“You do realise you don’t have to marry,” Jon says, sitting back in his chair. “And the Gods know I would never ask it of you.”
“I know,” she answers calmly, her hands folded in her lap. “But sooner or later, this war will reach an end. When we win it – and I am confident we will, eventually – the country will need to be rebuilt. And if I am married, I and my husband will be able to help you and Daenerys rule.” Jon raises his eyebrows at that.
“Who says there’s a me and Daenerys?”
“Oh please,” Sansa says, waving a dismissive hand. “It’s obvious. Blindingly so, and not just to Bran, either. You know that unmarried; I will be a target for any social-climbing minor lord who wants Winterfell. More than that, I will not be taken seriously.”
“I don’t see Arya getting married,” Jon counters, knowing he’s lost the argument when Sansa snorts.
“Arya is different. Nobody is going to argue with a trained assassin, are they? But I am not a trained assassin, I never learnt to wield a shield or swing a sword. My skills lie elsewhere, in the lessons I learnt from Cersei Lannister, Margaery and Olenna Tyrell, and from our mother. I am a diplomat, not a warrior, and those skills are best deployed with a husband who knows that game equally well.”
“Who do you propose?”
“Tyrion Lannister,” Sansa says, utterly calmly. Jon sits back in his chair, but the explosion she had confidently expected from him doesn’t come. Instead, he asks her a question.
“Why?” Sansa smoothes her dress down over her knees before she answers.
“Firstly, it would a good, diplomatic match. The war between the Lannisters and the Starks has been almost a vicious as the War of the Five Kings. The union between our houses that we could bring about through marriage would go a long way to repairing that rift and uniting the armies. Secondly, he is clever, both politically and in matters of the world – he would be a good match in that respect as we could unite our minds and rule sanely. Thirdly, because he is a good man. He asked for the lives of Dickon and Randall Tarly, he reigns in some of the – wilder impulses of the Dragon Queen. Fourth, he is a skilled and formidable diplomat. He knows how to play to people’s impulses and convince them of the best and wisest way. And finally because I know he would be very kind to me.”
“You’ve put some thought into this.”
“Of course,” she answers. “Oh, and one more reason – who else is there? Robyn Arryn, a childish brat? Samwell Tarly, the man in love with the Wildling? One of the Dothraki? Jaime Lannister? Theon, Gods bless him? No, he is the only choice, and mercifully he is a good one.”
“I see your points,” Jon says slowly, and Sansa knows she’s won. “Will I propose to him, or shall you do that yourself?”
“I am quite capable of carrying my own proposals. We’ll need a ceremony, of course. I know that technically, we were married before, but as I believe he told you himself it was a sham.” Jon flushes.
“He mentioned it,” he mutters. “Alright. You go and propose and I’ll ask the Maester to prepare a ceremony. It’ll be quick and quiet, though – we can hardly provide a feast.”
“That is more than enough,” Sansa says. “We had the feast when we were married the first time and honestly it is not an experience I want to repeat.” She stands, shaking out her skirt carefully. Jon lets her get as far as the door before he speaks.
“Sansa.” She pauses, one hand on the handle, turning back to him at once. “You’re incredible.” It’s all he says, and in it she reads what he cannot find the words for – that he loves her, that he’s grateful and he understands.
She knocks briefly at the door of the chamber they gave him. It’s Rickon’s old room, and even seeing the door gives her a little pang. Poor dear Rickon. He answers almost at once, before she can gather herself, and she clenches her fist around the ring as she looks at him.
“Lady Sansa. Has the Queen sent for me?”
“No. I am here on a personal matter. May I come in?” He looks surprised at that, and stands back to allow her in. He gestures at the chair beside the fire, but she chooses the stool instead. He doesn’t question it, taking the chair for himself, and looking at her.
“How may I be of service to you?” he asks, and she’s relieved to note that despite the wine on his table, he’s not slurring his words or unfocused. His gaze is sharp and clear in the firelight. She draws up her knees and clasps her hands around them, back straight despite the lack of support.
“I’ve come to ask you a question,” she answers calmly. “And it may be of some surprise to you.”
“Lady Sansa, I don’t think anything could surprise me anymore.”
“Very well. I have come to ask if you will accept my hand in marriage.” He stares at her.
“Once more, I am proven wrong. You ask me if I will marry you?”
“Yes, I do.” She’s utterly calm. There’s no lie or trick in her face, no matter how hard he looks for one. She reaches out, and takes his hand in hers, unfolding his fingers to lay something in his palm. He looks down, and sees the ring he gave her. Heavy gold, ruby-set and entirely unlike her. “I would be your wife again, and this time I will be it in more than just name.” He sits back in his chair and considers her.
“Why?” he asks. She smiles.
“Jon asked me exactly the same thing. But, if you don’t mind, I will give you a slightly different answer. I listed the reasons for him. For you, I will tell you this: I understand that by marrying, I will help the war a lot more than I could as a single woman. Already there are whispers among the Northern Lords about following an unmarried woman. And if I am to marry, I want to marry a man I know, not a stranger. I want to marry a kind man, a good man, and you, Tyrion, are the choice I have made. Note: my choice. I could have written to Robyn Arryn, or asked Samwell Tarly. I could have asked the Dragon Queen to arrange a marriage to one of her bloodriders. But I wanted you.”
“You wanted me.”
“Yes, and not just for diplomatic reasons. I have come to care for you – deeply. I don’t go so far as to say love, as I don’t go so far as to presume you love me. But I do believe you care for me. And I think that that is as good a start as any to a marriage of equals.” He doesn’t know what to say and she fears for a moment that his silence means he will say no.
“You pay me a great compliment, Lady Sansa.”
“I have presumed,” she says, quietly. “I am sorry. You have a right to say no, of course, and I would understand.”
“Sansa,” he says, and she pauses in the act of preparing to stand and leave with her dignity still reasonably intact. “I do not say no. I am just – surprised. You are right when you say you think I care for you. I always did. How could I not? You are brave, clever, dignified and kind. You are beautiful.” Sansa feels the blush sweep over her cheeks, and he smiles to see it. “But I also know you learnt a thing or two from my sister. What do you get from this?” She straightens her shoulders.
“Control. Control over my own fate, instead of watching men decide it for me. Standing, of course, and the stability of the country for the future – a Stark/Lannister marriage will help Jon and Daenerys establish a stable rule. Property of my own – married, I can inherit Winterfell, which once Jon and Daenery’s take the Iron Throne, will be mine. And married, you can claim Casterly Rock, whereas your unmarried sister cannot and your brother as a Kingsguard may not claim.” She looks at Tyrion then, and he’s surprised by the tenderness in her gaze. “And by marrying you, I gain a husband who I know will never hurt me, who will care for me – and who, in time, may grow to love me, and I may grow to love him.”
“Then I accept,” Tyrion says, and picks up the ring. “I would be honoured to be your husband.”
She’d told Jon at once, and a week later, she was sitting in a wedding dress again. But it isn’t the white she wore to marry Ramsey in the Godswood, she’d burnt that dress as soon as she could, unable to bear looking at it. She made this herself, a pale grey that sweeps the floor in a short train and plunges just a little at the neck. There’s a knock at the door of her chamber, and when she calls a come in, Arya strolls inside. She’s carrying something in her arms and smiles at her sister.
“I brought your cloak,” she says, unfurling it. Sansa gasps, because she’s never seen this cloak before. It’s the same pale grey as her dress, trimmed with black fur – Stark colours for a Stark bride. The leather straps of it are stamped with a wolf on one side, a lion on the other.
“Where did you get this?” she demands, and Arya smiles.
“Don’t worry, I didn’t make it. I got the fur and stole the excess material from your dress – Missandei put it together for me. Gendry and I made the leather straps, though. Or, well, I cut them out, he embossed them.” Sansa feels a small lump in her throat, and has to swallow once or twice.
“It’s beautiful. Thank you.” Arya shrugs, looking rather discomfited at the display of emotion.
“It’s nothing,” she mutters. “Are you ready?” Sansa doesn’t answer right away, choosing instead to settle the cloak carefully around her shoulders and brush it out. “It’s not too late,” her sister says gently, and Sansa’s head jerks up in surprise and confusion.
“What’s not too late?”
“To back out,” Arya clarifies. “I can – remove him.”
“No, Arya. I’m not backing out. This just brings back some things I would rather forget.” Arya’s hand suddenly tightens around Needle. “There’s no need for that, and anyone everyone responsible for it is dead now.”
“I would have made Littlefinger suffer, had I known.” Once, Sansa thinks that that might have given her pause, made her shudder a little. It’s a mark of how much she’s been through that she smiles instead.
“I know. Thank you, Arya.”
“Are you ready?” Arya asks, softly.
“Yes,” Sansa says decisively, brushing out her skirt and folding her hands in front of her. “I’m ready.” Arya nods and walks towards the door, before she turns and rushes back to her sister. Before Sansa has time to process this, Arya has bestowed a fierce hug on her.
“You look beautiful,” she mutters. She’s gone before Sansa can speak again, leaving her to smile softly at the open door.
The ceremony is held in the Hall at Winterfell, with only a handful of guests: just her family, the Dragon Queen, Gendry, Davos, the Hound and Brienne. Jon is waiting for her outside the doors of the Hall, as her closest male kin. She smiles at him and he smiles back.
“Cloak came out well,” he says, brushing a hand over the fur collar. “You look beautiful.”
“Thank you,” she says, catching his hand and squeezing it. “I’m glad it’s you who is giving me away.”
“I’m honoured to do it,” he says, slightly thickly. “Ready, sister?”
“Ready, brother.” He nods to the guards, who push the doors open and step back to let them in. From among the Unsullied, Jon has managed to find trumpeters to play her down the aisle formed by benches. Tyrion is waiting for her on the slight dais on the other end of the Hall; seemingly both miles away and insanely close. He’s carrying a red and gold cloak that someone either found or made, and she remembers how this happened before, in the great Sept of Baelor, with Joffrey’s cruel face and vile actions spoiling what should have been her dream day. For all the lack of grandeur and ceremony, Sansa prefers this intimacy. Jon walks her up the aisle, holding her hand on his elbow, his rough palms gentle against her fingers. The Maester combines the Faith of the Seven ceremony with the ceremony of the Old Gods, and it is short and simple. Jon speaks for her, identifying himself and her, and Tyrion speaks for himself. She turns to face Jon, who removes her black and grey cloak and folds it neatly over his arm. He presses a warm kiss to her cheek, and steps back to join Arya and Bran in the front row. Sansa turns to Tyrion now, and sinks into a curtsey.
“Sansa Stark, do you accept this man, Tyrion Lannister, as your husband?”
“I take this man,” she answers, smiling at Tyrion. They do not kneel, instead the Maester turns to Tyrion.
“Tyrion Lannister, do you accept this woman, Sansa Stark, as your wife?” Sansa blinks, because that is part of neither ceremony, but Tyrion is already answering.
“I take you as my lady and my wife.” He climbs onto the stool, and when he meets her eyes, she knows that he is remembering, as she is, that when they did this before, Joffrey had removed it and forced her to her knees. He unfolds the red and gold cloak and on an impulse, she kneels again, although she doesn’t need to. He wraps his family colours about her shoulders, climbs down from his stool, and kneels himself, joining hands with her as he does. Both bow their heads, and Sansa whispers her own prayer to the Old Gods, imploring them to understand why she has had her wedding here, and not in the Godswood before the Heart Tree. She doesn’t know what it is that Tyrion prays for, or if he prays at all, but she does. He waits for her to rise before he does, and the Maester smiles at them.
“I declare you man and wife, one flesh, one heart, one soul, now and forever.” Tyrion turns them, taking her hand again at once, and she steps down from the dais as his wife again.
They don’t have a feast, just a small dinner. Only her brothers and her sister come, and Tyrion has obviously invited Varys and Daenerys, so they are there too. Arya dances with Jon once, and then flatly refuses to do so again, sitting at the table with a mug of ale and a small smile. Jon dances with her, and he’s terrible at it, but it makes her laugh and Tyrion smiles to see her happiness. Varys declines to dance at all, sitting with her new husband and watching her instead. Even that does not last long, and Tyrion turns to her.
“Shall we retire, my Lady?” he asks gently, and she nods. While this has been beautiful, the memories it’s all stirred up have worn her out, and she wants nothing more than to crawl into bed and feel the furs and blankets surround her. She turns to Arya as the closest, but would have turned to her even if she’d been on the other side of the room.
“We’re going to bed,” she says, and Arya stands at once.
“I’ll take you,” she says. “Don’t know a damn thing about how we’re meant to do this, though – shall I announce it?”
“Gods, no you should not,” Sansa says empathetically, and Arya grins. “Just walk me up there. Tyrion, will you come too?” He shakes his head.
“I’ll give you and your sister a few moments,” he says. “Varys will walk with me, no doubt. And I mustn’t deprive your brother the chance to threaten me away from your presence.” Sansa laughs aloud at that, and follows Arya from the Hall.
Winterfell is not silent – it’s far too full for that – but it’s quiet in the upper halls and the loudest sound is the rustle of Needle against Arya’s quilted tunic-coat. They reach the Lord’s chamber, and Arya hesitates.
“Do I come in with you?”
“If you like,” Sansa says, smiling. She opens the door and goes in, shedding the cloak and laying it carefully over a chair as Arya perches on the end of the bed. She looks distinctly uncomfortable, and Sansa sighs. She reaches out for her sister.
“What’s bothering you?” Arya makes a vague gesture.
“Marriage, I suppose. It seems – strange.”
“You always dreamed of it. You wanted to be a bride when we were babes, playing at house and fighting. Now here you are, on your wedding day, and you are so calm.”
“This is a husband of my choosing,” Sansa says, slowly. “A good man, who will be kind and love me. So yes, I am calm.”
“You’ll be a lady of the castle.”
“Everything you wanted.” Sansa looks at her sister curiously.
“Do you not have what you wanted?” Arya starts, pausing in the act of fiddling with the furs covering the great bed.
“I do, I think. I learnt to fight, to wield sword and bear shield, to defend myself and avenge those who have done me wrong. I have destroyed the expectation that I too would marry a lord and rule a castle.”
“Arya,” Sansa says, before pausing to consider her words carefully. “Do you wish to marry?” She expected a vehement denial, a laugh even, perhaps even for her sister to mock. She did not expect a furious blush and Arya’s eyes to drop to the floor.
“I – am no longer certain.” Sansa sits down beside her sister, and slips an arm around her shoulders.
“The blacksmith,” she says, smiling. “You are unique, Arya, and it is not a surprise that in your affections you are as unique as your lifestyle choices. You can marry and not be a castle lady. I don’t think Gendry would want that from you anyway. I think that he would want you – wild and free, soaring like a raven on the wind. You can marry and be a warrior.”
“Yes,” Arya says, comprehension dawning. “Suppose so.” She stands suddenly, and grins at her sister. “That’s given me things to muse on. Can I do anything for you? Do you have to get into a nightgown or anything?”
“I think the traditional bedding ceremony says I should have been undressed on the way up here.”
“That’s vile,” Arya announces, looking appalled. Sansa laughs, although once upon a time that suggestion filled her with horror.
“It is,” she agrees. “But this isn’t tradition, is it? I’ll get into that nightgown, I think.” Arya has to poke around for a while to find one, and turns her back while her sister changes. When she’s ready, Sansa pulls back the covers and finds that someone has tucked a warming pan into the bed and the sheets are cosy. Arya removes it carefully and then the knock at the door comes. She glances towards it, then back at Sansa, who is swinging Tyrion’s cloak back over her shoulders.
“Are you ready?”
“Yes,” Sansa says, sitting down in a chair in front of the fire. Arya smiles, and goes to the door, throwing it open to reveal Tyrion still fully dressed. She fixes him with a cool glare.
“Jon might prefer to wait until he has you alone before he threatens you, but I have no such restrictions,” Arya announces. “If I hear a word from my sister that you’ve made her unhappy, or hurt her, I’ll make Joffrey’s death look like a merciful end.” Tyrion bows to her, taking her entirely seriously.
“I would expect nothing less, Arya. May I go in?”
“Don’t ask me,” she answers, cheerful now. “Sansa?” She can’t help the smile.
“Let him in, Arya, and stop posturing. I think you have someone to find, don’t you?” Arya takes the hint and walks past Tyrion, letting him in. He starts a little to see her attire but doesn’t question it. He just joins her by the fire, and accepts the wine she passes him.
They are silent together for a few moments, content to watch the flames crackle and dance. From outside come the shouts of the Dothraki, from their encampment outside the castle walls. It’s Sansa who speaks, turning to her husband with a smile.
“Shall we retire?” Tyrion looks at her levelly.
“I told you once I would not share your bed until you wanted me to,” he says, quietly. “I meant it then, and I mean it now.” Sansa blinks in surprise.
“I told you that I meant to be your wife in more than name, and I meant it.”
“My Lady, I know that I am not what you imagined in a husband –“
“But you are,” she interrupts, leaning forward now. “You are a brave warrior, a noble Lord, a good, kind man. You are what I wanted in a husband.”
“My Lady –“
“Sansa,” she interrupts again. “Call me Sansa.”
“Sansa,” he breathes. She sighs, seeing fully that he will not take only her word for it. She stands, undoing his cloak’s catches from her shoulders and putting it aside. Even here, she’s careful not to crumple it. She unlaces the fastenings of her nightgown, and drops it to the floor to pool around her feet. “Gods,” he chokes. Sansa can see the indecision in his eyes, in the way his hand tightens on the stem of his wine glass.
“Husband,” she says, her voice firm and with no trace of fear or reluctance. “I want you to share my bed.” She sees the second his resolve snaps.
“Lie down,” he orders, his voice a rasp. She goes to the bed, abandoning her nightgown, anddespite the cold, she does not gather the bedclothes around herself.
His fingers fumble on the fastenings of his clothes and belt and boots, but he manages to undress himself after a fashion. She recognises nerves, and when he climbs onto the bed, she pulls him to her instead of waiting for him to come to her. She is the one to kiss him, his lips a little rough under hers. He urges her back to her pillows, and he kneels beside her, his hand running down the side of her torso, until she takes his hand in hers and places it gently on her breast.
His breath hitches, she hears it catch, and for a moment she fears he doesn’t find her attractive. But when he begins to touch her, with hands and mouth, that doubt is dispelled. She feels herself melting into her pillows as he explores her in a slow, easy way, hands tracing the curve of her waist, her stomach, her breasts, her neck and face. She feels his gentle kisses, opening her mouth for him willingly, her hands tentatively finding his hardness. He grunts and she freezes.
“Have I hurt you?” she asks, because never has she touched a man like this.
“Gods blood, no, sweet lady.” Encouraged, she strokes him gently, her hand exploring the length and warmth of him, learning where makes him grunt and gasp, and how to touch him to make him jump in her hand. He knocks her hand away gently, pressing her thighs gently until her legs part. He kneels between her parted legs and bends his head, pressing a kiss to her trembling thigh.
She’s unclear really, of what it is he does, but she knows it makes her drunk with pleasure. She knows it feels transcendently wonderful, as if she’s wrapped in smoke and dizzy with it too. He urges her to slide up her pillows a little more, stacking them behind her to prop her torso up, and he comes closer. She trembles when she feels the hardness of his cock lay against her centre, and he touches her face with a cautious hand.
“Do you consent, Sansa?” he asks, and she knows that if she said no, if she told him she’d changed her mind, he’d withdraw at once and end it. That knowledge makes her feel safer than she’s felt in many years and she takes his hand and presses a kiss onto his palm.
“I consent. I absolutely and freely consent.” He slides inside her and hisses a breath and she cries out with the intensity of the feeling. He makes love to her, there is no other description. He loves her until she’s nearly sobbing with the need and then he touches her somewhere and she explodes.
It takes her some time to come back down from the euphoric high and when she does, he is lying beside her and breathing heavily. She rolls to face him and he smiles at her, eyes heavy with sleep. As she calms, she feels the weariness herself, the heavy feeling settling on her limbs. He sits up to yank the covers up, covering them both, and she collects her wits enough to redistribute the pillows.
They do not sleep in each other’s arms, but as she’s sinking into sleep, she feels his hand reach out for hers, and hears him whisper her name. She smiles sleepily even as sleep claims her completely, and her last thought is that this marriage will be a good marriage, and that he will be a good husband.