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.
Chapter 2: Interlude: Stannis
Stannis considers where he and his new wife stand now that the war is truly over.
He's told that Robert nearly took away Storm's End away from him, nearly handed their home to Renly and Dragonstone to him as an insult disguised as an honor. It makes Stannis furious to know that the only reason he did not was that Lord Arryn felt such a move might insult Lord Tully, who had given his younger daughter on the understanding that like her sister, Lysa would be wife to a Lord Paramount.
So Stannis kept Storm's End for the sake of the alliance, not because it was his right. As though it were his fault that the Targaryen children escaped. While he can admit he had not relished the thought of ordering a woman and her two children killed, he would have obeyed his brother and king. But he is no wizard out of the tales Renly so loves, to control the weather. If some part of him is grateful to have been spared that distasteful duty, it's irrelevant.
Robert shouts and rants about hiring assassins, but Lord Arryn convinces him that the murder of children will only breed trouble with the former loyalists, and that said children are no threat with their mother dead. Alive, Rhaella was someone who could unite forces behind her and her figurehead of a son, but now Viserys and the newborn girl have only a handful of retainers. Ned Stark, still lingering at court – with a bastard infant in his chambers – because Robert is loathe to let him go, agrees with his foster father, and between them they calm Robert. Tywin Lannister makes no comment at all, merely continues the plans to bring his daughter to marry Robert, but given what he and his son did, Stannis thinks he would probably hand over the gold for the assassins – in exchange for yet more favor, of course.
“I am glad you did not need to order children killed,” is all that Stannis' lady wife will say on the matter. He does not quite know what to make of Lysa, though he is gratified by her diligence in asking about the details of Storm's End. It suggests that, like him, she knows her duty.
“It proved unnecessary, and Lord Arryn is right; the children can do nothing.” It is not a just thing, to hunt them down now. Rhaella was the only one who had truly committed a crime, in declaring her boy a king – the boy himself was too young to truly understand how things had changed.
“And whatever their kin have done, surely the children are blameless,” Lysa says, not out of line with his own thoughts. Her hand is on her stomach, Stannis realizes suddenly, and he almost chokes on her lemon water.
“Are you with child?”
Lysa bites her lip, averting her eyes, looking rather childlike herself. “I don't know for certain, my lord. I've missed my courses twice now, but the midwife I spoke to says it's best to wait another month.”
“A midwife?” Stannis asks with a frown. “Why not Grand Maester Pycelle?”
Lysa's mouth twists. “He has wandering hands. All the court women know it. I prefer not to have him near me. In any case, didn't you say he adores Lord Tywin? I... did not like the thought that he might know the King may well be an uncle to a half-Tully baby before he is a father to Lord Tywin's grandsons. The Lannisters have never liked my family, and the feeling is mutual. Caution seemd wiser, my lord.”
It surprises Stannis to hear this; he had not expected his wife, half a girl still, to harbor such suspicions. Although he finds that he cannot refute them; her points make sense. Especially given how Lord Tywin took the capital. Of course, if Lysa it does not meanyone will know soon enough, but that does not mean they must be at court when she begins to show. He does not care for the idea of his firstborn coming into the world here in this filthy cesspit they call a capital anyway.
“I'm told my royal brother does not wish to see me for a while. If you might be with child, then now is the time to leave, before travel becomes dangerous for you,” Stannis decides. “I would prefer than you give birth at Storm's End; this city is unhealthy.” And though he will not say so aloud, has longed for the clean salt air of home almost since he arrived in King's Landing. Dragonstone did not help; the Targaryen stronghold was a very different sort of sea castle, and the few similarities between it and Storm's End, ones he expects all coastal castles share, made the many differences even more jarring.
Initially, leaving Storm's End and traveling to the capital had been a reprieve for Stannis. It had given him a chance to find calm after his home was turned into a prison. But now he wants to reclaim what is his. What has always been his, even when it was Robert's. Robert never loved Storm's End like Father or Stannis, all he ever wanted was to go back to the Eyrie. To Jon Arryn and Eddard Stark.
He pushes the thoughts aside, and the bitterness that comes with them. Robert has the kingdom now, and his precious Jon Arryn will rule it for him. Stannis has a new wife who may be carrying his child; he has a chance to make his own life now. That is enough. That should be enough.
Why does he still want the attention of an elder brother who will never give it?
Chapter 3: Settling In
Lysa arrives at Storm's End - but she is only the first, not the last.
Storm's End is far larger than Riverrun, larger than the Red Keep. Lysa has heard that Winterfell is bigger than any of the three, but she has been to Harrenhal to visit her mother's family, and there Is no castle that Harrenhal cannot dwarf. So she is impressed, but refuses to be overawed. Shipbreaker Bay, however...
She understands that her husband's parents drowned in a storm there, so she keeps her impressions to herself. But by the gods she no longer prays to, it is beautiful. Wild and breathtaking and powerful, so much more than any river could ever be. She stares out at the waves and loves them, in a way she didn't when she saw Blackwater Bay in King's Landing. The depths there would wash away any secret, she thinks, and the salt air is bracing.
She loves it.
Stannis gives her an odd look as they ride through the gates, perhaps wondering at the sudden flush in her cheeks, but he is not a man to ask, and there is no time anyway, as a little boy comes racing out, a aging maester trying ineffectively to catch him. “Stannis! Stannis, you're back!” This must be Renly. He hugs his brother the moment Stannis is off his horse, and Stannis awkwardly pats his shoulder, looking deeply uncomfortable. Lysa finds herself stifling a giggle.
Renly lets go of Stannis' leg and peers up at her with wide blue-green eyes. “Are you my new lady sister?” he asks, smiling at her and revealing one missing tooth. Lysa smiles and goes down to her knees in the yard, heedless of the dirt on her skirts.
“Yes, I am. And you must be Lord Renly. I'm very pleased to meet you.” She brushes a bit of coal-black hair out of his eyes and wonders if the child she is all but certain she's carrying will look like her little goodbrother. He looks very much like King Robert, she can see that even in his child's face, but the shape of his eyes is more Stannis than Robert, although few are likely to notice it.
“You're very pretty,” Renly tells her, voice lisping a bit due to his missing tooth. “Do you play games? Stannis is very serious and he doesn't like them.”
“Well, your brother is a lord and has many cares, Renly,” Lysa says gently, brushing his black hair out of his eyes the way she used to do with Edmure. “But do you know what? I have a little brother, and because I have an older sister who took most of the important jobs for me, I got to play with him more.” And with Petyr, she thinks, ignoring the ache the memories still cause. “So I know many games, and I can play.”
Stannis is looking at them with a frown, and in case it's because he thinks she will neglect her duties, she adds, “But I'm the Lady of Storm's End, so I'm afraid I can't always play, I must do my duty just as you must take your lessons with the maester. But we'll find time for fun, won't we?” she adds with a wink. Renly giggles, covering his mouth with his hands, and Stannis appears more puzzled than angry, so Lysa decides that she hasn't done anything too wrong.
In the first days, Lysa decides that most of the household at Storm's End don't know what to do with a lady in residence again. She can understand, a little – Cat was too young to fully take on Mother's role when she died, and a few years later when she could fulfill her duties completely some of the staff had seemed a bit wrongfooted. Still, Lysa commits herself to the castle, sitting with the steward to learn the accounts and what he will tell her of those in the castle. There are two other highborn girls in the castle – Lianne and Junia are the grandchildren of Ser Harbert Baratheon, Lord Steffon's late uncle and former castellan – but they are near Renly's age, and no help at all. The girls take their lessons with Renly, and soon enough, so will the sons of Lord Sunglass, while fourteen-year-old Monford Velaryon is to squire for Stannis. Lord Celtigar's daughter Aella and Lord Bar Emmon's niece will be coming with several daughters or sisters of stormlords to make a household for Lysa. They are here as hostages and to come to know the little Lord of Dragonstone, as Renly is now to be called.
Apparently, whenever Cersei Lannister provides King Robert with a son, he will be given a new title to show he is the heir to the throne, as the title Prince of Dragonstone once indicated, but what it will be is undecided. In the meantime, Robert has given Dragonstone to his younger brother, to give House Baratheon a third seat, and force those lords closest to the Targaryens to pledge fealty. That is why hostages are to be sent to Storm's End – they are not trusted at court, it is preferred that they be kept here in the stronghold of House Baratheon.
When they come, all but Monford will be Lysa's responsibility, just as Renly is, just as little Jessamine and Lianne are her responsibility. Just as the child growing under her heart will be.
For on her first full day in residence, Stannis sent Maester Cressen to her. He is as gentle as Pycelle is repellent, and she can already tell he cares for the Baratheon brothers as if they were his own children. She is given to understand that he may as well be their father, that he was largely responsible for raising them since the death of Lord Steffon and Lady Cassana. “You are three months gone now, my lady, or near enough,” Cressen tells her with a small smile. “Perhaps you will engage a septa now, for the girls and for this little one, should you bear a daughter?”
Lysa shakes her head. “Do you object to instructing the girls as well as Renly and the boys to come?”
“No, not at all, but I am not equipped to teach girls all the things ladies must know.”
“I shall do what you cannot, Maester Cressen. Gather your concerns and bring them to me, but I want no septas here unless my lord husband says otherwise.” She knows that Stannis will not; if he believed his young cousins needed a septa they would have one, and from little things he'd said she suspects he sets even less store by the gods than she does.
Maester Cressen lets it go, and advises that she take short walks daily, for as long as she can, and drink lemon water or juices, rather than wine. Sadly, he does not seem to have much advice for morning sickness – Lady Cassana had been fortunate enough not to suffer from it, and so he'd never had reason to remember anything he may once have known about it.
“You'll want ginger tea for your mother's stomach,” Marya Seaworth tells Lysa instead, in her fourth month of pregnancy, and she's right. Lysa likes Marya, for all that she wasn't certain she would at first. Lady Seaworth is common-born, after all, although the men of Storm's End respect her highly because her husband saved all their lives with the onions and fish he smuggled in. Lysa's first instinct had been to treat Ser Davos and his wife with distant politeness, as they would have found in Riverrun. Reward for service, but not entry into the lord's inner circle.
What stops her is, of course, exactly that – knowing how things would have been at Riverrun. Why should she emulate the behavior of her father? And she's glad of it, because Marya Seaworth is a reliable, honest companion, who tells her more useful things about pregnancy than a lifetime of preparation for duty by her septa ever did. “My mother was a midwife in King's Landing, and while I never took to it, I did know more than the average girl when my eldest was born. And with three boys, I should say experience has taught me a good deal more!”
And so Lysa drinks ginger tea when her stomach heaves, and counts herself lucky when all she craves is apples, when Marya tells her how, when she was carrying Matthos, she'd longed to strip bark off trees to eat and occasionally had done it. Lysa has actually eaten bark once, on a dare from Edmure and Petyr that Cat had only scoffed at, and she cannot imagine wanting to eat it. She laughs at Marya's tales of her boys' mischief, and watches the boys themselves at play with Renly. It is good for him not to be alone, Lysa thinks, especially after nearly starving in the siege. He is such a young boy, and with no parents, only a maester and a brother who finds his exuberance puzzling. The Seaworth boys are companions to him, although Lysa knows some of the lords that visit Storm's End look askance at it, much as they frown at Stannis keeping Davos by his side, or Lysa taking Marya's advice.
Stannis doesn't care, of course, and he says as much when Lysa asks him about it. “Ser Davos earned my trust when he took both reward and punishment at my hands, unflinching. He gives me honest counsel now, which is more than most of my lords will give me. They all wish I was my brother.”
And who should understand that better than Lysa, who well knows what it is to have an elder sibling preferred to oneself? She doesn't press Stannis on the matter, not now. In time, perhaps, when he has become more comfortable with her.
Lysa is six months gone with her child when their hostages arrive. The Sunglass boys, Jasson and Elsren, are polite, cheerful little lads who settle in with Renly and the girls easily. Lysa thinks it will be good for all of them, remembering her own childhood and how it was the better for being shared. A part of her looks at the boys and the girls, though, and thinks that they'll need to be watched when they're a bit older.
Or even now. The first time Petyr wanted to practice kissing, he had only been Renly's age.
But she must stop looking for ghosts in every face. Anyway, she has enough to do. Aella Celtigar is cold and sullen, holding herself with her chin high as if she cannot abide the sight of any of them. Lysa's ladies from Stormlander families, Rohese Donarrion, Aelinor Penrose, Alecia Swann, and Jaina Selmy, do not like Aella at all, and it often falls to Lysa to play peacemaker amongst them. She misses Marya quite fiercely at times like this, but understandably she has gone to settle in the keep on Cape Wrath Stannis granted to Davos, taking her boys with her.
At least Iona Bar Emmon is pleasant. “I don't see the point of blaming any of you. Little Lord Renly's a boy, Lord Stannis spent all the war under siege here, and you were at Riverrun with your siblings, yes? Seems to me if I should hate anyone it's Brandon Stark – if he'd demanded justice and not a duel, then things never would have gotten so far.”
“He was to wed my sister, but I never liked him,” Lysa confides, although she is not so convinced that Brandon Stark is to blame for the war. If it means Iona is pleasant where her fellow lady hostage is not, then Lysa will take it – it isn't as though she cares if her sister's dead betrothed is maligned.
It is Alecia with whom she gets on best, however. They are both younger girls relieved to be out from under the shadow of near-perfect elder sisters, to make their own lives. “It isn't that I don't love Naerys, it's just that everything she does seems to come out just perfect, and I can never compare. By rights, it ought to be her here, my lady, it's only that my father insists he can't do without her. And my goodsister is an idiot, so my brother will need her too.”
“What will they do when she marries?”
“Oh -” Alecia's cheeks are red. “I don't think she will, in truth. She's never been inclined toward it, might have taken vows if our menfolk didn't need her. She likes female company more than male, so where better to live than as a septa, among only women, if she didn't feel she had her duty? So, I'm here instead, and hoping one of the visiting lords decides I'll suit him as a bride.”
“You would leave me in my time of need, Lady Alecia?” Lysa teases gently, patting her stomach. Alecia laughs.
“Not for some time yet, my lady. Besides, if I marry a lord's heir, he may well choose to stay with his liege lord for a while. Although Lord Stannis doesn't seem to like anyone much but for his maester and the onion knight. Including his squire.”
That is true enough, and worrisome. After all, the hostages are here as much to foster loyalty to House Baratheon as to prevent their kin from doing anything foolish, and Stannis does little to help with that. Monford Velaryon seems not to mind, doing his duty with quiet efficiency and otherwise keeping to himself. Lysa's been told he was at the Trident, young as he is, serving as squire to an uncle who did not survive. She's seen him practicing in the training yard in the middle of one of Storm's End's famed gales, hacking at practice dummies while the wind drives rain into his eyes, and wonders what goes on behind the boy's eyes – a pale lavender, very nearly Targaryen violet.
Still, she has no complaints of him, which is probably the best they can hope for thus far. Lysa enjoys the storms herself – she watches them from her windows and thrills at the flashes of lightning and the roll of thunder. Jasson and Elsren are afraid during their first storm, she knows, because they come running to her solar, Renly, Lianne, and Junia following with laughter. They aren't afraid, of course, but the children spend the day with Lysa, and she tells them all her favorite childhood stories until they're calm.
It is just after a storm has washed the world clean again – for that is how Lysa sees them, as forces that cleanse, unlike rivers that guard filthy secrets forever – that a rider is sighted. Lysa thinks nothing of it, going back to the sewing lesson she's giving Lianne and Junia, until Monford appears at her door.
“My lady,” he says in his even voice, offering her a stiff bow. “My lord Stannis wishes you to come to his solar. Your uncle has come.”
Uncle Brynden? Lysa directs Jaina to take over with the girls – of her ladies, she is the most patient with the children – and then follows Monford to Stannis' solar. Sure enough, Uncle Brynden stands there, in his cloak held by the familiar black trout pin. “Your uncle wishes to swear his sword to me,” Stannis says as she enters, before Uncle Brynden can speak. Lysa looks between them, astonished.
“You know your father and I don't get on anymore, Lysa. He's made noises about a marriage again, which means we've quarrelled again. I'll do more good here than I will at Riverrun, I think. Lord Stannis has been good enough to accept my service already, but I wanted you to know before I truly considered myself settled.”
“I'm surprised you didn't go to Catelyn at Winterfell,” Lysa says, unable to keep the barb from her tongue after months of living with a painfully blunt husband and learning to speak her own mind. But she does love her uncle, so she softens. “But of course I'm glad to have you here.”
Her uncle looks as though he wants to say something about her first comment, but he doesn't. And Lysa finds that he is one piece of Riverrun she doesn't mind having with her. He takes to working with the boys in the yard, Monford as much as the little lads, and even their detached young Velaryon begins to unbend a little. It's a good beginning.
Her labor begins as yet another storm rages outside. Lysa tries to take strength in it, in her newfound love of it, and at first, as she's made to walk up and down the length of her room, so that the baby will be pulled down further naturally, it works. Her ladies keep her steady as she walks, but finally they have to settle her on the birthing stool.
After a while she can barely hear the thunder over her screams, cannot see the lightning with her eyes squeezed shut in pain. She holds Iona's and Alecia's hands as Maester Cressen watches her progress. She screams and thinks of blood on her sheets, the stained cloth sinking into the river. It makes her sob with grief as much as pain, even as it gives her new strength.
She could not give her first child life. But she will succeed this time. There is simply no other option.
And so, when Maester Cressen directs her to push, she does, again and again until – she feels the child come out, a sudden rush of relief as the pain begins to ease, though it's several minutes before the afterbirth follows and she is left only with the ache. She doesn't care, though, because the room is full of sounds – the wind whistling outside, rain battering the windows, occasional thunder.
And the wails of a child. “My baby,” she gasps as her ladies clean her up and settle her in bed. “I want my baby.”
“A fine little daughter, my lady,” Cressen says, handing her the swaddled infant. Lysa looks down at the scrunched little face, more tears spilling down her cheeks as she rocks her daughter quiet.
“Celia,” she says in a voice hoarse from her screams. “Celia Baratheon.” Celia, for the woman who never got the escape Lysa revels in, Celia for a girl who might have been a princess, as Lysa's daughter is almost a princess.
Chapter 4: Interlude: Renly, Brynden, Stannis
Snippets seen through the eyes of Renly, Brynden, and Stannis, during the first year or so of Stannis and Lysa's marriage.
Renly doesn't remember his parents. He was only a baby when they died, not all that much bigger than little Celia. All he remembers is Stannis and Maester Cressen, and sometimes Robert. He doesn't know how he feels about Robert, who is King now. During the siege he still has nightmares about, he used to cry for him, because the war was Robert's war. He was a great fighter, a hero, he would give them food, wouldn't he?
But in King's Landing, he barely seemed to notice Renly. Only Stannis paid attention, even if it was a scolding kind of attention. Renly doesn't like that kind of attention, but Robert made him feel like he was invisible , not just naughty. He doesn't know what to think about it, so he tries not to think about it. It's too hard a question, and he's not a man grown yet.
Stannis doesn't scold quite so much, since they came back home. The servants say it's because he's happy to have the castle in his own right, that he never wanted Robert to come home. Renly doesn't know if that's true, and Mairin saw him eavesdropping and sent him back to Maester Cressen anyway. But he doesn't really think that's it. He thinks Stannis is busy, because he's a real lord now and also, he has a wife. But that's fine, because Lysa isn't just Stannis' wife.
Renly loves Lysa. He's never had a mother that he can remember, and Winna, his nurse from before he was seven and too old to be raised among the women, wasn't the same. Her skirts and hands were rough, although she was kind to him and sang songs. Lysa is young and pretty, and her hair is so bright. "I hope Celia has hair like yours," he tells her one day, sitting next to her while she rocks a fussy Celia.
Lysa smiles down at him, reaching out to ruffle his own dark hair. "That's funny, I hope she has hair as thick and dark as yours, and my mother's bright blue eyes. Don't you think she'd be pretty as a princess, then?" Renly, happy to agree, nods. Celia wasn't very pretty when she was born, her face all scrunched and wrinkled and red, but now her cheeks are round, and she gives Renly a gummy smile when he holds up his toys for her to see, or when he holds her, Lysa's hands around his to show him how.
This is what he likes best of all about Lysa. She likes him . Oh, he knows that Stannis loves him as a brother should, and he supposes Robert does in his way or he wouldn't send gifts for Renly's name day. But he can now say with as much certainty as any boy of nine years that neither of his brothers particularly like him. That's fair; Renly isn't sure he likes them very much either. But Lysa lets her come with him when she goes about her day, she tells him stories of Riverrun and teaches him the games she played with her sister Cat, who is now Lady Stark. She lets him nap with his head in her lap, her fingers running through his hair.
Renly thinks this might be what having a mother is supposed to be like.
At first, Brynden cannot adjust to Storm's End. He's been here before, after the War of the Ninepenny Kings, but that had been only a short visit, and the castle had been in grief for the loss of Lord Lyonel. He remembers the Dowager Lady Baratheon, the formidable Princess Rhaelle whose dark Blackwood hair had been the match of any Baratheon. Some of the older servants still speak with fondness of their princess, which may be why Lysa says she will call a second daughter Ryelle – a different name to avoid waking the anger of her royal goodbrother, but close enough.
He wonders why Stannis agrees, rather than insisting on the name Cassana, but then, perhaps the memory still cuts too deep.
Storm's End is full of children, as Riverrun had once been. Brynden thinks not only of his nieces and nephew growing up with little Petyr, but of his own childhood with Hoster, Father bringing the sons of his bannermen to Riverrun to foster. He remembers how they'd splashed in the rivers and run through the godswood, and here the children play on the beach and swim in tide pools. Not in the ocean, though – they are allowed to wade in the surf but not to go out any further. Shipbreaker Bay is named for its danger to ships, but the same fierce currents can drag out an unwary swimmer too.
There is a peace to this castle, despite the gales that crash around it with frustrating regularity, making it hard to sleep some nights. Brynden is glad to have a post that keeps him useful, for he thinks himself the sort of man who would go to rust like an unused sword should he ever lack for occupation. Still, in these early days, Brynden finds himself dwelling on Lysa's comment the day he'd arrived at Storm's End.
“I'm surprised you didn't go to Catelyn at Winterfell.”
At first, Brynden doesn't think much of it, because he had almost gone to Winterfell. Lysa would still be in the south, in a part of their country not terribly different from the Riverlands, but Cat would be in the North, alone and cut off. He hadn't for two reasons; there is little place for a southron knight at Winterfell, and because of the boy. Jon Snow. How dare Stark insult his wife and trueborn son with his bastard's presence? No, he could not go to Winterfell.
And he doesn't regret it. But as the months pass, he begins to wonder why Lysa had said that, and what she'd meant by it. He wants to ask, and yet, watching Lysa with Celia in the crook of her arm, Renly and the other children trailing her, clinging to his hand, he finds he cannot. He remembers how Lysa hadn't looked back once on the day they left Riverrun, he thinks of the coldness between her and Hoster, how Hoster even writes to him saying he has never had a letter from Lysa or a reply to the ones he sends.
Brynden doesn't know what happened, and brave as he is in battle, he cannot find the kind of nerve he needs to ask, to bring the sorrow back to his niece's eyes. Not when he cannot remember the last time he'd seen her seem so happy.
“It's a waste. Food, money, and they'll all be drunk, especially with such an example as my brother before them,” Stannis says, grinding his teeth. Robert's been staying at Greenstone with their grandfather, but now he's finally bestirred himself, recalling perhaps that a king should not be tucked away in an island castle. So he'll make his way back to the capital where Jon Arryn has been running the realm for him, but first he wants to come “home”.
As if it was ever home for him. But while Stannis is rightly annoyed by the inconvenience of readying Storm's End for the feast they must have, and the arrival of far too many bannermen, Lysa doesn't seem to mind at all. He doesn't understand it, because his wife usually shows herself to be a sensible woman, even if a bit too frivolous with the children at times.
It seems to make them mind her better, so there must be some kind of sense in joining them at their play. His mother did the same, he recalls. But this!
“It is a waste,” Lysa says matter-of-factly. “But didn't your father ever take you round to visit his bannermen with him?”
“Occasionally,” Stannis says, sipping his water. He isn't used to the mint yet, but as Lysa will not drink salted water and lemons are in short supply here, she's taken to drinking water with crushed mint leaves, and Stannis finds it acceptable. “He didn't do it often, because with Robert in the Vale, he didn't want to undermine him. He always intended that Robert should join him when he returned home, but that obviously did not happen.”
“No,” Lysa says quietly. She doesn't offer the usual uncomfortable platitudes – they both know the loss of a parent, for different reasons, and they both know why it is pointless. “My father raised Cat as his heir until Edmure was born, and after, when Mother died, she took over as the lady of the castle. I didn't go with them and I wasn't expected to help, but Cat used to talk about it at night, and I used to watch her. I know you hate it, but it is necessary.”
“It earns you the trust of your lords. If they see you, talk to you and get your measure. You can get their measure right back.”
“I know the measure of most of them. Flatterers and fools, by and large, just as they were when Robert gathered them here at the start of the war,” Stannis says, setting his goblet down hard as if to put an end to the argument. Lysa, to his surprise, scoffs at him.
“I'm sorry, husband, but you are something of an idiot. We all know you cannot charm anyone – that will be my job – but you are a second son raised to be lord. You grew up here, so they saw you go from boy to man, but they never thought of you as anything but a serious helper to your brother. Now, they will see you as the Lord of the Stormlands and Robert as King. Cat told me that Father used to say it was as much about the show as anything else. You have to show yourself to your lords, let them see you and know you. That way, they will know what to expect from you. And you are direct enough that they will know that right away.”
Stannis is too surprised at being called an idiot by his usually so-courteous wife to even bristle at it, and perhaps, knowing him as she is coming to, she meant for that to happen. It means he lets her finish her little speech. “And they will disdain me for it.”
Lysa smiles at him. “That is what I am at your side for then. You will be blunt and I will be charming. We are supposed to be one, or so those vows of ours said. So we will work together.”
Stannis still doesn't like the idea, but he grits his teeth as Lysa orders the preparations for a feast. And it occurs to him, when Robert arrives with Cersei, the two of them clearly despising each other already, that even if he does not yet understand his wife, he is certainly far, far better off than Robert.
He'd never expected that.