The Hand should speak with the King's voice. That had been the words Davos had lived by, since the day King Stannis appointed him as Hand of the King, long before the Iron Throne was within Stannis' grasp.
That, and the Hand must never be afraid to tell the King that he is making a terrible mistake.
Davos could not understand what the King was thinking. They had talked about Princess Shireen's marriage extensively, and had agreed that the best, and safest course of action, was for her future husband to come from a minor family, either from abroad or from within the Seven Kingdoms. Not from one of the influential and powerful families in the Seven Kingdoms, or from the royal family or the ruling family of other kingdoms.
Davos had consulted with various sides, chosen the candidates carefully, and submitted the names for the King's approval. He had one reservation, however, and had brought it up with Stannis.
"Perhaps Princess Shireen should be consulted on this? After all, this will be her husband, her life, her future."
"Not just her future, but the future of the realm," Stannis had replied.
"I understand, Your Grace, but-"
"Yes, yes, she can choose her husband from the list after she has met with all of them. That is more than fair, I should think." That was as far as Stannis was willing to go. Or at least that was the impression he had given at the time.
But didn't he relent too easily at the time? Davos recalled. As if that was not his real plan.
The King has grown soft, wishing only for Princess Shireen to have the man she loves, he thought. Part of Davos rejoiced in it, the man who had only ever been driven by the thought of doing his duty to the realm, finally reduced to one simple calculation - what would make my daughter happy?
But I can't let him do this. The thought was like a dagger piercing through Davos' heart. Not without telling him why this is folly. Why this is dangerous, not just for the realm, but for Princess Shireen as well.
His thoughts turned to Devan. Forgive me, my son. But if you love her, you would not wish for any harm to come to her either.
He knocked at the door into the King's room, and heard Queen Selyse's voice telling him to enter. Could she have convinced His Grace of the folly of this match?
Perhaps back in the day, she would have, Davos thought. We are in much better terms now, even Marya and the Queen.
And whatever else people might say about Queen Selyse, she loved her daughter, there was no denying that, Davos knew that by now. Even if she objected to the match on the grounds of the Seaworth low birth, or concern about the House Seaworth getting more influential, her daughter's happiness would still take precedence over everything else.
I am being a coward, Davos realized. Hoping that someone else would do the deed. When it is my responsibility to tell the King the folly of his way.
Even now, even close to the end.
Stannis was awake and sitting up in bed. The Queen nodded at Davos.
"Your Grace," he greeted her.
"My Hand has come to visit me, and so early in the morning, before the Small Council meeting. Is this about the business of the realm, or something else?"
Queen Selyse raised her eyebrows, and spoke. "Pay no mind to the King, Lord Davos. He is in a foul temperament this morning, being denied his way by the maesters."
Stannis did not reply to that, or ask the Queen to leave the room, like he normally would when he spoke to Davos. Instead, she was the one who said she had letters to write.
"Will you be back?" Stannis asked.
Davos was surprised.
"Yes, I will." she replied.
"I feel better today. Perhaps we could take that walk."
She glanced quickly to Maester Pylos, standing on the other side of the bed. Pylos shook his head.
"We'll see," she finally said.
Stannis had noticed the look passing between his wife and Pylos however, and started muttering under his breath. Davos could not hear the words. The Queen did not reply. She took Stannis' hand and squeezed it.
"Lord Davos seems troubled, do not add to his worries with your grumblings."
Stannis snorted, but squeezed her hand back. Davos was surprised at the intimacy.
The King motioned for Pylos to leave the room. Pylos seemed to hesitate, but a nod from the Queen convinced him, and he followed her out.
Stannis started talking before Davos could open his mouth, as soon as the door was closed.
"I know what you wish to tell me, my Lord Hand. That my daughter marrying your son Devan is a bad proposition."
"Your Grace, we agreed, it should be someone from a minor family, to avert any squabbling or envious feelings among the powerful families. And to hinder another family other than the ruling Baratheons from having that much influence on the Throne."
"And House Seaworth is a very powerful and influential family, Lord Davos? With richest and influence rivaling, what? House Tyrell? House Martell? Or House Lannister before their fall?"
Davos was taken aback.
"No, of course not, Your Grace. But I am your Hand, and I will be Princess Shireen's Hand when she becomes Queen until she chooses her own. How will it look to the other lords and families if my son is the Queen's husband? House Seaworth, plotting to take over, they will say. The Queen, ruled by the Seaworths, not ruling on her own, a weak ruler, a mere puppet. It will lessen her grasp on power. The whispers will spread from the lords to the small folks. It could be dangerous for her."
The word "rebellion" hang in the air. Davos knew Stannis understood that, without him having to say it.
"And have you and Devan been plotting how to get Shireen under your influence? To rule over her? Are you certain even the two of you working together is enough to overrule my daughter's strong will?"
"Your Grace, it's not about what we will do. Of course we're not planning anything. It's about what other people will believe."
Stannis did not seem to be paying attention to what Davos was saying.
"Of course if your lady wife were to plan it, it might work, she is smart enough to pull it off. But I am not worried, she loves Shireen like her own, she would never do anything that could harm her. I think Shireen is safe from evil Seaworths plotting against her, trying to rule her, trying to rule through her." Incredibly, Stannis seemed almost amused.
"Your Grace, you're not listening to what I'm telling you-"
"No, Lord Davos, you are the one not listening," the King's voice thundered, almost as the way it was before he was ill. But the shouting seemed to exhaust him. He lay his head down, and sighed.
"Forgive me, Your Grace. Perhaps I should leave you to rest. I will come later."
"No, we need to talk about it now, there is not much time left."
Davos could not keep the look of disappointment from his face. He thought perhaps, when Stannis mentioned feeling better and taking a walk earlier ...
"That was just wishful thinking on my part, getting out of this room," Stannis said, as if he knew what Davos was thinking. "Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad, dying." He sounded almost wistful. "I will be out of this room, at the very least."
Stannis interrupted before Davos could finish. "If Shireen is your daughter, what do you think is more important? People talking about how she is ruled and manipulated by her husband and his family, or Shireen truly being ruled and manipulated by her husband and his family? Which is worse for the realm?"
"The second, of course-"
"Now do you understand, my lord Hand? Devan, and your family, are the only people I trust in this matter. How could you not see what a perfect solution this is? For the realm. For safeguarding my daughter's position."
Davos had no reply to that. It all made sense, laid down clearly and logically that way.
"So you did not do it because they are in love?" Davos blurted out suddenly, before he knew he was going to ask the question.
More amused expression from Stannis. He is easily amused these days, Davos thought.
"Why? Did you think that this is about love? That I have gone soft in my dying days? That you will have to be the one to tell me to be brutal, to think about the realm and my duty? Of course I was thinking of the realm, and my duty. And my daughter's duty."
Davos looked away, embarrassed. He had thought all that. Part of him was relieved hearing Stannis' answer, but a small part was also disappointed. I thought perhaps-
As if he was reading Davos' expression like an open book, or he was roaming in Davos' head reading his thoughts, Stannis suddenly grumbled. "I don't know why people expect dying will change a person drastically. Turn them into another person. It doesn't change who you are, it only reveals more of yourself, the fundamental truth deep inside a person."
Fair enough, Davos thought. But then he thought of something his wife had said.
"Your Grace, if you have come up with this perfect plan to solve everything, then why not just tell Devan and Princess Shireen? Command them to marry, as a King, as a father. They would not have refused, either of them. Why all the subterfuge? The list of suitors for Princess Shireen, naming Devan to the Kingsguard. What was all that for?"
Stannis looked like one of Davos' sons caught with his hand inside a freshly-baked pie in the kitchen.
Marya was right after all, Davos thought. How is it that she knew Stannis could be capable of this loving and generous act for his daughter, and he did not?
"I suppose when Devan gave you the news, you made him feel like he is not good enough for my daughter?" Stannis' question came as a surprise to Davos.
"But that was never my reason, Your Grace."
"I am certain Devan thought that is your reason."
"No. I have given him no reason to think that."
His words were met with Stannis' skeptical expression.
"Would Devan really think that?" My son. My poor son.
"Yes he would. I know your son, Davos. He was my squire for years."
"I will have to explain things to him. I never meant to make him feel that way."
Stannis smiled. A smile that turned into a chuckle.
Oh to see him laugh! I will gladly turn myself into a fool for that, Davos thought.
"It's strange, is it not? It's often my lord Hand, my Onion Knight, telling me the hard truths about how I treat my daughter, nagging me, scolding me."
"I would not say nag, Your Grace. I am not your fishwife."
Stannis did laugh at that, not a bitter laugh, as he often did, but an amused one.
"You are worse than that, Davos. But this time it's my turn, to nag you about how you're treating your son.
Davos smiled. "Yes, Your Grace.
"At least I get the chance to do it once, before I die."
That wiped the smile off Davos' face.
They had never spoken about Stannis dying in personal terms. It had been only about the realm, preparing Princess Shireen for the Throne, all the arrangements and responsibilities that will fall on Davos' shoulders.
Lists. He had been given many of them. All written by the King's own hand. Not a maester's hand. Davos had stared at them countless times, not only to memorize the content, but the handwriting. He had never received anything written by Stannis' own hand before.
There were things he desperately wanted to say, but Davos did not know where to begin. And he knew Stannis would not welcome it. He is not fond of certain ... sentiments, Davos thought.
He suddenly realized that neither of them had spoken for a long while. Stannis was watching him, his expression indecipherable.
He has something to say too, Davos realized. And yet he's hesitating, like myself. One of us should speak first.
"Your Grace -"
"Lord Davos -"
They both stopped. "Please, Your Grace, go on."
"Do you ... do you ever wonder what Dale, Allard, Matthos and Maric would be doing now? If ... if they are still alive?"
My sons. My boys. Why are you asking about them, my liege?
He did not know how to answer the question. Of course he had wondered, he thought of them every night, before merciful sleep arrived. Dale's wife had married another captain of a ship, with four children of their own now. Children that could have been our grandchildren, he had told Marya.
"Oh my love. Surely we cannot begrudge her rebuilding her life, trying to find happiness again." His wife had said.
How could he tell the King any of that? What would be the point? Now, of all time.
But silence conveyed something too, Davos realized, as he watched Stannis' expression turned more and more dismayed.
What should I say? What should I tell him? Davos needed his wife. He needed his son. Even Devan would know what to say to the King at this moment, Davos was certain of that.
But there was no one else. No one he could turn to. There were only the two of them, here and now, in this room. The King and his Hand. Stannis Baratheon and his Onion Knight.
Lies and comforting words would not comfort Stannis Baratheon, Davos knew. He went for the truth. It was the only option.
"There were times, after ... my sons ... when I had doubts, when I was bitter, when all I wanted was to go home to my wife and remaining sons. At White Harbor, sitting in Lord Manderly's dungeon, when I thought death was coming for me, I made a promise. If I survive this, I will put my king on the Throne, and take my family for an adventure. Somewhere far away from the Seven Kingdoms."
"Why didn't you?"
"Because you needed me still, even after you won the war and had the Throne. You told me you needed me, so I stayed. And now you're telling me you need me to be there for your daughter after -" Davos could not continue.
"After I die," Stannis continued for him.
Davos nodded, "And I will stay too, this time, as long as she needs me."
"I ask too much of you, always."
"No more than I am willing to give, Your Grace."
"Did you ever regret it, coming to Storm's End that day, with your onions and salted fish?"
"No, never," Davos answered truthfully. "I have been bitter, angry, disappointed, but I have never regretted that day."
"It was more than twenty years ago."
"Twenty five years ago," Davos replied.
"More than half my life. I have known you longer than I did not. Longer than I have been married."
"Yes, Your Grace."
"Do you truly not regret it? Coming to Storm's End? Even with ... everything? Not only your sons, but everything else."
"No. And not only because you have raised me, and my family. Being by your side has been an honor, an experience I would never exchange with anything."
"We did have our moments."
"Yes we did, Your Grace."
"We didn't do so ill. I didn't do so ill. When you count the ledger. I was a just king."
"Yes, Your Grace. More than only a just king. A good one."
"It's deplorable, is it not? A dying man wishing to be reassured that his life had not been ... meaningless.
"It is only human, Your Grace. I was the same, at White Harbor."
"I never thought ... that I would be that way. Needing reassurance. And I have not, not with anyone else, not my wife, not my daughter. It seems unfair to them, after how ... inadequate I have been, as a father, as a husband. But perhaps I am too used to burdening you, Davos."
"I will gladly accept it, Your Grace. As long as you need me."
That sentiment was too much for Stannis Baratheon. He coughed, and turned his face away from Davos.
Still the same man in many ways after all, thought Davos, smiling.
"Well, your son needs you now, Lord Davos. Perhaps you should go and speak with him."
"Yes, Your Grace."
"And tell him I wish to speak to him too."