The waves twisted and turned and crashed from their peak, to the foamy abyss below. The winds howled and churned the water of Blackwater bay, making the dark gray sea growl. It was near midnight, but there was no moon or star visible in the dark stormy skies above Dragonstone, except for lightning that sent silver flashes into the sea. The storm was raging all around the small rocky wasted island that was once the ancestral home of the Targaryens.
Its present master, lord Stannis Baratheon, Master of Ships to his brother king Robert silently watched the elements play as he stood at a small window just outside his wife’s bedchamber. He had been standing there for quite some time now, listening to the howling of the wind that almost matched the screaming of the woman, who was on this stormy night giving birth to their child.
His wife’s labor had been long and exhausting. When it began, about fourteen hours ago, Maester Cressen warned Stannis that he would have to be patient and ready to make a difficult choice at any moment, as the birth was in all likelihood going to be difficult. And if Selys’s groans were anything to judge by, it really was.
Stannis sighed heavily as he heard another excruciating wail come out from behind the closed door. He didn’t mind being patient. He had been patient all of his life. He wasn’t afraid of Cressen calling upon him to decide the fate of his wife and child. Neither was he afraid of Selys’s screams, he had heard far worse in his time. But he was scared stiff of the silence that always followed them. Of the agonizing minutes of waiting for the first cry of an infant, which wouldn’t come.
Stannis had good reason to be afraid. All of his three children had been stillborn. All of them sons.
The first time it happened, he was heartbroken, but thought it was just an accident, and nothing to worry about. After all, there wasn’t a family in the world who hadn’t had at least one miscarriage or stillbirth or an early child death or all three of those. So they tried again, the result being another stillbirth. That time Stannis was so enraged by the injustice of it, he almost threw the little lifeless body into the sea. But still, he remained hopeful. After that came another pregnancy and another stillbirth. Another heartbreak and loss of hope. But if he was affected by these tragedies, his wife took it far worse. Selyse had refused to give up the bodies of their stillborns and had them preserved in jars, she insisted on keeping in her room. She even named them. Stannis never loved or even particularly liked his wife, but now he didn’t even want to be anywhere near her, husbandly duties or no. And for the next year or so, Stannis never set foot in his wife’s chambers.
But he was still desperate for a son. Dismissing the latent agony, Stannis finally managed to renew his rare visits to his wife’s rooms on the days that maester Cressen told him were best for conception. He made love to her and left as quickly as he could. He didn’t mind that and neither did Selyse. At least she never complained.
Every month for the next three years they got their hopes up and had them dashed quickly. But, when after another brief duty filled visit Selyse finally got pregnant again, Stannis didn’t feel any happiness at all. He was sure, it would be another stillbirth. Even so, from that day he was as attentive to his wife as he knew how to be.
Months had passed quickly and finally here he was. Staring out onto the stormy sea, listening to his wife’s agonized groans and bracing himself as best he could for the silence he was sure would follow.
Suddenly he heard the sound of familiar footsteps coming up the tower staircase. Stannis was so happy to hear them he even managed to curl up the right corner of his mouth into something remotely resembling a smile for half a second. It was ser Davos Seaworth, smuggler turned landed knight, his most honored and loyal vassal and the best and only friend Stannis had ever had. Officially he was coming to report on the storm damage, but Stannis knew very well that Davos just couldn’t wait to hear the news. His kind and openhearted friend had actually been happier for Stannis, that Stannis himself.
"Me’lord" – Davos bowed respectfully as he came out of the narrow passageway.
"Well?" – Stannis raised an eyebrow as he turned to greet his friend.
"Well not too much damage so far. Couple of fishermen’s huts ruined on the west side, but that’s about if for now. The Royal Fleet’s all safe in the harbor as well as most of the smaller boats."
"Fine. Keep it in hand as best you can."
"Of course, me’lord" – Davos nodded and added with a smile – "Anything yet?"
"No!" – Stannis replied sharply and gritted his teath.
"Don’t worry, it’ll be over soon" – said his friend reassuringly – "And before long you’ll be holding your son in your arms. And there’s nothing in the world that compares to that…"
"Don’t you have an island to look after, while I’m here?" – snapped Stannis, who really didn’t want to get any more nervous, than he already was.
"Aye, ser" – Davos nodded genially and left the room swiftly.
Stannis watched his tall, broad-shouldered figure disappear in the darkness of the passage and turned his attention back to the window and the storm.
He didn’t know how long he continued to stand there, staring at the raging sea completely lost in thought, until he realized that his wife’s screaming had stopped and he was listening to the much dreaded silence. Despite his resolve to stay calm and not get his hopes up this time, Stannis’s heart lept to his throat. He strained his hearing to the limit desperately trying to detect some kind of sound, but to no avail. Stannis gritted his teeth and shut his eyes as he felt the familiar pain tighten his chest. They had failed once again.
But all of a sudden, the silence was broken by a soft, feeble squeak. Then another, louder one. And in a moment, the squeaking turned into a loud and forceful cry that was sweeter to Stannis’s ears than any music ever could be. His son was alive!
Stannis ran to the door and flung it open. Selyse was lying on the bed, her legs still spread apart. The midwife was doing something to her, Stannis quickly decided he didn’t really want to see. Maester Cressen, however, was standing at the table, examining the wailing infant.
"Congratulations, my lord!" – he said with a smile as he turned to Stannis – "The Gods have been good to us! Your wife is out of danger and your daughter is safely delivered, healthy and strong."
For a moment Stannis couldn’t believe his ears. Cressen’s words hit his stomach like a kick in the guts.
Surely he must have misheard the old man. A daughter?! His first living child and heir was a female?! Was this some kind of cruel joke?!
"If you would wait outside my lord, the midwife will bring her to you in just a few minutes."
"Er… no!" – a shocked to the core and almost speechless Stannis finally managed to utter – "I have to go"
He slammed the door and ran downstairs as fast as he could.
He was obviously dreaming! He must be! This couldn’t possibly be happening. After all the pain he and his wife had gone through, after all the effort and patience they had put in, fate at long last rewarded them with… a female?! This was just too much bad luck even for him! Not that he actually believed in luck or Gods’ will or whatever… But this was absolutely unacceptable!
Paying no attention to the dazzled servants, Stannis walked swiftly through the intricate maze that were the corridors of castle Dragonstone and stopped only when he reached the gate. It was barred, but the guards didn’t need a special order from their obviously furious lord to open them as fast as they could.
It was only when he got outside the castle and felt the sharp wind and cold rain on his skin did Stannis finally manage to calm down.
Acceptable or not, there was no turning back. The girl was already born and she was his child! His little daughter, whom he had to raise and protect weather he liked it or not!
"My lord!" – called Davos’s nervous voice from the other side of the court yard - "What news?!"
Stannis turned his head and saw his friend running toward him, with a terribly worried look on his face.
"What’s happened?" – asked Davos as he stared at his lord’s seemingly indifferent expression. He could see better than anyone what was going on behind the hard and calm façade and what he saw was pain and bitterness.
There was a rather long moment of silence. Stannis didn’t want to let even his most trusted advisor and dearest friend know how disappointed he was, so he just gritted his teeth and said nothing. How could Davos understand?! It wasn’t possible! The man had a son!
"I’m so sorry, my lord" – Davos finally broke the silence as he lowered his eyes and shook his head. He obviously thought it was yet another stillborn. Stannis knew Davos’s pain for his friend’s misfortune was real and it warmed his heart for a moment. No one had ever felt so sincerely for him. Not even his own brothers.
"Do you wish me to take away the body before…"
"No body, ser Davos" – Stannis whispered – "She’s alive."
"I didn’t mean your wife, my lord…"
"Neither did I."
"Eh?!" – Davos mumbled taken aback– "D’you mean your daughter?!"
Stannis, who was still feeling cheated and bitterly disappointed really couldn’t say anything, so he gritted his teeth and nodded.
"Oh, my lord!" – Davos smiled, as his face lit up with joy - "My heartiest congratulations! This is wonderful news. Tomorrow all the Fleet’ll be drinking to your and your daughter’s health."
"First things first, Davos" – Stannis replied sternly – "If I so much as hear of a single flask of wine being opened before the damage from this blasted storm is cleared, there will be trouble. Come on. I shall inspect the castle and the villages myself"
It was already after midday when the lord of Dragonstone returned to his castle. The storm had ended in the early hours of the morning and there wasn’t a cloud in sight on the brilliantly blue sky. The sea was calm and quiet as if nothing had happened the night before. The only things that reminded of it were several fishermen’s huts torn to pieces, slightly damaged docks and a few torn sales on fishing boats.
The damage to the docks and boats was quickly repaired, the huts were being built anew and most of Stannis’s men, led by Davos Seaworth, were heading to the taverns to drink his health. And that of his newborn daughter.
Stannis, however, was quite tired and in no mood for celebration. Slowly he made his way to his quarters, determined to get some rest, but then thought the better of it and decided to check on his new family.
As he quietly opened the door of Selys’s chamber, he saw her fast asleep in her bed. As he glanced around, he noticed the midwife sitting in the opposite corner of the room, gently rocking the baby’s cradle. She tried to get up as she saw him come in, but Stannis motioned her to stay where she was.
"How are they?" – he whispered as he walked over to the crib.
"Lady Selyse is very tired from the long labor, my lord "- the midwife replied softly – "She’s suffered a minor injury and will be forced to stay in bed for several days. But nothing to concern yourself with. The nursery is being prepared and the wet nurse will be here shortly."
"Good" – Stannis nodded.
As he turned to walk away, the midwife suddenly said:
"Don’t you want to see your daughter, my lord?"
"Of course..." – sighed Stannis resigning himself to his new duty as the father of the newborn creature.
"Come closer, she’s asleep" – the midwife urged – "She’s just as tired as her mother, is, perhaps even more."
Stannis obeyed and came over to the cradle, trying to move as softly as he could.
The strange, almost alien little being was lying there, wrapped up in a little blanket and a white baby’s loose jacket with a small white cap on her head. As Stannis looked at the sleeping baby, a strange, new feeling suddenly came over him, catching him totally off – guard, sweeping him off his feet and raising him up so high he felt like he was on top of the world.
She was so tiny, so fragile! So prefect! And she was his. A miracle of nature, that he and his wife created.
He had always hated being touched, but now he wanted to touch her! So surreal and sweet!
Slowly Stannis brought down his hand and gently stroked her little pink cheek with his finger. It looked so large and rough next to her tiny, rounded face. The baby who seemingly didn’t like being disturbed, made a very soft, almost indistinguishable noise, shifted a bit and turned away, making her father look surprised, almost offended.
Why didn’t she want him to touch her?! Was his hand to rough?
Suddenly he felt the infant clutch his finger with her little hand... Stannis was afraid to even breathe as his chest ached with a tenderness he had never felt before and his eyes began to swell up with tears. For the first time in almost twenty years. Ever since his parents died. And now, he was a father himself. Never in his whole life had he felt so much pure love and happiness! Almost as if he were drunk and dazed off – the – ground.
From this moment on, Stannis knew his world would never be quite the same. He would never be quite the same.
"You can hold her" – the midwife smiled.
Stannis stared at her in shock. He was afraid to even touch the little girl, lest he should break something or harm her in any other way, never mind holding her!
"Do not worry, my lord" – the old woman said as she carefully picked up the newborn and gently placed her in her father’s arms – "Babies are much tougher than they look. Mind her head now"
Sod the blasted midwife, he couldn’t hold his tears back anymore! The baby was so small and light, he barely noticed her. He held the new little being to his chest, wanting to wrap her in his arms and keep her safe and warm.
“You’re mine. My daughter” – he thought – “My little girl. Don’t be scared. I will protect you. I will never let anything happen to you."
"Have you decided on a name yet?" – the midwife asked as she enjoyed watching for the thousandth time the magical moment of creation of that sacred parent – child bond, that can never really be broken. Not even by death.
Stannis thought for a moment. He knew perfectly well what he was going to call his son, but he had never even thought about a daughter. And then he decided.
"Shireen" – Stannis whispered gently as he put the baby back in her crib – "Her name is lady Shireen of house Baratheon."