Mother

"I stopped believing in gods the day I saw the Windproud break up across the bay. Any gods so monstrous as to drown my mother and father would never have my worship, I vowed."
-Stannis Baratheon

Storm's End, 283 AC

He opens the door to find a silent room, save for the crackle of the flames in the hearth and the quiet sound of two people whispering to each other. The two serving girls stop their chatter as soon as they see him. He nods at them, and they both leave the room after a silent bow. They know this is something that he wants to do personally. No, that he needs to do personally.

He approaches the bed, carrying a tray with a small ration of salted fish, onions, and a cup of water. It's not much. He would have brought more, but Cressen had reminded him of how delicate her stomach was, especially after so many months of starving.

Once again, he finds himself grateful for the smuggler's intervention. Certainly, he had probably done it just out of hope for a monetary reward, and it doesn't look like the siege will be ending any time sooner. Nonetheless, at least now they will be able to resist for a little longer. Most importantly, they won't be forced to eat the dead, as they had feared at first.

He puts the tray on a small table near the bed and clears his throat, and then waits. Soon enough, she slowly opens her eyes.

"Who is..." she croaks, her voice so frail as to make him feel like running away, like he used to do when he was younger and Robert mocked him. Only this time, it is fate mocking him. Or the gods he doesn't even believe in. Perhaps this is some form of punishment for his lack of faith?

She finally looks at him. "Steffon! You...you have come back." This isn't what she should sound like, he thinks to himself. This is the voice of a wizened old crone. She isn't a crone yet. She isn't even fifty!

He sighs. "Mother...it's me, Stannis." He curses himself a moment later. Cressen has warned him to never contraddict her, whenever her mind happens to slip. Something that has been happening more and more often, as of late. Her memory, her very sanity, seems to have become a lantern that flashes intermittently.

She looks at him as if he has sprouted a third eye. "Don't be silly, Steffon! Stannis is too young to grow a beard like yours."

He bites his lip before answering. "You are right." He takes in her features. Her hair, a light brown with a few streaks of grey, her pale skin, and her eyes...her eyes are the most difficult thing to look at. There is something about them, a shadow that speaks of death and sadness. Even when she is smiling, that shadow is still there, lingering and haunting. What is it? Did she see something that drove her mad? Or is it just a consequence of her almost drowning?

He wonders if perhaps it would have been far kinder had she not survived the sinking of the Windproud. Better dead, than alive and mad. As much as he loves her, it pains him to no end to see her like this. Sometimes he is tempted to end her suffering with a pillow on her face. And every time, he chastises himself for the thought. He could never kill his own mother. Besides, there is a small chance that her mind could heal. At least, that's what the old maester tells him.

He sits on the bed and helps her eat, listening to her complaining about the food and answering her questions. She asks about Robert, about the castle, about Renly. And about him.

"I...Stannis is doing fine." he answers, his voice trembling a little.

"Good. Remember to always be there for him. He needs us the most." she says, gently stroking his hand. She gives him a kind smile that warms his heart and makes it grow heavy at the same time. "He is such a frail child..." she trails off. He can't help but feel a little insulted at that. Then her eyes close. For a moment he worries it has finally happened, but then her light snoring reassures him. He gets up, bringing the tray back with him.

And doing his best to not run away and hide.