Chapter 1: Forgefire
Shireen had never liked Lady Melisandre of Asshai and because of her reluctance, mistrust, and initially cold reception of the priestess, her lady mother often accused her of of impiety or corruption. Sometimes both. It had not troubled Shireen at first, since she had long ago learned that nothing she did would please Selyse Baratheon, but her mother knew exactly where to strike to cut Shireen to the bone with her viper’s tongue. In her unkindest moments, when she was overcome by her own bitterness at Shireen’s inability to be what she so desperately wanted her to be, she accused Shireen of envy which struck her heart as deeply as a knife blade. She had been Lady Shireen of House Baratheon, why ever would she envy some nameless eastern Priestess with nothing to recommend her but wicked blood magic and a pretty face? Beauty faded, but an ancient name and ones own intelligence and deeds did not.
Envy was the last thing in the world that Shireen would ever feel for the Red Woman, even before her father discovered he was the rightful King of the Seven Kingdoms. Envy was foolish, to her mind. A waste of both time and effort. After all, her appearance was not something she could change even if she wanted to. Shireen could never be fair and lovely like Princess Myrcella, with no greyscale scars or Florent ears.
She was as the gods had made her, and if she would be no beauty, well, it was no great loss. Ugly was not the worst thing one could be. She would much rather be ugly than stupid, and so she had long ago resolved that she would not allow such things to matter to her. She was Shireen Baratheon. She did not need to be a beauty to be of value. Beauty had never ruled a keep. Beauty had never won a siege or settled a dispute though it was well known to have often been the cause of them. She was herself, and that was more than enough for her.
The truth was much simpler than her mother realized and likely would have shocked her to her bones. The day she had met Lady Melisandre Shireen had looked into the priestess’s lovely, shining eyes and she had found no mercy there, no kindness and upon further examination not even the slightest hesitation in her steadfast belief in the Lord of Light and in the evil of any who did not believe exactly as she did. She was right and all others were wrong and dissent merited death. Her faith was absolute and chillingly unquestioning. She would do anything if she believed it was the will of her Lord and that, to Shireen’s mind was extremely dangerous.
Within Lady Melisandre, shining bright as a bonfire was the harsh light of absolute conviction. Melisandre of Asshai was a fanatic, and history was clear about the problem and the ultimate cost of fanaticism. One need only look at the example of Baelor the Blessed for vivid confirmation of the dangers of following the fanatic’s path and only a fool would put their trust in one and Shireen Baratheon was many things, but a fool had never been one of them. At least she had not thought so, though now she feared she had perhaps been mistaken. She had erred in her own belief, in her trust of those she had thought loved her.
In all the many nightmares she’d had since her lady mother had brought the Red Witch into their home and begun her obsession with the pitiless Red God she served, she had never once imagined anything close to the true horror of this single moment even in her darkest hours. She stared across the frost bitten ground of their camp to what awaited her, at scarlet clad Melisandre and the pyre that she knew in her bones was meant for her. She was not going to leave this place again, save perhaps as ash on the bitter winter wind if the Red Witch had her way. Time slowed down to a crawl as she met Lady Melisandre’s fierce and mercilessly gleaming gaze, and in it she read only triumph.
The knowledge of what was to come passed wordlessly between them and Shireen was certain she could hear her own heart breaking in that terrible, endless silence. It sounded like ice cracking beneath ones feet, like the crystalline chime of Myrish glass shattering on a stone floor, like the death of hope and the last half-smothered whimper of what little remained of her childhood.
Panic came hard on the heels of her realization, and the false, empty comfort the Red Witch offered up to her with that poisoned smile of hers seared Shireen to the bone as surely as if she were already afire. She fought. She was a Baratheon, after all…regardless of whatever else she lacked in both form and function and were their words not ‘Ours is the fury’? She would not go quietly to her death, but those that held her were far stronger than she, and she had little hope of breaking their grip on her and instead of dragging her they simply lifted her off her feet when she balked.
They carried her, screaming, to the pyre and bound her there, still fighting and choking on her own panic as she called for her father, who she had always believed with all her heart loved her. She could not imagine that he would allow this, that he would permit the Red Woman to burn her as a sacrifice. She also called for her mother, who she had never believed cared for her at all, but who she had loved regardless, out of pure desperation.
There was a brief moment of hope when her eyes found Stannis Baratheon’s harsh face in the crowd, that this had all been some mad scheme of her mother's and Lady Melisandre's - that he would save her, that her father would storm up to the pyre and cut her free and cast her mad mother and the Red Witch into the flames instead for daring to try to murder the rightful heir to the Iron Throne her father claimed by right of blood and conquest. She knew he loved her, knew it in her bones …but even if he did not he would not allow the murder of the only heir to his House. Neither of her uncles had legitimate children. Even the illegitimate ones her Uncle Robert had left behind had died one by one, according to the rumors she had heard. She was the only living trueborn heir of House Baratheon. Even if he had despised her as her mother always had he would not permit her to be killed, her father was a man of honor. of duty and fairness… even Tywin Lannister had allowed the imp to live and no prouder man was ever born than he. How could her father do less?
It did not happen. His eyes were as cold as the wind that tore through the camp around them, keening as if it grieved already for what was to come. It would be the only funeral dirge she was offered, she realized dimly. Her father was not going to save her. He was no hero, and she was no fair princess in a song or tale. She was only lonely, unloved and unlovely Shireen, who had never been enough for anyone save her Onion Knight, and Ser Davos was not here to rescue her. Her Father had seen to that, she realized now in hindsight.
He had known full well that Ser Davos would not abide this, and so he’d sent him away. She clutched the little wooden stag Davos had given her until the tines of the antlers pierced her skin and sent her blood dripping over the wood. It was all she had that reminded her that someone had loved her once. She begged. Of course she did. While there was breath, there was hope, and so she begged her father and mother both. She begged anyone that could hear her to help her. None moved, and instead the soldiers arrayed around her dropped their eyes and looked away as Melisandre lit the pyre and the fire began to consume the waiting kindling. Her screams and desperate pleas shamed them, but it was not enough to make any of them willing to risk perhaps joining her on the pyre for defying her father’s will. She could not truly blame them. She did not want to burn either.
It was Selyse who broke first, much to Shireen’s astonishment. It was as if someone had at long last thrown a bucket of cold water on the fires of her blind faith and she now saw what happened around her in truth, without the shield of her mad devotion to the Red God and his cruel priestess. She faced the terrible price that would be paid for the Red Witch’s blood magic. It was in that single, shining moment, as plain, sickly and ever-fragile Queen Selyse Baratheon pushed and shoved her way through a sea of armed and armored men to try and reach her daughter to save her from the flames that Shireen knew for certain, for the very first time, that her mother truly loved her. She would not be able to save her; Shireen already knew it, but knowing that she had tried salved something raw and aching inside her that had hurt worse than even the fear of the fire itself. She would not die alone now - not in her heart. Her mother was there, and her mother loved her, loved her enough to forsake the Red God and Lady Melisandre, to forsake her father and defy her King too, it seemed.
The heat of the flames at last reached her, and panic clawed it’s way out of her in an incoherent scream that felt as if it shredded her throat as it escaped her body. The edge of her skirt caught fire, and she struggled wildly as she tried to get away from it, tried to flee the pain she knew was coming. She screamed again as the fire surged and washed over her, and the wall of flames seemed to swallow her whole, making her world a thing composed only of light and heat and panicked, animal fear.
That fear brought it’s own boon, and that precious gift was oblivion. Her overpowering terror at last robbed her of consciousness, and for the first time in her life, Shireen Baratheon fainted like the maidens in the stories she used to make fun of with her father as he read her to sleep when she was feeling poorly. Her heart rending screams were at last silenced, and their abrupt absence left in it’s wake a pregnant, accusatory emptiness where the only sound was the roaring crackle of the flames themselves.
Her little body went limp, head dropping down to her chest as the fire roared up hungrily around her, blocking her from view like a glowing curtain. The flames began to consume her dress, turning it to ash along with the ropes that bound her to the post itself and at last allowing her limp body to crumple down to the base of the pyre where the fire was at it’s hottest. The stag was still cradled loosely in her small hand, the flames beginning to consume it everywhere her blood had not touched.
It was as if the whole world held it’s breath for a moment, frozen in mute horror. Then that moment was shattered only a breath later by the incoherent howls of Queen Selyse Baratheon’s overpowering grief at the loss of her daughter.
Stannis Baratheon watched the tall, blazing pyre where he had just burnt his only child to death begin to collapse in on itself, and knew in his bones, with a certainty that left him shaken and sweating in his armor, that he had gone too far. It was as if a haze of madness had at last been lifted from him and he could see the world around him once more. It was too late, of course. The deed was done now and there was no mending it. There was no way back from this.
He could feel the rage and disgust that swept through the camp around him. The men looked at him now with the same smothered fury and revulsion he could remember flickering on the faces of those who had once served the Mad King. Even if the weather broke as Melisandre promised, he was filled with a feeling of terrible foreboding that regardless, his men would not rally to his banner after this day’s work.
He turned away and wished desperately that he could block Selyse’s ringing, rending screams from his ears. Shireen… He had killed Shireen - Shireen, who had loved him more than anyone he could recall in the whole of his life; Shireen, who had never asked him to be a man he was not. She had looked up at him with those shining blue eyes of hers from the day she was born as if he'd hung the moon and stars with his own hands. She had taken her first steps reaching for his hands. Her first word had been “Da!” as she reached up to him, begging to be picked up.
He had killed her, and for a moment, the enormity of it made him want to fall on his own sword in pure grief. It was an unworthy impulse, a cowardly one at it’s core. He wouldn’t allow himself to even consider it. If he did such a thing, then her sacrifice would have been for nothing. He could not let it be so. The ruin of his House could not be for nothing. He would go on; he would go forward because there was no other path, but he knew he would hear Shireen’s screams in his dreams for the rest of his days. He would not fail, and one day perhaps he would see his daughter again and she would not turn her face from him. Perhaps she would understand. It had been for the greater good.
Stannis and Selyse writhed in their own private agonies and retreated to grieve their loss. Melisandre planned for their glorious future while the men around them turned to drink and bitter desperation, and made their plans to abandon the Baratheon banner and it’s Mad King in the dark of night.
None of them realized that, in the heart of that burning fire, sheltered by the tangle of wood and half covered by the burning coals that had been meant to offer up her life to the Red God in fear and agony, naked as the day she was born lay Shireen Baratheon, ash-covered, but whole and unburnt by the flames that raged around her. They had one and all forgotten that, long ago, the Dragon had lain down with the Stag, and in their blood slept the magic of Old Valyria.
Fire cannot kill a Dragon.
Chapter 2: Ashborn
In which plans are made, and so are discoveries. Sorry for the wait guys! More is in the works, and as always comments and questions are love.
It was the deepest, darkest part of night by the time the roaring flames of the sacrificial pyre began to die down into gleaming scarlet coals and smoking ash. Everything was eerily still, the silence of the main camp deeply unnatural, oppressive, as if it meant to smother them all in the endless, cold quiet of the grave. It was an unsettling, creeping chill of both the body and the soul that slid it’s skeletal fingers down their spines and preyed upon their fears in the Winter darkness, and while no man among them could put a name to it, every last one of them felt it in the marrow of his bones
The truest sign of it was the most obvious. Despite the fact that their own small fires were barely enough to break the pervasive and brutal, blue-lipped cold of the Northern winter, not one man amongst the many soldiers who served in King Stannis' army had stayed behind to watch what remained of poor Princess Shireen burn. None of them could bear to look upon her funeral pyre. Not even when it felt as if their blood would turn to ice where they stood had any of them sought the warmth of those glowing flames once the King had departed and withdrawn to his tent in sullen, brooding silence. It had been the last any of the men had seen of the king.
Queen Selyse had also not been seen or heard from in hours - not since a few silent and shaken soldiers had carried her weeping, limp body gently to her tent from where she had collapsed into the snow before the pyre where she had watched her only daughter burn alive. For a time, they'd heard her wailing in wordless grief until even that faded into an anguished silence that was more wordless accusation than peaceful quiet. The Red Priestess, Lady Melisandre, was closeted with the king in his tent and neither seemed likely to venture out into the biting Northern cold again any time soon.
Certainly not before dawn. Not that either of them were truly missed. The mood in camp was a grim one, and more than a few of the men spoke of avenging the princess and burning the Red Witch as she had burnt Shireen. Like as not, Melisandre was well-aware of their simmering hatred and wisely sought safety in the one place she knew they could not touch her.
Many of the men were furtively packing their things - what little they had left, at any rate, after the long and disastrous campaign they had endured in the name of putting Stannis Baratheon on the Iron Throne. Precious few now wanted to remain to serve the king after what he had done to his daughter. Even those who had once believed most fervently in the righteous nature of his claim and in the Lord of Light now found themselves shaken and unwilling to bend the knee to a man who would burn his own child alive. Renly had been one matter, because when Stannis had slain him he had already been a man grown and a traitor besides. He would have killed Stannis himself given half the chance, so it was not truly kinslaying.
The fate of little Princess Shireen, however, was another matter entirely. Unlike either of her parents, Shireen had always been well-liked by the soldiers in her father’s army. From the beginning, she’d made the effort to be kind and cheerful when she spoke to them, regardless of their station, and when she was seen about camp, no matter how grim things truly were, she did her best to lift their spirits in small ways and never made a bother of herself.
She was also never haughty or cold as her father often was, or wild-eyed and grim like her mother. They had loved her for it, regardless of her plain face and greyscale scars. Princess Shireen had been bright and clever, with a ready wit and quick tongue that could startle a laugh out of even the most hardened men amongst them - men for whom cruelty and violence was second nature and for whom killing was not a duty, but a sport. Those same men often found themselves standing a little taller when the grayscale princess’s eyes were on them and minding their rough language when they knew she was in earshot.
They did not do it because it was their duty, or for the sake of propriety or simple chivalry as some of the noble Knights might have done. They did it simply because they wanted to please their Princess. When her gentle eyes were on them, they truly wanted to be the men she so clearly believed them to be, they did not wish to see disapproval or disappointment on her homely little face and because they wanted to be worthy of her kind regard, they became so.
It was a rare gift with people that little princess Shireen had possessed, and it was one her father and mother sorely lacked. Men fought for Stannis because it was their duty to do so and they believed his cause was just, not because they liked him as a man. The simple fact of the matter was that he’d had their support because they liked the Lannisters even less than they liked him. Princess Shireen, in contrast was a natural leader, the sort found only in the faded stories of history, where princesses were gentle, kind and good, and cared for their people more than themselves. Without the knowledge of the king, the men drew lots for the privilege of guarding her tent or escorting her around camp, not because they did not want the duty, but because so many did want it.
They admired her courage and fortitude because, unlike so many, her parents included, she never complained - not about the food, or the cold, or the many hardships of traveling with the army. She could greet many of them by name, and not just the knights and nobles, but the rank and file as well. She remembered their faces and asked after their families as if she truly cared for their lives and troubles.
While Princess Shireen would never have been a beauty that men would sing songs to praise, there was something terribly lovely in her regardless. It could be found in the kindness of her large, bright Baratheon eyes and lingering quietly in the warmth of her smile and in her generous and open heart. Princess Shireen had been innocent of any crime save having Baratheon blood flowing through her veins. She was King Stannis's daughter, his only living child, and yet the king had stood silently and watched her burn alive in agony as if she were nothing at all to him but a tool to be used and then cast aside, and all of it had been done in the name of his quest for glory and the Iron Throne he claimed was his by right.
What sense was there in remaining faithful to such a man? After all, he had murdered his own heir. What madness would he not scruple to engage in in the name of his quest for power if he would do such a wicked, evil thing? One Mad King had been quite enough, and no man with any sense among them wanted to be part of putting a second Aerys on the Iron Throne.
There was a more practical reason as well that so many were resolved to abandon their cause. Even if somehow Stannis took the throne after all that had happened, who would he leave it to now upon his death? He was not a young man. His best years were well behind him and now he had nothing to show for their passing. His brothers were all dead. His wife was barren and he would not, and in truth, likely could not put her aside now to sire another heir; that was if he was even still capable of such a thing.
There were ugly rumors that claimed that he had traded his potency for the Red Witch's magic since he did not visit Queen Selyse's bed and neither did Melisandre's belly swell with a bastard that might be legitimized. No other woman in her right mind would have him now. Not after what he had just done. He was a kinslayer, an adulterer, and a murderer of children, and some taboos were set too deeply to be forgotten. A full half of the men were quite resolved to abandon the cause they had once fought so hard for, lest the curse of the crimes King Stannis had committed should fall upon their own heads as well.
It was into that pregnant, brooding silence that at last a figure moved. He was well hidden in the darkness and there were no prying eyes to see what occurred as he braved the bitter cold to approach the dying fire. He was a tall man, broad of shoulder and thickly muscled, with lank graying ginger hair and a nose like a ship's prow, crooked from having been broken so many times. His left eye was missing, and a large and deeply scored scar bisected his brow and disappeared into his long, ornately braided ginger and silver beard before reappearing and running down one side of his thick, bull-like neck. The flesh had healed crookedly, and it pulled his already harshly made face out of true and gave him what seemed to be a permanent sneer. It was remarkable that such a large man moved with such grace and silence, but his booted feet were steady as stone on the ice and snow and near soundless as he carefully made his way to the edge of the dying fire.
Tobas Bowman had been a mercenary for half his life. He’d been born in the North, to a minor house sworn to the Umbers for as long as anybody could remember. They were of no particular importance and at 13 he’d taken a horse from his father’s stables and a pot metal sword from the ramshackle armory in the dead of night and made his way to White Harbor. He’d sold his horse and booked passage on a ship to Essos, and from there he’d drifted to Braavos and then then Summer Isles and even farther beyond to Yi-ti and shadowed Asshai and never once had he looked back. He’d fought and fucked his way over half the bloody world and he’d thought himself a wise and worldly man for it, hard and unmovable as the pale stone his House was known for mining.
He’d seen the ruin of all that when little princess Shireen had come quietly into his life, with her gentle hands and kind, sad eyes. He’d taken a sword slash to the face in one of their many skirmishes, and had thought himself likely to die of the fever that came after. Instead he’d woken, sweating and aching as the Princess had told the old woman who served as healer to the men to the lower ranks what herbs to use to cool the fire that consumed him, and showing her how to boil the bandages so she didn’t spread corruption from one man to the next. She’d cut up her own fine linen sheets for him and others like him, and where once the scars on her pale skin had made his flesh crawl withe the fear of grascale, as his strength returned all he could see when he looked at her were all the things he had long since stopped believing in. Innocence. Hope. Mercy. All the things he’d abandoned when he’d sailed into the unknown and left his boyhood and the North and Westeros behind.
He’d known what they meant to do to the Princess. A lifetime in Essos meant he knew Valyerian, High and Low and a little Ghiscari to boot and he’d overheard the Priestess speaking with her lackeys, ordering the pyre built and he’d known in his bones what she intended. He’d been filled with breathless fury that had shocked him, and he’d meant to save Shireen, get her out before they could burn her and bedamned to ‘Azor Ahai’ and his Red Witch both. There was only one Baratheon he would follow and it was not Stannis. There’d been others like him, but knew they’d gotten the same as he had in the end. They’d been betrayed by their fellows, cowards who feared the snow and their own death more than the crime of burning a child alive.
Now those that had done the deed cowered in their tents and made to run away from what they had allowed to happen, because of their own fucking cowardice. They would not face the result of the choices they’d made and damn them all for it, every last one of them that would not help him give little Princess Shireeen the dignity, the honor she’d deserved. He had failed her once, to his eternal shame, but he would not do it twice.
He would do it himself, if no one else would or could and they could one and all go bugger themselves afterward as far as he was concerned. They would never have his axe again, nor his shield and Stannis Baratheon and his Red Bitch could go roast in the seven hells together for what they’d done to that little girl. His head ached fiercely from where his sergeant had coshed him to daze him enough to bind him. The half dozen others who were fondest of the princess and hottest of temper had gotten the same treatment, and of them all it was only Tobas who had come round enough to attempt to do what needed to be done.
He had been prepared for her scorched bones, the blackened char of her tiny body, he was a soldier, he had seen more death than he cared to remember but what had he had not expected was to look down into the smoking remnant of that pyre and see the child herself cradled there like a babe fresh from the womb in the embers, ash covered but whole and unburnt like something out of the old stories his Nan had whispered to him as a child during the long winter.
He dropped his shovel from suddenly nerveless fingers into the snow with a muted thud and staggered into the remnants of the fire, heedless of the embers as he plucked her from the ashes, ignoring the scorch of the dying coals against his skin as they fell from her hair and body like glowing stars into the snow below. He clutched the child close to the hulking wall of his own body, shrouding her nakedness with his heavy cloak. She did not rouse and he did not know why, but he knew that he had to get her inside quickly, somewhere safe. He knew with grim certainty that he could tell none but those he knew had loved her as much as himself, not the king, not even her mother. He trusted none of them.
He would never fail her again. He had been given a second chance and he would rather die than ever feel as he had when he’d come round and smelled smoke on the wind and heard the other men grumbling bitterly in the gloom and known that he had failed his princess. He would carry her away to safety, he would do what was right and for once in his miserable life he would be the man he’d intended to be when he left home and for the first time he could remember in longer than he cared to think of he could feel tears on his own face, freezing in the winter wind on his skin. He held the child so tightly he worried he might bruise her, but he could not make himself let go. Never again.