Jaime couldn’t sleep that night. He tossed and turned and covered his face with a blanket, despite the room already being pitch-black. It was all Sansa’s doing, he fumed, before acknowledging that Sansa was not at fault for the swirl of emotions drowning him. However, she was certainly not completely innocent either. She had, after all, burst into his room and stared at his semi-nakedness with the unnerving gaze of a woman who is familiar with the male form. She had, after all, initiated the kiss that Jaime had only by extreme willpower broken off. The desire surging in him had been a surprise; he wouldn’t have guessed he would respond to her so eagerly.
His session with Sandor tormented him as well. He had intended his clumsy admission as a way to lessen Sandor’s concerns. Only afterwards had he realised that it might also be taken as a rub and a reminder that his little bird could soon be expected to sleep with another man, and that her lover could do nothing about it.
Would he ever sleep with Sansa? Not bloody likely, the way things were between her and Sandor. Yet her visit and the incident it had triggered wouldn’t leave him alone. She might have started the kiss lightly, as a jape, or perhaps out of pity. Still, a jape wouldn’t have shortened her breath so, nor caused a red flush to spread across her face and neckline. Pity wouldn’t have made her tongue clash with his so forcefully, nor make her tremble under his touch as she had. He had reacted to her strongly and she had noticed it, yet hadn’t moved away in alarm. Jaime wondered had he put his hand under her dress and into her smallclothes, would she have been wet, because of him?
He pressed a pillow over his head and tried to suppress the thought. She is not mine to dream about, she is Sandor’s woman. However, that was an even worse idea, as next he found himself picturing her with Sandor, his big hands between her legs, his hard body pressed against her slight frame. The little glimpses Jaime had caught of Sansa’s loveliness made him sure she would be a sight to behold naked; so delicate, so soft, so feminine. The image of Sandor’s battle-hardened, dark and scarred body on hers made him hard again. He tried to fight against it, but inexorably his hand travelled lower over his body and he was soon panting and stroking himself as other visions of the two of them overtook him. This one time only – just to get it out of my system.
Afterwards he felt strangely guilty. Dreaming of Sandor was one thing, Sansa another – but of the two of them together…somehow that was even more exciting but also alarming. For a moment he deliberated on the depths of his degradation.
On top of everything else there was the looming threat of King Aegon, coming to snatch Sansa away. Any tensions between them would matter naught in the face of such a situation. Sansa may not accept Aegon’s proposal, but what would her refusal mean to her, to them, to the North?
At an early hour in the morning Jaime decided he had to take the lead in solving the most burning of their problems.
Jaime sent a polite word to Sansa through his squire, asking for an audience with his lady and her sworn shield regarding the upcoming royal visit. Soon he received an equally polite reply telling him to join them in her rooms after the midday meal.
When Jaime entered he could see that something was amiss with Sansa and Sandor. They sat in different parts of the room and instead of the usual sexual tension something else was simmering between them. He looked inquiringly at Sansa, lifting his eyebrow, but Sansa only shook her head slightly as if to say don’t ask.
Sandor looked worse for wear. The bruise on his forehead showed clearly, it’s blue and purple colour mixing with the angry red of his scar. He glanced at Jaime when he arrived, but with no special hostility as far as Jaime could discern. They greeted each other, both aware that Jaime wouldn’t have called the meeting at the busiest time of the day unless he had a good reason.
Jaime’s gaze flitted between his companions and his thoughts from the previous night came to him. He still had the grace to feel ashamed, and when Lenore bustled about, offering him a goblet of watered wine and pointing him to a tray of cheese and dried fruit, he exchanged a few words with her. Jaime hadn’t really paid much attention to Lenore before, but after Sansa’s announcement of how she too was aware of her secret, he had started to view the maid with a new appreciation. Jaime had some insights about the shrouded world of women and he knew how much close relationships meant to most of them. A strong Northern woman supporting Sansa was just what she needed in a world full of challenges for a young woman as a ruler. After some pleasantries Lenore curtsied and withdrew discreetly, leaving the three of them alone.
Jaime didn’t know what had transpired between Sansa and Sandor since the previous day, but none of that made any difference to his task anyhow. He took a sip from his goblet, stood up and moved into the middle of the room. At that moment he was not the third wheel, not the object of pity or compassion, but a commander about to reveal his strategy to his troops. He knew he was right in what he was about to propose, knew it as surely as he had known so many times before in his war campaigns. Assessing weaknesses of the enemy, planning a cunning way to exploit them, seizing the opportunity to act first rather than waiting to react to the actions of others – he had been good at it. He coughed and started.
“We all agree that King Aegon’s marriage considerations are the last thing Sansa needs, and would lead to poor outcomes for the North.” He didn’t need to look at his audience to know that they were paying attention.
“We have to avoid them at any cost. As it happens, we have a chance and the knowledge to do just that.” He saw Sansa looking at him with a keen expression, her head slightly cocked to one side. Sandor was attentive as well, but his countenance was somewhat resentful. Jaime chose to ignore it.
“Firstly, we know what Aegon plans, but he doesn’t know that we know. I believe what Tyrion wrote to Sansa about it being just between him and her. Tyrion chose to warn us.” Jaime pointed his finger at his listeners. Sansa nodded in acquiescence.
“If Sansa and I announce our betrothal before the royals arrive, it is extremely unlikely that Aegon would challenge it.”
Sansa gasped, her face betraying how unprepared she was for the suggestion Jaime had just put forward. Sandor’s face was a closed mask, but from the rigid line of his jaw Jaime could see he was equally dismayed. Before either of them had a chance to voice their objections, Jaime continued.
“He could – but what I learned about him in King’s Landing tells me that he is not prepared to be seen as a selfish ruler. A king who breaks a noble betrothal only to marry the lady himself would not be viewed favourably by his subjects and he knows that. He may bristle at the situation, but he would accept his defeat, of that I am almost certain.” Sandor and Sansa stared at him and he moved along to alleviate the trepidation he knew they must be feeling.
“This is not the same as marriage. Some engagements stretch out for years, and the main purpose here is to thwart Aegon’s suit. When he finds a new bride and the threat of a royal proposal subsides, we can always end it.”
Sansa started to open her mouth. Jaime anticipated what she was going to say; once publicly announced, betrothals were sacred and rarely rescinded, and only for the gravest of reasons. He smiled and looked at Sansa during his next statement.
“I am sure you could find a reason for ending it - known oath-breaker and scoundrel that I am. If needed, I could provide you with a scandal so big that you’d have no other choice but to declare it over, and gain the sympathy of the realm in doing so. Always at your service, my lady.” He gave Sansa a bow, exaggerating its sweep.
“What could such a reason be?! That is not a matter to be taken lightly,” Sansa spluttered.
Jaime smirked, clasping his hand to his elbow and rocking on his heels. “I am sure I could think of something.”
He knew exactly what he could do; the most scandalous affair ever to be discovered in noble circles of Westeros. Mind you, not the most audacious thing done, but one to be found out. He would seduce a soldier or a lesser knight, some poor sod who would be flattered by his attentions and succumb to carnal temptation. Public discovery, the humiliation of it all…nobody could blame Sansa for wanting to rid herself of such a man.
As if reading his thoughts Sansa murmured, “I couldn’t let you dishonour yourself just for my sake.” Sandor had clearly caught his meaning as well, but didn’t say anything. He had crossed his arms across his chest and scrutinised Jaime from under his brow.
“Why so? Are you concerned that I couldn’t endure the whole realm hating me, calling me names and detesting me for the unscrupulous acts I have committed?” Jaime sneered, knowing he had nothing to lose should it come to that. The only thing he’d miss would be the respect of the North – he had worked hard to gain it. Yet it would be worth it to help Sansa. Besides, maybe there would be no need for it; maybe someday Sansa would agree to wed him after all…
Jaime knew his suggestion to be sound and the only way to solve the issue. He examined his audience and deduced that they had come to the same conclusion. Sandor shifted his formidable bulk, looking irritated but not arguing against the plan. Sansa wrung her hands and threw apprehensive glances in Sandor’s direction.
“How do you suggest we should go about this...betrothal?”
Jaime strolled straight in front of Sandor and despite addressing his words to Sansa, he stared pointedly at Sandor.
“First we tell your council. Remember Sansa, you are not seeking their approval, but only letting them know. There may be voices of objection but you can ignore them. I may not be a favourite of all the Stark bannermen, but they know the conditions of the Iron Throne, how in any case you are not allowed to marry a Northern lord.”
Sandor stared back at him, challenging, but behind his defiant stare Jaime could see a trace of uncertainty. He knew Sandor well by now and recognised him to be prepared for the worst; to see how all he cared about was taken away from him or trampled to dust. Not if I can help it!
“Next, you will make a public announcement during a special celebration in the Great Hall. The sooner the better. This being in next to no time after your annulment, we can say that we want to keep the celebrations to a minimum, avoiding the need to invite all the lords to the feast. Besides, it is not as if either of us have our families around us, making it a stately affair.”
Sansa nodded at Jaime, seemingly reconciled with his idea.
Leaving Sandor, Jaime sat down next to Sansa and put his goblet on the table. He smiled at her and the way she looked at him, so full of trust, made his heart leap.
“It might be a good idea if we pretend that we are in love. The king could be tempted to put aside a political engagement of convenience, compensating for it with an even better proposal, but breaking apart a loving couple is another thing altogether.” He leaned back on the couch and pulled a face at Sandor, who was glaring at him. It was just too easy to annoy Sandor, he sighed. When will he accept that I will never do anything to hurt him?
“Oh,” Sansa said, throwing another look in Sandor’s direction. “I see that it makes sense.” She looked thoughtful and Jaime could see she had already grasped the advantages of his proposal.
“It wouldn’t require too much; just holding hands every now and then, maybe a public kiss here or there. Certainly a proper betrothal kiss at the feast; after all, that is one of the few times when the couple are allowed to express their feelings openly before the wedding. It probably wouldn’t hurt if you were heard to gush to your woman friends about your happiness and how you can hardly wait to be joined with your handsome lord…” Jaime found himself enjoying the situation; the more he painted the picture of a couple in love, the gloomier Sandor’s expression got. Sansa only stared at him hesitantly. Oh, this is priceless!
“You may also have to endure a swarm of excited women around you wanting to plan your wedding, dressmakers circling you with their suggestions for your wedding dress and bridal cloak, endless prattling of ladies in your ears…women seem to get excited about these things. As for me, I would have to suffer envious looks from all the men in the keep and their forced congratulations when in reality they would rather punch me in the face… As a matter of fact, some of them might even do that.” Jaime rubbed his chin pensively, but couldn’t pretend to be serious for long.
Laughing, he reached for his goblet again and knocked back a greedy gulp. “Cheer up, Sandor, it would be only a mummers’ farce! It would make our scheme better though. The king and queen rely on my brother as their Hand, and I dare say they wouldn’t want to offend him by stealing his beloved brother’s beloved bride. It will all work in our favour; in Sansa’s favour, in yours, even mine. And it doesn’t have to change anything between the two of you.”
Jaime didn’t miss the glances exchanged between Sansa and Sandor. Whatever was going on between them, it was clearly not his business. Reluctantly he concluded that he had had his fun and it was a time to leave. He snatched up some cheese and raisins and stuffed them into his mouth as he went to collect his cloak from the hook. At the door he turned and saw that neither of them had moved. Shrugging his shoulders he turned the latch.
“I leave you to consider this plan. If you agree with it, there is a council meeting tomorrow where you can make your plans known, Sansa. Just let me know what you decide so I know to act appropriately.”
Still neither of them wasted a look in his direction or noticed as he left the room. He wondered what happened after he was gone; did they fall into each other’s arms or was something seriously wrong between them? He hoped it had nothing to do with what had happened between Sansa and him. One thing was sure; he swore that this night he wouldn’t think of them doing unspeakable things to each other, nor would he fuck himself into his hand.
He failed miserably on both accounts.
The council meeting was easy. Its members stared open-mouthed at Sansa as she made her announcement in a steady voice, then turned their heads in one synchronised movement to look at Jaime. Jaime tried hard to maintain an appropriate expression on his face, smiling and nodding, looking over to his betrothed every now and then in a loving display of affection. They received the ensuing congratulations of the gathered group benevolently; the castellan Cellor, the master-builder Erwyth, the old lord of House Flint and Maester Weimar. The latter was hardly able to hide his excitement, spurting his sincerest wishes of happiness to them both. Sandor was there too, and Jaime noticed some of the men glancing at him warily. Do they suspect something?
The announcement for all and sundry took place only two days later. Sansa had cited her desire to announce the matter to her own people before the royal visit, and her reasons were well received. The feast was arranged; pigs slaughtered, casks of good ale brought into the hall, musicians from Winter Town arranged, all the people of the keep advised to attend the meal and told that there was going to be a special announcement.
The folk streamed into the hall at the allotted time, looking around and whispering to each other curiously: why the feast? What was the pronouncement they had heard about?
Jaime sat at the main table next to Sansa. They had agreed that from the outset he was to take the role of a consort, Sansa being the one talking on behalf of them both. That was unusual, and in other circumstances Jaime might have found it difficult to play second fiddle to a woman. With Sansa, he didn’t mind. Whether it was just a mummer’s play or – as he still dared to hope – someday a real thing, he didn’t mind Sansa taking the lead. The worst thing about being a follower was to be led by a fool, and with Sansa there was no danger of that.
Once everyone had taken their seats, Sansa stood up. Her household guards stomped the butts of their spears on the floor and soon all talk died, all eyes directed at her. Jaime saw her swallow, then square her shoulders and lift her chin in a familiar gesture which he had learned indicated that she was ready to proceed. The wolf is ready to leap.
“My dear bannermen, my people, folk of the North. You know you have been called to tonight’s festivities for a reason, although you don’t know what it is as yet.”
The crowd hollered its accord, but quieted at her raised hand.
“As you all know, my false marriage to the Hand of the King and Queen, Tyrion Lannister, was annulled a short while ago. It was never a real union, and not of my choosing. However, I am but a young woman and I need a companion by my side. I know that many of you expected my choice to fall upon a Northern lord, one of your own. However, for many reasons this is not possible. Besides, here in the North we also know how choosing a life’s companion is about more than political cunning or the dictates of expediency. We are free people, we make our own decisions!”
At that the feast-hall broke into cheers and whistles. Northern folk had always been proud of their free and independent ways, and liked to be reminded of that.
Sansa smiled broadly and Jaime felt a surge of pride looking at her. After the cheers had settled down, she continued.
“That is why we are here tonight; I am to be betrothed, and I want to share this joyous news first with you, my own people.” She glanced at Jaime and gestured for him to get up.
“My chosen is one of my most loyal companions and one of the noblest knights in the realm, Ser Jaime Lannister of Casterly Rock. Not only did he secure my return to my ancestral home when I was but a fugitive on the run, he also recently secured peace and an accord with the Iron Throne, and their help to defeat our foes beyond the Wall.”
Jaime knew his role and that was to look adoringly at Sansa – not so hard to do – and bow at her words. Sansa extended her hand to him and he took it into his, pressing a chaste kiss on her wrist before grabbing her by the waist and pressing his lips fully against hers as the official kiss of betrothal.
The crowd stared at them for a moment before breaking into boisterous applause. Sansa blushed and let her gaze sweep across the room. Jaime held his smile and felt the love directed at Sansa brushing over him as well. Is this what it feels like to be loved by people?
What followed were a few speeches by respected figures of the keep, congratulating their lady and her chosen consort. Ser Jorah stood up as well, raising his cup and toasting the happy couple. Jaime wondered if he was aware of King Aegon’s plans and what he thought of them, or the engagement. He looked sincere, but sometimes Jaime had an uneasy feeling that Ser Jorah saw more of what was going on between Sansa and Sandor than others. Maybe being in the same situation himself he was more attuned to subtle signs. Sure enough, his eyes rested on Sandor after he had finished, but if anything, his expression was slightly sad. That left Jaime questioning silently what his position would be should matters escalate with the royals.
The toasts were interspersed by food being brought into the hall: steaming fresh bread and yellow butter, whole roasted pigs and their blood made into sausages; turnips, potatoes and steamed greens, all accompanied with healthy helpings of ale and wine. The mood in the hall was jovial and merry, sweeping Jaime along with it. He ate heartily, fed the best morsels of his meal to Sansa and laughed at lewd japes some of the most daring guests ventured to make.
Sandor too was seated on the dais, and despite both Jaime and Sansa’s warnings not to show his irritation too clearly, Jaime could see that he was brooding.
Jaime stood up and lifted his goblet. The hall fell silent, only the sound of dogs growling at each other under the tables over scraps of meat penetrating the hushed reverence. People strained to listen to what the man of the hour, the betrothed of their beloved lady, would say.
“Dear Northerners! I don’t have to remind you about one of my darkest sins, that of not being born here. Nonetheless, since I have joined you and given my allegiance to House Stark, I have learned to love this land, its people, and especially one of them – the most beautiful flower in the North.” He turned and raised his goblet to Sansa, who looked at him with a bright smile on her face. The crowd cheered and howled and showed its approval.
“I am indeed the luckiest man alive. Not only has this lovely lady accepted my suit, but I am also surrounded by people I can call my friends. One of them especially is not only my friend, but also a man into whose hands I can entrust the most precious thing in my life, my lady love.” Jaime turned towards Sandor and raised his goblet in his direction.
“Sandor Clegane, the sworn shield of my betrothed! I commend her into your continuing protection, knowing you will take as good care of her safety, or better, as I could myself. Our thoughts and our gratitude are with you now, as always.” He lifted his drink and gulped it down, only marginally ashamed of the way he had put Sandor in focus. Yet he had his reasons; he wanted to show everyone how he had no intention of relieving his intended’s protector of duty, as some might expect. No, with his words he ensured that Sandor could continue to stay at Sansa’s side at all times.
Sandor glared at him but had no choice but to accept his toast and the clapping of the crowd. Jaime lifted his eyebrow and smirked at him, knowing he would pay for his words dearly come the next time they sparred in the training yard.
The rest of the evening descended into a blurry, hazy cavalcade of congratulatory drinks, back-slapping, blurred speeches and rousing tunes played by a rag-tag band of musicians. Jaime couldn’t remember when last he had had such a good time, just as he couldn’t remember how he ended up in his room in the wee hours of the morning.
He didn’t seem to be the only one, and overall everyone agreed afterwards that it had been the best betrothal feast in the North for a long, long time.