In the morning Shireen brushed out her hair: something she still took pride in, because it grew as long and thick and black as anything, untouched by the greyscale. It was the black of her father's hair; it was the black that proclaimed the legitimacy of her seat on the Iron Throne, as Shireen Baratheon, first of her name. She preferred to attend to the brushing herself, most days, although she let her lady's maids plait and pin it into place when she was done. Today they lingered at her shoulders, ready for her to be finished with her task.
"What color do you wish to wear today, my lady?" asked one of them when she was done, a blonde girl whose name she did not remember.
Shireen considered this. The light warmed her bedchamber and she glanced up through the window, and it inspired her. "Blue," she said. "I would like the blue of the sky."
"Like Lady Stark," said Shireen's lady-in-waiting Amma Staedmon encouragingly from the corner of the bedchamber, where she sat waiting for Shireen's morning ritual to be finished.
She thought of Sansa Stark then, tall and somber in Winterfell. She was more often seen in dark colors, in Stark grey, but she was a vivid sight in blue: which she wore, Shireen thought, to mourn her mother. "Like Lady Stark, I suppose," she allowed.
Nothing shifted in Shireen's bedchamber; even so, she felt the presence of their number change, and the suggestion of a low laugh from the other side of the room. Amma stirred uneasily; the maids didn't look. But King's Landing was haunted, everyone knew. It was bloodied enough for a procession of ghosts.
"Yes, sky-blue," Shireen said again, smiling. She didn't look over her shoulder; she stood with her back to her bed, to the shadows.
She held a somber court. There was no other option for her demeanor: or at least, she understood none. There were times when she believed that the stories of Good Queens, sweet-faced and merciful queens, were all the work of minstrels--that a sweet-faced queen was undoubtedly one at a king's side, for a woman seated on a throne had no space to smile for petitioners, for suitors. Not, she supposed, that she had many suitors any more. There was Willas Tyrell, a widower, who sometimes came to court bearing a gift--but was not insisted in pressing his suit, which was one reason she still tolerated him. Some whispered of Sansa's brother Brandon, the true cripple--a fine match for the likes of her!--but it was out of the question: Brandon would father no heir.
Such were Shireen's suitors. Widowers and patient men, and cripples. Hotblooded young men who wanted power, and the throne--Shireen liked to pretend that she never considered any of them, that she truly intended to reign alone for the rest of her life, and perhaps she did. But her mother haunted her--in the flesh as well as in her mind--and said, Shireen, the Lord of Light intends for you to carry on your father's line. And so the Lord of Light did, perhaps. Shireen could not speak for him.
A quarrelsome lord demanded fishing rights from his cousin; Shireen could sense disregard in the way he challenged her, disregard for her queenship and her face, and she refused him with a note of steely warning.
It was almost enough. She saw his defiance rise, and felt the brief weight of a hand on her shoulder--and the guard at her side said without turning, this one?
She shook her head. She would put down her own unrest. It was her duty and her prerogative, and it was what her father would have done.
Later when she left with her ladies-in-waiting, one of them stooped next to her and murmured: you need only say it, and it will be done.
"It is not the way I do things," said Shireen, startling Amma Staedmon and one of the others.
The shadow did not answer; the shadow did not cross its arms and say, it is the way King Stannis did things, because they had already sounded out that quarrel and Shireen had made it clear that King Stannis's name was one boundary she would not see crossed. She found herself untroubled by shadows as she went to her study, and sat down with Davos, her steadfast aging Hand, to go over accounts with the Master of Coin.
But in the nighttime, the dark came back--and so did Arya Stark, in her own form. She was taller in shadow, but she'd always had height, like her sister; unlike her sister, she was rangy and the planes of her face were long. Shireen lay her hand across one of them, in her nightgown, as Arya stood at attention; "What did you do today, Arya?" she asked, and Arya shivered with amusement as she prepared her answer.
"I was your eyes and ears, my lady," said Arya, turning her face to permit Shireen's touch; "I watched and I learned. I know who intends to betray you. I know who already has."
"And?" Shireen tilted her chin up to look at Arya.
Arya paused, wet her lips. "Are you asking me if I bloodied my knife on your behalf?" she said.
"I am asking you," said Shireen, "if you bloodied your knife against my wishes."
Arya seemed to relish the moment, but there was a peculiar glint in her eyes. She bowed her head to Shireen.
"Never, my lady," she said.
Shireen leaned in and opened her mouth to her.
It was a kind of permission. It was the only permission Arya required. Soon Shireen was on her back on her bed, and Arya's hand was tangled in her hair; soon her skirt was rucked up and Arya was touching her, first roughly and then with unkindness gentleness, while the white laces of her bodice were coming undone and Arya's hand went from her hair to her breast. Shireen cried out at the cruelty, and then raked her fingers down Arya's back: hard enough to hurt, not hard enough to hurt her. She found herself unceremoniously turned over, and then she was biting down on her knuckles--and then, as always, she found release with a hiss through her teeth.
Arya sat back on the mattress. Of all the forms she took, there was not a one that she let Shireen touch, not like that: and Shireen had come to understand that this was a way Arya was, just as what Arya served was not the Lord of Light.
"Tell me what I should wear tomorrow," said Shireen on an idle whim; because she had those too, after all.
Arya stirred, and threaded her fingers through Shireen's hair, gently this time; "Wear black," she said with dark amusement.
Shireen laughed. "I am not a crow," she said. "And I will marry one day."
"You won't." Arya's teeth found Shireen's ear, but didn't bite. "Wear grey."