Chapter One: Good Graces
A/N: Hey everyone. You will likely recognise this story from when it was on Warden of the West. I only own Mella Baratheon, so unfortunately Evelina Tyrell will not be in this. Please do read and review. I am going to try with this, but rewriting alone is always hard, and if I feel it's not worth the effort, I probably won't continue.
Mella Baratheon was beginning to feel claustrophobic in the carriage she shared with her mother and youngest siblings, Myrcella and Tommen. Of course, it wasn't as though it was an uncomfortable place – the carriage was spacious and richly furnished with silk cushions and velvet drapes, but in all honesty, she would have preferred to ride outside like her brother Joffrey. He was two years younger than Mella, but seemed to be able to do what he liked, as Cersei doted on him.
It had been a long two weeks of travelling. All they did in the carriage was listen to the court gossip that the chosen ladies-in-waiting of the day would deliver, and eat cakes. Mella was forced to sit patiently while her lady-in-waiting, Alyss, worked her long dark hair into elaborate plaits. That was one of the things that bothered Mella – although her twin brother had died when Cersei had given birth to him sixteen years ago, he had been dark-haired and grey-eyed like her, but all of her younger siblings had the golden hair and green eyes of their mother. Why was she so different?
"Mother, are we nearly in Winterfell?" Myrcella asked where she was delicately nibbling at some lemon cake. Mella had to smile at this – her sister was barely eleven, yet already she had the manners of a proper young lady. Mella herself had always been well-mannered due to her upbringing, but she was somewhat more…distant.
"Still another two weeks, sweetling." Cersei replied with a rather forced smile. Mella observed her mother impassively. As a young lady, she was of course schooled in the art of socialising, and at her age had already learned how to read people rather well. It was always in the eyes, she had noticed, and right now her mother's green eyes were bleak. She had not wished to venture north to ice-cold Winterfell, and Mella could not say that she was pleased about it, either.
A member of the Kingsguard opened the carriage door. Cersei raised her eyebrows and the man inclined his head. It was Jaime Lannister, Cersei's twin brother and Mella's uncle. A faint smile played about the corners of his lips.
"We have arrived."
Over the past two weeks, Mella had become used to staying in inns, with the bustling hubbub of her father's two-hundred-strong entourage around her. She took her uncle's hand and allowed him to help her step down from the carriage. Her brother Joffrey dismounted his horse and moved across to them.
"It's a rather dismal place, isn't it?" Joffrey drawled, glancing over the inn which they were staying at with a contemptuous expression on his face. Despite being two years younger, he was already taller than Mella, with a temper she was wary of and a sadistic streak she despaired of. He also seemed to already think that he was King – despite the fact that Mella was two years older than Joffrey, she would only take the throne if both Joffrey and Tommen died.
"It's going to be so wonderful in Winterfell," Alyss sighed wistfully. She was a rather dreamy girl a few years older than Mella, the daughter of a former knight and the princess's constant companion. She had romantic notions about the cold north that Mella unfortunately did not share. "Oh, you'll enjoy spending time with the Starks, my lady. They have a few children around your own age, so I'm certain that you will make friends."
They had stopped at an inn for the night and Mella was relaxing in a bath of warm water that smelled strongly of lavender. Alyss was chatting away and rubbing perfumed oils into Mella's hair. The dark-haired girl closed her eyes and tilted her head back, soothed by the feeling of Alyss's fingers working at her scalp. In all honesty, Mella wasn't so sure about making friends in Winterfell, but she didn't have the heart to dismiss Alyss's statement.
Alyss had been talking about the Starks for practically the entire trip so far. There was Lord Eddard Stark, who had been best friends with Mella's father Robert since boyhood. His wife, Lady Catelyn, and their five children. Six, if you counted Ned's bastard, Jon Snow. Robb was the closest in age to Mella, being one year her senior, but Alyss was almost certain that Mella would befriend young Sansa, who was three years her junior.
In all honesty, Mella thought she would be rather bored in the north. She was far too used to the sweltering heat of King's Landing, and the further north they ventured, the colder it got. She had never been to Winterfell before, but her mother's reluctance was starting to make Mella hesitant as well.
Alyss started to brush Mella's damp hair, working the tangles out. After that was done, she offered the princess a towel and helped her dry, before assisting her in putting on her nightclothes. Mella sat down on the bed, smelling of lavender and several spices. She sat patiently as Alyss plaited her hair, before her lady-in-waiting offered her a mirror.
Mella inspected her reflection. She had often been told that she was pretty, with those stormy grey eyes and dark hair that fell in waves down to nearly her waist. She was fair-skinned with a smattering of freckles across a small nose. Mella set the mirror down, feeling self-conscious. She often felt vain looking at her reflection, yet each time Alyss offered her the mirror she still looked, searching for any tiny imperfection.
Cersei had always told Mella that as a princess, she was supposed to be beautiful. One day she would marry a handsome lord and have lots of children. Mella had quickly come to realize that this was a fantastical fairytale. She would marry whoever her father deemed fit, and she would marry for convenience rather than love. Now she scoffed at the tales of glamour and love that Myrcella still seemed to believe – yet Mella hadn't the heart to shatter her younger sister's dreams.
"Do you think they will find you beautiful in Winterfell, my lady?" Alyss asked as she put perfume on Mella's wrists. The princess had always found it rather ridiculous – what was the point of smelling lovely for bed? Cersei had told her that it was good practise for when she was married, that a husband would want a woman who looked and smelled sweet at all times.
"Honestly, I couldn't care what they thought of me in Winterfell," Mella replied rather dismissively, moving across to the window. Outside, the soldiers scuffled through wagons and the Kingsguard rode on fine horses down the cobbled road out the front of the inn. Robert was speaking to Cersei, and her mother did not appear happy.
There was a knock at Mella's door, and Alyss answered it. The dark-haired girl was not at all pleased when Joffrey stalked into her room. She pulled her cloak over her nightclothes and frowned at her younger brother.
"Joff, you know it's rude to enter a lady's room at this time of night," she informed her brother coolly.
"Father won't let me go hunting," Joffrey spat as he marched over to the window, his eyes blazing with anger. Mella knew better than to reprimand her brother when he was in this sort of mood. She observed him with silent disdain as he glowered out.
"It's late," Mella reminded him quietly, "Father is right not to let you go out hunting at this time."
Joffrey turned on her, a petulant scowl crossing his face. "What would you know? You're just a girl. Besides, I am going to be King someday. I should be allowed to do as I please."
Mella watched her brother with a guarded expression, her features kept deliberately impassive. Joffrey had always been so certain of himself. Mella didn't know whether to envy him for it or not. He was so arrogant, her brother.
"But you are not King yet."
Joffrey stared at her with rage burning in his eyes. Clearly, he hadn't thought anyone would speak to him in such a manner. His clenched his jaw and Mella took a cautious step back. His hands clenched into fists.
"How dare you speak to me like that!" Joffrey fumed, clearly incensed by Mella's softly-spoken words. She thought that he might hit her, but instead his response was a childish one. "I'm telling Mother!"
Joffrey stalked out and Mella was so relieved that she very nearly laughed. Alyss closed the door behind him, looking troubled. She crossed over to the princess and tentatively touched the younger girl's arm.
"Are you alright, my lady?" Alyss inquired of her, worry lacing her tone, "Do you need me to stay with you the night?"
"No, I'll be fine," Mella replied, and she meant it. She had seen much more violent outbursts from Joffrey before, so she was hardly threatened by mere words. She offered Alyss a rather insincere smile and then lifted her chin, gathering her dignity about her like the cloak she currently wore. "You may leave, Alyss."
Only once her lady-in-waiting had left did Mella allow her composed mask to slip. She clambered into her bed with a heavy sigh. Perhaps Winterfell would bring a respite after all. She was tired of dealing with Joffrey's violent mood swings and her mother's constant complaints about everything to do with the north. Maybe there was something to look forward to in icy Winterfell after all – although what that might be, Mella couldn't say.
The warmth of the dawn sun filtered through the curtains, the morning rays caressing Mella's cheek. She yawned and stretched underneath the heavy blankets on her bed, sitting up and rubbing the sleep from her eyes. A sudden knock at the door made her jump, and she quickly leapt from her bed and pulled a robe around her. What was someone doing disrupting her at this hour?
"My lady, it's Alyss." Mella recognized the voice of her lady-in-waiting, and her shoulders relaxed. Anyone else she might have sent away, but when it came to Alyss, Mella had always been rather lenient. "May I come in? I've been requested to prepare you by your lady mother."
Mella was a bit surprised at this. It couldn't have been much past dawn, yet her mother had told Alyss to prepare her? Prepare her for what, precisely? Smothering her curiosity, Mella lifted her chin.
Alyss entered with her arms full of blood-red fabric, which Mella assumed was a dress. Perhaps it was an old one of her mother's, which wouldn't surprise Mella. She and Cersei were of a similar size, but Mella was wary now. Her mother only gave away her old dresses if it was a special occasion. She hoped that her parents hadn't found some handsome young nobleman they planned to show her off to. Mella cringed at the very thought.
She allowed Alyss to pull the laces of the dress tight, and brush out her dark hair. Alyss's nimble fingers worked at plaiting it, but Mella caught her wrist and shook her head. She got tired of having to spend a near half hour dressing every morning. Alyss fastened a crimson and gold pendant around Mella's throat. The princess caught sight of the bloody stone in her reflection when Alyss pulled up the mirror, and she grimaced inwardly.
"What exactly is the special occasion, Alyss?" Mella inquired. In the three weeks they'd spent making their way north, she didn't think she had once been woken up early, not even when her father had decided he wanted to go hunting. The hunt left just before midday, sometimes with Joffrey in tow, sometimes leaving the prince behind, fuming.
"I don't know, my lady," Alyss confessed as she led Mella outside. "I believe it's something to do with our arrival in Winterfell."
The princess could feel the chill of the north beginning to creep up on her, and she hugged herself to try and shut out some of the cold. She was starting to miss warm King's Landing, where the humidity was enough to make her drowsy some of the time.
"Mella, there you are, sweetling." Cersei was all smiles as she approached her daughter, which made Mella wary. Her mother had made it obvious she didn't approve of this venture north, to make Eddard Stark the Hand of the King. Besides, Cersei did not dote upon Mella as much as she did the rest of her children. It made Mella feel unwanted and slightly sad, like her mother did not really want her, especially when the other three were often spoiled rotten and she became more of an afterthought to Cersei rather than anything else.
"There you two are." Robert smiled as he saw his daughter. Although Mella had been trying to deny it for years, she was clearly Robert's favourite, his dark-haired daughter that reminded him so much of himself when he had been young. He was warm and affectionate to few people, but Mella was one of them. Even Cersei simmered with resentment due to the attention Robert paid his oldest child, the sort of attention that she never garnered.
"What's going on?" Mella inquired, glancing between her parents. There was joy in Robert's eyes, the sort of enthusiasm that Mella had not seen sparkling there since she'd been a young child. These days, even tourneys failed to excite her father. Cersei's mouth twisted slightly, the bitterness sinking back in.
"We will be in Winterfell sooner than expected," Robert boomed the words out heartily, leaving his daughter more than aware that he was excited at the prospect of seeing Ned again, like two young boys being reunited. However, there was no warmth in Winterfell for Mella, only coldness there like was in her mother's eyes and heart.
A member of the Kingsguard, Ser Meryn Trant, opened the door to the carriage to allow Mella to enter the carriage. Mella had never much liked Meryn Trant. He was one of the few people whose emotions were hard for her to read. Not even his eyes gave an indication of what he was feeling.
"Robert expects us to ride through the day and night to get there." Cersei's tone was sour as she clambered into the carriage beside her oldest daughter. Across from them, Tommen and Myrcella sat in silence, their eyes too innocent and their ears too young to understand the fighting that occurred between their parents. Mella had always attempted to shield them, yet Winterfell seemed to have created the greatest, most bitter divide yet.