The greatest scandal of our age came about when Robert Baratheon, Lord Paramount of the Stormlands and Warden of the East, repudiated his wife on the grounds of adultery and immoral relations.
In ordinary circumstances, it would have been hypocrisy of the highest order for Lord Baratheon to accuse anyone of lewdness. It was well known throughout all of Westeros that His Lordship had committed carnal acts with any woman who would have him, be she elegant lady or common harlot. Ordinarily, the public, particularly in the liberal South, might have agreed that an unfaithful wife would be precisely what he deserved and that the pair should simply reconcile themselves to their affairs.
However, Lord Baratheon had not simply accused Her Ladyship, Cersei Lannister of the Westerlands, of common adultery. No, indeed, he charged her with incest, claiming that she had lain with her own twin brother, Ser Jaime Lannister, countless times over the course of their marriage. He further claimed that her three children had not been sired by her lawful husband but by her brother-lover.
These charges were so obscene, so grotesque, that they might have been dismissed outright as the mad ravings of a dissolute old libertine with a vulgar mind. However, they were not. For one, it had long been noted that none of the alleged Baratheon children had inherited the distinctive Baratheon look, and were instead virtual copies of their mother. What had been seen as a quirk of bloodlines was now noted in weighted tones. For another, given Lady Cersei’s palpable disdain for her husband, it surprised no one that she might seek affection outside her marriage bed. And yet she also showed varying degrees of contempt for everyone else, save her own brother, which left no other viable suspects for her paramour. Both of these factors kept the rumours circulating at full speed. The Lady’s insufferable arrogance and refusal to forge meaningful connections outside of her own immediate family ultimately guaranteed that no important families from outside the Westerlands tried to tamp down on the gossip.
It is said that Tywin Lannister, Lord Paramount of the Westerlands and Warden of the West, dispatched his nephew Lancel as a messenger to his son-in-law at once, threatening fierce reprisals against the Stormlands, chiefly the end of Western imports, if Lord Robert attempted any further slander against the Lannisters. The message added that if Lord Robert retracted all of his falsehoods, Lord Tywin was willing to increase the portion of his estate that would be left to his Baratheon grandchildren after his death.
By all reports, the Storm Lord, whose speech was as foul as his temper, responded by ripping up the letter and throwing the pieces in the air. He thundered at the terrified Lancel, “What do I care what that whore-spawning old lion leaves to his bastard grandchildren when he’s dead? Does that bawd think he can keep me tied to him and his devil-laying hedge whore with a few gold scrapings? I’ve fought in wars! He can meet on the dueling grounds if he cares so much about his name!”
And so it was that Robert Baratheon divorced his wife. She left the Stormlands in a rage, vowing never to return to such a backwater. The denizens of the so-called backwater were hardly sorry to see her go.
There were a few gentle souls who mourned the departure of her two younger children, Myrcella and Tommen. Though rarely seen out and about in the region, they were generally considered to be decent types, if not terribly interesting. All, however, breathed a sigh of relief at the loss of Joffrey, the heir-no-longer. He was widely known to be a vicious beast of no redeeming qualities, and it was agreed that the Stormlands, and indeed Westeros at large, had avoided a dismal future with him as master of Storm’s End.
No sooner had the former lady and her non-Baratheon children crossed into the Reach on their way back to the Westerlands than people began to raise questions of succession.
Lord Robert had two younger brothers who were assumed to be his heirs presumptive. The elder of the two, Admiral Stannis Baratheon, was a fighting man like his brother, although he had achieved his success in the navy, not the military. A great captain but a terrible bore, the thought of having him take the helm someday made the storm lords shudder. He scarcely seemed more enthused about the role, although he prized duty above all else and would not refuse the title if it were passed on to him legally.
The lords did prefer the thought of the youngest Baratheon brother, Lord Renly, taking over. He was a genial, vivacious fellow, like Robert. But Admiral Baratheon was in good health, so there was no question of the younger brother supplanting the elder in the line of succession.
There was also the concern about children. Stannis had only a young daughter, Shireen, and no sons, though he and his wife had tried for many years. As for Renly, it was whispered in the most intimate circles that he was unlikely ever to produce children of his own. The dismal future, it seemed, was that, whatever Robert elected to do, the Baratheon name would be lost within a generation.
So Robert, of course, elected to do something utterly absurd instead.
When a pair of fine gentlemen walked into Tobho Mott’s shop, Gendry paid them no mind. Master Mott had taught him that if a lady came in, even a little lady of five clutching her father’s hand, then he was to drop everything and stand politely until she’d left. But he didn’t need to do the same for a gentleman if he was busy. A late shipment this morning meant he was behind on all his work, so he looked up long enough to be sure there wasn’t no lady in the doorway, and then he turned back to his anvil and carried on.
He hammered on for barely a minute more before he heard his name being called. It seemed the men wanted to talk to him. He really didn’t have time for them, but that didn’t matter to anyone but him. He’d have to go talk to them, and later he’d have to deal with his customer yelling at him because his order wasn’t quite ready yet. That was just how it went.
The two men looked to be brothers. They were both of tall build, standing almost high enough to look him in the eye, which didn’t happen often. They had the same blue eyes. Same black hair, too, though the older one was losing most of his. They were dressed so finely they had to be highborn. The younger one had a gleeful look in his eyes, but the older looked annoyed, like he’d definitely been dragged here. Gendry suspected he himself looked the same whenever he was anywhere but his forge.
“You must be Gendry,” the cheerful younger one guessed. “I’ve heard about you.”
Gendry stiffened his shoulders. He didn’t much like the thought of some fancy man knowing his name.
“You been talking to Lord Arryn, sir?” he asked, trying not to sound accusing and mostly failing. Master Mott usually knew better than to make him talk to customers.
“How did you guess?” the man asked, sounding impressed.
“He’s the only gentleman who’s ever said two words to me,” Gendry answered. “Don’t imagine there’s anyone else outside Flea Bottom who ever heard or spoke of me.”
“Lord Arryn came a few times, did he not?” asked the older man. He narrowed his eyes at Gendry like he could look into his soul but doubted there was much of value in there.
“He did,” Master Mott interjected. “First a couple of years ago, and then again recently.”
“Ah,” said the younger man. “And he talked to Gendry, yes? About his family, his apprenticeship?”
“I’m not an apprentice anymore,” Gendry butted in. “I’m twenty-three, and by law apprenticeships don’t go past twenty-one. I’m a journeyman, and in a few years, I’ll be a master craftsman myself.”
“I stand corrected,” the man acknowledged with good humour, as if it were the funniest mistake in the history of the world. “He also spoke of your family history, I’m told.”
Somewhere at the back of his mind, Gendry felt something warning him of danger.
“If you want to call it that,” he said. “Just my mum. Don’t have no father. Not much of a history.”
“You don’t have a father,” the older corrected. “You do, actually.”
The warning got a little louder.
“I don’t, sir,” he told them.
“Perhaps we ought to introduce ourselves,” the younger one said. “My name is Lord Renly Baratheon, and this is my brother, Admiral Stannis Baratheon. I believe you have heard of my eldest brother, Lord Paramount Robert Baratheon.”
Master Mott scraped even further. “Of course, my lords. His Lordship comes often to King’s Landing to deal with his affairs.” Gendry saw him wince a little at his choice of words, but he ploughed on. “He enjoys a good deal of esteem throughout the city. Regrettably, he has never gifted my shop with his patronage.”
“And yet we can be certain that he patronised Flea Bottom extensively. The pubs more than the shops, I rather suspect. Which brings us to why we are here.”
“Indeed, my lords?” Master Mott asked, awaiting their wisdom.
Lord Renly opened his mouth to spill out some more rubbish, but Lord Stannis cut in.
“We’re taking your journeyman to the Stormlands. We’ll send you compensation for your lost labour.”
With that, Lord Stannis put a hand on Gendry’s shoulder and guided him to the door, his brother following. Gendry was so taken off guard that he let himself be handled into a black and yellow chariot waiting outside the shop. The two lords got in after him and called out to the driver, and the whole thing started rolling down the street.
“Now hang on,” Gendry finally managed. “What do you think you’re playing at? I haven’t done nothing wrong. You can’t just pinch me like this.”
“You haven’t done anything wrong,” Lord Stannis corrected. He pulled out a handkerchief and wiped the sweat and grime from Gendry’s shoulder off his glove.
“Of course you haven’t,” Lord Renly agreed. “We wouldn’t be taking you across the country in our own private coach if we suspected you had. Now, we can send for your things, if you’re truly set on having them. Do you live above that shop?”
“I rent a room in Gin Alley,” Gendry heard himself saying.
“Sounds delightful. I’ll send a man this evening to collect your belongings and settle your balance with the proprietress.”
“The what?” Gendry asked, then shook his head. “No, forget that. Why are two fancy folk like you coming to my work, dragging me into a carriage, and trying to tie up my whole life in King’s Landing to send me to the Stormlands, where I ain’t even been?”
Lord Stannis looked ready to correct him again, but Renly just gave him a look, and then turned back to Gendry.
“You see, my lad,” the younger lord began, “it concerns our brother, the Lord Paramount. I believe the stories of his marital woes have spread this far by now, surely.”
“You mean how his wife was dancing the blanket hornpipe with her brother? Yeah, everyone knows about that.”
“And how his children were actually no such thing,” added Lord Renly. “Yes. We should have seen it long ago. All Baratheon children have a certain look. Tall, strong build, blue eyes, black hair.”
The two lord brothers stared at him for a long moment. The warning was trying to burrow out of his skull.
“What’s this got to do with me?” Gendry asked.
“You have already met Lord Arryn. Although he is a very busy man, as Lord Paramount of the Vale and Hand of the Prince Regent, he maintains a particular fondness for my brother. Robert spent a lot of time at the Eyrie as a boy, and Lord Arryn thinks of him as a son. It was he who investigated Cersei, after he began having doubts. His investigations led to the truth about the paternity of Cersei’s children. It also led to the truth of your own.”
Though he was frozen in place, Gendry peeked out of the corner of his eye at the busy street behind the chariot’s curtains. If he waited until they got to a quieter street, he could jump out before they could stop him and run. He wasn’t too fast, but he knew the city better than them.
“You’re Robert’s natural son,” Lord Stannis told him without ado. “He came to King’s Landing twenty-four years ago, spent a few nights with your mother, and conceived you.”
Gendry shook his head. “No. That’s not possible. My mum wasn’t some fine lady. She was a barmaid. She’d’ve never met someone like him. Whoever my father was, he was just some drunk in Flea Bottom.”
“Robert likes low whores just as much as he likes courtesans,” Lord Stannis said, unflinching. “And you’ve got the look. No one who sees you could deny it, especially no one who knew him when he was your age.”
“I’m just a bastard,” Gendry insisted, trying to inch to the door. He didn’t need a quiet street. Probably, any cart rolling by wouldn’t kill him.
Lord Renly reached out and grasped him by the arm. He was stronger than he looked.
‘You’re a Lord Paramount’s bastard,” he said. “And soon you’ll be more than that. Robert wants to meet you.”
“Say that were the case,” Gendry said, “say Robert Baratheon really were my father, and he gave half a shit about meeting me. Why didn’t he come to King’s Landing himself? He’s come here loads of times before.”
The two lords exchanged a look.
“My brother,” started Lord Renly, searching for delicate phrasing, “is unwell. Years of drinking and eating to excess, combined with the stress of recent events, have weakened him considerably. He ordered us to bring you home to him before it was too late.”
For the first time since Lords Renly and Stannis walked into Master Mott’s shop, all of Gendry’s muscles unclenched, and he fell back against the plush seat. He had a father. His father was dying. He was a Warden’s bastard. He was spreading soot on the only velvet he’d ever touched in his life.
Sod it all.
The trip wasn’t terrible, all things considered. Lord Renly did his best to make conversation with him and ask questions about his work, which was nice of him. Lord Stannis hated small talk and barely said a word, which was nicer.
When they reached the Stormlands, commoners recognised the chariot and rushed up to wave and call out, mostly offering Lord Renly good wishes. Lord Renly, of course, threw open the windows to wave to them. A few happened to lock eyes with Gendry for a second, and they’d all give him the same confused look before turning back to his uncle. This carried on for quite some time. Gendry looked over at Lord Stannis, who looked sour. They rolled their eyes at the same time, and for a moment, Gendry could have a sworn the ghost of a smile passed across his other uncle’s face.
They passed through plenty of little towns, getting the same treatment every time. Eventually, Gendry heard the familiar sounds of the shore in the distance.
“Look out the window, lad,” Lord Renly told him, with a mischievous smile. “It’s Storm’s End. Come see what your family owns.”
Gendry leaned forward, pushing a black curtain to the side. His jaw went slack.
A great palace stood beyond, so large it seemed set on trying to dwarf the sky. The whole thing sat on a cliff, and he couldn’t see much space between the walls of the building and the edge. There were rows and rows of gleaming windows, and the columns around the entryway stood as tall as the Sept of Baelor. This couldn’t be a house. Not a lord’s, not a king’s, not anyone’s.
But it’s your father’s house. You and Mum had to put buckets on the floor when it rained, but your father lives here.
Not for the first time, Gendry wanted to tell his new uncles that he had changed his mind, that there had been a terrible mistake and it was best if they just shipped him back to King’s Landing. Master Mott probably hadn’t replaced him yet.
The carriage rolled to a halt out front. A bald man, dressed all in maester’s black, came forward to greet the group as they stepped.
“Ah, Jurne,” Renly greeted. “As you can see, the trip was a success. I trust you received the word I sent ahead and have made arrangements for young Gendry.”
“I have,” the bald man confirmed. He turned to Gendry. “Sir, I promise you that your happiness at Storm’s End is my chief priority.”
And then, horrifyingly, he bowed to Gendry.
“That’s, um,” Gendry managed. “Yes. Thanks.”
There was an awkward moment where Jurne watched him, probably expecting more out of his lord’s son. He didn’t get it. Gendry just focused on trying to stop his legs shaking without locking his knees as he did it. Finally, Renly clapped his hands together.
“Well, no use standing around. We’ll see my brother now. That is,” his voice dropped and his cheer subsided for a moment, “he is still-?”
“Yes, my lord,” Jurne reassured him. “You know how His Lordship is. The stubbornest man in the realm. So long as he’s wanting to see young Master Gendry here, he won’t let go.”
Lord Renly nodded. “Time to reward his bullheadedness. Lead the way, Maester!”
Jurne nodded stiffly and ushered the men into the house. The interior was mad as well. He could’ve fit every building along Gin Alley into the hall. Gendry had to crane his neck to see the ceiling, which was made up of carved panels. He’d never realised highborns wanted fancy ceilings too. It made sense. Still mad.
He followed the maester and his uncles as they made their way through the house. They passed through side hallways, which were smaller than the entrance but still maddeningly big. They finally stopped outside a set of doors twice as high as the ones he was used to. They were carved too. How much richer would the Baratheons be if they didn’t spend fortunes on scratching fine lines into everything they owned? He loved an ornate dagger as well as anyone, but a door was a door.
He snapped out of that train of thought when he realised Lord Renly and Maester Jurne had grown sombre again. Lord Stannis had remained sombre throughout.
“Are you ready?” Lord Renly asked him.
No. No, of course he wasn’t. On the other side of that expensive door was a man who’d won wars and was like a son to the Hand of the Prince Regent and lived in a palace and happened to sleep with Gendry’s mother a few times. Men like that weren’t fathers to men like Gendry.
“He’s ready,” Lord Stannis decided. Gendry wanted to believe Lord Stannis had faith in him, saw something Gendry couldn’t, but he was pretty sure the man just wanted to get out of the hallway. Still, he nodded.
Jurne pushed open the door. “My lord? He’s come.”
Gendry wasn’t sure what he was expecting. When he was little and he saw the sort of men his mother brought home, he’d imagined his father must be as low as the lot of them. But then he’d pictured Robert Baratheon, Lord Paramount of the Stormlands and Warden of the East, celebrated war hero, once every maiden’s fantasy. He must have been big and strong, with a proud smile and a wise eye.
The man lying on the bed was fat. Very fat. He hadn’t got a shirt on, and the rolls of flesh bunched up under his hairy chest. He had the same blotchy face as any man who’d drunk more wine than water in his life, and under the red spots he was pale from sickness. His blue eyes were glassy. His hair was still thick, unlike his middle brother’s, but lank and unwashed. The room stank of him.
Right. Warden or not, this was pretty much what he’d always expected of his father.
“This is him?” Robert Baratheon asked, struggling to focus on Gendry. “Gods, look at him. Like looking into the past. Those muscles. He looks like he could lift an aurochs overhead. Come sit by me, my boy.”
Jurne pulled a chair out of thin air and set it by Lord Robert’s bedside. Gendry put one foot in front of the other until he reached it, and then dropped into the seat.
“Gendry, my son,” Robert marvelled. His voice was still deep, despite his weakness. “You’re a handsome one, too,” Lord Robert noted. “When I was your age, I had women swarming all around me. Wasn’t a kitchen maid safe. I bet it’s the same for you.”
Gendry didn’t say anything. No girl wanted to bother with a bastard apprentice and he didn’t much care to ask. Since he’d made his way to journeyman, he’d been working hard to establish himself and hadn’t given women much thought. They certainly didn’t seek him out – him with no means or smiles to offer. But Lord Robert didn’t seem like he wanted to hear that.
“Jon Arryn told me you trained as a blacksmith.”
“I did,” Gendry answered, his own voice fainter than he’d intended. He rallied. “Ten years apprenticed, two working. Made weaponry. Pistols and swords.”
Lord Robert laughed, even though it seemed to cause him a little pain. “That’s my boy! Fine work, that. Noble trade. Those boys I thought were mine, they never made a damned thing in their lives. Never did anything either. The little one just wanted to play with his cat. The older couldn’t do anything but bully farmers and whine to his mother. But just looking at you, I can see you’re hardworking. Serious. That’s more than I ever was.”
“Thank you, m’lord,” said Gendry.
“None of that,” Lord Robert scolded with a smile. “I’m your father. You’ll address me as such.”
“Yes,” said Gendry, and after a quick swallow, “Father.” The word sounded strange in the air, but Robert didn’t seem to mind. “I’m hoping to be certified as a master craftsman within a few years. I’d like to have my own shop someday.”
“What?” Lord Robert looked confused for a minute, and then he turned to his brothers with a nasty look. “You didn’t tell him? You pair of hornless stags, spent all that time on the road with him and never mentioned it?”
Lord Renly babbled for a moment, stunned. “We- We thought it was obvious. Since we were he- heading here, and you- no more heirs. I suppose we never actually said it aloud.”
“Said what?” Gendry really didn’t like the sound of this.
Looking back at him, Robert lifted a jittering hand and grasped Gendry’s forearm. “I need an heir, boy. And you’re the only son I’ve got. Jon Arryn’s already petitioning the Prince Regent to legitimise you quick as he can. And that damned fop’ll do it. It’s the least he can do, after everything he’s done to me. I’m making you a Baratheon, Gendry, and when I’m dead, the Stormlands will be yours.”
That was- He couldn’t just- How- Gendry was shaking his head and he wasn’t sure how to stop.
“Jurne, get him a drink.” Lord Renly was behind him somewhere.
Jurne came towards him with a tray, carrying a bottle of something and a glass. Gendry rarely ever drank, but today he ignored the glass and brought the bottle to his lips, tipping it high and trying to swallow some sense.
When he needed to breathe, he handed the bottle back to Jurne and stared blankly at Lord Robert.
“I can’t just,” Gendry struggled, “be a lord. I’m a smith. And even that’s more than I had any right to expect out of life. You can’t just sit there and tell me I’ve got to be bloody Warden someday.”
“He can,” said Lord Stannis. “It’s all legal.”
“But it’s mad!”
“It’s what I’ve decided,” Lord Robert decreed. “And that’s the end of it. If there were any justice in the world, you'd be my trueborn son. If I’d married Lyanna, she’d have given me a son like you. I’m sure of that. I could’ve raised you as my heir, and you’d be ready for all this. The world isn’t fair. I’m only meeting you now, and you don’t know a damned thing. But you’ll learn. Not from these two fools. I’ve sent a message to my truest friend, Ned Stark. You heard of him?”
Eddard Stark, Lord Paramount and Warden of the North. Oldest family in Westeros. A man of honour and bravery. And friends with Gendry’s father.
“I’ve asked him to come down to Storm’s End. Sent the message just this morning. The North’s too far away; he won’t get here in time for me.” Robert gestured to himself, leaving no doubt what ‘in time’ meant. “But he’ll be here for you. He’ll steer you right. He’ll teach you the things you need to know to be a lord, to be a man. Listen to him. I have to wonder what it would’ve been like for me if I had.”
Robert stared off into space for a minute, lost in a world that he’d never lived in. He sighed deeply, but it turned into a cough, and then a series of wheezes.
“Fuck all the gods,” he rasped. He grabbed Gendry’s arm again. “You’ll do it, won’t you? I need you to take my place. I know I’m hardly a father, but you are my son. Say you’ll do it.”
Gendry didn’t want to. He wanted to say no. He wanted to refuse and run away into the night, find passage back to the Crownlands, and beg Master Mott for his job back. He wanted to keep being Gendry Waters, who only worried about making a masterpiece to get admitted to the Smiths’ Guild. He wanted to forget he’d ever heard the name Baratheon.
But Robert Baratheon, decrepit and dying but trying, was looking at him like all his hopes and dreams were hanging on Gendry.
“I’ll do it,” he promised. “I’ll do it, Father.”
Robert relaxed and laid back on his pillows.
For three days, he held on, and for three days, Gendry sat at his new father’s bedside as Renly chatted and Stannis grumbled out corrections. On the third day, Jurne ushered in a red-faced, panting messenger, who read out an edict declaring that by order of the Prince Regent, Gendry Waters, son of Robert Baratheon, Lord Paramount of the Stormlands and Warden of the East, would henceforth be known as Gendry Baratheon, legal son and heir of House Baratheon. To Gendry, it felt like a punch in the stomach, but one he’d spent three days watching his enemy wind up for – awful, but a strange relief.
Robert just smiled, and closed his eyes.
“Everyone out now,” he ordered. “I don’t want to hear anyone’s voice but hers when I go.”
For an hour, Gendry, his uncles, and Jurne stood in the hallway, not really speaking. Eventually, by some silent agreement, they turned back to the door. Gendry raised a fist and rapped on the wood, the sound too loud in his ears.
“Father?” he called, the word still not quite fitting in his mouth.
No answer came.
Gendry opened the door, the creak screeching in his ears. They all stepped in. Robert lay in bed, unmoving, blood drained from his face. It was Jurne who stepped forward and lay an ear on his chest, touched two fingers to his neck. Finally, he stood back up, with his back to the Baratheon men. They heard him suck in a shaky breath and watched him square his shoulders. He turned back to them.
“Lord Robert Baratheon is dead,” he declared. “A long life and healthy life to you, Lord Gendry Baratheon.”