red Keep is rambling with Highgarden roses? Margaery's cousins are all so similar; I'm going to believe the old wives' tales they propagate by grafting.”
“The Queen justly doesn't want to have anything to do with her, but I'm an expendable chip. As you wish, my lord Tyrion.”
Definitely, Sansa spent way too much time with her good sister and was growing as gorgeous and as bitchy as her. He had already caught occasionally between them the same bitter, sour notes of Robert's and Cersei's marriage and he could foresee his own going down into the drain in the same wondrous way, when a total failure would do. No feasible reason to make things worse than they already were.
Prince Oberyn had certainly some daughters about Sansa's age: he could summon them at the royal court as his wife's companions. It would at least honour and humour, please and appease Dorne, a most needed thing, hopefully loosen the Queen's grip on his wife, and if the Sand Snakes were anything alike their father, some harsh taunts would be a welcome change from the Tyrell girls jeering chuckles and half-pitying smiles, Highgarden courtesy being on him more piercing than Lady Olenna's thorns, with the added bonus of totally pissing off Cersei.
“Stop thinking of yourself as an expendable commodity. You're not; you're a grand lady, and you could play the great game. There must be some Stark steel in you, if you were not broken after betrothing King Joffrey.”
“You mean after His Majesty's betrothal to lady Margaery.” Sansa promptly added, with a blank countenance.
“Of course; lucky the man whose wife's wise words correct his stammering tongue. I'm taking you have your own agenda, and you're just biding you time: you must have had some sound reasons to survive the Red Keep.”
Frail hopes, now shattered, and broken dreams.
“I have no hidden agenda of mine own, my lord.”
“Yours could be not that different from mine. Sooner or later my father will likely remove Cersei from King's Landing – let's say a soft-hearted mother is not fit to teach our king his hard job - and grant her Casterly Rock in compensation for the Iron Throne; anyway, he never had any intention of bestowing it to me. So the North will be our only lot.”
“I thank your lord father for planning our future happiness, but he missed the point the North is an utter wreck now.”
“I'm afraid my lord father never cared much about the Starks' happiness, and less about mine. Right now, troubles up North is precisely what he needs; but when everything is settled, and with the Tyrells' support it will be soon, it could result into a problem, and we are the solution close at hand. To any rational man, Winterfell restored, and not so enemy – even a semi-independent kingdom, Dornish-wise – would be better than the Northern half the Seven Kingdoms disrupted by anarchy, or where the Greyjoys held sway, which would not turn out that different: and my father is anything but an irrational man. Just dance to their tunes, sing their music, and make friends in the meantime.”
“Grin and bear it.”
“Just so; remember that a pawn can be promoted to Queen. I can teach you the great game rules, Sansa, if you let me: I'm a pretty decent cyvasse player.”
Shae was warm, and cheerful, and – a woman; but Sansa could award him something she could not, something he had been yearning for more than love: peer recognition. He would teach her, and she would understand and could learn to acknowledge him for the man he was, not for his money, less for his family. Everybody told his father marriage was doubly blessed with respect and love, and such a blessing could not last long. He would be content with his wife's appreciation only.
Chapter 2: Dressed to kill
A lady donning her armour.
Tyrion entered the room where Shae was dressing up Sansa, with a bundle of official papers and a weary face.
“There is no need for you, my lady Sansa, to look like a frightened little bird. They shall see in you the Queen you represent.”
“I'm no Queen.”
“You could have been.”
Sansa didn't dare to admit to herself. 'I could still. Queen-in-the-North.'
She was arrayed in an ash grey: a two-pile velvet gown, featuring a pomegranate pattern, trimmed with white fur, with tightly fitting sleeves and bodice, encrusted with pearls.
“Stately attire indeed, my lady, of the most exquisite elegance. Maybe a bit too sombre for your age: don't you agree a touch of colour would nicely enliven it? Nothing is brighter than the gold and the vibrant red in our House sigil.”
Too colourless, to grim, too cold: too much Queen-in-the-North.
“My lord husband, I'm afraid gold and red poorly suit my complexion and my hair.”
“I beg your pardon, my lord, but her ladyship is right, such bright colours don't do justice to her delicate beauty. With your permission, a deep garnet would become her better.”
Shae had a rare talent for finery, and Sansa considered her the pearl of her household; she had realized long time ago a qualified handmaid could make the difference between a courtly lady and provincial girl.
“Garnet red – so be it. Shae, open her ladyship's chests; among the scores of marriage presents she never wears, you should find something fitting.”
She sifted through Sansa's wardrobe for a pair of long sleeves, woven with spun pale gold and silver, cut open to the shoulder, to show a dark red moire inner lining. Tyrion nodded, Shae detached the grey sleeves and fastened the new ones.
“You need some jewels now. A Lannister lady doesn't wear her heart on her sleeve, but her riches around her collarbone. Lower my lady wife neckline, Shae; gems should be worn on bare skin.”
Sansa had kept wearing up-throat lace neck, to hide bruises; but it was long time no one hit her.
Tyrion produced a burnished gold heavy chain, alternating dark shining large rubies and magnificent lion heads, with flaming eyes and a frothing mane, like billows breaking on Casterly Rock shore.
“Family jewels; they were my mother's, and my beloved sister the Queen kindly consented to lend them, as a sign of her peculiar affection to you.”
“Only a Lannister House lady should wear it!”
“You never do, Cersei, because it is too old fashioned.”
“If I do not, it is out of respect for my mother. Why should I lend my jewels – my mother's jewels – our family jewels – to your silly girl? To humour a Dornish harlot?”
“You should be grateful to my lady wife; it took me hours to get her to act your part, and the Lannisters' gold will state the Martells our good will.”
“Your wife should be grateful her head is not on a pike.”
“There would be no other lady of our House to receive Ellaria Sand in your stance then.”
“A Lannister lady receiving a Sand whore! Even a scullion would be too much for her.”
Lord Tywin raised his brow.
“Cersei, you're right: only a lady of our House can wear your mother's gems, and that's precisely why your brother Tyrion's wife shall: to remind Dorne the Wolf pup is ours.”
“Now you're dressed like one; and I'd like to see a Queen gaze in your eyes.”
Sansa buried her arms into the sleeves. “I felt naked.”
Tyrion took the mirror from Shae's hand, and tilted it to show his wife's arms, her collarbone, her shoulder. Beating marks had faded.
“Let's show those bawdy Dornish people we're not scared of a few inches of bare skin.”
Tyrion laughed, trying to cheer up Sansa.
“They won't eat you alive. Your graces are so compelling, no man could resist to your will. Less of all Oberyn Martell.”
Sansa sullenly looked down.
“Please don't blush, and don't be afraid; the Small Council will be sitting for hours, and the Prince is there.”
“Why were you back so early then?”
“A dance with stags awaits me.” Tyrion hinted at his paperwork. “While they are engrossed with high-flown diplomatic affairs, someone must do the dirty job - drawing coins out of smallfolk purses.”
“It's time for you to go, milady; your escort is here.”
Tyrion went up to his solar. Stags would wait; he called for Shae instead.