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A stag ensnared by roses

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Robert's Rebellion ended on the Trident. Her family had chosen the wrong side and it could have cost them their heads. The new king was merciful and allowed the Tyrell family to bend the knee.

“Words are wind.” He had said, “I need to know you won't rebel the moment my back is turned.” A proposal – quite literally – was introduced. Mace Tyrell was to marry his eldest daughter to Robert's brother as a sign of good faith. Her father had little choice, it was either accept, or give up the Lord Paramountcy to another family.

Margaery Tyrell has been betrothed to Stannis Baratheon since she understood the word. She was but a child, still at her grandmother's skirts, when the war began.

:: August 287 AC ::

Robert does not sit upon the throne for very long. Merely five years after he claims the throne; he dies.

“Too much wine.” Olenna had said, frowning.

She would not simply be wed to the brother of a king, she would be wed to the king. Robert had left this world without an heir and the Iron Throne fell to his brother.

:: January 296 AC::

Even now, her wedding day is vivid in her mind. Her handmaidens had been practically humming with excitement. They chatted endlessly about Stannis, about his rule for the past ten years, and how lucky Margaery was.

She did not feel very lucky. She would be leaving Highgarden to marry a stranger and her fourteenth name day had only just passed.

The steaming bathwater had calmed her nerves. The scents of lavender and rose filled her nostrils. Her handmaidens scrubbed her skin until it flushed pink. They combed her hair, curled it, and piled it on top of her head. Her handmaidens dabbed rose oil behind her ears, on her wrists, behind her knees and then between her breasts. Margaery lifted her arms as they slid the dress over her head. The crystal blue color brought her eyes to life. Her dress felt so fine, so thin, that Margaery felt as if she was wearing nothing at all.

“Let's see.” Her handmaiden, Tysa, had said clapping her hands together.

Margaery gave a twirl, watching the dress plume out from around her legs. She felt giddy and nervous and sad all at once.

“Ah, one last touch – a gift, from the king himself, my lady.” The box was wooden, handcrafted by the looks of it, with a small silver clasp. Margaery tried to stop her hands from trembling as she opened it. Inside the box lay a small, delicate bracelet. At first glance, she thought it was nothing more than a circlet, but upon closer inspection she saw it – engraved was a family of stags running across the band and knotted between each stag was a rose with it's thorns and vines connecting to the next.

She hoped wearing it would please her new husband.

The Great Sept was overflowing with guests. The banners of house Baratheon and the golden rose of house Tyrell draped next to one another. It was a sea of colors and sounds. Her family would be at the front, as was befitting the house of the bride. When her eyes rose to meet Stannis Baratheon – her breath hitched in her throat. He was clean shaven with a strong jaw and dark blue eyes, but he did not look overjoyed to being wed to her. In fact, he hardly smiled at all throughout the ceremony.

They turned in unison to face their guests and the hall erupted with applause. She entered the sept of Balor as a girl, she left the sept as a queen.

Margaery sat next to her newly wed husband and her family, starting with her father, Mace, sat beside her. Stannis' family sat beside him, with his brother Renly and his wife Arianne Martell. Margaery did not fail to notice that Stannis' only living family was his younger brother since Robert had passed.

Margaery watched as their guests gorged themselves on finest Arbor wine and strongest mead. The first course had been summer greens tossed with pecans, boiled sweetcorn, and quails drowned in butter. There were roasted meats, honeyed chicken, and venison so tender it melted on her tongue. The bread was freshly baked and still warm to the touch. Each course was presented to the King and his Queen first, before being brought out to the guests. Once the courses of meats and greens were finished, there came the courses of deserts. Trays of lemon cakes with frosted sugar, honey cakes baked with berries and nuts, apricot tarts, and strawberry pie. The rich aromas wafted through the courtyard. The fruits were so rich and ripe. The flavors burst on her tongue. Even her new husband tried one of the apple crisps.

Margaery ate until her stomach was to bursting and her head heavy with wine.

The new queen smiled at her king, “This is truly a remarkable feast, Your Grace.”

Stannis took a slow sip of his water, “As it should be.” His voice was gruff, but not unkind. “Davos suggested we celebrate the joining of two great families extravagantly as it would strengthen our alliances.”

Margaery smoothed her dress on her lap, contemplating if she should ask – or was it too soon? The wine gave her courage.

“I have a suggestion of my own, Your Grace.”

Stannis raised his brow, but said nothing.

“There is so much food, we could not possibly eat it all...I suggest we give the leftovers to the people of Flea Bottom.” Margaery had never been to Flea Bottom in her life. She only heard the tales of the poor and sickly in King's Landing. But, a king who was kind, would have the love of the people. And it was the people who tended the farms and volunteered their lives for their liege. Stannis gestured with two fingers for a man sitting nearby to come over.

She took another sip of wine, the sweet flavor running through her and making her brave. She almost rose from her seat to go and introduce herself to her king's council at the table nearby, but the man approaching made her stop. He had a beard speckled with gray and a small leather bag tied around his neck. She noticed his hands were gloved despite the warmth of King's Landing during the spring.

“My queen.” He bowed to Margaery. The man lowered himself to allow the King to speak in his ear, nodded at his words, “It will be done, Your Grace.”

“Who was that?” Margaery asked, grabbing a cherry from the plate and popping it into her mouth.

“The Hand of the King.” Stannis answered simply.

“Tywin isn't your Hand?” Margaery wanted to pinch herself. She should not be questioning his decisions for his council. And yet - everyone knew what a great politician and military leader Tywin was. The Lannisters were a powerful family and better kept as allies then enemies. She scanned the crowd for the golden and red colors of the noble house.

“Why would he be?” Stannis glanced over at the table, “Davos has been loyal and honest to me since the Siege of Storm's End.”

Margaery took a healthy gulp of wine. She did not question him further. The day rolled into night, with dancing, and music, and more food and wine then Margaery had ever seen in her life. Stannis did not dance with her, but he permitted her to dance if she liked. Margaery took the floor and danced with her brother, Loras, her blue skirts spinning as they stepped in time with the music.

It felt as if the evening would never end.

Margaery drew up the sheets to her chin, watching Stannis as he finished a letter at the desk in their chambers. The guests had dragged them both to their bedchambers, hooting and hollering, but once the door was shut – Stannis grabbed a grey cotton robe and slid it on. Margaery, unsure of what else to do, climbed into their bed.

Some of the guests were still outside – trying to shout bawdy comments through the thick oak door.

Her heart hammered in her chest as she watched him seal the letter and turn to her. He was broad shouldered and thin, but she had glanced at the muscles of his chest when they were first tossed onto the bed. He was a war commander, he was a solider, and he was nearly a decade older than she was. How inexperience she felt, sitting here, with the soft silken sheets pulled up to cover her nakedness.

The first time they laid together was awkward. She kept her eyes closed for most of it. It did not last very long and it was not as painful as her ladies in waiting made her believe.

She waited until she heard him snoring softly beside her to look at him. Margaery propped her head up on her hand, unabashedly admiring him without the fear of being caught. If the singers' songs were true, they always painted Robert as handsome and strong. Even Renly was handsome in his own way with his laughing eyes and charming smile. But, there was something quiet in Stannis that she had yet to place her finger on. The lines of stress etched around his mouth and between his brows.

He had strong arms, a lean muscled chest, and a trail of dark, coarse hair that ran from his belly button to the thatch between his legs. There was something in the eyes, too. It was not love, or loyalty, or respect – those she would have to earn if she learned anything about her husband on this day.

Margaery touched the golden bracelet around her wrist.

 

:: September 296 ::

The Realm stopped bleeding the day Stannis took the throne. At least, that's what the small folk told her. Margaery spoke to Davos several weeks after herself and Stannis were wed. They developed an arrangement that any extra food for any feast or tournament would go to the orphanages in Flea Bottom. Davos was kind her. A honest and true kindness, not like the fake flattery she saw and heard at court.

While her king walked the ramparts, improved the Red Keep, and met with his small council – Margaery dirtied her skirts and spread the king's peace down in the city. She was never alone, of course. Her ladies in waiting would come from time to time and she always had a member of the Kingsguard with her.

She read stories to the children, she lifted her skirts and played in the river, she bought her fabrics from local seamstresses and had her dresses made by them. She visited brothels, inns, and taverns. She sipped watered down ale and listened to their plights. Margaery did everything she could to help the people of King's Landing. The people loved Margaery and would learn to love the king, too.

The more time she spent with the children of Flea Bottom the more her heart ached for a child of her own. They had been married almost nine moons and still a child had not yet been born. Stannis needed an heir. It was her duty to provide one. A healthy baby to carry on the Baratheon line and succeed the throne after his passing. Margaery had gone to the maester, but he told her she was a perfectly healthy, strong woman with good hips. It had been the only stress on their marriage – and she heard the whispers around court – that she was barren, that Stannis would soon request an annulment. Margaery wanted to shut them all up by proving them wrong.

“Varys tells me you've been busy.” Stannis could find no better spymaster than Varys, though he told Margaery in the confidence of their bedchambers that he did not trust the spider. A wise choice, she felt. King's Landing was not a place for trust. “Is Flea Bottom more interesting then court?”

“Oh, yes.” Margaery stopped combing her hair. “You should hear what they say about you.”

Stannis scoffed.

“No, really.” She gave him her full attention now, “They say that the Gods blessed them when Robert died.”

“Peasants don't care who sits on the throne. They care about their land, their crops --”

“Which you help keep safe.” Margaery pressed on, intent on making her husband see the truth, “You do not bring the realm into pointless wars for glory or gold. You do not raise the taxes so they cannot afford to eat. You don't claim their lands for yourself. You are a good king.”

She rose from her seat and set down her comb. Margaery placed a hand on his cheek, rough with stubble, and smiled up at him. He did not look convinced. But, she could not blame him. He had won the throne, not with a war, like Robert had, but it fell to him. It was a responsibility. If he failed, the Realm would bleed again. Renly would become king and she heard the whispers about Renly, too. That he was too much of a boy, he was no battle commander, that he was still a summer child.

The Seven Kingdoms had bled enough. Now, let there be a time of peace.

:: December 296 ::

Stannis marched on Rosby, which was not far at all from King's Landing, but Margaery felt his absence deeply. One of his high lords had conspired against them. When he sent a letter for the high lord to revoke their land and titles – so Stannis could give it to another vassal, one more worthy – the lord rebelled.

Margaery tried to reason with him, “He could not have more than a few hundred men. You do not need to go.”

“I will not be a king who sits behind his walls and sends men to die for him.”

She watched him leave from the highest tower in the keep. The stag banners flapping in the wind. Margaery placed a hand on the small swell of her lower abdomen. She had not told him the good news. In truth, Margaery was waiting for the maester to assure her the pregnancy would come to term. She did not want to tell Stannis she would be giving him an heir, only to wake one night with blood on her thighs.

:: June 297 ::

When Stannis returned from Rosby in February, Margaery told him that she was expecting a child. For the first time in their marriage together – Stannis smiled.

She tried to not let the pregnancy interfere with her duties at court. But, as the months went by, Margaery could no longer travel to Flea Bottom. She had tried to go with a wheelhouse and several of their household guard, but the streets of Flea Bottom were too muddy or too crowded. It was unsafe for her to be there. Margaery wrote letters instead.

She needed the people to know that their queen had not abandoned them. They were still in her thoughts. Her stomach was round and full and her breasts tender with milk. Her lower back was sore all the time and her calves ached after long of periods of walking. No one had told her pregnancy was so uncomfortable.

Stannis requested that the wet nurse move to the chambers nearby, so that Margaery could call for her if she was needed in the middle of the night. The maester checked on her everyday.

“Any day now, I'm sure.” He said, fingers running through his white beard.

The maester was not wrong.

Her chest had been burning for the past few days and no milk could soothe it. Sometimes, she would feel a sharp pain and immediately fear the worst – but then it would pass. The cramps got worse throughout the day until she had to lie down for the rest of it and have her dinner brought to her.

One of her handmaiden's dampened her brow with a cool cloth. The pain was worse with each passing hour.

“Get the maester, and....my husband...” Margaery commanded through grit teeth.

She labored through the night. Her screams echoed down the halls of the Red Keep. Margaery could not recall most of it, only the blinding pain, the cool cloth pressed to her forehead and the voice of her midwife. Sometimes, she thought she saw the face of her husband, but she could not be sure.

There had been so much blood and so much pain.

The squalling cut through the silence of the room. A voice at her ear. “A girl, my lady, a beautiful, healthy baby girl.”

“A girl.” Margaery fell asleep.

Her heart soared the first time she saw Stannis hold the babe in his arms. Swaddled in cloth, Melara was a bundle in her father's arms, cooing and holding his finger. The night had been long and dark, but dawn brought the bells and the joyous announcement that both the heir and the queen were alive.

“She has a strong grip.” There was a tug of a smile at the corner of his mouth. Melara was a mirror to her father with soft black hair and dark blue eyes. She could still see the stress in his shoulders, the lines around his mouth and middle of his brow from frowning too much, but his eyes were soft. The Baratheon line would continue. She had done her duty as his wife and as queen.

:: January 298 ::

They had thrown a feast in celebration of Melara's birth. It was not as extravagant as their wedding feast, but it had been enough to satisfy the hungers of their lords and vassals. Margaery carried the child, nursed her, and often had to be coaxed from the child's crib to climb into her own bed.

She could feel, now that the child was born and growing strong, a love blossoming between herself and the king. The previous morning he had woken her with kisses to her shoulder, a hand dipping below her waist and teasing her to wakefulness. Her handmaiden's giggled when she told them, “Perhaps he's realized what great fun making an heir is!”

It was stirring within her even now with the great hall so full of guests. Stannis sat to her side, eating and drinking modestly, and she kept catching his eyes on her. Margaery had chosen a deep forest green colored gown, the neckline plummeting just below her breast bone. A stag brooch fastened on a thin golden chain around her waist. Her soft brown hair cascaded in waves around her bare shoulders.

All the great houses had made arrivals. Tywin Lannister, Ormund Arryn (Lysa and Jon's only living child), Eddard Stark, her father, Renly – they had arrived with wishes of good health and the great hall boomed with the rancorous noise of celebration. Margaery toyed with the rose pendent necklace at her neck.

Stannis' voice was low and deep in his throat, “You are driving me mad.”

Margaery smiled at him, a little flirtatiously, “Good.”

Two years she had known this man. Two years she had laid with him, listened on his councils, worked with him, and earned his respect. No one in the small council raised their brow anymore when Margaery came to sit with them. Maester Pycell had tried to object at first, but Stannis cut him with a hard look; “She is my wife and the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, if she wishes to know the coming and goings of the court and council, then she has every right to sit at this table.”

Stannis was a hard man, a just man, but he was not a bad man. Every prisoner captured had been given a fair trial, even when Margaery didn't think they deserved it. He sat on the throne for hours, listening to the small folk and high lords, and trusting the words of those who earned it. Davos had told her the story of his fingers. That's when she knew; the heart of Stannis Baratheon was not cold and sharp like an old sword. He was not heartless or cruel. Her love for him was taking root in the freshly dug soil of spring. She could not expect a rosebush to grow in a fortnight, but perhaps it was growing now. It would take patience and care, but she could nurture it into blooming.

Her king looked at her again with his jaw clenched. He was stubborn and would not break before she did.

“I could use some fresh air, couldn't you?” Margaery suggested, setting down her chalice of honeyed wine. If anyone saw them leave the great hall, they did not mention it, and Margaery couldn't see why they'd care. There was plenty of wine and ale flowing though those halls. The king could be missed for just a few minutes.

She pulled him into one of the guest rooms, pressing her mouth to his before he could start protesting. Her tongue ran along his lower lip and he yielded to her, his arms wrapping around her and his mouth opening to her will. Her gown was pushed up and out of the way, small clothes damp with the anticipation and the thrill of possibly being caught. They had dutifully coupled a hundred times, but this was the first time Margaery felt something new.

He took her against the door of the guest room. Her skirts piled around her waist and her hands clawing at his shoulders. Margaery gasped, she mewled and moaned against him, her hips bucking into his. His stubble rubbed against her chest turning the pale skin a flushed pink. Stannis was a quiet lover. He grunted softly with each thrust, but Margaery had yet to pull him from his inhibitions. There would be time, she reminded herself, there would be time for that.

Her body shivered and tightened with her legs wrapped around his waist. Her nails gently scraped across his scalp. Stannis buried his face between her breasts, panting, as he finished. Margaery hoped his seed would quicken inside her – they were both still young, she could give him another child before the year ended. A son, this time.

:: October 298 ::

The Gods must have heard her prayers. She was full and round once more, heavy with a child who was very, very ready to be born. It had been a rougher pregnancy than the last. This time, she woke each morning with bile in her throat. She could not eat whatever she liked, simply because certain smells caused her stomach to roll. She dined on simple, easy foods. Bread and honey, mint tea or water, and avoided all wines and rich foods. The midwife had been worried, “You must eat, Your Grace.” She chastised, “The baby will be born sickly and weak if you do not nourish yourself.”

Margaery tried. Gods, she tried. She tried to nibble on meats, like boar, and pig, and hare. If she kept the portions small, with not a lot of butter or spice, sometimes her stomach could handle it. She ate oatmeal in the mornings when she could keep it down. She sipped on mint tea in the afternoons. The maester had tried different teas and brews in an attempt to soothe her nausea. It did not work.

The moist heat of the castle made her tired. She sent for one of the serving girls to bring her iced milk with a little honey. She sipped it, lounging with her ladies in the garden, listening to their gossip and placing a hand on her stomach whenever the child kicked.

In the heat of summer in the early afternoon, Margaery Tyrell gave birth to another girl – Corenna – and she tried not to dwell too much that she had not given him a son and instead focus that she had given him another healthy child.

:: June 300 ::

A raven arrived from the citadel – the Stark words were true. It was officially winter. Their daughter, Melara, celebrated her third name day. There was no feast. Margaery had to stop sending excess food down to Flea Bottom. This had been the longest summer in living history and now it was ending. The atmosphere of King's Landing changed. The men stopped working the fields. The women began to prepare their homes. They nailed shut windows to keep the warmth within. The beds were stocked with furs or piles of linen. Men went out and stocked up on firewood. Margaery had started preparing for winter when the first raven came, signaling that autumn had begun.

She worked with the master of coin and the cooks to keep the pantries stocked with food that would last them through the years. She stocked the keep with potatoes and salted meats, fresh fruits were reduced into jams and jellies, any food they could not pickle or barrel would be used in the coming months. She saw less and less of her husband. They both had their duties to attend to.

For the first time in a week, Margaery saw her husband before she went to bed for the evening. She had grown accustom to sleeping alone and waking without him. The bed was always still warm when she woke, but she could never say what time he joined her. He looked worse than she's ever seen.

“What worries you, my king?” Margaery asked, fingers twining through her hair as she braided before bed.

“Renly.” The word was spit like acid from his tongue. He dropped the letter on her lap. Everything about him felt tense, like a crossbow, loaded and just waiting for the pressure on the trigger. He stalked around their bedchambers grinding his teeth and clenching his jaw.

Margaery tried to remain calm. It was a letter from Varys. His writing was neat and small.

My liege,

May this letter find you in good health. I have uncovered a plot where Arianne Martell seeks to dispose of you and press Renly's claim to the throne. I have enclosed a list of names of her supporters.

Her heart filled with dread. She did not need to see the other letter to know whose name was on that parchment. His own brother, his own flesh and blood, sought to end his life. Their daughters were still babes at her skirts, if Stannis were to die, Renly could push his claim and the lords would fall behind him. The throne would be vulnerable with just a girl and her regents.

“What are you going to do?”

“I've asked him to end it. In my own hand, I sent a letter to Storm's End, and told him to stop the foolishness. He has our ancestral home! It is that woman,” He accused Arianne Martell easily, “She is poison.”

The last time Margaery had seen Arianne it had been at the celebratory feast for Melara. She did not feel any animosity, but, she had been disinherited for her own claim to Dorne. Her ambition to rule was greater than her love for Stannis.

“Did he respond to you?”

“No.” Stannis rubbed his temples, “Twyin suggested we arrest him for plotting against the crown. We have proof enough, but his bannermen may rise up against me. I do not want to start a war with winter at our backs.”

Margaery wept that night. She cradled their youngest babe in her arms and wept. Two brothers who held little love for one another would make the realm bleed. She loved her husband, she loved her children, and she loved her people. She was not ready for this to end. Winter was not a time for war.

Stannis rode for Storm's End at dawn. Margaery dried her tears and prepared for a war of her own.

:: February 301 ::

Snow started falling in King's Landing and Stannis had not yet returned from his war with Renly. As was expected, Renly resisted – but was captured quickly, according to the reports. It was his wife, Arianne Martell, who rose up with the bannermen. They refused to give up Storm's End and claimed Renly the rightful ruler to the throne. It was a ridiculous notion – Stannis had two children, trueborn heirs, but Renly thought his claim stronger because they were girls.

Renly awaited his fate in the dungeon's of the Red Keep.

In Stannis' absence, Margaery had been designated regent. Her skirts swished as she decended the stairs to the dungeon. A member of the Kingsguard followed behind her with a torch. The months locked away had paled his handsome face and dirtied it. He was fed well and not left to rot – he should be thanking her. If Margaery was cruel, she would have executed him a long time ago. But, this was her husband's brother, her brother-in-law, the same blood ran through her daughters' veins. He was kept in the cells for high lords. There were no windows, but he had a cot to sleep on, and it was better than pushing him into a cell with all the common criminals.

“I see you and my brother have been busy.” Renly said with a smile, gesturing lazily to her swollen stomach.

The Kingsguard brought her a stool to sit on. Margaery watched the torch's flames as they flickered over his face. He had grown a beard since she last saw him. His laughing eyes were still speckled with amusement. As if this was all a big joke to him.

Her husband was out fighting a war he shouldn't be fighting all because Renly wanted something he could not possibly understand. The Iron Throne was duty, it was sacrifice, and pain. It was not a comfortable chair because being a king was not a comfortable job. She tried to tell him so, but Renly waved her off.

“Queen Margaery, has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? You were made for this.”

“I was educated at court, yes.”

“When we win the war, I promise you that no harm will come to you or your children.” He smiled easily, “You can even stay here at the keep! It will be much warmer and kinder than taking the Roseroad to Highgarden.”

Margaery regarded him coolly. If he was trying to get a rise out of her, it was not going to work. Renly took a sip of his water from the pewter cup. The dungeon's had a chill to them. She wrapped her fur cloak a little tighter around herself.

“You're fighting your own brother.” If she could make Renly see reason, then he might order his bannermen to stand down. She could end this war without more blood being spilled.

“Stannis never loved me or Robert. He only loves himself.”

Margaery knew that to be untrue, but she said nothing. Stannis loved their children, he loved her, though he had no love for the crown on his head. A crown is heavy, he told her, but Robert won the throne and left it to me to defend it.

“Would you write to your wife and tell her to stand down?”

Renly laughed at that. “Oh, no, she's far too headstrong.”

Margaery sighed. “Very well.” This visit had gotten her nowhere. Renly thought Storm's End had a chance against the entire realm. Eddard Stark had raised his banners in support of Stannis, as did Mace Tyrell, and the Tullys in the Riverlands. There had even been word that some of the high lords had turned their back on Arianne and joined Stannis' side.

“Wait, wait, wait,” Renly scrambled to his feet, his hands curled around the iron bars,“You're just going to leave me down here?”

“Until my husband returns from this war. Yes, I am.”

“You can't -”

Margaery whirled on him, her doe eyes narrowed - “I can and will. Your brother, his Grace, named me regent. Did you think I would come down here and take pity on you?” She smiled sweetly, “No, no, Renly. I came down here to see if you would end this war for the good of the realm. But, you won't. Which is exactly why you would make a terrible king.”

At that, she took her Kingsguard's arm and he helped her ascend the narrow winding steps.

:: March 301 ::

The snow reached eight inches high on the day Margaery went into labor. It stopped snowing when the baby was born, yet it never took it's first breath.

Her midwife informed her later – that it had been a boy. She waved the woman away and asked for the maester to bring some milk of the poppy to help her sleep. She was tired and she missed her husband. It was so cold, even with the fires burning day and night.

Margaery pulled the furs up to her neck.

:: August 301 ::

Stannis had been named 'The Just' when he returned from the war. The throne room was silent. The braziers burning hotly and the Kingsguard standing resolute at the foot of the throne. Margaery slipped into the throne room, hoping to be unnoticed, as the prisoner was brought before the king.

The trail was led by Davos Seaworth. He questioned Renly, questioned his loyalty – not just to Stannis, but to the Realm. The once sea pirate's brunt honesty cut through any lies Renly tried to tell. Renly tried, but the months in the cells had made him weak. His charm was lackluster. There was no passion to his words, no real effort to defend his crimes.

The room waited with bated breath for Stannis' judgment.

“To the wall. They need men.” And that was the end of it. Renly tried to protest, that the wall was for criminals, rapers, and thieves – but Stannis was already leaving the throne room. Storm's End fell to his only living daughter and it never rose up against him again.

:: November 305 ::

This winter had been unforgiving and cruel. It snowed day after day, until King's Landing was just white land and frozen lakes. The early months of winter had been downcast and grey, the snow falling lightly and kissing the ground. The snow would stop for months at a time and then start again. Now, it was dark. Always dark. The snow fell in heavy flakes from the blackness. Margaery had not seen the sun in two years.

Margaery kept her children inside. Melara, her strong child, was inquisitive and bossy. She wanted to ride horses, and learn how to use a bow. She craved adventure and sunlight and the wildness of the forests and thrill of hunts.

Margaery did not know what to do with her. Winter kept everyone locked within the keep. She tried to use music, but Melara was too impatient to listen the songs. She loved stories, but she had heard them all before. Her dreams were wild – she wanted to be an outlaw one day, a queen the next, and an assassin on the morrow. But, with the snows building higher and higher, Margaery could not blame her eldest for having a frantic, restless imagination.

Corenna followed her sister around. Only a year separating them made it easy for them to get along. But, Melara was blunt and honest – even going so far as to tell one of the serving girls she was fat. She had no courtesies. Her sister, though, could smooth any slight over with her honeyed words. She was sly and quick, her soft brown curls and pretty blue eyes lulled anyone and everyone who she talked to into liking her. That was the way of things. Melara would insult someone, unknowingly, and Corenna would be there to deeply apologize for her sister and save her from trouble.

Margaery had already started to teach Corenna the ways of the highborn courts.

“He cries too much.” Melara complained, her wild hair pinned back with a blue ribbon. “Except when he's eating.”

Margaery smoothed her son's hair back. She wished she could invite her family to court. They would swoon over how much Willem had the Tyrell look. Stannis had kissed her sweaty cheek when he was born. A true heir. A strong, healthy son. He would be raised to command men and lead the Seven Kingdoms to the next era of peace.

“When is father coming back?” Corenna asked, “He should not have left with so much snow.”

“Your father had matters in the Riverlands.”

“What does that mean?” Melara pressed, wishing to know everything about everyone without an ounce of subtlety.

“It means he had king stuff to do.” Corenna made a face at her sister.

Margaery wiped a bit of dribble from Willem's chin. Their children were too young to know the truth of the matter. That the Riverlands continued to try and expand and press their claims on other holds. The Westerlands, now ruled by Tyrion 'The Imp', had grown annoyed enough to call upon the king for help.

She feared for his safety. How could you fight your enemies if the entire world was blanketed in snow and darkness? She kept her fears locked tight away in the garden of her heart. Margaery did not burden her children or her ladies in waiting with her fears.

A wolf howled and the sound of it made a chill run through her bones.

:: December 305 ::

Davos pulled her aside after a small council meeting. “Your Grace. I have some news...”

Margaery checked the corridors. They were alone, or as close as anyone could be alone in the Red Keep. She nodded, allowing him to continue. Her years as queen and wife to Stannis had taught her the value of a loyal man like Davos. She felt safe when he was around her or her children, she knew he would die protecting them. He would always give true council – even if her king did not want to hear it.

And he loved their children as if they were his own. Margaery found several carved wooden figurines in their bedchambers. Melara had even started saying that she would like to be a pirate and requested - or rather, demanded – that Davos marry her to one of his sons. He had chuckled and patted her head, promising that when she was older, he'd talk to her father.

She wondered if this conversation had something to do with Melara's suggestion. But, she was only a girl of eight. They could not set up any arrangements until she had her first blood.

“Your husband has named me Lord Paramound of the Trident.” Davos gave a quirk of a smile, “He raised me up from a lowly smuggler to a man with his own house, my children can be knights and stewards and lords, he's given me a life I'd never thought possible. And now?” Davos shook his head, unbelieving, and Margaery could not blame him. “Well, I need to leave King's Landing to make arrangements, but I fear the snows will prohibit me from returning.”

“Why tell me this?”

Davos smiled again, “Well, he's likely to be less upset if it hears it from you, my queen.”

“You mean, he wouldn't let you leave, had you told him.” Margaery placed a hand on Davos' arm. “Safe travels, then, ser Davos. You were a loyal and true member of this house. We will miss you, terribly so.”

“Aye, you take care of yourself.”

That was the last time she saw him.

:: July 308 ::

The snowfall stopped but the cold remained. Blackwater had frozen with a thick sheen of ice. The snowbanks were nearly ten feet tall. The smallfolk remained hidden in their homes and the lords in their castles. The dead were thrown out into the snow for the crows and wild things. Margaery shuddered at the thought of bodies thawing in the streets.

Even with the warmest of cloaks, fur-lined gloves, and scarves, the cold still burned through and tried to capture her heart. The Red Keep was not a northern castle equipped to deal with winter's wrath. Her two daughters slept in the same bed for shared warmth. The serving girls and cooks and page boys all moved about the castle in their cloaks and gloves. They bundled themselves up even in the protection of the thick walls. The cold still seeped into the cracks of the windows and threatened to claim the foolish who do not keep their fires stoked during the night. The Tower of the Hand was empty. It was too high and the wind howled furiously. It was colder than the rest of the Red Keep. Margaery hated having to send servants up there to collect something the Hand left behind.

That morning, she broke her fast with Melara. Her sister had gone to her sewing circle and her brother to training with the commander of the Kingsguard. The fact that her younger brother was able to learn how to use a sword had provoked Melara's anger and jealousy.

“It's not fair! I want to fight! Septa Mereya said that I'm a spitting image of Robert, but a girl, and Robert was a great warrior!”

Margaery sighed, “Husbands do not permit their wives to fight. Not usually.”

“So?” Melara scrunched her nose, “I'll find a husband who will.”

“That's not how it works, sweetling.” Margaery tried to explain, bringing another spoonful of leek soup to her lips. This winter had lasted eight years thus far and Margaery was careful with what she ate and how much. They had stocked the keep with grains, potatoes, honey and salted meats. But, still, she wanted to be careful. If they ran out of food, there were no fields to left anymore, and they could not break the ice of Blackwater.

Stannis had named a new Hand when Davos left. To her surprise, he took the news of Davos leaving for the Riverlands with some grace. He had grit his teeth, grumbled, and cursed – but Stannis knew Davos better than anyone. The choice Davos made was a sound one.

The new Hand was a Frey, older than Davos, but quick. His beady little eyes followed every movement in the keep. He kept meticulous records and had a striking memory. He could recall what a man wore on the day he met them. Margaery did not like him overly much, but Davos had left a large hole to fill. He did his job well and that was the most Margaery could ask for.

“Corenna says I'm never going to get married. She says I'll be sent off to the silent sisters.”

“We will not send you to the silent sisters. Now, eat your breakfast.” Margaery nudged the bowl towards her eldest daughter, “And we'll talk of marriage once you're of age.”

:: August 308 ::

She found Stannis in the Tower of the Hand. It was too cold up here to be occupied by anyone – she expected to find him in the solar or in the library – but to find him here was odd enough. Her breath misted the higher she climbed. Her nose and cheeks turning pink.

Margaery pushed the heavy door open to see Stannis' back. “There you are, my king.”

“Davos is dead.” He said it, so bluntly, so harshly, that Margaery took a slight step back.

“Wh-what?”

“You can read, can't you?” And he thrust the letter into her face. The anger was rolling off him, but it was not directed at her. Not completely. She was just an outlet – a nearby person who he could vent off of. She took the letter carefully. The wind screamed around them, pulling at the stones and bricks of the tower, begging it to fall.

It was from Davos' eldest son. He thanked Stannis for all he's done for their family. He explained the situation in Riverrun, and the frozen lakes and rivers. And the last section read;

My father has passed, the maester said the stress took claim on his heart, but mother doesn't think it's true. She says he was old and that's just what happens to old men. I am sorry we could not tell you this in person. We will hold a small ceremony here at Riverrun, but, if winter ends I will hold a tourney in his honor – you and your family are invited to attend.

“Stress on his heart.” Stannis said when she finished, “I should have kept him here. I should have given the bloody Trident to someone else!”

Margaery now understood the anger. “You cannot blame yourself. I told you what Davos said before he left...”

“Yes, he thanked me. I sent him to his grave and he thanked me for it!” Stannis slammed his fist on the desk.

“You did not!” Margaery challenged him. “Davos knew the responsibility. You give him too little credit.”

“Davos would not say 'no' to me.”

“He wouldn't?” She scoffed, “He's said no plenty of times! He was not some...some—fluffed up southern lord eager for your favor.”

Stannis' shoulders shook – with sadness or rage – she could not tell. “He was a good man.” He said, weakly.

“He was. He was a great man. I am glad to have known him.”

Stannis did not come to bed that night, nor the next night after that. She left him to grieve. She knew better than to try and press him to accept her comforts. Margaery wrote a letter of condolences to the family and explained, as best as she could, to the children that Davos would not be returning from the Trident. Melara would not talk to her for three days (as if it were her fault) and Corenna spent her time in the royal sept, praying for Davos' family, that this would be the only loss they faced this year.

:: October 308 ::

The winter had taken lives and limbs. The snow started to fall again. Margaery heard little word of the people in Flea Bottom and the snow was too high make the journey there. Winter had calmed the realm, but it had also taken it. Starving peasants revolted in each hold, but food would grow scarce year by year if the people did not ration.

Margaery plead to Stannis an evening after supper, “There must be something we can do! I hear it constantly! Revolts in White Harbor, revolts in Dragonstone, revolts in Sun Spear! This winter must end soon, we cannot leave the people to starve!”

Sometimes, when he met her eyes, Margaery felt as if she were looking into the ocean. If she looked too deep, she might drown. Over a decade of marriage and still she could not decipher her husband's gaze.

“Winter is here, Margaery. Mothers will smother their children rather than see them starve, men will eat dogs, and horses, and even their own kin to survive. This is the longest winter I have ever seen, but we must survive it. We will not survive it if we begin handing out our food to the poor. They will storm the gates. They will kill our children for a scrap of bread. Do not underestimate the power of hunger.” He brushed a curl of her hair, the back of his hand grazing her cheek, “Survival is all that matters right now. We cannot afford to be charitable.”

The truth of his words pained her.

:: December 308 ::

“Mother, Melara says that she used to have blood oranges for breakfast. I want an orange.” Willem pouted, dropping his spoon into the thick cream of wheat with butter and honey.

“When winter ends, you will.” Margaery promised. Willem had only known winter and darkness. The cold had gotten into his bones. He had never know the sun, felt it's warmth upon his skin, or played in the rivers with his sisters. He was a dour child, envious of his sisters, and greedy. Margaery had caught him stealing from the kitchens more than once. He refused to train with his sword anymore, claiming that Melara can train instead since she wants it so badly.

He had her looks, but nothing else. She could not even find a resemblance to Stannis within him. He wanted a grand feast for his sixth nameday, he wanted pigeon pies, and strawberries, and big fat pigs with apples in their mouths. Margaery could promise him nothing of that sort. When winter began, the fruits had been eaten first, if they could not be preserved into jams and jellies. He was a winter child, but he had the soft life of a prince. Had he been born from a peasant family, he may not have survived at all.

Willem groaned, kicking his feet under the table. “It's not fair! It's not fair!” He bellowed.

“No.” Margaery agreed, “It's not. But you're lucky to have food at all.”

:: July 309 ::

“What do you mean the Night's Watch needs your help?!” Margaery sat up in bed, unable to move much since the maester instructed she spend as much as this pregnancy lying down. She was twenty-seven and although it was not uncommon for women to have children at this age, the winter made birthing difficult.

“Her body must be kept warm at all times. Hot cider to drink or mulled wine.” The maester instructed, rubbing his knotted hands together, “If the cold touches the babe, then she may loose it.”

They put hot coals in a basin under her bed and covered her in the warmest furs. A fire was stoked night and day in her chambers and they had even blocked her window for fear of an icy draft.

Her children visited after supper, crawling over her and pressing their small hands into her stomach, and talking to the babe within. The nannies had taken them off to bed and now it was only her and her husband – who would now leave her – in the middle of the nine year winter.

“Damn the Night's Watch! They can handle a king beyond the wall, can't they?”

“It's not a wildling raid.” Stannis shook his head.

“Oh, so what?” She crossed her arms, “Grumpkins? Giants? In the flatlands, the snow is as tall as a man on horseback and I cannot say how tall it grows in the valleys! The horses can't possibly ride through that and the ships are frozen to the harbor.”

“Renly would not lie to me!”

“He tried to have you killed, how do you know this isn't a ploy?”

“Because his wife is dead, his daughter rules the Stormlands, and he has no reason to lie. He's taken the black, even if he killed me – which he doesn't have the stomach for – the throne would pass to Willem.”

Margaery stretched out her hand. “Let me read the letter.”

It would not matter what she said. The letter was sent of Renly's own hand and the Night Commander's. The dead were rising at the wall and they called upon all the lords in the Realm to help defend it. The watch was only six hundred men strong. Margaery wanted to crumple the parchment in her hands and forbid him from riding north.

“If the child is born while I am away name him after my father.” Stannis kissed her forehead. As much as she wanted to turn away, to scald him with harsh words, that he was abandoning his family – this was the man she married. A man who would, without fail, always do his duty.

“Come back.” Margaery felt her voice waver, she clutched the front of his doublet, “Willem is too young to rule. Don't you dare die out there in the cold.”

She named the child Cassana, after his mother, and the bells were too frozen to ring. Stannis was somewhere north heading for the Wall. He would not know of his child's birth until – or if – he returned.

Margaery was not a very religious woman, but for the first time in years, she prayed to the Seven to return her husband safely. She prayed to the Warrior for strength. She prayed for the Crone to light his way. She even prayed to the Stranger that he would steer his gaze away from her husband for a while longer.

:: November 311 ::

A white raven arrived. The icicles clinging to the Red Keep began to melt. Westeros started to live again.

A week later, she saw the yellow and black flag on the horizon. The silken banner flapped in the wind like a living thing. The snow was still too high for her to meet him at the gates. Stannis arrived, unharmed, but a new darkness to his eyes. Margaery did not press him for answers to questions better left unsaid. She pulled him into the warmth of their shared bed. She guided his hands, and his mouth, and helped him forget about the shadows beyond the Wall.

They laid, sweaty and breathless, watching the windowpanes drip as the long winter finally passed.

“I met with Eddard Stark in Winterfell on the way home.”

“Oh?” She rested her chin on his chest. Margaery wanted to hear this. Stannis and Eddard shared similar views and once the ghost of Robert no longer lurked the halls, she noticed the pair had learned to respect one another. They would never be brothers like Robert and Eddard had been. But, a mutual respect was enough.

“He wishes to wed our houses. His second son, Mikken, to our Melara.”

Margaery smiled. Her daughter wanted a husband who would let her use a sword. “What kind of man is Mikken?”

“Tall. Strong. He has the Northern look.”

“When?”

“Soon. Once the Kingsroad is clear.”

Margaery smiled, “I would like to take the children to Highgarden before the wedding.”

Stannis did not deny her request. Margaery hoped the sights of green land would thaw Willem's heart. A winter child could learn to love the sun, the dirt, the grass and trees. He was so pale that his skin was almost translucent. He needed to feel the warmth of the sun and breeze through his hair.

She cuddled closer to Stannis and fell asleep for the night, dreaming of golden fields and rose gardens, of her father's smile and sweet, bursting strawberries on her tongue.

:: June 312 ::

She kept to her promise and Stannis kept to his. Melara would be wed to the Stark boy in just six month's time. Margaery traveled with her oldest children to Highgarden in a grand wheelhouse with the household guard, two members of the Kingsguard, and half a dozen others. Melara begged to ride instead of riding in the wheelhouse and Margaery allowed it – as long as she did not break away from the column.

Corenna asked endless questions about Highgarden. When she ran out of questions to ask, she buried herself in one of the books she had brought along with her. Willem crossed his arms and complained that the wheelhouse was too warm, too slow, too bumpy and so forth. Margaery learned to turn his complaints into white noise. Her twenty-ninth name day had passed in January.

It had been fifteen years since she rode for King's Landing and wed Stannis. Winter had halted most of the raven's messages. Game was scarce this winter and the maesters suspected that hawks were roosting in the high towers and swooping down on the raven's. She had not heard from her father since winter began and the last time she saw his face was when Melara was born.

They stopped at the inns during dusk at the end of each day and Margaery gave a silver piece to the innkeep. Her children greased their fingers on pheasant roasts and warm bread. The fields were still too frozen to work, but it would take time for the world to thaw. The days were growing longer and warmer with each passing month. Margaery prayed that this was a true spring and not a false one. Willem begged to try a sip of ale from one of the knights.

He chuckled, “Ye can have it when you're older, lad.”

Her boy's face turned bright pink with rage. He came upon the knight like a summer storm, his fists hitting the mail of his armor. “How dare you! How dare you! I'm the prince! How dare you!” His fit only incited more laughter. Margaery rose from her seat at the table and grabbed his arm in a swift, gentle grip.

“Mother – he said - “

“I heard him.” She let go of her son's arm, “Come sit down at my end of the table and you can have a cup of wine.” It was only fair. Corenna and Melara were permitted to drink a cup with her. She would fill his cup to half full and that would soothe him. Melara was dusty from the ride, her hair cropped short and touching her chin. The more she grew, the more she looked like her father. She had his jaw, his nose, his eyes, the dark and thick Baratheon hair.

“You should wash before bed.” Margaery instructed her eldest.

Her daughter sighed, “Yes, mother.”

Margaery could have cried tears of joy when the high walls of her childhood home came into view. The court came to greet her and everyone else.

“There has been a feast prepared in your honor, Your Grace.” A servant had informed her, bowing, and Margaery lost herself to nostalgia. The gardens were not blooming, but the seeds had been planted. Every window in the castle had been opened to let the fresh air rush through the halls. Melara went riding with some of the other younger girls at court and she always returned filthy, but smiling. Corenna delighted in the fashions of Highgarden. She was always chatting with the seamstresses and touching the silks, and cottons, and fine lace. Coreena fit into this world like a second skin.

Willem was only truly happy at the feast. He had never been allowed so much food in his life. They were still rationing back home at King's Landing. It had been the king's decree that they not begin to eat excessively until the soil could be turned and the first plants begin to sprout.

Highgarden was lucky for it's trade routes and the waters thawing before the ground did. Willem ate so much, she feared he would be sick, but he kept eating. He shoved smoked salt fish and chunks of sharp white cheese, he spread sweet strawberry preserve onto his bread, and sucked the meat from the crab legs. There was hotcrab stew and salted ham. She permitted all her children to have one cup of wine at the feast. Willem belched loudly and kept eating.

Margaery could find little appetite. She did not want to gorge herself after eating so carefully for so long. She drank a cup of water sweetened with lemons and enjoyed the presence of so many faces, so unfamiliar after so long. Her brothers hounded her, asked her questions about her life in King's Landing, and Loras offered to teach Willem a thing or two about a sword. Her father was pleased, rubbing his fat chin and smiling.

They spent the next three months in Highgarden. Her daughters blossomed and even her son began to like it here.

Margaery gave birth to their fifth child in the bed where her own birthing had taken place. It was an easy birth. There had been a moment of pain and the child slid from her between her legs into the maester's arm, pink faced and screaming, with her tiny hands balled into fists.

“You're getting good at this, sister.” Willas teased.

“Oh, oh hush...”

:: March 317 ::

Her marriage was not without it's strains and faults. She had sent Willem, nearly a man grown, to train under Loras at Highgarden. Her husband was not pleased with the decision.

“He should be here, learning how to rule.”

“He needs to know how to lead men and to fight.”

“And that new master-at-arms you asked me about? We have a master-at-arms.”

“I was merely suggesting...”

“You are the queen! You cannot make decisions behind my back! You sent him to Highgarden without my leave!”

“Oh, come off it!” Margaery spun to face him. She knew this man. They would butt heads, but they were always, always in this together. That was what a marriage was. It was two people, coming together, and pulling out the best of one another. Or the worst. If it was that kind of marriage. She knew in her gut that he was not truly mad about her sending Willem to Highgarden. There was something else bothering him.

“You would have agreed with me. He's not ready to learn how to rule!” She did not allow him to intervene, “What is it?! What is it, really? Come now – don't guard your tongue, you were never a man for that.”

“Have you been unfaithful?”

Margaery's jaw dropped. “Unfaithful? I am your wife! What?” She pressed forward, attempting to back him into a wall, but Stannis stood proud and unmoving. “Did you think while you were off war campaigning – I would lie with another man? Do you not look at your child's faces?!” Her face had grown hot with anger. “Look upon Melara and tell me she is not your child! And our little one, Lyria, her eyes are yours – in a few more years – she and Corenna could pass as twins!”

“I have had my suspicions.”

“Others take you!” She cursed, “I have loved you but, I have never hated you. Not until this moment. Damn you! Damn you!” She slammed her hand into his chest, “Go to hell, Stannis Baratheon! How dare you accuse me of this! After everything we've endured!”

“In the midst of the harshest winter we have ever known – “

“Did you think I'd find some stable boy to warm the bed for the night!?” Margaery pushed at his chest again, but he did not move. Their words grew hot and burning. She had never fought with him like this. Not once. Not in twenty years of marriage had they ever torn into one another like this. There had been too much respect between the two of them. They argued, but they never fought.

She took her claim of him that night. She tore apart his skin, clawed at his back, and bit his neck. She rode him and threatened that if he ever accuse her of infidelity again, she would turn him into an eunuch.

:: September 320 ::

She had given birth to seven children, though only five of them lived. Stannis' beard had started to grey and she teased him for it. Her breasts were no longer plump and high as they had been in her youth. Rivers of stretchmarks covered her stomach and legs, reminders that she had created life and carried it into this world. She had survived the longest winter in living history and grown stronger from it. She watched the rise and fall of great houses around her, while the Baratheon and Tyrell house stood strong.

Her eldest daughter had written to her from Moat Caitlin. She was happy, or so her letters said. She had still not yet convinced her lord husband to let her learn how to wield a sword, but she was running the household and could go riding whenever she pleased. That was enough.

Her sly and cunning daughter Corenna missed King's Landing. But, she was weaving her charm into the courts of Starfall. Her husband was ill, she said, but the maester's were doing everything they could. That letter had given Margaery pause. Corenna was sweet, but she had learned to use that sweetness to her advantage.

Willem had loved Highgarden too much. He wounded himself in a tourney, coming home with a nasty scar that marred his handsome face. Margaery had noticed that he had grown since she last saw him. He ate too much and drank too much and if Varys little birds told the truth – he also visited brothels too much. Margaery could not tame him. He would not listen to his queen mother nor his father. He believed himself to be better than both of them and better than everyone else. Margaery grieved for months after his passing. She wept in the solace of her bedchambers in her husband's arms. Stannis had curled his lip in distaste when he heard the cause – it was a disease only caught by having sex with an infected persons – but she knew in her heart that Stannis was saddened by the death of his first son. The Gods had been kind enough to give them two.

Cassana was betrothed to a grandson of Davos Seaworth. When the boy's father, one of Davos' sons, had written to herself and the king requesting they join their houses, Stannis had a quirk of a smile on his lips. The Seaworth family and the Baratheon's would join together once Cassana was of age.

Lyria was a lover of music and poetry. She had the prettiest of voices and would sing after supper, much to the delight of their guests. She had a gift for it. Someday, she said, even father would dance to one of her songs. That day had yet to come.

Her last babe, Andrion, had been a blessing after Willem's death. At first, he was to be trained as a second son, meant for a life of numbers, or knighthood. But, now he was the heir to the throne. He would be given armor and a sword once he came of age. He would learn how to lead men and fight men.

Margaery reflected on her life as she sipped iced milk with honey in the warmth of the gardens. Her king was turning grey and loosing hair. He would not need to carry this burden for very long. She smiled and touched the golden bracelet clasped around her thin wrist.

Chapter Text

           

Davos made his way down to Flea Bottom. The Street of Steel was loud with the clanging of hammers and the hiss of hot metal dunked into water. Stannis Baratheon would wed in six months’ time. It was his duty. The council had several meetings during the past few years about Stannis’ betrothal. King Robert – rest his soul – had arranged it after his rebellion won the throne.  But, some council members disagreed that Stannis should honor it.

Bloody fools, they were.

Stannis always honored his word.

“We could secure the loyalty and wealth of the Lannisters, Your Grace.” Petyr Baelish had suggested, smirking faintly. “There are plenty of cousins that need to be wed.”

“I disagree.” Varys tittered, smelling of sweet perfume, “The Reach is wealthy, too. They have more men than the Rock. We would not want them to raise their banners for the Targaryens. Though, I pray the Beggar King never turns his eye to Westeros.”

“What about Dorne?” Renly piped up, “I know Doran has a sweet daughter. They say she rivals the beauty of Ashara Dayne.”

Stannis listened to each of his councilmembers. He rubbed his hand along his jaw, “I’ll wed the Tyrell woman. Robert decreed it.” He steeled his gaze on his younger brother, “We could wed Dorne to someone else in the family.”

“Ah, there you are.” Davos grinned warmly, clasping the arm of the master smith – Tobho Mott. “Did you get my letter?”

“I did, I did.” Mott nodded, his face darkened with soot. He made his way to the back of the shop and lifted a small oaken box from one of the shelves. “Most delicate thing I ever made, it is. I told ye, I’m better at armor. I could fashion his Grace a mighty stag helm or a sword! A mighty great sword!”

“Maybe another day, Mott.” Davos replied, taking the box from the smith. He opened it and examined the tiny bracelet in the beaming summer light. It was a truly fine, delicate piece of art. He was told that the Queen-to-be was charming and beautiful. It was only fitting that she would receive a gift from her husband on the day of their wedding.

Now, Stannis knowing about it was a whole matter altogether. Davos knew Stannis wouldn’t think of buying his wife a dress or flowers. It wasn’t in his nature. But, Davos had been married to sweet Marya for years now. He knew the effect a small token could have on a lady’s heart.

“You will keep this between us.” Davos said, passing Mott his payment in a leather pouch.

“Of course, Lord Hand.” Mott gave him a slight bow.

:: January 296 ::

The wedding passed in a blur. One moment he was standing at the sept and the next he was placing the gold and yellow cloak around his brides’ shoulders. She was not…unattractive. She was more youthful than he was. Her eyes were big, brown, and innocent. Her body slim with good hips and high breasts. Robert could not have known how pretty Margaery would have grown to be. Otherwise, the late-king might have wed her himself.

“Don’t be fooled, Your Grace.” Varys had said prior to the wedding, wearing a secret smile. “She was raised by her grandmother – not her father.”

His wife was kind and gracious and when she danced with her father; every lord and lady watched her with rapt attention. Stannis watched Renly dance with Arianne Martell. That had been a hasty, but agreeable marriage. It was said that Arianne mostly spent her days in Dorne, preparing for her eventual rulership while Renly spent his time in King’s Landing or Storm’s End.

Stannis looked at Arianne. The Princess of Dorne wore dark purple and gold, her black, thick hair flowing loose around her face. The colors reminded him of a dark wine that had been Robert’s favorite. He cut into a piece of roasted meat and swallowed it down with a cold sip of water. He did not think Arianne Martell was as beautiful as Renly tried to make him believe.

The evening turned late and only the bedding remained. A tradition that Stannis was not fond off. He watched some of the guests carry Margaery away, her laughter sweet and loud down the stone corridor. Two of his Kingsguard followed her close behind.

Stannis had never lain with a woman before. Robert had tried, and failed, into goading him to traveling to a brothel or having a woman come to his bedchambers. Stannis drew the thin robe across his body and glanced over at his wife.

She was a small, timid thing with the silk sheets pulled up to her chest. He inhaled through his nose. He wasn’t ready. He would finish some work instead. The realm never rested, so why should he?

He finished sealing a letter and ignored the hot rush of blood filling his head. In his mind, he wasn’t ready, but his body had other ideas. Before she covered herself, he had seen the luscious curve of her hips, the perk of her breasts, and the thatch of dark hair between her thighs.

The guests outside the door calmed down – he could hear one of his Kingsguard yelling at them to disperse from the door. Stannis slowly disrobed and climbed into the bed beside Margery.

He said nothing as he reached out and touched the smooth skin of her thigh. Her lips parted and her clutch on the blanket released. Stannis sucked in a harsh breath at the sight of her. In the dim candlelight of their chambers, free from any other eyes than his - she truly was lovely. Her nipples peaked bright pink from the chill of their room.

“Lie down.” He ordered, sliding his palm up and cupping one of her breasts. Margaery obeyed and parted her thighs as he settled between them. He knew the basics of coupling. He was Robert’s brother and had been around his share of lewd jokes.

His cock twitched as he stared down at her. Her eyes were closed. Her soft, brown hair fanned out across the bed. Stannis nudged himself closer, pressed the tip of his cock against her core and felt her shiver. He rocked his hips a few times, experimenting, and watching her face.

Stannis grunted as he pushed his cock forward into her. His eyes nearly rolled to the back of his skull. It was bliss. Her walls gripped him tight and urged him closer. By the gods, was this why those priests saw this as a sin? Stannis grunted again, clenched his jaw, and pushed deeper until he filled her to the hilt. Margaery let out a gasp, her eyes flying open for a split second before she tossed her head back.

He only managed a few deep thrusts before his seed spilled inside of her. Stannis groaned as he found his release and waited until he was soft before pulling away.

To lay with his wife was his duty. He must give her an heir.

The exhaustion of the day took him, and he fell into a deep, dreamless slumber.

:: October 296 ::

Stannis sat with his small council and felt his jaw begin to go sore from clenching his teeth. Renly was in Storm’s End. So, it was just himself, Davos, Varys, Baelish, and Monford Velaryon.

“Rosby?” Davos frowned, reading through the letter once more. “What do they expect to do? March on King’s Landing?”

“I expect that.” Stannis deadpanned.

“We could take the fleet rather than march through the land.” Velaryon suggested, his fair hair tied back, and his eyes the color of the sea. “They would not expect it.”

“Likely not,” Davos said, glancing at Stannis, “But – there is fatigue that comes with sea travel. No matter how short.”

They went over the plan for drills of the soldiers and provisions. It was agreed that they would march in two months. Stannis rejected the idea of ship travel. Rosby’s castle was small and it would be good morale for the men to find alongside their king.

:: January 297 ::

The rain had made the terrain slick with mud and the bodies of the dead. Rosby had a weak force. The peasants who fought for him were deserting each day. Stannis sat inside his tent, the yellow color darkened by the damp. It had taken them nearly a month to arrive in Rosby and now it would be any day before the Lord agreed to peace.

He could hear the fire crackling and the shouting and laughing of his men.

He dipped his quill into the ink pot,

Margaery,

He paused and stared at the word. He had considered having his squire write a letter to his lady wife but chose against it. He wanted his own hand to reach her. Stannis set the quill back down and tossed the letter in the fire. He watched the edges blacken and smolder into ash.

He would see her soon. There was no reason for prose or poetry. What could he tell her? The horses were well fed and watered. It rained often. The journey to Rosby was without incident – minus one horse that had thrown a shoe near the end of the column.

:: June 297 ::

The day Margaery went into labor was worse than any siege or battle that Stannis had been a part of. Her cries echoed through the Red Keep.

Davos assured him – in his own way – “I’ve seen my wife give me seven children, Your Grace. It’s a battle only she can fight, but I guarantee she will live through it.”

Stannis nearly paced a rut into the carpet of the birthing chamber. The midwife and her associates bustled around the room with water, wet clothes, and Stannis stayed out of their way.

“Ye do not need to be here, Your Grace.” One of the servants told him, “We can come get you once its over.”

Stannis said nothing. He grit his teeth and felt Margaery’s pain as if it were his own.

The dark sky faded to the light blue of the oncoming dawn. Stannis lifted his head, hearing a child’s cry replace the cries of his wife. He rose to his feet immediately and towered over the midwives as they wiped blood from the baby and wrapped her in cloth.

 “Would ye like to hold her, Your Grace?” The midwife asked, cradling the child’s head and offering the fragile bundle to him.

Stannis felt his mouth go dry. A child. His child. The heir to the Seven Kingdoms.

“Yes.” His daughter’s face was still bright pink, and her small hands reached for him. Her eyes opened slowly. Stannis felt a deep tug in his chest. She had his eyes. He gave her his finger and she curled her hand around it, squeezing it and trying to draw it into her mouth.

He saw Margaery stir and looked over to see her watching them.

“I’ve named her Melara.”

“A beautiful name, My King.”

:: December 297 ::

Melara was growing to be a healthy and strong child. It had been six moons since Margaery delivered her. Stannis would, if he had time, stop by her nursery to check on her. Some days, she was fast asleep in her crib. Other days, she would be wide away and stare up at him with her wide, dark blue eyes.

It had changed his and Margaery’s relationship. There was no denying it. A great fondness had grown between them.  Stannis would lie beside her at the end of the day and talk to her – as an equal. He never thought it was possible.

They were not a love match. Robert had chosen Margaery because she was the only daughter of Mace Tyrell. Stannis thought he would carry his resentment of the Tyrell family to the grave. He had planned to lie with the woman at least once to ensure an heir and then nothing more. And yet, Margaery was unlike her brother, Loras, with his arrogance. Nor was she like Mace - with his eager-to-please nature and fearful disposition. Though he had only met Olenna at the wedding, Margaery seemed more concerned with the well-fare of the small-folk, the caring of their children, than to play the political games at court. Davos gave the woman high praise...and Stannis respected his old onion knight. Somehow, against all odds, it worked. They worked together. She listened to him, provided her insight, and continued with her own projects and duties as queen. He realized that he had come to trust her.

The awkwardness of their first time had long since passed. Now, when they laid together at night, Stannis found himself enjoying it for something else beyond the responsibility of ensuring the line was secure. Margaery would wrap her legs around his waist and pull him deeper, her voice a seductive whisper in the candlelight – “A son, this time.”

 

 

:: June 300 ::

The Seven Kingdoms were thriving. Two years ago, Varys discovered that the Beggar King had met his demise at the hands of a Dothraki warlord. His council had argued that Stannis should put an end to Daenerys before she arrived with a Dothraki hoard at her back. Stannis refused. If Daenerys tried to cross the Narrow Sea with the horse lords, then they would meet them in battle.

Stannis could not look at his own dark-haired daughter as she played with a wooden stag and justify sending an assassin to kill a woman who had only just passed her sixteenth name day. He would not resort to cloak and dagger means to end the life of a child.

In those two years – the realm had known only peace. A white raven arrived with the message that winter was coming. Stannis expected that. It had been a long summer.  A second raven arrived, black of color.

Dark wings, dark words.

He should have known that first letter would have been the end of peace.

:: April 301 ::

He drew his blade and trekked along the frostbitten grass. The war drums beat loudly in his ears. The shouts of men – ready to fight and unafraid of death. The steel clashed, and Stannis grunted as he parried an attack.

His armor was heavy and warm enough to stave off the cold, bitter wind. A light dust of snowflakes drifted onto the carnage of the battlefield.

“Come on!” Stannis yelled, lifting his sword into the air.

He thought of his first child - Melara, nearly 4 years old now. How she looked at him and would point to his crown and say, “King!”. He thought of Corenna, who reminded him of his wife, with the brown ringlets around her angelic face. His children were too young to rule.

He must survive.

:: March 302 ::

Davos stood beside Stannis as they finished with the days hearings. Stannis looked down at his gloved palms, catching where the leather had caught on the iron throne. The throne room began to empty out, a swell of voices as they spoke.

“This has been the worst winter yet, Your Grace.” Davos said, a look of concern on his features.

“What of it?” Stannis asked, lifting the crown from his head and placing it on the pillow presented by his squire. “There is nothing we can do. We endure it. We wait for it to end.”

Davos fell into step beside the king as they left the throne room.

“Some of the Northern lords at court have suggested methods…to assist us in the winter.”

Stannis looked at Davos and nodded for him to continue.

“They have shoes that carry a man’s weight, so he can walk along the snow and not sink into it. They could even design something to help the horses.” Davos clasped his hands behind his back as he walked, “With your leave, I’d like to have these commissioned. We can’t say for how long this winter will last…and if Renly’s rebellion proves anything…it’s that men will try for power. Even if their timing is shite.”

Stannis stopped outside of the children’s rooms. He considered Davos’ suggestion. It would be sensible to try and prepare for this winter and prepare for the worst. His heir, his son Willem, would be vulnerable if an enemy tried to take the Red Keep.

“Very well.”

“Then it will be done.” Davos looked at the door they were standing in front of and smiled, “Ah – you’re not going to disturb the children’s lessons, are you?”

“I have to see how their lessons are faring, Davos.”

“Of course, Your Grace.” He bowed and grinned once his back was turned away.

:: September 309 ::

Eight long years of winter with no end in sight. Stannis wished, not for the first time, that he hadn’t given the Trident to Davos. There was a chance the old smuggler would still be beside him. He buried his nose into the thick fur and shielded his face from the bitter wind as they traveled North. To the Wall.

His wife’s words echoed in his mind and not for the first time that day: “Don’t you dare die out there in the cold.”

They lost lives on the journey North. Stannis expected it. They lost horses, too. He expected that. Davos had hundreds of the snow shoes designed for their army and it helped. The snow was high and hardpacked but being weighed down in armor and fur took its toll. The army moved slower than Stannis would like.

Ned Stark greeted them at Winterfell. The King’s army set up around the hold and restocked. They sat around the table, planning and eating, while Ned took the honorary seat beside the King.

“You received the same letter from Renly?” Stannis asked, dipping his spoon into the hot porridge that the Starks had served. The journey to Winterfell had only been salted meats to eat. He was grateful for something hot even if it had no taste. It hardly mattered.

“Aye, I did.” Ned Stark had aged since Stannis saw him last. His beard was heavy with grey, but Stannis could tell the man still held himself as a warrior. “Allow me to introduce you to my sons. They will be accompanying us to the Wall.”

“This is Robb.” The man bowed, his hair a dark auburn and his eyes blue. Robb had just passed his twenty-sixth name day.

“This is Mikken.” Mikken looked like Ned. Tall, brawny, with dark hair and grey eyes. “He is finally a man grown…”

“And yet, you’re taking him beyond the wall.” Catelyn spoke up, her body covered in furs, her gray hair braided and hanging over her shoulder. She felt no love for the king. She was a gracious host, of course, but Stannis could detect her hostility brimming under the surface of her gaze. He had taken the Riverlands from the Tully’s and given it to the Seaworth’s. It was their own fault. They continued to war for land that wasn’t theirs. She could scowl at the King’s justice, but she could not argue it.

“I volunteered, mother.” Mikken spoke for himself, bowing once to the king, and then returning to his seat.

“Once we have our strength, we will head to the Wall and end this winter.” Stannis announced, and the company of Northern lords banged their mugs onto the table – shouting “For the North!”

:: May 310 ::

It was impossibly colder beyond the wall. Stannis gripped his sword, scanning the tree line for movement. A lone raven cawed in the branches.

“To arms!” One of the men shouted and then the enemies broke through, snow kicking up around their feet. Their eyes bright and ice-cold blue. They made inhuman sounds as they drew their weapons that looked as if they were fashioned from crystal.

“Fire! Fire!” A man of the Night’s watch yelled, waving his torch. It caught one of the dead aflame and Stannis yelled to his men to do the same.

“Burn them!” He shouted, “Burn them!”

Was this how madness began?

There was no end to the battle. A lull only occurred once the sun rose and illuminated the blood-stained snow. They collected their fallen and piled them together to burn. They would rest, tend to their wounded, and once night fell the cycle would begin again. It was an endless torment.

By the third day, Stannis feared there would be no end, “My King! The Maester calls for you.”

“Take me to him.”

He ducked into a tent, finding his youngest brother buried under a pile of furs, his eyes sunken into his skull. Aemon eased a spoonful of white liquid into Renly’s mouth.

 “Leave us.” Stannis snapped, lowering himself to Renly’s side. The Maester nodded his head, “Sleep will take him soon, Your Grace.” Still, he obeyed and left the tent with the help of his steward to attend to the other injured men.

“Ah, look at you.” Renly coughed. Stannis could see the veins under his skin – harsh blue beneath the pale. “If you continue to scowl like that…your face is bound to get stuck that way.”

“What happened?”

“Wound festered…” He coughed, his eyes focusing on some spot beyond Stannis’ head. “At least my death is more dignified than Robert’s eh? Died trying to save the realm. Gods…” He shut his eyes in pain, “If only I had ignored Arianne and the others…I’d be in Storm’s End…eating stuffed ducks and drinking sweet cider. How is Loras, I wonder?  Your wife…sweet…fair Margaery…a rose with steel thorns.”

Stannis clenched his jaw.  “You are not going to die here.”

“You always were stubborn.” Renly tried to laugh, but it came out as a wheeze. “Listen…the dead will keep coming, brother. Their army just grows…but…” He winced, “you once…lived on their weakness.”

He frowned, trying to make sense of Renly’s riddle. “What do you mean?”

Renly’s eyes were clouded, his voice no more than a whisper on the cold wind, “Stone.…”

They burned Renly’s body in the morning.

:: August 310 ::

Stannis pulled his forces back, aiming to be closer to the wall in case of a retreat. Their forces were declining by each day. Yet, for each solider they lost, another ten would arrive in Castle Black. The Northern lords had a great love for Ned Stark and glory. Especially the young ones. Stannis had caught Mikken in the midst of battle more than once – despite his father’s orders to stay behind.

And speaking of the Northern Lord - Ned Stark found him in his tent and placed an old, decrepit scroll onto the table. “Dragonglass.” He said, his face grim, but his eyes hopeful. They called for the ravens and the smith at Castle Black.

“Send a raven to Varys.” Stannis instructed, “We will see if his contacts in Essos aid the realm.”

The tide of battle swiftly turned.

They pushed deeper into the haunted forest.

They journeyed past Caster’s Keep.

Winter would end. This was his vow. And Stannis Baratheon never broke his vow.

:: April 311 ::

Eleven years of winter. Children born and died never knowing sunlight. Never feeling the warmth of the sun. Crops buried under feet of snow and entire families wiped out. He lost two men of his Kingsguard, fighting to protect him. Ned’s son, Robb, bore a scar across his chest. Stannis did not have any scars to bear. At least, none that his wife would see once he returned home.

Stannis knew it had ended the moment he sunk the blade into the heart of an Other and felt the wind shift. He could not explain it. Something had changed.

Winterfell was in celebration as they returned. Catelyn ran through the gates and embraced her husband and her two sons. The air had lost its bitter, harsh chill.

The cooks prepared a thick, creamy soup filled with salted cod and dark ale was served. They dined and listened to the songs performed – all hailing the end of winter and the glory of summer.

“I have a question for you, Your Grace.” Ned Stark spoke, his voice grave and serious. His eyes were on his son, Mikken.

“Speak plainly then, Stark.” Stannis said, waving away another serving of stew.

“My son and your daughter are not far in age.” Ned began, “If Lyanna had survived…”

“You wish to wed our houses.” Stannis guessed. It was not a hard guess to make.

“I’ve always known you to be a just, sensible man.” He said. “You do not have to give me an answer tonight, Your Grace. But, if you ever need to call upon House Stark, know that we will answer you.”

Stannis retired at the end of the night, his stomach full, and his heart longing for the Red Keep. He did not write to Margaery. He could not justify sending a letter to her when the ravens were needed to send important letters to the realm. If she wrote to him, then they did not make it to Castle Black.

“D’you need company, m’lord?” A woman asked, placing her hand on his arm, and pressing her breasts into his side. “I can keep ye bed warm.” In the low torchlight of the corridor, she must not have realized who he was.

“No.” Stannis jerked his arm away, “Goodnight.” The door shut in her face.

:: November 311 ::

It was not easy returning to King’s Landing. The small council had business to finish – though the kingdom ran well with Margaery in charge of it and his Hand. There were letters to respond to, concerns to be met, and repairs to be made.

Melara had asked him a hundred questions, throwing her thin arms around his neck and hugging him tightly. He suspected that she would ask him a hundred more questions before the day was done. Corenna had wept upon seeing him and thanked the Warrior for returning him home safely. She daintily pressed her handkerchief against the corner of her eyes and kissed his cheek.

Willem did not know what to do. His son, his heir, regarded him with a stoic expression and gripped his mother’s skirt. He was nearly seven when Stannis left for the wall. It had been two years of travel and war.

“This is Cassana.” Margaery introduced them, holding the toddler in her arms. “I’ve named her after your mother…I hope that is alright.”

Stannis looked into her face, seeing the resemblance of himself that he did not see in Willem. Her black hair curled around her ears. Long eyelashes framed her wide, brown eyes giving her round, soft face an angelic look.

He reached out and the child, Cassana, hid her face into Margaery’s shoulder. Stannis drew his hand away, “I should go and meet with the council.”

“Can we go riding soon!?” Melara asked, quickly falling into step behind her father. “Once the snow is gone, I want to go all across the Crownlands!”

:: January 312 ::

Stannis leaned his head back in the copper tub, the steam rising and the sunlight pouring through the glass window. The realm did not rest, and the healing would take months…if not years…to recover. But, they would recover.

Ned Stark wrote to him and they finished their plans for Melara’s betrothal. His daughter had taken the news with a sour expression on her face – but it had soon brightened when Margaery reminded her of the song ‘Brave Danny Flint’. It seemed that Melara liked the idea of women disguising themselves as men and having adventures.

The heavy oak door opened, and his wife entered with a soft smile on her face, “I hope I am not disturbing you, My King.”

The water churned as he sat up, “Not at all.” She shut the door behind her, her gown a lush marigold orange that illuminated the honeyed strands of her hair in the sunlight. She crouched beside the tub, the silk fabric of her dress pooling around her waist like an open flame.

Her hand slid along his chest, “It is so good to have you back in the keep.” She said, her hand dipping below the water. Stannis leaned his head back, trickles of water sliding down his arms and neck. He drew in a sharp breath as she touched him.

“Yes…I missed…” His words were cut off, his fingers curling around the bronze edge of the tub. There was no other sound beyond his ragged breathing and the water gently lapping at the sides of the tub.

Margaery pulled at the strings of her gown, slipping the silk material away until it slid from her shoulders. She stood, stepping out of the gown, and pushing it aside with her foot. There was a reason she picked this dress – she could slip in and out of it without the help of one of her lady’s. She dipped her toe into the water and then slowly lowered herself into it. Her hands cradled his face and her mouth lowered onto his. Neither of them said anything else. It was a comfort to have her close. Her head lolled to the side as he kissed her neck, brown ringlets of hair covering one breast, the ends dipping into the hot water. Her fingers gripped his shoulders, a soft sigh escaping her lips. Stannis stroked his thumb along her center with all his focus and attention on the sounds and jerky movements she made. Margaery whimpered, her nails kneading against his skin, her breasts rubbing against his chest. Only when she cried out in ecstasy did he stop his ministrations of his deft, calloused hands.

Their skin was still damp from the water and steam when they fell back into their shared bed. He kissed the rivulets of water as they traveled between the valley of her breasts. He licked his way along her stomach, down to her hips, and settled between her legs. Margaery's nails dug pleasantly into his scalp. Her head tossed back, adoration falling from her lips, as she trembled beneath him. His body knew hers. Their time together was no longer just to secure the Baratheon line. It was an act of love, of devotion. Margaery whimpered and pulled him close, wrapping her legs around his hips, and Stannis thought of nothing else for a long while.

:: July 312 ::

Margaery was away in Highgarden to visit her family and allow her children to experience the lush, green wildness of her home. Her letters arrived almost weekly. Stannis would take them into his solar and read them in peace.

My dearest,

Our children are happy and well. Corenna will celebrate her fourteenth name day here and I am already preparing a small celebration for her. She has asked for a crown. A tiny princess, she is. I am going to give birth within the next two moons, if the Maester is correct. How I wish you could be here with me. I know your place is in the keep, so do not worry. I will have my brothers.

He folded the letter neatly and kept it with his others. The letters varied in length and detail. In truth, he waited anxiously for the letter informing him of the birth of their next child. And in thinking of his children – he was always brought to the thought of his heir.

Young Willem, as Margaery told him, could be difficult.

The thought that gnawed at him was how Willem looked.

Where was the Baratheon in him?

:: October 312 ::

“A letter from Highgarden, Your Grace.” The Hand of the King passed the letter to him and sank back down into his seat.

Stannis slid the knife along the seal and his heart jumped in his chest.

King Stannis Baratheon,

On the morning of September 312 AC. Your lady wife gave birth to a healthy girl. She has named her Lyria. She has requested this letter be sent to you and that they will journey to King’s Landing once she and the babe are able to travel.

Maester Mullen

:: Jan 313 ::

Melara cut her hair short – much to the surprise and horror of her handmaidens. She had taken a dagger the night before her wedding and sawed through the dark strands until she was left with an uneven mop of hair. They did what they could to smooth and style her hair into something presentable.

Melara had grown in a handsome woman. She had her father’s strong jaw, his eyes, and dark hair. She was tall, but not graceful. Her arms held the definition of a woman who preferred riding over knitting. No one would write tales of her beauty. There was too much wildness in her. Yet, she was raised to be a proud creature. She was the king’s daughter and was once the heir to the throne. She was the first, trueborn child of Stannis Baratheon. She would not let anyone look down on her.

The ceremony took place in the Godswood. Stannis stood beside his wife, both dressed smartly in the yellow and black color of the Baratheon house. Margaery wore a crown of silver roses upon her head. She would always be proud of being a Tyrell. She held their youngest babe, Lyria, in her arms during the short wedding ritual.  

Melara’s silk gown was iron grey with black trim. The crowned stag of her house embroidered on her back. She stood before the tree with her chin raised high.

The cloak of House Stark covered her shoulders and she turned to the crowd as Lady Stark of Moat Cailin.

Stannis recalled the moment he held her in his arms. Sixteen years ago, he held her and now he left her in the care and protection of her Lord Husband.

He glanced at his other children – Willem in his dark green suit and brown pants, he stared openly in awe at the weirwood tree. Corenna clutched her hands to her heart, smiling with joy, wearing her pale, lemon colored dress with a black velvet traveling cloak, her long hair styled into two braids. Cassana sat on the lap of one of Margaery’s cousins and waved at him and little baby Lyria who looked at him with light blue eyes.

Mikken lifted Melara into his arms and carried her to the feast. Margaery reached for Stannis’s hand and squeezed it.

The feast was held in the Great Hall of Winterfell. Willem’s eyes went wide as he saw the food begin to pour out from the kitchens.

The first course was roasted onions, served with gravy and fresh bread. Then came the roasted meats, racks of lamb, and hot blood sausage. Stannis watched his eldest daughter knock back a mug of dark, strong beer and the froth covered her upper lip. Her new husband reached out and wiped it away with his thumb. Stannis turned his head away – not wishing to be privy to such an intimate moment.

He felt Margaery’s hand rest on his thigh.

Willem shoved a mouthful of honeyed ham between his lips, then grabbed a pitcher of ale to wash it down. He belched and plucked a boiled egg from a plate and dropped it into his mouth whole. He dipped a hunk of bread into the gravy and sucked it noisily before biting into the soggy piece.

“This is the greatest feast ever!” Willem announced, his cheeks rosy. “Will you be married soon, Corenna?”

“Willem!” Margaery chastised, “Now is not the time.”

Stannis rose from the table, “I will be back in a moment.”

He had only meant to get some air with his loyal Kingsguard following behind him. Their armor clanking, but it was a dim noise compared to the festivities inside.

“Father!” Melara caught up to him, and looped her arm through his, “You look solemn.”

“I am not.” Stannis tilted his head, “I am happy for you.”

“Then why do you look so sad?” She asked, trying to peer at his profile in the dimming twilight.

“For years, before Willem was born, I saw you as my heir.” Stannis said, stopping beneath one of the ledges. “Today, I laid that dream to rest. Willem is nearing his eleventh name day and you are now a Stark.”

Melara laughed and rested her head on her father’s shoulder, “I am a Baratheon, father. That is the blood that runs through my veins. A cloak and a husband does not change that.”

 

::February 318::

Lord Paramount Allard Seaworth had written from The Trident, inviting the family to the Tourney of Riverrun, as a celebration for his third brother Matthos' betrothal and a celebration to the late Davos Seaworth, who passed shortly before winter claimed them. 

"I haven't been to a tourney in years." Margaery wrapped her arms around his neck as he sat before his desk, drafting a letter of refusal, "It would be a delight, wouldn't it? We will see Willem joust--"

"He's the heir. He shouldn't be involved." Stannis cut in, his voice gruff as the quill scratched across the page. 

"Yes, my love, he's the heir and no one would dare harm him." She replied. She smoothed her hand along the side of his head, kissing his temple. Stannis sighed and slid the letter aside. He could hardly deny her. They never held tourney's at King's Landing. He saw them as a wasteful expense. His eldest children, Melara and Corenna, would likely be there. And neither he nor Margaery had seen them since their weddings. Little Cassana was nearing her ninth nameday...and he couldn't keep her confined to the Red Keep. She needed to make appearances at court and among the other high lords and ladies. 

The more he considered it and considered the fact that the tourney was being held, in part, to honor Davos...the more it made sense to attend.

"Very well. I will tell Allard that he can expect our arrival." He grabbed a fresh scroll of parchment. 

His wife laughed, jovial and carefree, and proclaimed that she would tell her ladies to get her things packed for the journey. Stannis did not like leaving King's Landing. He feared something would go wrong in his absence. The coffers would go empty, the city would burn, the horses would break free from the stables. If Davos were here, he'd feel much better about leaving the keep. If Davos were here, he'd know that his interests were protected. But, Davos was not here. He was long dead. There was no use ruminating about it.

He dipped the quill into the ink pot.

 

:: April 2018 ::

Stannis rode in the back of the column, where it was most comfortable, even if it wasn't fit for a King. It's how he traveled during war. It enabled him to keep sight of everything ahead, watching the banners carrying the Baratheon sigil flap in the wind as they drew upon the tourney grounds. The Trident sparkled in the sunlight, the smoke of campfires rising, and the noise of blacksmith hammers, of men boasting and betting, and drinking. He could smell the hot, burnt meat roasting in the air. 

Excitement surrounded him. It was no wonder Robert loved tourney's so much. Stannis - on the other hand - preferred silence and not for the first time, he wondered if he should have stayed behind and let his family enjoy the event. Yet, as he saw his lady wife step from the wheelhouse, lifting her lilac colored skirts and flashing her brilliant smile...well, he supposed the tourney could be worse.

Allard Seaworth came to greet him, bowing, "Your Grace. I am honored you could join us." He wore a pouch around his neck, Stannis noticed, and then wondered why the old smuggler wasn't buried with his bones.

"You were gracious to invite us, my lord." Margaery looped her arm around Stannis', "We loved your father dearly and our family mourned his passing. I am delighted to see that you are in good health." 

Allard bowed his head once more, "Thank you, my queen. Please, let allow me to show you to your rooms..."

The Seaworth family had done well with holding the Riverlands. Dale held a smaller castle, as did Matthos, and the other sons were set up as stewards and knights. Allard spoke of children, his own and his brothers, and how grateful he was to Stannis' kindness towards his family over the years.

"Your father earned my trust." Stannis replied, his gaze cool, "You've got time to earn it as well." 

The noonday feast began before the jousting, allowing more time for riders to get settled, and for guests to arrive. Stannis sat at the high table with Margaery beside him as they served biscuits and mead, with fish tarts and hot onion broth. There were performers of jugglers and masked men. They rolled across the floor, they made jokes and jests, recited poetry and bawdy songs. Stannis took it all in with a slight disinterest. There were more pressing matters on his mind.

Margaery gasped beside him and his body went alert. The Kingsguard at his left touching the pummel of his sword on reflex. He searched the crowd for the reason for her distress and saw -the boy, now a man, with curly brown hair and soft cheeks, wearing brown pants and a green tunic with two golden stags fighting at the front. He smiled and approached them.

"Father! Mother! I did not think you'd be here!" Willem said, "Have you heard? I'm in the lists against Ser Ambrose!" Stannis could feel Margaery trembling beside him. He placed a hand on her knee to calm her.

There was a slash, still pink, along the side of his face. Willem kept talking, oblivious, as he approached the table and one of the serving girls got a chair for him. Stannis could hardly hear him past the roaring in his ears. A scar? None of his letters mentioned anything. Had Loras kept this secret? And what good was a spymaster if they didn't keep eyes on his heir? Margaery - based on her reaction - she hadn't known. Why had no one told him? Stannis grit his teeth together.

He could hear Margaery speaking, but could not collect her words. 

It would be a very long day.

By the time the lists began, Stannis was surrounded by his family. Melara, keeping her hair short and boyish, had hugged him tightly when she arrived. When she saw her younger brother, she frowned, but said nothing more. Corenna kissed both his cheeks, smelling like summer wine and dressed in peach colored silks, with her fair skin freckled from the hot sun of Dorne. Her smiling face greeted each person, high and low, and then she threw herself into a conversation with Melara. Stannis recalled how noisy the Red Keep once was when Melara and her sister were little. They were both women now. Wed, with their own houses, and someday with their own children.

Cassana stuck beside her little sister, Lyria, fiddling with a worn, carved wooden stag that was - no doubt - crafted by Davos Seaworth and given to one of the elder children so many years ago. Stannis watched them, their heads bowed together, speaking the secret language of children. He thought of his own brothers and then returned his attention to the jousts. If Robert were here, what would the realm look like? What future might have been for himself and his family?

The crowd made an uproarious noise as a rider was unhorsed. 

Stannis felt Margaery's hand slid into his own and he squeezed it.

 

:: July 320 ::

Stannis looked at the corpse of his first son and the stone painted eyes rested on his eyelids. His face had gone soft and pudgy. An ugly scar ran down his face, near his right eye down to his chin. A tournament trophy.

“Drinking, fighting, and whoring…” Stannis muttered, placing his hand on the altar that Willem’s body rested on. The Silent sister shuffled around the Sept as they prepared for the ceremony. “Just like Robert…” The boy was a Baratheon after all.

A wave of melancholy rolled through him. He laid his eldest brother to rest. He laid his youngest brother to rest. Now, his firstborn son. Must the Gods continue to take from him? Is that the price he pays for peace in the realm?

“How did he die?” Stannis asked the Maester, clenching his jaw and staring down at the recently recovered body of his son. They had found him in a brothel. One of the Kingsguard had entered the room to rouse Willem from sleep and found that he was not breathing.

The Maester rubbed his knotted, old hands together. “Well, it is…do you really wish to know, Your Grace?”

“Yes.” Stannis cut a glance to the Maester, “Was he poisoned?”

“No…” the Maester coughed into his sleeve, “It was a pox, Your Grace. Not…uncommon to find in those who frequent brothels…”

Stannis was not a holy man. He did not pray. The Seven did not save his parents, they did not save Renly, or Robert, or even Willem. The Gods did not rescue them when the Others came, and Winter destroyed their land.

 He placed his hand on Willem’s chest and said goodbye.

 

:: Epilogue ::

Stannis Baratheon took his final breath. The burden of the crown and iron throne eventually took their toll on his heart. His son Andrion claims the crown with his mother ruling as Queen Regent.

The Seven Kingdoms prosper and hold peace for nearly two decades.

And then, one day, Andrion Baratheon wakes the dragons from stone.