There was a knock on her door in the middle of the night. Breoch stirred and she noticed one of her ladies go to open the door. She could not see beyond it, but tried to raise herself. “It is not yet sun up,” she murmured into the hushed quiet.
“Forgive me, my lady.”
She turned to the door but saw nothing but darkness.
Avlinda curtsied. “I will find Ser Jaime or the Queen. Surely Lord Tyrion must be about.”
“He has gone out into the city,” Breoch told her. “No. It would be one of the twins.”
Lalie gently got her out of bed and placed her in a robe of blue silks, brushing out her golden hair before braiding it and placing it simply on her head. It was twenty minutes before Ser Jaime arrived, dressed simply in his britches, looking strangely at the shadow at the door.
“Lord Stannis. I had not heard you had come to the Capital.”
“My brother Renly sent me a raven. He told me a beautiful girl had come and I should not marry as I had planned. I called off the wedding and rode day and night to come here and joust in her Tourney.”
Lord Renly. The King’s brother.
“Surely your brother must know, with his close friendship with Ser Loras, that her affections are engaged elsewhere.”
“Lady Ilse Breoch is but a young maiden. I think she would be happy with the attention of the King’s Brother, along with a cripple.”
Breoch wondered why she was awake in all this.
“I ask for my lady’s favor.”
“He has not seen his lady,” Breoch managed back, coming to the door. She saw a strong man with a distinct yet unhandsome face and eyes almost as blue as hers. “Your eyes are nothing like the King’s.”
“No. We share little in common. Your eyes are nothing like your brother’s.”
“We have different mothers, though mine could hardly be called that,” she answered. “My favor is already given.”
He looked at her sternly. “Then give another.”
“Young maidens do not give more than one,” Jaime argued, but Stannis put up his hand.
“I demand you give another.”
“You have not given me a reason. You have called my only friend a cripple. Why should I do anything you suggest?”
He leaned forward and whispered in her ear. “You are a lioness. I would let you be mistress of me in all things—including when you take me to your bed on our wedding night.”
She paused and thought for a moment. “You will have your answer, Lord Stannis. You must understand that it is the middle of the night and you would not want me to reject or grant your request out of hand. You would not want me to regret it.”
“I doubt you regret many things.”
Breoch truly looked at him. Where his brother was large and fat, he was tall, thin, and distinguished, dressed entirely in black. “I am a lioness, as you say. Perhaps I am rash.”
“Then be rash and grant me your only favor,” he dared her.
“I thought you were the stag that I might choose to stalk,” Breoch bargained back. “Perhaps I’ll have our nephew Joffrey decide. He chose my dress. He might choose this as well.”
“You would leave it to a boy?” His voice was cool yet distant.
She looked at him. “You hold little respect for him. I have taken great pains with the prince these last weeks. You may find Joff much changed. His father might be a stag, but like the woman before you, his mother is a lioness. You will have your answer tomorrow, Lord Stannis. Please. Allow me my rest. I would prefer to look beautiful and not sleep deprived the first morning of my Tourney.”
He bowed and left into the darkness. “Well, sister. You are not what he expected, but I know he is pleased at what he found.”
“I know not what to do. My word is given.”
“Then give your favor to Lord Willas in the morning if you decide against him, and not the charming Ser Loras. Perhaps he will take it as a compliment.”
She woke as the sun did, her answer in her mind. As soon as she was able, she was up in her nightgown and tearing open her drawers, looking for a particular piece of fabric she knew she owned as she sometimes wore it in her hair.
“Lalie!” she demanded. “Where is that sheer black cloth of ribbon?”
Avlinda was immediately to her feet and rifling through another drawer, pulling it out. It was a thick ribbon, black and completely sheer, with small designs of lions Breoch had stitched along one edge just three months past. Soon she was in her bath, her hair smelling of gold and not the scent of roses that Lord Willas had sent despite her many protests. She knew she had to catch Lord Willas in time and stood impatiently as she was dressed in gold with the red flowers etching the sides, the long sleeves wrapped around her arms, the two separate favors in each sleeve, and then her hair twisted far up above her head, her blue eyes piercing.
She found his chair being carried out from the hall just as she was entering it for breakfast. “Lord Willas,” she called, and he looked at her and had himself placed on the ground. Smiling at him, she pulled out the blue piece of cloth. “I do not wish to give this to your brother. He is handsome and charming, but he is not my dear friend here at the Capital. You cannot wear my favor, but you can accept this in the spirit in which it is given.”
“My lady,” he stated, bowing. “I will tell Loras of your generous gift. I pray that if he wins, he will name you the Tournament’s Queen of Love and Beauty.”
She smiled at him. “That may be a foregone conclusion as it is my Tourney.”
“Perhaps,” he agreed. “Enjoy your breakfast, Princess.”
The word hung between them, their eyes meeting, and he signaled that his chair should be raised again. It was not until he was gone that she realized that Lord Stannis had come up behind her. “He speaks treason.”
“Only if you tell the King. It is a kind compliment that may be true for the next few days as I am the presiding lady of the Tournament.”
“I see your logic. I suppose you will not tell me if you still favor him in the Tourney or if you will give me your favor.”
“No,” she answered. “The prey should never be certain of its predator. We stalk and plan. All you can do is present your flank to me and see if I will spare you the humiliation of refusing your request.”
“Many will seek it, not just those who have been gentlemanly enough to have requested it before.”
He held his arm out to her and she took it as they walked into the Hall together and toward the Royal table where there was no specific seating. However, she knew they made a striking pair. They were both tall and slender and with his black tunic and britches with only the stag in gold on his back and her gold dress with red flowers, they already appeared as a royal couple, more so even than King Robert and Queen Cersei.
Eyes were upon them as he led her to Joffrey upon her request. “Do you wish for sons after spending so much time with our nephew?” he asked.
“I have not actively contemplated the difference between sons and daughters. I do not wish a brood. I understand the need for more than one heir, of course, but I wish to enjoy my life instead of forever childbearing.”
“An active lioness,” he said, sitting her down and kissing her hand. “I hope to wear your favor.”
Joffrey looked at his uncle in surprise, but it was his father who spoke.
“Stannis! Why are you here? Aren’t you to be married?”
“I found the lady to be wanting,” he answered succinctly. “She is the daughter of one of my bannerman. I am the brother of the King, Lord of Dragonstone. I seek a more suitable wife.”
“You seek a lioness,” Robert laughed cruelly. “They are more trouble than they are worth.”
Cersei looked at her husband with thinly veiled disgust.
“Still, they give you golden haired children. Lady Breoch has greatly improved Joffrey. He is even studying more to please her. I don’t think he will let her marry or return home, she is such a good influence.”
Breoch looked at Jaime, who sat near her, in her surprise. He made a motion with his hand, telling her to ignore it.
“I like your hair,” Joffrey said over the two brothers speaking. “Who suggested red flowers? Mother?” He was teasing, of course. He had insisted and demanded that they not be roses so as not to show her supposed affections for Lord Willas.
“How comes your history of the North?” she asked, taking a piece of fruit. “I understand your father, the King, had you begin them when Lord Stark arrived. I find the White Walkers interesting.”
“I prefer the Wall,” he admitted. “I don’t believe that such a Wall could exist.”
“Perhaps it is myth. We could always ask him, though I believe he is to ride in the Tourney. He did not wish to, but your father commanded.”
Cersei and Breoch rode in the same litter. “Is it true that my brother Stannis came to your room well past midnight? Jaime said that he had to be fetched for a chaperone.”
“Yes. He demanded my favor.”
She looked surprised. “And you refused him.”
“I told him I would think on it.” She paused. “Cersei, he promised me—I do not think I should speak of such things.”
Cersei leaned forward in her beautiful red silk gown. “Then whisper.”
“The whisper,” Breoch confirmed. “He said that he would allow me to be the lioness and rule him in all affairs, that I would be the one to take him to my bed once we were married.”
Her sister looked at her for several long moments. “He is unlike his brother,” she finally commented. “I will not sway you as this is personal. You would have some mastery over Lord Willas because of his legs, but not complete control. He was a man full bred before the horse fell on him. He now controls the animals he raises. Some men view women above animals but below men. He would not submit to you because he wishes to submit to a lioness. He is a flower, to be worshipped, not a stag to be caught in your teeth.”
“Do you catch the king in your teeth?”
“He is not a stag,” she spat. “He is a drunk.”
Breoch looked at her and blushed a little before strengthening her resolve. “I gave Lord Willas his favor this morning instead of giving it to Ser Loras at the tournament. I found—it is wicked of me, but no one will understand what it means.”
She took out the favor.
Cersei moved it in her hands. “What do you mean to do with it?”
“Is it not such a lovely accessory to the black he seems to favor? About the wrists perhaps? Both wrists,” she looked at her sister. “I do not know where these wicked thoughts come from. I did not know I had such wicked thoughts until he suggested last night… I could barely sleep.”
“There is more,” Cersei wheedled.
“I was quiet and in repose at Casterly Rock. Then I enjoyed teasing Lord Willas. I wanted to be always one step ahead of him. And now this. I want mastery over a powerful man.”
“You are my sister,” Cersei murmured quietly, close to her ear so the men carrying them could not possibly hear despite the sounds of the Capital around them. “I have mastery over a man who is not my husband. He is dearly loved. I am dearly loved. I do not shame him. He gives me what I want. I give him what he does. It is not quite as either Lord Stannis or you suggest, but I can understand it. We are lionesses.” She passed back the favor, which Breoch slipped up her sleeve.
The benches were filling up at the Tourney when they arrived. The Queen exited first, Breoch behind her, and they went to the top of the stands. The Queen sat down regally in a throne while a smaller one had been placed beside her, meant for the Lady of the Tourney. Another small throne was beside King Robert’s, meant for the prince.
The nobility of the court were colorful as they took their places and chatted among themselves. Lord Willas was at the bottom row, at the end, in his beautiful red chair. She noticed that although he wore the pale green silk of Highgarden, her favor was wrapped around his neck in a complicated knot that seemed to blend right in.
“A very good choice,” Cersei whispered. “I’m beginning to wonder whatever I would do if I were to marry you to one of your suitors.”
Of course, many came and asked for her favor. She bent her head to each and replied that it had already been given in name, but that she wished them luck in the lists. Even Ser Edmure asked, although she had refused him.
“Lady Ilse,” he begged.
“I am not the only lady in these stands,” she told him. “Perhaps one of these fine ladies would be so kind.”
He did not ask, however. He also was unhorsed in his first run against her brother Jaime. It was rather a poor showing.
Jaime was silly when he came. “Fair Bree, I know your answer. I, however, have a lady of my heart.”
“But of course,” she said standing and curtseying. “I leave you in her more than capable hands.”
Cersei then stood majestically and removed from her arm three ribbons: two red, one gold, braided together, and tied them on his lance. She said nothing. She did not smile. She was completely majestic and captivating.
Ser Loras did not ask. Instead, he paraded around on his horse with a single rose, holding it above his head. He stopped before Breoch, kissing the rose, and offered it to her. “To the most beautiful lady at the Tourney,” he cried. He leaned forward and remarked more quietly, “I have it on very good authority.”
She accepted the rose gladly and, with her hands feeling the contours of her hair, affixed it to the center of her head. “I thank you, Ser Loras, for such a kind gift. Good luck, Ser.”
He made it to the next round.
The final of the first matches was Ned Stark and Stannis Baratheon. Lord Stark did not ask a favor from any lady. He was said to be content in his marriage and did not even beg one from Lysa Arryn, the wife of his childhood mentor, and sister to his own bride.
Lord Stannis, however, had no reservations. “You have yet to give your favor,” he declared. “Will you give it to me now?”
She stood and took the sheer black cloth from her sleeve. “You ride in black armor. You wear a black tunic. It seems only a black favor would do for you, Lord Stannis. May you ride well.” Tying it on his lance carefully, securing the knot with a feminine bow, she sat back down as he rode away. She had not expected it, or perhaps she should have, but within two runs of each other, Lord Stannis had bested the Warden of the North.
“Our champions have won the day,” Cersei said to her sister. “They do not come up against each other tomorrow. I checked the lists.”
“Do we need to refavor them or whomever else we choose?”
“No. That is done with. Ser Loras’s flowers are not, however, if I have an inkling. He speaks for his brother.”
Joffrey, however, would now speak. “Do you favor my uncle, Aunt Bree?”
“He says the oddest things,” she admitted. “I do not think I want him to stop.” She caught his eye across the tilting and he nodded his head to her. His armor was off and her favor was tied against his upper left arm.
“It’s a battle trophy,” Joffrey told her. “I learnt about it last year.”
“Battle trophy? I am no one’s trophy,” she declared. “Perhaps I will refuse to dance with him tonight.”
She avoided him for most of the evening, dancing with her regulars and even accepting Ser Edmure’s hand. When she sat with Lord Willas, he looked at her. “You gave your actual favor to another.”
“No, I didn’t. I played politics.” That, of course, was a lie. She had decided to try at being a lioness. “I gave you my favor. The color you asked for, which was very unseemly of you, Lord Willas. If you ever ask again, I will choose my own colors.”
“You have. This is the first night you have worn anything but blue, green, or violet.” His blue gray eyes looked into hers.
“I am surprised you pay so much attention. I do not.”
She had not realized the music was ending. A hand was placed in front of her. “A controversial dance,” Lord Stannis stated, “fit for a lioness. Perhaps you have learnt it.”
When the master called it, she looked ahead a moment before back at Lord Stannis. No other couples were forming. “You mean to lead a lioness, stag.”
“The dance requires it,” he stated. “Society expects something that is not always true. Lord Willas, I must steal Lady Bree away.” He took her hand and led her to the center of the empty dance floor. Putting his right hand around her waist and then taking her right in his left, holding it out, he waited as she held her left out to form perfect symmetry.
“I did not give you leave to call me ‘Lady Bree.’ My brothers and sister rarely call me that. My father certainly does not.”
“I am still family by marriage. I need not ask permission.”
“It is not yours to take, Stannis,” she demanded, and then the waltz began and they danced boldly across the floor, no one joining the entire dance.
“I saw you give him a paltry piece of blue and yellow fabric. Was that meant as a favor to a cripple who cannot ride? He needed to be reminded that not everything is political, even if you lie about it.”
“I gave you black,” she stated. “It was the time of night, it was how I first saw you. I paid attention although I was awakened from my sleep. Take pleasure in that, Stannis.”
“I do,” he admitted, his voice as stern as ever. “I know it has more meaning, and I will keep it close to my heart whenever it is not worn on my arm or lance.”
She leaned close. “It is a warning from a lioness to a stag. Every huntress can tie up her prey.”
He moved to look into her eyes, as blue as the ocean, and smiled. “Then come hunting with me if I win the Tourney. Have you ever hunted, Lady Bree?”
“Never. I do not know how to hold a bow.”
“Then Joff and I must teach you. I assume he can hold a bow. He can observe, at the least.” There was more than what he was saying.
She tilted her head to the side. “You mean for Lord Willas to see. You are a resourceful man. Perhaps your brother, Lord Renly, told you he watches me and the prince spar.”
“Perhaps he did. Perhaps he did not.” Stannis admitted nothing.
When the song came to an end, she curtsied to him and he bowed. Rising again, she asked, “Do you mean to win my heart, or my desire to tame you?”
“Both, I imagine.” He kissed her hand gallantly and granted it to the next knight who came to claim it.
Every day she watched the lists avidly as Lord Stannis advanced along with Ser Jaime. Ser Loras took a fall three seats from the top, and eventually only her suitor and her brother remained. Sitting next to Cersei, she looked at her sister. Cersei simply looked forward, determined.
In the end, Breoch couldn’t look and so didn’t realize that Stannis had won. The crowd was cheering “Black Prince” and the name “Lady Bree” was called and she looked up to see him holding the floral crown that was to be awarded to his lady. She pulled back her shoulders and let Joffrey lead her down to where her head was perfectly aligned with Stannis’s hands, and the garland was placed upon her brow. The crowd cheered, and she smiled before she returned to her throne.
Stannis had won the day.
She did not even look at Willas. If she had, she would have seen his eyes a storm blue of anger.
Her first dance was with the victor who wore her favor proudly, the crown of flowers still on her head. She had changed into a gown of pink and gold and danced a volta, letting his hands slip around her waist as he pushed her upward, turning as she looked at the faces of those around her, until he was guiding her down, the unlikely couple face to face before she was on the ground again. Then it would once again start until she was breathless and they had turned toward the King and Queen, bowing.
Stannis claimed the next dance. Neither spoke, their eyes locked in question, but nothing said.
When she finally was asked to sit beside Lord Willas, he looked her over. “You seem merry.”
“A Tourney in my honor has just concluded,” she told him. “No one died. Many were injured, however.” Breoch sipped from her wine.
“I think you are pleased with your outcome, even though the King’s brother outmatched your own Ser Jaime.”
“I am the Queen of Love and Beauty,” she declared. “Why would I not be happy that the office fell to me and not my sister, however lovely that she is?”
“You speak nonsense.”
She looked at him a moment and although it was only halfway through the song, she placed her cup on the table beside her. “Forgive me if I bore you or if I am wasting your time.” She stood and walked away. He did not call out to her.
If she thought her heart would break, she was mistaken. She did not cry. She did not laugh for the rest of the evening, but she drank wine and danced with the prince and her brother Ser Jaime.
That night, she set the crown down on her dresser. “I never want this to fade,” she told Avlinda.
“I shall set it in wax, my lady,” Avlinda told her. “It shall be done by tomorrow noon.”
“Good,” she decided, her hair finally being taken down. It had begun to ache in the middle of the day. She slipped into bed and thought she would dream of the man she had just lost or the black prince who wanted her hand. However, she dreamt of neither.
Instead, she was at home, on the sands, looking out at the waters. They were ever changing, as was her life. She wondered if she would ever see them again, if Cersei would ever let her go to either her home or to a new keep with a husband, whoever he might be.