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The House of Green & Black

Chapter Text

 

 


AWH

 

 

 

Lightning lit up the night sky as thunder cracked resembling the rifle fire that shook the young girl from a troubled sleep. The thunderstorm had kept her awake most of the night as it roared and rumbled across the county. Sansa never cared for the Riverlands, as the locals called it. She longed for home or even that of The Eyrie. Her aunt, the Duchess of the Vale, was a cold and fearsome woman but at least there were fine suppers, balls, vast gardens and the city where one could bide their time.

Here, in the house of her Uncle Edmure, Earl of Riverrun, there was only housework to welcome her every day. Fitting, after a year of solitude here, she thought bitterly. The king allowed her to retain the address of "Lady" more for the mere ridicule and disdain than that of respect. For here, in the Riverlands, in the home of the last family that was willing to take in the daughter of a traitor, did she feel nothing like a lady of a once grand house. Sansa was no longer a marchioness, daughter of the late Duke of Winterfell, but now a glorified nursemaid to her drunken, gambling uncle. She was only Lady Sansa in name yet treated as the lowest of the peerage as far as the ton was concerned. A lady with no title, lands or prospects, she was considered even at the age of three and twenty, to be permanently on the shelf.

Another sharp clap of thunder and bright lightning illuminated her cold room. This house was old, drafty and in desperate need of repair. Her uncle forbade her in his study, but she knew he was in debt from the gaming hells he frequented. As months passed by slowly, she found less and less money was available to pay for the simple things. The surrounding farms were not as prosperous, he said grimly. The rivers overflowed their beds this season from the heavy rains that never seemed to give much time to the sun. One by one, servants departed, leaving Sansa more duties as if she were a mere housekeeper than the lady of the house.

The prior day had been long and hard. Once again, her uncle Edmure was passed out from heavy drinking after trudging home from a local pub. He had bet his best horse and lost. Sansa was furious at the man for that gentle horse was the only thing she cared for in this dreary place. At the young age of twenty, she had more sense and financial mind than that of a man almost twice her years. Sansa was tempted to walk out the door and never return only to realize, just as she had during her time at the Eyrie, there was nowhere to go. She would starve, work hard labor or worse, end up in a pub or brothel to put food in her mouth and a dry place to sleep.

No one in the southern counties would take in a traitor to the king no matter how horrible a ruler he proved to be. There were no loyalties to her father here and with the growing discontent with the Tully family, Sansa found little sympathy as the daughter of the earl's late sister.

Sansa retreated to her room as she did every night to cry herself to sleep. Only this night, the storm gave her no peace. Local men of the gentry dined with them earlier in the evening, and Sansa knew she would find her uncle drunk and broke again from playing five card loo. If this continued, they would be destitute. Sooner or later, Edmure's debts would be called in, and the last of the proud Tully family would be penniless.

Sansa's father had always reprimanded smaller lords in the north for gambling away their inheritances. Her parents were cautious in the suitors calling on their eldest daughter not wanting her to fall to a frivolous husband. Her only uncle had practically bankrupted his family fortune in a few short years.

Another thunderous roar echoed through her room when the door to her chambers opened, and soft candlelight neared her bed.

"My lady, you must wake," the kindly voice spoke in the darkness. "My lord has asked me to fetch you downstairs."

Sansa wanted to smother herself with the pillow.

Dear God, what has he done now?

She swung her legs out of the warm but scratchy linens of her bed. Long gone was the finery she had been accustomed to for so many years. The rug was tattered and old and did not keep the cold from her feet. Slipping on her dressing gown and a pair of worn satin slippers, Sansa followed the older woman out the door.

Pulling out her father's gold watch, the only thing she had left from him, the time told her it was just past midnight.

"How long have they been at it?" she asked with bitterness.

Mrs. Cole shook her head dismally. "Since you turned in, my dear."

The thoughtful woman was the only person who addressed Sansa as a lady and treated her with respect and affection. There was a pity in Mrs. Cole's eyes whenever she looked at her young mistress and being the only one that was remotely kind to her. She had nursed her mother and always remarked at how Sansa was an exact mirror image of her at that age.

Sansa sighed when she came to the landing and could see the men playing cards down below. The manor that had been in the family for generations and felt as though it hadn't been properly maintained in just as long. Grandfather Tully, was an old-fashioned man from what her mother told her and just like her mother, Sansa didn't like this place anymore than she did.

"Ah, is that the girl, Tully?" a laughing voice rose from the table below.

The other man turned his head gazing up at Sansa, and fear began to well up inside her.

"My dear…" her uncle Edmure drawled drunkenly. "Come down here if you please."

Sansa's feet rooted to the spot even as Mrs. Cole began to descend the stairs with the candle.

"It's late, my Lord Uncle," she began formally. "I am not dressed properly to meet your guests."

"Oh, she is quite the proper lady, isn't she?" one of the men snickered, and it made her shiver.

"Come here. I will not ask again," Edmure commanded.

Sansa slowly came down the stairs and felt the men's eyes on her the entire time. It was clear all the men had been deep in their cups but for her uncle to demand she greet strangers in nothing more than a dressing gown was disturbing.

"She is lovely; I must say," the older man sneered as he looked her up and down as if she were a prize racing horse. "Is she intact?"

Edmure spluttered with indignity adding to Sansa's horror. "Of course, she is! A well-bred lady of my dearly departed sister…"

"A traitor's daughter is no lady, my lord," the stout man goaded. "But even a pretty one is worth something."

Sansa's hands trembled and grasped the chair near the table to steady herself and held her chin high. She was used to insults and leers by men, but something seemed amiss at the way these men were talking.

"What is the meaning of all this, uncle?" she demanded quietly.

"Oh ho! Quite the high-minded little duchess, isn't she? We'll have to break her of that," the elderly man frowned. "Speak to me like that, girl, and you'll be begging on the streets, or I'll sell you to a brothel. They know how to treat a lady in Cheapside."

The threat chilled her to the bone. Sansa was about to demand her uncle to throw the men out for their disgusting behavior when a thought entered her mind. Edmure Tully was the earl in this county, and yet these men acted as if they owned him. Suddenly, she couldn't breathe.

Dear God, what has he done now?

That's what she had wondered in her bed only minutes before, and now she was sick at the dreadful answer.

Hoping against all hope, she pleaded with the drunken man sitting at the table with a look a shame about him. "My lord, shall I have… your friends escorted out? You need your rest. You're not well…"

The two men laughed heartily at her growing terror, and she unconsciously pulled her dressing gown tighter around her body.

"Oh, he's not well at all, girl," the stout man chortled as he came face to face with her.

His breath was rancid and smelt as if he had not bathed in weeks.

"Shall I tell her, or are you too drunk and cowardly, Tully?" he taunted. Not waiting for her uncle's reply, he added with a grin, "He's lost it all, dear girl. Bet everything, he did…"

His dirty finger drew a line up her arm making Sansa's stomach turn.

"You included," the elderly man smirked.

The stout man's eyes glazed a bit and stared at her in a way that made her feel naked. He grabbed her upper arm, forcing out a scream.

"Uncle!" she pleaded.

Edmure didn't even have the decency to look at her and Sansa's fears were confirmed. Damn him! He bet his family's long-held lands and her to men that were no better than pigs. She pulled out of the man's grasp and moved to stand behind Mrs. Cole.

The taller, older man moved swiftly for his age, and the housekeeper pushed the young girl further behind her plump frame.

"Now gentlemen, you'll be leavin' this young lass alone," she warned with the candle trembling in her hand.

"And you'll stay out of our business old woman if you know what is good for you," he snarled. "That girl and this house belong to me now. If you wish to keep your position, I suggest you move aside. Otherwise, you'll be out in the rain tonight."

To Sansa's and the men's surprise, Mrs. Cole didn't move an inch. "I will not, sir. I have raised two generations of this family's ladies, and I refuse to let you have one hand on this one."

Abruptly, the opening and closing of a door had a footman rushing into the room. The storm raged outside as it beat against the old stained glass windows. The man whispered in her uncle's ear. Before another word could be spoken, a man dressed in a black cloak entered the room unannounced removing his hat. He was soaked through but acted as if it were a mere annoyance.

"Edmure, my apologies for the late arrival. The River Road from Lannisport was nothing short of boulders covered with mud. I'm surprised my carriage wheels didn't break in this wretched weather," the man uttered removing his damp cloak holding it out to the nervous footman as the others in the room went unnoticed. "I think a warm brandy will be just the thing to take off the chill."

All too quickly, the room fell silent as the stranger finally took in his surroundings. His eyes glanced from the drunken earl to the two men and then older woman protecting the young girl. He wasn't a tall man or broad of shoulder, but he possessed a menacing appearance all the same. The dark-haired gentleman, dressed fashionably, reminded her of someone.

"I see I have missed dinner," the man smiled, yet it didn't reach his piercing eyes. Pulling out his pocket watch of gleaming gold, he took a moment to look at the time, but Sansa felt the man already knew the lateness of the hour and was using it as a distraction.

"My, the hour is late," he murmured glancing up and smiling in her direction. That smile had a hint of duplicity she noted as he glided across the room toward the two women. He bowed gracefully and grinned at the brave older woman. "Mrs. Cole. It has been far too many years. I regret that most terribly. You are more beautiful than ever."

His voice was familiar, as was his devious smile. He kissed Mrs. Cole's hand as she gently swatted him. "Petyr," she shushed him playfully, "Act like the high lord you are."

The dark man's eyes flitted to Sansa hiding behind her matronly protector. She could see a dusting of grey at his temples contrasting the pitch-black colour of his hair. Fine lines on his face as he smiled gave Sansa the assumption that he was around the same age as her uncle despite the hint of grey. There was something increasingly familiar about this gentleman, and Sansa racked her brain to place him.

"And you are, sir?" the portly man asked in slight aggression.

The stranger looked to her uncle for a proper introduction, but it never came as Edmure drunkenly lowered his head further to the table.

"Thank you, Edmure. Your courtesy and etiquette are still in top form, I see," he chided lightly. "Nothing has changed in all these years."

Mrs. Cole surprised Sansa and took a step forward, answering the insolent man.

"You are addressing His Most Honourable, Lord Baelish, the Marquess of Harrenhal," she reprimanded the men harshly. Mrs. Cole spoke as if she were a proud mother making Sansa wonder what relationship she had with this gentleman. He knew her and her uncle well by his manners.

"And a member of the Privy Council as well as special advisor to the king. I'm sure I could dredge up some other pointless titles to dazzle you with, but I digress," the man jested with ease however frosted with just enough ice that dared the men to test him.

The men glanced at each other with a hint of nervousness. "Beg your pardon, my lord…" the stout man offered before her uncle scoffed into his ale.

The marquess loosened his cravat and sat down next to Edmure, taking in the scene before him. The table, littered with cards from the last hand played made the congenial new lord smile.

"It seems I have missed a rather entertaining game of loo. I've never been fond of piquet; I must say, too much arithmetic and quite pedantic in nature. It looks as though you've put yourself in a spot of trouble, Ed," he teased picking up the man's cards and grimaced. "God, man, you should quit hours ago."

Lord Baelish gestured to the two men to sit down across the table as he poured himself a pint of ale.

"So, gentlemen, how much does my Lord Tully owe you this fine evening?" he began pulling out his purse.

"Riverrun," the old man replied and hesitated for a moment, "and the girl there."

The marquess raised his eyebrows in surprise and turned around in his chair to look at the women behind him.

"Oh, Edmure. If only your father were alive… how I would love to see his face right at this moment," he chuckled darkly. "I'm afraid I never carry that much gold with me when traveling, gentlemen. Highwaymen are so numerous these days."

Sansa watched nervously as the gentleman drank his ale with such patience. He had not objected to the loss of the family estate and certainly didn't seem to be bothered by the idea of a lady being sold like livestock.

Baelish set down his ale and glanced between the two men.

"Well, it appears you will need a witness of authority to transfer the estate to you legally," the mysterious gentleman presented kindly to everyone's shock.

The two men looked at each other in astonishment before the marquess added, "However, I cannot let you have the lady."

The stout man objected first.

"My lord, it was a fair wager with Lord Tully. The estate won, and then he bet the girl to win back his lands…" the man blubbered.

Lord Baelish held up his hand and didn't care to hear more.

"Be as it may. I will not give you the lady," he added with a tone of finality.

"Then we shall take this to the magistrate, my lord. You are, as you say, Marquess of Harrenhal but that does not give you authority over the Riverlands."

His lordship sighed with annoyance as Sansa took short breaths awaiting her fate. She was entirely in the hands of this man it seemed and not once did her utter a word of defense in her honour.

"In this downpour, you expect to drag me all the way to Fairmarket to settle such a trivial dispute with the local magistrate?" he huffed leaning back into his chair.

Trivial? Were her life trivial and a tiresome dispute? Sansa wanted to strike the man and felt the firm grip of Mrs. Cole upon her arm. She must have worn her emotions on her sleeve as the old woman sensed her anger.

 "I could send post to the king, giving me the direct authority, but that would require me to stay here longer than I intended. Moreover, I intend to leave by morning," the man added, his tone clipped with ice. As quickly as it came, his demeanor changed and smiled in a way that filled Sansa with trepidation.

"However, to save us all some time and frustration, I do believe I have a solution to our little predicament. You are betting men…" he grinned as he picked up the discarded cards and remaining deck from the table and began to shuffle them.

"Your reputation precedes you, my lord," the elderly man protested but didn't embellish further to help Sansa understand the gentleman before her.

Was he attempting to gamble her life away just as her uncle did? She didn't know him other than by title but yet being a high lord gave him authority over that of any woman that wasn't a duchess or of a royal title.

"Then you know I gamble high stakes, sir," he smirked, dealing a strange set that Sansa wasn't familiar. "You've managed to swindle an inebriated lord’s inheritance from him, now try a sober and far wealthier one. Let's see what tricks you have left for me. What have you to lose but a northern girl and this rundown manor?"

The elderly man hesitated, but the stout fellow had greed written all over his face as he sat down. "What is it that you offer, my lord, in wager?"

"Harrenhal," the marquess replied without a care in the world, and the men looked like fish with their mouths hanging open in shock.

"You would bet your estate for that of this girl?" the man asked in disbelief.

"What does it matter? I've gambled, lost and won much larger sums than you could imagine," Baelish grinned wickedly with knowing. "This could be your very, lucky night, gentlemen. By morning, you could be the proud owners of one of the largest estates in Westeros. Now, I'm not much in the mood for five-card loo, but I've been learning this little game of vingt-et-un whilst I was in Paris. Very simple and I'm far too exhausted to pay attention to piquet…"

"We're not that familiar with this, my lord. Not exactly fair to spring a new game on novice players for such great wagers," the old man protested again trying to regain some control.

"Yes, quite right, gentlemen, quite right," the marquess agreed congenially. "I'm a fair man, of course. We'll play for an hour and give you a chance to grow accustomed to the game. As I said, it's quite simple…"

Lord Baelish explained the game with ease. It was only a matter of the cards equaling up to, but not over the sum of twenty-one. It indeed was the luck of the draw and Sansa didn't know what could be worse at the moment.

His lordship politely advised the ladies to sit or to return to bed due to the lateness of the hour, but Sansa stubbornly sat down at the end of the table to watch. She wasn't about to worry in her bedroom, waiting for the inevitable. The marquess smiled at her and shuffled the deck before dealing out to each player.

The men played for three-quarters of an hour and acted as if they were having a lovely evening at the pub. The marquess' demeanor was relaxed and cool, sharing stories that men loved to tell each other when in their cups. The two men had fallen comfortable in the wealthy gentleman’s company laughing and drinking their ale.

Sansa observed the game and kept silent. She knew well enough that making a scene would not help her cause. Uncle Edmure was long unconscious as he snored quietly at the other end of the table ignored by the other men in the room. Mrs. Cole fidgeted silently and occasionally patted the gentleman's shoulder, hoping for some assurance that he knew what he was doing.

The past hour was tedious and lengthy, watching the men play with her life. Each had won as many times as they lost to each other. As calm and amiable as the marquess was, Sansa noted something in his eyes. For every card that was turned over, his eyes caught with interest and Sansa could swear he was calculating everything laid upon the table. It wasn't just each hand and who won. He had used this past hour to watch the cards move, and something clicked in her mind. This man was playing them all along under the guise of pleasantry. He wasn't so much as letting them win but watching every move they made and where the cards lay.

Sansa never understood why ladies were never allowed to play cards or gamble with gentlemen. She could play this game just as well as them. Why couldn't she stake a claim for her welfare? Sansa hated that women seemed to be nothing more than decoration for a man, and only worth was beauty and ability to bear heirs.

Finishing his ale in one gulp, Lord Baelish checked his watch and stretched slightly in his chair.

"Very well, shall we get on with it? Two out of three takes Riverrun and the lady," he grinned, but again Sansa noticed once again it never reached his eyes. His tone implied that this was nothing more than an inconsequential thing, and the other men chuckled in reply. However, those penetrating eyes said something else when they glanced her way briefly.

She wanted so badly to speak out against this primeval act between men; however, something told her again to stay silent. After observing the men play and primarily his lordship’s subtle actions, there was a game within a game happening here. She was sure of it. Her uncle was not coming to her aid as he continued to snore peacefully. All that lay between her and desolation were cards in the hands of a stranger.

The first round played, and Sansa felt that churning of her stomach for the portly man won with his cards totaling nineteen as his companion busted and the marquess only produced seventeen. The second round lay upon the table, and his lordship easily won with twenty. As the last round was dealt, the butterflies fluttered madly as she closed her eyes. She couldn't watch. If these two horrible men won, she would kill herself. There was not a chance in hell she would leave this house with them.

"You're a cheat, my lord," the plump man shot out angrily, and Sansa opened her eyes.

The marquess turned over an ace, adding it to the queen of spades.

"The cards do not lie, gentlemen. One would think you have never gambled before. If you were not willing to risk, you never should have sat down in the first place," he reprimanded with a laugh. "I risked far more with my estate to not one but two players, I might add. You came with nothing and shall leave with nothing. I bid you goodnight."

The gentleman rose from the table without a glance to her and moved towards the dozing Mrs. Cole to rouse her.

The two men argued with each other, and Sansa slowly got up and moved towards the housekeeper as well.

"I say he is a cheat. He waited till the end and fixed the deck…" the men rumbled.

"What did you think I was doing for the past hour, gentlemen?" Baelish questioned loudly turning towards them as both women unconsciously moved behind him. "I observed every move you made. Oh, and I should have said that I'm quite good with numbers which makes this game very simple to win. You said you knew of my reputation, sir, well you should have kept that in mind instead of greed blinding you."

The round man's face was so red that Sansa thought it just might burst. He fished in his coat for a musket, aiming it at the marquess.

"Do it, and you both will hang by morning," Baelish warned with a hint of mirth in his voice. "Consequently, I should have mentioned in passing that not only am I on excellent terms with Magistrate Chadsworth but that the king made me Lord Paramount of the Trident recently… which I do believe gives me authority over the Riverlands."

Sansa's eyes widened as she stared at the marquess chuckling from his little ruse. He didn't have to gamble at all. He could have stopped this from the very beginning and yet chose to risk the men at the expense of her fear and helplessness. Sansa was enraged to the point of clawing this man's face off, marquess or not. Mrs. Cole held the girl back as she stepped towards the man.

"Now, get out. I don't want to see either of you here again, do you understand me?" Lord Baelish demanded coldly — all of the laughter gone from his face.

Thunder rumbled loudly from the storm, and both men stood in shock before slowly gathering their belongings.

"Brune, would you be so kind as to see these men out?" he requested tiredly.

A stocky man with a strong jaw appeared from the foyer that no one had seen the entire time. He held a musket at the ready and had the disposition of a man not to be trifled with. The marquess traveled with more than just a footman, so it seemed.

The men walked around the manservant with trepidation before scurrying through the foyer. The heavy oak door opened and closed with a thud but not before letting in a damp, cold chill through the room.

Baelish sighed as he turned to the old housekeeper. "Mrs. Cole, I am weary from travel. I assume that Edmure forgot about my letter that I would be coming to Riverrun today."

Both looked at the drunken man sleeping on the table.

"No, my lord, he had not mentioned it to me. Don't worry; I will have a warm bed ready for you," Mrs. Cole smiled and patted his cheek like a young boy. "I never thought I would see you return to this house again, Petyr. Moreover, now a high lord yourself? My how the years have changed."

"Gold can change many things, my dear," he replied tenderly as if he were speaking to his mother.

Sansa was fixed to the spot at the exchange while neither of them paid her any attention. She watched transfixed as the gentleman pulled her uncle up against his slim frame and walked him to the staircase and finally acknowledged the girl's existence.

"Would you be so kind as to help me get him to bed, my lady? You seem a strong girl by the looks of you," he asked sweetly.

She wasn't sure if she should be offended or complimented by that remark, but she walked to him none the less and took her uncles arm, draping it around her shoulders.

This man seemed to dislike her uncle but at the same time wasn't about to leave him there to sleep in the Great Hall. He had called her lady several times this evening. Sansa had not heard that from a man, a gentleman, in some time.

It took some effort to lead Edmure to his chambers. Sansa lit a candle and pulled the bedclothes over him as she had done so many times before. The marquess quietly watched her from the door as she cared for her uncle with practiced ease.

"Tell me, my lady, is this commonplace with Lord Edmure?" he asked delicately, with a touch of kindness and regret to his voice.

"Yes, my lord. It's been this way for some months now," she replied in kind blowing out the candle. She didn't know why she was discussing family matters with this man all of a sudden. She was about to ask him where and how she knew him, but when Sansa turned around, he was gone.

Sansa walked out, closing the door behind her finding the hallway and landing empty. She supposed it mattered not if she had met him before. He was leaving in the morning, he said. He kept her from being taken away and her uncle losing his estate. That's all that mattered. In the morning, the man would leave, and life would continue as it had for over a year. She couldn’t recall his face, but those eyes and that voice! She knew him somehow. Sansa thought she knew every gentleman in the ton, but there had not been a lord over Harrenhal in some time.

Glancing around, Sansa sighed at the thought of cleaning the dusty tapestries today and trudged back to her cold room. It would be daylight soon, and there was much to do. Tonight was the most excitement, if one could call it that, she had in a long time. Slipping into the icy linens, Sansa curled into a ball to stay warm. It would be another cold winter in this place and worse with the dwindling finances. Sansa sniffed slightly. She wished that someone could take her away from all of this. She would even be willing to go back to her aunt if the jealous woman would take her.

With a flash of a brief recollection, Sansa lay in shock. Yes, that's how she knew him. He wasn't a marquess then if memory served her correctly. Her aunt was furious that night at Robert's birthday masque, and Sansa tried to explain that she had done nothing to entice the man. The duchess wouldn't hear of it, and days later she was sent to live in Riverrun. Sansa had practically forgotten what little she remembered of his face from the ornate mask he wore. It was his manner, his voice that sparked some recognition. Lord Baelish was not of old family influence and inheritance like that of the rest of the ton. There had been as many whispers and gossip about him that night as there were about the traitorous niece that was the ward of the duchess.

Sansa fumed once more. He was the reason her aunt sent her here to this gloomy place. He could have turned the men out the moment he arrived but chose to play games with them, and her, on some morbid principle that he could. It was a good thing Mrs. Cole held her back, for Sansa knew she would have flogged the man senseless. It would be best if he left as quickly as possible in a few hours, she grumbled to herself for she might forget her upbringing and spit in his breakfast for good measure. He was a marquess now was he? Clearly, gold could change many things.

All too soon, morning came, and Sansa had not slept at all. Her furious mind gave her no rest, and when she washed her face and looked in the mirror, the dark circles under her eyes were more than evident to her condition. Sansa dressed in one of her older frocks that had seen better days. Today, there was much cleaning to help Mrs. Cole with and wearing her last decent afternoon dress to impress a man she detested was pointless. If the marquess expected her to dress well in his company, he was sorely mistaken. She was no longer a lady of title or any social status anymore. Why should she pretend to be?

Sansa pulled her hair back and glanced in the mirror once again. Her mother wouldn't even recognize her now. Her face was pale and slightly gaunt. She was not eating as well as her stay in the Vale, nor had she bothered with her hair in months. It was simpler to braid and pin it up. There were no gentlemen to impress here. The Vale taught her one thing; Sansa was doomed to spinsterhood. She looked more like the common girls from the local village than a lady of breeding.

She donned a light shawl and made her way down the stairs where the two lords were breaking their fast. The marquess immediately rose from the table while her uncle remained seated. Sansa was slightly flattered at the notion but pushed it down. This damned man was the reason why she was here in the first place.

Lord Baelish came around, pulling her chair out as she sat with a short 'thank you.' Returning to his seat, Sansa glanced at him briefly. He was again, well dressed in dark grey that seemed to match the colour of his eyes. In the sunlight, his greying temples were more pronounced in contrast to his thick black hair. The very air about him was that of refinement, a trait her uncle and the men in this place simply did not possess.

Mrs. Cole placed a soft boiled egg before her with toasted bread and butter. Sansa picked an apple from small variety of fruits and listened as the men resumed their conversation. Her uncle finally mustered an awkward form of gratitude at the reclaiming of his estate lost the night before. Lord Baelish drank his tea and waved it off as if it were insignificant.

The air in the room was thick for it was clear the two men disliked each other immensely.

"Why have you come here, Petyr? Is it merely to gloat or do you have a more sinister purpose?" Edmure asked with contempt answering Sansa's question on why the new marquess was here.

"I wanted to come and see my childhood home…" Baelish began.

"This was never your home," Edmure spat bitterly.

"…and as Lord Paramount, of course, it is of financial interest to know how the lands are being managed. As far as I can tell, there is a severe lack of leadership. The locals have run amuck, and the Earl of Riverrun is in debt to his ears and unable to pay the most trivial of needs."

Lord Baelish caught Sansa's eye and smiled as she turned away blushing. Had this man gone through her uncle's ledgers after what she had said last night?

Uncle Edmure tried to object, but the marquess spoke over him.

"I have the necessary papers here. Magistrate Chadsworth will sign over the deeds to me on my way to Harrenhal," he said, patting the satchel next to him.

"No! You are not taking my family's lands, Petyr!" Edmure exclaimed standing up abruptly. "You think your money can buy you everything… you were nothing, came from nothing! We should have let you die that day."

Lord Baelish sat calmly with a slight look of annoyance at the man insulting him, and Sansa could only watch in fascination.

"The times are changing, old man," he grinned. "This worn and tired aristocracy is dying. The game is an old one but one your lot has forgotten how to play. The one with the most gold wins, my friend. While your kind is indolent in the collection of your inheritance generation after generation, my kind is going to take it all from you."

Edmure was fuming, and the tips of his ears were bright red as he threw his plate across the room shattering the china into a million pieces.

"As I said last night, but you were too drunk to hear… How I would love to see your father's face right now. Knowing that I, who came from nothing, am now lord higher than his only son and own his generation's old family estates," Baelish chuckled darkly.

Sansa finally spoke up in astonishment.

"But, my lord, you're not giving back Riverrun to my uncle? I thought that was your honorable intention…" she muttered.

The marquess smiled, and his eyes gleamed in amusement.

"I intend to take claim that I have honorably and rightfully won. Your uncle lost the family estate of his own accord. I gambled my holdings and claimed his lawfully. If Lord Tully had gambled me last night, would you begrudge me my winnings my lady?" he mused.

Sansa started to panic hearing those words. He was going to throw them out. She was now penniless and homeless, as was her uncle.

"Now, I'm not a vile man, my dear. Edmure can continue to stay in his ancestral home, but I will manage the profitability of the land from now on, and he will receive a modest allowance until it's proven he will not gamble it away," he continued nonchalantly.

"Now see here, Petyr…" Edmure roared.

Sansa closed her eyes in fear.

"And what of me, my lord? Am I to be thrown in the village streets?" she whispered.

Lord Baelish observed her with quiet admiration, but his next words sent shockwaves down her spine.

"Of course not, my lady. You will pack what little I assume you possess this very morning. You are leaving with me to Harrenhal."

 

 


 

   

 

 

Chapter Text

 

TNS

 

 

 

 

“Over my dead body!” the earl roared and strode across the room to his sword and a musket resting on a small table near the staircase.

Lord Baelish remained seated with a look of boredom on his face; however, the ice in his voice was unmistakable.

That… can be arranged,” he warned and his manservant, Brune, entered the room with his hand already on his weapon.

Edmure stopped dead in his tracks as Sansa sat stunned at Baelish’s previous declaration as to her future. Why was he was removing her from her family’s care? There was no reason for it.

“She doesn’t belong to you, Petyr. She is my family and my responsibility,” her uncle protested as he held onto his musket that Sansa knew full well wasn’t loaded.

Lord Baelish rose slowly, his eyes never leaving Edmure. Sansa watched as he drifted around the table, standing next to her. All she could do was stare at her plate when his hand rested on the back of her chair.

“Do you honestly believe after last night that I would leave Cat’s daughter in your care?” Baelish spoke with quiet fury. “You nearly sold her into God knows what life with those men to save your wealth and heritage. Look at her; she is practically a housemaid here.”

The man had not lied, but she was furious at the marquess all the same. He bet her livelihood as well last night as if it were the most trivial of games.

“And how are you any different, my lord?” she muttered indignantly, eyes cast down. “My well-being seems only a game to you that is as easily tossed around as cards on a table.”

Lord Baelish leaned against the table, staring at her, but she couldn’t meet his gaze.

“Had I not arrived when I did, you would have been well on your way to a brothel, I would gather, my lady,” he said. “I wagered an estate that is worth one-hundred times Riverrun to…”

Sansa glared at the arrogant man. “Forgive me if I am not thrilled with being a bargaining chip between men. You didn’t have to wager a thing. You are Lord Paramount, as you say and could have called their winnings invalid. Gambling your estate was not for my protection but your vanity. What am I worth, a traitor’s daughter? Ten guineas? Less? I doubt you’ll get your money’s worth, my lord. You might as well leave me here.”

She awaited a harsh reprimand for speaking so rudely to high lord, but the man only smiled at her. A long index finger tilted her chin up to look him in the eyes.

“Well said, my lady,” he smirked. “Do give yourself credit. You are worth most decidedly more than ten guineas.” His eyes flared a bit, and Sansa felt he was trying to rouse her anger more than a genuine insult. “If you were a mere shilling, I would still remove you from this place.”

“Shall I be more plain, my lord? I do not wish to be bought by you. I’d rather be a scullery maid than go with you,” she held her chin high, letting his finger drop away.

“You have your answer, Petyr,” Edmure’s voice rang behind her.

The marquess glanced at her uncle and then back to the proud girl sitting before him.

“All due respect my lady,” he began with ease. “It matters not. You hardly have anything to say about it. If I were to give your uncle everything back, how long until you find yourself in even worse circumstances. No. You shall leave with me today. Mrs. Cole,” he turned to the elderly woman resting by the sideboard, “Make sure Lady Sansa is packed and ready to leave within the hour.”

Edmure protested hotly once again, and the husky manservant moved across the room quickly divesting her uncle of his weapons. “Petyr, you cannot. Think of her reputation! It is completely improper for a young lady of her age to live with a rake such as you.”

Baelish chuckled darkly, “After gambling her away, you dare chastise me in her care? Edmure, I think we can all agree that her reputation is long shattered due to her father’s rebellion. Neither you or Lysa came to Cat’s aid, and they executed the entire family. Where was your family honor then? Your old fashioned nobility makes you no better than I. She will become the proper lady she is in my household, unlike the…” his eyes returned to Sansa with a grin, “… scullery maid, you’ve managed to make her in yours.”

Sansa waited with anxiously for her uncle to make some defense. Instead, he marched into his study and slammed the heavy oak door. Looking to Mrs. Cole for any form of help, the kindly old woman shook her head sadly.

“Mrs. Cole, I would be honored if you would come to Harrenhal and take charge of the household. I know of no one better to manage such a large house, moreover, play chaperone to Lady Stark. It would be well if she had a familiar face while staying in my home,” Lord Baelish offered with such grace and kindness that Sansa felt a rush of relief that she would have one friend with her.

Mrs. Cole glanced at the door the earl slammed moments before and smiled with regret.

“Petyr,” she called him informally, “I think my place is to watch over Edmure. He will be quite alone and in need now.”

Sansa’s eyes widened in horror. Mrs. Cole defended her from the two men last night, and yet she was letting this man, that Sansa was barely acquainted with, take her away.

He kissed the top of the old woman’s head tenderly and added, “If you change your mind, all you need do is write to me, and I will send a carriage for you. In the meantime…” Lord Baelish retrieved a purse heavy with gold. “Keep this safe. I trust you to spend it as necessary. Anything you require, inform me, and you shall have it.”

Mrs. Cole patted his hand and smiled sweetly as Sansa watched the exchange in wonder. Perhaps the man couldn’t be utterly despicable if he treated this woman, whom he had not seen in years, with such kindness and generosity. The fact lay in her lap that she was leaving with a man she only knew by introduction and reputation.

Lord Baelish was known for his scandalous behavior within the ton. Sansa knew of him from that fateful night of the ball at The Eyrie. He was not of noble birth but rose quickly through the ranks and rumored to be quite wealthy. His new titles and wealth did not seem to aid him in securing a wife. Either no lady of breeding would have him, or he did not wish to be married. The man was nothing short of an enigma and endless gossip among the gentry.

Uncle Edmure had called him a rake moments before, and it seemed to fit his personality so far. He was as courteous as any other lord, but elements about him told her he did not care much for strict social etiquette. All Sansa could guess it was that he was self-made, wealthy, and quite used to things done his way.

Sansa felt as though she had no choice at all in the matter, just as Lord Baelish said. Whether by gambling or as high lord of the region, she was under his governorship. When Mrs. Cole roused Sansa from her troubled thoughts, the marquess had left the room.

“Come, my dear,” the old woman tugged the young girl’ arm, “We must pack your things in haste. I don’t believe his lordship will wish to wait too long. I think we can fit everything in the one trunk and you’ll need your trousseau…”

Sansa laughed bitterly at that. “No need. I’ll never marry. I’ll most likely end up keeping the household for him until he snares a wife and ships me off to be someone’s governess,” Sansa grumbled.

“Perhaps, he will take you as his ward. He cared very much for your mother years ago. It would make sense,” Mrs. Cole mused to herself as Sansa followed her upstairs. “You will be in a wealthy house again, where you belong, a lady of your upbringing. If the Fates are kind, you could be a marchioness again…”

Sansa hissed in reply, “Do not say such things. I would never marry a man such as that. Uncle said he’s a rascal and I heard stories from The Eyrie. Not to mention, he’s old… He must be close to forty…”

They entered Sansa’s bedchamber and began pulling her few belongings from the wardrobe.

“Not quite, m’dear. He’s slightly younger than your uncle,” Mrs. Cole continued, “If there’s any of the sweet boy left that I knew; I gather he’s not as terrible as the gossip from the ton makes him be. It tends to be full of lies more than truth, as you very well know. Life changes and hardens people, poppet. However, just occasionally, there is a tenderness left.”

“Why are you defending him? You are not worried that he may… a man such as that doesn’t exactly have respect for a lady in his keeping. You believe I will be safe with him?” Sansa asked in fear.

“My lady, he did save you from those two men. I don’t know what I would have done to protect you had his lordship not arrived when he did,” the woman explained. “Am I positive that no harm will ever befall you? No, my dear. Your father is not here to protect you and Edmure can barely care for himself let alone a beautiful young woman in these parts. Letting the lands go, as Petyr said, has created many greedy and distasteful men of late. They would take advantage of a lovely girl such as you. In Petyr’s care, you will be better off under his protection. There’s a good man in there, I believe,” she added quietly.

Sansa crammed some of her books and small items she was able to take from Winterfell.

“And if there isn’t?” she inquired harshly wanting to tell Mrs. Cole that Lord Baelish was the reason why her aunt cast her out of her home.

The housekeeper looked at Sansa with sadness. “Then you are a resourceful and intelligent girl. You find your way back here, and we’ll sort it out.”

The women continued packing, and Mrs. Cole lamented, “I cannot fathom that he would ever harm you, child. He loved your mother to the point of romantic idiocy. Dueled for her, he did. Younger than you are now. Just a sweet, naïve boy. A little mischevious, yes,” she smiled to herself and then sighed.  “Alas, he’s a man grown now, and I’ve naught known him since he was cast out by your grandfather at the age of seven and ten. He’s come a long way from that young boy of such low birth. His father was only a knight and sent him here to foster and now… a marquess. How shocked Lord Hoster would be.”

Sansa closed the trunk, locking it as Mrs. Cole found her trousseau in the corner covered in dust.

“Titles can be bought and sold these days,” Sansa grumbled.

“Bought, sold, given and taken away,” Mrs. Cole smiled. “It’s the way it has always been, my lady, even with the kings of old.”

The game is an old one but one your lot has forgotten how to play — the one with the most gold wins, my friend.

The times were changing, indeed. Lord Baelish was right, and it did not matter. He was now high lord over the region, and she was beholden to him whether she liked it or not. Her uncle and Mrs. Cole were handing her over to him in accordance with authority.

Sansa wondered about Harrenhal. Her father and mother told wondrous stories about the grand estate, second only to the royal palace in Kings Landing and far more impressive than Winterfell in size. Her mother described Harrenhal's lavish balls and parties when she was a young lady in her first season. However, years ago, there was a great fire, and many died, including the late Grand Duke of the Stormlands, his wife and only daughter. Many rumored Harrenhal to be haunted and even cursed over the generations as far as Sansa understood that the estate was desolate with no lord willing to take it.

Perhaps, that is why the king gave it to Lord Baelish, a new lord by society standards. Even though Harrenhal was an estate with vast territory customarily reserved for a dukedom or even royalty, Lord Baelish must have done something to garner such a gift from the king, or it was more an empty gesture only because no other lord would take it. The cost of repairing and maintaining such an estate would require the wealth of royalty, not to mention the talk within the ton of a curse. For all Sansa knew, she was traveling to a house that was in even worse conditions than the one she currently resided.

Sansa changed into her last decent afternoon dress and wool pelisse. Regardless of whether the house was run down or not, she could not walk into a place such as Harrenhal wearing a tattered dress and shawl with the marquess himself. Mrs. Cole tried to fix Sansa’s hair the best she could in such a limited time. Sansa glanced in the faded mirror one last time and sighed, fastening an old bonnet. Once again, she was sent off to a new and uncertain home with a man she barely knew.

Two footmen knocked on her door, asking to retrieve her belongings. Sansa followed the men down the stairs where the Lord Baelish waited patiently.  Her uncle was nowhere to be found, and Sansa fumed at how easily the last family she had could disregard her so.

She embraced Mrs. Cole and begged her quietly to come and not leave her alone with the marquess, but the old woman shook her head with regret telling Sansa this was for the best. How did she know for certain? She remembered a boy of seven and ten, not the man standing here today. For all this woman knew, Sansa would be a prisoner, and God knows what else alone with this man.

Sansa looked again towards her uncle’s study, praying he wouldn’t allow this, but the door remained closed. Lord Baelish kissed Mrs. Cole on the cheek and offered his goodbye. Before the man could take her elbow, Sansa marched angrily outside to the carriage that awaited her.

A team of four beautiful black horses led a large and luxurious carriage. The footman opened the door when Lord Baelish caught up to her and offered his hand. Sansa glanced at it and refused to touch him climbing into the carriage on her own with little effort. Her dress was a bit too small for her frame now as it was a couple of years old and a tad short for her legs. Sansa had grown almost two inches. She had tried in vain to alter the hem, but there was no material left to lengthen the skirt. After living at Riverrun, she didn’t care anymore as there were no visitors to judge her out of fashion and ill-fitting clothes.

Baelish climbed in with an effortless grace about him. He sat across from her appropriately and tapped his cane on back, signaling the driver to move on. The rain had died in the early morning, but the scent of its freshness lingered. Sansa watched as the home she knew for over year disappeared in the distance, and now all that was left was the mysterious man across from her and an unknown future.

The River Road ran parallel to the Red Fork River and the rolling hills along the south that hid Harrenhal. The terrain was impossible for a carriage this time of year and dangerous yet to travel a lonely road for fear of highwaymen. The River Road and Kings Road were notorious enough with stories of many robberies, but there was little choice to make.

Hours rolled by, and Sansa felt herself drifting asleep occasionally until the wheels hit rocky areas jostling the carriage. Thankfully, there was an inn nearby where they would most likely stop and rest the horses. Another storm was brewing from the west, and Sansa wondered if it would force them to stay the night before making towards Lord Harroway’s Town and the turn to Harrenhal. Riding across the countryside would save them a day’s travel, but it would be even worse if they were caught in another storm in the middle of nowhere.

Since leaving Riverrun, the marquess had not uttered one word to her, and Sansa wasn’t sure if she was affronted or relieved. This man was probably thinking he made a colossal mistake winning that damned game of cards. Occasionally, she would catch Lord Baelish's eye only to quickly look out the window fearing he would notice her staring at him. He seemed to be as uncomfortable as she was even in the spacious carriage. Boredom, lack of sleep had them both closing their eyes and virtually ignoring the other.

Thankfully, they came upon the small village, and Sansa desperately needed to stretch her legs and use the privy.  The ground was deep mud in front of the village's only inn. Lord Baelish descended and draped his expensive cloak in the crook of his arm as his boots were ankle deep in sodden earth before offering Sansa his gloved hand. This time she had no choice but to take it, or she would sink and fall into the muddy ground. She stood on the last step, debating where to put her feet when the man decided for her, lifting her into his arms with ease carrying her to the wooden porch of the inn. Walking in the door, Sansa took a moment to calm her nerves. It was a gentlemanly act nevertheless awkward that such a man would be so familiar with her without asking permission.

It was late afternoon, and the inn was bustling with patrons ready to wait out the torrent weather. Lord Baelish took her arm and led Sansa inside. Many men were already drunk and shouting for more ale as they flirted openly with the tavern wenches. A few men eyed her salaciously that did not go unnoticed by the marquess.

“Ah! My lord, good to see you again. Let me find you a more quiet table. I have mutton roasting for my betters. This lot will eat any ole’ stew.  I have a good ale… and Dornish wine for the lady…” the portly innkeeper boasted leading them to a cleaner corner as the man, Brune, followed with a watchful eye.

Baelish led her to sit as he followed suit.

“Thank you, Bennings. The lady and I are most famished. I say, the storm looks to be upon on us, and I fear to take my lady through it to Harrenhal. Have you lodgings?” the lord asked politely.

“We are full, but I’ll kick one these drunks out for you, my lord. The best room, I’ll give ye,” Bennings smiled, showing his missing teeth.

“You’ll find me very grateful,” Baelish replied, tossing the innkeeper a few coins. Sansa was about to object and demand another room, but the marquess gripped her arm tightly, informing her to stay quiet.

“Thanking ye, yer lordship. I’ll have the room ready for you and your lady,” the man grinned wildly tucking the coins in his pocket greedily as he moved through the dense crowd. Brune sat across from them and watched the roaring brood.

Sansa yanked her arm from Baelish’s grasp and spoke lowly, “Why did you not procure another room? I’ll not share a bed with you.”

Baelish glared at her and lowered his voice.

“You’re clever enough to stay quiet considering our surroundings, so continue to use that brain of yours, sweetling,” he spat quietly.

Sweetling? How dare he use any form of endearment towards her. Sansa was about to retort when he cut her off.

“Firstly, kicking one drunken man from his room is enough. Oust two, and we bring too much attention to ourselves. I had hoped to make it to Lord Holloway’s Town where I have men on my payroll for added security. Here, we do not have that luxury,” he told her firmly.

“You are Lord Paramount…” she began.

“With only a footman, driver and Brune there. Not nearly enough protection, for this area is thick with thieves. Now, do as I say and stay silent,” he barked before a heavyset woman brought them food and drink.

The woman smiled seductively, and Sansa cringed. Dear God, this could have been her if those men took her last night. The woman left, and Sansa picked at her food.

“Besides, there is not a chance in hell I’m putting you in a room by yourself with unsavory men knowing you are alone. My decision is final,” he uttered into his ale. Spotting her scowling face, Baelish added, “I rarely sleep, my dear. The bed is yours.”

The admission didn’t make her feel any better. The idea of sharing a room, possibly a bed, with a strange man was unthinkable. Knowing the kind of man Lord Baelish was rumored to be, made it all the more impossible to consider. Sansa may not have a grand title anymore, but she was still brought up a proper lady, and this was something her father would have never allowed to happen. She could see her mother’s disapproving glare even now as Sansa gazed into the hearth.

If only she could get back to the north, she knew the people there were loyal and loved her father. Sansa felt she would find those kind to her circumstances. She would never again go home to her beloved Winterfell, but at least she could be with those like her. Sansa would not have to pretend to appease southern lords and ladies. Maybe in the north she could find some solace and happiness.

Other than comfort and fine foods, the Vale was a cold prison as the duchess, or wardeness as Sansa likened her, kept her under constant harsh control. Sansa was almost relieved when her aunt sent her to live in Riverrun, her mother’s childhood home. Surely Uncle Edmure could not be any worse. How wrong she was.

“You’re not hungry, my dear?” his soft voice pulled her out of her thoughts.

Sansa didn’t care for mutton, but it would a long time before eating in the morning. She forced it down, reluctantly with the tannic wine to fill her stomach.

A brawl between two men erupted, and swiftly Lord Baelish ushered her up the stairs to the rooms above. One of the tavern wenches showed her into a small room as the marquess followed.

“There is fresh water in the basin, clean linens and a chamber pot, m’lord. If you’ll be needin’ anything else, ask for me… Ellie, m’lord,” she smiled with a wink and Sansa refrained from rolling her eyes. Baelish gave the brunette a coin and closed the door.

The room was tight quarters that hardly had enough space for a small table, chair, and bed that would barely fit two unless they were very familiar.

“I say, there’s naught room for your trunk, my lady,” Baelish said, mirroring her observations. “Shall I retrieve anything you might need?”

The man laid his cloak, coat, and purse on the bed and stood in only his waistcoat and shirtsleeves. Sansa removed her bonnet and set it next to the basin in thought as she tried not to look at his purse. If she could get to a horse... Sansa played with the notion of cutting across the shallow river and up the countryside to the northern route of the Kings Road. If she were lucky, the men would think she either headed back to Riverrun or east to Lord Holloway’s Town. Her father and brothers were adamant about teaching the girls to ride well from a young age. With Baelish’s full purse, she could make it past Moat Cailin to her kind.

“No, I haven’t much that is presentable. I wish to clean up if I could have some privacy,” she said, hoping the marquess would play along.

“Of course, my dear,” he replied with a smirk and picked up the purse to her dismay. “I think I can entertain myself for a spell. It should be easy pickings downstairs. Brune will be nearby, so you need not worry about unwelcome visitors.”

He didn’t pick up his coat or cloak, for it was quite warm in the tavern. Lord Baelish gave her one last look and turned around, exiting the room with the soft click of the door. Sansa released a sigh she had been holding in and sat down wearily. Gazing at the bed, she thought it would be much easier to lie down and sleep for this silly idea growing in her mind was certain to be fruitless.

As a quarter of an hour passed, the stubborn and willful Stark trait would not let her rest. She didn’t belong in Harrenhal with his man. She did not want to go with him anywhere or be subservient to him in any way. A reckless plan hatched in her mind as she cracked open the door to see that Lord Baelish gave his word. Indeed, the man, Brune kept watch at the top of the landing. She could tell him that she wanted to use the privy, but somehow Sansa knew this man would see right through it and tell her to use the chamber pot in her room.

Sifting through the marquess' coat, she found his pockets empty. When feeling through his cloak, however, she noticed a hard lump. A secret pocket held a small purse containing gold. Quickly counting the coins, Sansa realized it was enough to get her to Moat Cailin possibly. The Lord Baelish didn’t keep all his eggs in one basket, so it seemed.

The noise was blustering as the men gambled and drank from below. Sansa bet that the marquess was most likely doing well amongst these men. Somehow, she felt that it wasn’t the money he enjoyed winning; it was the game itself. He loved to play, deceive and fool men to empty purses.

Opening the door wider, Brune turned at the sound and eyed her with a questioning.

“I would like to speak with Lord Baelish, if you please,” she asked meekly casting her blue eyes to the floor. 

The man looked at her suspiciously, but Sansa pressed on with the haughty air she used earlier in the evening. “Will you fetch your master to me, please? I will not go down there to seek him.”

The stocky man huffed in annoyance and moved down the stairs into the roar of the drunken rabble. Sansa immediately moved to the end of the murky and damp corridor where she could see a small stairwell leading most likely to the kitchens below.

Pulling her cloak tight and lifting her skirts, she flew down the stairs passing a barmaid and tall man rutting like animals against the wall. Sansa stepped outside, and her worn boots sunk into the mud. She needed to move in haste for her ruse would surely be found out soon.

Once in the stable, she almost tripped over a boy dozing off in a bed of straw. The stable was empty save her, the boy and several horses, including the team belonging to his lordship.

Only a dusty grey horse was saddled seemingly waiting for his master to leave, and Sansa smiled at her good fortune. She might get across the river before they knew she was gone. With effort and hiking her skirts under her arms, Sansa managed to swing her leg over the animal, mounting to ride like a man. This was not a fox hunt where decorum was scrutinized heavily as any ball. She was running away as fast as she could.

The boy woke to the clamor of the horse and its new master. Sansa quickly tossed a gold coin to the boy and brought her gloved finger to her lips.

“Even the Devil, himself, couldn’t make me talk for a gold coin, my lady,” the boy whispered in excitement for the prize of his silence.

Without wasting another word, Sansa rode out of the stable and got her bearings in the hazy moonlight. The wind was picking up, and she feared another storm was closing in, but now she had no choice. This was her only chance and she had to take it. Searching the star lit sky, Sansa found The Little Bear, as her father called it… and there it was! The north star pointed the way home.

With a jab of her heels, the horse gave a loud whinny and started to gallop towards the river. Sansa heard her name shouted from the inn followed by several curses from the man that had won her the night before and she knew she had been found out. With hope and luck, time would be on her side. By the time horses were saddled, she could put some distance between them in the dense countryside.

The Red Fork was the shallow river compared to her two sisters and was the only river that was passable without a ferry or bridge. The three rivers converged at Lord Holloway’s Town and then into the sea. Sansa needed to lose them and head northeast. The men would assume that she would go northwest to Fairmarket and catch the ferry there.

She was betting that they would think she was a simple girl but her father taught her and sister to ride and how to take care of themselves in the woods if they ever became lost. Living in the north was a far cry from the southern aristocratic ladies whose biggest worry was dirtying their satin shoes and being out of fashion.

Just as Sansa hoped, the river bed was shallow here, and her horse made its way without a lick of trouble. The distant inn's lights gave her hope as she galloped towards the east, praying the men headed westward to Fairmarket instead.

The wind grew colder as it whipped her hair from its braids around her head, making her wish that she grabbed her bonnet from her room. Sansa glanced back, and she made some headway from the river as she headed towards dense trees. Perhaps there, she could slow down and let the horse breathe. When that storm caught up, it would be better to find a little shelter under those trees. With any luck, she could follow the Blue Fork to Lord Holloway’s Town and take the northbound Kings Road.

Within the cover of trees, Sansa slowed her horse, letting him take an easy trot into the woods. Occasionally, she turned the horse around checking behind her, but there was nothing, not a sound except the wind through the trees and an owl singing its nightly tune.

Swiftly, something perked the horse’s ears and startled him. Ignoring his mistress’s guidance, the spooked animal reared up, and Sansa felt a blow to her side that bashed her clean off the panicked horse. She hit the wet forest floor with a thud knocking the air from her already corset-constricted lungs.

Desperately trying to breathe, Sansa felt two strong hands pull her muddied form upright until the face before her was one belonging to one of the ugliest men she had ever seen in her life. His skin, heavily scarred, matched the dirty and the foul stench of his breath, making her wince in disgust.

“Well, well, well…” the man chuckled. “What’s this we have here?”

The man raked his eyes over her as she tried desperately to pull away. Another male voice rang from the darkness and Sansa froze fearfully.

“Whatcha got there, Ranchold?” she heard a man ask from the shrubs.

“I caught me a lass,” he laughed, and his breath was even more rancid than before.

“A lass? Out here? Cor! Is she pretty?” another voice shot out from behind.

The man that held her pushed her into the moonlight as the others made themselves known in the small clearing.

“She’s covered in mud, but still prettier than any wench I have ever laid eyes on!” he roared in laughter. “Come on, girl, let’s have a look at you.”

He tore her cloak away, and Sansa shivered from the cold and feared to see the four men gazing hungrily at her.

“Lost are ye, lass?” a tall but thin man asked sarcastically. “Good, that we found ye. A pretty, young thing is bound to run into trouble in these parts. There are no gentlemen in these woods.”

All the men laughed darkly as they closed in on her.

“Good sirs, I want no trouble. Please let me go,” she pleaded miserably. “I was separated from my lord husband; he will pay handsomely if you return me safely.” The lie escaped her lips effortlessly.

“Lord husband, eh?” the foul breathed man chuckled. “What dandy lord would let his pretty little lady get so lost in a place like this… in the middle of the night no less?”

Sansa shuddered and wrapped her arms around herself. “They’ll be searching for me…”

The man was so close that his hand clasped her slender throat, and her blue eyes grew wide.

“Please, I have gold. Just let me go, and it’s yours,” Sansa shook desperately.

“Gold? Give it to me, girl, and I will let you go,” he smiled with crooked and missing teeth.

Sansa fished inside her skirts and pulled the small purse handing it to the man. He opened it and with surprise written on his face, counted the gold pieces inside.

“She tellin’ the truth?” one man asked.

“Aye,” he answered.

“You have twenty pieces to share. Please, you said you would let me go,” Sansa begged with tears in her eyes.

The burly man pushed her back, forcing her to fall into another man behind her.

"I said I would let you go, on my honor," he grinned. "But they didn't."

“What else is hidden in that dress of yours?” he said, sniffing her hair as his hands held her indecently.

“Nothing! I gave you all I have!” she cried.

“Oh, I think you have much to give us, girl,” the tall man laughed heartily and tore at her bodice, revealing her corset and chemise.

Sansa screamed at the top of her lungs and could hear her voice echo back to her. The two men tore her dress from her body as the other held her steadfast. She kicked and screamed as they pushed her down to the ground.

“This little redhead is full of fire,” the man hooted pulling at his breeches. “Never had me a proper lady before.”

He pushed up her chemise when Sansa kicked between his legs as hard as she could making him topple backward. The man howled in pain as the other climbed on top of her trying to thrust her legs apart. She wanted to kick him, but his hands were strong and kept her knees down. Drastically, she clawed at his face when he lowered his head to hers, and he screamed as her nails drew blood.

“Argh! You bitch! You’ll pay for that!” he yelled and slapped Sansa so hard across the face she saw stars. “Hold the whore down!”

Sansa screamed and screamed as tears rolled down her stinging cheek when she tried in vain once again and kicked the man on top of her. A fist connected to her left cheek, and everything went black.

Chapter Text

  

TDOB

 

 

 

Cold. It was all around Sansa, all she could feel. The warm weight that lay upon her had disappeared, and now a chill encompassed her body completely. A far-off voice, sounding like father, called her name. Sansa strained to see in the darkness as a dim star twinkled in the distance. A peace enveloped her as she felt herself drifting towards that calming voice. Finally, she was going home.

The star came closer still, and Sansa wanted to reach out to it, but her body refused to move. Father’s voice called out again, but it had changed somehow. He sounded different.

“Sweetling…”

Sweetling?

“Open your eyes, love,” the voice begged, and a sudden pain seared through her head.

Her fingers sunk into damp earth and everything jolted back in a flash. A voice that sounded like hers screamed as she kicked and hit the man above her. Strong gloved hands caught her wrists to halt their assault.

“Sansa!” the familiar voice called out, “It’s all right now. You’re safe. Look at me. Open your eyes,” the voice demanded, holding her wrists tightly.

Fearfully, she did as he commanded and saw the owner of that voice glaring down at her.  There was blood on his white cravat, and startlingly Sansa felt cold wetness all over her chemise. Her eyes followed her hands down to her body discovering it covered in deep red.

It wasn’t her blood, and the reality made her scurry back from the dark-haired man only to bump into something large and warm. Turning around, the dead body of the foul-smelling man lay with his eyes staring at nothing.

Sansa screamed and recoiled as if touching a hot iron. The voice behind her was trying to calm and sooth but all she could see as she tried to stand, where the bodies of four dead men littering the ground. The sight chilled her more than the evening cold.

Sansa’s eyes darted from one dead man to the next, to the man Brune cleaning blood off his saber before gathering the horses and the marquess standing near sheathing his elegant rapier with a look of fury on his face. Her stomach lurched, and she felt faint. Looking down at herself, Sansa was drenched in blood and mud. Her shredded clothes lay strewn to the side as Lord Baelish removed his cloak. No sooner had the man wrapped its warmth around her did she collapse into him.

The gentle rocking motion and fierce heartbeat opened her eyes. A strong arm held Sansa about her waist as dense trees gave way to a clearing. Her muddied feet dangled alongside the horse that moved at a steady gait. She could see Brune ahead with a few horses tethered behind him.

“You’re finally awake, I see,” the marquess grumbled, and Sansa had no idea what to say.

Thank you seemed an awkward answer in every way as Sansa thought better to stay silent.

“I will say this only once…” he began and the vehemence in his tone was menacing. “If you ever do something that stupid and dangerous again, I will not come for you. Cat’s daughter or not. I do not have the time nor the patience to chase after foolish little girls running off to get robbed, raped, and murdered in the wilderness.”

His grip on her waist dug sharply making her wince slightly.

“Do we understand each other, my lady?” he spat, and Sansa could only nod her head against his chest that heaved with anger. “Good.

Sansa had been sheltered her whole life despite living in the north. The people there had a certain respect for each other, and her father never worried too much that someone would genuinely harm his daughters. After her family’s execution, Aunt Lysa had never allowed Sansa to leave the Eyrie without a proper chaperone. She was rarely permitted to go anywhere for fear that she might embarrass them amongst the ton. The duchess kept a tight tether on her niece regardless of her strict and proper upbringing.

Uncle Edmure, however, was less and less mindful of her after months in Riverrun. Fairmarket was too far, and they only frequented a small village down the road for their needs. Even then, Mrs. Cole always accompanied her, but the villagers never paid them any mind.

Tonight, she was reckless and willful in running away into the unknown. She thought she could buy her way north but never thought it through. Some men would want more than gold from a young girl. How naïve she was. Lord Baelish didn’t have to come after her and was lucky to find her. Those men were going to rape her and possibly kill and leave her for dead.

The tears welled up, and a sob racked Sansa’s lungs. Hot and salty streams ran down her face, and she couldn’t stop crying into the marquess’ chest. The man’s grip softened, and suddenly, the ferocity left his voice as he hushed her softly.

“Sssh, everything will be all right now, don’t cry,” he whispered tenderly, leaning his chin on top of her matted hair. “It will be all right.”

Sansa didn’t believe him. Nothing would ever be right again. Tears fell unremittingly as she sobbed and held onto this stranger that saved her life not once but now twice. The roar of the sky erupted as it began to pour down upon them. She heard the man curse and commanded the horse into a full gallop. Sansa held onto him tightly fearing she might slide off. Rain mixed with tears, but she could see the faint lights of the inn just across the river.

A wave of relief came over her sore and shivering body. Once the rain came down, it made the autumn iciness of the night unbearable. Fingers trembled to hold onto the man even as they entered the stable. Brune helped her down as his master dismounted his horse. Sansa was more aware than ever that she was clad in nothing more than a bloodied chemise and cloak. The idea of walking back into the inn like this, with everyone’s eyes on her, was petrifying. Sansa’s legs wobbled a bit walking towards the door before arms lifted her into his carrying her across to the inn quickly.

Lord Baelish didn’t parade her through the pub but instead hauled her up the back stairwell, back to the room where she should have remained. Setting her down, Sansa sat in the wooden chair and held the soaking wet cloak tight. The man glanced in the faded mirror and huffed in annoyance at his drenched reflection. This was not what he had in mind this evening, and Sansa dared not look at him.

“Considering how little you are wearing, I can expect to find you here when I return,” he said curtly, and without waiting for a reply, Lord Baelish left her alone once again.

It felt like ages as she sat there in the cold, sodden cloak. Sansa could not move. The basin with water sat on the table next to her, and she desperately wanted to wash from her body the filth of tonight. However, a certain man could walk in at any moment, and so she waited to shiver in the chair. The latch of the door clicked as the marquess entered the room as soaked as when he left but wearing another cloak.

From under his arm and the protection of the cloak, he produced a bundle of several garments and laid them on the bed. Tucked in the corner of the room was an old wooden screen, and the man extended it open between the bed and the wall. Draping the wet cloak over the top, he kicked off his muddy boots one by one. When his hands went to the buttons of his coat, Sansa’s eyes widened and desperately looked away. She heard him sigh and move behind the screen. Agonizing long minutes went by as she listened as he discarded his clothing. Sansa spied his bare arm in the mirror, reaching for clean, dry clothing on the bed only to disappear again.

He walked around the screen, buttoning his pale green waistcoat and did not bother with a cravat. He glanced at Sansa briefly before taking in his reflection and slicking back his wet hair.

“If there is not enough water to clean yourself up, Brune will be standing guard just outside. He will have a maid bring you more. Shall I send up some tea, or do you need something stronger to take off the chill?” he asked so casually as if nothing had happened.

“Tea,” she utterly so softly that it barely passed her lips.

“Hmm… perhaps a little honey and whiskey just in case. It does wonders for consumption. I’ll return in an hour or so,” he added and left the room.

Sansa stood and let the wet cloak drop to the floor, the cream lining stained with blood. She was about to pull her chemise away when she paused, looking at the door. Quickly, she dragged the screen across the room, shielding her from any unexpected entrance. Sansa peeled the bloody chemise and threw it on the floor. That and the dress left in the woods were the last decent ones she owned. Glancing at the bundle of clothing on the bed, she saw a single piece of soap on top.

It took some time to cleanse the mud and leaves from her hair, and just as the marquess surmised, she needed more water. Brune brought up another pitcher rather quickly setting it just inside the door before closing it again. Sansa was finally clean and tossed the dirty water out the window into the rain.

Untying the bundle, Sansa gazed down in sorrow. Lord Baelish had brought her clothing from her trousseau. Before her was the light blue dress, her mother had made for Sansa’s wedding, long before she was promised to Joffrey. Her parents honestly thought she would be engaged before her first season was out. Indeed, the king arranged with his old friend the duke to wed their children when his son became entranced with Stark’s beautiful daughter. Sansa never dreamed she would become a princess. Then the king died, a revolution began, and Sansa never truly understood what happened. She never loved or even cared for Prince Joffrey, but it was a match that any young lady of the ton would wish for. She was a duke’s daughter, after all.

Sansa fingered the soft muslin and silks. They were years old and starting to fade. The last time she looked at anything in her trousseau, Sansa lived in the Eyrie. Now, she was a fair bit taller, and even though she became slimmer during her time in Riverrun, was not quite sure the dress would fit. She used the soft linen the clothing was wrapped in to dry herself. The stockings were too snug on her long limbs, but the chemise was so smooth that Sansa closed her eyes to the feeling. She had not worn something so fine in years, and it was only a shift for heaven’s sake.

Sansa set the corset aside until morning and slipped on the dress. It was short and noticeably so. With the corset cinched tight, she might be able to lace the back of the dress. Gazing in the mirror it was all too obvious the dress was old fashion and meant for someone else. Sansa wasn’t that girl anymore. She hadn’t been for years. The mark on her left cheek was proof of that.

It had been at least two hours since Lord Baelish left, and Sansa was exhausted. The candle was low when she climbed into the bed, pulling the rough wool bedclothes over her. The storm raged overhead, and Sansa wished it would pass quickly. She hated thunderstorms now and always dreaded them knowing peaceful sleep would never come.

Fatigue winning over, her eyes closed while her mind drifted to the past. She was pleading with the new king and his mother.

Spare them!

Mercy!

Mother, father, and all her siblings stood in the rain facing the firing squad. Sansa screamed and cried as a guard held her. A wicked smile formed on the king’s face when he gave the order.

“Fire!”

The gunshots rang out as the loud clap of thunder boomed, and Sansa closed her eyes and screamed. The guard was shaking her, but she kept pushing him away.

“Wake up,” Lord Baelish ordered gently.

Sansa opened her eyes, recognizing the marquess above slightly shaking her as she still pushed at his chest.

“You’re having a nightmare,” he said with concern written across his face.

The man was hovering over her on one side of the small bed. His shirt was loose, and his hair mussed from sleep.

He had been sleeping in this bed unbeknownst to her!

Sansa shoved him back hard, drawing the linens to her neck.

“How dare you, my lord,” she recoiled. “You promised…”

“I promised nothing, my lady,” Baelish retorted coldly. “You forfeited my kindnesses when you ran off tonight. I am beyond fatigued and refuse to sleep in that hideous chair for your benefit. You’re more than welcome to it.”

He turned his back to her and pulling the blanket over his shoulder.

“Go to sleep. I have no interest in raping women,” he added and then said no more.

Sansa lay frozen on her back next to him. Everything she had been taught demanded she get out of the bed, but she was also debilitated from the past day and stared at the chair in dread. Glancing at his back, Sansa debated whether to take the blanket and lie on the floor. He certainly wasn’t going to be a gentleman in this situation. It was chilly, and Sansa was sure she would freeze on the wooden floor.

Frowning, she shifted to the edge of her side of the bed, putting as much space as she could between her and the marquess. Sharing a room with this man was more than enough to compromise her in the eyes of the ton. They would demand he marry her, and Sansa winced. If he refused, the Marquess of Harrenhal would even be more notorious than his libertine reputation, and she would be a whore. He would still be in good standing with the ton because of his title and gender, and Sansa would be the scourge of any lady of breeding.

Men could practically get away with anything without tarnishing their character and some even getting praise for it. However, all women tended to be judged harshly regardless of title, and very few could save their reputations depending on whom they were associated with and money. Sansa had neither.

She yanked on the bedclothes, and the man had the audacity to tug back. She pulled again, and the marquess sighed harshly. All of a sudden, he rose from the bed and grabbed his now dry cloak hanging from the screen. Donning the finely tailored wool, he climbed back into bed, keeping his back to her. Sansa pulled the rest of the blanket around her and curled into her edge of the bed with a small smile.

That morning, Sansa was fixing her hair when Baelish sent up a maid to help her dress. Unwilling to sleep only in her chemise, made her once bridal dress rumpled and creased. Whom was she meant to impress at Harrenhal? His staff? It mattered not.

The girl laced her corset, and Sansa was distressed when the bodice was obviously still too small. Sansa did not fasten the garment before going to bed for comfort’s sake, but now, as she stood before the mirror, she did not know what to do. She had the girl do her best and tie it off but in doing so Sansa could scarcely breath, and she couldn’t move her arms in fear of tearing the delicate silk and lace.

Eyeing at her reflection, Sansa wanted to cry. This is how she might have looked had she married Joffrey minus the darkening bruise forming on her cheek. Had her father not rebelled, she would have been married to that awful boy and probably given her more bruises judging his violent temper. Her feet ached inside the unworn silk slippers that her feet were now too large. The girl in the mirror looked ridiculous, Sansa thought. Wrapping the delicately woven cashmere shawl around her shoulders to hide her laced back, Sansa went downstairs to break her fast.

Lord Baelish was already waiting as she sat across from him and his mouth twitched hiding a grin.

“Best be mindful of what you eat today, my dear,” he began. “You’re ready to burst out of that gown. That would be quite an introduction never seen at Harrenhal.”

The smirk on his face irritated Sansa as she ignored his obvious bait.

“I doubt your staff would be surprised, m’ lord,” she countered. “Considering the lewd women you are known to associate with.”

Sansa wasn’t attempting pleasantry or propriety any longer. Looking up, however, the smile on Baelish’s face was not the anticipated frown she expected.

The round woman from the previous night gasped when she set down a bowl of porridge in front of the young lady. The woman stared at the bruise on her face and then scowled at his lordship.

“I didn’t give her that,” he sneered. “I’m betting women receive far worse around these parts.”

The woman took her coins and moved on, leaving them alone. After a few spoonfuls, Sansa couldn’t stomach any more pushing it away and drinking a horrible tea that probably would taste better with honey and whiskey.

The meal was blissfully silent, and immediately, the carriage was brought around for their hasty departure. Lord Baelish wanted to arrive at Harrenhal before nightfall, he said. He lifted Sansa to the step avoiding the deep mud once again, but when she grasped the handle alongside the door to help herself in, she heard and felt fabric tear along the seam of her shoulder. Sansa sat down and huffed in annoyance. It seemed to be just one thing after another. She fixed the shawl to cover herself and waited as his lordship ascended the carriage.

They had traveled for several minutes when Sansa broke the silence. She couldn’t help herself any longer.

“Why did you bring this dress? I had others in my trunk. Why look through my trousseau?” she asked angrily.

The man did not even have the decency to look at her as he spoke, instead choosing to watch the countryside.

“I looked through your trunk, my dear. There was nothing suitable in there,” Baelish grimaced. “I won’t have you looking like a servant when entering my home and meeting the household.”

“What difference does it make, my lord? I look absurd in this dress that, not only does not fit me but is old and out of fashion. At least in my other clothes, I would be comfortable and able to breathe,” she spat viciously.

“Ladies fashions often bemuse me,” he contemplated, “Impractical, uncomfortable and really only for the eyes of men.”

“Then why am I wearing this?” she asked in irritation.

“I was merely curious as to how your old wedding dress would have looked on you,” he mused as he finally glanced at her with an unmistakable admiration. “You would have been a vision, my lady.”

Sansa did not know what to say to that and used her shawl as a shield, wrapping it around her bosom. The man laughed and leaned his head back against the cushioned seat.

Before noon, they reached Lord Holloway’s Town, and Sansa thought it was refreshing to see a real township again. The market was bustling, and everyone had a place to be it seemed. Sansa was famished and was disappointed when the carriage stopped, not at a place to dine, but a tailor. Mr. Wiltshire, it read on the sign.

The cobblestone streets were wet but thankfully clear of mud as Sansa descended the carriage refusing the marquess’ hand this time. It wasn’t Kings Landing or even the Eyrie, but strangers gave her an odd look when they passed by. Sansa’s ankles were showing, as her skirts were too short and she consciously pulled the shawl tighter around the ill-fitting bodice.

Baelish escorted her into the shop and Sansa sighed in relief seeing they were the only patrons. She wandered to bolts of beautiful fabrics to busy herself as the tailor walked in, recognizing one of his best patrons.

“My lord, lovely to see you again. How may I serve you?” the man, Wiltshire, beamed.

“Ah, I would like another one of those beautiful cloaks you made me months ago. Also…” the marquess’ head turned in Sansa’s direction, and she went back to looking at the fabrics, “I would like you to take the lady’s measurements. She will require a new wardrobe.”

Sansa’s eyes widened in disbelief. Why would he buy her a new wardrobe? What was she to him, a doll he could dress up, a façade to present to any guests in his home?

“A full wardrobe, m’ lord? Delicates and everything?” Wiltshire asked quietly as if he might offend the young lady in his shop.

“Everything,” Baelish stated firmly. “I want the finest, mind you. Only the finest will do. You know my tastes. Madame Berkins in Kings Landing has all the latest fashions, of course. Money is not an issue…”

“Oh no, of course not, m’ lord,” the tailor smiled. “And I’m a man of discretion...

Both Sansa and Baelish caught his meaning, shifting to look at him. Sansa then glared at her new benefactor. She would not be labeled as some kind of kept woman… a whore.

“Discretion? I don’t know what you mean?” the marquess feigned surprise. “The Lady Sansa and I were attacked on the River Road by thieves last night. I’m afraid they took almost everything, including my lady’s trunk. All that was left was an old dress, as you can see. Which brings me to another inquiry,” he smiled. “Have you a dress that is prêt-à-porter for my lady right now? She is terribly uncomfortable.”

The man squirmed a bit before answering.

“I do, my lord, but” he hesitated.

“But? I will pay you handsomely, Wiltshire,” Baelish offered in kind.

“You see, it was commissioned for Lord Frey’s new young wife… He will be expecting it in a few days…” the tailor muttered anxiously.

“Ah, well nothing is easier my friend,” Baelish said, drawing out his purse of gold coins. “You tell Frey that it will be a little longer, but you will give him a dress finer than the one he purchased for his child bride. She’s not a short girl, is she?”

The marquess paid the man more than whatever Sansa thought the dress was worth.

“Oh no, my lord. I’d say she’s about the same size as your lady here,” he smiled. “Not as pretty though.”

“Extra for your troubles. If Lord Frey is not satisfied, you send him to me,” Baelish grinned. “Now, if we can move along, I am in a hurry to return home.”

“Of course, my lord, of course,” the tailor smiled greedily. “Come, my dear. I’ll have my mistress measure you and fit Lady Frey’s dress. You poor thing, it must have been a terrible ordeal, robbed by highwaymen…. The marquess will bring some needed order to this county…” the man blathered on as he took her into the next room.

Over an hour later, the woman had measured, dressed, and fitted the new gown to Sansa’s frame. Lord Frey’s new bride was just a tad larger around the middle and bosom, but everything else was almost a perfect fit. Sansa wondered at the age of the new countess and gagged at the thought of having to marry a man so old that he could be her grandfather. Sansa would have drunk poison before letting her parents marry her to someone like that. Not to mention that Lord Frey, who swore fealty to her father, betrayed him for the king. If there were a vengeful God, that man would die a horrible death.

The woman was finishing the laces as Sansa looked in the mirror. The dress wasn’t beautiful, but it would do. She could hardly complain. It was better than anything she had owned in years. The dark blue suited her red hair and azure eyes. It wasn’t a ball gown but more suited for the evening rather than a traditional morning or afternoon dress. However, it was more current in fashion than her old bridal dress and everything in her trunk.

“There you are my lady, you look lovely if I may say so,” the woman smiled sweetly and reminded Sansa of Mrs. Cole. “If I know his lordship’s taste, you’ll have the finest wardrobe of any royal in Kings Landing.”

Sansa didn’t want to think about that. She didn’t want things from him, for that would mean she would be indebted to him in some way. However, she smiled warmly at the woman and thanked her properly for the dress and kindness.

She retrieved her shawl, leaving the old bridal dress behind. The shawl was the last thing she had belonging to her mother and could never throw it away. Sansa walked back into the parlor where the men were discussing politics of the region.

Lord Baelish’s face held a look of satisfaction when his mouth twitched into a smile before correcting himself. He bowed slightly and gave Sansa his arm before turning back to the tailor.

“Remember, send Madam Berkins her measurements, hair colour, ivory skin, and blue eyes. I want only the latest and best for my Lady Sansa. Come to Harrenhal to have her fitted properly.”

“I will, my lord, have no worries,” the man replied as Baelish held the door open for her to the busy streets.

Once in the carriage, Sansa spoke with reluctance, “Thank you, my lord. The dress is lovely...” she hesitated again.

“But…” he answered in wait.

“I do not need a wardrobe or anything from you,” she said softly not meeting his eyes.

“You would rather walk around in rags?” he laughed incredulously.

“No… but it is not for you to buy me such things,” she added. “I refuse to be indebted to you, sir.”

At that, Baelish laughed loudly, further angering her as she tried to ignore him completely.

“My dear, if you wish to wander about my house in rags, I will not stop you,” he chuckled. “However, I think I may know you better than you realize. I’m very good at reading people.”

Sansa scowled at him, “You nothing about me except my parentage.”

“I know you are still a marchioness and should be a duchess; I might add, regardless of what the king says. Ladies of your breeding do not wear rags,” he smiled at her turned up and stubborn chin. “You, my dear, should never be covered in rags.”

At that moment, her stomach growled in a very unladylike fashion, making him chuckle again.

“We’ll stop and have lunch. There’s a place I know where the food is actually edible,” the marquess grinned. “Come, take that sour look off your pretty face. That bruise is bad enough without you frowning too.”

“I wouldn’t have this bruise if it weren’t for you,” she said under her breath, yet he heard her clearly, and immediately the mood changed for the worse.

I see. If you wish, I can have you escorted right back to those men in Riverrun. We’ll see what brothel they’ll have you slave in first and how many men beat you senseless when you don’t please them,” he spat cruelly. “What say you?”

Sansa clutched her mother’s shawl for protection and could not answer him out of pride, making the marquess huff loudly.

Starks… pride, stubbornness, duty and ridiculous family honor… utterly ignorant of the world around you until it’s too late,” he muttered to himself.

The carriage stopped, and Baelish ordered her to stay inside while his man, Brune, acted as warden. A half hour passed when he returned with a basket and two bottles of wine. He ordered the driver to take them to Harrenhal as Sansa sat in confusion.

Lord Baelish was in a foul mood, and she dared not argue with him when he handed her a bottle. He placed a serviette on his lap before buttering a slice of fresh bread and retrieving a small chicken leg and began eating quietly, avoiding her stare. He pushed the basket over to her and said nothing.

After several minutes of silence, he glanced her way with an eyebrow raised.

“If you’re not hungry, my dear, we can stop, and I’ll give the rest of this to my men. I’d rather it not go to waste,” he growled. “Dinner at Harrenhal will not be until eight. I don’t need you fainting again for I’m rather tired of carrying you around the past two days, so eat something.”

He uncorked the bottle and took a long drink before taking another piece of chicken. Sansa’s stomach clenched in hunger and decided to swallow her pride for food instead. The wine was better than that at the inn, and she was tempted to drink the entire bottle to get tipsy.  She feared vomiting all over her new dress and instead took small sips to wash down her lunch.

Blessedly, the trip from Lord Holloway’s Town and Harrenhal was much shorter than she anticipated. Out the carriage window, as they crested a small hill, Sansa could see it, and it took her breath away. The house was grander than anything she ever saw in her life. It dwarfed Winterfell and even the Eyrie by comparison. Sansa had never traveled to Kings Landing, but if the palace was any more significant than this, it couldn’t be by much.

She had read the history and knew how old Harrenhal was. It was the original royal palace back in the day of the Mad King. A massive fire destroyed much when his grace, the Duke of StormsEnd lived there. Sansa could have never imagined such a stunning home.

Lord Baelish must be wealthy indeed for the house looked as if flames never touched it. It was not quite the old castle Sansa envisioned in fairytales with a drawbridge, massive stone towers, and turrets. The estate was significantly remodeled. Harrenhal had been given to his lordship in complete disrepair and he managed to turn it into a mansion that rivaled any wealthy family in the south.

The lake was visible behind the house, and Sansa could see craftsmen still working on the roof and many gardeners preparing for the coming winter.

This ancestral estate is where she would live now. This house with such history, sorrow, debauchery, and wars. This house was rumored to be haunted or even cursed from the locals in the Riverlands. This is where fate and the stars had brought her, and Sansa wasn’t sure if it was for better or for worse.

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

  

MS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The carriage made its way over a stone bridge towards the great house of Harrenhal as Sansa watched in amazement at all the buzzing of busy bees. The groundskeepers were preparing for winter, though she could imagine how beautiful the gardens would look come spring. Hedges trimmed in exquisite detail and flowerbeds just waiting for warmth and sunshine. Carpenters on scaffolding were still working on what appeared to be the west wing of the house, and Sansa wondered what it looked like on the inside.

The stonework still held elements of its ancient history but clearly, the late duke and now the marquess had made substantial changes from the old drawings she had seen in her father’s study. The massive walls surrounding the once magnificent royal castle meant to keep out one’s enemies were no more, but in turn for beautiful gardens with stone terraces. Where an old moat should have been with a drawbridge, there was now a bubbling brook with a simple stone bridge. The marquess had managed to turn this old, half-burnt and dreary castle into something fit for a king.

Staring at the grand estate, Sansa fancied if the rumored ghosts approved of all the new changes to their home. So many were the stories of all who died at Harrenhal. Sansa could hardly believe them when she was a child. Her sister was the one that loved the old northern faerie tales of the wailing banshee, changelings, daoine sidhe and the mischevious pucas. If any place could be ripe with such legends, it would have been Harrenhal back in the day.

Every aristocrat of who took residence here since the days of old met with an unfortunate fate. It had been deemed cursed, and since the demise of the Duke of StormsEnd, not a single lord was willing to take it. Such men would never admit this was so, but still, they refused the wealthy estate time and time again. Sansa preferred to believe the happier tales of the grand balls with ladies in silk dresses who danced with handsome gentlemen. Gazing at her new home, it did not look like a place filled with ghosts and goblins.

The horses halted the carriage to a stop. A footman opened the door as Lord Baelish stepped out and held his hand for her to follow him. All eyes would be upon her and Sansa dared not appear rude as she was a guest in his home. Her mother’s teachings were ever present to always be the well-mannered lady she was expected to be. Sansa took his gloved hand and descended to find everyone watching her every move.

Baelish guided her up the grand entrance just as the heavy oak doors opened, revealing a slender but stern older man with a deep frown upon his pale face. His posture was rigid as he bowed curtly and followed them into the marble foyer.

“My lord, we expected you earlier,” the man spoke and suddenly gave Sansa questioning look but dismissed her just as quick. “The gardeners shall be finished by tomorrow. However, the west wing shan’t be completed until week’s end. It took longer than expected for the new architect to adapt the foreign-designed water pipes that you requested. It’s ready for your inspection as is the new staff.”

The marquess removed his cloak handing it to the footman, and Sansa remained quiet watching the exchange between the two men.

“Have we acquired a housekeeper yet?” Baelish asked.

“No, my lord. Mrs. Ames is handling the bulk of the house staff, and I am taking charge of the rest. We’ll manage for now,” the man replied.

“Very well, Duncan. Lady Sansa should be able to take charge of the household in due time. A place such as this needs a proper lady,” the marquess smiled, and Sansa seethed with anger yet said nothing.

So, she was right. Lord Baelish was making her a glorified housekeeper in return for living in his home.

“My dear, this is Duncan. He has been the majordomo of Harrenhal long before I took ownership. Until I can procure a housekeeper, work with him on getting the staff into proper order,” his lordship introduced as he inspected some of the workers moving furniture. “Duncan, may I present the Lady Sansa. Niece of Lord Tully and Her Grace, the Duchess of The Vale. She will be staying with us as my ward.”

Sansa glanced at the butler nodding at him kindly and wasn’t sure if Lord Baelish was going to elaborate further or not. She did not want to appear impotent in front of this man, yet at the same time, she did not wish to breach etiquette. She couldn’t speak and act the way she did with Mrs. Cole and those at Riverrun. Harrenhal’s grandeur demanded a lady of a great house as The Vale and Winterfell. She pulled on her teachings and observations of her aunt and mother and waited for her benefactor to take the lead.

Seemingly satisfied with the progress, Lord Baelish walked back to her and grimaced.

“We must do something about that nasty bruise,” his voice softened. “Duncan, my lady is weary from our journey from Riverrun where we encountered some trouble on the road. Things were stolen, unfortunately. Take what remains of her trunks to…” he paused in thought with a hint of a smile, “I think the lavender room shall do nicely.”

“Yes, my lord,” Duncan replied with another curt bow and snapped his fingers at the footmen to follow.

“Come, my dear,” he chuckled under his breath. “Let see what they’ve done with my money.”

The sour man from the carriage had disappeared and this genial one had replaced him. The marquess had the ability to change his character in an instant, and Sansa found it an odd trait. She was in awe as he guided her gently through the foyer. Polished marble and rich mahogany spanned the architecture. A massive grand staircase wound its way up to three stories high as light poured down from the paned windows high above in the ceiling.

Lush greenery filled corners of the gallery, giving the vast space the feel of southern gardens. Lord Baelish was proud of his new and richly decorated home. He spared no expense in making it nothing short of his palace. The parlor was dressed in hues of blue and was quite inviting, yet everything looked as if it had never been used. Beautiful tapestries and colorful Persian rugs adorned each room with paintings and sculptures that only men of wealth could afford.

Lord Baelish loved color and variety by the way the house was decorated. Winterfell and even the Eyrie paled in comparison to the richness of her new surroundings. The scent from the numerous bouquets filled the air as he drew her into the music room. Sansa had not played the piano since leaving her aunt’s home, and Baelish caught the smile on her face.

“Do you enjoy music?” he asked with a strange look upon his face.

The piano was beautiful and more exquisite than anything she had ever played. Her fingers drifted across the ivory wishing she were alone in this room. Sansa would play for hours back home to her sibling’s irritation. It was the one way she could get back at them for all their teasing of her girlish ways.

Closing her eyes, Sansa’s right hand unconsciously played out a little melody letting the acoustics of the room embrace the sound. For a moment, she felt light of heart until his voice interrupted.

“Will you play for me, sweetling?” he asked. Sansa opened her eyes to find him appraising her in a way that made her avert her eyes.

Sweetling. Why did he call her that? This man should not be using such an endearment to a woman he barely knows, Sansa thought stubbornly. It was a simple request, which generally would not have bothered her in the slightest. The way he asked unnerved Sansa.

“If you wish, my lord,” Sansa replied thinly, sitting and refusing to meet his eyes.

Before he could utter another word, her fingers found the keys and the melancholy tone of one of Beethoven’s sonatas echoed in the room. Sansa focused on the music as her hands floated across the ebony and ivory. She could see Lord Baelish move closer, and Sansa closed her eyes again wishing he wasn’t there. Sansa pretended to be back home playing while her mother embroidered, and father read quietly by the fire. She could almost hear the children playing in the garden when a tear fell. For a slight moment, the world stopped, and she couldn’t play anymore.

The marquess didn’t ask why she stopped, nor did he seem to expect an answer of any kind. Only one word came from his lips, uttered in faint praise.

Beautiful.

Sansa swallowed with difficulty not wanting to cry in front of this man. She desired to be away from him, away from everyone in this house.

“I’m fatigued. I should like to retire… if I may be shown to my new room…” she breathed, avoiding his unwavering gaze.

“Look at me,” he commanded softly, and Sansa raised her head catching something in his eyes for half a heartbeat and then it was gone.

Baelish cleared his throat, and in an instant, he smiled, but it never reached his eyes.

“Come. We’re on the second floor in the east wing,” his lordship pointed out nonchalantly and started walking out of the room.

We?

Lord Baelish had a way of saying a simple word that struck a strange chord in her. It wasn’t exactly fear, for he could have taken advantage of her at any time in the last two days. He was an educated and worldly man, not born into a family but bought his way up. He was a gentleman in some ways and yet not in others. Sansa did not know what to make of him.

She reluctantly followed, feeling the stares of the staff. Surely, they were wondering why she was here. They certainly weren’t expecting their master to arrive with a lady in tow.Sansa picked up her skirts to catch up with the marquess’ long stride to the grand staircase. He waited patiently and took her elbow gently, guiding her up until they reached the second floor.

Everything in the house was ornate and beautiful, however, this floor was breathtaking. Thick rugs expanded the dark wood floors and the walls gilded with gold leaf with high vaulted ceilings.

Lord Baelish stopped and opened a door for her entry. The room was bathed in cream and lavender as soft light filtered through the curtains. It was prettier than anything she had from her aunt and uncle’s homes, but it still did not feel like it was hers.

“Not all of the rooms are finished, but this will do,” he stated quickly. “I wasn’t exactly expecting guests so soon.”

Sansa eyed his reflection leaning against the door from the small vanity table.

“I’m sorry I have inconvenienced you, my lord,” Sansa replied with a touch of annoyance. If she was such a bother, why didn’t he leave her in Riverrun?

He chuckled lightly, “Not so much an inconvenience, but…”

Lord Baelish hesitated, and Sansa was curious as to what he was going to say. Instead, he sighed straightening his posture.

“This room doesn’t have an adjoining privy. You’ll need to use the one down this hallway,” his lordship offered wryly. “I’ll send up one of the maids for tonight, and you can choose whom you wish tomorrow.”

Sansa nodded and wondered at the time.

“When do you expect me for dinner this evening?” she finally asked.

“I don’t. I’m afraid I’m not in the mood for entertaining tonight. I’ll see that Mrs. Ames brings your supper to you. I believe we’ve had enough of each other for now. Goodnight, my lady,” he replied coolly.

Just like that, he shut the door leaving Sansa alone.

Sansa did not know what to make of her new benefactor as she wandered a bit around her new room. It was lovely if not a little chilly. Looking out the large window, she saw Gods Eye lake. It was larger than she could have imagined with a small isle resting in the middle. A vast forest bordered the west bank of the lake that stretched many acres into the countryside.

Nearer to the estate, Sansa could see a few small tributaries from the lake and two large water mills at work. They had water mills back home but not with copper pipes running from them to the house. Sansa overheard some men talking about new science from foreign countries and laughing, but Lord Baelish seemed to put it to use. Duncan had pointed out that the marquess’ plans took longer than expected, and it piqued Sansa’s curiosity.

The gardens and terraces behind the house were more extensive than what she had seen when they arrived. A pathway led to a vast set of hedges and Sansa had to stare at it for several moments in the dimming light only to see that it was a labyrinth of sorts. The hedges were taller than two men standing atop of each other she gathered. Why would Lord Baelish want a labyrinth? It seemed an odd thing entirely.

It wasn’t long until a maid brought her dinner and helped Sansa undress. The small bath chamber had a copper tub barely large enough for someone half her size. Sansa was tall for a woman, nearly Lord Baelish’s height, and the tub was only useful for a full sponge bath. At least this time the water was hot and the soap gentle.

It was late by the time she finished bathing and wanted nothing more than to crawl into bed. Sansa hadn’t seen or heard from the marquess the entire night, and clearly, he seemed to be as tired of her as she was of him.

Perhaps he was second-guessing bringing her here, Sansa smiled. Maybe, in the morning, he would admit his mistake and send her back to Riverrun. Sansa giggled at the thought of the arrogant Lord Baelish conceding a mistake, but when she climbed into the warm feather bed, all thoughts of leaving Harrenhal vanished for a moment.

The linens were a fine weave and the bed so soft that she sunk into it as if wrapped in a cloud. It had been so long since she had a bed so comfortable, one that did not smell of must and dampness. Sansa pulled the bedclothes up and snuggled deep. The scent of lavender was on the pillows, and the heat created from the bed warmer lulled her worries away. Tomorrow was a new day, and she would take it one step at a time. Right now, Sansa wanted to forget everything and dream in this blessing of a bed. No longer were knights in gleaming armor or perfect gentlemen to save this sullen girl from her lonely tower. No, she was on her own – no family but herself.

It wasn’t the dreaded thunder that woke her out of a dead sleep. The room was silent save a strange sound that seemed to come from below. Sansa opened her eyes and felt as if someone had been watching her. She curled the bedclothes up to her face, and the scent reminded her she wasn’t in her old room anymore. This wasn’t Riverrun, but Harrenhal and the past two days rang through her memory.

The sound reminded her of something but couldn’t place it as her eyes scanned the room with trepidation. It felt as if someone was walking over her grave. The moonlight streaming through the curtains told her it was very late. The household was sleeping, and yet she was wide awake now. Moving out of her warm bed, Sansa put on her dressing gown and went to her door. Yes, something was going on downstairs. Through the door, it sounded like music?

Who would be playing at this ungodly hour of the night? Moreover, it struck her. The stories of Harrenhal’s curse played up her childish fancies. Sansa cracked the door open and peered into the darkness. The moon’s silver light glimmered down from the skylights above casting eerie shadows down the grand staircase. Not a voice or candlelight could be detected as her eyes peered down the hallway.

The music was more evident now as she stepped towards the marble banister and dared herself to look down. Someone was playing the piano. It wasn’t just any melody but the solemn one she played yesterday. The music room was directly underneath, and yet not a flicker from a candle could be seen. It was dark and quiet, except for the anger that came from below. It wasn’t so much the same sonata that gave her fear but the way it was being played right now. There was a quiet fury in the gloomy tune. Sansa was about to speak when one of the servant girls hurried down the hallway catching her by the arm.

“Sssh. It’s best not to let them know you hear them,” the young woman hushed as she pulled at Sansa’s arm.

“Who?”

“The spirits, m’ lady,” she whispered.

Sansa scoffed a little, “Someone is playing the piano downstairs, that’s all. Why at this time of night, it is unusual…”

“No, m’ lady. They come out at night in this place. His lordship might have rebuilt Harrenhal, but they have always been here only to remind us,” she said, dragging Sansa back to her room.

“I don’t believe in such things…”

“Well, beggin’ your pardon, you should. This isn’t Riverrun. There’s a reason why his lordship has trouble keeping staff here. They all leave sooner or later,” she continued to whisper as the music played on.

Sansa wanted to go downstairs and prove it, but the maid practically hauled her back inside her room and closed the door.

“Silly superstitions. I thought only northerners believed in such things,” Sansa huffed and took off her dressing gown.

The maid put her ear to the door and sighed, “Mrs. Ames says that when the living returned to Harrenhal, they woke the dead. I don’t think they like his lordship. Ever since he came, we hear them more and more.”

“How do you mean?” Sansa wondered tucking her feet back under the covers.

The girl smiled as if she found a new friend and sat next to Sansa on the bed, “Well, Duncan says this place is cursed. A couple of the footmen said there’s a torture chamber somewhere under the house when it was an old castle, but no one knows for sure. I think they were trying to scare the other maids. There are strange sounds that come at night, and then the music started. It’s always at this hour, yet whenever anyone goes down into the music room, it’s empty. Every time.”

“It’s not someone playing a silly game, you think?” Sansa smiled.

“When I heard it tonight, I came out thinking it was you that had gone downstairs. However, when I saw you on the landing…. No one had ever heard that song before you came yesterday. His lordship doesn’t play. There has never been any music in this house unless it’s this hour. Sometimes you hear sounds that seem to come from the floor and walls. Duncan says the gates of hell are under this house and that’s why the marble floors are so warm downstairs.”

Sansa grinned and leapt out of bed, “Let’s go see. Show me.”

“Oh no, m’ lady. I don’t go down there at night. You could give me a gold piece, and I still wouldn’t do it,” the girl shrank back.

“Well, I’m not afraid,” Sansa giggled and opened the door looking back at the girl. “Are you coming?”

The maid followed Sansa reluctantly to the landing but no further. The music had long ceased as Sansa crept down the grand staircase. Her heart was pounding as she reached the bottom, from exhilaration or fear, she knew not. The music room was dark, and Sansa was frightened to look inside, afraid a real ghost would jump out. Just as she thought, the room was empty. The piano stood in the middle of the room, casting a large shadow on the rug from the moonlight.

Sansa moved to the piano, as silent as the dead, scanning the room with wide eyes. The bench was cold to the touch. She pressed a few keys and waited. Nothing. Sansa smiled to herself. Someone was playing a game to scare the maids, and it was working. Just as she started to walk out of the room and loud bellow came from the floor freezing Sansa to the bone.

Turning around slowly, she half expected to see a ghost staring back at her for entering it’s domain, yet there was nothing. She was practically panting as her heart raced faster. Slowly, she stepped back until her feet slipped a little on the polished marble. Out of fear or stubborn determination to prove the maid wrong, Sansa pulled her bare foot from the slipper and placed it on the cold floor.

Only it wasn’t cold. It was warm. Sansa’s foot flinched as if it had been burned and slipped it quickly back into her shoe. A deep and dark chuckle reverberated from the floor and walls sounding like the Devil himself; furthermore, it was enough for Sansa to scurry back up the stairs to the safety of the second floor finding herself alone once again.

The maid had disappeared, and Sansa wondered for a moment if the girl wasn’t a spirit as well, there to warn her. Sansa ran back into her room and locked the door before jumping into bed and pulling the linen over her head. If spirits wanted in, a locked door surely would not keep them out.

Minutes passed slowly; moreover, nothing happened. The house was again quiet, cold and Sansa snuggled deeper into the bed. Dear God, not only was she ward of a man she detested but now living in a haunted house. She prayed that Lord Baelish would send her away tomorrow. She did not want to be here, regardless of how beautiful his home was. Sansa did not belong here, and she repeated that thought until finally, her troubled mind fell to sleep.

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

MT

 

 

  

 

Sansa found it odd when Lord Baelish entered the small dining room long after she had been served. Etiquette, that had been drummed into her since a young age, had Sansa, a guest of the marquess, waiting some time for his arrival before finally tucking in not wanting the food to go cold. He didn’t seem to mind nor consider the notion rude as he sat at the head of the table adjacent to her while a footman poured a cup of tea.

“You’re up earlier than I expected,” he smiled, sipping his tea as a hot plate of breakfast was placed before him.

Sansa raised an eyebrow finishing her eggs. “I don’t know what you expect, my lord.”

“Aren’t titled ladies prone to sleeping until mid-morning?” he teased tucking into his food.

Sansa scoffed, causing him to raise his brows in amusement. He seemed to be in a jovial mood this morning.

“You forget, my lord, I am no longer a lady of title. Even back then, I never slept late nor lay about expecting to be waited on hand and foot like some I know of…” she muttered testily.

Baelish barked in laughter, making her scowl at him. Sansa was in no mood for his games so early in the day.

“You are in quite the pleasant mood this morning,” she added not sure as to why she was attempting conversation with him.

He buttered a small crumpet and grinned, “Ah, it’s remarkable what a long, hot bath and a comfortable bed can do to a man’s disposition. Did you not sleep well, my dear?”

“Fine, thank you,” she quipped, finding her teacup utterly fascinating.

“The dark circles under your eyes tell me differently,” he pointed out, and Sansa hated his sharp observations.

“The bed was soft and the room lovely,” she offered plainly.

“I didn’t ask about your bed, my lady,” he smirked into his tea.

Sansa had enough of his games. “I’m in a stranger’s home and know not what will become of me. I suppose restful sleep wasn’t in the cards for me,” she retorted picking at the fruit on her plate.

Lord Baelish grinned and played along. “Well, if you wish to leave…” and abruptly Sansa’s ears perked up, “… I’ll not stop you. It’s a long walk to Riverrun; it’s best to get an early start, I’d say.”

If servants weren’t standing nearby, Sansa would have stood and slapped him across the face. Instead, she sat and fumed in silence. This man was no gentleman regardless of the title he held.

“You would have a lady walk across the countryside alone dragging her belongings behind her?” she sneered quietly.

He sipped his tea and didn’t even have the grace to look at her as he spoke, “I would have you stop this foolishness. I can see that recklessness in your eyes, my dear. You are not my prisoner here, and I shall not force you to stay. If you wish to leave, then do so, but you do it of your own accord. What did I tell you the night before last?”

Sansa did not have to think on it long. Lord Baelish made it very clear he had no intention of running after her if she disappeared again. Perhaps if she wrote to Uncle Edmure, he would send a carriage or at least a horse and rider for protection.

“If you’re thinking of writing your uncle, by all means,” he added, and Sansa wondered if mind-reading were one of Lord Baelish’s many strange talents. “I would be morbidly curious as to his reply. However, his tremendous debts, for which I shall be settling today may give him... arrière-pensée?”

Sansa seethed and wanted nothing more than to toss the china across the room, shattering it into a million pieces. Baelish wasn’t keeping her captive, but he wasn’t giving her a viable alternative either. No matter how his lordship worded it, she was trapped here, and Sansa despised him for it. He had, in no uncertain terms, bought her from the last of her family.

She stood abruptly. “If you’ll excuse me, my lord,” she said as politely as she could.

“Of course,” he replied with disinterest. “The morning room is to your right. The gardens may be a bit chilly this early. Do as you wish.”

Sansa was desperate for fresh air and made to turn left towards the gardens when his voice rang out.

“Stay clear of the labyrinth, Lady Sansa. It is quite dangerous,” he projected calmly.

Sansa rolled her eyes and walked out onto the terrace, pulling her shawl around her shoulders. Her faded rose dress was thin and worn, and Sansa should have retreated to the morning room as he suggested, but she needed out of this house even if for only a few minutes.

It was chilly, just as Baelish said, yet Sansa refused to let him win. By damned, he may be the master of the house, but he wasn’t the master of her, Sansa thought! She walked down the stone steps and watched the groundskeepers and carpenters at work as a distraction.

It had been unseasonably cold with too much rain this year and this season’s small harvest was proof. It would be a harsh winter in Riverrun and Sansa remembered the money Lord Baelish gave to Mrs. Cole. If she needed more, he said he would provide amply. For some reason, Sansa believed him. He was tender as a loving son to the old housekeeper and yet, Sansa wondered if her being here would make or break that offer to Mrs. Cole and her uncle.

Sansa did not know what to think anymore as she sat down on a beautifully carved stone bench. The terrace overlooked the lake as grey clouds drifted from the south. The rain was usually a good thing, but Sansa was sick of it. She wished winter was already over with spring around the corner. She could almost feel the sunshine and warmth when a gruff voice spoke from behind.

“Lord Baelish sent me to fetch you,” the old butler announced and Sansa sighed.

She wrapped her mother’s shawl around her shoulders with cold fingers and stood reluctantly. Obviously, she wasn’t meant to have any time to herself if the marquess could help it.

“You are Lady Catelyn’s daughter, are you not?” the man asked sternly, but Sansa nodded all the same. She wanted to correct this butler that her mother was, in fact, a duchess, but for some reason, Sansa felt that it did not matter any longer.

“Hmph. You best not bring your northern treachery to this house, girl,” he grumbled. Offended, Sansa rose to her full height yet remained several inches shorter than the older man whose eyes bore disgust.

“It is not your house, but his lordship’s,” she retorted, laced with ice. “As Lord Baelish mentioned yesterday, I shall be overseeing the household. If it is not to your liking, you may see to him about it.”

The man stood his ground and smirked.

“Nobles come and go, Lady Stark,” he sneered, “but Harrenhal is Harrenhal and will continue to be so after his lordship is long gone. This is an ancient house of royal blood…not fit for traitors or the lowly born.”

Sansa wasn’t quite sure what he meant by that. Duncan was nothing more than a steward over the estate since the late duke’s demise. Other than her and Lord Baelish, everyone in the house was low born. Baelish came from the ton, not a wealthy family but still a part of the peerage. He was not born a high lord but made so by the king. A sovereign gave all the nobles of the realm their prestigious titles at some point in time, which made Duncan’s argument powerless. Sansa did not want to defend Lord Baelish, given his reputation, yet somehow, she felt just as slighted as a traitor as did he for being a self-made man.

Defiant, she walked up to the old butler and glared at him in the eyes, “Well, tis a good thing that neither traitors nor low-borns, other than yourself, reside here.”

Sansa hated referring to the common folk as low born, but she wanted to put this detestable man in his place. Who was he to treat her so wretchedly? Sansa had been nothing but courteous since her arrival yesterday. The Riverlands were not quite the southern gentry and aristocracy her parents spoke of but clearly being a northerner here was a black mark as any. Lord Baelish had introduced her as niece to Lord Tully and the Duchess of The Vale but not the daughter of the late Duke and Duchess of Winterfell. Whether intentional or not, Lord Baelish did not point out her northern heritage at all.

She marched past the majordomo and made her way into the house, asking a footman where to find his lordship. The boy took her to the kitchens seeing Lord Baelish educating the staff about the new water system.

The water pumped from the water mill on the river, and the pressure brought it straight into the kitchen. From the dumbwaiters, it could be transported with greater ease to the upper floors. The women seemed most happy about this modern convenience, but Sansa still wondered at the set of copper piping that led up to the second floor of the east wing.

“Ah, Mrs. Ames, I wish you to meet Lady Sansa. She will be taking charge of the household for a time,” Lord Baelish said with a knowing smile at Sansa. The older woman lined up the maids and a few footmen as the new mistress came into the warm kitchen.

“Madam, tis good to have a fine lady in Harrenhal once again,” Mrs. Ames smiled warmly. “We are at your disposal. Some of the girls are new but do not worry; I’ll have them sorted properly. Any changes to the household that are needed, just come to me… or Duncan,” the kind old woman added as an afterthought.

Sansa grinned, perhaps she was not the only one that did not care for the old butler either. Looking around the massive kitchen, she saw a large greenhouse just outside that piqued her curiosity at what was growing inside. The scent of freshly baked bread and dried herbs hanging from overhead filled the air, and oddly Sansa felt she had more reasons for staying at Harrenhal than leaving. Spying the smug grin on the marquess’ face, perhaps that’s what he had planned for all along.

“Thank you,” Sansa replied to the old woman and smiled to the staff waiting for her approval. “I’m sure everything will work out fine.”

Sansa wasn’t sure what they thought of her. Perhaps, they expected a snobby, little rich girl or someone like her Aunt Lysa, which gave her a thought.

“My aunt, the Duchess, ran a very tight household. I hope you will find that I am not as…” Sansa paused, trying to find the right words, “rigid in that way.” She knew she needed to appear firm, but Sansa did not want to be viewed as a hard-handed harpy either. “The house appears well maintained, I’m sure Lord Baelish appreciates all your hard work, Mrs. Ames.”

Sansa glanced to her benefactor who had a look, was it pride, in his slight smile? She could feel a blush begin to tinge her cheeks when Mrs. Ames came between them and turned her face slightly in concern.

“My lord, you were right. Such a nasty mark on her pretty face isn’t it?” the woman said as she inspected Sansa’s left cheek. “Don’t worry my lady; I’ll fix that up with a little comfrey and mugwort. In a few days, you’ll never know it was there.”

“Thank you,” she uttered shyly but with sincerity.

“I’ll send Sarah up with a fresh poultice tonight for you. Leave it on during the night. Is there anything you wish for tonight’s menu, my lady?” Mrs. Ames asked, and Sansa glanced to the marquess. Would he dine again in his chambers?

“My lord,” she stumbled a bit, “I do not know your tastes as of yet.”

“Mrs. Ames, anything will do. Whatever pleases my lady. I’ll leave it up to you. If you’ll excuse me,” he answered and left Sansa in the kitchen presumably to do what women do.

Sansa spent the remainder of the morning with Mrs. Ames and found her very agreeable and kind. In time, Sansa believed she could grow a similar fondness she had for Mrs. Cole, but there was something odd about the old woman.

Some of the plants in the greenhouse were far from edible, and most modern doctors didn’t use the old ways much anymore. Sansa learnt much from her mother and caregivers in the north. They still adopted those old ways even though the new religion was accepted and practiced throughout the country for generations. Sansa had heard of women that were tortured and burned as witches because they were free thinking and wise. It seemed southern ladies were reduced to nothing more than glamour on a gentleman’s arm. A noble lady of good family was expected to be cultured but quiet, and Sansa did not know if she would have been good at that, especially all that she had been through.

Lord Baelish had one decent quality about him. He did not admonish her for speaking out even when against him. Sansa’s mother would have been embarrassed by her eldest daughter’s insolence towards a high noble, even if it was someone like the marquess. Before her family’s death, Sansa never would have spoken of ill tongue. It was always her sister who was reprimanded for such egregious behavior.

Footmen delivered the marquess’ lunch in his study upstairs while Sansa ate in the library. The man seemingly wanted nothing to do with her today, and Sansa tried to convince herself that it did not bother her. In the back of her mind, she couldn’t escape the feeling of abandonment in some way. He brought her all the way here and now could not stand her presence.

A couple of hours passed, as Sansa grew bored with her book. It had begun to rain outside giving the house a dreary feeling even with all the scuttling about by servants and workers. Lord Baelish probably would have given her a tour of his home yesterday until she demanded to be taken to her room. It was clear she wasn’t going to see him until dinner tonight, so Sansa decided to inspect her new home. As the new lady of the house, it would not seem odd for her to walk about, Sansa convinced herself, and set the unfinished book aside.

Footmen were lighting fires as she wandered, to warm the house in the growing chill of the storm that raged outside. The dining hall could seat forty comfortably and looked as if the room had not seen one supper.

I wasn’t expecting guests so soon.

The smaller dining room she broke her fast this morning was warmer and more inviting, Sansa thought. The sideboards gleamed with polished silver serving trays, chafing dishes, and gilded cutlery. In the servant’s pantry, Lord Baelish had the finest china and crystal just begging to be used.

Crossing the gallery, men were hanging a beautiful painting that covered the entire wall while Sansa gazed at it lovingly. Whatever else, Lord Baelish might be, he was at least a man of good taste. He had an eye for current artists, ones Sansa’s father never approved of, and that of the old masters. The rugs, furnishings, all were the most exquisite artistry. His selections did not seem to impress guests merely but were that of personal interest and taste. Somehow, if Sansa asked him about any one of the paintings in his home, Lord Baelish would be able to tell her about it and the artist in detail unlike most houses that just wanted what was the best and most fashionable.

As she inspected each room, Sansa found so many things that were foreign, leading her to believe that his lordship was well traveled indeed and a man of wealthy means. She heard her father talk of the smugglers and blockade runners that were constantly pirating ships and merchants he needed for the revolution. The night Lord Baelish arrived at the Eyrie, all the talk was of the smuggler that bought his way into favour with the king.

For all Sansa knew, Lord Baelish was partly responsible for her father’s failed revolt. The marquess’ father could not have been anything more than a knight, and now his son was one step away from the title of duke if his luck continued. It was most likely a significant reason why many noble families of the ton were not accepting of this new high lord. Success, money, and power for a man of lesser family name and means had brought him now to own one of the greatest and wealthiest estates in the land.

Sansa stepped onto the intricate parquet floor in diamond patterns with golden sunburst inlays. The ballroom was indeed a sight. Stunning crystal chandeliers twinkled above as mirrors, rich woods and tapestries graced the walls. Of all the stories her mother told of balls at Harrenhal, Sansa thought none would be a grand as one held in this room as it appeared now. She could hear the music play as ladies in folds of silks and lace spun across the floor in the arms of gentlemen with pristine white gloves.

Oh, it would have been lovely to have her first season in a place such as this!

Sansa looked down at her faded, old dress and sighed. Those days were long gone, and never again would she have such a moment. The gentlemen from prominent families were not vying for her hand now, and Sansa would be lucky to be a housekeeper or even a governess at this point with her reputation.

As much as she loathed being the paltry winnings of a card game, Sansa figured her situation could be worse. If Lord Baelish continued to ignore her, she could go about her daily business and sleep in a comfortable room at night. Until he married, of course, she smirked. Sansa wondered how long it would take him to cast her aside when the real mistress of the house came home.

In the music room, Sansa couldn’t help but feel a sense of discomfort. Last night, whether she wanted to admit it or not, was frightening. There, the piano sat as if pleading her to relax and play a song, but Sansa couldn’t bring herself to touch it right now. She was almost tempted to feel the floor wondering if she was dreaming the strange heat coming through, but there were too many eyes about her and instead decided to go upstairs.

Maids were cleaning and setting up other guest rooms as she walked across the landing. Was Lord Baelish expecting guests soon? She didn’t dare ask him. The chatter of servants was low, but Sansa could make out a few giggles and heard one or two comments about her dress. She tried to push those feelings aside as she used to do in the Vale.

Sansa never knew how hurtful ladies of the ton could be. Living under her aunt’s constant scrutiny was terrible enough, but Sansa learned to detest balls and parties of the duchess. Aunt Lysa was always trying to show society how far above them she and her son were, that every young lady should be honored as wife her son. Even when Sansa was introduced into society, her parents never acted as ridiculously as the duchess.

Those young ladies in their fashionable silks and lace were just as cruel as the handsome young men who treated Sansa as nothing more than a wanton. Daughters of traitors did not court proper suitors even if they were still the niece of a powerful duchess. So many times, young men would ask for dances, kisses, and try to steal Sansa away into the gardens. Eventually, Sansa became the dreaded wallflower and refused all invitations and advances in fear of her aunt’s retribution but more so because she knew they were only interested in one thing, and it was never honorable.

The west wing was practically finished just as Duncan said. Studying the house’s construction, it seemed that the guest parlors and rooms were located here as were the servant’s quarters above. The south and east wings of the house were meant for privacy of the master of the house. A few suites including the one Sansa occupied were situated here and at the far end were two sets of carved double doors and another across the hall that was partially open at the very end.

A footman walked by with a tray as a maid told him he was late with his lordship’s tea. The young man slipped inside the doorway and moments later hurried out again towards the stairs. The same maid entered one of the rooms leaving the door ajar and Sansa’s curiosity got the better of her. Peering her head inside, Sansa held her breath in astonishment. This wasn’t a bedroom; it was heaven.

She had never seen something so luxurious and beautiful. Sansa could spend the rest of her life in this room with never a complaint. It was three times the size of her current bedchamber, and that did not include the dressing room and small parlor. This was a bedroom fit for a queen. The walls were bathed in a silvery damask with dark mahogany carved trim with matching tapestries of soft, pale green that hung from the ceiling to the thick, velvety rugs.

Sansa’s feet sunk with each step and felt as if she were walking on a carpet of soft moss. The maid smiled and finished fluffing the pillows on the lavish bed, leaving Sansa alone in the room. The canopy draped down in layers of sheer linen and the same green tapestry giving it a majestic feel and Sansa had such desire to sit on that bed. Delicate satin in champagne, silver, and green covered the bed, and she was afraid even to touch it.

An overwhelming feeling told her she did not belong in this room as if the lady of the house may walk in at any moment and catch her, but Sansa’s feet could not move as she took in the splendor of the room. Sansa knew she should leave, but when her brain finally willed those stubborn feet, they took her to the dressing room instead of the hallway. It was larger than her entire room in Riverrun, Sansa sighed sadly. Dressed in the same colours at the bedroom, it held a vast vanity on one wall while the rest lay empty waiting for the wardrobe of the new Marchioness.

Sansa felt a twinge of jealousy. Her own mother, a duchess, never had a room as grand as this. Walking back into the bedchamber, Sansa noticed two separate doors on the opposite wall. One had to be the connecting door to the marquess’ rooms, and the other was a mystery. Hoping Lord Baelish was still in his study; Sansa moved to the first door and found it locked. The second door of the other side of the bed opened, and Sansa poked her head inside with wonder.

It was a private bath with a massive copper tub trimmed in painted porcelain. There was a strange warmth in here that left a hint of condensation on the smooth white marble, and yet the fireplace was not lit. The tub had a fixture next to it and a pipe that cut into the marble floor leading to the wall by the window. Sansa studied the oddity and deduced it was meant to drain the water out, which would explain the pipes that she thought led up to the second floor.

“Rather ingenious, isn’t it?” a voice behind drawled making Sansa scream.

Lord Baelish grinned as he leaned against the doorway leading to his bedchamber. Sansa was caught red-handed in a place she knew she was never meant to pry. She could not form a single word in her defense as she stood frozen next to the bathing tub.

“It amazes me how far behind the times we are in this damned country,” he mused as he slowly walked towards her. “Romans had sophisticated aqueducts and baths long before our purported superiority and we’re just now catching up. I’ve invested quite a bit in the new powers of steam, much to the ridicule from many lords in the ton. Alas, I have clean and heated water while they are still using wells and chamber pots.”

Sansa did not know what to say. Lord Baelish didn’t appear to be upset she had entered his private chambers without consent and continued as if he had taken her on a tour of the house all along.

“This is the only bath with water that can be pumped in. See the handle here?” he pointed to the fixture with pride of this modern amenity. “Saves the time of having to lug up buckets of water. This valve here drains it to a pipe just outside. However, this is something every man… and lady… should have in this day and age.”

Sansa relaxed a little and tried not to laugh at a man so proud of his bath and followed him to an odd corner of the room that looked like a wardrobe. He opened the door, and Sansa smirked.

“It’s… a privy,” she said in confusion. It was polished wood with a porcelain basin with an odd hole in the bottom, but a privy all the same.

“Yes and no. It’s called a water closet. Ah, but do you smell that?” he grinned like a boy with a new toy.

“Smell what?” This was the strangest conversation she ever had in her life.

“Exactly,” he grinned and pulled a long cord and a rush of water drained in the basin down the pipe. “Never could stand the smell of shite. I had my townhouse in Kings Landing fitted with one of these a year ago. How anyone can abide an old privy is mad. The stench in that city is bad enough. Now with these modern boilers, plumbing, steam engines, that a northerner invented, I might add, one can alleviate illnesses with better sanitation, not to mention the uses in industry…”

At any other time, Sansa might have been impressed with modern advances, especially after having to share a privy with several boys in Winterfell. However, being in such a private room with this man was too much. Sansa was still raised a lady, and it was inappropriate for her to be here at all let alone with a man.

“I apologize, my lord. It’s inexcusable of me to pry into your private chambers,” she muttered with eyes cast down. 

Sansa should have remained silent for the marquess would have continued rambling on about modern science and most likely forgotten she had intruded into his privacy. Now, he was quiet and observing her in that odd way of his. Sansa cursed herself for drawing his attention to her.

“I assume you have toured the rest of the house?” he smirked.

There was no point in lying, she thought. “Yes, my lord,” she answered.

“Good, saves me the time,” he said, walking past her into his future wife’s bedchamber as Sansa followed. “Now that you know where everything is, I gather you’ll have no trouble managing the house while I’m gone.”

Sansa stopped in her tracks by the vast windows overlooking the lake and labyrinth.

“Where are you going?”

She couldn’t disguise the fear in her voice.

“I’m inspecting the harvest and collecting taxes. The Riverlands have been in incompetent hands for too long,” he replied, turning towards her. “Many things need to be righted before winter sets in… before I head back to Kings Landing…”

“You’re leaving me here all winter?” Sansa said to herself more than to him.

Lord Baelish crossed the room and stood before her with a look of curiosity.

“I haven’t decided what I’m to do with you just yet.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

MB

 

 

 

 

 

 

                              

Dinner was a quiet affair. Sansa focused all her energy on the plate of food and wine before her to avoid conversation with the man that watched her with a strange curiosity. The footman refilled her glass several times, and occasionally the marquess would raise his eyebrows in silent questioning. Sansa did not care what he thought. It had been a long time she had a decent wine and rather felt like indulging for once. Perhaps being tipsy would lessen her frustration at being here with him.

Lord Baelish was leaving the following morning and expected to be gone for at least a fortnight, he told her. Sansa would be left to her own devices in this enormous house, and she wasn’t quite sure how she felt about that. She didn’t have the confidence to manage a household such as this. How her mother ran Winterfell was a hazy memory at best, and Sansa tried to draw from her time at The Eyrie however vowing never to behave like her aunt. Mrs. Ames seemed very pleasant and accommodating, but having to deal with Duncan, rattled Sansa’s nerves. She very much needed to focus on something, anything else.

“Am I allowed to go riding, or are you worried that I may steal a horse and fly back to Riverrun?” she asked, pushing a piece of asparagus around on her plate.

Baelish smiled sardonically, “I don’t doubt your willfulness.” He sipped his wine, observing her over the rim of the crystal. “I’m betting that you won’t.”

“How much are you willing to lose?” she fired back softly.

He chuckled at that and seemed to enjoy their battle of wits.

“I never lose, my dear,” he mused and stood up, placing his serviette on the table. “Although please, prove me wrong. I would enjoy it immensely. Ride if it pleases you. Be careful of the woods; I hear they are haunted with ghosts and goblins.”

Lord Baelish walked behind Sansa’s chair, pulling it out for her to stand. She thought he was going to bid her goodnight when instead, he took her arm and led her into the library where a roaring fire crackled in its warmth.

Sansa picked up her book from where she left it that afternoon and made herself cozy on the sofa when she saw Baelish pour a brandy and relax into a leather chair nearer to the fireplace as he opened the widely published news periodicals. The post had come that afternoon from town with a bundle for the marquess which seemed to occupy his time in his study as she wandered his grand house.

Lord Baelish didn’t offer her a nightcap, and Sansa felt as though he had judged her on how much wine she drank at dinner. Rising subtly, Sansa crossed to the sideboard pouring a small glass of sherry.

“I think you’ve had more than enough this evening,” he chided lightly from behind his paper.

“You know nothing about me. I can hold my drink,” Sansa retorted with the same tone and returned to her spot on the divan.

“I don’t know which would be worse to bear,” he drawled, “that you would pick up bad habits from Edmure… or your aunt.”

The scent of a cigar drifted across the room, making Sansa wrinkle her nose. Her father and brother smoked, and she always detested the smell.

“Does it bother you, sweetling?” he asked, his eyes never leaving the paper.

“No,” she lied.

“You’ll have to give more effort to lying if you’re going to live around me,” he mused after a moment snuffing out the tobacco.

Sansa raised her book to cover her smile. How strange it was to smile, considering her situation. There were moments when the marquess was tolerable in his swift wit and determination to ruffle her feathers. It didn’t seem to bother him in the slightest when she attempted to toss it right back at him. Sansa wondered if he spoke to everyone in this manner.

“Are there any particular instructions you would like me to follow in your absence, my lord?” Sansa asked, changing the subject quickly and then smirked, “That is if I haven’t run off after you leave and set fire to the place.”

The moment the words fell from her mouth, Sansa was left mortified. Was she actually flirting with him? Sansa cursed herself immediately. Too long, had she been able to speak freely with Mrs. Cole and her uncle without any thought of upholding decorum or fearing retribution as it had been with her Aunt Lysa. Harrenhal was not her home, and Sansa could hear her mother’s voice warning her.

Her blue eyes nervously darted over to see his paper fold down partially as a pair of green eyes stared back, filled with mirth.

Sansa couldn’t hold his gaze even though it only lasted for a moment. Abruptly, he flicked up the newspaper, but she swore that he was smiling behind it.

“I knew I should have left that painting in my townhouse. Such a waste,” Sansa could hear a peal of slight laughter in the marquess’ voice.

What was happening here? Was Lord Baelish trying to make her soften to him, or was she enjoying bantering with him? Sansa focused on her book, but his presence was overwhelming as he sat quietly reading by the fire. Uncle Edmure wasn’t much of a conversationalist, even in his rare moments of sobriety and spending time with Mrs. Cole was different entirely. Being in the company of someone new, especially a gentleman, after so long was a bit refreshing.

He is the reason Aunt Lysa cast you out. He is the reason you are here against your will.

Yes, Sansa convinced herself. You are not supposed to like him.

This man is a cheat and a liar. Lord Baelish was a known smuggler, profiteer off her father’s rebellion and advisor to the king she loathed. Sansa had every right to hate him. He could dress her up in new fashions and hold her up in a beautiful house, but it was still nothing more than a prison.

She downed the sherry and ignored him with her book.

It must have been late, for Sansa thought she had read the same paragraph several times over. Her eyes were heavy and blinked tiredly. Too much wine at dinner, that’s what it was. More so, she should not have drunk the sherry either. Uncle Edmure was soused almost every night while Sansa chose not to imbibe to have one sober person in the household besides Mrs. Cole. It seemed that Sansa could not hold her drink after all, and the effects of the wine had taken its hold quickly.

Sansa wasn’t sure when she dozed off on the sofa with the book resting on her lap. She didn’t quite hear her name when the man lightly shook her shoulder before pulling her up. Her head was light and fuzzy, and her feet refused to obey at all. It was as though the last few days had finally caught up with her.  All Sansa wanted was her bed and to never leave it again.

“Papa, may I please stay up a little longer?” she whimpered and rested her head on her father’s strong shoulder.

He chuckled softly, lifting her into his arms. “No my darling, it’s bedtime for you.”

Sansa wrapped her arms around his neck as he carried her upstairs. Arya never liked Father to coddle her even when she was very little. Sansa, however, loved it when Father would let her sit on his lap or give her kisses. Sansa hoped she could find a man as good as him. He was a wonderful man and loved her mother, dearly.

As her body was laid down on the feather bed, Sansa refused to let her arms go from around his neck.

“Promise me…” she muttered.

“Anything, sweetling,” he murmured in reply.

“Don’t me leave again… I don’t want to be alone anymore.”

Hands gently peeled her arms away and pulled up the bedclothes. Sansa could feel tender fingers caress her face when lips met her forehead. Warm breath that smelled of mint and brandy was not her father’s and lingered near her face as she fell deeper into that sweet sleep.

“Oh, sweet girl, what am I to do with you?”

 


 

  Her head was pounding when she woke. Never again, Sansa promised herself, that she would ever drink that much ever again. It must have been late morning judging by the light from her windows as she pushed herself from the soft bed and a little knock sounded on her door.

“Come in,” she groaned, as one of the maids entered with a tray.

“Beggin’ your pardon, m’lady. Mrs. Ames told me to come and wake you,” the shy girl said, placing the tray down on the table.

“What is the time?”

“Oh, nearly noon, miss,” the maid spoke, setting up the breakfast.

Noon? Heavens, she never slept this late unless in bed with illness. Sansa tied her dressing gown around her waist and sat down, gazing at the bread and fruits with relief. She would never have been able to stomach porridge this morning. The tea was hot and soothing, and Sansa debated whether to stay in her room today.

“Mrs. Ames said if you’re feelin’ up to it, that she would like to go over some of the household needs this afternoon and Mr. Duncan, wanted to speak with you as well,” the girl added timidly as if waiting to be scolded by her new mistress.

Sansa sighed, “Very well. Tell them I will see to them in an hour.”

Another maid came later to help her dress, as Sansa decided to meet with Duncan first.

Might as well get the worst part over with first, she thought while descending the stairs. Sansa spotted the butler with two footmen and waited patiently. Duncan knew she was there, and yet he kept her purposefully waiting. She couldn’t imagine Aunt Lysa waiting for any servant; however, Sansa held her tongue.

The old majordomo gave his orders and finally turned to his new and very young mistress with a grim expression.

Sansa held her chin up and straightened her spine, trying desperately to channel her mother’s posture.

“You wished to speak with me?” she spoke with a voice not entirely her own.

Duncan smirked, “Yes. Lord Baelish left instructions for you in his study. He will return in a fortnight and told me that the tailor is expected around that time with your new wardrobe from Kings Landing. He would like you to make use of his absence in the education of managing your new home.”

Not once did he address her as lady or as his superior in any way, but Sansa decided to let it go for now. Duncan, it seemed, was not going to let his power go easily or quickly, especially to a woman thrice his junior.

“I’m quite well read on Harrenhal, Duncan, thank you,” Sansa began, “And you needn’t worry yourself about the handling of his lordship’s affairs of the estate. My mother and aunt were excellent tutors, both duchesses from great houses. I’m sure it will be no time at all before I have a firm grasp of the needs of… my new home, as you so put it. I trust that all the staff will aid me in my role here. If there are any misrepresentations of Lord Baelish’s directions given to me… well, I will speak to him when he returns home. Surely, he expects, as do I, the complete cooperation of the household.”

Sansa smiled as if she had won a small battle. Lord Baelish expected her to take charge of his house, and so she shall. She wouldn’t allow this coarse old man to walk all over her. The butler looked her up and down in her worn dress and smiled back, but it was far from pleasant and enough to chip away at her newly won satisfaction.

“My lady, I think we both know why you are here. I am not as ignorant of the marquess as you seem to be,” he smirked again. “The daughter of a northern traitor is no lady no matter what titles they possess. Learn what you can, for it will be of little use. I expect you’ll be on your way before spring… once he tires of you.”

Sansa was speechless. Never in her life had a servant been so openly rude and disrespectful to her. She had her share of snickers and hateful gossip at the Eyrie along with lewd gapes from men in the county, but it was something she always swept under the rug. This man that should be following her orders, clearly was never going to accept her as anything other than some plaything his lordship drug home one day.

“You assume too much,” Sansa mustered drawing on some courage, “You should be wary of northerners. We’re a strong sort than the weak folk of the Riverlands. You would never survive a day in Winterfell. As for Lord Petyr, I think he will be interested to know how kind you have been to me in his absence.”

Sansa turned on her heel and didn’t give the man a chance to retort. She was scared of him but dared not to show it. When entering the kitchens, Sansa took a deep sigh of relief. It was going to be a long two weeks with that man and wished for Lord Baelish’s speedy return.

“How’s your head, my dear?” a kindly voice echoed behind Sansa.

Mrs. Ames had a basket of potatoes that seemed far too heavy for a woman her age to carry.

“I’ll not touch of a drop of wine for a week,” Sansa smiled, feeling entirely at ease with the woman.

“Good taste, his lordship has,” she laughed. “Too good to stop at one glass, I wager.”

“Yes,” Sansa laughed softly.

She liked Mrs. Ames very much. The thin, older woman was half the size of Mrs. Cole but full of the same sharp spirit that made living at Riverrun bearable. The kitchen was warm and inviting as Sansa sat with the female servants making bread as others peeled potatoes. The girls seemed a bit shocked when Sansa pushed up her sleeves and started kneading the dough with practiced hands.

Being raised a lady with all the proper teachings, Sansa still loved to spend time in the kitchens at Winterfell mainly for the scent of fresh bread and the warmth during colder days. The kitchens were always alive with chatter and laughter from the women that worked there. In Riverrun, it was a welcome distraction to the dreariness of the endless days with not a soul to talk to.

If anything were going to make her stay at Harrenhal pleasant, it would be to have a good rapport with the female staff of the house. There was always nasty talk of her Aunt Lysa at the Eyrie and for good measure. The Duchess of the Vale was not a kind woman in any sense of the word except to her only son.

Her mother, Lady Stark, was respected amongst the household and the small folk. She was a generous and kind woman and never treated the servants poorly. Her daughter wasn’t afraid to roll up her sleeves. Winterfell wasn’t as grand as Harrenhal, but Sansa wanted to emulate a kind and fair mistress as her mother had been. Catching the busy bees with honey would be an easier task than that of the sour, old butler.

Time flew by, yet when Sansa sat for dinner, the mood had changed drastically. Suddenly, the house was cold and quiet as the servants went about their duties for the new mistress of the house. There was no conversations to be had, and Sansa wondered how frequently Lord Baelish took his supper upstairs.

The night was lonelier still as she sat in the library reading in his chair by the fire. Sansa had only met the man a few days ago, and oddly, she already missed his company, whatever it was. This house was too large for one girl all alone. Sansa understood why he was leaving to Kings Landing before the snows came. To be stuck here alone all winter would be maddening, she thought.

The idea was depressing because it was precisely what was going to happen to her. Sansa looked around the library and wondered how many days it would take for her to read every tome on his shelves before she lost her mind. The light-hearted bantering from the kitchens that afternoon warmed her a little. Yes, Mrs. Ames and the servant girls were lovely. She could spend time with them. It was the endurance of lonely nights until…

Until what? Until he returns to spend a week or two and leave you again?

Sansa shrugged off that voice inside her head. She had a grand home, warm bed, and at least a few friendly people to help fill her days. What else did she need? Sansa should be so lucky. If either her uncle or aunt had refused to take her after the executions…

Well, she thought, I could be worse off.

If Lord Baelish were true to his word and made her mistress of the household, Sansa wouldn’t have to care for a drunken uncle every day at least. If his lordship rarely visited Harrenhal, she could do as she pleased for the most part. It didn’t have to be as bad as it appreared, Sansa tried to convince herself.

A footman lit the way up the stairs, and the place was quiet as the dead. It wasn’t long this time before Sansa fell asleep. No whispers, nor ghostly music drifted up from downstairs, just peace. Closing her eyes, Sansa began to resign herself to her new situation. If she could deal with Aunt Lysa and Uncle Edmure, she could handle the Marquess of Harrenhal.

The days began to pass as Sansa grew accustomed to the ways of the grand house. She was grateful for the skills learned from her family, and the tasks became more relaxed each day. Sansa spent most of her time with Mrs. Ames and the female servants, ignoring Duncan’s disapproving eyes on her. Only once did he bark at her when she wandered too close to the massive labyrinth behind the house. It was forbidden, Lord Baelish said.

Stay clear of the labyrinth, Lady Sansa. It is quite dangerous.

Sansa stood in front of the grand archway leading into the maze. The hedges were taller than she estimated and in need of pruning. The greenery looked as though gardeners hadn’t touched it in many years. Overgrown and full of weeds, she peered through the opening that only showed a long corridor.

Why would it be dangerous? Dangerous of getting lost for hours, perhaps, but Sansa always loved puzzles and games. The overgrowth couldn’t possibly be that treacherous, but as instructed, Sansa didn’t attempt any further. Lord Baelish would surely hear that she disobeyed his command.

It appeared with all the other groundwork; they didn’t have any time for the labyrinth before winter. It must have been built long before the marquess had taken ownership, she surmised. Maybe by spring, if she was still here, she could ask for the groundskeepers to fix it up as it once was. It must have been impressive back in the day. Sansa imagined giddy lords and ladies trying to find their way out on a sunny afternoon, stealing kisses in the shadows.

Once again, dinner was lonely and quiet. Sansa could hear a hint of laughter and chatter and knew some of the servants were probably eating in the kitchens past the pantry. Several dreary minutes passed, and she heard it again. Setting down her utensils, Sansa made a decision. Quietly, she picked up her plate and wine glass while shushing the footman as he tried to take it from her.

Sansa pushed open the pantry door, and the chatter died instantly as a few of the footmen stood up in shock.

“Please, sit,” Sansa commanded sweetly. Surprised eyes stared at her dumbfounded as to why the mistress of the house was in the kitchen instead of the ornate dining room. “I don’t believe I can stand another supper in that room by myself. May I join you?”

Mrs. Ames smiled widely while a few of the maids giggled, but the men didn’t seem to know how to act. Sansa spied Duncan across the room with a scowl on his face as she sat down in an empty chair just to spite him. One of the young footmen helped scoot her chair in before glancing at the old butler as if waiting for him to object.

The awkward silence persisted for a few minutes, and Sansa knew she needed to break the ice a little. Clearly, this was something they were not prepared for at all.

“So, I’m curious, what’s to be done with the labyrinth?” Sansa smiled, taking a bite of chicken.

No one spoke as she looked around the table.

A young man cleared his throat, nervously, “His lordship plans to have it torn down in the spring, m’ lady.”

“Oh?” she smiled again, attempting to make conversation. “It seems more work to do that than maintain it. I’ve never seen one before. Not that large anyhow.”

“The Mad King built it many years ago. Long before the late Duke Baratheon owned the estate,” Mrs. Ames jumped in. “It hasn’t been used since, if memory serves. Is that so, Duncan?” she called over her shoulder.

“His lordship has forbidden anyone to use the labyrinth for their safety,” Duncan rattled from the corner of the room by the hearth. “I will inform him if his wishes are not obeyed.”

Eyes traveled from the majordomo to the new mistress in questioning.

“Well, I shall speak to Lord Baelish about it upon his return,” Sansa goaded drinking from her glass with a smirk. “It’s rather cold this time of year to be wandering about in such a thing. Oh, Duncan? Would you be so kind as to have the fire lit in the study? I wish to use it this evening.”

The man grumbled in his corner and after a few minutes, pushed his plate aside and left the kitchen glaring at Sansa. The moment he left, a heavy weight lifted in the room and one by one, the servants began to comfortably chitchat as Sansa caught a smile from the housekeeper across the long table.

The study was warm and inviting, and Sansa suspected that Lord Baelish spent a great deal of time in this room. Ledgers, figures, and stacks of paperwork that dealt with the many properties along the Riverlands littered the desk. Glancing through a few piles, Sansa learned it was true, that the marquess hadn’t lied about the disarray of the lands. It seemed that Lord Petyr had spent a good portion of the past year trying to rectify the region. This harvest wouldn’t be prosperous due to the heavy rain, but it seemed the new Lord Paramount had substantial plans for the next year. The Riverlands were known as the most fertile lands in Westeros and for it to fall into such decline was more to do with poor management than just poor weather. Uncle Edmure was so deep in his cups that he probably didn’t have the slightest clue or care what was happening.

Sansa spied a letter in her aunt’s penmanship. It was weeks old, and she was sending Lord Baelish grain and some supplies from the Vale for the winter. Sansa scowled. Her aunt would send this man aid but refused when her own sister begged for help during the rebellion. Sansa skimmed the letter and read that Aunt Lysa invited him to the Eyrie for the winter. What was the relationship between her aunt and this man? The duchess threw Sansa out because of him and one dance well over a year ago.

Sansa pulled out the letter he left her that morning and reread it. It wasn’t so much instructions but everything that Duncan had already told her. Lord Baelish had sent word to Kings Landing to Madame Berkins demanding priority on her new wardrobe. Mr. Wiltshire would handle the fittings upon arrival in Lord Holloway’s Town. Sansa didn’t know how many seamstresses worked for this woman but to have a full wardrobe in such a short time was surely costing him. Sansa frowned and pushed the papers aside. There was nothing or of notable interest in his study. Nothing that he had not deemed more important to lock away, it seemed.

Moving to stand, a bit of tattered lace caught on the wood of his desk and Sansa heard it tear. She bent down to unhook it and saw a crumpled piece of parchment under the desk. The servants must not have seen it while cleaning. She picked it up and unraveled it.

Lady Myranda of House Royce?

Her handwriting was perfect in its elegance. Sansa wondered why an unmarried lady would write to a man if she were not betrothed or already engaged to him. Evidently, her father, Lord Royce would be the one to correspond with another noble gentleman in her stead.

Sansa knew she should not read something so personal, but she couldn’t help herself. Besides, the letter couldn’t have been that important since Sansa found it crumpled under his desk. Seemingly, he meant to toss it away.

Lady Myranda wrote of missing him since Lord Petyr left the Vale. Her manner was coy and of light playfulness. She was flirting with him, Sansa laughed. The woman made it visible enough, even to an obtuse man. She was spending the winter in Kings Landing and hoped to see him, she wrote.

Sansa leaned back in the chair and thought back to that night of Aunt Lysa’s dreadful ball. Could Lord Baelish have designs to marry Lady Myranda? She was of a proper family but not a lady so high up in society to snub her nose at the new and scandalous marquess. The ton was a pretentious lot. It wasn’t so much as just being a part of the peerage but your social standing and money. However, the “new coppers,” the cruel term coined amongst aristocrats, were still not as socially acceptable as old family affluence and heritage. Lord Baelish was possibly wealthier than most of the ton, Sansa deduced, but even his new title stilted him from making a good match.

Lord Royce was an earl from the Vale, but far from wealthy. His family was old but marrying his daughter to the Marquess of Harrenhal and Lord Paramount was a considerable step up. He probably set quite the dowry for his daughter knowing of the Baelish’s assets. It would give the new lord more social standing, marrying into an old and respectable family.

Sansa smiled to herself. They probably deserved each other, she tittered. Sansa thought Myranda was sweet when they first met at the Eyrie. The brunette was more experienced with men and told many tales that made Sansa’s cheeks flush scarlet. Myranda was convinced she would marry well even when Lord Harrold cast her aside amidst the rumors of her wanton ways. It didn’t surprise Sansa that she would set her sights on the Lord of Harrenhal. Baelish was older, yes, but Sansa had to admit, he wasn’t ugly or unattractive.

She sighed and tossed the letter on the fire. Perhaps Duncan was right in a way. After he wintered in Kings Landing, Lord Baelish could most certainly return to Harrenhal with a new bride on his arm and Sansa would likely be sent away or work for them indefinitely. The idea of being a servant to Myranda made Sansa grimace. She would rather work for another family as a governess than let that insufferable girl gloat and order Sansa around while watching their horrid children.

Sansa lit a candle and left his study. She was about to retire to her bedroom when she stood to staring at the double doors across the hallway. It was late, as she glanced down the corridor. The servants would be readying for bed. She knew she shouldn’t, but Sansa just read a letter that was none of her business a moment ago. Unlike the day Lord Baelish discovered her in his master bath, tonight, he was not in the house. Pausing in front of the doors, she touched the latch expecting it to be locked, yet it moved freely.

In the candlelight, Sansa opened the door and quickly stepped inside afraid that a servant or Duncan might see her. The room smelled like it belonged to a man. Hints of cologne, cognac and cigars were subtle, and the décor was a contrast to his future wife’s chambers next door. Dark mahogany, emerald green, while gold and silver glimmered in the faint light as she walked around his room. Every fiber of her being said she shouldn’t be in here, but Sansa couldn’t help the curiosity about his bedroom.

In every way, it was distinctly him. Very masculine but refined and elegant. Even without a fire lit, this room had a strange warmth to it. Sansa had noticed it in the next room and the bath chamber as well that day he caught her wandering and couldn’t figure out where it was coming from... just as the marble floor in the music room.

His dressing room was immaculate and tidy. Nervously, Sansa kept looking behind her expecting to find him staring quietly, but only a gloomy silence greeted her. A dressing table held his grooming items and a curious gilded box that did not look like it belonged in a man’s room. It was delicate and quite feminine as her fingers brushed against the carvings. Lifting the lid, music filled the darkness making Sansa yelp in surprise. Why would a man such as him have a music box? He was a strange man, this marquess. Even more bizarre, the tune sounded familiar, but Sansa couldn’t place it at all. Afraid someone might hear, Sansa closed the lid and decided it was better to leave his room before someone did encounter her snooping around.

Her hand was on the latch of the door when suddenly the tinkle of the sweet tune came from his dressing room freezing Sansa in terror. She was alone, wasn’t she? She would have known if his lordship returned. No, surely, it wasn’t Lord Baelish playing a mean trick for sneaking in his rooms.

My lord?” she whispered.

Suddenly the music stopped, and Sansa did not wait for a reply. She ran out and down the hallway to her own room as the flame blew out. Turning around briefly, she saw a faint reddish glow come from his door before it slammed shut into obscurity.

 


 

  Sansa never mentioned that night, nor was she questioned about the marquess’ room or anything amiss. She did not use his study again or even go near that corridor of the east wing. In Lord Baelish’s absence, someone or something was in that room with her.

I don’t think they like his lordship. Ever since he came, we hear them more and more.

Surprisingly, the week passed by smoothly. Sansa filled her time with Mrs. Ames and chores around the house. She instructed particular paintings moved and furniture adjusted to suit the décor of the rooms. If Lord Baelish didn’t like it, he could order them all back. He may have taste, but so did Sansa. The marquess left her in charge, and she was going to make good use of it while she could. At least Sansa could be artistic with decorating his home. Aunt Lysa had a wretched and gaudy style, and in contrast, her mother was more subtle and sophisticated. Harrenhal was indeed beautiful, and the marquess had an eye for detail and beauty, but somehow it needed a woman’s touch, Sansa smiled.

Every night she dined with the staff in the kitchen and enjoyed their companionship. Duncan took to eating early, avoiding her as much as possible, and that was fine by Sansa. The less she had to deal with the old majordomo, the better.

With construction finished in the west wing, fitting the rooms with furniture and last details, finally made the entire house felt alive. Sansa inspected the finishing touches and by midweek was pleased that everything would be to the marquess’ liking and prepared for guests.

The next day, Lord Baelish was expected to return while Sansa helped Mrs. Ames in the greenhouse during the afternoon. The woman was a true apothecary. So many of the herbs and plants were medicinal, as Sansa noted several species only grew in the north. Mrs. Ames’ book contained remedies and recipes that would be scorned by most modern physicians. Many northern women were healers and revered for their knowledge.

The fear of the old ways and witchcraft practically destroyed the rituals and beliefs the common people held for ages. Even as the new religion grew across the land for generations, the north still clung to the old ways in secret. Thankfully, Duncan never entered the greenhouse, and Sansa found it a welcome sanctuary from his disapproving glares. He seemed more superstitious than anyone else in the household. A pious man that held such an open disgust for anything that wasn’t righteous in his eyes.

One of the footmen entered, explaining that the tailor from Lord Holloway’s Town had arrived. A new wardrobe, the marquess had promised, and it made the girl inside her giddy with excitement. Sansa’s one presentable dress made her weak to the idea of new clothes despite that they came from a man she disliked. The finer things in Harrenhal reminded her too much of the better days when Sansa only knew of refinement. She had been spoiled in her surroundings to deny herself fashionable clothes that were not ill-fitting, faded and old.

In the foyer, footmen carried several trunks as a smiling Mr. Wiltshire, and his wife took in the grandeur of Harrenhal.

“Ah! Lady Baelish! Good to see you again, my dear,” the tailor beamed and Sansa blushed.

Lady Baelish?

Sansa didn’t remember how the marquess introduced her that day in the man’s shop, however, she certainly would have remembered if he referred to her as the lady of the house.

My lady… the Lady Sansa…

She couldn’t fault the tailor’s mistake. He probably assumed that the woman traveling with him was his wife or intended.

“Lady Sansa, please,” she smiled at the man.

“Of course, my lady, of course,” Wiltshire bowed taking her hand. “I think you’ll be very pleased. Very pleased, indeed! Finest quality. Madame Berkins is the best in Kings Landing. Lord Baelish will be happy with his purchases for you, my dear.”

Sansa couldn’t help the flush of her cheeks at the constant reminder of who was buying everything for her and that he spared no expense.

“His lordship is away but expected to return on the morrow. I’m sure everything is lovely,” Sansa praised.

“Well, what a vision he will see upon his return home. For that’s what you will be, my lady — a vision! Come let’s have these lovely frocks fitted properly,” the tailor smiled.

The afternoon was a whirlwind of giggling maids swooning over the beautiful dresses and accessories as Sansa tried on garment after garment. She felt like a princess in a fairytale each time she gazed in the mirror. Lord Baelish had excellent taste; there was no denying it. Sansa found it strange and unnerving that he knew fashion so well, and that he knew ladies’ apparel in such detail that everything was made for her and her alone. Delicate muslin, silks, satins, and lace were the most exquisite Sansa had ever touched. Only the wealthiest of the royal family wore such finery. Lord Baelish must have spent a fortune not to mention that the tailors probably devoted all their time to his order. The marquess must be a good patron indeed to forego other customers for him in such a short time.

How would it have been to have a season with dresses such as these? Sadly, Sansa thought that her father, a duke, probably could not have afforded such things for his eldest daughter. A wave of melancholy rushed over her as hands poked and prodded, hemmed and pinned as she stood in front of the mirror. Sansa should not be enjoying herself. She was only here, in this house, because her family was dead and buried. Now, she was dressed up as a fashion plate for a man she knew nothing about. The woman that gazed back in the mirror wasn’t her. It was a kept woman in beautiful clothes, but a kept woman all the same.

By six o’clock, the fervor died, and Sansa sat in her bedroom littered with all the pretty things he bought for her. Two of the maids had finished putting her clothing away as others found places for everything else. Her bedroom wasn’t large enough for the multitude of her new possessions.

If she left, would all of it still belong to her, Sansa wondered?

It was almost time for supper when she drifted down the stairs in her new gown of sky blue silk and lace. It was strange, wearing elegant clothing again. The corset was a little too tight. Sansa would need to remind the maid next time she dressed. The rustle of the soft muslin and silks around her was intoxicating as were the satin slippers and silky stockings that didn’t fall down her legs. She had forgotten what a lady wore.

Supper wasn’t ready for another half an hour, and Sansa was restless. Should she sup in the kitchen again now that she looked a proper lady or would Mrs. Ames insist she dine formally? Sansa sighed as she passed by the dining room and saw the footmen setting the table, answering her question.

At Winterfell and even the Eyrie she never really dined utterly alone. There was always someone there. Here, she was the lone lady of the house. Sansa strolled around and saw lights in the ballroom. The construction wasn’t complete when she first arrived at Harrenhal. At last, all the chandeliers had been cleaned and hung. The mirrors on the walls and the polished parquet floors gleamed in the empty room.

Her satin slippers tapped lightly on the floor as the flow of silk followed ever so slightly. Sansa caught her reflection in one of the mirrors and stood dumbfounded. The maid had pinned up her hair with a couple of new pearl combs. However, a few stubborn curls refused to stay put, framing her face lightly.

Sansa hardly recognized herself. It had been so long since she resembled or felt like a proper lady again. Picking up the folds of her skirt, Sansa’s reflection curtsied, and many of the old mannerisms came back. She closed her eyes and remembered her first ball at Winterfell. She barely had a moment to rest, for she was dancing all night. It was before her betrothal to Joffrey and the whole mess that began after King Robert died so unexpectedly.

She could hear the music and see the twirling of couples on the floor. Dances changed from reels to minuets and the newly popular waltz. Sansa loved the waltz best because you were so close to the man and didn’t have to change partners. The only problem was if the man couldn’t dance well, a lady’s toes suffered for it.

Before she knew it, her feet were moving in time and felt the sway of her skirts. Sansa pretended a handsome young gentleman whirled her across the floor in his arms at the envy of all the spiteful ladies of the ton. This time they didn’t giggle or make fun of the northern girl as the wallflower, but at how beautiful she was in her stunning dress as she flowed with the music.

Sansa could feel his hand holding hers every so lightly as the other held her small waist and guided her around the floor. She never wanted the daydream to end. The looks on their faces, the sound of the music, the scent of mint…

Her eyes popped open to see green orbs smiling vibrantly.

“Oh!”

Startled, Sansa stepped on Lord Baelish’s foot, freezing in his arms. How long had she been dancing with him? How long had been watching her? She could feel her cheeks flush crimson and did not know what to do for he was still holding her.

“It’s much better with a partner, don’t you agree?” he teased lightly, his eyes filled with levity.

Her hands dropped from his as Lord Baelish released her but not stepping away.

“You weren’t expected until tomorrow,” she flustered not able to meet his eyes. “How long have you been watching me?”

He chuckled softly, “And here I half expected a warm welcome home.”

The floor became overwhelmingly compelling as she muttered, “Welcome home, my lord.”

His boots stepped back, and Sansa finally raised her head.

“I see you’ve made some changes in several rooms while I was away,” the marquess spoke with a hint of praise as he ambled around the ballroom.

“If you don’t like it…”

“Oh, I do. Our tastes are very similar, I believe,” he smiled, and his eyes twinkled a little. “Then I saw a light in this room and alas there you were… looking very lovely, I might add.”

Her cheeks burned again at the thought of him watching her dance to her own music.

“I knew that color would suit you. You float like an angel, but even an angel shouldn’t dance without a partner,” he grinned, taking her in from head to toe.

Slowly, Baelish strode towards her with a gleam in his eyes and Sansa’s feet rooted to the spot.

Retaking her hand and sliding the other around her waist, the man leaned next to her ear and whispered, “Where did you learn the waltz so gracefully?”

“I don’t know,” Sansa lied. She knew exactly who taught her that night.

“Such sweet lies fall from those rosy lips,” he murmured as he took a few steps in the silence of the massive ballroom.

“There isn’t any music,” Sansa said stupidly.

“It didn’t stop you a moment ago,” the man smiled again, leading her gently. “It’s all counting, though, isn’t it? One, two, three…”

It wasn’t all counting; she wanted to say. Sansa danced with enough young men to know that they could count all they liked, and her toes still hurt in the end. Some people had rhythm and natural grace for dancing, and others did not.

Lord Baelish had finesse in spades as he glided her around. He seemed to be tuned to a piece of music only he could hear. Dancing came freely to him, Sansa noted. In fact, his simple moves and gestures since she met him a few weeks ago seemed to have their own elegance. He was always immaculately dressed, and even though he was cynical and harsh, there was beauty in his manner. Lord Baelish was very graceful but not in a foppish way some gentlemen exaggerated a bow or in their speech.

The marquess spoke frankly and could even make an insult sound light and airy as if it were a compliment. He was intelligent, worldly but didn’t let privilege blind him. Coming from a lesser family of the ton, gave him a unique view of both worlds. He knew how the other half lived and how to use it to his advantage, she presumed.

Dancing with him though, any woman would believe he never spent a day outside the life of the aristocracy. Without a shred of music, he was a better dancer than any man Sansa had ever partnered. For a moment, she let herself get lost in the movements as in her daydream only moments before. Sansa didn’t know why, but the faint twinkling tune of the music box rang in her head, and she couldn’t understand why.

Suddenly, everything stopped, and Sansa could feel his breath on her cheek. His face was so close when she opened her eyes, her chest constricted. Fine lines marked his skin along his forehead and eyes showing a hint of his age. His eyes appeared a darker green as he regarded her in such a way that made her tummy flutter. The hand that held hers drew it closer to his chest.

Sansa knew she should pull away yet that look kept her grounded in wonder. It had been a long time since any man looked at her with a hint of desire. For years, Sansa had only young Robert or her uncle for male company. Now, here she was in the arms of an unfamiliar man. One, that was wealthy, powerful, and oddly attractive in his way despite their age difference. The young men Sansa had known didn’t have the presence as the one that held her now. Lord Baelish had something that only seemed to come with age and experience.

Those half lidden eyes flittered down to her lips, and Sansa held her breath. She could detect the mint even more strongly as his mouth was a breath away from hers.

“Ahem,” a voice uttered from across the room. All at once, the moment was gone. “Excuse me, my lord, dinner is served, and John is preparing your room…”

The marquess stepped away with a constrained smile while his eyes darted away.

“Thank you, Duncan. I’m very weary. I’ll take my supper in my room this evening,” he spoke as if the butler had not caught them in each other’s arms.

Lord Baelish bowed charmingly and kissed her hand. He was going to kiss her lips before he was interrupted, Sansa was sure of it. Even more distressing, she didn’t know if she would have stopped him. What was happening here? Sansa was confused.

“Goodnight, sweetling,” he muttered softly. “Don’t drink too much wine tonight. I regret I’ll be asleep and not able to carry you to bed again.”

Baelish flashed a brilliant grin and left her speechless in the middle of the ballroom.

 


 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

SandT

 

 

 

 

 

Dim light streamed into the hallway coming from the direction of his study when Sansa walked to her bedchamber. He lied, she thought. He wasn’t asleep after all. She stayed up reading in the library hoping the marquess had indeed retired for the night as he said in the ballroom.

Sansa couldn’t stop thinking about the moment in the ballroom no matter how hard she tried. Alone in the dining room with nothing but those troubling thoughts for company and the book she had attempted to read for the last two hours had not helped at all in erasing it from her mind. She was so lost in her daydream that she hadn’t realized that Lord Petyr was dancing with her. He praised her skills during his absence and then took her in his arms again around the dance floor. She could have almost forgotten it was him. Almost.

It was the sudden intimacy that was so disconcerting. Never, since Sansa had met Lord Petyr a few weeks ago had he shown any real interest, no, desire, for her as a woman. His taunts, goading and reprimands went with a grain of salt, but occasionally his wit and humour was pleasant companionship. Tonight he gazed at her from across the room with an appreciation and warmth that made her blush even now. Perhaps it had been the new clothes. Now, she actually looked like a gentlewoman and not a servant.

Sansa wasn’t stupid. She knew she was comely. She was always the pretty one, they said. The one that would make a good match – marry well. It was the eldest daughter that caught young men’s eyes. Arya never cared. Sansa believed her sister would have been happier had she been born a boy. She never cared for dresses, balls, music lessons, art or anything that Sansa fancied. Arya teased her relentlessly when their father announced that Sansa would wed Prince Joffrey.

Sansa was going to be a princess and move south to the capital, to the royal palace. Arya would never leave the north regardless if her sister were queen or not. She was right, Sansa thought sadly as she undressed and climbed into bed. None of them left the Winterfell. They were all there, except for her – the blood traitor to the king. The one that renounced her father’s rebellion, attempting to save herself and them from execution. Only in that horrible thunderstorm did the new king make her watch her family die before a firing squad, leaving Sansa alone in the world.

Not since Sansa’s first and only season at the age of six and ten had she felt a flutter in her stomach from the attention of men. It felt so long ago back when she had so many admirers. Her first kiss had been from a young man in the stables that she never told anyone about in fear of her father’s anger. Sansa was the eldest and meant for a good marriage as the daughter of a powerful duke. She could never have a man below her station her mother told her.

Many of the proposals she received that first month would not be accepted, and Sansa thought she could have been happy with some that called on her. When her parents sat her down and explained that she would be wed to the son of her father’s friend, Sansa was shocked that he meant the crown prince. Naively, she was excited. The young prince was rumored to be as handsome as so many of the Lannisters tended to be. He took after the Queen Mother it seemed, and Sansa knew her to be very beautiful.

The future king was handsome. However that’s where any beauty he had ended sharply. Prince Joffrey was cruel, and marriage to him would have been an inescapable hell. When the King Robert died, Sansa realized just how terrible her life was about to become. How could her father have given her so swiftly to such a horrible person?

To the kingdom’s astonishment, the king had named her father, the Duke of Winterfell, Regent even though Prince Joffrey was of age. Within days, a small rebellion broke out, forcing her father came back north to build his alliances. The new king wasn’t fit to rule was all her father ever said about it to his daughter. Ladies were never permitted when the men spoke of politics and business. All Sansa knew was relief that she would never have to marry that wretched boy, and once the rebellion was won, she could entertain suitors once again.

Sansa curled into her soft feather bed and sighed. She was so immature and stupid all those years ago. She thought for certain her father would be victorious. Only one southern earl joined with him and all the northern lords. They won several battles until reaching the Riverlands. Aunt Lysa and Uncle Edmure refused to fight against the crown when Lord Lannister, along with Lord Tyrell’s reinforcements from the west, blocked their path to the capital. Without support from the Riverlands or the Vale, her father was outnumbered with his supplies cut off from the sea and the north. The allied lords died in battle and her father taken prisoner.

Her mother cried for days when the news of defeat came. Prince Joffrey, along with the Lannister family, marched to Winterfell, hauling her gravely injured father behind. Joffrey threatened to have Sansa and her sister stripped and raped by his soldiers if they did not recant. Only the Queen Mother spoke out against defiling the young women. It wasn’t for Sansa and her sister’s benefit but that of her son’s image. Instead, he beat her and threatened a slow death. His most terrible cruelty was feigned kindness. She would still be his wife, his queen, he promised. He would spare her family if she would publicly renounce her father’s rebellion and swear fealty to him as king.

The terrible things he promised he would subject her family to were too much to bear. Lord Lannister wrote up a declaration that her trembling hand finally signed as Sansa cried at her own treachery to her beloved father. She thought she was saving them. Yes, she was a stupid and naïve girl then. She thought nothing could be as terrible and terrifying as death, but she was wrong.

Living in the aftermath was a far crueler punishment. Shunned by many northerners by betraying her father and loathed by the rest of soceity as a traitor’s daughter – Sansa was mud on their shoe. Being completely alone seemed more frightening and painful than the few minutes it would have been in front of the firing squad standing proudly with her family.

Tears rolled silently down her cheeks as she hugged her pillow. It was hard to believe how many years had passed since that night in the rain. Sansa was nearing her birthday in a house full of strangers. She spent only one in Riverrun being a solemn affair with only Mrs. Cole and two servants as her uncle was at the local pub instead to gamble and drink.

Before that, was her last birthday at the Vale and it went uncelebrated. Her aunt would have preferred Sansa come to her home almost five years ago. Her Grace said the king decreed that she give shelter to her only niece. Shelter was all it was. Aunt Lysa made it clear that she only allowed her sister’s daughter because the king commanded it. Sansa was sure that her aunt would have turned her away otherwise. The woman seemed to have no love for the new king or the Lannisters, but Sansa felt an intense hatred from her aunt that she just could not understand. There was no love or kindness. Her son Robert was a sickly boy of four and ten and the only person that likened to her. He was spoilt and terribly childish for his age but had it not been for his adolescent affection, Sansa never would have left her room.

The doctors said the boy needed fresh air and Sansa was allowed to take him to the gardens and just occasionally to the small town nearby. The duchess threw numerous balls trying to find a bride worthy of her only son, the future Duke of the Vale. It would have to be a strong girl indeed to put up with his immature ways. It wasn’t Robert’s fault, though. Aunt Lysa had made him that way. He rarely, if ever, left the house since he was a baby, she was told. The duchess even breastfed him until he was almost the age of ten. Sansa wondered if gossip such as that had traveled far enough to other respectable houses or how odd the Duchess was.

Her aunt blathered on about how no lady from the north or Riverland families were good enough for her precious Robert. She must seek a bride from the south instead. Southern families perhaps would not know such gossip and would be more willing to marry into title and wealth for the Arryns were an ancient family with royal bloodlines stretching back generations.

Sansa remembered that ball in detail as the tears dried on her cheeks and her eyes closed tiredly. The music was playing downstairs again, and she could feel herself drifting further and further into that swirl of twirling silks and polished leather boots.

The chatter became louder and louder as she descended the staircase in her only ball gown of lavender. She had tried desperately to lower the hem and hide a few worn spots with little flowers she had embroidered. They were placed to look as if they were a part of the dress’ design and not meant to hide its age.

Carriages arrived all afternoon carrying the lords and ladies of the south. The local gentry came for the ball that evening, but the duchess seemed to have invited as many eligible young ladies and their well-connected fathers as possible to secure a match for young Robert. Sansa pitied the boy. She knew too well what arranged marriages could mean.

Her maid pinned Sansa’s auburn tresses up using a few of her mother’s old combs. It would have to do, she sighed. The dress wasn’t that bad. The embroidery and a few little silk flowers she made using fabric from an old blue bodice that gave her lavender dress a renewal. Her aunt did not offer to buy any new clothing, and Sansa dared not ask. The woman was terrifying in her every changing moods. Sansa learned just how quickly the duchess could swing from mild pleasantry into a rage. The servants were in constant fear of her judgmental and over demanding ways. A maid was almost beat when she accidentally spilled tea on the woman and was dismissed that day. Sansa decided it was best to just stay out of her aunt’s path and not draw attention to herself.

Sansa looked in the mirror seeing more and more of her mother staring back. There was a portrait of her made when she married Father, and right now they looked so very much alike. Aunt Lysa pointed out that fact many times during her stay and Sansa realized there was no love lost between sisters. In actuality, Aunt Lysa hated Sansa’s mother. Something in regards to her being wanton and taking the attention of a boy Lysa fancied.

Her mother was betrothed to a Stark since childbirth. Fortunately, she married and found love. Aunt Lysa was married off for family, duty, and honor and ended up with an old man. Jon Arryn was old enough to be her grandfather and had a difficult time getting her with child. Not long after Robert was born, did the man die under suspicious circumstances. Often she told Sansa how she hated being forced to marry. She wanted to marry her childhood love, but he was sent away because of Catelyn. So, a boy loved her mother more than her aunt, and Grandfather Tully sent him away with Lysa forever blaming Catelyn for her woes.

Now, she was attempting to marry her son off to a family with the best heritage and wealth. The irony made Sansa laugh bitterly as she entered the grand foyer. Young ladies in beautiful gowns passed giggling madly, and Sansa’s heart dropped. Her own lavender gown was old, and out of fashion despite all the work she put into it. These southern ladies were dressed in stunning silks and laces and looked like little princesses with pretty jewels around their necks and in their hair.

The local gentry did not have a wealth of the families invited tonight, and Sansa felt entirely out of her league. When her father was the duke, Sansa never worried about such things. Her mother kept her and Arya in the latest fashions, especially since Sansa was introduced into society as Marchioness with quite the dowry for marriage.

She took a step back and was about to go back to her room when Lady Myranda approached, and Sansa sighed.

“Oh, Lady Sansa, there you are,” she smiled with her sing-song voice. There was nothing pleasant about her tone Sansa knew so well. Myranda made faking pleasantry an art form.

“Lady Myranda. You look lovely. Her Grace will be pleased you, and Lord Royce could attend,” Sansa offered the same practiced graciousness. Sansa hadn’t lied, not really. Myranda’s dress was lovely in a pale rose that accented her plentiful bosom. She would surely gain plenty of attention from gentlemen tonight.

“Father loathes these things, but he does it for me,” she smiled while her eyes scrutinized Sansa’s appearance.

“That colour suits you, it’s a shame the dress is old fashioned, but you’re pretty enough... perhaps no one will notice,” the brunette said, touching the embroidery with a smirk. “You’re quite good with a needle, I must say, but sooner or later, Her Grace will have to buy you something new if you are to attend more balls.”

“I don’t care for balls. I’m only here to appease my cousin. He is a bit nervous,” Sansa countered, trying to find an escape.

“Oh yes, he retched all over Lord Pembry last time, didn’t he? Poor lad, his mother will have to pay quite the dowry to find him a suitable bride,” Myranda laughed, but Sansa did not find her funny.

“Still looking for a groom yourself, I see?” Sansa mumbled before she could stop herself.

“Oh, playing the jealous spinster is not attractive, Lady Sansa,” Myranda spat under her breath, smiling at two gentlemen as they passed by. “In fact, I have found a rather wealthy earl, and Father intends to speak with him this very evening. While you're cleaning up after your cousin, I’ll be a countess by the time I marry. Oh, you were a Marchioness once weren’t you? How quickly things can change, isn’t it?”

It was hard to believe Sansa thought Myranda was kindly and could be a new friend when she arrived in the Vale. No, Myranda was nothing but a gossipmonger and only looking for a way to better her circumstances. Befriending Sansa allowed her into the duchess’s home only to glean information and make contacts for a profitable marriage.

Sansa watched the buxom woman sashay across the foyer, finding the two men that passed by moments ago as young Lord Robert’s voice rang out in excitement.

“Sansa! I’m so glad you’re here. Mother said she didn’t think it was proper for you to attend tonight. I told her I wanted you to come. I said I wouldn’t go if she didn’t allow you to come downstairs,” he gleamed in satisfaction.

“Thank you, my lord,” she smiled sadly for she would have preferred to stay in her room tonight.

Robert tried to stand tall, but he was still several inches shorter than Sansa as he leaned in close and whispered, “You have to dance with me. Promise. I’m very nervous about dancing with all those ladies. I’m not good at all… with everyone watching.”

Sansa took his hand and smiled sweetly. “You’re an excellent dancer, my lord,” she lied. “Any one of those ladies should be proud to dance with you.”

The boy grinned and held her hand tightly, “I wish I could marry you instead.”

Sansa felt such a terrible pity for him. He dreaded tonight just as much as she did. “I’m not worthy of such kind and good future duke. You’re meant to marry a lady of good family. Not someone like me. Your mother would never allow it,” she frowned, yet in her heart she was grateful. She couldn’t imagine having to marry her cousin.

Robert!

They both turned to see the duchess come from the sitting room. Sansa bit her lip to keep from gasping and wrinkling her nose at the floral perfume. Her aunt was dressed as a woman half her age. Her plump and sagging body squeezed into her corset to the point of bursting. She had curled her hair and pinned it up in an old style similar to her mother’s portrait back in Winterfell. Her face was powdered with painted rosy cheeks and lips that aged her more than it helped. A well-placed beauty mark crinkled when she frowned while the lines on her face grew more profound.

“Stop dallying with your cousin and come with me. We must greet our guests,” she seethed, and Robert dropped Sansa’s hand immediately moving to his mother’s side.

Aunt Lysa eyed Sansa with contempt and smirked at her dress. “My son has insisted on your attendance. Do not embarrass us in front of your betters or you’ll wish you were with your dead, traitor mother.”

Sansa refrained from saying that she would prefer to share her mother’s cold grave than live here and waited for them to disappear into the next room before trying to calm herself. This was just one more ball she had to endure, Sansa convinced herself.

Just stay quiet and out of the way and it would all be over soon enough.

Unfortunately, the night dragged on slowly as Sansa tried in earnest to make herself invisible. Robert insisted on one dance early in the evening when he was too scared to ask any of the young ladies waiting and tittering at the scared future duke.

He stepped on her toes so many times, Sansa thought they’d bleed but she didn’t show any sign of discomfort and only smiled at her poor cousin. As the ball progressed and the wine flowed, she could hear the disgruntled talk from fathers at how they were going to marry their daughters off. It sickened Sansa at how they wished the boy would die after the marriage, and then they could seize control of the estates.

In a way, Sansa was beginning to be feel some content she was no longer considered marriageable material for people like this. Is this what all her suitors father’s thought when sending proposals for her hand? Lands, titles, gold, and how many heirs could she bear? It was revolting. It seemed all a girl was good for was what lay between her legs and her dowry.

Sansa drank a few glasses and felt the alcohol calm her nerves. She was nothing to these people. It wasn’t her hand anyone was vying for tonight. She needed to play her part and hopefully leave without Robert noticing.

Strolling from room to room, it was the same mindless conversations. Men were discussing politics, business, and something about an earl that was gaining favor in court. The man was blockade runner and smuggler and now had become a financial adviser to the king himself. The jealousy made Sansa smile a little. So, there were men that still alienated the ton. How lovely! However, if he was in favor with the king and gaining new titles, he wasn’t a man that had any good qualities, she surmised. Anyone associated with the royal family was lower than horse shit, her brother Robb always said.

The empty chatter amongst the ladies was no better. They fawned over each other and complimented their gowns and jewelry and Sansa had to cover her laugh. Were they all such bad liars? God in heaven, did she behave like this once upon a time?

“What are you smirking about?” a girl wearing a yellow dress scowled at Sansa.

“Me?” Sansa feigned ignorance.

“Yes. I do believe I was speaking to you,” the girl said haughtily.

Aunt Lysa’s warning rang loudly in her mind, and Sansa warmly smiled, “Oh, I was just holding a sneeze. These flowers tend to bother me, my lady.”

The girl looked at Sansa’s dress and grinned, “Yes, well, I suppose you’re used to mud and rocks where you’re from.”

The other girls giggled and whispered to each other. Sansa was used to her aunt’s rudeness, but she wanted to smack the sneers from these girls faces. She spied Lady Myranda a few feet away with three men fawning over her, and the woman smiled nastily. Sansa was about to turn and leave when a pretty blonde wearing a peach coloured dress came up to her.

“My sister had a dress like this years ago but not as old and ugly,” she laughed, fingering a blue silk flower near Sansa’s shoulder. “She gave it to our governess. Did she give it to you?”

Sansa held her chin high and refused to let these little girls get the better of her. She was one and twenty and did not have to play these childish games.

“Oh, this is Lord Robert’s cousin. Father said the duchess had taken her in after her traitor father was executed,” a brunette said behind her. The pretty ladies had surrounded her like predators stalking their prey, and Sansa held still. She could not make a scene.

“Is this what a northerner looks like? I heard her father was a lumbering troll, and her mother a whore. Nothing but filthy bastards. To think they give any of those northmen titles,” another girl jeered.

Sansa seethed, “Don’t you dare…”

She didn’t get to finish her sentence when the chatter climbed, and people began filtering into the ballroom.

“Is that him?” a female voice said.

“He is a rake, my brother says. Lost two hundred to him in gold just last winter in Kings Landing,” said another.

“I can’t believe the duchess would invite such a man…”

“Is he handsome? Most rakes are handsome, aren’t they?” a girl giggled.

“Isn’t he supposedly very wealthy?” another frivolous voice rang out.

The girls’ attention was now on the mysterious man that had entered the ballroom, and it finally gave Sansa her escape. Just as she was about to sneak into the foyer, Lord Robert came bouncing in as if he received a birthday gift.

“He came, Sansa. Uncle Petyr came to my ball! I didn’t think he was going to come, but he did,” the boy smiled, and Sansa had no idea who he was talking about. Surely not the man that was the rumoured smuggler and libertine!

Robert took her hand and dragged Sansa into the next room where the crowd was whispering and gossiping wildly as a dark-haired man bowed and kissed the duchess’s hand. The image was something she never thought she would ever see. Her aunt giggling like a girl her son’s age. She mussed with her hair and dress so many times that Sansa wasn’t sure it wasn’t the same woman she knew.

“Uncle Petyr! You must meet my cousin,” Robert piped up, pulling her along.

Sansa could see the disapproving glare on her aunt’s face as they moved closer and then the man turned around, his cloak swirling elegantly with him. He wasn’t a tall man, but he was still taller than Sansa. His mouth smiled but not his eyes. It was his eyes that caught her attention. A deep grey-green that seemed to see right through her. He was acutely aware of his surroundings and the Aunt Lysa burning a hole in his back.

He bowed softly and took her hand, leaving a dry kiss on her fingers.

“Lady Sansa,” he said graciously holding her gaze for only a moment. “The pleasure is mine.” Immediately, he straightened his posture and grinned at the young boy. “I hope I haven’t missed much, Your Grace.”

“Don’t call me that, I hate that,” Robert frowned and then quickly smiled again. “It’s not late, and mother said I could stay up late tonight if I wish.”

“Haven’t stepped on too many ladies toes yet, I’m guessing,” the man chuckled.

“No. I’m a perfect dancer. Sansa… I mean Lady Sansa says so herself,” Robert smiled retaking Sansa’s hand.

The man smiled genuinely this time looking directly at her.

“Did she? I’m wagering she was taught well. Tully women are very graceful,” he smiled and suddenly turned to the duchess. “Arent’ they, my lovely Lysa?”

The scowl disappeared, and she giggled like a girl again. “Petyr, you sinful man,” she whispered. “You know you shouldn’t be so informal with me in front of these people.”

He bowed again and teased, “Of course. We must keep up appearances, mustn’t we?”

Removing his cloak and handing it to a waiting footman, the man made her aunt smile and laugh as Sansa began to back away when Robert did not let go of her hand.

“Where are you going?” he whispered. “It’s not late yet, and I want to dance again.”

Sansa’s toes cried at the thought. Before she could answer, her aunt chimed in.

“Oh, no, darling. Your dance card is full,” she said in a sing-song voice washing Sansa with relief. “You can waste your time with your cousin at any time. There are many ladies patiently waiting to dance with my handsome son.”

“I want one more dance with Sansa, mother. Just one more before the night is over,” Robert whined, and Sansa could see the dark-haired ‘uncle’ roll his eyes.

“Lysa let him have one dance. Lady Sansa, I’m sure, will have time later. The young gentlemen are certainly going to be lining up for her hand the moment the music starts,” the man said smiling, “That will give young Robert plenty of dances with all of these lovely ladies.”

Sansa cast her eyes down, refusing to let them see the hurt. She didn’t know this nobleman, but he was either woefully ignorant, or he was just like her aunt. Cruel. No gentlemen were lining up asking her to dance. She had not been asked once all night.

Adding salt to the wound, her aunt laughed and pulled the man with her across the room. “Fine, Robert. One dance,” she called over her shoulder and then leaned into the man, “and you, sir, will be all mine tonight.”

Robert looked sad and asked, “You’re not really going to dance with lots of men tonight, are you, Sansa?”

“No. I’ll be waiting over there when you’ve pleased your mother,” Sansa smiled and pointed to a small chaise lounge near the terrace doors. If she was fortunate, she could disappear before he noticed and give her excuses tomorrow that she drank too much wine and felt ill.

The young boy wandered over to a gaggle of the same girls that insulted her minutes before, and she could almost hear them groan in dismay. Good, Sansa thought, let their toes suffer for a few hours.

To her disappointment, Sansa glued herself to the wall and watched as Robert danced terribly but kept looking his cousin each time he faced her direction. She wasn’t going to get out of this one, sadly and drank a few more glasses of champagne. Aunt Lysa bought the best for occasions such as this. She was always trying too hard to impress others when her title gave her no reason to do so. She had the name and wealth without having to brag but brag she did. At the very least the food and wine was excellent as Sansa stood bored watching everyone dance in reel after reel having a wonderful time. A handsome young man asked her to dance, and she was about to accept when she could see his friends snickering in the corner.

As Sansa watched, she could see faces staring at her and whispers shared behind gloved hands. As they passed by, she tried to pretend as if she couldn’t hear the hurtful things these people said.

Traitor.

“These northerners in their country dresses… no better than servants.”

“The duchess is a saintly woman for taking her in.”

“Can you believe the king was to marry the likes of her?”

The traitorous wallflower, that’s what Sansa was to southerners, so it seemed. The one man asking her to dance was merely a cruel joke so they could laugh later. Aunt Lysa was monopolizing the dark-haired man’s time, but he occasionally would glance her way and once Sansa thought she saw a hint of sorrow on his face. Lord Robert was waving at her as he stepped on the blonde’s foot and apologized and Sansa waved back sadly.

Another young man came by and started flirting, but it was mainly to get Sansa to go with him somewhere private. Apparently, she was expected to be a whore as well since no one in their right mind would marry her. She slapped the man’s hands when he muttered “northern slut” as he walked away. It was too much. None of the previous balls had been like this. The local gentry was bad enough, but this was more than she could endure. The tears welled up, and Sansa refused to let them see her cry. She would not let them see they finally broke her.

Sansa slipped out the door onto the terrace, praying no one else was outside for the tears spilled uncontrollably. The night’s chill was enough to keep everyone inside, and Sansa was grateful to be alone at last. She would rather freeze out here than go back inside. The stone bench was ice cold as she sat and couldn’t stop the sob that escaped her throat.

Why did people have to be so cruel? Never in her life had she experienced real loathing directed at her. These people did not know her. All they knew was the vicious gossip the king spread about her and her family. He mercifully spared her life and punished her accordingly. It was worse to be shunned and alone than dead.

Sansa glanced over the balcony and wondered if it would hurt. It was a long drop to the stone terrace below. No one would even think to look for her, she thought bitterly. No one but Robert, she sighed. Annoying and spoiled as the boy was, he appeared to be the only one that remotely cared if she lived or died.

“Careful, my lady,” a soft voice uttered behind her. “Lean too far, I daresay I won’t catch you in time.”

Sansa turned slightly to see the dark-haired man crept slowly towards her as if not to frighten her.

“I’m fine, my lord,” she sniffed, trying to hide her tears. “I would rather be alone if you don’t mind.”

The man continued forward, “I’m afraid I do mind. It’s not wise for a lady as beautiful as you to be out here all alone. One of those young boys might think to take advantage of you.”

“And you’re the gentleman coming to my rescue, is that so?” she retorted coldly choking back another sob.

He chuckled softly, “I’m no gentleman.”

“So I hear,” she added and turned to look across the gardens.

He laughed at that and sat next to her but just far enough for the sake of propriety.

“They say many things, don’t they?” she could hear the smile in his voice, but then it changed. “Don’t let them see you cry, my lady.”

A handkerchief held by a pristine, white glove waited patiently before she finally took it knowing she should say thank you out of politeness, but it didn’t come.

“I’m not a lady, if you have listened well enough in there,” she said, dabbing her eyes.

He was silent, and Sansa glanced up at him as he stared at the frivolity inside the french doors. He had a striking profile, she noticed. Chiseled features, a straight nose, and eyes that seemed to be deep in thought. He was older but seemed younger than her aunt if Sansa had to guess. He was not handsome in the way that young girls would swoon over, but he was far from unattractive. Clearly, her aunt was doing her best to keep his attention tonight.

“If they are the measure of a lady, I daresay I’m happy you’re not one,” Lord Petyr spoke serenely not looking at her. He stood after a time and offered his hand. “Come, my lady. It’s too cold out here. You’ll catch your death if you stay much longer. I can’t have that on my conscious.”

There was a knowing look in his eyes and the way he spoke as he stared at her. Reluctantly, Sansa took his hand and dabbed at her nose until he stole away the soft cloth. Surprisingly, he gently touched around her swollen eyes, making Sansa gaze at the man in wonder.

The music drifted outside, and Lord Petyr smiled.

“May I have the honor of this dance, my lady?”

Sansa knew the music and the dance. The waltz was her favourite when she debuted her first season, but that meant she had to be close to this man and it made her nervous for some reason. They were alone on the terrace, and it simply wasn’t proper not only for her to be outside unaccompanied with a man not of her family.

“I’m sorry my lord, I never learned this dance,” Sansa lied easily letting her nerves show. She should not be out here and stepped away only to be drawn back into his arms.

“Then I shall teach you,” he whispered.

“It’s not proper, my lord,” she objected when Lord Petyr took her hand in his and leaned forward.

“Would you rather learn in there?” he tilted his head towards the doors.

Mortified at the thought of dancing with him with them watching was too much.

No.

“Then stop fidgeting,” he teased. “It’s simple. Count one, two, three starting with your left foot and follow my lead. One…”

Sansa purposefully stepped on his foot, hoping he would give up and leave her alone, but he didn’t.

“Again, left foot, my dear. I find it difficult to believe you are not a quick study,” Lord Petyr chastised lightly, and Sansa finally surrendered following his lead with ease. She would give him one quick dance and then retreat back inside and run to her room. Robert, be damned.

He was a patient teacher even though she knew the steps perfectly and when he did not let her go, Sansa finally let him take control. Lord Petyr guided her gently in small circles, and before she knew it, the music ended and her all her self-doubts and fears rose to the surface, immediately stepping away from him.

Lord Petyr took her hand and pulled Sansa along with him in his long gait back to the doors leading to the ball inside. He stopped briefly in the filtered light and scanned her face. Seemingly satisfied, the man took her arm, guiding her inside. A few people whispered at the young woman and older lord coming in from the terrace, and Sansa could only imagine what was being said about them. Looking to the man, he did not seem to care at all as he moved through the bystanders until pulling her onto the floor where other couples were waiting in two lines for the next reel to begin.

Sansa’s eyes glanced quickly around the room, glimpsing the whispers and shaking of heads. Her aunt was nowhere to be seen in this unsettling band of spectators, and yet it did not quell her fears. Myranda’s eyes were full of disdain as she whispered to her father, Lord Royce. The music started, and the first pair moved down the line while catching Robert’s gleeful smile as he bowed and took the young lady’s hands near the end. A slight cough from the man standing across from her brought Sansa’s senses back as he took her hands gently with a smile. The dance progressed, but in reels, there was no time to speak to one’s partner as they regularly switched until the end.

Dancing with people that detested her and yet had to hold her hands was comical and slightly rewarding in a strange way. Lord Petyr left her as he spoke to the musicians and returned quickly as the dance space emptied and the onlookers stared in curiosity. He took her waist and right hand, bringing his body so close he could whisper in her ear.

“Shall we give them something to gossip about?” he teased. Before Sansa could object, the music started, and he glided her effortlessly into the waltz.

To Sansa’s horror, they were the only couple on the floor as eyes watched their every move. Lord Petyr was a splendid dancer, and at any other time, she might have enjoyed dancing with him. Fearful eyes scanned the faces wondering where her Aunt Lysa could be. She would not be pleased. She clearly expressed Sansa not to embarrass her tonight and yet here she was dancing with an earl that sported quite the reputation. The pair of them would make for enough scandal to last months.

Sansa didn’t know which would be worse if she broke away from the man right now or just finished the dance. Glaring eyes answered her question forcing Sansa to step away immediately as the sight of her aunt chilled her to the bone.

The woman was furious, and Sansa knew that rumours had made its way to her ears as Myranda stood next to the duchess with a look of satisfaction. She seduced him out on that terrace, that’s what they would say. That’s what her aunt would believe, but it wasn’t true. Nothing happened, but who would believe her? No one. Aunt Lysa was jealous of her mother and now of the daughter. If she threatened to beat a maid over spilt tea, what would happen to her?

All of a sudden Sansa was dressed in her new, blue gown and Lord Petyr was dancing with her alone in Harrenhal’s ballroom with the music box’s sweet and intoxicating tune. He guided her around the floor, and no eyes were judging them this time. The music stopped as those green eyes filled with desire gazing at her lips. Sansa waited for Duncan’s interruption yet it did not come. She held her breath when his head lowered; she didn’t stop him.

Those lips were soft tasting the mint on his breath. Sansa felt herself melt into him as he deepened the kiss leaving her breathless. Sansa was getting lost in it, in him, his kiss. She wanted it and slowly circled her arms around his neck, holding him close.

No, you shouldn’t like this.

“But you do,” his voice answered, even though his mouth was firmly pressed to hers.

No, it’s wrong. This is all wrong. I should not be here.

“But you are,” he answered again.

I do not want to be here.

“Such sweet lies…”

 

 

Sansa woke in a cold sweat looking around the room. She was in bed, not downstairs, not at the Eyrie. Laying her head back onto the feather pillow, Sansa stared at the ceiling. She was living in his home now, well over a year after that fateful night in the Vale. Never would Sansa have guessed that she would have ever met this man again.

The dream felt so real as she touched her lips. Her mind decided to show her know what Lord Pety’rs kiss would have been had Duncan not taken the moment away. Just as in the dream, she knew she probably would not have stopped him. Not right away, at least.

As much as she hated to admit it, Sansa missed that attention from gentlemen before they turned sour and filled with loathing. It felt lovely for only a moment to be held and desired. Looking into eyes that didn’t look back with disgust.

The fact still remained heavy in Sansa’s mind. Her aunt cast her out because of vicious gossip with a man that danced with her that night. Sansa wondered if Lord Petyr knew that immediately after he left that the duchess sent Sansa away. Did he care about the lasting effect of his actions? For all she knew, he cut her down the moment she left the ballroom to save face in front of his peers, especially the duchess and her son.

Of course, they would be more significant than a northern girl no one cared about. Reading her aunt’s letter in his study, she clearly had let the matter go a year later. He was now a high lord with wealth and power behind him. Aunt Lysa probably thought he was only taking pity on her shunned niece, not realizing the consequences of his kindnesses.

Laying in the warm bed, Sansa just could not understand why she was here. He did not have to gamble at all. Lord Petyr could have left her at Riverrun and never think of her again. Oddly, he brought her to his lavish home, purchased the most beautiful clothing, and essentially made her head of his house. Why?

He did almost kiss you.

No, Lord Baelish couldn’t be obtuse enough make someone like Sansa, his wife. If he were to stay in favour, not only with the royal family but society as well, he would need to make a good marriage from an established family, not a blood traitor to the king. No, she thought, he was just a man acting on his basic instincts. He did call her beautiful and lovely after all. She was just a pretty face that he would never have to worry smudging his character or fear the pressure of marriage from an angry father.

Lord Petyr was a man that lived for himself only. He took the opportunities to gain wealth and power by aligning with the Lannisters and supporting their claim to the throne. Because of his connections, he was now the Marquess of Harrenhal and Lord Paramount of the Trident. He wasn’t going to throw that away for the daughter of a woman he cared about from his childhood.

Her mother. Yes, that was it.

Mrs. Cole said he was in love with her when they were children. Everyone always said Sansa looked like her at that age. Perhaps that’s why he might have kissed her. It wasn’t Sansa he desired but a memory of the past until Duncan brought him to his senses.

Strangely enough, that thought hurt as well. That the one man who was showing her kindness was only doing so because of affection for someone else. Sansa was going to live out the rest of her life, not experiencing love. She would be a spinster and end up an old housekeeper or governess. No man would want to marry her now. Her father’s line would die with her. The idea of living like this into old age seemed a worse fate than dying with her family with honor. Yes, sparing Sansa from death was vindictive, indeed.

Sansa wondered if she really would have plunged to the stone terrace below had Baelish not come outside that night. Sadly, he had saved her not twice but three times since meeting him. What did he save her for? There wasn’t exactly much to live for. Having left behind the last of her family, she was entirely on her own and either had to fend for herself or finally let it all go.

Giving her a home seemed to be the only thing he had in mind. Most likely, Lord Petyr would be away in Kings Landing or wherever his business took him. He said himself, he would be leaving for the capital before winter. That meant she would be left here to housekeep for him. If he married, perhaps he would take his bride south instead of this lonely place. A southern lady would not want to live here all year except on holiday trips to the country. Even Sansa was excited at the idea of moving south to the capital city of Kings Landing and away from the northern countryside. There were theatres, gardens, warm weather, and city society. She imagined of all the royal balls and parties she would attend as a princess and eventually queen.

A sound drew Sansa out of her melancholy as she sat up in bed. Straining her ears to hear, the soft melody echoed her sadness, and Sansa knew where it was coming from. Wrapping her satin dressing gown around her delicate and sheer nightdress, Sansa padded to her door and pressed her ear to the wood. Yes, it was definitely the piano again.

Sansa cracked open her door as the sound drifted up and around her. She glanced down the dark hallway. No light streamed from Lord Baelish’s study and Sansa’s clock told her it was almost two in the morning. There was no strange reddish light as she witnessed that day she snuck into his room only the somber tune that played below.

She stepped from the safety of her room and moved to look over the banister. This time a frightened maid did not rush to her side, and Sansa could only listen. When she went downstairs the first night it happened, the music had stopped before she left her room. This time, it played, and Sansa was here listening. She could go downstairs and actually catch the person if she dared.

Sansa tried to forget the ghostly voice that bellowed when she stepped on the warm marble floors as she moved around the landing slowly making her way to the grand staircase. The piano played on as she took her first step, descending down.

The gloomy melody filled the air even as Sansa reached the bottom and could see the moon’s light streaming from the music room. One door was slightly ajar, yet she could not see inside fully. It was darker than the first night, and Sansa wished she had brought a candle. She could hear a rainstorm had begun and it seemed to play in time with the piano and snuff out the moonlight leading her way.

Her foot hit the leg of a small table against the wall, causing Sansa to stumble, knocking over a vase. She winced before the porcelain crashed to the floor and the music stopped abruptly into an eerie silence. Sansa waited for the person to come into the foyer for the music room only had one door. In the darkness, she paused, but no one came.

Sansa stepped around the broken pieces hearing one crunch beneath her foot and grimaced again. Entering the music room, she found it once again… empty. Only a shred of light aided her eyes to see as she saw a candlestick on the credenza next to the door and lit it. The glow cast a shadow from the harp, making her yelp.

She was alone, and not a soul passed through those doors. All the windows were locked from the inside. Sansa stepped to the piano and stared at the instrument in wonder. Her nervous hand hovered over the bench for a moment before touching the polished wood.

It was warm. Someone or something was here and disappeared into thin air. Building up her courage, Sansa removed her slipper and felt the heat from the floor. Her heart raced wildly, and yet no sound came from the floor and walls as it did last time. Taking the candle as if it yielded some kind of protection, she backed out of the room. She was about to pick up the pieces of the broken vase when the flame extinguished in a breath of air and childish giggle.

Terrified, she turned around, and only an eery gloom surrounded her.

"Don’t be afraid," a sweet little voice said next to her ear and Sansa screamed!

The vase forgotten, Sansa quickly ran up the stairs and into her room, locking the door. She caught her breath for only a moment when the creak of old hinges behind her had Sansa turning her head. The metallic tune played as the lid of the music box opened on the table next to her bed. Sansa couldn’t breathe at the sight. Her body went cold and tingly and felt herself falling. It was then her head struck something hard as she collapsed to the floor, blocking her bedroom door.

 

 

 


 

 

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Fists were pounding on the door as a voice cried out, “Sansa! Open the door!”

Sansa could hear a man yelling but her body was paralyzed. She wanted to open her eyes but they felt as though heavy stones lay upon her eyelids.

Footsteps sprinted away only to return with the sound of a key turning in the lock. With a sharp click, the door opened only a crack, hindered by the unconscious body that lay on the floor behind it.

“Sansa… Dear God,” the voice mumbled in fear as the door was cautiously pushed harder not to further injure the girl.

The man was finally able to slide through the door, entering the room. Pulling her body away, he opened the door fully to the hallway.

“Mrs. Ames!” he roared as his strained voice echoed back to him in the large house. “Mrs. Ames!

Gentle hands lifted her torso up just enough to lean into his chest and slip an arm under her legs. She was laid down on the bed just as the housekeeper, wrapping her dressing gown securely around her frame, ran into the room.

“Yes, my lord…. Oh dear, what has happened?” the old woman gasped at the pale girl on the bed.

“I heard a scream, and when I looked out my door, hers slammed shut. It was locked and when I retrieved the key, she was lying on the floor,” Lord Petyr said breathlessly.

Withered, old hands touched her face and arms softly. “She’s cold and clammy as the dead. I’ll fetch spirit of hartshorn,” the woman said.

After a moment, soft fingers caressed her cheek tenderly, pushing back her hair. Sansa could detect mint and brandy and knew that calming scent. Suddenly, a pungent ammonia filled her nostrils, popping open her eyes as everything came back in a whirl.

Sansa sat up with a gasp, looking wildly around the room. Lord Petyr sat next to her as Mrs. Ames stood by the bedpost with concern written on both their faces. Sansa scrambled to the side of the bed away from them.

“Sansa?” Lord Petyr spoked gingerly, but she didn’t hear him. Her eyes were wide and fixed on the open music box resting behind him. Slowly Sansa slid the bed and backed away across the room while her eyes never left the wooden box. The wardrobe halted her retreat. Sansa would have crawled inside if she had half a mind to do so.

Mrs. Ames lit a candelabra that cast a glow on Lord Petyr’s face, hiding half in shadow. His dark eyes watched her intensely, worry laced with suspicion. Sansa couldn’t tear her eyes away from the music box. Is wasn’t so much as how it got into her room, but that it opened and played by itself that made her shiver in fear.

A voice, she distinctly heard a voice downstairs… God, was she going mad in this house?

A growing sound of nervous chatter filled the hallway, when Mrs. Ames shooed out what must have been the servants. They would have much to gossip about come morning as if they didn’t have enough questions about the northern girl staying with them.

“Child, what happened?” the kindly voice asked.

Sansa’s eyes flicked to the old woman and didn’t know how to answer her. Would they think her mad? Send her away? The maid, Sarah, said there were spirits in this house. Did everyone here believe such things, or was it only something jested about in private?

“I don’t know,” she lied, stuttering a bit and feeling a terrible ache behind her ear. “I might have tripped in the dark….”

Lord Petyr’s eyes narrowed, and yet he didn’t say a word.

“Lord Baelish said he heard a scream and couldn’t open your door. You’ve never locked your door before,” Mrs. Ames countered softly.

Sansa’s head ached terribly as she tried to piece everything together. She could lie, but his eyes gave her warning. Sansa hadn’t been able to lie convincingly to Lord Petyr yet. Somehow he knew it was she that screamed and locked her bedroom door.

“I - I woke from a bad dream and heard music… downstairs,” she began. Mrs. Ames was listening earnestly but Sansa couldn’t read Lord Petyr at all as he watched her.

“Did you go downstairs?” he pressed lightly yet his tone told her not to lie to him.

“Yes,” she shivered. “There was nothing. No one in the music room. I broke a vase,” she muttered, “I’m sorry. I hope it wasn’t too valuable.”

“A vase?” the old woman chuckled, “Dear, don’t worry yourself…”

“Why did you scream?” he interrupted, never taking his eyes off her.

Sansa’s mind worked rapidly, “I – I scared myself. Stupid, really. Maybe I wasn’t truly awake. It was a nasty nightmare after all…”

“A nightmare. Yet, you woke, heard music, came downstairs, broke a vase, screamed loud enough to wake the house and ran back to your room locking the door?” he asked unconvinced.

Sansa didn’t know how to answer him as her eyes continually darted back to that damned music box, then the fear set in. How would she explain that? The last time Sansa saw it, the box was in Lord Petyr’s dressing room. Sansa thought she imagined it when she heard the tune after leaving the room, but there it sat, right on her side table… and she did not put it there.

Her heart stopped when suddenly, Lord Petyr’s head turned following the direction of her stare over his shoulder. His jaw set and when he glanced back, the look there could have frozen God’s Eye lake.

“Mrs. Ames, if you’ll leave us please,” he commanded quietly.

The housekeeper looked between the two with unease and added timidly, “My lord, if I may, it’s not quite proper for her to be alone…”

“I will not tell you again,” he countered, all the while staring at the young woman across the room.

Nervously, Mrs. Ames gave Sansa an apologetic look as she opened and closed the door behind her. All at once, the air was so thick, one could cut it with a knife. Lord Petyr had not moved an inch from where he sat, and Sansa didn’t know what to say or do.

Gracefully, he stood and picked up the box, handling it with care. His black dressing gown almost touched the floor and hung on his narrow frame as he remained motionless in deep thought.

“I’m waiting for an answer,” he spoke smoothly, refusing to look at her and knowing he didn’t need to ask how one of his belongings came to be in her possession.

“I don’t have one,” she answered truthfully. What in God’s name was she supposed to tell him? A ghost put it there? She very well couldn’t tell him she was meddling in his room during his absence.

He traced the delicate carving with his fingertips. “Hm,” he huffed softly, “Shall I supply it? I didn’t think thievery ran in your family…”

“I haven’t stolen anything,” she defended indignantly.

“Yet something very precious to me is here in your room, right next to your bed. Very curious,” Lord Petyr said with dark sarcasm. Any concern he may have felt for her well-being moments ago was long gone.

“I don’t know how that got in here. It wasn’t here when I went downstairs,” Sansa spluttered.

“Ah. A moment ago you said you didn’t think you were fully awake and didn’t know what happened… you seem rather lucid now in recalling details,” Lord Petyr cross-examined with ease.

“I’m telling you the truth. I did not put that there. It was here when I returned, and it was playing by itself,” Sansa spoke too quickly before she could stop herself.

“My dear, I am not a fool. Let me tell you what I think. Since arriving home early, you did not have time to return this to my room where you have been prying in my absence,” he retorted coldly. Sansa had to admit he had it half right. “So, are you accusing me of putting this here or one of my servants?”

“No!” she exclaimed in frustration. “I don’t know how else to tell you I didn’t take it. I never took it from your dressing room!”

The moment it spilled out of her mouth, Sansa couldn’t take it back. Lord Petyr caught her in a lie, and they both knew it. What was she supposed to say now? Someone or a ghost was playing nasty tricks on her. He wouldn’t believe her now that he knew she had been spying through his things.

The marquess set the box down and walked around her bed until she was cornered between the wardrobe and window. Even though they were the same height, he seemed much taller as he hovered over her.

“If you wanted to see my bedroom, sweetling,” he whispered seductively, “all you had to do was ask.”

The undercurrent of his tone was menacing. Sansa’s pulse raced, but it wasn’t the pleasant flutter she felt in the ballroom when his lips were so close to hers. He knew full well she was scared and played on those fears anyway.

“Although,” Lord Petyr continued with a smirk, “the tour would have never left my bed…”

Before she knew it, Sansa’s hand flew on its own, slapping his cheek, making her gasp from the action. She hit him, actually hit him. Sansa thought he might strike her since Joffrey had beaten her many times before. Sansa winced in anticipation when she realized he hadn’t flinched or even raised his hand in retaliation.

He sighed and took a step back, “I remember telling you that I don’t rape women. I should amend that statement to include that I do not beat them either. Count your blessings that you live in this country. The places I’ve traveled to… they cut your hand off for stealing.”

“I didn’t…”

“Then, who? Are you being mistreated? Are the servants playing games? Tell me, and I’ll have them dismissed right now,” he reprimanded harshly.

Sansa could think of a specific butler that treated her and all the women here like filth since the day she arrived.

“You won’t believe me. You’ll think I’m mad…” Sansa muttered and could feel the tears building in her eyes.

“I’ve seen and experienced many things. Try me,” Lord Petyr said skeptically which didn’t give Sansa much confidence.

Sansa fidgeted with her hands and couldn’t look him in the eyes. “There was someone or something playing the piano downstairs… it wasn’t the first time.”

“Something?”

“I heard it my first night,” Sansa began anxiously, “When I went out onto the landing a maid told me the house was haunted. I didn’t believe it and went downstairs to prove her wrong, and the music room was empty. The floors were oddly warm as she said. She told me Duncan said the house sits on the gates of Hell. I heard a dark laugh and a wail… it scared me terribly. You mentioned that morning that I looked as if I had not slept. There was nothing for days and days, until…”

Lord Petyr sighed in disbelief but listened anyway. Sansa wanted to crawl into that wardrobe forever. She did sound like a madwoman.

“I was in your room,” she admitted with her eyes cast down, “I was only curious what it looked like. I didn’t touch anything but the box for only a moment. I left it there and when I was leaving….” Sansa took a deep breath, “it started playing. I thought someone, even you, were playing a trick on me, but no one was there. And tonight…”

Lord Petyr had backed away and sat down on her bed, crossing his arms. Everything about his posture was pure skepticism.

“If you were so scared the first time, why did you go downstairs again tonight?” he tapped his fingers on his leg.

“I don’t know,” she whispered, “to prove I wasn’t crazy?”

Sansa knew how she must sound to him, but what else was there to say other than admitting to something she didn’t do?

“My lord, there was no one down there. I could hear the music playing even when I broke the vase. I lit a candle, and there was nothing in that room and no other way out. That piano bench was warm. Someone had to have been playing. I didn’t imagine it. And then…” she hesitated. This was it, he was going to think she needed to be put away.

Sansa closed her eyes, “I was going to clean up the vase, and something blew out my candle. Right then, I heard a child’s laugh. I’m telling you there was no one there… and then it spoke.”

She glanced at his raised eyebrows in the moonlight.

“It said, ‘Don’t be afraid’… That’s when I screamed and ran back to my room. I locked the door, and then I heard that,” she pointed at the now harmless-looking music box resting on her bed.

“You fainted because you heard this play?” he said with disbelief. “So, someone put this in here and wound the key before you came back upstairs?”

“I don’t know how that got in here, I’m telling you the truth. But…” Sansa hesitated. Oh God, was she really going to say it?

“It wasn’t playing when I came in. It… opened by itself and began to play,” she explained finally looking at him pointedly. “I don’t remember anything after that.”

Hell, even she didn’t believe what she said. Sansa watched him as he mulled it over. Sighing, Lord Petyr stood and walked over to pick up the box heading towards the door before pausing a moment.

“I must admit, Sansa,” he said thoughtfully, “Carefully crafted. However I do not believe in such nonsense. This world is far too complicated as it is to add superstitious rubbish into it. By the way, which maid was it?”

“What?”

“The maid, the first night that told you the house is haunted,” Lord Petyr smiled, but something hid behind that smile giving Sansa pause.

“I don’t want her to get in trouble, my lord,” she offered graciously. There was no reason to get the girl dismissed.

“Hmph. Of course, you don’t,” the marquess smirked. In that one statement, Sansa could tell he was finished with this nonsense. “Certainly, I can question the staff. However I find that it will be your word against theirs and we’ll be right back here.”

“I’m not mad. I didn’t imagine this,” Sansa began to weep. “I’m not mad.”

“I don’t think you’re mad, darling,” he said quietly, “I’m rather disappointed you are so easily convinced of… ghosts or such childish fancies. I believe you were frightened, but let me add to that if I may.” He clutched the box, opening the door and paused with his back to her. “If I find you in my bedroom again, there will be consequences.”

Sansa waited until the door shut when the tears fell, and she couldn’t stop crying. The side of her head hurt more than ever as she sat on her bed. He did say she wasn’t a prisoner here. Sansa could leave anytime she pleased. Granted, it would be a long walk to Riverrun in the cold, but Sansa would force herself to do it. How in God’s name could she live here? Lord Petyr didn’t believe a word she said. Sansa knew she should not have pried into his private rooms. She did not lie when she told him she never took the box. She was unconscious when she presumed he found her tonight. That didn’t seem to phase him at all once he saw the box. Why was a simple music box so damn important to him?

Some time passed when a soft knock sounded on her door, and the gentle voice of Mrs. Ames called her name, “Lady Sansa, may I come in? I have tea.”

Sansa wanted to be alone, but she couldn’t turn away the old woman after she went through this much trouble.

“Yes, of course,” she replied and wiped her tears.

Mrs. Ames shuffled in with the silver tray closing the door behind her. “I waited until his lordship left. He was standing in front of your door for a fair bit. Didn’t think he was going to leave and the tea would be cold.”

He waited in front of her door? Sansa couldn’t fathom why. He was clearly upset with her when he left.

“A quiet one, he is,” Mrs. Ames chuckled setting the tray down on the table. “Always deep in thought. I daresay it was the first time I remember him ever smiling since taking over this place… when you arrived, that is.”

“It wasn’t a smile on his face tonight,” Sansa muttered when the woman handed her a teacup.

“Don’t think on it, my dear,” she smiled, pouring herself a cup, “He is all logic and reason, like so many men.”

The tea was mellow and had a strange under-taste, but the warmth unknotted Sansa’s stomach a little.

“That’s the bishopswort. Lemon balm and chamomile with a bit of honey help the taste,” Mrs. Ames explained. “It will help you sleep and relieve some of the pain.”

“Thank you,” Sansa whispered as a stillness filled the room.

“I’ve been told I listen very well,” the old woman smiled sweetly. “I’ve heard all manner of problems from the girls over the years. Believe me, no man is worth crying over.”

Sansa’s head shot up, “It’s not what you think. I don’t fancy… he doesn’t…”

The housekeeper’s eyebrows rose slightly with a smile. “Yet the look on his face was of pure panic when I came in before you roused to the smelling salts. He was the one to find you, my child. Waking the entire house with his shouting, he was.”

Mrs. Ames was a kind, and the woman meant well, but Sansa didn’t know how much she should say. She enjoyed the housekeeper’s company and didn’t want her or the rest of the staff to think their new mistress was a lunatic. After tonight, Sansa wasn’t quite sure how much longer the marquess would let her stay. She was becoming a more significant burden than he had planned on, she guessed. Strangely, it was a feeling Sansa was getting used to. She never felt genuinely welcome anywhere since becoming an orphan. Both her aunt and uncle gave her the overwhelming sentiment of being burdensome in their households.

Sansa wiped a stray tear and drank her tea. At least her hands weren’t shaking anymore.

“You were ice cold and clammy to the touch. What frightened you, my dear? You’re not the first to have found fear in this house,” she asked sweetly trying to placate her worries. When Sansa didn’t answer, the woman continued on, “Don’t worry, I’m the last woman to think you’re mad. You wouldn’t believe what I’ve witnessed in my lifetime. Some I’ll never be able to explain including a few things since I took my position in this household.”

Her tea was growing cold, and Sansa finally spoke with a sigh. She needed someone to confide.

“There’s something in this house, isn’t there?” Sansa asked softly.

“Yes,” the woman answered.

“I’ve heard that piano play twice now. Both times, there was not a soul in that room. But tonight…” she muttered trying to explain herself for the second time. Continuing, she took a deep breath, “Tonight, something blew out my candle and spoke to me. There was no one there. When I ran to my room, there was a music box next to my bed,” her frightened eyes glanced to the now empty table as Mrs. Ames eyes followed. “It opened by itself and began playing. That’s the last thing I remember before waking.”

“That’s what he was holding,” Mrs. Ames said aloud to herself. Her next words shocked Sansa.

 “Did they touch you?” she inquired next, her eyes stern.

They?

“No,” she answered fearfully, unsure what the woman was asking. “I heard a child’s laugh and…”

And what? She couldn’t tell if the voice belonged to a girl or a boy.

It said, ‘Don’t be afraid’…” she whispered.

Mrs. Ames sipped her tea in thought, “Has this happened before tonight?”

“No,” she lied. Sansa didn’t want to tell her about Lord Petyr’s room just yet.

“Before you came to Harrenhal?” the old woman asked, and Sansa was taken off guard.

She had read and heard so many ghost stories and read the faerie tales like many children, but never had she ever experienced anything like this.

“No.”

Mrs. Ames set down her tea and motioned for Sansa to come to sit by her in the light. “It’s all right, child. I won’t hurt you.”

Sansa sat down, placing her tea on the table when the woman took her hands, facing her palms up in the dim light. She watched her nervously as the wrinkled hands traced the lines of her palms and fingers. Mrs. Ames wasn’t from the Riverlands. She was a northerner, too. The herbarium, teas, and now the traditional ways of reading the palms were ways of the clans.

“So much pain for a young woman to bear,” she muttered studying the lines as if they were a detailed map. Her weathered brow crinkled with a frown a few times and Sansa held her breath. Suddenly a small smile crossed her lips, “Don’t despair, my girl. You will find some happiness and even love, passionate love. I see a few children for you as well.”

Mrs. Ames patted her hands reassuringly, but something was hiding behind her eyes.

“We northerners know each other as if we’re family,” she smiled sweetly. “They don’t understand down here or in the south. They’ve forgotten the old ways. Sometimes for the better but not always when they can’t answer questions with God or modern sciences.”

Sansa didn’t quite understand. Her mother practiced the new religion and anything else from the region was treated as nothing more than history. Catelyn Stark wasn’t a northerner, though; she was from the Riverlands. Sansa and Arya learned about the old ways from the servants and common folk yet anytime they asked questions, their mother always hushed it as nonsense… just as Lord Baelish did earlier.

“I want you to listen to me carefully, child,” Mrs. Ames began, “Do not talk to them.”

There is was again… them.

“They have taken notice of you. It’s better you pretend you don’t hear or see them. They are only interested in the ones that they can latch onto,” the old woman warned her.

“The ghosts?” Sansa asked, her fear returning.

“Oh, there are plenty of those here too,” the woman said glancing around the room. “There are ancient places, my lady – long before the druids of old. Places that remember. Perhaps it is good that new generations are going uneducated orforgetting thus ignoring their signs. People see it as bad luck or maybe the devil, like Duncan. That man sleeps with the Bible under his pillow, I suspect.”

Sansa pulled her hands away. “I don’t understand.”

“Do what the rest of us do, child. Ignore it, even if it is terrifying. Don’t listen or talk to them. They are tricksters and liars. Do not take their help… ever. They mostly come at night or when you’re alone, so don’t wander around. If you are scared, you can always come to me. Perhaps I’ll give you a tea at night to make you sleep?” Suddenly the woman smiled slyly, “Once you marry his lordship and spend your nights with him, you won’t feel so alone upon which they can prey.”

Sansa gasped at the thought, “I’m not marrying him.”

“Then why did he bring you here and make you mistress of the house?” the woman chuckled lowly at her naivety.

I don’t know.

“My uncle… he gambled and lost his estate and me to some men,” Sansa started but couldn’t look the woman in the eyes as she spoke. “Lord Baelish saved me and brought me here as his ward. He said I wasn’t safe at Riverrun.”

“And why would he help a young girl that is a stranger to him? His lordship doesn’t strike me as the gallant hero. Oh, he’s courteous enough and has treated us decently for a titled lord of his stature. However, he seems quite taken with you since your arrival.”

“He knew my mother a long time ago… he’s kind to me because of her,” she mumbled.

“I see,” Mrs. Ames said.

“Could someone, I mean, one of the staff be playing tricks on me? To make me leave? I know Duncan hates me,” Sansa asked nervously.

“That man is an old, grumbling, pious chamber pot. Don’t let him frighten you. I highly doubt the marquess would listen to one word the man says about you. The rest of the staff adores you. I can’t think of why one of them would do such a thing,” she smiled and then the smile died. “Why, my lady?”

“Lord Baelish believes I stole from him and I haven’t,” she whimpered.

“The music box,” Mrs. Ames guessed correctly. “You said it played by itself and was in this room?”

Sansa pointed to the side table and said no more.

“You’ve seen it before, haven’t you?” she queried without judgment.

“Yes. It played by itself then too and I thought someone was playing a nasty trick. I might as well tell you I looked in Lord Baelish’s room last week. I know I shouldn’t have, but I was only curious and nothing more. I swear to you, I took nothing. It frightened me, and I ran out and…” Sansa paused anxiously. “I looked back, in the hallway and there was an odd glow, not from a candle. Suddenly, the door slammed shut. I never went back again.”

Sansa waited for the housekeeper to admonish her for prying into the marquess’ things that were none of her business, but the woman remained quiet in contemplation.

“It wasn’t Duncan or anyone else, I’m afraid,” Mrs. Ames finally spoke with trepidation that made Sansa’s stomach churn. “Remember what I told you, ignore them, and I believe they will leave you alone in time. Do not listen. They are liars, my lady. Do not do anything they ask of you and never take their help, no matter how dire the circumstance. Be careful of the woods, it’s best not to go there alone. They are as ancient as the ruins this house sits upon. I feel it would be best if you did not discuss any of this with his lordship. He will never understand until he sees for himself. I hope that time will never come for both your sakes."

Sansa felt more confused as ever as the old woman picked up the china, setting them on the tray glancing around the room again. The effects of the tea had taken hold, making her eyes glassy.

“So many tragedies in this house. So much sorrow. It would be nice to see happiness prevail here once again. Be merry, my dear. Do not dwell on his lordship’s anger. I think he’ll find he cannot hold any anger towards for your long. He could do with a bit of cheerfulness as well, I gather. There is a sadness he keeps buried deep down even though he tries well to hide it,” Mrs. Ames finished tenderly seeing the girl drifting hazily in her chair.

“Come. Let’s get you to bed. You’ll feel better in the morning, I promise,” the housekeeper spoke softly tucking Sansa in. “Find a kindness toward his lordship, child. I think he cares for you… more than you know. I don’t think it was chance that brought you here.”

Sansa drifted off as the northern woman’s voice became softer with heavy sleep.

“Men often don’t know what they want. They aren’t as complicated as they pretend to be, nor made of iron. An old woman knows these things… for I have seen so much…”


Chapter Text

TL

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sansa drank her afternoon tea in the library as the warmth of the fire gave little consolation to the dreariness she felt. Days and days had passed since that night as a strange stillness came over the house. She spent her days mainly in the library or playing the piano. Sansa had no fear of this room in the daylight while the music echoed throughout the house. Nevertheless, at night, she could hear those ghostly nocturnes that emanated from below in all their frightening melancholy.

Lord Petyr passed by one afternoon, and then the next day, she spied him leaning against the door as she played. Today he actually came inside, sitting near the window as rain streamed down. He never spoke a word – only listened. The few times Sansa glanced up, he was gazing out the window, his eyes in some faraway place. There was a sadness there, yet she didn’t have the courage to speak to him about such a personal thing. Perhaps, he too had some tragedy in his life. Sansa vaguely remembered Mrs. Ames saying there might be something he was locking away and show him a little kindness.

The man spent most of his day in his study or around the estate. Men would come to the house in regards to business, and most nights Lord Petyr would not return until supper while sometimes he would retire to his rooms leaving Sansa to dine alone.

Sansa glanced around the library. She read so many books to occupy her time. Her new clothes, beautiful and finely tailored, were a silk and lace prison. Unlike her shabby dresses, now Sansa couldn’t help in the kitchen or sit with the women and enjoy their presence. She was now a lady again and expected to act like one. However, that meant loneliness as well. No one came to visit the marquess other than men of the surrounding counties and those he had business matters with.

Earlier after playing in the music room, Sansa made her way up towards her room when she could hear Mrs. Ames arguing down the hallway. It came from the direction of his study. Sansa knew she shouldn’t pry, but she couldn’t help herself after hearing her name mentioned.

“My lord, I have been outspoken and direct ever since I first walked through the doors of this house. Not once, have you ever admonished me for it,” Sansa overheard the old woman speak softly but surely. “I worry about that child. Could she not visit her family or leave with me to the market? Day in and day out she is alone with no visitors and does nothing but play on that piano like a caged bird singing a sad tune…”

“She plays beautifully. This house needs a little music,” Lord Petyr countered tiredly.

“Then you should have hired a musician, m’lord,” Mrs. Ames told him pointedly, and even Sansa was surprised at her candor. Servants did not speak to their masters in this manner, and Sansa waited for Baelish to reprimand her.

“She is safe here, and that’s all you need know. I wasn’t about to leave her in that squalor. I admire your protectiveness, Mrs. Ames,” he said nonchalantly, and Sansa could picture him writing at his desk hardly paying attention to his outspoken housekeeper.

Should I be worried about protecting her?” the woman voiced with a sharp undertone.

“I have not nor do I have intentions of taking advantage of the girl, if that is what you’re implying. I’ve dismissed servants for less than the imprudent questions you’re asking me right now. Count your blessings I have respect for your honesty and your role in my employ,” Lord Petyr countered softly. Sansa felt he held some of the same respect for the woman as he seemed to with Mrs. Cole. However, there was a line that Mrs. Ames knew not to cross.

“She is unhappy, m’lord. Surely you must see that. She dines alone, spends the day alone, and bolts her door every night in fear,” she continued.

“Is that why you’re drugging her with that tea of yours?” he asked, shocking Sansa as well as the housekeeper.

“It helps her sleep, that is all,” Mrs. Ames defended herself and then there was a long pause. “Forgive me, I just don’t seem to understand why you have brought her here.”

At least I’m not the only one that wonders why I’m here.

“If I take her back, she will be cleaning, cooking and tending to her drunken and incompetent uncle until she’s an old woman. She is meant for finer things. She has everything she needs here,” he growled telling the woman he was long finished discussing this topic.

The chair scuffed back, and Sansa knew Mrs. Ames was about to leave his study. She did not want to be caught eavesdropping.

“Not everything, my lord,” Mrs. Ames quipped as Sansa ducked into a dark alcove behind a marble bench.

“Mrs. Ames,” he called out just when Sansa could see her about to pass by.

“My lord?”

“Take her with you tomorrow. Perhaps find some embroidery or something she’ll enjoy. Whatever it is, have it billed to me. Anything she desires,” Lord Petyr said abruptly before Sansa heard his door close.

 

Sansa smiled to herself as the hot liquid warmed her stomach. Finally, she would be able to get away from here, even if only for a few hours. Sansa could send a letter to Uncle Edmure or Mrs. Cole. Running away was not an option after the ill-advised attempt she made from the inn in what like felt ages ago. Even if Mrs. Ames let her go, where would she go?

Lord Petyr was paying all of her uncle’s mounting bills, and he would probably not be pleased with her return in fear the money would stop. Uncle Edmure hated Lord Baelish and refused to let the man take his niece at first. Since her arrival at Harrenhal, not one word, letter, or an attempt to come to for her. Nothing.

Perhaps it was enough to just go to the market with Mrs. Ames without the prying eyes of the marquess. If the man was to be believed, she could buy whatever she wished. If there was an art dealer, she could start painting again. Sansa was no master, but she remembered spending hours in the garden back home, sketching and painting. Sansa did not have the gift for poetry as her musical skills were decent enough, but she always loved art. Had she married Joffrey, she could have spent all her days in the royal gallery.

Finishing her tea, Sansa set the china aside with a half-smile. At least it would be something different, she mused. There was only so much music to play, and reading all the time was becoming tedious. Sansa didn’t know how Lord Petyr spent so much of his time in his study. She would go quite mad.

Sansa was surprised when he came down for dinner. Oddly, she felt as if he was purposefully avoiding her the past week. A little porcelain doll, that’s what she was. A pretty doll dressed in beautiful clothes but never meant to leave the shelf where she had been placed and forgotten.

“How was your day?” he asked as the footman placed soup before him. Lord Petyr laid his serviette on his lap and poured a glass of wine.

“Stimulating,” she quipped with heavy sarcasm and drank from her glass.

“Do the books bore you?” he inquired lightly, and Sansa tried not to roll her eyes. She read more books in the past couple of weeks than her entire life.

“No, my lord. You have quite the library. How could I possibly be bored?” she answered in false politeness and continued to eat her soup.

It was quiet for a time as they awaited the next course, and Sansa could feel a tension growing.

“Mrs. Ames tells me you’re unhappy here,” he said, making Sansa practically choke on her wine.

She had never told the woman that and Sansa didn’t recall Mrs. Ames explicitly saying it in such a way to him in his study. Sansa honestly did not know how to answer him.

“Is your room not satisfactory?” he asked with that unblinking stare of his. “The gowns… not to your liking?”

Sansa could not meet his gaze. “They’re lovely, my lord.”

“Do you miss working as a servant so much that you’re now dissatisfied with going back to your ladylike activities? You’d rather work in the kitchen, is that it?” he smirked as a plate of roasted duck was set before her.

At least I would feel welcome and have someone to talk to that doesn’t chastise me for every little thing.

“You forget, my lord. I am still only a servant in this house. A pretty gown doesn’t change that,” she tossed back quickly.

God, she wanted to drink that entire decanter of wine right now.

“Hardly. You’re the lady of the house, my house, my dear. A station befitting you,” he remarked and poured another glass for both of them.

“Clearly, I should be grateful for my cage and meaningless title,” Sansa shot back.

“Cage? Yet you have stayed all this time. I said you could leave whenever you wished,” he smiled, and Sansa wanted to toss her wine in his face.

“Oh, it’s a stunning and gilded cage, my lord, but a cage all the same,” she grumbled. “You know very well; I don’t have a choice. My uncle would never take me back now.”

Sansa had tried to convince herself so many times that this wasn't true, but her uncle never wrote nor came to see if she was treated well. Holding out a shred of hope seemed more senseless with each passing day.

“True. I’m sure Edmure believes I’ve ruined you the first night,” he grinned, hitting every one of her nerves. “Ah, but you truly are limiting yourself. You could have an exhilarating life as a governess to some horrible children. Of course, convents are sorely lacking in beautiful nuns. Or maybe a shopkeepers wife?”

Sansa had enough of his banter and insults. She stood up from the table, practically knocking over her chair in the process and strode out of the dining room into the grand foyer. Lord Petyr barely acknowledged her existence as it was, but now she couldn’t handle his offensive line of questioning. What did he expect? Was she supposed to be thrilled at being torn away from her family and thrown into a new home filled with strangers? Strangers and stranger things. Granted, the house was grander than any place she had ever lived and the clothing the finest she had ever owned, but nothing was hers. Everything belonged to him. She belonged to him, and Sansa hated him for it.

Sansa ran out onto the stone terrace overlooking the lake. It was a cold evening and soon the snows would come trapping her here for the winter. At least he would leave, she thought. During his absence, Sansa could think straight yet ever since his return and that night in the ballroom… the man confounded her. She rather liked his companionship when he was in a pleasant mood, but his mood changed on a whim.

The man was an enigma. He expected her to stay. Lord Petyr wanted her to have beautiful clothing and live in his home, yet he rarely spent any time with her. The marquess hadn’t touched her. Only twice did he give any semblance of affection or desire for her. Not knowing his mind was a strange peace and discomfort. Sansa wouldn't know what to do if he ever attempted to woo or seduce her. What on earth did a bachelor want with a ward in her twenties if it wasn't to take advantage of her? 

Her dinner was threatening to come up from the sheer anger that churned inside. Sansa took in deep breaths and walked to the stone balustrade leaning into it.

“If you fall, you’ll tear your dress,” his voice quipped from the doorway. “Not quite the long drop as the Eyrie.”

Sansa remembered that night. She could hardly believe she was contemplating it when he came to her. Lord Baelish had been kind and tender with her that evening of the ball. Sansa was so desperate for anyone to show her some compassion after living under her aunt’s thumb for so long. Now, she wondered what the duchess would think if she knew her niece was living with the same man she fancied. By Lysa’s letter, she was still infatuated, it appeared. Her aunt did invite him for the winter. For all Sansa knew,  Lord Petyr wintering to Kings Landing was a lie.

“I was… unforgivably rude at dinner,” he admitted slowly, interrupting Sansa’s thoughts. “I’m afraid I am not the most congenial of companions for a young lady.”

An owl’s song on the breeze was the only sound to break the eery quiet between them.

“Mrs. Ames is going to Lord Holloway’s Town on the morrow, and I thought you might want to accompany her. Perhaps, you’ll find something of interest to pass the time. Music from the capital, canvas and paints, sewing. I apologize that I haven’t come to know your talents other than the piano… but there are a few shops that may cater to a young lady’s fancy.”

“Happiness cannot be bought,” she retorted coldly.

“The poor would beg to differ,” he replied smoothly.

I cannot be bought,” she rephrased. “You think you can shower and placate me with things… I refuse to be a kept woman. That’s what everyone believes I am.”

Lord Petyr was silent for the longest time that Sansa thought he might have left her alone, finally.

“Come inside, you’ll freeze out here,” his gentle voice spoke behind Sansa’s ear, startling her.

He was closer than she realized when his warm hands touched her shoulders. Refusing to look at the man, she held her rigid stance gazing across the icy waters. The full moon mirrored it’s silver glow on the still, black lake. If it were any other time, Sansa would have thought it beautiful.

“Why am I here?” she said more to herself than him.

Lord Petyr sighed deeply as he stepped closer to her feeling his body heat.

“I don’t know,” he murmured. “I thought I knew.”

“I want to go home,” she whispered.

She could feel the warmth of his breath tickling her neck, making the fine hairs stand on end.

“This is your home,” he said regretfully.

“No. I want to go back to Riverrun. Please, my lord. Please take me there,” she begged softly as one hand left her shoulder. He fumbled in his coat pocket retrieving a letter, handing it to her.

“I know you won’t believe me, so read it for yourself,” he told her. “I sent a letter to him the day after I returned… about bringing you home.”

Sansa’s stomach knotted as she opened it, the Tully seal broken. Indeed, it was her uncle’s handwriting, and the words were a knife through her heart. She was ruined in his eyes and now an orphan in every sense of the word. The animosity between these two men was evident, but Sansa never dreamed the last of her family would disown her completely. She hated being a woman. Men did not even require proof of debauchery, only the mere hint of it and a woman’s reputation was forever stained.

“As of now, you are officially and legally my ward, Sansa,” he sighed. “I will do what I can to make you comfortable here.”

Sansa’s knees buckled, and swiftly a strong arm wrapped around her waist from behind. Her uncle’s lazy signature crinkled in her hand as the letter fell from her grasp onto the stone.

“I’m going to be ill,” she grimaced, feeling her stomach lurch. Sansa scrambled to the balustrade leaning over and all too quickly the contents from dinner came up. She felt soothing circles on her back and wished Lord Baelish would stop this newfound sympathy.

Other than her father, Sansa had never been ill in front of a man and hated every second of it. On the other hand, if this didn’t exhort at how she truly felt about having to stay here, the marquess was not a bright man.

Sansa reluctantly took the soft handkerchief he calmly handed her. This was the second time on a terrace that he was kind and gentle yet now she actually belonged to this man. She was more or less his property, as the thought of what that could mean made her stomach churn again.

“Let’s get you inside. I’ll have Mrs. Ames make some tea,” he offered tenderly.

Lord Petyr sat her down on the cozy chaise lounge in the library and called for Mrs. Ames. He drank his brandy while watching her carefully. Sansa was grateful when the housekeeper brought her wonderful tea. She didn’t even mind the strange taste anymore as she almost gulped the hot liquid down. The herbs worked quickly, and she couldn’t wait to go to bed and forget everything.

Lord Petyr walked her up the stairs to her room against Mrs. Ames objections of propriety. Sansa didn’t care anymore. She was sure the entire house believed she was most likely his mistress. A woman of her age wasn’t so much a ward, but a kept woman of sorts to a man not of her family.

She hazily held onto his arm as he opened the door and led her into the bedroom. The tea, combined with the wine made Sansa’s head light and her feet heavy. She doubted she would be able to undress after he left and was content with falling asleep in her gown.

Like a whisper in her ear, Sansa heard a slight childish giggle and froze in her tracks.

“Tell me you heard that,” she whispered.

His lordship turned to her when her arm pulled on his and narrowed his eyes slightly.

“Heard what?” he asked lowly.

Her heart pounded, and a cold sheen was upon her skin when her eyes landed upon the table next to her bed. Even in her addled state, she saw the music box as clear as day.

Sansa tore her arm from his and backed away in fear. “No. No, no, no. I’m not mad,” she mumbled, feeling the hysteria building.

Lord Petyr followed her line of sight and frowned deeply. He strode over to the table and picked up the box. “I thought we were past this,” he growled.

He held it out as he walked towards her, making Sansa cower. “What elaborate excuse do you have for me this time?” he spat calmly.

“Get that thing away from me. I’m not mad, I tell you,” Sansa cried and moved away, afraid of the thing. “I can’t stay in this room. I’ll sleep in the servant’s quarters, I don’t care. I won’t sleep here. I won’t.”

The tea was fogging her vision and mind but Sansa could hear herself – she sounded every bit a wailing madwoman. She couldn’t make out what the marquess was saying as he lay the box on her bed. He came towards her pulling Sansa up, making her involuntarily wince.

“God woman, I’m not hurting you,” she heard him say.

“I want to go home,” she heard herself cry into his arm. “I’m not mad. I’m not.”

The box forgotten, Lord Petyr picked her up when her knees gave out. She didn’t care where she slept, she would be fine with hay and horses just as long as it was not in this room. She felt him haul her up into his arms, but instead of carrying her to her bed, he walked out into the hallway.

It was pitch black when Sansa felt something soft beneath her. With the flick of a match, a pale light glowed upon the silvery walls. Arms pulled her up as she leaned against a broad chest as her head swam with wine and herbs. Skilled fingers unlaced the back of her gown, and Sansa could barely move, let alone defend herself. If this man were going to take her, she wouldn’t be able to stop him.

One by one, her sleeves were pulled down and felt the heavy skirt trail down her legs. Her slippers were gently removed before tucking her legs under the soft linens. Sansa could smell the brandy on his breath as he pulled her up again and began unlacing her corset. Her limp hands weakly pushed him as she tried to voice one word, “No.”

“Sssh, sweetling. Sssh. It’s all right,” the man crooned, pulling the constricting garment away and laying her down onto a billowy cloud of silk.

Warm linens and the heavy duvet covered her in softness as the soft candlelight erased the lines on his face and he looked years younger. He leaned down and kissed her forehead as the words left her lips. “I want to go home.”

She was falling down, deeper and deeper into that dreamless sleep feeling the world slip away.

“You are home,” his soft voice uttered in the darkness. Warm breath caressed her skin as she entered the void. She couldn’t tell if it was a dream when tender lips closed over hers, taking her breath away.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

BG

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wrapped in a silken balminess, Sansa curled into its embrace. This bed felt as though the sun had warmed heaven’s clouds. She did not want to awaken just yet even though she could sense the morning light streaming in the room.

The room. Where was she?

Sansa’s eyes opened and took in her surroundings. Light filtered softly through the lacy champagne-colored curtains that left delicate shadows upon the duvet. The bed she lay in was the one she wondered weeks ago about its softness.

On a nearby chair lay her dress and corset, neatly folded and awaiting its mistress. A splash of water turned her head towards the door she knew led to the adjoining wash room. Lord Petyr brought her to this room? Why?

She lifted the bedcovers and discovered she was dressed in her chemise and stockings. He hadn’t touched her. Sansa tried to remember the previous night in vain. Lord Petyr saw the box just as she did and the anger in his eyes was unmistakable, and yet he brought her to his future wife’s bedroom.

“How are you feeling?” his voice sounded from the doorway startling her.

His tone was gentle without a hint of anger, suspicion, or even sarcasm from last night. Lord Petyr was dressed in his shirt sleeves and waistcoat as he toweled his freshly shaven face, readying for the day.

“I have a headache,” she answered truthfully. Honesty was most likely the best option right now.

“Undoubtedly,” he smiled thinly as Sansa unconsciously pulled up the covers. “Shall I inform Mrs. Ames that you shan’t be joining her today?”

Sansa had to admit she truly did not feel up to going to the market, but when would be her next chance to leave the estate?

“No, my lord,” she replied softly, “I would like to go. That is if you haven’t changed your mind.”

“Why would you think that?” Lord Petyr chuckled as he tied his cravat into an elegant knot.

Was the marquess really this obtuse or was he just playing with her?

Without meeting his eyes, Sansa tucked her hair behind her ear and hugged the duvet to her chest. “I just assumed you would be angry with me,” she whispered.

The words he uttered next shocked her.

“Do you really want the music box, my dear? If so – ”

“No!” she breathed in horror that he would even suggest such a thing.

“I see,” he said deep in thought. Sansa could feel his eyes studying her not able to meet his gaze. “You are truly frightened of it, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” she whispered, pulling the bed clothes closer.

Lord Petyr tossed the towel aside and sat on the opposite side of the bed, facing away from her.

“So, it comes down to – do you really believe in these ghosts or is someone in the house playing a nasty game with you?” he spoke softly with no note of sarcasm.

“I don’t know anymore,” she admitted, feeling hot tears well up in her eyes. Sansa knew what she saw and heard, yet no one believed her except Mrs. Ames. Maybe she was going mad after all. “What does it matter? You – no one believes me anyway.”

Lord Petyr sighed and laid back onto the mattress, sinking in the silk duvet. He stared at the ceiling for a few minutes in silence before glancing back at her teary eyes and smiled sadly.

“Had I known this bed was so soft, I would have taken this room instead,” he grinned trying to lighten the mood. Sansa wiped her eyes and looked away. She knew he was trying to be kind, but the fact remained he did not believe a word she said, and it hurt. Sansa did not understand why she wanted him to believe her so, or why his opinion was important at all.

He sat up and gently turned her chin to face him.

“No more tears,” he murmured. “I’ll sort this out. When I find who is doing this, I’ll dismiss them immediately. Now, dry your eyes, and I’ll send for Sarah to help you dress. The bath is yours. You can bolt the doors even though I wouldn’t dream of violating your privacy. Perhaps a hot soak will help. I’ll tell Mrs. Ames to wait for you. I think an afternoon away from here will better your disposition.”

Lord Petyr gave her his handkerchief and smiled, but his eyes were forlorn and despondent. He pushed himself up off the bed and returned to the washroom. Moments later, Sansa heard the adjoining door to his room shut.

Several minutes drifted by before she could even muster the will to remove herself from the soft bed. At first, Sansa thought about gathering her clothes and scurrying back to her own room, but the offer of fresh bath was too tempting. She tip-toed into the washroom, finding it empty and made her way to his door. She could hear him inside and slid the bolt in place, securing it.

The porcelain and copper tub was still warm, and Sansa wondered if he had used it this morning already. The idea of a naked man bathing in this room found its way into her mind making Sansa blush. She glanced back to the locked door nervously. He wouldn’t encroach on her, Lord Petyr said, and Sansa believed him. She bolted the other door just to be doubly safe before exploring the pump handle next to the tub. She accidentally touched the copper pipe under the mechanism and hissed. It was hot!

After a few primed pumps, the hot water flowed into the tub. Sansa had never seen anything like it. Water had always been heated by the fire, and it took ages it seemed to have a full bath, hence why sponging was more effective routine.

Pressing the handle down, the flow stopped as she tested the water’s temperature. Steam filled the marble room, and Sansa glanced both doors once again. At last satisfied with her privacy, did she finally disrobe and step gingerly into the tub. The back was high enough that her head rested against the porcelain.Within moments, her stress began to ebb away. Sansa wished Winterfell had a bath such as this. She never would have left it.

Sansa breathed in the heavy steam, letting it relax her further. It had a strange scent she couldn’t place. It reminded her of the salt air when her father had taken them to White Harbor. The smell of the sea, that’s what it was. Strange to sense that so far inland and in a washroom no less.

A small table next to the bath held oils and soaps. A piece of soap had been freshly used, and Sansa left it where it lay. He had used that on himself, she thought. An image came to mind as she quickly pushed it away, grabbing a wrapped piece in paper and twine. Bringing it to her nose, Sansa smiled. She loved lemons, but rarely ever had them so far north. Lemon cakes were always her favorite, and the memory made her heart lighten.

Sansa didn’t lather her hair, not wanting to make Mrs. Ames wait longer than needed for her to change. Unfortunately, the heat of water became tepid as baths never retained heat for long. As expected, a soft knock sounded on the door from the Marchioness’ room, and Sansa knew it was the maid to help her dress.

 

Mrs. Ames smiled as Sansa descended the stairs in her pale green dress and traveling cloak. She didn’t see the marquess anywhere and assumed he was in his study or going about his usual business. Sansa noticed Duncan’s raised eyebrow but she held her head high, ignoring the old butler completely, bustling past him. She wouldn’t let his man ruin her outing. Oddly, it was warmer than usual today in late autumn and Sansa was grateful for it. The young footman, William, helped her into the same carriage she arrived in over a month ago.

Strangely, the carriage ride to Lord Holloway’s Town seemed shorter than she remembered. Mrs. Ames was quieter than usual. If she heard of what happened last night, Sansa was happy they didn’t talk about it. She was sure of gossip spreading that she had spent the night in the room meant for Lord Baelish’s wife.

Hopefully, when they returned, she could find another suitable bedroom to call her own. Regardless of what Lord Petyr had said or what he might be thinking, Sansa wasn’t going to spend another night in that bedroom. Indeed, he did not intend for her to move into the bedroom next to him. That was just where he took her in the spur of the moment, nothing more.

The carriage came to a stop near the market. Sansa looked out the window and smiled. Yes, this would be a welcome distraction, she thought. County farmers, fishmongers, bakers were selling their autumn harvest.

“Come on, dear. There’s much to do today,” the old woman grinned, patting her hand. “His lordship will be leaving soon, I should think. I want to make sure to get as much to stock for the winter. I hate the idea of those poor horses trudging heavy sleighs back in deep snow. Lord Baelish kept the old storerooms beyond the kitchens intact from the original castle. Being out of the way as we are, they come in handy during a harsh winter.”

Sansa followed her and spent a better part of the morning buying dry goods, and plenty of fresh produce and meats to cure. The smallfolk were kind and bowed before her as if she were a lady of breeding. Sansa was thankful or donning her bonnet today for the sun was rather bright made her squint slightly. She hadn’t seen this much sunshine in weeks. Even though the late autumn chill in was ever-present in the air, the sun’s rays graced her face. Many times she felt her head tilting up feeling it’s warmth.

Mrs. Ames handed Sansa the purse of coins Lord Baelish had given her earlier. She remembered Mrs. Cole’s frugality when they went to the market, but Lord Petyr, by the weight in her hand, had given them quite a sum. More than what was undoubtedly necessary. Uncertain of whether to haggle or not, Sansa looked at the faces of the local children playing and the families selling their harvests. The marquess said himself that the crops were not as plentiful this season and knew Aunt Lysa was sending supplies from the Vale.

She paid the man and his expression was of surprise and attempted to hand her back some of the coins.

“No,” she smiled and closed his fingers over the coins. “Take care of your family this winter.”

Each vendor was paid handsomely as they went along gathering their needs, while two footmen loaded the supplies in the waiting wagon. The people smiled and thanked the young woman for her generosity. It made Sansa angry that her own uncle had not been taking care of his small folk. Lord Petyr spent a good fortnight collecting taxes as he had said.

However, with each person she bought from, they thanked her and his lordship for being so generous to them when times were hard. She and Mrs. Ames learned that Lord Petyr had not collected one coin of taxes from the people of the Riverlands. One particular farmer said he paid to have several sick cows looked at. The man gleamed when he handed her a young calf as payment.

“No, no,” Sansa told the proud man. “Keep her with her mother.” Harrenhal had plenty of healthy livestock, and she couldn’t bear to separate the calf from its mother. These people needed milk and meat more than they did.

Occasionally, she could see the old housekeeper smile with pride as Sansa emptied his bag of coins to the local people. The heaviness she felt for weeks was lifted as she smiled more in one morning than she had in years.

After a couple of hours, the wagon was full. Sansa walked with Mrs. Ames around the part of the town that was paved in cobblestone with small shops on either side of the street. All of the money spent except a few guineas, she bought the servants and her old companion a well-deserved lunch by a small patisserie. Children were playing with a few goats nearby, and Sansa thought she could sit and watch them all day in bliss.

Well-dressed gentlemen tipped their hat or bowed as they passed by and Sansa almost forgot what it was like to feel like a young lady again. Lord Holloway’s Town was a cry different than the those near the Eyrie or even the small villages close to Riverrun. No one called her a dirty northerner, whore or gave her a look of disgust. Here, she was treated like a well-bred lady

Sansa wondered how much influence Lord Petyr had among the people. He had shown them generosity and kindness, and she could see the respect they had for their new lord. It was beginning to remind her of home and the way her father and mother treated their small folk. Father had told them you can gain loyalty and respect if you give it out before you expect to receive it. Perhaps Lord Petyr was not the man she imagined him to be after all.

Their money spent, Sansa wandered around a few shops with no intention of buying at all for herself. She passed Mr. Wiltshire and let him gush over how lovely the clothing turned out. As much as he tried to get her to come into his shop, Sansa politely declined as she saw a textile shop and wanted to look at the lovely fabrics and colorful threads for embroidery.

Another door down and she sighed but not in disappointment. In the window were paints, brushes and a small easel is what she intended to purchase for herself today. The smiling, happy faces of the locals were worth so much more than her selfish desires. The shopkeeper asked what she would like, and Sansa was about to decline when a soft voice sounded behind her.

“My lady is expanding her talents in the arts. What would she require?” Lord Petyr asked the man.

Where had he come from? Sansa stood flustered and unable to utter a single word.

The clerk’s eyes widened in excitement, “Why, my lord, it would be best to start… small, perhaps? Is the young lady a novice?”

“I’m not greatly skilled, yet I do love to paint,” Sansa began timidly waiting for Lord Petyr’s lead. He only smiled and nodded for her to continue. “I had an easel about this size back home and used oils similar to this…” she spoke softly glancing back to her benefactor unsure of how to proceed.

The clerk grinned, “Well, my lord, the lady seems to know what she wants…” The man waited as they both watched the marquess mull it over as if he were going to haggle as most men tended to do.

“Whatever my lady wishes,” he teased lightly. Lord Petyr was only pretending to play arduous and for an odd reason, it made Sansa blush. Who was this man, and what happened to the cynical, quiet one that rarely paid her any mind?

The clerk gleefully packed up several items as Sansa picked out colors, oils, and brushes she would need. Sansa caught the marquess from the corner of her eye as he watched her from a distance. It was rather curious that he showed up just now.

In no time, everything was paid while one of his footmen was packing it in the wagon with all the other goods.

Sansa followed Lord Petyr out to the street when he waited and held out his elbow in gesture. This was a far cry from the first time she was here with him. Sansa wasn’t wearing an old wedding dress, there was no anger between them or any awkwardness at all. Sansa took his arm as they crossed the street to the textile shop she passed earlier. How long had he been watching her?

“Did you just arrive?” she asked, hoping not to sound anxious.

“Oh, I’ve been here all morning. A few matters to attend to,” Lord Petyr spoke casually as if strolling with a traitor was completely natural. “I didn’t realize you were going to take a swim in my bath.”

Sansa flushed scarlet as he chuckled lightly. Opening the door to her enter the shop first gave her a moment to recover.

“I don’t want to assume all women love a needle and thread, but you stood outside for a few minutes… anything here you might like as well?” he teased lightly as Sansa willed herself not to blush again.

“Oh, I’m fine, truly, my lord. The paints are more than enough. You don’t need to buy me anything,” she uttered bashfully.

“Frugal, are you?” he smiled knowingly, and Sansa’s stomach clenched. “Well, considering how much you spent at the market, I’m betting my purse is quite empty.”

Sansa was speechless. Was he angry that she was overly generous? Of course, he would want to know how much she spent today, she chastised herself silently.

She must have looked like a fish out of water the way her mouth was open, and not a single word could be formed. He laughed loudly this time, taking her gloved hand and kissing it gently.

“Come, my dear. One would think that you expected me to reprimand you like a child in public,” he chuckled softly. Sansa wasn’t sure she liked this side to him. He was completely different. This was not the man that used her as a gambling wager in Riverrun, or the one that practically insulted her at dinner or livid because of a little wooden box.

The gentleman in front of her now was playful, flirtatious and not a tiny bit angry that she had spent all his money, not just on supplies but literally giving it away to his small folk.

Lord Petyr leaned in close to her ear and whispered, “I knew you were brilliant, sweetling. Such acts of generosity and kindness do not go unforgotten when one governs over their lands. It’s not buying loyalty necessarily.  However, treating your people well gains respect instead of having to endure a tyrant. If your people can feed their families, take care of their homes, they will only work that much harder knowing they have a lord that treats them with a fair hand. The people here haven’t seen that in many generations, I’m betting. And when the time comes that you need the backing of the people, you will find that you shall have it almost voluntarily.”

“Is that why you did not collect taxes while you were away?” Sansa asked before stopping herself.

“Very clever, indeed,” he smiled. “Such intelligence and observation deserve a little gift, I think. Pick out whatever you like.”

“Trying to win my loyalty and respect as well?” she teased back, fingering a few brightly colored threads.

“Perhaps, one day,” he mused. “For now, I wish for you to pick out what you would like that may give you more comfort at home.”

Not his home… just home. Lord Petyr was always telling her Harrenhal was her home now. He wanted her to be happy or at least content. Sansa made her selections and decided to let it go. He was going to leave soon, Mrs. Ames said. She might as well have something to occupy her time in the coming lonely months of winter. At least, during his absence, Sansa could spend more time with Mrs. Ames and the other women. No one would be calling while he was away. There wasn’t a soul that wanted to call on his ward, of all people.

Once again, Sansa took his arm as she roamed with him down the street. Locals greeted him as they passed, and it was as if Lord Petyr were more than just a county nobleman. He was Marquess and Lord Paramount, but it was if they were royalty walking around the small town.

The afternoon grew late, and Sansa knew they would have to head back to Harrenhal. She saw the carriage ahead and one of the footman holding the reins of two stunning horses next to the wagon.

“I have one more small gift,” he said with a grin as they neared.

“Please, my lord, you have given me enough today,” she said, trying not to sound ungrateful.

Lord Petyr took the reins of a beautiful grey mare bringing her to Sansa.

“You asked me once if you could go riding,” he began, “and I realized that we didn’t have a proper saddle for a lady. I certainly cannot have you riding astride like men. So, I had this made for you.” He ran his gloved hand over the shiny leather. He handed her the reins of the gentle mare. “What good is a saddle without a horse fitting for a lady?”

Sansa was stunned. This lovely, sweet creature was hers. Her own horse. Sansa had to leave her own behind after her family was killed. Her gloved hand ran down the smoky face, and Sansa couldn’t stop smiling. She had black stockings, mane, and tail. The animal took to her new mistress immediately.

“They’re Arabian. Very gentle and loyal. A gift from a good friend of mine, in hopes of breeding them here,” the marquess explained.

“Hello,” she whispered, petting the mare softly around the muzzle.

“Do you wish to ride her home? Unless you’re tired and would rather take the carriage,” he offered. Sansa didn’t need to think twice.

She flashed him a brilliant smile that she had no intention of hiding. Gathering her skirts, Sansa let him lift her onto the saddle. It took a couple of minutes to get used to the side saddle again and let the mare adjust to her commands.

Lord Petyr mounted his black stallion and instructed the men to take Mrs. Ames and the goods home as he would ride back to Harrenhal with Sansa.

“Ready?” he asked with a grin.

“After you, my lord,” she smiled back.

She eased the horse to trot alongside him as they eventually passed the carriage and wagon. Soon enough they were alone on the road back home.

“Did you enjoy the day?” he finally broke the silence.

“Yes,” Sansa answered truthfully, smiling to herself. It was the best day she had in a very long time. Today, Sansa felt as if nothing horrible had ever happened to her.

“Good,” he replied, staring at her. “I prefer seeing you smile.”

Sansa petted her mare’s mane. “You didn’t really buy her for me, did you?”

Lord Petyr raised his eyebrows in surprise but didn’t lie to her.

“No,” he admitted honestly. “But, I can’t see her with anyone but you. She belongs to you.”

“Is she really mine?” Sansa asked and couldn’t stop the litany of questions. Why couldn’t she just be happy in this moment?

“Will you believe me if I say yes?” he chided playfully, but a tone a seriousness underscored his meaning.

“I believe you,” Sansa half smiled and started into a gentle canter gaining ahead of him.

Catching up, he came closer alongside her. “No, you don’t,” he pressed.

“You don’t believe me when I  tell you the truth,” she tossed back at him, wondering why she was baiting him for an argument.

“Sweetling, trust me when I say you don’t want to know the truth,” he laughed sarcastically.

“You know nothing about me or what I want,” Sansa said with a layer indifference.

“Don’t play coy with me,” he warned.

“I’m not playing. In all this time, have you bothered to learn anything about me? You have barely spoken to me since you brought me here,” she shrugged, not looking at him but could feel the marquess’ penetrating stare.

“This is not a game you want to start with me, my dear,” Lord Petyr retorted coolly and was silent for a long while. “Regretfully, it was not my intention to be so aloof. Clearly, my attempt to make amends today is failingly dismally.”

Ah, so that’s what this is. Lord Baelish is feeling sorry for you because he thinks you’re probably going mad and doesn’t want to put you in a sanitarium… yet.

“So buying me things to keep me occupied and out of your hair is making amends,” she laughed bitterly.

“God, woman – why do you have to make everything so bloody difficult,” he huffed in annoyance. “Is it so terrible to let this day be enjoyable? We were doing well earlier, why did you have to go and ruin it?”

“I was doing quite well until you showed up, thank you,” Sansa said haughtily.

“Ah, so you don’t want my company, and yet a moment ago you just admonished me for ignoring you all the time. I’m not a mind-reader, which is it?” the marquess tried to laugh, but Sansa could feel the underlying tension in his tone.

It had been a lovely day, she admitted to herself including the pleasure of his company. In fact, Sansa liked very much how he treated her today. It wasn’t the gifts, it was that he approved of the way she handled the locals and used the money for others and not herself. There was something that made her stomach giddy, knowing he was observing her the entire time in town before making his presence known.

Sansa had to concede the notion that she did like this side to him. The mare was not intended for her and yet Lord Petyr decided to make it hers anyway. Perhaps he was worried that she was too close to losing her mind back at the house and that’s why he was here riding with her now.

“If you insist on giving me the silent treatment, then you’ll forgive me if I ride ahead. Some matters require my attention before supper,” he said abruptly. Before waiting for Sansa’s reply, Lord Petyr jabbed his horse, leaving her behind.

Perhaps, she had been the rude one just now. Maybe his lordship was genuinely trying to be kind while Sansa threw it back ungraciously in his face. Stubbornness ran deep in her family; she knew all too well. Harrenhal was her home now, whether she liked it or not and Lord Baelish was her benefactor.

Find a kindness…

She heard Mrs. Ames voice in her head over and over.

Sansa took off in a full gallop to catch him up. The cold air nipped her face as the mare was faster than any horse she had ever ridden. She had read about their strength and endurance, and or once, it wasn’t a lie. For a moment she was lost in it, as the mare closed the distance. Sansa missed riding very much, and instead of slowing down, she passed Lord Petyr.

“I thought you were in a hurry to get home,” she called back with a smile before focusing on the road ahead.

She heard him yell “Ha!” and looked back to see him gaining on her. Sansa felt her bonnet fall off, with only the green ribbon keeping it about her neck as her neatly pinned hair whipped in the breeze.

“If you fall off, don’t cry and blame it on me,” he chuckled coming alongside her again.

“I’ve been riding since I was a child, catch me if you can,” she challenged.

“Yet, I ride a thoroughbred stallion. Meant for speed. Lesson one, sweetling, never bet against what you know you cannot win,” Lord Petyr teased and began pulling ahead.

“Just like all men – underestimating females until we leave you in the dust,” Sansa needled him. “Come on, girl, let’s show these boys up,” she said, leaning down to the smoky mare.

A quick jab and her horse charged forward at breakneck speed. Sansa held on tight and could see Harrenhal just ahead. She grinned back at the marquess as she pulled away and then he gained again. The stone bridge neared as Sansa guided her to the left of it.

“Sansa, no!” Lord Petyr yelled right before she squeezed her thighs and leaned down as her mare jumped the creek.

Baelish followed as his stallion leapt across and closed the distance for the last time. She veered towards the stables instead of the front of the house. Only barely did she beat him but beat him she did. Out of breath and bringing her mare to a stop, Sansa couldn’t stop laughing.

“You reckless woman,” Sansa heard him chuckle behind her.

“I knew she could do it,” she smiled and leaned down to the mare’s ear patting her neck, “Couldn’t you, mo chailín deas?

Lord Petyr dismounted and handed the reins to the stable boy before coming to her side smiling. “Yes, she is.”

That surprised Sansa. Not many that she knew of understood the old tongue. Her mother wished against it, but Father insisted the children learn it for the onrtherners still used the language frequently. Baelish helped her down, and there was something in his eyes that made her tummy flutter. He was referring the horse a moment ago, wasn’t he?

Sansa cleared her throat and untied her bonnet, stepping away. “I think I’ll bring her some carrots later. She deserves it,” she said, avoiding his eyes.

“After making her run all this way, I would hope so,” he chuckled as they walked from the stables towards the back terrace of the house.

“Sore, that I beat you?” she laughed, taking off her gloves.

“Perhaps I only let you win?” he countered lightly.

“Oh no, I walloped you easily…”

Sansa didn’t get to finish that sentence when he whipped her around behind a tree, and before she knew it, his mouth was on hers. For a moment, she struggled, but it only caused him to tighten his embrace. Lord Petyr’s lips were soft, and this time Sansa could taste the mint that always seemed to scent his breath. He shouldn’t be kissing her, and she shouldn’t be letting him, her mind raced.

Sansa couldn’t remember the last time she was kissed and forgotten how nice it could be when the man knew how. She was lost in him and yielded to him for a heartbeat until a nagging voice in her head told her this wasn’t right. He shouldn’t be intimate with her. She was his ward after all, and he wasn’t courting her.

She pulled away breathless and blushed a deep shade of red. Sansa could not meet his eyes as suddenly the moment was gone. She didn’t know what to do or say to the man standing with his hands still resting on her waist.

“It’s getting cold,” she said stupidly trying to find her voice.

Finally, he released her and stepped away.

“Yes, we should go in,” he acquiesced. Lord Petyr offered his arm once again, but this time Sansa didn’t take it instead fidgeting with her gloves as they walked up to the terrace steps. “I told the maids that you decided on another room. You have your pick of any in the house, of course. They will move your belongings whenever you please,” he offered to try to deflect from what just happened between them.

“Thank you,” Sansa replied but still couldn’t think of what else to say to him. Should she tell him that what he did wasn’t proper and shouldn’t do it again? Should she ask him why? Her stomach fluttered once more, putting her nerves on edge. It was probably best she didn’t know his mind. Perhaps it was just a spur of the moment fancy and nothing more.

Unconsciously, Sansa licked her lips, still feeling that light tingle as Lord Petyr opened the door for her. She followed him down the gallery to the stairs when he suddenly stopped and cleared his throat.

“I have much to do, my dear,” he offered formally. Whatever happened between them outside was a distant memory it seemed. “I will see you at dinner.”

The marquess took her now cold and trembling hand to his lips although his eyes never left hers for a second. Sansa felt her lips tingle again and could only nod as her voice was bottled up completely. She watched him ascend the stairs and disappear around the corner when a cough sounded behind her.

Duncan’s disapproving glare made her anxious and wondered now what everyone must be thinking today. Lord Petyr had taken her to his future wife’ bedroom for the night. She bathed in his washroom. It wouldn’t be surprising at all if they saw the two of them racing towards the stables. Sansa couldn’t help wonder if that kiss was also observed.

Sansa climbed the stairs and wandered around the other empty rooms. She could hear a few giggles from the upstairs maids and the idea was sickening that they thought she was either trying to seduce the marquess or he made her his mistress. It wasn’t as if Sansa had to keep up appearances to appease her family or the ton. They were servants, and she shouldn’t care what they thought of her. However, whispers of wantonness, impropriety or that she was simply out to have a wealthy man take care of her hurt regardless who implied it.

A room dressed in shades of blue on the south end of the house and much further from Lord Petyr’s suites seemed fitting enough. Perhaps choosing this room and putting some distance between them was a good idea.

 


 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

LM

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

After breaking her fast alone, Sansa joined Mrs. Ames in the greenhouse storing the freshly dried herbs and medicinals for winter. She wanted to learn more about the tinctures and recipes the old woman brought down from the north. Mrs. Ames had plans for the gardens come spring and expanding the varieties. It made Sansa long for winter to be over before it even began.

The less she had to go into town, the better, Mrs. Ames told her. Somehow, Sansa felt it was more to avoid questions about her purchases than the journey itself. Duncan seemed overly critical of the housekeeper’s apothecary ways and insisted the local doctor and priest be summoned instead of the woman’s remedies. Sansa laughed because the butler was more archaic than anyone. Duncan didn’t appear to approve of anything in this house, and Sansa wondered why Lord Petyr kept him as majordomo.

“You seemed to enjoy yourself yesterday, my dear,” Mrs. Ames smiled as she stored away seeds.

“Yes,” Sansa answered in kind, “It felt wonderful to be outside and away from here for a spell.”

“I didn’t expect to see his lordship. Lovely gifts he bought for you, especially the mare,” the old housekeeper teased.

“He shouldn’t have,” Sansa blushed remembering the race and a stolen kiss behind the oak tree.

“Why ever not? Perhaps he wishes you to be happy,” she asked, pulling out a mortar and pestle.

“He’s probably praying he doesn’t have to lock up a madwoman adding to more gossip,” Sansa laughed cynically, opening the recipe book. She knew Mrs. Ames had pestered him to let her go into town.

“Do you wish to talk about it?” Mrs. Ames asked slowly.

An uneasy silence permeated the cold greenhouse. Sansa didn’t know if she wanted to relive it or not. She was more concerned about the kiss yesterday and how to act around him than anything else.

“It must have been serious enough that you slept in the mistress’ chamber. The maids were all a chatter yesterday morning,” she pressed lightly. Sansa could say she did not wish to discuss it, but she had so few people to talk to as it was.

“I can only imagine the sordid gossip from the whispers I heard upstairs last night,” Sansa muttered angrily. “Lord Petyr was… a complete gentleman. Nothing improper happened. Perhaps I should have been more careful. Your tea and the wine made me ill. That is all.”

“So ill that he ordered them to move you to another room?” the woman asked knowingly.

“I asked to be moved. I don’t care for that room,” Sansa whispered, feeling she could not lie convincingly to her old confidant.

“It’s alright, child. You don’t have to explain why. I understand,” she smiled, crushing a mixture of seeds. “Which room did you choose? I suppose he let you have your choice.”

“The blue room,” Sansa answered.

Mrs. Ames froze in her task, “The one on the southern end?”

“Yes, why do you ask?” Sansa’s stomach clenched.

“Why did you choose that room? Did he show it to you specifically?” the woman continued her strange inquiry.

“No, I wandered through the rooms, and it seemed nice enough,” she replied.

It’s a good distance from my old room – and him.

“The door was open?” the old woman frowned making Sansa anxious.

“Should it not have been?” Sansa wondered with growing unease.

“Only two people have skeleton keys. Lord Baelish and I,” Mrs. Ames paused with a fearful look that made Sansa shiver. “That door has been locked for months.”

Sansa’s breath was shallow and fast as she closed her eyes. “Why?” she asked, dreading the answer.

“It’s the most haunted room in the house, child,” the northern woman mumbled. “It’s her room, hence why I keep it locked.”

“Who?”

“The burning girl.”

 


 

 

Sansa opened the door and tentatively stepped inside the blue bedroom. The afternoon sun streamed through the lace curtains filling it with light. The cherry-stained wood contrasted against the pale and dusky blues with hints of cream and gold that made the room inviting. 

She slept perfectly last night, and Sansa couldn't understand it. The bed wasn’t as cozy as her previous room, but it was more than suitable. She wished she could have the mattress from the marchioness’ room. That was the equivalent of sleeping on a cloud. Most importantly, though, there was no pesky music box making its magical appearance. No childlike voice giggling in her ear. So far , nothing seemed amiss in this new room.

The burning girl – a ghost, spirit.

Whatever had taken ownership of this room, was frightening enough that even Mrs. Ames chose to keep it locked. Sansa was about to call the maids and move her belongings once again when that deep, masculine voice spoke from behind.

“I suppose I should have let you choose what room you preferred from the beginning. I almost forgot about this one. Feels more suited for a man, but if it’s what you like, then it’s yours of course,” Lord Petyr mused looking around the room.

Damn. What was Sansa supposed to do now? Tell him she didn’t want it after all because it was haunted? He would send her to an asylum for sure if she told him the truth.

“The bed isn’t very comfortable,” she said. It wasn’t exactly a lie. Perhaps it would be enough to move once again.

“Oh?”

Lord Petyr sat on the bed and laid back. Sansa thought he was undoubtedly going to chide her for being so fussy. It was better to be considered of as too demanding than crazy.

“I’ll have the mattress switched for you,” he offered without a thought.

“Oh no, I don’t wish to be a bother. I can just move rooms. I’ll move my things, myself,” Sansa rushed her words, making him raise an eyebrow.

“You chose this room. Moving the mattress is not an issue. It will be done today,” Lord Petyr said with a tone of finality. “I’ll not have you feeling that the servants are being burdened with your comfort.”

 “Perhaps I was a little hasty because I was tired from the market,” she muttered trying another tactic. “I’m not positive I like all this blue. You’re right, it is a little masculine.”

Lord Petyr stood up and gestured to follow him across the hallway to another door. Inside, it was almost a mirror image of the room they just left, but instead of blue, a dusky rose damask felt more feminine. Sansa didn’t quite remember this room, maybe she was overly tired last night.

The mattress was the same, yet Sansa wasn’t about to say one word in complaint. She might be across from a room that scared even Mrs. Ames, but at least it would return to being locked. Sansa cringed inwardly. If she pressed the issue any further, surely he would suspect something else was wrong. After the other night and how kind he was yesterday – Sansa felt between a rock and a hard place.

Sansa smiled, sincerely sitting on the bed. “This will be perfect,” she thanked him.

There was a sculpture on the table depicting Venus entangled with Mars in a lovers embrace, but that wasn’t what made her blush. The painting behind Lord Baelish above the mantel was that of a nude woman lying prone on a lounge with her legs parted. His eyes followed hers, and he stood silent for a moment.

“It’s a Boucher. Petite Maîtresse,” he explained before sitting next to her on the edge of the bed admiring the work of art. “Marie-Louise O’Murphy, one of King Louis XV’s mistresses. The rumor is this painting roused the king to have the virgin girl brought to him as a courtesan. She also happened to carry a family name that was reviled by those in court.”

Lord Petyr continued on thoughtfully, “Bore him a child, which was taken away from her. A few years later she made the mistake of trying to unseat his favorite mistress, Madame de Pompadour. Rather quickly exiled from the court of Versailles and was forced to marry several times over including, at the age of close to sixty, I believe, a husband eight and twenty years her junior.”

Sansa stared at the young girl with her delicate, porcelain skin. She had no idea what posing for this painting meant for her life. The old woman, if still alive, probably wondered what her life would have been had not for the lust of a king or the jealousy of a favored lover intervened.

A family name that was reviled…

Sansa felt for the young woman. She knew how it felt. It seemed anyone with a northern name or history was an outcast to the rest of the aristocracy no matter which kingdom they lived.

“She is so innocent,” Sansa whispered in despair, “Frozen in time. She will never know how ugly the world can be. I wonder if she could go back to this moment, with full knowledge – would she still have chosen to pose for the artist?”

Lord Petyr crooked his head and stared at Sansa with a slight crease between his brows. He tipped her chin, turning her to face him.

“We don’t always know where our decisions will take us,” he said, and there was that sadness again in his eyes, he always tried to hide.

“Or if our choices are stolen from us?” she replied serenely. Sansa wasn’t accusing him, not really.

He smiled thinly, but his answer surprised her.

“And if it could be given back to you? The power over your life?”

The sincerity in his voice was unmistakable in the charged air between them.

“Given, how? I have nothing and no one,” she frowned.

His lordship leaned forward as Sansa held her breath, and her stomach fluttered even when his lips met her forehead. There was something in the way he smelled. It was the soap from his bath yesterday that reminded her of sandalwood, and it was intoxicating.

He leaned back and stood from the bed, leaving her flustered. Lord Petyr stopped at her door and turned slightly.

“You couldn’t be more wrong,” he said before disappearing around the corner.

 


 

 

Tranquility came over the house that day. Sansa embroidered as he read by the fire, and at dinner, they discussed music and art. His knowledge was extensive as he spoke of the pieces he had collected at his townhouse in Kings Landing. New music was all the rage in the capital coming from across the sea from other countries. Sansa had never seen an opera or a play. It was one of the few things that excited her about moving to the palace. The royal family attended many galas as composers and playwrights sought them out to finance their works.

Sansa wondered what it would have been like to explore the city with a man like Lord Petyr. She couldn’t imagine him being boring at all. There was a definite change in him the past two days. Sansa wasn’t sure if it was out of pity or fear of her mental state that had him so pleasant and warm in her company.

The days passed as they fell into a comfortable routine. Lord Petyr spent most of his mornings on business affairs and afternoons were meant for her. They would stroll the gardnes or ride around the estate. Sansa would sketch or embroider while the light was good and other days Lord Petyr would sit and listen to her play the piano.

They didn’t always talk and tended enjoyed the silence. It was nice just having someone there even if they were both reading in the library after dinner. He was kind, warm and funny she discovered and wondered where this man had been hiding all this time. Sansa could barely remember what he was like before and hoped that side of him had no intention of returning.

One afternoon, Lord Petyr had fallen asleep listening to her play, and Sansa couldn’t help but observe him so unawares. She quietly fetched her drawing paper and sat down on the edge of the chaise lounge that he was dozing on.

It was a cloudy day, but light enough to sketch. He had a straight and aristocratic nose and sharp features. She hadn’t noticed before how long and dark his eyelashes were as she added depth to his eyes and brow. Lord Petyr’s hair was thick with just a slight curl even where his temples were beginning to grey.

His lips were slightly parted, and they weren’t too thin but were not full and pouty either. He had a very masculine mouth with the late afternoon shadow that was growing. Lord Baelish could grow a moustache and probably look older and more distinguished if he wanted, but Sansa preferred him as he was now. Despite his age, he still had smooth skin and sometimes a quality that made him appear younger than his years.

Sansa had been so focused on getting his mouth right, that she didn’t notice him watching her intently.

“Oh!” she laughed nervously, “You scared me.”

“Have you drawn horns and hooves on me yet?” he grinned, and Sansa felt a little flutter.

She hugged the drawing to her chest, not wanting him to see. It wasn’t nearly as good a likeness yet since she hadn’t added much shadow and details.

“It’s the tail I’m having trouble with, actually,” she teased with a blush.

Lord Petyr sat up and stretched a bit.

“Give us a look,” he smiled, reaching for the drawing.

“No! It’s not good,” she tensed, standing up from the lounge and retreating away.

“Come now,” he jested, moving towards her as she backed up slowly, “It can’t be that bad. I’m not the most handsome fellow. So unless you’ve made me a gargoyle, I shan’t be offended.”

“An artist doesn’t show her work until it is finished,” Sansa protested as she neared the fireplace holding the drawing behind her back.

“Ah,” he grinned cornering her until she could feel the fire’s heat on her backside. “And when shall you be finished, Mademoiselle Giroust?”

He was harmlessly flirting, she knew, but it made her anxious all the same as he came so close that Sansa could smell that sandalwood soap of his.

“I – I don’t know, my lord,” she stammered.

Must we be so formal with each other,” he taunted. “I’ve been calling you by your given name for some time.”

And you call me sweetling and my darling which is far beyond even informal decorum.

“But it still isn’t proper, my lord –“ Sansa weakly protested as she could almost taste that mint again and felt a heat near her hand.

“Call me, Petyr…” he whispered, lowering his head.

Sansa wailed almost colliding her head with his as the paper had caught fire in her grasp. The drawing was engulfed in flames as it fluttered down to the floor and Petyr stomped on it before patting down a part of her silk skirt that had caught fire as well.

The commotion drew the attention of Duncan and one of the young footmen to the room.

“Is everything all right, my lord? We heard the lady scream,” the old butler asked in mild concern, and Sansa tried not to scowl.

“Everything is fine. Lady Sansa was a bit too close to the fireplace is all,” Petyr waved them off impatiently.

The men dismissed, Petyr bent down and picked up the remains of the drawing and smirked.

“A cyclops?” he chuckled. “And I was so anticipating a gargoyle.”

Sansa reached for the burnt paper, but he was quick and tucked it away in his breast pocket.

“Oh no, I should like to keep this, my dear,” he smiled, and Sansa blushed.

She inspected her skirt and saw where a bit of lace and silk had burned away, leaving a hole in the fine material.

“Oh! Look what I’ve done. It’s ruined,” she cried in dismay. This was one of her favourite afternoon dresses with light green and rose flowers.

Petyr bent down, inspecting the garment with an air of nonchalance.

“If you wish, I’ll have another made,” he said, standing up. “Perhaps the tailor will have some of the same fabric.”

“It’s my fault it’s ruined. You shouldn’t need to buy another. I have plenty of beautiful dresses,” Sansa protested. “I suppose I can wear this when helping Mrs. Ames with chores around the house...”

“As you wish, my dear,” Petyr smiled and cleared his throat putting distance between them again. “Ahem, I suppose you’ll want to change for dinner, and I have some letters to write.”

“Of course,” she mumbled. “I think I’ll rest for a bit myself if you don’t mind.”

“Not at all,” he answered, picking up her hand and bringing to his lips. He glanced at her fingers wiping away a smudge of soot. “Did you burn yourself?”

“It’s nothing, really,” she trembled.

“Have Mrs. Ames see to it,” he instructed, kissing her fingers tenderly. Just as quickly, he let go of her hand and left Sansa in the music room.

What was happening between them? Sansa was so conflicted about their relationship. Was she allowed to like him and enjoy his company? She was doing a terrible job at holding a grudge to the man that essentially bought her from her uncle and kept her here, making her his legal ward. He kissed her days ago, and he would have kissed her again moments ago if fate had not intervened.

Mrs. Ames applied a balm, wrapping two fingers with a soft cloth before Sansa retired to her new room. Dressed in only her corset and chemise, Sansa laid on the bed and stared at the painting over the fireplace.

She had judged it too quickly at first but now found the girl’s story and Sansa’s had some similarities. It was so easy for men to discard a woman as if she were nothing. All women were good for was for their pleasure and bearing children. Nothing had changed in so many years it appeared.

Sansa understood why a painting as erotic as this wasn’t hanging downstairs. Father would have never allowed such artwork in the house, and Mother had a taste for Italian artists, especially works depicting religion.

Petyr wasn’t a prude and knew the history of it, but had enough sense that it should be displayed somewhere more private. Each of the guest bedrooms had beautiful paintings on the walls as they complimented the décor. The golds and pastel hues of this painting were perfect for the rose tones of her new room, Sansa thought.

It wasn’t like the nudes Sansa had seen before in Greek and Roman sculptures or paintings. The girl wasn’t just lying there with material draped artistically to cover certain bits or in the traditional languorous poses like some goddess.

What Sansa couldn’t tear her eyes away from was the way her legs were parted as if waiting for a lover and understood why it instilled such a desire for the king wishing to have her. It looked as if you could just tilt your head a certain way and see between those milky thighs. Sansa wondered what it must be like to lie there naked for days while a man painted your in such a way. Was he a gentleman, or did he take advantage of her in her exposed state?

What sounded like a knock on her door made Sansa get up quickly putting on her dressing gown before answering. She looked at the clock on the table. It was growing late, and Sarah had probably come to help her dress for dinner.

“Yes?”

Sansa waited, and yet the door didn’t open. Frowning, she opened the door finding no one there. It was dark outside as only a few sconces were lit in the dank hallway. Perhaps she imagined it while daydreaming about the painting. Sansa closed the door and pulled out a dress from her wardrobe for dinner when someone knocked on the door again. She heard it clearly this time.

“Come in,” she told the maid hearing the door open. “I’ll most likely retire early tonight after supper, so if you could warm the bed, I would be grateful.”

Sarah didn’t answer. Sansa turned around in annoyance only to discover herself alone with the door ajar.

“Sarah?” her voice faltered.

Sansa crept to the door and peered into the hallway once more, finding it empty as before. Not since her last night in the lavender room had anything strange happened at all in the house. Even when she slept in the blue room and Mrs. Ames told her it was haunted, Sansa had expected it and yet nothing happened. She glanced across the hallway, and the door to the blue room was locked.

He lies to you,” a sweet voice sounded in her head freezing Sansa to the spot.

Do not listen to them. They are liars, tricksters…

Mrs. Ames’ steady warning echoed in her mind, and Sansa immediately closed the door, bolting it firmly.

He deceives you,” it spoke again.

“Go away,” Sansa whispered and willed herself to tune it out.

Ignore it, and it will go away. I’ll start drinking the tea again, and it will all disappear. It’s all in my head. It’s all in my head…

Another knock blared and a fiery, amber glow emanated from under her door from the hallway. The same light she saw in Petyr’s room the first day she saw the music box.

It’s her room – the burning girl.

Sansa closed her eyes and refused to let anything more frighten her. She would not be weak. She would not let whatever it was run her out of another bedroom. Her mother was right. There are no such things as ghosts or spirits. It’s all in her head. Perhaps she was a madwoman after all because the voice didn’t stop.

To the underworld, he’ll go when the somber music dies. So Persephone must follow, to find her God of lies.”

Another knock on the door and Sansa mustered whatever courage she had left to open the door still seeing the glow from underneath.

No! I’ll prove it. There’s nothing there. You’ll see!

Sansa slid the bolt back and opened the door, yelling loudly, “Leave me alone!”

The maid, Sarah instantly shrank back in fear.

“I’m so sorry, m’lady. You – you asked me to come to dress you before dinner…”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

lady

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sansa kept her troubling thoughts to herself at dinner, reading quietly while drinking Mrs. Ames' tea in the library. She let Petyr, as he wished to be called, escort her to her new room. The tea must have been stronger than usual because Sansa didn’t recall much of what Petyr said to her. He said something about going riding tomorrow while the weather was still mild before kissing her hand and walking towards the east wing.

She lay in bed and let the tea work its magic. There was no knocking on her door, no ghostly voice singing riddles in her ear, and finally, Sansa felt herself relax. The flicker of the candle danced on the wall as the embers died in the fireplace. The soft glow created a shadow of the sculpture on the rosy damask as Sansa stared at it with heavy lidden eyes. She could have sworn Mars moved – dipping back the head of Venus. It was only an illusion created by the sputter of the flame as she drifted off.

Sansa woke with a blush already stinging her cheeks and a strange ache in her belly. The tea had left her groggy but felt she had dreamt of kissing. The music room was bathed in the moon’s light as Petyr laid her down on the chaise lounge. His mouth was hot and intoxicating as she wrapped her arms around his neck. There was no nervousness feeling the hard planes of his body on hers. It was when she felt his lips travel down her throat, did she wake breathless.

That morning, Sarah dressed her for riding with her warm wool and fur after breaking her fast. Petyr said he would meet her at the stables when a man from town came to speak with him. She walked to the stables alone, finding the horses waiting patiently. Sansa ran her gloved hands across the smoky mare she named Misty. Petyr was right when he said Arabian’s forged a loyal bond, but it surprised Sansa how quickly it happened. It seemed she always knew when Sansa was coming to the stables.

Some time had passed, and Sansa wondered if Petyr had changed his mind or was too busy for her once again. Both horses were already saddled as Misty was getting anxious. Her mare wanted out, she wanted to run, and Sansa felt that same desire. Fed up, she mounted her horse and took her out along the banks of the lake where she could still see the terrace and stables. Misty was impatient with her mistress’ command of a slow trot and itched to run.

Sansa glanced back to the house expecting to see Petyr, at any moment, come out the back terrace, but the anxious whinny of her mare cemented her decision. Not looking back, she jabbed Misty and let the horse have her way, galloping around the northwest bank of the lake.

Sansa sensed a level of freedom hadn’t experienced in years. Even after racing Petyr home, she had not ridden out on her own. He was always with her, not that Sansa minded. Letting Misty run free, Sansa felt one with the animal and everything around her. As much as her mother desperately tried to instill midland and southern teachings, Sansa would always be a northerner in her heart. Sansa felt no connection to her roots in the Riverlands. She was just as foreign here as in the south.

Riding past the watermills directing freshwater towards the house, she waved at two men fixing a cog. The woods were before her and slowed Misty to a canter. Sansa and Arya played in the woods back home as children and never once did anything terrible happen. Sansa would disappear for hours in the deep thickets and let the peace wash over her. There were few places she could be alone and enjoy listening to the birds and the whistle of the breeze through the trees.

Sansa halted her mare just at the tree line and glanced back at the house. Petyr couldn’t be seen anywhere. She would just go a little further, no harm done, and be back before anyone noticed. Wandering in, these woods weren’t as dense like the pines around Winterfell. These trees were tall, their branches reaching for the grey sky above. Small brooks bubbled nearby as winter birds chirped all around. She would like to come back here in the spring, Sansa thought. She closed her eyes and imagined how beautiful it would be.

A rifle shot rang out in the distance, startling both Sansa and Misty. A blur of grey and white ran past low lying shrubs, and only for a moment was Sansa nervous. It was a wolf, but they were in no danger, for the animal was running away from what was surely a hunter. A second later, another shot fired and a painful yelp pierced Sansa’s ears.

Without a thought to the danger, Sansa rode quickly towards the direction of the sound. Near a massive oak tree cresting a small hill overlooking the lake, she saw the poor creature limping a few painful steps before collapsing.

Sansa tethered Misty and cautiously made her way to the injured wolf. Only steps away, she could see it was a fatal wound, breaking Sansa’s heart. She leaned down and the animal growled helplessly.

“Shhhhh…. Socair – be still –,” she murmured softly, “Socair…”

The wolf snapped at her hand, breaking the skin on the corner of her palm. Sansa could hear a small yapping close to the trunk as she leaned closer.

“Ní bheidh mé dochar a dhéanamh duit – I will not harm you – .”           

The wolf relaxed and laid her head in the direction of a small burrow. Inside were two pups. The white one was the one crying for its mother and the other seemingly died from exposure. Their mother must have been hunting for food, Sansa thought with a heavy heart, and now she was dying.

“Girl, get away from there,” a burly voice yelled from a distance. The mother wolf growled in defense, but Sansa placed a gentle hand on her head.

The man walking towards them was reloading his rifle with gun powder, and Sansa stood up quickly blocking the wolf with her body.

“Din’t ye hear what I said? Get away from that wolf,” the man spat yet Sansa did not move a muscle wondering what to do.

“You’ve shot her, now be on your way, sir,” Sansa commanded with as much courage as she could muster, considering she was defenseless with only her horse nearby.

“That damned beast has been killing my chickens for weeks. Step aside, you stupid girl,” he yelled again. The wolf whimpered in pain, trying to reach her pup to protect it even though she was fading quick.

“I will not,” Sansa held her ground as he approached, pointing the rifle at her. Any sane person would just move away. It was only a wolf, and the pup would surely die without its mother, but Sansa wouldn’t let this man kill them. She couldn’t.

“That fucking thing has pups, eh? I said move!” he shouted and tried to push Sansa and she shoved him back as hard as she could.

The pup was trying to crawl out of the burrow. Sansa quickly scooped it up looking at the dying mother.

“Beidh mé a chosaint léi – I will protect her –,” she told her, and the man whipped her around.

“What is that, some kind of faerie talk?” the foul-smelling man roared, giving Sansa an idea.

“Frightened of the Tuatha Dé Danaan, are you? You should be after killing one of our children. Do you not know where you stand?” Sansa lowered her voice to a deathly tone. The tree was on a small hill near the lake, it couldn’t have been a more perfect place.

“Daoine sidhe,” she spoke softly, and her eyes gleamed a bit. “I should take you for what you have done.”

“Witch,” the man breathed in horror.

“I am no witch. I am The Mórrígan,”  Sansa growled ominously. Sansa wanted to laugh at using such old legends to scare a man thrice her size. She thought only superstitious people lived in the north; apparently she was wrong.

The man raised his rifle in her direction terriying Sansa as she held the pup to her chest. This was no longer a game. He was going to shoot her.

Sansa raised her hand and screamed when suddenly leaves caught fire at her feet and the image of a young girl put a hand to his rifle, making it glow a deep red. The man wailed in pain, dropping it to the ground and backing away. Just as quickly as she appeared, the girl was gone, and Sansa was stunned at what just happened.

“Bleedin’ faerie witch…” he muttered in fear and ran to her horse, grabbing the reins.

“Hold there, fellow!” a welcome voice bellowed from a distance and Sansa couldn’t have been more relieved to see Petyr riding towards them. “You are stealing my horse.”

“The – the witch, m’lord… cursed me, she did,” the man backed up and pointed towards Sansa when Petyr withdrew a small musket.

“Witch? What witch?” he smirked in confusion, gazing in her direction.

“There! She’s there, don’t you see her?” the man yelled in panic. Petyr stared at her and raised a knowing eyebrow in amusement. Sansa shook her head slightly holding the pup closer.

“I see a dead wolf,” Petyr answered, playing along.

“Spirit of the wolf, she is… killed my chickens and now she’s cursed me,” he rambled like a madman showing his burned palms to the armquess. “Cursed, faerie folk. Should burn down these woods…”

“I see, well, I’ll take it into consideration. Go home and do not return to these woods,” Petyr warned the man watching him scurry away. “If I see your witch, I’ll be sure to kill her with holy water.”

Once the man was long, out of sight, Petyr climbed down from his horse, walking to the man’s abandoned rifle. Sansa set the pup down and sat next to the mother as she caressed her blood-matted fur. She heard Petyr curse and the thud of the rife hitting the ground. Sansa hadn’t imagined it after all. A girl appeared and made the rifle hotter than forged metal.

The wolf’s labored breathing told Sansa it wouldn’t be much longer. She didn’t want her to be in pain, yet there was no way of saving her.

“Dul a chodladh – go to sleep –,” she murmured lovingly, petting her neck. “Beidh mé chosaint do ghrá – I will protect your love –.”

She felt Petyr stand behind her, but to his credit, he said nothing and simply watched in silence.

Sansa picked up the pup as its mother drew her last few breaths.

“Beidh mé grá di mar mo chuid féin – I will love her as my own –,” she whispered as the wolf’s eyes grew distant and still. “Dul a chodladh, máthair – Go to sleep, mother –.”

The pup howled, and Sansa couldn’t help the tears that rolled down her face. This pup watched its mother gunned down, and now it was all alone in the world – just like her.

She felt Petyr’s gentle gloved hand grasp her shoulder. Whatever else he might be thinking, at least he wasn’t teasing or reprimanding her. Without a single word, he picked up the mother wolf and placed her inside the small burrow with the other pup. Sansa watched in awe as he took a piece of rotten bark and used it as a spade to cover the makeshift grave with earth. She didn’t know why he did it. Even if it was only to placate her mawkishness, Sansa didn’t care. It was a tender gesture, regardless of his motives.

Petyr helped her up and walked her to Misty. He took the little wolf so she could mount the mare and it growled playfully chewing on his finger.

“Here, take her before she eats my hand,” he chuckled softly.

“She?” Sansa raised an eyebrow taking the pup and securing her in her pelisse.

“Appears so,” Petyr answered, mounting his horse. “Do want to tell me what just happened?"

As they rode back to the house, Sansa explained everything. He laughed loudly when she said she pretended to be a faerie goddess to scare the man. However, she left out the part about a fiery girl. She would let him make his own conclusion about the rifle and didn’t mention anything more.

“The wolf is your father’s old sigil, isn’t it?” he asked sincerely.

“Yes,” she whispered in remembrance. “My brother raised a wolf from a pup. A beautiful thing, he was.”

They reached the stables, and Petyr lifted her down from the mare. She flinched when he grabbed her hand a little too tightly. Frowning, Petyr removed her glove discovering a shallow bite mark marring her palm, the same hand she burned in the fire.

“We’ll need to fix that up,” he frowned slightly shaking his head. “For heaven’s sake, don’t drown or fall down a flight of stairs next.”

She couldn’t help but smile as the little ball of fur squirmed and clawed inside her wool pelisse. They reached the house and Petyr opened the door to find Duncan waiting with two footmen.

“Ah, so she is found,” the butler scowled, but Petyr paid him no mind.

“She was down by the watermills near the woods,” he winked at Sansa.

The wolf barked as Duncan frowned in disgust at the animal poking its furry head out.

“She brings a wild animal into this house, my lord?” the butler protested.

“My lady found a little orphan,” Petyr explained, “And it will be welcome in my house. I best not hear of any mistreatment.”

Sansa smiled at the small victory and held the restless animal as Petyr turned to her taking off his coat, handing it to the footman.

“No more exploring the woods alone, my little witch,” he grinned, wiping a bit of dirt from her cheek. “If you’re going to curse the locals, brew a potion that cures silly superstitions and dogmas.”

Duncan stared at her suspiciously as Sansa removed he pelisse and retreated upstairs.

To hell with him, she thought as she placed the pup on the floor in her room.  Immediately it started exploring her new home. Sansa called the maid to bring her a basin of freshwater and a soap. Her new little foundling was covered in dirt and smelled terrible. Before long, a few maids gathered in Sansa’s room fawning over the latest addition to the house. Once cleaned and dried, her fur was pristine white as her ice-blue eyes stared at her new mother.

“She looks like a proper little lady now, doesn’t she?” Sarah sighed, cuddling the pup.

Sansa smiled, “That’s it, I’ll call her Lady.”

 


 

 

When Sansa sat down for dinner, it wasn’t long before long, high pitched howls echoed through the house. Lady certainly didn’t like being left alone, she grinned. Suddenly, the grin fell, remembering she had just lost her mother and everything she knew earlier today. Lady wasn’t a domesticated animal, and now Sansa felt terrible, leaving her all alone in her room.

She howled again, and Sansa glanced at Petyr drinking his wine worried that he would be annoyed with the animal and admit it was a mistake bringing her home. A single eyebrow raised at yet another howl and Sansa cringed waiting for the inevitable. Instead, he chuckled, shaking his head in defeat.

“Go fetch her,” he said eyeing Sansa with a smirk.

She flashed him a brilliant smile and left to retrieve her new pet. The little wolf wandered around the dining room sniffing at everything she could get at. The smell of the food on the table was tempting as she decided that Petyr was the alpha male and waited patiently next to his chair. Occasionally, he would look down when Lady would make her presence known.

Sansa stifled a giggle at the whole thing. Lady wanted his attention and his alone. Men rarely showed affection as it was, and here Petyr was, gently shooing the animal, but she proved to be as stubborn as her new mistress.

After several minutes, Sansa heard him sigh and began cutting up small pieces on his plate. Scraping the food onto a saucer, he bent over and set it on the floor next to his chair. The pup wasted no time and devoured the morsels. When Petyr sat back up, she couldn’t help the silly grin on her face. He gave her a mock glare as if daring her to say something but Sansa shrugged tucking into the rest of her supper.

In the library, Petyr read by the fire as he usually did while Sansa sat on the floor and played endlessly with Lady. The wolf found a ball of yarn from her sewing basket. Before long, a lengthy string had wound its way around the sofa. Sansa laughed trying to wind it all as the ball became smaller and smaller.

Exhausted, Sansa leaned against Petyr’s chair by his leg and let the warmth of the fire envelop her. Lady nestled into her lap as tired as her mistress.

Strange, Sansa thought, how this pup had taken to her so quickly –  just as the mare did. She couldn’t remember if the animals back at Winterfell were the same. It was as if Lady had accepted that Sansa was her new mother and fell into contentment. The thought of Lady pestering Petyr at the dinner table made her smile. Whether he admitted it or not, Sansa could tell he would probably spoil this little addition rotten.

“No book for you tonight?” his soft voice asked.

“No, I’m perfectly fine right here,” she answered truthfully. “What are you reading?”

“Poetry,” he replied.

Poetry?  That surprised Sansa. He tended to read the news periodicals when the post arrived, but tonight he chose poetry.

“Goethe? Blake?” she wondered, leaning against his chair petting Lady.

“Byron,” he answered. “He seems to have progressed from meter and rhyme.”

Sansa chuckled, “You don’t care for love sonnets that bemoan of his lady’s hair and bosom?”

“No, do you?” she could hear the smile in his voice.

“Read one to me,” she asked, wondering what kind of poetry had his veiled admiration.

He sighed, and for a moment, Sansa thought he was going to decline. Perhaps he was not a man that enjoyed reciting poetry. She used to laugh at her brothers when their mother forced them to do so in the parlor. Robb, was particularly terrible and Sansa and Arya teased him that he would never be able to woo a girl with such muddied words.

Petyr's voice, however, was smooth and glided over the words as if he were a poet himself. Sansa felt herself becoming lost in his storytelling of an ever-changing dream. Her fingers caressed Lady as she slept peacefully and Sansa relaxed so much that she did not realize she was leaning more and more against his outstretched leg. Petyr’s voice was like a drug, as his soft dulcet tone would rise and fall with a word or phrase anchoring the meaning with thoughtful ease.

Sleepily, she sank against him, as he was softer than the hardwood leg of his chair. Sansa didn’t know when her cheek rested against where his thigh met his knee and did not care. She was tired and listening to him recite the poem in its novel-like length was as calming as Mrs. Ames' tea.

His graceful fingers traced a curl from where her hair was loosely pinned. Today she hadn’t bothered with her hair being perfectly coiffed as playing with a baby wolf all evening had her curls falling down from the jeweled combs, trying in vain to hold them up.

Petyr’s voice ebbed and flowed, painting a picture in her head as detailed as the most delicate brushstroke on canvas and those soothing fingers unconsciously played a silent tune dragging gently through her hair.

 

A change came o'er the spirit of my dream.
The Lady of his love;—Oh! she was changed,
As by the sickness of the soul; her mind
Had wandered from its dwelling, and her eyes,
They had not their own lustre, but the look
Which is not of the earth; she was become
The queen of a fantastic realm; her thoughts
Were combinations of disjointed things;
And forms impalpable and unperceived
Of others' sight familiar were to hers.
And this the world calls frenzy; but the wise
Have a far deeper madness, and the glance
Of melancholy is a fearful gift;
What is it but the telescope of truth?
Which strips the distance of its fantasies,
And brings life near in utter nakedness,
Making the cold reality too real!

 

Sansa had no concept of time as she drifted deeper into hazy sleep. At some point, those tender fingers stopped and instead closed the book, setting it on the table. Gently, he woke her moving to stand up.

“Come, my little witch,” his voice teased, “Even the evil spirits of the forest have to go to bed.”

Sleepily, she held onto Lady as he helped her off the floor. He took her arm, linking it with his and guided her up the stairs. Once in her room, Sansa set Lady on the bed, and immediately she curled up fast asleep.

“I’ll call the maid to help you undress,” she heard him say stoking the fire a bit.

“No, no, let them sleep,” she muttered and glanced blearily at the clock. It was very late. “I can manage.”

“Of that, I’m am sure,” he chuckled, but his eyes were dark as something else entirely resided there.

It seemed that he wanted to say something more but decided against it. Petyr closed the distance and Sansa held her breath, thinking he was going to kiss her. Instead, he left a dry kiss on her fingers once again, smiled, and left the room with a soft “goodnight.”

Sansa couldn’t describe the strange feeling in her stomach as she undressed. Was it disappointment? She couldn’t understand what was happening. This man that she loathed, in the beginning, was slowly turning her topsy turvy. Is that what happened to people when they were thrown together in a remote place with no one else to socialize with?

She crawled into bed and blew out the candle. Lady yawned and snuggled closer to her new mother under the warm linens, and Sansa felt sorry for this little thing. She probably didn’t fully understand what had happened to her today.

All those concerns and strange feelings drifted away as Sansa let herself finally fall into a deep sleep.

She wasn’t sure what was a dream or reality when her door opened, and Lady gave a little growl. Soft music was playing in the distance as cool hands touched her shoulder.

You must wake, Persephone.”

Chapter Text

 

Decpt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sansa heard Lady growl again, and then a voice that sounded like her own whispered eerily.

Socair, mo cheann beag – be still, my little one – …

Lady whined a little and crawled back under the covers, and Sansa dared not move. Something or someone was in her room. The piano echoed upstairs and all her fears bubbled up while thunder softly rolled across the sky as the rain began to pour down, beating against her window.

“Who are you?” she finally asked the darkness.

A friend,” the sweet little voice replied, “Don’t be frightened.”

“What do you want from me?” Sansa muttered fearfully, burying her head under the covers.

To help you,” it said with sincerity.

“Why?” she inquired. Why would this spirit, this other-worldly thing want to help her?

He lies to you. You are not mad,” it said, not answering Sansa’s question.

“Why me?” Sansa wondered aloud peering over her blankets, finding only darkness.

You are special,” the sweet voice said. “You can see and hear me. It’s been a long time since –”  It paused for a moment before uttering. “… I had a friend.

“What are you?” Sansa’s eyes scanned the room fearfully.

I don’t know,” it answered sadly and was quiet for a time before adding, “You must go now before the music ends, and he disappears.”

Whatever it was, had left, Sansa felt, and all she could hear was the music emanating from below. The last two times she ventured downstairs, Sansa had her wits scared out of her and promised herself she’d never go down again. Yet, this seemingly friendly spirit said that it was all a lie, that perhaps Sansa was right, that someone was down there playing after all.

Her heart beating fast, Sansa put on her dressing gown and stepped into the hallway. Glancing to the blue room’s door, she found it was still closed and hopefully locked. Was the spirit talking to her from that room? Was she the girl Mrs. Ame’s was scared of? A burning spirit of a girl would be enough to frighten anyone if they saw it, but Sansa remembered what happened today at the tree. A girl in flames protected her from the man and then disappeared. Perhaps, Mrs. Ame’s was wrong.

Reaching the banister, the music continued in its somber tone, and Sansa remembered the strange riddle.

To the underworld, he’ll go when the somber music dies. So Persephone must follow, to find her God of lies.”

Sansa struggled with what to do. Persephone was kidnapped by Hades and taken to the Underworld. Petyr had essentially kidnapped her from her home and brought her here, to this ghostly place. Why would he lie to her, scare her? It didn’t make sense.

The only person that didn’t seem to want her here was Duncan. That man seemed more evil in nature and apt to frighten her away or worse turn her mad. Sansa couldn’t understand why the man appeared to hate her so much. If it was Duncan downstairs, she could prove it once and for all to Petyr, and he must believe her this time.

Then there was the music box. Petyr seemed angry that it was in her possession both times. Why would he place it in her room? Sansa couldn't puzzle it out. Duncan, however, might do something like that to make the marquess get rid of her. To appear as a thief, in Petyr’s eyes.

Sure of herself, Sansa crept down the staircase once again and made her way silently to the music room. The piano was still playing as she came to the door and couldn’t look inside just yet. She tried desperately to bottle up the fear she felt as she stood there, listening to this sad song. Whoever it was on the piano, they always played with sadness.

Holding her breath, Sansa steeled her resolve and peered around the edge of the partially opened double doors.

Her eyes widened at the sight before her. Petyr was the ghostly pianist! Anger welled up inside like a bonfire. He sat there in her bedroom and listened to her tell him about the piano, and he had the audacity to act as if he knew nothing. All this time Petyr let her believe....

Sansa’s grip on the door was so tight, she could have pulled it from its hinges. A small creak sounded, and she ducked behind the door as the music suddenly stopped. Sansa didn’t know what she wanted to do. Did she just barge in there and rail at the man that had pretended he wasn’t making her crazy all this time? Would he even care?

Unexpectedly, the piano began again, and this time, the tempo and crescendo changed quickly. Even as furious as Sansa was, she had to listen to how beautifully he played. She peered around again and watched him for a moment as his long, graceful fingers traversed the ivory keys with practiced ease.

His eyes were closed, as he was wholly absorbed in the music. It was a song she had never heard before. It wasn’t polished or sounded as though a composer had written it and Sansa pondered if it was of his own making. No sheets of music lay in front of him but instead only a glass of what looked like brandy, his favourite after dinner . He was dressed for bed, in his dark dressing robe and Sansa wondered why in hell he chose to play at this hour of the night.

The tempo slowed again, and then he stopped, finishing his drink. Slowly Petyr stood up making the bench screech a little against the polished marble floor, and Sansa shrink back. He was going to bed and would find her out here waiting for him.

Good, she thought with a satisfied smile. He’ll know I caught him red-handed. I don’t care if the entire household hears me yelling at him for such a cruel joke!

Sansa waited, but he didn’t come. Deciding to confront him all the same, she straightened her posture and marched into the music room discovering it completely empty. He was just here! She saw him, and there was no other way out of this room except to pass her.

She went to the piano and touched the bench. It was warm. Good, that meant she didn’t imagine it and knew Petyr wasn’t a ghost. He had been here.

Walking around the room, Sansa found all the windows locked and couldn’t imagine him going outside in the rain. She stood at the piano once again, frustrated and furious.

“Where did you go, you lying bastard?” she whispered to herself.

To the Underworld, he’ll go… So Persephone must follow…

Maybe he was the Devil himself, she thought bitterly. Duncan did say the gates of hell were under this house.

Under the house…

Yes, this place was built upon an older castle. The gossip was about a torture chamber or something underneath, and Sansa shuddered. What in God’s name was going on in this house of Harrenhal?

She inspected around the walls, touching around two bookcases looking for a lever of sorts. Winterfell had two secret rooms and a passage in which to hide if needed and this house was much older than her northern home. Irritated, Sansa leaned against the wall and felt a bit of wood paneling give to the pressure.

Feeling around the wood edges, Sansa found a small notch and pressed it hard. The panel moved a little, and Sansa backed away with apprehension. Was this really a good idea? She didn’t know where this path would lead.

Nervous hands pushed the door open a little more peeking inside. It was damp and pitch black but Sansa could see stone steps leading down a curved staircase. She saw a candle on the bookcase but it would surely signal her following him. Glancing back inside the passageway, she could see a hint of light and Sansa felt like she was on a precipice. If she chose to follow this path, part of her knew she could never return.

Sansa exhaled and stepped inside the narrow passage closing the door behind her. The air was heavy, and she had to refrain from coughing. After a few moments, her eyes adjusted to the darkness and the pale light below crept up from the bottom curve of the stairs. To her right, the passage wound its way with another set of steps going up, but it was pitch black. It seemed clear that he had gone down under the house and Sansa’s heart quickened again.

Picking up her dressing gown, Sansa made her decision and took the first tentative step down. There was condensation on the stone wall and no handrail to hold onto. Sansa worried she would slip and treaded carefully downward, one step at a time.

The light grew a little brighter yet it was still very dim. A familiar scent that Sansa remembered from Petyr’s bathroom filled her nostrils along with the heavy dampness in the air. However, that wasn’t what made her anxious. The further she followed the stairs down, the warmer it grew. In fact, it was more than humid, it was fairly hot. The stone structure had trapped the heat in and with fear, Sansa guessed that’s why the marble floors were heated above.

She frowned at that remembering how scared she was when her bare foot touched the floor in the music room. The music. It was all a lie.

Well, almost.

The last stair was in sight, and Sansa stopped. She could hear him moving around, and suddenly she could see the light from his candle. From her position, it seemed that wherever they were, it was cavernous.

She listened intently and waited before moving down the last two steps keeping herself hidden in the darkness of the stone wall. What she discovered was nothing she could have ever expected at all.

Under the house lay a great hot spring, from where it came, Sansa couldn’t fathom. By the looks of the stone columns, it had to be as old as the original castle itself or older. Petyr had lit a few torches on the columns and didn’t seem to notice her presence at all as she watched.

At one end, the carved stones gave way to large boulders where it appeared the spring welled from. At some point in time, the stone around the pool had been carved giving it the appearance of an ancient Roman bath, from drawings that Sansa had seen in books. The only difference was a copper pipe in one corner of the pool that led up to the ceiling and a strange, soft humming that seemed to be on the other side of the rock wall. This had to be where his hot water for the bath was coming from. Petyr had his very own hot spring in his home, she shook her head in amazement.

Stream rose up from the pool and filled the space, making her wonder how hot the water was. If this is where he disappeared to each time, obviously it was cool enough to bathe in.

Immediately, that thought made her freeze; as wide, blue eyes stared at the man who began undressing by the edge of the pool. Sansa knew she should leave and not watch from the shadows in secret yet she couldn’t tear her eyes away. Sansa had never seen a naked man before and watching him undress, unbeknownst to him, was most decidedly not proper. It was downright scandalous.

He placed his dressing robe over a broken column that lay on its side and lifted the muslin dress shirt over his head. Petyr was lean but by no means skinny. His shoulders and chest were defined as a bit of dark hair traveled down to his stomach. For a man nearing forty, he did not have the body Sansa assumed older men had – flabby, fat, and wrinkled.

Why was she still standing here? She couldn’t very well stride in and confront him about everything while he was half-naked. Sansa kept telling herself she should go back to her room, but her feet refused to move.

When his fingers unbuttoned and shifted his trousers down, Sansa sharply inhaled. He paused for a moment, and she thought for sure he heard her, but he didn’t turn towards or acknowledge her at all and continued pushing the clothing down his legs tossing the garment to the growing pile.

She watched Petyr move down one step into the steaming water, and he waited for a moment as if gauging the temperature. Sansa saw every bit of him and couldn’t stop staring at what made men different from women. This appendage that a woman was never meant to see until her wedding night was intriguing. Is that what all the fuss was about?

Sansa had heard Myranda on so many occasions talk about her experience with men and how wonderful it was, what made men good lovers and so forth. She said well-endowed men were her favorite. Was Petyr well-endowed? Sansa didn’t know the difference, as most well-bred virgin ladies probably didn’t.

Petyr sank into the water to his waist and sighed deeply as his voice reverberated throughout the chamber. He disappeared under the water for a moment before rising up again and running his hands through his wet hair and scrubbing his face. Finding a spot near the carved edge, Petyr sat down until only his shoulders were visible as his head lay back against the stone in relaxation. The torches did not give much light but enough to see him in the dark water.

Sansa gazed in lascivious fascination at Petyr in a bath, completely unaware of the girl that examined his every move. An arm lifted from the water resting behind his neck as he arched his back a little. She knew she must leave, watching him like this was more than wrong.

When a moan escaped his lungs, Sansa felt her breath quicken and an odd sensation below her navel. His brows furrowed slightly, and she could see his arm move beneath the water. Oh God, he wasn’t – no, she wasn’t watching him do that. Myranda said men took their own pleasure any time and as often as they could. Petyr’s breathing was labored as another moan escaped his lips echoing in the cavern. Sansa was transfixed at him, bringing about his own pleasure.

The sensation in her belly turned to burning and then a pool of pure sinful aching between her thighs as his moans grew louder, murmuring incoherent words. She was so lost in watching him, that her foot slipped on the wet stone, making her presence known.

“Who’s there?” his voice bellowed from the pool. It echoed up and back again, and Sansa knew instantly, it was his voice that she heard through the floors and walls that first night.

Sansa did not waste any time and scurried up the steps to the landing behind the music room. Damnit, she couldn’t let him catch her spying on him. She tried desperately to find a latch to open the door and cursed herself for not taking the opportunity to do so before. The damned panel would not open, and Sansa could hear him coming.

Finally, it opened as Sansa ran out not bothering to close it behind her. She barely made it up the staircase when she could hear him in the music room, knowing she would be caught.

Suddenly, a loud clang came from down the foyer and instead of running up the stairs, Petyr turned the other direction giving Sansa a chance to get back to her room, bolting the door. She was breathless as she sat down on the bed, making Lady bark in excitement for her return and Sansa quietly hushed her.

Quickly she took off her dressing gown that was filthy around the bottom and set it aside with her equally dirty slippers. Sansa crawled into bed and prayed that he didn’t know it was her. It could have been a maid or anyone else unless he saw her. Hopefully, Petyr believed after the last two times, she would be too frightened to venture downstairs again. She hoped.

What was she supposed to do now? She couldn’t very well confront him about pretending to be a ghost because then he would know she spied on him while he was…

Sansa screamed into her pillow out of frustration. How in God’s name was she going to explain watching him pleasure himself after discovering his lie? Her mind burned with the image of him, and her ears echoed with the sounds his voice made in the throes of desire. Worse, was the desire she felt seeing Petyr in such a state.

She heard a sharp click from her door, but the bolt prevented the intruder from entering. It had to be him, she thought and kept Lady from barking. If she were lucky, he would assume she was asleep. Sansa half expected him to knock and confront her about tonight, but it never came, and he apparently decided not to say anything now.

Coming to her door, Sansa sighed, had to be only because he thought it was her. Sansa snuggled down in the bed and knew she wouldn’t get a wink of sleep tonight. Tomorrow they would have to face one another, and she dreaded it more than anything ...even more than the little spirit of a girl that, for reasons unknown, befriended her with this newfound truth.

 


 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

secret

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With trepidation, Sansa descended the stairs the following morning to break her fast. She barely slept last night, worried about what she could possibly say to him knowing the truth.

Lady trotted quickly behind, nipping at her skirts until coming to the small dining room. Taking a deep breath, Sansa walked in with her head held high only to find Petyr’s seat empty. A footman pulled out her chair as she sat, asking her if she preferred coffee or tea this morning. Anxiously, Sansa kept glancing at the doorway waiting for him to walk in yet Petyr did not come.

Coward, she thought smugly, tucking into her porridge as Lady gobbled up some meat Mrs. Ames had prepared.

Sansa changed into her ruined dress and spent the remainder of the morning with the servants and Mrs. Ames. The scent of fresh bread filled the air giving her a bit of peace. One of the footmen made a knotted toy of old rags and Lady tugged on it, growling with never-ending enjoyment. The servants went about their daily routine as Sansa sat drinking her tea when Lady finally fell asleep at her feet in the kitchen.

“Let’s take a look at that hand, my dear,” Mrs. Ames smiled as she unwrapped the soft bandages around Sansa’s fingers and palm. “The salve seems to be helping. Wrap it again tonight and tomorrow,” she said, examining the bite mark. Sansa explained what she told Petyr about the incident in the woods, and the old woman listened with mild interest.

“In her own way, the mother chose you, bonding you forever,” Mrs. Ames commented, reaching down to pet Lady behind her ears. “Took to you quickly, did she?” she asked kindly.

“Yes,” Sansa answered, watching the woman caress the animal tenderly. “As if I were her mother all along. She doesn’t seem to feel loss or separation at all.”

“You are her mother now, Sansa,” Mrs. Ames said. “She will be loyal to you all her life.”

They were quiet for a time as Sansa finished her tea, wondering if she should tell the old woman about her new acquaintance.

“Do you know where Lord Baelish went today? He wasn’t here for breakfast,” Sansa inquired instead.

“Oh, I don’t, dear. His lordship left early this morning and said he would not return until tomorrow,” Mrs. Ames said as she started cleaning up the china. “What’s troubling you, child?”

Sansa raised her head and smiled. “Oh nothing,” she lied. “There was only something I wished to discuss with him today. It’s not important.”

“He seems to have found a fondness for you,” the kindly woman smiled. “And enjoying your company, I might add.”

Sansa blushed a little, but couldn’t fault the woman. It was more than obvious Petyr had made a point of spending more of his time with her the last few days.

“Since that day at the market, you appear to be happier, my dear,” Mrs. Ames gave a knowing grin, and Sansa flushed bright red. “It’s a good thing,” she patted her hand sincerely. “I was beginning to worry about you. I’m glad you moved out of the blue room. Nothing good would have come from that. We lost too many young maids due to that room. I tried and tried to tell his lordship that the girls were scared of spirits in the house, but he only shrugged it off as silly superstition.”

He would, Sansa rolled her eyes. How long had this game of his been going on? She couldn’t tell the housekeeper of the marquess’ treachery just yet.

Sansa thought about the little spirit and wondered if she should tell Mrs. Ames. She saved her life in the woods and told her about Petyr, but Mrs. Ames said never to listen to who she referred to as‘them’.

This troubled spirit of a girl was far from malevolent. Maybe she was just lonely for too long, and Sansa felt sorry for her. Mrs. Ames said herself, this house had seen too much sorrow. Plus, the ghostly girl told Sansa she was special. It appeared more likely that no one gave this girl a chance outside of fear. Possibly Sansa was the one to really see her for the first time while everyone else ran frightfully away.

It seemed Mrs. Ames thought it best to ignore everything that wasn’t rooted in the physical world to keep the peace. More and more, Sansa was betting the old housekeeper told the maids to not wander the house at night as well, and that’s why the blue room had been kept locked. Petyr playing the piano downstairs and his ghostly secret had all the servants believing anything he and Mrs. Ames said. Sansa could not understand why.

Perhaps Mrs. Ames know about the marquess fooling everyone with his midnight concertos. If she did, then she was a liar too. She told Sansa that discussing these spectral things with Petyr was a bad idea for he would not understand, yet he, himself was one of those ghosts. Sansa puzzled over whether to tell the woman what she knew about Lord Baelish but in the end, thought best to keep it to herself – for now.

Later in the day, Sansa took Lady outside allowing her to run about the grounds. She was the funniest thing to watch as she was all paws and clumsy giving Sansa joy in this lonely place. Lady set out exploring her new world without a care. Her little white ears would perk up at any sound just as her eyes were sharp and went chasing after a squirrel near the labyrinth.

Getting too close to the maze’s entrance, Sansa rushed over and scooped her up. The weather was turning fast, and it would most likely snow before the week was out. Sansa stood staring at the massive hedges in wonder. Taking a few nervous steps inside the entrance, she glanced down a long corridor that broke into three separate pathways. The hedges were overgrown as two paths were almost entirely blocked by years of growth. Petyr had warned it was dangerous, and by the looks of it, one would have a difficult time just moving past the weeds and branches.

Lady growled and barked, but it wasn’t at the dark maze but the man that marched full stride towards them.

“Lord Baelish told you not to go inside that labyrinth, did he not?” Duncan yelled from across the gardens. “You may be the lady of the house, but he is still the master, and his wishes will be obeyed.”

“Why? What is he hiding in there?” Sansa smirked defying the old butler and stood just inside the archway.

“Hiding?” Duncan frowned as he reached for her, “Girl, you northerners may not be the most educated, but I’m assuming your mother taught you some history. The old king built the original castle and that damned thing,” he said, pointing to the labyrinth. “Completely mad he was. Loved to torture people for amusement. You haven’t any idea how many people have died in there.”

Sansa stood defiant before the butler. He was only trying to scare her. How could a maze kill anyone? Duncan was probably just as proficient a liar as his master. He clearly did not like Mrs. Ames or her challenging him.

“I’m not afraid of ghosts, Duncan,” Sansa contested and strode past him.

“You and that old woman… “ he breathed in disgust. “You’re a curse upon this place bringing back the old pagan spirits. God will watch and judge you, wicked women.”

Sansa whisked around in anger. She was tired of this man and his grumblings, no matter what Mrs. Ames and Petyr said.

“If this place sits on the gates of hell, as you’ve said,” she began harshly, “Then why are you still here?”

Duncan walked up to her as Sansa held her ground.

“God puts His faithful servants where they are needed most,” he hissed, “even to protect those who do not believe they need it.”

Sansa laughed heartily, “When was the last time God protected anyone that truly needed it? Where were His servants when innocent children were executed for nothing?” she spat viciously and stood only inches from Duncan’s face. “I don’t need the protection of a God that lets children die by firing squad in the mud and rain by a vengeful and hateful brat of a king,” Sansa breathed, the venom dripping from her mouth. Taking a few steps back, she glanced at the labyrinth, gardens, and then towards the house. “This place is already dead, it nor I need your protection, Duncan.”

Not waiting for a retort, Sansa turned on her heel and left the butler standing with a look of fury on his face. She smiled as she reached the terrace steps. The last thing she needed was a zealot preaching to her. Sansa was sick of his frowns, disapproving glares, and rude comments. For weeks, she wished to speak her mind. She may not be the lady of the house after she confronted Petyr on his treachery, so Sansa might as well take what little victories should could and enjoy it.

 


 

 

There was no point in having the staff prepare the dining room just for her, so Sansa insisted on taking her supper in her bedroom. She didn’t feel like reading in the library or playing music today either. Her mind was troubled with so many things since last night.

Lady stretched out upon the duvet, her eyes drifting closed yet Sansa was wide awake. Mrs. Ames tea sat untouched on the table as Sansa felt that she did not require it. Her deceitful ghost wasn’t here, and the real one wasn’t frightening any longer. Sansa wondered if and when the little girl would appear again. Perhaps, she could help get rid of Duncan, and that idea made Sansa smile.

Knowing that Petyr would not be returning until tomorrow, Sansa desperately wanted to use his bath again. There would be no one to worry about, and she could take her time. Slipping on her dressing gown, Sansa ducked out into the shadowy hallway with just a single candle to light her way.

Before leaving, she glanced at the blue room’s door and pondered why that was her room. Walking to the door, Sansa paused for a few moments before rapping softly, but there was no answer. Shaking her head, Sansa wasn’t sure what she would have done if something answered back. She placed her palm on the wood and whispered a simple “thank you” before making her way towards Petyr’s rooms.

It was later than Sansa realized as the house was dark and quiet. She stood before Petyr’s bedroom door and debated. He did say that if he caught her in here again, there would be consequences. The latch, however, did not budge telling her the room was locked and Sansa frowned in disappointment. Remembering the Marchioness’ room, she walked over and placed her hand on the latch. It was bolted as well making Sansa huff in annoyance. Clearly, he did not trust her at all while he was away now.

Nor should he, she smirked, I did snoop through his room and now wish to use his tub and elegant soaps.

Sansa walked back towards her room and stopped at the staircase gazing down at the sleeping house. How strange it was, that she no longer feared the nights. How quickly things could change with new knowledge. Sansa was never insane as she had feared before. No, this house was filled with liars in one way or another. The only one she was warned against was the one with a element of truth.

She glanced down the landing towards her room and then down the stairs. Petyr wouldn’t return untill tomorrow morning at least. With a wicked gleam, Sansa picked up her gown and walked down the stairs into the music room. Pressing the wood, the little door opened and Sansa felt the same hot, damp air as last night. Checking to make sure no one was watching, she stepped inside and closed the panel behind her not realizing that a well-concealed thread had pulled a potted plant from its place on the marble leaving a visible ring of dirt.

It was much easier to see with a candle in the dank corridor than last night. The stairs heading down to the pool were to her left and another, more significant passage to her right. Out of curiosity, Sansa walked to the other direction for a bit. As before, a set of stone stairs curved up the side heading up to at least the second floor but there was also a heavy oak door on the other wall. It was fixed with a massive padlock, and Sansa entertained wild notions of what could be behind it. Perhaps it was the dreaded torture chamber the servants whispered about. In a way, if that’s what was behind that door, Sansa was glad it was locked.

Moving back towards the music room, Sansa started down the stone steps to the hot spring that quietly awaited. She didn’t know why, but tonight she wasn’t scared or timid at all being down here alone. There were numerous hot springs at home in the woods that the children loved playing in. This was nothing different, except being inside and completely private. Sansa could soak down here as long as she liked tonight, she thought with a huge smile.

She lit the same torches as Petyr did the night before, and the room began to warm in the soft glow of the fire. There was something very sinful about being down here unbeknownst to anyone. Upstairs, servants were sleeping as their young mistress was bathing like a storybook nymph in a mysterious pool under their feet.

Sansa walked around the cavernous room. On one side, it looked as though the walls had caved in on themselves from the old castle yet on the adjacent side was where the spring seemed to be bubbling up from. Around the outer side of the pool is where it had been carved many years ago, with its columns, and steps down into the dark, hot water.

On the wall, where the stairs led up, there was another door just like the one padlocked in the upper corridor. This one was locked as well, and Sansa couldn’t help but wonder what Petyr was hiding down here. The doors were ancient, but the padlocks were new.

Unable to solve the mystery, Sansa went back to the pool and sat on the broken column, setting her candlestick on the floor. Was she really going to bathe down here in the dark in the middle of the night? Dipping her toes, the water was hot but not scalding and the idea of soaking in water that wouldn’t turn cold like a bathing tub was too much to resist.

Taking off her dressing gown, she paused halfway at the laces on her chemise. Sansa knew she was alone, and it wasn’t so much the idea of a little girl’s spirit spying on her but all the same, Sansa decided to keep on the sheer material just in case. It wasn’t as if she was going to use soap or anything to cleanse, this was just to soak and relax for a little while before heading to bed.

Tentative steps lead down into the water until Sansa was waist-deep. It took a few minutes for her body to acclimate to the temperature making her skin tingle. Wading around the pool, it was much deeper and hotter towards the old wall. Yes, that must be the source of the spring, she thought. Finding the carved stone near one candle-lit column, Sansa sat relatively near where she spied on Petyr last night. It was just large enough to sit and lean back in relaxation.

Sansa wondered how many people from the past had sat in this very spot enjoying this moment. Just as Petyr had, she dipped under the water letting the heat sting her face before quickly coming back up. It was far too hot to submerge for more than a few seconds as she wrung the excess water from her hair, pushing it back.

She didn’t know how much time passed, and she didn’t really care. It was the first time Sansa felt truly relaxed without a care in the world. Every ache, soreness, tension, worry… it was all washed away as the encompassing heat worked magic on her tired body. Sansa closed her eyes and hoped she did not fall asleep.

What titillating gossip that would be, to find her dead and floating in a pool under the house! How would Petyr explain that she giggled to herself?

Her thoughts turned to Petyr, and the image of him last night still burned in her psyche. He was practically sitting where Sansa was now. That first rush of heat to her cheeks when he disrobed made her blush even now at the memory. Petyr was handsome in his own way, and Sansa tried to picture what he must have looked like when he was her age. He was still a man in his prime that age had not yet taken its toll despite a hint of grey hair.

Once, Sansa would never have thought a man his age could have been appealing to her in the least. If her parents had betrothed her to someone older than thirty, she would have been devastated. Sansa’s greatest fear, being the eldest daughter and one that was required to marry well, was that she would be wed to title and money – never for love or attraction.

She did find Joffrey young and desirable at first, and couldn’t deny the idea of being queen one day didn’t fill her with excitement, but that rosy dream came crashing down as fast as she conjured it up. Even the faintest hope of marrying a lower lord that wasn’t hideous in looks and nature died as time dragged on. Making light of Myranda’s pathetic attempt to marry for money and power back at the Vale was now a sour note in Sansa’s mind.

Would Sansa have ever given Petyr a second glance once upon a time? Probably not. He was below her in reputation and station regardless of his current title and estates. Her father never would have allowed such a match for his daughter.

Had Petyr asked for her hand, even before she discovered his lie, would she have accepted it? Sansa just didn’t know. He might have been kind, given his generosity and at least bedding him would not have been too terrible a deed. Sansa couldn’t imagine him hurting her purposefully.

That kiss behind the tree, a tingly memory on her lips and the way he danced and held her… yes, she could have done worse, Sansa supposed.

“The vision before me is what I dreamed about last night,” his deep voice echoed, “did you sleep well too?”

Sansa’s scream echoed around the room as she fell off the stone ledge and into the deeper part of the pool. Dipping so low that the water line came to her chin, Sansa watched Petyr casually stroll from the stairs to the broken column and candlestick that was almost burnt out. He sat down and fingered her dressing gown with a little smirk.

“I gather you didn’t expect me any time soon or I doubt you would have ever come down here,” he smiled wickedly. “Even so, I’m rather impressed. You’re more courageous than I thought.”

Sansa waded to the other side of the pool, trying to put as much distance as possible between them. Her eyes scanned the edges around the spring and didn’t know how she was supposed to get past him. The water was getting too deep as she backed towards the rocky wall.

“I would exercise caution if I were you,” he warned lightly, bringing her dressing gown to his nose, “There is a dropoff right where you’re standing. I’m not sure how deep it goes, and I rather think we both don’t want to find out.”

Sansa paused in fear and looked behind her. The water was much hotter and a deep black. She didn’t know how to swim well and did not want to test his truthfulness with her life. She moved along the carved edge and tried to pull herself up, but each time her chemise kept getting in the way of her escape.

“Would you like me to help you? Or I can continue to admire the view of your backside, if you like,” Sansa heard him chuckle from behind her on the opposite side of the pool.

Horror filled Sansa at the knowledge that her now wet and sheer chemise clinging to her skin did nothing to shield her body from him. She sunk back down in the water, making sure to keep everything below her shoulders from view.

“Mrs. Ames said you would not return until the morrow,” she said nervously. “I only wanted some time alone… some privacy.”

“Oh? Like the privacy you gave me last night?” he chided, taking off his suede slippers, and Sansa turned bright red.

Petyr removed his own dressing gown and paused in his shirt sleeves and trousers as Sansa stood speechless. Instead of removing his shirt, Petyr removed his trousers and set them aside before taking two steps into the water.

“What are you doing? You can’t come in here!” she squeaked, pressing herself against the stone.

“The last time I checked, everything here belongs to me. I can do as I wish,” Petyr smiled and began unbuttoning his shirt.

“Don’t you dare. A gentleman…”

“Would keep his shirt on even though the lady has seen every inch of him? Fine, I concede…” Petyr chuckled making his way, waist-deep.

“A gentleman, would turn his back and let me cover myself so I…”

“Can scurry like a scared rabbit back to your room?” he teased, finishing her sentence again. “We both know I am no gentleman.”

“You’re a lying rake,” Sansa seethed. “Go bathe in your modern washroom –  or anywhere else.”

“This is my house, go be sanctimonious somewhere else,” he laughed. “Besides, I may be a roué, but I did not lie. Not directly.”

“You think guilt by omission is any better?” she fumed. “You made me believe I was mad. You knew – I tried to tell you, and you pretended… why?”

Petyr moved towards her and Sansa slowly retreated along the side of the pool until he completely blocked her path.

“I didn’t know it was you at first,” he said, barring her way around him. “I assumed it was one of the maids again.”

Sansa bristled with anger. It didn’t make it any better that he was scaring the daylights out of his servants too. “Enjoy it, do you? Scaring women into believing in ghosts?”

Petyr moved in closer, and when Sansa tried to dodge him, he pinned her against the warm granite.

“Them? Perhaps once or twice knowing how bloody superstitious they all are. They scare so easily, and it keeps prying eyes out of my private affairs,” he said with control. “But you? No. I did not enjoy it at all. I was going to say something that night in your room until I found out you had been rummaging in my room…”

“You stubborn bastard, I told you I didn’t take it,” Sansa interrupted hotly, “For all I know now, you put it there to make me look like a madwoman in front of everyone.”

Petyr frowned but didn’t let her move.

“And why would I do that?” he smirked. “I told you it was precious to me. Why would I – ”

“I don’t know, you didn’t seem to be bothered that I was scared to death and yet you didn’t say a thing the second time,” Sansa began to ramble incoherently out of anger and frustration. “You’re hiding something down here and using these scare tactics to keep anyone from – ”

Petyr’s mouth cut her off in a fury, swallowing her words instantly. Sansa was spun back to that day behind the tree when he took her off guard with his kiss. It was all-consuming, but that resentment won out, forcing her to push him away. Petyr wrapped his arms around her, trapping her hands against his chest as she squirmed. When her mouth opened in protest, his tongue delved in touching hers, making Sansa gasp.

Petyr’s tongue dipped and sensually teased her slowly coaxing her mouth to play with his. Sansa felt herself yielding slightly and drummed up that rage pushing against his chest. Desire pooled in his eyes as she struggled and there was a charge between them.

“Why did you let me follow you last night?” she spat, trying to slip out of his hold.

“I didn’t think you would come down again, to be honest,” Petyr eyed cautiously.

“You? Honest? Now there’s a lark,” she reeled against his hard body. Two layers of thin, wet clothing were all that separated them. Sansa was more than aware of how bad a situation this could turn into.

“You would have found out, I realized, sooner or later. You are stubborn and nosy to a fault,” Petyr said, tightening his grip. “Once I saw that you really believed, I was worried I had pushed you to a breaking point.”

“Did you put that damned music box in my room?” she demanded.

No,” he answered pointedly, “and I still haven’t found out who is playing tricks on you.”

“Besides you,” she breathed viciously.

Sansa studied his eyes for the truth and couldn’t tell anymore. Why should she even consider trusting him after all of this? Petyr was hiding something important enough, that making the servants believe in ghosts and keeping them from poking into areas of the house was a priority.

“Why didn’t you say something last night,” she asked anxiously. “You knew it was me.”

“You could have left at any time,” he cooed seductively. “Why did you stay –  and watch?

Sansa’s stomach clenched while her heart pulsed. What could she say to that? Petyr was right, she could have left, but she watched him pleasure himself, and the whole time he knew she was there. He let her witness it on purpose!

“Have you ever seen a naked man before, Sansa?” he whispered in her ear, his mouth brushing the sensitive skin there. “Do you know what happens when he fantasizes about a young woman spying from shadows as he touches himself?”

Petyr pressed his body, pinning hers to the stone, feeling a hardness against her thigh. The thin layers of muslin did nothing to safeguard her from the sensation of his warm and sturdy body. His arms had loosened their hold as his hand ghosted up her waist.

“If you didn’t want anyone to know what you’re doing down here, why play that damned piano and raise suspicions?” she inquired, trying not to feel his hot breath under her ear.

“Because I like to play,” those soft lips whispered down her jaw making Sansa shiver involuntarily. “Just – not for an audience.”

Sansa’s chest heaved and felt an ache begin between her legs where his hip pressed gently. She needed to get out of here, needed to get a hold of herself. She couldn’t let him have this intimacy. She shouldn’t be letting him touch her like this.

“What are you hiding?” she asked again when he pulled back just a breath away from her lips. “What keeps me from telling everyone what you’re doing?”

Petyr smiled roguishly as his eyes darkened, gazing at her mouth.

“Trust,” he whispered intimately and Sansa felt her breasts graze his chest with every heavy breath. “…and treason.”

Before she could utter another word, his mouth devoured hers completely. Petyr’s fingers sifted their way through Sansa’s wet hair cupping the back of her neck and held her mouth to him. Sansa protested weakly falling to his kiss. It wasn’t just erotic in the way he kissed her, but the feel of his naked body under the wet shirt that left her craving to touch him.

There was no one but her conscious telling her this was wrong, but the way he made her feel was so good. Watching Petyr pleasure himself last night as he was lost in thoughts of her made Sansa burn with need. He wanted her to know he was fantasizing about her, and now that desire flowed through her entirely.

The hand that rested on her waist traveled up so slowly, that when he cupped her breast, it made her hiss in shock. Petyr pulled away slightly, staring at her intensely when his thumb circled a nipple causing it to harden quickly. She knew she needed to make him stop, yet the look in his eyes was her undoing. The sheer torturous and wicked way his body pressed against hers was chipping away at her will. It was all wrong, a voice kept telling her, but this yearning was too much push aside.

Sansa enjoyed it when he kissed her behind that damned tree. She longed to kiss him again as the days passed. Even now, Sansa wanted to taste his mouth regardless of how furious she was at him. She wanted to feel real passion at least once.

Petyr must have sensed it too, for when he lowered his mouth to hers, she let him in. Without a thought, her fingers found their way into his damp hair, and the other pressed around his lower back as Petyr deepened his kiss. Her nerves were on fire as his hand kneaded her breast and felt him groan along her jaw. Petyr found a pulse point at the base of her throat and suckled it roughly making a moan finally escape her lips and spurring him on.

His hips ground into hers and Sansa felt his desire growing harder as he pushed one of her legs aside stepping between them. His cock pressed against her intimately, and the soft material caused rough friction in the hot water. Knowing that he was aroused and that it was touching her, made Sansa turn scarlet. Years ago, she had let Joffrey touch her breast once but never had anything gone beyond kissing. Joffrey didn't make her feel anything like what Petyr was doing to her senses. Sansa was so focused on the ache between her legs, that when Petyr's mouth took a nipple ravenously, it sent a jolt right to her core, lighting it on fire.

Unconsciously, her back arched that caused her apex to thrust against him, making Petyr growl as he lapped at her breast. His arm wrapped around her waist as he opened up her legs wider, but the material was obstructing his way. A devilish hand drifted down grasping her bum and Sansa gasped at the contact, clutching onto him. Her breasts abandoned, Petyr returned to her mouth, and it was all Sansa could do to keep up with him. His tongue danced with hers, and suddenly she couldn’t stop the whimpers and moans echoing in the dark and hot chamber.

Fingers gathered the wet chemise under her bum as the other hand slid under her thigh, hiking it up by his narrow hips. His mouth begged her to kiss him back. Finally, Sansa gave in wrapping her arms around his neck. She couldn’t get enough of kissing him, the hand that caressed her thigh, their sexes that teased each other through their thin muslin barriers, that when his fingertips grazed the bare skin of her bum, Sansa froze in fear breathing into his open mouth.

This was all too real as those long digits dipped low and brushed the edge of her sex, making her hips jolt and rub against him. Petyr’s eyes were filled with lust as he yanked the rest of her chemise up as both of his hands were so close to where she was aching to be touched. This was the point of no return, and they both knew it.

Holding her thigh, he gently eased forward, his cock sliding against her folds. Petyr’s breath was hot and heavy while he let her discover him. He pressed a little harder and that bundle of nerves pulsed with need. The hot water had relaxed her muscles and yet elevated her hunger in every way when they touched. His cock was hard yet silky as it slid along where she was aching with wicked desire. Petyr tried to angle himself when suddenly Sansa stopped him.

She wanted him. Sansa knew there was no denying that, but this, giving herself to him ultimately was a line in the sand she couldn’t cross. Petyr had no intention of marrying her or anything of the sort. If she let him have her, she would forever be a whore and Sansa did not want to be any man’s mistress.

“No,” she whispered and waited for him to be like any other man and take her anyway.

Sansa was already open and wanton the way he had her spayed against him. Even now, it was hard for her to say no. She was drowning with lust and her body demanded a release from this torture.

“Yes, you’re right,” he murmured along her jaw, which did not help the situation. “But what kind of gentleman would I be if I left you in such a state of dissatisfaction?”

Before Sansa could render his meaning, he pushed her against the stone with a hard splash. In place of his cock, Petyr’s hand cupped her mound roughly. The other hiked her knee up around his waist as his mouth descended on her with ferocity. Those fingers that Sansa thought were so beautiful as they graced the piano were anything but as they played between her folds. Rough, but skilled as they found that swollen bud making her cry out in pleasure.

A finger dipped inside, and Sansa shuddered grasping onto to him. Petyr was still grinding against her as she felt his cock slide between his hand and the inside of her thigh. The friction in the way he manipulated and teased had Sansa panting. Did all men know this? She could not have told him to stop even if she wanted to because something was building inside her and building fast. That slow ache, turned into a rage as the image of Petyr touching himself flashed in her mind.

“Do you want to know what I was thinking last night?” he purred while his fingers never stopped for a second. She was on fire and felt the pressure getting stronger. Sansa needed something and needed it badly as she breathed heavy near his ear holding onto him.

“It wasn’t even about fucking you,” he began while suckling on her neck. “I wanted to lay you on top of this ledge and spread your beautiful thighs as my mouth sucked on your little rosebud. I wanted to hear you cry my name and feel your fingers in my hair as I made you come.”

His fingers worked tirelessly, and Sansa could feel the dam about to burst. She bit her lip trying not to let those desperate moans come out. A part of her didn’t want it to happen, and yet she couldn’t handle much more. Sansa’s hips were thrusting instinctively against his hand and abdomen demanding more of their own accord. Her body was telling her what it needed and chased the sensation he was giving.

“Ever had a man feast on your cunt, sweetling?"

Sansa was shocked at the image it painted in her mind. She could see Petyr's face buried between her legs. Did men really want to taste a woman down there? His fingers rubbed her harder, and Sansa felt it coming. Oh God, she couldn't stop it as she snapped her eyes shut.

"Feel his tongue dip inside you…” his voice whispered, but Sansa couldn’t hear him anymore. She cried out and thought surely if anyone were upstairs they would overhear her ecstasy. Maybe it was a good thing that Petyr had them all believing in ghosts.

Sansa was trembling and shaking in his arms despite the hot water surrounding them. He pulled back and studied her face for a moment. Petyr was still hard, and she didn’t know what was going to happen next.

All too quickly, shame and anxiety ran through Sansa’s veins, and she couldn’t look him in the eyes. She let him touch her like some wanton in a brothel. Petyr all but took her virginity tonight It was beautiful and horrible at the same time. She had turned into what she despised in Myranda.

Petyr sensed her change immediately and pushed her away leaning his arms against the pool’s edge. There was something in his eyes that Sansa couldn’t quite place. Was it guilt? Displeasure? Disgust? Whatever it was, he wanted nothing more to do with her.

“Go, for God’s sake,” he groaned as if in pain.

He made Sansa fall apart with his touch, but now it was as if he couldn’t stand the sight of her. The tears welled up and the pang of hurt stabbed through her like a sharp knife. This is what he thought of her after all, Sansa sniffed. She was a whore, already bought and paid with gowns and gifts.

“Did you hear me? Go!” Petyr yelled.

Sansa lumbered out of the water in her wet chemise, grabbing her dressing gown. She tied it quickly and glanced at the man that had not moved an inch, facing away from her. Petyr couldn’t even look at her, and Sansa had never felt so despicable and used in her entire life. Who seduced who tonight? Now she wasn’t so sure what had just happened between them. They both wanted it, didn't they?

“Must I tell you again? Get out –  and don’t come back down here again,” he growled, avoiding eye contact.

Sansa made for the stairs when she heard his voice ring out in the darkness as she ascended quickly.

“Bolt your door tonight!"

It wasn’t until she was inside her room and slid the bolt on the door as Petyr commanded when the tears fell, and Sansa cried hopelessly next to her bed. Lady waged her tail nervously as she pawed her mistress’ wet chemise, whimpering in confusion. Sansa sobbed loudly and never heard the soft steps that stood in front of her door, listening as she fell into deep despair.

The pup crawled into her mistress’ lap and attempted to comfort her in the only way it knew how. Sansa didn’t know what was happening anymore. She could still feel the soft ache between her legs and his mouth on hers. Is this what it felt like to fall for someone who did not want you in return? In all fairness, she did stop him... but that look in his eyes at the end. It was a far cry from the desire she had seen residing in those deep green orbs.

If she had let Petyr take her tonight, what then? He would have pleasure on his terms, and when it came time to marry, he would choose a proper lady and not the whore, he turned her into. Sansa wiped her tears. She couldn’t be falling for him, she just couldn’t. What did she know about this man? Nothing. He was a liar, a cad, and a cheat.

What kind of woman falls for a man like that? Yet there were also those moments in the music room when Sansa drew Petyr while he slept, when he read poetry and caressed her hair or when they had lovely conversations about shared interests. That man, she grew to like a little more each day. Was that all it took for her to spread her legs wantonly for him? In the end, Petyr didn't take her to sate his own lust. He pushed her away, and Sansa hated that rejection even though she knew she wasn't ready.

What was worse is that now Sansa knew that side to him. One kiss behind a tree left her wanting more from this man. Now, she knew what real desire was and how he made her burn with pleasure. That knowledge, like Eve's apple, was tempting, delicious, and irreversible. How in heaven was she supposed to interact with Petyr after such intimacies? The sooner he left, the better.

Sansa lifted Lady onto the bed and peeled off her wet garments, leaving them in a dirty heap on the floor. Slipping into a clean nightgown, she crawled into bed with a heavy heart. Lady curled up beside her, and after a while, Sansa felt cool fingers running through her damp hair. For a heartbeat, she thought it might be Petyr, but the little voice echoed her sadness.

“Ssshh, I’m here,” it said as childlike fingers combed her hair from behind. “Don’t cry.”

Tears dried on her cheeks as the little spirit was of some comfort. This ghostly girl, as Sansa would have never suspected, was the one that cared for her and Lady. The spirit understood without a word being spoken. Sansa could never tell Mrs. Ames that she let Petyr fondle her in passion. He wasn't hers to claim.

“He is lost on another,” it said serenely. “It will come to pass, and you will see the truth. Her name is carved in music and must be broken.”

Sansa sniffed, as her head was pounding from a terrible headache.

“I don’t understand,” she whimpered tiredly.

“You will,” the sweet voice breathed. “You must be strong now, for on the morrow – she comes.”

 

 


 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

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Sansa sipped her tea as she took her breakfast in bed. It was a cowardly move after what transpired last night, she knew, but Sansa wasn’t ready to face Petyr just yet. Instructions were given to Mrs. Ames, the mistress didn’t feel well and asked to break her fast in her room. Sleep was practically impossible for Sansa’s senses twisted and turned around the man that plagued her thoughts.

Her body tingled from the memory of his mouth and the way their wet and virtually naked bodies touched in the steaming water. Petyr left an ache long after his tantalizing caresses stopped. Sansa could feel the way she gripped him tightly as he brought her to that peak of pleasure. She didn’t know a man could do such a thing. God in heaven, Sansa couldn’t conceive a woman feeling something like that.

Did Petyr violate her as her mother had warned her daughters in regards to men? He didn’t take her innocence in the way she feared, yet her it was her very innocence that was destroyed last night. She moaned and writhed at his ministrations yet afterward, Sansa couldn’t stop the shame that seeped from every pore. She wanted him, perhaps even wanton enough to let him take her the way men were supposed to. At that moment, Sansa didn’t care he wasn’t her husband nor that he would be forced to marry her. All she desired was the feeling of being wanted. In the end, Petyr told her to go and never return to the lagoon hiding underneath the house of lies he built.

A soft knock sounded on her door, and Sansa suspected Sarah had come to remove the tray and help her dress for the day. Instead, a very weary Petyr entered, dressed in charcoal grey and cream. Lady barked playfully wagging her tail at Sansa’s feet, but Petyr ignored her.

“Good morning,” he spoke formally and paused for a moment before adding, “I heard you were ill…”

Petyr stared at a spot over Sansa’s shoulder, avoiding her eyes and a small pang of hurt ached in her chest. His face was painted with guilt and regret, and Sansa didn’t understand why she didn’t feel happy that he knew he did something wrong. She should be thrilled that he felt guilty about what he did. It appeared as though Petyr was struggling to find something to say just as Sansa remained quiet. After a few moments of uncomfortable silence, he finally looked directly at her, his eyes unreadable.

“I – ahem, I would like to apologize for my conduct last night,” he began softly. “My sense of enacting a little revenge... well, went rather too far.”

That hurt turned to bitterness. “Revenge? After everything that you have done to me, you’re the one feeling slighted because I figured out your lies?” Sansa seethed. “Your conduct last night is not the only thing for which an apology is owed, my lord.”

“As I said last night, it was never my intention to truly frighten you, but more so to keep people away from certain areas of the house. A place as old and ripe with stories as this, there are bound to be inquisitive eyes. Once I realized you actually believed to the point of hysteria, I knew I would have to be truthful with you very soon,” Petyr explained. Even though he meant to sound sincere, it still felt forced.

“Is that why you were going to send me back to my uncle or is there something else you’re not telling me? Clearly, you have no intention of trusting me,” Sansa retorted coldly.

Petyr pressed his lips into a thin line, and Sansa thought he would leave, refusing to answer her.

“Partly,” he said quietly, “Bringing you here was… not something I had planned on. I’m not exactly prone to flights of fancy as you’ll find that I’m rarely trusting of people. I could have simply driven you completely mad and sent you away for safekeeping, so count yourself lucky, my dear.”

“Thank you so much,” she spat, “You could have saved yourself the bloody trouble and just left me in Riverrun.”

“Yes,” he drawled with a smile, “You were exhilarated as Edmure’s caretaker.”

“I wouldn’t have been living there had Aunt Lysa not cast me out – all because of you,” Sansa growled wanting to throw her teacup at his smug face.

“Me?” he questioned with a raised eyebrow. “Well, that does explain quite a bit, doesn’t it?” he muttered in thought. “I never wanted to go to that damned ball but did so for reasons that did not involve Lysa. I suppose I owe you an apology for that as well. However, I can’t imagine for the life of me, that you actually enjoyed being under Lysa’s thumb. How much longer until you ran away or leapt from that balcony?”

Petyr leaned against the door frame, his unwavering gaze ultimately making Sansa look away. She hated the way his eyes seemed to know what she was thinking. The awkward silence again became unbearable, and Sansa drank the last of her cold tea to keep her hands busy.

“So, is that it? That’s your apology?” she asked, wishing he would leave her room.

“Yes, I think so. You didn’t think I was going to tell you my deepest secrets, did you?” Petyr grinned. Sansa wanted to smack him hard across the face.

“Even ones that hint at treason?” she countered. Two could play this game.

Petyr took a deep breath but didn’t move from his stance. “Secrets that will get us both killed. Remember, you have no favor within the court, and Joffrey would love a reason to hang you out of sheer spitefulness. Trust me that you will benefit from keeping quiet and staying here. As I promised, no harm will come to you. You will not find such a gracious and honest offer from anyone else, including the remains of your family,” he offered coolly.

“And if I don’t care that we’re both hanging just for the sake of seeing you caught in your own game…” Sansa bravely continued before being interrupted.

“I could kill you right now,” he said coldly, not flinching in the slightest. “No one will doubt my word, and frankly, no one will question the death of a traitor.”

Sansa froze in fear staring at his stone face. Would he really do it? Could he kill her so easily? Who was she to him? Petyr said so himself that bringing her here was not planned and everything since then screamed that he seemed to second guess that decision weeks ago.

The man that was funny and kind was either a ruse or his true self. The rumors that surrounded Petyr before they first met at the Vale were of a different man entirely. He had a reputation for ruthlessness in his trade business that benefitted the crown immensely, not to mention that of a notorious rake in the capital. Sansa wasn’t completely naïve, she knew of the gaming hells, brothels and clubs gentlemen of the ton frequented. Her mother had warned her particularly when her betrothal to Joffrey was confirmed. Mother knew what kind of city Kings Landing was and the people that thrived there, especially at court. It was a far cry of the provincial life at Winterfell.

“Or you could learn to trust me and play along for these plans have nothing that bears you harm,” Petyr continued. “I can’t apologize for Lysa’s or Edmure’s actions. I have learned the hard way that even family is not always honorable and deserving of trust or loyalty. However, I will promise you that I will not frighten you again and will give you safety and kindness. We are both creatures hurt by betrayal and loss. Trust does not come easy to either of us.” Petyr paused for a moment in thought. “You’re very intelligent, kind and… you deserve better than what life has given you.”

Sansa’s fury still raged in her belly, but in all honesty, she did not know what to say to that. She didn’t know how he did it, this harsh truthfulness mixed with praise and kindness. Sansa wondered how many people he threatened using his charm and promises. Petyr knew she could expose him even to her own peril, but somehow his veiled threat did not ring true. He was asking for her trust in him although she could not fathom why. He plainly felt some level of guilt and not just for taking advantage of her last night.

What options were really left to her? Was winning one hand over him worth dying for? Sansa honestly did not know what he was hiding, but if it put both of them at risk, it certainly wasn’t going to favor anyone in the ton, she gathered. That made Sansa smile a little. Maybe Petyr hated Joffrey and the Lannisters just as much as she did. Who would she even tell? No one would believe her, least of all Aunt Lysa. Even if Edmure did, it might not save her from the firing squad a second time. Whatever Petyr was involved in; people would assume Sansa was too. What had she gotten herself into coming here? As if she had a choice.

A loud ruckus from downstairs had both of them glancing at the doorway. His attention wholly diverted, Petyr walked out into the hallway as Sansa could hear a loud laugh that sounded ominously familiar. When he returned, a grim expression was on his face, and Sansa knew it couldn’t be good.

“Get dressed,” he ordered softly. “We have… guests.”

Without another word of explanation, Petyr closed her door, leaving Sansa to wonder about the visitors. Minutes later, Sarah arrived and dressed Sansa in her lavender and lace afternoon gown. The color flattered her complexion and hair as the girl pinned up Sansa’s curls with pearl combs letting a few tendrils fall gracefully around her neck.

Sansa made her way to the staircase and paused with her hands on the banister overlooking the foyer. The laughter echoed up, and Sansa closed her eyes. She knew that voice too well. The woman’s coquettish giggle was well-prepared to charm gentlemen making Sansa sick. She almost wanted to go back to her room and tell the maid to extend her excuses to Petyr for not meeting his guests.

She knew she would have to face them sooner or later. Surely Petyr would know her sudden illness was a lie. It was unavoidable, for Sansa had no idea how long they would stay at Harrenhal. If she was tremendously lucky, they were only stopping to rest their horses and soon would be on their way, presumably to Kings Landing for the winter.

Taking a deep breath, Sansa descended to the main floor just as a flirty brunette came out of the blue sitting room with her father and Petyr in tow. Her rose dress was pretty but terribly wrinkled from travel.

“Petyr,” Myranda cooed in delight.

Petyr? Not Lord Baelish or even Lord Petyr. Lady Myranda was already at acceptable terms to call him by his given name?

“The house is beautiful. Father told me what Harrenhal looked like when the duke took residence here, but this doesn’t do it justice at all.”

“It never looked like this years ago under the Duke of StormsEnd, Myranda,” Lord Royce said with a bored expression on his face. “A considerable amount of work has been done here, Baelish. Must have cost you a small fortune. Even Stannis didn’t have the funds to really restore the estate. Makes living out all the way out here somewhat bearable.”

“Oh Father, Petyr could host the most exquisite parties here, and even the King himself would come,” Myranda tutted taking Petyr’s arm before her eyes caught Sansa at the bottom of the stairs. Sansa wasn’t sure what to expect, but the excited and delightful smile from the brunette was far from anything her mind came up with. “Lady Sansa!” Myranda rushed over with a friendly embrace that made Sansa wonder if the girl would plunge a knife into her back.

“Lady Myranda,” Sansa greeting politely catching Petyr’s bemused glance and Lord Royce’s confused one. “Lord Royce, it’s good to see you again. I hope you’re well.”

“Oh Sansa, I’ve missed you terribly since the duchess sent you away. I never believed the slander against you. Such nasty gossip. All they could talk about was how you threw yourself at a gentleman in the Vale trying to pressure him into marriage,” the brunette’s sing-song voice rambled on making Sansa blush.

Is that what they were saying? Sansa knew Myranda was a cool liar and no friend of hers, but she wondered if that was the gossip spread around the Vale. Indeed, there was no mention of Petyr, and Sansa knew now why. “It must have been wonderful to go and live with Lord Edmure here in the Riverlands, your mother’s home. Where is your uncle? Is he here visiting as well?”

Sansa stood speechless and glanced at Petyr for help.

“Lord Edmure is at Riverrun, Lady Myranda,” Petyr said and then cleared his throat. “Sansa… is now my ward. Legally, of course.”

Myranda pulled away with a strange look on her face. Sansa knew this feigned friendliness was all an act, but she wondered if Petyr knew it as well.

“Oh? We heard that you had taken a ward, but I never would have guessed it was Lady Sansa,” Myranda smiled sweetly. However, her eyes told a different story. “I rather expected to see a young child running around here – ”

“Come now, Myranda, you really believe that Baelish would take on a small child?” Lord Royce chuckled and then caught Petyr’s smirk. “Sorry, Baelish, no offense to you.”

“Don’t think on it,” Petyr smiled as it never reached his eyes. “I’m not quite the fatherly type as of yet,” he gave Sansa a little wink. “Give it time.”

“Yes, well,” Lord Royce muttered looking Sansa over. “Would I be wrong that Tully is back to drinking and the gaming hells like his father? I can’t see why you would give a roof to his niece otherwise.”

Sansa clenched her jaw so tightly she might break a tooth. Of course, they would believe that. Why in God’s name would anyone be kind to her?

Myranda smirked, and Sansa wanted nothing more than to flog them both. It was as if she never left the Vale. Perhaps living alone out here in the countryside was better, for Sansa had almost forgotten how much she despised the lords and ladies of society. If she never had to see one of their horrid faces again, it would be too soon.

“Oh Father, be nice,” Myranda cooed again sliding up to Petyr’s side. “I think it’s very kind and generous of Petyr to help those who are unfortunate. See, I told you all those rumors about him were rubbish. Anyone willing to take in a traitor, such a terrible term don’t you agree, has a heart of gold? Her Grace said Petyr has really turned around the people in the Riverlands and expect good fortune for next season.”

“Daughter quit mooning over Lord Baelish,” Royce admonished her irritably. “Everyone is well aware of the marquess’ financial miracles. I don’t need to hear it every time. Say, Baelish, I’m parched. I assume you only have the best for your guests.”

Even Sansa was appalled at Lord Royce’s rudeness. It was still clear that he was disapproving of Petyr’s rise, grander title, and fortune. However, the way Royce acted, one would believe he were a king to be waited on. The Royce family was old and distinguished, yet they were far from wealthy as it had been recklessly spent, as Aunt Lysa had always said. It seemed more plausible now why Lord Royce wanted desperately to find his daughter a prosperous match.

Then it dawned on Sansa. That’s why they were here. Myranda made a point that her father was trying to secure a wealthy husband for her that fateful night. Sansa tried to recall what Petyr had mentioned in her room just this morning.

I never wanted to go to that damned ball but did so for reasons that did not involve Lysa.

Oh God. Petyr was her intended in Lord Royce’s matchmaking. He had a grand title, lands, estates, wealth… everything the Royce’s desperately needed regardless of Petyr’s sordid reputation. Lord Royce seemed to have no issue with selling his only daughter to a man that needed acceptance within the court. An old family name such as theirs was perfect for him.

Sansa followed the trio into the parlor where the footman had made ready some refreshments for his lordship’s visitors. She sat on a settee across from Myranda, who cozied up to Petyr as Lord Royce planted his round body into one of the leather chairs.

“I wasn’t expecting anyone before I left for Kings Landing,” Petyr attempted at light conversation and avoiding looking at Sansa all together.

“Oh, the horses needed rest as we were going to stop at Lord Holloway’s Town, but Myranda insisted that we come a little further to Harrenhal. She rather hoped that you would be here. I’m sure we would have received gracious hospitality regardless in your absence,” Lord Royce said glancing at Sansa as he drank his whiskey.

Petyr certainly caught the man’s meaning just as Sansa did.

“Lady Sansa is more than accommodating as far as a gracious hostess need be. Had you arrived during my absence, I have no doubt she would have taken care of your every need,” Petyr offered politely.

Petyr wasn’t expecting any guests before winter, that was clear enough. Perhaps he did not want anyone to know she was his ward, that he was keeping a traitorous girl in his house. It certainly would have been shocking to the Royces’ arriving at Harrenhal only to find the duchess’ out-cast as lady of the house.

Was this the reason why Petyr wrote to Edmure trying to send Sansa back to Riverrun? He had plans to marry Myranda, making Sansa’s presence a complication? How could Petyr know the animosity between the two women? Perhaps it didn’t matter. She was just a prize he had won and then didn’t know what to do with afterward. Myranda certainly put on a good show pretending to be long, lost friends from the Vale.

Observing the scene before her, Sansa couldn’t help but inwardly smile at how uncomfortable Petyr was in this moment. He was a good actor for the Royce’s bought into his graciousness and pleasantry. Oh, how would they love to know that just last night, the marquess was in the throes of passion with the dreaded, unwanted traitor? Would that be enough to ruin this potential engagement? Sansa wondered just how desperate Royce and Petyr were for a marriage between their houses. Or would he throw Sansa out just to save his own skin by denouncing him as the lecher he was?

Glancing down at Myranda’s hand, Sansa did not see a ring or anything signifying that she was betrothed. Perhaps, after a year since that night at the Eyrie, matters still had not been solidified. Myranda seemed awfully familiar with Petyr, but then again, she was more than familiar with most men she had eyes for. She was older than Sansa and far from virtuous. In hindsight, Sansa had to concede a little for she did let Petyr get away with more than a chaste kiss.

“Petyr, when do you leave for the capital? Surely, it must be soon for the weather is about to turn. You mustn’t leave me alone in court, darling. I would be absolutely bored with all those little boys,” Myranda laid it on thick, and Sansa had to refrain from rolling her eyes. She really had this coy act perfected. Yet, Petyr himself seemed to dislike coquettish attributes in women, and Sansa wondered if Myranda was over-playing her hand.

“Ah, well, I have some business to attend to before I leave. I can’t say exactly when I’ll travel south,” Petyr hedged.

“Oh dear, I rather hoped you would leave with us,” she said eyeing Sansa. “I imagine winter here will be quite lonely being so far away from cities. Poor Sansa, just what will you do with all your time?”

Sansa smiled serenely, “I’m actually looking forward to the peace and quiet here. I have plenty to fill my days.”

“Of course, you’re from the north, I almost forgot. Your kind seems to flourish in the freezing cold in the middle of nowhere,” Myranda spoke with sweetened vitriol. She then turned to Petyr, “I, however, would need extra warmth on such cold nights.”

“Myranda!” her father chastised immediately as Sansa wanted to heave.

Was this the kind of woman Petyr wanted? He may have a superb taste as far as art and music, but curiously his choice in female company was abysmal. The type of loose women he was rumored to cohort within Kings Landing wasn’t much better. A cad –  that’s all he really was. A man that loved wealth, power, and wanton women. Well, if that’s what he wanted, he was more than welcome to it, Sansa thought.

“Father, it’s only us. Sansa couldn’t care less,” Myranda shot back.

Petyr’s body language strangely did not match that of Myranda’s as he stood suddenly.

“My dear, would you like a tour?” he inquired courteously.

“Yes, indeed. I’ve been dying to see this house for ages,” she drawled seductively. Sansa thought this could be her moment to get away.

“Lady Sansa, if you be so kind to escort Lord Royce,” Petyr ordered, and Sansa tried not to sigh in disappointment. She didn’t know how long she could be gracious under pressure for she couldn’t stand the daughter or her father.

“Of course, my lord, if you wish it,” she replied as the foursome strolled to the grand gallery.

Lord Royce apparently didn’t want a tour any more than Sansa wanted to play hostess. Petyr spoke about his beautiful paintings. Sansa watched as Myranda pretended to be interested but had no clue what he was talking about as Lord Royce didn’t bother to hide his boredom. They wandered from room to room as Myranda linked her arm with Petyr’s while he talked about architecture and the history of Harrenhal. Once they entered the ballroom, did Myranda’s face finally light up.

“Can you imagine the grand balls you could host in this room? Just think of it, kings and queens, all of society. By then, surely the king will make you a duke, don’t you agree?” Myranda twirled and giggled as she tried to pull Petyr with her, but he resisted gently.

“I’m afraid I’m not an accomplished dancer, my dear,” he insisted. Sansa had to hold back the laughter that was threatening to bubble up. He was an excellent dancer if Myranda had paid any attention during Robert’s ball.

“Then I will most happily teach you, my darling lord,” she wooed seductively. “I’d rather you step on my toes than all those young boys at every ball.”

“Perhaps, I will call on your instruction someday, just not today,” he answered cordially and took a few steps back. “Come, let me show you the music room and perhaps you may take your rest. I’ll have a lovely dinner prepared.”

In the music room, Lord Royce plopped down on the chaise lounge obviously wishing he could retire for the afternoon. Someone had to play chaperone to his daughter and keep up appearances, but for whom Sansa couldn’t comprehend. Myranda sat down at the piano and attempted to play a simple sonata that Sansa mastered by the age of twelve. Petyr stood next to the brunette and painted a false smile as she slowly destroyed a favored song. Sansa contemplated never playing that piano again after Myranda defiled it.

Soft applause was given when she finished, and Sansa desperately glanced at the stairs just outside the doorway. She could skip out now if Myranda played another tune. 

“Oh no, I’m not very good,” the brunette said with false modesty. “Sansa is far more accomplished. Any girl would be raised up north. What else is there to do but practice every day?”

“Yes, of course. Mother insisted at least four hours a day.  Otherwise, I would have spent the remaining daylight running with the wolves and playing with trolls,” Sansa retorted with glee. If Myranda was going to insist on using sweetness to lace her insults than Sansa would sarcasm.

Petyr coughed to hide what Sansa thought was a laugh. “Lady Sansa plays beautifully. Perhaps she would like to entertain you both while I – ” Petyr began, and Sansa interrupted immediately. There was not a chance in hell he was going to leave her alone with these toads.

“But Lord Baelish, you play handsomely!” she grinned and saw Petyr’s eyes harden. “Lady Myranda, you simply must hear him play. I should not be the only one to listen to such beauty.”

Myranda’s face was filled with excitement and begged him to play for her. All Sansa could do was stand back and watch the marquess squirm in disquiet. He glared at Sansa for revealing his hidden talent. Reluctantly, he sat down as Myranda moved to stand next to him.

Sansa was next to the door, as this would have been the perfect opportunity to escape. Yet now, she had the marvelous enjoyment of watching Petyr perform against his wishes.

Petyr took a moment and finally placed hands above the keys, and Sansa waited to hear which solemn melody he would play for his fiancée. His fingers stuck the keys in what surprised Sansa completely. This wasn’t a little unpolished tune that novice hands played. It was a sonata Sansa had never heard before as well as a rather difficult composition and well-rehearsed at that. As his skilled fingers drifted across the keys effortlessly, the complexity of the music was astounding not only that he played from memory but that she never anticipated such talent from this man. Petyr was by far, a very accomplished pianist, even better than her, Sansa thought in shock.

The music’s quick and bright majesty saturated the room as Myranda smiled warmly. Sansa would generally have closed her eyes and let the music fill her senses but watching him was entrancing. Petyr, completely absorbed, played as if he weren’t aware of his audience. If fact, he practically ignored the two women watching him intensely.

Sansa remembered that first night the ghost played a more aggressive and passionate Moonlight Sonata. It was that quiet fury, in which he performed a most melancholy tune, that was coming out now in this decidedly more complicated piece of music.

All too quickly, it was over as Sansa caught his eyes flick suddenly towards her detecting the anger there. He was not pleased in having to perform but smiled at the brunette that endlessly praised him nonetheless.

Petyr had suggested that Myranda and her father rest from their long travels before supper, excusing himself under the guise of business that needed attending to. Sansa didn’t know if it was a lie just to escape, but she couldn’t blame him entirely. One could only take so much of Myranda at any given time.

Duncan ordered the footmen to bring up some of their luggage, and Sansa had a terrible feeling that the Royce’s were likely to spend the night. A handsome, dark-haired footman followed Petyr and Myranda as he guided her to the lavender room Sansa had vacated not too long ago. The suggestion for some reason made her blood boil. That was her room, the one he chose before all the ghostly scares. Now, he was giving it to Myranda.

Lord Royce did not even wait, as he followed Duncan to a room down the east wing. Sansa thought it would have been proper to have father and daughter near each other and not a lady alone so near to a bachelor.

“It’s lovely, just lovely,” Myranda extolled taking Petyr’s hands. “Do you really have to leave me?”

Sansa took a few steps back and tried to silently make her way to her room when Petyr raised her hand to his lips. She couldn’t watch this as her stomach threatened to purge her breakfast.

“My apologies, pet, I do have quite a bit to do. I’ll see you at supper,” he smiled, but Sansa noticed that not once did it reach his eyes today. He slipped away down the hallway into his study, closing the door just as Sansa turned the corner towards her own room.

Dear God, if she had to watch this horrid display all night, she would rather spend the evening in the stables. Sansa didn’t realize she was pacing her bedroom when someone rapped on her door and entered before she could say a word. The brunette practically twirled in with a smile. Lady growled on her bed, and Sansa shushed her before picking the little wolf up.

“Why do come in,” Sansa muttered in annoyance. “How did you know this was my room?”

“Oh, one of those silly little maids told me,” Myranda said inspecting Sansa’s bedroom with a smirk. “This is pretty, isn’t it? Not as lovely as mine, though. Strange, he gave you this entire wing to yourself and far away from his side of the house.”

Sansa sat down, holding Lady on her lap as the pup growled at barked at the intruder.

“Is that… a wolf?” Myranda grimaced.

“Yes. What of it?” Sansa asked, not caring to know the answer.

“Hmph. Figures,” she muttered and sat down. “Enough of this charade. Why are you here, Sansa?”

“I might ask the same about you,” Sansa smiled petting Lady. “I see you found yourself a wealthy husband.”

“Jealous?” Myranda smirked.

“Not in the least,” Sansa replied, not sure if it was a lie or not. “He’s a hand full.”

The brunette smiled wickedly, “Oh, is he?”

Sansa blushed understand what the girl meant with that implied innuendo. She couldn’t exactly throw this malicious chit from her room without getting an earful from Petyr. This brat could be his new wife and mistress of the house, and that placed Sansa in a very precarious position that she just couldn’t stand.

“I don’t know what you mean,” Sansa answered with feigned innocence.

“Of course you wouldn’t, little virgin,” Myranda chuckled. “Well, that at least answers one of my questions. Clearly, he hasn’t touched you. I just assumed that’s why you were here. A man has needs that must be satisfied – even way out here. Which leads me to ask again. Why are you here?”

“Why don’t you ask him? I wasn’t given a choice,” Sansa grumbled, not wanting to talk to Myranda at all.

Suddenly, Lady leapt down before Sansa could grab her. The little wolf charged over to the brunette grabbing a mouthful of her rose skirt tugging back hard enough to tear a long strip away.

“Lady, no!”

“You little beast!” Myranda wailed pulling on her ruined skirt. She went to kick at the little wolf when Lady took off out into the hallway while Myranda chased after her.

Lady had made it all the way down towards Petyr’s study when Myranda grabbed her by the scruff of her neck, making the animal yelp in pain.

“No! Give her to me,” Sansa pleaded softly.

“I could break her neck right now,” the girl sneered.

“Don’t! She didn’t hurt you, she’s just a pup,” Sansa cried in vain.

“What in the hell is going on out here?” Petyr barged out of his study, glaring at the two women.

Myranda grinned nastily at Sansa and suddenly turned to Petyr with the most beautiful smile.

“Darling, we were only playing. Sansa’s dog got loose, and I was only trying to catch her. Silly me, she snagged my dress by accident. I just love little dogs,” she beamed, holding Lady tightly against her chest.

Petyr’s eyes suspiciously looked between the smiling woman and the one breathless with worry. Slowly, he walked up to Myranda and took Lady out of her hands. The pup cuddled into him for protection as he strode over to Sansa, giving her the little wolf.

“Sansa, will you do your best to keep her in your room today?” Petyr asked coolly before going back to Myranda. “I can have one of the maids mend your dress if you like.”

Sansa’s heart burned. Was he really going to believe that liar? Had he not come out when he did, Sansa thought for sure Myranda would have hurt Lady.

“No need, this is one of the old dresses that I only use for traveling, so I don’t ruin the others,” she smiled prettily.

“If you wish,” he replied and eyed Sansa again. “Ladies, the last thing I want to do is to appear rude, but I have a mountain of work and need some peace and quiet. If you could… play elsewhere, please.”

“You could never be rude, my lord,” Myranda said sweetly. “It’s my fault. I haven’t seen Sansa for ages, and I’ve missed her so much. It was like losing a sister, really. We’ll be quieter, I promise… darling.”

Petyr didn’t say a word and retreated back into his study, closing the door. Sansa turned to go back to her room when Myranda didn’t follow but instead opened the door leading to the Marchoiness’ suite.

“What are you doing?” Sansa whispered harshly looking to Petyr’s study door. “You’ll get us both in trouble.”

“Just looking…” Myranda grinned and without a second thought, stepped into the room. Sansa crept over to the open door looking inside and glancing back to Petyr’s door.

Myranda ran her hands across the gilded furniture and like a spoiled child, plopped onto the bed, sinking in. She acted as if the room were hers.

“Have you ever seen such a beautiful room?” she murmured to herself. “And it’s mine. All of this is mine.”

The audacity of this woman was astounding, Sansa thought. Sadly, if it were true, it would belong to her soon enough. Sansa clutched Lady to her bosom and felt sick. No, she could not live with Myranda as the lady of the house. Not in a million years. She would rather suffer her aunt’s bouts of madness before the smug cruelty that Myranda surely would bring not only to her but the servants.

“I will have the finest clothes and jewels,” the brunette sang to herself on the bed. “We will host the most splendid parties.” Myranda giggled to herself and turned to look at Sansa. “Perhaps if you’re lucky, and I can persuade him, we’ll give you a little cottage somewhere. Or you could be governess to our children? Wouldn’t that be lovely?”

Sansa couldn’t dream up anything worse right now. Myranda pushed herself off the bed and sashayed towards Sansa out the door, closing it behind her.

“Of course, I will have to insist he not buy you beautiful dresses. Servants don’t wear such finery as this,” she smirked as Lady shrank into her mistress’ arms. “And the first thing I will do is tie that little beast in a sack and drown it in the lake. See you at supper, Lady Sansa.”

Sansa barely made it to her room, as the tears streamed down her face. She bolted her door and never wanted to leave again. How could Petyr wish to marry a woman like that? It was just getting worse and worse. Sansa wished she had never come to this place.

She set Lady on the bed and the pup snuggled into her as Sansa lay back on the mattress. Had she not come here, Lady would be dead already with her mother, she sighed. Sansa glanced at the porcelain clock on the mantle. It would be a few hours before supper, and she dreaded having to go downstairs and pretend to be courteous. Sansa curled into her pillow and closed her teary eyes. There had to be a way out of this.

When she woke, it was dark outside her window, much darker than it should be. Sansa sat up and looked at the clock. It was well past midnight! How did she sleep all this time and no one bothered to wake her for dinner? Sansa stood and caught her reflection in the mirror, sighing.

Dear God, she looked terrible. She must have tossed and turned the entire time. Her hair was a mess, and the dark circles under her eyes were practically black. Sansa stoked the fire and spied a little piece of paper under her door, which was bolted just as she left it.

Sansa bent down and picked up the folded parchment. It was Petyr’s handwriting. 

 

I never took you for a coward.  

If you wish to hide in your room, so be it.

 

The paper crumpled in Sansa’s hand before landing in the fire. Why should she care what Petyr does? Let Myranda have him, they deserve each other, Sansa frowned. After he leaves for Kings Landing, Sansa could take Lady, Misty, and whatever she could carry and runaway. It would take days before he would even be able to do anything about it, even if Duncan sent a raven. Myranda was right on one thing, Sansa was from the north, and northerners knew how to handle the snow and cold. Sansa would find a way. Nothing would keep her here to play servant to that wretched woman come spring.

Her stomach growled, and Lady whined a little. They were both hungry since missing supper. Still dressed in her lavender dress, Sansa left Lady in her room with a single candle as she crept downstairs into the kitchens. Surely, Mrs. Ames would have something that would satisfy.

The embers were low as she rummaged around plating some fruits, cheese, bread and some scraps for Lady. There was wine left in the decanter on the sideboard, but it didn’t smell right. Stealing a bottle of port, Sansa left her candle to take it with her. The moon was bright tonight, and she wouldn’t really need the extra light to go back upstairs.

Taking a short cut through the grand dining hall instead of the gallery and foyer, Sansa heard noises coming from the direction of the music room. Judging by the time, it was undoubtedly Petyr’s witching hour and wondered who he was going to scare away tonight. To hell with him, she thought bitterly. It didn’t involve her anymore as she made her way silently towards the staircase.

As Sansa neared, the noises grew a bit louder yet sounded restrained at the same time. When a woman’s groan echoed softly, Sansa’s foot stalled on the first step. After the other nights, Sansa knew what kind of sound that was. The feeling and image of Petyr doing pleasurable things to Myranda flashed in her mind and made her stomach clench.

Against all better judgment, Sansa crept to the double doors which were only open a crack. The grunts and moans were more distinct, and Sansa knew she shouldn’t be here.

“Oh darling, that’s it,” Myranda’s voice drawled in pleasure. “Right there.”

Sansa’s stomach dropped as the seductive words left Myranda’s mouth. Peering through the thin space between the doors, Sansa saw the brunette with her shift gathered around her waist as a man was thrusting between her spread legs on the chaise lounge. The piano was partially blocking them, but when the man’s head came up, it was pitch black hair with a little bit of curl at the back. Sansa felt somehow betrayed.

“Yes, you feel so good, my darling,” she moaned bucking against him. “We won’t have to hide from Father anymore, and you will be fucking a great and respected lady of the court.”

Sansa heard his grunts accompanied by the slapping of skin and remembered how Petyr’s fingers felt stroking between her legs in the pool. She felt how hard he was and imagined how it would feel to have Petyr make her his. Now, he was rutting with a woman she despised on the same lounge where she drew his portrait what felt like ages ago.

She couldn’t listen anymore and scurried to the staircase when she heard Myranda’s cry of release. Sansa bolted her door and set down the makeshift dinner on the table as Lady wagged her tail with the excitement of her return.

Sansa took a deep drink from the bottle of port to forget.  The sweetness of figs burned her throat, but she didn’t care. No, this wasn’t hurt. This wasn’t jealousy. One can’t be jealous of a man such as him. He was nothing to her, and she was clearly nothing to him. Petyr did say he was going to send her back to Riverrun until her uncle refused on the basis that she was now ruined. Sansa was just some sordid little game until she became a burden. Petyr needed to marry into a family name in good standing with the court and having Sansa around was obviously going to be problematic.

Perhaps the Royce’s were in on his secret plans in which something was hidden below this house. Maybe everyone in this house knew what was going on except her. Mrs. Ames probably didn’t want to hurt her feelings, and Duncan seemed to know that Sansa’s time here would be short-lived.

Oh, Sansa wished Petyr would leave with them tomorrow, and she wouldn’t have to deal with any of it at least until the end of winter. She unlaced her dress and tossed it on the chair while Lady gobbled up her supper heartily. Sansa was so sick to her stomach; the food on her plate went untouched. Sansa lay down on her bed and knew she would never get any sleep tonight.

Curse you, Petyr!

Had she not experienced what that kind of passion and pleasure could be, tonight’s revelation would not have hurt so much. Sansa could still taste his mouth and how his touch burned her skin, and she could feel how much he wanted her. In the end, he pushed her away and yet he was downstairs fucking Myranda instead. Perhaps, after all, it was she Petyr was fantasizing about that night. It was her he really wanted.

Puttinfg the bottle to her lips again, Sansa wondered if men bothered with a glass when they really wanted to get drunk.  All too soon the alcohol’s haziness pulled a soft veil over her. The port was stronger than she thought. She wanted to sleep, but all she could hear was the erotic coupling of two people in pleasure.

Her candle flickered low on the table, as it created shadows on the wall from the sculpture. Mars was arched over Venus in a sensuous embrace. The flame danced slowly, and the shadows seemed to move, Sansa thought.

Mars groaned in desire as his head dipped down to Venus’ neck. Her body arched into him as Sansa heard her own moans in tandem from the other night. The shadow danced and writhed as Mars began thrusting into Venus as Sansa felt that aching heat again between her legs.

You are mine, a voice eerily similar to Petyr’s echoed in passion.

Sansa glanced at the painting, and the girl was staring directly at her as her naked hips gyrated in wanton need. Her hand had disappeared between her legs, and Sansa could feel his fingers grazing her. Sansa gathered her chemise up, baring her thighs, feeling the cool air upon her wetness. The girl threw back her head as her hips pumped harder in the air as if her lover were watching her and waiting for him to come and release her from such sweet agony.

Unable to stop herself in such a foggy haze, Sansa reached between her legs touching her slick arousal. Petyr’s fingers had coaxed and teased, making her throb with need. Her fingers circled what he called her little rosebud, and a fire blazed. Sansa had never touched herself before. She had felt that dull ache occasionally with dirty thoughts but never knew how to bring her own pleasure until Petyr forced it out of her.

The shadows on the wall fucked as Venus thrust back in time with Mars. The painting was writhing, as Sansa rubbed herself harder and harder, feeling the throbbing build with more intensity. One finger dipped inside and then another lightly thrusting. It hurt a little at first, but the throbbing became stronger, and she needed to come, as Petyr described it.

She heard his voice in her head as he told her what he wanted to do to her. Lying on the bed with her legs spread, Sansa looked down and could almost see his head between her legs. Her fingers worked harder and faster, and the feeling of his tongue in her mouth and how it would feel down there made her back arch.

Sansa had no control of her voice. She heard her growls as she bucked against her fingers, feeling that blinding pleasure rack her body and mind. Unconsciously, Sansa brought her fingers to her lips, curious as to what Petyr would have tasted. It was musky yet a little sweet and the idea was so foreign to her and wicked, that she couldn’t help but blush.

Wiping her fingers on the linen, Sansa sighed in discontent. She had just pleasured herself, and it bliss, but she wanted more. Sansa knew that side to a man now, and the desire was addicting. How she wished that Petyr had never kissed her, never touched her. Ignorance was bliss, but now that she had eaten from the tree of knowledge, Sansa couldn’t erase those desires from her mind.

She glanced back at the painting, and it hung there as it always had – motionless. The candle was almost out, but the shadow of the sculpture did not move, and Sansa wondered if she had imagined it all. If she was lucky, perhaps she walked in her sleep downstairs, and nothing ever happened between Myranda and Petyr. Before her eyes closed, the moonlight streamed through the window shining on the plate of food and the empty bottle of wine.

There was a hard knock on her door that finally roused Sansa from bed. Her legs were cold, and Sansa could see that her chemise was still up around her thighs. Quickly, she pushed it down and slipped on her dressing gown before unlocking her door.

Sarah came in with a breakfast tray, but the idea of eating made Sansa’s stomach churn. The maid set it on the bed and petted Lady giving her a bone, presumably from last night.

“Lord Baelish says you’re to eat and dress,” Sarah mumbled hurriedly as she looked through Sansa’s wardrobe.

Sansa looked at the time, and it was only ten after eight.

“Why the rush? It’s early. I highly doubt Lady Myranda has even risen yet,” Sansa muttered sleepily.

“I do believe his lordship said that Lord Royce wanted to leave early this morning for Kings Landing,” Sarah explained.

“Well, he doesn’t need me down there to say good riddance to them,” Sansa chuckled picking through her breakfast and giving some bread to Lady.

“I’m only doing as he commanded, my lady,” Sarah spoke nervously as she laid out her blue dress.

“I know. Don’t worry, I’ll be ready to act the part of traitorous witch turned good little hostess for him,” Sansa teased letting the maid finally laugh a little.

“She’s a nasty piece of work, that one,” the maid whispered. “We had hoped his lordship was going to marry you. I can’t work for a woman like that, no matter how kind the master is. The only one that seems to adore her is Duncan. He says she’s a real lady and will bring order to the house. Ugh, I’d rather milk goats for the rest of my life than have her ordering me around. You’ve been so kind to everyone… I just can’t imagine – ”

“Sssh, I understand. It’s all right,” Sansa said softly. All her memories of Aunt Lysa and how terribly she treated the servants came flooding back. Myranda, it seemed, learned a thing or two from the Duchess. “We’ll just have to take it as it comes. At least we’ll have the winter and maybe part of the spring before they return.”

They both laughed at the ridiculous situation they found themselves in. Sansa ate a little of her breakfast when she heard Sarah mutter something.

“I’m sorry?” Sansa asked as the maid pulled the linens away, seeing a tiny stain of blood. Last night came back in a whirl, and Sansa blushed pink.

“I said, it looks as though your menses have started,” the girl said, pulling the soiled linens from the bed. “That must be why you did not come to dinner last night.”

“Oh yes,” Sansa chuckled nervously. “I wasn’t feeling well since yesterday morning. I only came down because Lord Petyr asked me to.”

“Well, he wasn’t too happy about your absence last night,” the maid responded harshly. “Men will never understand these things. It’s not as though we can help it. Don’t be ashamed next time, and bolt your door. I’ll bring your supper to you,” Sarah smiled warmly.

“Thank you,” Sasna replied in kind. “Well,” she huffed, picking up her corset, “we best not let the king and queen wait too long for me.”

Sansa came downstairs as the footmen were loading Lord Royce’s carriage. The handsome one, belonging to Royce, winked at her as he hauled a rather large trunk out the door. Myranda’s shrill voice could be heard from the dining room as she argued with her father. They couldn’t leave fast enough, Sansa wished.

“You will behave yourself when we get to the capital, young lady,” Lord Royce rebuffed his daughter as she followed stomping her feet like a child. “I will not have you be smudging my name with these antics. You’re to be presented before the king, for God’s sake, behave like a lady.”

“Heavens, you’re old fashioned father,” Myranda whined. “The Lannisters have one of the worst reputations of any family, yet they’re royalty.”

Lord Royce marched past Sansa and grunted in her direction.

“Good morning, my lord,” she tried to hide her smile.

Myranda was talking in low whispers to Duncan as he draped her traveling cloak around her shoulders. Occasionally, Myranda would dart in her direction. Sansa wondered what she could possibly want to discuss with that old man.

Gentle hands touched her shoulders from behind, and Sansa knew it was Petyr. Disgusted, she shrugged him off and moved away before eyes glanced their way.

“I’m actually surprised to see you this morning,” Petyr mused. Sansa hated his smug tone.

“Still think me a coward, do you?” she retorted quietly. “I happened to be ill yesterday whether you believe it or not.”

“Oh? Shall I call for the doctor?” he asked in disbelief.

“If you wish, it’s only that condition we women are blessed with every month,” she whispered, not caring what he thought. Usually, that was a statement that would make men run from the room. They did not want to know such things, let alone hear them.

“Ah, that is good news,” Petyr chuckled sarcastically, “as I’m happy to know that you are not with child.”

Sansa clenched her fists. If he continued any longer, she wouldn’t care if she punched him in front of his future bride.  

“You’re a bastard, and I hate you,” she seethed. “Do us all a favor and go with them today.”

“Sadly, I had to reject such a tempting invitation already this morning. I told Myranda that I would leave in a day or two,” Petyr laughed as they walked out the front doors. “I’m sure it would have been a – mentally stimulating carriage ride.”

Petyr’s sarcasm tried to mask a tone that gave Sansa pause. Myranda flounced her way over to them, making a scene of tearful departure and Sansa did everything she could not to flinch when the brunette embraced her as if they were the best of friends. She leaned up and kissed Petyr chastely on the cheek, and Sansa wondered who they were fooling. He helped her into the carriage nodding to Lord Royce before the door was closed. The horses pulled away as Sansa finally released a sigh of relief.

Thank God that was over. Now, all that was left was for Petyr to pack his things and follow suit.

“Well, that would have been a horribly unpleasant ride, the four of us cramped in that carriage,” Petyr said, walking back into the house.

Sansa thought she had misheard him and followed Petyr into the foyer.

“Excuse me? The four of us?” she asked incredulously.

“Even if we took my carriage which is far more spacious and comfortable… no, no, I simply could not do it,” he continued on ignoring her question

“What are you talking about?” Sansa prickled. She was so tired of his games.

“In the commotion, I seem to have forgotten to tell you?” Petyr japed again, and Sansa was very close to slapping him. Suddenly, it hit her.

No!

Oh, no, no, no. It couldn’t be what she was thinking. Sansa felt like she was standing in her uncle’s home that fateful morning when Petyr broke the news that changed her life.

“Have the maids pack your things, sweetling. You’re coming with me to Kings Landing.”

 

 


 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

love

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

Petyr pulled the fur up for the chill in the air biting as the carriage drove passed the icy lake. Winter had come earlier than expected as he glanced at Sansa whom he expressed advised to dress warmly for their travel. When the Royces arrived, Petyr immediately put plans into motion for Duncan and Mrs. Ames until the spring. A few ravens were sent to signal his arrival and prepare for a lady at his house in Kings Landing.

Sansa went out of her way to avoid him until their departure this morning. Petyr couldn’t blame her, really. She was going to find out about Lady Myranda. He had hoped it wouldn’t have been so soon. Now, with their unexpected visit, all of Joffrey’s court would know he was caring for the last remaining Stark. However, leaving her alone in Harrenhal wasn’t wise nor was the implication that he had something to hide.

No, she had to come with him now whether Petyr had wished it or not. He couldn’t allow Lady Myranda or her father to spread gossip and cast any doubt. They were just as power-hungry as any in the ton, and Petyr made no illusions about Myranda’s false seductions. He was no more marrying her for love than she.

Although, dealing with Royce and bedding his daughter was a better route than marrying Lysa, whom he couldn’t abide for longer than a day. The Royce’s would give him an edge considering their desire for more land and titles in the Vale. Once Lysa was gone and young Robert on his own, the boy would only take the advice of his beloved uncle. Lysa’s death would be suspicious in any case, and it would be better if Petyr were not seen as the direct beneficiary to such a thing.

Three hours rolled on while Sansa had hardly said a word sitting across from him. She was dressed in her wool and fur-lined pelisse yet still huddled under the extra furs. Lady, the little pup, occasionally would poke its head out as her mistress refused to leave her behind. Petyr tried to argue that Kings Landing was no place for a wolf, but Sansa wouldn’t hear of it. She said she would worry the entire time and Petyr thought it best to let his sweetling have her way. He was going to hear it all winter, she threatened.

Petyr knew Sansa didn’t want to go. Society had never been kind to her, and it was surely going to be an ugly affair. Their futures, now sealed, meant Petyr couldn’t hide her in the country as he had hoped for a little while longer. He would have to deal with Joffrey. Protecting Sansa would hurt her and Petyr dreaded it all the same. He knew what was coming as he glanced at her and Petyr wondered if she did too on some level.

Loosening his cravat, Petyr cursed under his breath. Early this morning, he had been feeling steadily worse for wear. The headache he contributed to the stress of quickly re-arranging his plans had not abated. Usually, Petyr thrived on chaos, and it never affected him mentally or physically, but the carriage ride was almost unbearable.

Petyr’s head was pounding as the rocking had turned his stomach sour. Twice, they had to stop in fear that he might retch. Petyr said he needed to stretch his legs as he breathed in the cold air, but the skeptical look on Sansa’s face told a different story. Indeed, he felt terrible and wished there was a quicker way to get to Kings Landing.

Checking his pocket watch, it would be close to sunset before they reached the Ivy Inn. Lady leapt from her mistress’ warmth onto his lap and gently pawed at his arm for attention. It was the first, Petyr noticed, that Sansa honestly looked at him. There was something in her eyes that he couldn’t place. Yes, there was anger there, but some hidden emotion lingered just beneath the surface.

“Lady, come here. He doesn’t want to be bothered,” Sansa patted her lap.

The stubborn wolf arched her back and settled down in the crook of his arm, making Petyr smile for the first time today. He had to admit; he was becoming very fond of this bundle of white fur with its blue eyes. His gloved hand stroked along her spine, and the animal stretched out across his lap in pleasure. Petyr glanced at Sansa and saw a hint of jealousy. This was her pet after all, and it abandoned her for him, he smirked.

“You don’t look well,” she said, studying him.

“You’re finally speaking to me, and that’s all you can say?” he smiled sarcastically.

“I have nothing to talk about,” she muttered, looking out the window again.

“Oh, I believe you have quite a bit to say,” he chuckled, forcing her to frown. “I’m sure when the time is right, we’ll have plenty to talk about. In the meantime, if you wish to continue ignoring me, then I’ll stop pretending to be courteous and get some sleep.”

“It never stopped you before,” Sansa quietly shot back. Petyr enjoyed nothing more than to spar with her, but the more he spoke, the more his throat hurt.

He never got sick. Petyr couldn’t remember the last time he had ever been ill. There was much to do once they arrived in Kings Landing, and lying in bed for days was going to set him back. Petyr was trying hard not to let the irritability come to the forefront yet he couldn’t help but bristle at her current demeanor. He had apologized for that night, had he not? Did Sansa intend to hold it against him forever?

What was more strange was the underlying hostility between Sansa and Myranda. Petyr knew now why Lysa cast her out but just how bad was it for Sansa at the Eyrie? Lady Myranda and her father were easy enough to read and frankly being merely annoyed with them wasn’t surprising, but Sansa’s behavior was controlled hatred.

Clearly, she wasn’t happy about the idea of his engagement to the Royce girl. Hell, Petyr wasn’t thrilled with it. It was a necessary evil. She wasn’t an ugly woman nor bedding her would have been torture. However, now after tasting the delectable strawberry who sat across from him – the idea of marriage to Myranda was more than burdensome.

He should never have kissed Sansa, Petyr thought sadly. A kiss wasn’t nearly enough and only inflamed such fantasies. The feel of her body, the way she clutched him in ecstasy struck every nerve. Petyr never wanted a woman more than in that moment in the spring beneath the house. Had sensibility not taken over, he would have fucked her right there – and Sansa would have hated him for it.

The look of shame on her flushed face was too much to bear. It was a moment of weakness on her part. Petyr forced it out of her, making Sansa ashamed and regretful. His body and cock ached with need, but he would never take her against her will. That Sansa had been willing – if only for a moment, filled his dreams with her in his bed.

After that day at the market, Petyr felt he had made ground with Sansa. A fleeting moment of lust between them seemed to have created an ever-widening chasm. He had enjoyed their quiet evenings in the library, eagerly anticipated a ride or stroll, and a smile found a home on his face when the soft music of her on the piano echoed up to his study.

Petyr watched her with half lidden eyes. She was indeed beautiful, more beautiful than her mother had ever been. Sansa had Cat’s fire, but years of living as a prisoner had almost snuffed out that flame. After everything they had put this girl through, Sansa was still strong, kind, and compassionate.

Saving her from those men at Riverrun started a chain reaction he wasn’t fully prepared for. It was an indulgent thing bringing her to Harrenhal. Petyr thought he could keep the past where it belonged, but the need to protect her was overwhelming. If it had been possible, he would have smuggled her away from the Eyrie the first time they met.

Watching her now, there was nothing Petyr wanted more than to see her smile – one that was pure and honest when he gave her the mare. That was true happiness, and it became a drug to him – until he kissed her behind that tree. Petyr swore he could keep it under control. He would provide for her as he promised and keep her safe for that’s what he had intended.

Now, he needed to possess everything about her. Sansa had to be his. No, he couldn’t marry Lady Myranda now and insulting Lord Royce would not bode well. Petyr had to find another way to get out of this engagement. He knew Kings Landing society would reject Sansa unequivocally. By the time they reached the capital, Petyr had wagered everyone would learn about Sansa. He would use that to his perceived disadvantage. Petyr wasn’t considered so much a fop, but definitely not manipulative enough to use a traitor’s pretty daughter for any use other than the obvious.

It pained Petyr knowing he would have to play the part and use this girl. He would let them belittle her and call her a whore. He suspected she had already been subjected to as much in the Vale. It was the only way to make it acceptable for a titled man, even one such as himself, to keep her and not raise suspicions. Petyr was convinced she wouldn’t be safe anywhere or with anyone else. Once he paraded her around the city, it wouldn’t take long. She would want to return to Harrenhal, and the king would suspect nothing more. Surely, what other use would a man like him have for a young woman like her?

Petyr wasn’t sure what made him queasier at this moment. Was it the cold, bumpy ride, or the idea of what was about to happen to Sansa that made him want to leap from the carriage? She would never understand that it was to protect her. Petyr often wondered why he didn’t just leave her in Riverrun, sending monthly allowances to her and Mrs. Cole. Now, it was too late.

He closed his eyes and tried to will nausea away petting Lady. At some point, Petyr must have drifted off when he felt a soft handkerchief dab his forehead. Sansa was leaning over him with concern written all over her face. Perhaps she didn’t completely hate him as he suspected.

“You’re feverish, my lord,” she told him with a slight frown.

Petyr,” he corrected her with a half-smile.

He glanced outside and knew the inn was nearby as the sun was low on the horizon. Lady was still in his lap gnawing at his index finger playfully as Petyr unbuttoned his collar, that threatened to choke him. Every muscle in his body ached, and he was sweating profusely.

“You need to bring that fever down and rest. How much further is the inn?” Sansa asked worriedly.

“Not far now,” Petyr replied, feeling worse than he did this morning.

She pulled the basket from under the cushioned seat that contained a bit of food and wine that Mrs. Ames had packed for them. Sansa uncorked the Chablis and doused the handkerchief.

“What are you doing?” he asked as she started pulling his cravat away and unbuttoned his collar further.

“It’s not quite as good as spirits, but I don’t have any water to help cool your skin,” Sansa explained with annoyance when he lightly pushed her hands away as she tried to use the damp cloth on his face and neck.

“Ugh, don’t. I’ll smell like a cask of wine,” Petyr groaned.

“An improvement from reeking like whiskey all the time,” she retorted swatting his hands. “Besides, whom are you aiming to impress at an inn in the middle of nowhere?”

If Petyr wasn’t so feverish, he might have detected a touch of possessiveness in her tone. Sansa was speaking to him again, and he would let her sponge him down in wine if needed. Lady started barking and distracted Sansa from her task to look out the window.

“I think we’re almost there,” she told him and muttered to herself, “I can’t wait to get out of this carriage.”

The inn was bustling as far as Petyr could see when Brune opened the door helping Sansa out. The look on the man’s face was pure confusion at his lordship’s state of dress. Petyr didn’t bother to adjust his clothing and slowly emerged from the carriage seeing Sansa waiting patiently for him with Lady tucked inside her pelisse.

“My lord, are you all right?” Brune asked cautiously.

“I’ll live,” Petyr grumbled yanking his cloak around him. “Take care of the horses and baggage. Get them warm and fed,” he instructed in regards to their men.

Sansa took his arm more to help him than for appearances. Petyr felt light of head, and all he wanted to do was lie down.

“Lord Baelish,” the innkeeper greeted. The round fellow stared at Sansa for a moment and glanced at his disheveled appearance. “I have the room you requested.”

“Room?” Petyr asked incredulously. “My letter instructed for two.”

“Oh yes, m’lord but we’re full tonight,” the innkeeper mumbled. “Lord Pemberly, along with Lord Templeton, arrived earlier. Due to the heavy rain, two of my rooms have damage because of the roof, not suitable for any nobles, especially a lady. I kept the bridal chamber for you, your lordship, and I’ll not charge you a single coin more.”

Petyr grimaced at Sansa, waiting for her to make a fuss like last time, but she didn’t say a word. Petyr’s head was spinning as he tried to focus.

“My lady absolutely must have her own room,” he insisted. “It is simply unacceptable to expect her to ruin her reputation because of your problems.”

Petyr grasped her arm a little tighter, feeling the walls closing in. He needed a bed and needed it now.

“My soon to be lord husband is being overly chivalrous and modest,” she protested graciously. “He is quite ill and needs to rest. The bridal chamber will be most satisfactory. My father need never know if you are discreet. You’ll be paid handsomely, of course.”

Petyr hid his shock at her proposal. Never would he have anticipated this considering the past few days.

“My lord?” the innkeeper asked for his approval.

“Very well, my love,” Petyr groaned. “I’m in no condition to argue.” He leaned into Sansa’s ear and whispered, “This is not wise. Surely, you will be recognized.”

Petyr scanned the inn and didn’t see anyone of importance, nor either of the earl’s mentioned a moment ago.

“I’ll stay in the room and keep my face hidden when we leave,” Sansa whispered back. “You’re ill. It would be best if lay down. I can’t leave you alone with a fever. I’m assuming you don’t want any attention brought to us as it is, yes? Demanding a second room will certainly do that. No one would question Myranda’s virtue.”

Petyr couldn’t help but detect the snide remark aimed at his future wife. He knew she had a reputation, hence why Royce probably had a difficult time finding a suitable husband for his daughter. He eyed the man directly, handing him several coins.

“My bride’s reputation is not to be tarnished by gossip for I will know where it originated and I’ll burn this place to the ground, do I make myself clear?” Petyr demanded harshly.

“Yes, my lord,” the man agreed. “I would never besmirch your lovely lady. As you said, she is to be your wife.”

The man escorted them upstairs, and Petyr barely made it to the bed before collapsing. He heard the door close as Sansa and Brune discussed him before his man left the room leaving Sansa to lock it behind him.

Wearily, Petyr took off his cloak and topcoat. By damned if he didn’t feel even worse after leaving the bloody carriage. He laid back on the lumpy mattress and cursed himself. This was not how he wanted to come back to Kings Landing.

All of a sudden, he felt his boots tugged off before Sansa pulled him up a little. The anger disappeared from her face, leaving that of an annoyed nurse with a stubborn patient. Lady was sniffing around the room and jumped up on the bed, but Sansa gently put her back down on the floor.

“Come on, let’s tuck you in. Your feet are like ice,” Sansa directed. “I sent Brune to bring my trunk and find a tub to soak in.”

“I am not using a washtub that God knows who has bathed in. I’d rather die of scarlet fever,” Petyr grumbled. “I’ll probably catch something worse.”

“Ugh, you’re such an arrogant arse, you know that?” she growled back. “I only want to soak your feet in hot water. Mother did that with us. It takes the fever out of the head. You’ll need to strip down.”

Petyr laughed, “Oh sweetling, I don’t think so.”

Sansa huffed, “You can’t shock me. I’ve seen all of you. I’m going to wet down a sheet of linen and wrap you in it while your feet soak. If you don’t behave, I’ll have Brune throw your stubborn, boiling head in the river to cool you off.”

Petyr couldn’t help the sarcastic smile. He couldn’t deny he loved irritating her. Sansa had a quick and sharp wit and didn’t hesitate to use it on him. The less time he had to spend in this God awful place, the better. All Petyr wanted was to get home and into his own comfortable, warm bed.

“Yes, doctor. Whatever it takes to get us out of here by morning,” he mumbled.

“Morning? You shouldn’t travel at all tomorrow. It could be worse,” Sansa admonished.

“Do what you must,” he bit out angrily. “We leave tomorrow. I will not spend another night here.”

A knock on the door and before long, Brune and a servant were bringing in everything Sansa requested to make him well. She pulled a small case from her trunk and set it on the table. Petyr lifted his head, watching her sift through a few small jars and sachets with what looked like a miniature apothecary most likely from Mrs. Ames.

His head pounded as the bed felt like it was on the water, making his stomach turn over again. A foul smelling powder was added to the small wooden tub, and Petyr had to keep himself from retching.

“Alright, disrobe and wrap this around you,” she ordered wringing out a large piece of linen from a basin of cold water.

Petyr sighed. Why couldn’t he just stay under the covers? Trembling in cold, wet linen in a drafty room was less appealing than her earlier threat.

“I’ll turn my back if that’s what is bothering you,” Sansa huffed and turned around but didn’t catch his smile.

He didn’t care what she saw. Petyr gathered she had an eye full and education the other night. Even when they were both in the spring, their sheer clothing did nothing to hide their bodies from each other.

Petyr berated himself instantly – that was the last thing he needed to be thinking about right now.

He sat up, removing his waistcoat and shirt before finally slipping his trousers down. Sansa backed up and held the cloth behind her until their hands touched. He was tempted for half a moment to pull her to him but decided against it. Now was not the time for games.

He wrapped the linen around him and cursed under his breath. It was cold, but at the same time, it felt good. Petyr didn’t realize how feverish he must have been. His own clothes were lightly damp with sweat sitting next to him.

“Are you decent?” she asked.

“If you can call it that,” he sighed as she turned around.

Without a word, Sansa pushed the tub next to the bed. He couldn’t place the smell, but it was horrid. Even Lady snorted at the odor coming for the small basin. Sansa removed his stockings, placing his feet in the water that forced another curse out of him. It wasn’t just hot; it was scalding!

“Sorry,” she mumbled, pouring a little cold water into the tub.

A tea kettle was boiling in the fireplace, and the scent of sweet herbs didn’t help mask the other offensive odor. Sansa wrung out another cloth and came to sit next to him. She let the cool compress touch gently around his face and the back of his neck. Petyr had to admit the gesture was sweet. She had no reason to be kind to him. He knew she was upset with him for taking advantage of her that night and not being open about the Royces before they arrived unexpectedly.

Petyr felt his head automatically leaning into her touch as he closed his eyes. All he wanted was sleep. As the cold made his body shiver uncontrollably, Petyr wondered how much longer he needed to endure this. After a time, she felt his forehead and neck and sighed.

“You’re still terribly warm,” she said. “A little while longer and then you can slip into bed, alright? I want you to drink some tea.”

“As long as it doesn’t taste like my foot bath,” he complained as she retrieved the kettle and poured a steaming cup.

Sitting next to him again, she lifted it to his lips, and it wasn’t bad at all.

“Yarrow and elderflower,” she explained as he took another sip. “It will help reduce the fever a little. You’ll need plenty of water. Nurse Burrows said it was the best thing for fevers back home.”

Petyr chuckled, “My own little witch, brewing her potions for me. Who needs a nurse?”

Sansa huffed and set down the cup.

“Shall I call the doctor instead? Depending on the direction he comes, it will be a good day’s ride, and I bet all he’ll do is bleed you. Does nothing for fevers… Mrs. Ames says most of these doctors are more apt to kill you than what ails you.”

“Does she?” he smiled. “I suppose she hasn’t taught you to poison me just yet.”

“Well, if my services are not appreciated, you can suffer on your own,” Sansa retorted and stood up before Petyr grabbed her hand. Her skin was so soft while his was cold and clammy.

“Please,” he murmured. “Forgive me. I do appreciate your efforts.”

Reluctantly, Sansa sat back down and returned to using the cool cloth on his head. After a time, the bathwater grew cold, and he was finished wearing that blasted freezing linen. Petyr shrugged it off, not caring that he was bare beneath it. He leaned across her and grabbed his shirt, slipping his arms in the sleeves, silently telling her he had had enough.

Dizziness set in as Petyr laid down and pulled the bedclothes over him, tossing the wet linen on the wooden floor. His feet were going to smell like bath that for days, he grimaced. As much as he hated to admit it, her treatment did help. He didn’t feel as hot as before, and his head wasn’t throbbing as severely.

“I’ll bring you something to eat a little later, nothing heavy mind you,” Sansa said as Petyr turned around a little too quickly making his head spin.

“Let Brune do it. You cannot go downstairs alone and unchaperoned,” he insisted. “Plus, you should not be seen as it is, my wife.” Petyr tugged gently on a strand of her red hair. “A memorable shade.”

Sansa pulled a wooden chair over to the bed and sat down.

“Will I be locked in a room once we reach the capital?” she asked lightly, but Petyr didn’t answer. He knew what he had planned, and it was best not to discuss it. “You didn’t say why you decided to bring me with you.”

Petyr turned on his side away from her penetrating stare while Lady hoped up on the bed to cuddle into him.

“A young woman cannot be left alone for months without a guardian or chaperon of some sort,” Petyr said testily, petting the wolf.

“Why not? No one cares about me. Mrs. Ames… even Duncan could act as such,” she replied. “It’s not as though I would be expecting visitors in your absence.”

“Stop asking silly questions,” he retorted harshly. “You are my ward, my responsibility. That is the end of it. I don’t need gossip to start about the girl I’m keeping in the country.”

“Oh, I see,” Petyr heard her anger seeping through. “I can assure you, Lady Myranda will do a fine job of that. Enough to have you send me to some convent in Sisterton.”

Sansa was a smart girl, Petyr thought to himself. It would be hard to play this game without her figuring it out. It would be best if she believed it was not his idea but forced on him. Petyr had a strong feeling if he told her he wanted to make her his wife, that she would refuse him ardently. That night in the underground spring, Petyr thought that she could learn to care for him. If she was that responsive to his touch and kisses, that perhaps… but her reaction the next day was the truth. She was ashamed, and that old hatred from the beginning resurfaced. The ground he thought he made with Sansa, evaporated.

Petyr’s own insecurities still echoed in his broken, boyish heart. Those old wounds were still fresh as if they happened yesterday. He had loved Catelyn so blindly that he couldn’t see the truth. She was his world, and then it all came crashing down one summer’s day. Petyr didn’t know how to let go.

Even now, he felt he was still trying to hold to Cat through her daughter. What Petyr didn’t expect was how much Sansa dazzled him. She was smart, honest and her wits could match his own. Sansa was kind and loving but now damaged like him.

Petyr often wondered, if he were younger, would Sansa, unlike her mother had given him a chance? Sansa surely would have had her pick of any young man, Petyr guessed. Before her family was murdered and she was thrown into the pit of obscurity and hatred, why would she ever consider a man like him?

“I would never send you to a convent or hide you away,” he whispered in answer to her question.

“But you are ashamed of me, aren’t you? That’s why you’re taking me with you. Had the Royces not come to Harrenhal, would I be here now?” Sansa asked directly. “You don’t want rumours about me to ruin your marriage chances? You don’t exactly strike me as a man that bows to the rules of decorum if you weren’t trying to marry into the good graces of society.”

She was astute, Petyr had to give her credit.

“Unlike your aunt and uncle, I don’t see the point of hiding you away or treating you as if you do not exist,” Petyr replied shortly. “Believe what you will. I simply decided that perhaps you would like to see the capital and being left alone for months wasn’t a good idea in such a remote place as Harrenhal.”

Sansa laughed bitterly, “Oh, I can see it now – strolling several feet behind you and Myranda in the park, sitting in the corner at balls, dining alone most days and nights. Maybe if I’m lucky, you’ll let me sit in the hallway outside your box and listen to my first opera. Yes, I can’t wait to see the capital.”

Petyr turned around and stared at her. Yes, Sansa knew, for her time at the Vale had taught her well.

“Am I to be judged so harshly?” he asked with a cough. “Have I treated you that badly these past few weeks?”

“You have given me shelter and lovely things, yes,” she began. “You did apologize, in your own way, I suppose. Perhaps it is the company you keep… or will keep. Your future wife will expect you to disown and send me away, I am sure. So why you intend to parade me around Kings Landing is beyond my understanding. Certainly, the Royce’s will be demanding your time and will not want me anywhere near. You could have weathered any gossip or scandal about me. Lies are all the ton wishes to hear and talk about. This isn’t about what is good for me. It’s about making sure you don’t look like your hiding something to your peers at court – for keeping a traitor’s daughter isn’t fashionable even if you’re a reprehensible scoundrel.”

As much as Sansa tried to mask it, a pang of sadness filled her blue eyes that she did not wish him to see. She was trying so hard to be strong, but they both knew what awaited her in Kings Landing.

“Well, I shall have to prove you wrong, sweetling,” Petyr sighed, laying his head down.

No, she wouldn’t marry him now, he wagered. Even a traitor’s daughter had self-respect. Had he asked sincerely, Sansa would still have question his motives. The look of shame and guilt on her face when he made her come and then the hatred the next morning, gutted Petyr. Sansa didn’t want him to touch her again much less be his wife.

You’re a bastard and I hate you.

She may hate him, but at least it would keep her safe. Sansa wouldn’t understand why he was doing it. The king, the ton… they needed to believe they were in control. Petyr would let them continue believing it until the opportune moment. He knew them so well. He knew Sansa would be treated with the same contempt as he.

However, Petyr was a man with title given by the king and couldn’t be dismissed as easily as he used to be when only a lowly lord. Money bought him into power and standing. The ton may hate him, but gold kept him in the right circles. That wealth they envied but detested in his possession would bring them all down. Petyr was buying something with everything he gained after all these years. He would watch the downfall of the aristocracy – all in good time.

No, his sweetling wouldn’t understand why it had to be done this way. The king and society had to believe they pressured him into marriage. Petyr rightly assumed they thought he chose Lady Myranda for her family’s good name. Forcing him to marry Sansa would appear to work against him and Petyr would play that angle the best he could.

Petyr couldn’t announce his intentions towards Sansa without grave suspicion. No bans would be read. No asking for her hand. She would be forced to marry him. Only the king could break the arrangement he had with Royce now and Petyr was going to use it well. Joffrey was easy enough to manipulate. Petyr just needed to play the right cards at the right time.

Later in the evening, Brune brought a light supper. The stew was barely edible and Petyr did not have much of an appetite as it was. He choked down what he could, drank more of Sansa’s tea before lying down again. He gave the rest to the wolf who anxiously awaited what she knew would be hers. Sansa touched his forehead again and placed another cool, wet cloth on it.

“Please tell me I don’t have to wear that wet sheet again,” he grumbled.

“No, I don’t think so. It appears to be going down, the fever. You should stay in bed for a few more days, though,” she answered.

“We leave tomorrow. I will not endure another night here,” Petyr told her.

“So be it. If you die on the way, can you at least order Brune to return us back to Harrenhal? I don’t wish to hang just yet – especially not for your death,” she retorted calmly. “If I’m going to die, I’d rather it be for something that is worth my life.”

 “Oh sweetling, you will outlive me, rest assured,” he laughed.

Petyr watched her play the doctor with that little chest of wonders. Sansa combined some liquids and the scent of mint was almost overwhelming. She sat next to him and rubbed some of the oil on her hand. The aroma was strong as she dabbed a little near his nose and then just around his collarbone avoiding his bare chest.

It was intoxicating watching her nurse him. She was so lovely, he thought in amazement. His eyes followed her every move. She was so close, that he could almost breathe her in. A lock of hair fell from its pins and Petyr couldn’t resist. His hand drifted up and tucked the red strand behind her ear making her pause.

For only a moment, there was something behind her eyes as she looked at him. Petyr desperately wanted to know what she was thinking. If he wasn’t so ill, he would have pulled her head down and ravished her mouth. As quickly as it came, her eyes turned to stone and pushed his hand away.

“You should sleep if we’re to leave tomorrow,” she scolded lightly.

Petyr glanced around the room and fixed his tired eyes on the wooden chair next to the bed.

“And where pray tell are you sleeping tonight, my dear?” he asked, knowing the answer.

“I’ll stay up and keep an eye on you,” Sansa said unconvincingly.

Petyr scoffed, “How very dutiful. Come, you’re exhausted. Lie down.”

“With you? Absolutely not!” she feigned shock.

Petyr moved to the side of the bed and pushed her down with what little strength he had left.

“Lie down. I have no desire to touch you, if that’s what you’re worried about. I’m to be married after all,” he muttered and turned on his side away from her.

Petyr expected her to get up and sit in the chair but after a few minutes, he glanced over his shoulder to see she had not moved. Perhaps Sansa was more exhausted than he was. They were both stubborn as mules, Petyr decided.

The candle was low when he pulled the heavy covers up and threw them over her as she lay in a tight ball. He was still warm but clearly Sansa was cold even fully clothed in her traveling dress. Lady jumped up and curled at their feet, settling down for the night. He watched Sansa’s corseted chest rise and fall and wondered if she was truly asleep. His eyes drifted close as her hair whispered against his hand.

Petyr felt himself begin to wake to the aroma of mint and lemons as something tickled his nose. His chest still felt heavy and it was hard to breathe. His head ached and his body was warm but it wasn’t just the sickness that weighed him down. Petyr’s eyes peered open in the early morning light only to be clouded by a haze of red. It was Sansa’s hair that tickled his nose and her weight upon his chest while her arm draped around his waist. She was fast asleep. Somehow, during the night, she had curled into him and the thought made his heart skip a beat. Unconscious as it may be, Petyr didn’t care. Sansa was here, lying next to him as if it was where she was meant to be.

His arm rested next to her back as Petyr longed to caress her but he knew he couldn’t. His cock twitched between his legs and he silently cursed his own damn body. Petyr raised his knee to hide the morning erection that was threatening to make itself known. The movement must have woken Sansa, for her breathing changed. She knew where she was laying and pretended to still be asleep.

Petyr prayed she didn’t see him harden but her rigid posture said otherwise.

“Sorry, it happens to men sometimes in the morning, sweetling,” he heard his own raspy voice speak.

Slowly and deliberately, Sansa moved her arm from his waist and rolled away from him and Petyr let her. He knew she was embarrassed and even though she was nearing three and twenty, Sansa was still naïve in such things. Already missing her warmth, Petyr turned on his side away from her, letting Sansa compose herself, knowing she had probably slept in his embrace all night.

He felt her get up from the bed and sighed. Petyr would have given anything to pull her back down and sleep all day, but he knew they had to leave. Staying any longer would rouse gossip. Petyr was positive Lady Myranda had swelled the rumor mill in Kings Landing leaving him much work to be done.

Petyr let Sansa ready herself with dignity and refused to watch her, staring at the dirty window instead.

“Shall I call in Brune, my lord?” she asked quietly, tying her bonnet and lowering the lace to cover her face.

My lord…

Petyr sighed. They were back here again.

“Yes,” he replied. “I want to leave as soon as possible.”

He groaned trying to sit up and his head and body ached. It was going to be a dreadful ride to Kings Landing. Thankfully, it was a shorter distance.

Petyr caught his reflection in the standing mirror near the window. He was pale, with dark circles under his eyes and clearly needed a bath. He rubbed his face, rough with new whiskers and wanted to lay back down. He didn’t think he would be able to stomach any breakfast this morning and asked to have some fruit brought along with them today.

Dressing slowly, Brune helped him down the stairs to the waiting carriage. Sansa had placed a small chest between the seats, setting a few cushions on top for him, Petyr presumed. He couldn’t help the little smile. It was a tender gesture even with though the scowl on her face as he climbed inside.

Settling down and covering him with furs, the cold air didn’t help as Petyr began coughing terribly. It was an awful taste that rose to his throat.

“You stubborn bastard,” she growled, “You’ll die from the chill and I’ll be blamed for it.”

“If we’re lucky, our lost souls will go back to Harrenhal and we can truly scare the daylight out of everyone as real ghosts,” he laughed and Sansa glowered at his mockery.

As the carriage moved along at what felt like a snail’s pace, Petyr couldn’t find any comfort. His body burned and ached and even the ability to stretch out did not help. Leaning against the window was too cold but moving to the center meant pushing his feet against Sansa. His illness still did not give him leave to be rude and make her uncomfortable.

Lady left her mistress and came to curl into his lap once again and Petyr saw Sansa frown. Lady was hers, yet she chose Petyr on so many occasions. Leaning his head back and coughing horribly, Petyr now regretted leaving the inn today. If he had waited one more day, perhaps…. Ah, it didn’t matter now. They were on their way and he couldn’t stop the domino effect of what was to come.

A movement made his eyes pop open as Sansa came to sit next to him. She brought a flask to his lips and told him to drink. It was brandy and it burned his throat.

“It will help warm you,” she told him but he didn’t really hear her. That pounding and heat in his head returned with full force making him wince in pain. He unconsciously leaned into her shoulder. She was warm and smelt of sweet lemons.

The girl had moved back into the corner and in doing so, pulled him back with her.

“Here, lean against me and lie down,” she said and Petyr gratefully did as he was instructed.

Sansa pulled the heavy furs over them and let him stretch his legs out as his head lay against her soft bosom. It was hell and gone from proper, he knew, but didn’t care in this moment. She was warm and supple and that’s all that mattered. His body relaxed immediately and wondered why she had such an effect on him.

Lady found a spot between them and yawned showing her growing canine teeth. Her ears perked occasionally at a sound but finally closed her blue eyes as Petyr felt slender fingers sift through his hair. He could die right here and not care.

His mind swam to and fro, and Petyr knew he could never marry Lady Myranda. This beautiful woman that he was about to hurt terribly was holding him as if she really cared. All the awful things they had said to one another didn’t seem to matter right now. Whatever her reasons, Sansa was comforting him knowing he belonged to another, or so she thought.

Petyr closed his eyes and turned his head, resting his cheek against the swell of her chest and waited for her to swat him at his brazen move. God, he wanted to touch those silky breasts again. Her hand stilled for a minute, then resumed its soothing touch making him sigh in content.

He had not a clue what she was thinking, and she couldn’t know how he wished he could just take her far away. Plans were in motion and there was no turning back. Perhaps one day Sansa would forgive him. Even if she hated him, Petyr felt he was saving her in the long term. She may never love or understand him, but at least he could keep her safe from harm. He knew the aristocracy probably better than she did. If he could convince them to let him have her, perhaps they wouldn’t suspect him of anything else.

Just a social climber with a wife that would never be received in any household. That would put him in his place, they would say.

Oh, they didn’t know what was coming for them. In the end, it wouldn’t matter what anyone in the ton thought of his lovely wife. They would all be dead and the dead have nothing to say.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

pity

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sansa’s new maid helped her dress for the day, and she thought the household was very welcoming. Brooks, Petyr’s butler in his townhome, was the polar opposite of Duncan. He had been gracious and kind to Sansa since their arrival three days ago. Whether he had thoughts about her in general or why Lord Baelish had acquired a woman in her early twenties as his ward. Brooks never said a word or gave a disapproving glare as the majordomo in Harrenhal took pleasure in.

When they arrived, Petyr was deathly ill and taken straight to his bed. They never should have left the inn that morning, Sansa frowned. The chill in the air only made the sickness worse, and the doctor instructed Petyr was not to leave his room for a few days. What had surprised Sansa and Brune, who never seemed to leave his master’s side, was that the doctor asked if Petyr had ingested anything unusual.

Sansa chastised herself with ignoring him after Myranda left before their own journey to Kings Landing. She didn’t notice anything wrong with him until the carriage ride south. The fever seemed so sudden and worsened quickly. Sansa had seen northerners die of consumption of the lungs and scarlet fever, yet it didn’t seem to come out of nowhere. Perhaps she had missed the signs before leaving. The doctor said Petyr would recover, but that he couldn’t rule out a possible poison.

If Sansa knew anything about Petyr, he would never allow any form of rotten food nor drink in his home, and she couldn’t fathom Mrs. Ames would be so careless. It seemed rather odd, after Royce’s departure, that Petyr would become ill.

Had it been a poison of sorts, why would the Royce’s do it? They would lose title, lands, and wealth. Lady Myranda seemed to be overjoyed at becoming the new marchioness for whatever her reasons and Lord Royce would gain by his daughter’s marriage. It did not make much sense, and Sansa wanted to believe that it was merely a fever and nothing more.

Why she should care for him at all? Apparently, Petyr had never intended for anyone to know about her it seemed. Myranda ruined that secret of his, and now he brought Sansa all the way to the capital. There was a time when Sansa would have been thrilled at coming here, but now she lived in fear as any wild animal on display in a cage. She was furious at Petyr yet at the same time felt an overwhelming need to care for him. It wasn’t so much just being ill, but the thought that someone possibly tried to poison him made a protectiveness come out in her for which Sansa couldn’t understand.

Petyr was going to marry Myranda and Sansa would end up, just as she feared, a governess or cast away to some remote place and forgotten. Petyr was only lustful that night under the house. Sansa was a woman, and if she had let him, he may very well have taken her to bed that night. In the heat of that passion, Sansa was all but consumed by him. To her shame, she probably would have let him have his way, but it was Petyr that stopped and pushed her away.

Now she understood why. Petyr was to marry Myranda. It was also entirely possible that he could have feelings for her. He didn’t make love to Sansa in the hot spring, but he clearly ravaged Myranda in the music room. Sansa wondered if they had been intimate since she saw him for the first time at the Vale. Myranda did say they wouldn’t have to hide from her father much longer. Did Petyr bring Sansa to attend his upcoming wedding perhaps? The thought made her stomach turn.

Sansa sat next to his bed and wrung out a cool cloth for his forehead. She barely left his side for the last few days. Petyr looked much better today, as color began to return to his skin. Sansa didn’t know why she felt betrayed. Was it jealousy she felt at the knowledge of him and Myranda? She was beginning to like Petyr and the time he spent with her. Sansa had hoped he might kiss her again. The way he made her body feel that night was pure bliss.

Running her fingers through his hair, she dabbed his face, keeping him comfortable. Sansa didn’t know her own heart anymore. There was no reason in the world to care for Petyr. Other than Joffrey and the Lannisters, Petyr had caused her such pain and aggravation in such a short time. She couldn’t turn back time and change anything and had to live in the present.

This lying, devious man she watched over now was all she had. There was no family left she could call her own, and without Petyr, she would be destitute. A poor, educated woman could still make her way in the world, but who would hire Sansa? The skills she possessed would be only good for teaching children or running a household and what family would be willing to take her in?

Looking at Petyr sleeping, she sighed in resignation. If all she was fit to be was a governess and housekeeper than she might as well stay with him. Petyr said himself that he would not send her away. Why should he keep her? Plainly, Myranda would put up a fight about that or make Sansa’s life miserable. Sansa wasn’t sure what bothered her more. Was it only the idea that he was marrying Myranda or that he actually wanted to?

Sansa remembered her own moans of pleasure at his touch and could still hear Myranda’s lustful voice in her head. He clearly had no problem making love to his bride before marriage.

Marriage.

That word hurt because even a lady of Myranda’s questionable reputation could still marry well enough. No gentleman would marry Sansa for it would degrade him. Only because she was pretty would men try to sample her wares or pay for them as a mistress, but they would never treat her like a lady or make her a wife.

Petyr was a man with a terrible reputation and only climbed as high as he did through manipulation and money. Not even a libertine, such as himself, would consider a woman like Sansa. He flirted and kissed her, of course, had his fun and games but now he was to be a married gentleman. Sansa wondered how long it would take before he sent her packing, just like everyone else.

She had pulled the curtains keeping the harsh sunlight out. Upon arrival, Sansa noticed Petyr’s bedroom smelled very much like the one in Harrenhal. Now the odor or herbs and liniments permeated the air. The entire house was almost a mirror image of the home she left by the lake. Petyr had a particular style as both homes were filled with rich colour and art.

Sansa had wandered his townhouse looking at length at all his beautiful paintings, sculptures, and the perfectly tailored garden outside. Lady was able to spend time outside without fear of losing her to the city streets. The servants thought it was odd at first, but never said a word about the dog she brought with her. Sansa believed that none of them knew what a wolf was, let alone seen one. The house was large and felt lived in as compared to Harrenhal. Petyr spent much of his time in Kings Landing, she surmised.

Many paintings hung on the vibrant damask walls throughout the house. The one in his own bedroom was quite scandalous by the artist Fragonard. “Le Verrou” depicted a young man bolting the door to his lover’s bedchamber. The French certainly did not care about shocking people.

So many works of art had begun to make their way to other countries due to the revolution taking place. The people overthrew their king, and Sansa wondered when her own countrymen would wake up to the tyranny of their monarch. Her father’s failed attempt ended before it really begun and she hated that her uncle and aunt did not stand with the family, instead bowing low to keep their precious lands and titles.

Now years later, Sansa was a kept woman masquerading as a ward to one of the most disreputable men in the country. Sansa didn’t want to admit it, but she liked Petyr when she had him to herself. He seemed a different man when they were alone at Harrenhal. She was warming to him and felt that Petyr was opening up to her a little more every day. Had he left her there, no doubt Sansa would have missed him.

Petyr was hiding something treasonous enough to perpetuate lies in order to keep his secrets safe. Harrenhal was out of the way of most important eyes of court and gentile society and a better place to hide things than in the capital. Petyr said he didn’t trust anyone and that included her. Sansa knew she couldn’t betray him, for she would hand next to him. For better or for worse, she was stuck with him and his secrets. How Petyr expected to keep Myranda in the dark was a mystery, or the woman was his partner in crime.

A few men had come to see him since they came to Kings Landing, but Brune turned them away. The marquess was far too ill to receive any visitors. In fact, Petyr had barely spoken a word in his delirium. Most of the time, Sansa tried to keep him comfortable until one of the maids would take over and let her rest.

Suddenly, his head leaned into her hand, and Sansa stopped her ministrations.

“Have you picked out my coffin yet, sweetling?” his voice rasped in the dim room.

Sansa smiled. Even in illness, Petyr still managed to keep sarcasm alive and well.

“No. Too expensive,” she answered wiping the damp cloth down Petyr’s neck. “I told Brune to put your body in a burlap sack and throw you in the dirt. I’ll need all the money I can steal from you.”

Petyr laughed heartily at that.

“Sweetling, when I die, I’ll make sure you are well taken care of,” he smirked.

“Oh? Why didn’t you tell me sooner? I would have killed you ages ago,” Sansa replied with mock seriousness.

“You did a poor job,” he chuckled. “Next time, use a stronger poison in your tea.”

“What? I would never… I did not do this to you,” she sat appalled at his words.

Petyr took her hand and kissed it lightly.

“I’m teasing, my dear,” he muttered. “When you kill me, you won’t need a poison. A stab to the heart will do.”

Sansa pulled her hand away. What did Petyr mean by that?

“Here, help me up,” he asked weakly.

Sansa pulled him up to sit as Petyr stretched, rubbing the back of his neck.

“I need to get out of this room…” he groaned.

“But the doctor said…”

“I don’t care what the bloody doctor said. I need to get out of this room before I go mad,” Petyr retorted testily pulling the covers off him and placing his feet on the rug. His nightclothes were rumpled and sweaty as they clung to his skin.

“My lord…”

“Petyr, please…” he sighed.

“Petyr, what if you get sick again? The doctor said it could have been fever, yes, but that he thought maybe you ate something foul or… well, that… someone might have…”

“Poisoned me?” he smirked at her shocked expression. “Don’t worry, my dear. Somehow I doubt it was meant for me. I’ll never be desperate enough to drink sherry again, that I do know. That’s what I get for saving my thirty year old brandy upon returning home.”

Petyr never once drank sherry in that Sansa could recall. The wine was sour in the decanter, she remembered from that night she discovered Myranda and Petyr’s tryst in the music room. He and Sansa both drank a burgundy at dinner before leaving Harrenhal. They ate the same food. Only Sansa was so upset she retired early instead of going to the library with him as they had done so often. She didn’t drink any sherry that night.

“You’re so sure, are you?” Sansa asked skepticism.

“Love, when you’re in the business of politics, trade and lies,” he huffed as he stood up, “one would be wise to expect such things.”

“A great many people want to kill you, is that it?” Sansa japed, helping Petyr when he wobbled a bit.

“Funny enough, no,” he smiled, holding Sansa’s arm as he walked to the pitcher and basin by the window. “A great many people are not that smart.”

“And you are?” she asked, pouring cold water into the basin for him.

Petyr splashed this face and neck a few times before Sansa handed him a towel. He stood up and dried himself as the water dripped from his scruffy face. He chuckled, tossing the cloth over his shoulder.

“Yes,” he answered with a smile. “You don’t get where I am without this.” Petyr pointed to his forehead. “Know your enemies as well as you know yourself and never underestimate them.”

“And who are your enemies?” she asked slyly wondering if he would actually answer her.

Petyr closed the distance and grinned.

Everyone.”

Everyone? If Sansa was his enemy, then why did he save her weeks ago, keeping her with him?

“What does that make me?” she wondered, not realizing she said it aloud.

Petyr moved closer, placing his hands on her waist and studied her.

“An excellent question, sweetling,” he whispered.

Petyr was so close that she could feel his breath on her face. He was playing with her, Sansa thought. They were deep in the lion’s den and Petyr, in his teasing fashion, was still asking if he could trust her.

“Would an enemy nurse you back to health and watch over you for days on end? Surely, an enemy would have just let you die that night at the inn,” Sansa muttered back.

“The best foes gain your trust and friendship before slitting your throat. They help you, give you what you ask for… they seduce and even pretend to love you,” Petyr breathed as his lips were so dangerously close.

Sansa’s breathing was constricted from her corset making her chest heave. The air in the room was thick and heavy as she had not been this close to Petyr in such a way since that night under the house. The memory of his lips made Sansa’s tingle in anticipation. She held her breath and waited to see what he would do. Suddenly, Sansa remembered his lies and that he belonged to Myranda.

“Are you my enemy?” she tested him as he stared at her lips.

“My clever girl,” Petyr smiled and pulled back. “That’s how you must think at all times in this city. No one here is a friend to us. Oh, they can be great actors, playing the part of sincerity, but never believe them. Not for a single moment. Never give them any information that you aren’t willing to have passed through the entire ton, whether it be true or not. Play the game better than them and never let them get the best of you even if it appears that way. They want you to be weak, to break you, belittle you. Sometimes the best way to play the game is to let them have their way. Let them mock you and find you inferior. When you are not a threat, they will never suspect you of a thing, and that is always an advantage. Remember, at all times, you are smarter and have the control. Whatever they say or do, no matter how much it hurts, make it work in your favor. Do you understand?”

Us. It was strange that Petyr made a reference to them against the rest of the ton. Why was he telling her this? Sansa had no illusions that Kings Landing society would be any kinder than the Vale.

“What of your future wife?” Sansa asked before she could stop herself.

Petyr stepped back and sighed.

“Myranda is none of your concern,” he ended with a tone of finality. Discussing his betrothed was clearly off the table. Petyr sat down, putting his hand to his forehead.

“Well, you are my concern at the moment,” Sansa changed the subject quickly, wishing to never speak about Lady Myranda. “Don’t pretend you’re well yet because you’re not. I’ll draw you a bath and have the maids change the linens and open the windows to let some fresh air in. I don’t want to be nursemaid to you longer than necessary.”

Petyr chuckled at her candor, as Sansa wanted to smack him at the same time. Friend or foe, Sansa didn’t have a choice with Petyr. She might as well make herself useful and curry what favor she could before he married. If Petyr wanted her to play the game, then Sansa would do just that. She wasn’t going to get a better offer anywhere else.

Just as he told her at Harrenhal, Petyr had his townhouse fitting with similar plumbing. It took a couple of minutes, but finally, the water was hot enough as it pumped in and filled the tub. Petyr walked in, and Sansa avoided looking at him all together.

“Use the lemon soap, it cleanses better. I’ll make you a mint tea to settle your stomach. I told you to eat light this morning yet you refuse to listen to me,” Sansa blathered on wanting out of this room. “For heaven’s sake, don’t slip and break your neck. It’s bad enough having to deal with your temperament now, let alone you as an invalid.”

Petyr picked up the soap, unwrapping it and inhaled deeply.

“Ah, now I know what this scent reminds me of… you,” he grinned sinfully. “I’ve been trying to place it for some time. So, as I’m washing, I’ll know that this is what you used in my tub the day of the market.”

Sansa turned scarlet. This cad! The idea of him thinking of her like that made her blood boil.

“Well, the next time I purchase soap, I’ll be sure to find one made of lavender,” she said calmly. “That is Lady Myranda’s favorite scent, my lord.”

With that, she turned and left the bath, closing the door tight. Damn if Petyr didn’t infuriated her sometimes, Sansa fumed while opening one of the windows. He was getting married, why did he keep flirting like that with her? She didn’t want to know what he did in the bath.

Sansa went down to the kitchen to make tea and tried to ignore what just happened, sending the maids to change his bed. Married or not, men were still terrible. As their wives bore their children, husbands cheated on them and took mistresses. Some didn’t even bother hiding it. They flaunted their mistresses all over town, taking them to dine and the theatre, buying them all sorts of luxuries. These women probably didn’t have it too awful, that is until their patron got bored with them and moved on.

The bell rang and Sansa knew it must be another business caller for Lord Petyr. Brooks was given instructions to tell anyone wishing to see his lordship, that he wasn’t taking callers at the moment. The shrill voice that echoed from the foyer made Sansa close her eyes. She directed the maid to take Petyr’s tea to his bedroom and walked towards the foyer.

“I’m not just anyone, I am his fiancée,” Lady Myranda bellowed at Brooks.

“My lady, please. His lordship is ill and doesn’t wish to be disturbed,” the butler tried to explain, but Myranda was having none of it.

“Ill? My darling is ill? Take me to him,” she demanded.

“Lady Myranda. Lord Petyr would not wish to pass his sickness on to you,” Sansa said, walking towards them. “The doctor expressly said that he is not to leave his room. Perhaps in a day or two. I expect the doctor tomorrow morning, and I’ll ask if his lordship may receive callers.”

Myranda’s face was filled with fury, and Sansa tried not to smile.

“You,” she hissed. “He brought you to Kings Landing?”

“Astute as always, Myranda,” Sansa replied with relaxed ease. Somewhere deep in her gut, Sansa enjoyed seeing Myranda riddled with anger – perhaps a tinge of jealousy? Sansa waved off Brooks, telling him she would handle it.

Myranda crossed the foyer and stood directly in front of Sansa by the staircase.

“You little whore,” she sneered. “How did you persuade him to bring you here? You being his ward is complete rubbish. You’re his mistress, aren’t you?”

“Believe what you like, but I’m only his ward and nothing more,” Sansa bristled. “I think his reputation should have you worried about other women in the city. Not me.”

Myranda circled her slowly, but Sansa refused to let this woman intimidate her.

“Just like your mother and aunt,” she whispered nastily. “Tully whores. Don’t think I don’t know what you’re doing.”

“Really, Myranda? Calling me a whore, are you?” Sansa smirked. “I’m the one that is still a virgin.”

“Oh, my dear, you don’t have to be fucked by a man to be a whore,” the brunette sniggered.

“Such lovely language for a lady, I must say,” Sansa smiled sweetly.

“Ahhh,” Myranda laughed. “Say what you will, but you’ll never be a lady, so you can drop the airs, Sansa.”

“Coming from a gold-digging lady such as yourself? I’ll take that as a compliment,” she retorted holding her ground.

“You’re such a naïve and stupid girl, Sansa,” Myranda laughed quietly. “Or is that the game you are playing? The delicate, virginal flower? Keeping him interested just enough to give you a roof over your head and pretty gowns? How does that not make you a whore?”

Sansa scowled, “I will not and have not lain with him.”

Myranda smiled, “The moment you do, he’ll be rid of you. You do know that, right? What? Do you think he’ll fall madly in love and marry you? Like all men, they just want to taste a virgin, and then the thrill is over.”

Sansa’s façade was slowly cracking. She didn’t want to marry Petyr. He was more trouble than he was worth.

“I’m not the one marrying him for his wealth and titles,” Sansa japed as they both knew it was the truth.

“And you were marrying Joffrey for love?” Myranda shot back.

Sansa stood astounded, “That was arranged. I didn’t have a choice.”

“Ah, but I do. I chose Petyr when other women dismissed him so eagerly because of his heritage,” Myranda spoke with a tenderness that suddenly threw Sansa off. “I don’t deny that his wealth is appealing, but you automatically think I don’t care for him. Would you have taken him if he asked for your hand before your family became traitors?”

Sansa was speechless. She knew damn well she never would have been allowed to meet with a man like Petyr, let alone her father entertaining any proposal from him.

“Just as I thought,” Myranda seethed. “A little hypocrite even now when you’ll never be received in any household or hold a respectable position.” The brunette paced for a few moments. All at once, her tone changed. “I have made mistakes, but now I have the chance to marry a man that will take me. You think we don’t know what we are? I know what Petyr is and vice versa. We’re alike he and I and we understand each other. I can’t expect you to fathom such a thing. I can’t expect you to believe that I actually care for him and want to marry him. I could give him children and...”

“I don’t want him, Myranda,” Sansa argued. “He doesn’t want me.”

“Of course he does, Sansa,” Myranda breathed in frustration. “You’re beautiful, and he’s a man. Why do you think I’ve been so cruel to you? I’m madly jealous.”

The two women were silent as they stared at each other. Sansa didn’t know what to do or say now.

“Sansa,” Myranda sniffed turning away, “I could handle him taking a mistress, as most men do –  just not you. He fancies you, I can see it. I saw the way he looked at you at the Eyrie ball and then to find that you’re living at Harrenhal…”

“He doesn’t,” she pleaded. “How many times must I tell you.”

“You can’t make him happy,” Myranda continued. “He will be shunned after how hard he’s worked all this time.”

“Somehow, I don’t think he really cares about what the ton thinks of him,” Sansa muttered.

“All men say that, but it’s not the truth. They care,” Myranda sniveled. “Why do you think Father hasn’t been able to marry me until now? No gentleman in the Vale wanted anything to do with me. My reputation was in the gutter.”

“Yes, I see what you mean,” Sansa sighed. “My reputation is already in the gutter.” She looked at Myranda’s unshed tears in her eyes and couldn’t help herself. “And yet, you have a chance to reclaim yours.”

It was Sansa’s turn to pace. What was she doing? She didn’t really care for him, did she? Petyr was arrogant, sarcastic, secretive, and a royal pain in the arse, no matter how lovely his kisses were. Sansa knew nothing about this man. God, she had only known him for a short time. Myranda was right, Sansa couldn’t marry him if she wanted to. She would be social pariah for him. Why would a man want her as a wife anyway? No gentleman in his right mind would want to marry a traitor.

“Myranda, I swear to you,” Sansa began, slowly feeling a knot in her stomach. “I do not want him. I don’t wish to marry him. I have no feelings for him. Petyr is yours completely. He hasn’t touched me, nor would I ever allow him to. If you do… love him, then I’m the last person to stand in your way.”

The brunette smiled yet it wasn’t the type that generally made Sansa want to flee. Tears streamed down the girl’s face as she hugged Sansa with all her might.

“I’m so sorry for being beastly,” Myranda cried softly. “I was so terribly jealous. I thought you were going to take him away from me. You’re so beautiful, and men always gravitate towards you. I mean, I wanted Petyr for his money at first, but I think I’ve grown to love him. He doesn’t mind my past, and I could help him with my family name. I want Petyr to succeed… I wouldn’t mind gloating a bit to those gossiping old hags about how rich and happy we are.”

Myranda pulled away and wiped her eyes, giving Sansa a peck on the cheek.

“Oh, I never should have been so nasty to you. We’ll be like sisters, you’ll see. Maybe in time, the king will forgive and forget, and we’ll find you a suitable husband too.”

Sansa smiled, but her stomach was in her throat and a deep ache resonated in her chest.

“Look at me, I’m a mess. Petyr can’t see me like this,” Myranda sniffed, running to a large oval mirror on the opposite wall.

“You look lovely,” Sansa winced. She needed to get away from Myranda. Sansa wanted the quiet of her room and Lady to hold. The horrible pain she felt was only growing stronger.

The maids came downstairs and told Sansa that Petyr had finished his bath.  He was advised Myranda was here to see him and to send her up to his private parlor.

“Myranda, I think you should see him,” Sansa said softly. “He’s waiting for you upstairs.”

“How do I look? Will he think I’ve been crying?” the girl asked.

Sansa pinched her cheeks a little to give them a touch of rosy color.

“There,” she smiled. “Perfection.”

Sansa watched the brunette practically bound up the stairs to where her lover and future husband awaited. She could barely catch her breath as tears threatened to pool in her eyes. Sansa blinked them back, but the heartache was real. There was no denying it. She had lied to Myranda and to herself. She liked Petyr. Sansa couldn’t understand why. He made her so angry most of the time that Sansa should hate him.

Was it because he really belonged to Myranda? Was Sansa only jealous because she knew that she would never find someone to want her for herself? Maybe Myranda and Petyr were a perfect match. No woman of title wanted him as Myranda suffered the same dilemma. Myranda wanted wealth and Petyr had it in spades. He needed a respectable name, and Myranda could give that to him. Petyr was was just as much a social climber as she. What could Sansa ever give him other than her body? Nothing. She had nothing to offer any gentleman.

The truth hurt more than Sansa could bear. She felt a bit of a hypocrite for belittling Myranda. Would Sansa have said yes if Petyr asked for her hand instead?

Sansa wiped a stray tear away. Petyr kept telling her she was compassionate and kind, well now was her chance to prove it. She gathered Lady from the garden and headed up the stairs. Glancing towards Petyr’s rooms, the doors were closed. Sansa didn’t want to know what was going on inside.

Walking past the landing overlooking the foyer, Sansa would never know that Petyr heard every word the two women had said.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Lib

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sansa’s voice echoed in Petyr’s head as Myranda fussed over him in the parlor next to his bedroom.

 

I do not want him.

I don’t wish to marry him.

I have no feelings for him.

 

Petyr observed the two ladies discussing him in the foyer. Sansa's words hurt, yet he couldn’t hold it against her. Petyr gave Sansa no real reason to care for him. She couldn't know how he felt considering the situation. If everything went to plan, she would be upset, there was no doubt about that. However, he vowed he would make it up to her in any way he could. He would make Sansa happy.

Listening to the exchange, Petyr almost expected Sansa to glance up and see him, curious what her reaction would be. Myranda was playing her part better than he expected. Petyr was almost shocked when she whimpered and begged pity as a woman looking for redemption.

Almost.

Sansa may be naïve, but Petyr wasn’t. Lady Myranda never apologized a day in her life, he was willing to bet. She was protecting her assets the best way she knew how. Sansa was a threat, and Myranda knew it. Bringing her here to Kings Landing only changed Myranda’s game. If she could not scare Sansa away or insult the girl, she would play on her tender heart instead.

Perhaps Sansa saw through Myranda just as Petyr did, but he couldn’t be sure. Either Sansa was becoming a better actress or Myranda’s arrow of hollow pleas finally found a target. Playing up the fallen woman was right up Sansa’s alley, and the Royce girl knew and exploited it. Now, it was just a question of whether Sansa actually believed it. If she did, it went two-fold. It only confirmed what Petyr loved about Sansa, her compassion and kindness, and that it would make his job more manageable.

When Lady Myranda knocked on his door and entered, the act from downstairs had dissolved completely. She shut the door and glared at him sitting in his dressing-gown by the fireplace. It had been days since Petyr had a drink, and he already downed a glass of brandy before his future wife entered.

“Is it your intent to insult me?” she breathed in anger. Petyr took a sip and let the alcohol burn down his throat.

“I don’t know what you mean, my love,” Petyr smiled gesturing to the chair across from him. “I’m touched by your concern for my well-being. I rather expected you before now. Did the news take so long to reach you or were the parties exerting?”

“Don’t play with me, I know she isn’t your ward,” Myranda insisted. “If she’s your mistress, fine, but send her away. I will not have her here, do you hear me? I will not have it.”

“Darling, what does it matter? I have many mistresses in this city alone. In fact, I’m quite positive you have socialized with most of them,” Petyr sighed. “Stop with this act. We’re both guilty of disrepute.”

“Will this end when we’re married or should I expect that you’ll be spending most of your time gambling and whoring?” she asked with mock politeness.

“Tell me, did you truly presume anything less? You knew what I was. How many men change for their wives?” he japed lightly. “If you believed I would suddenly turn into a gentleman escorting you to garden parties, then you’re marrying the wrong man, my dear.”

“I expect you to respect me,” Myranda barked.

Petyr finished off his drink and gazed at her. Myranda was an attractive woman. Had he not found Sansa, Petyr thought he wouldn’t have had any trouble fucking her at least.

“And where’s your respect for me when you’re giving it out all over town?” he smiled not being able to help gazing at her ample bosom threatening to spill out of her dark blue dress. The girl had the audacity to looked shocked making Petyr laugh. “Ah, you unaware I knew, were you?”

“It’s not what you think,” she floundered a bit.

“Oh, it’s not what I think but know, my dear,” Petyr retorted as he poured himself another drink. God, he wanted to get very drunk right now. “Don’t worry, I don’t hold it against you. You have your vices, and I have mine.”

Myranda straightened her posture a little even though Petyr could see he made a dent in her armor.

“So, is she to live with us and we have our own lovers, is that it?” Myranda chided him.

“That is up to you. We both know we’re not in love with each other. Ours is a marriage of convenience. We’re very similar creatures, though. Insulting you would be insulting myself, wouldn’t you say?” Petyr grinned and took another large sip.

“Why her? If you must have your mistresses, then do so,” the girl eyed him. “I know Sansa, she is still a virgin, undoubtedly. If you haven’t fucked her, then why keep her? Is this a sick game of yours until she finally breaks? Virgins are boring, Petyr, you should know that. All they do is lie there. But if you must have her, then have her and be done with it. I don’t care how many other women you keep, just not her.”

“My, my, I never thought you to be the jealous type,” Petyr chuckled.

“Jealous?” she grinned wickedly. “I am not jealous of a traitorous, little virgin. I will not have a traitor in my home and raising our children. You’re marrying me for my name. I’ll not have it besmirched because you want to fuck her.”

Myranda had no idea how right she was. Petyr wanted nothing more than to take his little witch to bed and fuck her until she was screaming his name. She quivered under his touch once, and in time, he could make her want him again… but not as his mistress. Sansa would be his wife for Petyr would have no other.

“In fact, I think you have underestimated what you will get with me,” Myranda licked her lips and doubled down on her wager she made on this man. She was not going to lose him so quickly.

Myranda unlaced her bodice a bit, letting her breasts fill his view. The woman moved towards him, and Petyr couldn’t help the hint of lust building in his groin. It had been a long time since he had a woman, and most especially after his sweetling refused him days ago. He was almost drunk enough to consider Myranda’s offer.

“You wouldn’t even need a mistress,” she purred, moving between his legs. “A virgin hasn’t a clue how to please a man – know what he needs and what he truly wants in a woman.”

Myranda leaned over him and tried to kiss him as her hand slipped inside his robe.

“I’m still rather ill and not up for this little game, pet,” he tried not to groan as her hand worked him.

“Hmmm, I beg to differ, my husband,” she grinned and bit his lower lip. “I think you’re more than up for it. Shall we find out?”

Petyr clenched his jaw, fighting the groan that desperately wanted to come out. Her soft hand was skilled as it gripped him up and down. Once her hot, wet mouth engulfed him, Petyr couldn’t stop it as he threaded his fingers in her hair and pushed her head further down. God, she was good and was living up to the lewd talk he heard from men at the gambling hells. A few of them actually patted Petyr on the back when news of their engagement was known. Besides the fact that she was apt to fuck any and every man, at least she was good in bed, they told him.

Petyr was very close when suddenly she stopped and leaned up to his face.

“Sansa doesn’t want you, but I do,” Myranda breathed, lifting her skirts. “Lady Beatrice said you were quite the talented lover…”

He felt her silk stockings as her hands guided his up her thighs. They both knew he was aroused and refusing Myranda now would cause serious suspicions in regards to Sansa. It wouldn’t be anything different than the women he had bedded before. Petyr felt nothing then as he felt nothing now for the brunette that was teasing his hardness with those, wet folds.

“I want you inside me,” Myranda moaned in his ear sinking down on him. “You don’t want some little, frightened girl. You need a woman to fuck you.”

Myranda rotated her hips, and his need to come was too strong. Peytr pushed her off him pulling her over to the lounge chair. Yanking up her skirts, he spread her legs and thrust deep into that waiting heat. It wasn’t Myranda he was fucking. Petyr closed his eyes imagining his beautiful redhead as he thrusted madly. Sansa’s moans filled his ears, and the scent of lemons had him dizzy.

“You’re mine,” he growled, feeling his gut clench.

“Oh yes, I’m yours. Make me come, I need to come,” Myranda cried out, and Petyr dug his fingers into her curls where they were joined, making her throb around him. It wasn’t Sansa’s voice that begged him, it wasn’t red hair spread out on the cushion. Quickly, he pulled out spilling onto her skirts but didn’t forget to send the brunette over the edge with his fingers.

“Oh dear God,” she sighed, shaking under him and Petyr felt sick. He didn’t know if it was the brandy, the lingering illness, or that he just fucked this vapid girl. Petyr’s head spun, and he needed Myranda to leave immediately.

“Are you alright?” she asked, lifting his head. “No, you’re well at all, are you?”

No, he wasn’t, Petyr cursed himself. He never should have said to bring her upstairs. He knew he needed to keep her under control and professing his love would have been idiotic. Myranda wasn’t stupid, she would have seen right through him. She knew what she was marrying. Pretending otherwise, Petyr would have fallen flat. Myranda couldn’t know he had feelings for Sansa or any other motive towards her other than the obvious.

Myranda helped him onto the lounge as he tucked himself back in his pants and tied the dressing gown around his waist once more.

“I overexerted you, didn’t I?” she muttered, pouring herself a drink. “Well, I say that we’ll have to do that more often when you’re feeling more yourself.”

Petyr watched Myranda right her bodice as well as trying to fix her hair and smiled to himself. If he had not already fallen for his little witch, Myranda might not have been a terrible match. She was pretty, and at least he could have sired a few children from her willingly. She loved fucking, that was clear enough, but Petyr wondered how many men had her already. However, he certainly couldn’t trust her. He would have insisted she live in the capital. Myranda loved the city life and all the social aspects of becoming a marchioness. Myranda would probably have spent his money faster than he could make it.

Perhaps the man he was a couple years ago would have been happy with it or keeping his mistresses, but now he just couldn’t see being married to her at all or continue on with that bachelor life. Petyr hadn’t lied when he told Myranda he was not the kind of man to escort his wife to garden parties and host lavish dinners every other night. He loathed the ton and wanted to associate with society as little as possible.

In the long term, there was nothing to be gained after his plans came to fruition. Petyr did not want a silly wife. He wanted some semblance of love and contentment in his later years. It had been too long since he loved anyone and Petyr practically forgot what it felt like.

When he took Sansa from Riverrun, something stirred in him. Perhaps it was only a masculine need to protect and care for a girl so delicate and fragile. She reminded him intensely of Cat, but the feeling was different. Petyr wasn’t that naïve schoolboy, in love for the first time. The years had been harsh, making him a hard man. He promised he would never fall to weakness again.

Oh, but how Petyr wanted to feel that emotion he thought was long dead. Petyr wanted to make Sansa smile, spoil her with anything she wanted just to see that glow in her eyes. He wanted to wake to that sweet face every morning and make love to her every night. When all was said and done, when he no longer had to play this game, Petyr could see himself growing old with her. He could give her children and a beautiful life with love and respect.

However, there was no love without trust either, Petyr thought as he watched Myranda with her false concern about him. He didn’t trust this girl as far as he could throw her. He couldn’t see a mother in her, not one he’d want raising his children. She was cold and full of selfish pretense.

When Sansa cared for Petyr, there was a genuine tenderness. If she hated him, it didn’t matter as that born kindness wouldn’t allow her to leave him to die. Sansa had to care even if just a little. Her generosity towards the smallfolk at the market and that she was willing to protect a dying wolf spoke volumes. Sansa was a kind soul, and Petyr was unworthy of her. After all the horror she had been put through, this woman was still loving and compassionate.

Sadly, he wondered how far she would have to be pushed before it broke her. Petyr did not want Sansa to lose that quality he loved so dearly. In the end, she would hate him, but more importantly, she would be safe. At least he could give Cat one last gift.

The pieces were well placed on his chessboard and soon it would be time to checkmate his opponents. In one move, that would erase all the players, would Sansa think him a monster? Petyr was risking so much yet in the end, it would be a clean slate for those that remained to pick up the pieces of a new life. He had traveled to countries where democracy was thriving and others in open revolt against the old aristocracy.

Petyr did not deny that he would enjoy turning the tables on the elite. Their rule was soon at an end. In this new world, men like him would be able to play on level ground. He could see it everywhere he visited. The people here were ripe for it even if they did not know it. They were tired of living under the boot of tyranny. Petyr wanted to see those smug faces fall.

“You haven’t heard a word I’ve said, have you?” Myranda huffed in annoyance.

He had almost forgotten she was still here. Petyr laid his head back and looked at her. Myranda hated Sansa, that was evident. Perhaps he could use that. She would most likely object to him being seen with her around town. He needed this girl to keep a cool head. Myranda was a vicious little thing, but she also wanted status and the wealth he offered. She was not likely to break the engagement. Petyr knew he couldn’t and still stay within acceptable standing within the court. Being ostracized now, when his plans were so carefully laid for years,  would ruin everything.

All of society knew Petyr was social climbing libertine that had already broken so many rules of decorum. Fucking other men’s wives and keeping mistresses was one thing, publicly parading a blood traitor as if she were equal to them was another.

Petyr needed Myranda to let him do it. Something she would find entertaining due to her hatred and jealousy of Sansa. He couldn’t openly throw Myranda over for her and he couldn’t be seen as wanting to marry Sansa. Choosing her over a lady, even as promiscuous as Myranda was still unthinkable and suspicious considering his lightning-fast rise in court. Lady Myranda, no matter her whorish reputation, was still one of them. Sansa was not. No, it had to be forced on him. A punishment, per se for overstepping his bounds.

“Forgive me, pet. My mind is completely addled with lust and brandy,” he smiled. “I daresay, you have become the cure to what ails me. What a pair we could make.”

Myranda sauntered over and sat next to him with a wicked gleam in her eye. He leaned up and caressed her flushed cheeks with a grin to match.

“What fool would want any other woman than you?” he lied smoothly.

“Don’t lie to me, we don’t love each other,” she played coolly.

Petyr smirked, “Did I say love? Oh, no, darling. Love is overrated and for silly children. We both don’t believe in such things. We are very much alike, you and I. We like fucking, gold and beautiful, expensive things. Who needs love?”

He ran his hands up her waist, bringing her closer to him. Petyr nipped at her lips before kissing her deeply.

“Get rid of her,” she murmured against his mouth.

“Oh, I will. I haven’t had my fun, yet,” Petyr chuckled, kissing down her neck. “You play your little games, let me have mine.”

“What game?” she moaned when he found a pulse point.

“Don’t play coy,” he teased. “You like to play with those modest gentlemen just as much as I enjoy turning those proper ladies into depraved harlots. Such debauchery is addicting. You’re the only lady of quality that knows what her cunt is for and isn’t ashamed in taking her pleasure. I fully intend to make you scream and writhe on our wedding night that you will never want another cock inside you.”

“You’re seducing her?” she laughed bitterly but gasped when he lightly bit her neck.

“I’m seducing you, you’re seducing me, but we’re to be married, so it’s not quite the same game,” Petyr japed, his hand finding its way under her skirts. “I thought, why not one more little adventure before the wedding? I managed to get both the duchess and Lord Tully to disown her. I wanted to see how long it would take me to break her. Do you think she would spread her legs for a night at the opera before dumping her at the nearest whorehouse?”

Petyr pressed his fingers between the brunette’s thighs, making her gasp.

“You are positively cruel,” she groaned. “Well, her mother was a trollop, so it’s no surprise…”

“Yes,” he slurred, pumping his hand harder. Myranda definitely liked to be fucked. How much would she believe right now? “I never did like any Tully and then add in the arrogance of the Starks... it was great fun watching them all tumble down from their pedestal. There’s no sport in raping women, I like to play with them. However, Sansa is proving to be a little more difficult than I thought. Apparently, new dresses didn’t do the trick. Obviously, a traitorous virgin has a higher price on her cunt. I don’t see why. It’s not as though she’ll ever marry. What should I do, my pet? Give your husband some advice?”

“She won’t give it to you, she’s too high and mighty. You’d think she would have learned her place after she was spared from execution. I would bet anything she still thinks some knight is going to come and save her,” Myranda laughed viciously.

“Do I detect a wager?” Petyr chuckled lowly and worked her dripping quim harder.

“You’d have to make her fall in love with you, and you’ll never do it,” she moaned. “Oh god, that feels so good.”

“Ah, you doubt my skills, do you?” he teased and slowed his hand, making her whimper in frustration. “I bet I can do it by His Majesty’s Grand Ball, what say you?”

“I don’t care, just make me come again, damn you,” she begged.

“I love hearing you beg for me to finish you off,” Petyr japed not letting her have it.

“What do I get if you lose?” Myranda growled.

“I’ll send her to some convent or remote place, whatever pleases my future bride,” he smiled, picking up the pace again. “And if I win?”

She was bucking against his hand now, and Petyr knew she wasn’t going to last much longer.

“What do you want?” she moaned harder.

“I want you do give up that young footman of yours, I’ll not have my wife fucking the servants,” he grinned madly at her shocked face. “I don’t want other men touching what is mine,” Petyr lied. The devious smile on Myranda’s face was everything. She believed he wanted her, thinking it gave her power over him. “I will give you everything you desire. Gowns, jewels, riches… whatever pleases you. But you must be mine alone.”

“You’re a cruel man, I knew you to be a scoundrel, but this is positively horrible to do to her,” Myranda gasped as her eyes rolled back. “I love it because either way, I win.”

“Really?”

She was coming hard and clenched her thighs, trapping his hand as he brought her down.

“If she falls in love, then she’ll be devastated when you marry me. So you see, I win,” Myranda laughed. “Darling, you could not have given me a better wedding present. I don’t even care if you fuck her. How do you win so often at gambling when you make terrible wagers like this?”

“Maybe I just like to play the game, darling,” Petyr teased. “How often does a man’s bride agree to him seducing another woman for pure entertainment?”

He pushed her up and wiped his hand on his dressing gown. He’d have it washed immediately and take a bath. Petyr didn’t want to smell like sex or her. He detested the scent of lavender, and just as Sansa had told him, it was clearly Myranda’s favorite.

“Now, go be a good girl for a week,” Petyr winked. “One of us needs to maintain a virtuous reputation for now. Afterward, everyone will believe you’ve made me into a decent man. I promise I’ll play the role of the doting and respectable husband in public and we can be whatever we want in private. What wonderful gossip that would be?”

“Maybe I made the right decision to marry you after all,” she said playfully and kissed him before leaving and shutting the door behind her.

This was going to be more straightforward than he hoped, Petyr chuckled. Just as he thought, no one was going to believe he honestly took on Sansa as his ward. Myranda now would let him parade her rival around town, believing his maliciousness.

Lord Royce and Lysa would be outraged, and the ton would gossip endlessly on how he was insulting his future wife by bringing a traitor into their circles. Myranda would insist on the marriage even if her father objected due to Petyr’s rakish behavior. Knowing Royce, he would sell his daughter to a pirate if he thought the price was right. They both knew he could not marry Myranda before, and Petyr was paying handsomely to take her off his hands.

Petyr was gambling quite a bit in this charade, but he knew he had made himself indispensable to King Joffrey. He had tripled revenues, making the boy very wealthy as well as others within the court. Petyr had made headway with the Riverlands and trade between the Vale and the north. The king couldn’t afford to strip him of title and power because he was fucking a young girl. Money had perceived power and was far more vital to them.

If it worked, they would see the new, favored lord as rising too high and getting a little arrogant, enough to flaunt someone like Sansa as his mistress. If Petyr were lucky, since he kept his intentions towards Lady Myranda quiet until the engagement was announced, they would consider his marriage to respectable, old family too presumptuous for a lowly man like him.

Joffrey granted him Harrenhal and the title of Marquess and Lord Paramount, but gaining more standing by marriage would hopefully be too much for this social climber in their eyes. Petyr could be named a duke, and the court would still patronize him, he laughed to himself.

Now, Petyr had to deal with Sansa. He hoped to shield her as much as possible. She would also object to him escorting her around town believing Myranda would be upset. Petyr would have to test the waters. It mattered not, he was going to enjoy every moment of strolls in the park, visiting the gallery, dining and taking her to the theatre. Petyr knew Sansa had never been, and with her love of music, he couldn’t wait to see her at her first opera.

Reading his letters this morning, Petyr knew the new ball gowns he had ordered before leaving Harrenhal, would arrive soon. Sansa would be a vision, and he was going to flaunt this beauty for all to see. The challenge would be keeping his hands off her until he could make her his wife. Petyr was so close to taking her to bed that night.

He wanted to do this right. He would not make a whore of her. She would be his wife when he made love to her for the first time. Sansa would be the mother of his children, and those lovely thoughts steeled his resolve. Yes, he was a selfish man. Sansa would be his, and that was the end of it.

Standing up,  Petyr gazed at his rumpled appearance in the gilded mirror. He needed to take another bath and wash off all of Lady Myranda.

 

Chapter Text

 

D-G

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Almost a week had passed since the confrontation with Lady Myranda as Sansa took tea in the library with Lady.  It had only been a few weeks, but the wolf filled out and her coat sleek, with all the food she and Petyr spoiled her with. The animal had made Sansa, unequivocally her new mother… and Petyr, her adopted father of sorts. Sansa was a bit jealous of the attention Lady gave him sometimes. She would paw at his bedroom door, begging to be let in. When they were together after dinner, just as they tended to do at Harrenhal, Lady would lay at his feet instead of Sansa’s.

Petyr appeared healthier every day, even to taking visitors in his study. It was always business, but at least Sansa no longer had to refuse people who came calling. Strangely, Myranda only came back yesterday to see him, but it was brief, unlike the last time. Sansa did not want to know what went on inside his room that day. The maid had joked that Lady Royce looked somewhat rumpled upon leaving, not realizing how that news distressed her new mistress.

How exactly did Sansa feel about it? She didn’t trust Myranda, but her revelation did give her pause. Sansa loathed the way she was unfairly judged and treated by society, and yet now she was doing the same to Myranda. Perhaps, the brunette was just taking the opportunity to finally find a husband that wanted her. That wasn’t such a bad thing. Myranda was right in a way, Petyr would be one of the few that wouldn't judge her past, being an outsider himself. Maybe, it was for the best, the two of them, but it didn’t make Sansa feel any better.

There were quiet times between herself and Petyr at Harrenhal, with little moments when Sansa actually enjoyed his company. In those moments, he was different with her, gentle and sweet. Sansa did not realize she liked that side to him until Myranda and her father arrived that day.

He had no other companionship than you, that’s all it was. He has his bride now, and you’re exactly where you expected to be.

Sansa sipped her tea, petting Lady’s head as she slept on her lap. Her white body stretched out on the sofa. Oddly, the servants here did not question once about the animal the marquess brought with this new young lady. The household was rather welcoming, but kept to themselves, That barrier between servant and master, left Sansa lonesome once again.

A few large packages arrived from a boutique, and Sansa wondered what Petyr had purchased for Myranda. They must be for her since he never mentioned it at all. Sansa’s chastised herself. Petyr bought her many beautiful things, she certainly did not need anything else. It was funny how she did not want him to buy her anything, in the beginning, now Sansa was feeling a twinge of covetousness that he was probably buying lovely gifts for his bride to be.

When the marriage would take place, she did not know and dared not ask. It could very well be soon, and Sansa tried to figure out how they would interact in this house together. Myranda wept and told Sansa the reasons why she was so cruel, that same anger and jealousy for a rival. If she was to be believed, the brunette was not as mean as she perceived and perhaps it wouldn’t be too terrible. That is if Sansa was telling the girl the truth that day in the foyer.

I have no feelings for him.

No, Sansa persuaded herself, setting down her cold tea, You do not want himYou were only craving companionship, considering you do not have any friends or family anymore.

Petyr still had a dark streak that frightened Sansa. He had a fiancée now, and what was in the past must stay in the past. Accept the new situation and try to make it bearable, Sansa’s mind implored. If all goes well, maybe Petyr will send her back to Harrenhal, and they can stay here. Sansa might only see them a couple times a year for Myranda will probably insist on living in Kings Landing.

Lady yawned and stretched languidly. She was bored, Sansa knew. The wolf couldn’t run outside like at Harrenhal, and Sansa couldn’t take her for walks. Petyr wouldn’t allow Sansa outside the house without him chaperoning her. Apparently, he wasn’t escorting her anywhere anytime soon. They were regulated to the garden and the house.

Even Sansa was beginning to feel the claustrophobia. Here she was in the capital, the place she was dying to travel to, and spent all her days indoors. Petyr was right, she couldn’t do a thing without him as an escort and where in the world would he take her? It wouldn’t do him or Myranda any good to have Sansa tag along on their outings.

Once again, Sansa found herself strolling about his house. Her days were spent reading, playing the piano, or gazing at his many paintings. There was nothing else to occupy her time here. Although Sansa had to admit, Petyr had an eye. Most of the works of art gave a little piece of him away if anyone was willing to really look.

From the Boucher in her former bedroom and others at Harrenhal, Sansa recognized artists such as the risqué painting by Fragonard in his own bedroom, to Géricault’s lovers and even Natoire’s depiction of Hades and Persephone.

Hades wanted the young girl thus kidnapping her taking her to the Underworld, making her his queen. This painting, however, was quite different as Sansa often came to stare at its beauty. Persephone was not weak and afraid. She was empowered as Queen of the Underworld and sat contentedly next to her husband, Hades, as his equal. Persephone was always depicted as this young, naïve girl, but she was indeed a powerful woman in her realm below.

Yes, Petyr was a romantic and tried very hard not to show it. Sansa truly believed he didn’t choose art purely to impress visitors to his home. He wanted pieces that spoke to him and in turn, revealed a tiny bit of who he was. Even the décor at Harrenhal hinted to places he traveled. Petyr liked color and variety, and he certainly had a passion for art and music – he wasn’t all business and money.

Yes, he liked the finer things in life, even by his own wardrobe. The man wore only the best – the most beautiful silks and wool. His waistcoats were embroidered with detail as he sported the best-tailored clothing a gentleman of royalty could wish for. The wardrobe he had made for Sansa was exquisite. Surely, he would need to fit his future wife with something better than what he gave his ward.

Perhaps Myranda knew him better than Sansa thought. Maybe she had already glimpsed the man behind the mask and grew to care for him. Strangely, all three of them were outsiders, and soon they would be thrown together, but for how long? No matter how hard Sansa tried not to think on it, that nagging little voice was always there. Sansa never became too comfortable in her surroundings with that thought lingering in her head. How long did she have with Lord Petyr Baelish?

Sansa let Lady out to the garden for a while and walked to Petyr’s study to ask him what he would prefer for dinner this evening. Save for the fire, the room was empty. Sansa stoked the dying embers and saw the decanter of brandy on his desk. Glancing at the door in deliberation, she poured herself a small glass and took a drink. The oaky, vanilla burned her throat as she strolled around the room. It was much stronger than the sherry and port she was used to.

Polished black walnut and emerald green made Petyr’s study a bit too dark and foreboding for her taste. It didn’t have that warmth as his study at Harrenhal. Sansa didn’t dare look through the papers on his desk as the door was wide open. Whatever he was working on, it clearly demanded his attention. Sansa sighed and looked at the clock on the mantel and wondered where he was. She could hear Lady barking in the garden at the squirrels in the trees and it was the only thing that made her smile today.

Leaning against his desk holding the amber liquid in the cut crystal glass, Sansa noticed a painting she had not seen before. Granted, she did not frequent Petyr’s study, as this was the first time ever being alone in this room. Compared to the other works displayed in his home, this painting felt quite out of place. Sansa knew the artist instantly, for her mother had two smaller pieces at Winterfell.

Caravaggio. David was holding the severed head of Goliath in triumph over the giant. All of Petyr’s artwork coursed with meaning, and this was no different. Everywhere else in the house, reflected his romantic and sensual side and yet, there was something dark and gruesome right in front of his desk. Why would Petyr hang such a painting in his study? Sansa took another sip and studied the Baroque style of this hero’s story. Did Petyr see himself as David, the small man winning against such odds?

“A most convincing lie, isn’t it?” his deep voice sounded from the doorway, startling Sansa.

Regaining her composure, Sansa finished off the brandy placing the glass on his desk.

“A lie?” she asked, keeping her eyes on the painting.

“Yes,” Petyr said as he came to stand next to her, gazing at the work of art. “It is false, can’t you see?”

Sansa didn’t understand him and searched his face for some answer.

“Well, here, David is holding a sword. However, he bested Goliath with pebble and a sling,” she offered in explanation, trying to recall the story.

“True, but it is still a lie, sweetling,” Petyr smirked, glancing at the brandy decanter with a questioning.

“So, you’re saying the tale is delusive?” Sansa finally asked.

“All such faerie tales are perfidious, my dear. I would hope you do not believe in such ridiculous things,” Petyr countered.

“What is so wrong about David beating Goliath? Rather admirable, isn’t it? The smaller, weaker man beating the confident and strong with just a tiny stone?” she smiled, wondering why Petyr did not like the story and yet kept a painting of it where he would see it every day.

“Telling children myths such as this is wrong, sweetling. Did tales of romantic princes and castles prepare you for the Lannisters and Joffrey?” Petyr frowned, his eyes returning to the painting with disgust.

“Once there was a young boy that believed such tales. He believed that love would protect him, that he would triumph. He believed it so blindly that he fought for his lady love… unlike David, the boy did not win. Goliath beat him down, holding his head below water and leaving him for dead. The boy’s lady love did nothing as she was set to marry another out of family honor and duty.”

Sansa watched Petyr in fascination with a touch of fear. Such venom dripped from his words that made her curious as to the details behind the hatred emanating off him. Mrs. Cole said he loved her mother as a boy and remembered Uncle Edmure shouting how Petyr should have died back then. Petyr was supposedly younger than Edmure and her mother. He was likely younger than Sansa when her family was executed. Did Petyr actually ask and fight for her mother’s hand? He would have been the personification of David against impossible odds of society standards. Did her father hurt Petyr when his mother was betrothed him?

Goliath beat me down…

 Holding me down… and left me for dead…

The image made her shudder. A grown man, her own father, beating and drowning a young boy. Sansa mustered a bit of courage and took a deep breath.

“Would the boy have fought for love if he knew he couldn’t succeed? Was she worth fighting for?”

Petyr raised his eyebrows in surprise to Sansa’s question and was silent for a time as he studied her harder than the painting before them.

Yes,” he breathed. “She was worth fighting for. It was a harsh lesson learned.”

“A lesson in defeat that you keep on your wall? I don’t understand,” Sansa muttered.

Petyr smiled thinly, “More as a reminder of the truth, sweetling. That life is not a song, a sonnet, or a faerie tale that children learn to their sorrow. Life is harsh and cruel. The strong feed on the weak. One thing I learnt that day… I’ll never win playing by their rules. I used to believe I was equal and just like them. Even now, with wealth and power – it matters not to them. I’m sure can empathize with that sentiment now. Indoctrinated as a child, what has it brought you but tears? Play the game, Sansa, but not their game. I pretend, and they believe, but I know what I am and what I want. When the time is right, my pebble will hit them like a ton of bricks.”

Sansa remembered the hot spring under the house as one word rang in her mind.

Treason

Petyr was playing some kind of game, but what? Clearly, something that could get him killed yet he was willing to take the risk. Her mother was worth fighting for when he was a boy. What was so crucial that Petyr must fight even now? He had wealth and power and could live peacefully, if he wished, but he seemed set on a revenge of sorts.

“Where is the lie? From what I see, David is still fighting Goliath,” Sansa hesitated, not meeting his eyes. “Perhaps the boy somewhere inside still believes in victory… even if it only a little bit.”

Petyr chuckled deeply, “Touché. However, the man is taking a different strategy. I’m not going to fight them. I’m going to fuck them.”

Sansa swallowed and didn’t know what to say. Petyr wasn’t going to elaborate it seemed, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to know what he was planning.

“It won’t bring her back,” she breathed.

“Even if it did, it wouldn’t matter in the slightest,” Petyr rumbled. “That boy is long gone. He died that day.” He looked at her with such sorrow. “Just as you did when Joffrey murdered your family.”

Sansa turned away, unable to hold his gaze.

“You and I are so very much alike, Sansa,” he whispered, taking her shoulders in his hands. “We were both dreamers and romantics until reality dealt us both a harsh blow. Now, we see the world as it truly is. We do not trust anyone or anything. I beg you to remember that while we’re here.”

“Does that include Lady Myranda?” she asked abruptly.

Petyr released his hold on her and stepped away. “Myranda, as I said once before, is not your concern,” he said steadily. “There are things she need not know mainly because I do not trust her father, Lord Royce.”

Did Myranda know of Petyr’s plans, whatever they were? Sansa believed that Myranda would have no reason to tell her. Everyone had their secrets.

“Rather difficult to begin a marriage without trust…” Sansa mumbled and realized she said it aloud.

Petyr stepped closer again and eyed her steadfast.

“Do you trust me?”

“I’m not your wife,” Sansa answered, backing away.

“And if you were, would you completely trust me?” he asked again moving forward until he had her backed against the wall.

“What? I – I… but I’m not,” she muttered.

“Would you trust me with your deepest secrets? I know you keep them, sweetling,” Petyr smiled, blocking her escape and pinning her to the wall. He knew she was keeping things from him? Oh God, that wasn't good, or he was overly perceptive. Could Sansa really trust him? “Do you believe men and their wives are completely honest with each other? Lord Royce is no friend of mine, but I needn’t hurt my future wife with that knowledge.”

Wife. She was beginning to hate that word more and more. Sansa could see some truth in what Petyr said, but it still bothered her that Myranda was going to marry him. What on earth would they talk about? Sansa knew things that Myranda may or may not know. Was she expected to keep it from her?

“I’m trusting you, whether you believe it or not, Sansa,” Petyr pressured. “I’m asking you to trust me a little. I think I’ve earned some of it.”

That was debatable, Sansa thought. Petyr had done enough in her eyes to mistrust him, regardless of his reasons. In the end, he did do other things in protecting her as well. Then again, she wouldn’t be in this mess had he left her with Uncle Edmure, to begin with. That didn’t matter anymore. What happened from this moment on would decide her future.

Petyr was hiding something and seemingly protecting Myranda from it. Did that mean he cared about her former friend? He was asking Sansa to trust him and frankly, she didn’t have much choice.

Sansa sighed and conceded to him, nodding her head.

“Fine, what do you want me to do?” she asked numbly.

Petyr tilted her chin up and smiled, “I would like to take you to the Royal Gallery tomorrow, for starters. It’s about time both of us get out of this house.”

Her face must have been shocked for Petyr started laughing.

“You wish to be seen with me? Myranda will not approve…”

“My dear, she and I have already discussed it. It’s done,” Petyr chuckled and moved back straightening his waistcoat.

“She will be joining us, of course,” Sansa stated.

“No, she doesn’t care for the gallery as I do. I figured you would like it and she agreed,” Petyr lied smoothly. “Firstly, I will not take no as an answer. I’ll not have you sulk the entire time we’re here either.”

“I do not sulk!” Sansa retorted hotly.

“Then stop moping around the house and accompany me into the city,” Petyr rolled his eyes. “Good god, woman, you would think I was torturing you.”

“But, it would not do you or her well to have the ton gossip because of me,” Sansa tried to explain. She wanted to go, most definitely but inevitably this would end badly.

“Sweetling, I’m convinced gossip is the water of life keeping those old hags alive,” he laughed, pouring himself a drink in the same glass she used. “Tomorrow it will be us and the next day they’ll find someone else’s life to ruin. If you haven’t noticed, I have a deplorable reputation in this town as it is. In fact, I do believe you have told me so on several occasions.”

Petyr downed the liquid in one gulp and sat down at his desk. He did have a point. Neither Petyr or Myranda had stellar reputations. Still, something in her gut was telling Sansa this was not a good idea. Petyr should have left her at Harrenhal. Myranda was pleasant now, but what if the gossip became too much to bear? She was trying to fix her reputation, not make it worse because of kindness to a traitor. Petyr was a fool if he believed otherwise.

Sooner or later, if they didn’t know already, Kings Landing society would be bustling about the marquess’ new ward.  No matter what Petyr said, Sansa felt it would backfire on them eventually. Sansa predicted it wouldn’t be long before he sent her away. Perhaps it would be a blessing. She had no friends here. At least back at Harrenhal, she had Mrs. Ames and the servants and wouldn’t have to hide behind closed doors all the time.

“When do you expect me to be ready tomorrow?” she sighed.

“Eleven should do,” he eyed her suspiciously. “I do expect one thing, Sansa…”

“Yes?” she answered, turning towards the door.

“The pleasure of your company,” Petyr smiled. “Do us both a favor and wash that sour look off your face and try to enjoy the day.”

 

Chapter Text

 

rose

 

 

  

 

 

 

Lady wasn’t happy at being left behind today, Sansa smiled as the carriage drove through the center of Kings Landing. As much as she wanted to take her little wolf to the park, she knew it was virtually impossible. The look in the pup’s eyes was that of frustration and sadness, and Sansa felt terrible for her. However, she couldn’t deny the excitement she felt as Petyr helped her into the carriage. Sansa didn’t realize how isolated she felt until they were on their way into the busy city.

“It’s good to see you smile,” his voice interrupted Sansa’s thoughts.

“Oh, am I?” she lied but couldn’t help the blush on her cheeks.

Petyr was in a good mood this morning as they broke their fast. It seemed he was dying to get out of the house as much as she. Gazing out the window, the city was just as chaotic as Sansa expected. Along the walkways, vendors sold their wares, numerous riders, carriages, as carts filled the cobblestone streets.

It was unseasonably warm today in the southern capital, and Sansa wondered as to how much snow Harrenhal had now. This morning, Sansa left her wool pelisse and opted for her shawl instead. How strange it was to wear a shawl in mid-November. The warm southern winds and water kept the climate here calm but not the winter chill she expected.

Sansa heard the call of merchants on the streets and kept her attention to the city life as they passed by. She could feel Petyr’s eyes on her the entire time as if he seemed interested in her reaction to the city. Petyr’s townhouse was in the southeastern and fashionable part of town as they made their way into the heart of the city.

From here, Sansa could see the royal palace on the shore of Blackwater Bay. It sprawled, in its grandeur down the coastline and Sansa couldn’t help but wonder what her life would have been if she had married Joffrey. She would have been a crown princess.

Now Lady Margery was set to marry and become the queen of Westeros. It didn’t surprise Sansa in the least that it could be Lady Margery. She was stunning, so Sansa heard; witty and elegant and would fit the role well. Tyrell’s only daughter was rumored to be kind, and Sansa hoped the woman knew what she was getting into with Joffrey and the Lannisters.

“Ah, the palace,” Petyr mused. “Do you regret not becoming a princess, sweetling?”

Petyr’s unsettling talent for mind reading made her lips quirk into a half-smile.

No,” she emphasized with a laugh.

“Clever girl,” he grinned. “Lady – I mean Queen Margery will have quite the task in taming that boy.”

Sansa turned to him in surprise, “They’re already married?”

“Oh yes, about a fortnight ago,” he offered simply.

“Why didn’t you say anything?” Sansa wondered.

Petyr looked out the window and added casually, “Ah, I didn’t think you would be quite that interested, my dear. Besides, it doesn’t really matter who the king marries at this point.”

“You don’t believe the Tyrell’s will have any influence on the throne?” Sansa scoffed. For someone that seemed to take pride in knowing everything about everyone, this was a new development.

“Margery is harmless enough… her grandmother, the Dowager Duchess, is very interesting. Don’t let her age fool you, she is far from feeble,” Petyr chuckled.

“It’s not as though I will be meeting her anytime in the future,” Sansa smirked and returned to gazing out her window.

“One never knows, sweetling,” Petyr mused. “Always keep your guard up in this city. You never know who you’ll bump into.”

“Play my part is that it – the humble and grateful ward to my generous benefactor?” Sansa rolled her eyes.

“Yes, quite,” he smiled.

“Whatever it takes to get me out that house, I suppose,” she grumbled under her breath, and Petyr laughed heartily.

“We both needed an outing, my dear. Myranda will join us for supper tonight so let’s not ruin the day with bickering. I plan to fully enjoy myself,” he teased. “With that said, stay aware of your surroundings. No one here is to be trusted.”

“Worried, I will accidentally spill your secrets to some handsome young man that attempts to catch my eye?” Sansa teased back.

Petyr chuckled even as his eyes narrowed slightly, “Try as you might but remember your situation, sweetling. I am your only friend here. Without me, you’ll surely be sinking in quicksand if you haven’t been sold off to a brothel first.”

“And bringing me here isn’t going to cause you any trouble?” she countered not letting him win this little battle.

“Not if you play along, love,” Petyr grinned. “Come, enough of this. It’s a beautiful day.”

The carriage had come to a stop at a large building with stone columns and carvings that reminded Sansa of Greek temples in her father’s books. Petyr exited and waited with his gloved hand stretched out to her. Sansa decided to leave her frustrations and suspicions in the carriage, taking his hand and stepping out into the bright sunlit walkway. Trees here still had their leaves even though they were bathed in reds and golds. The gardens were lovely, with expertly trimmed hedges and topiaries.

Petyr donned his dark grey hat that matched his topcoat. Even during the day, he was immaculately dressed as any man Sansa had ever known. Petyr took pride in his finely tailored clothes and appearance. The streaks of grey were almost hidden by his hat and made him look younger, she noticed. Petyr was rather handsome in his own way. If he were nearer her age, would she have taken note of him before knowing his reputation?

Those green eyes smiled in amusement as he offered her his arm. Sansa paused for a moment to adjust her wide-brimmed hat with flowers and ribbons in the soft breeze. Taking his arm, at last, he led her up multiple tiers of granite steps. Members of society greeted them as gentlemen tipped their hats, and ladies nodded. Petyr knew some by name and gave a passing salutation. Sansa didn’t know what to expect, but it wasn’t this. These people either didn’t know who she was or probably believed she was just another one of his mistresses and did not care.

Two gentlemen greeted them with enthusiasm, and Sansa realized they must be involved with Petyr in some sort of business. She stood quietly and tried not to draw any attention to herself.

“Baelish, I must say, you always have the loveliest ladies on your arm,” one man laughed as both Petyr and Sansa caught his meaning. Sansa expected Petyr to play her off as one of his mistresses for certainly a man wouldn’t say such a thing to a known lady of the ton.

“May I introduce, Lady Sansa, my ward,” Petyr turned to her with a smile.

Both men looked astonished. Apparently, not everyone knew of this arrangement. Perhaps Myranda had not told a soul about them. Sansa was sure she would be greeted with some kind of hostility and disrespect early on.

“Lady Sansa? Ned Stark’s girl? Oh, Baelish, you didn’t,” one man tutted in amusement.

The other, however, was quick to bow and excuse himself only acknowledging Petyr in the courtesy.

“Is there a problem? She recanted publicly, did she not? I can’t see why one must hold a grudge over a woman,” Petyr turned to smile at her, “… so beautiful and kind.”

Sansa felt her cheeks flame and lowered her head to hide her face under the bonnet.

“Well, if I were you Baelish, I wouldn’t keep her here too long before the king finds out. You know his temper – ” the man flustered.

“Pssh, he knows my love for beautiful things. Certainly, he wouldn’t begrudge me, his loyal servant who has brought so much gold into his treasury, the simple pleasures. We’re not attending one of his balls, just a day at the gallery. Where is the harm, I ask you?” Petyr chuckled, but Sansa couldn’t help but fume as she stood still and clutched his arm letting him know her displeasure.

“It’s your head, my friend,” the man laughed nervously. “I suppose if I were to die, I’d rather have a creature like that to bed first instead of that rancid thing I call my wife. Good day,” he smiled and raked his beady eyes down her body, making Sansa ill.

Petyr’s grasped her arm and held it tightly as he pulled her away towards the entrance. The footman took both their hats as Sansa kept her shawl firmly around her shoulders. She couldn’t believe a man would say such lewd things to a lady. What burned her insides is that Petyr let him. He didn’t defend her honor. She was only adornment on his arm and nothing more.

She followed Petyr into the main foyer and was already wanting to leave before seeing one piece of art. The sun streamed through the lead-framed skylights high above into the main gallery. Beautiful southern plants with their large green foliage accented the red damask walls and marble columns.

Unexpectedly, Petyr pulled her around a vast plant and hid partially behind the polished pillar of stone from curious eyes.

Petyr was so close she could see just how green his eyes were. His breath was warm and smelled of mint as Sansa thought for a moment that he might kiss her. He hovered for a second before tilting her chin up, and Sansa held her breath. She eyes peered through the leaves worried someone might see, but they were completely hidden.

“What did I tell you before leaving the carriage about the people here?” he breathed.

“Don’t trust anyone,” Sansa muttered staring at his lips.

“Very good,” he smirked and licked his lips in thought. “That man is a boil on a boar’s arse. Pay him no attention. It was just smoke and mirrors, Sansa. I have a reputation, as you know. I’m only keeping up appearances.”

“Are you?” she breathed. “Just keeping up appearances?”

There was something in his eyes that flashed for a moment and then it was gone.

“Hmm, well, I must admit I’m toning it down some,” he smirked as his eyes never left her mouth. “Sooner or later I will need to become the loyal husband for… Lady Myranda’s sake.”

“So, I’m supposed to settle for insults and disgusting gossip of being your mistress, is that it?” Sansa held her ground. “You could have left me in Harrenhal. At least I would have to be subjected to it. Do you wish that for me?”

Petyr took her gloved hands in his and held them for a moment in silence.

“Sweeting, what I’m trying to say, inarticulately, is that the ton will see you as any man’s mistress instead of the lady you are,” he explained quietly. “That you’re with me is of no real consequence. I’m known for it, and I’m sorry. A tiger can’t exactly change his stripes.”

“You didn’t answer me,” Sansa pressed again. “Why did you bring me here? As I said before, I’m going to become a problem for you and Myranda just with my presence. You should have left me for the winter.”

Petyr brought her fingers to his lips and smiled gently.

“No,” he whispered. “I couldn’t leave you alone for months. I may trust you, but certainly not the blackguards in the Riverlands knowing I have a beautiful and virtuous girl living all alone for the winter. A young woman, unchaperoned? No, no, no….”

He was quiet, and Sansa looked around again hoping no one noticed them hiding here. That would be terrible gossip for which he would not be able to talk his way out of.

“If you wish to go back home, I’ll take you. I rather had plans to escort you to a few places since you’ve always wanted to come to the capital. You needn’t worry about Myranda, as I said, we’ve discussed it,” Petyr finally released her hands and searched Sansa’s face for an answer.

Sansa hesitated, he was beginning to know her too well. Petyr knew damn well she wanted to come to the gallery. Now his words piqued her curiosity. Where else did he want to take her?

“Well, we’re already here,” she started and saw the smile grow on his face. “It would be a waste not to see all this.”

Petyr moved past her and peered around the plant, looking for an opportunity. His hand told her to stay put for a moment as he walked out and waited. A flick of his wrist told her it was safe and Sansa followed him further until they stood in front of a whimsical scene of cherubs, Pan and Pysche in a garden. Pastorals didn’t seem to impress Petyr that much, Sansa assumed when he took her arm and moved to the next painting.

The gallery was enormous, and it was rather interesting observing other patrons just as much as the art itself. Some people were aficionados, and others appeared bored to tears. There weren’t too many people here today, and Sansa was grateful.

Only a handful of times did gentlemen or ladies stare at her and Petyr. Two ladies were obviously whispering about them as a couple of men did a double-take. Occasionally, someone would greet Petyr casually, but thankfully, it was brief.

Sansa was right about Petyr. He was well educated and loved art. Almost every painting he knew something about the artist or the work itself pointing out little details. Time passed slowly as Sansa was immersed in his voice and storytelling. She was happy that he dominated the conversation and learned quite a bit about certain styles and techniques that artists copied from each other and how old some painting were. He said there was quite a romanticism about current artists today in their use of color and themes. Sansa was almost drunk on his words as they slowly moved from piece to piece.

Sansa stood in front of a beautiful woman lounging in a blue-green dress with peach rosettes. She was captivating with her silvery blonde hair and aire of elegance that Sansa couldn't tear her eyes away.

“I see you have found the counterpoint to the painting in your room back home,” she could hear the smile in Petyr’s voice. “Madame de Pompadour. She is rather striking, isn’t she?”

She stared at the French king’s mistress, studying the woman’s face. She was relaxed in her position not only in the portrait but in her place in life. She was a woman in charge of her situation, and Sansa was envious.

“Only a king’s mistress, so favored, would have portraits such as this,” he admired the work. “There are several of her from what I understand. A beautiful and powerful woman. Knew her position and how to use it to her advantage.”

“A king’s mistress would never sit for a portrait in this country,” Sansa japed. She couldn’t imagine the kind of mistress that Joffrey would have as it was. The French court wasn’t as harsh to such women it seemed. Here, such a thing would never happen.

“Right you are,” Petyr spoke in quiet praise and echoed her thoughts in a whisper, “Joffrey could never get a woman so beautiful, don’t you agree?”

Sansa stifled a laugh with her hand and dared not look at him, afraid she would burst. Petyr pulled her hand down and stared at her strangely that made Sansa blush for the hundredth time today.

“You have never sat for a portrait, have you sweetling?” he asked serenely surprising her.

“No,” she replied. “Father was going to commission one when I was introduced to society, but then Queen Cersei said a royal portrait would be made instead –  well, as you can see, that never happened. There’s an old portrait of Mother at Riverrun. Mrs. Cole said I always looked like her… and..”

“Shame,” he said, studying her. “Nothing would be more beautifully immortal than you.”

Sansa didn’t know how to respond to that. Shouldn’t he be saying that about his bride to be?

“You should have Myranda’s portrait commissioned,” Sansa lied. “Wouldn’t she be lovely in blue?”

In a heartbeat, Petyr’s demeanor changed, and that congenial façade took over instantly.

“Why yes, that would be a lovely gift,” he replied softly, but there was something in his tone that didn’t sound right. “Thank you for suggesting it. Yes, a wedding portrait would be something Myranda might like.”

“Do you have a likeness?” Sansa couldn’t stop herself from asking.

“Me? Ah, you’re too generous, my dear,” he chuckled. “This face has seen better days. Even when I first came into my wealth, it never occurred to me to have a portrait. Who did I have to impress? Unlike some of these stuffed shirts,” Petyr glanced at other lords in the gallery, “I don’t need to inflate my ego more than it already is.”

“Now that you’re to marry… and you are Marquess and the Lord Paramount – well, you might reconsider?” Sansa pressed him a little further.

Petyr seemed to ponder it, but his eyes were full of mirth, and Sansa couldn’t stop the smile on her face. Yes, she liked Petyr when he was like this.

“Hmm, you think a good artist could deliver a miracle and make me handsome and ten years younger?” he japed, and Sansa laughed loudly but quickly stifled it when people took notice of them.

“You’re not ugly, my lord,” she teased, casting her eyes to the floor. Sansa didn’t want him to see right through her.

Petyr put a hand to his chest and frowned playfully, “But not handsome either. Oh, a compliment in reverse.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Sansa shushed him not wanting him to make a scene.

He chuckled, taking her arm and glancing at their observers. “Yes, well, that’s about as close to a compliment I’ve had from you, so I will take it most happily.”

 

 


 

 

Petyr escorted Sansa to lunch at a restaurant with an adjoining greenhouse garden. He asked for a private table so they might dine quietly away from judging eyes behind lush greenery with the scent blossoms in the air.

With the exception of the rude men from earlier, it had been almost a perfect day. Petyr was every bit the gentleman Sansa could have asked for on such an outing. He was pleasant and charming and made her feel as if she were the only woman in the room. Sansa couldn’t even imagine his roguish side right now. Petyr acted with ease as if he’d been a well brought up gentleman his entire life. How would it be to tour the city with him without the sneers and gossip of society? Sansa had almost forgotten he was engaged to be married. This outing felt as if Petyr was actually courting her rather than a man with his ward.

They waited for the carriage to be brought around to take them home and Sansa felt a twinge of disappointment. She didn’t want it to end just yet. Today, Petyr belonged to her, and once they stepped inside those doors, the magic would be gone. He was still going to marry Myranda, and Sansa would be a spinster for the rest of her life. There was a tiny ache in her chest and didn’t know from whence it came.

“Wait here, I’ll return in a moment,” Petyr told her by the lamp post. Sansa wrapped her shawl around her for the air was turning a bit chilly in the late afternoon. Hopefully, he wouldn’t be long.

Sansa watched carriages and riders pass as busy people wandered the walkways where shops awaited patrons. She saw a little girl in a floral dress and matching bonnet throwing her dolly in the air as her father caught it and gave it back to her. Sansa moved from the lamp post to continue watching them as they walked down the opposite side of the street. It reminded Sansa, so much of her father. He played with wooden swords with Arya and let Sansa be the little princess.

A loud whinny and strong arms yanking her back made Sansa shriek as a fast moving horse and cart almost hit her. A man held her tightly as they both fell to the ground tearing her pretty dress in the process.

“Miss, are you alright? Are you hurt?” the kindly voice asked in desperation.

The man moved quickly, trying to help her up as Sansa spied the face of a very handsome young man. He was blonde with sea-blue eyes and couldn’t be much older than her years.

“I’m alright, yes,” Sansa mumbled and saw just how close she had come to being trampled. How far did she wander from the lamp post into the street? How did she not pay attention? The man in the cart was yelling at her for being in his way as the young man shouted back that he could have killed her yet Sansa couldn’t hear what was being said as shock set in.

The young man helped Sansa up, inspecting her for any damage when Petyr came dashing, holding a large bouquet of flowers.

“Sansa! Good god, are you hurt?” he gasped out of breath, looking her over.

“No, it was stupid, really. If it hadn’t been for… “ Sansa looked to the blonde who seemed to be a little disappointed at Petyr’s arrival. “I’m sorry, may I have your name, sir?”

“This is Sir Harrold Hardyng, ward of Lady Waynwood,” Petyr supplied with a strange tone before the young man could answer.

“My lord,” Harrold tipped his head in respect. “The last time we spoke was at Gulltown – a few years ago was it?”

“Returned from abroad, I see,” Petyr mentioned nonchalantly as his attention was solely on Sansa. “My dear, are you sure you’re not hurt?”

“Really, my lord, just shaken. I didn’t see him…” she mumbled looking at the horse cart and Petyr began yelling at the man.

“She just came out of nowhere, m’lord… I barely had time to stop. I didn’t mean to hurt the lady,” the man flustered at the marquess.

“Here, I don’t want you to trip. Hold still,” Harrold bent down and took a knife to her ripped skirt where a long piece of lace trailed on the ground.

Pocketing the knife, he stood smiling at Sansa. “My lady, please be more careful. It would be an awful shame to see such a beautiful lady get hurt. May I know the name of the angel I just saved?”

It was a dreadful attempt at flattery, Sansa thought, but she couldn’t be rude to the man that just saved her life.

“Lady Sansa,” she smiled warmly when Harrold picked up her dirty glove and kissed her hand. “A pleasure to meet you, Sir Harrold.”

“Harry, please. I never did like being called Harrold,” he grinned charmingly, and Sansa couldn’t help the little flutter in her stomach. He was very handsome, indeed.

Petyr practically pushed Harry aside to attend to her once again. There was something in his eyes that she had never seen before. It wasn’t anger, not necessarily. It wasn't directed at her but for some reason at the man that saved her.

“Harry, much obliged, but I must get her home and make sure she is well,” Petyr said with a tone of finality.

“Of course, my lady’s well-being should be attended to,” Harry smiled, watching Petyr fuss over her. “May I call on Lady Sansa when she is feeling better?”

“Lady Sansa is not receiving callers for now,” Petyr clipped as he helped her into the carriage.

Sansa glimpsed Harry from the window and caught his eye. He bowed gracefully and gave her a winning smile. Petyr tapped on the roof, and his carriage pulled out into the street. When she leaned back into her seat, Petyr was watching her most curiously. Sansa was at a loss for words.

Suddenly Petyr sighed deeply and leaned forward, taking in her torn dress and dirty hands. Convinced she was injured, he checked her over and then had the audacity to lift up a foot and then the other. Her stocking was ripped as they both noticed a bit of blood above her shoe. Sansa must have scraped her leg when she fell. Gentle fingers explored the cut, tearing the bloodied stocking away.

Petyr took out his handkerchief and lightly dabbed the scrape gauging her reaction if he was causing pain. Sansa almost gasped at the tenderness of his touch. His hand was on her calf and then buttoning her shoe. The shoe clattered to the floor of the carriage as his hands inspected her ankle gently.

“You didn’t turn it? This doesn’t hurt?” Petyr asked, slightly rotating and massaging her foot.

“No,” she breathed. Sansa almost wanted to lie so that he would continue. Feeling his hands on her foot was practically sinful.

“Sansa,” he began as he kept his eyes on his task. “I don’t want you anywhere near Harrold Hardyng, do you understand me?”

“Why? He seemed kind and…”

No. He is not the kind of man you should be associating with. His reputation is deplorable,” Petyr growled.

“You’re one to talk,” Sansa shot back, not sure if she was defending Harry or just wanted to call Petyr out on his hypocrisy.

Petyr set her foot down and leaned back into his seat. “Yes, I am a rake, a seducer of men’s wives with a mistress on every street corner and gamble away thousands of pounds every night. That’s how I know what kind of man he is.”

“Does Myranda know what she is marrying?” Sansa retorted coldly. “Or did she turn you into a better man?”

“You act as if she is a virgin saint,” he chuckled darkly. “Of course she knows. It is you who are naïve right now. Stay away from Hardyng. He is not worthy of you.”

Sansa huffed and crossed her arms, looking out the window.

“Who is? No man in his right mind wants me. I know what I’m not. Not fit for a proper marriage to any decent gentleman,” Sansa sighed and refused to look at him. “I do believe my options are mistress, temporary ward, or housekeeper. I’m not naïve.”

The ride was silent for some time, and Sansa was glad of it for she had nothing to say. A rustling of paper caught her off guard as a soft bundle was placed in her lap. It was the flowers Petyr had purchased, and they were beautiful. Sansa fingered a delicate rose petal and felt her eyes well up. No, she would not shed one tear. Not for him.

Taking only one rose from the massive bundle, she handed the rest back to him.

“You should only give flowers to your bride,” Sansa whispered and said no more.

 


 

 

That night they dined with Lady Myranda, and all Sansa wanted to do was take her supper in her room, but Petyr wouldn’t hear of it. Myranda wanted to know all about the gallery, yet both Sansa and Petyr neglected to say anything about the accident. Dinner went by in a blur and Sansa barely listened or contributed to the conversation as they took tawny port in the parlor. Myranda swooned over the flowers Petyr did not intend for her, making Sansa feel all the worse. 

She could hear Lady whining upstairs, begging to be let out. The wolf still hated Myranda, and for good reason, Sansa mused. That animal had an excellent memory. Sansa excused herself to care for her pet before she chewed the door open. They were still talking in the parlor when Sansa took Lady to the garden to do her business and used the wolf to make her excuse to retire for the night.

Padding softly to the parlor, hoping to pass by unnoticed to the stairs, Myranda came into the hallway with a smile.

“It’s late, isn’t it? I must head home lest father thinks badly of me,” the brunette giggled.

“I doubt that,” Sansa forced a smile holding the growling wolf.

“Oh, she will never like me now, will she?” Myranda frowned at the animal.

“She’ll come around. She just doesn’t know you well yet,” Sansa smiled sadly and wondered where Petyr disappeared to.

Petyr entered from the front door as one of the maid’s fastened Myranda’s cloak around her. Good, she was leaving, and Sansa could finally go to bed.

“Goodnight, Myranda,” she said and refused to look at Petyr, adding curtly. “My lord...”

“Goodnight, my dear,” she heard his voice as Sansa ascended the stairs.

“Do I get a goodnight kiss?” Myranda’s sultry voice asked as Sansa crossed the landing towards her room when she saw the brunette slide her arms around Petyr’s neck, kissing him deeply. His hands found her waist when Sansa dashed to her room, locking herself inside, not seeing the man had pushed the woman away.

Sansa set Lady down and leaned against her door. Where was her little ghost when she needed her? Someone to tell her everything was going to be okay. Before she knew it, the tears fell, and Sansa detested herself for being weak. She saw the single red rose on the mantel in a slender crystal vase. Sansa walked over and grabbed the flower, crushing it in her hand.

I do not care for him

I do not care for him

I’m the greatest of fools if I care for him

 

 

Chapter Text

 

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Flowers arrived for Sansa every day since the accident and Petyr was annoyed by it. They both knew who sent them even without a card attached even though Petyr found the notes neatly folded so small as to be hidden amongst the flowers. He did not show Sansa the messages but read them privately in his study. They were brief but perfunctory in wooing her and asking to convince Petyr to allow him a visit. He had to give the boy credit for being resourceful knowing her guardian’s refusal to let him call upon her.

Petyr didn’t say anything when his disposition changed every time the bell rang right after breaking their fast. On cue, every day, a man would deliver a gorgeous bundle of colorful blooms for Sansa and Brooks awaiting Petyr’s instructions. Each time, he would find the notes and remove them from her sight. Refusing the flowers would make Petyr appear controlling yet the letters were meant solely to exploit her gentle nature. Sansa gained nothing from this correspondence.

However, after the fourth day, Petyr just waved his hand in irritation, silently telling the butler to put the new addition with the rest in the parlor. He could have simply rejected the gifts each time, sending them back to the young man expressing his intentions for the girl, but Petyr suppressed the inclination. The questioning in Sansa’s eyes was unmistakable.

Petyr expressed his displeasure at entertaining any invitation from the boy only once since the accident. Harry was worse than Petyr had ever been in his youth, and he could see that Sansa didn’t quite understand why he was so harsh. She had made a good point the other day, Petyr was himself of questionable reputation yet here he was disapproving of a young and handsome man wishing to call on his little witch.

Harry did not want Sansa for anything other than a tumble in his bed. He would sweep the down-trodden girl off her feet, and once he sated his lust, he’d throw her to the gutter. Sir Harrold Hardyng was looking for a woman with wealth and title so he could pay his gambling debts and continue to whore himself around town. Sansa had no money or title, so pursuing her was merely to bed a pretty girl. Petyr would beat that boy into the ground before letting it happen.

The bell rang as they finished breakfast, and Petyr fought not to roll his eyes as he looked at the clock. Right on time, he frowned to himself. He glanced at Sansa, and smartly she drank her tea, keeping her eyes down. She didn’t know it, but Petyr was insanely jealous of the handsome lad.

Hardyng was a few years older than Sansa, and if he were a decent man, he would be the type she might fall in love with. The idea made his stomach burn with hate when he saw her blush at Harrold’s flattery and a hint of anger when Petyr denied her any involvement with the boy. It was for her own good, Petyr convinced himself. Harrold would leave her in tears and heartache.

Brooks entered the dining room with another bouquet of flowers, but instead of the usual question, he told them a caller waited at the door. The butler stood slightly nervous, waiting for his master’s cue. Petyr immediately wanted the boy turned away, for who else could it be? He glanced at Sansa’s surprised face that quickly flushed bright red. She knew as well as he.

“Who is it, Brooks?” Petyr asked, knowing the answer.

“Sir Harrold Hardyng, my lord,” the butler replied. “He wishes to have a word with Lady Sansa.”

“I’m sure he does,” Petyr muttered. “Tell him she is not receiving callers presently if you please.”

“Yes, my lord,” Brooks answered and retreated back to the foyer.

“I should at least thank him for the flowers, Petyr,” Sansa whispered. “They were a lovely gesture.”

“Hmph. Yes, the gesture is well played to only serve him,” Petyr sighed. “I would have thought the Eyrie had taught you about men’s intentions.”

“They’re only flowers,” she muttered angrily, and Petyr knew that if he did not stamp out this attempt to woo her, it would only cause trouble. Harry, by now, knew who Sansa was, and his persistence meant only two things. Neither of them Petyr would allow over his dead body.

“Yes, and now he’s waited a respectable amount of time and is at our door seeking you,” he smiled. “Harry knows how the game is played.”

“Well, you’ve been spending your time with Lady Myranda…” she hesitated. “Would it be so terrible that…”

“What did I tell you about him, Sansa? What he wants from you is far from respectable,” Petyr sighed, setting down his tea. “Flowers seem to have erased that from your mind.”

Petyr knew Sansa was flattered by the flowers and intentions. Any young lady would be if a charming, handsome young man lavished such attentions and Petyr paused. He forgot how young Sansa was. She would turn three and twenty this year. Other than a brief first season and quick betrothal to Joffrey before the rebellion, Petyr wagered she hadn’t received much attention, such as this, in years. What he observed at Robert’s ball was more direct. The young men did not even attempt to court her, they made it known what it was they wanted from her. They didn’t bother pretending she was a lady.

Harry had heroically saved her life and now was playing the gentleman knowing full well his intentions were anything but gentlemanly. He was playing on the emotions of this lovely girl because he damn well no other gentleman of quality would court her. He was hoping Sansa would fall for his charms that she probably was not used to or expecting.

Petyr glanced at the girl across the table. Sansa couldn’t hide her disappointment. After everything she had been through, the hope of a little romance lingered in her eyes. Petyr had spent quite a bit of time with Myranda the past few days for the sake of appearances and could see the boredom and sadness on Sansa's face each time he returned.

“I thought a stroll in the park today would be lovely,” Petyr smiled but Sansa didn’t look at him. Clearly, she thought he meant with Myranda. “I think Lady would enjoy it, don’t you?”

That popped her head up in confusion.

“The park?”

“Yes, I believe that’s what I said,” he chuckled lightly and stood up. “Go and change your dress. I’ll make a harness for Lady.”

The look on her face was a mixture of concealed happiness and doubt making Petyr stifle a laugh.

“She’ll take your hand off before letting you put it on her,” Sansa japed leaving the table.

That did it as Petyr laughed out loud, catching the smile Sansa tried desperately to conceal before she left the room.

Petyr and Brooks made a harness from a silken cord used for one of the tapestries. He struggled putting it on the animal just as Sansa had predicted. Once Lady realized Petyr wasn’t trying to harm her, she finally let him slip it on and fasten it snuggly.

The wolf pawed at him and trotted around in excitement. She was dying to leave the house, and Petyr couldn’t blame her. She had been cooped up and denied her natural instincts. Sansa came down the stairs with shock painted on her face.

“How did you…?”

“You continually doubt me, sweetling,” Petyr grinned. “Come, it looks to be a gorgeous day.”

Sansa was having trouble with the ribbon for her bonnet when Petyr swatted her hands away. He took his time making sure he was as close to her as possible while he tied the ribbon fashionably around her neck. Sansa smelled divine, and it was all Petyr could do not to ravage her mouth right here in the foyer.

“There,” he mused. “Perfect.”

Petyr took her arm as Lady excitedly charged for the door when the footman opened it. Outside, his Phaeton waited. It was still warm enough for a stroll before winter finally made its way south. Kings Landing rarely received much, but soon the city would be dusted in snow.

The footman helped Sansa up into the small two-person carriage as Petyr handed her the wolf that barked with eagerness. Petyr climbed in, and the white horse whinnied anxiously.

“Are you warm enough?” Petyr asked eyeing the fur wrap. Sansa’s wool could be too warm in the bright sun, but Petyr brought his topcoat in case.

“I’m fine,” she replied, holding onto Lady as Petyr flicked the reigns and the horse trotted into the street. “Are we going somewhere nearby?”

“King’s Park,” he told her.

“King’s – ” she stuttered with wide eyes. “That’s near the palace, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Petyr smiled to a passersby.

“Why there?” she asked nervously.

“I have a surprise, sweetling,” Petyr chuckled.

“Are we meeting Myranda today?”

“No, she is otherwise engaged with Lady Francis, the Countess of Ashford. If I wanted to sleep, well, I’d rather stay at home,” he jested, making her smile.

As he drove her through the city closer to the bay, Petyr could see Sansa’s nerves come to the surface. King’s Park, she knew, would most likely be filled with high society on a day like this… and she would be right. Petyr had only a few planned attempts to showcase Sansa in public as the news would travel fast.

Men of reputation did not bring their mistresses, let alone the daughter of the disgraced duke, to mingle with proper ladies and gentlemen of court society. And display her, he would. Petyr would flaunt the bright jewel on his arm until finally, His Majesty would have to deal with him.

Petyr knew the boy king too well. The aristocrats thought they were clever with their little intrigues and punishments. Petyr was too valuable to them in matters of finance and managing the Riverlands, hoping to avoid more contracts with the Tyrells and Martells. Keeping the Riverlands profitable kept them from having to give any power to Dorne or the Reach. Playing Petyr’s game was a smaller price to pay. They would make an example of the king’s chief financier, thinking it worked against him. What fools they were.

He pulled the carriage over and hopped out, securing the horse. Tucking Lady under his arm, Petyr offered his hand aiding Sansa down as the breeze whipped her skirts. She adjusted the fur stole while he set Lady down while the wolf wagged her tail with sensory overload. Thankfully, the makeshift leash held true as the animal tugged against it willing her masters to move along. Petyr took Sansa’s arm and linked it in his as they made their way through the park, painted in hues of red and gold.

Time passed slowly as leaves crunched under their feet and Lady sniffed and yapped at everything in her path. She desperately wanted to run free, but Petyr held the leash steadfast as they strolled along. He tipped his hat in greeting to passing couples as some greeted him in kind, but others only stared at the woman on his arm.

The sun was bright this afternoon and one could hardly believe it was so late in the year. Today, it felt more like September than November. Sansa opened her parasol as she squinted from the sun, but Petyr thought it was more to hide behind. He felt it in the way she held his arm and avoidance of the people that were clearly gossiping about them.

Petyr pointed out the architecture of the Royal Cathedral to their right, patterned after stunning ruins in Rome. Not a religious man, Petyr had only been inside once during Joffrey’s coronation. The royal palace wasn’t too far away as it sloped up along the coastal point giving the bay a beautiful skyline. The tower bell sounded as the clock struck noon as Sansa stared at the palace for some time.

“Are you alright?” Petyr asked, gauging her stone expression.

“Yes,” she answered in kind but did not tear her eyes away from the building. “May we go now?”

“Go? I thought you would be dying to get out on a day like this,” Petyr tried to lighten her mood as the girl nervously looked around.

Sansa didn’t like them looking at her and Petyr felt a twinge of regret at what he was doing. In the end, it would be worth it, he told himself. He would make her understand. Petyr was about to lead Sansa to the surprise when Lady growled and snarled. He sighed, waiting to hear the brunette’s voice, but it was far too masculine, which was even worse.

“Lady Sansa. Lord Baelish,” the charming voice called from behind. “I thought that was you.”

Petyr grimaced as Harry made his way over knowing the boy had followed them. Damnit, why did he not think of that before they left? Sansa turned to Petyr in shock and silently asked him what to do. He patted her arm cautiously, giving Sansa a knowing look to follow his lead.

Lady barked viciously at the blonde as he approached and Petyr couldn’t have been more proud of that animal’s pure instincts. She knew, as Petyr did, Harry was nothing but trouble. Petyr tugged on the leash a bit, but Lady stood her ground protecting her mistress, putting just enough distance between them and Harrold Hardyng.

“Sir Harrold,” Petyr’s voice dripped condescendingly. “What a surprise to find you here.  Did you lose your way? I believe the brothel you frequent is on the other side of town.”

Harry had the decency to smirk for he very well knew he couldn’t pick a fight with a higher lord in the middle of the park and with a lady present.

“Well, I don’t have the funds or the peerage for acceptance to Black’s. Which is why I’m rather surprised you are such a welcome patron,” the boy took aim, making Petyr smile. Oh, he was witty, this one.

“Ah, money and power are useful, but you wouldn’t know that. One day, perhaps I’ll teach you to gamble and win for once instead of having to court rich widows to enable your habits,” Petyr chuckled and glanced at Sansa. “This conversation is titillating, I must say, but not for the ears of ladies.”

“The ear of the lady is why I’m here until you had to degrade the conversation,” Harry quipped as he bowed to Sansa gracefully.

“Oh, there was a gentile conversation to be had? By all means, we’re dying to know what is on your mind,” Petyr shot back with an air of arrogance.

“I never did care for your humor Lord Baelish. It is even less amusing sober,” the boy growled.

Petyr raised his eyebrows mockingly as if he were wounded by the insult and pulled out his gold pocket watch.

“Which is why I’m amazed at your coherency. Isn’t it time for your noon feeding?” he smiled, holding Sansa’s arm more firmly. “Or have the taverns kicked you out so early in the day?”

The boy was turning beet red, and Petyr had to withhold his delight. He knew damn well why Harry was here, and Petyr wasn’t going to make it easy for him. If he was lucky, he could use Harry in his favor. The boy hated him, that much was evident but fancied Sansa. Harry would be more than happy to get the rumor mill into full swing if it meant damaging Petyr in any way publicly.

“I won’t even dignify that with a response,” Harry turned up his chin, attempting a move towards Sansa before Lady growled again halting him.

Sansa’s fingers dug into Petyr’s arm as she spoke, “What it is you have to tell me, Sir Harrold?”

Petyr fought a smile at the use of Harrold and not Harry, as he preferred to be called.

“If your, chaperone, would be so kind as to let me have a word with you in private?” Harry asked eyeing Petyr.

“That is the point of a chaperone, Harrold, to protect a lady’s virtue,” Petyr japed as Sansa elbowed him hard underneath her fur wrap. “Whatever you have to say, it will be in my presence.”

“My intentions are honorable, my lady,” Harry spoke. Petyr coughed slightly making Sansa frown at him. He couldn’t help it, this was by far too ridiculous a charade to be believed. However, Sansa did not have an ungracious bone in her body and Petyr decided to see how poetic the boy could be in lying.

“My mind has been filled with only you since that day,” Harry began again as Petyr rolled his eyes. “You would honor me beyond words… “  he glanced at Petyr’s bored expression, “… to accompany me to the theatre tomorrow evening. I do not own a box, or I would, of course, expect Lord Baelish to act as your duenna – ”

“Oh?” Sansa squeaked looking to Petyr for help. “Erm, well – Sir Harrold, you do flatter me but…”

Petyr saw her drowning and finally jumped in, “What Lady Sansa means, is that she is already engaged for tomorrow evening. I have reserved my box for the new opera. I’m very sorry, Harrold. Terrible timing.”

That took the wind out of Harry’s sails! Petyr couldn’t have been happier. The boy was flummoxed and tried to control his anger towards the older man.

“I am truly sorry,” Sansa chimed in, but Petyr noted a tone of sincerity that he didn’t care for. “I’m sure it would have been lovely and thank you so kindly for the flowers. They’re beautiful.”

Harry mustered enough grace to bow, taking her gloved hand and kissing it lightly. “Another time, perhaps, my lady?” It wasn’t a question as the boy released her hand, backing away accepting defeat.

“Perhaps,” she smiled warmly.

Harry smiled back, but it didn’t reach his eyes, and Petyr was thrilled. The boy straightened his posture and nodded to Petyr out of etiquette alone, not respect. The two of them watched the blonde cross a grassy area and disappear behind tall hedges when Sansa turned and slapped Petyr’s arm hard enough to bruise.

“What in the world was that?” she glared.

Petyr bent down to pick up Lady who was gnawing at her make-shift leash, fearing she would succeed in tearing it apart.

“That, my dear, was protecting your virtue,” he smiled, petting the wolf in his arms.

“Really? That’s not what it looked like to me,” she growled and tried to grab Lady forcing Petyr to retreat a few steps back as she confronted him.

“Pray, tell, what was it? Please educate me,” he jested, taking a few more steps backward.

“That was you being an arse,” Sansa huffed looking around not wanting to draw any more attention to themselves. “You’re not my father.”

Petyr’s smile faltered, “Indeed, I am not.” He was protecting her from a piece of filth, did she not appreciate it in the slightest?

“You didn’t have to be so rude. He was only trying to…”

“Bed you any way he could,” Petyr finished for her. “Don’t try to explain to a man his own game.”

“Everything is a game to you men,” Sansa spoke harshly. “You whisper lies of love, honor, and respect and yet all you want is some wanton from a brothel – turning a lady into a whore. For what? Marriage, titles and money? Father’s sell their daughters, and women marry men they don’t love for security and wealth.”

Petyr smirked even though it made her frown deeper.

“Now, you’re thinking soundly,” he praised her. “Do you really believe for one moment that Harry wants to love and respect you?”

Sansa thought about for a moment and then shook her head, sadly. 

“No,” she answered plainly.

“Then don’t sell yourself for a night at the theatre or a hundred flowers. They are meaningless,” he pressed again to drive the point home. Petyr knew she wanted a gentleman to fancy her for the right reasons. He knew she wanted romance, flowers, and love.

If Sansa could only be patient, Petyr would give her everything and more. He would make her a wife, a grand lady, with all the love and respect she could ever wish for, if she’d only let him. No man would love her, not the way Petyr could.

Sansa sighed and held out her arms for Lady. Petyr gave her the wolf and took her arm once more, guiding her in a different direction.

“I always dreamed of going to the theatre. Funny, that and the gallery were two of the reasons I wanted to come to Kings Landing when I was betrothed to Joffrey,” she mused sadly. “At least you gave me one.”

“And I’ll give you the other,” Petyr stopped and grinned, touching her cheek as those blue eyes widened a bit. “Look there,” he pointed.

Sansa followed the direction of his hand towards the beautiful building across the street. She glanced back at him in surprise and then the loveliest of smiles emerged.

“Do you mean it?” she asked incredulously waiting for him to joke with her. “You’re really taking me to the opera?”

“That was my surprise until Hardyng attempted to ruin my afternoon,” Petyr teased.

Unexpectedly, Sansa launched herself at him practically crushing the animal between them in a fierce embrace. Petyr glanced around, slightly shocked that she cared not for decorum. It wasn’t proper at all to be so affectionate in public with a man, not her husband. It couldn’t be more perfect if he planned it. All too soon, as Petyr was enjoying this intimacy, Sansa remembered herself and pulled away quickly.

“I’m sorry, I – “ she stammered.

“Nothing to apologize for, my dear,” he grinned patting Lady on the head.

“Do you really have a box?” Sansa smiled sweetly as that little girl in her came out with excitement. Petyr stared at her in thought that he could spend the rest of his life, making her smile, and it would be well worth the effort.

“Sweetling, you should know me by now. Only the best will do,” he winked.

The handsome, young blonde forgotten, Sansa grinned and kissed her wolf tenderly.

“Do you think my blue silk dress will do? The one with the silvery brocade?” she pondered aloud and Petyr couldn't help but love her pure happiness. Never in his life had a woman been this excited about the opera.

“Well, I’m afraid I did not tell the whole truth, Sansa,” he mock frowned and instantly, her smile fell. “I don’t think any of your dresses will be suitable for tomorrow night. Other than balls, the opera is one of the more fashionable events in society.”

“Oh,” she breathed in disappointment, and he couldn’t bear to tease her any longer.

“So, I had one made, and it’s waiting for you back home,” Petyr grinned seeing her face light up.

Harry? Harry who? Petyr’s ego soared at the thought. That boy had no idea what game he was playing or whom he was playing against. Petyr knew his sweetling, and no other man was going to steal her away. Harry was no match for what Petyr could give Sansa even if the boy’s intentions were pure and honorable. Petyr could provide her with everything her heart desired. If Sansa wanted the moon, he would find a way to pull it down from the sky and make it hers.

Petyr linked his arm with hers walking them back to the waiting carriage to take her home.

“What will they be performing, Petyr? Mozart? Handel? Beethoven?” she questioned him relentlessly.

Helping her into the carriage once more, Petyr climbed in and glanced whimsically at Sansa.

“None of the above,” he chuckled. “A new composer, in fact. I daresay, it will not be well received here.”

Sansa frowned, “Why ever not?”

“Because, sweetling,” he smiled and lifted her chin. “It is based upon a northern legend. A tale, I gather, you know quite well. So, I believe you, and I will be the only ones to appreciate it.”

Sansa scoffed a little, “You know about old northern legends?”

“I do,” he laughed. “I am not native to the south, even though I grew up with your mother.”

“What tale is it?” she asked anxiously as Petyr could see her mind working furiously as to the answer.

“A tale of love and such woe, sweetling,” he took her hand and kissed it softly. “Lovers who could never be together, forced by life to be apart… and died, in the end, in each other’s arms where their souls entwined forever. Do you know of such a tale?”

“Yes,” she whispered in awe. “Tristan and Isolde.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

t-I

 

 

 

 

 

Petyr looked at his pocket watch for the millionth time as he sat in his chair by the fire. It was too warm in the library. Petyr wasn’t sure if it was from the hearth or the many glasses of brandy he had consumed while waiting for Sansa.

Originally, Myranda had wanted to go, but Petyr insisted it wouldn’t do well to have the three of them together. This was his last resort, after all. Or so he told her. Myranda was convinced she had won the silly wager as Petyr had failed to seduce Sansa before Joffrey’s ball in a few days. Petyr knew the final insult would be to parade his traitorous sweetling before the court, and he was anxious to get it over with. Confidence, balanced with information, and timing was vital.

Tonight would kick his plan into high gear as he and Sansa would be the only topic of conversation. Petyr smiled and could almost hear them now…

 

How dare he!

Who does he think he is?

His arrogance knows no bounds!

He never should have been given a title for he’ll never be one of us.

 

Petyr had escorted mistresses to the theatre before, but Sansa was utterly different. Even though the ton had already deemed her as nothing considering her circumstances, her attendance would still be an insult. She was pardoned by the king, but that did not mean her sentence was null and void among high society. She was an outcast in their eyes, a traitor in name and undesirable in their presence. Keep her in his bed, if he must, but out of sight and mind, never to bring her into their midst.

If Petyr had left her in Harrenhal, most of them would have just assumed the most basic. However, Petyr did not want anyone to think he was hiding the girl for some other reason. Possibly, he could talk is way out of it, telling them she was merely an addition to his bedroom… if he had been only a bachelor.

Unfortunately, everyone knew Petyr was engaged to Myranda and hiding a Stark girl, even as a mistress, did not look good. Since arriving in Kings Landing, Petyr had not heard anything about Sansa from his spies in the city or within certain circles. No one was talking about her until after their outing at the gallery and park. So, Myranda surprisingly had not said a word, and that gave him pause. Myranda might have another trifle up her lace sleeve, and Petyr needed to be careful.

Petyr finished off the last of his brandy and took a deep breath. Yes, this was the right course, he told himself. He would play Myranda for the fool she was in this slight. Kings Landing was not the Eyrie commanded by Lysa, far away in the countryside. These people were not to be trifled with. They seized on any opportunity to oust someone they did not like and Petyr was handing it to them on a gilded platter. He was loathed for his quick rise to wealth and power. His low birth was a sore spot for any titled gentleman from an old family, but they continued to do business with him and line their pockets with gold.

Gold.

That was the language all men spoke fluently. Gold gave men power. Gold gave him the position and ability to enter the domain of the privileged. Petyr had made them, especially Joffrey, very wealthy, and that was the only reason they tolerated him within their circles.

Petyr played the fop with the ladies and the non-threatening but shrewd businessman with the gentlemen. In return, he was allowed to mingle and pretend to be half as good as them. He whored, gambled and lived up to his notorious reputation, but all of that was fodder as they never took him seriously. He was gossiped about and then brushed aside just as quick.

Even the idea of marrying a Royce wasn’t as preposterous as Petyr once thought it would. Myranda’s reputation was so dissolute, that marriage to a man like him seemed somewhat logical – to the gentlemen at least. It was well known that Royce had tried unsuccessfully to marry her off too many times. Petyr stepped outside the box society drew for him from time to time, testing the waters, but now that containment was demolished. This time, the ton would not turn a blind eye to his lecherous ways. Marrying Myranda was one thing, insulting her family name with a Stark was something else.

The game he was playing was precarious, and if the pieces did not move where he wanted them to, it could spell disaster not only for him but Sansa. Petyr was gambling with the notion of how the ton perceived his actions, but more importantly, the king would handle it. Joffrey would likely find the idea that Baelish, of all people, made Sansa a whore, rather entertaining. His new wife and the Tyrell family, however, never did like him and would have never agreed with awarding him title and land for his services.

Granted, not one noble wanted Harrenhal, and it was a bit of an empty gesture knowing the cost it would take to keep it. It was merely a grant to have Petyr preside over the management and profits of the Riverlands and nothing more. It was all about money.

Joffrey didn’t want Sansa dead, she served as an example of what happened to those who defied him and his family’s legacy and rule. Not executing the last Stark kept the north under control at the time. The boy-king was shrewd enough to know, that forcing the girl to recant publicly would soil her in the eyes of her own people.

Roose Bolton was granted Winterfell as warden, given he could control the northerners. Rumors of his cruelty, especially that of his son was well known across the land. Only months ago, did Joffrey finally reward Bolton with Ned Stark’s dukedom.

Sansa, gratefully was unaware. Petyr certainly did not wish to tell her such news and cause her more pain. It was something that couldn’t be changed for now. In time, Petyr’s machinations would cover many injustices across the country. Everything had been planned to the tiniest detail, and in a few more years, it would be ready.

Petyr knew, striking in anger or too early was never beneficial. It was a long game he was playing, covered under so many layers over the years, it seemed as nothing to the rest of the ton. They only saw a greedy and ambitious man collecting gold and titles.

Sansa would bring that to a halt in a few days, Petyr smiled. The king would make sure of it. Joffrey would halt the marquess’ rise by denying the marriage he wanted so badly to gain a respectable name.

Lord Royce had once asked after Jon Arryn died if Petyr was interested in marrying Lysa. It seemed the nobles were quite worried Petyr would marry the duchess and take control as his frequent visits to the Vale didn’t go unnoticed.

However, marrying a Royce kept him close to Lysa, and she was a powerful woman, even as Dowager Duchess to Robert. Petyr had no interest in Lysa at all. It was Robert that he was holding an attachement. A Royce marriage meant that Petyr would have lands and titles in the Vale and stay close to his adopted nephew, the duke. A formidable ally and one that was easily controlled.

No one objected to his engagement to Myranda, because it did not seem to give Petyr any real power other than to solidify his future heirs. Royce was not powerful, influential, or even wealthy. It was not a threat at all. Just an old name and a daughter with a questionable reputation. No one in the ton would be vying for an invitation to Harrenhal nor would Lord and Lady Baelish be the toasted couple in society.

As much as Joffrey had not cared about Sansa’s whereabouts for the past few years, he would never have suspected the girl would turn up in Kings Landing, let alone their social circles. The girl was discarded and forgotten. A treachery snuffed out and ignored. She had not done anything since her family’s death to warrant suspicion or retaliation. She had been pardoned, but it was made clear that she was not welcome and best that she just fade away into obscurity.

Now, the king would have to make a decision. It would be unacceptable to keep a woman of Sansa’s age as a ward as it was an insult to the Royce name. However, they could not afford to punish Petyr too severely for such a breach of etiquette. They needed him whether they liked it or not. Petyr made sure after all these years of bowing, lying, hard business tactics that he filled their pockets, making him indispensable.

Petyr would play up the foppish ignorance of his actions while Joffrey punished him with the denial of marriage and respect. Joffrey, he hoped, would live up to his arrogant and spiteful self, and degrade Petyr by making him marry the girl that would give his children nothing to aspire to. Fo no reputable family would marry their daughter to a son of Baelish and that of a Stark.

It would be a petty punishment, but one they believed wounded Petyr significantly as a social climber. Petyr and Sansa would be reviled in society and ostracized, but he could continue with business, as usual, making them money. Forcing him to marry his mistress, would keep him where they wanted him and the girl, once again, out of sight and mind.

Petyr looked at his watch again and tapped his fingers impatiently. He knew the king and queen were not attending the opera tonight due to the subject matter. Joffrey wouldn’t degrade himself to sit through a northern love story. However, the ton, more interested in gossip, would still gather in crowds.

Petyr wagered most would consider the subject matter vulgar, but it would not deter them from an evening of entertainment. Many played cards and chattered all through the performance only quieting down to hear the soprano’s aria, the showpiece, and then return to their gossip. It was something Petyr loathed from the peerage. They did not care nor respect the beautiful art before them. The theatre was only a place to see and be seen.

Walking to the foyer, Petyr glanced up the stairs and wondered what was taking so long. They were going to be late. He was usually fashionably late for everything and did not care much about it. Tonight, however, Petyr wanted enough time to mingle a bit and make sure they were seen as much as possible before the curtain rose. Most of all, he wished to Sansa to experience her first opera in all its glory.

He watched with pleasure as Sansa’s eyes lit up at the box from Madame Berkins. He wondered if this was what Sansa was like this during her first season before the rebellion and all the horrors happened to her. She lifted and pressed the dress to her bosom, taking it all in. It was the height of fashion, and she knew it. Sansa hugged him fiercely, landing a sweet kiss on his cheek before running upstairs to change after an early supper. Petyr made it clear to the seamstress precisely what he wanted. His little witch would shine and catch the eye of every single person tonight.

Petyr turned to the mirror above the side table that held his cloak and purse. He tuffed his lace cravat and straightened the ivory waistcoat brocaded with hints of green, silver and gold. Tonight he would look his part of the dandy lord with his emerald pin at his throat, rings, gold-topped walking cane, and flowing cloak. The woman on his arm tonight would be the real jewel, he smiled, tucking the gold watch into his waistcoat pocket. Catching movement on the candlelit stairs in the mirror, Petyr smiled.

Turning around, ready with a smart comment about how long Sansa kept him waiting, the words suddenly died on his tongue. The girl moved down the stairs with the grace of an angel as Petyr’s eyes took in the sight before him. Sansa was more than beautiful, she was a vision and would put Aphrodite herself to shame.

The emerald green silk contrasted the fire of her hair, and Petyr knew the color would suit her. Delicate black lace shimmered with strands of silver that draped elegantly over the many folds of her skirt. Silver brocade and lace, trimmed along her bosom and sleeves offsetting her porcelain skin.

The maid had pulled Sana’s auburn tresses up into curled knots, letting tendrils cascade down the side that framed her face beautifully. A black and emerald green feathered adornment was placed in her hair above the ear where a little jewel glittered in the low light. She was the most beautiful creature Petyr had ever seen as she came to stand before him with a hint of a smile.

Her chest was heaving from either nerves or excitement; Petyr couldn’t be sure. Her blue eyes twinkled, waiting for his approval. Petyr smirked and walked around the girl studying her with mock seriousness.

“Do I look alright?” she asked nervously.

“Hmm, I don’t know,” he circled the beauty, teasing her. “Something isn’t right.”

“Oh?” she pondered, looking alarmed at her maid on the stairs, wondering what was amiss. “I have my gloves, cloak…” she whispered to herself and then found the mirror and checked her dress and hair trying to see what he found wrong.

Petyr grinned and walked up until he could see his reflection behind her in the mirror.

“I think I know what it is,” he smiled, bringing his gloved hands in front of her collarbone. The emeralds shimmered in the candlelight as he draped the delicate silver necklace around her neck.

Sansa’s eyes were a daze as he fastened it, letting the scrolled chain hang elegantly along her collar. Her trembling hand touched the jeweled necklace. Petyr knew she had never owned anything so fine as he handed her matching ear bobs.

“It’s too much,” she breathed, and it answered his question.

“It’s not nearly enough,” he replied, resting his hands on her shoulders gazing at her reflection.

Their eyes caught each other in the mirror as she clipped the little jewels to each ear. Sansa closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

“Are you sure this a good idea?” she winced. Petyr knew her too well.

“No,” he answered truthfully as her eyes popped open to gaze at him. “but I don’t care. We’re going to enjoy ourselves this evening.”

“Myranda hasn’t changed her mind?” Sansa asked, and Petyr could hear the fear in her voice as she turned to face him.

“She said she had a terrible headache this afternoon when I called on her,” he said adding a hint of disappointment, as false as it was.

“Oh,” she replied in kind. “I just fear that it, well, being only you and I, that… I don’t want to start gossip.”

Petyr chuckled lightly, “Sweetling, there’s always gossip about someone. Tonight it will be us, and tomorrow it will be someone else. Myranda knows full well where we’re going.”

He knew it was a lie but didn’t want to scare the girl. Petyr donned his cloak walking to the door before noticing she had not followed. The footman opened the door as Sansa stalled for a moment, wringing her hands.

“Don’t tell me I bought the dress and jewels for nothing,” Petyr teased hoping to lighten her mood.

Sansa glanced in the mirror once more, taking a deep breath. Petyr was actually surprised she could breathe at all in that dress. The maid had cinched her waist tight, forcing her breasts up for all the men to see.

Petyr draped her cloak around her shoulders, fastening the clasp. Patting her arms reassuringly, he smiled and waited for the girl to make her decision even though he knew she could have said no at any time before dressing tonight.

Finally, Sansa took his arm, and Petyr admired her bravery. She was about to walk into the lion’s den yet Sansa was no timid, wide-eyed deer. She was stronger than she knew. In the coming days, it would be more than tested.

The ride was smooth and relatively quiet. Sansa held a brave face, but Petyr knew she was nervous. This wasn’t a walk in the park or the gallery. All of high society would be in this one building tonight. She would be a fool to think everyone wouldn’t be watching and talking about her.

The footman opened the door as Petyr stepped out, holding out his hand. As Sansa took it, he felt a tiny tremble as she stepped out in front of the opera house. There was a slight chill in the air tonight, and Petyr wasn’t sure if she was cold, or her nerves were getting to her. He took her arm and guided her up the stone steps to the grand foyer. Once inside, footmen took their cloaks when all eyes came upon them.

Petyr did not have to look around to know Sansa was the most beautiful woman in the room. Every male eye found her like an arrow to the target. Every lady stared, frowned, or rose their fan to disguise the gossip they spoke.

It was a packed house tonight, and Petyr thought it could not have been more perfect. Sansa clutched his arm tightly as he began walking towards men he knew well from gambling. The curtain would rise in ten minutes ,however the show started the moment they walked in the door.

Petyr guided her and played the part he knew inside and out. He nodded to the gentleman and smiled at ladies, all the while acting as if nothing were wrong in the world. It was just another night, another ball, another dinner, with a new woman on his arm.

“Lady Dayne, you look ravishing tonight,” he smiled and winked passing the older couple. “Roger, be careful, I just may steal your wife next.” Luckily, Lord Dayne liked Petyr as the man laughed heartily.

Petyr glanced to Sansa, and smartly she had painted a small smile on her face and followed him silently.

“Osgrey,” he nodded, and the bald man returned the greeting. “You still owe me three-hundred guineas from cards in August.”

Suddenly, a boisterous voice came to his side.

“Baelish, knew it was you!” the portly fellow laughed. “No man can get away with such fancy clothes as you and doubt his manhood.”

“Manderly, I haven’t seen you in ages. How is the weather in White Harbor?” Petyr smiled.

“Cold as a witch’s tit this time of year,” the man snickered and then halted looking at the young woman on Petyr’s arm. “Good heavens, that’s not Ned’s girl, is it?”

He felt Sansa clasp his arm in anxiety and Petyr patted her hand gently. “Lady Sansa, have you met Lord Manderly?” he asked pleasantly.

“A long time ago, I believe. I could not have been more than ten years old,” Sansa smiled shyly.

Manderly bowed, kissing her hand. “Oh my dear, I don’t expect you to remember an old, foul-mouthed man like me,” he said, taking her in from head to toe and smiled to Petyr. “Gads, it queer. I would have bet my last farthing that it was Catelyn.”

Sansa’s smile fell, and the man immediately apologized. “I’m sorry, my dear, I seem to have forgotten myself. When you get to be my age, time isn’t what it used to be.”

“It’s alright, my lord,” she smiled again, sweetly. “It’s in the past now.”

“Well,” the man jested, trying to change the topic. “Don’t let Petyr here fool you. There’s a good man in him somewhere. I gather the right woman will sort him out. Petyr, if you have any sense, and you’re a smart man mind you, you’d marry this girl first thing tomorrow.”

Sansa’s blushed six shades of red, for Manderly said it loud enough for several people to hear.

“As lovely as that would be, Sansa is actually my ward,” Petyr educated the man.

“Ward?” Manderly asked in confusion. “Last I heard Lysa had sent her to her brother in Riverrun.”

“And, good ole’ Edmure is having some trouble with gambling and the drink,” Petyr mused. “It wasn’t a safe environment for her.”

“Ah, I see. The Tully’s never could hold their drink,” the man sighed. “Strange, considering their sigil is damned fish. You think they’d take to it like water! Haha!”

Sansa smiled, keeping her perfect air of graciousness as Petyr chuckled at the old man’s jokes.

“Now, the bird has swooped down and taken this lovely girl to roost,” Manderly laughed. “Sorry, my dear. Just men’s rubbish. Anyone would be a fool to think you were any of his other mistresses.”

Petyr winced internally while the girl’s posture straightened a little. Sansa chided him a few times about his unsavory reputation and associations.

“To use your words, a lady has sorted me out, and I plan to marry her very soon, in fact,” Petyr offered kindly, feeling Sansa stiffened a bit at his words.

Manderly looked to Sansa with surprise, “But you said Lady Sansa was your ward? I suppose it isn’t uncommon for a man to take a ward as a wife, however, the impression you gave me…”

Lady Myranda, Lord Royce’s daughter,” he interrupted.

“Royce?” Manderly’s eyebrows shot up. “You marry a Royce?” The man smirked knowingly and muttered under his voice yet both Petyr and Sansa heard him clearly. “Didn’t think the man would ever find that girl a husband.

Sansa glanced at Petyr at the old man’s slight, but Petyr brushed it off. It’s what he hoped everyone thought.

“Come now, Manderly, there’s an art to buying a wife,” Petyr teased, and the man howled in laughter. “Would any good lady of breeding really have a man such as myself if not for my money?”

“I’ll drink to that!” Manderly chortled slurping his wine. “That’s what they all want, don’t they? Title, money, and if they’re lucky a handsome man to bed. Pardon me again, my lady. Your father would have had my head for speaking so distastefully in the presence of his daughter. You must be pleased you don’t have to marry some wretched, old man such as myself. You have a young, handsome benefactor that will keep you in comfort. That is if your new bride doesn’t mind.”

“I’m hardly young or gifted with good looks, Manderly,” Petyr chuckled. “Thank you all the same.”

“You’re younger than me, man, by decades!” the portly lord laughed again. “If I were your age, I’d steal this girl away and marry her.”

“I’m flattered, my lord,” Sansa smiled at the old man.

“No, my dear, it is I that am honored,” Manderly said retaking her hand and whispered in her ear. “Be careful of this lot, they’ll tear you to pieces if given a chance. Lord Petyr will take good care of you, I’m sure of it. He’s not such a bad fellow.”

Sansa blushed again as they said their goodbyes and Petyr walked her up the grand staircase to the balcony. Everyone was making their way into the auditorium, but the gossip never stopped, not for a second. Petyr and Sansa could hear the whispers and see the frowns and stares.

 

He said she’s his ward.

I don’t believe it

Such an insult to Lord Royce and his daughter.

He’s really gone too far this time!

A Stark, a traitor’s daughter… she should be escorted out.

Of course, she’s his mistress, what else is she good for?

 

To her credit, Sansa held her head high, but Petyr could tell she was close to breaking. Gratefully, they entered his box and when the servant closed the door, Sansa breathed a sigh of relief. Petyr knew she was hurt by their words. They meant for them to hear every syllable.

Petyr tilted her chin in the shadows of the heavy draperies of his box and smiled, “The worst is done. Now we can enjoy the performance.”

“Would it have been like this had Myranda joined us?” she asked with a small hiccup.

“I don’t know. Perhaps,” Petyr lied smoothly. Had the three of them arrived together, Myranda most likely would have fluttered to several ladies to chat. Who knows whether she would have diffused or escalated the gossip and hate. Petyr was betting on the latter.

 

He insisted she come along.

I told him, once we’re married…

She will not live under my roof!

 

Petyr couldn’t wait to be rid of Myranda and the whole mess. He could conduct most of his business from Gulltown and Harrenhal if necessary. The bulk of his people in Kings Landing had been in place for a few years. It was only a matter of time now before his plans would come to fruition.

He kissed Sansa’s cheek in the shadows but desperately wanted to press her against the wall and plunder her sweet mouth, but he held himself in check. Petyr had to be patient. Instead, he saw the champagne chilling next to their chairs he had ordered and poured a glass handing it to Sansa.

“Here, it will take the edge off,” he grinned.

She took it gratefully and did not bother with a ladylike sip. The girl downed it quickly as if it were liquid courage and held the glass out to him, silently asking for him to fill it again. Petyr topped off the glass but held his tongue.

Sansa didn’t think he noticed, but she was drinking more often than he cared for and it worried him. When he entered his study that day to find her with a glass of brandy early in the afternoon, he started watching a little more intently. At Harrenhal, Sansa would have one or two glasses of wine at dinner and occasionally only a sherry some nights in the library. Since arriving at Kings Landing, she was partaking when she did not think he was looking.

“Come, we have the best seats in the house,” he offered her the plush chair next to the balcony.

Sansa eyed it warily because it put her in full view of everyone in the theatre.

“I’d rather take this seat, if it’s alright,” pointing to the one inside and closer to the draperies.

“You have a better view of the stage from here, sweetling,” he smiled. “Don’t you want to see everything?”

The girl fidgeted with the glass in her hand as her eyes flicked around to the onlookers. Petyr could tell she was conflicted. Sansa did want to experience it all but also wanted to hide from view. Reluctantly, she took the seat he offered and sat down, avoiding the stares from the crowd.

Petyr poured himself a glass and stood next to her, observing their surroundings. He was telling the truth, she would have a better view, but he also wanted everyone to see her and seethe with anger and jealousy. He chuckled, drinking his champagne and Sansa stared at him curiously as to what was so humorous.

“They are so pathetic, sweetling,” he said glancing around the auditorium. “Look at them. Nothing better to do than dress up, gossip, gamble, and drink themselves to death.”

Sansa followed his line of sight to the ladies flirting with handsome young men in Fop’s Alley near the orchestra and those same men peacocking for any lady to notice them. Powdered faces with heavy rouge, ornate jewels, dresses covered in ribbons and bows, cigar smoke, loud chattering – it was all too ridiculous. Petyr had a mind to buy out a night just so he could have peace and quiet during the opera.

His eyes scanned the balcony and came to a dead stop at a box across the way. Their eyes locked and Petyr bowed gracefully as he heard Sansa gasp in horror. Lysa, with her son Robert and Lady Waynwood sat in the box opposite them and did not return the gesture. Robert waved enthusiastically at his beloved uncle and didn’t seem to recognize Sansa, but Lysa did.

Fuck.

Petyr thought Lysa was going to stay at the Vale this winter but apparently had changed her mind when he politely refused her invitation. She knew of his impending marriage to Myranda Royce yet it didn’t stop her flirtations as if the marriage was only a ruse to be near her. Obviously, Lysa wasn’t the only one that could believe such a thing. However, her presence could definitely cause severe problems. Petyr would have to re-calculate quickly.

“Petyr?” her frightened voice asked.

“Do nothing but nod in greeting,” he ordered quietly, not tearing his eyes away from the angry duchess.

Sansa did as he instructed with a smile and returned her gaze to the heavy velvet curtain that had yet to rise. Thankfully, the composer took the stage as the audience finally acknowledged the man’s presence and clapped politely taking their seats.

Candles were extinguished throughout the floor and balcony as the prelude began with strings in a somber disquiet. Soft woodwinds echoed the sadness of the story in minor key when suddenly the entire orchestra bellowed in forte and then descended quickly into pianissimo. The music was vastly different than that of previous and more famous composers. Sweeping violins seeped with heartache and longing and not a note had yet been sung.

Petyr glanced at Sansa, and she was captivated by the music letting every note fill her senses. She was a child given a sweet for the first time in her life, and Petyr couldn’t stop staring at her. The chatter had died down considerably, and Petyr hoped it would last, but it was not meant to be.

“Whore of Harrenhal!” a female voice yelled. Both Petyr and Sansa looked out into the darkness in complete shock.

Even for him, this was a first. Never in all his years, and as many true harlots he brought to the theatre, had someone shouted such vulgarity. He was certainly deserving of it, but not Sansa. Petyr knew she would be subjected to whispers and cruel gossip, but he honestly did not expect this. Her spine stiffened, and he could see the look on her face as she stared blankly at the orchestra.

“Traitor’s daughter!” a male voice rang out and immediately whispers cut across the darkened theatre.

Sansa made a move to stand when Petyr clamped his hand on hers pinning it to the armrest of her chair. Her tiny hand trembled, and he could see the tears threatening to spill. He knew it had to happen, but right now at this moment, Petyr felt a terrible regret for what he was putting her through.

“No,” he whispered, holding her hand firmly. “Do not give them the satisfaction.”

He moved his chair back just enough to sit directly beside Sansa, never letting her hand go in his gloved one.

“Ignore them, sweetling. You are here with me,” Petyr added kindly. “We are above such vulgarity and spite. They hate us because we do not bow or cower to them.”

Petyr clasped her small and feminine hand in his, letting his thumb rub a comforting circle. Sansa looked at their joined hands and then those eyes, filled with so many lingering questions, caught his. Petyr could not look away if he tried. The music rose and rose as the crescendo matched the intensity between them. There was something in Sansa’s eyes that transfixed him, something so pure and lovely.

The flutes and violins drifted from its high point as the curtain softly opened when the last of the woodwinds flowed with an ominous foreboding. The voice of a young sailor began the opera with the words ” – wild Northern maid…” and Sansa’s head turned abruptly to the stage not withdrawing her hand from Petyr’s.

The first act told of how Isolde was on her way to marry King Marke, transported by ship helmed by Tristan, the King’s nephew, and trusted knight. Isolde reminisces of how she first met  and fell for the handsome knight. She found a stranger, mortally wounded, and used her healing powers to restore him.

Realizing the stranger was the man that had slain her previous betrothed, Isolde threatens to kill him, but his eyes pierced her heart and demand that he depart, never to return. Now, she was furious at his betrayal in marrying her to his uncle, the king. Isolde demands that they drink to atonement, a poison meant to kill them both for the northern girl would rather die than marry the older king. They drink, but instead of poison, her handmaiden accidentally gives them a love potion instead.

The story unfolded in the second act of how the lovers met at night, deceiving the king. Isolde’s handmaiden warns the beautiful, young queen that one of the king’s knights has seen her and Tristan exchange amorous glances. The maiden goes to keep watch as the lovers declare their passion for each other. Tristan decries the realm of daylight is false, unreal and keeps them apart. It is only in the night, he claims, that they can indeed be together and only in the long night of death can they be eternally united.

Petyr watched Sansa more than the performers below on the stage. He didn’t need to know what was happening for he saw it all in her eyes, the way her breath hitched, and occasionally her fingers would tighten in his. He was entranced in this girl and how every note, every word sung affected her. Not once did her eyes leave that stage and Petyr wondered if she knew he watched her the entire time.

The lovers deceived by their friend are revealed in each other’s arms as the king discovers their treachery. The older man, broken-hearted at the betrayal of his wife and nephew asks why. Tristan tells Marke he cannot explain it, that he could never understand the depth of feeling between him and Isolde. Hurt by the betrayal of his friend, Tristan duels the man only to be once again mortally wounded and sent home, banished and alone.

Petyr could see that a few lords and their ladies had left muttering words of ‘filth’ and ‘rubbish’. A southern king and young knight in love and fighting over a northern girl, apparently was too much for them, he smirked. A girl with healing powers that used potions and poisons, and yet men were besotted by her.

Sansa never once glanced away from the performance. She was completely engrossed and captivated by the story and music as Petyr found himself gazing at her again. Her chest heaved as the third and final act began, for she knew exactly where the story was headed.

Tristan dying in his home asks a shepherd if he sees the ship that will carry Isolde to him, for she is the only one that can save him with her powers. A mournful tune sounds as the hero falls to despair that his lover is lost to him. Lamenting his fate, his rails against his desires and the love potion, exhausting himself and collapses once again.

Sansa’s eyes were brimming with tears as she watched intently as if feeling all of the character’s pain. The gentle pipe of the shepherd sounded, signaling the arrival of Isolde’s ship as she has come, at last, to save her love. However, it is too late as Tristan dies in her arms.

The auditorium became silent as the grave when the long-awaited aria finally began. The soprano sang with the conviction that her love had risen to be with her once more and forever.

How softly and gently he smiles, how sweetly his eyes open - Can you see, my friends, do you not see it?

Petyr glanced at his sweetling when her breath hitched, and those tender tears streamed down her face. Her pale bosom heaved, constricted by her corseted gown. The girl tried so very hard not let the sob, that threatened to break forth, have its way. The music swelled and lifted her emotions to the rafters and back. Petyr drew his silk handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to her in silence. She took it without a single word nor did her eyes tear away from the romantic “Liebestod.”

She dabbed her eyes, and all Petyr wanted to do was kiss those tears away. Sansa held the silk to her nose and he heard a slight hiccup as the aria crescendo into an exaltation of Isolde’s lament. Caressing her hand, he brought the soft and delicate skin to his lips, closing his eyes. Petyr heard her sniff and she clutched his gloved hand with such affection, it almost wounded him.

Breathe my life away in sweet scents. In the heaving swell, in the resounding echoes, in the universal stream of the world-breath - to drown, to founder - unconscious - utmost bliss!

The soprano lay down on the body of her deceased lover, finally succumbing to death herself. The music drifted down softly, thus ending the performance. Petyr paid no attention to the scattered applause from very few patrons that remained in the audience. He cared not for the death glare from the woman across the balcony. The only thing he could see and feel was the girl that sat next to him, overcome with emotion. Never had Petyr expected the powerful emotions that stirred within – emotions he had refused to acknowledge for years.

One by one candles, sconces and candelabras were lit, bringing the theatre back to life. The girl dabbed her eyes and nose, catching him gazing at her with a knowing yet tender smile.

“I must look a fright,” Sansa hiccupped. Petyr could not have fallen more in love with her than in this moment. She had never been more beautiful or sweet than losing herself to a fabled love story.

“You look beautiful, my dear,” he smiled, finding words a bit difficult.

“I’m afraid I’ve ruined your handkerchief, Petyr,” she sniffed again with the sodden silk at her nose.

Shyly, she avoided his eyes and looked over the balcony at the remains of the people mingling and discussing the opera.

“I think you were right,” she muttered softly.

“Oh?” he grinned, pouring more champagne into their glasses. “What was I right about?”

“They didn’t like it at all,” she guessed correctly, looking over the balcony to the floor below.

Petyr smiled and chanced a look in Lysa’s direction. The woman had not wasted any time. She was practically pulling Robert from his seat as the boy complained and whined. He prayed she would not make her way to his box. By the look of disgust on her face, Petyr was willing to bet on it. That did not mean he could avoid her forever. He would need to speak with the damned woman before Joffrey’s ball.

Sansa gasped and suddenly sat back in her chair, seemingly anxious.

“What it is?” he asked, amused.

“Nothing,” she said too quickly. Petyr could tell easily when she was lying. “I’m just uncomfortable with people staring at me. May I have another glass of champagne?”

“Of course,” he offered her the glass. She took a long drink and hiccupped again. “Don’t drink so fast, the bubbles will make it worse.”

Sansa fingered the glass nervously, and Petyr could see the wheels turning in her mind.

“Is that what they really think of me?” she whispered, avoiding his eyes.

“Yes,” he said plainly. No sense in lying to girl overly aware of herself, he thought.

Sansa touched the emerald necklace and fidgeted in her chair. Taking another sip she looked as if she wanted to escape from this fishbowl.

“Do you really care what they think, sweetling?” Petyr asked curiously. “They, who care nothing for you. They, who are jealous of you in every way.”

Shocked, she turned to him and frowned.

“Why would anyone be jealous of me?” she scoffed.

“Perhaps, because you’re the most beautiful woman here,” a charming voice echoed from the darkened doorway.

Startled, both Petyr and Sansa glanced at the intruder that entered his private box, unannounced and most undoubtedly uninvited.

“Lady Sansa, you look divine tonight,” Harry bowed with a wide grin, and it took every ounce of control Petyr had not to throw the man over the balcony. “I couldn’t tear my eyes away from you all evening.”

Petyr straightened his posture and stood slowly, leaning down to Sansa’s ear. She was bright red, and that delectable bosom rose with her heavy breaths. She must have seen Harry below, that’s why she was nervous before.

“Stay here, my dear. I need to have a word with Sir Harrold,” he whispered sweetly, placing a kiss on her cheek, feeling the heat of her blush.

Irritated, Petyr adjusted his waistcoat and walked over to Harry who was very smug in his appearance. Gestering to the door, both men moved into the now empty corridor. The other patrons had already left to mingle in the foyer, and Petyr hoped they were alone.

 “Sir Harrold, I thought I made myself quite clear the other day,” Petyr said evenly and without a shred of emotion.

“Yes, you did. However, I just had to try. I hear the girl is your ward? I find it odd that you, of all people would be a – philanthropist,” Harry smiled, leaning against the wall.

“My business or the Lady Sansa is none of your affair,” Petyr said not letting his eyes waver a moment. “If you are only here to court her, you may as well leave. She is not interested in the slightest.”

“She or you? Is she already promised? I doubt that considering her station,” Harry grinned and Petyr wondered what game this boy was playing. The city was filled with beautiful and willing women, why was he here? She had already refused him.

Petyr folded his arms and studied the boy for a moment. “Ah, now I see. You come, after such attempts of wooing her failed, knowing now she is my ward. It did not take you long, I must say. I won’t pretend you are ignorant as to her parentage.”

“Come now Baelish, we know you’re about to marry the Royce girl. It’s no secret from the Vale about Lady Sansa’s reputation. I thought you might wish to spare your bride the insult in keeping her in your household,” Harry smirked knowingly.

“Obviously, you haven’t spoken with my future wife in some time, for she doesn’t find the situation disagreeable at all,” Petyr chuckled holding on to his confidence.

“Really? I do find that surprising. I’ve known Myranda all her life. We grew up together,” Harry mused relaxing into his confidence, and Petyr waited patiently for the boy’s motives. “She wasn’t too fond of – your ward when she arrived at the Eyrie. I find it so strange that a man, such as yourself, would take responsibility for such an unwanted northern girl. Even her own family doesn’t want her.”

“What is your interest in her? Obviously, you’re here for a reason, and it isn’t love at first sight,” Petyr smirked in suspicion.

“Well, with you as her benefactor and your upcoming marriage, I rather thought you might want to find the girl a suitable husband?” Harry chuckled mischievously.

“Now we’re getting to the truth,” Petyr said, his face cold as stone. “A girl with no title but a wealthy patron is quite the prize, not to mention her beauty. Tired of the old, widowed countesses and baronesses with sagging breasts and pungent quims?”

That wiped the grin off the boy’s face and Petyr was thrilled.

“It must be tiring work for such a small sum they give you to gamble away,” Petyr said smoothly knowing he hit a nerve.

“How long will you be in favor now that everyone knows you have the Stark girl in your house?” Harry held his cards close but Petyr grinned. The blonde was a terrible gambler. “I see Myranda did not accompany you tonight. How long until you are completely disgraced?”

“So this is blackmail,” Petyr chuckled. “I pay you a handsome dowry for the lady, and you save my foundering reputation? Is this the game you came here to play?”

The boy fidgeted for a moment, but it was enough for Petyr to see his hand.

“You say you know my bride?” Petyr asked simply. “Not as well as I. In fact, she is quite a fantastic fuck, isn’t she? Did you know she fancies women as much as men? Why would I marry off my delicious ward when my wife and I can share her every night? I think you forget who I am, Harry. You can’t blackmail a man that already has the worst reputation in Kings Landing. As far as Lord Royce, he doesn’t care. He’s happy someone has finally agreed to marry his daughter, whom we both know is not virtuous by any means. I get a respectable name and children, and Royce becomes wealthier than he’s ever been. My dear boy, the first rule is to know your opponent before you ever attempt to play against him.”

Harry stood and seemed to collect his thoughts and Petyr had to refrain from laughter. Oh, these young men really didn’t know what they were getting into. A shallow plan based on very little information yet they still felt it more than enough to collect their winnings. Perhaps a man with a reputation to lose would be an easy target, but Harry indeed was an idiot for coming here tonight.

“It will be an interesting conversation tomorrow when I go to see my childhood friend, along with her father… and Her Grace,” Harry threatened and seemed to gather his wits.

“Go right ahead, Harry. Ask her,” Petyr goaded. “It is no secret among the ton as to why we are marrying each other. Which makes you, funny enough, the last to know. Do you think she’ll give up Harrenhal, my wealth and titles to play along with you? And before you quip about my age, at least I do not have to sell my services to any lady. In fact, I do recall Myranda mentioning you lacked underneath your small clothes. As far as the king, let’s see whose word weighs more in gold. The Stark girl is nothing to him. Do you really think he will care that I’ve made her my mistress? If I was attempting to marry her myself, you might have had a bargaining chip.”

Harry smiled, and Petyr knew he was about to play his last card.

“Do you really expect me to believe that lovely, innocent girl is fucking you?” Harry quipped sarcastically. “I would bet my life; she is a virgin.”

“Ah, quite the loss. How would you like to be buried?” Petyr laughed heartily as he moved to the doorway. “Too bad you’ll never know the rapture of her milky white thighs wrapped around your waist. I do believe you told me just moments before that she had quite the reputation in the Vale. Yet, now you’re defending her honor? Oh Harry, aren’t there more young girls in the city to bear your growing number of bastards?”

The boy looked perplexed and wasn’t leaving. Sir Harrold paced a bit as if trying to remember something and Petyr had the sickening feeling the boy wasn’t here of his own accord, not entirely, and then he smiled. So, Harrold did have one more card up his sleeve after all.

“As I said before, why would a man like you take a Stark as your ward?” Harry asked smugly, and Petyr’s stomach knotted a bit. “You, who have had many young women, why her? Why your ward if not just use her as a whore and be done with it? No one would think less of you, for that’s all she is.”

Petyr wanted nothing more than to kill him right here and now but just smiled, hiding his fury.

“Hmm, well, there is no love lost between Edmure Tully and I. He certainly, by his old family honor, wasn’t going to let me take the girl as a mistress, no matter who he father was,” he jested. Edmure wouldn’t say a damn word to anyone for Petyr paid him well, and Lysa’s anger would be no surprise. It was clear to anyone at the Eyrie that she detested her niece and fancied Petyr for a long time.

Harrold grinned, and before Petyr could say a word, it was too late.

“Or could it be that no one really knows how you fancied the late Duchess of Winterfell and that her daughter is practically a perfect image of her.  Speaking of childhood friends, Hoster Tully fostered you did he not?” Harry smirked and toyed with his cigar, sniffing it as if he had won something.

“How do you think I knew Lysa so well? It’s no secret,” Petyr said flippantly.

“Oh, but your affections towards, Catelyn, that isn’t well known, is it?” the boy grinned in satisfaction. He knew he hit the motherload, and there was only one person he could have received such information.

Petyr didn’t bother to deny it; he knew Harrold knew too much. He walked right into it, in his over-confidence.

“Quite in love with her, is what I’ve been told,” Harrold japed as he circled Petyr like prey. “How would the king like to know about his faithful servant, whom he has bestowed such title and power… that this man was in love with the traitor’s wife and now has taken the daughter into his home out of a sentimental need to protect her? Perhaps, he was in league with the Starks all this time?”

“You forget, Harry,” Petyr said with nonchalance. “The Starks were defeated. A defeat I helped in great detail, I might add.”

“Ah, but you know Joffrey, he’ll forget everything if he believes you favor the girl for reasons other than your bed. It was really quite stupid of you to bring her here, in front of everyone,” Harrold laughed.Petyr had to think quickly to end this before it destroyed everything.

“And why would the king believe you?” Petyr asked skeptically, betting who was really behind this.

“Me? Oh, I have quite a good friend that the king is surely to believe. Someone very powerful,” Harry smiled. Petyr knew who it was without needing to ask. “Someone who knows you very well, Lord Baelish.”

Petyr stayed calm. He knew Hardyng. The lecher wanted money. He wasn’t going to gain title or power through denouncing Petyr to the king. Lysa surely wasn’t going to pay much, he gathered.  He knew Petyr was very wealthy and would pay dearly to keep this quiet. A man that could lose everything was quite the winning hand, and sadly, the boy and his benefactor, who was not the elderly Lady Waynwood, played it well. Now it was time to kill two birds from the Vale.

Petyr sighed and looked down, playing his role.

“So, Hardyng, how much to make this little problem go away? I’m assuming no one else knows, or you wouldn’t be here,” he grimaced.

Harry chuckled at his good fortune, “My, my, my… how the mighty have fallen. Did you not say that you would teach me how to gamble and win? My friend, I don’t need your instruction.”

“So it appears,” Petyr said evenly, and looked around nervously for Harry’s benefit. “Come now, what do you want and let’s settle this.”

“Well, I am only knighted and cannot marry above my station, yet there is no money in the ladies I’m allowed to court. No wealthy father would give his daughter and her inheritance to me, a gambler and philanderer, as you have said,” Harry began confidently. “You were right, I’m tired of old widows and want to… settle down with a comfortable life. I’m sure you can be reasonable, Baelish.”

“I gather you no longer care if Lady Waynwood disapproves of your marrying, not only below your meager class but to that of a traitor with no title or social standing? You won’t be invited to many dinner parties, Harrold,” Petyr smiled sarcastically. He needed to play along a little to be shrewd, as it was his reputation as well. He was a businessman, after all.

“It won’t matter with the money you’re going to pay me, generously of course, for her dowry,” the boy countered back, and Petyr smirked. Now, they were just haggling over price, were they?

“And how much will it cost me, to sweep our little problem under the rug where it belongs?” Petyr asked.

“It certainly isn’t my problem, Baelish,” Harrold laughed. “She is beautiful as I’m quite sure I’ll enjoy fucking her every night while I’m receiving… oh, thirty-thousand guineas? It’s a nice round number, don’t you think? I feel, a man of your means could easily come up with such a sum rather quickly.”

Petyr pretended to think it over, “And where, and when, should this business transaction place?”

“I’m willing to bet a man like you has money stashed someplace for special occasions, and this is a special occasion. Think of it as a quiet wedding where the bans will not be read. A young girl, forever out of your social-climbing agenda,” the blonde grinned. “And if the king were to ever bestow a new and wealthier title on your head, I think a little compensation now and then would be a kind gesture to your new … hmm, what would I be to you? She’s not your daughter, obviously. If you had a daughter, I’m sure you’d give her quite the inheritance.”

“Enough, Harrold,” Petyr sighed in false defeat. “You have your price. Fifty-thousand and let that be the end of it. It’s more than enough for you. Leave me to my new bride and let’s be done with this. Where shall we meet, later tonight? Why don’t I take you to Black’s. We’ll settle it there. You can say you cleaned me out.”

“You have fifty-thousand guineas? Just that easily?” the boy scrutinized.

“Harrold, I have gambled as much before. I am able to retrieve such a sum but don’t get greedy, or it will appear suspicious,” Petyr eyed him with disdain. “If suddenly you have acquired my estate and business earnings, people will wonder where you got it. No one will believe you won that much from me and then we both lose. I want this to be the end of it. Take the damned girl and your money. You’ve bested me, that’s what you wanted, isn’t it?”

Harrold lit his cigar and pondered the deal mockingly.

“Fine, fifty-thousand. Tonight,” he grinned, exhaling a ring of smoke.

“Let me take the girl home, and I’ll meet you there with contracts and money in hand,” Petyr grumbled looking at his pocket watch. “Meet me in two hours.”

Harrold shook Petyr’s hand vigorously, laughing to himself in victory.

“Pleasure doing business with you, Baelish. I never knew it would be so easy to become rich,” he smiled. “If you’re not at Black’s in two hours, I’ll be sure to have a most serious conversation with two important ladies of influence.”

Petyr watched the boy walk casually to the stairs and smiled to himself. He knew who was behind this little con artist, and both would be dealt with accordingly. First, he had to get Sansa home and draw up the necessary documents and gold. Petyr walked back in his box where she waited impatiently.

“I was beginning to think you left me here,” she sighed. “What did Sir Harrold want?”

“Oh, your hand in marriage,” he offered lightly and watched her face change from shock to curiosity and then distrust. “For a rather handsome dowry, I might add. Not that he has any feelings for you, in case you were wondering about his true intentions.”

“You’re impossible,” Sansa rolled her eyes. “I don’t like your games.”

“It’s not a game, sweetling,” Petyr sighed. “What do you think we were talking about for so long out here? The opera?”

“But – you – you wouldn’t… would you?”

The fear was real as the muscles in her throat clenched. So, Sasna truly wasn’t interested in the young and handsome Hardyng. How satisfying, Petyr thought to himself.  

“You think I would marry you to such gutter trash, my dear?” he mocked her, feeling a bit upset that she would think that of him. “I do believe I have better taste and judge of character than that buffoon.”

Sansa cracked a half-smile but then her eyes dropped down to her lap where she twisted his handkerchief apprehensively.

“Are you… I mean, do you intend to marry me off? You’ll be a married man soon,” she whispered so softly, he almost did not hear her.

“Do you wish to marry?” Petyr asked curiously.

She chuckled, but there was an underlining sadness as she refused to look at him.

“That buffoon… was probably all I’m going to get,” she smiled, but Petyr couldn’t see her eyes. He knew she couldn’t be serious. Was Sansa desperate enough to take a man like Hardyng? “It doesn’t matter what I want anymore.”

“What do you want, sweetling?” Petyr wondered, tilting her chin up.

Sansa was silent for a long time as she continued to avoid his eyes. She was hiding something, Petyr knew. Whatever it was, she did not want to tell him.

“I want to go home,” she said solemnly and finally looked at him with a smile that broke his heart. “Will you take me home, Petyr?”

Petyr nodded, taking her hand before escorting her out. He avoided the men who wished to speak with him, or more likely wanted to get an eye full of Stark’s daughter on his arm. Thankfully, most of the gossipmongers had left or stayed in their little hate-filled circles speaking behind gloved hands and lacy fans. Briefly, Petyr would glance at Sansa, and he couldn't help but feel gratification in how she held her head high. She was a proud wolf, brave and sure as her family sigil suggested.

Once they were back in the cold carriage, did Sansa finally let her guard down and sigh in relief. She enjoyed the opera, Petyr knew, but it did not come without a price. The ride home was quiet, down the dark streets with faint lamps lighting their way. They passed Black’s, the city’s most affluent and exclusive gentlemen’s club. If not for Petyr, Harrold wouldn’t be allowed to step one foot inside tonight.

Petyr smiled to himself, it was going to a long night. Once, he used to gamble all evening long, take a lover or seduce a man’s wife just for fun as other lords made generous use of the brothel next door. It was not advertised as such, keeping in with the exclusivity and secrecy of its prominent and wealthy patrons. Petyr would know because he owned both which was not advertised as he kept many of his lucrative business dealings in the shadows.

Marcus Black ran the club, as his wife handled the brothel, both paid handsomely to keep Petyr’s name out of it, the silent partner that kept the wheels well-oiled and moving. He knew the man and his wife skimmed off the top, but so much money flowed through every day, Petyr didn’t harp on them about it. The place made him filthy rich, more so than his other endeavors in Westeros. It was also the key to gathering much-needed information. Petyr learned most of what he wanted from drunk lords losing their inheritances at the tables and whispers to whores. The ton had no idea how many pots Petyr had his hands in.

He was brought out of his thoughts when the girl leaned against his shoulder, and Petyr wondered how much champagne she drank while he was haggling with Harrold. One of the emerald earbobs fell off as she nestled more into him with sleepy haze. He pocketed the little jewel and smiled, wrapping a warm arm around her as they were nearly home. Sansa would go to bed, and Petyr would deal with the bothersome blonde.

The soft clapping of hooves against the cobblestone and the beautiful girl snuggled into his side was almost enough to make him drowsy. Petyr wished he could take her away tonight, but he knew it wasn’t possible now. Too many years and gold had been invested in this game. Petyr couldn’t turn away when he was so close.

Her hair was faintly scented and like satin between his fingers as he played with a ringlet that had come loose from its pins. Sansa was so soft nestled against him and wondered if she realized the intimacy of it. Right now, he didn’t care as he relished in the feeling. This is how he wanted it to be. Petyr looked down at her ivory hands and could visualize a gold band on that lovely finger.

All too soon, the carriage stopped in front of his townhouse as Petyr gently nudged her to wake. Her eyes were in dire need of sleep yet a small smile formed on her lips at she blushed at him. Sansa looked so young at this moment, and Petyr could see a daughter in the woman before him. He could see taking a girl with her eyes and perhaps his dark hair to her first ball. He would be an old man by then, but he would enjoy it just as much at taking Sansa to her first opera tonight.

“You’re staring,” she blushed again.

“I am. You are beautiful tonight. Thank you for joining me, my lady,” he smiled and felt his heart lighten when she returned his smile.

There were times when he complimented Sansa and she would have a strange look on her face. Sometimes she would blush prettily and others – he couldn’t place it. Petyr wasn’t sure if his compliments made her feel uncomfortable or if she actually liked them. Perhaps Sansa wasn’t used to getting compliments anymore.

“It’s a shame Myranda missed it,” Sansa finally looked away. “Do you think she would have liked the story?”

“Honestly, I don’t know,” he mused. “I think she would have enjoyed mingling more.”

Sansa’s expression changed, cutting him in a way that wasn’t an insult.

“It was a good thing she didn’t go,” she began. Petyr hoped that Sansa had liked that it was only the two of them tonight. “The heckling and gossip would have embarrassed her terribly. I hope Myranda doesn’t hear of it.”

“Do you really care for her happiness so much?” he asked, curious if Sansa was being honest.

“She cares for you, and I don’t want her to have the wrong impression. She’s trying to fix her reputation, to find some happiness, and I think she’s found it with you. I just don’t want to ruin things,” she said sadly. Petyr wanted to tell her the truth but knew he couldn’t. Now wasn’t the time.

“Don’t worry about Myranda and me,” he smirked. “We have this sorted out. It will be alright. That heckling was more about me, not you. They know I don’t play by their rules and love to try and tear me back down to where they think I belong. They are envious, Sansa. They see a strong and beautiful woman like you and can’t stand that you exist. By insulting you, someone who has done nothing to them, they are only showing what they truly are… petty, miserable and bitter old corpses because their own lives are boring and meaningless. You are a reminder of not only what they cannot have but will never be.”

Sansa’s breathing hitched as she stared at him with wide eyes. Dear God, he wanted to kiss her at this moment but held still and let it pass. Clearing his throat, Petyr stepped out and took her hand once more helping her from the carriage. He removed her cloak, handing it to the footman before giving her a little peck on the cheek, bidding her goodnight.

“Where are you going?” she asked when he did not remove his cloak and gloves.

“I’m going to Black’s tonight. I have some business to attend to,” Petyr replied smoothly with a smile.

All the tenderness from her in the carriage disappeared as she frowned.

“You’re going to gamble, you mean,” Sansa huffed, taking off the earbob and then realizing the other was missing from her ear as she scanned the floor in horror.

Petyr chuckled and handed her the emerald and diamond jewel.

“Gambling is a standard trade of gentlemen, sweetling,” he reminded her of who he was. “Especially, considering the kind of business, I’m involved with.”

Was it disappointment he saw in her? Had Sansa assumed they would sit by the fire in the library as they were accustomed to most evenings?

“Don’t stay up late, and no more brandy,” he grinned when his words shocked her knowing that he had been a keen observer.

Sansa couldn’t deny it yet instead of fighting with him, she scowled and marched up the stairs to her room. Petyr wanted to laugh, but it did concern him. She was drinking, more than she should and trying to hide it. Had it been Myranda, he would not have cared but with Sansa… it was not good for her. Alcohol numbed the mind of things it did not want to think on. Petyr had to admit that much of Sansa’s problems were caused by him. Once he got her back to Harrenhal, it would be better, he thought. He needed to get her out of Kings Landing as soon as he could.

Petyr wrote up a contract that would appease Hardyng, awarding him Sansa and the fifty-thousand as bribery. Setting out to the club, Petyr was ready to meet the young man that, who with the confidence of youth, believed he had won quite the prize with a little trickery.

Harry, and all the rest didn’t comprehend who they were dealing with. Petyr won on most occasions and allowed himself to lose only to gain something better. He was willing to wager everything to which many lords thought he was mad or reckless. Petyr made bets and moves that seemed to work against him, as he was using Sansa now, or just to baffle and amuse himself. It was all a part of the game and the illusion he had created. Lord Petyr Baelish was a harmless fop – a wealthy and talented fop in matters of finance, but harmless all the same.

Entering the club, the footmen brought Petyr the whiskey always asked for and found Marcus. The two men conversed quietly in a way that was unassuming to anyone watching. He advised to admit one, Sir Harrold Hardyng and direct him to a private lounge for more important men of the ton. Business was booming this week as many of high society was in the capital for the king’s upcoming ball making Petyr smile. Even if he lost the fifty-thousand, he would triple his profits from this week alone.

The club was filled with father’s and their sons, some Petyr had not seen in months or years. These men frequented gaming hells in and around their estates but were not used to the high stakes of playing at his establishment. Judging by the looks of some, Petyr was certain he was going to make a killing tonight.

The clock struck one, and Petyr frowned as he took his winnings from the last card game to the dismay of Lord Tyrell and his son. Hardyng was late. Petyr detested tardiness in business affairs. It showed a lack of respect and judgment from the other party, and it tended to irritate him. Harry was the one that set the time even though Petyr chose the place. He wanted to get this over with and go home.

Marcus tapped Petyr’s shoulder, signaling him to the blonde that strode over to his table. Hardyng was all pompous with his grin as he sat down next to Petyr.

“Baelish, thank you for inviting me. Her Grace will appreciate your letting me experience the capital during my short stay,” the boy smiled as Petyr played along.

“Of course, the duchess and I are childhood friends, I could not deny her wishes. Robert is too young, and Lady Waynwood surely would prefer the company of the ladies. I hope she doesn’t feel her ward will be influenced by a man of such ill repute?” Petyr jested making the Tryells laugh.

“It shouldn’t be much of a contest tonight, I do not have the funds of the gentlemen here,” Harry japed with a nod of his head in acknowledgment. “Perhaps a sherry and I’ll observe how rich men win their gold.”

Petyr chuckled at that offering him a chair at their table.

“Then have a whiskey, my boy. Sherry is for the women,” Petyr said, signaling the footman to bring another round of drinks.

“Be careful, Harry, Baelish here, takes no prisoners when gambling,” Loras laughed. “I’ve already lost ten-thousand.”

“You mean I have lost ten-thousand, my son,” Lord Tyrell grumbled looking at his cards.

“No, you’ve lost twenty-five thousand to me in just the last hour, Mace,” Petyr smiled, setting his cards face down watching the old man seethe.

“I’m father to the queen, Baelish, and yet you seek to bankrupt me,” Tyrell frowned as he placed his bet in the center of the table.

“The queen’s father or no, it doesn’t excuse what a terrible player you are. Loras, my boy, pay attention. This is how you win without trying,” Petyr goaded tripling the bet with his gold after taking two cards.

“You’re bluffing, you don’t raise that much taking two cards after a meager first wager,” the man huffed and matched the gold. “I’m calling you out tonight, finally.”

Tyrell smirked raising again, waiting to see if Petyr would give away a tell. Laying down a full house. Loras patted his father on the back while Harry congratulated the man on his win. Petyr raised his eyebrows and grinned as he turned over his hand on the table, revealing a straight flush.

“Damnit, man, do you ever lose?” Tyrell complained as Petyr scooped his winnings to his side of the table. “This game from the colonies is for crooks, I tell you. Crooks and thieves.”

“Oh, come on, Tyrell, it is a simple game, but it’s not so much the cards but the players in how you win,” Petyr chuckled. “Harrold, the key is to either figure out what your opponent is holding by their bets, facial expressions, ticks and so forth. You can tell if they hold something significant and fold if you don’t have anything good, or fake your own terrible hand if you know they don’t have anything either.”

“Baelish, your reputation is you never lose,” Tyrell frowned. “Never should have attempted playing you tonight.”

“I occasionally lose, Tyrell, and believe me I wasn’t happy about it,” Petyr laughed heartily looking at Harry next to him. “Sooner or later, I gain it all back plus some.”

“Well, I must bid you gentlemen goodnight, my old bones are aching after such a long journey from Highgarden. Baelish, you’ll have to steal someone else’s money tonight,” the man grumbled as he and his son stood, collecting their personals. “Come along, Loras.”

Petyr and Harry sat quietly until they were relatively alone.

“So how will this work?” the boy asked, anxious for his winnings.

Petyr handed Harry a hefty purse of twenty-thousand of what he initially demanded under the table.

“We will play for a while, and you will win. Simple as that. You will win my fifty-thousand with beginners’ luck and be on your way. The contract to my ward is inside the purse. Decide on the date, and I shall bring her to you. I would suggest that it wait until after his majesty’s ball. Quietly and away from Kings Landing would be the right course of action for both of us. You will be positively wealthy and do as you please as long as it no longer involves me.”

Petyr dealt the cards and made a small wager of one-thousand guineas. Harry was about to lift his heavy purse to the table when Petyr kicked him hard from underneath.

“Ow,” the boy yelped. “What in blazes was that for?”

“Do not show how much money you have, you fool,” Petyr spat quietly. Harry, and the other gentlemen here hadn’t a clue that Petyr owned this club and this was all a ruse. “You’ll be accused of stealing, a man of your means. Put two thousand on the table and nothing more. If they see that purse, they’ll be wondering where you got it.”

Frowning, the boy sifted through the gold coins and paper notes from the purse hiding it inside his coat. Fifty-thousand was too high a sum in just gold and added enough banknotes to even it out. Petyr always kept money hidden away in many places, but easiest was here where it flowed so heavily from night to night. Harry, did, however, pull out the document in regards to Sansa to see if it was legitimate, as Petyr believed he would, and then quickly tucked it away.

The men played quietly as Harry built his winnings steadily. Luckily, it was very late as many men had already left for the night, teasing Petyr that he was finally losing for once. Petyr japed and said he would win it back soon and hoped they would go and not stay to watch the game unfold into the wee hours of the morning. Petyr was yawning already and could see this last hand would seal the deal. It was practically three, and he needed to finish this.

“Well, Sir Harrold, it seems that at last, I have met my match,” Petyr grinned, pocketing the remainder of his coins from the table. “It’s quite late, and I’m not the young man I used to be. Be wary of those men left, they will not be so kind in letting you leave with such a lucky purse. I would recommend retiring for the night and certainly don’t let it sit unwatched if you take a whore to bed next door. She’ll suck you and your cock dry.”

Harry stood and held his hand out to Petyr.

“It was a pleasure playing you tonight, Baelish,” the boy grinned. “I hope I may always be so lucky. Lady Waynwood and the duchess will be pleased to know I didn’t lose my inheritance.”

Petyr took his hand and smirked, “The pleasure is all yours.”

“I’ll be sure to call on you and your pretty ward… after the king’s ball, as you suggested,” Harry said smugly, and Petyr let him have his moment of victory.

Petyr smiled and nodded curtly before explicitly making his exit known to the rest of the gentleman still gambling and drinking. Marcus handed him his cloak and gloves as Petyr gave the man a knowing glance as to the boy. The man nodded in agreement and bid Petyr goodnight.

He saw two gentlemen outside debating on the whether to enter the brothel when Petyr offered a quick goodnight, climbing into his carriage. Good, let them all see me leave, he thought, as the driver took them around the city block slowly and then parked near an alley. An hour passed, when he finally spied Harry, drunk, walking down the street having left Black’s. Petyr ordered his manager to let the boy gamble and drink but kick him out before four and make sure no carriage would be at his disposal. Petyr knew the boy took a cab to get here, since he did not own his own carriage and riding in Lysa’s with her crest would have been ludicrous, even for her.

The streets were empty and the lamps were dying as it would be dawn soon. Even the most die-hard gamblers had left for the night, and now Harrold Hardyng, victorious and arrogant schemer was on his own, just as Petyr had planned it. Petyr exited his carriage, wrapping his cloak around him to hide the white of his shirt and made his way to the street corner under the cover of darkness.

Two ‘thieves,’ in Petyr’s employ, waited patiently as the man in question passed and Petyr gave the order with the nod of his head. It wasn’t long before Harry realized he was being followed and darted down another alley. The man was an idiot, leaving a gentleman’s club all alone with a full purse was a beacon to any thief looking for a quick pay off.

Petyr turned down an adjacent alley and waited in shadow. His men would herd the boy right to him, in a place where not a spec of light nor eye belonging to a creature with less than four legs resided. He heard the boy scrambling down the alley as Harry turned around only to see the men had given up their hunt. Petyr’s men were well paid, loyal, and did not ask questions of their generous employer.

Harry stumbled down the dark alley while Petyr stood still against the cold and filthy brick.

“Fucking bastards, lowlifes… think they can mess with me? I’d show them both,” the boy muttered drunkenly before a hand gripped him tightly and a dagger threatened to slice his throat.

Petyr didn’t say a word and let the cold blade do the talking as the blonde stopped struggling and whimpered like a child.

“Here, take it,” he mumbled, holding a small leather purse and Petyr chuckled darkly. Perhaps a dumb thief might take it and run, but Petyr knew better and disguised his voice.

“You jingle like a man carrying a bag of coins ten times that size, m’lord,” Petyr jested. “Let’s find out.”

Petyr reached inside the boy’s cloak and felt his purse tied and hiding inside Harry’s coat.

“Shall I release you of such a heavy burden?” he laughed, yanking the purse away. “Not very wise to walk alone at night after winning so much at such a wealthy man’s club?”

“You fucking bastard, I’ll find you. You hear me? I’ll kill you,” Harry swore and struggled before Petyr put pressure on the dagger and heard the man curse as the blade cut his skin.

Petyr tutted next to the boy’s ear reverting back to his normal voice, “What did I tell you about knowing your opponent?”

“You!” the boy choked in fear as Petyr wanted him to know that he bested him.

“I know you did not come up with this little scheme on your own, Harry,” he whispered in a deadly tone. “Tell me, and I’ll let you take the money and go.”

The boy didn’t waste any time at all and coughed out her name. Petyr already knew it, but for some reason, he wanted to hear Harry say it. Confirm it.

“Thank you, my boy,” he said and with a deep swipe, the dagger sliced through the blonde’s throat spilling his blood down onto the gutter. The boy shook as his life drained away. “There are two things you never fuck with, Harrold. A man’s money and his beloved…”

Petyr let the boy drop into a filthy puddle, tucking the purse inside his cloak. He picked up Harry’s smaller one and emptied the few coins into his hand, throwing them down the darkened alley. One would think the boy was chased and then robbed.

Marcus would vouch that Harrold left with huge winnings and very drunk. He would also vouch, not that Petyr would even be suspected in such a terrible murder, that he left long before in his carriage in the view of several well-known patrons. Petyr wiped his dagger clean on the bottom of Harry’s cloak and pocketed it out of sight.

Petyr stared at the dead boy on the ground covered in blood and shook his head. He detested getting his hands dirty, but this had to be done himself. Petyr did not trust anyone else with the money and documents in the purse. It was more an annoyance he had to waste his time on this when he had more important things in play.

Harry brought it on himself, and Petyr felt no remorse for the arrogant and stupid boy. Joffrey’s ball was a day away, and Petyr had one more to deal with – someone far more important, whose death would be questioned and investigated. She was always in his plans to die, but now it would much sooner than he had anticipated. Now, it was just a matter of how.