Margaery's soulmark was a small bird, wrapped around the inside of her thigh. Hidden enough, compared to some; she'd heard that Cersei Lannister's mark, a roaring yellow lion, sat on the right side of her neck, for all to see.
Tywin Lannister had covered it up with anything from powders of Braavos to scorch marks from the hearth, to no avail. Her marriage to Robert Baratheon had effectively squashed the rumors about whom that soulmark was meant for, rumors brought on more by the scandal of the idea than any true merit placed in soul mates, these days.
Cersei wore the mark proudly. Robert Baratheon didn't seem to care, either way.
There had not been merit placed in soul mates, Margaery knew, since the Targaryens. It had been all of the rage, to marry soul mates then, even if it meant becoming poor and destitute, but the ideas of the Targaryens were quite out of favor now.
But soulmarks weren't totally unimportant. They decided things for the one who bore them such as love and happiness, and sometimes the best alliances, but to refuse to follow them was rather common, amongst the nobility.
The smallfolk had the chance to follow their hearts, but people in Margaery's position might never even meet their soul mate.
It had bothered her, in the beginning of her childhood. The thought that she had a soul mate out there who would probably never meet her, who would end up married to some other woman, and would never know that their little bird mark tucked itself around the inside of Margaery's thigh.
Her grandmother, on the one time Margaery had confided such fears to her, had pahed this away and informed Margaery that the world was hardly ever so black and white as the songs painted it, and that there were far more important things for a young woman of Margaery's standing to worry about, such as finding the best husband for her family and learning how to seduce him before he came along.
Margaery had not quite believed the words at the time, being all of nine, but she had know enough not to keep speaking about this soul mate business, at any rate.
When she got older and understood that her attraction did not lie in the male sex, however, Margaery had abandoned all thoughts of one day being swept unto a beautiful horse by her beautiful soul mate, and had thrown herself into passion of another kind, the kind that simply involved sheets and beautiful limbs.
She was the Rose of Highgarden, and there was no one to tell her that she could not have this, if she wanted, even if it was understood that she was to marry well one day. Her grandmother even seemed pleased by it, pleased that Margaery was 'getting practice,' as she had put it.
Her mother had thought Margaery was ruining her chances of a successful marriage, but everyone knew that Olenna would be the one to find Margaery a husband, and if Olenna didn't seem bothered by the issue, then there was no need to be bothered by it, so long as Margaery was discreet.
"Looks a bit...drab, doesn't it?" Loras had teased her, on the one time Margaery had abandoned propriety and shown her soulmark to him, when they were small enough that propriety was an inconvenience.
She had swatted him, at that. "Easy for you to say," she had snapped, feeling peevish, "When yours is as clear as day."
And it was. The silver stag lacing itself around Loras' left wrist, elegant and raised slightly on his skin, named him for a Baratheon one day clearly enough, no matter how many times their father warned Loras to wear his bloody gloves when he went out amongst others who were not their family.
But Loras was sent to be fostered at Storm's End at the end of the war, and had been attached to Renly Baratheon's side ever since, while Margaery had never found her own soulmark, for all of the searching that she pretended was merely a search for passion.
And when Loras engineered the marriage between herself and his silver stag, Margaery had pretended not to be hurt by the thought that her brother was willing to sell her off to his lover in order to name the man King, for that had been their father's price.
Renly was a kindly sort, with a beautiful golden rose wrapped around the inside of his right wrist, one that was clearly not meant for her anymore than the drab grey bird on the inside of thigh was meant for him.
Not that her lovely husband was ever going to see it. He was everything a young girl might have dreamed of, when they first heard the songs; beautiful and charming, and hopelessly besotted with her brother
Still, the smallfolk in the Reach seemed to love the idea of Renly as their king, loved that his soulmark matched his wife.
"Destined by the Seven," they murmured, and Margaery had to pinch Loras hard to keep him from laughing, each time.
Not that Margaery had minded, after the first few days. Her royal husband had no more interest in her than she did in him, even when having heirs was a matter of necessity, given his sudden claiming of Westeros' throne, and it was a bit of relief to know that she was not to be married to a man who would demand anything more from her than pretty smiles.
And then he'd been killed, by a nightmare sent by his own brother, no less, and Margaery had watched as the beautiful silver stag on her brother's arm blackened and then turned a sickly grey, bleeding out over the rest of Loras' lower arm in veins.
Margaery had stared at that grotesque image, one which she had seen before on her grandmother's arm and on many others, but one which looked so wrong on that of her brother.
And Loras had gripped his arm and sobbed into Renly's robes where the pretender king lay so peacefully in his tent, the look of pain on her brother's face so raw and open that Margaery had flinched back at the sight of it, even in the knowledge that they needed to go, needed to leave before Stannis and his army, full of their defectors, breached the camp.
But she could not bring herself to move, could not bring herself to speak, could only stare at the sick looking stag on Loras' arm and wonder, guiltily, when her own would one day look like that.
The thought startled her. She knew that her soul mate, whomever they were, was more than like some commoner, with such a soulmark, that she would never have them because they were also female, and Margaery had given up on really believing she would find them one day long ago.
But in this moment, the thought that she would live the rest of her life without a soul mate was more comforting than disappointing. Comforting, if it meant she never had to feel the agony currently playing itself across Loras' face.
"I want to be The Queen," she told Lord Baelish, as she watched her brother sob, because what was the point of finding one's soul mate anyway, when it only brought pain?
And then Margaery met Joffrey Baratheon, this man whom her father expected her to marry if she wished to be The Queen, and Margaery had been hardpressed not to shudder about the horrible things her grandmother's spies uncovered about the little beast.
About the things he did to his previous lady, a girl by the name of Sansa Stark whose sad story did not need to be told in songs; it was far too well known throughout the realm for that.
Joffrey Baratheon did not have a soulmark, Margaery learned, probably because he was too much of a beast for that, was hardly human enough to need one. She liked to think that was the case.
She knew that was not always the case. There were plenty of people who went through life without a soulmark, simply because there was no one in the world who would complete them the way a soul mate should.
Margaery almost envied them that, envied them that sense of completeness that came with being whole.
"I am to be his wife," Margaery said, quiet, but insistent. "I only wish to know what that means."
Sansa licked her lips. She glanced behind them as the boy arrived with their cakes, and Margaery bit back a sigh.
It was like pulling the teeth out of a very small puppy, she couldn't help but think. Sansa seemed sweet enough, and Margaery sympathized with what she must have gone through, as a captive of the Lannisters, but she had approached the girl for a reason.
She was perhaps the only one in King's Landing who would tell them the truth about Joffrey, and they needed to know.
Margaery needed to know. She was finding it more and more difficult to interact with him, not knowing what his hooded eyes were thinking, as they looked over her. Not knowing what would most please him, as she had with Renly.
She glanced at her grandmother as a serving boy interrupted them with perhaps the worst timing he could have had. Sansa had almost looked like she was about to speak.
Olenna leaned forward once the boy was gone. "Are you frightened, child?" she asked. "No need for that." She took a rather large piece of cake, setting it on the plate before Sansa. "We're only women here. Tell us the truth. No harm will come to you."
Sansa glanced down at her hands. They were shaking, Margaery saw, and she bit the inside of her cheek.
"M-My father always told the truth," Sansa whispered, still staring at her hands.
Olenna hummed. "Yes, he did have that reputation. And they named him traitor and took his head."
"Joffrey," Sansa corrected her, eyes flying up to meet theirs for the first time, and there was the fire inside her to match her flaming Tully hair. Margaery sat up a little straighter.
"Joffrey did that. He promised he would be merciful," Sansa spat, and the vehemence she had hidden for so long surprised Margaery. "And he cut my father's head off. And he called that mercy. Then he took me up on the walls and made me look at it."
She bit her lip, but not before the expression of disgust flashed across her features.
"Go on," Margaery whispered, spellbound.
Sansa seemed to remember herself again, remembered her hesitation of a moment before that outburst, and backtracked quickly when she saw the matching expressions on their faces. "I...I can't," she stammered out. "I never meant...my father was a traitor, and...My brother as well. I have traitor's blood. Please don't make me say anymore."
Margaery sighed. "She's terrified, Grandmother," she said, though her grandmother could certainly see that for herself. "Just look at her."
It was all the information Margaery needed.
But Olenna was perhaps more stubborn. "Speak freely, child," she entreated Sansa. "We would never betray your confidence, I swear it."
A pause, during which Margaery forgot to breathe. She told herself it was because the girl was speaking so quietly, and she didn't want to miss a word of what she might learn from Sansa Stark about Joffrey.
"He's a monster," Sansa Stark, the shy, quiet young thing kept captive by the Lannisters, whispered. Tears gathered in the corners of her eyes without falling, and Margaery's throat closed, her hands itching to reach out and pull the other girl into her arms.
It was an instinctive reaction, and Margaery blinked at the thought.
She may have been willing to show off her assets to anyone whom she thought would be influenced by them, but Margaery was not, by nature, a tactile creature. Passionate enough to get around this in the bedchamber, but not interested in comforting.
She wanted to touch, just now, and Margaery's body ached with the need to do so, to pull Sansa into her arms and tell her that everything was going to be all right, that she shouldn't cry.
Margaery glanced at her grandmother, saw the old woman's eyes narrow in a completely different thought, though she hardly looked surprised by Sansa's admission.
"Ah," Olenna said, sighing and leaning back in her chair. "That's a pity."
Margaery raised a brow, took another bite of the fruit on the table in front of them to hide her own nervousness at the revelation, fidgeting before she placed it in her mouth.
Sansa glanced between them. "Please don't cancel the wedding," she begged.
Margaery tried not to feel offended, even if she knew the girl was only looking out for herself. If anyone discovered they had cancelled the wedding on Sansa's word alone, the Lannisters would likely find some new way to punish her for it.
Olenna snorted. "Have no fear. The Lord Oaf of Highgarden is determined that Margaery should be Queen."
Margaery's lips twitched. Her grandmother had no reason to hide how she felt about that, now, and Margaery was certain she would receive another word of warning for it tonight.
Her father wasn't the only one determined that she should be queen anymore, after all.
"Even so, we thank you for the truth." Olenna smiled as the serving boy returned. "Ah, here comes my cheese."
Sansa seemed to remember to breathe again, then, and she took a tentative bite of the cake set out in front of her. Lemon cake, of course. The meal remained strained after that, however, and the girl was quick to take her leave of them.
Olenna watched her go, and then wiped her lips on a napkin. The lines of her old face seemed to have gotten sharper, Margaery noted, and wondered when that had happened.
"I can't marry him," Margaery said, when the silence that followed grew too long. "Grandmother, I..."
"Tell it to me true, Granddaughter," Olenna said, and Margaery sat a little straighter at the formality in her voice. "Do you still wish to be Queen?"
Margaery licked her lips. "I..."
She did. By the Seven, she still did, even after hearing that the man she was to wed in order to accomplish that was a vile monster who forced his betrothed to smile at the sight of her dead father and thank him prettily for it.
No. It would not come to that, not with Margaery's family.
She swallowed. "I...Grandmother..."
She had never been quite so ineloquent before, Margaery thought.
"I don't suppose you've encountered any other young, available kings?" Olenna pressed, as if the question were not merely a hypothetical. "Ones with little birds as their House crest?"
Margaery gaped at her. "How did you..."
"I am your grandmother, child," Olenna told her, picking up another piece of cheese. "Do you really need to ask?"
Margaery sighed. "I suppose not," she said, and fiddled with another piece of fruit. "But what am I to do? My betrothed is as hot blooded as any other man interested in my sex, but if he is as terrible as she says..."
She didn't know if she could control that. Didn't know if she could rely on her powers of persuasion that heavily, and for perhaps years.
Do you still wish to be Queen?
Margaery thought about how Sansa Stark was meant to be Queen not so very long before, and shivered.
She wished she didn't have a soulmark, to tease hope into her breast where it would only be diminished with the realization of what she must do for her family.
Her father wanted this. And her grandmother was having a difficult time convincing him otherwise, after his failure with Renly. It was a matter of pride for him, and it didn't help matters that Margaery had told her father of her desire for this, as well.
Margaery knew that most young noble girls ended up marrying men they didn't especially care for. It was their duty, and what higher one than to offer her family the chance to rise into the echelons of Westerosi power?
Even if her father had not asked this of her, Margaery might have done it.
Save for that damn soulmark, and the promise it held.
She shook her head. Plenty of people didn't have soulmarks, and she wished that she had been born as one of them.
In the olden days, the times of the Targaryens, they had been vilified, believed to belong to the Stranger because no one else belonged to them, but Margaery longed for that isolation, in this moment.
It would mean going into this marriage with a clearer head. She had seen what a silly little mark on his hand had done to her brother Loras, and still, she wanted but a taste of the same, even if it meant going on to marry a creature like Joffrey anyway.
It might make the whole thing more bearable.
Her grandmother had not been born with a soulmark, and she did not seem the worse off for it.
It took Margaery a moment to realize that Olenna was waiting for her attention, and she blushed, glancing down at her hands. Her grandmother sighed, turning in her chair and reaching out to touch Margaery's cheek.
Margaery leaned into the touch, craving the reassurance in it in a way that she usually did not.
"What use do we have of soul mates, child?" Olenna asked, as if she knew exactly where Margaery's mind had gone, when Margaery learned that the next man she was to marry was the monster they feared him to be. "No." She reached out, smoothing down Margaery's hair. "You don't need to worry as Sansa Stark does. You have a family that the Crown needs things from, and if that boy ever treated you wrongly, well, his uncle set a precedent within the Kingsguard for how to deal with kings who overstep their mark, did he not?"
Margaery blinked at her incredulously, shocked that her grandmother would joke about the thing that most worried Margaery. Her brother may be in the Kingsguard, but he had no loyalty for this king.
All of his loyalty for anyone outside of their family had died with Renly.
Olenna patted her shoulder. "Things will work out in the end, if that is what you desire, my dear," Olenna vowed to her. "But is it?"
Margaery worried her lower lip, thought of the look of terror on Sansa's face, moments ago.
"Yes," she said, as she thought of the Iron Throne. "Yes, it is."
Olenna nodded. "Well, then. We have our work cut out for us."
It was not until Margaery heard Cersei Lannister derisively calling Sansa Stark her "little bird," that Margaery dared to ponder the feelings she had for this Northern girl whom she wasn't supposed to like at all.
Dared to wonder if those feelings stemmed from something more than pity.
Of course, she couldn't ask Sansa that directly. The girl shook like a leaf everytime Margaery asked her about anything not directly related to food or a certain type of gown. She spent more time with Margaery these days, and it made Margaery wonder if she had been avoiding her before, afraid of letting slip what she really thought about Joffrey.
The thought hurt more than Margaery was certain it should.
Hurt as if...as if she'd known Sansa a lot longer than the few weeks she had been in King's Landing, since the Battle of Blackwater.
It meant nothing, Margaery told herself. Soul mates belonged in the songs, not in the real world. And she had made her choice, chosen ambition rather than a chance at anything else.
It was too late for her grandmother to do anything about her marriage to Joffrey, now.
Margaery groaned, glancing at her reflection in the mirror of her chambers. "This is foolish," she told herself. "You made your choice. Accept it."
She lifted her skirt unthinkingly. The little bird stared back at Margaery mockingly.
"My lady?" Elinor, her cousin and one of her ladies who had traveled with her to King's Landing, raised a brow as she stepped into the bedchamber.
Margaery sighed, lowering the gown. "Yes? What is it?"
Elinor gave her a knowing smile. "Only, Lady Sansa has arrived." Margaery blinked at her owlishly. "I do believe you invited her to tea?"
Margaery flushed. "Right, of course," she said. "She's out in the parlor?"
Elinor nodded. Margaery felt a little foolish, in a way that she hadn't since the first time she got drunk on honeywine with Garlan, as children, after breaking into their father's stash.
As she brushed by Elinor, the other girl teased, "Try not to lose your head before you even see her, Your Grace."
Margaery gave her an admonishing look, glancing around, even if they were in the safety of their own chambers and there was no one to hear. "I'm not the Queen yet," she reminded Elinor.
Elinor smiled. "Yet," she agreed, and swatted Margaery into the parlor.
Margaery tried not to think of whether that was even something she wanted anymore, now that she knew who her King was to be.
And then that thought fled her, as she stepped into the parlor and saw Sansa sitting on the divan in the middle of the room, trying to take up as little space as possible, hands clenched tightly in her lap.
Seven, what she would give to see the other girl smile, even once.
Margaery shook that traitorous thought out of her head.
"Lady Sansa," she said, smiling. "You're early, I think."
Sansa flushed. It looked beautiful, the red trailing down her neck and into the purple, faded gown she wore. "I...I am?" she asked, voice hesitant.
Margaery grinned at her, stepping further into the room and taking a seat on the divan, a little too close to Sansa to be proper. The other girl didn't seem to notice. "Most definitely, but I am always late, I'm told." She raised her voice. "Elinor?"
Elinor took the cue, stepping into the parlor. "My lady?" she asked, hands clasped in front of her, ever the dutiful servant.
Margaery would have found it amusing, if her thoughts weren't running too quickly for her to catch up with.
"The tea is ready, is it not?" she asked, and Elinor promised to go and check on the tea and cakes being prepared in the kitchens immediately, and bring them back.
Margaery mourned her presence as soon as it was gone, for it meant sitting in silence with Sansa, and she could not for the life of her think of something to say, when she was always so good at this in the past.
"I've never been to the Maidenvault before," Sansa said, licking her lips and glancing around the beautiful furnishings of Margaery's chambers. Margaery abruptly wondered what Sansa's own chambers looked like.
Margaery glanced sideways at her. "It's quite prettier than I imagined, given the stories about the reason for its existence."
Sansa blushed. "I...I didn't mean to imply..."
"That I was locked away in here, until my marriage to Joffrey?" Margaery asked, amusement filling her features. "Oh, but I did. I do believe that's why these were the only rooms suitable for House Tyrell's people, once we all arrived. Cersei is having a good laugh about it, at least."
Sansa bit the inside of her cheek to keep from smiling. "I suppose it is a rather obvious choice," she said.
Margaery snorted. "That woman is going to be the death of me, I can already tell. Is she truly that horrible?"
She froze, realizing the question delved into the realm of personal questions she had resolved not to ask Sansa again.
The other girl's smile faded. "I...Not so bad as Joffrey," she said quietly, looking down at her fingers. "She...loves him, very much."
Margaery reached out on impulse, taking one of Sansa's hands into her own. Sansa glanced up sharply, and their eyes met.
Margaery convinced herself that she only imagined the tiny gasp that escaped Sansa's lips, as she lost herself in the swirls of Sansa's blue eyes.
But then she was moving forward, wrapped in a haze the hue of Sansa's auburn hair. Margaery wanted to lean into it, to smell it, to wrap her fingers in it, but she didn't.
Sansa sat still as a statue, save for her breathing, and yes, that had been a gasp.
When Margaery closed her eyes and pressed her lips, gentle and hesitant in a way Margaery had never been with her previous lovers, to Sansa's, it felt like coming home.
Loras had told her that once you had found your soul mate, being with anyone else seemed impossible. You had found it, had found the person you were meant to be with, whether it was the gods or some other miracle.
He had never been a romantic before he met Loras, Margaery remembered, and then she wasn't thinking about anything, because Sansa responded.
When she first met Sansa, Margaery hadn't thought much of her. She was a quiet little thing, pushed down by the people who were meant to protect her, forced to live with those who had murdered her entire family.
Margaery felt sorry for her, in the same way that she did for the smallfolk, because she was near in age to Sansa, even if she was considered a woman grown while Sansa was not, and she couldn't imagine suffering through everything Sansa had suffered.
But Sansa was quiet, and Margaery had thought her broken, and she had approached her solely to find out information about the man she was now betrothed to.
There hadn't been some great epiphany, when Margaery laid her eyes on the other girl. She hadn't looked at Sansa and instantly known they belonged with one another, as the old songs put it.
Sansa had just been...ordinary, and a bit shy, and Margaery had never looked for that in her lovers before.
But then she had smiled, and Margaery had been transfixed, and now, kissing her, Margaery couldn't imagine how she had walked through life without Sansa before this moment.
Sansa pressed into her, hands reaching out to grasp at Margaery's shoulder, then her chest, holding onto her like a drowning woman. Margaery wrapped one arm around Sansa's waist and pulled her closer, breathless and needy as she pushed a little harder into the kiss.
Sansa let out a wanton moan that had tendrils of pleasure pulsing their way down to Margaery's cunny, and she squeezed Sansa's waist a little tighter.
Sansa opened her mouth in response, and Margaery wasted no time, pushing her tongue past Sansa's lips and into her mouth, enjoying the taste of Sansa's mouth, the feel of Sansa's tongue pushing against her own.
Margaery felt her blood rising, making the room hotter than it had been when she sat beside Sansa on the divan, surely. She wanted to take off her clothes. She couldn't breathe. She wanted to do everything, to keep going, to take Sansa over this divan, and by the way Sansa's grasping hands were tangling in her gown, then her hair, she thought Sansa must feel the same way.
There was a loud knock at the door, and Sansa jerked away from her so quickly she took a small piece of cloth from Margaery's sleeve with her. Margaery gasped, remembering that she needed to breathe again.
Her soulmark, where it rested against her inner thigh, throbbed angrily, and Margaery bit down so hard on her tongue she tasted blood.
Margaery took in another gasping breath, and then another, reached up to right her hair because there could be anyone outside that door, how had she been so foolish-
The door opened, and Elinor and three serving women stepped inside, bearing trays of tea and cakes like the ones Margaery had been informed Sansa liked. An odd interest, Dornish cakes, but then, Sansa was unique in a way Margaery had never experienced before.
Elinor and the girls set the trays down, and Elinor curtseyed and asked if Margaery and Sansa didn't need anything else, a twinkle in her eyes.
Margaery gave her a hard look, and suggested they be left undisturbed for a little while, and that was all, thank you very much, Elinor.
She was sure Elinor and even the servants who didn't know her could see how out of sorts she was, her mussed hair where Sansa had grabbed at it, and guess the reason. Sansa was still blushing crimson.
Elinor smirked as she guided the servants out and pointedly shut the door behind them.
Sansa cleared her throat, reaching for one of the lemon cakes.
Margaery glanced at her out of the corner of her eyes, not wanting to unduly alarm the other girl.
Sansa ate the whole slice in two bites, and reached for another. Margaery reached out, pouring them both cups of steaming tea, handing one of the cups to Sansa.
Sansa almost dropped the cup, her hand shook so badly as their fingers brushed against each other.
Margaery admired the curved line of her throat, wondered why she hadn't abandoned Sansa's lips for that, a moment ago. Wondered if Sansa had yet come to the same solution about them, that they must be soul mates. Wondered what Sansa's soulmark looked like.
"Sansa," Margaery said, as she took the first sip of her tea, into the silence that followed their little interlude. She still sounded breathless, Margaery thought, and huffed out an annoyed laugh as she waited until she had Sansa's attention. "I should very much like to call you sister. What do you think of that?"
Sansa's wide eyes flew up to her own.
When Joffrey asked her whether or not she had a soulmark, Margaery knew she had to tread carefully as she thought over her response.
She knew that Joffrey did not have one, knew that, while most husbands didn't care, he in particular might think less of a wife whose soul mate was not her husband. But she also knew that, when they were married, he would know all of her body anyway, and she would not be able to hide the matter with some clever cosmetics every time she knew they were going to bed together.
She forced herself to smile, to not think of the way Sansa's lips had tasted, warm and sweet, when Margaery swept in to kiss her, of how Cersei called Sansa her little bird.
They hadn't spoken of...that incident, since it occurred. Sansa seemed content to never think of it again, and she blushed every time she saw Margaery.
Margaery would take what she could get. Victory was in the small things, after all.
They were plotting to marry her to Willas. Sansa had loved the idea of escaping to the Reach, of forsaking House Lannister for House Tyrell. She wanted very much to live with a family she believed to be as kind as Margaery told her it was, and she seemed very much to enjoy the thought of naming Margaery her sister.
Margaery tried not to let the idea sting, too much. It had been her suggestion, after all, and her grandmother very much liked the idea of having the North under their control, rather than under the Lannisters'.
Of course, Sansa did not seem to think of things in that light. She hadn't once brought it up, at any rate, what the Tyrells would be gaining from this.
It made Margaery a little sad, but then she remembered that, for all that perhaps she wouldn't see Sansa as much in Highgarden as she would if the other girl remained in King's Landing, she would know that Sansa was at least smiling.
And it was such a shame, for anyone to go through life without seeing one of Sansa's dazzling, shy smiles.
Sansa would be happy, in Highgarden. Margaery was sure of that. And Willas would make her a fine, gentle husband, nothing like Joffrey. They would have little auburn haired children and ride horses into the sunset each evening-
"It's the ugliest little thing," Margaery told Joffrey, shaking her head, "a drab bird, all in grey."
Joffrey hummed for a moment, and then burst into laughter. "How amusing it would be, if your soul mate was Baelish. I hear he's taken on the symbol of a mockingbird, for his House."
Seven, she hated him. And they had only known each other for a few weeks.
Margaery snorted. "I certainly hope not, my lord." She shuddered at the thought, and did not have to pretend the motion.
Lord Baelish may have helped her to become Queen, but she knew that there was something off about him, some scheme he had planned that would bode ill for her. The very thought of ever being with him, even if it was a marriage her family would never have approved, even in the olden days, made her ill.
Joffrey grinned in idle amusement, before his hand reached out to paw lightly at her gown. "Where is it?" he asked her, a twinkle in his eye, and Margaery bit her tongue to keep from sighing.
"It's...not in a place fit for a maiden such as myself to show my lord," she said, lowering her eyes bashfully, the way Sansa did when she was nervous.
Joffrey glanced toward the clearly closed door. "You are to be my wife," he reminded her, when his eyes settled on her once more. "You belong to no one but me, remember?"
Margaery pretended to hesitate for a moment. But she knew that her body was physically pleasing, knew that giving her betrothed a taste of what he would soon have would keep him interested and, by the gods, from getting angry.
She hiked up her skirt, making sure to do it with a wickedly flirtatious grin and posing seductively once she had done so, that he might see more than just the soulmark.
Joffrey licked his lips appreciatively at the pale swathe of skin that showed more, she thought, than at the sight of the soulmark itself, which he merely regarded dismissively for a moment before saying, "Well, that doesn't really look like Littlefinger's mockingbird."
Margaery tittered out a laugh, inwardly relieved that she had been spared her husband's wrath as much as she was that she was spared a soul mate of Littlefinger.
"Yes, I suppose there is that," she said, staring down at it. "I just wish it had been a brave, golden lion," she said, tangling her hands in her husband's hair and pulling him down for a kiss.
He went easily enough.
Her betrothed may be a monster, but in the end, he was just like any other man.
Of course, Margaery would appreciate that even more in the coming evening, when she was to learn that Loras had opened his foolish mouth to the whore he was trying to use to replace Renly, the one who had the soulmark of a red sun on his lower back.
Margaery had unfortunately walked in on them one evening, and seen it.
And then the marriage between Sansa and Willas wasn't going to happen at all, and Sansa sobbed in Margaery's arms, and all Margaery could think about was how, in the days of the Targaryens, Sansa might have been her wife, rather than forced into the bed of Tyrion Lannister.
Sansa was inconsolable, Margaery's ladies told her, with the loss of Willas as her betrothed. The Lannisters had taken that from her, as they had taken everything else that brought a smile to Sansa's face.
After she held Sansa in her arms that first night, the night it was announced that Sansa and Tyrion were betrothed and would be wed the moment an able bodied septon could be found, Margaery kept her distance.
Margaery couldn't bring herself to approach the other girl. Her grandmother hadn't gotten what she wanted out of the whole affair, and she seemed to have put the whole thing behind her, forgetting Sansa entirely now that she was no longer of use, so she did not seem surprised that Margaery was no longer approaching her.
But that wasn't the real reason Margaery was keeping her distance.
She couldn't bear the thought of watching Sansa mourn the chance at a marriage to Margaery's brother, when Margaery was standing right there, wearing Sansa's soulmark and needing her in a way Margaery had resolved never to need anyone.
She knew it was selfish of her, but Margaery had always been a bit selfish, to her own mind. There was no need to stop reveling in it, now.
But then she saw Sansa sitting out at the harbor with the young servant Margaery's ladies reported was fucking Sansa's husband, and Margaery could keep her distance no longer.
She shooed the servant away, sank onto the rock Sansa was sitting on.
"Shae, do you think that one is headed to Pentos?" Sansa asked without turning to her, a wistful tone in her voice.
Margaery's heart cracked, just a little. "I don't know," she said softly. "Is there some sign in the flags that it is?"
Sansa spun, nearly knocking into Margaery, her eyes blown wide.
"M-Margaery," she gasped out, glancing around in what looked like desperation for her handmaiden. The woman seemed to have made herself scarce.
Margaery smiled sadly. "How are you?" she asked, and instantly winced at the question.
Sansa bit her lip. "I...What are you doing here?" she asked.
Margaery glanced back to her ladies, to Elinor and Alla, where they were waiting patiently with fabrics tucked under their arms. "We went into the city to buy some fabrics from Braavos," she said, as if it were the most normal thing for her to then come to the harbor and find Sansa here.
She wondered if Sansa came here often. It didn't take someone smarter than Margaery to look out at the ships Sansa was gazing so longingly at and understand what she was doing here.
Margaery didn't blame her. She felt terrible, for giving Sansa hope and then tearing it away so brutally.
"Would you like to return to the Keep with me?" Margaery asked her sweetly. "Perhaps you can help me decide which fabrics shall go into my gowns and which into my smallclothes."
Sansa flushed at the invitation. "Marg, I mean, Your Grace-"
"Not yet," Margaery corrected her, grinning. "Not for a little while, at least."
Despite herself, Sansa smiled. She stood to her feet when Margaery did so, and Margaery's heart stuttered at that smile on her face.
She held out her arm. "Shall we go?"
Sansa hesitated, and then took it, allowed Margaery to lead her back to the Keep like a gallant lord with his lady.
Margaery rather enjoyed the warm flush of Sansa's skin against her own. It was a rather hot day, after all, and neither of them were wearing sleeves.
They returned to the Maidenvault, Margaery's ladies trailing behind them. Elinor and Alla deposited the clothes and then made themselves scarce, and Margaery was rather glad for it. She didn't think she could contain herself much longer, watching Sansa finger the fabrics and hum at the back of her throat.
They had the decency to close the doors behind them, as well.
Margaery watched as Sansa picked through the fabrics, entranced. "This one," she held up a fabric made of sheer white lace. The merchants had claimed it was the chosen fabric for gowns in Braavos, these days. "For the smallclothes."
Margaery smiled, taking it from her and holding it up to her chest. "Yes, I rather think you're right," she said. "It's soft enough."
Sansa flushed again.
"Any others?" Margaery asked, sending Sansa a cheeky grin that she wished the other girl would return.
Margaery had been foolish, leaving her to her own devices for so long. She should have tried harder to comfort Sansa. She should have done something-
"This would make a beautiful gown," Sansa said, holding up a fabric the color of lilacs, a little heavier than the rest.
Margaery eyed it. "Yes," she said, "I rather think it would. Would you sit for my seamstress long enough to make it, though?"
Sansa turned, gaping at her. "Margaery, I-I couldn't..."
Margaery smiled, reaching out and taking Sansa's hands within her own. "Please," she said. "It would make me very happy. And," she hesitated, "Unless I am very much mistaken, it would make you happy as well, would it not?"
Sansa ducked her head, smiling. "Yes," she said finally. "Yes, it would. But you needn't feel-"
"I'd like to," Margaery said, pushing Sansa down into one of the cushioned seats of her very large closet, the fabrics forgotten for a moment. Sansa half-turned away as Margaery took the other one, so that Sansa was looking at Margaery in the mirror's reflection of her little desk.
Margaery decided to allow her that. She had stolen days of comfort from the other girl, and she owed her that, at least.
The little bird on Margaery's thigh twitched, at that thought.
"Sansa," she said quietly to the mirror, picturing red hair and pale eyes gazing back at her. "I am sorry you couldn't marry my sweet brother."
In her mind's eye, she would get the chance to comfort the other girl, to tell her that it didn't matter if Sansa could not have Willas, because Margaery was here, and she possessed Sansa's soulmark, and they belonged together.
Margaery sighed, and finished primping her hair. Her family no longer had an interest in Sansa Stark now that they could not marry her off to one of their sons, and so Margaery no longer had an excuse to have interest in the other girl.
She tried to convince herself that the reason she didn't try harder to find a new excuse was because she was worried about how Joffrey would react, to his lady wife showing an interest in his favorite victim.
Sansa bit her lip. "I...You've been very kind to me anyway," she said.
Margaery nodded. "I hope you were not too torn up about it," she told the younger girl. "I know that he felt some guilt, that the Lannisters found out about it. We don't know who it was, who told them."
Sansa swallowed, meeting Margaery's eyes in the reflection. "My people, in the North, still believed in soul mates," she said softly, then flushed. "I mean, it sounds foolish, down here in the South, to think that such things as destinies have a weight on any of us. Especially..."
Especially when Sansa must be wondering what the gods' cruel jape had been, in creating hers, Margaery thought idly.
"That's beautiful, though," Margaery said, sinking onto the plush cushioned chair beside Sansa's. "I mean...I've always fantasized about soulmarks, even if I knew that would never be what decided my marriage. Would you...tell me about how that works, in the North?"
Sansa's smile was a bit sad. "There are still arranged marriages," she told Margaery. "My father and mother's soulmarks did not belong to one another, but they were happy enough, I think." Her face clouded then, and Margaery would give anything to make that expression go away. "I hope they were."
Margaery swallowed. "I'm sure they were," she said, and Sansa looked away.
"But if your marriage is arranged, and you find your soul mate before then, the marriage cannot go through. It is believed to be a curse of the gods." Sansa bit her lip. "My mother's soulmark was my uncle, who died during the Rebellion, but my father married her anyway. But they cared for each other."
"And..." Margaery bit her lip. "Your brother, Robb? Is that why he did not marry the Frey girl?"
She had heard about the Red Wedding of course; everyone in the South had done as well as in the North, she suspected, but Margaery knew precious little about it. Her mother had been horrified enough to make sure of that.
And even if she could piece together what had happened, Margaery had precious little experience with death. She couldn't know how Sansa must have suffered, to learn what had happened to her brother.
Sansa swallowed hard, the sound loud in the room. "The girl he met, Jeyne, she bore his mark," she said. "Her mother di...doesn't believe in soulmarks, and that was why she agreed to help the Lannisters, because she thought Robb was a silly boy, willing to endanger them all for her daughter. Or so Cersei said." She shrugged. "I don't know the whole of it."
And Margaery had to wonder how that ate away at Sansa, the knowledge that she didn't even know everything about how her brother and mother had died.
Margaery resolved to turn the conversation to cheerier topics.
"What does yours look like?" she asked, remembering the original purpose of this conversation, and Sansa blinked at her in surprise. "Your soulmark," Margaery clarified.
Sansa nodded a little jerkily. "Oh. I..." She turned her arm so that the fleshy part of her wrist faced upwards, and Margaery's heart skipped a beat.
She hadn't realized how excited she was to see it, not until the thorns on a green stem snaking around Sansa's wrist in a half cuff were revealed to her.
Margaery's breath caught in her throat. "It's beautiful," she whispered, reaching a hand out, and then pausing to catch Sansa's gaze. "May I?"
Sansa nodded, miserable. "It's just a reminder of what I can't have, now," she said softly. "I'm sorry that the Lannisters foiled your plans. I would have been happy to be your brother's wife, and your sister."
Margaery, who had been reaching her hand out to touch Sansa's soulmark until this point, froze, and retracted her hand.
"Sansa," she said, a calm sweeping over her that did not match the beating of her heart, "Would you mind terribly if I showed you mine? I mean," and, by the Seven, was she blushing? "It is not exactly in a place that is...appropriate."
She hardly dared to meet Sansa's eyes, not wanting to face that rejection head on.
But Sansa merely blinked at her, looking a little dazed. "If you want to show it to me," she said, voice hoarse and so very loud in the room, where silence seemed to be ringing in Margaery's ears.
Margaery reached down for the coil of her gown, yanking it up with trembling fingers until it revealed her smallclothes, then the apex of her thighs.
Sansa stared. And then she started to laugh.
"Well, I suppose if I was going to have a mark to identify me, it would be rather ugly, wouldn't it?" she asked.
Margaery felt indignation sweep through her. She reached out, clasping Sansa's chin and forcing the other girl closer.
Kissing Sansa this time was not as it had been that one afternoon, during tea. There was none of the awkward fumbling here, and none of the sweetness, either.
Margaery kissed like she was going to her death, and Sansa kissed her back as if she were leading Margaery there.
Perhaps they would both be the death of each other, then.
When they pulled away, in the same moment, they were both panting, the air gone from Margaery's lungs.
"I think it's beautiful," Margaery whispered, when she had breath again to do so.
Sansa blushed. "May I...?" she echoed Margaery's earlier question, and the other girl smiled, spread her legs invitingly.
Margaery wondered if other ladies who had not married for love but for duty felt this way on their wedding day.
She took another bite of one of the pecan cakes that had been brought to her ladies as they bustled Margaery into her elaborate green wedding gown and tried to fix her hair. It had come undone twice now.
Alerie slapped at Margaery's fingers, and Margaery swore in a rather unladylike fashion, glaring at her mother good naturedly.
Her mother looked only more aghast at that, as Margaery's ladies dissolved into giggles.
Alerie ran a hand through her hair. "By the Seven, Margaery, you're going to be Queen of Westeros. We can't have people knowing you swear like a drunken sailor."
Margaery laughed, reaching out and taking her mother's hands into her own. Olenna had been the one to oversee Margaery's education when she was younger, the one who guided her through her adolescent years.
But Alerie was still her mother, and she deserved the chance to be happy, on the day her daughter was given away in marriage, even if it was for a second time.
"Everything's going to be fine, mama," she promised the woman, squeezing Alerie's hands. "It will be."
She said the words, but Margaery didn't know if she herself believed them. She didn't even know if Alerie believed them, as the worried look on her mother's face didn't leave.
"Let's get her out the door, ladies," Alerie said instead of responding, turning on Margaery's ladies. "Or we're going to be late."
Her grandmother was fast at work with her plan, the plan that she said would keep Margaery safe even though the wedding must go on, but which Olenna would not go into further detail over, the plan which it was too dangerous for Margaery to know anything specific about.
Margaery was not fool enough to wonder at what that meant, nor at her grandmother's suggestion that she drink as much from her husband's cup as she could manage, before Garlan came to congratulate her.
Margaery knew this was dangerous, knew that by the end of the night, they might all be in the Black Cells, awaiting the block. And she almost teared up at the thought, at the thought that all of her family might die because of her, because she couldn't bear the thought of being married to a monster.
She just wished that she could have one perfect wedding day, even if the man she was marrying was such a little monster.
Still, perfect was boring.
The plan, or all that Olenna would tell her of it, would implicate Tyrion Lannister, her grandmother had told her, easily enough. Which meant that it would also very likely implicate Sansa.
Margaery hated that thought, hated more the thought of Sansa taking her place in the Black Cells, if she was implicated.
Margaery was not fool enough to think that her own objections would save the girl. Much as her grandmother loved her, Olenna Tyrell was set in her decision. Margaery would not marry that beast Joffrey, which meant that he would have to go. Which meant that someone else would have to take the blame for his death, as the Tyrells were the most likely candidates.
And, she was sure, Olenna would call her a fool if she begged her grandmother to change the plan so late in the game now. This was for Margaery, after all.
Margaery sighed, getting to her feet. Her mother clapped her hands together, eyes shining for a different reason than Margaery's own were.
"I am so proud of you, my love," she said, pulling Margaery into a soft embrace.
Margaery clung to her, for a long moment longer than she should have done. Her mother seemed to find it odd, when she pulled back, but Margaery merely forced herself to smile.
"Thank you, Mother," she whispered, and then she was being bustled out of the Maidenvault and out of the Keep, to the Sept where all royal weddings took place.
It seemed as if the entirety of King's Landing was there when she arrived. They had to push past the smallfolk to even make it in, and there was Joffrey, standing at the front of the Great Hall and glancing back at her with the promise of fire in his eyes.
Desperate, her thigh burning again, Margaery searched out Sansa's face in the crowd of those gathered for her wedding in the Sept and sent the other girl a smile that got only a bemused look in return.
And then she turned, taking Joffrey's empty hand, and let him lead her up the steps to where the High Septon stood waiting to bless their loveless union.
She wondered what happened to one's soulmark, after both parties were pledged to someone else. Whether the mark would eventually fade. Or if it would putrefy, as Loras' had when Renly died, or whether it would never matter at all, because marriage was a law of man and not the gods, and the mark would simply be stuck there, a little drab bird to remind Margaery of what she had lost, until one or both of them died.
She swallowed hard, and forced herself to smile when Joffrey turned to place his Baratheon cloak upon her shoulders.
She didn't want to look at her soulmark, now. Didn't want to know what it would look like.
The wedding was a disaster.
Margaery's royal husband couldn't hold his liquor, and he was an abominable little beast even when he was sober. More than once, she found herself wondering why her grandmother couldn't just hurry things along, and then hating herself for the thought.
Beast though Joffrey was, Margaery couldn't help but feel relieved that she knew nothing of her grandmother's plans for being rid of him. Killing him, in cold, premeditated blood, sent chills down her spine, despite the warmth of the day causing the pie to melt.
Sansa sat miserably beside her miserable husband Tyrion, the both of them beside Garlan, and Margaery found herself wishing more than once that she could go over to them, that she could take Sansa into her arms and feed her pie, rather than Joffrey.
And then Joffrey started to choke on the wedding pie.
No one noticed. No one breathed. The world was silent as Margaery stared into her newly wedded husband's face, watched as it transformed from bemusement into outright terror, as he stumbled away from her and grasped at his throat.
Somehow, Margaery had not imagined poison to be such a bad way to die. It was supposed to be quicker than a swordfight, quicker than a hanging. Quick, painless. The way the songs spoke about it, with widowed young maidens poisoned in their sleep, despondent over the loss of their husband's.
This was not like that at all.
Margaery watched her husband stumble in slow motion, watched as his face turned purple and he clawed at his throat.
"Help him!" Margaery heard herself screaming, as if from a long way off. "He's choking!"
She sounded more desperate than the white noise inside her head was allowing her to feel.
Joffrey fell to the ground, coughing up blood and mucus, now.
Margaery couldn't quite believe that it had been her caring grandmother who had done this to Joffrey.
Cersei pushed past Margaery, nearly knocking her over, desperation clear in her features as she fell to the ground beside her oldest son.
And Joffrey looked at his mother, eyes wide with terror, face white, struggling to draw in his next breath.
He almost looked like a real child again, and not the monster Margaery knew him to be. She sucked in a surprised breath.
Cersei squeezed Joffrey's hand even as it bloated underneath her touch, and Joffrey let out another strangled cry of pain.
Cersei screamed for help, once more.
But what Margaery saw, as the boy choked on blood and vomit and pie, writhing around on the ground, was clear enough. Joffrey was not going to survive this.
Margaery had never seen anyone die in front of her before. She had imagined what it must have looked like from the way Lady Brienne had described it, how Renly had died. But she hadn't been there, and had never lost anyone within her own family before.
The closest she could come to witnessing death was when she had watched one of the foals put down by her brother Willas, because it wasn't going to survive with only three legs and the sickness it had been born with.
She had cried then, ensconced in her brother's arms, once the deed was done.
Margaery felt only numbness, now, the feeling settling over her like a cold blanket. She knew she should be summoning tears, should be reacting as Cersei was, at the realization that she was losing her husband.
But Margaery couldn't even pretend, in this moment. She couldn't quite muster up the energy to care enough to do so.
She swallowed hard, taking a step back as Cersei began to make keening sounds.
The mark on Margaery's thigh throbbed, still there, apparently, if that wasn't all in her head, and she glanced over to where Sansa had been sitting, saw with some horror that she was no longer there, that the cup at her seat was rolling around her plate, tipped over.
She swallowed hard, scanned the shocked, muttering crowd for her. Sansa would be implicated, they would look at her first, running was only going to get her killed by a Kingsguard spear...
And then Margaery saw her, standing at the edge of the clearing, the court jester's hand on her shoulder.
He was trying to pull her away, Margaery saw, though he didn't seem to be pulling very hard on her, so Margaery reasoned that he had not taken her without her consent.
But Sansa didn't move. She was only standing there, staring in horror at Joffrey, before a silent pause passed, and her eyes lifted to meet Margaery's.
Margaery had felt frozen before. Now, she was a statue, one of those stone people, like Stannis Baratheon's daughter was rumored to be.
Fear and then want splashed across Sansa's face, as she realized that they had made eye contact.
Margaery bit the inside of her cheek.
Sansa was no longer wearing the hairnet Olenna had taken special care to order made for Margaery, before discarding it as not worthy of her.
Sansa was never going to escape this without being implicated. Margaery would never forgive her grandmother for that, even if the woman couldn't possibly have known how she felt about Sansa.
And Margaery could never have Sansa, whether she stayed here to be killed after time in the Black Cells, or ran to be killed by hunters sent to chase her down.
At least this way, she could have a small chance, a head start, if only the Queen hadn't seen her. Margaery glanced around, to see if anyone else had noticed what she had.
But then the Queen Mother was looking up at Tyrion, where he stood on the raised dais, holding Joffrey's cup. And she let forth a scream for the guards to arrest her brother, for them to destroy him.
Margaery didn't look away from Sansa once.
Margaery could not give herself to Sansa. But she could give her this.
She gave Sansa a short nod, a smile to convey how she felt about this, even if Margaery herself wasn't even sure.
Margaery blinked, and then Sansa was gone.
When Margaery returned to her chambers in the Maidenvault that night, future uncertain save for what her grandmother had decided it would be and so very tired, she went first to one of her mirrors, after sending all of her ladies away.
The little bird stared back at her, still there. Save for that it was red now, a glowing, warm red, like the color of Sansa's Tully hair, and not like the drab little bird Margaery had always thought it to be at all.