"Your Grace, the Princess," Ser Davos began, edging into the king's chamber.
"What about her, Ser?" Stannis frowned.
The Onion Knight glanced apologetically at the Lord Commander, who was sat opposite the King and glancing over a map of the Seven Kingdoms.
"Davos, what's happened?" Stannis snapped. If something had happened he clearly preferred to know about it. He had no time for meaningless privacy. He pulled himself up to his full height.
"Oh no, it's nothing like that, your Grace!" Davos explained. "She just... had a nightmare..."
"A nightmare?" Stannis almost laughed. He honestly couldn't remember the last time Shireen had a nightmare, but he then realised: how would he know? Shireen had been kept away from the world for most of her life, mainly for her protection; the world was full of superstitious hollow heads who would rant about curses the moment they saw that little girl's face.
A lump caught in Stannis' throat as he thought of whether she actually understood. He turned away from Davos and the Lord Commander.
"She just needs some reassu-," Davos said.
"Send her in."
Davos nodded and exited. Within moments, Shireen entered the room, shivering from the harsh snow storm brewing outside.
"I'll leave you to it, your Grace," the Lord Commander smiled, rising. "Princess," he added, bowing to Shireen, who cracked a weak smile and nodded back. Stannis frowned slightly- this Jon Snow seemed to have a way with children; first Olli and now Shireen.
"Is all well, Shireen?" Stannis asked, once Lord Snow had left. His voice was hoarse, some might have mistook it for harsh. "Davos tells me you had a nightmare.
"It's just a dream, child."
"I know," Shireen muttered. She still hadn't sat down, her eyes averted from her father's gaze.
"Most of these dreams don't becom real, you know that child, don't you?" Stannis said.
"All right then, what made this one so bad?"
Shireen sat down; even with the greyscale scars trooped on one side of her face, her eyes were tired and her face too pale for someone her age. "I dreamt that... I was tied to a stake in the snow. I heard a voice say..." Shireen began shivering indoors, curling her delicate arms around her body- something she never did indoors.
"What did the voice say?" Stannis prompted, not unkindly.
"T-t-that my sacrifice would be necessary to clear the snows so everyone else could reach Winterfell."
Stannis fumed silently but his demeanour remained composed. An uncomfortable feeling slammed into his stomach like a crossbow bolt. "It was just a bad dream. A man will probably have hundreds of thousands in his lifetime, most do not come to pass."
"But some do, don't they?" Shireen replied. "Are you... will... never mind."
"You seem to be enjoying these little chats lately, don't you?" Stannis gave a grim smile, referring to when he had explained how and why he was certainly not ashamed of her. He had meant it as a teasing joke, but Shireen failed to see it. Her eyes were beseeching, her throat heaved like a stormy sea. How could she actually think that? The Red Woman had told him that he would betray everything he held dear, but he would become king. She had told him about this Azhor Azai, who he was supposedly a reincarnation of. He knew of how the Azhor Azai had to sacrifice his own wife to forge his sword that helped defeat the White Walkers.
On the day Stannis had embraced the Lord of Light, he breathed a sigh of relief. He was readily presented with an enchanted sword that blazed light and could do wonders if used thoughtfully; there was no need for him to stab anyone through the heart. But lately he began to wonder if his sacrifice was yet to come.
Melisandre had lately taken a sudden interest in Shireen, and it wasn't down to a mutual liking for folklore and stories. No, she wouldn't dare. Not without his explicit permission, which he would rather cut out his own heart than give.
"Shireen, you are my blood, do you understand? Not only that, but you are my heir. That throne will be your right, and duty, when I die. Do you know our words?"
"Our's is the Fury," Shireen offered.
"That's right." Stannis stood up and walked over to the other side of the desk before leaning back on it. "People do not know what fury is; they think they do, but they have no idea. I swear that I will teach the true meaning of the word fury to whichever worthless soul that tries to harm you. They will beg for Lord Snow to come put them out of their misery."
"Thank you, Father," Shireen smiled, nodding with a tear in her eye. "I would be happy if you just took their head, but thank you, I appreciate the sentimate."
Stannis gave a slight chuckle. "Look at me, Shireen, I have a duty to protect the realm and I know sometimes you feel as if I put that before you and your mother- don't interrupt me- but I also have a duty to protect you, and that duty is unconditional."
"I know, and I will help in any way I can."
"That's good to know. This time next week I will be here." He pointed at the mountain region north of Winterfell on a map. "Lord Snow feels I should sup and dance with these mountain folk and they will fight for me."
"I have never seen you dance, Father," Shireen giggled.
"I've never felt the need to punish you like so yet." Shireen laughed.
"You, your lady mother and Melisandre will remain here. You will have your men at arms, Ser Axell and Ser Faros to take care of you. Learn what you can about the White Walkers, the wildlings and the undead, but do not get involved in anything! The library probably has been empty since Maester Aemon and Tarly left for Oldtown. If there is anything else you need speak to the Lord Commander, the boy is stubborn and honourable to a fault, but he is a man of his word, he will help you as much as he can." And protect you with his life, if it comes down to it.
"I like Jon, he's very nice," Shireen commented.
Stannis sighed. "I'm sure you do. That will be all, then."
"I won't let you down!" Shireen beamed and almost skipped out of the chamber. Stannis watched her leave, and a lump caught in his throat. If only Shireen was a bit older, and Lord Snow took up his offer of becoming Jon Stark and was no longer bound by the vows of celibacy, if only they lived in a different time... Stannis shook his head and abandoned these thoughts from his mind.
Luckily, Stannis didn't have to do a single dance. He ate, made painful small talk, praised one of the daughters of Norrey by comparing her to Shireen and let Ser Justin Massey do the rest of the talking. The clans were very happy and declared for him.
Together they marched and recaptured Deepwood Motte, defeating the ironborn, capturing Asha Greyjoy, the daughter of the late Balon. As Lord Snow had predicted, bannerman of House Glover, Tallhart, Cerwyn and even Mormont came rallying to him, along with Mors Umber and his men. Stannis wondered how Davos was doing with the Manderlys.
Luck had it that Mors Umber found an 'old' man and young girl injured just outside of Winterfell. The man turned out to be the turncloak Theon Greyjoy, and the girl was Arya Stark, though she was a little less spirited than he had imagined or heard- she cried at the possibility of losing part of her nose to frostbite. She would be excorted to the Wall, where Jon Snow would receive her, surely glad to see his sister safe.
But she wasn't the only one to be afraid. It seems the winter snows had shattered Justin Massey's willpower. This man had been a loyal and competent soldier, until recently his whining and demoralising thought of defeat and death had made him an embarrassment. Maybe seeing Asha Greyjoy had robbed him of his senses and gotten him soft in the head; none of the other men complained so despite the debilitating snow storms and the depletion of resources. Stannis, who had held Storm's End for a whole year and nearly starved to death, had no patience to listen to that any longer. What was it with this power women had over men, firstly his brother Robert and now Massey? Nevertheless, Massey deserved to be put to use and not ridiculed. He would be sent to Essos to hire no fewer than twenty thousand sellswords.
"In Braavos you may hear rumours of my death, they may even be true; you will find me those sellswords nonetheless," he had ordered. "You will avenge my death and place Shireen on the Iron Throne, as is her right and duty."
Thanks to Mors Umber, Aenys Frey had fallen into a ditch and broken his neck, leaving Hosteen "Ser Stupid" Frey to lead Bolton's vanguard.
"He is angry now," Greyjoy had told him.
Stannis had scoffed. "Good. Angry men make stupid mistakes and Hosteen Frey was stupid to begin with."
Stannis only had to march forwards slowly, as Hosteen's vanguard charged at him. He ordered his army to trust their king and shield their eyes at his signal. Most of them were on foot and today that would be a good thing.
Dawn had broken into a golden ray that would almost blind the Frey cavalry that was coming at them. At fifty feet away, Stannis drew Lightbringer and gave the order and shielded his eyes. Hosteen's vanguard toppled from their agitated horses, blinded by the dawn and Lightbringer.
Stannis' army routed them with a vengeance. With the Stark girl gone and the vanguard destroyed, the northmen inside Winterfell turned on Bolton and opened the gates to him- the North was his!
"I, Stannis of House Baratheon, First of my Name, King of the Andals, Rhoynar and First Men, name you a traitor and sentence you to death! Any last words? Say them quickly!"
"I can be useful to you!" Ramsay cried. "I will fight your enemies! I will make them feel pain like nothing they've felt before!"
Stannis nodded to Ser Richard Horpe, who pushed the new Lord Bolton down on the block, for Roose had been shot with three crossbow bolts and cut down when Winterfell had mutineed. Stannis slashed his sword, severing Ramsay Bolton's neck, a mercy he did not truly deserve. But nothing Stannis could do could actually make up for the pain and sorrow this man had caused.
Next it was the turncloack Theon Greyjoy's turn. Just as the condemned man broke down in tears and apologised for the hurt he had caused, much to the anger of the Northmen who called for his head, a messenger arrived in the godswood of Winterfell.
The messenger had supposedly arrived from Castle Black and his hands were trembling. He handed Stannis a tear soaked letter that was hardly legible. "Forgive me, your Grace," he muttered.
Stannis snatched the letter and opened it, it was from Selyse- it began with the words: Please, forgive me.
Stannis dropped his sword to the ground and his fist curled around the letter, crushing it. He turned away and ran into the castle. It felt like a hot arrow had pierced his heart a hundred times. No, no, it could not be! It just couldn't be real! It had to be a jest, a sick jest, but not real!
Stannis thought back to that day many years ago, when Steffon Baratheon and Cassana Estermont's ship braved the storms and was seeing distance away from docking. But the storms and rocks conspired together to destroy that ship and his parents along with it. That was the day Stannis lost his faith in any god, especially the Seven that he had been raised to believe in. But this was a thousand times worse.
Stannis roared in fury and overturned the desk, next the shelf was the victim of his anger. He curled a fist and battered the glass window. It shattered bleeding his hand, excruciating it with pain, as if it would take away the pain inside, but he did not care. His bannerman were probably whispering about him, but today he did not care.
It took him to even realise that a tear was falling down his face, as his eyes burned.
It was you, a voice told him. You caused it. You allowed it to happen. You left her there.
I left her guarded and under protection!
You did, but you miscalculated. You trusted Snow, Melisandre, Selyse and her men. Shireen trusted you, and paid the price!
Stannis took a deep breath, drying his eyes, and facing the only thing remaining- fury. He had tolerated Melisandre purely because she had proven useful with her visions and magic, an asset he couldn't afford to set aside back then. But this betrayal was something he could not ignore. He would leave Mors Umber as Castellan of Winterfell, and sail North to the Wall to exact justice for Shireen. His duty to the realm could wait a little longer, his duty to Shireen was unconditional.
He returned to the godswood to swiftly carry out the sentence and put Greyjoy out of his misery. He ordered Horpe and Sugggs to prepare to sail from Deepwood Motte back to the Wall, they could liberate Torrhen's Square on the way.
The Red Woman went as pale as a ghost when she saw him. She and a few of her men begged for mercy, tried to explain that they thought he was dead. Apparently, a letter from the Bastard of Bolton had arrived saying that Stannis had been killed and he knew things that he shouldn't have known- like about the wildling princess Val, Mance Rayder's son and this plot by Melisandre to switch Rayder with another so he could travel to Winterfell to rescue Arya Stark. Stannis had no energy left for this matter, but was livid when he found out how Jon Snow had been stabbed to death by mutineers after recruiting some wildlings to attack Winterfell to avenge Stannis and protect his wife and daughter from the Bastard's demands.
Melisandre had sacrificed Shireen to the fire to resurrect Jon Snow as the new Azhor Azai. Snow swore he had no idea that this is what Melisandre was planning or how she had done it, though he had his suspiscions.
Selyse had done nothing but wept as Melisandre carried out her twisted ritual. She did nothing but weep as Shireen had cried out for help as the flames took her.
Jon Snow begged for forgiveness, wishing he had done more. Stannis minded to have his head in a rage- how was he alive, while Shireen had died? Why did the Night's Watch do nothing to this witch?
Stannis composed himself, and took a deep breath. "On your feet, Lord Snow, you did not order this, because you would not be alive if you did."
Stannis ordered Melisandre to be tied to the stake and have the blood vessel in her thigh cut.
"You need me, my King!" she protested, as Clayton Suggs ripped into her leg causing her to scream. "I did only what I thought necessary to protect the realm from the Long Night! I can help you now, I will serve you!"
Stannis nodded to the pink robed priest that Horpe had found, a disillusioned but skillful red priest, a reader of flames, who, until recently, was involved in a life mission to protect the smallfolk from the brutality of the nobles. He had correctly predicted what had happened and Stannis promised him a role in protecting the world and bringing about peace for his services. His name was Thoros of Myr.
"Sire, I should probably say that R'hllor doesn't actually like live burnings, we should kill her first, if we must," Thoros counseled. "Whatever she has told you is a deviation from our faith."
"I'm not doing this for R'hllor," Stannis said hoarsely. "I'm doing this for justice... for my Shireen." For my failure in protecting her. For my failure in my unconditional duty."