An AU look at the Baratheon brothers where the skin of folk is adorned with the bonds of family and as they grow the ones they love.
Bonus chap for Shireen.
un-betad, yada yada, apologies for any mistakes all my own. This fic did totally not go where I was planning, but I think it turned out alright nonetheless, this first part was done mostly together and the next chapter sort of separately as admittedly a bit of a rushed afterthought, which might explain any incoherency and the slight change in style. Apologies again. Hope you enjoy :)
The brothers were different, later Cressen would say “as all brothers are”. They were all born with blue eyes and a mop of black hair, but their marks, the marks of a family and sibling bond were not as similar as one might expect. Robert, first-born and heir to Storm’s End was a loud and bawling babe with the stag of the Baratheons stretched across his right forearm as dark as his hair, proud for all to see. It was only after holding the babe, his babe that Steffon realised he had a small matching mark on the inside of his wrist to match his son’s. Cassana too had a match, though hers was discrete above her left hip, and the happy parents would always smile as they danced and those paired marks would meet.
Stannis the second-born had two stags, one behind each elbow, though easy to spot on his pale baby skin they were the gray of ghosts, they were faint and in a position awkward for the boy to ever see himself. They didn’t match either, not each other, with the right slightly larger and darker, and the left a stag with antlers more petite, and not the marks of his parents. Steffon had another stag on his wrist, it was the same paler shade, but the shape was almost identical to the mark for Robert. The same held true for Cassana when she noticed the extra stag upon her hip. It was only later they noticed the tiny green sea turtle hidden behind his left ear, the same as Cassana’s, she too was born with hers.
Years later Cassana and Steffon found they had their final stag, a circle of three. Renly was born with his stag prancing across his right clavicle towards his neck, it reminded Cassana of her growing bond, the two prongs that grew and itched across her clavicles and confirmed a love she had dreamed of. It was Steffon’s mark that sealed the marriage though, a green sea turtle that covered the back of his right hand, there was little at all to interpret. Growth marks were used for marriages and alliances, they looked the same as family bonds when finished but they itched and stung and hurt, they were not meant to be ignored.
They were though, more often than not. Because marriage is not about love or happiness or even the will of the gods, it’s about security for the family and their name, advancement through the ranks of the gentry. The maesters or septons and septas interpreted the marks to please their holders, to reassure them and offer the illusion that they are destined to be happy. Not all had growth marks and for most that did they were vague; such as a flower that happens to be fair maiden’s favourite and a horse with colouring similar to the knight’s, or mayhaps the knight’s first horse,
- do you not remember the horse you had once, it looked like this, did it not?
- Aye, how could I forget?
- It is destined my love, the gods themselves agree, we are blessed
There were few with marks so clear and obvious as Steffon’s sea turtle, but the splodge of green with flippers could not be mistaken for anything else. It was the same for Robert, he was but ten and six when the black direwolf began to grow across his chest, his mark the same as he; large, obvious and proud for all to see. It was clear enough for Rickard Stark, the Northern folk held the marks in higher esteem than their southern counterparts, a potential match was only considered after an interpretation. But this sign was enough that Stark did not wait for his daughter’s own mark to agree to a betrothal, why when there could be no other meaning?
It was soon after that Robert met Ned Stark in the Vale, foster brothers under the tutelage of Jon Arryn. The two betrothed hardly met, hardly knew one another, though Robert showed the mark at the first opportunity and Lyanna for all her hopes of love and future happiness with the man that Ned assured her was the best man he knew…She felt nothing. There was no burst of emotion, no thrill that over whelmed her, the tales and songs told so oft had lied. He was charming though, and she found herself thinking that if she were to have a pair of antlers grow along her along her clavicles like his lady mother it would not be such a bad thing.
Then there was Harrenhal and the disappearance of Lyanna, with rumours that her mark had started growing, that Rhaegar fancied it was a dragon. Brandon with his howling wolf and his splash of water across his torso and left shoulder were burnt alive, nothing to the flames that consumed his father.
Robert fought, he fought Rhaegar and ended him, ended the man with the stars on his chest and the small dragon across his shoulder. But there was no relief from the ache in his chest, the ache on his chest. He raged against the family that caused the grief, he raged against his family for failing him, and found he’d nothing but rage left. Ned had gone back North to his wife and family with his sister’s body and the child that he’d fathered, two babes to Robert’s heavy crown and painful chair. Soon enough though, there was a marriage, and a babe, but not the ones that anyone had really desired. He’d ordered the marriage, Arryn the man who looked at him like a son before but now had only pity in his eyes had advised this, this joining of houses between Baratheon and Florent. The Tyrells would still have their power and Robert their loyalty, whilst the Florents expected the Lord of Stormlands through their grandson in return for their support.
It didn’t turn out that way.
A son was born, but not to Selyse and Stannis, who was given Dragonstone not the Stormlands, instead to Delena. Edric Storm, and Robert knows it’s another of his because another piece of the stag growing on his arm comes, the right antler joining the left and the two eyes. It’s a strange and fragmented mark, and he had worried when the eye first appeared that Lyanna would disapprove, she had said nothing though it was clear enough for her to see when he showed her the wolf on his chest. Cersei though, she scowled and scratched at it and hated all sixteen pieces that took to form it. She hated it almost as much as the wolf.
He was betrothed again without quite realising it, for his behaviour didn’t change, he whored and drank and hoped that maybe someone else would do the king business. Arryn was good at it, Stannis was good at it too even if he had ridiculous ideas like banning the whore houses. Renly too was learning, though who from Robert knew not, the boy’s mannerisms and behaviour was from no father figure Robert had ever known and even further from Stannis.
Cersei was adorned in lions, regal and roaring, she had two birth lions she told him, and then one for each child. He oft wondered where his children were on his own body, she told him they were on his head hidden in his hair, perhaps if he became more like Stannis perhaps others would see the lions there too. Pycelle interpreted them, the position he told him was to show how they were always in his thoughts, his greatest concern were his children that’s why they were on his head. Of course Robert nodded, it wasn’t true though, the thoughts he had most were where he could see them, and feel them.
It still hurt.
It would always hurt.
When the boar pierced through his skin, slashing the wolf, for all the pain, there was relief.
He envied Robert’s stag so clear upon his forearm. Though his mother oft rubbed his ear and told him of the green sea turtle that hid behind there, Stannis wished that he too could have a stag where he could actually see it and where others could see it too, he was proud to be a Baratheon. He asked Maester Cressen once why he had three birthmarks, the Maester looked at him and hummed and ahhed but could not give the answer, or at least one that satisfied him. It was only later when Renly was born that it started to make sense to Stannis, he the middle brother had one for each.
He stood with Robert upon the parapet as the ship was torn apart by the waves, Renly was crying somewhere in the castle the Maester and the nurse tending to him. It was stormy and the wind was violent, they’d been told even in good weather it was not a safe place to be, they had to be careful, to hold tight and not lean near the edge. He stood there with Robert who roared and shouted and stamped his feet, gripping Stannis’ hand so tightly that it went numb and he just stood there, not saying a word.
Watching. His head filled with noise.
He didn’t hear a word Robert said, but it wasn’t the sound of the storm, it was the waves he heard, the only sound was the ocean fillings his parents’ screams.
It started during the siege, the prickling upon his shoulder blade, another place he could not see, he told no one, not even the maester, Cressen would only be too happy to interpret the mark and find Stannis his fated. But he had done without the gods for six years, he wasn’t about to start again now.
The burning and prickling persisted and worsened, it was almost a welcome feeling to distract from the aching hunger in his stomach. He was more irritable he knew, though it could just have easily been the hunger, that hunger that drove good men to treachery and wise men to consider the unthinkable. It was the sailor-smuggler that saved them with his salted fish and his onions, it was such a relief, to sleep without the aches and pains of starvation. Recovery was slow, and rations were still scarce but they made it through the siege and the war when Ned Stark and his men eventually came to force the Tyrell men down. It had been a bloodless battle, or near enough when Stannis considered Davos’ left hand, he thought of the people of Storm’s End, his people. Yes, a bloodless battle, but you would not have known from the number of dead.
Robert ordered his marriage to Selyse before the mark had finished growing, continuing its painful itch across his shoulder blade. Stannis never told his brother of the mark, Robert had never thought he needed to ask. He worried what it was, that all the people would see it at the bedding, see this part of him that even he did not know. He thought little of the gods and their whims, but there were others who would care, who might even at the bedding halt the marriage and demand an interpretation.
He feared what this mark might do to jeopardise his duty.
He needn’t have worried.
By the close of that day, even Selyse had not seen the mark.
It finished growing in time and it did not hurt as much as he’d heard ignored marks were wont to do. He’d near forgotten the mark, the ache it caused had dulled same as the hunger he’d once had, though he felt it sometimes it was near nothing to before. It was during the Greyjoy rebellion that Davos brought it to the forefront of his mind, he had a cut to his back, superficial but the man insisted that if he were not to go to a maester he would at least let his most trusted man check for himself.
With disgruntled reluctance Stannis removed his undershirt and forgot completely the mark that once prickled his skin.
Davos gasped despite himself “A ship?”
“Aye” Stannis replied as though this was nothing new, he winced as his skin stung where Davos’ fingers traced the mark.
“I’m sorry, I forgot myself, m’lord”
“The cut, Davos, how fares the wound?” Stannis snaps, he’s in pain that has nothing to do with battle.
Davos brings Maester Cressen, and he tells himself because it’s the wound that needs attending to, but another part of him knows had it not been for the ship with script so familiar, yet to himself unintelligible, he would have let Stannis be stubborn. But his curiosity wins, and the Maester struggles to hide his surprise and hurt that this is something Stannis has not shared with him. He tends to the wound in near silence, only to apologise for the pain he causes and admonishing Stannis for not having the sense to see him immediately. He mutters something to the stubborn man who grits his teeth and mutters a reply, their voices too low for Davos to make out,
As he leaves he beckons Davos to him, quietly he thanks him, “Take care of him, Davos, you are more important to him than you will ever know.” He says it as though Stannis should not hear these parting words, but looking back to the dark haired man with the ship now half covered in bandages, he knows that Stannis heard it all, he had the strangest feeling that the words meant more to Stannis than he could understand himself.
Stannis continues to ignore the gods, he has no time for them and remains unaffected, but the mark it still prickles and aches.
He tells himself he’s ignoring that too, that it would make no difference.
But he’s glad for the prickle, he fears for the day when it might stop and there’d be only an ache.
He’s the youngest of three, but he might as well be an only child for all the attention the household pays him. And Renly adores it, knowing that he’s loved, by the cook who sneaks him extra sweets, by the nurse who sings him songs of summer and the tailor who makes him clothes that would be fit for a prince. It is not what he wants though.
He wants Stannis to laugh with him and smile at his enactments, he wants Robert to come home and to stay home and teach him to use the war hammer that he talks of and he wants the parents he’s never known to tell him how proud they are, how much he’s grown.
Robert promises a great many things, he promises Renly a sister he will love, he promises to teach him as their father had, he promises to keep Renly safe. He promises again before he leaves to fight. By the time Renly is master of laws he’s learnt the weight of Robert’s promises.
They live through a war, Stannis and he and the household. But it is nothing like the battles in the tales, there’s no thrill and glory. Only hunger and sadness. He sees Stannis training in the yard with determined regularity and he’s good, second only to Robert and his warhammer they say, but there will be no glory for Stannis, there is nothing the sword can do against the battalion that lays in wait outside their gates. When Renly trains he holds the sword with distaste, it is not his weapon of choice.
It’s a common man who saves them. For all his gratitude for the food Renly cannot help but wish that the man had thought to bring fresh fruit, sweet fruit like grapes and apples and peaches. He holds his tongue though at the sight of Stannis and Cressen who tell him the news, the old man is frail but he’s smiling as though the fish and onions might be the best food in the world and Stannis doesn’t smile, he hasn’t in so long, but there’s relief. Renly knows his brother feared for them, he never said anything though, not to anyone. For all that Renly said, and he spoke a lot, Stannis said little in return, he spoke with actions and hard looks that required few words. He had to concentrate when he was younger to understand Stannis, to pay attention to the subtleties that were so easily missed and harder still to interpret. His brother hardly said when he was pleased or impressed, so Renly took care to make sure he could know despite it.
When they were to meet again in King’s Landing, Renly stopped looking, he didn’t pay attention to the stubborn clench of his brother’s jaw at Robert’s overruling, though the grinding and gnashing of teeth was hard to miss, he didn’t see the short quirk up of Stannis’ lip when he made a worthy suggestion nor hear the sardonic tone in comments levelled at Littlefinger. No, because he’d decided long ago when Stannis had left him that he no longer cared.
He has a squire in time, though he knows he’s hardly a knight himself. Loras Tyrell, from Highgarden, Mace Tyrell had suggested it, though Renly knew it was the Grandmother who pushed it forward. He was loathe to take Loras from Highgarden as he was loathe to leave it himself, he fostered good relations with the family that had stood opposite himself on the battlefield. He fostered good relations with many families those with and against the great rebellion, he was good with people, good at talking to people, he knew because they told him so themselves.
A flower blooms on his left shoulder and though he’s ashamed to admit it his first thought was of Margaery. But he knows the next time he sees Loras and feels the oft described prickle that there is only one explanation. He both seeks out Loras and avoids him as he waits for the mark to finish growing, he watches to see if Loras too has these feelings, a mark of the stag. But he cannot have Loras see him, they’re friends, more so than a squire and his Lord have any due to be, and Renly fears, irrationally he knows, what if Loras is not the same? What if it’s all a grand misunderstanding and it’s Margaery after all? He knows though, that if Margaery had any sign of a stag there would be no waiting on Mace Tyrell’s part, she would be put forward as Joffrey’s betrothed with little delay, the Tyrells were not subtle in their lust for advancement.
He tries to learn from the songs and histories about the great loves and how one might approach the other. It’s all man and woman though, all so very simple you make a grand gesture of showing your beloved your mark and with a look of fated recognition they fall into your arms with unrivalled joy.
It’s Loras that makes the first move, they waited, perhaps in a mutual unspoken understanding, until he was knighted, Ser Loras Tyrell one of the best jousters in the land. Renly wasn’t envious, and he revelled in the attention his handsome knight received, because he knew, that the handsome knight had eyes only for him.
It wasn’t an easy birth, but at least this time there was reward for all the struggles. And perhaps Selyse was disappointed that the squalling babe wasn’t a boy like the silent children before her, and maybe she was fearful that her husband might not care for the child, might not care for her. He did his duty yes, but what duty does a father have to a daughter beyond a convenient betrothal? She had hoped that this child could help them, that she as his wife would give him the ultimate gift of life of an heir and he in the joys of fatherhood might soften his permanent scowl and speak the sweet words the songs had taught her to expect to hear.
But she smiled at her daughter, calm and sleeping now as she held her waiting for her husband to arrive and decide upon a name, stroking her soft downy hair already looking the black of her father’s. The babe had a fox behind her right ear. “Ears befitting any Florent child” Selyse thought sadly as she remembered the teasing she had endured as a child. But this babe,her babe was the daughter of a great lord, the Master of Ships, niece of King Robert Baratheon himself, there would be no children so bold as to tease a Baratheon about her ears.
She clutched her daughter closer as she heard the impatient footsteps of her husband approach the chamber, he’s come faster than she thought he would, it was when Stannis stops outside her door that Selyse realised she saw no sign of a stag or even a sea turtle upon their daughter. She looks at the child again, it’s an insult worse than being a daughter.
He waited in the solar continuing with the business of Dragonstone, he was of no use to the women and the maester, they would tell him when it was time. If the wind blew right he could hear her cries, it was taking so much longer this time and he found his concentration lapsing, made evident by the angry scratchings upon the accounts he was trying to manage. Was it a good thing it was taking longer? This babe though early was older than the others, but those times it was the babes that had not survived, he feared that perhaps this time his wife might not.
The noise stopped, though the wind might have changed. Stannis returned his focus the matters at hand only to find his hands covered in ink and his quill irredeemably broken. He gets up to clean his hands at the basin provided, but he doesn’t return to his desk when he’s done, he leaves the solar and heads towards his lady’s chambers.
Cressen says nothing as he sees the young Lord with his face so determined, he was on his way to tell him, he smiles knowing there is only one way for the father of the child to have known before him.
“They are both well my lord” he says without the preamble he knows would be wasted on Stannis, “both my Lady and your daughter.”
Cressen watches closely catch the twitch of a smile that crosses his face, only to stay there.
They stop outside the door, when Stannis finally delivers his reply.
It happens that the daughter has inherited her mother’s ears with the Florent fox behind the left and her father’s strong jaw. Her hair is black like her father’s, but not so coarse, it’s finer and she’s grateful for the joy she sees her mother have in stroking and combing her hair. She likes her blue eyes too, the same as her father’s Cressen says, blue Baratheon eyes and black Baratheon hair, she is her father’s daughter the old Maester often says.
Shireen had a stag of house Baratheon too, it covered her cheek in the colour of her skin. As a babe Cressen told her once it was only visible when she cried or blushed to make her cheeks red, then it would stand out and be seen. She wonders sometimes if that might’ve been better, though she is not one to cry often now or blush if she can help it, her birth mark might not be easy to see but she would know it was there nonetheless.
There is little point in wondering though, childhood illness that should have left her dead left her with only a cheek marred by dying skin that cracked and peeled and made the hidden stag bright and obvious. She had learnt over time it was no use to hide her cheek and the mark that graced it.
She was Shireen Baratheon, survivor of greyscale, of the Northern Winter and the beasts that accompanied it and bringer of peace to the war torn lands of Westeros.
Able and just it was the white stag across her marred cheek that showed the people who she was, more than any Queen’s crown ever could.