“Welcome,” said the Lord of the Dreadfort in that soft voice of his that made Sansa's skin crawl. He was wearing a long cape of dusky pink velvet, one pale hand protruding from underneath the soft-looking fabric, vaguely pointing in the direction of the large X-ray machine in the entrance hall. “Please forgive the formalities.”
Tywin shucked off his coat and handed his custom made .44 to the valet before proceeding through security.
A hand lightly tapped Sansa's shoulder when she tried to follow. She had to force herself to look up and into the two chips of ice that were Roose Bolton's eyes. “I am not armed.” Her voice was firm and steady yet polite, noncommital, not betraying any political leanings. That, Tywin had explained, was important. Don't raise your voice. Don't argue with them. Never say what you think.
The valet cleared his throat. “We need your mobile phone, my lady. Or any other transmitting devices.”
“Oh...” Sansa reached into her purse. “Right.” Networks were down on Purge Night, but ever since the Faceless Men had hacked a cell tower three years ago, restoring communication, the New Conquerors made an effort to collect all phones at the door.
Her legs felt like pudding as she stepped through the metal detector. All eyes seemed to be on her, watching her closely, waiting for her to make a mistake. But when she looked back, the valet was processing Gregor Clegane and Roose was greeting the Tyrells.
Tywin was waiting for her by the stairs, holding out his arm, like an olive branch. “Shall we?”
They'd argued about coming, their first real argument since they'd said their vows, and the words still hung between them.
“I thought you would be pleased with the location,” Tywin had told her in that icy tone of voice he usually reserved for others. “The Dreadfort offers excellent security.”
That much was true: the heart of the Bolton mansion was a keep inside a keep; locked down, it turned into a massive, windowless cube of concrete and steel that could withstand a small nuclear attack. Of course, Sansa thought, such features could easily turn into a liability when you were trying to get out.
“You know I don't like these Party functions,” she had tried again. “I like them no better when the Boltons play masters of ceremonies.”
“Why?” The look Tywin had given her was almost curious, as if he genuinely did not understand. “Would you rather host yourself?”
That had ended the discussion. It would have been the Lannisters' turn to organize the annual New Conquerors fundraiser, Tyrion had told her later, and refusing had cost his father a substantial amount of political capital. More importantly, it had cost him an opportunity to shine. “Take it as his way of showing that he loves you,” Tyrion had said. “It's more than he ever did for any of his children.”
No matter how much Tywin loved her though, she could never make him understand how much she hated Purge Night.
Sansa took a step forward, linking her arm in his. There was no time to get back to the safety of their home; ready or not, she was stuck at the Dreadfort.
She had only been here once, many years ago, for Domeric's fourteenth nameday, but she remembered the stairway that led them down into the subterranean maze of tunnels they had to cross to reach the Keep. The thick stone walls on both sides were decorated with the skulls of every person the Boltons had purged over the centuries, white bone and dark empty eye sockets staring down on them. “Don't worry,” Domeric had reassured her. “They're just for show, to demonstrate our loyalty to the New Conquerors. They all died a long time ago.” That seemed plausible enough: Roose was known to dispose of his victims discretely, while Ramsay's victims were too numerous to display, their bodies hidden away in the deepest vaults of the Dreadfort, far from the prying eyes of any visitor.
Of course, Domeric was among them now.
Sansa tried to push the thought from her head, walking faster to keep up with Tywin. Ser Gregor's heavy boots were clanking on the stone floor behind them. The Mountain's presence was supposed to make her feel safe. If only it was Sandor in his place. But Tywin had insisted the Hound stay outside with the other bodyguards and help watch the wall that surrounded the Bolton estate. A gesture of courtesy, Sansa knew. To her husband, the fundraiser was just another work night, an event he was obliged to attend as a senior Party member, perhaps an opportunity to strike a deal. Most certainly, it was nothing to worry about.
The narrow tunnel widened until it spilled into a hall from which winding stairs led back up into a large rotunda. Three stories tall and lined with rows of balconies, the Bolton's Great Hall had the air of a theater. There were no windows, but real candles burned in the chandeliers that hung from the ceiling, basking the room in soft light.
The High Septon came up to greet them, wishing them a blessed Night of the Stranger, as the Faith liked to call the holiday. Tywin bent down, briefly touching his lips to the black heptagon on his ring. Other men stopped to greet them, Mace Tyrell, Paxter Redwyne, Randyll Tarly, Gawen Westerling. Each time, Sansa smiled while Tywin made polite conversation before excusing himself and dragging Sansa deeper into the crowd.
She was looking around, trying to spot a familiar face, someone she might be able to talk to. Of course, none of her family were here; the Starks weren't Party people. Theon was standing in a corner, looking like a shadow of himself, his face ashen, his hair white and brittle. He was staring at Sansa, but when she lifted her hand to wave at him, he quickly turned his head.
The Baratheons were there, the Martells, the Hightowers, the Freys, the Spicers, the Yronwoods and countless others: the entire Party had come. Sansa found the New Conquerors insufferable on any day of the year: their carefully rehearsed, threatening smiles, their Party-speak, their hypocrisy. But this was the night they openly celebrated their darkest side. Sansa was scared of being locked into the Dreadfort with them, of witnessing their cruelty first hand.
Most of all, she was scared of what Tywin would do. Her husband despised the spontaneous outbursts of violence, the savages on the streets going on a rampage. But like all Party members, he supported the Purge. It's smart. It keeps us in power. She knew he had killed people before – he'd been honest when she'd asked him.“I use this night to do the things that need to be done, when they have to be done,” he had said. She'd married him knowing all this. But knowing and seeing were two different things.
He won't, she told herself. Not this year.