Chapter Thirteen: Ours Is The Throne
A/N: A huge thanks to everyone who has been reading and reviewing! I never thought I'd get over 100 favourites and over 200 follows for just 12 chapters! Honestly, you guys are amazing. Hope you enjoy this chapter.
Mella had seen blood before. She had been in the stands during the many tourneys her father had liked to throw, watching with fists clenched so tight her knuckles turned white. She had seen men thrown from horses, even one or two with their heads lopped off. Although the blood was sucked up by the greedy dirt, the pitches were cleaned, the stain swept away. But that had all been for the sake of entertainment.
War was a different matter completely. Robb had raised his eyebrows at Mella's insistence upon helping with the wounded. A Princess did not involve herself in such gruesome matters...yet Mella knew that during this war, she could not afford to wear a Princess's fragility. Her skin had to be tougher than that, especially if she ever hoped to take back the throne that was rightfully hers.
She knelt in the dirt with a young Stark soldier's head rested against her, trying desperately to calm his whimpers of pain as she attempted to bandage a horrible wound on his leg. Looking up, Mella noticed that Robb was patrolling through the ranks, checking on the injured. It was a miracle that he himself had escaped severe wounds during the battle, but no doubt these northerners would do anything to protect their King.
Word had reached the Stark camp from King's Landing, of the purging of all Robert's bastards – even the small children and the babies. Mella was disgusted, wondering whether Cersei or Joffrey would have had the audacity to allow such a horrific act. Likely her younger brother, knowing him. Shaking her head, Mella tied the knot a little tighter than she meant to, making the man she was tending to yelp.
"I'm sorry," she said quickly, picking at the knot hastily. Boots crunched across the soil and when she looked up, Robb was standing over her. He inspected her, then the man she was tending to. He appeared somewhat surprised that a Princess would have some idea of what she was doing.
"He's going to lose that leg."
Mella frowned at Robb's bluntness, which only served to make the man blubber and panic even more. He was supposed to be giving his men hope. All she'd seen lately were grim truths all around her. Sometimes it was better to sweeten the blow, rather than deliver it so fast and harshly. Robb had grown up, but it would seem that his brutal honesty was something that wouldn't change.
"No!" the man exclaimed, "No, please, it will heal, I know it will!"
"It's going to fester," Robb stated, kneeling beside them with the clinking of his armour. "It's better that you lose it now rather than dying from an infection."
Mella pressed her lips together. Perhaps Robb didn't think she was capable of an amputation. Or maybe she was just imagining things. Likely Robb wanted them to work together to save this man's life. Robb handed Mella a sharp knife and offered the man something to bite down on. Mella examined the wound on the man's leg and took a deep breath. Robb was right – it was never going to heal properly. She knew that there would be no milk of the poppy to soothe this man's pain, not when money was being spent on other, more important things for the war effort.
"Can you do this?" Robb questioned, and when Mella glanced at him, she saw no challenge or hostility. There was sympathy in his eyes, although whether it was for what she had to do or the pain the injured man she was going to suffer, Mella wasn't sure. She steeled herself and nodded. If all the men claiming their right to the throne could fight battles, then the least she could do was amputate a man's leg.
She nodded briskly and set about her work. Mella shrank away inside herself, distancing herself from what she was doing and the man's screams. She didn't know how long it took to cut through flesh and bone, until the leg was finally removed. When she was finished, Mella calmly wiped the knife on a cloth, but her hands were shaking. Murmuring an excuse, she pushed herself to her feet, feeling as though she might faint at any moment.
Mella grabbed blindly at a tree branch and used it to hold herself up as she vomited on the grass. She was a shaking, horrified mess. The man's blood still stained her hands, and her dress, and no matter how hard she tried she couldn't wipe it all off. Fighting back panic, Mella fiercely told herself that she would not cry. She took a deep breath and screwed her eyes shut, nearly screaming when someone touched her arm.
"Mella?" It was Robb. Her eyes flicked open and when he saw how shaken she was, he pulled her into his arms and held her close. He didn't seem to care that there was still blood on her skin, and that she must have smelled horrible, and that her hair was a mess. Because Robb had witnessed Mella's courage in cutting off that man's leg, and to him, Mella Baratheon had never been more beautiful.
"Catelyn Stark, it's good that we can speak in private."
Catelyn followed Renly Baratheon into his tent, gazing about her with lips pressed tight in disapproval. Renly's camp appeared to have the sort of lively attitude of a tourney, rather than the serious demeanour that Robb and many of his men possessed. No doubt he thought that war was some kind of game. However, allying with Renly would have many benefits, so she didn't voice her thoughts on the matter.
"Have you thought about what I said?" Catelyn asked, watching as Renly seated himself and gestured for her to sit opposite him. He poured them both a glass of wine, and Catelyn politely refused hers. "I think that my son would make a good ally. However, you aware that we have your niece and Robert's daughter, Mella, at our camp?"
Renly was very much aware of this. It seemed to him that Catelyn Stark was attempting to use Mella as a show of power. He frowned and leaned back in his chair, swilling his wine.
"I am aware. What of it?"
"My lord, Mella Baratheon is the rightful heir to the throne." Catelyn sat up proudly. She had not come so far to be a meek and mild woman, who would allow Renly to speak up over her. She would have her say and hope that he would listen. "If we joined forces and you backed Mella's claim to the throne – after all, it is stronger than your own..."
Renly laughed aloud. "Forgive me for being presumptuous, Lady Stark, but it sounds as though you wish to install Mella on the throne only so that your son can marry her and become a legitimate King."
Catelyn couldn't deny that there was an element of truth in Renly's words. Yes, it would give Robb a very strong claim to the throne...but she also thought that Mella Baratheon, as the trueborn daughter of Robert, was more deserving of the throne than either of Robert's younger brothers. She smiled tolerantly.
"My son is betrothed to one of Lord Frey's daughters."
Renly leaned forward in his chair. "Did you really come all this way because you thought I'd believe my niece has a better chance at the throne? Mella is a sweet girl, and legitimate unlike the rest of her siblings, but that's the problem...she's a girl. Not to mention she's only just turned seventeen. A girl that young and inexperienced? She won't make a good monarch."
Catelyn bit back a retort as Renly took a sip of his wine. Mella was mature for her years, and Renly certainly wasn't much older than Robb and Mella himself. She had demonstrated herself to be sensible – knowing that Robb, who the girl cared about deeply, was betrothed to another woman could not have been easy for it, yet she had handled the situation with a grace Catelyn hadn't expected of her.
"She will make a better monarch than Joffrey," Catelyn replied.
"But I'll make a better one than either," Renly insisted, finishing off his wine and picking up the cup Catelyn had forsaken. "I was on Robert's small council, I have a good idea of what it means to rule. Joffrey is psychotic and Mella? I don't think she would have a clue what she's doing what it comes to ruling a kingdom."
"Ruling comes through experience," Catelyn stated coolly. Robb had had no indication of what to do after Ned died, but he'd been doing brilliantly so far. Her heart swelled with pride and she had no doubt that Ned would be very proud of his oldest son. "Mella can only gain experience through learning from her mistakes, as Robert did."
Renly lapsed into silence, as they both knew Robert hadn't learned from his mistakes. He had continued to drink and whore his way through life until his untimely death. Mella wasn't her father, but would she learn from her mistakes? Catelyn thought that she was the type who would, but clearly, Renly wasn't so sure.
Mella lay awake staring at the candle beside her bed, the flame flickering gently in the slight breeze that swept through the tent. Every time she closed her eyes, the images of that poor man and his leg came back. She fought back a shudder of revulsion. She didn't by any means regret what she'd done to save his life, but the gruesome memory was one that would stay with her for some time.
With a heavy sigh, she rolled onto her back, condemning herself to a sleepless night. A sudden shadow caught her eye, and she started, at first thinking it had been a trick of the candlelight. Then she noticed that it was real, a shadow standing inside her tent with a knife that shone ominously. Mella froze up for just a moment, before a shocked cry ejected from her mouth and she scrambled upwards, her feet tangling in the sheets.
The figure lunged at her, their face being thrown into the wan light of the candle – a young man, perhaps only a few years older than herself. Mella didn't have any weapons; she didn't know how to fight. Her only panicked thought was to throw her blankets over the assassin as she scrambled to her feet. He flailed and slashed at the material as she sprinted for the flap of her tent, but it took mere moments for him to dispose of the torn sheets and run after her, throwing her to the ground.
Mella screamed. She didn't want to die, and even if she did, it wouldn't be like this. The assassin attempted to pin her, but she flailed wildly, gripping his wrist and trying to force the knife away from her throat. Everything seemed to happen so fast. She kept expecting the knife to come stabbing downwards, and so she pushed with what little strength she had, her arms burning with the effort of keeping the blade from piercing her throat.
"Keep still, you little bitch," the man above her hissed, but his words only encouraged Mella to fight harder and with more ferocity. The knife cut against her arms, but she didn't care, even when her own blood spattered across her face. The tent flap was ripped open and then people were charging across the room. Mella's world was a blur as the assassin was pulled off her and hauled to his feet, and then Robb was kneeling beside her, his blue eyes wide with concern.
"Mella. Mella! Are you alright?"
It took her a moment to shift back into reality and comprehend what Robb was saying. She stared down at the cuts across her arms, small crimson rivulet dripping down her pale skin. Blood, her blood...but she was still alive, and that was what mattered. Robb leaned in and pressed a quick kiss to Mella's cheek, helping her to her feet and putting an arm around her waist to support her when he swayed.
"Why did you try and kill her?" Robb demanded of the assassin, who wasn't even attempting to fight against the men holding him. There were quite a few of them in here, Mella realised. They must have heard her scream and come running. Or Robb had ran, and the rest of them had followed.
"Cersei wanted her brought back alive," the man said, before a wicked smile graced his lips. "But Joffrey didn't. She's a threat, you see. They all say he's illegitimate, and that she's not. So why would he let her live if she could steal his throne?"
Mella was shocked into silence. She knew that she and Joffrey had never exactly been on good terms...but she hadn't anticipated her younger brother trying to kill her. The notion sent chills down her spine, and even as the assassin was dragged away, she knew that she was not safe. She'd never be safe, not while Joffrey was alive, because he would keep sending people after her to ensure that she would never have the throne he insisted was his.