They'd bound her wolf with Lannister gold.
That was the first thing Tyrion had thought when he made it King's Landing to see what had become of Sansa Stark. They'd bound her wolf beneath her skin. He hadn't known that was possible, though his father had intimated as much at the army camp. Tywin Lannister's innovation, of course. He'd been making ready for war with any and all enemies for decades now. He'd found a way to bind the old magic of the North with Lannister goldsong.
They'd put a necklace around her throat, ornate and red-gold and cumbersome. A necklace humming with his father's power and sealed shut by his sister's, Cersei's goldsong sealing the last link and trapping the wolf within her. He could feel the lividness of it, the old magic roiling in the grip of his family's power, the wolf writhing and clawing behind her eyes.
It turned his stomach. He could only imagine it felt a thousand times worse for her. The thing lay around her neck like a leash, and it sickened him.
It wasn't meant to happen like this. He'd seen the wolf-lords now. He'd felt the distant howl of snow and wind and wild magic around Winterfell. He'd seen the wolf pups, Sansa's brothers and sister, playing together in the shelter of their fortress. He'd seen Jon Snow's wolf-eyes on the Wall, felt the layers of ancient magic around Robb Stark in Winterfell's great hall. Magic like that wasn't meant to be bound this way. It wasn't meant to be twisted and locked away and preyed upon by sneering lions.
There was nothing he could do about it, however. The capital couldn't have a wolf running loose while her brother's armies threatened the south. Tyrion had only briefly seen the wolf-lords at war, but he'd seen enough to know that even one of them could do a significant amount of damage if let loose. And they had seen Sansa's wolf. They'd made sure to bind her before ever they slew her father, Cersei had at least had that much sense, but apparently not even goldsong could subdue the North completely. Sansa's wolf emerged once a moon, despite all Lannister power to the contrary.
Joffrey had told him about it. Gleefully, a wild, fierce light in his eyes as he talked about the monster his bride-to-be became, the savage beast that they locked in a stone cell every moon for the safety of those around her. He talked of her howls and snarls in the confines of her prison, the claw marks they'd found scored into stone walls. He called her a collared monster, and spoke with cocksure viciousness of breaking her and taming her to his will. One day, he promised darkly, she would crawl on her belly for him in either form, and offer her husband and master all the worship that was his due.
Sansa hadn't replied to that. Tyrion had been watching her, side-eyed, all throughout Joffrey's little speech. She kept her head down, mild and meek, to all appearances already broken. But her wolf had snarled behind her eyes. The monster Joffrey so proudly planned to break. It surged upwards against the confines of the collar, and even Joffrey had faltered briefly in the face of it.
All while Robb Stark, the young wolf, marched ever southwards to avenge his father's death.
Tyrion should have known then what the little monster had planned. If there was one thing Joffrey hated, it was to be seen to be afraid. Sansa had challenged him. She hadn't meant to. Tyrion wasn't sure how much control she had left over her wolf, if any, through the choking confines of the goldsong around her neck. He didn't think she'd meant to do it. She strove to seem tamed and sweet, for survival's sake. But something in her had made Joffrey flinch, and all of them should have known that Joffrey would never stand for that.
He didn't face her in her wolf form, of course. No matter his pretenses to the contrary, Tyrion's nephew was a coward at the end of the day. He didn't armour himself and walk into that stone cell to face his fear. Oh no. He'd set to beating the fight out of her human form instead.
Tyrion had only barely heard of it in time. Joffrey had known to try and keep him away. Or Cersei had. One or other of them, someone had conspired to keep him busy and away from the throne room that day. Maybe he'd been too obvious about his disgust when he'd first seen the necklace around Sansa's neck. Maybe he'd failed to seem properly loyal and admiring in the face of his sister's age-old suspicions.
Or maybe Joffrey was, just a little bit, afraid of Tyrion too. No one else stood up to him these days. He was king. The reins on his viciousness grew more lax by the day. Maybe Joffrey just hadn't wanted the only person in the kingdom who'd call him an idiot to his face to spoil his day.
Either way, the beating was well underway by the time Tyrion made the throne room. They'd stripped the wolf-maid naked before the court, the red-gold of that hideous collar gleaming around her neck. Joffrey's kingsguard, sycophants to a man, had surrounded her where she stood trembling and weeping before the throne. The king himself held a crossbow negligently in one arm, preening like the triumphant hunter he'd never been in his life, like the father who'd never been his. Mocking her while his kingsguard beat her bloody for all to see.
It hadn't been wise, what Tyrion had done then. He'd known it, vaguely, even at the time. But red had flooded his vision, raw fury clawing up his throat, and he'd stormed the length of the hall before he'd really been conscious of it. His fury had been such that even his squat stature apparently hadn't dented it. The uneasy laughter of the court had trailed off, and left him staring at his nephew in the midst of ringing silence.
He couldn't even remember what he'd said. Not clearly. He only remembered that he'd said it viciously, that he'd snapped out his reprimand for the entire court to hear, and that Joffrey's expression had curdled like sour milk in the face of it.
So, really, at the end of it, Tyrion shouldn't be surprised that he'd ended up here. He should have known, had known, right at that moment, that he'd pushed the fragile rein on Joffrey's hatred too far. The position of acting Hand wasn't near enough to stop him. The fact that Tyrion was his uncle definitely wasn't either. He should have known right then and there that Joffrey was going to have him killed for it, before Tywin Lannister might come back and have a hope of stopping him.
Not that Tyrion's father would have, necessarily. Not that he'd in any way have tried to keep Tyrion alive. But he might have told Joffrey not to be so fucking stupid about killing him.
Tyrion tipped his head back against the stone wall of the cell, and reached up gingerly to probe the cut dripping blood down the side of his face. It wasn't bad, he thought. The knot on his skull under it was spectacular, but the cut wasn't too bad. The trickle of blood had already slowed to mostly nothing. That wasn't the problem
The problem was that the moon would rise shortly, and Sansa's wolf would emerge into a cell already smelling of blood.
"I'm sorry, my lord," she said miserably, from her position huddled into a ball as far from him as humanly possible. She'd curled up in the clear opposite corner of the cell, her arms wrapped tight around her knees, her chin digging a gouge into her forearm. If she'd backed away any farther she'd have merged herself with the cell wall. "I'm so sorry. I can't control her anymore. Not with the necklace. It hurts her. I'm so sorry. I don't know if I can stop her."
'Her', he thought absently. As though the wolf were another being. He wondered absently if it was. If the wolves were alien intelligences, born from magic, that took over the wolf-lords from time to time.
He didn't think so, though. Not from what he'd seen. He thought it was only his family's interference, the goldsong roped around her neck, that was causing this divide.
"I'm sorry too," he said finally. Tiredly, letting his bloodied hand drop down and curl uselessly in his lap. "You deserve better than to be my idiot nephew's ill-thought weapon of vengeance. Honestly, how is he planning to explain this? How many people accidentally feed their uncles to a werewolf? Why couldn't he just have gone with a poisoning, like a good, old-fashioned kinslayer?"
It actually startled a laugh from her, a harsh, guilty bark of it. Tyrion found himself oddly pleased by that. He hadn't known she still remembered how to laugh.
Not that she had much reason.
"Gods, don't joke of it," she whispered desperately. "He means for me to kill you. He means to prove me the beast he always said I was, and punish you in the process. He wants to come in here in the morning and find I've torn you apart."
Tyrion grimaced harshly. Yes. He'd been trying not to think about that, thank you. He could see those fabled claw marks of Joffrey's now. They truly were scored into the stone. Sansa's wolf must be a truly fearsome thing when woken, and he had a suspicion that it would only be fiercer still when greeted with Lannister blood. He knew he reeked of goldsong as much as any of them. He stank of the magic that had caged it, that had warped it and twisted it into this tortured, monthly thing. He didn't imagine it would look very kindly on him for that.
But there was nothing to be done about it now. They'd already laid their fates, for better or for worse. That cell door was closed, and this close to the moon no one was coming down to rescue him no matter how terribly he screamed.
She didn't need to hear that, though. She'd been tortured enough by his family. The least he could do, he supposed, was try and make this a little easier for her.
"Well," he said brightly. "You never know. Maybe in his eagerness to check, he'll come down that little bit too early, hmm? Then your wolf could have a proper feast before they bound her back again." She grimaced, though, rather than laughed, and he nodded companionably. "No, you're right. He's a stringy little monster, isn't he? I imagine he wouldn't taste that well at all."
He won a tremulous smile for that, and offered a lopsided one back. He could see her stiffening, now, her arms tightening around her knees. He could see the goldsong gleaming bloodily at her throat. Straining, as her magic surged and crackled beneath it. It wouldn't be long now.
"Don't worry about it," he whispered softly. Raggedly, a little, as his fear couldn't help but bleed into it. He said it anyway, because she wasn't a killer at heart, and it was too late for anything else now. "Don't worry, my lady. I know it isn't you, or even your wolf either. It was my nephew that sent me to this. It's our monster, not yours. It's just your misfortune that you were placed to be caught between us."
She let out a low cry, her fingers digging in to the opposite arms. Her claws, really. They were coming now. "I hate him," she wept, hiding her changing face in her arms. "I'm so sorry, my lord. I hate him."
And then she lost herself. Then the change swept over her, ravaged through her, the golden necklace shining bright red at her throat, and Tyrion's soft 'I hate him too' was lost in his terrified awe at the process.
It looked ... It looked so painful. It wasn't meant to be, he knew. He'd seen her little brother transform at Winterfell, simply shift and shrink and turn, before leaping forward on four feet instead of two. The boy had gotten an earful for that, but Tyrion had seen him. When it was willing, when it was natural, the wolf-shift didn't hurt at all. He'd seen that.
This wasn't natural, not by any means. And it was definitely painful.
The thing that emerged from the end of it wasn't quite a wolf. Not a normal one, anyway. It was huge, a massive shape on the far side of the suddenly far too tiny cell, its fur russet-red over white, its eyes glowing blue as it turned its head to face him. Her. Her head. It was so hard to think that, though, when all he could see was the gleaming curves of her teeth.
The curves of her teeth, and the bloody pulsing of the collar beneath them, through the mane of fur at her neck.
Tyrion stared at her in terrified anticipation. His breath rattled raggedly in his chest. He'd pressed himself as far back as he could go against the wall. He liked to think himself a courageous man when he needed to be, but there was no possible hope of courage here. It was all he could do to meet her eyes through the blood on his face, and do his best to keep from screaming. More out of sense than courage, that last. He didn't want to startle her.
She didn't lunge for him immediately. He had no idea why. He was as Lannister as they came, and right now he had nowhere to run. If ever her wolf had wanted vengeance, this was as close to it as it was going to get for quite some time. But she stayed coiled warily on her side of the cell for a moment, a low rumble of a growl vibrating from her chest.
Then she moved. Tyrion flinched in spite of himself, turned his head and closed his eyes. He could hear her, still, the neat click of claws against the stone, the rustle of the few pitiful strands of straw on the floor. She prowled closer to him, with all the cramped wariness of a predator in an uncertain situation. Tyrion pressed the bloodied side of his face into the wall, and tried not to let his heart pound its way entirely out of his chest in his terror.
She paused on top of him. He could sense her, sense the massiveness of her bulk ranged over him. She could have dwarfed any man short of the Mountain, let alone him. He could hear the rush of breath in her great chest. And then ...
Then a great head lowered towards him, and a damp nose pressed itself forcefully against the side of his head. She breathed in, scenting him. Scenting the goldsong, maybe, the magic in his blood. The nose drifted down his hairline. Along his jaw. His neck. The fur of her head brushed his cheek as the nose went all the way down to the hand now clenched in his lap. The bloodied one. She growled at it. A hard gasp escaped him. She raised her head again and shoved her nose beneath his chin. Against his throat.
And then waited. For a long, endless minute, until he finally let his eyes flutter open in fearful confusion. He turned his head warily to look at her, and found those blue eyes watching him fiercely and curiously. Her teeth waited hungrily just below his throat, but she made no move to tear it out just yet.
"... My ... My lady?" he managed to rasp, his voice a thin, thready thing climbing unsteadily from his throat. "Sansa? Do you know me, my lady?"
She snarled, low and long against his neck. He could feel it shuddering through him. But she didn't kill him. Not yet. Not yet. She didn't kill him. Tyrion swallowed desperately, and pushed himself up a little bit to try and continue this ... conversation.
"Do you remember me, my lady?" he tried again, trying to make it as calm and soothing as possible. Not pleading. Not that she hadn't earned a plea or two, but she had very little reason to listen to them. "I'm Tyrion. You didn't ... you didn't want to kill me. Your human self. She didn't want to kill me like this. She knew that Joffrey wanted her to."
However fearsome her snarls had been before, the one at that name had his head slamming back against the wall in blind terror. He could feel his hands scrabbling at the wall, trying to push himself up and away from it. From her. From her teeth. She lunged in to prevent it, the weight of her head pinning him back against the wall. Tyrion made a thin keening noise, completely involuntarily, and equally abruptly she yanked back again. She snapped back away from him, and turned her bulk inside the cell to pace it savagely as best she could.
Like ... like a caged wolf. Exactly like that.
Tyrion couldn't do anything about it for a minute. He had to wait for his heart to climb back down inside his chest, and the pounding of yet another minor head injury to subside a tiny bit. But he came back to himself, gradually. He shoved away his fear, and took a second to actually look at her properly. At her magic. At his family's.
The collar was hurting her. She'd said it, and he could see it. It didn't like being defied this way, didn't like that her magic had forced its way through it by sheer strength. The goldsong did not appreciate such a blatant show of power and defiance from the old magic. It glowed angrily, sinking its hooks down into her to snare and torment. Her magic lashed around it, writhed and snarled and tried to batter it free. The force of Tywin Lannister's will buckled down obdurately in the face of that, his song steady and brutal and unimpressed through the gold. Her magic had no hope of moving that, not alone, and if Tyrion had ever had the power to properly defy his father ... Well. Lets just say he never had.
But it was Cersei's magic on the seal. The thought caught at him. Arrested him. He'd never had the power to defy his father, but the necklace had been locked around Sansa's throat by Cersei, not Tywin. And Cersei ...
He found himself moving, yet again, before he'd entirely thought it through. He found himself moving towards her, towards the caged, tortured wolf-maid stalking back and forth across their cell. He did wonder, vaguely, at his own idiocy. Even as she spun in the tight space to snarl savagely at him, he wondered at it. But he'd already done it, so he might as well just keep going and hope for the best now.
"I can help," he said rapidly, his hands already fumbling towards the collar. Her teeth flashed threateningly at his throat again, and his heart pitched gently up into his throat, but his bloodied fingers had already found the metal. His hand had already closed, and his goldsong leapt into his mouth. He felt a great jaw close around his neck. Felt massive teeth press down, just on the edge of tearing his skin. But his magic was already in his hand.
They froze there for a minute or two. The pair of them, the wolf-maid and the Lannister dwarf. His magic didn't turn against hers. Her teeth didn't crush his throat.
"... I can help," he said again, after that long minute. Thinly, fearfully, but with an edge of a promise as well. "I can't remove it. I can't make it stop. But I can help. Please let me, my lady. If they're going to send me to die in here, then I can screw them right back with a clear conscience. Please. Let me try to help you."
And in answer to that, after a long second, those teeth pulled away from his throat.
He did his best to ignore the rush of relief, the way it caused his already-unsteady knees to wobble under him. He did his best to put that aside, to trust to her bulk to hold himself up, and focus on the collar instead. He only partly succeeded, he imagined, but she was kind enough to be patient with him anyway. She was kind enough to lie down, to let him crumple into a heap by her side, and tilt her head to bare the collar around her neck.
He breathed for a moment before he tackled it. She stirred slightly, eyeing him, but she allowed it. She didn't say anything. She very politely didn't say anything. Tyrion bit back a hysterical giggle. Gods, she really was Sansa Stark, wasn't she?
The necklace didn't seem inclined to cooperate with him, when he focused on it. Well, it had been born of his father's and Cersei's magic. Of course it wasn't inclined to work with him. But Tyrion had been wriggling his way around the mandates of his family for a long time now, and the hatred for this thing had lived in him from the first moment he'd seen it. He could be stubborn when he was pushed as well.
It was Cersei's magic he focused on. She was always a bit slapdash, his sister, always focused on the payoff and not the work required to get it. It was her magic the viciousness came from, the pain and the wickedness of the thing. Not all of it. Its simple purpose was enough to cause some pain. But Cersei had put the flourishes on it.
He couldn't break the lock she'd put on it. His sister's magic had merged with his father's there, and it would take one or both of them to break it. But he could take the torment from the thing. He could keep it from ravaging her completely.
It was tricky work. Cersei's magic fought him almost instinctively, lashed out at him and stung at his hands and his magic, and at Sansa's magic too. Just for spite's sake. It lashed and stung and prickled at her, and she stretched out her neck to snarl brokenly at the sensation of it. But she didn't lash out at him. She didn't bring her teeth and her claws to punish him for it. It was such a stark contrast, when laid against the evidence of Cersei's spite. Something quivered and tensed like a bowstring inside him because of it.
It was done, at last. As much of it as he could do, at least. He'd pulled almost all of the barbs. Not all of them had felt wholly of Cersei. He might have been imagining it, but he thought some of them had felt a little of his nephew too. Joffrey wasn't supposed to have the goldsong. Baratheon blood, war blood, was supposed to override Lannister. But then they all knew why in his case that mightn't be so.
He slumped back eventually, patting absently at Sansa's furred shoulder. The wolf-maid had lain quietly for some time now, he realised vaguely. She'd lain calmly, her breathing evening out again as the worst of Cersei's malice was bled away. She only stirred now, lifting her head to look at him peaceably. He found himself smiling at her. A wobbly, quiet thing.
"That's the best I can do, I'm afraid," he rasped quietly. He reached up and tried to knuckle dried blood tiredly away from his eye. "I can't budge my father, my lady. I fear blunting Cersei's needles is the best I can manage."
She huffed at that. It was odd, watching a wolf huff. She gathered herself carefully to her feet and turned to face him. He only blinked mildly at her. He was too tired now to manage terror. Something gleamed in her blue wolf-eyes, something that might have been humour, and she leaned over to nudge her nose gently against his face.
"What ...?" he started vaguely, and then her tongue was rasping gently over his cheek. Over his eye. It took him all the way until she reached his hairline before he realised she was cleaning away the blood. She was ... She was mopping his face for him. Mopping away the evidence of Joffrey's viciousness.
And then, with a sort of tenderness, she mopped away his sudden tears as well.
"... You really are a wonder, aren't you?" he whispered hoarsely, his hands knotting into fists in her fur. "A finer lady than any other in this pig sty of a court." The old fury surged in him again, and he stared at her fiercely. "Don't let them break you," he demanded. "My nephew or my sister or any of them. Wolf form or human, don't let them break you. Don't let them turn you into a monster, or a meek little thing for them to play with. You're better than that, Sansa Stark. You're easily worth a hundred of them."
Bleakness swept through her there. He wondered how he recognised it, on so wolflike a face, but when he looked at her eyes they still held something largely human. Despair, mostly. The remnants of pride. And a hint of something gentle, compassionate as she looked at him. She nudged again at the wound on his hairline. Even wordless, she made her point.
Tyrion laughed. "Don't worry about me," he said. "By your grace, my nephew's failed to kill me once already. That's going to unnerve him in the morning. And he's going to have to explain how I got in here, which may get complicated now that I'm still alive to contradict him. I can work with that, my lady. Believe me. With luck, I may be able to leverage that into a little bit of safety for us both."
For them both. Yes. He would try to leverage that into safety, for them both. Even maddened, even tortured, the wolf-maid had spared him. There might be little enough he could do for the war between her family and his, but he would do his best to repay that debt regardless. She was a prisoner here. He would do his best to keep her safe.
He didn't know if she believed him. He was a Lannister, after all, even if his goldsong had been spent to aid her rather than wound her. She'd held his life in her jaws. He might have done it only to stay alive. She had little enough reason to trust him.
But she seemed to accept it, at least for the moment. She seemed to let it slide.
They lay down in the back corner of their cell, after that. Together. Tyrion was shaky enough that he was more glad of her furred warmth than terrified of her teeth, and for her part she seemed to welcome him well enough. She curled around him, and put her head and her teeth between him and the door. That was a nice sentiment, he thought giddily. There was no reason for it in the world, but it was a very nice idea.
And then he closed his eyes, a lion and his wolf-maid companion, and tried to get some sleep before Joffrey came to torment them in the morning.