“You found my eldest daughter doing what?”
The veins on Stannis’ neck bulged. His teeth ground so tightly that no sound came out.
Massey looked at Horpe, and Horpe looked right back at Massey. It was Justin Massey who finally spoke. “We found her in the stables, my lord, with three grooms at once. They were, um…engaged in carnal activities…”
“You mean to say that my daughter is a whore?”
“She didn’t take money for it,” Massey suggested helpfully. “So she wasn’t a whore.”
“Spare me the details.” Stannis brooded over the Painted Table. “Amerei…”
“If I may so, my lord, she’s very well endow…” Massey broke off after a discreet kick from his companion.
But fortunately for the knight, Stannis was still brooding. At last he unclenched his jaw with a crack. “Bring her here. And don’t let anybody hear about this.”
“Too late for that!” Robert’s booming voice echoed through the room as he stepped in with an arm over Amerei’s shoulders.
Stannis’ jaw seemed to move up even as his head went down. “Your grace. We did not expect you.”
Robert guffawed. “And I never expected something like this on Dragonstone! Between you and your shrew of a wife, I figured there’d be an army of septas marching out of here. But gods! I laughed till I cried when the Spider told me. Now, there’s a true Baratheon on this island! Takes after me. I haven’t even done that many at once in weeks! You’re a remarkable one, girl.” Amerei’s face dimpled with pleasure. “And wait till I tell Renly!”
The king wagged a finger at Stannis. “Don’t you even think of punishing Ami! I know what’s moving through that bald skull of yours. Gods, I haven’t had such a good laugh in years.” He flung an arm over Amerei’s shoulders and left the room with her, still roaring with laughter. “Lancel Lannister! Come out of those shadows and bring us some wine. Time we introduced Ami to it. Doubt Stannis ever lets her touch it.”
“Are you alright, my lord?” Massey asked when Robert was gone from the room. Stannis was making a strangled noise.
How can any father be alright? Stannis wondered. “Damn Robert and that damn spider! Does all of Westeros know of this by now?”
Massey and Horpe looked at each other. “Well, some of the lads have begun calling Amerei ‘Gatehouse Ami’…” Massey trailed off.
“Well, out with it. I’ve never needed to tell you to continue speaking.”
“Well…I just remembered, my lord, I have some…ladies, er, prisoners, to attend to.” Massey rushed from the room, completely forgetting his cloak.
Stannis turned to Horpe. “What does he mean by ‘Gatehouse’?” he demanded. “My daughter is not made of stone.”
“No, she isn’t.” The scarred knight scrunched his face and avoided the question. “Perhaps it would be best to allow brothels on Dragonstone again, so that the men won’t be tempted by your daughter.”
“I will have no whores on Dragonst…” Stannis trailed off and ground his teeth. “Well, we shall have to prepare supper for my beloved brother. Have the cooks prepare some capons. Robert does like capons.”
Horpe was back a moment later. “Bad news, my lord.”
“Speak up. It can’t be worse than my daughter being a…” The word stuck in his throat. “Well, what is it?”
“Cassana ate all the capons. There’s no meat left for Robert.”
Stannis thought for a moment. “No, not as bad at all. Have her sent to her room.”
“As you wish.” There was silence for a moment when Horpe was gone, as Stannis brooded over the table. Then he heard a peel of laughter from below. It was Marissa, he realized, chasing Patchface around Aegon’s Garden. The only one of his daughters who did not shame him, and yet even her own siblings avoided her for the disfigurement they considered shameful. Fools.
The door of the room slammed. “Steffon,” he said. Daughters were trouble enough, but he had no idea what to make of his son. “You didn’t knock.”
“This room will be mine one day, anyway.” Steffon made his way slowly around the table, munching on an apple. He was tall and stout, with a red face and a big round belly. “Joffrey gets Westeros, while I get this stinking rock.” Did I impart all this resentment and anger to him? a tiny voice in Stannis wondered. Or is it from another life, another family?
But another question was still gnawing at his mind. “Steffon, do you know why your sister Amerei is being called ‘Gatehouse’?”
The boy shrugged. “I have no idea. Cassana and I were arguing. Do I come after Princess Myrcella and my sisters or before them? I’m fourth in line for the throne if I come before, but only eighth if after.”
“Neither. The throne will be Joffrey’s, by right, then Tommen’s. After them it must go to Myrcella, unless Cersei should bear Robert another son. Only after them would it pass to me, then you, then your sisters.”
Steffon thought for a moment. “So I’m fifth in line. I’ll never be king then. It isn’t right. Joffrey has poor grammar, and Tommen wastes food.” He finished gnawing the apple down to the core and then tossed it out the window before stomping off.
Lady Mariya was the next one to enter the room. She was a handsome woman with grey streaks in her hair, though not as many as Stannis had. Mariya had borne him four children-three daughters, each exactly two years apart until the miscarriage, and then Steffon. It was her mind that he respected the most, though.
But it seemed she was only the last on a long line of bearers of bad news. “Ami was in Cassana’s room,” she said.
“What of it? I had Cassana sent to her room, not placed in silence.”
“It was not only that. Ami was telling Cassana about what she did to please those men.”
What more could go wrong? “How do I reprimand Amerei,” Stannis declared aloud, “when Robert will defend her every action? How do I punish Cassana? Send her to her room without dinner, when she’s already eaten her next dozen? How do I remove the stone from Marissa’s face, and the anger from Steffon’s heart?” He paused, still wondering. “And why in seven hells is Ami being nicknamed ‘Gatehouse’? If you don’t tell me, I swear that I shall go to my grave wondering about that gatehouse.”
When Mariya told him, the madness was upon him. He could barely even remember where he was, or understand what he was doing. “Am I such a failure as a father that it would be better for my children to have hung themselves?” Could anything happen that is worse than what my children have become?
“Hanged, Stannis. Our children are not tapestries.”
“I was frightened,” Marissa confided. “I was sure that the dragons had come to eat me.”
The maester nodded. He had fancied that the wyverns on his balcony shook from the primal scream of rage and despair that came from the Stone Drum.
“What made father so angry?” Marissa continued.
How did one explain such things to a child? Cressen wondered. “Never have bad grammar, child,” he said at last.
“Poor grammar, Maester Cressen.”