A Clash of Kings, Page 48George R. R. Martin
“Most of all?” The injustice was like to choke him. “It was Joffrey who told them to eat their dead, Joffrey who set his dog on them. How could they blame me?”
“His Grace is but a boy. In the streets, it is said that he has evil councillors. The queen has never been known as a friend to the commons, nor is Lord Varys called the Spider out of love… but it is you they blame most. Your sister and the eunuch were here when times were better under King Robert, but you were not. They say that you’ve filled the city with swaggering sellswords and unwashed savages, brutes who take what they want and follow no laws but their own. They say you exiled Janos Slynt because you found him too bluff and honest for your liking. They say you threw wise and gentle Pycelle into the dungeons when he dared raise his voice against you. Some even claim that you mean to seize the Iron Throne for your own.”
“Yes, and I am a monster besides, hideous and misshapen, never forget that.” His hand coiled into a fist. “I’ve heard enough. We both have work to attend to. Leave me.”
Perhaps my lord father was right to despise me all these years, if this is the best I can achieve, Tyrion thought when he was alone. He stared down at the remains of his supper, his belly roiling at the sight of the cold greasy capon. Disgusted, he pushed it away, shouted for Pod, and sent the boy running to summon Varys and Bronn. My most trusted advisers are a eunuch and a sellsword, and my lady’s a whore. What does that say of me?
Bronn complained of the gloom when he arrived, and insisted on a fire in the hearth. It was blazing by the time Varys made his appearance. “Where have you been?” Tyrion demanded.
“About the king’s business, my sweet lord.”
“Ah, yes, the king,” Tyrion muttered. “My nephew is not fit to sit a privy, let alone the Iron Throne.”
Varys shrugged. “An apprentice must be taught his trade.”
“Half the ’prentices on Reeking Lane could rule better than this king of yours.” Bronn seated himself across the table and pulled a wing off the capon.
Tyrion had made a practice of ignoring the sellsword’s frequent insolences, but tonight he found it galling. “I don’t recall giving you leave to finish my supper.”
“You didn’t look to be eating it,” Bronn said through a mouthful of meat. “City’s starving, it’s a crime to waste food. You have any wine?”
Next he’ll want me to pour it for him, Tyrion thought darkly. “You go too far,” he warned.
“And you never go far enough.” Bronn tossed the wingbone to the rushes. “Ever think how easy life would be if the other one had been born first?” He thrust his fingers inside the capon and tore off a handful of breast. “The weepy one, Tommen. Seems like he’d do whatever he was told, as a good king should.”
A chill crept down Tyrion’s spine as he realized what the sellsword was hinting at. If Tommen was king…
There was only one way Tommen would become king. No, he could not even think it. Joffrey was his own blood, and Jaime’s son as much as Cersei’s. “I could have your head off for saying that,” he told Bronn, but the sellsword only laughed.
“Friends,” said Varys, “quarreling will not serve us. I beg you both, take heart.”
“Whose?” asked Tyrion sourly. He could think of several tempting choices.
Ser Cortnay Penrose wore no armor. He sat a sorrel stallion, his standard-bearer a dapple grey. Above them flapped Baratheon’s crowned stag and the crossed quills of Penrose, white on a russet field. Ser Cortnay’s spade-shaped beard was russet as well, though he’d gone wholly bald on top. If the size and splendor of the king’s party impressed him, it did not show on that weathered face.
They trotted up with much clinking of chain and rattle of plate. Even Davos wore mail, though he could not have said why; his shoulders and lower back ached from the unaccustomed weight. It made him feel cumbered and foolish, and he wondered once more why he was here. It is not for me to question the king’s commands, and yet…
Every man of the party was of better birth and higher station than Davos Seaworth, and the great lords glittered in the morning sun. Silvered steel and gold inlay brightened their armor, and their warhelms were crested in a riot of silken plumes, feathers, and cunningly wrought heraldic beasts with gemstone eyes. Stannis himself looked out of place in this rich and royal company. Like Davos, the king was plainly garbed in wool and boiled leather, though the circlet of red gold about his temples lent him a certain grandeur. Sunlight flashed off its flame-shaped points whenever he moved his head.
This was the closest Davos had come to His Grace in the eight days since Black Betha had joined the rest of the fleet off Storm’s End. He’d sought an audience within an hour of his arrival, only to be told that the king was occupied. The king was often occupied, Davos learned from his son Devan, one of the royal squires. Now that Stannis Baratheon had come into his power, the lordlings buzzed around him like flies round a corpse. He looks half a corpse too, years older than when I left Dragonstone. Devan said the king scarcely slept of late. “Since Lord Renly died, he has been troubled by terrible nightmares,” the boy had confided to his father. “Maester’s potions do not touch them. Only the Lady Melisandre can soothe him to sleep.”
Is that why she shares his pavilion now? Davos wondered. To pray with him? Or does she have another way to soothe him to sleep? It was an unworthy question, and one he dared not ask, even of his own son. Devan was a good boy, but he wore the flaming heart proudly on his doublet, and his father had seen him at the nightfires as dusk fell, beseeching the Lord of Light to bring the dawn. He is the king’s squire, he told himself, it is only to be expected that he would take the king’s god.
Davos had almost forgotten how high and thick the walls of Storm’s End loomed up close. King Stannis halted beneath them, a few feet from Ser Cortnay and his standard-bearer. “Ser,” he said with stiff courtesy. He made no move to dismount.
“My lord.” That was less courteous, but not unexpected.
“It is customary to grant a king the style Your Grace,” announced Lord Florent. A red gold fox poked its shining snout out from his breastplate through a circle of lapis lazuli flowers. Very tall, very courtly, and very rich, the Lord of Brightwater Keep had been the first of Renly’s bannermen to declare for Stannis, and the first to renounce his old gods and take up the Lord of Light. Stannis had left his queen on Dragonstone along with her uncle Axell, but the queen’s men were more numerous and powerful than ever, and Alester Florent was the foremost.
Ser Cortnay Penrose ignored him, preferring to address Stannis. “This is a notable company. The great lords Estermont, Errol, and Varner. Ser Jon of the green-apple Fossoways and Ser Bryan of the red. Lord Caron and Ser Guyard of King Renly’s Rainbow Guard… and the puissant Lord Alester Florent of Brightwater, to be sure. Is that your Onion Knight I spy to the rear? Well met, Ser Davos. I fear I do not know the lady.”
“I am named Melisandre, ser.” She alone came unarmored, but for her flowing red robes. At her throat the great ruby drank the daylight. “I serve your king, and the Lord of Light.”
“I wish you well of them, my lady,” Ser Cortnay answered, “but I bow to other gods, and a different king.”
“There is but one true king, and one true god,” announced Lord Florent.
“Are we here to dispute theology, my lord? Had I known, I would have brought a septon.”
“You know full well why we are here,” said Stannis. “You have had a fortnight to consider my offer. You sent your ravens. No help has come. Nor will it. Storm’s End stands alone, and I am out of patience. One last time, ser, I command you to open your gates, and deliver me that which is mine by rights.”
“And the terms?” asked Ser Cortnay.
“Remain as before,” said Stannis. “I will pardon you for your treason, as I have pardoned these lords you see behind me. The men of your garrison will be free to enter my service or to return unmolested to their homes. You may keep your weapons and as much propert
y as a man can carry. I will require your horses and pack animals, however.”
“And what of Edric Storm?”
“My brother’s bastard must be surrendered to me.”
“Then my answer is still no, my lord.”
The king clenched his jaw. He said nothing.
Melisandre spoke instead. “May the Lord of Light protect you in your darkness, Ser Cortnay.”
“May the Others bugger your Lord of Light,” Penrose spat back, “and wipe his arse with that rag you bear.”
Lord Alester Florent cleared his throat. “Ser Cortnay, mind your tongue. His Grace means the boy no harm. The child is his own blood, and mine as well. My niece Delena was the mother, as all men know. If you will not trust to the king, trust to me. You know me for a man of honor—”
“I know you for a man of ambition,” Ser Cortnay broke in. “A man who changes kings and gods the way I change my boots. As do these other turncloaks I see before me.”
An angry clamor went up from the king’s men. He is not far wrong, Davos thought. Only a short time before, the Fossoways, Guyard Morrigen, and the Lords Caron, Varner, Errol, and Estermont had all belonged to Renly. They had sat in his pavilion, helped him make his battle plans, plotted how Stannis might be brought low. And Lord Florent had been with them — he might be Queen Selyse’s own uncle, but that had not kept the Lord of Brightwater from bending his knee to Renly when Renly’s star was rising.
Bryce Caron walked his horse forward a few paces, his long rainbow-striped cloak twisting in the wind off the bay. “No man here is a turncloak, ser. My fealty belongs to Storm’s End, and King Stannis is its rightful lord… and our true king. He is the last of House Baratheon, Robert’s heir and Renly’s.”
“If that is so, why is the Knight of Flowers not among you? And where is Mathis Rowan? Randyll Tarly? Lady Oakheart? Why are they not here in your company, they who loved Renly best? Where is Brienne of Tarth, I ask you?”
“That one?” Ser Guyard Morrigen laughed harshly. “She ran. As well she might. Hers was the hand that slew the king.”
“A lie,” Ser Cortnay said. “I knew Brienne when she was no more than a girl playing at her father’s feet in Evenfall Hall, and I knew her still better when the Evenstar sent her here to Storm’s End. She loved Renly Baratheon from the first moment she laid eyes on him, a blind man could see it.”
“To be sure,” declared Lord Florent airily, “and she would scarcely be the first maid maddened to murder by a man who spurned her. Though for my own part, I believe it was Lady Stark who slew the king. She had journeyed all the way from Riverrun to plead for an alliance, and Renly had refused her. No doubt she saw him as a danger to her son, and so removed him.”
“It was Brienne,” insisted Lord Caron. “Ser Emmon Cuy swore as much before he died. You have my oath on that, Ser Cortnay.”
Contempt thickened Ser Cortnay’s voice. “And what is that worth? You wear your cloak of many colors, I see. The one Renly gave you when you swore your oath to protect him. If he is dead, how is it you are not?” He turned his scorn on Guyard Morrigen. “I might ask the same of you, ser. Guyard the Green, yes? Of the Rainbow Guard? Sworn to give his own life for his king’s? If I had such a cloak, I would be ashamed to wear it.”
Morrigen bristled. “Be glad this is a parley, Penrose, or I would have your tongue for those words.”
“And cast it in the same fire where you left your manhood?”
“Enough!” Stannis said. “The Lord of Light willed that my brother die for his treason. Who did the deed matters not.”
“Not to you, perhaps,” said Ser Cortnay. “I have heard your proposal, Lord Stannis. Now here is mine.” He pulled off his glove and flung it full in the king’s face. “Single combat. Sword, lance, or any weapon you care to name. Or if you fear to hazard your magic sword and royal skin against an old man, name you a champion, and I shall do the same.” He gave Guyard Morrigen and Bryce Caron a scathing look. “Either of these pups would do nicely, I should think.”
Ser Guyard Morrigen grew dark with fury. “I will take up the gage, if it please the king.”
“As would I.” Bryce Caron looked to Stannis.
The king ground his teeth. “No.”
Ser Cortnay did not seem surprised. “Is it the justice of your cause you doubt, my lord, or the strength of your arm? Are you afraid I’ll piss on your burning sword and put it out?”
“Do you take me for an utter fool, ser?” asked Stannis. “I have twenty thousand men. You are besieged by land and sea. Why would I choose single combat when my eventual victory is certain?” The king pointed a finger at him. “I give you fair warning. If you force me to take my castle by storm, you may expect no mercy. I will hang you for traitors, every one of you.”
“As the gods will it. Bring on your storm, my lord — and recall, if you do, the name of this castle.” Ser Cortnay gave a pull on his reins and rode back toward the gate.
Stannis said no word, but turned his horse around and started back toward his camp. The others followed. “If we storm these walls thousands will die,” fretted ancient Lord Estermont, who was the king’s grandfather on his mother’s side. “Better to hazard but a single life, surely? Our cause is righteous, so the gods must surely bless our champion’s arms with victory.”
God, old man, thought Davos. You forget, we have only one now, Melisandre’s Lord of Light.
Ser Jon Fossoway said, “I would gladly take this challenge myself, though I’m not half the swordsman Lord Caron is, or Ser Guyard. Renly left no notable knights at Storm’s End. Garrison duty is for old men and green boys.”
Lord Caron agreed. “An easy victory, to be sure. And what glory, to win Storm’s End with a single stroke!”
Stannis raked them all with a look. “You chatter like magpies, and with less sense. I will have quiet.” The king’s eyes fell on Davos. “Ser. Ride with me.” He spurred his horse away from his followers. Only Melisandre kept pace, bearing the great standard of the fiery heart with the crowned stag within. As if it had been swallowed whole.
Davos saw the looks that passed between the lordlings as he rode past them to join the king. These were no onion knights, but proud men from houses whose names were old in honor. Somehow he knew that Renly had never chided them in such a fashion. The youngest of the Baratheons had been born with a gift for easy courtesy that his brother sadly lacked.
He eased back to a slow trot when his horse came up beside the king’s. “Your Grace.” Seen at close hand, Stannis looked worse than Davos had realized from afar. His face had grown haggard, and he had dark circles under his eyes.
“A smuggler must be a fair judge of men,” the king said. “What do you make of this Ser Cortnay Penrose?”
“A stubborn man,” said Davos carefully.
“Hungry for death, I call it. He throws my pardon in my face. Aye, and throws his life away in the bargain, and the lives of every man inside those walls. Single combat?” The king snorted in derision. “No doubt he mistook me for Robert.”
“More like he was desperate. What other hope does he have?”
“None. The castle will fall. But how to do it quickly?” Stannis brooded on that for a moment. Under the steady clop-clop of hooves, Davos could hear the faint sound of the king grinding his teeth. “Lord Alester urges me to bring old Lord Penrose here. Ser Cortnay’s father. You know the man, I believe?”
“When I came as your envoy, Lord Penrose received me more courteously than most,” Davos said. “He is an old done man, sire. Sickly and failing.”
“Florent would have him fail more visibly. In his son’s sight, with a noose about his neck.”
It was dangerous to oppose the queen’s men, but Davos had vowed always to tell his king the truth. “I think that would be ill done, my liege. Ser Cortnay will watch his father die before he would ever betray his trust. It would gain us nothing, and bring dishonor to our cause.”
“What dishonor?” Stannis bristled. “Would you have me sp
are the lives of traitors?”
“You have spared the lives of those behind us.”
“Do you scold me for that, smuggler?”
“It is not my place.” Davos feared he had said too much.
The king was relentless. “You esteem this Penrose more than you do my lords bannermen. Why?”
“He keeps faith.”
“A misplaced faith in a dead usurper.”
“Yes,” Davos admitted, “but still, he keeps faith.”
“As those behind us do not?”
Davos had come too far with Stannis to play coy now. “Last year they were Robert’s men. A moon ago they were Renly’s. This morning they are yours. Whose will they be on the morrow?”
And Stannis laughed. A sudden gust, rough and full of scorn. “I told you, Melisandre,” he said to the red woman, “my Onion Knight tells me the truth.”
“I see you know him well, Your Grace,” the red woman said.
“Davos, I have missed you sorely,” the king said. “Aye, I have a tail of traitors, your nose does not deceive you. My lords bannermen are inconstant even in their treasons. I need them, but you should know how it sickens me to pardon such as these when I have punished better men for lesser crimes. You have every right to reproach me, Ser Davos.”
“You reproach yourself more than I ever could, Your Grace. You must have these great lords to win your throne—”
“Fingers and all, it seems.” Stannis smiled grimly.
Unthinking, Davos raised his maimed hand to the pouch at his throat, and felt the fingerbones within. Luck.
The king saw the motion. “Are they still there, Onion Knight? You have not lost them?”
“Why do you keep them? I have often wondered.”
“They remind me of what I was. Where I came from. They remind me of your justice, my liege.”
“It was justice,” Stannis said. “A good act does not wash out the bad, nor a bad act the good. Each should have its own reward. You were a hero and a smuggler.” He glanced behind at Lord Florent and the others, rainbow knights and turncloaks, who were following at a distance. “These pardoned lords would do well to reflect on that. Good men and true will fight for Joffrey, wrongly believing him the true king. A northman might even say the same of Robb Stark. But these lords who flocked to my brother’s banners knew him for a usurper. They turned their backs on their rightful king for no better reason than dreams of power and glory, and I have marked them for what they are. Pardoned them, yes. Forgiven. But not forgotten.” He fell silent for a moment, brooding on his plans for justice. And then, abruptly, he said, “What do the smallfolk say of Renly’s death?”
“They grieve. Your brother was well loved.”
“Fools love a fool,” grumbled Stannis, “but I grieve for him as well. For the boy he was, not the man he grew to be.” He was silent for a time, and then he said, “How did the commons take the news of Cersei’s incest?”
“While we were among them they shouted for King Stannis. I cannot speak for what they said once we had sailed.”
“So you do not think they believed?”
“When I was smuggling, I learned that some men believe everything and some nothing. We met both sorts. And there is another tale being spread as well—”
“Yes.” Stannis bit off the word. “Selyse has given me horns, and tied a fool’s bells to the end of each. My daughter fathered by a halfwit jester! A tale as vile as it is absurd. Renly threw it in my teeth when we met to parley. You would need to be as mad as Patchface to believe such a thing.”
“That may be so, my liege… but whether they believe the story or no, they delight to tell it.” In many places it had come before them, poisoning the well for their own true tale.
“Robert could piss in a cup and men would call it wine, but I offer them pure cold water and they squint in suspicion and mutter to each other about how queer it tastes.” Stannis ground his teeth. “If someone said I had magicked myself into a boar to kill Robert, likely they would believe that as well.”
“You cannot stop them talking, my liege,” Davos said, “but when you take your vengeance on your brothers’ true killers, the realm will know such tales for lies.”
Stannis only seemed to half hear him. “I have no doubt that Cersei had a hand in Robert’s death. I will have justice for him. Aye, and for Ned Stark and Jon Arryn as well.”
“And for Renly?” The words were out before Davos could stop to consider them.
For a long time the king did not speak. Then, very softly, he said, “I dream of it sometimes. Of Renly’s dying. A green tent, candles, a woman screaming. And blood.” Stannis looked down at his hands. “I was still abed when he died. Your Devan will tell you. He tried to wake me. Dawn was nigh and my lords were waiting, fretting. I should have been ahorse, armored. I knew Renly would attack at break of day. Devan says I thrashed and cried out, but what does it matter? It was a dream. I was in my tent when Renly died, and when I woke my hands were clean.”
Ser Davos Seaworth could feel his phantom fingertips start to itch. Something is wrong here, the onetime smuggler thought. Yet he nodded and said, “I see.”
“Renly offered me a peach. At our parley. Mocked me, defied me, threatened me, and offered me a peach. I thought he was drawing a blade and went for mine own. Was that his purpose, to make me show fear? Or was it one of his pointless jests? When he spoke of how sweet the peach was, did his words have some hidden meaning?” The king gave a shake of his head, like a dog shaking a rabbit to snap its neck. “Only Renly could vex me so with a piece of fruit. He brought his doom on himself with his treason, but I did love him, Davos. I know that now. I swear, I will go to my grave thinking of my brother’s peach.”
By then they were in amongst the camp, riding past the ordered rows of tents, the blowing banners, and the stacks of shields and spears. The stink of horse dung was heavy in the air, mingled with the woodsmoke and the smell of cooking meat. Stannis reined up long enough to bark a brusque dismissal to Lord Florent and the others, commanding them to attend him in his pavilion one hour hence for