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A Clash of Kings, Page 51

George R. R. Martin

  “I almost fear to tell you why I’ve come, my lord,” Varys said when Shae had left them. “I bring dire tidings.”

  “You ought to dress in black feathers, Varys, you’re as bad an omen as any raven.” Awkwardly, Tyrion pushed to his feet, half afraid to ask the next question. “Is it Jaime?” If they have harmed him, nothing will save them.

  “No, my lord. A different matter. Ser Cortnay Penrose is dead. Storm’s End has opened its gates to Stannis Baratheon.”

  Dismay drove all other thoughts from Tyrion’s mind. When Shae returned with the wine, he took one sip and flung the cup away to explode against the side of the house. She raised a hand to shield herself from the shards as the wine ran down the stones in long fingers, black in the moonlight. “Damn him!” Tyrion said.

  Varys smiled, showing a mouth full of rotted teeth. “Who, my lord? Ser Cortnay or Lord Stannis?”

  “Both of them.” Storm’s End was strong, it should have been able to hold out for half a year or more… time enough for his father to finish with Robb Stark. “How did this happen?”

  Varys glanced at Shae. “My lord, must we trouble your sweet lady’s sleep with such grim and bloody talk?”

  “A lady might be afraid,” said Shae, “but I’m not.”

  “You should be,” Tyrion told her. “With Storm’s End fallen, Stannis will soon turn his attention toward King’s Landing.” He regretted flinging away that wine now. “Lord Varys, give us a moment, and I’ll ride back to the castle with you.”

  “I shall wait in the stables.” He bowed and stomped off.

  Tyrion drew Shae down beside him. “You are not safe here.”

  “I have my walls, and the guards you gave me.”

  “Sellswords,” Tyrion said. “They like my gold well enough, but will they die for it? As for these walls, a man could stand on another’s shoulders and be over in a heartbeat. A manse much like this one was burned during the riots. They killed the goldsmith who owned it for the crime of having a full larder, just as they tore the High Septon to pieces, raped Lollys half a hundred times, and smashed Ser Aron’s skull in. What do you think they would do if they got their hands on the Hand’s lady?”

  “The Hand’s whore, you mean?” She looked at him with those big bold eyes of hers. “Though I would be your lady, m’lord. I’d dress in all the beautiful things you gave me, in satin and samite and cloth-of-gold, and I’d wear your jewels and hold your hand and sit by you at feasts. I could give you sons, I know I could… and I vow I’d never shame you.”

  My love for you shames me enough. “A sweet dream, Shae. Now put it aside, I beg you. It can never be.”

  “Because of the queen? I’m not afraid of her either.”

  “I am.”

  “Then kill her and be done with it. It’s not as if there was any love between you.”

  Tyrion sighed. “She’s my sister. The man who kills his own blood is cursed forever in the sight of gods and men. Moreover, whatever you and I may think of Cersei, my father and brother hold her dear. I can scheme with any man in the Seven Kingdoms, but the gods have not equipped me to face Jaime with swords in hand.”

  “The Young Wolf and Lord Stannis have swords and they don’t scare you.”

  How little you know, sweetling. “Against them I have all the power of House Lannister. Against Jaime or my father, I have no more than a twisted back and a pair of stunted legs.”

  “You have me.” Shae kissed him, her arms sliding around his neck as she pressed her body to his.

  The kiss aroused him, as her kisses always did, but this time Tyrion gently disentangled himself. “Not now. Sweetling, I have… well, call it the seed of a plan. I think I might be able to bring you into the castle kitchens.”

  Shae’s face went still. “The kitchens?”

  “Yes. If I act through Varys, no one will be the wiser.”

  She giggled. “M’lord, I’d poison you. Every man who’s tasted my cooking has told me what a good whore I am.”

  “The Red Keep has sufficient cooks. Butchers and bakers too. You’d need to pose as a scullion.”

  “A pot girl,” she said, “in scratchy brown roughspun. Is that how m’lord wants to see me?”

  “M’lord wants to see you alive,” Tyrion said. “You can scarcely scour pots in silk and velvet.”

  “Has m’lord grown tired of me?” She reached a hand under his tunic and found his cock. In two quick strokes she had it hard. “He still wants me.” She laughed. “Would you like to fuck your kitchen wench, m’lord? You can dust me with flour and suck gravy off my titties if you…”

  “Stop it.” The way she was acting reminded him of Dancy, who had tried so hard to win her wager. He yanked her hand away to keep her from further mischief. “This is not the time for bed sport, Shae. Your life may be at stake.”

  Her grin was gone. “If I’ve displeased m’lord, I never meant it, only… couldn’t you just give me more guards?”

  Tyrion breathed a deep sigh. Remember how young she is, he told himself. He took her hand. “Your gems can be replaced, and new gowns can be sewn twice as lovely as the old. To me, you’re the most precious thing within these walls. The Red Keep is not safe either, but it’s a deal safer than here. I want you there.”

  “In the kitchens.” Her voice was flat. “Scouring pots.”

  “For a short while.”

  “My father made me his kitchen wench,” she said, her mouth twisting. “That was why I ran off.”

  “You told me you ran off because your father made you his whore,” he reminded her.

  “That too. I didn’t like scouring his pots no more than I liked his cock in me.” She tossed her head. “Why can’t you keep me in your tower? Half the lords at court keep bedwarmers.”

  “I was expressly forbidden to take you to court.”

  “By your stupid father.” Shae pouted. “You’re old enough to keep all the whores you want. Does he take you for a beardless boy? What could he do, spank you?”

  He slapped her. Not hard, but hard enough. “Damn you,” he said. “Damn you. Never mock me. Not you.”

  For a moment Shae did not speak. The only sound was the cricket, chirping, chirping. “Beg pardon, m’lord,” she said at last, in a heavy wooden voice. “I never meant to be impudent.”

  And I never meant to strike you. Gods be good, am I turning into Cersei? “That was ill done,” he said. “On both our parts. Shae, you do not understand.” Words he had never meant to speak came tumbling out of him like mummers from a hollow horse. “When I was thirteen, I wed a crofter’s daughter. Or so I thought her. I was blind with love for her, and thought she felt the same for me, but my father rubbed my face in the truth. My bride was a whore Jaime had hired to give me my first taste of manhood.” And I believed all of it, fool that I was. “To drive the lesson home, Lord Tywin gave my wife to a barracks of his guardsmen to use as they pleased, and commanded me to watch.” And to take her one last time, after the rest were done. One last time, with no trace of love or tenderness remaining. “So you will remember her as she truly is,” he said, and I should have defied him, but my cock betrayed me, and I did as I was bid. “After he was done with her, my father had the marriage undone. It was as if we had never been wed, the septons said.” He squeezed her hand. “Please, let’s have no more talk of the Tower of the Hand. You will be in the kitchens only a little while. Once we’re done with Stannis, you’ll have another manse, and silks as soft as your hands.”

  Shae’s eyes had grown large but he could not read what lay behind them. “My hands won’t be soft if I clean ovens and scrape plates all day. Will you still want them touching you when they’re all red and raw and cracked from hot water and lye soap?”

  “More than ever,” he said. “When I look at them, they’ll remind me how brave you were.”

  He could not say if she believed him. She lowered her eyes. “I am yours to command, m’lord.”

  It was as much acceptance as she could give tonight, he saw that
plain enough. He kissed her cheek where he’d struck her, to take some sting from the blow. “I will send for you.”

  Varys was waiting in the stables, as promised. His horse looked spavined and half-dead. Tyrion mounted up; one of the sellswords opened the gates. They rode out in silence. Why did I tell her about Tysha, gods help me? he asked himself, suddenly afraid. There were some secrets that should never be spoken, some shames a man should take to his grave. What did he want from her, forgiveness? The way she had looked at him, what did that mean? Did she hate the thought of scouring pots that much, or was it his confession? How could I tell her that and still think she would love me? part of him said, and another part mocked, saying, Fool of a dwarf, it is only the gold and jewels the whore loves.

  His scarred elbow was throbbing, jarred every time the horse set down a hoof. Sometimes he could almost fancy he heard the bones grinding together inside. Perhaps he should see a maester, get some potion for the pain… but since Pycelle had revealed himself for what he was, Tyrion Lannister mistrusted the maesters. The gods only knew who they were conspiring with, or what they had mixed in those potions they gave you. “Varys,” he said. “I need to bring Shae into the castle without Cersei becoming aware.” Briefly, he sketched out his kitchen scheme.

  When he was done, the eunuch made a little clucking sound. “I will do as my lord commands, of course… but I must warn you, the kitchens are full of eyes and ears. Even if the girl falls under no particular suspicion, she will be subject to a thousand questions. Where was she born? Who were her parents? How did she come to King’s Landing? The truth will never do, so she must lie… and lie, and lie.” He glanced down at Tyrion. “And such a pretty young kitchen wench will incite lust as well as curiosity. She will be touched, pinched, patted, and fondled. Pot boys will crawl under her blankets of a night. Some lonely cook may seek to wed her. Bakers will knead her breasts with floured hands.”

  “I’d sooner have her fondled than stabbed,” said Tyrion.

  Varys rode on a few paces and said, “It might be that there is another way. As it happens, the maidservant who attends Lady Tanda’s daughter has been filching her jewels. Were I to inform Lady Tanda, she would be forced to dismiss the girl at once. And the daughter would require a new maidservant.”

  “I see.” This had possibilities, Tyrion saw at once. A lady’s bedmaid wore finer garb than a scullion, and often even a jewel or two. Shae should be pleased by that. And Cersei thought Lady Tanda tedious and hysterical, and Lollys a bovine lackwit. She was not like to pay them any friendly calls.

  “Lollys is timid and trusting,” Varys said. “She will accept any tale she is told. Since the mob took her maidenhood she is afraid to leave her chambers, so Shae will be out of sight… but conveniently close, should you have need of comfort.”

  “The Tower of the Hand is watched, you know as well as I. Cersei would be certain to grow curious if Lollys’s bedmaid starting paying me calls.”

  “I might be able to slip the child into your bedchamber unseen. Chataya’s is not the only house to boast a hidden door.”

  “A secret access? To my chambers?” Tyrion was more annoyed than surprised. Why else would Maegor the Cruel have ordered death for all the builders who had worked on his castle, except to preserve such secrets? “Yes, I suppose there would be. Where will I find the door? In my solar? My bedchamber?”

  “My friend, you would not force me to reveal all my little secrets, would you?”

  “Henceforth think of them as our little secrets, Varys.” Tyrion glanced up at the eunuch in his smelly mummer’s garb. “Assuming you are on my side…”

  “Can you doubt it?”

  “Why no, I trust you implicitly.” A bitter laugh echoed off the shuttered windows. “I trust you like one of my own blood, in truth. Now tell me how Cortnay Penrose died.”

  “It is said that he threw himself from a tower.”

  “Threw himself? No, I will not believe that!”

  “His guards saw no man enter his chambers, nor did they find any within afterward.”

  “Then the killer entered earlier and hid under the bed,” Tyrion suggested, “or he climbed down from the roof on a rope. Perhaps the guards are lying. Who’s to say they did not do the thing themselves?”

  “Doubtless you are right, my lord.”

  His smug tone said otherwise. “But you do not think so? How was it done, then?”

  For a long moment Varys said nothing. The only sound was the stately clack of horseshoes on cobbles. Finally the eunuch cleared his throat. “My lord, do you believe in the old powers?”

  “Magic, you mean?” Tyrion said impatiently. “Bloodspells, curses, shapeshifting, those sorts of things?” He snorted. “Do you mean to suggest that Ser Cortnay was magicked to his death?”

  “Ser Cortnay had challenged Lord Stannis to single combat on the morning he died. I ask you, is this the act of a man lost to despair? Then there is the matter of Lord Renly’s mysterious and most fortuitous murder, even as his battle lines were forming up to sweep his brother from the field.” The eunuch paused a moment. “My lord, you once asked me how it was that I was cut.”

  “I recall,” said Tyrion. “You did not want to talk of it.”

  “Nor do I, but…” This pause was longer than the one before, and when Varys spoke again his voice was different somehow. “I was an orphan boy apprenticed to a traveling folly. Our master owned a fat little cog and we sailed up and down the narrow sea performing in all the Free Cities and from time to time in Oldtown and King’s Landing.

  “One day at Myr, a certain man came to our folly. After the performance, he made an offer for me that my master found too tempting to refuse. I was in terror. I feared the man meant to use me as I had heard men used small boys, but in truth the only part of me he had need of was my manhood. He gave me a potion that made me powerless to move or speak, yet did nothing to dull my senses. With a long hooked blade, he sliced me root and stem, chanting all the while. I watched him burn my manly parts on a brazier. The flames turned blue, and I heard a voice answer his call, though I did not understand the words they spoke.

  “The mummers had sailed by the time he was done with me. Once I had served his purpose, the man had no further interest in me, so he put me out. When I asked him what I should do now, he answered that he supposed I should die. To spite him, I resolved to live. I begged, I stole, and I sold what parts of my body still remained to me. Soon I was as good a thief as any in Myr, and when I was older I learned that often the contents of a man’s letters are more valuable than the contents of his purse.

  “Yet I still dream of that night, my lord. Not of the sorcerer, nor his blade, nor even the way my manhood shriveled as it burned. I dream of the voice. The voice from the flames. Was it a god, a demon, some conjurer’s trick? I could not tell you, and I know all the tricks. All I can say for a certainty is that he called it, and it answered, and since that day I have hated magic and all those who practice it. If Lord Stannis is one such, I mean to see him dead.”

  When he was done, they rode in silence for a time. Finally Tyrion said, “A harrowing tale. I’m sorry.”

  The eunuch sighed. “You are sorry, but you do not believe me. No, my lord, no need to apologize. I was drugged and in pain and it was a very long time ago and far across the sea. No doubt I dreamed that voice. I’ve told myself as much a thousand times.”

  “I believe in steel swords, gold coins, and men’s wits,” said Tyrion. “And I believe there once were dragons. I’ve seen their skulls, after all.”

  “Let us hope that is the worst thing you ever see, my lord.”

  “On that we agree.” Tyrion smiled. “And for Ser Cortnay’s death, well, we know Stannis hired sellsails from the Free Cities. Perhaps he bought himself a skilled assassin as well.”

  “A very skilled assassin.”

  “There are such. I used to dream that one day I’d be rich enough to send a Faceless Man after my sweet sister.”

s of how Ser Cortnay died,” said Varys, “he is dead, the castle fallen. Stannis is free to march.”

  “Any chance we might convince the Dornishmen to descend on the Marches?” asked Tyrion.


  “A pity. Well, the threat may serve to keep the Marcher lords close to their castles, at least. What news of my father?”

  “If Lord Tywin has won across the Red Fork, no word has reached me yet. If he does not hasten, he may be trapped between his foes. The Oakheart leaf and the Rowan tree have been seen north of the Mander.”

  “No word from Littlefinger?”

  “Perhaps he never reached Bitterbridge. Or perhaps he’s died there. Lord Tarly has seized Renly’s stores and put a great many to the sword; Florents, chiefly. Lord Caswell has shut himself up in his castle.”

  Tyrion threw back his head and laughed.

  Varys reined up, nonplussed. “My lord?”

  “Don’t you see the jest, Lord Varys?” Tyrion waved a hand at the shuttered windows, at all the sleeping city. “Storm’s End is fallen and Stannis is coming with fire and steel and the gods alone know what dark powers, and the good folk don’t have Jaime to protect them, nor Robert nor Renly nor Rhaegar nor their precious Knight of Flowers. Only me, the one they hate.” He laughed again. “The dwarf, the evil counselor, the twisted little monkey demon. I’m all that stands between them and chaos.”


  “Tell Father I have gone to make him proud.” Her brother swung up into his saddle, every inch the lord in his bright mail and flowing mud-and-water cloak. A silver trout ornamented the crest of his greathelm, twin to the one painted on his shield.

  “He was always proud of you, Edmure. And he loves you fiercely. Believe that.”

  “I mean to give him better reason than mere birth.” He wheeled his warhorse about and raised a hand. Trumpets sounded, a drum began to boom, the drawbridge descended in fits and starts, and Ser Edmure Tully led his men out from Riverrun with lances raised and banners streaming.

  I have a greater host than yours, brother, Catelyn thought as she watched them go. A host of doubts and fears.

  Beside her, Brienne’s misery was almost palpable. Catelyn had ordered garments sewn to her measure, handsome gowns to suit her birth and sex, yet still she preferred to dress in oddments of mail and boiled leather, a swordbelt cinched around her waist. She would have been happier riding to war with Edmure, no doubt, but even walls as strong as Riverrun’s required swords to hold them. Her brother had taken every able-bodied man for the fords, leaving Ser Desmond Grell to command a garrison made up of the wounded, the old, and the sick, along with a few squires and some untrained peasant boys still shy of manhood. This, to defend a castle crammed full of women and children.

  When the last of Edmure’s foot had shuffled under the portcullis, Brienne asked, “What shall we do now, my lady?”

  “Our duty.” Catelyn’s face was drawn as she started across the yard. I have always done my duty, she thought. Perhaps that was why her lord father had always cherished her best of all his children. Her two older brothers had both died in infancy, so she had been son as well as daughter to Lord Hoster until Edmure was born. Then her mother had died and her father had told her that she must be the lady of Riverrun now, and she had done that too. And when Lord Hoster promised her to Brandon Stark, she had thanked him for making her such a splendid match.

  I gave Brandon my favor to wear, and never comforted Petyr once after he was wounded, nor bid him farewell when Father sent him off. And when Brandon was murdered and Father told me I must wed his brother, I did so gladly, though I never saw Ned’s face until our wedding day. I gave my maidenhood to this solemn stranger and sent him off to his war and his king and the woman who bore him his bastard, because I always did my duty.

  Her steps took her to the sept, a seven-sided sandstone temple set amidst her mother’s gardens and filled with rainbow light. It was crowded when they entered; Catelyn was not alone in her need for prayer. She knelt before the painted marble image of the Warrior and lit a scented candle for Edmure and another for Robb off beyond the hills. Keep them safe and help them to victory, she prayed, and bring peace to the souls of the slain and comfort to those they leave behind.

  The septon entered with his censer and crystal while she was at her prayers, so Catelyn lingered for the celebration. She did not know this septon, an earnest young man close to Edmure’s age. He performed his office well enough, and his voice was rich and pleasant when he sang the praises to the Seven, but Catelyn found herself yearning for the thin quavering tones of Septon Osmynd, long dead. Osmynd would have listened patiently to the tale of what she had seen and felt in Renly’s pavilion, and he might have known what it meant as well, and what she must do to lay to rest the shadows that stalked her dreams. Osmynd, my father, Uncle Brynden, old Maester Kym, they always seemed to know everything, but now there is only me, and it seems I know nothing, not even my duty. How can I do my duty if I do not know where it lies?

  Catelyn’s knees were stiff by the time she rose, though she felt no wiser. Perhaps she would go to the godswood tonight, and pray to Ned’s gods as well. They were older than the Seven.

  Outside, she found song of a very different sort. Rymund the Rhymer sat by the brewhouse amidst a circle of listeners, his deep voice ringing as he sang of Lord Deremond at the Bloody Meadow.

  And there he stood with sword in hand,

  the last of Darry’s ten…

  Brienne paused to listen for a moment, broad shoulders hunched and thick arms crossed against her chest. A mob of ragged boys raced by, screeching and flailing at each other with sticks. Why do boys so love to play at war? Catelyn wondered if Rymund was the answer. The singer’s voice swelled as he neared the end of his song.

  And red the grass beneath his feet,

  and red his banners bright,