When Margaery is born, her birth sparks a celebration in Highgarden that lasts for several weeks (or so she is told). Her mother is praised for the birth of a beautiful baby girl, and her father opens bottle after bottle of Dornish red and Arbor gold. Her brothers dote on her, this new plaything with such tiny hands and feel and the rosiest cheeks.
“The little rose,” her grandmother, allegedly, calls her, and the nickname stays.
She remembers the summers of her childhood (it is always summer in her memory, the colors bright green and gold and the air smelling sweetly of flowers of all kinds, the smells of peonies and petunias and roses, the hundreds upon hundreds of roses that filled the gardens) spent outside, chasing Loras through hedgerows and dipping her tiny feet into cool fountains. She remembers eating sweet ice and wearing beautiful dresses and feeling loved – above all else, whenever she looks back on her childhood, she will always know that there was love.
“Why was everyone so happy when I was born?” she asks her grandmother when she is but a bit older, curling into the older woman’s body. Her grandmother smells like flowers and tea, and she pulls her granddaughter closer.
“Because you are a daughter, my dear,” her grandmother tells her. “A son is fine, but more than one becomes useless, and there is always cause for celebration when a girl is born.”
“But why?” Margaery asks, feeling uncertain of the answer her grandmother has given her.
“Because daughters are more valuable than rubies and pearls, more valuable than all the gold in Casterly Rock.” Grandmother smiles down at her. “You will see one day, my little rose. You will see.”
When Margaery is seven, she spends her time in lessons each more tedious than the next but what she really needs to know she learns on the grounds of Highgarden.
She learns that sometimes a pretty smile and a slight tilt of the head can get a maid out of trouble with one of the house attendants, and that the prettier ones always seem to get the best jobs, and sometimes leave quickly in disgrace. She knows about bastards and about stable boys and squires and she knows these things, that being a woman has an odd sort of power if you’re young and pretty, but she doesn’t quite understand it.
Margaery loves romances, though. She loves the thought of having a knight at her beck and call, of being the object of glory and song. She loves stories of women kidnapped by dragons or krakens or evil men and the brave heroes who save them from torment.
She plays knights and maidens with Loras, running through the trees in her bare feet, hiding in the branches and calling for her brave love to rescue her from the dragon or whatever beast has taken her captive.
Loras always saves her, and she always tells him how brave he is, because that is what the maidens in the songs do, until her grandmother overhears them one day. When she sends Loras off the stables to have them prepare the horses, she looks at Margaery with a frown.
“Littlest rose,” she tells Margaery, “knights may be brave, but do not forget that you can be brave as well.”
Her grandmother employs a traveling bard who crafts the most exquisite stories of maidens fair and their savior-knights. One day, when there are very few in her grandmother’s quarters, he offers a new song – a ballad of dragon and wolf.
“No one wants to listen to this song,” the singer says, fingers twitching nervously against his harp.
“I wonder why,” her grandmother replies, lips curling upwards. Her grandmother always loved what was most hated, and so the song is sung and Margaery is captivated: the brave Lyanna, stolen away by the Prince of Dragons. She has heard variations of this before and in all of them the innocent Lyanna, Queen of Love and Beauty, is avenged by King Robert. This one is different, and does not include the king or a happy ending, but the song stays with her and she finds herself humming the melody for days after, when the bard has long since left.
“I think it would be lovely to be saved by a knight,” she tells her grandmother, who brushes the curls away from her eyes and kisses Margaery’s head tenderly.
“My little rose,” her grandmother says, “only weak women need to be saved. The strong are never captured in the first place.”
Margaery does not find as much joy in ballads after that.
Margaery was always a lovely girl, but around her twelfth name day it becomes obvious just how beautiful she will become. Suddenly, the pages and squires around the manor will not look at her and choose to scurry away – or else, they desperately try to impress her with feats of strength and skill. Her mother has taught her how to be polite, to use her words as a balm to the fragile souls of these poor boys, but it doesn’t stop the problem.
A few sharp words from her brothers, however, cease the actions for some time.
Her parents discuss betrothal options, always just within earshot, while her grandmother teaches her other skills: how to artfully get what she wants using her beauty and her youth, how to be kind and sincere but strike when it is necessary.
“You are a rose,” her grandmother says, “and the beauty of a rose hides its thorns. Never let them think that you are defenseless.”
There is one squire of her brother Willas called Robert who is particularly willing to win her favor. If he is not going out of his way to be polite and thoughtful, he is trying to impress her with his skills with the sword or his horsemanship. Her grandmother has taught her to be mindful of this type of attention, and so Margaery waits, and waits, for the opportunity to arise that will best suit her.
The opportunity she is looking for is a kiss. She knows, because she watches and listens, that the power of a woman lies in her beauty, and a kiss bestows that power on whoever is worthy. This boy is not worthy, but he will serve.
One afternoon, he offers to saddle her favorite horse, and she offers him the opportunity to escort her on her ride. It is a miracle that he gets the saddle on correctly, so quickly gone is his false bravado that she cannot believe the boy riding beside her is the same who tries so gallantly to win her favor.
They ride but a short distance from Highgarden, and she presses her advantage when they stop to water the horses.
His lips are firm, and his kisses are slobbery like a dog, but Margaery must practice somehow.
They practice several times, until Margaery manages to get to him turn in to her just so, and learns how to move her tongue just the right way to make little moans catch in the back of his throat.
And when she is done with him, she tells Loras what has happened. Or, some version that includes fearful tears and fingers clutching at his cloak.
The squire is dismissed, for his words do not hold up to Margaery’s tears.
Afterwards, when she dries her eyes, her grandmother tells her, “You are a rose of great value, it seems.”
“I mean to grow strong,” Margaery says. “I will not be crushed under the heels of men.”
“Bold sentiments, little rose,” Lady Olenna tells her with a slight smile. “I will be eager to see how tall you grow.”
Margaery loves Loras most of all her brothers, most of all the people she knows save for her grandmother. Loras is but a few years older than her, but when they are young she grows fast and he grows slow so they are the same height for several years. Everyone thinks they are twins and they are as close as that, playmates who can read the other’s mind with merely a glance.
Margaery tells Loras everything: about her dreams and ambitions, which threaten to grow unwieldy in the space between them as she speaks, about the newest son of a lord that has captured her attention at a party, about her fears (which are few, and seldom spoken of).
Loras does not tell Margaery everything. Some things she learns on her own.
By some good fortune, Loras is able to become Renly Baratheon’s squire. It is an honor for the third son of a lord to be so chosen by the king’s brother, and Loras leaves them for some time to go to Storm’s End.
When he returns, he brings Renly with him.
Margaery is still young, but she can see the change in her brother when he is with the other man – a slight change, but a change that she recognizes in herself. They are not so different, the two of them, when they smile and laugh and turn their head just so.
She is not a foolish young girl, unaware of the circumstances of life. She knows that men can love men, and she does not think anything of it because it is <i>Loras</i> and she loves him most of all.
She slips into his room one night, ready to wake him from his sleep but Loras is already awake and staring out the window.
Margaery sits close beside him and rests her head on his shoulder.
“I love you,” she tells him, “and I always will, regardless of what paths fate sets us upon.”
Loras turns to face her and his eyes glimmer. “And you as well, little sister. I will love you and keep you safe always.”
When she sees Renly the next morning, she makes sure to smile for him especially bright. He is a comely man, but he is not for her. When her grandmother makes a suggestion during afternoon tea, Margaery simply says, “Renly Baratheon is otherwise engaged.”
It is some time before his name is mentioned along with Margaery’s again.
It becomes common knowledge throughout the kingdom that Sansa Stark is to marry Joffrey Baratheon, and it is the topic of conversation for several days. Her father is anxious that a good match be made, whereas her mother and grandmother fret that she will never be queen now.
It strikes Margaery as odd, since it’s never occurred to her that she <i>could</i> be queen. She has never thought much about her betrothal prospect, as she is barely fifteen, and she’s always assumed that those she loved would choose wisely for her. Now it becomes painfully obvious that a chance has been missed, that she could have worn a crown on her head and been more than just the lady wife of some Southron lord. She feels as if she will wither and fade when she considers what she has now lost.
“Perhaps the North is where alliances should be made,” her father ponders. “Ned Stark is now Hand of the King, and he has a son.”
“Have you seen the boy? Is he more Stark or Tully?” her grandmother presses.
“I have heard he takes after his mother,” her own mother supplies.
“Just as well,” Lady Olenna remarks, “that Tully coloring so complements our Tyrell blood. Perhaps the Stark boy is a good option.”
But the North is cold and wild, and Margaery is a Southron girl who is not sure she will be able to flourish in the wretched place.
“I will die if I am sent there,” she tells her cousins.
“But he is fair!” Megga proclaims.
“And his father is Hand of the King!” Alla exclaims.
“And he is fair!” Elinor crows.
Margaery sinks her needle back into her embroidery work and pulls it out again, finishing yet another golden rose.
She steals into the library, finds books that detail life in the North and the northmen who live there. They are cold-looking, fierce and unforgiving, and she knows that even if Robb Stark is fair of face and character, she will die like a flower caught in a cold snap, petals falling and color fading until she is nothing but a dry husk.
It doesn’t matter though: her worrying is all for naught, because before her father can consider any sort of negotiations, Robert Baratheon is dead and Ned Stark has fallen out of favor. There is a glimmer of hope in the corner of her eye that perhaps she can be Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, for she is not the daughter of a disgraced Northern lord.
But her crown comes sooner than she expects, in the form of Renly Baratheon, who claims the throne is his and raises an army of followers from the Storm Lands and the Reach. Renly has always been a favorite at their house, and her father finds that Margaery’s hand in marriage in return for a prime position in Renly’s new government is more than fair.
Margaery has always loved Renly and the thought of being Queen is enough to make her cheer on her husband throughout his crusade. And if he blanches at her touch, and refuses her in bed, then it matters not for her fate is still in the stars and she is still lovely and fair and the Queen of Love and Beauty for Renly and his knights. She will succeed in her other endeavors later.
As soon as her crown comes, it quickly goes away at the hands of Catelyn Stark and some foul woman who wanted to be in the Kingsguard.
But Margaery is strong. She mourns Renly, as she must, and she presses onward. Whispers to Loras, so deeply in grief, words spoken to her father: <i>the Starks must pay, we must go to Kings Landing, we must swear allegiance to the Lannisters who always pay their debts.</i>
She finds the Lannisters’ form of payment for the Tyrell’s assistance at the battle of Blackwater Bay – her betrothal to King Joffrey – entirely appropriate.
The morning before she is to leave for Kings Landing, where a throne and a crown await her, her grandmother comes to see her in her chambers.
It is rare that her grandmother seeks her out – Margaery feels as if she is always summoned to her grandmother instead, fetched out of gardens or her chambers. She wonders if this is what it is like to be Queen – to have people come to her instead of the other way around.
“I am pleased at the quality of your bridal clothes,” Olenna says, fingering silken smallclothes. Margaery is at her vanity, packing her jewels into a small case. She knows these jewels will dull in comparison to what she will wear as a Queen, but she loves them all the same because they are hers, the color of her house, the color of home.
“I am pleased as well, Grandmother,” Margaery replies. “I will need to order new clothes at King’s Landing.” The decision to buy from local merchants is a strategic one, thought up by Margaery herself and consistent with the strategy that they have created: show the love and tenderness of the Tyrells and win the people’s favor in a way that Lannisters are incapable of ever doing. Bread and fruit is being sent to King’s Landing ahead of her, to feed the starving people of the capital.
“They will love you, for you are young and beautiful,” Olenna says. “At least, the people of King’s Landing will.”
“Of course the Lannisters will be difficult. Lions like to think they scare everyone, but flowers are not afraid of them.” Margaery smiles at her grandmother.
“I have been told that Joffrey was quite unkind to the Lady Sansa.” Olenna turns to stand by the window. “The poor child, so cruelly separated from her family.”
“Her father was a traitor.”
“So was yours,” Olenna points out. “He did not come to support Joffrey at first. He married you to Renly Baratheon. Only the support of House Tyrell and their bannerman at the Battle of the Blackwater has redeemed them in the eyes of Tywin Lannister.”
“He cannot forget our generosity so easily,” Margaery counters. “It is a good alliance.”
“Tywin Lannister is crafty, Joffrey is cruel, and the Queen will seek to find your weaknesses and bring you down. She will not yield her crown gracefully.”
“I am not afraid of some bitter old widow,” Margaery states, squaring her shoulders. “I grow strong, like you taught me. They will think me beautiful and sweet.”
Her grandmother smiles. “I hope so, my child. I certainly hope so.”
At night – her last night before leaving home – she makes sure that all of her trunks are packed and her possessions stored away. As Margaery sits on her childhood bed one last time, she considers the future before her.
Yes, Tywin Lannister is crafty, and the Queen is bitter, and Joffery very well may be cruel. But Margaery is not one to be trifled with. Every suggestion, every action that has been undertaken is not her father’s nor her brothers’ nor even her grandmother’s, cunning as that older woman can be. It is her, the littlest rose, who has lead them to this point and who will lead them further.
For Margaery will arrive in King’s Landing meek and mild, smiling sweetly, her thorns well hidden. She will continue to grow, and she will not be stopped.