A beautiful woman that is not your wife, he thinks but doesn’t say, well aware of just how futile it would be.
Jon Arryn frowns at that, fingers nervously tapping at the letter in his hand as he sets it on the table. The seal is broken but the wax wolf used by the northern kings is still easy to see.
The entire table stills, even Pycelle’s coughing coming to a halt.
“The King in the North,” Jon starts, “has sent a letter asking for an envoy. It appears he wants to resume trade with the south.”
It appears. An odd choice of words but one Robert has clearly not noticed, judging by the relief in his eyes. Every member of the small council knows their king treats the northern king like a long lost lover, just as they all know Eddard Stark refused each and every attempt made the King in the South to reconcile.
“An envoy,” Lord Arryn stresses before Robert can open his mouth. “Not the king.”
The king grumbles, face twisting in displeasure as he settles back in his chair, thumping a hand against the table.
“One of the Tyrells would do, their heir has been known to send letters north, or perhaps-”
“Stannis,” his brother interrupts Arryn. “Stannis will go north.”
“Stannis?” Renly echoes their brother, not bothering to hide his doubt. “Wouldn’t someone who has more experience with delicate negotiations be better?”
Robert snorts, his waning interest in the matter becoming clear, as he waves a fat hand in the air.
“And you would go? No, the master of laws is needed here. It’s not like I need a master of ships, not with no war!”
A hundred rebukes come to mind, each more stinging than the last, but Stannis merely nods.
“As your grace commands.”
“Stannis,” Lord Arryn calls out as the small council members begin to leave, “a moment?”
Pausing in his steps, he turns to look at the Hand, gaze flicking to the door before stepping back into the room as the rest of the council shuffles out.
A moment's pause before Arryn speaks, blue eyes narrowed in contemplation as he turns to look at Stannis.
“When I knew Ned,” Jon begins, “he was a second son and the spare heir. He was a prince but he was still a boy. He was kind and clever but trusting and far too easily influenced by Robert. The war changed that.”
Lord Arryn clears his throat, fingers combing through his graying beard, before he finally speaks. “The last time I saw Ned-it was right after Robert demanded Lyanna’s babe be killed. I still remember what he said, what he told Robert before turning his forces North.”
“The South can rot,” Stannis recalls easily-it was a tale often told by men deep in their cups. “The North remembers.”
“Yes,” Jon nods, “Robert lost him when he threatened Ned’s nephew, and with his actions we lost the North. Stark swore to never treat with the South again, and for the most part, he has kept that promise. Oh, the North allows merchants to enter and the queen still writes to her family in Riverrun…but Varys has had no success in placing spies in Stark’s kingdom and all marriage offers made to his heir or even his other children are rejected.”
“You think this a trap?”
“I find it hard to believe Ned would risk war,” the Hand responds slowly, “but years have passed since I last saw him, and men grow hard and cold in his kingdom. Whatever the reason, it is clear he has a game at play. I just cannot imagine what his goal must be."
"Be careful, Stannis," Jon finally tells him, blue eyes hard as he turns away in clear dismissal. "The North does not forgive."