Chapter 1: The Southron Princess
Myrcella did not know much about the North. Her Septa taught her about the different regions of Westeros, of course, and she could list names, family words, house symbols; her mother insisted upon that, said a princess should know her subjects. But all Myrcella knew about Winterfell was that it was the seat of the Warden of the North, Eddard Stark, her father's oldest and dearest friend. Their sigil was a direwolf and there were words were “Winter is coming.” When he was with Jon Arryn, Robert told stories sometimes about Eddard Stark – he called him “Ned” - but Myrcella never got to hear them, the tales always reserved for Joffrey and sometimes Tommen.
Even though it was still summer, Myrcella felt a chill in the air as she climbed out of the litter after her mother. All of Winterfell was lined up to greet them, bent at the knee, and Myrcella felt the usual twist of discomfort at the gesture; Joffrey liked it, when people took the knee, but it always made Myrcella feel embarrassed, exposed.
After Father and Lord Stark disappeared into the crypts, her mother's face pinching in irritation, Lady Stark set about introducing her children. As she silently recited the names to herself after each was named - Robb, Sansa, Arya, Bran, Rickon - Myrcella glanced around, taking in the unfamiliar sights. It was so different from King's Landing; there was no hustle and bustle, no scent of the sea or stench of Flea Bottom; all Myrcella could smell was fresh air, baking bread, and something she couldn't identify, something unique to Winterfell.
As Lady Stark lead her mother inside, Myrcella remained with Sansa and Arya, allowing them to show her the grounds as the boys discussed whatever boys discussed. Sansa was asking about her dress when Myrcella saw the direwolf pups barreling towards them; she heard Joffrey give a startled shout and Tommen gasp, heard names being shouted, but the grey one ran to Myrcella, jumping up, its paws catching the fabric of her dress. She crouched down and the pup began to enthusiastically lick her face, tumbling her backwards onto her bottom as it playfully mauled her, and she couldn't help but giggle, petting its fur even as everyone scrambled to help her to her feet.
“Grey Wind!” Robb snapped, scooping up the pup in his arms. As Myrcella dusted off her dress, shaking off the concerned questions, the pup continued to struggle to reach her. Smiling, Myrcella scratched between his ears, assuring Robb Stark, “It is all right. He did not hurt me.”
“He's never acted like this,” the eldest Stark offered apologetically. “I am so sorry, my lady.”
“You should chain those beasts!” Joffrey growled.
Myrcella glanced towards her brother before returning her gaze to Grey Wind, who nuzzled her hand. As she lifted her eyes, she saw Robb smiling at her, his eyes bright blue, auburn curls cut tightly to his head, and she felt herself blush as she followed Sansa inside.
Robb Stark was very handsome.
The boys were sparring in the yard with wooden practice swords when Myrcella and Sansa came outside. Bran and Tommen were crossing swords, the older boys giving instructions, and Myrcella was surprised when she saw Ayra was with them. When Bran disarmed Tommen, Arya immediately grasped Tommen's sword to challenge her little brother, and Myrcella was instantly jealous.
Sword fighting seemed so much more interesting than sewing or dancing.
“She is so embarrassing!” Sansa declared as Arya easily got Bran to yield. “It's like having another brother.”
“You never want to play?”
Sansa looked at her as if she was crazy. “I am a lady. Swords are for boys.”
Myrcella nodded absently as Robb and Theon Greyjoy began to cross swords, both laughing; their movements were more aggressive, faster than the younger boys, and Myrcella felt a fission of excitement fly up her spine as if she was watching a tourney rather than playtime.
Just as Robb knocked the sword from Theon's hands, Lady Stark called for everyone to clean and dress for dinner. As Myrcella turned to obey, Robb reached down and plucked one of the winter roses which was starting to grow, tucking the bloom into Myrcella's golden curls.
“For the Queen of Love and Beauty,” he quipped before disappearing with the boys.
She tried to keep the rose in her hair for dinner, but Cersei heard nothing of it. Yanking the flower from her hair, Cersei spat, “You look like a wilding.”
At dinner she sat beside Tommen, unable to keep her eyes from flicking towards Robb, who was flirting shamelessly with Jeyne Poole.
In that moment, Myrcella would have gladly traded her crown for a few extra years, for anything which would get Robb Stark to smile at her the way he was smiling at Jeyne.
They had been in Winterfell for a fortnight when the news was announced.
Robert was drunk – he was always drunk, her father – and, as everyone ate, he lumbered to his feet, raising his cup of wine. Myrcella saw Cersei flinch, and she wondered what was about to happen, what her father was going to say that would make her mother look so unhappy.
“To the Houses Stark and Baratheon!” Robert bellowed, a touch of a slur to his words. “Two great houses, two great families who are going to be joined together in marriage!”
A murmur went through the dining hall, and Myrcella found Sansa, her eyes wide and hopeful as she looked upon Joffrey. Myrcella wanted to get to her feet, scream her protests; Joffrey was cruel and disgusting, and Sansa did not deserve to be wed to her brother who would make her do terrible things, who had made Myrcella do terrible things. She could not imagine a worse fate than being Joffrey's queen, and she did not want that for her new friend.
“So raise your glasses and celebrate the betrothal of Princess Myrcella and Robb Stark!”
For a moment Myrcella lost all control of her senses, unable to hear or see anything. And then the world came back to her, Tommen patting her on the back and congratulating her. Her eyes found Robb across the room, shock as plain on his face as it was on hers, even as he was also accepting congratulations. After a moment Robb saw her, his blue eyes locking with her green ones, and a quiet understanding passed between them.
She was going to be Robb Stark's wife, and there was nothing she could do to change that.
Her parents fought over it, but Robert insisted she remain in the North. Lord Stark was returning to King's Landing to serve as Hand, taking Sansa, Arya, and Bran with him; there would be plenty of room for her, Robert reasoned, and Lady Catelyn would enjoy the company. The plan, as Myrcella understood it, was for Lady Catelyn and Rickon to remain at Winterfell with them until she flowered and the wedding could occur; then Catelyn and Rickon would go to King's Landing as well, leaving Myrcella as the Lady of Winterfell.
“This is ridiculous in every way!” Cersei exclaimed, her voice carrying through the walls into the cell where Myrcella slept. “She is a princess and she deserves a better match than some Northern boy - “
Myrcella winced at the sound of flesh hitting flesh, shivering beneath her furs. She hoped Robb would not strike her one day, hoped her cheeks would never bear angry, red marks the way her mother's did when the fighting started.
The night before they left for King's Landing, her mother came into her cell, shoulders back, looking every inch the queen she was. Myrcella stared at Cersei with idle fascination churning in her chest; her mother was strong, shrewd, and intelligent, but her mother was not particularly maternal, at least, not to her or Tommen. As Cersei fussed with Myrcella's curls, jerking the brush so painfully it tore hair from the root, Myrcella bit her lip and suffered through it, knowing it would be worse if she cried.
“I do not care how long you stay in this wasteland,” Cersei said as her hands tugged and pulled. “You are a Lannister of Casterly Rock, and you will always conduct yourself as such. I won't have you acting like a Northern savage when you come to court.” Hitting a particularly painful snarl, making tears rise up in Myrcella's eyes, she demanded, “What are our words?”
“Hear me roar,” she replied instantly, exhaling gratefully when Cersei dropped the brush and rose.
“You still have years before you'll flower. If the Gods are good, your father will come to his senses and set this betrothal aside. And if he doesn't, Joffrey can.”
Later, when she was tossing in bed, Myrcella wondered why her mother never referred to her as a Baratheon of Storm's End, why she never made Myrcella declare that “ours is the fury.”
She refused to think about what it would mean if Joffrey put aside her betrothal.
Tommen squeezed her too tightly when they were saying their goodbyes, and Myrcella started crying when he whispered how much he loved her. Cersei looked irritated by Tommen's emotions, hurrying him into the litter as if he was something to be ashamed of; Joffrey said nothing to her, only smirked, and Myrcella wished his horse would throw him, that he would know what it was like to be at the mercy of something else. Robert patted her on the head like a dog, told her to be good and listen to Lady Catelyn, but he did not hug or kiss her.
Uncle Tyrion embraced her, promising to stop back at Winterfell on his return from the Wall, and Myrcella loved him so much then, her uncle the Imp. But when Uncle Jaime knelt before her in his gold cloak and white armor, Myrcella felt her tears rise up again. Jaime was the one guarded her the most, the one who would sneak her sweets and call her “my special girl.” There was no way Robert or Cersei would allow Jaime to be her guard in the North; Ser Arys Oakheart was being left for her protection.
“I must beg a favor of you, Princess,” Uncle Jaime said, smiling teasingly. “Do you think you will have time to write your uncle letters? I do so long to receive letters from a pretty girl.”
“Only if you will write me back.”
Jaime grinned, giving her a quick squeeze before rising, his sword gleaming on his hip. “It would be my honor, Princess.”
She watched the train until it disappeared, trying to make herself as hard as Valyrian steel, as hard as her mother. This was the way it was done, she told herself, and there were worse men she could be forced to marry. Robb was kind, nothing like Joffrey, and Myrcella reminded herself of that as her family vanished from sight.
The brush of fur against her ankle woke Myrcella from her trance. Grey Wind pushed against her leg again with his head, and she bent, ruffling his ears as he licked the tears from her cheeks.
At least I have one friend here.
She had been in Winterfell for four name days when the raven came announcing Joffrey's wedding to Margaery Tyrell of Highgarden. Lady Catelyn announced they would all be traveling to King's Landing for the occasion by order of King Robert, and Myrcella had learned to read her good-mother well enough to know that Catelyn did not care whether or not she attended the wedding. Robb and Theon looked to be equally uninterested, but Rickon began to bounce at the idea of seeing his siblings again. Lord Eddard had visited the year before without the children, and Lady Catelyn once made the trip on her way to Riverrun to say her farewells to her father, but Myrcella had not seen Sansa, Arya, or Bran since they left Winterfell years earlier.
As the snow fell and Lady Catelyn began to make plans, Myrcella slipped out to the glass gardens. They were her favorite part of Winterfell, the place winter always failed to touch, and she inhaled the sweet scent of flowers as she wandered. She did not know Margaery Tyrell; the only Tyrell Myrcella had ever met was Ser Loras, the Knight of the Flowers, the one who was good friends with her Uncle Renly. Ser Loras was wonderfully kind, beautiful rather than handsome, and he always let Tommen hold his sword when he came to court. Myrcella did not know Margaery, but, if she was anything like Loras, she deserved a better husband than Joffrey.
Myrcella did not remember when Joffrey first started to hurt her, which she took to mean it had always happened and would have continued to happen if Uncle Jaime had not caught him in the weeks before they left for Winterfell. She could still remember the pain of Joffrey's fingers, forcing and rough, the sharp edge of Joffrey's voice as he ordered her to stop crying; Joffrey had been fumbling for the laces of his breeches when Uncle Jaime lifted him with only one hand, throwing him to the floor before gathering her up in his arms, carrying her away from Joff.
“If he ever touches you again,” Jaime instructed, “you tell me and I will take care of it.”
But then her parents left her in the North and took Joffrey South, and Myrcella never wanted to see her brother again, did not want to see some poor girl forced to marry Joff.
She did not realize she was crying until a heavy hand landed on her shoulder, a handkerchief extended in front of her face. Myrcella took it out of instinct, brushing it against her cheeks, before looking up, expecting Arys; instead Robb was there, staring down at her with his bright blue eyes, a troubled expression on his face.
Myrcella opened her mouth to assure him she was fine, simply overcome with joy at the news of her brother's nuptials, but she could not force the lie past her lips; she could not force anything past her lips. Instead she started to cry in earnest, entire body trembling with the force of her sorrow, and Robb did not hesitate to pull her against his chest, stroking her hair as she sobbed against his waistcoat.
Over the past four years, Myrcella had come to think of the Starks as her family. Catelyn was kinder and sweeter than her own mother ever was, and Myrcella enjoyed being a big sister to Rickon. Robb and Theon both treated her as a little sister, and, though Myrcella intellectually knew that one day Robb would be her husband, there were no hints of romantic love between them. She knew it was difficult for him; he was a man-grown, eighteen on his last name day, and she was still little more than a child. The servants' whispers about Robb's trips to the brothel in the village had reached Myrcella's ears, and she could not even muster up anger for the situation because she could not imagine doing the things with Robb that he must do with his whores.
But she did believe Robb cared for her, and she was grateful in that moment for that.
“Can I do something to make it better?”
“I don't want to go back,” she whimpered, keeping her face pressed against his broad chest. “I don't want to see him again.”
“Joff,” was all she managed to get out before her sobs began again, her fingers twisting in Robb's shirt, trying to tether herself to him.
There was a tension in Robb's body which had not been there before, but it quickly dissipated as he hugged her closer. “I will be with you while we're in King's Landing. I will not let your brother bother you.”
Myrcella finally lifted her head, gazing up into his somber face. Blinking through her tears, she gritted out, “You do not understand.”
Cupping her face in his palms, his thumbs brushing away the tears, Robb corrected, “No, sweetling, I do.”
As she buried her face back into his chest, Myrcella wondered if mayhaps she had been underestimating just how much Robb Stark knew about her.
By the time they reached King's Landing, Myrcella's thirteenth name day came and went, commemorated only with a lemon cake at an inn during a blizzard. It was bitterly cold, Myrcella shaking as she rode, and, when they finally entered the Red Keep, Robb's heavy cloak rested on her shoulders. As their horses stopped, Myrcella took stock of her former home, of the place she left in the summer to never return, and she realized with a start that King's Landing was no longer her home.
I belong to Winterfell now, she thought as Ser Arys helped her from her mount, and I wish I was there now.
She saw Lord Eddard only a moment before she saw the other Stark children running towards their envoy, Bran and Arya leading the way. Myrcella watched as Robb scooped up Arya as if she was still small, shaking her like a doll, as Bran and Rickon began to wrestle about; Sansa, tall and even more beautiful than Myrcella remembered, embraced Lady Catelyn tightly, and Myrcella waited for a member of her family to come greet her. Surely Tommen would want to see her; they still exchanged letters, Tommen detailing how Ser Loras was teaching him to joust, Myrcella describing the exploits of Grey Wind and Shaggydog.
But only the servants came, gathering their luggage and hurrying it into the castle, and Myrcella tried to train her face to hide her disappointment, to smile politely as the Starks greeted each other vigorously. Her eyes wandered to Theon, who stood silently near his horse, and she wondered if this was how he always felt: a part of the family but never a member, not really.
“Why, that cannot be Princess Myrcella!” a familiar voice boomed, Myrcella whirling around to see Uncle Jaime sauntering towards them, Uncle Tyrion at his side. “She is but a child and this is practically a woman grown!”
Myrcella knew it was not lady-like, would make her mother and septa cringe to see her behave this way, but she could not stop herself from rushing towards her uncles, flinging her arms around Jaime's neck and squeezing tightly. As he had promised when he left Winterfell, Jaime sent her a letter, at least, once a week; Tyrion's letters were always more informative, stories of people they knew, legends he read about, but Jaime sent bits of gossip, biting remarks, and questions about her life. His last letter arrived shortly before they left Winterfell, and it had featured a story about Joffrey injuring himself with his own sword.
“Well, now, do not forget your favorite dwarf down here,” Tyrion teased good-naturedly, and Myrcella instantly bent, startled to realize that she was now quite a bit taller than her uncle.
When Jaime and Tyrion escorted them inside, her father sitting on the Iron Throne, her mother standing at his side, Myrcella was surprised at how different they looked. There was more silver in her father's bushy beard now, his stomach seeming to strain against his clothing; her mother was still beautiful but her age was beginning to show around her eyes, at the corners of her mouth.
They are getting old, she realized with a start even as she dipped into a curtsy.
Later, when her mother escorted her to the maidens' vault to meet Margaery, Myrcella flinched as Cersei stopped and jerked at the gown Catelyn had given her for her name day. “You will need a better dress for the wedding. You cannot look like a Northern savage at your brother's wedding.”
“But Lady Catelyn - “
Cersei grasped her face, pinching her cheeks, silencing her words. “You are my daughter, not Catelyn Stark's. Do not forget: you are a Lannister, a lion, and I will not have you embarrassing Joffrey on his wedding day.”
Myrcella carefully folded her gown, tucking it safely away after running her fingers over the careful embroidery. She loved this dress, Lannister or not.
Myrcella felt naked in the gown she was given on Joffrey's wedding day.
Southron-style dresses varied greatly from Northern-style; Northern dresses were heavy wools, dark colors, designed for warmth and for function. In the South, the materials were more luxurious – silk, satin, Myrish lace – and designed to catch the eye with bright colors. As a child, Myrcella loved the dresses the seamstresses made her, the summer air moving freely through the pink silks she favored, but, as her uncles pointed out earlier in the week, she was not a child anymore.
Her gown for the wedding was Lannister crimson, long-sleeved with lace on the tight bodice. The neckline was deeper than any gown Myrcella had ever worn, her breasts swelling upward once she was cinched into it; her shoulders were bare, her alabaster skin on display, and, when her hair was gathered into a golden net, Myrcella knew this must have been what her mother looked like when she first came to court. Despite her efforts, she could not wrestle the neckline higher to preserve her modesty, and Myrcella felt herself flush as red as her gown when she saw her reflection in the mirror.
Myrcella knew she was not a little girl anymore. Her breasts were larger than Lady Catelyn's now, seemingly having grown over night, and she was constantly having to have new gowns made to camouflage her curves; her waist was small, gently flaring at her hips, and golden hair now grew in the cradle of her thighs. Lady Catelyn said she would flower any day, and the thought made Myrcella's stomach churn, certain she was not ready to be Robb's wife.
She did not want all of court to see her as a woman-grown, and Myrcella understood that was exactly what her mother wanted to announce with this gown.
When one of the servants told her Robb was waiting to escort her to the Sept, Myrcella took a deep, steadying breath before turning on her heel and stepping into the hallway. Her family would sit in the front pew and, as her betrothed, Robb was required to take his place at her side. Instantly Myrcella saw he had cut his hair, the thick, auburn curls she loved shorn, and his beard was gone, subtracting several years from Robb's appearance; he wore a new surcoat in Stark colors, and, not for the hundredth time, Myrcella blushed at how handsome he was.
Robb's blue eyes bulged at the sight of her, and Myrcella instantly dropped her eyes, not wanting to see his reaction. After a moment, Robb lifted her chin with his forefinger, and she felt her chest tighten at the expression of awe on his face.
“You are the most beautiful girl I have ever seen, my princess,” he swore, and this time when a flush overtook her cheeks, it was from pride and flattery.
“Thank you, my lord,” she murmured.
Robb scowled playfully. “Since when do you not call me Robb?”
A smile playing at her lips, she retorted, “Since when do you call me princess?”
He grinned widely, offering his elbow, which she took easily. “I shall call you whatever you like as long as you keep smiling. You are so lovely when you smile.”
In the Sept, as Joffrey fastened the Baratheon cloak around Margaery Tyrell, Myrcella shivered as Robb took her hand. As thunderous applause met the declaration of Prince Joffrey officially being wed to Princess Margaery, Robb leaned close, his lips brushing against the shell of her ear, and confessed, “I cannot wait to do the same to you.”
It was the first time Robb had given her any indication he wanted to marry her, and it made Myrcella feel invincible.
Her father insisted on them staying until after his name day celebration, and Myrcella quickly fell back into the rhythms of the Red Keep, spending her days with Margaery, Sansa, and Margaery's cousins while spending her evenings dining with Tommen and the Starks. Unlike at Winterfell, Myrcella rarely saw Lady Catelyn, who spent her time visiting with her sister Lysa who was down from the Vale for the wedding, or Robb, who was frequently with Lord Eddard discussing Winterfell and bannermen. After having spent the past five years with Lady Catelyn, only boys for company, she found it was odd listening to girls giggle again.
“So,” Margaery began, a smirk playing at her lips, “Robb Stark is very handsome.”
Myrcella felt her cheeks heating almost immediately. “Yes, he is.”
“You must tell us: is he good at kissing?” Margaery began to laugh at her good-sister's obvious embarrassment. “Oh, do not be shy! We are all family now.”
Fiddling with her stitches, she sputtered, “I – I do not know.”
Margaery's eyebrows rose in surprise. “You do not know? But you have been betrothed for years!”
“We...That is, we do not...We just have not.”
Face folding into an inscrutable expression, Margaery glanced at her cousins before requesting, “Girls, leave Princess Myrcella and I, please.” Once they had obeyed, Margaery instantly dropped her embroidery, sliding across her cousin's abandoned seat so she was beside Myrcella. “Do you and Robb not get along? I thought you two were close.”
“We are friends,” she allowed.
“You do not want to kiss him?”
Biting her lip, trying to find the right words, she finally settled on, “I would not mind it. Robb is very kind, and I...I think it would be nice to kiss him.”
“Then why do you not kiss him?”
“Kiss him?” Shaking her head, Myrcella got to her feet, beginning to pace the floor. “I could never be so brazen.”
“Men like it when women are brazen. And I have seen the way Robb's eyes follow you; if given the chance, I think he would very much like to kiss you.”
Suddenly bursting to discuss Robb with someone who was not his mother, Myrcella blurted out, “I did not think he even thought of me as anything beyond a sister until Joffrey's wedding. Since then he has been so...He makes me feel things, and it is so strange. I have seen him every day for five years and now it is as if I am seeing someone new entirely.”
Margaery smiled. “Perhaps now he sees you as a woman rather than a child.”
Lowering her voice despite their solitude, she revealed, “I know he has lain with women before; I understand it is different for men. But I have never so much as kissed anyone before, and honor is very important to the Starks; until I am flowered and we are wed - “
“There are things a man and woman can do which need not involve your maidenhead.”
Myrcella stopped pacing. “There are?”
“Have you ever heard of the lord's kiss?”
Margaery Tyrell provided Myrcella more education about marriage that afternoon than any septa.
Joffrey cornered her on her last day in King's Landing.
The moment he stepped in front of her, Myrcella cursed for not paying more attention to his schedule for the day, for not having Grey Wind with her; in her two months in the Crownlands, her only interactions with her elder brother was in groups of people, exactly how she intended it. But now, as she returned from the library to borrow a few tomes for the trip, Joffrey was there, his ugly smirk in place.
He was seven-and-ten now but not even a head taller than she; his golden hair had darkened some, more Tyrion's color than Jaime's, and he was still thin if slightly more muscled. As his green eyes tripped over her body, Myrcella remembered the last time they were alone, the terror he inflicted upon her, and she was surprised to find that there was more anger in her body now than fear.
“You have not paid your respects to the king.”
“You are not the king yet.”
Joffrey's eyes darkened. “It is only a matter of time. You should still treat me as if I am your king.”
“Then I beg your pardon, your grace, if I have offended you in some way.” Holding up the few books in her hands, she said, “I was simply gathering new reading material. There are less books in Winterfell.”
Joffrey sneered. “Winterfell,” he spat. “Is it true you sleep beneath bear skins and the people all smell of shit?”
Bristling, she could not help but snap, “Do not speak of it that way.”
“I will speak of it any way I like it.” Stepping closer, forcing Myrcella to step backwards until her back met the cement wall, he declared, “I will speak of my lands any way I choose. You forget yourself. Too much time playing with the wolves.” She gasped as his hand quickly rose, grasping her chin with bruising force, bringing her face closer. “Tell me: does the young wolf fuck you like a dog? Does he howl when he comes? Does he make you bark?” Myrcella began to struggle as Joffrey's free hand began to raise the skirt of her gown. “I think I shall make you bark.”
Myrcella heard the growl a half-second before Joffrey did; by the time he was turning, Grey Wind had already taken him to the ground, the direwolf standing upon his chest, snarling but not drawing blood. She saw Robb, absolute fury on his face, his voice tight as a bow string as he ordered, “Grey Wind, to Myrcella.”
Immediately the wolf went to Myrcella's side, sitting straight and tall as Joffrey scrambled to his feet, eyes darting frantically. He opened his mouth to make a threat but Grey Wind's growl caused him to jump back, spitting a vile curse before disappearing down the hallway. Myrcella exhaled shakily before reaching down, scratching Grey Wind's head as Robb approached her.
Carefully cupping the side of her face, he asked, “Are you hurt?”
She shook her head.
“He's done this before?”
Myrcella had seen many emotions play across Robb's face before, but she had never seen this level of rage; he looked as if he was prepared to murder her brother. She thought of Lyanna Stark, the woman her father started a war over, and wondered if this was how Robert had looked when he took up arms against the crown.
“You're his sister,” Robb finally said, disgust ripe in his voice, undoubtedly thinking of Sansa and Arya and what he would do to anyone who treated them the way Joffrey treated her.
“Please don't tell your father,” Myrcella requested. “I do not...I would prefer that all of court does not know about this.”
Robb nodded tersely before carefully brushing her hair from her face. “He will never touch you like that again.”
It was the first promise a man made Myrcella ever believed.
They were three days out from King's Landing when Robb kissed her for the first time.
Myrcella did not remember the name of the inn, but snow had started to fall again, the slow, fat flakes which were her favorite. As Lady Catelyn began the wrestling match which was putting Rickon to bed, Myrcella stood outside the door, tipping her head back and catching snowflakes on her tongue the way she had with Tommen. She was not sure how long she was out there when Robb joined her, laughing at her snowflake catching efforts.
“You look like a child, all bundled and eating snow,” he teased, tweaking her red nose.
She smiled unrepentantly, so much happier knowing she would be in Winterfell soon. “I like winter. Summer lasted ten years; who knows when I will see winter again?”
He reached out with gloved hands, rustling her curls, weighed down by the falling flakes. “Uncle Benjen used to tell tales about wildings when he'd visit. He said there was a wilding princess with hair like gold who always had snowflakes dancing in the strands.”
“Are you calling me a wilding?”
The tenderness on his face set her heart racing. “If you are a wilding, I will gladly be one too.”
His mouth was surprisingly warm despite the cold; his kiss was soft, tentative until she kissed him back, stretching up on her toes, bracing herself against his chest with one hand. He made a noise which stirred something inside of her as his embrace tightened, his tongue tracing her bottom lip until she opened her mouth.
Myrcella decided Margaery was right; kissing was fantastic.
Two weeks after returning to Winterfell, Myrcella woke up to bloody sheets and a ruined nightdress. She sent for Lady Catelyn immediately, a vague sense of panic in her body; she knew what moon blood was, but she had not expected so much, and Myrcella was certain she was dying.
After Catelyn ordered a bath drawn, her nightdress and sheets taken away, Myrcella leaned her head against the edge of the tub and said, “So now Robb and I must marry.”
Catelyn swept Myrcella's hair back from her damp forehead, pressing a kiss to the skin. “Three-and-ten is a bit young to be a bride, don't you think?” When Myrcella did not reply, she declared, “I will send a raven on your fourteenth name day saying you've flowered if it is all right with you.”
It was only nine months, but Myrcella was incredibly grateful for them. After all this time, she felt as if she was only just beginning to know Robb, and she did not want to wed a stranger.
But she did want to wed him.
The day Lady Catelyn announced that most of court was headed to Winterfell for her wedding, that she and Robb would wed in the godswood in one month's time, Robb could hardly stop kissing her. Since leaving King's Landing, he had continued to be affectionate, acting more like her betrothed than her foster brother, but news of their wedding only increased his affections. Myrcella felt herself blush every time Robb's eyes fell on her, her stomach flipping at the wicked smiles he gave her; his mouth knew hers well now, the heat of his large hands scorching even though the fabric of her gowns.
Myrcella suspected Lady Catelyn told Ser Arys to watch them closer as the wedding approached; suddenly her sworn shield would not let her out of sight when before she could wander Winterfell as freely as Rickon. It made spending time unchaperoned difficult but not impossible. Ser Arys enjoyed his wine almost as much as Theon, and it was easy enough for the Ironborn hostage to lure him away from time to time with the promise of sour wine from Dorne.
Today they were in the glass gardens, Myrcella tightly wedged between a pillar and Robb's body, her hands twisted in his shirt front while he buried his fingers in her curls. He loved her hair when it was down, so different from the dark women of the North, and Myrcella could admit she liked to tease him by leaving it to tumble over her shoulders, by fiddling with her curls to bear her throat while he watched. As his lips slid down the arch of her throat, mouth wet and open, the tip of his tongue teasing, Myrcella trembled, her blood burning hot as wildfire as she tried to twist her head to take back his mouth, loving the taste of him on her tongue.
Robb laughed against her mouth as he shifted his stance, and Myrcella realized she was now straddling his muscular thigh, her skirts raised enough to reveal her stockings; she idly recognized this was not proper, but then Robb's hands settled on her hips as he gently moved her forward and back, a rhythm which made her body pulse.
“Oh!” she gasped at a sharp twist of pleasure, her legs shaking as a feeling began to build.
Robb laughed again, softer, secretive; his kisses were slower now, and, when he spoke, his voice was huskier than usual. “You like this, sweetling?” Her voice stuck in her throat, he continued, breath hot against her ear, “I only ever want to make you feel good. If you do not like something, just tell me. Do you want to stop?”
“No!” she blurted out, embarrassed at her wantonness but loving the sensations stretching through her body. Her hips moved on her own now, trying to increase the pressure, pulling Robb closer to her, and her lips found the underside of his chin, her teeth scratching against his skin.
“Do you trust me?”
Myrcella did not hesitate to nod.
Robb's hand slipped beneath her skirts, his fingers finding her smallclothes; she bit her lip to keep from crying out as he began to press and rub at her flesh, his touch gentle but insistent. There was a tension building in her stomach, her breath was coming in gasps, and Myrcella was certain she was going to break apart before whatever Robb intended to happen would actually happen.
She came apart with a sharp cry, her entire body tingling, and Myrcella could feel wetness in her smallclothes as Robb's fingers continued to softly massage her flesh, working her through the sensations. As her breathing returned to normal, Robb stepped back, fixing her skirts before brushing a kiss against her sweaty forehead.
“Is that what laying together will be like?” she finally asked, her mouth dry.
“No, it will be better.”
If it were any better, Myrcella thought, it might kill her.
Myrcella was disappointed Margaery was not part of the envoy, but Sansa explained how Joffrey insisted his wife remain with him. But she was happy to see the Starks again, to see her uncles and even her parents; she had assumed her father would remain on the Iron Throne with his Hand at Winterfell, but Myrcella quickly learned her grandfather was at King's Landing to keep Joffrey in check, a thought which made her far more amused than it should.
Cersei insisted on dressing her, sending away Catelyn, Sansa, and Arya, and Myrcella bit her lip to keep from protesting; if the queen ever knew how she preferred Catelyn, how she used to wish Catelyn to be her mother, Cersei would rage, wedding day or not. She kept a calm face as her mother jerked upon the laces of her gown too tightly, cinching the breath from her lungs; it was not until she began to gather hair pins that Myrcella found her voice.
“Robb prefers my hair down.”
Her mother's green eyes flared. “Only a common girl weds without her hair in place.”
“But I want - “
“I do not care what you want!” Cersei spat. “And neither will your husband, so you should learn to hold your tongue.”
“Robb does care what I want,” Myrcella argued, shocked at her own defiance, “and I want to please my husband, so my hair will be down!”
As her mother drew her shoulders back, Myrcella realized her mother was no longer bigger than her, no longer intimidating. She was simply a woman, a queen whose beauty was beginning to fade, and Myrcella refused to be cowed by the woman who had never loved her half as much as she loved Joffrey, as the woman who did not seem to love sweet Tommen at all.
“Daughter or not, you do not speak to the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms with such insolence!”
“I shall speak to you however I choose!”
“What in seven hells is going on here?” Robert bellowed as he entered her cell, his belly swaying with every step.
“Your daughter has decided to shame us by going to her groom looking like a wilding!”
“I simply want to wear my hair the way Robb likes it,” Myrcella objected, keeping her voice soft as she turned her eyes on her father.
“Hair? You two are screaming over bloody hair? I don't care if you become Lady Stark with a bald head. Now c'mon!”
As Myrcella walked to the godswood on her father's arm, all she could think was she had finally beaten her mother in an argument.
And then Robb came into view, grinning at the sight of her, and Queen Cersei did not matter at all.
The first morning Myrcella woke in Robb's arms was the day after their wedding. Dawn was breaking, Myrcella as naked as the day she was born, Robb's arms wrapped tightly around her with the heavy furs keeping them warm. Myrcella blushed at the feel of Robb's body tangled with hers, the echo of soreness between her thighs; she knew it was silly to be embarrassed, that he was her husband now and it was normal to wake up together.
Carefully twisting in his arms, taking pains not to wake him, Myrcella stared at Robb's sleeping face, the blush still high on her cheeks. He shaved his beard for the wedding and the unruly curls she loved had been cut as well; Myrcella knew Lady Catelyn insisted on him looking as distinguished as possible, especially with court coming to Winterfell. When he kissed her in the godswood at the end of the ceremony, Myrcella thought it felt strange to not have the rough rasp of hair against her cheeks, and she knew Robb missed his beard as well, his hand rubbing at his chin throughout the evening. Without the beard, Robb looked younger than his nineteen years, less like a stern Northman and more like his younger brothers. She traced the line of his jaw, the shape of his mouth, the slope of his nose; he had done this to her before, explored her skin as freely as she would allow, but Myrcella could never bring herself to do the same, too embarrassed to admit she was as curious about him as he was about her.
Checking to make sure Robb was not waking, Myrcella allowed her eyes to drop to his body, as naked as her own. The night before, he had kissed every inch of her, murmuring against her skin how he wanted to know all of her in every way he could; she shivered at the memory of his mouth between her legs, at the taste of her pleasure on his tongue. Robb was as playful in bed as he was in everyday life, and he had tried to encourage her to relax, to make her laugh; Myrcella was able to relax, to enjoy, but she hadn't been able to be as free as Robb.
He has been with other women, she thought as her fingers began to trace the line of his collarbone whisper soft. He has been with women who know how to please men. I want to please him. He is so kind to me, and I love him.
Myrcella ran her fingers across the rough auburn hair on his chest, sparse in some places but thick in the center; an old scar cut across his ribs, disappearing into the hair, and she wondered how he received it. His stomach was ridged with muscle, a line of hair starting at his navel and arrowing down to his cock. Myrcella tentatively traced the thin skin over his hips, gnawing on her lip as she debated taking Robb in her hand; he was already half-hard and Myrcella wondered if he would like her hand on him. Joffrey had always -
Do not think of him! she ordered herself. This is different. Remember what Jaime said.
Tentatively she ran a single finger down his length, watched as his erection seemed to jump towards her touch; she was surprised at how soft his skin was here, silk over steel. When she carefully encircled him, stroking him lightly, Robb moaned, and Myrcella jerked her head up to see Robb staring at her with dark eyes, his lip trapped between his teeth.
“I'm sorry,” she blurted out, pulling away, trying to move to the other side of the bed. Robb caught her wrist easily, stilling her movements, a smile on his face.
“Why are you sorry?” he asked, genuine confusion on his handsome face. “You can touch me whenever you want, Cella. You will get no complaints from me.”
“I did not mean to be so bold - “
“I like it when you're bold.” Pulling her into his arms, he kissed her, slow and deep; Myrcella moaned softly into his mouth, feeling her own body begin to respond to his touch. When he pulled back, he pressed kisses to her eyelids, her cheeks, her forehead. “Let us make an agreement, yes?”
“What sort of agreement?”
“When we are together like this, when we are in our room and it is just us, nothing else will matter. You can say or do anything without worrying what is right or what is proper.” Myrcella must have looked dubious for Robb suddenly rolled onto his back, taking her with him. She gasped, bracing herself against his chest with her hands, blushing ferociously as Robb urged her to straddle him. Myrcella could feel him, hot and hard against her arse, and she blushed as she raised her arms to cover her breasts.
“No,” he breathed softly, gently unwinding her arms, clasping her hands. “Do not hide, my love. You are so beautiful.”
Squeezing his hands, shifting slightly, Myrcella was acutely aware of his eyes on her. Last night she was hidden beneath blankets and furs, a few flickering candles providing the only light; now, as the morning light filtered in through the windows, Myrcella thought of her long-ago septa, the one who told her it was sinful to ever glory in her own beauty, though less sinful than behaving wantonly with a man. Though Margaery had told her of different acts which took place in the marriage bed, Myrcella had never imagined actually doing them, hadn't thought Robb would think them proper for his wife.
Pushing himself up into a sitting position, Robb brushed her hair over her shoulders, kissing her bare shoulder. “I do not mean to make you uncomfortable, but I also do not want you to feel ashamed when we are like this. We are husband and wife now.”
“I want to please you.”
“And I want to please you.” His smile became wicked as he dropped onto his back, stretching his arms above his head, unabashed in his nudity. “If you wish to touch me, you can touch me. If you wish to be touched, you can tell me. You are in control here.”
Myrcella felt a flare of desire in the pit of her stomach at the words; she was never in control of anything, and Robb was handing it to her as if it was nothing. She rested her hands against his stomach, liking the way the muscles tightened as she swiveled her hips, the way he inhaled sharply through his nose. Myrcella bent, her lips finding the scar on his ribs, the tip of her tongue tracing it; Robb twisted beneath her at the touch.
“How did this happen?”
“Jon and I were practicing with real swords without permission. We both ended up with scars.” A callused finger traced a light scar on Myrcella's wrist. “How did this?”
“Ser Pounce.” The puzzled look on his face made Myrcella giggle. “Tommen's kitten.”
His laughter was loud and free in the early morning silence, and Myrcella joined him, letting out a shriek as Robb suddenly flipped her onto her back, his lips gravitating towards the curve of her neck. She sighed in pleasure as Robb drug blunt teeth along her skin, her fingers clutching at his hair as he began to suck a dark bloom on the swell of her breast.
Robb lifted his head. “Would I what, sweetling?”
Powering through the acute embarrassment rising in her throat, she managed, “Would you do what you did last night...with your mouth?”
His grin was downright predatory as he descended her body, and then all Myrcella could focus on was the sweet pleasure Robb brought her, desperately trying to keep from crying out too loudly, afraid someone would hear her. She grasped at the bed furs, at Robb's hair, anything to keep her tethered to the earth; as her legs began to shake, the tension in her body prepared to snap, Myrcella dimly thought, I wonder what the septas would think of this before crying out, no longer caring if all of the Seven Kingdoms heard her because everything just felt so good.
Robb gave a breathless chuckle as he pressed kisses up her body, his lips shining with her release. “You are never leaving this bed, my love.”
“As long as you stay with me, I do not care,” she panted, reaching for Robb as he rose on his knees, tilting her hips upward as he slowly began to push inside of her. Myrcella bit her lip at the lingering soreness from the night before, but it quickly dissipated, her body quickly remembering the rhythm of Robb's body inside of hers.
When the knocking began on their chamber door, Myrcella could tell from the light outside it was likely midday; she lifted her lips from Robb's chest, heat rising in her cheeks, as Robb groaned in disappointment, his hands grasping her hips to keep her from climbing off of his body.
“Yes?” Robb called, his voice tight with irritation at being disturbed.
Lady Catelyn's voice cooled both of their bloods. “All of court and our bannermen are in Winterfell. Mayhaps it is time for the two of you to join us.”
Robb opened his mouth to argue but Myrcella replied, “We are dressing now, Lady Stark!”
As Catelyn's footsteps retreated, Robb sat up, his face twisted into a pout Myrcella recognized well from Rickon's face. His hands settling against her back, lips gravitating to her throat, his Northern accent was thicker than it had ever been as he murmured, “You are Lady Stark now. And I say we stay here until the whole bloody lot of them are gone.”
Myrcella found his mouth, kissing him softly. “Soon we are going to be all alone here. Should we not spend time with our families while we are still able?”
Robb sighed. “If we must.”
By the time they entered the dining hall for midday meal, Myrcella in a high-necked gown to hide the marks left behind by Robb's mouth, Robb wearing a loose shirt that did not press against the scratches Myrcella had left upon his back, King Robert was already half drunk. Upon sight of them, he bellowed, “Glad you're giving the poor girl a break, Stark!” and the room erupted into good-natured laughter and cheering.
Myrcella knew she was as crimson as her gown, but, for the first time, she wasn't sure she cared.
The night before all of court was to leave, Cersei came to Myrcella's room before dinner. She sat still as her mother dismissed the maids fixing her hair, resisting the urge to protest, as Cersei began to weave her hair into one of the complicated Southron styles so popular at court.
“You are beautiful,” Cersei said after a moment, hands working with more skill than Myrcella believed she possessed. “I am grateful for that. The world is much less kind to girls who are not. Thank the Seven you are his daughter or your father would be pulling you onto his lap.”
Myrcella shifted uncomfortably. “Thank you, Mother.”
“It seems your husband is bent on getting a child on you as quickly as possible. All of Winterfell is laughing at how lusty he is with you. They say they've never seen a Stark whose blood runs so hot.” Reaching for hairpins, Cersei stated, “You can tell him no. No Stark would ever force a woman; it would be too much an afront to their honor.”
“I do not want to tell him no,” she murmured. “I love him.”
“Love,” Cersei echoed, a bitter smile twisting her lips. “How rare for a marriage to start with love.”
“Did you love Father?” she couldn't help but ask.
“I did not know your father. I knew he was strong and handsome and the new king; I knew he started a war because Rhaegar took his beloved Lyanna, and I believed a man with that sort of passion inside of him would be worthy of my love someday.” Jerking Myrcella's hair a bit as she twisted a curl, Cersei continued, “Robert Baratheon is a drunken lecher and a pitiful king besides, and the only woman he ever loved was Lyanna Stark. If he was not the king, my father never would have married me to him.”
“That's very sad.”
“I suppose,” Cersei agreed, her voice utterly bland. “But I am the Queen of Westeros and my son will be the king, so it was not such a terrible match.” Securing Myrcella's hair with the last of the pins, the queen smiled genuinely for the first time since arriving in Winterfell. “I thought Robert was insane for wedding you to Robb Stark, but mayhaps this is a good match for you. The boy clearly dotes on you, and I imagine you will have a quiet life here.”
“That is all I want.”
Cersei gave a little sigh, her green eyes meeting Myrcella's in the gilded mirror. ”Do not love your husband too much, Myrcella. When he disappoints you – and he will, for he is a man – it will devastate you all the more.”
It was the first time Myrcella ever saw the girl Cersei Lannister must have been once, and it made her ache with sadness that no one had ever loved Cersei the way Robb loved her.
The reality of court leaving did not truly strike Myrcella until she saw Lady Catelyn directing Jory on which trunks of her and Rickon's belongings were to go onto a wagon. Myrcella felt her heart squeeze painfully as Rickon's pleas to Lord Eddard reached her ear, the nine-year-old boy begging to be allowed to stay at Winterfell with Myrcella and Robb. She wanted to comfort Rickon, to say he could stay, but Myrcella knew it was neither her place nor appropriate any longer; Rickon wanted to stay and play the way they always had, and he did not understand things were different now. Her time for having snowball fights, building snow castles, and running through the godswood were over; she was a woman-grown now, Robb's wife, and soon to be the Lady of Winterfell.
But it was Catelyn's departure which was forcing tears to her eyes. Since arriving at Winterfell six years earlier, Catelyn had been her mother, the one who guided her and helped her, who plaited her hair and offered bits of advice. She was the Lady of Winterfell, and Myrcella did not feel ready to take that responsibility.
“You look uneasy, Lady Stark,” Jaime said as he sidled up beside her, a gentle smile on his face.
“Everyone is leaving. It will be lonely here.”
“Then I suppose you and the Young Wolf will have to fill the halls with children.” As Myrcella turned her eyes up to look at Jaime, he affectionately touched her cheek. “You will never be lonely, my special girl. Everyone in the North loves you dearly.”
“I wish you could stay instead of Ser Arys.”
“Oh, what use is keeping the Kingslayer in the North? I'm used to terrify the masses.” Jaime smiled sardonically. “Besides, I could not bear to see you so painfully in love with Robb Stark. I would be far too jealous. I had always hoped I would be the only man you ever looked at with such worship in your eyes.”
Myrcella laughed, wrapping her arms around his waist, pressing her face against the cool metal of his armor. “I solemnly swear I will always worship you a bit more than my husband, Uncle, if you promise me you will never love anyone as much as you love me.”
Jaime tilted her head up, his face teasingly serious. “It is a deal.”
“Kingslayer!” Robert roared as he exited the castle flanked by members of the Kingsguard and Lord Eddard. “Don't you have some duties beyond bothering the princess?”
Jaime nodded sharply before pulling away, chucking Myrcella beneath the chin before moving to help Tommen mount his horse. She smiled gamely as Robert patted her on the head like a child, wishing her well; Lord Eddard smiled kindly, brushing a kiss against her cheek, his mouth cool.
“You make my son very happy,” Eddard said, the usual gruffness of his voice replaced with warmth. “And House Stark is fortunate to have you.”
“Thank you, Lord Stark.”
Eddard smiled as Catelyn came beside him, a familiar expression of amusement on her face. “You may call us by our names now, Myrcella.”
Myrcella nodded. “Yes, Lady Catelyn.”
The older woman enfolded Myrcella tightly in her arms, and Myrcella inhaled the scent of Catelyn's hair, trying to commit the smell to memory. She wanted to act like Rickon, to beg Catelyn to stay, but Myrcella bit her tongue ferociously as Catelyn pressed a firm kiss to her cheek.
“Do not look so scared, sweetling,” Catelyn ordered kindly. “I know how frightening Winterfell can be when left on your own, but you are ready. There is more of the North in you than there ever was in me. And what you do not know, you will learn or Robb will teach you.”
Myrcella nodded, trying to appear brave. “I will do my best.”
“I have never doubted it.”
Myrcella impulsively moved forward, hugging Catelyn again. Her mouth beside Catelyn's ear, she murmured, “Thank you for everything.”
As all of court left Winterfell, Myrcella stood with Grey Wind and watched them depart. When Robb came to stand beside her, she rested her head against his shoulder and sighed, “I shall miss your family.”
If Robb noticed the exclusion of her family, he was too kind to mention it. “Then we shall need to make a family of our own.”
Myrcella chuckled, rising on her toes to brush her lips against his. In a long-suffering voice, she declared, “If we must.”
Chapter 2: The Lady of Winterfell
Her belly began to swell only three moons after her wedding; Maester Luwin declared she was with child, likely twins given how quickly her stomach was growing. The words barely left her lips before Robb was laughing, scooping her up in his arms and spinning her the way Jaime had when she was young.
Myrcella liked being pregnant. Lady Catelyn sent letters from King's Landing, bits of advice and inquiries into how she was doing, and she repeatedly said, twins or not, Myrcella was blessed to have such an easy time. She described the terrible sickness she had while carrying Robb, a sickness only blackberries could cure, and Myrcella treasured the bits of knowledge.
Cersei sent no letters.
By the seventh month of her pregnancy, Myrcella could hardly walk, her petite frame weighted down by the sheer girth of her belly, so large and round she could not see her feet to put on her own slippers. Theon teased that she finally looked like a Baratheon, and Myrcella would have laughed if the motion would not have caused the babies to kick her painfully in the ribs. All of the servants' smiles grew as her stomach expanded, and Old Nan was constantly pressing her gnarled hands to her middle, declaring she would give birth to healthy boys.
“How do you know they are boys?” Myrcella asked one afternoon as she lay in bed, her back aching, ankles swollen to twice their size.
“Because Starks boys are always carried low, like you. If they were girls, they would be higher and you would have less pain.” Depositing another heavy fur onto the bed, Nan shared, “When Lady Stark was pregnant with Sansa and Arya, she could run about Winterfell as if nothing changed. But with Bran and Rickon, she could hardly move after the sixth moon.”
“And with Robb?”
“Lady Stark was at her father's home when she had her young wolf. Your father's war was still raging, and Lord Ned went back to war right after the wedding. She came here with Robb in her arms, and her husband came back with Jon Snow in his.”
Myrcella knew Jon Snow was Robb's favorite brother. When she told happy stories of her times with Tommen, of the gardens behind the Keep, of chasing kittens, Robb would talk about the fun he and Jon would have as children. Some nights he would lay beside her in bed, his hands moving restlessly over the bulge, their children dancing beneath her skin, and he would confess his sweetest hope that their sons would be as close as he and Jon, that their daughters would have every happiness. Sometimes Myrcella heard such sadness in his voice, it made her heart ache, and every time she would ask, “What is wrong, my love?”
“I miss my family,” he said every time, nine times out of ten pressing his lips against her stomach, sometimes drawing her nightdress up so he could touch bare skin. “It never feels right when we are apart.”
Myrcella prayed to the Gods, Old and New, that her children would love each other as well as Robb and his siblings.
The larger she grew, the more anxious Robb became. It was amusing to see Robb, always so composed and easygoing, to be acting out-of-sorts, but Maester Luwin filled his head with the difficulties women could have bearing twins. She tried to assure him it was fine, that many Lannister women bore twins, that her own grandmother safely brought twins into the world before Tyrion's birth took her, but Robb could not be satisfied.
“Lord Stark was the same before Sansa was born,” Rodrik Cassel assured her, “and he mellowed once Lady Catelyn was safe and sound.”
The birth pains started in the middle of the night, waking Myrcella from sound sleep, her insides feeling as if they were being wrenched apart. As soon as she sat up, gasping from the shock of it, Robb was awake, shouting for Maester Luwin and the midwife from the village, ordering servants in a voice sharper and deeper than he tended to use with them. Myrcella knew little of delivering children – she had still been in the cradle when her mother birthed Tommen – but she tried to remember Lady Catelyn's advice as the midwife helped her shed her smallclothes.
Myrcella was legitimately stunned when Robb climbed back into their bed, slipping behind her, bearing her weight against his chest as his hands founds hers.
“I thought men waited outside while their wives have the children,” Myrcella said as one of the contractions ended, sinking gratefully against him.
“I will not leave you,” Robb stated stubbornly, nuzzling the side of her face, his beard scratching at her damp skin. “I am no Southron man.”
“No,” she softly agreed before the next contraction began, winding her fingers into the curls at the back of his head, “you are much more than that.”
She labored for nearly a full day before her sons entered the world, both shrieking with healthy lungs; Myrcella watched as Robb used his dagger to cut their cords, grinning through the tears on his cheeks, and she started to cry as well when her sons were finally placed upon her chest.
They were identical in every way, mirror images of each other; their heads were capped in soft, black hair, tinges of auburn in the strands, their eyes the same bright blue as their father. Robb stared at the three of them, absolute awe on his face, and Myrcella reached for him, trying to pull him closer.
“You should try to feed them, my lady,” Maester Luwin advised. “It is what will make them strong.”
Even as Robb helped her remove her shift, she said, “They are already strong; they are direwolves.”
As if on cue, Grey Wind began to howl outside their window; as other wolves began to join his song, Robb dismissed everyone from the room, cradling one son as Myrcella brought the other to her breast. The baby rooted for a moment before finding her nipple, and Myrcella wanted to cry all over again because she was a mother now.
“We should give them good, strong names,” Robb mused, staring into the small face of the newborn he held.
“We could each name one,” she offered, gently stroking her suckling son's cheek.
After a moment's pause, Robb announced, “Then I shall call this son Rickard after my grandfather.”
“Then this little one shall be Steffon after my father's father.”
When Jon Snow arrived a fortnight later for the feast Robb held to celebrate the births of Rickard and Steffon Stark, Myrcella watched as her husband embraced his brother, watched as they cradled her sons, and, when Jon pressed a kiss to her cheek and called her sister, Myrcella truly felt like a Stark.
Myrcella loved the hot springs in the godswood. When she first came to Winterfell, they fascinated her, water which never cooled, water hotter than any bath she had ever taken in the Keep; it took nearly a year before she could trust Lady Catelyn's word that the water was safe and would not burn her. Since then, every chance she got, she would slip away to the godswood, Ser Arys hidden amongst the trees to keep her safe, and soak in the waters.
As always, she shed her clothes quickly, slipping into the water to keep the winter's chill away; it was starting to warm again, the hint of spring promised in the few buds on the trees, but Rodrik insisted winter would last, at least, another year or two before the warmth would return. Myrcella did not mind the winter before the children came, but her boys were active; the moment they were able to balance on two legs, Rickard and Steffon began to run Winterfell, driving everyone to distraction, and Myrcella longed to take them outside to romp, an impossibility once they were dressed against the cold.
Myrcella moaned as the heat began to sink into her tired muscles. Robb had been gone for the past moon cycle, having to sort out some disagreement with House Umber, and she missed him horribly. Unlike most couples, she and Robb did not keep separate quarters, and Myrcella found it hard to sleep without Robb's body beside hers, without his arm around her body, the heat of his body warming hers. The boys missed him as well, especially Steffon, and Myrcella felt as if her days were spent alternately chasing the children or comforting Steffon; she could not blame her son for his tears, not when he had not even celebrated his second name day, but it was exhausting to care for her children and manage Winterfell without anyone to talk to at the end of the day.
She respected Lady Catelyn so much more now.
Myrcella was not sure how long she had been in the hot springs when she heard the sound of hooves crunching on the snow. Sinking down until the water reached her chin, Myrcella waited to see if it was Arys, if there was trouble, when Robb and his horse stopped at water's edge, a dazzling smile on his face.
“You're home!” she cried as he all but leaped from his saddle, already stripping off his cloak and top shirt.
“Finally. I swear, I was drunk half of the time I was there; Greatjon kept insisting I match him drink for drink. It is a wonder I remembered the way back.” Shedding his pants and smallclothes in one stroke, he smirked. “I may have lost you at a game of cards.”
“Princess Myrcella of House Umber...It has a ring.”
He dove cleanly into the water, reaching her in a moment, pulling her tight against his body. She melted instantly, her arms wrapping around his neck as she stretched upwards to meet his kiss. His mouth was hungry against hers, more desperate than it had been in the early days of their marriage, and already she could feel his hardness growing against her stomach.
“You have no idea how much I missed you,” he groaned between kisses, drawing her legs up to encircle his waist. “I dreamed of you.”
Myrcella trembled at the feel of him pressing into her, shifting her hips to try to hasten his actions. It was not until he was sheathed inside her, his breath hot against her cheek, that Myrcella remembered they were not alone in the godswood.
“Ser Arys will hear us!” she gasped as Robb began to kiss her throat, his hips moving slow and deep.
“As I'm sure he has before, what with how you carry on.”
Myrcella gasped, nipping his shoulder with her teeth, drawing a laugh from his chest. “Me? You are the one who shouts.”
“Then make me shout,” he challenged.
Myrcella was certain that was the day she conceived again.
She knew something was wrong the second the babe slipped from her body. Even through the haze of pain and tears, Myrcella could see the look in Maester Luwin's eyes, heard the sharp inhalation of the midwife; when Robb left his place beside her to gaze down at the squalling babe, his own face slightly shadowed, Myrcella's heart dropped.
“What's wrong?” she demanded. When no one answered her, she struggled higher in the bed, shouting as loudly as she could, “What's wrong with my child?”
“Nothing,” Robb finally replied, cleanly cutting the cord with his dagger, a gentle smile on his face. “He is perfectly healthy.”
“He...We have a son?”
Robb nodded, handing the baby to the midwife to clean and swaddle. As he sat beside her, pushing her sweat-soaked curls away from her forehead, Myrcella saw there was something else in his eyes. Lifting her hands, cupping his face, she entreated, “Please tell me what is wrong with him.”
“He is a dwarf, my love.”
The tears rushed into her eyes so quickly, Myrcella lost sight of Robb for a moment. She could remember with perfect clarity how cruelly her grandfather treated her uncle Tyrion, how her mother always scowled at him, the words Joffrey flung at him. How many times had she heard Tyrion say, “All dwarfs are bastards in their fathers' eyes?” No man wanted to father a dwarf, and Myrcella knew there were no dwarfs in the Stark line, only with the Lannisters; everyone would blame her, and her son would suffer for it.
“I am sorry,” she managed to choke out, panic curling around her heart, waiting for Robb to state his disgust, for him to suggest putting the babe out. Grandfather Tywin always said it was better to leave a crippled babe to die than to raise it to be a burden.
Robb's brow folded for a moment as if in confusion before wiping at the tears on her cheeks. “You gave me a healthy son, Myrcella. There is no need for apologies.”
“But - “
“But nothing,” Robb interrupted, his voice firm though not without compassion. “We have a new son, and that is all that matters. Do you understand?”
Myrcella nodded, suddenly so overwhelmed with love for her husband she could barely breathe; and then the midwife handed her the babe, carefully settling him in her weak arms. Instantly she saw he had the Lannister look, pale fuzz covering his scalp, green eyes staring serenely up at her; he was better proportioned than Tyrion, his face more pleasant, and Myrcella was stunned to realize she saw far more of Jaime in his features than anyone else.
Robb named him Brynden after his uncle the Blackfish, and, though Myrcella never spoke it aloud, she vowed she would love Brynden a little more than the others to make up for the unkindness he was certain to face.
Tommen's letter arrived shortly after Brynden's first name day, his handwriting as atrocious as ever. Myrcella smiled as she slipped her finger beneath the wax seal, expecting details about his sword practice with Bran whom Tommen considered his closest friend or tales of Ser Loras. Instead she found Tommen pleading for her to come to court for his marriage to Elaine Tarly of Horn Hill.
When she showed the letter to Robb, her husband sighed before scooping up Brynden from the floor, cradling the small boy against his chest. Staring into the fire, his large hand smoothing down Brynden's yellow hair as the boy burrowed sleepily against him, Robb finally said, “If you wish to go, we will go.”
“You do not want to go,” she interpreted.
“I do not care for court,” he stated bluntly, “and I care even less for the way you are treated there. But Tommen has always been a loyal brother to you, and your parents have never seen our sons. If you want to be there for Tommen, I would never refuse you.”
Smiling as Robb's lips brushed the top of Bryden's head, she confessed, “I cannot imagine Tommen as someone's husband.”
Robb grinned. “That is because he would rather chase kittens than skirts.”
“He has always been the sweetest boy. Mother and Father never give him an ounce of credit.” Dropping her gaze, she finally said the words she could never bring herself to vocalize before. “The Kingdoms would be better off if Tommen had come first.”
Her husband said nothing for several minutes before finally venturing, “The Kingdoms would be better off if we ruled ourselves as we did of old.”
“You would be King of the North.”
“And you would be my queen.”
Myrcella smiled wanly as she rose, needing to kiss the twins before they fell asleep. “I have never much cared for crowns.”
It was not until she entered the Red Keep Myrcella realized it had been ten years since she had called the castle home. She thought of old Jon Arryn with his sour breath and kind eyes, how he would pat her on the head and sneak her sweets; if he had not died when he did, if Robert had not insisted on going to Winterfell to ask Eddard to be his Hand, how different her life would be. It was hard to even remember what life before Winterfell, before Robb had been like; it was the life of somebody else, the life of Princess Myrcella Baratheon, and she never enjoyed the responsibilities which came with the title.
She knew Cersei would gasp if she ever heard what her husband's bannermen called her. In the beginning, they had called her “Princess,” bending the knee as if they were in the South, as if she was her mother; the servants called her “Lady Stark,” though some, like Rodrik and Old Nan, called her “Lady Myrcella.” She insisted on Jon Snow and Theon calling her only “Myrcella,” and sometimes, when he was stinking drunk, Theon would even call her “Cella” the way he had when she was still a child, still chasing Rickon and tussling with Grey Wind. But it had been Greatjon which gave her the name which would most horrify Queen Cersei, the name the other bannermen began to use as well, some with seriousness, some with the same sparkling humor in their eyes as Greatjon.
Myrcella did not doubt her mother would have Ilyn Payne take the heads of any man she heard refer to Myrcella as “Princess Stark.”
Lord Eddard and Lady Catelyn greeted them in the entryway, Rickard and Steffon instantly rushing to their grandfather. Robb laughed as his father easily swooped the boys into his arms before handing little Bryden to Catelyn. Her good-parents, Rickon, and Bran visited Winterfell when she was still large with Brynden, her boys loving the attention bestowed upon them, and it made Myrcella ache with happiness at how well-loved her children were, how kind Lord Eddard and Lady Catelyn were.
After Brynden's birth, when Robb wrote them to tell of the birth and how he was a dwarf, Myrcella cried upon receiving a letter from Lord Eddard, the first he had ever sent her. She could admit she was still intimidated by her good-father, the Stark she knew the least, and she was never quite sure what Eddard Stark thought of her. But the letter, his congratulations on Brynden's birth as well as his certainty that he would wear the Stark name well, had soothed her battered heart, especially after receiving her mother's short missive offering her condolences.
“Oh, he is beautiful, Myrcella,” Catelyn said as she smiled upon Brynden's serene face. “I must say, you and my son make wonderful children.”
“We do what we can,” Robb quipped with a grin, his arm slipping around Myrcella's waist.
Eddard explained that most of the kingdom was coming for Tommen's wedding, and Myrcella could tell from the pinched expression on his face he thought the large celebration wasteful. Sansa had already arrived from Dorne with her new husband Quentyn Martell; Arya was en route from Riverrun with her Uncle Edmure and Rickon, who was squiring for him; and Bran sent word he and his wife, Meera Reed of Greywater Watch, would not be arriving until the day before the wedding. As Myrcella listened, she felt her stomach roll unpleasantly, nausea rising in her throat, and she quickly choked it back, not wanting to appear ill when they were presented to her parents; the trip had left her stomach queasy, and she suspected it was a result of the food at the last inn they stayed in.
Her family sat in the solarium, King Robert at the head of the table, his stomach hanging between his legs, Queen Cersei standing near a window gazing at nothing. Myrcella quickly saw they were keeping company with Jaime, Tyrion, her uncle Renly, her grandfather Tywin, and Lord Baelish; she breathed a silent sigh of relief Joffrey was not amongst them.
Genuine surprise filled Myrcella as her father heaved to his feet, thundering, “Well, Ned, let me see my grandsons!”
Her boys were not shy by any means, but she could see a moment's hesitation in their blue eyes before Rickard, always the bolder of the two, stepped forward, Steffon following as always. As Robert kneeled, Ser Barristan having to help him down, he demanded in the playful voice Myrcella heard so rarely during childhood, “Now which of you is Rickard and which of you is Steffon?”
“I am Rickard Stark of Winterfell,” her eldest pronounced, sounding so much older than his four years.
Robert grinned as he said, “Then that must make you Steffon Stark of Winterfell.”
Steffon nodded obediently before scrunching up his face. Finally he asked, “Are you really the king?”
“Of course he's the king,” Rickard answered before Robert could even open his mouth. “He's got knights.”
Robert roared with laughter as he wrapped his arms around the boys, squeezing them tightly to him before pointing to Cersei. “Now go say hello to your grandmother.”
Myrcella watched with anxious eyes as her older sons approached her mother, who stood still with a bland smile on her face. They introduced themselves properly – it had tried Myrcella's patience to no end trying to teach them their courtesies – and Cersei patted them both on their cheeks, the closest approximation to affection she ever seemed to manage.
“You are pretty like my mother,” Rickard offered.
Cersei's smile wavered for a moment before thanking him. As Ser Barristan and Eddard helped Robert back to his feet, Cersei pointed to Brynden, now awake and alert, taking in his surroundings with wide, Lannister eyes.
“I presume that is your imp.”
“Don't call him that!” Steffon instantly ordered.
“His name is Brynden!” Rickard chimed in.
Myrcella felt her blood turn to ice as Cersei glared at her sons and Robb snapped their names, though she knew he was not angry at them for defending their brother; Robb was adamant about Rickard and Steffon treating Brynden as equally as they treated each other, and, Steffon especially, took the lectures to heart.
As the twins slunk towards their father, knowing they were in trouble, Robert roared with laughter though not nearly as hard as Tyrion and Jaime. Cersei's face soured even further before she flatly stated, “I have had gowns made for you; you will find them in your chambers. If you will excuse me, I have arrangements to see to.”
While Robert asked Robb questions about hunting and the new sword which hung on his hip, Myrcella tried not to feel the sharp rejection of her father not even bothering to ask to hold Brynden. And then Jaime came to her side, smiling at Brynden, stroking his cheek with one gloved finger, and instantly Brynden reached for him.
Without hesitation, she shifted Brynden into his arms, Jaime's smile only widening as his nephew's tiny hand grabbed at his chin. “A strong grip. Stronger than his brothers', I'd wager.”
She tried desperately to blink back tears as love for her uncle swelled within her. “He seems to grasp everything faster than his brothers.”
“Of course he does,” Tyrion said mildly, tugging on Jaime's cloak to get him to bend so he could look at his newest nephew. “Everyone knows dwarfs are smarter than their better-looking, taller brothers.”
“So you keep telling us,” Jaime chuckled, passing Brynden into Tyrion's stunted arms, the perfect size to securely hold her son. Rising upright, Jaime brushed a kiss against Myrcella's cheek and declared, “Motherhood agrees with you, my dear.”
Sometimes Myrcella wondered if it made her a disloyal daughter to wish Ser Jaime Lannister was her father instead of King Robert Baratheon.
She was certain she was a disloyal daughter for praying to the gods, Old and New, that Cersei Lannister was not her mother.
The look Robb gave her when she came to dinner in one of her newly commissioned gowns set her blood afire. In the beginning of their marriage, Myrcella worried there was something wrong with her for desiring her husband as strongly as she did; there were times it took as little as a glance or a stray touch, and she could feel her skin become more sensitive, feel her breasts swell and the triangle between her thighs dampen. Once, after the twins were born, she confessed her shame to Robb, and Myrcella could still feel his body vibrating with laughter as he assured her there was nothing wrong with her.
“Do you know how many times in a single day I think of you like this?” he had said as his hands ran up her body, lifting her arms until the tips of her fingers brushed the headboard. “There are times I miss entire conversations because I can do nothing but imagine what I want to do with you.” Robb kissed her forehead, her cheek, her throat as he whispered against the curve of her stomach, “Never be ashamed of what we have, love.”
Now, as Myrcella could read the heat in his eyes, instead of blushing as she once did, she gave him the smile which was only for him and saw his eyes flare with want even as he smiled politely at something Tommen was saying to him. So busy being introduced to the members of House Tarly, listening to the wives of innumerable lords, Myrcella was unprepared to feel Robb's hand settle low on her hip as he came to stand behind her.
“I cannot wait to take this dress off of you,” he murmured, his lips caressing the shell of her ear.
“That would make this dinner more enjoyable.”
His laughter was soft, his chest pressed solidly against her back, and Myrcella subtly shifted her weight, resting her body against his. Robb's fingers briefly bit into her hip before he asked, “Are you trying to torture me?”
“If I were trying to torture you, I would send you to speak to Lord Tarly. He's even more insufferable than Lord Baelish.”
“Our bannermen will be here soon. At the very least, you will have Dacey Mormont to speak with. And I have heard good words about Bran's wife.”
Catching sight of Joffrey across the hall, she asked, “Have you seen Margaery?”
“Ser Loras said their grandmother has come to court. They call her the Queen of Thorns. I imagine she's with her.”
Myrcella watched as Elaine Tarly curtsied to Cersei, her terror palpable even from so far away. From their brief introductions, Myrcella gathered Elaine, the youngest of the Tarly girls, was pleasant enough; though no beauty, there was something kind in her plump face. “What do you think of the bride?”
“I think she is a good match for Tommen.” Lowering his voice, he added, “He asked if he could speak to me in private after dinner.”
“He did?” She knew Tommen had a bit of hero worship when it came to Robb, who never laughed at him the way Joffrey did, but her brother rarely engaged her husband, his inherent shyness choking out his voice.
Coming to stand in front of her, his face bright with humor, Robb divulged, “He wants to know how you lie with a woman.”
Myrcella could not help but chuckle. Given the tone of Tommen's letter, she knew he was terrified of this marriage, but it had never occurred to her that his fear came from the bedding. “Be kind.”
Robb grinned. “That was to be my advice.”
As they sat for the pre-wedding feast, her father giving a speech praising Horn Hill and the Tarlys, Myrcella felt as if the world was beginning to tilt slightly. She grasped the edge of the table, trying to steady herself; across the table Sansa frowned in concern. Myrcella was certain it was only a passing trouble until the roasted pig was set before her; immediately the smell overwhelmed her, foul and cloying, and Myrcella could feel the contents of her stomach rising.
Moving faster than she had since she was a child, she rushed from the dining hall, barely breaching the doors before she began to vomit violently, dropping to her knees with the force of her body's contractions. Myrcella was vaguely aware of someone gathering her hair back, a soothing hand on her back, and then Robb was there, helping her to her feet, holding her swaying body steady as Lady Catelyn offered her a handkerchief to wipe her mouth.
“I am so sorry - “
“It is what servants are for,” Catelyn interrupted with a kind smile.
“You should have told me you were ill,” Robb said as he brushed a curl away from her forehead.
“I thought it would pass.” Brushing the dirt from her new gown, Myrcella was about to insist on returning to the dinner when her nausea rose again, forcing her to press a hand against her lips.
“I will take Myrcella to your chambers,” Catelyn offered. “You must return to the feast or else the Queen will be furious. When they ask, tell them Princess Myrcella has fallen ill.”
Robb looked as if he wanted to protest, but Myrcella pressed a hand to his heart, a silent assurance it was fine. As he returned to the hall, Lady Catelyn held her arm, helping her up the many stairs to her chamber. By the time they reached the room, Myrcella gratefully sank onto the bed, shedding her slippers and laying back against the pillows.
Catelyn poured a glass of water from the pitcher, pressing it into Myrcella's hand. “It was the pig, wasn't it?”
Perching on the edge of the bed, Catelyn divulged, “When I was pregnant with Arya, I could not stand the smell of pig or olives. If there was even the slightest hint of it in the air, I could hardly make it to the privy.”
The meaning of her words sinking it, Myrcella shook her head. “No, it is not...I cannot have mother's stomach. Brynden is still on the teat - “
“As was Arya when I started to swell with Bran, as were you when your mother conceived Tommen.” Setting the now empty cup of water on the bed side table, Catelyn offered, “Maester Luwin is a good man, but a woman's body still seems to be a mystery to the Citadel.”
Myrcella touched her stomach, a bit of a smile playing at her lips. And then the implications of what a pregnancy in King's Landing meant. “I will not be able to return to Winterfell until after the baby is born.”
“The Kingsroad in winter is no place for a woman with a swelling belly,” Catelyn agreed.
“I do not like it here,” Myrcella confessed, tears welling in her eyes. “I do not want to stay.”
Catelyn took her hand, held it tightly. “I will tell you a secret, good-daughter: no one likes it here.”
When Robb finally returned to their room, Myrcella lifted her head from the pillow. His eyes fell on her shift and he mock-complained, “I wanted to take that dress off of you.”
Despite the circumstances, she smiled. “The queen had dozens made; there will be other chances.”
He shed his clothing carelessly, leaving them on the floor as he strode to the bed naked, slipping beneath the furs. Myrcella pushed her face against his shoulder, inhaling the familiar scent of him as one large hand settled on her stomach.
“When do you think we made this one?” he murmured, his lips caressing the soft skin of her throat.
“Your name day,” she answered, smiling with the memory of the day. Old Nan had seen to the children, Rodrik handled the day's affairs, and they had spent the entirety of the day in their wide bed, laughing and loving. “You must have had me a half-dozen times.”
Robb chuckled before twisting to look in her eyes. “I know you do not want to stay here, but I will not risk you or the babe on the road. It is too dangerous.”
Myrcella nodded. “And I would not want to risk the babe either. I just...” She sighed, pushing herself up to lean against the headboard. “I do not want our children at court. I hate to hear them called 'princes' and being so far from Winterfell.”
“It is only a year; there is a reason we have Rodrik as our castellan. And mayhaps it will not be as bad as we are imagining. I know you have missed my mother, and I certainly am happy to spend time my with father and brothers. It is only a year,” he repeated, and Myrcella believed it was more to convince himself than her. After all, he hated the South more than she did.
“A year,” she agreed, slipping into his arms.
Myrcella was certain it was to be the longest of her life.
Tommen's wedding day was the sunniest day in months, and Myrcella was glad for it. If anyone deserved sunny days, it was sweet Tommen and his nervous bride. Before even stepping foot out of bed, Myrcella reached for the root Meera Reed had given her the day before to help with mother's stomach; Myrcella had not the slightest idea what it was, but the moment she chewed it, swallowing the vaguely spicy plant, her stomach was calm for the entire day. In only a few short hours, Bran Stark's wife had become Myrcella's favorite person.
Robb was already gone when Myrcella woke, having left to meet with his bannermen down from the North for the wedding. Handmaids arrived with breakfast and to twist her hair into one of Cersei's Southron styles, and Myrcella gamely sat nibbling on bread as they worked. The ebony gown her mother insisted she wear really was beautiful, Myrcella had to admit; it was the finest silk with long sleeves, the neckline straight to reveal her shoulders, but the golden embroidery on the bodice was the most eye-catching, a reminder of her Baratheon heritage. Though her mother insisted the dress did not require extra adornments, Myrcella still fastened the pearl and obsidian necklace Robb gifted her after Brynden's birth around her neck. As the maids laced the dress, Myrcella caught her reflection in the heavy, gilded mirror, and her breath caught.
She looked like a queen, which is what she suspected Cersei wanted to prevent.
Myrcella had not seen her mother in two days, not since their latest “discussion.” When her mother invited her to break her fast in her apartments, Myrcella still felt that stir of hopefulness she thought died in childhood. But before the food was even placed in front of them, the queen of Westeros declared, “This child should be your last.”
“Though you like to pretend otherwise, you are still a princess, still a Lannister. Ladies of your standing do not have litters of children. Three is enough, but I will forgive you this one to make up for the imp - “
Cersei ignored her. “The older of your twins will be Lord of Winterfell one day, but, as Margaery Tyrell does not have your knack for conception, Joffrey could name the younger as his heir. And, Gods willing, if this child is a girl, we can marry her - “
Cersei froze. “I do not understand why you strive to be so impertinent.”
“I do not want my son on the Iron Throne, and I want him with Joffrey even less.”
“You are speaking of your future king.”
“And I will gladly have Ilyn Payne take my head before I give my child to that king.”
Even as her handmaids finished with her laces, Myrcella could recall with perfect clarity the expression of rage on her mother's face before she was ordered out of the queen's apartments. When she recounted the conversation to Lady Catelyn, her good-mother's face had darkened before warning, “Mother or not, Cersei Lannister is not a woman to toil with, Myrcella. She plays the game of thrones for blood.”
And I will do the same to keep my blood safe, Myrcella thought as she moved to join the royal family for the procession to the Great Sept of Baelor.
Under ordinary circumstances, the assembly would have been strange: King Robert and Queen Cersei, Joffrey and Margaery, Renly Baratheon, her cousin Shireen, and the solemn-faced Tarlys. Her Lannister uncles were there as well with Grandfather Tywin and a few of the council, but they would not be in the royal procession. As she entered the room with Ser Arys, she prayed for Robb to be swift with his men, to rescue her from the forced conversation with her family.
Margaery saw her first and audibly gasped. “Oh, Myrcella, you look beautiful!”
Though nearly nine-and-ten, she had never quite learned how to accept praises of her beauty without blushing, especially once the eyes of the room turned upon her. “You are kind to say so, but I am sure I pale in comparison to you.”
When Uncle Renly paid her the same compliment, Myrcella could not help but look at Shireen, disfigured from the greyscale, and felt an overwhelming wave of pity for the cousin she did not know. It was what inspired her to say, “Shireen, your gown is wonderful. I love that color.”
From the way she reacted, Myrcella assumed no one had spoken directly to her uncle Stannis's only child since her arrival from Dragonstone earlier in the week. “Thank you, Princess Myrcella.”
“We are cousins. I insist you call me Myrcella.”
“But she will answer to Princess of the Wolves,” Joffrey piped up, his voice already thickened from honeyed wine. “Why, she loves the wolves so much, she's having a litter of their pups.” He snorted. “Though, really, that last one is clearly the runt.”
Stung, she snapped without thinking, “I suppose it is easy to mock the sons of others when you do not have any of your own.” As Joffrey's face darkened, she continued, “And, runt or not, he is still as much a prince as you and deserves to be spoken of with respect.”
“A prince as much as me? I am the son of the king, not some Northern savage who fucks wolves.”
Never in her life had Myrcella struck someone. Even when the children were at their worst, she could not bring herself to raise a hand, to inflict pain; and, yet, before she could even think of the consequences, she had smacked Joffrey so soundly across the face, his teeth made an audible click as his head jerked to the side, drawing the attention of everyone in the room.
Shaking off his shock, Joffrey stepped forward, his hand rising to return the blow, when Tywin Lannister stepped between them, his right hand pressing against Joffrey's chest. Like most everyone, Myrcella was intimidated by her grandfather with his dour expression and overall seriousness; she knew of the things Tywin had done to assure Robert Baratheon the throne, including the murders of Elia Martell and her Targaryen children, and Myrcella did not like to be near the older man.
“A future king does not strike his swelling sister,” Tywin said just loud enough for Joffrey to hear, his eyes locking on Joffrey's. “Lannisters do not bring shame upon the family.”
Inhaling sharply through his nose, Joffrey nodded curtly before stepping back, announcing in a falsely amused voice, “It would seem the child in your belly makes my sister's blood run hot.”
Uneasy laughter rippled through the group, an echo of Robert's laughter, and Myrcella forced herself not to flinch as Tywin turned his eyes upon her. Mouth set in a firm line, he said, “This is not the North. You are a Lannister of Casterly Rock - “
“I am a Stark of Winterfell,” she interrupted, refusing to be cowed, “and a Baratheon of Storm's End after that. A Lannister of Casterly Rock is what I am the least, and I will not have any man, future king or not, speak ill of my children or my husband.”
People did not talk back to Tywin Lannister, and Myrcella could see the anger building in his green eyes. “You forget yourself.”
“I know myself,” she corrected, her voice deceptively calm.
When Tywin walked away, Tyrion came to stand beside her, pressing a goblet of wine into her shaking hand. “They are not like to forget that.”
“The North will remember as well.”
Tyrion's mismatched eyes studied her for a long moment before declaring, “They have underestimated you.”
Myrcella knew he meant it as a compliment, but she could hear the warning underneath.
Now they remember you exist.
It was during the dancing Joffrey tried to get his revenge. Myrcella knew it would be coming, her slap having embarrassed him, but she had not expected it to come so quickly, to be done in front of everyone. She should have remembered Joffrey had no patience, especially when it came to cruelty.
The music was loud in the great hall as a slow, polite song from the Vale turned into the quick drumming which signaled one of the Northern dances. Myrcella laughed as the Smalljon passed her to one of the Karstarks who passed her to Mace Tyrell; she caught Robb's eye as little Elenya Westerling reached him, her husband grinning, and that was when she felt two hands on her back, shoving hard. Instinct forced her to clutch her stomach, trying to protect the helpless child inside of her, and, as she tumbled towards the stone floor, she saw Joffrey's smirk even as he moved away, his damage done.
Strong arms grabbed her at the last moment, twisting her body until she landed in the lap of someone. Quickly twisting her head to see her savior, Myrcella found herself staring at Oberyn Martell, his dark eyes full with knowledge. She let the Dornishman help her to her feet, brushing the dirt off of her gown even as Robb pushed through the crowd to reach her.
“The dance floor can be a treacherous place for a swelling princess,” Oberyn observed with a sad smile. “Though princesses have never fared well in the Red Keep.”
Myrcella thought of Elia Martell, the raped and murdered princess, of her daughter stabbed a half-hundred times, of her son whose head was dashed against a wall, all done by Lannister bannermen, and suddenly she felt tears rising in her throat.
“I seemed to have forgotten that.”
Robb clasped her tightly against his chest when he reached her, his hand ghosting over her middle. “Are you all right?”
“I am fine, thanks to Prince Oberyn.”
Turning to face the Red Viper of Dorne, Robb extended his hand, which Oberyn took. “Winterfell is in your debt.”
“Consider it an act of friendship.” His eyes darkening meaningfully, he added, “It would be good to have friends in the North.”
“And friends you will have,” Robb swore, the implications of his words not lost on Myrcella.
If the North allied with Dorne, it would make the Iron Throne very nervous, especially with Sansa Stark as Quentyn's bride. Highgarden would stay sworn to Joff as would Casterly Rock, but Uncle Renly holds Storm's End, and he has no love for my brother. Uncle Stannis has Dragonstone, but he would never stand against the rightful heir. But Riverrun is held by Edmure Tully and the Eyrie ruled by Lysa Tully's son. Why, if Theon could sway the Iron Islands to our side -
Myrcella stopped herself from that line of thinking, of plotting treason at her own brother's wedding feast. It was dangerous to imagine such things, more dangerous still to do so when trapped in King's Landing for the next year. Joffrey would sit the throne, and he would forget about her in the North.
It was what Myrcella had to tell herself so as not to put her idle thoughts into action.
Chapter 3: The Kingmaker
The babe inside her had quickened when Myrcella heard the name “Daenerys Targaryen” for the first time.
Her father was shouting, but then he always seemed to be shouting. Myrcella was returning from a walk with Grey Wind, the direwolf at her side, when Robert Baratheon bellowed, “We should have killed Daenerys Targaryen in the fucking womb when we had the chance!”
Vaguely she recalled learning of the two children of Mad Aerys who escaped Westeros across the Narrow Sea. There was a boy who had been as old as Uncle Tyrion and a girl, a baby who had been born to Queen Rhaella before she died. Myrcella never learned their names – they were little more than a footnote in the tale of how her father took the throne – but suddenly Myrcella wanted to know what the exiled princess had done to anger her father so.
It was Lord Varys who answered her questions, the Master of Whispers, the eunuch no one at court seemed to care for; Myrcella never cared one way or the other about the man, but everyone knew Varys was the keeper of information.
“Princess, you should not worry yourself about threats across the sea,” Lord Varys began in a patronizing tone.
“So there is a threat. What is Daenerys Targaryen doing?”
The eunuch hesitated only a moment before answering. “Princess Daenerys wed Khal Drogo of the Dothraki when she was little more than a girl, and she bore him a son Rhaego before her husband died. Since then, she has conquered a half-dozen cities all with dragons at her back.”
“Dragons? But the last of the dragons died hundreds of years ago.”
“And yet three dragons fly at her back, fierce creatures whose fire has burned villages to the ground. They call her the Mother of Dragons amongst other titles.”
Myrcella could hear the true answer in his silences. “Daenerys Targaryen means to take back the Iron Throne.”
“With 50,000 men at her back while perched atop a dragon.”
“What makes her hesitate?”
“What makes all women hesitate?” Varys lightly touched her swollen stomach. “A dragon's back and war is no place for a boy of ten, and she would not dare leave her son in the Free Cities. Our men in the East say she will not set for Westeros until Rhaego is well-trained and able to rule in the event of her death.”
“And so my father seeks to kill her before she is able to make good on her plans.” Myrcella looked down at Grey Wind, stalking restlessly between them. “Tell me, Lord Varys: could the Seven Kingdoms push the Dragon Queen back?”
“I would not dare presume to question better men than I, men who command armies, men like your father and brother.”
We do not stand a chance in seven hells, Myrcella interpreted. And the first thing the Targaryen queen will do is kill every Baratheon and Lannister she can find.
Beneath her skin, her child tumbled restlessly.
Arianne Martell was Myrcella's favorite person at court. The future ruling Princess of Dorne was twelve years older than she but did not look a day older than twenty; men at court literally stopped to look at her as she passed, and, while some of the men on her father's council did not appreciate a woman's presence, Myrcella heard Lord Eddard describe Arianne as having one of the shrewdest minds he had ever known.
Myrcella suspected people would be less bothered by Arianne's presence if she was not always in the company of the Sand Snakes, her cousins, the bastard daughters of Oberyn Martell. The littlest ones, the ones born to Ellaria Sand, stayed in Dorne, but the three oldest never ventured far from Arianne's side, especially Tyene, the sole fair-haired Snake. Robb found her friendships with them amusing, especially considering how scandalized the rest of court seemed to be by it, but Myrcella genuinely liked the women from Dorne.
At times, when Myrcella would have the Princess of Dorne in her solar, her cousins joining them for meals, Margaery would come as well, her tales almost as bawdy as those that the Snakes would tell. Arya, when being forced to remain in the Keep by Lady Catelyn after some infraction, would sit and discuss sword fighting with Obara, startling Myrcella the day she declared with a snort that she was “no maiden” and had not been since she was five-and ten, her maidenhead given to an armorer's apprentice who now served in Riverrun. Even Sansa, before her return to Dorne, would sit and blush at her good-family's free talk.
Uncle Tyrion began to call the assembly “Myrcella's small council,” and Myrcella knew it made Cersei very nervous.
“The Martells are to be tolerated, not embraced,” Cersei spat one evening as Myrcella dined with her Lannister family and King Robert. “They are not friends to this family.”
“If it had not been for Jon Arryn, they would have fought your father's claim for the throne after Aerys's death,” Jaime chimed in.
“Yo do not invite vipers into your bed,” Tywin proclaimed.
“If the Martells are as dangerous as you make them out to be, it would not be better to have them as our friends rather than our enemies?” she asked in a falsely naïve voice as a servant refilled her wine.
“The Martells are only friends to the Martells.” Turning her green-eyed glare onto Margaery, Cersei snapped, “And as the future queen of Westeros, you should already know this.”
“I worry for my good-sister to be alone with them, Your Grace,” Margaery dutifully replied, eyes wide with what Myrcella knew was fake fear. “The stories I have heard tell are simply awful, especially concerning the Sand Snakes. Why, with Myrcella so close to the birthing bed, I would not dare leave her to only their company.”
“The Martells aren't going to do anything at court,” Tyrion piped up mildly. “With Arianne on the small council, she is more valuable than at Sunspear.”
“They should be driven from court,” Joffrey declared, “and left to rot in that desert wasteland of theirs.”
“Yes because if someone is dangerous and hates you, you should clearly make them angrier,” Tyrion drolly replied.
“Enough!” Robert gruffly ordered in his wine-soaked voice. “If she wants to spend her time with the bloody vipers before going North again, let her.”
A silence descended over the table for several minutes, the baby kicking with more strength than the boys ever had, when Jaime asked, “When does your husband return from the Crag?”
Robb had left for the Crag a month prior after Eddard received a letter from Lord Westerling. Myrcella did not know the contents of the letter, but Robb assured her it was nothing dangerous. He had ridden for the western lands with a handful of Stark men and Theon, vowing to be back before the babe's birth. Myrcella had struggled not to cry as she watched the horses disappear down the road, Grey Wind padding along beside them.
“A fortnight from now according to his last letter. He said the matter has been settled and is anxious to return.”
“An expensive settlement at that,” Joffrey scoffed.
“What do you mean?”
“You do not know?” her brother gleefully asked. “Your idiot good-brother got a bastard on Elenya Westerling while she was a guest at Riverrun, breaking her betrothal. No decent man will marry her now, and Lord Westerling wanted payment.”
She opened her mouth to protest, to swear that it must be a mistake because Rickon was only a boy, but he was four-and-ten now, taller than Robb and twice as broad as Bran. Rickon Stark looked the part of a man very well, but Myrcella could hardly believe the little boy who used to climb into her lap for stories could have fathered a bastard on poor Elenya Westerling.
“What was the payment?”
“Some Northman will marry Elenya, and Westerling was given more dragons than a younger, uglier daughter deserves,” Joffrey reported with a dismissive flick of his hand.
“What of the baby?”
Her question was answered two weeks later when Robb returned with his party, a dark-haired woman now accompanying them with a squalling bundle in her arms. As she embraced her husband as best she could around her large middle, he looked at her apologetically as the wet nurse and the babe came to stand beside him.
“The Westerlings would not allow Elenya to keep her, and I could not leave her to strangers,” Robb offered, but Myrcella was already nodding, reaching out her arms to take the infant. The child had the Stark eyes, brown hair peeking out around the blankets, and the pink skin was not the pale of the North but darker, hinting at the heritage of Sybelle Spicer.
“Does she have a name?”
“Elenya called her Lya.”
Gazing down into her wet face, Myrcella pressed a soft kiss to her forehead. “Hello, Lya Snow. I am your aunt Myrcella.”
Six weeks later, Joanna Stark joined Lya Snow in the cradle.
It was the last meeting of her “small council” when Myrcella finally brought herself to ask the question which had been weighing on her mind for the past few months. Arianne held Joanna in her arms, commenting on how much she hoped one of Sansa and Quentyn's children had hair as red as little Joanna, while Tyene cooed into Lya's face; Lady Nym held Brynden, fast asleep in her arms, while Obara stared down into the yard, watching the comings-and-goings of the castle.
“When Daenerys Targaryen lands, Dorne will declare for her, won't you?”
All of her companions froze for a moment before Arianne looked up from Joanna, shifting the baby to hold more comfortably. “This was my aunt Elia's solar once. I sat here and held my royal cousins as I hold your daughter now.”
“Arianne - “
“When Amory Lorch ended Rhaenys's life with his sword, she was no bigger than your twins. And when Gregor Clegane dashed Aegon's head against a wall, he was hardly bigger than your girls. Tywin Lannister wrapped their bodies in a crimson cloak to better hide the blood, and do you know what King Robert called them? Dragonspawn,” she answered, not waiting for Myrcella's reply. “And the only man to ever tell him it was wrong was Eddard Stark, whom he sent away until his beloved Lyanna died in the Tower of Joy. So tell me, Myrcella, who would you declare for?”
“You are already speaking with Daenerys,” Myrcella guessed.
It was Tyene who answered. “Her son Rhaego will marry our youngest sister.”
“Has anyone else pledged their loyalty?”
“Asha Greyjoy of the Iron Islands. She has committed her fleet in exchange for the promise of being the Queen of the Seastone Chair, independent of the Iron Throne.”
Myrcella had met Asha Greyjoy only once; after Balon Greyjoy died, after Victarion and Euron Crow's Eye killed each other in a bid to take the chair, Asha came to Winterfell after taking the chair for herself. Theon did not much care for his older sister, but Myrcella remembered thinking how brave she seemed.
“Daenerys is a reasonable queen,” Arianne continued. “She will not kill anyone who bends the knee, and she certainly will not kill children. You and your children will be safe.”
“I am the daughter of Baratheon and Lannister married to a Stark. How could I be anything but unsafe?”
“If you are smart, she would give you the North.”
Myrcella turned to face Obara, usually so silent but always serious. “What?”
“If the Young Wolf pledged his swords to her in exchange for being the King in the North, she would grant that request. Robb Stark could bring Edmure Tully and Robert Arryn, and the tens of thousands of men with them.”
“My husband is an honorable man as is his father. They will never take up arms against the Baratheons, not for a Targaryen.”
“Robert Baratheon is an old man with ill health,” Lady Nym declared. “If he is still breathing when the dragon lands, his throat will be opened as easily as the Mad King's was.”
“But Joffrey - “
“Is no Baratheon,” Tyene interrupted.
“Tyene!” Arianne hissed, minutely shaking her head.
Myrcella's blood ran cold in her veins. “What are you saying?”
The angelic faced girl stated plainly, “I've seen several of King Robert's natural children, including that armorer who warms Arya Stark's bed, and every one of them has the Baratheon look. But you and your brothers, all you are is Lannister.”
It was a terrible thing for all the pieces of every puzzle to come together at once, and Myrcella felt as if the world was starting to rock back and forth. She managed to stand, sickness rising in her throat; her lunch found its way into a wash basin.
Passing Joanna into Obara's muscled arms, Arianne crossed to rest a hand against Myrcella's back. “No one wants to see Joffrey Baratheon on the Iron Throne with your mother and grandfather whispering in his ears. And Eddard Stark is an honorable man, but he is also a man who loves the North and would not want to see it fall into Targaryen hands.”
Later, when the Martells had left her for the afternoon, as she nursed Joanna and Lya, not bothering to summon the wet nurse, Myrcella considered Arianne's words. Either Joffrey or Daenerys was going to sit the Iron Throne, and Myrcella knew what Joffrey was capable of doing. With Daenerys on the throne, her family could live safely in the North, her children never knowing the horror of their uncle.
When they were safely back at Winterfell, she would tell Robb everything.
When Jaime entered with a septa, his face more serious than she could ever remember seeing it, Myrcella did not feel the usual rush of affection for her uncle; instead a sick pall fell over her heart as she wondered, Is it true? Are you my father like I prayed when I was small? Did you lie with my mother, with your sister to make my brothers and me?
“There has been an accident, Princess,” Jaime revealed. “Your father was hunting and a boar tore him open with its tusks. Grand Maester Pycelle is tending him now, but there has been much damage. He is asking for you.”
Shakily rising, Myrcella nodded, allowing Jaime to steady her with his arm as he walked her towards the king's bed chamber. As they walked, Myrcella found herself asking, “Do you ever regret what you did to the Mad King?”
Jaime was quiet for a moment before confessing, “I regret I did not do it sooner.”
Her hand on the door handle, Myrcella met her uncle's gaze unwaveringly. “I cannot think of anything scarier than a mad man on the Iron Throne.”
To his credit, Jaime did not look away. “That is why I am here, sweet girl.”
The smell of the room nearly knocked her back as she entered, and Myrcella instantly knew this was the scent of death. Her father was awake in his bed, his massive belly bandaged, blankets covering him to the waist; Cersei, Eddard, Joffrey, and Tommen were already in the room, and she could see tears on Tommen's round face, the only visible show of emotion from anyone.
“You forget the way to her rooms, Kingslayer?” Robert gruffly snapped as she stepped towards his bed. Not waiting for a reply, he ordered, “C'mere, girl.”
Obedient as ever, Myrcella went to her father's bedside, bracing herself to withstand the stench of his opened stomach. His hand clumsily grabbed at her wrist, tugging her to sit on the mattress before turning to the assembly of people. “Leave us.”
“Your Highness - “
“I said leave us!” he repeated as loudly as he could, cutting off the rest of Cersei's words.
Once alone, Robert awkwardly patted Myrcella's cheek as if she was still a child. “You are a good girl. Better than your mother and better than me.” He smiled wryly. “If only you had been a boy...”
“I believe Robb prefers me as a woman,” she tried to jape, earning a weak chuckle.
“It was a good match. Your mother wanted to marry you to some bastard in Lannisport, send you back to the Rock, but I knew...I knew Robb Stark would treat you right.” His eyes heavy from the milk of the poppy, he mused, “He treats you the way I'd have treated Lyanna.”
“Father - “
“You're all Baratheon,” the dying king announced, pride in his voice. “The Baratheons and Starks, they were meant to be united.”
Myrcella did not know why the secret fell from her lips but she felt so guilty; here her father was finally acknowledging her, and she was not even his child. She needed him to know his belief was being fulfilled. “Arya is in love with one of your natural sons. He is an armorer and knight at Riverrun, and I have heard it said he is the spitting image of you when you were young.”
“Gendry,” Robert chuckled. “I should legitimize him before I die. Cersei would love that.”
“You should,” Myrcella encouraged. “I will call Lord Eddard and he will take your last words. You must do some good before - “
“Before Joffrey fucks the kingdoms to seven hells?” Robert waved his hand. “Get Ned. Have him take a dying king's last words.”
When Lord Eddard read the last pronouncements of King Robert Baratheon, Ser Gendry Waters of Riverrun, Mya Stone of the Vale, and Edric Storm of Storm's End were legitimized, a half-dozen men Myrcella had never heard of were pardoned, and Joffrey Baratheon, the First of his Name, was declared the King of the Seven Kingdoms.
“Gods help us all,” Tyrion whispered from his place beside Myrcella.
The day before Joffrey's coronation, Lady Catelyn left King's Landing with Myrcella's children and a dozen Stark knights. Myrcella did not tell the boys where they were going as they were taken to the ship which would carry them North, only promising that they would be together again soon. Steffon and Rickard solemnly swore to behave for their grandmother, both eager to see Arya and Rickon again at Riverrun, and Brynden promised he would play with his sisters. Myrcella felt tears start to rise as she kissed the top of Joanna's auburn head before passing her to the wet nurse. A single tear rolled down her cheek as she did the same for Lya, but Myrcella quickly wiped it away.
“Are you certain you will not join us?”
“My presence is ordered today. I will feel better when they are far from here.”
Catelyn nodded. “Ned says it will get worse with Robert gone.”
“Robb agreed this is the best way. By the time you reach Riverrun, Bran will join you to take you to Greywater Watch. You will stay with the Reeds until we are free of here.”
“Myrcella - “
“My brother is going to announce Rickard is his heir, and he will want to keep him here. You must be in the Neck by then.”
“And we will be,” Catelyn assured her before pulling her into a tight embrace. “Be safe, my dear, and bring my boys home to me.”
Myrcella remained on the docks with Grey Wind until the ship disappeared over the horizon, and only then did she allow her tears to start.
The seventh day of Joffrey's reign, Eddard was dismissed as Hand of the King and replaced with Tywin Lannister. Arianne Martell was removed from the small council, replaced by some lord from the West, and Ser Barristan's white cloak was taken from him, replaced by Sandor Clegane, Jaime Lannister becoming the Commander of the Kingsguard.
“This is not right,” Myrcella murmured as Ser Barristan threw his sword at Joffrey's feet, marching from the throne room with more pride than any man. “The Kingsguard is for life.”
Robb said nothing, his hand slipping into hers, squeezing it tightly.
“That is all for today,” Joffrey announced, slipping the crown from his head, and the throne room emptied out until only her family remained.
Pulling away from Robb, Myrcella moved to stand before the throne, her voice as deferential as she could make it as she said, “Your Grace, I have come to ask your leave for myself and my good-family. With your permission, we will return to Winterfell and keep your lands in the North.”
Joffrey smirked as he rose, barely casting a look towards Margaery, who stood beside the Iron Throne in her own crown. “You can go to the seven hells for all I care. I prefer my castle to be free of the stench of wolf.”
Resisting the urge to snap back, Myrcella dropped into a curtsy. “Thank you, Your Highness.”
As Myrcella turned her back, halfway to Robb, Joffrey added, “But you shall send your son back to court.”
Myrcella froze, slowly turning to face her mad brother. “I am sorry, My King?”
“You shall send your son back to court,” he repeated, “the younger of your twins. What is his name?”
“Rickard,” she supplied. “But surely Your Grace does not want a boy of barely five underfoot.”
“That is a concern for my wife, not for me. Where is the boy?”
“With his uncle.”
“Before you leave, you will send a raven with instructions for whichever Stark has him to bring him to King's Landing.”
Swallowing hard, forcing her voice to stay level, she replied, “I cannot do that, Highness. My son is at Greywater Watch, and ravens cannot find the castle. They say it moves.”
Face flushing as crimson as his surcoat, he snapped, “Then I shall send my men for him, but your son will be in the Red Keep.”
Myrcella remembered the stories Bran had told her of the crannogmen, recalled the tales Meera Reed shared about men who had tried to take the Neck, and it took everything inside of her to not laugh in Joffrey's face. “If that is what my king desires, then it is what you shall have.”
“Howland Reed will kill any man who dares touch your children,” Eddard Stark said once they were in the Tower of the Hand.
“I am counting on it.”
Robb looked at her for a moment before smirking. “There is a bit more Lannister in you than I thought.”
The assessment made her flinch.
As the servants were loading the Stark family's belongings onto horses and wagons to depart from King's Landing, Myrcella said her goodbyes to Arianne Martell and the Sand Snakes, their own envoy preparing to leave for Dorne.
“You are always welcome in Dorne, Princess Myrcella.”
“And you are always welcome at Winterfell, Princess Arianne.”
Drawing her into an embrace, Arianne whispered in her ear, “The Mother of Dragons has agreed to your terms. If the North will support her, she will declare the Starks to be Kings in the North. She has also agreed to spare Tommen if he will bend the knee.”
Clutching the Dornish princess even tighter, Myrcella vowed, “I will deliver the North.”
“I do not doubt it.” Pulling back, Arianne touched Myrcella's pale cheek with fondness. “I am glad you are my friend, Myrcella Stark, for I think you would make a very dangerous enemy.”
As the Martells disappeared, Queen Margaery joined Myrcella on the stone steps, her heavy fur cloak pulled tightly around her. “It is a shame to see them go. I quite enjoyed them.”
“They are good friends,” Myrcella offered.
“I hope, good-sister, when the time comes, you remember how good of a friendship we have.”
Hearing the undercurrent in her words, Myrcella turned to face her, taking hold of her gloved hands. “I could never forget that.”
“I wish you a safe return to Winterfell. And should you have need of anything, do not hesitate to ask it of Highgarden.”
“Of Highgarden, Your Grace?” she repeated.
Margaery smiled. “Do you know the words of the Tyrells, Myrcella?”
The queen's smile grew. “A flower cannot grow unless it finds the sun. And if there is one thing the Tyrells do well, it is follow the sun.” Brushing a kiss against Myrcella's cheek, she declared, “We shall meet again, Lady Stark.”
While Jory Cassel helped her mount her horse, Myrcella could not help but thinking Arianne Martell was wrong: it was Margaery Tyrell who would make a very dangerous enemy.
But, of course, no man in Westeros ever worried about having a woman as an enemy.
Myrcella did not breathe until their party reached Riverrun, Edmure Tully and his pretty, young wife greeting them with hot food and wine from the Arbor. Myrcella's legs nearly gave out on her as she dismounted her horse; it was only Theon's quick hand on her elbow which managed to keep her upright until she caught her balance.
“Careful, 'Cella,” he breathed, and Myrcella had never been so grateful to hear that stupid nickname fall from Theon Greyjoy's lips, proof she was no longer in King's Landing.
While the men gratefully ate Lord Edmure's best food, Myrcella only wanted a bath, a request Lady Roslin easily fulfilled. By the time the tub was brought to her room and filled with water, steam rising towards the ceiling, Myrcella was prepared to weep with gratitude, anxious to wash away the sweat and soreness of the ride. She sent away the servants, shed her riding dress and smallclothes, and eagerly sank beneath the water, ignoring the sting of pain the temperature brought to her chapped skin.
Savoring the warmth of the water, Myrcella tipped her head back, resting it against the edge of the tub, her eyes drooping shut. She must have fallen asleep for the next thing she knew, Robb's calloused fingers were running down the curve of her jaw as he knelt beside the tub, a sweet smile on his face.
“Never has a bath been more enticing.”
“It is a large tub.”
It was a lie, but it did not stop Robb from stripping off his clothing, climbing over the edge of the tub as Myrcella carefully curled her body around his, balancing on her knees as she slid into his lap. Robb cupped her face, drawing her in for a long kiss, his fingers tangling in her damp hair. When the kiss broke, Robb rested his forehead against hers and breathed, “I cannot remember the last time we were this close.”
Myrcella's heart ached as she recognized the truth in the words. After Joanna's birth, she had to heal for three moons and then the avalanche began with Robert's death and Joffrey's ascendance to the throne. She could barely stand to focus on basic conversation, let alone find the time to be with her husband. The guilt coiled tightly around her body, and she whispered, “I'm sorry.”
“Don't be.” Tilting her head back, his lips soft and moist against her throat, he added, “We're here now.”
“I love you.”
“I love you,” Robb easily replied before sliding his tongue across her collarbone, the rasp of his beard against her tender skin making her shiver.
Myrcella pulled back, capturing his face between her palms and forcing him to meet her gaze. Robb blinked in his surprise, his face becoming as serious as his father's as he waited for her words. “No, I...I love you more than I ever thought possible. And our children...They are the world to me, and all I want is for us to live peacefully with them at Winterfell.”
“That is all I want as well. You and the children, that is all I want, all I need.”
“Joff will never let us have that.” Robb opened his mouth to protest, but she rushed on, “I know my brother, Robb, and I know my mother. She never wanted me to be your wife, and she has never cared for your father. They will take Rickard as his heir but he will be as much a hostage as Theon was, used to keep our family in check. And one day, when he decides we have wronged him in some way, he will come for Winterfell.”
Robb's jaw tightened in anger at the idea, a muscle jumping in his cheek. “There will always be a Stark in Winterfell.”
“Not if Joffrey has his way, which he will because he is the King of the Seven Kingdoms.”
“Even if I called the banners, the North could not hold the entirely of the Kingdoms at bay.”
“You would not be alone.”
And then Myrcella told Robb everything: Daenerys Targaryen's plans, the Dornish alliance, Asha Greyjoy's pledge of ships in exchange for the Iron Isles, Daenerys's promise of the North's independence if the North would stand with her against the Iron Throne. By the time she finished, the water had gone tepid, and Robb's face was unreadable; he lifted her from his lap, climbing from the tub and quickly dressing, Myrcella wrapping herself in a robe as he did so.
“Robb - “
“I have to speak to my father,” he cut in, shoving his feet back into his boots. “He will need to know - “
“I know you are angry - “
“Angry?” His entire body stiff with tension, he spat, “You have been plotting treason with Arianne Martell and Daenerys Targaryen! Sansa is in Dorne, due in the birthing bed any day, and, if the Lannisters learn of this, she will be beheaded next to her husband! If your mad brother doesn't take our heads for even considering this, the Dragon Queen will burn us if we do not declare for her!”
“Joffrey will have our heads anyway!” Angrily wiping at the tears on her face, she cried, “Before we ever left for Tommen's wedding, you said you wished the North could rule itself, be free of the Iron Throne, and Daenerys Targaryen will give you that! All we have to do is bide our time until she lands.”
Robb shook his head, opening his mouth to reply before closing it. As he stalked out of the room, the door slamming behind him, Myrcella sank onto the bed and wondered if, by trying to protect her children, she had ruined everything.
Shaggydog found her in the godswood, her knees sore and wet from kneeling before the heart tree. Myrcella petted the black fur, letting the tongue of Rickon's direwolf cleanse her face, and she irrationally wished she could go back to when she first came to Winterfell, when Rickon was still barely more than a baby and Shaggydog was a wild pup who would nip at her heels. It seemed impossible so much time had passed, that she had fed Rickon's bastard daughter from her own breast, that none of them were children any longer.
Shaggy's teeth caught the end of her heavy fur cloak, jerking her towards the path which lead back to Riverrun. Myrcella rose to her feet to comply, gently ordering Shaggy to release her cloak, but the direwolf did not listen; Rickon's wolf was not like Grey Wind, who Robb always playfully complained listened to her better than him. She nearly stumbled as Shaggy pulled harder, urging her faster, and Myrcella swore as she tried to keep pace with the wolf. When Myrcella stepped into the clearing, Shaggy released her as Grey Wind ran towards them, his teeth bared at the black wolf, stepping protectively between Myrcella and his brother. She caught movement out of the corner of her eye and saw Nymeria rushing to join them, shoving at Grey Wind's side with the top of her head before letting out a howl.
The rushing of hooves startled Myrcella as several riders came towards her. It was only when she saw Theon's familiar face that she relaxed but even that was short lived as Theon lifted her atop his horse.
“Theon, what's - “
Her friend said nothing, urging his horse as quickly as possible towards the castle, Tully men and direwolves chasing after them, and Myrcella felt her fear start to rise. When Theon stopped at the entryway, Myrcella demanded, “What is going on?”
Helping her down from his horse, he explained, “The Mountain is raiding in the Riverlands. He burned a village not far from here, and when no one could find you...” He did not finish but Myrcella knew what everyone must have thought, the memory of Elia Martell never far from anyone's mind when Gregor Clegane was involved.
“I was in the godswood,” was all she could manage. Since telling Robb of Dorne's plans, she had barely seen her husband; his anger was greater than she could ever recall, and they were even sleeping apart, something they had never done in their marriage. Lord Eddard and Lord Edmure would not look at her, and Myrcella knew they were trying to figure out how to untangle themselves from the mess she made.
For a brief, unkind moment Myrcella was surprised anyone even noticed she was gone before forcing the thought back; no matter how angry they were, she knew the Starks were not the type of people who suddenly stopped caring for a member of their family.
Myrcella was pulling back the heavy furs on her bed when the chamber door opened and Robb stepped inside. A thin sheen of sweat coated his skin, and she could smell the scent of his horse clinging to his clothing as he moved closer, dropping his cloak as he approached; she could see a wild expression in his Tully blue eyes, and Myrcella gasped as he pulled her powerfully against his chest, his arms as hard as steel around her body.
“You cannot do this again,” he gruffly said against the crown of her head, his lips brushing against her hair. “If the Mountain had found you - “
“But he didn't.”
Robb pulled back, holding her face as he declared, “I could not bear the loss of you.”
Tears swelled in her eyes. “Nor I you.”
Their mouths met hungrily, Myrcella's hands fumbling the laces of his breeches as Robb pushed her shift above her hips, both of them stumbling towards the bed. Robb moaned as her hand found him, hard and wanting, and Myrcella trembled as one, large hand palmed her breast, his calloused thumb rolling over the peak of her nipple. She tumbled back upon the bed, hastily shedding her shift, the texture of the bed furs rough against her back; Robb's eyes never left her body as he stripped, moving as quickly as possible, but she still stretched her arms out for him, trying to urge him along.
She cried out as Robb entered her, her nails biting into the blades of his shoulders, her hips rising to meet every thrust. Robb pressed wet kisses to her face and throat, chanting her name like a prayer as their hips met, and Myrcella pushed at his shoulder, reversing their positions. As she rose and fell upon him, Robb's hands settled where they were joined, finding the point of her pleasure with unerring precision. Myrcella shouted, loud and wanton, uncaring if all of Riverrun heard her, and Robb groaned in reply, holding her hips tightly against his as he spilled his seed. With a whimper, Myrcella dropped down against his chest, her ear settling above his heart, and she could feel its wild rhythm.
When his breathing returned to normal, Robb murmured, “Make me a promise.”
Myrcella tiredly lifted her head, resting her chin against his collarbone to look at him. “Anything.”
“Promise me that, even when we are as old as Nan, it will still be like this between us.”
She laughed, her lips brushing against the rough auburn of his beard, before vowing, “As long as I have breath in my lungs.”
At least for the night, they were Robb and Myrcella rather than the Lord and Princess.
It took over a fortnight for Gregor Clegane's raiding parties to be driven from the Riverlands, a fortnight which drove Myrcella mad. Nearly three moons had passed since she last saw her children, and she was feeling their absence acutely. Her milk for Joanna and Lya was gone, her dreams were full of Rickard, Steffon, and Brynden, and her nightmares grew with every raven which arrived, each time making Myrcella certain Joffrey's men somehow found Greywater Watch. Robb told her she was being silly, that no man had ever found Greywater Watch without a crannogman to guide them, but, even if they did, Howland Reed's men would push them back.
“No one will take Rickard from us,” Robb swore.
But Myrcella did not truly believe him until Meera Reed met them as they crossed into the North, leading them to her home, Myrcella's horse clearly uneasy in the bogs and swamps, of the lizard lions which watched from the banks.
The moment Myrcella saw Lady Catelyn and her children outside the entrance of the castle, she leapt from her horse, not waiting for Robb or Theon to help her down as she usually did. Her boys were already running, shouting “Mother!” with such excitement, it brought tears to her eyes, and Myrcella fell back into the snow as Steffon, Rickard, and Brynden crawled upon her. She laughed through her tears, pressing kisses to their faces, squeezing them tightly even as they began to shout with equal excitement for their father.
Robb reached down, pulling Myrcella back to her feet before Steffon and Rickard attached themselves to his legs, Brynden clasping him around the neck.
“I grew, Father!” Brynden proudly proclaimed, and Robb grinned as he swore, “It was the first thing I noticed!”
Myrcella eagerly went to Lady Catelyn, taking Joanna from her arms. Her baby seemed to have grown remarkably fast in the past three months, her auburn hair now thicker, her eyes more alert. Joanna reached one chubby hand up, touching her mother's face while studying her with serious Lannister eyes before toothlessly grinning. Pressing a kiss to her soft skin, she asked her good-mother, “Where is Lya?”
Catelyn blinked in surprise before answering, “With her wet nurse. I had not thought...” She did not finish her sentence, but Myrcella understood what was not said: I had not thought you would miss the bastard child your husband brought home from the Crag.
Until Bran wed Meera Reed, Myrcella knew nothing of the crannogmen beyond the prejudices of the Southron courts. Frog eaters, Joffrey called them; bog devils, Tywin Lannister spat. She could still remember the look of disgust which crossed Cersei's face when Bran and Meera came to court to represent Greywater Watch, and it made Myrcella angry to think such kind people were treated horribly by the Iron Throne. There was no doubt in her mind that Howland Reed would bend the knee to Eddard Stark, especially as she saw the old friends greet each other warmly; she knew the Stark bannermen would bend for Robb.
Her Lannister family had no idea what it meant to be a Stark in the North, a place where loyalty and honor actually meant something.
When Robb and his brothers disappeared with Lord Eddard and Howland Reed, Myrcella found herself with Catelyn, Lya sleeping comfortably in her grandmother's arms as Myrcella rocked Joanna towards sleep. It was only then Catelyn finally broached the topic Myrcella knew would be foremost in her good-mother's mind.
“You have put my family in a dangerous position.”
Myrcella did not lift her eyes from Joanna as she replied, “Your family was put in a dangerous position the moment Lord Eddard agreed to my marriage.”
“I did not want the match,” Catelyn stated baldly. “I have never wanted my children near the Iron Throne, and I have never trusted Cersei Lannister.”
“Which means you are a smart woman.”
Catelyn did not smile. “What you have been plotting with the Martells and the Targaryens is not just treason; it is kinslaying.”
“I do not wish to kinslay,” she objected. “All I want is a safe place for my children to grow, the same as you. Joffrey is not fit to sit the Iron Throne, and you know that as well as I.”
“He is Robert's heir.”
“Gendry is Robert's heir,” Myrcella replied without thinking, her eyes widening at the implications of her words. Catelyn froze for only a moment before shifting Lya in her arms, her mouth pressing into a tight line.
“For all of his ill qualities, Robert Baratheon was Ned's dearest friend,” Catelyn finally said. “Robert was built for war, not for rule, and he knew that. While Robert was better than Aerys, the Baratheons are hardly well-loved in the kingdoms. If Rhaegar Targaryen had lived, the world would be a very different place.” Catelyn's eyes flashes as she pronounced, “The Mad King murdered Rickard and Brandon Stark, and Rhaegar Targaryen stole Lyanna Stark. You cannot trust a Targaryen.”
“And a Baratheon pretender surrounded by Lannisters? Can you trust him?”
“I trust the Tullys and the Arryns and, above all, the Starks.” She sighed. “If you do not send Rickard South, Joffrey will declare Robb to be holding the heir to the Iron Throne as hostage, and war will come to the North. Ned will call the banners. War is going to come to Winterfell. And, I can assure you, Daenerys Targaryen will not change her plans to save the grandchild of a man who helped to exile her.”
“What are you saying?”
“I am saying blood and fire is what brings war, not peace.”
Myrcella remembered her history. “It did once.”
Robb immediately began to laugh when he entered the bed chamber Howland gave them to find Myrcella in bed with their children asleep around her. Somewhat defensively, Myrcella loudly whispered, “I have not seen them in months, and they missed us horribly!”
He only shook his head with a smile as he shed his clothing, tugging a shift over his head before crossing to the bed. Lifting Joanna from Myrcella's chest, his other hand briefly running over the dark hair capping Lya's head, Robb climbed into bed, carefully pushing a splayed Rickard towards the center of the bed to make room.
“They are growing so quickly,” Robb murmured as he returned one of Joanna's smiles, “and I feel as if we are missing it.”
Carding her fingers through Bryden's blond curls, she confessed, “Sometimes I wish we were smallfolk, and our only worries would be our children and working the land.”
“I was the twins' age when Father rode to beat back the Ironborn. I remember standing in the yard at Winterfell with Jon and Mother, watching the men disappear, and I asked Jon if Father was going to die. Even when I was that small, I understood men went to war and did not return.” Brushing a sweaty lock of hair away from Steffon's forehead, he confessed, “I do not want our sons to ask each other the same about me.”
“You cannot die. I will not allow it.”
Robb offered a weary smile. “Father is calling the banners rather than sending Rickard to King's Landing. The Starks will be declared traitors, and the North will suffer.”
“Robb - “
“Rickard needs to remain here,” he stated firmly in a voice Myrcella recognized as Lord Eddard's. “Bran has sworn to be his shield, and there is no safer place for him than Greywater Watch.”
She wanted to object, to plead for another way, but she could hear the wisdom of words. “And Steffon? Will he remain here as well?”
“Steffon will go to the Vale. The Eyrie is impregnable, and, as my heir, he will need to be protected. Robert Arryn will claim him as his bastard, and the Blackfish will keep him safe.”
“What of Brynden and the girls?”
“They will return to Winterfell. My father will hold Winterfell while I ride South with our bannermen to join with forces from Riverrun.”
“What of the Vale's men?”
Robb shook his head. “We do not want Joffrey to know that the Arryns have joined with us. They will declare neutrality until it becomes necessary to join forces with us.”
Myrcella felt terror starting to swell in her chest. “But Sansa is in Dorne - “
“By the time the Iron Throne knows what is happening, Sansa, her child, and a collection of Dornishmen will be on one of Asha Greyjoy's ships, halfway to Bear Island. The Mormonts will keep her safe.”
Confusion began to descend upon her. “This plan...There is no way you could have made so many arrangements since our arrival this morning.”
Robb managed to look chagrined. “Since you told me of Arianne's plans at Riverrun, Father, Uncle Edmure, and I have been making plans. I did not want to tell you before we reached the children because I did not think you would agree.”
“I did not think Dorne would move without the Dragon Queen.”
“Princess Arianne says the Queen's ships departed from Pentos with the intent to land upon Dragonstone.”
“Dragonstone? But that is my uncle Stannis's seat. He will never bend the knee!”
Robb nodded gravely. “Stannis has already declared Joffrey to be a false king, the Kingslayer's bastard. He says Jon Arryn knew, and your mother killed him for it.” Face softening, Robb added, “He claims neither you or your brothers are Robert's seed.”
Myrcella's eyes dropped down to Lya Snow, sleeping peacefully in the crook of her arm. A bastard child for a bastard mother, she thought humorlessly. “Then Gendry is the true king, for he is the oldest and legitimized.”
“Gendry wants no throne; he renounced his claim to Edmure's face. Stannis holds Edric Storm and means to place him on the throne.”
“They will die.”
“That is war.”
Sitting higher in bed, she announced, “Then you must send me to Storm's End to secure Renly.”
Rising, setting Lya against her pillow, Myrcella began to pace the length of the bed chamber. “There is no love between my uncles, but Renly will attack Dragonstone in the Baratheon name. If we could get Renly to declare for Daenerys, we would have men close to King's Landing.”
“And the moment Joffrey learned you were in the South, he would send the Mountain and the Hound to drag you back to the Red Keep to do Gods know what! We will send one of our men - “
“Renly will not listen! I could sway him, Robb! And with Renly comes Highgarden! Ser Loras would follow - “
“It is out of the question!” he shouted, startling Joanna on his chest, the boys stirring but not waking, Lya beginning to cry.
Myrcella quickly scooped up her niece, shushing her as she glared at her husband. “You know I am right. You know I could do this.”
“And if we both ride to war, what becomes of our children?” Robb shook his head. “You are more skilled at the game of thrones than I, but you know nothing of war nor have you been trained for it. I cannot send my wife South when I know what it would mean if she was captured.”
“But you will let Arya ride to war.”
“Arya is better with a blade than I am, and she has Nymeria at her side, not to mention Gendry and his hammer. If your party was be fallen upon, you would have no means of protecting yourself. It cannot happen, Myrcella, and I will not discuss this any further.”
Upon their return to Winterfell, one son left in the care of Bran, the other on his way to the Vale with the Blackfish, Myrcella immediately marched to find Rodrik Cassel.
“I need you to train me to use a sword.”
“Lady Myrcella, I do not think Lord Stark - “
“I did not ask you what my husband thinks,” she snapped, her voice a perfect imitation of her mother's. “I asked you to teach me to handle a sword.”
Ser Rodrik hesitated only a moment before nodding. “As you wish, your grace.”
Robb frowned the first time he saw her clumsily clutching her wooden sword, Rodrik explaining technique, but said nothing.
She loved him for that.
Rodrik swore she was not nearly as terrible with a sword as she believed herself to be, but Myrcella was certain he was lying to spare her feelings. Her body was covered in bruises, an assortment of black, purple, and yellow which glowed brightly on her pale skin, and the aches in her muscles never seemed to abate. Robb would run his hands over the marks, his lips whisper soft, but not once did he tell her to stop, that she was being foolish. Myrcella knew he would not agree to her plan to send her to appeal to Renly, but, if she could only show him she was capable of protecting herself, mayhaps he would allow her to ride to Storm's End with some of his men.
Brynden loved to watch her crossing swords with Rodrik, his green eyes wide with excitement at the click-clack of wood hitting wood, and, on this day, Robb and Theon joined her youngest son. Myrcella felt herself blush in self-consciousness, wincing as Rodrik's sword caught her on the shoulder; forcing herself to focus only on Rodrik and his sword, Myrcella managed to avoid being struck, once even managing to catch the older man in the hip, before she was disarmed.
As Myrcella bent to pick up her sword, Theon quipped, “If your brother is as adept at keeping hold of his sword, we will win the war in no time.”
She glared at her husband's best friend. “Shut up.” Brushing the dirt off the breeches she had borrowed from Arya, she added, “I have only been practicing for a few weeks. What did you expect? Do you not have anything better to do than watch me?”
“No,” Theon answered with a playful grin.
Brynden punched Theon's leg with a small fist. “Be nice to Mother.”
Robb pushed to his feet with a laugh, crossing to Rodrik and gesturing for the practice sword. Myrcella blinked in surprise as he assumed a fighting stance, quirking an eyebrow. When she did not move, he challenged, “If you are going to learn, you should practice with someone you are not used to fighting.”
He disarmed her in less than a minute, smirking as she quickly recovered her sword. The second time, it was even shorter, and Myrcella resisted stamping her foot like a child as she angrily resumed her stance, clenching her jaw in frustration. When the sword was knocked from her hands with only three strokes, Myrcella cursed, drawing a laugh from Theon and a gasp from Brynden, and Robb warned, “The angrier you get, the sloppier you become.”
Before coming to Winterfell, she had no temper; Queen Cersei had no patience for little girls with loose tongues and Joffrey would strike her even when she was not being insolent. It was only with Robb she was allowed to feel what she wanted, to loosen her tongue, and he often teased her with the Baratheon words with affectionate smiles which would break her foul mood.
Now his smile felt like mocking, as if he was laughing at her desire to protect herself and her children; she had never felt so dismissed by him, the silly princess playing with wooden swords.
Tossing down her sword, face burning with fury and humiliation, Myrcella turned towards Brynden and held open her arms. “Come now, sweetling. It is time for lessons.”
“But the swords - “
“We are finished with the swords,” she cut in, flinching at the harshness in her voice, forcing herself to soften her words. “Tell Theon goodbye and come.”
“Cella,” Robb began, his voice conciliatory, but she would not spare her husband a glance as she swept Brynden into her arms. Offering a brief thanks to Ser Rodrik, Myrcella hurried inside, depositing Brynden with Maester Luwin before hurrying to her chamber.
She only managed to shed her borrowed tunic when Robb stepped inside, confusion on his face. “Myrcella, if I have done something - “
“You have done nothing,” she snapped, wrinkling her nose at the pull of her undertunic against her sweat slick skin. Hurriedly undoing the laces of Arya's breeches, Myrcella grabbed the gown on their bed. “Do not concern yourself with me, my lord.”
Robb scoffed. “If you do not tell me why you are angry - “
“Why would you mock me that way?” she exploded, uncaring she wore only her smallclothes, the gown clutched against her bare breasts. “The bannermen arrive tomorrow. You and Theon had nothing else to do at Winterfell but jape at me?”
“Jape?” he echoed, genuine puzzlement on his face. “That was not what I was trying to do.”
“Then what were you trying to do?!”
He took a step closer, his face utterly serious. “Ser Rodrik told me you were doing well, but he was concerned you would grow too used to his instruction. I was not mocking your efforts, Myrcella. If anything, I am proud.”
“Proud?” she echoed.
Robb smiled as his hands came to rest on her bare shoulders. “You wish to defend our family. How could I not be proud of that?”
At supper that evening, as Winterfell's bannermen bent the knee to Lord Eddard, as they chanted, “The King in the North!” Myrcella looked at Robb, saw the tremble in his hand as he lifted his cup of wine. He was as scared as she was, and Myrcella felt the urgent need to apologize: for Joffrey, for being Princess Myrcella Baratheon, for having Cersei Lannister as her mother. She wanted to apologize for everything, but she knew he would not let her; no one ever loved her half-so-well as Robb Stark, the Young Wolf, the Prince in the North.
She clutched him desperately that night, afraid to loosen her grip upon his body, painfully aware this could be the last time she was ever with her husband. As Robb spent himself inside of her, Myrcella hoped his seed would take root so when he came home from the South, there would be another son to greet him, another prince of Winterfell.
“Oh, Cella,” he whispered against her skin, resting his forehead in the valley between her breasts, his breath warm against her sensitized skin.
“Promise me you will come back,” she pleaded, carding her fingers through his thick, auburn curls. “Promise me that, when spring comes, we will be together with our children.”
Lifting his head, his blue eyes swollen with love, Robb nodded. “Everything I do is for you and our children.” He pressed a kiss to the inner curve of her breast. “You are the greatest gift the Gods have ever given me.”
“How can you believe that?” she could not help but ask, tears thickening her voice.
Carefully lifting his weight from her body, Robb came to rest on his side, propping his head upon his hand. “The day King Robert announced we were betrothed, I was so angry. I did not want to wed a little girl.”
Myrcella mimicked his position, a small smile playing at her lips. “You barely spoke to me the first year I was here unless Theon spoke first. I even wrote my uncle Jaime to ask if I could wed Theon Greyjoy instead.”
Robb laughed, his eyes sparkling. “You never told me that.”
She shrugged. “Jaime told me to give you time. He said Northern men were different. 'Slow to thaw,' I believe was the term he used. But he assured me you would make a kind husband, far better than Theon Greyjoy.”
“I cannot imagine the Kingslayer writing such a letter.”
Myrcella swallowed back her grief to offer, “He is not the Kingslayer to me, only my uncle who loved me better than the rest of my family.”
Sensing her sadness, Robb rushed on, “I was angry about our betrothal, and I begged my father to let me marry someone else, a Northern woman, but he said love is something which grows. I was certain he had lied until the day I found you building snow castles with Rickon in the godswood. Do you remember?”
She did. Lady Catelyn asked for her and Rickon to gather what they wanted to take to King's Landing for Joffrey's wedding, but snow began to fall and Rickon wanted to build castles. She could still remember the bite of the cold and Rickon's stifled laughter as they stole into the godswood, slipping past Maester Luwin and Ser Arys.
Her castle building devolved into a snowball fight with Rickon, and, when Robb stepped into the clearing, Myrcella's snowball hit him squarely in the face, snow sticking to his eyelashes and beard. She remembered Rickon's laughter even as horror began to fill her stomach, and then Robb grinned, pure mischief in his eyes, and Myrcella understood what was about to happen only a half-second before he ran towards her. He caught her easily, tackling her into the snow, and, if she tried, she could still hear his cry of “Traitor!” when Grey Wind tried to pull him away. Soaked from the snow, chilled by the wind, she rode double back to Winterfell, Robb's chest firm against her back, and his breath scorched her ear when he asked, “Why have we never played together before?”
“You were always so quiet before then, always so proper and afraid to misstep. That day in the godswood was the first time I ever saw you. And then I knew I could love that girl.” Brushing a curl from her forehead, he continued, “I do not know all of what the Lannisters have done to you. My nightmares are full of the things Joffrey did to you. But no matter what happens in this war, I will never regret wedding you, never regret the children we created together.”
Myrcella tried to blink back her tears. “Robb - “
“You have made the Starks the Kings of Winter again,” he cut in, “and that is the title our sons and their sons will carry.” An affectionate smile spreading across his face, Robb quipped, “Why, Greatjon is already calling you 'the Kingmaker.'”
The Kingmaker, daughter of the Kingslayer.
In the morning, as the men gather, ready to lay down their lives for House Stark, for King Eddard and Queen Catelyn, Myrcella gave Theon Greyjoy a parting hug, a goodbye for the only older brother she ever truly had. He squeezed her a bit too tightly, and she thought he inhaled the scent of her hair before pulling back; there was something in his expression she did not want to puzzle out, did not want Robb to puzzle out, so she teased, “When you return, all the maids in the North will wish to wed you.”
“I would much prefer they rather bed me,” he replied, wincing under Eddard's glare, before mounting his destrier.
Myrcella turned in time to see Robb handing Joanna and Lya to Old Nan, both girls reaching for him, and she saw the hurt in his eyes even as he directed Nan to take the girls out of the cold. It was only then he bent to look Brynden in the eye; Myrcella could not help the smile on her face as her youngest son, her Lannister baby, adopted a look which was thoroughly Stark.
She could not hear what Robb said, but it brought the largest grin she had ever seen to Brynden's face, his head bobbing in agreement. Robb embraced him closely, Brynden seeming to disappear in his arms, and only when Brynden released him first did Robb's arms loosen.
As Eddard embraced his son, Myrcella thought of the other Starks: Catelyn on her way to Bear Island to meet with Sansa, Bran at Greywater Watch with Rickard, Arya and Rickon in the Riverlands, Jon Snow at the Wall. She thought of her own family – Joffrey on his throne, Tommen at Casterly Rock with sweet Elaine, Cersei in the Red Keep with Tywin, Tyrion whoring his way through the Seven Kingdoms, Jaime watching them all – and considered why it felt so little like betrayal, working to undo everything the Lannisters ever wanted.
”You're all Baratheon,” King Robert had told her, and Myrcella wondered if it was true.
Robb cupped her face tenderly when he reached her, his face as serious as a Septon's. “Kiss me to last until we meet again.”
Myrcella did her best to comply.
“Should Winterfell be fallen upon,” he murmured, “there are plans in place. Trust my father.”
Her tears were freezing on her face. “Of course.”
“And if all else fails, go to the Wall, to Jon.”
Myrcella nodded. “Once the Dragon Queen lands, we will be reunited.”
She saw the shine in his eyes, quickly buried as he embraced her a final time. “I love you. We shall see each other again.”
Despite the bite of the cold, she stood and watched until the last bannerman was out of sight, the smallest of sacrifice to see the start of the war she helped facilitate.
Chapter 4: The Widow on the Wall
Go to the Wall, to Jon.
Go to the Wall, to Jon.
Go to the Wall, to Jon.
She could not feel her body, the cold having stripped her of any warmth she once had; the tips of two fingers were starting to turn black even under two pairs of gloves. Her stomach was hollow, screaming for food after days without anything but snow and acorn paste; Ser Rodrik felled a deer before the rot of his wound took him, but that had been so long ago. Or maybe not long ago at all because she could not remember how many days she had been in the woods, how many days she rode her horse until it dropped dead, how many days after that she had been riding Rodrik's. His horse was starting to slow, as close to collapse as she was, and she would die if she could not summon the strength to keep going.
She was so cold, she could not remember her name, but she could remember the six words her husband said before they parted.
The horse collapsed at dusk, and she grunted as she landed on the frozen ground. Her body would not listen to her orders to get up, to walk, and she knew she was going to die in the snow like Rodrik, whose furs she stole to stay warm like a common scavenger.
I have children, she remembered as her eyes closed, resting back against the snow. Steffon, Rickard, Brynden, Joanna, and Lya. Where are they?
The last thing she felt before the darkness took her was the warm tongue of an animal on her frozen face.
I am not dead.
As Myrcella opened her eyes, she became aware of two things. The first was there was a fat, sleeping maester beside her bed, a book open on the table beside him. The second was the overwhelming warmth against her body was courtesy of a giant, white direwolf.
It took several attempts before she was able to sit, Ghost watching her with his red eyes, and she patted his head, her good-brother's silent wolf. He inched higher on his belly, his warmth following her, and Myrcella suddenly remember the black on her fingers, gone now. Her belly still ached for food, and she could smell bread and bacon cooking somewhere. A quick glance beneath the heavy furs told her she was wearing men's clothing, bundled like a child, and the sleeping maester had shed his boots; even moving as slow as she did, Myrcella was able to manage pushing her feet inside. Steadying herself on the wall, Myrcella rose on shaky legs, Ghost hopping off the bed to follow, and the ache for Grey Wind, for Robb rose sharply in her chest.
The sleeping maester did not wake as she shuffled from the chamber, inhaling at the sharp bite of the winter wind. There were men in black everywhere, all giving her strange looks as she tried to follow the scent of the food, Ghost hovering protectively at her side. Even without a direwolf's accompaniment, Myrcella suspected a woman wrapped up in furs wearing too-large boots would have drawn stares.
The dining hall quieted when she entered, Myrcella clasping the door frame as the smells of the food nearly knocked her back. One of the men hovered a moment before asking, “M'lady, are you - “
“Hungry,” she rasped, her throat sore with disuse, but the man just nodded, helping her to a nearby table before snapping for someone named Pyp to fetch her food. Ghost rested his head in her lap, his breath hot against her hand, and she looked up at the man. “Jon Snow.”
The man nodded. “Don't worry, m'lady. Second someone saw you, I'm sure they went to get him and the Lord Commander. Not often we get a queen at Castle Black.”
She opened her mouth to argue she was no queen, but the memory of Eddard Stark's end flashed before her eyes, churning her already fragile stomach. Roose Bolton's sword took her good-father's head, his disgusting laughter echoing in her ears; with King Eddard slain, Robb was now King in the North, making her the queen.
I never much cared for crowns, she thought wildly as Pyp placed a plate of food before her, a kind smile on his face.
Despite her hunger, her stomach began to rebel once the food entered her system; the urge to retch was high, but Myrcella swallowed it back, tearing into her food like an animal. She could feel the eyes of the Night's Watch upon her, undoubtedly stunned by the sight of a lady behaving in such a way, but, for the first time, she did not care. Bacon grease ran down her arms, her cheeks swelled as she filled her mouth without swallowing her last bite, warmed goat's milk dribbled down her chin as she greedily drank; there was nothing queenly about Myrcella Stark in this moment.
“Your Grace,” Pyp began, and the title and everything it cost infuriated her.
“Do not call me that!” she snapped, startling the man.
Pyp was about to apologize when Jon Snow entered the hall with the sleeping maester, and Myrcella felt the fragile hold on her emotions snap. Instantly she began to cry, grief, gratitude, and guilt nearly drowning her, and Jon carefully wrapped her in an embrace, his hand soft as he stroked her tangled hair. Myrcella was not sure if it was his resemblance to Eddard or the similarity of his build to Robb's, but his arms around her only served to make her cry harder.
Jon escorted her back to the room where she awoke, the maester accompanying them, silent as Ghost. As Jon again covered her in the heavy furs, tugging the stolen boots from her feet, the maester finally offered, “You should not be out of bed yet, my lady. When you arrived, you were close to death.”
“How long have I been here?”
“Three days,” Jon answered, pouring her a cup of warm wine. “You were delirious the first day. Between the hunger and the cold, it took all of Sam's tricks to save your fingers.”
Her eyes turned towards the maester. “You're Sam?”
He nodded. “Samwell Tarly, my lady. I'm the maester here at Castle Black.”
“Tarly? Of Horn Hill?”
Sam nodded again. “That was my home before I took the black.”
“My brother Tommen wed your sister Elaine. I like your sisters and your mother very much.” Scratching Ghost between his ears, she added, “Your father, I could do without.”
The maester smiled. “I understand the feeling.”
Returning her gaze to Jon, she ventured, “Your father is dead.”
Solemn as ever, Jon Snow nodded. “We received word nearly a month ago of the siege upon Winterfell. Joffrey made Roose Bolton Warden of the North; the flayed man flies above Winterfell now. Those who survived the siege, he either put to the sword or has in chains. They say...” His voice broke for a moment before barreling on, “They say my father's head is on a pike beside the Bolton standard.”
Bile stung her throat. “Was there...I escaped with Ser Rodrik and a handful of men, but they all...Robb and his father had a plan in case of a siege. I was to go to White Harbor, to Lord Manderly, but we could not go south. Jory and his men were to take the children to Deepwood Motte.” Hot tears streaking her face, she begged, “Has there been word of my children?”
“Not that I have heard. It was...Bolton said all who ran were captured or killed. Joffrey demanded your return to King's Landing but Bolton said you fled into the godswood. Everyone assumed you had perished there.”
Myrcella shivered. “Did you send a raven to Robb, to tell him differently?”
Absolute sorrow filled Jon's face, and instantly she knew what he was about to say. Shaking her head, Myrcella covered her ears, not wanting to hear it. She did not know how long she cried in her borrowed bed before Jon told her the story which reached the Wall just after the siege of Winterfell. He did not elaborate upon the details, only the basic facts: broken guest right by the Freys, the slaughter of many Northmen, lords in chains beneath the Twins. The raven arrived bearing the King's seal, a missive declaring that the Young Wolf and his pet direwolf were slain, that the King in the North was dead.
“The Northern forces are broken,” Jon acknowledged, “but Edmure Tully still controls the Riverlands, and the Vale has declared for the North.” Swallowing back his own grief, he continued, “I do not know who has the command now.”
There was an emptiness in her heart Myrcella had never felt before, an emptiness she was certain would never fill again. She remembered Robb's kiss as they parted, the hero worship on Brynden's face, the way Joanna's and Lya's arms had reached for him. All that was left now were Rickard and Steffon, hidden away at Greywater Watch and the Eyrie, and Myrcella could not breathe beneath the weight of it.
“What of everyone else? Sansa, Arya, Rickon?”
Jon shrugged helplessly. “I do not know. I cannot know. The Night's Watch takes no part, has no family but the Watch.”
“How can you say that? You – You – They are your family! They killed Eddard and Robb - “
“I know that!” Jon snapped. “Do you think I do not want to ride South, to put every last Lannister man to the sword, to make them pay? But I said my vows before the heart tree! I cannot desert!”
Myrcella saw Sam shift uncomfortably beside the bed but she paid him no mind as she tangled her fingers in Ghost's fur. Softly, her face pressed against Ghost, she declared, “I will kill them all.”
Life on the Wall was even harsher than Myrcella had imagined it to be. She heard the stories about the Night's Watch as a child, listened to Old Nan's yarns about the monsters beyond the ice, about giants and shadowcats and white walkers; the men of the Night's Watch were the true protectors of the realm, she had heard it said. Jon never spoke about the Wall when he came to Winterfell, and Myrcella thought it was like the stories said: brave men fighting back wildings and keeping everyone safe.
The reality was vastly different. Beyond a handful of men, most were criminals or dishonorable men, men who watched her with rape in their eyes, men who made her skin crawl. Sam assured her no one would touch her, but Myrcella doubted these men would care if they broke Lord Commander Mormont's order to leave her untouched. The Wall was a cold, hard place, and most men were not there voluntarily, had not wanted to swear off lying with a woman. When she confessed her fear to Jon, he gave her a dagger to keep on her person.
Her days were usually spent with Sam Tarly, pouring over his books. His last steward died of a fever, and there were few men on the Wall who knew their letters; the first week of her time there, Sam blushed every time he looked at her, sputtering and stammering, unsure how to refer to her. There was nothing she hated more than to hear “Your Grace,” to be referred to as a queen to a fallen king; the Old Bear would not allow the men to call her by name, biting out reminders she was a lady. The day someone called her “the Widow Stark,” Myrcella cried; the day one of the men referred to her as “Lord Snow's spearwife,” Jon had to be restrained to keep from killing him.
Commander Mormont invited her to dine with him at the start of her third month on the Wall. There were no gowns on the Wall; she was outfitted in the smallest men's clothing Jon could find. She looked ridiculous, especially with furs and a black cloak around her shoulders, but Jeor Mormont did not comment on that or her tangled hair; instead he pulled out a chair at his table as if they were at court, as polite as could be.
They were almost finished with their meal when Mormont said, “There are details which need to be discussed, Your Grace.”
“May I speak plainly?” When Myrcella nodded, he stated, “The Wall is no place for a woman, especially a woman whose birth is as noble as yours. While my men and I were happy to offer you assistance as we would any member of the realm who would require it, the Night's Watch takes no part.”
“I understand that, ser.”
“Then you must understand that your very presence here is a distraction and a liability.” His face softening, he said, “What has happened to your family is awful, my lady, and I am sorry for that. The Starks were good men, fair and honorable, and there deaths are a loss to all. But you cannot remain here.”
Throat tightening, she murmured, “I have nowhere else to go, Lord Commander.”
“Jon Snow tells me you have a good-sister on Bear Island. A ship can take you from Eastwatch-by-the-Sea - “
“Have you heard word about the war?” she interrupted, hope twisting painfully in her chest. “The Northern forces - “
“We take no part,” the Old Bear reminded her.
Myrcella sighed, staring down at her hands. She understood the truth in Mormont's words; the men were starting to resent her presence, some of them going so far as to say vile things to her when Jon or Mormont were out of earshot. When he was not serving the Lord Commander or training in the yard, Jon spent the majority of his time with her, telling her stories of all the things he had seen beyond the Wall or adventures he had with Robb as children. Once he took her to the top of the Wall, letting her stare out at the snowy nothingness, balanced on the edge of the world. The tears froze to her cheeks as quickly as they fell, and, when Jon took her hand, she saw tears frozen on his own face; in that moment he was only her good-brother, not Lord Snow of the Night's Watch.
Jon Snow was the only Stark left, and Myrcella could not stomach the idea of having to leave him too.
“When will I be leaving?”
“Tomorrow Jon will escort you to Eastwatch. A trade ship will take you South. It would be best for you to try to disguise yourself. You do have the Lannister look, and a man would gladly hand you over to your brother for a hearty reward.”
Myrcella shivered at the idea. “How would you suggest?”
“Maester Samwell will help you cut and dye your hair tonight. You will never be able to pass as a man, but mayhaps we can convince those who see you that you are a serving girl or a war wife.” His face was unbearably kind, and she hated him for it. “I am sorry, Your Grace.”
She got stiffly to her feet, bitterness and hatred brewing in her stomach. The voice which came out of her mouth was not her own, was another queen's from another life. “And what a comfort that shall be to me.”
Sam's hands shook as he lopped off her long curls, the locks falling to the cold floor in a golden snow. She willed herself not to cry as Sam's uncertain hands worked, forcing herself not to remember how many times Robb's hands slid into her hair, how often he insisted on being the one to take down her hair; the Young Wolf was dead, his direwolf with him, and now it was time for his bride to die as well.
The dye made her hair a mixture of brown and red, the color patchy in places; she thought of Steffon and Rickard with their auburn-tinted dark hair, of Joanna's Tully red hair, and forced Sam to add more dye until her hair was as dark as Jon Snow's. In her men's clothing, her hair chopped to her chin, she bore more of a resemblance to Arya Stark or Asha Greyjoy than she did Cersei Lannister.
“I do not believe anyone would recognize you,” Sam offered when they finished, obviously hoping this was what she wanted to hear.
There is no one left to recognize me. “Thank you, Sam.”
The two blows of the horn which signaled wildings split the silence, and Myrcella instantly saw the fear in Sam's eyes as he hurried to his place, ordering her to stay in her room. She heard the shouts of the men, the pounding of hooves, and her fear only increased when she remembered that Jon rode with a handful of men earlier in the day to treat with a man called Craster.
Myrcella could not be sure how long she was trapped in her chamber before the noises abated, before peace fell again. She ran towards the yard when the silence fell, needing to make sure the few friends she had left – Jon, Sam, Pyp, Grenn, even Dolorous Edd – were still left alive. Sam was helping a man with an arrow through his leg when Myrcella caught sight of Ghost; a moment later a large man rushed through the gate, a still man slung over his shoulder. If it were not for the familiar sight of a Valyrian sword with a wolf's head on the man's back, Myrcella could not have known the bloody mess of a man was Jon Snow.
The man laid Jon upon the ground, Sam and Lord Commander Mormont bending over him; Myrcella saw there were a handful of arrows in his body, his throat partially opened. Even before Commander Mormont declared, “And now his watch has ended,” Myrcella knew Jon Snow was dead.
Sam watched her as she bent at Jon's side, using the edge of her cloak to wipe the blood from his handsome, Stark face; Ghost stretched out beside him, his head upon his chest, and Myrcella thought of Grey Wind, fallen in the Twins alongside Robb, and she wondered if it would have been a sweeter fate for the white direwolf to have died with Jon rather than be left behind.
Nothing is so cruel as to be left behind.
The pyre the men hastily built, terror in their eyes at the idea their brothers would rise against with blackened hands and blue eyes, was large enough to bear the weight of the dead men. She watched as Mormont removed Longclaw from Jon's back, cradling the sword as if it were precious, and Myrcella idly recalled hearing the story of the blade during one of Jon's visits, about how the blade once belonged to Jorah Mormont before he was exiled for slaving. The Lord Commander loved Jon Snow like his own blood, and, if her heart was not frozen, she would feel sympathy for the Old Bear.
The heat of the fire against her face made Myrcella look away, closing her eyes even as she clutched Ghost's fur. Many of the men walked away, but Sam remained as well as Jon's true friends on the Wall, the ones he called his brothers. Even as night fell, Myrcella did not move, the wind rising and cutting; she sank to the ground, Ghost curling around her body, and waited until the last of the embers died. She had not been there when Robb was murdered by the Freys; she would not leave his best loved brother to burn in the darkness alone.
The moon hung high and swollen when Myrcella saw the movement in the pyre. For a moment she thought her eyes were simply tricking her, but then she saw it again, someone rising in the flames. Before she could even say a word, Pyp gasped, “Seven save us!” and Grenn was running to get the Lord Commander. By the time the Old Bear reached them, Myrcella knew it was a person inside the flames, walking towards the assembly.
Sam shook his head. “Fire kills them, remember?”
The man stumbled out of the flames, nude, his hair burned away but skin untouched. His hands were still white, his eyes still grey, but his wounds were now healed, his past scars gone. Ghost ran to him, pressing his head against his legs, and Jon Snow bent, accepting his wolf's affections.
“No man could have survived that fire,” Dolorous Edd declared. “Fire burns everything.”
Myrcella felt hysterical laughter building in her chest as she recalled Arianne's tales of Daenerys Targaryen, the Unburnt. “Not dragons.”
The ship Lord Commander Mormont arranged them passage on was called Nymeria's Wrath, but it was nothing like the ships Myrcella remembered from her childhood. It hardly looked seaworthy, let alone wrathful, but Mormont swore the traders who sailed it were honest folk who would get her and Jon Snow to the South. Myrcella had expected Jon to remain on the Wall, to retake his vows when he emerged from the flames, but his brothers in black did not want him anymore, called him unnatural and cursed.
“Your watch has ended, Jon Snow,” the Old Bear had said, handing him Longclaw once again. “And your place is not with the Watch, not anymore.”
Myrcella knew it hurt Jon to leave his friends, to leave his duty, but she was selfishly grateful for the men's disavowal of Eddard Stark's bastard. She felt much safer with Jon and Ghost at her side.
It was Ghost more than anything which nearly ended their trip before it began. Nymeria's captain was an older man, north of fifty if Myrcella had to guess, and his face was heavily lined. He took one look at Ghost, at his overwhelming size and the fire in his eyes, and started to shake his head, declaring he wasn't taking “no cursed beast” on his ship. It had taken the few dragons they had to buy Ghost's passage, and Jon made sure to keep his cloak tightly pulled so as not to let the sailors see he had Valyrian steel on his back. They were passing themselves off as Jon and Joanna Snow of Last Hearth, a sellsword and his wife, and Longclaw would send all their lies tumbling down around them.
The cabin they were given was hardly larger than a privy, only enough room for a cot nailed to the walls and to stand. Ghost whined when he first saw it, curling pitifully in front of the door as she and Jon awkwardly arranged themselves, trying to make it so they did not touch. Jon's breathing sounded so loud in the enclosed space, louder than the pounding of blood in her ears as she faced the wall, her fallen husband's bastard brother at her back.
It was not until the cabin was black Jon finally spoke, his voice soft with a rasp. “Do you honestly believe I have Targaryen blood?”
“The only person I have ever heard survive being burnt was Daenerys Targaryen,” she answered. “And you were dead, Jon. The fire brought you back.”
“Mayhaps it was wilding sorcery.”
She scoffed. “Why would the wildings go to all the trouble of killing you only to bring you back through fire?” Trying to force her voice kinder, she continued, “And Robb told me you did not know your mother, that it was a secret Eddard kept.”
“The only Targaryen woman alive when I was born was Queen Rhaella, and she was on Dragonstone giving birth to Daenerys,” Jon countered. “I cannot be born of a Targaryen.”
“Not a Targaryen woman.” Moving onto her side to face him, Myrcella sighed, watching as Jon shifted his body to see her as well. “You are a Stark; you have the look as Arya did, as my boys do. But what if...”
“What if what?”
“Rhaegar Targaryen took your aunt Lyanna.”
The words hung between them, heavy and heartbreaking, and Myrcella wished she could take them back, that she had never given voice to her thoughts. After several minutes of seemingly endless quiet, Jon confessed, “For as much as I loved Robb, I was always jealous. Ned Stark never loved me differently, never loved me less, but I could see the way Catelyn looked at me, how she hated me. All I ever wanted was my mother.”
“Jon - “
“I asked my uncle Benjen once if he knew who my mother was, and he said it was some lady from Dorne, Ser Arthur Dayne's sister. He said she was beautiful and funny, and she leaped from Starfall after her brother's death.” Swallowing audibly, he choked out, “I hated both of them so much: Ned for slaying Arthur Dayne, Ashara Dayne for choosing death over me, both of them for lying together and even making me.”
“Ned Stark loved you,” Myrcella stated with certainty. “He loved you as well as any father could.”
She saw the shimmer of tears in his eyes. “If Lyanna Stark was my mother, if Rhaegar Targaryen was my father...”
“Then you have a claim to Winterfell and even the Iron Throne.”
Jon shook his head minutely. “A bastard is still a bastard, no matter how royal my blood may be. And I have no desire to sit on a throne. I only want...” His voice hardened, sounding remarkably like Eddard Stark had the day Roose Bolton came to Winterfell. “I will avenge Robb and Eddard and everyone else who perished because of Joffrey. I'll bend the knee to the Dragon Queen, I'll ride a bloody dragon if she asks it of me, but Winterfell will belong to your sons, to Robb's sons.”
“There must always be a Stark in Winterfell,” she murmured, remembering Robb's impassioned words at Riverrun. As Jon settled his body back upon his pillow, Myrcella announced, “I will do whatever is needed for that to happen.”
When Myrcella awoke at first light, Jon was gone but Ghost remained, watching her with his red eyes. Pushing herself into a sitting position, she took a breath, gathered her strength, and went out to face her first day as Joanna Snow.
Myrcella did not like the sea.
It took weeks before she was able to walk the deck without tumbling, without grasping the rails to keep from being tossed about; her stomach was more uneasy than when she swelled with her children. Jon spent his days earning their keep by assisting the short-handed captain, but the men rarely acknowledged her except to reiterate it was poor luck to have a woman on a ship. She wondered what they would think of Asha Greyjoy and her fleet, but she was supposed to be a common woman, and common women knew nothing of the Queen on the Seastone Chair.
Most of her time was spent in the cabin with Ghost, talking to the wolf the way she once spoke to Grey Wind; Jon teased her about it when his mood was good, ruffling Ghost's ears as he asked if Ghost was a good conversationalist. The work on the ship was taxing, and Jon was often exhausted when he'd return to the cabin. On the days when the winds were strong and the sea smooth, Jon was in a better mood, telling stories of his time on the Wall and asking her for stories in kind; when they'd take meals with the crew on those good days, Myrcella would sit closely to Jon, acting as husband and wife like a mummer's farce. Sometimes she caught herself resting her head against Jon's shoulder even when the crew was not watching, and it never failed to make her feel overwhelmingly guilty.
It had been nine months since Robb rode South to his doom, three months since Winterfell was put to sword, an innumerable amount of weeks since leaving port at Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. Myrcella lost track of the days, of what month they were in; she lost track of everything but the sea and Jon and Ghost.
“We'll be landing in the Riverlands in a fortnight,” Jon told her one evening as she stood upon the deck, staring up at the stars. “Once we reach the Kingsroad, we can ride for Riverrun. The captain said the direwolf still flies above it, that it's still held by the Tullys.”
“And what of our family?”
Jon lifted the skin of wine in his hand, passing it to her to drink before answering. “Robb was slain at the Twins with many of his men, as we already knew. Bran and the Reeds continue to hold the Neck. He says Sansa and her babe disappeared at the start of the war, but we know where she is.”
“Arya and Rickon?”
A smile tugged at the side of his mouth. “According to Jakob Twelvetoes, the She-Wolf rides with a band of men, prowling the lands and upsetting King Joffrey at every turn. They speak of her as if she is already a legend; apparently there are songs about her.”
Myrcella smiled. “Of course there are.”
Sobering, he admitted, “I have not heard talk of Rickon. I am sure he is at Riverrun with Edmure.”
“The Dragon Queen?”
“Has not moved from Dragonstone since landing. They say she's gathered tens of thousands of men, including Dothraki screamers. Some sailors say they have seen her dragons flying above the island, but she has not set the Crownlands on fire.” Jon stared out into the black. “They think she is biding her time, that something large must be building.”
“And I am sure my brother is going even madder trying to figure out what it is.”
“Joffrey could not take Dragonstone, not with 10,000 Dothraki in her forces.”
“Joffrey could not wipe his ass with 10,000 hands,” she replied, earning a short bark of laughter. Sobering, she asked, “Was there any word about my children? Did they escape from Winterfell?”
“They say no one escaped Winterfell, but that means nothing.” Jon smiled kindly, gently cupping her chin. “After all, they told me you are dead.”
“Some days I fear I am,” she admitted. “Myrcella Stark died at Winterfell.” She touched her choppy, dark hair. “I am Joanna Snow now. Mayhaps it would be better if I remained gone.”
“Not better for Steffon or for Rickard,” Jon argued fiercely. “No matter what else you have lost, you have two sons who are safe and being held for your return. Steffon will be the King in the North with Rickard as his Hand; you know this to be true.”
“I know nothing, Jon Snow.”
By the time they reached Riverrun, Myrcella had forgotten what it felt like to be in a place she knew. The ride from the coast had been slow moving, especially with she and Jon having to share a horse, and their money was gone five days before reaching Edmure Tully's castle. It was not nearly as cold in the Riverlands as it had been on her trek to the Wall, but Myrcella still could not remember the last time she was warm; they ate the last of their salted beef and hard bread two days before arriving, and, when Myrcella saw the castle's entrance, she nearly wept with just the idea of food and a hot bath.
“I am going to remain in the bath for a week,” Myrcella said through chattering teeth as Jon urged the horse towards the guards who would let them pass.
“I shall eat an entire roast pig myself,” Jon vowed, smiling through chapped lips. “And I will feed Ghost the bones.”
Myrcella did not recognize the men at the gates; they wore Tully colors and looked to be of an age with Rickon. They eyed Ghost distrustfully, and it made Myrcella want to smile; the men in the North were used to the Stark direwolves, but the Southron men always gripped their swords and bows a bit tighter when they came into view.
“We don't take no beggars, so move along!” one of the guardsmen said.
“We are no beggars,” Jon objected. “My name is Jon Snow; I am the natural son of King Eddard Stark and I have come to return the Queen in the North to her people.”
The fat guard scoffed. “Everyone in the Seven Kingdoms knows the Queen in the North is Jeyne Westerling, and she's inside the castle with King Robb, so best keep moving!”
Myrcella had never known it was possible for a heart to mend itself and break again in the same breath. Robb was alive and he had taken another woman for his queen. The image of Jeyne Westerling filled her head, her dark hair and olive skin, her tall, lithe body so different from Myrcella's own, and bile stung her throat. Robb had thought she perished in the North, and already he had wed another.
I cannot breathe.
“I am still King Robb's brother, and I demand - “
Jon's words were drowned out by the pounding of hooves. Myrcella lifted her head to see men in Stark colors approaching the castle, and a wild flutter of relief roused her blood as Theon Greyjoy came into sight. He slowed his horse - Smiler, Myrcella remembered him calling it – and she could see his familiar cocky smile even through the falling snow.
“Snow! Don't tell me after all these years you've decided to break your vows!” When Jon did not reply, Theon quipped, “And you've even brought yourself a wilding bride. What should we call your spearwife?”
Pushing her hood back, glaring at her old friend with Lannister eyes, she retorted, “I do not care what you call me, but you should do so from your knee.”
Theon's eyes widened in shock before hoarsely ordering the guards, “Open the gates.”
Myrcella remembered her last stay at Riverrun, remembered how it bustled with activity, the people smiling and happy; war had come to the Riverlands, and the folk of Riverrun showed it. She could smell horses strongly, undoubtedly the result of the men resting behind the walls, and Myrcella saw people looking at her in confusion. The last time she had glimpsed her own reflection, Myrcella barely recognized herself; her hair had grown since Sam's initial haircut, her curls a now two-toned mess which fell just beneath her chin. Her clothing was ill-fitting and the furs around her shoulders were from the Wall, the shiny pelts of shadowcats; it had been weeks since her last bath, and Myrcella could feel the sweat and dirt crusted on her skin.
She no more looked like Myrcella Stark than she did Cersei Lannister.
Jon helped her from their exhausted horse, Theon steadying her other arm; she could see the disbelief in Theon's eyes, his cautious optimism, and it made her heart ache.
“It is me, Theon.”
He nodded hurriedly. “I never doubted it.”
Jon kept hold of her elbow as Theon hurried them towards the dining hall, and she was certain Jon could feel how hard her body was shaking. As mouthwatering as the scents of the food were, all Myrcella could think about were the guard's words, how Jeyne Westerling had taken her place at Robb's side, how Jeyne was his queen.
Theon pushed open the doors of the dining hall, and Myrcella nearly lost her footing at the smell of the food, at the sight of the Westerlings sitting at Robb's right hand, at the familiar faces of the men and women she thought were lost to her forever.
Hearing Robb cry Jon's name made tears swim in Myrcella's eyes. How many times had she prayed to every God she knew for the chance to hear Robb's voice again, to see his smile and feel his touch? Though little more than a year had passed, Robb appeared to have aged; lines now bracketed his blue eyes and his red beard was no longer neatly trimmed but thicker, reminding her of King Robert's. There was a weariness in his body now, and even the grin he bestowed upon his brother did not hide it.
Jeyne Westerling wore a purple dress of thick wool, the kind of dress every woman needed during the winter; her dark hair was carefully gathered in an elaborate updo, hairpins with pearls holding it in place. It was not until she rose with Robb to greet Jon that Myrcella noticed the swell of her belly, and it took every bit of strength in her body not to collapse right then and there.
He does not recognize me, she realized as Robb embraced Jon, thumping him on the back. Jeyne politely offered her hand, and no one had even acknowledged her. Theon looked as if he was about to draw Robb's attention when suddenly Grey Wind was rushing towards her, a broken leather strap dangling from his neck from where he broke his stays. The direwolf took her down at the knees, sending Myrcella onto her backside, but the sting of it didn't matter as Grey Wind mauled her with his tongue, yipping in excitement like a common dog.
“Grey Wind!” Robb snapped, but the direwolf did not listen, continuing his extensive tongue bath of her face. Myrcella could not help but laugh as Grey Wind began to tug at her shadowcat cloak, and, when Robb grabbed Grey Wind's broken leash, she found herself eye-to-eye with her husband.
Robb froze, a complicated mixture of emotions dancing over his face, before managing, “Myrcella?”
“Robb,” she choked out before the tears took her, flinging her arms around his neck, holding him so tightly she swore she would never let go again.
As Robb pressed his face into her shoulder, his tears hot against her skin, Myrcella found herself staring at Jeyne Westerling, one hand pressed protectively over the swell of her stomach, and Myrcella knew nothing was ever going to be the same ever again.
Chapter 5: The Bride of Winter
Lady Catelyn once told Myrcella that, if she did not know better, she would have sworn Myrcella was as Northern as her husband.
“The men respect you in a way they never have me,” the older woman said as she brushed Myrcella's hair with gentle hands. “I have always been Ned's Southron wife but you, you they speak to as if you have always been at Winterfell. They would fight each other to the death for a single smile from you, and that is the greatest gift a lady can have, especially a Lady of Winterfell.”
At the time, Myrcella was unbelievably flattered. She was still young then, Brynden still in her belly, and Lady Catelyn's words were sustenance to a girl starving for a mother. Cersei always told her it was wrong to become too close to your bannermen, that a lady was always to be seen but only heard when asked to speak and, even then, only to agree with her lord husband. Myrcella used to be certain her mother was wrong; there was nothing Myrcella enjoyed more than to be greeted enthusiastically by Robb's men, to be called “Princess Stark” by the Greatjon or teased by Theon.
Now the men looked at her with pity in their eyes if they looked at her at all. She made them uncomfortable just by existing; to be too kind to her was to risk upsetting Queen Jeyne, and none of the men knew which queen to keep happy. From the moment she pulled away from Robb in the dining hall, Jeyne Westerling at his back, Myrcella knew she could not act the way she once did; neither the maester or the septon knew what to do with Robb Stark and his two wives, one wed before the heart tree, the other sworn loyalty in a sept in the Crag. Robb did not understand any better than the learned men, and so Myrcella made the decision for him.
Whether it killed her or not, Jeyne Westerling had married Robb before the Seven; she carried his child. Myrcella remembered a conversation she had with Jon on Nymeria's Wrath, remembered how disgusted he was at the idea of giving a child a bastard's name, and Myrcella would not force Jeyne's child to bear the name “Snow.” No, her child would be a Stark the same as Myrcella's own children, and she could not bring herself to hate the babe in Jeyne's belly no matter how much she hated the Westerlings.
And, oh, did she hate the Westerlings, Lady Westerling in particular. The entire Westerling family was at Riverrun, even Elenya whose husband had perished at the Red Wedding alongside Rickon and Shaggydog. Most of the time they rarely acknowledged Myrcella; she worked carefully to make sure her path rarely crossed Jeyne and her family, but, when it did, the courtly manners Cersei Lannister and Catelyn Stark taught her were always firmly in place. Lord Westerling and his sons were always unfailingly polite if somewhat awkward; Elenya wore a near constant expression for grief, though Myrcella did not know if it was for her husband or for Rickon. Jeyne was always quiet, always unsure, her eyes tracking Myrcella's movements the way Myrcella's eyes tracked hers; she felt her blood boil when she'd see Jeyne press a soft kiss to Robb's brow, when she'd ask Robb to tie up Grey Wind because he scared her family. Every time Myrcella saw the direwolf chained, she would loose him, angry at the Westerlings and angrier still at Robb; her boys used to climb upon Grey Wind's back, clutching his fur and riding him as if he was a pony, and never once had the wolf even growled in displeasure.
But Lady Westerling, she was the absolute worst. Myrcella remembered meeting Sybell Spicer at Tommen's wedding, and even then she had not cared for the woman, one of the few opinions Myrcella ever shared with her mother. Cersei had no tolerance for Sybell, whose family was both foreign and low-born, and the woman was not subtle in her schemes; before Elenya's pregnancy became common knowledge, Sybell had tried her damnedest to secure one of Myrcella's Lannister cousins for Jeyne, and Tywin refused. Myrcella was certain Sybell was glad of the slight now; it had turned her daughter into a queen.
And Sybell did not want anything to get in the way of her daughter's reign, especially troublesome first wives who rose from the dead. Though never overtly rude, Sybell constantly made comments in Myrcella's presence praising Jeyne and the child she carried, referring to the babe as “the little prince” and “the future king.” It took everything within Myrcella to not snap back, to remind the woman there were three sons which came before Jeyne's, three with a better claim, but she did not; life was difficult enough without bickering with Sybell.
A new rhythm to life had to be found, and Myrcella found it; no matter how great her grief was when she woke, she reminded herself that her children were safe in the Vale, the Neck, and at Deepwood Motte, that Robb was alive and well, that Joffrey could not touch her. If she could survive the siege of Winterfell, the trek to the Wall, life on the Wall, the warmth of Riverrun was beyond tolerable.
Lady Roslin helped her wash the dye from her hair, gave her gowns to wear until new gowns could be made for her; the first day the maids helped to lace her into the fine green gown, her wild curls fastened down with jeweled pins, Myrcella caught sight of her reflection and began to cry. She looked so much like the lady she used to be and yet not like herself at all, and the maids all clucked, unsure how to respond. It took several minutes before Myrcella could pull herself together, before she could face the men and women of Riverrun.
She was born a princess long before she wed a king, and it was Cersei Lannister's voice in her head as she went to break her fast with the rest of the castle.
”You are a Lannister of Casterly Rock. We do not weep or stumble; we stare our enemies in their eyes and we smile.”
If she was going to survive at Riverrun, she would need to be more of a Lannister than had ever been.
The only men who treated her as they ever had were Theon and Jon; even Edmure Tully could hardly bear to meet her gaze, pity heavy in his eyes. Theon still made japes to her, stealing bits of bacon from her plate at breakfast, calling her “spearwife” when he saw the dragonglass dagger Jon gave her on the Wall; Jon made sure to sit beside her at meals, to leave Ghost for her when he was in councils with Robb, and Myrcella had never loved Jon Snow more than the day he brought her a letter sealed with the mark of the Eyrie, Steffon's uneven hand telling her how much he missed her and his siblings, how he hoped he could see her soon.
They are not babies anymore, Myrcella realized as she folded the letter closed, setting it on her desk. It has been nearly one-and-a-half years since I have seen Steffon or Rickard, almost eight moons since I have seen Brynden or the girls. The girls would not even know me to see me.
The thought drove Myrcella to the godswood, sinking to her knees before the heart tree as she cried, her tears mingling with prayers, pleading with the Old Gods to keep her children safe, to let them know how much they were loved and how desperately their mother wanted to be reunited with them. Myrcella prayed as she had never prayed before, her knees aching against the cold ground, but she did not rise, did not do anything but pray to the Gods she was not even sure listened.
The crackle of branches reached her eyes only a moment before Robb stepped into the clearing, stilling with surprise. Embarrassed, face swollen and slick with her tears, Myrcella tried to hurry to her feet only to stumble, her legs numb; her palms slammed into the ground painfully but then Robb was there, pulling her to her feet, turning over her hands to assess the damage.
“I am fine,” she quickly assured hm, trying to pull back, her body aching at his gentle touch, but Robb held firm with a hand upon her elbow.
“You do not look fine,” he argued, carefully wiping her wet face with his warm gloves. “You look as if you will never smile again.”
“Steffon wrote me,” she offered, trying not to press herself into Robb's arms as she so desperately wanted. “I just...I miss our children.”
Robb nodded solemnly. “As do I. I think of the last time we were all together at Greywater Watch, when you brought all the children to our bed. It was the most uncomfortable night of sleep in my life, but all of you looked so peaceful when I woke.”
“I think of that night often as well.” Dropping her gaze, unable to continue to meet Robb's blue eyes without confessing every secret in her heart, she blurted out, “Which is why I wish to join our children in the North.”
“Jon tells me Alysane Mormont is setting sail to return to Bear Island to join with your forces in the North to take back Winterfell. Once on Bear Island, I could easily reach Deepwood Motte with your men.” Robb opened his mouth to reply but Myrcella rushed on, “The last memory I have of Brynden and our girls is them screaming, reaching for me while Ser Rodrik pulled me away. I thought they were dead, Robb, and the only thing I want in the world is to hold them again.”
Face tightening with tension, Robb shook his head, his voice tight. “Ask me for anything, and I will gladly give it but not this, my lady.”
“I do not belong here.”
“That is not true.”
“My place is with our children,” she insisted.
“Your place is with me!”
Jerking out of his arms, needing the distance between them to remain strong, Myrcella shook her head. “No, that is not my place anymore. Jeyne's place is with you. And it is cruel of you to ask me to stay and face that truth every day.”
Frustration swelled in his eyes. “What would you have me do, Myrcella? Tell me and I will do it! You say you do not want me to have the septon put aside my marriage, but you are angry I will not! What would you have - “
“I would have had you honor our marriage!” she shouted, her anger finally bursting. “I would have had you wait until you thought my body was cold before you climbed atop Jeyne Westerling! I would have had you show my memory the respect I showed yours!” Smacking away his hands when he reached for her, Myrcella rushed on, “Do you think I could not have found some man to warm my bed? Do you think there was not a single man between here and the Wall that would have been grateful to spend the night between my thighs?”
“Stop,” Robb ordered, his voice tight with disgust at just the idea of what Myrcella was suggesting.
She had never wanted to hurt Robb, had never deliberately said anything to wound him, but the pain was too sharp, too raw; Myrcella wanted him to ache the way she did. “I spent three moons sharing a bed with your brother, who mourned you as well as I did. Mayhaps we both could have found some comfort on that ship.”
“Why, I could go find Theon right now - “
Myrcella gasped as Robb grabbed her upper arms, jerking her body towards his; it did not hurt but it certainly startled her. Robb had never touched her with anything but tenderness, and Myrcella wondered if she had pushed him too far, if he was not the man she remembered. She could still hear the echoes of her father's hand against her mother's cheek, and Myrcella suddenly remembered a bit of advice Cersei gave her before departing from Winterfell after her wedding.
”Do not love your husband too much, Myrcella. When he disappoints you – and he will, for he is a man – it will devastate you all the more.”
But Robb did not shout or dictate; he did not shake her or strike her. Instead he slid his hands up, cupping her face between his palms, bringing her face close enough to kiss. “I wed you before the heart tree in front of our families and the Old Gods. I put four children in your belly and held you as they came into this world. Until the day I die, you are my wife.”
Myrcella shivered at his hot breath against her skin. When his mouth pressed against hers, hungry and desperate, she responded without thought, grasping his clothing, his hair, anything to get closer, to stay close. Robb groaned against her mouth, his hands sliding down her body to wrap around her back, pulling her even closer, and Myrcella felt the wetness start between her thighs, her nipples hardening beneath her shift.
“Cella,” he breathed, fisting the material of her skirts, beginning to raise them. It was only as the cold air hit her legs Myrcella snapped back to reality, twisting away from his familiar touch.
“No!” she gasped, pushing away his hands when he tried to pull her back. “No, Robb, I won't...We cannot...”
Robb panted as he ran his fingers through his hair; Myrcella could see his cock pressing hard against the front of his breeches, and she hated the flare of desire in her stomach. He was here and she could have him if she wanted, and, oh, did she want. Never had Myrcella wanted anything more than to let Robb take her, to have him claim her again.
But there was no honor in this, and Robb would regret it, burdened down by his conscience when his blood cooled, when Ned Stark's voice returned to his head.
“I love you,” Myrcella rasped, her voice trembling. “I have loved you since I was twelve-years-old, and I will love you until the day I die. But you made vows to Jeyne in the Sept and got a child on her as well, and that child deserves your name. It is an innocent, and I will not take from that child what I hope Jeyne Westerling will not take from mine.”
“Myrcella,” he began, voice thick with anguish.
She shook her head, holding up her hands, certain she could not bear to hear his words. “If you will not send me to our children, then I beg you to please leave me be. Do not come to me like this again.”
Robb said nothing, dropping his head as he managed half of a nod. Myrcella could not look at him as she fled the godswood, certain that, if she looked back, she would be lost.
They day Jeyne Westerling sent a request to Myrcella to dine, Myrcella was certain it was a mistake. Jeyne rarely even made eye contact with her, let alone initiated conversation; Elenya was Jeyne's constant companion as well as their eldest brother's wife, and Myrcella was certain Sybell impressed upon Jeyne how dangerous Myrcella could be to their situation.
“Mayhaps she only wants to be kind,” Jon suggested that afternoon as he polished Longclaw.
Myrcella, who sat upon his bed, scoffed. “Clearly you do not understand how ladies think. This,” she declared, holding up Jeyne's note, “is Sybell Spicer's way of finding out what my intentions are.”
Amusement tugged at Jon's features. “Why, I had no idea the dining plans of ladies were so intense. If she had sent you an invitation to breakfast, would you require a dagger?”
“I shall require a dagger in a moment,” she retorted, throwing a pillow at him.
Jon laughed, sheathing his sword. “I do not know what sorts of plans Lady Westerling has, but Jeyne is a sweet girl with a gentle heart. I cannot imagine she is luring you to the lion's den in order to plot an attack.”
“Of course not. I'm the lion, remember?” Flopping backwards like an over-dramatic child, Myrcella sighed, “I hate this. I want to climb into my bed, pull the furs over my head, and remain there until the world is right again.”
“A thoroughly mature plan.” Myrcella felt the mattress sag as Jon sat beside her. Rolling her head, she saw Jon's grey eyes alight with sympathy and affection. “You are the strongest person I have ever known; I would think after the siege, after making it to the Wall, after everything, Jeyne Westerling would be nothing at all.”
“I am tired of fighting.”
“Aren't we all?”
Myrcella thought of the first time she met Jon Snow, all those years ago; she remembered how pale his face was without his beard, how his smile was not as open and free as Robb's. They all had been children then, playing at adulthood, trying to act as they had been taught with no comprehension of what was to come. Now Jon's face was weathered from years upon the Wall, his beard dark and thick, his eyes always clear and heavy with all the words he never said. If she had not seen Jon Snow literally rise from the ash, Myrcella would never have doubted him to be Eddard Stark's son.
Pushing herself up, getting to her feet, Myrcella smiled down at Jon, brushing his dark hair off his forehead to bestow a kiss upon his brow, her closest friend now. Jon's hands settled on her hips naturally, and, when she pulled back, he returned her smile.
“It will get easier,” he stated, his voice so certain Myrcella almost believed him.
The door opened before she could reply, and Myrcella turned to see Robb standing in the doorway, his face as still as the statue of Baelor. Jon's hands instantly fell from her hips, and Myrcella knew how this must look, especially when she saw the anger start to flicker in Robb's handsome face. The urge to explain was strong, but Myrcella did not; she knew Jon would explain more than enough for the both of them, anything to appease his brother.
“I should dress for dinner,” she announced, smiling at the brothers placidly. As she moved to pass Robb, his hand caught her wrist, stilling her, and Myrcella waited, braced herself for whatever accusation he was about to make.
Instead he said, “You do not have to dine with Jeyne. I will give you leave.”
“It is fine,” she lied. “I do not mind.”
As her maids helped her dress, Myrcella realized she never lied to Robb until Jeyne Westerling.
Myrcella was genuinely surprised when she arrived at Jeyne's apartments to find she was the only guest for dinner, Elenya and her other companions sent away. Jeyne stood timidly near the table, the bulge of her babe somewhat hidden by the elaborate front of her soft yellow gown. The color did not suit her, giving her skin a sickly pallor; her hair was intricately done and a double-stranded rope of pearls hung around her throat. Jeyne Westerling certainly looked the part of a queen, far more than Myrcella did in her borrowed gown in Tully colors with her butchered hair.
But you are prettier than she is, a voice in her head which sounded remarkably like Cersei said, and of far nobler blood. You are younger and know Robb Stark better than she. This girl cannot compete with you.
Jeyne's hands shook as she gestured for Myrcella to sit, and it surprised her to notice how scared Robb's new bride was of her. It made the bitterness in her heart abate, at least, temporarily; having spent so much of her life in fear, Myrcella did not wish to terrorize her.
At first Jeyne only broached safe topics: asking her if she had ever spent time in the Westerlands at Casterly Rock, describing her time as a companion to Elaine Tarly while she and Tommen were at the Rock, her witnessing Tommen unseat a man in a joust held by Kevan Lannister to celebrate his son's wedding. Myrcella politely offered response, answering questions about the Red Keep, about the Wall, about the swordplay Jeyne had witnessed Myrcella take part in with Jon and Theon in the yard. If the circumstances were different, Myrcella suspected she would have liked Jeyne Westerling, and she hated that.
“I do not believe my family ever thanked you, but I wish to do so,” Jeyne said as lemon cakes were placed upon the table.
“For what you did for Elenya's child.” Jeyne took a sip of her sweet wine before continuing, “Elenya has always been a bit of a dreamer, and she adored Rickon Stark. When the child quickened, she had hoped Lord Stark would agree to a marriage, but...She was devastated when Father said she could not keep the babe, and I have heard it told you always treated the baby as your own. I wish to thank you for giving my niece a mother she might not otherwise have had.”
Lya's happy face filled Myrcella's mind. “She is my niece as well. Thanks are not necessary, but it is kind of you to offer them.”
Jeyne inhaled deeply before asking, “May I speak freely?”
“I would prefer it.”
“I wish you no ill will. If there had been even the thinnest of hope you were alive, I would never have gone to Robb.” She drew the corner of her lip between her teeth for a moment before continuing. “Robb had just taken the Crag when word of the siege reached him. I was there when Theon told him of his father's deaths, of...of your death, of your children's. I have never seen a man so broken. His sorrow was what kept him in the Westerlands, sending Rickon to the Twins in his place to treat with the Freys. When we heard of the Red Wedding, the guilt nearly crushed him. Not even word of your children's safety could bring him back. I went to him that night to offer support or comfort and...”
Myrcella did not need her to continue; the comforting she had done was what haunted Myrcella's nightmares. “And then he wed you?”
A blush bloomed high on her cheeks. “I was a maid, and he felt especially guilty in light of what had happened between Rickon and Elenya. He wed me in the sept the next day and brought us and our men to Riverrun.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Because I know how much he loved you, how much he loves you still.” Jeyne lifted her eyes, and Myrcella could see tears shining there. “I hear the men and the servants talk. They all tell tales of your marriage, how happy and in love you were. When the men thought you died, even the Greatjon mourned. I heard the toasts they gave in your honor. They called you Kingmaker and Princess Stark and half-a-hundred other names, and some of the fiercest men I've ever seen looked as if they might cry. They all love you still, and they hate me and my child for even existing.” Jeyne smiled mirthlessly. “Some of them even call me the Usurper.”
“If you tell Robb - “
“If I tell Robb, he will root every last one of them from the castle, but it will not change what people think.” Jeyne carefully wiped a stray tear. “I am the False Queen in the North, and no Northman will ever love me.”
“Robb does,” Myrcella could not help but snipe.
“Robb is...fond of me, I suppose. He...He treats me kindly and makes sure I am comfortable. But he does not smile or laugh with me; he does not come to my chamber but once a moon cycle.” Jeyne's blush deepened as she confessed, “I do my best to be pleasing but he always leaves after; we have not spent a night together since the first. Raynald says he has seen him go to the godswood after, but I do not know.”
“Jeyne - “
“Lady Roslin told me he shared your chamber,” Jeyne rushed on, words falling from her mouth in an avalanche. “She says Lord Edmure used to jape that he would get with child just from watching the two of you look at each other. She said Robb was always laughing with you, always pulling you into a corner to kiss you. I begged Roslin to tell me how you did it, and do you know what she told me? 'She existed,'” Jeyne answered without pausing for a response.
Unsure how to respond, Myrcella settled on, “I was with the Starks from the time I was eight. I was all he knew.”
Jeyne smiled thinly. “You are kind to lie.” She ghosted her hands over her stomach. “I shall have his child in two months, and I fear he will not love it the way he loves your children.”
“That is not true,” Myrcella argued. “Robb will love your child as well as he loves all our children, including Lya who has not a drop of his blood. The child is innocent.”
The tears rolled silently down her cheeks but Jeyne did not bother to bat them away this time. “I love him, Myrcella, and I want to be a good wife. I want desperately to make him happy. And you make him happy.”
“Jeyne - “
“My mother says I should demand he send you away somewhere, demand he officially put you aside. She says I cannot be queen, my child cannot be legitimate if you are here. When I even suggested it, Robb said he would not dishonor you that way. My mother says I am to be firm with you, to order you to stay far from him.”
“If that is what you want - “
“I want a happy husband,” Jeyne cut in, her voice more forceful than Myrcella had ever heard it, “and I want to be a good queen. I know it will make my mother wroth, but...I asked you here so I could beg your help.”
“I thought...if you could teach me...about the North and...and how to make Robb happy...”
It took a moment for Myrcella to puzzle out what precisely Jeyne Westerling was asking of her, the intent buried beneath her stammering and silences. When it struck her, hard as hammer to the chest, Myrcella could not catch her breath. Certain she was wrong, desperate to believe Robb's bride had not asked her what she thought she was being asked, Myrcella inquired, “Are you asking me how to pleasure Robb?”
“No, not just that,” Jeyne quickly tried to clarify. “While I wish to make him happy in that respect, I also wish to make him happy in all respects. I had hoped you could tell me how to make him laugh, how to make the men respect me, how to keep him in my chamber the way you kept him in yours.”
You cannot make a Northman do anything, you stupid girl. “I fear I would be a poor teacher. There are no tricks, Jeyne. As I said, I have spent more than half my life with the Starks, with Robb. When you have known him longer, it will come easier.”
Jeyne nodded somewhat shakily before venturing, “And the bedding? Is there something I can do that...that he likes?” When Myrcella said nothing, she explained, “My mother told me things to try, but nothing seems to move him. When I try harder, he seems embarrassed, tells me I do not have to do those things. I was a maid when I wed; I do not know what else to try.”
Myrcella felt nausea rising in her throat. “I do not feel comfortable discussing this.”
“Of course,” Jeyne immediately agreed. “I simply...If I cannot satisfy him, he will seek satisfaction elsewhere. And I...It would be less of a dishonor if he went to you rather than...If you did not swell, I could pretend it is not...” Jeyne did not finish the thought, her cheek burning so brightly red, but Myrcella understood precisely what she was saying, and she had never felt so humiliated in her life.
Myrcella did not hear the rest of the conversation, smiling when required and answering if necessary. By the time she left Jeyne Westerling's apartments, she felt more numb than she had been in the forests before the Wall, her body moving without registering anything. She managed to descend the stairs, determined to make it back to her own chamber on the other side of the castle, when Robb, Theon, and Jon crossed her path, laughing at something. When Theon spotted her, he grinned, holding out a skin of wine.
“My favorite spearwife! How was your dinner?”
Myrcella took the skin, swallowing heavy and fast, taking in as much wine as she could as quickly as possible. Wiping her mouth, she thrust the skin back to him. “Wonderful, thank you.”
“Did something happen?” Robb asked, his brow furrowed in concern.
She looked at him, her husband who was not her husband, the only man she had ever loved, and suddenly the weight of the past few months came down upon her: Sybell Spicer's pointed comments, the tension from men who once greeted her freely, Jeyne Westerling's presence, the child in Jeyne's belly. Myrcella did not think about what she did next, so blinded by the fury in her broken heart she could not bear it any longer.
She shoved at Robb's chest as hard as she could, catching him off-guard, forcing him to stumble backwards as she continued to push, shouting, “I hate you! I hate you! I wish I had never met you, let alone wed you! I hate that I ever bore your children! You are worse than Joffrey has ever been for at least he is honest in the sort of man he is!”
Arms encircled her from behind – Theon or Jon, she wasn't sure – but still she fought, trying to get to Robb, who looked as hurt as she had ever seen him. “I should never have fought so hard to return to you! I should have died in the snow with Rodrik! It would have been a kinder end than this!”
The words seemed to spur Robb into action as he shouted in return, “How can you say that?! How can you even think it?!”
Myrcella pushed hard at the arms around her, Theon's reluctantly releasing her, but she did not step forward, did not try to strike Robb again. Instead she spat, “You will happy to know your wife has given you leave to fuck me, provided you do not get a child on me. I do not know the cost of a whore, but I imagine you should pay me more, seeing as how I am a princess.”
The color drained from Robb's face at her words, and she could feel both Theon and Jon shift in discomfort. Good, she thought uncharitably. I hope they all choke on their Northern honor.
“Myrcella - “
She did not wait to hear Robb's words, pushing past him, her body quaking with rage as tears streaked her face. By the time she reached her chambers, Myrcella could barely see through her tears, slamming the door with all of her strength. Flinging herself upon the bed, Myrcella pushed her face into the pillows and screamed.
Screamed for Eddard, for Rickon, for her children, screamed until there was not air left in her lungs, and only then did she let sleep take her.
At first light, Robb came to her room, a letter in his hand. “Asha Greyjoy is willing to send a ship to meet you at the Crag to take you to Deepwood Motte if you still wish to go.”
Robb nodded mutely, handing her the letter with the broken seal of the Iron Isles. “Theon and Jon will ride with you as well twenty of my men. The Westerlands are still head by your grandfather, and it is not safe.”
He was almost out of her chamber when Myrcella cried, “Wait, please!” When Robb complied, his face deceptively neutral, she sighed, “I did not meant the things I said last night. I do not – I could not regret everything, especially our children. I do not hate you, though, Gods know, it would be easier if I could.”
Robb closed the chamber door, rubbing absently at his too-long beard. At long last he said, “I was not built to be a king, not without you at my side. You made me King and I repaid you by giving your crown to another. The day I wed Jeyne in the sept was the day Arianne Martell withdrew Dornish forces from the Riverlands; it was also the day Highgarden and the Stormlands stopped even discussing joining us against Joffrey.”
“Robb - “
“The North and its allies may fight for me, but the South, it was going to fight for you, not a Westerling of the Crag.” He chuckled mirthlessly. “My mother said I lost the war the moment I said vows to Jeyne.”
“The war is not lost,” Myrcella objected.
“No,” he agreed, “but even when we win, it will not feel like winning.” Robb crossed to the window, staring out at the yard, his back to her. “My dreams are full of Winterfell, of our children playing, happy and safe. And then the dreams turn into nightmares as I imagine my father's end, what happened to our people, what happened to you. What good is a war if you lose everything you were fighting for?”
“Winterfell still stands, as do our children. I will write Arianne, write the Tyrells and Renly, and have them join their strengths to yours.” Myrcella moved to stand near him, his pain instinctively drawing her to offer comfort. “Winterfell was my home, and they drove me from it. They killed the people I loved as well, and I vowed I would kill them all. Lannisters always pay their debts.”
She could see his smile reflected in the window pane. “When have you ever behaved like a Lannister?”
“I plotted against the Iron Throne. That is a wholly Lannister trait. And the master-at-arms says I swing a sword well enough to make even the Kingslayer proud. At the rate I am going, I shall be shitting gold by my name day.”
Robb laughed, loud and free, and Myrcella felt the ice on her heart melt. Jeyne Westerling was right about one thing: Robb did not laugh anymore, not the way he used to when the world still made sense. The sound of it brought laughter to her lips, and soon they were both laughing, an edge of hysteria to them both. When it tapered off, Robb turned to face her, his eyes a little brighter, and Myrcella caught a glimpse of the man who had ridden to war a lifetime ago.
“If I begged you to stay, would you?”
“A king does not beg.”
“A man does.” Brushing her cheek with the backs of his fingers, he murmured, “Stay with me. I know it is selfish, the most selfish request I have ever made of you, but please stay. I have more need of you now than I ever have.”
“Robb, please - “
“How many times have you said I am hopeless at the politics of court? War, I understand, but you are better with people than anyone I know. You once yelled at me because I did not let you go to Renly, to do what you are best at; I am offering you that now. This war is as much yours as mine. It is the war which will secure the North for our children, for Steffon.”
Resting her hands upon his broad chest, she pointed out, “The Westerlings will never stand for it.”
“The Others can take Lord and Lady Westerling and their useless knights as well.” Slipping his arms around her waist, pressing his lips against her temple, he entreated, “Do not make me tell Asha to come. I will be better; I will make this better.”
She hated her traitorous body, the way it came alive at his touch, at the scent of him. Myrcella ached to press herself into his arms, to take his mouth, to agree to anything as long as he never stopped touching her; what was worse was the knowledge he would if only she asked.
“I will stay if you swear me a promise.”
Pulling back to look him in the eye, Myrcella ordered, “You swear to me that our sons will always come before the sons you have with Jeyne, that no matter what happens between us, they will still be your heirs.”
“I will swear it before the heart tree if you wish it. Steffon, Rickard, and Brynden will always comes first.” Cupping her face, tilting her head back so he could better look at her, he smiled warmly. “So you will stay?”
“On one more condition.”
She reached up and tugged on the ends of his beard. “Fix your beard. It looks ridiculous.”
Robb laughed heartily, pressing a kiss to her forehead. “As you wish.”
The things I do for love, Myrcella thought bitterly as she put on her gown, preparing to face the day once again.
Myrcella was in the yard practicing swords with Jon when Arya arrived at Riverrun, leaping from her horse before it had even fully stopped, rushing towards the two of them with the wildness which drove Lady Catelyn to distraction. Her embrace was vigorous, it sent both she and Arya to the snow, but Myrcella did not mind, her laughter mingling with Arya's as the snow soaked through their clothing.
“I bloody knew you got away!” Arya exclaimed as they untangled themselves, getting to their feet as Jon laughed. “I told Robb that if you made it to the godswood, you'd be fine! You've been in the North more than I have, but that fucking idiot wouldn't listen to me.”
“Arya,” Myrcella laughed with a shake of her head, wishing she could be half as bold as her good-sister.
“What? He is a fucking idiot, sticking his cock in a Westerling. You'd have thought he learned from Rickon.” Turning to Jon, grinning widely, she flung her arms around him. “And you! You get killed, come back to life with fire, and you don't even send a bloody raven? I should kill you again!”
Jon laughed, pressing a hard kiss to the crown of Arya's head. “And where would I have sent that raven? No one can ever find the She-Wolf.”
Arya rolled her eyes at the name before a mischievous grin crossed her face. “Well, the She-Wolf returns with food meant for Lannister men, gowns meant for the queen, and enough dragons to buy the Westerlands twice over. Just wait until my men get here.”
“I cannot believe you have men,” Jon said.
“I am two-and-twenty, dear brother, and a better blade than any man in Westeros, even your kingslaying uncle.” Flinging an arm around Myrcella's shoulder, she declared, “You must take me to our idiot king so I can be welcomed back properly and then we have much to discuss.”
Myrcella had always wanted sisters; as a child, it seemed to be the only silver lining of her betrothal, earning Sansa and Arya. While Myrcella liked sweet Sansa, it was Arya who amused, who spoke brashly and behaved even worse, who refused to practice deception or bend her knee because it was proper; even now Myrcella envied Arya, striding into the castle in her men's garb, her dark braid bouncing against her back, a sword on her hip. Men not only respected Arya, they followed her, and Myrcella wondered how Arya managed not to buckle under the weight of it all.
Arya marched boldly into the room where Robb was meeting with his advisers, including Edmure, Gawen Westerling and his sons; Myrcella tried to hesitate in the entryway, but Arya pulled her along, clearly uncaring about making anyone uncomfortable. Robb grinned at the sight of his sister, breaking off his sentence, to come around the table, embracing her tightly.
“I thought you were in the Reach.”
“And I have returned with food and gold.” Cocking her hip, Arya gestured to Myrcella, trying to make herself small against the wall. “And I think you owe me an apology.”
Robb managed to look abashed as he nodded. “Yes, I do.”
“I will not make you grovel in front of your men,” she declared with a teasing smile, “but I will not share Mace Tyrell's strongwine with you or his fruit.”
“But I am the king!” Robb mock-protested, his grin only growing.
“Only in the North,” she countered with a giggle, “and we are in the South.” Nodding towards Myrcella, she added, “Why, I think Myrcella has a more of a claim to my spoils than you. After all, she is still a princess of the Iron Throne. Tell me, good-sister: do you care for Dornish blood oranges?”
Myrcella grinned, her eyes briefly meeting Robb's, knowing they were his very favorite treat. “I adore them.”
Heat flared in Robb's eyes, and he caught the corner of his lip between his teeth; Myrcella felt her blood warm beneath his gaze, and, for a moment, it was as if the past few months had not happened. “You two are cruel. I should throw you both in cells.”
Arya laughed, her hand dropping to fondle the hilt of her sword. “You are more than welcome to try. Gendry and the men will be arriving soon, and they will need a great deal of assistance unloading everything. In the mean time, I am kidnapping your poor, forgotten wife until dinner is served.”
Myrcella cast a look over her shoulder as Arya dragged her from the room, and Robb winked, his grin positively sinful. It was easy to forget Jeyne Westerling lay abed upstairs, her stomach so swollen it hurt for her to walk, when he looked at her so.
Myrcella had just slipped into the steaming water of her bath when someone knocked on her chamber door. Not lifting her head from the rim of the tub, expecting it to be one of the servants delivering the stolen, altered gowns Arya promised her, Myrcella called for them to enter, keeping her eyes closed.
“You may put them on the bed.”
“My Gods, you're beautiful,” Robb breathed, startling Myrcella into sitting straight up, covering her breasts instinctively. Amusement filled his face as he set the collection of gowns upon her bed, his eyes never wandering from her body. “I've made love to you a thousand times, watched you nurse our children, and slept nude beside you every night for five years. We are past the point of modesty, are we not?”
Keeping her hands firmly in place, she retorted, “Yes, when I was your wife, we were far past that point. But as Sybell Spicer is so fond of reminding me: I am not your wife, and, as such, you are being incredibly inappropriate.”
Robb smirked. “I thought the idea of aggravating Sybell Spicer would appeal to you.”
She could not help but grin. “There are many things which appeal to me that I do not indulge in.”
His eyebrows arched as his smile turned positively wolfish. “I would be happy to indulge you, my lady. You need only ask.”
The laughter bubbled out before she could catch it. To everyone else, Robb was the Young Wolf, the King in the North, a serious man with serious tasks who had no time for foolishness; it was only with her he became Robb, the playful boy, the sensuous man, the only person who made Myrcella feel positively wicked. She missed seeing this side of him, ached for his wit and his comfort, for the feel of him inside her.
Since agreeing to stay at Riverrun, Myrcella had caught glimpses of her Robb. He had kept his promise of trimming his beard, the neatly kept auburn hair allowing her to see the cut of his jaw and his mouth more clearly. Theon commented on how Robb was smiling again, was able to laugh without guilt again; his voice was heavy with innuendo when delivering the words, obviously seeking an explanation, but Myrcella had none. Even Jeyne recognized the change in him, her own wan smiles being offered with more frequency, but, for every one of Robb's smiles, Myrcella felt Sybell frown, suspicious.
All of Riverrun thinks I have taken him back to my bed, and Jeyne herself gave me leave to do so. Is it really so dishonorable to lay with my husband?
Lady Catelyn would say yes, that until the situation was resolved and Jeyne was being recognized as the queen, she should not interfere; Queen Cersei would say no, that Jeyne Westerling was nothing more than a king's folly with a bastard in her belly.
“And how does my lord wish to indulge me?”
Mayhaps she was more Lannister than she thought.
Robb approached the tub like the predator on his banner, running his fingers around the heavy copper rim. Myrcella unfolded her arms over her chest, settling back into the water, letting him look at her the way he had countless times before; his gaze trailed over her body appreciatively and she felt herself warm with pleasure. Since coming to Riverrun, she had managed to regain some of the weight she lost since fleeing Winterfell, but Myrcella was still thinner than she had ever been, her breasts smaller, her curves less comely. As Robb perched upon the edge beside her, his fingers dipping into the hot water, Myrcella knew her paranoia about her body was unwarranted.
“In every way a man can indulge a woman.” Drawing his fingers up her ribs, tracing the curve of her breast, his voice was soft as silk as he inquired, “Does that sound appealing, my love?”
Myrcella rose up out of the water, clutching at his shirt as she pulled his mouth down against hers; she could feel Robb's smile against her lips, his tongue chasing hers as he leaned closer. She tried to draw him closer, her hand falling to his laces, when Robb suddenly slipped, the kiss breaking as Robb gave a shout, now sitting in her bath fully clothed.
Myrcella exploded into laughter, Robb following suit. Only his boots had managed to escape the water, even his sword submerged, and it gave him a decidedly un-kinglike appearance, especially when she could not resist the temptation to splash him. Water clung to his beard and eyelashes, and, in his joy, he looked ten years younger.
“You think this is funny?” he playfully growled, reaching down to pull of his boots, tossing them to the ground before flinging off his shirts and sword belt. Pulling his legs into the tub, Robb rose to his knees and pulled her close, laughter still shaking her body.
“I fear we are out of practice,” she giggled, struggling to push his pants and smallclothes from his hips, the material clinging tightly as a second skin.
“Then we shall practice until the sun rises.”
“The sun has not yet set.”
Robb's teeth ghosted over her shoulder. “I know.”
Myrcella managed to roll his pants far enough to take his cock, hard and heavy, in her hand, and Robb moaned against her ear, his voice so achingly needy it made her throb. She thought of the first time she had ever gone to him, the pursuer rather than the pursued; they were still newly married then, her innocence still intact enough not to recognize she was already growing his children in her womb. With Catelyn and Rickon headed to King's Landing, she found her days empty and ended up watching Robb and Theon in the yard sparring. While she recognized the desire she felt for Robb, it was the first time true want filled her; when he had seen her watching, Robb called for a break, hurrying over to make sure she did not need anything.
“Just you,” she had said, shocking herself at how brazen she was being. “You should join me upstairs.”
She never did know what he told Theon and Ser Rodrik; all she knew was he hurried to their bedchamber and was half-breathless when he arrived, gasping at how she impatiently tore at his laces. They did not even manage to remove all of their clothing before he was inside her, chanting her name like a promise and a curse. When they finished, he laughed and said he liked how she could surprise him.
She wanted to surprise him now, to remind him of who she was, to claim him; Myrcella knew from that terrible conversation with Jeyne Westerling how Robb left her bed unsatisfied, and she wanted to exploit that knowledge. It was unkind and petty, mayhaps even manipulative, but Myrcella wanted Robb to remember that it was she who made his blood rush, his body burn.
Catelyn Stark may have raised her, shaped her into the wife and mother she became, but Cersei Lannister taught her long ago that a woman's only power over her husband was being able to give him what no other woman could.
”Whether it's council or cunt, if it is the best he receives, he will not wander far.”
“Come here,” Robb urged huskily as Myrcella managed to wrestle his pants free, tossing them over the edge of the tub. She slid easily into his lap, wrapping her arms around his neck; she felt his hand slip beneath the water, his fingers stroking lightly between her legs. Myrcella trembled as his lips began to rediscover her throat, slip-sliding across her shoulders and collarbone; her breath caught as Robb eased one finger inside of her, a pinch of pain reminding her how long it had been since the last time he touched her like this.
“Yes?” he asked as she pitched her hips, wordlessly asking for more.
“Yes,” she panted, rising slightly on her knees. She felt Robb at her entrance, guiding hands on her hips, and she could not stifle her cries as they joined.
Half-moan and half-laugh, Robb breathed, “The whole castle is going to hear you.”
“Good,” she sighed shakily, grinding down against him, throbbing tightly around him. “Then they will know.”
Myrcella's head fell back as one large hand settled on her breast, another dropping to caress the point where they were joined, Robb's callused thumb making her snap her hips impatiently. “That you're mine.”
Robb slid his hand into her hair, forcing her to look at him; his eyes were the brightest blue she had ever seen, his face flush with passion, and Myrcella leaned forward, trying to capture his mouth as her pleasure built.
“I am yours as you are mine,” he swore, the pace of his hips increasing. “You can never doubt that.”
She mauled his mouth, catching his bottom lip between her teeth and tugging, drawing a rough cry from him. “Until the morning,” she panted. “And then you're hers again.”
Anger flashed in his eyes, and Myrcella gasped as he rose away from the end of the tub, holding her tightly against him; there was not an inch of space between their bodies, and she knew she would bear bruises on her back from how tightly he clutched her. “And Jon? Are you his?”
“Jon?” she repeated in confusion even as she twisted her hips, desperate for friction. “If I wanted Jon, he'd be the one in this tub, wouldn't he?”
Robb thrust upward sharply, Myrcella shouting at the sensation, before he kissed her with an almost brutal intensity. “I will kill any man who tries to take you from me ever again.”
“Then mayhaps I should open your sweet wife's throat,” she panted as she rode Robb viciously, her pleasure close to peaking, “for fucking my husband.”
“The only woman I want to fuck is you,” he retorted, pinching her nipple as she began to come, high, breathless cries echoing in the room. “Oh, fuck, Myrcella - “ And then he was shouting too, blasphemies and her name tangling on his tongue.
Robb collapsed back against the tub, taking Myrcella with him, their bodies still joined. She laid limply upon his chest, waiting for her breathing to regulate, the wild thumping of Robb's heart against her cheek. His fingers carded through her damp, tangled hair, his lips soft against the crown of her head, and Myrcella felt the fight draining out of her, her anger dissipating as Robb splayed his hands against her back.
“I love Jon as I love Tommen,” she said after several minutes, twisting her face so she could look at Robb. “I would never take him to my bed.”
“Jeyne is nothing like you. That is why I took her to bed.”
Idly drawing shapes on his chest, the texture of the auburn hair which grew there rough against her fingers, she broached her greatest fear in the softest of whispers. “Do you love her, Robb?”
“How could I, when all the love I've ever had has been spent on you?”
Myrcella pressed her face against the warm, wet skin of his neck, tasting the salt on his skin. “I know the feeling.”
The sky was just starting to lighten when someone knocked on the door of Myrcella's bedchamber. Robb did not wake beside her, his face buried in a pillow, the bruises from the day's earlier battle still fresh on his skin; she had pressed kisses to each and every one, to the scars he already bore and the marks which would leave new ones, and, even through the ache in his body, he had taken her twice. Over the past three weeks, not a single night had passed where Robb did not come to her bed, always sleeping soundly beside her and waking before the servants to steal back to his room.
“I have written the High Septon,” Robb murmured before drifting to sleep, “to set aside my marriage to Jeyne on the grounds you are alive. I will legitimize the babe, and I will arrange a match for Jeyne.”
“She loves you,” Myrcella reminded him as her own eyes began to droop.
“I've spoken to her. She understands.” Burying his face in her hair, he sighed, “She has a gentle heart. She knows this is what's best.”
Myrcella found her robe, wrapping it loosely around her body as she moved across the room; the last person she expected to find on the other side of the door was Elenya Westerling, pale and hastily dressed.
“Forgive me for waking you, my lady,” Elenya began softly, “but my sister has gone to the birthing bed, and she has asked for the king.” Blushing furiously, she said, “My mother said I should check your chamber before going to the king's.”
Resisting the urge to make a biting comment about Sybell Spicer, Myrcella directed, “A moment, please, Elenya,” before closing the door. Guilt began to swell in her chest - Jeyne Westerling is about to birth his child and he is in your bed - but Myrcella pushed it down, carefully shaking Robb awake.
“It is not day yet,” Robb protested, attempting to pull the furs over his head like a child.
“Jeyne is the birthing bed, my love. You must rise.”
Robb sat up, sleep forgotten. By instinct he reached for his clothing, hurriedly dressing, and she remembered the vague pall of panic which always accompanied her children's births, the wildness which licked at Robb when he felt useless. It was strange to be on this side of it, to see him racing about without the laboring woman being Myrcella, and suddenly she ached acutely for her scattered children, for the children she still hoped to bear.
It was not until she handed him his boots that Robb realized what was happening. He opened his mouth, an apology beginning to fall from his lips, but Myrcella quickly pressed her hand over his mouth.
“No child should enter the world with its father apologizing for its existence.” Cupping his face, kissing him lightly, she said, “Go to her. She will be scared and you will bring her peace.”
As Robb rushed down the hallway, Elenya looked her sadly in the eye before following, a shadow of the girl Myrcella remembered dancing with Robb at Tommen's wedding. As she climbed back into bed, the scent of Robb heavy on the sheets, Myrcella tried to summon to memory Lya's face, the feel of Elenya and Rickon's daughter in her arms, the way she would rest her tiny hand against Myrcella's breast as she nursed. Elenya's memories of her daughter were all those of loss, including her memories of Rickon.
When the war is over, we will bring Elenya to Winterfell so she can meet Lya. Mayhaps there is another match which can be made for her, one which will keep her far from Sybell and close to Rickon's daughter.
Myrcella was in the yard with Arya, Theon, and Jon, watching in amusement as Arya effortlessly unarmed Theon every time, when Robb emerged from the castle, an exhausted smile on his face. Jon noticed him first and called, “Do I have a niece or nephew?”
“Nephew,” Robb answered, his smile becoming a grin. “Ned.”
And then there were congratulations being bandied about, Theon clapping Robb on the back, Arya remarking how she always felt better with Ned Stark in the world; Myrcella hated the thought which came to her brain, the disappointment the baby was not a girl. It was silly, of course; Robb doted more upon Joanna and Lya than he ever had the boys, always lifting them from Myrcella's arms to press kisses to their heads. If Jeyne's babe had been a girl, he would have loved her just as much because the sex did not matter to Robb; Lady Catelyn once told her some men took to fatherhood better than others, and Robb's most favorite responsibility had always been his children.
Robert never took to it. He barely even looked at the three of us, let alone played with us. That always fell to Jaime or Tyrion. I wonder if Jaime ever wanted to be our father, if he ever asked my mother for the chance.
Robb was embracing Edmure when his eyes met Myrcella's over his uncle's shoulder. His smile faltered for a moment, the reality of the situation asserting itself, but Myrcella smiled through the ache in her heart. She meant she said; she did not wish Jeyne's son ill. Whether she liked it or not, little Ned was now her children's half-brother, and she would make better peace with that fact than Catelyn Stark ever had.
She saw the baby two evenings later when Jeyne requested her presence. Lady Sybell sat in a chair beside the bed along with Elenya and Raynald's wife Elinor; the older woman instantly got to her feet, spitting, “How dare you show your face here?”
“I invited her, Mother,” Jeyne spoke up, her voice still frail from the birth.
Sybell glared at her daughter. “Your husband spends his nights in her bed, and you bring her here to look upon your son? She is a Lannister, Jeyne. Who knows what she will do to your poor son?”
“I would never hurt a child,” Myrcella immediately protested. “If you knew me at all, you would know that.”
Sybell scoffed. “Oh, I know you, Princess. I have known you Lannisters from my very first day, and I know what evil lies in you, the sort of evil which can only come from a woman whelping her brother's children. You may have the King fooled, but I see you perfectly.”
“Mother, stop!” Jeyne ordered, surprising Myrcella with the strength she managed to imbue in it. “You will leave us now.”
“Jeyne - “
“That was not a request,” the brunette interrupted, and Myrcella recognized that voice; it was the one a queen used to chastise an unruly subject.
Myrcella did not speak until the Westerling women had left; she stood patiently near the bed, trying not to stare at the fussing bundle in Jeyne's arms. When Jeyne bid her to sit, Myrcella complied, finally seeing little Ned for the first time. He was a large baby, larger than any of Myrcella's children, and he had Robb's look, his hair as red as Joanna's, his eyes as blue as the twins'. She knew from Lady Roslin that a wet nurse had been hired; Jeyne was still too weak to wake as often as the baby required for feedings.
“He is a beautiful baby,” she offered, sincerely meaning it.
Jeyne smiled into Ned's face, a hint of uncertainty in her face as she tried to quiet him. “Maester Hollis says he is very healthy. He was turned in the womb; Hollis says that happens when babies are so large. Robb said your children did not require that.”
“Twins are smaller,” she said, remembering the words Maester Luwin had told her, “and Brynden was obviously small. Joanna was my largest child but even she was a few weeks early. I fear I would have shrieked having to deliver Ned.”
“I did,” Jeyne admitted, a flush flooding her cheeks. “Maester Hollis tried to send Robb away because I was in so much pain, but he did not leave. He said he has always been there when his children enter the world.”
“He has.” As Ned's cries increased, Myrcella found herself extending her arms. “Might I try, Your Grace?”
Jeyne easily handed over her son, and Myrcella felt a lump rise in her throat at the feel of a baby in her arms again; in the woods beyond Winterfell, in her dreams at the Wall, she imagined holding another of Robb's children, of staring into a face which was so like his and showering kisses upon it. In none of those dreams had Jeyne Westerling existed; in none of those dreams had she considered what it would be like to hold a child from her husband's seed but not grown in her womb.
“He cries constantly,” Jeyne confessed, a touch of hysteria in her voice. “Mother says babies cry, but it only abates when he is being fed or sleeps, and his sleep comes so rarely. No one can seem to calm him for long.”
“You should walk with him.” Getting to her feet, walking the length of the bed while gently swaying her arms, she explained, “Steffon was the same. As long as he was in motion, he was quiet, but the moment I was still, he'd scream as if being flayed. Sometimes I would scream right along with him, and then Old Nan would come and work her magic.”
Myrcella nodded, bouncing Ned a bit more until he began to quiet. “With Rickard, Robb could lay them upon his chest and he would happily lie there, quiet for hours. It took Robb weeks to realize Steffon would only quiet while he walked; he used to walk all of Winterfell with Steffon in his arms so I could rest.”
“Was Lya like that?”
She chuckled softly. “Oh, no, Lya was the quietest of them all. When Joanna would fuss, all I would have to do is put her in the cradle with Lya, and instantly she'd quiet. There is something peaceful about Lya.”
As Ned's eyes began to droop, Myrcella looked up from his face to see Jeyne had tears in her eyes. Before Myrcella could ask what was wrong, Jeyne blurted out, “I would have been a good wife and a good queen to him. I could have loved him as well as you if he had ever given me the chance.”
Guilt and shame warred for top billing in her body, especially with Jeyne's son heavy in her arms. “I do not doubt that. I know you love him.”
Wiping away a stray tear with the back of her hand, Jeyne sniffled, “He says he will arrange the very best marriage he can for me in the North, somewhere I can visit Ned. You know he means to take him back to Winterfell.”
Myrcella shook her head. “I did not.”
“I may not be his wife much longer, but Ned is a Stark of Winterfell, the same as your sons. And I expect him to be treated as such.” Her face suddenly fierce, Jeyne Westerling declared, “I would have raised your children as my own, loved them as well as I love Ned. You owe me that same kindness.”
If she was only Cersei Lannister's daughter, she would have spat, “I owe you nothing. You waited until my husband was broken, went to his bed, and tried to take what was rightfully mine. You should be thanking the Seven I did not take your head upon my return.”
But the woman who had learned her lessons at Catelyn Stark's side swore, “Ned will never know a difference between the love I bear the children I birthed and the love I will bear for him.”
After her betrothal, Lady Catelyn once assured her that love could grow in any situation if those involved tried hard enough.
Myrcella did not see why it would be different with Robb's child.
Robb was behind her, inside her when the direwolves began to howl.
The moon was full and high in the dark sky; “a wolf moon,” Robb called it when he slipped beneath the furs, already nude and half-hard with desire. He had been in the Reach these past few weeks, trying to barter an alliance with Highgarden, and his return to Riverrun was anxiously awaited; Jeyne was still in the birthing bed, her strength never having returned, and the Westerlings were all becoming uneasy. Myrcella could scarcely pass Sybell Spicer without the woman looking ready to spit, and, when she found Myrcella reading to Jeyne one afternoon, she ordered Myrcella from the room.
“Is it not enough you have turned my daughter into the king's whore, her child a by-blow? Must you sit in her room and mock her with your presence?”
“I do not wish harm upon Jeyne, Lady Westerling. I only wish her health to improve.”
“Her health would improve if her husband did not spend his nights fucking you and plotting how to take her son away.” Sybell's eyes darkened as she growled, “If you had an ounce of honor, you would have stepped aside.”
“I am so sorry I ruined your plans by not dying in the North,” Myrcella replied, her words as icy as the Wall, “but I will not have a woman who urged her daughters into the beds of Starks until one agreed to wed her lecture me on honor.”
She did not tell Robb of her latest fight with Sybell, not when he returned sore and drawn, not when he held Ned with nervous hands as Jeyne got weaker in her bed. No, she did what Lady Catelyn advised her to do long ago when the prospect of being Robb's wife still frightened her: she waited until he came and then she was simply there, willing to provide whatever it was he needed.
It was only good fortune that what Robb needed tonight was her, all grasping hands and desperate kisses, breathless pleas to help him forget whispered against her ear.
“Forget what?” she murmured even as she slipped free of her shift, his lips moist against every spare inch of flesh.
“Everything but us.”
The wolf song increased, each howl longer, and Myrcella heard Robb grunt in exasperation before sliding his hands from her hips, pulling her up onto her knees; she shouted at the change in angle, her head dropping back to rest against his shoulder, and Robb kissed the side of her face.
“I shall kill those wolves,” he growled, his thrusts speeding up, an edge of impatience to his movements now.
“No wolves,” Myrcella panted, reaching back to bury her fingers in his thick curls. “Just us, remember?”
His laugh was airy as he nodded in agreement. “Just us.”
Myrcella was quaking from her orgasm when someone began to knock on her door; Robb, still draped over her back, his moans buried in the flesh of her shoulder, rolled off of her, dropping onto his back beside her as she slid down onto the mattress, her sweat-slicked skin sticking to the sheets.
The knocking began again. Robb grabbed a pillow behind his head and threw it towards the door. “Unless Balerion the Black Dread is over the castle, leave!”
“As impressive as that would be, Your Grace,” Theon called through the door, “I fear this may interest you more!”
Robb grabbed the discarded quilt, pulling it over their bodies before grunting, “Come in!”
Myrcella wondered if she should feel more embarrassed about Theon seeing her near-nude, sweat still visible on her skin, her thighs still wet from both her and Robb's release; she could not imagine Catelyn Stark ever allowing anyone to see her so wanton, though, if Myrcella was honest, she could not imagine Catelyn and Eddard Stark ever doing the things she and Robb did together.
To Theon's credit, he did not let his eyes linger upon her. Of course, if he had, Robb likely would have gelded him, so mayhaps Theon was not due credit.
“An envoy from Dorne has arrived, Your Grace,” Theon reported, “with several thousand men and a prisoner they wish to present to you.”
“A prisoner?” Robb echoed. “Who have they taken?”
Theon's eyes finally landed upon Myrcella, his face twisting apologetically, before answering, “The Kingslayer.”
Chapter 6: The Kingslayer's Daughter
If she had not been told the man in the cell was Ser Jaime Lannister, Myrcella would not have believed it. The Lord Commander of the Kingsguard was tall, strong, and golden, the handsomest man in the Seven Kingdoms; his armor always shone without a scratch, his white cloak never sullied, and his face was as familiar to Myrcella as her own. As a child, when she and Tommen would draw pictures, Myrcella must have sketched her uncle's profile half-a-hundred times, sometimes with Jaime sitting patiently to allow it; the strength of his jaw, the noble line of his nose, the furrow between his eyes when King Robert roared, “Kingslayer!” were all carefully etched on the paper. Once she had drawn a picture of her mother, Jaime, Joffrey, Tommen, and herself at Casterly Rock; Jaime asked her if he could keep it when she was done, and Myrcella wondered if he still had it tucked away somewhere, the crudely drawn family portrait.
She had only been to Casterly Rock once in her life; she was seven then, already well-schooled on courtesies, but Cersei kept insisting she remember that the Lannisters were kings in the Westerlands, more powerful than the king amongst the bannermen. Myrcella remembered looking at her father – fat, half-drunk, face obscured by his beard – and thinking it would not be difficult to be more powerful than Robert Baratheon; when she voiced that opinion, Cersei smiled and Jaime laughed. She was not sure why the court was going to Casterly Rock, but Joffrey said there was going to be a tourney, and Myrcella loved to watch the knights fight valiantly, loved the wreaths of flowers given to the Queen of Love and Beauty.
They were stopped for the day at an inn in the Reach when Jaime found her watching Joffrey and a few of the boys sparring with blunt tourney swords. Jaime sat beside her on the small rock wall, silent for a moment as Tommen and Robert Arryn thrusted awkwardly at each other with their swords, Joffrey and one of the Swyft boys crossing blades a touch more skillfully. Her uncle leaned close and queried, “Who do you think shall win?”
“Swyft,” Myrcella answered instantly. “He is better at his defenses, and Joff will tire from swinging so wildly.”
Jaime smiled in amusement before asking, “What should he do?”
“Stop swinging his sword like a hammer and realize Swyft favors the right.”
This time Jaime laughed. “You are very observant, Princess.”
“That is because I am not allowed to do anything.” Myrcella sighed in irritation. “It is not fair, Uncle. I ride as well Joffrey but I have to ride in the litter. I asked Mother if I could have sword practice like Tommen, and she told me that is not what ladies do. I never get to do anything fun.”
“You are a princess, and princesses are meant for dancing, smiling, and being beautiful.”
“Being boring, you mean.” Twisting her skirts in her hands, Myrcella complained, “I wish I was a boy.”
“Now you sound like your mother. When we were your age, she said the exact same thing, that it wasn't fair I got to play with swords while she had to sew.” Jaime kissed the top of her head. “I much prefer you as a girl.”
“But girls don't get to do anything but get married and have babies! Why can I not have an adventure?”
Jaime grasped her hand. “Come with me.”
He lead her into a grove of trees nearby, the noises of the traveling court muted by the distance. Myrcella watched wide-eyed as Jaime drew his sword, the blade gleaming in the summer sun, the hilt as golden as the hair on both their heads. Walking behind her, Jaime brought the sword in front of her, helping her to wrap her small hands around the pommel; it was too heavy for her to keep upright on her own, Jaime's strong hands surrounding hers.
“This must be our secret,” he declared against her ear as he showed her how to swing it, moving their bodies and the sword in a slow dance against invisible enemies. “Your kingly father and queenly mother would have my head if they knew I let the princess hold my kingslaying sword, and your brothers would demand the same.”
“You are not going to let Joffrey and Tommen hold your sword?” she asked in surprise. She never got to do anything that was not shared with her brothers.
“They will have their own swords some day. And you will appreciate this far more than they ever will.”
When the cries announcing dinner reached them, Jaime sheathed his sword, Myrcella trying not to let her disappointment at their play being over. As Jaime smiled, Myrcella felt overwhelmed with gratitude, jumping up and embracing him tightly as he easily held her aloft. She pressed several quick kisses to his smooth cheek, squeezing him tightly around the neck.
“I love you, Uncle Jaime.”
“And I, you, my special girl.”
There was no sword on his hip now, no vigor in his face. The dirty, scruffy man in the cell could have been anyone. At least until he opened his eyes and the Lannister green was visible; then Myrcella knew this was no jape, that it truly was Jaime behind the bars.
Someone had struck him; one eye was shaded with a deep purple bruise, his forehead crusted with dried blood. Even in his cell, he was shackled at the wrists and ankles, too much of a threat and too valuable a prisoner for even the slightest chance of escape. He had spent the past two weeks in this dank, smelly cell, two weeks during which Myrcella had to plead before finally being allowed to see him. Robb insisted seeing Jaime in the cell would only upset her, a claim Theon and Jon both agreed with; Trystane Martell thought it unwise to let anyone see the Kingslayer, afraid of someone trying to free him for Lannister gold or kill him for the lives he had taken. It was only after one of the most vicious fights she and Robb had ever had that he agreed to letting her visit.
Jaime's smile was wan but genuine as he looked upon her. “I am happy to hear the rumors of your death were greatly exaggerated, Princess.”
Myrcella smiled as she sank to the cement floor outside his cell, uncaring of the dirt, wanting to be eye-to-eye with her uncle. “Oh, I was as really and truly dead as Roose Bolton believed. After all, I am only a woman. How could I have survived in the North?”
“When Joffrey ordered Winterfell to be taken, he gave explicit instructions that you were to be brought back to court. He hoped to take your head and place it upon a pike.”
“After raping me, no doubt.”
Jaime did not argue the point. “His rage was absolute the night word reached court you had escaped into the godswood with Stark men. He offered a heavy reward for any man who brought you his body, no matter how picked apart by animals it was. 'A warning to traitors,' he said it would be.” Jaime snickered. “When rumors reached court that you had survived by reaching the Wall and that you had returned to the Young Wolf, Joffrey was wroth. It was quite amusing.”
Myrcella smiled at the idea of her brother's impotent rage. “I am sad I did not get to witness that.”
“It was a great show.”
“I am certain the court was disappointed not to be able to see my head upon the wall.”
Jaime's face sobered. “Your mother wept the night word reached us of your death. I have never seen her so upset.”
“My mother has never cared an ounce for me, and I am sure her sadness came only because now Joffrey would be denied his precious heir,” Myrcella snapped, her bitterness thick in her voice.
He shook his head, dirty hair and bushy beard moving messily. “The day you were born, Cersei said to me, 'Oh, it is so sad she is a girl. Robert will trade her away like a horse, alliances built on the promise of her cunt.' She tried to make a match for you in Lannisport so you could stay close.”
“I did not want to stay close.”
Jaime's face darkened. “No, you couldn't, not with Joffrey sneaking into your chamber. You needed to be as far away as you could be before he ruined you. Robert was going to marry you off to Doran Martell's youngest to get Dorne to heel.”
Myrcella shook her head. “No, he said he chose Robb because Houses Stark and Baratheon - “
“Ah, yes, the great love story of Robert and Lyanna to live on in you and Robb Stark,” Jaime interrupted, mockery heavy in his voice. “It took so little to convince him how fitting it would be to wed his daughter to Ned Stark's son. 'The North has held and won thrones for centuries, Your Grace,' I said to him. 'Why, it would be the joining of Houses meant to be joined before Rhaegar ruined everything.'” He laughed mirthlessly. “Only time the fat bastard ever listened to a word I said.”
Myrcella shivered beneath her cloak. “You sent me North?”
“Oh, Robert thought it was all his idea, and that was for the better. Cersei would have gutted me with my own sword if she knew I had a hand in it.”
“Why did you bother? You hated Lord Stark.”
“I did,” Jaime easily agreed. “Ned Stark was cold, unmovable, and too honorable for his own good, but a cruel man, he was not. Everyone knew he doted on that wife of his, and it was a fair enough guess his sons would be the same.”
“And that's what you wanted, for me to be doted upon?”
“I wanted you safe.” Closing his eyes, resting his head against the cold wall, he flatly stated, “I have committed many sins in my life, but I would not listen as another king raped his sister. You actually loving him was just a pleasant coincidence.”
“Are you my father?” Myrcella blurted out, needing to hear the truth from his lips.
Jaime scoffed. “King Robert Baratheon was your father. That is what the history books will say.”
“Jaime - “
“Leave me,” he ordered, turning his head towards the small, high window of his cell. “Dungeons are no place for princesses.”
Robb and his council were waiting for her when she emerged from the cells, all of the men solemn-faced, Trystane Martell grasping the hilt of his sword as if he expected Jaime to be at her back. He could have been my husband, Myrcella thought as the men eyed her with suspicion in her eyes. I would have been Princess Myrcella of Dorne and never have even known Robb if Jaime had not played Robert.
“Did he say anything worthwhile?” Trystane asked, and Myrcella barely managed to keep from rolling her eyes at the false sense of importance in his voice.
“Like what, my lord? Did he tell me the exact battle plans of King Joffrey and agree to help our cause?”
The Dornishman blushed as Theon snickered. “What is the point of you talking to the prisoner if it is not to help?”
Before Robb could respond, she snapped, “Because the prisoner is my uncle, whose well-being concerns me. If someone held Prince Oberyn, would you not inquire to his health?”
“Oberyn Martell is not a Kingslayer or a - “ He broke off, catching whatever accusation he was about to lobby; she knew instantly what Trystane was going to say.
“Or what, Prince Trystane? A sister fucker?”
Myrcella heard the men gasp before Robb stepped between her and the Dornish prince, his hands firm but not unkind upon her shoulders. “Mayhaps you should join Lady Roslin in her solar.”
If the circumstances were different, Myrcella might have argued, but she did not trust her temper in that moment; if a sword had been in her hand, she would run Trystane Martell clean through, once for herself and once for her uncle.
No one at Riverrun called Jaime by his name; it was always “Kingslayer,” a title which did nothing to say who he was and yet Myrcella knew had come to define him. Robert had never used his name either; it was always “Kingslayer” or “your brother” when speaking to Cersei. Myrcella did not remember when she learned what it meant or when her septa taught her the history of her family; it was something which seemed to be inherently known. Robert Baratheon slew Prince Rhaegar on the Trident, Ser Jaime slew King Aerys, and then the Targaryen dynasty was done.
But knowing Jaime was the Kingslayer and understanding what it truly meant were two different things. And, even as a child, Myrcella could see the suppressed flinch every time someone used the term, the way Jaime seemed to twist from it when standing still.
“Why did you kill the Mad King?” she asked him one afternoon as he escorted her to lessons with her septa.
“Because he was mad, sweetling,” he replied easily, the sun reflecting brightly off of his armor.
“No, I understand that, but why was it you? Why didn't Ser Barristan or another one of the Kingsguard do it?” Stopping in the hallway, staring up at him earnestly, she asked, “If King Aerys was so mad, why did only you stop him?”
Jaime froze for a moment before bending down to meet her eye. One finger lifting her chin when she dropped her gaze, afraid she was in trouble, he said, “You are very smart, Princess. You do not miss a thing, do you?”
Unsure how to answer, she offered, “I did not mean to displease you.”
His smile was sweetly sad. “You have not displeased me. None of the other Kingsguard killed the Mad King because our duty is to protect the king. We guard and we watch, but we do not judge. I killed the Mad King because I wanted to make the realm safe for sweet, little girls like you, and the realm will always hate me for it.”
Myrcella remembered being so confused. “But you saved the realm. You are a hero.”
“No matter how honorable his intentions, an oathbreaker can never be a hero.” Rising tall again, he added, “But that is fine because I do not much care for heroics. Heroes get fat and drunk and soon they do not look anything like the heroes everyone remembers.”
Jaime's laughter echoed off the walls. “Precisely, my special girl.”
As Myrcella tossed and turned in her bed that night, she wondered what Jaime Lannister had been like before murdering King Aerys, what Cersei had been like; her mother never spoke of life before Robert's Rebellion and, when she was small, Myrcella used to wonder if the world had not really begun until Robert Baratheon took the throne.
“What's wrong?” Robb sleepily murmured, one heavy arm falling over her body, pulling her close. Normally it was enough to calm her, to settle into his embrace and forget, but tonight Myrcella could not still.
“Do you ever wonder what it was like before the Rebellion?”
“The Baratheons and Starks ended up heroes, and the Lannisters were villains. Why do you think that was?”
She heard practically hear Robb trying to think of a kinder truth before he finally admitted, “Because the Lannisters did not kill their enemies in battle; they killed them by betrayal.”
“When Tommen and I were still very small, we found kittens in the yard. Tommen's was orange and mine was black. We carried them into the Keep, and my mother screamed at Ser Meryn to take them away. Do you know why?”
Robb nodded at her back. “Princess Rhaenys had a black kitten called Balerion.”
“My grandfather ordered Rhaegar's wife and children murdered, my father killed the prince, and my uncle, the king. My mother wed Robert and apparently cuckholded him with her own twin. Joffrey...Gods, I do not even know how to describe him. That is my blood, Robb. That is the blood I passed our children.” Sitting up, pulling out of his arms, Myrcella wiped in frustration at her stray tears. “My blood is bad and - “
“No!” Robb cut in, sleep gone from his eyes as he rose, turning her head so she was looking at him. “You are sweet and kind and good, just as our children are.”
“You do not understand!” Climbing from bed, haphazardly wrapping her robe around her body, she said, “The things I think, the words I choke back - “
“Thoughts are not actions, Myrcella! Do you think every thought I have is kind? Do you think I do not imagine choking Theon within an inch of his life every time I catch him staring down the front of your gown?”
Despite her conflicting emotions, she could not help but smile. “I did not realize you noticed that.”
“Any time a man's eyes are on you, I notice, and I promise you that there is nothing but violence in those thoughts.” Robb reached out, clasping her hand and tugging back towards the bed. “You are human, my love, just like the rest of us. Your blood is no worse than mine.”
“How can you say that? My mother...my father...”
Robb rose to his knees, cupping her face firmly between his palms. “Your mother is Cersei Lannister, and your father was King Robert Baratheon. You were Princess Myrcella Baratheon until I put a cloak upon your shoulders in the godswood seven years past. You are Myrcella of House Stark, and that is all that matters.”
She went willingly back into bed, back into his arms; Myrcella rested her head against his chest, listening to the steady thudding of his heart as his fingers carded through her hair.
“If seeing the Kingslayer bothers you so, it may be better if you do not visit him.”
“Jaime,” she corrected.
“His name is Jaime.”
Robb repeated the name, the syllables sounding odd on his tongue, but Myrcella loved him for saying her uncle's true name.
“And I must visit him.”
“Because he would visit me.”
Because he is my father.
When she told the young guard to open Jaime's cell, she could see the man did not know what to do. She knew from the sigil on his clothing he was a Westerling man, and Lady Sybell frequently corrected anyone who dared follow Myrcella's instructions over Jeyne's. When coupled with the insistence of Dorne that Jaime's cell never be opened at risk of escape, she knew the boy did not know whether to disobey Myrcella or Lady Westerling.
She held up the basin of water and rag she carried. “I only wish to clean him, ser, and he is chained to the floor.” Smiling playfully, she added, “I give you my guarantee he is only a man and cannot break chains.”
“Though if I could...” Jaime piped up with a mischievous grin.
The boy's hand shook as he unlocked the cell, one hand firmly on his sword. When Jaime rattled his chains, the boy jumped, and Myrcella glared at her uncle, who only chuckled. Setting the basin on the floor, she said to the guard, “I do not require supervision. You may wait outside.”
“Prin – Your – My lady - “ he sputtered.
“No punishment will come to you,” she assured him, “but I do require privacy. You may go.” When he hesitated, Myrcella hardened her voice and stated, “I do not like to repeat myself, ser.”
The moment Myrcella heard the heavy slide of the dungeon's door closing, she dipped the rag in the warm water and rung it out, Jaime watching her with laughter dancing in his eyes. Carefully she began to scrub his filthy face, his skin as pink as Tommen's beneath the dirt.
“You have a gentler touch than your mother,” he commented as she rinsed the rag and began again.
“As a queen or in the literal sense?”
Jaime grinned, brow furrowing for a moment as she began to wash away the dried blood. “Both, I suppose. Though your mother was not nearly so insolent when her husband gave an order.”
“My husband likes me insolent; it was the blind obedience he broke out of me.” Leaning closer, carefully trying to clean the cut, she added, “And I do not take orders.”
“Even from your king?”
“From any king.” Running the rag over his beard, she commented, “Is that what Robert used to try to beat from my mother, her insolence?”
Jaime's eyes flashed in anger. “Robert used to beat your mother because she was not Lyanna Stark, because she was smarter than him, because the sun rose in the east and set in the west. Robert hit Cersei because it made him feel more a man to do so.”
“And yet you did not slay him.”
“An oversight nature rectified for me.”
She moved the rag down to his neck, having to use more strength to remove the thickly crusted filth. “You wanted Joffrey on the throne that badly?”
“The only throne Joffrey is fit to sit is a privy,” Jaime retorted, moving his head to help the process along. “If the world was just, Tommen would have come first or you would have been a son, but the world is not just. Your mother believed with enough council, Joffrey could make a passably suitable king and Margaery Tyrell would give him heirs aplenty. Always growing, my arse.”
“Mayhaps that proves the world is just.” Moving the rag down to his arms, she asked, “How is Tommen?”
A genuine smile stretched across his face. “Tommen is Tommen. His wife is swelling, due any day now. Tyrion is with him at the Rock, and he says all the people love Tommen dearly. He still harbors dreams of being a grand tourney knight, but he is useless during a tilt.”
“He wants to be you; he always has.”
“He is far too sweet to ever be me,” he mildly replied. Inhaling sharply as she began to gently wash his abraded wrists, he asked, “Did you ever wish to be like Cersei?”
“I wanted to be beautiful like her. When I was small, I thought there was no woman more beautiful than she was.” Myrcella shook her head, re-wetting the rag to work on his other wrist. “But there is nothing...When Robert would reach for her, she'd pull away; when Tommen or I would run to her, she'd chastise us for messing her gown. I never wished to be like that.”
“Our mother died when we were young. Cersei did not know - “
“Do you defend her because she is your twin or because you love her?” Myrcella cut in, her temper flaring. “What would it take for you to see her clearly?”
“An interesting question to ask when Jeyne Westerling and her son are upstairs.” His face hardening, he declared, “It is easy to love a perfect person. But who is perfect?”
Throwing the rag into the basin, Myrcella sighed, sitting back on her heels. “Did you take the white cloak so you would never have to marry?”
“I took the white cloak because it was an honor.” Jaime smiled wryly. “I believed in it.”
“What do you believe in now?”
“Today I believe in kindness, but it may very well change tomorrow.” Lifting his shackled hands, he managed to chuck her under the chin. “Those whose beliefs never change are the sorts of people you should never trust.”
“Are you my father?”
Jaime settled back against the wall, jingling his chains. “The father of a queen would never be in fetters.”
Placing the rag in the basin, Myrcella rose, carefully balancing it in her hands. “I will be back tomorrow.”
“I will be here.”
Jon found her in the godswood, his heavy black cloak tight around his body; his hood remained down, and his hair was practically white with snow, Ghost padding silently beside his horse. He shook his head with a soft laugh.
“They say the snow is going to be six feet high, and you decide to come pray?”
“It is not as cold or as high as the snow at the Wall,” Myrcella countered, “nor was it snowing when I first came here.”
Jon extended his hand, easily lifting her onto his horse; Myrcella hugged his middle, settling against his broad back, and she could still smell the scents of the Wall in his cloak.
“Do you ever miss it?”
Jon did not ask for clarification; in their months together, they had developed a shorthand which carried over to Riverrun. Arya teased her about being jealous, Jon having always been her favorite brother, but Myrcella was grateful for it; she had never known anyone as easy to talk to as Jon Snow.
“Sometimes. They were my brothers for nearly half my life. It has been an adjustment.”
Myrcella nodded in understanding, certain he could feel the movement against his back. After a beat, she asked, “Do you ever wish Lord Stark had told you the truth of your parentage before he died?”
Jon was quiet for so long, Myrcella suspected her words had been carried off by the wind. And finally he said, “I wish for many things, most of all the truth. If Lyanna Stark was my mother and Rhaegar Targaryen, my father, then everything I know is false. I would like to believe that my entire life was not a lie.”
“Mayhaps he was just trying to protect you, especially after what happened to Princess Rhaenys and Prince Aegon.”
“I do not feel there can ever be true protection with lies.”
The words were so much something which would have come from Eddard Stark's mouth, Myrcella could not help but chuckle. “Your morality is certainly more Stark than Targaryen.”
When they reached the yard, Jon slid from the saddle, helping her down as well. As Myrcella shook her snow from her hair, Jon caught her wrist loosely in his hand, his face serious as ever. “I do not believe our blood is what makes us who we are. I believe we always have a choice.”
“And what if there is no good choice?”
Jon pushed a lock of her hair away from her forehead, pressing a warm kiss there. “Then you do what I do: you ask yourself what Eddard Stark would have done.”
Jeyne Westerling died in the middle of the night, three days into the great snow storm which had crippled the Riverlands, four months after giving birth to little Ned. Maester Hollis said it was the birthing fever, but Lady Sybell insisted it was a broken heart. Myrcella heard Sybell shriek her sorrow half the castle away, high and mournful, and, though Myrcella hated Sybell Spicer ferociously, she did not wish the death of a child on anyone.
When the older woman saw Myrcella in the dining hall the next morning, Myrcella knew she would say something, so pale and drawn from grief. She knew the servants and Maester Hollis were preparing Jeyne for rest in the Tully crypt until the snows stopped so her bones could be taken back to the Crag, but Myrcella had not expected her to join them to break fast.
The wine hit Myrcella squarely in the face a half-second before Sybell's words began to register. “Lannister whore! You killed her! You killed her as surely as if you had run her through with a sword! You fucking whore!”
Lord Westerling wrapped his wife in a firm grip, pulling her from the table as his sons hurried to help; Myrcella did not move for a moment, so acutely humiliated and guilt-ridden she could hardly breathe, but she felt Theon at her shoulder, knew Arya had already run to find Robb. Shaking off her friend's hand, Myrcella wiped at the wine on her face, vaguely recognizing her gown was ruined, before moving towards her rooms. She would not cry in front of Robb's men, would not let them know how Sybell Spicer's words affected her.
Myrcella did not consciously choose to go to the dungeons rather than her apartments; one moment she was ready to ascend the stairs and the next she was having the boy let her into Jaime's cell. He was wrapped in a heavy fur, the cell colder than usual, and a bowl of oaten meal sat beside him. His eyebrows rose at the sight of her wine-stained gown and drawled, “It is a bit early to be getting drunk, is it not?”
She sat on the cold stone, numbness settling in her limbs. “Jeyne Westerling is dead.”
Jaime inclined his head. “Then long live the queen.”
“Don't!” she snapped, rage licking at her. “Do not joke about this! I did not want her to die!”
“Then you should not have started a war,” he replied, maddeningly calm. “People die in wars, Myrcella, some by the sword and others by chance. You may have not wanted Jeyne Westerling to die any more than you wished for Eddard Stark or his son to die, but they died. Unless your blade was the one who cut them down, you light a candle to the Stranger and move on.”
“How can you be so cold? She has a baby who will never know his mother!”
“Yes, as Tyrion never knew our mother, as your good-brother's bastard will never her father, and hundreds more have never known theirs. Daenerys Targaryen knew neither her mother nor her father and yet she survived. Valar morghulis.”
Myrcella's bow wrinkled for a moment as she tried to remember the High Valyrian her septa once tried to teach her. “All men...?”
“All men must die,” he translated. “You cannot have the living without the dying.”
Dropping her gaze, trying to hide the welling of tears in her eyes, she murmured, “Lady Sybell says she died of a broken heart. She...She called me a whore.”
Jaime moved as suddenly as he was able, jerking hard on her skirt to get her to look at him. His face as fierce as it was during tourneys, he gritted out, “Robb Stark made vows to that girl, not you. Robb Stark broke his vows to you. Robb Stark put a child in her belly, not you. If Sybell Spicer wants to lay that girl's body at anyone's feet, it should be his.”
Hot tears coursing down her cheeks, she repeated, “I did not want her to die.”
Face softening, Jaime sighed, “Of course you didn't, sweetling. You are too good for that.”
It was Robb who found her in Jaime's cell, sitting silently in the freezing room. His face somber, jaw tightly clenched, Robb extended his hand to help her to her feet; Myrcella accepted the hand, pointedly avoiding the questioning expression on his face. Jaime watched, his green eyes following their movements with a peculiar smile on his face, and Myrcella could see it unnerved Robb.
“Something amusing, Kingslayer?”
“A great number of things, Your Grace. Shall I list them all for you?”
Robb stepped forward, his hand rising to strike, but Myrcella pressed her hands against his chest, stilling him in his tracks. She firmly shoved, urging him out of Jaime's cell, noisily slamming the door shut. Jaime's smile did not falter as Myrcella lead Robb from the cells, and she wondered what her uncle was thinking.
When she asked him two days later, Jaime's smile returned. “I was thinking if Cersei had trained Robert half-so-well, how different the world would be.”
“Are you my father?”
His smile became wry. “How could I be your father when your mother is my sweet sister?”
Robb frequently asked her how she could stand to talk to him, to sit in his cell as she once sat in the Red Keep and discuss any topic of her choosing. Myrcella tried to explain, but she knew she did not have the words and that, when she did, if she offered them, he would not understand how deeply she loved Ser Jaime Lannister.
He saved me, she almost said one night. He was the only one who saw what Joffrey did to me, the only one who put a stop to it. The other knights knew, and they did not stop him because one day he would be king. They were afraid of him even as a child because our mother would take Joffrey's word as sacred. But Jaime heard me crying that day and he marched in, strong and tall, and he literally threw Joffrey off of me. And when Joffrey told him he could not do that because he was going to be king someday, Jaime looked him straight in the eye and said, 'Yes, and I am the Kingslayer, and your throat will open as easily as Aerys's did.'
But Myrcella did not share that story because then she would have to tell the rest, and no one knew what happened that day after Jaime carried her out of her bedchamber. And while Robb loved her dearly, she knew he would never be able to see past the legend of the Kingslayer.
She still remembered how badly she shook as Jaime held her, holding her tightly against him; at first she thought he was taking her to her mother, to tell the queen what he witnessed, and Myrcella wondered if Joffrey would be sent away. But he didn't move towards the queen's apartments; instead he took her to the White Tower, to his own apartment, one of the few places in the castle she had never been. It was neatly kept with a large, soft bed, a Lannister tapestry on the wall, and Myrcella thought the lion on it looked to be crying rather than a roaring.
“Arms up, sweetling,” he said when he returned to the bed, one of his shirts in his hand. Myrcella did not realize her gown was torn and mostly unlaced until she let Jaime help her out of it, and she thought how angry her mother would be because it was brand-new, a name day gift from Tywin. Jaime hissed when she was only in her smallclothes, and Myrcella saw the dappling of blood on her thighs, Lannister crimson against her pale skin; she wanted to tell Jaime it was fine, that Joff had made her bleed before and it seldom hurt for long, but she didn't. Instead she watched as he wet a rag and carefully cleaned her skin, his touch whisper soft.
His shirt was much too large on her, but Myrcella liked the way it smelled of him; when he bundled her beneath his quilts, he tickled her lightly on the ribs, and she giggled. Jaime took one of her hands in his before he asked, “Has Joffrey hurt you before, sweetling?”
Myrcella nodded shyly.
“How many times?”
She shrugged. “A lot lately. Not so much before.”
“Is it always like today?”
“No, sometimes...sometimes he makes me touch him.”
Jaime brushed her hair away from her face, smiling kindly. “He is never going to hurt you again, my love. And if he tries, he will swiftly regret it.” Kissing the tip of her nose, drawing another giggle from her lips, he said, “Now you are going to rest up here until I get you a fresh gown. And when I come back, I am going to tell you the most wonderful story you have ever heard.”
“Uncle Jaime?” she ventured when he was about to open his chamber door.
“Yes, my love?”
“Joffrey says I have to do what he says because he's going to be the king. And he said he will hurt Tommen if I tell anyone what he does. I do not want him to hurt Tommen.”
Jaime returned to the bed, taking both of her hands in his. “No harm will come to Tommen. And the only man who should touch you that way is your husband, not your brother whether he is the king or not.”
“He is mad,” she whispered.
Myrcella remembered the way he lowered his eyes, the way he squeezed her hands so tightly; when he returned to the tower, he brought her favorite blue gown and some spun sugar. As she snacked on her treat, Jaime said, “Guess what, my special girl? We are going North.”
Robb would be grateful for what Jaime had done for her, but he would see it as a kind act performed by an unkind man. Myrcella would never be able to get him to see that the handful of unkind acts had been performed by a kind man. Robb could not understand that.
No Stark had ever needed to be saved from another Stark.
“I was talking to one of the guards earlier,” Jaime remarked as Myrcella cleaned the abrasions on his wrists, “and he said you spar in the yard with a sword against your husband's men.”
“When the snow is not higher than my head, yes,” she confirmed, carefully applying a linen bandage around his raw skin.
“And your husband approves?”
“At first it amused him. And then he thought it was admirable. Now he japes I am better than half of his men, and he should slap armor upon me.”
“I would like to see that.”
“As you should, for I am very good.” Moving to his other wrist, exchanging smiles with him, she added, “I have your sword, you know. Trystane Martell gave it me when I asked - “
“Demanded,” Jaime corrected with a smirk.
“Asked for it. I assume you would prefer it in my custody than in the Dornish prince's.”
“It makes no matter for I shall never hold it again.”
Myrcella frowned. “What do you mean?”
Jaime chuckled mirthlessly. “Oh, my girl, you are too sweet for this world. I am no hostage; your husband will not sell me back to the Iron Throne and, even if he wanted, Dorne would never allow it. I am the bait in the trap.”
“For the Dragon Queen. What better way to lure her highness off of Dragonstone than with the Kingslayer, the man who put to sword her family's 300 year dynasty?” Jaime shrugged. “There is a bit of poetry to it, I suppose. The Kingslayer slain by the child no one thought would survive her birth, let alone survive in Essos with no protection but her equally mad brother. We all underestimated Daenerys Targaryen. Of course,” he allowed, “that could also be said for you, Asha Greyjoy, and Arianne Martell.” The hint of a smile twitched at the corners of his lips. “Tywin was so busy watching the brothers, he forgot about the sisters.”
Myrcella began to shake her head, certain she was misunderstanding his words. “You cannot...She will kill you.”
“Yes,” Jaime mildly confirmed. “That is what happens to men who slay kings. Why do you think your grandfather ordered Rhaegar's children to be put to death? Children become adults, adults who want justice for the wrongs committed against their families.”
“But Aerys Targaryen was mad!”
“Really and truly. He was prepared to loose wildfire through all of King's Landing, leave Robert nothing but soot and ash to rule, and I saved those lives. But it does not matter because the life which was important was the king's and that I took.” A peculiar expression descending over his face, he stated, “This is no worse than I deserve.”
“You do not deserve this!” Myrcella insisted.
Jaime looked away, his eyes fixed on the window. After a moment, he said, “Queen Rhaella was one of my mother's dearest friends, and I did nothing to stop Aerys from raping her. I respected Prince Rhaegar, and I spoke not a word to defend him when Robert would drunkenly declare him the vilest man in the Seven Kingdoms. I guarded Princess Elia and did not argue with my father when he said that what Gregor Clegane did was necessary. I used to sneak Princess Rhaenys sweets after Aerys would rage, and I stared upon her body after she was murdered without making a sound.” Turning his gaze back upon Myrcella, self-loathing in his eyes, he pronounced, “Daenerys Targaryen deserves my head, for if she and her brother had not been spirited off to Essos, I would have been sent to end her life as well.”
Myrcella tried to blink through her tears, heart breaking. “But you would not have killed children.”
“Your mother was the queen then, Myrcella. I would have killed every last person in the world if it meant Cersei would be safe.”
She pushed to her feet, thoughts racing wildly. Desperation in her voice, she exclaimed, “Why can you not say no to her? Why can you not break away?”
“Why could you not hate the Young Wolf for Jeyne Westerling? Why will you raise her son when he will be a constant reminder of that pain?” Jaime countered.
Because I love him, she silently answered. Because he is the father of my children and the only man I have ever loved. Because I do not feel complete when I am not with him.
“Are you my father?”
Jaime scoffed. “If I was, I'm a piss-poor one, am I not?”
Little Ned cried constantly since Jeyne's death. Before departing Riverrun with Jason Mallister, their ship destined for Pentos until the war was over, Sybell had attempted to take the baby with her, insisting that he would be better with his family. When Robb protested, stating he would not have his son in another country, that Ned was already with family, Sybell declared she would not have Jeyne's child raised by a Lannister whore.
“I have never seen him so angry,” Arya confessed to Myrcella later as they ate supper. “I thought he would behead her right then and there.”
But Sybell was still Jeyne's mother, and Robb knew how well Jeyne loved them. Instead he let the Westerlings go, only the wet nurse left to care for Ned. Myrcella thought she would feel better with the Westerlings gone, but Ned's cries seldom quieted, a wailing reminder of what had been lost. She knew it unnerved Robb, but, since Jeyne's death, he could barely bring himself to look at his son, guilt painted on his face. It was as if Jeyne's absence was louder than her presence, and Ned's screams echoed in her wake.
Myrcella did not consciously decide to go to Ned that day. The wet nurse - Greta, she reminded herself – was only a few years older than Myrcella, but she looked to be older; her breasts were massive, even buried beneath yards of fabric, and she was not particularly pretty. There were whispers Theon had bedded her – there were always whispers Theon had bedded someone - but Myrcella did not know much about the nurse except she was rapidly losing her patience.
“I am sorry, Your Grace,” Great sputtered upon seeing Myrcella, Ned shrieking so loudly it made Myrcella's ears ache, his face as red as his hair. “He has been fed, but he is just - “
“Give him to me,” Myrcella requested, extending her arms. Greta hesitated only a moment before handing over the infant, gratitude flashing briefly on the woman's weathered face, before slipping back into a practiced look of deference. Ned did not quiet in Myrcella's arms, but Myrcella had not expected him to; she knew it was uncertainty more than anything which made Ned scream.
“I will tend to Ned for now. You should get something to eat and rest.” Bouncing Ned in her arms, she added, “But I would ask you have the servants fill a bath for me in my apartments but make sure the water is not too hot.”
“Yes, Your Grace,” Greta instantly agreed, dropping into a curtsy before hurrying from the nursery.
Ned continued to fuss as the servants filled the tub with water, as Myrcella wrestled him from his wool clothing. When the servants were gone, Myrcella shed her gown, holding a whining Ned close to her breast before carefully stepping into the tub. The water was nowhere near as hot as Myrcella liked it to be, but this bath was not for her; as the water touched Ned's skin, he started, beginning to whimper, before Myrcella grasped him beneath his arms and began to move him slowly and evenly through the water.
Ned quieted as she pushed him back and forth, the water gently lapping at his skin. After a moment, the ever present redness of his skin disappeared, his tears drying on his face. When he giggled, Myrcella found herself laughing as well.
“Oh, you like this, don't you? Your big brother Steffon used to like this as well. Old Nan said babies always love water because they swim in their mother's wombs.” Smiling as Ned's little hand slapped the water, she laughed, “You shall be a great swimmer, won't you? I can already tell. When we return to Winterfell, we will take you to the hot springs, and we shall teach you as we taught Steffon and Rickard. You can learn with Brynden and your sisters.”
She was not sure how long they had been in the bath when Robb entered her chambers, freezing in place at the sight of her lifting and lowering Ned into the water, his laughter unbearably sweet. Myrcella smiled at Robb, bidding him closer, and he slowly approached, bending beside the tub.
“You got him to stop crying,” he said, a touch of awe in his voice.
“Old Nan used to put Steffon in the bath when he'd get too fussy. I thought it might help.” Noticing the shuttered expression on his face, she ventured, “I did not mean to overstep - “
“No, it's fine,” he quickly assured her, reaching out to run a finger along the soft skin of Ned's arm. “I just did not expect...”
“I swore to Jeyne I would treat Ned as if he was my child, and I would not let my child cry.” Her eyes meeting Robb's, her voice thick with emotion, she stated, “Should you ever bring another child into our marriage, I will not be so kind.”
Robb leaned forward, kissing her temple. “The only children in our future will be our own.”
She held Ned to her breast that night, his body soft and warm against hers, his heartbeat fast as a hummingbird's wings, and Myrcella thought of Jeyne Westerling, the queen who would be forgotten, the wife whose name would only be said in whispers when telling a scandalous story about the king. One day Ned would hear the stories too, would learn he was no more Myrcella's blood than Lya Snow, and Myrcella wondered what he would think of her then, the only mother he would ever know. Would he hate her then? Would she become the villain? Would he look at her with the same distasteful look Myrcella used when looking upon Cersei Lannister?
But Ned was soft and sweet, his little head resting over her heart, and the future was far away for now.
Myrcella brought Jaime his supper one evening, preparing a tray of actual food rather than the customary scraps. She could practically see the saliva on Jaime's lips at the scent of food, his breathing having noticeably increased, and, as he tore into the capon with white teeth, his beard and hair so shaggy, he had never looked more like a lion.
“Do my captors know you are feeding me so well?” he asked between bites, not bothering to even feign manners as he shoveled the food into his mouth.
“A man should have a real meal on his name day.”
Jaime paused for a moment, surprise registering in his eyes. “I did not realize I had been here so long.”
She nodded, sinking down to the floor.
Myrcella could tell by the look on his face he was thinking of Cersei. At court when she was small, there were always grand name day celebrations for her parents, and always her mother would give a slice of her special cake to Jaime, who always sneaked her and Tommen bites while Joffrey was given his own piece.
“Then your name day is next week.”
Again she nodded, plucking a candied almond from his dish before popping it into her mouth.
“It was disgustingly hot the day you were born,” Jaime revealed as he began to take bites of the vegetables. “You couldn't do anything without being covered in sweat, and your mother spent the last month of her pregnancy in ice baths trying to get comfortable, which she never could. By our name day, she said she was going to tear open her stomach just to force you out.” Taking a swallow his honeyed wine, he continued, “Robert was in Storm's End when her labor began. With Joffrey, she had been nearly silent, clenching her jaw to keep from shouting, but she screamed with you. I thought she would die in the bed.”
“No wonder she was never fond of me,” Myrcella quipped.
Jaime smiled. “Maester Pycelle literally pulled you from Cersei's body, all flailing limbs and covered in blood. Neither of us even saw you at first because Cersei was bleeding so badly; you did not make a sound, and we both thought you were born dead. And then Pycelle said, 'The little princess is a peaceful thing,' and gave you over to Cersei.”
“Who only wanted sons,” Myrcella finished. “She told me half-a-hundred times she was not meant to be the mother of daughters. When I was five, a woman at court had a son she called Tytos, and Mother told me that was to have been my name.”
“She was so convinced you were a son, she did not choose a girl's name. When the raven was sent to Robert, he said he did not care. You had no name for for three days and, on the fourth, when I told her it was bad luck for a child to have no name, she said, 'Then you name her.' And so I did.”
“Why did you choose Myrcella?”
“It was what our mother meant to call Tyrion if he had been a girl.” Draining his glass, Jaime gestured for the wineskin in Myrcella's hand. After it was refilled, he said, “No one heard you speak until you were three. Cersei and Robert both worried you were mute or slow-witted but Maester Pycelle insisted you were simply shy, that there was nothing physically wrong with you. And then, one day, I was standing guard while your parents, Tyrion, Tywin, and a few others ate. You and Joffrey were there, silent and compliant, the perfect little prince and princess. When Cersei dismissed you, Joffrey went with the Hound and Arys Oakheart was to take you upstairs. But when your mother called for Arys, you said, clear as a bell, 'No, Jaime please.'”
Myrcella chuckled. “I am sure my mother loved that.”
“Everyone was so surprised, no one said anything at first. Then Robert started to laugh, Tyrion made a jape, and soon everyone forgot your silence.”
“Did you take me to my room?”
Jaime shook his head. “Robert wanted me close that night so I could hear when he fucked his serving girls.”
Taking a sip from the wineskin, Myrcella asked, “Are you my father?”
“I have been a member of the Kingsguard since I was but fifteen, and everyone knows we are forbidden to have wives or children.” Draining his glass for the second time, he snapped, “And why do you ask me that every time you come?”
“Because all I ever wished was for you to be my father.” Pushing to her feet, ignoring the anguished look on his face, she mused, “I should have known better than to think the silly wishes of a scared, little girl could ever come true.”
She did not visit him again until the raven arrived from Arianne Martell announcing Daenerys Targaryen was coming to Riverrun.
Once, when she was six, her uncle Renly told her stories about dragons. She had been sick in bed for almost a week with a fever, and Cersei insisted she not be allowed around Joffrey or Tommen at risk of getting them sick as well. It was not until she was older Myrcella realized the true reason her mother did not want to risk her sons falling ill was because they were more valuable than Myrcella was.
But Renly came to her bedchamber, sparkling eyes and wide smile, and Myrcella giggled when he gave her a clutch of sweet smelling flowers. Renly was only eight-and-ten then, already handsome and beloved at court, and her father loudly lamented the potential brides Renly turned away. She remembered feeling flattered Renly came to visit her, having eschewed one of his brother's hunting trips to remain at the castle, and she liked hearing the tales he told, using her dolls as props.
When Renly went to leave, he leaned forward to press a kiss to her hair, and Myrcella jerked away, remembering her mother's words when she requested a hug. “You cannot touch me or you will get sick too.”
Renly smirked and leaned forward, dropping his voice to whisper. “I will have you know that your sickness is not deadly, sweetling. Why, Ser Loras was abed with it, and he is well as can be now.” His lips were firm against her head. “I shall take my chances.”
But even though Myrcella told Grand Maester Pycelle what Renly said, he still insisted she remain in bed for another week, and Myrcella was really and truly miserable. When Jaime came to check in on her a few days later, bringing her a bowl of iced cream to soothe her burning throat, she begged, “Will you tell me stories about dragons?”
“Dragons?” he laughed. “Wouldn't you prefer a happier story, like Florian and Jonquil?”
Myrcella shook her head, greedily devouring her treat. “Uncle Renly told me stories about Balerion and Meraxes and how Aegon and his sisters rode them. I want to hear those stories.”
“What if I showed you a dragon?” he offered instead.
“But all the dragons are dead.”
“Yes, but I know a place where the bones of the dragons are. Would you like to see them?”
“But Maester Pycelle said I cannot leave my room.”
Jaime rolled his eyes, taking her bowl of cream and scooping her into his arms. She wore only her nightdress, her hair a hopeless tangle, but Jaime did not insist on her dressing or even putting on slippers. “I am a knight of the Kingsguard, my special girl, and, if old Pycelle says a word, I shall draw my sword to defend your honor.”
Myrcella giggled against his neck as he carried her through the castle. When they began to descend into the cellars of the Red Keep, Myrcella shivered, frightened; Joffrey tried to bring her down into the cellars once, saying he wanted to show her something, but Lord Varys found them and hurried them upstairs. She tightened her grasp on Jaime as they went further below ground, watching as Jaime removed a torch from the wall to light their way.
They loomed in the darkness, the skulls of nineteen dragons, some as small as a dog, others so large Jaime could stand tall in their massive jaws. Myrcella gasped as Jaime brought her to the largest skull, encouraging her to touch the bone; she was not sure if it was her imagination or not, but the bone felt warm as a bath.
“This was Balerion the Black Dread,” Jaime informed her, his voice soft with an edge of play to it. “He was the largest and fiercest of all the Targaryen dragons, and Aegon the Conqueror rode him as if he was nothing more than a pony. His sisters, Rhaenys and Viserya, rode theirs just the same, and the only time they all ever filled the sky was during the Field of Fire. They say Balerion lived to be 200-years-old, but only Aegon was ever bold enough to mount him.”
“Why did all the dragons die?”
“No one knows for sure, though the maesters all have ideas. But most believe that dragons are born of magic and that, when the magic began to leave the world, so did the dragons.”
“Mother says magic was never real, that it just exists in songs and stories.”
“Well, do not tell your mother I said this, but she does not know everything.” His smile was bright even in the darkness of the cellars, and Myrcella thought he was the most handsome man to have ever walked the earth.
Myrcella thought of those skulls as the sky above Riverrun became shadowed by the flapping of wings. Already men Trystane Martell called the Unsullied were marching into the yard, Ser Barristan Selmy and Ser Jorah Mormont leading them. There were Dothraki on horseback, a mishmash of men in eclectic armor, and, coming up the rear, Arianne Martell and her cousins.
But it was the three dragons circling overhead which drew the eyes and gasps of everyone in Riverrun. Even from the ground, Myrcella could see only two of the dragons had riders; the third, the one whose scales were green and bronze, carried no one. If they were large in the air, they were massive upon the ground; Myrcella could hear the direwolves in the castle howling anxiously, undoubtedly sensing the dragons, sensing a threat, and she knew these creatures of Daenerys Targaryen's could swallow Grey Wind, Ghost, and Nymeria in one bite.
A boy dismounted from the cream colored dragon, two-and-ten if he was a day; he was heavily bundled in furs, clearly unused to the cold. His skin was the warm copper of the Dothraki but his hair was Targaryen white, hanging in a long braid which brushed his shoulders, a single bell in the strands. Rhaego, the Dragon Prince, the son of the Dragon Queen and the greatest Khal who ever lived if Myrcella remembered correctly. In the snow, standing beside his dragon, Ser Jorah helping him walk through the thick embankments, he looked very much a boy.
Queen Daenerys Targaryen wore no furs, no cloaks; as she slipped from the black dragon's back, Myrcella saw she wore pants and a painted vest like the Dothraki did in pictures she had seen in Tyrion's books. Her skin was as white as the snow, her silver hair hanging in waves to her waist; Trystane had said she was the most beautiful woman in the world, and Myrcella was starting to believe him as the men around her stared in awe. Ser Barristan and a Dothraki man offered hands to help her, but the queen shook them off, sinking into the snow, laughing as Rhaego said something to her; the sound was so clear and unexpected, Myrcella smiled as well.
The Dragon Queen was human after all, a woman only a few years older than Myrcella with a son she loved. It was simultaneously comforting and disappointing; Myrcella had been picturing a woman as fierce as Maege Mormont, not a woman even smaller in stature than she, a woman who did not even carry a weapon.
Of course she would not need a weapon. She has dragons.
Daenerys stood before them in her Dothraki garb, a small smile upon her lips. Myrcella bent the knee as everyone else did only to rise with the Dragon Queen's eyes upon her. She was certain Ser Barristan or Arianne had told her all about the King in the North's wife, the sister of King Joffrey, the daughter of the Usurper or the Kingslayer depending upon who told the story. Myrcella wondered if she was going to end up in a cell beside Jaime before this was all over.
“I wish to see the Kingslayer,” Daenerys announced, the strength of her voice in direct contrast to her harmless appearance.
Robb nodded. “I will have him brought from the dungeons.”
“My men will need to be seen to as well.” Her gaze falling upon Myrcella again, she drawled, “You are the one they call the Kingmaker?”
Myrcella said nothing, unsure how to answer; Ser Barristan stepped forward and offered, “This is the Princess Myrcella.”
“I should tell you, Princess, I have no love for Lannisters and trust them even less. Everyone knows that the Lannisters have no honor.”
“As everyone knows the Targaryens are mad,” Myrcella retorted, drawing an offended look for Jorah Mormont.
Daenerys chuckled softly. “Oh, I am mad, Princess, I do not deny that. But I suspect you have a bit of madness inside of you as well.”
That Myrcella could not argue.
The night before her wedding, Myrcella had not been able to sleep, excitement tangled up with nervousness. She tossed and turned, tried desperately to force herself to rest, but it would not come. It was only when the moon was high in the sky she finally admitted defeat, wrapping herself in a robe to steal down to the kitchens for dreamwine.
After six years at Winterfell, Myrcella knew the corridors as well as any Stark, slipping silently down the servants' passage towards the kitchens, following the way Rickon used when he wanted to steal sweets. The last thing Myrcella expected to find was Jaime leaning against the table, swigging heavily from a wineskin.
“Little princesses should be asleep in their beds,” Jaime quipped with a languid smile. “You do not want to look a mess for your new husband, do you?”
“I cannot sleep. I wanted dreamwine.”
“Dreamwine? You are far too young to be needing dreamwine to sleep.” Jaime lifted her by the hips, setting her on the table before giving her the wineskin. “Regular wine will do just fine for anxious brides.”
Myrcella smiled around the mouth of the skin, the sour Dornish wine causing her to pull a face that made Jaime laugh. After a moment, he asked, “What troubles your sleep, my dear? I thought you wanted to marry the Young Wolf.”
“I do,” she quickly assured him. “I want to marry Robb, I do.”
“Then if the wedding does not upset you, what does?” Realization dawned on his face as quickly as the words fell from his lips. “It is the bedding, isn't it?”
Myrcella blushed, grateful for the darkness of the room so Jaime could not see how brightly red her cheeks were. She stumbled on her words for a moment, trying to craft a lie, but, as it always did with Jaime, the truth came out. “I do not want all the men to tear my dress and see me naked. I tried to tell Mother but she said I was being stupid, that I mustn't do anything to embarrass the family. And she said that worse things come after that, so if I am going to act like a fool over my dress, it will be a very long night.”
“Sweetling - “
“Lady Catelyn told me what will happen, but she said it will hurt the first time, and I do not want it to hurt.” Tears blurring her vision, she sniffled, “I am going to ruin everything, and Robb will not love me.”
“Now you are being stupid,” Jaime stated, brushing away a stray tear with a callused thumb. “That boy looks at you as if you are the most wondrous thing he has ever seen. You could geld him tomorrow and he'd still kneel at your feet.”
“But I have to give him an heir! I cannot give him an heir if I cannot be a wife the way I am supposed to be!”
Jaime took her face firmly between his palms, his emerald eyes flashing in the darkness. “Robb Stark is not Joffrey. What Joffrey did to you was wrong and you did not want it, which is why it hurt you so badly. It will be different with Robb. When you are with someone you want, it is wonderful.”
“Do you promise?” she whispered.
“My most solemn promise.” He pressed a gentle kiss to her forehead. “The pain is in the past now, sweetling. No more worries.”
You broke your promise, Myrcella thought as two Tully bannermen delivered Jaime in chains to the main hall. Daenerys sat in the lord's seat in a fresh gown with a three-headed dragon crown atop her head, Jorah Mormont and Barristan Selmy standing behind her; Robb and Edmure were both seated on either side of the dragon queen, Robb in the crown Gendry crafted for him, Edmure dressed finely in Tully colors. As Jaime stumbled to his knees, Myrcella moved to help him, but Arianne caught her wrist, shaking her head minutely.
“You cannot go to him,” Arianne murmured, her lips barely moving. “If you try to free the Kingslayer, she will have your head too.”
On the other side of her, Theon clasped her shoulder, squeezing gently. Myrcella looked at him from the corner of her eye, seeing Theon for mayhaps the first time. He was bartered to the North as much as she had been once, kept so long amongst the Starks that they, too, had become more his family than his own; she remembered Asha teasing him with words like “greenlander” at Winterfell, the insinuation he was not truly Ironborn because he would prefer to ride with Robb than take the Seastone Chair. The Greyjoys had not wanted Theon any more than the Lannisters had wanted her.
But Jaime wanted me. He took care of me. He loved me. And now I'm supposed to just stand by and let him be killed?
Someone had washed her uncle, shaved his monstrous beard and dressed him in Lannister colors; without the rags and beard, Myrcella could see just how much weight he had lost, flinching from the sight of how prominent his cheekbones had become. But even as the chains jangled on his wrists and ankles, the wrist chains linked to a cuff around his throat, Myrcella could see the Lannister arrogance in his eyes.
“I expected you to be bigger, scarier even,” Daenerys said, her violet eyes taking everything in. “But you are just a man.” When Jaime said nothing, anger flashes across Daenerys's pretty face. “You have nothing to say to me?”
“You're prettier than your mother,” Jaime replied, his voice sounding mildly amused.
Daenerys got to her feet, rage radiating off of her. “You mock me?! After all you have done to my family, you sit there and jape?”
“I am an evil man, Your Grace, or did Barristan the Bold not tell you that?” Rolling his eyes, Jaime chuckled mirthlessly. “You should school your face better. Your brother never showed his anger.”
“Do not speak of my family!” she snapped.
“If you did not want me to speak of your family, why drag me from my cell? My head comes off just as easily in the dungeons.” His smile was practically feral as he drawled, “Or did you wish to hear the tale of how I killed your mad father? How I slid my blade into his body without a second thought? How his blood made the Keep truly red?”
“Stop it!” Myrcella shouted, unable to move forward due to Theon's grip on her. “Jaime, stop - “
“You should learn to control you wife better, Your Highness,” he interrupted, looking at Myrcella but speaking to Robb. “You should have your men take her out until she minds her manners.”
The moment Robb's eyes met hers, Myrcella knew what was going to happen. Theon easily wrapped her up in his arms, half-carrying her and half-dragging her, and Myrcella began to fight as viciously as she ever had, fighting even harder than she had when Rodrik Cassel drug her away from Winterfell.
“No, Theon, Robb, do not do this! Please! Please, Your Grace, do not take his head! I beg you please - “
Theon swept her over his shoulder the way he did to her children, trying to contain her legs as she beat uselessly upon his back. He did not stop until they were in her chamber, Theon depositing her upon the bed, his face heavy with apology, before retreating back into the corridor. Myrcella tried to give chase but the door refused to move; she banged with her fists upon the heavy wood but it was useless. By the time she admitted defeat, her hands were bruised black and blue, pain radiating all the way up her arms from her efforts.
Night fell before Robb came to her chambers, his face worn and drawn, crown in his hands. Myrcella knew from his expression what he was about to tell her, and the rage she felt was more encompassing than anything which came before; he reached a hand toward her and Myrcella flew at him, slapping him as hard as she could, shouting curses she had never dared to say. Robb caught her wrists, pulling her arms against her chest, waiting for her anger to dissipate.
Myrcella was unsure how long she raged before the strength left her, both she and Robb covered in sweat from the strain. The tears came on so quickly, she was unprepared for the force of her sorrow; it hurt to breathe.
“He did not want you to see him like that,” Robb said, smoothing her hair as he cradled her against his chest, rocking her gently. “He did not want your last memory of him to be his execution.”
“But – But – But I did not get to say good-bye!” she sobbed. “And he saved the realm! The king was mad! He was not – He was good!”
“I am sorry, my love,” he murmured against her hair, his own voice sounding thick with emotion. “I begged the queen to consider something else, but Jaime insisted. He said...He said this was his last chance for honor.” His lips soft against the moist skin of her forehead, he added, “But Jaime asked me to tell you something before...”
Myrcella pulled back to look upon Robb's face. “What?”
“He said the answer is yes. Do you know what that means?”
She nodded shakily, wiping the tears from her cheeks. Sinking fully against Robb, fingers clutching his surcoat tightly, Myrcella stared at Jaime's sword. Finally she declared, “I want to go home.”
“And we shall.”
Queen Daenerys did one kindness for Jaime Lannister; she did not have his head mounted over Riverrun, did not have his body desecrated. After separating his golden head from his shoulders, Daenerys had what was left of Ser Jaime Lannister placed in a coffin, the men who had been captured with him escorting his bones to Casterly Rock.
Myrcella did not keep the Seven any longer, but she went to the Sept the day the bones departed. She lit a candle to the Stranger, hoping the light would guide Jaime to peace before lighting a candle to the Warrior, asking for strength, for Jaime's strength. It was not until she moved to rise from her prayers she noticed Queen Daenerys in the Sept's entrance.
“Pardon me, Your Grace, I was - “
“Dany,” the dragon queen interrupted, taking a seat in a sturdy wooden pew. “You may call me Dany if I may call you Myrcella.”
Myrcella nodded, confused.
“My brother Viserys used to speak of the Great Sept of Baelor when we were in exile. He said the Gods would smile upon us and bring us back to our rightful place; he would be the king and I would be his wife as it had been for hundreds of years. And then he would make me recite the names of the men who destroyed the Targaryens like a twisted prayer: Robert Baratheon, Eddard Stark, Jaime Lannister, Tywin Lannister. Then I would have to name all of those who were taken from us: King Aerys, Queen Rhaella, Prince Rhaegar, Princess Elia, Princess Rhaenys, Prince Aegon. Sometimes he would even make me list how they all died. I was taught to believe those men were as heinous as you were taught to believe the Mad King deserved what happened.”
“Your father was mad,” Myrcella stated. “He burnt Eddard Stark's father alive in his armor simply because he came to court at the king's request. He - “
“I know his sins, Myrcella, just as I am sure you can list those committed by Jaime Lannister. But that did not make them any less our fathers, does it?” Daenerys stared at the flickering candles on the seven altars. “I do not have a stomach for war. If my husband had lived, I could have easily lived in the Dothraki Sea with Drogo and Rhaego and whatever other children we had. If the Usurper had not sent men to kill my son, I would never have crossed the Narrow Sea.” Her violet eyes finding Myrcella's green ones, she said, “Arianne says you would have done the same if your brother had not demanded your son. We are not so different.”
“All I want is peace,” Myrcella admitted. “I want my children to be safe, my husband to be safe. I do not want to have the shadow of the Iron Throne at our backs.”
“And you won't have it. We shall take the Twins first, free your husband's men and avenge the Red Wedding. Those men will go North to Winterfell while the rest of our army will march on King's Landing. The Reach will hold back the Westerlands, and the Stormlands will meet us from the South. Your brother's reign will be over by spring.”
“It does not bother you, my willingness to betray my family?”
Daenerys smiled sadly as she got to her feet. “I have never met Joffrey but I have heard stories. And I remember all that Viserys did during his life as well as what it felt like to watch my husband pour molten gold upon his head. Mayhaps others will one day accuse you of kinslaying, Myrcella, but those people have never known what it is like to have older brothers like ours.”
Myrcella remained in the Sept after Daenerys left, lighting candles for Robb, Theon, and Jon. They would need as many gods watching as possible when the dragons took to the skies.
Chapter 7: The Queen in the North
Robb was speaking to someone.
As Myrcella drifted back towards consciousness, she could hear Robb's voice, soft and thick with his Northern accent, discussing something. Rolling onto her other side, Myrcella opened her eyes to find Robb standing near the window overlooking the yard as sunlight began to filter in, Ned wide awake on his chest.
“And Brynden,” Robb was saying, his fingers idly stroking Ned's back, “he is small but he is so smart. He is only five, but he already knows all of his letters and reads as well as your older brothers. He wants to be a maester. Your sister Joanna is a beautiful girl. She is so sweet; your grandmother writes how gentle she is.” As Ned babbled, Robb chuckled before continuing. “Lya is your uncle Rickon's natural daughter with your aunt Elenya, but you will know her as your sister. I am going to legitimize her as Rickon's daughter; she deserves to be a Stark as well. She is like Aunt Arya, which is both good and bad. She says she wants to be a knight, but she is still small, barely even two. They will love you as you will love them.”
Myrcella could hear the longing in Robb's voice, his desire for his words to be true; she knew he worried Ned would not be accepted by their children. Though the children had taken to Lya without incident, Myrcella knew there was a difference between accepting a cousin and accepting a child your father had with another woman. Myrcella knew how deeply it had wounded Jon to never fully be accepted as a Stark and how much it bothered Robb; no matter how complicated her feelings were for poor departed Jeyne Westerling, Myrcella did not wish for Ned to know that sort of alienation.
“You will love Winterfell,” Robb stated with more certainty in his voice, beginning to pace the floor as Ned made a high, whining noise. “Your mother was Southron, from the Westerlands, but you have Northern blood. Jeyne was afraid of the North, but I told her it was not nearly as scary as her mother made it sound.” Robb was quiet for a moment, bouncing Ned in his arms, before confessing, “Your mother was a wonderful woman with a gentle heart, and I did not do well by her. I suppose I could have learned to love her in time, had it not...”
Had it not been for me, Myrcella silently finished, pressing her face into Robb's pillow, inhaling the scent of him. She suddenly wished she had remained asleep, not wanting to hear the rest of her husband's words.
“Myrcella is my wife and your stepmother, but I hope you will come to love her as your mother. She is...I have loved her since I was barely more than a boy, and I do not know how not to love her. I wed your mother Jeyne because I thought Myrcella was dead, and I could not bear it. If you must hate anyone when you are older, place the blame with me. I truly believe Myrcella would have let Jeyne be my queen if I had not constantly pushed.” Robb pressed a kiss to the top of Ned's head. “I am no king, Ned. I am just a man, and I do not wish you to ever know the sorrows of my life.”
Myrcella listened as Greta came to reclaim Ned for his morning feeding, and, when the chamber door closed again, she finally sat up. Robb stood looking out the window, his broad back to her, and she could see the wilt to his shoulders, burdened down by all which was about to happen. In three days time, he, his men, Jon and his dragon were going to march upon the Twins to free the allies in the Freys' dungeons before going on to Winterfell; while they marched North, Daenerys and her allies were going to King's Landing. If rebellion had been what filled the Seven Kingdoms before, all out warfare was going to be declared, complete with the dragons of old, and it made Myrcella ill to think of it too closely.
“I must be a poor wife if you leave my bed so early.”
Robb turned, a tired smile on his face. His eyes took in her bare breasts appreciatively as he crossed to the bed, perching beside her. Their lips met in a long, soft kiss before Robb pulled back, absently tucking a lock of hair behind her ear. “I am to meet with Ser Jorah and Ser Barristan to discuss the upcoming battles. Trystane is to meet with us as well.”
Myrcella smiled at the hint of distaste in Robb's voice. Ever since Trystane had too much strongwine one night and groped her during a dance, Robb was desperate to punch the Dornishman. With Arianne's presence at Riverrun, his interactions with the young prince were limited, but even the sound of Trystane's name was enough to spoil his mood.
“Try to keep a civil tongue.”
“I would keep a civil tongue if he did not lust after you so blatantly.”
Drawing him down for another kiss, she reminded him, “I do not want Trystane Martell. Why would I toil with a prince when I have a king?”
Robb smirked, tumbling her back against the pillows. Myrcella raised her mouth, her hands already reaching for his laces when Robb caught her hands gently. Pressing kisses to her fingers, he groaned, “I must go, but I will be back as quickly as possible. Stay here and do not put a stitch on.”
“You have become so demanding since becoming king.”
“I swear that, when we are at Winterfell again, I will gladly remain naked in your bed for as long as you want me there.”
But we will not have time because you are the king now, and you belong to the North even more than you belong to me.
But Myrcella knew Robb thought the overwhelming demands on his time would lessen once the war was over. He did not understand that keeping the peace was twice as exhausting, that being Warden of the North was not going to be anything when compared to being King in the North. Myrcella remembered what it was like as a child, how her father was constantly being besieged by Jon Arryn and the other men on the small council, how the drinking and the whoring increased as time went on as a way of escaping.
He will need a strong Hand, she thought as Robb went to his meeting. He trusts Theon as well as anyone but the North will never fully trust a Greyjoy. Jon's legitimization by Dany makes him Targaryen; he will remain in King's Landing, likely as her consort. Arya has no head for politics, and Gendry knows nothing of the North. Mayhaps Bran if he is willing; he has been invaluable in keeping Rickard protected. But we will also need a small council. Once we've assembled a Kingsguard, he can appoint Lord Commander; that still leaves Master of Coin, Master of Laws, Master of Whispers, Master of Ships, and Grand Maester.
Rising from the bed, Myrcella wrapped herself in a heavy robe before sitting at the desk, locating a piece of parchment and beginning to write.
Lord Manderly should be Master of Ships. Lord Glover certainly deserves a place as does the Greatjon once he is freed. And I will insist on one of the Mormonts having a seat; they have served us and our family well. If Maester Luwin was alive, we could raise him to Grand Maester, but he perished during the siege. Mayhaps we could find a way to release Sam Tarly of his vows to the Wall; he would make a fine Grand Maester. And if Dany strips the Lannisters of their lands and titles, Tommen could come North and we could find a place for him. Robb has always loved Tommen.
By the time Robb returned, good-naturedly complaining about the robe on her shoulders, Myrcella had filled three pages with appointments and thoughts on how the North should be governed. She listed ideas for the Kingsguard, potential alliances which could be strengthened through marriage, even ideas for how to strengthen relations with Lord Commander Mormont at the Wall. Robb stood over her shoulder, reading her careful script, after a moment he set the paper down and sighed.
“I was simply trying - “
“Why would you make Theon the Master of Whispers?” he asked, genuinely curious.
“Men trust Theon; he is everyone's favorite man to share a drink. And he spends more time in brothels than my uncle Tyrion, and everyone knows whores know all the secrets of the realm, shared by drunken lords and desperate guards.”
“And Tommen as Master of Coin?”
“Well, Lannisters do shit gold.” Robb laughed, shaking his head. “If Daenerys doesn't take all of the Lannister holdings, if I can convince her that Tommen and Tyrion are not going to work against her, it makes Tyrion Lord of Casterly Rock. Jaime told me Tommen increased the coffers of the Westerlands twice over during his time in the West, and he did so without taxing the poor into absolute hunger. I think he could be a loyal lord to you.”
Robb nodded silently before remarking, “You have not named a Hand.”
“I assumed you would want to do so, though I have listed options. You will need a strong Hand. The North loves you well, but the North is also the size of the South. You will collapse if you do not have someone to handle the more tedious matters.”
“And if I wished to name you? Is that an option?”
Myrcella blinked in surprise. “I am the queen. I cannot be the Hand.”
“Why not? You've listed Gendry as an option for the Kingsguard, and he and Arya have been...whatever he and Arya are for years.”
“We do not have to do everything like they do in the South. Good men can serve a king well without having to hold nothing of their own.”
“Then why can the queen not also by the Hand?”
Rising from her chair, Myrcella crossed her arms over her chest, shaking her head with a shrug. “Because I do not want it. I never even wanted a crown. I know everyone calls me the Kingmaker, but I did not do it for you or for our children; I only did what I did to keep our children from Joffrey.”
“I know that.”
“You know it, but you do not understand it.” Sitting on the bed, Myrcella rubbed her face with her hands before pronouncing, “You do not know what it is like to be a woman and to be a Lannister on top of it. Your men may like me, but if you name me your Hand, it will weaken you in their eyes and make them suspicious of me. I'm the daughter of Cersei and Jaime Lannister. No one is like to forget that.”
“And I have told you half-a-hundred times I do not care about that.”
“Just because you do not care about it does not mean it ceases to matter to others.” Letting Robb tilt her head back so she was staring up into his eyes, she sighed, “I know who I am, Robb, and I am not ashamed of it. Let some deserving man serve as your Hand, and I will be content to host their pretty wives and smile.”
“You are worth more than that.”
Drawing him down for a kiss, she assured him, “I will not be the first capable woman who wastes her days sipping tea and embroidering shirts.”
But I will be the first who chose uselessness when a kingdom was offered.
She was in the godswood with Ghost and Grey Wind when Prince Rhaego found her. His silver hair matched the melting snow on the ground, and he looked semi-ridiculous in this outfit of furs and boots; not even the men at the Wall had worn such heavy furs. Daenerys said the Dothraki Sea did not get cold the way Westeros did, that Slaver's Bay became cool but high snows never fell; Myrcella thought it sounded nice to live in a place where winter never beat people so viciously.
Rhaego was accompanied by two Dothraki men, the ones Daenerys called her bloodriders. The queen said they spoke the Common Tongue but Myrcella only ever heard them speak Dothraki. Irri, one of Daenerys's handmaidens, taught Myrcella a handful of words to help her with Daenerys's people, but her accent was atrocious and often earned more snickers than understanding. When the men saw the wolves, they pulled their arakhs, and Myrcella held up her hands.
“They won't hurt you,” she immediately said.
One of the bloodriders spat something in Dothraki but Rhaego interrupted him in the same language before stepping forward tentatively. “Mother says your husband's wolves are like our dragons. She says they are parts of the Starks.”
“All of Eddard Stark's children have a direwolf.”
“Now that Jon has Rhaegal, what will happen to his wolf?”
“I imagine he will keep Ghost as well. If his dragon is the Targaryen part of him, then Ghost is the Stark part.” Scratching the top of Grey Wind's head, Myrcella told the wolves to return to the castle, and they immediately took off into the trees, loping playfully through the snow. “Have you come to pray to the Old Gods?”
Rhaego shook his head. “My mother worships the Seven and my father kept to Dothraki beliefs.” His handsome face darkened. “Or so I am told.”
“You do not remember your father?”
“He died the day I was born. A maegi promised to save him from blood poisoning but it was a trick. His name was Khal Drogo, and he was the greatest khal in the world. His braid was longer than any other man's and full of bells.”
Myrcella knew from Obara that the bells in a Dothraki's hair signified how many men the person had killed; she could hear the tinkle of the single bell in Rhaego's braid. “I am sorry you did not know him.”
“I came into the forest because I was bored and Ser Jorah said his people keep the Old Gods. I wanted to see a heart tree.”
She gestured to the tree beside her, its face brightly red in the white of the land. “Here it is.”
The boy stared at the tree for a moment, touching its face with gloved fingers, before asking, “Do you truly think the Old Gods are in this tree?”
“I believe they can be in the heart tree as much as I believe they can be in the Great Sept of Baelor.”
Rhaego nodded before asking, “What did you ask the Gods for?”
“For the war to end without the people I love dying. For the war to end.”
“I would like that too.” Idly kicking snow with the toe of his boot, he asked, “When the war is over, can your sons come to court so we can play?”
For the first time Myrcella truly looked at Daenerys's son and saw just how young he was. Even at two-and-ten, only a few years younger than she had been when she wed Robb, Rhaego was still a child who was being asked to ride a dragon into battle, to take back a kingdom which meant nothing to him. Ser Barristan told her Rhaego was the subject of a prophecy, that he was “the Stallion who Mounts the World,” but Rhaego looked less like a warrior and very much like a boy who would prefer to have snowball fights and smile at girls.
“I am sure they would like that.”
As she walked with Rhaego back to the castle, she thought of Steffon, so far away in Eyrie, and wondered how heavily the crown would rest upon his head one day.
Robb and his men were to depart for the Twins in two days time, and the stress of it began to weigh upon Myrcella. She did not dare voice her fears, not when everyone she loved was preparing to go to war, and so Myrcella found herself drinking strongwine that evening in one of the empty parlors. Despite the presence of wine and mead at every meal, Myrcella never much had a taste for it; too many nights of watching Robert stumble and bellow after indulging too much had soured her on it. But as she swallowed the strongwine back, she found the tension starting to leave her body, her thoughts clouding enough that the ever-present twist of fear in her chest began to loosen.
She was well on her way to completely intoxicated when Theon stumbled into the room. His eyes widened at the sight of her drinking directly from the skin before he drawled, amusement thick in his voice, “Are you drunk?”
Trying to look intimidating despite the fact the world was starting to blur, she retorted, “You may stay and drink or leave me in peace, but you cannot stay and lecture.”
Theon held up his hands in surrender. “I would never, Your Grace. May I have a drink?”
Myrcella handed him the skin, watched as he took a heavy pull from it. His eyes widened a bit as the liquid hit his tongue before he passed it back.
“That's Dornish strongwine. You're going to get sick if you finish all that.”
“That sounds remarkably like lecturing.” Clutching the wineskin tighter, she declared, “I am not going to share my wine with you anymore.”
Theon smiled as he sank into the chair opposite her. “You are a mean drunk, Cella. I hope you know that.”
“Drinking always made Robert so happy. I thought I would try it.” Wiping stray drops of wine from her lips, she bluntly asked, “Why have you never married, Theon? You are over thirty, and there are women who would wed you.”
Theon's face darkened a moment before replying, “I suppose I have not found a lady I have wanted to keep forever.”
“It is hard to find ladies in brothels, I suppose.” Ignoring his irritated expression, she continued, “You are a good man. Promise me you will not die when you go North.”
“I will not die,” he dutifully replied. “Nor will I allow Robb to die.”
“Make sure he does not take another wife as well,” she retorted, and Myrcella was surprised by the bitterness in her voice. She had never fully discussed Jeyne with Robb, especially since her death, and, though she was doing everything she could to nurture Ned, there was still a burn in her chest at the reminder of Jeyne Westerling.
Mayhaps I am more like Lady Catelyn than I believed.
Theon reached over, taking the wineskin from her hand; she could tell from his expression he had no intentions of giving it back. “Don't get angry because you don't want to be scared. It will get you both killed.”
Flushing from embarrassment, feeling as chastised as a child, Myrcella stumbled to her feet, nearly tumbling over. Theon rose, bracing her by the elbow, and she sagged against him, grateful for the support.
“Please do not tell him what I said,” she murmured as Theon began to escort her back towards her rooms.
Theon nodded. “It would serve no purpose.”
“But I did mean what I said: you should marry.”
His laughter was as bitter as her snipe about Robb. “I have nothing to offer a lady. Asha sits upon my throne, and, though I am no longer a hostage, I have nowhere else to go even if I wanted to leave. The North will never see me as anything but a treasonous Greyjoy and the Iron Isles will only ever see me as a greenlander. If I am lucky, Robb will arrange a marriage for me with some witless maid no other fool wanted.”
Myrcella instantly thought of Lollys Stokeworth. “I will find you a good lady to love.”
“Oh, my heart was stolen long ago by a sweet, little princess who married my brother.” Theon smiled disarmingly, the echo of pain visible in his eyes even through her haze of drunkenness. “I shall never love again and must content myself with wenches and dishonorable ladies.”
“You would not want my love, Theon. The price is far too high.” Nearly tripping up a stair, she slurred, “If Robb had married someone else, even if he had married Jeyne to start, he would be in Winterfell right now with Eddard and Rickon and all the rest. He would be safe and sound. Everyone would be safe and sound.”
“Robb is happy to pay it.”
When she tripped again, her face narrowly avoiding a stone wall, Theon swept her into his arms; Myrcella wanted to protest, but her stomach was churning. Closing her eyes, Myrcella did not realize she drifted off to sleep until she awoke to Robb's hands on her face, concern on his face.
“My head hurts,” she whimpered, and Robb cracked a smile.
“Strongwine does that.” Slipping his hands beneath her back, undoing the laces there before drawing the gown carefully from Myrcella's body, Robb said, “I cannot remember you ever having more than a few glasses of wine in all the time I've known you.”
Trying to wrestle herself free from her shift, she mumbled, “Everyone looks so happy when they drink. I thought it would make me forget for a little bit.” She dropped back against the pillows, tossing her shift to the floor, now clad in only her smallclothes. “I do not want to be left behind.”
Robb brushed a soft kiss against her brow. “Never again, my love.”
The next time Myrcella woke, it was to vomit everything in her stomach. Robb roused beside her, calling a servant to bring fresh water; by the time Myrcella was finished and the servant took away the basin, her throat burned like fire and her stomach ached.
“I shall never drink again,” she moaned as she rinsed the sour taste from her mouth.
Robb rubbed her back comfortingly. “It has happened to us all, sweetling. When you are feeling better, I shall tell you a very funny one about Rickon, a mule, two ladies from Acorn Hall, and a very angry miller.”
Setting back into the furs, Robb cradling her against his chest, she whispered, “I miss Rickon so much. Every time I see Arya or Gendry, I look for him. I loved him as well as Tommen.”
“I know.” His fingers carding through her hair, he divulged, “The day word of the siege reached us, I could not find him anywhere. When I finally found him, he was in a grove of trees just...hacking with his sword, crying harder than he had since he was a babe. He was shouting how he was going to kill everyone, how he was going to take Roose Bolton's head with Ice, how he was going to burn King's Landing to the ground. And then he said, 'How could he kill her? She was my best friend.'”
Myrcella pressed her face against his shoulder, tears stinging her eyes. “You must kill the Freys for what they did to him and Shaggydog.”
“I will,” Robb solemnly swore. “And for Littlejon, for Dacey, for every man who went to that damned wedding and found themselves betrayed. Then I will march north and make Roose Bolton pay for all he did; I will pull the Dreadfort apart stone by stone with my bare hands if I must.”
“Dreadfort should be Theon's,” she murmured as sleep began to pull at her again. “He deserves a home of his own when the war is done.”
“Everyone deserves a home.”
“Careful, Your Grace. You are starting to sound more like a septon than a king.”
Tucking the furs more securely around their bodies, he teased, “If you were not so sickened from wine, I would prove to you how unlike a septon I truly am.”
Myrcella drifted off to sleep, her dreams full of Winterfell, direwolves, and the little boy who once declared he would duel Robb for the right to marry her as long as she promised to never make Shaggydog sleep outside.
Jon found her as the men were preparing to depart from Riverrun. Myrcella could not bring herself to go out into the yard, afraid she would cling to Robb and beg him not to go, and so she remained in one of the solars, watching as Rhaego petted Viserion as if he was nothing more than one of Tommen's kittens.
“They don't scare you,” Jon commented as he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with her, pointing to Viserion and Rhaegal.
“They scare me,” she corrected, absently reaching down to scratch Ghost's head. “It is just that the size of them does not surprise me. There are dragon skulls in the lower levels of the Red Keep.”
Jon nodded. “It is strange. When I am with Ghost, I have this connection to him like the one Robb has with Grey Wind or Arya has with Nymeria; even Sansa talks of her bond with Lady. But when I go near Rhaegal, it is as if there is something...more.”
“Blood of the dragon.”
“But did Lyanna Stark willingly create a child with the dragon prince or did he take what he wanted?” A flicker of a bitter smile tugged at his lips. “Dany had black armor inlaid with rubies made for me, armor like Rhaegar's so all of Westeros knows I am King Jon Targaryen, the Prince Who Was Promised.”
“You do not believe it?”
“My blood may be Targaryen, but my father was Eddard Stark. I can be dressed in Rhaegar's armor, I can even share the Iron Throne with Dany, but I am a Stark of Winterfell.” His eyes met hers meaningfully. “Like you.”
“Like me,” she agreed. As Rhaego hopped upon Viserion's back, Myrcella teased, “Tyene tells me you have spent many a night in the Queen's bed.”
Jon's cheeks burned crimson. “Tyene is a gossip.”
“But not a liar.”
“Robb thinks it is disgusting because, if Rhaegar was my father, then Daenerys is my aunt. I have the better claim for the throne, he says, and I do not need to warm Dany's bed to claim it.”
“My parents were twins, so I cannot cast a stone. But I do not think you stay in Dany's chambers because you are so desperate to have a crown.” Turning, wrapping her arms firmly around Jon, she declared against the thick wool of his shirt, “I do not care if you are a Targaryen, a Stark, or a baseborn bastard. Just come back because I could not stand to lose another brother.”
Jon squeezed her tightly, pressing a kiss to the crown of her head. “I had hoped you would do me a favor.”
Myrcella lifted her head to meet his gaze. “Anything.”
“I cannot bring Ghost aboard Rhaegal, and he does not listen to Robb half-so-well as he listens to you. I was hoping you would care for him until I return.”
“Of course.” Resting her head against his chest again, she sighed, “Do not die again, Jon Snow, or I will be very angry.”
“I shall do my very best.”
“Stealing my wife, Snow?” Robb asked as he entered the room, his armor already in place, looking every ounce the king he was. Myrcella thought of the last time she saw Eddard Stark, how large and imposing he seemed as he tried to fight back Roose Bolton's men, how certain she was he would use his greatsword to send the men of the Dreadfort back. Robb did not appear intimidating to her – he never had - but she knew he would do whatever it took to return the Starks to Winterfell.
“Mayhaps she is stealing me,” Jon japed as he pulled away, bending to ruffle Ghost's fur before rising. Brushing a kiss against Myrcella's forehead, he said, “I should get my armor from Gendry. Take good care of Ghost.”
“Take good care of Robb.”
Jon grinned as his eyes briefly landed on Robb. “I will try, but he is not nearly as well-behaved as Ghost.”
Robb's laughter followed Jon out of the solar, and Myrcella tried to steel herself for this good-bye. She thought of Cersei Lannister, of the way she would never cry out when Robert's hand connected with her cheek, of the utterly placid expression she wore even when the world was collapsing down around her; in that moment, Myrcella wished she had more of Cersei in her.
Robb smoothed his hands over her hair. “You needn't worry so. I will have more than enough men to support me and a bloody dragon as well. Besides, once the Greatjon is free of his cell, he will do more damage than Jon's dragon ever will.”
Hating the plaintive tone of her voice, she asked, “Why can I not come? Arya says I am as good with a sword as any of your men, and I have Jaime's blade - “
“And should something happen, you will be Queen Regent until Steffon is of age,” he interrupted, his voice kind but firm. “Gendry is remaining with you as a member of the Kingsguard until we can appoint a true guard. If I should fall - “
“Robb - “
“If I should fall,” he continued, raising his voice to cut off her words, “Theon and Jon will take the men North to reclaim Winterfell. Robert Arryn is marching the Vale's forces to join with ours in the North while the Blackfish guards Steffon in the Eyrie; when Winterfell has been secured, the Blackfish will return Steffon there. Sansa has the children on Bear Island with Mother; Maege is leaving a contingent of men there before marching to meet us with the mountain clans. The Reeds will hold the Neck; once we pass, there is no way for a Southron force to reach us.”
“Robb - “
He gently pressed his fingers to Myrcella's lips. “Let me finish, love. Sansa has offered to foster Ned if you do not wish...I have left instructions that you are to appoint the small council. If you remarry - “
“Stop it!” she cried as tears flooded her eyes. “You are not going to die, and I am not going to remarry! You are going to take back our home, and we are going to rule the North! Now kiss me and go take the Twins.”
Robb smiled, his own eyes moist with emotion before obeying, his mouth firm and insistent against hers. Myrcella wrapped her arms around his neck, trying to draw him nearer, and she felt his hands clutch at the material of her skirts desperately, undoubtedly reminded of their last goodbye, of all the pain which followed. She could taste the salt of their combined tears on her tongue, his fingers biting into the soft flesh of her hips, and Myrcella forced herself to pull away.
“I shall see you when the war is over,” he vowed, only the slightest of uncertainty in his tone.
“I shall be waiting.”
When Robb's men left for the North, when Daenerys's men left for King's Landing, when Arianne's men left to join with Renly at Storm's End, Myrcella sat with Ghost in the nearly empty dining hall pushing her food about her plate. Lady Roslin and Edmure's children were somewhere in the castle, Roslin as aware as Myrcella that, for her husband to win, her family must lose; Myrcella wanted to offer her kind words, but Roslin had cared deeply for Jeyne and missed her presence. When Gendry finally joined her, taking the seat opposite of her, his plate piled high with food, Myrcella looked up and noticed, not for the 100th time, how much Arya's lover looked like Renly, like what Robert must have looked like when he was young.
Though never gregarious, Gendry was rarely downright unfriendly, especially after years spent at Riverrun and amongst Robb's men. Arya good-naturedly complained he was stupid, but Myrcella was observant enough to know there was nothing stupid about Gendry Baratheon; he was quiet and a bit gruff, but he was as loyal to Robb as Theon, Jon, or Bran. Tonight, though, Gendry's expression was deeply troubled, downright angry, and Myrcella suspected she knew precisely why.
“I did not want to be left behind either,” she offered, pushing her beets aside the way Tommen once did.
Gendry raised his blue eyes, his guarded expression faltering a bit. Finally he said, “Arya has never ridden into battle without me by her side.”
“How did you even meet Arya?”
Swallowing back some mead, he said, “I was an apprentice in King's Landing when Arya came in with this little sword Jon Snow gave her; the blade broke somehow and she wanted it fixed. My master wasn't in the shop, and she offered me a handful of dragons to repair it without telling anyone, which I did. But every day she came to the shop to make sure I would not cheat her, bold and mouthy as could be. Even after I fixed it, she kept coming back; she didn't care much for court and wanted a friend. One day Lord Stark followed her in. He took one look at me, knew whose bastard I was, and next thing I knew, I was being sent here to be the new armorer.”
Gendry cracked a smile. “You've never heard this story?” When Myrcella shook her head, he explained, “Joffrey found her play-jousting with Bran and Tommen one day, and Arya said she could ride a better tilt than he could. When she unhorsed him before most of court, Joffrey was humiliated, your queenly mother was furious, and Lord Stark sent her here to keep Lady Tully company.”
Myrcella laughed at the image of Joffrey unseated by Arya. “And the rest is history?”
Hesitating only a moment, she asked, “Why do you not marry her? By rights, you are the Lord of Storm's End. Renly would - “
“I am no Baratheon, king's words or not. I know nothing of the Stormlands and no man is going to bend the knee to the son of an alehouse worker.”
“But you love her,” she stated with certainty. “You would die for her.”
Gendry was quiet for a long beat before divulging, “When the siege of Winterfell happened, when Lord Stark died, she came to me in the forge and drug me to the godswood. She made me take off her cloak and put mine on her shoulders, and then she said we were wed.” He shrugged. “Arya does things as Arya wishes.”
“I envy her that.”
Gendry refilled his cup, his face serious. “I swore to your husband I would let no harm come to you. And I swore to Arya I would let no harm come to your children.”
“I appreciate that.”
A smirk tugged at his lips. “Appreciate it all you want, Your Grace, but I am telling you this because I do not like to break my promises. And while I do not know you well, I have seen you swing your sword with Arya enough to know you could easily seek out trouble.”
“I will seek no trouble,” she promised.
But I will face whatever trouble finds its way to me.
The raven arrived a fortnight after Robb's army marched, the letter sealed with a wax direwolf. Myrcella tore it open like a child with a present, desperate to read Robb's words, to read any words about what was happening.
Daenerys's raven arrived three days later, a red seal with a three-headed dragon adorning the letter, her bold hand declaring that the Crownlands had fallen and King Joffrey and his supporters were in cells.
Myrcella scribbled her promise of arriving as quickly as her horse could carry her before ordering Gendry and the men left to protect her to ready for a ride to King's Landing. Someone would need to speak for Tommen, for Tyrion, for sweet Elaine Tarly and her babe, for Margaery Tyrell and Ser Arys Oakheart.
And if anyone was going to see Joffrey pay for the evils he had done, it was Myrcella.
Myrcella barely recognized King's Landing as they rode into the city; when she last left King's Landing, people were literally starving to death in the streets, unrest heavy with Joffrey's ascendance to the throne. Now, with the Dothraki and Unsullen in the streets, food being distributed by Daenerys, there were no beggars crying for coin, no men who looked ready to attack in hopes of stealing their riches. As she rode through the streets, Ghost keeping pace beside her, the crown she rarely wore atop her head, people turned to look at her; she saw them point and whisper, undoubtedly noticing Jaime's sword on her hip, her Lannister looks and her Stark wolf.
When the first person bent the knee, Myrcella thought Daenerys was in the crowd. It was only when the others began to do the same as she rode past, their heads bowed in deference, Myrcella realized they were bending for her, for the Queen in the North come to court.
Ser Barristan met them at the entrance to the castle, clad once again in his white armor and cloak, and Myrcella could not help but smile as he helped her from her horse.
“I trust your trip was well, Your Grace,” Ser Barristan said as she smoothed the lines on her gown, his nose wrinkling briefly at the sight of Jaime's sword.
“Yes, thank you, Ser Barristan,” she replied, the words more automatic than anything, the courtly manners unconscious as ever. As Ser Barristan lead her to the throne room, Gendry and Ghost on either side of her, Myrcella noticed the Lannister and Baratheon tapestries had been replaced with Targaryen ones, all trace of lions and stags erased. She heard Gendry gasp as they entered the throne room, dragon skulls once again lining the walls, and Myrcella heard murmurs of shock from the assembly of people inside at the sight of her.
They thought me as dead as Robert. And those that knew I lived, think me as nothing more than another Lannister.
Daenerys sat upon the Iron Throne clad in a gown of crimson and black, her dragon crown atop her silver hair, a smile stretching across her face. “Queen Myrcella, we are so grateful you and Ser Gendry could join us while your husband is in the North.”
Myrcella dropped into a curtsy, ignoring the looks of the familiar men and women in the hall. “Thank you for the invitation, Queen Daenerys.”
“Would you like to rest before we begin?”
Myrcella rose, shaking her head through the exhaustion in her limbs. “No, Your Grace, I am ready to begin.”
The members of Joffrey's small council came first, a mixture of men Myrcella knew her whole life and newer men she barely recognized. Lord Varys and Mace Tyrell were pardoned; Lord Baelish was sent back to the Fingers and Grand Maester Pycelle, to Oldtown. Myrcella did not know the other men, but one swore he would return his family to Essos and the other took the knee. Margaery Tyrell came next, looking as plain as Myrcella had ever seen her, but, while her face was plainly deferential, Myrcella could still see the wonderfully scheming girl she loved so in her eyes. When her pardon was announced, her queenly title stripped, Margaery thanked Daenerys effusively.
“If I may, Your Grace,” Margaery ventured, voice still soft and subservient, “I would ask permission to remain at court. I would serve you well, Queen Daenerys, and Queen Myrcella will attest to my loyalty to your reign.”
“She is correct, Your Grace,” Myrcella agreed. “Margaery was one of your most loyal supporters while I was at court.”
Daenerys was quiet for a moment before nodding minutely. “Rise, Lady Margaery. I will grant your request. Ser Loras, please escort your sister to one of the rooms for my ladies.”
As Margaery dutifully took her brother's arm, Myrcella could see the grin in Margaery's eyes. Always growing, indeed.
Tommen was brought next, and Myrcella nearly rushed from her seat to embrace him. He was as tall as Jaime now, though still plump; his hair was a bit too long, his cheeks covered in several days' growth, and his fine clothing was dirty. His green eyes widened when he saw her and he tried to move forward, shouting her name, when two of Daenerys's bloodriders caught him, forcing him to the knee.
“Do not hurt him!” Myrcella cried, rising to her feet. “He means me no harm!”
Tommen's face crumpled as the Dothraki cautiously stepped back. “They told me you were dead,” he said, his voice trembling as it had when he was small.
Before Myrcella could reply, Daenerys said, “Tommen Baratheon, you have been called to court to answer for the crimes of your family. I have been told you raised no arms during your brother's false reign. Is this true?”
Tommen cautiously nodded. “I was at Casterly Rock with my wife and son.”
“Do you believe Robert Baratheon was the True King of Westeros, that your brother Joffrey has a right to the throne?”
Tommen was quiet for a long moment before he answered, his voice stronger than Myrcella ever heard it. “Even if Robert Baratheon was the True King, Joffrey would have no right as he, my sister, and I are not of his seed.” Meeting Daenerys's gaze, he declared, “I do not want your throne, Queen Daenerys, nor will my son. I will not try to save Joffrey after all he has done. But if you need to have my head, I only ask you spare my lady wife, who would never commit treason, and my son, who is only a babe.”
Daenerys was silent for so long, Myrcella announced, “The North will take him, Your Grace, he and his family. We will make sure he commits no treason.”
“And if he does? Would your husband take your brother's head?” Daenerys challenged.
“The North has no place for oathbreakers. I give you my word: if Tommen tries to rise against the Iron Throne, I will take his head myself.”
Daenerys studied her for a moment before declaring, “I pardon you, Tommen Baratheon, of your crimes in service to the False King, but you will live out your days as a hostage of the King in the North. Return him to his wife and son but keep a Northern guard upon him until he is taken to Winterfell.”
Tommen stumbled a bit as he rose, his eyes finding Myrcella's, and she wished she could rush to him, assure him he would be comfortable and safe with her. He smiled, mouthing thanks, before being rushed away, Tyrion coming to rest in his abandoned place. Unlike Tommen, there was nothing particularly fearful in his demeanor; much like Jaime, he came before the Dragon Queen which an impertinent smile and Lannister bravado.
As Daenerys listed the crimes of which he was accused, Tyrion yawned before winking at Myrcella, a smirk on his face; Myrcella could see the anger starting to rise in Daenerys at his refusal to be cowed, and Myrcella wanted to shout out a warning, wanted to keep Tyrion from his older brother's fate.
“Am I amusing to you, Imp?”
“All I find amusing, Your Grace, is you think I possess enough power to overthrow dragons. You must have me confused with my brother.”
“I took your brother's head.”
Tyrion's face darkened, the first true hints of his rage flickering in his mismatched eyes. “Yes, I know. I received his bones. How kind of you, Queen Daenerys.”
“Tyrion,” Myrcella began, warning thick in her voice.
Tyrion did not listen. “You may kill me, but I will not stand here and beg. Even an imp has pride. My only crime is being a Lannister. I was your brother Viserys's age when your father was slain; I would say something kind about him, but, truth be told, he was a cruel, little bastard. I didn't help Robert fight his rebellion, didn't hold a command in any of Joffrey's armies, and, when your men sacked King's Landing, I didn't do anything but walk into my cell. So take my head for being a Lannister, Your Grace. After all, it is what your father would have done.”
Myrcella was certain she was going to declare his life forfeit, waiting with bated breath for the pronouncement. It was only after an uncomfortably long silence, Daenerys said, “Tyrion Lannister, I hereby strip you of all lands, moneys, and holdings. You are banished from the Six Kingdoms of Westeros; should you be found in any kingdom by the next moon, your life will be forfeit.”
“What of the North, Your Grace?”
“I am not Queen in the North, Imp.”
Tyrion turned to face Myrcella, a hint of a smile on his lips. “Am I welcome in the North, Queen Myrcella? I have many skills which could be of use to the North.”
“You are welcome,” Myrcella said, ignoring the look of distaste on Daenerys's face, “under the same terms as Tommen.”
Cersei fought as they brought her before the Iron Throne, shrieking for the guards to release her. She was more unkempt than Myrcella ever remembered seeing her, her hair wild and uncombed, her dress filthy and torn; there was a wildness in her eyes which scared her. Jaime once told her his time in a cell did not bother him much because soldiers were prepared to be held; Cersei had not been conditioned for a cage which was not gilded.
Daenerys said Cersei's name several times but Cersei did not respond, her gaze focused on the sword at Myrcella's side, Jaime's sword. When Daenerys ordered she be returned to her cell, declaring her to be mad, Cersei suddenly reared forward, voice echoing in the chamber as she shrieked, “I should have smothered you at birth! Jaime was worth ten of you, you treasonous whore! Kinslayer! You shall burn in all seven hells for what you have done!”
“Take her out!” Daenerys shouted as a wave of comments began amongst the people.
Myrcella could feel the eyes of the court upon her, waiting for her reaction. She wanted to shout how she tried to save Jaime, how she would have done anything to keep him alive; she wanted to smack Cersei the way Robert had and scream how unfair it was of her to bear Jaime's children and pass them off as Robert's, to love a monster like Joffrey and completely disregard her and Tommen. But most of all Myrcella wanted to ask her why: why Jaime, why Joffrey, why did she act so recklessly and maliciously when it was not needed.
But Myrcella did none of that. Instead she reached down, anxiously twisting her fingers in Ghost's fur, and schooled her face to reveal nothing.
Daenerys gave her the Tower of the Hand for her quarters, but Myrcella could not sleep. Come morning, Joffrey, Tywin, and Gregor Clegane would be brought before court for their sentences; Myrcella did not even try to convince herself they would be spared. The Mountain deserved death for what he did to Elia Martell and baby Aegon, and Myrcella knew from Arianne that Oberyn was going to provide that justice, the same with Tywin who ordered the murders of Rhaegar's family. As for Joffrey, even if Daenerys did not put him to death for his activities as False King, Myrcella knew she would insist he be put to sword for engineering the Red Wedding, for releasing Bolton upon the North. Joffrey Baratheon, the False King, would die tomorrow, and Myrcella could not bring herself to summon up even a sliver of compassion for him.
The men guarding the black cells did not want to let her pass, shifting uneasily and sputtering about needing permission from Queen Daenerys. Myrcella found it surprisingly easy to adopt Cersei's voice as she ordered them to let her pass or she would talk to the queen. Even with a torch, it was difficult to see, but Myrcella remembered the black of the forest outside Winterfell, the blind darkness of the Wall; cells did not scare Myrcella.
Joffrey was housed in the cell nearest the entrance, and he flinched from the light when she raised her torch, shielding his eyes. He was positively filthy, a patchy beard on his face, and, when he saw exactly who was standing outside his cell, his eyes widened in an approximation of fear.
“You are dead.”
“Once I suppose I was,” she agreed, sinking upon a stool she borrowed from one of the turnkeys, “but I rose again. Mayhaps if you had sent better men, I would have known true death.”
Joffrey's face darkened. “You are not real. I have been ill fed here; you are a hallucination, a fever dream.”
“Do you often dream of me? Are they dreams of regret for what you did or dark dreams of what you wish you did?” When Joffrey said nothing, she assured him, “I am no dream, brother. I am Myrcella Stark, Queen in the North, and I have come to see you before the Dragon Queen ends your pitiful life.”
“She will not dare - “
“You have no friends in the Kingdoms,” Myrcella cut in, settling into the role of taunter far better than she expected to. “Dragons are powerful allies, and, even before she left Dragonstone, all but the Westerlands aligned with us. No one is coming to save you. And if you request a trial by combat, Ser Barristan will gladly open you from my navel to neck.”
“You cannot scare me,” he lied. “I do not tremble before Northern whores.”
“I have not come to scare you. I have come to say the last words I will ever say to you, and I want you to hear them.” Leaning close, her voice as cold as the Wall, she said, “I want you to know you did all of this. The North and its allies would never have joined with Daenerys if you had not decided to take my son simply to be spiteful. I would not have delivered the North, and I want you to know without a shadow of doubt that it was I who told Arianne Martell I would deliver the North, that it was I who brought the Stormlands to the war. I plotted treason in the Keep while you dismissed me as a Northern whore, and I did it happily.”
“Shut up!” Joffrey shouted, smacking at the bars.
“On his deathbed, Robert told me you would fuck the kingdom to all seven hells and he lamented the fact I was not a boy. And Jaime, he knew what a twisted monster you are. You will die as the False King, a shadowy blight on the history of Westeros, and I will reign in the North while my sons and their sons are the Kings of Winter. I want you to go to your death knowing I beat you at the game of thrones and you were so blindly stupid, you did not even know I was playing.”
“Shut up, you fucking whore!”
Myrcella rose from the stool, staring at the man who had tormented her so much of her life, who lurked over her shoulder always threatening to attack again. “You had good, honorable men like Eddard and Rickon Stark murdered. You raped me when I was a child, and you did it with a smile on your face. You deserve more pain than you will ever be given, but I will settle for seeing your head on a pike, your eyes eaten by crows, and your name utterly forgotten.”
Turning, refusing to look back as Joffrey pathetically cried her name, Myrcella left the dungeons of the Red Keep, returned to her chambers, and slept soundly for the first time since the war began.
She did not go to court to watch her grandfather and brother be condemned to death. She did not go to look upon Joffrey's head mounted alongside Tywin's and the Mountain's. She did not light candles to the Stranger or pray at the heart tree.
What Myrcella did do was tell Daenerys the North would not welcome Cersei Lannister, guaranteeing her mother would be exiled to Essos.
In the end it did not matter. Daenerys questioned every man in the Red Keep, but no one would tell who put the poison in Cersei's soup. Tyene said the poison was something called “the Strangler,” a particularly nasty poison which killed quickly and efficiently. Myrcella stared upon her mother's body with a peculiar sense of detachment before instructing for her body to be cleaned and placed in a casket.
“I am sorry, Myrcella,” Daenerys offered later after inviting Myrcella to sup with her.
“She did not know how to live without Jaime. Mayhaps it was better this way.” Myrcella knew the words were truth; her mother would not have been able to bear living without Jaime and Joffrey.
“There is the matter of Casterly Rock,” the Dragon Queen said after a moment. “Ser Jorah says I should give it as a worthy man. Ser Barristan says it should be razed like Castamere. Already Mace Tyrell has put forth Ser Loras as a worthy Warden of the West, and Trystane Martell has also been put forth as an option. Who would you suggest?”
“My good-sister Sansa is wed to Quentyn Martell. Quentyn is far more reserved than Trystane or Arianne, but he is loyal and smart. Sansa has been on Bear Island in hiding, but she has a familiarity with Asha Greyjoy which could be useful with the Iron Isles so near. They would be good Wardens.”
Daenerys nodded in understanding. “I will take it under advisement.” Sipping her wine, she said, “It is a pity.”
“That you are Queen in the North. I would quite like for you to remain at court.”
Myrcella smiled wryly. “You are the only one, Your Grace. I make people nervous here.”
“You are not the only one.” Daenerys sighed. “I thought peace would feel more peaceful.”
“Mayhaps when spring comes.”
If it ever does.
Jon returned on Rhaegal's back just as the snows started to melt, the dragon's wings blotting out the sunlight. Myrcella resisted the urge to rush to him, to demand every detail of the Northern conquest; he was no longer her friend from the Wall and she was not just Robb's wife any longer. Men took the knee now as Jon Snow – now King Jon Targaryen – strode past them, the rubies in his armor glittering in the sun, his Valyrian blade strapped to his back. The story of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark was now legend, whispered and elaborated on with every passing day; it did not cease to amaze Myrcella how people swore they knew what happened when very few people remained from before the Rebellion.
He came to her in the Tower of Hand, dropping down to playfully tussle with Ghost before smiling at her. His beard was thicker now, closer to how Eddard Stark once wore his, and his curls were even wilder than they had been at the Wall; it simultaneously made him look older and younger than ever.
“How would you like to go home, my lady?”
Myrcella shivered at the word. Home...The hills, the godswood, the hot springs, the warm stone walls and familiar hallways, the scent of winter mixed in with freshly baking bread and a smell which was distinctively Winterfell. Home was Robb and their children, Old Nan and her stories, Hodor and his gentle ways, Lady Catelyn and her small smiles, Jory Cassel and his infinite patience, Grey Wind romping through the snow. All Myrcella wanted was home, so hungry and desperate for it, it was a physical pain.
But instead all she said was, “Yes, please.”
Daenerys summoned her to her chambers while the carts were loaded for the trek North. Myrcella tried to hide how bizarre it was to stand in what had once been Robert's chambers and see no trace of him, only Dany's mishmash of decorations from all the places she had been. The Dragon Queen did not look particularly queenly today; she was in her Dothraki garb, her feet bare, and her long hair hung in a loose braid down her back. Myrcella smiled when Daenerys hopped from the bed, handing her a large package tied with ribbon.
“I know things are different in the North, but I had some things made for you. If you are going to return to Winterfell a queen, you should look like one.”
“Thank you, Your Grace.”
“Dany,” she corrected gently. “Is there nothing I could do to get you to remain here?”
“Nothing could make me stay. It has been years since I have seen my children, and the North is my home.” Myrcella squeezed the package against her chest as she declared, “And if I learned anything from my mother and Margaery, it is that two queens in the Red Keep is unpleasant for everyone.”
Dany chuckled, recognizing the truth in the statement. “You will always be welcome here, Myrcella, you and your family. The Targaryens will not forget all the Starks have done for us.”
Over the past few months, Myrcella had spent a fair amount of time with Daenerys, and, though she was not sure she would ever truly be able to forgive Dany for taking Jaime's head, she also liked the Mad King's daughter. And Myrcella knew from her conversations with Jon that he was going to wed Daenerys Targaryen, was going to remain in King's Landing and help rule the South. Daenerys Targaryen was going to be family, and Myrcella was going to need to learn to make peace with what had been done to Jaime.
“When things are settled, mayhaps we will even come visit you in the North.”
“I would like that.”
Daenerys moved forward, offering Myrcella a brief embrace; Myrcella smiled at just how small the Dragon Queen was, the top of her head barely reaching Myrcella's chin. “In another life, Myrcella, I believe we could have been excellent friends.”
“This life is not over yet, Dany. There is still time.”
Later, as Myrcella rode the fine, new horse Jon secured for her, she spared a backward glance towards the Red Keep, towards all of King's Landing. In the distance she could still see what remained of Gregor Clegane's head, the blurry shapes of Tywin and Joffrey. Turning her attention back towards the road, Myrcella grasped the reins a bit tighter and urged her horse on a little faster.
Winterfell was waiting.
When Winterfell came into view, Myrcella no longer felt the overwhelming exhaustion that the month-long journey caused; she did not think about Tommen or Tyrion, Elaine or her baby. All Myrcella could think was home, and she dug her heels in hard to the sides of her horse, taking off into a run. She heard Gendry swear behind her as his own horse took off, shouting her name to get her to slow, but Myrcella refused, not when she was finally home.
Myrcella vaguely knew the men at the gates as members of House Karstark, but she could not recall their names; both took the knee as they let her pass, and, when she entered the yard, slipping from her saddle, she knew no one was expecting her party until later. As Gendry finally caught her, breathing hard from the pursuit, Myrcella prepared to apologize before she caught sight of Brynden coming out of the glass gardens; she cried his name, tears flooding her eyes. The last time she saw Brynden, he was screaming her name, his little hands reaching for her as Jory rushed him away; he was five now, still only half the size of his brothers at that age, but, as his green eyes widened, Myrcella knew he remembered her.
“Mother!” he screamed, rushing towards her as fast as his legs could carry him. Myrcella met him halfway, scooping him into her arms and holding him tightly against her breast. She tried to forget those awful months when she thought she would never hold him in her arms again, when he and the girls were lost to her.
I will never let you go again, she vowed as she pressed kisses to his blond curls.
Myrcella pivoted to see Steffon and Rickard rushing towards her, dropping their bows as they ran; she could see Robb and Theon following the boys, their own bows slung over their shoulders, but her eyes were only for her sons as Steffon and Rickard attached themselves to her legs, squeezing her tightly. Both were tall and healthy boys, though Rickard's hair was longer, worn in the same fashion as Bran, while Steffon's dark hair was closely cropped to his head. Myrcella bent to place Brynden back upon his feet, allowing Steffon and Rickard to hug her properly, and she could only cry harder when Steffon – always the more sensitive of the two – clumsily wiped at her cheeks and said, “Don't cry, Mother.”
Robb pulled her to her feet when he reached them, lifting her as easily as she had Brynden; Myrcella gasped at how passionately he kissed her, surprised at how affectionate he was being before the rapidly filling yard, but she clung to him, shivering at the blatant hunger in his blue eyes.
“Welcome home, Your Grace,” he purred, and Myrcella was certain she loved him more in that moment than she ever had.
Lady Catelyn embraced her tightly when she entered the castle, whispering how happy she was to see her, and Myrcella clung as tightly to Catelyn Stark as her boys had to her; she wanted to apologize for not doing more to save Eddard, for putting Rickon in danger, but the moment she said, “I'm sorry,” Catelyn cut her off, ordering her to never apologize to her for things which could not be controlled.
Catelyn took her to the girls, both fast asleep in the same bed, Joanna's red hair tangled with Lya's black hair. Myrcella sat on the edge of the bed, running her hands over their heads, marveling at how big they had gotten; when last she saw them, they were still babies and now they were little girls. She could see so much of Elenya Westerling in Lya's sleeping face, but, as her eyes fluttered open, Myrcella could only see Rickon.
I will tell her stories about him, Myrcella decided as she tucked the blanket more securely around the girls. I will make sure she knows how wonderful Rickon was and how he used to sneak into the nursery to hold her. I will tell her how he died a hero and would have loved her as well as any father in Westeros.
But all of that could wait. For now, all that mattered, was Myrcella was home and her children were safe.
The raven arrived just after all the trees bloomed green again. Myrcella accepted the letter, sealed with the three-headed dragon, and opened it with slight trepidation. Reading the words, she went to find Robb.
All of the children were in the yard: Steffon and Rickard were training with Jory, Brynden and Joanna were playing Come Into My Castle, and Lya had hold of Ned's hand, leading him around on his unsteady legs. Myrcella asked one of the servants if he had seen the king, and the man pointed to the godswood.
She found Robb before the heart tree, calmly polishing Ice as he sat against the ancient tree. He looked up at the sound of her footfalls, his smile wide until he saw the letter in her hand. Myrcella caught the brief flash of fear in his eyes as he asked, “What is it?”
“Nothing bad.” Coming to stand beside him, she handed him the letter. “Queen Daenerys is with child. Jon has invited us to court when the child is born.”
Robb quickly read Jon's words, a smile tugging at the corner of his lips. “He sounds happy.”
“Jon will make a fine father.” Carding her fingers through Robb's auburn curls, she murmured, “I do not want to go back to court.”
“It is not the right time,” Robb agreed. “I'll write Jon, explain everything.” Setting the letter on the ground, Robb slid an arm around her waist, one hand rubbing the six month swell of her belly. “And how are you feeling today?”
“Like I have a child kicking me in the ribs every few minutes. This one is active.”
Robb kissed her stomach before drawing her down into his lap. Myrcella felt the familiar frustration of not being able to get as close to him as she'd like, her stomach too much of a barrier this far into her pregnancy; though Maester Erik insisted there was only one child in her womb, Myrcella had not been so big since carrying the twins and her discomfort was nearly constant.
His large hands moved restlessly over her middle, the baby tumbling in response to his touch. “Will this be our last?”
She shrugged, absently kissing his forehead. “After every baby, I wonder if this should be our last. When Joanna was born, I was certain she would be the last, and then came Ned and now this one.” Humming in pleasure as Robb's lips found the sensitive spot behind her ear, she murmured, “Mayhaps if I did not enjoy making the children so much, it would not be a question.”
Robb laughed softly as his fingers found the ties of her gown, loosening the laces to draw the top of the gown down, bearing her breasts. Myrcella inhaled sharply through her nose as his tongue playfully traced the curve of her breast before sipping her nipple between his lips. A warm spring breeze made her tremble as Robb shifted their bodies, Myrcella now straddling his thighs as he laid back upon the newly grown grass.
As she began to tug at his laces, Robb teased, “Your blood gets much hotter when you have a babe in you.”
Myrcella smiled as she took him out of his smallclothes, stroking him with a sure hand. “And you hate it so.”
“A king suffers the wants of his queen,” he gritted out as Myrcella wiggled her skirt over her hips, enjoying the flash of surprise as Robb realized she was not wearing smallclothes. They moaned in unison as Myrcella sank onto him, and Myrcella began to move her hips in a fast, desperate rhythm, her body on fire, eager for release. Robb pitched his hips up, his hands urging her to move quicker, and Myrcella laughed breathlessly as she imagined what the people of the North would think of their king and queen coupling on the forest floor.
Myrcella came with a sharp cry, Robb following almost immediately, panting her name as his fingers gripped her tightly enough to bruise. She wished she could lay against his chest, listen to his rapid heartbeat as her body calmed; instead she curled against his side, not bothering to fix her gown, the top still rumpled over her belly.
“I never want to go South again,” Robb confessed after a moment. “Jon is my brother, now and always, but I never want to return to King's Landing.”
“Then we won't,” Myrcella agreed easily.
Later, as Robb re-laced her gown, he chuckled against her ear, “I remember when you used to blush all the way to your navel when I would touch you. You were so afraid everything we did together was a sin.”
“I'm sure the septons would say it is.” Twisting her head to meet his gaze over her shoulder, she quipped, “Why do you think I worship the Old Gods now?”
Robb's laughter echoed through the trees.
Her spring baby arrived in a rush, her labor progressing so quickly that, by the time Robb was fetched from the Cerwyns, their daughter was already in Myrcella's arms. She was a Lannister baby, the fuzz on her head the color of spun gold, her alert eyes a shade of emerald; Maester Erik said she was the strongest baby he had ever seen, and Myrcella smiled as the baby easily took to her breast. Lady Catelyn brought the children in to see their newest sister, and it warmed Myrcella's heart to see the care with which her sons cradled the baby.
Robb burst into their room, out of breath with sweat-slicked skin; when he saw the baby, a mixture of regret and excitement filled his face as he crossed to the bed, lifting her from Rickard's arms.
“It is a girl, Father!” Brynden reported.
“A girl,” Robb echoed, smiling into the baby's serene face. “Winterfell needs more princesses.”
“I'm a princess!” Joanna piped up.
“Me too!” Lya added.
Catelyn chuckled as she began to round up the children. “Let us leave your mother and father to the baby. It is nearly time for supper.” As the children dutifully climbed from the bed, Catelyn rose on her toes to press a kiss to Robb's cheek. “Congratulations.”
Robb slid onto the bed beside her, cuddling the baby against his broad chest. Myrcella smiled tiredly as he declared, “I suppose we cannot call her James as we planned.”
“I would have sworn she would be a boy. Joanna was never half so busy in the womb.”
“She is so perfect,” he breathed, brushing his lips against the baby's head. “I swear that every child you give me is more beautiful than the last.” Robb's blue eyes shone with love as he said, “Thank you.”
Myrcella stared at her husband and newest child, her words lost. She thought of Jaime's words at Riverrun, how Robert wanted to marry her to Dorne before his interference, and Myrcella could not fathom what life would have been like without Robb and their children. Myrcella knew she would never have been the woman she was in Dorne, would never have even been given the chance with Trystane Martell. Robb gave her the strength and the courage to become the woman she wanted to be, the sort of woman who could make a man a king, who could survive on the Wall, who could best knights with a sword; Robb made her a Stark, and that name gave her more pride than Lannister or Baratheon ever had.
“She needs a name,” Myrcella finally managed.
“I always liked Elizabeth.” His voice soft and playful, he asked the baby, “Are you Elizabeth Stark?”
“I like Elizabeth.”
Shifting the baby in his arms, Robb said, his voice more somber, “I know you wished her to be a boy, to name her in honor of your...in honor of Ser Jaime. I hope you are not too disappointed.”
Myrcella shook her head. “No, she is wonderful, and that shall never disappoint me.” Taking Elizabeth from him, inhaling the sweet scent of her, she declared, “We can always name the next one for Jaime.”
Robb grinned, eyes sparkling with the mischief Myrcella remembered from before the war. “If you insist upon more children, I suppose I must cooperate, horrendous task that it is.”
The ravens went out that night to announce the birth of Princess Elizabeth Stark. Sansa sent a beautiful doll with golden hair; Arianne Martell sent blood oranges; Margaery sent the finest wine the Arbor had to offer. But it was Jon who sent the gift which was the envy of the other children: a stuffed direwolf with real fur. The toy's coat was as dark as Shaggydog's once was, but its eyes were rubies, the same red as Ghost's. Myrcella set it in Elizabeth's cradle, telling her daughter who Uncle Jon sent it all the way from the Crownlands.
Four moons later, a raven arrived from King's Landing, announcing the birth of Prince Benjen Targaryen.
“Jon sounds ecstatic in his letter,” Robb reported that night as they readied for bed, Myrcella opening the windows to allow the cool night air to enter their chamber. “He says Benjen has the Stark look and is as strong as a mammoth.”
“How is Dany?”
“Weakened from the birth but already recovering. Jon says she was in the birthing bed for nearly two days.”
Myrcella made a sympathetic noise. “I shall write to her then, and we will need to send a gift.”
As she slid into bed, Robb propped himself up on his elbow and revealed, “Daenerys wants to keep strong relations with the North.”
“Which will not be a problem, seeing as how you and Jon were raised as brothers.”
Tracing the line of her jaw, Robb smiled. “According to Jon, she would like to seal our alliance with marriage.” When Myrcella shook her head, unsure what he meant given Rhaego's betrothal to one of Oberyn's daughters, Robb clarified, “They are asking us to consider wedding Elizabeth to Benjen when they are of age.”
She laughed as she rested her head against his chest. “Not even off the teat and already we are discussing their marriage prospects.” Drawing patterns on his chest, she asked, “What do you think?”
“I think I do not like the idea of our daughters marrying anyone, but unless I plan on sealing them away in a maidenvault, we will eventually have to find them husbands.” His voice becoming more serious, he murmured, “And I do not believe the last marriage alliance between Winterfell and the Iron Throne has been so terrible.”
Myrcella kissed the patch of skin before her lips. “No, not terrible at all.”
Robb's arms tightened around her as they drifted towards sleep, Elizabeth asleep in her cradle, Grey Wind's song joining with Nymeria's and Summer's outside the window. In the morning they could discuss Jon's proposal more thoroughly, but, for now, Myrcella was content to sleep in her husband's arms, peaceful at last.