He is standing in the rain at 2am, shivering and attempting to shield his camera with his umbrella while waiting for Prince Renly to stumble out of a nightclub. And Davos Seaworth wonders what the hell has happened to his life.
Several months later, and he sits in his car in his allocated space in the Kensington Palace car park about to start his first day working for Prince Stannis. And Davos Seaworth wonders what the hell has happened to his life.
But it doesn’t start with Renly, or with Stannis. No, it starts months earlier, and, as it always does, with Salladhor Saan.
It’s been a long afternoon and evening waiting outside the Ritz hotel, where he’s been on the hunt. At least, that’s what they call it. Davos stands in wait, weapon - in this case, camera - poised. His prey? The rich and the famous.
He isn’t on a contract job, but instead hoping someone famous will emerge, preferably on the arm of someone they’re not supposed to be with. Notorious playboy rich kid Loras Tyrell is meant to be in town, and he always stays at the Ritz before hitting the nightclubs and casinos.
To Davos’ dismay, he has been joined by fellow photographer Jorah Mormont, who stands cool and collected, as though he doesn’t feel the chill right down to his bones. Davos fights off a shiver and checks the settings on his camera.
“I was in Spain last week,” Jorah brags. “Sun and sea.”
Davos grunts. Jorah spends his time chasing actress Daenerys Targaryen around. He likes to claim he once ‘saved her’ from the paparazzi, hiding the fact he was in fact one of them. He claims something happened between them several times. But since her other half is world boxing champion Drogo, Davos very much doubts it.
Jorah works for Varys, the highest paid newspaper editor in the country who keeps an exclusive grip on his favourite photographers. Davos has chosen to stay freelance, not that it’s doing any good for his bank account. Varys has given him an offer of a more long-term contract, but Davos has sworn to himself that he won’t be a member of the paparazzi for much longer.
Jorah gets bored after a while and wanders off and it’s another hour before Loras Tyrell emerges. He is wearing a plaid shirt with a white t-shirt underneath, teamed with some snug trousers and walking as though the weather means nothing to him. At his side is Lady Sansa Stark, who ducks her head to shield herself. Loras stands between Lady Sansa and Davos’ lens, but he doesn’t try very hard to hide her. Loras likes getting caught on camera as much as he likes his designer clothes, and having Lady Sansa on his arm guarantees him the kind of publicity money can’t buy. Publicity equals contracts for fancy clothes and cushy TV jobs, and it seems the privileged really do get an easy life.
Davos ducks into a pub to get warm and use its wifi so he can send his photos to some newspapers.
And that’s where Sal comes in. Davos meets him at Covent Garden an hour later, and Sal is wearing a bright blue shirt and far too much jewellery. To Davos’ relief, Sal has already bought him a pint and Davos doesn’t have to battle the crowd of people around the bar.
“Long day, was it?” Sal grins at him, smug as ever. He probably spent the morning in bed and the afternoon spending his money.
“Long day, long, boring night.” Davos takes a long sip from his pint, and sinks into his chair, savouring it. “Couple of the papers may have been able to get some pictures in last minute.”
Sal raises his eyebrows. “You look knackered.”
“Yeah. Well. You work long hours when you work for yourself.”
“I thought you made a lot of money from the pap work?”
Davos shrugs. “Yeah, if I get exclusives. But the paparazzi hunt as a pack, and you don’t get as much if there are 15 other photographers all getting the same shots. I’m trying to work alone.”
“And how’s that going for you?”
“About as well as trying to get my pictures into art galleries went for me.”
Sal tries to look sympathetic, but it comes across more as exasperation. “Drink your pint.” He grins then, all teeth and mock seduction. “You can always come and do some work for me.”
“C’mon, I haven’t told you what it is yet.”
“I’m not going back to prison.”
“You wouldn’t go to prison.”
Davos huffs a breath. “Maybe not the first time, or the second time, but I’m not taking any risks. I’m going to drink this pint, then another pint. Then I’m going to go home and hopefully I can pay for my electricity.”
“You know I’d lend you cash if you needed.”
Davos pulls a face. “Yeah. I’m not there yet.”
“I thought you had a temporary contract? Some singer?”
“Yeah, I did that. Chasing Oberyn Martell around when he went from one gig to another and drank too much booze and did too many drugs. I got lucky once when he left with a bloke on one arm and a woman on the other.” Davos can’t help but smile at the memory. He was well-paid for that one.
“You see? It pays off when you get a good gig.”
“Mmm. But those kinds of jobs are few and far between. I might get another chance, I don’t know. It just feels like a waste of time. I mean, who really cares what these people are doing?”
Sal points around the crowded bar. Many of them are scrolling through their phones or taking pictures of themselves. “Everybody. Everyone cares.”
“Oh yeah? Do you really give a damn who Loras Tyrell is spotted with?”
“Not Loras.” Sal’s eyes light up. “His sister, however...”
Davos rolls his his eyes. “Of course. Because people with more money than sense are much more attractive when they look like her.”
“She wouldn’t need money. I still would.” Sal winks and then his eyes widen. “Hey! That’s what you need.”
“I need what?” Davos asks, wary.
“To get laid. I could hook you up.” Sal starts scrolling through his phone before Davos can even process what he’s said. “I can think of plenty of women who would go home with you for a night. I reckon I could even find some blokes, I know you’re an equal opportunities kind of guy.”
Davos laughs and holds his hands up. “No. No thanks.”
“Come on. You must be sick to death of your hand.” Sal studies him. “Although I suppose it’s an interesting experience for you, if you alternate.”
Davos tucks his maimed hand under the table. That’s Sal’s fault too. Not directly, but if he hadn’t been working for Sal that day… “I haven’t even got time for that,” Davos tells him. Sal shows him a picture of a rather well-endowed woman with pouting lips, who is probably half his age. Davos snorts. “No. I’m not letting you fix me up with anyone. I’m absolutely fine.”
Sal sighs. “Well, I don’t know what to suggest. I offer you jobs, I offer you sex, and you turn it all down. You’re getting boring as shit, Davos.”
“And yet still you invite me for beer.”
Sal beams at him. “You may be boring as shit, Seaworth, but you’re still my favourite punching bag.”
They have another drink, but the doubt is cemented Davos’ head now. Sal is right. Either Davos tries to find another job, and he isn’t great at anything except taking photos, or he will land up working for Sal again. And that hasn’t exactly worked out for him in the past.
And that’s why he gets home, and re-reads the contract Varys sent him. Knowing he is signing a deal with the devil, Davos finally agrees to work for him.
Of course, as always, as with everything, it’s all Sal’s fault.
The words on the documents in front of him are burning holes in his retinas. He rubs his temples, frowning down at the papers as though they might just explode. Oh, if wishing made it so.
“You have to sign it,” Mel tells him from the corner of the room. Stannis does not fail to notice how she is keeping a safe distance from him, as though he might be the thing due to explode any moment.
“I know,” Stannis growls at her, lifting his pen and gripping it in his fist. “I’m going to.”
“If you do it now, sir, then we can send out the press release before the papers are printed. That way-”
“I get it!” Stannis snaps. He knows how it works. If he signs it now, it means the reporters will only have time to write the bare bones of the story and will not start hunting around for ‘unnamed sources’ to spill secrets about the divorce. Stannis will never know who those ‘unnamed sources’ the papers quote are, but they’re always, inevitably, half-right. The trouble is, the half they get right is the part no-one is interested in. The newspaper editors much prefer exaggeration and lies.
He taps his pen against the desk. It isn’t that he doesn’t want to sign them. He knows it’s the right thing for all concerned. What he does not want is the accompanying circus with paparazzi by the iron fences and journalists waiting by the gates and the speculation and stories.
He and Selyse have been separated for two years. She continues to live at Kensington Palace in a separate apartment. In that time, there have been plenty of stories about the separation, but they still attend events together and put on a good show. Now it’s time to end the charade.
Mel has written the press release and he and Selyse agreed the wording hours earlier. But now he has to put pen to paper, and announce he has agreed to the divorce proceedings his wife has filed for. As though his family can take another scandal.
After a final internal argument, he signs his name and pushes away from the desk, shoving the papers in Mel’s waiting hands. “You can tell Selyse that it’s done,” he says and marches past her.
He heads straight for his bedroom and slams the door. He rubs his temples and leans against the wall. He is too tense to even consider sleeping. So he takes himself to Shireen’s room instead, nudging the partly-ajar door open so he can slip inside. He sits in the dark in a high-backed chair in the corner, the one she likes to read in. He shares the space with her favourite teddy bear, a battered old, balding thing which used to belong to him. He watches as she sleeps and he rubs his thumb against the bear’s soft arm.
She deserves better than all of this, he knows. Selyse deserves better too. He fought the divorce for as long as he could, because the public perception of their final break-up seemed worse than the pain he was putting her through. Eventually, though, he had to concede he was all but keeping his wife prisoner.
He gazes at Shireen, and she is peaceful while a storm rages in his head. He leaves without waking her, and changes for bed. He gets under the covers and turns to the last few pages in a book about Leonardo da Vinci.
The palaces of his childhood were filled with the most beautiful pieces of art by some of the world’s most famous artists. His favourite has always been Edwin Landseer’s The Sanctuary, featuring an exhausted stag seeking respite in the water as a flock of ducks fly by. It seems so tranquil, with the fading light and miles of surrounding countryside, no-one in sight. He wishes he could jump right into the canvas and sit and watch that stag, and get lost in those fields. He can only dream of feeling so free.
In the past, when the crowds of visitors left the palace he lives in now, he roamed the halls and stared up at the works by countless artists. He does so less often now. Somehow even that rare joy has been tainted by the inevitable failure of his marriage.
He is still reading at gone midnight, when his phone rings. Only a select few people would dare call him this late, and he already knows the cause will be Robert or Renly.
“Your brother is at the door,” Mr Cressen informs him, his voice thick with sleep.
Stannis' shoulders sink. “Let him in and keep him in the hallway. I will be there shortly.”
He tugs on a royal blue wool dressing gown with silk lining and some well-worn slippers. He finds Renly in the hall, slumped in one of the chairs, watching Stannis with unfocused eyes. Mr Cressen is sat at his desk, his tie askew and the imprint of a pillow still pressed into his cheek.
Stannis mutters a ‘thank you’ to Mr Cressen and gestures for Renly to follow him. His brother stumbles and sways as they make their way to the sitting room, and he collapses onto the settee as soon as he gets there. He holds his head in his hands and groans.
“You couldn’t find your own apartment?” Stannis asks, taking the chair opposite.
Renly swings his arms around, distractedly. “Yours was closer.”
Stannis eyes him for a moment. “You have to stop doing this. It doesn’t look good, you going out and getting drunk every other night.”
Renly huffs a sardonic laugh. “Can’t look any worse than it already is for us.” Renly adjusts the cushions under his head, pulls off his tie, and toes his shoes off, letting them fall onto the lush red carpet.
Biting back further comments, Stannis fetches him a glass of water, and doesn’t apologise when he slams it down on the table and Renly jolts awake.
“How many times have we done this now?” Stannis demands of him. “How many times have I had to open the newspaper to see pictures of you falling out of nightclubs? This family cannot take any more scandals.”
“That’s all you care about,” Renly slurs, his eyes falling closed again. “How it looks. Well, who gives a fuck?”
“I told you not to use that language in my house.”
“Sorry, brother, does it offend your sensitive ears?”
“My daughter is upstairs.”
Renly’s expression softens at that, at least. “Don’t you hate this?” he asks.
Stannis clenches his teeth. Oh God, how he hates it. Just as he hates his brother when he gets this drunk and ends up morose and speaking aloud the words Stannis tries not to let into his own head. Hating this won’t change anything. “We are in a very privileged position,” Stannis reminds him. "Do not forget that.”
“But for how much longer?”
“Drink your water and go to bed, Renly.” He heads off to his own bed and passes Mr Cressen carrying a blanket and pillows through to Renly. There are spare beds upstairs, but they both know Renly will be gone to the world, and it’s more trouble than it’s worth to try to force him up the stairs. Better that he stays where he is.
Stannis lies in bed, and stares at the ceiling and dreads the morning.
Mel always reminds him not to read the papers when his family are in them, but Stannis always does. The broadsheets keep to the facts, weaving in a few rumours from the past few years.
The tabloids, though, are not so kind.
Stannis knew they would not be. They stop short of calling him abusive, but they reference his stubbornness, his cool demeanour and cite his lack of affection as the reason why his wife became unsatisfied. One even claims it is his lack of potency in the bedroom which caused their marriage to fall apart, as though they somehow have had access to that room themselves and watched their failed attempts at love-making.
He is only glad Shireen is too young to understand.
There are pictures of Renly on the internet, tie hanging low around his neck, his hair mussed, eyes bloodshot. One of his entourage is keeping him upright.
If there is a good thing in his life though, it comes in the shape of his daughter. Shireen reads cross-legged on the floor, leaning against a beanbag. Stannis stands in the doorway to her bedroom, where he has remained unnoticed for the best part of five minutes.
He clears his throat and she finally sees him there, smiling, perhaps a little shyly, before returning to her book. .
“I’m going to see Uncle Robert,” he tells her.
She lowers the book. “Yes, father.”
“What are you going to do today?” he asks, though he already knows the answer.
“I’m going to read.”
Stannis manages a faint smile and goes to his room to dress for battle. His brother is hosting them in the King’s private apartments today, and a headache is threatening before Stannis even goes through Buckingham Palace’s gates.
Stannis hates the room Robert has chosen for them to meet in. It’s the same one they gathered in nine years ago, after their parents died in a plane crash. The wallpaper is the same bright yellow, the carpet still well-cushioned beneath his shoes. It’s an airy room, and it gets the sun during the morning. Today, though, it’s grey outside, and the chandelier is on.
Stannis requests a cup of tea, before Robert’s adviser Petyr Baelish saunters into the room. Baelish bows at Robert, and then opens a folder. “Your majesty.” He glances at Stannis with a condescending smile. “Your royal highness. May I speak with you about strategy for the next few minutes?”
“Quickly,” Robert tells him. “I’ve got a schedule to keep to today.”
Stannis frowns. “What are you doing?”
“Seeing Cersei. Not that it’s your business.”
Stannis bites his tongue. They have this argument so many times, it’s like he is living his life on a constant loop. If a groundhog walked into the room any second, he would not be at all surprised.
“Of course, sir,” Baelish agrees. “We should talk about the rest of the family doing more engagements. At the moment, if you forgive my saying, public opinion is at an all-time low.”
“This bloody referendum business,” Robert snarls. “The Government should get on with it and announce it and stop holding it over our heads.”
“I believe it’s inevitable,” Baelish says, and Stannis knows it too. And as it stands, the public would almost certainly vote to end the monarchy. “So we should do what we can to improve public confidence until that time.” He turns to Stannis. “Shall we start with you, sir?”
Stannis narrows his eyes. “If you expect me to stand around cutting ribbons…”
Baelish’s smile is condescending at best. “If only it were as simple as that.”
Stannis frowns. “What will you have me do?”
Baelish lets out a long-suffering sigh. “The charities won’t have you,” he says. “It’s not the done thing to have a royal patron anymore. It’s seen as a political statement. There is sport…”
“I detest sport.”
“Then perhaps Prince Renly will be best placed to attend international games?”
“Renly isn’t best placed to represent this family at present,” Stannis mutters. “He won’t put a stop to his partying.”
“No harm in asking, Stannis,” Robert says. “He’s young, of course he goes out and drinks.”
“He doesn’t act like a man in his position should.”
“He is barely a man. I did the same at his age.”
“You were at least discreet,” Stannis points out. “He courts the paparazzi.”
“The paparazzi will be wherever he is. He doesn’t encourage it.”
Stannis inhales deeply. “He seeks attention. He always has.”
“Just leave him be, Stannis. And that’s my final word on the matter.” Robert turns to Baelish. “Renly will attend sport matches. You will find some charitable cause for Stannis to do something with.”
“It cannot be just anything,” Stannis warns. “I won’t do animal charities. I’d prefer military charities.”
“They won’t have you, I know that without asking,” Baelish says. “The military is politically neutral, and by encouraging your patronage… Well. They don’t want people worrying about a military coup, do they?”
“I will sort it out for myself,” Stannis tells him.
“Certainly, sir,” Baelish says, that smile never fading. “But may I advise you to try something a bit different when you carry out your engagements? Perhaps… smile.”
“I am a member of the royal family, not some court jester. I will behave as is fitting someone of my stature.”
“As you’ll have it, sir,” Baelish agrees. “But you may not find the charities queuing up to have you.”
Stannis grits his teeth. “I must have a word with my brother. Alone.”
Baelish rises from his chair and collects his papers. “Of course.” He bows and leaves them alone.
Stannis waits until the door is closed and until such time Baelish should be well out of earshot, and goes to stand by the window. “And what will you be doing while Renly and I try to change the opinions of the whole nation?” he asks.
“I have a busy diary. Charity events, foreign travel. Don’t assume I sit here and do nothing.”
“You should not see Lady Lannister. The public won’t accept her. She has been divorced twice. If the press get one sniff of…”
“You are getting divorced, Stannis. If anyone in this family is causing a scandal, it’s you. Renly is only doing what any 19-year-old will do. But you?”
“The papers don’t report the facts.”
“And what are the facts, Stannis?” Stannis stays silent. “As I suspected,” Robert says, standing up. “If you want this family to survive, you have to ask yourself what you can do to change opinions.”
“I have never done anything less than is expected of me.”
There is a long pause while Robert heads for the door. Stannis looks at him from over his shoulder. “The public despise us,” Robert mutters angrily. “Our heads are on the block. But if they did a survey about who they hate the most, you would top every single one of them.”
Out of respect for his brother’s position, Stannis bites his tongue. The door closes, and he clenches his fists and internally, he lets out a frustrated yell. Externally, he is silent, staring back at his reflection in the window, seeing a man clinging on by his fingernails.
He spends his afternoon in his study, the door locked and barricaded with a chair. He has the painting of the stag above his desk, and he finds himself gazing at it as he replays the conversation with Robert around in his head.
He reviews his diary, and knows it is emptier than it has a right to be. Whether that is a reflection of the political landscape, or his own reluctance to carry out public engagements, he isn’t sure. But he does know it has to change.
His eyes flick to a silver frame in his desk, with a picture of his mother inside. Queen Cassana is there in a rare private photograph, one of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppies in her lap. She is laughing, and not looking at the camera, and Stannis does not remember her ever looking so at ease.
He knows she would have fought tooth and nail for the monarchy to survive. She would have dragged his father, Steffon, by the hair if necessary. She was the column which kept the rest of them standing. Without her… Reluctantly, Stannis calls Mel and invites her to his office.
Mel conjures engagements out of thin air, and soon his diary begins to fill.
It will all begin in a few weeks’ time with the opening of a new lifeboat station, since the Royal National Lifeboat Institution has always been affiliated with the monarchy. It is a natural fit for Stannis, who spent some time in the Navy.
He takes dinner with Shireen, just the two of them alone around a dining room table which sits 18. Shireen talks about his books and they go through her times-tables. In those moments alone with his daughter, at least, Stannis can find some peace.