He'd kept his arrival in the city quiet. No need to tip off the Small Council to his presence before absolutely necessary. Tywin Lannister had a bone to pick with his soon-to-be good daughter, and he knew he could find her in the chamber behind the throne room.
The match was less than desirable. Tywin would much rather had Jaime married to the daughter of one of his bannermen, or perhaps the Tyrell girl. Such as it was, the Vale was no small catch. They had flocks and some of the more tenable fields, along with rare precious gemstones in the mountains. The trade between East and West would be beneficial, and the Vale's standing army was robust enough to use as an ally if the need should arise.
On paper, this match was incredible. The details, however, gave Tywin Lannister pause. He contemplated them as he strode down the corridors to the throne room. His soft boots barely made a sound on the stone floors, and he ignored whomever he passed. A lion had no business with lesser beings, after all.
Especially not a damaged, orphaned falcon who had reportedly fucked the Viper and a Myrish prince.
Indeed, Tywin had no interest in inducting a whore like her into his family. Even with all the benefits of this marriage, including his son assuming his rightful place as Lord of the Westerlands, some things Tywin couldn't forgive.
The throne room was empty as he crossed slowly toward the looming throne. The Iron Throne was as imposing as he remembered, and something akin to pleasure raced through his blood at the thought of his grandson sitting upon it one day. As it stood now, he had a more pressing matter to attend and turned toward the door to the Small Council chambers.
"-ert wants to hold a tournament," a voice said as he pushed open the door. "In honor of my being named Hand."
"Robert always wants to hold a tourney. Unfortunately, the only tournament that will be the one to celebrate my wedding. There is no money for any others. And besides, if this pox in Flea Bottom gets any worse I don't want to spread it to all seven kingdoms."
Tywin cleared his throat to catch the attention of the room, eyeing each member in turn as their gazes turned to him. Oberyn Martell caught his gaze first, the man's fists clenching. He recognized Lord Varys, who greeted him with a saccharine smile, and Ned Stark, who nodded at him and muttered his greeting.
The woman standing next to Stark was young, and more beautiful than she had any right to be. Tywin had known her father, but saw little of him in the young woman's face. Her features were sharp but not severe, her eyes assessed the table of figures in front of her with the confidence of a seasoned academic. She had a woman's figure, but instead of pillowy softness at every curve there was toned muscle and calloused fingers. She was a fighter, and not especially vain. While she dressed well in silk and linen, her hair was simply braided down her back instead of ornately styled like Cersei's.
"Lord Tywin," she said, finally acknowledging him with a chilled stare, "we thought you were delayed in the hills."
"The flooding subsided enough for me and a few of my men to ride ahead. The rest of my vanguard is arriving in a week or so," he explained just as coldly. He kept his gaze on her predatory to see if she would squirm. He was intent on finding this girl's weakness.
To his surprise, she didn't back down into submission. "I look forward to meeting them, and I'm glad you've arrived when you did seeing as how the wedding is in a fortnight. I would've hated for you to miss it."
"I assure you, Lady Arryn, I had no intention of missing such an important event."
"Lord Tywin," Ned Stark said, his voice tight as a bowstring. "We were just about to dismiss for today. Do you have any business with the Small Council in particular?"
Tywin turned his glare on the Northman. In his wools and boiled leather, it was a wonder the man wasn't a puddle on the floor. That was how Tywin would prefer the brutish men of the North.
"I was hoping to speak to Lady Arryn about her upcoming nuptials," he sniffed proudly, "privately."
"I think we are done for the day, anyway, Ned." The girl put her hand on Stark's upper arm and the man nodded his untrimmed hair.
"Dismissed, then," he waved a hand at the council and the scraping of wooden chairs on stone filled the room, each man filing out of the room. Only Ned Stark and Oberyn Martell lingered, the Viper taking a few languid strides toward Tywin.
"It is a pleasure to see you again, Lord Tywin," he said, every word laced with venom. "I hope we can have a chance to catch up while you're in the city."
Tywin laughed inwardly, knowing that Martell's idea of 'catching up' probably meant catching Lannister necks with his spear, but Tywin had no reason to fear the man. He was a lion, after all.
"Of course, Lord Oberyn."
"Prince Oberyn," the man's dark eyes lit with flames of anger, and Tywin feigned humility as he apologized as insincerely as possible.
The Viper's lip curled and he all but slammed into Tywin's shoulder on his way out. The old lion chuckled to himself and noticed the girl and Ned Stark engaged in a hushed conversation. She noticed Tywin staring at her and dismissed Stark, insisting that she would be fine.
Stark left with only a nod to Tywin, who nodded politely in turn. The door shut behind Stark, and the girl motioned for him to sit as she did the same.
"I suppose you're wondering why I arrived at a Small Council meeting with no introduction," he started, but before he could finish his thought she interrupted him.
"On the contrary, I was half-expecting you to do something like that. My only question is of your motives for doing so."
Her blue gaze was unflinching, and it irritated Tywin. Didn't this young bint know who he was? What he could do to her and her entire stupid realm if he so desired?
He remained calm. "I came to see if you were as imposing as everyone claims you are."
She smirked, actually had the nerve to smirk at him. "And?"
He cleared his throat, "Imposing wouldn't be the word I would use. But you are set to marry my son in a fortnight, perhaps I should be thanking you."
"For getting my son to decide he wants to marry you."
"High praise from Lord Tywin Lannister."
"Careful, girl. I know of your past. You should be honored that my son gave you the time of day."
Her hard exterior flickered for half a moment, but she responded with, "I am honored that he does. But if you'll remember My Lord, it was Jaime who killed my attacker. He knows what happened that night better than you ever will."
He leaned back in his chair, tenting his fingers in front of him and openly glaring at her. They both let the silence between them remain undisturbed, each one sizing the other up as they had been since he entered the chamber. He couldn't deny that he owed this girl a debt, convincing his son to leave the Kingsguard and marry, but he would be damned if he would admit it aloud.
"If you'll excuse me, Lord Tywin, I have some wedding matters to attend to."
With composure, she rose and left without waiting for his response. As she passed his chair, he caught a scent of jasmine and honey - the same scents his Joanna had favored. Joanna had been unafraid of him as well, willing to throw his taciturn comments back at him. Just as he owed this girl a debt, he couldn't deny that she reminded him of his dearly departed wife.
Perhaps that was why he wanted her for himself as well.
She felt like she was going to heave. Nothing short of a miracle let her walk out of the Small Council chambers without falling or tripping. She paused on her way back to her chambers where her dressmaker was waiting for a final fitting of her wedding gown.
Of course she had known he would pull something like that to rattle her. In all their correspondence she had noticed that he was only making this match to get his son back, and even then it was laced with reluctance. She'd never met Tywin Lannister until that day, and she knew in her gut that he would try to test her, try to get her to break to see how easily he could control her like he controlled everyone else.
To her credit, she thought she did rather well. His cold green eyes had held no warmth or welcome, so she had mirrored him even though he made her skin crawl. He walked like a lion on the hunt, all long limbs and strong body. Ready to pounce at a moment's notice.
Ned had asked her if she wanted him to stay, but she had insisted she would be fine. Her old friend had noticed her ever so brief look of panic upon the Lord's entrance into the chamber, but she'd managed to hide it before her future good-father noticed her. A small part of her wished she'd taken Ned up on his offer, but she needed to show Tywin that she wasn't afraid of him. She wouldn't be cowed by him.
The marble was cool against her heated skin. She pressed her palms and forehead against the wall, taking several deep, slow breaths to slow her pounding heart.
"My Lady? Is something wrong?" Bronson asked from over her shoulder, concern lacing his tone.
"Nothing more than usual, Bronson. I only need a moment."
She heard Bronson take a step back, and after a few moments pushed herself away from the wall. Her personal guard dogged her steps back to her chambers where her dressmaker waited impatiently.
"I'm not a young woman anymore, Lady Arryn. I could be dead in a moment," Morisha chided her as she entered.
"My apologies, Morisha, I had an unexpected meeting with my future good-father," she apologized to the older woman.
For her age, Morisha was devastatingly beautiful. Her dark skin provided a stark contrast with her hair, gone white with age, that she wore in tight braids along her scalp and down her back. Her back was bent from years spent crafting the most beautiful gowns in the Seven Kingdoms, and while many old women had hands gnarled with age, her fingers remained straight and lithe. Saoirse would have no other dressmaker as long as Morisha lived. Even if the old woman could be abrasive at times.
"No excuses! Out of that dress, into the gown, I don't have all day!"
Saoirse ducked behind her changing screen and Della assisted her with the laces of the gown she currently wore.
"That woman, I swear," Della muttered, "there's no one of fouler mood in the entire world."
"But she is the best. She can afford to be cantankerous."
Della lifted the dress over Saoirse's head, leaving her in her shift. "I suppose, my lady. So Tywin Lannister is here?"
"Indeed. He crashed the Small Council meeting to rattle me," Saoirse explained, pulling the moonstone earrings out and handing them to her handmaiden, "and he is just as unpleasant as I expected."
At that moment a swath of ivory fabric came flying over the screen, and Morisha's voice echoed through the bedchamber. "Put this underdress on."
She pulled the silky garment over her head, Della guiding it over her skirts. Once it fell into place, Saoirse noticed the neckline was trimmed in pearls that rested against the tops of her breasts. The sleeves, cut to a three-quarter length, were trimmed in Myrish lace.
Della took the liberty to pin Saoirse's braid up and out of the way before she went back to the main room. No sooner had she gotten there than Morisha, despite her short stature, was shoving the gown over Saoirse's head like a fisherman tossing a net over a school of fish.
Saoirse let out a yelp and struggled against the blue fabric, trying to free herself in vain.
"Stop struggling, girl!" Morisha shouted, tugging the neck hole closer to Saoirse's head and rumpling her hair. She stopped struggling and let the aged dressmaker pull and smooth the gown into place. Her hands became calm as she started lacing the back.
"There. What do you think?" Morisha said, hands on Saoirse's shoulders as she pushed her toward the mirror.
Saoirse was breathless. Even with her hair mussed and the tired look on her face she couldn't help but think she was stunning - mostly because of the dress.
The fabric was a dark blue, with lighter blue and silver moons embroidered along the skirt. She didn't know what the fabric of the bodice was, but it appeared textured like the feathers of a bird. The same material made up the sleeves, and the neckline was deep enough to show off the pearled neckline of the underdress and about an inch below that.
But then she turned and noticed the shoulders. Embroidered on each one was a falcon in exquisite detail.
"I thought you'd like to have your father and brother with you on the big day," Morisha explained, her long fingers tapping each thread falcon. Saoirse couldn't help the tears that welled in her eyes.
She turned to the woman and thanked her with every ounce of sincerity she had. "You've outdone yourself, Morisha. Thank you."
"It is nothing, my dear."
The older woman opened her arms and Saoirse hugged Morisha tightly until she heard the door open and Bronson's voice.
"Queen Cersei to see you, My Lady."
Saoirse straightened and Cersei entered the room, chin held aloft and sharp features scanning the room with clear disdain. Her green eyes eventually settled on Saoirse, and a false smile spread across her face.
"What a lovely gown. Any special occasion?" She asked.
Saoirse returned the smile, "This is my wedding gown, Your Grace. Isn't it perfect?"
Cersei's face flashed in annoyance. "Yes, of course."
"Is there something you needed, Your Grace?" Saoirse asked, noticing the annoyance growing into something more sinister the longer Cersei looked at her.
"I came to offer my services while planning your wedding. My father wanted to make sure House Lannister was also represented, not just House Arryn."
"I assure you, my Queen, the Lannisters will be happily represented. The flowers during the ceremony and dinner are mostly Lannister colors, we will have lions embroidered on the tablecloths, a thousand other things," Saoirse explained, wondering why Cersei had waited this long to butt into the wedding plans. Probably her father's influence.
"We were simply concerned the event would turn into a celebration of House Arryn. Especially if that is the dress you plan on wearing. You understand, don't you?" Cersei clasped her hands together in front of her politely but Saoirse could still feel the slap the Queen was dying to give her.
"Of course, Your Grace."
"So you won't mind if I look at the plans? Just to make sure everything is up to Lannister standards."
Saoirse paused. This was a power play, Cersei - just like her father - was trying to get Saoirse to break in order to put the pieces back in such a way that she could be used as their puppet.
Saoirse refused to let that happen.
"I'm afraid I would mind. I've spent weeks on these plans and I believe that everything is up to House Arryn's demanding standards. No need to trouble yourself with worry."
Cersei held her gaze, fury building behind her eyes. Saoirse could practically taste it, and it tasted sweet. She could hold her ground against Tywin Lannister, his petulant daughter was no challenge compared to him.
"This is my brother's wedding-"
"And mine as well. If I wanted your input, I would've asked for it. Now, if you don't mind, Morisha needs to finish the alterations on my dress and get onto her next engagement."
The look on Cersei's face - like she'd just bit into a lemon - was uniquely satisfying. She called for Bronson to see the Queen out, and he extended his arm to usher her away.
"Enjoy it while you can, Lady Arryn," Cersei spat at her. "Nothing lasts forever."
And with that, the Queen was gone.
Uppity whore. Insolent wretch. Hateful, sniping, cold bitch.
These thoughts and a thousand more had accompanied Cersei through the next several days. She ran through the list of insults she wanted to hurl at Saoirse Arryn as she descended the stairs to the crypts of the Red Keep. Whether or not people had been buried there, she didn't care. The giant dragon skulls, however, gave the dark space more than enough cause to be considered a crypt.
It was where the Targaryens went to die, she thought spitefully as she passed a few of the smaller skulls whose names she didn't bother remembering.
Behind the skull of Balerion the Black Dread, she paused and waited.
"Your Grace," a voice said in the dark, quickly making its origin known," You look lovely this evening."
Petyr Baelish emerged from the darkest of the shadows, his mockingbird brooch glinting in what little light there was this far back from the torches at the entrance.
"You have it?" she demanded, not wasting time on niceties.
"Indeed, Your Grace," he said, producing a thin wooden box from the inside of his sleeve. She snatched it from him and opened it.
"Which one is the poison in?" she asked, looking at the dark stones that hung from the necklace.
Littlefinger stepped forward and indicated the one farthest to the right. "This one."
"And you're sure?"
"Of course. Simply drop the stone into her wine, and she will be no more." A slimy smile flashed in the dark.
"Good. What do I owe you?"
"Only the Vale, once she is dead," Littlefinger answered breezily.
Cersei nodded, "You shall have it."
"Then our business here is at an end. I shall see you after the wedding, Your Grace," he said, slipping back into the shadows from whence he came.
Cersei closed the box and slid it into her own sleeve, glancing around before beginning her trek back to her bedchambers. Her steps were a little lighter knowing that soon the little falcon would be dead and Jaime would be hers once more. She would open her arms and, in his grief, he would fall back into them and things could go back to the way they were.
Now Cersei couldn't wait for the wedding. The sooner it came, she thought, the better.
Hello lovely readers! I've gotten a huge surge of new Followers/Favorites since I posted Chapter 15 and I just wanted to take a chance to thank all of you!
A slightly ominous warning; I am starting Grad School this fall, so I am not sure how much time I'll be able to devote to my various fanfictions. I'm hoping to get a lot of writing done this summer so I can wrap things up before school starts so I don't leave you all hanging for months at a time. However, I'd think you're all used to that on this site.
Tl;dr - If I don't update for a few months, don't lose hope! I have this story plotted out a rather long way, so one way or another I plan on finishing it.