Winterfell is grey and dull and nothing like the Capitol. All the better, she thinks as Ser Corwen helps her slide from her mare. The entire yard kneels to the King and he lumbers off his warhorse to Lord Stark, bidding him to rise. They embrace as old friends and her father kisses Lady Stark like he would a sister. The children are lined up beside their parents, all pretty Tully dolls with blue eyes and fire-kissed hair. All but one. The little Stark girl hisses out 'Where's the Imp?', meeting Serah's eye bravely when she casts a gaze to her.
A firebrand then, Serah hides a smirk as her mother approaches. We'll get along splendidly. The eldest girl gazes at Joffrey, looking half in love with him already. She'll do well for him. No doubt she'll let him play the dashing prince and fawn over him as he likes. She holds back a shiver. Gods help her when he tires of the game and wants to throw away his broken doll.
Her mother greets the Starks with icy courtesy and frowns when Robert calls for Lord Stark to take him to the crypts. "We've been riding for a month my love," Cersei tries tiredly. "Surely the dead can wait."
With a last look to the stone-faced Queen, Lord Stark departs the yard after his King. Lady Stark greets them to fill the awkward silence, though the Queen is all cold smiles and icy stares as she patiently allows Lady Stark to introduce her children. The Lady of Winterfell eyes Serah with clear blue eyes and does not move her gaze even as her mother names her younger siblings.
It is no secret that the King wants to bind his House with the Starks, through marriage and blood, and she may be the key to that. He would leave me here in this frozen wasteland if it made him true brothers with Ned Stark. Serah seethes in her thoughts, not wanting to set her mother off. The Queen has already raged and shouted herself hoarse once she realized her husband's plot.
Lady Stark conducts them to their rooms herself, ever the attentive hostess. Her mother's face seems like to crack from the strain of her smile as her eyes glitter like cold emeralds.
Left to her own devices in her room, Serah desires nothing more than to fall onto the fur covered bed and sleep for days. Her thighs ache from their month in the saddle and she knows the feast tonight will only exacerbate it.
Duty, however, takes precedence over her own desires. She and her handmaid, a young woman from the Stormlands named Caire, quickly rifle through the contents of her chests, a trousseau fit for a Queen. A gown of deep purple silk, slashed with black and Myrish lace catches her eye, and she plucks it from the confines. Mother will be cross, her lips tilt wryly as she brushes as hand along the black detail.
Cersei prefers her children to dress in Lannister colours, as she herself is wont to do. All three of her siblings are, more often than not, swathed in crimson and gold, while she dresses like a Baratheon Stag. She has her three little lions, yet cannot allow father to have his one Baratheon Stag. Though her Septa would call her wicked, Serah has always delighted in the way her parents fight for her attention.
Serah places her palm along the wall of the room and closes her eyes as the heat warms her chilled skin. At least I shan't freeze if I'm doomed to be left here. A bath is called, and as Caire lays the dress over the bed, Serah scrubs away the dirt and sweat and dust, with little time for anything else.
She is in her shift by the fire drying her dark curls when her mother, along with an army of maids, flounces in. Dressed in Lannister crimson and gold with shoulders bared, and her hair braided and twisted upon her head in a manner Serah has likened to a bird's nest, crowned with twining antlers and emeralds.
She approaches the fire, waves Caire away, and runs a brush through her daughter's damp curls. "Your father is set on leaving you here to freeze in the North," she mutters. "I should wish for nothing more than for you to come home with us."
Despite herself, Serah feels her heart warm at her mother's words. "I shall pray that it is so, mother." Her mother smiles approvingly at her piety.
With her hair dry, Caire and one of her mother's maids dress her in the gown. Cersei's lips twitch at the sight of it, though she says nothing. As they begin to braid Serah's hair in her own personal style, the Queen holds up a hand. Another of her handmaids produces a silken bundle from the folds of her skirts and places it on Cersei's upturned palm.
"A gift, little doe," she whispers and approaches her daughter. "From your grandfather. To make up for missing your nameday," she unwraps the silk and delights in the awe that spreads over Serah's face.
The crown that sits in her mother's grasp is nearly identical to her own, save for the metal and jewel, a glittering amethyst set amongst silver, twining antlers. For the first time since her flowering, Serah's hair is braided and stacked upon her head, the crown nestled within the braided curls. Cersei brushes one braid over her daughter's shoulder as they look into the polished silver looking glass.
"Such a beauty," Serah smiles at her mother's praise and grips her mother's hand tightly. Cersei draws back to the bed and settles on it as Serah's handmaid finishes preparing her for the night.
Her pretty little stag. Despite Serah's unfortunate parentage, Cersei feels love swell within her as she watches her daughter gaze into the looking glass. While she loves her eldest, she cannot allow Robert to send her away, the only protection she has if the truth of her three youngest children ever came out.
Robert shall not take her from me. She smiles indulgently as Serah twirls with girlish vanity. I'll burn him in his bed before I let that happen.
Her father bellows for the entire hall to hear of how beautiful his eldest is. He twirls her, eyes warm beneath his brow, and when he presents her to Robb Stark, the twinkle in his eyes makes her stomach plummet through the floor.
He still plans to to leave me here in the frozen wastes of the North. Her mother's lips tighten until they are almost invisible, though she says nothing and allows Ned Stark to take her arm.
When Serah meets Robb Stark's eyes, her resolve to be an absolute terror to him weakens. So earnest and polite, he treats her as he would a doll made of the finest porcelain. Despite herself, she is unable to treat him coldly as he acts like no other man she has ever met. The few lords her father let near her never lasted longer than a few days at the most as they all treat her as an ornament for their arm.
So, she charms and laughs and delights in Robb Stark's company, along with the Kraken in Wolf's clothing, Theon Greyjoy. He is the most delicious rogue and she easily counters his many attempts to flirt. Robb scarcely tries to use her given name and she tires of her title within minutes before ordering him to call her 'Serah'.
When the music begins to play, she dances and spins among the Northmen, easily keeping pace with the fast, wild dances of the North. As she leaves Robb's grip to go to her uncle's, he picks her up and spins her round and round until the world is a blur around them.
"You seem in much better spirits than when I last saw you," Jaime Lannister comments dryly. His niece's blue-green eyes flash at him demurely and he laughs loudly. "You, my little duck, will be the death of Robb Stark if this betrothal goes through."
She flashes him a cheeky smile before she catches her mother's eye across the room. The Queen's cold emerald gaze softens ever so slightly at the sight of her daughter and brother dancing together. For the briefest of moments, she can almost see blonde curls in place of black, though it vanishes the moment she hears Robert's laugh. His hand is down a serving wench's bodice, cheeks flushed with wine beneath his beard, and she feels her stomach turn with rage.
A look to her brother, and her daughter is escorted to the high table. Jaime bows to them before he flits off to bother Ned Stark. "My lady mother," Serah curtsies, every inch the proper princess. "Lady Stark."
Lady Catelyn treats her with polite, if not cold, courtesies, and attempts to draw her mother into conversation as the King laughs lustily over the din. Her mother soon tires of Lady Catelyn, calls little Sansa over, who is all smiles and polished courtesies until the Queen asks the one damning question.
"And, have you bled yet?"
Serah winces for the girl, who suddenly eyes own mother with panic in her lovely blue gaze. Queen Cersei easily makes the girl smile again, it is all the princess can do to not scream at the top of her lungs. Serah is a maid, flowered and true, and knows that if Lady Sansa does not become a woman soon, it will be her marriage they announce by the end of their stay.
Would be that I could marry Willas, she remains with her mother, and they glare mutinously at the King as he fondles the wench on his thighs. I could live at Highgarden and be with Margaery and Loras and Garlen. The current Lord of Highgarden is an oaf to be sure, but he is a goodhearted bumbling fool. And she adores his mother, the Lady Olenna Tyrell. I shan't mind being around the Queen of Thorns, I should think. The matriarch of the Tyrells easily took the young princess under her wing the first time she traveled to Highgarden with Renly and Loras.
The night ends for her when she glimpses Tommen rubbing his eyes with pudgy fists. A kiss to her mother, a bow to both her and Lady Catelyn, and she sweeps from the hall, the little cub on her hip, his nursemaid trailing behind her. They meet another lion in the halls and she laughs in delight when mismatched eyes flash towards her.
Her little uncle smiles at her, wine on his breath when she kneels to receive his greeting. His kiss touches her forehead, then her cheeks before he leans back and grasps her slender fingers.
"More beautiful every day!" He cheers, eyes twinkling.
"You saw me this morning," she points out. Before you went to whore on both wine and flesh. She says nothing of what is on her mind though, and hugs him tightly. Tommen stirs against her shoulder and sleepily greets Tyrion, who keeps his greetings short when Tommen yawns wider than the last.
Serah has half a mind to keep Tommen with her, it wouldn't be the first time he has crawled into her bed in the dead of night, though refrains from doing so. Mother would be furious - she'd claim people would whisper that she'd given birth to a mewling kitten, not a Lion of the Rock. The though makes her scowl, though she smooths her brow when Tommen's emerald eyes flutter shut. Even though Tommen is a stag.
Ser Corwen melts from the shadows when she leaves Tommen's quarters, tall and proud.
"Did you not enjoy the feast, Ser?" She waltzes to him and takes his arm in her own. Ser Corwen has no stomach for feasts, she knows, yet she cannot resist needling him. Her sworn shield is grim and determined, though has a dry humor that makes her laugh.
"I did not enjoy much, for sure." His slate-grey eyes twinkle in the torchlight. "Your lord father seems to have enjoyed himself into a stupor." His tone is cautious, guarded, as everyone knows the walls have ears... even here. "In any case, the King craves your attention in the Great Hall."
Serah frowns in response, but merely nods and allows Ser Corwen to return her to the hall. Her father awaits her and she catches sight of Sansa to his left, a harp clutched in her slender fingers. She looks as though she will burst from happiness. Serah smiles and curtsies to her father, who bellows for her to sing them a song.
"I am much obliged, my lord father," she draws close to Lady Sansa, face as red as her hair, and whispers the name of the song in her ear. The girl nods and listens raptly to her instructions, eyes dream-like and smile vapid. She believes life a song - that she is a maid in one of them. The urge to refuse, to insult lady Sansa is almost overwhelming, but Serah merely leads the girl to the center of the hall, where a spot has been cleared, a stool placed.
She waits for Lady Sansa to seat herself as the hall begins to quiet. One by one, all fall silent til the room seems as quiet as the crypts beneath the keep, all to hear their princess sing a song. At a nod from Serah, Sansa begins to strum, the notes light and haunting in the still air.
"I'll tell you a tale of the bottomless blue, and it's hey to the starboard, heave-ho." Soft and mysterious, her voice fills the hall as she sings. The song, a tone-downed sea shanty from the Stormlands, is cool and soothing compared to the wild tunes of the North. "Brave sailor beware, for a big one's a'brewin', in mysterious fathoms below."
The King watches, burly chest thrust out with pride, as his eldest daughter and one true stag serenades them. "I'll sing you a song of the king of the sea, and it's hey to the starboard, heave-ho." Emboldened, she begins to weave between the enthralled men, eyes the color of the turbulent sea during a storm. "The ruler of all of the ocean is he, in mysterious fathoms below."
Cersei stares at Robb Stark, who watches her daughter, his eyes wide with a new interest. Lips pursed, she forces her glare away from the boy to burn holes into her husband, keeping an eye on her daughter.
"I'll tell you a tale of the bottomless blue, and it's hey to the starboard, heave-ho." Serah does a final spin and returns to Lady Sansa, who is smiling so wide her face is like to split in half. "Look out, lad, a mermaid be waiting for you, in mysterious fathoms below. Mysterious fathoms below."
The princess lowers her black head, crown glints in the torchlight in a graceful curtsy, as applause erupts from the men, shattering the sudden stillness. Serah hides her scowl as men clamour for another song from her. She nearly runs from the center of the hall, catching herself enough to curtsy to the clapping throngs, and all but runs to her mother's side.
She spends the rest of the night in her Uncle Jaime's arms, dancing her slippers to shreds as he spins and dips her, keeping her to himself under her mother's watchful gaze.
The next morn, she breaks her fast in Lady Stark's solar. Sansa and Arya are in attendance, and Serah yawns politely behind her hand when the eldest of the girls peppers her with questions of King's Landing.
"Is it true the feast last for days?" Little Sansa simpers, starred eyes and dreamy smiles. She is a child. A simpering, spoiled child who needs a good dose of reality. For a mad moment, Serah itches to smack the expression from her pretty, doll-like face.
"Mayhaps you will see, little dove," Serah sips her sweetmilk and easily draws Arya into conversation. They speak of horses and archery - and the unfairness of their sex that prohibits them from learning how to fight as a boy might.
When she has had her fun scandalising both Lady Sansa and Lady Catelyn, she begs leave. The Lady of Winterfell is too gracious a host to refuse a princess, and easily grants the request. Ser Corwen awaits her in the hall and hands her the winter cloak when she reaches. The weight is both a comfort, and a prison in one.
"The Seven help my father if he leaves me here," she grumbles, making the seven-pointed star with her hands as an afterthought. Ser Corwen snorts at her sudden fit of piety, though says nothing on the subject.
The yard is bustling when she enters it, weak sunlight escaping from the heavy blanket of grey clouds that seems never ending. She strides over the cold dirt, Corwen a shadow behind her, and barely reacts when men, common and noble alike, stop and bow to her. She hears the mutters, of the cold Southron Princess not fit for their little lordling, and it makes her want to laugh.
If only their King could hear them. Robert would bellow for his warhammer if he though even one person was claiming his eldest, his jewel, was not perfect for young Robb Stark. A pity their comments would only spur his mad desire to see me wedded and bedded to the Stark boy.
She has no illusions; her father sees her as Lyanna, with Robb starring as himself. Or the other way around, she thinks peevishly. No matter which way, he sees Lyanna and himself where I and Robb Stark stand.
The King walks with Lord Stark, in deep conversation that she is loathe to interrupt. Her father looks happier, more like the man he once was, than the miserable old man he's become. He brightens even more when he sees her stride to them and gladly accepts her kiss on his ruddy cheek.
"Father," she drops a curtsy to both him and Lord Stark, who smiles faintly at her. "I wish you both the best of luck on your hunt. If only I could accompany you."
Robert howls with laughter while Ned smiles patiently. She inwardly rolls her eyes, though says nothing. She has never been on a hunt with her father, though has gone with Renly and Loras and a host of Tyrells many a time. She hands her father his gloves when he mounts his warhorse, wishes him luck once more, and sees him off. Ser Corwen waits, still as a shadow, as they watch the men ride out of the gates towards the Wolfswood.
"So," Corwen breaks the silence suddenly. "What shall we do while the men hunt boars?" He slants a smirk her way. "Shall we join your sister and the Stark girls in their knitting?"
The innocently delivered query earns him a whack on the shoulder by his irate princess.
Later, she is in her mother's solar, reading from a book as Caire strums the harp quietly, when a sound shatters the calm. A wolf's howl, chilling and mournful, fills the air and she shares a frightened look with Caire. They race to the window and throw back the shutters to see the yard in chaos.
She flies to the yard, the hem of her dress drips with mud by the time she reaches the crowd by the abandoned tower. When she breaks through the throng of people, a startled gasp escapes her lips at the sight of little Brandon Stark, legs twisted underneath him and pale as death, on the cold ground. Caire tugs the sleeve of her gown, to draw her away from the sight, but she ignores the pleas.
The boy's wolf pup is beside him, howling at the top of its lungs, and she falls to kneel beside the boy in a rustle of silk and furs. Her fingers tremble as she reaches for him, only for a strong, calloused hand to snatch her back.
"Shh, little duck," Jaime cradles her to his chest before he hands her off to her shield and takes the broken boy in his arms himself. He feels no guilt when he glances down at the boy, clearly at death's door.
Serah watches, numb to Ser Corwen and Caire's worry, the howls of the Stark's wolf pups echoing in her ears.
They stay for a month, the only concession the King will allow for his grieving old friend. Brandon Stark has yet to awaken, broken and all but dead to the world.
Dawn finds Serah on her knees, kneeling before the carved figure of the Mother. The small sept, built for Lady Catelyn by her husband, as a sign of the great love he bore his Southron wife, is empty but for her own whispered pleas. She knows the little of the Stark boy - Bran - but that he is an avid climber, one who has never taken a tumble in his young life.
Robb Stark is somber, moreso than usual, and he has taken to the Godswood while she lends her prayers to the sept. She is not optimistic of their marriage, if it indeed comes to pass. Myrcella and Tommen, the little lambs, have already lent their prayers to the Gods, and are tucked safely in bed, ready to leave the North for their home.
Her own trunks are packed, riding habit at the ready, and her horse is surely being groomed in the stables at this very moment. So I will not be betrothed to the little Stark lordling.
At least for now.
Of his five trueborn children, Lord Stark will bring but two - Arya and Sansa - with him to the South as he takes on the mantle of Hand. She has heard whispers that Brandon was to be the third, though the boy has yet to wake and is not likely to anytime soon.
A rustle of silk and satin catches her ear, and she turns from her prayers to see her mother entering the sept. She makes to rise, to curtsy as she's been taught, but the queen motions for her to stay put. She produces a padded cushion, a beeswax candle thick as her wrist, and kneels beside her daughter before the Mother.
"Have you said your goodbyes?" Cersei questions once her prayers have been said.
Serah nods mutely. Lady Stark has not left her son's side, and the princess was forced to awkwardly express her condolences and her farewells, as the Lady of Winterfell acted a nursemaid. Her own mother had been much too concerned with affairs of state to pander as a nurse to her children. Except Joff, of course. Mother's golden princeling.
"Good girl," Cersei smooths a hand across her eldest's brow, drinking in the features with relief. Serah is her image, but for her colouring and a tilt to her nose, a Lannister shrouded in Baratheon colours. The Queen impulsively presses a kiss to her daughter's brow, and Serah's eyes flutter shut at the affection. "I pray I will not lose you in the months to come, little doe."
Serah smiles and presses a kiss to her mother's cheek.
"As do I mother. As do I."
A/N: I've always had this weird plot idea of Cersei's first son - the one by Robert - having a twin who was a girl, and the girl survived while her twin did not. Not sure where this is going, but we'll see, though don't expect this to be updated too often.