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The Lady of Storm's End

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Sansa had mourned it bitterly when her father had decided not to accept King Robert’s invitation to become his Hand and move to King’s Landing. She had cried for days when she had found out that she would not be moving south, would not be betrothed to Prince Joffrey, and would not see all of her dreams come true.

Arya had made fun of her for wanting to marry Prince Joffrey, but Arya did not understand anything.

It had been a very difficult time in Sansa’s life, and no one had taken much notice of her as everyone was much too occupied with Bran. His fall had terrified Sansa, and she had gone to the sept every day to light candles for him, but when it became clear that he would live, even though he would never walk again, she had gone right back to brooding over her lost dreams.

It had taken Sansa months to get over her disappointment, and as it turned out, Jon’s letters had been the biggest help.

Sansa had not given it much thought when Lord Stannis of Dragonstone, King Robert’s brother, had asked Jon Snow to be his squire. She had always expected Jon take service somewhere, or perhaps join the Night’s Watch, but it did not really change anything for her whether he was on the Wall or off in the south with Lord Stannis. Except of course that he would be able to write to her and tell her all about the latest fashions in the south, and perhaps some of the news from King’s Landing as Dragonstone was not far from the capital. He had given her a crooked little smile before he left and promised to do his best, though he warned her he did not have her eye for fashion, nor her flair for describing such things on paper.

His letters were a little formal and clumsy, but his stories and awkward attempts at describing Lady Selyse and her gowns transported Sansa there in her imagination. Mostly Jon spoke of his training and his relationship with the young Lady Shireen, however.

She reminds me of you in some ways, but of Arya in others. She is so clever and well behaved like you, but very taken with the idea of adventure, too, like Arya…

Jon spoke very highly of Lord Stannis, and Sansa found it very peculiar. Stannis had not left much of an impression on her when he had been in Winterfell. He was nothing like Ser Jaime Lannister, and absolutely nothing like King Robert. If she had to liken him to anyone, it would perhaps be her father. They were both solemn and serious, but Lord Stannis had always seemed so displeased as well. Her father never scowled quite so much as Lord Stannis tended to do. Sansa supposed he might be the sort of person one needed to spend a bit more time with before he allowed one to get to know him.

As the years went by, Jon’s letters started to contain much more serious matters. He never went into much detail - one never knew when a raven might get intercepted - but he told Sansa about the civil war that broke out when Lord Stannis revealed that King Robert had been cuckolded by none other than Ser Jaime Lannister and that the three royal children were all incest begotten bastards. Sansa had been frightened when the first news of the trouble in the south had reached the north, but her father told her to have courage, and that it was unlikely that the war would spread all the way to Winterfell. She was safe. He would take care of her always.

“What about Jon?” she had asked, worried and scared for her bastard brother.

“Lord Stannis will have trained him well. I doubt any harm will come to Jon.”

When at last the Lannister forces were defeated, a trial began. Queen Cersei and Ser Jaime Lannister were found guilty of treason and they were both sentenced to death. Prince Joffrey had died during the war, apparently in an attempt to escape to Lannisport, but Princess Myrcella and Prince Tommen were to be spared. Sansa was very glad to hear it, for it would have broken her heart if two innocent children were to be put to death because their parents had sinned. The princess and the young prince had been so very sweet and gentle when they had been at Winterfell, and Sansa had spent perhaps more time than was wise imagining how they would become brother and sister to her once she wed Joffrey. It would have been a cruel injustice to take the lives of such beautiful kind children. According to Jon’s letters, it had been Lord Stannis who had insisted they should be spared; that it would not be just to put them to death. Sansa promised herself she would make Lord Stannis something pretty - perhaps an embroidered handkerchief - to give to him if she ever met him.

Sansa’s opportunity came more quickly than she would ever have expected.

“A royal wedding!” Sansa couldn’t believe it. They would all be going south to attend King Robert’s wedding feast. King Robert would be wedding Lady Margaery Tyrell to cement the alliance between House Baratheon and House Tyrell. During the war with the Lannisters, Lord Renly of Storm’s End had rallied House Tyrell to the Baratheon cause, and the added strength of the Tyrell forces had been instrumental in the defeat of the Lannister army. Sadly, Lord Renly had died in battle, but Sansa was sure he would be remembered in many songs and heroic tales.

Lord Stannis isn’t best pleased about the prospect of King Robert allying himself so thoroughly with the Tyrells. He hasn’t forgotten the siege of Storm’s End, wrote Jon in his last letter, and it made Sansa ask her father to tell her about the siege.

“I’d rather not tell you too much about such things,” her father said grimly, “you would understand if you had seen the men who survived it. They were starved near to death when I lifted the siege… Lord Stannis and his people had somehow survived on rats and boot leather until Ser Davos Seaworth managed to smuggle in a supply of food.”

Sansa imagined how awful it must be to experience something like that, eating disgusting rats, being able to see one’s bones through one’s skin, listening to one’s own stomach growl for hours on end, and gnawing on boot leather just to feel something between one’s teeth... She worked even harder on embroidering the handkerchief she intended to give to Lord Stannis when she thought of the siege, feeling that surely he deserved every kindness after having gone through such an ordeal -- even though it was years in the past now.

She was embroidering a handkerchief for Jon, too, to celebrate the fact that Lord Stannis had granted him a knighthood due to his valiant efforts in the war. She regretted how she had often treated him with indifference when they had been children, and she hoped her favour would indicate to him that she considered him a brother, despite his ignoble birth. Sansa did not know whether Jon had a sigil yet, but she decided to embroider a white direwolf with red eyes into Jon’s pocket square as a reference to Ghost. For Lord Stannis she was, of course, creating a very detailed image of a stag in reference to the Baratheon sigil.

“What are you working on?” her mother asked one evening on the road to King’s Landing. They had stopped for the night and Sansa was using the precious candlelight to finish the edge design on Stannis’ handkerchief.

“A small gift for Lord Stannis. I’ve made one for Ser Jon, too,” Sansa explained.

At the mention of Jon’s name her mother’s eyes went a little cold. “Perhaps you ought to save your favours for some of the more eligible men in King’s Landing,” her mother said a little coolly, “rather than waste them on a married lord and a bastard knight.”

Sansa frowned, but bowed her head. “They are not meant as anything but tokens of gratitude,” she tried to explain, feeling a little embarrassed.

Her mother’s expression softened a little at that. “Of course,” she said with her usual warmth, “and you are right to keep up with your sewing.” Her mother picked up a brush and started to run it through Sansa’s long hair. “You are sure to meet many young men of good standing at King Robert’s wedding feast. I have spoken to your father about it, and we agree that this will be a good opportunity to look around for a suitable match for you.”

Sansa hadn’t dared to hope that her father would agree to look for a match for her in the south, but now that her mother had confirmed it, she could hardly breathe in enough air to prevent herself from becoming dizzy. She might wed a southron lord! The south seemed a land of unlimited possibilities to her. It was not just the fashion, the exciting tourneys and feasts, or the more gentile manners of southron people that excited her, but also the variety of skills that could be learnt! She very much wanted to learn to play the high harp, but proper musicians rarely made it as far north as Winterfell, and she had sorely lacked for tutilige.

It took her a long time to fall asleep that night; her heart kept beating so fast and so loud that it kept her from being able to find peace.

Sansa almost forgot all about propriety and courtesy when she saw Jon again for the first time in years. She wanted to run up to him and start interrogating him about all the things he had alluded to in his letters but not explained to Sansa’s satisfaction. She was no longer a child, however, and as a woman flowered she needed to adhere to certain standards of behaviour. So she waited until it was appropriate for her to curtsey and greet the freshly knighted Ser Jon Snow with a few polite words and a demure smile.

Once everyone had finished greeting Jon, Sansa waited impatiently to have a chance to speak properly with him. She had hidden the pocket square she had embroidered for him up the sleeve of her gown as she wanted to give it to him without Arya or her brothers noticing.

“Ser Jon, thank you so much for all your letters,” she said softly when the other had started to talk amongst themselves.

“You don’t have to call me ser, Sansa,” Jon said with a lopsided smile. It was the same as his old smiles, but different in his more grown up face. He was a man grown; tall and strong, his face somehow hardened, though his eyes remained gentle when they looked at her.

Sansa wondered if the changes the years had wrought on her were as noticeable to him.

“I made you this,” she said, returning his smile and revealing the handkerchief.

Jon accepted it with a look of surprised gratification on his face. “For me?” he asked uncertainly, examining the fine cloth and tracing the embroidery with his fingers.

“For your bravery in the war,” Sansa said, her voice barely above a whisper.

“Thank you,” he said, sounding almost a little choked up.

“You’re welcome,” she returned with a shy smile, “I made one for Lord Stannis, too. I was so glad when you wrote about how he demanded Princess Myrcella and Prince Tommen be spared.”

Jon looked amused for a moment, but squashed the expression when he saw that she had noticed it. “I’m sure Lord Stannis will be - er - honoured to receive your favour,” he said a little awkwardly.

Sansa searched his eyes, feeling confused. “You don’t think he’ll like it?” she asked dejectedly.

“Er, Lord Stannis is a complicated man,” Jon said, scratching the back of his head with a bemused expression. “I doubt he’ll take offence, but he might not react the way you’d expect him to. He doesn’t really care for courtesies and such things.”

“Well, I don’t care how he responds. It’s important to me that I do what I can to show him how much it meant to me that someone stood up for two innocent children, and I also wanted to show my appreciation for what he has done for you. He doesn’t have to do anything except accept the handkerchief.”

“As long as you expect nothing more, you probably won’t be disappointed.”

Sansa did not get a chance to meet Stannis until the day before the wedding feast. Her family was invited to share the midday meal with King Robert and his brother as King Robert was insisting on a break from the wedding preparations to spend time with his oldest friend. Sansa suspected that Stannis had been invited as an afterthought, but she had nothing but a feeling to support her suspicion.

They ate outside in the garden, enjoying the view of the flowers and the trees all around them. Sansa enjoyed the view, at least -- she was not sure many of the others really noticed it. When everyone had eaten their fill they stood up to stretch their legs and talk in smaller groups. Sansa noticed that Stannis kept back from the others, and that he looked to be on the verge of leaving entirely. She approached him, feeling very bold and anxious at the same time. She had never really spoken to him properly and she was worried he might consider her beneath his notice.

“Lord Stannis,” she said respectfully, “I do not wish to take up much of your time, but I pray you would accept this small token of gratitude from me.” She presented him with the folded handkerchief and met his eyes bravely.

“Gratitude?” Stannis barked hoarsely, furrowing his brow. He hadn’t reached to accept the soft, embroidered fabric, but Sansa was undeterred and continued to hold it out to him.

“Yes, my lord. I am very grateful to you for being the one to insist that Queen Cersei’s remaining children be spared. They were innocent of the crimes committed by their parents. I am also grateful for all you have done for Ser Jon.” Sansa was proud of how little her voice shook, and she lifted her chin slightly when she finished speaking. Stannis’ eyes were a very dark blue, and he looked a little taken aback.

“Please,” she added, still holding her small favour out to him.

Lord Stannis cleared his throat and looked around as if to ascertain whether anyone was watching. When he seemed satisfied that they were not being observed, he accepted the pocket square and tucked it away up his sleeve. He nodded at her curtly.

“That was unnecessary, my lady,” he said, his tone clipped to the point of rudeness.

“With respect, my lord, I disagree,” Sansa said softly, dropping into a curtsey and then hurrying to stand beside her mother, her heart pounding frantically. She watched Stannis out of the corner of her eye, observing how he stood frozen for a full minute after she had left him before turning on his heel and stalking off. Jon hurried after him, rushing through his good-byes and giving Robb a wry grin.

Sansa really didn’t know why Jon thought so highly of Lord Stannis. He was very abrupt, and did not seem inclined to bother with being properly civil. It really was very odd because King Robert was always so jolly and genial. How could two brothers be so different? Sansa spotted Arya and immediately felt foolish for thinking such a thing. She was intimately familiar with how it was possible to be completely different from a sibling.

She put Lord Stannis out of her mind for the rest of the day; too excited about the gown she was going to wear to the wedding feast and how she was planning to style her hair to really give the stern, unpleasant man much thought.

King Robert’s wedding feast was everything Sansa could possibly have hoped for. A huge spectacle with every important person in Westeros in attendance; colourful, gorgeous gowns and jewels adorning every lady, expensive and impressive fabrics draped over every lord. The entertainers were more amusing and more talented than any Sansa had ever seen before; mummers, singers, fools, and fire breathers from Essos making the occasion a gay one. Sansa’s taste buds were stretched to the limit as she had the opportunity to try exotic dishes from all over the world -- there were even a few northern treats on offer!

Sansa was in high demand when the dancing started, and after two hours of dancing with what felt like every man at the feast she was exhausted. Her pretty gown was starting to feel stifling, and she was sure there were probably some unseemly stains darkening the fabric due to her perspiration. She simply had to sit down and have a drink.

“Have you been enjoying yourself?” her mother asked indulgently when Sansa collapsed into a seat next to her.

“Oh, yes!” Sansa exclaimed happily, “I’ve never danced so much in my life!”

“And have your dance partners been behaving?”

“Yes, of course. Everyone has been perfectly proper.”

“Good. You should be careful about who you dance with from now on. They’ll be getting deeper into their cups, and some will be prone to forgetting their manners.”

Sansa blushed and nodded.

“I saw you danced with Lancel Lannister twice. Was he to your particular liking?” her mother asked shrewdly, giving Sansa a piercing look.

Sansa thought about it briefly and shook her head. Lancel had all been nice enough - and a good dancer - but he had not made her stomach feel full of butterflies as Prince Joffrey had. No one she had danced with had produced such a reaction. In any case, Sansa did not think it would be wise to align with the Lannisters now that they were practically in disgrace.

Their conversation was cut short by Lord Baelish. He came over and asked her mother to dance, addressing her as ‘Cat’ and ignoring Sansa for the most part after the initial introduction and acknowledgement of her existence. Feeling a little at loose ends after her mother left with Lord Baelish, Sansa wandered over to the next familiar person she saw. As it turned out, it was Jon.

“Ser Jon, Lord Stannis,” Sansa said politely when she approached them. They nodded at her in turn, murmuring greetings.

“Have you not been dancing?” Sansa asked Jon, curious to see that he did not look even a little bit flushed or sweaty.

“Ah… no,” Jon said awkwardly, looking at the floor.

“You should go ask a lady to dance!” Sansa encouraged him, looking around to see whether there were any free ladies nearby. She spotted a very pretty girl with brown hair, probably from the Reach judging by the style of her gown. “Go ask her,” Sansa said with a smile, “remember what I taught you!” she added a little teasingly. Jon was blushing and giving Lord Stannis nervous little looks. Stannis was ignoring him, however, so Jon seemed to decide that he might as well do as Sansa said.

Sansa observed as the girl’s face lit up at being asked to dance by a handsome young knight, and Sansa felt very pleased for Jon. Moments later she realised that she had left herself alone with Lord Stannis and dared a glance at his sour expression, wondering if she should leave him be or try to make conversation.

It would be discourteous to simply walk off without a word, she decided. “Congratulations, my lord,” Sansa said, looking over to the high table where King Robert and Queen Margaery were sitting. Seeing a girl near her own age married to a man her father’s age made Sansa feel very peculiar, but she realised it was important for King Robert to take a young bride so that he would be able to sire trueborn heirs.

Lord Stannis’ scowl deepened and he jerked his head irritably to acknowledge that he had heard her.

“Have you and your wife been enjoying the feast?” Sansa asked, not letting his dour demeanour deter her.

“My wife has been confined to her chambers,” Stannis said brusquely. He noticed how surprised Sansa was at these news and sighed. “She is with child,” he explained, looking uncomfortable, “and the maesters believe it is in her best interest to rest.”

Sansa nodded, but did not quite understand. Was she very far along? Her mother had usually gone about her duties almost until the birth. She knew that some women were less fortunate and wondered if Lady Selyse was one of them. Was that why Lord Stannis only had one child?

“She is of a sickly disposition,” Lord Stannis explained stiffly, apparently having noticed Sansa’s confusion, “childbearing has never been… easy… on her.”

It would have been more comfortable to look away at that, stare at the wall or at the floor, but Sansa continued to meet Lord Stannis’ eyes, noticing the bitterness they betrayed, and the dull pain.

“But if the maesters are to be believed, she might carry to term if great care is taken,” he finished with a scowl that indicated derision rather than hope.

“Then more congratulations are in order,” Sansa said politely, “I hope she gives you a son.” Judging by the way Stannis’ eyes flashed he hoped so, too. But he only grunted, the flash of hope gone so quickly that Sansa wondered if she had imagined it, a scowl etched into the lines of his face as if it were a permanent feature.

“Well, I shan’t keep you. Have a pleasant evening, my lord,” Sansa said, feeling discomfited by the conversation. She would likely be married soon, and it disturbed her to think that she might be unfortunate like Lady Selyse. She had always pushed the idea away, thinking that she would surely be like her mother - able to successfully bring several healthy children into the world - but there were no guarantees. Her insides writhing uncomfortably, Sansa curtseyed and took her leave of Lord Stannis in order to find her father.

Her mother had been correct about the men at the feast forgetting their manners the more ale and wine they imbibed, and soon Sansa stopped accepting dances. She did not enjoy the way the men grabbed at her clumsily and breathed stale alcohol fumes in her face as they tried to remember the steps to the music. It was almost a relief when the bedding ceremony was to take place and the men were distracted by the idea of pawing at Queen Margaery instead.

Sansa did not attempt to follow the crowd of ladies who surrounded King Robert, hanging back shyly with the the others that had elected to stay out of the bawdy tradition. Bedding ceremonies were fun, though wicked, and if King Robert had been younger and not her father’s particular friend she might have liked to join the crowd of ladies around him. She noted that Lord Stannis and Ser Jon had not felt the need to assist in the bedding of the queen, and she hoped that Robb was not making a fool of himself. She had seen him at the very front of the line, his cheeks ruddy and his eyes bright, shouting ribald remarks with the other men.

As Sansa waited for the revelers to return she did not have the slightest suspicion that she would be in Queen Margaery’s shoes - going through a similar ceremony - within the next three moon turns.

***

“I thought you said you were considering Willas Tyrell for me,” Sansa whispered, feeling cold and numb with the shock of what her father had just told her. She had already painted vivid pictures of herself as Lady of Highgarden in her mind’s eye, and it was difficult to let go of the beautiful vision.

“Your mother and I were considering Lord Tyrell’s offer for you, but King Robert has requested the honour of your hand for his brother, and I cannot deny the king again. Not after I refused his offer to become his Hand and refused the betrothal he had in mind for you and Joffrey. He only barely forgave those slights…” her father said, his tone serious but still sympathetic.

“But Lord Stannis is so old,” Sansa choked out, the lump in her throat making it difficult to speak. Queen Margaery had spoken of Highgarden in such a way that Sansa felt like she could close her eyes and actually smell the scent of the roses. Her heartbreak gave her the strength to question her father against her every instinct.

“He is not so very old, and he is an honourable man. Brave and just, too. He will treat you well,” her father said, speaking quietly and shifting from one foot to the other a little uncomfortably.

“I’ve never even seen him smile, Father,” Sansa whispered, giving her father her most pleading look. Don’t make me do this, father. Please don’t make me.

“He is a severe character, I know,” her father sighed, “but he is not cruel for all his scowls. And Jon would be there at Storm’s End with you.”

Sansa took a deep breath, attempted to swallow the lump in her throat, and tried to think about what her father was telling her rationally. If what he said was true - that the king himself had asked for her hand for Lord Stannis - there really was not much to be done. But the idea of being tied to such a stern, intimidating man was frightening and she could not imagine Lord Stannis being a loving husband. She had not seen much of him since she had gifted him with the favour she had made him. He was always busy, and often sailed to Dragonstone for days on end, but she had seen enough to know that he would not be the kind of husband Willas Tyrell would surely have been.

She knew why it was important for Lord Stannis to remarry quickly. The Lady Selyse had died in the birthing bed and Queen Margaery was still not with child. Lord Stannis was King Robert’s heir and Sansa knew the king was eager to settle the matter of who would inherit if they should both pass away.

Perhaps if she gave Lord Stannis sons he would become less… harsh? Did she dare hope he would grow to love her if she gave him healthy babies?

She looked at her father and tried to appear calm and poised, but her hands were shaking despite her best efforts and her lower lip quivered, betraying her uncertainty and fear.

Willas…

Her father reached for her and wrapped his arms around her, stroking her hair and comforting her the way he had occasionally done when she had been very young and upset about some trifle or other.

“It is a great honour to wed the brother of a king, Sansa, and you would be Lady of Storm’s End,” her father said at length, his tone gentle and soothing. “Your wedding ceremony will be held in the Great Sept of Baelor and all the nobles will attend. You will like that, won’t you?”

Sansa pressed herself against her father, inhaling his familiar scent and absorbing his strength, making it her own.

It did not matter that she was supposed to marry a Florian -- someone brave, gentle and strong. It did not matter that the thought of being left alone in a bedchamber with a man like Lord Stannis Baratheon terrified her. It was her duty to marry, and wedding Lord Stannis was an honour.

Her father continued to hold her, keeping his arms around her for longer than she could ever remember him doing in her life.

“When?” she asked quietly, taking a step back to give her father a steady look, accepting her fate.

Ned closed his eyes, the tension in his shoulders relaxing slightly. He blew out a quiet, long breath and opened his eyes again to fix his gaze on her in a way that made her stand very still.

“Soon.”

***

The preparations for a second royal wedding feast took a long time, but to Sansa it went by in a blink of an eye. A moon’s turn felt like a week, a week seemed a day.

Lord Stannis had barely spoken to her since their betrothal and Sansa had not felt that it was proper for herself to initiate conversation that she was not certain he would welcome. She remembered how he had reacted when she had given him the handkerchief she had painstakingly embroidered, and as he had not seemed to like it when she had approached him of her own volition, she had decided to let him take the lead. But he had not made a single attempt to get to know her. He had not attempted to take her on a stroll around the gardens, he had not tried to make conversation when he had been obliged to share a meal with her family, and he had restrained himself to the barest of necessary pleasantries when Lady had padded over to him and sniffed at his hands with interest when they had passed each other in the Red Keep.

She did not understand why he was behaving thusly, and as the weeks flew by she became more and more distressed at his indifference. Was he displeased with the match? Did he perhaps not wish to be married again? She could not see how that might be the case, however, as he had no sons. Surely he wanted to wed and produce trueborn heirs? These questions and many others like it tormented her, and she wished she could be like Arya and simply confront him. The very idea terrified her, however, so she had suffered in silence and attempted to distract herself as best she could. There was no shortage of things to do when a royal wedding was on the horizon.

Instead of getting to know her future lord husband, Sansa had spent the time that was not allotted to wedding preparations with her family, with Lady, and even a little time with Queen Margaery and the ladies she surrounded herself with. One of them, Lady Leonette, had been giving her lessons on the high harp; a time consuming but deeply rewarding venture. Sansa knew that Lady Leonette would not leave Queen Margaery to come to Storm’s End with her, but Sansa hoped another skilled harpist might continue her lessons once she had settled there.

***

“Listen to me,” Sansa’s mother said quietly the night before her wedding day, “I know you must be frightened of what will happen tomorrow night.”

Sansa stared at her mother, feeling embarrassed but intensely curious as well. When she had flowered, her mother and Septa Mordane had explained the basics of what would be expected of her once she was a married woman, but Sansa had also occasionally overheard... things. Theon Greyjoy, her brothers, and the servants often let things slip that made Sansa think there was a lot more to married life than the woman lying back and allowing the man to place his manhood inside of her to release his seed. Tentative, guilty experiments in the dark of the night had taught her that bundling up her covers between her thighs and rubbing up against them felt lovely, and sometimes made her quite flushed and eager for something more that she didn’t quite understand. Would her mother explain why that was? She’d never dare ask, but she hoped it was something normal.

“What you must realise is that men are always more frightened of a woman than they would ever care to admit. Lord Stannis will be terrified of you, but he will not want you to know that,” her mother said seriously.

Sansa might have laughed if her mother hadn’t looked so grave. How could someone like Lord Stannis ever be frightened of a slip of a girl that was completely in his power? Sansa didn’t have to ask the question out loud, her mother seemed to see the question in Sansa’s eyes.

“Men respond to their fear in a myriad of different ways. Some turn violent and hurt the women they fear. Some simply hide their fear beneath a mask of false bravado and try to get it over and done with as quickly as they can. The best of them learn how to overcome their fear by talking to the women they lie with and learning that there is nothing to be afraid of,” her mother explained calmly.

Sansa’s heart started to beat very fast at the idea of a Lord Stannis turning violent. She would be helpless to defend herself if he did. She wished she knew him well enough to judge whether he would be the sort of man who would behave brutishly with a lady, but he had barely spoken to her. He was practically a stranger.

“I am certain that Lord Stannis is not the sort of coward who would turn violent,” her mother said reassuringly, likely seeing the panic on Sansa’s face.

“But why would a man ever be afraid of a lady he was about to bed?” Sansa asked, trying to calm herself and think of something other than Lord Stannis hurting her.

“Men are brittle creatures for all their physical strength,” her mother said lightly, an amused smile playing on her lips, “they fear being laughed at, being rejected, being deemed insufficient lovers. Ladies have the power to crush the fragile male ego the moment a lord exposes his manhood in its aroused state.”

Sansa widened her eyes, not fully understanding her mother, but feeling as if she were being let in on an important secret nonetheless.

“You must do your best to guide Lord Stannis into taking the best course of action. Encourage him to talk to you and try to put him at ease,” her mother advised.

“I’m not sure I’ll be able to,” Sansa whispered. She was already nervous and afraid of the act she’d be expected to perform and she expected she’d only be more anxious and terrified when the time came to actually perform it. Why was it in her hands to put Lord Stannis at ease? Shouldn’t he be the one to put her at ease? He was the more experienced party.

“I know you may think it unfair,” Sansa’s mother said soothingly, having apparently read her thoughts, “but you are stronger than you think, and much stronger than any man placed in your shoes would be.”

“But what if Lord Stannis does not listen to me?” Sansa asked, worrying at her bottom lip and gazing at her mother anxiously.

“It is your duty to obey your husband, but you have everything you need at your disposal in order to persuade him to listen,“ her mother said, placing a heavy emphasis on the word ‘persuade’ and reaching to tuck an errant lock of hair behind one of Sansa’s ears.

Sansa stared at her mother and felt in absolutely no way as if she anything at her disposal. Sansa just felt small and scared and uncertain about her future. It seemed utterly mad that she was to assume the responsibility for making sure Lord Stannis treated her well on their wedding night, while at the same time it was a comfort to think that she might at least have some power in the situation she was about to be in -- as unlikely as that seemed.

“Remember, it is also your duty to bear Lord Stannis’ heirs. To do so you must do your best to make certain that Lord Stannis lies with you often. Putting him at ease right away will help. He will want to return to you sooner if he feels he is welcome.” Her mother looked quite excited at the prospect of Sansa having Lord Stannis’ children, and Sansa felt excited by the notion, too, despite her nervousness and her misgivings.

“It is not enough that he lie with you often, however,” her mother went on, a faint feverish tinge colouring her cheeks, “you must make certain his seed is spent within you and you should never stand up very quickly and allow it all to run back out.”

Sansa knew she was blushing scarlet. This was useful information, and she was eager to hear it, but it all seemed rather scandalous.

Her mother went on for a little while, talking of things that Sansa could barely comprehend, much less keep straight in her mind, but she listened dutifully and tried to fix as much of it as she could in her memory.

Finally it seemed that her mother had no more advice to give. She embraced Sansa, holding her fast and keeping her close for several moments before releasing her and getting to her feet and heading for the door.

“Will it hurt?” Sansa blurted out before her mother reached her destination.

Her mother returned and sat back down, sighing a little and looking a little flushed. Was her mother embarrassed?

“It will hurt less if he takes the time to prepare you first. He was married before so he should know how to do that,” her mother said hesitantly.

“But it will still hurt?” Sansa asked quietly, bracing herself.

“Most likely, yes. The first few times will be uncomfortable and strange for you. But if you make sure to talk to Lord Stannis and put him at ease like I told you, your duty to him as his wife does not have to be unpleasant. You might grow to welcome his attentions if you are successful. It can be… quite lovely. If there is trust and respect between you.”

Sansa wanted to ask about love, about how her mother and her father had been able to find love despite their own political alliance, but she couldn’t bring herself to do so. She did not think she could ever love someone as sullen and old as Lord Stannis, and he did not seem like he could ever love anyone. She had seen him with his daughter, and he had barely even acknowledged her. And if he could not love his own child, how could he love a new bride? A veritable stranger?

Sansa just nodded, unable to think of any more questions that she dared to ask. This time when her mother stood up to leave, Sansa did not stop her.