* * *
“Well? I thought you’d be pleased.” Robert held his cup out for more wine. His squire hastened to fill it. “She is the Tyrells' pride and joy.”
Margaery Tyrell was the daughter of the man, who with his army, had feasted in full view of the castle while they ate rats and made plans for eating their dead.
Robert’s face flushed. “Wine!”
No, he wasn’t turning to stone. The vein in the side of his neck was throbbing. It was the only thing Stannis could feel.
“There isn’t any more, Your Grace.”
“Then go get some, you skinny fool!”
The squire hurried out of the room.
“Selyse is dead.”
“Do you think her death has escaped my notice?”
Robert pounded the desk with his fist. “I need Mace Tyrell’s support. The Beggar King has arranged a marriage between his whore of a sister and a Dothraki Horselord. You need an heir. Margaery Tyrell needs a husband. Her father wants a king’s brother for his precious daughter. You are my brother. You will marry her.”
“You’re always moaning like a woman about how I passed you over by giving him Storm’s End. Well, the Tyrell girl is your due.” Robert snorted. “She’s ‘yours by right’ as you’re so fond of saying. You’re the second eldest.” He looked into his cup as if he hoped more wine would magically appear. “I’m told she’s a pretty little thing. You’ll have an easier time bedding her than you did that scrawny wife of yours.”
His wife had nearly died. Horses, cats, dogs, rats, then nearly the dead, that had almost been their fate, while fat Mace Tyrell gorged himself on chicken, pork, and venison.
“Cersei wanted you for one of her cousins.”
Stannis blinked. He wasn’t sure which was the worse fate: Mace Tyrell’s daughter or a Lannister. “Which cousin?”
Robert shrugged. “How in the seven hells should I know? They’re all golden haired shits.” He thought a moment. “One of Tywin Lannister’s dead wife’s nieces, I think. She’ll go to Renly. You’ll marry the Tyrell girl. It’s your duty, Stannis.”
Stannis bowed stiffly. He had always done his duty.
* * *
Stannis Baratheon’s face was lobster red. At least it was a sign he was alive. Throughout the ceremony and then all through the feast, it had been as if he were a statue. He had come to life long enough to say the required words or to answer when spoken to. He had danced with her once. She thought he had done so only because Robert commanded it.
“If you would . . . er . . . the bed.”
“Yes, my lord.” She climbed into the bed. Should she put the sheets below her breasts or above them? She opted for the latter. He would be expecting her to be a maiden. Covering them would be more maidenly. Yes, it was the better option.
He blew out all but two of the candles.
Margaery propped herself up against the headboard and waited for him with a smile on her lips. He had survived the bedding with most of his own clothes intact. Margaery reflected it was probably because his grimaces terrified the ladies of the court. She propped herself up in the bed and watched as he undressed. He was not an ill-built man, nor was he unattractive, but he was treating this like it was a march to the block.
Her lord husband realized she was watching him. He turned even redder.
Oh dear, Grandmother had warned her it might be a difficult night. Maidenly modesty, she told herself. It was a pity she couldn’t blush on command the way her cousin Elinor could. She turned her gaze to her hands.
Stannis was in the bed now. He put his leg over her.
Margaery realized he was just going to have at her then and there. “Could we . . .”
He looked at her. “This is our duty, Lady Margaery.”
“Yes, of course, my lord, but perhaps you could . . .” Margaery felt equal to most situations, but she didn’t quite know how to go about asking him not to immediately plough into her like he was tilling the soil. “I am a maiden. Could you go a little slower?”
He blinked furiously.
“Perhaps we could kiss first?” Yes, it was a reasonable suggestion. A maiden would know about kissing.
He gave her a shorter kiss than he had at the ceremony.
This was worse than it would have been with Renly Baratheon. She had been prepared for Renly. Stannis had not been on her expected list of suitors. Margaery smiled, though. “A little longer perhaps? Like this?” She wrapped her arms around him, parted her lips slightly, and brought her mouth up to his. This time it lasted longer than five seconds.
He seemed startled.
She tried it again. He responded for a moment and then he pulled away violently.
“Have you done this before?” he demanded suspiciously.
“I’ve seen other people kissing, my lord. Did I not do it correctly?” Margaery opened her eyes very wide. Most men liked it when she did so. He just frowned.
Stannis bent down and tried again.
All right, this was better. She wondered if he had been this awkward with the late Selyse Florent. She slipped her tongue into his mouth. This time she made sure to clasp her hands around the back of his head so he couldn’t pull away. How was she going to get him through the whole act without her ending up like a bruised sack of turnips? There was a limit to what she could have claimed to have seen and she had reached it.
At least he wanted to look at her now.
Margaery tried not to wince as he grabbed at her breasts. A maiden would probably grit her teeth and bear it. “Could you . . . that hurts, my lord.”
Stannis touched her so gently she could barely feel it.
That was it. She threw maidenly modesty to the winds. Margaery brought her hand to the back of his and pressed it down lightly. She then guided his fingers. “Oh, that’s much better.” Again she widened her blue eyes.
He grunted but he did as she directed.
She saw the way out then. He tried things and she simply told him or showed him how to do it. Margaery widened her eyes and exclaimed. Finally, she began to feel the moisture between her legs. “Now, my lord.”
He began to thrust.
She remembered to feign pain at the appropriate moment. When he started to pull away, she dug her nails into his back. “We must do our duty, my lord.”
* * *
His resolve lasted all of half an hour. He got into the bed with her and blew out the candle. He could feel her lying there.
She shifted to her side. “Aren’t we going to . . .?” She didn’t finish the sentence, but she trailed her fingers down his chest. He felt them through the fabric of his nightshirt.
“There’s time enough for that later.” They would leave for Dragonstone shortly. He thought he might bed her monthly. No, he decided, twice monthly would be better.
Margaery moved her fingers in lazy circles over his chest. “But . . .”
Stannis felt himself flushing. He was grateful for the darkness of the room. “Yes?”
“Isn’t it our duty? I want to give you a son.” She ran her fingers down his side now. “I know I’m very inexperienced, but surely the more you bed me, the more likely it is to happen.”
He didn’t reply. She withdrew her fingers. Good, he thought. She would go to sleep now. He closed his eyes.
“May I touch it?”
Touch what? he thought.
His lady wife didn’t wait for his permission.
And then Stannis’ eyes were wide open.
Margaery was very persistent after that. If he refused her directly, she questioned him. She wanted to be a good wife to him. Wasn’t it their duty to go about the business of putting a baby in her belly? If he tried to sleep, she found ways to rouse him. She grew bolder with each passing night. If he stayed away, suddenly she was there looking at him with her huge blue eyes and pouting her red lips at him until he gave in to her.
She was very diligent about attending to him outside of their bedroom as well. His lady wife appeared to be blissfully happy in his company. She took his arm eagerly. She asked him questions. She wanted to know about Dragonstone. She inquired about Shireen. She expressed deep interest in everything about him.
They were walking in the gardens. He accompanied her reluctantly. He had been writing letters when she appeared in the doorway. Margaery asked him to take her for a stroll. When he impatiently suggested she go with her handmaidens or with her cousins, she wafted into the room, and put her hand on his. They needed to become better acquainted, she said. It was a beautiful day. He needed fresh air, she insisted. It was her duty to take care of her lord husband.
He wasn’t sure how, but suddenly they were in the gardens and her arm was entwined around his like a vine around a trellis.
“Tell me more about Dragonstone,” she breathed.
“You’ll see it soon enough.”
Margaery suggested they sit on a stone bench where they would have a better view of the roses.
He stared at them as she pointed out their beauty and the brilliance of their colors. There were vegetable gardens; the land in which they were grown wasn’t nearly so arable as the soil for the flower gardens. He commented on this and suggested it would be better if their locations were reversed.
“But then the view would be of the pigsties and the stables.”
Stannis shrugged. “One cannot eat roses.”
She didn’t reply immediately. “This side is more exposed to the sea, my lord. The salt air would hinder the growth of the vegetables.”
This was something he had not considered. He looked at her in surprise.
“I am from the Reach. It is nowhere near the sea, but there is little about farming I have not heard of.”
“Of which I have not heard,” he corrected.
She didn’t seem to know how to respond. Instead she gave him a faint smile.
He was about to suggest that surely they had stared at these yellow rose bushes long enough, when she stirred herself.
“What does your daughter like to do?”
This was not the first time Margaery had inquired about Shireen. “She is a quiet child,” he managed. What did Shireen like to do? He scarcely knew. Selyse had preferred to keep her out of the way. He had seen her with her books, he recalled. “She reads a great deal.”
“Oh?” Margaery absorbed this information.
“She is very kind,” he told her finally. “Why do you ask?”
“I thought I might bring her presents when I meet her.”
Stannis frowned. “Why?”
“Because I want her to like me,” she said. Margaery took his hand in hers. “I want you to like me too.”
* * *
Stannis didn’t seem to care whether she liked it here or not. This was the castle his brother had bestowed upon him, he told her. He should have been given Storm’s End, but it wasn’t to be.
She had two successes she could claim. The first was their bedchamber. The former Lady Baratheon had slept apart from Stannis. Margaery was shown to this room. Upon learning that Stannis slept elsewhere, she shook her head. “My place is with my lord husband,” she told the servant firmly. Stannis tried to persuade her otherwise, but she stood firm. It was a long conversation that nearly turned into an argument. Margaery won it by turning to her weapon of last resort. It was their duty, she told him firmly. So now they slept together.
The second was with her stepdaughter. Shireen would never be a beauty. Her face was hopelessly scarred and she had inherited the worst of her parents’ features, but she was a kind, gentle girl. She took to Margaery right away. Margaery found it easy to be friendly to the little girl.
Her mother had evidently preferred Shireen to stay in her room as much as possible. Margaery put an end to this. Shireen soon accompanied her throughout the castle a great deal. She was thrilled to explain things to her pretty stepmother and to introduce her to her favorite haunts.
No one but Shireen liked her here. Everyone from the lowest scullery maid to the highest lord present was polite and respectful to her face, but she was not liked. No matter what she did or said, they persisted in regarding her as an interloper.
Margaery wasn’t used to this. As early as she could remember she had been trained to smile and please. A careful eye and a sharp mind were essential, but it was better when they were concealed with pretty manners and an agreeable demeanor. Her grandmother told her a time would come, and she was certain Margaery would know when it came, she could do as she liked, the same way the Queen of Thorns did, but until then it was important to be liked.
Maester Cressen and Ser Davos were wary around her. No, Margaery corrected herself, everyone here was wary of her.
It would have been easier if Stannis had allowed some of her cousins to accompany her. That had been the plan all along. He did not see the necessity for it. Not even her grandmother had managed to arrange it. For the first time in her life, Margaery was without family.
Then there was the Red Priestess. She was a remnant of Selyse, who had thrown over the Seven for this strange god. Half the retainers here followed the Lord of Light. With Selyse’s death, apparently some returned to the Seven, but still the Red Priestess stayed on. Margaery was quick to note the closeness of this woman to Stannis. She would be a great deal more comfortable with the Lady Melisandre gone back to wherever it was she came from.
Margaery walked to Aegon’s Garden. She turned a corner and encountered one of Stannis’ men. He gave her a civil bow and moved past her. She looked back only to see him staring at her with an expression of hatred. Suddenly she wanted to be anywhere but here. She began walking away faster and faster until her handmaiden couldn’t keep up with her and then faster still until she was nearly running. She ran straight into the Onion Knight.
“My lady?” He righted her and looked at her critically. “Are you unwell? Should I send for Maester Cressen?”
“No, I only wanted some air,” she lied. Margaery kept on walking until there was nowhere else to go. She came to one of the stone walls. It was low enough to sit upon, so she sat. Below the waves crashed onto the rocks. She heard the caw of birds. When she looked back at the castle she shuddered. She turned to face the sea again. Someone would come for her soon. She was Lady Baratheon and she belonged inside this spooky tomb of a castle being barely tolerated by everyone on this miserable island.
She stared out at the grey blue ocean for what seemed like ages.
She was surprised he’d come himself. She thought Stannis would have sent servants.
“Are you unwell?”
Margaery plastered a smile on her face and turned around. She repeated her lie about needing air. She told him how kind and considerate he was to be so concerned. She expressed regret that she had taken him away from his letters and business.
“I’m not a fool, you know.”
“You needn’t widen your eyes like that. I know what is said of me. No one finds me of interest. Do not pretend you do. I know what people think of me.”
Margaery felt her mask cracking. To her astonishment and her horror, she began to cry.
Stannis seemed equally appalled. He looked around wildly as if hoping her handmaiden or some female servant would materialize out of the stone walls or arise from the sea. When none did, he was at a loss. “I will get Maester Cressen.”
“No,” she managed. “Please, I will be fine in a moment.”
“I cannot leave you here alone.”
She wondered why it should matter. She was alone most of the time. Even with her handmaiden or in his hall surrounded by people, she was alone.
“I could summon your handmaiden,” he suggested, a trifle desperately. “Yes, I will do that.”
“Just sit, please?”
He sat. Finally he asked what had happened.
“Something must have. Why else would you be crying? Ser Davos said he saw Ser Martyn in the direction from whence you came. Did he do anything to you or say anything?”
Had Margaery been in her usual control of herself, she would convincingly have told him no. But she wasn’t. She related what occurred. She didn’t understand, she told Stannis. Everyone here hated her and she couldn’t figure out why.
“Ser Martyn was at Storm’s End,” Stannis told her after a moment. “Many here were.”
Margaery grew still. “I wasn’t even born when the siege occurred.”
“No,” he admitted.
“Was it . . . it must have been very bad.”
His expression was unreadable. He didn’t answer. He turned away so he was looking to the sea.
She should never have asked. She should calm herself, apologize for worrying him, and bide her time. Once she gave him a son, it would be easier. It was just going to take longer than she thought.
He interrupted her reverie. “First we ate the horses. We weren't riding anywhere, not with the castle surrounded. We couldn't feed them. So, fine, the horses.”
“Then the cats—never liked cats, so, fine. I do like dogs, good animals, loyal, but we ate them. Then the rats. Our dead would have been next.”
“And my father ‘laid siege to the banquet table.’”
“Something Grandmother says.” They were never going to like her. They looked at her and they saw her father. She’d been taught to manipulate and to please, but she was with a man who was largely immune to her charms and surrounded by men and women who were predisposed to hate her.
Stannis snorted as he finally got the humor of it. “He did. He and his troops sat in full view of us, eating and drinking while we starved. The night before Ser Davos slipped through, I thought Selyse was dying. She couldn't speak anymore, she was so frail. Then he made it through the lines . . . slipped right through in his little sailboat with his onions.”
“He seems very loyal to you.”
“He is. He told me I should come and find you myself.”
Margaery wiped the remnants of her tears away. She was sure she looked a mess. She tried to smooth her hair.
“I did not want to marry you, you know.”
“You would not have been my choice either,” she said. It felt very odd to be so honest with someone who wasn’t family.
“You probably would have preferred Renly.”
She shrugged. “He wouldn’t have known what to do with me.”
“I am not sure I know what to do with you either.”
Did he not know about Renly? “You are learning. I do not think,” Margaery said carefully, “that Lord Renly could ever learn at least not with me.”
Stannis was taken aback.
He was used to being compared unfavorably to his brothers, she realized. “It could have been much worse for both of us,” she told him frankly.
“I know. I could be married to a Lannister,” he told her very seriously.
Margaery laughed. She didn’t envy Cerenna Lannister the task of seducing Renly Baratheon into consummating their marriage.
“Why is it so important for you to be liked?”
Her smile withered away. “It is what I was taught was important.” The Lannisters struck everyone down with their might. The Tyrells used an iron fist in a velvet glove.
“Well, it isn’t to me.” Stannis was facing her now. “I prefer you like this. It is better to be honest and direct.”
Margaery had also been taught to adapt. There might even be something restful about not having to always smile and please.
“My daughter is fond of you. She said you have been very kind to her.”
“As you said, she is a very gentle, sweet child. It is easy to be kind to her.”
He stood up and offered her his hand.
She took it. “I am sorry for what you endured.”
Stannis shook his head. “You weren’t there. It is not your duty to atone for the actions of others.” He started to drag her back by the hand. Then he stopped and stiffly offered her his arm instead. “My lady.”
* * *
Stannis did not understand why he needed to placate men whose loyalty was his by right. He complained about this to Margaery one night while they lay together in the darkness.
“You are different from most men, Stannis. For most men, loyalty is not such an absolute. Just because a thing should be does not make it so.”
They got on much better now. His lady wife continued to be her charming self with others, but when they were alone, she was honest with him.
“So I should truckle to their whims?”
“No. That would make you weak, but there is much to be gained by rewarding certain players judiciously. Haven’t some of these men who follow the Lord of Light been loyal to you?”
“Yes,” he allowed.
Margaery stroked his hand. “Choose among those.”
He didn’t say anything. Ser Davos was inclined to agree with Margaery, but it went against everything Stannis believed.
“Do you not reward those loyal to you?”
“Of course, but,” he hesitated. Perhaps she was right. “I will consider it seriously,” he promised.
Margaery cuddled up against him. “Why can’t I come with you when you go to King’s Landing?”
“Your place is here, my lady.”
“My place is by your side. It is—”
“—your duty,” he finished. She cast it up to him often. “Are you certain it’s not merely because you prefer King’s Landing to Dragonstone?”
Margaery tugged at the covers. “It is part of the reason. It is warmer in the capital.”
Stannis grunted. He pulled her closer.
“But I would like to be with you. I am your wife. Duty need not always be unpleasant.”
His experience had taught him otherwise, but as he lay here with his arms about his wife, it occurred to him she might have a point.
* * *
Margaery fingered the silks. “Yes.” She had always been fond of gowns that were more revealing. But that was before she became Lady of Dragonstone where the winds whipped the stone walls mercilessly. She chose a heavier fabric and reiterated her preferences as to style and cut.
Her cousins were surprised, but she was able to distract them with eager queries about themselves.
Her cousins went into the gardens with the other ladies. Margaery was supposed to persuade Stannis to let one or two of her cousins come to Dragonstone. She knew it would not work. She wasn’t entirely upset about it. If she had a hard time on the island, she could well imagine how one of the younger ones would fare.
Margaery felt the Spider before she saw him. The Master of Whispers had many spies even in the Reach. Her grandmother was fond of saying “so long as they keep to themselves we let them spin their little webs, but if they get underfoot we step on them.” Now she was in the Spider’s domain and he was far too big to step upon.
“Lady Baratheon, it is a fine day to be out among the flowers, is it not?”
“Lord Varys.” She smiled at him brilliantly.
He invited her for a stroll and they walked.
Margaery understood the intent behind his clever little inquiries and seemingly harmless observations. He was assessing her. She had no doubt that he already knew she wasn’t what she seemed, but it was part of the game to pretend, so she did. He wasn’t any more fooled than she was by his act of being a kindly councilor.
At last he took his leave and she sat on the same stone bench she and Stannis had once occupied the first week after their wedding. He had been going into the city lately. He refused to tell her why. She would wheedle it out of him tonight, she thought. She began walking back with her handmaiden trailing a respectable seven steps behind.
As she passed along one of the massive hedges, she heard voices from the other side.
“Such a pretty golden rose, isn’t she?” Varys remarked.
“Pity her husband appears to have a taste for commoner flowers”
She stopped. The second speaker sounded like Petyr Baelish.
“Ah yes, I did hear he was visiting one of your . . . establishments with an equally respectable man who is also not known for doing so.”
Stannis at a brothel? She felt a flash of unexpected anger, but then she shook it off. This was Stannis. Even if he had patronized such a place, why should she care? She wasn’t an idealistic young girl. Men did these things. No, most men did these things. Stannis was not most men. He had said vows to her. He would consider it an abrogation of duty if he violated them. She started walking again.
“The visitors of my establishments are usually very respectable men.”
“And yet neither found a flower to his liking. One is told you usually have such a fine assortment.”
This was very curious. The voices were coming from the other side of the hedge. They moved off in another direction. Margaery kept her expression neutral as she strolled over to her cousins. It was hardly something she could ask him about even now that they got on so much better together, but still it was very strange.
* * *
“It could be a little tighter in the waist,” Margaery opined. “My lord?”
“Leave us,” he commanded. He waited impatiently until the seamstress was gone. To Margaery, he said bluntly, “We are returning to Dragonstone tomorrow. How long will it take your maids to have your belongings packed?”
“Already? We’ve scarcely been here a month,” Margaery protested.
“And now we are leaving. Can you be ready by first light?”
“Good.” He turned to leave, but he stopped. “I do not know when we will be back.”
“Is it Shireen? Is there something amiss at Dragonstone?”
“Something is amiss all right.” But he told her nothing more. She stepped down from the stool. Stannis left quickly. If she started running her hands over him, there would be no holding back, and it would be best if they did not discuss any of this until they were away from the capital. He needed to think and he needed to plan and he could do neither here.
That night, Stannis took care to stay away until he thought Margaery must be asleep. He slipped into the bed.
Stannis inwardly groaned.
“What is going on?”
If he answered her, she would wheedle it out of him. If he tried to sleep, she would start touching him and she would wheedle it out of him. If he forbade her from speaking, she would start talking about their duty to one another and she would wheedle it out of him.
Stannis did the only thing of which he could think. He climbed on top of her and kissed her fiercely. Perhaps if he kept her from talking and tired her out, they might leave the city unscathed.
“My lord,” she said startled. “What—”
“Shhh, it is our duty,” he commanded as he kissed her again.
* * *
He deposited Margaery in a chair next to him and gave a signal to Matthos who read aloud from the letter and the ravens’ scrolls.
Margaery started as the young man read Eddard Stark’s accusations. They made sense in a horrible sort of way. The letter made mention of Robert Baratheon’s bastards and Jon Arryn’s death. Was this why Stannis and he had visited a brothel? Now she understood why they had returned to Dragonstone so soon.
The men were united now. Of course they were, thought Margaery. They would want to be as close to the new King as possible. Stannis was King. That meant she was the Queen.
One of the men said something about spies.
The information in the letter was dangerous. Varys probably already knew they were aware of it. Cersei and Littlefinger had spies of their own.
Stannis shook his head. “Matthos.”
Margaery was as interested as any of the rest to see what Stannis had in mind. Davos Seaworth wasn’t surprised at any of this. Stannis had clearly confided in him. Both he and his son knew what Stannis meant to do. Matthos took up his quill and parchment and began reading aloud a draft of a letter. Stannis made corrections. They seemed pedantic to her, but he knew what he wanted to say.
“When Eddard Stark learnt the truth, he told only me. I'll not make the same mistake. Send copies of that letter to every corner of the realm, from the Arbor to the Wall. The time has come to choose. Let no man claim ignorance as an excuse.”
It was a very clever move, Margaery realized. She looked with new respect at her husband.
“Where is Lord Renly?”
“In the Reach,” Ser Davos said reluctantly. “He fled King’s Landing shortly before they arrested Lord Stark.”
Of course, he was in the Reach, thought Margaery. Loras was behind this. Her father would look at Renly more favorably than Stannis. Perhaps they thought to dispose of Stannis and marry her to the more malleable brother.
She kept quiet as they spoke of which lord would declare for which king. There were several contenders already. Renly had not laid claim to the throne, but she suspected it would only be a matter of time. She wasn’t the Queen yet.
* * *
She pointed to the part of the table depicting the Reach. “You need my father’s support.”
“The throne is mine by right. No one will keep me from it.”
“But it would be easier if you had his men,” she suggested.
He shrugged. “Yes.” They would all bend the knee or he would destroy them. “Renly did not come here when he left the capital. He went to Highgarden. He will make a claim for the throne if he has not already done soon.”
Margaery looked speculatively at the table and then at him. She walked around it till she was at his side. “Is there time for me to send a raven to my father?”
“We will not beg.”
“We shan’t have to. I wish to send him news.” She put his hand on her belly. “Maester Cressen confirmed it earlier today.”
Stannis did not smile often but he smiled now.
“I hope it will be a son, your Grace.”
“A son.” It would be. Of this, he felt certain, although he couldn’t point to a logical reason for this presentiment.
“It will be enough to persuade my father he should call his banners for you.”
He nodded. He looked down. His fingers were still on her stomach. He hesitated. He moved both hands to her waist. “Tonight, would you mind if I still came to you?”
Margaery wrapped her arms around him. “Not at all, Your Grace.”
Stannis bent down and kissed her. “After all it is our duty.”
“And duty need not always be unpleasant.”
* * *