- Alternate Universe
Joanna did not ask herself why the all the Seaworth boys had been shuffled off to another part of the house, or why Ser Davos was the only member of the family to make and appearance, and even he claimed he would be away in a minute to help with the children, and would Lady Shireen like to come with him when it was time? Lady Margery claimed she would so love to see the boys again and would be happy to come along, while Lady Brienne offered no falsehoods but Joanna was certain there was something that she and Ser Loras would need to tend to. It being his house, Lord Renly would no doubt have to go as well.
It was a deliberate act of will that kept Joanna from being embarrassed as such strange maneuvering, or from doubting that she was being set up to make a fool of herself. No matter that these were not her people and Shireen was simultaneously the only person she could trust and the only one who didn’t understand the positioning going on, Joanna could trust that they all had Stannis’ best interests at heart. They would not go to such efforts for her, but these were the few people in the world who loved Stannis Baratheon and would fight on his behalf. She could trust in their hopes for him even if she could not expect them for herself.
So she waited while the group all chatted amongst themselves, not quite settling in since they intended to leave as soon as the opportunity presented itself. Joanna ignored them all to stand before the wide arches that looked over the ocean and watched the lightning spark across the ocean as the wind tossed her hair around her face and made her snuggled deeper into the thick weight of Lord Stannis’ cloak still around her shoulders.
Lady Margery’s call of, “There you both are!” pulled Joanna from her determination to keep herself from imagining anything that might be about to happen. She turned, trying to project a bit more of Sansa, and found that whatever hopes she might have had banished at the sight of the Lords Baratheon accompanied by Maester NAME.
The young Maester strode forward with a raven’s scroll in his hand. “For you, Lady Joanna. The raven arrived just before the storm broke.”
Jo broke the seal and froze as she read the words written in her father’s hand. Jo found herself sinking into an empty chair as she read her father’s tight script to fit as many words as possible on the note because on their own, they sounded mad.
“Joanna?” Half the group rose to their feet while Shireen came to her. “What’s wrong?”
“The Night’s Watch has done a ranging beyond the wall and discovered what has the Wildlings so quiet.”
“Have they killed one another?” Lord Renly tried to joke, but it fell on flat ears.
Renly cursed. “Unless they’ve developed some way of getting beyond the wall, it doesn’t matter.” Stannis objected.
“They caught the member of the Night’s Watch who found them and sent them back with a message for my father. They want him to come North of the Wall and treat with them.”
“What do they want?”
“Winter is coming.”
“Winter is always coming.” Renly objected.
“It is coming soon and father says the Wildlings believe something is happening in the far North of the Wall and if they stay, they’ll die.”
“Are they prepared to bend the knee?” Renly asked. “Because that’s the only way Robert is going to let them through the Wall.”
Stannis snorted. “I don’t think Lord Stark cares. He’s too honorable a man to let people die, even Wildlings. Bend the knee or not, if they’ll keep the peace, he’ll let them through.”
“Robert will lose his mind.” Renly objected. Stannis was tempted to say that Robert only held the North by the grace of Lord Stark’s lack of ambition, but one didn’t say such things in front of Olenna Tyrell’s grandchildren.
“King Robert might, but my father won’t let people die if he can help it.”
“Pardon me,” Margery interrupted. “But I don’t understand why this means you must go North.”
“The Wildlings are divided into more clans than I count. The follow the principle that the friend of my friend is my enemy, with changing loyalties and such deep seeded conflicts that I keep re-reading this note thinking I must have misunderstood my father’s writing it’s so unlikely. But when the Wildlings want to forge an alliance that they mean to keep for any length of time, the alliance is made between generations.”
“Are you being forced to marry a Wildling?” Shireen demanded.
“No!” Joanna petted her hair. “No darling, not that. The Wildlings like multiple generations involved in alliance building because it means that no only does my father’s generation agree to terms, but that my generation does as well.”
“Then why isn’t Lord Robb going?” Lord Renly asked.
“The Lord of Winterfell and his heir both going beyond the Wall to treat with Wildlings? My father is honorable, not stupid.”
“But why you?” Shireen demanded. The far North was a place of legends these fine Southron folk, Wildlings beyond the wall was like a nightmare come to life.
“Robb can’t go, and we’re the only children of age to take the risk. Sansa would do it if I couldn’t, but… I don’t trust the Wildlings with her.”
Silence held for a long moment while Joanna tried to think of a soft way to answer. Lord Stannis had no compunction. “Because Wildlings kidnap the women they would take to wife.”
She glared at Stannis. “It’s also custom to fight every step of the way. And if the bride doesn’t like the man she’s been kidnapped by, she gets to kill him.”
“If she can manage it.”
“I’ll manage it. Either way, my father has asked me to come as soon as possible. I must go.
“Surely you can wait until what ought to have been the end of your time here? Or at least until the early storms have passed.” Margery said.
“No. Father asked for me as soon as possible and he would never say anything he did not truly mean. If he needs me to get to the Wall for the negotiations, I must go.”
“But it’s raining!”
“If we leave soon. I could make it through the bay before the storms get bad enough that there’s no leaving by sea.”
“Absolutely not.” Stannis snapped.
“Milord, this storm will last for days and it will spread up the coast. If we don’t get her out now it won’t even matter if she rides to another port, she’ll still be stuck.”
“Being stuck for a week in a safe castle is better than trying to run Shipbreaker Bay in a storm. I won’t allow it.”
“It’s not properly storming quite yet, I can manage it.”
“Stannis,” Joanna interrupted the fight, and pushed through her blush when she realized what she’d said. “They can’t cross the Wall until I get there. Robb cannot go beyond it with father, and he cannot negotiate properly with the Wildlings without a child at his side. I have to go.”
“If she must, she must, brother.”
“I will go with her, Uncle.” Edric added. As though his presence would lessen the storm growing outside the windows.
“Father won’t take a large party beyond the Wall, and even then, he won’t let you be a part of it. You can’t negotiate for the North.”
“I’m going anyway. Lord Stark will have to leave me unconscious himself to keep me from leaving you alone up there.”
“I hate to say it,” Davos interrupted, “but if we’re leaving, we need to be leaving. We’ll barely have any tide left at this point and we need to get out before the storm earns its name.”
“All I need is my sword and Ghost and I can be to the docks.”
“It’ll take a few minutes more than that to prepare the ship, but not much.”
Joanna gave him a sharp nod and let Shireen take her hand as they went for Joanna’s rooms at a run. She’d barely had time to unpack, so getting things together to leave wouldn’t be too difficult a task. She paused for a moment to catch Lord Stannis’ eye, but the man had taken her place by the windows.
The rest of the party disbanded, either making their way to help prepare the ship, or help someone pack as part of their goodbyes. Renly stayed behind with Stannis, shoulder to shoulder with him as he looked at the dark, churning water of Shipbreaker Bay, no doubt his mind decades earlier on another ship that had fallen to the rocks now taunting him.
“We’re going to have to tell Robert about this and I can’t think of a way keep him from calling his banners.
Renly didn’t expect that to be Stannis’ comment, but he played along. “Does Robert need to know.”
“Unless there are only a few hundred Wildlings, Stark won’t have enough to keep them fed. The North spends all the years in between setting aside food that will keep them alive through the Winter, and extra beside if it should be one of the wretched long ones, but all their extras won’t be enough for themselves and the Wildlings. Stark won’t be able to hide it because he’s going to need help. The amount of importing he’ll have to do cannot go unnoticed, and will likely bankrupt his house for a generation. Which is to say nothing of how he’s going to enforce order, and what happens when winter ends and many of the Wildlings decide they want to stay.”
“Robert is going to lose his mind.”
“So long as he does not act on that lost mind, we’ll be fine. He keeps the North because Lord Stark doesn’t want to be a king, but if he pushes Stark will do what he must.”
“As he has done today.”
“Indeed.” Stannis turned on his heel and made for the dock, reaching the ship before Joanna and the others, but not before Ghost. Stannis took a knee before the massive direwolf. “Keep her well. You can do nothing about the water, but you can do something about in the Wildlings.”
If a wolf were capable of smiling, that would have described Ghost. Strange as it seemed, Stannis trusted the direwolf to keep Joanna well, for all that he had never felt threatened by the creature. Edric arrived moments later, pausing just long enough to give a long hug to each of his uncles and then boarded to help Davos’ crew with their final preparations.
Joanna and Shireen were next, both at a sprint. Edric took her bag on board so Joanna could offer a hurried curtsy to Renly and wrap Shireen in a hug. Shireen buried her face in Joanna’s shoulder while Joanna murmured that she would see Shireen soon, she swore it. “And you can send ravens to the wall, and we’ll find a way to get them to me. And as soon as this matter is done, I’ll be back.”
Shireen pulled away. “Swear.”
“On my honor.” Shireen dove forward for another hug and then pulled back to offer a stilted curtsy.
Joanna then turned to Stannis and offered his a curtsy of her own, obviously expecting the same coldness he had shown her before. “Thank you for your hospitality, Lord Stannis. I hope you will extend it to me again when my business is done.”
Joanna turned to leave, not giving him a moment to do more than bow in return, but her steps away were halted by the heavy burden of his cloak around her shoulders. “Of course. I look forward to your future presence.”
“Go.” He gave her a push. “Before the storm takes a turn.”
They stood there, the three Baratheons, watching two of the most beloved members of their family who did not bare the name head into the bay while rain fell all the more heavily from the sky. Renly heaved a great sigh and turned to them both. “Go inside.”
“If matters should turn, I don’t want either of your out here to watch it.”
“No, brother. You’ve watched one ship go down, I won’t have you watch another.” Stannis intended to object, but Shireen took his hand and dragged him back to the keep. He wanted to object, but there was no denying Shireen when he could hear her sniffling, trying to choke back tears at the unexpected departure.
He had expected his daughter to simply retreat to the staircase, or defy Renly’s command and go to the first window she could find, but instead she dragged him to the godswood.
“Have you converted then?”
“No. But these are Joanna’s gods, and if anyone would protect her, it would be them.”
Shireen went to her knees before the tree, though Stannis could not bring himself to kneel, he stayed silent with her before the tree. They were there when Renly arrived and declared that Davos was just as brilliant as ever and had seen the ship past the storm. Renly had watched until they passed back into the sunlight and put forth full canvas.
“They’ll be all right, Stannis. The storm won’t catch them.”
“Small favors, for the storm is the least of their problems now.”