It was a long time before Robb returned to his chambers. He had made a mistake, he saw that now. He had won every battle, but things were shifting. They had stayed still too long, stopped fighting the obvious too long. People thought him weak, hiding in castles and perhaps he had been hiding without ever realising it. While they had been sitting the enemy had encroached ever closer, even into his own men. He had to bolster the forces of the north, and with the alliance of the Tyrells, he could ensure the Riverlands were kept safe while he took on the Ironborn. It was all strategy, of course, but there was one element he was unsure of. It was the same element he was always unsure of in one way or another. When he finally did return to his chamber, he nodded to his mother, who gave him a brief smile.
"She's only sleeping now." Catelyn reassured him. "Maester Vyman says she'll be fine. He gave her some milk of the poppy while he worked."
"Thank you, Mother." Robb said, relieved. He sat on a chair beside the bed and couldn't help but compare the pale, drawn face to the first time he had seen Margaery Tyrell, asleep in a wagon of meadowgrass. He would have never thought then that he would be considering marriage to the girl. He had been curious about her, about what had driven her to take his side and oppose her father's desires to help a region she had never even seen, but he found himself glad again that she had.
"Mother," he said after a moment. "Margaery said I shouldn't marry her, that it would hurt the war. Do you think she's right?"
Catelyn folded her hands on her lap. She didn't dislike Margaery, in fact, she had grown rather fond of the girl, even if it was just for the way she could make Robb smile in the midst of the bleakness of this war and pull him out of his brooding and grief with only a comment or a laugh. Still, it was a valid question for Robb to ask. "If I said yes, would it change your mind?" She asked, instead of answering. "If I told you the best thing we could do would be for you to make an agreement with Walder Frey, ask him to bend the knee and turn over the Lannisters hiding in his halls in exchange for marrying one of his daughters, would you say yes?"
Robb blinked at his mother, tamping down his gut reaction to fly to his feet at the idea. He had always known that marriages were made for political reasons and while his parents had been happy, things were not always so easy. "I…" He swallowed and shook his head. "If I had to, if I already had an engagement, or it was the only way to save Sansa and Arya or...I hope I would. Not like this, though. Not like it is now."
Catelyn nodded. "I want you to be happy, Robb...and having all the power of the Reach could win us the war. How could I possibly tell you not to marry a woman willing to put herself between you and an assassin? How could any mother?"
Robb looked moodily down at Margaery at this reminder. "I've already messed things up." He admitted. "She'll never say yes."
Catelyn opened her mouth to answer, but just as she was about to, Margaery shifted in her drugged and murmured: "I love you, Robb Stark." The look on her son's face was one of awe, and it made her smile. "I think," Catelyn remarked, "you might have your answer."
Robb hoped that the murmured words might herald Margaery waking, but they did not, and when Loras Tyrell showed up a few hours later to check on his sister, he barely noticed, except for when Grey Wind growled at the interloper. "Grey Wind." He said sternly, reaching down to pat the direwolf in assurance.
Grey Wind tilted an eye up at his master and whined slightly but stopped growling, keeping wary lupine eyes on the young knight.
"Ser Loras," Catelyn said with a smile. "Please, come in. I was about to ask Ser Garth to relieve me, as it has been a very long day and I need some rest, but I know I don't have to worry about your sister with you here." She smiled slightly.
"Lady Stark." Loras said, somewhat awkwardly, with a bow just low enough to pass muster. "Thank you for looking after her."
"Of course." Catelyn said, rising from her chair and moving over to her son, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Please, Robb, get some sleep at some point. Your Uncle Brynden has offered you his room while he's away, and you can't wear yourself down with things as tense as they are."
"I will, Mother." Robb answered, turning slightly and attempting to give her a smile. "I just want to sit with Margaery a little longer. I'm hoping she'll wake."
"All right." Catelyn said with a sigh. "I'll have Dacey check in an hour."
Robb just nodded, settling back into his vigil. He knew his mother was right, he had an army that was splintering, a brand new alliance, and Ironborn raiding his shores. By all accounts he was going to need all the rest he could get, but a very large part of him needed to stay a little longer, hoping that Margaery might wake for just as many reasons. In the barest sense, the alliance he had just made would fall apart, but there was also the fact that he didn't know what he was doing - he was a soldier, he commanded men on the field, the strategies he knew were ones of the battlefield and only a few scant months ago he hadn't even known those from anything but books and instinct. In his world you met the enemy on the field or in combat, they didn't send assassins to kill you in your bed. He didn't understand political intrigue the way Margaery did. She knew the scheming far better than he did. She understood the dark underbelly of people better than he did. More than any of that, though, he wanted Margaery to wake so that he would know she was alright, because he wanted her to be alright, because he needed her to be alright.
"How did you do it?" Loras's voice broke through Robb's reverie, and the young king managed to tear his eyes away from the still form on the bed for a moment in confusion.
"Which 'it' are you asking me about, Ser Loras?" Robb asked, politely. "Though I'll be the first to admit that the answer will likely be luck."
"How did you convince Margaery to follow you?" Loras questioned, his expression twisted with some emotion he dare not name. "Renly was a good match - how did you get her to leave and come here without ever coming South? Were there ravens we missed? Did Mira send messages for you?"
Despite his worries, Robb let out a bark of a laugh, unable to hold it back, regardless of the serious expression Loras wore. "Ser Loras, I didn't reach out to your sister. I had never even heard her name before she sent a messenger to me while we were approaching the Trident." He shook his head. "She did what she did on her own, and I accepted her only after she put the entirety of the Lannister forces to sleep so my men could cross Ruby Ford."
Loras's jaw unhinged, and he looked at his sleeping sister again. They had been close for a lot of their youth, the two youngest of the family, at least until he had gone to squire for Renly and she had been left at Highgarden with their parents, Olenna, and Willas. "How could she have ever done such a thing?"
Robb shook his head, looking back at Margaery on the bed. "She drugged them all, laced their food with Mother's Sleep, and ate with Tywin himself. She trusted her men and ladies to see the plan through." He swallowed a little. "I don't think she knows how grateful I am. Had we tried to fight our way across, we would have probably lost many men, and Lord Frey...well, he's taken in the Lannisters for the moment. I would not want to know what toll he would have demanded, if he asked one at all. Perhaps he would have just killed me in his hall or turned me over to Joffrey."
Loras stared at his unconscious sister, wondering if he had known her as well as he had thought, if he knew this new Margaery who calmed direwolves and led soldiers at all. "Why would she? Renly is...was the best of men."
Robb didn't know if it was his place to answer, but Margaery was unconscious and he wanted Loras to understand, hopeful that he would accept he and Margaery as a couple. He needed Loras's support, both as a member of Rillwater Crossing and for his plan to marry Margaery to work. "She was afraid you were dead, you know." He said instead of answering right away. "She told me you'd protect Renly to the death. She cares more than she's comfortable showing, more than she likes to admit. Had she stayed, she thought you'd grow to hate her. I was just...the next best option. There was no secret plot, no hidden letters, no star-crossed North-South romance. She was strong enough not to need those things." He sometimes worried, in those moments of doubt that was still all he was to her - the pragmatic, easy answer. None of it had been easy and the strongest reminder was the fact that she was injured.
"And she'll apparently protect you to the death, Your Grace." Loras remarked, somewhat bitterly.
Robb didn't know what to say to that, but he was saved from the need to do so, by Margaery stirring awake. "Loras?" She murmured, blinking at the sound of her brother's voice.
"Good morning, Margaery." Loras said, almost smiling in relief...almost. "I thought we taught you to run away from assassins?"
That broke the fog from milk of the poppy from her mind, and Margaery gasped, attempting to sit up. "Robb!"
"I'm right here, Margaery." Robb said, swallowing around the lump in his throat. He reached out and took her hand. "I'm fine, thanks to you."
"You're really alright?" Margaery demanded, still trying to sit up, wincing as pain flared through her nerves.
"Yes." Robb reassured her. "Don't strain yourself. How are you feeling?"
"A little sore, but passable, Your Grace." Margaery said, remembering her place and everything that had happened.
"Margaery…" Robb said softly. "I owe you an apology for the way I treated you."
"You are a king, Your Grace." Margaery reminded him. "A king need not apologise for how he treats his lessers."
"What about how he treats his queen?" Robb asked wryly. "I told you before that I would fight for you, Margaery."
Margaery started to shake her head, but apparently she was not as recovered from the poppy as she would have liked and it made her vision swim slightly. "Someone just tried to kill you, Your Grace, you need support from your men, not a southron bride."
"I need a bride by my side that I can trust, Margaery, when I can't trust all the men who have sworn themselves to me." Robb argued quietly. "You said once that men thought you a witch meant to kill me in my tent. When I have been betrayed, when someone slips a Lannister assassin into our camp, into my grandfather's castle and the Freys have taken in the lions in my own supposed kingdom, how could I trust some random daughter of a bannerman?" He squeezed her hand. "What more proof that you would be loyal to me do I need other than you running to my side and attacking the would-be killer?"
"But…" Margaery sputtered, unsure.
Robb continued, not about to start allowing her to sway him with logic and big brown eyes. "I may be a king, but I am a king at war, and a king who is going to need to go north and fight the Iron Islands before the North is ravaged even more. I need a queen who knows war and strategy enough to hold our gains here while I am on the second front. A queen who won't be overridden by ambitious men who put power before the cause or want more advancement for their house. A northern beauty or riverlands lady hasn't sat in on war councils like you have."
"Dacey..." Margaery tried again, and then huffing when the king she had chosen silenced her with a finger to her lips, and then she melted despite herself at the look in his blue eyes, like fire.
Robb refused to look away, wanting to get this across to her more than anything. "I don't know whether Rhaegar Targaryen loved his wife, but whether or not he did, he stole my aunt away, and my namesake destroyed a dynasty for a woman he loved. Cersei Lannister has dashed the kingdom into pieces by being unfaithful to a husband who humiliated her by grabbing willing women right in front of her because he could not have the that woman he loved. I will be a faithful husband to whomever I marry, but if she's not you I won't love her. Do you really want that kind of precedence set for the first Queen of Winter since Aegon's Conquest?"
Margaery's eyes had grown large. "You might grow to love someone else."
"Could you?" Robb asked, seriously.
"No." Margaery admitted, a little petulantly, despite herself.
"Marry me, Margaery." Robb asked, holding her hands tightly. "You had the courage to strap on armor and go into battle despite being trained to be a lady and a queen, go into this battle at my side. There's no one else I'd trust to do it."
Margaery swallowed and argued with herself. Logic told her that it was still too dangerous, that she would still not be accepted, but at the same time Robb's argument had been just as logical and it was not for nothing that people followed him - he was charismatic in a way that drew people to him, and she was no exception. More than anything else, however, she wanted that. She wanted the future she had dreamed, and all the wishes she had made as a silly girl-child. Surprisingly, it was the former that made her decision more than the latter, that and the look in his eyes. "Yes." She said finally.
Robb knew what he should do. He should smile and thank her. Marriage was serious business, after all...but despite himself, he couldn't manage his father's dignity and let out a sound that resembled a whoop. He would have kissed her, but she still seemed pale and her brother was sitting nearby. Instead, he brushed a sweaty tendril of hair from her face and kissed her forehead. "You won't regret it, Margaery, I promise." He swore.
"I'm more afraid that you will." Margaery admitted, frowning even as her eyes sparkled with happiness.
"Never." Robb said, squeezing her hand. "You're the only good thing that's happened to me since the king came to Winterfell."
Very little had changed at Riverrun since Margaery had accepted Robb's proposal, in part because they were keeping it from most of the camp until the preparations for the fight against the Ironborn were finished. Everyone had taken to their assigned jobs with little to no grumbling, Rivermen, Northmen, Tyroshi and Reachmen all working together with varying degrees of success as squads were set on The Twins, the Tyroshi and some of the Reachmen moved to blockade the Roseroad and the Riverroad, isolating the Westerlands and cutting King's Landing off from the fertile areas of the land, and more guards were set at the perimeter of all the camps. There was unease as groups knotted together closer, everyone trying to figure out who it was who turned traitor. Gossip and whispered accusations flourished no matter how much Robb tried to cut off the suspicions amongst the men.
Still, in order for there to be a wedding, some people had to know, and a small group had formed around it. Loras had been present at the proposal, and Margaery had told the Northern House Tyrell handmaidens, including Mira Forrester who had travelled with the delegation from The Reach and was all too glad to be back in the North. The quintet of women began embroidering a maiden cloak, concealing the fact that it was Margaery's by working on two in turn, alternating them so that suspicious people would think that there was only one, a cloak being made for Nyssa Tyrell who had accepted her Leygood swain's proposal. Robb had confided in his mother who had known it was coming, and Theon, who he had asked to stand with him as a witness and a brother instead of as a subject. To Robb, however, it seemed as though more and more people just kept finding out .
First it was Dacey, who had officially arrived to take over chaperone duty from Mira, and unofficially wanted to check on her friend, even if she'd never admit it. Unfortunately, she caught them in the middle of a row.
"Maester Vyman has said that I'm fine." Margaery insisted, hands on her hips, even though her tone was even. "I have to check on my people. I can't just stay here!"
"You were very nearly killed!" Robb argued. "I don't want to see you hurt!"
" You were very nearly killed." Margaery countered. "Do you think I still don't imagine what would have happened if I had ignored Grey Wind? I realise that you are a king and you have responsibilities and a duty, so I keep my worries to myself that while I'm laid up in here some battle could come and you could be killed. I don't ask you not to fight. I know you wouldn't choose me over your people and I wouldn't want you to." She placed a hand on his arm. "Robb, none of my men, save Loras, have seen me since you were attacked. I need to reassure them that I'm well and I need to organise the preparations for holding the Riverlands and the Ironborn raids."
"Loras…" Robb started to argue.
"Loras is my brother, but it's still my House. I brought them here, and it's me they need to hear it from, not Loras."
Dacey had noticed something was off fairly quickly, but it was only at that moment that she realised what it was. "You finally said yes!" She declared, drawing the attention of the arguing couple. "Took you bloody long enough. If he weren't my king I would have locked you in the armoury weeks ago."
The turned and looked toward Dacey who was grinning at them, and the argument was diffused as Robb quickly demanded Dacey swear not to tell anyone, before the old gods.
"Don't know why you bother." Mira said lightly, from where she had been sewing on one of the cloaks. "Everyone knows you're in love, Your Grace. The only thing people debate is who bewitched who and whether the other one feels the same way."
"And recently, whether or not you've actually bedded her or turned into a giant direwolf and devoured her." Dacey filled in with a grin, effectively winning the argument as to whether or not Margaery needed to go out retake control of her men with that little rumour.
After Dacey it was Garrick Flowers, who had dared to come up to Robb and solemnly ask if when Margaery was queen, he could still be her messenger. Robb had been glad no one was around because his mouth had fallen open in surprise, before he regained his composure and informed him that he would always be a very important messenger to both of them.
Finally, and flamboyantly, it was The Queen of Thorns who had invited herself to tea with Catelyn and Margaery unbeknownst to either of them. Olenna and brought up wedding plans after scaring off a servant boy. Robb had arrived shortly afterwards, frightened by the sight of someone running from the room where his mother and his intended were supposed to be, out of breath from running.
"Ah, and here he is." Olenna said, as if it was the most normal thing in the world. "Hello, Your Grace. I suppose you're the reason why Margaery is insisting on not getting married in the Sept?"
Robb realised that the man must have been running not from an intruder but from the sharp tongue of Olenna Tyrell, and relaxed, if only marginally. "Actually, I had assumed we would marry in the Sept, where my parents were married." He turned to look at her in surprise. "Margaery?"
Margaery sipped her tea, trying to make a decision, before sighing. "You told me you'd pray to the Old Gods that you would win me, and I told you that I would pray to the Mother that she would make me content. Your gods answered."
"A foolish prayer, my dear." Olenna observed. "And not a reason to avoid marrying in the Light of the Seven."
"Perhaps not." Margaery allowed, smiling at Robb anyway. "But the my fiancé and king follows the Old Gods, as do most of Northern houses, and I want them to see that not only do I respect their ways and him, but I want to be a part of them, that things won't change just because I was born in The Reach. That I'm not going to try and turn Winterfell into Highgarden." She reached for a small cake, and took a bite, as if the political conversation were as light as asking the weather. "Besides, The Faith has sided with Joffrey."
"Won't your father be against a ceremony in the godswood, giving me your hand without a Septon?" Robb had seen Mace's quick temper that first day.
"I imagine he would." Olenna agreed. "But it will be Loras, won't it, Margaery? She's worked too hard to separate herself from Highgarden, she won't want anyone to think her father has any influence over her, and with Loras becoming the head of the Blue Roses with your marriage, it's the only sound choice."
"Yes." Margaery agreed, beaming at Robb who looked shocked at the amount of thought she had put into it. "All I care about is that in the end, we're married without people turning on us."
Olenna rolled her eyes at this. "Don't lose your head, Margaery."
King Joffrey Baratheon, First of His Name had declared a feast, announcing to one and all the death of the Young Wolf. The nobles all filled the hall as great harts and game birds filled the table and the finest wine flowed, whilst the Rains of Castamere played in the background. He sat enthroned at the highest table between a pale and sad looking Sansa Stark and an equally victorious Cersei Lannister.
The chatting slowed and then went silent as the great doors opened, revealing a dirty, smelly, and tired looking Lannister knight, dragging himself forward, with a palace page carrying a wooden crate that looked even worse. "Your Grace!" the exhausted soldier said, as he tried to bow and nearly lost his footing.
Joffrey's lip curled for a moment, before he spoke. "Are you a scout from my grandfather's army, good ser? Are they on their way?"
"No." The man said. "I was in Ser Jaime's force, Your Grace. I was captured when we lost Riverrun. Robb Stark sent me with a message, Your Grace."
Joffrey's face went red. "You lie! The so-called Young Wolf is dead!"
"I wish he was, Your Grace." The man said, shaking. "He's terrifying. He...bid me thank you for the return of his father's sword and…" The soldier swallowed hard.
"And?" Tyrion asked, standing to get a better look. "Finish, good ser."
"Tha...that Grey Wind enjoyed the meal you sent him. He demands the return of his sisters, whole and healthy, the return of his father's bones and recognition of the independence of The Kingdom of the North and The Trident."
"Never!" Joffrey shouted, angrily, rising to his feet, even as his mother seemed to go from victorious to angry, eyes flashing like diamonds, while Sansa's expression did not change.
The knight quaked. "He said...he said if you refused, I..I had to open the box."
"So do it!" Joffrey demanded, puffing himself up and refusing to be afraid of a box, or let Robb Stark make a fool of him any more than he already had. "I have nothing to fear from Robb Stark."
The messenger shook, but a servant came forward with a pry bar, and the stench that poured out made people around them cough, as the wood panels fell away to expose what remained of the expensive Myrish assassin Joffrey had hired and the head rolled forward onto the marble floor.
"He said...he said to tell you that winter is coming."