A storm of swords, p.63
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       A Storm of Swords, p.63

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

  “You should have let Joff tear it out,” suggested Tyrion.

  “You would do well not to tempt me,” Lord Tywin said. “I’ll hear no more of this. I have been considering how best to appease Oberyn Martell and his entourage.”

  “Oh? Is this something I’m allowed to know, or should I leave so you can discuss it with yourself?”

  His father ignored the sally. “Prince Oberyn’s presence here is unfortunate. His brother is a cautious man, a reasoned man, subtle, deliberate, even indolent to a degree. He is a man who weighs the consequences of every word and every action. But Oberyn has always been half-mad.”

  “Is it true he tried to raise Dorne for Viserys?”

  “No one speaks of it, but yes. Ravens flew and riders rode, with what secret messages I never knew. Jon Arryn sailed to Sunspear to return Prince Lewyn’s bones, sat down with Prince Doran, and ended all the talk of war. But Robert never went to Dorne thereafter, and Prince Oberyn seldom left it.”

  “Well, he’s here now, with half the nobility of Dorne in his tail, and he grows more impatient every day,” said Tyrion. “Perhaps I should show him the brothels of King’s Landing, that might distract him. A tool for every task, isn’t that how it works? My tool is yours, Father. Never let it be said that House Lannister blew its trumpets and I did not respond.”

  Lord Tywin’s mouth tightened. “Very droll. Shall I have them sew you a suit of motley, and a little hat with bells on it?”

  “If I wear it, do I have leave to say anything I want about His Grace King Joffrey?”

  Lord Tywin seated himself again and said, “I was made to suffer my father’s follies. I will not suffer yours. Enough.”

  “Very well, as you ask so pleasantly. The Red Viper is not going to be pleasant, I fear… nor will he content himself with Ser Gregor’s head alone.”

  “All the more reason not to give it to him.”

  “Not to…?” Tyrion was shocked. “I thought we were agreed that the woods were full of beasts.”

  “Lesser beasts.” Lord Tywin’s fingers laced together under his chin. “Ser Gregor has served us well. No other knight in the realm inspires such terror in our enemies.”

  “Oberyn knows that Gregor was the one who…”

  “He knows nothing. He has heard tales. Stable gossip and kitchen calumnies. He has no crumb of proof. Ser Gregor is certainly not about to confess to him. I mean to keep him well away for so long as the Dornishmen are in King’s Landing.”

  “And when Oberyn demands the justice he’s come for?”

  “I will tell him that Ser Amory Lorch killed Elia and her children,” Lord Tywin said calmly. “So will you, if he asks.”

  “Ser Amory Lorch is dead,” Tyrion said flatly.

  “Precisely. Vargo Hoat had Ser Amory torn apart by a bear after the fall of Harrenhal. That ought to be sufficiently grisly to appease even Oberyn Martell.”

  “You may call that justice…”

  “It is justice. It was Ser Amory who brought me the girl’s body, if you must know. He found her hiding under her father’s bed, as if she believed Rhaegar could still protect her. Princess Elia and the babe were in the nursery a floor below.”

  “Well, it’s a tale, and Ser Amory’s not like to deny it. What will you tell Oberyn when he asks who gave Lorch his orders?”

  “Ser Amory acted on his own in the hope of winning favor from the new king. Robert’s hatred for Rhaegar was scarcely a secret.”

  It might serve, Tyrion had to concede, but the snake will not be happy. “Far be it from me to question your cunning, Father, but in your place I do believe I’d have let Robert Baratheon bloody his own hands.”

  Lord Tywin stared at him as if he had lost his wits. “You deserve that motley, then. We had come late to Robert’s cause. It was necessary to demonstrate our loyalty. When I laid those bodies before the throne, no man could doubt that we had forsaken House Targaryen forever. And Robert’s relief was palpable. As stupid as he was, even he knew that Rhaegar’s children had to die if his throne was ever to be secure. Yet he saw himself as a hero, and heroes do not kill children.” His father shrugged. “I grant you, it was done too brutally. Elia need not have been harmed at all, that was sheer folly. By herself she was nothing.”

  “Then why did the Mountain kill her?”

  “Because I did not tell him to spare her. I doubt I mentioned her at all. I had more pressing concerns. Ned Stark’s van was rushing south from the Trident, and I feared it might come to swords between us. And it was in Aerys to murder Jaime, with no more cause than spite. That was the thing I feared most. That, and what Jaime himself might do.” He closed a fist. “Nor did I yet grasp what I had in Gregor Clegane, only that he was huge and terrible in battle. The rape… even you will not accuse me of giving that command, I would hope. Ser Amory was almost as bestial with Rhaenys. I asked him afterward why it had required half a hundred thrusts to kill a girl of… two? Three? He said she’d kicked him and would not stop screaming. If Lorch had half the wits the gods gave a turnip, he would have calmed her with a few sweet words and used a soft silk pillow.” His mouth twisted in distaste. “The blood was in him.”

  But not in you, Father. There is no blood in Tywin Lannister. “Was it a soft silk pillow that slew Robb Stark?”

  “It was to be an arrow, at Edmure Tully’s wedding feast. The boy was too wary in the field. He kept his men in good order, and surrounded himself with outriders and bodyguards.”

  “So Lord Walder slew him under his own roof, at his own table?” Tyrion made a fist. “What of Lady Catelyn?”

  “Slain as well, I’d say. A pair of wolfskins. Frey had intended to keep her captive, but perhaps something went awry.”

  “So much for guest right.”

  “The blood is on Walder Frey’s hands, not mine.”

  “Walder Frey is a peevish old man who lives to fondle his young wife and brood over all the slights he’s suffered. I have no doubt he hatched this ugly chicken, but he would never have dared such a thing without a promise of protection.”

  “I suppose you would have spared the boy and told Lord Frey you had no need of his allegiance? That would have driven the old fool right back into Stark’s arms and won you another year of war. Explain to me why it is more noble to kill ten thousand men in battle than a dozen at dinner.” When Tyrion had no reply to that, his father continued. “The price was cheap by any measure. The crown shall grant Riverrun to Ser Emmon Frey once the Blackfish yields. Lancel and Daven must marry Frey girls, Joy is to wed one of Lord Walder’s natural sons when she’s old enough, and Roose Bolton becomes Warden of the North and takes home Arya Stark.”

  “Arya Stark?” Tyrion cocked his head. “And Bolton? I might have known Frey would not have the stomach to act alone. But Arya… Varys and Ser Jacelyn searched for her for more than half a year. Arya Stark is surely dead.”

  “So was Renly, until the Blackwater.”

  “What does that mean?”

  “Perhaps Littlefinger succeeded where you and Varys failed. Lord Bolton will wed the girl to his bastard son. We shall allow the Dreadfort to fight the ironborn for a few years, and see if he can bring Stark’s other bannermen to heel. Come spring, all of them should be at the end of their strength and ready to bend the knee. The north will go to your son by Sansa Stark… if you ever find enough manhood in you to breed one. Lest you forget, it is not only Joffrey who must needs take a maidenhead.”

  I had not forgotten, though I’d hoped you had. “And when do you imagine Sansa will be at her most fertile?” Tyrion asked his father in tones that dripped acid. “Before or after I tell her how we murdered her mother and her brother?”

  DAVOS

  For a moment it seemed as though the king had not heard. Stannis showed no pleasure at the news, no anger, no disbelief, not even relief. He stared at his Painted Table with teeth clenched hard. “You are certain?” he asked.

  “I am not seeing the body, no, Your Kingliness,” said Salladhor Saan. “Y
et in the city, the lions prance and dance. The Red Wedding, the smallfolk are calling it. They swear Lord Frey had the boy’s head hacked off, sewed the head of his direwolf in its place, and nailed a crown about his ears. His lady mother was slain as well, and thrown naked in the river.”

  At a wedding, thought Davos. As he sat at his slayer’s board, a guest beneath his roof. These Freys are cursed. He could smell the burning blood again, and hear the leech hissing and spitting on the brazier’s hot coals.

  “It was the Lord’s wrath that slew him,” Ser Axell Florent declared. “It was the hand of R’hllor!”

  “Praise the Lord of Light!” sang out Queen Selyse, a pinched thin hard woman with large ears and a hairy upper lip.

  “Is the hand of R’hllor spotted and palsied?” asked Stannis. “This sounds more Walder Frey’s handiwork than any god’s.”

  “R’hllor chooses such instruments as he requires.” The ruby at Melisandre’s throat shone redly. “His ways are mysterious, but no man may withstand his fiery will.”

  “No man may withstand him!” the queen cried.

  “Be quiet, woman. You are not at a nightfire now.” Stannis considered the Painted Table. “The wolf leaves no heirs, the kraken too many. The lions will devour them unless… Saan, I will require your fastest ships to carry envoys to the Iron Islands and White Harbor. I shall offer pardons.” The way he snapped his teeth showed how little he liked that word. “Full pardons, for all those who repent of treason and swear fealty to their rightful king. They must see…”

  “They will not.” Melisandre’s voice was soft. “I am sorry, Your Grace. This is not an end. More false kings will soon rise to take up the crowns of those who’ve died.”

  “More?” Stannis looked as though he would gladly have throttled her. “More usurpers? More traitors?”

  “I have seen it in the flames.”

  Queen Selyse went to the king’s side. “The Lord of Light sent Melisandre to guide you to your glory. Heed her, I beg you. R’hllor’s holy flames do not lie.”

  “There are lies and lies, woman. Even when these flames speak truly, they are full of tricks, it seems to me.”

  “An ant who hears the words of a king may not comprehend what he is saying,” Melisandre said, “and all men are ants before the fiery face of god. If sometimes I have mistaken a warning for a prophecy or a prophecy for a warning, the fault lies in the reader, not the book. But this I know for a certainty — envoys and pardons will not serve you now, no more than leeches. You must show the realm a sign. A sign that proves your power!”

  “Power?” The king snorted. “I have thirteen hundred men on Dragonstone, another three hundred at Storm’s End.” His hand swept over the Painted Table. “The rest of Westeros is in the hands of my foes. I have no fleet but Salladhor Saan’s. No coin to hire sellswords. No prospect of plunder or glory to lure freeriders to my cause.”

  “Lord husband,” said Queen Selyse, “you have more men than Aegon did three hundred years ago. All you lack are dragons.”

  The look Stannis gave her was dark. “Nine mages crossed the sea to hatch Aegon the Third’s cache of eggs. Baelor the Blessed prayed over his for half a year. Aegon the Fourth built dragons of wood and iron. Aerion Brightflame drank wildfire to transform himself. The mages failed, King Baelor’s prayers went unanswered, the wooden dragons burned, and Prince Aerion died screaming.”

  Queen Selyse was adamant. “None of these was the chosen of R’hllor. No red comet blazed across the heavens to herald their coming. None wielded Lightbringer, the red sword of heroes. And none of them paid the price. Lady Melisandre will tell you, my lord. Only death can pay for life.”

  “The boy?” The king almost spat the words.

  “The boy,” agreed the queen.

  “The boy,” Ser Axell echoed.

  “I was sick unto death of this wretched boy before he was even born,” the king complained. “His very name is a roaring in my ears and a dark cloud upon my soul.”

  “Give the boy to me and you need never hear his name spoken again,” Melisandre promised.

  No, but you’ll hear him screaming when she burns him. Davos held his tongue. It was wiser not to speak until the king commanded it.

  “Give me the boy for R’hllor,” the red woman said, “and the ancient prophecy shall be fulfilled. Your dragon shall awaken and spread his stony wings. The kingdom shall be yours.”

  Ser Axell went to one knee. “On bended knee I beg you, sire. Wake the stone dragon and let the traitors tremble. Like Aegon you begin as Lord of Dragonstone. Like Aegon you shall conquer. Let the false and the fickle feel your flames.”

  “Your own wife begs as well, lord husband.” Queen Selyse went down on both knees before the king, hands clasped as if in prayer. “Robert and Delena defiled our bed and laid a curse upon our union. This boy is the foul fruit of their fornications. Lift his shadow from my womb and I will bear you many trueborn sons, I know it.” She threw her arms around his legs. “He is only one boy, born of your brother’s lust and my cousin’s shame.”

  “He is mine own blood. Stop clutching me, woman.” King Stannis put a hand on her shoulder, awkwardly untangling himself from her grasp. “Perhaps Robert did curse our marriage bed. He swore to me that he never meant to shame me, that he was drunk and never knew which bedchamber he entered that night. But does it matter? The boy was not at fault, whatever the truth.”

  Melisandre put her hand on the king’s arm. “The Lord of Light cherishes the innocent. There is no sacrifice more precious. From his king’s blood and his untainted fire, a dragon shall be born.”

  Stannis did not pull away from Melisandre’s touch as he had from his queen’s. The red woman was all Selyse was not; young, full-bodied, and strangely beautiful, with her heart-shaped face, coppery hair, and unearthly red eyes. “It would be a wondrous thing to see stone come to life,” he admitted, grudging. “And to mount a dragon… I remember the first time my father took me to court, Robert had to hold my hand. I could not have been older than four, which would have made him five or six. We agreed afterward that the king had been as noble as the dragons were fearsome.” Stannis snorted. “Years later, our father told us that Aerys had cut himself on the throne that morning, so his Hand had taken his place. It was Tywin Lannister who’d so impressed us.” His fingers touched the surface of the table, tracing a path lightly across the varnished hills. “Robert took the skulls down when he donned the crown, but he could not bear to have them destroyed. Dragon wings over Westeros… there would be such a…”

  “Your Grace!” Davos edged forward. “Might I speak?”

  Stannis closed his mouth so hard his teeth snapped. “My lord of the Rainwood. Why do you think I made you Hand, if not to speak?” The king waved a hand. “Say what you will.”

  Warrior, make me brave. “I know little of dragons and less of gods… but the queen spoke of curses. No man is as cursed as the kinslayer, in the eyes of gods and men.”

  “There are no gods save R’hllor and the Other, whose name must not be spoken.” Melisandre’s mouth made a hard red line. “And small men curse what they cannot understand.”

  “I am a small man,” Davos admitted, “so tell me why you need this boy Edric Storm to wake your great stone dragon, my lady.” He was determined to say the boy’s name as often as he could.

  “Only death can pay for life, my lord. A great gift requires a great sacrifice.”

  “Where is the greatness in a baseborn child?”

  “He has kings’ blood in his veins. You have seen what even a little of that blood could do—”

  “I saw you burn some leeches.”

  “And two false kings are dead.”

  “Robb Stark was murdered by Lord Walder of the Crossing, and we have heard that Balon Greyjoy fell from a bridge. Who did your leeches kill?”

  “Do you doubt the power of R’hllor?”

  No. Davos remembered too well the living shadow that had squirmed from out her womb that night beneath
Storm’s End, its black hands pressing at her thighs. I must go carefully here, or some shadow may come seeking me as well. “Even an onion smuggler knows two onions from three. You are short a king, my lady.”

  Stannis gave a snort of laughter. “He has you there, my lady. Two is not three.”

  “To be sure, Your Grace. One king might die by chance, even two… but three? If Joffrey should die in the midst of all his power, surrounded by his armies and his Kingsguard, would not that show the power of the Lord at work?”

  “It might.” The king spoke as if he grudged each word.

  “Or not.” Davos did his best to hide his fear.

  “Joffrey shall die,” Queen Selyse declared, serene in her confidence.

  “It may be that he is dead already,” Ser Axell added.

  Stannis looked at them with annoyance. “Are you trained crows, to croak at me in turns? Enough.”

  “Husband, hear me—” the queen entreated.

  “Why? Two is not three. Kings can count as well as smugglers. You may go.” Stannis turned his back on them.

  Melisandre helped the queen to her feet. Selyse swept stiffly from the chamber, the red woman trailing behind. Ser Axell lingered long enough to give Davos one last look. An ugly look on an ugly face, he thought as he met the stare.

  After the others had gone, Davos cleared his throat. The king looked up. “Why are you still here?”

  “Sire, about Edric Storm…”

  Stannis made a sharp gesture. “Spare me.”

  Davos persisted. “Your daughter takes her lessons with him, and plays with him every day in Aegon’s Garden.”

  “I know that.”

  “Her heart would break if anything ill should—”

  “I know that as well.”

  “If you would only see him—”

  “I have seen him. He looks like Robert. Aye, and worships him. Shall I tell him how often his beloved father ever gave him a thought? My brother liked the making of children well enough, but after birth they were a bother.”

  “He asks after you every day, he—”

  “You are making me angry, Davos. I will hear no more of this bastard boy.”

  “His name is Edric Storm, sire.”

  “I know his name. Was there ever a name so apt? It proclaims his bastardy, his high birth, and the turmoil he brings with him. Edric Storm. There, I have said it. Are you satisfied, my lord Hand?”

  “Edric—” he started.

  “—is one boy! He may be the best boy who ever drew breath and it would not matter. My duty is to the realm.” His hand swept across the Painted Table. “How many boys dwell in Westeros? How many girls? How many men, how many women? The darkness will devour them all, she says. The night that never ends. She talks of prophecies… a hero reborn in the sea, living dragons hatched from dead stone… she speaks of signs and swears they point to me. I never asked for this, no more than I asked to be king. Yet dare I disregard her?” He ground his teeth. “We do not choose our destinies. Yet we must… we must do our duty, no? Great or small, we must do our duty. Melisandre swears that she has seen me in her flames, facing the dark with Lightbringer raised on high. Lightbringer!” Stannis gave a derisive snort. “It glimmers prettily, I’ll grant you, but on the Blackwater this magic sword served me no better than any common steel. A dragon would have turned that battle. Aegon once stood here as I do, looking down on this table. Do you think we would name him Aegon the Conqueror today if he had not had dragons?”

  “Your Grace,” said Davos, “the cost…”

  “I know the cost! Last night, gazing into that hearth, I saw things in the flames as well. I saw a king, a crown of fire on his brows, burning… burning, Davos. His own crown consumed his flesh and turned him into ash. Do you think I need Melisandre to tell me what that means? Or you?” The king moved, so his shadow fell upon King’s Landing. “If Joffrey should die… what is the life of one bastard boy against a kingdom?”

  “Everything,” said Davos, softly.

  Stannis looked at him, jaw clenched. “Go,” the king said at last, “before you talk yourself back into the dungeon.”

  Sometimes the storm winds blow so strong a man has no choice but to furl his sails. “Aye, Your Grace.” Davos bowed, but Stannis had seemingly forgotten him already.

  It was chilly in the yard when he left the Stone Drum. A wind blew briskly from the east, making the banners snap and flap noisily along the walls. Davos could smell salt in the air. The sea. He loved that smell. It made him want to walk a deck again, to raise his canvas and sail off south to Marya and his two small ones. He thought of them most every day now, and even more at night. Part of him wanted nothing so much as to take Devan and go home. I cannot. Not yet. I am a lord now, and the King’s Hand, I must not fail him.

  He raised his eyes to gaze up at the walls. In place of merlons, a thousand grotesques and gargoyles looked down on him, each different from all the others; wyverns, griffins, demons, manticores, minotaurs, basilisks, hellhounds, cockatrices, and a thousand queerer creatures sprouted from the castle’s battlements as if they’d grown there. And the dragons were everywhere. The Great Hall was a dragon lying on its belly. Men entered through its open mouth. The kitchens were a dragon curled up in a ball, with the smoke and steam of the ovens vented through its nostrils. The towers were dragons hunched above the walls or poised for flight; the Windwyrm seemed to scream defiance, while Sea Dragon Tower gazed serenely out across the waves. Smaller dragons framed the gates. Dragon claws emerged from walls to grasp at torches, great stone wings enfolded the
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