“My Queen,” Petyr’s voice was low behind her. Catelyn did not turn, but allowed him to approach. Outside the window, she could see Jon Arryn’s head on the spike she’d had it mounted on. The lords of the Vale would be waiting below, along with Lysa, and Catelyn knew that a condition of their cooperation would be the return of Lord Arryn’s body. Still, seeing him on that spike gave her great satisfaction.
And so she stared, as if she could burn the view into her memory.
Petyr touched her elbow, and Catelyn withdrew her eyes from the gate.
“Lord Arryn arranged my marriage to Robert,” she told him, almost absently. The weight of anxiousness and fear she’d felt all throughout her marriage was replaced with an anxiousness and fear of a different sort, a fear for her children and her throne, but she was still happy to be rid of two great enemies; Robert and Lord Arryn.
“I remember,” Petyr tells her, and a small smile graces his lips. “But you shouldn’t have killed him like that.”
Catelyn’s eyes close and her head feels light. “He had to die. He was plotting with the Lannisters.”
“The Starks, you mean. Cersei Stark, not Lannister anymore.”
Catelyn smiles grimly. “There is no distinction between the two. They are both our enemies.”
Petyr’s green eyes cut into her like a knife, but Catelyn has never backed down before him, and she never will. “Let’s go make you some allies, then. My Queen.”
Catelyn nods, and allows him to escort her down to the chamber in which Lord Nestor Royce and Lysa wait. Lysa would come to her side, Catelyn hoped. Lysa had hated her husband with a passion, and she loved Petyr well. If not, Catelyn knew she could get little Robin away from his guards and hold him here in the Red Keep to assure the Vale’s cooperation. But she would rather have willing allies.
“You killed Lord Arryn,” Lord Royce tells her. “You say he was plotting with Targaryens, but I’ve not yet seen proof.”
Catelyn looks down on Lord Royce from her seat on the dais. “He approached me with threats to my children, Lord Royce, and actively kept informations about the Stark rebellion from me. King Steffon’s life takes precedence. I loved Lord Arryn well, and as a good brother and advisor and friend to my husband, Robert. But it was only mere moments after my beloved died that Lord Arryn was found in his room, writing letters to Lord Stark about information that should never have left the Red Keep.”
“What information?” Lord Royce demands. “You evade every question, spin your tales. Why have we not met with King Steffon yet?”
Catelyn regards Lord Royce coolly. “Because King Steffon did not order Lord Arryn’s execution. I did. My son loved your lord. He is King, but still young. He would not have done what needed to be done.” She waves forward Varys, and he scuttles forward with Arryn’s correspondence. “It is because of Lord Arryn’s letters that we have found the real traitors, Lord Royce. The Starks.”
Lord Royce takes the letter from Varys as though it will burst into flames, but Catelyn thinks that he just does not want to get too close to the Spider. His eyes scan the page.
“Ned. The King is dead. We haven’t much time. I know you love the Targaryen boy well,” he reads aloud. “You must hide him from the throne if there is ever to be peace.”
“What do you make of that, my Lord?” Catelyn muses. “He loves the Targaryen boy well. And who, if not Viserys Targaryen? In Essos, raising a Dothraki army to savage these seven kingdoms?” Catelyn leans forward, grips the arms of the chair. “My son’s seven kingdoms.” Her voice softens, and she allows herself a moment of weakness, knowing that Lord Royce is too shocked from the revelation that Jon Arryn was not the saint he’d always worshipped. “You must help me protect my son, Lord Royce. I killed Lord Arryn only to protect the rightful king of Westeros.”
Lord Nestor’s eyes are red when he looks up at the Queen. “My Lady—Your Grace. Your son is the rightful king. We cannot allow the Targaryen madness back into Westeros.”
Catelyn leans back into her chair, doesn’t allow him to see her relief. “We mustn’t,” she assents, at once the demure woman she’s had years to perfect. “Lord Royce, I confess… I fear for Steffon’s life. He’s betrothed to a traitor’s daughter. Who knows what Joanna Stark will do when they are married?”
“Can you not break the betrothal?” Lord Royce asks, as she’d hoped he would. He is no longer concerned about avenging Lord Arryn’s death, but about the wellbeing of Catelyn’s son.
“No,” Catelyn says. “It was a betrothal before the Seven. I would not break it. I can delay, however. And keep Joanna Stark prisoner until this is over. Once they are married, she is under Steffon’s protection and cannot be hurt. Until then, though…she will be used to keep her father in line.”
“I cannot believe Lord Stark would betray the throne,” Lord Royce says, but she can hear the conviction in his tone. She’s convinced him, or at least planted a seed of mistrust and doubt, painted herself as an honorable, pious mother. “He and King Robert grew up together. They fought together, conquered the Seven Kingdoms from the Targaryens. Why would he betray everything he loves for the dragon spawn he hates?”
Catelyn stands, and makes her way to Lord Royce. “We shall ask him when we meet on the battlefield,” she declares. “Will I have the aid of the knights of the Vale?”
Lord Royce’s eyes burn with indecision, but then he nods. “You shall, Your Grace.”
Catelyn’s heart skips a beat. She’s done it, by the gods. Petyr told her that Robert’s greatest gift was the ability to turn enemies into friends, and if she hasn’t done that here, she’d be damned.
Catelyn allows Lord Royce to clasp her hands. The letter is still between them. “Then let us go together,” she tells him. “Let us go swear fealty to the new king.”
“You got Lord Royce to listen to you?” Lysa asks. She takes a deep pull of wine. “I’d like to know how. He never does listen to me.”
“You’re never diplomatic,” Catelyn tells her sister, and touches Lysa’s hair. “I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you before it was done. I’m sorry you had to deal with the lords of the Vale yourself.”
Lysa sighs. “Only for a time,” she says. “What are your plans, dearest sister?”
“Protect my son,” Catelyn says automatically. “Kill the Starks. Keep the throne.”
“In that order?” Lysa asks.
Catelyn nods, and takes a sip of wine herself. “I know I have the knights of the Vale,” she says. “But I want to know if I have you on my side.” She makes her voice quiet, vulnerable, and knows Lysa will gobble it up. Her sister likes being needed. “I can’t do this without you, Lysa. Please, help me.”
At Catelyn’s helplessness, Lysa smiles. “Oh, Cat,” her sister says, and comes around to embrace her. She smells of the sickly sweet scent of summerwine, and her embrace is loosely held. “All you had to do was ask,” Lysa whispers in Catelyn’s ear.
Joanna has not been allowed outside her rooms for nearly a sennight, but tonight she must. Jocelyn had visited, and so had the queen, one of the most uncomfortable hours of Joanna’s life. But so far as Joanna knows, Steffon has not tried to see her yet. And she cannot allow him to forget her, stuck in her rooms as she is. Men are fickle, her mother had told her once, smiling at Joanna’s father. You have to remind them what they want.
Joanna intends to. She does not know what her future will entail, but she will not allow herself to rot away, forgotten in a corner of the Red Keep. She must remind Steffon of how much he loves her.
Lord Varys came to visit her, on her first night here. Joanna believes he’s fond of her, because she treats him nicely. When he shows up tonight, Joanna nearly kisses him right there and then.
“Thank you,” she whispers. He will not smuggle her out of the Keep, but he will help her out of her rooms.
Her hair is loose, and she has chosen only a loose shift and dress robe. She must look innocent and pure to Steffon, because it is that which will appeal to his imagination. Joanna has had days to plan every moment of this encounter, every iteration of what may happen, from bitter rejection on his part to his clumsy declarations of love. She cannot be alone. She must know where she stands with him.
“Mother,” she whispers, unsure if she’s praying to her own mother or the Gods, “forgive me for what I must do to survive.”
When Varys lets her into Steffon’s solar, Joanna is shaking. She’s never been so fearful in her life. He could call the guards, he could tell his mother. Joanna won’t be killed yet, but she could be locked in her rooms forever.
She calms herself, slowly. Her hands cease shaking, her back straightens. She hears her mother’s aunt Genna tell her, Your mother used to say she was a lion of the rock to keep her courage strong. She calls upon her mother’s courage now, upon her father’s honor, upon Arya’s strength and Robb’s charm. She armors herself in Jon Snow’s skin, in Myrcella’s innocence, and in Bran’s love of the unknown.
“I am a lion,” Joanna says, trying out the words. And then she pushes the oak door, and lets herself into Steffon’s chambers.
“Steffon?” she calls, quietly. She wants him to wake gently, with her on the other side of the room. Once, he’d told her he was a light sleeper. She hopes he’s sleeping lightly.
She says his name again, and watches him wake.
He’s a beautiful boy. At fifteen, he’s tall and strong, if still a bit skinny. His eyes are the color of the sky, and when they’d met as children, he’d kissed her hand so shyly she knew he would be easy to like.
You must train him, her mother told her. Make him into a man you’d want to marry.
Joanna intends to.
“Joanna?” Steffon’s voice is rough. “Is this a dream?”
She does not move closer, even though she aches for the touch of another person. She has barely felt another’s skin in seven days.
“No,” she tells him. “I’m here, my King.”
He sits up, and the covers drop. He’s not wearing a tunic, and Joanna can see him swallow. “What are you doing here, Joanna?” he asks, unsure. “How did you get here?”
Joanna lets her voice shake, “You didn’t come,” she says, “You didn’t see me for seven days, Steffon. I—” she breaks off, and twists her hands. “I don’t know what’s happening anymore. No one will tell me anything, and your mother told me that she wants to find a way to stop the wedding.”
Joanna stifles a sob. She’s not really crying, but she knows that Steffon cannot bear to see her cry. And he cannot, even now. Suddenly, he is out of his bed, crossing the room to her, pulling her into his arms. He’s gotten tall over this past year, and Joanna’s head fits under his chin.
“Don’t cry, Joanna,” he soothes, rubbing her back, stroking her hair. She sobs harder. “Joanna, Jo, please don’t cry.”
“You didn’t come to me,” she hiccups, and real tears come now, fear and frustration and desperation leaking from her eyes. She presses her face against his collarbone, so he can feel them too, feel guilt. “You said—you said you love—you loved me.” Her breath hitches. “Don’t you love me, Steffon?”
“I do!” Steffon insists. She feels his lips on her hair. Although his arms are around her, he really doesn’t know how to comfort a woman, Joanna notices. She can hear panic in his voice. “Joanna, I wanted to come, but mother said that I shouldn’t see you until your father surrenders, and I’ve been so busy as King that I…”
“Forgot about me?” Joanna says, and rips herself out of Steffon’s arms. He stands, blinking his eyes owlishly in the moonlight, arms still stretched out to her. “I’ve been so scared, Steffon. I know my father couldn’t have betrayed you. He loved your father, he knows I love you.”
It’s the first time Joanna’s told him she loves him, and she can see the effect immediately. He wants to please her, and he takes her hand. She allows him to draw her back.
“Don’t you want to marry me?” She asks.
“I do,” Steffon says. “More than anything. But my mother…”
“You’re the king, Steffon. Not her. If you really wanted to marry me, your mother wouldn’t make a difference.”
“I’m not the regent until next year, Joanna,” Steffon says, his hands wiping her face. His fingers always shake when he’s this close to her. Joanna leans into his touch, and places a hand over his.
“But your lords will listen to you, my love.” She pulls his face down to hers and kisses him deeply. They’ve only kissed twice before, both quick and sweet. This one is a clash of teeth and tongue. “We can stop this before it begins, Steffon,” she says, between kisses. He bears her down onto his bed, and Joanna lets him touch her over her night shift. That’s all she will allow for tonight.
“I love you,” he tells her, and he kisses her again. She can feel what she does to him through thin cotton, and it sends a surge of power through her. “I won’t let anything happen to you,” he pants against her mouth, and that’s the last thing Joanna registers for a long time.