Chapter 4

Cersei married Eddard Stark in the godswood, with no jewels upon her breast or head. Instead, she wove flowers into her hair, so many flowers that it seemed she was wearing a crown of petals. No one could accuse her of flashing her jewels, but perhaps they might find her ostentatious anyway.

It was a short ceremony followed by multiple toasts in the great hall of Winterfell. She sat very straight during the whole feast, holding her head up high as the Northern lords and ladies stared at her with awe or displeasure.

Cersei knew what she looked like: the picture of young beauty. Golden tresses and pale, unmarred skin. An exquisite face and a lovely, slim body. Queenly. She looked queenly.

Still, they did not like her, of that she was sure. Not that she cared.

She danced with her father and he warned her that she must please Ned Stark, for pleasing Ned meant pleasing the King. She danced with a couple of her cousins who'd come North as part of her escort, and they asked her stupid questions she did not answer (Are you afraid of the bedding? Are his kisses cold?). She danced with Ned's lords, who made japes they thought were funny or praised her beauty with off-putting enthusiasm. She danced a single dance with her new husband and he was quiet.

By the time of the bedding, Cersei was tired and irritated. The men began divesting her of her clothes and she ordered them to make quick work of it. She knew she was supposed to giggle and play along but she had no time for clumsy oafs who wanted to pinch her breasts. Finally, naked, she lay upon the bed.

Eddard arrived soon after and Cersei rolled her eyes at the sounds of silly women, all aflush, all happy to unbutton a lord's shirt or take off his boots. As though this was some great treat. Then the band of women left, closing the door, and they were alone.

Eddard sat next to Cersei and looked at her curiously, but with no desire. Not that she wanted him to want her, but his infinite indifference made Cersei raise an eyebrow.

"Are you going to kiss me?" she asked.

When he did not speak she sat up and kissed him instead, biting his lower lip for good measure. His eyes were open and when she pulled back they stared at her, unblinking.

"You are no maid," he said quietly.

Her kisses had betrayed her. She ought to have played the part of the simpering, idiotic girl. But she found she could not – had not even paused to consider if she could. It was too late now. He might fling her out of his chambers right this instant. What a sight would that be! What would her father say? It pleased her to imagine him thwarted. It might make the humiliation bearable.

"No," she said, but tiled her head up to stare back into his eyes.

She did not fear him.

"I've loved a girl," he said soberly.

It almost made her want to laugh. Of course he did. How else would he have fathered that bastard of his, which was mewling somewhere around this cold fortress? Yet the admission, although idiotic in its intonation, held a certain warmth.

"Did you care very much for your young man?"

Cersei thought of Jaime as he'd been when alive and Jaime as the corpse that had been delivered to her father. Because Tywin had been too slow – or too cunning – to act. To raise his banners against the Mad King. Her father had kept his head, had kept his money and ensured a place of power no matter what man rose or fell. At what price? A dead son and the taste of ashes in Cersei's mouth.

"He was a boy," she muttered. "I cared the world for him. He's dead, no need to concern yourself with that."

"She's also dead."

"I think the whole wide world died during the war. Not that it matters. There will be more wars. There always are."

He pressed a hand against her cheek and she was surprised to discover he was brushing a single, stray tear from her face. She pressed her lips together, tightly.

Cersei didn't like the way he coaxed words out of her. It was his silences which prompted her forward. She was not accustomed to silence and so threatened to spill herself open for him in every quiet space between words.

She did not like this at all.

Eddard kissed her, a soft kiss which barely registered as a kiss. She wanted to laugh against his mouth. He was so unsure. Every gesture was too tentative and timid.

Their union did not satisfy her but she did not mind his arm around her waist afterwards, as he slept, nor the feel of his body at her side.

She did not love him. Not at all. But he was kind. She'd seldom had any kindness. Her father was a harsh, unyielding man. Jaime had loved her with an all-consuming passion that gave no way to kindness. Tyrion was of little importance to her and even if he had been, even if she had cared for her little brother, he was too much like their father to allow himself much kindness.

Kindness might not be so terrible, she thought, closing her eyes and surrendering to sleep. And power. That would come in time.