Breoch knew that Stannis hadn’t expected it. When they first caught sight of the boar, she had slid off of Dorne, taken off her riding cloak to reveal a black tunic and britches, and had started running as quietly as she could through the forest, leaving Jaime to tie up her horse.
Stannis was quickly behind her, holding her shoulders as she hid behind a tree.
The great monstrous beast was drinking from a pool of sludge and Breoch slowly pulled her bow as Stannis passed her an arrow.
“Through the eye when he least expects it,” he told her and she took aim.
He lifted her shoulder up, tilted her hips, but gave her her own time. Then, she let go of the bowstring and hit him in the eye, just to the left. The creature gave out a squeal and as fast as a lightning storm, Stannis had his bow out and was shooting the beast in the direct center of the eye, killing it instantly.
“A boar,” he said with pride. “Your first time out, and you took out a boar.”
“You took him out,” she complimented with a hint of sarcasm.
He shrugged. “I hastened the process. He would have whined for twelve hours, we would have had to track him, but he would have gone down in the end. I just saved us the extra time. We’ve been out here for nearly a week. I thought the trial must surely be finished by now.”
The two went up to the beast and reclaimed their arrows, Breoch cleaning hers on the brush.
“Our Breoch take down a boar?” Jaime asked, coming toward them. He kissed his sister on the head.
“With the help of a little expediency,” she laughed. “Do you think Ser Loras triumphed or whoever Cersei put forward?”
“She named the Mountain,” he told her. “We spoke about it before we left. We both agreed you should be left to heal and that you should have family with you, but we wanted the best possible knight to champion you if I could not be there.”
“The Mountain,” she stated. “I have no idea who that is.”
“You remember the Hound,” Jaime stated, “our lovely nephew’s guard.”
“Quite,” she recalled. “He quite frightened me the first time I saw him.”
“His older brother. More fearsome and quite a bit larger. Neither participated in the Tourney because Joffrey ordered them not to.”
She looked between the two men, the two finalists. “Well, I thank the prince, as do you, I suppose. I wouldn’t want to come up against either. Then again, I can’t hold a lance. There must be an art to it.”
About three miles out from the city, Jaime stopped her and Stannis took the boar from some of the servants and covered his hands with its blood. “There is no reason for—unpleasant memories,” he promised her, as he smeared it under each eye and down her chin. “You are mistress of the Hunt, Lady Bree.”
“If we marry,” she stated, “you’re going to call me ‘Bree,’ aren’t you? I so like ‘Breoch’.”
“I could answer you, but your brother is here,” he replied in his usual stern voice, pulling himself into his saddle. “Shall we deal with that, Lady Bree, if your father smiles favorably on my suit?”
She didn’t reply. Instead, she looked at Jaime. “Where’s Tyrion been hiding? I only saw him the once.”
The three of them were moving forward now. “You do not wish to know, sister.”
“I’m not completely a child. I know he likes to frequent certain—places—in Lannisport. Has he been at one the entire time?”
“He’s upset,” Jaime tried to explain. “Cersei was given in marriage, although initially she would have been able to choose if the Lord had been able and inclined to choose her, which was not the case.” Yes, Rhaegar Targaryen. Breoch remembered that. “Then she was given in marriage, albeit to the King. I cannot marry, even if I would wish it. His wife—“
Stannis looked over in shock.
Breoch, however, spoke quickly though not obviously. “Of course. And now I have a choice.”
“I wish he would talk to me about it. I could use his wise council. He could advise me on tapestries and on which castle he would prefer.” She smirked at her brother.
“Yes, Tyrion does have a flare for such opinions.”
Turning to Stannis, she stated. “Did you know, that when I was but twelve, he came into my room and removed my favorite portrait of my grandmother Lady Ilse Lannister because he said it did not match the rest of the colors in the room? He was speaking specifically about her green eyes. It was quite ridiculous. As soon as he left, I had Father scour the Rock for it, and it was found in Tyrion’s own room in point of place.”
“Well, I must disappoint Lord Tyrion, because he shall never have access to the private rooms at either Storm’s End or Dragonstone. Then again, depending on your father Lord Tywin, he may never have reason to visit.”
“I thought that was the way,” Jaime said smiling. “Am I to congratulate the happy couple?”
“Congratulate us, Brother, when Cersei is not angry with me and Father does not believe that I have put my life to waste. How I would have is beyond me. Perhaps he fancied me a maiden at Casterly Rock or the wife of whomever he named his heir, or even a Princess of Dorne, if it could be managed, but one never knows with Father.”
“One never knows with Robert,” Stannis agreed. “I’m surprised he capitulated to Lord Tywin’s demands. He even is allowing me to keep Dragonstone and all the precious metals therein.” He leaned toward her slightly. “Dragonstone is filled with dragonstone.”—a black shining jewel that Rhaegar Targaryen favored and was known for giving to Lyanna Stark.
The three rode into King’s Landing victorious to the waiting figure of Lord Tywin Lannister. “Ah, my daughter succeeds on the hunt!”
“I killed a boar, Father,” she answered happily, “and a few deer.”
“The better to feed the Royal table,” he proclaimed slyly. “I have seen your sister. The trial is over and your champion has won.”
“And the sentences?” she asked quietly.
“Your handmaiden was put to death. I thought she was safe given that she was a Hill and your cousin, but it seemed not. Lord Willas’s arms were broken and untreated and he is to be kept in a cell for the rest of his natural life as he did not directly administer the poison.”
She nodded and kissed his hands. “Thank you, Father, for telling me.”
“Your wayward brother should be in the Castle by nightfall,” Lord Tywin continued to explain. “Now, you, Lord Stannis. We have much to discuss before I speak with my daughter on the matter.” He clipped Breoch’s chin before leaving her in Jaime’s care.
The new handmaiden that was brought from the West was an Aalis Swyft, with dark hair and pale green eyes that were almost yellow. She washed out Breoch’s hair while she was sitting in her chair before Lalie sponged her body to cleanse her from the hunt. Her face was left untouched, the blood and dirt showing her prowess.
She was in a shift and robe, choosing her evening gown with Joffrey, when Tywin was bad to enter.
“Ah, my prince,” he greeted. “I have heard you have much improved with the sword. I look forward to you becoming a great knight like your uncle, Ser Jaime.”
“I will never be as good as Uncle Jaime,” he said in slight resignation. “They say that Aunt Breoch will be married and leave.”
“Do they? I have yet to ask her about it. Scurry to your mother or wherever princes go while I discern the matter. I am glad to see you, grandson.”
Joffrey puffed out his chest and ran from the room, Breoch still trying to decide between the blue and the violet.
“Ah, none of that,” Tywin declared as he chose a deep crimson designed with black and gold. She had never worn in before. Cersei had commissioned it when her father’s list of demands had arrived. “I think this most suitable for the future wife of the Warden of the East.”
“You approve of him then?” she asked.
“How can I do anything but approve? He’s stern but he worships you. It’s in his eyes. I recognize myself in him with your stepmother. Few men desire a lioness. Even fewer wish to have one and not tame her. Your Lord Stannis is one of those few.—What I want to know is what you think. Your sister wanted Highgarden.”
“She’s wanted Highgarden since I was seven,” she told him. “I liked Lord Willas. I liked teasing him. Little did I know he was using my own handmaiden against me.”
He came up to her and carefully took her in his arms so as not to disturb her war paint. “It is over. Now, Lord Stannis. What care you?”
“I want him. He has promised me that I may rule him in all things, but I think I want a partnership. I want the fight between two mates who are worthy of each other, and yet I want the sweetness as well. I want so many different things that I am confused.”
“But you know that all these things, that you are determined that he can give you, you want with him. It is not just that these gifts are within his power—“
“No,” she stated adamantly. “I want to tear off his black coat and see for myself what is underneath. I want to claw at him while he kisses me until we are grasping each other on the ground and all is one and kindness. I should not say such things, but such as they are. I desire him for my helpmate. I may never obey him, but he knows that, I think.”
“He is very much aware,” Lord Tywin laughed. “You have my consent. We announce tonight and tomorrow he will be invested with his titles.”
“What does Cersei say?”
“She can say nothing,” he told her. “As soon as you gave Lord Stannis your favor the game was done, and she knew it. You will have a lavish wedding in a week’s time at Storm’s End, with all the pomp of the Stormlands. We Lannisters will travel there, though the King,” his voice turned sour, “says he’s done enough for this match. I hope you don’t mind, darling, but I’ve seen enough of King Robert’s court and I’ve only been here for three days.”
“Of course,” she said. “Is the odious Lord Stark still here?”
“No. He left after the trial.”
“There are small wonders.—One of Robert’s bastards lives at Storm’s End.”
Tywin nodded. “You can’t get rid of Edric Storm, you know. I’m certain Stannis will try to limit your contact, but he will always be there, a reminder of what the King did to your sister.”
“How old is he?”
“Younger than Joffrey,” she murmured. “He needs a mother. Who is the mother?”
“The cousin of the woman Lord Stannis was going to marry.”
“How—“ Words could not describe. She swallowed and looked away. “How unpleasant. I wonder if Stannis ever met his bride-to-be or any of her family. I don’t think I want to know just yet.”
When she was dressed, her father was the one to fetch her. They were half an hour late. Stannis was the one to take her hand. Tywin entered first, bowing to his King and his daughter, the Queen. Then he announced, “Your Graces, may I present the Lady of the Hunt and my daughter, the Lady Ilse Breoch, and announce her forthcoming engagement to your brother, Lord Stannis Baratheon of Dragonstone.”
Looking at each other, they walked forward together and formally bowed and curtsied to much applause from the hall. Smiling, Breoch allowed Stannis to raise her from the floor. Her hair was in ringlets down her back in a Westron style and she knew she cut quite the figure.
Cersei embraced her, the King went so far as to kiss her hand, and Joffrey was charming as he followed his father’s example.
As she danced the waltz, once again alone with Stannis, she daringly placed her free hand at the base of his neck, her eyes beguiling and blue.
“I love you,” he said for the first time, and she smiled.
“My father said you did,” she told him.
“Did he?” Stannis teased. “Do I have leave to call you Bree?”
She smiled slightly at him. “I don’t suppose I could stop you. You’ve already decided I’m not ‘Ilse Breoch’ or ‘Breoch’.”
“That is true,” he admitted, holding her closer. “You’re my Bree.”
“And you’ve been Stannis for quite some time,” she stated. “I think you goaded me into it.”
“I’d never admit it, Lioness.”
“No,” she agreed. “You never would unless I demanded it.” She tipped her chin to better look in his eyes.
“And do you demand it?”
“No,” she stated simply. “I know when to use my power, Stannis. I am not a harsh or a shrewish mistress like some. I would hope you knew you had nothing to fear.”
“You speak of those near to us.” He leaned close to her so their foreheads were mere whispers away from each other.
“It is an unhappy union,” she agreed. “I think both are to blame, but an unhappy love began it. Now it’s just gotten out of control.”
“There is no past love on my end,” he promised. “I never saw my former bride. You must be wondering, but I never saw my brother’s son at Storm’s End either or his mother.”
She bit her lip. “Lord Willas was the only one to flatter. However, I chose you that night. I don’t know why. I only gave him that favor because I promised it to Ser Loras and I do not go back on my word if it can at all be helped.”
“Then I know to be bold with you.”
“You know what to promise me, how to excite,” she parried.
His eyes turned toward her lips. “If we were alone.”
“Father is here and Cersei—“
“The King would approve—“
“I do not care about the King,” she breathed with some difficulty, pulling away as the music ended, clapping politely. Breoch disappeared in a whisper of silks, finding some wine.
“Your intended is searching for you,” Tywin told her a few minutes later.
“It became a little heated,” she told her father.
“I had observed. You must only wait a week. Dance the next with him. It is not a waltz.” His voice was kind but stern. “You must show the court what they want.”
“Very well.” She wandered back to Stannis with two cups to show her reason for going and clinked glasses with him before their arms entwined and they drank heavily from their own cups.
“Do you not care for this dance, my love?” he asked solicitously, leading her to a table.
“It is not that. I wish to save myself for dancing the entire evening away. If I waste all my energy now, I will have none for later. I am not a man who can ride on a horse an entire day.”
He looked at her. “I do not believe that. You are a woman of many talents and even more secrets.”
“Are you suggesting that I ride at least partially to Storm’s End and leave Cersei alone in my litter?”
“What could be more natural?” he asked her.
A deal had been struck.
The two closed the dance around dawn. Her curls were falling out and he had divested himself of his outer jacket so that he was only wearing a black tunic with gold fastenings. It was a dance where they spun around each other, never touching, just dancing with complicated footwork and clapping when they came too close to one another. It was a dance for lovers and as they were to be wed, it was more than fitting.
Breoch allowed Aalis to wash her face and brush out her hair, Lalie undoing the laces of her whale bone corset. She slept in her shift and was awakened far too early for the ceremony of investiture.
She was in a half dream as she was dressed in forest green, her hair in braids. She stood in the first row as Stannis knelt in a gold tunic, a black and gold cloak that would be placed on her back in just a week on his own shoulders. He became Warden of the East, Lord of Storm’s End, and remained Lord of Dragonstone, leaving his younger brother, now Ser Renly, with nothing.
At the end of the ceremony, he placed a simple necklace of Dragonstone around her neck when Lord Tywin placed her hand in his, and he kissed her chastely. She never knew that anything could be so heavenly. It was so perfect. So wonderful. She didn’t know she needed such contact. Within hours of the ceremony, she had cornered Stannis in his gold without his cloak and had kissed him sweetly again. At first she didn’t realize he had pulled back to look at her ear, which was unadorned as she had run out of time before she had to be in the Great Hall, and he was placing a teardrop earring of Dragonstone in her ear.
“Stannis?” she asked breathily.
When it was in, he kissed her hungrily, and she grabbed the back of his head as her mind reeled. Her lips were opened and his tongue snuck through and she didn’t know what to do. “That’s it, darling,” he told her. “Just do as I do, I think.” When her knees gave way, he was there to catch her and she pulled away.
“Stannis? Surely this is wicked.”
“Not after we are married,” he promised, “and we are to be wed.” He pushed a braid past her other ear and placed the matching earing in it. “Now this.” He took out a circlet and placed it on her forehead and around the rest of her head. “You look like my princess.”
“You are Warden of the East,” she told him with a smile, collecting herself.
“I am,” he agreed, letting her kiss him gently.
She set the pace, it was her choice to carefully deepen the kiss, not too much so that she lost herself again. When she pulled away, she pressed her head against his heart, to hear it beat. His arms came around her.
“I think I am wearing more jewelry than my sister,” she stated in horror.
“My brother gave me full use of the dragonstone at, well, Dragonstone. He must have known I would cover you in it. And now I can. Lord Tywin has placed your hand in mine. We leave tomorrow.”
“I gave orders that Dorne was to be readied and my riding habit has been prepared. You are a horrible influence.”
He laughed. “I suppose I am, Bree.”
She leaned upward and kissed him again. Pulling away and smiling impishly, just as he was pulling her closer, she broke away and walked toward the Royal Apartments.
On her route, the closest apartment was King Robert’s, Jaime standing guard. She could hear—“Is that?” she asked.
“No,” he answered. “Robert is fulfilling his appetites before we leave tomorrow. You are dressed like a queen, sister.”
“They’re gifts from Stannis. I suppose I will wear them for my wedding.”
“Wise,” Jaime stated. “You will then match your wedding cloak.”
“Has Tyrion come yet?”
“Father is about to disinherit him,” Jaime stated in resignation. “They’ve had words in Baelish’s establishment. Now, this is no place for you.”
“No,” she agreed. “No, I don’t believe it is.”
She came to her own rooms and allowed Lalie to take off her jewels and wrap them carefully. “I want them for my wedding,” she stated. “Is the pale blue ready for the ceremony? Has Father approved?”
“Just,” she agreed. “He wanted Lannister red, but I reminded him of your fondness for blue and how well the black and gold would look against it.”
“Let’s see the new red again,” she checked. It was a rather odd silk, red, with large gold lions on it. Lalie had been working on it for her Name’s Day for months. It was not in the style of the Capital but it was beautiful. “Take this to Cersei and see what she says. Tell her the other one is pale blue but modern.”
Lalie curtsied and took the dress.
Breoch put a hand on her arm. “Beware the King’s chambers. Jaime is there, but nothing good comes from there at the moment.”
She curtseyed. “Thank you, my lady.”
The red, with much discussion among the family, was decided upon, although it had narrow sleeves and a high collar.
On the morn, Breoch dressed in her black habit with Stannis’s golden favor in her hair that was in a high bun, the rest running down in four braids. “If I grow tired, I have you to blame, Stannis.”
“Of course, my love,” he answered as he drew in his own horse beside her. “We have quite the refined guest list. Both my brothers, your sister and Ser Jaime. Even the prince.”
“Yes. Tyrion is never allowed to carry the Lannister name again,” she stated with sourness in her mouth. “I do not understand why he cannot let his little sister be happy even if he cannot be.”
“Brothers often do not care for one’s happiness,” Stannis murmured in commiseration. “Robert wanted more of the West and ten thousand gold dragons. He also wanted a reason to grab the East even from Jon Arryn. It was greed. I was a means to an end. He could also lord it over the Queen.”
“What lovely relations we have. At least Renly has no ill will.”
“Renly has a position on the Small Council and a lover here in the Capital,” Stannis stated with stern precision. “He doesn’t care for a keep as he can never take his lover there as a bride.”
“I shall not inquire then.”
“You may inquire as much as you desire,” he stated. “I have no secrets from you.”
“How did you learn my secret?” she asked suddenly when they were well enough away from the rest of the party. “How did you know of Isla?”
“She came to Dragonstone and said she had a vision that I would be of use to the bastard daughter of Lord Tywin. Her blue eyes became white and I truly believe one of the Seven was speaking through her.”
Breoch swallowed in fear and looked away. “What happened to her?”
“I fed her, gave her a bed for the night. I had laced her wine with milk of the poppy and I killed her in her sleep. I could not have her repeating what she told me. I did not know that you were the recognized daughter of Lord Tywin yet, but I knew you were important. That was three years ago. You can understand why I cancelled my wedding and turned back in the rain toward you all those weeks ago.”
“Yes,” she replied distractedly. “She’s dead. That woman is dead. I should tell Father, when the time is right.” She gave Stannis the largest smile she had perhaps given anyone. “My love, you have given me the most precious wedding gift you could have given any woman.”
He took her hand and kissed it, which did not go unnoticed. “Then I am glad, Ilse Breoch.”