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Things preserved and things lost

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It was all so heartbreakingly sensible, and there was no other possible choice. I had been warned, after all, Master Niketas, that the Demiurge had done things only halfway.

Umberto Eco, «Baudolino».


At the beginning of 303 AL a magnificent cortege consisting of fifty knights and fifty ladies, to say nothing of innumerable squires, pages, servants, cooks, hostlers and bards left Winterfell and headed for King’s Landing.  The civil war which had been tearing the Seven Kingdoms to pieces for several years was over but recently and the journey turned out to be not very fast and not merry at all: the roads were often unsafe, inns and taverns mostly robbed or burned to the ground, in some places you could not get food for love or money, and there were corpses hanging from trees here and there. Still, it was not all sorrow: northerners took part in four tourneys on their way, three of which were given in their honour. And at last, several months past, Sansa Stark, known to us as Sansa Lannister, saw the walls of the royal capital yet again.


Fate wasn’t too kind to Lady Stark. Her father had been beheaded at the threshold of Baelor’s Sept, her mother and elder brother had been treacherously slaughtered on the feast ominously known as “the Red Wedding”, and she herself had spent several years as a hostage in the Red Keep and she had managed to escape only to find herself accused of regicide. But now everything changed. Her cousin was sitting on the Iron Throne, her maternal uncle, Edmure Tally, had regained control over Riverlands, her younger brother Rickard ruled the North as had a hundred generations of Starks before him, her sister Arya was married to the lord of Stormlands and Sansa, as the wife to the Hand of the King and Warden of the West, was to shine at the court, second only to the queen. The cortege, cheered from all sides, went by the same streets in which Sansa Stark had been almost torn to pieces by the maddened crowd, Lady Stark – Lady Lannister – was smiling and throwing silver dragons at the people and it seemed that there wasn’t a happier woman in all Seven Kingdoms.


Few people knew how relentlessly Sansa Stark had tried to avoid her happiness. Her marriage with Tyrion Lannister was made at the time when she was his family’s hostage and had never been consummated: not only because Sansa had just been thirteen at the time but for the reason of her too palpable disgust of her husband. All if this, and much more, Sansa wrote to the High Septon begging to deliver her from this loathsome union. It was all in vain. The restored Targaryen dynasty needed peace between the Starks and the Lannisters, and the surest way of making peace at that time was marriage. 


The whole year after the Faith had denied her the annulment Sansa had been refusing to return to her husband explaining it with the fact that her brother, not out of age yet, needed her care and advice. At last Jon I appointed Lord Wyman Manderly to act as Lord Rickard Stark’s guardian and ordered Sansa to come to the capital. She had to obey. From the day she had received the king’s order she had not complained a single time, and anyone who saw her on her way south could have sworn that she was as happy as one can be. Only once said she, smiling, to one of her ladies: “I believe that no criminal had ever been led to the scaffold with so many honors”.


She was seventeen years old.


Her position at court was indeed brilliant. Daenerys Targaryen often called herself “more king than queen” and with a lot of relief gave her court duties to Lady Lannister. Sansa took care of feasts, balls, tourneys, she received ambassadors, resolved court squabbles and chose cloth for the queen’s new dresses. Some of Sansa’s letters to the jeweler in which she discussed the presents the queen was supposed to give away on New Year’s day are still preserved. Daenerys used to say that she was blessed twice as much as any other ruler of Westeros. They all had a Hand, but she alone could boast two – right and left. She would sometimes givу her rings and bracelets to Sansa Lannister saying she meant to wear them on her left hand.


But even without those presents Sansa was literally showered with jewelry. Her husband gave her Queen Cercei’s jewels which he inherited and just the list of them was two sheets of paper long.  However, Sansa immediately locked the jewels in a “beautifully carved blackwood case” and twenty years later, not having worn them even once, gave them to her elder daughter as a wedding present, followed by the same list. Still, she agreed to occasionally wear “the set of seventy emerald, five of those the size of a large nut” which she had inherited from her mother-in-law. She was adorned by those magnificent stones when she posed for the “Portrait in the court dress” (presently at the Royal Gallery). Her younger brother had sent her “a large case full of river pearls”. The case must have been really large: Sansa regularly wore pearl-stitched dresses, gave pearl hairnets to her ladies, presented the Baelor’s Sept with a big Book of the Maid the cover of which was adorned with “fifty oblong pearls, each the size of a thumbnail” and, as her son was to recall, she always had a bowl of pearls on her dressing table.


Presents from numerous tradesmen were less expensive but no less lavish. Sansa Lannister was one of the most beautiful and richest women of her time, and her every move was instantly imitated. A bard whose singing she had praised spent the next year in the best houses of King’s Landing “never putting his lute down”. Her brother had sent her polar fox skins and she ordered a fur cape made; a furrier near the Old Gate made not fewer than twenty such capes, all marked in the books as “like the one Lady Lannister has”. A tradesman who could talk her into accepting some foreign oddity could easily double the price for it afterwards; if the buyers complained they were told that “Lady Lannister wears the same things”.  A vagabond preacher pleaded that she should never eat brown bread “because the price of it would rise and poor people would starve”. The reason for this outburst lay in Sansa’s city stroll: her sledge had stopped near a bakery at the corner, she asked Ser Robert Brax to treat her with a pie and he, proud of such attention, bought the whole assortment.


“Master of Rosby”, the famous miniaturist of IV AL, had depicted her during one of such strolls: wearing her white fur cape, her auburn braids entwined with pearls, she is sitting in a large carved sledge drawn by four white horses. A huge black dogs lies at her feet.