“He’s going to hate me, isn’t he?”
“I am quite sure he’s not, my lady,” Mya says, her back to Shireen, as she rummages inside one of the drawers.
As much as Shireen has come to like her (the king thought it would be better to have a cousin attend to her, even if not an officially recognized one), she’s really not that optimist about this entire affair.
All right, she is looking better than usual, she supposes: her gown, way more elaborate than usual, is not the usual dark and red most people wear around court nor her favored black and yellow (she never could quite change colors, not after her father’s death fighting the Others), but a simple, elegant sky blue that matches her eyes (just like her father’s, aren’t they?) and it’s about the nicest dress she has ever worn, finely sewn with silver embroidering. The bodice underneath, along with the corset, are doing their best so that her average-sized breasts might look a size bigger, right now it even looks as if she has a respectful cleavage, which she knows is not the case. Her hair — that she hasn’t really cut that much in years — has been cleverly styled so that her ears are covered without giving up on proper braiding. She’s not wearing much jewelry, only a pair of earrings and a necklace matching her dress, and maybe the blue of the dress doesn’t contrast too much with her disfigured cheek, but it still looks like a punch in the eyes, from what she sees in the mirror.
Oh, not half as much as usual — black brings it out, and black and yellow even more so, people have told her and she never cared — but still, it’s there.
She wishes she didn’t have to do this.
But the king had the right of it. She was two and twenty, and the last legitimate Baratheon in Westeros, and as his ward, he had a duty to make sure she would be settled.
“My — my father swore to yours that he would do right by you when he bent the knee,” Aegon had said. “And he cannot do it now, for the reasons we know, and I think I should.”
Of course Jon Connington cannot do it, not when he survived grayscale himself by cutting his own arm off and after spending the last eight years or so after the war’s end being Aegon’s Hand he had said he was too tired to do it any further. He’s in Griffin’s Roost now, enjoying what he couldn’t when he was young or so he says in his letters. But all the same, she knows it had been one of the terms her father had laid out before bending the knee, not long before the Long Night came into full swing.
So Aegon had sent ravens and planned and came to her saying that after assessing the situation and having seen that the northerners were more than willing to arrange such a match, she had ended up promised to —
“For one,” Mya goes on, finally taking a long blue ribbon from the drawer, “having met and conferred with his Queen Regent and sister for a long time even if she was pretending to be Lord Baelish’s daughter back then, I can assure you that Rickon Stark isn’t surrounded by people who would force him into anything he didn’t want. Also, the entire realm knows that he spent most of the war with his wildling servant on Skaagos of all places, and anyone who’s grown up with the wildlings certainly would not give much of a damn about looks or about the way you dress.”
She moves back behind her, fixing the ribbon to her braid with deft hands. “Also, he’s apparently not in any hurry to take both his regents’s place.”
“How would you know?”
“People talk,” she shrugs. “He’s not going to hate you if he accepted to come in the first place, my lady. And if I may be so bold to suggest such a thing, I am sure that after what his House went through during the last war, their priorities would not consist in combining alliances they do not want.”
That’s — that’s sensed, Shireen agrees, and tells Mya that she has a point. And she does — they almost all died during the war and the Long Night, they lost their parents and their older brother in the way they did, it’s reasonable to assume that they’re beyond caring. But she only ever met Jon Snow back in the day — the king regent now — and she had liked him, same as her father, but she hadn’t spoken to him much, and she’s never met the others, and if her betrothed really spent this much time with the wildings —
Ser Davos, who has assured will be in King’s Landing for the wedding, had written her after the match was made public, assuring her that while Rickon Stark was no typical lord, he was a worthy match. She does trust Ser Davos, she would with her life, and still, there is a reason why she never pressed Lord Connington to find her a match.
She’s been always intimately aware of how not desirable she is to most men. And with her father gone and her mother, too, not that she misses her much, she hadn’t felt ready to face the inevitable humiliation of going through lords who most likely would only ever want her for her name. And now that she’s two and twenty she’s most likely too old for most lords’s standards, not that she was in a hurry to find one.
Maybe everyone else is right and she’s wrong. She wishes it was the case, very much, but she supposes she won’t know until they are face to face.
Which should happen in —
Someone knocks on the door. Mya goes to get it.
“They are ready, my lady,” she says. Right. Lord Rickon, his Queen Regent and his lady sister arrived yesterday, quite late, so their first meeting has been timed for this morning. Shireen hasn’t even broken her fast, worried as she was. “The King will be waiting for you.”
… Right. She breathes in, out, her corset suddenly feeling too tight.
“Thank you,” she says, politely, and leaves the room.
There he is — Aegon is waiting for her at the end of the hallway. He’s dressed in black and red, donning his crown, his silver hair kept short underneath it.
(He was asked at a dinner once why he styled it so differently from his ancestors. My father wore it short, he had replies, and no one else had asked for more.)
His violet eyes are looking at her kindly as she reaches his side — at nine and twenty, he’s taller than she is and more built, of course, and nothing to add, he’s every inch the picture of what a proper king should be.
“My lady,” he says, “you do look quite astonishing.”
“I think you flatter me, Your Grace, but thank you nonetheless.”
He smiles slightly. “I am not. And I think that if I didn’t have the wrong impression of the young Stark, one of us will quiet the Small Council’s grumbling today.”
“That’d be me?”
“That would be you, my lady. Shall we?”
She takes his arm, figuring he has a point — he hasn’t married now, which the Small Council hasn’t pressed for, not when winter was over not so long ago and there were more pressing matters to worry about, but he’s aware that kings that haven’t married at nine and twenty are not the norm.
Still, she never asked him why he never looked for a bride nor courted any lady at this point, not even for an alliance, and she won’t now. They walk silently until they pass the Great Hall and head for — the Maidenvault?
“We figured no one wanted a public first meeting. Or better, they proposed it before I could.”
“Because of my —”
“My lady, if I don’t recall wrong, Lady Arya said that her brother hates being in public unless he has to and since he’s been back in Winterfell, he’s never taken too well to feeling confined and apparently being surrounded by a court counts. I agreed also because I figured you also would not like it.”
“I wouldn’t have,” she agrees, but she feels relieved that her betrothed also hates being around court. There might be hope yet.
They stop in front of a room. Aegon knocks and a moment later it’s opened — for a moment Shireen thinks it’s a soldier from the Stark escort but no, it’s a girl, her age, in gray men’s garb, with a sword at her side and dark hair cropped short, along with Jon Snow’s grey eyes.
“Lady Arya,” Aegon says.
“Your Grace,” she replies, “my lady. Please do come in.”
The room is more of a medium-sized hall than a private one, Shireen thinks, and it has two doors on the opposite sides of it — probably it’s connected to others.
“All right,” she says, “I will go get my sister and my brother. Apologies, he’s been nervous about this for the entire trip.”
“… Nervous?” Shireen asks, not quite picturing it.
“Oh, absolutely. The same way he gets whenever he has to deal with anything political. With your permission,” she says, heading for the door on the left side. Aegon lets her arm go and she stands up straight, figuring that if the both of them were nervous, maybe this won’t go as terrible as she had imagined.
Lady Arya disappears on the other side of it and then a moment later she comes back, standing with her back against the wall.
Then, out of it, comes the Queen Regent. Sansa Stark is impeccably dressed — all in Stark Grey, though not heavy clothing since King’s Landing’s climate is warmer, this spring. Her red hair is braided in an elegant but functional Northern hairstyle, and she introduces herself with a lovely smile without even glancing at her cheek — or at least, without her eyes lingering on it more than necessary like is the case with most other people.
“You do look lovely, my lady,” she says, and she seems to mean it completely. “Apologies for not meeting you yesterday, but —”
“You arrived very late, no apology needed.”
“I suppose you will be wondering where my — where His Grace is,” Lady Sansa says, and then looks behind her, sees an empty doorway and nods towards her sister — Arya nods back and goes inside the room.
“… Apologies, my lady,” Lady Sansa says again, and before Shireen can ask why —
“— Come on,” Lady Arya’s voice can be heard from inside the room, even if muffled. “She’s out there, you got as far as here and she’s —” Shireen can’t hear the rest, and everything is hushed for a bit, and then, “— We’re going to leave the room for that matter, just meet her already and then you can see if it works out or not, all right?”
Then — she hears a growl from the room, what, and then Lady Arya comes back out of it with a large, black direwolf with green eyes in tow, and in the direwolf’s tow —
There’s Rickon Stark.
She hadn’t known what she had been expecting. Most boys of six and ten she has met looked — their age, or younger, and she had honestly wondered, will he dislike me because I’m too old if not for my face.
Rickon Stark does not look his age or younger. He’s way taller than Lady Arya and a bit taller than Sansa, with shoulders as large as Aegon’s, dressed in gray, elegant Stark clothing that seems a bit too tight on him, and for that matter he’s holding himself so still, she has the feeling he’d like to tear that proper, royal clothing from his chest. He has the same auburn hair as his sister but more unruly and curly, and his skin is slightly tanned, as if he spends more time outside than inside. There’s stubble all over his cheeks and chin even if it’s not a proper beard and that along with his eyes is the only thing that gives out his real age. The eyes are the same blue as his older sister and she had expected him to look resigned to the match, not… nervous. He stands in front of her, and she can see that he’s slightly blushing under his stubble, his hands stuck to his thighs until Arya throws her elbow in his side.
“Oh,” he says, as if he’s suddenly remembering the script. “My lady,” he says, blindly reaching out, and she immediately holds out her hand. He has a rough voice, she thinks. He takes it, more strongly than he should, sends a panicked look downwards and then presses his mouth soundly to her skin, and —
All right, in theory his lips should only have brushed against it, and it’s obvious that he has no idea of how protocol works in this case, but she honestly feels way more relieved knowing he’s feeling like a fish out of water exactly as she is, and then Lady Sansa clears her throat.
“I think maybe we should take our leave, Your Grace,” she says.
“Of course,” he answers, holding out an arm for her to take. She looks a bit surprised at it, but she takes it very willingly a moment later.
“I will be out whenever you’re done,” Lady Arya says, smirking, and then the three of them leave the room. The direwolf stays, instead.
The moment they are, Rickon Stark lets out a breath of relief and lets her hand go, even if he doesn’t move away from her.
“My lady,” he says, relaxing a tiny bit the moment the wolf — who’s as tall as his hip and definitely taller than Shireen’s — presses up against his side. “I, I am pleased of making your, uh —”
“Your Grace,” Shireen interrupts, and he flinches the moment she uses the title. “My lord,” she corrects herself, “I can see that you are putting a valiant effort in following protocol, but case is, I really do not care much for it. You don’t need to introduce yourself that properly, if that’s not how you feel.”
She can see his shoulders lose tension at once the moment she says it.
“Thank the gods — oh, damn, uh, apologies. I think you might have understood I am terrible at protocol,” he says, sheepish.
“I hate it,” she smiles back tentatively. “I can understand even too well. And I can tell you, this meeting is going entirely better than I had feared.”
“… How is that? Not that I’m not glad to hear it,” he replies.
She shrugs, motioning at her face. “Most — most people are put off.”
“What? Uh, I mean, I guess I get it, but that’s… really stupid?” He says, and she immediately looks back up at him instead of at the wolf still on his side.
“That’s, uh, really nothing. I mean, all right, half of your face is scaly, but it doesn’t mean you aren’t really pretty, my lady.”
Her mother would have said he really needs someone to school him on how to express a compliment.
Shireen, instead, is honestly delighted. Also he’s still blushing as he says it, which makes it obvious that he’s not lying or anything, and who has ever called her pretty, not counting Lord Davos, maybe, as far as she can remember?
“Besides,” he says, “uh, I don’t mean for this to be inappropriate.”
“I won’t consider it such,” she says, and then he moves back and throws his cloak over his shoulder, unlacing the lower half of his shirt, and raising it up a notch, enough that she can see his stomach beneath the clothing. The first thing she notices is that it’s all muscle, but the second is that he has a large, red scar overing half of the lower part of his chest. It looks like someone tried to claw it open, and it’s old, and it still hasn’t turned white. He lets the shirt fall back down to cover it.
“That happened during the war,” he says, not providing any extra information. “I don’t think it looks much better than yours. I’d argue it looks worse.”
“Gods, how old were you?”
“Six? Seven? Who knows.” The direwolf growls at that. “Shaggy, don’t. Oh, damn — right. I suppose you might’ve figured out who he is already.”
“Your direwolf? Of course. All the realm knows there are four of them in Winterfell. And what’s his name?”
“Shaggydog. I know, I was three when I named him.”
“I don’t know,” Shireen says, “it suits him. May I…?” She asks, reaching out to pet him. A part of her is asking if she’s gone insane, that thing could eat her alive, but he hasn’t done any such thing until now, has he?
“Oh, of course,” Rickon says. “Most people are scared in the beginning but really, he wouldn’t do anything if I didn’t want it first.”
“Good to know,” she smiles, and reaches forward. Turns out, direwolf fur is soft to the touch, and it bends easily under her fingers, and a moment later he actually leaves Rickon’s side and moves over to hers, crouching next to her legs. She doesn’t even have to bend down that much to reach his neck. “Well, he definitely doesn’t seem to hate me,” she jokes, before looking back up at Rickon.
Who, in turn, has wide open eyes but is also… tentatively grinning?
“No,” he says, “and it never happened with anyone else that wasn’t… family or close friends,” he says, sounding awed.
“Really? Well, I guess I lucked out.”
“No, I think I did — hells, I meant, I had no idea how this was going to turn out and I honestly have no idea of how you do, uh, this, you know, whole courtship thing and they did try to teach me, but it didn’t work out too well, and what I meant is that I like you and he likes you, which almost never happens, and — gods, I’m terrible at this, am I?”
She stands up, shaking her head. “No,” she says, “you’re not. I wouldn’t have been that much better, honestly. But good to know that we’re starting with the right foot. Say, my lord —”
“Can we just — do away with that? I hate titles. Gods, I already can’t stand my lord, never mind the rest. I just hope Jon wants my job long enough that I don’t hate it too much.”
“Then it can be Shireen as well,” she smiles. “Maybe you and Shaggydog would fancy continuing this conversation in the garden, rather than here?”
“I don’t see why not.”
He smiles then, properly, and doesn’t that look nice.
“Then — of course. Yes, I think I should like the garden much better. Do lead the way, my — Shireen.”
“I will be happy to,” she smiles back.
Lady Arya does shadow them, but she stays far, and that’s probably good because the farther they go from the castle the more he forgets about protocol, and when he does… well, he might be younger than she is but it’s obvious he’s seen far more than anyone should have at any age, and he’s certainly a sight for sore eyes as far as she is concerned, and he absolutely doesn’t seem to care about her face any, and he definitely doesn’t sound awkward when he talks about how they rebuilt Winterfell or about his family (what has remained of it) and about everyone else he knows around Winterfell who survived the war, and Shireen thinks that she really wouldn’t mind living there, from what she hears.
She really, really wouldn’t.
That evening, though, as much as they would both rather not, they need to have dinner with the rest of the court. Of course she and Rickon have the place at the head of the table, which he doesn’t seem to appreciate too much, but it’s not like they can refuse it, especially since they had told both Aegon and Lady Sansa that they were more than happy to agree to the match.
“Hells,” he whispers as they wait for the food to get served, “I will never get used to this.”
“I thought I would never had that problem,” she replies, because of course she never thought she’d be Queen of anything, not even when her father was fighting for it — even if he had won, she doubts anyone would have agreed with her ruling.
Their food gets served and she notices that he has to stop himself before reaching out and getting the spoon in order to eat, but she doesn’t particularly mind — she’s been around an army and she was at the Wall, she has eaten with her fingers herself. Then she looks around, noticing that of course Lady Sansa is sitting next to Aegon at the center of the table. They’re talking to each other in what looks like a friendly way, if maybe a bit too polite, but then again he’s a king and she’s a queen regent, of course they would be polite to each other. They manage to survive the dinner and agree to take another stroll in the garden tomorrow morning, and when Aegon asks her if he might escort her to her chambers, she accepts.
“So,” he asks her as they climb the stairs, “I suppose we should all get ready for nuptials in Winterfell?”
“Maybe,” she agrees, even if she’s pretty sure the answer should be indeed. “I think I would be delighted to.”
“Well, then it is exceedingly good news. I might come as well, I think — I should like to come, too. I could use a talk to the king.” He doesn’t say my half-brother, but he could. “I am quite sure Lannister can handle the situation without me.”
Right. Tyrion Lannister is currently on a trip in the Stormlands but he has been an admirable Hand since he took Lord Connington’s place. He always jokes that the third time might be the one he actually doesn’t serve a monarch that’s doomed to die.
“Oh, he is capable. And I am sure they would be delighted to have you. Especially when apparently you did what Lady Sansa’s father and my uncle couldn’t for years. Unless you count the Lady Arya and —”
“Wait, what did she tell you?”
“It was just before dinner. That her father and my uncle always dreamed of a marriage between our Houses, but of course my uncle and Lyanna Stark, well, that didn’t come through. Neither did… Joffrey and the lady, good for her, admittedly. And I think the Lady Arya is involved with my… baseborn cousin, I suppose, but according to Sansa he’s refusing a legitimization. So — it might be that this is the right time.”
“Well, you will be missed. You have been immensely helpful around court since you came here for good and you certainly are more well-read than most of my Small Council, my lady. But I did promise your father and I want to be remembered like someone who did keep their word.”
“I shall miss King’s Landing more than I ever thought I would,” she admits. “Still, maybe you will be the next?”
He shakes his head. “My lady, as much as I have been raised to think of my… father as a model to strive towards, I have had enough time to see where he went wrong. I am not marrying anyone until I am wholly sure of it and of them and that I won’t feel the need to look the other way. I have had enough time to see the effects of where he went wrong during the Long Night.”
She has a feeling it’s about having met and talked to enough survivors of the Rebellion to understand how it affected them, badly, and she can’t know what he and Jon Snow talked about when they were both in Winterfell, waiting for the final battle, but she can only imagine it.
“I don’t want to risk marrying anyone out of duty and then leave them the moment I find someone I actually do love, my lady. Nor to put in the world children that might die for it. And I know this one war has just ended, but you can never know how fast history can repeat itself.”
“That’s fair,” she agrees, “but still, who knows.”
They’re at her room, at this point. “We shall see. Have a good night, my lady. Hopefully we can make arrangements soon.”
Hopefully, Shireen thinks smiling to herself as she walks inside her room.
They do start to make arrangements within the week — they had agreed on spending more time together to see if the good introduction meant that they would get along for longer than five hours, but when on the fifth day after they arrived here she and Rickon are taking another stroll in the gardens, she doesn’t see a rock in the way and doesn’t trip just because he catches her, and it ended with his mouth on hers and Shireen kissing back very enthusiastically — it apparently was the first time for both of them but it was good and by the time they had moved apart it had been plainly obvious both of them wanted to do it again, and again —
They made arrangements.
Of course, given that Sansa Stark is technically the Regent here, she’s in charge as far as the Northern side is concerned, so she’s the one who deals with Aegon more often — Rickon is happy to let her and Lady Arya merely said something about being glad to be spared the whole mummer’s farce. But since Shireen also has to be involved, she notices that those two are always polite with each other, but they go out of their way to be nice to each other, too. It’s not just diplomatic talking — they do look genuinely happy to be planning this together.
She does ask the lady, one day when they’re discussing the guest list.
“Is it too bold of me if I ask whether I’m right when I think you and King Aegon are quite getting along?”
“My lady, we’re about to become sisters, I do not think it’s a bold question. Other than that, he’s certainly more of what I thought a king should be than any of his predecessors that I had the misfortune to meet.” She sounds wistful, maybe, but she’s also smiling slightly. “Anyhow, since I doubt my sister will never let me plan her wedding, Jon certainly won’t and I doubt I will plan mine anytime soon, shall we get back on it?”
“Of course,” Shireen agrees, “but why not yours?”
She sighs. “The one man I might have considered wanting to be with died during the Long Night. And I honestly have a bad experience when it comes to my own wedding. Thank you, but I doubt it’s happening.”
Shireen keeps her mouth shut on the topic, sits down and starts worrying about whether she really wants a few of the listed people attending the wedding and about whether it’s necessary that they attend if only for political reasons.
When later, Aegon comes inside the room and kisses Sansa’s hand properly before sitting at the table and asking for a report of what they decided for the day, she cannot help noticing that she does blush a tiny bit when he does, and she suddenly looks ten years younger. She notices that he doesn’t look at her with mere courtesy. And she always looks delighted for a moment, whenever he kisses her hand before leaving, too.
She thinks, could it be that they also might take to each other?
She has no idea, but —
But she can’t help thinking that she’s apparently going to have a nice marriage and a nice wedding with someone she actually likes also because they were behind it, and she can’t also help thinking that they would deserve something equally good.
Then again —
Aegon is coming to Winterfell for the wedding, and it will be a few weeks before they get moving, two weeks to get there and maybe another moon to actually have them marry.
It’s more than enough time to see if courtesy goes beyond itself and turns into something else, isn’t it?
She smiles to herself and decided she will keep her eyes open, and if they need a little nudge, well, she won’t be above giving them one or two. And she’s sure her new husband-to-be wouldn’t be above that, either.