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Brothers, Sisters, Sons and Daughters

Chapter Text

“Mother, Mother! It is your turn!”
The playful tones of her last living son broke Cersei’s bitter train of thought and she fixed her eyes on him with a sugary smile. She rolled the dice distractedly and quickly moved her counter, not caring where the piece ended up. Tommen laughed.
“You have lost again! Uncle Tyrion is much better at this game than you, I hardly ever beat him.”
It was all Cersei could do not to scowl at the mention of the murderous little monster. She gazed at Tommen feeling a mixture of frustration and tenderness. Her sweet, little boy was far too innocent to sit on the Iron Throne. He trusted everyone and was incapable of seeing the evil that surrounded him. Joff could see it. He would have crushed that Imp into the dirt if the creature and his whore had not taken his life first. She mustered a pleasant tone.
“Uncle Tyrion has more spare time for games, a Queen, or King, must put their people first.”
“I wish we could have gone to his and Lady Margaery’s wedding. Then we could have seen Uncle Jaime too. Do you think he will write to me soon, mother?”
Cersei reached a hand to his perfect golden hair; it felt so like Jaime’s.
“I begged your Uncle Jaime to return from Casterly Rock, I told him you were desperate to have him at your side, how much it would have meant to you if he had been present for your coronation. He wrote back that it was difficult for him now that he has a wife. I think Sansa may be a little jealous of you, my darling boy.”
She smiled at his troubled face; it hurt her to cause him pain but she had to make him understand that Sansa Stark was the enemy. After all who else could have persuaded Jaime to disregard her instructions to avenge Joffrey’s murder? Cersei felt rage boil within her: Jaime had always been weak willed, easily coddled into almost any action by flattery and embraces. That Stark girl played the innocent but she was clearly following Cersei’s advice on using the weapon between her legs. The blonde woman smirked, Sansa would learn the hard way what little value she truly had: once she had whelped a couple more brats Cersei would see her dead. She was sure her father would not impede her, Tywin Lannister had no interest in the girl beyond her ability to provide heirs and her claim to the North. If he did find out and tried to thwart his daughter or punish her afterwards, Cersei could threaten to make public the truth about her children. She knew her father was wary of this risk, it was why he let her remain at court and why no further betrothal had been foisted upon her. Sansa would get what she deserved in due time, for now there were more pressing concerns.
She looked up as the door opened, arranging her features into a sad smile as her Uncle Kevan entered. The Lannister knight bowed briefly.
“Your Grace, it is time for you to attend your lessons.”
“Mother, do I have to?”
Again Cersei felt an exasperated tenderness; why was Tommen looking to her to fight his battles? He was a lion and a king, he should simple refuse to go if he did not wish to. Still, she had to acknowledge to herself that this display worked in her favour as far as Kevan was concerned.
“A king must be knowledgeable so he can rule his people wisely. Once you are finished, we can dine together, I will ensure there are honey cakes.”
He beamed at her and exited the room without further complaint. Kevan raised his eyebrows.
“King Tommen is supposed to practice his swordplay with Ser Loras, after his lessons, Your Grace.”
“And if the gods granted you another day with Martyn or Willem would you have them spend it anywhere but at your side, uncle?”
Cersei felt satisfaction as she saw her uncle’s gaze drop. Tyrion had once commented that Kevan Lannister had never had a thought that Tywin Lannister did not have first. But Tywin Lannister had never lost a beloved child. Kevan had and so had his niece and Cersei had discovered that it was possible to use this to persuade him to grant her liberties which her father had denied her following Joffrey’s demise. With this in mind she placed a hand on his arm.
“I would like to take a short walk along the cliffs. When Joff was tiny I often used to walk there with him; he loved to look at the ships dancing on the waves.”
The Lannister knight looked at her with a conflicted expression on his face. After a moment he sighed.
“Very well but you will be accompanied by two of the guardsmen at all times.”
“Of course, uncle, I thank you for your compassion.”
He bowed his head and exited the room. Cersei followed, allowing a triumphant expression to creep onto her face. Her father may have done all her could to deprive her of liberty, but he had not taken measures to deprive her of wealth. Between this and her feminine wiles, she was confident that neither of the Kettleback brothers would report that she had spent the next hour doing anything other than gazing at the sea, grieving for her son.

Lord Baelish watched as the Queen approached, flanked by two knights. He been dismayed by how events in King’s Landing had progressed following his departure to woo Lady Lysa. Sansa’s marriage to Jaime Lannister stung; it reminded him too much of Cat and how she had been spirited away from him by a vain, posturing lordling. Had his scheme with the Tyrells gone as planned he would have ensured that Tyrion Lannister took the blame for the death of the king. The right people would easily have been able to convince the Imp his best chance of survival was to demand a trial by combat, naming Jaime as his champion. Such a scenario would have provided ample opportunities to sow the seeds of chaos. Evidently the Queen of Thorns had decided to pursue another avenue and had made it clear to him in their brief meeting she had no further use for him. It was irritating, but Baelish was a man capable of adapting to a situation. As Cersei moved closer to him he dropped a low, obsequious bow.
“Good afternoon, Your Grace, I am delighted you were able to find the time to see me today. It is fortunate I happened to be in the capital attending to business when you informed my associate you wished to meet with me. Allow me to say how grieved I am at the loss of King Joffrey, a terrible and tragic accident.”
Baelish had used the last word very deliberately and noted the slight tensing in the Queen’s jaw. He continued smoothly:
“It must be particularly trying to bear such loss without the succour of your family. Still, Lord Tyrion will be back in the capital before too long and he will bring you a new good sister, I’m sure, as a woman, Lady Margaery will offer you a great deal of companionship.”
She stared at him with blazing eyes, her nostrils slightly flared. Cersei Lannister seemed far less in possession of herself than when he had seen her last and as she moved closer, he caught the unmistakable scent of wine on her breath.
“Lord Baelish, you are a man who has obtained much in the past few years, I am sure that such ambition is not easily sated, do you have any future plans?”
Littlefinger smiled deprecatingly.
“Simply to look after the interests of my lady wife and stepson as best I can, to be a good Lord of the Vale and Warden of the East.”
“You speak of Lady Lysa and her son. Of course she is a Tully by birth, would she not like to see one of Tully blood rule Riverrun?”
“My Queen, I assure you no one in the Vale has any plans to support the traitorous siege at Riverrun. As a boy, the Blackfish was like an uncle to me, so it pains me to say this, but he is a broken, deluded old man.”
Cersei smiled.
“You misunderstand me, my lord. I wondered if Lady Lysa would like to see her own son rule the castle of her birth, after all he has Tully blood.”
“As does Lady Sansa Lannister, I do not think it likely your father would support my wife’s claim to Riverrun above that of his own grandchild.”
Cersei was visibly enraged by the use of Sansa’s married name. Her jaw was now twitching and the smirk which twisted her lips held not a trace of sweetness.
“My father is an old man, I pray the gods will grant him a long life, but he cannot live forever. I can assure you that I have the ear of King Tommen and once he reaches his majority, I will see to it that those who have been loyal to me are not forgotten.”
The Queen paused then continued in a lighter tone:
“You were Master of Coin before the position was given to my little brother. Prior to his departure from the capital, he frequently bemoaned the poor state of the royal finances.”
“Wars are expensive, your Grace, the treasury was always replete under my watch.”
“My brother seemed to disagree, he was rather fixated on the idea that you had been guilty of some kind of mismanagement. I have no doubt it was his way of covering for his own failings, but as I’m sure you appreciate, now he has the backing of Highgarden, it is not so easy to keep him in his place.”
Littlefinger could have guessed at her rage about Tyrion’s change in circumstances. He had rather been hoping that this was the purpose of their meeting.
“I thank you for the warning, your Grace, but there is little I can do if your brother seeks to slander me to cover his own inadequacies. I can hardly wage a war on the Reach!”
“You do not need to wage a war to rid yourself of one man, my lord.”
Take Robert Baratheon for example. Littlefinger studied her, wondering how far he could go. She clearly wanted her brother dead. But Tyrion Lannister’s death alone would hardly bring about the chaos he sought. Margaery would likely marry another Lannister, she may even wed King Tommen. He had to smash the Lannister-Tyrell alliance completely.
“I cannot remain in the capital much longer, your Grace, my place is with my wife.”
“Such devotion, Lady Lysa is fortunate. I’m sure you have others who can act on your behalf though, my lord?”
Baelish smiled at her questioning glance.
“You are very sharp Queen Cersei! I can see which of Lord Tywin’s children inherited his wits. I shall think about how best to solve our mutual problem. It may be that the Tyrells are keen to help us, depending on who could be offered to Lady Margaery as a suitable third husband.”
If Baelish noticed the venomous look which passed over Cersei Lannister’s face as she took in the implication of his words he did not show it. He took his leave and returned to his establishment on the Street of Silk. Business was as brisk as ever and he had been pleased to find that Oberyn Martell and Ellaria Sand were now frequent visitors to the premises. During his time in the capital, Littlefinger had gone out of his way to cultivate an acquaintance with the Dornish prince. Oberyn liked to talk and had been vocal regarding his hatred for the Lannisters and his desire to avenge Elia and her children. Littlefinger had listened sympathetically. The whores who worked in his brothels came from all over Westeros and so did the paying customers. Some were from the Westerlands and had told Baelish interesting stories about Tyrion Lannister’s early life. He made sure to share his knowledge with Oberyn, as well as some of his own ideas about one particularly tragic tale. The Dornishman had passed no comment but Baelish had seen the words sink in, perhaps nothing would come of it, or perhaps something would.
As he entered his suite of rooms, a servant handed him a letter bearing the Arryn seal. His first reaction was one of irritation: can’t the mad cow leave me alone for five minutes? However as he read the news Lysa had shared with him, a smile spread across his lips. This is an interesting development indeed. He threw the letter into the fire. He would have to conclude his business with Cersei Lannister and return to the Vale as quickly as possible.
Late the following night, when most of court was abed and her door was guarded by Osney Kettleback, Cersei met Baelish once more. His words about Margaery and the girl’s next husband had filled her with rage and fear; that whore could not be allowed to get her claws into Cersei’s last boy. As soon as the door closed behind Baelish she spoke:
“You talked yesterday of working with Tyrells, I hope you are not considering allying yourself to them, Lord Baelish, they are not to be trusted.”
“Then perhaps it would be best if we thought about a way to… kill two birds with one stone, your Grace.”
Cersei smiled.
“Were some harm to befall Lady Margaery and it could be proved that my brother was the cause of it, I do not think my father would make any great effort to assist him.”
Baelish hesitated, seeming to ponder her words.
“Forgive me, your Grace, but I cannot help but wonder what motive your brother could be seen to have for killing his beautiful, young wife. He cannot claim Highgarden in the event of her dying childless.”
He could see his words had enraged her. However, she could not contradict him on his logic. Baelish allowed her to stew for a moment or two then spoke as if thinking out loud:
“Of course, it is always possible a motive could appear. Lady Margaery is an attractive young woman… if she were to catch the eye of another and it seemed she reciprocated those affections… I have no doubt your brother could be a vengeful man, your Grace.”
Cersei was practically grinning from ear to ear as she listened to him. This was better than she ever imagined; humiliate the little monster by having him shown to all to be cuckolded, kill the whore then have him completely disgraced by putting the blame for her death at his door.
“Do you have any idea how such a plan may come to fruition, Lord Baelish? The man who guards my door would be happy to carry out such an instruction at my behest.”
Baelish suppressed a wince. Cersei Lannister was truly incapable of reading anyone if she thought the brutish Kettleback would ever be able to get close enough to Margaery Tyrell for a seduction to seem plausible. He smiled.
“I will send you a boy, I can think of a young lord who patronises my establishment. He does not have to actually seduce Lady Margaery, as long as it appears to the world outside that he may have. He is arrogant enough to believe that he could win her heart and foolish enough to try. When he comes to you, give him this”
He handed her a small bottle.
“It is a poison known as the Tears of Lys. When administered gradually it causes the victim to sicken and die. In an older person the symptoms could easily be confused with a natural demise. In a healthy, young woman I have no doubt suspicion could be aroused. When the boy comes to you, tell him it is a substance to prevent pregnancy, he has a vested interest in ensuring that Lady Margaery and your brother do not produce heirs. Suggest to him that he befriends one of her handmaidens, that should give him ample opportunities to administer the poison.”
“Thank you for your help in this matter, my lord. It won’t be forgotten.”
“I am ever your loyal servant, my Queen.”
He bowed and left, Cersei poured herself a glass of Dornish Red and drank deeply, a smile played on her lips. She would see that Joffrey was avenged: Tyrion’s own words would come back to haunt him. His joy would turn to ashes in his mouth and he would know that the debt was paid.

Chapter Text

Margaery stood at the window, looking out over the rooftops of Braavos. The sky was a dull grey and a drizzle of rain further obscured her view; but the Titan was still visible. She thought back to the day of their arrival when they had seen the wonder close at hand. Tyrion had been open mouthed and transfixed. Margaery herself had been impressed by the colossal structure but as she had squeezed Tyrion’s hand firmly until he finally turned his head to her with an expression of pure delight, she had been aware that what made the moment memorable for her was being there with the man she loved and sharing the spectacle with him.

It had been raining that day too. It rained frequently in Braavos. Margaery would have expected that exposure to a climate so different from that of her beloved Highgarden would have made her feel dull and dreary, but in truth she felt joyous. She had never dreamed that she would travel beyond Westeros any more than she had imagined she would marry for love; the gods must truly laugh when people make plans. Margaery was practical by nature and, as a young girl, had been content to focus her attention on learning which would be of use to her when she became a great lady, or even queen. She had never given much thought to pursuing knowledge for its own sake and was aware that such studiousness was not considered desirable in a young lady. At the same time, she was intelligent and was finding that this visit to Braavos, with its varied sights, experiences and cultures exhilarating. Of course, there was also much delight in being with Tyrion, even if they did not have quite such exclusive access to each other as they had enjoyed during the sea voyage.

“My heart, much as I enjoy gazing upon your heavenly form, I feel I must humbly beg that you return to my bed at once so I can enjoy more than just gazing.”

A smirk rose to her lips as she turned toward the bed. Tyrion had raised himself up on one elbow and was grinning at her mischievously, his hair still tousled from sleep. She walked slowly and elegantly toward him, her hands loosening the belt of the green silk robe she wore. She reached the bed and dropped the garment completely, his eyes raking hungrily over her naked form serving to heighten her arousal. With supple grace, she slipped onto the bed beside him and placed her hands on on his shoulders.

“How long do we have, my love?”

“Long enough.”

Tyrion placed several deep kisses along her collarbone before giving a huff of laugher.

“Well, we never have long enough.”

“This is true, even the weeks on the ship have done little to sate my desire for you, husband, I’m afraid you have an insatiable wife.”

“That is my burden to bear.”

Tyrion’s jape ended in a low growl as Margaery ran her fingers lightly over his balls giving them the slightest squeeze. He buried his face in the crook of her neck and sucked hard at the point where it joined her shoulder. Margaery gasped as she felt shivers of pleasure course through her. She moved one hand to his member, gently stroking the head, the other she trailed lightly up and down his spine. soon his teeth where on her earlobe, his hand lightly stroking her neck and shoulders, drawing her flesh to goosebumps. He murmured endearments between his playful nips, sighing happily as she planted kissed on his neck and jaw. As his hips began to buck at her taunting touch, she fixed him with a smouldering stare and guided him inside of her, leaning on top of him, supporting herself with her hands. he pulled her into a long, passionate kiss and together they tumbled on the bed until Tyrion was atop his wife. Holding her gaze, he thrust himself into her, slowly and deeply, pulling back until he was nearly out before repeating the action. Margaery made no effort to stop the moans which escaped her lips and as her husband’s movements became faster, she gave herself up to a climax; crying out his name as he flopped against her, declarations of love on his lips.

They remained in an embrace for several minutes, then the contented silence of the bedchamber was punctuated by a tentative know at the door.

“Breakfast, Lord Tyrion.”

Tyrion grinned at Margaery

“Very well Podrick, give us a minute or two.”

They rose from their bed and donned small clothes and robes before making their way to the room next door where they took their meals. Very early in their sea voyage Podrick and Margaery’s handmaiden had learned to be cautious about entering the couple’s bed chamber without due warning. Margaery smiled at the lad as he deposited the breakfast things. Tyrion climbed into he chair opposite her.

“What are your plans for the day, wife?”

“Tycho Nestoris’s wife has invited me to lunch with her and some of her friends. After that I think I shall take a walk around the Purple Harbour. You don’t mind if Bronn accompanies me today do you?”

“Not at all, much as I despise Meryn Trant, I would far rather endure him than subject you to his presence. If father was so adamant we have a Kingsgaurd with us, why could he not send Loras?”

“Having your good brother stand guard on your bedchamber would not have dampened your ardour, my love?”

“I cannot think of much which would dampen my ardour where you are concerned, sweetling.”

Margaery returned his smirk as she buttered a slice of bread.

“I think there will be a number of high ranking merchant’s wives at lunch today. Let us hope they enjoy the wine and produce I have to gift them with.”

When she had found out Tyrion and Margaery were journeying to Braavos, Olenna Tyrell had seen to it that their ship contained samples of the finest delicacies of the Reach. The Queen of Thorns had rightly guessed that Margaery would have ample opportunities to meet and charm the wives of the city’s guild leaders and could use the visit as a way to encourage even greater trade between the Reach and the merchants of Braavos.

“I have no doubt they will be well received, even if they have mouldered on the voyage, you could charm the birds from the trees, wife.”

Margaery gave a mock bow of her head, acknowledging the compliment.

“Let us hope your silver tongue also stands you in good stead at the Iron Bank.”

Tyrion smiled but she could see he was apprehensive. Following discussions between Tywin Lannister and the Tyrells, her husband did have an amount of gold to return to the bank. But it was less than a tenth of the crown’s total debt. Mace Tyrell had protested that he could easily afford to provide more but Tywin had dismissed this out of hand. Margaery could see that despite her marriage to Tyrion, the Lannister patriarch still saw her family as a potential threat to his power. But this was not fore most in her mind today, she touched Tyrion’s hand.
“Do you think they will be able to provide you with their records of the loans made to the Crown?”

“I don’t see why not, there is always a chance they were complicit in Littlefinger’s schemes but I do not think that likely.”

After much pouring over the crown ledgers, Tyrion had come to the conclusion that Littlefinger must have been purposely running up greater debts than required. Why he should have taken such a course of action was not clear; his brothels had easily made him more money than he could ever spend. Tyrion was going to try and obtain copies of the Iron Bank’s records of the Crown’s debts in the hope that these would give him a clearer picture of what Baelish had been up to.

Her husband pushed away his plate and jumped out of his chair, walking to her side and kissing her cheek.

“I shall wash myself, then dress and depart. I hope you have a pleasant day, my love.”

“And you, husband. Whatever the outcome of your meeting be assured I shall reward you for your endeavours when we meet again.”

Margaery smirked, enjoying the way Tyrion’s eyes sparkled and flicked over her person as she spoke. She met his lips in a brief kiss, then allowed him to depart to ready himself for the day.

 

Tyrion sat in the hard, marble chair trying to ignore the growing ache at the base of his spine. The three bankers opposite him all sat on cushioned chairs. Tycho Nestoris smiled at him: Tyrion had seen enough false smiles to be able to recognise one without difficulty.

“Gentlemen, I trust that the payment of gold my ship brought has been transported to the bank in full?”

“It would appear so, Lord Tyrion, however it is far less than the sum we asked for.”

“I am sure you can appreciate that King Tommen is wary of sending large amounts of gold by ship. Thankfully the war of five kings is at an end, but this does not mean the seas are free of pirates.”

“You say the war is over, yet Stannis Baratheon still lives.”

“He does for now, however we have had reports he has chosen to take his armies to the Wall. Winter is all but upon us in Westeros, and while Stannis is a seasoned commander, he is not used to that harsh climate any more than the men he commands are. I can only assume that having exhausted every other avenue he seeks support from the Northern Lords. I am sure I do not have to tell you gentlemen that such support will not be forthcoming. Any in the North who do not support the Boltons, remain loyal to House Stark. The last living Stark is married to my brother. I fear the Iron Bank will very likely loose the investment it made in Stannis Baratheon.”

Tyrion noticed their almost imperceptible glances; so they had financed the Baratheon cause, he wondered how the fanatical prig had managed to convince them. Nestoris smiled once more.

“If what you say is true then you should be able to repay your debts to us quickly, my Lord. I have no doubt your father will support his grandson’s throne, it is not as if there is a lack of gold in Casterly Rock.”

The banker’s laughed discreetly. Tyrion joined in, wondering if they somehow knew. Jaime had spoken to him before Tyrion and Margaery had left the Rock. It seemed the gold mines were not yielding as they once had. His mind working, he spoke again:
“Indeed there is not. However, there is a question of time, which I hope you will give to us. King Tommen’s throne is stable, he has the backing of House Lannister and House Tyrell, I am sure you agree it is in all our interests that Westeros remains peaceful and prosperous.”

“I can certainly see it is in your interest, Lord Tyrion, the Iron Bank only concerns itself with investments. If King Tommen is not in a position to honour his debts, we may need to invest elsewhere.”

Tyrion held the banker’s gaze for a moment.

“During my time here, I have heard much talk of Daeneyrs Targaryen. Although more often she is called other things. ‘Mother of Dragons’, ‘Breaker of Chains’. How has trade been with Mereen since she freed all the slaves there?’

Nestoris’ smile dropped.

“We do not have slaves in Braavos, Lord Tyrion.”

“Nor do we in Westeros. But in most of Essos slave labour is used and it seems the Mother of Dragons takes issue with this. Now, if she was to… receive outside assistance, who could say whether she would use it to bring her dragons to Westeros or whether she would spend more time breaking chains. In any case, despite not keeping slaves, the Westerosi do depend on small folk to harvest our crops and tend our livestock. Who is to say Daeneyrs Targaryen would not want to disrupt this too?”

As Tyrion spoke he watched the three men closely. He could see he was voicing concerns they already had. This relieved him immensely; if the Iron Bank was loathe to fund the Targaryen girl, then they were all the more likely to look favourably on what was now Tommen’s debt. They had not answered the last question he posed so he spoke again:

“Gentlemen, as pleasant as our time together is, I have no doubt you are all busy. Shall we proceed to the details of my proposal for repayment of the loan?”

Margaery walked through the bustling harbour area, Bronn and Rosa beside her. She had enjoyed her lunch with the Bravosi women enormously. The Isle’s inhabitants, came from a multitude of cultures and backgrounds and the women she had met were far more engaging company than the simpering maids all too often found at court in King’s Landing. Margaery was also satisfied with how the wine and preserved fruits of the Reach had been received. Such things were already sold in Braavos but Margaery knew if these women could be persuaded to purchase greater quantities, and to discuss the items with their mercantile spouses, this trade could be increased. As she had expected the women she met had similar ideas about the items their husbands’ traded in and she had agreed to return to Westeros with recommendations for the ladies of court and for her own good sisters I can only imagine how Cersei would react to a recommendation from me, burn the item like as not.

“Oysters, Clams, Cockles!”

The shout caught Margaery’s attention and she looked over to see a small, slight girl with brown hair, holding a tray of shellfish before her. She took Rosa’s arm.

“Come, I want to buy some oysters for Tyrion.”

Margaery approached the girl, asking the price of her wares. Bronn appeared behind them with a snigger.

“Of course, you know what they say about oysters, m’lady?”
Margaery looked at him with an innocent expression.

“Yes, that they are very nourishing. I am not accustomed to shellfish but Tyrion ate them frequently as a boy. I know that Maester Creylan has advised Lady Sansa to eat them daily once she gives birth to help her regain her strength. I have no doubt Ser Jaime will have the rocks at Lannisport stripped bare if his wife takes a fancy to them!”

Margaery turned her head back to the oyster seller and was taken aback to see the young girl staring at her, with a fierce frown. The girl caught Margaery’s eye and quickly her face became devoid of expression.

“Please, m’lady, are you wanting these for your evening meal? If you tell me where to find you, I can deliver some fresh.”

Margaery smiled her agreement. She gave directions to the rooms she and Tyrion were being accommodated in, and a price and time was agreed. Then Margaery and her escorts moved on through the harbour, not seeing the oyster seller scamper quickly away.

Tyrion opened the door to the suite of rooms his party had been given the use of while in Braavos, and turned turned to Podrick who was standing behind him.
“Fetch me some water to wash with, Pod. You can bring it to the sitting room.”
His squire nodded and departed for the kitchens. Mercifully, Trant had parted ways with them shortly after they left the bank, off on his own pursuits. Tyrion grimaced to himself. He was not in a position to judge any man for frequenting brothels but, if Bronn was to be believed, the kingsguard had a preference for extremely young girls and for brutality.

Rather than dwell on what the odious knight might be doing at that moment, Tyrion made his way to the sitting room, where, as he had hoped, he found his wife. Margaery stood and approached him, a loving smile on her face, then dropped to her knees and pulled him into a kiss. She proceeded to unfasten the cloak he had been wearing and placed it over a chair near the door.

“Would you like some wine, my love? I hope the bankers were not too tedious.”

“My wife is a hopeful woman. Please, pour me a small glass.”

She moved to the jug on the sideboard and he watched her graceful steps. Newly married as he was, Tyrion found he derived an absurd amount of joy from such mundane displays of care from Margaery. His wife could inflame him to greater lusts than any other woman he had laid eyes on, but it was these simple, natural displays of affection which reminded him again and again that they were in a loving marriage and that he now held something he would previously never have dared to dream of. He thought back to the moment he realised he was in love with Margaery; when he had acknowledged to himself that had she asked him to flee Joffrey with her, he would have done so without a moment’s hesitation. He fleetingly wished they could remain here forever, without smirking courtiers and mocking stares. He thought of what his father had done to Tysha and Cersei’s threats against Shae. He started when his wife handed him a glass.

“Where has your mind wandered too, love?”

“I was thinking, let us not sail back to Westeros. When we depart Braavos, I think I would prefer to keep you on the ship, so I can have you all to myself.”

Margaery’s eyes sparkled.

“Shall we become pirates? You would make a very handsome pirate, Captain Lannister.”

He returned her grin, but Podrick’s appearance with the water, prevented him from responding more fully. As he cleaned his hands and face, he recounted the day’s negotiations at the bank.

“Nestrosi makes my father seem like a soft touch! I am having to fight for every minor concession I gain and I can tell already it will not add up to much.”

“Do they seem favourable to the plan you have presented?”

“They give very little away, but they have not dismissed it out of hand. How went your day, my love?”

“Rather well, I think Lord Redwyne will be well disposed towards us when he sees increased orders for Arbour Gold from the merchants of Braavos. Tell me, do your cousins have any fondness for Myrish lace?”

“I am sure Myrell and Cerenna do, Daven I think will not and I am never quite sure about Lancel…”

He smiled at her, walking across the room to take her hand.

“Of course, none of them could look so well in the fabric as you do, my love, particularly that night gown you have which consists of very little else…”

Margaery smirked at him before turning to Pod, who was hurriedly departing, spilling water on the floor.

“You do not need to rush, Podrick, Lord Tyrion and I are not about to be improper. Oh! I ordered some oysters in the market today, the seller should be here with them soon.”

“Yes, M’lady”
The squire bowed his head and exited, at a marginally slower speed. Tyrion grinned up at his wife.

“Oysters? You do know what they say about oysters, wife?”

“I am afraid Bronn has beaten you to that particular joke, dear.”

“I do not believe I made a joke. I was simply complimenting you on a nourishing choice.”

Margaery raised an eyebrow but said nothing. Tyrion took a deep draft of his wine and exhaled in satisfaction.

“I am glad you have not given all the best vintages to your new friends. Now I am moderating my consumption, I am all the more particular about quality.”

“Do you only apply this rule to wine?”

He could tell his wife enjoyed the way his eyes raked over her by the satisfied grin that came to her lips. She was so perfect and far more than he deserved. He thought of how already he could not imagine his life without her beside him and about the absurd amount of luck it had taken to bring about their marriage. He felt uneasy thinking about how quickly luck could change.

“Gods, Margaery, but I love you. I do not know what I would do without you.”

His wife smiled at him warmly.

“I would not worry about that, my love. I know you fear Cersei may do me harm. I am on my guard against her, I have even taken some practical measures.”

Tyrion looked at his wife in interest. Margaery smiled.

“Before we left Westeros, I spoke with my grandmother about sending me some new handmaidens. Rosa and the others who serve me now will be sent to Cersei, grandmother spoke to Lord Tywin and he agreed the proposal. He is not keen to see your sister disgrace herself with anymore foolish plots, we will be able to keep a very close eye upon her.”

“You clever creature. I am so glad we are married, I would not like to have you as an enemy.”

There was a knock on the door and Podrick entered, carrying plates for supper. Behind him stood a small girl with a platter of oysters. Tyrion noticed the lad murmur to her kindly: “I said you could’ve knocked and gone in.” His squire entered and made for the room’s small dining table. Margaery smiled at Pod.

“What plans have you this evening, Podrick?”

“Um, Ser Bronn wishes to take me to…a place, m’lady.”

“‘A place’? how intriguing!”

Tyrion threw his squire a kindly look.

“Go with him, Podrick, just do not let me hear either of you have been in the company of Meryn Trant!”

“No, m’lord.”

Podrick spoke emphatically. Margaery moved to the girl at the door and gave her the sum of money owed for the oysters and the pair departed.

Later that night, Tyrion lay in his wife’s arms, deliciously satisfied and drifitng towards sleep. His tranquilty was shatter by pounding on his door and Bronn’s voice:

“You better wake the fuck up! Trant’s been butchered!”

Chapter Text

Jaime’s boots sloshed through the water, as he peered down the dark passageway. The air was stale and dank and seemed to seep through his clothes, chilling him to the bone. The man in front of him, leading the party, looked back frequently offering opinions on the condition of the tunnels and the speed and flow of the water. Jaime did not need anyone to tell him it would get deeper as they descended, and he wondered how much further they would be able to go on this initial exploration.

Jaime’s interactions with his father when the latter had returned to the Rock for Tyrion and Margery’s wedding had followed the pattern established on the day of Tywin’s arrival. His sire had spoken to him as little as possible and on the occasions he had, Jaime could not ignore the cold disapproval which radiated from the older Lannister. While at first Jaime had been irked by his father’s demeanour, once Tyrion had revealed the likely cause, Jaime found he derived a stinging satisfaction from his father’s unspoken condemnation. Viewing his relationship with Cersei from a dispassionate perspective, he had risked the complete destruction of House Lannister, and the undoing of Tywin’s life’s work. However this was not what caused Jaime to feel that he required some form of reprimand; it was his children, in particular the two who still lived. Tommen had celebrated his ninth name day several months ago, Myrcella would be five and ten in a moon’s turn. Jaime had had years when he might have known them better. After all, he was their uncle and had been residing in King’s Landing. Cersei had been wary of him getting close to her children but in truth he had been happy to comply. Jaime had generally coped with things by avoiding them and ignoring the extent to which they affected him. However, since he had fallen in love with Sansa and especially since their son had been born, he was finding this was not as easy to achieve as it had once been. He felt he had neglected Tommen and Myrcella and although he could not bring himself to regret their birth, he frequently reproached himself for the danger he had exposed them too, carrying on his affair with Cersei long after they came into the world, knowing that should Robert discover their true parentage, they would surely be killed.

The day before Tywin had returned to the capital he had called Jaime to his study and begun an interrogation about the Lannister gold mines. Jaime and Sansa had been at the Rock for five months and in truth Jaime had not yet given the mines a great deal of attention. There had been so many other concerns. Tywin had scornfully told him the yield had decreased to a point were it appeared the Rock was running dry.
“You tell me you are diligent towards your duties, I am sure you will be able to come up with a solution. If we do not have gold, we are as good as finished, not to mention, your nephew will find it extremely hard to pay Crown debts without the help of his mother’s house.”
Tywin’s eyes had bored into him, the implication of his words not lost on Jaime. If I fail, I will have failed Tommen.
He had left his father and paced the corridors of Casterly Rock for some time before a possible solution came to him. Fortunately, Tyrion had also yet to depart and he was able to seek his younger brother’s counsel. Tyrion had laughed and told him being master of drains had not given him sufficient specialist knowledge to determine how one might go about draining the flooded mines of house Reyne. However, he was able to direct Jaime to a volume in the library which contained records of the mines’ construction, depth and seams . He also knew many of the foremen and gangers from the mines at the Rock, having made their acquaintance in the brothels and taverns of Lannisport, and was able to advise Jaime which men were best to approach to undertake such a task.

“I think it best we stop ‘ere today, m’Lord. We’ll gain nothin’ by goin’ further and I’ve seen all I need.”

“Very well, is it going to be possible to drain the mines?”

“I should think so, these ‘igher tunnels at any rate, I remember we found an underground lake up at the Rock ‘bout twenty years past. It killed a score o’ men. Still, we drained the mine alright. Could do it here the same way.”

Jaime nodded, he was not particularly interested in the specifics of the mine drainage, he just wanted it to happen. Furthermore in his mind he was already on his horse, riding back to his beloved wife and trueborn son.

Sansa looked around the room and tutted in frustration. It was three weeks since she had given birth and in her opinion she was recovered. She was no longer in any pain and the bleeding had all but stopped. She certainly did not feel weak or tired. However the maester was adamant that she remain closely confined for another sennight. Sansa certainly could not remember her own mother being shut up within her chambers for such a long time after the birth of Rickon. When she had expressed this to Maester Creylan he had responded gently but firmly that her youngest brother had been Lady Catleyn’s fifth healthy birth so the circumstances were not comparable. Sansa felt irritated, it seemed once more she was having to prove that she was not some delicate, insubstantial creature who would crumble at the first difficulty life threw at her. However, she knew that Jaime was still anxious, although he tried to hide it and she also had no wish to behave in a controversial fashion, and so Sansa complied. She heard a stirring from the cradle and walked across the room, her frustration temporarily forgotten.

“At least I have the most beautiful babe in the world to keep me company, don’t I, my love? Don’t I?”

She lifted her son from his cradle and moved to the bed, before putting him to her breast. It was one advantage of this enforced confinement; for now there was no move to engage a wet nurse. Sansa still had not decided whether she wished to feed her child herself for a longer period. When the Tyrells had been at the Rock, Margaery had discreetly mentioned to her that breastfeeding could delay subsequent pregnancy. Sansa had always dreamed of a large family and now that she was a mother, the desire was stronger than ever. However, in reality it was not quite that simple. Tywin had made it very clear that Sansa and Jaime’s second son would be made heir to Winterfell. Sansa’s guts twisted with guilt and grief at the idea of enabling her good father to have this final victory over the Starks. In addition she was knew all too well the sentiment behind The North Remembers. If her brother could be stabbed by his own bannerman at a wedding, then what fate would await the Kingslayer or his son, for all the boy had Stark blood in his veins?

This was the reason Sansa found this recovery period so hard to bear. She had very little to do but worry. Even when she was tending to little Tyrion or busy with her needlework while he slept, she found her thoughts retuning to the less pleasant realities of her current situation. When she had fully opened her heart to Jaime, it had meant accepting his flaws and coming to terms with his past misdeeds. Sansa had done this gladly and certainly did not regret having made the choice. However, the fact that in making such a choice she had willingly become a piece in Tywin Lannister’s game was something that haunted her at times. In the weeks following Tyrion’s birth she had experienced vivid nightmares on more than one occasion, waking up sobbing and sweating. Sometimes she had seen her mother, but not as the beautiful, gracious lady Sansa remembered. In her dreams Catelyn was ravaged by death and decay: her throat gaping with the wound which had ended her life. She would hang Jaime from a golden rope and Sansa would watch, trying desperately to move or cry out but finding she was bound by some invisible barrier. Sometimes she would start by playing with her siblings in the Godswood, all their direwolves with them. Sansa would realise Lady was not there and when she called to her brothers and sister to help her find her pet, they turned accusing faces to her and set their own direwolves to chase and kill her. Jon was never in these dreams and this made Sansa feel even more guilty. Can it be that even after all that has passed, I still cannot look on him as a brother?

Following Tyrion’s birth, a plethora of gifts had been sent to the Rock, for the babe and for Sansa in recognition of her good fortune to have birthed a healthy son and survived. She had been surprised to receive a large parcel of material from her good father. Sansa had opened the parcel and found it contained fine silks and satins of the type used in women’s gowns and also soft wool suitable for infant’s clothes. What had at first surprised her had been the colours: there were rich ebonies, soft greys and sparkling silver. None of the pieces was large enough to make a complete item of clothing, they were clearly meant for trimming and embellishment. Sansa had run her hands over the fabrics, a bitter smirk coming to her face as she imagined how it was expected these materials would be incorporated into clothing for herself and her son. When she had first married Jaime, displaying the colours of her father’s house had been tantamount to treason. But now that she had proved herself capable of producing heirs, it was expected that she begin to subtly remind everyone that those heirs had claims to more than Casterly Rock.

There was a knock at the door and her handmaiden entered.

“Please, m’lady, Ser Jaime has just ridden into the courtyard. Will the two of you be supping in here?”

“Yes, please have some food sent once he has washed and changed.”

The girl nodded, dropped a curtesy and left. Sansa looked down at her son, who seemed to have finished feeding and was staring up at her with wide eyes. It was too early to tell whether Tyrion’s eyes would remain blue or deepen to the emerald green of his father. Likewise, the babe’s head was as yet bald with no indication as to whether copper or golden locks would one day crown it. Sansa smiled down at him, placing a finger in his tiny palm, which he immediately gripped tightly.

“Papa’s home, my darling boy, and he will be so pleased to see you awake.”

She placed her son on the bed and rearranged her gown, then glanced at her reflection critically. Her hair and gown were immaculate as always but to Sansa’s mind, her skin looked too pale, something she blamed on being kept in doors for so long. In addition, she was impatient to don her pre-pregnancy gowns and it was all too obvious that she was far from being able to do this. Sansa could not help but worry about what Jaime thought of her. It was still too early for them to resume lovemaking but he shared her bed every night, which she was glad of when her nightmares plagued her. Sansa generally avoided comparing herself to Cersei, being aware that such thoughts brought no benefit, but she was acutely aware that Jaime would not have been able to spend time in close quarters with his sister after the births of their three children. While in some ways this was comforting, it did not make her insecurities about her figure any easier to bear.

She returned to her son on the bed and sat down beside him letting a sigh escape her lips with a sputtering sound. The infant squirmed at the noise and his lips moved into a tentative smile. Sansa’s heart leapt and she immediately put her face close to his and repeated the noise. This time there was no mistaking the wide, gummy grin on her son’s face. She picked him up and held him in her arms tightly, tears of happiness coming to her eyes. The door opened and Sansa turned a shining face to her husband.

“Jaime! Ty just smiled for the first time! Show your papa, my clever little man.”

Sansa held their son in front of her and made the sound again, Tyrion obliging with yet another heart melting beam. She glanced to her husband and was rewarded by a look akin to wonderment. Seeing the love that Jaime bore their son gave her a feeling of contentment stronger than she had ever known. Now he moved to take the babe and began to contort his features; trying valiantly to find other ways to bring a smile to his son. Sansa had wondered during her pregnancy whether having sired three children he could never acknowledge would somehow cause Jaime to also be distant with their child, at least in the early days. However, her husband had taken to fatherhood with enthusiasm and aplomb and it gave her a feeling of deep pride to think that she had been the one who was able to give him this gift which he clearly treasured so much. Thinking on this now, called to her mind her conflicting feelings about having more children and, as Jaime turned towards her, he was dismayed to see a worried look upon her face.

“Sansa, are you alight, my love?”

She looked up at him with a small smile.

“I am fine, just fed up of being stuck inside this… room!”

Jaime raised an eyebrow.

“It must be serious, a curse almost fell from your pretty lips just then.”

Sansa rolled her eyes at his teasing, but was glad her troubles had not been too evident in her face. She felt she could talk to her husband about almost anything, but not this. There was nothing he could do about it and she did not want to cause him doubts or make him worry that she regretted their marriage. Soon servants arrived with their food and one of her maids took Tyrion so the couple could eat in peace. Jaime told her of his trip to Castamere.

“Lucon thinks we can drain at least the upper third. We cannot know about the rest until that is done. At any rate we should able to get a decent amount of gold from those seams. It does mean I may have to spend some extended periods at Castamere… or I could always send Daven.”

Sansa shook her head.

“If you must go the you must, at least I am not sending you to war.”

Jaime looked into her deep, blue eyes and wished that he never had to spend an night away from her side. But he knew the truth of her words and the anxiety behind them. All was peaceful in the seven kingdoms for now, but the peace was uneasy. He knew his father had designs on the North and the rebellion in the Riverlands continued. Can’t the fucking Freys be trusted to take one damn castle? He sought to change the subject.

“Myrcella’s name day will be upon us soon, I was hoping you could help me decide on a gift. You probably have a much better idea of what she would like than I would.”

His wife stroked his hand, a compassionate look on her face showing that she caught the bitterness in his last sentence.

“I spend much time with her when we were together in King’s Landing, although that was some years ago, Dorne may have changed her tastes and interests.”

Sansa paused her eyes far away. Jaime frowned.

“What troubles you, darling? Please tell me.”

She gave him a sad smile.

“On my fifteenth name day, Joffrey cornered me in the gardens with two of his Kingsguard. After Tyrion became acting Hand, I stopped being beaten before the court, but Joffrey still… got to me in private when he could.”

She looked down and Jaime rose from his seat and came to her side, pulling her into his arms.

“I am so sorry for all he put you through, my love, had I been there to witness it, I know I would have killed him myself.”
“I know you would too, Jaime, do not forget I heard you threaten to do just that.”

Jaime was pleased to see a small smile on her face. Sansa had been so strong in the face of all she had endured during her time in King’s Landing and although it tore his heart when she recounted stories such as this, he recognised that it demonstrated the love and trust she felt for him. He head her for a few moments longer and then returned to his chair. They were silent as the as the dinner plates were cleared away and when they had been left with a plate of sweetmeats Sansa spoke once more.

“Myrcella was always very fond of music-”

“Sansa, think no more of it, truly.”

His wife threw him a stern look.

“Jaime, Myrcella is not Joffrey we have been over this before. She was nothing but sweet to me, besides I know how it feels to be in a strange place far away from all your family. Although it seems from her letters that she is thriving in Dorne and has grown extremely close to Tyrstane Martell.”

Sansa’s tone had been innocent enough as she spoke the last sentence but her eyes twinkled at Jaime’s frown. She had witness her husband’s protectiveness in the face of Myrcella’s apparent affection for her betrothed before. Sansa assumed this was typical of most fathers and was sure that Jaime had nothing to worry about. While Myrcella was had none of her mother’s manipulative nature, the older girl was sure the young princess would not be anyone’s fool. Remembering the time they had spent together in her early days in the capital, Sansa recalled how the younger girl had stayed quiet, often letting those around her lead conversation while she watched and listened to all that went on. With the benefit of the wisdom the subsequent years had brought her, Sansa could recognise the shrewdness in such a strategy. She hoped she would have a chance to spend time with Myrcella again. She shot an amused glance at Jaime’s continued grim expression.

“So perhaps you could send her a book of songs? There is still time to have one illuminated in Lannisport. Myrcella has a fine voice and I remember her singing often.”

Jaime’s face broke into a satisfied smile.

“You are right, she did always seem to be humming some tune or another, what an excellent idea.”

Jaime was touched by his wife’s thoughtfulness, the gift was not large or lavish, but it would be personal. Prior to Tommen’s name day, Jaime’s father had tersely informed him by raven that he had arranged for the boy to be gifted with several pairs of doeskin boots and riding gloves, along with an ermine trimmed cape emblazoned with stags and lions. How exciting that will seem to a boy of nine. At least with his daughter in Dorne, he had more freedom regarding correspondence and presents, Sansa made it look to all at the Rock as if she were the one exchanging letters with her niece; after all they were reasonably close in age and had known each other well before Myrcella’s betrothal. Jaime gazed at his wife feeling a rush of love for her. Through Sansa he had learnt that there was strength in kindness and decency; where so often before those in his life had decried such behaviour as weakness.

After dinner their son was returned to them and the couple spent a happy hour or so doing what they could to illicit more smiles. Once Tyrion became fretful, Sansa put him to her breast and nursed him, a serene expression on her face. Jaime lay at the foot of their bed, his head propped up on one elbow.

“I would not have thought it possible to find you more beautiful than I already did, wife, but motherhood leaves you radiant.”

Sansa flushed.

“Do not tease me, Jaime! I have never looked so drab in my life.”

“ I refuse to believe you could ever approach looking drab and I can assure you that my desire for you runs keener now than ever.”

This caused her blush to deepen and he was delighted to see a smile fighting to appear on her lips.

“Perhaps that is simply because you are unable to take me at the moment. That which is denied, always seems sweeter.”

“What sinful words! And you are known to be so pious, Lady Lannister.”

He sat upright and shifted along the bed until he was beside her and placed an arm around her shoulders.

“The day our son was born, you told me that seeing me with him made you fall in love with me all over again. Sansa, let me assure you that I feel the same way about you.”

His heartfelt tone and the conviction which shone in his green eyes, stirred Sansa’s courage and she swallowed and said.

“What of… any more sons who follow him? Your father would see our second son in Winterfell, Jaime, I have already lost too many of those I care about to wars and power grabs. I will not loose you too.”

Voicing her fears brought them into sharp focus. Sansa had already suffered through one family being torn from her and despite feeling stronger than ever, she did not think she could survive losing another. Jaime head her tighten his strong arms, encircling both her and their now sleeping son in his embrace.

“You certainly will not lose me, dear wife, I fully intend for you to remain stuck with me until the end of our days, which I fully intend to ensure is quite some time from now. Now, to quote the words of a very wise house: ‘Winter is Coming’, attempting campaign in the North would be folly by this time next year. My father is many things but a fool is not one of them. I have no doubt he will wish us to wait until the Boltons and their allies are weakened; this winter is likely to be a long and harsh one.”

Jaime’s words stirred conflicting emotions within Sansa. On the one hand his tactical reasoning quieted her fears, in addition it spoke to a part of her brain which had been honed during her time in the capital. If the winter is harsh and long, Tywin Lannister may perish before its end. At the same time, she felt a pang of sadness at the talk of a harsh winter. It would weaken all in the North, not just the Boltons. Sansa spent much of her time at Casterly Rock ensuring preparations for winter were underway. The Westerlands was rich and such farming as there was had not been affected by the War of Five Kings. She knew the Ironborn had left Winterfell in chaos and that the Riverlands, which had been the source of much of the North’s food supply in the past, had been decimated. She was the last Stark of Winterfell and had a duty to the Northern people; but would they curse her if she tried to carry it out?

Jaime watched her troubled face and wished he could offer more in the way of reassurance. In some ways Sansa made him feel as idealistic as he had in boyhood. She was a woman worth losing a kingdom for; worth risking everything for. He felt that, had she but asked it ,he would have ridden to Winterfell right now and removed Roose Bolton’s head from his shoulders, returning with it as a trophy for his wife. But he was very far from his boyhood. He had a wife and a true born son, he had to try to do as much as he could for Myrcella and Tommen. He took their sleeping son and placed the infant in his cradle then returned to bed, grasping his wife’s hands in his.

“I wish I could take all these troubles from you, my love, I am truly sorry our marriage has placed you in this position.”
Sansa’s blue eyes blazed.

“I will never regret marrying you, Jaime Lannister, not for one second.”

She gripped his hands tightly, and move her lips to his, kissing him fiercely. When they broke apart, she placed her hands on either side of his face and looked straight into his eyes.

“Do not ever apologise for our marriage again.”

Jaime grinned at the magnificent woman he was married to.

“As my lady commands.”

Sansa returned his smile and pulled him into another kiss.

That night they went further in their intimacies than they had since before Tyrion’s birth.As Sansa rested her head on her sleeping husband’s chest she could hardly countenance that only several hours previously she had doubted Jaime’s desire for her. When they left King’s Landing, Sansa had believed she was leaving behind everything that happened to her there too. It seemed that Cersei and Joffrey had scarred her soul and that those wounds were manifest in more than bad dreams. Spending her days confined, albeit in very different circumstances, had allowed her to slip back into feelings of guilt and powerlessness. But even when she had been a prisoner in King’s Landing, Sansa was never as meek and stupid as Cersei and Joffrey believed her to be; there was a steel within her and now she felt it more keenly than ever. Sansa was wise enough to be aware of the limitations of her position; ultimately if Tywin Lannister commanded his banner men to march north tomorrow she could do nothing. But Tywin Lannister was not going to command his banner men to march north tomorrow and in the meantime there were measures she could take to try and ensure that she, her husband and her son were in a position of strength. It was time to stop worrying about the things she had no control over and take control of what she could.

The following morning, as they broke their fast, Sansa requested her handmaiden bring her ink quills and parchment. She smiled at Jaime’s questioning look.

“Do not look so surprised, husband, remember I was promised a tourney to celebrate the birth of our son, such an event will take much organisation, it is high time I started planning.”

Chapter Text

Margaery lifted the curtained side of the palanquin she was riding in with her husband and sniffed the air theatrically.

“Ah! The scent of home.”

Tyrion smirked at her and shook his head slightly.

“King’s Landing will never be ‘home’ to you, Margaery.”

She threw him a loving smile,

“How well you know your wife. What you say is true, Highgarden will always be my home and I look forward to the day when the same is true for you.”

Tyrion returned her smile but remained silent. For most of his life he had assumed he would end his days in Casterly Rock; whether he became its lord or not. Outside of Dorne, heiresses were not common and he had certainly never expected to find himself wed to one. It felt strange to imagine himself as lord of keep he had never set eyes on. From what Margaery had told him of Highgarden it was a beautiful and elegant place and he could not envisage ever feeling he belonged somewhere like that. There had been a time when he felt he belonged in King’s Landing; that he had found his place in the world, but then he’d awoken following the battle of Blackwater and that place had been ripped from him. However, fortune’s wheel had turned since then and Tyrion was returning to the capital with purpose. He loved Tommen and would do all he could to help his nephew navigate the peril of being a boy king. He would protect Jaime’s son, where Jaime could not and show his elder brother that he, Tyrion, was worthy of the love Jaime had always given him. They came to stop and Margaery moved to pull back the curtain once more.

“We have arrived.”

He watched her step out into the courtyard and be greeted by King Tommen with Loras at his side. Margaery greeted the boy king formally before pulling her brother into an embrace.

“Loras! It is good to see you!”

“Likewise, sister, you look well, married life clearly suits you.”

“And that white cloak suits you.”

Tyrion glanced at his good brother. Loras’ kingsguard uniform made him appear more of a storybook knight than ever. He was not the lighthearted youth he had been before Renly died but he seemed more purposeful and at peace since taking the white. Tyrion’s nephew turned to him with a beaming smile.

“Uncle Tyrion! I missed you so much.”

Tyrion bowed before his nephew, a grin on his face.

“It is good to see you, my king. It seems you have grown whilst I was in Braavos. At this rate you will soon be taller than your Uncle Jaime.”

Tommen’s face clouded for a moment but soon his grin returned.

“I also had my name day whilst you were gone.”

“I did not forget, your grace. Here is a small gift from myself and your Aunt Margaery.”

Tyrion reached into the leather bag at his side and handed Tommen an ornately carved wooden box. The boy king examined it with interest. Margaery smiled.

“It is a Tyroshi puzzle box, you grace. You see it appears to have a normal lid but actually it opens like this-“

She gestured for the gift which Tommen handed to her and gently pressed the sides revealing a secret compartment.

Tyrion leant towards his nephew.

“You can use it to hide things from people who have no business seeing them.”

“It’s wonderful! Thank you both. I cannot wait to hear all about your time in Braavos, it must have been so exciting!”

Tyrion laughed at the boy’s eagerness.

“I spent most of my time stuck in the Iron Bank, your Aunt was the one having adventures.”

Tommen smiled shyly at Margaery.

“Will you come and tell me all about it, Aunt?”

“It would be my pleasure, you grace.”

Tommen frowned.

“It will have to be tomorrow, grandfather will get cross if I miss my lessons. Ser Loras should be taking me to the maester now but we slipped off to see you both first.”

“Well, before you slip back I have something else to give you; here is a letter from your uncle Jaime which he gave to me before I left Casterly Rock do not show it to your mother or grandfather: its a secret.”

Tommen took the letter with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. Tyrion was puzzled by his nephew’s reaction; until now the boy’s hero worship of Jaime had called to Tyrion’s mind the way he had viewed his older brother as a child. He and Margaery accompanied the king and his sworn shield to the tower where Tommen had his lessons. Tyrion was impressed to see that rather than the doddering old fool who had previously been in charge of his nephew’s education a younger, more vital looking fellow awaited the boy king. Having left Tommen in the tower, he voiced these thoughts to Loras who smiled.

“Yes, your father demanded the Citadel send a more capable maester, the king also practices swordplay with myself and certain other members of the kingsgaurd on a daily basis now.”

Tyrion was impressed; he had always thought Cersei had been deeply foolish to forbid her sons from martial training. It seemed that his father was taking a genuine interest in helping Tommen develop into a good king. Margaery spoke:

“What does the king’s mother have to say about all this?”

“She was enraged at first, until Lord Tywin returned from the Rock she did all she could to dissuade King Tommen from his training. Now she does not say much, but I can tell it displeases her. Anyway, enough of that, how was your time in Braavos? Were the sea crossings rough?”

“Not particularly. I was terribly sick on the way home though.”

Loras glanced at his sister in confusion; no doubt wondering why Margaery would be so smug about a bout of sea sickness. Tyrion himself remained convinced that it had been sea sickness, however when he had voiced this to Margaery she had simply smiled and reminded him that she was sure her courses were late. He stayed silent as the Tyrell siblings’ talk turned to Margery’s time in Braavos and soon they reach the apartments which now belonged to Tyrion and his wife.

They entered the rooms and Tyrion saw that most of his possessions had already been unpacked. He was about to make his way to the bedchamber and discard his travelling clothes when he realised that his good brother was still standing by the door to the chambers, looking somewhat awkward. Margaery clearly sensed something was wrong as she had approached Loras with a frown.

“What troubles you, brother?”

The young knight pressed his lips together for a moment.

“A number of the lords of the Reach are in the capital, to swear fealty to the king. Amongst them are Randyl Tarly and his son Dickon. Yesterday as I was leaving the training ground, Dickon took me to one side. He told me that House Tarly would have sided with us had we chosen to stand up to the lions.”

“How indiscreet of him, he never was a particularly bright boy.”

Margaery sounded amused, but Tyrion could see the grim set of her eye. Loras smirked humourlessly.

“I asked him what in hells he meant, I think he must have overheard Lord Tarly in conversation. It would seem there are those within the Reach who think your marriage was forced upon you, sister.”

Tyrion’s good brother glanced at him apologetically, then the younger man’s face hardened.

“I left Dickon in no doubt that this was not the case. I told him you were an honourable man and reminded him that we fought together against Stannis Baratheon while he remained amongst his mother’s skirts at Horn Hill.”

While Tyrion was not entirely clear how military experience would improve a man as a spouse, he was surprised and pleased that Loras had so readily spoken in support of him. He smiled warmly at the young kingsgaurd.

“I thank you for defending me, Loras.”

“Of course, you are family now, Tyrion.”

Loras gave a small bow of his head, patted his sister’s shoulder and took his leave. Margaery closed the door behind him and turned to Tyrion with a scowl.

“Fuck Randyl Tarly!”

“I’d rather not, sweetling, he is really not my type.”

“This is not funny, Tyrion!”

“I know, but it is hardly unexpected either. Do not forget I myself came to the same conclusion when my father informed me of our betrothal.”

His wife eyed him sharply, Tyrion knew that she found the bitter defensiveness he often resorted to enraging. However, despite his jape reading taking Lord Tarly to bed, he was not particularly cut by the assumptions the man had made regarding his marriage. Margaery had been betrothed to Joffrey and set to be queen. Now she was married to a second son and her brother sworn to the Kingsguard. The only conclusions one could draw were either that she had been coerced or that she loved him and Randyl Tarly did not strike Tyrion as a romantic soul.

He met his wife’s gaze and watched as her hazel eyes softened and a coy smile replaced the grim set of her lips.

“Yes you did and I was able to soften your heart towards our marriage, I shall simply have to do the same with the lords of the Reach.”

Tyrion felt an exhilarated delight as he caught the calm certainty in her tone. He had scant enough experience of any around him not assuming the worst of him; even those who did had rarely taken it upon themselves to speak up for him. He would have pointed out the monumental task Margaery set herself if she sought to improve his reputation, but he believed that if anyone could do it she could. After all, she had the people cheer for Joff, where before they flung shit at him.

He grasped her hand in his and brought her palm to his lips, he moved slightly higher, sucking at the pulse point on her wrist, taking pride in the soft shiver which passed through her. Out of the corner of his eye, Tyrion noticed the door opening and Pod entered, turning red as he took in the contact between the couple.

“um…Lord Tyrion, your Lord father wishes to see you promptly after luncheon. Lady Margaery, your three new handmaidens arrived yesterday, shall I send them to you?….um your handmaidens I mean, my lady?”

“Thank you, Podrick, you may send them after luncheon.”

Tyrion kept his wife’s hand in his as his squire bowed and departed. As the door closed he looked up at Margaery expectantly.

“I notice the bedchamber to the right is to be ours, may I enquire which of your family members had possession of it before?”

His wife’s eyes danced.

“I decided you should join me in what was my bedchamber. It seemed appropriate since I spent so much time thinking of you in there.”

Tyrion felt himself harden at her words. He raised her hand to his lips once more, punctuating his speech with less than chaste kisses.

“I see, as it seems we are not required until after luncheon, I think we should discuss those thoughts further, in the chamber concerned of course.”

He turned a walked rapidly towards the room, his wife’s delighted laughter chiming behind him.

 

Several hours later, Tyrion sat in his father’s study, watching as Tywin Lannister wrote. In the past Tyrion would have broken the silence in the room long before now; made some jape he knew was bound to irritate his sire into acknowledging his presence. However, today the younger Lannister felt no desire to engage in such behaviour. Since he had realised that his father had killed Joffrey, Tyrion had wondered how he would feel when they next met. Back at Greenfork, when Tywin had asked him to deputise as Hand, Tyrion had felt something like pride, he had tried to prove himself worthy of the responsibility and felt that he had. But Tywin had disagreed and Tyrion was given a bitter reminder of the complete disregard his father held him in. Feeding him poison to make the death of the King look less suspicious was simply a further manifestation of this, and in other circumstances Tyrion could have imagined a drunken confrontation with his father and the thought made him cringe. Having had the opportunity to ponder what had happened far away from King’s Landing, he and Margaery had both agreed that no good could come of confronting Tywin, even if there had been some way to prove his guilt. Although he knew this was not the intent, Tyrion felt that his father had given him another chance to prove himself and he hated the tiny spring of hope that feeling caused to well up within him. At last his father faced him with a grim expression.

“You took your time in Braavos.”

“The negotiations took time. Trant’s death added further complications.”

“Did you ascertain a culprit?”

“It seemed to be a robbery gone wrong.”

This was the story Tyrion had decided upon, for all the knight’s full coin purse had remained on his body. No one in Braavos had been keen to talk about what had happened and Tyrion was sure Trant would not be mourned. Tywin nodded without interest.

“So you managed to negotiate a reduction in the repayments on our debt?”

“I managed to negotiate a lower rate of interest and and longer intervals between payments. As we have no leverage against them it was the best I could do.”

“So sending you there was a waste of time, all you achieved was the loss of a kingsgaurd. How is Lady Margaery?”

“She is well.”

Tyrion felt his father’s eyes boring into him but he refused to say more. He knew what Tywin was asking. He could have told him that his wife believed herself to be with child but he did not. Margaery could easily be wrong and making the news public would make it seem more real; would mean that he would have to face up to what the outcome of her carrying his child might be. His father’s lips curled.

“Jaime’s wife has borne a healthy son. Jaime himself has determined a way to reopen the mines of House Reyne for the profit of House Lannister.”

Tyrion met his father’s challenging gaze and swallowed the words which had risen in his throat. He wanted to point out how he had helped Jaime with the mines but he stopped himself. Tyrion’s brother had fallen further in their sire’s estimations than had ever seemed possible, if Tywin was pleased with Jaime then Tyrion should let his brother have the victory in full; it may help soften their father towards allowing Jaime contact with Tommen. He smiled at his sire.

“I am pleased to hear I have gained another nephew.”

Tywin’s eyebrows raised a fraction as his youngest son continued:

“While I was in Braavos, I obtained copies of their records of the Crown debts. The monies we borrowed do not tally with our yearly expenditures. Lord Baelish purposely ran up more crown debt than required. Of course King Robert’s lavish expenditure did not help matters but Littlefinger is the reason we are in our current predicament.”

“What are you suggesting? That you ride to the Eyrie and ask him for the money back? Do you not think you caused me enough trouble the last time you went there?”

Tyrion stared at his father as Tywin bent his head to his writing once more. He had guessed his father would be unimpressed by the outcome of his negotiations with the Iron Bank; for all Tyrion himself knew that he could not have hoped for more. He had hoped this news of Littlefinger would spark some interest.

The door opened and a page entered.

“Prince Oberyn Martell is here to see you, Lord Tywin.”

“Tyrion, our meeting is over, you will give details of your negotiation with the Iron Bank at small council on the morrow.”

Tyrion rose and went to the door, just as the flamboyant Prince of Dorne entered. Oberyn glanced at him with a wide smile.

“Lord Tyrion! You are once again at court! The place has been dull without you, little friend! I must insist that you and your beautiful wife dine with myself and Ellaria later this week.”

“It would be our pleasure, my prince.”

In truth Tyrion never felt fully at ease in the intense company of the Red Viper. As for Margaery, the rivalry between the Martells and Tyrells was long standing for all things were tranquil between the two houses at the moment. His wife had a fondness for black olives and frequently joked to Tyrion that the delicacy was the only good thing to come from Dorne. But Tyrion was puzzled by Oberyn’s continued presence in the capital and also keen for word of his niece. He glanced back into the room and saw that his father was making no pretence at correspondence. Tyrion wondered at the purpose of the meeting but the page at his father’s door meant there was no opportunity to tarry.

Tyrion exited the tower of the hand and made his way to his own chambers, trying to shake off the frustration he always felt after an exchange with his sire. As he walked along a quiet corridor, the scent of lavender caught his nose and with a swish of silk robes, Varys was in front of him, almost seeming to appear from thin air.

“My Lord I am pleased to see you have returned to court. Were your negotiations with the Iron Bank fruitful?”

“I do not know if I am the right person to ask, Lord Varys.”

“Oh dear, I hope we are not going to see a repeat of the treatment you were subjected to following the Battle of Blackwater, my Lord.”

Tyrion took in the picture of concern painted on the eunuch’s features and berated himself for allowing his irritation to prompt the offhand remark. Varys may have come to his aid on more than one occasion, but that did not mean he should see the other man as any kind of confidant. He smiled crookedly.

“I hope so too, I doubt my wife would want to share my bed if it meant taking up residence in the lodging I was granted back then.”

Vayrs tittered.

 

“What was the talk in Braavos, my Lord?”

“The talk? I am sure you know more of that than I, Spider. I have no little birds and few there spoke directly to me.”

“But I am sure you kept your eyes and ears open, Lord Tyrion. I wondered if there was freer discussion of…events in the free cities.”

“Ah. You mean Daenerys Targaryen? It seems she now commands armies as well as dragons. The gods help us if she ever comes to Westeros.”

“Indeed, although some would be worse off than others, my Lord. But forgive my callousness, you are quite recovered from the bad meat you ate with King Joffrey? Certainly your father’s health seems fully restored but then, he was not so affected as you and the Queen mother was he?”

Tyrion glanced sharply at the Spider’s blandly smiling face. When he had questioned Varys about the identity of Joffrey’s murderer the eunuch had claimed ignorance. Why did he seem to be leading Tyrion to other conclusions now?

“Yes I remember you telling me he stopped Loras and Margaery being carried to the black cells on my sister’s orders several days after we dined. If Lord Tarly and others are to be believed, that was likely the beginning of my wife’s coercion into our marriage.”

Varys raised his brows in a perfect picture of disbelief.

“Lord Tyrion, having watched you and Lady Margaery for quite some time at court, I find the idea there was any coercion of either party quite absurd. You are extremely fortunate, my Lord, you have won the heart of an exceptional woman and I have no doubt you will do whatever it takes to ensure that you keep her by your side.”

Tyrion felt unnerved by the way Varys leaned closer to him and gazed at him intently as he spoke the last sentence.

“If someone means my wife harm, I wish to know of it, Spider. Keep such knowledge from me and you will find it is not so hard for you to be killed after all.”

“Lord Tyrion, I assure you should any such word reach the ears of my little birds, you will be the first to know. I simply meant you have more loyalties to consider now than you once did. I must be on my way, I’m sure you are eager to return to your new chambers too.”

With that, Varys slipped away as unobtrusively as he had come.

Tyrion remained where we was staring at the place the Spider had stood. Varys’ words about loyalty caused him more disquiet than he would like to admit. Despite his animosity towards his father and sister, Tyrion had always been loyal to House Lannister before all else. In recent times Jaime and Sansa had shown him a level of steadfast support that only made his commitment to his house feel stronger than ever. But he loved Margaery and one day he would rule Highgarden by her side. Loras had defended him to the Tarly boy without hesitation you are family now Tyrion. The little Lannister shook his head; House Lannister and House Tyrell were allies, his marriage was a manifestation of that fact, his wife loved Sansa as if they were true sisters, he would surely face no conflict being loyal to the Westerlands and the Reach.

Tyrion’s felt his heart grow lighter as soon as he entered his chambers. Margaery stood on the small balcony, tending to the flowers which lined the outer wall, humming a tune to herself. He caught the scent of jasmine and orange blossom as he moved to join her. He lightly ran a hand across her bare arm, and she started before turning; her eyes lighting up as she realised it was him.

“How was your father?”

“I think I miss Nestoris.”

Margaery smirked.

“I too have spent some time in the lion’s den this afternoon, well lioness to be precise.”

“Did my sweet sister take kindly to her new handmaidens?”

“Naturally she was decorum itself, I may suggest to Lord Tywin that we remove her glass goblets before a nasty accident occurs.”

They returned to the solar and Tyrion was startled to see a young, blonde girl standing in the middle of room. She could not have been more than four and ten and as she curtsied she gazed at the couple with guileless blue eyes.

“Ana, this is Lord Tyrion, my husband. Tyrion, this is one of my new handmaidens. Did you manage to deliver my letters, Ana?”

“Yes, m’lady. Maester Mytus also gave me this for you, from the rookery.”

The girl handed Margaery a sealed scroll. Tyrion watched as her face lit up.

“It is from Sansa, I was hoping for word from her.”

Tyrion was also keen to hear of his friend and goodsister.

“Father told me she had birthed a healthy son but he gave no further details, what has Sansa to say, wife?”

Margaery began to open the scroll, then paused, glancing to her handmaiden who still stood in the centre of the solar.

“Ana, please fetch our evening meal from the kitchens. You may serve us tonight, do not worry if you cannot remember everything, I am sure you will learn fast.”

The girl curtsied and exited. Margaery gave her husband a smile.

“Ana was a cupbearer prior to her arrival in King’s Landing, she will have to learn from the other girls who came, they have more experience.”

Tyrion nodded and went to pour them both a glass of wine, when he returned Margaery looked at him with bright eyes.

“I am sure there was one detail regarding his grandson your father was not keen to share. It seems Jaime and Sansa have named their son and heir Tyrion.”

Tyrion gazed at his wife, becoming aware his mouth was slightly open. When he did speak his voice was hoarse and his joy evident.

“Truly? They have named the babe, after me?”

“They both love you very much, husband, perhaps before too long we shall be able to return the favour.”

She flashed him a mischievous smile and her hand ghosted across her abdomen. Tyrion smiled tentatively back, remembering how during his brief first marriage he had wondered if he and Tysha might have a son who looked like Jaime. He felt dread when he thought of Margaery bearing his child and what could happen to her in the process. She was so bright and beautiful there were times when he thought his wife invincible. But strong women had met their end on the bloody bed before now, his own mother among them. Tyrion had survived much but loosing his Margaery and knowing he was the cause of that loss - he did not think he could survive that.

Chapter Text

Sansa had just placed her sleeping son into his cot, when the door to her bed chamber opened to reveal Jaime, returned from his early morning training. A mischievous smile coming to her lips she approached her husband and placed her arms around his neck.

“Ty should easily sleep for several more hours after that feed.”

“I would hope given how much time he spent awake last night,the little blackguard.”

Jaime spoke lightly, his green eyes dancing as they roamed over his wife’s voluptuous form. He raised a brow.

“I have no doubt given how little rest you had last night, you are keen to return to bed yourself, lady wife.”

“Indeed I am, although not for sleep just yet.”

He grinned and pulled her into a passionate kiss. As Sansa wrapped herself around him more tightly, she felt his hands move down her thighs and gasped as he lifted her off her feet and carried her the short distance to their bed. He laid her down with her bottom on the edge of the mattress and kneeling, proceeded to plant kisses along her thighs and run his hands up and down her legs.

Jaime allowed himself a smirk as her heard her muffled whimpers and gasps. He knew that having to restrain herself from crying out heightened the intensity of sensation for his wife. He felt her soft hands grasping at his hair and set his lips to her sweet cunt. He ran his tongue over the folds teasing her by coming close to, but never quite touching, her bundle of nerves. His strong arms held her smooth milky thighs apart and he could feel them tensing as her pleasure built. Eventually, he slid on hand up to massage her most sensitive spot, at the same time driving his tongue deep into her, revelling in the way she shivered and shook. As her climax subsided, Jaime expected his wife to remain in her prone position and was pleasantly surprised when Sansa swiftly raised herself and slid down to his kneeling lap. After several moments of joyous fumbling they removed his breeches and she wrapped her legs around him, grinding her hips onto his member with a slow twisting motion that seemed to make his body sing. After some minutes Jaime stood, supporting his wife’s weight and kissing her fiercely, in a few short steps he had her back against a wall. Sansa gave him a smouldering look as they continued to thrust and she bit into his shoulder to muffle her cries as her climax overtook her. Jaime came at the time, whispering her name over and over, then breathing hard, he carried her to their bed.

Jaime moved himself onto the bed next Sansa, his heart leaping with joy as she quickly pulled him into an embrace. He adored how affectionate Sansa always was after they had made love, it seemed that once she was sated she desired his embraces more than ever. He allowed himself a few moments of bliss before remarking languidly:

“The maid should be here with breakfast soon.”

He chuckled as his wife jumped swiftly to her feet and moved towards the room containing the wash basin. For all her unreserved passion in the privacy of their chambers, Sansa was deeply reluctant to provide any of their household with an indication of these activities and would blush and frown when Jaime teased her by pointing out their young son was evidence enough of what went on in their bed. In truth he was rather fond of this outward primness as it made him feel even more that the intimate side of his lady belonged to him and him alone.

Soon after the husband and wife sat down to break their fast together and Sansa enquired fondly:

“How goes your training, my love?”

“Exceedingly well, be assured , wife, that crown of blue roses is yours.”

Jaime caught the slight flush on his wife’s cheeks as he spoke. He was determined that he would win this tourney. In some ways it was a point of personal pride, it would be the first time in years he had jousted as heir to the Rock and it was a tourney in honour of the birth of his son. But mostly, he wanted to win for Sansa. His wife had seen so many of her dreams snatched from her and so much she held dear smashed before her eyes. Jaime knew she was happy now, but it still felt important to gift her this one thing. She looked at him and smiled.

“I do wish that Margaery was able to visit, it was lovely when she and Tyrion were here.”

“I miss them too, but it’s not as if my brother can join the lists, although the little rascal could probably find some way if he was of a mind to. I am afraid father is unlikely to invite us to King’s Landing any time soon.”

His wife looked at him with a sparkle on her eyes.

“No but Margaery might, he could scarcely forbid it. I know you would love to see Tommen again.”

“Yes I would, but what of you, Sansa? King’s Landing hardly holds pleasant memories for you.”

“What you say is true, but Tommen, Tyrion and Margaery are my family now, Jaime, and I won’t be kept from them by fear of the past.”

She held her head high and Jaime gazed at her in admiration. Sansa knew she may not have been so bold if Joffrey still lived, but he did not. Cersei’s power over her had been largely down to Sansa’s naivety and then her lowly position. Unlike her deranged offspring the Queen had always at least paid lip service to proprietary and thus Sansa saw her as less of a threat. It would easy enough ensure they were not left alone together. Besides, Sansa had learned during her marriage that ignoring and avoiding things brought no good in the long term. Returning to the capital would be a way of confronting her fears and hopefully facing them down.

Later in the morning, as her husband attended to the running of the keep, Sansa sat in their solar and sewed. She had had a gown made for the tourney: a shimmering scarlet satin. However she had decided that she would display Stark and Lannister sigils in a complex pattern around the hem and sleeves and these she was embroidering herself. She was well aware that the dress makers of Lannisport would have little experience of crafting dire wolves and skilled though the women were, she wanted to ensure the finished article was perfect. Sansa allowed herself a smirk as she thought about how much she was looking forward to the upcoming tourney and how different her reasons for doing so were than those she would have had five years hence. While Sansa did still experience a girlish glee imaging seeing Jaime triumph on the field, this was overlaid by a feeling of satisfaction at what event would demonstrate and what she could achieve. She had successfully planned and executed Tyrion and Margery’s wedding at the Rock and the tourney was another chance for her to demonstrate the skills she had been raised to perform. Moreover, she now recognised the full value of those skills; this was an opportunity to bring banner men together, as well as nobles from other territories, to form and maintain connections and to learn about the people she and Jaime would one day rule. She thought back to the Tourney of the Hand, when she first arrived in King’s Landing, perhaps she could have learnt much then if she had been of a mind to. Sansa set her mouth grimly, a slow learner she may be, but she did learn.

She was deep in thought and startled slightly when there was a knock at the door. Sansa knew there was an edge to her tone when she called for whoever it was to come in and her mood was not improved by the sight of Ser Kevan’s squire.

“Ser Kevan asked me to see if you had anything to send by raven, My Lady.”

“How kind of him. Yes, I have this for my brother at the Wall.”

Sansa smiled politely and handed the youth the scroll. As the lad bowed and exited she reflected wryly that her days of donning a mask of courtesy were by no means behind her. Her husband’s uncle had not sent his squire to her chamber on the off chance she would have correspondence. Lord Tywin had sent word to them the previous week: Stannis Baratheon had assembled what remained of his forces at Castle Black. Sansa was to write to Jon, who was apparently now Lord Commander of the Watch and remind him that Stannis was a traitor who had slandered her own husband and his family with vile falsehoods. Jaime had been incandescent at his father’s demand and had told his wife she need do no such thing. Sansa had smiled at her husband sadly and told him she must. Sansa knew she must choose her battles carefully and that more than anything, this letter was a test. She reasoned that Jon was unlikely to provide Stannis with any marital support; the Night’s Watch had been depleted when she left Winterfell and there was no reason to suppose their ranks had swollen since. In addition, she and Jon had never been close and she doubted her words would mean anything to him. Still the writing of letter left a bitter taste in her mouth, reminding her of another letter to another brother which she had written under duress. For all I have more power now, I am still a pawn in this game. Sansa looked out the window and noted the height of the sun in the sky. It was time to join the other residents of Casterly Rock for the midday meal.

Jaime made his way towards the great hall, his uncle Kevan at his side. Generally the whole family did not eat together, especially at midday but Sansa had begun to encourage the practice by ensuring that on days when both she and her husband were within the keep, it was the only place that hot food would be served. Jaime preferred to sup privately with his wife but he knew that this was one of the ways in which Sansa was asserting her control over the household and he wanted to support her in this. As they approached the table, Jaime took in the presence of his cousin Lancel with a scowl. He had hoped the youth would remain in King’s Landing, instead it seemed that he and Jaime would soon he travelling to Darry to see Lancel installed in the keep and finalise the arrangements for his marriage. Jaime had made it very clear that he and Sansa would not be present for the event, having no wish to subject his wife to the unpleasant associations a Frey wedding would bring.

Aside from Lancel’s presence, the meal was pleasant enough. Myrelle and Cerenna spent a good portion of the time teasing their brother about how he would impress his betrothed in the lists and Jaime was able to sneak his small cousin Joy and extra seed cake under the table, much to her delight. As the meal was drawing to a close, a Lannister man at arms approached the table.

“Beg pardon, Ser Jaime, but two riders have just arrived at the gates. They are demanding to speak to Lady Lannister at once.”

He saw his wife pale from the other end of the table. Jaime frowned at the man.

“Did these riders give a name?”

“The knight did. That is, I thought her a knight at first, ser, she says she is Brienne of Tarth.”

Sansa gasped and Jaime saw her hand fly to her chest. He stood and made his way to her seat, noticing his uncle had also risen.

“Very well, my lady and I will go and greet Brienne of Tarth and see what she has to stay. Uncle, there is no need for you to accompany us, the maid of Tarth returned me safely to my father when I was in far worse condition than I am now, she will not lay hands of me here in the Lion’s den.”

He could see his uncle wanted to argue, for all Kevan silently returned to his seat. Jaime gripped Sansa’s arm and lead her towards the courtyard. Neither of them spoke. Jaime hoped ferventy that Brienne was not accompanied by Arya Stark. He knew how much the return of her sister would mean to his wife, but he also knew that bringing the girl to Casterly Rock meant his father would know of her whereabouts as fast as a raven could fly. Sansa had spoken to him often of her wild little sister and Jaime did not think Arya sounded the type to meekly submit to whatever marriage his father thought safest for her. She's more likely to try and stab us all in our beds he reflected with grim humour.

As they caught sight of the wench and her companion he heard Sansa cry out softly; the figure beside the tall blonde woman, was small and slight with tousled mop of brown hair. However as they drew nearer Jaime realised it must the lad his father had given the wench as a squire when she had returned Jaime to the Lannister camp. He turned his attention to the wench and saw her lips drawn into a scowl as she eyed him coldly just like old times. She bowed before his wife and spoke.

“Lady Sansa, I am Brienne of Tarth, sworn shield to your mother Lady Catelyn. She charged me with finding and returning yourself and your sister to her in exchange for…Ser Jaime.”

The wench had managed to stop herself from calling him ‘Kingslayer’ but only just, despite the tension in the atmosphere Jaime allowed himself a smirk and Sansa spoke:

“Yes, Lady Brienne, my husband made we aware of these details when we met in King’s Landing. He spoke highly of your skill and honour, I am very pleased to meet you.”

Brienne had turned redder and redder as Sansa spoke, and Jaime could tell she was fighting her rage with difficulty. He watched as the blonde woman took a step forward.

“Lady Sansa, may I ask that we speak in private.”

“Whatever you wish to say may be said before, Ser Jaime, there are no secrets between us.”

Sansa gave him a loving smile and Jaime could not resist turning to the glaring Brienne with raised brows.

“What my wife says is true, wench, whether you believe it or not.”

Sansa gave a slight frown as he addressed Brienne as such but this was nothing compared to the baleful glare he received from the maid of Tarth herself.

“Very, well.” Brienne eventually ground out. “May I ask that we speak somewhere less public?”

Sansa nodded.

“You may join us in our solar, do you wish to refresh yourself first?”

“No, my lady, that can wait.”

Brienne dismissed her squire and the three of them made their way inside.

Sansa walked into the keep with Jaime at her side, Brienne following. The shock of the woman’s arrival had not abated and she still felt her heart poudning as it had when she say the boy who accompanied the lady knight and assumed it was Arya. Ridiculous of me, if my sister lives she’s a woman flowered, she would no longer look like a boy-child. Jaime had spoken to her of the Maid of Tarth once of twice and although he did not seem especially fond of the woman, he had been respectful, the glare Brienne had levelled at her husband for most of their first meeting held no such respect. She glanced to the woman walking several paces behind them and muttered to Jaime:

“She seems less than happy to see you.”

“Of course she does. She left me with a vow to return you to your mother. She returns to find I have taken you to wife instead.”

Jaime spoke lightly, but Sansa could sense the self-reproach underneath. She wanted to tell him that it did not matter; that he had tried to bring her back to her family; that only circumstances had prevented it. But somehow the words would not make their way off her tongue. The maid of Tarth had not looked upon Sansa with reproach, but that was clearly because she assumed Sansa was here against her will, once again Sansa’s feelings of guilt about the happiness she and her husband shared came flooding back and kept her silent.

The trio reached the solar and entered. Sansa shut the door and was about to offer her guest a drink when Brienne began to speak:

“Lady Sansa, I have word of your sister.”

“Arya’s alive?”

The words came out as gasp. The tall blonde woman nodded and then looked awkward.

“She is, my lady, at least… she was when I saw her last. After I returned Ser Jaime to his father, I set off North, I thought perhaps your sister may try to make it back to your brother Robb’s camp. When I had word of…what happened at the Twins, I decided instead to strike out towards the Vale, knowing you aunt is Lady of the Eyrie. It was in there that I saw your sister, some months ago. She was well and in the company of Sandor Clegane.”

“Arya was with the Hound?! Nothing was heard of him after he fled the Capital.”

“It seems he came across your sister and recognised her. He was taking her to your aunt to try and gain gold. I fought him for her release. I left him seriously wounded, I would not be surprised if he did not recover.”

“Then, my sister, is with you, Lady Brienne?”

The lady knight looked down.

“She is not, my lady. Once my duel with Clegane was over, I could not find her. It seems she used the altercation to slip away.”

Jaime could not help the cruel smirk which rose to his lips.

“She was not keen for your company then, wench? I can understand the sentiment.”

The sorrowed expression on his wife’s face, made him feel slightly ashamed. He could tell Sansa was fighting to keep her voice level as she spoke:

“In any case, Lady Brienne, I thank you for bringing me word of my sister, if Arya has survived this far then I have no doubt she will continue to do so.”

At this juncture the large woman knelt before her.

“Lady Sansa, I swore myself to your mother. If you will permit it, I would now become your sworn shield.”

Sansa had not expected this. She glanced at Jaime, seeing a frown cross his handsome features. Then she looked down at the woman before her. Brienne was certainly no beauty and at first glance her face held no redeemable features. But Sansa looked into her intense blue eyes and, for all they were not her mother’s Tully blue, something she saw in their sapphire depths moved her. She nodded.

“Very well, Brienne of Tarth, say your vow and I will accept it. You are welcome to remain here at Casterly Rock and my husband will see to it that you are afforded all the respect of any knight in our retinue.”

At the mention of Jaime, the woman before her threw him a mistrustful glare. Heavens, I hope she is better with a sword than she is at hiding her thoughts or she will offer me scant protection.

Once her vow was made the woman drew herself back to her full height. Jaime flashed her a smile that did not reach his eyes.

“Come, wench, I will show you to your quarters.”

Brienne bowed to Sansa and followed him through the door. When they had walked ten steps he, faced her with raised brow.

“Come on then, I have no doubt you are bursting to berate me for my lack of honour.”

Brienne’s lip curled.

“Nothing you do could surprise me anymore, Kingslayer.”

“Wench, I did not plan any of this. I was going to return her to her mother, when we had word of what happened at the Twins.”

Sansa’s heart wrenching screams that night still haunted him.

Brienne’s expression of anger changed to sadness.

“ I should have been there to protect Lady Catelyn.”

“Then you would be dead too.”

“Perhaps. I was on my way to them when I heard word it had happened. That was when I struck out towards the Vale.”

“So you said, it has taken you a very long time to make your way to the Rock.”

Jaime had spoken idly and was surprised to notice her face redden. She moved closer to him suddenly.

“I have no doubt Lady Catelyn’s daughter would never have freely agreed to marry you, Kingslayer. If I ever see you so much as lay a finger on her, I will run you through.”

“In that case, I suggest you stay away from our chambers of a night, wench. I don’t think your new lady would take kindly to having one of our many embraces end in my death.”

He walked ahead of her for the rest of the journey not wishing to converse further. When they had journeyed together he had taken delight in baiting the wench but he found her assumptions about his marriage harder to bear than her judgment of his kingslaying. He and Sansa may be happy now, but that did not mean it was pleasant to dwell on the circumstances which had brought them together.

Having made her way back to her chambers and deciding that she needed to calm herself with a familiar activity, Sansa had picked up her sewing. As Jaime entered she looked up from her work and took in her husband’s grim visage. She raised a brow.

“I trust you were able to show Brienne to her quarters without a fight breaking out.”

“Could you not have sent her away, wife?”

“I could not. Where would she have gone? You have told me more than once of her sense of honour, she will see herself bond to me through my mother whatever I say. I did not have the heart to deny her, my love.”

Jaime’s expression softened and he moved to place a hand on her face.

“My warm hearted wife.”

Sansa smiled and leaned into his touch. She had spoken the truth but not the whole truth. She wanted Brienne at her side because the woman was a living link to her lady mother, someone who had known Lady Catelyn and who had thought her worthy of swearing her sword too. Sansa may be worried about how Brienne would judge her for finding happiness with Jaime, but that worry was not enough to make her want to give up this chance to be near someone who owed their loyalty to Sansa Stark rather than Lady Lannister.

Chapter Text

As Margaery’s eyes opened she became aware of a cramping pain in her lower abdomen and a feeling of stickiness between her legs. She rose from her bed and made her way to the small room equipped with a wash stand and chamber pot where she confirmed that her monthly bleeding was upon her. Margaery cursed under her breath; part of her had been hoping to find herself with child ever since the tryst she enjoyed with Tyrion before their wedding. As a young girl she had not been greatly interested in tending to dolls and as she grew older, when relations and banner men brought babes to Highgarden on visits, she had cooed and cuddled as expected more due to propriety than any strong maternal feelings. Margaery knew that when she had her own children she would love them, and she was even more convinced of this now that those children would have Tyrion for a father, but her current frustration was largely practical. Bearing a child would allow her to secure her position; a son who could be sent to squire at Horn Hill or the Abour or a daughter who could someday be betrothed into a powerful house. Margaery was no fool and she was well aware that all her beauty, charm and wit would amount to little if she was not able to produce a child.

Having performed her ablutions, she returned to the bedchamber to find her husband awake. Tyrion sat up in bed, his smile dropping as he took in his wife’s tense demeanour.

“What troubles you, my lady?”

“My red flower is blooming.”

Margaery forced out the uncharacteristically girlish phrase. Tyrion sat in silence, a hesitant expression on his face. Margery knew very well why her husband was unsure how he should react to the news. In her mind she cursed Tywin and Cersei for placing a burden on Tyrion’s shoulders that was not his to bear. She gave him a small smile.

“We shall just have to try harder next month.”

Tyrion reached for his wife’s hand and gently pulled her into a sitting position on the bed. He then knelt behind her and began rubbing small circles across her lower back, knowing she found the action soothing. Margaery closed her eyes, loosing herself to his comforting touch. How did I ever imagine this was something I could live without? Neither Renly or Joffrey would have been loving husbands, Margaery had known that, in truth neither of them would have been passionate husbands either, but in time, passion could be sought elsewhere. She knew very well that had she not been Tyrion’s bride, she would almost certainly never have found this tender intimacy within a marriage and even the perceived loss of it, caused her a pang of regret. She felt her husband tense and opened her eyes, surprised to see her youngest handmaiden standing in the room.

“Ana! You startled us!”

“Sorry, Milday, I have brought breakfast for you and Lord Tyrion.”

“Very good. Please draw me a bath, whilst we eat and fetch my cloths.”

The girl curtsied and left to carry out the tasks, Margery threw Tyrion a loving smile and sighed.

“Time to start the day.”

That afternoon, Margaery sat under a pavilion in the Red Keep gardens and observed the ladies around her. Several of her cousins remained, although most had returned to Highgarden with Mace and Olenna. Margaery missed her grandmother’s presence in the group and was aware that without the old woman’s shrewd observance, she would have to work twice as hard herself. She cast her mind to Sansa’s letter, smiling as she remembered its contents. She set her cup down and spoke:

“So, tell me, which among you ladies are accompanying your relations to Casterly Rock for the tourney? I can personally assure you that men of the west make fine husbands.”

Her tone was light but her eyes were sharp, she saw several of her companions frown or glance away at her words, but not many; so Lord Tarly’s opinion of my marriage is not shared by all. A pleasant looking girl with freckles seated to her right spoke up:

“I shall be accompanying my brothers, coz. My father is keen for my betrothal to Daven Lannister to be finalised.”

“I hope you enjoy your time there Desmera. My good sister, Lady Sansa, is very friendly with Ser Daven’s sisters. He is a very personable man and I think he would make you a fine husband.”

Margaery smiled at the Redwyne girl, thinking back to her own interaction with the young Lannister knight at her wedding. He was the sort of man any father would be glad to see his daughter wed and it was matches such as these that she and Sansa hoped could further strengthen the bonds between the Reach and the Westerlands.

Margaery passed a few pleasant hours in the gardens, ensuring she was fully up to date with the ever shifting court politics and events within the noble families. She plied them with delicacies purchased upon her travels and made arrangements for them to spend more afternoons together, promising that her new bard would be present later in the week. Margaery allowed herself a smirk, she had engaged the services of a singer who had been intended to perform at her wedding to Joffrey, and whom she knew to have talent. In addition to playing and singing, he was composing an original work for her, and she was very keen to hear the results. During the course of her afternoon, the newest Lady Lannister also made sure to extend more intimate invitations to certain ladies, those she asked to ride out with her or to bring their husbands or brothers to dine with herself and Tyrion. The Queen of Thorns had taught her granddaughter the importance of the use of influence and patronage, as well as working towards mutual goals and Margaery knew these skills were just as useful now she was her father’s heir as they would have been to her as queen.

The ladies had been attended by another of her new handmaidens; a raven haired beauty of around Margery’s age called Jeyne. As the pair made their way to Margaery’s apartments a shout stopped them in their tracks.

“My Lady! My Lady! I believe you have dropped this.”

Margaery turned to face a handsome looking young noble man, a rose embroidered handkerchief in his outstretched hand. It was indeed one of hers, although she was sure she had not had it upon her person that day.

“Why yes, this does belong to me, I thank you for returning it, Ser?…”

“Ser Harold Hadyng, at your service. May I be so bold as to guess, from the roses on your kerchief and your great beauty that you are Lady Margaery Tyrell?”

“I was. I recently married Lord Tyrion Lannister.”

“Ah yes, I was aware of that my lady.”

Margaery met his unabashed stare and wondered what game he played. She had spent nearly half her life reading the looks of men and she could see his interest in her was no more than a passing appreciation of her person. Even if he had not known her name, it was clear enough that she was no serving wench to be flattered into a tumble, yet he made no move to leave, nor had he spared the delectable Jeyne so much as a glance. She gave him a brief, sugary smile.

“I bid you good day, Ser Hardyng.”

He took her hand from her side and kissed it.

“Of course, my lady, I hope we shall meet again.”

Margaery smiled once more, fervently hoping they did not. There were enough young dolts amongst the banner men of the Reach without contending with those from other kingdoms too.

She returned to her chambers to find her husband seated on the solar couch, reading. She moved towards him, now with a genuine smile on her lips.

“How was the small council, husband?”

He gave her a crooked smile.

“Bigger than when I left. Lord Redwyne has been appointed Master of Ships. I am to accompany him on an inspection of the royal feet later this week. He did not seem too appalled at the prospect.”

“He will have much to thank you for when he sees the good condition of the fleet. Stannis could easily have laid waste to it had it not been for you. Besides which, his daughter informs me he is still pursuing a marriage between herself and Daven. ”

“My cousin in fortunate he is not to share Lancel’s fate of marrying a Frey.”

Tyrion and Margaery had both wondered if Lancel was to be called to the Kingsgaurd when Tywin demanded the youth accompany his father to the capital whilst Kevan acted as Hand. Whether this had never been the intention or whether it was a plan which was abandoned they did not know, however, it seemed now that Lancel was to be granted the Lordship of Darry and the hand of Amerie Frey. Margaery removed Tyrion’s book from his hands and seated herself upon his lap.

“Was Lord Redwyne the only new addition?”

“Yes, although it would seem Oberyn Martell has been given the position of Master of Laws.”

Tyrion frowned.

“A portion of the meeting was taken up with discussion of when Myrcella will wed Trystane Martell. It was suggested that once they are married, they should take possession of Dragonstone.”

Margaery raised her brows. With Joffrey dead and his nine year old brother on the throne, Myrcella was heir and she could see the wisdom in making moves to ensure that the teenage princess started a family of her own. On the other hand, such a move would strengthen the Martells and she knew from her husband that Prince Oberyn at least was openly hostile towards house Lannister and Lord Tywin in particular.

“And how did the Red Viper react to this suggestion?”

“He was the one who made it.”

Margaery felt as surprised as her husband looked. Until now they had both assumed that Tyrion’s niece would remain in Dorne for the foreseeable future, a hostage albeit a well looked after one. She tired to piece things together in her mind.

“Do you think they have hopes to take the crown through Myrcella?”

“Oberyn joked about doing just that soon after Joffrey died. Of course if they declared her queen in Sunspear they would have to fight their way to King’s Landing, but the same is true of Dragonstone and there Myrcella is out of their hands. I confess I am not sure what is at the root of it all.”

“Was a final decision made?”

“No, I told the prince that we did not have sufficient gold to fund an expedition to take Dragonstone, and suggested that if any such was undertaken, the Dornish would provide the resources. He claimed he would put it to his brother.”

“What else was discussed?”

“My negotiations with the Iron Bank although there was little discussion. The new terms were formally agreed and Varys made sure afterwards to tell me what a splendid job I had done.”

“I understand that he makes you uneasy, my love, but perhaps it may be worthwhile seeking him out in regards to what Lord Baelish was up to. He is now the only small council member remaining from Littlefinger’s tenure and he does seem to know everything.”

“Yes he does…”

Tyrion looked into the distance, appearing slightly uneasy. He ran his hands absently along her arms for a few moments then smiled at her warmly.

“Forgive me, I was contemplating the webs the Spider weaves. Was your day pleasant enough?”

“I had an interesting time catching up with the ladies of court. I also had the dubious pleasure of meeting Ser Harrold Hardyng.”

“The Young Falcon. And how did you find him?”

“Comely, enough, personable to a point, rather dull.”

Tyrion returned her grin but his face quickly became serious.

“He is next in line for the Lordship of the Eyrie and from what I saw of little lord Robert, I would not say it is certain he will sire children of his own. For one thing he seems reluctant to spend the necessary time away from his mother’s breast. I wonder what Lord Baelish makes of young Ser Harrold.”

“Baelish concerns you much, my love.”

“Indeed he does. The key to this game is knowing what galvanises the players. I may not yet be aware what the Martells are up to but I am sure that Oberyn desires revenge for his sister and her children. That gives me somewhere to start. With Baelish I am not sure at all.”

Margaery pondered what she knew of the brothel keeper.

“You said he offered Sansa an escape around the time I suggested she wed my brother.”

“Apparently due to the kinship he felt towards her lady mother.”

The couple shared a sceptical smirk.

“Do you think he wished to wed her, and claim the North?”
“He is not a Tyrell, my love, with no army to draw on he could not have expected to take and hold the North, even with Ned Stark’s daughter by his side.”

Maragery grinned and stroked Tyrion’s `arm.

“I cannot tell you how glad I am that particular plot did not come to fruition, if Sansa had wed Loras I do not think you and I would be married now.”

“I suppose we do owe something of a debt to whoever alerted my father to your schemes.”

Tyrion ran his eyes over her person and sighed.

“We should change for our dinner with the Dornish. Do you think Lannister or Tyrell colours will be more favourably received?”

Margaery smirked at his sardonic expression.

“I think perhaps we should forgo house colours on this occasion, Lord husband, and I think there is something else we need to attend to first.”

She grinned and pulled him into a kiss.

Margaery sat in the comfortable well appointed apartments Oberyn and Ellaria shared and sipped some Dornish Red. Being accustomed to the sweet wines of the Arbour, she found the drink bitter and certainly did not share her husband’s fondness for it. However she could not complain of any sourness from their hosts, Oberyn had greeted her with a kiss on the hand and some compliments which could have been described as gallant had the twinkle in his eye not suggested his thoughts were less than proper. Ellaria’s eyes had also wandered frankly over Margaery’s person, however as they began to make conversation, the younger woman had been surprised at the friendly warmth which had radiated from the notorious paramour, particularly when she spoke of her daughters. The Red Viper himself seemed to be a loving parent too, talking fondly of his eight girls. Margaery did not fail to note that the older girls in particular seemed to excel in martial pursuits and that their sire was openly proud of the moniker his ‘Sand Snakes’ had earned with their exploits.

“Your daughters sound very accomplished, my prince, you must be so proud.”

Oberyn acknowledged her compliment with a jaunty tilt of the head, a smile playing on his lips.

“Beatuiful and charming, you are very fortunate man, Lord Tyrion.”

Margaery squeezed her husband’s hand.

“We both are.”

Oberyn smirked at Tyrion.

“Second time lucky, eh little friend?”

Margaery felt Tyrion jolt as he briefly squeezed her hand tighter. Her husband met the Dornish prince’s gaze with a sharp frown. She was shocked herself at what appeared to be a reference to her husband’s first marriage. She allowed a simper to pass her lips.

“It is true I am extremely fortunate to have found Lord Tyrion after loosing Renly Baratheon so early in our marriage.”

 

“And after the death of your betrothed, King Joffrey. Of course, when Renly was married to you, he also called himself a king. Tell me, my lady, do you think yourself lucky not to be a queen? I do not think anyone could say my sister was fortunate to have been destined to wear the crown.”

Oberyn’s eyes had taken on a dark look as he spoke, Margaery felt she understood far better now why he was known as a viper; there was something dangerous emanating from the man. For an instant no one spoke, then Ellaria placed a hand on her paramour’s shoulder and frowned at him. The prince threw her a quick smile then turned back to Tyrion and Margaery, the picture of charm and good humour once more. Talk turned to Braavos and from there the Prince’s travels in Essos. This was a pleasant and interesting subject until Oberyn came to his time with the Second Sons. Eyeing Tyrion he spoke in a jovial tone:

“Just think, if I was still among their ranks, we may be facing each other on battle field. I hear they are now sworn to Daenerys Targaryen.”

“I am glad for you that is not the case, Prince Oberyn. I have no doubt your deep family loyalty would prevent you from taking up arms against you brother and nephew.”

Tyrion had spoken in the same light tone used by Oberyn and Margaery was pleased to note he still had his wits about him. Since the recollection of Tysha, her husband had been consuming wine at a pace she had not witnessed since before their betrothal. In other circumstances she would have felt irritation at this loss of control in the presence of those they could not trust and although she was less than impressed as it was, she could appreciate why a remembrance of his first wife would provoke such a reaction. She met Oberyn’s gaze and smiled sweetly.

“I look forward to visiting Dorne to attend my niece’s wedding. Has a date yet been set?”

“Are you not tired of weddings, Lady Margaery?”

There was a hint of challenge in the Dornishman’s tone which Margaery chose to ignore. Once again she placed her hand in Tyrion’s

“I find that thinking of my own makes me fonder of them than ever.”

Ellaria smiled at her kindly.

“I can see that you and your husband are very happy together, Lady Margaery.”

“I only hope I make her as happy as she does me.”

Margaery looked into her husband’s green eyes and felt her heart flutter. A smile danced on her lips as she gave him a slight nod, conveying without words that he brought her more joy than she could have dreamed of.

Her husband then turned to the prince.

“Prince Oberyn, may I ask what your meeting with my father concerned the other day? I had assumed it would be brought before the council.”

“No it was nothing to trouble the small council with, Lord Tyrion. A private matter between Lord Tywin and myself and a meeting long delayed, by your wedding.”

“Really? I do hope you do not hold a grudge about that.”

“Of course not, little friend. You will become aware of what i discussed with your father in due course. I have had be patient and so must you be.”

Margaery caught the anguish which flashed across Ellaria Sand’s face as her paramour spoke and suspected Oberyn’s patience was not related to waiting for the Lannisters to return. She wondered what the Dornish man had discussed with her good father, but given the tension in the atmosphere, she did not seek to pursue it. She watched as Tyrion rapidly emptied his wine glass. Margery may have sympathy with the underlying cause of his behaviour, but she felt that she could not allow it to continue in their current company; Tyrion may well be abel to hold his wine better than most, but it did have a tendency to loosen his tongue and this was not the place to for frankness. She fixed her eyes on Ellaria with a smile.

“I regret that Tyrion and I must take our leave of you now, it has been a long day and we have much to attend to in the morning.”

The smirk on Oberyn’s face suggested he was about to pass comment on their departure but before he could speak, his mistress replied:

“Of course, my lady, thank you for a very pleasant evening.”

They made their farewells and departed for their own chambers. Once they had made their way down the corridor Margaery turned to Tyrion, a wry expression on her face.

“It would seem you have a far greater fondness for Dornish Red than any of the wines of the Reach, my Lord.”

Her husband had the grace to look ashamed.

“I owe you my thanks for removing me from what could have been an embarrassing situation, my lady. As well as my apologies for loosing my self control.”

She offered him a small smile.

“I require neither, I simply behaved as any wife would. But, Tyrion, you must take more care, it was clear for any to see that Oberyn is not a man we can let down our guard before.”

“I know, I know, but when he spoke of marriage I thought…”

She squeezed his shoulder.

“I know what you thought, which is why I am not angered, well that and the fact I am still rather starry eyed where you are concerned.”

He took her hand and kissed it then gazed up at her lovingly. Margaery placed her other hand on his face.

“We are in this together now, husband, we must stay sharp for each other’s sake.”

He gently pulled her hand and Margaery smiled, lowering her lips for a kiss. A sudden shout from behind caused her to startle and inadvertently push Tyrion, causing him to loose his balance and end up crouched by the wall. As he made himself upright, Margaery turned to the source of the interruption and found herself faced with Harrold Hardyng for the second time that day.

The young knight took in the scene before him, concern etched on his face.

“Is everything alright, my lady?”

“It was fine until you startled us.”
“Forgive me, I thought your husband was in some difficulties.”

Hardyng glanced towards Tyrion and back to his wife. Margaery fixed on a pleasant smile.

“Ser Hardyng , I am unsure if you have met my lord husband. Tyrion, this is Ser Harrold Hardyng of the Vale, Ser Hardyng, my husband, Lord Tyrion Lannister.”

The young knight bowed, his face grim.

“I have not had the pleasure, my lord, although I heard tales of your visit to the Vale.”

Margaery took in Harold’s prudish expression and had to bite her cheek to keep from smiling. Tyrion had recounted at length to her the events of his trial for the attempted murder of Bran Stark and while she was sure it was something which should scandalise a delicate young lady, she had found the account extremely funny. Tyrion was now standing beside her and she bowed her head to the younger man.

“We must thank the gods that justice prevailed in the Eyrie. Now if you will excuse us, Ser Hardyng, the hour is late.”

Margaery smiled in polite dismissal but the knight made no move to pass.

“You do not require any assistance, my Lady?”

Tyrion barked a short laugh.

“With what? Finding our rooms? I should hope we are better able to locate them than you, ser.”

The man of the Vale glared at her husband and Margaery fought to keep the smirk from her face. She placed a hand on Tyrion’s shoulder and began to move him away.

“Good evening, Ser Hardyng.”

When they knight was out of earshot she turned to Tyrion, eyes dancing.

“You were less than polite to him, my love.”

“Well that is what he must expect for being a bloody fool.”

“It was the second time I have endured his foolishness today, yet I managed to be polite.”

“That is because you are a charming rose, and I am a belligerent lion.”

Tyrion raised his brows to her. Margaery smiled and shook her head slightly.

“What am I to do with you, husband?”

Suddenly his face became soft and serious.

“Stay by my side and let me love you, that is far more than I deserve.”

She felt her breath catch in her throat.

“As long as you let me love you back.”

Tyrion clasped both her hands in his and squeezed them nodding his head slightly. After a moment they resumed their progress to their chambers, saying no more but occasionally bestowing each other with gentle, loving smiles.

Chapter Text

Sansa felt herself gently rousing from slumber, becoming conscious of lips in her hair and a strong hand squeezing her waist. She moved her head slightly and groaned.

“Jaime, it is the middle of the night!”

“I am afraid not, sweet wife. All too soon your handmaidens will arrive to make you look even more beautiful than you do already and I shall take my leave to prepare to win the tourney.”

Sansa reluctantly opened her eyes, the light shining through the small gaps in the window shutters confirming that Jaime spoke the truth. She sighed and moved herself so she was fully atop him.

“How long do we have?”

Jaime raise his brows.

“Not long enough for that, Lady Lannister! Besides, abstinence is said to improve the performance of knights.”

“Then you have little chance of success, my love.”

She grinned at his surprised laughter. In recent weeks, Sansa had felt almost as if she was a newly wed once more. Baby Tyrion had begun to wake in the night with increasing frequency and Sansa had found it impossible to continue to nurse him and carry out her duties. A wet nurse had been engaged and the boy now spent his nights in the nursery. Although she missed having her babe close by, Sansa could not deny that she was benefitting from her sleep being less broken. This was especially true in the last few days as the Rock had begun to fill up with visiting nobles in anticipation of the tourney. Another benefit of more restful nights was that she and her husband had more time and energy to spend on each other.

Jaime pulled her into a kiss, moving his hands to her buttocks and pressing her against himself.

“You will regret those words this evening, my lady. I will win you that crown and you had best prepare yourself for a ravishing.”

“If it please my lord.”

They grinned at each other, the desire between them palpable. Jaime raised a brow and sighed.

“Oh what the hells, best I give the others a fighting chance at least.”

Sansa had barely time to take in the meaning of his words before he captured her lips in a searing kiss. Jaime flipped her onto the bed and ran his hand up her leg, deftly removing her small clothes. She shuddered as his fingers made their way straight to her core.

“Gods, woman, how you desire me.”

“Yes, yes I do.”

It was a struggle to get the words out, Jaime had one hand between her legs and the other caressing her breast. Sansa felt herself throbbing with anticipation and desire and desperately wanted Jaime inside her. She moved her own hand to his long, straight member and pulled it towards her. Her husband quickly adjusted himself and soon they were joined. She gripped his blond hair and pushed his head to the crook of her neck, revelling in the feel of his lips and teeth against her skin. The coupling was frantic and urgent and they came together in an ecstatic frenzy. As they caught their breath Sansa smiled at her husband.
“I hope I have not impeded your performance too much, my love.”

“I think not, the memory of this morning will be fresh in my mind when I see you at the tourney field and I have no doubt it will spur me on.”

Sansa flushed, imaging the looks her husband would give her before the large crowd. She was surprised to realise that it was expectation rather than shyness which drew colour to her cheeks. She gave Jaime a brief further kiss before rising from her bed, pulling on a robe and calling a handmaiden to prepare a bath.

The morning was bright and clear. There was a paleness to the sunshine and a chill to the sea breeze which spoke of the coming winter and as Sansa sat in the Godswood she wondered if the ramparts of Winterfell had received their first dusting of the season’s snow. Once she was washed and dressed, Sansa had made her way to the great hall to ensure that any guests who were breakfasting had been provided with sufficient victuals. She had also sought out the steward and other household staff and ascertained that all was in hand for the feast which would take place that night. Having seen to her duties and spent a little time with her son, the young woman had decided to seek some sanctuary from the hustle and bustle in the one place she was certain would be deserted. However, Sansa’s solitude did not last for long. She had barely been in the Godswood for ten minutes when she heard the crunch of footsteps behind her and turned to face Brienne of Tarth. It seemed the warrior maiden took her duties as a sworn shield extremely seriously and all too often Sansa felt as if she had acquired a second shadow in the tall blonde. Brienne bowed slightly.

“I was not aware that you worshipped the Old Gods, my lady.”

“My siblings and I were brought up with two faiths; my father followed the Old Gods and my mother the Seven. Truth be told, I never felt particularly close to my father’s gods, I come here for this.”

Sansa motioned to the older woman to follow and walked towards the wolf statue.

“Jaime had this made for me, so I could grieve for my family and remember them.”

“How noble of him.”

Sansa looked at her sworn shield’s grim face and sighed.

“Brienne, I know how things appeared to you when you first arrived but you must see now that I am happy here.”

“You were forced to marry him.”

“Yes. Yes I was, my family abandoned me in King’s Landing and I did what I had to do.”

“You have your mother’s courage, Lady Sansa.”

Sansa placed a hand on the large woman’s shoulder, trying to convince her of her words.

“Thank you for saying that, Brienne but I am not simply enduring here; I am happy. I love Jaime and he loves me. Yes, there are those of house Lannister who were cruel to me but Jaime is not one of them, he and his brother are true family to me.”

 

Brienne looked incredulous.

“My lady, you cannot believe the Imp to be a man of honour, your mother believed he-“

“I know what she believed. Tyrion stood trial before the gods and was exonerated.”

Sansa looked at the blonde woman’s confounded face and could not help but feel some satisfaction. Brienne was far too attached to knightly codes of honour to try and dispute the outcome of a trial by combat, however much she may believe that outcome to be wrong. When Brienne had arrived, Sansa’s initial shock had given way to joy. Joy in knowing that her sister had survived for so long and in having a companion with whom she could talk freely and warmly of her mother and family. Her joy had been tempered with a resurgence in her feelings of self reproach for loving a Lannister; made all the keener by the very real possibility that Arya was making her way to Jon at the Wall. Sansa cringed at the thought of them reading the letter Tywin had bade her send her brother. As the days went on it became clearer and clearer that the two women did not hold the same views of all those Sansa cared about. Brienne could barely conceal her contempt for Jaime and it seemed her opinion of Tyrion was little better. Sansa had received a beautiful gift from the little Lannister and his wife the week previously; some ornately carved wooden animal figures for Ty, when she had shown them to her sworn shield and mentioned her friendship with Margaery, Brienne had remained grim faced and stated that she knew Lady Margaery when she was Renly Baratheon’s wife. In some ways Brienne reminded Sansa of herself as a child; seeming to see the world in a very black and white way. Sansa found that having learnt sharp lessons regarding how simplistic this was, she was not tolerant of this trait in her sworn shield. She knew that the actions of her new family had not always been honourable, but these days Sansa was aware that honour was perhaps not the best way to determine whether an action was the right one or not. Sansa knew Brienne still addressed Jaime as ‘kingslayer’ when the two were alone, without any awareness of true reason behind Jaime’s actions. The maid of Tarth may be more straightforward than the scheming courters of King’s Landing, but that did not make her any easier to bear at times. Sanse turned away from the older woman and spoke:

“You may leave me now Brienne, Go and ready yourself for the tourney.”

“As I said before, I do not intend to compete, my place is by your side my lady.”

Sansa smirked to herself, what did Brienne believe could happen to her in a pavilion in full view of half the nobility of Westeros? But she did not wish to prolong their conversation.

“As you wish. Be outside my chambers in an hour.”

The sun was high in the sky when Sansa seated herself in the raised pavilion, listening to the excited chatter of the girls’ around her and the more sedate tones of Ser Kevan and Lady Dorna. Myrelle and Cerenna were seated beside her accompanied by Alysane Lefford and Desmera Redwyne. Brienne stood behind the group, her eyes rarely straying from Sansa.

The first pair to joust were Daven Lannister and Dickon Tarly. Sansa and the ladies with her watched in amusement as the heir to Horn Hill gallantly approached Cerenna and asked for her favour. Sansa had seen the pair in conversation several times over the past few days and from the secret smiles they both gave each other is would seem there were tender feelings on both sides. They would make a good match. Perhaps old Lord Tarly will have to soften his opinions towards Lannisters. She reflected sardonically. Cerenna’s delight was short lived as her brother won the bought, unhorsing his opponent. Alysane Lefford smirked at the other girl’s dismay.

“Fear not, Cerenna, I am sure you will find some way to console your dear Dickon.”

Sansa did not hear Cerenna’s response. Jaime was on the field and riding towards her. He was resplendent in his lion emblazoned armour, he was yet to don his helm, and his golden hair glinted in the sunlight, his eyes firmly upon hers. Sansa had wondered if in these moments she would feel foolish; he was no storybook knight anymore than she was a maiden princess. She was a married woman with a son of her own, who should surely have long ago put childish things aside. Yet somehow knowing that made her delight in the moment all the keener. What she felt for Jaime was no childish infatuation; rather the true love of a woman grown, there was passion between them and pain and both had earned this moment in the sun. He fixed her with a charming smile.

“May I beg a favour, for luck, my lady?”

She tied her handkerchief to his proffered lance tip, he gave her a long, devilish glance and headed to his squire to don his helmet.

Jaime won the bout with ease and Sansa was on her feet immediately leading the calls of
“Casterly Rock!” amongst the Lannisters and not caring whether Brienne of Tarth was glaring at her back. Jaime reigned his steed towards her and presented her with a single winter rose.

“The first of many, my lady, of that you can be sure.”

Sansa met his lips in a kiss, applause sounding in her ears as she did so. Blushing slightly at having displayed her affection so publicly, she sat down as Jaime’s cousin Daven once again took the field. While Myrelle cheered her brother enthusiastically, Cerenna was pointedly silent, Sansa nudged the blonde girl.

“Older brothers have a habit of spoiling one’s fun, I always found.”

Quieter and more sensitive than her sister, Cerenna’s scowl fell at Sansa’s words.

“I am sorry Sansa! You must think me foolish to be angry at my brother, when you still mourn yours.”

Sansa smiled in reassurance.

“Not at all Cerenna, I miss all three of my brothers but I remember them fondly. And I know I would have been very unhappy if any or them had unhorsed a sweetheart of mine!”

The redhead happened to look up as she made the remark and caught Brienne’s eye, the look on the woman’s face took Sansa aback with its intensity. Mother, maiden and crone, does she truly expect me never to mention my family except in the throws of grief? Sansa felt anger rise within her, this woman had come to the Rock expressing her intention to protect Sansa, instead it seemed she wanted nothing but to judge her. Sansa’s frustration distracted her from several other bouts and it was not until her husband tilted once more, again claiming a victory and again presenting her with a blue rose that she was able to turn her attention to events on the tourney ground. Sansa felt rising elation as again and again, Jaime defeated his opponents. Although the tourney was well attended, with knights from the Reach and the Crownlands present, most of the watching crowd were from the Westerlands and the success of the heir to Casterly Rock was extremely well received. Sansa’s ears were ringing with cheers by the time Jaime faced his final opponent. This joust lasted longer and the pair were very well matched. Sansa held her breath as the second, third and forth pass gave no result. The fifth time the pair tilted, she noticed her husband seeming to approach with his sword held at an odd angle. There was a swift volley of sword and lance and before she could determine how it had happened, Jaime’s opponent was unhorsed and her husband had emerged the victor. The approval of the crowd may have been deafening but Sansa could not hear it. All her awareness was taken up with Jaime riding towards her, a crown of blue roses on his lance tip. The words of the bard who had visited Winterfell all those years ago came back to her once more: life is a song and yours is just beginning. But unlike so often in the past, they did not feel like a cruel taunt. In fact in that moment as the man she loved crowned her and swiftly picked her up and placed her on his horse, to the vocal delight of all around them, Sansa felt as if she had made peace with that gentle, naive little girl. It may not have been as simple as I thought, but I was right believe that I deserved to love and be happy.

Later that evening they presided over a feast as joyous as the wedding which had taken place so many months earlier. Jaime asked her to join him in starting the dancing and grinned at her mischievously as the melody of Girl From the North Country began to play.

“I hope you recall that this was the first song we ever danced to together, my queen.”

“Indeed I do, in the Tyrells’ solar back in King’s Landing.”

Jaime met her gaze and sighed.

“I had thought that I could at least give you one part of the wedding of your dreams. I forgot the reality of our situation.”

Sansa looked up at Jaime and smiled tenderly.

“I may not have had the wedding of my dreams, but I do have the marriage of my dreams. ”

He beamed down at her and she lost herself in his eyes. The song came to an end and they parted as was customary. For the second time that day Sansa inadvertently caught the baleful gaze of Brienne of Tarth. She decided enough was enough. She may respect the woman for her loyalty to Lady Catelyn and her devotion to duty but that did not mean Sansa was going to allow the lady knight to spend her days judging the happiness Sansa had made for herself. Leaving Jaime with a smile, she made her way to where the blonde woman stood.

“Brienne, please come with me for a moment.”

The two women departed the banquet hall and Sansa led her sworn shield to a small room. When they were both inside she confronted her.

“Brienne, can you not be happy for myself and Jaime?”

“I am loyal to you always, my lady.”

“That I do not doubt, however, I am growing tired of your constant disapproval. Surely you realised that by coming here and pledging yourself to me you would be resigning yourself to a life amongst the Lannisters? I am a Lannister Brienne, I have a Lannister husband and a Lannister son.”

Sansa had chosen her words deliberately and was not surprised to see Brienne flinch.

“Lady Sansa, were it not for the fact I know you to be as devoted to your child as your own mother was, I would take you to safety the first chance I had.”

“‘Take me to safety’?! Tell me, where exactly do you think is safe for the daughter of Ned Stark? I can assure you King’s Landing was not, but then my brothers’ did not fair so well in Winterfell, perhaps you think we should ask the Freys if they will let me enter my mother’s old home at Riverrun?”

“There is your Aunt in the Vale.”

“My Aunt, who I have never laid eyes upon. She could have raised the Vale on my brother’s behalf and if she had he may still be alive today.”

“Lady Lysa had to tread carefully, the Lannisters poisoned her husband and she feared for her son.”

Sansa frowned.

“Jon Arryn died of old age.”

Brienne’ s faced turned puce, consternation plain upon it. Then she grabbed the younger woman’s arm and spoke urgently.

“That was a lie put about to protect the Lannisters. Lady Lysa knew her husband had been poisoned, she wrote to your mother telling her so, that was why your father decided to accept King Robert’s offer of the handship. Your mother found out the dagger that was meant for your brother was the Imp’s because Lord Baelish told her; it had belonged to Lord Baelish but he lost it in a bet he made with the Imp on Joffrey’s nameday. My lady, I know you believe the Lannisters have been kind to you but it is all part of their schemes, not one of them can be trusted.”

Sansa stared at the lady knight, bewildered.

“How do you know all this?”

Brienne seemed to come to her senses and looked down.

“Your mother told me.”

“No she didn’t. You are a terrible liar. Either you tell me truth or I will call for my husband’s guards right now and tell them you have accused him of murdering Jon Arryn.”

“Lady Sansa, please.”

“Brienne, you swore an oath to me, now tell me truly how you know all this.”

Sansa knew she had the other woman then. Brienne looked anguished but she spoke:

“I know this because your Aunt told me herself. I spent a sennight at the Eyrie before I came here.”

“And what was your business at the Eyrie?”

This time Brienne’s sapphire eye’s locked on Sansa’s.

“I felt it was the safest place for your brother.”

Sansa felt as if the room around her was spinning. When she spoke her voice sounded very far away.

“You mean my sister?”

She struggled to rationalise what she was being told. She must have lied about Arya, to hide her whereabouts from Jaime, surely she means Arya. Brienne’s face softened but her honest gaze never left Sansa’s

“No, my lady, what I told you of Arya is quite true. After I lost her in the Vale, I decided to take passage north, thinking I may find her on the way to Wall. Instead I found your youngest brother. Lady Sansa, Rickon Stark is alive and well in the Eyrie.”

Chapter Text

Once, as they had lain in the languor of an embrace, Loras had asked Renly when he had become aware of his desire for men. His lover had laughed and said he was unsure; there was no precise moment he could point to, it was more something he had gradually become aware of over time. The same was not true of Loras. Growing up at Highgarden, his best friend had been his older sister. The two did not spend all their time together; Margaery may have enjoyed horse riding and hunting with a falcon, but she had never expressed any desire for marital pursuits and Loras had adored his knightly training for as long as he could remember. Still the pair spent much of their spare time in each other’s company and their relationship was deeply harmonious. Being the paramount house of the Reach, the Tyrells often hosted feasts and tourneys and one such event had taken place several weeks after Loras’ twelfth name day. Lord Florent’s squire had been a youth of four and ten, tall and strong with dark hair and eyes. Loras had felt deeply shy around the older boy and kept silent while Margaery laughed with him. The younger Tyrell had been surprised when the squire accepted his sister’s suggestion to join them all in a game of hide and seek; it seemed rather childish. He remembered very clearly climbing an old oak tree and having clear sight of the boy finding Margaery in her rather poor hiding place amongst some bushes. Young Loras had felt his face flame and his heart pound as he saw the pair kiss and for several moments he had wished for nothing more than to be in his sibling’s place.

He had been quiet for the rest of the day and, of course, Margaery had noticed and questioned him. Never able to keep anything from his sister for long he had confessed to her what he had seen and his terrible desire. Margery had simply beamed at him.”Oh sweet brother it is nothing to be ashamed of. Some men like pretty girls and some pretty boys!” From the on his sibling had assisted him in matters of the heart as far as she was able to, and Loras was aware that this was part of the reason she had accepted her marriage to Renly Baratheon knowing that by doing so she was enabling her brother to stay close to the man he loved.

Today, Ser Loras Tyrell, the youngest member of King Tommen’s Kingsguard, observed the two boys before him with a sigh. The boy the king was practicing his swordplay with was two years Tommen’s junior but was still able to best him. Most noble sons began their martial training before the age of five but Loras could tell that even if Tommen had been training for years he would never attain the prowess of his father either his real one or Robert Baratheon. The boy lacked finesse or force, in time he could be competent but his attention was apt to wander. Loras thanked the gods that at least the young king was deeply eager to please and this made him stick at his training and listen to all the knight tried to teach him with keenness. He approached the pair.

“Very good, both of you. Now why don’t we practice the methods of disarming I showed you yesterday, Your Grace?”

The young king nodded enthusiastically and managed a fair approximation of the first set of moves he had been shown the day before. Aware the boy needed to build his confidence, Loras’ praise was effusive.

“Excellent, King Tommen! You remind me of a tourney I lost to your Uncle Jaime! I have no doubt he will be very impressed when he sees your skill.”

Tommen’s face became sullen and he looked down.

“I have not seen Uncle Jaime in over a year. Now that he has taken a wife, he cares for no one else. That is why I want to become a strong fighter. So I can protect my mother and sister, they have no one else to rely on.”

Loras frowned at the small boy, unsure what to say. He was saved from having to respond by the appearance of Osney Kettleback, come to take the boy king to the school room. The Tyrell knight watched the pair depart, misliking the familiar way the brutish whitecloack placed his arm about Tommen’s shoulder. Margaery had warned her brother that all the Kettlebacks were in Cersei Lannister’s pocket and Loras wondered if the trip to Tommen’s lessons would include an unauthorised visit to the Queen Mother on the way.

Having nothing better to occupy himself with for the present, Loras decided to remain at the training grounds and find himself an opponent to spar with. No sooner had the young Kingsgaurd determined this course of action than he noticed a good looking man approaching him with a hand held up in greeting.

“Ser Loras Tyrell? I saw you instructing our young king, I am Ser Harold Hardyng.”

“Ser Hardyng, pleased to meet you.”

The other man smiled, revealing even white teeth.

“Please, call me Harry, if you are not otherwise engaged, perhaps you would spar of me. Tales of your skill have made it as far as the Vale but I would like to see it first hand.”

Loras could not help but feel pleased at the words. It had been some time since he had partaken in a tourney, he felt he had lost his taste for such displays in recent times, but he remained proud of his knightly skills and the reputation he had cultivated whilst still in his teens.

As he sparred with Harry, it became apparent that the knight of the Vale was not without skill himself, Loras had to work hard to best the other man and took a blow he had not seen coming on more than one occasion. The pair were of a similar height and build, with the Knight of Flowers perhaps a shade slighter than his opponent. When he finally vanquished Harry, Loras was out of breath and could feel sweat trickling down his back. The other man took the defeat graciously, bestowing another brilliant smile on his adversary.

“Extermely well fought, ser. I have not enjoyed such a vigorous bout all week.”

The pair began to make there way from the field and Loras returned the other man’s grin.

“Most knights have abandoned the court for the tourney at Casterly Rock. I am surprised you are not there yourself, Ser, I have no doubt there will be considerable prize money on offer at a Lannister tournament.”

Hardyng made a face.

“I may only be cousin to the Lord of the Eerie but I have sufficient funds that I need not make myself the Lannisters’ paid entertainment.”

Loras frowned but spoke lightly.

“Ser, my own sister is a Lannister by marriage, you are fortunate she is not present for she does not suffer gladly anyone disparaging the name of her house.”

“Forgive me, Ser Loras, I have spoken out of turn. Having had the great pleasure of meeting your sister it is not surprise to me that she is a dutiful and proper wife.”

“Margaery is fierce when it comes to those she loves.”

Loras had spoken fondly his mind once more recalling Margery’s protection of him in their childhood. He did not observe the the curious and mildly concerned look which flitted across his companion’s face. Harry was silent for a moment then eyed his companion interestedly.

“So their marriage is a happy one? I was under the impression that it had taken place very soon after the death of King Joffrey.”

Loras startled inwardly and struggled for a response. It was one thing to assure Dickon Tarly that Tyrion and Margaery were happy, the Tarlys were Tyrell bannermen, their loyalty was not in question and Loras had known Dickon since boyhood. This knight of the Vale seemed pleasant enough but the Eerie and its dominions had played no role in the War of Five Kings and none could say where their allegiance lay. It was true that almost everyone seemed to have accepted the fact that Joffrey’s death had been a tragic accident, but the Tyrell knight remembered only too well that he and Margaery had almost been sent to the black cells at Cersei’s behest. He chose his words with care.

“King Joffrey’s sudden death grieved my sister tremendously. However, she is a stoic and practical woman. She has found great comfort in her marriage and holds Lord Tyrion in high regard.”

Hardyng nodded gravely.

“Lady Margaery is stoic indeed. I recall the night I encountered her and Lord Tyrion, returning from a dinner. Her husband had clearly enjoyed his evening very well and required her assistance to remain upright. I offered to help him rather than have him lean of his lady but he would hear none of it. I had been told your good brother could be outspoken but had not expected such… warm terms in front of a lady.”

Loras frowned as he digested the tale. He was not particularly concerned about what Tyrion may have said, knowing all too well his sister was not some prim flower to blush at a curse. What concerned him more was the idea of his good brother so deep in his cups that he could not stand straight. When Loras had first been in King’s Landing, with Renly, the youngest Lannister brother had been drunk more than he was sober and even in the permissive atmosphere of Robert Baratheon’s court the little lord’s escapades had bordered on scandalous. However as far as Loras had been aware such behaviour was in the past. The youngest Tyrell knew of a number of noble women whose lives had been blighted by their husband’s fondness for wine and he could not help but feel worried for his sister, should her husband be returning to his old ways. He startled when Ser Harry touched his shoulder lightly.

“I am sorry if I have troubled you, ser. Perhaps I should not have recounted the tale.”

“Not at all, Ser Harrold, think no more of it.”

“Very well, and please call me Harry, I have enjoyed our afternoon together, Ser Loras, I hope to see you at the training ground soon.”

They made their farewells and Loras sought his chambers to wash before making his way to the afternoon’s meeting of the small council.

The Kingsguard was still lacking a Lord Commander. Loras knew that his grandmother was eager to see him appointed to the post and Margaery supported her in this, however he was the youngest Kingsgaurd as well as the newest so for now the position had not been offered to him, although neither was it bestowed on anyone else. The white cloaks were required to take turns attending the small council and this afternoon the duty had fallen to Loras. As he entered the room in which the meetings took place, he found his good brother already seated, making conversation with Paxter Redwyne. Tyrion greeted Loras warmly:

“Good afternoon, Loras. I trust you are still supping with us this evening, your sister is keen to see you.”

“Indeed I am, Tyrion, if you are agreeable I shall accompany you directly there after the meeting.”

The little Lannister grinned his acquiescence and turned back to Lord Redwyne. Other members of the council began to take their seats and Loras studied his good brother, Hardyng’s words from earlier on his mind. Tyrion currently gave no indication of having imbibed and Loras could not remember seeing him partake to excess at any point when he had been in the little lord’s company. Furthermore, as far as Loras had seen, the delight which had enveloped his sister from the moment her betrothal to Tyrion Lannister had been finalised was still very much in evidence. Knowing how shrewd a judge of character Marge was, this should have put his mind at rest. However Loras was also aware that his sister had fallen head over heels in love with her husband and he knew that love could often cloud one’s judgement.

The young knight’s thoughts were disrupted by the arrival of Tywin Lannister and the formal beginning of the meeting. The lord of Casterly Rock swept his eyes around the meeting table, fixing his steady stare on Prince Oberyn Martell.

“Have you any further news for the council, my prince?”

“‘Further news’, Lord Tywin? Perhaps I am mistaken but I thought I was Master of Laws not Whispers.”

The Dornish prince spoke in a languidly mocking tone, his eyes bright with mischief. Tywin Lannister’s countenance was stoney.

“I am referring to news from Dorne and your brother. My granddaughter has reached five and ten, she is more than old enough for her marriage to Trystane Martell to take place.”

“That is a matter of opinion, my Lord. I myself have three daughters older than Myrcella and all unwed.”

“We are not discussing your daughters, Prince Oberyn. Your nephew is your brother’s heir, I would have thought he would be keen to see Prince Tyrstane wed.”

“Perhaps you should visit him at Sunspear and discuss the matter further, my Lord. I love my brother but I am not his keeper so I could not speak to his inner thoughts. What have you decided regarding my proposal about my nephew and his bride taking up residence on Dragonstone?”

Tyrion leaned across the table.

“My prince, as I told you we do not have the gold to spare for such an expedition.”

“Lord Tyrion! You disappoint me! Surely if all that fabled Lannister gold has somehow run out, you and your wife could provide the funds! Or are you loathe to help a Martell now you have been welcomed into the bosom of the Reach so tenderly? ”

Loras glanced at Oberyn with narrowed eyes. He resented the aspersion against the Reach, and the implied jape at the expense of Margaery. Tyrion looked as if he was about to speak once more but Lord Varys cut in:

“My Lords, as we talk of the west I should let you know that there has been considerable activity around the Iron Islands, it would seem that one or more of the Greyjoys could be setting to sea, with a considerable fleet. I do not need to tell you what this is likely to mean.”

There was consternation on the faces of many around the table at these words. Loras himself was troubled, remembering the last Iron born rebellion although he had been too young to fight in it. The most likely targets for iron born aggression were the coasts of the Reach and the Westerlands. Tywin nodded at the eunuch.

“We must monitor the situation. Word will be sent to Old Town and Lannsiport. Lord Redwyne, ensure your fleet at the Arbour is ready.”

“What of the royal fleet, my lord hand?”

“The fleet at the Arbour should be sufficient.”

Paxter Redwyne looked unhappy.

“If the Ironborn come in large numbers they could easily overpower us. I would like to have reinforcements if required.”

“We must account for the defence of the capital.”

“You have sufficient ships to do that and aid us, my Lord.”

Tyrion spoke up:

“My lord father, Lord Redwyne is right, there is no danger of a sea attack from Stannis Baratheon. I would sooner see our ships in the Arbour should they be needed to protect the west coast from Iron Born aggression.”

“I have no doubt you would, however this council serves the king not the Reach and its Lords. King Tommen’s ships will stay where they are.”

Tyrion said no more but the look on his face showed he was not pleased by his sire’s words. Loras shared his good brother’s sentiment, the Redwyne fleet was not insubstantial but the vessels were required to support trade and it seemed that they were expected to protect Lannisport as well as their own territories.

The meeting drew to a close and Loras noticed Tyrion try to catch his father’s attention. However Tywin Lannister exited the room without a backward glance. As the other council members filed out, Tyrion stood still, frowning and started slightly when Loras touched his shoulder.

“Shall we depart for your chambers now, good brother?”

“We shall depart, but I wonder if I could persuade you elsewhere first.”

Loras felt his heart sink, and spoke in a tone of dismay:

“You wish me to accompany you to a tavern?”

His good brother’s eyebrows shot up in surprise.

“Gods, whatever gave you that idea? No I simply wish to discuss something out of Margery’s earshot. It is a wonderful thing to have such a clever wife, but it does make surprising her rather difficult.”

Loras sighed in relief and smiled. The pair exited the tower of the hand and made their way to an external corridor of the keep. Loras faced the older man.

“Would I be right in thinking this has something to do with my sister’s name day?”

“Indeed you would. Tell me, Loras, why did Margaery not bring any of her hunting birds with her to the capital? I can tell from her stories of Highgarden that she is very fond of hawking.”
“That she is, and very skilled at it too. She and grandmother felt that perhaps King Joffrey would think it an unsuitable sport for a lady to engage in.”

Tyrion nodded and grim smirk twisting his lips. “King Joffrey would likely have found an excuse to kill the beast before too long”

-then in a lighter tone and with an eager expression on his face:

“So if I were to gift her a snowy white Gyrfalcon, she could make sport with it in the Kingswood?”

“Certainly. I think such a gift would see my sister even more in love with you, if that is possible.”

Loras grinned at the look of abashed pleasure which found its way to his good brother’s face at the words. He knew Margaery would adore such a bird and appreciated the expensive and thoughtful nature of the gift. Seeing the time and care which Tyrion was taking over planning the surprise made Loras reproach himself for doubting the care his sister’s husband took of her.

Buoyed by this approval of his proposed gift to Margaery, Tyrion was in an ebullient mood as he and Loras made their way to his apartments. They entered and found that young lady awaiting them in the solar. She greeted them both warmly, embracing Loras and bestowing a brief but affectionate kiss on her husband’s lips.

As the three sat to dine, there was lively conversation amongst them, although Loras often found himself more than content to observe the other two, feeling a joyous satisfaction in the love and happiness which seemed to brim from them. It reminded him of Renly, but in a way that more sweet than sorrowful. He thought of his lover’s marriage to his sister and wondered how he would have felt in Margery’s place. The young knight would like to think that he would have been as open hearted and generous as she had but he was not sure he would have. Thinking of her cheerful acceptance and seeing the love she now clearly revelled in, which would never have come from Renly, Loras could not help but think there was a sliver of solace in his grief and loss. Noticing his far off expression, Margaery touched her brother’s hand.

“Will you be accompanying myself and the king to Flea Bottom tomorrow, Loras? I am sure Tyrion’s mind will be eased by knowing you are there to protect me.”

She threw her husband a teasing glance and he smiled and shook his head.

“You cannot fault me for being protective, my love. That being said, I am in complete admiration of your skills of persuasion. Managing to convince my father that Tommen should show himself to the small folk.”

“Tywin can see that my reasoning is sound. There is plenty of bread in the capital now; Tommen is a sweet, handsome little boy and will charm the populace.”

Tyrion grinned.

“It was delightful to see the expression on sweet Cersei’s face last night when father agreed to it. I would go so far as to say it even made the meal bearable”

The three shared a laugh, Loras glanced at Tyrion.

“I shall indeed be there, as will a considerable escort. You do not plan to join us, Tyrion?”

“Indeed I do not. While there is no denying I am little, I think none save your sister here would describe me as handsome or sweet, I do not think my presence would aid in charming the populace.”

“Oh I don’t know, sweetling, I believe there has recently been a greater recollection of how you saved the city from Stannis.”

Margaery spoke with her wine cup held close to her, a sly smirk on her lips. Tyrion threw her a quizzical glance.

“Bronn mentioned something to me about a tavern song. Is that what you refer to?”

“Perhaps, not that you would know anything about taverns these days, my lord husband.”

“Indeed, such establishments are as distant past to me as the Targaryen conquest, my heart.”

Loras shook his head at the pair smiling. Their banter in regards to drinking establishments had further banished his earlier worries. Margery’s voice had been completely without edge and Loras knew there was enough of the Queen of Thorns in her granddaughter that had she cause to reprimand her husband, this was not have been the case. Surely Ser Harold had misinterpreted the situation. Loras thought about mentioning it to the couple, but decided against it, there was already too much rumour and gossip in the capital. The three passed several pleasant hours before the young knight took his leave and departed for his own chambers.

The next morning Loras escorted Tommen to the courtyard where they would meet Margaery for their visit to Flea Bottom. The boy king carried a glass bottle, about half the size of a karaffe of wine and looked excited. As Margaery made her way to the courtyard attended by her handmaiden he greeted her gleefully.

“Aunt Margaery, I have a gift for you, mother asked me to deliver it personally. It is a posset, she said it would keep you well.”

Loras felt his stomach drop as he watched Margaery eyes glaze over momentarily. But his sister was an accomplished courtier and quickly dropped a low curtesy, taking the bottle with a dazzling smile.

“I thank her grace and you, my king, for delivering such a caring gift to me. I am sure I will find it valuable.”

She handed the bottle to her maid, smiling once more at the grinning and oblivious Tommen. The naive boy king was clearly unaware that his mother had arranged for him to present his aunt with a fertility tonic in front of a considerable crowd. Whilst others were busy with the horses Loras took the opportunity to pull his sister to one side.

“Marge, I am sorry, that was ill done by Cersei.”

His sister gave him a tight smile.

“She has done far worse, and she does have a point.”

Loras looked at his sister in concern.

“But all is well with you and Tyrion is it not?”

“Aye, extremely well, which is all the more reason to wonder why I am not yet with child.”

Loras was dismayed to see the visible upset on Margery’s face, he placed a hand on her shoulder and mustered a light tone:

“I am no expert in these matters, but you are far from being one year wed, sister, you have more than enough time for a large family. In fact I will be sure to remind you of this conversation when you have a pride of little lions running you and Tyrion ragged.”

She smiled at him warmly though her eyes remained grave. He gave her shoulder a final squeeze and they both mounted their horses.

Loras had accompanied his sister to the orphanages and poor houses of King’s Landing before and was used to the shouts and cheers the party received. Tommen played his role well, his golden hair glinting in the son and his bright, ready smile provoking calls of: “Seven bless King Tommen, long may he reign.” There were almost no shouts of “Queen Margaery” anymore which Loras was glad of. The young knight did hear frequent snatches of a familiar song. Unlike his good brother, Loras’ experience of taverns was not in the past and recently one melody had caught his ear on more than one occasion.

“The lion’s flames were green and gold, The lion’s pride did roar.”

Margaery beamed at him and raised a brow.

“It would seem ‘The Ballad of Blackwater’ is gaining popularity. My bard will be so pleased.”

“You had this song written sister?”

“Of course.”

Loras looked at her in amused admiration. The song told the story of the joint efforts by the Lannisters and Tyrells to save the city; with a significant part being devoted to Tyrion’s role in the battle. It was clear that Margaery was not only concerned with increasing Tommen’s popularity.

Grandmother would be proud.

Chapter Text

Jaime’s eyes scoured the great hall, but he could see no sign of his wife. The jubilation he had felt since winning the tourney was rapidly evaporating in Sansa’s continued absence. The whole day had gone exactly as he’d hoped. Jaime had long since lost count of the number of tourneys he’d competed in but the satisfaction he felt at today’s victory was unmatched in his previous experience. Cersei had enjoyed it when he won and had always shown her appreciation in creative and exhilarating ways. However as with every aspect of his love affair with his twin, the whole thing had been shrouded in secrecy, whilst Cersei had seemed to revel in the duplicity, Jaime had always viewed it as a necessary evil. Today, with his wife, there had been no such necessity and hoisting her on to the back of his steed as he placed a crown of blue roses upon her head had given the cynical Lannister knight more pleasure than he would have cared to admit. As if that had not been enough, her words to them as they danced, about having the marriage of her dreams, had left Jaime feeling as if he was walking on air. In short all had been so perfect that he should have expected a disruption of some sort. He reflected grimly that it was also no surprise that the cause of his present disturbance was Brienne of fucking Tarth, he had seen his wife leave the hall with the blonde giantess a short while ago and neither had yet returned. The wench’s presence had been a blight on Jaime’s domestic happiness since her arrival and he felt an irrational impatience to know what the two women could be discussing. Taking a final look around the room to confirm that Sansa was not present, he strode out intent on locating his wife.

Jaime had not gone very far when he noticed a light coming from underneath the door of a little used room. He opened it without pause; either he would find his wife or he would have the small satisfaction of embarrassing a canoodling couple. He saw Sansa immediately; her back was to him and he could see her shoulders shaking. His eye’s met Brienne’s and he took in the look of consternation on her features. Jaime felt fury course through him; how dare this cow come here upsetting his wife?

“Sansa, what has she said to you?”

The redhead turned at the sound of his voice and Jaime was surprised to see that although her eyes were watery, she wore a radiant smile. Sansa came towards him and spoke in a tremulous voice.

“Jaime…my brother is alive!”

She flung her arms about him, burying her head in his chest. Absurdly an image of Robb Stark’s contemptuous smirk came to Jaime’s mind, although more than enough lurid tales of the Young Wolf’s last hours had made their way to the Rock for him to know that could not be the brother Sansa spoke of. Next Jaime thought of Bran and hated himself for the dread which pierced him. He put a hand under Sansa’s chin and gently lifted her face.

“Your brother?”

“Rickon, my baby brother, Brienne found him in the North, she took him to-“

“Lady Sansa!”

Brienne cut across the younger woman’s speech with urgency. Jaime glared at her, his face a picture of disdain.

“Come now, wench, let us all have the tale! I personally am intrigued to know how you can be sure this northerner you found is indeed Rickon Stark and not simply a crafty pauper.”

Jaime felt Sansa tense at his words and regretted speaking so plainly, but he was deeply unnerved at the sudden reemergence of Stark spectres and did not relish the implications for himself and his family. Brienne’s lips worked as if she was swallowing a multitude of insults and when she did speak the words were ground out.
“I had sight of Robb Stark on more than one occasion, his brother bears him a strong resemblance. In addition, the boy was accompanied by a large beast which could only be a dire wolf. He referred to the creature as Shaggydog.”

“Shaggydog!”

Sansa breathed the word like a prayer and Jaime knew his wife was now fully convinced. He had to admit that the presence of one of the beasts Sansa and her siblings had kept as children certainly added credence to the wench’s tale. He looked at her defiant glare and was sure she would tell him little more. He fixed her with a smile that was closer to a snarl.

“I see, well since you have succeeded in ensuring that my wife is in no condition to return to the feast, may I ask that you make your way to the Great Hall, find my Aunt Dorna and explain that Lady Sansa has exhausted herself and that she and I have retired to our chambers.”

The blonde woman glared at him and remained rooted to the spot. After several moments Sansa turned her head to her sworn shied.

“Brienne, do as Jaime says.”

“Lady Sansa, I-“

“I know, Brienne, you do not wish Jaime to know about this. There is little that can be done about that now, I told you when you first arrived, there are no secrets between my husband and myself.”

The maid of Tarth dropped her head defeatedly and left the room. Jaime turned to his wife.

“My love, let us go to our chambers, away from any ears.”

Sansa nodded. Jaime watched as she took several deep breaths and pinched the bridge of her nose, his heart squeezing as he observed how practiced she was at concealing her emotions and thought about how she had learned the skill. They walked to their chambers in silence, fortunately the celebrations were still in full swing in the great hall and the rest of the keep was deserted. Jaime locked the outer door of their rooms and ensured the windows were shuttered. Whilst he was occupied, his wife had picked up a blanket she was stitching for their son and was gripping it tightly as she paced. She looked up at him with bright eyes.

“I remember the day Rickon was born so clearly. I was the first to hold him after mother and father. He wasn’t bald, like Ty was, he had a mop of black hair, but that fell out when he was a few months old. I used hold him and sing to him, I would pretend I was already a great lady, married to a handsome lord and that Rickon was our son. As he got older he could throw inconsolable tantrums, but I could always calm him with a song.”

“Sansa… If this lad has a dire wolf I am sure he must be from Winterfell…”

Jaime stopped, unwilling to dash her hopes for a second time that night. Sansa smiled and shook her head.

“You do not understand. The wolves, they were not the same as dogs; my Lady was the tamest by far and even she would tolerate few besides myself. Shaggydog was wild, he would not stay with someone who was not Rickon.”

In the face of her calm certainty Jaime found it hard to doubt, he tried to rationalise the tale.

“Did he tell Brienne how he escaped the Iron Born?”

“Theon killed two farm boys, the bodies he displayed were burned beyond recognition. Rickon is in the company of a Wildling woman named Osha. Apparently she was captured on a raid near Winterfell some weeks before it was sacked. Maester Luwin showed her a way to take my brothers from the keep via the crypts before he succumbed to his injuries.”

“Both your brothers?”

Jaime felt dread rise within him and again hated himself for wishing a boy dead. But he could not lose Sansa, not now and he was unsure whether she could resolve herself to stay with him if Bran Stark still lived. His wife looked straight into his eyes and held both his hands.

“Rickon and the Wildling woman told Brienne that Bran has gone beyond the Wall, he is accompanied by the children of Howland Reed, they said he has something he must do.”

Jaime stared at her speechless, feeling close to bewilderment. Sansa game him a small, wry smile.

“A fantastical tale is it not? Jaime, I cannot afford to think of Bran, a crippled boy, beyond the Wall… if it is true then… he is far beyond my help. Still, little Rickon is alive and not so far from me after all.”

Jaime felt his heart sink. He spoke in an uncharacteristically tentative tone:

“Sansa, love… if your brother is still alive, he has a stronger claim to Winterfell than you.”

Anger and disbelief flashed across Sansa’s face.

“Does that displease you?”

Jaime frowned at her, irritated with himself for his inability to explain what he meant clearly.

“You know I care nothing for your claim! My father however…”

“We don't have to tell anyone who he is. We could say he was my bastard cousin, I know my uncle Edmure has a reputation-“

She spoke quickly, her blue eyes pleading and Jaime could tell that she knew it was a dream which could never come to pass. Fuck my father Jaime felt the increasingly familiar bitterness towards Tywin rise within him. Since the red wedding he had found reason to curse his sire with frequency. Sansa looked at him with an expression of resignation.

“It would not work would it? We cannot risk it, besides there is Shaggydog too, I cannot separate another of my siblings from their wolf.”

Jaime pulled her to him, feeling his heart would break how many blows can she suffer at the hands of my family, before it kills the love she bears me? He was startled to feel her give a short mirthless laugh.

“Well, it seems Lord Baelish has his red headed Stark at last. He approached me in King’s Landing soon after my betrothal to Joffrey was broken, he offered me a means of escape.”

His wife looked down and Jaime felt a protective rage flare within him, he was sure that had Sansa found a means to get to Littlefinger following her betrothal to him, his wife would have taken it and the thought of losing her to the conniving brothel keeper was not one he could suffer easily. Sansa looked up at him once more.

“I have never met my Aunt Lysa, I know she was at court while her husband was Hand, what is she like?”

“I did not have a great to deal to do with her.”

Jaime was evasive, still preoccupied with the earlier revelations and not sure is would be helpful to give his candid opinion that Lysa Arryn was a mad bitch. Sansa shifted and began to play with the blanket again.

“Shae was very hostlie to Baelsih and he did make me uneasy, he tried to give me the impression he wanted to help me for love of my mother… almost as if he was some sort of uncle to me.”

Jaime snorted, and his wife gave him a half smile.

“I was less than convinced myself, for I cannot remember my mother making mention of him although she spoke of her childhood often. Although from what Brienne told me tonight, my mother must have placed some trust in Lord Baelish. It seems that she was convinced that your brother was behind the assassination attempt on Bran because Lord Baelish identified the dagger used as one he lost to Tyrion in a bet they made at a tourney.”

That bloody dagger! Jaime remembered Sansa’s mother questioning him about the object during his captivity. He’d seen Robert Baratheon waving the thing around but could not remember much about it. Now he turned to his wife.

“I have heard this tale before, my love. I know Tyrion lost that day because I shared his fate. Tyrion never bets against me in tourneys, he claims it is as foolish as it is disloyal. ”

Sansa frowned.

“So the dagger was no longer Tyrion’s, perhaps Baelish had seen him with it in the past?”

Jaime pondered sourly that it seemed more likely Littlefinger was trying to make trouble for Tyrion, although he could not fathom why. He wondered if there was some way he could alert his younger brother to this new knowledge, without risking their sire finding out how it had been obtained. His thoughts were disturbed by Sansa laying a hand on his arm, he looked into her face and saw a strained smile.

“At any rate, my youngest brother is alive. He is with kin and in a strong noble house. I am sure Lord Baelish has plans for him but these must involve keeping him alive. He is alive and safe - I must content myself with that.”

Jaime’s first impulse was to scoff at the naivety of this statement, but then he took in his wife tense demeanour and felt dismay seep through him. Sansa was putting on a brave face; for his benefit. She sought to convince him that she was content when in truth she was not. His wife knew better than anyone the risks a Stark child faced as a pawn in the game and Jaime was convinced that she thought less of Littlefinger than she let on.

The two prepared themselves for bed and, lying curled into him on her side, her head on his chest, Sansa soon appeared to be asleep. Jaime knew he would not find rest that night. His pride from earlier in the day seemed to come back to mock him now. He may be able to present his wife with fripperies and empty crowns, but when it came to being her true champion he was powerless. Jaime railed against the thought; the idea of being unable to act was abhorrent to him. However he could not deny that Rickon Stark was unlikely to be safe at Casterly Rock, furthermore Jaime was aware the Eerie was not a place he could simply stroll into and extract Rickon from. It was not as if he could lay siege to the place; Tywin must certainly hear no word of the youngest Stark’s location and obstructive as Lysa Arryn had been, there was certainly no other pretext for making war on her dominions.

Being aware of all the reasons why he must accept the status quo did not make it any easier for Jaime to content himself with doing so. He cast up thoughts of the past, remembering the day he had been stripped of his white cloak and the conversation he had with Sansa shortly after. I had two younger brothers, Ser Jaime, now I have none. If I could have done anything to protect them I would have. Jaime felt his guts twist with sorrow to think how his wife must feel now, knowing her current situation meant there was nothing she could do for Rickon. His mind then turned to the earlier part of the conversation, Sansa refusing to flee to Winterfell with him. She would have chosen Littlefinger over I. The realisation pierced him like a sword and he felt a wave of fury for the coniving Baelish. The day Jaime had been expelled from the Kingsguard, Baelish had been made Lord of Harrenhal by Joffrey, no doubt with Tywin’s approval. Littlefinger owed much to House Lannister, yet he seemed to be repaying the debt with dishonesty. Jaime turned his mind to Tyrion’s imprisonment in the Eerie, reflecting that his emotions upon receiving that news were akin to those he felt now; he’d been sick with worry and railed against his inability to do anything, throwing himself into the war against the Starks with a ferocious zeal. It seemed a dagger had been the key to the Tully sisters’ belief in Tyrion’s guilt; and Baelish had been the one to identify the dagger as Tyrion’s.

He was disturbed from his brooding by his wife, throwing her arms out and groaning in her sleep. After a second she gasped and sat up sharply. Jaime was familiar enough with Sansa’s nightmares to recognise the latest instance, they had been becoming less frequent of late but it was hardly surprising that the evening’s revelations had prompted reoccurrence. He pulled her to him, stroking her hair soothingly and trying his best to mask his own pain at seeing her distressed. After a minute she pulled away with a sigh.

“Was it the wolves tonight, sweet one?”

“Not quite…let us not speak of it, Jaime, I would rather forget.”

“Very well.”

A heavy silence hung over the pair. Jaime could make out Sansa’s silhouette and saw she was twisting the coverlet between her hands.

“Jaime, as well as talking of my brother, Brienne told me my Aunt believed Jon Arryn was slain and that she fled to the Vale for fear that she or her son could be next.”

Jaime barely suppressed a curse and sought a way to express his opinion as diplomatically as possible.

“Sansa, your Aunt was aways irrational when it came to her son, I think the lad was sickly in some way and as he was her only child, she was extremely overprotective.”

Sansa was silent for several moments before taking a deep breath.

“Brienne said, Lady Lysa told her… House Lannister was behind Jon Arryn’s death, she said that was the reason my father agreed to become King Robert’s hand, Jaime-“

“No, Sansa, I swear to you, I did not poison Jon Arryn to keep my affair with Cersei secret.”

It cost Jaime to speak of his past so bluntly, he felt he and Sansa had been put through enough pain on that account. He saw his wife nod her head emphatically, and wished it was light enough for him to look into her beautiful eyes so he might know beyond doubt that she believed him. She spoke after a minute:

“Something changed father’s mind though, Jaime, something made him come south, I know at first he planned to refuse. Whatever made him change his mind, it was the ruin of my family.”

Jaime heard the tears in her voice and pulled her close to him once more, he hated to see the woman he loved reliving all this pain and the warrior within in him sought something to fight on her behalf.

“Why in Seven Hells did your Aunt take the wench into such confidence?”

“I have been wondering about that too, I do not think anyone expected I should be so happy in my marriage.”

Jaime knew Sansa was fighting to keep her voice level, he could not allow this to continue. Implausible as storming the Eerie may be, there was no way he and is wife could remain at the Rock ignoring these revelations without it poisoning their happiness. Jaime had learnt his share of hard lessons in recent years and he was acutely aware that they seemed to have glimpses of a larger and as yet unfathomable picture. He placed a hand under Sansa’s chin and gently pulled her face up to his.

“Wife, there is more to all this than meets the eye. I truly wish we could bring your brother here, if I did not know it would bring a storm of swords upon all our heads I would ride out for him the very night. But there is too much trouble coming our way from the Vale, for us to simply ignore it.”

Sansa squeezed his hand.

“You are right, husband, …father always said “When snows fall and the white winds blow. The lone wolf dies but the pack survives.” We need our pack, Tyrion and Margaery were born to play these games. Tyrion needs us too, he needs to know about Lord Baelish and the dagger. I think we must find a pretext for a trip to King’s Landing”

Chapter Text

Tyrion strode angrily after his father. The small council meeting had just finished and Tywin was making his way to his study, if he was aware his youngest offspring was in his wake he gave no indication of it. Reaching the threshold of his private domain the Lannister patriarch entered, shutting the door firmly behind him. Too agitated to even hesitate, Tyrion flung it open.

“Why, father? Why are you doing this?”

“Make yourself clear, Tyrion.”

Tywin’s voice was cold and he did not deign to look up. His son made no effort to hold back his derisive snort.

“You are crippling the Reach, as you know perfectly well.”

“Do not be absurd. A small increase on the tariffs paid to move certain luxury items through Crown ports will hardly cripple them. As I understand you did much diligent work to increase trade with Bravossi merchants during your time on the isle, it seems you yielded more success for the likes of Paxter Redwyne than your own king.”

His father’s eyes now bored into him, and Tyrion felt his resentment peak. It appeared his sire had placed him in a position where he could do no right; if the Reach did not prosper, he would be blamed for ruining an opportunity, if it did too well, it was a threat to Tywin and would be put in its place. He scowled.

“As Master of Coin I would have expected at the very least to be consulted before such a measure was brought to the council-“

“I have no interest in what you expect, were you carrying out your duties to an acceptable standard I would have no need to override you.”

The sharp tone irked Tyrion and for the first time in a long time he found himself deliberately antagonistic.

“I notice there is no proposal to place a similar tax on gold or precious metals, it seems one does not have to be in the Reach to place their own interests above the crown.”

His father’s face remained impassive although his upper lip curled slightly.

“The king is my grandson and I am regent. Our interests are one and the same. Loyalty and legacy are all that matters, I had hoped this was a lesson you may begin to learn, it seems I was wrong. You will leave now, I have suffered enough of your insolence.”

His sire bent to his correspondence. Tyrion nodded bitterly and walked away.

For the first time since his marriage, Tyrion entered his chambers with a heavy heart. He could hardly expect Margaery to be pleased at the news of the proposal to the Small Council and his wife was astute enough to be aware of the message which was being sent to herself and House Tyrell. The little Lannister’s mode was further blackened when he opened he chambers to the sound of an affectedly feminine titter, accompanying his wife’s own amused giggles. The scent of lavender cloyed at Tyrion’s nose as the pair in his sitting room turned towards him, the warm smile of greeting on Margery’s face dropping as she took in his downcast expression.

“What troubles you, my love? Some matter from the council meeting?”

Tyrion had no wish to discuss his feelings on the matter in front of the Spider, who’s own countenance was a mask of sympathy. He forced a tight smile.
“Nothing that will not keep, darling.”

Varys shot him a sugary smile.

“It is as well you are here, Lord Tyrion, for I fear I have been boring your charming lady wife, although she is far too gracious to admit it.”

Margaery returned his simper.

“Lord Varys! I think I can safely say you are one of least boring people in King’s Landing! Are you sure you won’t have some more olives? Normally I have a great fondness for them so Tyrion orders scores, however in the last few days I seem to have lost my taste for them altogether.”

“Is that so, my Lady? Perhaps you should try blood oranges in their place. They are not the sweetest of fruits but then you are already perfectly sweet enough.”

The pair giggled and Tyrion fought the urge to roll his eyes; it was all a charade of course, and Margery and the Spider were skilled mummers but he was in no mood for a display of courtly arts. After several more desultory remarks, Varys rose from his seat, beaming at the pair.

“I think perhaps I should take my leave, Lord Tyrion clearly wishes to discuss this afternoon’s council meeting in private. Lady Margaery your company has been charming, if you could ever find it in your heart to pay me a short visit, you would find me eternally grateful.”

“I am sure the pleasure would be mine, Lord Varys, but did you not say you had urgent business with my husband?”

“Ah, that was something of an exaggeration on my part, it will keep, good day to you both.”

With that the Spider swept from the room. Margaery turned to her husband with raised brows.

“Are you any wiser than I as to what that was about? He arrived here a short time ago, looking for you as a matter or urgency.”

“Did he mention today’s council meeting?”

“Only to say that he had been sure you would be coming to tell me of the events directly which was why he made haste to our chambers. What happened, husband?”

“I am afraid my father seems to have decided that it is not enough for me to be an object of his derision, he must ensure your father’s bannermen share the sentiment.”

Tyrion recounted the events of the council and his subsequent conversation with his sire.

Margaery met her husbands gaze and pressed her lips together.

“His mind is quite made up?”

“I would say so.”

“What did the other council members have to say?”

Tyrion stroked his scar.

“Well, Pycelle is so far up my father’s arse it is hard to make out what he says, Varys remained quiet but gave me a sorry look, the Kingsgaurd was represented by that dolt Kettleback who I doubt could spell tax. Of course Lord Redwyne opposed, and made it clear he is looking to me to stop this, so I can see things deteriorating between us. Strangely Oberyn voiced no objection, Dornish goods will be subject to these taxes, the red viper is a law unto himself.”

Margaery squeezed his tense shoulder and gave him a reassuring smile.

“If your father cannot be persuaded to renege, then you must think of a way to lessen the effects, you are a good Master of Coin, Tyrion, I am sure you can think of something.”

Her look and her words warmed him inside. At the same time, Tyrion felt a small pull of guilt. As much as he resented the position his father’s decree had put him in, the crown needed Coin and he wondered if he would not be betraying Tommen by seeing that the monies did not get there. He sat down heavily and pulled her to his lap.

“Shall we see if you can provide me with some divine inspiration, you heavenly creature?”

His wife’s hazel eye sparkled and she chewed her lip playfully.

“Let me see… there is much talk of young Lord Swann being heavily in debt due to his fondness for dice, mayhap you should challenge him for his keep? Or all know the High Septon is a dissolute, next time I am at my devotions I am sure if I were to mention the new tax may prevent Arbour Gold being supplied to the city he would invoke the powers of the Seven in our favour. Oh! One of the merchants wives I met in Braavos mentioned in her last letter that the Sea Lord is looking to purchase several large clippers, could the king spare some of his royal fleet?”

At her last sentence Margaery was surprised to see her husband’s expression shift from languid amusement to one of serious consideration. After several moments he patted her leg and looked upon her with gleaming eyes.

“Do you know I think we just might! When Lord Redwyne inspected the fleet he advised me that we could do to vary the type of ships more; have less of the large sea voyaging ships and more smaller, faster crafts which could better defend the ports. They build such ships in the Reach, so your merchants can trade inland and send goods to Lannisport and Planky Town. At the time I had to tell him there was insufficient funds to commission new ships but… If we sold some large clippers to the Braavossi it would cover the cost of building the smaller ships and still provide income to the treasury. Whilst at the same time appeasing the Lord of the Reach by providing business to their ship yards.”

“I knew you would think of something! My clever husband.”

Tyrion could not miss the genuine warmth and admiration in her tone, as he looked into her eyes he saw something that reminded him of the way countless young maidens had looked at his brother as he won tourney after tourney; a way he had never imagined a woman would look at him. He beamed at his spouse.

“Do not forget this idea has come about because of the alliances you made in Braavos, wife, there is one slight complication though. Varys mentioned at the small council some weeks ago the Iron Born had been amassing ships, we cannot afford to loose large ships if an attack is eminent. I will have to speak to the Spider tomorrow.”

“Or I could,he has extended an invitation to me after all.”

Margaery grinned as Tyrion’s brows shot up towards his curly hair.

“Why not, husband? You hardly need fear for my virtue in his presence. Besides, I doubt his request I pay him a call was idle. ”

“No, more likely the true reason behind his coming here today. Very well, we shall see if your famous Tyrell charm can even bewitch the inscrutable Spider. Now I suppose we should dress ourselves for another joyous and loving Lannister family dinner.”

xxxxxxxxx

“Which gown, m’lady?”

Margaery glanced at her open wardrobe and considered. Often she made a point of donning green hues for these family dinners but tonight she felt her husband’s house colours would be appropriate.

“The crimson shot with gold, Ana, and my rubies if you please.”

Margaery sat at her dressing table, Jeyne forming intricate braids in her chestnut curls while Ana laid out her gown and jewels. The older of the two was skilled at recreating the hairstyles popular in the Reach but it often took her longer to emulate those favoured by ladies of the Westerlands. Margery and her husband were dining with Tommen, Tywin and Cersei tonight and given the day’s events Margaery had decided she would appear every inch the Lannister. She thought about Tywin’s proposal, and wondered viciously if the old lion had derived more pleasure from the idea of putting her family in their place or from causing trouble for Tyrion. Knowing there was little prophet in dwelling on such things, she turned her attention to her two handmaidens. The previous week an amused Tyrion had informed her that Jeyne had taken it upon herself to mend one of Bronn's shirts, which appeared to have pleased the sellsword more than he was prepared to let on. Adopting an innocent tone, Margaery turned to the black haired girl.

“So, Jeyne, was Ser Bronn satisfied with his shirt?”

Jeyne blushed and smiled.

“Remember that he is a very worldly man, Jeyne.”

“yes, m’lady.”

Maragery studied the girl’s expression, Jeyne did not strike her as particularly flighty and she hoped the girl would not lose her head. She turned her attention to her younger maid.

“And what of you, Ana, have any handsome suitors?”

The girl turned her blue eyes to the floor.

“No, m’lady.”

Jeyne smirked.

“Then why did I see you with Ser Hardyng, last night and a week passed?”

Ana’s face flamed. Margaery touched the younger girl’s hand.

“Ana, is this true?”

“No, m’lady.”

The tone contained a petulance Margaery had never detected in the docile blonde, the eyes her young handmaiden turned to her were darker than their usual cornflower blue, appearing stormy. The older women sighed.

“Ana, you must be aware of your situation. Ser Hardyng is in line for the lordship of the Vale, if he has shown an interest in you then his intentions are not honourable.”

“He has not shown an interest in me.”

Margaery was aware the girl neglected to address her correctly but let it pass.

“He already has two bastard daughters. Please have a care, if you get into that sort of trouble, I won’t be able to help you.”

“Very good, m’lady.”

Margaery held the young girl’s gaze a moment longer then nodded.

“I am glad you understand, now you may leave. Jeyne can help me finish my preparations tonight.”

 

Several hours later Margaery sat beside her husband in the Tower of the Hand, a plate of venison and a goblet of arbour gold before her. Cersei had been quick to jape merrily about the future expense of such a drink, no doubt informed of the small council business by her stooge Kettleback. Now the queen dowager fixed her good sister with a smile.

“One can only imagine what your famously tart grandmother will have to say when she hears the news, what is the point in being married to the Master of coin if one cannot influence fiscal policy?”

“My grandmother, like all in the Reach, will welcome the opportunity to serve the crown. What is the point of all our bounty if we cannot further our beloved king’s interests?”

Tommen beamed at his aunt and Cersei rolled her eyes. The boy king leant towards Margaery eagerly.

“Aunt, I believe you have a name day before two moon turns?”

“That is correct, your Grace.”

“I have decided to hold a banquet in your honour.”

Margaery arranged her features into delighted surprise. She had in fact primed her brother to suggest the idea to Tommen and was pleased with this success. Both she and Tyrion agreed it would be the perfect excuse to invite Jaime and Sansa to the capital.

“I thank you for the generous offer, nephew! Your uncle and I will of course contribute to the cost of the event.”

Cersei’s lips were now twisted in malice, she was all but glaring at her sire, but Tywin showed no sign of reacting. Failing to gain paternal support she turned her attentions back to the younger woman.

 

“I did not realise you had a name day so soon, Margaery. You must be a similar age to myself when I had Mrycella, can we expect an announcement at the happy event?”

Margaery was not surprised to receive a taunt from Cersei on this particular subject, however something in the older woman’s eyes, pricked a suspicion in her. Cersei seemed very certain that Margery would not simply announce she was indeed with child. When she did not respond Cersei took another deep draft of wine and tilted her head to one side, a picture of sugary sympathy.

“No? Oh I am sorry, after almost a year of marriage it must be a worry for you both. And of course, the lords of the Reach will not be happy regarding the increase in taxes on their goods. Such a shame you cannot secure your position.”

“Our position is very secure I can assure you, good sister.”

Margaery’s smile was a false as Cersei’s. Tyrion leant towards his father a tentative look on his face.

“Speaking of the Reach, father, you remember Lord Redwyne’s suggestions for modernisation of the royal fleet? It seems the Bravosi may be in the market for some large clippers, we could use the profit from such a sale to finance the building of smaller ships and still have money for the royal coffers.”

Cersei audibly scoffed.

“Rid ourselves of our best fighting ships? Are you really so vain that you must make everything smaller, little brother?”

“Cersei, you would do well to hold your tongue on subjects you have no understanding of.”

There was no missing the contempt which dripped from Tywin Lannister’s voice. He gazed at his son for a moment.

“There is merit in such a scheme, for all the sum of money which comes to the crown will be negligible.”
Margaery watched her husband’s well concealed elation at his father’s words and inwardly sighed. She knew that Tyrion craved Tywin’s approval however much he may profess otherwise. To the young brunette it was clear that Tywin had chosen his response as a barb for Cersei, Margery confessed to herself that she was baffled by how a man so disinterested in his children could exert such a hold over them. She only hoped that hold would never crush her little lion.

Eventualy the meal drew to a close, to Margaery’s immense relief. She a tight band of pain across her forehead and despite being extremely hungry at the start the evening, she found herself quickly feeling full of the rich food on offer. Cersei came to her side for a formal embrace. The blonde whispered in a honeyed tone:

“Would you like me to send you another posset, good sister? Clearly the first batch was ineffective.”

Hazel eyes met green and now Margaery’s suspicions were fully aroused. She had not seen Cersei look like this since the older woman had been plotting to kill Loras. She smiled but was silent. As they made their way down the long flight of stairs, Tyrion looked up at her.

“What poison was sweet Cersei dripping into your ear as we left?”

Margaery gave him a small smile. She did not wish to reveal the truth of the encounter, given Tyrion’s mixed feelings about potential parenthood and knowing he would likely blame himself if there was an issue with the couple’s fertility.

“Oh just her usual bile, I have seldom met someone so lacking in originality.”

Tyrion smirked at her and said no more. His innocent choice of the word ‘poison’ had crystallised his wife’s concerns. Margery resolved to have Mytus examine her food and wine as soon as she could arrange it.

 

Early the next morning, Tyrion made his way to the harbour accompanied by Podrick. He wished to proceed with the shipping plan as swiftly as possible and the first step was ascertaining a reasonable price for the clippers. They were nearing the port district when they encountered Oberyn Martell. The flamboyant Dornishman was exiting an establishment Tyrion knew to offer a variety of nocturnal entertainments. He waved cheerily at the pair.

“Good morning, good fellows! Or is it goodnight?”

Tyrion breathed a short laugh.

“It is good morning indeed, my prince. Clearly married life leaves me quite dull in comparison to yourself. I trust you have had a pleasant evening.”

Oberyn tilted his head and smiled crookedly.

“Pleasant would be one word, perhaps, instructive would be better.”

“I would have imagined there was little the whores of King’s Landing could teach you, my prince.”

“Who said I was whoring? Anyone would think you had whores on the brain, Lord Tyrion! There are other skills I seek to keep sharp in this place, skills I may have need of very soon.”

The Dornish prince raised his eyebrows significantly at the pair and Tyrion wondered what the dark eyed man was implying. Before he had a chance to pursue the subject Oberyn spoke once more:

“I will tell you this, Lord Tyrion, I am growing sick of hearing 'The Ballad of the Blackwater' everywhere I go.”

“My apologies, Prince Oberyn, a ditty my wife’s bard composed to please her; it seems to have caught on.”

“Yes, I’m sure you are deeply sorrowful. Well, its about time someone from house Lannister gave you credit for what you did that night. Shame you had to fuck her first.”

Tyrion looked sharply at the Dornishman but spoke in an even tone.

“I would hardly have thought my familial relations were of concern to you, my prince.”

“Jumping to conclusions again! You will injure yourself , little friend. I am simply making a friendly observation. Now, if you gentlemen will excuse me, it has been an exhausting night.”

The prince threw them a mocking bow; as he did so his saffron coloured coat fell open and Tyrion was able to observe three long slashes in the shirt underneath. He gazed at Oberyn’s retreating figure for several minutes wondering exactly what the hot headed prince had spent his evening doing.

It was after luncheon when Margaery made her way to Lord Varys’ chambers. She had intended to pay the spymaster a call in the morning but following her visit to Mytus with instructions to test her food and wine for poison, she had found her head was pounding and had returned to bed for several hours. She knew the eunuch tended to situate his official business in the bowels of the Keep, near to the Targaryen dragon skeletons and was not surprised upon arrival to see a waif like boy standing in front of the door. She was about to ask if Lord Varys was in attendance when the child simply opened the door and Margaery found herself face to face with the man himself.

“Lady Margaery! How delightful it is to see you.”

“Delightful, but not surprising?”

The brunette smiled and raised a brow, indicating the small table set with tea for two and the blood oranges he had suggested she try the day before. The spider smiled innocently.

“Laid out more in hope than expectation, I can assure you, my lady. Now to what do I owe this pleasure?”

“My husband wishes to be aware of the developing situation in the Iron Islands.”

Varys frowned at her for a moment, almost appearing nonplussed. For a brief moment Margaery thought she saw his eyes widen.

“Ah the massing of ships, I reported to the Small Council. It would seem my little birds were mistaken about the scale of that venture, a matter internal to the region, only of concern to the Greyjoys.”

The explanation seemed a little hurried and Margaery was pondering how she might press the eunuch further, when he spoke again.

“As pleased as I am to see you, I cannot imagine this is why you have come, Lord Tyrion could easily have asked me for an update at the next Small Council meeting.”

Margaery nodded, offering him a small smile.

“I will admit you are someone who has intrigued me for some time, Lord Varys. I am aware you have aided my husband on occasion I wondered if such assistance would be extended to myself, should I have need of it.”

“Do you have need of it, my lady?”

The Spider eyed her intently over the top of his cup. Margaery hoped her discomposure was not evident. She had no wish to share her suspicions regarding Cersei with this man; he may be a useful potential ally but his true motivations were ambiguous in the extreme. She reached for one of the oranges and began to peel it.

“It is always of benefit to be prepared, my lord. I was taught from a very early age to seek out alliances and work with others for mutual goals.”

“An admirable strategy, my lady, far preferable, in my eyes, to conflict for conflict’s sake. I have no doubt you and Lady Sansa have been working towards the mutual good of the Reach and the Westerlands, and I believe some fruits of that labour are already in evidence.”

Feeling herself on firmer ground Margaery beamed at him.

“Indeed we are both pleased about the recent betrothals between houses from the two regions.”

Varys returned the grin but his eyes were solemn.

“Are you aware that your late goodmother, Joanna Lannister, was a close friend of the princess of Dorne? At one time the pair hoped for a marriage between their children. It did nothing to protect Elia nor poor Rhaenys and Aegon.”

Margaery felt as if his stare were boring into her. Determinedly, her hazel eyes met his gaze, when she spoke her voice was steady and light.

“Come, Lord Varys, I had not thought you one of those who hold all of House Lannister accountable for the fate of Elia and her children.”

“I am not, my lady, in fact it is because I hold you and your husband in such high regard that I even speak of such things. I would not like to see either of you brought down by… misguided loyalty.”

Margaery stared at the bald man’s inscrutable countenance. She was aware she was being warned, but not what against.

“I am unsure what you mean by loyalty, my Lord, my husband is firstly loyal to me as I am to him, this surpasses any other considerations either of us might have.”

“Well I am glad to hear it, Lady Margaery. I must thank you for visiting me today, you have helped to ease my mind considerably.”

Margaery wished the feeling was mutual. Other than some vague portents of doom she had learnt very little. Still at least Tyrion could modernise the royal fleet without fear of an Iron Born invasion, and although she did not fully trust the Spider she did feel that he would not work against her, something which, given her growing suspicion of Cersei, was valuable indeed.

Chapter Text

Sansa and her handmaiden stood before an open wardrobe, the large bed behind them already spread with several gowns, capes and surcoats; displaying an array of textures and colours the redhead knew her young son would have been delighted to get his small hands on.

The maid, so gold of hair and green of eye that Sansa had long assumed she was a by blow of one of Jaime’s uncles turned to her mistress and and and asked innocently:

“The lilac and silver, m’lady?”

“Yes Megga and be sure to pack the matching shall.”

Observing the girl’s ill concealed smirk Sansa fought the urge to roll her eyes, the handmaiden had suggested several gowns, all of which her lady had worn soon after the birth of Ty and in the earlier stages of her pregnancy. The northerner doubted Megga had any personal interest in her mistress’ fertility, and could only assume that someone at the Rock sought to determine when her next child would be born. Sansa suppressed a smirk of her own; let them speculate, she had even gone so far as to hint in her last letter to Margaery that she may be expecting. Knowing Rickon was alive it gave her a savage satisfaction to imagine Tywin Lannister envisaging the birth of a lion cub to inherit the North. At the same time, she also wondered if a belief she was carrying a precious cargo would afford her some extra protection against any in King’s Landing who may wish her ill.

Sansa glanced once again at her wardrobe; a particular garment catching her eye. It had been a wedding gift from Alerie Tyrell and she remembered the woman’s clucking over the bright silk dresses she had provided. Margery’s mother had spoken at length about the ridiculousness of women only being provided with garments in the colour’s of their spouse’s house. Olenna had cut in commenting that may be very well but did Alerie really think that Tywin Lannister would suffer his good daughter parading around in Tully colours. Clearly taking a grim pleasure in her good daughter’s consternation the Queen of Thorns had wryly remarked that it would likely be alright: given the Old Lion’s generally low view of women, Sansa could simply plead ignorance; saying she thought the colours complimented her red hair.

The memory caused her to once again ponder the reason for making this journey and cast her thoughts back to her few interactions with Littlefinger in King’s Landing. The man had always made her feel uneasy; she acknowledged now this had been a large part of why she had so readily accepted Margery’s proposal that she wed Loras; it had offered a way of out of Joffrey’s clutches that did not involve Baelish. With the perspective of a happily married woman she could now be very clear what it had been about her good uncle’s looks and smiles that had made her wary, she wondered if she resembled her Aunt Lysa very greatly. She chased the thought from her mind; as well as causing a mild revulsion, it was no help in discerning what plans Littlefinger may have for her brother. It seemed as is he was set on destroying House Lannister so perhaps he envisaged a future conflict against Sansa’s own children for the North. The young redhead’s lips twisted into a smile, she would never oppose Rickon’s claim to the North and she knew Jaime would not either. However she was also painfully aware that matters were rarely that simple; for most of her time as a captive in King’s Landing Sansa had not feared for her life. Of course there had been occasions when she’d wondered if Joffrey would loose all control and put an end to her, but for the most part she had been convinced that she was worth more alive than dead. This did not mean she had not suffered greatly and given her ambiguous views on Lord Baelish and her aunt, Sansa did not feel satisfied with allowing Rickon to remain in their care indefinitely. She looked at the blue and burgundy dress once more, perhaps she would have to strengthen her stomach

But I am not Cersei….

“Megga please also pack this gown. I think that will be sufficient, I will leave you to finish the preparations.”

 

The girl bobbed a curtesy as Sansa exited the room. The redhead made her way purposefully through the Castle. There was a considerable hubbub in the upper chambers as a number of the household, including Jaime’s cousins, were also making the trip to King’s Landing. Sansa had experienced bittersweet emotions observing Mirelle and Cerenna’s anticipation of the trip; remembering her own departure from home for the capital and the excitement with which she had left Winterfell which had seemed to cruelly mock her so often in the subsequent years. At the same time she was glad the girls would be there to accompany her; she had seen the use Margaery had made of her own retinue of companions from the Reach and although Sansa had interacted with such ladies of the Westerlands who had been at court following her marriage, she had never been sure whether those women were more strongly allied to herself or Cersei. Sansa knew the two young Lannisters well and was confident she knew when she could rely on either of them in situations which may require assistance.

The young woman made her way firstly to the nursery, only to find her young son already had company. Leaning against the door she felt warmth fill her belly as she observed her husband, on all fours in front of the seated babe, enacting some form of mummery with several stuffed animals. Ty pointed and babbled contentedly, until he happened to look up and catch sight of his mother, at which point he began to protest and hold up his arms. Jaime turned as Sansa moved towards the babe, a mock frown on his handsome features

“I see how it is. I put all my efforts into amusing this little fellow and am simply humoured until a prettier companion arrives.”

“He takes after his namesake, my lord”

Sansa rested the babe on her hip and breathed in the scent from his small head, now sporting tufts of golden blonde. Jaime beamed at the pair of them.

“Are you almost ready to depart?”

“Aye and this little one’s nursemaids should have his trunks prepared, he seems to require more than the rest of us put together!”

Sansa had deliberated for considerable time whether to bring her son to the capital or not. In the end she had decided keeping the pack together was the best option. Jaime gave her lopsided smile.

“I suppose it is useless me saying you do not have to accompany me?”

“Quite useless, and completely untrue.”

Sansa knew Jaime sought to protect her and she valued the lack of conviction in his tone as he sought to dissuade her from the trip yet again; in truth, he understood how important it was to her to make this journey with him. Prehaps she was being selfish but having spent so much of her life as a bird in gilded cage, Sansa was painfully aware she would find it impossible to bear sitting at home in Catserly Rock while her husband returned to the capital and Cersei. She had been honest with her husband in regards to this, and eventually he had understood and respected the decision. What she had not explained was that this was not the full reason for her wanting to make the trip.

Now she returned her son to his cushioned play area and placed her arms around Jaime’s neck.

“You would miss young Tyrion and I far too much if we remained here.”

“That it very true, my beautiful wife.”
He grinned and met her lips with his, Sansa shivered into the kiss, enjoying the feel of his muscular chest against her bosom and of his hands pressing into the small of her back. As he pulled away a small sign escaped her lips and she saw his green eyes twinkle in response.

“Besides I am sure Margaery would never forgive me if I turned up without you.”

Sansa returned his smile. She was eager to see her good sister again. Tyrion had been a good friend to her but he was too protective of her and too loyal to Jaime for Sansa to confide in him freely. Margaery understood the way the world sometimes made women act. She would be able to offer guidance. Margaery has laid her share of schemes, that does not make her Cersei, any more than I…

Sansa was roused from her thoughts by a slight pinch and looked up into Jaime’s mischievous gaze.

“I can tell my wife’s mind is elsewhere.”

“I am just thinking about the reunions to come.”

Jaime’s smile remained but his eyes became serious.

“I collected Tommen’s sword from the forge.”

“I am sure he will love it, husband.”

Sansa smiled tenderly at her spouse’s rare hesitance. Tyrion had written to them of Tommen’s growing skill with a blade and Jaime had determined the gift would give him the chance to interact with his secret offspring by way of sparring. The Lannister knight lifted a hand to his golden hair.

“The pommel is all Baratheon antlers so father cannot complain. Gods to think I could have spent year’s practicing with him.”

“Cersei would not have allowed it. Besides, we cannot change the past, so dwelling in it has no profit.”

“Very well, my wise wife, now I believe our son seems fit for a nap, will you lay him down or shall I?”

“You do it, I have some preparations to complete.”

She kissed her husband and son soundly then exited them room.

Sansa continued her progress to the castle courtyard and on to the stables. As she had expected Brienne of Tarth was there, peering critically over the master of horses’ shoulder as he tended to the steeds Sansa and her husband had chosen for the following day’s journey. Sansa smiled crookedly.

“You need not concern yourself with the conditions of the beasts, Brienne, they were a wedding gift to Ser Jaime and myself from my good sister and the late king Joffrey. They are sturdy and temperate steeds.”

Brienne nodded grimly, Sansa knew perfectly well the blonde woman would not view the horses’ having come from Margery or Joffrey as any guarantee of their quality. She sighed and spoke once more:

“Brienne, I ask that you accompany me to the godswood, I wish to pay my respects before my departure tomorrow.”

The younger woman watched as her sworn shield nodded again and waked towards her, matching her steps to Sansa’s as the pair silently made their way to the small stone garden. Relations between Sansa and her sworn shield had been strained for weeks. The day after Brienne revealed the whereabouts of her brother, the redhead had sought her out to discuss things further. The maid of Tarth’s evident dismay that Sansa had shared the news of Rickon with her husband, bordered on patronising and Sansa had felt her temper flare as she recounted the way Lord Baelish had behaved towards her in King’s Landing. Brienne had not met the man during her time in the Vale, and Sansa wondered where her Aunt’s husband had been. When she questioned her sworn shield regarding why Lysa had revealed so much to her regarding the supposed connivances of the Lannisters, it became clear that there had been a hope Sansa would be in a position to spy on her husband’s house and communicate any notable information to her Aunt. At this Sansa had stared at the blonde woman aghast:

“You truly thought that was a possibility? Do you understand what Tywin Lannister would do to me if I betrayed his son? You seem to believe my husband embodies all that is wicked, yet you felt it would be appropriate to expect to take these risks?”

Brienne had been sullen.

“You mother was a courageous women, Lady Sansa.”

“My mother was fighting to avenge her husband! To save her children! What did you see me gaining from this that would make me so courageous? Or perhaps you did not care, you simply want me to allow you to vindicate your failures by participating in the downfall of the Lannisters? What on earth makes you think being the pawn of Petyr Baelish is more desirable than being the pawn of Tywin Lannister?”

Sansa had turned and left at that, not wanting the older woman to see the tears in her eyes. They were tears of rage. Rage at Brienne herself for failing to protect her mother, for failing to bring Arya to her and for endangering Rickon. But also a deeper, more bewildered anger at her own parents; her father had believed the Lannisters had murdered Jon Arryn yet he had delivered Sansa and her younger sister straight into their den. Her mother had then imprisoned Tywin Lannister’s son. Sansa had frequently railed against Robb in her mind; beseeching her dead brother to help her understand why he had not been willing to exchange Jaime for his sisters, now she began to feel she had similar questions for her parents. It was a difficult thought and Sansa felt like a traitor for even considering it. At the time she had sought her husband out and blurted a tearful confession. Jaime had comforted her with assurances that her parents had loved her and had simply trusted the wrong people. This interpretation had given her considerable solace on and in the weeks that followed the young redhead had become more and more convinced that Littlefinger was the source of her family’s ruin. Lysa Tully’s part in it all Sansa discounted; she was certainly aware that few wives had great power over their husbands; moreover, although she had never met her aunt, Lady Catelyn had frequently spoken warmly of her relationship with her sister, often stating she wished Sansa and Arya could have a similar relationship one day. Sansa was sure the woman must either have been hoodwinked by her husband’s lies or have been coerced into compliance with him.

Sansa brought herself back to the present as she and her sworn shield entered the godswood. It was deserted as Sansa had known it would be. Without preamble she turned to Brienne of Tarth.

“You are ready to depart this evening?”

“I am. Lady Sansa are you quite sure-“

“ As I have told you repeatedly. If I want your council I will ask for it.”

Sansa watched the taller woman bow her head in resignation and felt a small stab of regret. It was against her nature to hold things over others. Aside from childish sulks, she had generally always been concerned with being pleasing and well liked and actively avoided conflict. As angry as she felt in regards to Brienne, it still felt unnatural to behave in this fashion No doubt my kin would say I was becoming a Lannister. The thought unsettled her more than she would have cared to admit. Sansa softened her expression and placed a hand on the older woman’s.

“Brienne, I know you feel you should be in the capital to protect me, but I have learnt the hard way that the protection I need there is not the kind you can supply. Return to my Aunt and Uncle. Tell them I am watched closely here and provide them with details of Ser Jaime and I’s travels. If you have an opportunity to speak to Lord Baelish alone, tell him I do not believe the child they have is truly my brother and that you feel if i had some proof of this I would be keener to act.”

Sansa paused, trying to steady herself and tightening her grip on Brienne’s hand.

“One more thing. I do not know if such a chance will arise and I must beg you to take no risks, but if by some blessing of the gods you can get Rickon away from there, take him to Tarth, I beseech you.”

Brienne met the younger women’s gaze staunchly and nodded fiercely. Sansa managed a tight smile.

“Thank you. Now I would appreciate some privacy for my devotions.”

Only the honourable Maid of Tarth would have accepted the statement without sceptism. She bowed and exited leaving Sansa to seek out the Stark memorial housed in the stone garden.

She clenched her fists until her nails dug into her flesh.

I am not that kind of Lannister. I am not Cersei.

In truth, now the dye was cast, Sansa felt in more of a quandary than ever. Aside from a feeling in her bones that she had to be the one to draw out Baelish, she had no specific plan of action. She thought of how secrecy and lies had almost broken she and Jaime in the past, but she knew she could not share any of this with him. Jaime would try to prevent her risking herself by taking foolhardy action of his own and although Sansa respected her husband as much as she loved him, she knew he was not equipped to play this particular game. However more than that, she felt compelled to actively help Rickon. Sansa may be more than happy in her current situation and she may at times feel let down by members of her family but that did not change the fact that she also felt more of Stark than ever. So often since her marriage she had been unable to strike a blow against those who had hurt her pack and now there was deep vindication in trying to do something for all she suspected her kin would not have approved of the ambiguous methods employed. Sansa had a precipice to walk, but she felt deep down it was the only route she wanted to take.

Chapter Text

Margaery sat at the small table, absorbing the contents of Sansa’s letter, as Jeyne laid out the morning meal. The brunette was reading attentively and was unaware of her husband’s presence until she heard a murmur in her ear.

“Have you captivated Lord Varys so much that he is sending you tender missives, Lady wife?”

Margaery smirked, arching her neck so that Tyrion could bestow a kiss.

“Do you know, my lord, the last time I was falsely accused of being in receipt of a love letter, the supposed culprit was your good self?”

Tyrion frowned playfully.

“In that case I feel I have been derelict in my duties, having yet to send you such a letter, be assured I shall seek to rectify this at the earliest opportunity. Have you been awake long, my love?”

“Not really.”

Margaery met her husband’s sceptical gaze and smiled sweetly.

“I did not wish to awaken you, Tyrion, you were late to bed last night and you looked so peaceful.”

In truth she had felt an urge to waken her husband and to start her day with some strenuous love making, despite the pair having partaken of a long and enjoyable coupling the night before. However, Tyrion had been exhausting himself with business of the realm of late and moreover Margaery was aware of the issues the younger Lannister had around sleep and took it as something of a point of pride that his nights had been more rested since he settled into married life. She heaped a generous portion of fruit onto her plate and began to butter a slice of bread.

“I have word from Sansa, she and Jaime will be in the capital for my name day. It seems we will also meet our nephew.”

Tyrion beamed at the prospect. Margaery shared his joy at being reunited with her good sister and indeed at seeing the babe. She sighed and spoke again keeping her eyes on the letter.

“I may be reading too far between the lines, but I think Sansa suspects she is with child again.”

“So soon?”

“It is not really that soon, Ty was born when we were in Braavos. Sansa comes from fertile stock, it would not really be a great surprise if she whelped her second before I had my first.”

Margaery tried and failed to keep her tone light. Mytus’s investigations into her food had found nothing untoward, although he had been looking for poison, the young woman had no doubt he would also have come across any substance which would have inhibited pregnancy. Still she could not shake the suspicion that something may be preventing her from conceiving an heir. She pushed the fear aside and placed a hand on Tyrion’s noticing his faraway look.

“I daresay she will confirm one way or another when they arrive. How goes the shipping trade?”

“Well. We have received the monies from Braavos and building has begun on the smaller crafts. I have also had word from your kinsman, it would seem there has been no activity to speak of in regards to the Iron Islands, so we may put that one down to a rare case of Varys’ birds being in the wrong.”

“Yes that seems most likely.”
The pair shared a significant look. After Margery’s meeting with the Spider they had decided that a separate source of information regarding house Greyjoy’s activities would be beneficial. House Tyrell had oversight of the city watch in Old Town and the current captain of guards was an illegitimate cousin of Margaery's. He had been agreeable to sparing a small number of his men to survey activity off the coast and they had seen nothing to be concerned about. Margaery rubbed her temple; whilst she and her husband were both sceptical as to the honesty of Vayrs’ mistake they could find no explanation as to why he should have sought to deliberately deceive the council. Contemplating yet another player with ambiguous motive a part of the Tyrell heir wished nothing more than to be back at Highgarden with no greater concern than her grandmother’s sharp tongue.

At that moment Podrick entered the room,carrying a plate of the blackened bacon his master favoured. Margaery held back a wretch, feeling her dull headache worsen. How I can feel like this if I am not being poisoned is quite beyond me. She stood abruptly managed to bestow a weak smile on her husband.

“I find my appetite has deserted me, I think I shall take a walk around the gardens, perhaps the fresh air will do me some good.”

Tyrion glanced at her concernedly.

“Shall I accompany you, my lady?”

“Indeed you will not. I am fully aware that your father has requested the crown account books from you in one hour and you will wish to look over them first, that is why I ensured your squire was here with a full meal for you to break your fast and why I did not awaken you at first light.”

Tyrion’s face softened into a tender smile and Margaery sensed how much he treasured being looked after in this way. His green eyes twinkled as he sought to arrange his countenance into a mock frown.

“Very well but take your handmaiden with you, I shall ensure that some light food is left in our chambers for your return.”

“Thank you, husband.”

She kissed him frankly on the lips, nodded to the grinning Pod and departed in search of Ana.

A short while later, the pair were strolling among the blooms of the Red Keep grounds, Margery’s head felt better in the fresh air and she sought to engage Ana in conversation. The young girl was taciturn in disposition, and while there were advantages to having handmaiden who appeared so disinclined to gossip, her mistress was also aware she knew very little about the blonde, which she sought to rectify. She turned talk to family and Ana informed her she had one elder brother who was in the Citadel forging his chain, her mother had died in childbed, taking the babe with her and their father had turned to drink, they had been taken in by an aunt when Ana was four.

“And where does this Aunt live?”

Before her handmaiden could respond, the pair rounded a corner and found their way blocked by a beaming Ser Harold Hadyng.

“Lady Margaery! What a pleasant surprise. Here I am, savouring the beauty of the roses, when I come upon the fairest flower of them all.”

It was all Margaery could do not to roll her eyes. She had often chided her grandmother for making scathing remarks about young girls, easily taken in by flattery, but she could not help thinking if this was an example of the Vale knight’s charm, things must be very dull there indeed. She bowed her head and gave him a tight smile.

“It is indeed unexpected, Ser. I would have thought a man such as yourself would only be about at this hour if he wished to train. And I confess, I would not have expected you to be an admirer of flowers.”

Remembering Jeyne’s tale of meetings between Ana and the young knight, Margery watched Hardyng closely, his hazel eyes gave no sign of recognition as they flitted over Ana and certainly he made no attempt to bestow any secret acknowledgement upon the younger girl. Indeed, as in their past meetings, save for a cursory glance, he appeared unable to tear his gaze from Margaery herself.

“You have me there, my lady, I must confess I have little knowledge of the blooms themselves, however they do remind me of Alys.”

“Alys? And who is she? A love you have left in the Vale?”

Margaery pressed the topic this time keeping her eyes on Ana, if the girl was perturbed by such a notion she did not show it. Hardyng seemed to affect a bashful demeanour.

“I suppose she is, although not, I suspect in the way you mean. Alys is my eldest daughter. After her birth my aunt arranged for her mother to be wed to one of her men at arms. I see the child from time to time, she has the most beautiful curls and often bound with flowers, my aunt tells me she loves to sing and dance so I arranged for her to be sent some fine satin slippers on her last name day.”

Margaery listened to this tale with half an ear. She had never been particularly interested in the doings of small children, unless they belonged to someone she cared about. Clearly her distraction had been more obvious than she was aware for the young knight fixed her with a concerned frown as he spoke again.

“Forgive me, my lady, it occurs to me I have perhaps inadvertently caused you offence.”

“I cannot see how you imagine so, Ser.”

“Well, if you will forgive my plain speaking, all know of your lord husband’s past reputation. Perhaps you do not like to hear tales of bastards.”

“Lord Tyrion has no acknowledged bastards, Ser Hardyng, surely you are aware of that?”

The young knight raised his brows.

“I confess I was not, being new to court as I am. I had simply assumed… I myself have two children born the wrong side of the blanket fathered before my twentieth name day. Well, I suppose that is a relief to you, in some ways at least.”

Margaery plastered a smile over the scowl she wished to through in the young man’s direction. She had long held little doubt that stories surrounding Tysha’s fate would have reached the whorehouses and taverns of Lannisport and been more than enough to deter any woman from knocking on Tywin Lannister’s door stating Tyrion had got them with child. She had even less doubt that this was not knowledge Hardyng was party to and it was certainly nothing she wished to discuss with him. She forced herself to keep her tone level.

“As you said yourself, Ser, this is hardly a pleasant subject to discuss with a lady. Now if you will excuse me I have yet to break my fast.”

She gave him the barest of nods of the head then swept away, Ana hurrying in her wake.

Back in the privacy of her chambers, Margaery rounded on her handmaiden sharply.

“Jeyne mentioned before that you had spoken with Ser Hardyng on occasion. Did you tell him of the possets the queen mother has sent me?”

Ana’s eyes went wide.
“No, m’lady, I swear it. You were right, when you said what he talked to me about. He is not an honourable man, m’lady.”

Margaery gazed into the guileless blue eyes, not for the first time, she felt as if she had seen them before, in another face. Margaery knew that eyes could lie, however innocent they seemed and she had not failed to note that Ana was now contradicting her earlier assertion that she had never spoken with Hardyng. Perhaps the girl had been taken in by his charms and was embarrassed? The older woman decided she would write to her grandmother in the next week and determine if there had been any hints of scandal around either of the girls who had been sent to her. For now she simply wanted time to herself with her thoughts.

“Very well, you may leave me now, I wish to rest. Could you ask Maester Mytus to prepare me a rubbing balm for my temples? Bring it here in several hours.”

The girl curtsied and exited, leaving Margaery to fully compose herself alone. Her conversation with the knight of the Vale had left her deeply irritated. Ser Hardyng lacked subtlety and it did not take much pondering to determine that the whole conversation had been a thinly veiled attempt to cast aspersions on her husband’s potency. Margaery wondered what the Young Falcon hoped to achieve. He certainly made every effort to be charming towards her when the opportunity arose but her experienced eye could tell he had no deep affection towards her. Whist Margaery did not hold the young man in particularly high regard she had no doubt he was not short of willing bed mates so this elaborate pursuit of herself seemed unnecessary. Perhaps she could gain more information about from Ana, now the young girl had admitted to having met with him. Margaery was reminded by a pang of hunger that she had abandoned her breakfast prematurely. The brunette forced down some fruit and several slices of bread before retiring to her room, intending to read. However as soon as she stretched out on the coverlet, Margaery felt her eyes grow heavy and she quickly discarded the book in her hands, giving into fatigue.

She awakened several hours later, feeling rested but extremely hungry. A glance out the window showed her it was around time for luncheon but a search of her chambers revealed neither Jeyne nor Ana. Margery was puzzled as to where both girls could be but before she had time to think on it further there was a knock at the door. Smoothing her gown and hair the young woman answered and was surprised to see Ellaria Sand standing before her, a smile on her face that did not reach her eyes.

“Lady Margaery, I hope you are not busy? Oberyn has some business to attend to and I wondered if you would mind keeping me company?”

“Not at all, come in please. I am afraid my handmaidens seem to have deserted me and I can offer you no luncheon, prehaps you would care for some fruit?”

“Thank you, my lady, perhaps some donnish olives?”

“Ah, apologies, I am afraid I have lost my taste for them.”

Ellaria quirked a brow and briefly became her animated self once more.

“I cannot believe it! I remember you enjoying them so much at our dinner.”

Margaery smiled remembering the evening so many months before. She motioned to a chaise lounge before pouring two goblets of wine and placing them on the small table. She had met with the Dornish woman on several occasions since the dinner and found her to be pleasant and lively company. However the women were not overly friendly and Margaery could not help but wonder what had prompted this visit. Ellaria was fully aware that the majority of the court looked down on her for her base birth and status as a courtesan and generally preferred to keep company with the other Dornish. Yet here she was today, unaccompanied and paying a social call, for all she seemed in no way inclined to make conversation. Margaery sipped her drink and smiled.

“Do you think you will remain in the capital much longer, Ellaria?”

It had been intended as a pleasant, safe inquiry and Margaery was surprised to see the Dornish woman’s face darken.

“That is for Oberyn to decide. If I had my way we would have left long before now.”

Margaery was startled by the intensity with which the words were spoken. After a moment, the older woman seemed to remember herself and looked uncomfortable. Wanting to put Ellaria at ease, the girl from the Reach gave a sympathetic smile.

“It must be hard to be away from your daughters for so long, I know my mother misses me dreadfully.”

“I am sure she does, you should go to her, Lady Margaery, I am sure she will have much to teach you now you are going to be a mother yourself.”

Margaery felt as if she had been slapped at the abrupt return to the subject which had been vexing her so much of late.

“Forgive me, Ellaria, is some rumour circulating court which I am not privy to?”

The older woman raised a brow and spoke in a kindly tone:

“No, child, it is simply obvious; I can tell that you have recently awoken which means you are napping during the day; you tell me you have lost your taste for a food you adored and, well I know these things are not spoken of as frankly outside of Dorne but the change to your bosom is plain for any to see.”

Margaery inhaled deeply.

“But I bled several weeks ago.”

“And was it far lighter than normal? Well that is not uncommon in the early months. Feel free to check with your maester but take it from one who has four of her own and watched her mother and sisters birth many more; you are expecting a child.”

Margaery placed a hand to her stomach, a beaming smile spread slowly across her face and broke into a short breath of laughter.

“Truly, I could be with child?…Having Tyrion’s babe?”

The thought practically blinded her with joy. She imagined the look upon her husband’s face when she revealed the news. Margaery was well aware he had conflicted feelings when it came to parenthood but she also knew how much he had longed for a loving family and how much he loved her. She was sure he would respond firstly with delight and that they could deal with the worries later.

She turned to the older woman, a barrage of questions rising to her lips, but was silenced by the pained expression on Ellaira’s face.

“Your husband will be very happy, my lady, of that I am sure. And he will want to do all he can for you and your comfort. Take my advice, tell him you wish to return home as soon as possible. This place is rotten and you would both be better off elsewhere. Trust me on this one, If I could make Oberyn leave I would not waste one second in doing so.”

The Dornish woman’s speech had a quiet intensity about it that provoked a dread in Margaery and had her reflexively holding her belly. The loaded silence in the room was punctuated by another knock at the door, Margaery had barely called permission to enter when Bronn opened the door, looking in hastily and sketching a bow, his brows raising when he saw Margery’s companion.

“‘Afternoon ladies, is Lord Tyrion in his chambers?”

“He is not. Could he still be in the Tower of the Hand?”

Bronn shook his head.

“Lord Tywin’s men sent me to find him, he’s calling the small council together. Something’s…happened.”

The sellsword’s uncharacteristically delicate phrasing and the way his eyes rested on Ellairia as he spoke quirked Margaery’s suspicion. She frowned.

“Ser Bronn I suggest you speak plainly, why does Lord Tywin require my husband?”

She fixed him with a piercing stare and the man grimaced and sighed.

“There’s been some sort of trouble, I don’t know the in’s and out’s. One of the groomsmen went to the far stable blocks and found two men lying out cold, turns out it were Gregor Clegane and Oberyn Martell.”

Ellaria let forth a piercing shriek. Margaery ran towards her and placed a steadying arm about her person, before turning back to the sellsword.

“Bronn, where is the prince of Dorne now?”

“Your guess is as good as mine, m’lady.”

“Very well. Please take Ellaria back to her chambers and ensure that someone who does know where Prince Oberyn is takes her to him as soon as possible, then you may resume your search for Lord Tyrion.”

The dark haired man grimaced; clearly not relishing the prospect of escorting the distraught courtesan through the keep, but nodded and offered an arm. As she turned to leave Ellaria fixed Margaery with an impassioned stare.

“I told him no good could come of this! I told him so many times. Now do you see why I tell you to leave? Margaery, if you truly love that man you will get him out of here before he is destroyed!”

Bronn cast his master’s wife an incredulous look before ushering the weeping dornish woman through the door. Margaery sat down heavily, her mind in a whirl. She had long been aware the Red Viper sought vengeance for his family’s deaths, now it seemed he had it but at what cost? Ellaria clearly thought it would be an easy matter for Margaery to persuade Tyrion to leave the capital, Margaery herself was not so sure. The pull on her husband to stay was as strong as Oberyn’s thirst for revenge, and as she once again reflexively rubbed her stomach, she could not help but wonder if Tyrion’s pursuit of his desires would leave her as anguished as Ellaria had been that afternoon.