A storm of swords, p.44
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       A Storm of Swords, p.44

         Part #3 of A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin

  of rubies, and more wines than a man could drink in a hundred years. Though Celtigar had shown the world a niggardly face, he had never stinted on his own comforts. “Put his castle to the torch and his people to the sword, I say,” Ser Axell concluded. “Leave Claw Isle a desolation of ash and bone, fit only for carrion crows, so the realm might see the fate of those who bed with Lannisters.”

  Stannis listened to Ser Axell’s recitation in silence, grinding his jaw slowly from side to side. When it was done, he said, “It could be done, I believe. The risk is small. Joffrey has no strength at sea until Lord Redwyne sets sail from the Arbor. The plunder might serve to keep that Lysene pirate Salladhor Saan loyal for a time. By itself Claw Isle is worthless, but its fall would serve notice to Lord Tywin that my cause is not yet done.” The king turned back to Davos. “Speak truly, ser. What do you make of Ser Axell’s proposal?”

  Speak truly, ser. Davos remembered the dark cell he had shared with Lord Alester, remembered Lamprey and Porridge. He thought of the promises that Ser Axell had made on the bridge above the yard. A ship or a shove, what shall it be? But this was Stannis asking. “Your Grace,” he said slowly, “I make it folly… aye, and cowardice.”

  “Cowardice?” Ser Axell all but shouted. “No man calls me craven before my king!”

  “Silence,” Stannis commanded. “Ser Davos, speak on, I would hear your reasons.”

  Davos turned to face Ser Axell. “You say we ought show the realm we are not done. Strike a blow. Make war, aye… but on what enemy? You will find no Lannisters on Claw Isle.”

  “We will find traitors,” said Ser Axell, “though it may be I could find some closer to home. Even in this very room.”

  Davos ignored the jibe. “I don’t doubt Lord Celtigar bent the knee to the boy Joffrey. He is an old done man, who wants no more than to end his days in his castle, drinking his fine wine out of his jeweled cups.” He turned back to Stannis. “Yet he came when you called, sire. Came, with his ships and swords. He stood by you at Storm’s End when Lord Renly came down on us, and his ships sailed up the Blackwater. His men fought for you, killed for you, burned for you. Claw Isle is weakly held, yes. Held by women and children and old men. And why is that? Because their husbands and sons and fathers died on the Blackwater, that’s why. Died at their oars, or with swords in their hands, fighting beneath our banners. Yet Ser Axell proposes we swoop down on the homes they left behind, to rape their widows and put their children to the sword. These smallfolk are no traitors…”

  “They are,” insisted Ser Axell. “Not all of Celtigar’s men were slain on the Blackwater. Hundreds were taken with their lord, and bent the knee when he did.”

  “When he did,” Davos repeated. “They were his men. His sworn men. What choice were they given?”

  “Every man has choices. They might have refused to kneel. Some did, and died for it. Yet they died true men, and loyal.”

  “Some men are stronger than others.” It was a feeble answer, and Davos knew it. Stannis Baratheon was a man of iron will who neither understood nor forgave weakness in others. I am losing, he thought, despairing.

  “It is every man’s duty to remain loyal to his rightful king, even if the lord he serves proves false,” Stannis declared in a tone that brooked no argument.

  A desperate folly took hold of Davos, a recklessness akin to madness. “As you remained loyal to King Aerys when your brother raised his banners?” he blurted.

  Shocked silence followed, until Ser Axell cried, “Treason!” and snatched his dagger from its sheath. “Your Grace, he speaks his infamy to your face!”

  Davos could hear Stannis grinding his teeth. A vein bulged, blue and swollen, in the king’s brow. Their eyes met. “Put up your knife, Ser Axell. And leave us.”

  “As it please Your Grace—”

  “It would please me for you to leave,” said Stannis. “Take yourself from my presence, and send me Melisandre.”

  “As you command.” Ser Axell slid the knife away, bowed, and hurried toward the door. His boots rang against the floor, angry.

  “You have always presumed on my forbearance,” Stannis warned Davos when they were alone. “I can shorten your tongue as easy as I did your fingers, smuggler.”

  “I am your man, Your Grace. So it is your tongue, to do with as you please.”

  “It is,” he said, calmer. “And I would have it speak the truth. Though the truth is a bitter draught at times. Aerys? If you only knew… that was a hard choosing. My blood or my liege. My brother or my king.” He grimaced. “Have you ever seen the Iron Throne? The barbs along the back, the ribbons of twisted steel, the jagged ends of swords and knives all tangled up and melted? It is not a comfortable seat, ser. Aerys cut himself so often men took to calling him King Scab, and Maegor the Cruel was murdered in that chair. By that chair, to hear some tell it. It is not a seat where a man can rest at ease. Ofttimes I wonder why my brothers wanted it so desperately.”

  “Why would you want it, then?” Davos asked him.

  “It is not a question of wanting. The throne is mine, as Robert’s heir. That is law. After me, it must pass to my daughter, unless Selyse should finally give me a son.” He ran three fingers lightly down the table, over the layers of smooth hard varnish, dark with age. “I am king. Wants do not enter into it. I have a duty to my daughter. To the realm. Even to Robert. He loved me but little, I know, yet he was my brother. The Lannister woman gave him horns and made a motley fool of him. She may have murdered him as well, as she murdered Jon Arryn and Ned Stark. For such crimes there must be justice. Starting with Cersei and her abominations. But only starting. I mean to scour that court clean. As Robert should have done, after the Trident. Ser Barristan once told me that the rot in King Aerys’s reign began with Varys. The eunuch should never have been pardoned. No more than the Kingslayer. At the least, Robert should have stripped the white cloak from Jaime and sent him to the Wall, as Lord Stark urged. He listened to Jon Arryn instead. I was still at Storm’s End, under siege and unconsulted.” He turned abruptly, to give Davos a hard shrewd look. “The truth, now. Why did you wish to murder Lady Melisandre?”

  So he does know. Davos could not lie to him. “Four of my sons burned on the Blackwater. She gave them to the flames.”

  “You wrong her. Those fires were no work of hers. Curse the Imp, curse the pyromancers, curse that fool of Florent who sailed my fleet into the jaws of a trap. Or curse me for my stubborn pride, for sending her away when I needed her most. But not Melisandre. She remains my faithful servant.”

  “Maester Cressen was your faithful servant. She slew him, as she killed Ser Cortnay Penrose and your brother Renly.”

  “Now you sound a fool,” the king complained. “She saw Renly’s end in the flames, yes, but she had no more part in it than I did. The priestess was with me. Your Devan would tell you so. Ask him, if you doubt me. She would have spared Renly if she could. It was Melisandre who urged me to meet with him, and give him one last chance to amend his treason. And it was Melisandre who told me to send for you when Ser Axell wished to give you to R’hllor.” He smiled thinly. “Does that surprise you?”

  “Yes. She knows I am no friend to her or her red god.”

  “But you are a friend to me. She knows that as well.” He beckoned Davos closer. “The boy is sick. Maester Pylos has been leeching him.”

  “The boy?” His thoughts went to his Devan, the king’s squire. “My son, sire?”

  “Devan? A good boy. He has much of you in him. It is Robert’s bastard who is sick, the boy we took at Storm’s End.”

  Edric Storm. “I spoke with him in Aegon’s Garden.”

  “As she wished. As she saw.” Stannis sighed. “Did the boy charm you?” He has that gift. He got it from his father, with the blood. He knows he is a king’s son, but chooses to forget that he is bastard-born. And he worships Robert, as Renly did when he was young. My royal brother played the fond father on his visits to Storm’s End, and there were gifts… swords and ponies a
nd fur-trimmed cloaks. The eunuch’s work, every one. The boy would write the Red Keep full of thanks, and Robert would laugh and ask Varys what he’d sent this year. Renly was no better. He left the boy’s upbringing to castellans and maesters, and every one fell victim to his charm. Penrose chose to die rather than give him up.” The king ground his teeth together. “It still angers me. How could he think I would hurt the boy? I chose Robert, did I not? When that hard day came. I chose blood over honor.”

  He does not use the boy’s name. That made Davos very uneasy. “I hope young Edric will recover soon.”

  Stannis waved a hand, dismissing his concern. “It is a chill, no more. He coughs, he shivers, he has a fever. Maester Pylos will soon set him right. By himself the boy is nought, you understand, but in his veins flows my brother’s blood. There is power in a king’s blood, she says.”

  Davos did not have to ask who she was.

  Stannis touched the Painted Table. “Look at it, onion knight. My realm, by rights. My Westeros.” He swept a hand across it. “This talk of Seven Kingdoms is a folly. Aegon saw that three hundred years ago when he stood where we are standing. They painted this table at his command. Rivers and bays they painted, hills and mountains, castles and cities and market towns, lakes and swamps and forests… but no borders. It is all one. One realm, for one king to rule alone.”

  “One king,” agreed Davos. “One king means peace.”

  “I shall bring justice to Westeros. A thing Ser Axell understands as little as he does war. Claw Isle would gain me naught… and it was evil, just as you said. Celtigar must pay the traitor’s price himself, in his own person. And when I come into my kingdom, he shall. Every man shall reap what he has sown, from the highest lord to the lowest gutter rat. And some will lose more than the tips off their fingers, I promise you. They have made my kingdom bleed, and I do not forget that.” King Stannis turned from the table. “On your knees, Onion Knight.”

  “Your Grace?”

  “For your onions and fish, I made you a knight once. For this, I am of a mind to raise you to lord.”

  This? Davos was lost. “I am content to be your knight, Your Grace. I would not know how to begin being lordly.”

  “Good. To be lordly is to be false. I have learned that lesson hard. Now, kneel. Your king commands.”

  Davos knelt, and Stannis drew his longsword. Lightbringer, Melisandre had named it; the red sword of heroes, drawn from the fires where the seven gods were consumed. The room seemed to grow brighter as the blade slid from its scabbard. The steel had a glow to it; now orange, now yellow, now red. The air shimmered around it, and no jewel had ever sparkled so brilliantly. But when Stannis touched it to Davos’s shoulder, it felt no different than any other longsword. “Ser Davos of House Seaworth,” the king said, “are you my true and honest liege man, now and forever?”

  “I am, Your Grace.”

  “And do you swear to serve me loyally all your days, to give me honest counsel and swift obedience, to defend my rights and my realm against all foes in battles great and small, to protect my people and punish my enemies?”

  “I do, Your Grace.”

  “Then rise again, Davos Seaworth, and rise as Lord of the Rainwood, Admiral of the Narrow Sea, and Hand of the King.”

  For a moment Davos was too stunned to move. I woke this morning in his dungeon. “Your Grace, you cannot… I am no fit man to be a King’s Hand.”

  “There is no man fitter.” Stannis sheathed Lightbringer, gave Davos his hand, and pulled him to his feet.

  “I am lowborn,” Davos reminded him. “An upjumped smuggler. Your lords will never obey me.”

  “Then we will make new lords.”

  “But… I cannot read… nor write…”

  “Maester Pylos can read for you. As to writing, my last Hand wrote the head off his shoulders. All I ask of you are the things you’ve always given me. Honesty. Loyalty. Service.”

  “Surely there is someone better… some great lord…”

  Stannis snorted. “Bar Emmon, that boy? My faithless grandfather? Celtigar has abandoned me, the new Velaryon is six years old, and the new Sunglass sailed for Volantis after I burned his brother.” He made an angry gesture. “A few good men remain, it’s true. Ser Gilbert Farring holds Storm’s End for me still, with two hundred loyal men. Lord Morrigen, the Bastard of Nightsong, young Chyttering, my cousin Andrew… but I trust none of them as I trust you, my lord of Rainwood. You will be my Hand. It is you I want beside me for the battle.”

  Another battle will be the end of all of us, thought Davos. Lord Alester saw that much true enough. “Your Grace asked for honest counsel. In honesty then… we lack the strength for another battle against the Lannisters.”

  “It is the great battle His Grace is speaking of,” said a woman’s voice, rich with the accents of the east. Melisandre stood at the door in her red silks and shimmering satins, holding a covered silver dish in her hands. “These little wars are no more than a scuffle of children before what is to come. The one whose name may not be spoken is marshaling his power, Davos Seaworth, a power fell and evil and strong beyond measure. Soon comes the cold, and the night that never ends.” She placed the silver dish on the Painted Table. “Unless true men find the courage to fight it. Men whose hearts are fire.”

  Stannis stared at the silver dish. “She has shown it to me, Lord Davos. In the flames.”

  “You saw it, sire?” It was not like Stannis Baratheon to lie about such a thing.

  “With mine own eyes. After the battle, when I was lost to despair, the Lady Melisandre bid me gaze into the hearthfire. The chimney was drawing strongly, and bits of ash were rising from the fire. I stared at them, feeling half a fool, but she bid me look deeper, and… the ashes were white, rising in the updraft, yet all at once it seemed as if they were falling. Snow, I thought. Then the sparks in the air seemed to circle, to become a ring of torches, and I was looking through the fire down on some high hill in a forest. The cinders had become men in black behind the torches, and there were shapes moving through the snow. For all the heat of the fire, I felt a cold so terrible I shivered, and when I did the sight was gone, the fire but a fire once again. But what I saw was real, I’d stake my kingdom on it.”

  “And have,” said Melisandre.

  The conviction in the king’s voice frightened Davos to the core. “A hill in a forest… shapes in the snow… I don’t…”

  “It means that the battle is begun,” said Melisandre. “The sand is running through the glass more quickly now, and man’s hour on earth is almost done. We must act boldly, or all hope is lost. Westeros must unite beneath her one true king, the prince that was promised, Lord of Dragonstone and chosen of R’hllor.”

  “R’hllor chooses queerly, then.” The king grimaced, as if he’d tasted something foul. “Why me, and not my brothers? Renly and his peach. In my dreams I see the juice running from his mouth, the blood from his throat. If he had done his duty by his brother, we would have smashed Lord Tywin. A victory even Robert could be proud of. Robert…” His teeth ground side to side. “He is in my dreams as well. Laughing. Drinking. Boasting. Those were the things he was best at. Those, and fighting. I never bested him at anything. The Lord of Light should have made Robert his champion. Why me?”

  “Because you are a righteous man,” said Melisandre.

  “A righteous man.” Stannis touched the covered silver platter with a finger. “With leeches.”

  “Yes,” said Melisandre, “but I must tell you once more, this is not the way.”

  “You swore it would work.” The king looked angry.

  “It will… and it will not.”



  “Speak sense to me, woman.”

  “When the fires speak more plainly, so shall I. There is truth in the flames, but it is not always easy to see.” The great ruby at her throat drank fire from the glow of the brazier. “Give me the boy, Your Grace. It is the surer way. The better way. Give me the
boy and I shall wake the stone dragon.”

  “I have told you, no.”

  “He is only one baseborn boy, against all the boys of Westeros, and all the girls as well. Against all the children that might ever be born, in all the kingdoms of the world.”

  “The boy is innocent.”

  “The boy defiled your marriage bed, else you would surely have sons of your own. He shamed you.”

  “Robert did that. Not the boy. My daughter has grown fond of him. And he is mine own blood.”

  “Your brother’s blood,” Melisandre said. “A king’s blood. Only a king’s blood can wake the stone dragon.”

  Stannis ground his teeth. “I’ll hear no more of this. The dragons are done. The Targaryens tried to bring them back half a dozen times. And made fools of themselves, or corpses. Patchface is the only fool we need on this godsforsaken rock. You have the leeches. Do your work.”

  Melisandre bowed her head stiffly, and said, “As my king commands.” Reaching up her left sleeve with her right hand, she flung a handful of powder into the brazier. The coals roared. As pale flames writhed atop them, the red woman retrieved the silver dish and brought it to the king. Davos watched her lift the lid. Beneath were three large black leeches, fat with blood.

  The boy’s blood, Davos knew. A king’s blood.

  Stannis stretched forth a hand, and his fingers closed around one of the leeches.

  “Say the name,” Melisandre commanded.

  The leech was twisting in the king’s grip, trying to attach itself to one of his fingers. “The usurper,” he said. “Joffrey Baratheon.” When he tossed the leech into the fire, it curled up like an autumn leaf amidst the coals, and burned.

  Stannis grasped the second. “The usurper,” he declared, louder this time. “Balon Greyjoy.” He flipped it lightly onto the brazier, and its flesh split and cracked. The blood burst from it, hissing and smoking.

  The last was in the king’s hand. This one he studied a moment as it writhed between his fingers. “The usurper,” he said at last. “Robb Stark.” And he threw it on the flames.


  Harrenhal’s bathhouse was a dim, steamy, low-ceilinged room filled with great stone tubs. When they led Jaime in, they found Brienne seated in one of them, scrubbing her arm almost angrily.

  “Not so hard, wench,” he called. “You’ll scrub the skin off.” She dropped her brush and covered her teats with hands as big as Gregor Clegane’s. The pointy little buds she was so intent on hiding would have looked more natural on some ten-year-old than they did on her thick muscular chest.

  “What are you doing here?” she demanded.

  “Lord Bolton insists I sup with him, but he neglected to invite my fleas.” Jaime tugged at his guard with his left hand. “Help me out of these stinking rags.” One-handed, he could not so much as unlace his breeches. The man obeyed grudgingly, but he obeyed. “Now leave us,” Jaime said when his clothes lay in a pile on the wet stone floor. “My lady of Tarth doesn’t want the likes of you scum gaping at her teats.” He pointed his stump at the hatchet-faced woman attending Brienne. “You too. Wait without. There’s only the one door, and the wench is too big to try and shinny up a chimney.”

  The habit of obedience went deep. The woman followed his guard out, leaving the bathhouse to the two of them. The tubs were large enough to hold six or seven, after the fashion of the Free Cities, so Jaime climbed in with the wench, awkward and slow. Both his eyes were open, though the right remained somewhat swollen, despite Qyburn’s leeches. Jaime felt a hundred and nine years old, which was a deal better than he had been feeling when he came to Harrenhal.

  Brienne shrunk away from him. “There are other tubs.”

  “This one suits me well enough.” Gingerly, he immersed himself up to the chin in the steaming water. “Have no fear, wench. Your thighs are purple and green, and I’m not interested in what you’ve got between them.” He had to rest his right arm on the rim, since Qyburn had warned him to keep the linen dry. He could feel the tension drain from his legs, but his head spun. “If I faint, pull me out. No Lannister has ever drowned in his bath and I don’t mean to be the first.”

  “Why should I care how you die?”

  “You swore a solemn vow.” He smiled as a red flush crept up the thick white column of her neck. She turned her back to him. “Still the shy maiden? What is it that you think I haven’t seen?” He groped for the brush she had dropped, caught it with his fingers, and began to scrub himself desultorily. Even that was difficult, awkward. My left hand is good for nothing.

  Still, the water darkened as the caked dirt dissolved off his skin. The wench kept her back to him, the muscles in her great shoulders hunched and hard.

  “Does the sight of my stump distress you so?” Jaime asked. “You ought to be pleased. I’ve lost the hand I killed the king with. The hand that flung the Stark boy from that tower. The hand I’d slide between my sister’s thighs to make her wet.” He thrust his stump at her face. “No wonder Renly died, with you guarding him.”

  She jerked to her feet as if he’d struck her, sending a wash of hot water across the tub. Jaime caught a glimpse of the thick blonde bush at the juncture of her thighs as she climbed out. She was much hairier than his sister. Absurdly, he felt his cock stir beneath the bathwater. Now I know I have been too long away from Cersei. He averted his eyes, troubled by his body’s response. “That was unworthy,” he mumbled. “I’m a maimed man, and bitter. Forgive me, wench. You protected me as well as any man could have, and better than most.”

  She wrapped her nakedness in a towel. “Do you mock me?”

  That pricked him back to anger. “Are you as thick as a castle wall? That was an apology. I am tired of fighting with you. What say we make a truce?”

  “Truces are built on trust. Would you have me trust—”

  “The Kingslayer, yes. The oathbreaker who murdered poor sad Aerys Targaryen.” Jaime snorted. “It’s not Aerys I rue, it’s Robert. ‘I hear they’ve named you Kingslayer,’ he said to me at his coronation feast. ‘Just don’t think to make it a habit.’ And he laughed. Why is it that no one names Robert oathbreaker? He tore the realm apart, yet I am the one with shit for honor.”

  “Robert did all he did for love.” Water ran down Brienne’s legs and pooled beneath her feet.

  “Robert did all he did for pride, a cunt, and a pretty face.” He made a fist… or would have, if he’d had a hand. Pain lanced up his arm, cruel as laughter.

  “He rode to save the realm,” she insisted.

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