Renly is a handsome man, for all he holds little interest for her. She holds even less interest for him, though, which she knew full well even before they met. Loras has been forced by circumstance into being discreet with the world at large, but Margaery is not the world at large and his letters were often very detailed. He was only a young man, after all, flush with first love, giddy with exploration, and he and Margaery had always been as close as twins. Those letters had been much of Margaery’s education on men, on what they liked and how they thought. They’d been too much of an education, apparently. Each time Margaery overhears mocking mention of her virginity, she feels her lips twisting into an unattractive scowl, and she has to school her features into a more pleasing arrangement. Sometimes that’s all Margaery feels she is: a pleasing arrangement, something for men to look upon and covet and move around as it suits them. That is all she is to her father. It is all she is to the men who feel she owes them her favors simply because her words and charm are too practiced for them to believe her a maid – “No proper girl acts like that,” she hears them say without even waiting until she’s out of earshot. It is all she is to the men who care nothing for her maidenhood, only her father’s money and forces.
Renly falls in the last group, but she can’t quite hold it against him. He seems too much like someone swept up in the desires of those around him for her to truly blame. She’d tried with him. It was an irony when he couldn’t return her caress, couldn’t respond to her lips on his; the one man she’d tried to fuck, and he was also the one man who didn’t want her.
Joffrey Baratheon is a monster. Margaery could tell that even before Sansa confirmed it for her. The first time Margaery had seen him, she’d been struck by how cruel his mouth was, how ungenerous his manner. It had been with distaste that she’d allowed him to take her hand, to press those cruel lips against it. But he hadn’t known how he made her skin crawl even before she’d heard rumors of him whispered in the streets as she made her patronage, even before poor Sansa Stark had trembled as she spoke of his offenses. Margaery is too skilled at maintaining her mask to let such distaste show, though it’s a skill she sometimes thinks she should lament. But it is certainly the most useful skill she knows, and it’s served her far better than embroidery or pretty verse.
“I don’t like the idea of him touching you,” Loras says as her wedding approaches, the entire city a bustle of activity and preparation, with stewards running to and fro, seamstresses laboring into the night, cooks and vendors emptying every larder for what Margaery’s heard will be a feast of seventy-seven courses.
“Believe me, brother,” she tells Loras, quietly so that none might hear. “You could not like the idea less than I.”
“If he hurts you, I will destroy him,” Loras vows, not near as quietly as he should. He’s never been so cowed by the ears that lurk everywhere. But then he has his sword and his armor, and Margaery has neither. She smiles for him. No girl could hope for a better champion. And if she doesn’t need a champion – if she knows her grandmother has in mind a far tidier solution to the problem of Joffrey – well, that’s not anything she’ll share with Loras. Her brother would not hold by poison and intrigue. They are ignoble weapons, he would tell her. They are a woman's weapons, is what he would think but never say, not to her, but Margaery hears what he doesn't say. Well, she is a woman, and she must wield whatever weapons are available to her. That is something she's learned just as well as wearing her mask.
She is more nursemaid than wife to Tommen, more Septa than Queen. Margaery has heard the rhymes and the songs, thrice wedded, never bedded. And those are the kind ones. She imagines far worse is said in taverns and brothels, or over embroidery hoops in a solar. Tommen certainly far surpasses Joffrey as a husband, but sometimes she thinks of how many years must pass before he’s a man grown, and whether she could ever think of the boy she’d held on her lap and coaxed to eat his beets as a true husband. It makes her think of herself as old and musty, an unopened cask of wine rotting in a cellar somewhere.
“Wine doesn’t rot,” Elinor tells her. “It only sweetens with age.” She is trying to be helpful, the dear, but Margaery is in no mood to be mollified.
But it’s not Tommen’s fault. He’s a sweet boy, far sweeter than most anyone else in his family. Margaery never understands how such a soft-hearted boy could come from a viper like Cersei Lannister. Joffrey made sense to her. But Tommen is a lovely mystery. So when he asks for a story, she gives one gladly. She encourages his interest in matters of the realm and urges him to ride out to see his people. At least this one she’s gotten to early enough to do them all some good, no matter how Cersei tries to stymie her. Margaery may be a cask of rotting wine – no, a cask of aging wine – but at least she can accomplish something.
It is salt in a raw wound, to be asked to court the man who first made you a widow. Not that Margaery could prove such a thing, not that she’s even sure just how Renly died, but whether it was strange shadow creatures or a flesh-and-blood person who wielded the sword the night before battle, Stannis Baratheon as good as thrust the blade in himself with his ideas of rights and succession, with his stubborn insistence on battle between brothers. And now Margaery must woo him to wed her. It’s one more way for the world to be cruel.
Loras would fly into an absolute fury if he knew. He’s near as poorly equipped to struggle against the vagaries of politics and alliance-making as she, but still she thinks he might stop this particular potential alliance from being proposed by sheer force of angry will. But Loras is far from here, languishing in Highgarden long after Maesters predicted he would die from his injuries. Her brother spends another year hovering between life and death, and it is more salt in the wound that Margaery must stay in King’s Landing and court yet another King rather than stay at Loras’s side.
She may as well have stayed home for all the success she has, though. She thinks she could stand naked in front of Stannis and he’d not even blink in her direction. The man pays more attention to his Hand than he does any woman, so much so that she wonders if he has any feelings for women at all. It turns Margaery’s laughter from charming to bitter, makes a scowl tug at the pleasing arrangement of her features that’s second nature to her now. The irony of it would be cruel enough to please even the gods, she thinks.
Margaery is no longer the fresh blooming rose of Highgarden. There are prettier girls than she to tempt a King now, girls still dewy with youth the way Margaery herself once was. She’s not all so old, but a chasm seems to open between her and the girls she sees at court, the girls who simper at Aegon Targaryen’s polite attentions and have surely seen nothing of life’s cruelties. Strange that after so many years, Margaery should feel an unwilling pang of sympathy for Cersei Lannister. Was this how she felt at Margaery’s arrival in King’s Landing? Did she look each night in her mirror and dispassionately count the brackets at her eyes to see if they’d increased? Did she hate the world of men that reduced her worth to only the shell of her body, that made her a commodity to be traded over and over again for only the most fleeting power? Margaery doesn’t know and never will; Cersei’s mind had left this world long ago, if not her body. But it’s an uncomfortable feeling, and an unwelcome one given the torment Cersei put her through, so she pushes it aside.
Aegon is by far the handsomest of Kings she’s encountered since Renly. Even without his striking silver-blond hair and violet eyes he would be handsome. Idly, she thinks on how his lips would feel upon hers, wonders if he could touch a woman with experience. When he takes her hand to press a kiss upon it, a bit of a thrill sings under her skin – nothing much, but more than she’s felt for a man in years. Of course, if she’s honest, she feels far more of a thrill when his royal aunt tucks a hand in her elbow so that they may walk and speak. Daenerys’s lips would be far sweeter to kiss, her touch could be nothing but sure, from all that Margaery has heard. And were the world only just, Daenerys Targaryen would be Queen over her nephew and Margaery could make a place for herself at court without thought for pleasing yet another man. But the world is not so just, and Aegon is only one more King who will not wed her, one more man who’ll never bed her, and Margaery is still only a pawn in the games of others.
He is the most reluctant of her Kings, the most convinced that it is not his crown to wear. Ironically, that makes Jon Snow better suited for it than any of them.
Theirs is the same old tale, men and money and power in exchange for a wife, a fertile womb to hold an heir. But Jon does not follow the story properly. He comes to her and he asks her what she wishes. He asks her permission. It is quite enough to flummox Margaery thoroughly. It may very well be the first time in her life that anyone has asked her what she truly wants.
“Would you refuse my hand if I said I did not want you?” she asks, watching him curiously.
“I would,” he says, and there is no lie on his face – a handsome face, it must be said, prettier by half than it has any right to be.
“True honor,” Margaery says, amused. “I’ve not seen that in a very long time. Tell me, Your Grace, do you think me beautiful?”
“Your beauty is known throughout the realm,” he says evenly, diplomatically. Margaery has had quite enough of diplomats.
“I did not ask the realm’s opinion,” she says. “I asked yours. Do you find me beautiful?” He fidgets at the question, looking not unlike a little boy caught snitching sweets from the kitchens, but he looks her in the eye without flinching away.
“Do you want me?”
“Lady Tyrell-” he starts, but she stops him by stepping close, brushing her lips over his with the barest of touches to stay his words.
“Margaery,” she breathes, feeling his own breath puff against her lips, quickening as she drops her hands to his chest. “My name is Margaery.”
“Margaery,” he echoes, low and rough, and in it she hears the answer to her question, that he wants her indeed.
It is not a seduction. Margaery does not tease or play, she uses no tricks or feminine wiles. She only responds to his desire with her own. And that is as unusual as all of the rest of it.