Myrcella sat to Joffrey's left, hands folded in her lap, and waited for their father to finish. She could never remember their father showing such interest in their behaviour before, save when he needed to reprimand Joffie or use her against their lady mother, but now he cared more than anything about impressing his beloved friends in the North. Myrcella had grown up listening to drunken tales of her father's adventures with Lord Eddard Stark, Warden of the North and living god, if the stories were to be believed, and so tiresome though this was, it was not wholly unexpected.
Myrcella's father loved easily, but not deeply, and not for long, so she was a little curious to meet Lord Stark - he must have been quite the man to inspire such intensity of feeling in the King. She had said as much, once, to her uncle Ser Jaime, and he had simply smiled and shook his head, and muttered something about Honourable Old Ned. Myrcella knew her father well, and did not think that someone truly honourable could be his closest friend - there was little honour to be found in Robert Baratheon, with his whores and his bastards and his drunken rages and his ill-treatment of her lady mother.
Myrcella was not supposed to know about those, but her rooms were close by her mother's since she had been allowed to move from what Uncle Renly called "the nursery wing," where Joffie and Tommen still had their rooms, and she heard more than she was supposed to. She never spoke of it to anyone, but she knew how her parents fought, knew how heavy her father's fists fell and how loud her mother could scream. She wondered how Jaime could stand it, to stand outside his own sister's room and hear her so abused, but had long since learned better than to ask him a serious question in expectation of a serious answer. Jaime Lannister was many things, but serious was not one of them. She might have asked her Ser Arys, but he would have denied ever hearing anything ill between his King and Queen, because he took his vows very seriously, and did his very best to shield Myrcella from the ugliness of the world besides.
As if she could be truly shielded, with a brother like Joffie. Ser Arys knew that, but still he tried, and she loved him for it even if she thought him a romantic fool. He had a sweetness in him, her knight, that seemed somehow out of place in King's Landing. Doubtless it was that gentleness of nature that had induced her father to set Ser Arys as her usual guard - her father liked to think of her as some sort of delicate blossom, unsuited to her uncles' company, much less that of Preston Greenfield or whoever else of the Kingsguard might be available to guard her. She hated that she needed a permanent guard at all, or at least that her father thought she needed such a blasted dedicated guard, because the redcloaks her lady mother had always set to mind her had never been so annoyingly involved as Ser Arys insisted on being. Rather they had lingered unobtrusively in the background, red cloaks against red stone, and they had never questioned her actions - not as Ser Arys did. Even now, he was frowning at her from his post at the wall, as if willing her to pay more attention to her father's ramblings. He often frowned at her when he thought she was behaving as anything other than the perfect princess, and such intense scrutiny was still strange to her - certainly her father never paid such close attention to her, and her lady mother was generally more concerned with Joffie than with Myrcella or with Tommen.
Uncle Tyrion sometimes paid such close mind to her and Joffie, or at least, he had while they were younger. That was before Joffie had become such a cancerous beast, of course, while they had still been close, for there was no real her-and-Joffie anymore. He was too often indulging himself with only the Hound for a guard, and seemed only to find true amusement in that great brute’s company.
Myrcella had a handful of ladies her own age for company - Elisa Santagar, daughter of Ser Aron, the master of arms, was her favourite, but did not often sit with them for she was frail, in constant poor health - and had Tommen and his little friends, too, but Joffie seemed to hold himself above the rest of the court. There was so much of their lady mother in him that sometimes, it made Myrcella nervous, but often, it just annoyed her. Did Joffie truly think that just because he would one day wear their father’s crown, he was too good to dance with his sister?
Ser Arys frowned at her again, so Myrcella straightened her back and folded her hands neatly in her lap once more. Her father had not noticed how little attention she was paying, lost as he was in tales of his youth in the Eyrie with Lords Stark and Arryn, but she could never be certain when he might suddenly remember that he had an audience and turn to one of them with a question.
Tommen was flagging, over beyond Joffie - they had been sitting on these uncomfortable chairs for near half an hour while their father paraded up and down before them and imparted precious morsels of adoration for Ned Stark, and Tommen was still only a boy, after all, a little thing of just ten, with a low tolerance for their father’s meandering stories, and he tired easily when he did not have anything interesting to occupy his mind.
Joffie, of course, tired quickly of anything not wholly about him. He was so abominably like Uncle Jaime in that, Uncle Jaime who always looked bored, Uncle Jaime who always made a spectacle of himself and laughed at others who tried to do the same. Myrcella thought that it was surely a Lannister thing, since both her father and Uncle Renly enjoyed entertainments and spectacles as well as anyone else without having to be in the middle of them.
Uncle Stannis, much like Myrcella's lord grandfather, did not seem to enjoy anything much, so neither of them were of much use in her determinations. Myrcella held the elder of her father's brothers in a sort of morbid curiosity, for there were days when it seemed simply impossible that someone so serious and sober as Stannis Baratheon might exist in a place such as King's Landing - at least Lord Tywin had a sense of occasion, and immaculate style in his dress. Uncle Stannis did not even have that, as far as she could tell, and would have rendered court a very dour place indeed had he had his way.
Myrcella’s lady mother seemed to prefer to be at the centre of things, too, now she thought about it. Cersei Lannister liked to be the focus of everyone’s attention, liked to be right in the middle of all happenings at court - and was more than beautiful enough to justify such a weight of attention, of course, and knew that she was beautiful enough for it.
“Myrcella,” their father said, and she snapped to attention, forcing her smile a little sweeter. He liked her best when she was sweet, she knew, liked when she was as little like her lady mother as possible, and her lady mother was anything but sweet. “You’ll have to be on your very best behaviour, girl, there are plans in place that you’ll have to be perfect for.”
“Your Grace?” She has been told nothing of any plans, particularly not plans for her - Uncle Tyrion had japed that the King would want one of Lord Stark’s daughters for Joffrey’s wife, if they were as pretty as their mother supposedly was, but that would have nothing to do with her, particularly.
“There’s a lad a year and a bit older than you up in Winterfell without even a betrothal to speak of,” he said, sitting down heavily on his great carved chair, fingers fitting between the polished ebony antlers decorating the arms - this, Myrcella had always felt, was more her father’s throne than the great monstrosity in the throne room, just as he had always seemed more himself in the great hall at Storm’s End when they went there with Uncle Renly than he ever did here in the Red Keep. “Ned’s eldest boy. You’d be Lady of Winterfell - a fine match for a Princess, don’t you think?”
“Your father thinks to marry you off to some savage from the wilds of the North?” her lady mother demanded, fury dripping from her every word. “How dare he condemn you to a fate such as that? You are a Lannister, a daughter of the Rock, you are worth far more than some sheepfucker from the depths of that snow-sodden hell!”
It was best, Myrcella had learned, to let her lady mother shout when her temper was up. Interrupting her only made her angrier, and prolonged her tantrums - and besides, Myrcella wasn’t entirely certain that she disagreed with her lady mother for being angry, for once.
“If His Grace the King has decided that this betrothal is for the best, I will agree to it,” she said, watching as her lady mother paced the room like a caged lioness. “He is my father, after all, I’m sure he would not choose a husband for me he thought would treat me ill.”
A lie, of course - Myrcella’s father treated her lady mother so poorly that she doubted he would know what it was for a man to treat his wife well, but even so, she did not think that he would ever condemn her to a man who would beat her as he did her mother. In his own way, Mycella did believe that her father loved her, perhaps more than he did her brothers. Even had Joffrey not been the beast he was, sons were a threat to a man such as Robert Baratheon in a way a daughter never could be - sons, just as brothers, could take a man’s throne, could want to see him dead in order to take his power. A daughter was a prize to be traded, worth more than her weight in gold if she was beautiful and accomplished, as Myrcella knew she was, and so it was an easy thing for a man such as her father to love her.
“And besides,” she said, hoping to calm her mother a little. “Better the Lady of Winterfell than be consigned to Griffin’s Roost or some other hovel, surely?”
“The North is barely part of the Seven Kingdoms,” her lady mother snapped. “It is almost as bad as Dorne - they are savages, with no sense of culture or-”
“Mother,” Myrcella cut in, crossing the room to take her lady mother’s hands. “Mother, please - if I am to wed Robb Stark, I must resign myself to that fate. It will do me no good to dwell on what hardships are ahead of me, surely?”
To her surprise, her lady mother gathered her into her arms - Myrcella’s mother was not a woman given to shows of affection, and Myrcella had long ago learned to treasure every embrace, every gentle caress of her cheek. They were so much sweeter, so much truer than her father’s more frequent sloppy kisses to her hand, or hair-ruffles.
“You deserve more than some frozen relic,” her lady mother said fiercely. “You are my daughter, a Lannister of Casterly Rock, and you are worth more, more than the son of your fool father’s old friend.”
Myrcella was used to her lady mother disparaging those her father valued, but even so, the vehemence with which she had spoken against the Starks had been troubling. Myrcella dwelt on it all the rest of the day and well into the next, while she was sitting with her companions in the Maidenvault.
It had been altered some, since the days of the Maidens in the Tower. The bars had been removed from the windows, on Myrcella’s request, and the hangings had been changed when her father had overthrown the Targaryens. Myrcella had changed the hangings again when she had been told to make it your own, girl, getting rid of her father’s elaborate hunting scenes in favour of pictures from her favourite tales and songs. Lann the Clever was prominent, because to ignore him was to offend her lady mother, but Durran and Elenei were in pride of place, opposite the door, above Myrcella’s chair - all in swirling, broiling blues and greens, with Storm’s End a glowing golden beacon protecting them from the shadowy wrath of the Storm God away over the wild seas. Myrcella’s father had commissioned it for her for her sixteenth nameday, an unusually thoughtful gift, and a more welcome one than the adult gowns her lady mother had given her the same day.
“You seem distracted, Princess,” sweet Margaery Tyrell said, head tilted to keep one eye on her typically perfect embroidery and one on Myrcella. “I would have thought that you would be excited to see the North - Winterfell is meant to be magnificent.”
“How can you know that it is not thoughts of my journey North that distract me, Lady Margaery?” Myrcella asked, her voice just as light as Margaery’s. Margaery was a year and a little more her senior, and composed and elegant in ways that Myrcella envied without truly understanding why. She had come to court with two of her cousins, Alla and Megga, half a year ago, and had assimilated well into Myrcella’s company of ladies. Myrcella liked her, but could not quite trust her, not with her lady mother’s warnings about the Tyrells ringing in her ears. “It is a vast undertaking, after all, and I am second of all the ladies of court, now that I am of age. It is a position I do not take lightly.”
And it wasn’t - Myrcella had spent more time than either of her parents would have liked with her uncle Renly, and knew the value of earning the esteem of others, as he did. He was beloved, whereas her father was tolerated and mocked behind his back, and her mother was disliked and feared. Myrcella was still able to pass unnoticed sometimes, if she wore something other than the luxuriant gowns her lady mother had made for her, if she wore her hair simply, and so she overheard the unkind words, the slanderous accusations.
Sometimes, she even overheard murmurs of treason, but she preferred not to think on those, given their source.
But she was liked well enough, she thought - she knew when to smile and when to simper, who wished for laughter and who for consideration, and she thought that such behaviour on her part might go some small way to smoothing the waves her parents left in their wakes. She hoped it would, anyhow, for if someone did not soothe the ruffled egos around court, then who knew what mischief could be made.
“I do wish we might all come with you, Princess,” Alla Tyrell sighed, tucking a curl of dark hair behind her ear. Alla was all things dainty, from her tiny hands to her neat little nose, and Myrcella often felt overlarge and ungainly beside her. “Imagine, a whole world of potential husbands that none of us have ever met! The fun we might have!”
“Oh, I’m sure no rose of the Reach would truly wish to wither away in the far, cold North,” Myrielle said, voice sweet and face scornful - Myrielle was one of Myrcella’s Lannister cousins, foisted on her by her lady mother despite a patent mutual dislike. “There are so many more suitable suitors for you in the Reach, after all. Such a wealth of fine young knights, don’t you think?”
Myrcella rolled her eyes, leaning toward Rosamund, who was biting down on a sigh. Rosamund was Myrcella’s only true friend at court, the only person aside from Tommen and her lady mother she felt she could truly trust. The might have been twins, had Rosa’s hair not been so straight, and had been close since the day Rosa had come to court to be Myrcella’s companion, near to eight years ago now.
Rosamund knew all of Myrcella’s secrets, and Myrcella all of Rosamund’s. It was the best way to ensure trust in a place like King’s Landing.
“Be kind, Myri,” she chided, tying off her thread and poking through her sewing basket for the smooth black satin thread great-aunt Genna had given her - it was a difficult colour to produce, and so expensive, and Genna delighted in gifting such trifles to Myrcella, if only because it seemed to irritate her lady mother. Myrcella suspected that Genna had never shown quite the same affection to her niece as she did her great-niece, and could not entirely blame her lady mother for any bitterness she held toward Genna. “Why, you were speaking only yesterday of how exciting you found the whole endeavour, and how you planned on finding some wealthy Northman to toy with.”
Myrielle’s face pinched, as it was wont to do, as though she had bitten down on something bitter. Myrcella delighted in annoying Myrielle, even if doing so did embarrass sweet, slightly innocent Cerenna, Myrielle's sister. Still, near anything was a price worth paying to crack Myri’s smug veneer.
The journey to Winterfell meant fittings for gowns more appropriate for the cold - silk over heavy wool, so it had the look of her southron gowns but the practicality of the kind of gowns women in the North wore. Myrcella stood as patiently as she could and let the seamstresses do their work.
She had Myrielle and Rosamund with her, of course, Myri hinting that she thought it only fair that Myrcella share some of the purse her father had given her and spend it on gowns for Myri and Rosa, while Rosa simply sighed every time Myri spoke and hummed to herself, turning whatever way the seamstress guided her without complaint, only offering murmured suggestions for a higher neckline here, a tighter sleeve there, a deeper cuff somewhere else.
Myri spent their entire appointment bickering and fussing, so like Myrcella’s lady mother that it stung, somewhere deep where Myrcella still wished to be more like the most beautiful woman in the realm. Rosamund, though, was a wonderful help, directing the seamstresses away from the cuts and colours she knew Myrcella loathed, in that quiet way that people listened to even when they wouldn’t listen to the King’s beloved daughter.
People always think they know better than the King’s beloved daughter, she thought bitterly, tugging her braids over her shoulders so Rosa could tighten her stays when finally they were done. What could a princess know, after all?
“I wish Alla was coming instead of Myri,” Rosa confided, once they were alone - Myrielle had probably gone to flirt with Joffrey, in her desperate attempt to win herself a crown. Myrcella liked it best when it was just her and Rosa, felt freer then than she did at any other time.
“I wish it was just you and I,” Myrcella admitted, settling at her dressing table to begin unwinding her hair - her lady mother insisted on heavy, elaborate hairstyles, which made her head itch and ache, and which left her with terrible pains in her shoulders and neck. Still, her lady mother insisted only on a few things, and only on those for Myrcella’s own sake, for her safety and her reputation, so she did not mind that awful much. “I don’t see why we need other companions - like as not, we shan’t be able to talk together much, not if we’re riding all day, and you know how my father gets when we’re travelling.”
Myrcella’s father liked to have her beside him when they were travelling, because being away from court caused him to tell stories, and she was the only one of his children who paid attention with any semblance of good humour. Myrcella had learned long ago to school her face into an expression of polite interest, something learned more from Jaime and Renly than from her mother, something Joffie had never bothered to learn, and it was enough to satisfy her father’s desire for an audience.
She pitied him, sometimes, her fat fool of a father. He had no idea how little respect his people had for him.
They departed in warm sunshine, Myrcella and Rosamund riding while Myrielle chose to remain in the wheelhouse with the Queen. Myrcella did not mind that in the least, and spent the first several days of the journey laughing with Rosa and Ser Arys, trying very hard to ignore cousin Lancel and Joffie, and begging their lady mother to let Tommen ride alongside her on his pony. Tommen loved to ride, but their lady mother was just so desperately overprotective of them all that it was next to impossible to do anything.
Why, it had taken a full blown argument the morning of their departure just to convince her to let Myrcella ride! The King had intervened, bellowed an order or two and pouted until he got his way, and as simple as that, Myrcella had his permission to ride the whole way to Winterfell, unless they encountered a snowstorm, or brigands, or some other danger.
And it was so simple - the days passed quickly, broken by evenings with her lady mother and Tommen, by afternoons spent laughing at uncle Tyrion’s filthy stories, told in hushed tones to avoid the King and Queen from overhearing. Life was good, on the road, free in a way court never was, for while there were plenty of eyes on her, there was not the same pressure to appear perfect - she could laugh freely, with her head thrown back, and it did not matter so much if the wind tugged her hair free of her braids, and if there was mud spattered on her gown, what of it? They were on the road, and everyone was filthy.
Myrcella could not remember ever feeling so light, so much herself.
“Tell me, girl,” the King said, beckoning Myrcella closer. It had taken them fifteen days to get from the southern end of the Neck to within sight of Winterfell, and Myrcella’s father had not sought her company in all that time - but of course he would now, when they were so close to meeting her husband-to-be. “Are you scared?”
In truth, she wasn’t. The North had a harsh sort of beauty, handsome in the way of her lord grandfather, and the cold was fresh and sweet just as the humid air of King’s Landing was rancid and cloying. Part of her was looking forward to seeing more of it, even though she was nervous of meeting the Starks.
“No, Your Grace,” she assured him. “I look forward to today, and to what time we will spend in the North.”
“Good,” he said, voice gruff. “Good. I have a gift for you.”
She blinked, stunned - he did not often give her gifts, did not often give gifts at all save those enormous shows of generosity to which he was so prone. She waited patiently as he rooted around under his furs, trying to find whatever this gift was, and was surprised when his hand emerged with something dainty, wrapped in pink satin and tied with a gold ribbon.
“You will be far from home,” he said, “and I know how you and young Tommen hate to be apart. This ought to help you bridge the gap some.”
She managed to keep hold of her reins and untie the ribbon, somehow, and was pleased beyond measure to find something so elegant - a seal, stags carved in rich golden-brown wood and topped with a chip of rich golden topaz, the Baratheon seal itself a round golden coin.
“Thank you, Papa,” she said gently, tucking it away in her pocket and reaching over to kiss his hairy cheek, resting one hand on his shoulder to keep her balance. Her lady mother, she knew, would disapprove of the risk to Myrcella’s hair and dress in such an endeavour, but it was worth risking the Queen’s wrath to reward a rare show of sweetness by the King.
Her gown for today was one of the finest she had had made for the trip, a beautiful shade of deep green that highlighted her eyes and set off her hair, just as the same colour always did for her lady mother when the Queen chose to wear aught else than Lannister crimson. The deep cuffs were tight to the elbow, and buttoned and embroidered in gold, as was the high collar, and the furs her father had sent to her were snowy-white around her shoulders. With her hair bound up in a crown of braids, she felt more regal than she did in any of the elaborate hairstyles and revealing gowns her mother encouraged her to wear.
Tommen, in his usual sweet way, had told her that she looked more beautiful than she ever had before, and she had been so overcome with love for her little brother than she had not been able to do more than take his face in her hands and kiss his milky curls.
“Joffrey!” the King bellowed then, casting about for her brother. “Where is the boy? Bring him here, where is he- Joffrey, here, you ride ahead, then your sister, come on now lad.”
Joffie rolled his eyes, but rode ahead all the same - with only a pair of guards to ride ahead, he would be the first of their party the Starks would see, and he would love such attention. Myrcella did not mind either way - she would have rathered have Tommen with her, but their lady mother had kept him in the wheelhouse with her, and since Rosa and even Myrielle were too unimportant to accompany her, it would be only Ser Arys at her side, just as Joffie had only the Hound.
“Come, Princess,” Ser Arys said, motioning her on ahead of him. “To Winterfell.”