297 AC

Lady Olenna Tyrell

Olenna Tyrell watched from her perch on the balcony as her grandson received another whooping from his goodbrother - Loras was improving, but he still had some catching up to do, it seemed. She watched as Jon helped Loras back on his feet, the two of them grinning together. She caught the surreptitious glance Jon sent in their direction, and looked to her side, only to see Margaery too focused on her stitching to notice any looks sent in her direction. Down in the yard, Jon Stark's shoulders seemed to slump a little before he got ready for the next bout. Olenna looked at her granddaughter once more, spent a long, uncertain moment wondering how to broach this subject at all.

Olenna had not been many name days older when she had wed, but even she remembered what a difference a few name days made at that age. And for all that they had done their duty, Jon and Margaery had been too young. Had they been granted a few years, even a few moons, of courtship, things might have been different. Instead, Jon spent his time with Loras, seeming to hope against hope that Margaery might notice his feats and smile upon him, while Margaery remained aloof and distant from the boy, tending the gardens, becoming accustomed to the household, sewing by Olenna's side and spending her evenings in Olenna's solar. It was high time Olenna figured out a way to untangle this mess. Thank the Gods she had stayed behind after the wedding.

Jon Stark was no knight, and surely that would have been Margaery's first strike against him. But some men did not need the title to embody the principles, and Olenna had no doubt that Jon would grow into that kind of man. That aside, things would not stay as they were forever. Sooner or later the spark would be lit that would propel the boy into the position the people closest to him seemed to have been grooming him for for years. And if he did not have a trueborn heir by then, it would be rumoured that it was because Margaery was unable to bear one. She could easily be set aside if things remained this tenuous between them. A situation like that would cost the Tyrells dearly, especially if Margaery managed to make the boy feel humiliated in some way or other. An heir was vital, and while Olenna could not tell her granddaughter why - in some cases, Olenna believed, it was more than right for a wife to know more than a husband, but with a relationship as fragile as this, it would only widen the gap - she still needed to somehow convey the importance. "He is a strong lad," she commented, watching as Jon disarmed Loras again, handing the sword back with a grin. Olenna could almost see the deliberate effort he put into not glancing in their direction, and some compassionate part of Olenna's heart she had not realised still existed for people outside her family ached for him. But then, he was part of her family now, was he not?

"He is," Margaery replied, voice neutral.

"Do you dislike him?" Olenna asked. It was more direct than she would usually have been, but perhaps she had spent enough time with the Starks for them to have rubbed off on her. Or perhaps it was just that some part of her knew that what her granddaughter needed right now was not pretty words, but frank honesty.

Margaery gave a small shrug of her shoulders. "I do not know him, Grandmother," she said. "How could I possibly dislike him?"

"You have been wed for five moons," Olenna said. "If you feel you do not know him, that is no one's fault but yours."

At long last, Margaery looked up from her stitching, eyes flashing. "He avoids me," she said. "He avoids me at every turn. Not once since our wedding night has he come to my chambers. How am I meant to be wife to a husband who cannot even look at me?"

Olenna let out a breath, and suddenly the picture was all too clear to her. "Boys his age do not often make good husbands," she said. "What was your wedding night like, dear?"

Margaery gave another one of her delicate, well-bred shrugs. "Quick," she said at last.

Olenna nodded, strangely reassured. The fact that no harsh words seemed to have been spoken between husband and wife, at least, bolstered her. "As I said, boys his age do not often make good husbands. And the ones who could be good, they know their own faults all too well." She reached out, grasped her granddaughter's hand. "Women tend to become women before men become men, and you are moons older than him. I imagine the boy felt unmanned, and he does not know how to cope. As his Lady Wife, it is for you to teach him otherwise."

Margaery's face went through a strange succession of expressions, from neutral to haughty to sad. "How?" she asked at last. "It hurt, Grandmama. And all he did was grunt and rut, and it was over in moments. I suppose that was a mercy, at least."

Olenna squeezed her granddaughter's hand. "There is great pleasure to be found in the marriage bed," she told her. "But sometimes the husband has to be trained up. Teach him to enjoy it without hurting his fragile manhood, and he will make you enjoy it too. If you cannot enjoy one another, he will eventually learn to find his pleasure elsewhere, and you will have bastards to deal with. Do not expect him to turn them away, not this one." She paused for a moment, holding Margaery's hand tight when the girl tried to deny her. "The one good thing about so young a husband is that he is still malleable," she said at last. "He came to you as much a maid as you were. Teach him what true pleasure means, and he will not be likely to cast you aside for another."

Margaery was silent for long moments. Then, "I do not even know what true pleasure means," she said. "All I know is that it has to be more than groaning and rutting and spending all within a few breaths."

"True enough," Olenna conceded. "But you must figure it out. You need a child in your belly, girl. Not just because the king commands it. Not just because of the pleasure I know a child will give you. This is more important than I can possibly explain."

"Try," Margaery said.

Olenna shook her head. "One day, your Lord husband will find cause to feel betrayed by everyone he ever trusted. I will not have you be among our ranks. He will need you more than ever, and it is imperative you know no more than he does." Of course, there was the possibility that the boy knew of the schemes already, but if he did, he needed to be the one to tell Margaery. Olenna knew in the back of her mind that it was possible the partnership she wished for between these two would never happen outside her imagination, that even if Jon were to take the Throne, Margaery would be no more than his ornament, the woman in the shadows of the Iron Chair. Olenna could not help but believe her granddaughter was meant for more, even if she needed some guidance. Guidance was understandable; Margaery was young yet.

Margaery's eyes narrowed for a moment before they lowered, resigned. Thankfully, the girl knew what she could and could not get from her grandmother. "I would not even know how to get him to my chambers," she said.

Olenna bit back a smile. "Look down," she instructed. Along with her granddaughter, she watched as Jon and Loras duelled yet again, their swords dancing with more skill than she might have honestly expected from boys their age. Finally, she almost thought Loras might win, but then Jon switched back into the Northman style that still seemed to come most naturally to him, and with a quick duck and kick sent Loras crashing to the ground once again. Olenna waited as the boy picked up her grandson's sword, offered his hand and hauled Loras back onto his feet. Waited another moment, and another. "Move closer to the railing," she instructed. At long last, Jon glanced up over his shoulder. His eyes seemed to widen when he caught sight of his Lady Wife. "Smile," Olenna said.

Margaery smiled.

Even from where she was seated, Olenna could see the flush spreading across Jon Stark's face.

"Wear the dragonglass rose he gave you for dinner tonight. Touch his arm," Olenna instructed when her granddaughter sat back down. "Make him talk. Laugh when he says something funny."

Margaery picked her stitching back up. "I know all those things," she said.

"Leave early," Olenna said. "Tell him you await him. If he does not come tonight, do the same thing tomorrow, and the night after. If he has not come to you by then, it will be your turn to come to him. And when you are with him, guide his hands. Make him know that there is no part of you he cannot touch. Reassure him. Do not ever let him leave your chambers embarrassed."

Jon Stark crumbled on the second night, and judging by the slight smile on Margaery's face the morning after, the boy had at least managed something slightly more than a rut and a grunt this time around. The sense of doom that had been bearing down on Olenna slowly began to dissipate.


Princess Daenerys Targaryen

Daenerys Targaryen watched in apprehension as her brother glared down the cheesemonger, who seemed to absolutely refuse to be cowed. Fear knotted in her stomach. She prayed to the Seven Gods she barely knew that Viserys' temper would remain calm, that Illyrio Mopatis would not wake the dragon. She did not want Viserys to quarrel with their host when he had been gracious enough to offer them shelter indefinitely. She did not want to find herself back on the street, going hungry as her brother looked for another lord or merchant to beg favour from. And she did not wish to feel his temper turned upon her, again, when things inevitably went wrong.

"I did track down Sers Hightower and Whent," Mopatis said. "I sent them the message that their rightful king required their aid. They did not see fit to answer me; apparently they have well and truly taken to the life of common sellswords."

Daenerys' stomach sank to the ground at those words. Viserys had so hoped, and she had too... Combined, the two former knights of the Kingsguard commanded fifteen thousand highly trained soldiers. Their feats were legendary. Rumour had it that Ser Whent and some of his trusted captains had even stolen Blackfyre back from the Golden Company. Even aside from that, she had grown up hearing Viserys speak of them, their deeds and their legends. How could they turn them down in their hour of need, the House they had once sworn their lives to? They were the only two members of the Targaryen Kingsguard they had had to rely upon. Ser Jaime Lannister had slain their father. Ser Barristan Selmy had bent the knee to the Usurper. Ser Arthur Dayne had apparently foresworn everything and everyone to help raise his bastard nephew. What hope did they have now?

Viserys' fury looked to be near the point of boiling, hands trembling at his sides. "Traitors, the lot of them," he declared. "I shall have their heads when I sit my rightful Throne."

"Do you have any other news for us, Magister?" Daenerys asked, and fought not to cringe at the sound of her own voice. Viserys glared at her interruption, but Daenerys felt sick at the thought of seeing the previous conversation through to its conclusion. And, as always, she was eager for any news of the homeland she remembered only through her brother's tellings.

"I do," Mopatis said. "Something most definitely appears to be afoot. The old marriage alliance between Stark, Tully and Arryn now encompasses all Great Houses, save Baratheon and Lannister. A few moons back, Jon Stark of Dragonstone wed Margaery Tyrell, and Garlan Tyrell is set to wed Arianne Martell before the end of the year. And it appears Doran Martell has asked for one of the Stark girls of Winterfell to wed his son Quentyn, offering them a lordship of their own in return."

Viserys all but growled, and Daenerys understood his fury. Arianne should have been his. The betrothal had almost been in place before the Martells suddenly withdrew their support. And a Stark in Dragonstone, when it was meant to be theirs, when she had been the rightful Princess of Dragonstone her entire life, was near to unbearable.

"The good thing," Mopatis pressed on, before Viserys got a chance to explode. "Is that should a conflict occur, Baratheon and Lannister will find themselves isolated, with all the other Houses interconnected. The ill is that we cannot tell what anyone means to do with this alliance, or whether they mean to use it at all. If there are any plots afoot, everyone involved is being so tight lipped not even my friends in Westeros can tell what they are."

Viserys seemed to relax all at once. "It is obvious, is it not?" He smirked. "They have seen the error of their ways. They have seen what a wastrel the Usurper is. They mean to topple him and welcome me back as their rightful king."

"Maybe," Illyrio hedged. "Or maybe they mean to crown someone else. The Starks are at the core of this. They are what tie every part of the alliance together. They are who everyone will be related to." He paused for a moment, looked Daenerys up and down, as though he were evaluating one of his wares to be bartered and sold. "The heir to Winterfell is unpromised, and of an age with your sister, Your Grace. It may be in your best interests to enter into this alliance, find out what they are planning and use it to your own advantage."

Daenerys felt her own lips curl with disgust. The Starks were the Usurper's dogs. Viserys had always said so. To have to wed one, be bound forever to the desolate, barbarian North... The thought alone frightened her.

Viserys seemed to grit his teeth. "My sister shall not wed a dog," he said. "We shall have to wait and see. And you shall not fail me again."


Lady Olenna Tyrell

Olenna had not merely imagined the possibility of a partnership. Jon no longer avoided Margaery, and though she still made him blush, Olenna was certain there was little embarrassment left in it. He was sweet with her, sweeter, even, than Olenna had dared hope, looking to her for a reaction when he spoke, taking her for walks in the gardens and visits to the harbour market, inviting her to his Godswood and even allowing her to take him to the Sept. Which was just as well; one day he would have to be able to follow both religions, even if he would not foreswear his Old Gods, and Margaery would have to be his guiding hand there. Within a few moons of their newfound connection, Margaery sat the petitions with him, went over the books with him and Lord Benjen.

Margaery was softening to the boy as well, of that Olenna had no doubt. She brimmed with pride when he wore a doublet she had embroidered. Her smile, when he caught her eye from the training yard, was natural now, unselfconscious, no longer a ploy. Olenna could have done without the once she had caught them kissing in Aegon's Garden, but it had been a reassuring sight nonetheless, and perfectly natural for a pair of children their age. And the sweet girl would get an almost vacant smile on her face sometimes, fall into long silences as though lost in thought, and when she stirred back to awareness, more often than not her first word would concern Jon. It was sweet to see.

Today, however, for the first time in a long while, Margaery looked troubled, biting her lip as she glanced surreptitiously between Olenna and her stitching. It took three bouts down in the yard, this time of the long ones between Ser Arthur and Jon, before Olenna had finally had enough. "Out with it, girl," she demanded.

Margaery wrung her hands, her sewing lying forgotten upon her lap. For long moments, she did not speak at all. Then, at long last, "What is it like to birth a babe?" she asked.

Olenna kept her own eyes from widening, kept from giving away her joy and relief. A babe. Her sweet granddaughter was with child. And not just any child. A child that might very well sit the Iron Throne one day, a child who would have the allegiance of five of the Seven Kingdoms. She took a breath, kept herself grounded in the here and now, the slow building of things, rather than skipping ahead to where she planned for them to one day be, whatever schemes it would take to get them there. "It is painful," she said. "I will not lie to you, child. It will hurt worse than anything you have ever felt. But it will be more than worth it once the maester places your babe in your arms. You will have never known a love like it."

Margaery gave a soft, apprehensive smile.

"How long has it been since your last moon blood?" Olenna asked.

Margaery flushed. "At first, I thought it might just be irregular again, like it was at first," she said. "But it's been two moons now, and I keep feeling ill in the mornings. I have not spoken to the maester yet, but I do not know what else it could be."

Olenna reached out, plucked Margaery's sewing things off her lap and deposited them in their basket for the servants to return to her rooms. "Come, child," she said. "Let us go pay old Maester Cressen a visit."


Next up: Jon gets some scary news, receives an unexpected gift and overhears a conversation he definitely isn't prepared for. Suddenly, visiting the inside of the Dragonmont seems like a pretty good idea.