She wakes to blood on her sheets, and it is only the utter shock of it that keeps Lysa from screaming. It's the wrong time for her blood, even if she had not already missed it once and spent that week pricking her feet for the blood so not even her maid would know. She had to be careful, had to make sure Father didn't know, and even though her feet have only just stopped hurting it was worth it.
She'd needed the time, time to figure out what she was going to do if she was right about why she missed her courses. She'd been trying to work out how she could get the money for a ship, to sail to Petyr's home on the Fingers. She knows it is a small, forlorn keep, but Lysa would not have cared, not if she could have had Petyr, had their child.
It's only because she's had a near month of constant wariness that she is quick enough to tug her sheet off the bed before the blood seeps through, wise enough to crouch over her empty chamberpot until it's over. She bites her lips against the cramps, and against the sobs so that her tears fall silently down her face. The child, a little boy with his father's quick mind or a little girl with her hair and Petyr's lovely eyes... Lysa had wanted her child, the child Petyr made with her, even if he'd called her by her sister's name. He would have loved her with their child, wouldn't he? And she would have had a piece of him with her even if he didn't, a child she could love.
But she will not have that now and she wonders why the gods would take that from her. Why they take everything from her. Mother lost in the birthing bed, the affections of Father and Uncle Brynden and Edmure and Petyr always going first to Catelyn and only to her as an afterthought. No one wants her, not if they can have her sister. And the worst of it is that Lysa loves Catelyn too, because Catelyn is the only one who does love her the same, who loves her every bit as much as she loves Edmure even if he's the brother and Lysa is only the second daughter, Catelyn's less skilled shadow. She loves her sister for that and she hates her for having everything, just as she loves Petyr because she cannot help it and hates him for not loving her most.
When the pain and the blood stop the tears don't, but Lysa pushes the ruined sheet into the chamberpot and stumbles out into the night with a hooded cloak covering her face, dumping the whole mess in the river. She kneels by the edge of it and cries into her hands until the tears finally stop, until she forces herself to her feet and back inside. She must be back in her room before dawn, she knows, and she steals new sheets from the room where she knows they're kept. She's never had to make her own bed before and she knows it's sloppy, but when Ella comes in, Lysa's obvious exhaustion must make her tale of nightmares terrible enough to half ruin the bed convincing.
She feels like Petyr must then, when he spins his little lies and everyone believes him. She used to smile at how he fooled everyone, and he told her once it's a power like almost nothing else. She feels it too, the power to keep herself safe, this once. Because she remembers her father's cold eyes when she'd begged him to let Petyr stay, when she'd begged to marry him just the day before if Catelyn was foolish enough not to want him. She does not know what he would do should he ever learn of this, but she thinks of that cold look and knows she can never, never trust him again. She thinks mayhaps it was her fear of him in that moment, the fear that turned to terror when he began to shout, that made her lose her babe, and she cannot forgive that. The men of a woman's house are meant to protect her, but Father doesn't care and Edmure is too young, Uncle Brynden hardly ever here since he last quarrelled with Father. Catelyn has always been the one who protected Lysa, who hugged her when she was upset or helped her with her lessons, but that's done now. Catelyn is older but Lysa is a woman where her sister is still half a girl. She has to protect herself now, even if it means fooling people to do it. And if the gods don't like liars, well, they took away her love and they took away her child, they have left her with nothing so what does she owe them?
Everyone assumes her distance and her sorrows are due to missing Petyr, and Lysa lets them think it. It is a great part of the truth, after all. Edmure says she's being silly, that Petyr was an idiot to challenge Brandon, and Lysa strikes him across the face. Edmure stares at her in shock, then goes running to Catelyn – of course he does, Lysa thinks bitterly, because he is still a child who thinks the older people around him can fix things. One day he'll learn they might well just make things worse.
Catelyn comes, looking uncomfortable as she always does around Lysa now. “You should not have struck him.”
“He should not have said what he did. Whether he thinks it or not, he should have known it would only upset me more, and that's why he did it.”
“Edmure only wants you to stop being so lost, Lysa. So do I.” Catelyn tries to hug her and Lysa manages not to pull away, though she cannot relax either. Some days she thinks she is becoming cold as her sister's cruel Northern betrothed, and she hates herself for it. But if it's the only way to keep safe, she will do it. “Lysa... I miss you, little sister. I wish this hadn't come between us.”
Lysa wants to laugh, she wants to scream. Because it's not Petyr, not really. She'd always known Petyr loved Catelyn more, that Catelyn only ever allowed herself to want her betrothed. She could have lived with that. What comes between them is that terrible night where Lysa bled and wept her childhood away, and she cannot tell her sister.
So she pulls away instead, turning to look out the window at the river that shares her secret. She and the night and the waters around her home will keep the silence. She barely hears Catelyn leave, and after that she takes to walking by the river, to sitting up at night staring at the darkened sky out her window. She wants Petyr, she always wants him, but she begins to think she would accept a different marriage with relief, if she could only leave this home that now feels haunted instead of safe. Perhaps somewhere else she could trust in more than water and moonlight.
But she pats Edmure's head and tells him she's sorry she hit him, and he hugs her and says he shouldn't have been mean, and the next time Catelyn hugs her she can at least manage to pretend to relax. Father's eyes are warm when he looks at her again, but they falter whenever she looks back, because the coldness is in her eyes now when she sees him. He would take away everything if he could, and when he tells her he was only harsh so she would understand she is worth more, she merely stares at him until he dismisses her impatiently.
She refuses to pray anymore, silent as a tomb in the sept when everyone else sings hymns. Everyone from the septon to the septa to Catelyn chide her for it – Father doesn't bother, he's exasperated instead of warm now and she much prefers it – but Edmure wants to know why it took her so long to realize how boring the sept is. It's such a complete misunderstanding, but said with such cheerful mischief, that Lysa laughs aloud. It feels like a blessing better than anything the heartless gods might give. “Well, I'm a wiser girl now, aren't I?” she tells him, catching his hands and spinning him around.
It's only one sweet moment in a life that continues as empty as before, but that just makes it all the more precious.
When they first hear that Prince Rhaegar has kidnapped Lady Lyanna Stark, Lysa wonders if it's true, of if Lady Lyanna wanted to go. If the two of them were really risking everything for love. When she hears what happened to Brandon and Rickard Stark, she continues to wonder. Because she wonders how she would feel, if Father died because she had dared to take what she wanted. In that moment she thinks she would happily see her father dead to have a marriage for love, but Edmure –
Then she hopes Lady Lyanna was kidnapped, if only so the poor girl won't have to live with the guilt of killing her brother. Lysa might hate the cruel man for what he did to Petyr, might be glad he's dead, but she imagines Lady Lyanna loved him. Maybe she loved her father too, so it would be worse for her than if Lysa were in her place.
Catelyn is the one who wanders like a lost soul now, and Lysa tries to comfort her as best she can. She strokes her sister's hair and brushes it out for her, tries to make her smile by reminding her of happier days. It only works a little, but Catelyn squeezes her hands and thanks her. Lysa finds that taking care of her sister comforts her too, makes her feel warm in ways she hasn't since that night. It doesn't make sense, but if it's doing them both good, where's the harm?
The news they get is incomplete, but they do know it's war. Lord Arryn and the young Lord Baratheon have raised their banners, the new Lord Stark – Brandon's brother Eddard, and Lysa wonders if he's as terrible a man as his brother was – is making his way north, they say. And then, then... Then Eddard Stark and Jon Arryn are at Riverrun, seeking for Father to join them in their war.
“It was never supposed to be rebellion!” they hear Father shout before his solar door slams shut, which is a strange thing to say. Edmure grumbles about being kept out, although he's only a boy of twelve – he says that since he's the heir Father has to start letting him learn and watch sometime. Normally Cat would hush him and say Father knows best, but not today. Today she holds onto a scarf she had embroidered, grey direwolves stitched onto the white cloth, standing at a window looking down at the river. Lysa wonders then what secrets Cat's whispered to the water, knows they cannot be so dark as her own but suddenly sensing that they are there.
“If Father joins them, I'll marry Brandon's brother,” Cat says, soft but implacably sure. Lysa thinks about Eddard Stark, face grim and frozen, but there's something about his eyes that is softer than the rest of him. Brandon had smiled and charmed them all, but even before what he did to Petyr Lysa had thought his eyes hard like stone. He had no heart behind his smiles, Lysa thinks, but perhaps this Lord Eddard does.
“Maybe that won't be so bad, sister,” she tells Cat, thinking that at least her sister will get to leave here. Of course, for all her determined duty, Cat doesn't want to leave, and Lysa does. So perhaps her view on things is a bit different.
“But what if we lose?” Cat whispers, and that's a good question, isn't it, regardless of whose side they choose to be on.
The Lords of Winterfell and the Eyrie spend three days with Father, shouts from both Father and Lord Arryn – but not young Lord Stark – occasionally filling the corridor outside Father's solar. Lysa creeps close one day, enough to hear Father shout, “Both of them! I will have husbands for them both, or nothing!”
Husbands? Lysa races away just as the door begins to creak open, all but flying down to the river again. So Cat was right, probably; it would make no sense to marry Cat into a different family and give Lysa to Lord Stark. So Cat will be Lady Stark even though her husband will be the second-born son instead of the intended heir, and Lysa...
Lord Arryn is old, and has a nephew for his heir, Lysa knows. For a moment, she's gripped by a terror – would Father marry her to him, to an old man so he can get a son? But no, why would a man who's had bad luck twice and is old enough to die in a handful of years risk wasting his energy on a new heir he almost certainly won't live to see reach adulthood? They've met Elbert Arryn, he was with Brandon but a much friendlier young man, and the only reason he didn't die with Brandon was he fell from his horse near Wayfarer's Rest. He's there now, with that branch of House Vance. Does he have a wife? Lysa doesn't know, but if he doesn't... Father would marry her to an old man if he knew she was no maid, but he doesn't know and he once tried to marry her to Jaime Lannister, so that's encouraging.
It must be Ser Elbert, she thinks. Lord Arryn can't promise the hand of anyone else, after all. And if somewhere in her mind she remembers that Petyr's keep is in the Vale, she doesn't dare allow her mind to linger on the fact.
Except that when she tells Cat, Cat shakes her head. “No, Lysa, Ser Elbert's married to a Royce girl. I can't remember her name right now, my thoughts are so jumbled, but I know he's married. I think you're right about Lord Arryn, though – he has an heir he raised himself, carefully, Brandon – he told me that his brother told him so in letters, and he knew it from time spent with Elbert. Every man wants a son, but no sensible lord wants to risk leaving a child heir.”
“But then who?” Lysa says, throwing up her hands in frustration, and it's such an irritating situation but this is the most normal things have felt with Cat since... Since before. They have a difficulty to figure out, they are talking like they are still close companions, and she realizes she's missed it.
“I, I don't know,” Cat says. “Not Lord Baratheon, obviously, but he might have given Lord Arryn permission to speak for him... Father won't want you to marry a lesser lord, but if those are his only options...” Her eyes widen suddenly.
“What?” Lysa says. “Cat, what is it?”
“Lord Baratheon has two brothers, one only a year younger than he is. If he is to be king, then the elder of his brothers would probably inherit Storm's End, and even if not, a king's brother is...”
“Something the Tullys were already promised once, and never got,” Lysa murmurs, because that is one tale in the family histories she remembers. She had felt terrible for Celia, whose father never found another husband for her, blaming her for not being able to win the prince over when she was sent to court as his future bride. Lately, Lysa has feared she might face Celia's fate, and never be allowed to leave here.
And so, she is unsurprised when Ser Elbert arrives, leg healed, in time to serve his uncle's plans by acting as proxy for Stannis Baratheon. Father will not be content with Cat's marriage and Lysa's betrothal, he must have a far harder to break proxy marriage, a thing almost never performed. But the rebels need the Riverlands' troops, so it's agreed, and Ser Elbert has a mildly amused look on his face as he puts a Baratheon cloak around Lysa's shoulders. “I hope Robert's brother won't be angry that I got to cloak his bride first, my lady,” he japes, and Lysa smiles at him.
She hopes the same.
When Cat's belly swells with her child, Lysa's heart aches. She doesn't know if she's jealous of her sister for getting to keep her child, or terrified for her that the child might not live. Lysa may struggle with resentment of her elder sister, but she does not want Cat to suffer the grief she has. Still, when the baby is born, strong and beautiful with bright Tully eyes, Lysa can only hold him for half a moment before she's giving him back to a tired Cat and racing away in tears.
She wanted that child. She had wanted him or her so much and she hadn't cared that the baby would be a bastard, a Rivers. Her baby would have been as beautiful as little Robb, she knows it, and nothing else would have mattered. Not her child's sex or surname, not even whether or not Petyr would have decided he wanted them after all. And she can tell herself as often as possible that she will have more children with the husband she's never met, but somehow it doesn't stop the ache, only makes it so she can pretend it's not there for a while. One child is not interchangeable with another, hasn't her father's preference for Catelyn long since proved that?
But Lysa does find that it is still a lovely thought, picturing dark-haired children clustering around her. She wants them to have dark hair like the Baratheons are known to have, so that they will look less Tully, less like her father. She doesn't mind if none of them take after her so long as it means they won't take after him. Though she also likes to picture a daughter with her mother's reddish-blonde curls, a son with Mother's grey eyes. She only picks one name – she wants a daughter called Celia Baratheon, for an almost-princess who never got to escape the castle Lysa strains to be free of.
And then the war is over. People whisper about the Sack of King's Landing, the brutality of the Lannisters. Her father frowns in disapproval over Jaime Lannister's murder of King Aerys, although Lysa thinks of a bright charming boy who hung on her uncle's every word and thinks she is more horrified by the way no one wants to discuss the fates of Princess Elia and her children. They at least did no wrong, even if Jaime Lannister did wrong by breaking his oaths.
Lysa is not sure if she has room to judge others who fail by the standards of their rank, as she did too. If anyone knew her secret, she would have no honor left either. So she does not join in when all her family condemns Jaime Lannister – except for Edmure, young enough to ask why isn't it a good thing that the Mad King is dead – nor does she speak much at all, really. They hear that Lord Eddard left the capital in fury over the actions of Tywin Lannister and the king's acceptance of such – proof, in Lysa's mind, that her sister is fortunate that her husband is not the elder Stark, who Lysa cannot see caring a whit about dead children – and that he has lifted the siege on Storm's End, freeing Lysa's own husband Stannis Baratheon.
She really rather expects her father's announcement that she is to leave for the capital herself in two days' time. Lord Stannis and his little brother Renly Baratheon are to travel there to be present for their brother's coronation, and Lysa is to meet her husband there. Uncle Brynden will escort her, along with a respectable complement of men-at-arms. Lysa nods calmly at dinner, sobered briefly by Catelyn's lowered eyes and Edmure's tears; Catelyn's own husband will be coming to her here at Riverrun, because Father doesn't want her traveling so soon after the birth of little Robb, and Lysa thinks Catelyn may finally understand some of Lysa's desire to leave. Edmure knows both of his sisters will be leaving him soon, and he cries at the idea of parting like the boy he is.
But Lysa, when she is alone, dances around her bedchamber, barely able to stifle her giddy breathless laughter. She is getting out of here. She does not care, in this moment, what Stannis Baratheon is like. He could be a sword-swallower for all she cares in this moment. Because of him she is free, free to leave this thrice-damned castle and its rivers cursed with dark secrets, free to run and never never return.
She vows that she will never return, when she turns away on her horse the morning they leave. Everyone seems to expect her to turn back for one last glance, and she does; but it is not in sorrow or wistfulness. It is in sheer vicious joy that she need never see it again, that she is leaving it behind forever.
King's Landing stinks. This is the first thing that Lysa says, and her uncle laughs. “It always did, girl, but it's gotten worse, I'll tell you that.” He's gotten gentler with her since they left Riverrun, as though without Cat to be favorite of both Tully men, her uncle is seeing more of worth in her. Lysa isn't certain how she feels about that. She is certain, as she looks around at the half-wrecked city, that the true villain of House Lannister is its lord, not the Kingslayer, whatever those around her may say. She agrees with the rumored views of her goodbrother on this.
The new king is handsome as they say, a true prince from the songs, but he reminds her of Brandon Stark – perhaps that is why Eddard Stark so loves him – and that is no pleasant association for Lysa. Still, King Robert treats her with the courtesy one would expect from a goodbrother, from a man supposedly so mad for love he started a war to get his betrothed back. Although if he so loves the still-missing Lady Lyanna, why is he already known to visit brothels? A man can love his lady without fidelity, but...
The word at court is that the Tyrells bent the knee to the Baratheon standard, to the Lord of Winterfell, and that while Ned Stark continues to ride south to find his sister – why is the King who adores her not with him? – the younger Baratheon brothers have been summoned to court. And suddenly it is truly real, that Lysa has escaped, yes, but her escape has made her the property of a husband instead of a father. What if Stannis Baratheon is no better? His brother cannot even be faithful to the woman he took a kingdom for, what does that say of Stannis? Although they say he held Storm's End for a year against the Tyrells – the courtiers do; all King Robert can say is how 'Ned' lifted the siege.
They also say Stannis Baratheon is a cold, humorless young man. But then, does she want feigned smiles no more real than Petyr's kisses were, when he was whispering Cat before he fell asleep? She doesn't know, and she paces the chamber she's been given, feeling trapped again, feeling frightened and unsure. She would rather he just got here already, so she could meet him and know what she's been fated to – anything but this suspense.
And when he does finally arrive, and they are formally introduced in the presence of King Robert and Lord Arryn...
He is not ugly, at least. Stannis Baratheon does not have the handsome face of his brother, it's true; his jaw is too strong to be attractive, his expression too stony. But Lysa would not call him ugly. Although a smile would improve his face considerably, his intent eyes, so dark a blue they're nearly black, are rather compelling. Lysa offers him a smile of her own as she curtseys, then straightens again. He doesn't smile back but she does think his expression softens slightly.
In a way, Lysa decides that he's something of a relief. Someone who is so stern even at a time when most would at least feign cheer probably just is this way. Far from ideal, but better to know what to expect now than to be unpleasantly surprised later. She thinks of how shocking it had been to see her father's eyes turn cold, what that shock had cost her. No, Lysa wants no more surprises, would rather begin with the truth whatever it may be. “My lord,” she says politely.
“My lady wife.” Closer now, she thinks she sees something like uncertainty in that face still too thin from the long siege of Storm's End. He is only eight and ten to her six and ten, she knows; perhaps the grimness hides something after all. But if it is uncertainty, then Lysa's smile hides the same, and they cannot be blamed for that here in front of half the court. For her, as well, she has yet to figure out how to hide her lack of virginity, and in truth she feels unprepared to be a wife and lady of a great castle. Lysa had always expected that her husband would be an heir, that she would have time to learn from a goodmother – Cat had never sought her help, never wanted it. She had watched Cat all the same, and paid close attention to Septa Mordane, although she was very glad the septa had gone north with Catelyn instead of coming south with her; the last thing Lysa would need as Lady of Storm's End was to have close by yet another of the people who had considered Lysa the lesser daughter of Riverrun.
At least Stannis Baratheon has never met Catelyn. If Lysa does this right, she can be the first Tully girl to her husband and his lords, at least.
“Gods, you two will have the politest marriage! Not like my Lya and I!” King Robert laughs in his booming voice. Stannis' jaw clenches and even Lysa can sense that the joke is not quite the fond teasing that she and her siblings engage in. Her stranger of a husband tenses, as though bracing for a fight, and Lysa feels that she has to intervene somehow.
“Surely that is not a bad thing, to respect each other, Your Majesty?” she says, the words half an impulse, half truth as she sees it. King Robert looks nonplussed but Stannis relaxes, lips twitching ever so slightly at the look on his brother's face, so Lysa will count it a victory.
As the days pass, the talk at court is that there will be a double wedding – though Lysa and Stannis are already wed by proxy, the marriage has yet to be consummated because a second ceremony in person is expected. A proxy wedding is, in truth, little more than a firmer sort of betrothal. Lord Arryn believes that if that second ceremony is a joint one with the marriage of King Robert and Lyanna Stark, it will show the new royal house to be stronger. Both the king and his immediate heir marrying, hopefully soon to produce heirs, will make people confident that the Baratheons are here to stay. But then word comes from Starfall, in Dorne, that Ned Stark found his sister just in time to hold her hand as fever claimed her her life.
The fledgling court is plunged into mourning. King Robert locks himself away and for once Lysa sympathizes with him in his grief, finally believing he did love his betrothed despite his infidelity – or at least, came as close to loving her as hewas capable of doing. In his absence, Lord Arryn rules everything, something that was already true but is now more obvious. Lysa sees odd looks pass between him and Lord Tywin, so she is unsurprised when the two of them begin going off to speak alone.
“Lord Tywin always meant his daughter to wed Rhaegar,” Stannis tells her one evening at supper – they take a meal together every day so that they might grow accustomed to each other, on Lord Arryn's advice. So far they have spoken of the practicalities of running Storm's End and of the last Baratheon brother, Renly, who is so young that Lysa feels more as though she will be gaining a stepson than a goodbrother when she meets him.
“And so, with Lady Lyanna's death, he will try a different royal match?” she suggests, sipping her lemon water. It is what Stannis drinks and so Lysa drinks it too when she eats with him, though she's taken to adding sugar to make it more to her taste.
“Lord Arryn wishes to keep the Lannisters on our side, which is why the Kingslayer still wears a white cloack. That his son was spared due punishment ought to be enough for Lord Tywin,” Stannis says with a deep scowl. “Although a Lannister bride is preferable to a Tyrell, even if a Hightower would be tolerable as well.”
Some of the courtiers have indeed spoken of Janna Tyrell as a possible queen, others of a Hightower bride. But most read the signs aright and put their wagers on Cersei Lannister. The king will wed her in a great ceremony at Baelor's Sept – but not just yet, for he is still in mourning and word has come that Rhaella Targaryen proclaimed her seven-year-old son Viserys King. Lysa cannot help but admire her nerve, although she would never say so. King Robert orders Stannis to take Dragonstone and “end the threat of dragonspawn.” Before he leaves, though, after a quiet ceremony in the royal sept, Lysa shares a bed with her husband. He says nothing of blood and she breathes a sigh of relief.
They have only a handful of nights together before he leaves, but perhaps it is enough, for Lysa misses her next courses. Now, all she can do is hope.