Written for Day Two (Paranormal Creatures) of the Ghost Ships challenge on the gameofships tumblr.
Run, her grandmother had hissed, and so Margaery does, skirts hiked near to her knees and bare feet slapping on the flagstones. The corridors are empty for now, what with the remaining forces having been sent to hold off the Northern army and the servants huddled in the private quarters of their lords and ladies for the second time in recent memory. Third, Margaery realizes, reaching an arm out as she turns into a stairwell, for the older ones, it's their third siege.
The door at the bottom creaks and moans, but Margaery puts her shoulder into it and grunts right back until it gives way. She gasps at the bite of the cold air at her face and neck, the only parts of her body left revealed by her winter dress and cloak, but she clenches her jaw and steps out into the walkway. Iron clangs and men scream below her, and the ships on the Blackwater fire cannons up toward the walls of the Keep. Smoke blows in the wind, making Margaery cough and swipe at her eyes. She hears the cries of Winterfell! and King in the North! from the courtyard beyond the Grand Hall, but she can't see over the rooftop. Fires burn as far as she can see, and Margaery uses her ears and her eyes to find some safe haven, but the only dark spot is—
"Of course," Margaery breathes. Dark and quiet and perfect. Cursing herself for not at least slipping on a pair of socks when word had come that the Stark men had breached the walls, she sprints to the end of the walkway and down the little staircase inside the turret, then across the stretch of crunchy dry grass to the half-wall that encloses the godswood. The gate is further away, but she hears commotion coming closer, so she throws a prayer up to the Warrior and hops up to grab onto the top of the wall. Her toes grapple, find a niche, and she propels herself up and over the wall with a grunt, landing roughly on the opposite side.
She has no intention of being her family's Elia Martell, nor is she foolish enough to play the dutiful, naïve queen consort and hope to escape with her head intact. Sweet Tommen had insisted on staying with Margaery in the Maidenvault, and Cersei had sat vigil with them as well, smugly believing that the army and archers could keep the stinking wolves well in their place beyond the gates. Cersei had known the game was over, when they'd gotten word that the Northerners had been able to get a battering ram locked into position at the main gate. The Queen Regent had slapped Tommen's book from his hands, and yanked him from the room, blonde hair flying behind her. Off to Maegor's, Olenna had sighed, and Margaery had shaken her head in pity. One way in meant one way out—Tommen and Cersei would be trapped like rats. The Tyrells sat silently, clasping each others' hands until the Red Keep shuddered with the first impact of the battering ram, and Olenna had turned to Margaery with steely eyes. Run.
The godswood stretches out before her, black and silent, and Margaery walks into its heart, pulling her cloak tighter around her shoulders. The heart tree is hard to miss. It's the largest tree in the godswood, wrapped in vines, and Margaery settles down in between its massive roots. The ground is strangely warm here, the air still. Margaery knows that the sounds of the sacking should be louder, but the limbs and leaves of the trees create a buffer, so that what she hears seems to come through water. The sounds of a fallen seige fill the rest of her night, until her eyes can't stay open any longer, and she lets her head roll back against the trunk of the tree. She doesn't need to listen any more – she knows who's won, and who's lost.
Whatever sacking had taken place is done when Margaery awakens to the sound of birds overhead and the warmth of the dappled sun on her face. The day is warm for autumn, so she unclasps her cloak and drapes it over the up-welled root she'd slept against. Her long-sleeved woolen gown is warm enough, even pleasantly cool. Margaery allows herself a single mouthful of the bread her grandmother had pressed into her hand as she'd fled, and she passes the afternoon pacing around the heart tree and dozing among its roots. Now and again she hears shutters slamming open, a shout from her left or a clatter far to her right.
Otherwise, quiet. The ships continue to glide past, their sails broken in Margaery's view by the trees lying between her and the edge of the godswood, where it drops off sharply into the Blackwater Rush. As curious as she is, she will not be so reckless as to creep closer and give away her location to the men who will be watching the towers and ramparts of the Keep—that is, if King Robb Stark has any sense at all.
The first day turns to night in a slow fade of oranges and pinks, and Margaery watches the moon rise, her mind dwelling on her family, so far from her reach behind the godswood's walls.
She's drifting into sleep at the bottom of the heart tree when she hears a strange scraping. Her eyes snap open at the sound of something landing with a heavy thud inside the walls of the godswood. Leaves crunch quietly, twigs snap, and her heartbeat quickens at the sound of snuffling. Everyone knows that Robb Stark rides astride a direwolf instead of a horse, that a massive pack of wolves had amassed behind his army and torn his enemies to pieces on the battlefield. Some say his direwolf is no larger than a barn dog; others insist it's the size of a house.
A cold sweat breaks out across the back of Margaery's neck. It's moving nearly silently, with only the twist of dead leaves under its feet and the shift of air in its wake telling Margaery that there is, in fact, something out there. Her heart thuds against her chest and she hears, no, feels, the thing growl in the darkness.
The moon is high in the sky now. Margaery presses her back into the tree trunk behind her as the wolf moves forward towards her out of the dark, passing through the scattered shafts of silver light. It's massive, the size of the horses they breed at Highgarden, with bright yellow eyes and dark grey fur. It ambles closer and closer, and her eyes fall to the dried blood caking its snout and chest.
How ridiculous she'd been, thinking that she could escape the sack. Her stomach sinks like a stone when the wolf finally stops in front of her, lowers his head, and meets her eyes with his own. Unable to hold the beast's yellow stare, she closes her eyes and tilts her head back against the rough bark. Margaery's only a consort to a usurper, not a queen regnant, and Robb Stark doesn't even need to afford her the dignity of a sword's edge.
But the wolf's teeth never come. It huffs hot breath onto her face and neck, touches its cold nose to her jaw, sending a shiver through her. One long moment later, it turns and trots away. Margaery watches it leave, tail swinging leisurely side-to-side, until it melts into the blackness again and she hears it clear the godswood wall in a single bound.
She huddles under her cloak and waits for Stark men to flood the godswood and drag her before their King, but they never come.
The wolf finds her again the next afternoon, when Margaery is peeking over the wall that keeps the godswood visitors from tumbling into the river below. Ships and sails fill her sight, and a stab of hunger in her belly nearly brings her to her knees. A branch crunches behind her, and she whirls, falls against the wall at the sight of the wolf peering at her from the heart of the godswood. Between his dark gray fur and the shadows of the trees, she can only really see his eyes, staring at her unblinkingly. Her stomach breaks the silence, grumbling loudly, and the wolf's ear twitches.
Slowly, Margaery reaches into her pocket and pulls out her last hunk of bread. It's stale, and her jaw aches as she mashes at it with her teeth. The wolf watches her, tilts its head when she licks the crumbs from her fingers. When nothing is left, it continues to stare at her, like it's waiting for something else, but she simply clasps her hands before her and stares back.
Then, he's gone again, and Margaery is alone once more.
"Your Grace?" Dacey asks, touching Robb's shoulder. He's slumped in his armchair, and even with a second nudge, it takes a moment for him to inhale and open his eyes. Dacey watches him clench his fists and open them again, roll his shoulders under his shirt. "I'm sorry, were you sleeping?"
"No," Robb replies in a voice lower and more gravelly than Dacey is used to. "I was just somewhere else."
The sun sinks low in the sky over the Blackwater Rush, sending a ribbon of shimmery molten gold over its surface. Margaery watches the hulls of the boats lazily slice through it, counting them like her mother had once told her to count sheep before bedtime. It's the end of her second day in the godswood, and she's thought through every sequence of events that could have happened at least twice. She thinks that there's a decent chance that her family is dead, but an equally good chance that they've finagled their way out of it. But if that were so, wouldn't she have received some sort of sign that she's free to leave the godswood? Sweet Tommen…Margaery's heart hurts when she thinks of him, but she pushes those thoughts deep away inside of her. They won't help her now, and they certainly won't help him either.
Metal creaks against metal, and Margaery dashes to hide behind a tree. She hears a deep voice and familiar padding paws, and she curses under her breath. The branches above her are low, and she prays that the limbs aren't rotted through when she reaches up.
She's still as nimble as she was as a child, hauling herself up a level or two. She can't hide from the beast's nose, and they can cut down the tree to get to her, but she wants to speak to this King in the North, make certain facts known, before he drags her back into the Keep.
The wolf stops at the base of her tree and tilts its head up to look at her. The man that comes to stand beside him is far more handsome than she had thought. Stories of his exploits were so tinged with Winter is Coming and Ned Stark and wolves as big as wagons that his Tully red hair, twinkling blue eyes, and mirthsome smirk are more shocking than anything else.
"Queen Margaery, I presume," King Robb calls up to her, bracing his hands on his hips.
"Queen? Surely you've taken my jewels and crown from the Maidenvault by now."
The King shrugs. "True. It was quite a shock when you were not there to give them to us, however."
"I trust that my family was helpful in locating them for you in my place." It's half-statement, half-question, and King Robb's eyes seem to soften at the hitch in her voice.
"Yes, very helpful. They're confined to their rooms except for Lady Olenna, who has somehow browbeaten me into allowing her a turn in the courtyard after her lunch." He pauses, and Margaery can see his eyes sharpen in the light of the fading sun. "I'm afraid your husband and mother-in-law are not quite so lucky. They're in cells below the Keep."
"We weren't ever truly married," Margaery tells him, seizing the opportunity. "I'm a Baratheon in name only. He's still quite young, you know, and with a very overbearing mother."
A wind picks up and ruffles the leaves on the branches, filling the silence for a moment while the King weighs her words. "So it's true what they say?" he finally asks. "Thrice wedded, never bedded?"
The diddy has always Margaery's teeth on edge, reminded her of her precarious position, but it'll be her saving grace now. "Maid Margaery, at your pleasure, Your Grace," she confirms, dipping her head as prettily as she can with her tangled hair and dirty dress. If he picks up on her deprecating tone, he says nothing of it.
He pulls a pouch from his cloak and sets it against the base of the tree. "I know you're hungry. I'll leave this here for you, and Grey Wind as well." He lays a gloved hand on the beast's shoulder. Margaery's shock must have been written across her face, because he murmurs something in the wolf's ear, and the beast lies down, wriggling itself into a comfortable position. "Lady Margaery, my men very well may visit the godswood for prayer. Grey Wind will protect you, if you need such protection," he promises, and lets her roll that idea around in her head to realize its implications.
With a nod of his head, he turns and leaves. Margaery eyes the beast—Grey Wind—for a while, but the wolf seems content to doze disinterestedly at the foot of the tree. Her stomach gets the best of her, and she climbs back down the tree so that she can see what is in the pouch before the light completely leaves the sky. Grey Wind keeps himself stretched out, head resting on his crossed paws, and opens a single yellow eye when she fumbles with the laces. The King has brought her a heel of bread, a wedge of cheese, some salted meat, and a few apples. Certainly enough to fill her stomach for the night. She makes quick work of most of it, saving an apple and some cheese for the morning because who knows when the King would deign to visit her new chambers again?
Grey Wind rests silently beside her, taking deep breaths and only cracking an eye when she seems to disturb his slumber. She's raised dogs before, and wolves can't really be that different, so she gingerly tosses a piece of the salted meat towards Grey Wind. In a blur of grey and a flash of white, his jaws snap shut over it, and he licks his lips for a several minutes afterward.
For the third night in a row, Margaery wraps her cloak around her shoulders and lays her head on a tree root for sleep. The wolf snuffles nearby and shifts his weight so that he's laying on his side, and he ends up so close to Margaery that she could reach out and touch him if she wished. Instead, she counts his breaths until her eyes slide shut.
Catelyn sighs and rubs her temples. "Robb, you cannot just…keep her there forever. She has to leave some time."
"She's taken refuge in a godswood, mother," he reminds her. "If it had been a sept, you would be agreeing with me."
"She doesn't even follow the Old Gods; she was born and raised in the Faith of the Seven." Catelyn shakes her head and sits down across from her son. He's taken up residence in the Tower of the Hand, not the King's apartments in Maegor's Holdfast, to reinforce that he has absolutely no interest in the Iron Throne. He's seized the city for Daenerys and Aegon Targaryen in return for a free Northern Kingdom—the last thing he needs is for rumors to reach their ears that he's intending on holding all Seven Kingdoms.
Robb drinks from his horn of ale. "You know that the Old Gods don't care about those rules. She ended up there for a reason, and she's under their protection now."
The coos and cries of a baby rise from the next room, and Robb pushes his chair back. Catelyn catches his hand as he passes by, peers up into his face. "The High Septon needs to annul the marriage before she slips through our fingers. These kingdoms do not need another war of succession, Robb."
With a nod, Robb presses his lips to the back of his mother's hand. "Get some rest; I'll see to Alys."
Robb dreams of the sharp night air, the crash of waves against the rocks, the smell of dirt under his skin, and the spill of brown hair across red and orange leaves.
Grey Wind is an intriguing animal, unlike anything that Margaery has ever come across. For an hour or two, she'd thought him some half-trained pet that the King in the North had conned himself into believing loved him back and who'd killed for him because that's what wolves do in the first place, after all.
She realizes quickly that it's not the case. She chatters lightly to him because he's there and seems to listen to her. His wolf-brows twitch along with the rise and fall of her voice, and he maintains eye contact like a human would, and certainly unlike the dogs in the kennels at Highgarden. She watches him stalk a rabbit with his eyes far longer than any normal predator would, staying perfectly still until the poor thing had become too comfortable in the wolf's presence and let its guard down. In that singular moment, he burst forward and devoured it in a single swallow. Now I know why he calls you Grey Wind, Margaery realizes.
The thunderstorm begins with a light drizzle in the late afternoon, nothing too horrible. Margaery curls up on a pile of dry leaves and pulls her cloak over her head—not that her hair or clothes have much need of protection these days. Grey Wind begins pacing as the evening approaches, circling the perimeter of the godswood with his nose in the air, making queer noises at times when the wind blows through. He finally circles back around to Margaery's side but refuses to lie down, even when she attempts to coax him with a few scraps of salted meat she finds in the dregs of the pouch the King left for her.
Light rain gives way to a gully washer, and Margaery rushes from her spot close to the Blackwater Rush to the relative shelter of the heart tree. Thunder and lightning crack overhead, and Grey Wind answers with howls of his own. Even the ancient heart tree sways with the force of the wind that nearly sings as it cuts through the web of trunks and branches of the godswood.
Someone calls her name, nearly unheard in the pounding rain and screaming winds. It's someone unfamiliar, waving at her. A Stark soldier, beckoning for her to follow him inside. For half a beat she considers it, even takes a step away from the heart tree before she remembers the group of men praying at the heart tree earlier in the day, hissing sanctuary, sanctuary among themselves as though she could not hear. As far as she knows, she's still Tommen's queen consort, a member of the deposed royal family, and she will not step foot outside of this godswood until her safety is guaranteed.
So she steps back under the tree and shakes her head. It's still warm for autumn, and her maester in Highgarden had long ago told her that falling ill from rain was naught but an old wives' tale. The soldier shakes his head and sprints away, leaving Grey Wind groaning and clucking in his throat. "Go with him if you like," she tells the beast, and he swivels his head around at her words. "I doubt I'm in much danger with this weather." He seems to weigh her words for a moment, but eventually huffs and circles back underneath the shelter of the heart tree's branches.
Time seems to slow to a crawl, measured only by the encroaching darkness and the slow shift of the solid ground under her bare feet into mud. By the time the godswood turns pitch black, Margaery is soaked to the skin. She leans her head against the trunk of the heart tree to keep the rainwater from flowing into her eyes and mouth.
Grey Wind shifts beside her and lets out a low grumble, and Margaery turns to squint into the darkness. The King walks towards her with a torch guttering in the rain, long strides bringing him across the godswood to stand close to her under the tree. He's come out into the weather without a hooded cloak, leaving his hair nearly black in the rain and plastered to his head where it isn't tied back with a leather thong. "Please, Lady Margaery," he shouts, "I have a bed and bath ready for you in the Tower of the Hand. Staying out here in this is madness!"
A bath, oh, a bath. But she pushes that thought aside. "Has the High Septon executed an annulment?" she yells back. They're mere feet away from each other but the sound of the storm is deafening.
King Robb's nostrils, his full lips flatten into a line. "Not yet, I'm afraid," he replies, and she tells him that he must understand, then, why she must decline his invitation. Grey Wind whines at her, and the King shakes his head. He unclasps his cloak and settles it around her shoulders. "It's Northern-made, for the elements," he tells her.
"What will you use?" she asks, shifting her shoulders under the unexpected heft. It's warm from his body heat, and it stirs something more in her than merely chasing the chill away.
The King quirks a brow at her in the flickering light of his torch. "Unlike yourself, I have a feather-ticked mattress and dry clothing waiting for me in my chamber. I think I shall manage the walk back just fine." His thin tunic soaks through in seconds, clinging to his wide shoulders and gaping open at the neck to reveal a swath of auburn curls across his chest. It's all she can do to drag her eyes back up to his from the hollow at the base of his neck.
Margaery must be a sight, with her bedraggled hair and dirty face, clutching a man's cloak at her neck with a fist. Still, he's grinning at her, though he tries to hide it by tugging the corner of his mouth with a canine, the flash of it catching in the light. "Lady Margaery," he says with a dip of his head, and then he's gone, leaving her with just the thunder and Grey Wind for company.
She smells like mud and dirt – dried blood on her feet – the dress damp and musty. She rolls on the ground – soft squishing up between the toes of his paws – her joints creak and pop, her muscles groan and stretch…
Robb rolls over and opens his eyes, half-expecting to see Margaery Tyrell stretched out under the covers with him. But his bed is empty save for himself, and the action of bending at the waist to sit up feels strange, as it always does after slipping away from himself.
His steward enters through the side door with his breakfast. Before he thinks further on it, he gives his orders to the man, who draws his brows together. "Your Grace—the particularities of that would be most cumbersome—"
With a hand held up to cut off further protestations, Robb says, not unkindly, "You have your orders," and the steward bows in acquiescence.
His lady mother meets him in the courtyard, a shawl wrapped around her shoulders and crossed arms. "What are you up to, Robb?" she asks quietly, watching servants hustle by with their heavy burden balanced between them. He doesn't answer, and Lady Catelyn's mouth turns down at the corners. "I suggest you figure it out, and quickly," she advises, and sweeps away to match pace with Lady Mormont.
With eyes closed and head tipped back, Margaery can hear Grey Wind trotting along the edge of the godswood that borders the Blackwater Rush. Watching the ships sail by over the halfwall is just as stimulating for him as it is for her, it seems. She shifts, allows herself a satisfied moan as the motion swishes the warm water around in the tub. The water had been burning hot when she'd first sunk into it, but it had also soaked away all of her aches and pains and oh she doesn't want to get out any time soon. The servants had left a cauldron of water over a fire nearby, and she plans on taking full advantage of it.
Twigs and leaves crackle behind her, and Margaery stretches her bare arms up in the air, twisting her wrists. "Wonderful timing. I'd love some more hot water," she called out, dropping her arms to rest on the edge of the bathtub.
"I'd be happy to oblige, my Lady," a bemused male replies, "but I don't think you'd find it appropriate."
Margaery's eyes pop open, but she stills every other portion of her body. Never appear alarmed, her grandmother has always warned, or you've already lost. At the edge of the godswood, Grey Wind hasn't even paid attention to his master's entrance. He's standing on his back legs at the bottom of the godswood and peering down at the Rush and the Bay, his front paws braced on the wall.
"Your Grace," she replies, twisting in the tub. He remains a respectable distance away–it's impossible to wait outside a door when there is no door to begin with–, but he makes no effort to avert his eyes. Margaery notes, not for the first time, how utterly unkingly he dresses. Where Joffrey and Tommen wore red silk and black velvet, the King consistently chooses simple shirts and breeches. Only the fine workmanship of his sword and sheath gives his status away.
No. Margaery knows she's wrong as soon as she thinks it. He may chose simple raiments, but his straight back, wide stance, and confident expression would give away his status even in a crowd. She braces her arm across the back of the tub and asks, "What may I do for you, other than thank you for allowing me a comfort of civilization?"
The King shrugs and spreads his hands wide. "It would be a shame to let a great beauty like yourself fall to pieces out here in the wild."
Margaery matches his cloaked pleasantries with her own. "Please, Your Grace, is that how your lady mother taught you to speak to a married woman?" she chides with a light smirk, one that King Robb mirrors.
"My mistake, my lady," he says, reaching behind him and pulling a folded piece of parchment from the waistband of his breeches, "I was under the impression that I was speaking with Lady Margaery of House Tyrell, not Baratheon."
She can see the red seal of the High Septon from where she sits, already broken, as if that has any impact on the words within. Wordlessly, she stretches her hand out, and the King walked forward to place it between her fingers. She knows that even though he can't see below the milky surface of the oiled and salted water, he has a good view of her shoulders and upper back—nothing more than my gowns already reveal to the Court, she tells herself. Still, she knows that its one of the falser parallels she's drawn in her life. He's a mere step away from sliding his hand into the water to cup her breast or slip between her thighs—she'd seen in his hooded eyes that he knows it too, when he'd stepped close enough to see the water, not just her head and shoulders over the backside of the tub.
The High Septon's words sprawl elegantly across the width of the paper, citing the will of the Gods and the purpose of marriage before affirming that, as the marriage was unlikely to have been consummated, that she was no longer considered married to Tommen of House Lannister, pretender to the throne of the Six Kingdoms of Westeros. "You seem to have been able to convince the High Septon of a great many things, Your Grace," she remarks lightly, arching a brow as she re-folds the parchment.
"You know as much as I do that the Faith is as much a political institution as the Iron Throne itself," he says, taking the proffered bull again.
"As is House Targaryen." Margaery sets her chin on her forearm and frowns at the ground.
The King tilts his head. "You fear them, still?"
"Of course. She has three dragons and has been shouting to all who will listen that she will rain fire and blood on the family that has usurped hers," she reminds him, rolling her eyes while reciting the Targaryen's words.
"You may find that she does not respect the sanctuary of the Old Gods as I do."
Margaery grins at him. "Yes, but to set the godswood ablaze with dragonfire would be to raze the whole Keep to the ground. I'll not give her the satisfaction of taking Highgarden along with me."
The King looks at her as though he's truly seeing her for the first time, and a smirk slowly sneaks across his lips. "You're much to smart for a place like this, you know," he tells her. They regard each other for a long moment, until he gestures at the tub with his chin. "I meant what I said," he says in a voice that seems to come from somewhere much deeper inside his chest. "It would be my pleasure to top off your hot water, Lady Margaery."
Her throat is already dry from the jerk of his chin a second earlier, but his voice sets her thighs twitching. Thinking back to the last time she'd wanted a man so viscerally is a bit embarrassing, or sad, or both (because Highgarden seemed so long ago and Aidyn's thighs hadn't been nearly as thick, nor his beard so impressive), so Margaery pushes it to the back of her mind and forces herself to go through the simple motion of nodding her head.
His smirk loses a bit of its sharpness, softens around the edges, and he turns to cross to where the fire has been crackling happily along. Margaery waits until the King has given her his back before she twists back around and sinks down to her neck in the water. His shoulders shift delightfully under his shirt when he dips a pail into the steaming water and pulls it back out, water slapping at the sides of the cauldron. He walks back to the foot of the tub and slowly pours the hot water in, and Margaery doesn't say anything when she sees his eyes rest on her knees, where they rise up out of the milky water. A midday breeze blows through from off the Rush, tugging red and orange leaves from their branches and toying with them before letting them drop to the ground, and she silently watches one of them, a big red thing, sails down to land on the water.
He repeats the process twice more, until the pail clangs against the bottom of the cauldron. "Warm enough, Lady Margaery?" the King asks, bright blue eyes falling to where her fingers twirl the stem of the red leaf.
"Yes, Your Grace," she says, peering up at him as he circles around the tub. "Quite toasty at last."
His eyebrows twitch towards each other, and he pulls his mouth to the side. "You may call me Robb, if you'd like," he tells her, tilting his head like she'd seen Grey Wind do from time to time.
She leans her head back against the tub and holds out the leaf for him. "Then, yes, I am quite toasty, Robb." He tugs the leaf from her fingertips, a slight smile tucked in the corner of his mouth.
"Then I have done my lordly duty and will leave you in peace," he says, catching her hand and bringing the back of it to his lips. They're warm and smooth against her skin, his whiskers brushing her knuckles. She can only flash a dimple at him from low in the water. "You may consider me a friend, Lady Margaery. I will write to the Targaryens on your behalf, or bring you paper and a quill if you'd prefer to do it yourself."
"Well, as you can see, I'm quite occupied." With her hands, she creates soft whirls in the water, watches her hair swirl with them. She cuts her eyes sideways at him and continues in a lilting voice: "So I suppose that I will have to see how good of a friend you are to me, Robb."
Once again, his bemused expression speaks of surprised impression. His eyes turn stormy and he opens his mouth—but Grey Wind howls at the corner of the godswood and he looks away. The moment is broken. She sighs and leans her head against the edge of the tub, closes her eyes. "He's quite cooped up, you know. I'm sure he would enjoy a run in the Kingswood."
Robb hums in agreement and whistles. The sound of Grey Wind's paws against the ground and the vibrations they send through the walls of the tub overwhelm everything else such that Margaery does not even hear Robb step closer, brace his hand against the edge of the tub. Then his lips brush against her cheek, so close to the corner of her mouth and she can't help being alarmed now. She gasps, feels his whiskers against the line of her jaw and the slide of his sword-calloused fingers down the length of her neck. "Until later, Lady Margaery," he murmurs, his accent thicker in those four words than in their entire conversation, and then he's gone.
Only then does she open her eyes and look back over her shoulder. He looks small next to Grey Wind, but knowing how large the beast is, that doesn't say much. That the linen of his tunic billows with the breeze also means nothing, because she already knows what his back looks like with soaking wet fabric clinging to it. "You may call me Margaery, just Margaery," she shouts.
He turns and walks backwards. She can't see his features now, but she can hear the jape when he calls back: "Until later, then, Just Margaery."
She makes sure he's left and that it's just her and the trees and the sound of the Rush before she slips her hand between her thighs and lets her mind wander over the rumble of his voice and the slow blink of his eyes and stretch of his breeches across his thighs...
The terse letter from Daenerys is not what Robb had expected, particularly since he'd written extensively of Sansa's regard for Margaery, of the Tyrell's pledge to bend the knee to the Targaryens (once again), of Margaery's desire to merely leave the Red Keep with her skin un-charred.
He feels his mother's eyes on him as he paces in front of the fire, turning the parchment over and over in his fingers while he thinks. Alys babbles in Catelyn's lap, grabbing at the odds and ends strewn about the table. Robb normally takes joy in his happy babe at any moment, eager to bounce her on his hip and let her tug on his hair, but at the moment, her coos fade into the background while he watches the flames dance in the grate.
"Dark wings, dark words," Catelyn muses, and Robb nods distractedly. "She may as well join the Silent Sisters. That is, unless you have another plan."
His mother has always been able to see through his thoughts, even before they are completely formed. Otherwise I might have had a very different marriage, he muses. Years later, Robb's finally able to have a king's gratitude for his mother's quick intervention at the Crag, but now and again, the reckless boy that lingers inside of him thinks of Jeyne and wonders, what if?
The words set her teeth on edge, and if she had not been raised at Olenna Redwyne's knee, she would have let herself shred the parchment and scatter the pieces among the leaves on the ground. Never marry again – confined to Highgarden – no contact with charity of any kind – correspondence limited to family members alone – she stops reading there, not deigning to give the rest of the Dragon Queen's words her attention.
She stares out across the Rush for several moments, absently fisting Grey Wind's fur when he bumps her shoulder with his head as he is wont to do when she loses herself in the darker places of her mind. When Robb touches her elbow and puts forward his own proposal, Margaery exhales and pushes away her annoyance that had been threatening to turn into anger.
For it is an actual proposal, and one that is not entirely unexpected. Kings need Queens, especially Kings that have but a single daughter, brought into the world at the cost of her mother's life. Beyond the bread basket that an alliance with the Reach would bring, Margaery is not so cold that she does not give weight to the fire that burns in Robb's eyes whenever he lays them on her. He tells her that the smallfolk already write songs about the queen that's kept her crown while three kings drop like flies, and that she may as well marry a king in the end, or it would be a very sad song indeed. She would be the Queen of Winter, he continues, and by the grace of the gods she may live beyond him to see her own son crowned King of Winter.
"And you?" she queries, all but able to taste the thought of mothering a line of kings, a thought that had strayed to the back of her mind after she'd wed young Tommen. "What would you gain from this fortuitous union?"
"We'll have to pass through the Twins on our way back North, and I don't need Stannis' Red Woman to tell me what Lord Frey will want in return." Robb's mouth turns down into a deep frown and Margaery cocks a brow.
"One daughter lost in the birthing bed isn't enough for him?"
"Not when Alys had the…misfortune, in his eyes, to be born a princess, and not a half-Frey prince," he says, practically spitting the words out before he shakes his head. "The larger problem is that it would set a dangerous precedent for a man like Lord Frey. Elmar Frey and Arya are to marry when they come of age, one of his sons is already my squire, and two more Frey boys are fostering at Winterfell. To slide another daughter between my sheets on top of it all…"
Margaery regards his profile, letting his strategy turn over in her mind. It has been a while since she's been impressed with a man's mind. The closest in memory had been Renly – had she'd had more time with him, she'd have turned him into another Daeron the Good.
"And unlike your other husbands, I intend on bedding you. Thoroughly." He says it like a jape, but Margaery hears the conviction lacing his words, and her stomach clenches at it.
For half a moment, she hesitates, unimpressed with the idea of the everlasting coldness and the simplicity of life in the North, but then she thinks about Robb taking counsel from Catelyn Stark and Maege Mormont during the war, about Asha Greyjoy pursuing a queenship with nary a thought to her sex, and about the tales that had filtered south of a woman named Val and called the Wildling Princess. So she smiles at Robb and tells him simply, "I accept."
She wouldn't say that his grin is triumphant, but she would certainly say that it is a grin of a man who has known victory in his life. He tugs her close and presses his mouth to hers and oh being kissed by a man is like coming home. She'd been so careful while in King's Landing (not trusting Varys or Cersei nearly enough to allow herself stolen kisses and touches from the stableboys and pages like she'd done at Highgarden) and for the two seconds between realizing that he was going to kiss her and him actually kissing her, she has the panicked thought that maybe she's forgotten how to do this in the first place.
But no: it's muscle memory and Robb is a more than adequate kisser, with firm lips, a bold tongue, and gentle teeth. She sighs and he chuckles through his nose when she lets herself sink into his body and wrap her arms around his slim waist. Once more, he's forsaken finery for a simple shirt and quilted vest, despite the cool weather, and she can feel the cords of his back beneath her palms.
He asks if she wants to marry in the sept, to return to her family and have a dress and maiden cloak made, but she shakes her head. The Old Gods have been good company over her time in the woods, and a heart tree is witness enough for the wedding of a man who claims that the blood of the First Men runs in his veins. She takes his hand and begins to lead him towards the heart tree in the center of the godswood.
"I came into this place a queen, and I'll leave a queen," Margaery informs him calmly, cutting off his incredulous laugh.
They say their vows in front of the heart tree, Robb guiding her through them as she's only ever attended weddings of the Faith. It's a ridiculously simple ceremony, in Margaery's mind, but the intimacy of it is what keeps her from laughing in the end. In a sense, it is what a marriage is meant to be: two people navigating a special portion of their world to which only they belong. His men stop to stare when he escorts her out of the main gate of the godswood and into the courtyard; Despite the clean, plain dress and boots that had arrived with her bath, she's carrying herself like a queen again and she's sure it shows. Robb announces that she is Margaery, Queen in the North, and they part before her with bent heads. She matches stride with her husband, feels Grey Wind's breath on the back of her neck, passes through the familiar landscape of the Red Keep until they reach the Tower of the Hand.
He stops her once in the stairwell to press her against the wall and kiss her until she goes lightheaded and fists her fingers in his hair to keep from slumping against him again. She feels her bodice shift and then his hand is inside it, palming and lifting a breast until her nipple peaks and she's taking shuddering breaths against his mouth.
"Gods, I can't wait to bed you properly," he murmurs, pulling back and tugging one side of her bodice open so that he can peer inside. Whatever he sees has him sighing her name and nosing her chin to the side so that he can lay the flat of his tongue on the pulse in her neck. He's the first man to want to fuck her whom she doesn't have to push away and lecture on the importance of a lady's maidenhead. No, Robb is her husband, not some pretty boy she wants to expend some energy on, and she's allowed to want him between her thighs.
"Lady Catelyn? Your daughter?" she asks, and sighs when he shifts his hips against hers.
"With the Mormonts. She wanted to give us privacy – even though I told her I didn't know if you'd say yes at all." He takes her hand again and they begin their ascent again.
Margaery smiles, even though Robb cannot see it. "Well, your mother has known me for longer, as between the two of you."
Most of her father's things still litter the chambers, but Robb seems to have carefully moved books into stacks, sitabouts into small piles. The bedroom has the most change, with most of the heavy, ornate quilts folded on a table and replaced with simple, light-weight blankets. "I'm the King of Winter," Robb says with a rakish grin. "Why would I need heavy blankets when I sleep naked in snow banks on a bed of pine needles with a crown of icicles on my head?" He's clasping her waist by the end of his spiel, growling the words against the curve of her jaw.
"How ever shall I adapt?" she laughs, high and breathy when his hands slide up to untie the laces of her gown.
"Practice, practice, and more practice." He urges her fingers to the neckline of his vest, and for a heady moment they silently pull laces through eyeholes to the tune of the active fire in the hearth. The vest slides off his shoulders and to the floor, and then he reaches behind his head to pull the undershirt off as well.
He's beyond well-formed, with a body sculpted by war. It's marked by it too, the scars littering his torso and arms shimmering white in the firelight. Crisp auburn curls spread outward from the center of his chest and down towards his navel, and Margaery is struck with a sudden urge to run her fingers through it. She catches him watching her stare at him, and she chooses in that moment to be confident, not combative or coy. So she steps into his space and tilts her face up to his, traces a finger from his sternum to his navel. His stomach flexes under the light touch and he hisses her name like a prayer and a curse rolled into one before slanting his mouth over hers.
She distantly feels his hands slide under the shoulders of her dress and push it off, but it catches in the crooks of her elbows because she's decided to reach forward and cup him through his breeches. He surprises her by rocking his hips forward instead of back, slipping one hand down to cover hers and show her a rhythm he likes while he cups the back of her head with his other hand and sucks a bloom on the side of her neck. The most delicious groan rises up out of him when she works her hand lower and presses upwards ever so gently.
He finally pulls away from her touch and tugs her dress to the ground, leaving her completely naked in front of him, save for her stockings and boots. She laughs at the ridiculousness of it, tilting her head back at the sight of the clunky brown things encasing her feet, but Robb runs a finger between her breasts and over her belly, mimicking her earlier movement. "Now I see how you kept one king after another," he says, and takes her hand, guides her to sit on the edge of the bed, and kneels at her feet.
After he pulls off her boots and slides her stockings down and away, Margaery expects him to climb onto the bed with her, but he surprises her by gripping her knees and easing them apart. "None of your paramours have toed the line like this?" he asks, peering up at her through dark lashes, and she shakes her head, not even truly knowing what he is asking about. "Jon calls it 'the Lord's Kiss.'"
Margaery's eyes roll backwards and her body does too, collapsing onto the blankets covering the mattress. It's wet and warm and strange but so much nicer than fingers, and he uses her gasps and moans to guide his lips and tongue to where she enjoys them most. She's a live wire, trembling and writhing against him and she barely hears him snicker against her skin before he grips her hips in his hands to hold her still. Her neck and back arch when she comes, silent until the end when her body loosens enough to let a satisfied moan slip through her vocal cords.
She distantly hears fabric rustling, barely discernable since it happens at about the same time that a log in the fireplace pops and crumbles and hisses as it falls apart. Through slitted eyes, she watches him kick their clothing into a corner and then approach the bed, his strides long and smooth and nigh on predatory once his eyes fall back on her naked form. "How long have you been able to get inside Grey Wind's head?" she asks before the thought is truly formed in her head. Her orgasm has made her wonderfully loose, and her tongue as well it seems.
He pauses at her knees and rests his fingertips on her skin there. "How do you know that I can?" he finally retorts, and reaches down to snag her ankles and swivel her body on the bed.
"Grey Wind and I are very well acquainted now," Margaery tells him, stretching her arms up to wrap around his shoulders and pull him down onto her when he climbs onto the bed. "Sometimes, though, I know it's not him in there."
Robb thinks for a moment, propped up on one elbow. He traces the pad of a finger across the two wings of her clavicles, watches the soft touch bring out goosebumps across her skin and cause her nipples to stiffen once more. "I don't know how or when it started," he finally murmurs, "but I am him, and he is me."
His face is guarded and eyebrows drawn down together, so Margaery leans up and presses her mouth to his. "I find it rather exciting," she breathes, and he grins ferally, bearing her back into the mattress with a growl.
He's deliciously heavy, stretched out across her, and with skin warm to the touch, and she accepts his kisses languidly. His hands seem to be everywhere, sliding down her arms, cupping her breasts, tracing the curve of her waist and circling her navel. She can feel the length of his cock pressed into the crease of her hip and she wants. His name comes out of her mouth much more plaintively than she would have allowed under any other circumstance, but he rewards her by swirling his tongue around each of her nipples in turn before pulling away and sitting back on his heels.
"C'mere, sweetling," he mutters, desire and anticipation thickening his accent and sending a shiver down spine. Her legs splay open when he hauls her hips down the bed, and she stares openly when he takes his cock in one hand and uses the other to remind himself of the contours of her slick flesh. He shifts forward, and then in one swift motion slides himself home. It barely hurts, only the slightest pinch, really, and it's uncomfortable more than anything, how full and sharp it feels. She exhales, loosens her grip on the bedsheets below them, and Robb smoothes a palm up her thigh. He's silhouetted against the fire, a dark figure with a bronze halo lewdly insinuated between her legs and the sight of it makes her squeeze her thighs against his hips. He falls forward with a curse, bracketing her head with his forearms, and begins to move against her desperately.
"It's been too long since—it'll be quick, I promise." She aches already, so she closes her eyes and focuses on the warmth of his skin against hers and the rambling nothings he murmurs against her hair. He's right: he soon begins to quiver under her hands, and his hips start to stutter. Suddenly he sits back up, and his hands catch her under her knees, push them up against her torso.
This is different—the comforting weight of his body over hers is gone but the tip of his cock is stroking against something inside of her and it feels good. Margaery moans, loud and long, and the sound of it is what does Robb in, and he shouts as he comes.
She hisses when she brings her legs together, after he's collapsed onto the bed beside her with an arm thrown over his eyes. It'll fade, she tells herself, and refuses to dwell on it any longer. "And here I thought you might take me like a wolf," she says lightly, rolling onto her side and leaning her head on the heel of her hand.
He snorts. "Next time."
"Whatever it is that you did before you came—that's what I want to do next time," she corrects, and Robb lifts his arm from his eyes to stare at her as though she were some forest nymph that had stepped into the world of man. "In any case, if I'm to give you a litter of princes and princesses, we'll have more than ample opportunities to 'practice, practice, practice.'"
He cups the back of her head and pulls her face down to his, and she mumbles your words, not mine against his smiling lips. She closes her eyes and in a flash she can see it all: her life as Queen Margaery, the Rose in Winter, a true friend for Sansa, and Arya as well, now, mother to a pack of children that cling to Grey Wind's fur, the softness around Robb's edges, the cutting words when a sword won't do. It will be a life that she wouldn't have been able to live anywhere else, or with anyone else.
[And yes, before they leave his bedchamber for luncheon the next day, they try it both ways.]