They were dressed in furs and leathers, and there were five of them.
Well, there were more than five, plenty more, but only that handful truly mattered. The eldest was red of hair and broadening through the shoulder, the youngest barely six namedays old, but they all looked the same. Not in coloring per se—the younger girl looked nothing like the older—but in their wolfish look, from lordly Robb and prim and proper Sansa to the skinny Brandon and the child that was Rickon. Wolfish. I suppose that's a fitting description, considering.
He liked them. All of them, even Arya, who had made no secret of her disdain for being escorted to the feast by him.
"There are certainly a lot of these Starks." It was Tyrek speaking, his face red and lips loose after his second glass of wine. Short but as attractive as most Lannisters seemed to be, Tyrek was a married man at four and ten, though his wife was all of one year old. It had taken months for the nephew of the Lord of the Westerlands to stop insisting everyone refer to him as 'Lord Lannister', what with his infant of a bride being the Lady of Hayford.
The owner of the next voice, another Lannister and squire to the king named Lancel, was even deeper in his cups. "I'd say so. Have you seen Sansa? If Lady Stark looked like that fifteen years ago…"
The table of squires laughed around him, and he did his best to join in even though he knew the turn the conversation might take. Sure enough, when Lorent Falwell—squire to Ser Borros of the Kingsguard—emptied his flagon in a long gulp, Damon knew what was coming nearly before the words left his lips. "Hell, even the way she looks now…I'm willing for a tumble if she is, old or not."
The laughter of the table of southron squires was cut short by one quiet but firm voice. "Enough. We are a guest in Lord Stark's home; as such, we will not speak inappropriately of either his daughter or wife."
The silence that followed—although it wasn't really silence, for the feast around them ground on oblivious—was horribly awkward in the moments before each of the half-grown boys murmured their apologies. The owner of the voice accepted them with a curt nod and a smile that even a simpleton like Lancel would know didn't reach his eyes before standing. The lads did the same, many of them wobbling. "I fear I must attend my family. All of you continue to enjoy the feast."
The Seven know you'll enjoy it more without my company. The tall, lean man—who was as much a boy as those at the table he'd just turned from, and also a man long their elder at the same time—began the ponderous journey towards the royal table, holding his disappointment in check. I knew it was a long shot in any case. Perhaps I should learn to keep my tongue in check.
Or just stop trying. That has better odds of working in my favor I'd wager.
It was difficult, being a Prince. One might think it was an absurd statement that, what with the wealth and the prestige and the hanger-on's that came with such a position. Many over the years had died trying to obtain that title for themselves and their sons, and many more would die trying to do it in the future. Damon on the other hand had been born to it, the son of a king and second-in-line to the most prestigious kingdom in the known world.
And he hated it, and all it entailed.
Prince Damon Baratheon tried to keep his inner ponderings to himself as he navigated Winterfell's hall, stepping around drunken men-at-arms and over discarded flagons of ale as he made for the lord's table. Even with his mind preoccupied with rehashing the conversation he had just come from—he'd only spoken three lines in half an hour, and they'd been enough to make him unwelcome at the table—he felt the eyes upon him. Out of the corner of his eye he caught a glimpse of the table of noble girls—Northerners all, as few women had travelled north with the King's court—eyeing him and giggling among themselves, oblivious to the fact that he was fully aware of what they were doing.
He was used to that. Tall and lean, neither broad nor frail through the shoulders, he was a fair man, accentuated by the black tunic with the golden stag stitched across his chest and his black breeches. He wished, for the millionth time in his life, that he had the black hair and blue eyes to go with it, but as always that wish wasn't answered.
Not that the alternative was bad; no, many would say it was better. Damon Baratheon looked, like all his siblings, like a Lannister, with curly golden hair and bright emerald eyes. His clean-shaven face had a sharp jawline and high cheekbones like his mother, and the slightest of dimples when he smiled. Even so, when he looked at his mother—she sat stoic and regal at the table he was walking towards, ever the lioness in a dress of crimson and gold—he could see much of what he saw when he looked into the mirror.
And when he looked at his Uncle Jaime, who stood resplendent in his Kingsguard armor just behind her, he saw himself exactly.
And when I look to my father I see nothing of myself, no matter how desperately I wish to. Damon glanced back over his shoulder even as he continued forward, eyes following the direction of the booming laugh he knew quite well. The King satamidst the revelry, a serving girl in his lap, drunk and boisterous and looking nothing like a king save for the crown atop his head.
Yet he is the man I wish to be. I should probably question that more than I do.
When he faced back forwards he was nearly at the high table, and his mother was watching him. Cersei Lannister was a beautiful woman, with all the looks Damon had just been attributing to himself, and she remained that way even when she wasn't smiling. Which she wasn't, not with the King doing what he was doing, but then again his father never gave his mother any reason to smile.
Her eyes were warm even if her expression was as cold as ice. She said nothing, pointedly not looking at the Baratheon colors he wore—she wanted him to wear Lannister colors like his brothers and his sister, but Damon insisted he wear the colors of his house—but she raised an eyebrow, anticipating in that motherly way she had that he was about to speak.
First Damon gave a smile and nod of acknowledgement to Lady Stark, ever mindful of his courtesies. "Lady Stark, your hospitality has been beyond gracious."
The wife of Lord Eddard smiled, and Damon noted that she was indeed still an attractive woman, just as Lorent had said. Even so, he should have the decency to not say it so openly, and never in her husband's hall. "Thank you, Prince Damon. I hope you are enjoying yourself."
Not at all. "I am indeed, my lady." He looked back to his mother, who had remained expressionless throughout her second son's interaction with the hosting lord's wife. "Even so, I believe it is time for Myrcella and Tommen to retire, and I myself am exhausted from the road. I believe I will settle them myself, if you both will excuse me."
Lady Stark graciously did so, and his mother merely nodded. She held his gaze a moment, silently asking how his attempt to integrate with the boys his own age had gone. Damon held it, letting her know in no uncertain terms that it had gone like all the previous attempts had gone.
Her eyes became furious, but she smiled to hold up pretenses in front of Catelyn Tully. "Of course dear. Find Ser Borros to escort you."
Damon placed a hand on his mother's shoulder and squeezed lightly. It's not their fault your son isn't comfortable around them, mother. The accountability is mine, not theirs. "Uncle Jaime is closer." Damon turned with one last smile before looking to his sister, who was staring into the crowd oblivious to her brother and mother's conversation despite being seated directly next to them.
Or staring at Robb Stark, rather. Damon smiled at that, even as he gently shook her shoulder. Myrcella was a pretty girl at two and ten, and was bound to grow into a beautiful woman in the not-so-distant future. She'd blushed like…well, like the girl she was when the heir to Winterfell had escorted her into the feasting hall, and blushed even heavier when she looked up now into her older brother's knowing eyes. Damon silently approved—Stark seemed a decent lad, and what with the friendship between their fathers just such a betrothal could easily take place, though it would be a few years yet.
He grinned at his sister. "Come, 'Cella. We've had enough feasting for one night."
The Princess opened her mouth to protest, but glanced at her mother before deflating. Damon knew the look the Queen was giving her only daughter without even turning to see it; it promised retribution if there was even a touch of protest. Damon had seen it many times growing up. "Of course, Damon."
As he pulled the chair out for her, his sister gaining her feet, Damon couldn't help but lean in closely to her ear. "I'm sure lord Robb will miss your stare as much as you'll miss staring."
Damon chuckled as his sister elbowed him as subtly and as hard as she could, now as crimson as her dress. He nudged her to show her he was joking even as he clasped his youngest sibling, the nine year old Tommen, on the shoulder. "You too, Tommen."
His plump younger brother didn't protest, sleep already prevalent in his eyes. Their uncle Jaime, having overheard Damon talking to the Queen, had summoned Myrcella's handmaidens and was awaiting them already, grinning charmingly at his nieces and nephews. The golden haired troupe made as quite of an exit as they could manage, and Damon breathed lighter once they were in the relative quiet of the inner corridor of Winterfell.
Tommen reached for his hand, and Damon obliged him. He knew it was unprincely of them both, but Tommen was a sweet child and still young; besides, Myrcella was on Damon's other arm, so he couldn't very well show favoritism between the two. "Did you enjoy yourself, little brother?"
The youngest Baratheon nodded sleepily. "It was fun. But the Stark wolves are…scary."
Myrcella chimed in from Damon's other side. "I thought they were majestic."
"All of them, or only lord Robb's?" This elbow was much less subtle and much harder, but Damon laughed all the louder after taking it. He agreed with both of his siblings; the Stark direwolves were majestic to be certain, even half-grown as they were, but Damon imagined they would grow into utterly frightful beasts all the same.
Their uncle, walking behind them, had chuckled with Damon and Tommen at Myrcella's expense. "The Princess is found of the young Stark. I noticed as well."
"I imagine the entire feast noticed." Damon laughed again, thankful Myrcella was taking her ribbing beautifully. If only everyone was named Baratheon or Lannister; I'd be the most popular Prince in Westerosi history.
As long as those Baratheons and Lannisters weren't his twin of course. He interacted with the brother who had been born five minutes before him about as well as he had the table of squires earlier.
Damon had given up trying to determine why he clammed up when it came to those situations. Not around his brother of course, because everyone clammed up around Joffrey, but the others. Damon was good in formal situations; he could write a book on etiquette, assuming the bumbling Pycelle would shut up long enough to give him the peace to do so. It was the informal that got him, a mystery he had yet to be able to solve, that manner of inspiring other men he saw his uncle Jaime and father Robert and other uncle Renly do so well. That escaped Damon Baratheon as little else did.
It's good I'm not the next king. I'd be 'Damon the Simpleton' or 'Damon the Dumb' I'm sure.
Tommen was asleep nearly as soon as he was in his room, Damon removing the Prince's boots and burying him under the mountains of furs. He gave a single nod to Ser Mandon Moore, who was stationed between the doors to Tommen's and Myrcella's chambers, before venturing a few more doors down the way to his own chamber, next to which was his brother's.
"I saw it didn't go well." His uncle said it quietly from his own station between those two doors, but with a sympathetic grimace that made it all the worse.
Damon didn't bother trying to play dumb. His uncle Jaime was perhaps the man he was closest to in the world, and had been since Damon and Joffrey had come screaming into the world fifteen years earlier. He was the only man Damon was close to, save for little Tommen; Damon wasn't good at making friends. "It never does."
His uncle placed a hand on his shoulder, squeezing reassuringly. "They don't have to like you. You could outduel them all with your left hand while pleasing a woman with your right."
Damon snorted. "I have, save for that last bit. I think that's why they don't like me."
Jaime shrugged. "They'll get over it. You're a Prince, they're nothing." His uncle's face, an older version of his own, lit up in a smirk. "Besides, you're better with more than one sword than they are." He tilted his head towards Damon's closed chamber door. "Tyrion sent you a gift."
Damon smiled a bit at that. "Any idea where he is, by the way? I noticed he disappeared sometime in the early hours of the feast."
"No idea, but I wouldn't worry about that. You've got something more important to tend to." Jaime held up a hand to cut Damon off. "No worries; not a word to your mother."
The golden haired, black-clad prince slipped through the door and shut it firmly behind him. A young woman, red-haired and shapely and as naked as her nameday, lounged atop the bed within. Damon had no idea how Tyrion had smuggled her within Winterfell's walls, but as Jaime had said, the prince had more pressing concerns to worry about.
Damon let his eyes trail up and down her, the whore smiling at him in her practiced way. "Hello my prince." Damon didn't bother saying anything in return; instead he held her eyes as he reached for his belt. That made her smile all the deeper. "What is it I can do for you?"
"You can stop talking," the prince said as he stepped deeper into the room.
He had lied earlier. Damon didn't hate everything about being a Prince.
And he had at least one thing in common with his father.