Tyrion had often heard it said that when a person died, they left a gap, or a hole behind. He knew now that people who said such things had never lost a loved one. There was no hole, no pit, no gaping chasm where a human being had once laughed, and breathed, and screamed. There was nothing. The world simply continued without them, like they had never existed. The world shifted, and became a different place. It was learning to live in that place that hurt.
When Tyrion had found Jaime and Arya on the field, slain together, he had wept. He hadn’t cared who heard him, or laughed at him.
I’m alone, he had thought, I’m all alone. A selfish thought, but he hadn’t been able to help himself.
Do not think on those things again. They will make you mad.
Tyrion had not seen any of his nephews and nieces, or…her…in almost ten years. He had written to her once or twice in his capacity as Hand of the Queen, inviting her to such-and-such a tourney or asking for the North’s support in such-and-such a rebellion. Her responses had always been prompt, but something had always been…
It had taken him a long time to realise that he had never had the slightest encounter with her that could be called a conversation, not even in the days when he had seen her regularly. Words had not been important before, because words had been unnecessary and often impossible. Simply looking at her, and sometimes taking her hand, had sufficed. Words were difficult now because he had no fucking clue what to write to her beyond idiotic formalities and courtesies.
She had the same sickness.
Or perhaps she does not wish to be reminded of a time that she would rather forget.
The Khaleesi, as he fondly called Queen Daenerys, had nagged him countless times to marry and produce an heir, so that she could name him Lord of Casterly Rock the moment his father died. He had explained many times that Casterly Rock would not be his after Father’s death, but Tyrion the Younger’s, and that marrying would be sure to cause nothing but strife for his young nephew, who would have troubles enough on the day the Rock became his.
‘Tyrion the Younger has spent most of his life at Winterfell,’ the Khaleesi had replied, ‘by now, the boy must be more Stark than Lannister.’
‘It was the wish of my late brother, and of his wife, that their children be raised Northern, and as far away from my father as possible,’ Tyrion had insisted, ‘and while it certainly pains me to be cheated of my own ancestral seat, it does not pain me sufficiently to make me want to war against my own blood. I am tired of war, and I am tired of blood.’
Besides being tired of war and blood, Tyrion had no desire to marry. No desire at all.
Sansa’s children would be of age now. Neither of them had married yet, which was perhaps unsurprising. Alyssa and Steffon were the unholy offspring of one of Jaime and Cersei Lannister’s bastards, and the Khaleesi had rendered their prospects infinitely bleaker by refusing to legitimise them. In consequence, both children were still called Waters despite their mother’s repeated petitions to the crown, and probably had greater chances of finding partners in Old Valyria than anywhere in Westeros.
Jaime’s children, though legitimate, were in a similar position. Both were blond as wheat fields, which made the uneducated and the idiotic wonder constantly about their parentage, but they were also irreparably tainted; tainted by their father’s stupidity and by their mother’s recklessness.
Or her loyalty, I suppose, depending on your allegiances.
Tyrion shook his head.
They have the benefit of the Lannister name, he thought, that will count for something eventually. Gold washes everything clean.
Tyrion pulled his cloak tighter around him and shouted for wine. He could hear scribes, guards and camp followers complaining about the cold from the ground just beneath him, though he could not see most of them through the mist. Tyrion did not much like camp followers, though they could be surprisingly useful at times. It was for this reason alone that he tolerated them.
The walls of Winterfell reared suddenly out of the mist, the outer wall still half-constructed. Many of the trees immediately surrounding the ancient seat of House Stark had never flowered again, their grey branches stark and eerily beautiful against the clouds. The low-lying country around Winterfell was scarred by enormous, serpentine strips of black that seemed to carve up the earth, like thick streaks of soot on fine velvet. The legacy of the Field of Fire.
Sansa had lost everyone by the name of Stark on the Field of Fire. All gone, except her mother, and she had died of grief within months. And four children to raise, two of them not her own, aged eight, seven, six and five. An unenviable task. She could have engaged septas and maesters to do all the work for her, of course, but Tyrion knew that the concept would not appeal to her. She had always cared for everyone except herself.
Does ‘Sansa’ mean ‘sorrow’ in the Old Tongue?
Winterfell’s gates opened with the soothing, whispering creak of new wood, and as he rode into the central court with his retinue, he felt grateful that he had chosen to heed the call of his cock rather than the call of duty at the time of King Robert’s arrival at Winterfell more than twenty years previously. Had he not, he would have remembered where everyone had stood, what they had said, what they had worn, how they had looked, and he would have been inconsolable. Instead, his heart was leaping in his chest at the sight of her; scarcely noticing the presence of the four young adults at her side.
Tyrion hardly recognised the myriad of ways that she had changed in externals, because to him she looked just the same; the same courage, the same strength, the same sadness. Her auburn hair was streaked so perfectly with premature grey that he might have suspected a lesser woman of dyeing it, and smile lines wrinkled the delicate skin around her mouth, as though she had branded each one of her rare smiles onto her skin, in the hope that it would never disappear. But she did not smile as he approached, and he had not expected her to. She was Warden of the North, and a woman. She had a reputation to maintain.
‘You are welcome to Winterfell, my lord,’ she intoned, graceful as a queen as he kissed her hand.
‘My lady,’ he replied, equally formal as tedious traditional inquiries on the respective states of health of Queen Daenerys, Lord Tywin, and the Wardens of the East and South were exchanged.
I should ask her how she is. I want to know how she is. It’s not quite proper, but…
‘And…you, my lady?’ Tyrion ventured , throwing caution to the winds, ‘are you well?’
She disarmed immediately, her face breaking into a smile so different from those he had seen a decade previously that Tyrion was momentarily stunned. Smiling had become something that she did often. He was glad. She deserved to be happy.
‘I am always well,’ Sansa said, so softly that he could barely hear her.
Tyrion then braced himself as Sansa turned to the four adolescents standing in a row at her side.
‘Lord Tyrion, allow me to present my children: Alyssa, Steffon, Tyrion and Visenya.’
She made no distinction between her own children and her sister’s. That was not like her. But the children bowed and curtseyed prettily, and Tyrion busied himself with saying something appropriate to each of them.
Later on, he would not remember what he had said.
Sansa’s eldest, Alyssa, was breathtaking. She had her mother’s high cheekbones and auburn hair, but large, grey Stark eyes, so expressive that Tyrion tore his gaze away at once, seeing Arya staring out at him on the day she had taken Robert’s head.
‘I wish…Jaime were here,’ she had said, hanging her head and walking away.
The boy Steffon, however, was entirely Tully. He had a sincere, open face that prompted instant trust, an inherent sweetness in his expression suggesting both innocence and naivety. A child, still. Sansa had done well.
Keep him here, my lady, and do not teach him the ways of the world. Something in him will die on the day he starts to learn.
His heart pounded in his ears as he came to Jaime and Arya’s children, to the shadows of the past and of himself, his eyes falling first on his namesake. When the boy had been smaller, he had favoured Lord Tywin, but now he looked like no one but himself. Tyrion the Younger had hair so blond it was almost white; a small, birdlike mouth that had something of Arya in it; and a build that was rather on the plump side, though not quite; his ink-stained fingers singing to Tyrion of the smell of cold stone and parchment.
A scholar, Tyrion thought, he prefers the library to the practice yard. That is why he is so stocky.
Tyrion remembered a time shortly before the war, when he had come upon the boy in the library of King’s Landing, in a section to which no child had access.
‘Did you climb in through a window, mischievous child?’ he had asked jokingly.
Tyrion the Younger had simply shrugged in response; a charming habit learned from his mother, no doubt.
‘Did someone give you a key?’ Tyrion had persisted.
But the boy had turned back to his book, and was lost in thought already. Tyrion had smiled and left him, approving heartily.
And Visenya. Visenya was utterly and irredeemably Jaime’s; and just looking at her tore Tyrion’s heart in two. She had her father’s extraordinary height and the charisma that went with it, standing at almost six feet and evidently still growing. She was long-limbed and slender, but not at all gangly, and she looked twice as fit as most boys her age. Her hair was spun from the same gold as her father’s, the same light pierced the whispering woodland of her eyes, and her square jawline, a feature that Tyrion usually found most unattractive in a woman, became her lovely face as perfectly as it had her father’s. She also seemed to have inherited Jaime’s pathological inability to take anything seriously, for she was grinning cheekily at him in a way that could either have professed delight or mockery, earning herself an imperious glare from her aunt that only made her smile wider.
‘Will you take a cup of wine in my solar, Lord Tyrion?’ Sansa proposed, still eyeing her niece with a mix of exasperation and affection.
Tyrion turned away from the ghost of his brother with relief.
‘I will take a barrel of wine, my lady.’