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Prompt for Stannis FicArt Week: Post-rebellion AU where Edmure Tully is sent to squire for Stannis.

Cat was the first to leave, leaving Riverrun for Winterfell with a babe in her arms. The babe was Robb Stark her trueborn son, not the motherless little brother she had cared for since Minisa Whent’s death.

“Write to me often. I will miss you,” Cat whispered to Edmure as her carriage was leaving. Edmure merely shrugged and waved her off cheerfully, as if losing the sister who was in truth the only mother he remembered did not bother him in the least. When Lord Arryn came to fetch Lysa, Edmure seemed too busy questioning him about the Rebellion to worry about yet another sister leaving.

When his uncle Brynden followed Lysa to the Eyrie to serve as Knight of the Gate, Edmure finally stopped pretending not to mind. But it was too late, they were all gone from Riverrun by then - Cat, Lysa, uncle Brynden. Even Littlefinger was gone, Littlefinger whom Edmure had thought irritating and obnoxious, Littlefinger who was forever demanding Cat’s attention as if he had any right to it. Cat was his sister, not Littlefinger’s, Edmure had warned him more than once. Edmure had been pleased when Father had suddenly sent Littlefinger away without any explanation. But now, he missed even Littlefinger. At least Petyr Baelish was someone to play with, someone Edmure could laugh at, if not necessarily laugh with.

His father missed them too, Edmure knew. Not Littlefinger, but Cat, Lysa and uncle Brynden. Father stomped and raged about uncle Brynden and forbade his name from ever being mentioned in his presence, but sometimes when he thought he was alone and unobserved in his solar, Hoster Tully would let out a sigh and call out his brother’s name softly. Other times, he would forget that Cat was not at Riverrun any longer and called out for her to read to him. At dinner, the sight of Lysa’s favorite dish would bring a melancholic, faraway look on Lord Tully’s face, as if he was thinking about what Lysa was having for dinner at the Eyrie.

I’ll read to you, Father, and I’ll finish Lysa’s favorite dish. Those words remained unspoken. Edmure loved his father, but …

“Father loves you very much,” Cat had reassured Edmure time and time again.

“You are his only son. Of course Father is proud of you,” Lysa had said.

Would Father still be proud of him if he had not been born a boy? Edmure was not certain. But he was determined to prove his worth to his father, to be a knight, and one day, a lord Hoster Tully would be proud of.

So when his father told Edmure that he was to leave Riverrun for King’s Landing to serve the king’s brother as a squire, Edmure displayed only enthusiasm about the plan. Yes, he was prepared and ready to leave home, Edmure assured his father. No, he did not think he was too young to squire for Lord Stannis. Yes, he knew serving as a squire was a big change for the only son of Lord of Riverrun and Lord Paramount of the Trident, who was used to being served by others since the day he was born. No, he was not afraid of hard work.

“We leave for King’s Landing in a fortnight,” Hoster Tully announced, satisfied with his son’s replies. But when that day arrived, Edmure left for King’s Landing accompanied not by his father, but only by Maester Vyman and two of Lord Tully’s household knights. The Lord of Riverrun was too preoccupied trying to settle a feud between Lord Frey and Lord Mallister.

His father had taken Edmure to court only once before, in the days when the Mad King still sat on the Iron Throne. Edmure was only four at the time, and his memory of that visit was vague at best. He dimly recalled the frail yet somehow still terrifying figure perched uncomfortably on the throne. The king had looked more like a ghostly apparition than a flesh-and-blood man to Edmure.

But a different king sat on the Iron Throne now, one who was young, vigorous, and not mad. King Robert of the House Baratheon, first of his name. When Ned Stark came to Riverrun to wed Catelyn, Edmure had peppered him with questions about Robert Baratheon his foster brother. Ned was quiet and solemn, as unlike his brother Brandon as night and day, but he lost some of his tongue-tied shyness when he started speaking about Robert. Ned had not said anything about Stannis Baratheon, however. Edmure was curious about the king’s younger brother he would be serving, but few people at Riverrun seemed to know much about Lord Stannis. Or if they did, none seemed eager to impart their knowledge to Edmure.

_______________

Their party stopped to rest at an inn halfway from Riverrun to King’s Landing. Edmure had not asked Maester Vyman about Lord Stannis before they left Riverrun, fearing that the maester would let his father know about his queries. And then his father might suspect that Edmure was having second thoughts about leaving, or that Edmure was not as brave as Hoster Tully’s son should be. So Edmure had carefully guarded his tongue around Maester Vyman, which was not something that came naturally to Edmure - keeping his own counsel about anything.

But Edmure had failed to gather any useful information about Lord Stannis from other sources; Maester Vyman was his only choice now. Maester Vyman did not look surprised by Edmure’s question. First he recited the dry facts: Stannis Baratheon was the older of King Robert’s two younger brothers, and he was serving in the king’s Small Council as Master of Ships.

“Lord Stannis is also Lord of Dragonstone,” Maester Vyman continued.

Dragonstone? That took Edmure by surprise. “Why Dragonstone, maester? Isn’t Storm’s End the seat of House Baratheon?” Cat had often admonished Edmure for not paying attention during his lessons, but he had certainly remembered that basic fact about House Baratheon.

“King Robert gave the lordship of Storm’s End to the youngest of his brothers, Renly Baratheon.”

Stranger and stranger. “Isn’t Renly Baratheon a boy younger than myself? Why did the king give him Storm’s End, and not Lord Stannis the older one?”

“Only the king knows why,” Maester Vyman replied. He went on to remind Edmure not to ask Lord Stannis about the matter, in case it might offend him.

“I am not a complete fool, Maester,” Edmure said, offended by the maester’s reminder. But his anger only lasted a moment, as is often the case with Edmure. Eagerness and curiosity overtook him swiftly enough. “Which battles did Lord Stannis fight in during the rebellion? Did he fight at the Trident with the king when Rhaegar Targaryen and his forces were vanquished?”

Maester Vyman shook his head. “No, he did not.”

“Was he present during the sack of King’s Landing?”

The maester replied in the negative again.

Edmure frowned. “Then what did he do? Surely the brother of the leader of Robert’s Rebellion did not sit on his arse and did nothing for a whole year while the whole realm was in chaos, and people were dying left and right?”

And so many had died, good and brave men all. Cat had wept long and hard when she thought she was alone in the sept, after Father told her about Brandon Stark’s fate. Edmure wanted to go to her, to embrace her and comfort her as she had often done for him, but he did not know what he was supposed to say to a woman who had just lost her betrothed, the man who had promised her that he would be back soon to wed her.

“Edmure?” Maester Vyman calling out his name startled Edmure back to the present. “You must learn to guard your tongue when it comes to Lord Stannis.” He paused, appraising Edmure’s reaction. “Lord Stannis defended Storm’s End from the siege by the Tyrell and Redwyne forces for the entire duration of the war. It was not an easy task. They were down to eating rats and boiled leather to survive at one point.”

“So Lord Stannis was protecting his people,” Edmure nodded approvingly. “His people must have been afraid, so he stayed at Storm’s End to protect them. He -”

Maester Vyman quickly interrupted. “It is perhaps a good idea to avoid the subject of the Siege of Storm’s End with Lord Stannis. I am certain it is not something he likes to dwell on.”

Edmure was dumbfounded. “Why ever not? Protecting his people is as great a glory as defeating enemies in battle, if not greater.”

“Not everyone would see it that way, Edmure,” Vyman said softly.

“Then they are fools!” Edmure said heatedly. He noticed the maester’s concerned expression. “But I will be careful about what I say to Lord Stannis, maester. I promise. I will not do anything that will bring shame to my father and House Tully.”

Maester Vyman smiled fondly and squeezed Edmure’ shoulder. The maester would return to Riverrun once Edmure was settled at King’s Landing. And then Edmure would be left alone in a strange place to fend for himself, serving a lord that sounded harsher than anyone Edmure had previously encountered in his life. He tried to push that thought aside, to concentrate on being brave and making his father proud.

During one of their fights about Cat, Littlefinger had called Edmure a foolish, spoilt boy who thought the world revolved around catering to his every whim and desire. Edmure had retaliated by calling Littlefinger ‘delusional’ and ‘presumptuous’, words he had overheard his father saying regarding Littlefinger’s affection for Catelyn. He was not a foolish, spoilt boy, Edmure would always maintain, but deep down he had to admit that he was nervous and even a little scared of being left alone in the care of Lord Stannis, a complete stranger he had never met before.

“Is he … is he a very harsh man? Lord Stannis, I mean.”

 He was expecting a swift and comforting “No,” from Maester Vyman, but the look on the maester’s face quickly disabused Edmure of that notion. The maester looked troubled. “Not more than others,  I suspect. Deep down, at least. But perhaps the many trying things he has experienced in his young life made him appear harsher than others. He has an understanding of what a difficult and cruel place the world can be.”

“Have you ever met Lord Stannis, maester?”

“No.”

“Then how do you know so much about him?”

“When your lord father was trying to decide whether to send you to squire for Lord Stannis, he commanded me to find out as much as I can about the man,” Vyman replied. “I gathered my information from various sources. Trusted and reliable sources.”

“So Father knows everything you have just told me?”

The maester nodded in the affirmative. That was comforting to Edmure; Father would not have sent him to squire for Lord Stannis if he thought Edmure could be in any danger from the man.  

But he heard other less comforting tales about Lord Stannis from the innkeeper and the men drinking in the tavern adjoining the inn.

“He’s not like his brother the king at all. Stubborn and dour, m’lord, that’s what he is, they say. Very harsh and severe too,” one of the men who was busy downing a pitcher of ale commented.

“Who said?” Edmure queried.

Another man snickered. “Everyone who’s ever been on the wrong side of Lord Stannis. My cousin now, she’s a kitchen maid at Storm’s End. She has plenty of stories she could tell about these Baratheon brothers. Some of them would curdle your blood, she swears.” The man paused, sipping his beer. “He has a sharp tongue too, people say. Lord Stannis, that is. Not the king. Mind you don’t cut yourself, little lord,” he continued, with what Edmure could have sworn was a look of relish on his face.

“Oh I’m sure Lord Stannis would mind his tongue with the little lord from Riverrun. It is us smallfolks who bear the brunt,” a third man who was drinking only water interrupted.

The first man disagreed while motioning to the innkeeper for another pitcher of ale. “No, no. Not Lord Stannis. This one doles out his punishment fair and square to all, smallfolks or highborn knights and lords, it makes no difference to him. He is just, this Lord Stannis.”

“Aye, justly harsh,” another man added with a laugh.

The man who was drinking only water asked, “Did you hear what he did to Storm’s End master-at-arms during the siege? Ser-something-or other.”

“Aye, aye,” several voices replied, accompanied with nods and knowing looks on their faces.

“What did he do to this knight?” Edmure asked.

The men glanced at each other uneasily. The one with the cousin who was a kitchen maid at Storm’s End was the one to finally speak. “Not for us to say, little lord. Not for the likes of us to say. We’ve said more than we should already.”

“You’ll find out soon enough,” another voice piped up, sounding ominously like a warning.

“Don’t let those men scare you,” the innkeeper said to Edmure as he was going back to his room. “Lord Stannis is no worse than other lords. Better, in my eyes. If you’re going to be harsh, at least be just and fair about it. At least Lord Stannis is not like some of these other lords who would let a knight or a lord go free for killing a man, but would not hesitate putting a starving man in prison for twenty years for stealing a loaf of bread. That is not Lord Stannis’ way. He would sentence a lord or a knight to twenty years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread too if the law says he should, not just the smallfolk. Fair is fair, I say. Fair is fair.”

_________________

Lysa’s husband Jon Arryn met their party when they arrived at King’s Landing. He escorted Edmure and Maester Vyman to Tower of the Hand, telling them that they should rest there first after their long journey. There was no sign of Lysa, or even any sign that Lysa had ever been at Tower of the Hand at all, from what Edmure could observe. All the rooms were sparsely decorated, with no woman’s touch in sight. Edmure wondered whether it was Lysa or Lord Arryn who had decided that she should stay at the Eyrie and not come to King’s Landing. Lord Arryn, Edmure suspected. Lysa would have loved all the pomp and circumstance of the royal court.

Edmure’s heart sank a little thinking of his sister’s absence from King’s Landing. He was not as close to Lysa as he had been with Cat – Lysa was too unpredictable, too fond of tears, recriminations and dramatic scenes for Edmure’s taste – but at least Lysa would have been a familiar face, even a comforting company in the strange place he was now thrown into. Lord Arryn was his family too, of course, but Jon Arryn was in truth almost as much a stranger to Edmure as Lord Stannis was. Edmure had only met Lord Arryn twice before – the day he came to Riverrun to wed Lysa at the beginning of the war, and the day he came to fetch her after the war ended.

“Lysa would have been very happy to see you,” Lord Arryn said to Edmure at dinner. “You must miss your sisters.”

Edmure shrugged, feigning indifference. “Catelyn and Lysa are grown women now, not girls. They must marry and follow their husbands. It is as it should be.” It was Hoster Tully’s words coming out of Edmure’s mouth.

Lord Arryn stared at him with a strange expression Edmure could not decipher. He is so old, Edmure thought. Older than Father. And he looked it too, his face significantly more lined and weathered than Hoster Tully’s face.

Father had wanted Lysa to marry Jaime Lannister once, Edmure recalled. But the Lannister boy had joined the Kingsguard, and that had put an end to that marriage plan. Lysa and Jaime Lannister would have made a beautiful couple, thought Edmure.

The night before the double wedding of the Tully sisters, Lysa cried herself to sleep, muttering words like “the old man” and “his breath smells, how can I kiss him?”

Father and Cat did not understand Lysa’s reaction, Edmure knew. But Edmure understood Lysa’s dismay completely. If he was told to marry an old and ugly woman, he would have felt the same way.

He was taken to see Lord Stannis the next day. Lord Arryn himself escorted him, overruling Edmure’s insistence that a guard could take him to see Lord Stannis without distracting Lord Arryn from his busy day. They made their way not to Lord Stannis’ study, as Edmure was expecting, but a big room with a very long table in the middle of it.

“This is the Small Council room,” Lord Arryn said. “This is where the Small Council members meet to discuss the business of the realm.”

The room was only occupied by one other person, a young man who was intently studying some papers on the table. He looked up when he heard them coming in, and spoke in a severe voice that startled Edmure.

“This account keeping is atrocious. Robert should appoint a new Master of Coin.”

“I will speak to him about that, Stannis,” Lord Arryn replied.

Stannis? So this was Lord Stannis? He looked nothing like the man Edmure had pictured in his mind. He looked younger than Edmure had expected, for one. His hair was thinning, that was painfully obvious - and Edmure predicted Lord Stannis would have lost most of his hair by the time Edmure received his knighthood - but his eyes were the eyes of a very young man, deep blue pools gazing at Edmure with what could pass for a kindly expression. An expression greatly at odds with the set of his jaw and the downturned frowning mouth. This is not a man who smiled often, or had kind words to say to anyone, Edmure suspected. But his eyes put Edmure at ease, slightly.

“This boy is Edmure Tully, I presume?” The question was directed to Lord Arryn, not him, so Edmure kept his mouth shut, afraid of starting off on the wrong foot with Lord Stannis.

Jon Arryn nodded. “He arrived yesterday, but I thought he should rest for a day after the tiring journey from Riverrun.”

“Riverrun is not all that far from King’s Landing,” Lord Stannis replied without looking at Lord Arryn, his eyes intently studying the papers again. Edmure was not certain if the reply was meant as a rebuke to Lord Arryn for not bringing Edmure to Lord Stannis sooner, or if Lord Stannis was merely stating a fact. Edmure glanced uncertainly at Lord Arryn, who gave Edmure what he must have meant as a comforting smile, but looked more like death’s grin to Edmure.

“Lord Tully sent his regards, along with this letter for you,” Lord Arryn said, as he handed over a letter to Lord Stannis. Edmure had not known that his father had written to Lord Stannis; Maester Vyman must have carried the letter with him. He silently prayed that his father had not told Lord Stannis anything embarrassing about his personal habits.

Lord Stannis took the letter from Lord Arryn without a word, setting it aside without even taking a peek at its content. Let him be too busy to read it, Edmure prayed. Lord Stannis motioned to a guard standing by the door, telling the guard to bring someone called Andrew Estermont to the Small Council room.

“Andrew Estermont is his other squire,” Lord Arryn whispered to Edmure, anticipating his curiosity. Lord Arryn took the seat next to Lord Stannis, and nodded to Edmure to take a seat as well. Edmure chose the seat furthest away from the two men. Lord Stannis was showing Lord Arryn some numbers and figures, and the two men conversed in a low tone, their expressions grave and serious. Edmure could not catch what they were talking about. Business of the realm, he suspected. He waited patiently for the other squire to come. Hopefully this Andrew Estermont would be able to shed more light on Lord Stannis, his likes and dislikes, what Edmure should and should not do in his presence, and how best to serve him to his satisfaction.

The boy who came in looked younger than Edmure. He looked grave and solemn, almost as grave as Lord Stannis himself. “My lord, you sent for me?”

Stannis nodded and pointed to Edmure. “This is Edmure Tully my new squire, Andrew. Take him to your room and let him know about his duties.” He turned to Edmure and said brusquely, “Go with him.” And that was that, Edmure was swiftly dismissed from Lord Stannis’ presence.

Lord Arryn stood up and followed Edmure and Andrew to the door. “You will help Edmure to learn his way around, won’t you, Andrew?” He asked Andrew Estermont, with one hand clasping the boy’s shoulder.

A smile lit up Andrew’s face. “I will do my best, Lord Arryn.”

“And Edmure, I am here if you ever need anything,” Lord Arryn said to Edmure, his hand patting Edmure’s back.

“Yes, my lord,” Edmure replied, smiling as well. Edmure caught a glimpse of Lord Stannis watching them with a curious expression on his face, as if he could not fathom what Lord Arryn was doing being so friendly and familiar with the two squires. Lord Arryn walked inside and closed the door, and Edmure lost sight of Lord Stannis.

Once they were out of Lord Stannis’ sight, Andrew Estermont turned out not to be as grave and solemn as Edmure had feared. He introduced himself to Edmure enthusiastically - Andrew Estermont from House Estermont of Greenstone. He told Edmure that he was glad they would be serving Lord Stannis together. They would be sharing a room, he continued, as Andrew and the previous squire had done.

“Do you mind sharing a room?” Andrew asked, looking solemn again.

“No, I don’t mind at all,” Edmure replied swiftly and confidently. In truth, he was less certain than he sounded. Edmure had never shared a room with anyone before. Cat and Lysa had shared a room when they were girls, but Edmure always had his own room at Riverrun. “Why? Did you think I would mind?”

Andrew hesitated before replying. “Well, you are the son of a lord, and heir to Riverrun. You must have your own room at Riverrun, without having to share with anyone.” He paled when he saw that Edmure was frowning. “I hope I have not offended you.”

“No, no. I am not offended,” Edmure reassured him with a smile. “I did have my own room at Riverrun, but things are different now. I am only a squire here, and I will do everything that is expected of me.”

Andrew Estermont was a kind and patient guide, explaining everything at least twice so Edmure would not miss anything. He was also a very humble boy, and he spoke very little of himself, while at the same time displaying a genuine interest in Edmure and his tales of Riverrun and the Tully family. Andrew was such a sympathetic listener; Edmure even blurted out to Andrew one night before they went to bed about how much he missed his sister Catelyn. And how on the day Cat’s son was born, Edmure had locked himself in his room and refused to come out. Andrew nodded as if he understood completely.

It was not until he had been in King’s Landing for almost a month that Edmure finally found out that Andrew Estermont was Lord Stannis’ cousin on his mother’s side. Justin Massey, a squire to King Robert who was always amused at everything and had a smile for everyone, was the one who told Edmure about Andrew’s relation to Lord Stannis. When Edmure asked him about it, Andrew did not have much to say about being Lord Stannis’ cousin.

“Lord Stannis’ mother, who was my aunt, died when I was too little to remember her. King Robert stayed at Greenstone for a while with my grandfather, so he was known to us. But Lord Stannis never came to stay,” Andrew said.

Lord Stannis did not treat his two squires in any way differently, even though Andrew was his kin and Edmure was not. He gave them the same curt nod of approval when they did a good job, and the same tongue-lashing when they did anything wrong. In time, Edmure settled into the routine of being Lord Stannis’ squire with good humor.

Some of the things he was required to do here were not all that different from what he was expected to do at home. He and Andrew took lessons from a maester in the evening, joining the squires of other lords, including King Robert’s royal squires. The learned history, politics, bookkeeping, the same subjects Maester Vyman had been teaching him at Riverrun. The only major difference Edmure noticed was that there was less emphasis on House Targaryen and Aegon Targaryen’s conquest of Westeros, and more importance placed on House Baratheon and King Robert’s war against the cruel Mad King.

Every morning after they had served Lord Stannis his breakfast, Edmure and Andrew went to the palace courtyard to practice sword-fighting, lancing and archery with the other squires and a few knights. The master-at-arms of the Red Keep was their teacher. Edmure loved this part of the day most of all.

But there were other things about being a squire that was hard for him to get used to. Edmure’s hands still shook when he had to help Lord Stannis with his clothes or armor.  He had never been in such close proximity to another man before, growing up without a brother, and with a father who was not the type to hug or embrace his children. Lord Stannis was impatient with the whole thing, grinding his teeth and clenching his jaw as if he could not wait for the ordeal to be over. Edmure had a feeling that Lord Stannis found it uncomfortable too, to be so close to another person. But Edmure had the good sense to keep this thought to himself.

It also took Edmure some time to get used to standing still at attention and pretending that he had not heard anything when people were having explosive arguments in front of him. This happened quite often, in fact. Lord Stannis would be eating his dinner with Edmure waiting on him, and the king would suddenly burst into the room, yelling and cursing at his brother about one thing or another. Lord Stannis would ignore his brother completely at first, continuing to eat as if nothing was amiss, but he would suddenly speak up in a voice even louder than the king. The two brothers would trade barbs and pointed words, and when the king left, Lord Stannis would often mutter under his breath, “Why do the gods curse me with brothers?”

Edmure would have loved having a brother, someone to share his troubles with, someone who would not be sent away to her husband’s home after marriage. Edmure knew better than to tell Lord Stannis any of this, however.

Lord Stannis never spoke of his younger brother Renly. Renly Baratheon visited King’s Landing from time to time, a boy so handsome Edmure knew he would grow to be even better-looking than the king. Renly had the same coal black hair as the king. He also had the same eye color as Lord Stannis, deep dark blue, except Renly’s eyes were always twinkling in amusement. He always looked very excited to see his brother Stannis, but Lord Stannis was cool and distant towards him. Edmure felt sorry for the boy.

“How come you won’t visit me at Storm’s End, Stannis?” Edmure had heard Renly asking Lord Stannis during one of his visits.

“Storm’s End is not my home anymore. Dragonstone is my home now,” Lord Stannis had replied brusquely.

“Will you read me a story so I can fall asleep, like you did when the bad men were coming to get us?” Renly pleaded.

“The bad men are gone now. Robert pardoned them all. You don’t need me to read you a story.”

After Renly went back to Storms’ End, Edmure wondered aloud to Andrew if Lord Stannis resented being made Lord of Dragonstone and not Lord of Storm’s End. Andrew looked very uncomfortable and said, “We should not speak of Lord Stannis behind his back.” That told Edmure all he needed to know about the matter.

When Lord Stannis took Edmure with him to Dragonstone, Edmure thought he finally understood why Lord Stannis was so angry and resentful about losing Storm’s End to his younger brother. (Andrew Estermont insisted later that Edmure was wrong; that Lord Stannis’ anger at King Robert’s decision was about rights and the law, not because Dragonstone was such a poor seat for a lord compared to Storm’s End. But Edmure had his doubts about that.) Dragonstone was nothing more than barren rocks and a monstrously ugly castle. Few lords and even fewer people occupied the place. Dragonstone had been a Targaryen stronghold for hundreds of years, and the Mad King had sent his pregnant wife and younger son there for protection after Robert Baratheon defeated Rhaegar Targaryen at the Trident. The people of Dragonstone still had some residual loyalty to the Targaryens, and they did not feel kindly towards Lord Stannis, whom they thought of as a usurper.

It didn’t help that Lord Stannis was as stubborn as a mule about certain matters. Outlawing gambling and prostitution was one of his first acts after being made Lord of Dragonstone. That, and gelding rapers. There were not things that would endear him to the people of Dragonstone, who already resentful of his lordship over them.

Lord Stannis did not seem to care that he was not well-liked. One of the few times he had said anything to Edmure that was not a command or a summon, he told Edmure that the need to be liked was the downfall of many men. “If a thing is right, then it must be done, even if others will hate you for it. We must all do our duty, no matter how distasteful or unpleasant it is.”

Edmure had nodded quickly in agreement, but deep down he thought Lord Stannis could have been more diplomatic and less blunt in the way he went about doing his duty.

_____________________

The one and only time Edmure had seen Lord Stannis drinking anything other than water was after he came back to King’s Landing after his wedding to the Lady Selyse of House Florent. Edmure had missed the wedding. Lord Arryn had asked Lord Stannis’ permission to take Edmure with him to the Eyrie. Lysa had lost another child, a stillborn boy this time instead of a miscarriage, and Lord Arryn was hoping that seeing her brother would cheer Lysa up and lift her spirits. Lord Stannis gave his permission without much ado, and Edmure spent almost a month at the Eyrie, growing increasingly fearful for, and of, his sister. Lysa screamed when Edmure mentioned Cat and her children, and she looked at him with contempt and disgust when he tried to tell her how sorry he was about her dead babies. Edmure felt guilty about being relieved when Lord Arryn finally took him back to King’s Landing.

The capital was buzzing with news about Lord Stannis’ wedding, and the ‘unfortunate incident’ that had taken place in Lord Stannis’ wedding bed. Andrew Estermont was still at Dragonstone with Lord Stannis and his lady wife, but the other squires, especially King Roberts’ squires, were more than willing to explain all the gory details to Edmure. Apparently King Robert had bedded Lady Selyse’s cousin on the bed meant for Lord Stannis and Lady Selyse to consummate their marriage, while the bride and groom were still dancing downstairs. Lord Stannis and Lady Selyse had caught the ‘lovebirds’ in bed themselves.

Edmure was appalled at the king’s conduct, but he was secretly fascinated as well. The king was not a stranger to whoring and wenching, and many a song had been written about his proclivities, but to break the wedding bed meant for his own brother was on a different level altogether.

Lord Stannis came back to King’s Landing with only his squire Andrew Estermont in tow. He had left his new wife at Dragonstone. That night, Edmure was woken by the sound of a heavy object falling, coming from Lord Stannis’ bedchamber. He glanced at Andrew who was fast asleep, exhausted after the journey from Dragonstone, and quietly tip-toed out of their room to see if Lord Stannis needed anything.

Edmure was not easily shocked, or at least he was not the type to easily show his astonishment in front of others. But what he saw in Lord Stannis’ room was so surprising and unexpected, he could not help staring with his mouth wide open. Lord Stannis was pouring wine from a decanter into a glass with shaking hands, spilling the red liquid all over the table and carpet. From the unsteady way he was standing, Edmure guessed that it was not his first glass of wine of the night. When Lord Stannis emptied the glass in one quick gulp, some of the wine dribbling over his chin into his nightshirt, Edmure was so startled he gasped out loud. Lord Stannis turned around at the sound and stared at Edmure.

Edmure braced himself for a tongue-lashing, but none came. Lord Stannis continued staring at Edmure without saying a word, watching Edmure as if he was not certain who this boy standing in front of him really was. Edmure was too afraid to say anything, so the two of them continued staring at each other silently for a long time.

Finally, Edmure could not bear the tense silence any longer. “Do you need anything, my lord? I –“

“I want to know what it feels like,” Lord Stannis interrupted. “Being drunk.”

Edmure nodded as if that made all the sense in the world. Lord Stannis looked so young and vulnerable; Edmure’s fear was replaced by the desire to comfort. “I sneaked out a bottle of Dornish wine from the kitchen at Riverrun once, when I was nine,” Edmure confided. “I was sick and I threw up for days afterwards.”

Lord Stannis did not react to Edmure’s confession. “Robert was not always the disgusting drunk that he is now. He loved his wine, sure, but he used to know how to control himself,” he said.

Edmure listened and said nothing.

“He said it was the wine. The wine made him do it.” Lord Stannis laughed, a bitter, mirthless laugh. He gazed at Edmure measuringly. “You have no idea what I’m talking about, do you?”

Edmure hesitated. With Lord Stannis, the truth was always the best course of action. Andrew Estermont had told him that on his first day as Lord Stannis’ squire. “I … I think I do, my lord. Your wedding –“

Stannis motioned for Edmure to stop before he could finish his sentence. After a while, Lord Stannis spoke again. “He blames the wine, my dear brother. As if that would excuse his loathsome behavior.”

“My father said that some men use drunkenness as an excuse to justify the wrongs they still would have committed if they had been sober,” Edmure said timidly.

“Your lord father is a wise man,” Lord Stannis replied. “The wine makes him forget, my brother claimed. Makes him forget all the pain and the heartache, and that’s why he needs it. But he is wrong! Robert is wrong. Wine makes you remember the pain even more clearly.”

Lord Stannis was holding the wine glass so tightly Edmure was afraid he would break it and hurt himself. He held out his hand to Lord Stannis to relieve him of the glass. Lord Stannis closed his eyes and handed Edmure the glass.

“Throw out the rest of the wine in the decanter too,” he told Edmure. “I know what it feels like to be drunk now, and I do not care for it.”

Edmure was not surprised. He was already at the door when Lord Stannis called out his name.

“Edmure.”

“My lord?”

“Thank you.”

Edmure walked out of the room, smiling, and closed the door softly. The smile stayed on his face until he was back in bed. He was still not certain if he liked Lord Stannis, but at least he knew now that the man was human after all, with all the follies and weaknesses that came with it, as well as the strengths.