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The silk of Sansa’s pale skirts made a swishing sound with each stride.  Heeling her down the lavish corridors of the Red Keep was her dark-haired handmaiden Shae.  Sansa had grown surprisingly fond of the woman and her unrefined-yet-honest ways in the short weeks the foreign woman had been with her.  Despite her words often being blunt, the advice Shae offered was frequently wise.  For someone who seemed to have minimal knowledge of serving a Lady, she was deft at the intrigues of the court and navigating the noble currents.

But Shae wasn’t the reason Sansa’s step was light.  Even the folded invitation in her hand had only brought a small amount of joy this morning, and Sansa had come to enjoy the brief visits she and Princess Myrcella shared.  No, this morning Sansa was happy because of Sandor Clegane.

Finally, finally , he had come to her of his own, woken her by taking her into his arms.  She still felt the fading ripples of bliss when his mouth had come down upon hers.  Sansa hadn’t realized how much she wanted, needed to kiss him.  That he had struggled to honor her, to protect her virtue, had only made her desire it more.  And when she had caught his face in her hands and kissed him, a pressure had begun to warm her.  A pressure that felt divine, and one solely connected to him.  And mostly centered between her thighs.

Just remembering now she felt it again.  A flush rose in her cheeks and she fought it down.  Sansa did not want to have to lie to Myrcella about the cause of her blushes.

Two Goldcloaks stood outside Myrcella’s doors.  Sansa glanced down the hallway toward Cersei’s apartments, concerned the Queen might be joining them.  But no servants or Kingsguard were near her rooms, which meant she was away from them.

She was allowed in once she had been properly announced.  Myrcella sat upon a chaise in front of a sweeping view of Blackwater Bay.  The fifteen year old set her book upon a table and stood, straightening her golden silks to greet Sansa.

“Lady Stark,” she smiled.  Sansa dipped in a low curtsy to acknowledge the greeting, and Myrcella continued, “Thank you for answering my invitation.” 

“Thank you for the invitation, princess Myrcella,” Sansa replied smoothly as she straightened, “It is an honor to be asked for a private audience.”

The princess grinned, her golden hair catching the light streaming in from the windows.  Her blue eyes, more ocean than Sansa’s sky, came to rest over Sansa’s shoulder.  Sansa spoke before Myrcella troubled herself with asking.

“This is my handmaiden, Shae.  I will send her away, if it please you.”

Myrcella seemed to consider it for a moment before replying, “No, Shae may stay.  Dear Sansa, I have so much I want to tell you, and desperately wish your thoughts on the matters before me.”

“My thoughts?”  The redheaded Stark replied, suddenly wary.  What possible advice could she give the princess?

“Yes, if it isn’t too much to ask,” the younger woman replied.  Sansa was surprised to see anxiety in her features.

“It is never too much, princess,” Sansa said slowly, “Only, I am not sure which thoughts of mine you seek, on which matters.”

“Please,” Myrcella gestured to a table inlaid with mother-of-pearl.  She and Sansa settled in low-backed chairs, and after Myrcella had sent for cheese and punch, she continued, “I am happy to explain, I just beg you please not tell my mother of what we discuss.”

Sansa felt some of the color drain from her cheeks.  Keeping secrets from Cersei, especially about her only daughter, would have severe and dire consequences if those secrets were later discovered.  But Myrcella had no sister or Septa to ask for advice, and Sansa suspected Cersei was not a listener like her own mother Catelyn.  So she assured the princess she would not reveal the girl’s secrets, and hoped she was never put to the question about them.

“My mother recently told me,” the younger girl began slowly, “Because my father is dead, it is up to my mother and brothers to find me a match, as my father cannot.  Today I came to learn that my Lord Uncle Tyrion has arranged my betrothal to Prince Trystane of Dorne.”

When the princess paused, Sansa offered an encouraging smile, “Congratulations to you and Prince Trystane, Princess Myrcella. You will be a beautiful bride.  May the old gods and the new smile upon your union.”

“Thank you, Lady Sansa, but it is not the wedding I am worried about,” the blonde confessed, “I know little of what to expect in Dorne, and even less of the Martells.  I admit, deep down I am shamed to say I am afraid.  I will be far away from my family, from everything I know.  Uncle Tyrion says it’s safest for me there, with my Uncle Stannis coming here.  Oh Sansa,” a pleading tone entered the girl’s voice, “You’re the only one I know who had abandoned her home and family for their betrothed.  Tell me, is it as bad as I fear?”

Sansa considered her words carefully before speaking.  Her own betrothal had been wonderful, at the start.  Something out of a beautiful song.  But that song turned ugly and now her betrothal had made her little more than a prisoner of the crown.

“It isn’t always easy, princess,” Sansa said measuredly, “You will miss your mother, and your friends.  But you will find happiness with your betrothed, I am sure of it.  Our mothers did, and their mothers before them.”

Truth be told, she knew Cersei had never been happy with Robert, but Myrcella didn’t need to hear that about her own parents.  The princess appeared unconvinced, so Sansa tried another angle.

“My father always told me the Martells were fiercely proud, but honorable and kind to the common folk.  And my mother once told me the Martells are handsome, all lustrous hair and dark eyes,” Sansa almost giggled to remember her father’s expression when he’d heard her mother comment on the handsome features of the Dornish.  Everyone within earshot had a good chuckle.  Even had Ned, eventually.  When she relayed the entirety of the story, Myrcella herself laughed.

The pair of young women fell silent when the servants brought the refreshments.  Sansa took the time to reflect upon her own situation.  She no longer loved Joffrey; when she really thought about it, she didn’t think she had ever loved him.  Now she avoided him whenever possible, along with the Queen.  She’d learned who not to trust in King’s Landing.  And who she could.

Shae poured punch into the silver goblet before Sansa.  With her back to the princess, her handmaiden shot her a look that screamed caution.  It sadden Sansa when she realized Shae was right.  She liked Myrcella; both the princess and prince Tommen were gentle in spirit.  But they were still Lannisters, and whatever she said to Myrcella would no doubt eventually get back to Cersei.

“I think of you as a sister, Sansa,” Myrcella spoke after the servants had retreated back to the halls, “Soon we will be sisters by law.  I hope I can confide in you as I would a sister.”

“Of course,” Sansa assured her.  Where is this line of questioning going?

The princess looked grateful before continuing, “I don’t have any aunts, or sisters, and no Septas.  I know you had those things, Sansa.  People willing to advise you,” she fidgeted, “I have nobody that I can ask about...womanly matters.”

Sansa’s eyebrows lifted before she could stop hrself. Myrcella finished in a rush, “Mother’s mercy, I am terrified of the marriage bed.  I know nothing about it Sansa.  Trystane...he will expect me to know things, and I don’t know anything!”

The younger girl crumpled, her shoulders trembling as she fought her tears. Sansa felt her heart twist.  Moving quickly around the table, the redhead knelt next to the blonde and placed a comforting arm around her.

“Calm yourself, Princess.  I am sure you have nothing to fear,” Sansa hoped Myrcella didn’t hear the lie, “I am sure Prince Trystane will be gentle.”

“But what will he do? And what am I supposed to do?”

“My Septa told me I should allow my husband to do his duty, and I should think on the sons I will bear,” Sansa spoke slowly, realization dawning on her.  Gods, I’ll have to let Joffrey do things to me!

She must have looked about as stricken as she felt, for Myrcella simply cried harder.

Movement out of the corner of her eye made her glance over her shoulder.  Shae had come to stand just behind her, leaning towards the pair with concern written all over her slender face.  Sansa glanced between the Princess and her handmaiden before speaking, “Shae, do you know anything of what to expect?”

Shae hesitated, her nearly black eyes flicking between the Ladies.  Finally she sighed, and said, “I know something of it yes, my Lady, your Highness.”

Myrcella sniffled, “You do? Oh please, please tell me.”

The handmaiden straightened, “Begging your pardon, your Highness, my Lady.  I am not sure that would be proper.”

“I don’t care if it’s not proper,” Myrcella wiped her eyes and drew herself up, and for a moment Sansa could see Cersei’s fierce force of will in the younger girl, “It is my duty as a Princess and the betrothed of a Prince of Dorne to understand what is expected of me to produce an heir.  If you have that knowledge, you shall impart it.”

Shae’s eyes widened and she glanced at Sansa.  The Stark shrugged, she herself curious about this hidden knowledge belonging to her handmaiden, yet unwilling to push the woman to share.  Shae sighed, and dipped a rather poor curtsy.

“As you say, your Highness.”

Myrcella’s grin was positively joyous as she directed Sansa and Shae to be seated at the table.  The foreign woman looked uncomfortable yet resigned.  Sansa decided to content herself with listening.  

“Most men will be gentle the first time,” Shae said after Myrcella’s prompt to begin, “If it is also his first time, he might not know much either.  But if he does or doesn’t know, he will be between your legs, and then he will put himself inside. It might sting or feel like a pinch, but the pain is brief and then it can feel nice.”

“Is there pain each time?” Myrcella gasped.  Shae shook her head.

“No, your Highness. After the first time it should no longer hurt.  There might be blood the first time, but that is normal and nothing to be frightened about.”

Sansa’s stomach tightened.  She had the distinct feeling Joffrey would not be gentle, and the subsequent times would not be painless.  The thought of him rutting atop her, snarling down at her, making her bleed with his...his thing , made her want to sick up.

Shoving the thought aside quickly, she realized she’d missed Myrcella’s next question, but Shae’s answer caught her attention.

“It might last some time, if he is strong.  Bigger, stronger men can go longer.  If he is the pampered noble and does not practice warrior arts, then I would not expect much.”

Sandor is big and strong.  There is no finer warrior.   The heat rushed to Sansa’s cheeks at the sudden thought, and Myrcella giggled.

“Why Sansa, you’ve gone positively scarlet!  Are you considering your own marriage bed?”

Sansa swallowed, the thought of Sandor evaporating as Joffrey was forced into her mind. “Who would not consider the King when speaking of such things, your Highness? I hope to please him in every way.”

Myrcella gave her a wide smile, but Shae’s own look at Sansa spoke volumes.  Oh no, Shae did not accept that response.  But she said nothing of it, and continued.

“I know a little of the Dornish.  I expect this Prince is a trained warrior, your Highness.  This is a good thing, for you.”

Sansa and Myrcella glanced at one another.  “Why is that a good thing?”  The princess finally asked.

Shae smiled.  “Because it means he will last longer.  It takes more time for a woman to finish, than a man.”

“What does that mean, to finish?” Sansa asked.  

The handmaiden seemed to consider for a moment before replying, “If you are lucky, and he is not the lazy man, you’ll start to feel very good.  He should see this, and do the things to make you feel even better.  And then you’ll feel a tightening before a burst.  I know it does not sound like it is not scary, but you will like it.”

Sansa released a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding.  She glanced toward Myrcella and found her eyes staring, round with wonder.  The redhead couldn’t blame the princess.  It had never occurred to her that she might find enjoyment in the marriage bed with her husband.  Some of the bawdy songs she’d overheard soldiers singing spoke of tasting women.  Sansa now wondered what it was, exactly, they were tasting.

The stunned silence held until Shae shifted in her seat and cleared her throat.  Myrcella blinked, and her eyes snapped to the foreigner.

“I thank you Shae, for your counsel,” the princess said, slightly breathless, “I assure you this visit will remain between us.  I expect neither of you will speak of it.”

Sansa and Shae promised to keep the entire discussion to themselves, though Sansa felt very distracted while she made her assurances.  What could it feel like to burst?

Before long there was a rap at the door.  Shae answered, and a Goldcloak entered to inform Myrcella the Queen required her.  Sansa curtsied to Myrcella, then gathered up Shae to glide from the room.  Outwardly, she did her best to appear the perfect, virtuous Lady.  Inside, she felt a raw warmth that made her weak, a feeling very similar to Sandor’s kiss the night before.  

As the two moved through the mostly empty hallways of the Keep, Sansa finally turned to her handmaiden and asked, “How do you know these things?”

Shae gave her a sidelong look before replying, “Volantis is not as conservative as your Westeros.”

When it was clear she was not going to say anything more, Sansa pressed, “What more do you know?”

A wide smile crossing her features, Shae turned to address Sansa directly, “Lots, my Lady.”