010. The princess in the shroud
When Shireen flowers, her mother the queen gives her a veil to wear upon her face, to hide the mottled scarring that runs along her cheek and trails down her neck. Men will want to marry her because she is a princess, her mother tells her, but they will still be repulsed by the remnants of the greyscale upon her face, and so she should mask it as best she can. Beautiful women, she adds with a sneer, will always have an easier time of it in the world, and for those less fortunate, like them both, they must make do as best they can.
It is the first time Shireen truly feels disfigured, and as she adjusts the veil into place over her cheeks and nose and mouth, she feels a pang of longing for those days back on Dragonstone, when she ran and played with Edric and Patchface. An ugly princess, a bastard boy, and a mad fool – the unwanted of the world, and they had found a place with one another.
Shireen is glad of the veil now, however – it masks her tears as they drip down her face, sliding off her nose and onto her gown where she pushes away the droplets with her thumb. Her father would be shamed to see her cry, she thinks, he would tell her that royalty does not weep. But here in the dungeons of the Red Keep, it is hard to remember having a father. It is hard to remember being a princess, even an ugly one that must hide her face.
No one calls her princess anymore. She is called traitor, and usurper instead, by a beautiful woman with silver-spun hair and monsters at her beckoning, the ones Shireen would see her in her nightmares. The new queen is the sort of lady songs are written about, and so Shireen thinks perhaps she must be as the queen says, and that she will spend her life down here repenting for her crimes.
That is how it goes in the songs, after all.
The dungeons remind her in many ways of her time at the Wall – it is always damp and cold, no matter how she huddles and wraps her thin arms around her body for warmth, and there is never enough food. But in more ways it is entirely different – she remembers the gleam of the sun off of the white ice and snow, how it glistened and blinded her, and there had always been a fire roaring in the chambers she shared with her mother. Here she is plunged into darkness, a dimness her eyes have only recently seemed to adjust to. And at the Wall she had her mother, and Patchface, and her uncle and the guards who bowed their heads to her and said that she would someday be a queen, before there was a dragon queen instead and everyone was lost.
Here, she is lonely.
“Why are you crying?” a soft voice calls across from the adjoining cell.
Shireen presses her cheek against the bars separating the two, and can feel the icy sting of the metal even through the thin lace of her veil. Just on the other side, but far enough to feel a thousand leagues away, the dim light gleams off of Myrcella’s golden hair. Her cousin does not weep, and Shireen is jealous of her strength. She is not truly my cousin, she tells herself, but it is difficult to remember at times – Myrcella has always been so kind to her, had first boggled at the greyscale but had then learned to not mind it. “I’m sorry,” Shireen attempts to stifle the small peeps that escape her lips, and though she is apologizing to her cousin – her not-cousin – it feels as though she is also apologizing to her father, to Ser Davos, to her mother and uncle and the red priestess and all those that had fallen before her. All those who would have been stronger than her. “I am hungry.”
Myrcella does not answer for a long moment, her big green eyes lingering on Shireen’s face. She moves closer, instead, to Shireen’s cell, crawling on hands and knees towards her so that their faces are mere inches from one another though the bars separate them still. When she does speak, she asks, “Why do you wear that upon your face?”
Shireen touches the veil, self-conscious. Habit, she might say. Or, an equal truth, so that her jailers cannot easily read her expression on the rare times they come to bring food or empty her pot. It is poor enough that she cannot keep the tears at bay, she thinks – at least her father would be proud that she manages to disguise it. There would be no tales of the poor weeping once-princess to amuse the dragon queen.
But she bites her lip, and instead admits the third truth, the truth that had come before the other two, when she had been younger and the world had lay before her. “Because I am ugly,” she whispers.
“So am I,” Myrcella responds at once, and Shireen lets her eyes wander the length of the horrid scar left on Myrcella’s face, back to the ear that is now missing. She had always been so jealous of her beautiful cousin, but now Shireen wonders if it is a worse thing to have always been ugly – for she scarcely remembers life before the greyscale – or if it is harder yet to have been lovely and then have it ripped away. Sometimes Shireen wants to ask what happened to mar her, but she knows better than most how tiresome that question is when the answer is always ‘something beyond my control.’
“Let them look upon us,” Myrcella declares. “Why should we spare them the sight of the two ugly prisoner princesses?”
She wriggles her fingers through the bars, and Shireen reaches out to clasp them tightly. Myrcella’s fingers are cold and rough against Shireen’s own, thin from lack of food.
Her father was right in many things, Shireen thinks, but wrong in this – blood or not, Myrcella is still her kin.