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The Dregs of Power

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If Shae was supposed to love her lady mistress, she failed miserably at her new occupation. No whore ever cared for other women, it was always said, and truthfully so. Men were pleasant if they wanted her and knew how to pay. Even the best had heads the size of castles, chips on their shoulders, and ridiculous patronage that she pretended not to notice (they paid her to pretend that so many things didn’t exist), but they needed her. Deep down where they all hated themselves, men gave her a twisted kind of respect. Better than nothing.

Women were brought up to hate her and so Shae hated them right back. They spat at her in the streets and relished in her humiliation, and so Shae laughed at their backs and drew caricatures of their prized beauty to hand out to street urchins.

It wasn’t like it really mattered. It wasn’t like they would have treated her any better if she loved them. All that silk and lace must have suffocated their wit and empathy long ago, for Shae saw nothing more than hollow cyvasse pieces in every fine lady. They tittered and floated around, sold to this man or that man, playing with the shreds of power that they were allowed. Any lady could order a whore or a servant around, of course, and they did. Brutally. It merely saved men the trouble. It was so endearing, wasn’t it?

Sansa Stark wasn’t the first fine lady that Shae had hated behind her pretend smile. The slip of a girl had more than Shae would ever have and yet she was not satisfied. Those pretty rouged lips spat disdain at a mere handmaiden, grasping for more power and respect than she deserved.

When the young lady at last retired to bed and Shae could scrunch up her face in an expression that was not pretend, she thought it good that the pillow only half muffled her mistress’ tears.

Shae hated fine ladies with their fine troubles that were the only troubles they understood.

Day after day she did her duty with a dutiful face, for payment, and perhaps a little for the moments when Tyrion looked at her like a starving child. It was not what she would have asked for, but it was better than disdain. Sansa did not lash at her for mistakes again, and Shae gloated over the silence. She could play a part of a dutiful maid far better than this copper-headed girl could play a kind lady.

It seemed that Sansa could not play the part of any lady.

I could play your part better than you, Shae thought with disgust as Sansa attempted to force a smile on her lips. She was to attend court, and yet after an hour of practice she could not even manage to keep her eyes dry. Shae piled the red hair atop the girl’s head and hated how pathetic she was.

If you don’t want these luxuries, we might switch places, she thought when Sansa let out a shudder once released from her gown, another royal dinner ended leaving her looking drained instead of revived. Shae craved the delicate foods and fine wine, to be addressed with regard. Sansa looked more like she’d escaped a pit of maggots. Idiot girl. She deserved none of this life.

Sometimes for no reason at all, the girl would let tears drop while Shae was around. What do you have to cry about? she bit her tongue to keep from saying aloud. No man has made you suck his cock and then demanded that you thank him for the ‘favor’. Your family is gone but you are a princess among the king’s family. Swallow your tears, stupid child. If you must have all this that you do not deserve, you might at least value it.

As long as Tyrion paid her, Shae continued being Sansa’s handmaid. She did her job well. She hid how much she hated the pretty princess who was never satisfied with her life.

One day she was asked to attend court with her lady, and then she heard the whispers. Traitor’s blood. Lying bitch. Whore. No one said them aloud, of course, until the court was cleared and the king required Sansa’s obeisance. He was a cruel man, to ask a child to state her joy in the prospect of a brother’s death. Sansa did so with halting words, and the king hesitated. The girl paled, and cringed when one of the kingsguard stretched out an arm. King Joffrey finally nodded, however, and the armored man only took Sansa by the arm and escorted her firmly away.

Shae followed and watched Sansa bite her lip. Foolish girl indeed. Had no one taught her how to pretend? Of course not. She knows no whores.

It seemed that everyone in this castle hated her mistress, she discovered, and grudgingly did so as well. The girl was stupid and incompetent, and had she been in a whorehouse she would have been whipped for her constant sorrow and insincerity. Sansa shivered when slipping under the warm bathwater and Shae did her best to hate the young woman for all the things she could not do properly.

No one had stripped the empathy from Shae, however. She was no fine lady, no hollow piece on the cyvasse board. Hatred was hard to hold onto in the face of a child with a quivering lip, almost disappearing when no one was looking at her.

Foolish girl. Foolish. Shae washed Sansa’s hair and bit her tongue.

Day after day, night after night, she played handmaid so that she might fuck Tyrion and play his lover and earn enough money to keep on living. Day after day, night after night, she saw that privilege was not always protection. Tyrion did not send Shae to her room weeping, nor with a bruise on her cheek. The king was not like Tyrion. Shae was glad to be a whore, and a smart one at that.

Little lady Sansa, despised and alone, was not truly worth hating. Shae could have taught her about worse struggles than hers, but what was worse? With a grimace, she reluctantly allowed that this world did neither of them any favors. And wrongs were wrongs. She’d not wish her own on this girl, not as long as Sansa wept into her pillow.

“Your neck is stiff, my lady,” Shae said while brushing the morning tangles from Sansa’s hair.

“Perhaps I have too many pillows.”

Shae would have snorted at that, pointing out rather the pale cheeks and dark circles that put the blame on lack of sleep. She did not do it, however. Sansa’s voice had been emotionless, her words spoken for the sake of expectation, no more. The hairbrush slipped through the red hair until it was shiny-smooth, then Shae set it aside. Wordlessly, she ran her thumb down the ridge of Sansa’s neck.

“What are you doing?” Sansa started and tensed defensively.

“Loosening your neck,” Shae said plainly, and began rubbing her thumb in small circles along the stiff muscles.

In the mirror, she could see Sansa blink. But there was no protest. Shae was good with her hands, and the forced composure on Sansa’s face faded just a little as the tension bled from her muscles. Good. That was a start. Shae smiled at her mistress with all the pretend affection she could muster. “Now your neck is not so stiff?”

Sansa shook her head and murmured, “Thank you.”

Silly girl. “Save your courtesies for the king,” Shae said lightly while helping the girl into her gown. She shrugged. “Pretend he is me, and perhaps they will taste less sour.”

The way Sansa looked at her then, Shae might have been a talking cat. Brown eyes met blue. Shae kept hers hooded, for she did not like this fine lady and would not even pretend to share. Sansa looked confused, cautious, and Shae wondered if the girl might embrace her with weeping thanks. For both their sakes, it was good that Sansa remembered her place. The girl finally nodded slightly, the set of her lips both grateful and prepared.

Her hands still tensed at her sides when Sansa left the room, but Shae thought the performance was better than it had been before. Shae could not hate someone who listened to her advice.

Perhaps not so stupid after all.

Everyone had a part to play in the world. Some forgot theirs and people like Shae had to play along anyways. Some never learned their part, and ended up headed to an early grave. Shae was determined to live life long and well, and so she played. Played and played and lived.

Sansa might as well live too. It would be better to have a living mistress than a dead one. It was easier to teach Sansa to play better than to hate another fine lady for how cruelly she played. You’re no hollow piece yet. I’ll play with you, my lady, and we’ll live.