A letter comes one morning when it is raining, written in a neat maester’s hand, and it is Stannis who reads it to her.
“Dear Marya,” he reads, his small voice filling the hall more loudly than the crackling logs in the fireplace. “I hope that you are well, and that Stannis and Steffon are being good. I miss you all very much.” Stannis looks up at her and smiles, his brown eyes crinkling. She nods at him, smiling, encouraging. He still trips over the words, but it is better that he try to read than that she. She’s taught herself some–it makes running Davos’ castle easier–but she’s no great reader, and at eleven Stannis is already better at it than her.
She pulls Steffon onto her lap as Stannis goes on. “I am safe and sound, though not for fear that that would be the case. I was held for a time at the king’s command.” Marya frowns. Why would the king have held Davos? Unless that red witch had something to do with it.
Stannis looks at her, and she nods at him to continue. “But you need not worry of that. That is in the past. I am in the king’s good graces, and serve him as ever I have. His Grace has named me his hand, and named me lord of the Rainwood, which makes you my Lady Marya, and our sons shall be lords until their dying days.” Stannis says the last words very fast and he looks at Marya excitedly.
“Mother! A lord!” he practically sings and Steffon hops off her lap so the two can jump about together. “I will be lord of the Rainwood!” Stannis sings.
“I want to be lord of the Rainwood!” Steffon pouts.
“Neither of you shall be. Devan is your father’s heir.” Marya closes her eyes for a moment and sees Dale’s face–Dale as he was when he was no older than Steffon, when memories of Flea Bottom still filled his head. Dale, Allard, Matthos, and Maric. My boys. My lordly boys. My boys who should have been lords, would have been.
You said we’d be safe. Are they safe now? With Stannis weak and at Dragonstone and her husband his hand–what would stop the Lannister queen from coming down to the Rainwood and hanging her and her boys as a traitor’s bride? Her throat tightens as she looks at her boys–her last two, her youngest, only children. Surely they would be safe. The Lannister queen had children of that age as well. She is a mother, surely she knew a mother’s mercy.
“But Devan’s not even here,” complains Steffon.
Marya forces her voice to remain calm as she speaks. “Aye, that is because he serves the King, like your father. Keep reading, Stannis.”
Stannis straightens and flourishes the letter. “Devan is well,” he says, nodding to Marya. “He learns with the Princess, and is her greatest friend.”
“Will Devan marry the Princess, mama?” Steffon asks.
“Hush, child. Even though your father is the King’s Hand, that is too low a match for her. She’ll wed the Arryn boy, like as not.” She remembers Davos talking of Jon Arryn’s boy. He was of an age, and of lofty birth, and as far as she knew, the Arryns had not yet declared for any king. Wise, she thinks, looking at her boys. Wise, to keep himself safe while the highlords war. He’s younger than Steffon. Younger than all my boys.
“Give my love to our boys,” Stannis reads. “And my love, of course, to you, my dearest Lady Marya.”
“When will father be home?” Steffon asks.
“It doesn’t say,” Stannis replies, looking back at the letter.
“But I want to see father!” Steffon insists.
“He’ll be home when the war is won,” Marya says, running her hand through her youngest’s hair, doing her best to ignore the twist in her stomach.
I’ll never see him again. She hated the thought, hated it as profoundly as she’d hated anything in her life. She wanted to hold him, to mourn their boys…But how could they win this war? And if they lost, how would he survive?