The story so far:

PrologueChapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9, Chapter 10, Chapter 11, Chapter 12, Chapter 13.

Chapter 14: Say Hello

Teaching had never been the occupation of choice for Tyrion Lannister. He realized he had the brains to make it work, but temperament was another thing altogether. Yet when he came to know that almost all the children and most of the adults in the village could not even write their own names nor tell their times tables, he recognized a need that would need filling. And Tyrion was desperate for a job. After all, he felt responsible to provide for the security of not just a young wife but also an old woman who he felt had sacrificed enough for them and really deserved a chance to retire in peace and contentment. Sauriel might be redoubtable, but he sensed that recent events had taken a noticeable toll on her, and her days on the open road had clearly reached their conclusion. He was determined that she would never have fend herself on her own again. All they had gone through together had bonded them together in a strong, albeit unorthodox, family unit. He and Sansa had lost enough family members one way or another, and he was not about to let the closest thing to a mother they had at this point go off on her own again, even though she did make a point of suggesting it time and again. For Tyrion, loyal sometimes to a fault, it was out of the question. So after giving it a think, he went off to the magistrate of the village council and told a tall tale about him having been employed as a tutor in the noble houses of Westeros (to which the magistrate interjected that he had never heard of the place) until he driven out by the feuding. The man was agreeable to Tyrion’s proposal that a notice be put out advertising Tyrion’s offer to tutor in basic reading, writing, and mathematics. He even made him offer of good faith to teach his own children history and geography, since had seen much of the world. Slowly but surely, villagers who had long been cheated by port town merchants decided that their children had best be equipped to outfox them, and hired Tyrion for the job. Although the pay was minimal, and sometimes turned out to be in the form of a trade for food, he grudgingly accepted that this would have to be his lot, at least for the time being. Before long, he found himself tutoring different students both day and night. Meanwhile, the women did continue doing their bit for survival’s sake. Sauriel had gone back to selling her herbal remedies and charms, while Sansa turned back to an old pastime for the purpose of income: sewing. The wives of the councilmen were rather desperate to imitate the city fashions in their own attire, and Sansa had no mean eye for detail, so her reproductions, even with crude material, were well-done. Whatever the villagers thought about the strange trio, they were fast becoming a fact of life. The weeks passed and the winds of winter blew away the dead leaves of fall. They had moved into a small cottage at the edge of town, and even though it was drafty and cramped, Sansa felt pleased that it was her own. As a girl, she could imagine how repulsed she would have been at the thought of living in such a humble place, when she had dreamed of grand castles and servants to do her bidding. But she shocked herself by being thankful for what she had after all she had lost and, indeed, even felt joy in her heart to be lady of her own home. Perhaps that was the ultimate sign that she had indeed left her childhood behind. One night, after a long day of teaching Tyrion found her asleep in her chair, the needlework still in her lap. Swallowing back a twinge of regret that she should have to work late into the night, he kissed her cheek. It felt cold to his lips, but her eyes did flutter open and she smiled at him teasingly. “What kept you so late? Have you been seducing the mountain nymphs by moonlight?” “I’m afraid not,” he exhaled. “Just grading papers for ink-stained little urchins on a cheese farm. My night life has altogether run down the sewerage. ” She pecked him on the cheek. “Oh, come, altogether?” “Alright, well, maybe there’s a residue of my old self left…” He craned towards her a little, and she pulled back, playing hard-to-get. “I don’t think you dislike children half as much as you carry on about. In fact, I think you could get to be fond of them if you tried.” “You’ll have to teach me how to try someday.” He fondled her hand in her lap and was again struck by the coldness of it. “Sansa, you shouldn’t be up without the fire lit. You’ll catch your death of cold.” “But I had this piece to finish for the councilman’s wife,” she protested. “It’s due tomorrow. Besides…I have something to tell you…” “In bed,” he coaxed her, taking her hand and pulling her up. “Gods, you’re like ice.” “Oh, you’re really exaggerating…” “Never you mind.” He tugged her towards their small bedroom. “Get under those blankets.” She did as she was told, and waited for him to climb in next to her. He had a stool set up now, so no further acrobatics were necessary to achieve this. She laughed as she felt him pull her against him and star to kiss her neck. “Stop, that tickles!” she protested. “Good for circulation,” he insisted, then reached his arms around her waist amorously. “Careful…careful, not too tight.” “Since when have you become so sensitive? This one thought has been keeping me going through hours of cheese farm mathematics…” “Now settle down, will you? Didn’t I say I had to tell you something? How can I talk with you carrying on so?” He exhaled, like the wind had just been taken out of his sails, and slumped down next to her, keeping his hands to himself. “My lady, you have quite undone me.” “Oh, you’ll manage somehow, I’m sure,” she twitted. “Now shall I tell you my news?” “This better be good,” he pouted in mock-despair. She smiled mischievously, took his hand, and placed it over her belly. “Say hello, Tyrion.” He looked perplexed. “I don’t believe I…” Then his face blanched. “Sansa…are you…?” She giggled. “My dear little husband, don’t look so surprised. You were involved, you know.” “Oh…”His heart rose in his throat, and now he truly did feel undone. “Oh, Sansa…” A thousand conflicting thoughts and feelings assailed him. Then a flashback washed over him of the last time a woman had claimed to be carrying his child, insisting that he buy her the tonic to wash the little beast out of her lest it come wriggling out of her a living, twisted mess, like he was. There had been no way anyone in the brothel could have known for certain whether he was really the father or not, with so many men coming and going, and he had been annoyed at being singled out as the guilty party. But he was a Lannister, and the hussy had decided he could afford the inconvenience. Perhaps this was yet another sick debt he had had to pay for his name’s sake…? “Tyrion, what’s wrong?” Sansa inquired, sensing his distress. He shook himself from his daze. “I feel…so unworthy to father…your child,” he confessed. “Now enough of that,” she chided him. “But you don’t…know everything.” He bit his lip. She inched closer to him. “Then tell me.” He grimaced, wishing he could put it off. Even all she had been through, she still had a certain naiveté which made him fearful of her reaction to what he was about to relate. “You know all about my past escapades with…harlots,” he started. “But I was not…Joffrey. I did not mistreat their bodies. I got my money’s worth, but I also tried to pleasure them as much as they did me. And I didn’t over-tax any one of them, nor would I take any who looked too terribly frightened or disgusted at the thought of bedding a dwarf. And I never cheated them of their pay. Sometimes I’d even buy them presents…” He twitched hearing his own words and realizing how ridiculous he sounded trying to make some sort of perverse case for “ethical” whoring. “I’m sorry…I shouldn’t be saying these things to you. But I just didn’t want you to think…” “I never thought it,” she assured. “It’s not in your nature to derive pleasure from inflicting pain on others.” Except, sometimes, when extracting revenge, he thought, but decided not to say it. He wanted to change. He wanted to conquer his demons for her sake. But he had to tell her…the rest. “There’s more, dear. I never told you…how when one of them would fall pregnant, as happened every so often when their herbs would fail them, and they thought I was the culprit, I would…” He grimaced, remembering how after that last bottle of tonic had been drained, his eyes had met that whore’s eyes, just for a moment, and he had seen a flicker of some wordless emotion cross them. But she had desperate to avoid seeming weak and quickly muttered that even that little bit should be enough to finish off a dwarf’s bastard. He responded by making some crude joke about poisoning a bitch’s pup. But that night, and many nights after, he had pitied her silent pain that mirrored his own and wondered what it had been like for the child – whether his or another’s, it mattered not anymore – to drown in the darkness of its mother’s womb. “I helped to…get rid of them. I bought them what was needed to flush them out.” He paused, waiting for her to respond. When she did not, he continued awkwardly, “Sometimes I wonder what they would have been like…I wonder if they would have been clever or good-looking…” He felt a sick twinge and covered his face. “I don’t even know if they were sons or daughters, or if they were mine at all. There was no question of them being carried to term; they were dead as soon as they came into life. But I see now…they were just as real as yours is now, just as needy, just as much…deserving to be born. If my own lust brought them into the world, with no hope of protecting them, using women like toys with no thought of the consequences on them, then I am doubly responsible for…” He felt Sansa’s arm link through his. “You have changed, Tyrion. You have changed so much, and for the better. And I think they would…understand,” she whispered. “And they would want you to move on, and to learn to love anew.” He gazed at her belly wistfully. “What if…what if your baby is…scared of me?” There was such a pathetic sincerity in that question, Sansa’s heart felt broken at the core. “Our baby, Tyrion,” she corrected him, running the back of her hand along his cheek. “Our baby will love you, because he will be a part of your own self, and you will be the kindest of fathers, as you are the kindest of husbands.” He shuddered. “What if the child…comes out like…?” She leaned him against her, with his head on her shoulder. “Do you really think it would make any difference?” “But you don’t deserve…and ugly, twisted child…” “Any child born of our love will be more than beautiful in our eyes, whether or not its bones are straight.” She let her lips gently touch his. “And every day we will let our little one know just how beautiful.” “Oh, Sansa…” He shut his eyes tight, unnerved at the coolness of her lips, even though they burned with the warmest intent. “Please, please don’t get sick. Don’t lose your strength…” “Hush,” she quieted him, as if he were a little child. “I’ll be alright, I promise. I’m staying with you for the rest of your days, like it or not.” Her heart was bearing down on his heart, breasts pressed against each other, swelling tight. “Hold me, Tyrion. Hold me…” Slowly, gingerly, he curled his arm around her waist again. He was chastened now and very, very careful lest a wrong move from him might cause her injury, and regretted being over-eager earlier on. He let his other hand move lightly over her belly, thinking about this spark of his own life mingling with her own, like the marriage of flames or the crossing of stars, and how it had taken root, and was growling now like a sapling. It scared him, and awed him, and he found himself whispering awkwardly, “Hello, baby.” What a strange thing, a strange, terrible, wonderful thing! He was holding her and their tiny offspring together, rocking them slightly, softly, soothingly against him, almost like a cradle, and wanting more than all the world to give them every comfort, every security, and knowing with an ache that he could not, not at this time, in this place. He rubbed his hand along her back. “I wish there was more of me so I could keep you properly warm.” “I’m warm, Tyrion,” she assured, nuzzling against him. “You should be in a castle, with a great blazing hearth and a soft bed and servants to care for you…not working your fingers raw in a freezing hut…” “In the castles we came from, they’d use my child as a pawn on their chess board, and speak of my body as a thing with no feeling, which would either prove my success or failure according to what it produced,” she responded. “I…I would never have treated you like that, even back at the castle.” “Of course not,” she exhaled. “But you would have been able to stop them from having their way with me in the end. Here we are free. It is a hard freedom, but…dearer than every finery to me.” She smiled. “What shall be his name?” Tyrion swallowed, realizing that some things about Sansa had not changed from her childhood. She was still bubbling with excitement at the concept of motherhood. It was the beauty of innocence she had even brought to their love-making. She had grown out of being a prude, and learned to tease with her husband about their intimacy. But there was no hint of cynicism about it; the act to her was just love demonstrated in another way. And Tyrion had found that his own inner defenses, separating pleasure from meaning, had crumbled. Now it was bringing forth life in its natural course, not out of duty, but from love. “It could be a ‘her’, you know,” he proposed. “No, it runs in my family that first-borns are male,” she stated. “So what shall we name him then?” He pondered for a moment and then responded definitively, “Ned.” He turned to meet her eyes, moistening at his choice, and queried, “And if your prediction is all wrong, and the Stark genes go awry, and it’s a little girl?”

Before she could answer, she cupped his chin with her hand and warmed his mouth with her own. It was a deep kiss this time, and they clung to it for a long, long moment. When they were finally done, she exhaled, “Joanna.”

Avellina Balestri (aka Rosaria Marie) is one of the founding members and the Editor-in-Chief of The Fellowship of the King, a literary magazine with a strong Tolkienite influence (which, by the way, is open to submissions). She reads and writes extensively, and eagerly seeks out the deeper spiritual significance of popular fandoms such as The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, Star Trek, Star Wars, and The Hunger Games. And yes, she does have a soft spot in her heart for classic Disney movies, The Princess Bride, and Merlin 😉 She is also a recording artist, singing traditional folk songs and her own compositions as well as playing the penny whistle and bodhran drum. She draws her inspiration from the Ultimate Love and Source of Creativity, and hopes to share that love and creativity with others.