Jul. 21st, 2013

ladytp: (by Giovanni de Campo)
Jaime

Not a week after Jaime’s return to Winterfell Sansa requested that he join her in her solar, alone. When Jaime arrived, he saw Sansa behind a small writing table, her fingers stained with ink and a piece of parchment in her hand. Sansa had a room for receiving petitioners and attending to her official correspondence near the Great Hall, but she managed her private letters in her own rooms. Jaime liked to think that she had written the messages to him in King’s Landing here, sitting in a high-backed chair behind a messy table. Writing utensils, loose pieces of paper, maps, scrolls, books, abandoned needlework and scraps of clothing covered the desk.

Sansa smiled at Jaime and without further ado pointed at him to sit down next to her.

“I have received a new message from King’s Landing.” She waved the parchment in her hand. “Tyrion writes that Jon, the king and the queen expect to be here in less than a fortnight. After they receive my oath of allegiance, they will continue to the Wall to mount a decisive attack against the Others.”

“So you shall be truly recognised as the Warden of the North. That is what you wanted, isn’t it?” Jaime sat down, pleased about the opportunity to meet her alone.

Although he had tried to adapt to the new situation, he still sometimes felt uneasy about the strong undercurrents between Sansa and Sandor, too obvious to avoid. He felt it particularly when he left Sansa’s rooms at the conclusion of a late-night meeting, Sandor staying behind. As Jaime walked away he could imagine the two of them reaching for each other as soon as he had closed the door. He grimaced then, trying to push the picture out of his mind, resigning himself to what couldn’t be changed.

Especially during those evenings when his mind returned to Sandor’s kiss, which neither of them had brought up afterwards, Jaime realised it had been Sandor’s way of letting him know that he still cared about him. Jaime wanted to read more into it, but he was too realistic to allow such self-delusion. Yet nothing could take the memories away from him; the harshness of Sandor’s grip, the feel of his mouth on his… Jaime knew them to be only crumbs dropped from the feasting table but he was ready to accept what little he was given.

Despite that, he bore no ill feelings towards Sansa, and cherished the rare opportunities to spend time with her. The knowledge of their shared appreciation brought them closer, and since neither could talk about Sandor with anyone else, they often found themselves exchanging their memories and stories about him. Jaime told Sansa about Sandor’s time in Casterly Rock and how the lonely, scarred boy grew up to be an accomplished fighter even the mighty Lord Tywin trusted enough to ask him to guard his only daughter. Sansa told him about the angry, broken man in King’s Landing, tested to the limits of his endurance on the night of the Blackwater. Jaime was aware how extraordinary those shared confidences were, in given circumstances. Yet it felt natural, and instead of their affection for Sandor driving a wedge between them, it bound them closer together. 

Jaime stretched his legs in front of him and yawned. His head felt somewhat heavy after the previous night’s drinking. Since the return of the delegation all members of it had been feted many times over, he being forced to down many cups of ale and goblets of wine to respond to well-wishers and congratulators. He enjoyed it, yet on mornings like this he suffered the consequences. He rubbed his eyes and wished the thumping inside his skull would soon vanish.

Sansa glanced at him, smirking knowingly. She was dressed in a light blue morning dress and was picking at the last pieces of dried fruit from her morning platter. Jaime leaned over her to grasp a handful of nuts, only laughing when Sansa swatted his hand away, pretending to be appalled by his brazenness. Then Sansa returned her gaze to the message in her hand.

“That is true, and I look forward to it. Nonetheless, that is not what I asked you here for. You see, Tyrion writes something I don’t quite understand. Please listen to what he says.” She held the parchment higher and read from it:

“I hope you have had time to consider Jaime’s proposal, and have come up with an answer to him and to our esteemed king and queen. It may seem an ironic twist even to you, who have already experienced so much, but alas, this topsy-turvy world has a funny way of making the impossible possible, and the other way around again… Imagine my humble self, descending from the Hand of the King to a slave, then to a traveling entertainer and – who would have guessed? – coming back to being the Hand again. Likewise your association with our much-maligned family (for good reason, I admit) has gone through many unfortunate detours, but may perhaps end up in a good place after all.

Nevertheless, though I sincerely wish you will accept the offer, I hear that you are a woman determined to make your own choices; an option you regrettably were not granted before. I am truly sorry that I ended up being one of the decisions foisted upon you, but I hope you will not let that influence your opinion. I am quite convinced that my proposal is a perfect answer to your situation.

I might also add (and this shall be just between you and me) that our beloved King Aegon is on a quest for a bride, a noble Westerosi lady. He is a comely lad and a passable marriage proposition for anyone not burned by previous experiences of royal betrothals, as you may be (which notion Jaime confirmed to me). Aegon has heard of your beauty and your many other good qualities and is keen to see them with his own eyes. Should he lose his heart on this trip, he and Queen Daenerys might be less inclined to allow my suggestion to proceed. I could advise you to dress in sack-cloth and ashes, but alas my lady, I suspect that wouldn’t do much to disguise your loveliness.

Should you, however, find this second arrangement more to your liking, far be it for me to stand in your way. In that case I will look forward to seeing you in our capital soon again, finally in the position you aspired to all those years ago; as the queen of the Seven Kingdoms. And wouldn’t that be just another wonderful example of the topsy-turvy world?”

Sansa turned her questioning gaze on Jaime. “What is he talking about? What proposal? Why would King Aegon be interested in me?”

Jaime didn’t know what to say. He had buried the idea of even bringing up Tyrion’s suggestion with Sansa as soon as he had realised what had happened while he had been away. It was bad enough to feel an outsider, a different thing to be unequivocally confirmed as one. He shifted on his seat.

“Oh, it was just something Tyrion thought a good idea, a plan to suggest to you. I told him you are no more the acquiescent young girl you once were, and that you wouldn’t accept his proposition as readily as he might hope. Tyrion was good about it; I think he understood your position. So don’t worry about what he writes. As long as you stay true to the Targaryen rule, I think that is all that is needed.”

“Yet I have to know what he is referring to, or how will I be able to address it with the royals when they arrive?” Sansa’s blue eyes bored unremittingly into Jaime. He realised he had to tell her, or face the Dragons bringing the matter up, unaware of the sensitivities of the current situation. He scratched his beard for a moment to gather his thoughts before he continued.

“The Iron Throne thinks you need to marry. Nothing new in that, we have discussed it enough to know that it is what everyone expects. The threat of your abduction, the risk of the bloodline of House Stark resting on only one person, the need to secure the faith of your bannermen in the continuity of your house…”

Sansa nodded impatiently. Jaime knew that none of this was new to her, and that she didn’t like it.

“What have they come up with then? I understood that by accepting the annulment Tyrion gave up his claim on me.”

“Tyrion thinks he may have a good candidate in mind for your hand. Someone of noble birth but no ambitions to raise the spectre of the Kingdom in the North again. Someone who would be content to be your consort, and whom you might consider favourable. After everything I told him about you, he was astute enough to realise that you wouldn’t accept just any candidate the throne may put forward. You need to make the decision.”

“So who is his candidate? Anyone I know?” Sansa sighed as if to indicate that whatever name was put forward, she would view it with utmost scepticism. Her smile had faded and Jaime saw her lips pursed together into a thin line.

Jaime cursed quietly. This was not the way he had imagined proposing to a woman – not that he had ever expected to at all. His throat felt dry when he tried to speak.

“Me,” he finally croaked.

Sansa’s eyes flashed at him. “You?” For a moment the mask of the ruler crumbled, revealing behind it a wide-eyed girl, taken by surprise.

“I told Tyrion it was a foolish notion but he insisted on me asking you anyway. I promised to do that and now I have done it. Maybe it is better that they hear your refusal from you directly; I am sure they will respect it.” Jaime knew he was blabbering, but the whole discussion made him extremely uncomfortable.

Sansa stared at him, her eyes unreadable. She was quiet for a long time. Jaime wished she would do something; laugh, cry, tell him what a terrible idea it was, even be angry at him for allowing the farce to have gone on this long. Finally she spoke, her voice soft.

“What about you? How do you feel about this…proposal?”

Again Jaime shifted uneasily. What of his thoughts? He had never imagined getting married, having a wife, children… If he had for a moment looked forward to having Sansa as his bride, that had been before he had found out about Sandor. It was impossible, so who cared what he thought? Besides, he had his pride. Ser Jaime Lannister of Casterly Rock, the eldest son of Lord Tywin, the youngest knight in the Kingsguard, the brother of the Hand – he was a good match for any high-born lady in the realm. The fact that the only lady he had ever considered didn’t want him didn’t mean that he wouldn’t be able to marry anyone else of his choosing. If he wanted to, that is.

“What does it matter what I feel? I know it is not to be, not when you have formed attachments to another,” he challenged Sansa.

“It matters to me.”

Jaime closed his eyes and sighed. He accepted that he had to honour the honesty that had always been a cornerstone of their relationship. He remembered the trust and affection that had grown between them since the Vale, and reflected on how Sansa knew all that there was to know about him, more than he could ever reveal to another woman. His mind flashed back to the night in Greywater Watch; Sansa in her flimsy nightshift next to him, her fingers playing on his chest, and to the farewell kiss they had shared.

Resigned, he opened his eyes, looking back at Sansa. She was still gazing at him with her mouth slightly open, hanging on his next words.

“If things were different, if you hadn’t formed the alliance you have…it might have worked. We know and respect each other, and there are feelings between us. I would have never tried to rule over you as your lord husband. I would have cherished and treasured you. I am not sure if I could have been what you deserve as a husband – but I might have been better than some others.”

A small smile formed on his lips.

“Don’t feel bad about rejecting this suit. I am not an idiot. I understand that there will be no room for me by your side. We shall tell Tyrion and the royals that you are not yet ready, and that you simply can’t contemplate marrying a Lannister again.”

Then he stood up, pushing his own selfish concerns aside. From what Tyrion had written, Aegon had formed designs of his own. He might indeed view the upcoming trip as a good opportunity to assess Sansa as a possible bride. It made perfect sense, after all, to join the royal house with the oldest house in the realm. Should that proceed, Sansa would have to leave for King’s Landing, but they could install a trusted deputy to look after the North. Once they had children, one of the younger sons would rule in the North… Jaime understood the logic of it, but he didn’t like it a bit.

“As for Aegon, Tyrion brought it up with me once, but was easily dissuaded from suggesting it to the king. He understood very well that it was not what you would want. Yet if the king is seriously looking for a bride… you are a logical suggestion by anyone’s measure. Undoubtedly he has indeed heard rumours of your great beauty and loveliness. And how much political sense marrying you would make.” Jaime stared at the letter Sansa was still holding in her hand. He could almost imagine flickering flames shooting from the parchment; the dragon’s hot breath reaching into their secure Northern stronghold. He jumped up and started to pace the room. This is not good.

Sansa reached towards him, dropping the letter and clasping his maimed arm as he passed. She was one of the few people who were not self-conscious about his missing hand, and Jaime loved her for that. He stopped and turned towards Sansa, whose grip just above his wrist was strong as she spoke to him.

“I am a fool for not thinking of this before. Tyrion’s suggestion, that is. You are right; it has many things in its favour. Just now…things are complicated.” She pulled back, letting go of Jaime and straightening her skirts. She lowered her head and Jaime could see her biting her lower lip.

Jaime leaned down and lifted her chin, forcing her to look at him.

“Just as you said you wouldn’t want to come between me and Sandor, I do not wish to do the same to you. The time for your marriage will come eventually, but if we are clever, we can delay it for a few more years. Although, Aegon’s suit is a worry. We can’t allow him to simply come here and whisk you off – as I am sure he is wont to do once he sees you. No, we have to think of a way to hold him off.”

He started to pace again, back and forth, Sansa watching him with increasing concern on her face. The more Jaime thought about Tyrion’s words, the more worried he became. It didn’t take a master strategist to see the advantages of Aegon’s marriage to Sansa. In one swoop he would secure the loyalty of the North and obtain the most eligible noble lady in the Seven Kingdoms as his queen. Jaime’s headache came back with a vengeance and he cursed inwardly.

If this came to pass, would he follow Sansa to the capital? Would Sandor? Even while posing the question Jaime knew the answer. Sandor would follow his little bird as a dog follows its master. He might be forced to leave her bed, but follow his mistress he would. And the court would be full of dangers for both of them. Hells, this can’t come to pass!

Jaime knelt in front of Sansa and grasped her hand in his. Her fingers curled encouragingly around Jaime’s and she met his eyes unwaveringly.

“Thanks to Tyrion’s warning we have time to think about how to avoid this. There has to be a way. I will not let him take you back to King’s Landing – and I don’t imagine Sandor will let that happen either.” As an afterthought he added, “Please tell Sandor what we have discussed. I dare not think what he might say should he hear that I have proposed you – after all that has happened.”

Jaime winced, imagining Sandor’s rage. As confident as he was about the strength of their bond, he was sure there were limits to how much Sandor could bear from him.

Sansa met his gaze unwaveringly and promised to do so. They talked a while longer about the preparations needed in order to receive the royals in a manner befitting the oldest and largest of the Seven Kingdoms. Sansa concentrated on the task at hand, but every now and then Jaime could see her glancing at him from the corner of his eye, an odd expression on her face.

Jaime left Sansa’s solar quietly musing on the vagaries of life; how his first marriage proposal had crashed and burned so badly. The shadowy images of laughing children riding on his knee disappeared into morning mists, leaving a familiar void behind them. 

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