In the end choices were not really choices at all. A mirage at best. "You do not have to marry him," her father had said. "The betrothal was with Robert, not his brother." But Lyanna knew how much hope her father had put on joining House Stark with House Baratheon. A powerful and influential House in the south, with ties to the ruling Targaryens through a grandmother. More powerful than House Tully, whose elder daughter Brandon was betrothed to.
What does it matter who I marry? This lord or that lord. Lyanna had given up on happiness the moment she saw the look on Elia Martell's face as she walked in on her husband holding Lyanna's hand.
She had not been looking at Princess Elia's face, or anyone else's, when Rhaegar had presented her with the blue roses at the tourney. She had seen nothing, noticed nothing, perceived nothing.
Except his face. Except his face. Except his face.
She had grieved for Robert. Not just for Ned's sake, but for her own. She had loved Robert, perhaps more like a brother, but there had been love nonetheless. A hunting accident at the Vale. Ned blamed himself for not being there. Brandon had smirked and said if it had happened at Storm's End, there might be cause to doubt that it was an accident.
Lyanna had thanked the gods Ned was not there to hear that. But she was curious nonetheless.
"Why? Why would anyone think that?"
Because of Robert's middle brother, Brandon explained. Stannis Baratheon. Everyone knew the two of them did not get along.
"From what Ned said of him-"
"But Ned likes everyone. And he trusts people too easily. You know that."
She did not press the issue. Nor did she bring up the subject with Ned, mired in grief as he was. Oh Ned, you still have your two brothers here, she wanted to tell him, but never did.
So when Stannis Baratheon finally came to Winterfell to "discuss the state of things", as her father had put it, Lyanna was curious to meet this middle brother. Robert had not spoken of his brothers to her much, but she suspected Robert had never spoken to her about the things that really mattered, the way he had with Ned.
Her father had forbade her from riding out with her brothers to meet his party.
"Southern men prefer their ladies gentle, in a dress and not a riding breech."
"Robert never seemed to mind."
"Robert is dead. This is his brother. We know almost nothing about him, except that he is a southerner." Her father had snapped.
But father, you said I do not have to marry him if I do not wish to. Lyanna did not bother voicing that thought to her father.
The eyes were what she noticed first. Purportedly looking at her straight in the eyes while they were talking, but not really. His gaze did not so much penetrate her, as it went through her as if she was a shadow. Unsubstantial, unreal to him.
Look at me! I exist, she wanted to shout. Your brother never saw me as I truly am, but at least he saw me, as a living, breathing, flesh and blood.
They had gone through all the required courtesies. He had corrected her calling him 'Lord Stannis'.
"It should be Lord Baratheon. The way your father is Lord Stark as Lord of Winterfell, and not Lord Rickard. I am Lord of Storm's End after all."
Lyanna was stunned. Could he truly be this callous, speaking of titles and what he is, now that his elder brother is dead, in front of the woman who was betrothed to his brother?
"Or you could call me Stannis. As you had called Robert by his name," he added in a much quieter tone.
Well you are not Robert. But she decided to forgo the 'lord' anyway. Let's see how uncomfortable a woman calling you by your name will make you, Stannis Baratheon. She had a feeling it would make him very, very uncomfortable indeed.
"I think we both know what must be discussed, so perhaps we should begin, Stannis?"
She had expected his face to flush, but instead she saw the blood drained from it.
Well you did ask me to call you 'Stannis'.
"Will you consent to marrying me, in place of Robert, Lady Lyanna?"
Blunt and to the point. She might enjoy sparring with this man after all.
"Lyanna, please. It is only fair for me to return the courtesy. Should you not answer the question first? Do you consent to marrying the woman once betrothed to your brother? Perhaps you already have a choice of your own."
Let's see if he can say 'Lyanna' without choking on his words.
"The fact that I asked the question implied my own intention, did it not? I would not have asked the question unless I was ready to marry you. I am not the beloved, admired man that my late brother was, but I will stick to my marriage vows, I can promise you that." He paused. "Lyanna."
He enunciated each syllable of her name clearly, for emphasis. And a subtle dig at Robert too. Lyanna had to stop herself from smiling. You're trying too hard to appear unconcerned, Stannis Baratheon.
"But perhaps," he continued, after he realized she was not going to reply, "perhaps you have other reasons for not wishing to marry me. Or even Robert, were he still alive."
He knew. He knew about Rhaegar. But how could he have known? And if he knew, did Robert know too? Robert had stayed at Winterfell after the tourney, his words and actions towards her did not indicate that he ever suspected anything.
It doesn't matter, she realized. This man is not Robert, keen to live in an idealized world with the woman he idealized and idolized.
"I will not insult us both by pretending that I do not know what you were speaking of. Whatever it was that you may have heard about myself and Prince Rhaegar, it is no longer an issue. It had ceased being an issue after the tourney at Harrenhal. I was ready to marry Robert."
"Ready to marry him, but not to love him? You were ready to marry my brother, yet your heart still belonged to another?"
She laughed inside at how quickly he had changed. From the insecurity of a little brother living in the shadow, to indignation on behalf of the elder brother, that he had somehow been disrespected, treated less than fairly, betrayed.
"Whatever it was I did or did not feel for the Prince, he is a married man. Nothing will ever come of it. And if we have betrayed anyone, it was only in our hearts."
"Then I suppose there is no reason why we should not marry."
Curious that he had not asked if I would continue the betrayal in my heart, after our marriage, Lyanna thought later. Surely that would have been the question foremost in any man's, or any woman's mind. But not Stannis Baratheon apparently.
So they were married, and Lyanna Stark of House Stark, Winterfell and the north became the mistress of Storm's End. The first time Maester Cressen gave her the tour of the castle, with Renly trailing, holding on to her dress, it struck her that contrary to what she had always believed, Robert had talked to her about something that mattered after all.
He had told her about Storm's End, in great and loving detail. Every room, every corridor, every corner. She knew where she should turn before Maester Cressen showed her the way.
"I will carry you in my arms into the castle, Lya. Shouting, 'here is your mistress at last, come and greet her!' Stannis will purse his lips and grind his teeth and said it's undignified for the Lord of Storm's End to behave this way, but I don't care."
Strange that I thought more of Robert than him lately, she thought.
But of course she knew she should not be thinking of either one of them. It should be her husband in her thoughts. Stannis.
He is afraid of me, she realized. No, not of me, but of the closeness of me. Not the physical closeness, of two bodies intertwined, or even the ecstasy, as she had suspected in the beginning. It was not the joy and the release he feared, it was the moments in between. When you were looking at someone, really looking at someone, and it revealed a fundamental truth about them. Whatever it was, he did not want her seeing it.
"A man in the throes of passion is not himself," she had been taught by the septa at Winterfell before the wedding. "Men have ... needs," she was told, and if her husband was not as gentle as he could be, well, the more important thing was how he treated her the rest of the time, outside the bedroom.
She had thought this ridiculous. What would the septa, whom Lyanna had loved dearly, but had never married herself, know about marriage, or the marital bed? She wished she could have asked her mother, but her mother was long gone. Ned was the brother she was closest too, the one she spoke to about most things, but she knew that shy, gentle Ned had not had any experience with women. And Brandon, well, Brandon would have probably told her to spread her legs and do her duty to her husband.
She had not realized at first, that first night at Storm's End, that the room they were in was not meant as their room, that it was her bedchamber. Until he got up and started dressing. She could still hear the guests singing and hollering downstairs.
"Are you going back to the feast?"
There had been a feast to welcome the new mistress of Storm's End. And to celebrate the wedding, for those who did not make it to Winterfell for their wedding. Maester Cressen must have arranged everything.
He looked surprised. "Why would I?"
"I'm going back to my room."
Her parents had always shared the same room, until her mother's death, when her father had moved into another room on another side of the castle, as far away from the one he had shared with his wife.
Is this punishment, for telling the truth about Rhaegar? Should I have lied? No, she thought. He is shrewd enough to have known. And he would have despised me for lying.
And more importantly, she would have despised herself.
He did not seem to notice anything was amiss. He acted as if it was the most natural thing in the world, leaving her in the middle of the night. And yet Lyanna had heard all the stories from Robert about his parents, and how loving they were to each other. Steffon and Cassana Baratheon certainly did not sleep in different rooms. So where did Stannis Baratheon get the idea that it was fine to treat his wife as if she was a whore, to be visited at his convenience, and then left alone? Certainly not from his parents.
And yet I doubt he has ever been to a whorehouse.
She would not consent to be treated this way. She was not the type for tears and recriminations, and she knew neither would work with this man anyway.
She started dressing.
"If you are more comfortable in your own bedchamber, then we should make that our room."
"But ... I thought perhaps you would be more comfortable here."
She looked around the sparsely decorated and furnished room. "It is not so wonderful that I will regret leaving it for another." She stared at him, smiling the whole time.
He seemed like he wanted to say something else. His jaw clenched and unclenched several times. She lost count.
"Very well," he finally said.
His room was even more sparsely furnished and decorated than the one they had just left, but it was bigger. She walked into the room ahead of him, looking around. He hesitated at the door.
"I will have my lady's maids move my things from the other room in the morning."
"But ... how will ... the squire, and the lady's maid ..."
She opened a door on the side, leading to a smaller room. His study. It was impeccably neat, not a piece of paper out of place.
"Your squire can dress you in the study, and I suppose you would have to remove yourself there too when my lady's maids are in the room, to spare them any blushes. Would that work?" She gave him another smile.
He is thinking of other objections to make, she thought. I will have the solution for those too, Stannis Baratheon.
Finally he said, "You seem to have thought of everything."
"I am a Stark. We are always prepared for anything."
Her husband was impatient, and blunt. His words and commands lacked the friendly veneer Robert's words and commands had. Robert's ferocity and will had been hidden behind all the jokes and backslapping. Robert's anger could be explosive, terrifying even, as Ned said, but it was easily cooled, easily mended, easily forgotten.
Stannis' anger was slow-building, but harder to dissipate. A command defied or not carried out to his satisfaction in the morning could still be begrudged at dinnertime. He nursed his anger silently at first, and the explosion, when it came, was more terrifying than Robert's ever was. Because his anger felt more controlled, more deliberate, rather than Robert's wild, uncontrolled expression.
But he had never yelled at her. Not once. They had not argued either. Well, she had argued, but he had always answered impassively. He had left most of the household running to her. She had made many changes. He had disliked some of them.
But it was usually Cressen who told her, not him. My Lady, His Lordship wondered. My Lady, His Lordship suggested. My Lady, His Lordship thought perhaps. All the verbs were the maester's own, and not her husband's, she knew. His would probably be closer to "tell her" and "let her know".
Coward, she thought.
And yet at times she wondered if being married to someone like Stannis had its advantage. Robert would not have left her alone. He would have wanted to know what she was thinking, and feeling, at all times. "Are you happy? Do I make you as happy as much as you have made me?" He had often asked, after the betrothal. It had felt suffocating. She would have lied to Robert, probably. Stannis would never ask that question, she knew.
Can any woman make him happy? Is Stannis even capable of happiness?
I would have made Robert happy. Perhaps not happy enough to be content with one bed, but certainly happier than his brother.
She did not ponder her own happiness. The look on Elia Martell's face had killed any dream she had about love, or happiness. A love that could hurt another, to that degree, was not a love she wished to cherish.
In bed one night, months after the wedding, she finally asked Stannis how, and what, he had known about her and Rhaegar. It was impulsive, she had not planned it.
"Nothing. I was not present at the tourney. I only heard about Rhaegar crowning you Queen of Love and Beauty over his wife."
"And that was enough to make you suspect something?"
"You confirmed it, when we met for the first time."
"Do you want to know what actually happened?"
A long pause. "I know ... nothing truly happened. Our first night, there was ... blood-"
"That is not the only kind of betrayal there is."
"You and Robert were only betrothed. You were not yet married."
"Rhaegar was married."
"Then it was him who betrayed his wife."
"But she looked at me. Not him."
"Elia. Princess Elia. His wife."
"When he gave you the blue roses? Of course, it's only natural that-"
"No, not then. Later. When Rhaegar and I met later. We were ... talking, and he took my hand ..."
Their right hands had been clasped together, hers and Stannis, a remnant of their coupling earlier. She could feel his grip loosening. Not this hand, she wanted to say. It was the other one. In truth, she could not remember now which hand it had been.
She heard her husband took a deep breath. His grip tightened again. He nodded. "Go on, finish your story."
"Elia saw us. And she had this ... look on her face."
"If she was angry at you, but not at her husband, then she is a fool."
She shook her head. "No, she was not angry. Or even sad. She was ... resigned. Hopeless. Beyond anger or sadness. He asked me to run away with him. And I wanted to say yes, despite father, my brothers, Robert, home, duty, everything. But her face ... I couldn't."
He was silent, and breathing so quietly for so long she wondered if he had fallen asleep. But no, he appeared to be deep in thought.
"What are you thinking?"
"Prince Rhaegar seemed more thoughtless and reckless that I thought. I have always assumed that he is .. more stable than his father. But if he was willing to throw everything away for a woman ... What would Dorne have done, if Princess Elia was treated that way? And Robert? Your father? How could he have considered forsaking his duty for love?"
She did not know whether to laugh or weep. She had told Stannis something she had never told anyone, even her dearest and closest brother Ned, and his response had been an examination of Rhaegar Targaryen's fitness as a ruler.
"I did not consider those things either."
"You are not the heir to the Throne. And you told him no. You were the one who decided."
"You have never asked me if I loved him."
"Does it matter?"
"To you, or to me?"
"To ... us, I suppose. You said 'loved', not 'love'. Why should it matter now?"
Because you are a man who nursed your grievances like a dog with a bone. A man who forgets nothing. But Lyanna did not say this to her husband.
She could see that he was struggling to find more words.
"I thought it would be enough." She broke the silence, long after it had become unbearable to her.
"What would be?"
"This. Us. Together, but apart."
"If I am ... cold, or less than I should be to you, it is not because of you and Rhaegar. Or you and Robert."
He had turned his face away from her, as he was saying those words. She put her hand on his cheek, and turned his face to look at her once more.
"I know. And somehow that made it even worse."
They were looking at each other, really looking at each other, for the first time.
"It is not a one way road," he said.
"I know. It is not only your heart that saddens me, my own does too," she said.
"So what do we do?" He asked.
"Our duty," she replied.
She leaned for the kiss, but he was faster. His lips reached hers first.