A/N: Sorry that this final chapter took so long! I wanted to get it exactly right. I hope you guys like it, because this is the ending that I've envisioned since before "Consign Me Not to Darkness" was even finished. I did decide to spare a few characters I was originally going to kill - Ser Jorah and the Hound, notably - but decided that since they didn't get a happy ending on the show, they deserved one universe where they could live. I'm really happy with how this turned out and I hope you are too.
Thank you all so much for your support. I have been asked if I would consider writing a third part to this, and the answer is no, but like I've said I will have some one-shots in this universe coming your way in the coming months. I'm glad you all decided to see this to its conclusion, and I would appreciate it if you would consider dropping a comment, even if it's only a few words. You guys make my heart soooooo happy!
They were crowned a month later in the Red Keep, on the last day of 305 AC. Daenerys had liked the symbolism of it. It was a fresh start, a new beginning, a time of endless possibilities.
Since there was no Sept of Baelor anymore, the coronation took place in the throne room. Historically, the king always took precedence over his wife at a coronation, but Daenerys and Jon entered the throne room side by side. The gown that had been made for her was fine silk brocade, Targaryen red and black, with a train that coiled like a dragon's tail, and Jon was the most handsome man in the room in Targaryen black velvet slashed with Stark grey satin. Daenerys could not help but smile when she caught sight of him out of the corner of her eye, thinking about how she had the most noble man in all the known world.
The throne room was packed tight, lords and ladies from all across Westeros coming to bear witness to this day. She spotted Tyrion and Sansa first and Tyrion saluted them, while Sansa gave her a small smile. Their initial misgivings about each other when they met those months ago were long gone now. Arya was nearby, Gendry's arm wrapped around her waist, while Ser Davos was joined by his wife and family. Even though she was a Stormlander too, Lady Brienne could be found by Jaime Lannister's side. Queen Yara stood tall, Theon next to her, his hand resting gently on young Asher's shoulder. Samwell Tarly and his entire family were a reassuring presence, while Robin Arryn had come down from the Vale and looked moody. Edmure Tully stared lovingly at his wife Lady Roslin, who was clutching her son. Elia Sand and her sister Obella were standing with their fiancés and their older sister Sarella, while the younger girls Dorea and Loreza were whispering and giggling to each other in excitement. Ser Jorah cleared the way for Jon and Daenerys as head of the Crownsguard and when he cast a glance at Dany over his shoulder, she smiled at him. She hoped she'd made him proud.
They knelt before the new High Septon, a fat man with a strong voice, who anointed them both with the seven oils and then recited some sort of prayer. Then, they both stood, facing the crowds. Jon's crown was placed on his head first, and then Daenerys could feel the High Septon approach her from behind, the metal of the crown cold as it was nestled against her brow. Where the Iron Throne once sat were now their two thrones – Daenerys's decorated with a dragon made of black diamonds, Jon's a snarling white wolf with rubies for eyes – and when they sat down, the High Septon proclaimed them Queen Daenerys the First and King Aegon the Sixth.
It was Jon, not Daenerys, who had decided to take Aegon as his regnal name. The decision had surprised Dany when he first told her about it. "I'm not saying I want anyone to start calling me Aegon," He'd explained to her. "But…it is the name my mother gave me. I felt like I should do something with it. Does that make any sense?"
When he told her that, Daenerys had smiled and crossed the room in three strides to kiss Jon. "It makes perfect sense." She'd said, running one of her thumbs gently across his cheek. "And no matter what name you bear, you'll always be my Jon."
After the coronation there were three days of celebrations, including feasts, dances and jousts, and finally it was time to settle into normal life. Sansa and Arya both promised to visit the twins after they were born, and though they knew they were only saying goodbye for now, it was still hard for Jon to part with his sisters. The last time they said goodbye they did not see each other for years afterwards. Daenerys was sure they would be writing often.
She could not help but feel emotional saying goodbye to Tyrion, even if her Hand would be back for a visit soon once Sansa was settled in at Winterfell – Daenerys was exceptionally grateful for him, and counted him among her closest companions – and Gendry Baratheon, Yara Greyjoy and Samwell Tarly all received kisses on the cheek in farewell. Luckily even after all the lords and ladies had fled the capital, the new king and queen still had friends to keep them company. Even though Sam had gone to Highgarden, Jon still had Dolorous Edd, now employed as the Red Keep master-at-arms. Ser Jorah remained one of Daenerys's most treasured companions, and she enjoyed her alone time with Missandei every evening. The two of them would discuss the day's events as Daenerys bathed and dressed for bed, gossiping and fixing each other's hair.
At court they quickly settled into their routines. Daenerys and Jon were a united front in all things, seated side by side in their thrones when they needed to hear petitions or settle disputes. Jon never wore his crown, nor did anyone actually call him Aegon – anyone who knew him knew to call him Jon, and the smallfolk simply said "Your Grace", or "King Jon" if they called him by any name at all – but he exuded the strength and dignity befitting his rank. Daenerys knew his mother would be so proud of her boy if she could see the man he'd become. Likewise Dany did not wear her crown either – it got heavy on her head after a few hours, and she knew a good monarch didn't need a crown to tell people they were in charge. The nobility of their presence was enough. Jon told her once that when he saw her sitting on her throne, her head held high as she listened calmly to whomever was speaking, taking it all in, there could be no doubt that she was a queen.
A few weeks into their reign, the Citadel sent a new Grand Maester. The man, Ebrose, was said to be a great healer, though Daenerys also knew through Lord Tarly that Ebrose had dismissed his concerns about the coming of the Night King and had initially refused to treat Ser Jorah for his greyscale, instead leaving him to die. So far they were not getting off on the right foot.
"Your Graces," Grand Maester Ebrose said the first time he was introduced to Daenerys and Jon. "It shall be an honor to serve you."
Dany smiled weakly as the older man bent down to kiss her hand. "The honor is ours, Grand Maester. Lord Tarly and Ser Jorah have told us much about you." She paused, giving him the once over. "Might I ask you, how is the Citadel progressing with my…request?"
They had promised the Sand Snakes in exchange for their military aid that some way or somehow they would get the Citadel to admit women. Good Queen Alysanne had tried to achieve that same goal during Jaehaerys I's reign, but nothing ever came of it. It was not as simple as issuing a royal decree, for ultimately the decision lay with the archmaesters.
Ebrose frowned. "It was discussed, my queen, but I believe the archmaesters are set in their ways. I think it best to cut your losses."
Daenerys narrowed her eyes. "I made a promise to our friends at Sunspear that I would ensure the Citadel admits women. Grand Maester, I'm not the kind of woman to cut my losses – nor is Princess Elia, I fear. Should the maesters refuse my request, I would not put it past her to go to war against the throne."
"It is a lost cause, my queen. You should've heard them. Archmaester Ryam said – " Ebrose cut himself off, realizing that perhaps he better stop talking.
Daenerys wanted to ask him what exactly it was Archmaester Ryam said, but Jon beat her to it. "And what is that exactly?" He asked, his voice stern.
"That…" the Grand Maester swallowed. "That women and girls are too weak of mind, and he would see them admitted to the Citadel when the seven hells freeze over."
For a moment, Daenerys said nothing, nodding slowly. She wet her lips. "Well then, I suppose today it finally snows in the seven hells." She turned to Jon. "Let's get Drogon and Rhaegal."
Jon was silent, and while he would not question her in front of another, Dany knew he was uncertain. "Are you certain you can fly given your condition? Perhaps I could go and speak to them – "
"You can say pregnancy, Jon, it's not a bad word. I'm not due for another moonturn. Besides – " She laughed bitterly. "I need to show Archmaester Ryam what women are actually capable of."
What transpired next was something that was immortalized in many history books in the years after. When the king and queen flew over Oldtown on dragonback, people all over the city came outside to stare. When the maesters heard the commotion and streamed out into the courtyard outside the Citadel, they found King Jon on the back of his fierce green dragon, but what was even more terrifying was the black Drogon, Balerion come again, with Queen Daenerys on his back. Archmaester Marwyn says that there had never been a grander sight than the silver-haired queen with fire in her eyes. Archmaester Perestan wrote that upon their landing, King Jon asked if a goat could be brought for their hungry dragons, and when the goat was brought to them, Drogon and Rhaegal snarled and devoured the still live animal, charring it with their fiery breath and ripping it limb from limb. Meanwhile Queen Daenerys looked at the archmaester and coolly asked if they had reconsidered their position on admitting women. This visual was, clearly, about more than the dragons being hungry. Archmaester Ryam claims that the queen also looked at him and asked what would happen to a human body in a dragon's jaws, though he's the only one to mention this particular detail, and he is unmistakably biased. What all accounts can agree on, however, is that when Queen Daenerys and King Jon flew back to King's Landing, the queen had gotten her way.
Grand Maester Ebrose stared wide-eyed as Daenerys and Jon landed back at the Red Keep. Jon slid off Rhaegal's back while Daenerys smiled down, satisfied with herself. "I think, Grand Maester," She said. "That the archmaesters have decided to cut their losses."
"Your Grace," Ebrose said, staring at her with what was either shock or awe – maybe both – in his eyes. "I must say, the stories of your greatness were not exaggerated."
Daenerys smiled. Perhaps she and Grand Maester Ebrose would get along after all. She stepped down from Drogon's back and immediately froze, nearly doubling over.
Jon saw her face go white and stepped forward, a hand touching her shoulder. "Dany, are you all right?"
Daenerys let out a slow breath and straightened herself out, a hand cradling her bump. "I'm fine," She assured. "It's only that my water just broke."
The Casterly Rock of his childhood was gone.
The halls were quiet. The tapestries on the walls were covered in dust. He stopped dining in the great hall and took all his meals in his room, because he hated looking down that long, golden table and seeing nothing but empty chairs. Maester Creylen, the old, decrepit, half-blind maester who had taught Jaime to read many years ago and constantly wrapped his knuckles every time he mispronounced a word (which was often), had finally died, succumbing to a winter chill which took him away in the middle of the night. The Citadel sent a plucky young maester named Forley to replace him, a plain-faced man in his twenties who was eager to serve and had a habit of rambling on and on about random topics. In his first week back at the Rock, Jaime had to endure Maester Forley going off on tangents about the history of dragonglass, every Lannister who had ever taken a maester's vows (in alphabetical order), and the medicinal uses of cow dung.
With him from King's Landing he brought Tya, a ruddy-faced, plump woman who had previously served Cersei as a chambermaid but now acted as Barristan's wet nurse. Though she was barely thirty, she'd already whelped seven children for her farmer husband. She was a woman of few words, but Jaime was secretly grateful for some quiet – he simply called for Tya when Barristan began to cry for the breast, and she would appear silently and shove her nipple into his mouth, rocking the baby back and forth until he'd had his fill. Barristan seemed to take to her, and that was enough for Jaime.
The only member of the household Jaime knew was Ser Benedict Broome, the master-at-arms whose father had been master-at-arms before him, and Jaime would go out to the courtyard with him when he felt the need to hit something. Jaime had known Ben since they were children, and luckily the other man did not go easier on him because he only had one hand now. But in truth, Jaime did not really mind that Casterly Rock was different now. He was different now too, and he relished in having things to do, to take his mind off the negative memories associated with the Westerlands. Even if he talked too much, Forley was kind and eager to please, and sometimes Jaime even found himself smiling as the maester talked to him about how to endear yourself to ravens or the breeding patterns of dragons. In a moment of good will or temporary insanity – Jaime was not sure which – he even invited Tya to bring her husband and seven little hellions to the Rock. The children ranging from fourteen to one descended upon the castle like a swarm, all sticky hands and wide-eyed smiles.
"You're Jaime Lannister!" One of the seven year old twins exclaimed when he laid eyes on Jaime for the first time. "You're the Queenslayer!"
"Rupert!" Tya chastised, her voice the loudest Jaime had ever heard it. "Do not speak to Lord Lannister like that!"
Jaime bent down to the boy's level, little Rupert staring at him with starry eyes. "Aye," Jaime told him. "I suppose I am."
Rupert grinned, while his twin sister was staring at Jaime like she was already half in love with him. "You're our hero, m'lord!" The girl proclaimed confidently. "You killed the Mad Queen and saved the kingdoms! They should write songs about you! Could you teach my brother and me to fight like you?"
"Rosey," Tya began to say. "Lord Lannister has better things to do – "
But Jaime cut off her protests. "Actually, it's no trouble at all." After that he arranged for young Rupert and Rosey to train with Broome every second day of the week. He always had to laugh when the girl ran circles around her brother, knocking him down on his rump again and again. His favorite days, however, were the third days of the week, because each week without fail a raven would come from Tarth, bearing a letter from Brienne. Jaime had never particularly enjoyed reading – even after years of practice, sometimes the words would still get jumbled before his eyes, twisting and seeming to lift off the pages – but Brienne's letters he would read once, twice, three times, until he had practically memorized them. It didn't even matter what she was writing to him about. Half the time they were perfectly mundane things, like the new colt that had been born at the stables, the travelling singer who had stopped by hoping to win her lord father's favor, or the fish that Lord Tarth's men had caught this week. He savored every word, and he would reread her letters over again on the nights when he was unable to sleep, smiling at the thought of her: his wench, his love, his Brienne. He supposed she was not truly his yet, but Jaime knew without a doubt that he was irrevocably hers. His heart was hers and hers alone: hers to cherish, or hers to break.
He spent far too long trying to formulate his replies. Jaime had never been a particularly good letter writer. Once, he even went to find Maester Forley, asking him embarrassedly to check for spelling errors before he sent it out. "If you don't mind me saying, m'lord," Forley told him as he handed the scroll back, having deemed it perfect. "I find it touching, how much you care for Lady Brienne. It would be sweet to have a Lady for Casterly Rock, and perhaps some more children to run about these halls."
Jaime did not say anything in reply. He wanted to marry Brienne, but would she say yes? She had never wanted to be some man's lady, but Jaime did not want her to be a lady. He wanted her to be his lady, just as she was, his partner in all things. He still did not understand why someone as good as Brienne wanted to be with a one-handed kinslayer like him, and he knew she probably deserved better, but he would spend the rest of his life trying to be worthy of her if she'd have him, because Brienne was the person in this world whom he loved the most – well, one of the people whom he loved the most.
When Jaime and Cersei were children, their nursery had been at the opposite end of the castle from the lord's chambers, so that their crying at night would not disturb Lord Tywin. When Jaime had arrived he'd ordered for the old nursery to be shut up – he did not know if he could bear to look at it, anyways – and have the bedchamber next to his made up for his son. He felt better knowing that he could easily go see Barristan every time he desired, and he often found himself there at night when he could not sleep.
Tonight it was storming out and he could hear Barristan's muffled cries through the walls. When he walked into the nursery, Tya was up and rocking the boy in her arms as she attempted to soothe him, to no avail. "Hush, little lion." She whispered to him. "You'll wake your lord father…"
"I was already up, Tya." The wet nurse looked over at him, and Barristan's desperate sobs turned into quiet coos. "I'll take him."
"Are you sure, m'lord? It's no trouble – "
"As it is no trouble for me to take care of my own son. Go back to bed – that's an order from your lord." Tya thanked him and placed Barristan in his arms, before scurrying off.
In the distance thunder crashed, and Jaime glanced around the darkened room, bouncing Barristan in his arms. The chamber had been decorated in Lannister colors – a red blanket in the crib, a gold-painted rocking chair, a dozen stuffed lions of various sizes – and Jaime chuckled to himself. "Just in case you somehow forget our sigil, little lion." He murmured to Barristan, repeating the wet nurse's nickname for him. Barristan only sucked obliviously on his knuckles as Jaime carried him to the window, looking out at the rain-drenched green hills and valleys beyond. "You see that, my son? Someday this will all be yours, everything as far as the eye can see…"
Jaime wondered what his father would say if he could see that he had finally done what he always wanted him to do. Now he was the head of their house, and had produced an heir to guarantee the Lannister succession. All Tywin had cared about was the family legacy. He pressed his lips against Barristan's head. "But I don't care about that. I would rather you be a good man than a great one, my son. I just want you to be happy."
And perhaps, Jaime thought. It is time your father is happy too…
Jaime did not know why he was having this one-sided conversation with a seven month old who could not understand what he was saying, but the words came pouring out of him all the same. "We're going to visit Lady Brienne on Tarth soon. You like Lady Brienne don't you?" Barristan let out a happy baby giggle in response, and Jaime pressed a kiss to his chubby cheek. "I like Lady Brienne too. I love her. In fact, I'm going to ask Lady Brienne to spend the rest of her life with us. Would that be all right?" In response, Barristan stared up at him with his big green eyes, sucking on his thumb and drooling. Jaime smiled. "I'll take that as a yes."
He only hoped that Brienne would say yes too.
By the time they left King's Landing, her lip was healed and her black eye faded, though part of Sansa still did not feel ready to go. It was hard to leave Jon and Arya, even if she knew they would see each other again soon. She rode at the front of the procession on back of her palfrey, Tyrion by her side, a northern horde at her back. Tormund wiped a tear from his eye as they watched King's Landing fade into the horizon behind them. "My little crow," He said. "All grown up now, and a king…"
But when Winterfell first appeared ahead, there was never a more welcome sight. Sansa may have found Arya uncouth as a child, but in that moment she almost wanted to jump off her horse, hike up her skirts, and run through the snow to Winterfell's gates. "My lady, my lord," The guards greeted them as they rode up, opening the gates. "Welcome home." At long last, after years of struggles, she was home, and the past was behind her. She was home.
Finally Sansa could breathe easily. She back at Winterfell, surrounded by the four walls she knew best. She had her lady companions and handmaids to keep her company: Wylla and Wynafryd Manderly, Lyanna Mormont, Alys Karstark, Eddara Tallhart, Manda and Munda Rayder. Every day was occupied not with war councils and battle preparations, but with teas and dinner parties and mindless gossip that Sansa could only laugh or roll her eyes at. Sometimes it hurt, walking around Winterfell and feeling her family's presence at every turn. Sometimes she woke up at night with a scream lodged in her throat from nightmares of severed heads and bloody weddings and dying wolves. Sometimes she could swear she heard the sounds of Rickon's laughter or her mother's voice, feel Robb's hand on her shoulder or her father's gentle touch. ut being at Winterfell also felt warm, comforting, familiar. She was the Stark in Winterfell now. Her family was gone, but they would live on through her.
There was only one problem: Tyrion.
Things between them were good, for the most part. For the first time in their marriage they could be together in peace, nothing standing in their way. They were closer than ever…but they still hadn't made love to each other.
Is it me? Sansa could not help but wonder. They slept in the same bed every night and yet he didn't touch her. Does he not want me? There couldn't be someone else. She knew Tyrion loved her. So what was the problem then? How could she get her husband to make love to her?
Her worries must have been etched all over her face, because one day during tea she got lost in her thoughts and it was only when she realized Lyanna Mormont was repeatedly saying her name that she came around. "Lady Stark? Did you hear what I just said to you?"
Sansa shook her head and when she looked down, her stitches were crooked, zigzagging all across the fabric. Even twelve-year-old Arya could've done better than that. "I'm sorry, I…I don't mean to be rude. I'm quite tired. I haven't been sleeping well."
Tormund's elder daughter Manda leaned over to whisper in her sister Munda's ear. "As most newlywed women don't." Munda burst out laughing and quickly clamped a hand over her mouth, though some of the other ladies still gave her sideways glances, and Sansa's ears burnt with embarrassment. She had not been sleeping for a very different reason.
"You look like you were somewhere else, my lady." said Lady Cassel, ignoring the younger women's antics. "Is there something bothering you?"
Could she tell them? If there was anyone she could ask about this, it would be the other married women. Sansa placed down her sewing and looked up. "Well…there is one thing. I was just wondering…" She could feel a blush creep up her cheeks. "How a lady should get her husband to share her bed?"
There was a long moment of silence as all the other women and girls looked at her, and then the silence was broken by the sound of Lyanna Mormont's snorting laughter.
Lyessa Flint looked concerned. "Does Lord Tyrion not come to you at night, my lady? Does he…" She trailed off. "Do you believe he has a lover?"
"No!" Sansa answered immediately. Despite her concerns, she knew there was no other woman in Tyrion's life. While her husband may have had a philandering past, there was not a doubt in her mind that his heart was fully with her. "No, it's not like that. He sleeps beside me every night, it's just that we have not been…intimate. In that way."
Sansa shook her head. "That's why I was wondering…if you married ladies could help me. Is there something I could do that he would like? That would make him want me?"
The older women glanced at each other. "My lady," said Leona Woolfield, who was the wife of Ser Wylis Manderley of White Harbor, and mother to Wynafryd and Wylla. "While you are well-intentioned, I believe you are misguided. It is not a matter of not wanting you."
Sybelle Glover shook her head. "It is clear that Lord Tyrion loves you, Lady Stark, in all the ways a man ought to love his wife. If you'll forgive my saying so, it looks to me like your…your past, makes him anxious about consummation. He does not want to push you before you are ready."
Sansa's eyes suddenly burned with tears of anger and sadness when she thought of Ramsay Bolton. She would have to live with what he'd done to her for the rest of her life, but she didn't want his memory to destroy her relationship with Tyrion too. For once she wanted to lay with a man because she wanted to, without him viewing her as broken. She could not help but feel like this was one more thing Ramsay had taken from her, and she would not stand for it. "Well then, what should I say to him to let him know that I'm ready?"
"Why say anything," Munda whispered, but not quietly enough that Sansa could not hear. "When you could just take off your clothes and show him?" Her sister choked back a laugh.
Lady Leona blushed. "I'm sorry, my lady," She said. "But I do not know if this is an appropriate conversation to have in front of maidens. I'm sure Lord Tyrion will share your bed when he's ready."
They sewed in silence after that, and finally when the other women got up to leave, Sansa called Manda and Munda back for a moment. "I could not help…" Sansa began tentatively, blushing. "I could not help but overhear your comments. Would you mind…giving me some advice?"
Manda brushed a lock of Sansa's red hair behind her ear. "You are a beautiful woman, Lady Stark." She said. "Kissed by fire. I love men, but I must tell you, they are simple and stupid. They can never take a hint. If you want your husband to fuck you, you'll have to make it abundantly clear. Otherwise your marriage will still be unconsummated when you're fifty."
"And how do I do that?"
"Make yourself irresistible." Her eyes glimmered. "I know these fancy ladies have their fancy lace underclothes they like to wear to seduce their husbands, but I find it much more effective when you're wearing nothing at all."
"Well, all right. Anything else?"
"Let me say," Munda added. "That in my experience, men like women who take control in the bedchamber sometimes. They might try to deny it, but every man likes to be ridden for a change."
Sansa's nose wrinkled. "So it's like riding a horse?"
Manda smirked, her eyes sparkling deviously. "Not at all, my lady. No, riding a man is much better."
That night, after Sansa's maids had drawn her bath, she dismissed them to be alone. She sat there for a long time, submerged in the rose-scented bath until the water went cold, before finally summoning the courage to get out. After she'd dried herself off, she folded the towel back up and sprawled across the downturned bed, waiting for Tyrion. Originally she lay on her side, her head propped up with her elbow, but then she realized that was hurting her neck and tried to lean back instead, which just made her feel like she looked stupid. She was considering disregarding everything Manda and Munda had said altogether when the doorknob was turning and she knew Tyrion was coming. Panicking, Sansa sat up straight on the edge of the bed and crossed her legs, quickly trying to fix her hair.
Tyrion froze in the doorway when he saw her sitting there, completely naked, hair tossed over one shoulder, not saying a word. For a long moment he stared before he asked: "What are you doing?"
"Waiting for you."
A pause. "Do you want me to get your nightgown for you, my lady?"
"No, I – " Sansa suddenly felt very stupid. She did not know how to be sexy. She felt like a little girl. "I just wanted to do something nice for you. To make myself look nice for you. It was stupid…"
His eyes softened. "My lady, you always look nice. You're beautiful."
"Yes, but…I want you to be attracted to me. In that way."
"I am attracted to you."
"Then why haven't you slept with me?"
They stared at each other in silence, Sansa feeling like her heart was beating as fast as it ever had. "Sansa," Tyrion began slowly. "I…have wanted to be with you. I was just worried that if I was too forward about it…it might seem like I was forcing myself on you. I wanted to give you time. I'd wait for you as long as you needed."
As upset as she had been earlier, the way he said it made Sansa feel like she could cry for a different reason this time. She heard so many stories about men who didn't respect their wives' space, who just wanted what they wanted when they wanted it, and as annoyed as she had been these past few weeks she suddenly felt so happy that she had a husband who respected her so much. "Well you gave me time," She finally said. "Now here I am, saying that I want you. I know that my past…" She swallowed, not even wanting to go there. "I want to do this with you. I love you, and I want us to have that kind of intimacy in our marriage. I trust you."
Tyrion didn't say anything at first, stripping off his jerkin, placing his boots in the same spot by the fire where he placed them every night. Then he walked over to the bed and stood before her, gently brushing her hair behind her ear, his warm fingers lingering against her cheek. A shiver ran down Sansa's spine and she forgot everything Manda and Munda had told her to do, acting purely on instinct as she wrapped her legs around his waist and pulled him as close to her as he could possibly be. Tyrion smiled at her. "Well then. As your faithful and loving husband, I must oblige."
"Good thing you know what you're doing. I don't."
"My love, you know quite a lot of things."
Sansa smiled. She suddenly wanted to laugh remembering the conversation Margaery Tyrell had once had with her about sex. There was a part of her that was still nervous, but she knew that Tyrion would never hurt her. There was no one else she'd want to do this with. "Touch me." She whispered.
And he did.
Afterwards they lay naked, facing each other, both struggling to regain their breath, sweaty and sated. "Was I all right?" Sansa asked.
Her husband looked at her and grinned. "My lady," Tyrion said. "I can assure you, I've never had better."
"I thought it would hurt more. Septa Mordane always said that it wasn't good, for girls. But…I liked it. More than I thought I would. I think I'd like to do it again. But not right now. I'm tired."
Tyrion chuckled lowly and reached over to cup the back of her head, pulling her in so that their noses were touching. "Well good thing we have the rest of our lives then. We'll have plenty of time."
Sansa smiled. "Indeed."
The fire crackled and she rolled onto her back, pulling the fur blanket over her bare chest, relishing the feeling of the bed's warmth. The room smelt like cinnamon, and evergreen fir, and burning wood, and him. Sansa closed her eyes and inhaled. Home.
"How did your lesson with the maester go?"
Asher wrinkled his nose. "Okay. He says my letters are crooked."
Theon looked down. Asher was currently practicing his alphabet in the journal the maester had given him, and while he was much improved, his lowercase b and d were flipped and his F was so slanted it looked like it was going to topple over. The early evening winds on the beach were causing the pages to flutter and Asher kept forcefully pushing them back down. "That's all right. You're learning."
Asher visibly perked up. "I'm going to write a letter to Loreza!" From where she was sitting on the adjacent rock, Yara smirked.
Even after coming to the Iron Islands, Asher had not forgotten his crush. When they'd parted in King's Landing, little Loreza Sand had surprised them all by planting a chaste kiss to Asher's mouth. "You must write to me. Promise me you will?"
"I will!" Asher had responded brightly, watching with a big smile as Loreza walked off to join her sisters, waving goodbye at him over her shoulder.
Once she was gone, Theon had looked down at Asher with a smirk. "You don't know how to write."
"I can learn!"
And learning he was. Asher pursued his studies with a fierce determination – the fever of first love proved to be a powerful motivator. Currently Asher was repeatedly circling the letter L with his quill. Theon had flirted with many girls as a youth – he could not even remember how many girls he had kissed or fondled behind the stables at Winterfell – but he had never pursued one so strongly.
"Maester Wendamyr says that there are krakens off the coast of Dorne." Asher said. "Is that true?" Theon glanced at Yara and Asher looked to her, wide-eyed. Yara nodded her head and Asher let out a sharp gasp. "I knew it!"
Theon didn't know if krakens were real or not, but he'd let Asher have his fun. "There are some even closer," He said. "At Cape Kraken in the North. I heard that the mountain men feed their misbehaving children to the krakens to keep them appeased."
Asher stared at him for a long moment, then let out a low breath. "Cool."
"Your Graces." Theon and Yara turned around as Maester Wendamyr walked down the stony beach towards them, a rolled up parchment in hand. "A letter for you, my prince."
"Thank you, Maester." Theon accepted the letter from him and spotted Sansa's Stark seal. Even though the Iron Islands had now been granted their independence, they still enjoyed a close relationship with the North, through both trading relations and the bonds of friendship.
Yara tapped Asher on the shoulder to get his attention and nodded her head towards the water. "Won't it be cold?" Asher asked, and Yara shrugged in response, her facial expression as if to say "what, are you afraid?" Asher, not wanting to be outdone, narrowed his eyes. "All right, let's go."
The queen took her nephew's hand and they started off down the beach, kicking off their boots and socks along the way and leaving them in a trail down towards the water. "Father?" Asher yelled back at him. "Aren't you coming?"
"I'll be there in a moment." Theon told him, his thumb breaking the seal on Sansa's letter.
Before you ask, no, I will not call you 'my prince'. You may be a queen's brother now, but you're still the annoying boy I grew up with.
Theon smiled at that.
In response to your last letter, I'm settling in quite well here. It's good to be home. You must come to visit us soon – you know you're welcome anytime, as are your sister the queen and the young prince. It would be nice to see children running around Winterfell again. It feels like forever since we were children. Doesn't it seem so long ago now? How innocent and happy we used to be?
A wistful smile came to his face at the memories. He could remember when he and Robb were boys, the mischief they used to make, the jokes they used to pull. He remembered running out with Jon on snowy mornings to have snowball flights, their cloaks pulled tight and their cheeks red from cold. He could remember the annoyed look on Sansa's face when they would throw a snowball at her, the snowflakes accumulating in Arya's messy hair and dark eyelashes, how Bran and Rickon would try to chase after them or go to make snow angels. He remembered how Lady Catelyn would roll her eyes good-naturedly when they tracked wet prints into the castle, but Lord Eddard would laugh and tell someone to bring them hot mugs of ginger tea and warm woolen socks. It felt like another lifetime, but also so close at the same time, like if he could reach out and grasp the memory between his fingers, holding it close.
I hope everything is well at Pyke. Give my warm wishes to Queen Yara and all my love to Asher. I hope you are well too, Theon. I've been thinking about you quite a lot lately, now that I'm back here, thinking of all we endured together. I know that it has been a long road, but I hope you've found peace. You're a good man, Theon Greyjoy. I know that our father and brother would be very proud of you.
Please write soon. I look forward to hearing from you.
Sansa Stark, Lady of Winterfell
There was a lump in his throat by the time he reached the end and he was only brought back to the present moment by the sound of Asher's voice. "Father!" When Theon looked up, Asher was standing with Yara at the water's edge, wading in and soaking their pant legs. The sky glowed orange. "The sun is going down! Come see!"
Theon swallowed. "I'll be right there!" Once more he glanced at Sansa's words, staring at her use of the word our. Then he folded the letter up and slid it into his pocket for safekeeping. "I'm coming!" He yelled to his son, before trotting down the beach towards the sunset.
Once the affairs in Westeros were settled – her brother and goodsister seated on their thrones, Storm's End safely under Baratheon control once more, and a visit to their newborn niece and nephew paid – they finally decided to take that honeymoon.
They had about two months carved out, a week for each of the Free Cities, Arya and Gendry having left the Stormlands behind in Mya and Bella's hands while they were away. (Arya did not suspect that any problems would arise, considering how happy everyone seemed to be after the end of the war, and even if there was – well, the Stormlands had spent years without a liege lord, so they could figure it out while Arya had a little alone time with her husband.)
First was Lys with its blue-green waters teeming with fish, and its abundant trees that bore some of the sweetest fruits known to man. The markets of Volantis sold bottles of red wine and intricately carved pieces for cyvasse. In Myr they took in the vivid portraits on display in the artisans' district and Arya purchased some fine Myrish lace for Sansa. Tyrosh boasted brightly colored fabrics and more pear brandy than any man could drink, but they agreed the flamboyant styles were not to their taste. Pentos was full of musicians and spice traders, while Qohor boasted fine tapestries and ironworking that Gendry swore was better than any he had ever seen. Norvos had rolling hills and quaint villages, Lorath stormy seas and textiles merchants selling rich velvets.
Braavos was last. They stayed at an inn on the Purple Harbor, owned by a friendly married couple, and Arya and Gendry's room looked out onto the water. There were so many places Arya wanted to go, so many things she loved about Braavos that she wanted to share with her husband. They went to a show at the mummer's playhouse and visited the best alehouses, viewed the work of the craftsmen and listened to the songs of the minstrels. Every night they would make their way to the Moon Pool to watch the water dancers perform. It was, out of all nine Free Cities, both of their favorites by far.
"If this whole lord thing doesn't work out," She told Gendry one day as they strolled through the market. "We could always move here – you'll be a smith again, I'll be a water dancer. Maybe we can start our own little inn, or have a shack by the harbor."
Gendry grinned and grabbed her by the waist so he could pull her in for a kiss. "Sounds perfect."
But she had other business in Braavos to attend to as well. The penultimate night of the visit, Arya left Gendry asleep in their room and slipped back out onto the dark streets, clutching the bag of faces tightly in her hand.
The last time she'd stood outside the door to the House of the Black and White, she'd been a scared little girl who felt she had nowhere . She'd lost her family, she'd lost Gendry, she'd believed that there was no one left in this world who wanted her. She'd had nothing left to lose, and now she had everything. She raised her hand and knocked on the door.
The man who opened the door was short with pale skin and a bald head, the hood of his robe pulled up around his face. His glassy blue eyes stared at her unspeaking for several moments. "Name your business."
Arya sighed. "I know it's you, Jaqen." She held up the bag of faces. "I have something for you."
Inside the House of Black and White there was not another soul in sight and Arya trailed behind, looking around nervously. "You have given the Many-Faced God his two names?" Jaqen asked her. He was back in his familiar face and examining the contents of the bag.
Arya nodded. "Qyburn and Manfred Trant."
"Valar morghulis."He turned to look at her. "Their faces shall be added to the hall."
Her hands were steady as Arya pressed Qyburn and Trant's skins against the wall. Lined up next to them were many faces she had worn over the years: the little girl's face she'd used to kill both Trants, the young woman's face she'd used for Walder Frey, Lord Frey's own face which she had used to kill his accomplices. They were not hers anymore. She did not feel overly emotional about it. "That's it then?"
Jaqen nodded. "The debt is paid. A girl is free to leave any time she wishes."
Arya turned to him, hesitating. "I suspect we'll never see each other again." As grateful as she was the debt was paid, there was a small part of her that remembered how she'd once considered Jaqen a friend when she had no one else.
"Very likely not. But who knows? The future is…full of possibilities." Then, he surprised Arya by reaching a hand out for her to shake. "A man wishes a girl good fortune."
Tentatively, Arya took his outstretched hand and squeezed it firmly. "Well," She sighed. "I suppose the Waif was right after all. I never had what it took to be a Faceless Man."
Jaqen looked at her with what Arya swore was amusement. "You always had many gifts," He said. "But to be a Faceless Man you must be No One. And you, Arya Stark? You were always someone."
After midnight, she slipped back into bed quietly and Gendry stirred, rolling over to wrap his arms around her. "How'd it go?" He murmured, voice thick from sleep.
Arya smiled through the dark and kissed his cheek. "It's over." Her lips moved from Gendry's cheek to his mouth, and suddenly he was alert now as he kissed her back. No more sleep was had that night.
Now their lives together could truly begin.
Two days later a ship took them back to Storm's End and over the next month, they settled into their new lives. It rained in the Stormlands more days of the week than it did not, but Arya found things to do. First she explored every nook and cranny of the castle until she felt like she knew it well enough to walk around blindfolded. Sometimes she would go down to the kitchens to bother Hot Pie and joke with Willow, stealing hot raisin breads or apple tarts off of trays, or spend time with Gendry's sisters. Mya was always laughing and teasing, capable of making anything into a jape, and Bella could hold her own as well. One day Mya suggested that they teach Bella how to wield a sword, but swordfighting proved to not be one of Bella's strengths, and when Mya teased her sister Bella retaliated by throwing the practice sword at her and accidentally busted Mya's lip. There had been no hard feelings though and they'd all laughed so hard they cried.
When the weather was clear, Arya would practice training in the yard or go out riding. Her favorite place to go was into the nearby village. As Lady of Storm's End, she wanted to know all of the people under her control, so she would say hello to them and buy trinkets from their carts. On the days when he did not have a meeting to go to or letters to read, Gendry would come with her and their horses would always be swarmed as soon as they arrived. Little boys would stare at Gendry and the hammer strapped to him with wide eyes, and little girls would tug on Arya's pant legs, saying that someday they were going to become warriors just like she was. Arya told them they were more than welcome to come to the castle and train with her if their parents allowed it, and all of them did – it was considered a great honor to have one's daughter as Lady Baratheon's protégé. Other days Arya and Gendry would walk down on the beach and skip rocks on the ocean, and in a waterfall they found she taught him to swim. Afterwards they made love on the water's edge and Arya silently thought that her life could not be more perfect than this.
Once it rained every day for a fortnight, water pounding against all of the castle windows, thunder booming so loudly it sounded like it was just outside, lightning lighting up the night. The castle was damp and cold, and everyone fell ill. Gendry only had a minor cold, but Arya was nauseous, her head ached, and she felt occasional pains in her pelvis. Even after the weather cleared and everyone else's health returned, hers only worsened. Arya did not want to worry Gendry, but she knew she should talk to someone.
On a drizzly morning she knocked gently on the open door of the maester's chambers. "Maester Jurne? Might I speak with you for a moment?"
The old man turned around in his seat. "Certainly, my lady." Jurne was a wrinkled man with thin grey hair and dark eyes that sparkled with years of wisdom. Though Arya was not sure how old he was, he had been in service to Storm's End since Gendry's grandfather ruled as lord, and had personally pulled Gendry's father and uncles from their mother's womb. "Is there something wrong?"
"It's stupid, really." Arya said. "It's just that I'm still a little sick. I was wondering if you had something to combat it."
"Certainly." The maester examined his shelves full of herbs and glass bottles. "What ails you, my lady? A cough? A sore throat? A fever?"
"Well…I'm quite nauseous. I keep getting headaches, and I'm more tired than usual. I just can't get over it, which isn't like me."
The maester turned back and looked at her for a long moment. He looked like he was thinking. "I see. Why don't you take a seat? I think I know what it might be."
Arya sat down in the chair he pointed to and Maester Jurne sat across from her, grunting softly as he lowered himself into the seat. The maester felt her forehead for a fever, examined the back of her throat, and she was surprised when he finally began to gently prod her stomach with his hands.
The maester mumbled something, which Arya thought looked to be along the lines of: "Just as I thought…" He looked up at her. "Pardon my asking, my lady, but have you gained any weight recently?"
Arya thought about it – she hadn't noticed any drastic changes in her body, but that morning as she dressed her pants felt tighter. She hadn't thought much of it at the time. "Perhaps a little. Why?"
The maester did not answer her, standing up. "Well," He said finally. "There does seem to be a reason for your illness…"
Arya waited for him to explain, but after a pause the maester still hadn't said anything, turning away and going back to his desk. "And? What is it?"
"You're with child."
The words hit her as hard as a slap and Arya stared silently. "What?" Surely she must've heard him wrong…But even in the midst of her shock, one of her hands fell to press against her stomach without her even realizing it, as some part deep within her already knew the maester's assertion to be true.
Jurne was smiling at her now. "You're with child, my lady. You have not bled lately, I presume?" He looked back at his shelves. "Ginger should help with the morning sickness. I'll brew you some tea – "
Arya opened her mouth, but no words came out. It was then she realized that she had not gotten her moon blood since Lorath, and that she'd taken no moon tea that night in Braavos…Still, she was tentative. "I was told in the past that I might not be able to have children. Is there a chance that I might…?" She thought of the pain she'd been feeling in her pelvis and wondered if that was a sign she might miscarry. "My lady," Jurne assured her. "You seem to be in perfect health. All of your symptoms are perfectly normal, and should go away in due time. I see no reason why you shouldn't deliver a healthy child around the end of this year. Congratulations."
The hand over her stomach pressed tighter against it and Arya remained seated, fearing that if she stood up she might faint. Her head was spinning. "I'm pregnant." She whispered, mostly to herself, wanting to see how the words would feel on her tongue. She could still scarcely believe it. A few months ago she hadn't even been able to get pregnant. Those fucking Baratheon genes. Gendry really had gotten her with child as soon as he was able. Unable to help herself, she burst out laughing.
"My lady," Jurne said, looking at her with confusion. He probably thought she'd lost her wits as she sat there laughing hysterically. "Are you all right?"
Arya realized that her eyes had filled with tears, the shock and the awe and the joy overflowing. For so long her life had centered on war and death and vengeance, but now…This was the beginning of a whole new life in more ways than one. Wait until I tell Gendry. She could already imagine how his eyes would light up at the news. I hope it has his eyes…
"Yes," Arya said, smiling. "Yes Maester, I am quite well."
Even in winter, Highgarden was the most beautiful place he had ever seen.
The walled, white stone castle rose out from the mouth of the Mander, with newer, slimmer towers and also older, fatter ones that dated back to the Andal invasion. As their barge floated down the river towards their new home, the water sparkled in the light of the white sun. "Pretty!" Little Sam cried out from his grandmother's lap, and Lady Melessa and Talla stared up at the castle in fascination.
Sam could feel Gilly's hand tighten around his bicep. "It's so beautiful," She breathed, and Sam could not help but agree with her.
The roses of all different colors were still in bloom, red, pink, gold, white, and blue, their petals covered in delicate droplets of ice. Though some of the trees had shed their leaves for the season, there were other evergreen trees and shrubs that remained untouched. The lord's chambers faced the east, so every morning Sam would awaken to the sunlight filtering in through the curtains as it rose, Gilly curled up in his arms in their four poster bed. It was a good life, better than he ever could've imagined.
The Tarlys frequently took their breakfasts in the courtyard, the breeze nipping at their cheeks but the sun shining pleasantly on them as they sipped their tea. Today Sam was writing out a letter to Jon, assuring his friend that they were all settling in well at Highgarden and he and Gilly were looking forward to visiting the newborn prince and princess soon. An invitation was extended for Jon and Daenerys to visit Highgarden after Gilly had the baby – considering how much Jon's friendship had meant to Sam over the years, it would be nice for their children to be friends too.
Sam's mother was currently walking with Little Sam through the briar maze, holding onto his little hand tightly as he toddled happily along beside her, meanwhile across the table Talla had been obsessively buttering her toast for twenty minutes. Finally, she sighed audibly and placed her knife down with a clatter. "Sam…can I ask you something?"
Sam looked up, and placed down his quill. His younger sister was staring at him nervously. "About what?"
Talla did not say anything for a moment. Since they'd come to Highgarden, he had been relieved to find that she was back to her usual happy self, but now she looked serious. "Now that I don't have to marry Symun Fossoway anymore," She began. "Are you…are you going to make me marry someone else?"
In truth, Sam had not given the matter much thought. Talla was surely a desirable marriage prospect, being a young and beautiful woman from an old family, with a claim to Horn Hill to boot. If Sam wanted to arrange an advantageous betrothal, he would have no shortage of suitors to choose from. "I won't make you do anything," He finally said. "If you want to marry, I'll help you find someone, but if you don't want to, that's okay too. Is there someone in particular you're thinking of?"
"There is someone…" Talla said shyly. "Someone who I love. And who loves me too. But we can never marry."
Sam wrinkled his nose in confusion. "Who?" Had Talla fallen in love with one of the servants at Horn Hill, perhaps? He could not think of anyone who it might be.
Talla blushed and whispered the name so low, Sam had to strain to hear it. "…Desmera Redwyne."
"But Desmera Redwyne's a – " Talla raised an eyebrow at him and Sam closed his mouth as the realization hit. "Oh. Oh, I see…" Desmera Redwyne was Lord Paxter's only daughter, a pretty maid about Sam's age with glossy dark ringlets and a face full of freckles, and had been a close companion of Talla's since girlhood, though evidently the bond they shared went beyond simple companionship. Once Lord Randyll had wanted to arrange a betrothal between Sam and Lady Desmera, but after his disastrous attempted pageship, his father had scrapped the idea, deeming Sam too much of an embarrassment to marry Lord Redwyne's daughter. Now that he thought about it, it was strange that a beautiful young woman in her early twenties like Desmera did not have a husband yet. It seemed she did not want one. She had probably been relieved all those years ago when her father told her she was not to marry the Tarly heir after all.
"Do you hate me now?" Talla asked him, and the look of sadness and shame on her face nearly broke his heart. She was genuinely terrified.
"No!" Sam said without hesitation. "Talla, never. I could never hate you, no matter what." He reached across the table to grab her hand. "I'm not going to lie to you. If people find out…they will judge you. Even with all the changes the king and queen have made, this is still a world where it's difficult to be different. But if you really want this, then I'll support you, no matter what anyone else says or thinks. You're my sister Talla, and I love you. No matter who you are or what you do or who you're with."
Before he could even finish, Talla got up and raced around the table to embrace him. "I love you too, Sam. You're a great brother. Thank you."
Sam smiled, and hugged her back. "You're welcome. And well…if you'd like to invite Lady Desmera to visit Highgarden sometime…she'd be more than welcome."
Talla grinned. "I'll write to her right away! May I be excused?" Sam nodded and Talla was so excited as she ran off that she accidentally collided with an unsuspecting Gilly on the stairs, who had just come down to breakfast.
"What is she so excited about?"
Sam watched Talla disappear up the staircase to her chambers, practically skipping. "Love."
Gilly smiled. "Oh." Before Sam could offer to pull a chair out for her, she caught him off guard by sitting down in his lap instead, wrapping her arms around his neck. She looked pretty as always this morning in a simple brown dress that flattered her rounded belly, her hair carefully curled, cheeks pink. Sam smiled and captured her lips in a kiss.
"How are you?"
"Good." She swiped one of the grapes from his plate and popped it into her mouth. "I was thinking about names – for the baby."
"Oh?" They had not had much of an opportunity to discuss this. "What were you thinking?" Considering how few baby names Gilly knew and how long it had taken her to decide on Little Sam's name, this might prove difficult. Sam wondered what ideas for boy names she had conjured up.
"Well," Gilly sighed. "I was thinking, if it's a boy…we could call him Aemon. 'Aemon Tarly'. It sounds nice, don't you think?"
Sam did not even have to nod and pretend to like it. It was nice. Aemon wasn't a name frequently seen outside of the Targaryen family, but Sam could not help but smile at the memory of the old maester. If they had to choose someone to name their new child after, there could be no better namesake than Maester Aemon. "I like it. But what if it's a girl?"
Gilly pondered that for a moment. "If it's a girl, you can pick the name. But it's going to be a boy."
"How can you be so sure? The maester says you're carrying like it's a girl."
"It's a boy," Gilly insisted. "I should know better than the maester, I'm the one who's carrying him. A mother knows things, Samwell Tarly."
Sam was not going to argue with her further. He glanced back over to where his mother was playing with Little Sam, the boy laughing joyfully as she chased after him. Sam knew if his father was still alive, he would probably be horrified to find the son he always saw as inadequate was now ruling as Lord of Highgarden and Warden of the South, married to a Free Folk woman and raising children with her, while Talla was eschewing marriage in favor of a life with Desmera Redwyne. However, despite all that, Sam could not force himself to care.
He turned back to Gilly and stared up at her, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear. "I love you."
Gilly smiled back at him. "I love you too."
Yes, it was a good life.
"May I speak to you for a moment, little brother?"
Gendry looked up at the sound of Mya's voice, finding his oldest sister lingering in the open library doorway. Truthfully he was grateful for the distraction – he'd spent the past hour agonizing over papers related to this year's tax collection and he had no idea what he was doing. He would need to ask Arya or Davos. "Of course." He said, gratefully pushing the papers aside.
Mya stepped inside and sat down at the edge of the large oaken desk that could easily sit five people. The library of Storm's End was all wood – wooden desk, wooden floor, wooden shelves – and filled with old books with yellowed pages, smelling of parchment and dust. "So," Mya began, shifting in an attempt to get comfortable. "Is Lord Selmy coming to the feast tonight?"
Gendry nodded. All of the lords and landed knights were coming to Storm's End that evening to publicly swear their allegiance now that he and Arya had returned from their honeymoon. It was Davos's idea, and so Gendry was going to have to shake a lot of hands and remember a lot of names. Arya was much better at meeting new people than he was. Granted Gendry thought Arya was better at many things. "Yes, he'll be arriving with Lord Dondarrion in a few hours. Why do you ask?"
Mya paused. "The thing is…I think…I think he's in love with me. And I think he's going to ask you for permission to marry me."
It took Gendry a moment to answer. Of course he knew that Mya and Arstan were friendly. They were close in age and shared many common interests. They rode horses and recommended each other books. Selmy had even offered to teach Mya how to shoot a bow and arrow, something she'd wanted to learn. Gendry had even suspected that there were potential romantic feelings there, considering the furtive glances and poorly repressed smiles he'd caught between them. He hadn't been expecting this though. "And…do you love him too?"
"Then I don't see a problem."
Mya fidgeted and looked down, picking at her nails nervously. "I love him," She said. "But he won't marry me. He won't want to when he finds out the truth."
Now Gendry was even more confused. "The truth about what?"
At his question, his sister looked away and Gendry swore he saw tears form in the corners of her blue eyes. "There was someone else – before Arstan. Mychel Redfort. I was in love with him and I…gave him my maidenhead. He told me he was going to marry me, only then his father made him wed Ysilla Royce, and now they're married and have a baby. He gets his perfect life, meanwhile I'm going to die alone because Arstan won't want me anymore if he finds out I'm a…" She hiccupped and wiped her eyes with the edge of her sleeve. "A ruined woman."
Gendry had never seen Mya cry before, and he could not stand it. Even though Mya was older than him, as her brother he felt this instinct to protect her, and he could not stand the thought of someone hurting her or treating her poorly. "You are not ruined."
"Please Gendry," She said, a little snappily in truth. "This isn't Flea Bottom. Selmy is a lord, and I'm a bastard and a whore. I already gave myself to someone else, what do I have left for him? I'm nothing."
"You are not nothing." Gendry said without hesitation. He got up from his desk to approach Mya, placing his hands squarely on her shoulders. "You're a Baratheon. And more importantly, you're my big sister. Mya, you're kind and smart and funny. You have so much love to give a person. So what if you're not a virgin? If a man is not expected to come to the marriage bed a maid, then why should it be expected of you? If Arstan Selmy truly loves you, it should not matter. And if he is angry, then forget him, because he doesn't deserve you anyway."
Mya said nothing for a moment, but then she surprised Gendry by throwing her arms about his neck as she pulled him in for a hug. She sniffled against his neck. "I do love you so, little brother."
Gendry smiled, and hugged her back. "You too, big sister."
Their sibling embrace did not last long when there was the sound of a commotion. The lone library window overlooked the courtyard below, and Gendry and Mya could hear someone yelling that a lone rider was approaching the gates. The siblings shared a wordless glance and then both sprang to their feet. Gendry's first instinct was that perhaps Arstan Selmy was earlier than predicted, but if that were the case he would be with Dondarrion, not by himself.
Arya was already waiting in the courtyard, the wind whipping her hair around, Maester Jurne standing by her side. Gendry and Mya walked out to join them and Gendry squinted against the horizon, watching as a man on a black horse rode through the gates. "Is that…?"
When he looked at Arya, she was smirking. "Yes." She said, before immediately crossing the courtyard to meet the arrival halfway.
The Hound disembarked his horse with a low grunt, pulling down the hood on his cloak. His burnt hand was now free from bandages and he had a bag slung over one of his shoulders. "Don't fucking say it."
"I told you so. I knew I'd wear you down."
"If you fucking say it," the Hound insisted. "I will get back on that fucking horse and not look back, you understand?"
But Arya only laughed and stood on her tiptoes to wrap her arms around his neck. "Welcome home."
The Hound groaned, but then weakly lifted up an arm to hug her back. "I told you not to fucking say it…"
Everything seemed smoothed over by that evening, as the Hound begrudgingly accepted a seat at the high table and stuffed his face with food, while Mya quickly bored and climbed down from the dais to talk to Selmy. Gendry frequently glanced across the great hall and watched as his sister talked to her suitor, smiling and laughing. At one point she even dared to brush back his hair. As for Lord Arstan, he was always following Mya like a second shadow, smiling lovingly at her when she wasn't looking.
Meanwhile Lord Morrigen returned to his seat after greeting Gendry and Arya, and Arya exhaled loudly as soon as he was gone. "Good gods, I think I've been called every single synonym for 'beautiful' tonight."
"Well," Gendry said. "You are beautiful." Her brown hair was tossed effortlessly over one shoulder, candlelight reflecting in her grey eyes.
Now those grey eyes were rolling at him in response. "There are more compliments you can give a woman than beautiful, you know. Like – "
"Smart?" Gendry supplied. "Brave? Strong? Because those all fit you as well."
"Oh shut up, you."
Gendry chuckled and his eyes flicked to Arya's plate, which remained largely untouched. She seemed to be pushing her food around rather than eating it. "Don't like your boar?"
Arya wrinkled her nose in response. "I don't like the smell." Gendry opened his mouth – it smelled fine to him, and no one else seemed to have complaints about the contents of supper – but Arya quickly popped a carrot into her mouth, seemingly to appease him, and then changed the subject. "I think Steffon likes Elinda."
Gendry spotted Ser Davos's son across the room, squeezing himself into the seat next to Elinda Trant. Arya's little handmaid smiled shyly at him. "Ser Davos says he fancies himself in love with her. They're young, it may pass. Childhood infatuations often do."
"Yes," Arya said. "But sometimes they don't." The married couple glanced at each other and exchanged a smile.
The trays of lemon cakes Hot Pie had made that morning were brought out then, and Arya visibly perked up. He didn't know she liked them so much. Ser Davos and Lady Marya excused themselves to get some fresh air and the Hound had stalked off to piss, leaving Gendry and Arya alone on the dais. Mya and Arstan Selmy also slipped from the room, and Gendry could assume what it was they were going to talk about. The musicians struck up, playing a merry jig.
As for Bella, his other sister looked resplendent as always in a gold dress with stags embroidered on the corset top, her black hair curled and pulled back by a swath of lace, while a few loose tendrils hung about her face. She was currently dancing with Ser Brus Buckler, laughing as he spun her around. Bella did not have a shortage of admirers, her beauty, spirit and strong will having turned many a head since she came to Storm's End. Ser Brus was desperate to marry her, and Gendry thought it looked like Lord Alesander Staedom and Ser Raymund Connigton might throw fists over who would get to dance with Lady Bella next. The older, thrice-widowed Ser Lomas Estermont had made it clear that he desired her – Bella granted him a dance or two out of pity, though Gendry knew the knight had no chance of winning her love. Bella liked to flirt harmlessly, and several of her suitors provided her entertainment: Lord Musgood made her laugh, she let Lord Wagstaff serenade her, and Lord Herston was the best dance partner. But of them all, it was Borros Dondarrion who was on the receiving end of the most of her smiles, and more than once Gendry caught Bella stealing glances at him when she was supposed to be talking with another man.
Arya leaned towards him. "Room for one more, don't you think?"
He had not even heard her speak at first, too absorbed in watching Mya and Bella. "One more what?"
"Member of the family."
Gendry looked back at his wife, finding Arya smirking at him. "You found another one of my father's children?"
Arya shook her head. "That's not what I meant."
Gendry didn't know if she was trying to tease him or what, because he didn't know what she was getting at. "Arya, I don't understand."
She smiled and rolled her eyes at him good-naturedly. "Good gods, Gendry Baratheon! Do I really have to spell it out for you?" When Gendry only continued to stare confusedly at her, Arya grabbed his hand and pulled it towards her, placing it flat against her lower belly. "Now do you get what I'm trying to say?"
"Arya, I don't – " He cut himself off when the realization finally hit. "Arya." He whispered her name like a prayer, not daring to hope. "Are you – ?"
Arya was grinning now, and she looked quite pleased with herself. "I am."
His eyes were transfixed on her stomach, still looking perfectly flat under her leather jerkin, and he pressed his hand closer, wondering if it would suddenly feel different now that he knew. "Arya, if this is some kind of joke – "
"I'm not joking! I would never tease you about this."
Tears rushed to his eyes unbidden, and Gendry feared he might start crying right there in the middle of the great hall. He still could not quite believe it. "Arya – when? How? I thought you were – "
"Well, I think you know how. Didn't your mother ever teach you about how babies are made, Gendry Baratheon?" She trailed off, biting her lip as her smugness faded into uncertainty. "Are you upset with me? I'm happy about it, and I thought you would be too – "
Gendry cut her off with a strong kiss. He used one hand to cup her face, the other remaining pressed over her belly. "I am happy. I'm more than happy, I'm…I'm ecstatic. This is the greatest news you could've possibly given me, m'lady." He could see Arya exhale at his words. "How long have you known?"
"Only since yesterday morning. Maester Jurne says I'm about a turn of the moon, and the babe's expected around the end of this year. Perhaps he or she will share a nameday with their father."
He could feel himself getting choked up. A babe. A babe with Arya. Perhaps a little girl with her fierce spirit and her wild grey eyes, though he would not mind a boy either…either way, he hoped their child was like her… "Oh Arya, I love you so much."
Arya was beaming again and she leant in for another kiss. "You're not crying, are you bull?"
"No." He insisted, but the way his breath hitched gave him away, and Arya laughed, her own eyes shining with tears. "Oh, so what if I am? You're crying too."
"I'm pregnant, I have an excuse."
They both laughed and kissed again. Gendry did not know if he'd ever loved Arya more than he did now. "A turn of the moon, huh? That means – Braavos – " He thought of that night when she came back from the House of Black and White, how hungrily she'd kissed him, how the moonlight cast an ethereal glow on the room. They'd made life that night.
Arya nodded, her hand coming to rest over Gendry's. "Seems we brought a souvenir back."
He grinned. "And a hell of a souvenir it is."
Arya smiled at him with eyes glistening with tears. "I love you, Gendry."
"And I love you, m'lady. You have made me so unbelievably happy. You will never know how much." Gendry looked around the great hall and – seeing all their guests seemed to be doing fine without them – took Arya's hand. "Come on."
Arya frowned as he stood and raised her up. "But I haven't finished my lemon cake…"
Gendry effectively silenced her with a kiss. "I'll have someone bring every lemon cake in this castle up to our room for you. Seven hells, I'll tell Hot Pie to make you lemon cakes every day until you give birth if that's what you want, even if I have to import fruit from Dorne. Right now, I think I need a reminder on how exactly babies are made…"
She grinned. "You're the best husband I've ever had, bull."
"I'm the only husband you've ever had, m'lady."
"Another reason why you're my favorite."
He wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her in for a kiss, long and hard, not caring who saw. He could feel Arya smiling against his lips as she kissed him back. Gendry pulled back and just stared at her for a moment, pushing a loose strand of hair behind her ear, wondering what he had done to deserve her and this life. "Oh Arya…we're going to be a family."
Arya rolled her eyes and kissed him again. "You stupid bull. We already are."
"Welcome home, my lord."
The servant held open the door and Tyrion stepped down out of the carriage, his boots meeting muddy ground covered in half a foot of melting snow. Though he could see his breath, the sky was grey and clear, not a cloud in sight. In the two moonturns he'd been gone to King's Landing, he'd been expecting to come home to a snowstorm, though he'd seemingly missed it by a few days. "Hello, Gaven. Do you know where my wife is this morning?"
"In the great hall still breaking her fast, I believe, m'lord. We did not expect you until this evening."
"Not a problem, Gaven. Thank you." As Hand of the Crown, Tyrion had been gone for two months to see how Their Graces were getting along, and it had taken him three weeks to get from Winterfell to King's Landing and the same to get home, even with infrequent stops. He was just glad to finally see Sansa.
He stopped in the doorway to the great hall and saw Sansa, sitting with her back to him. She was writing something down on a roll of parchment, her cup of still steaming tea next to her, while one of the servants cleared away some plates. "Do you know what the kitchens are making tonight, Bessie?" Sansa was asking. "I want dinner to be special for when Lord Tyrion gets home."
"Perhaps suckling pig, m'lady? There's an animal that hasn't been butchered yet."
"Perfect. Thank you, Bessie." Bessie brushed past him on her way out and Tyrion tiptoed into the room, quietly walking up behind Sansa, but without looking back she dropped her quill. "I know you're there, Tyrion."
He sighed. "How did you hear me?"
Sansa smiled and Tyrion kissed her on the cheek, before slipping into the bench adjacent to hers, pouring himself some tea. "I wasn't expecting you until tonight."
"Well, I wanted to see my lovely wife as soon as possible."
"How are my brother and goodsister?" Sansa asked. "And my little niece and nephew?"
"Their Graces are quite well – Daenerys recovered from her childbirth like a champion. And as for your niece and nephew, they seem perfectly healthy. There can be no question that their lungs are fully formed."
"Well, I look forward to seeing them soon. There's to be a council meeting before the end of the year, correct?"
"Correct. I think Her Grace wants to throw a ball to celebrate the first anniversary of the coronation, so perhaps we'll schedule them back to back. Have one long trip to King's Landing instead of two shorter ones." He nodded at Sansa's writing. "What are you up to?"
"Writing to Alys Karstark. She's betrothed to Sigorn Thenn – I thought those two would hit it off. We'll go to the wedding, won't we?"
"Of course. Give her my well wishes." He took a sip of tea. "You seem to have a talent for arranging marriages, my lady. I heard that at the coronation you introduced your cousin Sweetrobin to Princess Dorea, and he is quite besotted."
"I figured she was the only girl in the Seven Kingdoms capable of keeping him in line. Robin needs a good woman." Sansa said, dipping her quill in the inkwell, careful not to drip. "Gawen Glover and Andar Royce have both asked me for my help as well, though I don't have any prospects in mind. Do you know of any young women looking for husbands?"
"Lord Jonos Bracken is interested in marrying off his youngest girls, I believe." Bracken wasn't the biggest fan of Lannisters after the Red Wedding, but his youngest daughter had been ordered to serve as a companion to Cersei when she was Queen Regent, and Tyrion thought he would be open to a betrothal if Sansa proposed it. The Riverlands bordered both the North and the Vale, so it made sense. "Bess is only a few years younger than Royce, and Alysanne about the same age as Glover. If you wrote to Bracken, I think he'd accept."
Sansa nodded. "Perhaps I could invite Lady Bess and Lady Alysanne to visit us at Winterfell, and just happen to invite Lord Glover and Lord Royce that same week?"
"I always knew you were clever."
Finished writing, Sansa sealed the letter up with wax. "Enough politics for one day. I missed my husband. Take a walk with me in the godswood, it's a beautiful day."
Tyrion drained the rest of his tea. "Sounds perfect. I've been looking forward to having you all to myself." He had only been away for two months and he already missed her terribly. After everything they'd been through, he wanted to savor every moment he could with Sansa. He'd never thought he'd get to have a normal life with her – or a life with her at all – and even the most mundane moments were to be treasured.
They passed the rest of the afternoon walking in the godswood, catching up on what had transpired in the past two months, and then dined privately. The suckling pig was quite good, with apples and rosemary. Afterwards they retired early to their chambers in front of the crackling fire, a maid bringing tea and pomegranate tarts before leaving them alone.
It was an ordinary evening, but there was something so comfortable and domestic about the scene that Tyrion could not help but look up from Maester Eon's Account of the War of the Ninepenny Kings – an engrossing book, but not as engrossing as his wife – to stare at Sansa. She was curled up in her chair, engrossed in her own book, her nightgown falling off her shoulder just so. Her red hair fell in loose waves and a strand was draped across her exposed collarbone, half her face cast in a glow from the fire. When she caught Tyrion watching her, she smiled warmly at him, looking tired but also content – and beautiful beyond measure. It was a moment of such pure domestic tranquility that Tyrion marveled in it, took in every detail so he could hold it in his heart and remember it forever.
Impulsively, he set his book aside and crossed the room towards Sansa. "Bored of your book already?" She asked teasingly. Tyrion stopped before her and placed a hand gently on her knee, tracing circles with his thumb. Sansa smiled again and pushed her own book aside, leaning forward to wrap her arms around his shoulders.
"Marry me." Tyrion said.
His beloved's eyebrows furrowed in confusion. "What?"
"Marry me. Again. I know we're technically already married, but the circumstances of our union were initially not ideal – "
Sansa began to protest. "My love, I don't care about that – "
Tyrion cut her off gently, but firmly. "But I do. I love you, dearest, and you deserve a real wedding. Here, at Winterfell, with a beautiful dress and all of your friends and family near." It was something he'd been thinking about since he went to King's Landing, but he was sure now that he wanted to do it. He wanted Sansa to have all of her dreams. Their first marriage had taken place during a time of darkness, and this would be a new beginning. A way to put the past behind them and move on from their suffering to embrace the future. "If we're going to spend the rest of our lives together, I want to start off right. So what do you say?"
Sansa was silent for a long moment, then she cupped his face and pulled his mouth to hers, kissing him slowly and tenderly. "Of course. I love you, Tyrion, and nothing would make me happier than to finally express that in front of everyone. You make me so happy."
His heart felt so full. "You make me even happier."
"Now," Sansa said. "I'm going to tell my maid to draw a bath. And I think there's more than enough room in there for two, don't you think?" She raised an eyebrow suggestively.
After his travels, a bath sounded heavenly, and a bath with Sansa sounded even better. "Most definitely. I love you."
"I love you too." Sansa smiled and not for the first time, as he knelt there before her, Tyrion wondered what he had done in his life to deserve her love.
And all around them, the world was filled with possibility.
Davos knocked lightly on the door to Lord Baratheon's solar before entering and he heard the sounds of muffled whispers and quick shuffling. When he tentatively stepped into the room, Gendry was rising from his seat and Arya moved to the other side of the table, where she had clearly not been a moment before. She smiled brightly, while Gendry still tried to get his bearings. "Good morning, Ser Davos."
"I hope I'm not disturbing you."
"Not at all."
Davos suspected that wasn't entirely the truth, but he came into the room regardless. "I just wanted to let you both know that Marya, the boys and I will be leaving for Treasure Trove this afternoon."
"So soon?" Gendry asked.
"I'll only be gone for a few months. I just need to get some affairs in order, and I think it's best that Stannis and Steffon get settled into their new home. They need stability, after everything." The newly constructed castle might've been his home, but Davos himself had not even seen it since its completion. As much as he liked being at Storm's End with Gendry and Lady Arya, he needed some time with his family away from everyone else, to recuperate and mourn their mutual loss. Devan's death was still fresh, and he wanted to make sure Stannis and Steffon were well cared for, to spend quality time with them and Marya. They were the only blood he had left in this world now.
The married couple nodded in understanding. "Well, you are welcome here anytime, Ser Davos." Gendry assured him. "You know Arya and I both care for you."
"Thank you, m'lord, m'lady. I won't forget that." He had come to care for the young couple as well, and he would be back in a few months. They were his liege, and Davos wanted the Baratheons to still be a part of his life, even now that the wars were over.
The moment was disturbed when the door burst open, ricocheting off the wall, and Sandor Clegane stalked in unannounced. "Do you know what time is it?" He said to Arya, not bothering with pleasantries.
"I don't know, ten o'clock?"
"Almost eleven," the Hound informed her. "You said you wanted me to go riding with you at ten. I don't have all day you know. You become some fancy southron lady and you think you can keep me waiting now, is that it?"
Arya frowned and crossed her arms over her chest. "The morning got away from me, that's all. Give me a moment to get my jacket and we'll go. I hope you'll be better company than this – if you're going to bitch the whole time, I swear I'll push you out of the saddle and leave you there."
"Gods, why so sensitive? You're even more of a bitch than usual."
Arya scowled, her hands on her hips, but at the same time Gendry glanced at her, looking unsure. "Should we tell them?"
Davos frowned. "Tell us what?"
Ignoring him, Arya shrugged at her husband. "If you want."
"Let's tell them."
"All right then."
"Tell us what?" the Hound repeated Davos's words, though they sounded much more irritated coming out of his mouth.
Still, the couple ignored them. "Should I tell them?" Gendry asked. "Or do you want to?"
"Doesn't matter to me."
"Oh seven hells!" the Hound cried. "Someone just say it already! I don't have all day!"
Arya and Gendry only exchanged a conspiratorial grin and then Arya lowered a hand over her midriff, watching for them to get her meaning. It did not take Davos long. "Oh." He breathed. "What splendid news! Congratulations." He could not say he was entirely surprised, given how deeply in love the couple were. This was a logical next step in their relationship.
Arya and Gendry were both beaming, but abruptly the Hound drew his sword and crossed the room in three steps to grab Gendry by the throat and shove him against the wall. "You fucking bastard son of a whore! Just had to stick your cock in her, huh?"
"Sandor!" Immediately, Arya got between them and shoved the Hound out of the way with all her strength, allowing Gendry to breathe again as the Hound dropped his hand. "You bastard! Can't you just be happy for me? He's my husband, it's not like he forced himself on me. You think I'd do anything I didn't want to do?"
The Hound grunted in frustration, but regardless moved back and put his sword away. Gendry visibly exhaled in relief. "Did you have to pick such a whinger to impregnate you? You're already annoying enough on your own, imagine how annoying that kid is going to be."
Arya scowled. "If you ever call my baby annoying again, Sandor Clegane, I will gut you and display your severed head on Storm's End's walls. Understand? Pregnant or not, I am still fully capable of killing you."
"I don't doubt it." the Hound glanced at them both. "Well, congratulations I guess. If you're not in the courtyard in ten minutes, I'm leaving without you." He grumbled, before stalking out of the room.
For a moment none of them said anything – Gendry rubbing his throat where the Hound had grabbed him, Davos standing there in shock – until Arya sighed and placed a hand over her heart. "I think he's really happy for us."
"Yeah," Gendry muttered. "Happy…"
Davos congratulated the couple again, Arya leaving to join the Hound for their promised horseback ride, and then Davos went out to meet Marya and the boys. Stannis was teasing Steffon as they saddled their horses. "Did you say goodbye to Elinda?" He asked his younger brother with a cheeky grin, making Steffon's face turn red. "Did you give her a kiss to remember you by?"
"Don't talk about Elinda!" Steffon said snappily. It was clear that Steffon had developed a special friendship with Arya's little handmaiden. Steffon was only twelve, so friendship was all it was for now, but based off how enamored Steffon seemed to be with the Trant girl, Davos would not be surprised if deeper feelings developed in the future.
"That's enough," Marya told them both. "Stannis, don't provoke your brother, and Steffon, watch your tone." Both of the boys closed their mouths and Marya looked at Davos, frozen in the doorway. "Ready to go?"
Davos paused for a moment, watching as Stannis and Steffon climbed on their horses, and thinking of the brothers that should've been there with them: Dale. Allard. Matthos. Maric. Devan. As happy as he was for them, Lord and Lady Baratheon's news had made Davos think about the children he had lost. He hoped that was something Gendry and Arya would never have to experience – he would not wish that suffering upon his worst enemy. There was no greater pain in the known world than that of losing your child. As a parent you wanted to protect them, with your life if need be.
Finally, he nodded. "Ready."
After a few hours of riding, Treasure Trove appeared in the distance. From the top of a hill, Davos looked down upon the stout castle with a single bailey and an outer wall. It was a small but stout fortification made of dark stone, and he could hear the sound of waves crashing in the distance. "Well," Marya said. "Welcome home."
As soon as they arrived, the steward immediately informed Davos that his guest had already arrived. Before he could even take his cloak off he was ushered to the great hall, the door shut behind him.
The great hall was a dark room with wooden walls and a high ceiling, animal pelts hanging on the walls, candles in the dark chandeliers. He found her sitting in a large chair in front of the mantle, her back to him as she sat in front of the roaring fire. "You must be Wylla."
The girl turned around. She was a teenage girl with straight brown hair framing her plump face, and her eyes were red from crying. There was something sweet about her face, with her button nose and dusting of freckles, and Davos imagined she must be pretty when she smiled. He could understand how she stole Devan's heart.
Wylla wiped her eyes with the backs of her hands. "Ser Davos. I mean…Lord Davos? I'm sorry, I probably look a fool…"
Davos supposed he was "Lord Seaworth" now, but that still sounded so foreign to him. No one ever called him that. "You can just call me Davos. No 'ser' or 'lord' necessary." He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to her. "And you do not look a fool."
Wylla dabbed at her eyes and sniffed. "I spent a lot of time imagining what it would be like to meet you, you know? Devan talked so much about how he admired his father. I thought that perhaps after the wars he'd ask me to marry him, and I'd be meeting his family as his intended. It was stupid, I know…"
"It wasn't stupid." Davos knelt down before her, tentatively patting her knee. "Devan loved you very much, you know. He told me about you."
He nodded. "He said that you were the love of his life. You were the girl that he'd…well, that he'd been waiting his whole life for. I think having you even for such a short time made him happier than anything else."
"Did he…?" Wylla paused. "Did he suffer? In the end?"
Davos could still remember what it had looked like when the crossbow bolt landed in Devan's chest, how the blood had bloomed across his shirt, as clearly as if it were happening all over again. It was impossible for him to know what pain Devan was in at the end of his life, or what his last thoughts were before he collapsed dead. "It was quick." He told Wylla. That was the truth at least.
The girl nodded. Her eyes were less red now, and Davos could see that their true color was green. Not emerald green, more like…seaweed green. Like the oceans off Storm's End after wind and rain. "I loved him too. I'll spend the rest of my life missing him."
"I know. Me too." For several moments the two of them sat in silence, staring into the fire, both surely thinking of Devan. "I know nothing can bring Devan back," Davos finally said. "But I asked you to come here because you are the only other person in this world who knew Devan like his mother and I did. He is gone, but that doesn't mean we can't know each other. I hope you'll stay at Treasure Trove a little while longer."
Tentatively, Wylla smiled through her teary expression. "I'd like that. And I think Devan would've liked that too."
A little while later Wylla was shown to a room and Davos went looking for Marya. He found her outside, standing on a cliff overlooking the ocean below. Her hair was not pulled back in a bun as usual, but loose and blowing in the wind, and Davos was suddenly reminded of the teenage carpenter's daughter he had fallen in love with many years ago.
Marya turned around and shot her kindly smile at him. "How did it go with Wylla?"
"Quite well. She's a sweet girl."
Davos stood next to her and looked down at the sea. The water was dark blue and beating against the rocks below, the beach covered in shells. Perhaps he'd suggest to Steffon that they take a walk later and collect some. They could make some seashell bracelets for Marya and Wylla – maybe one for Elinda too.
"So," Marya said. "Is Lady Baratheon pregnant?"
Davos looked at her. "How did you know that?"
"You forget that I carried seven children, Davos. I know the signs. She has the pregnant woman glow about her."
Davos chuckled. "I suppose she does. It will be nice to have a child running about the halls of Storm's End, won't it?" There hadn't been a baby born into the Baratheon family since sweet Shireen nearly nineteen years ago. She would've been Lady Arya's age if she were still alive. Perhaps she would've been married and expecting a child by now too. She would've made a good mother, with her kind and loving disposition.
He must've had a faraway look in his eyes at the thought of Shireen, because suddenly Marya looked sad. "Do you ever truly get over it?" She asked. "The pain of losing those you love?"
As much as Davos wanted to tell her yes, he knew that was not true. He thought about Devan and Shireen every day of his life. Trauma was something that never really went away. He knew that Lord Baratheon still sometimes had nightmares about the war, that Lady Arya's hands would clench the edges of the table when someone said something that triggered a memory. He knew there were certain things that the queen did not like to talk about, and even King Jon would sometimes wake up in a cold sweat from dreams about the Night King and the thousands of bodies that littered the battlefield outside of Winterfell. They had all suffered, each and every one of them, more than any person should ever have to suffer.
"No, but over time, you learn to live with it. We all have to wage a constant battle against our demons. You just have to trust you have the strength to survive it." Davos looked at Marya. As horrible and heart wrenching the grief he had suffered was, with this woman he loved by his side, he did not doubt that he could defeat those demons every time. His losses would always hurt, but Marya was here. He still had two sons. And he had friends he loved as much as any family. Because he had felt loss, he could find such supreme joy in the simplest moments, appreciate everything more fully, love everything more fiercely. His family was something worth fighting for indeed. He took Marya's hand. "Come now – let's go home."
"My lady, Lord Lannister's carriage is here."
She was in the stables, brushing through the mane of a horse when a squire came to bring her the news. Immediately, Brienne passed the brush off to the master of horse, unable to suppress the smile that sprang to her face. "I'll be right there."
It was a clear, cool day on Tarth, with only a few scattered clouds in the sky and a light breeze. In the four months since she'd returned after the war, Brienne had been trying to keep busy: brushing horses, shining swords, writing letters, anything to keep her mind occupied. She just saw Jaime at King's Landing, but after all the time they spent together during the war, four months away from him felt like a lifetime.
When she walked out to the courtyard, one of the Unsullied guards opened the carriage doors and Jaime stepped out, Barristan in his arms. When his eyes met hers, he smiled, and Brienne raced across the courtyard towards him. "Jaime." She practically launched herself at him, her arms wrapping around his neck, and Jaime greeted her with a kiss.
"I missed you too, wench."
Brienne grinned and kissed him again. She wasn't exactly sure as to the status of their relationship – the last time they saw each other, they'd admitted they loved each other – but right now she was just glad to see that his feelings were the same as they were in King's Landing. She turned her attention to the child in Jaime's arms, smiling at little Barristan. "And look at you, Barristan. You've gotten so big…"
Jaime passed the baby off to her and Brienne held him. She kissed the top of Barristan's blonde head and he giggled happily, tugging on her tunic with his chubby fingers. "I told him we were going to visit Lady Brienne," Jaime said. "And he was very glad to hear of it."
"Oh, I haven't seen him since King's Landing was liberated. I didn't expect him to remember me…"
"Well, evidently you made quite an impression."
Brienne blushed, while in her arms the baby continued to smile and babble. "Good – because I quite like him too."
"Ahh, Lord Jaime!" Brienne's father called as he stepped out of the castle, Lord Selwyn crossing the courtyard to meet them. "Wonderful to see you again. I trust your journey was well?"
"Very well, Lord Selwyn, thank you. We hit some rain in the Riverlands, but it was uneventful otherwise."
"I am glad to hear it." The Evenstar replied. "Brienne and I would love for you to dine with us tonight – we have some fine, fat trout that my men caught the other day, and I've ordered the cooks to fry them up with lemon and garlic. You don't mind fish, do you?"
"I like it perfectly well, my lord."
"Excellent." Lord Selwyn turned his attention to his daughter, a glimmer in his sapphire eyes. "Brienne, dearest, why don't you take Lord Lannister for a walk down to the shore? The seas have been so calm since the war ended, and it's not usually like this in winter, but perhaps the weather has not come in full force yet."
"Jaime will be here with us for a fortnight." Brienne replied. "And I'm certain he's tired after his long journey. Perhaps I could show him and his party to their rooms – "
"Actually," Jaime cut in suddenly. "A walk would be lovely. I've been cooped up in that carriage for half a day."
"Oh." Brienne sighed. "Well, in that case – " She was going to hand Barristan off to his wet nurse, but her father intercepted and scooped the boy into his arms.
"Young Barristan and I will keep each other company while you're gone." Lord Selwyn said with a smile. He tossed Barristan playfully into the air and the infant laughed enthusiastically when Lord Selwyn caught him. "Just be back before it gets too dark, all right?" He exchanged a look with Jaime which Brienne could only describe as 'conspiratorial'.
Her father carried Barristan back inside the castle and Brienne turned to lead Jaime down towards the water, but she noticed that his Unsullied guards were not following them. "Didn't Queen Daenerys order them to go with you wherever you went?"
"Oh, that." Jaime sighed. "Well, when I wrote to her about the circumstances of my visit, she agreed that a little privacy was deserved." He surprised Brienne by taking her hand. "Shall we?"
Brienne knew she probably smelled like horse, and Jaime was probably exhausted from his journey, but that didn't seem to matter as they walked down to the beach hand-in-hand, talking of normal things. "How has it been at Casterly Rock?"
"Quiet," Jaime answered. "But I suppose that is better than the alternative. Barristan is happy there, and he likes his nurse well enough, and that's all that really matters."
"He's already grown so much in four months. I was surprised to see that he babbles so much – he's a jolly little fellow, isn't he?"
"Yes. He laughs in his sleep sometimes – when I can't sleep at night, I'll sit by his crib and wonder what he's dreaming of. I hope it will always just be good things." Jaime smiled wistfully, and for a long moment said nothing. Brienne could tell simply from the way that Jaime spoke about Barristan how much he loved the boy, but she wasn't surprised – she knew Jaime would make a good father. "How has it been in the Stormlands?"
"Good for the most part. The Trants have kept quiet since they lost their lordship, and Lord Wylde still bemoans having a legitimized bastard as his lord, but no one seems to listen to him. I was just writing to Ser Davos the other day, asking him how his family is settling into their new keep, and he says they're happy there. I think Father wants me to go with him to Storm's End soon – Arya is newly with child and he wants to give our congratulations in person, but don't tell anyone. I don't think she wants everyone to know yet." Brienne had only heard because Arya had written Sansa, and Sansa was so excited that she'd confessed it all to Brienne in their latest correspondence. She'd sworn Brienne to secrecy, but Jaime would not break their confidence.
"I'll act surprised the next time I run into Lord and Lady Baratheon at court." He replied. "I think there will be marriages and children all over the Seven Kingdoms soon – in his last letter Tyrion told me he's betting Sansa will start begging for a baby by this time next year, and King Jon and Queen Daenerys only just had their little prince and princess a few months back. Marriage and birth rates are always higher the first few years after a war. People are just so happy to be alive, they start going at it like rabbits."
Brienne laughed. "Yes, I suppose they do." After what they'd been through they all deserved something good in their lives. Something to remind them that this world wasn't all death and darkness and destruction, that it could be kind. That was what Jaime did for her.
They reached the crest of a dune and left their boots at the top before walking down towards the sea. "It's been a little cold," Brienne said. "But the weather's been quite odd – winter's only just started and already the fish are biting again, and the sun comes out most days. Perhaps this winter won't be as bad as the maesters thought."
"The maesters have been wrong before, and I'm sure they'll be wrong many times still."
They paused along the shoreline but as Jaime stared out at the ocean, Brienne stared at him. She could tell his mind was someplace else. "You and my father are planning something." She said. "Aren't you?"
"I don't know what you're talking about…"
With a sigh he turned to look at her, his green eyes turning serious. "You're right, wench. I'm afraid…well, I'm afraid I didn't come to Tarth just to see the water. I had ulterior motives. I'm sorry, I had a speech prepared, this isn't how I wanted to ask…"
He was holding her hand, running his thumb across her palm, and Brienne suddenly felt confused. "What are you talking about? Ask what?"
Jaime took a deep breath. "I came here…I came here to ask you to marry me, Brienne."
Immediately it was like all the breath had left her lungs and Brienne could only stare at him, mouth agape. "What?"
"I've sought the king and queen's permission, and I asked your father for his blessing months ago, back before we parted in King's Landing."
Brienne's head was spinning. These past four months, she had never allowed herself to consider this possibility, and in truth perhaps that was foolish of her…but as much as she'd fantasied about a life with Jaime Lannister, she never thought they'd get the chance to make that fantasy a reality. First there was the war ahead of them, and then after they'd parted at King's Landing she'd wondered if time apart would cause him to forget about her. She had never expected him to make this proposal, and yet now here they were. Perhaps she had finally been given her something good. "You've really wanted to marry me that long?"
Jaime smiled at her. "Yes wench, I daresay I've wanted to marry you for even longer than that. Perhaps since the first day I saw you again at Winterfell."
"Jaime…" Tears rushed to her eyes and though Brienne suddenly felt foolish, she could not help it. After all these years, she'd given up hope that this moment would ever come. After all the losses, all the heartbreaks, she'd never expected anyone would want to marry her. And she had certainly never expected to be asked this question by a man she loved, a man she once thought could never love her back…
"Let me finish." Jaime cut in gently. "I love you, Brienne. I have loved you for so long, I cannot even remember when it began. I don't know what I did to deserve you, but you make me happier than I ever thought I could be. All I need is you and Barristan. So marry me, wench. Marry me and be my wife, and let me be your husband."
The first tear fell down her cheek. "Oh Jaime. I…I don't know what to say…"
"I was hoping you'd say yes."
Brienne smiled, and then she was laughing. "Yes! Yes, yes, of course…" Jaime kissed her and she embraced him, her tears turning into laughter as they held each other. "I love you."
"And I love you, wench. Thank you for saying yes."
"As if there was any other answer…" Her betrothed pulled back to look at her, and Brienne saw a slow smile cross Jaime's face. "What was that for?"
"Oh," He said. "I was just thinking. You really should wear blue to our wedding. I've always liked you in blue. It goes wonderfully with your eyes…"
She laughed again and then she was kissing him desperately, over and over, never wanting to stop. But there's no rush. She had to remind herself. She was going to be able to kiss him for the rest of their lives.
In these past few years they had experienced suffering beyond measure, but even after so much darkness, life could still be beautiful. It had finally given her her something good, and Brienne would go through it all over again just to end up back in this place.
Jon drank the last sip of his ale and placed the cup down on the table. "Not tonight. I've barely seen Daenerys all day, I should go up to bed."
Dolorous Edd nodded and the two friends got up. "Spar with me tomorrow?"
"Of course. Goodnight."
After parting with Edd, Jon left the great hall and headed upstairs to the royal apartments. Ser Jorah was on duty outside of their bedchamber tonight and nodded at him in greeting. "Ser Jorah, how are you this evening?"
"Can't complain, Your Grace. Her Grace and Lady Missandei are already inside. Have a good night, Your Grace."
"Thank you, Mormont. I'll see you in the morning."
Inside the spacious king's bedchamber, fires were roaring in the twin hearths – Ghost was sprawled out in front of one, sound asleep – and the Queen of Westeros and Mistress of Laws were sitting on the large canopy bed, giggling about something and each holding a baby. "The prince is quite the skilled sleeper, Your Grace."
Jon paused and watched silently as Daenerys smiled, switching the baby in her arms from one breast to the other. After the twins were born she'd turned the wet nurse away, insistent that no one would feed her children except for her. "For such a young child, he has his father's brooding face. Poor thing."
"I heard that."
The two women turned when Jon spoke and they both laughed again. "I was only teasing, my love." Daenerys said. "You know I think you're handsome even when you're brooding."
Missandei got up from the bed, bouncing the baby in her arms, and walked towards Jon. "It's getting late, I'll leave you both. Is there anything I can get for you before I go?"
"No Missandei, but thank you." Missandei passed the baby off to him and Jon took his son into his arms gratefully. "Goodnight."
"Goodnight, Your Graces."
"Goodnight, Missandei." Now that the baby was finished nursing, Daenerys lifted their daughter into a shoulder, gently rubbing her tiny back as Missandei quietly left the room, the door shutting softly behind her. "Rhaella never wants to sleep when she's supposed to. She'll be the death of me."
Jon smiled, adjusting his hold on his son. "Well, she knows that she's the future queen. She wants to give orders, not take them." Thirty minutes older than her brother, the Princess of Dragonstone had been named for Daenerys's mother, who died giving her birth. Though adorable and innocent-looking with her little silver curls and chubby pink cheeks, she was stubborn and could never be made to sleep or eat if she did not want to. She also loved attention, content to be held by Jon or Dany for hours at a time – it was Rhaella's world, and they were all just living in it. She was a spitfire, especially compared to her quiet and serious brother.
Robb stirred and opened his indigo eyes only for a moment, but promptly went back to sleep after Jon pressed a feather light kiss to the top of his head. Initially Daenerys had not been keen on the idea to name their son for Jon's biological cousin and adoptive brother, but when he'd been born, she'd been unable to deny there was no better name for him than Robb. It just seemed to suit him – though he had his mother's coloring, just like Rhaella did, he had a strong Stark face and for such a young child, he already had a serious countenance. Jon's heart filled with love for his son all over again, remembering what it had been like when he held him for the first time. Looking into his children's eyes – the same shade that Jon's father's had supposedly been, those eyes that had made Lyanna Stark fall for him – he felt a love he had never thought imaginable. It was so powerful, and sometimes there was something about it that made Jon feel melancholic too, knowing that this was how his mother had felt about him and they'd been ripped apart so soon. How it must've hurt her to know she'd never see her son grow up, never see his first steps or hear his first words, never know what kind of man he'd become. He understood her suffering better now.
Daenerys got up from the bed and placed Rhaella down in one of the cradles situated by their bed. Even though the twins had a nursery down the hall, Dany and Jon liked to keep the children in their bedchamber with them, so that they could get to them at a moment's notice if need be. Sometimes Jon would even wake up in the middle of the night to find that Daenerys was just sitting there staring at them. Jon would never forget what she said the first time he caught her doing that. "I had a nightmare they were gone. I needed to look at them, just to make sure…" She'd shaken her head. "I won't go through that again." Jon knew that Daenerys had once thought she'd never be a mother to a living child. As happy as she was now, the pain of losing Rhaego would never truly leave her. Jon himself had never imagined holding a child of his own either, but now that he had he couldn't stand the thought of losing them. He would sometimes peer into the twins' cribs just to make sure they were still breathing – he and Daenerys had both had the people they loved taken away from them too much, and they sometimes felt that they would lose it all. They did not know what to do with so much happiness.
Down in her crib, Rhaella's dark purple eyes were rapidly blinking as she tried – and failed – to fight off sleep. Eventually her tiny thumb went into her mouth, letting Jon know she'd succumbed to slumber. Robb was easier, not stirring as Jon placed him in the crib besides his sister's and tucked the blanket around him. Now began their nightly ritual.
Daenerys sat down on the floor, one hand rocking each cradle, while Jon fetched the large wicker basket that remained by one of the hearths. Inside were Drogon's three dragon eggs, nestled among some blankets, their scales warm to the touch. The scarlet and black was Rhaella's. "The Targaryen colors for a Targaryen queen." Daenerys had said. The silver was Robb's. When the eggs were placed in their cradles, Rhaella's arm instinctively reached out to grab her egg, pulling it as close to her as physically possible. She slept with her cheek pressed up against the scales, sometimes rubbing her face against it. While Robb did not grab his egg as strongly as Rhaella grabbed hers, he slept with his face turned towards it, never moving. It was an old tradition for Targaryen babes to sleep with dragon eggs in their cradles, and someday hopefully Rhaella and Robb's eggs would hatch.
As for the solid white egg, it remained in the basket. The white surface was so clear that Jon could see his own face reflected in it. "What do you suppose we'll do with this one?" He found himself asking Daenerys. It was too beautiful to go to waste.
His wife leaned over to kiss his cheek, and when Jon looked at her she was smiling at him. "We're still young. There could be a third child yet to come." Jon smiled too at that.
They sat there staring at their sleeping children for a few moments longer before Jon got up, walking towards the window. Daenerys remained on the floor, humming softly as she kissed the twins goodnight. Jon stared outside at the setting sun, barely visible behind the clouds, and noticed that tiny snowflakes were beginning to fall. This snow was nothing compared to the North, where it even snowed in summer, but people in King's Landing never knew what to do when the cold weather came. They would stand in the streets staring up at the sky like they'd never seen snow before, and many of them most likely hadn't. It would only get worse.
He was still looking out the window when Dany walked up behind him, her lips pressing a gentle kiss between his shoulder blades. Jon reached his arms back to hold her. "Winter is here."
Daenerys laughed against his skin. "Spoken like a true Stark. You were truly raised by wolves." She came around to stand by his side and Jon wrapped his arm around her shoulder, pulling her close to kiss the top of her head. He loved her silver hair, the hair their children had inherited. But with your curls, Daenerys would always correct. "Spring will come." She said now. "Soon."
Jon looked down at her. Daenerys looked so sure of herself. "How can you know? The maesters are predicting ten more years of winter." The winters in Westeros were relentless and brutal, something neither Jon nor Daenerys had experienced before. Life now was too good. There had to be hardships ahead.
"Well, the maesters are wrong about many things." Dany laughed. "I know spring is coming. I dreamt it, remember?"
He did. Back at Winterfell, after she'd been injured in the battle, Daenerys told him about the dream she'd had while she was unconscious. Jon had not seen it for himself, but Dany had described it in such great detail, he could picture it in his mind: the dream of the two of them playing with their five-year-old children in King's Landing in springtime. Dany had seen Rhaella and Robb before they'd even been born, before they'd even known they were having twins. As impossible as it seemed, maybe she was right. Maybe it would come true. "Well, if I learned one thing from you Daenerys Stormborn, it's that anything is possible."
Their eyes met at the same time and Daenerys smiled sweetly up at him. When she was looking at him like that, how could he not have hope? "No matter what comes next," She said. "We'll survive it. We always do."
Of that, Jon had no doubt.