EVERY MAN BREAKS TO BE FORSWORN
“I am a Dornishman, your Grace,” Arthur retorts furiously. From Rhaegar’s flabbergasted expression; this is highly unexpected. In any other situation, the stunning impression of a fish that the Crown Prince is now performing would have amused him; but rage, dangerous and red-hot, flashes through his veins like wildfire. When they’d ridden out of the capital, two days prior, with Ser Gerold and Ser Oswell, Arthur had said nothing; there had been nothing to say - the Prince had told them nothing of his plans. But as time passed, he’d noticed the road they were taking and his suspicions had begun to grow, until now, until he’d at last, with no small amount of exasperation, asked the heir to the throne where in the seven hells they were going. “I will have no part in this - this insult!”
“Arthur - I must do this; Lyanna is waiting and there is no time to lose.” Arthur looks coldly at the man’s melancholy, violet eyes, and feels only the greatest disdain. This man, in his selfish arrogance, is about to start a war because he is so obsessed with his lust, and Arthur will not stand for it. Thousands will die, and he is dishonouring his lawful wedded wife, the Princess Elia, who is good and kind and gentle and clever and beautiful and the mother of his twin children.
“You think I care about Lyanna Stark!” Arthur laughs incredulously. “This is an insult to your wife, this is an insult to Dorne and I will have no part in this.”
“Act against me and you will be forsworn, Arthur,” Rhaegar pleads.
“Then I will be forsworn,” Arthur replies bitterly, turning his horse around.
He ignores Rhaegar’s desperate shouts and rides furiously for King’s Landing, back to his princess.
“Arthur?” The youngest kingsguard, Ser Jaime Lannister, is the one to find him hunched over his horse’s neck as the mount stumbles into the stables at dawn the next morning. Arthur groans as he dismounts, directs the stableboy to rub the horse down and then begins his journey back to the White Tower. He desperately wants a bath and some food before having the decidedly unpleasant task of informing the Crown Princess of what is going on. “Where are the others? The Prince? Has something happened?”
“In a manner of speaking,” Arthur murmurs wearily. “Rhaegar is a fucking reckless selfish idiot.”
He can barely stand to look at the Princess as he delivers his news. She does not interrupt him; but he knows her, and her sudden stillness frightens him. She is beyond rage; her heart is being ripped from her chest and he has done it to her and he cannot help. One dainty hand clenches convulsively and she staggers into him.
“I love him,” she whispers brokenly. “I love him… gods what have I done that I deserve this… I love him… I am the mother of his children… I’ve tried to be a good wife to him…”
He looks down at her face, pale, drawn with subtle lines of agony, the ways her eyes flutter shut, the fall of her dark shining hair over his arm, and he, too, is overcome. He holds her to him more tightly, though always gently, always reverently. She is limp in his embrace and his heart thunders with terror. “Whatever you ask of me, it is done,” he whispers thickly, feeling eviscerated. “I am here for you, always.”
She turns her head into the crook of his neck, and only when he feels her silent tears burn his skin does she have more life than a corpse.
It takes both him and Jaime restraining Prince Lewyn from hitting Rhaegar when he returns briefly, some months later, the White Bull and Ser Oswell nowhere to be seen, and he is as insouciant as ever. Arthur wants to beat some sense into Rhaegar himself, but the Princess’s uncle has right of kin. Jaime is on duty outside the King’s bedchamber that night, Ser Barristan outside those of the Prince and Princess, and when both of them return to the White Tower in the morning, though Arthur and Lewyn and Jonothor have not slept, having spent the night discussing what on earth to do now that Rhaegar has absconded with Lyanna Stark, Jaime’s face is the most drawn of them all.
Arthur stands to pull him into a hug, and Jaime mutters, unheard by the rest, “I can’t bear it, I can bear this no longer, he’s a monster, what do I do, Arthur, he’s a monster and I swore to protect the King but I also swore to protect the innocent… Arthur what do I do tell me what to do - ” A gloved hand clutches at Arthur’s cloak, and he sighs bitterly, guiding Jaime gently into a seat, even as Lewyn pours him a goblet of wine.
“Drink, lad. You’ll feel better.”
He gulps down the wine and immediately pours himself another, which he downs in a single swallow. He sets the goblet back on the table, shuddering, and Arthur can see him ferociously forcing back his tears.
“It’s only going to get worse from now on, isn’t it?” Jaime asks, and Arthur is reminded that for all that the son of Lord Lannister is a prodigy, he is still so young.
“Between Rhaegar and the King… there’s a war coming, gentlemen, a war I don’t think we’ll win,” Arthur replies grimly.
Lewyn, Arthur and Jaime manage to send out ravens before Aerys sends the Queen and the Prince Viserys to Dragonstone, to Sunspear and Starfall and the Rock. He remains at the Princess’s side because that is who Arthur is, and Aerys takes perverse delight in having Lord Tywin’s heir guard him as he burns countless people alive. He makes a habit of having a bucket and a flagon of wine ready for Jaime when the youngest Kingsguard comes off duty, paler by the day, and paler still after he retches up his breakfast and his fear and the terrible memories of the Mad King’s Throne Room.
Brandon Stark comes south to demand Rhaegar’s head and then everything seems to accelerate like a bolting horse and suddenly Arthur is standing in the throne room watching Lord Rickard Stark burn and Brandon Stark strangle himself and feeling so desperately ashamed of himself that he does nothing to stop the King -
When Arthur learns exactly where Rhaegar is keeping Lyanna Stark, he stands in the sparring ground for hours and hours, going fluidly from form to form until he doesn’t have to think, doesn’t have to feel -
because he is sick of rage and ruin
- Jaime joining him wordlessly and letting Arthur fight him until they are both too weary to think -
And then Rhaegar re-appears, briefly enough to don armour and mount his horse and gallop off again and Arthur forces himself in the opposite direction, pointedly at the Princess Elia’s side because if he doesn’t have her dainty hand clasped around his wrist he thinks he might run Rhaegar through and then the Battle of the Trident happens and Lewyn and Jonothor fall and Ser Barristan is captured and surrenders even though Rhaegar survives, though injured, and Arthur can’t breathe -
It is Jaime who lights upon the idea; it has the advantage of getting Elia and the children out of the Red Keep to safety, and is a chance, however slim, of ending this war without more swathes of men being cut down for one man and woman’s lust and incredible selfishness.
But then they receive news that Tywin Lannister has at last made his move and marches upon the capital, whether to sack or save it no-one is certain, and time runs short. Jaime bangs frantically upon the Princess’s doors.
“We have to go - now,” he gasps. “If we get to my father’s host we can bring him to the parley. Robert Baratheon and Eddard Stark ride with him, but we have to go now.”
“There’s blood on your sword,” Arthur comments, and Jaime briefly looks sick, before raising his chin defiantly.
“I had no choice; Aerys was ordering his pyromancers to - ”
“The wildfire?” The Princess pales, her children, all of four years old, now, clutching at her skirts.
“Yes,” Jaime nods sharply. “It’s been dealt with; but Aerys may have managed to get a message out to the Guild before I killed them.”
“Them?” The Princess questions shrewdly as she throws a cloak about her slender shoulders. “You killed the King.”
“I did.” Jaime’s chin lifts. “And I’m not about to apologise for it.”
“I would not ask you to, Ser Jaime,” the Princess replies evenly, and then they are running through the servants’ passages.
We are forsworn and yet most loyal at the same time, Arthur thinks vaguely of Jaime and himself.
It is the Princess who convinces Lord Lannister, and she does it with a single sentence. “Rhaegar is more like Aerys than he likes to think, and I am not naive enough to believe that you do not wish for revenge for your beloved wife.”
He nods, a speculative glint in his eye, and signals for his armies to secure the capital, whilst he and his guard ride for Dorne with Arthur, Jaime, the Princess and the children.
Arthur can’t stop the laugh of relief as they approach Dornish territory, and once they enter the Prince’s Pass a weight lifts from all of them; to be replaced by elation once they are joyously received at Nightsong. There, a raven waits with news that the Prince Oberyn is at Kingsgrave, and will meet them at the infamous Tower.
The Princess wishes to keep Robert Baratheon as far away from her children as possible, after she overhears his comments about killing dragonspawn; and so Jaime volunteers to remain behind and guard the Prince Aegon and the Princess Rhaenys at Nightsong.
And then they ride for the so-named Tower of Joy.
“Father, I…” he trails off helplessly. “The things I bore witness to in that cursed Keep - ” He looks at his father, sitting sternly behind his desk in his solar at the Rock. The light of the sinking sun through the arched windows paints the stone walls pink and red and gold.
“The nightmares haven’t stopped?”
“No.” Jaime averts his eyes. “And though I am the son of the King of the West, it would not do for me to frighten my wife out of her wits. Nor would it do for her to spread tales of my… weakness.”
“How long would you have?”
“As long as you can give me,” Jaime sighs, hating the awkwardness and shame he feels. Cersei had been married off to the First Sea Lord of Braavos not four months past. He would have fought his father on the matter except that Cersei had taken one look at him when he finally returned to the Rock after the Rebellion and screamed at him for taking so long and then disdained him when he told her of how he heard Rhaella’s screams as soon as he closed his eyes. When he’d found her fucking one of the servants in the stables the extent of her betrayals had quickly and definitively severed any positive feeling he felt towards her whatsoever. He hates to ask the next question, but it must be voiced and he dreads his father’s answer. “Have there been any offers so far?”
Tywin Lannister stares impassively at him. “Many,” he replies dryly. “Though none, as of yet, that I consider good enough. But make no mistake, Jaime, they will come in time.”
“I know, Father,” he nods. “May I return to Dorne for a time, at least? We have already been invited to Sunspear for the Princess Elia’s wedding to Arthur and I should also like to pay my respects. Prince Doran was a good man. It is no hardship to extend my stay.”
“If you go you will not go as a guest of House Martell or of Arthur Dayne, you will go as my ambassador.” He’d known his father would accept nothing less and he does not mind, truly. Having something constructive and concrete with which to occupy his time, surrounded by his dearest friends, will help him, he hopes.
“Thank you, Father.” He bows his head, before looking up again and continuing earnestly. “Father, it is not that I do not wish to marry, because I do. I wish to have my own children, but I am not ready and I would not wish to end up as a cuckold because of my own failings, because I married when I was unable to fulfil my duties properly.”
“I know, Jaime.” He pauses, setting down his quill. “You will not fail me.”
To anyone else those words might have sounded like an order, but Jaime recognises them for what they are: a statement of confidence.
When he arrives in Sunspear for the first time, two weeks later, it is to see, with some consternation, that the court is manically busy; but the focus is too sharp for Jaime to attribute this either to grief at the Prince Doran’s death, the Princess Elia’s wedding or relief that she and her children are free of Targaryen tyranny.
Something else is afoot; but when he asks Arthur about it on their morning ride, when they gallop almost feverishly out of the palace gates into the countryside, attempting through sheer physical abandon to rid themselves of the memories that haunt them as soon as the sun sinks beneath the sea, that wake them screaming in the dead of night, that torment them so they lie awake, staring listlessly at the canopy until the sun returns once more, Arthur only deflects his question.
“Arthur, I have no authority here, I know,” Jaime replies, staring at the distant dunes in front of him, his horse shifting impatiently beneath him, “but I have had enough of being the pawn in political plots. Aerys made me his pawn to anger my father, and now, at last I am free of the Mad King and I will not be enslaved again.”
“Believe me, Jaime, I understand, I do.”
“I am no scholar, I know, but neither am I entirely devoid of wit,” he rejoins, his voice made harsher with frustration. “Your court is planning something. I am my father’s ambassador and the West is Dorne’s ally. If we can help-
The Sword of the Morning shoots him a sharp look but Jaime does not waver, and Arthur looks back out at the splendid vista in front of them, exhaling wearily. “Dorne knows no rule but Dorne herself,” he answers eventually, and Jaime stills as the implications run through his mind. “But you did not hear that from me.”
“Of course,” Jaime inclines his head, but thinks privately that his father would be most interested to hear such news. If his father intends something similar, and Jaime does not doubt that Tywin Lannister does, for he has as many grievances as Dorne against House Targaryen and the Iron Throne, he must move quickly. “When will the official announcement be made?”
“Two days hence,” Arthur Dayne responds.
“Then allow me to be the first, on behalf of my father, to extend the congratulations and sincere salutations of the West to Dorne which is free once more of the heavy yoke of the Iron Throne.” Jaime bows rakishly, and the two men laugh.
He sends a coded raven to his father that night, and later hears that both declarations, from the West and from Dorne, had arrived at the Red Keep at the same time, sending Rhaegar into a raging fury. Jaime and Arthur chuckle like young squires at the news, passing a cup of Dornish red between them, able now that some fragile, uneasy peace has been reached; independence as a part of the reparations paid by House Targaryen to Houses Lannister and Martell, to enjoy such simple pleasures as the company of friends without being constantly on their guard.
The other part of the reparations surprises Jaime. He had not thought Prince Oberyn so vicious, but then he thinks that if Cersei had been in Elia’s position his father might have demanded something similar, as much as the notion revolts Jaime. He has never seen the point of making innocents pay for the crimes of the guilty.
As Ned Stark, now Lord of Winterfell, out of love for his sister, had bent the knee to the Iron Throne, Oberyn had demanded the little Lady Sansa Stark, true born daughter of the late Lord Brandon Stark and his wife Lady Catelyn Tully, as a hostage, to prevent another Northern girl being as selfish and as reckless as the Lady Lyanna. Oberyn takes great satisfaction in crowing about how Ned Stark had paled with humiliation, but nodded and signed over the girl with nary a protest.
Jaime wonders at the little girl’s fate; by rights she is the true heir to Winterfell, but she will grow far from her homeland, in a land where she will be watched, carefully, for any sign of being like her wayward aunt, and he resolves to be as kind to the little girl as he can.
Being his father’s ambassador is time consuming, but Jaime finds he enjoys the work, for the most part. He has always been gregarious, and so he finds speaking to various nobles no hardship at all. He rides out with Arthur at dawn most days, before returning to the palace to break his fast, reading over the despatches that have arrived overnight, before instructing his squire, spending the mornings strolling through the gardens with Dornish officials, hammering out the finer points of trade agreements, before finalising them with the Princess Elia at the noon-tide meal. It helps greatly that he considers the Princess Elia one of his few close friends; something that has not gone unnoticed in Dorne, he knows, and so he finds the negotiations less fraught and frustrating than he otherwise would. His afternoons are spent answering ravens and this is possibly the part he finds most tiresome, and he employs the scribing services of his squire for the less sensitive information. Evening entertainments are always enjoyable; though he finds with some consternation that he is the subject of a fair amount of attention, even after he keeps turning down advances.
He is still reeling from his time as a Kingsguard, still reeling from Cersei - gods, but it is far too painful even to think her name - and it is not as though he can speak to anyone about his tangled feelings for his sister, not in the current political climate which is so anti-targaeryen, and so he politely but firmly turns down all advances, knowing that he has no stomach for purely physical liaisons.
Arthur notices; of course he does, and brings it up one morning as they canter through a field of vines and olive trees. “You do realise, Jaime, that now that you are free of the Kingsguard you no longer have to remain celibate?”
He stiffens in his saddle. “I know.”
“Elia and I are concerned, Jaime,” the Sword of the Morning pursues. “You are my little brother, and though you hide your wounds well, I can see they are there. If there is anything I can do for you -
Jaime laughs bleakly. “You would despise me if I told you.” For the first time he feels the shame of what he and Cersei have done, and it twists and coils in his stomach, making him light-headed with nausea. “And I… could not bear that.”
“Jaime; I will never despise you,” Arthur responds fiercely, reaching out to grasp Jaime’s shoulder in a comforting grip. “You are my little brother, my dearest friend, and I will never despise you.”
He shakes himself, determinedly. “It doesn’t matter; she was unfaithful, it’s over now, she’s gone, far from Westeros, and I will never see her again and it’s probably better that way.”
Jaime sees the exact moment Arthur puts the pieces together, sees the flash of revulsion in the older man’s eyes before it is carefully masked, and Jaime forces his shaking hands to still. “Oh, Jaime,” the Sword of the Morning sighs before pulling him into a fierce hug.
“What?” Jaime chokes against Arthur’s shoulder. “I fully realise I was a fool to - to - ” he doesn’t know how to justify himself, and isn’t certain he wants to. How does he explain that his twin was the other half of him? One soul, one heart, two bodies, until she (got bored? was disgusted by him? he has no clue) wrenched them to shattered fragments and he has to live with that and he doesn’t know how to. “I’m not in any condition to marry anyway, not now.”
He does want a family, children, eventually (for so long he wanted it with Cersei but she told him he was a fool and refused) but he is self-aware enough to know that he needs to heal himself first, though how one does that he has no idea.
“You are my little brother, Jaime, and I will help you. You will get better, Jaime, I promise,” Arthur vows, and for the first time in so long Jaime feels a glimmer of hope because Arthur is the most honourable man Jaime knows and if Arthur vows something then it will eventually come to pass.
She is not two months past her sixth name-day when she overhears some of the serving girls talking in her chamber. The Princess Elia had granted her her own set of chambers for her fifth name-day, decreeing that she was too old now, for the nursery with Daenerys and Agravaine and babies Pellinor and Astolat. She is in the corridor, and her door is open, and she hears the maids say her name, so she tip-toes closer. Her soft leather slippers that make no noise whatsoever, and so she listens, hidden.
“We should watch her for wolfsblood; her father Brandon had it, by all accounts, and we don’t want a repeat of that she-wolf bitch Lyanna,” one of them says, and Sansa trembles. Her father died when she was very little, she knows, in King’s Landing. He was killed by the Mad King. But the way the maid says wolfsblood; she doesn’t know what it means, but it sounds bad. It sounds like the way Princess Elia scolded Aegon when he put sand in her bed once, when she was still in the nursery. She knows Lyanna is her father’s sister, and she did something very, very bad; she ran away and then there was a war and lots of people died.
But Sansa doesn’t think she’s done anything wrong; she knows the Princess Elia, and her husband the Prince Consort Arthur, her foster parents, would have told her and scolded her if she’d done wrong, so why - but the maid said wolfsblood. So there is something bad inside her, then? But she doesn’t want to be bad, she wants to be good but what if she has no choice? what if she’s cursed? and something fragile and tender inside her twists and screams and shatters, and she flies back down the corridors, weeping hysterically, navigating the halls through memory alone, and so she’s not paying attention when she almost crashes into someone, but gentle hands around her shoulders prevent her from careening into a pillar -
“Easy there, little wolf,” a deep voice says, and she looks up, startled, flushing when she recognises the man, bobbing a curtsey.
“Prince Ambassador,” she says, sniffling. Her name is Lady Sansa and a Lady never forgets her courtesies, the Princess Elia has said, so she concentrates on not wobbling as she bends her knee. “Prince Arthur,” she adds, catching sight of her foster-father.
Her foster-father and the Prince Ambassador are great friends, she knows, even though the Prince Ambassador is not always in Dorne. She remembers from her lessons with the Maester that the Prince Ambassador is the son of the King of the West Tywin Lannister, but he is more serious than her foster-father, though he always has a smile and a kind word for her.
“What has happened?” Prince Arthur asks gently. She likes her foster-father’s voice; it is always deep and reassuring.
“What - what does wolfsblood mean?” she blurts out, hiccuping, wiping furiously at her cheeks with the backs of her hands, and she sees her foster-father and Prince Jaime exchange glances, but she doesn’t understand and so she tries to explain, and her voice gets faster and higher, and she starts hiccuping and crying again. “I heard the maids saying I might have wolfsblood and I know I’m not supposed to listen at doors because it’s wrong and I’m sorry but I - is that why Obara hates me? Am I like her? Am I like the Stark who started the war? But Lyanna was bad, she did wrong and I don’t want to be like her. I want to be good. Am I like her, foster-father?”
“Oh, little one, it’s alright,” her foster-father replies, drawing her into one of his hugs that always make her feel warm and safe and sleepy inside, and she throws her arms around his neck and burrows her head into his shoulder. “You’re not like her at all,” he continues, settling his hand on the back of her head and she starts crying again, because if her foster-father says it’s alright then it must be. “You are the opposite of her; you are good and kind and gentle and you think about others, you are polite, and we are so, so, so lucky to have you here with us, Sansa. We all love you; Elia and I, Rhaenys and Aegon and Viserys and Daenerys and Agravaine and Pellinor and Astolat, we all love you so very much.”
(but there’s a little voice inside her head that whispers, they only love you because you’re not like Lyanna; so you must never be Lyanna)
I will be kind and gentle and good and selfless and work hard and learn lots of things and I will never be wild, she vows solemnly to herself
I must not be lyanna
“Come on, Sansa, fight back!” Obara crows viciously. Sansa doesn’t like Obara; she’s always mean, and so, even though it hurts and sometimes Sansa feels so angry she feels something snap inside and she thinks vicious, unkind thoughts, she doesn’t fight back (I must not be lyanna).
“No,” Sansa replies, stumbling back, tripping over the skirts of her dusky violet silk dress. “I don’t like fighting. Fighting is bad. I won’t fight.”
Obara snarls and kicks at her knee and though she puts out her hands she still tastes the courtyard’s dry dust in her mouth, and she shuts her eyes and whimpers against the pain.
I must not be lyanna
She learns to hide in the library from the Sand Snakes, with Rhaenys who is only two years older, and they pour over poetry and history and maps and music books together, and Sansa feels happier because Rhaenys is her only friend, as different from her twin brother Aegon as night and day. The others are either too old or too young. The Princess Arianne, at three-and-ten, has no time for Sansa and Rhaenys, and the Sand Snakes prefer their weaponry to anything else, and the others are all still babies, except Viserys, who is one-and-ten, and trails after Arianne like a puppy.
She finds a high harp sitting in a corner one day and trails her fingers along the strings, and the sounds make her shiver with delight. She learns to ride and sew and to compose her own poetry. She sits in her foster-mother’s solar and listens as she rules her country, and though it takes time, she does learn.
She frolics and laughs with the younger children in the Water Gardens, but at night she practices her curtseys until her knees tremble and she memorises the lineages and titles of every house in Westeros, so she is always prepared to address those she comes across (a host is at her guests’ disposal, she observes, and that means knowing who they are from their sigils and their appearance).
She is one-and-ten now, old enough to understand the precariousness of her position; a hostage, highborn - but a hostage all the same, a reparation for the wrongs Lyanna Stark perpetrated against Elia Martell, and she begins to wonder how her foster-mother can even bear to look at her. She doesn’t think she’s meant to know this, of course, but it was apparently Prince Oberyn’s idea for her to be raised in Dorne - or so she’s managed to gather from Obara’s taunts. The Princess Elia’s alliance with Tywin Lannister meant that though Robert Baratheon had died at the Tower of Joy, slain by Rhaegar, the Princess had kept the upper hand. In reparation for Rhaegar’s insult of Elia; he’d had to accept Dornish independence. In reparation for House Targaryen’s crimes against Joanna Lannister, Tywin had successfully imposed the secession of the West. But it was apparently the Prince Oberyn’s conversation with Lyanna that led to Sansa being fostered in Dorne.
Obara is a very good mimic; and one of her favourite things to do as she trips Sansa into the dust is to mimic her father’s voice. Prince Oberyn, Sansa knows, crows about his argument with Lyanna often enough, and though he has the decency not to do so within Sansa’s hearing, it doesn’t matter, because he still does it behind her back and the tales and the whispers still follow her. But Obara says the words to Sansa’s face, and she has to clench her little hands, focusing on the sharp pain of her nails biting into her palms in order to stop herself from howling and fighting back, because the words cut her heart, little cuts that bleed slowly and never scab over.
You are old enough to decide you don’t want a betrothal, old enough to abscond with a married man and lie with him and bear his child; you are old enough therefore to take responsibility for your actions. There is a price, you, too must pay; that your House must pay. One first-born daughter of House Stark for another. Little Sansa Stark, your half Tully niece, will be raised by House Martell, and we will teach her not to be you, Lady Lyanna.
But the bit that really hurts, the bit that Obara always laughs at when she tells the story, is that her uncle Ned made only a token protest; Obara says it is because her Uncle Ned loves his sister Lyanna above all others. Sansa has no memory of her mother, Catelyn Tully Stark, except the vague recollection of the day she was collected from Riverrun. She remembers being carried away, away, away, and not understanding why. But she does know that her mother fought for her, and slapped Lyanna across the face when they met. She knows this because sewn into her cloak, the cloak she was taken away from Riverrun in, is a letter from her mother.
I love you, sweet Sansa, my first-born. You are so loved. You are not Lyanna, you are too sweet, too good-hearted to be her.
Yet no matter what she does; however much her harp compositions make the Princess weep, however much her gifts of embroidered saddle cloths make her foster-father proudly show off her skill, however much she makes Rhaenys laugh when the duties of her position as her mother’s heir overwhelm her, however much patience she shows when Agravaine and Pellinor and Astolat trail after her, the whispers never stop.
The murmurs follow her wherever she goes, and they twist her stomach with fear and shame.
She is two-and-ten, and she realises there is something else, apart from her looks, that differentiates her from the others. Viserys and Arianne are betrothed. She hears the Princess Elia complaining to the Prince Consort that she has had more offers for Rhaenys and Aegon and Daenerys and even Pellinor and Astolat who are still only babies, really, than she knows what to do with.
But no-one has offered for Sansa Stark, the first born child of the heir of the Lord Paramount of the North; by rights, Winterfell should be hers, but it is her uncle’s, and so she is useless.
That does not stop men from looking, though.
They frighten her.
She knows it is only a matter of time before they do more than look.
She is three-and-ten and the Darkstar shoves his tongue down her throat, and she chokes on her sobs, struggling - but what chance does she have, truly - a girl against a full-grown knight?
But the Darkstar is ripped away from her, and she stares, disbelieving, incredulous, as the Prince Ambassador throws her attacker to the ground in disgust. She meets his emerald eyes fearfully, stutters out her thanks and dashes away, bolting her chamber doors behind her.
In the morning she is summoned to the Prince Consort’s solar, and halts in shock as she sees both the Princess Elia and the Prince Ambassador are also in the room, seated at her foster-father’s side, and she trembles. This is it, she thinks. Despite everything I have tried, I’m like Lyanna after all; blood will out.
Pale, she drops into her curtsey, fingers twisting in her dusky pink and purple skirts, and awaits her sentence.
“Sansa,” the Prince Consort begins, his voice gentle, and somehow that makes it worse, and she’s so dizzy with distress she wonders how she still remains standing, and she keeps her eyes averted, looking at the colourful floor tiles; a warm orange and gold geometric pattern, because she knows that if she looks at her foster-father she’ll burst into tears. “We owe you an apology.”
Her head snaps up at that, and her mouth falls slack in shock, before she abruptly remembers her manners and shuts her jaw with an audible click.
“As your guardians we have a duty to see to your care and your protection, and it has come to our attention that last night, we failed most grievously.”
“Then - then you aren’t angry with me?” she replies uncertainly, voice tight and high.
“Why on earth would we be angry with you, sweetling?” That is the Princess Elia, but suddenly all she can hear is the Darkstar’s growl in her ear (I will have you now, sweetling) and she flies backwards into the wall, teeth chattering, her vision blurred, and she can’t breathe -
She shouldn’t be left alone… we had no idea she was so unhappy… we have failed her…
The voices are muffled, as though by the wind, and she blinks, disorientated. She feels warm; as though she is floating in one of the pools of the Water Gardens, and she vaguely makes out the silhouettes of the people around her, and her memories abruptly come back to her, and she gasps, sitting up, ignoring the sudden flash of pain at her temples.
She can’t move her hands, and she realises that is because they are twisted into the Prince Ambassador’s sleeves. He is kneeling at her side, gazing steadily at her, and his green eyes light with relief as she focuses on him.
“Prince Ambassador?” she murmurs dazedly.
“You’re alright now, Lady Sansa, you’re alright now,” he replies. “Breathe,” he continues, and she does as he instructs as he nods his encouragement, and the tight knot in her chest eases.
The Prince Ambassador, the son of the King of the West, the Kingslayer, the Lion of Lannister fights the Darkstar for her, and she does not know whether to faint with embarrassment or swoon.
She is yet too afraid to think that her situation might change for the better.
(hope can be destructive, she has learnt)
She is four-and-ten, and she receives an invitation from the King of the West to visit Casterly Rock.
But it is not until she sees the crimson and gold banners flying in the wind that she allows herself to hope.
When he was a young boy, he’d looked at the amount of time his father spent in his solar, reading and replying to despatches, and he’d thought why would anyone want to do that when the sun is shining and I can go cliff-jumping into the sea and I can joust and spend hours with a sword in my hand and the notion of a solar-bound future had made him feel more than miserable, apprehensive, something he now knows his twin had manipulated most masterfully, and something he also knows Tyrion had counted upon.
But Tywin Lannister had been far cleverer than ever Jaime could have imagined. Of course the man had realised that his eldest son was more inclined to the sword than the solar, and so he’d made certain that Jaime never trained alone, but instead inviting, to Cersei’s great displeasure, the heirs of his most prominent bannermen to train at Casterly Rock for several months at a time, every year. And once Jaime had served as Lord Crakehall’s squire, the scheme had continued.
Never let it be said that Tywin Lannister is incapable of adapting to circumstances.
There is more than one way to forge alliances.
As a result, Jaime, now grown, is close indeed to all the noblemen of his generation in the West. And where his father might prefer negotiating over the solar table, Jaime does so just as well on a long gallop in the mountains, or upon the beach, and when at the Rock, just as in Dorne he rides out in the mornings with Arthur, here he rides out with whatever young lords are in residence at his father’s court, strengthening the bonds of friendship to be sure, but also discussing important subjects like the state of the Lannister legions garrisoned in various fortresses, recent skirmishes on the borders with the Reach or the Riverlands, and then, his information gathered, he reports back to his father.
Jaime is also often travelling; his jovial, gregarious nature as well as his friendships with the younger generation make him a more obliging houseguest than his father, and a guest the Lannister bannermen are readily happy to host. This enables him not only to gather information on military readiness and crop yields and merchant guilds, but also to address any issues the bannermen may have in a manner more prompt and efficient than the old way, which required said lords to travel to Casterly Rock and make their petitions in person.
But recently the bannermen have taken to subtly encouraging their daughters in his direction; and though he might be good friends with the men, that doesn’t mean he is a fool not to see their schemes, nor does he have any real interest in any of the daughters. He does, however, recognise, that if he does not raise the situation with his father of his own accord, Tywin Lannister might well be put into a position whereby he cannot but betroth him to a bannerman’s daughter without giving great offence. Rather inconveniently - well, perhaps not so inconveniently - he has fallen in love. The difficulty is twofold; the first, that he has absolutely no idea whether or not she returns his sentiments. The second, is that he must imperatively gain his father’s permission to court her, or he will cause chaos equivalent to Rhaegar’s absconding with Lyanna, and he has no desire to be compared in this manner with such a self-centred careless idiot of a man, nor will he allow the taint of Lyanna’s actions to fall upon the lady he would take as his wife.
So, swallowing his trepidation with his wine, he begins with an off-hand, “The bannermen have taken to parading their daughters in front of me.”
Tywin Lannister’s eyes narrow, and Jaime sees immediately that his father is not fooled by the seemingly casual tone of his statement. “Indeed?” the King of the West replies, a single sardonic brow raised.
“I do not wish to marry any of them.” Jaime stares at the dregs of his wine, resisting the impulse to shuffle his feet the way he did as a young child.
“Then who is it that you do wish to marry?” his father continues, unperturbed, easily catching what Jaime has left unspoken.
Jaime looks his father steadily in the eye, before replying evenly, “I would properly court and marry Sansa Stark, if she will have me.”
“Is this a jest?” his father asks incredulously, though there is a twinkle of amusement glittering in the depths of his gaze that quickly turns calculating.
“No.” Jaime smiles. “I doubt she remembers, she was so young, but I did promise her. She was too young at the time to understand words such as wolfsblood and hostage and reparations.”
“And you will have her?”
“Or no other.”
“I have heard whispers that Rhaegar and Lyanna want her for their son,” Tywin muses.
“Lyanna has brought her only grief; it would kill her.”
His father sighs. “Challenging the Darkstar was imprudent, but I cannot fault your reasoning.” He sips his wine, considering. “Very well; invite her to the Rock. Neither can I deny the notion that foiling Targaryen plans holds great appeal.”
“Their harvests have become successively poorer in the last three years,” Jaime replies, raising an eyebrow. “I suppose you had nothing to do with it?” he grins as his father’s bearing becomes fiercer.
“What business is it of mine if Rhaegar mismanages the Reach?” his father replies mildly.
“As you say, Sire,” Jaime replies, but there’s a twist to his father’s mouth, and though their Lannister finery might dazzle people into forgetting the Lions are predators, content to wait for their prey to misstep, though he lacks his family’s lust for power, Jaime has never forgotten.
She is almost six-and-ten, and in hindsight, she really should have seen this coming. He fought a duel with the Darkstar for her, and then invited her to visit his family’s ancestral seat.
That doesn’t lessen her shock.
“You want to marry me?” she stutters out, tripping over her skirts, and she would have fallen flat on her face if Jaime Lannister, heir to the King of the West, hadn’t caught her. “But why? I am only a ward, a-a hostage.”
“Anyone who thinks you merely that is a fool,” he replies swiftly. “You are the blood of kings, descended in a line unbroken for eight thousand years from the Kings of Winter, and the Kings of the Trident on your mother’s side. You are the eldest child of a Lord Paramount.”
“So you want me for my claim? You think to make me your pawn?” she retorts, something twisting in her chest.
“No,” he answers steadily, cupping her cheek, unperturbed in the face of her anger. “I want you for you, for your spirit, for your character.”
She draws her brows together. “You did that deliberately, to rile me?”
He smirks ruefully, laughter flashing in his eyes. “I did.”
“If I wanted a pawn, a mere vessel to carry my heirs, I would have married years ago,” he begins, his tones turning introspective, and this softens her ire. “Call me a fool who never learns, but I want more from marriage. My parents loved each other, helped and partnered each other.” He swallows. “One day, I will be King of the West, and I know myself well enough to know that I will not succeed on my own.”
“Why me?” she persists softly.
A faint smile twitches upon his lips. “Because I promised you.”
“I - what?”
“Don’t you remember?” he grins raffishly. “You must have been about five, and you made me promise to marry you, when you were grown.”
Her cheeks flame. “I - yes - I - ”
“And I was charmed by you from that moment on,” he replies lightly, but she sees the sincerity in his expression, and she trembles. “You are sweet and kind and clever, and your spine is made of steel. I can think of no better lady to be my wife.”
“You are under no obligation to honour a promise made to appease a child, my Prince,” she answers. Still, she does not understand, and a tendril of fear wraps its way around her lungs as he stills.
“My lady,” he commences, his voice strangled. “All of Westeros knows me as the Kingslayer, but I had hoped that you know a little more of me than that. Do you truly think so little of me that you would doubt my word?”
“No!” she exclaims. “No! It is only that I…” she twists her skirts in her fingers. “There are other women you could have. Older, more beautiful, without such a scandalous name as mine. I don’t want you to resent me, ten years from now.” She does not understand how a man such as him could want someone like her when he must have his pick of women across the Kingdoms.
“I will never resent you,” he answers forcefully, ardently. “Yes, you are my junior by fifteen years, you are a Stark - but you represent exactly what your family line is meant to stand for, noble and true and brave and clever and kind. How could I resent that?”
“What of the disparity in our ages?” She isn’t entirely certain where this newfound confidence is coming from, but she takes advantage of it to draw herself up proudly, her entire bearing womanly, the posture of someone who will not accept anything less than being treated as an equal. She hides her worry behind her formal countenance.
“I have waited ten years to marry you,” he says lightly, a hint of laughter in his eye, before continuing more solemnly. “I will wait as long as you desire.”
“I am honoured, my Prince,” she whispers, hardly able to breathe, the sudden flame of hope in her chest making her head spin. She has always admired him, ever since she was a little girl, and this feels like a dream. She looks at him, and dares to bring her hand to his cheek.
“Will you have me?” He asks, hoarse, ardent, tender.
Behind the sincerity, the glints of humour, there are ghosts in his gaze, and she is suddenly profoundly curious. “Could we have a long betrothal so that I might learn the man behind the prince?” she asks shyly.
It is his turn to blush, for a vulnerable light to appear in his green eyes and her jaw slackens in incredulity. She hadn’t thought it possible to embarrass the famed Jaime Lannister, but she has, somehow, and the thought loosens the pressure in her chest. They are only human, after all, and when she smiles at him, he smiles in return.
The King of the West is a formidable man, but Sansa is observant, and though subtle, she can see the affection between the son and the father, and it reassures her. She has more freedom here, and she gradually feels bold enough to ask the King about his country, even, upon occasion, venturing the odd suggestion about how orphans might be given trades to be able to better their lives, and the pleased, approving light in his eyes gives her more confidence, and soon she is gaining a political education at his hands, the likes of which she could never have imagined receiving elsewhere. She is introduced to the important bannermen of the West, and begins to patronise the Lannisport merchants.
She spends time with her betrothed, too, and his gentleness with her gives her the assurance to begin to confide in him, and she is more than a little proud when he starts to do the same. They waltz, barefooted in the surf. They ride out into the foothills of the mountains surrounding the Rock, whiling away the hours in apricot groves, talking, laughing, growing closer. Sometimes she brings her lute and plays for him, sometimes he shares a cherished childhood memory. Sometimes, when Jaime is able to persuade his younger brother away from wine and whores, lamenting his betrothal to the heiress to the Stormlands, the young Lady Shireen Baratheon, Tyrion joins them and though his stories are always entertaining, there is something in his cynical, jaded stare that unnerves her. Jaime quickly notices and multiples the grand, dramatic gestures in a successful effort to distract her, to make her laugh.
But it is the quiet moments, the first moments, so often silent, that wind their way into her heart and bind her to him. The first time he kisses her palm, eyes blazing, lips lingering. The first time she draws a true laugh from him, rich and uninhibited. The first time he tangles their fingers together as they walk side by side. The first time he lays his head in her lap. The first time she dares ruffle his golden hair, and the incredulous, mischievous look upon his face as he tickles her in return until she can’t breathe for giggling. The first time he lifts her into the air and spins her until the colours of the sunset whirl and spin and bleed together. The first time they race their horses along the surf. The first time he kisses her, gently, tenderly, so sensually that she staggers into him. It is an idyllic summer, and the coiled, nauseating tension that has settled in her stomach and chest, ever since she first overheard the word wolfsblood at the age of six, dissipates, and for the first time in her life, she allows herself to simply be Sansa.
One afternoon in the final days of her stay at the Rock, when she is held securely in Jaime’s arms, the crash of the waves upon the sand lulling her into a drifting, languid sort of peace under the late summer sun, she murmurs fateful words into his chest. “I don’t want to go back to Dorne.”
He sighs, kissing the crown of her head in reply. “I know.”
She looks up at him, eyes wide. “I am happy here, with you, and I am afraid.”
She shudders. “Yes. I know they want me to marry my cousin Jon, but I don’t want to.” She swallows, nestling closer to him. “I want to marry you, but Lyanna hates me… the idea of collecting me, like some prize trophy, for her son, so she can lord it over you and Elia and Arthur… I have already paid for her crime, and she would have me pay again,” she hiccups through her sobs, trembling violently.
“Arthur and Elia won’t let anything happen to you. My father will not let anything happen to you.” His arms tighten around her waist. “I will not let anything happen to you.”
She is more self-assured upon her return to Dorne, and she begins spending more time with Rhaenys, and surprisingly, Daenerys. For some reason that Sansa cannot entirely fathom, Daenerys has her eye upon Gerion Lannister, the swashbuckling explorer, and never mind that he has forty-five years on her, at the very least. Rhaenys rejects offer after offer, and the three of them spend their afternoons giggling hysterically about this, when they are not out horse-racing or swimming with the others, or, in Sansa’s case, writing missive after missive to Casterly Rock. She wears the gold-and-pearl lion pendant Jaime gave her as a betrothal gift every day, and begins commissioning her dresses to match. Gold-embroidered white silks, or if she is feeling particularly bold, sunset crimsons and purples. Her exchange of gifts with her betrothed becomes so commonplace that Princess Elia eventually assigns Sansa her own courier. She sends him embroidered cloaks, caparisons for his destriers. He sends her so many jewels - headbands and necklaces and bracelets - that she wonders if he means to drape her in them. She begins wearing her hair loose, with only the headbands of pearl and emerald and ruby and sapphire to keep it out of her eyes, instead of in more elaborate hairstyles.
The following months are spent in a haze, in a strange sort of stasis. For the first time in her life she is confident of her place; her betrothal has been formally contracted and announced and fêted in Sunspear. No man dares look or touch her lest they incur the wrath of the King of the West, the Kingslayer, the Princess Regnant of Dorne and the Prince Consort, and she gradually grows more at ease, practicing her social skills with the members of the Dornish court.
Her communications with Jaime produce an intensity of feeling and longing she is not entirely certain what to do with, and it translates into an unprecedented outpouring of creativity. She spends more time at her harp and lute, learning and then rearranging the songs of the West she first heard at Casterly Rock, improving her own compositions, than she has ever done before. She whiles away entire days writing poetry - in the common tongue, in Dornish, and in the ancient language of the West that she is currently learning - lounging in the shade of a grove of lemon trees in the Water Gardens.
But as the days grow colder and the nights begin to lengthen, she becomes aware of some strange sense of distant foreboding, and she knows that though she might be unable to see it, storm clouds are gathering beyond the horizon.
The only bright spot is the arrival, much to her surprise, of a belated betrothal gift from her mother, a sweet young direwolf with gentle golden eyes and soft grey-and-white fur, whom Sansa names Lady.
The deluge is Arianne and Viserys’s wedding, shortly after her ten-and-seventh name day. When it is announced, to violent outbursts of discontent, calmed only by the Princess Elia’s admonishment that her Dornish subjects not sink to the level of the Targaryen court, that Rhaegar, his wife Lyanna and their son the Prince Jon will be amongst the wedding guests, Sansa feels the rooms closing in on her again, oppressively, and the tightness in her chest takes its place once more with what can only be termed a vicious, gleeful vengeance.
She sends a panicked courier to Jaime that same afternoon, begging for his presence as soon as he can manage it.
When her foster-father summons her to the docks, three-and-a-half weeks later, the wave of relief she feels threatens to drown her. It jolts her out of her lethargic melancholy, and she dresses carefully. This is the first time she will see Jaime in over a year; his responsibilities having kept him at Casterly Rock, and she wants to make a good impression.
She chooses the white silk, embroidered with crimson silk thread, one of the gowns cut without a back, which she can get away with due to her habit of wearing her hair loose. A ruby and moonstone headband keeps the locks out of her face, and her pendant is nestled between her breasts. Her long skirts flow like water around her legs as she walks, almost translucent in the full light of the sun, cut to allow her free movement. Lady is still and patient at her side, only the direwolf’s steady gaze betraying her alertness.
Her stomach knots with anticipation rather than dread as she stands on the pier and watches as the ship with the gold-and-crimson sails, snarling lion rampant roaring in the light Dornish wind, steadily comes in to dock. Her betrothed and his father stand tall upon the deck of the ship, their great lions, Fortune and Castamere, at their sides, and only once the gangplank does Jaime abandon any pretence at formality, striding ashore, Fortune bounding after him, and the Prince Arthur greeting him in a fierce, brotherly embrace. The King of the West follows more sedately, and Sansa hangs back, even as everything within her screams for her to move, to fling herself into the arms of her betrothed; but they are in public and such a thing would not be decorous, and she is a lady.
She cannot take her eyes from Jaime as he greets both of her foster parents. He is dressed relatively informally, with only a beige surcoat over his linen shirt instead of a doublet, and crimson breeches and riding boots polished to a high shine. His manner is easy, joyous, as he claps the Prince Arthur on the shoulder and bestows a teasing kiss on the Princess Elia’s cheek, and then he turns, and he must catch sight of her because his green eyes widen and he strides towards her, and suddenly being in his presence again after so long is far too overwhelming. The intensity of the look he throws her, the way his fingers tremble as he lets a strand of her long russet hair flow over his hand, that he is suddenly far too close to her, it makes her tremble, swallow harshly, and she fairly shakes as she somehow executes a flawless curtsey.
“Sansa,” he says, voice low and hoarse, reaching out with his right hand to cup her cheek and tangle in her hair at the nape of her neck, and she shivers again. His name falls from her lips in a blissful sigh, her eyes fluttering shut as she leans into his touch. He takes her hand in his left and lifts her easily to her feet, and her eyes snap open. “You have no need to bow to me.”
“I wanted to,” she replies privately, solemnly, and his jaw slackens.
“You are a marvel,” he murmurs into her ear, pulling her into a fierce embrace, and she goes willingly, sinking against his tall frame, melting in his arms. He rests his chin on the crown of her head and sighs. “I’ve missed you.”
“I’ve missed you as well, Jaime,” she replies quietly, her ear against his chest, listening to the fierce pounding of his heart, reassuringly strong, and she basks in the safety she feels now that she is with him again. They stand quietly thus for a long time, listening to the way they breathe, tranquil and deep, each revelling in the presence of the other, until they are interrupted by Sansa’s direwolf, whining softly into her skirts, and she laughs quietly, even as Jaime grunts in annoyance.
“This is Jaime, Lady,” Sansa explains, her solemn tones belied by the wicked, laughing glint in her eye. “He’s my betrothed, so we like him.” The direwolf whines her agreement and licks the man’s hand, even as he stares in incredulous amazement. She looks up from her sigil at the man she is to marry and smiles through her melancholy. “She was a gift - a betrothal gift, from Lady Catelyn Stark.”
She does not need to explain further; Jaime has discerned her meaning.
“Oh Sansa,” he sighs.
The notion of setting a wedding date is brought up at the dawn meal the following day, which she takes with her betrothed and the King of the West on the secluded terrace, cool at that time of day, that adjoins Tywin Lannister’s suite in the palace. The view of Sunspear is splendid, all gleaming walls and earth-tiled rooftops, warm in the light of the rising sun. Beyond the city the sea glimmers like glass, as bright as the stars themselves. Her direwolf and the two great lions bask lazily in the sun, dozing in an unruly pile.
“I would not wish to take attention away from the Princess Arianne’s wedding,” Sansa says, daintily taking an almond and honey cake from the silver platter in front of her, piled high with delicacies. Omelettes stuffed with onions and spicy peppers, the ones Sansa has never been able to stomach, cuts of cured meat spiced with black pepper or hazelnuts, sweet cakes of all descriptions, almond-stuffed dates, fresh fruit - succulent blood oranges and pomegranates and figs, and roasted apricots, finished in the way of the West, with honey liquor and toasted almonds. There is pistachio crushed ice too, served in elegant frosted glass chalices.
“And that sentiment is to your credit, Sansa,” her future good-father replies evenly as he segments an orange, the reddish juice running down his fingers. “However,” he continues more firmly, “I do not believe we can afford the luxury of indulging such a notion.”
She glances across at her betrothed, reassured by the warmth in his green gaze until she realises how tense he is, until she sees the way his jaw is clenched. He has been quiet thus far, this morning, aside from greeting her with his normal tenderness, and is currently stabbing at his omelette with his fork, glaring at the implement as though it has personally offended him.
“What do you mean, Sire?” she asks, her stomach twisting, her throat closing.
The King of the West sighs, wiping his fingers clean with his white linen napkin before beginning to eat the fruit upon his plate. “The latest intelligence from Rhaegar’s court is… troubling. I spoke with the Princess Elia last night and she confirmed that the Dornish have been hearing the same whispers.”
“What does the Dragon King intend to do?” her voice shakes, and her betrothed leans to bring his left hand to entwine with her right where it rests upon the tablecloth. Her fingers quiver under his, and they are the only thing anchoring her, panic racing through her veins. Tywin Lannister’s gaze is hard, and in it she reads the truth. “Some nefarious plot is being brewed by them, is it not? One they intend for me to be at the centre of?”
“Yes.” Tywin Lannister’s voice is dripping with distaste. “As we all know, Rhaegar is obsessed with his prophecies. Lyanna has only been able to give him one child, a son. And he wants a Stark for his son, to have the three-headed dragon.”
“He’s mad, he’s mad,” she whispers in horror.
The King of the West snorts disdainfully. “Yes, that’s certainly one way of putting it.”
And in the stunned silence that follows, she turns to the man she wishes to marry, shame burning through her veins, tears pricking at her eyes. “I am sorry to be the cause of so much turmoil, Jaime.”
His response is violent and immediate. “No,” he snarls, standing and pulling her with him, drawing her into a fierce embrace, his left arm wrapped tight and low around her waist, holding her against him, and his right hand cupping her cheek, fingertips brushing against the whorl of her ear, the delicate skin of her neck. “No,” he repeats intently. “This is their scheme, their fault. Not yours, never yours.”
She melts into his embrace, sorrow clogging her throat, thickening her voice. She hardly stand to look at him, the intensity, the all-consuming nature of the way he looks at her, but she forces herself to, willing him to understand. “I am not Lyanna; I could not bear it if I were the cause of so much senseless destruction.” Her hands come to cradle his cheeks in turn, and he leans into her caress, and she trembles at his breath ghosting across the insides of her wrists. “Marry someone else,” she murmurs, hating the sudden look of shock and anguish in his expression, hating that she must say this, hating the way he already shaking his head in disbelieving protest. “Find a lady who is worthier of you than I am, one who does not bring so many complications with her, for the safety and security of your people.”
“There is no-one worthier than you!” he retorts, his face contorted with grief. “I love you, my people love you, we would fight for you, die for you, and do it gladly.” The furious agony in his voice tears her insides apart, and she is so dizzy with distress that she can barely see, barely breathe, and she does not know how she will survive this.
“And I could not live with myself if you did,” she answers desperately, wrenching herself away from him, and it is the most difficult thing she’s ever done, but she staggers away from him, wrapping her arms around herself as though to hold herself together, but she is breaking, shattering upon this sunny terrace, a fool to think that she might be allowed to be happy.
An impossibly vulnerable light shades Jaime’s eyes, and his voice is quiet when he speaks. “Then you do not wish to marry me?”
Agony sets her chest alight, makes her lose her equilibrium. “I love you,” she cries, despair and helplessness rasping her throat with tears. “Of course I want to marry you, I love you. I love you. Only you.”
His posture softens. “I will keep you safe, I vow it.”
“Don’t make promises you won’t necessarily be able to keep, I beg of you. The Targaryens are mad, and you can’t reason with madmen.”
He flinches, and oh, how she hates herself.
“Do you trust me?” he demands ferociously, striding forwards to embrace her once again. “Do you trust me?”
“With everything I have, with everything I am.” Her fingers twist into the linen of his shirt, her nose is pressed to his breastbone, and she whispers - chokes - the words into his skin.
His arms tighten around her, one hand on the small of her back, the other cradling the back of her head. “Then let me fight for you.” His voice cracks and the shards of her heart bleed once more.
“No-one has fought for me before the way you fight for me, and I don’t understand what I have done to deserve it,” she murmurs through her sobs, the realisation crashing through her, and he sighs at her words.
“Oh, my lady,” he says, tenderly kissing her temple. “Let me fight for you, let me defend you, let me love you, please.” He doesn’t beg, he never begs and yet he is begging now and she cannot endure this.
“Lady Sansa, there is no-one worthier than you to be my son’s bride,” the King of the West interjects firmly, his voice ringing with authority, and she startles in her betrothed’s arms. She had all but forgotten the presence of Jaime’s father, and she is abruptly profoundly embarrassed by her hysterical outburst.
Blushing, she turns her face towards Tywin Lannister and apologises in a quiet, subdued voice, but he only waves her words away and points at their vacated seats. “Now, both of you, sit down, and we will come up with a plan that ensures Rhaegar and Lyanna’s desires amount to nothing.”
Jaime guides her back into the chair, his hand warm and comforting upon her back, and once they are seated, he takes her hand in his once more so he can entwine their fingers. He does not let go of her.
There is something, some indefinable emotion flickering in the King of the West’s eyes as he regards both of them. He eats the pistachio ice with a long silver spoon, and it clinks against the chalice like a bell-chime. “Your devotion to my son is something I find deeply admirable, Sansa.” She blushes at the compliment but remains silent, sensing that he has more to say. “Very few things in life are certain; I for one find this whole prophecy business quite ridiculous. Rhaegar thought he was the subject, and in trying and failing to fulfil it he did nothing but bring chaos and war. Now Rhaegar believes his son to be the subject; he will attempt the prophecy a second time. Let him; he will not succeed, because as the sun rises every morning, so too a Lannister always pays his debts.”
“But I don’t want people to die for me!” she protests. Can they not see that the very idea is abhorrent to her - I am not Lyanna who ran away and caused a war and cared nothing for the consequences?
“War is inevitable, Sansa,” he sighs, before continuing evenly, as though he were discussing the weather. “This has been brewing, in one form or another, since Aerys’s days upon the Iron Throne, and Rhaegar’s plans for his great council. That is what it all stems from, and the self-righteous, mad idiot sees you as one tool of many which he can deploy to create this great dream of his, wherein he is the saviour of the world.” She is too gobsmacked by what he is saying, by the matter-of-fact, sardonic, languid tones, he is using, by the drawling, dry disdain, to answer. “Various factions have been dissatisfied with Targaryen rule for decades. Now, in the past fifteen years Dorne has seceded, the Reach has become so unstable it may as well be ungovernable, the Stormlands under the lordship of Stannis Baratheon are seething with resentment, and the West no longer answers to the Iron Throne. The Game is already being played, so believe me when I tell you that no matter what Rhaegar attempts, your conscience will be clean.”
She swallows violently and turns once more to Jaime. “Don’t leave my side, please.”
He lifts both of her hands to his lips in response, pressing long, chaste kisses to her knuckles, and she shivers under the balm of his affection. “Never, I vow it.”
She is woken by the Princess Elia several hours before dawn two days later to prepare her for her wedding. Still yawning, half-asleep, she is guided to a sunken bath filled with ewe’s milk and rose petals, and the attendants gently wash her, wetting her scalp by pouring jugs of water over her head, washing and combing her hair free of tangles and knots. She is so befuddled and surprised that she makes no protest, not even when she is lifted from the bath and guided onto a low day bed and scented oils are massaged into her skin, rendering it soft and supple and sweet-smelling.
It is only when she is served a light repast of fresh fruit and spiced pastries, along with strong tea served in silver cups that she wakes enough to be able to turn a confused gaze upon the Princess Elia.
“Why am I…” she asks her foster mother.
The Princess Regnant smoothes back Sansa’s hair. “This is Dornish tradition, my dear. You are as a daughter to me, and you are marrying my husband’s closest and most beloved friend.”
“But I am your hostage, I am a reparation made to you,” she protests.
Something turns to flint in the Princess’s dark eyes. “You were perhaps a hostage in the beginning, but you were never a reparation. That is Lyanna and Rhaegar’s burden to bear, not yours. It has never been yours, and I am more deeply sorry than I can say that you have felt this way.”
Sansa doesn’t understand. “But Prince Oberyn-”
“I love my brother dearly,” her foster mother interrupts firmly, “but I am not blind. He is impetuous, hot-headed, selfish, and, on occasion, cruel. He has the rather reckless tendency to act first and then think later - if he ever does think. And he was so concerned at the time with repairing the slight to Martell and Dornish honour that the impact on you was something he did not consider at all.” The Princess Elia cups her face in a gentle hold and looks at her with so much kindness that it makes her want to weep. “Men can be foolish, my dear. I love you as my own, and I have tried to show that to you.” A shadow passes over her face. “Perhaps I did not try hard enough, and for that I am sorry, sweet girl.” Sansa shakes her head in vehement disagreement, but her elder continues before she can voice her protest. “You were never a reparation, not to me. You have made me proud, my daughter, and you can hold your head high. You are kind and clever and gentle, and you have steel in your veins and I am proud of you, and I love you, Sansa.”
And then Sansa does weep.
She marries Jaime in the sept in Sunspear at dawn, in an intimate ceremony, only comprising the Dornish royal family and the King of the West and three septons. She wears a gown of white and silver cut from a material so light she could almost be wearing sea foam, and her maidencloak made of embroidered, shimmering summer silk. The rubies and diamonds in her hair and at her throat glimmer in the warm, hazy, golden light of the sept.
Her foster father offers her his arm to walk down the aisle, and when she nigh-on trips over her skirts upon first catching sight of Jaime, digging her fingers painfully into the Prince’s arm - a golden god in the sept, armour gleaming, his hair burning in the morning light - he steadies her instantly, solemnly, and when he places her hand in Jaime’s he squeezes her shoulder and kisses her cheek.
“We are so proud of you, little one,” he says, and only Jaime’s anchoring touch prevents her from breaking into convulsive sobs.
“Thank you,” she says with a watery smile, and then turns back to her betrothed as the ceremony begins in earnest.
It passes in a blur; she is only aware of the reassuring, affectionate timbre of Jaime’s voice when he speaks his vows, of the way he looks at her, so tenderly, so quietly happy, she does not know how she is not a melted puddle at his feet. The light that enters his eyes as she speaks her vows, quietly, fairly shaking with suppressed emotion, is something that warms her to the point of dizziness, and something she will never forget. He slips an elegant ruby and silver ring onto the ring finger of her left hand, and she slips a gold band studded with tiny moonstones onto his in return, shivering at the feel of their fingers touching in a fleeting caress.
In a tradition of the West, an old rite only rarely performed, Tywin Lannister takes a silver dagger and motions for her and Jaime to wrap their left palms around the blade, before drawing the weapon up in a single, fluid gesture, shallowly cutting into their flesh, just enough to draw blood but not enough to injure.
Her husband sweeps the crimson and gold cloak around her shoulders, and she inhales shakily, stunned by the sudden relief she feels, leaning gratefully, blissfully into Jaime’s side, smiling radiantly when his arm snakes under her cloak and around her waist to hold her to him.
Their wedding feast is a joyous affair, held in one of the courtyards of the palace, open to the Dornish bannermen, Lannister and Martell and Dayne and Stark-coloured silks hanging in gauzy curtains around the colonnade. Musicians drift between the guests, playing traditional songs, servants offer platter after platter of delicacy, though Jaime is too exultant to eat more than a few bites, drinking only sparingly. There are spontaneous dances around the fountains, and jugglers and fire-dancers and sword-swallowers and though his sweet new wife has a smile upon her lips and a pretty blush upon her cheeks he knows that having spent the entirety of her life attempting not to be the centre of attention, but to fade into the background instead, he can sense her unease, her embarrassment at such a spectacle.
They both know it is an act of generosity on the part of Houses Martell and Dayne, a way of lending their approval to the match, but it is altogether too much.
Sansa lifts his hand to her lips and he sighs at her gentle, tender gesture, the way she wraps her hands around his upper arm, the better to lean into him. “Overwhelmed?” he asks, glancing at her.
“A little,” she nods, running a hand down his crimson doublet to his elbow, turning her head so her long shining hair falls across his torso as she presses a chaste kiss to his covered shoulder. He shivers.
“We can leave after the dancing, if you like,” he replies once he has regained his equilibrium.
“I’d like that,” she answers, her voice soft, her smile private. “Thank you.”
“Anything, sweet wife,” he says, holding out his hand to her. She takes it, her eyes flickering, her expression intent and solemn as she considers the way their fingers tangle together. Her grip is strong, almost intent. He cradles her much smaller, dainty white hands in his, the tanned, calloused hands of a knight, and he thinks it an apt metaphor.
The musicians strike up a slow, lilting ballad, and he stands. She looks up at him steadily and he bows formally. “Might I have the honour of this next dance?” he asks solemnly.
A radiant smile answers him and she rises eagerly to follow him into the courtyard proper, and he allows himself to enjoy the slide of his hand around her waist, suppressing a smirk at her shiver, and then biting back a shuddering groan as her white hand drifts across his torso to reciprocate. They stand shoulder to shoulder, and his wife is tucked firmly into his side, as they face in opposite directions so they can turn their heads towards one another and lock eyes as they dance.
Everything and everyone around them falls away into nothing as they begin to move, one step forwards for him as she steps back lightly, and then he steps backwards and then spins her, slowly, drowning in the sunset of her sparkling gaze. Her smile turns private as they dance, and a pretty blush blooms upon her cheeks, and as they repeat the basic pattern of steps, this time moving to the side instead of forwards and back, though he is unaware of it he is grinning broadly. Her cannot take his eyes from her.
Her russet hair once more brushes his arm as the tempo of the dance increases to something vigorous and merry, and he feels the gentle caress even though the expensive material of his doublet, shivering, and he draws her more closely to him so that he now dances with his wife half-pressed against his torso, scandalously close, but he cannot bring himself to care. It is his wedding, after all, and in reply she leans her ear against his chest, so now that when she looks up at him he is a hairsbreadth away from bringing his mouth down on hers and tasting her.
She is warm and supple in his embrace, melting into his frame, and he revels in the simple joy of holding her thus.
“Did Elia not speak to you?” he asks, gathering her more tightly to him as they lounge upon the low, cushioned ledges of the terrace of his (now their) secluded apartments. He is eagerly anticipating having her to himself for the next seven days, as is customary, and even more eagerly anticipating having her in his bed.
She ducks her head, flushing with embarrassment, fingering the ties of his doublet. “She offered,” Sansa replies quietly. “But I…”
He strokes her cheek, patient, smiling when her eyes flutter closed at his touch, as she sighs. “But you…” he prompts, gentle.
“I felt embarrassed to ask her about private things between you and I,” she murmurs eventually into his neck. “I don’t know, I - I also - I did not want her to think me wanton, like - like Lyanna.”
“Oh my love,” he sighs, rubbing her back with languid movements, and she curls up more closely in his arms. “You are not Lyanna; you could never be her, do you understand?” He curses the woman in his mind, and not, he suspects, for the last time. Damn her, damn her to the Seven Hells. He pauses, his brow furrowing as he considers how best to handle this. She likes being held by him, he knows, she likes being kissed by him. “Don’t think about it in terms of wantonness or lack thereof, Sansa,” he continues, measuring each word carefully, and she raises her head in surprise. “Think about it as an evolution, a continuation of our love and physical affection for each other instead.”
“You will not think me wanton?” she asks, her voice tight and hoarse.
“You could never be, Sansa,” he assures her firmly. “You would have to be cruel and manipulative and selfish and determined to have sexual power over me in order to be wanton, sweet wife.”
Her eyes widen at that, and he thinks belatedly that he has perhaps said too much. “You were hurt, once, were you not?” She surmises softly, tracing his features with a gentle fingertip.
“I was,” he replies thickly, forcing the horrid memories away. “I will tell you, one day, I think. But not today. Today is our wedding day, and I will not taint it with some unimportant, bitter memories of mine.”
Her solemn face brightens. “It is our wedding day,” she smiles, joy glimmering in her eyes like the sunlight upon the sea, “and I have never been so happy.”
“I intend to make you happier still,” he responds, his voice inadvertently lowering itself to a husky growl before he entirely realises, and he swallows harshly at her violent shiver. She is so responsive to him, he thinks, his stomach twisting viscerally, his blood heating.
But it is her answer, serious-eyed and quietly emphatic, that makes his breath hitch and his heart nigh burst.
“I know you will.”
She laughs lightly as he drifts teasing, ticklish fingers over the soft skin of her arms, her eyes sparkling and darkening as he lowers his head to graze the sensitive skin of her neck below her ear with his teeth, and her laugh becomes a languid sigh, and the sweet fragrance of her skin, the scent of her long russet hair ruffled by the breeze, makes his head spin and though he drank sparingly during the feast he suddenly feels entirely inebriated, his pulse hammering in his throat.
She is standing in his bedchamber at last, the morning light illuminating her, shaping the curves of her form to his embrace and he wants to savour this moment. He intends to savour her.
He sees nervousness in her sunset gaze as his warm hands begin undoing the shoulder ties of her ethereal wedding gown, but he also sees the depths of her trust which he cannot but be greatly humbled by, and she holds his gaze with burning eyes as he divests her gently of it, returning his smile shyly.
The white and silver silk falls to the floor with a quiet sound and he inhales sharply, suddenly. It had looked splendid upon her in the sept this morning; it looks even more splendid pooled upon his floor.
His hands tremble as they settle on her shoulders, and his new wife (how strange it is, to think that she is his now, in the sight of the Old Gods and the New, in the sight of mortal men) and she looks curiously at him.
“Jaime, what - ”
His voice is strangely hoarse when he answers. “You are the most wondrous thing I’ve ever seen,” he swallows thickly, and she blushes violently at his compliment, her fingers twisting sharply in the linen of his shirt and suddenly he finds himself contemplating the vision she will be when she is flushed and lost to passion -
“Thank you, my love,” she responds, and he wants to touch her, to hold her, to claim her, but he knows he must be careful and gentle with her and so he sinks to first to one knee and then the other, placing chaste, closed-mouth kisses upon her body as he does so. Her spine curves into his hands as he kisses her clavicle; she mewls like a kitten when his mouth moves to suckle and kiss the pink tips of her breasts, her pulse stutters violently when he moves lower down her belly, and when his hands follow the path of his lips down her body and then around the curve of her hips to sink into her buttocks her eyes flutter closed, her head tilts back and he groans proudly into her hipbone as her dainty fingers come to tangle in his hair, marvelling at her exquisite responsiveness, and it is a good thing he is kneeling because he isn’t entirely certain he can stand.
“What - what are you - ” she stutters and he traces soothing circles into her hips.
He looks up at her, a raffish, devilish look in his green eyes, his voice a low, gravelled velvet as he answers, smoothing his left hand down her thigh to grasp the sensitive inside of her knee and place her lithe limb upon his shoulder, opening her to him, helplessly admiring the smoothness of her skin. “I am going to worship you, my love, my wife, mine.”
She swoons, only remaining upright because he tightens his hold on her. Her grip on his hair becomes painful, but he relishes it.
“Hold on,” he growls, the glorious scent of her flooding him as her eyes once more meet his. “I will be gentle, but I will not be merciful.”
And then he presses his mouth to her, relishing her surprised squeak of pleasure, he tastes her tart-sweet upon his tongue, and they are both lost.