He did not dream of kissing Shireen that night. Devan's dream was of his brothers. Chains. Green fire.
The day passed in a haze as he went about his normal duties. Waiting. When his father finally spoke to him that evening, he could not hide his relief. Even if by showing relief, he was all but confirming his father's worst fears.
The King wanted to see him, Devan was told, after his father had spoken to him. He spotted Shireen coming out of the King's room. They had not spoken since she came to see him the day before.
"Are you leaving?"
"Yes, he wants to speak to you alone. I am to come later."
His face must have betrayed the nervousness gnawing inside. "It will be fine," she whispered, as they walked past each other.
Before Devan had a chance to knock, the door was opened by a squire. "His Grace commands you to enter, Ser Devan," he said.
He walked into the room expecting to see the King in bed. Instead, he was sitting at the table, the remnants of the evening meal in front of him. Princess Shireen must have eaten with her father. The King pointed at the seat opposite him. Devan sat down immediately.
Like an interrogation, Devan thought.
He did not address Devan, but turned to speak to his squire instead.
"Ser Devan was my squire during the war, Arthur."
This boy looked about twelve of thirteen, slightly older than Devan had been during the war. Arthur smiled, and replied enthusiastically.
"Yes, Your Grace. We have heard all the stories. How Ser Devan refused to get on the ship until Your Grace was safely on board at Blackwater. How he would not get off the battlefield during the fight against the Others even after he was injured."
We? Devan wondered.
"Arthur means the Royal Squires," the King replied, even though Devan had not asked the question aloud.
"Leave us," the King told the squire. "I will call for you later."
Arthur nodded, and closed the door softly. He seemed prone to chatter, this boy. And yet the King did not seem to mind, when Devan knew how he could not stand prattle and idle chatter.
"He has to stay by my side, in this room, day after day. It must be dull for a boy his age. I won't begrudge him a little idle chatter, especially when he gets the chance to meet his hero for the first time."
"His hero, Your Grace?"
"You, Ser Devan. Who else?"
Was this a jape? Devan could not tell.
"Did your father speak to you?" The King suddenly changed the subject.
"Yes he did, Your Grace."
"Do you forgive him?"
"I … no, there is nothing to forgive, Your Grace."
"Well, do you believe him then? That he did not mean to make you feel that you are not good enough for my daughter?"
"It was not because of my father's words, Your Grace. If … if I felt that way, it was because of my own … insecurities."
The King nodded, satisfied with the answer. Devan imagined his mind turning, ticking off the boxes, which subject to discuss. It surprised him however, that the King had chosen the subject of Devan and his father as the first issue to tackle.
"You cannot inherit your father's title and land after he died. You can only stay Ser Devan. I do not want the Queen's husband to have sworn bannermen of his own. Your brother Stannis will be Lord of Rainwood, he's the next in line. Do you accept that?"
"Yes, Your Grace. I understand the reasons for it."
"I thought at first a weak man will be better suited for the role, the husband of a ruling Queen. But I was wrong, it would take a very strong man. To be able to hold back, willing to be three steps behind, always."
Devan was used to the way the King delivered compliments, and he knew this was a compliment.
"Thank you, Your Grace. For trusting me."
The King smiled. "Ahhh, so you know that was my way of praising you. You have grown, you used to not understand that when you were my squire."
"No, I did understand. I never said anything because I didn't know if it will make you angry, or uncomfortable. But I always knew, Your Grace."
The King looked uncomfortable. He swiftly changed the subject, as was his wont in these situations.
"Your brothers dying at Blackwater, and you surviving, was not your fault. Bryen Farring dying during that march to Winterfell was not your fault either."
"Guilt … can be useful. Driving people to do their duty. To do better. But misplaced guilt is corrosive. Only feel guilty for the wrongs you actually committed. Otherwise you will drown in your sense of guilt, and end up committing more wrongs."
Devan did not know how to reply. How could the King have known?
"Don't look so surprised. I understand feeling guilty for the wrongs I did too, not just resenting other people for how they have wronged me. Even though I'm better at the latter." He continued before Devan could speak.
"No, Your Grace, that is not what surprised me. Only, how did you know … about … my brothers, and Bryen Farring?"
"Because those are the things I would feel guilty about, were I in your place. But they are still misplaced guilt. If anyone is to be blamed for your brothers and Bryen Farring, it is the man who commanded them to war."
"And I know you well enough to know how that mind works. You were my squire for a good while, before and after the war. And you know me quite a bit as well. No lord is a hero to his squire, as they say. The squire sees all the flaws and the worst parts, even the ones hidden to others."
"And he sees the best parts too, the things hidden from others," Devan replied.
"Well, I'm sure there is less of that than the bad things. And other people won't believe it even if you told them."
"It would be breaking a trust to say anything to others, Your Grace. The good or the bad."
"Of course. But you did tell my daughter certain things." The King was looking at him shrewdly.
Do not flinch, Devan told himself. Tell him what you have always wanted him to know.
The King was smiling. "I cannot blame you, my daughter can be very, very persuasive and insistent. And wily. You might not even realize you were telling her something she didn't know until it was too late."
Devan smiled too. "I have had that experience, Your Grace."
He continued. "But it was not only because of that. I wanted her to know, about her father. How he would ask me about her. About our lessons together, if she was sad, or disturbed about anything. How he cared about her, but for some reason was not able to ask her those things. And perhaps .. perhaps I should have told him to ask her those questions himself. But I never had the courage."
I have said too much, Devan thought. But he was relieved to finally told the King this.
"You were only a boy. It was not your responsibility to remind me of my duty to my own daughter," the King replied.
He continued, after a pause. "You're like your father in many ways. You harbor too many self doubts. But that is what makes your father a good man."
Devan was thinking that the conversation did not go the way he thought it would. He had thought the King would speak to him about marrying Shireen. The fatherly things fathers of daughters would say. Devan remembered his eldest brother Dale, recounting the conversation he had with his wife's father before the wedding.
"My daughter is in your care now, you are responsible for her, for her safety and happiness. If you do anything to hurt her, you will answer to me," Dale's father-in-law had warned him.
The King had said none of that. The conversation so far had been about Devan, for the most part.
"When did you know? That you love Shireen?"
Here it is, Devan thought. The fatherly warnings and reminders. And yet, the King did not sound as if he was testing Devan. He sounded merely curious. At least at this point.
How should I answer this? Devan wondered. With the truth, of course.
"I don't know, the exact moment. It happened by degree."
The King was looking at him, expecting him to continue.
"One day I realized I did not want to marry anyone except her."
"Is that why you wanted to be in the Kingsguard? Because you have no desire to marry anyone else?"
"No, Your Grace, I have always wanted that. The chance to serve you again."
"You're serving me now as a gold cloak. The City Watch is just as important as the Kingsguard. More important, in truth. Protecting the people and the city, not just the king.
Devan was embarrassed. He knew the King was right, and yet -
"Of course. But … serving you … protecting my king personally, I-"
The King seemed to understand his predicament. "I understand. That's fine. But when you realize you were in love with Shireen, didn't that make you doubt your intention to be a Kingsguard?"
The King was relentless in his questioning. But Devan was used to that. He had watched Stannis Baratheon reduced fully grown knights to tears, and caused noble and powerful lords to shake in their boots with fear. Compared to that, the King was almost gentle this time, in his tone and his expression, as he was questioning Devan.
"No, Your Grace, it strengthened my resolve."
Devan was suddenly horrified, wondering what the King might suspect.
"Not because I thought it will bring me into closer proximity with Princess Shireen when she is Queen. Only because I thought it will never be possible, the Princess and I."
"Why? Why did you think it was not possible?"
"Because she will be Queen one day. And her match will be someone more … deserving.
"A more political match, you mean."
Devan did not deny that.
"But there was also another reason. I was not sure if she felt the same way."
"Then why didn't you ask her?"
"Because I was afraid of the answer, Your Grace."
"That she does not share your feelings?"
"No, that she might say that she feels the same way."
The King looked confused. But he gave Devan time to collect himself, and did not ask any question. As the silence lengthened however, the King spoke first.
"Because if you had asked her, and she had said she felt the same way, it would hurt more, when she has to marry another man. You could no longer pretend that the feeling was not mutual."
"Yes, Your Grace. And Princess Shireen has a duty to the realm. She cannot choose only for love."
"But she did, in the end. Choose you out of love. She was the one who asked you to marry her."
"But Princess Shireen did not ask me to marry her only out of love. She understood the political calculation too, the way Your Grace laid it out to my father. She is your daughter, you have trained her well."
"Then why did you accept the proposal? If you knew it was not only for love?"
"If I thought it was only for love, I would have said no. But I also know Princess Shireen would not have asked, if it was only for love. If she thought it would mean neglecting her duty to the realm. We are not … foolish, or selfish, Your Grace. And your daughter will never put herself above the good of the realm."
Devan meant the words as a reassurance, but the King did not look reassured.
"And we must all do our duty," the King's voice was so low, Devan could barely hear him. "How far must we go to do our duty?"
Perhaps this is no longer about Shiren and me, Devan thought. This is Lord Renly, Edric Storm, men screaming as they burned, at Blackwater, as offering to the Lord of Light. His instinct warred between two paths.
Do not tell me this, your regrets and fears. Tell your daughter. She would want to know, to understand. And to hear it from your own lips, not from others.
But Devan also instinctively knew that the King would not. He would not want Shireen to know.
It was the illusion they tried to maintain, the two of them, father and daughter both. Shireen pretending to her father, if no longer to herself, that she didn't know all the things he did to win the throne. And her father? Pretending that Shireen didn't know? Or actually believing that she didn't?
Where does my duty lie? Devan wondered. To Shireen, or to the King? Duty. That word again.
I am in this room, with him now. My duty lies with him at this moment, to listen, to comfort if need be.
But it turned out the King was not talking about that at all.
"It used to be easy. I have a duty to the realm, and to my daughter. To fight for the throne. The throne that was mine by law, and will be my daughter's after me. But what if it had been different?"
"Shireen would have understood you choosing duty to the realm. No, she would have wanted you to."
"Only because that is how I raised her to think, to believe. Duty above all else." He looked sadder than Devan had ever seen him.
The door opened, and he could hear footsteps. Shireen, he could tell, without turning around. He watched as the King struggled to change his expression.
"Well, look who has decided to grace us with her presence. I suppose she doesn't trust me to spend even a little time with you, Devan. Don't worry, I have not eaten him yet. Or reduce him to tears."
"No, but you might bore him to sleep." Shireen seemed to have noticed her father's earlier expression, his effort to change it was not entirely successful. She gave a quick glance at Devan, but looked away before he could respond.
She took the seat next to her father, but he pointed her to the one next to Devan instead.
"Looks like we're both being interrogated," Shireen said, as she sat next to Devan.
"I will meet with the members of the Small Council, and announce the betrothal. Shireen and Lord Davos will not attend the meeting. If they have any concerns, it will be easier for them to air it if the two of you are not there. Once the council is informed, the betrothal will be announced at Court. Your mother will sit with you in Court that day. Devan should be there as well. Not in gold cloak, I should think. Just the regular knight's attire. You will have to give up your post at the City Watch before the wedding. And we will send out knights to read the announcement to the small folks."
He has thought of everything, Devan thought. Every little detail. As usual.
"Now, before all the wheels start turning, I have to know. Are you both sure? Any reservations? Once I informed the Small Council, there is no turning back, no changing of mind."
Shireen and Devan looked at each other. "Yes, we are sure," they said, together.
"Then that's settled."
There was an awkward silent after that. Devan was not sure if that was a dismissal.
Does he want us to leave now?
But the King was still looking at them, one after the other.
Is he expecting us to say something else?
He stole a glance at Shireen. She did not seem confused, however. She was looking expectantly at her father, as if she wanted him to say something else.
The King cleared his throat a few times. Shireen was still looking at him. Devan admired her tenacity. If this was a battle of will, Stannis Baratheon seemed to be losing to his daughter.
He finally spoke.
"I'm the last person in the Seven Kingdoms who should be talking about what makes a good marriage. You should talk to Devan's parents for that. But remember this, once you are married, you have made a vow. Stay true to that. Not just to the letter of the vow, but also to the spirit."
He paused. "Love is a good start. But it's a long journey, and a good start only goes so far."
Another pause. "And don't forget, you need to produce an heir for the throne. And a few more children, just to be safe. That is your duty too. I'm sure Devan's parents could give valuable advice on that front as well."
Devan blushed. Shireen however looked amused.
"Yes father, that is quite enough fatherly advice for now," she was smiling as she said this.
The King seemed exhausted, his eyes half-shut.
"We should leave. And you should get some sleep," Shireen said.
"No," he took hold of Shireen's hand. "Stay. There's something I -"
He turned to look at Devan. "I need to speak to my daughter alone now, Devan."
"Yes, Your Grace." He stood up to leave, glancing back at the door to see Shireen helping her father back to his bed.
"For talking about the betrothal, the wedding, the marriage, with both of us. Not just with Devan."
Her father smiled. "I know you would never forgive me if I did that. You will say that I'm treating you like a property, to be transferred to your husband."
"Yes, I'm grateful for that part too, of course. But you spent a long time with Devan before I came in. If you were not talking about the wedding, then you must be talking about other things, about him, about you and him. He needed that, he deserved that."
"He is something else to me too, other than the man my daughter loves and the man who loves my daughter."
"I know. That's why I'm glad you had a chance to speak to him alone. To give him a chance to -" her voice broke. She looked away.
"To say goodbye?" Her father continued her sentence. "Look at me, Shireen." She wouldn't. Tears were streaming down her face, and she did not want him to see it. She had not wept in front of him before, she knew how that made him uncomfortable.
"Look at me."
It was a command this time, not a request. She turned to face her father. All of a sudden, her head was buried on his chest, his hands cradling her head. She did not know whether she had made the move, or her father had. Or they had both moved at the same time, meeting in the middle. It didn't matter. She cried and cried.
He did not tell her that it was going to be fine. Instead he said, "You will survive this. You are strong, you are our daughter."
He kissed the top of her head.
"I need to tell you certain things. About the war. About how the throne became ours."
"You don't have to. It's all in the past, what does it matter now?"
"No, I have to. Because that's where your inheritance came from. And you must know it, so you will do better for the realm. To pay for the sins that came before. It's unfair, yes, paying for the sins of your father, but that is how it is. I have been lying to myself. I told myself I cannot tell you because it will be a burden to you. But that is not the real reason. I was afraid. Afraid that you will despise me."
"I could never despise you." She took his hand and grasped it.
He looked her unwaveringly, as he began speaking. Her grasp never loosened, and they never broke eye contact. She said nothing, never interrupted him, and asked no questions. He did not ask her anything after he was finished. Do you despise me? Do you forgive me? He did not ask her any of that.
That is not what father wants, she realized. Not forgiveness or reassurances. And it is not my place to forgive anyway. He only needed me to know.
"I knew all of that, father. I have always known. Maybe not the full detail, but the basic truths. But thank you. For telling me. For trusting me."
She laid down her head on the bed, next to their hands, still clasped together, and whispered softly. "And it never made me stop loving you. I will be a good Queen, fair, just, and kind. To pay for all the blood. I promise you."
"I know you will be a good Queen, even without this knwledge. But keep it in mind, for difficult times. We owe a debt of blood, we Baratheons, and we must pay it by being a good steward of the realm.
"I wish it didn't have to be this way. That I will not leave you with this burden."
"It is not a burden. It is my duty. To the realm. To my father. And to myself."
He smiled hearing that last part.