They were married twice, first in front of R’hllor, and then the Drowned God. Stannis was not taking any chances.
“No one should be given cause to cast any doubt on the validity of this marriage,” he announced.
“Then perhaps Ser Justin and I should be wed in front of the old gods too. And the Seven as well,” Asha wryly replied.
Stannis stared at her with wary, suspicious eyes. Justin cleared his throat. “My lady wife is only jesting, Your Grace. She means no disrespect by it.”
My lady wife. Asha wanted to gag. Or gagged her new husband with a rope, that would be satisfying as well.
“No, no, she is right,” Stannis said hurriedly. So off they went to be wed again, Asha and Justin, making it a total of four times, with four different marriage ceremonies. And still that did not satisfy Stannis.
“The marriage must be consummated tonight. Tonight,” Stannis said emphatically. “We must not give Euron Greyjoy or anyone else any reason to suppose that this marriage could be easily set aside.”
The husband Euron had forced on Asha was dead. He died choking on a piece of meat. Venison, she had heard. Asha had laughed when she heard the news. There was something very appropriate about the manner of his death.
That marriage had never been consummated.
Justin Massey was in the king’s favor at the moment, after leading the sellswords Stannis had commanded him to hire in Braavos to a great victory in the stormlands against the man calling himself King Aegon VI Targaryen. Justin must have been expecting his just rewards to be land and a lordship. But Stannis had a different plan in mind. News had reached him of an alliance sealed between the ironborn and another Targaryen, and Stannis meant to crush it, to bring the Iron Islands to heel before Daenerys Targaryen arrived in Westeros.
He needed Asha for that purpose. In the world according to Stannis Baratheon, Asha Greyjoy would sit the Seastone Chair as her father did before her, and she would bend the knee to no king or queen except Stannis Baratheon. Asha had bended the knee and declared her loyalty to Stannis without further ado. After all, Stannis had agreed to provide her with ships and men to attack Pyke and to defeat her uncle Euron. It was an advantageous arrangement for both sides, Asha thought, particularly since it mattered very little to her who ended up sitting on the Iron Throne.
Justin had asked the king for Asha’s hand in marriage before he left for Braavos, just like he had once asked for the wildling princess at the Wall. Stannis had refused him both times. But now that Stannis was actually commanding Justin to marry Asha, Justin was not as keen on the plan as he had been before. The stormlands had been reconquered in Stannis’ name, there were plenty of lands that could be granted to Justin Massey, where he could rule as his own lord and master.
“You will rule the Iron Islands in her name. That is more valuable than what little piece of land I could grant you in the stormlands. I need a loyal servant of mine in the Iron Islands.” Asha Greyjoy’s professed loyalty apparently carried not much weight with the king.
Justin had learned much about the Lady Asha on their long, drawn out march to Winterfell. The lady did not strike him as the type who would let anyone rule in her name, not even a husband. He tried explaining this to Stannis, but the king responded with fury.
“You begged me to allow you to wed Lady Asha before. If you think you’re not capable of fulfilling my trust and doing your duty, then I will command Horpe to wed Asha Greyjoy instead. Horpe will do it without complaining and whining.”
That settled the matter for Justin. Richard Horpe, the man who had questioned Justin’s faith and bravery, as the husband of the Lady Asha? No, Justin would have to marry the good lady himself.
He still had another matter to appeal to Stannis. “Perhaps if I am a lord, sire, and not just a knight, I would command more respect from the ironborn.”
Stannis was grinding his teeth and clenching his jaw. Not a good sign, Justin knew. “Help your lady wife defeat Euron Greyjoy, sit her on the Seastone Chair, then perhaps I will consider granting you a lordship, for loyal services rendered,” Stannis said curtly.
Asha was also not keen on the marriage plan. “I have bended the knee as a show of my loyalty, Your Grace. I have sworn an oath that the Iron Islands will recognize no king except Stannis Baratheon.”
“I could have given you Richard Horpe to wed,” Stannis said in an ominous tone. “You should be grateful that it was Justin Massey and not Horpe.”
Stannis had made up his mind, and no words of protests from Asha or Justin could change it. Asha still wanted the men and the ships Stannis had promised her, and Justin still had high hopes for a lordship and some land of his own, so they both acquiesced to the marriage, reluctantly.
In Asha’s presence, just before the wedding, Justin acted as solicitous as ever, eager for a conversation, constantly bringing her food and wine, attentive to her well-being. Asha had not been treated like a prisoner for a while now; the chains on her feet were removed some time ago. But she still remembered that Justin Massey had the only one showing anything resembling consideration or kindness towards her while she was still in chains.
Of course she had realized that Justin had an ulterior motive, that he had been meaning to make use of her for his own purpose. But on her part, she had accepted his kindness and his gallantry gladly, in order to protect herself among other men who saw her only as an enemy, or someone to be sacrificed to Stannis’ hungry red god.
Justin and Asha had been using each other, it could be said.
As if to pacify any doubt she might have had about their wedding, Justin took to telling Asha how House Massey had fought for Queen Rhaenyra during the Targaryen civil war known as the Dance of the Dragons.
“And I have sworn an oath to King Stannis that if he were to die, I would avenge his death and work to my death to seat Princess Shireen on the Iron Throne,” Justin continued. It was supposed to prove to Asha that he was not opposed to a woman ruling.
“I will not interfere with you ruling the Iron Islands, my lady, as long as you are loyal to King Stannis,” Justin insisted.
As if the ironborn would stand for it, if Justin tried to interfere in any way. Asha had tried telling Stannis that marrying her off to Justin Massey, or to any other greenlander, would only made it harder for her to win the support of the ironborn. The kraken’s daughter turned out to be only a woman after all, spreading her legs for a soft greenland lord. She would be thought unfit to rule.
Stannis winced hearing Asha’s words about spreading her legs. “There is no need to be vulgar, my lady. Justin Massey is not a lord, merely a knight. And you may find that he is not as soft as you might think. He has won a great battle in the stormlands after all.”
There had been no feast to celebrate the wedding. They were still at war after all, and meat and wine were still scarce. Asha noticed Richard Horpe sulking in one corner, his eyes staring daggers at Justin. Justin’s star was in the ascendance, and Horpe’s future was less certain.
No feast also meant no bedding ceremony, no ritual stripping of the bride and the groom and carrying them to the wedding chamber, naked. Asha and Justin were fully clothed when they went into the room that was supposed to serve as their wedding chamber for the night. The linen had been carefully laid out on the bed. White, they were all white. The bedsheet, the pillowcases, even the blankets.
Asha snickered. “Do you suppose the king has ordered someone to collect the linen in the morning, so he could inspect the sheets for blood, as proof of consummation?”
Asha had no doubt that the king could be that calculating and intrusive, but surely Stannis could not be that naïve? But then she recalled how red his face had turned, how embarrassed he had seemed when Asha spoke of spreading her legs. Stannis probably believed that women were divided between whores and wives, and that all wives went to their marriage bed as pure maidens, virgins until their husbands entered them.
Justin was looking at Asha shrewdly. “But there would not be any blood on the sheet in any case, even if there is a consummation tonight. Is that not the case, my lady?”
Asha laughed. “You are not a fool, ser.”
“Justin, I insist.”
“Only if you call me Asha. And only if you promise never to refer to me as your lady wife ever again.”
“Agreed,” Justin said.
Justin walked to the bed. Asha saw him taking out a small knife from his side. “Well, we must do what we have to do to satisfy His Grace’s curiosity,” he said. He was about to slash his palm to draw the required blood, but Asha stopped him with a cry.
“Wait! The king will see the wound on your palm when he summons you in the morning. He will be suspicious.”
Justin was looking doubtful. “I do not think it would occur to the king that –“
“It might occur to Richard Horpe,” Asha interrupted. “And he might whisper it to Stannis.”
Justin was mulling it over. “You’re right,” he finally said. “Horpe is not at all pleased with our marriage.” He grinned a wide grin, showing his teeth. “I believe Horpe wanted to wed you himself, Asha. Would that have been more to your liking?”
Marrying no one would have been more to her liking. Asha wanted adventure, to be the mistress of her own fate and fortune, unencumbered by husbands and sons. But she needed Justin on her side, for what she was about to do. So she smiled and said, “Marrying Richard Horpe would not be much better than marrying Clayton Suggs.”
Clayton Suggs who had called Asha a cunt and threatened to burn her for the red god. Justin looked pleased by the comparison. Men were so easily pleased, Asha thought, not for the first time.
It was time to make her move.
“It’s all very well for Stannis to speak about consummation, but what if we make a child tonight? The plan is for us to sail to Pyke to defeat my uncle. If I am with child, I would be useless in battle, useless captaining a ship.”
Justin was nodding his head. “The morning sickness. And the sea-sickness would be worse as well. And if you’re carrying a child, of course you cannot risk your life in battle.”
Asha had never been sea-sick in her life, but she was not about to tell Justin this.
“But we might not make a child this very night,” Justin said. “Few people do, in truth, on their wedding night.”
Asha had prepared herself for Justin saying this. She fixed her gaze on him, on the relevant bits, to be exact. “Yes, but with your … more than ample manhood, I fear that we might. Then where would we be?”
She had no moon tea to drink. But even if she had, she had no intention of spreading her legs for Justin Massey. Not tonight. Not ever.
Justin nodded again. “And we have to consider your vast experience as well. Maidens are usually terrified on their first night. They would lie on the bed like a slab of stone, cold and unresponsive. Not at all conducive to the making of babies, I should think. But you would not be terrified. You would know what to do, Asha.”
Now Asha was no longer certain who was playing whom. Justin’s voice had sounded earnest and without malice, but the things he had been saying …
“We must still do something about the blood,” Justin said. He turned to look around the room.
“What are you looking for?” Asha asked.
“Rats. Their blood could serve just as well, no one would be able to tell the difference.”
Asha shuddered. The smell would be different. Even Stannis would be able to tell the difference. “Here, let me,” she said, taking the knife from Justin’s hand, and with one deft move, Asha sliced her palm. She didn’t flinch at all. There had been more risk and more pain playing the finger game with axes back at Pyke. The blood dripped into the white linen. Justin watched, fascinated, his mouth half-open.
He tore off a long strip from one edge of the bedsheet to wrap her hand and to stop the bleeding. Asha raised an eyebrow. Justin laughed, and said, “The consummation was vigorous, let’s just say. In the throes of passion, you tore off the bedsheet to stifle your cries of ecstasy, in case it became too loud and would disturb the king’s sleep. And you hurt your palm grabbing too tightly to the bedpost.”
The man certainly did have a very high opinion of himself as a lover. But Asha was also amused at the thought of Stannis being woken up by a woman’s cries of passion. Would Stannis even recognize the sound he was hearing for what it was?
Asha put on her most engaging smile and announced, “Well, that’s it, then. We have taken care of everything.”
We have got our story straight, was what she meant.
“Not quite,” Justin said.
Asha was outraged. But surely … surely Justin understood the whole point of the charade? Had she bloodied her palm for nothing? If only she had her axe with her, she knew whose blood she wanted to draw.
Justin went on talking heedlessly. “There is a House Massey tradition, an old tradition dating back to the days of Aegon the Conqueror.”
If she had to spend her life listening to Justin Massey droning on and on about the now impoverished but still proud and very ancient House Massey, desperate measures might be needed. And would be taken.
Richard Horpe would not have droned on and on about anything at all. The man could barely string two words together coherently. Perhaps she should have asked to be wed to Horpe instead.
No, Horpe would have insisted on a consummation. Perhaps even acted violently to get his way. He would justify it all by claiming that he was only doing his duty to his king, following his command. Justin Massey was still her safest bet. She just had to be patient and waited for the chance to strike.
Justin was still talking. And talking. About his grandfather and his comely maiden bride, or perhaps it was his great-great-grandfather and his twice-widowed bride. Asha lost track after a while, one Massey blending into another. She could not in good conscience fault him for his pride in his House – Asha was an ironborn after all, where pride reigned supreme. But if only he could be the strong, silent, proud type, and not the voluble variety.
The mouth was still speaking - opening, shutting, opening, shutting. She yearned to put her hand over it, shutting him up. He had thick, sensuous lips, Asha could see. Lips that were made to be kissed. She would rather kiss a toad than kiss those lips, Asha told herself.
It was a generous mouth, made for smiles and grins, not frowns and grimaces. If only he would use it less for talking and more for -
She kissed him. A long, wet kiss that finally shut him up about House Massey and whichever great-great-great grandfather he had been talking about. His hair kept coming between them, tickling her.
What sort of a man kept his hair long at the front, long enough that it would fall over his eyes? Asha had seen Justin having to push back the fallen hair while he was speaking to the king. It was a wonder to Asha that Stannis had not taken a knife and cut off the offending lock himself.
She finally pushed Justin away when his tongue started to become too adventurous for her liking, and one of his hands started stroking her right breast. His face was flushed. He was breathing heavily. Asha never lost her own composure, her control.
“How did you know?” Justin was asking her, looking amazed.
Asha shook her head, not comprehending the question. What had she known?
“How did you know that is the House Massey tradition? For the bride and the groom to kiss on their wedding night only after the bride has bled, and not before. I had not arrived to that part of the story yet.”
She had not known, of course. She had kissed him only to shut him up, and for no other reason. No other reason at all. None.
And what sort of strange tradition was that, in any case? Asha had never heard of it. Had Justin made the whole thing up, as an excuse to kiss her, Asha wondered?
Then again, Justin Massey was a greenlander, and greenlanders and their ways would never cease to seem strange to Asha.
“I guessed,” she lied. “I made a guess from your story. There were clues here and there. You told the story very well.”
Were there clues? Asha wouldn’t have known, she had barely listened to his words.
Justin looked pleased, beaming like a proud little boy who had accomplished a great feat. The look reminded her of something. Or someone. Asha searched her memory, found what she was looking for, and then violently wished she had not.
Theon. Theon at Winterfell, that’s what the look reminded her of.
Justin was droning on again, but this time Asha was relieved for the distraction. He sounded nervous, for some inexplicable reason. “Of course, you did not actually bleed. I mean you did, of course, that is your blood on the sheet after all, but not … not where you are supposed to bleed. Not that Stannis could –“
She shut him up with another kiss.