Margaery in the Stormlands.
They followed the Kingsroad through the Kingswood. Yesterday, they came upon a patrol that was scouting the areas, saying they served King Renly Baratheon. Margaery had wanted to sigh in exasperation when she heard it, but she didn't. Instead, she showed her peace banner and told them she was there to speak with Renly. When she told them who she was, they accepted to escort her immediately to Renly's camp.
She saw the standards from far away, into a clearing. That was where Renly established his camp. She had to suffer the captain of the patrol regaling her with tales about Renly and the forces that followed him, of how he always was a good man for his bannermen, very generous and benign. Margaery already knew everything there was to know about Renly Baratheon and more. She was the sister of Loras Tyrell, after all. There was no need for further explanation. She was relieved to reach Renly's camp. She needed a good discussion with him and with Loras too. The captain who spoke to her all the time said her brother was riding alongside Renly.
They came upon the limits of the camp where a sentinel stopped them. "Who goes there?" He eyed her men. Margaery had come with a mix of guards from Highgarden and Casterly Rock, and there was also Ser Mandon Moore, so the sentinel was suspicious about them. He may not even have noticed her among her thirty men.
"This is Lady Margaery Tyrell," the captain of the patrol said.
The sentinel looked very surprised. He seemed to finally realize that she was here. "Please forgive me, my lady. You are welcome. King Renly will be happy to hear you are there." I don't think he will be happy for long when he hears what I have to say. "We will escort you to his pavilion."
"Would it be possible for me to see my brother, before?" she asked.
The sentinel seemed bothered. "I'm sorry, my lady, but Ser Loras is participating to the tourney as we speak. I'm sure he will come to speak with you once this is all over."
"Yes, my lady. Lord Renly is hosting a tourney, and your brother is among the favourites."
A tourney? They were at war, and her brother and Renly had time to organize a tourney? "I suppose Renly Baratheon is not in his pavilion right now?"
"No, my lady. He is presiding the tourney. We'll make sure he knows that you arrived, and he will welcome you as soon as possible."
Why didn't it surprise her? A war was going on, and of course Renly would be presiding a tourney and Loras fighting in it, probably while the enemy was closing on them. "Lead me to my brother and your king."
"But, my lady…"
"They will want to see me, so show me where they are."
Margaery was intractable, so they finally led her to the tourney's grounds. On their way, she saw that the camp was much larger than what had to be expected from an army of this size. The man who guided her in the last day was very talkative and told her that Renly mustered a host of twenty thousand men. Spaces between tents and alleys were larger than in an usual camp. Margaery suspected that Renly prioritized comfort over speed and efficiency. The camp also looked half empty.
They arrived at the tourney's ground. Judging from the large crowd, she suspected this was the reason the camp looked empty, and not the fact it was larger.
"We'll have to wait, my lady. We are right in the middle of a duel," the captain told her.
"I think not. Baras, make a way for us," she ordered the captain of her guards.
Before Renly's captain could do anything, Baras and his men walked through the crowd, pushing people aside, and Margaery followed suit, surrounded by her men in red and green. The crowd of knights and common soldiers was tossed away as they made their way to the field.
Renly Baratheon sat on an elevated bench. Two warriors were there, about to engage into battle. They stopped when she walked in with her men, and Renly looked at her men first as well before he saw her. Then his expression softened.
"Lord Renly, it's been far too long," she said, loud enough for everyone to hear her.
Renly was wearing a crown that reminded the shape of a stag's horns. He smiled at her.
"Margaery!" It didn't come from Renly, but rather from one of the knights who were about to fight. Loras removed his helmet and approached, about to embrace her, but she stopped him with a hand on his breastplate.
"Be careful, Loras. You're covered with mud," she said, chuckling a little. She was glad to see her brother again, but the happiness she displayed wasn't entirely genuine. She would have preferred for their reunion to take place in better circumstances.
"Sorry, sister." He took his distance, laughing in the process, then turned to Renly. "I told you she would come."
Renly stood up. "My lords, good sers, I present you Margaery of House Tyrell, daughter of Lord Mace Tyrell, Lord of Highgarden, and sister to Ser Loras Tyrell, his son and heir. Together, Storm's End and Highgarden will put an end to the tyranny of Joffrey the bastard, and make sure the Lannisters answer for their crimes. I swear it by the Old Gods and the New."
As cheers raised from everywhere, one of Margaery's men, an officer from Casterly Rock, stepped forward and roared. "You're talking to the Lady of Casterly Rock, so mind your tongue, you son of a bitch!"
There were swords that were drawn from both sides. Margaery quickly placed a hand on the knight's arm. "Please, good sers, there's no need to come to that."
Her men put back their swords into their scabbards, and Renly told his own to do the same with a nod after Margaery stared straight into his eyes. Truth be told, she was angry after Renly for what he just said as well, but it was useless to start a battle here.
She looked at Renly. "Lord Renly, may I know why you're wearing a crown? If my memory is right, only kings can wear crowns."
"My lady, you stand before Renly of the House Baratheon, the First of His Name, King of the Andals, the First Men and the Rhoynar, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm," a knight close to him said.
Margaery mimicked an incredulous expression. "Really? The last time I checked, when a king dies, his eldest son succeeds him. And unless I'm wrong, you are not Robert Baratheon's eldest son, my lord."
Renly smiled again. "My lady, please forgive me. I suppose you travelled tirelessly to come here. You may not know about it, but Joffrey, Tommen and Myrcella…"
Margaery raised a hand to stop him. "Yes, I know. They are the children from an incest between the queen and Ser Jaime Lannister." She said it as if it was a story she heard again and again. "I read Lord Stannis's letter, in which he also claimed the Iron Throne for himself. Do you truly believe what your brother is saying, Lord Renly? Everyone knows he and Robert never liked each other. Before we can think about it, I'm sure he will start saying to everyone that King Robert put you into his bed."
Margaery heard some people laugh behind her, and she knew they were not only her men. Renly's expression turned harder, though he managed to maintain his serenity. Margaery allowed time for his men to laugh but didn't leave him time to talk before her. "We have important matters to discuss, Lord Renly. I am here as an envoy of Joffrey Baratheon, the First of His Name, King of the Andals, the First Men and the Rhoynar, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm, my nephew, and yours."
She made sure her stare showed how serious she was, and that she wouldn't back up. Renly was cornered. He was just humiliated in front of his men and she made it clear that she wasn't here to support him.
"Ser Loras, escort Lady Margaery to my pavilion. She must be very tired. I will join you soon, my lady," Renly said.
"Thank you, Lord Renly."
They left, her small army of guards following her steps as she progressed with her brother through the camp to Renly's pavilion. They didn't say a word on their way. Margaery was angry at Loras. He sided with this man, a man who just said he would make the Lannisters pay for their crimes. Either Renly was stupid, or he wasn't as nice as she thought he was. In the first case he forgot that she was Margaery Lannister of House Tyrell now, and in the second he knew he was accusing her.
Renly's personal tent was vast, larger than hers and Tyrion's while they travelled. There was a large bowl of fruits in the middle of his desk, tapestries hung all around, and large furs and carpets on the ground, made of the finest fabrics. It looked more like a tent a king would use to visit his lands and lords than for war.
"Can you tell me what you're doing?" Loras asked as soon as they were alone inside the pavilion. "You just had half of Westeros laughing to Renly in public."
"And before that, Renly told all these people that he was going to kill every Lannister in the world," she shot back.
Loras was looking at her with a face that showed utter disbelief. "I don't understand." That was obvious. "I thought you came here to help us, to join us, and instead you say that Joffrey is the king and that you're here to represent him."
"To join you? Loras, do you realize that when you declared for Renly, you declared war against me?"
"No, I didn't."
"You did. I am a Lannister. I am the Lady of Casterly Rock and of the Westerlands. The Lannisters support Joffrey. By declaring for another king, you declared war against me."
Loras had his mouth wide open. Margaery was truly about to believe her grandmother when she said that Loras was a fool. "I never did that. Everything I did was for our family, for us."
"Can you tell how fighting against your own sister serves the family's interests?"
"I never intended to fight you. Renly and I talked about it. When we received Stannis's raven, we agreed that he should be king. People want him to be king. They don't want Joffrey or Stannis. They want him. And you could be his queen."
There was a moment during which nothing was said. "Me? His queen?"
"Yes, you could finally be queen of Westeros."
Margaery burst into laughs. "Loras, Grandmother was right, you are a fool. I'm already married. Have you forgotten? You were there for the wedding."
Loras's face took a darker expression. "Yes, I remember. But it's not a problem. Once we've dealt with the Lannisters, you'll be free to marry whoever you want."
"Loras, marriages cannot be annulled, unless they were not consummated, and I can tell you that mine is consummated in more ways than you can think of."
"Margaery, we don't need an annulment. Everyone hates the Lannisters. Once they're all dead, it won't matter anymore."
She wasn't sure if she heard well. Her heart was pounding in her head. "Can you repeat what you just said?" she asked, grinding her teeth.
"When Renly takes King's Landing, he will execute the Lannisters as traitors. The Imp is serving an usurper, when he's gone…"
He didn't see the slap coming. She slapped him without thinking, the harder she could, and after she could think about it, she didn't regret her action the slightest.
"How dare you? Tyrion is my husband, and you talk about killing as if he was a common thief!"
"I don't understand." Loras was massaging his cheek. It was reddened like an apple. He looked at her, unable to get why she did this. He really was a fool. "You always wanted to be queen, Margaery. I thought you'd be happy."
"Happy? Happy that you and the man you fuck are planning to kill my husband and all his family? Happy that my own brother turns on me?"
"You always wanted to be queen, ever since you were a child."
"I'm no longer a child, Loras. I have more power right now than any other woman in the Seven Kingdoms. I don't need a crown."
"I did this for our family."
"Our family? Have you forgotten our alliance with Casterly Rock? That's what gives us our power and our influence, more than any crown or title. You endangered House Tyrell with your actions. I can't believe you want to murder your brother-in-law."
"I don't get it. He's only a dwarf. Why do you want so much to stay married to him? By marrying Renly, you could be queen. You should rejoice at the idea. You would finally get rid of the Imp."
Margaery slapped him again, and this time she thought about it before she did the deed. Both her brother's cheeks were red now. "Tyrion is thrice the man your Renly will ever be. And I love him."
Loras looked at her as if he never saw her before. He remained silent for a long moment, while Margaery stared at him. She had never been that furious in her life, and especially never like that with Loras.
"What happened to you?" he asked.
"I could ask you the same question. You chose Renly over me, over your family."
"Am I? Isn't it you who's choosing the Imp over House Tyrell?"
"Tyrion did more for the Tyrells in three years than Renly since you became his squire. I am married with Tyrion. That makes him my family as much as you are. You are his brother-in-law, and you betrayed him and me. And for what? For Renly Baratheon?"
"You're choosing the Imp over us!" he accused.
She sighed. "He is my husband. Renly is not yours. And in case you don't know already, Father agrees with me. He thinks we should side with the Lannisters."
"Maybe you should ask him, instead of assuming he will follow you. You assume too much from your family, Loras. Go and bring me your lover. We have a lot of things to discuss."
She turned her heels and stared at the back of the tent, not granting a single more glare to her brother. She heard him walking out and she was alone.
How could Loras be so stupid? House Tyrell was a powerful house, and their control over their bannermen was strong, but it rested upon special relationships with them and series of alliances through marriage and other bonds. For three hundred years, her family focused on maintaining their bannermen loyal to them. All the Tyrells were married to powerful lords of the Reach or in their family. Her marriage with Tyrion was the first to tie House Tyrell with one of the seven families who ruled Westeros. And they benefitted from this. Their position had never been stronger, neither was their influence. Together, the Houses Lannister and Tyrell could demand anything they wanted to whatever king sat on the Iron Throne. Loras was putting into danger everything they built in the last years. He was splitting House Tyrell in two, dividing them when they needed unity the most. Their bannermen would use this situation to their advantage. They would see that House Tyrell was weakened. An alliance with Renly presented too many risks.
More than that, Margaery felt betrayed. Loras turned on her. He assumed things from her. She thought she knew him well, and he thought he knew her well. It seemed they were wrong. They had taken different ways after she left for Casterly Rock. She became the most powerful lady in the Seven Kingdoms, surpassing the queen's power, getting involved in politics more than ever before, while Loras spent his time fighting into tourneys and sharing Renly's bed. He never took seriously his future duties as Lord of Highgarden. He still believed they had to make her queen. Her brother had remained a child all these years, while she matured and acknowledged the fact that a crown wasn't in their reach, and that they didn't need it. Loras was endangering their whole family by following his dream to see the man he loved on the Iron Throne, and his sister next to him.
Margaery tried to imagine herself married to Renly. Years ago, the prospect might have been tempting, but now, after three years with Tyrion, three years during which they ruled together the Westerlands if not the Seven Kingdoms, three years when they became partners who needed each other, she couldn't imagine her life without him. She couldn't imagine herself living without the man she loved. That was her life, and she wouldn't trade it for anything. Loras didn't seem to understand that.
She waited a long time, trying to calm herself. She would need another good discussion with her brother, one where they would speak calmly of what happened. In that very moment, Loras was a foolish, stupid, proud and arrogant boy, but she knew she could bring him back to reason. She brought their father's raven where he said he supported her. He would see that she told him the truth. Hopefully, she could convince Renly to stop all this madness before. If Renly accepted to abandon his claim on the Iron Throne, Loras would be much easier to convince. How could her brother act so stupidly? Her grandmother seemed right. Intelligence wasn't granted to Tyrell men.
Renly Baratheon finally came after a time that looked far too long for her. She didn't make the effort to look pleased to see him. He and Loras probably talked. She doubted he gave him all the details, but between that and their short conversation when she arrived, she suspected that Renly would know she didn't come here simply to visit a friend.
Still, the Lord of Storm's End smiled warmly when he saw her. "Lady Margaery. Please forgive me for making you wait. I'm all yours now." Loras and a very tall woman dressed like a knight came with him. The woman remained by the entrance of the tent while Loras took position on the side. Renly walked behind his desk.
"You took a lot of time," she observed.
"Yes, I'm sorry again, my lady. There was only one final duel left to the tourney and I didn't want to deprive my men from this pleasure."
Margaery looked at her brother. He was all covered with mud, much more than before. "You lost, Loras, didn't you?" she asked.
"Yes." He replied on a very acid tone. Her brother was always better at winning than losing.
Renly spoke next. "Lady Margaery, may I present you Lady Brienne of Tarth, my new kingsguard."
Margaery looked at the tall woman. She had short blond hair and blue eyes. She was much taller than Loras, and taller than most men Margaery saw in her life. Gregor Clegane was one of the few to surpass her height. She stood straight like a true knight, and actually behaved more like a knight than her brother right now.
"Lady Brienne," she said, to welcome her.
"Our first interview didn't go very well," Renly resumed. "But I hope we can round the edges now that we are in a more private setting. May I offer you some wine, my lady?"
"Yes, please." He invited her to sit as well, and she accepted graciously. Renly Baratheon was always good at talking and pleasing people. That didn't mean he would make a good king.
"My lady, I won't hide you my intentions. I plan to march on King's Landing and to take the city from the boy who occupies the Iron Throne as we speak. He has no right on this throne."
"And you neither," she retorted. "You have two nephews and a brother who come before you in the line of succession."
"Joffrey and Tommen are not my nephews, my lady. Of course, the Lannisters told you the opposite, but that doesn't surprise me."
"Should I be surprised that you don't seem sad to discover that these children are not of the same blood than you? And should I find it strange that you don't seem to regret your brother's death at all?"
Renly took a more contrite expression. "I never truly loved Robert, but I didn't hate him either, except on a few occasions. I regret his death. But he is dead now, and all that matters is what we do now that he is dead."
"And you chose to claim the Iron Throne, despite the rights three members of your family have before you?"
"You think I decided to be king because I wanted it? It's not about that. This isn't about the bloody line of succession. It's about what's best for the Seven Kingdoms, and what's best for its people. Joffrey is a spoiled and arrogant boy nursed by his mother, a product of incest, just like Tommen. They're both too young to rule. As for Stannis, he inspires no love or loyalty. He's a good soldier, I'll give him that, but so was Robert. We saw what a good soldier made for a king. It will be the same with Stannis. Joffrey and Stannis are no kings. I am."
"You think yourself to be a better king than Joffrey or Stannis?"
"Because I am."
He believed himself. Margaery could see it. She wasn't sure, however. Renly was Master of Laws, but from what she gathered in King's Landing, he didn't do much in that position. His talents were resumed to dress nicely and behave well in public. She saw many men in her life who could make better kings than Renly, and most of them were not Baratheons.
"If we follow your reasoning, then everyone in the Seven Kingdoms, every second or third son, every uncle, every brother will believe they can rise against the rightful heir because they think themselves more fit for a position."
"People will not follow Stannis into war. He will not be able to overthrow Joffrey, and I can't let a monster born of incest rule over the Seven Kingdoms," Renly argued.
"Can you prove me that Joffrey comes from an incest? Or is your only proof an empty claim by your older brother, a brother you're about to fight?" she asked.
"I don't think Stannis would lie," Renly replied.
"Me neither." She laid down her cup. "But other people can lie to him, and that's what happened. It's not difficult to convince a man of something when he wants to believe it."
"I can give Westeros a good king for the first time in centuries, but for that I need the help of House Tyrell."
"You say that you are a good king, but a good king never starts a war without a very good reason, and he never starts a war unless he is sure he can and will win. A good king wouldn't turn against his own family, and he wouldn't be ready to kill his brothers and their children to ensure his place on the Iron Throne."
"I'm doing that for the Seven Kingdoms. I'm the only chance for the people of Westeros to have a good king."
Margaery refrained herself from scoffing. If they could choose their king, she knew very well who she would choose. But they didn't get to choose. "Lord Renly, you will not win. Joffrey has the support of House Lannister and House Tyrell. My lord father will never help you. As for Robb Stark, he will never support a younger brother over the elder, and he is far away from you. I ask you to consider your actions. I came here in the hope we could put an end to all this madness. Lay down your crown, abandon any claim you have on the Iron Throne, proclaim Joffrey the only true Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Lord Tyrion and I will make sure that you keep your titles as Lord of Storm's End and Lord of the Stormlands. We will put your decision to declare yourself king on a sudden and short madness after you heard lies concerning Joffrey. There will be no retaliation against you, if you engage your forces next to ours against Stannis and Robb Stark to protect your nephew. All you have to do is to bend the knee, and everything will be as if nothing ever happened."
Renly's face remained neutral, but she could see in his eyes very quickly that he wouldn't accept. "I'm sorry. I took my decision, and I will sit on the Iron Throne."
"No, you won't. Even if you take King's Landing, you will have enemies all around you. My father will never support you as long as I live. The Dornish won't help you. They hate the Baratheons since Elia Martell died with her children. Robb Stark will never fight for you, and neither will Stannis. You will be alone. You may hold the capital for a few months, but it will be taken from you quickly enough, and you will only be remembered in history as another usurper who tried to steal his nephew's throne."
"Do you truly believe that Joffrey is not a bastard born of incest?"
"I don't believe it. I know it."
"I don't know what the Lannisters told you, but they lied."
"I know the Lannisters much better than you, Lord Renly."
Rely seemed to resign that he wouldn't convince her. "I ask you to remain here for now, Lady Margaery."
"Am I your prisoner?"
"No, you are my guest. You may leave whenever you want. But I ask you to reconsider my offer of an alliance between our families."
"My family is House Lannister as much as it is House Tyrell. If you want to make an alliance with one, you must make it with the other, and no alliance will be possible as long as you contest Joffrey's rights over the Iron Throne."
Renly's expression showed that he expected it to go better, and he was disappointed that it didn't. "As I told you, you can stay as long as you want. But I will take King's Landing, my lady. Mark my words. I will be king."
Margaery smiled. "Lord Renly, I am no great strategist, and I never took much interest in the matters of wars and tactics, but since I got married and deeply involved in the politics of the Realm, there is one thing I learned. In war, nothing is certain. No plan ever goes the way we expect. You think you will take King's Landing easily, but you are wrong. There are many things that can happen to prevent you from seizing the Iron Throne."
"Really, like what?" he asked.
"Anything. As I said, in war, nothing is certain."
"That goes both ways. Loras, I think you should escort your sister to the quarters I had arranged for her. She must be tired from her journey. I think you should talk with her."
The way Renly said it, that didn't look or sound like an order. It was more like an advice a friend gave to another friend, or a lover to a lover in this case. It was the kind of words you used, and the way you said them when you told someone you cared about to do something for his own good. It wasn't the king or the lord who spoke, but her brother's lover. Margaery watched Loras, who nodded. He looked at her, and his eyes seemed to ask her to follow him as much as they asked for her forgiveness. Margaery was about to stand up when a man ran inside the tent.
"Your Grace," he said, panting.
"Gerard. How's your foot?" Renly asked him, his pleasant demeanour returning immediately.
"Your Grace, Storm's End is under attack. By Stannis."
The Lannisters are no longer the only family with internal quarrels.
Next chapter : a POV we haven't seen for a while