Davos should have been happy to be at sea again, but there was something about being on a ship he wasn't in charge of that didn't sit well with him. He missed being a part of things going on up on deck, and he didn't like that his quarters were so far from where the men were working, even though he had to keep reminding himself that he was but a passenger and they were not his responsibility.
He felt inadequate as Hand, inadequate as a passenger on the ship. Davos found his feet carrying him through the narrow corridors of the ship; he needed to take the air, smell the pure scent of the sea rather than the damp darkness of below decks.
How he wished he could stay aboard when the royal party and the army landed at Eastwatch. Where was the crew bound next? King's Landing, Sunspear, Lannisport, or perhaps points east? He found himself longing for his days as a smuggler for the first time since Stannis had elevated him to knighthood, though he knew it was a foolish impulse.
Davos squinted in the darkness as the roll and pitch of the ship guided him forward until he hit something warm and soft.
"Have you lost your sea legs, Lord Davos?"
Davos stiffened. "Your Grace, I—"
"Don't apologize." Stannis sounded more annoyed by the obsequiousness than by having been run into. Davos felt a hand curl around his wrist and Stannis pushed his arm forward until his fingers connected with the ladder rungs. "Just join me on deck."
Davos forced himself to climb after his king, wishing he had remained in his quarters. He knew he had done the right thing in hiding Edric Storm, would do it a thousand times even if it resulted in his own death, but he still could not get past the sense that Stannis was punishing him in some fashion by keeping him near.
I am his Hand, Davos reminded himself. Were he truly angry with me, he would have stripped me of the post and handed it to his uncle Ser Lomas.
That uncle was currently on his way to White Harbor to treat with the Manderlys. This was not the first time Davos wished their roles were reversed.
As soon as they reached the top deck, Davos heard Stannis take a deep breath.
"I have missed this," he said.
Even in the gray twilight, there was no mistaking the sharp look. Stannis strode away from him towards the railing; Davos got the sense that he was meant to follow.
"I am surrounded by sycophants, fanatics, and fools," Stannis said when Davos had reached his side. "Do me one favor, Davos, and don't become one of them."
"I'll endeavor not to, Your Grace."
"You have never been afraid of speaking your mind with me. I need that now more than ever."
Davos held his tongue, guessing suddenly that Yes, Your Grace or some other standard response would not be received well. He decided to take the chance to ask the question that had been eating at him for the entire journey.
"Why did you bring me with you, Your Grace?"
Stannis turned, an eyebrow raised in surprise. "Aiding the Night's Watch was your idea, and you will see it through."
"Of course, sire. But I might have thought…" he began, but he could not finish the sentence.
"You might have thought I would send you on a diplomatic mission? Aye, that is a fit job for a Hand and one I did consider. But my uncle is mine own blood and noble by birth. You are the worthier man but when one courts allies…" His mouth twisted in distaste. "What I think does not matter more than what Lord Manderly thinks, and I think Lord Manderly would rather meet a lord's son."
Davos nodded. It made sense and he couldn't argue with it. It didn't even bother him, so many years had he spent being looked down upon by the lords of the Narrow Sea, and then he had been a mere landed knight.
It was Stannis it seemed to rankle. He was glaring out at the darkening horizon, as though White Harbor lay right in front of them.
"I am at your service, sire," Davos said at last.
"Yes," Stannis said thoughtfully. "You are." He turned then, studying Davos, with the sort of intensity that made him shiver. "You know I am glad for that, don't you? At least I know I can trust you while mine own grandfather betrays me."
Davos didn't know what to say to that; he didn't want to insult Stannis' lord grandfather, even though the king had come close enough to doing so himself. "I think that was wrong of him, Your Grace."
"Wrong of him," Stannis muttered. He said nothing else.
They were silent thereafter. Davos shivered and pulled his cloak more tightly around himself. As the sun slipped down below the western horizon, it only got colder.
Stannis lay in his quarters at Castle Black, nursing a headache. They came upon him more frequently now, brought on by his war council and all the lords, the men of the Night's Watch, Melisandre. They were all on top of him all the time, and he could not stand it. Just now, the boy, Ned Stark's bastard, had thought he could tell Stannis how to move his own army. He had warned him away from attacking the Dreadfort directly, and while the logic made sense, Stannis was not yet ready to admit his plan had been wrong. Why wouldn't the boy accept Winterfell? Had Stannis been a bastard, he would have been beyond grateful to have been given a chance at Storm's End following Robert's and Renly's deaths.
He sighed, dragging a hand over his face. Damn Robert for dying him and leaving this to him, damn Robert for taking the throne in the first place. Never would I have thought I might be happy to spend my life as his castellan when I so loathed the job at seventeen.
There were footsteps outside his door and he hoped it would not be Snow or Melisandre, or any other person of whom he was all too tired.
All the tension seemed to evaporate upon hearing the voice of the only person he thought he might be able to tolerate. Davos knew how to act when Stannis had one of his headaches. The door opened slowly and Davos closed it quickly to keep out the light. He moved carefully across the room. "Are you awake?"
"Yes." Stannis took his hand away from his eyes.
The mattress dipped at the foot of the bed as Davos sat. "Should I take your boots off, sire?"
"If you must."
"You'll be more comfortable."
Stannis said nothing more, but he proffered his feet. "What business did you come on?"
"I have spoken to Lord Snow." Davos sounded hesitant and that made Stannis even angrier. Hadn't he shown him over the years that he needn't be this way in front of Stannis? "He had a suggestion for me that he wanted me to pass on to you."
Stannis' right boot hit the stone and he spread his toes. "What was it?"
Another hesitation. Davos dropped Stannis' left boot to the floor. "The mountain clans, Your Grace. Do you know of them?"
Stannis knew of them vaguely; he had always begun his study of Westeros with the stormlands and moved steadily out from there in an orderly fashion. Too often, Robert had interrupted with demands that Stannis play with him before he had passed the Neck, and in his child's mind, it had never occurred to him to begin again in the middle of the book when next he took it down. He knew more than a man had any right to about Dorne and the Reach, but he knew little of the mountain clans.
"Some," he said.
"Lord Snow believes they would add greatly to your fighting force."
"Then send a raven before we march."
"I do not know that that would help," Davos said diplomatically. "The mountain clans are set in their ways and fiercely loyal to Ned Stark."
Why did it always come back to Ned Stark? "I am their king. By rights, they should—"
"Sire, you know well as I do that rights do not convince men. Men convince men."
"Are you suggesting that I take my army leagues out of our way?"
"I am suggesting that you take a small party. At most twenty men. They should be able to travel swiftly and Lord Snow has promised horses and supplies." He began listing men he thought Stannis should take. Stannis scratched his chin, listening for it, but Davos did not list his own name.
"What about yourself?"
Davos paused. "I thought I might stay here, sire. I am no warrior."
"So you mean to send me on an errand of your own masterminding? A traveler from the East might take you for the king and me for the Hand." Davos flushed, but Stannis waved it away. "It is not a bad plan." Somehow he much preferred having it from Davos' lips than from Jon Snow's. "But even twenty men would attract a great deal of attention. I want to move quickly. You and I. No others."
Davos' eyes went wide. "You and I, Your Grace?"
"Naturally." Stannis felt the corners of his lips lift, though he could not begin to describe why. "It is your idea. I would trust you with my life. If there is the slightest possibility that they will be hostile to us, we do not want to bring a party of knights into their midst and start a war."
Davos could not dispute that.
"And there is no one I trust more than you."
"Your Grace, I—"
Stannis pushed himself up on his elbows. "Are you going to suggest I take anyone else? A king should take his Hand. You are my adviser, are you not?"
"Of course, Your Grace."
Stannis made to swing his legs out of bed, forcing Davos to leap to his feet. "Then we will make preparations to leave on the morrow. The army can go ahead of us to Deepwood Motte and should we come out of this adventure with an army of mountain men, we shall meet them there." He reached for his boots. "What do you need to do before we leave?"
Davos looked as though he needed several days, if not years, to prepare for this trip. "A king can't travel alone, Your Grace."
"And I shan't be alone. I shall be with you." Stannis had his boots on now and he rose, headache gone. His resolve gave him purpose, and he was now angry with himself for spending the afternoon abed. They could have been preparing.
"Aye, and I am no bodyguard—"
"If a king has not been seen in these parts for three hundred years, how would any villain know me for one?" Something was beginning to take shape in his mind, something foolish that befit Robert or Renly better than Stannis himself. "We might travel in disguise if it pleases you."
Davos looked anything but pleased, but Stannis was not going to have him protest now. It had been his idea.
"Your Grace, I don't know how to be anything but a King's Hand… or a smuggler."
"Then be a smuggler. Or a merchant. Say you are a dealer in something—wine, weapons, spice." Stannis paused, unsure of what smugglers did. "I could be your man."
Davos stared at him. "My man?" Then realization seemed to dawn on him. "Oh, no, Your Grace."
"But," Stannis added triumphantly, "if we did that, no one would suspect I was the king."
"That is true," Davos allowed. He looked like he still thought it a very poor idea, but he could not argue Stannis' logic, which was immensely satisfying.
"Two men can travel alone anywhere without arousing the suspicions of anyone," Stannis went on. "If my army would be unwelcome on another lord's land, we could cross it without issue."
Stannis wasn't sure why he was suddenly so bent on convincing Davos to accompany him—alone—to the mountain clans. Hadn't he just been opposed to the idea that he should not just march on the Dreadfort directly? Why was the idea of spending time alone with Davos—because that was the only reason for this jaunt, surely—so appealing? He decided it was to convince him he truly valued his company and his council. Had not Davos been questioning him earlier? It was a murky sort of logic that Stannis did not want to give too much attention to, but he thought it might show Davos something if they spent a few weeks traveling in the guise of master and servant. Or perhaps it would show Stannis something. Either way, they would be doing it, so Stannis pushed the concerns out of his mind and went to see to the preparations.
They left at daybreak. Davos had slept little the night before, fretting about the prospect of being alone with Stannis on a journey of some weeks. What would he do if something happened to Stannis? How could he make himself solely responsible for the king's safety?
For his part, Stannis seemed completely unconcerned. He was dressed in roughspun and wrapped in furs, with Lightbringer hidden beneath someone else's worn gray cloak.
"Are you certain about this, Your Grace?"
"Yes. We need these people, but I will not send my army out of its way." He looked down at Davos. "And that is your last 'Your Grace' until this charade is ended."
"Yes—" Davos had to stop himself. "Yes." He dragged himself into the saddle of the stout Northern pony. "What am I to call you?" he added in a low voice.
"By my name," Stannis said simply. "I am your man after all. Is Stannis that uncommon a name?"
Davos couldn't remember. Right now it seemed that Stannis Baratheon was the only Stannis who had ever existed.
Stannis was oblivious to Davos' internal turmoil. "Thank you," he said, leaning down to confer with Jon Snow. "For the supplies, for quartering my men. For the advice."
Snow's response was lost to Davos' ears, however. Stannis urged his horse forward and Davos followed. Before long, they were out of Castle Black, and the Kingsroad was bearing them away.
The journey along the Kingsroad lulled Stannis into a silence Davos did not seem inclined to break. Travel in the North did not lend itself to conversation. As they rode, Stannis fixed his eyes to the gray horizon. If a rider approached from the south, they would see him for miles before they met him.
He glanced at Davos. He looked weary, and Stannis suddenly felt guilty for dragging him along when he was unused to long land journeys or travel on horseback.
"Shall we rest? It is about noon."
Davos looked startled, as though he hadn't expected Stannis to speak. "If you think so, Your…" He swallowed.
"We must rest the horses. Come." Stannis urged his mount off the road to a stand of trees through which flowed a stream. While the horses drank, Stannis settled onto a likely rock and took out the bread he carried for their noon meal. He offered half to Davos and they ate in silence.
Stannis normally preferred quiet over inane chatter, but now he that he had nothing but his own thoughts, he was forced to think about how sure to fail this plan was. How could he know the mountain clans would bow to him? Davos had been correct that rights did not win men.
"Is something troubling you, Your Grace?"
Stannis didn't bother to correct him on the honorific. "Only the wisdom of our mission."
"You need the allies, sire."
"Aye, I do."
"And they will surely accept you," Davos added, "once you lay out your case. The fact that you are coming to personally appeal to them will help your cause. And they will surely have no love for the Boltons. Or the Lannisters."
Stannis nodded. At least he could be sure that he and the Northmen shared enemies. He would have to rely on that, in the hopes that it would be enough to convince the clan leaders.
Dark came early this far north and they relied upon the lights from the inn ahead of them to guide them to their destination. It was the first inn they'd passed since Molestown and Davos hoped they would be able to find enough places to spend the night. He didn't fancy trying to camp in the snow, though they had supplies enough to do that. Lord Snow had assured them that they would have to sooner or later, but Davos would have liked to prolong that necessity as much as possible.
It was a small, cozy inn, which appeared to be frequented by travelers and locals alike. Davos was comforted by the resemblance to countless dockside inns he'd frequented over the years. A hot meal, a soft bed, a companion for the night… he glanced at Stannis. Surely he wouldn't be interested in that sort of companionship.
Davos shook his head. This was the last thing he needed on his mind when he faced weeks alone with Stannis.
Stannis dismounted. "You should reserve the room," he said in a low voice. "I'll take the horses."
Davos was about to protest, but there was already a stable hand making his way across the yard toward them, so he dismounted and handed Stannis the reins. He would have to remember that they were traveling in disguise, and he would have to do as Stannis said, even if it was hard for him to treat Stannis like a servant.
He forced himself to stride confidently into the inn. He would have to put himself back in his smuggling days, or perhaps more accurately, pretend he was Salladhor Saan. That brought a smile to his face. Perhaps it would be fun to travel again, to be somewhere where their reputations did not precede them.
He clenched his left hand in his glove. No one would know him for the Onion Knight. No one would know Stannis for the king.
When he reserved the room, he gave simply his own name—Davos—something he hadn't done in years. It felt like slipping into a pair of broken-in boots to have nothing more than the name he'd been given at birth. It wasn't that he wasn't proud of what Stannis had given him, but it was nice to feel like his old self again.
He met Stannis in the common room and received a glare when he reached for the saddlebags.
"Let me put these upstairs, master," Stannis said through his teeth.
"Yes," he said, trying to look lazy about giving orders to his king. "Then we can have supper." He felt as though all eyes in the place were on him, though in reality he was sure no one cared. He followed Stannis up the narrow stairs. Their room overlooked the yard and it wasn't until he stepped into it that Davos realized there was only one bed. He had been a fool not to think of it before. He would have to sleep on the floor.
Stannis dropped their saddlebags on the small table by the window. "I suppose this will do. It seems dry enough. We should be warm next to the chimney." He laid a hand on the wall by the bed and Davos was once more reminded of having to broach the subject of the sleeping arrangements.
Their supper was served in the common room and they ate at a corner table. Their presence attracted some attention, given that most of the men were simply villagers coming to talk and drink. Davos settled back in his seat, trying to take on the character of a weapons dealer. He had traded weapons before, so he had an idea of what he might say if questioned, but obviously, he would be unable to take or fill orders.
"Passing through?" a man at the end of the table asked.
"Yes." Now was the first time his story would be tested. "We've just come from doing business with the Night's Watch."
"Yeah? What sort of business?"
Davos tore a piece of bread in half. "Weapons. To be delivered when I pass through in the spring."
The man made a half-interested noise. "Is that a dangerous business?" He was eyeing Stannis warily, and Davos felt a sudden pleasure at how imposing Stannis was. Out of the context of kingship, he did look like the perfect protector for an undersized weapons dealer.
"It can be," Davos said coolly, rather enjoying the character he was taking on. Stannis remained silently eating his stew. "One wouldn't dare without protection, but I have that." He smiled at Stannis, who only gave him an unreadable look before going back to his supper.
Stannis abstained from the wine, but Davos settled in to drink with the other men before they retired for the night. As a result, he was already on the edge of sleep by the time they made their way back upstairs. Only when they were once again in the cold, dark room did Davos remember the problem.
"You have the bed, sire. I can make mine on the floor."
"Of course not," Stannis said brusquely. "If any of us should sleep on the floor, it should be I. What if someone should come in and find servant in bed and master on the floor?"
"I can't make my king sleep on the floor!"
Stannis snorted. "You let your king stable your horses, carry your saddlebags. How is the floor a step too far?"
"That was where we could be seen!"
"And we could be seen here, were someone to come in. There is no latch on the door. We cannot be assured of anything resembling privacy."
"Then we must share." Davos had become resigned to the necessity, but he had not been expecting the words to leave his mouth so readily. How would the suggestion be taken?
Stannis turned his gaze on the bed as if assessing its size. "I suppose," he said slowly, as though it was some important matter of state which Davos was to convince him of. "I truly did not relish sleeping on the floor."
"Of course not, Your Grace. And you must take the side closest the wall, for the warmth."
Stannis shook his head. "I must sleep facing the door with steel in reach." As if to prove his point, he unbuckled his sword belt and hung it on the bedpost. "I would be a poor guard if I allowed you to be attacked in your bed. Especially when you have just made your profession clear to every man in the common room."
Robbery had not occurred to Davos, even though he had spent his life amongst rogues and blackguards. I am getting soft in my old age, he realized. I have spent too much time with knights and lords, with men of honor.
Reluctantly, he began to undress down to his shift. As soon as he slid between the sheets, he was glad he'd been offered the spot near the chimney. Stannis blew out the candle and joined him in bed. They lay there quietly for several minutes, listening to the howl of the wind outside and the chatter that still carried up from downstairs.
"Their caulking leaves something to be desired," Stannis murmured in his ear, making him jump.
It took a moment for Davos to realize Stannis was referring to the window. "Yes," he said, pressing himself against the wall. If the fire was kept up all night, it would be warm. "Come nearer where it's not so cold."
Stannis hesitated, but he there was an almost imperceptible shifting on the bed behind Davos. It wasn't a very large bed, and he was extremely conscious of Stannis' presence in it. Even so, the long ride caught up with him and Davos soon fell asleep.
The window was pointed east and had no drapes, so the sun rose right in Stannis' eyes. He blinked, bringing his hand up to block the light. That was when he realized his other arm was pinned under Davos, who still slept soundly, facing the wall. Stannis stared at him for a long moment. He looked peaceful, and Stannis realized he'd never seen Davos asleep.
He shook his head against the ridiculous thought. He had not come all this way so he could gawk at his Hand. They needed to be up and back on the road, which would be all the more treacherous when they left the Kingsroad proper. The smaller roads were little used and ill maintained, and they wouldn't be able to afford to travel after dark.
Even so, he was reluctant to leave the warmth of Davos' side. He extracted his arm from beneath Davos very carefully so he would not wake.
Stannis felt strangely contented as he made his way down the stairs to the kitchen where he could smell breakfast cooking.
"Tray for your master?" asked the woman who was taking bread out of the oven.
At first, Stannis didn't realize she was talking to him. When he did, he felt foolish. "Yes," he said stiffly. "Please."
He looked around the kitchen while she made up a tray. He supposed a true servant would not do that, but he couldn't resist his curiosity. He'd never been somewhere and not been known for who he was—his father's son, his brother's brother, a lord, a king. Even in his youth, before his name had been well known, his looks had betrayed him as a Baratheon and men who knew Robert or who had fond memories of their lord father had carried those expectations over to Stannis.
This woman had none of those assumptions. She was one of Stannis' subjects, but he was a stranger to her. What would she think if she knew the king stood before her?
"You were at the wall, weren't you?" She set a plate in front of Stannis with fried bread, bacon, and eggs.
"Those are good men, those Black Brothers. Keeping the realm safe even while those southron kings fight over bones."
"The king was at the wall," Stannis said.
"The little boy?"
Stannis grit his teeth. "The true king. Robert's brother." Then, before she could answer. "I saw the bastard boy when my master was in King's Landing. He does not resemble Robert."
"You saw Robert?"
More times than I care to count. "Aye." He dragged a piece of fried bread through the syrup. It was sweet, but not too sweet, with an interesting flavor. "I've seen Renly and Stannis, too, and Balon Greyjoy. But it's Stannis whose right it is to sit the Iron Throne."
The woman did not seem interested. She was kneading more bread while Davos' bacon cooked. "Now don't tell me your master's off to sell to the Ironmen."
"No. The mountain clans." He supposed there was no reason to lie, especially if once it became obvious where they were headed.
"Rather you than me!" She dumped Davos' bacon onto a plate. "If you're finished, you can take this up. I hope he pays you well, for dragging you to all places."
"He does," Stannis said.
Davos was surprised to wake and find Stannis gone. He was in the midst of dressing when he appeared, bearing a loaded tray.
"Your breakfast," he said, setting it down on the side table.
Davos bit back any comment he may have made suggesting that Stannis didn't have to bring him his breakfast. These were their roles and it seemed they were going to play them for better or for worse.
"Thank you," he said.
Stannis sat down on the bed while Davos ate.
"Aren't you going to have some, Your Grace?"
"I ate downstairs." Stannis rubbed his stubbly chin. "The proprietress was quite talkative when she thought I was a servant. It was illuminating." He rested his hands on his thighs. "Tell me, Davos. Before we met, what did you think of the king?"
"Of Aerys, sire?"
"He was the king before we met. You were just a smuggler, an ordinary man going about his life. What did you think of the king?"
Davos looked down at his porridge. "I can't say I gave him any thought. But I was often abroad."
Stannis nodded thoughtfully. "She seemed unaware of the true situation. She knew naught of the incest, nor my claim to the throne."
"You mustn't let that trouble you, sire. We are far from Dragonstone and King's Landing. Word takes time to travel to the likes of this place. And few have their letters."
Stannis nodded and set to packing up their things. They said little on the day's ride, and as Stannis seemed lost in thought, Davos did not intrude on them.
The inn they stayed at that night was much the same as the one the previous night. The only change was that their room did not abut the chimney and was considerably colder.
It was too cold to undress and too cold for Davos to argue when Stannis crawled into bed and gave Davos an insistent look that he should make haste and join him.
Forcing any untoward thoughts from his mind, Davos climbed into bed. Stannis tossed half the thin blanket over Davos. After that, they lay still and silent and once again, sleep came quickly.
Davos wasn't sure how long he'd been asleep when his shivering awakened him. He'd felt the cold acutely since he'd been in the North, but it hadn't had this sort of effect on him until now. I am not as young as I once was, he thought, the last time I was this far north.
He tried to remain still so as not to awaken Stannis, but he found he couldn't control it.
"Are you cold, Davos?" Stannis' voice was sleep-slurred and muzzy, and Davos dimly realized he had never seen him just awakened. There was a dim glow in the room from moonlight reflecting on snow and he could see Stannis leaning over him.
"I'm fine, sire."
"You are shivering," he said firmly. He took Davos' hands in both of his, brushing his thumbs over the backs.
Davos couldn't deny it. All he could do was lie there and let Stannis' large hands hold his. The warmth seemed to radiate out from him and even propriety could not make Davos stay away. His ordinary self, he knew, would be horrified to know that he was allowing Stannis to wrap him in his own cloak and pull him closer. But the cold was too deep for concern.
"Is this any better?" Stannis asked, as he rubbed Davos' arms. They were very close now, their bodies pressed together, Stannis' warmth radiating through the many layers of his clothes.
It took a moment from the question being asked for Davos to feel relaxed enough to answer. His joints felt stiff and Stannis' warmth was only just beginning to thaw them.
"It is, Your Grace. Thank you." They stayed quiet for a long time. The warmth was not just from Stannis' body; it was the nearness of him that warmed him as well.
He did not want to move and luckily for him, Stannis showed no desire to draw back.
On his second morning waking up next to Davos, Stannis had far more difficulty forcing himself out of bed. His cold nose and the icy stiffness of the blankets sent him ducking his head back under to Davos' warmth.
"Too cold, sire?" Davos was smiling.
Stannis sighed. "I cannot imagine it will get any warmer."
"We could always stay here until spring." Davos' eyes held a spark of mischief and Stannis was suddenly acutely aware of their closeness. They were trying to stay warm, of course, but this felt different somehow, to be tucked under the blankets, teasing each other. He felt heat climb the back of his neck that had nothing to do with the blanket and their cloaks.
"We must be going," he said, rolling out of bed. "Shall I bring you breakfast?"
Davos shook his head. "Let's go down together. It will be warmer downstairs."
Stannis did not require much convincing. They were already dressed, so it did not take much to pack their things, eat a quick breakfast in the common room, and start out on the road again.
It was another long, quiet day of riding, though the silence seemed more awkward after the closeness of the night before, but every time Stannis tried to think of something to say, it was too much effort to pull his furs away from his mouth to make himself heard.
The inn they stayed at that night was comparable to the one of the previous night and this time, they did not even bother pretending they would start out apart. It was far simpler just to curl up together beneath all their layers, letting their body heat warm them. He did not mind Davos' closeness, did not even mind when he shifted in his sleep and Stannis found his nose pressed to Davos' hair. It was almost pleasant to be like this and perhaps that was what kept him from sleep. Being so close to Davos was nearly as relaxing as sleep anyhow.
Despite that, Stannis did eventually fall asleep, waking again just before dawn. He found Davos already awake, looking down at him with a strange sort of smile. Stannis found himself drawn to it and he did not know how long they lay there watching each other or what had possessed him to stare at Davos in the first place.
"Should we go, sire?"
No, Stannis wanted to say. I want to lie here forever. But there was no point in doing that. When he had gotten his army of mountain men, when he had routed the Boltons, when he sat the Iron Throne… then he could stare at Davos for as long as his Hand permitted.
"If we are both awake."
The days began to blend together as the mountains loomed ever closer in front of them. The road was worse, now completely buried beneath the snow. Stannis dreaded the day they might ride completely off it and find no inn at night, but it seemed they never did. The inns grew worse to match the roads, the proprietors more suspicious of what a man like Davos might be doing amongst them.
Stannis had to be on his guard. Being Davos' servant had, until now, been so much playacting, but Stannis was suddenly conscious of the fact that he might find himself called upon to use the sword that was hidden safely away under his cloak.
They were very near the mountains when they rode into the yard of a small inn. Stannis estimated that they had another day or two to go. He wasn't sure why this felt bittersweet to him. Once they reached the mountain clans, Stannis could go back to being a king. He would have more troops for his army, and they would travel on from there in a manner that befitted him. Surely he would not miss having to stay at poorly constructed inns and share a bed with Davos.
At least he would be out of the company of the shiftless sorts who seemed to populate the inns they'd been frequenting lately. Once more, he laid Lightbringer within reach and got into bed with Davos.
"Only a few more nights like this, sire," Davos said sleepily. Stannis grunted his agreement, unsure whether or not this was a good thing.
Perhaps it was his dissatisfaction, or perhaps there was some premonition, but Stannis spent a long time awake, fighting the urge to toss and turn, which he refrained from for fear of waking Davos.
At last, however, he did fall asleep, but it was a fitful one, plagued by unsettling dreams. Thus, he was not quite certain he wasn't dreaming when he opened his eyes to find a man standing over their bed with a knife.
Stannis fumbled for his sword, drawing it from its sheath just in time to deflect the knife away from his face.
"Stan—" Davos pushed himself up, eyes wide. It did not occur to wonder at Davos' calling him by his name. He thrust up, encumbered by his awkward position and caught the assailant in the stomach. He fell, groaning and Stannis leapt out of bed to finish the job.
Only then, when the fever of danger averted had passed, when he was assured of Davos' safety, did he seem to come back into himself.
"We need to leave," he said. He wiped his sword clean on the dead man's cloak. "Now. Before he is missed."
"Who was he?" Davos still seemed momentarily confused.
"Does it matter? So few must come through here that the resident thieves are short of targets." He crossed back over to the bed and took Davos by the arm. "Up."
Davos allowed himself to be pulled from bed and put his boots on when Stannis handed them to him. Stannis sheathed Lightbringer, in the hopes that their flight would be less conspicuous without it. He swung their bags over his shoulder, grabbed Davos' hand again and led him down the stairs and out the door. The stiff night wind hit him as soon as they left the inn. Stannis pulled up the hood of his cloak.
The stable door was latched, but the latch string was out, allowing Stannis to open it easily. The horses regarded them dubiously and Stannis made haste to get them saddled before the thief's friends discovered his absence.
By the time they had led their horses out of the stables, however, it seemed the dead man had been missed.
Stannis drew his sword again while Davos mounted up. "Move one step and meet your friend's fate." He tried to depend on his sword and his stance to appear threatening enough to give the men cause to back down.
Stannis swung himself into the saddle, sword still in hand. "Go," he ordered Davos.
As soon as Davos urged his horse forward, the thieves converged on him. Stannis spurred his own mount forward. It did not occur to him that as king he could not put himself in a position to be murdered in the courtyard of an inn in the middle of nowhere. His sole concern was keeping Davos from harm. He was past the point of the role he was meant to play; he would no more let Davos die than die himself.
Stannis fought to stay ahorse as his mount reared and he swung Lightbringer wildly, not seeking to kill but in the hopes that it would be enough to let him go. As soon as he saw Davos jerk his reins free, Stannis urged his horse after him.
Davos didn't know how long they had been riding. Dawn was trying to break but the clouds were impenetrable and the new-fallen snow obscured any landmarks. Suddenly, Stannis stopped and slid from his saddle.
"I do not think we are being followed," he said, sounding half out of breath.
Davos dismounted. "I'm sorry, Your Grace. They took the bags, my purse—" He had not gotten the whole sentence out before he found Stannis' hands gripping his shoulders tightly enough to bruise.
"Are you all right?" Stannis' face was pressed close to his.
"—We have no food or supplies… Your seal…"
"Are you all right?" Stannis repeated just as fiercely as the first time. He did not seem to have heard anything Davos had said.
"I'm fine, sire. Are you all right?"
"Yes." Stannis stepped back and crossed his arms over his chest, as though he now realized kings generally did not embrace their Hands. He looked around, as if first noticing the swirling snow that surrounded them. "I do not think we could have avoided that. That thief would have killed us both had I not killed him."
"I know. I'm sor—"
Stannis snorted. "Don't apologize. You are the one who was nearly robbed and I am the one supposed to be watching out for you." He swung back onto his horse. "Now, have you any idea which way we are headed?"
Davos remounted. It was as though Stannis had never touched him. Perhaps it was easily forgotten for Stannis, but Davos could feel the weight of his hands on his shoulders for many miles more.
They rode for the better part of the day, and if it wasn't for the fact that they never stopped, Davos might have thought they had made no progress. The horses were dragging. Had it not been a den of thieves, they might have stayed another night at the inn, waited out the storm. But now they were slogging forward, not knowing where they were going.
Davos bit back the temptation to apologize again. This was his fault in a way, as he had suggested the entire mad plan. When Stannis discovered a bit of hard bread in his own saddlebag, Davos tried to give him the bigger half.
"Nonsense," Stannis said, shoving it back at him. They were huddled together in the shelter of a large rock. "I have had far worse in my time than having to make do with the smaller share."
They chewed in silence. The boulder did little to protect them from the wind and nothing to protect them from the chill. Without a word, Stannis opened his to cloak and they moved in to huddle together. Davos fought to stay awake, but eventually, sleep overtook him.
The next thing he was aware of was Stannis shaking him.
"Come," he said brusquely. Davos could see ice crystals forming in his beard. "We must be off."
Davos did not ask how long he'd been asleep or what time it was. Stannis probably didn't know; perhaps he'd been asleep himself. There was no change in the light, though it had to be hours later. He knew they could not stay in one place without shelter or they would freeze.
In front of him, Stannis stopped, bracing himself against the boulder. "No horses," he said. Davos felt his heart sink as he looked at the tracks leading off into the storm.
We are dead. Well and truly dead. They had no chance of surviving the blizzard, not when they didn't know where they were, had no food or water…
"Come." Stannis reached for his hand and twined cold fingers around cold fingers. "If we have no mounts, then we will walk."
For as hard as it had been to stay ahorse in the driving snow, it was even harder to walk. Even though Stannis held his hand, it took nearly all his energy to lift one foot and set it down in front of the other.
He should leave me, Davos thought. He is younger, stronger, with longer legs. He would go farther and faster without me. His chest felt tight, but he tried to will it away. That would be the logical course of action, but Stannis would never assent to it. That brought a smile to his face and he squeezed Stannis' hand with stiff, shortened fingers. Stannis lifted his head and looked at him curiously, but he squeezed back.
It could have been five minutes, five hours, or five days. Or perhaps Stannis had been trudging through the snow his whole life, and he would do it until he died, which would be soon. He had to trust Davos was still holding his hand because he could no longer feel it.
"Your Grace?" Davos' voice was carried off by the wind; he seemed to be calling from a great distance. Stannis turned back to him and the wind ripped his hood from his head, making him fight to pull it up again.
"What is it?"
"I'm afraid—" Davos began, but what he was going to say never reached Stannis' ears. A hand from behind him yanked his hood back down and the shaft of a spear pressed across his throat.
"Who are you to be passing through these parts?" a voice hissed in his ear.
Stannis was so taken aback he could not remember his own name. Should he say he was servant to Davos, the weapons merchant? Or should he say he was Stannis Baratheon, First of his Name?
"I am your king," he said. Whoever this was, he was within Stannis' realm and thus, Stannis was his king.
The man spat in his face. "We'll let Lady Knott be the judge of that." He jerked Stannis backward, forcing him to let go of Davos' hand, but he could see there was a man on his other side pulling Davos' hands behind his back.
Good, thought Stannis vaguely. Perhaps they will take care of him.
Stannis was so limp from cold that he allowed himself to be thrown over the back of a horse. At least it was warm when the blood rushed to his head and he could see Davos receiving a similar treatment a few feet away.
He lost track of time again; perhaps he slipped into unconsciousness. They will take me back to their keep, he thought, and kill me there. At least I will die warm.
At last they rode through some gates (Stannis' view was mostly sky, but he could see the stockade) and he was dumped in an unceremonious heap on the frozen ground.
"Get up." There was the butt of the spear, in his back this time.
Stannis staggered to his feet. "I am telling you," he said, through chattering teeth. "I am your king."
"And I'm Aegon Targaryen." The spear rammed into him again, forcing him forward.
"Where is my Hand?"
"The end of your arm, ain't it? Come on. Lady Knot'll be waiting for you."
Stannis wasn't going to argue with a voice that forced him inside. He strode ahead of the spear, making the men escorting him on either side hurry to keep up. He would treat with Lady Knott; it was, after all, what he had come for.
The hall he was ushered into was smaller even than his father's small hall at Storm's End. Two high-backed weirwood chairs were placed at the end of it and two long tables ran its length. It was crowded with curious people come to gawk at Stannis. He lifted his head. He was a king again and would act like it.
"Let me speak to Lady Knott," he said.
"You'll speak to Lady Knott when Lady Knott wants to speak to you." The man with the spear left him in the company of his two guards and moved off through a doorway. Stannis twisted, looking for Davos. He was a few feet away, looking woozy, impressing upon Stannis the importance of getting through their negotiations as quickly as possible so Davos could get into a bed fit for a king's Hand.
A few minutes later, a tall, gray-haired woman entered the hall. She stopped in front of him and he was instantly and uncomfortably reminded of his grandmother Rhaelle. He threw his shoulders back and lifted his chin ("You descend from dragonlords, boy, and you will not slouch.")
"So," Lady Knott said. "You are the one who calls himself king. It seems the South has no shortage of them these days."
"I am Stannis Baratheon, the First of his Name, King of the Andals, the Rhoynar—"
"Yes, we don't need the whole thing, do we?"
Stannis ground his teeth. "I come on the advice of Lord Commander Jon Snow who advised me—"
"I know why you are here." She was looking him up and down shrewdly as though she had already made up her mind as to the measure of him and it was wanting. "You want my people to fight your war."
"I want—" He stopped. "I want to free the North from the tyranny of the Boltons and restore the blood of Ned Stark to Winterfell." He chose not to tell her that Jon Snow had chosen otherwise. "I hope to have the help of the mountain clans in doing so and in removing the Ironmen from your lands."
"The mountain clans last bowed to the King in the North, my lord. Why should we bow to you?"
"You bowed to my forebear, Aegon Targaryen. I am his rightful heir."
"And I see no dragons with you, just a half-frozen man and a pretty sword." Stannis glanced across the hall to where the man who had prodded him with the spear was examining Lightbringer. "It is the middle of winter, my lord. I have a responsibility to my people, not to you."
"With respect, my lady," said Davos suddenly. Everyone turned. He was leaning with one hand on one of the long tables holding him up. "My lady, he is here. King Stannis is here. No king has come here since the Conquest, am I right? Your people have seen only the old Kings of Winter. And Stannis Baratheon."
Lady Knott looked at Davos, then turned her attention back to Stannis. "Give them guest right," she announced to the hall at large. "It is the full moon after all. Perhaps the king will be able to prove to me why we should bow to him."
Davos could barely put one foot in front of the other as they were led to their room. Suddenly he felt an arm slip through his; it was Stannis. Davos leaned on him gratefully. He found he didn't care what the Knotts did to them, as long as they let him rest first. Once in their room (for they had been given the use of only one room), Davos collapsed on the bed, even as Stannis paced before the fire.
"She believes me when I say who I am," Stannis said. "Why does she not follow me?"
Davos closed his eyes, letting his body sink into what seemed like an impossible luxury of feathers but was in reality probably just straw ticking. "It is their way, Your Grace. I read some on the mountain clans before we left Castle Black. They are a people apart from even the rest of the North. I wish I could remember more, sire, or I would tell you."
Stannis' pacing stopped and he sat on the edge of the bed. "Never mind that," he said. "Do you feel better?"
Davos opened his eyes to see Stannis' eyes filled with what looked like concern. "I do," he said. "A bed is what I needed."
There was a knock on the door and Stannis left him, returning a moment later with a tray, which he settled on the bed with. "They have kept their promise of bread and salt, at least."
"I knew they would." Davos slowly pushed himself to a sitting position. "They are people of their word."
Stannis studied him. "Do you need a maester? Or what passes for one here? You are not far removed from your fever."
The tightness in his chest did resemble his affliction following the Blackwater but Davos thought the fire and the mulled wine was relieving it already. "I think I will be all right."
"We are to have a bath after the meal," Stannis said. "The girl told me where the bath was."
"Will you go first, sire?"
"Nonsense. We are both tired, we are both filthy, and we are both cold. We will go together."
The matter settled, they tucked into their meal. It was the best thing Davos had ever eaten in his life. When they'd finished, they headed to the baths. The Knotts made use of a natural hot spring and nothing could have felt better on Davos' tired muscles. He sank into it and closed his eyes, allowing a small sigh of pleasure to escape his lips. He would not have stayed in the North for all the gold in the Iron Bank, but hot water at any time one wanted would have been nice to have at home.
His eyes were still closed when he heard a small splash of Stannis sliding into the water beside him. The pool was more than big enough for two, provided that those two were very comfortable with one another.
Davos opened one eye. Stannis looked as relaxed as Davos had ever seen him, his arms resting on the side of the pool, which put one arm right behind Davos' head.
Fool, he thought with some amusement. He is not going to put his arm around you.
Although perhaps he did not have to be so dismissive. There had been times during their journey where even Davos might have thought… well, that the king had more regard for him than was prudent. He took another look at Stannis' face.
He nearly jumped. "Yes, sire?"
"What was it Lady Knott said about the full moon?"
Realization hit Davos like a flour sack thrown at his chest. "Oh, Your Grace…"
"What is it?"
Davos did not know how to tell him. He had stood up to Stannis, given him advice he wouldn't like to hear. Davos did not fear that. He trusted his king above all else. But this was far worse than anything he had ever had to tell Stannis. "Your Grace, they have a custom in the mountains. It is a strange one."
"Out with it, then. How are we to abide by it if you do not tell me what it is?"
"It is my understanding, sire." Davos swallowed hard. The warm bath he had so relished earlier now felt uncomfortably hot. "That you must dance with Lady Knott if you want them to bow to you."
Stannis remained completely silent. Davos was almost beginning to wonder if he had even heard him when Stannis said simply, "Dance with Lady Knott." It was not a question, just a flat repetition of Davos' words. "I haven't danced since my wedding."
"I know, sire."
"I was no good even then."
Davos could not deny it.
"Can you dance?"
"Yes, Your Grace."
Stannis sank somewhat alarmingly deep into the water. Davos waited patiently for him to emerge.
When he did, it was to say this. He looked as though he had given it quite a bit of thought. "There is only one thing to do, Davos." He paused, taking a bracing breath. "You must teach me to dance."
The enormity of the task before him was so great that Stannis gave barely any thought to the fact that they'd been given just one room with one bed. Sleeping beside Davos was no trouble; he had been doing it for weeks. At least this bed was bigger than the ones they'd shared at the inns. Of course, it was only natural that they slept as close to each other as they had at the inns; they weren't used to sleeping in a big bed.
It was not as cold, though, so there was no reason for him to be lingering in bed, enjoying Davos' closeness. The only reason he had for not rising was dread of the dancing lessons.
They broke their fast in the great hall, among all the gawkers come to stare at the rumored king. Stannis tried to ignore them, even though it seemed almost like his very fitness to wear the crown rested solely in the hands of Lady Knott.
After breakfast, they returned to their room.
"Shall we begin?" Davos asked.
Stannis briefly glanced around the room but there was no obvious escape. "It seems we must."
"You will have to ask her to dance. That will please her, as it will show you are familiar with their customs."
Stannis wasn't the least bit familiar with their customs but he supposed this would be enough to convince Lady Knott. "All right," he said. "I will ask her."
Stannis grit his teeth.
"Pretend I am Lady Knott," Davos went on, unperturbed, "and ask me to dance. The feast is finished, the musicians have been called for…"
There was nothing to do but comply. Stannis bowed stiffly and extended his hand. "Lady Knott, will you do me the honor of opening the dancing with me?"
"Of course, Your Grace." Davos took his hand, and Stannis had to push away the urge to squirm. This was the most ridiculous thing he had done in all his life. It was madness. What kind of king needed to learn to dance with his Hand?
"Put your hand on my waist," Davos instructed, and Stannis remembered that he at least could do that. He settled his hand on Davos' waist and Davos' left hand went to Stannis' shoulder. Stannis took his other hand and held it securely.
Now that they were in position, Stannis felt distinctly uncomfortable. Davos' hand was very near his neck, where Stannis was certain every hair was standing on end. He allowed himself to look down into Davos' eyes. He had to force himself to breathe normally. He couldn't imagine any of his Targaryen forebears doing this, nor Robert. He swallowed hard.
"Ready?" Davos prompted.
Stannis nodded. His mouth was too dry for speech.
Davos began to hum. It took Stannis a moment to place the tune. The Queen Took Off Her Sandal, the King Took Off His Crown.
"This is not a bedding."
"I know, sire, and likely this won't be what you dance with Lady Knott to. But it's a good rhythm for learning to dance." He took Stannis through the steps as he spoke. "The-queen took-off her san-dal. See? The-king took-off his-crown."
"I see." Stannis tried to copy him, but he trod on Davos' foot. "I'm sorry." His face felt hot, like he was an awkward boy learning from his mother's septa.
Davos smiled. For some reason, it made his heart beat faster. "I don't mind, Your Grace. But my boots offer more protection than Lady Knott's dancing slippers will."
"I cannot picture Lady Knott in dancing slippers."
Davos laughed. His hand moved further inward on Stannis' shoulder. "Don't lose the rhythm, sire."
Stannis found himself mumbling under his breath along with Davos' humming. "The-queen took-off her san-dal." He maneuvered them to the left. "The-king took-off his-crown."
"Good!" Davos' pleasure was, no doubt, feigned—no one could be truly impressed at a man of six-and-thirty shuffling through a basic dance step—but Stannis couldn't help the little thrill of pride. "Now, let's try some more."
They managed a basic square before Stannis began to wonder if Davos expected him to turn him. Lady Knott would surely expect it, but he felt ridiculous doing it to Davos. Perhaps Davos would not even want him to.
What we are doing is ridiculous from the first. He will expect it. It is part of the dance.
If it was possible, Stannis felt sillier than he already did. After the next "crown," Stannis lifted Davos' hand, guiding him through a stilted turn.
"Excellent, Your Grace," Davos said as his hand came back to rest on Stannis' shoulder.
Stannis was all but certain his face was red. There was just something about the way Davos touched him, lightly, casually, that was too much to bear. He simultaneously wanted to push him away and draw him even closer.
To properly embrace Davos… Stannis found himself wondered how it would feel to have him in his arms. How different would a deliberate embrace be to the way they slept every night? And the next logical step from embracing him was to…
Suddenly, Stannis stopped.
Davos looked at him in surprise. "Is everything all right?"
No. I was imagining the next time I turned you that I might take you in my arms and kiss you.
"Yes," Stannis said. "I only lost count."
"Well, why don't we try a different song? They won't play this for your dance with Lady Knott." As Davos began to hum a different song, Stannis felt himself relax. At least he no longer had to dance with Davos while his mind was filled with thoughts of beddings.
Davos carefully tracked the days until the full moon, along with Stannis' progress in dancing. His problem, it had soon become apparent, was that he was too stiff. That had been Davos' first impression of him, he remembered. The commander who had refused to be starved out of Storm's End had still had the gawkiness of youth about him, and even though Stannis had matured, his movements still did not seem smooth and natural.
There was a point where Davos wondered how much he could continue to improve Stannis. He obviously wasn't a born dancer, and his dance with Lady Knott might be the last of his life. But Davos knew this one had to be as perfect as possible. Stannis wouldn't stand for anything less and Lady Knott probably wouldn't either. They weren't unalike, in that respect, though Davos didn't dare breathe a word of that to Stannis. He just enjoyed the time spent with Stannis. When he stopped stepping on Davos' feet, dancing with him became downright pleasant.
At last, the day of the feast arrived. In borrowed clothes, for the clothes they'd been wearing had not stood up well to the storm, they went down to the great hall for supper. It was already packed with revelers drinking and shouting to each other. There was no seat for Stannis and Davos at the high table, so they squeezed into seats at the end of the low table.
"Don't worry," Davos said in a low voice by Stannis' ear. "You will prove it to her one way or another."
Stannis nodded. Rarely had Davos seen him nervous, but he was nervous now. He took a chance, reaching under the table to squeeze his hand. Stannis again looked momentarily startled, but he squeezed back.
It was a good meal and Davos nearly forgot about the dancing to come, but when the platters were cleared away, Stannis stood almost before the musicians had taken up their places. All Davos could do now was sit back and watch.
Stannis bowed before Lady Knott. It was not his stiff bow the first time he'd asked Davos to dance; it was almost graceful. Davos could not help but smile, as though he were responsible for shaping him.
"Lady Knott, will you do me the honor of opening the dancing with me?"
She smiled and allowed him to take her hand and help her down from the platform. "Certainly, my lord. It is the least I can do for a distinguished guest."
It did not even show on Stannis' face how he resented Lady Knott's form of address. It had become clear she would acknowledge him as nothing more than Lord of Storm's End. The inheritance of that title was more straightforward in her eyes, it seemed, than that of king.
The music started and Davos found his feet moving under the table as he followed their steps. Stannis moved smoothly and he didn't step on Lady Knott's feet once. When the song was finished, she took an ominous step back.
The eyes of the entire hall were on them.
Then, Stannis spoke, just as Davos had advised him. "Lady Knott, you have given me the honor of your hall and the hospitality of your hearth. Will you do me one more honor and give me swords and spears and men so that I may fight for your people?"
Lady Knott looked down her nose at him, as though she were deciding in that moment, though Davos knew her mind had long been made up. Stannis stared right back at her, head held high.
"My people have known few kings," she said. "Your brother and your great-grandsire and all of those before them were happy in their southron castles and gave no thought to the northern mountains. We have relied on the wolf for thousands of years. Why should we rely on the stag?"
"Because I am here," Stannis said simply. "I have my Hand to thank for that. He reminded me you were here, and when I march south to claim my throne, I will not forget you. You have my word."
Lady Knott then turned to Davos. "My lord Hand."
"Yes, my lady?" Davos rose shakily, unsure why he had been called upon. This was not part of the ceremony as he had envisioned it.
"Your king gives us his word. Can it be trusted?"
Davos swallowed hard. "I have always known King Stannis to keep his word, and I have never known a fairer man. I would stake my life on his word, my lady."
"Very well," Lady Knott said simply. "You may stay here until your king takes Winterfell." The threat was unspoken—Davos would stake his life on Stannis' word.
He could see the protest in the coil of Stannis' shoulders. Davos had to agree before he lost the mountain clans forever. "And you will send men in his aid?"
"Aye. You will find my word is as good as his. You will have your army of mine and if I ask, the other clans will send theirs, too."
"My sights will first be set on the Ironmen," Stannis said in warning. "I will not take Winterfell until after that."
"Then I will enjoy the pleasure of Lord Davos' company for some time."
Stannis held her gaze, and for a long moment, Davos was afraid he would refuse. At long last, he said, "I will take Winterfell. You have my word."
"And you have mine. And my men."
Lady Knott took a knee, as did everyone else in the hall. Only then did Davos remember that he had to as well. No one looked more surprised than Stannis.
"Rise," he said. "I am honored to have your support."
Lady Knott stood gracefully and clapped her hands. "Let us have more wine and more music to honor our king."
This went over well with the crowd, and Stannis slunk back to Davos as others moved on to join the dancing as a more raucous song was played.
"Well," he said, "I fear that was the best I could do."
"You had no other choice, sire. You have your army."
"Yes." Stannis slumped onto the bench beside him, looking unsatisfied. "But—" He paused and said nothing more.
Davos knew Stannis cared nothing for wine and dancing, so it was no surprise that he rose three songs later. Davos stood with him and they made their way back to their chamber.
"At least you will be held hostage in fine accommodations," Stannis said.
Davos had tried not to think too hard about his fate, so he simply smiled. "I should think Your Grace should be glad your Hand was at last useful in a matter of diplomacy."
Stannis' reaction was a surprise even to Davos who thought he knew every one of Stannis' moods. "Do you think that is the only use you have for me?" he all but snarled.
"Of course not, Your Grace. I did teach you to dance."
Stannis stared at him a beat before he relaxed. "Aye, you did. That was of great help." He looked uncomfortably about the room, as though casting about for something else to mention. Suddenly, he cocked his head. "I know this tune."
Davos listened. He hadn't paid it any attention, but the music was clearly audible from the hall across the courtyard from their window.
It was The Queen Took Off Her Sandal, the King Took Off His Crown.
Stannis was in front of him before he could say anything; Davos' hand automatically went to his shoulder as easily as Stannis' hand landed on his waist. Over the week they had spent practicing, it was clear their bodies had learned each other. It had helped Stannis dance with Lady Knott, but he moved even more naturally with Davos. Dimly, Davos noticed that they had been drawn a bit closer than they had tended to in practice. He slid his hand gingerly closer to Stannis' neck, enjoying the way his warm skin felt under his fingers.
Stannis was humming in time to the music and Davos followed his lead, this time without praise or instruction. He knew exactly what Stannis was going to do, how he was going to do. Some rational part of Davos' mind knew how ridiculous this was, how ridiculous it had been in the first place to teach him, but tonight, Davos was disinclined to listen to his rational mind.
Stannis turned him and Davos reached to catch his hand again. Then, it seemed he did not in fact know exactly what Stannis was going to do because he was utterly unprepared when Stannis kissed him.
It was a kiss entirely without finesse, but Davos thought it suited Stannis. It had all of his brusqueness, his resolve. Stannis had decided he was going to kiss Davos and so was doing it.
Davos slipped his arms around Stannis' neck, kissing back, pressing into him until there was no distance between them. At last they pulled back, though they did not go far. Stannis rested his forehead against Davos'.
"Do you know what that was like?" he asked. "Spending all that time so near to you, unable to do anything about it?"
"I had an inkling."
Stannis kissed him again. There seemed to be no more to say. Down in the hall, the music faded and the celebration broke up, but Stannis and Davos were in their own world.
"And they expect me to leave you."
It was the first time either of them had spoken in some time; after several kisses by the window, they'd moved their kissing to the bed and were now lying in each other's arms. Davos was half surprised by how little their sleeping arrangements had had to change. Had they been building to this anyway?
"Don't worry about me." He reached up absently to stroke Stannis' jaw. It gave him a thrill of pleasure to be able to do this; after all the years they'd known each other it felt more natural than he had ever dreamed. "You will take Winterfell and I will join you there."
"Aye," Stannis said. "There can be no other outcome."
The next few days gave Stannis too little time to spend with Davos. There were commanders to meet, the arrival of the other clans. Davos gladly took little part in military operations and thus was scarce for most of the day, which made their evenings together all the more precious.
Stannis was conscious of their limited time, and he tried to make it count. He tried to sear each kiss into his memory. This would be what sustained him on the long marches ahead of him, and if he failed in his mission… well, he would not fail.
The morning of Stannis' departure dawned clear and cold. Davos joined him in the courtyard as he prepared to ride off.
"Good luck, Your Grace," Davos said.
Luck had nothing to do with it, but Stannis didn't bother to tell Davos that. He wished they were alone, but they were surrounded by his new army. They had already made their private good-byes, but those last kisses in their bedchamber had not fully prepared him for having to actually leave Davos as what amounted to a hostage.
"You will join me in Winterfell," he said in a low voice.
"That is what we planned, Your Grace."
Stannis nodded curtly, then turned to mount up. He could not let it show how difficult he found bidding his Hand good-bye, and he did not look back as they rode out of the stockade. He had a long march ahead of him and he could not afford the distraction of Davos.
As it was, though, he could not shut him out entirely. When his army was lagging, when his southron knights fell to cold and snow and fevers, it comforted him through his shivering nights to know that Davos was warm.
And when he took Winterfell, he would see Davos again. That was the thought that kept him going. When he lost his horse and was forced to walk again, the thought of Davos kept one foot in front of the other. And, then, when the walls of Winterfell loomed before him, he went forth with a smile, because now he was a step closer to having him back.
Winterfell being his hardly seemed real. His uncle had the Stark boy and with him the loyalty of the North. With all of this, it began to occur to Stannis that he actually might have a chance.
Davos arrived in late afternoon, just ahead of a storm. He rode with reinforcements, even more men from the mountain clans who had rallied to Stannis' side with the restoration of House Stark to Winterfell.
Stannis stood in the courtyard, wrapped in his furs, reviewing his new men. A light snow was falling, but Stannis would not go inside until he'd seen them all. He did not dare look over to his right, where Davos stood, for he knew if he did, he would not be able to look away.
They bowed to him, Stannis made his speech, and then he headed for the castle. "With me," he said when he passed Davos.
"Certainly, Your Grace."
Davos followed Stannis silently as they made their way to Stannis' quarters. As the lord was in residence, Stannis had not felt right taking those quarters for himself. Instead, he occupied the next-best quarters, which had more than one advantage.
"It's warm," Davos said in surprise as Stannis shut the door.
"The hot spring," Stannis explained, taking off his cloak. "How was your journey?"
Davos smiled. "Considerably better in some respects than our journey there—I was not thrown over the back of a horse. But it did lack certain company to which I had become accustomed."
Stannis' heart was beating a tattoo in his chest. For all that they had been separated, Davos looked unchanged. "You look well," he said, feeling foolish. What sort of thing was that to say to a lover you had not seen in months?
He knew the reason for his hesitation. The journey to the mountains had been a strange, almost fantastical one. He had not been himself and Davos had not been Davos. Even though they'd resumed their own identities at Lady Knott's keep, it had still lacked all the trappings of his proper place in the world. Now that he had his army and was ready to march south, could things be the same between them?
"I had heard you were wounded, sire."
"It was nothing." Stannis touched his upper arm where Ramsay Bolton had struck him before Lightbringer had cut him down. "Merely an inconvenience."
"There was no sept," Davos said. "Until I had word that you were safe, I went to their godswood and prayed to the Seven. I hope the old gods did not mind."
Stannis let the talk of gods pass without comment, though the fact that Davos had been praying for him sent a funny warmth spreading through his chest. "I trust they treated you properly."
"Admirably, sire. Lady Knott makes a fine companion. I have never met a noble lady so interested in smugglers' tales and stories of the East."
Stannis almost smiled at the image. "So, now that you are here, what will you have first? I can call for supper. You can rest in your room." He cleared his throat. "Or we can rest together here."
"I think I might prefer resting together, Your Grace." From the twinkle in Davos' eye, it was clear that no resting was intended.
Stannis caught him in his arms as he stepped forward. This kiss was sweeter than the ones Stannis had envisioned as their reunion. Any memory did not hold up to the feeling of Davos' body against his, the way he squirmed in his arms to find a better angle to kiss him. Stannis let out an involuntary groan. He had not been prepared for this.
"I missed you," he said. He undid the clasp of Davos' cloak and swept it off his shoulders.
"I missed you, too, Your Grace." Davos' fingers went immediately to Stannis' doublet ties, which seemed in direct contrast to his use of the honorific. What sort of Hand presumes to undress his king? Stannis wondered. He smiled. The same sort of Hand who will be asked to fuck his king.
They undressed each other slowly, getting reacquainted with each other. He had only just begun to learn Davos' body when they had been parted, had only just begun making his mental map of the places that made him squirm and gasp, and once their breeches were around their ankles it seemed prudent to seek the bed. Bringing Davos into it had been Stannis' object since he'd secured the quarters and he took a moment to savor it as he pulled Davos down on top of him.
Davos' fingers brushed his arm where the wound was healing. "You'll have a scar," he murmured.
"Not the worst of them." Stannis brought Davos' left hand to his mouth and pressed his lips to the shortened fingers.
"Perhaps not." Davos kissed his shoulder and nuzzled at his neck.
"The bedside drawer." There were times Stannis liked to have such discussions with Davos, but there were other times his mind was set on only one thing.
Davos shifted to reach for it and smiled as he withdrew the jar of oil. "Ah, yes, I had thought I might find something like this here."
Stannis settled back on his pillow. "A king must always be prepared."
"Aye, and a Hand must do as his king asks."
Stannis kissed him. It was a good thing indeed to have a Hand who was always right.