- Alternate Universe
At least Joanna was trying to move around quietly. If she couldn’t manage to sleep, at least it was something that she was trying so hard to keep herself from waking anyone else up. Shireen thought the temperature was perfect, while Margery seemed to think it was even too cold since she’d bundled herself up in several blankets before she’d fallen asleep. But the wolf from the North kept heaving sighs as though she was being cooked and was quite irritated about it.
Shireen rolled over and shimmied to the edge of her bed, looking down at Joanna on her mattress on the floor. She still had the sheet pulled up, which was something, so at least she wasn’t so wretchedly warm that she wanted to be away with that, but even in those few moments Joanna heaved a great sigh and flopped over again. Shireen propped her chin up on her fist and whispered, “Are you all right?”
Joanna startled and bit back a curse.
“No, I’m sorry. I thought you all were asleep. Did I wake you?”
“Yes. But I would rather be awake when my best friend is.”
“You’re a better person than I.”
“You say that like you wouldn’t let your younger siblings wake you up for any reason.”
“Maybe not when I’d already given up my room because the couldn’t stand to sleep with their door open.”
“Even then. What’s wrong? Are you too hot?”
Joanna gave a long pause, then nodded. “It is warm in here.”
“The breeze isn’t doing enough?”
“Perhaps if I had managed to fall asleep earlier, but now it’s been too long and I’ve gotten too hot.
“It seems impossible that you don’t get hot at Winterfell.”
“We do, it just requires some doing. Running about in the sunshine gets hot, or being in the hot springs, certainly.”
“The whole of Winterfell was built over hot springs. That’s how we keep things warm in the depths of winter. The water is piped through the walls to keep chambers heated If you want to be properly cold, visit some place in the far North that’s not Winterfell.”
“They’re all under your castle?”
“Most of them, but there are a few in the godswood across from the heart tree. They’re not as hot as the ones deep in the ground because they’ve been touched by the air, but they’re still hot enough to deserve the name. And the glass gardens are always warm, like the depths of summer.”
“I don’t mean to be. And I’m not during the day when we’re out and about and together. But at night when I sit here hot and exhausted in the dead of night, I’m a bit homesick.”
Shireen knew precisely what to do. She slipped out of bed held out her hand for Joanna. “Where are we going?” She whispered.
“As close as I can get you to home.”
Joanna took her hand followed Shireen on silent feet through the keep, stopping just long enough to grab her sheet and wrap it around Shireen’s shoulders in something like decorum should they be seen in the dead of night.
The family quarters were high up Storm’s End – near the top but not quite, Stannis had explained because even the thick stones would shift and flex under the force of the storms. Shireen took Joanna to the main stairs down from the wing, nodded at her uncle’s solider – who looked around for Lady Brienne and seemed terrified that they were without her. Shireen ignored him entirely while Joanna tapped on the sword she had slung around her waist to soothe him. The man seemed to find that less comforting rather than more. They turned a corner down a set of tucked away stairs down a hall that Joanna would not have noticed in a hundred years just as the poor fellow was biting his lip and debating how much trouble he would get in leaving his post to tell someone, versus the trouble for not telling anyone at all.
Joanna guessed someone would be following them soon, but she didn’t know the dynamics of this place well enough to know if thee fellow would consider it courage to wake either of the Lord Baratheons, or if any guard at all would do, or if Lady Brienne would be a good middle ground.
Shireen led them from that staircase to another, and then another, each venturing a little more out of the way to what Joanna was fairly certain was the ocean edge of the castle. They came across no people in the halls, no one up and about stoking fires or preparing things for when the family and their guests arose. It was dark and silent, but Shireen moved with all the confidence that Joann would have had at Winterfell. She wanted to ask if Shireen would have been so at peace if this were Dragonstone, or if her distaste for that place made her uncomfortable in her own home. Shireen couldn’t abandon Dragonstone entirely, and despite her love of Storm’s End as a castle, the guests who seemed to always be inhabiting it drove Shireen made. Joanna resolved to see if there was something she could do to make Dragonstone less like a mausoleum, even if it was just the family’s won part of the castle. That, of course, would require Joanna’s presence at Dragonstone, and she spent the latter half of their journey through the keep thinking about how she might engineer an invitation to the other castle, and how she might convince her father to allow her to go.
They reached a point where given the amount of climbing they’d done, Joanna was certain they had to have reached the ground level by now, and so asked Shireen how deep into the cliff side Storm’s End went.
“The castle goes as deep into the rock as it does into the sky. Though the parts within the stone are smaller than those above it.”
“And we’ve made our way into the parts beneath the surface?”
“Three floors ago.”
“What else is down here?”
“Storage, armaments, after the siege much of it was converted into food storage. I believe there are a few meeting rooms and some other places I have never been but probably ought to know about before too long.”
“And where are we going?”
“Three more floors and then you’ll see for yourself.”
“I will say this for Winterfell, it’s only the two levels high and none of it goes underground. This has not made me more agreeable towards the concept of stairs.”
“Not all of our castles could be designed by Bran the Builder. We’ve had to make due with his predecessor.”
“I heard a story once that young Bran consulted on the building Storm’s End.”
“Father says the math on that doesn’t quite add up, but the structure of the castle and how we don’t fall into the sea does suggest some magical influence. Especially when you factor in this.” Shireen stepped off the last stair and Joanna’s breath caught in her throat. It was a cave open to the ocean before them. Instead of a beach, the ocean lapped against the edge of the cave, waves spilling over the lip and tumbling into the pools scattered around the room. The rocky floor itself had been worn smooth by a thousand years of waves and Baratheon feet.
“What is this place?”
“Legend says that Orys Baratheon carved it out for Argella Durrandon during their long courtship. They believe the magic in the walls that keeps Storm’s End steady on its cliff also keeps the cave from growing any wider on deeper and damaging the structure of the cliff. And father says his father used to say his grandfather would say that the pools had gotten no deeper and no wider in all his life.”
“It’s beautiful.” And it was. The salt on the air, the starlight glinting off the water giving the room a glow, and steady rush of waves flowing over the rock and back out again. Joanna had never once imagined such a place and it was breathtaking.
“Come on then. Come sit with me.”
“Do we sit in the pools?”
Shireen giggled. “If we had brought towels maybe. Though the sheet might do the job if you wanted it to. I thought you might just want to put you feet in the water and maybe being this close to the ocean could finally make you cold.”
Joanna tossed an arm around Shireen’s shoulders and dragged her in for a kiss. “Tell me how to do this.”
They get in the pools, Shireen hiking up her nightgown and sitting with her feet in the water. Joanna sets aside her sword and has her feet in the pool for a minute before it feels so wonderful that she climbs right in. Shireen giggles. “What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to steal that towel back from you when we’re done here.”
“I could just climb back up the stairs and get you a towel, you know.”
“So long as it’s still the middle of the night I’ll be fine.”
“And if you never leave because it’s the first time you haven’t been hot since you stepped off NAME’s boat?”
“Well then, you’re going to have to get me a towel.”
Shireen giggled and kicked water at her.
Joanna was not a great swimmer since that was a skill Lady Stark had taught to her trueborn fish children and not the bastard. Robb had tried to teach Joanna all he’d learned, but it wasn’t quite the same. Not that there was much opportunity for swimming in the far North, but it was enough. Joanna’s ‘swimming’ was confined to the hot springs, and so these pools meant for much taller Baratheons were enough to make Joanna actually have to try. Shireen gamely said nothing about Joanna’s struggles, just settled herself at the edge of a pool near the cave’s edge, one with a rim carved inside the edge so Joanna could properly sit while Shireen swung her feet in the water and looked up at the stars.
As Joanna was finally beginning to feel properly sleepy, she turned on the bench and propped her arms on the pool’s edge. “Tell me about this long courtship.”
“You don’t know about the last Storm Queen and the creation of House Baratheon?”
“I know it was done in the War of Conquest, and Lord Orys was the Hand of Aegon Targaryen, but I don’t know anything about his wife.”
Shireen was ticked at the chance to tell someone the story for the first time. “Argilac Durrandon was the last Storm King and Lord of Storm’s End. He had only one child, a daughter, Argella Durrandon. To keep his kingdom free from the Conqueror, he offered much of his land and the hand of his child to Aegon. But at that point, Aegon was already married to his sisters and did not want a third wife. So he countered. He would take much more land, Argella’s hand, and give them all to Orys Baratheon, the king’s Hand, greatest general, oldest friend, and likely his bastard brother.
“Well, the Last Storm King did not take kindly to that. Instead, Aegon sent Queen Rhaenys and Orys to take Storm’s End. Orys slew the last Storm King in single combat and his army fled. Argella barred the gates and swore that the Targaryens might take the castle, but they would win only bones and blood and ashes. However, unlike father, Argella could not keep her people calm and they turned on her. Argella was dragged to the feet of Orys Baratheon chained, gagged, and naked.”
“Shireen, I think we might both be too young for this story.”
“Don’t worry, it gets better. You see, Orys shouted at them for such treatment of their lady. He took the chains from her himself, and wrapped her in his cloak before he took her into his tent and gave her food and wine. Aegon rewarded Orys with the entirety of the Stormlands, Storm’s End, and Argella’s hand for his service, but he accepted only the first. Argella had not family left in the world, so she was under his care, but he told the Conqueror himself that he refused to take Argella to wife until he did so with her good will. It took months to convince her, and as a wedding present Orys took the sigil and words of House Durrandon as his own to pay tribute to his wife’s family and the great Storm Kings who came before.”
“You’re right. That is a good story.”
“Now will you tell me why you don’t like to sleep with open doors?”
“This is not a good story.”
“I would like to hear it just the same.”
“And I appreciate that, but it would be cruel of me to tell it to you.”
“My father can’t have done something.”
“The opposite. Your father fixed it.”
“Which means Uncle Robert.”
“Please, Shireen. I would not want to hear such things about my uncles and I would keep it from you as long as possible.”
“But you are my friend!”
“And a good friend would never ask you to choose between them and family.”
“It would require choosing?”
“No, but it would far closer to choosing than I would like to put you through.”
The rest of their time at the pool was short and quiet. Joanna did not think Shireen was offended by her silence, but she hoped that when the time came that Shireen inevitably heard it from someone else that she would forgive Joanna for concealing the truth of it. As they found their way to tired, stumbling feet and Shireen folded over the blanket to be a bit more concealing and wrapped it around Joanna’s shoulders. Joanna decided to put the question to Stannis and discover how long he would prefer the truth of the matter be kept from Shireen, and that perhaps Joanna might have some warning before Shireen was told so she might prepare for the inevitable conversation that any child with Stannis’ curiosity and blunt tongue would have.
They intended to sneak back up the stairs to their room just the way they’d come, but when they stepped out of the small private stairs, they were not alone. Some part of Joanna had expected Lady Brienne to have been woken – either by their departure or the twitchy little soldier in the hall who watched them leave – but no part of her was prepared to see Stannis Baratheon sitting on the landing, his head tipped back against the wall and if he was not a soldier himself, Joanna would have guessed he was mostly asleep.
“Father?” Shireen squeaked.
“Did the pools meet your need?”
“Yes sir.” That made Stannis open his eyes and tip his head forward. Though, whatever words he might have said stalled for a moment as he took in Joanna standing beside Shireen. Shireen darted out a hand and grabbed at Joanna, who took Shireen’s hand in hers despite losing the grip she had on the blanket. Joanna tried to shrug it back up her exposed shoulder. “She’s my best friend.”
Stannis startled. “I’m not angry with you for taking someone not of Baratheon blood down to the pools.”
“Then why are you here?”
“I did not think it wise to leave anyone else to guard the door.”
“I’ve never had a guard before.”
“You’ve always been down here with myself, Renly, Edric, or Lady Brienne, all of whom are guards.”
“That would make Joanna a guard.”
“She didn’t bring a sword.”
“Did I need one?”
“Likely not, but likely and certainly are not the same thing. I could not…” Stannis trailed off and stepped close enough that Joanna could feel the heat of him through the thin MUSLIN of his nightshirt. “It is not house, and I could not let harm come to you in it.” He tucked his fingers under the fold of the blanket and lifted it back over her shoulder. Joanna stared up at him, but his eyes stayed down as he hesitated a moment with his thumb over his collar bone. She watched his throat bob as he gulped then lifted his spare hand and tugged the blanket close around her throat like she’d seen him straightening Edric’s tunic.
Stannis cleared his throat. “Come now, the both of you. Breakfast is always late here so you still have some time to go to bed.”
Joanna did not think her heart would calm enough for sleep, and if it did, she would have the sort of dreams that one should not have about a man when you were sleeping in his daughter’s bedroom. Shireen thanked her father for worrying over them, and without taking her eyes from Lord Stannis’ she gave him a little bow. “Yes, thank you, Lord Stannis.” It was not as coy as Margery would have managed, or as picturesque as Sansa, but something about it seemed to make Lord Stannis pause before he swept up the stairs ahead of them, and that was good enough for Joanna. For now.