- I -
“Why yellow?” Argella had once asked him. It had been in springtime, when she’d been a girl. She’d still had little brothers then, and a mother. She’d been sitting in the godswood, looking up at the sky, and her father had smiled at her, the skin around his eyes–blue as the sky–crinkling.
“You’ve not lived long enough to see an autumn storm,” he’d said, pressing her nose. Her father could be so very sweet sometimes, with her. She was his special darling, the one he said was more like him than either of his sons, even if she had her mother’s face. “When you do, you’ll know why.”
She knows why now.
It’s rained for days and the sky is black, and when it’s not black, it’s yellow. Yellow for the storms, she thinks as she looks west. Her father is dead, and Lord Baratheon will be at her gates soon. That is what her scouts are telling her, rainwater dripping from their leathers onto the floor. It has rained every day since the Last Storm died, and the skies had seemed all the darker for the crackling lightning. Black for their fury. Ours is the fury. Mine is the fury.
She squares her shoulders. She’s the last one left. Her little brothers died alongside her father, and Queen Brienne had long ago sailed east to her father’s halls on Tarth, no longer able to bear Argilac’s fury, Durrandon’s fury. My fury. She knows her father’s men expect her to flee to her grandfather’s hall as well, but she will not, not ever.
Rain pounds against stones, and the wind whistles through the window, and Argella Durrandon is unafraid.
She turns from the window to see Ser Stedman Fell, and almost at once his face flushes and he corrects himself.
“Ser Stedman.” He’s taller than she is, though younger. Most men are taller than she is, and most of the older men died alongside her father in the storm. Her father had been a tall man, but her mother had been a small woman, and though she has her father’s coloring and temperament, she has her mother’s stature.
“Your grace, Rhaenys Targaryen has flown her dragon into the courtyard. She would treat with you.” Argella hides her surprise. She’d not heard the dragon’s wings in the storm.
“She would treat with me,” Argella does her best not to roll her eyes. It isn’t queenly, and she is her father’s daughter. She is a queen, now.
“Yes, your grace.”
“She wants me to surrender? Thinks me meek while she flies her dragon into my own castle?”
Ser Stedman looks uncomfortable, and she waves him away. “I will be down in a moment,” she tells him. “Make sure that my guest has had her bread and salt before I’ve arrived. I’ll not watch her eat it.”
Ser Stedman bows, and hurries from the room. Argella goes to her cabinet and finds a heavy velvet cloak to wear—black, with little golden stags on it. Her father had given it to her the day he’d refused to wed her to Lord Baratheon. “You are the storm,” he had told her. “No bastard shall have you. You are Durrandon.” Funny that he’d said bastard, for he’d given her a bastard’s inverted colors to wear. But she was not his heir. Her brother Davos had been, and she always had looked better in black than in yellow.
She holds the velvet to her face for a moment, breathing into the fabric. There is no scent of him now. It had been foolish to hope there might be.
She swings it over her shoulder, and finds a circlet that she’d worn at more than one feast. She’ll have a proper crown fitted once she’s driven the dragons out of the sky.
Her reflection in the mirror gives her pause. She is small and pale, and she looks like a girl playing at queen. She glares, willing some of her father’s force into her, and is pleased with the result. Squaring her shoulders, she sweeps from the room, enjoying the way that the cloak her father had given her billows around her, as though even now he is protecting her.
“I could go and offer myself to her,” Orys says.
“How? I’m the one with the dragon, and Meraxes won’t accept you as a mount.”
“I could ride to her gates,” he says. “She’d not kill me beneath a truce’s banner.”
But Rhaenys shakes her head. “You just killed her father, Orys. Your face is unwelcome.”
He lets out a frustrated huff. “I don’t think yours would be any more welcome, and I’d sooner give the proposition myself.”
“If I fail, you can have a go next.” Rhaenys says, and there is a finality in her words that Orys is used to hearing in Visenya, not in Rhaenys. Visenya’s the stern one, Visenya’s the hard one. Rhaenys is gentle, and sweet, and playful—except in battle. But they are not in battle now.
“I can’t very well command you,” he sighs.
“No,” Rhaenys smirks, and he does his best to ignore the way her smirk makes his breath catch. She is so very lovely, his queen, but she is not for him and he mustn’t notice her loveliness, must pretend he never has. Certainly not if he’s to convince Argella Durrandon to marry him. “You can’t.”
“Bring my bride to me,” he tells her, and she waves as she marches towards her dragon, and moments later he hears the beating of wings, the roll of air that could be thunder but isn’t. In the past weeks, he has learned the difference between dragon’s wings in the air and thunder.
It’s still bloody raining, and he steps back into his tent, wishing it were a castle and that there was a fire inside. Soon enough Storm’s End will be his, one way or another. He’d prefer it one way.
“How should you like to be wed—to a princess?” Aegon had asked him before all this had started. How young he’d been. He’d not led troops in battle, and the only thoughts in his mind had been of sweet Berenice who helped Maester Cronnel with his ravens.
“If it pleases you,” he’d said, not sure of what else to say, and Aegon had told him of the plan.
Argella Durrandon. There was poetry to her name, and, foolish boy that he was, he’d dreamed of taking her to wife, and sharing tender moments with her.
And now he’d slain her father in the heat of battle.
War ruined everything, except when you won, and Orys…he was the victor wasn’t he? And Aegon too? And to the victor, the spoils? But he’d yet to claim Storm’s End, and though he’d never seen Argella Durrandon’s face, it was Berenice’s he imagined when he closed his eyes—though with Arrogant Argilac’s mad blue eyes—and the way she’d smacked him with a scroll of parchment and told him she was not his prize and would not just tumble into his bed simply because he was friend to the king.
They have brought a seat for her, but Rhaenys stands. She does not look to the door, she does not look to the window. She looks straight ahead, her hands clasped behind her back, waiting.
She’s heard men whisper that Argella Durrandon takes after her father, which would make her more like Visenya than like Rhaenys. Everyone said that Visenya was the harder of the two sisters, and Rhaenys could not deny it, even if she thought her sister’s being more likely to break before she bent was not always a strength. It hadn’t been Argilac’s anger that had reminded Rhaenys of Visenya, it had been his causticness, his hard determination, and it was that these whisperers said he shared with his daughter. Orys had never known how to listen to Visenya, his heart quick to bruise whenever she’d unleashed the full force of that caustic tongue on him, and Rhaenys doubted it would be any different with Argella, especially if he hoped to wed her. He was not the man to test these waters.
I may be no better, Rhaenys allows herself, but she pushes the thought from her mind. She can recognize each and every one of Visenya’s moods—more even than Aegon can, and certainly better than Orys. She can treat with Argella Durrandon.
Rhaenys hears footsteps behind her, and does not turn. “My lady.” It is a woman’s voice. It has been a long while since anyone has called her that.
The footsteps continue and a small woman in a black cloak steps into her line of vision. Her face is hard, and there are red circles under her eyes. Has she been crying? I wept when my father died. But Rhaenys had been a little girl, and Argella is a woman grown.
“My lady,” Rhaenys returns, inclining her head. If Argella Durrandon refuses to call her queen, then two can play at that game. If Argella is like Visenya, she prefers equality to obsequiousness. Lightning flashes in Argella’s eyes and she turns away from Rhaenys, stepping onto the dais, sweeping her cloak out behind her and settling herself on the throne of the storm kings. It’s a clever maneuver. If she’s had to steel herself to sit upon the throne, Rhaenys would have no way of seeing it.
“My men say you would treat with me. So treat.” Her voice is higher than Visenya’s—younger. The thought of Orys, who so wishes to be beloved, wed to Visenya writ small almost makes her smile, but she does not. Visenya tolerates no smile when she does not know you, and this is the first time Rhaenys has set foot in Storm’s End.
“You know why I am here.”
“I don’t. I don’t see why you came at all. These are my father’s lands—my lands. Your brother has no right to them.”
“Only right of conquest, and it is in my brother’s name we’ve come.”
“We? I only see you.”
“I have an army at your gates.”
“The bastard’s army, you mean?” She means to goad me. Rhaenys almost approves of it. There is something so refreshing about a fierce woman. It’s why she loves her sister, though by all accounts she’d be wholly justified in never wishing to be in the room with her.
“Lord Orys Baratheon is at its head.”
“Tell me, is it true that he shares you with your brother? He’s your brother too, of a sort, and I hear Valyrians have queer notions of what it means to be wed.”
Visenya would have reached for her blade, but Rhaenys chuckles. “Aegon is true to me and my sister, and Orys is loyal first and foremost to Aegon. He’ll have no part in Aegon’s wives. Orys is an honorable man.”
“Such as bastards can have honor. Is that why he is here? Kill my father and claim his castle? It’s the honorable thing.”
“My brother has bade him take the Stormlands. That includes this castle. There need be no more war. Orys would sooner end the bloodshed than continue it.”
“My father’s blood was enough to sate his thirst?” Argella’s voice rings like a bell—odd, for Rhaenys had expected a thunderclap. Suddenly she is tired.
“If your father had bent the knee, he needn’t have died.”
“So I shall die then? If I do not bend the knee?”
“Orys would sooner take you to wife. You can live out your days in your father’s castle, and your sons can rule his lands from here.”
“I rule them now. My sons will rule my lands. I am queen. I need no bastard’s hand in marriage.” Her lips quirk in a half-smile, as though she’s remembering something. Probably when her father refused Aegon’s initial proposal.
“They shan’t,” Rhaenys says quietly. “We’ll have you’re castle before the week is out, and all this shall be done.”
Argella leans back in her seat, and her eyes flicker between each of Rhaenys’.
“You can take my castle, but you will win only bones and blood and ashes.” She stands, and descends from the dais, pausing when she is at Rhaenys’ shoulder. “I swear it.” And she leaves.
She’s heard men complain of thunderstorms. “It’s hard to sleep—a thunderclap will wake you.” Argella’s always loved the sound of wind and rain when she falls asleep. Thunderclaps don’t wake her.
Thunderclaps don’t wake her, her men—her—men do.
She will remember each of their faces until the day she dies. Lord Erroll Estermont, and his sons Jason and Justin, Lords Grandison and Swann, Sers Daron Cole and Gorman Wagstaff, Lord Amory Rogers, and Ser Stedman Fell—young Ser Stedman, who’d been in the room with her when Rhaenys Targaryen had come to treat. She thinks, at first, that they’ve come to kill her. This is her home, and these are men within it. This is Storm’s End and she’s the last storm, and on a stormy night they’ll end her. They know it’s their lives or hers, but no—no it’s worse than that.
Let it never be said she did not fight. Let it never be said that they don’t break her lip while gagging her, let it never be said that there are scratches and bruises on their faces as well as on her own as she does her best to kick and fight her way—where? She does not know.
Let it never be said that doesn’t scream and curse behind the gag even as they lock the chains at her hands and ankles. Let it never be said she doesn’t knee Lord Swann in the groin when he comes to close. Let it never be said that she was mild and meek for she is her father’s daughter, so much so that her mother couldn’t look at her when she said goodbye and sailed east. Let it never be said that she submitted to her defeat.
Let the howling of the storms haunt these men each night for the rest of their lives, reminding them of what they so hate: that they are traitors, that they have done wrong.
“Shall we go tonight?” Ser Stedman asks, looking at Lord Estermont.
“No. The winds.” Is the only reply. “The gale will be gone in the morning, and mayhaps she’ll be more pliable then.” He looks down on her, trussed on her bed. She’d ridden with him and her father through the rainwood. She’d flirted with the son who stands at his side and who cannot look at her in her nakedness, as though he is ashamed.
They leave her lying on the bed, her ankles chained together and her wrists bound behind her back, not even bothering to cover her again with her blankets. They close the door behind them and she hears them command to leave a guard—a loyal guard—at the door.
It is not quiet. It can’t be when it’s storming, and Argella shifts on the bed, straightening herself and wiggling herself to a sitting position, then drops her bound legs over the side of the bed. She stands slowly and inches her way across the room to the window. It is closed, and her hands are bound behind her back. She cannot open it but with her teeth, so she tries that. She edges it open with nose and teeth, and looks down into the courtyard below. She’s three stories up—she could kill herself and then they’d never have her surrender. She’d promised the Targaryen queen blood and bones, she could at least give her that. The last Durrandon, blood and bones in the middle of the courtyard. She thinks of her father, thinks of him roaring in the wind and she tries to edge herself up onto the sill, but as she balances herself half out of the window, the wind bursts into her face and knocks her back down, landing her squarely on her rear and sending a shock right up her spine.
Argella had not cried while they’d stripped her and bound her. Argella had not cried while they’d stared at her naked form. Argella had not cried when her father had died. But Argella feels wet on her face that cracks her skin as it dries and thus could not be rainwater as she inches her way, like a worm, back to her bed.
- II -
“That’s all she said? There wasn’t any hint that she’d negotiate?”
“You can take my castle, but you will win only bones and blood and ashes.” Rhaenys says, repeats for the third time, and Orys sighs, running his hand over his jaw, perhaps at last hearing the words for true.
There are dark circles under his eyes–he hasn’t slept well since the battle–and she is quite sure that cut on his face will scar. He doesn’t need to know the rest, the scorn in Argella Durrandon’s voice when she’d called him bastard over and over again. Orys dislikes being disliked, or scorned, even by an adversary. He bore it heavily. Even now, she is sure, he remembers the words that Argilac Durrandon had thundered at him—bastard, honorless, fiend, coward.
“There isn’t time for a siege,” he murmurs, clearly thinking. “Aegon needs…” his voice trails away, but Rhaenys understands. In the weeks that she and Orys have been campaigning together, words sometimes have fallen away, especially in conversations whose ends they’ve repeated time and time again. Perhaps it is to be expected. She doesn’t need words with Aegon, but this is different. Orys is not her brother. It is a thought that has hung in her mind more than once. If he were not so loyal to Aegon, no doubt he’d have wanted to bed me, she muses. He may still, though he’ll deny himself to the grave.
Not for the first time, she wonders what he would have made of Argella Durrandon if they had been wed. Or, more curious to her, what she would have made of him. The woman was as forceful as the gales in which her father had died.
“I suppose there’s no trickery that will can bring us within the castle’s gates? A seaside entrance?” he asks.
“I can search for one tomorrow on Meraxes, but I dare not get too close to the castle’s walls.”
“Why tomorrow and not today? The weather’s finally calmed and knowing this place there’ll be more storms again on the morrow.”
“Because I am tired, as are you,” Rhaenys answers evenly. “Because I would enjoy a day of sunshine while we have it. Because I’m your queen and I will it.”
Orys considers, then shrugs and turns away. “Storm’s End,” he murmurs. “And here I thought it would be mine when I defeated Argilac Durrandon.”
“Aegon will give it to you, I don’t doubt. He wanted you to have it before all this began.” Orys lets out an amused snort.
“I suppose there’s something to be said for claiming it, but I’d rather hoped not to have to fight. Least of all when it could have been a sweeter transition to my power.” Visenya would call Orys a romantic, but surely not even romantics could treasure such hopes through a war such as this.
“You wanted it presented on a silver platter?” Rhaenys laughs, though she feels little humor. Perhaps before she’d landed in Storm’s End, it would have truly amused her, but now it is different for now Argella Durrandon has a face and a voice and is more than just a name or a dream.
“No,” Orys says, his face coloring. “But I had hoped that it wouldn’t come to this. I had hoped she’d be reasonable. Even Visenya would be reasonable on this front, wouldn’t she?”
“It’s the woman’s place to be reasonable and the man’s place to die defending the halls of his father, then?” she berates, her hands on her hips.
Orys looks chagrinned, for if this were a duel she’d have hit him where it hurts.
“Hardly,” he replies. “Merely…”
“You want her to want you, and she does not.”
“Aegon would have me marry her. What I want is of little consequence.”
“If you insist,” Rhaenys says. “But I’d always imagined you’d want your wife to want you. To look at you with loving eyes and a wet—”
“And they say that Visenya’s the vulgar one,” Orys cuts her off, that flush deepening.
“I doubt Visenya knows what it’s like to be wet just from looking at someone. I imagine my brother has to coax her to it,” Rhaenys shrugs, and Orys looks very much as though this is the last thing he wants to be talking about is this. He and Aegon are the same in that regard. Neither particularly enjoy talking of bedding. Visenya as well. When I am truly queen, I shall surround myself with singers and players. Rhaenys thinks. I am tired of virtuous, honorable silence. She wondered if Argella Durrandon would shy away from it. Perhaps in that she and Orys would be suited to one another. Or perhaps she’d be as plainspoken as Visenya, who spoke of love as an act and not a pleasure. Orys would hate that—if they were able to bring the Durrandon girl into his bed the way Aegon wanted.
The idle thought carries her through the morning, and is only disrupted when a sentry comes to them.
“My lord, your grace,” the boy–he is just a boy–pants. “Lord Estermont is here. And others. They’ve brought…” his voice trails away and Rhaenys feels a chill on her neck that has little to do with the sea breeze. She looks to the castle and sees that the Durrandon crowned stag does not flutter in the wind above the gates.
What have they done to her?
What they had done to her makes Rhaenys ill. There are yellow bruises on her belly and arms and a purple one on her cheek, and if that were the worst of it, she’d have been quite content. The chains seem so huge on Argella Durrandon’s wrists and ankles, and there is a gag of some sort stuffed between her lips–swollen and split. Bone and ashes and blood.
She fought them at least.
The men are laughing, and some are even cheering as she and Orys approach, but Orys silences them with a raised hand, his eyes determinedly on Argella’s face and not her nakedness. Argella’s gaze is not on Orys, though.
Her eyes–clear and blue like the sky after a storm–are locked with Rhaenys’, and there is fury there, and pain, and Rhaenys pities her, except that the moment she feels her face soften with pity, an indignant pride swells in those blue eyes, and Rhaenys feels her lips quirk almost approvingly.
There are ways to break a woman like Argella Durrandon, to defeat her, to lay her low. But this…this is not one of them, and even as Lord Estermont bends his knee to Orys and declares the Stormlands for Aegon, and even as Orys sweeps his own cloak from his shoulders and wraps them around Argella’s to cover her from the eyes of the men around them–Rhaenys sees that this…this did not break her.
And she finds herself glad of that.
She is a small thing, in truth. Smaller than he had anticipated. Argilac had been broad of shoulder, and even in his age there were cords of muscle on his chest and arms. But Argella…Argella is small. Smaller than Rhaenys, who is smaller than Visenya who is smaller than Aegon who is smaller than he is. Orys is the largest, and Argella the smallest.
She drowns in chains, heavy black iron that is not so dark as her hair and not so light as her eyes. Her eyes are a deep blue, deeper than his, deep like the sea. There is a black bruise along her jaw, and a yellowing one along her eye, and he sees dry white and red on the skin beneath her wrists, a paler red than the red of her lips—chapped, swollen, cracked, bleeding—and the red of her nipples.
How can one so small have so much color? It is a vague thought, a sad one as she glares at him and he feels the words Ours is the Fury in her gaze, though the gaze is not fixed on him. What sort of fury does she bottle within her? What rage would he know for the rest of his days?
Visenya is angry often. She is harsh and stern and argumentative. He knows it grates Aegon. Aegon finds solace in Rhaenys’ gentleness, peace in her laughter. He would know no such peace, no such laughter. That much was the promise of Argella Durrandon’s gaze.
“When you meet her, don’t remind her that you slew her father. She won’t take kindly to that,” Rhaenys had said as they had ridden through the rain.
“Better or worse than reminding Visenya I can best her with lance?” he had japed in response, and Rhaenys had laughed. Rhaenys always laughs, and how infectious her laughter is. Perhaps if she laughs now, it would catch and Argella’s face would soften. He almost glances at his queen to see her face now, but defiance flashes in Argella’s eyes and he would prefer not to know what put it there.
His cloak is stained with mud. It is cold and smells of mildew and sweat. It may even—and his stomach lurches at the thought—be stained with the blood of her own father. But he unclasps it all the same and approaches her slowly. He sweeps it around her shoulders, and he sees the skin of her arms erupt in goose bumps before they disappear and she is enveloped by him. For the first time, she looks at him, and her eyes widen in surprise, and she exhales a quick “Oh,” and for a moment, he sees the anger vanish.
He takes the keys that Estermont had given him and unbinds her wrists from behind her back, then sinks to his knees, determinedly looking only at her legs, and unbinds her ankles.
He offers her his hand to help her to her feet, but she does not take it. She stands shakily on her own, and he inclines his head back towards his tent. “My lady,” he says quietly. “Will you join me?”
She does not reply but sweeps ahead of him, and a shiver runs through the crowd, though there is no breeze.
“Lord Orys,” Lord Estermont calls behind him, but Orys ignores him. He wonders if Rhaenys is following him, but suspects not. Let her deal with Durrandon’s turncloaks. He keeps his eyes on Argella Durrandon’s back, and when they reach the end of the column she continues, as if knowing where to go.
She is her father’s daughter. This is not her first time in an encampment, he thinks as she correctly identifies his tent and steps inside it.
“I can have some of Rhaenys’ clothes sent for,” he says, still quiet. She is like a wounded dog now, or a cat, unlikely to want to be touched or spoken to. “Though if you’d prefer not to wait you may have a tunic of mine.”
She doesn’t reply. She still has her back to him, and he wonders what is on her mind. Does she scout the tables for a knife to attack him with? He’s far too large for that, would easily subdue her. He pities her, wants to make her smile, knows that of all the people the gods placed on this earth, it is unlikely that he can.
He goes to a chest in the corner and opens it, pulling out the cleanest of his tunics. He brings it to her and places it in his hands, then goes to the entrance of the tent and looks out. He sees Rhaenys leading several of the stormlords to her tent. She looks angry. They wouldn’t know it, couldn’t know it. Rhaenys’ anger is hidden behind a calm exterior, it’s a flash in the eyes that could be confused for amusement. He wonders what she will say to them. He finds he doesn’t care.
He hears the soft sound of heavy fabric hitting the ground and a moment later he hears the creaking sound of the seat that Rhaenys so often occupied. He turns back to her and crosses to his seat on the far side of the table. “Would you like wine?” he asks her. It is still early in the morning, but he doubts she will care, and he is correct. She jerks a nod, and he pours her a glass, then takes one himself.
“My lady,” he says to her again. “I am sorry that this is how it is.”
“Are you?” Her voice is both hard and tired, both fierce and broken, and when she looks at him, there is steel to her gaze, for all her weariness.
“I would not have your men betray you and abuse you. I would not have them bring you to me like some prize.”
“No, you wished to claim me and my castle by your own hand.”
“I would have had you take my hand as my wife, and only take your castle by your grant.”
“As harsh a shackle as the one you unlocked me from,” she says and she sips her wine. “And one that could not be unlocked.”
Orys sighs. He can’t even begin to be surprised by it. He’d been a fool to hope, perhaps. Visenya had always called him a fool, and Rhaenys had teased him as foolish more than once. Only Aegon had never doubted him, and Aegon would have him wed the girl seated before him in his red and black tunic.
If I wed her, she will hate me.
“The die has been cast,” he says with more bravado than he truly feels. “Your men won’t have you. If I could I would let you run free, but I hope you’ll understand that I cannot do that. What would you have?”
“So you offer me the hard prison—a cell and chains—or the soft prison of marriage and my own body never being my own?”
Orys pauses and considers. “You would have me say yes, I suppose. That it’s either your body, but not your lands, and your lands but not your body. That there is nothing in the middle.”
“And what is in the middle?” Argella demands. “That I come to love my captor?”
Orys flushes. Foolish fool that I am. “No.” He is surprised by how even his voice is. “No, merely that you do not know me, or what a marriage to me might mean. What a partnership we might have.”
“Partnership,” Argella laughs. “Partnership? Marriage isn’t a partnership. I saw what it did to my own mother.”
“Do you think my king keeps his queens as consorts? Visenya is in the Vale and Rhaenys is here at my side. Both are partners to him in more than just his bedchamber.”
“And you are his brother and thus of the same ilk?”
Ahh, that old lie. “Aegon is as good as a brother,” he says carefully. “We were boys together, and are men together, and I see the value of knowing a wife is more than just a mother or a bride.”
“I keep your castle and your lands, then? You do as you please and I keep your castle for you?”
“When Aegon’s conquest has ended, I cannot imagine not helping him in his rule. You will keep your castle and your lands, and can do with your lords,” he laces the word with as much disgust as he can manage, “as you see fit. And our Baratheon sons will be storm lords, though not kings.”
“And when my lordly husband is returned from his king?” Argella asked, almost mocking, almost wistful. “Surely the castle will be his, and not mine.”
“Could the castle ever be mine? Ever truly?”
She sips her wine, and her lips purse almost in a smile. Then she sighs. “You’re too clever by half, Lord Orys. I’d have preferred you to be a fool. Then I could run rings around you and kill you in your sleep once I’d gotten a son off you.”
“I suppose the possibility remains,” Orys says, taking a sip of his own wine.
“True. But I run the risk of growing fond of you.”
And his heart swells.
She rides through the gates of Storm’s End with her betrothed by her side, wearing the cloak that he’d given her. She sees her servants staring at her, and she wants to scream at them to look anywhere else. But she doesn’t. Instead she dismounts from the horse and leaves it in the center of the yard, knowing that Benny will tend to it. Or he won’t. It doesn’t matter. It is not her horse.
She sweeps into the castle as though she were wearing her finest silks, her most glittering jewels, and barks to Beron Hasty that she’ll want her things moved to her late father’s chambers and at once. And that a bath should be drawn. She does not wait to see if Hasty looks to the conquering lord for permission. She continues up the stairs and when she is in her father’s bedchamber, she strips off Orys Baratheon’s cloak and Orys Baratheon’s tunic and goes and stares at herself in the glass.
The bruises are yellow and purple, and there is dried blood on her face from where her lip had cracked open again in the wind. Her eyes are sunken, and her cheeks are pale, and she looks almost like what she’d imagined her corpse might look like. I am not dead, though. The winds had kept her from it. Her father, she imagined…
The door opens and some maids enter the room to fill her tub with hot water, and she settles into it, letting the stink of fear and anger wash away from her. She cleans her hair, and scrubs her skin, until she is nearly fresh. Servants enter and leave the room quietly, bringing her gowns and jewels and books and whatever else she’d once cared about owning into her father’s bedchamber. They do so without a word, and leave quietly, and it’s not until the water is cool that Argella rises from it and finds a robe to wrap about her as she paces the room.
He was honey-tongued, her betrothed. Now that she is no longer in his presence, she hates the thought of it. That he is to be her husband, that he killed her father and somehow, in her pain, in her anger, he’d said just the right words in just the right way and now she’s going to be his. What choice does she have? His bed or the dungeons for the rest of eternity. “Estermont’s to have no reward,” she’d told Orys before they’d left his tent. “He’s not welcome in your council. Nor Stedman Fall.” She’d not seen Stedman Fall since they’d begun the trip back to the castle. Perhaps he knew there would be no favor upon him. He wasn’t wrong. She’d have him unknighted were such a thing possible.
“I run the risk of growing fond of you.” She felt ill thinking that in her father’s chambers. The man had killed her father. In the heat of battle, to be sure, but all the same he had slain the man who had raised her, who had loved her, who had taught her that a yellow sky means a deadlier storm.
And yet he showed her more respect than her men had. Of course he did. He wants you docile in bed. Well, that was the last thing he’d get from her. If he thought to make her sweet on him by promising not to take from her what was rightfully hers on exchange for her own freedom, why…
But the defiance felt empty. It felt like hot air, and when she looked at her own reflection in the glass again, it was the first time in her life that she saw the tired and hopeless gaze her mother queen Brienne, and not Argilac the Last Storm.
I don’t want to be my mother, she thought, panicked. I don’t want to hate my husband.
But how could she not? For surely, she could never bring herself to love him.
- III -
Rhaenys waits for Argella to respond before pushing open the door to her bedchamber. She was still lying abed and Rhaenys resists the urge to raise an eyebrow. “I’ve come to help you ready yourself,” she says quietly.
“And not one of my ladies? Surely it is beneath a queen’s duties to do so?” Argella’s voice is hard again. It had been less hard yesterday, but rested again she is fierce.
“It would be my honor to help Orys’ bride ready herself for him.”
Argella rolls her eyes and sits up. She is unclothed, and her hair fails in messy curls over her breasts. Rhaenys crosses to the wardrobe and opens it, beginning to shift through Argella’s finery. “Orys says he’ll need a cloak for you. He said you’d know what that would mean.”
Argella snorts. “Yes. I do. He can have that one.” She points and Rhaenys follows her hand to see the black velvet cloak that the Storm Queen had worn during her only audience. “He’s to take my sigil and my house words. Isn’t that good of him? How gracious is my lord husband.” Her words are acid.
“I had not known,” Rhaenys says.
“Oh yes,” Argella says and she shifts to her knees and Rhaenys can see that yellow bruise on her stomach, as well as the dark hair of her sex. “When he removes my father’s cloak of protection to cloak me with his own, he’ll cloak me with my father’s colors once again. Isn’t that nice? Better than cloaking me again in the cloak that’s stained with my father’s blood, I think.”
Rest, and a night to herself, seems to have rekindled some of the fire that Argella had shown her the night before last. She is trying to bait me, Rhaenys reminds herself. She remembers her having done the same two nights before and almost smiles as she turns back to the silks. She finds one of fine yellow and holds it up.
“No,” Argella says, either forgetting that Rhaenys is a queen or not caring. “I don’t look good in yellow. It’s unfortunate. Garb me in black. I mourn my father.”
“A bride should not wear black on her wedding day.”
Argella gets up from the bed and crosses the room. “A bride should not wed less than a week after her father’s death. It will be black.” She grabs a dress and holds it up. It’s fine, and not half so severe as Argella’s face.
“Myrish lace,” Argella says. “I trust you approve, your grace. Myrish lace is fitting for a bride on the day of her wedding, is it not?”
Argella pulls on a shift, then slides the dress over her head, giving her back to Rhaenys to lace it. When she is dressed she goes to the glass and finds a comb and begins to tease her hair out of its odd festoon of curls.
“Say it,” Argella says.
“Say what?” Rhaenys asks.
“Don’t play coy with me.”
“I tend only to play coy with men I’d bed,” Rhaenys says.
“Tell me how good he is. How kind. How gentle. How he’ll protect me from the men I can’t trust anymore.”
“Would you believe it if I told you?” Rhaenys asks. She is too like Visenya. Orys should have someone more like me. Someone who will make him laugh, and show him that he’s wanted.
“I wouldn’t care,” Argella snaps. “He killed my father.”
“He did,” Rhaenys agrees.
“You refuse to be baited, don’t you?”
“You’ve yet to meet my sister,” Rhaenys replies. “You’re not half so good at baiting as you think you are.”
That makes Argella laugh. “Our sister, I think you mean? Is Orys not your brother? He denies it, and I expect you will as well. But we all know what’s whispered.”
“Words are wind.”
“And the winds are mine,” Argella says. “I am the Storm Queen. The Storm Lady. That has less a ring to it I think.”
“You deserve better than what your men did to you.”
Argella stills. “So there’s the pity I thought I saw,” she says at last. “So you pity me? You subdue me, and then you have the gall to feel bad about it? Make no mistake. My men were the vessel, but you did this to me. You and your brothers.”
Rhaenys inclines her head. She opens the jewel box on Argella’s table and selects a necklace, and a ring and hands them to Argella. “I know,” Rhaenys says at last. “Aegon said there would be no joy in this conquest.”
“And yet he went about it anyway? Is he cruel, or a fool?”
“I find that harder to believe than that Orys will be kind and good to me.”
“He’ll be strong enough for you. That’s the only thing that matters. A man who won’t break when the gales storm.” He may bear dislike ill, but he did bear it. Gods only knew he bore it.
Argella looks at her. There’s still a bruise around her eye and Rhaenys reaches for the powder on the table and makes to dab at it.
“No,” Argella grabs her hand. “No, I’ll not paint my face. I’ll not hide my battle scars.” Rhaenys returns the powder.
“Will he truly be strong enough to withstand me? I’ll not suffer weakness—not after this defeat.”
“Every man has his weakness,” Rhaenys responds, and Argella snorts with derision. “But Orys’ weaknesses will grow stronger in your presence I think. And he’ll not suffer weakness either—least of all his own.”
Argella sighs. “Take my husband to be the cloak he’ll use. Fear not your grace, I’ll not end my life between now and when I say my vows.”
The cloak will not fasten over his shoulders, and looks remarkably silly on him. It’s long enough—that much is lucky—but it is very obviously a woman’s cloak, not a man’s. “And you’re sure she didn’t have any of her father’s old cloaks?”
“That wouldn’t be fitting,” Rhaenys sighs. “She’ll be wearing one of them, I’m sure. You’re truly taking her words, Orys?”
“Ours is the Fury. Hers is,” he grumbles.
“You’d best learn fury.”
“And here I’ve spent years learning to temper it. Visenya’s fury and mine would only be a brewing disaster.”
Rhaenys half-smiles. She takes off the golden chain around her neck—the one that Aegon had given her for their wedding—and attaches it to the clasps of Argella’s cloak, holding it in place over Orys’ chest. “There. That will do.”
“You may not see this again,” Orys warns.
“Aegon won’t be wroth with me. Besides—I can always convince him to find me a replacement if he cares so much.”
Orys looks down at the necklace. It fits well with the cloak, he supposes. And if Argella ever wishes to wear chained jewelry again it would look good around her throat.
My wife. Here they are at the end of everything. Her father had ridden to war rather than marry her to him, had sent back poor Haerys’ hands in a box at the mere idea of it. Argilac you arrogant bastard, was it worth it?
“I run the risk of growing fond of you.” She’d said that. She may not, of course. She may hate him forever. And if she did, he imagined he’d spend more time at the Aegonfort than in his own castle that she might pretend to be rid of him. What matters is that the Stormlands are for Aegon. He’d not allow them to rouse for war. The first son he had would be sent to Aegon for fostering and that would be that. And if she didn’t grow fond of him, there would be no more sons. Just the one.
“Did she seem warmer to the idea of marrying me?” Orys asks Rhaenys, not bothering to keep the nervous hope from his voice.
“No,” Rhaenys responds flatly.
He sighs. “At least Aegon will be pleased. You’ve written him, I trust?”
“I will when the vows are said,” Rhaenys says, and he understands: I will when gods nor men can separate Lady Argella from you.
There is a little septry in the castle’s walls. Orys wonders at that. Most castles he has been in keep their septs in the town that the smallfolk may have word with the septon at any hour of the day or night without their lord knowing. But not so in Storm’s End. He stands in the center of it, looking up at the ceiling and the seven pointed arch overhead. He’s not a pious man, but for a moment he is tempted to pray, to ask the gods to give him strength, to bless his marriage bed, to anoint his king.
It’s an errant thought, and one that doesn’t last particularly long, for it is not long before Lady Argella enters the sept in a gown of black silk and lace. She kneels before the septon, and Orys removes the thick yellow cloak from her shoulders and sweeps on the black velvet she’d given him. He pronounces that she now wears the cloak of his protection, and that she shall have it from this moment until the day he dies. She had it yesterday as well, he is tempted to say, but decides not to. His bride’s face is unreadable except for the furrowed brow, which most likely means anger.
When the septon declares them one flesh, one heart, one soul, he does not kiss her as is customary. In truth, he is too frightened to. He shouldn’t be frightened of his wife, he knows. The men might laugh at him for it. Instead, he kisses her brow, as gentle a kiss as he can manage. She is to feel safe with him, after all, and safety is not the man who killed her father forcing his lips against hers, surely.
When he pulls away, she looks up at him, confused, and he wonders if he acted in error. But it is too late, and when he takes her hand and they walk through the sept to the courtyard, he spots Rhaenys, who is nodding approvingly. Just as they are exiting, Orys asks, “Why does Storm’s End have its own sept?”
“So that when the winds are high, the residents of the castle need not risk their safety to confess their souls,” Argella responds.
“Ah,” he says. He has much to learn, and he can see in his wife’s eyes that she thinks the same.
The feast is a subdued one. Lord Orys’ and Queen Rhaenys’ men are the most boisterous in the room, with the most to celebrate—victory, their lord’s marriage, their king’s conquest. Argella doesn’t have men in the hall. She’d heard a whisper that Rhaenys’ wrath had been great, and that though the men who had captured her would receive the king’s honor one day, Queen Rhaenys would not have them in her sight. Argella was oddly glad of that. She supposed she could have liked Queen Rhaenys—in another world, where they would only ever meet as equals as they had only two nights before.
Her lord husband sits quietly at her side and Argella drinks her wine and wonders what her mother would have been like if she were here. In the sparse letters that Argella had received since her girlhood from Brienne of Tarth, she’d had promises from her mother that she would visit whenever Argella wished to wed. She was not to have that, even, in the end, though it was better like this. She’d not have her mother see her so defeated.
When the feast ended, there was to be no bedding ceremony. The men of the castle had already ripped the clothes from her body, and when Queen Rhaenys bade Lord Orys to bring his bride to bed, she wondered if it hadn’t been the Queen’s idea. She was grateful. It would be too like the other night for her to even pretend anything else. They want you to like them, she reminds herself as she takes Orys’ arm and he covers her hand with his. You’re one of them now. They do not want you angry. They do not want you to be a thorn in their side.
Argella had never felt so alone. What else was there for her if not this? Her men had shown her what they’d though of her queenship. I could sail to the Stepstones and become a corsair, she thought. If I hate him too much. If I hate this too much.
Yes. That was what she’d do. Surely she could captain her own ship, and that would be enough. She did not have her father’s halls to flee to as her mother had done, though she supposed she would be welcome on Tarth. That would be bitter, though, for her mother was not her father, and Tarth was not Storm’s End. Better a corsair.
The door closes behind her in the bedchamber that had once been her father’s and Lord Orys stands there, and when he opens his mouth, his words are tentative. “I’d not force myself upon you, my lady. If you’d prefer to wait some time, I’ll not begrudge you. I know the past few days have been…”
Argella stares at him, and part of her wants to sneer. She is not so fragile as that. She knows what happens on wedding nights, and it was the shock of it all that had so upset her. Except that wasn’t it. That isn’t it. Once again, she is grateful.
She hates being grateful. She shouldn’t have to be glad that he is treating her with the smallest modicum of dignity. She hates that her father’s men made her grateful to this man. Her husband.
She turns her back to him and says, “The laces—I can’t reach them.”
Gently he loosens them, and she steps from the dress. When she’d lost her maidenhead she’d tried to be seductive, letting the gown pool at her feet while Harry’s eyes had trailed her curves, but she doesn’t bother with that now. He doesn’t need seduction. He has her already. So she goes and hangs the dress up wearing only her slip, and outside she hears a thunderclap. “I am the storm!” she remembers her father bellowing. “And the storm is me!” Argella is not a storm right now.
She’s not even sure she’s herself. She feels so unlike she’s ever felt. It’s as though she is watching herself from the outside, as though she stands beside her husband, and not before him.
“You promised me a son,” Argella says at last. “Who will rule my lands when you’re in the ground. I don’t think I’ll ever be ready for you, or for him, but my readiness has never been a matter of consideration. I was not ready for my father to die as well.”
She pulls the slip from over her head and stands naked before him. His eyes drop to her breasts, to her sex, the way they hadn’t when first they’d met yesterday.
“Your wrists—have you an ointment for them?”
She points to the table and he goes to it, shrugging his doublet off, and then his shirt. He kicks off his boots and plucks the jar from her table and goes to sit on the bed. He pats the furs next to him and she goes and sits next to him while he opens the jar dabs his fingers into the ointment, taking one of her hands and rubbing it over her wrists.
“I promise,” he says to her very seriously, “that you shall suffer no pain at my hands. Not now, not ever. And what humiliation I am able to spare you in all this I shall.”
Argella snorts and he gives her a quick look. “There won’t be a day that passes when the fact of our marriage shan’t be a humiliation,” she points out.
He considers, then inclines his head. “Then I shan’t bring you more.”
“I don’t know if I can ever love you. I would never count on it’s being possible,” Argella warns him.
“I will settle,” he says, rubbing the balm on her other wrist now, “for a truce. We wear the same colors, serve the same people. So long as you and I are not at war, I shall be content.”
“I suppose one can be allied with someone you hate,” she sighs. “I can’t very well destroy Lord Estermont for all this.”
Orys doesn’t reply. He bends at the waist and picks up her foot, resting it on his lap. He begins to rub the salve into her chafed ankles as well. Argella twists on the bed and places her other foot on his lap as well. She looks at her feet, at his hands, at the way the muscles of his torso ripple. He is handsome at least. He’s not old and fat. If I must ride him until he gives me a son, at least I can try to take pleasure in what I see.
He was not ill to look upon. Not at all.
He finishes his ministrations and turns to her, his hand sliding up her leg towards her sex. “May I?”
“I’m not your to tame,” she warns. “I’m not your prize, I’m not your docile wife. I am the storm, and the storm is me. You cannot tame the winds.”
“No,” he agrees. “They go where they will, and only with great skill and care can you sail them whither you would go.”
She’s not sure what she thinks of his analogy, but she understands why he had to make it. He’s trying, she thinks, and if only for a moment she is not bitter. The bitterness will return, she is sure. But when it comes to what she must do now, she will gladly accept a lack of bitterness. She presses against his chest and he falls back on the bed, and she finds the laces of his britches, undoes them, and straddles him.