A Clash of Kings, Page 21George R. R. Martin
“… so the House might continue,” finished Leobald.
Bran knew what to say. “Thank you for the notion, my lord,” he blurted out before Ser Rodrik could speak. “We will bring the matter to my brother Robb. Oh, and Lady Hornwood.”
Leobald seemed surprised that he had spoken. “I’m grateful, my prince,” he said, but Bran saw pity in his pale blue eyes, mingled perhaps with a little gladness that the cripple was, after all, not his son. For a moment he hated the man.
Maester Luwin liked him better, though. “Beren Tallhart may well be our best answer,” he told them when Leobald had gone. “By blood he is half Hornwood. If he takes his uncle’s name…”
“… he will still be a boy,” said Ser Rodrik, “and hard-pressed to hold his lands against the likes of Mors Umber or this bastard of Roose Bolton’s. We must think on this carefully. Robb should have our best counsel before he makes his decision.”
“It may come down to practicalities,” said Maester Luwin. “Which lord he most needs to court. The riverlands are part of his realm, he may wish to cement the alliance by wedding Lady Hornwood to one of the lords of the Trident. A Blackwood, perhaps, or a Frey—”
“Lady Hornwood can have one of our Freys,” said Bran. “She can have both of them if she likes.”
“You are not kind, my prince,” Ser Rodrik chided gently.
Neither are the Walders. Scowling, Bran stared down at the table and said nothing.
In the days that followed, ravens arrived from other lordly houses, bearing regrets. The bastard of the Dreadfort would not be joining them, the Mormonts and Karstarks had all gone south with Robb, Lord Locke was too old to dare the journey, Lady Flint was heavy with child, there was sickness at Widow’s Watch. Finally all of the principal vassals of House Stark had been heard from save for Howland Reed the crannogman, who had not set foot outside his swamps for many a year, and the Cerwyns whose castle lay a half day’s ride from Winterfell. Lord Cerwyn was a captive of the Lannisters, but his son, a lad of fourteen, arrived one bright, blustery morning at the head of two dozen lances. Bran was riding Dancer around the yard when they came through the gate. He trotted over to greet them. Cley Cerwyn had always been a friend to Bran and his brothers.
“Good morrow, Bran,” Cley called out cheerfully. “Or must I call you Prince Bran now?”
“Only if you want.”
Cley laughed. “Why not? Everyone else is a king or prince these days. Did Stannis write Winterfell as well?”
“Stannis? I don’t know.”
“He’s a king now too,” Cley confided. “He says Queen Cersei bedded her brother, so Joffrey is a bastard.”
“Joffrey the Illborn,” one of the Cerwyn knights growled. “Small wonder he’s faithless, with the Kingslayer for a father.”
“Aye,” said another, “the gods hate incest. Look how they brought down the Targaryens.”
For a moment Bran felt as though he could not breathe. A giant hand was crushing his chest. He felt as though he was falling, and clutched desperately at Dancer’s reins.
His terror must have shown on his face. “Bran?” Cley Cerwyn said. “Are you unwell? It’s only another king.”
“Robb will beat him too.” He turned Dancer’s head toward the stables, oblivious to the puzzled stares the Cerwyns gave him. His blood was roaring in his ears, and had he not been strapped onto his saddle he might well have fallen.
That night Bran prayed to his father’s gods for dreamless sleep. If the gods heard, they mocked his hopes, for the nightmare they sent was worse than any wolf dream.
“Fly or die!” cried the three-eyed crow as it pecked at him. He wept and pleaded but the crow had no pity. It put out his left eye and then his right, and when he was blind in the dark it pecked at his brow, driving its terrible sharp beak deep into his skull. He screamed until he was certain his lungs must burst. The pain was an axe splitting his head apart, but when the crow wrenched out its beak all slimy with bits of bone and brain, Bran could see again. What he saw made him gasp in fear. He was clinging to a tower miles high, and his fingers were slipping, nails scrabbling at the stone, his legs dragging him down, stupid useless dead legs. “Help me!” he cried. A golden man appeared in the sky above him and pulled him up. “The things I do for love,” he murmured softly as he tossed him out kicking into empty air.
“I do not sleep as I did when I was younger,” Grand Maester Pycelle told him, by way of apology for the dawn meeting. “I would sooner be up, though the world be dark, than lie restless abed, fretting on tasks undone,” he said — though his heavy-lidded eyes made him look half-asleep as he said it.
In the airy chambers beneath the rookery, his girl served them boiled eggs, stewed plums, and porridge, while Pycelle served the pontifications. “In these sad times, when so many hunger, I think it only fitting to keep my table spare.”
“Commendable,” Tyrion admitted, breaking a large brown egg that reminded him unduly of the Grand Maester’s bald spotted head. “I take a different view. If there is food I eat it, in case there is none on the morrow.” He smiled. “Tell me, are your ravens early risers as well?”
Pycelle stroked the snowy beard that flowed down his chest. “To be sure. Shall I send for quill and ink after we have eaten?”
“No need.” Tyrion laid the letters on the table beside his porridge, twin parchments tightly rolled and sealed with wax at both ends. “Send your girl away, so we can talk.”
“Leave us, child,” Pycelle commanded. The serving girl hurried from the room. “These letters, now…”
“For the eyes of Doran Martell, Prince of Dorne.” Tyrion peeled the cracked shell away from his egg and took a bite. It wanted salt. “One letter, in two copies. Send your swiftest birds. The matter is of great import.”
“I shall dispatch them as soon as we have broken our fast.”
“Dispatch them now. Stewed plums will keep. The realm may not. Lord Renly is leading his host up the roseroad, and no one can say when Lord Stannis will sail from Dragonstone.”
Pycelle blinked. “If my lord prefers—”
“I am here to serve.” The maester pushed himself ponderously to his feet, his chain of office clinking softly. It was a heavy thing, a dozen maester’s collars threaded around and through each other and ornamented with gemstones. And it seemed to Tyrion that the gold and silver and platinum links far outnumbered those of baser metals.
Pycelle moved so slowly that Tyrion had time to finish his egg and taste the plums — overcooked and watery, to his taste — before the sound of wings prompted him to rise. He spied the raven, dark in the dawn sky, and turned briskly toward the maze of shelves at the far end of the room.
The maester’s medicines made an impressive display; dozens of pots sealed with wax, hundreds of stoppered vials, as many milkglass bottles, countless jars of dried herbs, each container neatly labeled in Pycelle’s precise hand. An orderly mind, Tyrion reflected, and indeed, once you puzzled out the arrangement, it was easy to see that every potion had its place. And such interesting things. He noted sweetsleep and nightshade, milk of the poppy, the tears of Lys, powdered greycap, wolfsbane and demon’s dance, basilisk venom, blindeye, widow’s blood…
Standing on his toes and straining upward, he managed to pull a small dusty bottle off the high shelf. When he read the label, he smiled and slipped it up his sleeve.
He was back at the table peeling another egg when Grand Maester Pycelle came creeping down the stairs. “It is done, my lord.” The old man seated himself. “A matter like this… best done promptly, indeed, indeed… of great import, you say?”
“Oh, yes.” The porridge was too thick, Tyrion felt, and wanted butter and honey. To be sure, butter and honey were seldom seen in King’s Landing of late, though Lord Gyles kept them well supplied in the castle. Half of the food they ate these days came from his lands or Lady Tanda’s. Rosby and Stokeworth lay near the city to the north, and were yet
untouched by war.
“The Prince of Dorne, himself. Might I ask…”
“As you say.” Pycelle’s curiosity was so ripe that Tyrion could almost taste it. “Mayhaps… the king’s council…”
Tyrion tapped his wooden spoon against the edge of the bowl. “The council exists to advise the king, Maester.”
“Just so,” said Pycelle, “and the king—”
“—is a boy of thirteen. I speak with his voice.”
“So you do. Indeed. The King’s Own Hand. Yet… your most gracious sister, our Queen Regent, she…”
“… bears a great weight upon those lovely white shoulders of hers. I have no wish to add to her burdens. Do you?” Tyrion cocked his head and gave the Grand Maester an inquiring stare.
Pycelle dropped his gaze back to his food. Something about Tyrion’s mismatched green-and-black eyes made men squirm; knowing that, he made good use of them. “Ah,” the old man muttered into his plums. “Doubtless you have the right of it, my lord. It is most considerate of you to… spare her this… burden.”
“That’s just the sort of fellow I am.” Tyrion returned to the unsatisfactory porridge. “Considerate. Cersei is my own sweet sister, after all.”
“And a woman, to be sure,” Grand Maester Pycelle said. “A most uncommon woman, and yet… it is no small thing, to tend to all the cares of the realm, despite the frailty of her sex…”
Oh, yes, she’s a frail dove, just ask Eddard Stark. “I’m pleased you share my concern. And I thank you for the hospitality of your table. But a long day awaits.” He swung his legs out and clambered down from his chair. “Be so good as to inform me at once should we receive a reply from Dorne?”
“As you say, my lord.”
“And only me?”
“Ah… to be sure.” Pycelle’s spotted hand was clutching at his beard the way a drowning man clutches for a rope. It made Tyrion’s heart glad. One, he thought.
He waddled out into the lower bailey; his stunted legs complained of the steps. The sun was well up now, and the castle was stirring. Guardsmen walked the walls, and knights and men-at-arms were training with blunted weapons. Nearby, Bronn sat on the lip of a well. A pair of comely serving girls sauntered past carrying a wicker basket of rushes between them, but the sellsword never looked. “Bronn, I despair of you.” Tyrion gestured at the wenches. “With sweet sights like that before you, all you see is a gaggle of louts raising a clangor.”
“There are a hundred whorehouses in this city where a clipped copper will buy me all the cunt I want,” Bronn answered, “but one day my life may hang on how close I’ve watched your louts.” He stood. “Who’s the boy in the checkered blue surcoat with the three eyes on his shield?”
“Some hedge knight. Tallad, he names himself. Why?”
Bronn pushed a fall of hair from his eyes. “He’s the best of them. But watch him, he falls into a rhythm, delivering the same strokes in the same order each time he attacks.” He grinned. “That will be the death of him, the day he faces me.”
“He’s pledged to Joffrey; he’s not like to face you.” They set off across the bailey, Bronn matching his long stride to Tyrion’s short one. These days the sellsword was looking almost respectable. His dark hair was washed and brushed, he was freshly shaved, and he wore the black breastplate of an officer of the City Watch. From his shoulders trailed a cloak of Lannister crimson patterned with golden hands. Tyrion had made him a gift of it when he named him captain of his personal guard. “How many supplicants do we have today?” he inquired.
“Thirty odd,” answered Bronn. “Most with complaints, or wanting something, as ever. Your pet was back.”
He groaned. “Lady Tanda?”
“Her page. She invites you to sup with her again. There’s to be a haunch of venison, she says, a brace of stuffed geese sauced with mulberries, and—”
“—her daughter,” Tyrion finished sourly. Since the hour he had arrived in the Red Keep, Lady Tanda had been stalking him, armed with a never-ending arsenal of lamprey pies, wild boars, and savory cream stews. Somehow she had gotten the notion that a dwarf lordling would be the perfect consort for her daughter Lollys, a large, soft, dim-witted girl who rumor said was still a maid at thirty-and-three. “Send her my regrets.”
“No taste for stuffed goose?” Bronn grinned evilly.
“Perhaps you should eat the goose and marry the maid. Or better still, send Shagga.”
“Shagga’s more like to eat the maid and marry the goose,” observed Bronn. “Anyway, Lollys outweighs him.”
“There is that,” Tyrion admitted as they passed under the shadow of a covered walkway between two towers. “Who else wants me?”
The sellsword grew more serious. “There’s a moneylender from Braavos, holding fancy papers and the like, requests to see the king about payment on some loan.”
“As if Joff could count past twenty. Send the man to Littlefinger, he’ll find a way to put him off. Next?”
“A lordling down from the Trident, says your father’s men burned his keep, raped his wife, and killed all his peasants.”
“I believe they call that war.” Tyrion smelled Gregor Clegane’s work, or that of Ser Amory Lorch or his father’s other pet hellhound, the Qohorik. “What does he want of Joffrey?”
“New peasants,” Bronn said. “He walked all this way to sing how loyal he is and beg for recompense.”
“I’ll make time for him on the morrow.” Whether truly loyal or merely desperate, a compliant river lord might have his uses. “See that he’s given a comfortable chamber and a hot meal. Send him a new pair of boots as well, good ones, courtesy of King Joffrey.” A show of generosity never hurt.
Bronn gave a curt nod. “There’s also a great gaggle of bakers, butchers, and greengrocers clamoring to be heard.”
“I told them last time, I have nothing to give them.” Only a thin trickle of food was coming into King’s Landing, most of it earmarked for castle and garrison. Prices had risen sickeningly high on greens, roots, flour, and fruit, and Tyrion did not want to think about what sorts of flesh might be going into the kettles of the pot-shops down in Flea Bottom. Fish, he hoped. They still had the river and the sea… at least until Lord Stannis sailed.
“They want protection. Last night a baker was roasted in his own oven. The mob claimed he charged too much for bread.”
“He’s not apt to deny it.”
“They didn’t eat him, did they?”
“Not that I’ve heard.”
“Next time they will,” Tyrion said grimly. “I give them what protection I can. The gold cloaks—”
“They claim there were gold cloaks in the mob,” Bronn said. “They’re demanding to speak to the king himself.”
“Fools.” Tyrion had sent them off with regrets; his nephew would send them off with whips and spears. He was half-tempted to allow it… but no, he dare not. Soon or late, some enemy would march on King’s Landing, and the last thing he wanted was willing traitors within the city walls. “Tell them King Joffrey shares their fears and will do all he can for them.”
“They want bread, not promises.”
“If I give them bread today, on the morrow I’ll have twice as many at the gates. Who else?”
“A black brother down from the Wall. The steward says he brought some rotted hand in a jar.”
Tyrion smiled wanly. “I’m surprised no one ate it. I suppose I ought to see him. It’s not Yoren, perchance?”
“No. Some knight. Thorne.”
“Ser Alliser Thorne?” Of all the black brothers he’d met on the Wall, Tyrion Lannister had liked Ser Alliser Thorne the least. A bitter, mean-spirited man with too great a sense of his own worth. “Come to think on it, I don’t believe I care to see Ser Alliser just now. Find him a snug cell where no one has changed the rushes in a year, and let his hand rot a little more.”
Bronn snorted laughter and went his way, while Tyrion struggled up the s
erpentine steps. As he limped across the outer yard, he heard the portcullis rattling up. His sister and a large party were waiting by the main gate.
Mounted on her white palfrey, Cersei towered high above him, a goddess in green. “Brother,” she called out, not warmly. The queen had not been pleased by the way he’d dealt with Janos Slynt.
“Your Grace.” Tyrion bowed politely. “You look lovely this morning.” Her crown was gold, her cloak ermine. Her retinue sat their mounts behind her: Ser Boros Blount of the Kingsguard, wearing white scale and his favorite scowl; Ser Balon Swann, bow slung from his silver-inlay saddle; Lord Gyles Rosby, his wheezing cough worse than ever; Hallyne the Pyromancer of the Alchemists’ Guild; and the queen’s newest favorite, their cousin Ser Lancel Lannister, her late husband’s squire upjumped to knight at his widow’s insistence. Vylarr and twenty guardsmen rode escort. “Where are you bound this day, sister?” Tyrion asked.
“I’m making a round of the gates to inspect the new scorpions and spitfires. I would not have it thought that all of us are as indifferent to the city’s defense as you seem to be.” Cersei fixed him with those clear green eyes of hers, beautiful even in their contempt. “I am informed that Renly Baratheon has marched from Highgarden. He is making his way up the roseroad, with all his strength behind him.”
“Varys gave me the same report.”
“He could be here by the full moon.”
“Not at his present leisurely pace,” Tyrion assured her. “He feasts every night in a different castle, and holds court at every crossroads he passes.”
“And every day, more men rally to his banners. His host is now said to be a hundred thousand strong.”
“That seems rather high.”
“He has the power of Storm’s End and Highgarden behind him, you little fool,” Cersei snapped down at him. “All the Tyrell bannermen but for the Redwynes, and you have me to thank for that. So long as I hold those poxy twins of his, Lord Paxter will squat on the Arbor and count himself fortunate to be out of it.”
“A pity you let the Knight of Flowers slip through your pretty fingers. Still, Renly has other concerns besides us. Our father at Harrenhal, Robb Stark at Riverrun… were I he, I would do much as he is doing. Make my progress, flaunt my power for the realm to see, watch, wait. Let my rivals contend while I bide my own sweet time. If Stark defeats us, the south will fall into Renly’s hands like a windfall from the gods, and he’ll not have lost a man. And if it goes the other way, he can descend on us while we are weakened.”
Cersei was not appeased. “I want you to make Father bring his army to King’s Landing.”
Where it will serve no purpose but to make you feel safe. “When have I ever been able to make Father do anything?”
She ignored the question. “And when do you plan to free Jaime? He’s worth a hundred of you.”
Tyrion grinned crookedly. “Don’t tell Lady Stark, I beg you. We don’t have a hundred of me to trade.”
“Father must have been mad to send you. You’re worse than useless.” The queen jerked on her reins and wheeled her palfrey around. She rode out the gate at a brisk trot, ermine cloak streaming behind her. Her retinue hastened after.
In truth, Renly Baratheon did not frighten Tyrion half so much as his brother Stannis did. Renly was beloved of the commons, but he had never before led men in war. Stannis was otherwise: hard, cold, inexorable. If only they had some way of knowing what was happening on Dragonstone… but not one of the fisherfolk he had paid to spy out the island had ever returned, and even the informers the eunuch claimed to have placed in Stannis’s household had been ominously silent. The striped hulls of Lysene war galleys had been seen offshore, though, and Varys had reports from Myr of sellsail captains taking service with Dragonstone. If Stannis attacks by sea while his brother Renly storms the gates, they’ll soon be mounting Joffrey’s head on a spike. Worse, mine will be beside him. A depressing thought. He ought to make plans to get Shae safely out of the city, should the worst seem likely.
Podrick Payne stood at the door of his solar, studying the floor. “He’s inside,” he announced to Tyrion’s belt buckle. “Your solar. My lord. Sorry.”
Tyrion sighed. “Look at me, Pod. It unnerves me when you talk to my codpiece, especially when I’m not wearing one. Who is inside my solar?”
“Lord Littlefinger.” Podrick managed a quick look at his face, then hastily dropped his eyes. “I meant, Lord Petyr. Lord Baelish. The master of coin.”
“You make him sound a crowd.” The boy hunched down as if struck, making Tyrion feel absurdly guilty.
Lord Petyr was seated on his window seat, languid and elegant in a plush plum-colored doublet and a yellow satin cape, one gloved hand resting on his knee. “The king is fighting hares with a crossbow,” he said. “The hares are winning. Come see.”
Tyrion had to stand on his toes to get a look. A dead hare lay on the ground below; another, long ears twitching, was about to expire from the bolt in his side. Spent quarrels lay strewn across the hard-packed earth like straws scattered by a storm. “Now!” Joff shouted. The gamesman released the hare he was holding, and he went bounding off. Joffrey jerked the trigger on the crossbow. The bolt missed by two feet. The hare stood on his hind legs and twitched his nose at the king. Cursing, Joff spun the wheel to winch back his string, but the animal was gone before he was loaded. “Another!” The gamesman reached into the hutch. This one made a brown streak against the stones, while Joffrey’s hurried shot almost took Ser Preston in the groin.
Littlefinger turned away. “Boy, are you fond of potted hare?” he asked Podrick Payne.