The girl was a snake; that much was obvious.
Her skin was white as snow and her hair red as blood, just like her mother’s. Cersei watched her constantly, as the defeated slope of her shoulders deepened and her face grew ever more still and bland.
She watched as the girl glanced at Joffrey – who was sitting right beside her, did the girl think Cersei was blind – and saw how her eyes flashed with hatred. Cersei knew the feeling, but felt no sympathy.
Sansa. Even her name sounded like a story, like something from a song. Cersei stared down at her and hated her, emotionless with practice in revealing nothing to the crowd. Unlike that girl, the fool.
Cersei lifted her goblet and sipped the wine. A heady vintage. She straightened and stared out over her subjects, watched them fest.
Sansa felt the Queen’s gaze on her and looked away. Her fingers knotted underneath the table until her knuckles were white and the knight to her right jostled her, laughing, and she reached up, numb, for the meat on her plate.
Who knew what treasons the girl might sew?
The maid undid the last traces of the gown and Cersei allowed it to slip down her body and pool on the floor. She stepped out of it and reached up for the pins in her hair.
She was a Stark, after all, a cold bitch born in the North, and no amount of time in Kings Landing would sweat that out of her.
Cersei picked her shift up to her knees and slipped under the sheets. She shoved them down, away from her, and reached back, lifting the hair off her neck. A queen might be expected to appear regal and beautiful, as she was, but at time like this – when the air was cloying and still and her layered gowns and heavy golden hair clung to her – she envied the lower-born. But only for an instant.
She turned the problem of the Stark girl over in her mind. Looked at her maid, gathering and folding her clothes.
“Have you brought cool water from the well?”
She glanced up and then away from Cersei, nodded. “Yes, Your Majesty. There is fresh water in your basin, and a fresh cloth.”
Cersei didn’t so much nod in acknowledgement. “Leave me.”
The young woman curtsied and then slipped out, the door closing with a click behind her. Her footsteps made no noise as she hurried away. Cersei forgot her immediately.
Perhaps the Stark girl could be brought to heel. Tamed. Pinned by the claws of a Lannister worthy of the name. Cersei smiled to herself.
She reached out, cupped her hand around the candle, and cast her room into darkness with a single breath.
The maid came to Sansa’s room when the sun was just beginning to shine over the roofs of Kings Landing and dropped into a low curtsey. But when she glanced up, her gaze was bold and disapproving.
“The Queen requests your presence, my lady,” she murmured, the soul of obedience in her tone.
Sansa did not hesitate to reply. “As My Queen commands,” she said. “Allow me to straighten my dress and I will follow.”
The girl had barely nodded before Sansa closed the door on her. She walked to her mirror and looked into it.
Her dress was simple – plain in appearance, but rich in cost. She reached for the pins laid out on her table and tucked them into her hair deftly, lifting it away from her face. Her eyes appeared too wide, and her hair too red.
She allowed herself one moment, a single long breath with her eyes closed, before she turned and went to the door, and followed the Queen’s maid, forced to stride at a most unmannerly pace in order to keep up.
The stupid girl came to Cersei’s room with a sheen upon her brow, nearly gasping for breath. She needn’t have run to come see Cersei, though the enthusiasm (undoubtedly inspired by fear) was heartening.
Cersei sent her usual companion away with a gesture; the girl smoothly bobbed in and out of a curtsy before gliding from the room.
Sansa sank lower, almost bowing, and held the posture. “My Queen,” she said. Her gaze drifted to the floor.
Cersei scowled down at her. Her obedience was not so pleasing to the Queen as it was to Joffrey; Cersei knew the font from which it sprang, and was not fooled by the Stark girl’s pretty words and gestures. She allowed Sansa to remain in her obeisance for just long enough that the girl’s muscles began to tremble, and then brought a smile to her own face, and rose from her seat.
“My dear girl,” she said, and reached out to lift Sansa from her bend. “You need not call me such. Come, we are too close for such formalities.”
Sansa was shorter than her, and when she rose, her gaze sought out Cersei’s, desperate for some kindness. She would not get it here. With an outstretched hand, Cersei guided Sansa over to her table. She settled back down into her seat and looked into her mirror, watching the Stark girl watch her unawares in the glass.
Would Sansa try to kill her, Cersei wondered. If Cersei gave her the opportunity, and the moment, would this girl grip the knife laid by her fruit and plunge it into Cersei’s breast? Or rather, her back?
She watched Sansa for a moment longer, until the girl’s gaze darted up and matched hers. Cersei lifted a comb from the table and held it high.
“My hair,” she commanded, tone firm.
With delight, she took in Sansa’s expression as it slid from surprised, to embarrassed, to offended, and then turned blank again. This was a task for the servants, as well Sansa knew. And yet, as the Queen commanding, she had to obey. She reached out and delicately took the comb.
Her hands were soft on Cersei’s hair, and her fingers trembled was they shifted the strands. Cersei wondered whether it was with fear, or fury.
She smiled at Sansa in the mirror. The prongs of the comb slipped easily through her long hair.
“My dear, you must know that we are friends, and that you can tell me anything.” She paused, allowed her lips to purse, and turned. She placed light fingers on Sansa’s wrist, stilling her movements. “You may even call me ‘My Lady’. How does that sound?”
Sansa’s hair was long and nearly unbound. She had pinned it back, but a few locks tumbled over her shoulders and touched her hands. As she lifted the Queen’s golden hair, the colors mixed; blood among the riches, passion against the greed.
“Of course, My Lady,” she murmured.
The Queen subsided, turning back to her mirror. Sansa could tell by the lines around her eyes and the careful not-smile that touched her face that she was pleased. Sansa looked down once more and moved the comb through the Queen’s long hair.
It was heavy – crafted from silver and bone, intricately wrought. She imagined raising it high and letting it fall. It would hurt the Queen, she knew. Its prongs would cut her pale skin and shatter against the hardness of her skull. The thought made Sansa sick with fear and satisfaction.
She ran the comb through the Queen’s hair once more, then laid it down against her dress. She stepped back and clasped her hands together around the comb.
“Would you like me to continue, Your Majesty?”
“Sansa!” The Queen’s voice was sharp and mocking and Sansa jolted, surprised. “I told you to call me ‘My Lady’.”
Sansa didn’t think any humiliation could be so cruel as having to pretend closeness with the Queen and her family. The prongs of the comb dug into her fingers and she lowered her gaze. She wouldn’t do anything now; she couldn’t.
Sansa would wait, wait until the Queen showed weakness.
“Of course.” Hatred churned within her, but the gaze she cast towards the Queen was full of honest yearning and openness. “My Lady.”