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A Clash of Kings, Page 22

George R. R. Martin

  Pod stared at the visitor’s boots, lovely things of red-dyed leather ornamented with black scrollwork. “To eat, my lord?”

  “Invest in pots,” Littlefinger advised. “Hares will soon overrun the castle. We’ll be eating hare thrice a day.”

  “Better than rats on a skewer,” said Tyrion. “Pod, leave us. Unless Lord Petyr would care for some refreshment?”

  “Thank you, but no.” Littlefinger flashed his mocking smile. “Drink with the dwarf, it’s said, and you wake up walking the Wall. Black brings out my unhealthy pallor.”

  Have no fear, my lord, Tyrion thought, it’s not the Wall I have in mind for you. He seated himself in a high chair piled with cushions and said, “You look very elegant today, my lord.”

  “I’m wounded. I strive to look elegant every day.”

  “Is the doublet new?”

  “It is. You’re most observant.”

  “Plum and yellow. Are those the colors of your House?”

  “No. But a man gets bored wearing the same colors day in and day out, or so I’ve found.”

  “That’s a handsome knife as well.”

  “Is it?” There was mischief in Littlefinger’s eyes. He drew the knife and glanced at it casually, as if he had never seen it before. “Valyrian steel, and a dragonbone hilt. A trifle plain, though. It’s yours, if you would like it.”

  “Mine?” Tyrion gave him a long look. “No. I think not. Never mine.” He knows, the insolent wretch. He knows and he knows that I know, and he thinks that I cannot touch him.

  If ever truly a man had armored himself in gold, it was Petyr Baelish, not Jaime Lannister. Jaime’s famous armor was but gilded steel, but Littlefinger, ah… Tyrion had learned a few things about sweet Petyr, to his growing disquiet.

  Ten years ago, Jon Arryn had given him a minor sinecure in customs, where Lord Petyr had soon distinguished himself by bringing in three times as much as any of the king’s other collectors. King Robert had been a prodigious spender. A man like Petyr Baelish, who had a gift for rubbing two golden dragons together to breed a third, was invaluable to his Hand. Littlefinger’s rise had been arrow-swift. Within three years of his coming to court, he was master of coin and a member of the small council, and today the crown’s revenues were ten times what they had been under his beleaguered predecessor… though the crown’s debts had grown vast as well. A master juggler was Petyr Baelish.

  Oh, he was clever. He did not simply collect the gold and lock it in a treasure vault, no. He paid the king’s debts in promises, and put the king’s gold to work. He bought wagons, shops, ships, houses. He bought grain when it was plentiful and sold bread when it was scarce. He bought wool from the north and linen from the south and lace from Lys, stored it, moved it, dyed it, sold it. The golden dragons bred and multiplied, and Littlefinger lent them out and brought them home with hatchlings.

  And in the process, he moved his own men into place. The Keepers of the Keys were his, all four. The King’s Counter and the King’s Scales were men he’d named. The officers in charge of all three mints. Harbormasters, tax farmers, customs sergeants, wool factors, toll collectors, pursers, wine factors; nine of every ten belonged to Littlefinger. They were men of middling birth, by and large; merchants’ sons, lesser lordlings, sometimes even foreigners, but judging from their results, far more able than their highborn predecessors.

  No one had ever thought to question the appointments, and why should they? Littlefinger was no threat to anyone. A clever, smiling, genial man, everyone’s friend, always able to find whatever gold the king or his Hand required, and yet of such undistinguished birth, one step up from a hedge knight, he was not a man to fear. He had no banners to call, no army of retainers, no great stronghold, no holdings to speak of, no prospects of a great marriage.

  But do I dare touch him? Tyrion wondered. Even if he is a traitor? He was not at all certain he could, least of all now, while the war raged. Given time, he could replace Littlefinger’s men with his own in key positions, but…

  A shout rang up from the yard. “Ah, His Grace has killed a hare,” Lord Baelish observed.

  “No doubt a slow one,” Tyrion said. “My lord, you were fostered at Riverrun. I’ve heard it said that you grew close to the Tullys.”

  “You might say so. The girls especially.”

  “How close?”

  “I had their maidenhoods. Is that close enough?”

  The lie — Tyrion was fairly certain it was a lie — was delivered with such an air of nonchalance that one could almost believe it. Could it have been Catelyn Stark who lied? About her defloration, and the dagger as well? The longer he lived, the more Tyrion realized that nothing was simple and little was true. “Lord Hoster’s daughters do not love me,” he confessed. “I doubt they would listen to any proposal I might make. Yet coming from you, the same words might fall more sweetly on their ears.”

  “That would depend on the words. If you mean to offer Sansa in return for your brother, waste someone else’s time. Joffrey will never surrender his plaything, and Lady Catelyn is not so great a fool as to barter the Kingslayer for a slip of a girl.”

  “I mean to have Arya as well. I have men searching.”

  “Searching is not finding.”

  “I’ll keep that in mind, my lord. In any case, it was Lady Lysa I hoped you might sway. For her, I have a sweeter offer.”

  “Lysa is more tractable than Catelyn, true… but also more fearful, and I understand she hates you.”

  “She believes she has good reason. When I was her guest in the Eyrie, she insisted that I’d murdered her husband, and was not inclined to listen to denials.” He leaned forward. “If I gave her Jon Arryn’s true killer, she might think more kindly of me.”

  That made Littlefinger sit up. “True killer? I confess, you make me curious. Who do you propose?”

  It was Tyrion’s turn to smile. “Gifts I give my friends, freely. Lysa Arryn would need to understand that.”

  “Is it her friendship you require, or her swords?”


  Littlefinger stroked the neat spike of his beard. “Lysa has woes of her own. Clansmen raiding out of the Mountains of the Moon, in greater numbers than ever before… and better armed.”

  “Distressing,” said Tyrion Lannister, who had armed them. “I could help her with that. A word from me…”

  “And what would this word cost her?”

  “I want Lady Lysa and her son to acclaim Joffrey as king, to swear fealty, and to—”

  “—make war on the Starks and Tullys?” Littlefinger shook his head. “There’s the roach in your pudding, Lannister. Lysa will never send her knights against Riverrun.”

  “Nor would I ask it. We have no lack of enemies. I’ll use her power to oppose Lord Renly, or Lord Stannis, should he stir from Dragonstone. In return, I will give her justice for Jon Arryn and peace in the Vale. I will even name that appalling child of hers Warden of the East, as his father was before him.” I want to see him fly, a boy’s voice whispered faintly in memory. “And to seal the bargain, I will give her my niece.”

  He had the pleasure of seeing a look of genuine surprise in Petyr Baelish’s grey-green eyes. “Myrcella?”

  “When she comes of age, she can wed little Lord Robert. Until such time, she’ll be Lady Lysa’s ward at the Eyrie.”

  “And what does Her Grace the queen think of this ploy?” When Tyrion shrugged, Littlefinger burst into laughter. “I thought not. You’re a dangerous little man, Lannister. Yes, I could sing this song to Lysa.” Again the sly smile, the mischief in his glance. “If I cared to.”

  Tyrion nodded, waiting, knowing Littlefinger could never abide a long silence.

  “So,” Lord Petyr continued after a pause, utterly unabashed, “what’s in your pot for me?”


  It was interesting to watch his face. Lord Petyr’s father had been the smallest of small lords, his grandfather a landless hedge knight; by birth, he held no more than a fe
w stony acres on the windswept shore of the Fingers. Harrenhal was one of the richest plums in the Seven Kingdoms, its lands broad and rich and fertile, its great castle as formidable as any in the realm… and so large as to dwarf Riverrun, where Petyr Baelish had been fostered by House Tully, only to be brusquely expelled when he dared raise his sights to Lord Hoster’s daughter.

  Littlefinger took a moment to adjust the drape of his cape, but Tyrion had seen the flash of hunger in those sly cat’s eyes. I have him, he knew. “Harrenhal is cursed,” Lord Petyr said after a moment, trying to sound bored.

  “Then raze it to the ground and build anew to suit yourself. You’ll have no lack of coin. I mean to make you liege lord of the Trident. These river lords have proven they cannot be trusted. Let them do you fealty for their lands.”

  “Even the Tullys?”

  “If there are any Tullys left when we are done.”

  Littlefinger looked like a boy who had just taken a furtive bite from a honeycomb. He was trying to watch for bees, but the honey was so sweet. “Harrenhal and all its lands and incomes,” he mused. “With a stroke, you’d make me one of the greatest lords in the realm. Not that I’m ungrateful, my lord, but — why?”

  “You served my sister well in the matter of the succession.”

  “As did Janos Slynt. On whom this same castle of Harrenhal was quite recently bestowed — only to be snatched away when he was no longer of use.”

  Tyrion laughed. “You have me, my lord. What can I say? I need you to deliver the Lady Lysa. I did not need Janos Slynt.” He gave a crooked shrug. “I’d sooner have you seated in Harrenhal than Renly seated on the Iron Throne. What could be plainer?”

  “What indeed. You realize that I may need to bed Lysa Arryn again to get her consent to this marriage?”

  “I have little doubt you’ll be equal to the task.”

  “I once told Ned Stark that when you find yourself naked with an ugly woman, the only thing to do is close your eyes and get on with it.” Littlefinger steepled his fingers and gazed into Tyrion’s mismatched eyes. “Give me a fortnight to conclude my affairs and arrange for a ship to carry me to Gulltown.”

  “That will do nicely.”

  His guest rose. “This has been quite the pleasant morning, Lannister. And profitable… for both of us, I trust.” He bowed, his cape a swirl of yellow as he strode out the door.

  Two, thought Tyrion.

  He went up to his bedchamber to await Varys, who would soon be making an appearance. Evenfall, he guessed. Perhaps as late as moonrise, though he hoped not. He hoped to visit Shae tonight. He was pleasantly surprised when Galt of the Stone Crows informed him not an hour later that the powdered man was at his door. “You are a cruel man, to make the Grand Maester squirm so,” the eunuch scolded. “The man cannot abide a secret.”

  “Is that a crow I hear, calling the raven black? Or would you sooner not hear what I’ve proposed to Doran Martell?”

  Varys giggled. “Perhaps my little birds have told me.”

  “Have they, indeed?” He wanted to hear this. “Go on.”

  “The Dornishmen thus far have held aloof from these wars. Doran Martell has called his banners, but no more. His hatred for House Lannister is well known, and it is commonly thought he will join Lord Renly. You wish to dissuade him.”

  “All this is obvious,” said Tyrion.

  “The only puzzle is what you might have offered for his allegiance. The prince is a sentimental man, and he still mourns his sister Elia and her sweet babe.”

  “My father once told me that a lord never lets sentiment get in the way of ambition… and it happens we have an empty seat on the small council, now that Lord Janos has taken the black.”

  “A council seat is not to be despised,” Varys admitted, “yet will it be enough to make a proud man forget his sister’s murder?”

  “Why forget?” Tyrion smiled. “I’ve promised to deliver his sister’s killers, alive or dead, as he prefers. After the war is done, to be sure.”

  Varys gave him a shrewd look. “My little birds tell me that Princess Elia cried a… certain name… when they came for her.”

  “Is a secret still a secret if everyone knows it?” In Casterly Rock, it was common knowledge that Gregor Clegane had killed Elia and her babe. They said he had raped the princess with her son’s blood and brains still on his hands.

  “This secret is your lord father’s sworn man.”

  “My father would be the first to tell you that fifty thousand Dornishmen are worth one rabid dog.”

  Varys stroked a powdered cheek. “And if Prince Doran demands the blood of the lord who gave the command as well as the knight who did the deed…”

  “Robert Baratheon led the rebellion. All commands came from him, in the end.”

  “Robert was not at King’s Landing.”

  “Neither was Doran Martell.”

  “So. Blood for his pride, a chair for his ambition. Gold and land, that goes without saying. A sweet offer… yet sweets can be poisoned. If I were the prince, something more would I require before I should reach for this honeycomb. Some token of good faith, some sure safeguard against betrayal.” Varys smiled his slimiest smile. “Which one will you give him, I wonder?”

  Tyrion sighed. “You know, don’t you?”

  “Since you put it that way — yes. Tommen. You could scarcely offer Myrcella to Doran Martell and Lysa Arryn both.”

  “Remind me never to play these guessing games with you again. You cheat.”

  “Prince Tommen is a good boy.”

  “If I pry him away from Cersei and Joffrey while he’s still young, he may even grow to be a good man.”

  “And a good king?”

  “Joffrey is king.”

  “And Tommen is heir, should anything ill befall His Grace. Tommen, whose nature is so sweet, and notably… tractable.”

  “You have a suspicious mind, Varys.”

  “I shall take that as a tribute, my lord. In any case, Prince Doran will hardly be insensible of the great honor you do him. Very deftly done, I would say… but for one small flaw.”

  The dwarf laughed. “Named Cersei?”

  “What avails statecraft against the love of a mother for the sweet fruit of her womb? Perhaps, for the glory of her House and the safety of the realm, the queen might be persuaded to send away Tommen or Myrcella. But both of them? Surely not.”

  “What Cersei does not know will never hurt me.”

  “And if Her Grace were to discover your intentions before your plans are ripe?”

  “Why,” he said, “then I would know the man who told her to be my certain enemy.” And when Varys giggled, he thought, Three.


  Come to the godswood tonight, if you want to go home.

  The words were the same on the hundredth reading as they’d been on the first, when Sansa had discovered the folded sheet of parchment beneath her pillow. She did not know how it had gotten there or who had sent it. The note was unsigned, unsealed, and the hand unfamiliar. She crushed the parchment to her chest and whispered the words to herself. “Come to the godswood tonight, if you want to go home,” she breathed, ever so faintly.

  What could it mean? Should she take it to the queen to prove that she was being good? Nervously, she rubbed her stomach. The angry purple bruise Ser Meryn had given her had faded to an ugly yellow, but still hurt. His fist had been mailed when he hit her. It was her own fault. She must learn to hide her feelings better, so as not to anger Joffrey. When she heard that the Imp had sent Lord Slynt to the Wall, she had forgotten herself and said, “I hope the Others get him.” The king had not been pleased.

  Come to the godswood tonight, if you want to go home.

  Sansa had prayed so hard. Could this be her answer at last, a true knight sent to save her? Perhaps it was one of the Redwyne twins, or bold Ser Balon Swann… or even Beric Dondarrion, the young lord her friend Jeyne Poole had loved, with his red-gold hair and the spray of stars on his black cloak.

/>   Come to the godswood tonight, if you want to go home.

  What if it was some cruel jape of Joffrey’s, like the day he had taken her up to the battlements to show her Father’s head? Or perhaps it was some subtle snare to prove she was not loyal. If she went to the godswood, would she find Ser Ilyn Payne waiting for her, sitting silent under the heart tree with Ice in his hand, his pale eyes watching to see if she’d come?

  Come to the godswood tonight, if you want to go home.

  When the door opened, she hurriedly stuffed the note under her sheet and sat on it. It was her bedmaid, the mousy one with the limp brown hair. “What do you want?” Sansa demanded.

  “Will milady be wanting a bath tonight?”

  “A fire, I think… I feel a chill.” She was shivering, though the day had been hot.

  “As you wish.”

  Sansa watched the girl suspiciously. Had she seen the note? Had she put it under the pillow? It did not seem likely; she seemed a stupid girl, not one you’d want delivering secret notes, but Sansa did not know her. The queen had her servants changed every fortnight, to make certain none of them befriended her.

  When a fire was blazing in the hearth, Sansa thanked the maid curtly and ordered her out. The girl was quick to obey, as ever, but Sansa decided there was something sly about her eyes. Doubtless, she was scurrying off to report to the queen, or maybe Varys. All her maids spied on her, she was certain.

  Once alone, she thrust the note in the flames, watching the parchment curl and blacken. Come to the godswood tonight, if you want to go home. She drifted to her window. Below, she could see a short knight in moon-pale armor and a heavy white cloak pacing the drawbridge. From his height, it could only be Ser Preston Greenfield. The queen had given her freedom of the castle, but even so, he would want to know where she was going if she tried to leave Maegor’s Holdfast at this time of night. What was she to tell him? Suddenly she was glad she had burned the note.

  She unlaced her gown and crawled into her bed, but she did not sleep. Was he still there? she wondered. How long will he wait? It was so cruel, to send her a note and tell her nothing. The thoughts went round and round in her head.

  If only she had someone to tell her what to do. She missed Septa Mordane, and even more Jeyne Poole, her truest friend. The septa had lost her head with the rest, for the crime of serving House Stark. Sansa did not know what had happened to Jeyne, who had disappeared from her rooms afterward, never to be mentioned again. She tried not to think of them too often, yet sometimes the memories came unbidden, and then it was hard to hold back the tears. Once in a while, Sansa even missed her sister. By now Arya was safe back in Winterfell, dancing and sewing, playing with Bran and baby Rickon, even riding through the winter town if she liked. Sansa was allowed to go riding too, but only in the bailey, and it got boring going round in a circle all day.

  She was wide awake when she heard the shouting. Distant at first, then growing louder. Many voices yelling together. She could not make out the words. And there were horses as well, and pounding feet, shouts of command. She crept to her window and saw men running on the walls, carrying spears and torches. Go back to your bed, Sansa told herself, this is nothing that concerns you, just some new trouble out in the city. The talk at the wells had all been of troubles in the city of late. People were crowding in, running from the war, and many had no way to live save by robbing and killing each other. Go to bed.

  But when she looked, the white knight was gone, the bridge across the dry moat down but undefended.

  Sansa turned away without thinking and ran to her wardrobe. Oh, what am I doing? she asked herself as she dressed. This is madness. She could see the lights of many torches on the curtain walls. Had Stannis and Renly come at last to kill Joffrey and claim their brother’s throne? If so, the guards would raise the drawbridge, cutting off Maegor’s Holdfast from the outer castle. Sansa threw a plain grey cloak over her shoulders and picked up the knife she used to cut her meat. If it is some trap, better that I die than let them hurt me more, she told herself. She hid the blade under her cloak.

  A column of red-cloaked swordsmen ran past as she slipped out into the night. She waited until they were well past before she darted across the undefended drawbridge. In the yard, men were buckling on swordbelts and cinching the saddles of their horses. She glimpsed Ser Preston near the stables with three others of the Kingsguard, white cloaks bright as the moon as they helped Joffrey into his armor. Her breath caught in her throat when she saw the king. Thankfully, he did not see her. He was shouting for his sword and crossbow.

  The noise receded as she moved deeper into the castle, never daring to look back for fear that Joffrey might be watching… or worse, following. The serpentine steps twisted ahead, striped by bars of flickering light from the narrow windows above. Sansa was panting by the time she reached the top. She ran down a shadowy colonnade and pressed herself against a wall to catch her breath. When something brushed against her leg, she almost jumped out of her skin, but it was only a cat, a ragged black tom with a chewed-off ear. The creature spit at her and leapt away.